Introducing Stephen Alexander

March 6, 2013

You won’t know Stephen Alexander and at 9pm on March 5th, I didn’t know him either. However, by 10pm I knew him intimately and I’m going to tell you about him and how we met.

We met at the WordWatchers meeting, he was, quite literally, a blank sheet of paper. Under the careful guidance of Julie Cohen, the sheet stopped being blank and Stephen was born.

I am not going to tell you how Julie seeds the creation process, but I highly recommend that if you get the chance to do one of Julie’s Workshops then you do so. If you’re lucky, something quite magical occurs.

Below, is a transcription of my scribbled notes (Julie drives you hard, no procrastination, no musings, no mulling over, just bang-bang-bang) – I have fixed the typos but not the style nor grammar. How I wrote the creation of Stephen feels as important as the words themselves.

Stephen is 30 years old, a little under six feet tall (much to his annoyance). He went prematurely grey, so dyes his hair regularly and experimentally, so now he has no memory of its original colour.

Despite many expensive treatments his two top front teeth remain resolutely yellow, which is why he doesn’t smile very much. His rather angular frame means his choice of fashionable clothes don’t fit and he looks awkward.

So at this point I was already intrigued by Stephen, given we’d just met. He’s clearly quite vain, he’d like to be taller and not have yellow teeth. He didn’t like going grey and so has dyed his hair, but his choice of colours and styles perhaps to draw a viewer away from his awkward shape (and teeth?). I say he doesn’t smile much, but I don’t know if he’s unhappy…

But there’s more, I got to write (and therefore observe) Stephen in a facet of his normal day-to-day life.

“Stephen slips into the still dark living room. He fumbles around on the coffee table in front of the sofa, amongst the beer cans and finds his wallet, battered and empty save for a few tatty family photos and a maxed out credit card. He doesn’t disturb his drunken father asleep on the sofa.”

Initially, as I watched/wrote, I presumed Stephen was sneaking away from a party that the beer cans were the visible detritus of a good night had, but this would appear to be Stephen’s home, is he sneaking off to work? Is he trying not to wake his father to avoid an argument or fight? Or does he feel sorry for this man? There’s clearly some significance to the wallet, he’s recovering it even though it serves no function given it is devoid of both cash and credit. Why is it empty? Is this related to the drunken man asleep on the sofa. Is this a one-off or a permanent state of affairs? Given the problem with the credit card, permanent is implied…

Stephen opens up to me, answering some of my questions.

The wallet was a gift from his mum on his 18th birthday and it had a £20 note in it, which he spent on beer that night, celebrating with friends. By the time he staggered home the next morning, she had packed and left. Never to be seen again.

Well, that was unexpected. Poor Stephen, carrying that wallet must be torture. A precious final gift (given with love?), a sign of manhood and independence? A constant reminder that its contents got him out of the house and drunk enough to not return in time to prevent her for leaving, or if that wasn’t possible, at least say goodbye.

He’s opening up now, ready to tell me a little more.

Stephen is living hand-to-mouth. He is basically paying for his dad’s drinking habit by staying at home and paying “rent”. He’s desperate to move out, start afresh but how does he abandon his dad (“like she did” he is constantly reminded, because, he is, after all, just like her)?

But work has now offered him a promotion, but at the new office at the other end of the country. Can he, should he take the job?

Wow. What a dilemma, I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes. If he stays, will he resent his father more and more? Really, never be happy? If he goes how long will his father last, will the drinking get worse without him to try and hold it in check, or, without the cash, will he have to drink less. I think Stephen thinks the last of these thoughts is wishful thinking.

Finally, in this brief meeting, there’s some navel gazing from us both to finish off.

Stephen’s best quality: He’s “reliable”, “will always be there for you…” – for friends and, of course, for family (his dad of course).

Stephen’s worst quality: he’s soft, a push-over, easy to manipulate to the benefit of others.

I think Stephen clearly has a problem here, how does he maintain this air of reliability (which he likes) without others forever taking advantage of his eagerness to please?

Stephen doesn’t know, because I don’t know but, at some point in the future, I’m hoping to find out…

So there you go. That’s Stephen, a brief encounter, just an hour together and yet I found out so much about him and I really should thank Julie Cohen for introducing us.

Julie’s website is here: Julie-Cohen.com

I can whole-heartedly recommend her workshop, WordWatchers without exception loved the experience.

John Hoggard

John Hoggard

Potter’s February in Writing

March 5, 2013

Right. It’s now 18:00 on the 5th of March, which means I have just an hour to do this blog and make myself beautiful for WordWatchers tonight. I could of course just go straight to cosmetics but it’s been a glorious month for the WordWatchers collective and I wanted to get this down, else I’ll just go off on some parallel vaguely related discourse tonight and, well, it doesn’t do, really.

So apart from Charlotte being voted the best historical romance author in the world ever, or something very close, and John Hoggard’s heroics in social media, there is something I wanted to tell you. In fact a few things.

Mahrie Kindle Cover Final 1First, Mahrie is almost done. I finished the cover this month which I LOVE and I get editorial feedback from the group tonight. Then it’s two solid weeks to make alterations before it goes to the copy and proof editor. That process should take us to the end of March at which point Mahrie will be released, initially for free for a brief time. So keep your eyes peeled.

In trying to raise awareness for the Potter brand I thought I’d run a final KDP Select promotion for Chasing Innocence. I also wanted to try and up the number of reviews for the book, which I have found are more likely to be given when a book is given away for free. The promotion went extremely well and you can see in this video I created what the results were.

I have for the time being decided to shelf TMWWRWs as I’ve had to admit, after eight months of hard work, the main character isn’t there for me yet. His (dead) wife is, but… It’s heartbreaking because so much has been invested but I know when I do come back to Marcus Hangiman I will have written two other books, several novellas and hopefully been stewing his character development in the background all this time. We will see.

Which means that Hunting Demons is well on it’s way. Hooorah! Sarah Sawacki is back, she’s not alone this time but she’s got a whole lot of people making life difficult. Where Chasing Innocence was about Sarah protecting and surviving, Hunting Demons is about her evolution, her putting a foot in the ground and saying enough is enough. Facing down her demons. I’m so excited. The book starts in court as we briefly recount how we got to this moment in the series. I’m having SO much fun.

It was always my intention to also write about Detective Boer’s past and while we touch on this in Mahrie, I have another novella planned for the end of the year which focuses on Boer as the protagonist and excitingly (for me at least) shows as part of a bigger story, his POV in the Mahrie case, as opposed to hers.

What else? Well the antagonist in Hunting Demons is particularly scary, So I can get some idea for what is acceptable in the particularly scary antagonist stakes I’m currently reading the first two novels in both Tess Gerritsen and Mo Hayder’s Crime series. The first two novels because I’m also interested to see how they transition the key female character between book one and two.

I also read the wonderfully literary but brilliant thriller writing of Helen Zahavi this last month. I loved Donna and the Fatman and would highly recommend you check her out. Especially if like me you have an interest in strong but put upon women coming to terms with particularly nasty men. Very much looking forward to Helen’s Dirty Weekend.

Time’s running out. Now to put on my glad rags and get ravaged (editorially) by WordWatchers.

Wish me luck, I’m going in.

 

Social Media: The Quest for more

March 2, 2013

On the evening of Feb 21st, three members of WordWatchers, Me, Julian Dobbins and John Potter got together to discuss what we might say to Reading Writers when we meet up in June about the use of Social Media.

It was a lively debate and our thoughts as fluid as the beer consumed. John P’s fingers were a blur as he did his best to capture our thoughts as a mind map on his iPad.

One of the things that I happened on the night, based on one thread of the conversation, is that I created and tweeted this picture:

Twitter: What not to do - 1

Twitter: What not to do – 1

That, we decided, was one of the joys of Social Media, especially Twitter, that, with the right tools (in this case, a wifi connection, a smart phone and the application PicSay) you could immediately capture a moment and share it with your followers.

This is a double edged sword of course, it’s so easy to “connect” with your followers, it’s easy to fall into the trap of abusing those followers, or, at the very least, taking them for granted. To not actually connect, to simply use Twitter to transmit your content to your followers. It might be easy, but as a follower it doesn’t take long to work out that there isn’t a real person at the end of the Tweetfeed just a proficient user of the Hootsuite Scheduler (or equivalent). Hence the subject of the picture, which, by late that evening had been tweaked to this:

Twitter: What not to do - 2

Twitter: What not to do – 2

We left the meeting with a plan, of sorts, that in an effort to have something more substantive to talk about with Reading Writers we were going to try and increase the number of “Likers” on our Facebook page, which, at the time stood at a lowly 54.

Succeed or fail, we’d definitely have something to talk about!

After the meeting I decided to look at some of the other pages I followed, pages with large number of “likers” and a high throughput of content. Most of that content, I noticed, was in the form of images, or pictures with associated text…

I was also stuck on my short story that I will be entering into the WW in-house short story competition at Easter (a selection of these stories plus some from our back catalogue will be forming the backbone of our 2nd Anthology, due out in he summer). I don’t like to be idle and feel it’s important to keep the creative juices flowing even if they’re not flowing into a story and so for the last week I’ve channelled his energies into our Facebook page and into my observational cartoons about Social Media.

My breakthrough moment was a picture I’d called the “Roller Coaster of Facebook Insights”. The picture itself is good and I’m very proud of it, but it clearly struck a chord and was shared by Samaire Provost, somebody who has become a good friend, first on Twitter and then later Facebook. Samaire is one of those potentially faceless followers that, by making an effort with, I have genuinely connected with. For this reason, she willing shared the picture on a page she was responsible for, a page with 28,000 followers.

The Roller Coaster of Facebook Insights

The Roller Coaster of Facebook Insights

The response was immediate. The post became our most read ever, by an order of magnitude, at the time of writing and one week on it has a “reach” on Facebook of over 3,600, a number we had only dreamed of.

Whatever happens now, we are eternally grateful to Samaire for sharing our content with the wider community and it reinforces what we believe to our main driver for using Social Media, to form friendships, relationships and bonds that are mutually beneficial to both parties in the long term.

Using Social Media properly is hard work but if you’re using it for the right reasons, it’s definitely worth it.

I’d like to end this blog on this note – that I’m not the only one who believes that social media is about connecting to people. So I shall leave the final word to Amanda Palmer…

Amanda Palmer TED Talk.

Thank-you for your time.

 

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