A world off my mind

May 20, 2015

I sit in a hotel room smiling. I’m smiling because the first draft of my novel, Memories of Arma, is complete. I first embarked on this journey 2 years ago as a method of coping with long periods of time away from home due to work.

I look back on the past 2 years of writing and remember fondly the early months, where I typed away without a care in the world. Discovering that my story has a style, establishing the world inside the story and developing characters are thingsIMG_1702 I remember happily. Crying while I scripted the death of characters was a strange experience and trying to fight myself out of writers block was challenging to say the least. I’m relieved to be past the difficult second half of the novel, where I had to force myself to push on with many revisions made and hours lost plotting out the finale.

I remember planning to wrap up the first draft in December 2013. This never happened, but it does make me wonder what the ending would have been like if I had. The finale was coloured so much by recent travels and thoughts that it would have been a very different story.

But what about the future? What will the final draft be like? How many sub-plots will be removed and what additions will be made? I know my story needs more attention, but it is interesting to wonder how people will react when they read it. Does it make any sense? Will people like the ending?

I can almost see my story like some kind of topographic chart or heart monitor diagram. I can finally see all the key scenes and places. All the highs and all the lows. It is pleasing to have this resolution and finally have an empty mind.

I desperately want to leap back into the story and shift chapters around and give it a punchy kick-off, but I think it is best that I get some distance from it for a while. Hopefully then I will have a better perspective over it.

Right now I’m looking forward to working on the second draft. The idea of making all these images and crazy thoughts more robust and structured sounds really exciting, but I am certain it will be a difficult process. If it will allow me to do my characters a better service (and if people actually enjoying reading it) then it will all be worth it.


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A Fond Farewell

December 15, 2014

I went to see Battle of Five Armies today. Life will never be the same.

In years past I have watched Jackson’s Tolkien movies at one minute past midnight on the day of their release, so I could watch them the first minute I could. On this final occasion I was in the cinema a whole thirteen hours later – an indication perhaps of the lessening hold this last trilogy has on me.

Nevertheless long before the credits rolled I had tears on my cheeks and plenty more in my eyes. Billy Boyd sang his song and I had to catch myself lest snot lay waste to my dwindling tissues. I was the last one in the cinema, lights up and bleary eyed as the last of the credits rolled. A lone VUE girl in her black shirt and trousers, baseball cap, brushed up popcorn and cartons and pop bottles. In some respects I was afraid to leave. Peter Jackson has shaped and driven so much of this creative mind, I was struggling to say goodbye. I know it is not goodbye of course but to Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth the journey is at an end.

It is now twelve years since Jackson and friends first lit a creative fire inside of me. In that time my writing adventure has been filled with journeys. From writing endless blogs after realising I had no words to paint fiction narratives. The marvel of joining a book club and realising there was a world of fiction outside commercial genres. Learning, learning learning. From World history, religion, psychology. Writing short narratives that evolved to short stories that became writing a book. The five year passion of Chasing Innocence and learning traditional and digital publishing on the way. Joining a writing group and the first meeting with my book clasped tight in hand. Through shared experiences these last three years with the writers of WordWatchers. Always easier in my own company I surprised myself and made a few friends along the way.

Mixing with writers offers endless opportunities for distraction, often following a common cause to better writing. It has helped me discover the type of writer I am. Significantly in these three years I have failed to finish a single book despite working on three.

The lack of completion has come largely with my ambitious goals for these projects – I had to further evolve as a writer to be able to write them. Recently I also realised I’m not finishing books because I’m a method actor of writers, all or nothing. Which doesn’t work well with distractions.

As I sat in the cinema with the credits rolling it dawned on me it wasn’t only Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth that had come to pass. If I wanted to write these stories and bring life to the characters my time with WordWatchers had too.

It was a bitter sweet moment, realising a goodbye and in the same moment the excitement of an obvious path. I’ve a lot of treasured memories these last three years and friendships I hope will continue.

For now I bid you a fond farewell.

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Proof Reading – From Word to Mobi to Kindle

October 20, 2014

I’m currently busy writing a book that’s been buzzing away in my head since February. I’m so far into writing the book my thoughts recently turned towards proof reading, which immediately reminded me of finishing my first book. It was in 2009 and the now ubiquitous Kindle was not even a rumour in the UK.

Back then I exported my book to PDF but reading it on the laptop screen was no different than reading it in a wordprocessor, so I printed it two pages per A4, bought a guillotine and binding machine and read my book in A5. The different medium really helped me see the narrative from a whole new perspective.

Fast forward five years and I recently cleaned out my study and found those A5 copies of Chasing Innocence. It was a shock, not so much that I still had them, but a reminder of the trouble I’d gone to, to proof read.  Nowadays I spend five minutes preparing the manuscript and then email it to my kindle for review five minutes later.

Proof reading on the Kindle is so much better. Not only is it always a thrill to see my writing so quickly available to read on a device but the annotation and bookmarking of the Kindle means I’m not left squinting at my undecipherable handwriting days after the proof read, or scratching my head trying to figure why I highlighted a whole paragraph in yellow.

Conversely it always surprises me how few of my writing buddies know how to get their manuscripts onto the Kindle. I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be cool if I did a video on just that – getting your word manuscript onto the Kindle.

There are two videos. The first takes your manuscript and creates a Kindle ready file in three easy steps. The second shows you how to email the file to your Kindle.

I hope the videos are helpful.



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Banishing the tumbleweed

April 19, 2014

It’s been a crazy couple of months for WordWatchers as a whole. Julian has been frantic to finish his Work-in-Progress Sundial ready for the group to critique it in our May meeting. Sundial arrived in our inboxes a few days ago, not quite finished, Julian is hoping to get the last few paragraphs written as we read the main story… He described it as that wonderful scene from Wallace and Gromit’s The Wrong Trousers where Gromit is desperately laying track ahead of the speeding train on which he’s riding….

Charlotte has been desperately trying (and succeeding) in meeting her Publisher’s deadline for her fourth novel. I take my hat off to Charlotte, I really don’t know how she does it, she’s a superstar of perseverance.

Abbie, having secured her publishing deal back in January has been working her way through her edits with her publisher with little time for anything else.

Debbie continues to seek out every possible opportunity to further the brand of Alonzo the Chicken, while simultaneously finishing book 3 and dabbling in a rhyming book for younger children.

John Potter (along with Julian) has started a new job, bringing his writing bromance with Julian to an end and also, inevitably reducing the amount of time available for writing…

And so on and so forth, and this, I guess, is why there’s been tumble weed blowing across the WordWatchers blogging area for the last two months.

So this is a mini-blog, until normal service can be resumed and hopefully the rest of my fellow WordWatchers pitch in with a blog of their own.

Since my last blog my adventures in 75-word flash fiction has continued and I had my 21st  story published on the Paragraph Planet site on April 11th. Helen Withington, my illustrator for our WIP 75 Squared, continues to produce wonderful work for the book. We’ve been spurred on by the opportunity to present the finished work at the Yeovil Literary Festival in November (organised by fellow 75-worder James Brinsford). There’s a chance that some of my 75-worders will appear on bus stops around the city, the idea of which, just makes me smile every time I think about it.

I also entered a short story into the Bath Short Story Award (BSSA), I finished and tweaked one of my old WIPs and was very glad to have something to draw upon because I didn’t start working on it until a few hours before the midnight deadline. Why did I leave it so late? Well, I wasn’t planning on entering, but during the day BSSA tweeted that they were short of Science Fiction stories and I can’t resist a challenge to write something in my preferred genre.

Finally, today, I entered five stories into Mashable’s “Tweet a complete short story in 140 characters” (details here: http://mashable.com/2014/04/15/twitter-fiction-contest-bj-novak/) I suspect they won’t win any prizes, but to come up with five different ideas in 20 minutes and squeeze them into less than 130 characters (you had to include the #MashReads tag thus removing 10 characters from your 140 character tweet/story) really does make you think about not just every word, but every character (at one point, in one story, I changed a past tense story to the present tense to save three precious characters).

Of course, all of this is tied up with the fact that my wife, Vee, continues to not be very well, so I find it easy to distract myself from the editing of my novel Endless Possibilities which is what I’m actually supposed to be doing…

Of course, I’ve managed to distract myself still further by writing a long overdue blog.

Until next time.

Rocket Scientist

John Hoggard ex-Rocket Scientist











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The Painter’s Apprentice nominated for RoNA

February 16, 2014

For the second year running, WordWatchers’ very own, Charlotte Betts, has been shortlisted for Historical Romantic Novel by the Romantic Novelists Association . Having seen Charlotte win last year’s award, with The Apothecary’s Daughter, we were absolutely thrilled to hear of this year’s nomination and have the collective fingers and toes firmly crossed and wish her all the best with The Painter’s Apprentice.

The Painter's Apprentice - RoNA Shortlisted 2014

The Painter’s Apprentice – RoNA Shortlisted 2014

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And now we can tell you…

February 13, 2014

When I wrote my last blog about our weekend away at Symondsbury Manor, I said we had lots of fizz, but I couldn’t tell you why… Well, now I can!

The lovely Abbie Todd, our powerhouse Young Adult author wrote a fabulous novel (amazingly a couple of years ago now), that we, as a group, loved. After what has seemed an eternity of tweaking and rewrites, in collaboration with her agent, Jodie at United Artists, the novel has emerged all the stronger and has been picked up by Little, Brown and is going to published in March 2015.

When we read it we knew it was very special, but, even for something very special you still need at least a tiny bit of luck (alongside all that hard work) and Abbie has finally got her well deserved break.

You can read about it here in the wonderful press release from Little, Brown via The Bookseller.

The toast to Abbie’s success at Symondsbury Manor                       Photo: (C) John Potter 2014


Until next time.

John Hoggard

John Hoggard

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A Procrastination of Writers

January 25, 2014

Apparently the collective names of things is made up, there is no official rhyme or reason to it, no rules and therefore, “We”, i.e. WordWatchers, while on our writer’s retreat decided that the most appropriate, informative and accurate collective name for a group of writers should be: A Procrastination.

This particular procrastination consisted of the current core ten members of WordWatchers plus our most successful alumni Katherine Webb and it collected together at Symondsbury Manor. We met on the evening of Friday, 17th January and, if we’re honest, ran around this magnificent manor house like naughty school children for the first hour. It had so many nooks and crannies to explore. Several of us looked for entrances to Narnia.

The house’s interior is simply wonderful. Absolutely nothing matches or is coordinated in any way. The furniture is at odds with the light fittings, which wrestle for attention with wall paper and ceiling decor…

Zebra Ceiling

Zebra Ceiling

My own room for example contained an enormous (and extremely comfortable) four poster bed…

Four Poster Bed

Four Poster Bed

…and on closer inspection…

Cable Tie Lamp

Cable Tie Lamp

…a lamp constructed entirely from cable ties…

I think that sums up the feel of the house rather well – gloriously quirky and great fun.

I got a good feeling from the house and its grounds and while I never found such a gate, my first piece of inspiration was turned into a 75-worder within an hour of arrival:

The gate was green with age. Iron hinges had rusted away. Instead, tendrils of ivy tied the gate up against the cracked stone pillars. The gate had been chained and bolted some time ago, but with a sharp tug, years of rust fell away and the chain came apart in my hand. I pushed on the gate, expecting to meet resistance, but it instead it toppled inwards, drawbridge like, inviting me to cross the threshold.


It really did feel like we had crossed a threshold entering that house, a magical place where writing would somehow, just happen, I had no doubts about it at all.

So, when I nearly knocked myself out an hour later by failing to duck sufficiently to get into the larder which had a very low doorway (and I hadn’t even had a drink at that point!), then I immediately (well, after an ice pack was applied to the Tom & Jerry like lump on the top of my head) wrote another 75-worder:

Yet again, he had failed to duck sufficiently. People rushing forward, hands to mouths. He was sitting on the floor, looking up, waiting for his brain to stop slopping around inside his skull. Waiting for the momentary double-vision to pass. Waiting for the shock to wear off and the pain to rush in. They handed him a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a towel to press to another soon-to-be scar upon his bald head.


All in all I wrote sixteen 75-word stories over the weekend, in fact I wrote fourteen of them just on the Saturday. At one point I was turning them out at three every hour. That’s in no way meant to come across as showing off, but for those wonderful hours on Saturday I really was ‘in the zone’. The house and the inspirational company of my fellow WordWatchers just made it feel very easy.

It wasn’t all writing, there was huge amounts of food, cooked beautifully by Charlotte, who would often dash away from her novel to briefly do battle with the house’s old AGA, and then return to her work, a glorious waft of whatever delight would be served later, following her up the stairs.

There was wine, lots of wine in fact and quite a lot of fizz too, except I can’t tell you why there was fizz, not yet…

And of course, being WordWatchers, there was cake, lots and lots of cake…

Let them eat cake! L to R: Katherine, Danielle, John Potter and Chris. The cake attempts to make its escape in a blur of motion.

Let them eat cake!
L to R: Katherine, Danielle, John Potter and Chris.
The cake attempts to make its escape in a blur of motion.

During Saturday, in that incredibly creative run I reached my 300th Paragraph, this was the number I had set myself to reach over the weekend. It is the number I have decided to stop at. It is the number I think I need to have enough material to carry out my plan to release three books full of 75-word stories over the course of 2014.

I have been submitting one 75-word story to Paragraph Planet every day since July 4th 2013. The sixteen I wrote over the weekend will take me, unplanned but serendipitously to February 4th 2014. Seven months to the day and, I feel, a fitting end to this facet of my writing journey.

On the Sunday of the writing weekend I fired my novel back up, much neglected, much in need of a good edit – the very reason in fact I started writing those 75-word stories, to improve my editorial skills, to overcome my urge to overwrite (little did I know they’d be so addictive!).

Endless Possibilities is in need of even more TLC than I recall. All those 75-worders have certainly removed much of the tint of my rose-tinted spectacles of my own writing and it is clear from the opening chapters that I was enjoying the writing more than I was enjoying telling the story. It’s going to be a battle, this edit, a bloody battle and many, many words will fall over the coming months.

I think however, this time, I am ready for the onslaught.

Finally, I’d like to end with my favourite picture of the weekend. It is of Julian, deep in thought as the new novel swirls around his mind’s eye, but not necessarily making it to the end of his fingertips. The cup of steaming coffee and ping-pong ball are there accidentally, but are rather symbolic of the entire weekend.



One thing I think is certain, WordWatchers and Symondsbury Manor will become intertwined again. There is talk of doing this every year and I’m definitely up for that.

Until next time.

John Hoggard

John Hoggard









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The Fight Before Christmas – A Book For Our Time

December 22, 2013

The Fight Before Christmas

The Fight Before Christmas


Chris McCormack‘s latest children’s book, The Fight Before Christmas, is very much a book for our times. Firstly, at the time of writing this blog, that time is obviously Christmas; with just a few days to go before the big yuletide ho ho, and as a delightful take on Clement C. Moore’s classic tale, the book ticks that box beautifully.

But there’s more to it than that.

Embracing all that the digital world has to offer, Chris has constructed a book that reflects the potential that digital books have to be so much more than just an electronic version of their printed sibling and offer some interesting ideas for authors looking to bring new ideas to their work.

While still delivering everything we’d want from a children’s story – great characters, an engaging plot, and a timeless message that appeals to young and old – the iBook version utilises the digital medium to engage the reader in other ways too. Chris presents the reader with opportunities to click on the screen and learn more about the traditions of Christmas and also try to find hidden messages from the characters. And at the back of the book there’s an interactive quiz to test how much you’ve been paying attention.

And, of course, there’s the audio version, where you can opt to have the story read to you (by me!). At one point, there’s even a song (for which I engage the services of my daughter). And this is another interesting angle the book brings for cross-over, adding layers within a single medium and really showing what authors can do to bring their readers more completely into their world.

To promote the book, Chris has been combining old school press with online marketing. A couple of weeks ago, the book was featured in our local newspaper, but online Chris has also pulled together a great promotional video, once again showing how authors can use readily-available tools to add a little cinema-glitz to their awareness campaigns.


Take a look. And, if you’re a writer considering how to bring your next work to the world, there are definitely a few ideas here worth considering.

Merry Christmas from WordWatchers!




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WordWatchers at Reading Writers

October 24, 2013

Reading Writers

Reading Writers

WordWatchers (at least a subset – Julian, Abbie and me) had a wonderful evening with Reading Writers (@ReadingWriters) last night.

We (as a group), had been invited, to judge and critique their most recent competition. We were honoured and readily agreed. It was only on the way to Reading that the trio had what could be best described as an “Oh…” moment.

This is moment was because in WordWatchers critiques have been described as “being mauled by velvet claws” and we weren’t sure how our ‘style’ of critiquing would go down.

It was very interesting for us to see how another group works, especially given how much larger Reading Writers as a group is compared to WordWatchers (our continued meeting in our own sitting rooms, is both our strength, but from a size, point-of-view, our Achilles Heel).

The evening, however, seemed to go brilliantly (it certainly did for us) and we’re very grateful to have been included.

Highlights included Miranda who had to hand her story over to Eileen to read because she was reduced to tears by her own prose (as she read it so well with such comic timing that it was a delight to listen to, despite her protests to the contrary), and also, Josh, whose story had him adlibbing the odd swear-word as he squirmed beneath the gaze of the 20 people in the room as he read out his tale of an excitable mouse going on holiday – complete with actions. It was hilarious, despite (or because of?) Josh’s obvious discomfort.

We certainly hope to work more closely with Reading Writers and we hope our critiquing has not scared them off – we do it because we want everybody who has a dream to write – to get better. We genuinely loved being part of the process and it was a wonderful opportunity to see so many different styles of writing and we really did get a lot out of it.

We had a lovely time in the pub afterwards with Julian and Josh (Reading Writers ‘voice’ on Twitter) talking about children’s stories and Abbie and Julie Cohen talking about… well, I would blush if I told you…

Finally, congrats to the winners, but thank you to all the participants for allowing us to be part of your competition.

John Hoggard

John Hoggard











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What are you reading?

October 16, 2013

Very often in social chit-chat with other writerly types the question comes around to books. When we’ve exhausted conversation on our own masterpieces I’ll usually ask what book the other writer is currently reading. To which the surprising and frequent answer is that they rarely read books while working on a project. Often these projects have lasted years.

‘Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life.’
Stephen King, On Writing, 2000

Oddly the substance of the above quote is routinely refuted. I never debate, we are after all masters of our own destiny. This writer, the John Potter writer, seldom has less than three books on the go. Here is the most recent example of why.

Back in 2009 I had an idea for a book about a man whose wife was murdered and his unsuccessful attempts to track down her murderer. I wrote half of it between other projects through 2012.

Smart but different

Smart but different

The original title was The Man Who Would Right a Wrong (TMWWRAW) and focused around a simple man called Marcus. He was not stupid but a man who struggles with the world and people. When he can’t find his wife’s murderer he begins dreaming of her, and in the dreams she leads him towards her killer. I struggled to get a grip on his internal thoughts and voice though. What was his mindset? His kind of simple would be a long way from Forrest Gump but somewhere on the same dial. Rain Man was also another character I looked at. I couldn’t get traction.

By the middle of 2012 the story was out of control and had grown way beyond anything I actually wanted to write. It had become closer to an international and political thriller mess I couldn’t dig myself out of. The story came to a dead stop. TMWWRAW went on the back burner.

Chasing Innocence was published 2012 and I wrote a novella called Mahrie, published April 2013. June 2013 I properly started the sequel to Chasing Innocence and on we went. Always finding time around writing to read books and watch movies.



In July 2013 I watched Capote and was bewitched by Philip Seymour Hoffman’s incredibly nuanced performance. I was also very intrigued by Truman Capote as a character himself. As a consequence I read Capote’s highly acclaimed In Cold Blood, a non-fiction account of four brutal murders, which starts with a beautiful and visual description of a mid-Kansas rural landscape, the farms and the communities grown around them. The book traces the impact of the murders on the local and very close community, who all suspect each other of the murders. It also creates a detailed insight into the minds and lives of the men who actually committed the crimes, who were far from local. I have never read anything like it. Not one breath of sensationalism and you would have to go a long way to find that kind of honest insight into the mind and background of a psychotic murderer.

Feel good

Feel good

In August I read 600 Hours of Edward, a captivating first person account of an Asperger’s sufferer attempting to deal with family, neighbours, life and the colours of his garage door.

Idly browsing my Kindle after finishing Edward I found and read Christopher Hitchens’ essay on George Orwell: Why Orwell Matters. A key theme was Orwell’s belief many of those in western politics who retained power after WWII had been busily working through the war to ensure they retained power in the event of a Fascist victory: Just who are the good guys?

All of which was feeding into my writing of the sequel to Chasing Innocence, called Hunting Demons, the lead male character of which is very much influenced by characters played by Mel Gibson, notably Gibson’s ‘Porter’ in Payback. Listening to the Payback audio commentary by Brian Helgeland, led me to Point Blank written by Richard Stark, the book Payback was based on. Richard Stark was the pen name of Donald Westlake, a very successful American literary author. Several of Westlake’s novels have been made into movies. Most famously Point Blank but also most recently an adaption headlined by Jason Statham. At the front of Westlake’s novels you will often find an endorsement by Elmore Leonard.

Character driven story

Character driven story

The writing of my sequel continued at pace during August while reading some of Elmore Leonard’s books, which I’d never done before. I read The Hunted, Raylan and 310 to Yuma, many other Elmore Leonard books await on my Kindle. His books consist of focused narratives built around a single story with few tangles. They are almost entirely driven by character and a simple premise. No wonder so many have been turned into movies when the structure and beats of his books resemble those of a movie.

The link between books written by Leonard and Westlake, so often turned into moving picture, led me to start breaking films made from books down into fifteen distinct beats found in both book and film.


Time and Destiny

Which led me via a random sequence of events, to deconstruct the beats from Tom Cruise’s recent Oblivion and to listen to the informative audio commentary by Cruise. A quick check on IMDB and I discovered he was currently working on a movie called, The Edge of Tomorrow, which I learned was based on a book titled, All You Need is Kill, by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. I read the book – a sublime Groundhog Day, see also Source Code, narrative charting a single day in the life of a rookie soldier, a day in which he dies in combat and is destined to relive over and over until he can acquire skills enough to survive the day. This was such a different, well structured story, full of real character and invention, I added the audio book to my Audible library and have so far listened to it about five times during various car journeys or zipping about with headphones while hoovering.

The likely improbable

The likely improbable

In September a friend recommended I watch Stardust which I found to be a good concept ruined by filmmaking. The original book was written by Neil Gaiman and I doubted the disjointed story of the film came from his writing. On a flight to Cyprus in September, I read Stardust and realised the movie’s flaw was in trying to re-work Gaiman’s adult fairytale for a young audience. I was struck by how Gaiman’s writing made a world of implausibilities seem totally natural. In Cyprus I spent the week reading in the sun or in the shade beside the pool. Towards the end of the week I was escaping the wonderfully relentless heat, sat beneath an open veranda beside the children’s pool and the all inclusive bar. I think there might have been a cold Keo in a frosted glass on my table.

Amid all the splashing children and attentive mothers in the pool, was a man with his young blond haired boy. The man had a very happily wide grin on his face. It never left his face. He looked almost insanely happy as he weaved the boy backwards and forwards through the water. In complete contrast to the other bare limbed children his blond boy was clothed in a child’s version of a wetsuit, socks, armbands and legionnaires hat, complete with neck flap. He looked well protected and idolised. The mother was sat just off to the side, reading an iPad. She was attractive, a few levels more than the almost stupidly grinning man.

It occurred to me the man and his wife seemed familiar and then I realised – they were how I’d always imagined Marcus and his wife in TMWWRAW. Immediately after, out of nowhere, the random musings of my unconscious (non-conscious for the psychology buffs) came together and there it was – a solution to my dead in the water TMWWRAW problem a year after it was mothballed. I now knew the story needed to be focused around a simple, meaningless murder of the wife. A small story, nothing big and grand. The power would come from the characterisation and the loss and the need for closure. It would be a whydunit and the conclusion, as clear as anything in my head, would echo Orwell’s observations relayed by Hitchens – a theme of who are the good guys? I also had Marcus’s perspective nailed right there – a combination of my perceptions of this madly grinning and happy dad in the pool and what I’d learned reading about a man with Aspergers in 600 Hours of Edward. Pulling off the fact the murdered wife leads Marcus to her killers through dreams would be tough, I’d just have to study how Gaiman pulled off the improbable in Stardust, just as I would study Aspergers and read more Orwell.

Destiny and time

Destiny and time

I also realised the TMWWRAW title needed to go and swapped it for The Handyman and in contrast to the whiz bang opening of TMWWRAW, this revised opening would have a clear and simple narrative and echo Capote’s open landscape of In Cold Blood, swapped for the rolling skyline of Devon in the summer, the narrative retaining some element of the journalistic in witness statements to build a sense of Marcus’s abilities. The opening would feature an outwardly innocent man (Marcus) and child playing with a kite. A family gunned down, Marcus desperately trying to save them. And we think we know why his family are dead, because of his past, immediately correlated from the deep recesses of my recollection to Andy Mcnab’s Last night Another Soldier…, which I’d read and reviewed three years before. The concept for duplicating Gaiman’s ability to make the improbable sound probable, went a little bit out of control as I daydreamed by the pool. The intriguing construct of All You Need Is Kill re-wired itself with a distant memory of a movie I’d watched at the cinema twenty three years before: Jacob’s Ladder – could this be a story with a twist on time and destiny at the end? Even the structure for a 55k word novella was in place, having spent so much time reading the books of Westlake and Leonard and breaking them down into the core beats of story. This would not be a novel with a wide and messy scope. It would be a novella, echoing those core story beats I had been studying. It was all there. In my mind’s eye Marcus was Tom Cruise, diminutive, silent and intense. Fast and deadly but mentally unable to resolve by himself who murdered his wife.

This all came together in about 90 seconds as I sat beside the pool in Cyprus, watching the happily grinning dad and his wet suited little boy. I might have welled up with the excitement of it all.

I quickly had two very different endings in mind, a crowd pleasing, no dry eye in the house version and a harder to pull off thought provoking ending that floated at the very border of my imagination and defied all attempts to reel it in.

Back home I was faced with a need to keep working on Hunting Demons and finish a 2nd edition edit of Chasing Innocence. I needed to park The Handyman for later and then I had a brainwave. I’d write it in November, NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month. I’d do some planning in October in downtime, then put everything else on hold for November with the goal of writing and finishing The Handyman in one go. But how would I plan for such a condensed writing experience?

Early October I broke First Blood the movie down into the key story beats, which you can read here. Writing the trivia section of the post I got to wondering what the original book’s author was up to these days. Quite a lot it turns out. David Morrell is a very interesting and very accessible author who has written at length about the processes involved in writing First Blood and the subsequent movie adaptations of Rambo II and Rambo III. He has also written a book based on his writing career and methods that offers insight on a par with Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’. Right in the middle of David Morrell’s book, amongst all the interesting detail, was one of the greatest pieces of writing advice I ever heard. I immediately put it into practise and started to plan for my NaNoWriMo.

I’ll be updating my progress through NaNoWriMo and when the dust has settled afterwards, I’ll let you know whether that planning advice by David Morrell was successful.

If you’re interested:

I just finished Fahrenheit 451 and the excellent companion study guide by Bradbury’s. I am listening again to David Morrell’s The Successful Novelist on Audible, conversationally and captivatingly read by Patrick Lawlor. I have also been listening to Malcolm Gladwell’s intriguing David and Goliath, also narrated by Gladwell. Next up on Audible is David Morrell’s Creepers.

On my kindle I’m currently reading Ashes to Dust by Yrsa Sigurdardottir, and Rambo and Me, The Story behind the Story by David Morrell. Next up is Land of Midnight Days, YA fiction by Katrina Jack and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday.

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The Palace of Lost Dreams

Charlotte Betts, 7th Novel has been shortlisted for the RNA 2019 'Best Historical Romantic Novel'.

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‘Forging ahead…’

The ForgeWW member John Hoggard's short story 'Elemental Sacrifice' features in the Science Fiction & Fantasy Anthology 'The Forge: Fire and Ice', which was released in July 2019.

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WW member Charlotte Betts and former member Danielle Auld have something wonderful to offer you.

Cleared for launch!

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How to survive a critique


WordWatchers is reviewing one full novel a month. By the end of 2017, it will have critiqued 7 novels. 5yrs after she wrote it, Abbie's blog about the process is still very relevant.

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