Airship Stowaway

I’ve been steadily adding to my short story set in the Aeropolis universe. It’s called Airship Stowaway and I’ve been posting it up on Wattpad. Some of it is repurposed stuff from an early draft of Airship City, then called Aeropolis, and if you have read Airship City and want to read some more, here is your chance! When it’s done I will publish it properly on Kindle, but for now you can read along on Wattpad.

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Cover change, and a new chapter

I’ve decided to go back to the original cover. I finally realised that I had chosen the yellow-danger-sign cover mostly for visual impact, but it didn’t feel very original and it certainly didn’t seem to be in keeping with the book, being quite modern and simple. I just like the old cover more.

I’m using some 3D software to design a new cover, which will include an image of Joseph (something I’ve always wanted) and once that is done, I’ll then do the print edition, and also relaunch Airship City with some new content!

Yes, the beauty of self-publishing via the Kindle is the ability to upload a new version whenever you like. Based on some feedback from one of my reviewers, I’ve realised that there is an exciting chapter missing from the book, and I’m in the process of writing that chapter and adding it in. Everyone who has already bought Airship City will get the opportunity to download the new file as well. My aim is to get it done in the next month or so.
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Rewriting Aeropolis Some More

I was lucky enough to be invited to submit Aeropolis to a publisher who doesn’t normally accept submissions from un-agented writers, and my initial partial submission resulted in a request for the entire manuscript! This all happened really quickly, and if that wasn’t enough, I heard from their editor in December.

Unfortunately it wasn’t an acceptance. But it was the most positive feedback that you can imagine, short of actual acceptance. The editor said some very nice things about my writing (I just love it when people do that!) and is prepared to look at anything I write in the future, including a rewrite of Aeropolis, because…

Well, here we get to the less positive bit. She felt that Aeropolis as it stands is not a true young adult (YA) novel, because of the way I had written the lead character Joseph: he comes across as much younger. (Interestingly one of my beta readers now says she missed the part where I give his age, and simply assumed throughout that he was much younger than a teenager!) This is not in itself problematic, except that this particular publisher only does YA, not middle grade.

So I have the choice of trying to find a middle-grade publisher, or rewriting to take advantage of the incredibly valuable opportunity that an “open door” with an editor represents. Since the manuscript is out there already, being considered (I hope!) by various agents, in some sense I am already trying to find another publisher. So how can it harm me to hedge my bets and start the rewrite? It will be a good experience in any event, responding to editorial feedback, and an exercise in technical skill.

So I thought when I started the process. But now that I am actually into the nuts and bolts of the rewriting process, I’m having a lot of fun doing it as well! There is something pleasing about going back to a scene and looking at it from a new angle, trying something different, exercising the awesome authorial power to go for something radically different.

Of course there will be difficult points, hard choices, struggles to make it work. But I’m really happy just to be writing again!
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How I Write part II

In the first instalment I covered how I actually generate the text that makes up a book, by bashing it out on my iPhone. But of course there is much more to writing than just putting words into a document. I’m not one of those writers who can just start typing with no idea of how things are going to turn out: I need to outline the plot in a fair amount of detail, using index cards (one card per scene, usually), so that when I am writing, I can just concentrate on the description and the dialogue and so on, without also needing to generate the plot on the fly as well.

Obviously I don’t stick to the index cards slavishly: sometimes things turn out differently from the plan, as I realise that a character would behave in a different way, or if something isn’t working. But it’s what I need to get started. I went through the first couple of drafts of Aeropolis with just index cards and the individual iPhone documents, pasting them all into a big Word document when I wanted to revise, or give them to my beta readers (at that stage, it was only my wife). This was a huge pain, and it was then that I heard about Scrivener, through a writer friend.

Scrivener is writing software that was developed from the ground up (by a writer) to be a fantastic writing tool, and it succeeds in this task admirably. It’s an incredibly comprehensive offering, with tools that are useful for a wide range of writing, from journalism to academic articles, to screenplays, and of course, novels. The brilliant thing about Scrivener from my perspective is that it uses a system of individual documents, one per scene usually, that you can split, merge, drag around to put into a different order, et cetera, and then compile into a single complete document at the press of a button. In one of its views, you can even represent the individual documents as index cards!

So it was fairly straightforward, conceptually, for me to transfer all of my individual iPhone documents into Scrivener, and once this was done I was even able to synchronise Scrivener with the Elements folder in Dropbox, so that any writing or editing which I did on the iPhone was updated to my Scrivener project whenever I did a sync. Fantastic!

I was greatly aided in this endeavour by David Hewson’s Writing a Novel with Scrivener. David is the author of the popular Nic Costa thrillers, set in Rome, but his informative blog posts on his writing techniques have fascinated and informed me in equal measure. And this book is just wonderful, setting out in great detail how he uses Scrivener to produce his awesome output, with plenty of invaluable tips and tricks.

Scrivener makes revisions a lot easier, because you can easily see the flow of plot in the novel. You can even track things like point of view, so that you can compile a single point of view into one document, to check that it makes sense on a standalone basis. Structural problems become easier to see and to solve.

I use both paper and Kindle to revise, and Scrivener can output a very serviceable Kindle file, or a Word document. You can choose at the compile stage how the document should flow together, with page breaks and chapter headings (auto numbered if you desire), and of course you can recompile with different settings within seconds if something isn’t quite right.

I’ve heard it said that whenever two writers get together the conversation almost invariably turns, sooner or later, to a discussion of how great Scrivener is. I can well believe it.



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Rewriting Aeropolis

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks doing what I hope will be a final rewrite for Aeropolis. I know that all writing is rewriting, that writing is when we make the stuff but rewriting is when we make it good... but still. Every page of the printout is covered with revisions. I often think “How did I not see that?” I’m very glad I followed David Hewson’s advice to print it all out and read it through. As he says, there’s something about seeing it in a different format -- paper instead of on-screen -- that helps you to pick up problems.

My aim is to get finished in time to submit Aeropolis to a contest. I’m not certain that contests are a good idea, but even if I don’t actually submit it, the deadline is serving as a useful spur to get the darn thing finished. Once it’s done, I’ll decide what to do with it!
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How I Write

I’ve always wanted to write. I was one of those kids who loved to read. I remember when I first learned to read, I would go to the school library at first break, take out a book, read it in the break, and then go back at second break to get another book. I read everything I could lay my hands on. So I naturally wanted to be one of those amazing people who wrote the books that I loved. But for a long time I didn’t think I could do it.

Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that I was waiting for someone or something to come along and say, “Now you can be a writer.” Or I was waiting for inspiration to strike. Or for the time to do it.

I dabbled with writing at times, writing a short story, or a screenplay. But there was always this sense of uncertainty. It’s almost as if I wanted a guarantee of success before I put in what I imagined to be the enormous effort required to write a book. I was scared by all the stories of rejection after rejection. I was too focused on the external result.

But finally, late last year, I decided that if I was ever going to write something, I just needed to do it. There was never going to be a perfect time, I was never going to have the luxury of the perfect writing space, with lots of free time in which to do it. Now is all I have, but it’s enough.

I decided to write every day, and to use the one, consistent chunk of free time that I had every day, my morning commute on the train. I have to spend more than an hour commuting each way, every day, time which I usually spend reading, but I realised it would be great to use it for writing too.

The only question was how. I thought of using my little netbook, and even experimented with it a bit, but its short battery life and tiny keys were frustrating. Also, typing on a keyboard held in your lap is really uncomfortable. Your wrists are bent too much. And there aren’t any tables on my train.

Balancing the computer on a bag on my knees worked better, but it still wasn’t great. I also didn’t like the attention I felt that someone working on a laptop got from the other commuters.

So I decided to try to write on my iPhone. I’ve had an account with the amazing Dropbox service for some time now. Dropbox lets you back up your files online, and also share them across computers and devices like iPhones, keeping everything synchronised automatically. I knew there were some apps that use Dropbox to save their files - I needed an easy way to get my stuff off the iPhone, and I’m also paranoid about backup.

I tried a few apps before settling on Elements. It uses a special subfolder of your Dropbox account, and you can create subfolders and text files very easily. So I started to write Aeropolis. I already had an outline on index cards, so I simply started with card one, created a new document, and wrote.

I’ve had my iPhone for many years now; in fact my current iPhone 4 is my second one, I had one of the original, first-gen iPhones first. So I’m very used to the soft keyboard. It does take a couple of days to get used to, but once you are used to it, it’s pretty nice. Obviously I cannot type on it nearly as fast as I could with a “proper” keyboard, but holding the iPhone in my hands on the train is a comfortable thing to do, and I’m not copy-typing anyway; I’m thinking up what to write as I do it, so if it takes slightly longer to actually type, it’s not a big problem.

I listen to music on the iPhone as I write, to block out anyone who is talking on the train. Some days I can write to anything but other days I prefer classical or electronic music with no lyrics.

I wrote Aeropolis in a number of small documents, usually starting a new document when I started on a new index card from my outlining. There were a number of reasons for this: I didn’t want to have to scroll down to the bottom of a long document each morning to start writing, and I was also concerned about backup. When you are editing a document, Elements constantly saves the document up to your Dropbox. But while travelling on the train, there are long periods, in tunnels, when there is no connectivity, and I worry about Elements losing some of what I have written, or (nightmare scenario) overwriting the entire document with a blank one when connectivity is restored. So by breaking the writing up into lots of little documents, I would be limiting the damage.

(I’ve never actually lost an entire document. But I did once lose a few paragraphs when I started a new document, and connectivity was lost before I had written anything.)

So that’s how most of Aeropolis was written, or at least the first two drafts. It worked well for me at the writing stage. But it was a pain to copy and paste those individual docs into a single Word document, and revising is also difficult with such a long doc. Fortunately, by this time I had heard of the amazing Scrivener! More on that in the next part.
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Welcome

Welcome to my new blog! I’ll be talking about my adventures in writing, discoveries about the publishing business, interesting book news, and also what I’m currently reading.

I am writing my first novel, Aeropolis, about James Samson, a fifteen-year-old airship fanatic who gets the chance to go to Aeropolis, an enormous flying city. But things don’t go entirely according to plan...

I’m currently working on the third draft, and I think this could be the final major draft, the one where it all comes together. I hope!
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