Month: October 2016

Mixing generations

A theme that has emerged in recent reviews of Abendau’s Legacy (and builds on those of Inish Carraig) is how I use children’s voices in what is, essentially, a trilogy targeted for adults.

‘His (Kare’s) children are the real focus, and, whether they like it or not, are crucial plot-drivers’ – Bryan Wigmore

It surprised me, not that it was being mentioned, but that it had only become noticeable in book three.

Children have been the focus of Abendau from the start. Ealyn risks madness to save his, in the opening scene. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to call it a theme – but it is a persistent story driver. And it’s not just one-way (because that would be weak storytelling and unrealistic). The kids worry about the adults, and each other, and their place in the great scheme of things.

‘It’s a brave decision to have characters so young and important – and it works’ – Pete Long.

I remember being very, very worried about opening Abendau’s Heir on a spaceship with an adult and two kids. For me, though, it felt logical. I simply do not see how strict genre restrictions on age are helpful to the readers, writers, or give a true understanding of what makes us tick as people.

I rail against the notion that all those voices can’t be merged together in one cohesive story. I share my house with young people. I’ve known them as babies, as toddlers, as young girls, and as teens.

I spend time with my mum – I’m as likely to be found shopping with her as anyone my own age. I have friends my own age to chat to, and friends who are older, and some who are younger.

My world is not a fixed narrative of one type of voice – and nor do I want my fictional work to be.

Which means the notion of being brave doesn’t come into it, writing-wise (although if I was writing to sell a blockbuster book, it would be easier if I could stop the bad habit of mixing all my ages up). For me, it is logical. Abendau is a big, sprawling tale about people. As reviewers have mentioned, it’s not about a world, or pitched battles, or jaw-droppingly clever politics – although all those are in it – it’s about people. A family crossing generations – as yours does, and mine, whatever its make up of people, ages and beliefs.

When such an approach is taken, it changes the importance of young people to the story. Make no mistake, in my house a change to the household routine, to the needs and requirements, to the culture, if you like, is driven as much by my children’s voices, as is it the adults’.

In the interest of being useful, then, I listed some of the things I do to make the children and adults have parity.

1. Our place in the world.

In my experience, young people are not that much different from adults. So, when Bryan went on to say that the children’s characterisation is ‘every bit as compelling as their parents’ that is how it should be. Just because language may be less mature, or beliefs less fixed, does not mean a young person should be less formed, or real, than an adult. The age and stage they are at is representative of a person, not a cardboard character used only to drive the plot.

The trick, then, is – as with an adult character – being able to ask how that person – not that child, or that teenager, but that person – would react in that situation. YA writers do it all the time for teens, and adult writers for adults, and it is exactly the same process. Empathy, if you like.

2. Language.

There are things I don’t know about my kids – I hope! – but I am aware when they’re with their friends there is a different language spoken than with me.

Similarly, when I’m with my husband or best mate, sans kids, we talk about things, and in a manner, that we never would in mixed company. And with my mother, or aunts and uncles, it’s different again.

What I struggle to identify is which of those voices is the real me? I’d argue that none of them definitively are, and each of them is.

3. Interactions

To capture cross-generational relationships, we need to allow our characters space to be the person they are, at that time. It’s not a case of putting a child into an adult situation, but instead capturing the persona that is that young person, in that situation.

It’s one of the things that makes some of the great child-characters so memorable. In To Kill a Mockingbird, it is Scout’s variant and honest relationships with a range of characters that helps to make the book work on a complex level. Not just Atticus, who comes alive through her, but her brother, her neighbours, the whole community. She is a shifting, changing, alive character, at once a child and then challenged beyond her years. Huck Finn, too, captures that essence of being both himself and what he must conform to and it is, for me, what makes him the more enduring character than the rather more conventional Tom Sawyer, who has less room to adapt and grow and interact with a range of people.

4. Character arcs

When writing Young adult books there is often a focus on growing up, finding one’s self – and that growing up often takes place away from the parents. It’s a great genre, I love YA, and I think it gives important space for young people to reflect and grow. But in a wider book those arcs may not carry the same focus.

That’s not to say they aren’t there, nor that they shouldn’t be. Ian McDonald’s Luna mixes adult and children, teenager and elderly voices, seamlessly. He deals with young people breaking free, with older people facing their own mortality, with the juggling that comes from being in the middle of many generations, with variant needs, beautifully. Another of my favourite books, Chris Beckett’s Dark Eden, mixes generations gracefully and without forcing it.

The conventional YA arcs – and wider story arcs – are there, but they are not the focus of the plot. For me – and only me – that is a natural way to immerse myself in a story, that these themes become part of the wider whole, and complement each other. Because to come to know ourselves, we must know others, too.

To do that, including the voices and focus of more than one generation makes for a very different, and often rewarding, reading experience.

Why I won’t do Nanowrimo

For those not familiar, Nanowrimo is the month writers, all across the world, decide to get their proverbial arses in gear and write the darn novel. The idea is to churn out 50,000 words by November 30th, starting on November 1st. That’s around 1666 words per day. If a writer wants to take the weekend off, they can up that to around 2.5k a day, and they’ll come in around target.

Each November, I get asked if I’m going to do it. This year, I’ve been asked by at least four people in various places. And, let’s be honest – I’m a logical target. I write quickly (2.5k a day is well within my comfort zone when I’m on form), and I’m just about to embark on a new project. Why on Earth wouldn’t I want to put my head down, join in with others, and bang out that novel.

I don’t do it. I won’t do it. I hate the idea of doing it.

I totally get and understand why other writers enjoy it. For anyone stuck in a rut and needing incentive to write, it can be a great tool – there is a sense of community with it, and you get nice shiny on-line trophies for meeting milestones. Others do it as part of their writing calendar, clearing the month of November, churning it out, and then spending the rest of the year honing that piece of work. Still others use it as the first means of actually getting out those words for the first time. I think that’s great – but I also think it’s okay not to want to do it.

So, why don’t I do Nanowrimo? Why does the very thought of it make me want to weep. I’ll get the easy one off the table. Creatively, for me, the process does not work.

Now, I’m familiar with the concept that first drafts stink. Every single one of mine has. I don’t mind that. But I truly wallow through first drafts. I struggle with characterisation, with plotting, with description. I have to stop regularly and plan where I’m going next. I’m already under pressure to complete, when starting with a blank page. If I did Nano, I’m reasonably sure the 50k words would be pure and utter crap that would be barely worth honing into anything, so much would I have grown to hate the story.

That’s the easy part. We all work in different ways and most writers find it easy to accept each other’s weird way of working.

The harder answer is that I don’t Nano because it would give me too much pressure.

I work with deadlines all the time. I have targets to meet, work deadlines, writing deadlines etc. I do deadlines.

But not every day for a month. Because, make no mistake, once I decided to write 50k words I would not allow myself to fail. Mentally, I’m not built that way. If I got sick and had to take a few days off, I wouldn’t decide that 35k was, actually, okay to achieve. If life got in the way of the writing, I’d steal some more life to catch things up.

Some of my writer friends are okay with the concept of not getting to 50k words, but just moving the piece of work on a bit. If I could be like this, I’d find the impetus of Nano fantastic. Others will do it, but not log for their trophies etc and that’s fine to. But not me. I could not downsize the expectations and still feel like I was doing it. Rules are rules… 

This is a personality thing, of course. I’m a driven person, once I set my mind to something. But it doesn’t always do me good. It puts me under pressure, makes me stressed and anxious (in fact, why have Nano in November when it’s one of the worst months for anyone sensitive to the light falling?), and gets in the way of my quality of life. No novel is worth that. It’s especially not worth it for an artificial goal.

And that’s the final reason I don’t like Nano. If I want to write, I write. I don’t want to feel that I have to write to achieve a shiny trophy and goal. My shiny goal is the novel that comes out at the end, or the short story, or the one person who contacts me to say they like what I’ve written. I hate the idea of being told I should write a novel in November, because someone, somewhere started an event each year. Call me contrary, or grumpy, or foggy-mindedly confusing. But that’s where I sit with imposed deadlines.

So, no, I won’t be doing Nanowrimo. I will be writing, and hopefully lots of words will appear. But so too will I be plotting, and taking time out time, and working time. Because, for me, that’s where my sanity lies.

Good luck to all those who do Nano! And good luck to all those who don’t – for whatever reason.

Models, models, everywhere…

And not the good-looking sort, sadly. No, what I’ve been musing on this week are models of business, specifically books. (Of course, this being a writer’s blog.) Much of what I’ve been mulling over is concerned with my own future direction and plans.

So, what I first wanted to talk about is Amazon, and the way they sell books. I focus on Amazon because, honestly, for e-books they are the only gig in town for many authors. They’re the biggest, the most visible and the one most intrinsically linked to Kindle, the biggest and most visible e-book reader brand. They are the closest thing I’ve seen to a monopoly, and that’s worrisome (partly for the book business in general, but also for the many, many authors who rely on them.)

Amazon is one huge bookshelf, essentially. Too big for anyone to browse through without guidance. Which means there are two ways to find a book – find it in their system, or know specifically what you want to buy and enter its details. It’s the first example I wanted to talk about.

How does Amazon decide what books you should see? It uses algorithms. Algorithms that are a complete secret, that no one fully understands – although many claim to – and that the fate of your book pretty much relies on, especially if you are either self published, e-book only published or with a small publisher. Those algorithms – we think – are based around sales, sales spikes, and review quantities (and, let’s be honest, the Amazon review system is flawed. More in a moment.)

What does that mean? It means that the slow-burn books, the ones that come through by word of mouth become harder to discover. It means that those authors who are a little cannier than others can work what’s known of the algorithms and do well from them. But, most importantly for this blog – it means if Amazon change the algorithms in your disfavour, and you’re reliant on Amazon sales for your income (as most of the big e-book sellers are), you’re very vulnerable. (It also means you can write the best darn book known to mankind and no one ever finds it but that’s a blog for another day when I’m feeling mean and grizzly about things.)

From a writing perspective, this is irksome and worrying. From a reader perspective, it’s irksome and worrying. We are no longer choosing our own books, but being fed by algorithms the book Amazon feel they stand to make the most money from (because, make no mistake, those algorithms are all skewed to make Amazon money.)

 I said above that the review system is flawed, and it is. Things I know that go on (and sometimes get caught, and sometimes don’t) include review exchanges – you give me 5* and I’ll repay the favour – purchasing reviews, posting reviews from fake accounts… it goes on and goes on. This happens because Amazon include review numbers in their algorithms, which means authors need them to make their books more visible. Any wonder some people will cheat? This is their income, after all.

Things that also happen – Amazon removing reviews from authors connected to other authors by Social media (I have, like, hundreds of writer friends. We share a common interest of writing and, usually, reading. I don’t review all of their books – I would neither have the time or inclination – but I have, some. And I give an honest review – although I’m unlikely to post a really awful review, but would decide not to leave any review instead.) Which brings us to the vulnerability of writers – all it takes is Amazon to decide a writer or publisher has infringed the rules, and they can remove the book with no warning or right of appeal.

For pretty much all the authors I know who are self or indie published, that would be the end for that book. No other sales outlet can take up the slack. Which means, as I stand at the moment, I’m vulnerable to all that. (Fortunately, I’ve kept the day job!)

All of which has me musing what way to take my career. When I started writing, I had no doubt – I wanted the career route which meant an agent, a traditional publishing deal, and a career. And it all looked pretty good for that happening, until step 3 fell through and then step 1 cast me adrift, and I found myself firmly in the indie route.

I’ve had an absolute blast going down that route. I have had my books out, have gained confidence without too much pressure, worked with fantastic people and learned skills and knowledge a trad career would not have given me. I’m not, actually, planning to move from that route for the next couple of years. (I have a book coming out with a small publisher next year, which I think is going to do well and which I love, and who I’m enjoying working with. I also have two other projects I’m not chasing anything other than an indie route for – one is a novella and it combines nicely with some shorts to the perfect length for me to release, and the other is my only true Young Adult book and I’m not looking to be repped as a YA author. Not again. I learn my lessons.)

But the time has come to review where I’m going after that. I’ve just finished my first big, big project – Abendau – and will probably start another series (a duology, I think, but we’ll see.) I do have another standalone calling, too, but the series is my main focus.

This series is, I think, more marketable than most of my stuff. It’s fantasy, rather than sf, so character-led is fine. It’s adult (young end of adult, but still adult), not young adult. It has Storm-Mages. Everyone loves a nice Mage!

I’m not ruling out indie books again (and, as with Inish Carraig, I might not be able to sell the series, anyhow) – but this product suits the agent-deal route better, I think. But it’s not just that: because I straddle both the indie and trad world, and because I’ve been lucky enough to go to a couple of conventions and meet a range of writers, I’ve seen both worlds. And the trad authors are, in my opinion (and I’m aware this opinion is open to a roasting – but remember, this is about me and my career, and I absolutely respect everyone else’s decision to make their mind up about what they want and how they’d like to achieve it) safer. If Amazon pulled the plug tomorrow, they would still have a writing income. (A hell of a dent, of course, but they wouldn’t lose everything.)

I’ve been a self employed consultant for over 15 years. I never, ever put all my eggs in one basket – and nor does anyone else I know. Sure, I have key contracts and one, in particular, provides reasonably steady income, but I always have a couple of additional things on the go or, at least, that my skills are up to date enough in that I could transfer to. Why? Because markets are funny things – they change, sometimes swiftly. To not be prepared for such a change would be very naive. I believe the same is true of my writing career and, I strongly believe the Amazon model, risks authors losing all their income very swiftly, in just a few key changes.

For that reason – and because I prefer the trad model anyway and believe it is still the model more authors do well within, long term (yes, yes, I know, there are exceptions and valid arguments on both sides) – I am going to get back on the agent trail. I’m not going to snatch at any various offers out there for my future work, but instead try to get back to the model that, I believe, makes this a more viable career in the long term.

It also means I’d better get writing…. 😉


Now book three of my Inheritance Trilogy, Abendau’s Legacy, is wending its way through ARC readers and the like, I wanted to do a couple of blogs about some of the themes I was trying to address over the trilogy.
(I’m not even sure it’s a good idea to do ‘themes’ – I worry do they stymie the story or make things a little false. Nonetheless, good little writer me had a few things in mind to achieve with the trilogy. One of those themes was trauma and the nature of it.)
Why write about such a big, emotive subject? Well, I’ve mentioned it before but one of the things I find extremely unsatisfying in a great many stories is the sense of invincible characters. You know, the type who can face any horror and still remain strong and unchanged. Sure, the writer might pay a bit of homage to the ordeal but to see a character truly changed is, for my taste, too rare. (Not that I’m obsessed with duffing my characters up – though I’m probably hard pressed to find one that something doesn’t happen to, somewhere….)
Why do I find it unsatisfying? Well, after 18 months of reviews and 5 years of various readers, editors and critique circles the one thing that shines through is that my characters feel real, which is what I was aiming for (either that, or I just got lucky. In four books. In multiple worlds.) To make a character feel real to a reader, they have to feel completely real to the writer. Not in the ‘list your character’s favourite colour and things to eat’ way, but in the living-breathing, ‘I could meet the person on the street’ way.
Now, I know very few people in real life who are invincible. I know brave people and the not-so-brave. I know adventurers and then I know me. I know damaged people and others who have faced horrific things and remain sunny-natured. What I don’t know is anyone who doesn’t changed when faced with big, life-changing events.
If I had to sum up my ambition for Abendau it was to write a very human superhuman. That was it. But, along the way, that main character (who errs rather more to the human than the superhuman, bless him. Still, we tried.) acquired friends and family and they gained voices of their own, and it wasn’t just Kare I was writing about any longer.
Which meant, when I came to describe the (very) traumatic events of book one they had more far-reaching consequences than I ever imagined. Because trauma doesn’t just affect the victim – or, rather, the victim is not the only person facing trauma.
Now, at this stage, the logical person for me to talk about would be Kare, the eponymous human superhuman. His ordeal in book one is horrific (and, yes, I know many read it behind their hands, or found it too dark and full on, but I make no apology for that – to understand the breadth of the damage done, it was necessary for the reader to face that trauma. Believe me, if it hadn’t been essential, the torture would have been edited the hell out of the book, and I trusted my editor, and beta readers, implicitly on the balance achieved. It has given me sleepless nights since, waiting for reviews.)
I don’t think anyone would have to stretch to understand Kare’s trauma. He has something akin to a breakdown (although the term is clinically meaningless) and is left with a deep seated, entirely justified Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder.
In fact, I will briefly digress. PTSD is used by so many writers as a way of giving the reader a nicely tormented hero. It’s a great source of internal conflict. It can also be one of the laziest tropes I’ve read and I did think twice before using it, but after the events of book one many people in Kare’s position would lean towards some degree of PTSD – to show no such effect would have been to totally negate what I hoped to achieve.
What I wanted to look at in more details today, is a different character with an entirely different trauma, and that’s Sonly, Kare’s wife.
Will the reader like the Sonly of book three? She divides opinion. One of my beta readers detested her (Em, I’m looking at you.) Others found her a more convincing hero than Kare. (And make no mistake, book three is a shared narrative with any one of a number of characters able to be the hero at given times.)
In book three Sonly will take decisions that may seem harsh. She has become a different person than I wrote in book one (I fought the good fight from time to time, but Sonly is one determined character.)
Let’s stop and think about Sonly. She lost her mother as a teenager and never talks about her, rarely thinks about her or refers to her. She talks about her father, a lot, and sees him as a mentor, but never her mother. Why not?
It was deliberate. It was not that her mother didn’t matter but that she mattered too much. The only nurturing figure that the le Paynes had was lost to them. Her brother, Eevan, was about as kind as a snake, her father had too many other things to juggle and Lichio was younger and needed protected from his own loss.
She then lost her husband and baby, in one single event. She was left for months not knowing what had happened to either of them and when Kare came back, it was worse than she imagined – and she’d imagined a lot. And then he rejected her. On every level – emotionally, sexually, as a husband. All that was left was a tattered friendship buried in a professional relationship.
Now, just for one second, let’s go back to my Human Superhuman ideal – that goes for all the characters, not just my ‘chosen one’. That being the case, put yourself in Sonly’s shoes. What would you do? Be unchanged? Harden yourself so you can’t be hurt again? Find something that you can control and use it to keep your sanity intact? Give up? They’re all possible. Sonly chose to focus on her career and control events there.
Her relationship with Kerra is scarred by Sonly’s history, irrevocably. She loves her daughter, very much, but I don’t think she was a good enough mother to her. She puts her hopes and dreams on Kerra and gives her little room for her own growth. She constrains instead of nurturing – whilst still, always, loving her. I’m not saying she is in any way dysfunctional as a mother, or cruel, but it is evident Kerra gets much of her nurturing from Kare.
As to Sonly’s relationship with Kare. That’s the most complex heart of the story, a love that faces everything that can be thrown at it, and that is brittle enough to break. In fact, the only relationship she copes with easily is with Lichio, the younger brother just as damaged as she is by their history, who supports her pretty much unwaveringly and who seems, on an emotional level, to be the only person she can give as much to as she wants.
That was not the woman of book one. It took the second trauma, of losing her security for a second time, to embed the trauma within her. Hers is not a showy trauma. It’s not nightmares and memories, or anxiety and fears. Hers is a character-changing response to events and it is, in many ways, sadder than anyone else’s.
So, there you go. Trauma. Why it mattered. And why it’s important to think about such matters as you write, in order to make your character come alive.
More about me and my books can be found at
It’s probably time you were Abendau’d, if you haven’t already been.


Last night I was having a discussion on a forum, when the subject came up of authors on social media, with the usual list of names and how they manage to interact with their fans. It occurred to me that this is a grey, murky area for writers.
As a fan, what do I expect from the authors I follow? I expect them to interact, to put up posts that keep me informed of their activity, that make me feel good about following them and that are reasonably entertaining.
No pressure, then.
As a writer, I started on social media with a few real-life mates, my family and some close online friends. My words were read by people who already knew me and, presumably, liked me. I bantered, I stuck up my political leanings (a little – I’m pretty circumspect, anyway), I didn’t really worry about what impression I might give anyone of me.
And then I released my book. Suddenly my blog began to be read much more widely. My twitter followers expanded to dwarf those I followed. My facebook friends became wider with more writers following me, and, later, readers.
Now, let’s be realistic here. I’m not madly popular. I’m not at household-fame status, even in my own household. I’m an indie author who’s probably, optimistically, starting to break through a little. Like a little pop in the bubble-wrapped ceiling that is a writing career. Yet, already, I feel things changing.
I’m much more circumspect what I post. I will often now like posts that make me smile but are full of non-pc elements, but not share (I have a filthy sense of humour). I’m much, much more careful what goes up of my family, aware that even my friends list is huge, let alone that most of my profile is set – necessarily – to public.
I don’t critique as much as I used to, and I’m more selective who to. I don’t want to be seen to be ripping shreds into a newby writer, me a published author – despite the fact my critique style is unchanged in years. When I blog now, I try to be more informative, less ranting for personal reasons.
Slowly, inexorably, I’ve become more professional in what goes onto SM. Which is fine. SM seems to be the platform I am most confident and accessible on. It makes sense for me to think about what I want to achieve on it.
But no one tells authors what to do. We expect them to go from larking around with their mates to interacting like pros without any guidance. What is too friendly? What is standoffish? How do you maintain the balance of multiple interactions, across multiple platforms, without spinning in circles? So, in the interest of discussion (and because, you know, it’s blog-day), here are some of the things I do to keep SM in-check, professional and not drive-me-insane busy.
  1. Multiple posts. For me, they’re a no-no. I know I can schedule my blog to go out at Friday every week, every three hours. I don’t do it. I post my blog once (sometimes, if it’s relevant to a discussion or a time of year, I’ll post it again months later.) I post it on facebook, on twitter, on google plus and on a couple of forums, and that’s it.
Usually, though, someone or ones is kind enough to retweet it, which keeps it active. Some of those do it in a new post, and I retweet those (which brings some traffic to the other SM account, so that’s a win-win). This way, yes, my blog might be posted by me three times – but each one is different. No one, but no one, but no one likes repeated content.
  1. Finding time. This is the killer. I could, quite literally, spend all day in forums and facebook. I have so many active groups and threads, I get a few alerts every minute. When I do post up something of interest, I get lots and lots more.
It is okay not to respond right away – provided you do, eventually, respond. Sometimes, that might only be a like because it’s also okay not to write back to everyone. I used to try to do that and it is no longer possible. I am only one person. Do what you can within your limits and remember the like-button is your friend.
  1. Being professional. This is entirely up to every writer. You are your own brand. Your publisher might set guidelines and there is an expectation you follow them, but outside that your online persona is your own. If you want to write voicey blogs that rant and curse, do so – it hasn’t hurt Chuck Wendig. If you’re not a blogger and think you have nothing interesting to say, become the person who can be relied on to know the relative effects of centrifugal force on a space-habitat and I can tell you, hand on heart, you will be a valued friend. If you like geeking, geek.
Being professional on social media doesn’t mean being soulless and formal. It doesn’t mean never showing anything of yourself. It does mean keeping your SM content representative of who you are. Your brand. For me, that’s chatty, informative blog posts, and a lot of chatty interaction with people. Oh, and pictures of jam once a year, because I’m always ridiculously proud when I make  it. That’s okay, too….
  1. Understanding that SM is just one parameter of writing intervention. Some do conventions instead. Some use newsletters, or their website and keep it up to date with content. Some use their publisher’s page. It’s up to you.
We are starting to feel as if, as writers, we have to get this SM. But we don’t know what ‘getting it’ entails. There is no norm. For every Neil Gaiman, interacting casually to so many people, there are ten other writers keeping it small and building up a loyal body of people interested.
  1. Whatever you do will be right for some people and wrong for others. That’s okay. That is life. You cannot please everyone. For each person who laughs their way through a Wendig blog, another will be offended and never go back. For every person who wants a personal response to their message about how much they love your book, another will cringe if the author goes back to them.
Once you accept you cannot win, but can only do your best, things get easier. You don’t like my online interactions, don’t friend me (but don’t, as someone recently did, tell me you want nothing to do with me and still remain friends. Neither of us will benefit from that, or feel comfortable – I cut the friendship). You like my blog but hate my posts, follow the blog only. It’s a big world and we cannot connect with anyone, on any medium.
6. Lastly – enjoy what you do. No one likes a complete misery (unless it’s Eeyore like mutterings we can snigger at). If you hate a platform, don’t do it. Really. We’re only here for a wee while, don’t make yourself do something you hate.

© 2019 Jo Zebedee

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑