Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Er...this might be a terrible mistake.

I don't know about you but when I went to see Casino Royale a few years ago a BIG cheer went up (and not a few wolf-whistles) when Daniel Craig emerged out of the Carribean sea. And that was just from us blokes.
I tried to keep that picture in mind today as I shuffled around the park, sweating and feeling a bit unwell. No pain no gain sort of thing.
I'm a naturally lazy person. That's why I'm a writer instead of, well, something else. However, as I suffered my latest annual waist enlargement I decided to do something about it. I don't think I'll be getting the Daniel Craig response when I surface at my local lido but hopefully me diving in won't be a seismic event. Which is good. I certainly feel different after a few weeks of exercise. Light-headed, for example.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Are you not entertained?

Violence. Don't we love it? It's come up with my school visits where I've got the students to deciode how they want to conclude a scene from the book. Heads have been chopped off, rocket launchers involved, flesh-eating bugs and a whole lot in between.
Okay, Devil's Kiss is an adventure story so there's going to be fights and the hint of violence throughout. But very early on I decided that I wasn't going to be half-hearted about it, and the action wasn't playtime.
Depending on the genre, the violence can stray between realistic and fantastical. Bond blows people away with merry abandon and there's no payback. Then there's books dealing with the social and personal cost of using weapons. Everything from the child soldiers to the stabbings in the cities. There's a responsibilty to show the dark consequences of the use of weapons. But...
There's a thrill in reading it, in seeing it. It's our taste of gladiatorial combat that's not really diminished, not really. We want that life/death struggle played out before us so we can be reminded of the most fundamental drama of existence -- SURVIVAL.
Drama. Conflict. These are the things our stories are made of. Again and again it goes back to why the greatest story to survive from the ages is a war story, The Iliad (Yeah, you knew I was going to bring that up again). The struggle of nations played out by individuals.
I want to have a story that has lots of life and death struggle, after all it's about the Knights Templar. But the violence is brutal and every death costs the killer too. Only psychopaths brush away murder. Everyone else pays.
The question that came up most from the visits is "Why is it called DEVIL'S KISS"?
It's about making deals. With the Devil, with your allies, but most of all with yourself. We all have the capability to become something extraordinary, but what is the cost? Can we live with ourselves if we blinding chase our dreams, forgetting our dreams may be the nightmares to others? How many friends and family have people lost because they chased that promotion or next big deal, so stayed after hours, forgot their kids' birthdays or wedding anniversaries?
The Devil will give you whatever you want. But he will want something in return. Just remember that when someone promises to make all your dreams come true.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009


A few weeks ago I brought back a bundle of books from the BEA, and a few other random packages. I've finally wrapped the last pile and will post them tomorrow to those that asked. THERE ARE NONE LEFT.
The books will be winging their way to: Vania S, Nancy S, Lauren R, Kathryn E, Nicky S, Bryony P, Tina C, Tony D, Bryan R, Tracy AB, Candy G, Miriam V, HJulienne D, Lexie C, Milly A, Jon M, Darcy W, Natasha H, Cynthia S, Jeanette T, Mel R, Jessica P, Liz dJ, Gareth M and Rebecca C.
There was even an entry from Bogata, Columbia, which is a first.
There's a wide selection and if any of them become collectors' items in the future, I want half.
For those of you not blessed with addresses in Britain, you'll have to wait since I'm posting them overland. Hey, airmail isn't cheap!
Also, if the book isn't to your liking, no complaining and swap it amongst yourselves.
Meanwhile the school visist have continued. There's a certain theme developing with the groups and the discussions that come out of the sessions. The main theme is how much more bloodthristy the book could have been. Most of the school-kids demand much more gruesome violence (and death!) than I delivered, and I thought I delivered a lot. Don't let the sweet demeanor of the Year 7's fool you. Seriously, it was like being surrounded by a group of junior Hannibal Lecters.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Sunday's Workshop and other 'stuff'

Firstly a big THANK YOU to those who attended. The discussion over plotting and Desire v. Need was very refreshing and gave me a bit of serious food for thought. There'll be a bit of reworking of The Dark Goddess because of it. Anyway, this blog is a quick reading list of books that have worked for me. Some of them are clear guidebooks but others are more personal opinions on writing.
I know we spent the session talking about films but I think structurally, we're looking at very similar designs when it comes to telling a story. The BIG difference between the visual media and written is the exploration of the internal world of the characters. In a film you really have no idea what the character is thinking or really feeling. With books you can get into their brain and heart with ease. Likewise be wary of thinking writing a book is just transcribing the film in your head, it isn't. Film is visual which is why violence and action are so dominating. It's eye candy. No point writing big CGI scenes in books, they'd be wasted. Be aware of the advantages and disadvantages of the medium you're operating in.

Reading List:

On Writing by Stephen King. King is very anti-plotting and who's to argue with the master? All the more reason to take what influences that WORK FOR YOU and don't believe a formula will save your writing. Only passion will save your writing.

The Writer's Journey by Volger. This is almost the complete opposite, it's very proscriptive. I think it's worth reading BUT then dwell on it and see how the ideas within are merely labels, or signposts, on the story road. Do we need to know if your villain is the hero's SHADOW MENTOR? No, not really. But if you like the idea of it, explore it, and Volger's work is very easy access.

Story by Robert McKee. I found this book fascinating, but really heavy work. McKee is a very famous script mentor and goes into meticulous detail, which from an almost acedemic viewpoint is worth looking at.

Writing the Breakout Novel by Maass. I must admit it's very formulaic, but really good. Very easy to digest and a great way to start.

How Not to write a Novel by Mittelmark and Newman. Basically a hysterical book outlining all the main cliches writers slip into. I garantee your work is in there somewhere. Mine certainly is. It's not about plotting or structure or Inciting Incidents or anything like that. Just the major pitfalls.

How to write a Million. I was so embarrassed by this book I put a fake cover on it. It's actually three books in one package: PLOT by Dibell, Characters and Viewpoints by Card and Dialogue by Truco. If you're starting out this and the book above are the ones to get.

The Devil's Guide to Hollywood by Eszterhas. This guy wrote Basic Instinct and a whole slew of scripts in the 90's. His big claim to fame/infamy is he also wrote Showgirls. He HATES McKee and Eszterhas has a point. He's sold far more scripts, for far far more money (I think he might still hold the No.1 spot for the highest ever earnt for a screenplay) so believes McKee is talking out of his a**e. It's real warts and all view of Hollywood but also very refreashing if you're drowning in 'how to write' books. Works well with King's book with their semi-autobiographical style.

Obviously there are hundreds more but the ones above worked for me. I have various other notes that I'll send out to the workshop people at some point. Sorry but my writing life is a bit shambolic!

OTHER STUFF: Looks like I'm off to Russia in a few weeks. Very excited about this one. All in the name of research, mind you. This isn't a holiday, this is work. Yes, I know, I don't really believe it either.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

New York, Part 3

Right, we'd got as far as Friday. So, I arrive at it's the size of Earl's Court and then some. Seriously overwhelming. There's Neil Gaiman! There's China Meiville! Meg Cabot! Julie Andrews! Holly Black! and so on and so forth. There are thousands of authors signing, including Ollie North apparently.
People are gathering trolley-loads of free books and I do my bit too. Ari's on a panel talking about the 'buzz' YA books for this Fall and she does a fantastic job bigging me up intime for my afternoon signing session. I'm terribly concerned I'll be sitting there for a very lonely hour....but no!
There's a person in the queue. Then another, they bring their friends and soon enough I an signing. Lots said they'd come because of the editor's talk and frankly, it's another free book so what the hell. But to all of you who came, for whatever reason, I THANK YOU!
Leave the desk on a total high.
Totally crash a few hours later and a dinner and silent auction. Start wondering around in a bit of a haze and doing the usual party bit, looking for people I know.
Saturday is me up on stage and I don't fumble my lines too much. I'm on a YA panel and there's an unseemly scrabble for the one working mike. Slightly shoot myself in the foot when I talk about why the YA genre shouldn't exist. I blame delayed jet-lag.
Sunday I fly home, no problems with immigration this time. Sleep for hours and hours and hours.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Russia, Rewrites and Research

I've started the rewrites on THE DARK GODDESS. The book's going to be different, that's for sure.
DK was set in London, my hometown. I had the luxury to visit all the sites, hang out and soak up the atmosphere. Chapter 1 opens with the aerial mast of Crystal Palace because I see it every day. It paid off and London seems real and works well in the book.
TDG is set in Russia. I've read up on it, worked through a few guide books but what's coming back is the story doesn't live the way DK does. Moscow must be a real as London and right now it isn't. I've grabbed a few more books and will studiously work through them. But it's not enough.
So, come July I'm heading out there. Haven't booked the tickets yet but have more or less fixed the dates. All for the sake of research. It could be there are those of you who can make a fantasy world live totally from your imagination and with no map or trips involved. Not me. That's probably why I could never right 'straight' fantasy. If you're in that field, you have my total respect!
The picture above are three Bogatyrs, Russian knights shown to protect the Motherland. I've a few of them in my book. I've added Baba Yaga, her werewolf followers, a big battle in Moscow and a lot of trauma in St. Petersburg and a blood-soaked climax in Chernobyl. If you thought the end of DK was desperate you've not read anything yet.
Writing is about going all out. You can't be half-hearted about it. I suppose I could manage to write the story without going out there, but then it wouldn't be the best story I could write. I'd have sold myself short and sold the reader a half-hearted tale. It's a waste of my time and certainly a betrayal of yours. It all falls under the 'Contract with the Reader' clause.
Still, a trip to Russia, that doesn't sound like a hardship! Just need to make sure I pack my lead-lined underwear before I go to Chernobyl...

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

New York, Part 2 and COMPETITION!

Okay, where were we? Yes, Homeland Security. So, eventually dropped off at Essex House. C'est magnifique! Chandeliers, marble lobby, porters and, OMG, a view over Central Park!
I'm so overcome with excitement I fall asleep.
Thursday morning it all kicks off with a video interview. I fumble my lines, sweat profusely under the glaring lamps and forget everything I know about my book. The camera man is momentarily blinded by the light off my bald patch. With much patience something is cobbled together. Apparently it'll be appearing at the Disney Parks. Be afraid, very afraid. Lunch is with my editor of awesomeness, Ari. I meet the gang and Disney Hyperion and start embellishing my tale of detainment. There may be a book in this at some point. Everyone is apologetic on behalf of their government so I decide not to blame all of America. The view is suicidally high (but truly amazing) from their offices and their windows a health and safety nightmare. We go for a legendary publsiher lunch and the steak keeps me full for the rest of the week.
Dinner is a BBQ and I'm stuffed after the starters, and with trousers straining I'm forced up onto the stage amongst Times bestsellers (hiya Cinda!) and wards winners (hiya Mo!) and basically surrounded by extraordinary talent. I manage my five minutes without tears, swearing (much) and a great big thank you to Immigration for inspiring my next project: 100 Days in Gauntanamo.
So bloated now I need a bellywheel I'm taken back to the hotel and stay up all night due to overexcitement. I watch 'Blades of Glory'.
Right, Friday is the BEA and that'll be part of my next blog. One of the key things about the BEA is the freebies, namely books and books and more books. I have City, the new one by China Meiville. Fire, the prequel to Graceling. Maze Runner, Airhead, Ink Exchange, Demon King, etc. THEY ARE YOURS! Some are signed, some aren't. Some are out, others you won't see on the shelves for quite some time yet, so this is your chance to get in way early. Some I will read first then post (I'm make sure I don't bend the spine too much).
Just email me at info(at)sarwatchadda(dot)com with your address and I will randomly pick one out of the crate and send it to you. Can't say fairer than that, can I? I will post to foreign lands, within reason. Once posted I'll delete your address, obviously.
For those who've had advanced warning via the newsletter, I'm sorry but I gave Catching Fire away already! I know it was the one EVERYONE wanted, but it went to a worthy cause, if that's any comfort. Also, don't enter twice. One book per person the judge's decision is final, blah blah.

Monday, 1 June 2009

New York, Part 1

Just back from my first trip to New York, courtesy of Disney-Hyperion, my US publishers.
So much has happened at the Book Expo America that I'll be dividing it up over a few blogs, with a competition at the end, depending on when my crate arrives, so bear with me for that.
However, this blog is not directly concerned with with the BEA, but with my encounter with Homeland Security...
Anyway, after a grueling eight hour flight where I passed the time watching the last two Harry Potter movies I was quite looking forward to going to my hotel and having a sleep, then maybe explore Manhattan a bit and maybe find a cinema showing Terminator: Salvation. Picture this scene...
Lady at Passport Control: Passport please.
Me: Here you go.
LaPC: What's the purpose of your visit? Business or pleasure?
Me: Business. I'm a children's author and my publisher, DISNEY, has invited me here.
LaPC: Not good enough. You look highly suspect and I think are a danger to the security of the free world. Escort! (okay, she didn't really say that but what followed next led me to believe she was thinking it REALLY hard).
Enter man with a gun.
MwaG: Follow me and don't make any sudden moves.
What follows next is me waiting anxiously in a large empty hall surrounded with many more Men with Guns. I decide to act calm and natural. I get out a book to read. It has an exploding airplane on the front cover (see above). With horror I realise I have underlined paragraphs (I always do that with Cussler books since he's been a big influence on my style). I slowly slip the book back in my bag.
Eventually a Woman with a Gun turns up.
WwaG: Purpose of visit?
Me: My publisher, DISNEY, you know DISNEY? Like, the most patriotic employer in America? They'll vouch for me, honestly! Please don't imprison me! (Okay, I didn't actually say that, but was thinking it REALLY hard).
WwaG: Have you traveled to any of the following countries? Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Pakistan, Sudan?
Me: Er...yes?
WmaG looks at me like she's sizing me up for a jump suit. I try and explain I look really awful in orange. MwaG starts checking the latest weather at Gauntanamo. I'm starting to feel quite flustered.
WwaG: Do you have any relatives in the US?
Me: Er...yes?
WwaG: Now this relative wouldn't be the one who recently had dinner with the President of Iran?
Me: Er...yes?
WwaG concludes I'm probably a Large in jump suits. They're now checking for the next flight to Cuba. Seriously, orange isn't good for me. Doesn't that count for something?
Eventually I name-drop the entire Disney Hyperion staff list in my increasingly desperate attempt to persuade WwaG I am legit. So, if at some point in the future their offices should be raided by a SEAL team, I apologise now in advance. The WwaG takes down a lot of details, then smiles and bids me "Have a nice day". I am ridiculously grateful. I'm only stopped once more before finally leaving the airport to discover the chauffeur has called the publishers telling them I was a 'no show' so they think I've missed my flight. Phonecalls are flying back and forth across the Atlantic to find out where the hell I am.
I have been in the US two hours.
There's more on the following: