The Making of Alan Kirkpatrick

Here’s a short extract from a project I’m working on…

“Oh wow. You’re so pretty.”

Kippy wasn’t sure he liked a man touching his face, but Danny had reached out a hand and swept two fingers slowly from the temple to his jaw.

“I adore freckles.”

There was another thing Kippy wasn’t sure about: campness. Danny was as camp as Christmas, as the saying went. The party hadn’t been his idea, but Lillian insisted. She’d kind of taken him under her wing when he first arrived in Glasgow. She was very posh, but then he and posh girls got along if Daisy had been anything to go by.

Kippy was older than everyone else at art school, apart from Lillian whose parents had been wealthy enough to finance her through not just one, but two gap years. She swooped on him on their first day.

“Ooh—and what’s your name, precious?”

He was monosyllabic, partly through nerves and because he didn’t want to get into yet another Daisy situation where a woman fell for him.

She shook her head when he said ‘Kippy’. “I’m not calling you that. What’s your real name?”

“Alan Kirkpatrick.” He was still mumbling, hoping this pushy blonde would push off.

“Hmm,” she wrinkled her nose. “Terrible, too. I suppose I’ll have to stick with Kippy.”

She threaded an arm through his. “We need to stick together. Everyone else here is so young and so inexperienced. I hate teenagers, don’t you?” Said with all the bloated confidence of one just a year out of her teens.

Kippy’s worries about a repeat of the Daisy situation came to nothing. Lillian knew he was gay, she announced grandly. She had a sense for these things. As someone only just coming to terms with life beyond the closet, her revelation made him uncomfortable.

He remembered the teasing he’d put up with while he was doing his college course some years ago. Davy, Ewan and those other apprentices, the ones skilled in wrinkling out differences in their peers, zoning in on anything they suspected wasn’t just so. Had he not hidden it as well as he thought?

Kippy hadn’t actually known what he was hiding for a long time. Instinct had warned him to keep quiet about how different he felt from everyone around him anyway, though. He hid behind Daisy for some months until…The Thing happened. And then his life changed, mostly for the better but the start of his new life had been unbelievably hard and painful.

Lillian was like no-one else he’d ever met. She insisted that in the 90s, it was de riguer for al la mode women such as herself to have a GBF. When he looked mystified, she sighed. “A gay best friend, precious.”

She cocked her head to one side. “You’re from the sticks too. I don’t suppose you had much opportunity to explore your sexuality.”

Honestly, sometimes it was a bit like having a conversation about sex with your mum. He squirmed.

“Auntie Lillian can help!”

She was unbelievably nosey too. She asked questions all the time, almost as if she was researching him. So, tell me about Kirkcudbright? What about your mum and dad? When did you realise you were gay? Have you ever kissed a man?

When he finally admitted that no, he’d never so much as given a guy a hug, she clapped her hands together.

“That’s awful. First thing, then. I must introduce you to some friends of mine.”

Hence, the party.

These being Lillian’s friends, the party was taking place in a flat in the west end, just off the Great Western Road. These flats were so posh, they had two floors.

Lillian had insisted on picking out his outfit for him. Kippy had been going through a phase of velvet blazers, but she turned up her nose on them. “Too obvious!” She held up a plain white tee shirt and his old, worn Levi’s.

“Be the man in the laundrette,” she said, referring to the old advert where Nick Kamen stripped off, puts his jeans in a washing machine and sat in his boxers waiting for them to dry.

As a fourteen-year-old, Kippy had watched the advert a lot. Even now, if Marvin Gaye’s Heard it Through the Grapevine came on the radio, he felt his body quiver in excitement.

The outfit seemed to have done the trick. The party-goers were sixty-forty men to women. Lillian and Kippy were fashionably late arriving, and the attention that greeted them was flattering.

The party’s host made his way towards them, his eyes fixed on Kippy.

“Lillian! You beautiful thing, you. Who’s this?”

Danny wasn’t his ‘type’ anyway. Until very recently, Kippy couldn’t have told you what his type was. A picture swam before his eyes, a half-naked man wearing turned down overalls and a lazy grin. He blinked several times, hoping he wouldn’t cry.

Lillian leant forward and whispered something to Danny.

“I’ll get you both a drink,” Danny said. “And then mingle, do! We’re all good friends of Dorothy here.”

He winked, the eyes then flashing Kippy a lustful look.

“Are you okay, Alan?” Lillian asked. She was the only person under thirty who ever called him that, but he thought he maybe liked it. She said, ‘Alan’, when she was being serious, or asking difficult questions.

“Aye,” he nodded slowly. He’d be better once he had a drink in him. “Who’s Dorothy?”

 

©Emma Baird 2017

Amazon Ads: An Update

I set up an Amazon ad for a book of mine recently as an experiment. I’d listened to a webinar on the subject, hosted by Joanna Penn of the Creative Penn, and Mark Dawson of the Self-Publishing Formula.

As it’s relatively cheap—you only pay for the ads that get clicked on—I thought I’d give it a go. My Book Katie and the Deelans has not sold well on Amazon. There are millions of books out there, and the competition is fierce. I wanted to give the book a chance to stand out a little more.

I opted for the ads that appear when you type in certain search terms, such as ‘harry potter’ and JK Rowling, as my book is similar. I paid for fifteen keywords in total, $0.50 per keyword.

I let the advert run for ten days. In that time, it made 134,212 impressions (i.e. the number of times it was seen), resulted in 49 clicks, and cost me $12.97. No sales, though!

I did learn from my experience. Not that many people clicked on the ad in the first place, suggesting it wasn’t that appealing. Was the wording wrong, or as I suspect, the cover not attractive enough?

Those who did click didn’t buy. I did re-write the blurb half way through the campaign, but that didn’t make any difference. I also got rid of the book’s prologue, as it didn’t relate entirely to the whole book so anyone sampling the contents might not have got the right feel for the book.

What about social proof? The book has five-star reviews, but not enough reviews in general. Reviews are what most buyers want these days, especially if you’re an unknown quantity.

I’ve known for a long time the book needs sorting. It needs rewriting, and it needs copy editing. It could do with a new cover and a different blurb. The Amazon campaign reinforced all these points.

Would I use Amazon ads again? Absolutely. I certainly plan to use it for the next book. I did find out what were the most useful keywords from my list of fifteen (JK Rowling, harry potter and Rick Riordan). The campaign didn’t cost me a lot of money, and it was worth finding out about.

*Pic thanks to the Blue Diamond Gallery

 

Global Warming – Friday Flash Fiction

A little Friday flash fiction for you…

“I’m still waiting for global warming to kick in.”

“Not half. It’s been a long winter.”

British weather offered conversation for every situation. Our new neighbours—four small children and a dog—moved in last week. We watched, half-hidden behind curtains, as they installed a trampoline in their garden.

It had been cold and wet ever since.

“How old are your wee ones?”

“The twins are three, Alex is five and Karly’s six.”

The four of them had appeared, fanning out behind their dad. They regarded me coolly, shaking their head when told to say hello.

War was silently declared.

©Emma Baird 2017

The Girls: A Review

The Girls in the GardenThe Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Girls* is a gripping read. I’ve read most of Lisa Jewell’s books over the years, and her latest novel is an accomplished achievement. As a writer, she just gets better and better.

The book tells the story of a family who move into a flat in London, which shares a large garden with the properties of other families. The story is mostly told from three viewpoints: that of the 12-year-old daughter, Pip; her mother; and a woman who is a long-term resident.

It starts with the discovery of Pip’s older sister Grace in the garden, unconscious and half naked. The story then moves back to the arrival of the family in the area, and how they adjust to their new lives and living with their new neighbours.

Jewell is known for writing intelligent women’s fiction, and this book is no exception. It has a crime fiction element to it too. Who attacked Grace and why? The final revelation is a surprise, and the author cleverly sets up a few red herrings on the way. Themes that run through the book include trust and adolescence. How would three girls, home-schooled and growing up in a close community react to strangers coming in?

My only minor criticism would be that Pip’s letters to her dad sound a little too grown-up from time to time. There’s the odd word or phrase that’s too adult. Having said that, through her depiction of Tyler and the three Howe girls, Jewell portrays fantastic characters and demonstrates a great understanding of what it’s like to be a teenage girl.

*The book I read was called The Girls, not The Girls in the Garden. Maybe it has a different title outside the UK.

View all my reviews

Advertising on Amazon

Katie and the DeelansHave you advertised your book on Amazon? Last night, I listened to an Amazon ads for authors webinar and decided to put the advice into practice for my book, Katie and the Deelans.

The webinar was run by Mark Dawson and Joanna Penn, both self-published success stories and users of Amazon’s Marketing Services.

Amazon Marketing Services are relatively cheap. It uses a cost-per-click, auction-based pricing model. You set the maximum cost per click. I chose the sponsored keywords option, and I chose 13 keywords:

  • Adventure fiction
  • Divergent
  • Harry Potter
  • JK Rowling
  • Juvenile fiction
  • Rick Riordan
  • Stephanie Meyer
  • Suzanne Collins
  • The Hobbit
  • The Lightning Thief
  • Twilight
  • Veronica Roth
  • Young adult

What then happens is your book appears on the related options when Amazon customers search for a particular product – in this case, JK Rowling, Twilight et al.

One of my more ‘out there’ keyword choices was cat food. As my book features people who can change into cats, I thought those searching for cat food are cat lovers. Maybe they want to read cat-related tales too?!

The maximum I’m willing to spend per day is $10, but you can go lower than that. And you only spend money if people click on your ad and never more than your budget.

The custom text for an ad should not be the same as your blurb. It can’t be anyway, as the custom text is a Twitter-like 150 characters. I went for – We all want magic powers, right? What would you do with yours? Teenager Katie Harper is about to find out in this fun-filled action adventure.

Amazon advertising is all about experimentation. My campaign will run for the next week or so. If it works and I make enough money to recoup the cost of my investment, great. If I don’t sell books, the lessons could be that I need to look at a better cover for my book. The keywords could be too competitive or perhaps the custom text needs re-doing.

I’ll report back…

 

Life on Pluto

I wrote some more flash fiction this week, but, wait for it, not on a Friday…

A fellow writer, Russell Conover, updates a dedicated Friday Flash Fiction blog and my story was in response to one he wrote. Both of us share a love of cats, and over the years we have created lots of stories about a fictional feline known as Alice’s cat.

Life on Pluto

If they send a cat to Pluto, its life expectancy increases by 20 years.

So, your average cat should live about 12 years. A Pluto-tripped cat has the potential to miaow for three times as long.

Unfortunately, the same doesn’t apply to humans. Their life expectancy decreases by 10 years.

Alice was yet to travel to Pluto. Though if she did, she could time her demise to fit in with that of her cat. A world without her precious pet didn’t bear thinking about.

She checked Rocket Flights 2Go. March’s special offers included half-price interplanetary travel.

She signed up.

 

You can also read more flash fiction on the flash fiction website here.

A Meeting

Here’s a little flash fiction…

A Meeting

The tutor looked familiar. It took her ten seconds to remember – the sofa in her flat, ten years previously.

Did he recognise her? Hopefully not. She made sure to look at him when he talked, the way someone who has no history with another person would.

Maybe she waved her left hand about a bit too, waggling the fourth be-ringed finger. His own left hand was bare.

Nonetheless, when he said ‘good’ in response to a point she made, she glowed. At the end, she thanked him – glad that his attention was taken up by others anxious to talk.

Exes.

Book Revising & Editing – Some Tips!

Not so fast, my friend. Now, the hard work begins…

Ever heard of the ing sentence construction? It’s new to me, but once the concept had been explained, I thought, “Aha! I do that a lot. Time to stop.”

Here’s an example:

Grabbing the cheque from his boss’s hand, George ran for the door.

What, at the same time?

George grabbed the cheque from his boss’s hand and ran for the door.

Dropping ing sentence construction was one of the tips I picked up at a recent Book Revising and Editing Course I did as part of the Aye Write festival. It’s hard work rewriting and revising a book – far harder, perhaps, than writing the first draft – but that’s where the magic happens.

What did T S Eliot have to say about rewriting? “I maintain that the criticism employed by a writer on his or her own work is the most vital… and that some writers are superior to others solely because their critical faculty is superior.”

General tips for revising and rewriting include:

Check punctuation. Punctuation errors wear away the reader’s confidence in the writer and his or her abilities.

Shorter sentences and paragraphs are easier to read. As a writer, you want to make your prose as readable as possible.

The ing sentence construction. See above!

Dialogue arrangement. Generally, if a new person is speaking, put the dialogue on a new line. Make it clear who is speaking.

Read out your dialogue to check it sounds authentic.

Remove redundancies, padding and clichés. Redundancy examples include “screamed loudly”. Isn’t it enough that the person screamed? Padding includes too much description and lots of adjectives. Clichés are overused phrases, such as “cling on for dear life”.

Try to show, not tell. Angrily he put the book down. He slammed the book down on the table is better.

Other things to consider are:

  • Is there too much exposition or back story? If there is, it feels as if the story is taking place in the past. This kills the energy of the story.
  • Are points of view consistent?
  • Are there too many characters?
  • Are there any digressions or tangents that don’t tie up with the main plot?
  • Is there anything you think, “I’m not sure that works”.
  • Is there any possibility of a gap between your understanding and that of your readers?

If you can say ‘yes’ to any of the last four points, revise and rewrite.

I have plenty of material in need of revision. Having a list of issues to go through will help considerably.

 

 

Book Revising and Editing

aye-writeThis year’s Aye Write festival includes a workshop of book revising and editing.

I’ve written five books and have two on the go at present, but the minute I finish a book I leave it to moulder on my computer. I know they desperately need revising, re-writing in parts and editing*, but at that point I want to move on. I wash my hands of my finished projects and go my merry way, starting up a new book.

That’s more fun, right?

Aye Write is an annual festival of writing and reading that takes place in Glasgow. It’s not as big as Edinburgh’s annual book festival, but it’s a lot cheaper and the programme is brilliant and varied.

The workshops for writers offer advice on everything from script writing, to writing your own autobiography, poetry writing, writing historical fiction, comics and graphic novels and more.

The revising and editing course on Sunday 12 March is an interactive workshop that covers the basis of drafting and editing, looking at common mistakes and introducing the skills needed to refine a piece of writing to make it as good as it can be.

I’ll report back on what I learn.

 

*I’m very bad at over-using words and phrases.