Things I Learned from My Beta Readers

beta readersFour years ago, I’d never heard of beta readers. These days, I’m desperate for their services.

A beta reader is basically someone who reads your unpublished book for you and tells you what they think. Their role is to be critical, and therefore family members and good friends aren’t always the best choice for the role.

Other writers are a good choice – mainly because they can do the job as a quid pro quo. A job done well takes a lot of time. The beta reader has to read the book. The book may not necessarily be their genre of choice. Then they have to give feedback in a useful and constructive way.

Delivering useful, constructive feedback is a skill in itself. I’ve done it a few times and it will make you a better reader and writer.

Apart from other writers, you also need people who are your target audience. If you’ve written young adult fiction, you need teenage readers and if you’ve written crime fiction, you need fans of Mark Billingham, Christopher Brookmyre, Denise Mina et al.

On a personal level, my beta readers have told me about my writing mistakes. I’m repetitive, my sentences are too long and I use far too many parentheses. The beta reader I used who has an editing background pointed out I’m stingy with commas and I’m too liberal with passive voice use.

[The shame!]

Lesson number 1: if you want beta readers, be prepared to do the job yourself.

Lesson number 2: prepare for the feedback to hurt.

Lesson number 3: ask as many people as possible.

Lesson number 4: prepare to be disabused of your brilliance. I have borrowed this neat turn of phrase from an acquaintance of mine, Eric. J Smith, who used the wording to describe what happened when he used beta readers.

Lesson number 5: know you will need to re-write your book.

Lesson number 6: be grateful. Thanks to two of my beta readers, I’m paying far more attention to my word choice and my sentence construction. This can only mean my writing will improve.

 

Wedding Woes

91926thank%20youMy flash fiction story this week is based on a recent “news” story. I imagined what the other side of the story might be.

Wedding Woes

Thank you notes were hard work – particularly if you couldn’t remember who’d given you what.

Nell’s wedding had been riotous. The celebrations went on until 4am, with all the guests taking advantage of the free bar. She’d been warned about the Scots.

She’d managed to speak to everyone on the night. Friends, family and colleagues seemed overjoyed to be there, their congratulations effusive and their wishes for the couple’s future joyful.

Which was why Mary’s gift seemed strange. She’d promised a generous gift, but her cheque was only £10.

Nell mulled it over. It was probably worth raising the point.

 

The news story was about a woman who posted up the contents of an email that she had received on mumsnet. The woman had attended a wedding and given the couple £100 (about $145). The bride wrote her an email saying the couple were surprised at the size of the cheque, given the warmth of the woman’s congratulations on the day and if she wanted to adjust the amount, they would be grateful.

Needless to say, it attracted mumsnet mega outrage. Read the story here.

 

Mary Berry to the Rescue!

plus-size vampire eroticaOh goodness – sometimes I have a LOT of fun writing. I dreamt up a niche genre the other day – one I’m almost pretty sure doesn’t exist – and now the idea is taking on arms and legs. The niche was plus-size vampire erotica. For the purposes of limiting offence potential, what you read here is more likely described as plus-size vampire romance. For chapter one, click here.

 

“CUT!”

Say what you like about The Firm, but the clothes were amazing.

Gregor had always been a fan of fine tailoring and the Savile Row suit he was currently wearing was an incredible example. The tux fitted him perfectly – the material of the trousers slim fitting enough to outline impressive quads, while the jacket looked as if it had been made for him.

It reached his hips, falling in a way that you could only describe as luxuriantly draping. The arm seams were in perfect alignment with his shoulders so that the jacket moved seamlessly with him.

The bow tie, naturally enough, was dangling untied and his thick dark hair ruffled where he’d run his fingers through it. That finger ruffle had been unscripted, but Liza the director had been so charmed by the gesture – it drew attention to those dark brown eyes and gave him an air of slight vulnerability as well as added sincerity – that it had been kept in.

“Good job!” she said as she moved forward. Gregor had removed his jacket – the fearsome heat of the lighting had given him a sheen that fortunately only enhanced his appearance on the film, but he did look decidedly uncomfortable now.

“You’ll no’ need a second take then?” he asked and Liza shook her head firmly.

“No need – you were perfect. Have you ever considered a career in –”

Gregor shook his head firmly this time, anticipating the question before it came.

“The Firm keeps me busy,” he said, imbibing the answer with the tiniest bit of regret so that Liza didn’t feel dismissed. Or as if her question had been asked countless times before.

“Pity,” she said. “You’re a natural in front of the camera. And that’s always much more difficult when you’re trying to tell people a message or sell them something.”

He smiled back at her. “Thanks. Hopefully ma bosses will like the piece. They can be hard to please though. Think they’ll let me keep the penguin suit?”

“Hope so!” Liza said. She’d had nothing to do with the props or costumes for this particular piece of film. The instructions and direction from The Firm had been very clear and precise. Normally Liza didn’t tolerate heavy-handedness on the part of the client – creative freedom and all that – but The Firm paid generously and on time.

As her sound director put it, “think of us as a fish and chip shop Liza. If a very rich client comes in and says they want fish and deep-fried marshmallows, fish and deep-fried marshmallows it is”. Or on this occasion – a detailed 10-page instruction manual on the precise look and feel of the advertisement.

“What’s the ad being used for – The Firm didn’t specify the audience?” she asked, curious about this little omission as they had been so specific about everything else.

Gregor shrugged, his eyes not quite meeting hers. “Ach some campaign they have coming up ah think. Ah’m no’ entirely sure.”

His accent, combined with that gorgeous face and body, was another deal-sealer for Liza. She knew it was a cliché, but she did love a Scottish accent. Gregor’s was perfect – his inflections rising at the end of sentences so sometimes a lot of what he said sounded like a question. He rolled his Rs beautifully, often said “ah” instead of “I” and never said small, preferring “wee”, a word that was much more descriptive and could be used for all kinds of purposes.

Gregor looked as if he was now hanging back politely. She could see the tiny almost imperceptible tap of his foot. Clearly, he was a man who had a lot to do.

“Do you need to go?” she asked and he jolted slightly – caught out by body language communication.

“Well, aye and no,” he said. “Ah’ve been working really hard lately and Ah feel like I’m due a wee rest.” She could see some kind of thought process going on behind those eyes, and he suddenly smiled at her – a great beam that showed off straight white teeth, a dimple on one cheek and the fanning of fine lines round those dark eyes.

Flip, it was powerful. Liza, having worked with many beautiful people over the years, counted herself immune to many of their charms. Physical beauty often disguised rampant insecurity. When you valued yourself according to your physical worth, Liza’s mother had always told her, you’re setting yourself up for a lifetime of unhappiness.

Liza, preferring not to entangle herself in the mess of someone’s fucked up ego and/or eating disorder/gym obsession/sun avoiding/expensive skin cream purchasing/Botox, fillers and plastic surgery mess, generally steered clear of the beautiful people.

Gregor though… as the seconds ticked by, she could feel her resolve slipping.

Oh dear.

“And what would your ‘wee’ rest involve?”

He gave her a shy smile – oh yikes, yikes, yikes – and shrugged lightly, the movement causing his jacket held by one finger over a shoulder to ripple, sending out waves of whatever aftershave he had been wearing. Pine. Wood smoke and undercut with something very musky.

“Well, hen,” and he smiled at her again, as if checking out the effect the little endearment had on her. “Ah think ah probably need to lie down.”

By now, the studio was deserted. The others had slipped out minutes ago after she’d called “cut”, and the two of them had the place to themselves. There were no couches, sofas or beds in there was Liza’s first thought – one she chided herself for immediately. What was she? Middle-aged now?

Gregor had picked up her hand and drew it to his mouth, kissing it and winking at her at the same time.

Oh, who needed beds? Continue reading

Let Her Eat Cake

Sometimes genres seem too limiting, don’t they? One of the fabulous things about the modern-day publishing industry is that it allows a lot of niche genres – Highlander romance,for example. I decided to create a little niche of my own – plus-size vampire erotica. I don’t think it exists yet. See what you think.

[Actually, the content isn’t too “erotica” so read on without fear of being too offended…]

victoria spongeSay what you like about plus size vampire erotica, but the costumes were beautiful.

Plus size vampire erotica’s leading lady loved her clothing. At the moment she was wearing pantaloons, baggy round her thighs but narrow at the calves and beautifully patterned. She was also dressed in an under-bust steam punk corset, its cords pulled in as tight as possible giving her a 24-inch waist, from the top of which her propped up breasts spilled out, and stiletto-heeled boots. Finished off with a cropped wrap that tied under that magnificent bust, she was a gloriously scary sight to behold.

The fear factor was compounded by the pale skin and the flash of very sharp canines. Yikes, dare fancy this woman and see what it gets you…

That was the message Eve hoped her appearance gave out, although she was
not entirely sure it was working.

The present company seemed to be not in the least intimidated. They drooled over this representation of plus size vampire erotica. They were… well, not at all scared.

Across the room and discreetly out of the line of sight of everyone else Cordelia winked at her, a smirk highlighting her beautiful features. Cordelia had curled the fingers of her left hand in and was studying her nails. Eve knew those nails, the neat pearly ovals with their iridescent gleam. Cordelia was an expert at putting her nails (and her fingers) to excellent use.

Eve stepped forward, the action jolting those generous breasts propped up so expertly by the steampunk corset forward. The room held its breath momentarily and let it out.

Male and female – they were all slaves to those propped up breasts which definitely grabbed all the attention no matter where they were.

Cordelia blew on her nails once again and smirked for a second time. Ah, she felt like Michael Caine in Educating Rita. Look at her prodigy! Wasn’t she wonderful? Look at this girl go!

Eve continued to sashay across the room. It looked as if she was making her way towards Cordelia. She fastened her eyes on Cordelia but extended an arm, lazily beckoning with the forefinger of her right hand. The lucky man who found himself pointed to sniggered, smirking to his companions who all made “go on my son” type noises and gestures.

Eve drew the lucky man towards her and kissed him, a deep kiss that he returned with a great deal of enthusiasm. She could sense Cordelia’s eyes boring into the two of them, a sense of feeling that only drove her to keep kissing. Mr Lucky was not complaining.

Two minutes in and Eve was… bored. Mr Lucky might think he was quids in, but Eve had moved on an eon ago. Cordelia winked once more: she must have sensed her boredom.

Oof….

With a slight shrug of her shoulders, Eve flexed those canines and bit down hard on Mr No Longer Lucky’s neck. She sank her teeth into his neck, her canines managing the miraculous job of holding his body close to hers as she sucked the life blood out of him, all the time her eyes fixed on Cordelia.

The lady herself had started a slow hand clap. Clap. Clap. Clap.

Eve threw the by now lifeless Mr Not So Lucky off her. All of the people surrounding her had reassessed the situation (we are in a good one, oh f**k we really are NOT!) and had thrown themselves back against the building’s exterior wall.

Another issue about plus-size vampire eroticism meant that one body was never enough. Cordelia – who was most definitely a feeder – had anticipated Eve’s yet to be satiated hunger. The fleeing crowd had not spotted her as they made their abrupt departure and she had managed to grab hold of two of Mr No Longer Lucky’s friends, who were struggling furiously and screaming their heads off.

Oh, was there ever such an obliging woman? Setting aside her own needs to ensure that of her girlfriend’s were met?

Eve took one of the struggling men and sank her teeth in quickly, cutting off the screams. The blood tasted amazing – rich, salty and warm, she could feel every drop of it flowing into her body travelling down and along all of those capillaries. She could feel her face and body heating up, giving off a warm, pink glow.

Cordelia had gestured at the second man, but with an immense act of will power, Eve shook her head and Cordelia finished him off, the two of them discarding both bodies almost in sync.

“Had enough sweetheart?” Cordelia came closer, leaning in so that Eve could smell the lushness of her latest victim’s blood on her breath. Cordelia curled an arm round her shoulder – a slightly tricky move seeing as Eve was much larger than her – and trailed her fingers softly on those propped up breasts.

Eve kissed her, greedily seeking the final remnants of Mr Unlucky Three.

“Not quite yet,” she murmured as she came up for air some minutes later. The two of them were now panting heavily.
Cordelia steeped back – the smirk back on her face.

“Oh Eve – you’ve taken to this so well! I’m so proud of you!” she said and took hold of her hand, gripping Eve’s fingers tightly and pulling her towards the back of the hall.

There, at the back of the hall, was laid out an extensive selection of cakes, pastries, tarts and biscuits. The hall had been the venue for a charity bake sale in aid of the local football club.

Eve had thought initially that vampires only lived on blood – that they were unable to eat human food once they’d made the transition from human to sub-human. Not so the plus-size vampire, however. She was capable of demolishing bodies two or three at a time and still her greed ran rampant.

Cordelia walked up to the table, inspecting the wares all expertly baked by the town’s keenest amateur bakers. As this was a town where unspoken competition existed in many areas, the standard of baking was superb.

Cordelia’s inspection finished, she turned round to face Eve, holding a plate bearing a huge Victoria sponge cake, its middle oozing with jam and cream.

Eve smiled – oh, perfect. Without bothering with the social niceties of slicing and plating up, Cordelia tore a chunk out of the cake and held it in front of her. Eve moved forward until the cake was directly in front of her face. She extended a tongue, letting it dance from side to side for a few seconds before taking in a mouthful of the cream.

Lightly sweetened and perfectly matched with strawberry jam that burst with fruit flavour, it was delicious. Cordelia pushed the chunk of cake into Eve’s mouth, letting her fingers rest on the lips as Eve chewed and swallowed.

Five minutes later the entire cake had disappeared. Cordelia put down the plate and took hold of her girlfriend’s hand once more.

“I think we’d better get out of here,” she said. “The townspeople will be back at some point – probably with silver bullets, garlic and all that kind of nonsense.”

Eve nodded her agreement. “Good enough reason to go,” she said, but the urgency of their departure added a certain frisson to the situation. With a smile at Cordelia she leaned in for another kiss, pulling the thinner woman to her and caressing her ass.

“But time for a little more fun yet, hmm?”

 

 

 

The Wave Singer, by Greg Michaelson

The Wave SingerThe Wave Singer by Greg Michaelson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Wave Singer isn’t a book I wouldn’t usually read, but a quarter of the way through I started to really enjoy what I was reading. To use the cliché, I was grateful that I had been pushed out of my comfort zone. I always think the ultimate compliment or a book is how quickly one reads it and I read this book in three days – really, it would have been much sooner if I hadn’t been working.

I loved the starkness of the language and its simplicity. I felt that the author was giving the reader lots of scope for their own imagination. The setting of the book isn’t made clear, except that it is probably a post-apocalyptic east coast of Scotland – and the thought of an abandoned Edinburgh was intriguing.

I liked the individual explanations for the characters and the religious analogy. I also appreciated the little domestic touches which I thought really brought the life of people living in this world to life. Not having the ingredients to make curries for example, or not keeping pets.

The story moves along at a reasonable pace and the explanations given fit with what you have learned so far. It’s an interesting and satisfying read.

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You can buy The Wave Singer on Amazon.

The Outcast, by Sadie Jones

The OutcastThe Outcast by Sadie Jones
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I thought this was an astonishing book – a debut novel too, no less. I found it in my local library, put off reading it for a while, took it up one evening and then couldn’t put the book down. I read it in one night.

The book tells the story of Lewis Aldridge, starting with his release from prison in 1957 at the age of 27. It then backtracks to the end of the Second World War when Lewis’s father returns from the war, interrupting the cosy life he and his mother have made together without him. Tragedy strikes and father and son are unable to help each other through it.

Lewis is a deeply flawed protagonist, but the author deals sympathetically with him at all times – and with most of the other characters who surround him. You feel as if the author really wanted to explain why people act in certain ways and why they are unable to rectify situations.

The portrayal of 1940s and 1950s English life seems very vivid and realistic and it’s an interesting exploration of social mores and how they constricted people’s lives. The writing is beautiful and the ending satisfying.

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