Monday, 8 February 2016

Author Interview: Jack Scott, Turkey Street and Perking the Pansies


Jack Scott, author and publisher, Springtime Books
This week I'm so thrilled to welcome Jack Scott to Writing...Just Because to share his author journey and a few words of advice. Jack is the author of  Turkey Street - Jack and Liam move to Bodrum, the sequel to the best-selling memoir Perking the Pansies - Jack and Liam move to Turkey.

Here's a little taster of Turkey Street...

Six months into their Turkish affair, Jack and Liam, a gay couple from London, took lodgings in the oldest ward of Bodrum Town. If they wanted to shy away from the curtain-twitchers, they couldn’t have chosen a worse position. Their terrace overlooked Turkey Street like the balcony of Buckingham Palace and the middle-aged infidels stuck out like a couple of drunks at a temperance meeting. Against all the odds, the boys from the Smoke were welcomed into the fold by a feisty mix of eccentric locals and a select group of trailblazing expats, irresistible ladies with racy pasts and plucky presents.

Hop aboard Jack’s rainbow gulet as he navigates the choppy waters of a town on the march and a national resurgence not seen since Suleiman the Magnificent was at the gates of Vienna. Grab your deckchair for a whirlwind tour of love and duty, passion and betrayal, broken hearts and broken bones, dirty politics and the dawn of a new Ottoman era.

Interview with Jack...

Where do you get your inspiration when writing?

I’ve always been a greedy social observer and unrepentant eavesdropper. A move to a foreign field provided the chance to witness the expat species in the wild, an opportunity I hadn’t anticipated but relished. I soon discovered expatriates, like everyone else, came in all forms – the mad, the sad and the glad – but boiled down and in your face. Expat life was village life and your business was everyone’s business.

What’s your favourite genre to read and why?

I tend to be drawn mostly to non-fiction, particularly history. This may be why I was attracted to Turkey. As the true crossroad of civilisations – Hittite, Greek, Persian, Roman, Byzantine, Ottoman to name only the best known – Anatolia has been won and lost over countless centuries, the evidence of which lies casually underfoot and around every corner. I didn’t expect the rough and tumble of expat life to spoil the view.

How did you become a writer?

I’m an accidental writer. When Liam and I first washed up on Turkey’s shores, we planned to put our feet up and watch the pansies grow. But so many extraordinary things happened around us I had to write them all down, first in a blog. As the months trickled by, the blog took off spectacularly and a book started to form in my mind. It really was that simple. I was lucky. My fellow expatriates handed me a ripping yarn and for that I remain ever-grateful.

Do you have any helpful tips for other authors? Writing, publishing or promoting?

Just write
You have to begin somewhere. The more you write, the better you’ll get.

Be yourself
Think about what will make your writing stand out. How is your message different? What’s distinctive about your angle? Who will your writing appeal to? Are you prepared to reveal the real you?

Think about ‘form’
This is one of the biggest lessons I learned when turning my blog into a book. A story, even a real-life story, needs order, pace, plot, a compelling blend of highs and lows and a sense of purpose.

Think visually
Set the scene and describe your characters and situations colourfully. Help your readers visualise your story. Use dialogue to amplify and underscore the narrative and keep the speech realistic.

Edit, edit, edit and edit again
Be bold and decisive. If something adds nothing to the plot or message, cut it. Employ a professional editor. You won’t be sorry.

Share your writing
Ask for feedback. Then take a deep breath. Take the comments on board. Some of them will be rubbish but some won’t. Try not to take things personally.

Be social
These days, authors are expected to do a lot more to market their books. This means developing a strong online presence. Don’t be shy.

Start a blog
Blogging is a great audition for writing, and the best way to experiment and grow your fan-base.

What are you currently working on?

The book birthing for Turkey Street was much more painful than expected. Eighteen months later than planned, I fretted my comeback would be as welcome as another Spice Girls reunion, but the pain eased as the reviews dropped onto the mat. For now I’ve set my quill aside and focused my energies on Springtime Books, working in partnership with the force of nature who is Jo Parfitt and editor extraordinaire, Jane Dean. Together we publish authors who have something new and different to say about the expat experience. This entirely unforeseen and radical career change is a direct result of my time in Expatland and the success of my first book.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

In 2012, Liam and I ended our Turkish affair and paddled back to Britain on the evening tide. We currently live quietly in Norwich, a surprising city in eastern England. Springtime Books keeps me on my toes and Liam has a part time job in a local village. It all helps to keep us out of the workhouse. I still blog regularly at Perking thePansies. Even now, my random musings seem to strike a chord. For us the good life involves hearty fare, quality time with those who matter, taking in a show and supping in local hostelries where I can quench my thirst for social observation and eavesdropping. And so it goes on!


If you'd like to see what Jack is up to check out his book site visit his blog and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

If you’d like to receive my updates, book launch announcements or information on upcoming writing retreats, go ahead and sign up for my newsletter. When you sign up you’ll receive a free, signed PDF of my first novel, Mental Pause.




Monday, 11 January 2016

The Art of Building Tension

At the heart of every story is tension.

Building conflict, internal and external and keeping what your protagonist desires just out of reach, is the key to establishing the rising tension that readers are expecting, while injecting the unexpected.

I remember writing a scene in my latest novel, Deep Deceit, where tension was building between two characters, conflict was palpable and as I wrote it I still didn't really know where it was going but I could feel the anxiety building in myself! When the scene climaxed, even I was shocked at what happened. The result of that scene then continued to escalate the overall tension leading to the ultimate climax of the story.

No matter what type of structure you follow, whether you're a plotter or pantser (I fall somewhere in the middle), no matter how many chapters and scenes, all stories have:

  • An introduction to your characters
  • A situation, brought in early on, that creates a central conflict for the main character
  • An escalation of tension – becoming more intimate and intense
  • Rising stakes
  • A moment at which everything seems lost
  • A climactic encounter
  • A satisfying conclusion
  • A transformation of character and/or situation
If it doesn’t fit the storyline to introduce the conflict in the first few pages, then the lead up should be engaging in some way… humorous, thought-provoking or emotionally charged for example.

The wildly popular The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein, is told from the perspective of the family dog, Enzo. It's the story of Denny, Enzo's owner, who marries and starts a family.

The conflict doesn't come in for several chapters but we get to know Enzo and his family. the author uses humour to engage the reader. It's entertaining and engaging even without any conflict, which is difficult to accomplish. When conflict does enter, it's with a vengeance... Denny's wife dies. Her parents decide they want custody of his beloved daughter and will do anything to make it happen, even lie about Denny.

In his book Story Trumps Structure: How to Write Unforgettable Fiction by Breaking the Rules, Steven James says, “A character is failing his way through escalating setbacks and struggles until all seems lost, and then, at the climax, he overcomes or is overcome by the struggle.”

Every story has scenes and each scene is a mini-story with an orientation, a turning point or crisis, an escalation of conflict, a choice, ending with a new normal (or complication that moves the story forward).

The things that happen in a scene should alter reality in some way, whether it's the main character’s status, attitude or perspective.

Each scene builds on an on-going cycle of events that lead up to the final climax and resolution.

Defining Goals

You can’t build tension unless your character’s goals are clearly defined. Otherwise, the reader doesn’t know what she’s hoping the protagonist achieves. Once the goal is clear, you can then build the tension using things like 'the information drip' where you continually, gradually reveal information, withholding just enough to keep readers guessing but not so much that they get frustrated. Or perhaps cliff hanger chapter endings. The end of a chapter should leave a burning question that makes the reader want to read one more before turning off the light. Never end with a resolution to a problem... close, but not quite.

Make your protagonist and antagonist desire totally different outcomes or, desiring the same thing but needing each other to achieve the goal.

Sprinkle in a few moral dilemmas. Something that matters must be at stake and there’s no easy solution and no easy way out. Your character must make a choice. The more quickly the choice has to be made and the higher the stakes creates more dramatic tension and more reader engagement.

Not every story has edge of your seat, heart in your throat tension, but you always want to build interest and anticipation. If readers care about your character they’ll cheer for them, feel their pain and revel in their success.

I'd love to hear some of your favourite examples of great tension building stories and cliff hangers.


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Sunday, 29 November 2015

Writing that Sizzling Opening

“If you don’t know where to begin your story, try introducing readers to the protagonist’s unmet desire, vividly show them the location, and give them something to worry about.”
Steven James, Story Trumps Structure



Getting started is the toughest… you’ve written so many openings that just fizzled… right? I've written the opening to my next novel about 10 times and it's still not quite right.

I'm trying not to agonize too much. I'm hoping that the perfect opening will hit me once I'm well underway. I'm sure I'll re-write it a hundred times before I'm happy with it… and then re-write it again!

Looking for inspiration I just grabbed a couple of my favourite novels off my book shelf and then headed to Amazon and took advantage of the 'look inside' option of some best sellers.

Here are a few I came across that definitely grabbed my attention (a few contemporary and a few classics):

“When the first bullet hit my chest, I thought of my daughter.”
No Second Change by Harlan Coben

America was never innocent. We popped our cherry on the boat over and looked back with no regrets.” American Tabloid, James Ellroy.

“Hale knew, before he had been in Brighton three hours, that they meant to murder him.” Brighton Rock, Graham Greene 

“I am an invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fibre and liquids—and I might even be said to possess a mind.” Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” 1984, George Orwell

“I was 37 then, strapped in my seat as the huge 747 plunged through dense cloud cover on approach to Hamburg Airport.” Norwegian Wood, Haruki Murakami

“I am ninety.” Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen

These are all opening lines that would keep me reading. But, not all great novels start with a punch in the gut, a tug at the heartstrings, or an edge of the seat type line. So, it’s not just the opening line… it’s what follows. The key is to keep your reader turning the pages.

So, does the opening really need to ‘sizzle’? Does it have to be ‘gripping’? Or can it just gently draw the reader in as you lull them into an acceptance of living in the world you’ve created, even if it’s just for the evening or a few hours.

I guess it depends on your reader and what they’re looking for and the type of genre they enjoy. What grabs one reader might repulse another.

Which of these opening lines would make you read on? Ask yourself why.

  • “The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years – if it ever did end – began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.” It, Stephen King
  • “They built it out of stone - dark grey stone, pried loose from the unforgiving mountains.” Asylum, Madeleine Roux
  • “On the day of the miracle, Isabel was kneeling at the cliff’s edge, tending to the small, newly made driftwood cross.” The Light Between Oceans, M.L. Stedman.
  • “In the darkness he touched her arm and said, ‘Stay here.’” She did not move, just waited. The smell of salt water was strong.  She heard the faint gurgle of water.” State of Fear, Michael Crichton
  • “In Pakistan’s Karakoram, bristling across an area barely one hundred miles wide, more than sixty of the world’s tallest mountains lord their severe alpine beauty over a witnessless high-altitude wilderness.” Three Cups of Tea, Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
  • “The day I left for Brunei I took the subway up-town to Beth Israel, schlepping behind me a green flowered suitcase.” Some Girls – My Life in a Harem, Jillian Lauren
Some may sound pretty ominous, or terrifying. Do you want to be ‘terrified’ when you sit down to read a book? Some people do. Some openings are more descriptive of a geographic location, appealing to a world wanderer but not someone who wants to jump right into the action. Note that the last two are memoir not fiction, but some memoirs are certainly gripping!

I hope this give you some food for thought when crafting the opening of your novel. Feel free to share some of your favourites.

Happy Writing!

If you’d like to receive my newsletter, book launch announcements or information on upcoming writing retreats, go ahead and sign up for my newsletter. When you sign up you’ll receive a free signed PDF of my first novel, Mental Pause.