Friday, 21 October 2016

StarMark: the film!

One thing I really wanted to produce to help market StarMark was a book trailer.

Through a marketing company, I was put in touch with Just Anim8, a small animation company based at Loughborough University. We got together to discuss possibilities and I'm delighted to say that I now have a book trailer - essence of StarMark, animated!

It hasn't been an easy process - both I and the team at Just Anim8 have learned a lot over the last few months. . (You can create trailers yourself, of course, but I'm not tec-savvy enough to manage that. You should have seen me trying to upload the video link to youtube...)

But, if anyone out there is hoping to produce a book trailer using professional film-makers, here's my top tips for a smoother process.

1. Agree a contract. (Ours was verbal, and both parties agreed it probably should have been written to avoid some of the problems we encountered later.)

Ensure from the outset you know exactly what you are agreeing to in the process, especially with respect to the number of revisions you are getting for your money. Part of the delay and increased cost of the trailer was due to my misunderstanding how many times I could ask for changes to the storyboard once animating had begun. I'm sure every time I said "Can we just...?" the team's collective heart must've sunk, but eventually we both bought into an idea and it all came together pretty quickly from then on. But that leads nicely onto...

2. Do your homework! 

Research other book trailers. Get a feel for a style or approach you like and keep the idea simple if you can - you're not aiming for Gone With the Wind. Think about the sort of images and colours and even soundtrack you think might work with the atmosphere of your book. Remember that you are distilling the essence of your story into possibly two or three minutes, and it's no good having a dark, gothic approach if your book is a light romance! Try to have an idea of what you are trying to get across to the potential reader - consider it a visual book blurb, if you will; punchy, to the point, and with enough of a hook to make people want to buy the book and read it.

If the filming/animation team are happy to read your book, let them; it also gives them a better understanding of what they are going to be representing visually. I only passed the book on to the creative team towards the end of the process - they said it would have been more useful earlier on.

3. Try to lay as much definite groundwork as you can before the animation or filming stage.

Talk it through with the creative team as much as you need to and don't be afraid to ask questions - though hopefully, if you've done your homework, you should both have a good idea of what you're aiming for as an end result. In my case, I had a definite idea but I don't think I explained it well enough up front, which takes me back to the fundamental 'do your homework'...

4. Make sure you understand what the creative team are sending you when the first few clips/scenes come through.

I didn't - I thought what I was being sent were stills, when in fact they were movie clips and I made judgements based on static pictures rather than moving ones. This resulted in the team continuing so far down the animation path, it became costly to rectify when I realised later that I didn't actually like the moving images when they came pieced together in larger chunks...and we ended up cutting a lot of the original storyboard in an attempt to simplify the film.

5. Give the project enough time if you want to meet a deadline.

My original deadline slipped...and slipped...and slipped. It was mainly my own fault because of the changes I kept requesting, but the team also admitted that book trailers were a new area for them which probably made the process a little slower this first time.

6. Be prepared for working with other creative types!

I am a creative person in all sorts of ways - I often have a really good visual idea of the end result I want to achieve, whether I'm sewing, painting or flower arranging. The problem is, if you gave any group of creative types the same project, they would all approach it differently...just think of how different some of the NIBS writing has been, even though it's all generated from the same prompts.

This is where you have to be prepared either to do enough work to be able to explain EXACTLY what you want up front, OR be prepared to compromise and maybe even hand over the project to the person you're employing to do the job. I hadn't realised how much control I wanted to keep over this project, and I can accept that this made it hard for Just Anim8, who are possibly more used to having clients who give them a less specific brief. Nothing wrong with a specific brief - but you need to have (yep, going to say it again!) done your homework first if you need that level of control for your own satisfaction.

Ultimately, the animated trailer cost me a lot more financially than I wanted it to, but the end result is very pleasing to me. I chose animation over video because I know some readers prefer not to have a visual image of the characters in a book forced upon them - they want to 'see' the characters in their heads, the way they choose. That was one of the reasons for choosing Just Anim8 in the end, because their style is bold and not finely detailed; I could show a man who might be Lord Terenz, but he'd be vague enough no to upset those who prefer to imagine characters for themselves. I loved the colour palette chosen for the film as well as the mix of pictures and words. My favourite bit is when the StarMark turns to gold; I nearly cried when I saw that for the first time...

I'd be interested to know what you think, too, especially as I am hoping to work with Just Anim8 next year, when I sort out a second book trailer for Kingstone.

Mind you, you can bet your bottom dollar I'll have done my homework for that one.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Goodbye to The Mound.

About thirteen, maybe fourteen years ago, Mr Squidge and I decided to give the back garden a makeover. This was due - in part - to having had little Squidgelings, and we felt the need for a slabbed play space for wet days as well as lots of grass and lovely borders.

With the help of a good friend who owns his own landscaping business, we set to work.

One of the problems in our garden was the step up onto our lawn; the small patio outside the French doors was a good six inches lower than the grass. To increase the patio size, we needed to shift an awful lot of topsoil to make everything level.

To save on skip fees and carting goodness knows how much earth to the tip, G suggested building a mound at the end of the garden with the topsoil he removed. It would give the kids a little hill to roll down, and - most cunningly of all - it would have lengths of pipe buried inside it so that cars and balls could be rolled down the inside of the hill.

Put the balls in the pipe at the top...
...and collect them at the bottom

We went along with the idea and over the years, have had great fun on The Mound. (The photos above were taken in 2002, the year the garden was finished.) It was a dingly-dell for a fairy birthday party, and a castle for the pirates who came to another. It gave us a shaded seat in the summer and on occasion has allowed us to nip over the fence into the neighbour's garden to retrieve tennis balls, shuttlecocks and off-target stomp rockets when said neighbour was away. The local fox used to use it for sunbathing in the mornings, but we haven't seen him around for ages.

All that is about to change.

Yesterday, Mr Squidge and Squidgeling T took a crowbar and lump hammer to the retaining wall that holds The Mound up.

Still two more sides to knock down once the earth's out...

It's all part of a wider plan to build a large shed-cum-outdoor-room at the bottom of the garden. The idea was sold to me as a writer's den (I am assured it will have heating) but T seems to think it'll be far better used as a rehearsal space for his band. It's also the reason why the slide, climbing frame and swing have finally been dismantled...(We still have the tree house, thank goodness, but even that's had a makeover in the last twelve months and is much more grown up than the old one.)

By the end of this weekend, The Mound will become The Flat Space At The End Of The Garden.

I can't help feeling sad about it. Not because the mound is being dug out (yes, we are paying for a skip to get rid of the soil this time!) but more because its removal seems to mark the end of childish things. My children aren't children any more - they are young people, on the cusp of adulthood. Gone are the days of fairies and pirates and the simplicity of rolling balls through a tube. Now it's Warhammer model painting and studying for exams and whether we can boost the Wifi signal to the end of the garden for the inevitable smartphone...

The end of an era. *sigh* And maybe, the start of a new one?

I'll let you know how I feel about that once the shed-cum-outdoor-room's finished...

Saturday, 15 October 2016

You know you've 'arrived' when you've been plagiarised!

Earlier this week, someone posted a prologue to a children's story on a writing forum. Nothing unusual in that, you might think, except that when I read it, I realised it was similar - VERY similar - to Granny Rainbow and the Black Shadow, which was first published back in 2013 in Reading is Magic.

There were enough differences to make it not the same, but there were enough similarities to know that this was essentially the beginning of my story, adapted.

I'll be honest - my first reaction was "Flippin' heck!" (Except not quite so polite) "Someone's nicked my story!" I felt sick and could not believe what I was reading.

Then, I looked again. The writer appeared to be pretty inexperienced - there were lots of newbie mistakes in the writing that indicated the author was a fair way off being published. And different authors do sometimes have similar ideas - it depends on how you write the story that makes it 'yours'. So it IS feasible that someone else has had the idea of a baddie who leaches colour from the world...

I gave the author the benefit of the doubt; I responded by noting the similarities to the original story and offered some advice to improving their writing.

That night happened to be NIBS night. I told a couple of friends there what had happened and one remarked "You know you've arrived when you've been plagiarized!"

Plagiarism is a serious matter. I haven't lost money or sleep over it - unlike some authors whose work is shamefully pirated to the extent that they lose income, or others who see their own complete novels plagiarised by rogue authors. A little bit of me thinks that if a novice author thinks my ideas good enough to use as their starting point, I'm flattered.

Providing they don't make a habit of it or take something so similar to publication.

And anyway, how can I complain when, as an author visiting schools, the teaching staff and I have encouraged children (up to Y6) to use the framework of Granny Rainbow stories to create their own tales? For some children, rewriting the original story in their own words and with as few original elements as possible is as much as they can manage, yet still presents a huge leap forward in how much writing they can do. In a literal sense I suppose that's plagiarism too, except that in this case, Granny Rainbow is a tool in the classroom and no-one is trying to pass it off as their own. For all I know, the author of the plagiarised piece could have been a child - though I would not expect children to be present on the writing forum. Teenagers, maybe, although I don't use Granny Rainbow when I'm working with that age group.

So. There you have it. The first case of plagiarism of my work. We'll see what happens from here on in...

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Why I write fantasy...

I'm a guest blogger over on the Retreat West site today. I've known Amanda Saint for quite a few years now - she's a fellow cloudie, author, (As If I Were A River, also available from Waterstones) and I was published in a Retreat West competition anthology three years ago. (My story title gave the anthology its title: The Colour of Life) used for the anthology.

Hop on over to the Retreat West blog if you want to find out why I write fantasy...

Monday, 10 October 2016

Reading guides...the Arty version!

When Bedazzled Ink asked me to produce a reading guide for StarMark which could be used by readers and book clubs, I was a little taken aback. Oh, I'd seen reading guides in the back of books before - completely ignored them, if I'm honest - but I had no idea how to prepare one for my own story. The analytical approach (What was the author trying to convey by having Manuel spill the parsnip soup? Do you think the main character struggles more with their work or love life?) leaves me cold. As a reader, all I want to do is read the story, not read into it, if you see what I mean?

I wasn't even sure that a reading guide would ever be needed for StarMark, especially as it's supposed to be a children's book and I'd never heard of a reading guide being used by children, let alone whether children's book clubs existed.

After some thinking, I managed to come up with a handful of questions that weren't too 'deep' for children to tackle and weren't based simply on written exercises. The end result is here, on BInk's website.

Bit of a waste of time, I thought. It'll never get used.

I should have had more faith.

StarMark is currently being read by a Year 7 bookclub at Stamford High School. Their teacher, Miss S, contacted me recently to say that the girls are enjoying the book and they've had a go at answering the first question on the reading guide;

'In Irvana’s world, all the overlords have a coat-of-arms which tells people something about them. If you had to design a coat-of-arms for yourself, what symbol(s) would you use, and why?'

(If you've read the book, you'll know for example that the overlords of Koltarn all have a golden star on them - except for Lord Terenz. His is a black star on a white background.)

Miss S sent me photos of some of the girls' finished coat-of-arms, and here they are!

I'm part of a display! How cool is THAT?

Art, food and cats...some of my favourite things, too!

Fabulous motto - Live, love, learn. Love it!

The House of Dach...Game of Thrones fan?

And a rainbow... *smiles*
So colourful - and another good motto

They're so good, I decided that perhaps I ought to draw mine, too...

Literally just finished...

Can you 'see' me in this...? *winks*

So there you go - if you fancy having a go yourself, what would be on YOUR coat-of-arms?

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Talking to the 'youth'

Last Thursday, I spent an evening with a church youth group in Sileby, talking about writing.

I'd been invited to go by a friend who helps run teh youth group - I've known J for many years, ever since my brother was in his scout unit and Mr Squidge (still just someone I admired from afar at that stage!) was in J's Venture Scout unit. J was also very good friends with some of my school mates, and we all used to go together to a youth group on a Friday night. In fact, I have hazy memories of putting on a performance and having to rock and roll with J...

Anyway, J had thought the 'youth' in the group might find it interesting to hear about what I'd been up to.

Have to say, it goes down as the first author talk I've given where pizza was on the menu! I think I'm going to request it at every talk I do in the future... *winks*

There weren't many of us in the lovely large social centre: just seven young folk between the ages of maybe 11 and 16, plus three or four adults - one of whom is in the early stages of a PhD to study how older people are portrayed in children's literature. (That led to some interesting conversation!) And would you believe that two of the children, I'd already met at another author talk? They were pupils of St. Crispin's School in Leicester, which I'd visited back in March.

Anyway, we got started and I introduced myself before moving onto a timeline of my writing, using the books I'd been published in as props. I quite impressed myself, actually - there was quite a stack to work through, even without including where I'd been published in a purely digital format.

I also took along some of my notebooks, complete with scribbles and crossings out and maps and castle plans, along with my 'box-a-day-of-writing' plan to show how I create the outline of a story before typing it up. We also had the opportunity for a Q&A session, but the youngsters were all a bit shy, so most of the questions came from the adults.

I set the youngsters off on a writing exercise, using the starter 'The antique glass bottle contained...' As always, I was really pleased that everyone was willing to give it a go, whatever their ability. Mind maps, sketches and notes were used to outline some stories, and some stories were written straight off the cuff. Some of the ideas were absolute corkers - and if I wasn't the writer of integrity that I am, I'd have loved to have pinched a few of them!

Everyone seemed to go home happy - and full of pizza - at the end of the session, and that's all I could have asked for, really.

Roll on the next one!

Friday, 7 October 2016

Monsters and mermaids

I'm proud to belong to the Random Writers. And immensely proud of the stories I've had published in the first two Random Writers anthologies - A Seeming Glass and Something Rich and Strange - The Past is Prologue.

When the third anthology was announced earlier this year, my heart leapt. Then it sank a bit. What the heck was a cryptid? And I'd never heard of some of the mythical beasts that were suggested as potential story material... Never one to resist a challenge, I did some research to find a creature I could write about.

I quite fancied mermaids...and discovered the Inuit legend of Sedna, which is told throughout the Arctic. She is the goddess of the sea and lives on the bottom of the ocean, appearing with the top half of a woman and the tail of a fish.

I started to write a story based around Sedna. However, in spite of best laid plans, life interfered - big time. I knew I wouldn't be able to do the story justice before the deadline and reluctantly decided not to offer anything.

Whilst I was disappointed - very disappointed - not to be included this time, I did have the honour of proofreading the dozen short stories in the finished book.

In it, there were cryptids and monsters and mythical beasts galore, all wrapped in the kind of wonderful wordiness that the Randoms seem to be able to generate with ease. The kind of wonderful wordiness that makes me wish I could write that way. There were times, during my reading, that I forgot to check the n-dashes and spellings, so carried away was I by the standard and beauty and poeticness (I don't think that's a real word, but you know what I mean!) of the writing. There were stories that unsettled, that made me begin to wonder exactly who - or what - the monster really is. And, most worryingly, could it actually be me?

Today, the Randoms are having a Book Blast because Stalking Leviathan - A Bestiary of Tales was published last week, and I'm doing my bit to encourage as many people as possible to buy and read it.

It's worth the investment, I promise. And fingers crossed, there'll be a fourth anthology sometime...and life might give me the chance to be in it.