A return to the blog

My last post was over 10 months ago – but I am delighted to announced that my time has been positively spent producing my first collection of short stories. So although this will be a short post, it gives you the opportunity to click on the My Books tab and check out the book.


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All hail the second hand book

A few weeks ago, whilst middle son was warming up for the first round of the Northumberland Rugby County Cup, I nipped off to visit one of the largest second hand book shops in the UK. Ironically, the night before, I had visited a friends house who had loads of books left over from a Cancer Research coffee morning she had hosted the previous week – take your pick she said. Well what’s a boy to do?

So what’s the point of this particular rambling, well I guess it’s a celebration (of sorts). Books are wonderful things and authors (at least the majority of the ones I know) are wonderful, creative people. Putting aside the obvious (or perhaps not so obvious) points about recycling and raising money for charity (although the second hand book shop I refer to in this piece is run as a business. Bastards, some of you may be tempted to cry because as an author you won’t see any royalties from that particular sale), it’s about the reader having the opportunity to discover someone new, or in my case rediscover authors I had tried to read before, but it was a case of wrong book at the wrong time (in case you’re wondering this includes Stephen King – yes Stephen King! I read a few of his short(er) stories as a teenager and I have to confess to disliking them. Ian (M) Banks is another).

Now this might all be a little strange to read, a wannabe author – who will no doubt end up going down the digital self publishing route – celebrating second hand books (as already mentioned where are the royalties?!?!), but for me the second hand book (whether they be a ‘commercial’ or charity purchase, or simply handed down from a friend) encourages people to take a chance on a new author, or allow an existing author a second chance. All of which has to be good for everyone – plus I only paid a few pounds for the books which shows that quality can come cheap.

Anyway I have a pile of books waiting to be read, which means I am going to stop typing and go reading.

Oh and middle son won the rugby match. Happy days all round.

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Read some great stories and help charity!

Although this is a lazy blog post (from my perspective as I’ve just ‘borrowed’ it) – its helps me remember ONE of the reasons I keep pressing on the keys of my computer ….


As you know, I have been interviewing some of the authors from the short story group, but did you know that all proceeds from the anthologies goes to charity? Yep, it’s true.

The authors gave their time and shared short stories to help raise money for various charities.

The proceeds from Love is in the Air goes to help Diabetes UK.

newfront Jul13      LIITA3

Have you or someone you know ever been diagnosed with diabetes? My mom and my brother had diabetes and one of my older sisters has it. I recently lost a dear internet friend to complications of this awful disease. He had lost circulation in his feet and had to have some toes amputated and the doctors were hopeful, but gangrene had spread so he was admitted back into the hospital, but before they could do more surgery he had a heart attack. I miss his daily…

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Coming together nicely

As I attempt to juggle the ‘real’ life and that of an international bestselling author, I am slowly completing a number of short stories which will soon (soon being defined as an indefinable length of time) be available.

To help maintain the momentum, I plan to post the opening parts of selected stories on this blog, via the Work In Progress page. This will (hopefully) get your eyes tingling in anticipation, whilst keeping me on track to get the stories complete.

Hope you enjoy the opening to Shoes.

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A slightly shorter blog post this week as I have been interviewed over on ‘Karens Different Corners’ which can be accessed here http://karensdifferentcorners.wordpress.com/2013/09/16/welcome-james-smith/

Talking about my writing has two effects 1) it reminds me that I enjoy it and 2) it reminds me to do some. So enjoy the interview (and check out the rest of Karens blog) whilst I attempt to create magic.

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Next time…..

To be honest, this has been ‘bugging’ me for a while, although it only became blog worthy (by which I mean complain to random people on the internet) after the first episode of the BBC’s current Sunday night drama ‘What Remains’.

Imagine, if you will, sitting in the dark with my wife (the wife part is optional), enjoying the plot development of a thriller/drama/who-done-what. Totally absorbed in the story, time passes quickly and the twist and turns climax with the main character being smashed over the head by an unknown assailant, chasing them out of the house, before collapsing – condition unknown – onto the street… the screen goes black….

… then the tension is broken by the killer words ‘Next time’. What follows is a montage in which we quickly learn that the main character has suffered no ill effects from the hideous head injury he received, he uncovers a vital clue and does a number of other things which make watching next weeks episode seem a complete waste of time. Shivers down spine, stopped. Built up tension – which would have ensured I tuned in next week – shrivelled on the floor like an old balloon.

The ‘Next Time’ phenomenon actually goes deeper than this. I have lost track of the number of times I have sat through an hour long program, which is actually only half an hour of original programming, thanks to the presenter constantly telling me what is ‘coming up’ or confusing the ad breaks with memory lose and therefore telling me what happened 2 minutes ago OR worse still, prior to the ad break, telling me what will happen after the ad break AND THEN reminding me what happened before the ad break followed by what’s coming up now the ad break has finished.

So what does this have to do with writing – well very little. But it does have a lot to do with the presentation of our work. My wife commented to me the other week that the book she was reading ‘just ended’. When I asked her if she had noticed that the pages towards the back were getting less than those at the front, she (after slapping me) pointed out that the story did unexpectedly end. The last fifty pages of the book contained the first ‘few’ chapters of the authors other novel – and some adverts for other books, suggested discussion points for Book Clubs etc etc. In short she felt robbed, the unexpected end – thanks to the additional ‘Next Time’ style padding – left her feeling severed from the world she had been enjoying.

So the question is – and I know it is a marketing ploy – is this tactic fair on readers? Does advertising the fact that this book (electronic or otherwise) contains EXCLUSIVE extracts from the upcoming new novel staring the hero of the book you haven’t read yet – but who clearly survives the mission/horror/case – spoil the drama you hope to create or experience?


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Characterisation – or when is a stereotype not a stereotype?

I haven’t (yet) given up on my online writers course and with a few modules under my belt, it is time to reflect upon my learning (that’s teacher speak by the way)

On a recent visit to London, I was forced to comment on the number of ‘trendy, young people’ who were wearing flat caps. Now I am guessing that this is some sort of fashion trend that hasn’t reached the North East – a iconic/ironic statement of some sort – I asked my friend, who is Lancashire born and bred but living in the big smoke, whether he had considered joining the trendy clones and I am sure that you can guess his response. A man from Lancashire does not wear a flat cap to be trendy – he does it to fit a stereotype.

This got me thinking about characterisation – my online course people say that you should avoid stereotypes at all cost. They make your characters appear one dimensional, unoriginal and generally boring – but isn’t a stereotype just a broad brush stroke of how a particular character should dress/act/speak – almost an expectation which if you ignore breaks the ‘magic’ you are trying to create?

A pirate for example has to conform to a particular set of ‘rules’ – you don’t have to tick all the boxes – she could be allergic to feathers (see I’ve instantly broken two pirate stereotypes there), but she must go ‘argghhhh’ a lot and be on a quest for treasure (buried or otherwise). If these elements are not present you are breaking the trust the reader is putting in you and jarring their expectations to the point they don’t believe your story. Even when they know its not real.

I am also forced to ask when does a stereotype actually become a statement of fact? I’ve visited London a handful of times, my stereotypical view of the tube journey to my friends flat was one of overcrowded trains, everyone ignoring everyone else as they cocoon themselves in their world of mobile phones, ipods and reading. Oh and there has to be a nutter shouting at everyone and no-one at the same time. In a strange way it was comforting to force myself (rucksack and all) onto the bursting tube, be ignored – regardless of how many times I fell over as the train lurched its was beneath the capital – and giggle uncontrollably at the bloke half a carriage away complaining about something or other to anyone who would listen – which of course no-one was. It was what I expected and although not the most pleasant experience I will ever have, it was strangely comforting.

So I guess what I am saying is that stereotypes have a place in fiction, they are what the population generally expect and ignoring them is akin to ignoring the law of gravity. So I intend to embrace stereotypes, although I will do so carefully to help me develop believable characters and believable plot lines.

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