Peter Jones – Author & Public Speaker

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Larking Around

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clock

A few months ago I was asked to give a talk as part of the Essex Book Festival. It wasn’t my first talk, but it was quite a significant milestone in my career as an author, and the first time I realised that talking about writing was almost as much fun as doing so, and significantly less effort. You turn up, smile a lot, tell the audience a little about yourself, maybe read an extract, and then ask for questions. If nobody says anything we can all go home early. Job done. But that never happens.

I’ve been asked some pretty interesting questions over the past few months.
Here are a few off the top of my head:

How long did your book take you to write? (Six months)
What do you think your wife would make of it? (I think she’d like it.)
Are you happy now? (Yes. Happier than I’ve ever been.)
Are you still working in Credit Card Banking? (No.)
Were you the first choice to read the audio version of your book? (No – I had to audition for the part)
Have you got any other books coming out? (Oh yes.)
Have you met ever the real Peter Jones? (Hang on – am I somehow not real?)

There was one Gentleman at the EBF gig who asked if I was like other authors he’d heard of, and rise each morning at 4am to write – to which I laughed and said that was a ridiculous notion, and I didn’t get out of bed a minute before five.

That was back in March. Four months later and I’m astonished to report that I am indeed getting out of bed at 4am on a regular basis, and sitting at my desk, working, a few minutes later.

I have to say I’m a little perplexed as to why this should be the case. Initially I thought it was something to do with the sun rising around that time – but this morning it was so overcast and dark, it might as well of been October. Then I thought it might be my cat wanting me to let her out, but since I’ve relented and reintroduced the cat litter tray my dawn door opening duties are now surplus to requirements. It was only whilst I exchanged emails and text messages with fellow authors Della Galton, Wendy Steele and David Kendrick – all at around six this morning – did I realise that it might actually be something to do with the job. Authors it seems, are larks rather than owls.

Now why on earth would this be the case?
Is it that we love the work so much we can’t wait to get started?
Are you kidding me!? There have been times recently when working on my current book has felt like trying to wrestle an octopus into a paperbag!
Is it that it’s the only time of day when we won’t be disturbed?
Maybe – though the internet never sleeps and facebook is only a click away.
Is it that our brains are so chock full of exciting ideas that they wake us up in the morning so that we can write them all down?
Unlikely. In my case my brain is probably so sick of dreaming about formatting errors and kindle sales that it’s waking me up in the hopes I’ll do something more interesting!
The truth is I have no idea why my body clock seems to have shifted. All I know is that daft-O’clock in the morning now feels right somehow, and if I happen to lie in till seven or eight, half the day has gone!

But perhaps myself, Dave, Della, Wendy, and the unknown authors that the Gentleman from the EBF knows about, are in the minority. Perhaps it’s nothing to do with being an author. I’d love to hear your thoughts. In the meantime, it’s 2pm – time to call it a day!

Music, to write to

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1052f-musicandwriting

The internet is a wonderful place.

For instance, the other day I came across a ‘poll’ of Thirty Two people (I know!! Thirty two people! Not exactly extensive, or statistically viable, but bear with me…) that posed the following question important question:

When writing, what would you prefer to hear in the background?

Here are the fascinating results:

Loud music with vocals – 6%
Loud music, instrumental only – 3% (ie. one person!)
Music, but unobtrusive – 21%
Normal background noise – 15%
A quiet room/house – 40%
Silence (earplugs) – 12%

For me it’s a complex question – because the music that I have playing in the background is an essential part of my writing process. For instance, there are a number of scenes in my novel (The Good Guys Guide to Getting The Girl – find out more here) when poor old Jason manages to screw up another promising relationship, or where his affections aren’t reciprocated, or where he feels like he’ll never meet the girl of his dreams. Writing these scenes could be a challenge, particularly if I wasn’t feeling that way myself, and unlike some authors who seem to live in a permanent dream-world where their characters seem so real to them that they no longer have any control over what they say or do, writing for me is more like theatre where I play every part. For this reason I usually need something to help me get into character, and music is the fastest way I know.

Here are some of the tracks I listened to (over and over) whilst constructing those heart breaking scenes (and if I’ve done this properly some of them link to youtube where you can listen for yourself)

A&E, Goldfrapp
Photos, The London Metropolitan Orchestrafrom the movie ‘Cashback’
Things You’ve Never Done, Passenger
Suzy, The London Metropolitan Orchestra – ‘Cashback’ again
Driving With The Brakes On, Del Amitri
One True Love, Semisonic
Now Comes the Night, Rob Thomas
Elevator Beat, Nancy Wilson from the movie ‘Vanilla Sky’
Wise Up, Aimee Mannfrom the movie Magnolia
My Stupid Mouth, John Mayerawesomely funny, sad song. Judging by the comments of YouTube, some guys feel about this song the way some girls do about the movie ‘Bridget Jones’s Diary’
Drawing, The London Metropolitan Orchestra – ‘Cashback’ again!
In Your Arms, Kina Grannisa fabulous lovely song, but really quite sad. The video is amazing but seems to me to be totally at odds with the mood of the song.

Notice that quite a few of them are taken from movie soundtracks. Movie soundtracks are a great source of mood inducing music (much of it instrumental) because, obviously, that’s the point of the music in a movie.

Likewise, for the scenes where it seems like Jason might be winning, where a new girl enters his life, or a date goes particularly well, maybe even really, really well (if you know what I mean), I came up with a selection of songs to get me jumping around in my chair, my pulse racing, or whatever else was needed to give the scene the necessary ‘ka-pow’

Toxic, Britney Spearsregardless of what you might think of Britney, this is a great song
Would You…?, Touch and Go – very sexy
God Put a Smile On Your Face, Mark Ronson
Must Be Dreaming, Frou Frou – this song makes my heart feel like it’s going to burst
The Sweet Escape, Gwen Stefani – whereas this one just makes me smile and smile 🙂
Come What May, Nicole Kidman & Ewan McGregor
Let’s Get It On, Marvin Gaye
Lifeline, Imogen Heap – I prefer the instrumental version, the lyrics tend to get in the way when I’m trying to write
Oh Yeah, Yello

So, good people of the internet, I’m interested to know whether anyone else does anything similar? Post your comments in the box below! Looking forward to reading them.

New Year – New Goals!

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goal

Oi! Pay attention!
This post has been ‘archived’  because things have moved on quite a bit since I wrote it.

To read something a tad more current, click here 

So, in three days it’ll be 2012. And for the fifth year running I’ll be setting myself personal goals.

A lot of my friends dislike the idea of setting personal goals, like it somehow takes the ‘private’ part of their life – the part that is supposed to be about relaxing and having fun – and turns it into ‘work’. And work, as we all know, is the mortal enemy of fun and relaxation.

Perhaps you feel the same way? I know I did. Having read and listened to more than my fair share of self help books I thought I knew all that I needed to know about Goal Setting – enough to know that it wouldn’t work for me. And as I sat in traffic on the M25, morning after morning, listening to those Tony Robbins CDs, I’d start to wonder whether I’d enjoy them more if I wound down the window and tossed them, Frisbee-like, over the edge of the bridge and into the River Thames far below me.

That was, until I went out for a curry with my old friend Denny.

“I’ve set myself 5 goals for next year,” she told me one winter’s night in January.

“Goals?” I said

“Yeah,” said Denny as she mopped up some sauce with a strip of naan bread. I was stunned.

“Why?”

“Because I’m fed up with my life being like it is.”

“But, setting yourself goals – it’s a little extreme though, isn’t it?” She shrugged.

“Not really,” she said.

“But what if you don’t achieve them?” I asked.

“Then life will stay pretty much as it is, I guess. From that perspective I can’t really lose.” I thought about this for a second or two.

“Maybe I should set some goals,” I said.

“Maybe you should,” said Denny. “What would they be?”

And that was five years ago.

I like to set my goals at the start of each year, and review them at the end. This might make them sound a little like ‘resolutions’ but resolutions are something entirely different. “I will give up smoking” – that’s a resolution. “I have given up smoking (December, 2012)” – now that’s a goal.

Take for instance one of my goals for 2010:

My Happiness Book is published
(Dec 31st 2010)

At the time I set that the Goal I’d hardly started writing How To Do Everything and Be Happy, let alone given much thought to how I would publish it. I didn’t even have the title.

Did I achieve the goal?

No.

That’s the not so funny thing about setting goals – some of the time, perhaps even most of the time, you fail!

But then I’m not particularly motivated by ‘easy goals’ – goals that I know I have a good chance of achieving. They don’t even feel like goals – more like boring items on my to-do list. I had a friend who, on January 1st, set herself the goal of joining a gym. By the end of the first week she’d achieved it. Was that really a goal? Shouldn’t joining the gym have been part of a much larger goal to improve her health and fitness? In my mind a goal should stretch you. A goal should be ever-so-slightly out of reach. With most of my goals I know that my chances of success are extremely slim, though the chance is there.

So my revised Goal for 2011 looked like this:

“How To Do Everything and Be Happy”
is available in three formats,
and selling really well (to be defined),
whilst I bask in the success (to be defined)
of the seminar(s)
Dec 31st 2011

And will I achieve that Goal??

No.

But I’ll come darn close. The book was released as an ebook back in March, and as a paperback a few weeks later. Both are selling better than I could have ever hoped. An audio version is planned for this coming year, and whilst I’m not exactly basking in the success of my one workshop, two more are being planned for the coming weeks.

Most important of all though, by identifying why I achieved or failed my goal I’m equipped to write smarter, more specific, or maybe utterly different goals.

Working with goals – that is, having them in your life – is something that gets easier the longer you do it. You develop a habit, or a mindset – after a while you start to look at everything you’re doing in relation to how it sits with your goals. In a very real way, your goals force you to decide what’s important to you and move you in that direction. They give you purpose and vision.

And it’s true what they say:

“Without vision the people perish.”

So, people of the interweb – what are your Goals for 2012. Drop me a line or use the comments box below – I’d love to hear from you.

Wishing you a very happy New Year

Peter Jones


Originally written for Amwriting.org

Now what?

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please wait
Having sent the second draft of my novel back to the agent, here’s why I’m not prepared to wait one moment longer

So, a while back you’ll remember I was sharing with you the challenge of having to bring a 115,000 word manuscript to under 90,000 – whilst shoe horning in another couple of chapters.

You’ll be pleased to know that I did it.

Two months to the day after I sharpened my editing pencil, the novel finally weighed in at 89,532 words and was promptly shipped back to my agent.

Now – apparently – I wait.

Let me just take this opportunity to segway into a barely concealed rant about how much waiting there seems to be in the traditional world of publishing. From the moment you type the words THE END on your manuscript you actually begin a perilous journey on the road to publication – most of which involves waiting for someone, somewhere, to come back to you.

Which is quite a shock to the system for a fella like me, when up til now the only person preventing me from moving forwards – was myself.

It doesn’t help that I come from a Credit Card Banking background where hard-nosed, money-minded gentlemen want everything this time last week – earlier if at all possible – and I hate to admit it now, but that suited me just fine.

You might have gathered that I’m not a patient person. In fact, in the words of Charlotte from The Importance of Being Earnest – “I hate waiting even five minutes for anybody. It always makes me rather cross.” But what makes the waiting even more torturous (for me at least) is that I’m acutely aware that there are no guarantees. In my head, every second that ticks by is just another moment when my manuscript might be buried under something else, never to see the light of day.

So what’s to be done? How can I prevent myself from gnawing off my forearm as I sit and stare at my empty email in-box? The answer – so I’m told (thank you Wendy, thank you Della – two ladies who have said this very thing to me many many times over the past few weeks) is to start writing my next book.

And that – you lovely, lovely people – is exactly what I’m going to do. Consider this a formal announcement as such, if for no other reason than I’ll look pretty silly if this time next month I haven’t actually done anything about it.

A few gems to whet your appetite. It’ll most likely be another non-fiction book. It’ll most likely be another self-help book. It’ll most likely be written in a similar style to How To Do Everything and Be Happy. And here’s where I really lay my head on the block – it’ll be finished, proof read, formatted, and on-sale (for the kindle at least) by next April. Ish.
Because… I wouldn’t want to keep you waiting.

In the meantime though feel free to torture me with your writing-related-waiting-experiences (I think I’m going to regret asking that) OR any pearls of wisdom you may have re the publishing process and how to survive it, in the comments box below.


Originally written for Amwriting.org

5,497

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redpenBack in July you may remember that I told you how, after six years, my novel is almost finished.

Oh my god how wrong you can be.

Let me bring you up to speed on a few things: At the time of writing I had an agent, who, having read the first three chapters, liked the book and wanted to see the rest. Which would have been fine if the rest was just sitting around ready to be sent – but, it wasn’t. Hence the flurry of activity to finish it, and the aforementioned blog post.

A few weeks after typing the words THE END, the agent got back to me and invited me to ‘pop into her offices’ for a chat. There I sat, surrounded by books written by her other clients, whilst she told me that she really liked my manuscript – but she’d like it a whole lot more if I made some changes – namely;

  • lose a character,
  • add two more chapters,
  • bring the word count down to 90,000 words.

The first two items were achieved within a few days, but the third… well I’ve been struggling. As my novel weighed in at 115,000 words I was faced with having to cut 25,000.

This is what I tried first

  1. made a list of every scene in the book (actually I had this already – a great tip that I picked up many years ago)
  2. identify any scene that didn’t move the plot on – cut it
  3. identify any scene in my heart of hearts I didn’t actually like – try and cut it
  4. identify the wordier scenes – trim them agressively.

Two weeks ago I was down to 103,000 words. Still 13,000 left to cut.

Out of desperation I printed off the entire manuscript (something that my friend Wendy told me to do from the off), sat down with a red pen, and read the whole thing looking for anything that could go by the wayside, and a weeks later I was down to 97,000 words.

I’d be depressed if it wasn’t for the following
– I have an inch thick pile of pages covered in red pen that I’m working through (probably another 1000 words in there)
– I have a list of seven scenes that I could cut (though god help me I really don’t want to)
– the book is actually better.

And that’s the bit that’s really taken me by surprise.

Weeks ago my friend Della Galton told me my book would be better for the level of cutting I was embarking upon – and by golly she was right. Somehow, the very act of taking out the weaker words, scenes, and in a couple of cases whole chapters, has distilled what was left, and made for a much stronger story.

But please God I hope my agent doesn’t want me to lose any more. As of this morning I’ve still got 5,497 words to find.

Almost Done

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Almost-DoneSix and a half years after starting my novel, the end finally in sight.

I have almost finished my novel.

Let me put that into perspective: the book that I started writing on or around the 10th of October 2004 is almost complete. So why has it taken me so long? What – you may ask – have I been doing for the last six and half years?

Let’s back up a bit. First you need to know that I never intended to write a novel. Originally it was just a short story that amused my wife. And that was fatal, because having made her laugh she then suggested that I ought to continue the story, and turn it into a book.

Easy for her to say! This was the woman who would read a novel a week, sometimes two! This was the woman who would pack at least half a dozen books in our joint luggage, and supplement those with two or three tomes that she’d purchase at the airport. As far as my wife was concerned telling me to write a novel was akin to suggesting I put the kettle on and make a brew – whereas from my perspective she may as well have asked me to walk to India to pick the tea-leaves, and fetch the water from the frozen glaciers of Tibet on my way home.

But then, curiosity got the better of me. Maybe I could write a book. And maybe the way to tackle the task at hand was to treat it as a series of linking short stories? Write a chapter, and when I was satisfied that it was the absolute best it could be, move onto the next chapter?

And that was my first mistake. After three long years I’d written half a dozen chapters of utter rubbish. They were indeed ‘the best that I could do’, but the truth of the matter is, ‘my best’ just wasn’t very good.

Fortunately, around this time Apple invented the iPod. And soon after someone invented the podcast. And as a direct consequence Mur Laffety became a regular part of my car journeys. It was she who gave me (and the other listeners of her excellent podcast ‘I should be writing‘) the best piece of writing advice I’ve ever had: when writing a novel, write the WHOLE book – start to finish – BEFORE going back to edit. And in the absence of anything that was working, that is exactly what I did. A year and a bit later (29th of March 2009 to be precise), I’d finished the FIRST draft.

Several other things had happened too. I’d joined a writer’s group. I was reading and listening to every bit of writing advice I could lay my hands and ears on. And most important of all, I was a much better writer.

This, it turns out, was the power of Mur’s advice. There’s something about putting one word in front of another that makes you better at writing, just as putting one foot in front of another makes you better at walking, or running. Have you ever watched a toddler learning to walk? Right after they’ve fallen flat on their face, they pick themselves up and try again. They don’t analyse the last few steps, or wait for feedback from their peers, they keep moving forward. It’s how they get better at walking. And it’s how I got, and continue to get, better at writing. Just a year or so after I churned out diabolical chapter number six, I was two hundred thousand words better equipped to fix it. That, and the other forty four chapters.

The last two and a bit years have been spent editing. Yes I know what you’re thinking. Two and a bit years!! Only now am I getting to a point where I think I might have a handle on what proper editing involves – that however, will have to be the topic of a future post. What I’m keen to know is if this tale rings any bells. How long did it take you to finish your first novel? Why was that? And what lessons did you learn along the way? Post your comments below – I look forward to reading them. In the meantime, I’ve got a book to finish.


Originally written for amwriting.org

Mush

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raspberry-jam-03How to prevent your brain turning to jam

I’ve never been one of those folks who can write in short bursts of five or ten minutes. Some people I know – let’s call them “women” – have this ability to juggle ten things at once, and whilst they make a phone call, surf the web, feed the gold fish, put another load of washing on, and gently remove the kitchen knife that little Johnny decided might be fun to play with, they manage to bash out another scene. If only my brain worked like that. Instead, the lump of grey matter inside my skull prefers to work on one thing at a time, and takes a while to warm up. I’m not suggesting this a male thing, but it’s definitely how I’m wired.

And that’s fine. Aside from the days when my assistant’s here, the only person who requires my attention is CJ. And given that there’s a garden full of birds to amuse her during the day, and mice to hunt during the evening, I’m largely left alone to immerse myself in “my craft”.

Which would be lovely. If only I could keep going.

Two hours in however and my brain is mush. It doesn’t feel like two hours, it feels like two days. I’m ready to throw in the towel, and congratulate myself on a productive, er.. time… if it wasn’t for the fact I’ve barely filled half a screen with words. I end up taking breaks. Tea breaks. Lunch Breaks. Just-check-my-email-breaks. Talk-to-my-assistant breaks. Phone someone-anyone breaks. Anything-other-than-continue-to-climb-the-damn-mountain-that-is-my-novel break.

And that’s a problem. Breaks do just that. They break something. In this case, my flow. I’d return to the writing, and I’d have to warm up my brain. Again.

At least, that’s how it used to be.

A year ago, through a set of circumstances that I won’t bore you with now (partly because I need something to blog about next month) I found myself writing a self-help book (How to Do Everything And Be Happy – available now – all good ebook stores- yada yada yada). Non-fiction writing is something that, like you, I’m so familiar with I don’t really consider it writing at all. In a world where so much communication has gone back to the written word (texts, emails, tweets, blog posts…) writing a self-help book just feels a LOT easier than writing a novel. It’s almost as if it uses less of your brain. Or maybe a different part. I’m sure some smart person will post a comment saying exactly that.

The really interesting thing though is what happened to my “Writing Days”. Rather than “taking a break” (to check my emails, make another cup of tea, etc etc.), I’d simply flip from the novel, to the self-help book – from fiction, to non-fiction – and when my brain felt less jam-like, I’d flip back. In my head at lest, this didn’t seem to register as a break – I’d feel rested yes, but my flow hadn’t been broken. I’d remained in writing mode the whole time so there was no need to warm up – and suddenly I was writing two books far faster than if I’d been writing just one.

I’m keen to know if this is just me. And if it’s the combination of fiction and non-fiction or whether working on two pieces of fiction at the same time would work just as well. Post your comments below.

In the meantime I’m flipping back to the novel.


Originally written for and posted on Amwriting.org