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Lessons Learned - Writing the second novel and the new characters.

Well, it's February 2019 and high time I wrote a new blog as my last one appears to have been this time last year, where I covered the topic of awards and film festivals. I have a feeling I might be covering that topic again soon but that is for another day. So my aim with the DITS book series was to always try and publish one book a year and last year it came out in March and people are already asking me where the second one is, so here is a bit of an update for you. I started writing the second book (The title of which is yet to be determined) just after the first one was published on Amazon last year and worked on it until the early summer of 2018 when I had to shift gears slightly and focus my work efforts on another project called 'Paratrooper' which is a screenplay for a World War Two television drama pilot. At the time the first DITS book had still not broken even so it was important for me to keep lots of irons in the fire writing wise and cast my creative net as wide as possible, so to speak. So that meant my time to spend on the second book of DITS was limited from June of last year. I've also not been able to spend as much time marketing the first book as I would like (Well, pretty much none, if truth be told!) and this is also certainly not an area of my expertise and its really something I need to learn how to do (Or more likely one day employ someone else to do when I can afford it!) I am still learning a great deal about not only the publishing & marketing world but also my books genre & audience and how and where to engage with them. The good news is the book has been incredibly well received by those who have read it thus far and I have had some incredibly kind reviews on Amazon and not just from friends either but from people who actually bought the book and liked it. (Huraah! Victory is mine!) So if you were one of them, thank you so much for taking the time to do so. Just after publication of the book last year, I was extremely saddened to learn that one of two people who inspired the character of Candice in Diamonds in The Sky, a Transgender friend of mine, Naomi Hersi (Pictured below) was brutally murdered by a 25 year old man, Jesse McDonald, whom she had met from the internet. Namoi didn't have a chance to read my novel but you will see on the release of the second book, that I have dedicated in her memory.

Naomi Hersi - one of two people who inspired the character of 'Candice' in the book

So let's talk about the second book. The format of the story is the same, each chapter is divided up into three individual perspective character sections but as the stories diverge and some new characters are added some story lines will get more pages than others this time around. The second book see's the introduction of two new important characters in a different part of the world, which will eventually merge with one of the existing narrative strands. It is my plan in the series that at least one new character perspective will be introduced per book. As with every character in the story I like to base them in part on the characteristics, looks or performance of someone from reality. (Or fictional reality, if you can make sense of that!) Either someone I know personally or more likely an actor whose work I respect and admire. Many of the characters in the first novel are based on actors that I love and who have portrayed characters in their career who I feel are similar in some way or another to a character in the book.

(Alan Rickman, below, the inspiration for General Spears in the series)

The late, fantastic Alan Rickman in the excellent 'Eye in the Sky'

The character of General Spears in the series is very much modelled on the look and characterisation given by the late, great Alan Rickman for his performance in the film 'Eye in the Sky'. I find it very helpful to be able to picture and hear characters when writing their dialogue, I have even done this before when writing scripts. It doesn't mean the reader will picture or hear characters the same away as I do of course, but for me the visual image in my head of a character is very important. The tone of the second half of the first book got markedly darker as the story went on. Characters true motivations were revealed among the chaos of the perceived alien threat and some died while others barely survived. I wanted to open the second book with an introduction to a lighter character, someone who would bring a natural comical tone to their chapters while still being a person who is firmly grounded in the normal dilemmas of humanity. So I wanted to base him on someone who had a natural affinity of comedy and as this story line was going to be set between Australia and New Zealand the person that immediately jumped into my mind was the incredibly talented actor and comedian Rhys Darby. To this end, I decided I would watch all of Rhys Darby's work which turned out to be a very easy task as being a fan of his, I had seen it all already. I had an inkling from watching his excellent show 'Short Poppies' that Rhys might actually have more than a passing interest in UFO'S and thought my book would be to his liking.

(Darby's characters from the excellent Short Poppies, below)

The characters from 'Short Poppies' available on Amazon

So armed with this vital knowledge I decided to not only loosely base a character on his look (loosely, so please don't sue me!) but I thought I would also send him a copy of the first book as he was stuck on a desert island somewhere in the Pacific filming at the time when it was published. (It arrived after he left for said island but made a good door stop for the toilet in his agent's office in the interim period) I think its only fair here that I mention Rhys also has two books out of his own, the latest, a children's book called The Undercover Secret Notes of Buttons McGinty is excellent. His other book, which has a more autobiographical bent is called 'Show me the way to the Space Ship...' (You see where I got the idea he might like spaceships?) both are available now on Amazon.

The latest novel from my Darby

The new character in book two, Rafferty James, is a divorced Father of two (See, its fictional!) from New Zealand who works for Project Listen (Google it) and is based out of the Parks Observatory in Australia. He misses his kids and wonders where his life is going when the alien ships arrive, one of which lands just a few miles from Parks an event which changes his life forever. Things gets even more exciting when he is recruited by the unusual Gabriel Toolman, a character who is not in the least bit based on the equally amazing actor Peter Dinklage but basically if you picture someone who looks and sounds a bit like Darby going on a secret mission with someone who looks and sounds a bit like Dinklage then, you'll get the idea. I've been a fan of PD since seeing the film 'Living in Oblivion' which right now could accurately describe my life pretty well (I digress) but it was his excellent turn in the film 'The Station Agent' that made me want to work with him in my life time. (I think casting Darby & Dinklage together on a project would be a dream line up for any creative) I spent much of 2018 writing the story line involving these two new (Fictional!) characters before going back to the other narrative strands previously outlined in book one. Most of your favourite characters will of course be back and many of the supporting characters along with them.

Second version of cover for book 2

As this second cover prototype suggests, a main focus of the second book is the story line of the African children. That's the character of 'Joy' taking front and centre carrying 'Tabitha', with the characters of 'Little Ubba' & 'Jodie' and 'Aisha' all being portrayed. The photo shoot for these characters was actually done in Uganda, organised by my friend Shelia (Who portrays Joy) and whom recruited and paid the other children who took part for which I am most grateful to her for organising. Although I still wanted to feature the Australian iconic rock of Uluru on the cover, this image mixed with African children confused people who thought they were incorrectly portrayed aboriginals! So I had to dump that idea! The white man seen here is based on the character of Rafferty James and who we can see looks nothing like Rhys Darby (And much as I would love Darby on the cover of the book, I suspect the agency fee would be even beyond the negotiating skills of my amazing Casting Director, Sharon Sorrentino.) The actor who kindly stepped into those short poppy shoes for me here is the wonderfully talented Matt Butcher. (Although one person said this was an incorrect portrayal of a character loosely based on the appearance of someone else!) I am still not certain this is the final cover for book two, it might end up looking completely different to this.

So what did I learn writing the first book?

Well, the second the book will be shorter. (Yay!) There was a great deal of background, description and material that was required to establish story lines in the first book that the second book won't require and lets face it, I also overwrote the first one a little. (It was a major learning curve!)

(Me with writer David Baldacci - I moved very fast to get this picture!)

I have learnt that less is very often more and as the very successful writer David Baldacci said to me 'If you can write what you want to say in two words, instead of two hundred, then say it in two...'

This is probably the most valuable lesson I have learned when it comes to writing a novel. In fact I have quickly learned that most of things I teach in my script writing workshops (Blimey, I really need to run more than one of those a year!) pretty much all apply here. Here is a short summary of just some of those lessons I have learned when writing a novel.

1) Brevity is key - say everything in the shortest prose possible unless the story requires otherwise.

2) All actions and events should serve characters & story, if they don't then why are they in the material?

3) Don't feel the need to describe everything. Most readers know what water looks and feels like and what coke tastes like. (Just an example)

4) Give the reader enough ingredients for the story and characters but let them cook them with their own imagination.

5) Some times less is more and 400 pages is definitely less than 600.

6) Wanting to write an epic series is fine, but writing a shorter introduction to it which is equally gripping is the best way to start. (Note to self!)

7) Don't be afraid to be brave and break the rules (Except for the ones listed here!)

8) Don't listen to the negative comments of others. Listen to those who offer good advice. Someone who wants to see you succeed will always try and be helpful and constructive. Someone who wants to see you fail will always be negative and offer nothing useful.

9) Try and structure your writing hours for each week and stick to them (I failed terribly at his and only have the excuse that I was writing something else in my defence.)

10) Pay for a good editor and proof reader. I did. (Even though there were still mistakes.)

So when is the second book out I hear you ask? Honest answer is this - I hope before the end of this year, subject to whatever else might happen in my life in the mean time of course!! Watch this space!

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