Some of the hard realities of writing

I didn’t do National November Writing Month, though I was happy to cheer from the sidelines. I’ve been writing professionally for decades, it’s thirty years since I wrote my first book for publication, and every month is NaNoWriMo month for me.

The way books should be sold, cover out (the best way to display them). I wrote this one...

The way books should be sold, cover out (the best way to display them). I wrote this one…

Fitting in writing obligations around everything else that has to be done in a day, including sleep, is a perennial challenge all authors have to meet.

It’s getting more challenging as the publishing industry tightens. Not least because quality MUST NOT get compromised for speed. That’s one of the realities of writing. It’s one authors have to know, understand and accept if they’re to get ahead. It’s also true for self-publishers.

Put another way, the age of authors being able to casually rise from their beds at ten thirty, drift across to the typewriter after a leisurely brunch and tap out a few words, then maybe go fishing for the afternoon, are gone. Uh…damn.

The money isn’t in it. Actually, the money was never in it, except for a lucky few.

Trad publishing is getting tight – which means authors have to write smart, and the onus is on more than ever to produce quality in ever-shorter time, to meet a specific commercial market.

Self-publishers are under pressure too. If you write something that works, readers want more – and in that sense the life-cycle of e-books is short. Yes, they’re available forever – but readers always look for something new. Soon. It’s up to the author to provide it.

Everybody, basically, has to learn how to churn out stuff at the same rate as Barbara Cartland. Without compromising quality.

It means working smart, it means working professionally – it means working hard.

It’s a challenge. But I’ve got some pointers as to how to do it. Soon. Who’s in?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

Coming up: more writing tips, more humour, more science – watch this space.

The scariest thing about Halloween is…

It’s Halloween, and that’s scary – it means stocking up on sweets, ready for kids in ghost masks knocking at the door. An American tradition unheard of in New Zealand when I was a kid myself…but now…sigh…

Yes, like a geeky Tolkien fan I had to pose in the entrance, such as it was - you could circle it, just like the door Aslan made to get rid of the Telmarines in .Prince Caspian'.

Yes, like a geeky Tolkien fanboy I had to pose in the entrance of last year’s Hobbit Artisan Market in central Wellington’.

My wife refuses to let me help them make responsible food choices by giving them broccoli. Even if the parent who’s with them is nodding frantically.

The idea of All Hallow’s Eve in which the ghoulies and ghosties come out to play before All Saints Day can apparently be traced to Celtic Christianity,  and may have pre-Christian antecedent, though these days the imagery is framed more by the horror and sci-fi movies we watch and love. As a teenager I used to soak up everything that was going – King Kong, science fiction double features, the lot. My favourites – some still on the cinema circuit then – were from Hammer, a Brit company whose low-budget ethos encapsulated the spirit of Frank Zappa’s ‘Cheepnis’.

Looking back, the fact that Hammer featured great actors like Peter Cushing and Sir Christopher Lee (now the world’s oldest heavy metaller) – didn’t make up for occasionally dire scripts. But they were fun. Later, those movies turned up on  late-night Friday TV, introduced by ‘Count Robula’ – New Zealand’s former Prime Minister, Rob Muldoon, in Dracula makeup. That was true horror.

Headstones at Dovedale, 2013.

Headstones at Dovedale, near Nelson, 2013.

I never thought so much of US ‘slashers’ like Halloween (1978), recently re-made by Rob Zombie (the guy who did the soundtrack to Quake II). Not really my cup of tea. The quintessential slasher was Maniac (1980) – which I saw on first release, and wished I hadn’t. This year’s re-make, with Elijah Wood in Joe Spinell’s role, was banned here a few months back.

Have any of you seen these movies?

That said, I’d go to see Return of Son of Revenge of Halloween Magnet Part 483: Myers vs Xena. I figure it’d take 5 milliseconds for Xena to reduce Myers to two cans of dog meat.

But you know the scariest thing about Halloween? It’s my birthday. A birthday I share, seeing as we’re on to movies, with fellow Wellingtonian Sir Peter Jackson. He’s a year older than I am.  What’s more, he started with Bad Taste – the splatter comedy that re-defined cheepnis, re-defined slasher/splatter – and, above all, re-defined awesome.

Broccoli, anyone?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

Coming up: More writing tips, NaNo writing prompts, and – well, more…

‘Bateman Illustrated History of New Zealand’ released

My latest book – the Bateman Illustrated History of New Zealand (David Bateman 2013) – was released this week. Here it is in a Paper Plus bookstore. Front row, second from right. Kind of cool to be alongside Chris Ryan, Danielle Steele and Frederick Forsyth best sellers.

Kind of cool to be alongside Chris Ryan best-sellers and stuff...

My advance copy arrived a couple of weeks back. And even after thirty-odd years of book writing, the thrill never goes away. The moment when the book –  my book – finally emerges for the first time.

Wright_Illustrated History of New Zealand 2

It’s a big book – 488 pages, 120,000 words and 600 photos, presented in large format 280 mm high, 210mm wide and 40mm thick. I was still surprised by the weight of it – an indication of quality even before the package was opened. The original 2004 edition was case-bound but used wood-free paper, which is fairly light. This new second edition is soft cover – technically ‘limp’, with French flaps and a ‘perfect’ binding – but is physically heavier, printed on high grade paper that really brings out the quality of the photos.

Wright_Illustrated History of New Zealand 1

When that’s combined with the level of re-writing and revision of the photo selection, that makes it a new book in many ways; updated- re-cast and re-developed. It’s available now in bookstores and by direct online purchase from Fishpond, New Zealand’s online bookstore. E-book editions in Kindle, Kobo and iBook format will be released in a little while – watch this space for news.

Before then I’ll be sharing some of the interior pages and text. Watch this space.

I think it’s exciting…and I hope you do too.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

The funny side of having a popular name…

A while back another Matthew Wright – in Australia – pointed out to me that our shared name wasn’t common. It was ‘popular’. Good call.

I suppose I had to put on a kind of expression, or not, for this one...

Not even dressed up as a Grunka Lunka (Google it…)

But it hasn’t stopped relentless confusion. Like the time my publisher kept sending emails meant for me to Matthew Wright, a commissioning editor in their New York office.

Or the day when someone from the UK who’d read my books came to New Zealand and wanted to see me. He researched my appearance via Google and discovered Matthew Wright, star of many ‘adult’ movies.

Google really don’t know who I am at all – they also credit the books of mine that they’ve scanned without permission to Matthew Wright, a lecturer at the University of Essex. Adds insult to the injury, and they haven’t corrected their mistake despite my efforts.

Then there was the time someone contacted me wanting to buy ‘my’ book on the Midland Railway line, central South Island, by Matthew Wright. I write railway books. But this wasn’t one of them. (The third Matthew Wright who writes in New Zealand publishes poetry online…)

All good fun until somebody loses an eye. What worries me is that a Matthew Wright will do something heinous – and I’ll end up innocently smeared, even after clarification.

Which brings me to what Matthew Wright was reported doing last week. Allegedly,  my 20-year old UK namesake went on a rampage in a kebab shop, knocking someone over.  I suppose it was to be expected. As a friend of mine pointed out, he was in a clubbing district. (Groan.)

Thing was, this youthful Matthew apparently did it dressed as an Oompa-Loompa.

He has since denied the allegation, according to the latest report.

Have you ever been mistaken for somebody else?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

Penguin Random House and me

Random House and Penguin confirmed their amalgamation this week. It’s indicative of wider changes in the traditional publishing industry. Between them they’ll have about 25 percent of the world publishing market.

You can track my phone, but you don't know what I look like. Oh wait a minute, yes you do...

Was a Penguin and Random House author. Now a Penguin Random House author. Not a random penguin, that’s something else entirely.

They’ll also have about eighty percent of my licenses. Instead of publishing with two of the Big Six, I’m publishing with one of the Big Five – including, at the moment, two books ‘in press’ with the former Penguin and with the former Random House.

The logic behind the merger is a bigger force in the market. A response to the challenge laid down by Amazon and the e-publishing revolution.

Where will the merger take writers? I guess the answers will come in the fullness of time. The bigger challenge for any author is still being found by their readership. It helps to have the marketing clout of a big-name publisher. But a lot still rests on the individual author – and on writing great books.

It’s a global issue.

Your thoughts?

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

Sixty second writing tips: spinning the writing pyramid

One of the best writing lessons I ever had came from a guy named Richard Adler, then Professor of English at the University of Montana.

I wasn’t in the land of dental floss wranglers at the time – Prof. Adler was out here in New Zealand on a Fulbright Scholarhship. And in just half an hour he delivered lessons about writing that brought everything else I’d been formally taught together.

One of those lessons was to use the standard ‘inverted pyramid’ structure. Start broad, narrow down. It’s a good structure to draw the reader – and also means you, as author, must first work out what the over-arching ‘organising principle’ of your content actually is. This saves a HUGE amount of re-work – trust me! So it’s doubly effective, and  it applies to absolutely every kind of writing.

I use it all the time, and these days add a twist of my own. Add a hook line at the beginning to draw the reader – a detail squib that piques interest, before showing them the broad canvas and then letting them explore down to the detail as they read.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

Hey Google, get a load of my boring life

I bought a new smartphone the other day, replacing my ancient Nokia.

You can track my phone, but you don't know what I look like. Oh wait a minute, yes you do...

You can track my phone, but you don’t know what I look like. Oh wait a minute, yes you do… unless I smile or put a paper bag over my head.

Cool tech, apart from the funny teal colour distortion on the camera (check out the previous post on Katherine Mansfield). But hey… Brings me into the second decade of the twenty-first century, at last.

And it also means Google knows exactly where I am at all times. Well, it  knows where the phone is, but that usually amounts to the same thing. After a while, they’ll have a database built up of my movements.

What will they learn?

Well, they’ll learn that I spend about 98% of my time in front of a computer monitor.

They’ll learn that I don’t go shopping, much.

And they’ll learn that, from their perspective, my life is pretty boring

What piques me is the irony. Back in 1947, George Orwell envisioned a “future” (1948, wisely reversed by his publishers to 1984) in which every move by every citizen was watched.

The purpose, in his satirical tale, was social control – and it was framed by contemporary trends. His future Britain was very much a representation of the contemporary Soviet Union, which under Stalin was a totalitarian dictatorship.

The data gathering today is very different, for very different purpose – in very different context. But it is, nonetheless, direct monitoring of what we are doing, every minute of the day.

Does it bother me? The purpose is stated, it’s genuinely intended, and I don’t think it’s inimical.  Google already read my emails. Yeah, it’s an intrusion into what we traditionally think of as privacy. But I’m not too worried. If they think anything they collect about me is useful – well, good luck to them.

My only problem is that, historically, it’s not the people who collect the data who end up misusing it.


Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013