Get Your Writing Noticed: How to grab your reader’s attention!

Posted by on Jul 6, 2012 in On Writing

. A key aspect of writing for the 21st century, applicable to non fiction and fiction, is grabbing the reader’s attention. The number of distractions people have these days was covered in my last post. Here are some techniques for grabbing the reader up front: 1. Establish credibility. If you’re being published by a major publishing house this will help, but even if you’re not you can put your key credential up front. If you spent 20 years as a gardener and you’re writing a book on gardening I will want to know that. ‘Gardening from 20 years experience” is a good title in my opinion. So don’t be shy. Tell us why we should read your book. And tell us quickly. 2. For non fiction, make it practical. I am writing a guide to social media and making it practical is a key consideration. Two of the top five Sunday Times non fiction books this week are practical in some way. 3. Other favorite themes for non fiction, which grab readers are war, for the armchair fighters among us, violent crimes, to make us glad we’re safe, and cooking/homecraft. These areas make up most the remainder of the top non fiction slots. 4. Start in the middle of the action. This standard piece of advice for fiction writers, to cut out the long preamble, to go straight into the action, is also what non fiction readers want these days. In non fiction we want a quick way to move to the key areas of our interest. So let us get to the heart of it, fast. 5. Make a bold statement. In commercial fiction there is often a big scene right at the beginning. This could be a murder, a kidnapping, an interview or a disagreement. The purpose of the scene is to hook the reader in. Similarly, in non fiction you can make a bold statement. If you have something new to say offer it up early, then let us read the rest of your book to find out what’s next. Digital, whether through blogs, Twitter, Facebook or video/audio are all vitally important to success these days. Whatever you are writing, consider how you can build an online presence which will use the skills you have. The demand for online interaction is high and likely to get even higher. Publishing and being successful with just a printed book is becoming less and less likely. Other aspects of grabbing your reader’s attention include titles and keywords. Here is a post I wrote, on my social media blog, explaining key words in simple terms. Beyond key words is the whole area of titles. This is an art, which includes many elements difficult to distill. Taste, fashion and culture are all part of the choosing of titles. My suggestion is for you to consider the most popular current titles in your...

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Old Jerusalem, an ancient city in a modern age

Posted by on Feb 23, 2012 in Research, The Jerusalem Puzzle

Written February 2012 I am spending time in the old city of Jerusalem. If I stay here any longer I’ll probably have to apply for a resident’s permit. And as I am staying in East Jerusalem that may be tricky. My reason for being here, aside from the welcome sun, is to research the next stage of Sean and Isabel’s adventures. If you read The Istanbul Puzzle you’ll probably know that there are a few questions at the end still hanging. The Jerusalem Puzzle will move the story forward and answer some key questions. As part of my research in old Jerusalem, where the book is mainly set, I have spent a lot of time in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the legendary site of Jesus’ crucifiction, his tomb and the burial place of Adam’s skull, according to some 2nd century sources. Whatever your beliefs, this place is an extraordinary building, a mix of mainly Crusader and 19th century, Armenian, Catholic and Orthodoxy all rolled into one. This was the place a lot of people died for before the crusades, during the crusades, and ever afterwards. Richard the Lion Heart and Saladin fought over this place and almost every other Empire since has had plans to capture it. Here is what the entrance to the legendary tomb of Jesus looks like now (click each image to see it in all its glory): This church is the most important place of pilgrimage in the Christian world. Bar none. What I found though, at the end of my last visit, was a less than spiritual place. I had queued to get in to the small chapel where Jesus’ tomb is supposed to be with cries of “hurry, hurry, we are closing,” echoing in my ears. I’d visited where Mary, Mother of Jesus fell into an eternal sleep (legend says), on Mount Zion the day before and I was lucky that I went down into that underground tomb with the sound of a Polish group singing hymns echoing in my ears. That place was spiritual. Much of the rest of the old city is a heady mix of the Arab souk, with plastic toys and wooden crosses for tourists, and a wedge of Abercrombie and coffee shop Westerness pushing up close to the city from the Jewish and modern western side. To me Jerusalem is where three great faiths, Christianity, the Jewish faith and Islam all overlap with their bits fraying. The Islamic faith is well represented here in the famous Golden Dome and mosques and the regular call to prayer filling the air. The Jewish faith is evident in the devotion at the Western Wall, the Orthodox faithful almost everywhere, and through the joy of young men being escorted with drums and horns through the crowds. The Christian faith is evident  in the extraordinary churches and the pilgrims from all...

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My Summer Read & An Interview with Glenn Meade

Posted by on Jul 23, 2011 in Guest Posts

Glenn Meade is one of the most successful Irish authors of this generation. His novels include the international bestsellers The Sands of Sakarra, Snow Wolf and his latest compelling blockbuster The Second Messiah. Earlier this year I asked Glenn some questions about his writing. Here are his answers: 1. Glenn, when did you become interested in writing, what drove you to write your first book? At age four, as I hid under the dining room table in my grandmother’s home in Cabra, I discovered I was in the company of an escaped prisoner from Mountjoy jail (this isn’t fiction, it’s true). It was Stephen’s Day and he’d absconded while out on Christmas parole–he was a friend of my uncle, who suggested he hide in the house–and the Guards were out searching for the escapee along Cabra’s Mulroy Road. He told me to keep quiet and read my Dandy Annual. He gave me sixpence. That’s the first time I realized I could make money from hardbacks, and it’s driven me ever since… 2. How and when did you get your first break, your agent or your publisher, and what was that like? I wrote a number of stage plays, without much success. I’d had great fun in the process–theatre was lots of laughs but often impoverishment. I had always wanted to write a novel so I sat down and set myself a work schedule of writing six days a week until the novel was done. It took me longer than I thought–18 months–and I wrote in in longhand, over 500 pages, which meant eventually having to transcribe in onto a computer. It was damned hard work–I still remember the pain of writing and re-writing, and the exhaustion of trying to write and keep a full time job that often involved 50/60 hours a week. 3. What do you think the secret ingredient of your books is? What is that makes them sell? That’s always a hard one. I’m not sure there is a secret ingredient–there are many ingredients that go into a successful novel but I think above all it’s the emotion the tale imparts and the interest the reader has in your characters. Memorable characters make memorable novels. Characters, plot, emotion. Those are the three main ingredients. What you do with them as a writer sets you apart. 4. Which of your own books are you most pleased with in terms of writing craft and what makes you feel that way? Resurrection Day, was the most complex and involved, and required acres of research material. I look back on it as a big accomplishment. It garnered great reviews and media attention but didn’t sell as well as my other books. Web of Deceit was the most fun to write. Snow Wolf, Sands of Sakkara, and The Second Messiah all gave me pleasure, too–once they were completed. 5:   The Devil’s Disciple shifted your...

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The 3rd Puzzle: Where are the plague pits that mark the beginning of our world?

Posted by on May 26, 2011 in Historical Puzzles

In the sixth century the word’s smallest organism, Yersina Pestis, the bubonic plague bacterium, achieved its greatest growth spike. During the reign of Justinian (Emperor 527 to 565CE) the plague hit Constantinople, the capital of the Roman Empire. Almost every city of the Empire was devastated in an apocalyptic manner. Gibbon (The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire) describes the effect of the epidemic as follows: Justinian’s reign is disgraced by the visible decrease of the human species, which has never been repaired in some of the fairest countries of the globe. Cyril Mango, Professor of Byzantine Literature at Oxford University describes the apocalyptic effects in his book Byzantium, The Empire of the New Rome, in this way: it is possible that one third to one half of the population of Constantinople died in 542. John Julius Norwich had this to say (Byzantium, The Early Centuries) about the plague: Beginning in Egypt it quickly spread across all the lands of the Eastern Mediterranean to Constantinople where it raged for four months, the toll rising to 10,000 a day and on one day 16,000, as many as the entire army in Italy…..Plague was succeeded by famine and the number of its victims was estimated at 300,000, two out of five of the population of the city. Gibbon describes where the dead were taken as follows (Ch XLIII, The Decline and Fall): A magistrate was authorized to collect the promiscuous heaps of dead bodies, to transport them by land or water, and to inter them in deep pits beyond the precincts of the city. Initially, burials would have taken place according to the normal Orthodox practices, anointing the body with oil, singing laments and burial in a grave. Burials of prominent individuals or clerics would have taken place in crypts or in consecrated land near great churches. The Islamic successes of the seventh century, they quickly captured Egypt, Jerusalem and North Africa, were made possible, to a significant degree, by the devastation of constantly returning plagues at that time. The plague had returned to Constantinople, the capital of the Roman Empire, in 555, 558, 561, 573, 574, 591, 599 and again in the early seventh century. Waves of unrest followed across the Empire. Evidence for the collapse of cities is available. The psychological effect must have been appalling. In Constantinople, during some outbreaks, John of Ephesus wrote, “no one goes out without a tag with their name on it.” It should also be noted that the Arabian desert was typically plague free during these years. If ever an Empire was set up for defeat it was the Byzantine Empire in that period. It could be said that most of our current conflicts are a result of the impact of disease at that time and the subsequent ascent of a new religion. In Constantinople plague pits are likely to have been dug outside...

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A Byzantine Romance

Posted by on May 23, 2011 in On Writing

Under the Comnenian family, the ruling family of the Byzantine Empire who halted the decline of Byzantium from 1081 to 1185, Byzantine writers in Constantinople reintroduced the ancient Greek romance novel. Their era, the era of the Crusades, was also reflected in these stories. These novels span the gap between the last surviving romance novels of late antiquity and the early medieval romantic revival. Only four of these novels survive today, just one of which is written in prose. And only two have been translated into English. This post will focus on one of those, Drosilla and Charikles, by Niketas Eugenianos, (c 13th c) translated by Joan Burton (Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers, Inc., 2004) The story of Drosilla and Charikles is interesting for many reasons. Here is the plot: Belthandros, a Roman (Byzantine) prince and youngest son of king Rhodophilos, quarrels with his father and leaves his home to seek his fortune. After wandering in the hostile lands of Anatolia and dealing with Turkish bandits, he reaches Tarsus in Armenian Cilicia. There he sees a fiery star in the depths of a river (a metaphor for love) and follows it to the north. He finds a castle built of precious gems, which belongs to King Eros. It is full of magnificent statues and automatons. Belthandros leaves his escorts outside and enters the castle alone. There he sees an inscription that tells of his predestined love between him and Chrysantza, the daughter of the king of Great Antioch. He is summoned by the lord of the castle, Eros, who announces to him a beauty contest at which Belthandros must give a wand to the most beautiful among forty princesses. The contest takes place and Belthandros gives the wand to the most beautiful princess, whereupon all that surrounds him suddenly disappears “like a dream”, leaving him alone in the castle. At this point he resolves to go out and seek his princess. After a short journey he arrives in Antioch where he meets the king of the city, is accepted as his liegeman, and soon becomes an intimate of the royal household. There he meets the king’s daughter Chrysantza, whom he recognizes as the princess he chose at the Castle of Eros. Although Chrysantza has never seen him before, she too recognizes him, and the two fall in love. Two years and two months however pass before their first love meeting, which takes place secretly at night in the royal garden. The meeting ends suddenly when a jealous courtier discovers them and Belthandros is put in jail. In order to save her lover’s life, Chrysantza convinces her faithful chambermaid, Phaidrokaza, to take the blame by declaring that the prince had visited her instead. The king believes the story and a forced marriage between Belthandros and Phaidrokaza takes place. The following days the couple continues to meet secretly, but soon the situation becomes unsatisfactory, and they decide to flee, together with the chambermaid and two retainers. On the way, they cross a flooded river, where Phaidrokaza and the two...

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