Editing — hell is Microsoft Word

IMG_0007Fascinating piece on the register about Edinburgh scifi writer Charles Stross’s decision to dump Word for LibreOffice on his Mac.

I’m of a similar mind — I despise using Word and have been using Scrivener for over two and a half years to create my books, definitely a key reason in why I can be so fast.

My experience of writing (just finished my 13th novel) has taught me there’s three key phases —


(Note that pantsers/gardeners, i.e. make it up as you go along, tend to do writing, then outlining, then editing, but it’s a lot less clear — they’ll write a book and then map it to a story structure, delete chunks and write new chunks and generally muck about until they get something. I tried it and it’s definitely not how I’m wired)

Anyway, I usually devote a third of the total time to each phase, say two weeks on each. Two weeks of messing about in Scapple then Scrivener to get my scene outline nailed and I can easily crack out an outline into a full novel in a fortnight, say 80,000 words. I then edit it so it makes sense then get feedback from three trusted alpha readers. Then I’m into another two weeks of changes to make it better.

What happens next is the industrial editing — structural then line then copy then proofing — and it’s all done in Word, using track changes. Scrivener doesn’t come into it, not the intention of the product.

But word is so bloody awful, especially the Mac one but the Windows one is so flaky. I want it to track changes and do it well. Word wants to do a million and one things very adequately, at best. Except for crashing, that it does perfectly. And adding a stupid ribbon. And Aargh.

Going through my final self-edit of CRASH INTO MY ARMS (really needs a new title) and it occurred to me how to get Scrivener working with track changes. Word has a decent feature to compare two historical versions of the same document and mark up changes. Tried it and the results are perfect. No more having to use the bugger until I’m in industrial editing mode, thank God.

— Ed

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Oddly enough, as I sit down to start work in anger on COWBOYS AND INDIANS (Cullen 7), set in the world of IT project delivery at a fictional financial institution I featured in GHOST IN THE MACHINE, a fascinating study into IT project failures hits my inbox —


Given I’m just away to start creating a fictional disastrous IT project in my head, this is a stark reminder of how much stranger than fiction fact can be. Some of the case studies in here should remind you that money thrown at people who sound like they know what they’re doing but don’t only ever results in wasted money. There are a lot of snake oil salesmen will out there.

— Ed

Current project – outline of COWBOYS & INDIANS (Cullen 7)

Next project – draft 3 of CRASH INTO MY ARMS (DI Fenchurch 1)

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94th best crime writer of all time

WH Smith’s blog just announced the results of a recent poll on their top crime writers of all time and, apparently, I’m the 94th best crime writer of all time, ahead of people like Sara Paretsky, Martin Cruz Smith, James Lee Burke and Cecelia Ahern. Oh and some guy called Edgar Allan Poe, who invented detective fiction as a genre. Staggering, especially as they don’t even sell my books…


Some seriously good writers in there, notably Mr MacBride at the top there – his THE MISSING AND THE DEAD is already my book of the year 2015. Staggeringly original police procedural.

Thanks to everyone who voted for me. Shucks. ;-)


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Cullen 999

Screenshot 2015-02-13 08.49.01

Just noticed this morning that I’m up to 999 reviews for GHOST IN THE MACHINE on Amazon.co.uk, averaging 4.2 which is pretty high for a perma-free book.

This is completely insane to me – when I published it almost three years ago, I didn’t think that I’d get nine reviews, let alone this number (and being into my second year as a full-time author, either). Crazy craziness.

Serious thanks to everyone who’s read the book and posted a review, even the one-stars. Being able to do this for a living is the best thing that’s ever happened to me.

— Ed

Current project – Draft 2 of CRASH INTO MY ARMS (DI Fenchurch 1)

Next project – Final outline of COWBOYS & INDIANS (Cullen 7)


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ED JAMES in conversation with JAMES OSWALD in Edinburgh on Thursday 12-Feb-15

Just a quick note to say I’ll be interviewing James Oswald at the Edinburgh George St Waterstones (damn, what happened to that possessive apostrophe?) tomorrow night, Thursday 12th Feb, to promote his new novel, Prayer for the Dead — I think the event’s free but ticketed – details here.

— Ed

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SHOT-Kindle-2015-01-20(This post is a rambling essay on genres but also features some news about the Supernature series and what happens next there…)

I posted a response to a thread on KBoards, one of the better places to discuss self-publishing and all that jazz, on the subject of using pen names to write in different genres.

Essentially, I’d tend to go with a pen name for each genre, based on my experience. As you know, I predominantly write police procedurals set in Edinburgh, Scotland, which I do not at all badly out of at all. A few years ago, I hit upon an idea to do a vampire thriller set in the Highlands of Scotland, called SHOT THROUGH THE HEART.

What I found when I released it was my existing audience either 1) sort of, kind of liked SHOT (about 20%) or 2) were largely ambivalent to it and the sales were nothing like for the other books in my DC Scott Cullen series, usually by a factor of ten (if I’d spent that time writing another Cullen, I’d have earned a lot more cash).

My thinking in the fourteen months since publication has been all over the place. In 2013, I started out wanting to write a sequel to establish a series. Then, when I started getting the “vampire=bad” feedback, it kind of morphed into a police procedural with vampires – I’ve finally written that book as a straight police procedural without any vampires (CRASH INTO MY ARMS, I’ll be starting the second draft next week), which’ll mesh well with my core audience of police procedural fans.

But… I get an email or social media post every couple of weeks asking what’s happening to Supernature. I’ve got a desire, if not exactly burning then at least on fire, to write a proper sequel to SHOT. I’m thinking through how to make that work – a revised draft of SHOT with more of a police element seems to be an idea I can’t get away from and I had a bash at that last week, which was going in a promising direction. The bits I disliked about SHOT were instantly removed by the police stuff and the flow of the story was a hell of a lot better. There’s quite a lot of Scottish folklore I could explore with that.

One thing I noticed last summer is based on trying the old “product funnels” thing, as espoused in WRITE. PUBLISH. REPEAT., by making SHOT free for a period. The result was it ended up cannibalising sell-on from GHOST IN THE MACHINE, the first freebie in the Cullen series – rather than buying book 2 in the series after enjoying book 1, the readers seemed to go for the other free one. Because it was vampires and they tended to dislike it, so I lost sales. If it’d been a straight pol proc, I think it’d have worked, most likely.

Of course, it could be that SHOT just isn’t that good – another reason a redraft will help is it’ll allow me to know if it’s a quality thing. Alternatively, it could be that I’ve not released book 2 in the series, so I’ve no real idea if it is a money-spinner. It did take about a year for it to break even on publicity and editing costs, which is another reason I felt my fingers got burnt. Finally, it could be that the cover is too “police procedural” – moody, monochrome shot with bright text – and it jars with the genre.

In summary, the lessons for me from publishing in multiple genres are –

1) People who like a writer writing in a genre tend to like the genre more than the writer, i.e. they’re less likely to buy you writing in another genre.

2) There are people who like the writer as much as the genre but they’re a lot lower. The crossover could be managed by other means, e.g. mailing list – “hey I’ve got a new book out in another genre under another name. You might not like it so I’m not forcing it down your throat” etc.

3) I might not have gone after the fans of vampire books in the right way (title, cover, product description, author name, etc). They might think it’s a police procedural.

4) If you’ve managed to get some level of success with your “day job” writing in a genre, that means you’ve got some tricks you’ve applied in building an audience there which should be applicable to writing in a new genre (and there’ll be some element of fun in learning it)

5) Watch your product funnels don’t cannibalise the main genre series.

Hope that’s of interest to you. I’ll be getting back to that redraft of SHOT in the summertime and will most likely do the second book back to back, while the characters and genre are still fresh in my head. At the moment, it’s called JUST WALKING THE DEAD, thought I really want to use the title HUNGRY LIKE THE WOLF, somewhere.

— Ed

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I’ve been talking to myself just to suggest that I’m selfish

One of my very favourite songs of all time – GETTING AWAY WITH IT by Electronic, the late 80s side project of NewOrder’s Bernard Sumner and Johnny Marr, then late of the Smiths, featuring Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys – features the line “I’ve been talking to myself just to suggest that I’m selfish.”

What a curious way to start a blog post, you might think. Well, I might or might not be selfish, but I have been talking to myself. On purpose.

One of the best writing craft books I read last year was by David Morrell, author of FIRST BLOOD, the low-key novel that kicked off the Rambo mega-franchise (God, I hate that phrase). It’s pretty and very insightful, particularly if you ever sell your books to the Film industry (I’m not calling them movies). [No – I’ve not sold anything to Film/TV, so don’t ask.]

One of the techniques he uses in the book is to have a written conversation with yourself about a book, sort of like “Good morning, David. How are you today?” / “I’m good, David, though I’m struggling with my new book.” / “Tell me about it.” / “Well, I forgot to put a story in.” Something like that. The idea is you talk to yourself about the book, refining the questioning and the idea as you go but leaving an ‘audit trail’ (Argh) of what you’ve discussed, which could be minor fragments of things you can pick up on the way, or if you get into a dead end you can go back.

Anyway, I thought it was madness and forgot about it. Until I wrote FUTURE SHOCK, a sci-fi thriller I’ve been working on for a good number of years – I wrote it as a short story in 2009, I think, then dusted it off in September with a view to turning it into a novella. It turned into a novel. But I forgot to include a story. Good bits happened in the opening act, then the hero got a job and got bored and quit it and went on holiday (which meant I could show the world 150 years from now) then all the story was wedged into the last third. I tried unpicking it on Monday, having turned in a first draft of CRASH INTO MY ARMS, and came into a cold sweat and a grumpy mood. I couldn’t get it to work.

I had a look at maybe redrafting SHOT THROUGH THE HEART (which meant re-outlining the story from the start) then went to the gym in the evening and beasted the weights. Sitting in the hot tub after (at the gym, not in my house – I’m not like some authors), I started to think about the problem. Turned out I was having a conversation with myself about it in my head. I showered and got changed then sat with my phone and typed into Evernote while my girlfriend dried her hair.

And it worked. Over the next day, I had a conversation with myself where I’d ask questions and respond then chip away at the answer until I’d made things simpler and more elegant. I took a few goes at it, refining my questioning until I got to something resembling a story. But it’s all sorted now, I hope. I’ve got a very solid story now in place of the black hole at the centre of a lot of writing. A very weird experiment but it really worked and it’s something I’ll do again.

How does it work? I think one of the things that have worked for me in the past has been talking to people about problems I’ve got with my books, which gets me to a good place having talked about it. This is talking about it in a way you can review after the fact. Mr Morrell finds himself starting writing the book – that’s not my style, daddio, but it’s a good way of working, certainly to get the central idea concrete and go all Occam’s razor on it; usually plots fall apart because they’re too complex – good plots are simple ideas executed in a complex way. Everyone’s actions and motivations have to be clear. The other thing is I’m a professional writer now and writing dialogue is what I do most days, so it’s something I’m good at. It’s practise for that and it’s a good way of problem solving.

— Ed


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