What Is Social Work Fiction?

Social Work Fiction

Recently, I’ve been reflecting on how my past social work experiences have had an influence on my story writing and I’ve begun to use the term ‘social work fiction’. I quite like it, enough to even include it at the top of my website.

It’s hardly an established genre, obviously nothing like crime fiction, science fiction or literary fiction, but a quick scout around the internet does reveal that the phrase is being used. Well, it’s being used a tiny bit. At any rate, it’s working for me. I think it has a nice easy flow to it. Social work fiction. It almost sounds like an established genre.

So what kind of writing might one expect when referring to something as social work fiction? What fictional ideas or images does the term summon up for potential readers?

A few rather overused social worker images spring to mind. Such as the well-meaning ‘do-gooder’ (I hate that expression, by the way, how did there come to be a derogatory term for people who do good?). She is a woman, probably blonde, young and attractive, and she works at a downtown (read New York) charity of some kind, and she ultimately needs rescuing by a worldly-wise, gritty man. I seem to recall a few 70s films with romantic subplots like this. Probably all starring Clint Eastwood.

And then there’s the other kind of social worker image found in fiction, probably even more common. An older, middle-class woman in a dowdy outfit (perhaps a twin-set outfit, pearls and glasses). She’s a ‘busy body’ – well-meaning (again) but misguided. And she raps on the door of a troubled family’s home only to worsen their plight by attempting to remove the children and place them into the black hole of government foster care.

And I can think of a third kind. A woman again (well, it is a female dominated profession) and she sits silently in a windowless room, watching while two policemen interview a wayward child or teenager.

Cobra Bubbles: not the regular-looking social worker. (C) Walt Disney

Lilo with Cobra Bubbles (right). I think you’ll agree, he’s not the regular-looking social worker.

Beyond the cliches, there are also some quite oddball representations. Lilo and Stitch is one film that immediately jumps to mind. The social worker is a man for starters (hooray for me), he’s ex-CIA and he goes under the name Cobra Bubbles. But of course, he still wants to place Lilo into foster care. At least he’s a little different to look at.

A social work fiction story with a marvelous difference is the horror flick from 1971, The Baby. This film is bizarre. A social worker investigates the ‘Wadsworth family’ – a mother, two daughters, and an adult son who behaves like a baby. Literally like a baby. ‘Trapped by three women with no way out,’ goes the pitch. The trailer is well worth checking out. It’s on IMDB here.

A social work home visit to the Wadsworths.

A social worker ‘homevisits’ the Wadsworths.

Happily, recently I’ve witnessed more respectful and inventive portrayals of social worker characters in fiction: competent care workers conducting supportive interventions to create positive change and secure social justice for their clients. But then of course, as drama demands, there’s an upheaval of some kind – a gruesome murder, perhaps – which upturns things and gets the story rolling.

While mostly documentaries, the blog site A Small Good Thing provides an interesting list of 23 powerful films ‘that shed light on social work, social workers, and the important themes and issues that social workers devote themselves to every day’.

Putting all of this to one side, for me, use of the term social work fiction is a personal thing. It’s a way for me to describe what I am writing and something I can fit alongside the more recognisable genre I might be writing in. For example, young adult fantasy. Social work fiction, for me, is a mindset. It’s a part of my writing voice.

So ultimately, that’s what I mean by social work fiction. It’s the lens through which I’m looking at the world I’m creating. For me, social work fiction stories are not just stories that happen to include a social worker in some way.

My play-around image for Christopher Reuben and the Curious World beneath His Garden

Some play around imagery for Christopher Reuben and the Curious World beneath His Garden.

For example, my latest completed draft novel, Christopher Reuben and the Curious World beneath His Garden, is about a 14-year-old boy with a strange new illness who escapes into an extraordinary world beneath his garden – a world that is under attack by a deadly weed, just as his own body is under attack by a deadly virus. Besides fantasy stories such as Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book (Gaiman’s take on Kipling’s The Jungle Book), Alice in Wonderland and Wizard of Oz, to write the story I drew on the humbling experiences working as a social worker in HIV/AIDS and now cancer.

My traditionally-published book.

My traditionally-published sci-fi about a dangerous and highly addictive virtual video game.

In my first, traditionally published book, EleMental, I explore addiction. Set in 2050, a group of kids play a virtual game deliberately designed to be highly addictive (it’s meant for asteroid miners, to prevent them from wanting to go on leave back to Earth). As they play the deadly game, their perceptions of when they are in a game and when they are in the real world because hopelessly blurred until they find themselves trapped in the game world. While writing the story, I draw on my time working with those recovering from alcohol and drug addictions. It’s quite a complex book for a young adult novel.

The latest project I’m still busily working on does happen to feature a social worker. He is the main character, and it’s a novel for adults for a change. Set in the eighties, it’s about a group of social workers (and one in particular) struggling to be effective within the turmoil of a busy infectious diseases hospital that’s caught in the grip of the AIDS epidemic.

My social work identity makes up an important part of my writing voice, no matter what kind of story I end up writing. Sci-fi, fantasy, reality… It’s not deliberate, it’s just a part of me, as your experiences are an important part of you.

***

In recent times I have come to enjoy finishing my posts with some recent photos.

A palm tree that once lived near me…

A palm tree down the street is moving out. Off to a cafe on the other side of town.

A palm tree off to a new residence – outside a cafe on the other side of town.

An orchid in my back garden is still going strong. It was a gift to my wife 15 years or more ago…

A cool orchid in my back garden. 15 years old?

I water it when I think to. It does the rest.

Lastly, two pics of Robert De Niro’s T-shirt from the fabulous New York, New York film.

Robert De Niro's shirt.

Robert De Niro’s T-shirt. (From a Martin Scorsese exhibition I went to recently.)

Here it is, in the film…

Liza Minnelli and Robert De Niro. Such a great shot.

Robert De Niro’s T-shirt in context. (With Liza Minnelli.)

So long for now. 🙂

Writing in hotel rooms in other cities

Dreary Sydney2

I’d like to tell you about two visits I had last month to a city that is not my own. The visits were to do with my ‘paid job’, but forget about that. I want to focus on my writing in hotel rooms while I was there. Here are some quick and dirty images to kick my post off with. These first ones are a bit bleak…

Sitting in a faceless, outer suburban office tower looking out over a shopping centre car park and stretches of suburbia. Winter. The day is weary from managerial speak loaded with impenetrable agendas.

From the window, I watch cars meandering down white-painted lanes on a concrete shopping centre roof. I can see their near misses as some turn too quickly. From my place above and behind a pane of glass, I have no way of shouting a warning.

High rises sit in the distance, unable to shrug off rain clouds. Later, I travel through a darkness that has fallen too early to a room like any other. I am worn out from earning a living, and I have nothing to talk to but a television. It occurs to me, in some other place, my real life is going on without me.

I jotted those images down upon returning to my hotel room on the night of my first visit. Do they sound gloomy? They probably reflect the mood I was in. The picture at the start of this post is through the office window I was referring to (now via a special effects app I had fun with). Looking at the picture again, yet more gloomy images come to me: the blacks and whites are stark; the clouds are dense.

The evening view from my hotel window. 

The night view from my CBD hotel window.

The city I visited was Sydney and, to do it justice, it’s a city that could easily be described differently from those images above. Some images that could go with the night view from my hotel window could be: The clouds left, revealing grades of black and streaks of moving light, a living city.

There’s something in the statement, If you’re a writer, no matter where you are, you’re never alone. You’re always exploring your thoughts and ideas, and looking for ways to describe them. In fact, a hotel room by yourself can be a good thing. You’re free from the many distractions of home. It’s an excellent chance to write. Doubly so if you can’t figure out how to work the TV remote and the music player only has an iPod connector. (Are Apple sponsoring hotels? Not everyone has an iphone.)

And do you know what? I was more productive in those two evenings spent alone in hotel rooms than I’ve been in a long time. I let myself go wherever the pen (keyboard, really) took me. Amongst other things, I found myself exploring characters from my past years working as a hospital social worker and I have begun a new novel based on some of those times – something I hope to tell you about in more detail next time.

Here’s the above window view again, now in the morning…

The morning view from the same hotel window.

The morning view from the same hotel window.

Some possible written images that strike me for the above: The sun reaches to me through the city, transforming the buildings and long, grey streets with its touch…

Here are some final photos from the second of my two visits. Unlike the first evening, when I stayed in the CBD, this time I was ‘hoteled’ at a place quaintly named called ‘Coogee Bay’. As the rest of my pictures clearly reveal, my visits weren’t all doom and gloom. The light in Coogee Bay glowed. Perhaps it’s always glowing in Coogee Bay…

Coogee Bay at night.

Coogee Bay at night.

There was something about this house (opposite the hotel) that I liked. Perhaps it was the clothes hanging over the balconies, they were like tears rolling from old eyes…Coogee Bay houseI love the colours in this below picture (of what, I have no idea). The shallow, lapping green, the ocean, deep and quiet, and the night sky with its still clouds…

Recent storm damage at Coogee Bay.

I’ve no idea what this is, but it’s located at the far end of Coogee bay.

In honour of the cut-up method that I have come to enjoy toying with, I present a short cut-up piece sourced mostly from the text at the top of this post (focussing on those images from the suburban office). I pasted the words into the cut-up machine found here, and selected new images and word strings that appealed to me. It’s rather bleak, as was the source material to begin with.

I, suburbia
Clouds shrugging over
stretches of impenetrable darkness
and faceless windows.
Pale light meandering over parked cars,
lines of houses,
people’s homes.
White-painted illuminated television lives.
We are all – all of us – unable to move.

One final, more cheerful, Coogee Bay pic to leave you with …

Down on Coogee Beach.

Me, in matching shirt and beach.

 

 

Holiday snaps for book covers?

thumb_P1110061_1024Wracking your brains out for a good picture to transform into a book cover? Well, very likely you won’t find it here, but you’re welcome to read on anyway!

Since returning from my UK writing expedition, I’ve been busy ‘re-engaging’ with a normal life — and all of the everyday responsibilities that come with that. Like getting on top of the garden, which I’m certain went into a weed frenzy to spite me for being away for so long. And like trying to get the rainwater water tank under the house working again. And like getting up early and heading out into the cold, rainy mornings to earn a living again.

And, with the normal life, come oh-so-few exciting photo opportunities to show you in a blog post.

But then, out of the blue a writing buddy put in a personal request for some pictures of castles or old homes from my recent UK shots. He was on the hunt for a good pic he could turn into the cover for a book he has completed. I think he was hoping for something semi-creepy. After a mad search through my photos, the below (and the one above) is the best I could do, I’m afraid. Still, I had a lot of fun raking through my collection and finding the pics. And now I can present my choices to you in a blog post. Ta da!

I took many holiday snaps while I was away. I have just under 11,000, would you believe. And that’s after cutting them back. It’s so terribly easy to take photos in this digital age. You merely need to hold one finger on the button as the train shoots along, sip your coffee, and gaze back out of the window … all the while, snap, snap, snap.

See what you think of the following pics I offered my writing mate. The above one, by the way, is Inverness in Scotland. Here’s another from Scotland. Can you imagine it as a book cover? Maybe.

Scotland again? Most likely, judging by the clouds.

Scotland.  The clouds give it away.

I really like this next one. I took it in Wales. Isn’t it great?

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I’m not too sure where this below building is from. Manchester? It’s not a castle, more like something out of a Garth Nix novel. Keys to the Kingdom.

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This next one is definitely from Manchester. Isn’t it fabulously creepy?

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Here’s London… Perhaps a little too many cranes and people (when you look closer). This is near the Tower of London.

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A much better one (below) from London. Don’t you just love those couches set out in front of the castle wall? Why the hell are they there? But one might be able to crop and use some of it…

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This last one is from my childhood hometown, Luton…

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I suspect none of these will meet the needs of my writing buddy. Still, the exercise made me think about my attitude towards my ‘normal life’. Who says there are no photo opportunities for one’s day-to-day world? Perhaps I need to cultivate more of the eye of a tourist, even at home. My ‘normal world’ is not your normal world.

My final manuscript is complete. So what now?

Beneath the Surface

My 60,000 word novel manuscript — Beneath the Surface — is now fully posted to Wattpad. It’s about a young boy who enters a fantasy world under his garden. While writing the fantasy story, I partly drew on my experiences working as an HIV/AIDS social worker in the 80s and 90s.

Publishing the book chapter by chapter to the social media site Wattpad as I reworked it has been quite an experience. There wasn’t a moment when I didn’t brace myself before opening an email with a new comment from a reader. What if this one blasts the hell out of my story? Yet, all of the readers’ comments have been positive — many confirming they were enjoying the story, and some special ones offering thoughtful, constructive advice.

Wattpad offers writers something very special. The chance to hear directly from readers what they think about your book. And my book has changed in certain ways because of the feedback. Often these changes were descriptive details — things that were not as clear as they could be. The one that comes most to mind is the description of the moment when Christopher first enters the fantasy world of The Underplane. The use of ‘micro-chapters’ also received plenty of support. This approach led to many ‘upbeats’ in the story’s rhythm, as I like to finish a chapter on an upbeat (with a sense of actively moving forward). I enjoyed writing in this style and plan to try it again, no matter what my next story may be.

Other aspects of my story may change as I now progress to the next stage of manuscript development. The title, for instance, may change. It used to be Under the Garden, and for one brief moment it was Christopher from the Middle Bit (only I seemed to like that one!). Who knows what it might be called in the future. And new feedback may lead me to alter key moments in the story. We shall see!

But where to now for me with this book? That’s what I have to decide. The idea of seeking out potential interest in the more traditional way does entice me. I thoroughly enjoyed the formal editing process that my first, traditionally published novel underwent. I am also looking forward to engaging others in professional consultation about the story.

I will give myself a little break and begin to explore the options for Beneath the Surface soon. And I’ll most certainly let you know when I have any news.

I also need to decide just how long I should keep the complete manuscript of Beneath the Surface posted to Wattpad. I have no idea how traditional publishers will respond to that — yet visibility on the internet is crucial in this new world of ours.

If you’re interested in checking out my story while it’s complete on Wattpad — some holiday reading of a brand new novel before it’s even published! — here’s where it starts: Beneath the Surface on Wattpad.

Drafting Beneath the Surface

The next chapter of Beneath the Surface I post on Wattpad will be Chapter 23. This is still less than a third of the novel, but Christopher’s adventure in The Underplane is well underway. I’m aiming to have the complete draft novel posted for your ongoing feedback within the first week or two of December. Another 45,000 words (give or take) to go!

Beneath the SurfaceMeanwhile, I would like to present to you my latest chapter, just completed this morning. Bells are ringing throughout the village of Onehill, though Christopher — or Cee as his new friends call him — has yet to know what they signify. Christopher is eating breakfast with Ria and the children, and recalling…

Chapter  23: The church by the sea

I want to tell you about another time I heard bells.

On that day, I’d no idea where Dad was taking me and I knew better than to ask. All I knew was it took us a long time to get there. Hours spent in silence and bitter cold in Dad’s old Ford Falcon. The heater had packed up long before we’d ever owned it.

We arrived at a tiny church by the sea. It sat on a sandy strip opposite some shops and looked more like an abandoned portable classroom. Ferny branches hugged it, keeping it close and protecting it. When we left the car and made towards it, I could hear the rush of the sea somewhere out of sight. A sound, I thought, that had been going non-stop forever — before all things to do with humanity. Before that even. And would continue to go on forever. Way beyond us.

It almost suggested that the church, as piddling as it looked, was connected to greater things.

Almost.

I kicked at a pine cone and Dad tsked at me without looking up. But the pointy things were everywhere, just begging for it. More of them were piled up in the church’s lopsided gutters above us as we entered. Someone wasn’t doing their job and clearing them out.

And that was when I heard the bells. But they didn’t ring out all over the land like the Onehill bells. They dinged in a shrill, plasticky way. They came from a cassette player sitting on a trestle table just inside the door. The player looked like something left behind by a handyman; it was paint-spattered and the slot in the front where the cassettes went was held together with a rubber band.

People sat on rows of wooden benches. We stood sidelong to them and they turned and faced us. No one waved or nodded. I knew a few by sight — aunts and uncles I’d met once or twice. There were about fifteen in all.

I sat where Dad pointed, in the front row. Everyone behind us. Except for a lone man dressed in what looked like layers of green and white curtain lining. He jumped up from a chair as we sat own and hurried over and clacked off the bells. They went off mid-ding.

Din— Nothing.

Except for some sniffs, and creaks from benches.

Before us was a long wooden box. It was on a metal wheelie stand and in front of a colored glass window showing a bleeding man who was doubled-over, carrying a massive cross on his back. The wood of the box was glossy, I couldn’t stop gazing into its soft reflection. It looked as if it could be warm to touch. The lid was bolted down with shiny bronze knobs and Mum’s photo was on top of it, in a little frame.

I knew Mum must be in that box. I didn’t want to know, but that picture made sure I didn’t forget it. Though I couldn’t sense her with my radar illness. She was long gone.

With only the box to look at, I concentrated instead on thinking about the time she’d spent propped up against a stack of pillows in a hospital bed in our family room, gazing through the bay window and into our garden. She’d been dying for months but living every moment, with her family. That was what her illness had taught her, she’d said. Live every moment.

Not so, me. Born ill, everything just was the way it was.

The man in curtains told us he was Scottish, in case we hadn’t guessed. He laughed loudly, like that was an amazing joke. But the only thing funny was his accent, as if he was always on the verge of cracking another joke, but then thinking the better of it. Thank God.

He told us he’d become a priest a long, long time ago and had been sent here. Across the sea. We were his family now. He raised his arms as he said that last bit. As if to a great crowd.

I twisted around and checked out this ‘family’, half-expecting to see a gang at the back, cheerily waving. But there was only us few bunched up the front.

And then it struck me. Dad was returning Mum to the town where she’d grown up. She would be buried in this place she’d left years ago. A place of happier times, maybe? Or not — she’d run away as a teenager (something she’d told me, but Dad didn’t know I knew).

So why?

I wished she could have stayed with us. We could have buried her in our back garden. That was not as silly as you might think. Who was to say anyone would have found out? (And maybe she would have appeared in The Underplane? Met my new friends?)

I’d never been to that church before or any other and I’d no idea why the priest included me in his so-called family. Same went with the rest. I bet they weren’t regulars either.

A lonely man.

And now, as I ate breakfast in a village in The Underplane with my new-found friends, remembering these things and thinking about lonely men, I wondered if Dad missed me.

Was he out wandering the streets of Acity, searching for me?

I let the thought go, stopped eating and sat back. The others munched on. Maybe my stomach was smaller than theirs? But honest to God, I couldn’t have eaten anymore.

One last thing, back to remembering the church by the sea. There were two things that most bothered me, and I don’t know which was worst: the priest at the end taking the photo of mum and shoving it in a trouser pocket deep beneath all of his layers, or two black-suited strangers turning up and, without a word to anybody, wheeling the wooden box away with Mum in it.

***

If you would like to check out my progress on Beneath the Surface (and the earlier chapters too), my Wattpad page is here.

Workshopping with the world – How it’s going!

Beneath the SurfaceIf you’ve been following my posts and tweets, you’ll know I’ve been workshopping my new draft novel as I revise it. It’s a young adult fantasy novel about an unwell 14-year-old-boy who enters a secret world under his garden. I have posted seven draft chapters so far, which comprise Part 1 of the story.

I’m happy to report the use of Wattpad for workshopping is going well. All was going well on Widbook until recently. Here’s a little more detail about them both…

Steady feedback on Wattpad…

A useful thing about Wattpad, from a workshopping point of view, is that one can put comments at the bottom of each chapter. This has been a very useful way for me to pose specific questions. For example, What do you think about the title? What do you think about the short nature of my chapters? Do you feel like reading on? These questions are not always responded to and that’s OK, but it’s great when they are. I genuinely want to know!

I’ve received all sorts of advice, some of which I’ve immediately acted upon, some I’m still thinking about, and some I’ve parked to one side in my mind, waiting see what a professional structural editor might suggest, when that time comes.

It’s been extremely useful to hear what readers have found interesting in the story, their various observations and reactions. I am not always sure I’m getting the balance right in terms of suggested symbolism, subtle meanings, character portrayal, plotting and so on. I’m wary of overstating something, which then may seem labored and obvious, or slipping into ‘clever writing’, which can interfere with the reader’s engagement to the story. It has been greatly reassuring to hear from readers that they are picking up on the story’s depth and various dimensions in an enjoyable way.

And I do have to say, the positive comments have been very gratifying too! They have helped me feel, Yes, this is a story worth writing. This is something others would like to read.

But slower on Widbook…

threeThe news on Widbook is not so good, I’m afraid. Sadly, after an initial burst of activity, feedback has dried up. At kick off, things were similar to how I’ve described them above, but not so any more. I believe there are still a number of Widbookers reading my draft chapters — my book was added to someone’s shelf only yesterday and I received a new follower today. (I always follow back, because I think that’s nice to do, but that’s just my style and obviously not a rule). But the energy has waned.

I have received some excellent support from a number of the Widbook staff (I’m yet to hear from anyone on Wattpad!). They made one of my earlier books ‘Book of the Week’ and also invented me to write a blog post for them. They were very friendly and I immensely enjoyed my interactions with them.

There are a range of possible reasons for the drop off in responses to my writing. Here are two that I’m pretty sure haven’t helped…

There are many Spanish-speaking writers/readers on Widbook, and no doubt this has an impact on ongoing interest in my English written work, even though users generally appear to have a good handle on English, especially from a reading point of view. However, as I cannot understand the Spanish language at all, I’m unable to reciprocate the gesture of feedback by commenting on a Spanish written piece.

Widbook has a five star rating system — this is probably not a good thing when it comes to formative writing/drafting. A rating system leaves writers too open to the subjective impulse of others. And of course — as we indie writers know only too well — it is open to easy abuse: friends giving each other top stars, or tit for tat.

Olearia-stuartiiSo, after posting only a few draft chapters (three, I think), the book was awarded an ‘average’ three star rating. Ow! This a draft I’m workshopping, people! Not a published book on Amazon — ready for customers’ reviews and ratings. Now, no matter how many revisions I undertake and further draft chapters I post, that mediocre rating will sit there for the rest of my draft chapter postings (nine tenths of the book is still to come!) and until I take it down from Widbook, in readiness for publication. The average rating has the potential to put off further readers who may have had highly useful feedback.

How I wish that that reader had instead chosen to give me actual feedback. Why did they find it average? That could be marvelously useful to know. Instead, I’m left guessing and others are possibly being influenced and staying away. A rating system (especially one akin to Amazon’s customer review system) in a creative space can only serve to throw a wet blanket over creativity, don’t you think? 🙁

What’s next…

I love the story I’m writing, and the feedback from these two social media writing sites has definitely contributed to story improvements, revision ideas (not to mention one helpful typo spotting!) and the keeping up of my energy —  serious redrafting can be exhausting.

Regrettably, after a very promising start, I may need to rethink how useful Widbook is for workshopping a draft novel, but I most certainly will continue to post to Wattpad in readiness for professional structural editing later in the year.

By the way … why all the damned daisies? They make sense if you read the story.

Here is where you will find me slaving away on the redraft of ‘Beneath the Surface’:

If you visit – be sure to leave some feedback!

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‘Beneath the Surface’ is featured on Penned!

penned app_icon

I’m happy to report the workshopping of my Beneath the Surface draft manuscript is going brilliantly. I’m receiving excellent feedback from where I’m posting the draft chapters on Wattpad and Widbook. And now — trumpets! — I have been approached by the marvelous Penned saying they would like to feature Beneath the Surface on their book app. I was quick with a Yes, please! and so you will find my first four chapters there too. But what and where is Penned? Not heard of them before? Read on below to find out more…

So just what is this Penned thing?

Penned is a literary app — it’s a writing app and it’s a reading app. You use it from your smartphone. Simply type ‘penned’ in the search field in your app store and up it will pop (for free of course). Beneath the Surface is a novel for teens (and the young in us, that’s me) and this is the absolutely latest way to read. You may or may not like it — it’s very different — but it’s fun to check it out and make up your own mind. I’m liking it…

Penned and Beneath the Surface

From the start I have been writing Beneath the Surface expressly to be read from an e-reader. (Do you like that adverb expressly? Suits what I’m saying exactly.) I have not allowed myself to write a chapter that bubbles over a 1,000 words. If one does, I split it, and rewrite the two new chapters afresh. I’m calling them micro chapters and often a single scene will track over a number of these little blighters.

Beneath the SurfaceIn my head, I’ve been thinking of each chapter as a bang from your e-reader. Something with zip and punch, even in the slow setting-up-the-plot moments. Something that feels right to be read from a glowing screen while your other hand clutches onto a train handrail. Or an ice cream. What the hell, anything — life is like that these days. The modern world is a bullet train speeding, multitasking world: hold onto the rail, eat your ice cream, text ur buddy, listen to the debut Bleachers album and read from Penned). A smartphone book app feels absolutely right for the micro chapters of Beneath the Surface and the whizz of today’s  world.

And before anyone says, What about print books? (some might still be saying that? as if reading from a kindle means you object to print books), I’m talking about workshopping my book with the world. Not the finished ebook and traditionally published print book. What better way to workshop your draft novel than through a mobile device?

So if you do check out Beneath the Surface — be it through Penned, Wattpad or Widbook — as always, I’d love you to tap on ‘Comment’ and let me know your thoughts. Without readers, a book is not a book.

Here’s the Penned website about the App, where you can find out more. And here’s their Twitter page if you want to follow them.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you soon…

 

Workshopping with the World

Beneath the Surface

My new novel is called Beneath the Surface and it’s about a 14-year old boy who, not long after his mother’s death from a mysterious illness called Radar, enters a fantasy world under his garden. The boy’s name is Christopher Reuben and he suffers from the same illness that took his mother’s life.

I know this sounds a bit gloomy! But — as with all of my writing — I work hard to make sure there’s fun and action in there too. As I wrote the first draft, I imagined stories such as The Wizard of OzSpirited Away and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardobe. And I also mixed in some of my own experiences from working as a social worker with people with HIV/AIDS.

Beneath the Surface is still a draft manuscript (I’m hoping it will be ready for a professional editor’s structural edit come December — for those of you interested in the writing process), and I’m trying out something different this time around. Something that has me a little nervous, but also excited. I’m posting my manuscript chapter by chapter as I redraft them further in the hope I receive good honest feedback from others. I want to make this story the best I possibly can. I’m really hoping fellow readers and writers — you! — will tell me what you think. Nicely.

There are a number of social media sites available for writers these days, and I’ve decided to post Beneath the Surface on two: a well-established one (Wattpad), and a reasonably new one you may not have heard much about (Widbook). Both of these ‘writing e-communities’ allow me to post my manuscript in an ebook style (Widbook is particularly good on this score), and they allow for comments from others. They also have things like ‘votes’ and ‘numbers of reads’ etc, which are all fine but I’m more interested in hearing from interested others about my story as I write it. And of course, I’ll make sure to acknowledge all helpful advice givers when my story’s finally published (indie or trad).

You’ll see from the picture above that I have created a cover for the manuscript. Creating a cover is not something a writer would normally do at this stage, but as I’m pushing my little story out into the world, it needs more that than the usual plain, typed front page of most manuscripts. I hope my effort will suffice until the book is finally published and I pay for a professional cover design.

In the hope it will stir your interest, here are the opening sentences (at least, they are at the moment, feedback may suggest changing them)…

I was ready for my dad when he approached the daisy bush, big plastic spray bottle held up like a gun, like he was going to put something down. I stood before the bush, arms folded, doing my best not to trample on his precious damned flowers. 

‘Christopher?’ he said. ‘What are you doing?’ He spoke slowly, worn out. His voice matched his slumped shoulders and his tired eyes.

Now, don’t bother hanging around here anymore. What I’d really love is for you to check out my draft and tell me what you think. Thank you!

You can find it on Wattpad here.

And you can find it on Widbook here.

EleMental chapter taster

Elemental

EleMental chapter taster

As a taster, I have also placed the first chapter of EleMental on my website. So you have the choice of checking it out there and then spring-boarding over to Wattpad, if you’d like to read more. Here’s a hand-dandy link to my chapter taster (the first chapter) on my website.

And if that isn’t enough, in this very post (immediately below, in fact) I have included the opening section to the chapter. So I guess that must be a chapter taster taster. Here it is…

***

 EleMental: A First-person Shooter

Level 1: Firing up

 

‘I don’t know anything and I didn’t do anything.’

Zeb, 2050

***

Chapter 1: ‘Attention game’

Willis was weak. He was ill. And he was lost.

The city’s buildings reached high, throwing out long shadows and reminding him of the Shade Specter monsters from a virtual game that was all the rage a few years back – not that he’d ever played the v’game himself, or any v’games at all. V’gaming wasn’t his thing.

He stood in the darkness of one shadow with his back to a department store wall and gazed out at the moving crowds, avoiding their glances.

As soon as his mother’s zipcar had lifted from the curb and buzzed away, leaving him alone, he felt nauseous. What was he doing here? He had no idea which direction led home. Cities were foreign to him, and yet here he was, smack bang in the middle of the biggest one he could imagine. Fool. He knew how this dumb outing was going to end: with him contacting his mum or dad and one of them coming to fetch him.

No! He would not message home. He was practically fifteen. This might be a new place to him, but he was capable. He’d find his own way home. Somehow.

Then Willis saw him. Zeb Redman. He’d know him anywhere; only the coolest kid from his class. Correction. The whole damn school.

He shot past Willis on his hyperboard, crouching low for speed. The hyperboard’s erupter – the small suspension laser generator fixed at the back – thrummed loudly.

Maybe if Willis followed him, he would learn a thing or two about living in this place. Or at the very least, he could point Willis in the right direction.

Willis raced after him.

***

Zeb Redman cursed as he spun around the corner, balancing on his speeding hyperboard, and saw the last thing he wanted to see. The queue at Screamers V’Games Universe was mammoth. It snaked from somewhere deep within the store, out through its snapping auto-doors and stretched out of sight down the street. The disappointment gnawed at him. Wagging school had made no difference.

The store’s flashing signs seemed to taunt him: Experience the new Plush. Free trials all day. Don’t miss out.

Zeb sighed, flipped from his hovering hyperboard, and landed on the street curb. Far in front of him, perched at the head of the queue, some lucky guy was set to be the first to experience the new Plush DVP – deep virtual player – v’games console. Zeb gazed the other way, down the shuffling queue of hopefuls. At ten minutes a turn, it would be nighttime before his chance at a free try-out came around. The place would be closed by then.

He closed his eyes and released a slow breath, relaxing as he’d trained himself to do prior to taking on a high-level boss enemy. As in v’games, so in life. He decided to go in anyway. With all this commotion going on, you never knew what you might find. Behind him, he was half-aware of some kid approaching. He looked wet. No one worth knowing, that was for sure. He ignored him, stepped forward and worked his way through the queue and into the store. People glared, but he held up his arms, all innocence. ‘It’s all right. Not queue jumping. Just trying to get in.’

With the rack full, he was forced to carry his hyperboard. He wandered the aisles of expensive v’games that filled the store’s shelves, thoughts of which monopolized his every waking moment. Especially the gleaming rows of gloss-wrapped 2050 first-person shooter new releases – v’games with packaging that sported moving images of exploding army death-tanks, multi-headed trolls with weapons the size of cannons, grinning aliens with scarred and bloodied bodies … Xtreme-rated horrocore. All bearing the latest in ziptech security seals. Impossible to steal.

But his instinct for an opportunity had been right. The crowds fussing over the new v’games console provided an excellent diversion. After a period of frustrated browsing (everything was out of his price range!), he spied something he knew he could have – with a bit of skill and luck. An old first-person shooter called Hoolyguns. It was sticking out of the corner of a weightless sales bin otherwise chock-a-block with dated v’romances and offworld tour guides.

He slung his hyperboard across his back, straightened his bag at his side, and spent a long time stalking the bin as it floated through the store’s aisles. Waiting for the right moment. And as it drifted towards an out-of-the-way exit, far from the winding queue and the onlookers clustered at Plush v’space-windows oohing and aahing at the virtual action within, Zeb’s own excitement mounted. Though it wasn’t Xtreme-rated or anything, it looked compatible with his old Magnum 50. So who was he to complain? He, with only a Magnum console at home and nothing decent to play on it. He, who hungered for any first-person shooter. New, old, secondhand, whatever.

And it bore an ancient security imprint. As far as Zeb was concerned, it was a giveaway and the disappointment about the Plush try-out slipped from his mind.

He watched. He crept forward. He waited.

A security zipcam meandered up and stopped close to the bin. It clicked and hissed as it lowered itself to the floor, its many lenses rotating. Then it lifted again and moved on, heading down a nearby aisle.

Now! Moving in, Zeb hustled the bin up against the wall. Using his body to block the view of anyone who might be watching, he snatched the v’game from the sales bin, pulled a screwdriver from his pocket, squeezed it until a sharp stick of hard blue laser shot out, and slash, cut, strip! Security imprint: gone. No zipcam would bother chasing and recording him.

Plunging the v’game into the depths of his bag, he was out that door.

***

You can read the rest of Chapter One here

The complete EleMental is available to read for free through Wattpad and Widbook.

My Widbook page is here.

My Wattpad page is here

And, of course, EleMental is also available as a downloadable ebook here:

Amazon

Amazon UK

Amazon Canada

And here for free on the Libiro ebook store.

 

I have been busy on Wattpad

wattpad-review

I have been busy on something called Wattpad (not absolutely sure why it’s called that, but there you go). And at last I’m back and writing a post about it.

Wattpad is a Canadian-based online reading and writing community that has been around since 2006. And it’s a very busy place! Many are there as readers, but many others are also posting their own writing efforts — articles, stories, poems… And you are able to comment and like stories or join discussion groups.

 Just who is on Wattpad?

wattpad3

I have been dabbling on Wattpad for a few months now and it’s quite clear that most users — readers and writers alike — are women. Though I have come across men too, including a male video game designer. And many are teenagers. It’s terrific that so many young people are keen to explore their writing abilities. There are many good story ideas and I’ve spotted some pretty impressive writing.

Perhaps not surprisingly, there are plenty of stories written in the young adult romance genre, though sci-fi and fantasy seem very well represented too. I have also come across a fair bit of  fanfic, which I have to admit I am not so keen on. I am not that interested in reading imaginary stories about members of One Direction or about Justin Bieber. However, if someone on Wattpad grows into a great writer through writing about their favorite pop stars — that’s fine by me! (And besides, if the story’s good enough — they can always alter the characters a bit later.)

What have I been doing on Wattpad?

keep-calm-and-write-stories-on-wattpadMy main reason for being on Wattpad right now is to establish a presence with those who may be interested in my writing, i.e. young adult readers into sci-fi and fantasy. My hope is, if I establish some kind of presence on Wattpad, I can upload the draft of my next book there first. If I’m lucky, I may attract some interest in the story and receive some useful feedback prior to publication. Hence, maybe I can use Wattpad as a giant feedback workshop.

To gain some visibility before I introduce my next book, I have so far uploaded one short story, MotherCraft, which currently has just over a thousand reads, and I am in the process of uploading my first published novel, EleMental: A first-person Shooter. I am up to Chapter 20 in that book, so only 10 chapters to go. It currently has a little over 4,000 reads.

Just on this ‘read’ business, by the way, before you get too impressed. I doubt very much if over five thousand have assiduously read the short story and novel chapters I have uploaded to Wattpad. It’s all software-based counting remember. It has no idea what the ‘reader’ is really doing. But at least they’ve had a peek, eh? No matter how fleetingly. And some have gone on to read it, surely. (Tell me that’s true!)

When I have put all of EleMental on Wattpad, I will effectively be offering the ebook version of that first novel of mine for free through Wattpad. I will then make it free elsewhere also, and upload the first few chapters of MonuMental, my sequel to EleMental.

How to get to Wattpad

keep-calm-and-wattpad-on-3Here’s where you will find more info about Wattpad (complete with a Margaret Atwood endorsement): About Wattpad.

And here’s one of Wattpad’s many writers writing about how to use Wattpad (she gets 14 votes):  Wattpad instructions.

And here’s where you will find my Wattpad page: my exciting page on Wattpad.

Or you can go straight to a story:

  • MotherCraft – A father leaving home can be painful at anytime. Leaving the planet, doubly so.
  • EleMental – The future. It’s all about friendship, young love … and dangerous video games.

Keep on Wattpadding!

Steven O’Connor writes young adult fiction. His writing is influenced by Douglas Adams, CS Lewis, Tolkien and just about every sci-fi and fantasy film and TV show you could possibly think of. His ebooks EleMental: A First-person Shooter and MonuMental: The Hack’s Back are available through Amazon. (Just Google ‘Amazon’ and ‘Steven O’Connor’ to see). You may also like checking him out at one of his hangouts:

Website ¦ Wattpad ¦ Twitter ¦ Facebook