Sunday, 24 June 2012

Ask the Author! Peter J. West

Have you ever wished that you could speak directly to writers to discover what is behind their book, their motivation, or to discuss the storyline?  Here is your opportunity.

32 comments:

  1. Peter West has graciously agreed to an online interview here on Bookworm Live. He has recently e-published “Information Cloud”, the first in his planned trilogy, ”Tales of Cinnamon City”.
    It’s science fiction with an emphasis on FutureTech, MilitarySciFi and CyberPunk. You can read about Peter and his new book at -

    www.sciencefictionextra.com

    or look inside and read a full extract at –

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B007QFWQYK

    From next weekend, Peter will be available to discuss his book and to answer your questions about the story, the writing process, publishing or the genre in general.

    It’s a marvellous opportunity for us Sci Fi fans and would-be writers to glean inside information first-hand. I’m really looking forward to it.

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    1. Welcome to Bookworm Live, Peter West.

      Bookworm is delighted to provide a venue to discuss Peter’s new book. Peter and I met online when he stepped in to assist me. He is a Good Samaritan and a really nice guy. Let me tell you a little about him.

      He is based in London but has visited Australia. In fact, his profile photo was taken in Melbourne. I know he has also visited India as his wedding was held there. (How romantic!)

      Peter began his career writing thrillers but is now firmly entrenched in the SciFi genre. Part II of ‘Tales of Cinnamon City’ is due to be released early next year and he is currently working on another series as well. We’ll be hearing more of Peter West.

      Peter is here for the next week, to answer all your questions. I know that you will make him very welcome.

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    2. Thank you very much for talking to us, Peter. I’m interested in what prompted you to write and why you chose the SciFi genre.

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    3. Hello everyone.

      Can I first say thanks to Sandra for inviting me to take part in this weeklong interview at Bookworm Live. It's a pleasure to be here and I'm looking forward to answering any questions you may have.

      I'm based in London so I'm on a slightly different timezone but I'll be checking in each day to answer your questions.

      So, on with the first question.
      What prompted me to write?

      Well it's a long story as you might guess. So long in fact that I need to split it across more than one post.

      Many years ago, when I was in my early twenties, I had little interest in reading books and certainly had no thoughts about writing one. I used to pick up somebody else's book, read a few pages and find it really hard going. I used to think how on earth can somebody sit and ready a hundred, two hundred or however many pages. It seemed like something I would never be involved in. I had all but given up on it and thought that it wasn't for me.

      But then around 1992, I was sat talking to a friend, drinking strong black coffee and we were talking about books. He was doing most of the talking and I was listening. What did I know about books? So he passed me what I thought was the most enormous brick of a paperback that I had ever seen in my life and said, 'Why don't you read this?'

      I laughed. This? It must be five hundred of pages long! I hadn't read more than fifty pages of anything and thought I never would. But my friend encouraged me. He said it doesn't matter how many pages it is if you find it interesting. I wasn't convinced. He told me to read the first chapter - just a few pages - and if I didn't want to read any more after that then I should just give him the book back. I agreed.
      His name was Neill Rank and he was a good friend for many years after that.

      I took the book and I read the first few pages, and something very strange happened. I stopped counting the pages. I stopped seeing the words. I fell into a different world. A world that the author Robert Jordan had crafted from his own mind and welcomed me into. The first scenes pulled straight into that world, and changed something inside me. For the first time I understood why people read books. All those other books I had picked up were not right for me. that is why I couldn't read them. I understood that now.

      It wasn't that I was somebody who had no interest in reading. It was just that I had been looking at the wrong books. The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan showed me for the first time that I really was a reader and since then I have never looked back. I read that whole book, amazing myself in the process, and went on to read all of the other books in that series (13 tomes so far and one more to come).

      Robert Jordan sadly died before he could complete his series, but he brought in a co-writer Brandon Sanderson who is now writing the final part which should come out next year. The series has spanned two decades and during that time I have found other authors that I liked too. Tad Williams, Stephen King, Peter F Hamilton, J.V Jones, Stephen Donaldson, and of course J. R.R. Tolkien. There were many others also. I read and I enjoyed them all.

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    4. It wasn't until 2003 that I began to see even beyond the story and think about how I really appreciated the way an author can take a concept, form it in their own mind, and then using just the power of words, transfer that concept into my mind. It was as though they opened their mind and showed me another world. I thought about this. I wondered how on earth they were able to do it. The page was covered in words, and yet they created more than words. The story, and the characters became more than the sum of its parts. From simple letters and words on paper came images, thoughts, ideas and dreams. These authors could do amazing things.

      I was fascinated in how they did it. It was like a magic trick and I was looking for the strings. I couldn't see the wires, and yet magic was there in those books somewhere. So I started looking into it. I discovered what authors call 'the craft'. The art of writing, or creative writing. It was alien to me just as reading had been many years before. But I relished the chance to learn. I wanted to understand so I began reading not just fiction, but about how fiction is created. I read about the English language. I read about how to create characters, how to build suspense, and so many other concepts that were all new to me. I learnt that language has far more aspects to it than I had ever imagined. I learnt about flow and cadence and rhythm and how to use language in different ways for different purpsoses. It was all a revelation to me.

      And as I learnt all these things I started trying to write things myself. I tried to write a small book but quickly realised it was very difficult to achieve and way too ambitious. So I set myself smaller steps. I wrote short stories. I tried different techniques. I wrote some longer pieces around 10,000 words, then 20,000 words, then 38,000 words. Then I stopped and wondered again how anyone could write such huge novels like Robert Jordan or Peter F. Hamilton. They really have great ability and skill as well as stamina!

      I placed my 38,000 word science fiction story on a shelf and wondered what to do next. I knew I was still at the beginning of a long journey. All I had learnt so far was that there was so much to learn.

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    5. So next I decided to write a psychological thriller. I have no idea why. I felt as though I should write something other than science fiction to be more credible as an author (where do people get these notions?). So I wrote a thriller novel. 105,000 words long. I sent it away to be looked at by an editor. He said some good things about it. He liked the characters and said there was potential and so forth, but the plot was flawed. I knew it inside. The book had been a journey, not an end it itself. The end product was the best book I'd ever written, because it was the only book I had ever written, but I knew it wasn't worthy of publication. And I also missed science fiction. I wondered what was the point of writing in a genre that I wasn't really deeply involved with just because it might be more mainstream or maybe more credible or for any other reason that made no real sense. I was not being true to myself.

      I was not disheartened by this. I was pleased that I had managed to organise myself and put all of my efforts into a writing project for a whole year and produce a final, finished, properly edited novel. It was almost good. Almost. The plot wasn't right but I had learnt so much along the way and I knew I could do better. And I knew that I would return to my roots. I would return to science fiction.

      So I went back to the 38,000 word story that was stuck in a box somewhere. It had been about six years since I had written it. I picked it up, brushed off the dust, and read it. It looked simplistic in its writing because I had learnt so much since I had written it, but the plot was good. It could be re-written. It had potential. It could be turned from an simple outline into a fully fleshed novel. I could rebuild it. And that's exactly what I did.

      The end result was a novel called Information Cloud, and it is on Amazon today.

      Like Robert Jordan would have said, it is not the end, because there is no end. There are many endings and beginnings, and this is a beginning, in the wheel of time.

      The journey starts now.

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    6. Hello Peter,

      Your story has edges like mine. I have a number of shelved writing projects as life gets in the way. I'm polishing off a nonfiction piece that probably has a limited audience so I am reading up on ebooks. What are the hoops you had to jump through to get an ebook published?

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    7. hi Linrob,

      Thanks for the question. I'll do my best to answer. It is worth noting that eBook publishing has changed a lot in the last few years. If you read anything on the Internet about it, make sure it is no more than a couple of years old or it may already be out of date.

      There are indeed many hoops to jump through. It's often a balance of how much time do you want to devote to publishing as apposed to writing your books. Most authors have to maximise their use of time.

      There are many tools, many file formats and many eBook distributers and eBook readers (both physical devices and eReader applications). The place to start is to form a strategy based upon the time that you have available and also the skillsets that you already possess.

      There are many different strategies which may work for you, depending on your needs.

      The strategy I took was:

      1.
      I decided to only use tools that made no restrictions on how I use the files that I created with them. That's why I don't use Apple's iBooks Author software, however polished it may be. Any file that is created with iBooks Author is the property of Apple and is not allowed to be used anywhere other than in iBooks. It also refers to its format as epub but it actually has non-standard extensions that it uses to allow interactive books to be created, and these extensions make the file format not compatible with any other device or reader.

      2.
      I decided not to use any intermediary companies such as Smashwords or Lulu because I want to limit the royalties that are lost to these companies, and I do not want my publisher to be 'Smashwords' with a mandatory dedication to them in the book.

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    8. 3.
      I decided to buy my own ISBN for my books rather than to have one allocated by Smashwords or Lulu because any ISBN provided by another company will belong to them and not you. It will not be transferable if you also want to distribute your book via other channels. Also note that whoever buys the ISBN is by default your publisher whether you realise it or not. Any company that claims you do not need an ISBN, generally means that they will provide you with an ISBN that they will own.

      4.
      I decided to make epub my main target format and to manually construct the epub file using the free too Sigil.
      You can download it here: http://code.google.com/p/sigil/
      There is a tutorial here: http://code.google.com/p/sigil/wiki/BasicTutorial

      There is a learning curve to using Sigil and you will need to spend quite a lot of time reformatting your book to get it to look just right. With all eBook formats you need to consider the text as free-flow rather than paginated. This is because the page size is different, depending on whether the book is being read on an iPad, a Kindle, an iPhone, or on a PC desktop etc. Users can also change their font and zoom on their device so the format of the book needs to flow and adjust automatically for any page size.
      A a little knowledge of HTML and CSS is required, but not too much.
      http://www.w3schools.com/html/
      http://www.w3schools.com/css/


      The good thing about Sigil is that it lets you create an epub file that is yours to keep, with no restrictions and you can edit it and see how it looks much as you would with a normal text editor.

      5.
      I decided to use Calibre to convert my epub file into any other format that I require, keeping the epub as the master.
      Calibre also has a learning curve. It has many different options, but if you accept the default options it does a pretty good job.
      You can for instance open your new epub file and convert it to a .mobi file suitable for use with Amazon Kindle.
      Calibre is free and can be obtained here: http://calibre-ebook.com/
      There is help and tutorials here: http://calibre-ebook.com/help

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    9. 6.
      I decided to only publish my eBook to Amazon Kindle initially in order to keep the time spent to a minimum and to get some more experience in publishing in general. I used Amazon KDP to publish my .mobi file direct with Amazon, using my own Limited company as the publisher.

      7.
      When the time is right, I will already have the tools I need, (Sigil and Calibre) and be ready and able to convert my eBook into any file formats that I need to distribute to iBooks, Google Play, Kobo and any other distributers that accept direct publishing from authors.
      Note that some will only deal with intermediaries such as Smashwords, so there is a trade off to be made in the markets that you can reach and the costs involved and the strings that are attached.


      This is the strategy that I have chosen because I am comfortable with the tools and know my way around HTML and CSS.

      For others they may prefer to use Smashwords or Lulu and format their master document according to their rules and guidelines.
      But if you use these services please do read the small print and make sure that you understand the full costs involved and any restrictions or rules that they impose upon you.

      http://www.smashwords.com/
      https://www.lulu.com/s1/paperbackuk_b/r/site?cid=~sem_ggl_lulu_brand_uk&gclid=CLeRtMLn9rACFc8KtAodnlub9w

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  2. Hey! I've tagged you for the Liebster Blog Award. Feel free to accept or not. You can check out my blog post if you don't know what it is! (:

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  3. Hi Peter,
    That's a comprehensive reply! Thank you very much. I have read your commentary and will be experimenting with your suggestions to see how I go. There is a lot of 'information' on the web but untangling it takes too much time. Your information hopefully clarifies the epublishing muddy water for me. I will let you know in the near future how I successfully navigated this process. Thanks once again.

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  4. Peter, as Jordan's 'Wheel of Time' series had such significance for you, I really must read it. 13 volumes do seem daunting but I expect I will be captivated by the story, just as you were.

    Has anyone read Jordan?

    You say you were intrigued by Jordan's ability to transfer his 'concept' to the page. What is the concept behind 'Tales of Cinnamon City'?

    By the way. I know Peter would be interested in your impressions of 'Information Cloud'. Please give him feedback. If you've not yet read it, the extract is available at


    http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B007QFWQYK

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    1. I have all 13 of the W of T series and already paid for the last in advance !!! I appreciated the second read more than the first, perseverance DOES pay off.

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    2. Now I definitely must read W of T. As you and I have similar interests, I'm confident I'll enjoy it. Is it more fantasy, like Tolkein?

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    3. There were the blurbs about best since and the new Tolkein etc but I didn't connect on that level. People either love or hate W of T with a passion, fortunately I gave the whole thing the thumbs up.

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    4. Yes it's pretty good. It is fantasy rather sic-fi. It's more about people and their world. There are so many characters in the novels that it will make you go cross-eyed, but there are a lot of really good, deep characters. The books are vast in scope and depth and each book is an ending in itself as well as part of the whole so it keeps you gripped even through hundreds and hundreds of pages.

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  5. Information Cloud was originally a single novel, but I quickly realised after writing it that I had only really scratched the surface of Cinnamon City. Early reviewers were asking for more details of this strange place and others were asking if there was going to be a sequel.

    At first I intended to go on and write a different novel that I had already worked on, but that novel is still in the planning stage and it will be a better novel if allowed to grow and evolve in its own time. A book is a little like a casserole, best simmered - not boiled!

    But Information Cloud had been simmering for while. It was bubbling over, spilling out from beneath the curling pages and frothing up to lift the hard cover. I didn't have to think about writing a sequel to Information Cloud. I realised that it was already writing itself - in my mind. My only choice was whether to let it out onto the paper. A spot of trephination was required before it grew and filled the contents of my skull.

    The concept was simple: Cinnamon City was a rich, diverse city. A city that was both familiar and strange, populated by those who had forgotten where they had come from and had forgotten where they were going. The people lived in the now and took what they could get without worrying about the consequences. Cinnamon City was governed by the Security Forces, stretched too thin, succeeding and failing in equal measure, losing their focus and blending into the society that they had been forged to protect. Opposing them was an enemy that had risen from the dust. The enemy in the mirror. The enemy that could not be cut out.

    When strength fails, and courage falters and society falls to its knees, the rotten core needs to be sniffed out. The mirror must be broken to reveal the true face of man. Only then can he rise up with clean heart and pure soul and do what must be done.

    Beneath the Dome Shield, the enemy will rise again and the blasted lands will wait for those who fail.

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    1. Wow! It sounds so exciting. The extract of 'Information Cloud' on Amazon seemed to me straight Scifi but as you describe your book, it's more like a fantasy world. Is there a difference between the genres? Tolkein, to me is fantasy, whereas Asimov is Scifi but I can't really explain why.
      And where would speculative fiction fit in? By speculative fiction I mean the some of the works of Margaret Atwood, Jim Crace and Cormac McCarthy.

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  6. Hello Peter,

    I'm not a great reader of Scifi but have really enjoyed reading the questions and answers shared on Bookworm Live to date. I particularly enjoyed your first 3 posts regarding your own personal reading and writing evolution and can relate easily to such thinking.

    Too often I think many of us believe that ALL writers come easily and naturally to this craft/art form - almost as though they were born with a passion for both reading and writing, and your explanation reveals that this is not always the case. It seems to me that some writers are full of ideas but struggle with the writing process while others are at ease with the writing process but often struggle to find ideas.

    Do you write everyday? Is there routine/discipline attached to your writing? Are you always thinking about the book you're working on, and sort of quietly creating characters, situations, experiences in your head, or even quickly jotting down words, sentences, paragraphs etc. in case they are forgotten? Do you think your earlier tertiary studies in Artificial Intelligence planted the seed for a natural progression to scifi writing?

    I guess I'm asking what does the average working day of a scifi writer look like.

    Cheers.

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  7. hi leoniecoe,
    Thanks for your question.

    For me reading and writing were not born skills for sure. What I was born with was imagination, a desire to create something, (art, music, stories,  or even sculpture though I've never tried it). I have a natural urge to transform my moods and imagination into a concrete form. I am also very  stubborn. My wife can certainly verify that.

    I have a saying that you don't need to succeed, you just need to refuse to fail.
    If you refuse to fail then what else can you do but eventually succeed?

    If you are stubborn enough you can use this as a mechanism to keep pushing and keep trying and keep learning and never stop no matter how many setbacks you get.
    That helps drive me on in whatever takes my interest. For others I'm sure they use their own individual strengths in whatever way works best for them.

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  8. I tried to create music. I played a little guitar and a tiny amount of piano but if you ever hear me play you will run for the exit. I love music but I also accept that I'll probably sound bad no matter how much theory I learn. I have some limitations on how well I can translate my moods and imagination into the concrete form of music. My brain and my hands can't agree on what music I am playing!

    With writing I also had an uphill task to improve my skills in so many areas, from the very basic to the advanced, but somehow the results showed better improvement over time. I think my imagination is more naturally expressed through writing rather than strangled through my physical dexterity (or lack of) with musical instruments.

    Do I think about my stories all the time? Hell yes. Wherever I am and whatever I'm doing there's almost always some background thought about how should I change a scene, or why is character X not building empathy with the reader. Sometimes I suddenly think hey I just had a great idea for my current book or my next book or for a book that doesn't even exist. I jot it down on my phone pretty fast before somebody interrupts me and the thought vanishes forever.

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  9. I gather my notes on my computer at home. I generally have a dozen or more rough ideas in just a few paragraph that could one day become a novel, or be merged into a different novel, or sit there unused for years. But I know it's there if I need an idea later.

    I don't really get writers block. I may be wrong but I think authors who do get writers block are either staring at their screen waiting for inspiration, or trying to form perfect sentences. Both are sure ways to madness. I would never sit down to write unless I already had a pretty good idea what I was going to write. Not every word in my head, but the scenes and concepts already formed in my head, just waiting to be transcribed into sentences. Probably I think in visual terms like the scenes of a film, then try to write them down. I get most ideas when in the garden or on a train or often walking or commuting. I very seldom get any ideas when sat on a chair staring at a screen. Where's the stimulus in that? The mind needs input. Sights, sounds, people walking past. All things we should observe and let our imaginations fly.

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  10. A note on drafts:

    When writing first drafts, just get down the ideas as fast as you can. Don't start thinking about whether the character walked, strode, or cantered. It doesn't matter in the first draft. If you stop and consider too many fine details you will lose the concept, and it is the concept that you need to write down in the first draft, ugly sentences and all.

    When you come to a second, third or tenth draft (please God help me avoid too many of those) then you can evaluate which words are appropriate and whether the sentences flow well and whether you just started ten sentences in a row with the same verb phrase pattern.

    Start simple. Make sure the concept is bang on. Then layer upon it from there. In early writing I wasted weeks of my life rewriting the same page ten different ways and then cutting it out completely, because it wasn't relevant, wasn't adding any value, and was just like an ugly old sofa. You can re-cover a sofa any way you like but it's still an ugly sofa in the wrong place and belongs in a skip.
    Don't waste your time tuning paragraphs that may not even end up being part of the book.

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  11. A note on outlines:

    I recently found that for me, even a first draft is too detailed a place to start. This will vary for each author, but for me I seem to work best if I write an outline first. The outline is a numbered list of scenes from start to end. Each scene is just a one or two sentence summary of what happens in this scene. The scenes I arrange into chapters and I check that the story (without any actual written content) actually makes sense. Is it interesting? Does it have the right pace? Does it make sense? Is it clear what it is about? What is the premise? Does it have loose ends? Is it balanced in the number of scenes devoted to each character according to their importance to the story? Does it have the correct pace? Does each section have a valid reason for being there? Is there anything missing?

    Correct all these things in the outline and you will save yourself weeks of writing scenes you won't use or that shouldn't be in there and you don't even notice because they are hiding in 100,000 words.
    The outline is a bare skeleton. The scaffolding on which you will construct your grand house. Swing on it. Kick it. Make sure it is solid before you start your first draft.

    If you spend a year writing detailed scenes with just the right balance and vocabulary and then discover that your bathroom is inside your fridge and the stairs aren't wide enough to walk up, that is a real bad time to find these things out. Better to get a good clear and tested outline before you start then you will have less plot and structural mistakes to correct later. Yes it takes time but it saves so much more time later.

    Can you change an outline afterwards? Yes you can. Just make sure to test the outline thoroughly again before you continue drafting and make sure you that update anything that needs changing in what you have already written.

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  12. How do I structure my writing process?

    I try to write everyday but life doesn't always let me and that it is frustrating for sure. If you have the time I'd say write 6 days per week and have one day off.
    But everyone is different so do what works best for you.
    For me, if I can get the time, I would write for 3 hours in the morning, first thing before anyone pollutes my creativity with things like tax bills. During the time you write set yourself a realistic target. Maybe aim for 2000 words or whatever you can do without banging your head on the desk. Don't aim for perfection. Write your ideas down even if rough and poorly worded. You can repair anything in the next draft once you complete this draft. You can't repair a blank page.

    When writing, stick to specific times when you are fresh and the creative juices are flowing. Don't try to do too many hours in one sitting. You will overtire yourself and anything you write when tired may well suck. Also don't write too much if you feel ill or just in the wrong frame of mind. If you don't feel right, go do something fun. Eat something. Do some exercise or go for a walk. Help get your mind back into a relaxed and ready state. Then return to your desk and write!

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  13. The art of staying focussed while writing:

    Keep your door closed.
    Don't answer the phone.
    Don't answer the door.
    Don't browse your emails.
    Don't play with fonts or layout.
    Don't think about lunch.
    Don't think about what somebody said to you yesterday.
    Don't have a browser in the back ground 'for research'.
    Close everything. Shut out everything else.
    Just you and your text editor sit and do battle.
    Forget everything else and just write.
    Do not get out of your seat until your scheduled time is complete.
    If you cannot think of anything to write sit still until the time is complete.

    You may stroke your cat if you have one but no more than once per hour.

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  14. How many drafts should you write?

    In my first book I wrote so many drafts I went grey haired. I believe this should improve with experience.
    The more novels you write, the less drafts you will need to transform your thoughts to paper.

    Take as many drafts as you need. Maybe three to five will be enough, but if takes ten it takes ten. Just learn from it and improve.

    When drafting try to wait a while between each draft so that you see the page with fresh eyes as a new reader would. You'll spot a lot more errors that way.

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  15. Daily schedule:

    For me the ideal daily schedule would be:

    1. Write for three hours in the morning.
    2. Take maybe four hours away from writing to mow the lawn, do the shopping, argue with a neighbour or pet. Eat and take a walk.
    3. Come back in the evening and spend two hours reading what you just wrote and improving it.
    4. Read somebody else's novel. Learn from it and enjoy it. Don't study too hard.
    5. Sleep

    If you have a day job like me then the above is going to be hard work.
    Do what you can. Be patient. Forgive your mistakes but don't make excuses. Keep writing
    and trust in your own abilities.

    Everyday you that you write makes you one day more experienced than you were before.
    Everybody is different. There is no right or wrong way to write.
    What is right is what works for you.
    Good luck and don't give up!

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    1. Hello Peter,

      I also thank you for your really comprehensive reply. Made good sense to me and I particularly liked your post on how you structure your outline.

      Again many thanks for sharing your thoughts and strategies on how it all comes together for you.

      Cheers. Leonie

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  16. I am now even more anxious to read your book. I believe that 'Information Cloud' is only available for Kindle e-readers. Do you plan to publish in print format?

    Peter, thank you for sharing so much with us. It really has been wonderful of you to devote your precious time to answering our questions so fully. I think we have all been awed by the detail you've provided and, thanks to you, our 'author interview' has exceeded all expectations. We wish you every success with your book and in your writing career and hope that you will keep us up to date with your progress. Be assured of a warm welcome whenever you visit us.

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    1. Thanks Sandra,
      It was a pleasure taking part. I hope that some of the answers will be useful now and for anyone who reads them in the future.

      Links to my book Information Cloud can be found on http://www.sciencefictionextra.com

      Amazon tell me that Australia are able to use the US link but let me know if anyone has a problem viewing the book preview.

      It is currently available as Kindle eBook only but if you do not have a Kindle device you can still get a Kindle book by installing any of the free Kindle reader apps on your phone, tablet or computer.

      Kindle reader apps can be downloaded free here:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/feature.html/ref=kcp_ipad_mkt_lnd?docId=1000425503
      Details on where to find Information Cloud and future releases can be found on:

      http://www.sciencefictionextra.com
      You can also contact me on:
      peterjameswest@sciencefictionextra.com

      I'm still looking at different distribution channels but it's not yet available in paperback. Perhaps when the second book in the series (Tales of Cinnamon City) is released in the spring of next year I'll look at making both available as paperbacks then.

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