Tag Archives: Writing

State of the Experiment: An Update on Lazarus

State of the Experiment: An Update on Lazarus

On the 11th March 2011, a Seattle based epublisher released The Lazarus Experiment on to the US and UK Amazon Kindle stores and the Barnes and Noble Nook Store. It remains a great point of pride to have someone look at your work, edit it with you and want to publish it (and publicise your talents). I have enjoyed the experience of going through the revision process with them – a first for me as my work for Ether Books didn’t go through a third party editing process. I had been nervous about it, not being sure how far I could push the defence of aspects of the story against the editors axe. I wanted to be published, but I wanted it to be my story that was published. The Seattle company were fully understanding and engaged on a reasoned debate. I gave on certain issues for them and they accepted my defence of other passages. The finished story, available to buy today, is undoubtedly superior, tighter and more polished than the one that debuted as a free Tuesday Serial in January. Publishing a story is only half the battle.

Does anyone actually want to read it?

I have an ideological perspective on this question. If you are interested, somebody else will be, its natural. It boils down to finding that person and getting that story in their hands. The big publishing houses will blanket advertising hoardings, subway trains, bins, web advertising, television and radio slots to find those people who are interested. For most of the small outfits and the Indy publishers, they don’t have the luxury of such a war chest. The strategy becomes refined even further to targeting each individual sale. I have used Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Shelfari so far to promote The Lazarus Experiment. I have discussed it with strangers and friends of friends in bars when watching Champions League soccer and seen a direct consequence of it being a sale. They in turn have discussed it with friends and lecturers at the local University. I have reached a lot more people than I had thought possible on an advertising budget of £0.00. Not being the publisher I do not have sales figures but have been able to use the Author Central websites for the UK, US and German Amazon sites to track the sales ranking.

My sales ranking has looked like a dodgy heart monitor, stuttering up and down every week since publication. The good news is this tells me that there are sales being made, that if I link the days when I spike (to a highest of 9,271, low of 81,363 and as of posting current rank of 26,502) then I can relate it to my marketing activity. The sales figures sailed consistently down since publication, giving me the distinct impression of irony that my story which was published by an American company wasn’t selling in America. That changed this Thursday when I must have shifted a fair few downloads as I lifted from an all time low of 346,821 to a four week high of 66,511.

I have learned two things from this. On the one hand not to despair when the blue line seems to be going consistently down, you won’t lose your shelf space after all, when the customer turns up they will find it. Secondly, twitter is an incredibly powerful niche marketing tool. Yes we’ve heard it before, social media is great for marketing. Its still nice to have proof in the return of dollars/euros/pounds though isn’t it?

I embraced the book trailer rather after the fact and more as an experiment than any serious effort. I realised that having a discussion page on Facebook and an advertising/networking platform on Twitter was great, but I had no presence on that other behemoth of social media – Google’s YouTube. I have no software besides the abysmal Windows Movie Maker, and no funds to purchase images so I was limited to using just the book cover, scrolling text and a voice over.

I scripted several voice overs to dramatize the plot without giving anything away and lucked out in being able to turn to my voice over producing, international DJ, father Jonathon Wesley over at We worked back and forth for a week on getting the sound and pacing right, his voice certainly lending considerably more credibility than my squeaky pitch. I then put everything together and published it to my Facebook profile and YouTube account. It was a good learning experience. What do you think of the effort?

I mentioned the German Amazon website. I have to thank the Mad Pulp Bastard Bill Cunningham over at Pulp 2.0 for pointing out that his recent release Frankenstein Lives Again! had surprisingly gone live on the German kindle store. I had a quick search and found my own baby The Lazarus Experiment on sale there too! I will be sure to nudge my publishers to ensure that their eBooks go out on the other Amazon sites. Even without translation there is a large English speaking audience just waiting for our material in those countries.

That pretty much sums up my activities promoting The Lazarus Experiment in the last couple of months. Remember if you are having a story published or publishing one yourself – never stop marketing it, the problem particularly with ‘streams’ is that your audience may simply not be looking one week when you plug your baby. Be proud of your accomplishment and don’t let modesty get in the way of a possible sale when your out and about. Writing is like having a kid. Takes you a set amount of time to create the thing, but your left being responsible for it for the rest of your life. Don’t neglect it!

Do you have any suggestions for ways/places I could be marketing The Lazarus Experiment?

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Posted by on May 8, 2011 in Publishing


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Pace and the Hook

Pace and the Hook

I have been ailing for the last few weeks with bronchitis and been unable to sustain for any meaningful length of time an upright writing position. Fortunately I feel I have begun to turn a corner (or at least outsmarted my symptoms)  just as a topic popped into my head for an article. On twitter I follow a handle by the name of AdviceToWriters, which daily throws up advice about writing from famous and sometimes infamous writers. I cannot recall what the prompt was that got me thinking, but I’ve spent a lot of my time in bed considering what I consider to be my most important writing tools. Now it wasn’t an exhaustive vocabulary or an eye for detail that occurred to me, it was in fact the writers ability to pace his story and the use of the ‘cliff-hanger’. I’m going to look at both of them in turn.

Now pace for me, is the oil that keeps the story’s engine humming. I have seen a lot of tweets bemoaning the decline of print books because of how spacing, and font and layout of stories could have such an impact on readers but which in the days of the ebook are readily changed by the reader to maximise their experience and not necessarily the one the writer intended. Narrative pace, contained within the actual words that are read and dictated by the appropriate use (or abuse) of the rules of grammar and story structure need not be affected by this. When I write I envision a scene in my head, it could be relaxed, tense, jovial or violent and I express this not by changing my font to IMPACT when a window is smashed, but by controlling the rhythm of peoples reading. Books have a life force, and its character is derived from the pacing as much as the meaning of the words within.

Now cliff-hanger is a much abused word, and perhaps deserves to be more appropriately modelled as a ‘hook’ as cliff-hanger suggests some tumultuous ending with lives imperilled. When in truth the ‘hook’ can come at the end of chapters, at the end of a book, or within chapters where a change of focus is about to take place – leaving the reader wanting to keep turning those pages to pickup with what’s happening to Little Jimmy since falling down the well. Hooks need not be life imperilling situations or epic showdowns. In my recently published short story The Lazarus Experiment, I use variously a betrayal, an internal monologue and yes okay a violent conclusion as hooks. I complete the story my readers are following but end in such a way that I hope their imaginations are hooked onto a host of what if possibilities. Stories should be just the beginning, or just a part of peoples creative and imaginative processes. Hooks certainly come in under the topic of pacing because they influence how someone approaches what comes next. They offer natural breaks for the reader, that may last so long as a drink of coffee before caffeine fuelled they plunge back in to find out what happens next. They offer a chance for people to stop and reflect on what’s been happening and wonder what will happen next. When I read a book I don’t just flick monotonously from page 1 to page 600 and then forget it. I was constantly reflecting and checking up on plot points in Robert Goddards Past Caring.

In real life we don’t get breaks. We can’t stop in the middle  of a crisis and opt to reflect on whats happened with a coffee. You can with books. When writing your stories pay close attention to your pacing and use the hooks – wherever they may lay – appropriately to enrich the readers experience.


Image: Danilo Rizzuti /

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Posted by on March 28, 2011 in On Writing


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The Lazarus Experiment – Research and Notes workplace images

The Lazarus Experiment has been a different story to different people. For myself it was ostensibly a pulpy affair – a straight forward revenge thriller – under the guise of being an alternate history / science fiction piece. The idea that fired the story’s exceptionally well received first part was that as far back as the 1930’s there were researchers actively trying to make death a mere obstacle to overcome as opposed to an inevitable end to our lives.

Robert Cornish, mentioned in the introduction of the story, was a real person. He really used a see-saw style machine to bring dogs back to life. He really got a death row prisoner to volunteer to be experimented on in 1948 and was really refused permission though I have never quite found the explicit reasoning for it. The Soviet Union is well known for having done extensive work on encouraging animals back to life after having their heart and brain stopped. They most famously are remembered for transplanting one dogs head onto another. In 1943, Soviet researchers did present their findings to American researchers in New York. You can view a video reputed to be showing such experiments on Youtube. Whilst the original inspiration came from a Daily Mail excerpt of a science book long forgotten, in the process of writing I actually found an archive of old Time magazines including this story about Mr Cornish and this one about the Soviet presentation. For any kind of writer, primary materials such as the Soviet video and Time magazine is like catnip for writers. It allows us to drape a veil of credibility over our fiction and discretely kick at reality beneath, reshaping it to our vision.

Of course, the experiments that were conducted have directly led to the incredible advances we have now in medicine. Heart patients once chilled can have their pulmonary system stopped for more than 90 minutes before being gently warmed and revived. An average of ten minutes seems to be the rate for being revived after death without brain damage, though again this can be extended in circumstances of extreme cold (a drowning for instance in a frozen lake). The story then, whilst reading as quite fantastical is actually a fast and loose play with facts. Providing just enough information to intrigue without so much that connections with modern medicine are made. It helps that, unlike how Robert Cornish planned, Doctors these days do not use hoovers to bring you back after dying on the operating table.

Who is to say whether or not some Nazi or Allied scientist considered the practical applications of their research in the way expressed in the story? It would appear a logical wartime move, particularly in a non-religious society. The lack of moral and spiritual restrictions in place on the Nazi’s fostered a hideous corpus of research and skills that were exploited by the Americans and Soviets after the Second World War.

Robert Cornish, if your wondering, was quietly asked to vacate the premises at the University of California Institute of Experimental Biology following the amount of press coverage he was attracting though he continued to receive independent funding. All his surviving dogs were brain damaged.

For a first time attempt at writing a serial (for the purposes of writing a longer short story than I have done in recent times) I am very proud of the results but also conscious of several lessons. In the first instance, the reaction on Facebook, Twitter and the Blog was wonderful. In the space of a month I had accumulated at least 50% of the views the blog had taken over the previous half year. The statistical comparison of views on each part of the story shows I have lost some of those initial readers, suggesting that the second part of the story was not strong enough to retain readership or that I did not promote it as effectively.

The sheer pleasure of writing to beats and to a larger word count than previous has fostered a surge of creativity in myself. I am quickly filling my Moleskine notebook with outlines of ideas and returned to previously dismissed projects with renewed enthusiasm. By trying to hit in and around that thousand mark and finish each thousand with a cliff-hanger I tasted some of the high excitement that pulp can deliver and I hope people really enjoyed the pace of Lazarus in that context.

I have also been able to detect and recognise my own writing voice in the work as a result of spending so much of the last month on this work and looking at the ideas for further stories. The themes of death, purpose, loyalty and power hold strong to me. They can manifest themselves in many different ways – the Lady Medusa, The God Particle, For Daniels Benefit and The Lazarus Experiment show that I can tackle the same themes in different environments. I need not confine myself to a genre, but can dismiss such boundaries to build my stories on their own terms.

The Lazarus Experiment is not a perfect work, but I think it lends itself to my pulp leanings all the more for it. Forget your rules, just jump on in and enjoy the ride in reading or writing. Action is everything. Internal or external, keep things happening. I hope to be back with a further serial in about a month’s time which is currently under the working title of ‘The Harvesters” and will be a more obvious work of science fiction set on two distant moons.

My favorite comment received on the story as a whole was provided by Andrew Brown who kindly beta read the final finished piece. He said;

“Given how fantastical the scenario is, you’ve managed to make it feel entirely normal and possible – never while reading am I doubting what’s going on”

This is probably a note for all writers reading this blog – you can break all the rules, you can make the world as fantastic as you want, but keep the story human at its core and your readers will buy it. Despite the bells and whistles of reanimation, Lazarus is the story of one mans quest for answers and ultimately revenge.

I will be getting the completed story proofed hopefully and then be offering the whole thing around to see if I can get it published. Until next time, I thank all of you for reading and sharing your comments and hope to continue sharing stories with you all.

UPDATE: Parts II, III and IV have been taken down due to moves to publish the story. I hope to bring you more details as and when I can. I thank you for reading.

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Posted by on January 30, 2011 in On Writing


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Not Just A #fridayflash In The Pan


Flash in the pan?

The Cul-de-sac was set up originally in the summer as a separate blog with which to post new pieces of writing. I had made a resolution with myself at the start of the summer to start to put a concerted effort into my writing on a regular basis.

I was not ready to write The Novel nor to finish a supernatural western novella I had been working on. I needed to practice and build up the habit of regular writing. I also needed confidence, and this is where the #fridayflash phenomenon on twitter came in.

Friday Flash is a concept spearheaded by the author J M Strother which has it that authors should post a new piece of flash fiction (1k words approx) every Friday to their blogs and to share the fact on twitter with a url to the story and the tag #fridayflash. The concept has been such an immense success that J. M. Strother has just published a collection of the best Friday Flash stories so far via CreateSpace and Amazon. What was originally part practice and part networking has led to many first time writers getting that first all important publication.

On the subject of publication, the flash form of writing also lends itself well to publication in magazines both traditional and digital as they often fit on one page. A quick search on google also reveals plenty of opportunity to turn that casual Friday habit into a competitive zeal with many competitions held regularly.

There has long been two camps of writers when it comes to the little matter of giving away your baby works of great fiction. One side thinks you shouldn’t show your genius without seeing the color of money first, the other thinks that giving away work is an essential part of the new socially aware industry paradigm.

Here is the thing: People will buy The Novel from you if you have convinced them with your free work that your worth their time and money. Just as music fans (I don’t just mean consumers of music but lovers of it) will still buy CD’s and mp3’s of their favorite bands when they could just as easily download them free from somewhere else*. It’s a sign of respect for talent quite removed from a capitalist instinct of getting the most for the least investment.

For me #fridayflash has been a useful outlet to experiment with different writing styles, to meet some amazing, friendly, talented people (see links on the right) and also boost my self-confidence. Nothing boosts your self-confidence more than receiving an email from a publisher wanting to release your short fiction like Ether Books sent myself and fellow flasher Rebecca Emin (no doubt among others!).

I may have only posted 3 stories to the blog so far, however another 1 has been reserved as an exclusive for Ether Books and the inspiration has led to over a dozen other ideas that I am pursuing. Some as flash pieces, some as short stories, some as ideas for novels, serials and even non-fiction work.

That surge in productivity, to me, makes the concept much more than a flash-in-the-pan.


* At least I still buy my music and movies legally, call me old-fashioned.

Note: J M Strother publishes a list of stories every week that have been added to his ‘collector’. Go here to add yours and reach a huge potential audience of keen writers and readers.

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Posted by on November 30, 2010 in On Writing


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The Writers Ego


Writing man.

Write because you love to write...

For most of us writing started the same way. It was an escape from or an extension of our daily lives. Something we have done since we were children purely for the pleasure of bringing worlds and characters alive. We may have started with dinosaurs in the bath, action men or Barbie, Warhammer or toy soldiers. Somewhere it started out of a desire to simply create.


Then we let somebody read our writing as we got older. And from that first moment you receive an even remotely positive reaction you crave more. You begin writing now because you enjoy the creativity and because you want people to engage with your stories. You post them to your blogs or on writers forums. Publicly you are relaxed, cool, inwardly you screen every negative comment that stabs too close to your heart and relish every view, every piece of praise.

You check your blog stats countless times through the night and set up a perfectly conservative number of timed tweets to plug that new story on twitter on the hour, every hour. However those views and comments can only appease you for so long, like a drug addict in search of your next high you start sending off to publishers. Secretly at first. Don’t want people to know about your endless amounts of rejections (take a look at JK Rowlings rejection pile for Harry Potter).

One of two things happens next. Somebody takes a gamble on you and publishes your work providing you with a whole new set of things to obsesses over, secretly, inwardly. Alternatively you see your writer contacts getting published and don’t want to get left behind so you publish The Novel yourself. Just one sale outside your family is all you want, to vindicate your view of yourself as a writer, as someone with something to say, somebody with something people are willing to pay for. Then it happens, heck you even get a couple of reviews. And then the obsession starts over again with book sales…

We all start out with modest expectations, some quite honestly just sharing their spare time hobby. No secret aspirations whatsoever. But with each little engagement, each little success, the goal posts move and expectations change. Its natural, to an extent it is healthy. Just never forget, when obsessing over all those stats why you started writing in the first place.

You enjoy it.

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Posted by on October 23, 2010 in On Writing


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