Writing Advice from Award-Winning Author Geoff Nelder
This week’s blog is with acclaimed author Geoff Nelder, whose list of awards is as long as his arm (he constantly tells me to avoid clichés…). These include ‘Left Luggage’ (Book 1 in the Aria series) in the 2013 Predator & Editors contest, and his ‘Angular Size’ which was shortlisted in 2018 in the BSFA short story awards.
I can wholly recommend the Aria Trilogy, a stunning tale of a contagious amnesia that sweeps mankind. If you need cheering up at any stage I challenge you to read his humorous tale The Chaos of Mokii (a city that only exists in the minds of its inhabitants) without twitching your lips.
Hey Geoff, we’ve never met in person and yet over the years we’ve chatted online constantly. I have to say that you’re one of my favorite authors and someone I can always turn to for advice about writing. Thanks for joining us today and for answering these questions for our members.
It’s always a pleasure to echat with you, Mark.
Many veterans have expressed a desire to put their experiences down on paper, be it as a memoir or built into their fiction. What advice would you give them
Besides writing fiction, I’ve contributed articles to cycling mags. Nothing technical, just funny experiences and strange places and people I’ve encountered. Eg Joanna Lumley once helped me manipulate my pannier-laden cycle across a narrow pedestrian bridge next to an Inn – The Swan With Two Nicks (not a spelling error) – leading to the Dunham Massey Deer Park. Her voice is exactly the same as on Absolutely Fab. Save these kind of moments in notebooks or computer files.
When planning a project to use such memories I’d grab paper rather than computer. If you’ve not tried them yet, grab a Moleskine notebook (expensive but often on offer – great on your birthday wish-list), a pencil or gel ballpoint and a quiet spot in a pub, library or café. List those memories that stick out the most. Find some that can link together. Even tenuous links between people, places and events make a memoir more interesting. Mind map such snippets, and memories to help link them.
Some members have expressed concerns about posting extracts of their work to other writers for critique. What would you say to that? For me there has to be some trust somewhere. For instance, writers send their work to editors and agents.
I empathise with the concern. When the idea of infectious amnesia snuck into my brain
while on a bike ride I didn’t tell anyone in the writing business until after I’d interviewed neurologists and close pals who were scifi nerds to check no one had written a fiction with that idea.
After writing it, I swore an editor to secrecy then asked potential agents and publishers to not pass it around. Some of them were quite narked, saying how dare I suggest they might steal the idea, but it has happened to me before and to others. However, a good agent and publisher assured me that you have to trust not just the professionals but the passionate amateurs who make up the majority of writing clubs and critique groups.
If you have a brilliant idea, or a unique perspective on an incident, you could write its bare bones, date it and email (and save) it to yourself as proof that it’s your idea.
In the UK we can’t copyright ideas unless they become Harry Potter famous. The fact you’ve written it and can produce a dated copy is sufficient. Some lodge a more finished, yet unpublished copy, in a safe ‘envelope’ or whatever in the bank.
Do you have writing methods and set times, and would you recommend any?
In the summer it’s too bright for me to stay lying in bed. I rise around dawn and get some writing or editing done. After a couple of hours I have to move so I cycle to the shop for a paper and odds (no ends – they’re too ominous) and a croissant. Back at
home I put the coffee on again and yell up to Mrs N that breakfast is ready.
If it’s a day she’s not at work, I’ll probably leave her crashing around the house and cycle to a café to write / edit / think.
I can write and edit with the TV on. Luckily, I’m pretty deaf and can focus on my screen and just glance at the TV when Big Bang or Rachel Riley is on. I don’t sleep much but by midnight I’m flagging and reluctantly go to bed.
Many writers write longhand first and copy it out on to the computer, but apart from rough ideas, I use the computer as a thought processor. It’s easy to change names and paragraphs. There are software packages dedicated to writing, but that’s another blog.
Would you advise writing from start to finish, or chapter by chapter and editing as you go?
My preference to stop at the end of a chapter, have a break – maybe print it out for a read in another place. If no one is around, I’ll read it out loud. You’ll be amazed how that works to spot errors and typos that eyes alone miss.
Are you more comfy in a cluttered office/desk, or in the garden with a laptop?
Have laptop will travel. When the mood strikes I can write on a bus, plane, train – not
mastered it on my bike yet. In the evenings I sit in a comfy armchair, a wifi keyboard on my lap and a largish PC screen a metre away. The only snag with outside typing is screen visibility, oh and distractions.
Pros and cons of printing work off to edit, or doing so on a laptop.
I nearly always print off to edit with a red pen because it gives my eyes a break from the screen and you spot missing punctuation easier. Trouble is then you have to transfer your edited changes back to the computer. Many a slip between paper and fingertip.
I’ve read a lot of your work and have always been intrigued as to how you develop your ideas and convert them to the written word.
Kind of you to be intrigued. Can you keep a secret? The thing is part of my brain was removed after a cerebral disintegration resulting from over-watching TV soaps. Surgeons replaced it with a wifi actuator linked to that keyboard on my lap. Handy really, unless I get another distraction – a frontal mind wander.
Which books would you advise new writers to read about writing; books that would guide and develop the craft?
Everyone says to read Stephen King’s On Writing, so I won’t mention it. Any writing book by Sol Stein has bucket-loads of advice. I found good stuff in The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman, and inspirational words in How to Write Damn Good Fiction by James N Frey.
Last question. Any personal writing advice to our members?
Never underestimate standing in front of the window, even if your spouse doesn’t believe you when you say you’re working.
A big thankyou from all at The Scribe, Geoff. We look forward to reading more of your work.
Geoff has written novels ranging from humorous thrillers to historical fantasy, science fiction to medical mystery.
Blog and Website: http://geoffnelder.com
Geoff’s UK Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Geoff-Nelder/e/B002BMB2XY