The potential for drowning in the wave of research

Following on from my previous post, another area which seems to fascinate people is how I approach researching different aspects of World War II for Under the Yew Tree and the sequel, Oak Before Ash.

I’ve always had a fascination for ancestry and I am proud that my grandparents and great grandparents ‘worked the land’ in Hampshire and West Sussex.  I also harbour a life-long interest in the Second World War – especially in the regional importance West Sussex had during this period. This interest was possibly ignited by my father’s stories about being in the Home Guard and when he  was on the ‘night watch’ he apparently kept a machine gun under his bed! A far cry from the innocence of Dad’s Army, as I’ve researched more for Under the Yew Tree, I’ve often wondered if my father was in more than just the Home Guard…

For both Under the Yew Tree and, now, for Oak Before Ash, I’ve read numerous books and articles on WWII; the politics, the economics; the communities. My bookshelves are groaning under the weight! With Oak Before Ash, in particular, I’m researching and learning more about how the French Resistance operated in France – and from Tangmere in West Sussex, as well as Churchill’s ‘Secret Army’ which many don’t know about, even now. What strikes me more than anything in my research, is how advanced we were in technology and espionage at the time and also, how horribly close we were to German Occupation.

It is very easy to drown in research and be distracted; especially when the subject is so inspiring for you as a writer, so it is easy to fall into the trap of not writing anything! I suppose I’m lucky in that I find my research keeps moving and keeps me moving forwards: one thing leads to another question, which leads to an idea, which leads to writing and back to research for fact checking. I think the trick of not driving yourself off course, is to find your thread and commit to it. Of course, you will be influenced by new information but, if you feel something works in your plot, then use it. It’s called ‘artistic license’!

As far as Oak Before Ash goes, I’m making good progress, but I don’t want to give too much away at this stage, so you’ll need to ‘watch this space’ for more…


The Art of Creative Writing

I’ve recently been asked a few questions about how I write; how I find my ideas; how I progress the story, mostly from business colleagues and I understand the intrigue!

Writing a novel is an interesting beast and for those familiar with business writing, in comparison, the ‘thing’ that is lacking from the start is structure, I suppose. If you write a business report, you know what your key chapters/ sections are but if you’re writing a novel, these could potentially be anything! The likelihood of going off on a tangent is huge, which could be seen as an opportunity or a risk, depending on how you see it.

Interestingly, the first thing I put down on paper when I started thinking about Under the Yew Tree, was a series of chapter headings. So, I suppose my business writing experience came to the fore in this sense. Each chapter then appeared to unfold as I wrote, although I would bounce between chapters, depending on where my creative juices were flowing – or where my characters were taking me!

With Oak Before Ash, due to be published later this year, I’ve found the story emerging in a slightly different way; making itself clear in my mind even before I had finished writing Under the Yew Tree. It’s hard to explain how this happens to those restricted by the format of a business report but that’s why they call it ‘creative writing’!

If you believe you ‘have a book inside you’, the one thing I will say to you is: just start writing. See where it takes you. If you need to pull it into a structure, you will. But have faith in what you’re writing. Even if you end up deleting the first draft, it will open the floodgates and your creative thinking will flow…

Good luck – and let me know how you get on!

My thoughts on self-publishing

I cannot claim to be an expert on the dark art of self-publishing, or publishing in general, as this is my first attempt.  However, I’m happy to share what I’ve learnt so far, and what I think works.

  1. The cover design

“Never judge a book by its cover”.  Why not?  Most people do!

I’m sure that famous authors such as William Shakespeare, Laurie Lee, Thomas Hardy, Emily Bronte and Charles Dickens, don’t need a striking cover to sell their books.  Their books will always sell by the million even if published under a plain cover – just with their name on the front.  But most of us are not famous authors; and need all the help that we can get.

Of course; word of mouth recommendation, is still the best form of marketing for our books, but when it comes to standing out in a crowded market place; having a well-designed cover is vital.

By all means, sketch out the sort of cover design that you think suits your story best; but having done that, please go straight to a professional designer.  They know what they are doing.  They will bring that all important objective marketing eye to the table and will produce something that not only captures the essence of the story within, but a design that looks professional and catches the eye of the potential reader.

  1. Editing and proofreading

There, their, they’re …

Most of us edit continually, as we write and rewrite, and by the time we have reached version nineteen of our story, we like to think that it’s a well-structured, perfectly honed, grammatically correct piece of work with no spelling mistakes. It almost certainly isn’t, and asking a family member or friend to cast an eye over the manuscript, is not the answer.  They will of course spot a few mistakes; but they won’t find half of them and they won’t give you honest and constructive criticism; after all, they probably value your friendship!

Professional editors have seen it all before. They are practised at spotting fundamental errors and will give constructive criticism without fear or favour.  That’s exactly what we all need.

  1. Marketing

Website, Facebook, Twitter, Linked In et al ….

Don’t ask me.  I don’t know.  Hopefully, I will be able to give a considered opinion in a few months’ time; after Under the Yew Tree has been out there for a while.

What I can share with you; is where I have got to with all of this stuff up until now.  I have set up a stand-alone website: that goes live at the end of June 2017.  It has all the usual information on it: About the author, Under the Yew tree, contact details and how to buy on Amazon and to get signed copies of my book.  It also mentions work in progress with my next book: Oak before Ash.

Facebook and Twitter accounts are being created as I write this, under the name of: authorjohnhall, so please connect with me and share your thoughts!

The main point of the Facebook and Twitter accounts is to drive traffic to my website – and encourage people to buy my book!  Again, unless you are a whizz at this social media stuff, and have plenty of spare time on your hands (You shouldn’t have.  You should be working on your day job and/or writing!); get a professional to set it all up for you and to help with the initial blogging.

Of the book itself, initially, I aim to have a small number of hard copies printed for family and friends and some in reserve for signing.  After that, we will see!