Speculation, speculation, speculation

Good morning (or evening depending on which hemisphere you’re in), and welcome back to my blog. Today I thought I’d delve into my favourite genre of fiction, and one many people don’t fully understand or perhaps haven’t even heard of – speculative fiction.

Broadly speaking, speculative fiction deals with what might be, or what could have been, and encompasses a wide range of genres including science fiction, fantasy, horror, supernatural and dystopian, as well as alternate histories.

Speculative fiction has been around for centuries, but it’s still often dismissed as ‘genre fiction’. Genre fiction is also known as ‘popular fiction’, and tends to refer to plot-driven books written to fit a particular genre and attract readers who are already familiar with and fans of that specific genre. It’s most common in crime, fantasy, romance, sci-fi, horror and westerns.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with genre fiction, it serves to provide readers with content they want to read, entertainment and escapism, and that’s no bad thing. It’s more or less the opposite of literary fiction, which tends to be less easy to pigeonhole as one genre or another, and provides a means to better understand the real world via direct references, rather than using metaphors and allegories. Some high-brow literary fiction fans turn their nose up at genre fiction, but it boasts just as many brilliant authors (think Stephen King, Neil Gaiman and George R.R. Martin) and just as many, if not more sales.

But, not all speculative fiction falls into the category of genre fiction.

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Let’s have a look at a few examples of speculative fiction novels and how they fit into the genre:

Science Fiction

Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

Jurassic Park

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for decades, you’ve definitely heard of Jurassic Park, whether that’s due to the blockbuster movies or Michael Crichton’s original novel. The basic premise is “what if dinosaurs could be scientifically engineered today?” and the results are, well, catastrophic to say the least. But the science is credible, Crichton has really put some thought into his story, and that makes the books even scarier and more gripping.


Fantasy

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone JK Rowling Lyndsey's Book Blog

Another one you’ve undoubtedly come across, again possibly because of the movies, but the source material is much deeper and more detailed than the on-screen version. Rowling started with the question “what if magic was real?” and really ran with it, imagining every possible creature, spell and magical object and combining them in an elegant allegory about good and evil.


Horror

MARY: The Summoning by Hillary Monahan

MARY The Summoning

We’ve all heard some version of the Blood Mary story, you might even have played the game as a teenager, saying her name into the mirror, scaring yourselves silly for a good laugh. Monahan’s dark YA novel asks “what if the legend of Bloody Mary was real?”. Who was Mary, and why is she out for revenge against teenage girls?


Dystopian

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale

Dystopian novels often look at a potential, but far-fetched future, focusing on the current day issues we face and asking, ‘what’s the absolute worst case scenario if we continue down this road?’. Atwood’s popular novel has recently been adapted into a brilliantly close-to-the-bone TV series, updated to reflect today’s reality (the original novel was published almost thirty years ago in 1985). The question Atwood focused on is “what if religious fundamentalists took control of the country?”, and her conclusion is equally credible and horrifying.


Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

1984

Written in 1948, Orwell’s novel speculated about a communist future for Britain, setting the story in 1984 (he literally just swapped the digits round to get his time period) and getting so many things scarily right. Whilst he might be partly to blame for Big Brother, his vision of a future dominated by television and surveillance/visibility is shockingly prescient.


Alternate History

And I Darken by Kiersten White

And I Darken

White’s YA historical fantasy novel asks the question, “what if Vlad the Impaler had been female?”, and how would the gender swap impact on the legend we all know? The story highlights the inequalities between men and women in the Ottoman Empire, and imagines what would have happened if a bold, empowered woman like Lada had been the daughter of the Wallachian king.


Wolf by Wolf by Ryan Graudin

Wolf by Wolf

Probably one of the most interesting ‘what ifs’ possible: “what if the Nazis had won World War Two?”. Graudin’s novel has Hitler surviving and the combined powers of the Third Reich and Imperial Japan winning the war. With some fantastical elements thrown in, this is a fascinating glimpse of what might have been if the Allies had lost and Nazism survived.


Supernatural

The Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare

City of Bones

If you haven’t read the books or seen the 2013 movie with Lily Collins and Jamie Campbell Bower, you might have seen the TV series Shadowhunters with Katherine McNamara and Dominic Sherwood. With the sheer number of supernatural creatures involved, and the vastness of Clare’s fictional world, spanning both space and time over the three series so far (with a fourth in the pipeline I believe), the question The Mortal Instruments centres around is, “what if all the myths and legends were true?”. Mixing urban fantasy with classic supernatural elements, Clare looks at the possibilities in a world where demons, angels, vampires, werewolves, faeries, warlocks, and everything in between, exist.


Speculative fiction isn’t reserved for these genres, if your story looks at what could be, what might have been, or what would happen if, then it might just be a piece of speculative fiction.

Lyndsey

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Lyndsey's Book Blog 2 (1)

Rereading for writers

Welcome back to my blog folks! Today, I thought I’d return to my reader roots, because as Stephen King says:

โ€œIf you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”

One of the difficulties of being a writer is that reading can start to become more like work than pleasure. You notice things like sentence structure and word choice more than you did before, studying the writing instead of allowing yourself to be absorbed in the story. You might even compare the author’s abilities to your own, and either wind up struggling with feelings of inferiority or wondering how this book was chosen to be published while your infinitely superior manuscript languishes on the slush pile.

If you read within your own genre, which you absolutely should, then you’ll undoubtedly come across similarities to your own WIP, and you might find it discouraging. Ultimately, there’s nothing completely new or original in this world, it’s all about the different twist or spin you put on it, but it can definitely be worrying to read a book with several of the same themes or tropes as your unpublished manuscript. Don’t let it put you off querying, remember that book was written years ago if it’s just been released, and if you get a publishing deal it’ll be years before your book comes out too.

Reading as a writer doesn’t have to be a negative experience though, in fact it’s probably the single most positive thing you can do for your own craft. The way to get around the compulsion to study the writing and scrutinise the story is to reread.

If you’ve seen About Time, the absolutely delightful movie with Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams and Bill Nighy, then you’ll remember that Bill instructs Domhnall to use his time travel ability to make the most of every day by living it once as normal, and then going back to live it again, but noticing all the wonderful minutiae that we miss as we hurry through our lives. This is my advice to you for rereading.

Allow yourself permission to read the book once through and simply enjoy the experience – speed through it if you can’t wait to see what happens, luxuriate in it if the prose is deliciously lyrical. Just read it as a reader, safe in the knowledge that you will read it again with your eagle vision switched on.

On your second reading, really pay attention to the author’s style. Maybe even grab a notebook and scribble down your favourite words and phrases, or if you’re into book defacing (you monster!) take a pencil or highlighter to the text. Notice all the clues the author dropped throughout to the conclusion, pick out thematic elements and recurring imagery. Really learn from the experience and take away as much as you can from it, using it to strengthen and expand your own writing.

You could even listen to the audio book as well as reading the print version, as you’ll notice different things from each – just like when you copy your manuscript into a text-to-speech app to hear it out loud and pick out any mistakes or unwieldy sections.

Reading as a writer is an excellent tool for improving your skills, but rereading can be even more useful and beneficial, allowing you to enjoy the experience as well as learn from it.


Do you reread books? Which book have you read the most times, mining it for literary gold? Returning to an old favourite feels like coming home, personally I can’t wait to read the Harry Potter books to my little boy, they’re some of my favourites and hopefully will be his too.

See you next time!

Lyndsey

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Writing business books

It’s been a while since I posted, blogging kind of fell by the wayside while I was pregnant and when my little one first arrived (we also moved house again when I was 38 weeks pregnant – the joys of military life!). Now Joseph’s two months old and I’m starting to get some me time back, so I’m getting back on the horse!

Today, I’m going to talk about something slightly different to the usual posts on this blog, and that’s writing non-fiction. Specifically, ghost writing business books.


If you’ve been around here for a while, you will probably already know that I write Young Adult Fantasy and am querying my first novel, as well as working on my second. What you may not know is that by day I’m a marketing manager for a small accounting firm. I create content for the business on a daily basis, researching different aspects of the industry and building on my knowledge base with every blog post and article I read and write, despite accountancy not being my area of expertise.

I studied languages at University and sort of fell into marketing in my early twenties, my employer put me through evening classes so I could train on the job and gain a couple of qualifications at the same time. Six years later, my day job and my passion are finally about to collide! When I come back from maternity leave, I’ll be writing three books for my employer on various business and accountancy related topics.


Ghosting

When you write for someone else, it can be difficult to accept that their name will be attached to your work and the only recognition you’ll receive is a pay cheque and a thank you (if you’re lucky). For the past five years I’ve written every blog post for my employer’s website, and none of them carry my name, so the assumption always seems to be that my boss writes them. I don’t mind, I deliberately alter the tone and register I use to suit the audience we’re targeting, so the posts don’t come across in my voice anyway. I’ll have to do the same thing when writing these books, and with my boss’s input during the editing process the voice will be even less mine and even more his.

Ghost writing can be a tricky area to negotiate when it comes to acknowledgement, it’s often assumed you’ll receive absolutely none, and even when it comes to your author bio or CV you can’t always list the projects you’ve worked on. It’s good etiquette to ask the client before divulging which books and written pieces you were responsible for, and sometimes they won’t permit you to share that information, especially if you ghost write for celebrities.

Writing business books Author Toolbox Blog Hop Lyndsey's Book Blog

Writing what you know

When I studied Translation at University, we were told that after completing the degree we’d probably need to work in industry for a few years before anyone would give us paid translation work. We could join a translation agency and pick up general pieces of work, but if we wanted to translate specialist medical, legal or technical documents then we’d need the experience in that industry in order to perfect our vocabulary, etc.

It’s the same with writing for business, you’ll need some experience in the industry, whether that be working in it or writing on it for a few years. With all the world’s information at your fingertips, it’s possible to become an expert on almost any topic nowadays, and setting up your own blog is as easy as deciding on a name and choosing a WordPress template. If you want to write for business one day, I’d recommend starting there. Learn about your chosen industry and start creating engaging content on your own blog, and eventually you’ll be ready to start approaching businesses for paid work.

In my case, I’ve got plenty of resources I can use to build a foundation for my books, as I’m basing them on three of the most common subjects my boss speaks about at events. I’ve got slideshow presentations on each topic, as well as a wealth of blog posts I can mine, and of course the many articles, blogs and books by other people on the subject. Just be mindful of plagiarism, you can take elements of another author’s work as inspiration, but taking chunks of their writing wholesale, or stealing the core message of their book, is a major no-no – as with fiction writing.


Formatting for business books

The standards for business books vary depending on the content, as with all books, but there were a few accepted norms that I came across during my research while I was preparing my proposal to my boss.

The word count is usually around 20-40k words (longer if the author is a well known business owner, like Richard Branson), chapters are short with lots of bold headings and subheadings. There are often diagrams and images, so the book may seem long but is usually a quick read as it’s easier to digest small chunks of information and remember pithy phrases and simple diagrams. The text is often larger too, so a 250 page business book will be a much quicker read than a novel of the same length.

Formatting specifics, such as margins and line spacing, will vary depending on how and where you choose to publish. Which brings me to…


Publishing your business books

It is possible to have your business books published traditionally, and there are lots of agents and publishing houses who specialise in this type of book, but the majority of traditionally published business books are written by well known entrepreneurs and celebrities, as these are almost guaranteed to sell. Most business owners who choose to write their own books opt to self publish, either as a digital only e-book or a small, self funded print run to give away at speaking engagements and sell on the company website.

It’s possible to self publish on Amazon Kindle, which is probably where I’ll upload the digital version of my business books. I’ve also been in contact with a local media company who we regularly work with for magazine features, as they have their own book publishing department, like a small vanity press. I’m not yet sure how much to expect to pay per copy, but we’ll be looking to print slim paperbacks to give away at events, rather than selling the physical copies, so there’s no expectation of making our money back on the print run. Hopefully the e-book will make a little money, but the books are intended to bring in new clients to the business, rather than paying for themselves or generating a profit on their own.


Are you a fan of non-fiction, business books? They’re a completely different kettle of fish to fiction novels, but I’m hoping that the process of researching and writing these books will only improve my skills when I sit down to write my next novel. I hope this little insight into writing business books has been interesting and useful, and maybe even given you a few tips.

See you next time!

Lyndsey

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