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By Ben Cameron, Jun 5 2018 01:01PM

By Sam McColl, author of Call Billy 07899 232007

"When Sam McColl told me that she spends most of the year in her cabin on the beautiful remote Scottish lochs I assumed, like many people, that it must be the ideal writer’s retreat. But it turns out that I could not have been more wrong. Here, Sam talks about the challenges and distractions of nature and solitude for someone who writes about city family life” - Ben Cameron

I live by the sea, in a hut perched above mature native woodland. It is spring. Just now the woods are a sumptuous blend of purple bluebells, wild white garlic, and delicate spring leaves of every shade of green against a wash of blues. In winter the sea glitters through naked trees, the pools of silver light on gunmetal water a gasp of delight.

I’m sitting at my desk, trying to wriggle myself into the mind of a fifteen year old, who is about to get wrecked with a boy she’d been obsessing over for months. He is twenty five. I need to know where it’s going. Will she have sex? Or will she panic at the last minute. Or will her mother come back from work early, and the drama of the scene be postponed?

I have an ache in my tummy. I don’t plan the minutia of my character’s life. I know the broader brushstroke of her: that she’s a lovely girl, a thinker, that despite everything, she still wants the family to get back together.

But I also know that the events of the past months have forced her way out of the comfort zone of happy endings and this new place is full of strange possibilities. With everyone she trusted now engrossed in their own despicable dramas, she has begun to look elsewhere for reassurance and love. And why not – she’s almost sixteen, old enough to make her own decisions and mistakes – and so it goes on.

And yet, I must take the plunge. I must have her answer the door-bell, have her press up against him and see if I can find the one and only truth of the moment, and record it.

And then I look up from my screen, disturbed by the thwacking of rope on canvas as a sail is lowered. Through the glass door I glimpse my trays of parched lettuces. I should plant them out this afternoon. Yesterday I took the quad and flailer over the hills to cut broad pathways through the emerging bracken – and got it stuck on a sap-slick-slope and left it there, along with the key. I check my weather app, Abi’s dilemma draining from my concentration, like water down a plug hole…

Inspiration doesn’t just happen. It’s a slow build. Dumping, Abi, I decide on a place for another scene. I may chose the rocky coast north of Tarbert, or the skaggy beach in Oban, where fag packets and scratchings of plastic get me in the mood for, er death. Or maybe just sand… yes, sand…

It’s many hours later, I look up from my screen, a silver moon is hanging there, over the sea, a pool of—oh for God’s sake, just don’t …

The following morning it’s raining. Good. I flex my fingers, rub my palms together in preparation and dive in.

Hours later, I’ve got something down: a U-turn.

“He’s not even coming is he? I make myself hot chocolate and get into bed, stare at the balloon pattern on my duvet. ‘Virgin’, my whole room shouts ‘virgin’. I hate my life. The twisted paper tip, which I should have chewed off, flares and drops, melts a small hole in one of the balloons. I take a puff and nudge it around, so what if I burn the house down …”

It’s a start.

I’m delighted to see a yellow crack in the cloud cover, a zag of reflection on the water and remember the quad I abandoned on the hill yesterday with a jolt …

Get your copy of Call Billy 07899232007 here

By Ben Cameron, Feb 8 2018 10:57PM

By SJ Sherwood

The last thing I had intended to do was to write YA Dystopian Trilogy. I had originally planned to write an adult thriller and was almost ready to start the hard work. However, during my planning stage, I had set three questions for my lead character.

1. Who are your mentors?

2. Who do you turn to when you're in trouble?

3. Who can you trust?

As I started to dig into the questions, the answers that emerged made me think about who I really wanted to aim my book at.

I had not had the easiest of childhoods - an alcoholic stepfather and a self-absorbed, chronically angry mother were not the best combination for a happy marriage. I was shipped off to school and what felt like my heart being ripped from my chest as I was separated from my family home, turned out to be a seminal moment in my life. For the first time, I was given real attention and a structure - you know, time keeping, being polite, working hard, that kind of stuff. I also learnt the utmost importance of having positive people in my life.

But I realised, that for many, the above questions aren't so simple, as they wouldn't have been for me before getting sent away to school. I feel lucky that I was cut a break, but living in London, it's not hard to see disillusioned young men, who are more interested in materialism then understanding who they are and what they are capable of as unique individuals. Men no longer seem to have a rite of passage from boyhood to manhood.

They were the catalyst of why I ended up choosing orphans as my main characters - the image of the lost and forgotten. It's why I further isolated them in my dystopian world, and forced them to work together, to have to trust each other when they really wanted to run or even fight as the easier choice. We are all hard wired to be part of a group, a tribe, a basic family structure of some sorts. Ned, my main, protagonist is a contradiction. He's a loner by nature, but he craves friends. He's tough and self-reliant, but he wants to communicate and be part of a tribe. More importantly, he wants to do something with his life and he has to answer the three questions above in order to progress. I love his personal challenge.

The current YA market is dominated by some excellent women writers who pen strong female characters. The market it deep and mature, and sales speak for themselves. But if you look at books for boys in this bracket, they tend to fall into two board categories: your mini-James Bond/ Spy Hero; or the Apocalyptic/ Sci Fi where the lead character is an alpha male and somewhat stereotyped (sorry, fellow writers). Patrick Ness with his Chaos Walking Trilogy and James Dashner with his Maze Runner Series, gave us male characters who were looking to define themselves through the challenges they encountered. But, I feel, that what has followed has been a bit thin on the ground for teenage boys who want to read this type of book.

To date, most of my readers have been YA female teenagers or young women who have been extremely kind with their reviews. However, I'm slowly but surely tapping into those teenage boys who seem to get what I'm trying to say. If, like me, their start wasn't the best but they get a sense that you can pick your mentors, as you can your tribe and friends then I will have achieved something. And if, like Ned, they find that that thinking for themselves and learning to trust their instincts is something they have to develop, then perhaps us men don't need that rite of passage, just a better understanding of who we are.

And if one teenage boy gets to understand that his destiny is his choice and not chance, then, as a storyteller, I've hit my goal and I'll go to sleep a contented man.

SJ Sherwood is the author The Denounced. He grew up in a small town in rural England and spent most of his youth dreaming of escaping to the bright lights of a big city. He eventually made it to London where he writes, enjoys life, and strives to be happy. You can find out more at

Comments or questions? You can contact us at, Twitter: @CameronPMtweets or Facebook:

By Ben Cameron, Sep 21 2016 02:00PM

As a writer it’s a relief to move away from staring at the computer screen to actually hearing interesting advice on the craft of writing via podcasts. Never heard a podcast before? Here are a few to get you started


I love the Sterling and Stone guys. They talk both craft as well as business, but what I like best is that they manage to keep their quirky banter alive, and often interesting insights into how writers work together do emerge from this. Even though they also talk the ‘business of writing’ the chemistry between them is brilliant and gives an insight on how co-writing could possible work.


I listen to this for a dose of cold reality. They critique stories live on air, so you learn a lot. Everything from how to hook them from the first sentence, to writing faster, writing better and calibrating your scenes


Writing is all about mindset. The same mindset of discipline, perseverance, belief, never giving up. The kind that makes or breaks entrepreneurs. The kind that Tim Ferriss talks about. In particular this podcast where he interviews Paolo Coelho is eye-opening. He delves not only into mindset of what makes great entrepreneurs, but goes into how to help make lifestyle changes so you can survive this punishing pace for the long term. Best discovery I made from here: Mushroom Coffee


I find the best advice on writing craft comes from psychologists. After all what is writing if not delving into character motivations and understanding human nature and interactions at its core. I LOVE this one and listen to this podcast often as a pick-me-up. Best one so far, is the one called “Subtle art of not giving a fuck – something which we creative expressionists must practice more often”


For those looking for a more straightforward literary discussion and insights into plots and writers – and why not. As an Indie what I still admire traditional publishing for is their ability to spend more time refining the books (often) something I don’t have the luxury of in the fast-paced production process that comes with Indie writing. Author interviews with today's best writers--established & up-and-coming-- in fiction, nonfiction and narrative poetry. Hosted by David Naimon

These are just a few podcasts that focus on the craft of writing and which have stuck with me. What about you? Know of an awesome writing craft related podcast? Share in comments below.

Laxmi Hariharan is a New York Times Bestselling author of urban fantasy and paranormal romance. Join her list to get a starter library of her books here:

Comments or questions? You can contact us at, Twitter: @CameronPMtweets or Facebook:

By Ben Cameron, Jul 12 2016 04:12PM

I spent the last few days at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and two incidents took place. They were isolated but together they really struck a chord with me.

First I met a film maker, who spoke about his new project. It's the story of a woman who goes missing. Joining the trend of young women around the world who come to a specific mountain city and then unplug. As in delete their social media accounts, stop replying to emails, disconnect their phones and then just disappear.

Very interesting. And for a second I almost felt envious of them. For over the years as I have gotten serious about my writing and tried to carve out windows of time in my daily life where I can simply focus on completing books, I've resented the pull of social media on my life.

Then thanks to Chandler Bolt's Self Publishing Conference I stumbled across Cal Newport and his new book on 'Deep Work.' On my way into Edinburgh I had already listened to a podcast on Cal talking about the importance of Deep Work in his life. That is work which involves the deep engagement of all your cognitive senses, where you block out all distractions and really just focus on that specific task at hand.

Cal speaks about how as the distractions around us grow, the ability to focus deeply is becoming scarce and this is going to be the most sought after resource of the 20th century.

He refers to an underground movement where many top executives have switched back to old fashioned phones without data connections, precisely so they are less approachable. And have less chance of being distracted.

Cal himself does not have any social media accounts. He has a blog and he does not give out his email address so you have to really want to reach him to find him.

Some of this I had sensed over the past few years, this need to get away from distractions, specifically this vicious cycle of checking social media and email addresses, so as to focus better and write.

Hence I do use self-control app while writing to block out social media completely. And I keep my phone in another room to avoid temptation of checking FB/ twitter. But yet every half hour or when I am 500 words down, I still find myself seeking out my phone away from my desk to check my FB account.

So for me what Cal said next was the clincher. He says, if you do precisely that – cheat by checking on social media/email, you are actually further impacting your ability to focus. So what I was doing is worse – jumping out between my writing bursts to check on social media.

And this made total sense to me. I wrote my last book in six weeks with a massive burst of effort. But the current book I am working on, which is due to a publisher in a month, has been hard going. I've been finding my ability to focus considerably weakened. And now hearing Cal I began to wonder if I hadn't crossed a mental tipping point.

He also speaks of how developing the ability to do deep work’ (focused attention) as opposed to ‘shallow work’ (everything else like creating power point presentations, emails, social media, etc) is an acquired skill. You have to consciously work on it and he gives many useful tips and strategies on how to develop this ability to focus.

That's a lot to hit me with in one weekend, and I don't think it's a coincidence that there is a pattern here.

The last three novellas I have written have been getting some great feedback from a core bunch of readers who want more books and more long form novels and now I know I must deliver to this. And I can. I just need to focus.

The message I have come away with is that I have to make some fundamental conscious changes to my life in order to up my productivity and increase the rate at which I deliver the books.

I am not going off FB yet as that is my primary means of staying in touch with my readers and fellow authors. But couple of quick changes I plan to put in place are

a. Delete my twitter app from my phone.

b. Have an automated email response for my reader driven email account that tells them I will only be checking and replying to emails once a week

c. Ensure I continue to resist checking social media and try to lengthen the period of time I go without using my social accounts.

d. Prioritize the craft and delivery of my book over all marketing – this is the only way I can get the next series out, which will be the first series that has a coherent arc and continuity and will hence be the backbone of my readership growth.

You can find out more about Deep Work by Cal Newport here

And you? What changes will you be making to focus and complete that novel?

Written by Laxmi Hariharan, International Bestselling Author of Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy. Find her @laxmi

Comments or questions? You can contact us at, Twitter: @CameronPMtweets or Facebook:

By Ben Cameron, Nov 26 2015 11:54AM

When it comes to you book and your career as an author, the only person that you can really trust is a complete stranger.

Almost everyone around you, your parents, partner, kids, friends, colleagues, writers in your writers group etc. will tell terrible lies to you about your book. They will lie because they do not want to tell you what they really think or because they are so close to you that they cannot divorce the book from the author that they know. Even if they offer criticisms of your book, those criticisms will be expressed to you in a kind way.

As a result you can easily be misled about your book, have incorrect expectations or be sent down the wrong path in how you market it. Your readers are mostly strangers and are not obliged to be kind to you. By understanding that you need to work to win readers over, unlike your friends or family who you won over a long time ago, you will put the effort in to do so.

And your book will have a greater appeal to your real audience as a result.

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