Thursday, September 14, 2017

INTERVIEW with Writer Vince Rockston

I continue my series of interviews with both established and up-and-coming writers. My guest today has led a full and fascinating life, and we all look forward to the arrival of his first novel. In the meantime let's take the opportunity to get to know Vince Rockston and his writing journey a little better.


Vince enjoys the beautiful countryside around the little Swiss village where he lives, retired, with his Finnish wife, sharing a house with one son, his Brazilian wife and their Chihuahua. When he has a chance, he loves to go hiking in the mountains. He blogs as Greyowl (bilingual) and his historical fiction book is developing at AquilaElba is also on Facebook.

In his spare time Vince explores the surrounding woods and pastures on the e-bike he was given when he retired, plays online Chess, Sudoku or Words with Friends and is heavily involved with supporting refugees from Syria and Iraq.

Vince grew up in the protected environment of the little island of Jersey (Channel Islands, GB). Moving to London to study physics at the prestigious Imperial College proved quite a shock to his system; not only were the distances huge, but everything cost so much and, in addition to no end of interesting and educational opportunities, there were also many  distractions and temptations. Later, he had the chance to participate in a research group at the European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva, which allowed him to use leading-edge technology and the most powerful computers of the time. But his priorities changed when he met a sweet Finnish au pair girl and they decided to get married and start a family.

In order to earn a living, Vince started as a computer technician but soon advanced through a series of promotions to become a consultant for networking solutions. After 25 years in IT, a forced career change introduced him to the field of technical editing for a company developing encryption solutions. This turned out to match his character and skills very well, although it’s a long way from writing fiction.

Raising a family of three children, extended by a lively foster daughter and a dog; heavy involvement in a small evangelical church; and multiple business trips around the world – these filled most of Vince’s free time while he was working. Now that his children have flown the nest – though not gone very far – he is thrilled to be able to accompany his two grandchildren one afternoon per week and watch them develop, even though he gets exhausted.

The relative freedom of retirement has allowed Vince to take winter breaks with his wife to warmer climes, recently to Madeira and Tenerife. They enjoy the beautiful scenery, exotic plants and challenging hikes. The sparse historical information available about the indigenous people of the Canary Isles – Guanches – may inspire Vince to work on another historical novel. Who knows?

Aquila rock on Elba Island in Italy, named for its distinct eagle-shape, is one of the inspirations for Vince's novel. Find out more about the story here.


I know you've been working on your books for a few years now; what do you think is the hardest thing about writing?
Once I have a story in my head, putting it down on (electronic) paper isn’t hard. Sticking at it when I myself or others question the merit of what I’ve written – that’s the tough part.

I sent my book Aquila – Can Silvanus escape that god? to a professional editor to discover her opinion. She answered with a detailed but rather critical review: it was far too long, it had too little action so it dragged, and it was too preachy. I had difficulty swallowing that, because I felt she had not understood where I was trying to go with it.

Then I realised: if she hadn’t understood it, it was because I had failed to communicate. I have now undertaken a major revision, spicing things up, cutting out large chunks and, I hope, making it more readable.

That is a tough lesson to learn sometimes. Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer just see where an idea takes you?
I do write an outline but find it needs considerable revision as my characters’ lives develop in unexpected ways. Rigid outline schemes like that advocated by KM Weiland in her Structuring Your Novel seem too restrictive to me. On the other hand, a book like  The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler is almost uncanny in that it reflects the structure of most successful books and films and gives very useful advice.

Some great books about writing. Now your turn to give some advice: Do you ever get Writer’s Block, and do you have any tips for getting through it?
Writing is a hobby for me and I don’t feel I’m under time pressure to finish my book. This means I can leave it for a few weeks and get on with something else without too much of a nagging conscience. So, perhaps my advice is: Devote yourself to other worthy activities until the inspiration for your book returns.

This may be jumping the gun a bit, but most authors these days think about marketing their book even before they finish it. Is there any marketing techniques you are thinking about?
It’s too early for me to be marketing because my book’s not yet out. But, as always, it’s best to try to see things from the prospective reader’s point of view: What books are similar to one I liked (try What is popular in my genre? Then ask yourself what would make him/her choose your book rather than any of the thousands of others he sees? Title? Cover design? Reviews?

One thing is to play the Amazon categories to your best advantage: research similar books and place your book in one niche category and one popular category. Another approach is to advertise through Facebook or Google Ads and monitor what is most successful.

See, I was right, you have been thinking about it. What about your future audience? Do you have a supportive group of readers around you?
I’m amazed how many of my friends, work colleagues, relatives and acquaintances ask how my book is getting on whenever they see me. It’s as if I have been transformed from the person they used to know into an author of a book of historical fiction. Of course, that interest excites me, but I’m not yet sure how to cultivate it in a non-spammy way.



Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Why does everything take so long? (#IWSG September 2017)

August was hard. Not specifically writing-wise (thought that was hard, too), but it was generally just one of those months when the universe decides to make life as complicated and challenging as possible.

The whole year has been like that, really. Maybe I'll tell you about it some time, but today's not the day. At least we're not underwater.

I wrote a bit through August, though as usual not nearly as much as I would like. I did actually (more-or-less) finish a draft of a manuscript I've been working on for years. I didn't jump for joy when I did because I've literally been working on this particular draft for 2 years and I know there's a lot more work to come, but in retrospect it's an accomplishment. I also started a short story that I've been thinking about for awhile that's a lot of fun.

So there are some victories, however small, but every word is a challenge. We'll get there, eventually.

We can't all be little girls fulfilling ancient prophecies by pulling swords from ponds.


September Question 
Have you ever surprised yourself with your writing? For example, by trying a new genre you didn't think you'd be comfortable in?

Sure, I've been surprised by parts of a story when I didn't expect it to go in that direction. Or sometimes when I can't figure out how to make a scene work and then an idea suddenly reveals itself unexpectedly.

Ah, c'mon, the idea wasn't that good...

I think that the biggest surprise is that everything about writing takes so much longer than I think it should. I don't know if it's unreasonable expectations on my part or what, but I keep making plans and deadlines and I never come close to meeting them. You think by now I would have figured this out.

For instance, after I put out Ten Thousand Days in the spring of 2015, I had the manuscript of Hell Comes to Hogtown well underway and I figured I could get it out by that fall. It didn't come out until summer of 2016. When I finished the first draft of Hell Comes to Hogtown in summer 2015 I started working on a major revision to an old book that I thought I could put out in 2016. I just finished that revision, two years later (to be fair I basically completely rewrote the whole novel). The "novelette" Revenge of the Lycanterrancephalopod was supposed to come out for Halloween 2016, but it just came out this spring. And yet, every time I set myself up a deadline, I blow through it without a backward glance.

At the same time, if I just made the deadlines later and more realistic, it would probably just be that much longer before I get anything done.

So I will continue to trudge along and whine about it. Occasionally I will put out small flashes of literary genius, but in the meantime you all get to listen to me complain.

Yeah, that's how I usually feel after listening to me, too.

For those still sticking around, thanks for listening.


The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Writers post their thoughts on their blogs, talking about their doubts and the fears they have conquered. It's a chance for writers to commiserate and offer a word of encouragement to each other. Check out the group at

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