August

My intention is to post this blog around once a month. However, I’ve been thinking about stuff (I blame university for that) and there’s something I need to get out there. So the next time will be September and I’ll just count the last blog as a practice. Here’s August’s.

I guess August means  many things to many people: eminent and well thought of; school holidays; swelling conkers (not a euphemism); drinks in the garden as night slowly falls. For me, it conjures only one thought – Cropredy. Or to be more accurate and to give it its official title, Fairport’s Cropredy Convention. A long weekend of friends, family, good music and excessive drinking.

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This is not your average, run-of-the-mill festival. This is probably the friendliest festival on the planet. We took the kids there when they were two and four and it was possible to let them have a run around. There is, in fact, a kids area at the top of the field where tons of them are learning circus tricks and doing craft stuff. This year is shaping up nicely. Our party now numbers somewhere in the region of twenty and is growing all the time. Highlights for me this year will be Ralph McTell, Hayseed Dixie (they have to be seen to be believed) Bootleg Beatles and Madness. Plus, of course, various combinations of the Fairport boys.

I digress. This is meant to be a writing blog.

To put a few things straight: If you’re looking for advice on how to write, you might as well get out of here right now. That won’t be happening. If you want sensible advice on the craft then join a writing group or do a course. If you want to read a how-to book then don’t go any further than Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’. You need to know nothing else. It’s excellent.

No, this is almost entirely for my own benefit and your (hopefully) amusement. I plan to post my own problems and difficulties in the vain hope that some wise person out there might point me in the right direction, come up with a solution or just tell me to shut up and get a proper job. (That won’t be happening either) I’ll chuck random stuff in as well because, as I said, it’s meant to be entertaining, too.

So, having admitted that I’ve suffered a complete car crash with my last novel, I’ll try to explain the problem I’m (already) having with the new one. It is, as yet, untitled but is about a homeless guy, Mark.

Mark is in a bad way. He’s hit an all-time low. He’s decided that enough is enough. But things don’t work out the way he planned them (do they ever?) and he finds himself standing outside Sheffield train station looking at the patch of ground where he’s sat and begged with a black woolly beanie for a long, long time. He knows he will never be doing that again and turns his back on his soggy copy of the Metro and makes his way up into the city.

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The thing is, I like the story but it is all a bit down. You know? A bit depressing and I’ve written three chapters where, despite his efforts to make changes, life still smacks him in the face. The problem is: this is a miserable state that Mark is in and humour (which is what I know it needs) is just ever so slightly inappropriate at the moment. So, the question is: How long can I maintain the darkness of his situation, at the very beginning of the novel, without losing the reader? Presently, I have about 7k words in this vein which I think is too much. Two long chapters or, as I have it now, three shorter ones. And if the answer is that it is already too long, will breaking his narrative and going elsewhere, somewhere a bit more colourful and cheerful, destroy the effect I’m aiming at, that being, getting the reader’s head into the sheer hopelessness of having no home and no support mechanism?

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That’s my problem.

But, for now, I’m going to buy beer. We’re off to Cropredy tomorrow.

The First Go


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Hi there!

Welcome to my new blog. A bit bare at the moment but I’ll get the hang of it.

Not really sure how to start. I guess I should say something about where I am at the moment with my writing.

I’ve been working on a final edit of my latest novel ‘Dying for a Life’ for the past few weeks and, to say the least, it’s not going well. More about that at the end. It was a long time in the making, well over a year, and is something of a departure from what I’m used to. I usually write romantic thrillers or even comedy thrillers. I also have a series of crime thrillers featuring my favourite protagonist, Detective Inspector Frank Vine. This last one is a straight thriller. No comedy, no romance and a lot of swearing. The novel concerns two groups of people who are the victims of human trafficking. The first group are a bunch of men on a work gang in Southern Spain.

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They are treated very badly, hardly ever fed, beaten daily and receive no pay. They are trapped by their own circumstances and no longer hold passports or identification. They are kept in check by the constant threat of extreme violence. Violence that they witness being dealt out to other victims. The gang consists of two Spanish men, two Portuguese and three English. It is the three Englishmen (a Scot, Donald; a Geordie, Pete; and a midlander, Eric – though there are no jokes on that account) that are followed as they become isolated from the others and, after a brutal attack on Pete that leaves him in desperate nee of medical assistance, they make their bid to escape.

The second group are a bunch of girls from England who have been told there is glamorous work available for them in Europe’s nightclubs. They have been whisked away in a transit van and taken to Paris. Most of the girls are between nineteen and twenty two but the one that we follow initially is Rosie, a fifteen year old who has escaped the misery of caring for her mum back in Brighton. The girls are not destined for fancy nightclubs but for the sex workers that exist on Rue Saint Martin.

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All six girls are marched through the streets at night and delivered to the slimy Pierre who
locks them in his club. There they meet the barely believable Helga. A mountainous woman dressed in high heels, basque and heavy, heavy make-up. Three of their number are whisked away to the mysterious ‘Raymond’s’ while the three remaining, Rosie, Tracey and Jade, are kept by the sadistic Pierre for his own sick pleasure.
The biggest problem I’ve had is in drawing these two threads together. They are linked by situation and by actual characters by the end but I feel that the two stories are just a little too separate as the novel progresses. It is this link that I have been struggling to make throughout the course of the re-write. It has, inevitably, messed with the structure of the novel and I have to hope that the disruption pays off with the overall effect it has on the experience. The problem arose through making massive changes in the plot. These changes were undoubtedly needed but created their own problems. The original story was a Frank Vine detective story and the two groups (plus a third) were bit players. The ‘bad guy’ was also connected to the third group, thus drawing all three threads together from the start.

The first thing to go was the detective element. Mainly because it would have been a thousand page novel. Then, the third group, two girls on holiday in Thailand, didn’t grab the attention the way the other two groups did, so off they went. At one point I’d cut over seventy thousand words from the novel. That’s a novel in itself. The two remaining groups are entertaining and interesting enough to carry the story but that was the problem; what was the story? I’d effectively given it a spinalectomy, something that is recommended only to create middle managers.

So, I am where I am. ‘That that is, is.’ To quote the great man. I can’t face another re-write at the moment so I’m concentrating on a new idea about a homeless guy from Sheffield. I haven’t given up on Dying for a Life. I think it shows great potential. But it’s going to need a serious amount of work to link those two strands together. I’ll let my subconscious sort that out itself while I get on with the rest of the summer.