October

I’m not going to moan. I’m not. I promise.

October is the month for Sheffield’s Literary Festival – Off The Shelf, and my writing group will be launching its twenty sixth…

I’m going to say that again… twenty sixth – Anthology.

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It would appear, going by the cover of this year’s programme, that Off The Shelf is in its twenty fifth year. So, almost as old as our Anthology. (I’m assuming that Off The Shelf won’t object to me using their graphic as I am promoting their event)

Our launch will be on Monday 10th October at The Lescar on Sharrowvale Road. Members of the group will read out some of their work and we will be joined by our special guest: Gavin Extence (The Universe versus Alex  Woods; The Mirror World of Melody Black and his new book: The Empathy Problem) It should be a good night. £3 entrance fee which includes a free Anthology. The evening starts at 7.30 and we aim to be away by 9.30. That doesn’t always happen though but The Lescar is a very nice pub so it’s not a terrible sacrifice to stay longer.

I have to produce something to read out at the event. This is always a problem as I write novels. As such, I really could do with more than the three or four minutes that are allocated. However, restriction feeds the creative process (try writing a story in fifty words – a great exercise), so I  will be needing something new. I will heed the recent advice of my friend Conor O’Callaghan and ‘keep it spooky’. October is definitely the month for getting spooky as the dark nights draw in and Halloween approaches…

That’s it, I need some light relief.

I was here only three weeks ago.

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There, that’s much better. I can feel the sun on my face and the beer in my belly.

I’ll try not to digress again.

So, spooky. Where was I? Oh, yes! So, it needs to be short and, by their nature, spooky stories really need a bit of time to build. There’s a problem right there. But I have a solution. Or at least I think I do.

There was a short event in my past that was instantly spooky. I was walking up a lane in Derbyshire, away from a relatively well-off, large housing area. In the distance, I could see a family walking down towards me. Mum, dad and young son. As they approached I noticed that they were rather old-fashioned in the way they dressed. Sort of fifties-ish. The boy wore knee-length grey shorts, a knitted jumper and a cap. In addition, as we were about to meet, I realised that the child bore a striking resemblance to myself in the early sixties (when I would be five or six, the same age as the boy approaching). The gap slowly closed and the boy stared at my face as we passed. A little perplexing.

I continued up the lane, amusing myself with the idea that perhaps the boy was thinking, ‘He looks just like I will in twenty years time.’ After a minute or two I stopped and turned around. No idea why. At the bottom of the lane the family had also stopped and were trying to urge the boy on. He was standing stiff and resolute, facing up the hill, his stare was still locked onto me.

Obviously, it meant nothing. But it did give me a turn and I’ve never forgotten it. And the idea of Doppelgangers is a powerful one. So that’s where I’m going with my very short story. If it works, I’ll post a link to it on here in November.

DSC01476And now…  a seasonal image more in keeping with Halloween and things that go bump in the night. Only it was taken exactly five hours after the picture above.

 

September

Thursday 22nd.

The first day of Autumn.

Bugger.

I know, I know, negative. But I can’t help it. It’s supposed to be all Winnie the Pooh wind and brown leaves and healthy fresh air… but all I envisage is:

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I mean, the kids are all back at school (I still get depressed about that and I’ve been left forty years) and we’re rehearsing for the panto round the tennis club. The conkers are big on the trees and I see a distinct change from the vibrant green leaves to more of a deathly, sallow yellow.

And apart from all that, this year has been utterly shit: Bowie, Prince, Lemmy, Brexit, Trump, Jeremy C Hunt; an increase in racism that seems to match 1936 Berlin levels; mad bastards blowing shit up and shooting kids that are out enjoying themselves.

I’m making myself feel worse.

All I really want is:

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Is that really too much to ask?

A bit of sunshine?

A ray of hope?

Another holiday?

 

I apologise. I’m just going to leave the room for a moment and have a quiet word with myself…

Right, I’ve sorted that. I’ve had a walk in the sun; I’ve read a poem; I’ve bought two books (Red Queen – Christina Henry’s follow up to the amazing ‘Alice’ and Fellside – M. A. Carey’s new novel); I’ve strummed a song on my guitar (Space Odyssey) and I’ve edited a bit of my own drivel. I also talked to two old ladies, a gentleman in a wheelchair and felt fresh air on my skin for an hour. It strikes me that it’s the simple things in life that keep us sane.

So, enough of all that negative bullshit. The fuckwits of this world are not going to affect my mood (although cold weather might just break through my joyfulness). The daily frustrations and petty irritations can kiss my proverbial. The good things in life truly are free (although the books cost me sixteen quid).

And that’s the point of this post really. It’s all about art. Art is what matters. Whether you’re consuming it or making it, you are contributing to the well-being of humanity as a whole. And it makes me very proud to be in a position where I can produce some of this mind nectar for the masses. You don’t have to like what I write but at least it’s a distraction from all that utter nonsense that we are expected to treat as reality out there.

As if to prove my point, I got so engrossed in what I was doing to distract me that I forgot to even post this until three days later. See you all in October.

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 loosing 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.