Diary of an author – wait a bit, want it now?

So now I’m told that, in the new world of agile authoring, I must produce three books a year. Or more, if possible.

It’s possible, but is it beneficial?

Author Jonathan Kaye completed his debut novel, After the Affair, in three years. He laboured over it, perfected it. I’ve not read it yet, but I probably will. There’s something appealing about a guy willing to put in so much effort, to make his novel the very best it can be.

I know, I know, there are authors out there who seem to churn out novels as if they were some mass-produced commodity. And I’m not saying they’re bad books. They’re probably very good. But could they have been better, given a little more time and love?

I can’t imagine JRR knocking out the final draft of Lord of the Rings in four months, and still enjoying an avid readership over sixty years later. Can you?

I’m willing to bet that Rohinton Mistry’s novels take a bit longer than four months apiece as well.

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So, has the artful business of novel-writing also fallen foul of the ‘must have it now‘ social-media generation?

It takes me around twelve months to finish the first and second drafts of a novel. Am I too slow? I guess I’ll make less money than the three-times-a-yearers, but then again I’m not in this exclusively for the money. Sure, it helps, but for me it’s more about the craft itself than the remuneration.

So what do you think? Are you happy to purchase a novel dashed off in a few months, or are you likely to be more discerning?

Speed, or quality? Which wins?

Diary of an Author – in bits (a short bit)

Imagine the scene – build the tension …

So, here’s a short bit from the novel in progress, ‘Silent as the Dead’.

An armed gunman is stalking a young girl in an underground car park. Outer doors are locked. Two cops outside. Backup (ARU) running late. What do they do?

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DC Bola Odunsi was a good cop and he knew it. He’d had a few wobbles, sure, particularly after DS Steve Banner’s murder and the ensuing DCI Wilder debacle, but he’d got over that. He was on the good guys’ side now, and proud of it. He and Tess worked great together and Bola had a lot of time for his tenacious, sassy partner. Thing was, there was an armed guy in the building and his sense of … well, rightness, wouldn’t allow him to rank Tess lower than himself in the safety and due diligence stakes. That meant she stayed outside while he went in for the girl – if there was a way in.

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But it wouldn’t be easy. Tess wasn’t one to hang fire and he’d have to insist. They were standing at the rear of the apartment block, by the concrete ramp which led to the electronic car park door.

Which was shut. 

Their heads were close together. Bola said: 

‘You can open these from inside. Button to open, button to close.’

Tess looked the metallic slats up and down. ‘Helpful.’

Bola made a frustrated face. ‘What I mean is, if she can get to the door and hit the button, she’s out.’

Tess shook her head. ‘He’s in there, close. He has a gun. He’ll pick her off as soon as she breaks cover.’

‘Maybe he won’t shoot her. Maybe he just wants to put the frighteners on.’

‘We don’t know enough about what’s going on here, Bola. We can’t take that chance.’

‘So what, then?’

‘I’ll talk to him.’

Bola shook his head. ‘Uh uh. No way.’

‘Then we check with the boss.’ Tess thumbed her radio.

Charlie’s voice: ‘Go ahead, Tess.’

 

Can you feel the tension?

More tomorrow!

 

The first three novels in the popular DCI Brendan Moran series are available in one volume, The Irish Detective, via the Amazon and Kobo bookstores

Diary of an author – in bits

I suffer from that annoying condition called bruxism – where your teeth clench involuntarily during the night, rather like the Clashing Rocks (The Symplegades or Planctae?) which tried to crush Jason and his merry bunch of Argonauts during their quest for The Golden Fleece. Sometimes my tongue fills in for Jason and his crew and blood is spilled. It’s annoying to say the least. The other problem, apart from potential tongue injuries, is the headache which greets me after a particularly bad night of unruly clashing. It’s not a headache as such, more a skull-ache. Painkillers don’t touch it and the only thing to do is get on with the day and let it fade gradually (or not, as the case may be).

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And so, it is with imaginable joy and delight in my heart, dear reader, (yes, and head) that I sit at my desk this grey morning in the Royal County to continue writing ‘Silent as the Dead’.

But lessons can be learned from infirmity, right? Jason could either have set course for Scylla and Charybdis, the legendary sea monsters, or the Clashing Rocks. Not much of a choice. From Jason’s dilemma we gain several colloquial idioms: having to choose between two evils, between a rock and a hard place, between the devil and the deep blue sea, and many more. So Jason was going to face difficulties whichever direction he decided to sail.

Writing is a bit like that. Should the plot move this way, or that way? If that way, then what happens to X or Y? If this way, then Z needs to be revisited and rewritten.

Anyway, Jason got some unusual help in the end. A bit of a Deus ex machina situation if ever there was one – I mean do gods really rise from the deep in real life to save us from danger? Am I to expect a tap on the window from Hermes this morning? That’s a whole new question and this is turning into a Ronnie Corbett story so maybe it’s time to stop.

Don’t worry, my bruxism isn’t due to my being an author. Writing isn’t that stressful.

(… continues to sound of gnashing teeth …)

 

The first three novels in the popular DCI Brendan Moran series are available in one volume, The Irish Detective, via the Amazon and Kobo bookstores

Characters – more important than plot?

I find myself returning to favourite books I’ve read – sometimes often – and which I therefore know very well. It’s not that I want to relive the story necessarily, although that might be part of it. No, the main reason is that I want to spend time with the characters. I want to renew old acquaintances, to enjoy their company once again. IMG_5417I want to row serenely down the Thames with J and Harris and George in that timeless classic, Three Men in a Boat. I want to laugh at the old jokes and situations, follow Harris around the Hampton Court maze as he leads a gaggle of bewildered day-trippers round and round, always ending up at the centre. I want to hitch a ride with Paxton and O’Neill in their flimsy WWI aeroplane in Derek Robinson’s brilliant air drama, War Story. I enjoy meeting up from time to time with my friend Gustad Noble, as he performs his early morning kusti in the Khodadad building’s compound; Gustad is one of my favourites – he’s absolutely real to me. So all credit and much kudos to the brilliant Rohinton Mistry for introducing me to Gustad, even though time and considerable distance (plus the fact that Gustad never really existed) will always separate me from the Noble family.

This last novel, Such a Long Journey, is for me a definitive work of characterisation. I feel such empathy with Gustad and his many difficulties. With each turn of the page I experience more of the heat and tense atmosphere of this fictional but true-to-life nineteen-seventies India, as it struggles to survive under the crushing weight of Indira Gandhi’s turbulent rule. I love Gustad for his indomitable spirit. He doesn’t get everything right – indeed much of the time he gets it very wrong. But that’s life, isn’t it? I love his flaws, not just his better side. He’s a good guy to spend time with.

So when I’m writing, I try to be mindful of this. Good characters are complex, contrary, sometime unpredictable, always fascinating. Even the minor roles should be memorable. My protagonist, DCI Brendan Moran, is a very interesting guy. His background is unusual and nothing in his life is particularly straightforward. Moran’s colleagues also struggle with various burdens and difficulties – but it’s how they deal with these which makes for an absorbing and page-turning read. Like Gustad Noble, I may not always get it right, but that’s what I’m aiming for when I’m putting a novel together.

Well-drawn characters are a mirror to our own souls. In their daily struggles we see possible versions of ourselves, and thereby find answers to the problems and difficulties each of us face in an increasingly dangerous and unpredictable world.

 

The first three novels in the popular DCI Brendan Moran series are available in one volume, The Irish Detective, via the Amazon and Kobo bookstores

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just what does ‘Protected’ mean?

The announcement in 2012 of the new UK Protected Persons Service, a National Crime Agency initiative designed to replace the old Witness Protection Program was greeted with a predictable raising of eyebrows and shaking of heads. The idea, as I understand it, was to introduce a more consistent approach to witness protection across the various UK constabularies.

Over the summer a few programs have been aired on the subject which got me thinking about what life would be like were one to be wrenched away from family, friends, home, school or work, and deposited anonymously into a completely new environment with no access to bank, social media – or anything really. Clearly it’s all about the safety of the witness(es) and the DCC in charge of the PPS has strong views on this subject:-

“We have to be very careful about who knows where they are and from the start, until we know they’re safe and secure, we would discourage them telling people where they are at any stage. But we can facilitate ways to maintain contact over periods of time,” says Deputy Chief Constable Andy Cooke, national policing lead for protected persons.

“We relocate both within the UK and internationally on occasions, depending on the level of threat on the individual circumstance of a case and whether it’s necessary. That doesn’t mean we’re going to relocate them to the Copacabana, but they do get a say.”

Quite how much of a say the witness actually gets is open to debate but having heard real life accounts of those living under the PPS it’s easy to conclude that the experience is hard on the nerves and less than ideal as a long-term life plan.

DCC Cooke says that no one has ever been seriously injured or killed on the programme, but people have been found – usually when they compromise themselves, for example by returning to their original location.

As an author in need of a short story the PPS seemed a fascinating place in which to locate DCI Brendan Moran for a brief period. You can read the story (which is entitled ‘Watershed’) as the first case in the DCI Brendan Moran Omnibus to be published this month as ‘The Irish Detective’.

The Irish Detective