Sunday, 7 April 2019

Cover me up!

It's time for a cover reveal.

No, it's time for a double cover reveal.

Here's the brilliant Neil Gower's cover for The Diabolical Club.

(Ignore the quotes - they're just placeholders I borrowed from A Murder To Die For. Real quotes to follow.)

As the book is set in October, we went for Autumnal colours. They contrast beautifully with the Springtime theme of the previous book.

I'm delighted with both covers. And I'm also very pleased with this cover, which resonates nicely with the novels:

As you may (or may not) know, everyone who subscribes to The Diabolical Club will get a free bonus e-book of short stories called The Nearly Invisible Man. This won't be available to buy in the shops so, if you want to read stories about the extraordinary detective Gavin Quisty, or the eccentric Mr Spurgeon and his flag collection, you need to pledge NOW. 

And do it soon as the funding campaign will be shutting shortly. What you'll get is an early copy of the book (published 11th July), plus the e-book (which also features a two chapter teaser of my next novel, Cockerings) and you'll get your name printed in the book as a patron.

So click here and pledge now! 

Thursday, 28 March 2019

March Round-Up

Spring is bursting out all over. The snail is on the thorn, the lark is mollocking in the yollops and all manner of good things are in offing.

Firstly, I've now received the proofs of The Diabolical Club and it's looking great. Roll on July 11th.

Secondly, I've seen Neil Gower's sketches for the cover and they look exactly as I hoped they would. I'll reveal soon but just know that it will sit beautifully side by side with A Murder To Die For.

Thirdly, I may have some more book news to reveal soon.

And, fourthly, I'm starting a podcast! Beginning on Thursday 25th of April, my good chum BBC radio producer Paul Waters and I will be launching a fortnightly podcast called We'd Like a Word in which we look at all aspects of writing - from novels to song lyrics, reading groups to performance poetry and everything in between. And we have some stellar guests lined up for you.

In preparation for this, Paul and I did a photo shoot this week with award-winning photographer Mark Page. He's not bad is he?

More news as it comes in!

Sunday, 10 February 2019

The Trickiest Question To Answer

'Where do you get your ideas from?' 

It’s a question all writers get asked. And it's almost impossible to answer.

People want there to be a single, simple answer. But there isn't.

Successful authors have a particularly tough time of it as they get asked hundreds of times a year. Stephen King, in a Q&A for The Write Channel, said:

‘I can tell you about fifty percent of the time where I got the idea. And the rest of it is totally like getting an idea in a dream and I can’t really remember where they came from.’ 

Neil Gaiman tells the truth:

'I make them up. Out of my head. And, surprisingly, people didn’t like to hear that. They look unhappy, as if I'm trying to slip a fast one past them, as if there's a huge secret, and, for reasons of my own, I'm not telling them how it's done. Ideas come from all over the place. You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we're doing it.' 

My next novel The Diabolical Club is published in July. And I'll be attending a few literary festivals and book events closer to the time. And I'm sure to be asked the same question. But this year I'll at least have a few examples to share of the sorts of places that ideas come from.

Every subscriber to the book (See here), will be getting an additional free e-book of short stories featuring characters from my little universe of South Herewardshire. It's called The Nearly Invisible Man and Other Stories and I can tell you exactly what the spark was that ignited most of stories.

One was inspired by a very surreal pub quiz that I once attended in Lancashire. Another grew out of an article I read about a hacker who’d upset a great many Americans by gaining access to their Bluetooth sex toys. And yet another came from me pondering the question of how fat a person would have to be to be bullet-proof (and how far I was off the target!). That story proved to be quite fascinating to research and led me to discover this extraordinary photo.

Which just goes to show that, inside, we're all the same.

I also found an episode of TV show Mythbusters where Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman did a series of tests using mannequins and ballistics gel to discover what depth of fat would be needed to stop a bullet before it reached any major organs.

A single idea can lead you to all kinds of amazing facts and some great stories.

But, as I said at the start, half the time ideas come out of absolutely nowhere and there's no simple, easy answer to the question.

I'll leave you with this great interview with Neil Gaiman. Enjoy.

Clck here.

Saturday, 26 January 2019

The Rankin Route

Happy New Year!

Yes, it's been a month since my last blog post but I have a good excuse. There have been things like Christmas, New Year and snow to distract me. Plus I've had to go through the structural edit of The Diabolical Club with my editor and assemble a book of short stories that I'm going to be giving to my Unbound subscribers as a bonus. And I've done a few talks including three Burns Night dinners in a row. Oof. I am now mostly made of haggis and neeps.

So, today I thought I'd talk about how I write. It's the most common question I get (closely followed by 'Where do you get your ideas?'). I can understand why. As an author, it's always interesting to hear how other writers work. And, unsurprisingly, everyone is different.

Generally, they fall into two camps: Plotters and Pantsers. Plotters get everything sorted out before they write a word - the research, timeline, characters. One of my best mates is a plotter. That's why his office floor looks like this:


Meanwhile Pantsers, like me, work very differently. Instead of meticulously planning the journey, we have a general idea of which direction to take to get to our destination but have no idea what route we're going to take to get there. We've switched the Sat Nav off and we're exploring as we go.

Curiously, the author whose work method most closely mirrors mine is Scottish crime writer Ian Rankin who writes the Rebus books. In a 2016 interview for the Guardian he describes his process:

'A good writing day would comprise maybe 10 pages, which is around 3,000 words. I don’t do a word count. The story is as long as it needs to be, and better to pen 1,500 great words than 5,000 ordinary ones. The day might start at 11am, or 2 in the afternoon, or 7 in the evening.'

'I break for tea (or coffee) and stare at the kettle as I ponder the next few lines of the book. When the sun’s out, I often go for a walk and do my writing in the late afternoon or evening. When I hit a wall or a problem, a walk often brings sudden illumination.'

'During the first draft I don’t pause to read what I’ve written, except maybe after the first 100 or so pages. I do that over a few days, making notes about where the book could go next. I never have a clearly defined plan – I almost never know the ending before I’m well into the book. The story has a sense of where it wants to go, and I just follow it. A character in my first draft may change their name, because I’ve forgotten what I called them originally – that’s fine; it can all be fixed later. I also don’t pause if I get stuck on a word or a description – I will fix that in a future draft. I do make notes as I go – what might happen; how characters or incidents may connect – but even this isn’t fixed and I may find a better idea later. So I’ve got all these Post-it notes stuck around the desk, plus scrawled reminders on sheets of paper and scribbles in the margins of the manuscript. I work on a very old laptop – when the screen died, I had it replaced rather than buy a new machine. Every day or two I print out what I’ve written, just so I have it. I also save each day’s work to a memory stick that goes everywhere with me. Safety first.'

That's how I work. Tea. Walks with the dogs (I'm lucky to have lots of beautiful countryside around my home). The memory stick thing. Getting on with it and finding my way through.

He also works to music but not anything with lyrics. His go-to favourites are artists like Brian Eno, Tangerine Dream and Aphex Twin. I'm the same; no lyrics but my choices range from classical and light British orchestral stuff to prog metal like Animals As Leaders, or jazz from Orphic Okstra, or cafe music by Hot Club Of Detroit. I also use sites like to provide background noise.

A quick first draft (he says that the first draft of his latest book took 27 days. The Diabolical Club took me 36 days). Then lots of re-drafting to hone and shape the book into the final form that you submit to the publisher. That's me to a T. From first to final draft my characters will often change names, sometimes even change ethnicity or gender, plot lines will merge or be excised and new plotlines may be inserted. The first draft is the rough shaping of the block of marble, the pencil sketch. Subsequent drafts are the smaller chisels adding the detail, the intricate pen work and addition of colour.

It's kind of comforting to know that there's someone else out there - someone hugely successful - that does things in a similar way to me.

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Mrs Jolly isn't jolly any more

I was in Henley On Thames last night in a pub where they have lots of old books on display as decoration. Naturally I had to have a quick butcher's and, to my delight, discovered a 1954 copy of the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook. A quick chat to the manager and a donation to a local charity and it was mine. It's a fascinating read.

Some things haven't changed in 64 years, such as the advice to writers that, no matter how much you want to see your work in print, you should never have to pay for that pleasure.

The appalling wages haven't changed much either. In 1954 you could expect the BBC to pay £1 per minute for radio broadcasts of up to 10 minutes and 15 shillings (note: 75p) per minute thereafter. And the book's preface states that 'many publications consider that a guinea (Note: £1.05) or less per thousand words is adequate recompense'. Now, I realise that £1 in 1954 was worth more - the equivalent of £26 now - but that's still pretty crappy.

The one thing that has noticeably changed is that, in 1954, almost every advert is for typist and copyist services. 

In the age of Microsoft Word, Scrivener, Ulysses and Final Draft, it's easy to forget that 'in the old days' the author either hand-wrote their manuscripts or typed them, which meant that there was just one copy. Therefore, if it got lost in the post, the writer would lose everything. That was why it was essential to have a copy made. And before photocopiers and printers, that meant hiring a copy typist (or you typed another copy yourself).

Here's a good example of an industry and a skill that has been lost due to technology. History is littered with them. 

My brother Si used to be a professional photographer. The arrival of digital photography has all but killed his trade. Why pay an expert when your smart DSLR can make decisions about exposure, shutter speed and ISO for you? Why pay a photographer for 20 stunning shots when you can take a thousand and, by fluke, 20 will be pretty good? Things got so bad that Si retrained as a teacher and now teaches photography at university. But even that role is changing as most of what makes a good photo is now done in post; he has more students lining up to learn Photoshop than photography.

When I was researching content for the K-series of QI, I spoke to the man who ran (then) Britain's last knacker's yard. As he pointed out, the horse industry once employed hundreds of thousands of people from breeders to sellers, trainers to saddlers, farriers to riding instructors, plus coach builders and many other peripheral horse-related jobs. And, when the horses died, the knacker was an essential link in the chain. The collected carcasses were recycled and re-purposed as fats, tallow (yellow grease), furniture glue, bone meal, bone char, sal ammoniac, leather, soap, bone for cutlery handles, bleach and animal and pet feed. These days we just incinerate them. The arrival of the motor car decimated the horse industry.

And now we are sitting at the advent of the driverless car. How many jobs will be lost to that particular innovation? No more cabbies, hauliers, delivery drivers, driving instructors ... and, if the cars really won't have as many accidents as human drivers do, there will be lay-offs at garages and repair shops and a drastic loss of revenue for insurers.

Technology is fabulous when it makes our lives better - I'd never want to go back to a typewriter for a start - but every new advance invariably has casualties. And for the typists and copyists like Mrs Jolly (see ad above) who would 'type or duplicate it for you', the arrival of the computer sounded the death knell on her industry.

However, replacing expertise with technology does have its dangers. Do we want a society made up of competent generalists instead of a expert specialists? I'm not so sure.

But then, I'm a bit old-fashioned, I'm an underpaid writer and I've had a few pints. 

Monday, 19 November 2018

As one door closes ...

Well, there's a thing.

The Diabolical Club is funded.

No more crowdfunding!

But now begins the work of editing, designing, typesetting, proofing, printing, marketing, distribution...

And I can't wait. Roll video!

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Jim Tinley RIP

If you're a regular visitor to this blog (or my previous blogs - see right) you'll know that I come from Cornwall. I grew up in Launceston, Blackwater, Penzance and Helston but moved to the South East when I was eighteen. My teens were spent in Helston and its environs and I still think of it as 'home' despite having lived away from Cornwall for thirty years.

It was a pretty idyllic childhood; a loving family, beautiful countryside, glorious beaches and great friends - many of which are still friends to this day - all conspired to make it so. School too was something I enjoyed, mostly because I was lucky enough to have such inspirational teachers. And among the best of the best were my three art teachers, Arthur Andrews, Phil Howells and Jim Tinley. Arthur died in the early eighties and Phil in the last year or so. But Jim was a bit younger than the others and retired to his beloved Porthleven - Helston's nearby fishing village - and became a well-known local character and painter. I last saw him in 2011 when we arranged to meet up for a drink and a catch up. He was, always, a wealth of anecdotes and dry humour and delighted in hearing what my contemporaries and I had got up to since our previous catch up. I, in turn, loved to see his latest work in progress. He was a very good painter and was brilliant at capturing the people who populated his beloved village.

Sadly Jim died earlier this month but he left behind a legacy of wonderful paintings including these below:

Some people touch your lives in ways you don't appreciate at the time. Even though I eventually became a writer it was my art teachers who made the biggest impact on me at school. They taught me to see the world around me rather than just glance at it. In particular they gave me a love of people watching, which ultimately led to a life-long fascination. Almost all of the characters in my books are drawn from life.

And there's the clue - drawn.

I'm sad that I haven't got down to Cornwall very often in the last few years; life has been too busy. And now, sadly, there will be no more boozy catch-ups.

But I relish the fact that the last time we met, Jim told me that I seemed to be turning into him.

If that means being a kind, talented, inspirational human being, I'll take that.

But I expect he was talking about the hair and beard.

Oh, and he told me to lose the belly, which, to some degree, I have (he'd got rid of his and was keen to demonstrate the fact).

RIP Jim. I'll raise a white wine spritzer to you tonight.