Something happened…

Many years ago I wrote a story called ‘A Strong Hand From Above’; I’ve not published and not sure I will – I may completely rewrite it, take the plot, take some of the characters and rewrite the whole thing. The end of the story is – I hoped when I wrote it, quite exciting, escape from death, a shoot up in the depths of a Welsh forest, but there is a misunderstanding between the two main characters, which is eventually righted on the last few pages.

When I finished it, all those years before, I kept on following the characters story in my head… and rather than it be happy ever after, it occurred to me that after such shocking events, and even with the happy ending, in reality the two main people would be quite traumatised, and it would probably effect their relationship. Their lives couldn’t go back to how they had been in the before, because they would always remember the horror.

I didn’t write a sequel to ‘Farholm’, another of my novels and the first I published, but again, the story of my characters, in this case Deke and Michael carried on – and I actually wrote quite a lot of it down. I was tempted to follow their lives – ad maybe I will one day… or maybe I will just take the idea of what happened to them and write about that with new characters.

In ‘The Stalking of Rosa Czekov’ I did write about the afterwards – before the novel begins Rosa is in a hostage situation, and the man who has taken her is shot dead, standing right beside her with a gun to her head – I’m not spoiling anything by revealing this! My story explores the effect of this on Rosa, her husband, her friends, and the person who may be stalking her – or is she imagining it, haunted by what she experienced?

I saw these swans and their cygnets…


… and seeing them swimming along towards the little bridge was like the action in a story – and look there I am, the shadowy observer!


… and after they have gone, there is just the merest trace of their trail through the duckweed, the event happened, and it left its trace!

Now what…

Lucky Portbraddon is finished! It is done and it is published by KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) on Amazon. I’ve had five days of doing other writing, blogging mostly, but a few bits and pieces of other stuff too, while I consider what next. It’s a bit of a relief, to be honest, to launch this novel, which has been with me for nearly a dozen years, and as I wave it cheerio I remember some of the things I should have put in its luggage – or taken out, and realise that some of its clothes need a little more attention than I gave them… I guess it must always be the way – I’ve heard it said about painting that it’s important to know when to stop. There is the scene in the film ‘Mr Turner’ about the artist, when a work by him is hung in a gallery, and he strides through, between the crowd, paintbrush in hand, and adds a tiny dot of red to the picture – but Turner was a genius!

So what to do next… possible ideas…

  • despite what I just said, should I go back to Lucky Portbraddon and have one more last go at the manuscript while my thoughts of omissions and unnecessary additions are fresh in my head… I can upload the edited version very simply (the great thing about KDP)
  • complete my next Radwinter novel, ‘Earthquake’ which is about 4/5 finished
  • pull together some of the ideas and do some research for the Radwinter novel after that, maybe called ‘The Cunning Man’
  • work on a small book I’ve written called ‘So you want to write‘ – my ideas and observations on starting writing; I wrote this for my students when I was teaching, I’ve used it in my creative writing groups… should I pull it together and publish it?
  • finish the last few chapters of my old novel ‘The Story of Frederico Milan’ and get it off my virtual writing shelf? I began to write it about ten years ago, like Lucky Portbraddon… and it really does need finishing and publishing… it’s about a man whose wife vanished three years before the story starts and his father-in-law is convinced he murdered her…
  • begin to seriously think about how I could tell the story of my great-grandparents; he was a strict Jew from a very wealthy family, she was the daughter of a middle-class basket making factory owner – and not Jewish
  • I have an idea to write my own history – but not as a conventional biography, but through remembered items we had at home, items which no longer exist like the serrated tomato knife with the red handle… maybe I should start this as a series of blogs…
  • I’m not going to think about my ‘Dancing in the Road’ story which is only about 30,000 words so far, or my ‘Hamazasb and the Missing Shoe’ which only has a couple of chapters, or ‘A Strong Hand From Above’ which needs a complete rewrite – i.e. starting all over again and writing it from the beginning…

Hmmm… I’ll do a bit of mulling, and let you know!

In the meantime, if you haven’t read Lucky Portbraddon, here’s a link:

Light reading… light writing?

I’ve always written stories… well as soon as I could write, and before that I told stories, either to myself or to my younger sister. I had a bit of a clear out a short while ago, and going through the masses of paper I have stacked away I decided to be ruthless, and much of what I had written when I was younger I just threw out. When I told friends this some of them were quite shocked – ‘oh you should have kept it’… But why? It wasn’t any good, it wasn’t very interesting and certainly no-one else would have the slightest interest in  it… no, definitely my children  wouldn’t. Some of it that I glanced at was so embarrassingly awful that it was quite a relief to get rid of it!

I even threw away some early novels…

  • “Telling All the Truth” – in a way an intriguing story-line, but so dated, corny, and clichéed… I have it in my head, so I can update it or use it to model a new novel some time… if I choose to… I could weave the main plot into another story maybe, ditch the characters and use the plot.
  • “Shadows on a Silver Screen” – the title alone demonstrates how ghastly it was, I had no qualms at all about ditching this one… I shan’t even share the embarrassing plot, let alone the horrible, pretentious characters!
  • “The Man in the Sun”… in a strange way, I’m quite fond of the memory of this – the couple of hundred thousand words which made up this vast what you might call a family saga went straight into the recycling bin, but there are elements which I might revive in another story… but with a completely different title!
  • “Out of Time”… again there are elements which might make another story – and I know there are other novels with this title so I would have to change it which is a shame because I like it and it really fits… The actual manuscript has gone, but the story is still in my head. It starts with a girl in a poetry lesson at school, who comes across a poet in an anthology and becomes fascinated by him… twenty or so years later she meets his son… this does sound a bit of a romance, a light read, but who knows… maybe I’ll introduce some dark elements into it if it ever gets looked at again…

Now I am actually rewriting an old idea I had, just taking the basic characters and plot, rewriting, reworking, not copying or editing, but writing it anew word by word… And I think it again is definitely going to be ‘light reading’ unless I drastically change some of the elements… but maybe for a beach read, a flight read, an ill in bed with a cold read… “A Strong Hand From Above”…

What happened next?

I take it as a great compliment when my readers want to know what happened next to the characters of a book I’ve written. I hope they don’t feel frustrated by the ending of the book,, I hope the ending ties everything up, but leaves situations and personalities open for their own future… I definitely don’t want ‘and they all lived happily ever after’ because real life isn’t like that; my novels obviously aren’t real life, the plots and situations really couldn’t happen, but I want them to be believable within their own world.

So… I complete a novel, but I as writer have the luxury of being able to continue following the lives and stories of my people – only in my head! Having said that, on a couple of occasions I have actually written down the ‘what happens next’. This has usually been in the past when I was working at a day job and sometimes my imagination tank would be empty, but to keep physically writing I would write the next chapters of certain completed novels. What I wrote was never meant for publication, it was merely a little indulgence on my part.

However, I have found these ‘exercises’ to be useful; certain scenes, incidents, events, have found their way into later work – changed in detail of course, but essentially what I wrote in my follow-up stories. For example the end of ‘A Strong Hand from Above’ two of the characters start a new life together having experienced several terrifying and horrific incidents where they were threatened with death, shot at and shot, betrayed and nearly killed. These horrific scenes come near the end, then there is the ‘happy’ ending when all is resolved, but having completed the story I wrote separately about what their relationship might be like, having experienced such horrors. This idea, of a new relationship haunted by the past developed into a theme of ‘Flipside’, although with totally different characters with completely different histories.

In ‘The Stalking of Rosa Czekov’ two characters get together and in essence run  away from their past lives to start a new life together. The characters in my next novel, ‘Magick’ are complete opposites of those in ‘Rosa’, but there are certain things which I wrote about which I am now using. Two people who definitely do love each other, and definitely will have a happy and long-lasting relationship, are just at the beginning of that, and are finding their way into the new situation of actually living together with all the everyday things which might give rise to misunderstandings – what is the best way to do the washing up? Are you putting the washing machine on the wrong programme and ruining my clothes? For example.

When I was writing yesterday about Sophie Kinsella’s top writing tips, I said that I don’t carry a note-book, I don’t make notes… but I do write other stuff, and sometimes that other stuff slots into a new story. Several years ago, I wrote about a little incident, nothing to do with anything, about a fat man who had to get out of bed quickly,and try and get dressed while answering the phone. I wrote about him hopping about trying to pull on his trousers, phone in one hand… and while this was happening a beautiful woman who had been in bed with him was watching his performance…Suddenly this incident which I had written, as I say several years ago, found a place in Magick:


I was woken by my phone, and thinking it was the alarm I tried to switch it off only to find I was talking to Paul, and Paul more agitated and upset than I’d ever heard him. He’s a big, calm man and always in control; I think in his youth he may have been a fighter, and now he takes and rolls with whichever metaphorical punch is thrown at him. Now he sounded as though he was hurt, winded, and panting in the corner.

“Thomas, you’ve got to help us! Tom has run away from home!”

I sat up abruptly pulling all the covers off Kylie; I was momentarily distracted by her lovely body, then flung the duvet back over her, but she was awake too.

“Did you hear the news last night? About the teacher, the teacher that was stabbed?”

“What? Tom stabbed a teacher?” I shot out of bed in pure panic mode. I don’t know where I thought I was going, stark naked.

“No, no, nothing to do with Tom. A teacher was stabbed at a school in Leeds yesterday, and there’s been a big thing about knives in school… Tom was actually watching the news with us and was terribly upset… His school is going to be even more likely to chuck him out now…I went in to see him before I left – I’m off to London – supposed to be off to London, and I just wanted to see him, not wake him, just to see my boy…and Tom wasn’t there, his bed hasn’t been slept in!”

I was relaying this to Kylie who was pulling on one of my t-shirts as I hopped about trying to put on some shorts. There’s probably not much funnier than a fat man trying to put on his shorts at any time, but hopping about one-handed and nearly catapulting myself into the wardrobe would have had Kylie laughing but she could tell from my half of the conversation that there was nothing funny about this wake-up call.



A Strong Hand From Above

My old novel of the same name has lain dormant for many, many years; having struggled with ‘Flipside’ my previous e-book, which was written years ago and presented me with the dilemma of whether to update it (give the characters internet access and mobile phones!) or whether to keep it in the 90’s, I found that the decision was easier with A Strong Hand. It will be brought up to date.

The other ‘difficulty’ is, that again like Flipside, I only have a hard copy of it… so am facing the prospect of copying it, changing it as I go.

So here’s an update: it suddenly struck me as I began work that instead of being a thriller, the opening read more like a Mills and Boon romance; now I do have a great respect for Mills and Boon, seriously I do. Some of the authors are great writers, some of the stories are intriguing and well-crafted, but the essence of them is that they are romances, with a strong love interest. The opening couple of pages of ‘A Strong Hand’ read just like a romance; it was patently obvious that two of the characters were going to end up in love by the end of the book. Where is the suspense in that? If the reader likes the characters they will just want to gallop through and find their hot embrace; if they don’t like them then the book will probably end up in a charity shop, unread and unloved.

After this depressing realisation struck, I ploughed on rather grumpily, until suddenly I had a realisation. Rather than copy the story out updating as I go, why don’t I rewrite? How liberating is that?! This means I can edit my nest to be published novel, ‘The Double Act’ and carry on ‘writing’ ‘A Strong Hand’!

Oh, and by the way, my featured image has nothing to do with this post, I just like Gromit!

Double Act… or A Strong Hand From Above?

Some time ago I mentioned that I had been thinking of a novel I wrote years and years ago, ‘A Strong Hand From Above’, one of my first ‘proper’ novels which my friend Wendy very kindly read; she made a comment about a particular character who and the ending of the story, that if this character had done something it would have been much more dramatic and unexpected. I wimped out, I liked the character too much, I couldn’t have him doing something so mean… but after years and years of writing, and working at my writing, I realised that Wendy was right.


After my revelation I wondered if ‘A Strong Hand…’ might be a good follow on from ‘Flipside’ and many people encouraged me to go with this; however…. however, ‘The Double Act’ is complete and although it will need a lot of work to tidy it up and knock it into publishable shape, it will not need a major rewrite as ‘A Strong Hand…’ will. I am really excited at the prospect of working on ‘A Strong Hand…’ with its new, and I hope shocking ending, but I really would like to clear the decks of ‘The Double Act’. I like ‘Double Act’, I like the characters, a bunch of women in their thirties who have been friends since they were at infants school together, and their husbands and partners; it is a novel which starts of very light, and gradually becomes darker, until the end which is (I hope) really exciting and dramatic. So it’s not that I think ‘Double Act’ is less important than ‘Strong Hand’, (it is actually a better novel) but I want to make ‘Strong Hand’ as good as I can.

It’s heading towards the end of September, and the months leading up to the end of the year are always busy and hectic; this year I am going to be starting teaching my creative writing course, I am going to try and write a novel in a month in November for the national Novel Writing Month –

– and of course there is wedding anniversary, son’s 21st birthday, husband’s birthday… oh and Christmas to think about! Oh yes, and I want to keep writing my blog!

So I think I feel confident now, I’m going with my decision to publish ‘The Double Act’ next, and ‘A Strong Hand From Above’ in the spring!



Conan Doyle and names

There was just a snippet on the radio about authors naming characters; apparently, Conan Doyle used the names of cricketers for his characters! Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle, most famous as the creator of Sherlock Holmes and a host of supporting characters, was also a very keen cricketer and used to play for the MCC (Marylebone Cricket Club. For those of you who know anything about cricket he was a right hand bat and a right arm slow bowler. In one game against Cambridgeshire he took 7 wickets for 68 runs, that means he got seven batsmen out and they only managed to score 68 runs. Conan Doyle also found inspiration for the names of his characters from cricketers he either played against or knew of; Sherlock Holmes was inspired by two men,  Mordecai Sherwin and Frank Shacklock who played for Nottingham. There was also a Derbyshire cricketer named William Mycroft, the name of whom Conan Doyle used for Sherlock’s brother. Conan Doyle used many other crickets names for his characters, maybe as many as 250… what a lot of cricketers, what a lot of characters!

Conan Doyle was later in a cricket team of writers, and another player was Pelham Grenville Wodehouse – the creator of the Jeeves and Wooster stories, and guess what? Percy Jeeves was a county cricketer of great promise, but tragically he was killed in the 1st World War.In the radio programme this morning, Val McDermid,  a writer of detective stories and psychological thrillers, revealed that she used architectural terms for her characters, including Norman Undercroft!

I sometimes come across names which lodge in my mind, names I see on signs, or memorials, or in the newspaper, but I don’t consciously use names in that way. The only time I can think of when I sort-of did it was with a character in ‘A Strong Hand From Above’; I taught with a very handsome man called John Hilton… I ‘borrowed’ his face and he became Hilton O’Brien in my novel. The actor Neal McDonogh’s portrayal of David McNorris in ‘Boomtown’ was facially an inspiration for Neil Cameron in ‘Night Vision’… but that is such a tenuous link, isn’t it.

I usually create names for my characters…. and although I’m sometimes criticised for that, at least I know there is no other Deke Colefox or Bavol Polglass  in the world!