evseymour

Word on the Wire

OCCUPATIONAL HAZARDS

You’d think that sitting on your own in a quiet space with just you and your computer, or pen and paper, thinking your own thoughts would be the safest of occupations. Well, think again.

There’s been a fair amount of chatter on the airwaves recently about the physical problems associated with sitting for extended periods of time, ‘hunched over’ a manuscript. ‘Author’s arse’ – a migration of fat to that area of the body might be a royal pain in the rear – pun fully intended – but at least it doesn’t hurt. Likewise, ‘Bloggers Bulge.’ Easier to conceal but, nevertheless, annoying and unflattering. Headaches can afflict anyone who sits in front of a screen for long periods; the trick to take short breaks, which might seem obvious. However if you’re engrossed in a major scene, it’s easy to overlook. My personal thermostat bust years ago, consequently, I’m a chilly mortal in winter, overheated in summer. Not being terribly active (even when standing) can exacerbate my temperature gauge. A minor irritation maybe. Neck, shoulder and back pain, well, that’s a whole different story.

After experiencing agonies with my left shoulder, I decided to try a standing desk.   The result was as instant as it was amazing. Aside from the freedom of shifting my weight from one foot to the other whenever I fancied it, (to a casual observer, looks like I’m practicing dance moves) I could finally say bye-bye to frozen shoulder. Feeling exceptionally pleased, and filled with the kind of zeal commonly found in those who’ve conquered addictions, I proclaimed to my writer mates that they also had to get a standing desk or similar contraption. My closest writing friend had problems with her back, made worse by sitting. Astonishingly, after taking my advice, these magically disappeared. Great. Big tick. Well done me. Unfortunately, what might sort out one problem sometimes triggers another. My friend developed excruciating pain in her feet. She now has two problems instead of one. I hang my head in shame.

The mental health issues associated with writers are well documented; largely thanks to several big names brave enough to discuss them. Some feel that writers write because they are natural depressives, the general idea that writing is cathartic. Some believe that writing should come with a government health warning. Spending hours in isolation is deemed unhealthy. Yes, we have connections to social media, but it’s not quite the same as human interaction. (Not sure how many of my FB friends would turn up at my funeral!) All kinds of demons can assail you in the comfort of your own workspace, however nice you make it (and, naturally, with your standing desk in place.) Lack of confidence – is what I’m writing garbage? – and writer’s block, often inextricably linked, are just two that threaten to derail the writer. Fear of failure and rejection are also demonic big-hitters and they can cripple the unsuspecting author. To top it off, if you’re reliant on writing novels as a sole source of income, you could be in for an unpredictable, seat of the pants ride.

While reactive depression might be normal after a bad review, weak sales or, dare I say, other authors storming the charts with zillions of five star reviews, (green-eyed demons this time) while yours languish, it would seem that writers are more prone to a general sense of loneliness, isolation and abandonment than ‘civilians’. In addition, we’re expected to turn ourselves into mini celebs if there is a book to publicise. Pressing the flesh – even if only on social media – might come easy if you’re in sales, but for those who spend long hours alone crafting a story, ‘coming out’ can be quite a disturbing experience. By nature, most writers are not performers, let alone marketing men or women. And with so many books published every week, month and year, it’s necessary to ‘ ‘woman up’ or ‘man up’ to get out there and strut one’s stuff. It takes a different kind of energy and skill to ensure that a novel, however good it is, gets noticed by bloggers, reviewers and, very importantly, readers. While we might be passionate about our story, not all of us have those skills.

You might possibly conclude that the occupational physical discomfort endured by writers bear no comparison to the potential mental fall out. I’m not saying that writing turns you into a basket case, physical wreck, or both. Loyal and supportive friends who are also writers keep me sane and I hope I do the same for them. I guess anyone working in the arts and creative industries probably shares similar risks – perhaps with the exception of ‘Author’s Arse’!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

SILLY SEASON

167890-FC50 copySharp-eyed readers will note that I have been silent since June. No, I was not sunning myself throughout July, (well, that’s a bit of lie because I’ve done a fair amount of walking and appreciating my new surroundings) but with a new home to organise, people to see, writing projects aplenty, and a new cover and title, ‘House of Lies’ to promote, my blog writing got parked in the long grass.

So now back to the crazy month of August when MP’s are on recess, the country is run by stand-in’s and families try to entertain their kids through weeks of pouring rain – well, it was the last time I looked out of the window.

Me? I’m juggling work commitments that include writing a brand new story while looking forward to the release of ‘A Deadly Trade’ later in the year, followed by ‘Final Target’ as part of the Joshua Thane series of thrillers, and published by Harper Collins’ imprint Killer Reads. The covers look drop dead gorgeous but I’m not allowed to splash them here even in a ‘For Your Eyes Only’ spy kind of way.   The cover reveals will be unveiled soon – promise.   Oh, yes, I also have a new website in the pipeline, which after ten years is long overdue. It’s going to be sleeker, meaner and thoroughly stunning – I’ve seen the sneak preview.

So lots to look forward to as we wend our way to you know what. Unlike the retail industry, I refuse to mention that word in the second week of August!

ALL CHANGE

We have now officially moved from ‘Crump Towers.’ I jest not. To explain, our last home was situated in ‘Crump Way’, named after William Crump, the head gardener at Madresfield Court, Malvern in the 1880’s.   He cultivated the ‘William Crump’ apple, which was lovely for him, but naming a location with ‘Crump’ in the title is a little more questionable. Every time I was asked for the address, usually by a service provider, there would be a titter followed by ‘Are you serious?’ A witty writer mate (Sarah Vincent) came up with ‘Crump Towers’ and it stuck. Thankfully, our new address is cute, suits the cottage vibe, and the area.

But that isn’t the only change.   Exactly a week ago, I pretty much switched off from social media due to the move. Tuning in via a mobile Wi-Fi, I ‘lurked,’ threw in the odd comment and, though tempted to enter a debate about whether or not independent editors who help writers should be acknowledged by publishers, I resisted the urge. Did the sky fall in or my world collapse? Absolutely not. It also got me thinking how incredibly dependent, dare I say addictive, social media can be – and not always in a healthy way. It’s no accident that doctors advise those who suffer from depression (I’m not particularly thinking about writers) to steer clear. This is not to say that I won’t enter the fray again next week, although, rightly or wrongly, I’ve always been an advocate of the ‘less is more’ philosophy.

Other breaking news: Harper Collins is hosting a big 200th Anniversary bash next week, which promises to be a glam affair.   DHH Literary Agency is having a party for bloggers mid-July, and ‘Vixenhead’ is about to go through a metamorphosis. No changes in the story or text, I might add, just a little finessing to make it more attractive as a ‘Killer Read.’ Watch this space…

WORK IN PROGRESS

Twenty thousand words into a new novel, (WIP in the trade) I’ve stalled. No, I don’t have writer’s block. A house move is on the near horizon and it’s no exaggeration to say that, in this regard, I could give Kirstie and Phil a run for their money. A quick tot up, and I’ve lived in four different counties and am about to embark on a fifth. In another life, I must have been a nomad. Goodness knows how my long-suffering other half puts up with it. This time, he’s made me promise that it’s our last. All sounds a bit final to me, but hey-ho.

As disruptive as this sounds, there are significant writerly benefits of moving around. This occurred to me recently when writing a piece for the ‘Vixenhead’ blog tour about the importance of location. Anything new stimulates, particularly if you mix it up a bit. I’ve done coastal, rural, town, semi-rural, city. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that, depending upon where they live, people are different, but I’ve sometimes encountered unique ‘pecking orders’ and that often provides food for thought for novels.

So, in between packing boxes and making arrangements, I’ve returned to my big passion: reading. Currently, I’m loving Bernard Minier’s ‘A Song For Drowned Souls’.   It dropped onto my desk a couple of years ago and I’ve only just got around to selecting it from my huge ‘To Be Read’ pile. The title alone caught my eye.   What’s inside, however, blows away on every level: superb, memorable writing coupled with a chilling storyline. It should see me through to moving day. After that, it’s back to work in progress.

Oh, and in case I get mired in packing boxes and mislay my computer, an exciting development to report: ‘Vixenhead’ will be released in paperback format on June 1st.

NO APRIL FOOL

As predicted, March was a bonkers month. Two novels released: one in the US, one here and the realisation of a long-held dream with the publication of ‘Vixenhead’ by Harper Collins’ imprint, ‘Harper Impulse’ on March 24th.

It was smashing to receive so many good wishes of support from those I knew and, as importantly, those I didn’t. But, like any writer, I’m on tenterhooks at the prospect of reviews, particularly as I’ve already started my next novel. Storytelling is a subjective business, but there is nothing more destroying than someone who doesn’t ‘get’ your work. Rain on one’s parade doesn’t come close. It’s more of a tidal wave and it can really put you off your game. You can probably tell I’m one of those awful glass half empty characters but, thankfully, quite unlike my lovely main protagonist, Roz Outlaw.

This week also marks a leap into the unknown. I’m taking part in my first every blog tour to talk about my favourite authors, how I write and, of course, revealing bits and pieces about the creation of ‘Vixenhead’. Like Easter bunnies, the posts are popping up every day from the 30th to 3rd April.   If you missed the earlier posts, I’ve attached a handy schedule.   Hope you enjoy…

Vixenhead Blog Tour Schedule

MARCH IS MY MONTH

167890-fc50I’m thrilled to announce that, this month, Midnight Ink is publishing ‘An Imperfect Past’ and sequel to ‘Beautiful Losers’ in the U.S. on March 8th and, on March 24th, Harper Collins’ Imprint Harper Impulse is publishing the e-book version of ‘Vixenhead’. Two novels in one month is a first and it feels remarkable.

Both novels feature female main protagonists who must unravel family secrets. Both live in Cheltenham.   While Kim Slade, my therapist who specialises in young women with eating disorders, is an obsessive and intense individual, Roz Outlaw, in ‘Vixenhead,’ is quirky and doesn’t take herself too seriously. In common with most main protagonists, they share certain attributes: tenacity, determination and courage in the face of adversity. The fact is I love them equally and, a sucker for family skeletons rattling around in cupboards, I had a ball with both stories.

Rather amusingly, I appear to have become a one-woman promoter for Cheltenham. Who needs Cheltenham’s tourist board when you have Seymour’s list of acknowledgements in ‘An Imperfect Past’? The bookish equivalent of the Oscars, best movie goes to The Battledown Guest House in Hales Road and, with permission, I even gave supporting actor roles to its real-life owners. Cafes I frequent are mentioned – and, no, I don’t get free coffee – and so is the terrific independent bookshop in the Suffolks, The Suffolk Anthology. I don’t think I mentioned my hairdresser. Maybe I should next time. In other words, for local geography, this is as authentic as it gets. However I’m not writing a travel guide. Story and drama comes first, second and third.

For those wishing to order ‘Vixenhead,’ it costs a wonderfully priced 99p.

CRASHING OVER CORNFLAKES

‘I’m thinking of starting a support group for partners of writers.’ This little bombshell was dropped over breakfast some days ago. I think it was a joke because my other half, although a people person, is not given to joining groups of any persuasion, let alone starting one. Once I’d got over choking over my cornflakes, I worked out the message behind the statement: his way of saying: ‘You’ve actually been reasonably sane and pleasant to be around when you took your foot off the gas and re-joined the human race for Christmas, long may it continue when you get back to business.’

And I see his point.

Only your other half watches the mighty struggle with a plot problem, witnesses the messy reaction to a bad review, the apoplexy when an editor wants significant changes that seem, initially, bonkers, or the knee-knocking fear before a literary event or, hell’s teeth, a radio interview – I have a particular terror of these even though I’ve done a fair few.   In other words, they get the real, beneath the skin writer, the one that obsesses and sweats and has impossible highs and mind numbing lows.

But there is also another more serious side to this rather tongue in cheek observation. In common with other writers, I strut my stuff on social media. It’s inescapable. Publishers and agents expect it and, apparently, so do readers. In the midst of a real life crisis, (mercifully rare) however, I am known to ‘fake it.’ This can be confusing for your other half. ‘How can you write like that when X is going on and you feel like this?’ As a result, I’ve made two resolutions for 2017. The first is to get my priorities well and truly straight. Real life relationships matter more than fictional. The second, rather than faking it, when life chucks its worst, I will go off air, under radar, to ground, because I only pretend in my stories.

CARRY ON CHRISTMAS

A few weeks ago, I was in a blind panic about Christmas. Our family is large and my workload was larger. I had proofs to read for ‘An Imperfect Past’, the sequel to ‘Beautiful Losers.’ I had significant edits to make to my new novel for Harper Collins’ imprint ‘Harper Impulse’ (still making them). Editorial work continued to flow and I also had a book to promote to the US market, ‘Don’t Tell Anyone’ under the pseudonym Eleanor Gray. (Released in the UK in January next year).   In ten years of writing, I’d never encountered anything like it. So what to do?

Coupled with a solid morning of shopping in lovely Cheltenham, online ordering became my new best friend. I have a terrific other half so I knew I could rely on him to take care of the domestic side – he’s actually better at it than me!   With regard to work, I made a list of commitments and just went for it. It’s amazing what you can do if you’re ruthless. And I had plenty of ‘ruth’.

Now you might argue that something was bound to give (aside from my mental health) in terms of quality, but, strangely, I found the reverse. Maybe it’s all those little endorphins rushing around, but I actually felt a real buzz of creativity. Whether or not that belief is misguided, who knows? I guess it will be in the proverbial (Christmas) pudding when those books hit the shelves.

So, galloping towards the finishing line for Christmas, I want to thank all those lovely readers who bought my novels this year. Thanks also to bloggers and reviewers who gave up their precious time to read and comment. May you continue. I send huge good wishes to my writer mates and to publishers and agents, alike, and to those who have flown the literary flag, not just for me, but other writers. I genuinely hope that each of you has a successful, stress-free 2017, and that you have yourselves a merry little Christmas.

IN HER WAKE by Amanda Jennings

I finally read this highly acclaimed novel over a week ago. Sometimes books fail to live up to the hype. Most certainly, this isn’t one of them. I loved it from the opening page to the last. It’s the kind of novel whose characters stay with you long after the final chapter brings the story to a close.

For those who haven’t yet picked up the book, the story begins when Bella returns to the family home following the death of her mother. Not long afterwards, her father commits suicide. He leaves a note for Bella that reveals she was abducted as a three year-old from her family while on holiday in France.

To say this rocks Bella’s world is an understatement. Bewildered, angry and confused, she leaves her extremely controlling husband and sets out to find her real biological family. There is a point in the novel when the old Chinese proverb kicks into play: Be careful what you wish for.

As with most crimes, but perhaps particularly with abduction, the victims are many, and consequences catastrophic. Jennings does not flinch from painting an honest account.   Bella’s desperate desire to unravel lies, and search for her true identity is, at times, painful to read.   Yet this is not a story without hope – far from it.

Yes, the writing is superb and richly atmospheric. Yes, there are twists and turns. Descriptions of Cornwall are so clear you can virtually smell saltwater and seaweed. But, for me, what stands out is Jennings’s innate understanding of how humans tick. As much as our sympathies are with Bella and her blood family, we also glimpse why some couples would steal a child and cause so much intolerable pain. So many victims, so much wreckage and yet, through it all, and without a shred of sentimentality, Jennings ensures that Bella and her family emerge stronger and happier. It’s a tour de force of a novel. Buy it, read and see.

‘In Her Wake’ is published by Orenda Books.

in-her-wake-hbcover-copy-2

A GAME FOR ALL THE FAMILY

Reading can be a subjective business. Obviously, choice of genre plays a massive part, but there are subtle, sometimes even unconscious, decisions we make when selecting a novel: first person narrative versus third or authorial; written in the past or present tense – everyone brings their own preferences to the table. And, often, those decisions will govern our enjoyment or otherwise of a story.

In my day job I’m paid to be objective.   Personal taste doesn’t enter into it at all. So when I read for pleasure I admit I’m picky and, lately, I’ve become ruthless. If I fail to engage with, ‘get’ or even like a story or main protagonist within sixty or so pages, as painful as it is, I abandon it.   When I say ‘pain’ I mean it because, as a writer myself, I appreciate exactly how much work goes into the creation of a well-crafted story. But all’s fair in love and writing and I, too,recognise that my own work is not everyone’s cappuccino.

Back to my reading habits: even ‘next best things’ and books acclaimed by others have been quietly put away. It’s not a reflection on the story or the skill of the writer, but a reflection on what rocks my personal boat. This is a very long-winded way of me saying that, having dumped two novels to read for pleasure in the past couple of months, I selected one from my extensive pile of ‘unreads’ and one I’d meant to read a year ago: Sophie Hannah’s first standalone novel, ‘A Game For All the Family.’

The novel is described as a domestic thriller with psychological quirks. ‘Quirks’ implies something peculiar. Downright strange is nearer the mark and in the most glorious way for Hannah is genius at messing with people’s minds and I don’t mean simply the characters. After reading a twist that I never saw coming in the final pages (and I pride myself on spotting the big reversal) I needed to lie down in a darkened room. How the hell did she pull it off, I wondered. Oh, and I haven’t even started on the story within a story element.

Without spoilers, a basic précis is as follows: Justine Merrison is a burnt out TV executive in search of the quiet life in Devon, her one aim to do absolutely nothing, which proves to be a lot harder than one would think. Her teenage daughter, Ellen, settles in at a rather alternative school where she becomes best friends with George. Mothers are prone to rummaging through their child’s homework and Justine is no exception. To her horror, she discovers that Ellen is writing a murder story. So what? Except that the murder is set in the family’s new home.

Throw in anonymous calls from a stranger with threats to dig three graves – one for Justine, Ellen and husband, Alex – she rightly fears for her safety. With a lack lustre response from the police, it’s down to Justine to find not only the person endangering her family but the murderer in Ellen’s story. It’s a heart-stopping case of fiction meshing with reality.

Hannah captures the peculiarities of family dynamics with flair. Location ticked my personal box because, having lived in Devon for eighteen years, I know the area well, but where she really scores for me is her ability to persuade the reader of what seems, on the surface, something implausible. For feats of imagination and wicked psychological insight, she deserves her title as ‘Queen of Psychological Crime.’

 

‘A GAME FOR ALL THE FAMILY’ is published by Hodder & Stoughton

 

9781444776034