evseymour

Word on the Wire

So…

Every writer I know is interested in words, phrases and modern idioms. I’m like a magpie in this regard. Shame on me, but the hipper the phrase the more I’m drawn. Perhaps this is why I’ve spotted a definite trend on the radio and TV to use the word ‘So’ before answering a question. It’s now become ‘so’ commonplace that I marvel if anyone can respond without resorting to it. It goes something like this: Questioner: ‘Would you like to explain how pollution effects the environment of the abominable snowman?’ Answerer: ‘So pollution has a particularly negative effect due to…’   ‘So’ what the heck is going on?

I reckon it’s a bit like those joining words beloved of weather presenters. The smooth talker doesn’t bother but the less accomplished chuck out ‘and’ as if it has two syllables. This handy trick buys time and is usually inserted before ‘the rain is coming in from the east’ or whatever. In a similar way, ‘so’ tacked to the beginning of a sentence gives the person answering a couple of seconds to assemble what comes out of his or her mouth next.   How this all came about, I’ve no idea. Having watched wall to wall Gomorrah and Romanze Criminale for the past few weeks – can’t recommend either highly enough – I notice the Italians use ‘Allora’ a lot. It’s translated as ‘Well’ or, you guessed it, ‘So’. Could it be an Italian influence, I wonder? If so, who am I to complain?

BUT what I really don’t ‘get’ – and I’ve overheard it so many times in restaurants, cafes and pubs – is, instead of requesting a drink or meal with a simple: ‘Please can I have…’ or ‘Could I order a…’ we now have ‘Can I get…’ Get? Where the hell did that come from? It rather suggests that the person doing the ordering is going to personally nip behind the bar and help his or herself.

Driving through Herefordshire a couple of weeks ago, I noticed lots of lovely welcome signs that, nevertheless, left me bewildered. The slogan is ‘Hereford You Can.’ You can what, I wondered? Go far? Get a life? Naff off? ‘Nuff’ said.

CLIMB ABOARD THE MAGIC CARPET

Most writers feel a bit odd after writing the last page of a novel before sending the finished draft to an agent. Yes, there will be edits and revisions but, essentially, the story crafted over many months is down ‘on paper’. I’m no exception. Last Friday, I felt strangely lost, vaguely unwell and tired. So the perfect antidote was to climb on board the magic carpet and lose myself in a good book.  ‘The Gingerbread Wife’ an anthology of stories by Sarah Vincent was my magical destination.

One reviewer described the collection as magic-realism. It’s apt because each story, although set in domestic reality; definitely has a touch of the fairy tale about it. Take ‘Esmerelda’ and a husband ‘who knew what he wanted’ – in a new wife, to be specific. Never has the saying ‘Be careful what you wish for’ proved more apposite. Sexual politics is also at play in ‘The Gingerbread Wife’ and ‘Manipura’ for Vincent is the mistress of describing the lot of unfulfilled (usually middle-aged) women. Her stories give these hard done-by, aspirational individuals a voice and usually an escape route to freedom. Written with great humour and incredibly stylish prose, in which animal imagery abounds, these stories are little gems of characterisation and insight. ‘Think Big’, is a poignant portrait of gruesomely overweight Effie Fisher looking for love. The creep factor is high in ‘The Centipede’ and ‘The Last To Leave’. Linda, the psychic waitress in ‘The Perambulator’ is cursed by her ‘gift’ so that she sees things most of us would run a mile from.

And yes, there’s mention of astral cortex’s, reincarnation, difficult energies, Tarot, wishing wells, and spiritual worlds that might seem strange and foreign to some. Therein lies the charm of these tales.  However cynical or ‘grounded’ you might be, I guarantee you will not fail to be entranced by Vincent’s literary sorcery.

These are not stories with closed happy endings. Rather, they leave you thinking crikey, what happens next? If I have one big criticism, eight stories are not enough.

Available from Amazon.co.uk it’s a steal at £3.99

PROMISES, PROMISES…

I like to think I’m pretty good at keeping my promises. If I say I’ll do something, I generally do it. Specific others may be forgiven for thinking, ‘Yeah, right’. By specific, I mean writers whose books I said I would read and review but, months on, spectacularly failed to do so.

I cannot blame it on Euro 2016 or Wimbledon – yes, I watched a lot of matches, but only in the evenings and at weekends. Crimefest is now a distant memory. (I read four fab novels in preparation – see previous post). Stonking family events are par for the course when you have a tribe the size of mine, so I can’t use this as a mitigating factor either. Have I been sunning myself in the sweltering heat or in foreign climes? Fat chance. Even my blog has reduced to once a month instead of once a week.

With regard to watching TV dramatizations and film, I confess that I’m guilty as charged.   Too many to mention, I particularly enjoyed, ‘The Five’, Harlan Coben’s superb and gripping thriller about a disappearing boy, ’13 Hours’, based on a true story about the secret soldiers of Benghazi, TV Western series ‘Texas Rising’, clue in the title, and (enjoyed is stretching it because of THAT scene) ‘Bone Tomahawk.’ So when not slumped in a heap at the end of the day, precisely what have I been up to that renders my reading for pleasure time minimal to non-existent? WRITING.

Aside from crafting reports for my day job in which I work with unpublished writers, and carrying out edits on ‘Don’t Tell Anyone’ scheduled for publication in December 2016, and ‘An Imperfect Past’, in March 2017, I’m working on a brand new stand alone. I delivered the first 70k words only a couple of days ago to my agent to give her a steer.  There is still much work to be done to finish the novel.  Once this is ‘in the can’, I intend to honour my commitment.

In the same way I like to vary what I eat, I take pleasure from mixing up my reading. So, in no particular order, the following are first up on my menu: ‘The Gingerbread Wife’ an anthology of stories, by Sarah Vincent, ‘In Her Wake’ by Amanda Jennings, ‘The Corruption of Chastity’ by Frank Wentworth, ‘Killer Plan’ by Leigh Russell and ‘The Locker’ by fellow Midnight Inker, Adrian Magson. Starters fully consumed, hopefully, I can move on to main courses that are already stacking up on my ‘to be read’ bookshelf.   Promises, promises…

 

 

 

 

BEAUTIFUL BOOK LAUNCH

Book launches are unpredictable affairs. You can promote and tweet, blog and bleat but every writer realises that folk are busy, have commitments even if it’s slumping in front of the TV with a glass of wine or block of chocolate at the end of a busy day. Those who would love to come often live in different parts of the country so that’s another factor to take into account. Throw into the mix that the official launch of ‘Beautiful Losers’ coincided with the Referendum – what were we thinking, you may ask – and, by rights, it should have been a disaster.

BUT also throw into the mix the fabulous venue – none other than The Suffolk Anthology, the finest independent bookshop in Cheltenham – and the odds were already stacked in our favour for a respectable turnout. I’ve done a few of these types of events, but this rates as the sweetest. It wasn’t simply the environment or the glasses of fizz or the support of bookshop owner Helene Hewett for ‘Beautiful Losers’, but the people who took the time to turn up. I had a natter, if only briefly, with each and every one of them. It was a lovely warm occasion which probably explains why I was a lot more open than usual when giving a brief chat about myself and how I ‘fell into’ writing.

DSC_1508Oh, and as I’d hoped, not a single word was uttered about ‘you know what’.

 

FROM THE CRIMEFEST COALFACE

I went, I saw and, no, I didn’t conquer, but more importantly, came back in one piece. Restrained beyond belief, only one glass of Prosecco passed my lips after I’d done my final stint, and very good it was too.   Not that I feel smug. I was so wired on Friday night, I slept the patchy sleep of the inebriated – something to do with the strange alchemy that takes place when a collection of writers get together.   And this, for me, is the big plus of an event like Crimefest.

It’s such a smashing occasion to catch up with old friends, meet new ones and generally put faces to people you might only have conversed with on Twitter, Facebook or through email. It’s the one time you can stop being a loner and hang out with others who also spend the majority of their time travelling around inside their own heads. Writing is, for the most part, a solitary activity. It can become slightly obsessive and alienating so it’s good to chat with those who ‘get it’ because they suffer from it too.

But I wasn’t there simply to natter. The ‘Shades of Grey’ panel, with moderator (and surely, stand-up comedian) Kevin Wignall, and panellists Hugh Fraser, Emma Kavanagh and Coline Winette, had to rate as the most surreal of experiences.   It went down a storm with the standing room only crowd and I was still receiving comments about it over breakfast the next morning. Probably the least said about my risqué contribution, the better.

The ‘Obsession’ panel with Tim Weaver, Caroline Kepnes, Aga Lesiewicz, on which I moderated for the first time, was as tough as I expected it to be, which only goes to prove the incredible skill of those moderators who make it look dead easy. Fortunately, a terrific panel of highly intelligent writers came to the rescue as did the audience with a host of interesting questions.

So yesterday afternoon, punch-drunk with enthusiasm and conversation, I boarded the train to head back home.   Did I feel tired?   Absolutely. Did I have fun? You bet.

I’ve been gabbing about it ever since…

OBSESSION- MOI?

A couple of days ago, I finished the fourth novel for the panel on which I’m moderating for Crimefest. I’ll be honest, having never moderated anything other than rows between my five offspring, I was slightly concerned with – scrap that, obsessed with – doing the best job I could. Not for me simply cruising through websites or mugging up on reviews. I genuinely felt I needed to read the authors’ most recent work to get a handle on who they are, how they write and what they have to say if I were to stand any chance of asking interesting questions (rather than asking the obvious). Once I’d made that decision I do as most people do when confronted with something they have never done before: I phoned a friend. Who better person to turn to than highly experienced writer and moderator, Anne Zouroudi. Two of her tips immediately stuck in my brain: ‘When you read the novels make notes,’ and ‘Write more questions than you ever think you’ll need’. There was a whole lot of other stuff in Crimefest’s Moderators’ Manifesto, too, including the exhortation to ‘Relax’. Are they serious?! Anyway, the truth is, so far, it’s been a treat to do the spadework, which actually felt nothing more taxing than choosing which gorgeous plants to put in the garden, no expense spared.

With the title of the panel firmly in mind: ‘Obsession: A Thin Line Between Good and Bad,’ I steamed through ‘You’ by Caroline Kepnes, ‘What Remains’ by Tim Weaver, ‘Betty Boo’ by Claudia Pineiro and ‘Rebound’ by Aga Lesiewicz. Each book is quite distinct in style and approach and, if you haven’t already read one or all, I highly recommend you do so. And no, I’m not going to spill the shout lines other than to say obsession creeps in, in one form or another.

So all that remains is for me to craft a mighty list of questions and then ensure everyone gets a fair shout on the day. My intention is to make the experience for writers and audience as entertaining as humanly possible. It goes without saying that, if you can grab an opportunity to see us in action, we appear on Saturday 21st May at 11.20 a.m.

If this isn’t enough to whet your appetite, I’ll also be participating in ‘Morality, Justification, Excuses and Reasons – Shades of Grey in Crime Fiction’ with Hugh Fraser, Emma Kavanagh, Colin Winette and participating moderator, Kevin Wignall on Friday 20 May at 14.50 pm.

Crimefest is held at the Bristol Marriott Royal Hotel, and runs from 19-22 May. Don’t miss it!

 

 

 

 

 

RADIO GAGA

Radio interviews are brilliant ways to promote books so it’s no surprise that when a book is released, authors flock to the airwaves. And I’m no exception even if it rates as the most hair-raising experience. Search me why this particular form of publicity holds so many terrors, but, for me, it does. I guess I worry that my brain will freeze, that I’ll become inarticulate, lose the thread, or be unable to field a question. Persuading myself that it was character building as well as good publicity for ‘Beautiful Losers’, it was in this steely frame of mind I entered BBC Radio Gloucestershire’s shiny and welcoming station last Friday.   (All kudos to Paula).

I’ve done a fair few interviews over the years. Once, I did six back to back in an afternoon, but I can honestly say, hand on heart, that I’ve never engaged in an interview with such a knowledgeable and interested presenter. Did we have fun?  Yes, we did.

Most show hosts simply don’t have the time to read more than the press release. No wonder with the volume of guests travelling in and out of the studio in an average week. Yet Nicky Price had actually read 155 pages in a matter of days, the magic words ‘page-turning’ and ‘chilling’ inserted into the introduction before I had time to draw breath. As nerve-settlers, this is as good as it gets.   And then, of course, it didn’t hurt that BBC Radio Gloucestershire has a ‘walk-on’ part in the novel when my main character, clinical psychologist, Kim Slade is involved in a radio phone-in programme to discuss eating disorders.

But what really worked for me was that I was able to discuss the themes that mattered with someone who understood what I was driving at. I had a forum in which to promote the idea that none of us are immune from crumbling under pressure given the right amount of stress and confrontation. One might expect an intelligent clinical psychologist to out-psyche a stalker. Except human beings are complex creatures and, in a tight corner, not of all of us behave in a way anticipated or even hoped for.   In this regard, Kim Slade, with all her experience and expertise, proves that terrified people will often behave in strange ways.

You can still catch the interview if you tune into ‘Listen Again’ on BBC Radio Gloucestershire with Nicky Price on April 1st. ‘Beautiful Losers’ is discussed at the very beginning of the show.

TELLING FIBS.

I reckon that, however confident or self-assured, any author that claims to be relaxed when his or her book is published is telling fibs.

Imagine spending a year on a story, maybe more, crafting, cutting, researching, revising, and reworking. Oh yeah, and listening:

To your agent.

To your reading buddy if you have one.

To your other half if he or she dares.

Picture investing time and energy in characters that are as real to you as friends and family, only to bid them farewell, let them go and make their own way in the world. As with children, it’s only natural that a parent worries. We want out kids to be accepted. So too with books. This is especially important if, as I’ve done, a writer diversifies by writing in a different genre in which reader reaction is an unknown quantity.

Sarah Vincent, writer and good friend, wrote a brilliant blog recently, entitled, ‘Does Writing Make You Miserable?’ See her website: http://www.sarahkvincent.co.uk. In my case, honestly, no, writing doesn’t make me miserable, yet I’d be a liar if I didn’t ‘fess up to morphing into an unhinged obsessive the moment a novel is released. Tell me an author who doesn’t read reviews or check ratings, sometimes at hourly intervals, as if by simply looking one can actually influence a reader’s choice.

As if.

With so many books published daily, it’s no wonder that a novel can take a death-defying nose-dive one moment, only to ping right back up the ‘hit parade’ the next. All of this can take its toll on a writer’s nerves.

And I haven’t even started on reviews.

The fact is, no matter how many five star reviews a book acquires (and I’m talking independent reviews) it’s the one and two stars that a writer remembers, sometimes in gory detail. Critics, particularly of the armchair variety, can be cruel. I’d love to issue a lofty smile and say that criticism from any direction glances off me. It doesn’t. If you have a beating pulse and, trust me, in common with the rest of the population, writers bleed, a nasty remark, especially if it isn’t particularly constructive, can hurt like hell. What is one to do? Sometimes, once the sting abates, something will resonate and you can learn from it. Sometimes, it’s best just to ‘delete’. There is some truth in the adage, ‘No such thing as bad publicity.’

And the lovely remarks, the five star reviews, the general warm pat on the back from enthusiastic readers? I won’t tell fibs about that either. I absolutely love basking in the warm fuzzy glow.

My latest novel, ‘Beautiful Losers’ is released in the UK on April 1st by Midnight Ink. If you’d like to hear me talk about the novel, tune into Nicky Price’s programme on BBC Radio Gloucestershire after 3.00 pm the same day.

LET’S HEAR IT FOR THE GALS!

Two events took place last week on Tuesday March 8th. Both resonated with me. First, it was Independent Women’s Day and, secondly, my novel ‘Beautiful Losers’ was published in the U.S. The connection probably seems blindingly obvious, but actually the truth is subtler.

‘Beautiful Losers’ is the first time I’ve written with a female main protagonist in eight years. Prior to this, I wrote action adventure style/spy fiction with male main protagonists. Now every writer knows that it’s important to creep under the skin of both sexes, but choice of main player requires a special degree of skill and confidence. I explained why I preferred ‘writing as a guy’ a couple of years ago in articles I wrote for Book Oxygen and Books by Women. In the latter I was particularly revealing: ‘Returning to why I find it easier to write from a male perspective, the simple truth lies in my childhood.’ I went on to explain how my mother’s death when I was eight years old had a profound effect on my life. ‘From that moment my family consisted of my two big brothers and my father. In spite of me being sent away to school, they were the biggest influences on my life by far, while my mother’s death was and remains the most defining. It was a catastrophe and it changed us all, but for me something elemental shifted. ‘ I go on to describe the domestic mayhem that ensued, including a fast procession of females in and out of our house, and how the mood music at home focused on cars and women, booze and business deals, and that it was a ‘no-brainer’ to slip into a man’s skin when writing.

So why, you’re entitled to ask, the big departure now? Many factors, I guess. Three of my children are daughters and I’ve watched them grow up and have children of their own. Without going all ‘shrinky’ on you, I’ve not always found it easy to be around women, let alone be part of the ‘sisterhood’. It’s probably a hang-up associated with aforementioned ‘domestic mayhem.’ Over time, my attitude has changed simply because I’m older and I, too, have evolved. And there has been a surprising element of joy in discovering that my own sex is neither to be feared nor distrusted (mostly) and that there is, indeed, a special, unique camaraderie that exists between women.

And something extra that is hard to define.

‘Spiritedness’ comes close, and a determination to succeed whatever the odds, for it’s very often females that pick up the pieces when things cut up rough. It just so happens that same gutsiness is an essential attribute found in the best and most convincing main protagonists (male and female) and I hope that Kim Slade, my main player in ‘Beautiful Losers’, despite the pressures she is put under in my story, emerges a stronger, more grounded, individual than when she started – if only for a short time!

Like I said, writers need to drill down beneath the skins of their characters in order to make them as credible as possible – easier when there is much to celebrate about the fairer sex.

 

‘Beautiful Losers’ will be published by Midnight Ink on April 1st in the UK

 

 

SING SOPRANO

I have absolutely no idea how or why I missed ‘The Sopranos’ first time around, although a second marriage and five kids (my stock excuse) might have had a bearing.   As the saying goes, ‘better late than never’ and all the more poignant because James Gandolfini, who played Tony Soprano so convincingly, is very sadly no longer with us.

So it was with a sense of fevered anticipation that we prepared to devour 4,567 minutes or seventy-seven hours worth of viewing. And, my goodness, was it worth it. I can now see how ‘The Shield’ and ‘The Wire’ were spawned, both fabulously addictive series.

But back to David Chase’s ‘The Sopranos.’ It’s not easy to encapsulate six seasons, except to say that, as complex and credible characterisation goes, it doesn’t get much better. At various times, I hated Tony Soprano, top-dog crime lord. I hated his nephew Christopher, played fabulously by Michael Imperioli, I wanted to scream at the screen when ‘Sill’ dispatched Christopher’s girlfriend, Adriana. I loathed Pauli, one of Tony’s henchmen for his racism and mindless ruthlessness, and yet, at other times, I warmed to them, pitied them, found them endlessly amusing. If you could chart my emotions running through the entire series, the graph would dip deep, climb a bit, drop a bit, and soar, only to return to the bottom when character after character, to my mind, got their own kind of karma in spades. In many ways, my emotional journey with Tony Soprano mimicked that of his shrink, played with great style and class by Lorraine Bracco. Even she, in the end, realised that she was dealing with a self-serving sociopath as adept at manipulating her as his enemies and cronies.

Through it all, family was the glue that held it together, and I’m not just talking about ‘our thing’.   This is where the wives, girlfriends and widows played their greatest role. They saw the kids through school and advised on career choices, cooked huge dinners, ensured the refrigerator, (which had a minor part all its own in the Soprano household) was full, took care of their husbands’ every need while, on a personal level knowing said husband was banging some broad.  They did it all, while also knowing on an unpalatable, secondary level that the only reason they were able to live in style, eat out, holiday as and when, receive expensive gifts of jewellery and clothing, was because it came from ill-gotten gains and murder.   In spite of it, I found it hard not to feel respect for Carmella Soprano, played superbly by Edie Falco, for treading a fine path through the mayhem.

And the final climactic scene in the diner about which there has been much debate? Yes, I was reminded of The Godfather when Michael Corleone heads for ‘the john’ to pick up a gun. The man who casually glances across at the Soprano family definitely pricked my foe-detector. From a visual perspective, Hopper’s famous painting ‘Nighthawks’ sprang to mind. The final moment was not so much fade out as pitch black, indicating, for me, that Tony Soprano died as he lived. But what do I know?

A strong test of a series is the length of time it stays with you afterwards. I reckon this will take a long while to fade. In a lighter aside, I’m now in danger of asking any visitor to the house: ‘Do you want corfee?’ in that wonderful Noo Joirsey accent.