evseymour

Word on the Wire

Month: September, 2014

A WRITER’S LIFE

I’ve stopped getting up at stupid o’clock. Yes, I’m still writing the tome but I’m not a fount of inexhaustible energy and after one nasty tummy bug followed by a cold that left me voiceless – joy for some – I thought I ought to pay attention to what my body was telling me. So back to a full night’s sleep, sitting down at nine a.m. and writing like the wind until interruption strikes.

And strike it did.

We live in a very nice street where owners take pride in their properties. There is always someone drilling, banging or having scaffolding erected in preparation for building works or rendering to commence. The thing about scaffolders and builders is that they have a taste for loud popular music only rivalled by their voices, which need to be at a hundred decibels to be heard over people like Katy Perry and Joe Budd. I’m pretty Catholic in my musical tastes but even if someone were to play Muse at full belt (a band I love) I’m going to snarl when trying to write.

And then there’s the constant stream of phone calls, not from people I know, you understand, but from call centres in far-flung places asking to speak to a Mrs Arnold before moving straight on to a patter about Windows something or other. I’ve tried everything from ‘She doesn’t live here’ to heavy breathing (usually freaks out the caller) to, more recently, slamming down the phone.   I feel sorry for these people, I really do, but I feel more sorry for me when, for the zillionth time I attempt to construct a sentence, or catch that particular piece of dialogue or mood.

Part of daily living you may argue. Get over it. Except for the writer this kind of pause in the flow can be catastrophic and it’s difficult to convey to ‘civilians’ who don’t put pen to paper for a living. I guess we share something in common with other folk who work from home. Everyone and his dog believe that you are readily available, on tap and can drop ‘scribbling’ at a moment’s notice. After all I’m only hanging around waiting for the Muse to come. I have an added complication in that my numerous offspring, whom I love dearly, are prone to drop in on their Mum. They know me well enough now to spot the glazed look, which tells them that although I’m nodding and shaking my head (mostly) in the right places, I’m far away on Planet Seymour in Novel la-la land and haven’t really listened to a word they’ve said.

Fortunately, I have a sympathetic other who is known to shop, cook and generally take over the smooth running of the house when things get fraught. Despite this, I understand why wealthy writers saunter off for month long Sabbaticals in remote and exotic places and the less well heeled take off to quiet retreats where phone reception is poor and social media is banned. Good on ‘em.

 

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CONFESSIONS OF A BOOK REVIEWER

A couple of weeks ago I left a teaser at the end of my ‘Back on Air’ blog. I wrote: ‘I’ve another little gem to disclose, which should materialise in a couple of weeks. Until then, I’ll keep you guessing…’ Well, guess no more. This week my book review of ‘The Judas Scar’ by Amanda Jennings appeared in the Cheltenham Standard, a new weekly newspaper that combines wit with an incisive take on all things Cheltenham. I’m delighted to play my small part but for more personal reasons than you’d think – it’s completely reignited my passion for reading.

To put this into context and in case you’re scratching your head, I’ve always loved stories in whatever form they come, whether it’s through watching film, sitting in a pub listening to a well told tale, or more obviously, through novels. Reading to me is heart and soul, meat and the proverbial drink. Not exactly rocket science you could say – I’d be a very poor novelist if I didn’t enjoy reading – but, and I’m not admitting to a heinous crime, I can’t be the only writer who, at the end of a long working day, is tempted to slump in front of the television or switch off the light rather than getting stuck into the latest thriller, romance, historical yarn or whatever. Give me a few days holiday and I can tear through the pile of books stacking up on either my Kindle or bedside table with relish, but weaving it into my every day can be more problematic. In my guise as an editorial consultant, there is a tendency to feel slightly ‘worded out,’ and the lure of easy viewing is on a par with a lover you keep going back to because you can’t think of a good enough reason to move on.

Reading for the purposes of review has been a revelation. It most fully completes what I do. As a crime writer whose day job is to help others craft their work, I ‘get’ how much it takes to craft a story. I know about the blood, sweat and, sorry guys, tears from first idea to publication. I understand the many decisions a writer takes in the creation of a great plot, how much they give of themselves to fashion that unique voice. When I write a review you won’t catch me being scathing or sycophantic. You will know that I’ve really read the novel, thought about it and will give it my considered opinion. Stories are stories are stories. I make no distinction between genres because the process is the same and I pretty much love them all, although I admit I’m a poor judge of sci-fi and fantasy.   This aside, not for me the dashed off, vented spleen and plain nasty review by armchair critics who need to get out more and live a little.   Book reviewing should be a privilege as much as a pleasure, and I’m glad to have been given that opportunity.

BRAQUO III

Anyone who reads my blog knows that I’m as much a fan of screenplays as books. A passion for stories and storytelling is the common denominator. Weeks ago, I proclaimed with a great fanfare that Season Three of ‘Braquo’ had arrived, ‘Bliss!’ was my description on Twitter.

I first mentioned this excellent French cop drama in March. It’s a sort of Gallic version of the hit US TV series, ‘The Shield’ only with more wine and cigarettes. I found it particularly hard not to narrow my eyes against gales of smoke, care of Gitanes and Disque Bleu, as one cop after another lit up and, all mean and moody, discussed the next threat to careers and lives. Incredibly gritty, morally ambiguous, Braquo weaves the kind of dark narrative that makes you reach either for the light switch or the nearest cushion to press over your eyes. Worst of all, you suspect that what’s on screen could and does happen in real life. When criminals are bad, they are very bad indeed.

In this regard, Braquo III didn’t disappoint – a slightly strange description when talking about the extreme end of violence. I watched three methods of dispatch and punishment that I’d never encountered before. Disturbing didn’t cover it. I have a reasonably tough constitution for this kind of thing but one scene involving crushed glass made my insides curdle. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not seeking to glorify or sensationalise violence. Like I said, the horror lies in the fact that, deep down, one knows that gangsters use appalling methods to extract what they need to know from others.

One of the advantages of the box set format is that the writer or writers can combine a number of storylines that often overlap with each other. By the time I hurtled breathlessly towards the last episode, I wondered how on earth the story was going to wrap up. By my reckoning, there were at least four intermeshed plots requiring resolution. Sure enough, two got the full climactic treatment. It never occurred to me that the season would conclude on a cliffhanger of all cliffhangers with not one but two intensely dramatic storylines left open and perfectly primed for the beginning of Season Four. Only one word remains for me to say out loud and, as on screen, it doesn’t require a subtitle: Wow!

BACK ON AIR

In common with many, I ‘blogged-off’ for most of August having made a promise to myself to have a ‘proper’ break. I caught up with friends and family, walked a fair bit, grabbed some sea air and, on my agent’s recommendation, read a couple of novels, one I particularly loved and more of this in a tick.

As the saying goes, promises are made to be broken. When an idea flits into your head, becomes a fully conceived story overnight – trust me, this has never happened to me before – you just have to go with it. In fact, I had little choice in the matter. The story was and is like a force of nature. So in between rising at stupid o’clock and hammering away until day checked out and turned into night, I enjoyed some magical moments. They are these:

‘Me Before You’ by Jo-Jo Moyes. As mentioned before, I’ve wide tastes in reading but it’s been a long time since I picked up what could loosely be described as romantic fiction. I say ‘loosely’ because, although this is definitely a heart-breaking love story, (I had to reach for the tissues) it’s so much more because it tackles the contentious theme of assisted dying. It takes a brave writer to pen this kind of novel and, in less skilled hands, it could be a disaster but Moyes pulls it off with flair and passion. One minute you’re laughing out loud, the next sobbing your heart out. An absolute page-turner, it was pure joy and I’ll be buying and reading more of her work.

While on the subject of passion and tears, the best film of the month (and we watched a few) was, without doubt, ‘Lone Survivor’. Based on a true story, it tells the tale of four Navy SEALS tasked to eliminate a senior al-Qaeda leader. The mission goes wrong, largely because of faulty communications, and the men are left stranded and isolated against dozens of Taliban. The clue is in the title, but again, this is no ordinary ‘shoot ‘em up, Stars and Stripes, naff good guys versus bad guys’ movie.

The early part of the film is devoted to the perilous nature of carrying out surveillance in enemy territory. Direction and camera shots ensure that the viewer is intimately caught up in the terror of believing that at any moment one false step and hell will be unleashed. Compelling and deeply involving, the film tells a tale of heroism and honour, of tough men honed by hours of brutal training, fighting for each other as much as fighting for their lives. Extraordinary courage is not simply the preserve of the Americans as aid comes from a surprising quarter; not all Afghans are fans of the Taliban. I haven’t always been that keen on Mark Wahlberg’s choice of roles, but in this film he, in common with Taylor Kitsch, Emilie Hirsch and Ben Foster, are superb.

Best box set of the month goes to Braquo Season 3 and I’ll be covering this in more detail next week.

Surprise of the month: the Pet Shop Boys’ cameo appearance on the Archers. I’m an intermittent listener and nearly fell over when I heard Neil Tennant talking to Lizzie Archer and the gloriously gauche Linda Snell at Loxfest!

On a personal note, the highlight of my month was a two-book deal with the US publisher Midnight Ink. ‘Beautiful Losers,’ the first in the Kim Slade series, will be released early 2016. As mentioned on Facebook recently, this is a novel close to my heart. It’s been a long time in gestation and proves the point that patience is a virtue even if it’s not something I possess in spades. More on the novel and its creation in future blogs.

So it’s back to September with a bang. I’ve another little gem to disclose, which should materialise in a couple of weeks. Until then, I’ll keep you guessing…