evseymour

Word on the Wire

Category: Cheltenham UK

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.

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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’.

 

AND THEN THERE WERE NONE

On Monday night, we went to the opening of Agatha Christie’s ‘And Then There Were None’ at the Everyman in Cheltenham. Having paid filthy lucre for the tickets, I didn’t review it for the Cheltenham Standard, but it’s hard to take the critical gene out of the culture vulture’s DNA so here goes.

For those not familiar with the play, ten strangers are lured to a remote island off the coast of Devon (and, coincidentally, my old stamping ground.) Stranded, one by one the guests are ‘picked off’ in fairly imaginative ways. It soon becomes clear that this is not the work of a deranged outsider. One of the party is a killer.

The play is very much a product of the time in which it was written and by today’s standard it might seem dated, and yet this is entirely the point and part of its allure. I loved the old style set with wood panelling that slid aside to reveal a view of the coastal skyline, the fact that the whisky decanter got a thorough working out, that words like ‘beastly’ were banded about by reckless young men who drive at the speed of Toad of Toad Hall. The play is peppered with terrifically distinct characters including a general, judge, soldier and, of course, the ‘must have’ sanctimonious old biddy. There’s glamour too in the shape of Verity Rushworth, fresh from Emmerdale. Full of melodrama, the play is a gift to actors with comic timing. And we weren’t disappointed.

Seasoned players Paul Nicholas, Susan Penhaligon and Frazer Hines, acted their socks off, as did every other member of the star-studded cast. Professionalism ran through the entire performance like a stick of Salcombe rock. In spite of the loss of volume control from the sound system – sitting in the circle, I thought my ears might disintegrate – the play was a joy to watch on a cold Monday evening. It runs until January 31st. Judging by the full house on Monday, tickets might be in short supply. Catch it if you can…

HAPPY 2015!

Like most people, I started back to work on Monday. Having skirted coughs, colds and other nasty little bugs during Christmas, I’m afraid that, happily for some, I began the New Year without a bang and without a voice. Undeterred, (I don’t feel particularly unwell) I took the opportunity to look ahead and sort out my book reading schedule for the Cheltenham Standard. I’ve mentioned this before but I seem awash with novels in all genres from lovely female authors, but very few from male writers. In the interests of balance for Cheltenham readers, I’d genuinely welcome newly released novels from the male of the species. I’m quite easy to contact through my website. http://www.evseymour.co.uk Gloriously, my first two reviews for the New Year will feature Colette McBeth’s sublime psychological thriller ‘The Life I Left Behind’ and Anne Zouroudi’s ‘The Feast of Artemis’, gastro-porn meets murder mystery. Both novels really made my Christmas reading a joy.
On the writerly front, I’m working on revisions for ‘Beautiful Losers’ for US publisher Midnight Ink. I’ve never worked directly for a US publisher before and what’s most striking is the ‘can do’ and upbeat approach. Within weeks of being signed, I received a handy dossier answering all the questions I might have thought of and a lot I hadn’t. Basically, I was given a step-by-step outline of what happens and when in the months leading up to publication. Editing is an elevating process whomever the publisher but I’ve discovered some intriguing differences between British and Americans. For example, Americans use double quotation marks in reverse for dialogue – imagine sorting that lot out over 400 pages – and some of my more English phrases are clearly bewildering to the average US reader. Nonetheless, working with a hawk-eyed editor is very satisfying. 2016 (the year of publication) seems a long way off, but I’m pretty certain it will shoot by. In fact, 2015 is looking pretty cool all round. I hope it’s the same for you too. To all my blog followers, readers and friends, here’s to you having a lovely, lovely, happy and healthy New Year!

ALL SHAPES AND SIZES

Like writers, book launches come in all shapes and sizes. I’ve attended glitzy affairs for high profile authors – sometimes held at literary festivals where you have a glass of fizzy plonked in your mitt by a smiling publicist – as well as the more usual signings at bookshops. With the demise of the latter, writers are finding different ways to launch their brand new novels.

Recently, I’ve been invited to a couple of virtual book launches and, no slur intended, but I don’t really get them because, for me, I like talking to people face to face and, if lucky, finding other writers with whom to swap gossip and generally chat about word on the wire. Let’s face it, there’s so much you can’t possibly pick up online. Wasn’t it Gore Vidal who said: ‘Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little.’ Well, there is nothing like a book launch to observe that sentiment at close quarters! Sure, there’s lots of grinning and glad-handing, and well wishes, and they are genuinely meant, but it’s also human nature for the less successful to have a little pang when clutching hold of a brand new novel that isn’t theirs while thinking (read this in a dramatic voice): ‘This should have been mine!’

My first novel was launched at the London Book Fair, which was a lot less glamorous than it sounds.   I lurked around a stand for the best part of a couple of hours and as, no pun intended, nobody knew Eve from Adam, I was studied by very few punters and in the same way a scientist views a new variety of algae.   The best bit was the dinner afterwards with my agent and husband. Since then, I’ve had less formal launches at hotels and libraries. Frankly, I’m more interested in ‘getting around a bit’ via radio interviews, talks, and participating in panels at literary events when I’ve got a new book out. I enjoy this side of the business, although in common with many writers, there is a point where I yearn to be at home writing my next tome.

So with all this flowing through my head, I set off for deepest, darkest Shropshire last week to attend the launch of ‘The Testament of Vida Tremayne’ by Sarah Vincent. If you’re not familiar with the novel you can catch my review in the online version of the Cheltenham Standard.   Suffice to say, that the main protagonist Vida Tremayne is a writer who lives on erm… the deepest, darkest Welsh borders. Honestly, when I stepped inside Sarah Vincent’s home, I thought I’d stepped into Vida’s! Relieved to find that all Sarah’s friends were perfectly lovely, (no obsessive fan lurking around the kitchen sink or puma stalking the grounds – please buy and read the novel) I spent a jolly afternoon eating scrummy chocolate cake and chatting to her friends. These included a couple of writers, Suzanna Williams and Lisa Carey, and it wasn’t long before we were in a coven of three discussing writing methods, which was pretty fascinating. And before you ask, no, the green-eyed monster consumes none of us!

THANK YOU FOR THE MUSIC

If I were parked on a desert island and asked to supply eight pieces of music for the programme ‘Desert Island Discs’, I’d probably choose film music because it hits the spot on so many levels, not just aurally but visually.  I can’t listen to Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana without thinking of that tragic scene on the steps in Godfather Three when Michael Corleone’s daughter, Mary, is shot dead. John Barry, most often recognised for his Bond themes, surpassed himself with John Dunbar’s theme in ‘Dances With Wolves’, and who can fail to be moved by Maurice Jarre’s soaring strings in Lawrence of Arabia, or stirred by Hans Zimmer’s fabulous score in ‘Gladiator’? When life isn’t kind I have a habit of playing this at maximum volume – sorry neighbours – to bolster me. In the same way, Vaughn Williams ‘ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis’ and the epic scale of the harmony reminds me of my main protagonist, Paul Tallis, and my favourite ‘Russian’ novel in the Tallis series ‘Land of Ghosts’.  And so the list goes on. But my attention has been caught lately by some superb soundtracks accompanying recent TV dramas and boxed sets.

It all started with the theme to ‘Luther’ and Massive Attack’s creepy, sensuous Paradise Circus. The creep factor continues in ‘Vikings’ with ‘If I had a heart’ by Fever Ray in which electronic sound combines to create a haunting, icy and atmospheric backdrop to Ragnar Lothbrok’s dark ambitions. Ramin Djawadi’s distinct musical identity, with his hallmark ‘horse cantering’ rhythm, is richly displayed in the theme to ‘Game of Thrones’, and must be one of the most covered soundtracks – I recently stumbled across a clip of the Queens Guards’ own version.

So far, so good, and while theme and incidental music can be used to magical effect, it can also spring a strange, if not jarring, note. While the use of rock music, specifically Nick Cave’s sublime ‘Red Right Hand’, tracks from the Arctic Monkeys and Jack White’s cover of U2’s ‘Love is Blindness’ – one of my all time favourites – serve Peaky Blinders brilliantly, the same device, using tambourine-rattling 60’s sounding music, (Straight Up and Down by the Brian Jonestown Massacre) fails (for me) in Boardwalk Empire. It just doesn’t resonate, which is a shame because, when the music of the Prohibition era  is threaded into each episode, it delightfully complements and enhances what is an incredibly stylish American period gangster drama.

The only downside of all this musicality: I constantly have a theme tune of one sort or another revolving around my brain. Tra-la!

FANTASTIC FINALES

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the superb second series of ‘Peaky Blinders’. I said that I had a horrible feeling that it would ‘end in tears’. Well, the final episode seemed to be fulfilling my prophecy. Providing a master class in dramatic tension, ‘Blinders’ had me on the edge of my seat right up until the last few frames. I won’t insert a spoiler, but if you want to find out how to craft a story or simply watch it as a pure piece of brilliant entertainment, I can’t recommend this drama highly enough.

In the same vein, the last episode of Gomorrah held a few surprises. From a dramatic viewpoint, I was slightly bothered by the fact that every character has a ruthless and cruel streak, but I guess you could argue that these are based on real-life Naples gangsters – what else should I expect? Indeed, one of the sweet-baby-faced actors Vincenzo Esposito (who comes to a nasty end in the series) was partly chosen for his role because he has heavy links to organised crime.   Since then, he’s been arrested in connection with a brutal stabbing. It’s the gripping realism of ‘Gomorrah’ that makes it so watchable. Yes, it’s ugly, it’s unfair, it lacks glamour and this is a good thing because it opens your eyes, without being preachy, to the fact that this kind of lifestyle can only end one way.  I’ll definitely be watching the second series.

So what was next? The second series of Vikings and, my goodness, this has been ramped up in every way. Ragnar, not content with one woman in his life, fancies himself as a bit of a Scandi-Lothario, although wife number one is having none of it and heads off into the sunset in a real show of girl power. She returns later, having sorted out husband number two, to prove herself as a shield-maiden. Something that struck me more forcefully this time around is the importance of women in Viking society. They fight. They can divorce their husbands. They oversee marriage ceremonies. They also appear to have a bit more social mobility than their Christian counterparts.

As expected, there’s plenty of plotting as alliances are made and broken. Revenge is exacted and sometimes with a cruelty that is jaw dropping. I’ll leave you to work out what the punishment of the ‘blood eagle’ amounts to. Finishing where I started, in common with ‘Blinders’, the second series of Vikings builds on the first. It’s more character-driven and tightly plotted, and for that reason very much more satisfying.

 

WHAT A LAUGH!

Last week, I had one of those low energy moments. I’d gone to bed tired, slept and woke up tired and wired, if that isn’t too much of a contradiction. Like the sorcerer’s apprentice, I’d got a number of plates spinning and was in danger of at least one of them whizzing off and smashing over my head. So by the end of that particular day, I could just about string a sentence together but didn’t have the aptitude, or the desire, frankly, to sit down and read anything, let alone a good book. Help was at hand. My other half had spotted the signs of my imminent crash and burn and, after one hell of a pep talk, plonked a DVD in my hand. ‘We’re watching this tonight.’

Now I’m not Jude Law’s greatest fan, but oh my goodness, he gave a storming performance, dare I even say a Dom Perignon of a show, in ‘Dom Hemmingway’. The opening scene has to rate as one of the most bizarre I’ve clapped eyes on in ages. Picture this, if you dare, Dom in prison giving a soliloquy in praise of his… ahem… member (cock, if you want to use Dom’s description). It goes on for ages, as does the blowjob he’s given. Now, before you think what poor taste and I’ve scraped the barrel, the writing was exceptional and vaguely reminiscent of the fabulous Shakespearean style passages spouted by Ian McShane in ‘Deadwood’. If you watch ‘Dom Hemmingway’, you’ll see, in a brilliant piece of plotting, that Dom’s private bits have a star role in a climactic scene and not at all in the way you’d expect.

So what the hell is the film all about, you may ask. Well, foul-mouthed Dom is out of prison having kept his mouth shut for twelve years. His silence has nothing to do with loyalty and everything to do with what loyalty will buy on his release: loot, and lots of it from his Russian gangster employer. Things don’t go according to plan and Dom, who has a combustible temperament, is in grave danger of cocking it up (no pun intended). Only his sidekick, Dickie, magnificently played by a long-faced and long-suffering Richard E Grant, can save him from his tendency towards self-destruction. Amazingly, there is a hidden story that is utterly heart-warming: Dom’s clumsy attempts to make up with his daughter for all the bad years he put her through. It’s not clichéd. It’s not cheesy. It’s credible and provides a wonderful flame of hope that Dom can redeem himself. The film is tagged as ‘Raucously Entertaining’. Indeed it is, but it’s so much more and, for a bargain price and ninety minutes of my time, sheer magic.

CHELTENHAM ROCKS!

It would be heretical of me not to begin this blog by mentioning the Cheltenham Literary Festival, which runs from October 3rd to the 14th. My daily walk often takes me through Montpellier Gardens so I observed the park transform over the week leading up to one of the most fabulous and prestigious literary festivals in the UK, if not the world. This year, I watched with more pleasure than usual and a sense of ease, unlike last year when the sight of project managers made me faint. And no, this has nothing to do with the virility or otherwise of the mostly male crew, and everything to do with the fact that I took part in a panel on crime writing.  I suffer badly from ‘stage fright’, a revelation to those who know me and have seen me in action. Thankfully, I always rise above it. (In the early days when I was a new writer, I once memorably froze. My mind emptied of words, thoughts and pretty much everything else.) So, hand on heart, once I’ve wobbled to a seat, sat down and opened my mouth, nerves kick in and I’m articulate.

I’m not taking part in the festival this year, the highlight of my week then was the launch of the new weekly newspaper, the Cheltenham Standard. Invited with my book reviewer hat on, I, or rather we (other half) rocked up to Lily Gins and entered the crush. The mayor and mayoress were in attendance, Fiona Fullerton (ex-Bond girl and now successful property developer) appeared, and I got to talk to journalists on both the Standard and sister magazine, Cotswold Style, PR people, Press officers and folk from the Everyman theatre, and many more. It would be fair to say that, in a couple of hours, I met more movers and shakers on the Cheltenham media scene than I’ve done in two years of living here. One of the big highlights was getting my paws on the first edition of that week’s newspaper. I’d written a book review of ‘The Monogram Murders’ by Sophie Hannah who appeared at the festival on the same day as publication.   Which brings me to my main point.

When I started writing this blog my intention was to comment on books I’d read, creative writing and the arts in general. Time devoted to reading is now time also devoted to reviewing. Yes, I can report on the glorious return of ‘Peaky Blinders’ with the smouldering Cillian Murphy reprising his role as Thomas Shelby. I can comment on ‘Hell on Wheels’, a superior Western with one of the most original villains I’ve seen in ages in the form of the ‘Swede’ played by Christopher Heyerdahl, and the sublime BBC production of ‘The Driver’ featuring David Morrissey. But if it’s book reviews you’re after, check out the Cheltenham Standard website and follow the link. There, you’ll find, to date, reviews of ‘The Judas Scar’ by Amanda Jennings; ‘The Monogram Murders’ by Sophie Hannah, and if you check out tomorrow’s edition, ‘Vagabond’ by Gerald Seymour. Next up: ‘Silencer’ by Andy McNab.