evseymour

Word on the Wire

Category: Creative Writing

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.

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.

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

 

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.

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

 

 

A FAMILY AFFAIR

I am a huge fan of John Hart’s novels. If my house were burning down, ‘The King of Lies’ would be snatched from the flames. As we’re in Oscar winning mode, I’d definitely hand Hart a trophy.   Yes, I admire his work that much, which is why I picked up ‘Down River’.

‘Down River’ features Adam Chase, a young man exiled for a murder he didn’t commit. His stepmother, who originally testified against him, has very different ideas, and when Chase returns home, predictably, he isn’t made to feel that welcome. Especially as, no sooner than he touches base, the body count coincidentally rises.

These are the bare bones of the novel and you’ll have to get hold of a copy to find out what transpires but suffice to say, that, in common with much of Hart’s work, this is a story about family, betrayal, human frailty and unrequited love.

As Hart himself says, family provides a rich hunting ground for the writer. For it’s within the close confines of family that the greatest pain is inflicted and received, and the scope for treachery and double-cross boundless. In this regard, I was reminded of Phillip Larkin’s famous quote about what your mum and dad do to you: ‘They f***k you up…’ Hart’s complex characterisation and his portrayal of destructive family dynamics is observed with such acuity and depth of psychological insight, I was pretty convinced that he must have endured a troubled childhood. However, after reading Acknowledgements, I’m glad to flag up that Hart’s mum and dad, to whom he pays tribute, are wonderful, as are his in-laws, wife and children. It exemplifies even more strongly, if that’s possible, what a fine writer he is.

And it’s not just about the compelling nature of his storytelling. Hart is one of those rare writers whose sentences I’ll often read at least twice. Beautifully constructed, sometimes spare, his prose conveys how someone really feels about a situation, how someone would genuinely react. There is no artifice, no false emotion to suit the requirements of plot. Master of the complex up/down ending, there is nothing cosy or false about his final scenes.   Apart from encouraging any reader to buy John Hart’s books, I have one final word on the subject: Sublime.

‘Down River’ is published by John Murray

LOTS GOING ON…

Hot off the proverbial press, I’m absolutely thrilled to see that Anna Mazzola’s debut novel, ‘The Unseeing’ is to be published in July with Tinder Press.

Now I openly confess a sneaky satisfaction because I was sent an earlier draft, via Writers’ Workshop, a couple of years ago and I recognised, when working on it, that it was a stunner.  Of course, since then, Anna and, no doubt, a fleet of editors have woven their magic to create the finished book.

Set in London in 1837, ‘The Unseeing’ is based on a true story and tells the tale of Sarah Gale, a seamstress sentenced to hang for her role in the murder of Hannah Brown on the eve of her wedding.  Elegantly written by Mazzola, a criminal justice solicitor, rich in historical detail, the novel exudes atmosphere and authenticity.  Needless to say, there is much more to Sarah’s story and you’ll need to buy the book to find out.  Glorious news and I wish the novel great success.

CLIC SARGENT CHARITY AUCTION – COME ON ALL YOU BUDDING WRITERS!

It’s that special time of year again and I’m thrilled to be taking part in this year’s writerly auction to raise money to support children and young people with cancer. Bidding begins on Friday February 25th at 8 pm and lasts for ten days. Apart from doing your bit for an extremely worthwhile cause, you could be given the opportunity to have the opening chapters of your novel critiqued by professional writers or, if you fancy your name written in lights in a famous author’s novel, this could be your magic moment. For details, check out the website:

Whatever you decide, please give it a go. The charity really does help those in the most testing of circumstances and when it’s needed most.

IT’S OFFICIAL

According to latest PLR (Public Lending Right) figures, crime fiction dominates lending in libraries.   Great news, but what’s also intriguing is that US authors lead the market in the lending field, with James Patterson reigning supreme. It’s been suggested that his short (sometimes extremely short) chapters hold particular appeal for readers who, in our time-sensitive, pressurised 24/7 lives, prefer to read a book in double-quick tempo and then (speaking softly) chuck it away. Hmmm.

Musing on this put me in mind of something Kazuo Ishiguro, (The Remains of the Day) said some years ago in an interview.   He questioned whether people read quite as many books as they claim. When I heard it I wanted to cheer because, although I read a lot of books, as you might expect, they are not confined to crime fiction. Are there gaps in my crime repertoire? You bet.

Let’s be clear, even if I weren’t a writer, I don’t consider reading a book a chore, degenerate activity or an excuse for not cleaning the kitchen. It rates as one of the most satisfying and pleasurable, occasionally challenging, activities on the planet. When I wrote book reviews for the Cheltenham Standard newspaper, I read a book a week (and I mean really read it, not skipped through) in addition to working as a freelance editor for Writers’ Workshop and writing my own novels. Despite this, for all the ‘must reads’ I’ve consumed, there are plenty I haven’t. Initially, this became apparent when I took part in my first crime quiz at a literary event almost a decade ago. Was I really this ignorant, I thought as I sloped off to the bar afterwards to bolster my wounded pride. To be fair, it didn’t help that the walking encyclopaedia of crime, author Martin Edwards, was on effervescent form that evening.   Anyway, determined to smarten up, I set myself a target to plug any glaring literary gaps. My self-imposed crash course included an array of contemporary crime novelists and, somewhat oddly and in a rush of blood to the head, Dostoyevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’, not exactly your average ‘easy reading’. Am I better informed now?   Hard to say because every year new and exciting novelists take the crime writing arena by storm and, of course, I have my favourite authors to whom I return again and again.   In this regard, Mariella Frostrup in her book programme once made a comment that resonated with me. She said that of all the books one reads, it’s hard to remember every storyline. For me, of all the books one reads only the best stories remain forever.

And they certainly don’t get chucked away.

YOU SAY ‘TOMATO’…

Remember that song flagging up the differences between US pronunciation and British?   (Clearly, not taking into account regional accents).   Well, I’ve been off-air because I’m busy editing not one, but two novels due for release in September and March next year with my US publisher, Midnight Ink. Added to edits I carried out last year for ‘Beautiful Losers’ (March 2016 release), it’s provided me with a fascinating insight into the differences between two nations, not just in terms of language but culture. According to my sharp-eyed copy editor, there were not too many unwieldy Britishisms with which she had to tangle and unpick but, even so, for smooth communication, there have been some.

Before I got cracking on the actual text, I corrected every single speech mark. We Brits tend to use single while Americans use double. I’d love to be able to say that with one flick of a button on my Mac I could magically make the transition without lifting another digit. Not so. Or, at least, not so as far as I could fathom. However there are distinct advantages to adopting a painstaking, if slightly anal approach, I got to pick up on pesky if minor grammatical bloopers. My excuse for having any bloopers at all – no, I’m not going to reveal which ones – is that I invested too much brio in the writing and not enough in the grammar. Moving swiftly on, the way in which we Brits talk to each other can sometimes pose problems for US readers who might take us a little too literally. There were the rather more obvious branding problems. Halfords is unknown in the US so I had to rely on a broader term. ‘Walking in crocodile’ confuses the hell and, when we talk about calling someone (as on a phone) Americans believe this means visiting in person. ‘Hooking up’ for a chat has a whole different meaning, involving sex – not what I wanted to convey at all.

While on sexual terminology, I received a genuine eye-opener. There is a scene towards the end of ‘Beautiful Losers’ in which my heroine, Kim Slade, confronts ‘the bad guy’. It’s a genuine ‘in extremis’ situation. She’s right up against it and she curses fulsomely and extremely offensively with a very Anglo-Saxon word. Let’s put it this way, it begins with ‘C.’ This is even more offensive in the States than here – completely unacceptable in most circumstances. Fortunately, Americans have their own plethora of profane terms. Would ‘Motherf**r’ do, instead, I enquired.