evseymour

Word on the Wire

Category: Creative Writing

IN THE ZONE

I’m badly overdue with my post and it’s going to be the shortest ever, but for the best of reasons: I. Am. Writing.

Scary and thrilling in equal measure – hope this translates to the story – I’m literally sleeping, eating and breathing this one and won’t be coming up for air for some time.  Apologies for my abject failure to engage and hopefully normal service will be resumed in the not too distant future.  So adieu, farewell, until we meet again, and, as I won’t get to post before you know what: HAPPY CHRISTMAS!  May 2019 be a good one for you and yours.

Advertisements

ALL ABOUT THE PEOPLE

It seems incredible that, two weeks ago, I boarded a train to York for the Jericho Writers Festival weekend. The second I leapt aboard I sensed I was in for a treat. There I was, book at the ready, ‘stuff’ to munch, water to drink and, a few seats away, a hen party en route to Liverpool. And the girls, with mother and future mother-in-law in tow, were in high spirits. A lady sitting next to me flicked a slightly long-suffering glance and we soon fell into easy conversation. It turned out that she was a retired nurse who’d worked with alcoholics. As you might imagine, I didn’t get much reading done on the first leg of the journey.

On arrival in York, I took a taxi ride with a driver who’d fled Istanbul over thirty years previously. A Kurd, he used to be a tailor and had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the rag trade. The next fifteen minutes proved to be an entertaining masterclass on the wheeling and dealing that goes on behind the scenes of some of the world’s best (and expensive) brands. Crikey!

But moving on to the festival itself, a great confidence-boosting, lively and friendly event, for a solid three days I talked shop with likeminded souls and nobody was bored. The place was populated with agents and industry experts, editors and writers and those whose passion is all things ‘book’.

No sooner than my trotters touched the ground after the taxi ride, it was straight into a one-to-one. This is when an author sends in a query letter, synopsis and opening extract of his or her work to either a book doctor (moi) or agent, and we have a chat about it. It’s part brainstorm and part constructive criticism but, as only ten minutes are allowed per writer, it feels like a literary form of speed dating.   Fortunately, when ten minutes are not enough (and they generally aren’t) conversations are continued over a cuppa or in the bar.

At the dinner that night, I found myself on a table with writers from all walks of life. Not one was a crime writer, which was kind of great and really interesting for me.  The youngest delegate, a nineteen year-old student, wrote Historical Fiction.  Commercial women’s fiction, memoir and stories with heavy psychological themes were much in evidence in my assembled group.

My workshop the next morning was on ‘Do’s and Don’ts of Pace and Tension.’ Yes, I’d prepared. Yes, it was well attended. Yes, it went extraordinarily well with a lively Q&A session afterwards. But did I mention the dreaded tooth?!

It has to be sod’s law that, when an important event is in the offing, an affliction strikes. I won’t bore you with the dental details, but it was giving me enough jip that I felt the need to explain that my delivery would be a little less polished than normal – my s’s were particularly ‘hissy’.   Trust me, in a talk lasting over forty minutes the letter ‘s’ comes up quite a bit.

Anyway, I crashed through and managed to do the same in a smaller venue the following day for a workshop on ‘What Crime Writing Can Teach About How to Hook A Reader.’ On both occasions, the audiences were engaged, asked tons of interesting questions and, if you ever need your faith in people restored, this isn’t a bad way to do it.

The train journey back was no less entertaining and the medical theme of the outgoing trip went up a notch as I found myself sitting next to a trainee GP. On the other side of the carriageway: a retired biochemist and a neonatal consultant from Venezuela. She’d just spent eight hours taking exams enabling her to practice in the UK. She, too, was fleeing her country and at that moment I think she wanted to flee Arriva trains because she hadn’t a clue how to get to her destination. Then something magical happened: a ticket collector, called Louise, sat down, worked out a couple of options with humour and grace and enabled our visitor from Venezuela to get the correct connection. People can be quite lovely.

 

 

 

HOTTER THAN JULY

No, this isn’t a reference to the soaring temperature the UK has recently experienced but the fact that, for many months, ‘Hotter than July’ was the working title of my current novel. (For the moment, I’m keeping the new title under wraps). When I explained that changing and ‘chucking out’ (not just the title) is a major part of a writer’s life to a reader the other day, she looked horrified. With genuine concern, she asked if it bothered me.   I can honestly say, with this novel, not one bit. It probably has more to do with ‘team’ input than me. By team, I mean my agent, and editors at Harper Collins.

Often, under an author’s acknowledgements, thanks are given to the many people involved in bringing a story from first draft to publication. There’s an odd paradox that while writing is a solitary occupation, the work that goes into a novel involves numerous others.   And those ‘others’ can make the difference. This time, it was particularly important because my new story is more heavily biased towards crime fiction, rather than psychological thriller. With a nod to police procedurals, it was necessary to enlist the help of a consultant and former senior police officer.

Sometimes, even after many drafts, you instinctively know which bits in a book rock and which are … ahem… a little slow. You tell yourself that it’s necessary to paint the scene, reveal a set-up for a pay-off later, impart information (occasionally this is code for drifting into unnecessary exposition) and allow your characters to survey the countryside or cityscape instead of heading for their destination.   It’s actually quite easy to become wedded to certain scenes – after all you wrote them – when a sharp scalpel to excise would work better. This is where an independent eye and ‘tough love’ comes in.

Whether agent or editor is dishing out advice and suggestions, it’s vital to remember that they are on your side. They want the book to succeed. They have your best interests at heart. With this at the forefront of your mind, it’s easier to listen and, as happened on this occasion, a random line ignited a ‘Eureka’ moment and made me realise that I could take a more exciting and dramatic approach to the main character and, ergo, the rest of the story. Whether I’ve pulled it off remains to be seen. What I can say: more changes will be made before the final draft. All part of the deal.

 

 

 

 

STICKING MY NECK OUT…

It’s often said that we don’t know how to complain in this country. We either go all shouty and launch a nasty review on Trip Advisor or we slump into passive aggression and say nothing.  At the risk of being controversial, I’m about to talk about book reviews.

There used to be a time when book reviews only appeared in newspapers and magazines, care of professional critics. Fortunately, we now have a more level playing field that allows writers, who are not big names, to also have their novels written about and commented on. The growth in the blogger industry is truly phenomenal and hurrah for that.  Anyone and everyone can now write a review and post it.  This all sounds lovely and democratic.  However there is a downside.  Too often, nasty reviews can be posted with little or no thought to the consequences for the writer.  This also includes folk who complain about the packaging, delivery issues, or the wrong book sent to them.

Let me make it plain that I am deeply in favour of free speech. I’m not talking about the kind of review that offers considered criticism and feedback even if the review is ultimately negative. I’m talking about the nasty, the horribly dismissive one-liner, the vicious and arrogant. And no, this is not written as a result of one star reviews of my own work.   After eleven published novels, I’m  accustomed, if not quite hardened, to these. So what am I really saying?

A couple of months ago, I read a review of an incredibly popular and successful debut novel (that I haven’t yet read). The self-styled reviewer not only attacked the work but also attacked, in the most offensive manner, the writer, the writer’s agent and publisher as well as scores of readers. It appeared on a respected site: Goodreads.

Nobody put glass in this reviewer’s food, punched him (or her) in the face, or insulted him publicly in the street. And here’s the rub, the anonymity of the Internet can obscure the identity of those who set themselves up as Judge, Jury and Executioner. Rather chillingly, the reviewer I’m specifically referring to posted a child’s face as his (or her) profile. What this kind of reviewer wouldn’t dare say to a writer in person, allowed and emboldened him or her to go for it in print. Gone are the days when, if you read a novel and didn’t like it, you simply set it aside, and chose something else – something I do quite often.

While I accept that ‘if you don’t like the heat, get out of the kitchen’, that oft trotted out phrase to anyone who works in the Arts, as if ‘creatives’ are fair game to receive the sharp end of anyone’s pointy stick, it’s worth stating a few things.

The reader might spend minutes posting a ‘Ha, take that,’ review on Amazon. The writer has spent more likely a year writing a story with all the commitment, energy, passion, determination and self-belief that entails. Even bad books take time to create. However much a novel is disliked, and for whatever reason, the author will need at least twenty-four hours and often a good deal longer to lift him or her out of the crushing depression that ensues as a result of a destructive review. As for readers who carp about stories of action adventure with villains and assassins and gritty themes, when they only enjoy romantic fiction, the classics or another genre, they confound me. Did they not read the book blurb before purchase? More charitably, I like to think they fancied something new and then found they didn’t like it. A bit like checking out whether or not they really do have a food allergy.

Now I’m not saying don’t write a negative review. In fact, I’m deeply suspicious of any novel that receives trillions of five star ratings that all say how brilliant the story or writer is. But if a reader wants to post critical comments, it would be wise to ensure that these are thought out, and not simply a personal rant as a result of getting out of bed the wrong side, or because life is unkind or, dare I say, due to the reader going through the private hell of having his/her own novel rejected. Respectable and respected bloggers and reviewers, and there are tons of them, recognise this. Often a decent reviewer that doesn’t fancy a novel will simply decline to comment. It’s not a noble calling to save someone else from reading a novel that you personally hated by being deliberately unkind.

With regard to novels that are traditionally published, consider this:   a book may not be worth your hard earned, (in many cases 99 pence.) You may feel cheated of time and energy wasted wading through the most boring drivel, with characters that are cliched and with distasteful or alien themes in your view.   But respect the fact, or at least give a little credit to agents and editors at publishing houses who receive hundreds of manuscripts a week. Novels aren’t accepted for publication because of the goodness of the hearts of those who work in the industry. They (mostly) do so to make money. Their judgements count and they are accountable to higher beings like accountants. If you disparage a book in the crudest of terms, you disparage many more than the humble writer. So, if you are thinking of writing a review today for a novel that you really didn’t enjoy, resist the temptation to verbally work the story or writer over.

Merry Month of May

What a month. And I don’t mean the Royal Wedding.   No, I mean lots of new stuff going on.

Firstly, I’m very happy to confirm my participation in the Jericho Writers 2018 York Festival in September. Running from the 7th-9th, it promises to be bigger and better and the ‘go-to’ place for unpublished writers to meet agents, book ‘doctors’, other writers and those connected to the publishing industry. I’ll be talking about pace and tension, and (surprise surprise) crime fiction. Having attended once before, I can promise it will be a fun and relaxed occasion. Workshops cover every aspect of storytelling, how to pitch your novel for mainstream publishing, and how to go about self-publishing, with tips on marketing. This is just a shorthand version so, if interested, check out Jericho Writers’ website.

I’m as guilty as the next reader for always seeking out my favourite authors so, a few weeks ago, I decided to mix things up and try some new writers. (New to me, that is). I’d planned to take my stash with me for a forthcoming holiday until I realised, in my flush of enthusiasm, the books I’d ordered were scheduled for release after I got back. Undaunted, a fresh trawl supplied me with, among others, ‘Slow Horses’ by Mick Herron.   The first page was so good I couldn’t help but crack on – stuff the holiday. He’s been likened to le Carre yet I think his voice is distinctly different, and what a voice. The story rings with authenticity and ‘tradecraft’. Around seventy-five pages in, I had the shock of my life. Needless to say, I’ll finish it long before my break begins, which is okay as long as my other half doesn’t make off with Adam Hamdy’s ‘Pendulum.’ Having read the first page, he threatened to snaffle it first. Only one thing for it: I pulled rank.

In my last blog post, I mentioned that my new novel had been sent to my agent. This is always a nervous time for any writer, published or yet to be.   Fortunately, and in record time, it received a thumbs-up. Now awaiting the decision of my editors. In the meantime, noodling with big ideas for another Thane novel. Watch this space!

 

SO WHO DO YOU THINK I AM?

‘You like violence, don’t you?’ This was said to me a few months ago, not by a tetchy reader at a panel, (some years ago at Crimefest, a lady complained about violence in fiction. Mercifully, I was not the only target of her ire) but a close family member. It might have been a tease, but the edge was unmistakable. Did it bring me up short and temporarily render me speechless? You bet.

To place this in context, the event was a quiet ‘get-together’ in a restaurant, and I’d been championing a film or series, possibly ‘Peaky Blinders,’ but I actually can’t remember.   I know ‘Bone Tomahawk’ came into the equation and, although I loved the film, I can’t stress enough my revulsion at ‘that scene’.   It was a genuine cushion in front of the face job, with my eyes peeking nervously over the top.   Perhaps, this was what I was describing. How anyone could then construe, or rather misconstrue, that I love violence beats me. But neither do I run from it, and if you’re a news fiend, which I am, sadly, violence in our dysfunctional world is nigh on impossible to avoid.

My tastes in film and books definitely involve characters pushed to extremes by antagonists intent on propelling others to their limits for, (as in real life) it’s often when people are really up against it, you see his or her real personality, and what they are made of, shining through.  I reckon the more a writer ramps up the bad guys, the stronger the main protagonist. Given the subject matter of some of my novels, my bad guys (or women) are hardly going to slay the opposition with a few well-chosen words and a ‘take that’ slap on the wrist. Which leads me to a more important point…

Villains may well be sexist, racist, misanthropic and misogynistic. They may mete out violence, enjoy the suffering of others, and be a few brain cells short in the compassion department, but please don’t confuse me, and my beliefs with those I portray in fiction.

HAT TRICK

Last Friday, I was in the slightly surreal position of celebrating three novels published in 2017 with the same publisher. ‘House of Lies’, ‘A Deadly Trade’ and ‘Final Target’ are released under the Killer Reads’ imprint, the first a female led psychological thriller, the others part of the Joshua Thane series and could be regarded as espionage light. This all came about as a result of hard work by my agent, Broo Doherty, good faith on the part of Charlotte Ledger and Finn Cotton, talented design work for the stunning front covers, good fortune, magic, and a little of my blood, sweat tears. It’s true what they say: writing books and getting them published is down to teamwork.

So what’s next? Today, in the spirit of Christmas, ‘A Deadly Trade’ is available for free for the next twelve days. So get requesting and, hopefully, reviewing. Over the next couple of weeks, check out the Writers’ Workshop Blog for my ‘Seven Top Tips for Writing Thrillers’.   My new novel is taking longer than it should due to on-going editing work. While I might sneak away over the festive period to write, I’m also looking forward to a break, long walks, wood fires and space to think in reasonably clear lines – nothing like a deviation in routine to fire the imagination. I’d also like to get some reading under my (potentially expanding) belt. The pile on my bedside table grows daily and I think those Christmas elves will be delivering a few more.

Looking back on 2017, I think of madcap moving house (again) days, the joyous expansion of the tribe, great novels I’ve read, a couple not yet published. I remember laughter as well as sadness, particularly for those who should still be here and aren’t. The only resolution I’m making for 2018 is to take a longer view and, at the risk of cliché, get the work/life balance better aligned.

So that’s it, in a few weeks’ time, we’ll be well into the festive season and 2018 will be hovering on the horizon. I hope that, whatever dreams and aspirations you hold for the New Year are yours in abundance.

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’!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

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.