evseymour

Word on the Wire

Category: Creative Writing

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.

Advertisements

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.

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