evseymour

Word on the Wire

Category: Storytelling

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.

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GOOD TIMES/BAD TIMES

It’s been slightly bonkers since I last posted. Rarely do so many great things collide in the space of a few weeks. After a slow start, reviews for ‘House of Lies’ have increased significantly and they are, to a woman, smashing. Not one, but two cover reveals were released for my Joshua Thane spy thrillers, ‘A Deadly Trade’ and ‘Final Target.’  My freshly revamped website was rolled out, care of Tony Astley at ‘Six Till Nine’. It looks a lot less busy and jolly than the earlier version. Lean, mean and generally deadly was the brief and this absolutely delivers. You can check it out on: www.evseymour.co.uk

While all this was going on, we managed to steal away to Anglesey during a spectacularly fine couple of days. With recharged batteries, I was able to pick up where I left off with freelance editing and my own work. As mentioned in previous posts, I try to avoid reading fiction for pleasure when I’m writing. Last night, I closed the final page on a book I’d been meaning to read ever since it was first published in 1991. In some ways, I’m glad I left ‘Wild Swans’ by Jung Chang this long because I probably have a greater psychological and historical perspective now than I did then.

The subjugation of an entire nation with millions of inhabitants under Mao is almost unbelievable until you read how it was carried out. Nobody was untouched by his ‘teachings’ and manipulative abuse of power. It ripped families apart, destroyed minds, driving many to suicide, and laid waste to the land itself. Even grass was deemed ‘bourgeois’. It allowed those with petty grievances and small minds to inform on neighbours who, according to the self-righteous, didn’t espouse Maoism. Many tormentors were women and it was commonplace for children to take part in beating teachers. With so many rules and regulations, it was easy to fall foul. People stopped thinking their own thoughts in case they inadvertently expressed them. In essence, fear stalked the streets, and humiliation was the order of the day. Those who were lucky were sentenced to hard labour. The unfortunate were denounced and tortured. There were times I winced and badly wanted to close the book. But…

I was knocked out by the sheer strength of human resilience and depth of kindness. I was amazed how many managed to hang on to their sanity and their moral principles despite brutal orders to abandon them. The term ‘brainwashing’ is often misapplied, but what occurred is as close as it gets and on an epic scale. It’s worth stating that the current President of China, Xi Jinping, grew up during these extraordinarily turbulent times. He could not have come through untouched, unscathed or unchanged.

There’s a lot of talk at the moment about people keeping quiet when they should have spoken out. I refer to the casting couch culture of Hollywood. While repression and ‘shutting people up’ comes in many guises, comparisons with dictators are unwise.  In China, during Mao’s rule, the threat was not simply to one’s career prospects (although anyone with an education and decent job was deemed inferior and banished to rural penury) your life and the lives of your children were on the line.   Thank goodness that, with Mao’s demise, China began its slow road to peace, sanity and prosperity.   It’s a comfort to know that powerful men, and also women, come but inevitably go.

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!

ALL CHANGE

We have now officially moved from ‘Crump Towers.’ I jest not. To explain, our last home was situated in ‘Crump Way’, named after William Crump, the head gardener at Madresfield Court, Malvern in the 1880’s.   He cultivated the ‘William Crump’ apple, which was lovely for him, but naming a location with ‘Crump’ in the title is a little more questionable. Every time I was asked for the address, usually by a service provider, there would be a titter followed by ‘Are you serious?’ A witty writer mate (Sarah Vincent) came up with ‘Crump Towers’ and it stuck. Thankfully, our new address is cute, suits the cottage vibe, and the area.

But that isn’t the only change.   Exactly a week ago, I pretty much switched off from social media due to the move. Tuning in via a mobile Wi-Fi, I ‘lurked,’ threw in the odd comment and, though tempted to enter a debate about whether or not independent editors who help writers should be acknowledged by publishers, I resisted the urge. Did the sky fall in or my world collapse? Absolutely not. It also got me thinking how incredibly dependent, dare I say addictive, social media can be – and not always in a healthy way. It’s no accident that doctors advise those who suffer from depression (I’m not particularly thinking about writers) to steer clear. This is not to say that I won’t enter the fray again next week, although, rightly or wrongly, I’ve always been an advocate of the ‘less is more’ philosophy.

Other breaking news: Harper Collins is hosting a big 200th Anniversary bash next week, which promises to be a glam affair.   DHH Literary Agency is having a party for bloggers mid-July, and ‘Vixenhead’ is about to go through a metamorphosis. No changes in the story or text, I might add, just a little finessing to make it more attractive as a ‘Killer Read.’ Watch this space…

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.

NO APRIL FOOL

As predicted, March was a bonkers month. Two novels released: one in the US, one here and the realisation of a long-held dream with the publication of ‘Vixenhead’ by Harper Collins’ imprint, ‘Harper Impulse’ on March 24th.

It was smashing to receive so many good wishes of support from those I knew and, as importantly, those I didn’t. But, like any writer, I’m on tenterhooks at the prospect of reviews, particularly as I’ve already started my next novel. Storytelling is a subjective business, but there is nothing more destroying than someone who doesn’t ‘get’ your work. Rain on one’s parade doesn’t come close. It’s more of a tidal wave and it can really put you off your game. You can probably tell I’m one of those awful glass half empty characters but, thankfully, quite unlike my lovely main protagonist, Roz Outlaw.

This week also marks a leap into the unknown. I’m taking part in my first every blog tour to talk about my favourite authors, how I write and, of course, revealing bits and pieces about the creation of ‘Vixenhead’. Like Easter bunnies, the posts are popping up every day from the 30th to 3rd April.   If you missed the earlier posts, I’ve attached a handy schedule.   Hope you enjoy…

Vixenhead Blog Tour Schedule

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.

CRASHING OVER CORNFLAKES

‘I’m thinking of starting a support group for partners of writers.’ This little bombshell was dropped over breakfast some days ago. I think it was a joke because my other half, although a people person, is not given to joining groups of any persuasion, let alone starting one. Once I’d got over choking over my cornflakes, I worked out the message behind the statement: his way of saying: ‘You’ve actually been reasonably sane and pleasant to be around when you took your foot off the gas and re-joined the human race for Christmas, long may it continue when you get back to business.’

And I see his point.

Only your other half watches the mighty struggle with a plot problem, witnesses the messy reaction to a bad review, the apoplexy when an editor wants significant changes that seem, initially, bonkers, or the knee-knocking fear before a literary event or, hell’s teeth, a radio interview – I have a particular terror of these even though I’ve done a fair few.   In other words, they get the real, beneath the skin writer, the one that obsesses and sweats and has impossible highs and mind numbing lows.

But there is also another more serious side to this rather tongue in cheek observation. In common with other writers, I strut my stuff on social media. It’s inescapable. Publishers and agents expect it and, apparently, so do readers. In the midst of a real life crisis, (mercifully rare) however, I am known to ‘fake it.’ This can be confusing for your other half. ‘How can you write like that when X is going on and you feel like this?’ As a result, I’ve made two resolutions for 2017. The first is to get my priorities well and truly straight. Real life relationships matter more than fictional. The second, rather than faking it, when life chucks its worst, I will go off air, under radar, to ground, because I only pretend in my stories.

IN HER WAKE by Amanda Jennings

I finally read this highly acclaimed novel over a week ago. Sometimes books fail to live up to the hype. Most certainly, this isn’t one of them. I loved it from the opening page to the last. It’s the kind of novel whose characters stay with you long after the final chapter brings the story to a close.

For those who haven’t yet picked up the book, the story begins when Bella returns to the family home following the death of her mother. Not long afterwards, her father commits suicide. He leaves a note for Bella that reveals she was abducted as a three year-old from her family while on holiday in France.

To say this rocks Bella’s world is an understatement. Bewildered, angry and confused, she leaves her extremely controlling husband and sets out to find her real biological family. There is a point in the novel when the old Chinese proverb kicks into play: Be careful what you wish for.

As with most crimes, but perhaps particularly with abduction, the victims are many, and consequences catastrophic. Jennings does not flinch from painting an honest account.   Bella’s desperate desire to unravel lies, and search for her true identity is, at times, painful to read.   Yet this is not a story without hope – far from it.

Yes, the writing is superb and richly atmospheric. Yes, there are twists and turns. Descriptions of Cornwall are so clear you can virtually smell saltwater and seaweed. But, for me, what stands out is Jennings’s innate understanding of how humans tick. As much as our sympathies are with Bella and her blood family, we also glimpse why some couples would steal a child and cause so much intolerable pain. So many victims, so much wreckage and yet, through it all, and without a shred of sentimentality, Jennings ensures that Bella and her family emerge stronger and happier. It’s a tour de force of a novel. Buy it, read and see.

‘In Her Wake’ is published by Orenda Books.

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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

 

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