evseymour

Word on the Wire

Category: Storytelling

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.

 

 

 

 

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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.

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.

BOOKS GALORE

I had fond hopes of bursting into 2018 rested and full of good cheer after a lovely Christmas break. Instead, I’m sort of limping in half-cocked after a bout of ‘flu. Now don’t get me wrong, this is not the full-on Aussie version. I have not been hospitalised, but it was bad enough to put me in bed for the best part of a week, which is unheard of. I went off food, went off booze so that my unintentional dry January started in December – and not a drop touched since. All my best-laid plans went awry. During the ‘snooze’ time between Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve, I had intended to ‘woman up’ and plunge myself into techno hell by getting to grips with new software enabling me to update reviews and news on my website – not a chance. I was going to finish the first draft of a brand new novel – did a bit, almost made it, and faltered.

But it’s not all bad news…

One of the big pluses of Christmas is that I’m given lots of novels and so is Mr S, which means double the pleasure. In between sleeps, I was able to binge-read and, boy, what great books I’ve read. I have catholic tastes when it comes to literature. I also tend to read the ‘latest great thing’ months or even years after the hype has died down.   Having devoured ‘Stormbird’ by Conn Iggulden, I read ‘The Late Show’ by Michael Connelly. With female main protagonist, detective Renee Ballard, it signalled a departure from Connelly’s usual gig. I’d probably read another although, hand on heart, I didn’t find it as satisfying as some of his earlier work. I freely admit this could be due to the generally low mood I was in. Next up, ‘Archangel’ by Gerald Seymour. Written a long while back, it’s a tour de force of a story, and displays all the attributes commonly found in Seymour’s work.   His main protagonists are often difficult, complex individuals. Michael Holly is no exception and yet he displays the kind of nobility and integrity that make men risk all to follow him. Superb. I munched through’ Trinity’, the second in the War of the Roses series by Conn Iggulden in a couple of days. If history and terrific storytelling is your thing, it comes highly recommended.

So what’s next on the blocks? ‘The Midnight Line’ by Lee Child. (Mr S read and raved about it). Other authors in the pipeline feature Peter James, Stuart Neville, Clare Mackintosh, Colette McBeth, and, care of a nice deliveryman yesterday, Gerald Seymour’s latest ‘A Damned Serious Business.’ That’s for starters.   Like I said, not all bad news.

Whether you limped or burst into 2018, I hope it’s a good one for you.   Nothing like a decent read to make things better.

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.

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