evseymour

Word on the Wire

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YOU SAY ‘TOMATO’…

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

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

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

 

 

OLD FRIENDS

It’s that time of year and a chance to catch up with old friends. Even if you haven’t seen a lot of each other, you know with a long-standing mate that the passage of time makes little difference. So it is with books, which is why I grabbed Conn Iggulden’s ‘The Death of Kings’ from his Emperor series to read on the run up to Christmas.   One of his earlier novels, it tells the story of young Julius Caesar.   Rich with authentic detail and flesh and blood characters, the story really transports you back to life in ancient Rome. As soon as I read the first page, I felt entirely in a safe pair of hands, just as I did when reading his later novels on Genghis Khan. Sometimes, especially if you’re feeling a little jaded, you simply need an author on whom you can rely to entertain and enthral without gimmicks, and he’s one of them.

So what next? As you might imagine, books are big in our household and Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without an exchange of literary gifts. This year, I received a book penned by the great master of intrigue and storytelling, Frederick Forsyth. ‘The Outsider’ tells the tale of his adventurous life and reveals seeds sown in his childhood, which go some way to explain how he tumbled into writing.   Before you run away with the idea that he had a tragic or tricky upbringing, he didn’t, as he is pretty keen to point out.

My gift to my other half was ‘Affluenza’ by Oliver James, psychologist and broadcaster. It provides a fascinating insight into the ‘disease’ that first afflicted the States and now, by default, us. The affliction is best summed up as a cycle of wanting more, getting it, but without feeling any sense of satisfaction. Miserable, you want more and so the deadly cycle of misery is sustained. If you’re feeling under financial pressure or are driven by a crazed desire to ‘keep up with the Joneses,’ ‘Affluenza’ provides the perfect antidote.   The good news is that the simpler (and more achievable) your desires, the happier you will be. Good news if you’re hard up. Rubbish news if you set your sights on becoming a writer – I put that in!

So what connects these two books, you may ask? To answer that, I need to cut and rewind to a conversation I had with my long-suffering husband a couple of days before Christmas. For a variety of reasons, which I don’t need to bore you with, I was banging on (in a slightly Divaesque tone) about how ‘civilians’ don’t understand what it is to be a writer. How do you explain to someone who is, for example, retired, or works 9-5 that you might like to party hard one moment and then crave and demand solitude the next without seeming flaky, capricious or an insufferably pretentious ‘artiste’? How do you convey that, all the time you have that fixed grin on your face at a social gathering, you’re really taking notes or dreaming about the next scene you’re going to write? How do you put across that, actually, you’re a tad odd without causing either alarm or offence? You might think why bother to explain any of the above? Social niceties, especially at this time of year, often dictate, I’m afraid. Writers often unwittingly give false impressions that they are one kind of animal when, underneath, they are something else entirely, and I’m guilty of this as charged.

In fact, both Frederick Forsyth and Oliver James more than touch on this very subject in the opening of both their books. Aside from pointing out that anyone who desires to be a writer, and worse still, make a living from it, must be cracked, they also discuss the strangeness that is part of the DNA of any writer. James goes several steps further and, rather bravely, ‘fesses up to having a hell of a job getting ‘Affluenza’ published and describes what initial rejection did to him mentally. To top it off, the much longed for (and expected) fat advance from his existing publisher was never forthcoming, which was why his agent found him another. My God, I thought, there’s honesty and audacity.   Most writers would rather trudge chest deep through a bog than make such an admission.

So, if you’re planning on writing that novel in 2016, or you have a book that is about to be released and you’re anxious about how it will fare, may the force be with you, in true Star Wars fashion. And just remember, that should you have a wobble along the way, those old friends, both in book form and the real deal, will always stand by your side.   Best of luck to you all in 2016!

 

 

HUSH MY MOUTH!

First off, apologies for my spelling malfunction yesterday when referring to Ben Whishaw – what was I thinking?!  Clearly, not thinking at all.

Moving swiftly on, you may remember I gabbed on about the pure brilliance of London Spy and stand by my comments about superb acting and Ben Whishaw’s outstanding performance.  Masterful storytelling was a hallmark of the series until midway through the finale in which I skidded to a dirty great halt.

It’s common knowledge that, if the big climactic scene, the one the audience has waited hours for doesn’t deliver, the preceding story is screwed.  I wouldn’t go this far because it would be grossly unfair.  There were plenty of big revelations to sustain attention, and the way in which Danny’s every effort to reveal the truth was thwarted with chilling ease ratcheted tension to fever pitch, but the fact that, in the final analysis, there were more questions than answers says a lot.

Who were all those people holed up in Alex’s attic with listening devices and cameras?  I assumed that they were intelligence officers carrying out a dastardly form of torture that would give the most deranged terrorist a run for his or her money.  (As a claustrophobe, there was one point when I almost ran out of the room screaming).  Why, instead, wasn’t Alex offered a deal from the lonely bowels of an interrogation room in SIS HQ?  If he refused, why wasn’t he let go and left to the tender mercies of a ‘Wet’ team?  Why was Charlotte Rampling, Alex’s alleged mother, dragged in to reason with Alex in his dying moments when the intelligence service thought so little of her?  Why on earth did she throw her hand in with Danny in a doomed endeavour in the final seconds of the episode when previously she had so stoutly defended her position?

If I were Tom Rob Smith, I’d be tempted to respond with the ultimate put-down:  his novels have sold in millions and been made into a film.  Precisely, but that’s why I expected so much more.

 

 

LONDON SPY

Almost eight years ago, I was at a lunch in Smithfield. It was part of a promotion organised by my publisher for my novel, ‘The Last Exile’.   I had the pleasure of sitting between the lovely Chris Simmons (Crimesquad) and Maxim Jakubowsi, renowned bookshop owner of Murder One in Charing Cross. The big buzz was neither my novel, nor me, but one Tom Rob Smith. ‘Had I read his stunning debut, Child 44?’ they both asked. No, I hadn’t, but I soon did.

As I said in my last post, I love a great tip-off. Set in Russia during the 1950’s, Child 44 is based on the Rostov child serial killer, Andrei Chikatlo.   I love novels based on true-life events and, to say I was blown away with it, is an understatement. A few months later, I wound up on a BBC Radio programme with Kate Saunders arguing why Child 44 would make a good inclusion on the Booker Prize list. But that was then. I read Tom Rob Smith’s follow-up novels, but I’d no idea he’d made the transition to screenplay writing until recently. As soon as we had our aerial sorted last week, we ‘binge-watched’ four episodes of ‘London Spy.’ I’m thrilled I did.

Again, Rob Smith weaves a compelling story from a real life event, the mysterious case of the ‘Spy in the Bag’ about which all kinds of theories were trotted out in the grim aftermath, including the fact that the MI6 officer was into sadomasochistic gay sex, a theme explored in the series. But the screenplay is so much more than this.

In true spy fashion, there are codes and mathematical formulae – the only part where I got slightly lost, possibly because numbers is not my strong suit. Performances are fabulous, particularly from Jim Broadbent in a role that is not his usual (no pun intended) bag, and Edward Holcroft is superb as Alex, the contained, strange and offbeat spy and mathematical genius.

As for Ben Wishart…

He is simply mesmerising as bewildered Danny, fitting the part so well it honestly feels as if he isn’t acting at all. His grief at the death of his lover is as searing as his fearlessness for finding the truth at whatever cost. It’s his quest to go into all the darkest corners of the establishment and beyond that drives the narrative.

There are many memorable scenes in this drama but one sticks in my mind.  Danny comes face to face with Alex’s mother, played by a very sinister Charlotte Rampling. Towing the party line that her son was into sadomasochism, ticking off all the reasons why she believes it to be so, and arguing that his death was an unfortunate accident, Danny puts her down with one ‘take that’ sentence. I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t watched the series. Safe to say, I’ll be tuning in for the finale tonight. I’m not a fan of hyperbole, but this drama is genuinely pure brilliance.

 

 

A WHISPERED CONFESSION

I’m always interested to know what other people are reading. Through word of mouth, I’ve often alighted on a really great book. When I wrote book reviews for the Cheltenham Standard I was reading a novel a week and this on top of editorial work. Fortunately, during that period, I built up a back log of reviews that allowed me to take almost three months off to write a novel (which appears in September 2016, more of this anon.)   In the past, I’ve switched to reading historical fiction when I’m writing, but lately I’ve found, and I’m whispering this quietly, that I don’t read as much as I should. And I know I’m not alone.

Now I’m definitely not one of those writers who doesn’t read other people’s work at all. “Too busy writing,” I’ve been told by more than one author, which I find a little startling.   Aside from the sheer joy of disappearing into someone else’s world, I like to see what the competition is up to. It also seems perverse to expect others to read your work if you don’t read theirs. Hey-ho. But I recognise only too well that at the end of a day of reading, writing and critiquing, I’m more tempted to reach for the remote than a book. Regular reading, for me, (not including stolen afternoons at weekends) belongs to the quiet space before I go to sleep. Forty minutes, tops. I’m a fast reader but even I know that isn’t enough. It also doesn’t take into account the times when I’m dead beat and simply need to crawl into bed and sleep. Combined with a recent house move, my reading has taken a slightly erratic turn. Yes, I read, but lately it’s been patchy and, hell, does it make me feel guilty.   Such a betrayal of an author’s energy, passion and time, it’s criminal not to give a story a good level of attention, several chapters at a time rather than several pages. In this shameful vein, I read much of Sarah Hilary’s ‘No Other Darkness.’ To be fair, I got off to a flying start because there’s a strong hook. Half-way through, life intervened and, in the mid-section, I quickly cottoned on that one of the ‘shout lines’ was similar to a novel I’ve been hatching for the past twelve months. What to do? Ditch or continue?

It’s often said that there is nothing new under the sun when writing fiction, that there are seven basic plot lines and that writers craft variations on these. “It’s all down to the execution,” one eminent agent once told me. New writers can get terribly hung up on the fact that their stories might touch on similar storylines in other novels, the avoidance of this often cited as the reason for ‘I don’t read.’ But, actually, there is nothing to fear. For every writer is as different and original as the characters he or she creates; the way in which a tale is told unique to the brain behind it. I’m glad I continued with ‘No Other Darkness’ because actually it’s poles apart from the novel I envisage and it rates as one of the most intelligent novels of the year.

Straightaway, we are introduced to Fred and Archie, two little boys trapped in an underground bunker. Five years on, in a throat wrenching moment, their bodies are found. Enter DI Marnie Rome, and the reader is plunged into a full-on police investigation that delves into the murky world of ‘Preppers’. These are folk who, preparing for catastrophe, bunker down (literally) with supplies of food and water and other necessities of life in order to survive. But the story is so much more than this. Writing is superb, characterisation cracking, and Hilary’s grasp of dysfunctional psychology, including post partum psychosis, impressive. She really knows how to explore the darkest recesses of the human mind. There were moments when I felt sheer dread and terror. If you want to be scared, (let’s face it, most of us enjoy it if only vicariously) slip out and buy it. Again, in another soft whisper, if it’s not too early, you could put it on your Christmas wish list.

 

A TALE OF TED BY LOTTIE PRENTICE

I have a lot of books. When I say ‘a lot’ there are thirty novels waiting to be read on my bedside bookcase. My study/bedroom has three large bookcases crammed with my favourite writers. Downstairs there are more. And did I mention the attic and my stepmother’s garage, both housing books, some of which I bought for my children when they were little? I’m not a hoarder by nature. ‘Chuck it out’ is my motto, but I have a pathological blind spot when it comes to films and novels. When I announced to our estate agent recently that we’d found a house after a long search his first question was: ‘Is it big enough for all your books?’ You get the picture. This leads me in a circuitous way to the boxes of children’s stories I haven’t clapped eyes on for the past few years and which hold a special place in my heart. Who can fail to melt as a child, wide-eyed and captivated, listens to his or her favourite tale? And now my children are having children, what better time to rummage through the all time favourites as I move them from one house to another? Fortuitously and by sheer happenstance, ‘A Tale of Ted’ by Lottie Prentice popped through my letterbox in the midst of my nostalgic trip down memory lane.

Now I’ll be straight: for a debut author to garner fulsome praise from celebrities and established writers is a rarity. But Lottie Prentice is no ordinary novice writer. She’s a former three-day event rider and member of the British Equestrian Team. She knows her stuff. Did I expect authenticity? Absolutely. Did I expect great storytelling? I was dubious.

In fact and happily, it’s a great little story. Ted is a very naughty horse, indeed, with a tendency to bite the farrier, terrify the vet and chuck off his brand new rug.  How well I remember ‘Stella’, my own horse when I was a teenager, who had similar, if slightly more dangerous, inclinations.

As we all know, children love characters with an impish disposition and with whom they can empathise so Ted certainly fits the bill. Wayward and ‘his own horse’ best sums him up.

Aimed at under seven year-olds, occasionally, the language seemed a little advanced but this was more than compensated for by the rhythmic prose and gorgeously illustrated text by Lorna Gray. With other characters, like Rhino the Jack Russell and Barney the Owl, Ted seems set to embark on another adventure or two. I do hope so.

9780957495593_A Tale of Ted_paperback‘A Tale of Ted’ by Lottie Prentice is published by Crumps Barn Studio and available at the fantastic price of £6.99

WHATS TO LIKE?

I was rather looking forward to watching Guy Pearce in Australian ‘after the collapse’ movie, ‘The Rover’, a strange tale about a guy whose car is stolen by a bunch of hoodlums on the run. Hell-bent on getting his vehicle back, Eric (Guy Pearce) tracks down one of the gang, Rey, (played by Robert Pattinson) in a bid to find his motor. What the viewer doesn’t know until several scenes into the film is that the ‘bad guys’ have chosen the wrong man on which to to pick: Eric is a cold-blooded killer.

I’ve never watched the Twilight series of films so I had little idea of Pattinson’s acting talent, but, for me, he was definitely the star of the show.   To be fair, it was a peach of a role. There was nothing essentially wrong with Pearce’s portrayal of a murderer bar the fact that the reversal of role from victim to murdering bastard comes as quite a shock. And there was something else. Despite Rey’s valiant attempt to connect with Eric, Eric remains unreachable. Only towards the end, after the bloodletting and in the final frame, do we get a glimpse of his humanity and glean what he cares most about. Was it enough to sustain interest for 98 minutes?

It’s easy to dismiss characters that aren’t that likeable. Publishing editors talk all the time about ‘we need to empathise with and like the main protagonist’. True, but this doesn’t mean that your main man or woman has to be anodyne. I’ve banged on about this a fair amount but it’s worth repeating because the most interesting characters are those who are flawed, more like you and me, and for that simple reason more true to life.

I often to say to writers I work with that a reader doesn’t have to like a character 100% and all of the time, but we do need to care about them. There’s a subtle difference. And let’s face it; a character’s vulnerabilities, conceits, weaknesses, addictions and passions are what prevent him or her from becoming walking clichés. The skilled writer will always home in on a particular foible because it presents a terrific opportunity to reveal true characterisation. For my money, defects provide fertile creative ground and are there to be exploited.

ALL IN THE MIND

I watched two superb films last week and they couldn’t have been more different from each other. The first was the very British drama, based on the life of brilliant mathematician, Alan Turing, ‘The Imitation Game;’ the second, set in small town America, ‘The Judge’.
Turing has come in for a lot of attention in recent years, and quite rightly so. Instrumental in breaking Enigma, the unbreakable German encryption code used in World War II, he was both an unsung hero and, perversely, a criminal after being despicably treated by the Establishment because of his homosexuality. While I understand that he lived during a time when homosexuality was a crime and there was also a need to keep his wartime activity a secret, it seems bizarre that someone who did so much should have been hounded in the way that he was. Offered Hobson’s choice: a prison sentence or chemical castration, Turing chose the latter. His suffering, brilliantly portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch, is utterly haunting, particularly in the final scenes, and I’m amazed Cumberbatch didn’t pick up an Oscar.
Stellar performances were also on display in ‘The Judge’, featuring Robert Duvall and Robert Downey Junior. Hank Palmer (Downey) a successful and cynical big city lawyer, is forced to return home to defend, his dad and eponymously named judge, (Robert Duvall) after he is accused of murder. But what’s interesting is that the murder story and subsequent court scenes are almost incidental. The ‘meat’ of the story is the volatile relationship between father and son. Brutal, visceral and honest, it rings with authenticity. And this brings me to the big point.
Screenwriters and novelists have much in common, but perhaps the most overriding feature is that they are both amateur psychologists. To write convincingly about characters, it’s necessary to understand how human beings tick and behave given any set of circumstances. We’ve all watched films and read books in which you’re forced to think that he or she ‘wouldn’t have done that.’ Often when this happens it’s due to the writer trying to fulfil the requirements of plot at the expense of characterisation. Clearly, none of this applies to the films mentioned here. Masterclasses in human psychology, they rate very highly indeed.

FIENDISHLY GOOD!

I’d already written this week’s post, but it would be remiss of me not to mention the thrilling conclusion to ‘The Missing’ last night, and pay tribute to the stellar performances of the actors – Nesbitt deserves a BAFTA – and fantastic ‘on the edge of the seat’ skills of writers, Harry and Jack Williams. For those of you who are yet to watch it on catch-up, I won’t drop in a spoiler, save to say that the twist left me breathless. It was fiendishly clever.
And this brings me neatly to my next topic. Fiends is a band that deserves a great deal of attention. Last week they released their first single, ‘Ghosts’ and it’s free as a download so all those of you who like alternative rock, check it out.
A young group of friends based in London, they’ve been on the music scene for an incredibly short time and have gigged at The Lock, Camden, New Cross Inn in South London and have other gigs lined up in Bristol. They write their own material and a new single is scheduled for release in February, with an EP on the blocks for April.
Now it would be sneaky of me not to mention that Tim Goom is my son so, yep, I’m biased and he will be monumentally embarrassed. Little did we know, that the day my husband brought home a guitar for him, what we’d unleashed. At the age of nine, Tim was already playing the clarinet and showed talent. With the arrival of ‘the guitar’, however, he caught the music bug good and proper, and nothing could have prepared us for years of endless ‘practicing’. Tim has a bit of an obsessive gene picked up from me, unfortunately, or fortunately depending on your point of view, and he spent hours, days, weeks, months, years playing and playing and playing. All teenagers like NOISE and we had noise in abundance to the extent that we had to threaten him with dire retribution. Why our neighbours didn’t throw a brick through our window, I’ll never know. We also went through all the vicissitudes and moodiness associated with putting a band together, which mainly meant lots of talk and nothing much happening. But all that seems a distant memory now. Once he headed to London to study, I had a feeling that the band in his mind, a ghostly endeavor, would take shape and form. I know he and his mates struggled to find the perfect lead singer, but my goodness, it was worth the wait. Luke Goddard has something special vocally and oozes stage presence and charisma in shed loads.

As every muso knows, a band is nothing unless they gel, a case of being more than the sum of all their separate parts. Slick, professional, utterly of the moment, I have a feeling that Fiends are definitely a band to watch and I wish them all the very, very best.

Fiends are: Luke Goddard: Vocals
Jack Ward: Drums
Tom Stone: Bass
Ryan Morgan: Guitar
Tim Goom: Guitar
Tonight they are playing a set at ‘The Mother’s Ruin’ in Bristol. Catch them if you can.

https://weareallfiends.bandcamp.com http://www.facebook.com/weareallfiendsTwitter : @weareallfiends Instagram : we_are_all_fiends…

GUESS WHO?

I’m told that I have a deeply annoying habit. Whether I’m reading a novel or watching a film or crime drama, I will often blurt out the name of the ‘bad guy’ before the conclusion. For me, it’s like doing a crossword. For others, it’s like ruining the punch line of a good joke, (especially if I actually get it right.) However smug I might feel when I rumble the villain in the opening scene or chapter, I’m more entertained if I get it wrong. I love it when a writer can fool me. Robert McKee, scriptwriting guru, once said that it was important to give the audience what they want but not in the way they want it. Couldn’t agree more.

So with this in mind, I have been utterly gripped for the past seven weeks by ‘The Missing’. With a tight cast of first-rate actors, ‘The Missing’ is a story about the abduction of a little boy, Oliver Hughes, while on holiday with his parents in France. Similarities with the real life disappearance of Madeleine McCann abound. As an exercise in parental agony, it doesn’t get any better than this. The sheer destruction that such a loss can inflict on a couple, and the undermining of those in the wider community, is breathtakingly authentic.

The narrative is played out between two timelines: events at the actual time of Olly’s disappearance, and what happens later when Tom Hughes, played brilliantly by James Nesbitt, uncovers clues that initiate a new police investigation. Tom’s dogged refusal to give up the search for his son borders on obsession and yet, deep in our hearts, given that kind of monstrous loss, we recognise that each one of us could easily fall into and wear his shoes. Less sensitively handled, ‘The Missing’ could have been a misery fest – Emily Hughes played by Frances O’Connor gives a gut-wrenching performance of a mother’s grief – and yet there is something uplifting about both parents’ desire for the truth, however painful that truth is. A little Gallic humour, in the guise of Julien Baptise, the lead French officer on the case, and played with nuanced charm by Tcheky Karyo, lightens the load.

But back to where I came in: I always had creepy Ian Garrett (Ken Stott) down for a bad guy. Clearly paedophile, Vincent Bourg, is an obvious candidate. But, honestly, I find it difficult to call. Actually, I’m not that focused on the quest to ‘get it right’. This superb drama is too enthralling to waste time on playing mind games.