evseymour

Word on the Wire

Category: Writers

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.

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.

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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So…

Every writer I know is interested in words, phrases and modern idioms. I’m like a magpie in this regard. Shame on me, but the hipper the phrase the more I’m drawn. Perhaps this is why I’ve spotted a definite trend on the radio and TV to use the word ‘So’ before answering a question. It’s now become ‘so’ commonplace that I marvel if anyone can respond without resorting to it. It goes something like this: Questioner: ‘Would you like to explain how pollution effects the environment of the abominable snowman?’ Answerer: ‘So pollution has a particularly negative effect due to…’   ‘So’ what the heck is going on?

I reckon it’s a bit like those joining words beloved of weather presenters. The smooth talker doesn’t bother but the less accomplished chuck out ‘and’ as if it has two syllables. This handy trick buys time and is usually inserted before ‘the rain is coming in from the east’ or whatever. In a similar way, ‘so’ tacked to the beginning of a sentence gives the person answering a couple of seconds to assemble what comes out of his or her mouth next.   How this all came about, I’ve no idea. Having watched wall to wall Gomorrah and Romanze Criminale for the past few weeks – can’t recommend either highly enough – I notice the Italians use ‘Allora’ a lot. It’s translated as ‘Well’ or, you guessed it, ‘So’. Could it be an Italian influence, I wonder? If so, who am I to complain?

BUT what I really don’t ‘get’ – and I’ve overheard it so many times in restaurants, cafes and pubs – is, instead of requesting a drink or meal with a simple: ‘Please can I have…’ or ‘Could I order a…’ we now have ‘Can I get…’ Get? Where the hell did that come from? It rather suggests that the person doing the ordering is going to personally nip behind the bar and help his or herself.

Driving through Herefordshire a couple of weeks ago, I noticed lots of lovely welcome signs that, nevertheless, left me bewildered. The slogan is ‘Hereford You Can.’ You can what, I wondered? Go far? Get a life? Naff off? ‘Nuff’ said.

CLIMB ABOARD THE MAGIC CARPET

Most writers feel a bit odd after writing the last page of a novel before sending the finished draft to an agent. Yes, there will be edits and revisions but, essentially, the story crafted over many months is down ‘on paper’. I’m no exception. Last Friday, I felt strangely lost, vaguely unwell and tired. So the perfect antidote was to climb on board the magic carpet and lose myself in a good book.  ‘The Gingerbread Wife’ an anthology of stories by Sarah Vincent was my magical destination.

One reviewer described the collection as magic-realism. It’s apt because each story, although set in domestic reality; definitely has a touch of the fairy tale about it. Take ‘Esmerelda’ and a husband ‘who knew what he wanted’ – in a new wife, to be specific. Never has the saying ‘Be careful what you wish for’ proved more apposite. Sexual politics is also at play in ‘The Gingerbread Wife’ and ‘Manipura’ for Vincent is the mistress of describing the lot of unfulfilled (usually middle-aged) women. Her stories give these hard done-by, aspirational individuals a voice and usually an escape route to freedom. Written with great humour and incredibly stylish prose, in which animal imagery abounds, these stories are little gems of characterisation and insight. ‘Think Big’, is a poignant portrait of gruesomely overweight Effie Fisher looking for love. The creep factor is high in ‘The Centipede’ and ‘The Last To Leave’. Linda, the psychic waitress in ‘The Perambulator’ is cursed by her ‘gift’ so that she sees things most of us would run a mile from.

And yes, there’s mention of astral cortex’s, reincarnation, difficult energies, Tarot, wishing wells, and spiritual worlds that might seem strange and foreign to some. Therein lies the charm of these tales.  However cynical or ‘grounded’ you might be, I guarantee you will not fail to be entranced by Vincent’s literary sorcery.

These are not stories with closed happy endings. Rather, they leave you thinking crikey, what happens next? If I have one big criticism, eight stories are not enough.

Available from Amazon.co.uk it’s a steal at £3.99

PROMISES, PROMISES…

I like to think I’m pretty good at keeping my promises. If I say I’ll do something, I generally do it. Specific others may be forgiven for thinking, ‘Yeah, right’. By specific, I mean writers whose books I said I would read and review but, months on, spectacularly failed to do so.

I cannot blame it on Euro 2016 or Wimbledon – yes, I watched a lot of matches, but only in the evenings and at weekends. Crimefest is now a distant memory. (I read four fab novels in preparation – see previous post). Stonking family events are par for the course when you have a tribe the size of mine, so I can’t use this as a mitigating factor either. Have I been sunning myself in the sweltering heat or in foreign climes? Fat chance. Even my blog has reduced to once a month instead of once a week.

With regard to watching TV dramatizations and film, I confess that I’m guilty as charged.   Too many to mention, I particularly enjoyed, ‘The Five’, Harlan Coben’s superb and gripping thriller about a disappearing boy, ’13 Hours’, based on a true story about the secret soldiers of Benghazi, TV Western series ‘Texas Rising’, clue in the title, and (enjoyed is stretching it because of THAT scene) ‘Bone Tomahawk.’ So when not slumped in a heap at the end of the day, precisely what have I been up to that renders my reading for pleasure time minimal to non-existent? WRITING.

Aside from crafting reports for my day job in which I work with unpublished writers, and carrying out edits on ‘Don’t Tell Anyone’ scheduled for publication in December 2016, and ‘An Imperfect Past’, in March 2017, I’m working on a brand new stand alone. I delivered the first 70k words only a couple of days ago to my agent to give her a steer.  There is still much work to be done to finish the novel.  Once this is ‘in the can’, I intend to honour my commitment.

In the same way I like to vary what I eat, I take pleasure from mixing up my reading. So, in no particular order, the following are first up on my menu: ‘The Gingerbread Wife’ an anthology of stories, by Sarah Vincent, ‘In Her Wake’ by Amanda Jennings, ‘The Corruption of Chastity’ by Frank Wentworth, ‘Killer Plan’ by Leigh Russell and ‘The Locker’ by fellow Midnight Inker, Adrian Magson. Starters fully consumed, hopefully, I can move on to main courses that are already stacking up on my ‘to be read’ bookshelf.   Promises, promises…

 

 

 

 

BEAUTIFUL BOOK LAUNCH

Book launches are unpredictable affairs. You can promote and tweet, blog and bleat but every writer realises that folk are busy, have commitments even if it’s slumping in front of the TV with a glass of wine or block of chocolate at the end of a busy day. Those who would love to come often live in different parts of the country so that’s another factor to take into account. Throw into the mix that the official launch of ‘Beautiful Losers’ coincided with the Referendum – what were we thinking, you may ask – and, by rights, it should have been a disaster.

BUT also throw into the mix the fabulous venue – none other than The Suffolk Anthology, the finest independent bookshop in Cheltenham – and the odds were already stacked in our favour for a respectable turnout. I’ve done a few of these types of events, but this rates as the sweetest. It wasn’t simply the environment or the glasses of fizz or the support of bookshop owner Helene Hewett for ‘Beautiful Losers’, but the people who took the time to turn up. I had a natter, if only briefly, with each and every one of them. It was a lovely warm occasion which probably explains why I was a lot more open than usual when giving a brief chat about myself and how I ‘fell into’ writing.

DSC_1508Oh, and as I’d hoped, not a single word was uttered about ‘you know what’.

 

FROM THE CRIMEFEST COALFACE

I went, I saw and, no, I didn’t conquer, but more importantly, came back in one piece. Restrained beyond belief, only one glass of Prosecco passed my lips after I’d done my final stint, and very good it was too.   Not that I feel smug. I was so wired on Friday night, I slept the patchy sleep of the inebriated – something to do with the strange alchemy that takes place when a collection of writers get together.   And this, for me, is the big plus of an event like Crimefest.

It’s such a smashing occasion to catch up with old friends, meet new ones and generally put faces to people you might only have conversed with on Twitter, Facebook or through email. It’s the one time you can stop being a loner and hang out with others who also spend the majority of their time travelling around inside their own heads. Writing is, for the most part, a solitary activity. It can become slightly obsessive and alienating so it’s good to chat with those who ‘get it’ because they suffer from it too.

But I wasn’t there simply to natter. The ‘Shades of Grey’ panel, with moderator (and surely, stand-up comedian) Kevin Wignall, and panellists Hugh Fraser, Emma Kavanagh and Coline Winette, had to rate as the most surreal of experiences.   It went down a storm with the standing room only crowd and I was still receiving comments about it over breakfast the next morning. Probably the least said about my risqué contribution, the better.

The ‘Obsession’ panel with Tim Weaver, Caroline Kepnes, Aga Lesiewicz, on which I moderated for the first time, was as tough as I expected it to be, which only goes to prove the incredible skill of those moderators who make it look dead easy. Fortunately, a terrific panel of highly intelligent writers came to the rescue as did the audience with a host of interesting questions.

So yesterday afternoon, punch-drunk with enthusiasm and conversation, I boarded the train to head back home.   Did I feel tired?   Absolutely. Did I have fun? You bet.

I’ve been gabbing about it ever since…

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!