evseymour

Word on the Wire

Category: Writers

IN THE ZONE

I’m badly overdue with my post and it’s going to be the shortest ever, but for the best of reasons: I. Am. Writing.

Scary and thrilling in equal measure – hope this translates to the story – I’m literally sleeping, eating and breathing this one and won’t be coming up for air for some time.  Apologies for my abject failure to engage and hopefully normal service will be resumed in the not too distant future.  So adieu, farewell, until we meet again, and, as I won’t get to post before you know what: HAPPY CHRISTMAS!  May 2019 be a good one for you and yours.

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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.

 

 

 

 

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.

Merry Month of May

What a month. And I don’t mean the Royal Wedding.   No, I mean lots of new stuff going on.

Firstly, I’m very happy to confirm my participation in the Jericho Writers 2018 York Festival in September. Running from the 7th-9th, it promises to be bigger and better and the ‘go-to’ place for unpublished writers to meet agents, book ‘doctors’, other writers and those connected to the publishing industry. I’ll be talking about pace and tension, and (surprise surprise) crime fiction. Having attended once before, I can promise it will be a fun and relaxed occasion. Workshops cover every aspect of storytelling, how to pitch your novel for mainstream publishing, and how to go about self-publishing, with tips on marketing. This is just a shorthand version so, if interested, check out Jericho Writers’ website.

I’m as guilty as the next reader for always seeking out my favourite authors so, a few weeks ago, I decided to mix things up and try some new writers. (New to me, that is). I’d planned to take my stash with me for a forthcoming holiday until I realised, in my flush of enthusiasm, the books I’d ordered were scheduled for release after I got back. Undaunted, a fresh trawl supplied me with, among others, ‘Slow Horses’ by Mick Herron.   The first page was so good I couldn’t help but crack on – stuff the holiday. He’s been likened to le Carre yet I think his voice is distinctly different, and what a voice. The story rings with authenticity and ‘tradecraft’. Around seventy-five pages in, I had the shock of my life. Needless to say, I’ll finish it long before my break begins, which is okay as long as my other half doesn’t make off with Adam Hamdy’s ‘Pendulum.’ Having read the first page, he threatened to snaffle it first. Only one thing for it: I pulled rank.

In my last blog post, I mentioned that my new novel had been sent to my agent. This is always a nervous time for any writer, published or yet to be.   Fortunately, and in record time, it received a thumbs-up. Now awaiting the decision of my editors. In the meantime, noodling with big ideas for another Thane novel. Watch this space!

 

APRIL MASH-UP

It’s a bit of a ‘tatty’ post this month because, looking back over April, I’ve been flitting from one thing to another like a proverbial buzzy/busy bee.

It began with me playing an April fool on my best writing pal. This deserves some context. We pretty much natter via email most days and live close enough to meet up for coffee. She’s a writer (different genre) and also a freelance editor so we share a lot in common, not least we ho-ho-ho at the same stuff.   However we rarely contact each other over the weekend. Saturdays and Sundays, she’s involved with her family and so am I. But, as April 1st fell on a Sunday, I thought I’d put our mutual email silence to the test.   I wrote two words in the Subject Column: ‘Film Deal’.   She came back within five febrile seconds!   Of course, I came clean.

The late, great Elmore Leonard was a writer for whom film deals deservedly came aplenty. A couple of weeks ago, I turned to a novel I’ve had on my bookshelf for ages but never read: ‘Killshot.’ First published in 1989, it doesn’t date one bit. The strap line says something along the lines of when Leonard writes, pure gold pops out. I couldn’t agree more and I could definitely see how he influenced that other fabulous writer, Stephen King. Leonard’s characterisation of a couple of stone cold killers is to (pun intended) ‘die for.’ Fabulously, he pits them against a quite ordinary (and yet extraordinary, as it turns out) married couple. A proper big guys against little guys. I’ll leave you to guess who comes out on top.

Anyone who read my last post will know that I have been hard at the writerly coalface. ‘Delete’ has become my favourite button, ‘cut and paste’ my favourite manoeuvre. It’s fair to say I have hacked, scythed and shredded in the name of pace and tension. As brutal as it is to cut material, I feel happier with the result. Just hoping my agent feels the same. More anon …

And before I forget, there are lots of new books popping up, with some exciting debuts. Unashamedly, I’m flying the flag for DHH Literary Agency and Dome Press. With so many authors making a splash, I urge you to go and check them out. What’s really nice, I’ve acquired some new mates on Twitter whom I hope will soon be friends in the ‘real world!’

 

 

 

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.

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…

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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