evseymour

Word on the Wire

Tag: Beautiful Losers

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’.

 

RADIO GAGA

Radio interviews are brilliant ways to promote books so it’s no surprise that when a book is released, authors flock to the airwaves. And I’m no exception even if it rates as the most hair-raising experience. Search me why this particular form of publicity holds so many terrors, but, for me, it does. I guess I worry that my brain will freeze, that I’ll become inarticulate, lose the thread, or be unable to field a question. Persuading myself that it was character building as well as good publicity for ‘Beautiful Losers’, it was in this steely frame of mind I entered BBC Radio Gloucestershire’s shiny and welcoming station last Friday.   (All kudos to Paula).

I’ve done a fair few interviews over the years. Once, I did six back to back in an afternoon, but I can honestly say, hand on heart, that I’ve never engaged in an interview with such a knowledgeable and interested presenter. Did we have fun?  Yes, we did.

Most show hosts simply don’t have the time to read more than the press release. No wonder with the volume of guests travelling in and out of the studio in an average week. Yet Nicky Price had actually read 155 pages in a matter of days, the magic words ‘page-turning’ and ‘chilling’ inserted into the introduction before I had time to draw breath. As nerve-settlers, this is as good as it gets.   And then, of course, it didn’t hurt that BBC Radio Gloucestershire has a ‘walk-on’ part in the novel when my main character, clinical psychologist, Kim Slade is involved in a radio phone-in programme to discuss eating disorders.

But what really worked for me was that I was able to discuss the themes that mattered with someone who understood what I was driving at. I had a forum in which to promote the idea that none of us are immune from crumbling under pressure given the right amount of stress and confrontation. One might expect an intelligent clinical psychologist to out-psyche a stalker. Except human beings are complex creatures and, in a tight corner, not of all of us behave in a way anticipated or even hoped for.   In this regard, Kim Slade, with all her experience and expertise, proves that terrified people will often behave in strange ways.

You can still catch the interview if you tune into ‘Listen Again’ on BBC Radio Gloucestershire with Nicky Price on April 1st. ‘Beautiful Losers’ is discussed at the very beginning of the show.

TELLING FIBS.

I reckon that, however confident or self-assured, any author that claims to be relaxed when his or her book is published is telling fibs.

Imagine spending a year on a story, maybe more, crafting, cutting, researching, revising, and reworking. Oh yeah, and listening:

To your agent.

To your reading buddy if you have one.

To your other half if he or she dares.

Picture investing time and energy in characters that are as real to you as friends and family, only to bid them farewell, let them go and make their own way in the world. As with children, it’s only natural that a parent worries. We want out kids to be accepted. So too with books. This is especially important if, as I’ve done, a writer diversifies by writing in a different genre in which reader reaction is an unknown quantity.

Sarah Vincent, writer and good friend, wrote a brilliant blog recently, entitled, ‘Does Writing Make You Miserable?’ See her website: http://www.sarahkvincent.co.uk. In my case, honestly, no, writing doesn’t make me miserable, yet I’d be a liar if I didn’t ‘fess up to morphing into an unhinged obsessive the moment a novel is released. Tell me an author who doesn’t read reviews or check ratings, sometimes at hourly intervals, as if by simply looking one can actually influence a reader’s choice.

As if.

With so many books published daily, it’s no wonder that a novel can take a death-defying nose-dive one moment, only to ping right back up the ‘hit parade’ the next. All of this can take its toll on a writer’s nerves.

And I haven’t even started on reviews.

The fact is, no matter how many five star reviews a book acquires (and I’m talking independent reviews) it’s the one and two stars that a writer remembers, sometimes in gory detail. Critics, particularly of the armchair variety, can be cruel. I’d love to issue a lofty smile and say that criticism from any direction glances off me. It doesn’t. If you have a beating pulse and, trust me, in common with the rest of the population, writers bleed, a nasty remark, especially if it isn’t particularly constructive, can hurt like hell. What is one to do? Sometimes, once the sting abates, something will resonate and you can learn from it. Sometimes, it’s best just to ‘delete’. There is some truth in the adage, ‘No such thing as bad publicity.’

And the lovely remarks, the five star reviews, the general warm pat on the back from enthusiastic readers? I won’t tell fibs about that either. I absolutely love basking in the warm fuzzy glow.

My latest novel, ‘Beautiful Losers’ is released in the UK on April 1st by Midnight Ink. If you’d like to hear me talk about the novel, tune into Nicky Price’s programme on BBC Radio Gloucestershire after 3.00 pm the same day.

LET’S HEAR IT FOR THE GALS!

Two events took place last week on Tuesday March 8th. Both resonated with me. First, it was Independent Women’s Day and, secondly, my novel ‘Beautiful Losers’ was published in the U.S. The connection probably seems blindingly obvious, but actually the truth is subtler.

‘Beautiful Losers’ is the first time I’ve written with a female main protagonist in eight years. Prior to this, I wrote action adventure style/spy fiction with male main protagonists. Now every writer knows that it’s important to creep under the skin of both sexes, but choice of main player requires a special degree of skill and confidence. I explained why I preferred ‘writing as a guy’ a couple of years ago in articles I wrote for Book Oxygen and Books by Women. In the latter I was particularly revealing: ‘Returning to why I find it easier to write from a male perspective, the simple truth lies in my childhood.’ I went on to explain how my mother’s death when I was eight years old had a profound effect on my life. ‘From that moment my family consisted of my two big brothers and my father. In spite of me being sent away to school, they were the biggest influences on my life by far, while my mother’s death was and remains the most defining. It was a catastrophe and it changed us all, but for me something elemental shifted. ‘ I go on to describe the domestic mayhem that ensued, including a fast procession of females in and out of our house, and how the mood music at home focused on cars and women, booze and business deals, and that it was a ‘no-brainer’ to slip into a man’s skin when writing.

So why, you’re entitled to ask, the big departure now? Many factors, I guess. Three of my children are daughters and I’ve watched them grow up and have children of their own. Without going all ‘shrinky’ on you, I’ve not always found it easy to be around women, let alone be part of the ‘sisterhood’. It’s probably a hang-up associated with aforementioned ‘domestic mayhem.’ Over time, my attitude has changed simply because I’m older and I, too, have evolved. And there has been a surprising element of joy in discovering that my own sex is neither to be feared nor distrusted (mostly) and that there is, indeed, a special, unique camaraderie that exists between women.

And something extra that is hard to define.

‘Spiritedness’ comes close, and a determination to succeed whatever the odds, for it’s very often females that pick up the pieces when things cut up rough. It just so happens that same gutsiness is an essential attribute found in the best and most convincing main protagonists (male and female) and I hope that Kim Slade, my main player in ‘Beautiful Losers’, despite the pressures she is put under in my story, emerges a stronger, more grounded, individual than when she started – if only for a short time!

Like I said, writers need to drill down beneath the skins of their characters in order to make them as credible as possible – easier when there is much to celebrate about the fairer sex.

 

‘Beautiful Losers’ will be published by Midnight Ink on April 1st in the UK

 

 

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.

 

 

WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?

We’re all familiar with critics gifted with second sight. Art historians, when viewing a work by an Old Master, will often read all kinds of things into the artist’s life.   ‘That particular flick of paint denotes the precise moment when he left his wife to take up with Mistress X,’ for example. It happens with writers too. I often wonder, if Shakespeare were to reappear in 2015, what he’d have to say about the stuff written about him. Would he concur, or would he say (in modern parlance) ‘Just hang on a minute.’ I guess the bigger question is what kind of artist/writer/musician you think you are.

Whatever the genres, most writers, subconsciously or not, are saying: ‘This is my take on the world and how I think people operate’ and hope to hell that readers will buy into it. This is writing at its most basic, yet there are so many variations on a theme, not all of them explored here.

Clearly, there are those who are uniquely qualified to write certain types of books. Plenty of former soldiers and spies pen riveting tales of espionage.   Their stories have that special note of authenticity, yet it doesn’t mean that they have lived the experiences outlined in their novels.   Not that it matters if we think they have. If it helps with hooking us into the story, believe what you like.

Some writers use their books to deliver messages. Their stories, driven by strong views, (the political system or environment favourites) are designed to ‘illuminate’, dare I say ‘educate’. Main protagonists tend to be passionate proponents of chosen idea or theme and there is usually a big ‘I told you so’ at the end of the novel. I reckon writers like this require immense skill to avoid polemic. Hats off to the few who pull it off.

I’m sticking my neck out but I reckon the majority of crime authors write for sheer entertainment value. They want to blow your socks off with surprise after surprise (optionally guns blazing) with a narrative that is pace perfect and leaves you giddy. If you want to delve into the murkier goings-on in the human psyche, look no further, yet it doesn’t mean that the average crime writer has robbed a bank, run a drug empire, or murdered his or her mother.

Theoretically, psychological thriller writers are a gift to critics who want to read more into the mind behind the pen.   But does it mean that, if you write a book about stalking, you have been stalked?   If you craft a story about dysfunctional relationships, you are in one?   It’s as daft as stating that no holds barred sex scenes in X-rated novels are the result of serious research involving whips, nipple clamps and swinging naked from chandeliers.

Having said this, writers do return again and again to themes that interest or trouble them. Loss and loneliness are front-runners and, in this regard, I’m no exception. The legacy of loss features heavily in my forthcoming novel, ‘Beautiful Losers’ and I guess that says something about me.

So where does the truth lie? In his defence, I once heard a famous author say: ‘Get over it, I make stuff up.’

Absolutely.

Well…erm… mostly.

ALL IN A WRITER’S LIFE

The time between a commissioning editor accepting a novel to the actual date of the novel’s publication can seem like infinity. I often remind new writers of this when a story is so topical its sell by date has already come and gone before hitting an agent’s desk.

Published writers are familiar with the scenario. In short, it can be a frustrating business. For the uninitiated, here’s a brief rundown of the reality of the mechanics. It goes something like this: Your book has been accepted. Cue popping corks, big smiles and mega excitement. Some time later you’re asked to carry out edits. At this point it’s not uncommon to have a petulant ‘what is going on?’ moment. This is when the newly injured writer, creativity in tatters, calls his or her agent, moans like hell, and then flees to the garden and screams long and loud at the sky. Sound and fury spent, the sensible settle down and discover to huge embarrassment that the hotshot editor assigned to the book talks great sense, really gets the story, and his or her suggestions are worth taking on board. Chastened, you carry out edits. Months pass. You – if you’re very lucky – are asked to brainstorm cover design with the art department. If you’re not very lucky, your ideas are totally ignored. And.  Then.  Nada. For months.

Well, this hasn’t been my experience to date with US publisher Midnight Ink. Sure, the lead-time has been long, (which suits me because I’m switching from the spy genre with male main protagonist to psychological thriller with female lead) but some months ago I worked my way through edits with very little effort and no sound and fury.  A couple of months later, I spent a memorable evening with emails flying across the Atlantic discussing the cover. The finished design (sorry, folks, sworn to secrecy) is spot-on and all I could have wished for.  A huge confidence booster, it kept me sweet for the inevitable ‘news blackout’ that descended. What I didn’t expect was a comprehensive fourteen-page publicity sheet from the publicity and marketing department, which popped into my inbox last week. How I wished I’d received something like this prior to being first published in 2007.

No nonsense, clearly written, it explained precisely what would be done for the author and what, in return, the author would do (or not) for the publisher. Any questions that might have popped into my brain on reading were answered lines later in a peculiarly intuitive way. It felt entirely collaborative and the best bit for me was that this this was just the general sheet sent out to all ‘Winter Inkers’, the detailed stuff for my novel, ‘Beautiful Losers’ to be sent at a later date.

I could come out with a ton of clichés about being on the same page, and singing from the same hymn sheet, and rattle on about the confidence this inspires.   The truth is that in a hugely competitive market there is nothing like having a committed publisher on your side.   It’s been a whole new ‘baseball’ game and a damn fine week.

HOW WRONG COULD I BE?!

Last week I flagged up ‘Hostages’, ‘Bnei Aruba’, an Israeli version of the US drama already aired by CBS. Writing about the series in glowing terms, I stated in print that I’d spotted a flicker of romance between Dr Yael Danon, (the surgeon held hostage) and her abductor, Adam Rubin. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. In fact, I was wrong about a lot of things other than the fine performances. When the concluding episode took place after a triple bill on Saturday night, I pretty much felt as though I’d misunderstood the entire series. I love to be surprised and have the rug pulled on me. I marvel when, looking back to earlier scenes in a drama, I see precisely the path of certain events (set-ups) only for the ‘pay-offs’ to be delivered later, along the lines of: ‘So that’s why x and y happened.’ Did I get a sense of this in the finale? Nope. Maybe too much was crammed in to the last episode. Maybe I was tired. I have no idea, but the end result was less than satisfying. If you have to scratch your head to try and work out what exactly took place and why, there’s a problem. Finales should be thrilling and clear.

There was no such doubt in my mind when watching an entirely different animal on Sunday: ‘Fury’, starring Brad Pitt. Set in 1945, in the last days of the war, the film focused on US tank regiments in Nazi Germany.   Badly outnumbered, and with the formidable firepower of German ‘Tiger’ tanks ranged against them, Brad Pitt, who plays a battle-hardened tank commander, takes his crew to the very limit. This is no Hollywood sanitised version of war. Bloody, brutal, visceral in the horrors it depicts, the film nevertheless challenges the viewer not to look away.   Pitt gives a great performance, but for me the real star of the movie was Logan Lerman, who plays Norman, the hastily drafted in tank driver who in a previous life was a humble clerk. Norman, a decent, innocent young man, is forced to grow up and face the reality of war and loss extremely quickly. I first saw him in Noah in which he plays the ill-fated son, never destined to have a wife. He corners the market in vulnerability and he brought that same vulnerability to the part he plays in ‘Fury’. At only twenty-three years of age, I’d wager that he’s a great star in the making. I hope I’m not wrong about that! On which subject, great news to hear that Jack Huston has landed the main part in the remake of ‘The Crow’.   I loved his portrayal of disfigured Richard Harrow in ‘Boardwalk Empire,’ and genuinely thought him destined for great things. Strange to say, a publisher who passed on my novel, ‘Beautiful Losers’ said that ‘disfigurement wasn’t sexy,’ the remark aimed at my character, clinical psychologist, Kim Slade. Sexy or not, ‘Beautiful Losers’ will be published next year by US publisher, Midnight Ink.