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Tag: Mick Herron

MAY MASH-UP

I’m cutting it fine this month, squeaking in before June, but if you can’t mess around with timelines during a pandemic, when can you?

In the early days of lockdown, I had fond ideas of how I was going to spend it. I wasn’t going to learn a new language, or sharpen up my technological skills. Mine were more modest aspirations, like ‘doing things previously put off.’  Some of that stuff got done this month, like sorting out dozens of photographs, which was a rubbish idea because it made me sad. The garden had more attention than it’s accustomed to. I finally learnt to play ‘Moonlight Sonata’ without cocking it up.  I ran (around the garden like a Teddy Bear) and I skipped, which nearly killed me. I worked my way through a ton of screen viewing, including the gloriously black humoured ‘White Lines,’ featuring Daniel Mays, the first two seasons of ‘Rogue’ with Thandie Newton and, another celebration of ‘girl power,’ ‘Queen of the South.’ So refreshing to see (in screen terms only) strong women running cartels.  On the film front, I snapped up Guy Ritchie’s ‘The Gentlemen.’ Who knew that Hugh Grant could break from his usual stereotype and talk like Michael Caine?  Rich in story and with an all-star cast, it’s not to be missed. The highlight for me, though, was 1917. Powerful and poignant, it reminds us of the nightmare of war and the sacrifice of those who fought in unspeakable conditions. Cinematography was absolutely stunning. Some landscape shots were bathed in a dull yellow. I wondered if this reflected the mustard gas unleashed on British troops.  And books, you might ask?  I didn’t reach for my reading pile because I didn’t think I’d be able to concentrate and I was nose-deep in edits for my latest novel.

To put you in the picture, I wrote and sent my latest draft pre-pandemic. Mid-pandemic, it came back with notes. In the meantime the world had shifted mightily and I seriously wondered how I was going to settle down and tackle those vitally important revisions.

As most writers recognise, receiving notes from your editor can be like listening to a weather forecast. Initially, the sun shines, (phew, he/she really likes it). Next, you notice a bit of cloud on the horizon, (he likes it but could X,Y and Z be changed?) If that cloud unleashes a downpour, (my vision for the story is so-and-so) a hurricane breaks loose. Happily, it turned out my editor and me occupied the same climate zone. But it still left me feeling a little strange about knuckling down. Asked whether my creative juices were flowing, I committed authorial suicide, the honest answer shamefully,  ‘No, not really.’  A deadline, however, had a transformative effect.  Mind over matter was required and I told myself that, if I didn’t feel it, I’d blag it, and if I blagged it long enough, it would be fine. Which, after a bit of going around the houses, or ‘thinking time’ is exactly what happened.

A wise bod told me years’ ago that, in draft form, a story is like jam that isn’t set. Essentially, the basic structure is in place, but there is freedom to shift events and characters around, no need to get too hung up on it.  This stage, when you can be radical and ruthless, is the most creative part of writing for me. Uncertainties regarding the trajectory of the pandemic aside, (not at all easy) I actually enjoyed revision and refining the story, and the way it opened up possibilities for more depth and characterisation. One weird discovery:  (bearing in mind the original draft was written last year) one of my minor characters stockpiles food ‘as if in preparation for a pandemic’. This has been chopped!

Having sent in the revised draft a couple of days ago, ‘Joe Country’ by Mick Herron is about to get my full attention. The month of May might not be merry, but it wasn’t as awful as it could have been.  I’m hoping June will see an improvement.

SLOW START

I had a slow start to 2020 for all the right reasons. I’d sent the first draft (mentioned in my last post) to my agent, which was nothing short of a miracle. Editorial work was steady and of exceptional quality, but I wasn’t rushed off my feet. A rarity, I had time to stand and stare, except I didn’t. When not walking, visiting and generally catching up on all things domestic, I read several novels, two of which stand out like shooting stars on a dark night: ‘London Rules’, by Mick Herron and the utterly sublime, ‘A Treachery of Spies’ by Manda Scott.

Already a committed fan of the ‘Slough House’ crew, I had moments during London Rules’ when I laughed out loud, but don’t be fooled by the hilarity and elegant writing. With terrorism and assassination attempts, there is plenty here that feels serious, contemporary and chilling. Plotting, as ever, is meticulous. Herron is a dab hand at persuading you to look one way when you should be staring at what’s right in front of you. Fast-paced, it’s the kind of story that you can polish off in an uninterrupted day.

‘A Treachery of Spies’ is a different beast. The story begins with a very old woman found dead in a car in France. The gruesome and puzzling circumstances of her death leads Ines Picaut, a lead detective, on a trail that travels back to the Second World War. The dual narrative is one of the brilliant aspects of the story as it switches from present day France to the activities of the British and the Maquis during the French resistance. To say I was gripped was an understatement. The story resonated more strongly as I’d read Damien Lewis’s ‘The Nazi Hunters’ last year.

As the title suggests, betrayal and the difficulties of who to trust in a situation, in which one false move can mean a swift death sentence, (if you’re lucky) powers the narrative. Consequently, Scott’s cast of characters are intriguing and complex, and tension is on a knife-edge throughout. At times, I wanted my imagination to shut down such is the brutality displayed towards those caught by the Nazis, as well as those French deemed to be collaborators by their countrymen. It’s a massive tribute to Scott’s writing that she tells it how it was, without gratuitousness or sensationalism. While the story may be fictional, the courage and commitment of those who fought against occupation and a cruel invader are never in doubt. But this is not a tale of ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’. Human frailty on all sides is laid bare in unflinching detail. If espionage is your thing, go and buy.

NO SWEAT

When I started writing a blog I wrote weekly.  It nearly killed me so I believed a monthly blog would work better.  A monthly blog is doable, I thought.  No sweat. Well, I was wrong, which is why I’m just squeaking in my June blog on the cusp of July.  How on earth can the weeks fly by this quickly? And then I looked at my diary and made a sobering discovery.

In the past month I’ve read through final proofs of ‘Her Sister’s Secret’.  Actually, the novel is due to be released next week and I’m looking forward to seeing it ‘in the flesh’.  I’ve worked with six authors on their yet as unpublished novels on behalf of Jericho Writers.  I’ve carried out serious legwork (research) for a brand new story of my own, fielded phone calls – professional, that is –  (personal doesn’t count and there’s been plenty of those) and spent three glorious days away when I should have been working.  I also read Mick Herron’s sensational ‘Spook Street’, yet hardly made a dent in my ‘To Be Read’ list, which is why I feel so damned guilty for only just starting ‘Turbulent Wake’ by fab writer, Paul Hardisty.  Within pages, I was absolutely drawn in and enthralled. Having worked with Paul on ‘The Abrupt Physics of Dying’, it felt very special to be back and in such a safe pair of hands.  If you haven’t read his books, do.  Already I have the impression that ‘Turbulent Wake’ is literary fiction of the highest order;  superb, actually.   

I appreciate that my list of professional endeavours is as nothing to what the average agent ploughs their way through, but, phew, it makes me giddy to read, which explains why, in a bid to maintain a healthy work/life balance, I’m taking the summer off from blogging.  I will still be chirruping on Twitter and playing my face on Facebook so I’m not disappearing from the digital ether completely.  

Have a wonderful summer those of you who follow my blog. See you in…ahem… September.

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!