Wednesday 31 October 2012

Star Wars? Star Drawers!

So it seems that George Lucas has finally decided to sell Lucasfilm to Disney, who are now rumoured to be planning a new Star Wars trilogy in 2015. To celebrate this exciting news, I thought I'd share a passage from Star Drawers, a humorous parody that I scribbled in my younger years.
In this scene, Bert "Oh-Begone" Knevil and Nuke Flyswatter visit a bar in Mos Angeles spaceport. There, they meet the roguish Hank Slowmo and the faithful Choochoo, with "hilarious results"… *sigh*

 - - - - -

“I’m impressed.” nodded Oh-Begone, “But what I really need is a fast ship.”
“That’s lucky, Grandpa...” Slowmo leaned back in his chair, “because what I really need is someone who really needs a fast ship.”
“You don’t say.” noted Oh-Begone, patiently.
“Oh but I do.” Slowmo leaned forward conspiratorially, “What’s the cargo, old timer?”
“Myself and the boy, these two droids...” Oh-Begone leaned forward, equally conspiratorially, “And no questions asked!”
“Who are you on the run from?” whispered Slowmo.
“I said, no questions asked!” replied Oh-Begone, “Let’s just say we’d prefer to avoid any run-ins with the Establishment!”
Slowmo nodded sagely. “We’d prefer to avoid any run-ins with the Establishment.” he repeated correctly, “But that’s gonna cost you some serious dough.”
“Dough?” frowned Nuke, “Damn! I only have money!”
“Don’t worry about him, he grew up on a farm.” Bert muttered, “How much are we talking about?”
“Well, I’ve got fuel costs to think about, take-off fees, landing fees, reasonable wear and tear, sales tax, postage and
packing...” Slowmo shot a sideways glance at Choochoo, “I couldn’t take on the job for less than... fifty?”
“Fifty?!” Nuke exclaimed, “Fifty?!”
“Yes, fifty.” repeated Slowmo clearly.
“Why, we could buy a thriving small business for fifty!” Nuke blustered.
“I think he meant fifty thousand.” Bert explained.
“What?!” Nuke gasped, “Why, we could buy a thriving large business for fifty thousand!”
“I meant fifty million, old timer.” Slowmo clarified.
What?!!” Nuke gasped again, “Why, we could...”
“We’ll take it.” Oh-Begone interrupted, “Mr Slowmo, how do you feel about payment on arrival at our destination?”
“That all depends.” Slowmo shrugged, “How do you feel about Choochoo taking you out back and...” he whispered something to the old man.
“You shall have your money within the hour!” Bert stated decisively, “Come Nuke, we have things to sell!”
Slowmo watched them go, then turned to Choochoo.
“Fifty million!” he grinned, “Those guys must really be desperate, or surprisingly bad with figures... hey, this is great - I’ll finally be able to buy mother that operation she’s been needing.”
Choochoo made a guttural sound and shook his head wearily.
“She’d turn in her grave if she heard you say that!” Hank scowled, “Anyway, you run along and get the ship ready... I’ll wait here in this bar full of bounty hunters and debt collectors and quietly consider the enormous price on my head.”

 - - - - -

Thursday 11 October 2012

Good and Bad

It’s an old maxim, but one which is still useful for challenging all sorts of prejudice: “There’s good and bad everywhere.”

Whenever a politician or a newspaper casts veiled hints that everyone in banking is a greedy criminal, or everyone living on benefits is a lazy burden, I become wary. Because such suggestions are obviously not true. Because there’s good and bad everywhere.

And that’s how I felt while reading The Casual Vacancy... wary. It’s certainly clever, with more than twenty detailed characters weaving their individual plot threads into a thoughtful story, and J K Rowling shows that she has more than one talented voice – that she can grip audiences in very different genres.

But it was difficult to shake that uneasy feeling, that wary sense that something wasn’t quite right. It wasn’t the fact that there were no characters who I really liked – weak, spiteful, broken, or deluded – they might not be likeable, but they were certainly interesting and readable.

No, the thing that really bothered me was the way that, as the story developed, virtually all of the affluent characters were revealed to be vile people, with layer upon layer of rottenness seeping through their respectable veneers, while all bar one of the deprived characters had huge, repeated signposts to tragic events that had derailed what might otherwise have been good lives.

Three hundred pages in, I began to worry that it might be a purely allegorical piece, and whether all the disadvantaged people would be revealed as rough diamonds, with beautiful hearts of gold, while the middle class would be unmasked as universally cruel and evil – a “happy ending” for social idealists.

Fortunately, and to J K Rowling’s enormous credit, The Casual Vacancy didn’t do that. I don’t want to spoil the story, as it’s well worth reading, but the book eschews the fairytale ending and pantomime comeuppance. Because life isn’t like that. Because there’s good and bad everywhere.

Tuesday 9 October 2012

Video: Severn Beach

A short video-blog post about writing "Eye Contact" on Severn Beach.

Sunday 7 October 2012

Starting Over

It’s that time again. I’ve been trying not to dwell on it too much, but with book two now sitting on my editor’s desk, my thoughts have turned to book three. It’s exciting to have that big blank page of possibility before me, and I’ve had the bones of a story rattling around for quite a while... but not the specifics. I like to establish the setting for my scenes early on so, with the luxury of a free Saturday yesterday, I decided to drive up to Bristol and do some location scouting.

My teenage son came with me – partly out of interest in the writing process, partly out of interest in where I was going to have lunch – and we had a day that was both enjoyable and productive.

We started out in Clifton Village. I knew I couldn’t set the story there, as it’s somewhere I’ve explored in previous work, but we visited some estate agents, picked up the property papers, and retired to BTP for brunch and some research reading. Much of book three takes place in a big old house that’s been converted to flats, and we scanned the papers as we ate, identifying which parts of the city had suitable properties. Then, after a very brief detour to Bar Chocolate (a truly wonderful artisan chocolate cafe near the Clifton Suspension Bridge) we jumped in the car and began driving around.

We explored a lot of different streets in a number of different neighbourhoods. It’s possible to remind yourself of details using online resources such as Google StreetView, but you don’t always get the real sense of atmosphere until you visit a place, and I wanted a location that felt right.

After an hour or two, we had seen several possibilities, but one seemed to stand out – a quite road in the Zetland / Montpelier area – so we drove back and took a second, longer look. Parking the car, I strolled up and down the street a few times, and explored the surrounding area, getting more and more excited. This was definitely the place!

There weren’t any estate agents’ boards on show, but hopefully a suitable flat will come on the market shortly – I’ve always found it helpful to get floor plans and interior photos for that added sense of realism. Who knows, I might even be able to arrange a viewing...

Our mission accomplished, we made our way to the Krispy Kreme donut shop at Avon Meads (I love the fact that a donut shop is so close to Avon & Somerset CID headquarters) before heading for home. It had been a really good day and it was pleasing to sense that something new was starting. Book three is well and truly underway!

Friday 5 October 2012

Sock It To 'Em

I was watching a wonderful Monty Python sketch, called How Not To Be Seen, and it occured to me that one of the most effective forms of camouflage is to be a debut author.

After the recent "sock puppet" scandals about established writers using fake accounts to write glowing reviews of their own work, there's still the tricky issue of how to get your book known if you're just starting out.

It isn't easy. You can repeatedly spam all your Facebook friends, or blatantly ask for retweets on Twitter, or amble into Waterstone's and make vague tut-tut sounds – while these approaches may be more morally honest than sock-puppeting, they are unlikely to help promote your book. Or make you popular.

I certainly don't have all the answers. Naturally, I've done the blog/website thing, set up my Facebook page and tried to be entertaining on Twitter. I've spoken politely to some local book shops, and even printed up some flyers which are displayed around the local communities where the story is set.

Is that enough? Well, no. I'm still very much at the foot of the mountain. However, at the time of writing, Eye Contact has 16 reviews on Amazon with a very pleasing 4/5 star overall rating. None of those reviews are from me or my family, and only one of them is from somebody I know.

Why does this matter? Why don't I simply make up a few fake accounts and award myself 5 stars? Because not cheating has given me hope. Knowing those ratings are real encourages me that the series will build a following and be successful. It'll take time, but I have a 3-book deal so I can take the long view (or I could if I was a little more patient).

So thanks to everyone who's taken the trouble to review Eye Contact… and to all the dishonest authors out there, who sneakily try and rate their own books, I say "Dishonest authors, will you please stand up!"