Bish, bash, Bosch.

bosch-amazon-studios-titus-welliver

A little while ago I received an Amazon comment on one of the R&M Files that said something about DI Romney NOT being Harry Bosch. (I wish I could reference it here but I can’t find it! Typical. I know I didn’t imagine it.) Of course Romney isn’t Bosch. Romney is Romney. He’s from a completely different culture, place and system. He’s a different person. Although I understood the comment, what the reader was getting at, I didn’t really appreciate the reader in question saying that Romney isn’t Bosch. It comes across as a negative thing. Maybe it was for that reader. It’s a bit like saying a VW beetle isn’t a Ferrari. (I like beetles and I like Ferraris but a beetle isn’t a Ferrari. I doesn’t have to be for me to like it. It’s just a different type of car.) Romney is a different type of policeman. He was never meant to be anyone but Romney and the inference I took from the comment was that as the creator of Romney I’d tried to make him something Boschlike and failed. Have I ever mentioned that I can be over-analytical sometimes?

I’d heard of Bosch, of course. I say ‘of course’ because Bosch has been a hugely popular detective fiction character for years. (Harry Bosch is the creation of Michael Connelly. Bosch is a detective working for the LAPD (Los Angeles Police Department.) Maybe I should have read him before. I have now and am glad that I have.

Rather serendipitously soon after reading the afore-mentioned comment, Amazon sent me a voucher for a free book. They gave me the choice of three, I think, and the first Bosch was one of them.  You don’t need to be a detective to guess what happened next. And then I actually BOUGHT the next four in the series! I was that impressed with the writing and the character.

The first three were really good. For my money, books four and five have just gone off the boil a little. The writing isn’t quite as sharp, as cutting, as decisive as it was in the first three. Just my opinion. And Bosch the character comes across as more of a dick (that’s dick as in British slang than dick as in American slang) in these books than hard-nosed as he did in books 1-3. I realise that’s a fine line to walk for an author. A lesson for Romney and me. Romney can be a dick (British slang) first class. Actually, come to think of it, so can I. (Yet another thing the Dover DI and I have in common. Sigh.) It’s important that even when your central protagonist is being a dick he’s still got some appeal. It’s crucial for the reader. Harry lost some of his appeal for me in book four. I got a bit irritated with him. He clawed some of it back in book five. I will be reading more in the series.

It’s often said that writers need to be readers. Writers can learn from reading the writing of others. What works and what doesn’t. As well as having enjoyed the reading experience, I’ve learned some things from working my way through the first five Bosch novels back to back. (As an aside, I think a writer has to be bloody good to make a reader want to plough without interruption through a series and then to make the reader follow through with that want.)

Swearing: less is more. Bosch and a couple of people he interrogates get very sweary at times, particularly in book five, and it does lose the impact of the language for me. There’s ALWAYS going to be a place in contemporary crime fiction for bad language. It’s simply the reality of contemporary life. (Curiously enough I had another comment on Rope Enough (R&M#1) not so long ago that said: Did not like the blasphemy. If the ebook wasn’t in my nice Kindle I’d have chucked it down the loo! Cussler & Wilbur Smith manage to put the word “expletive” where appropriate – we know what they mean. Well sorry mate but that’s bollocks. I can’t think of many more intrusive devices in a narrative than for an author to spoil the flow by using the word ‘expletive’ instead of …er…an expletive.

Character empathy: The reader must not be encouraged to become alienated from the central character of a series. That’s literary suicide. I see it time and again in comments readers make on Amazon: ‘didn’t care about any of the characters.’ I might have pushed that at times with the R&M Files and Romney. I might still be pushing it. I think that having a crime fighting duo like Romney and Marsh can help here as opposed to a lone ranger like Bosch. Romney might be dick sometimes but Marsh is there as the reader’s foil to manage his dickishness, to bring something out of it for the reader to enjoy. I hope so.

Repetition: I read a few comments that readers have made on the Bosch novels. Naturally I gravitated to the negative and luke-warm, like one does. One reader said that Connelly has a habit of telling something then repeating/explaining it with a summary sentence or another unnecessary paragraph. That struck a chord. A couple of readers whose opinions I trust have levelled the accusation at me. I’m mindful of it and I try to weed that sort of thing out of my writing when I go back during the editing process. And I had noticed a few instances of this in Connelly’s books. You’ve got to be a bit brave as a writer and take a leap of faith – believe in your readers’ ability to understand something first time round. As a reader I find it satisfying, pleasurable even to get it without having it explained and then rammed down my throat.

Padding: Connelly doesn’t seem to do a lot of this but just now and again I think he does touch on things that it really wouldn’t have hurt the narrative and story if he’d left them out. I read a few passages that made me frown with their apparent lack of connection to what was going on. I kept expecting them to show their relevance later in the story but they didn’t. (Maybe I just didn’t get it and needed it explaining and then rammed down my throat.) Another note to self. I don’t think I do much padding anyway. I don’t like it as a reader.

Similes: Connelly is pretty good generally, but there were a few times that I didn’t like his attempts and I think that the narrative would have been better for their absence. I am reminded to beware of grating home-made similes. If in doubt, leave them out. I think that home-made similes are a literary device that have the ability to separate the best writers from the rest of us. It’s something that I really appreciate in Chandler’s writing. He was one of the best. And while a brilliantly original and apt simile is worth a thousand words a poor one that jars can jolt the reader out of the flow. Another lesson for me: often plain words instead of clichés and flowery language are far more effective and less distracting for the reader, unless you have something really special to offer.

Humour: This is a big one for me. A big issue. In The Concrete Blonde (Bosch #3) there were a couple of very nice and welcome touches of humour. I was encouraged to chuckle to myself in a public place. It wasn’t the author being funny; it was Harry Bosch. And it really made a difference, this tough cop having a sense of humour. The incidents were subtle. But maybe what the touches did more than anything was to highlight the lack of humour anywhere else in the series. Humour suddenly became notable by its absence. And that realisation made quite an impact on me as a reader. Not in a good way.

Humour is important to me in my R&M Files. I understand that introducing humour in crime fiction is going to be fraught with difficulty for many reasons. But I think that if an author can bring it off it’s worth its weight in the story. It’s worth more than its weight. I’ve tempted my idea of what’s funny out of the shadows once again into R&M#5. It works for me. Funny humour always works for me as a reader. It’s one of the things I like about reading Elmore Leonard. That man could write a line that made me hoot and re-read it again and again just to appreciate the subtlety of it. I’m talking about a serious line of dialogue that was just so perfect it became funny. That kind of funny is a writer at the top of his craft.

Freshness: It’s not easy to keep books in a series fresh, to prevent them and the characters from becoming stale and predictable. It might be the biggest challenge for an author. I’m about to start book six in the R&M Files. I’m about to find out. Or maybe feedback on #5 will indicate it.

If someone with a hankering to write s series of detective novels asked me for advice I would say: read a few series before you even pick up a pencil. Get the feel for how characters develop over a few books. Read the books critically. Search for what works for you as a reader and what doesn’t over the course of, say, the first five books. Do I regret not doing that? (Wrinkles nose in thought.) No. But it might have helped me as a writer to think longer term for my characters. Then again when I wrote Rope Enough I had no idea there’d be #2 never mind a #5. And there will be a #6. I have to start that next. (More on that in September.)

Amazon have made a television series of the Connelly novels. It’s called Bosch. I haven’t seen any but I want to. The guy who plays Bosch looks appropriate as I see the character, although in the books I’ve read Bosch has a moustache and Titus Welliver doesn’t. Good move by whoever made that decision for Amazon. When I learned in book three (?) that Harry had a tash I had to take a break. Facial hair definitely works for anyone Tom Sellick plays (Magnum and Jesse Stone) but I have to admit that I didn’t enjoy learning that Bosch was anything other than clean shaven or (often) stubbly with several days’ growth.

And finally, while I’m thinking about actor/character choice I’ve been asked and I’ve sometimes wondered who I’d like to play DI Romney on the small screen. I know who. I saw the guy in something a little while back and instantly thought he would be perfect. Nearly. Trouble is he’s now too old and he’s Irish. (I’ve no problem with the Irish but the accent would be an issue. That said the guy is an actor. Maybe he could have dealt with it convincingly. I’m sorry that the man who would have been my current first choice for DI Romney will, by cruel dint of time and place, not now get a sniff at the role. Liam Cunningham.

DI Romney.

DI Romney.

Particular Stupidities R&M#5 cover reveal!

PARTICULAR STUPIDITIES (Large)

Ta Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!

Just thought I’d share the cover art for R&M#5 that came through today. As with every cover Kit Foster does for me, I’m very pleased with it.

Thanks to those readers who offered a suggestion for the effect. I wish I’d thought of a dunce cap. (Does that make me a dunce?)

The dark side.

the dark side

I was pecked (!) on twitter last week by a book promotion outfit. They offered help with promoting my book, obviously. It’s the first time I’ve been approached. They said to get in touch if I was interested. I emailed for details because I’m interested in the world of self-publishing and self-promotion. It’s good to know what goes on.

They offered the following:

Amazon, Goodreads or Barnes & Noble Review – £20 / $30 (Verified if the ebook purchase price is included for Amazon reviews) 

Like / Click up to 5 positive Amazon / Goodreads / B&N Reviews as Helpful, and up to 5 Negative Reviews as Unhelpful – £5 / $7.50

Vote your book onto and up on 10 Goodreads Lists – £10 / $15

Vote your book onto and up on 10 Goodreads Shelves – £10 / $15

Get your book rated by 100 separate Goodreads Accounts adding huge credibility to comments of reviewers and your own success as an upcoming Author to look out for – £100 / $150

Have a book review of your choice shared with over 12000 Facebook Followers and over 11000 Twitter Followers – £10 / $15

Multiples of all options are available. It depends only on how far you want your book to go.

There was a good deal of spiel with it. Like I say, it’s nice to know what goes on. And a bit saddening to know that you can quite easily buy yourself some credit, buy your way up the charts. I don’t know why I’m surprised, the principle is nothing new in business – you know: cheating. Maybe because it’s my chosen career path and I’ve just walked round a corner to find it’s strewn with litter.

*

I’ve learned something new about myself as a writer this week. When I finish the first draft of a book I suddenly become quite exhausted. I hadn’t understood that till this week. I’m the same with teaching. When I get to the first week of the summer holiday I invariably suffer with extreme tiredness. I think it must be to with the handbrake going on on the struggle: the struggle to spoon a story out of my brain on the one hand and the struggle to spoon-feed learning into the brains of young learners on the other. Draining. Yes. Drained is the word I’m looking for. I finish a first draft, I finish a school year and I’m drained. That’s what I learned about me the writer this week.

I finished the first draft of R&M#5 last weekend. Naturally, I’ve felt pretty drained all week. I started back at the beginning almost immediately. But because of my state of drainedness it’s been a tough few days on the grey matter. It’s really not easy to keep a whole book in your mind at once. Jumping backwards and forwards; did İ remember this; did I mention that; x has happened but is the build up there? How can that guy be dead in chapter three and having a phone conversation in chapter six?

But I quite enjoy this phase of writing a story. Things start feeling like they’re coming together. Reading back through I often come up with little asides and comments to drop in – a bit of embroidery. I’m not focussing on where the story is going because I’m already over the line. My mind is free to revel in the detail, to explore the cul-de-sacs of the narrative.

At present the book, Particular Stupidities, is 100,000 words. As I said before, it’s the longest R&M File so far. I’ve read it through once already. I like it. It’s made me laugh a few times, which I always take as a good sign.

I ordered the cover yesterday. Another step along the way.

*

Last week I mentioned making an enquiry on Goodreads. It evolved into something of a thread as it went off at a tangent with other posters’ thoughts and questions. A few people have weighed in on the direction it’s taken. And then they’ve started weighing in on each other. I nearly got involved (it’s my thread after all) but I’m glad I didn’t. Jeez! These people end up at each other’s throats. I have opinions and experiences to share, I really wanted to, but I’ll be keeping them to myself. I have enough angst in my life.

https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/2241246-star-ratings?page=1

The bright side.

So it's not a Range Rover but I wouldn't say no to one.

So it’s not a Range Rover but I wouldn’t say no to one.

This week I had a great example of how one’s perspective can influence one’s frame of mind. It was after work. I was waiting for the ride home with a colleague. A parent turned up to collect their child. The parent was driving a brand new BMW 4×4. I remarked to my colleague on the good fortune of the parent to have such a wonderful vehicle. (That’s the polite version.) I said that one day I’d like to come to work in a big German motor. He told me I already did. And I had a chauffeur. I gave him a funny look. He reminded me that the school bus is a Mercedes and that we have a driver. He was looking on the bright side. And then so was I. I felt better already.

The next day I was in class and I accidentally broke a child’s purple colouring pencil. When she’d stopped crying I tried to lift her mood by encouraging her to look on the bright side: now she didn’t have one purple pencil, she had two! OK. So you can’t encourage everyone to see the best in things. That’s her problem. After what she called me, I had a good mind to see how she liked having four purple colouring pencils.

I’m a Goodreads author. I have a profile and everything. Goodreads readers tend to be less generous than Amazon readers with their starred ratings. That’s fine. Same for everyone. I think it’s become something of an expectation over there. For instance, I’ve had a reader leave a four star comment on Amazon and then a three star comment for the same book on Goodreads. No problem. The way that it is.

A couple of days ago I noticed that two 2* ratings had appeared for He Made Me B&C#2. I was a bit gutted as, with those included, I only had eight ratings anyway. It dragged the average down considerably. And of course I was a bit sad that two readers didn’t like what could be my best book to date.

With Goodreads it can take anything up to seventy-two hours for the reader details that go with a rating to appear on the book’s page. (I know because they told me.) The reader details for these two 2* comments didn’t materialise on the book’s page in three days. I messaged Goodreads to ask about this. (I had my hate mail already drafted for when the readers’ identities were revealed.) Within ten minutes the two 2* reviews had been removed. I was shocked. There was no accompanying explanation, so I requested one. I got this:

Authors can refresh their own book ratings (right next to where you set primary/default/featured edition). Or if look really wonky, contact staff.

Mostly I’ve been told changes take 10 minutes to 72 hours to populate throughout all areas of goodreads (stats and thumbnail heavy pages seem slowest).

Readers might also just be adding, changing or deleting ratings/reviews faster than reflecting in displayed stats currently being looked at. Or goodreads could be cleaning up the Sockpuppet and spam accounts …

I’m inclined to look for the answer to my Goodreads episode in that last sentence. It makes the most sense. And, frankly, I’m quite disturbed to think that if I hadn’t just asked the question, if I’d just accepted that a couple of readers thought the book was shite then my book’s rating would be unfairly reduced by either spam or sockpuppet accounts. Needless to say my confidence in Goodreads feedback has taken a bit of a knock.

I’ve managed to contribute another sixteen thousand words to R&M#5 since the last blog-post. It now teeters on the cusp of 97000 words and there is still a little way to go. The writing is going well. I’ll have a lot of work to do when I reach the end of the story but I don’t mind that. The satisfaction/relief nay euphoria of getting to the end of a story can often support my fragile mental state for a couple of weeks.

Talking about R&M#5 – I have mentioned before my intention to call it Particular Stupidities. There are a couple of very good reasons for this, which will become evident from the reading of it. I will be most reluctant to change the title. But I’ve got a bit of a problem: with my R&M covers I like to include an effect in the title – replace a letter with an artefact relevant to the story. With the last one, A Dog’s Life, that artefact was obvious to me from quite early on. But with this one…I just can’t see it. I wonder if any of my readers might have a good idea. Not an artefact from the story in this case, but something that resonates with stupidity. Any suggestions will be gratefully received. And if I nothing crops up I suppose I’ll have to leave it to the cover design guy. It’s what I pay him for after all.

Have a great weekend everyone.

The other noble art?

It's never looked particularly noble to me. Or arty. Just brutal and painful.

It’s never looked particularly noble to me. Or arty. Just brutal and painful.

Is there any occupation more noble, more admirable, more worthy than being an author of novels?

This is the question I asked myself as I hoofed it home after being dropped off the school bus this evening at the (not) end of the working week. (We’re in on SUNDAY!!! For an open day. Hells bells!)

Within five paces I’d reconsidered to include anyone who is artistically creative: songwriters, artists, poets and the like. People who bring untold pleasure to others through the arts.

Another couple of steps and I was thinking that doctors and people who put out fires and people who care for the sick and dying and those who strive to save species from extinction might be considered more worthy individuals than writers of fiction. Still, it was nice few yards while it lasted.

Where did this indulgent feeling about my adopted semi-profession come from? Owing to a bit of heavy traffic I was able to finish Lamentation, the sixth book in the Matthew Shardlake series of historical mystery novels by CJ Sansom, just before I got dropped off. What a book. What a series. What a writer. If you haven’t given the Shardlake books a try, do it now and start at the beginning. A master story teller.

I’ve been looking forward to reading this one from before it was published. Noticing its reduced price of only £1.99 on Amazon last weekend, I couldn’t resist. (In the UK I have three pristine signed first editions of this title to go with my others in the series but I can’t read them.) I’ve been devouring this one on the daily commute. As soon as I opened my Kindle I was transported into the period and the story. I become totally oblivious to everything. Sansom has been one of my favourite authors for a while. He has only increased his stock with me for this addition to the Shardlake canon.

Surely one of the most wonderful compliments that can be paid to an author is when a reader is moved to cry, or laugh out loud or, as in my case today, literally audibly gasp at a turn of events. I hardly believe I did but it’s true – the person sitting next to me asked if I was all right. I don’t think I’ve ever gasped while reading before. (I don’t include that letter from my ex-wife’s solicitors asking for a lump sum settlement.) It’s wonderful to be moved like that by a writer.

*

Enough of blowing smoke up Mr Sansom’s backside. This blog is supposed to be about my writing.

Romney and Marsh #5, Particular Stupidities, is going well. I careered through the 80,000 word barrier last night and there’s still a way to go. This, then, looks like being the longest R&M I’ve written.

It’s snow time!

The patron saint of teachers.

The patron saint of teachers.

As Bob Dylan famously crooned: How many roads must a man walk down before he says: this compass is broken?

My compass has been giving me some questionable readings for a while now. It’s high time I had a good look at where I am, take some bearings, consider some important questions.

Last week saw another couple of snow days come Istanbul’s way. They are a bonus from on high, from the patron saint of teachers (yes there is one apparently and the clue to her identity is the opening image) working a little magic to reward her faithful disciples. My domestic arrangement for snow days is that I get a good chunk of the day to myself, as long as I make myself scarce i.e. go out. No problem there.

Snow days' work station.

Snow days’ work station.

The number of snow days we’ve enjoyed this winter has led to me becoming quite familiar with this table in this coffee shop that overlooks the Sea of Marmara. It’s not the best coffee in town but it has a good ambiance and Wi-Fi and it’s warm and it’s within a fifteen minute walk of home.

I find this time productive – I usually add a couple of thousand words each day to my latest writing project – and enjoyable – there’s coffee, it’s quiet and no one bothers me. It’s also given me time to think on a few of those burning questions: Where am I? Where do I want to be? How long have I got to get there? Can it be done? What am I prepared to risk/sacrifice on the way?

I know the answers to these questions, I really do, and I know what needs to be done in order to get to where I want to be. But I also know that if I follow my dreams, as the lyrics go…there may be trouble ahead.

Couple of photos I’ll include because I took them.

Istanbul in the snow.

Istanbul in the snow.

There are quite a few fir trees dotted around the streets where I live. I had no idea that snowfall could have such an effect on them. Lots of limbs off and several big trees toppled over under the strain. Probably something to do with stunted root systems.

I wonder is he was insured for trees falling on his car.

I wonder is he was insured for trees falling on his car.

(According to the fount of all knowledge, the patron saint of teachers is Saint Catherine. This painting done by Caravaggio. I do wonder at the significance of the broken wheel. Perhaps she also doubled up as the patron saint of wheelwrights in the school holidays.)

A lesson in humiliation.

mickey mouse

I’m burning the candle at both ends to crack on with Particular Stupidities R&M #5. I’m sixty-five thousand words into it. I desperately want to crack on with it but I can’t.

I can’t get on with the book because I have to do an online course of study  just so that I can continue to teach in this country.

I have a BA Hons in Primary Education (First Class) from a respected British university. I have a Diploma in Specialist Teaching Studies. I have Qualified Teacher Status in the UK. I have several years teaching experience in the UK and several more teaching English as a foreign language abroad. But that all counts for nothing because the Ministry of Education here have moved the employment goalposts in the last year. And the only way I can continue to teach here is if I get this certificate that I just know I’m going to end up printing off myself. It costs money (mine) and it costs time – about sixty hours of my life. SIXTY HOURS OF MY LIFE! I’m so pissed off.

I’ve just reached the first ‘test’. It’s multiple choice. Here’s an example:

How many people are estimated to be learning English worldwide?

  1. a) 10 million
  2. b) 100 million
  3. c) 1 billion
  4. d) 2 billion
  5. e) who cares and how does knowing the answer to that make me better qualified to teach English as a foreign language?

Answer: e

Seriously, as a professional it is humiliating.

*

I’ve given up on so many books this week. Mostly free downloads that ALL started so promisingly and then just became…broken promises. I have also thrown in the towel on a physical book that I gave valuable luggage space to on my return from my homeland. Should I name it? OK, I will. I Am Pilgrim. The Guardian makes the claim on the front cover that it’s the only thriller you need to read this year. It’s nearly nine hundred pages. (Yeah, I know, most unlike me, but it had such great reviews everywhere and I got it cheap in a charity shop.) I enjoyed the first four hundred. But at five hundred I’d had enough. I just can’t pretend that I still want to pick it up.

To fill the void and hopefully rev me back up I moved straight on to Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I blogged about it a little while ago. Or rather I blogged about the number of 1* reviews the book has. It’s started well. She writes well for this genre. Lots of readers, including my daughter, have loved the book but been scathing about the ending. I’m looking forward to seeing what all the fuss is about. Providing I can finish the thing.

Back to my ‘studies’.

I just had a thought: what if I fail? That would be a lesson in humiliation, especially if I do have to print off my own certificate.