The Cuckoo’s Calling

_Cuckoo_139820cLast week I blogged about writing a Romney and Marsh File as a script for the stage. I’ve spent this week turning that script into a short story. It’s the first short story I’ve written. As last week, the breaking of new writing ground has been an interesting and enjoyable process. Perhaps they’ll be more short stories (I hope so) but I don’t have any ideas at the moment. I would like to add a collection of short stories to my writer’s portfolio. At this rate I should finish it around my seventieth birthday. (I can just hear my children’s sharp inhalations as they contemplate me lasting that long and denying them speedier access to their inheritance, such as it is.)

I won’t be blogging next week. I’ll be on holiday. I’m off to Canada to visit my daughter. She’s promised to take me hiking in the wilderness. I just hope she intends bringing me safely back. (Maybe it was a mistake to make her executor of my will and then to tell her that.)

It’s going to be a long old return flight. But I have plans to use the ‘dead’ time productively. The first draft of R&M#5 Particular Stupidities has been sitting in the bottom drawer for a few weeks – long enough for me to feel that the time is right to get it out and set to with the highlighters. So that’s what I envisage spending most of my fourteen hours each way in the air doing. Here’s hoping the travellers with screaming infants aren’t sitting within ten rows of me and that DVT isn’t something I actually suffer from on long haul flights. (Could kind of spoil things to touch down in Canada for a walking holiday only to be rushed off to hospital for an amputation or two. [Note to self: keep receipt for walking boots.])

When I return home I expect to be able to send it off to the gentleman who fixes my English mistakes. And then I’ll be back to R&M#6 Happy Families which was going rather well until I decided to put it on hold for the play script and accompanying short story. It’s good to know that when Particular Stupidities is off my hands I don’t have a blank page to look forward to but a good start to familiarise myself with.

*

A while ago it was suggested to me that Rope Enough (Romney & Marsh File#1) is the odd one out among the four currently published R&M Files – the bastard child, the cuckoo in the nest. I don’t disagree with this. I think, like the mother who stares wistfully at the child she’s never quite sure is hers (or her husband’s), I’ve always known that RE is different to its siblings. And the more of them I give birth to the further removed from the ‘R&M Files family’ RE becomes.

RE is not representative of the evolved concept of the R&M Files. (Notice that evolved. There was nothing planned about the R&M Files and I can think of one gent who drops by the blog from time to time who will smile wryly at that as he thinks and therein lies the root of the matter.)

One reason RE not being representative of the writing of the rest of the series bothers me is that it’s not representative of the writing of the rest of the series. Another reason it bothers me is that it’s RE that I give away in the try-before-you-buy initiative on Amazon. It’s just possible that RE puts more readers off downloading the second in the series than encouraging them to go for more. And those that do (I don’t know) might just finish the second feeling that it wasn’t what they bargained for after the first. Mmmm… sometimes, like now, I wonder if I might be better off removing RE from Amazon and just kicking off the R&M Files with book two. Or maybe inserting a foreword to RE that covers what I’m struggling to get at here.

So what is different about RE? For a start it’s quite dark, it’s quite serious and it’s almost entirely without humour. That sentence alone is enough to set the book apart from the others and sums up the biggest difference between them. (Remember I have the advantage of being familiar with book #5, a good chunk of book #6 as well as a ten thousand word short story, so I have much more material to back up my assertions with.)

I didn’t discover the R&M Files’ identity until halfway through book two. I have commented before in this blog that it was in book two, Making a Killing, that it occurred to me to start introducing some of my own brand of humour. I started having fun with my characters and I enjoyed it. I’m not sure that I enjoyed writing Rope Enough. (There were just one or two incidental moments where something of my humour slipped out and I remember feeling I should keep a lid on it. I was writing a crime book after all and I don’t think I’d ever read crime novel that was written for laughs.) But I have enjoyed writing the others in the series. Enjoyed as in had a lot of fun and laughs. I see the R&M Files, the concept (post book#1), as light entertainment. Rope Enough is not that.

I can’t know exactly how many readers have been really put off by Romney’s character in RE but I know that there are at least some. I regret that I wasn’t more aware of what I was doing with him. That same person that called RE a cuckoo told me: you may think that Marsh was “unfairly” treated but Romney was your major “victim” in the first book. For anyone that doubts that here is a link to a Goodreads comment that’s worth a look. For the record I don’t resent the feedback. In fact I find it perversely both amusing and dispiriting. (Amusing because Romney provoked such a strong reaction, and in some ways that’s a good thing. Dispiriting because Romney provoked such a strong negative reaction, which encouraged the reader in question to not finish the book and ‘rant’.) The only person who is really hurt by putting off readers is me.

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1040592578?book_show_action=true&page=1

Maybe that’s part of the risk for the novice writer, unless you are someone prepared to sit down and plan a series of books to avoid such eventualities, or an experienced writer. I’m not a planner and when I wrote RE I was very naive as a writer. And I didn’t know I was going to end up writing a series. And even if I had known I’m not sure I’d have been capable of doing things differently. I am very much a make it up as I go along type of writer. It’s the only thing that works for me.

So what? you might say: RE is different. And? The ‘so what?’ is one of the reasons I’ve titled this post The Cuckoo’s Calling. (The other reason is that ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling‘ is the title of the first crime book written by JKR Rowling and by linking this post to the search term I might get some crumbs from her table. Internet browsers who click the wrong button. Every little helps!) Apart from that try-before-you-buy reference above being a so what? when I wrote R&M#4, R&M#5, the start of R&M#6 and the short story, I heard Rope Enough calling out to me across the hundreds of thousands of words, like the call of summer’s cuckoo carrying on the still, balmy evening air across the flat fields and dykes of Romney Marsh. And, like summer’s cuckoo, I can’t understand a word it says, but I get the gist of the noise: here I am the black sheep of the family (cuckoos now sheep?) doing the R&M Files wrong.

Am I sounding like RE has been a bit of a cross to bear? It really hasn’t. And a lot of Amazon readers have liked it. But there’s this nagging compulsion to deal with (particularly) the Romney of RE by focussing on those same elements of his character that some readers didn’t like – the narcissism, the vanity, his views on women of a certain age (There is one passage in particular that I regret including and might one day remove, although with the number of downloads the book has had it’s really going to be stable door time.) – and doing something about them through, for example, the reactions of those he interacts with.

At times (particularly in the latter books) I’ve tried to use his behaviour to make him more of a figure of fun than someone to be taken seriously. Through the series he has evolved into someone that I hope the reader can laugh at for his pomposity, his erroneous thinking, his mistakes, the events that befall him. I want readers to be in on the anachronistic ‘joke’ that he is, to see him more through the eyes of DS Marsh, his patient and more (I hope) likeable sidekick, and her colleagues.

That said, I don’t want him to become a farcical character. He is a policeman who strives for justice. He is incorruptible. He is loyal to his team. He does want to get the bad guys. It just so happens that sometimes he’s a bit of a dick. Well who isn’t in real life?

Bottom line: I don’t want readers to take DI Romney too seriously and in RE I didn’t do enough towards ensuring that, because I hadn’t worked it out for myself.

Springtime for Romney.

Opening night for Romney and Marsh the musical.

Opening night?

Some weeks I wonder what on earth I’m going to blog about in my writer’s diary. Other weeks, like this week, I have so many ideas for blog posts that I hardly know where to start.

I wasn’t planning on powering up the laptop tonight to write this week’s blog-post. I was going to wait until the weekend. I was going to wait because I’ve just finished a first good draft of a writing project and usually when I get to that landmark I open a bottle of wine and a family bag of crisps and watch crap on the telly all night. As a reward.

Should be considered a punishment. I was feeling quite jolly, quite buoyant. I had a couple of glasses of the local anti-freeze with dinner, turned on the telly, watched ten minutes of doom and gloom (the news) and decided that I was wasting my life.

So telly off, laptop on.

Last week I reported that I’d gone straight from R&M#5 into R&M#6. I was confident enough in my idea to have given R&M#6 a title. (I should come clean with my diary here. I started R&M#6 because I had a good underlying plot line that I wanted to get straight into after R&M#5. I even had the title of the book. A couple of thousand words in and the story had veered off at an obtuse angle, the title was no longer relevant and the story was evolving to be far removed from what I had envisaged. Old title New Age Graves. New title Happy Families.) Upside is I have an idea and a title for R&M#7. It’s going to be called New Age Graves.

Anyway, I got twenty-five thousand words into R&M#6, Happy Families, and I had another writing idea. And because I feel pretty confident about R&M#6 and where it’s going to go I treated myself to a week’s break to indulge myself in another project that really had me by the… interested.

I’ve being toying with this project idea for quite a while now. This week I tore into it and I’ve finished a first draft. It’s only nine thousand words but that might be enough….when the songs are included.

Yes, I typed ‘songs’.

This week I have written the first draft for Romney and Marsh……..the musical.

(Tumble-weed moment.)

I had this idea ages and ages ago that there was nothing I could think of that couldn’t be made funny by tacking the words ‘the musical’ on the end. I have loads of contemporary and historical examples that I’ve just typed and deleted because I don’t want to upset anyone by poking fun at meaningful present-day tragedies. Try it yourself. Take a modern day tragedy and give it a headline and then add ‘the musical’ on the end. Could be funny? Maybe it’s just me. I blame Mel Brooks.

Anyway, I had this idea for Romney and Marsh the musical. And this week I’ve written the script. I really enjoyed writing a play script. Like I say, it’s only nine thousand words. I read it through on the bus home tonight and timed it at fifty minutes. But that’s me reading every part and quickly. Add in ten songs and you’ve got an hour and a half easy. Plus an interval and an ice-cream. A few beers afterwards and supper.  All adds up to a good night out.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, musical??? Has he lost his mind? Complementing a series of police procedural novels with a musical? That genre doesn’t traditionally lend itself to song and dance routines. (That’s my whole point.) And what about the music side of things? No sweat. I’m also a song writer. I have written dozens of songs. I love writing songs. Some of them are pretty good. Some of them are real show tunes.

Basically, what I’ve done this week is write a R&M short story around some of my songs. I bet I know what you’re thinking again. That’s a recipe for disaster. Maybe. But maybe not. I keep thinking of The Producers. Or rather the play within The Producers and how it worked (in the film) Anyone else remember Springtime For Hitler? It could work for R&M. What the hell, even if it doesn’t, I’ve enjoyed myself immensely this week and that’s what writing for fun should be all about: enjoyment.

You don’t have to subscribe to the faith I have in this idea. I don’t demand that. But I’ll say this: if you read this blog you probably have enjoyed one or more of my books. So trust me on this. Trust me to know what can work. This can work. Romney and Marsh the musical can work.

There are other good things about this week’s work. I can turn the play script into a short story. Maybe enter it into a competition and up the profile of R&M by grabbing some attention elsewhere. I can tweak it into a radio play and send it to the BBC. Of course, if the musical becomes a Broadway hit then think of the effect on ebook sales of the series.

For those of my trusted and valued readers who are still thinking DON’T BE A FOOL! here is the opening. Let me know what you think. Seriously. Let me know. Please. Try to picture yourself in the cheap seats at your local theatre. And what do you think about the concept. But bear in mind – the R&M Files are, like their author, more interested in having some fun than being taken seriously. There are enough crime writers failing at that, even if they are doing rather well for themselves. Grrrrrr. (See next week’s blog-post.)

A Lamb for a Sheep

Romney and Marsh: ‘The Musical’

Act1:

Romney and Marsh are standing on Dover cliffs, staring out at the English Channel (audience). Behind them the curtain is closed. Their clothes are being blown by a fan (the breeze). The calling of seagulls and a distant ferry’s horn can be heard.   While Marsh sings the Romney and Marsh Theme Tune Romney is smoking. He is obviously relishing the panorama and the air.

Marsh finishes. Romney goes to flick his cigarette over the cliff but a look from Marsh stops him and he puts it out on the sole of his shoe. Then he places it in the cigarette packet and puts that in his pocket. A seagull squawks and shits on him. With some angry mumblings he wipes at it with his handkerchief.

Romney: So?

Marsh: So what, sir?

Romney: Have you worked it out yet?

Marsh: Sorry, you’ve lost me. Are you still thinking about four down? Cantankerous old git, ten letters ending with ‘n’.

Romney: What? No. Look around you. Where could you possibly hope to find the answer to that up here? Have you worked out why I’ve brought you to this spot?

Marsh: To admire the view?

Romney: Yes. But it’s more than that.

Marsh: Not thinking about jumping are you?

Romney: You know what, it does cross my mind now and again, usually when I reflect on the professional company I’m forced to keep.

Marsh: Thanks very much. Is your pocket meant to be on fire?

Romney: Jesus Christ!

Romney beats at his pocket, yanks out the cigarette packet and stamps on it to put the ‘fire’ out.

Marsh: Just another example of smoking being bad for your health.

Romney: How disappointingly predictable. This is Dover: the final frontier. These are the cliffs of the south-east of England. Their age old mission: to resist the invasion of strange new worlds, to repel new life and new civilisations, to boldly stop foreigners going where too many foreigners have gone before.

Marsh: So apart from xenophobia, this is about history then?

Romney: What isn’t?

Marsh: Star Trek. That’s about the future.

Romney: If you think Star Trek is about the future then you just don’t get what Lucas was doing.

Marsh: George Lucas was Star Wars, sir.

Romney: Whatever. Those things are all the same.

Marsh: Is this a British pride thing?

Romney: You make it sound like a racist organisation.

Marsh: I think it’s fine to be proud, so long as that’s as far as it goes.

Romney: Are you not proud to be British?

Marsh: Not always. Not often, actually.

Romney: I can understand that. But I’m proud to be policing the front line at the chalk face.

Marsh: Make up your mind, sir. A minute ago this was the final frontier, now it’s the front line.

Romney: What I’m trying to communicate and what you seem to be struggling to grasp is that I’m proud of my town and its place in history. I’m proud to be counting.

Marsh: As in numbers?

Romney: As in contribution, Sergeant.

Marsh: Right. Got it. Me too. Now we’ve got that sorted, can we, please, go back to the station? I’ve got the paper equivalent of Kilimanjaro on my desk. And it looks like rain.

Romney: When you’ve lived in Dover as long as I have you get to recognise the signs for imminent downpours.

Marsh: So heavy black clouds sailing in faster than a French fleet and lower than a squadron of German bombers isn’t something that concerns you when you’re all exposed up here, no umbrella and the car half a mile away?

Romney: Certainly not. Take it from me – if we leave now we’ve got plenty of time to get back in the warm and dry.

Thunder and lightning. The stage is plunged into darkness. Curtains open. When the lights come on Romney and Marsh are hurrying into one of the neglected and weather-battered WWII anti-aircraft gun-emplacements that dot the cliff top. The concrete and brick structure is now only a crumbling shell, covered in graffiti, littered with rubbish and overgrown with plants that have sprouted from its cracks and crevices.

Marsh: You were saying, sir.

Romney: Weather is not an exact science – ask Michael Fish. We’ll be all right in here for a minute. At least it’s dry. Deluge like that can’t last long.

Marsh: I hope you’re right. I’ve got court in the morning to prepare for and did I mention my paperwork?

Romney: You’re repeating yourself. Foster versus the Crown will be like Grimes’ cake-chute when there are biscuits being passed around – open and shut. Like the biscuits, Foster hasn’t got a prayer.

Romney is looking out of the wide open aperture at the front of the building at the storm raging over the sea. Marsh is exploring the interior, kicking things as she peers into the darkest recesses of the old ruin.

Romney: I’d mind where I was treading if I were you. These old gun emplacements get used for everything from public conveniences to opium dens to lovers’ bolt-hole to vagrants’ doss house. If you’re not treading on condoms, or in human faeces, you’re tripping over syringes and tramps. I remember one time when I was up here in the summer, must have been two, three years ago…

Marsh: Sir.

Romney: I walked in on this pair of pensioners. He had his trousers round his ankles and she was…

Marsh: Sir!

Romney: What?

Marsh: Come here. Marsh has her key-ring torch working.

Romney walks over to where Marsh is investigating a pile of material on the floor. The corner is dark. Romney uses his lighter to illuminate things further.

Romney: Oh dear. Poor old Jacque.

Marsh: You know him?

Romney: Yes. One our celebrity bums. And I don’t mean in a Hello way. Poor old sod. French. Been here for years. What a way to go.

Romney sings The Man with the Special Brew Eyes.

Marsh: Looks like he’s been stabbed.

Romney: Eh?! Where?

Marsh: It’s seems recent. The blood’s fresh.

Romney hurries back over.

Romney: Bloody hell. That changes things. He is dead, I suppose? Have you checked his vital signs?

Marsh: No. I thought you could.

Romney: I’m not touching the old flea-bag. What if he needs the kiss of life?

Marsh: Then one of us will have to give it, sir, and seeing as you know him…

Romney: You must be joking if you think I’m getting up close and personal with that stinking old soak.

Marsh: What happened to poor old Jacque?

Romney: That’s when he was dead.

Marsh huffs and feels for a pulse.

Marsh: I can’t feel anything.

Romney: Call it in and step away, Sergeant, or you’ll be off forensics’ Christmas card list if he croaks. Let’s leave it to the professionals. We shouldn’t interfere.

Before Marsh can make the call there is the noise of a commotion as a man and woman burst in to a timely flash of lightning and clap of thunder. Man and woman scream when they see Romney and Marsh there.

(Just the idea, I say the very idea, of DI Romney bursting into song creases me up.)

In the beginning was the blank page and the words were with me. (Tidy 1:1)

 

r&m6

The blank screen does not daunt me. 

The plots and characters taunt me.

The late nights they do gaunt me.

As my ambitions haunt me.

I’m breaking my writing cycle. Acer, David and Jo are going to enjoy a little more gardening leave because as can be seen from the screen shot, I’m diving straight into R&M#6.

In my short writing career I have enjoyed rotating my series through the year. I’ve liked knocking out a R&M then an Acer then a B&C and back to R&M. That variety has been something to enjoy. Like my children, I love spending time with each of my characters equally. And there are other writing projects that I would like the luxury of time and income to get stuck into. But, to quote one of my life’s role models, I feel the force is strong with this one.

Particular Stupidities R&M#5 is now printed off (I think I’ve burnt out the home printer). Next I’ll get it fitted with one of those spiral spines and set to work with the highlighter pens.

In the meantime…

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.