Saturday, 13 May 2017

Rocco re-branded

I mentioned a couple of days ago that a new Inspector Lucas Rocco book called 'Rocco and the Nightingale' is out in paperback via The Dome Press in October. This will bring the series to five full-length books plus a novella.

Fortunately, they have also taken the novella ('Rocco and the Snow Angel') under their wing and are re-branding it with a completely fresh cover.

This brings the appearance in line with the new design, which I'm delighted to see.

Available only on Kindle at the moment, this short edition finds Rocco on the trail of a killer after a former village priest is shot dead execution-style in a snow-covered field in Picardie, northern France.

For the locals it re-opens memories of a wartime scandal around the villages of Poissons-les-Marais and Fouillmont, when young infatuation led to a spate of coldly efficient assassinations. But who is responsible for this particular death? And if there's a wartime connection, why so long after the event?

For Rocco it means pushing aside the veil surrounding old Resistance activities and fighting dangerous political connections to track down a deadly long-range killer with the ability to hide in open countryside.

'Rocco and the Snow Angel' - on Kindle.

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Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Rocco's back!

I'm delighted to announce that my series featuring Inspector Lucas Rocco is back with a bang.

The Dome Press are releasing 'Rocco and the Nightingale' in paperback on October 19. This is the fifth book in the series, set in Picardie, France during the 1960s. Other books (previously published by Allison & Busby) are:


'Death on the Marais'
'Death on the Rive Nord
'Death on the Pont Noir'
Death at the Clos du Lac'
 
There's also a Kindle novella out there called 'Rocco and the Snow Angel' - but more about that later.

I've been wanting to write more about Rocco's investigations and his tenuous professional relationship with the suits in France's Interior Ministry and his boss and former army commanding officer Commissaire Francois Massin for some time, but other projects and series somehow got in the way. (Blame it on my short attention span and a grasshopper mind).

However, now The Dome Press  have picked up the baton and I've been given the opportunity and impetus to bring Rocco out of semi-retirement and back into his Citroen Traction Avant (a car I wanted my father to buy when we lived in France many years ago, but he decided on a sleeker, more cost-effective Simca Aronde instead. Well, I was only 10 at the time and knew zip about gas-guzzling cars).


As with all my Rocco books, I tend to use or refer to as a backdrop a piece of France's history (Algerian Independence, assassination attempts on President de Gaulle, illegal immigrants, celebrity kidnapping, international trade deals, etc).

In 'Nightingale' the link is with the country's former African colony Gabon, and a government minister on the run from enemies. But that's only a small part of the overall picture, because this time Rocco has a professional assassin on his tail.

For future reference - 'Rocco and the Nightingale' - (The Dome Press) - paperback edition - 19th October. goo.gl/C9YGQq

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Saturday, 6 May 2017

Latest article in Writing Magazine

My latest 'Beginners' article in May's issue of Writing Magazine is called 'Avoid the Unlikely'.

This title came about because years ago, when I was writing lots of short fiction for women's magazines (during the period known by my wife as the frock years), I used a lovely literary agency, sadly now defunct, run by two agents, Cari and Lesley, who had the most charming way with rejections.

The words they used mostly were 'not very likely', meaning it lacked that certain something, whether depth, colour realism... in fact anything rendering it unlikely to be accepted for publication. And then explained why, which was a lot more helpful than sending a blank rejection slip.

I took this seriously, and carried it into writing my later novels. It made me slightly anal about checking detail, place, geography or anything likely to make a reader throw the book aside in disgust, but that was no bad thing. (A nod of thanks there to Google Earth, Street view, Wikipedia and a host of other sources that help with my research. It takes time to do but it's worth it in the end, even if I do get dragged off-topic endlessly when I spot something totally not to do with what I'm writing. But that's part of the fun). 

In addition, however, the story itself has to make sense in the structure, not simply the detail.

While it's okay when setting your stories against real-world backdrops to bend reality slightly , writing something that is simply not possible or plausible is another matter altogether.

As I learned very quickly, there are some very knowledgeable readers out there, and if I write something that simply doesn't wash, they are likely to write and tell me. Thankfully, that hasn't happened in a long time, if only because I try to avoid the unlikely.

So thank you, Cari and Lesley, for helping turn the unlikely into the likely.

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Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Writing for Beginners (29)

Stop fiddling!

A common topic of conversation came up recently, when a lady asked me about a book she was writing. ‘How do I know when it’s finished?’ she queried.

The cheeky answer would have been ‘When you write END at the bottom of the final page’. However, while there’s an obvious truth in that, I’ve heard the same point mentioned on several occasions, and found that the question usually arises for two very different reasons. Which of the two is causing the problem is where the individual writer has to decide.

The first comes out of the editing process. This encompasses everything from crossing all the ‘t’s’ and dotting the ‘i’s’, through verifying facts to checking timelines and continuity of detail (blue eyes suddenly turned brown, for example). Whether this is done during or after the main task of writing depends on individual preference. Some people like to edit as they go along, tidying up any mistakes or omissions at the end of each day; others prefer to TTBS (tell the bloomin’ story) and get the bulk of the work done, leaving it until later to worry about the grind of editing, when they can don a different hat.

Personally, I find there is something to be said for the TTBS approach, since coming back to a chapter after an absence often gives me a new perspective on the content and layout when judged against the rest of the work. I believe this allows me to see the detail with a more dispassionate eye, and I tend not to spend as much time editing as I do when I take the do-it-as-I-go-along approach and end up fretting myself into a nervous wreck over dots, commas and doubtful phraseology.

Whichever way works for you is best. But where some writers trip up is simply in over-editing their work. This usually occurs where you find yourself drawn back to a specific paragraph or section of a story, altering the wording because you are not quite satisfied with what you have written. If this happens more often than is usual, you should give it to somebody you can trust and ask their opinion, on the basis that a fresh eye might see what you cannot.

Because we sometimes get too close to a story, and can’t see the wood for the trees (apologies for that cliché), we begin to fiddle and pick away at the work until it risks becoming an obsession. The end result – other than never finishing what we started – is that we end up so far away from where we began, it no longer makes sense.

It’s a bit like the DIY bodger who, trying to level a rickety dining table, saws off bits from each leg in turn, eventually ending up with everyone eating Japanese-style.

In general, you wouldn’t have thought there would be too many problems with deciding how a sentence or paragraph should be set down on the paper. Yet occasionally, something about the appearance on the page can look odd, causing you to be dragged back time and time again without knowing why, and reaching for your fiddling pen.

It could be simply a matter of clumsy spacing, which can hide or interrupt the pace of your delivery. If you want to say something that has some impact for example, introducing a piece of information that, in a film would be accompanied by some dramatic dum-dum-dum music, don’t bury it in a busy section of ‘he said’, ‘she said’ dialogue, where it will get lost or watered down. If it’s important, then far better to have it out there by itself, where it gets noticed.

Your answer may simply be in revising the layout of the problem section. You may have, for example, character A confronting character B, with the all-important high point being where A places a truly damning document on the table. (Cue dramatic music). Yet for some reason the passage doesn’t look right or command the weight you were looking for. The question is, have you put the information in the right place, or has it become little more than a vague gesture which your reader may not spot, thus losing the dramatic inference?

Try giving it some room, and alter the layout. Use the line space to set the action apart from the dialogue, and it could make all the difference.

The second reason for fiddling is more a matter of confidence; many writers find it difficult at first to let their work go out into the big, wide world. This is a great shame, because if you want your work to be read - and published - you owe it to yourself to face this ultimate test. In a  nutshell, it comes down to having the brass neck to say ‘Enough’ and to stick your pride and joy in an envelope and entrust it whatever fate awaits it. 
 
Thinking about it, why short change yourself? There are some who might prefer to hover in that writing limbo, where judgement is never passed on their work. Most people would probably agree that the not knowing is more difficult to live with.

TOP TIPS

·        Learn to know when you have done enough. Over-editing can be counter-productive.
·        If it looks wrong, try re-writing a passage. Then move on. You can always come back later.
·        Finish the story first, then read it through to gain a sense of the flow.
·        Don’t get hung up on one point. If you really don’t like it, cut it out or replace it.
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Taken from my book 'Write On! - the Writer's Help Book' - (Accent Press) - available in p/b and ebook
Do you know a writer who might benefit from this book? If so, check it out here.  

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Sunday, 23 April 2017

Writing for Beginners (28)

So what have you done today…?

This may come as a surprise to some people, but I have to confess to a secret: I don’t write every single day. Well, I have a life to lead, too, and that life sometimes has a habit of getting in the way . Take last week, for instance, when I put my foot through the ceiling while insulating the loft. Or maybe that’s best forgotten…

But, while I might not be actually writing, you don’t know what I’m thinking about, do you? As my wife can testify, repeated calls from Earth to Planet Adrian often fail to penetrate the muggy wool of creative thought, no matter what I’m up to.

It’s said that every journey begins with the first step.

Unfortunately, many journeys - in a writing sense, at least - never take place. Why? Because some writers don't actually get round to doing what they’re dreaming of, which is writing.

‘If only I had time … ’ is one of the most repeated complaints one hears from would-be writers (and readers, sadly, which is scary on another scale), and nobody is doubting the relentless pull of work, family, relationships, DIY, chat-rooms, mobile phone and so on.

But who said you had to write a whole book in one sitting? Do you eat a whole year’s supply of food in one go? Do you paint the entire house in one day? Do you repair that hole in the ceiling- well, actually, that one I grant you was different.

I know setting goals can be boring, and I wouldn’t suggest anyone regiments their life to the extent that they constantly have their eyes on some kind of rigid daily writing routine. That can stifle creativity faster than a dose of migraine, and we all have enough routines to choke an elephant. But looking at a way of getting round that flurry of everyday activity which kills off any attempt at writing, it can be done realistically, if you have the willpower and desire.

A gentleman recently told me with absolute conviction: ‘I never have a minute to write – I only wish I did.’ He then went on to list all the things he had to do every day, which kept him on his feet and unable to pursue his love of writing. My suggestion was to use his time in the bathroom to greater effect.

I’m not sure he was too impressed by this. But if he really was as hectically busy as he claimed, surely he owed it to himself to snatch at least a few minutes with a notepad – no matter where? If a man’s home really is his castle, then his bathroom must be not only the smallest, but the most private keep in the house.

Conversely, a lady in a bookshop had a very different attitude. She told me that whenever she managed to write something, no matter how brief, she felt a huge sense of achievement, even pride. She was also very busy, but managed to find and use little pockets in her day to good effect, even if it meant writing just the first line of a new story or sketching out a fresh scene which had suddenly occurred to her.

She was, quite simply, doing it rather than merely thinking about it.

Ceilings notwithstanding, I do this myself, even when I’m working on other projects. I jot down ideas, take snatches of dialogue which sound appealing, and I constantly think about what I’m currently working on or would like to work on next. In fact, if I were to check my IDEAS folder, I’d find stuff which will probably take me years to get round to… or maybe just a couple of days, because in there might be something that will fit in with a project I’m currently writing.

I liken it to chipping away at a large chunk of wood; eventually, I’ll have something recognisable which I can work on more fully and with more energy and focus, because the desire to do it will push me to get on with it.

And that’s the key: if you want to do something enough, you will manage it somehow. If you have that inner burn to write, that itch that simply won’t go away, especially when you pick up a good book or a short story and think you could do just as well, you will find a way. It may be a sentence here or a short piece of dialogue there; it might even be thinking of a name for a character, or a description. But those small, even tiny achievements are not to be dismissed lightly. Because they will add up, and they will grow, as will your determination to make something of them, no matter how busy. And that’s a greater achievement.

TOP TIPS

·        Snatch those pockets in your life (travelling, queuing, waiting – and yes, in the bathroom) to write something.
·        Thought of a scene? Sketch it out in six words – you can flesh it out later.
·       Take pleasure from having started something – but don’t let it stop there.
·        Say ‘I’m writing’ - and mean it.
·        Go to sleep with a sense of achievement.
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Taken from my book 'Write On! - the Writer's Help Book' - (Accent Press) - available in p/b and ebook
Do you know a writer who might benefit from this book? If so, check it out here.  
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Sunday, 9 April 2017

Writing for Beginners (27)

After the event.

There’s an old gag about a driver who stops to ask an old man for directions. After a few moments of careful thought, the old man says: ‘Well, first off, I wouldn’t start from here … ’
 
Joking apart, the same thought can be applied to writing: effectively, are we starting from the appropriate point in our story, or approaching from the right angle? There's always another way of looking at a scene, and the one you first think of might not be the best. This applies whether we’re at the start of the story or beginning a fresh chapter or scene, say, in a novel.
 
As an example, I once had in mind a particular opening scene. It hinged on a murder, where the victim had heavy chains tied to his feet and was lowered into an indoor swimming pool to die. It was a fairly dark scene and I’m still not sure where it sprang from, only that, once in the story-grinder, it had to come out.
 
To gain a feel for the atmosphere, I visited our local swimming pool when it was quiet, to get a sense of a deserted poolside (the murder was committed at night). I also wanted to capture the floor texture, smells, damp air, sounds, echoes and so forth. Okay, I stopped short of actually hurling myself into the pool with a hundredweight of ships’ bling round my ankles, but there are limits to the lengths of my research.
 
It was while writing up my notes that I had a thought: what if, instead of beginning with the scene of the murder, which was by its nature fairly brutal, I went for another angle? After all, describing violence might be attention-grabbing, but where did it leave me afterwards? And did it help the story?
 
The result was, I scrapped my original scene and opened with a scene later that day. This time, with the central character – an amateur sleuth – looking down at the dead man standing on the bottom of the pool, his body moving gently in the water. Nearby floated a curled strip of soggy cardboard.
 
Effectively, this after-the-event opening allowed me to skip the violence (which didn’t really advance the story) and stopped me revealing too much detail about the – pardon the pun – execution. That was, after all, what I wanted my sleuth to find out, since that’s what sleuths are for.
 
It still gave me ample room for atmosphere, tension and the horror of finding someone killed in this way. And rather than describing how the deed was done, I left it to my sleuth to notice how the dead man was clutching the lane marker rope, which he’d tried to use to pull himself out and was keeping his body upright. He also worked out later the horrible significance of the strip of soggy cardboard. (I'll tell you this much: the killers had prolonged the victim’s agony by handing him a cardboard tube from a kitchen foil roll to breathe through).
 
Switching the order of approach like this is quite useful. Instead of going through events as they actually happen, which can sometimes be too revealing, you can bring them on almost in flashback, interspersing them with your central character’s thoughts, suspicions or fears. This is particularly useful for crime stories, where you want the reader to follow up the clues as well, thereby increasing the tension. But it can work just as well in other genres, where a character might be reviewing, say, family events loaded with emotion and meaning, rather like a slide-show, and drawing conclusions from it which may have a life-shattering effect on others.
 
The post-event opening can work in other powerful ways. Describing a car accident can be difficult to pull off without making it sound cartoonish and over-indulgent. However, opening the scene after the accident, describing the driver coming to, the tick-tick of a spinning wheel, the silence, the smell of fuel and the horrifying drip of liquid – can be much more shocking. This is because the reader’s mind is automatically filling in the gaps, creating a vivid picture of their own making - which is, after all, what we want them to do.
 
Changing the point at which we describe a scene can also work if we change the viewpoint – in other words, who sees what. Having a character walk unexpectedly into a meeting, for example, can be full of tension seen from that character’s viewpoint - particularly in, say, the reading of a will. Imagine viewing it from inside the room, describing perhaps a self-satisfied and expectant bunch of graspers, all of whom think they’ve got it settled. Then in comes the unwelcome interloper. This could bring out a whole raft of additional tensions and reactions, so that rather than seeing the reaction through one pair of eyes, we’re seeing it through many.
 
A simple test is to take the last scene you worked on and start from a different angle. It will undoubtedly make you write the scene in a different way, but it might also give you thoughts about future projects.
 
TOP TIPS
·        Describing events as they unfold can sometimes ‘reveal’ more than you want.
·        Coming in on a scene after an event can improve tension and give direction for future narrative.
·        Change the viewpoint, change the drama.
·        The silence after a crash can be more dramatic than the crash itself.
·        Allow the reader to fill in some of the gaps.

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Taken from my book 'Write On! - the Writer's Help Book' - (Accent Press) - available in p/b and ebook
Do you know a writer who might benefit from this book? If so, check it out here.
 
 
 

Saturday, 1 April 2017

A really nice review

I don't often put reviews of my own books up here because it's supposed to be a general chat about writing and other people's books which I've reviewed.

So I hope I can be forgiven for placing this one, because it's (a) rather special and (b) has made me smile a lot.

'THE LOCKER' - the 1st in the Gonzales & Vaslik mystery thriller series (Midnight Ink).
Available in p/b and ebook.

Also look out for book 2 - 'THE BID' - available now in p/b and ebook.

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