A brick wall

My, my. I’ve arrived at a difficult place. Sixty one thousand words into my second novel and I’ve worked out I don’t know where it’s going. It’s a mystery in which Inspector James Given is investigating a case where a mummified body has been found in the crypt of a school chapel. It’s not the case which is the problem, that’s all fairly well plotted, but I think I’ve realised that the murder itself isn’t the main issue for my hero. Well, I’ve known all along it isn’t, but now I realise I probably haven’t written the first draft with this in mind and will need to do a considerable amount of work to get it back on track.

Fortunately, I do have a second case he is working on and this probably needs to become the major case, rather than a sub-plot.

Interestingly, I’ve only discovered this flaw when I was working on a synopsis to approach potential agents. I was following an outline in a blog from Glen C Strathy based on Dramatica principles and realised my main character might solve the crime but won’t actually change as a result.

Ah well, back to the drawing board. At least I now know one of the reasons why I’ve been stuck on this synopsis for the past couple of weeks.

May I help you sir?

Today was not good. It started well enough with a sunny morning and the opportunity to get on with some gardening, but the main task of the day was to drop off some copies of my novel, A Shadowed Livery, at a bookshop who’d initially offered to take some. The reason I’m delivering them myself is that it appears to be impossible to get onto the bookshelves through a distributor unless you are a big name or are part of the stable of a major publisher. I’m neither and although I’m immensely grateful to my publisher, we’re both aware that marketing budgets are limited.

The bookshop in this case reluctantly took a small number, saying ‘we don’t normally take fiction unless it’s a known author’. Chicken and egg, I’d say – how does an author become known unless their books are on the shelves?

I left, muttering, I bet Stephen King hasn’t been in begging you to stock his latest novel!

I then went for a well earned sandwich and cuppa, only to be asked by the young woman behind the cafe counter if I was alright to take the tray myself or should she carry it to the table for me. Do I really look that old?

At least when I arrived home my wife was able to tell me she’d received a notice from Amazon promoting my book.

Musings

This week I visited The Four Masters bookshop in Donegal Town to ask if SP_A0085they’d  take some of books. To my surprise, and unbounded joy, they already had them on the shelf. I was so impressed I’ve put a photo as my new header image.

I’m plodding through my redraft of my current novel, though it is something to be undertaken in small bites. This morning, due to associated research to check what was in the news in March 1939, it took me around two hours to get to 300 words. I feel that accuracy is important but sometimes it takes so long to find material which will only provide half a line in the manuscript. Still, it is easier than trawling through a physical library. Actually, it was an interesting time historically, Germany invaded Czechoslovakia, finally bringing Europe to the brink of war and the siege of Madrid was almost at an end, cementing Franco as head of Spain and bringing the Spanish Civil War to a close.

Also, as an avoidance technique, I’m checking my Amazon ratings from time to time. Aren’t they strange? I had a very nice review on the Crime Fiction Lover website a few days ago and it must have resulted in some sales, I imagine only 2 or 3 , but I shot several hundred thousand places up the ratings on Amazon.

What a night

Last night we launched A Shadowed Livery in Ireland. It was a great evening, starting with general chat and ShadowedLiveryProof3excellent background piano, then some very kind words from a friend and writer about the ‘new man in her life’ – not me but Inspector James Given, the protagonist in my novel who she followed for months when we shared our latest scribblings in our writers’ group. The food (which included Donegal sheep’s cheese – it’s a new one on me too) and drink flowed until we settled down to a couple of hours of a traditional music session.

We sold some books too, but that was almost incidental to the good time we had. I’m always fascinated when I do a reading, or attend one, how attentive an audience can be. It confirms for me that we have an innate desire to be told stories, to be taken away from our own world and lifted, albeit temporarily, to another. Last night I read only a couple of pages but I was approached by several people afterwards wanting to know what happened next, further testament of the power of the written word.

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Suspension of disbelief

Last night I attended a play. I wouldn’t go to the theatre that often, partly because we don’t have one nearby but I enjoyed this one immensely. My English Tongue, My Irish Heart is about emigration and its effect on personal identity, the subject of my wife’s memoir The Road Taken.

What I found fascinating about the experience was that the play was ‘in the round’, had no sets, no discernible scene changes, no costumes, and the five actors played all of the parts (spanning 1600 years) yet I shared every emotion all the way through. What I’m trying to say, I think, is that everything told me that what I was seeing wasn’t real but I was still almost in tears at the end of the first half and pleased with all their small triumphs. And it wasn’t that I share their story, I’m not Irish and although I’m an emigrant I don’t think it’s in the same way as the characters in the play.

How was this suspension of disbelief achieved? I wish I knew. Certainly the acting was very good but it was more than that. I watch TV and film drama all the time with great actors and some of it affects me emotionally and a lot doesn’t. I can only imagine it was the stripped down nature of the work which made me listen to the words – what was said and how it was conveyed. No distractions.

There’s a lesson here somewhere for my own writing. I don’t fully understand it yet, but I’ll keep thinking and, hopefully, improvement will come.

Today’s the day

So that’s it then. After months and months of waiting I clicked onto Amazon this morning and there it is. Finally published. I finished my first draft in November 2012, had interest from a publisher in August 2013 and received a contract in February 2014. It’s taken the last year and some months to redraft and edit then put it out into the market place.

And I can’t even remember when I started writing it! I certainly have fairly complete drafts from as far back as mid-2010. I never imagined when I wrote ‘The end’ with a flourish in my first draft that the remainder of the journey would take so long.

Along the way, however, I’ve met some fine people who have helped me to improve my writing and how to think about things differently. People with lots of dedication to the art and craft of books, without whom I wouldn’t have reached the end. To them, a million thanks.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Shadowed-Livery-Charlie-Garratt/dp/1909374903/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1429861399&sr=1-1

And soon the fun begins

Only three days to go to the publication of A Shadowed Livery and I’m becoming nervous. There’s an on-line launch party on Friday 24th April which is a first for me. I know there are people popping in from several different time zones so it will be interesting to see how that works. Then I’ve a couple of readings planned over the next week, one at the Stratford Literary Festival.

To top all of this off, I’ve heard that the novel has been nominated for a Crime Writers’ Association John Creasey Dagger Award. There’s some excellent competition but it’s very flattering to receive the nomination.

It’s getting closer

Only two weeks to go to the publication of A Shadowed Livery and I’m excited to think it will soon be out there.

It’s an odd SL Front onlyfeeling when something you’ve worked on for so long eventually grows wings and flies the nest. There’s nothing else can be done with it, the darling either flies or it doesn’t. I keep thinking of parts I could have phrased better, twists in the plot which might have improved the story, traits of my main characters I could have emphasised, but none of these are now possible because it’s in print and ready to go.

Do other authors have this problem?

It’s not worth voting?

Britain is in the grip of a general election and many people are still trying to decide which way to vote. However, a large section of the potential electorate probably won’t vote at all, probably due to disaffection with the process – and the resulting representation they receive. A friend of mine re-posted a piece today calling upon women, in particular, to remember how hard their enfranchisement was won.

This took me to recall a piece of writing I’d been thinking about for a while. It was to be a fictional eye-witness account of the day when the Peterloo massacre took place. For those who don’t know about this, it took place in August 1819 when 80,000 people demonstrated on the streets of Manchester (England) asking for two things: the vote and the introduction of import controls to protect cotton workers’ jobs. The authorities unleashed cavalry on the peaceful protest and 18 people were killed with around 700 seriously injured.

My interest in this event came about many years ago when I attended school events at the Manchester Free Trade Hall which, at the time, I understood to stand on the site of the massacre. What I didn’t know then was the hall had been built to celebrate the defeat of the protesters and the maintenance of free trade.

So today I re-started my research, only to come upon an actual eye-witness account of the event at http://www.peterloomassacre.org/eyewitness.html. Having read it, I decided I couldn’t write it any better.

Anyone considering not voting in this, or any other election, should read it and think long an hard before giving up something so precious.

Social media – Good? Bad?

We’ve had an explosion of social media opportunities over recent years and as someone who pre-dates these digital connections I watch with a wary eye. I’m not a Luddite, I use the technology every day and I have done for over thirty years, so I don’t think it’s the fear of change which bothers me.

The ability to maintain connections with friends and friends of friends is, without doubt, useful. The fact that I can email or run a blog is fantastic but there are some downsides.

Sometimes, I have to admit, the common abandonment of spelling and grammatical structure causes me concern but I acknowledge that’s perhaps me being a little long in the tooth and still remembering being slapped by teachers when getting it wrong.

The biggest negative, for me, however, is the inability to express an opinion without facing the possibility of catastrophic negative responses. What people used to restrict to shouting at the TV or the newspaper is now fired off in response to a Facebook, or similar, post with, seemingly, as much venom as can be mustered.

Yesterday, a Facebook ‘friend’ posted an item with which I didn’t agree. I was about to respond then spotted the article had over 10,000 ‘likes’ and 4,768 comments so I didn’t bother. Why? Two reasons: firstly, because it seemed a waste of time adding my thoughts to this morass of opinion, anything I might have said had already been addressed 2000 times; secondly, because what had developed was a shit-storm of abuse. No rules of engagement, no manners, no structure, no mediation and, definitely, no conclusion. Something I didn’t want to get involved in.

Shame really. I understand we’ve always had the ‘Angry of Walthamstow’ banging off letters to the papers but this is just so immediate and so widespread. Differences of opinion are inevitable and are crucial in ensuring a balanced society but when this translates into people being afraid to pop their head above the parapet perhaps we all suffer in the end.