Death in the stars

telescopeFunny where the inspiration comes from. I downloaded an astronomy app this weekend, Night Sky Pro, and began thinking of where I might put a telescope if I bought one, again. Then I remembered that when I had one some years ago, it was usually too cold on clear nights to go out to use it. So I considered the option of building a shed, with an opening roof. But thought this still might not be warm enough. The obvious solution would be a paraffin heater. Dangerous though, unless the roof was actually open, because of carbon monoxide poisoning. Blam! How about a story where an amateur astronomer is found dead in his shed-cum-observatory, presumed to have been overcome by fumes. But, of course, our intrepid detective discovers this isn’t the case. I’ll need to put that one in the box marked ‘ideas’.

Where do you find your inspiration?

UPDATE: I did write this story, called ‘Stargazing’ and it is published in ‘Wild Atlantic Words’.

Burning enthusiasm

Having spent the last hour or so stoking a bonfire, getting rid of old files, with Paloma Faith on the iPod, I drifted into that sublime state of contentment where the world doesn’t get any better. My thoughts wandered firstly to all the work which had created this mass of paper; all the people I’d met, all the meetings I’d attended, the dozens of reports I’d read and written, the years that had passed by. The flames drew me back to an article I’d read recently about how difficult it is to dispose of a body in a fire. It seems that, with the exception of a crematorium furnace, it’s almost impossible to get sufficient heat in a fire to break down flesh and bone to the necessary fineness of ash. Not that I have anyone in mind, of course, except perhaps a victim in a future storyline, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared.

There are probably dozens of novels where the villain digs a shallow pit in the woods, douses the corpse in petrol and sets it alight, then he/she bounds free with all traces of the dastardly deed destroyed. With modern forensic techniques, however, anything less than total destruction of the skeletal remains just won’t be sufficient. Luckily, my hero, Inspector James Given, is active in the late 1930s so he may have his work cut out at some point in the future.

ps I know I should have been disposing of the papers environmentally but the pile was literally a foot thick and they were confidential so several hours of shredding would have been the only alternative.

Give me that old time detection

A few nights ago I watched a thriller on TV where a couple were being tracked via cell locations where their mobile phones had been used. I made a mental note to read up on the technology. Earlier, the police had triangulated phone records to link three people of possible interest. The case was finally solved when DNA from a previously unsuspected woman appeared on a murder weapon. A further note to myself to learn more about DNA matching.

Then I remembered. My detective, Inspector James Given, lives in the 1930s. No mobile phones, no computers, and almost 15 years before Crick, Watson et al published their seismic discovery of the structure of the double helix. James Given has to actually solve the crime with very little use of technology.

Now don’t get me wrong; I love all the modern methods. They’re fascinating and when used well in fiction they add to the drama. We all know they now exist so their inclusion is an accurate reflection of how policing works in the early 21st century. But I sometimes wonder if gadgetry is being used by authors to replace deduction.

I was brought up with detectives who used their superior reasoning powers, or just plain slog and determination, to catch the criminal. Where we, as the reader, can participate in the hunt and feel the thrill of being only one step behind our hero. It’s perhaps even more satisfying when we’re a step ahead and we can scream at the pages that it was Colonel Mustard, in the library with the candlestick.

What isn’t so good is following 200 pages of a convoluted plot only for some minor character to dash in from the lab with the results of a DNA test showing the murderer was the victim’s aunt who only appeared briefly on page four. The ‘rabbit out of the hat’ ending is never good, it’s far too easy for the author and disrespectful of the reader, but using technology to achieve it is just plain sloppy.

To blog or not to blog

With the publication of my novel, A Shadowed Livery, due in April I’m advised I need to put the word out. In fact, I was talking to a bookshop owner yesterday who, when I told him I had the book coming out, he said ‘well good luck if it’s fiction, we rarely order any fiction by unknown authors’!

So today I set my mind to the task, but where to go? I have a Facebook page but that doesn’t seem appropriate, similarly LinkedIn. So, as the novel is available for pre-order on Amazon, I thought I’d set up an author page on their Author Central service. Easy enough but then realised people will only see my author page if they’re looking for it or looking for the book, so not the best starting point for a freshly published writer.

I bought a domain name awhile ago but didn’t have a web page to go with it. After a couple of hours fiddling about trying to design a landing page I thought ‘why not point my domain at the WordPress page I’ve set up?’. It looks clean, it’s (fairly) easy to use and I can both blog and keep other content in the same place. Eureka! I’m sure if I read articles I’ll find the advice is to have as much presence as possible but I’m not sure I have the energy to keep track of lots of places and to keep them all up to date. I guess the real challenge is not where to write but how to get people reading it.

Any thoughts most welcome.

Where does the time go?

It seems it’s just under a year since my last post, where has the time gone? I’ve been extremely lucky to find an excellent independent publisher, who has been immensely helpful. So the novel is due to be launched in April by Grey Cells Press, the crime imprint of Holland House.
When I thought I was struggling with editing the ..nth draft, little did I suspect it would take several more once someone who knew what they were doing got their teeth into it. But I have to say, the improvements have been immense, due to their efforts.

Getting it finished

Promised myself and my potential publisher I’d have the redraft finished by Christmas with head down and hard work. Slipping a disc doing something not in the least energetic put paid to that plan. On my back for two weeks and then unable to sit at the computer for very long meant works was more or less shelved.

A present of Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ on the Kindle helped get me motivated and working again. I don’t agree with everything King says but he does make you think about your approach to the task. He says his own target is 2,000 words a day, every day,  until first draft is finished, usually three months. He suggests 1,000 a day with one day a week off for beginners. I’m happy with 2,000 words in a day – but every day? Wish I had that much creativity in me.

Anyway, this new found zeal resulted in the novel redraft being sent to both publisher and two agents yesterday. Fingers crossed.

Oh – and I also started work on the next novel using Microsoft OneNote to help with the planning. Any tips most welcome.

My word, he’s got it!

The last month has seen an idea stewing. It’s been how to resolve the key clue in the mystery. I’ve had some help, and lots of suggestions, but it didn’t crystalise until the weekend. I spend an hour most Friday’s in a special coffee shop in Killybegs where, over tea and scone, I try to put my errant thoughts in order. Notebook in hand I’ll scribble ideas and sometimes it pays off. Last Friday worked – there must have been something in the scone. If this book is ever published that coffee shop will have a dedication; it’s been almost as much inspiration as any of the reading I’ve done or workshops I’ve attended.

UPDATE: A Shadowed Livery was published in 2015 and did carry a dedication to the wonderful Mrs B’s Coffee House in Killybegs, County Donegal.

Starting that novel

Today I was surfing the ‘net, looking for inspirational writing on writing and came across several books and articles with the title, more or less, of ‘how to start your novel’. Now, believe me, I think these are useful – I’ve read enough of them – and they’re full of helpful information on structure, voice, plot, narrative arc and all that stuff. My problem is I want a book on finishing my novel. Actually, I don’t. What I want is for someone to come and take my heavily edited ‘script, and say ‘there, there, I’ll finish that off for you’.

But it ain’t going to happen. I thought writing it was hard enough – but finishing it, wow.

On writers’ groups

One night every week I go to a writers’ group, my literary therapy. There’s eight or nine usually attend and it’s a mix of chat about the small world that is South West Donegal, books, TV, and anything else that takes our fancy plus we share our writing. Everyone is very supportive and encouraging but willing to offer constructive criticism. They are all accomplished writers and writing in different genres – horror, crime, thriller, memoir, etc – which brings a delightful variety to both the readings and their perspective on the work we each present.

The discipline of needing to write something for discussion each week keeps the nose to the grindstone but also provides the platform to float ideas. It also forces me to consider my own piece with a more critical eye than might otherwise be the case and occasionally gives me an insight or idea which would never have come to me working alone at my computer. Last night, for example, I was reading a draft scene which started well enough with setting a location, a lake side. Members of the group liked the description but pointed out I hadn’t mentioned the location again in the scene – this was probably because I could see it in my head so subconsciously assumed my reader could as well. I resolved to write a couple of lines further, expanding the setting. On scribbling down notes when I returned home I suddenly had the inspiration on how to deal with an issue much later in the book, but where I could lay the groundwork in this scene. Magic! It may, or may not work, but at least the writers’ group got me there.


Revisions again today. I can only do so much at a time without having to lie down in a darkened room.

It’s all very well deciding to move a scene from one place to another, but then any subsequent and consequent action needs to be changed. Keeping track of this is killing me. I don’t know if it’s just detective novels which suffer particularly from this though I suspect it isn’t. The problem becomes worse with each new draft because it’s hard to remember what has been changed. It is possible, of course, to track changes using Word but constantly flicking back and forth through 80,000 words is a nightmare.

One of my readers asked me how we knew a particular fact which a character had just mentioned. I knew I’d written the background but discovered it now came in a later scene. My how we laughed.

Then this morning I decided I needed to move a couple of sentences into a scene where they fitted better, due to other changes, but when I looked for the sentences, which I also knew I’d written, they were no longer in the current draft at all. Thankfully I’ve kept virtually all the previous drafts so I can retrieve the missing stuff. This aids the process but not my state of mind.

I’m seeing lots of posts on NaNo about writing a 50,000 word novel in a month. Hats off to you guys – maybe I’ll try it next year.