Giving it away

Through Friday 19th and Saturday 20th October, my debut novel Gatecrasher is free to download to your kindle. Giving away a book that took the better part of 11 years to write. That seems almost like the actions of a man who lacks the faith in his work to ask people to part with their hard earned cash for it right?

Au contraire mon amis. Or is that mais amis? Lord only knows. The point is that I don’t think the book sucks and does not deserve paying for, but rather have a quiet confidence in it. I’ve read enough bad books to feel happy that this isn’t one, but a writer needs readers, and more importantly a writer needs a lot of readers that also think its good so that they a) come back for more and b) write some reviews and tell their friends.

For now, since there is nothing else to come back for yet (I’m working on it) then mostly it’s b.

I want you all to help yourselves to Gatecrasher, read it and then if you like it tell your friends you liked it and why. Then tell total strangers the same thing. (You needn’t just approach random people and beseech them to read it though don’t let me stop you). But reviews on your blogs, websites, Amazon especially, or even a nice quick tweet is all I ask in return.

It’s a little bit scary asking people to tell you what they think about the product of your long hard slog, but as Shakespeare said: “Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.”

Guilty Pleasures

When my wife read my Movie Night post, she said, rather dismissively I must add, that it was a ‘Boy’s List’.

Fair enough, I don’t much care for chick flicks, rom coms and the like. I want, laughs, thrills, twists and some brain food from time to time. I believe some or all of those are represented in those first ten, and in my next there will be more.

But it did set me to thinking, what of those rom-coms and chick flicks? I don’t dislike them all. There are a few that I won’t switch off when I see them on my TV. Some even that I will put on when scouring the Sky box.

So for reasons of balance, here are a few of those movies that I might otherwise turn my nose up at, but really, quite like.

1. Hugh Grant. His appearances on Leveson and Question Time elevated him in my humble opinion, but though it’s easy to dismiss him, one must admit that Four Weddings and a Funeral is a fine piece of work and Notting Hill better than it has any right to be. He’s basically the only redeeming feature of that Bridget Jones movie too. The first one, I haven’t seen the second.

2. Just Friends. I discovered this when my wife (then girlfriend) insisted on watching it one lazy Saturday morning. I tried to remain aloof and stuck my nose in a book but ended up watching. And really enjoying it. It looks ike they had fun making it, as the bloopers demonstrate.

3. The Benchwarmers. See above – trying to ignore a movie that I knew would suck, then watching it anyway. And laughing despite myself. I should know better.

4. Independence Day. What’s that? Massive alien invasion?Huge sfx budget? Jeff Goldblum? I’m IN!! OK, so it’s a shame that it kind of sucks a bit, there’s the dreadful American-President-Saves-World thing and the speech too, but there’s some rip-roaring action, exploding buildings and the bit at the start with the bass-rumble and the huge space ships disconnecting from the mother-ship which is actually very cool. And Jeff Goldblum.

5. The Break Up. Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughan playing themselves. She’s cutesy, he’s blokeish. Meh. Sill though, anything with Jon Favreau and Jason Bateman in can’t be all bad right? The ‘Owner of a Lonely Heart’ scene is great, and if I could find a clip I’d link it.

Movie night

I have not actually counted but I’d hazard a guess that I own (and have owned but subsequently ebayed / charity shopped) as many movies as books. I tend to keep them in separate rooms though, just to avoid any upset or jealousy about which I spend most time with.

The VHS are all gone now, and many of the DVDs upgraded to Blu Rays and some movies I have owned on several formats. And so on occasion, when perusing the shelf for something to watch, thoughts turn to favourites. And lists. This is the first ten in no particular order.

1. Jaws. I love Jaws, it is a perfect movie. Perhaps driven by the well known mechanical problems with the big fake shark, Spielberg relies on other techniques to build the tension and the terror and it’s a masterclass in both. And the cast is exceptional too. All that, and Quint’s showstopping, scene-stealing monologue.

2. Anchorman. I like Will Ferrel a lot but there is often a feeling of diminishing returns from this high watermark. Nevertheless, there are few bad days or bad moods that cannot be turned round by this endlessly quotable classic. 60% of the time, it works… every time!

3. Life of Brian. Some of the finest comedy performers ever in one of the finest comedy performances ever. Pythons at the top of their game. Also amusing the reaction of people not actually getting the joke.

4. Aliens. Stop yer grinning’ and drop yer linen. So many sequels fail because they cannot live up to the standards set by the original. Cameron doesn’t even try to, and goes in a different direction, with deliriously entertaining results.

5. Dead Mans Shoes. Shane Meadows is your actual, proper genius and this is, for me, his stand out film, in part due to the phenomenal performance of Paddy Considine.

6. Bourne Identity. A game changer in the genre and responsible for the overhaul of the Bond franchise it is just a brilliantly paced and pitched action movie. And Matt Damon kicks any ass that needs kicking.

7. Bladerunner. Ridley Scott has made a lot of good movies, and this one seems to have been made several times. No matter how many iterations there are, whether you prefer the voice-over version or not, it has still not really been topped as a piece of sci-fi and still does not look dated all these years later. I’ve seen things you people would not believe.

8. Oldboy. First time I watched this movie, I was already blown away and then the final twist had me all hand-clasped-to-mouth in shock, which is really not a gesture I employ commonly. Features one of the best fight scenes ever. Ever.

9. Empire Strikes Back. We can safely ignore the prequels but this one of the proper Star Wars films edges it for me. Mostly because of the Hoth sequences but it feels the most accomplished and there are no ewoks.

10. Withnail and I. Richard E Grant is astonishingly good, the script is majestic and endlessly quotable and no matter how many times I watch it, it never gets less funny. Every British comedy made since must live in its shadow.

I will return to this topic, and soon. For now, if anyone wants to chip in with a top ten, or take issue with these, feel free.

Discipline

I had a horrible night last night. Sometimes the words just arrive and the keyboard takes a relentless, hour-long pounding. Other times that blinking cursor on the screen is sneering at you and laughing, the little shit.

Last night I pushed through two (or was it three?) chapters and not because it was easy, and not because it was hard and I wanted to show the cursor who was boss. But because I keep missing my targets.

It all started on the weekend.

No. I don’t know when it started actually. Probably that time someone told me that you should write every day. No chance, I told them, no way. I have a life, a job, I have a conviction that I must be in the correct frame of mind to write something. A bad mood or a lack of enthusiasm tends to produce not just bad writing, but frustration.

But that theory fails to hold water. Indeed, that theory is a large part of the reason that Gatecrasher took 11 (eleven) years to get done.

So my new rule is: 1,000 words / 1 chapter day. I don’t always manage it. Indeed, last week I managed almost nothing. Then the weekend arrived with no plans, no commitments – just an overgrown garden, the grocery shopping, a broken microwave, a Sunday roast and the new swimming pools opening down the road .

Now that should not, under any circumstances, have filled a weekend. But fill a weekend it did, because the garden was more overgrown than I had accounted for, with brambles and a weird flatness to the grass which defied the strimmer. The strimmer which then ran out of strimmer cable halfway through the job, meaning I had to get in the car and head to the shop for some more.

Then the grocery / microwave shopping seemed to fill the afternoon, followed by making the roast.

So my target for Sunday night of 30,000 words, seemed eminently achievable at the start of the weekend. But I did not sit down at the computer until nearly 7 on Sunday. And then spent ages tidying up the document and cutting out all my notes into a separate document which made me realise that the word count I thought I was on was false and that just pushed the 30,000 further off into the future.

But then I still managed the thousand and a little more. And last night when I sat down I was inching nearer and nearer to a target – not the word count, which is arbitrary but measurable. I mean the word count can be cheated. I can pad my way to a higher word count with the best of them mate, don’t think I can’t. If I want to pad, pad I can. Pad away. Pad for ages. Pad and pad and pad until the very word pad begins to lose its meaning. I pad. Right now I pad on my iPad.

But there was a scene, the idea of which has been in my mind for a while, just waiting there for all the other scenes I hadn’t written yet to get written so that I could write that scene.

And it wasn’t a fun, fluid scene that just wrote itself and spilled off my fingers down the page. Bastard fought me all the way until it was done, hammered and wrestled into place. I cannot think about the re-write now, the re-write and the edit that must come. I am too bruised.

I had a horrible night. I needed an early night but cooked two meals (one for tonight, so it will be ready when I get home) and ironed several shirts too. I got to bed at 12.30, mind still buzzing with the next scene, next chapter, ideas that will not get written down because I needed sleep. But as I lamented the lateness and my lack of sleep this morning and whatever lines or ideas had slipped away last night I am finding that I’m feeling rather happy with myself.

Staying up late because I am in the grip of a story is the kind of tired I can be content with. And I haven’t really been in this kind of mode since I was knee deep in Gatecrasher and deeply enthused by the story.

One thousand words a day. Its working. The simplest thing, but its working.

The Vanishing Brother

Somewhere amidst the chaos of the early chapters, Daniel Campbell is being stalked by some less than friendly individuals. Having sought refuge with his brother for an evening, the brother subsequently vanishes from the story. It is something of an omission and not one that I even really noticed until recently.

So anyway, for those readers wondering what happened to Luke Campbell, the following passage should shed some light on the mystery. For those yet to read it, this should serve as a small taster of the narrative to whet your appetite. I hope you enjoy…

Chapter 24.5 – Tuesday, 10.30pm.

‘You going to tell me what’s up then, or are you just a bit menstrual?’ Luke’s standard approach to any kind of potential awkwardness, as Campbell knows, is to confront it in a belligerent and insensitive manner.

‘Nice,’ Campbell replies as he slides hot pizza from the box.

‘Well fuck, Dan. You forgot to bring beer, you’ve been buried in the laptop for hours and it’s not even porn. Either it’s a girl, a job hunt or you’ve found some weird online forum to indulge your inner nerd. Something is up.’

‘None of the above actually. Actually, perhaps a tiny bit of each of the first two.’

‘You need a new job because you shagged some girl at work and you’re afraid she’s going to tell everyone about your tiny weiner?’ There it was, thought Campbell. Imagine if I had an actual problem to talk to you about.

‘Nothing major really. Just a bit cooped up in the flat after all the shit of the last few days.’
‘Yeah, you now how to throw a party,’ Luke smiled and shook his. Equal parts sympathy and morbid fascination.

Campbell couldn’t help but smile back. His brother may be employing bravado in the face of all the things he had told him about the gatecrasher and the burglary and the police, but maybe a little false courage and nonchalance was what was required here. Campbell had scarcely switched off thinking about things and as much headway as he was making with the research this evening, what he’d most like was a bit of a mental block, something to numb.

He had been surprised how edgy he had been at the sharp incessant ringing of the doorbell. There could surely be no way that anyone could know where he was, but they new where he lived and Campbell harboured dark thoughts of being trailed and watched, stalked from the shadows by determined, malevolent figures.

‘So when are you off then?’ Campbell said through a mouthful of garlic bread.

‘Two days and then it is wall to wall sunshine, food and booze. And when I’m finished burning and bingeing it is back to the room with the missus.’ A broad grin and an entirely unnecessary wink.

‘She excited?’

‘She has no idea. I sorted the time off with her boss, and as far as she is concerned we’re off to her parents for the weekend.’

‘So they’re in on the big surprise too?’ Campbell looked quizzically at his smiling brother, obviously pleased at the smooth planning of a surprise holiday trip for his girlfriend of a year.

‘So won’t they be disappointed when you come back and she isn’t any more engaged than when you left?’

‘I’m not proposing. Why would they think I’m proposing?’ Luke replied, the grin dropping a little.

Campbell’s smile moved in the other direction.

‘I never said anything about that. I’m fucking miles away from any of that…’ he said and after a moment more of Campbell’s broadening grin, added ‘Fuck off.’

‘You’ve paid for and organised a surprise holiday for their only daughter and you have involved them in the deception. The thought won’t have crossed their mind that you have a plan here of some kind?’ He was enjoying this, particularly the slowly dawning realisation of the corner that Luke may have painted himself into.

‘I’ve got one very simple plan which involves a pool, a bar, an all-you-can-eat-buffet and copious nudity.’

‘You might want to keep those relatively separate. There’s a limit to what “all-inclusive” means at these paces. Bringing your own sausage to breakfast is considered poor form.’

But Luke wasn’t playing along and the look on his face was getting sourer by the moment.

‘I was just trying to do a good thing,’ Luke protested to nobody in particular. ‘Now I’m right in the shit.’

Daniel Campbell felt the smile fade from his own face.

‘Well that backfired on me,’ Luke said. ‘How the hell do I get out of this?’

Campbell shrugged at him. ‘No good deed goes unpunished.’

The story of the story

As noted elsewhere, I began writing Gatecrasher back in 2001. But the fact is, it didn’t take 11 years from start to publish. It’s been more than twenty.

Back when I was a teenager, I was hammering out a ghost story on my Dad’s ancient typewriter, called The Seance (the story was called The Seance, not the typewriter). I still have the crinkled old pages somewhere. (Perhaps I’ll blog about that later, with some exhilarating sample passages beamed to you direct from 1990.)

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But down the years I lost the thread, lost interest, stopped writing. Then, in 2001, having written only intermittently over the previous decade, I sat down and decided to start The Seance again. The opening scenes took shape, with the plan that the climactic breaking-glass moment would be a mystery, that it could have come from one of any of the several different preceding scenes. After that, The Seance would play out.

But then I found myself more interested in what had happened at the party scene (the various others included some pretty ordinary situations – man changing lightbulb, lady cooking dinner).

The first draft went a bit wonky. I had no idea of the story I was writing for the most part, and made it up as I went along. Then I found myself having to write my way out of the place I’d got to. And that first draft was a little cliched (Islamic terrorists?) and there was far too much of a romantic sub-plot that makes me cringe to think of it.

Come 2002 I had the great good fortune to meet someone for whom reading and writing were her living and who had experience and expertise in critiquing manuscripts. She kindly turned her attention to mine, and gave it a comprehensive going over – clear, honest and direct. It was completely invaluable. From there I embarked on a comprehensive re-write that overhauled huge tranches of the original story, removed extraneous characters, discarded the awful, awkward romantic guff, and ditched the cliched terrorism storyline. Edited it basically.

I sent synopsis, blurb and sample chapters to any number of literary agents and collected rejection slips from each of them. I didn’t take it personally, but I did let it discourage me. And all the while, as the saying goes, life was happening whilst I was making plans.

And then they invented the kindle, and then, eventually, my wife read it (it was in a neglected-collecting-dust phase when we met, she hadn’t just been ignoring it!), and then I saw a tweet by the comedian Richard Herring, about how to self publish.

So I figured that my attempts to get it published in the traditional way had got nowhere and were going nowhere and here was a chance to actually have it see the light of day. I also had the thought that once I had done it, I could forget it. I was a little fed up of it what with all the time and effort and no palpable results.

But now there are more than 2,000 kindles in the world with my book on it. After two months. This frustrates and amazes me in equal measure. It is a massive number considering my original expectations – I thought a couple of hundred would be great. But I cannot shrug the nagging question: why not more? Or more specifically: how many more?

I also don’t think that this is the end of the story of the story. There is at least one section of the book that I think needs work, probably two. Both feel a little contrived and confusing. So I may yet edit and re-publish with some tweaks. And then of course, as and when a publisher picks it up….