Monday 24 March 2008

Novels I have written


* The Adventures of Mr Motty

This was a children's novel, loosely based on the stories that my dad would tell my brother and me, about an engine driver called Mr Motty, his steam trains, his assistant, Tommy, a flying bed and a talking pig called Gertrude.

This was in the 1950's and I think I'm right in saying that it pre-dates the later stories of engine drivers, flying beds and talking pigs! However, the fact remains that they have now been covered, so when I come to re-write the stories, I need to make them very special indeed. No pressure then!

When I feel that the time is right, I'll really get stuck in. We have a steam train that operates in the summer, nearby, at Alresford (The Watercress Line), which will be handy for research.

One of the many things that I've learnt about writing is that research is essential, even if you don't use most of it in your writing. It just gives you a sound basis, knowing that any facts or descriptions you use are authentic.

*Cyprus Blues

This is my recently completed first adult novel, which is set in Cyprus.

The story charts one year (July 1973 to July 1974) in the relationships of my four main characters:-

KATE- on holiday in July 1973 before starting her first teaching job. She's beautiful and innocent and totally unable to resist the charms of Jack, who is an expat artist, living in Cyprus.

JACK- handsome, sexy, charming and a total shit. He's fed up with his one-girl-a night existence and when he meets Kate, he sees her potential as his meal ticket and woos her into staying in Cyprus and moving in with him.

ELLIE- a young Greek Cypriot girl from London who has just taken part in an arranged marriage with Tony, a Greek Cypriot from a mountain village. Her 'dowry' had been a supermarket and flat, which has set Tony up nicely but quickly becomes a prison for her.

TONY- his only love is his country and everything else comes a poor second, even his own mother. (Ellie doesn't come anywhere in his scheme of things). He's part of the EOKA terrorist group determined to get rid of the President of Cyprus, Archbishop Makarios.

The way these four interact is against the background of growing political unrest, which culminates firstly in the Greek Cypriot coup, in which Tony is heavily involved, and then, a week later, the Turkish Invasion of Northern Cyprus.

Other characters include:-
BIG AL - Jack's hippy friend, who's an expert at rolling joints, and has rejected his aristocratic background and work as an archaeologist to enjoy the good life in Cyprus.

POPPY- his waif-like girlfriend. She's a very young runaway from home and totally dotes on Big Al.

CHRISTINA - Tony's first love and now Jack's married mistress.

COSTAS - Tony's second-in command-who would jump through flames of fire for Tony in his own bumbling way.

ERNIE - the CIA who is paying EOKA terrorists like Tony to do America's dirty work.

MICHAEL - the divorced Greek Cypriot father of two of Kate's pupils who falls in love with Kate.

MARIE - a fellow teacher with Kate, married to HUSSEIN, a Turkish Cypriot doctor.

The characters are all fictional but the coup and invasion are real events, and America's involvement is now well documented. I should know about these events: I was living in Cyprus at the time and was refugeed, so I can safely say that I know what I'm writing about.

Who lives and who dies? Will Kate and Ellie escape from their disastrous relationships? And what will happen to the tourist paradise of Cyprus? You'll have to buy the book to find out!!!

But in order to buy the book, it needs to be published and the prevailing wisdom is to find an agent first, which is what I am trying to do. So, if any agents/publishers are reading this and like the sound of the novel, then look out for my manuscript when it lands on your table! Or, better still, leave a comment with details of how I can contact you. Fingers crossed!

THE NOVEL I AM WORKING ON NOW is a murder mystery set in Winchester. Most of the action is centred around Winchester High (fictional name) and I'm not giving things away when I tell you that the head teacher is the first to cop it. The DI is a feisty detective called Alexis Khan, a female cop with balls (metaphorically).

I've spent so many years in teaching that I want to draw on that experience in this novel, plus the idea of bumping off a head teacher was just too tempting to resist, although my, daughter, also a teacher, asked if I could bump off an Ofsted inspector, too.

I had already plotted out this novel several years ago, but since I've started my research on police investigation procedures, I'm going to have to start from scratch with the plot. However, most of my characters are good to go, so to speak. I'm really excited about writing this - it'll be a lot of fun.

However, one of the things I've learnt from my research is that police procedures and forensic science are so advanced now that it would be very hard to get away with murder so I don't recommend it! Some people, though, just don't care...


When we returned from our Italian holiday in September, the latest reject from an agent greeted me cheerfully from the letter box. I wasn't too surprised because it was the Blake Friedmann Agency and I knew that they were very reluctant to take on more writers because Carole Blake wrote about this in her column in Mslexia. And in anticipation of this, I had already decided to re-write my introductory letter, including a better pitch about the novel.

Fuelled by plenty of fine wine, I had composed a pitch on the balcony of our hotel in Italy and John was so impressed that he said that I should write it down, but being far too lazy and, quite frankly, incapable of doing it there and then, I decided to leave it to the next day.

Sadly, the next day I couldn't remember what I'd said so John agreed to create one for me, assuring me that he was pretty good at pitches because he has to do so many for work. It was, when he eventually completed it after many reminders, brief, snappy and just right.

John, by the way, is my unofficial manager and I may get round to paying him one day if the novel gets published.

So, armed with this improved pitch and also adding far more about my intended audience, I produced what I considered to be a much better introductory letter. I chose three more agents from my trusty Writers and Artists Yearbook 2008 to send this letter, a synopsis, and the first three chapters, as is usually the given thing to do, and had even prepared everything in large envelopes.

All that was needed was to weigh the darn things (thank you Royal Mail for making it as difficult as possible to send anything through the post - don't they care about their customers?) and attach the appropriate postage. (A few months ago, the Royal Mail changed the cost of their stamps after I had sent such a package and therefore, the inevitable return of said package three weeks later did not have quite the correct amount of postage - it was something silly like six pence, and I had to pay a quid plus the six pence just to get the package. Again, thank you Royal Mail!)

ANYWAY, although convinced (and you have to be to put yourself through this gruelling endurance test and the multitude of rejections) that I had written an enormous best seller and why on earth didn't agents recognise this?, I decided to re-read the first three chapters.

Now, I've read a lot of fiction since writing Cyprus Blues, and in particular, two novels that really got me thinking about writing style. (I've reviewed them in the reading section of this blog site.)

The novel that I really liked was 'No time to say good-bye' by Linwood Barclay. And what I liked about it was the fast moving plot and skillful use of language which enhanced the story but didn't get in the way. No 'arty-farty' use of language is how I would describe it. And since I've recently discovered that it actually won the Richard and Judy Book Club award, I reckon that that is a successful way to write.

However, the novel that had me groaning with exasperation because of the over-use of flowery language (brilliant though it was) was 'A Quiet Belief In Angels'by ...It almost drowned the plot and spoilt dramatic impact.

So, with these two novels in mind - how I wanted to write a novel and how not, I reviewed my first three chapters and boy am I glad that I did so. Given the benefit of having had a break from Cyprus Blues and having re-written my introductory letter and having already started Winchester Blues, I had a much clearer idea of my target audience.

Therefore, you won't be surprised to hear that I immediately recognised that my writing style was suspect. Plot, characterization, setting are, I believe, still bloody good but I was using far too much flowery, descriptive language when it simply wasn't needed.

I had been saying for some time: 'I'm not bloody re-writing the novel' but I knew that if I had any chance of publishing it, I would have to do so. 'If a job's worth doing...' sort of thing.

So, I've re-edited the first three chapters and been brutal about what to keep in and what to delete. Cliched phrases like 'a shiver of fear ran down her spine' were the first to go. And then I deleted a lot of inner thought. Because the first part of the novel is in the first person and because I wanted my readers to have a really good understanding of the characters, I did want quite a bit of inner thought. But I had included far too much, not allowing characterisation to develop slowly and giving far too much away at the beginning of the novel as what was to come. So, that delete button was hot, hot, hot with constant use.

I'd already bought a much better thesaurus, which every writer should have, and I ALWAYS record each chapter and play it back, following the text on the screen. This really gives a good idea of what sounds good and what is awkward or out of place.

I'm so tempted to send the three revised chapters etc to my chosen agents but, ever the optimist, I would not like to have an agent phone me up and ask to see the complete novel because it's not fully revised. So, I'm playing the patience game and working steadily through each chapter. I reckon I should be finished by the end of the year, at the latest.

Winchester Blues can stay on the back burner a while and, hopefully, my sharper editing eye will pay dividends when I get back to it. I've already written the first three chapters so I feel that I have at least made a start. Anyway, I know I shouldn't be in too much of a hurry in finding an agent in this present economic climate: they probably need some space to re-adjust to a much tighter and more precarious market (i.e. even more tight and precarious than before!)

There is this little thing called Christmas which is looming up and in the past, that has taken a chunk out of my writing time, but this year we're going to be so casual about it we'll almost be falling over backwards. I'm a Christian so it's an important time of the year for me but I don't need to worship Jesus by buying and wrapping (!) a ton of presents or slaving away in a kitchen worrying that everything will be cooked on time and then eating and drinking so much that I will feel guilty for weeks afterwards and have to do double shifts at the gym. We'll be taking the dog to the beach on Xmas Day and I can't think of a nicer way to spend the day, apart from being in Morocco!

If you, too, feel harrassed and stressed at this time of the year then remember - YOU DON'T HAVE TO DO IT! Be a rebel: Say NO!


Easter has passed and I still haven't continued with Winchester Blues but for several very good reasons:-

1. Just before Xmas, I received another couple of rejections from agents (for Cyprus Blues), so I decided to re-read the first three chapters AGAIN to make sure in my mind that they were worth re-sending. And I noticed AGAIN some weaknesses and as a consequence, have re-edited the WHOLE novel AGAIN and am very pleased that I have done so.

The areas I was particularly interested in AGAIN were:-

* the opening paragraph, which I have changed

* overuse of exclamation marks of which, I realised, I had been terrifically guilty of

* length of paragraphs - mine were often far too long so I've corrected that

* flowery language - again guilty of that and I hope I've rectified that

* working on the principle of less is more, I've cut out all the surplus. Plus, I've tightened up my introductory letter AGAIN and sent it to The Writers Workshop, who give a free evaluation. I know it's a 'hook' to draw you in but I like their website , which is full of very valuable advice for writers, so I rate them highly

* I did want to cut my chapters in half because I think they're too long, particularly commercial fiction, which is my genre, but the structure of the novel is so tight and complex that it just wouldn't work. But I'll use much shorter chapters in Winchester Blues

2. Wanting to keep my hand in at short story writing, I re-edited a favourite short story of mine - The Dog in the Pram - which is futuristic/science fiction story - and sent it to two short story competitions (The Bristol Writers Competition and The Exeter Writers Competition), in the almost sure knowledge that I couldn't possibly win BOTH.

I've also written a brand new short story called The Miss in Marple, especially for The Marple Writing Competition. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the competition advertised in Mslexia because I used to live just outside Marple (a smallish village near Stockport, Manchester and The Peak District) and have very happy memories of the place. (Best place in the world, actually.)

So I took a true story that I'd heard and thought would make a great short story and set it in Marple. I so hope I win a prize so that I have a great excuse to go up there, which I've been wanting to do for ages.

3. I've been doing a lot of writing on my blog and sticking photos in (such a time consuming task but well worth it). I'm getting a small but steady stream of readers and it's wonderful knowing that I do have an audience, albeit it quite small. So, I guess I'm a communicator as well as a story teller. You see, one learns something new often without deliberately thinking about it.

BUT I'm itching to get back to Winchester Blues, particularly as I have a much clearer idea in my mind as to how I want to write it, having learnt so much about my writing over the last YEAR. Only, don't hold your breath. I tend to things at the only pace I'm capable of, which is very slowly!

And, no I'm not going to re-edit Cyprus Blues again unless an editor asks me to. But as you can see, being a writer is a lot of hard slog.

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