Songs From The Marq

Derek
December 19, 2015

Death of a Diva is available now. To buy it, click here.

You can also send it as a personalised Gift E-Book here.

I write in noise. My mother used to tell anyone who cared to listen that, as a child, I was incapable of enduring silence, and that – with the arrival of the domestic stereophonic headphone in the seventies and the personal Walkman in the eighties – I was able only to read, write and think, whilst I had the counterpoint of TV, records, another book, or a selection of pickles on a plate.

And I still need counterpoint today. Here is how I write: I watch, I listen, I think “What if,” or “I wish I’d said… ” followed, immediately, by “Jesus, what would have happened if I’d said…” Because I don’t write. I tell stories. And when I sit down in silence and wait for stories, nothing happens.

When I was a kid, my family had music that went from “My Fair Lady” via “Elvis Gold,” “Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake,” numerous Andy Williams records, and vinyl by Dinah Washington Francoise Hardy Nancy Sinatra, Diana Ross and her Motown cohorts and on into ABBA, The Human League and many of the best 80’s recording artistes.

Our family soundtrack was melodic, lyrical, and tuneful. And it told stories.

And I write – I tell – stories with music ever present.

Continue reading Songs From The Marq

On Murder

Derek
September 23, 2015

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I’ve come, over the past week or so, to realise that the best murder mysteries are, ultimately, about serial killers.

Not, necessarily, the Gory Hannibal Lecter type of serial killers; even the classic Agatha Christies, for example, seem to work even better when the Nemesis has a couple of (or preferably three) victims.

The classic Murder mystery pits a sleuth against a murderer. There’s a first murder – a hook; something to attract the attention of both the sleuth and the reader. Normality has been upset; the natural order has been broken, and must be restored.

And if there’s one murder, and the detective can investigate and, eventually, unmask the killer, then it can be a good story. But what makes it a Great story is when the stakes are upped.

Continue reading On Murder

How I Write – The Plot

Derek
September 10, 2015

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Writing fiction is not always hard.
It’s not always easy, either.
Oh, I know some people would love us all to believe the image of the tortured artist agonising for years over the right word – something between Proust and Joyce – whilst others would see all writers (but particularly those of genre fiction) as Hacks hammering out the same sub-standard guff for a gullible readership.
To be honest, neither of those approaches is entirely true.
I write Genre Fiction, most notably crime, and I am a firm believer that genre fiction rests or fails on the strength of the plot.
But I don’t believe that a great plot will make up for cardboard characters. You need both: the engaging, challenging plot that keeps the reader guessing and rooting for your hero, and a hero, secondary characters and a milieu that are rock solid believable, entertaining (yes, even the villains: True Evil, as has been said, is banal, but if a reader wants Banality, they can read the Chilcott report. If it ever comes out) and complex.
Plot, it’s been said, comes from Character, and I sort of get that: If you create “real” characters and then challenge them (The old “What’s the worst thing that could happen to this person?” question) then – by making the worst happen, and following on from that start – you can get an interesting story going.
My book “Death of a Diva” is a crime novel which focuses on a genial everyman. The fact that Danny Bird is gay is, largely incidental. He comes from a big London family, mixed by marriage as well as inclinations. He has friends from all the social strata, and a long standing relationship with a high-powered city lawyer.
So what’s the worst thing that could happen to him?

Continue reading How I Write – The Plot

Why I Write

Derek
September 2, 2015

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I come from a story telling people.

The Irish – the Celts – didn’t retain their personalities, their cultures, for as long as they did by simply painting themselves blue and waving their arses at invaders*. They did it by telling stories; by turning the everyday into the magical; by transforming victory into ecstasy and failure into an almost-victory.

They did it by rewriting the everyday into, as Joyce** might have put it, somethingmorethanwasreallythere***.

 

I come from a story telling family.

The first time my Very English Boyfriend met my Very Catholic Irish Family he got stories. Some of the stories were told to stave off the silence; to swerve the discomfort. Some were told to make us laugh – because laughter is when my family is at its best. Some stories were there to normalise the situation or to explain who we were, where we were, why we were; but they were all stories.

Because I come from a story telling family.

My father reads voraciously, and with a deliberate lack of snobbery. He’s read  Dumas countless times,  loves Dickens, and worked his way through many of the classics, but he’s also, often, asked for Jackie Collins in his Christmas stocking (the novels of, not the racy author herself) and he’s at his happiest with Golden Age British crime writers like Gerald Vernon Edgar Wallace, or Agatha Christie.

My mother – when I was growing up – didn’t read much. But she told stories. More than that; she lived stories. Going to the Grocers with her; watching her challenge the Butcher as to why the Mince yesterday was less than ideal; making the Christmas cake; learning a dance routine to “Me & My Shadow”. They were stories filled with excitement, danger, camaraderie, and the basic cliff hanging suspense that all good stories contain.

You listened to these stories and wondered whether the Butcher had slipped her an extra kidney by way of recompense, or been gifted with a raised nose and banishment to the B-List of purveyors for his cheapness.

And she did all of this with a sense of humour that was wicked, surreal, cynical and brilliant.

Whilst I may have acquired my love of books from my father, I learned my love of what-happens-next stories from my mother.

And my baby brother, while I stayed indoors reading books, and dreaming of being smart enough to be able to tell stories that people would want to listen to, went out into the world, met people, talked to them, came home, and talked to us about his life his friends and his understanding of the world.

Because I come from a story telling family.

So my Very English Boyfriend met my Very Catholic Irish Family, and waited for the silence, the staring, the muttered recriminations and the anger.

Instead, he got his worst nightmare.

He got stories that wove out, into, and over each other; that faded into a mist, stopped abruptly, vanished and were replaced by reminiscences of the time a bullock ran up our city street, then digressed to “The State of Sandra Bullock,” before passing on to the fact that the escaped cow happened the summer that my brother and I had been using discarded fluorescent lighting tubes as Light Sabres (don’t try this, kids; no, really, don’t…) and blended into an observation that I’d always been the family story teller, which left him stunned and close to terrified.

This – his state of overwhelm at the tidal wave of stories coming his way – left me bemused. Because, as I may have mentioned before…

I come from a family that have never – as long as I have known them – done anything other than tell stories.

Because all stories are about love (or its absence). And the people I choose to talk to, to sit with, all have something in common.

Can you guess what it is?

Love. 

I come from a culture and a family that – I am both wonderfully lucky and proud to admit – tells stories. We do this to make sense of then, now and tomorrow; to make laughter the prevailing mood; to take sadness and alchemise it into something more beautiful and powerful than it was ever expected to be; to get, gain, and deserve attention; to warm, enthral, reward enervate and challenge each other.

The only thing that matters, I believe, is who loves you, and who you love. And I’m stealing a concept from Armistead Maupin when I point out that family is both the Family you are born into, and the Family you acquire as you go through the tale of life. And I have been lucky to be part of many brilliant families who tell many wonderful stories.

Because the truth is, I don’t really write: I tell stories. And I tell stories because I come from a story telling family.

Welcome to the family.

 

*Though even Henry Sidney was known to comment on the pert, indigo derrieres of the locals. “Lyke a coupul of Feeral Cats in a sacke made from th’ Serge de Nimes,” he reported to Elizabeth I in 1540.

**James, not Grenfell, who was – clearly – English, as evidenced by her obsession with ensuring children behaved correctly.

***Little known fact: James Joyce invented the Hashtag Sentence.

How to be Terrified

Derek
August 29, 2015

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Write. Your whole life. Tell Stories to your family, to your friends and – sometimes – to total strangers.

Write one of these stories down.

Write another.

Write a book.

Read it.

Decide it’s not very good.

Write another.

And another.

Read this one.

Laugh. A lot.

Decide it’s not half bad.

Rewrite it.

Rewrite it.

Edit it.

Rewrite the Fucking thing again.

Have it edited by a brilliant editor who gives great advice (thanks Julia)

Have it read by readers who help you hone it (thanks Norma, David, Warren).

Polish it.

Send it to an agent.

Have the agent return it, saying “Great story, but not for me.”

Realise this is a rejection.

Feel destroyed.

For a Day.

Send it to a publisher, and wait to be rejected.

Get an email from the publisher.

An email that says how much they love your book, and that offers you a contract.

Drink champagne.

Stand on the edge of a cliff.

With a book you believe in with all your heart.

Realise that this – THIS – is what it feels like when dreams come true.

Be Terrified.

And, also, more excited and happier than you have been since Childhood…