The First Draft Lesson

Derek
February 8, 2016

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This week’s been an interesting one for my writing.

I write crime fiction, which I think is heavily reliant on plot, and as a result, before I start writing, I always have a plot (and several sub-plots) mapped out, from beginning to end.

I write a detailed sketch of some scenes that means I’m doing little more – when I get to them – than adding in adjectives and adverbs (which, in editor mode, I will delete in the first draft), and funny lines or character quirks as I come to them.

Then, by the time I’m writing the book, I can let my imagination run riot, creating new scenes, comic asides and expanding on the characters (which are based on character sketches that also run to over a dozen pages) safe (sort of) in the knowledge that I won’t end up hopelessly lost or backed into a corner by a rambling subplot.

The sketch for the book I’m currently writing runs to 48 pages, and yet, still, some days feel like carving basic shapes out of marble using a toothpick.
So this week, between Hong Kong and a small town South of Auckland, in weather ranging from freezing fog to stone-splitting sunshine, has been like this:
This is hard.
This is shit.
This is easy but shit.
This is a first draft; it’s meant to be shit.
This isn’t bad.
This is shit again.
This is actually really good.

And then, today: This is so good I never want to stop.

But I did, because the sun was shining, I had the cutest kid to play with, my hosts had been super kind, and because I didn’t want to become known as  the unsociable writer who came to dinner and never spoke to anyone and because, of course, I’m on holiday, and I know – now – that I can get back to that place.

Eventually.

The lesson – which I shouldn’t really have needed to be reminded of – is the oldest one of all: First drafts are allowed to be anything from Genius to Shockingly Bad. What they are not allowed to be is unfinished.

I’m closer than ever to having a finished first draft, and though I know that some of what went before will need reworking (or, possibly,even jettisoning) I’m going to focus on that finish line, just ahead, and waiting to be crossed.

Then, the real work can begin.

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

Mrs Farrell’s Christmas Cake

Derek
December 13, 2015

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When I was a child – without fail – November smelled of cinnamon, nutmeg, jewel-bright candied carbuncles of citrus peel, and rich, shiny brandy.

My mother baked Christmas cakes then for a mid-December delivery.

It was a skill she’d acquired at a women’s club in the local primary school where I’d been taught by the nuns.

As a kid, I found it impossible to imagine these stern bewhimpled disciplinarians running around the vast industrial convent kitchen, laughing, joking, clucking like chickens as they instructed the local housewives on how to make a fruitcake. As an adult, the image gives me great comfort, and makes me smile every time I imagine it.

Every year, my mother would pull an array of bowls from our cupboards.

Into one, a bag of raisins would be mixed with a bag of sultanas, the dark – almost scorched – scent of the fruit hovering like a lurking threat over the bowl; you had to put your face close to the fruit to smell the musky, oriental funk.

Continue reading Mrs Farrell’s Christmas Cake

Byte And Me

Derek
December 2, 2015

Those lovely people at Byte The Book have posted a piece I’ve written about My journey to Publication and my thoughts on Networking.

Check it out here and – if you’re at all interested in publication, seriously consider joining Byte. Worth every penny.

“The Grown Up” Reviewed. – Nothing is what it seems…

Derek
November 15, 2015

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As with all Gillian Flynn stories, it’s extremely difficult to discuss the plot of this without giving away spoilers.
Suffice to say that, in this story, nobody and nothing is what they seem.
It purports to be a ghost story, but even that is uncertain.
It purports to be a book, but it’s a short story that’s been bulked out with pages of praise for and previews of Flynn’s earlier full-length novels.
It’s sharply done, whip smart and fun, but the publishers have something approaching a cheek to charge four quid for an hours reading.
Still, fun if pricey.

***

Deadly Election: A Love Story with Murders

Derek
October 17, 2015

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Lindsey Davis first novel was published in 1989, after a historical romance she’d written was rejected. The research she’d done for “The Course of Honour,” the (then) unpublished romance set in the court of Vespasian played on her mind, resulted in her creation of Marcus Didius Falco, informer-at-large, and gave Davis a career and a string of Novels that combined crime, mystery, romance and great amounts of humour and which culminated with Nemesis (2010).

At the time, Davis made no suggestion that Falco was to be retired, but, in hindsight the signs were all there: The book (and particularly its denouement) was one of the darkest in the Falco cannon.

After a standalone novel (“Master and God”), Davis segued her crime series into the Flavia Alba novels. Set a decade after the end of Nemesis, we were introduced to the grown up, widowed single-minded and, in her own way, very British adopted daughter of Falco and Helena.

The character, who narrates in first person, is basically Lindsey Davis, to a certain extent. Her no-nonsense approach to life and to work comes sparklingly to life in a female character.

And so to “Deadly Election.”

Continue reading Deadly Election: A Love Story with Murders

The Girl With The Deep Blue Eyes: A Sweaty Floridian Ibsen. WIth Anal.

Derek
October 3, 2015

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Lawrence Block has been writing since God was in his heaven and Kennedy in the White House.

That he’s had an esteemed career goes without saying. He’s written slight pulpy books (After the First Death), Bigger City-wide Blockbusters (the counterintuitively named Small Town, movie scripts (Wong Kar Wai’s Blueberry Nights), and reams of commentary on, instruction for and inspirational words to writers (his Telling Lies For Fun and Profit has been a constant in my life for many years).

And he’s been incredibly flexible. In his Seventies, Block, seeing the changes in the publishing landscape, and recognising that the relationship between publishers, authors and readers was being redefined, began to self publish, to digitally publish, and to actively use his website, eNewsletters, EBay and direct sales to get his books – at prices which allowed him to make some coin on the transactions – into the hands of people who wanted to have them.

Considering he’s just three years off his 80th birthday, this might seem an odd development for an elder statesman, who might be expected to have grown used to sitting on his laurels while the publishers and their marketing department sold the books.

But Lawrence Block – like the late Jackie Collins – comes from a different place. A place which is funky and dimly lit, and very often looked down on by publishing and critics, dismissed as lesser, cheaper, dirtier. A place where Give ‘em what they want, and Get paid first are not dirty words.

Continue reading The Girl With The Deep Blue Eyes: A Sweaty Floridian Ibsen. WIth Anal.

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

A Slow Death Reviewed

Derek
September 18, 2015

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I have an admission to make: I love melancholy: that sense of ennui at the human condition, a despair at the inevitable entropy and ending of everything, and – bubbling just under it – the anger at man’s impotence in the face of a world that just won’t be set right.

Which is probably why I love Noir Crime, and definitely why I adored Max Drescher and “A Slow Death.” There are enough reviewers here giving out hints on the plot; suffice to say that it has more plot twists than the average mystery. Almost every time I thought I’d figured out where we were going, James Craig threw a curveball, and we were off on a direction I hadn’t foreseen. If Amazon gave out “Jaw Dropper” scores, this would be a “Four Jaws on the Floor” book.

Continue reading A Slow Death Reviewed

My New York

Derek
September 13, 2015

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The first time I went to New York was in 1993.

The Twin Towers still stood, monolithic orientation points that allowed the visitor to tell uptown from downtown.

The city – pre the Giuliani and Bloomberg sandblasting of its gritty façade – was the ultimate grown-up, deviant playground.

The Port Authority Bus Terminal teemed with strays, thugs, and shysters; the Chelsea Meatpacking district displayed its tranny hookers like a duchess sporting paste diamonds on a decaying décolletage; and Times Square held up huge signs saying “LIVE GIRLS XXX.”

I supposed, at the time, there was likely to be more of a market for Live Girls as opposed to the obvious alternatives, but – in hindsight – this may not always have been the case.

Continue reading My New York