Places and Ideas

I’ve been away a lot this winter. Unable to face the combination of long dark evenings and long dark mornings I’ve only been ‘at home’ four weeks in the past three months (a luxury allowed by not having a cat (not good) and the day job seriously winding down (good)).
We escaped much of the cold, damp and dark but I can never escape the books that are in my head.
I am still re-vamping The Iniquities Trilogy so, as we drove through Spain, I could not avoid thinking ‘this is where Wellington’s armies marched and fought and Carl followed in his summer of 1967 in The Last Dance’ and ‘this is where Pat lives and Fergal and Skye came to visit in 2016 in Second Strand’.
Most of my books are firmly placed in areas I know; The Wirral (The Iniquities Trilogy, Highly Unsuitable Girl), various parts of Kent (Highly Unsuitable Girl, Walking Alone, Runaways), the Isle of Wight (A Set of Lies, Her Parents’ Daughter, Second Strand), Dartmouth (Second Strand and now Empty Boxes), Barbados (Highly Unsuitable Girl) and various parts of Spain (The Last Dance, A Set of Lies, Second Strand) – I’m sure I’ve missed a few. I need to be able to see my characters and I find it easier if they are in real places I know.
My next book (currently under the working title Empty Boxes) is in the planning stage so as we travelled I have been on the lookout for locations, almost as if already making the film, so as we sat in the (hot) sun gazing out over a smart marina I was thinking ‘is this big enough for Ryan to berth Peabody III late in 2017?’ and, as we sat in a beach bar watching the sun going down I was wondering whether the cove in the distance could be where Arjun will abandon Diane.
Places give me ideas (inspiration?) and through the past four weeks in Spain ideas have crystallised. I now know (more or less) who does what to whom, when and where. I know (something of) the characters of my characters. I know which historical events will form the crux of the story. I know how the thread of the story begins and ends.
All I have to do now is write the book.

Libraries

In our recent and ongoing period of financial unpleasantness so many libraries are closing down or, should I say, are ‘being closed down’ by councils as they seek to cut costs.
According to The Guardian (which isn’t always to be taken as gospel but which should be believed when it quotes people who know) 340 libraries have closed in the UK in the past eight years and a further 340 could go in the next five. Among the many libraries being considered for closure is the first publicly funded library in the UK – Warrington Central Library opened in 1848 – the bellwether of English libraries.
The Public Libraries Act 1850 gave local boroughs in England and Wales (extended to Scotland in 1853) the power to establish libraries for reference and for free lending to not only ‘steer people towards temperate and moderate habits’ (keep them out of the pub?) but to encourage the ‘lower classes’ to spend their time on morally uplifting activities and engage in autodidactism (keep them out of the pub and allow men (and possibly even women) to learn stuff when the provision of a general education was severely limited).
It’s not just me saying ‘keep them out of the pub’. A campaigner for the working classes is quoted in the 1834 report of the Select Committee on Inquiry into Drunkenness that ‘the establishment of parish libraries and district reading rooms, and popular lectures on subjects both entertaining and instructive to the community might draw off a number of those who now frequent public houses for the sole enjoyment they (can) afford’.
In 2005/06 347,000,000 visits were made to UK public libraries (this doesn’t include academic libraries) with 48% of English residents visiting one at least once in the year. Since then use has decreased (2013 the figures were 288,000,000 and 36%) but that’s still a heck of a lot of people.
And they use libraries for so many things! Community gatherings, getting your bus pass, work spaces for school children, nursery classes, adult education classes and free access to the internet (still 14% of households in the UK – that’s 14% of 27,000,000 – 3,780,000 households have NO internet access). Libraries are critical!
It’s not just about referencing or borrowing books – though that is still their most important function.
Every year I get a statement (and a payment) from Public Lending Right UK. They track every time one of my titles is borrowed and for each reader I receive 4.2 pence. So please, if you haven’t read any of my books and you’d rather not buy them, go to your local library (if it’s still there) and ask for The Last Dance, or Walking Alone, or Runaways, or Highly Unsuitable Girl, or A Set of Lies, or Her Parents’ Daughter or Second Strand. They will be delighted to help you.
We must keep our libraries, as well as our independent bookshops.
Use them or lose them!

How many drafts?

I began writing The Last Dance over 15 years ago, it was published in 2006. It was followed by Walking Alone in 2007 and Runaways in 2009. Together they made The Iniquities Trilogy.
When I began The Last Dance I knew only in the broadest terms how it was all going to end and I also tried to make each book stand alone as an independent story, so I left too few clues, too few teasers towards the final denouement, in those first two volumes.
In retrospect, I believe that was a mistake so, since mid-May 2015, I have been working them into one.
When I first put the three manuscripts together into a single volume there were 372,165 words in 914 pages. That first complete read through and few odd changes took to the end of July. Instead of reducing in size (which had been my intention) the document had grown to 376,508 words over 917 pages.
The second run through was more of an edit. I began to cut out words, sometimes quite ruthlessly. I cut out incidents and descriptions that really didn’t add to the story – but I began to add in the teasers. When that draft finished a year later (well – I had written another book, Second Strand, and moved house, and worked on the day-job in the meantime) the manuscript was reduced to 342,798 words over 840 pages.
I began the third re-draft in July 2016 and, with no other book, no house move and being almost retired, I completed it in two months. Now at 324,949 words over 792 pages it was still long, but a more reasonable length. It was also a better, tighter and more flowing read.
The fourth run through began in mid-September and there were still sections I wanted to improve and events I wanted to change. By the end of November this draft was completed. (306,352 words over 744 pages).
I am now 30% through the fifth run through with a further 7,088 words and 28 pages having been lost. And I am still changing things. So there will have to be a sixth… and then a seventh… and then…
I suspect this is my Sisyphean task. I will still be working through it, changing it, hopefully improving it for years to come.
Maybe, one day, someone else will read it.

Anomalies and Black Sacks

black-plastic-bin-linerMy resolve to give up writing (see last blog) lasted all of three weeks; well not even that really as I have continued with reworking the first three books of The Iniquities Trilogy into one.
While doing this I have found a number of anomalies and inconsistencies which I have been correcting – some of my readers have been very kind in letting me know of errors such as Charles sending Ted that postcard from Spain when it should, of course, have been Carl.
One anomaly no one has pointed out to me is that I have Holly using black bin bags to clear up after a party held in Oxford at the end of June 1976.
As I re-read that passage I wondered whether black bin liners would have been around then. I tried to remember what I did with the rubbish forty years ago and, unsurprisingly, could remember nothing – so I resorted to the internet.
It appears that plastic bin bags were invented in the 1950s (green, in Canada, for commercial use only) but they weren’t black and widely used in UK homes until well into the 1980s though when I wrote Walking Alone (in 2008) it seemed like they’d been around forever. The people behind the TV programme Mad Men had the same misconception as one is reported to have been used in an episode set in 1963!
I’m now well into the consolidation of The Last Dance, Walking Alone and Runaways into one book and no doubt will find more anomalies to correct; that (being really picky about things), and doing the research to check it all out, is so much part of the fun of writing.
It’s great having another chance at those first three books of mine – no wonder so many artists painted the same subject many times and so many recording artists re-record their music.

Weather Forecasting

Writing fiction set in the present is always difficult if the weather is important to aspects of the plot.
If characters do something weather related, on a specific day, it will be easy for any reader to say “That was wrong! It wasn’t hot and sunny that day it was cold and miserable.” Or a day is specified that has a particularly spectacular weather event – say, a storm – but no character mentions it.
It’s far easier to write about weather inWeatherfluenced events in the past. In The Last Dance the early months of 1947 can be described as ‘horribly cold’ with confidence – because they were. In Walking Alone much of the action takes place in the context of the long hot summer we knew we had, and the climax occurs when that drought was broken. In Runaways the ‘Great Storm (NOT a ‘hurricane’) that so affected the Sevenoaks area on the night 15 – 16 October 1987 is critical to the plot.
When I started writing (the soon to be published) A Second Strand, getting on for two years ago, I set the story in the future so I had to make my own weather forecast.
Well, that future is now the present.
I wrote that Alex, the only suspect in the murder enquiry who has disappeared seemingly without trace, spent the period from 7th to 15th July 2016 making his way from the Isle of Wight to Dartmouth in Devon. I had to have the weather reasonable for him as he was sleeping rough for much of the time and arrived ‘tanned’ but unfortunately the actual weather was not quite as I had ordered.
This coming Sunday, the 24th, he is driven by Rachel, the woman who befriended him in Dartmouth, to Wingham in Kent and I have it raining – which of course it will be doing!
I had to have bad driving weather so it ties Rachel and Alex’s timeline (as they drive across Southern England) in with Skye and Fergal’s who, as they begin to track him down, are driving from the Isle of Wight to Devon at the same time. Both encounter heavy rain.
Two years ago I said it would rain on Sunday 24th July 2016 and it will.
Met Office – beat that!

Being the right size

Old LorryCars are first on my list of things that are not the right size – they are just getting and wider and wider. A 1970 Ford Mustang was 59” wide, a Mark 1 Ford Capri was 64.8”, a 1963 Morris Minor 1000 was 61” and a 1968 Austin A35 was only 55” wide. Even a 2003 Rolls-Royce Phantom was only 78.3”. Yet since that time cars in everyday use are getting wider and wider. A Range Rover Vogue is 87.4” (without mirrors – and what car has no mirrors?) which is 4 inches wider than a current Ford Transit van and about the same as lorries of the 1950s and 60s.
It’s such a shame that many traffic lanes, car park spaces and most garages in urban areas were designed to accommodate Morris Minors and A35s.
Doorways are second on my list of things that are the wrong size. Having just moved into a house constructed sometime in the 1820s I feel that in those days a) they didn’t have much furniture and b) those pieces they had were considerably smaller than today’s. Even a comfortable armchair of the 1980s would be 71 cm wide, yet many in 2016 are over 100 cm and doorways have got no wider….
And then there’s people – they seem to be getting taller and wider by the generation – but don’t get me onto that.
Talking of size, if not width, I have been wondering about how long a book should be. According to www.huffingtonpost.com the average word count of a Top 10 bestseller is 121,395. My recent (2014) book, Her Parents’ Daughter, came in at only 109,800 words which is the length of a Top 25 bestseller but I was happy to sell 300 copies….. According to Huffington’s graph the shorter the book the fewer copies are sold with Top 1000 sellers averaging only 73,408 words. So I will make sure A Second Strand is as long as it possibly can be and I now hold out great hopes for Iniquities as it is currently 365,367 words! But then it is three books (the three books of the Iniquities Trilogy – The Last Dance, Walking Alone and Runaways) and amazingly that averages at almost exactly 121,395 words per volume.
Top Ten Bestsellers List here we come!

A Different Coast

IoW4I’ve finally settled on the title for the follow up to Her Parents’ Daughter.
As well as writing this I am currently re-vamping the three books of The Iniquities Trilogy into a single volume to be published in 2016. In the second section, Walking Alone, Charles Donaldson, an ornithologist, is writing a series of articles whilst temporarily living in Polperro, Cornwall. He named the series of articles he wrote whilst away from his home in Hoylake, on the Wirral peninsula, A Different Coast.
Much of the action in Her Parents’ Daughter takes place in Yarmouth, on the north coast of the Isle of Wight. Much of the action in the sequel (to be published late 2016) will take place, not only in Yarmouth, but also elsewhere …… but still by the sea.
A quick check on a regularly used internet search engine revealed no book with that title.
So thank you Charles, whatever anyone says about you I think you’re quite a nice chap.