Saturday, 24 December 2011

Twas a night before Christmas...

...and there in the pub, not a creature stirred...well, only to the bar and back, and the occasional trip to the gents.

I must have been around 18 and thrilled to bits to be in a pub where the barman didn't immediately want to throw me out. It turned out that he quite fancied me, but that's neither here nor there as far as this story is concerned.

He also offered me the only gig that our band, Bad Timing, ever received. Believe me, we were terrible - I still have a rehearsal tape somewhere to prove it. But I digress...

So, we arrived at the pub at 1.30 in the afternoon. There was me, a friend of mine from my schooldays, his stepdad and Jock - his stepdad's work colleague. Jock's the only one with a name in this tale as he features heavily in what transpired.

Jock, from Glasgow, had been drinking heavily. When he wasn't lecturing us whippersnappers about how, right now, this was 'the only man you'll ever be', or eating copious quantities of crisps, Jock was slowly but surely sinking into an alcoholic haze. I, meanwhile, over the seven hours that we spent in that pub, actually sobered up. It wasn't difficult as two southern comforts were (and are) about my limit.

So we left the pub, in Hackney ( I remember it as The Favouite, but the internet can find no trace), and moved on to another pub in Hackney Wick, where it all went a little pear-shaped. You see, the barman of this other pub was Billy the Boil, from Aberdeen. And clearly, somewhere down the line, there'd been bad blood between Glasgow Jock and Aberdeen Billy.

We didn't know about the bad blood at the time, but it soon became pretty obvious when Jock started muttering about how he was going to take Billy the Boils' boil right off his face. Before you could shout 'chill out' (of course, we didn't have the term in the eighties), Jock had smashed a pint glass on the table and leapt at the bar to have a go at Billy. You've never seen so many pissed people move so quickly.

By now it's pandemonium; Billy has somehow repelled Jock and knocked him back - probably with a fist. Down Jock goes like a sack of spuds and people have pinned him to the ground. Meantime, Jock is screaming "Don't let him cut me, don't let him cut me," at the top of his voice, while me and my friend stare at the scene in amazement and horror.

Jock, bleeding from the broken glass that he's holding, is bundled out the pub with us and told not to come back. No one calls the police, naturally - that's not how these things are done. We get in the car - I think the stepdad has stuck to soft drinks - and drive off into the night as Jock regales us with his favourite fights and why Billy the Boil is his sworn enemy. But, as none of us speak drunken Glaswegian, most of the subtleties are lost on us.

I felt as if we'd passed some kind of multiple initiation of manhood. A lock-in in a pub, drinking with older men, the offer of a gig for the band, witnessing a pub fight (after a fashion) and making it out unscathed.

I never saw Jock again although my friend's dad told us other stories about Jock's flick-hatchet (which he unfortunately demonstrated while inside his new car), Jock's new Mercedes and, by way of explanation, Jock's brief and disastrous sideline as a drug dealer.

I give you the ghost of Christmas past!

Thursday, 22 December 2011

The Geneva Connection by Martin Bodenham

Today I'm joined (virtually - use your imagination) by another Musa author, Martin Bodenham. He has kindly consented for me to put him under the spotlight and fire questions at him from across the desk. Let us begin...

What is your book, The Geneva Connection, about?

It is a financial crime thriller, set in the UK, US, Mexico and Switzerland. The story is about John Kent, a massively successful private equity player, and what happens when his unbridled ambition collides with the world's most powerful and most brutal drug cartel.

Kent thought he had it all. The phenomenal success of his private equity firm has propelled him into the world’s wealthy super-league. Self-made and from a poor background, he’s living his dream. Then he discovers his financial backers are a front for the world’s largest organized crime group, the Mexican Caruana drug cartel. It is run by Felix Safuentes, also known as “Jivaro” after the South American tribe famous for decapitating its enemies. Kent’s nightmare hasn’t even started...

What was the inspiration for the book?

As a private equity investor, I witnessed a number of financial institutions running into liquidity problems during the credit crisis. That gave me the idea to write a novel about a private equity firm losing the support of its main investor due to the financial crisis and how it is desperate to find a replacement without asking too many questions.

When did you decide to take up writing?

I have wanted to write novels for many years, but the pressure of working full-time in investment fund management meant I did not have the time. Recently, I have wound down a little from running my private equity firm in order to focus on a few other things in life.

What does the writing process look like for you?

I treat as a job. I am lucky in that I have an out-building, which I have converted into an office. The days I devote to writing see me at my desk at seven in the morning. I finish around six in the evening. Whenever I have tried to do something, I have always made every effort to be the best I can be at it.

What is the most challenging part of the writing process for you?

There are always calls on my time and, if I let them, they will eat into my writing space. I mute my telephone and switch off email so I don’t become distracted. If the front doorbell rings, I don’t answer it. Treating it as work makes a big difference.

How did you find Musa Publishing?

A published author contact of mine mentioned Musa as a new publishing house run by industry professionals. They sounded like my kind of people. They were the first US publisher I approached, and they signed me up in days.

Why did you decide to go with an ebook publisher instead of a traditional print publisher?

I have always been an early adopter of new technology and I have used it throughout my investment management career to increase productivity. The days of print publishing for fiction are numbered, in my view. If it didn’t already exist today, would we choose to invent it when digital technology is available? I think not.

Can you tell us a bit about how you prepared a submission package for your novel?

I’m based in the UK so I followed the usual UK format: One page covering letter, two page synopsis and the first three chapters—one, two, three.

Having said that, I found it difficult to reduce my story down to its basic elements. I treated it like all the business plans I have received over the years as a private equity investor. The two page executive summary is massively important. It determines whether or not an investor wants to read the full plan. I figured publishers were like investors, which they are in many ways. They have to decide which few stories they will back. Like investing, knowing the ones to walk away from is as important as choosing the winners.

What piece of advice do you think is most important for aspiring writers to remember?

Think of it as a business if you want to have your work published. Then treat the writing as a job and properly devote your time to it. Treat the editing process as a great way to improve your product, and not as an attack on you. Finally, recognize that publishers are business people, so ask yourself why they should invest their scarce resources behind your work. The rest will follow.

What do you see as the biggest obstacle for emerging writers?

I think the greatest challenge for new writers is trying to stand out in a crowded market and in a digital age in which anyone can broadcast a message at very little cost. Readers and consumers are bombarded with messages, and there are very few quality filters on which they can rely.

Which authors or individual books have inspired you in your writing?

The authors whose work I really enjoy are John Grisham, Michael Connelly and James Patterson. I love their fast pace, multiple settings and attention to detail.

Do you think it's important to have a character's morality defined early on in a book?

I think it is important to establish early on the main character traits of the protagonist, so that a reader can decide whether to support them or not. It doesn't matter to me whether or not the protagonist is likeable. I just want the reader to have a strong emotional bias for or against him and, therefore, have an interest in what happens.

Have you written any short fiction?

No. Once I start a novel, I find I have too much to say!

Do you have a view on the recent criticism of HMRC's alleged cosiness to some larger companies when they're negotiating a UK tax bill?

The tax affairs of large companies can be very complex. Consequently, there can be many grey areas and uncertainties as to the right interpretation of the tax regulations relating to their affairs. That said, I see very little flexibility or understanding offered to businesses and individual taxpayers so I don't understand why HMRC needs to adopt a warm and cuddly approach to large companies. There should be one consistent approach applying to all.

What are you working on next?

Another financial thriller involving a Boston based private equity firm and US government corruption.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

You Put Your Whole Self In...


You know that feeling, when you've just finished reading a book and the characters are still rattling around your head? Or the plot holes are making swiss cheese of your afterglow? Or even that you're desperate to re-immerse yourself in the world of the characters you've just spent time with?

Well, imagine all of that and add in a dollop of nervous anticipation. Cue drum roll... I've just completed the second draft of Scars & Stripes - my transatlantic comic tragedy about a year in the US, in the late eighties. It's been a bit of a revelation, coming as it does from the adulterated wellspring of my experience and my imagination combined. The composite characters are all on stage now and the key scenes set in cement. (But I still have my chisel at the ready, just in case.)

What comes next, of course, is a deeper edit. That and referring back to my notes about what I feel I can and can't say, even in fiction. If any brave soul out there wants to read any sample chapters - Sonia, you know who you are - I now have the set.

It's a less funny novel than I'd anticipated. In several places it's actually quite sad. I like that, though. Writing and reading the manuscript has put me back in touch with something useful - painful once and poignant now. But definitely useful. It feels as if I can breathe a little easier.

One of the interesting things about the process of writing, especially when one draws upon personal experience (and let's face it, all writers do that to some extent) is the individual approach that each writer takes.

I'm pleased to say that fellow novelist, Sinclair Macleod, author of The Reluctant Detective and The Good Girl will be joining me for a blog interview in the not too distant future. I hope to get a better appreciation for his method of writing, delve into his psyche and generally pick his brains for tips and insights.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Shadow of the Hunter

I'm not really sure exactly how many words a picture paints, but our cat Porsha (she was a rescue cat and pre-named, so it isn't our fault) serves as a pretty good illustration. Today's topic is time. And, while it flies like the wind and goes after itself for Cyndi Lauper, it's also a huge consideration for a writer.

When you look closer at all the other activities necessary* to write, it's a wonder we get anything done at all. You need ideas, planning, research, blogging, LinkedIn, Tweeting, Facebooking...well, hang on a minute - that's just it. What is that social media really doing for you? Are you connecting with possible readers, existing readers, your peers or trying to build up your profile? Could it be that time given over to social media is actually time that could be better spent writing?

If you write to earn an income, writing is your product. Without something to sell, all the advertising in the world isn't worth diddlysquat. Our cat who clearly knows how to position herself, even if she's still working on timing understands that.

So speak when you have something to say or when you have a product or service to promote. Or maybe just for the fun of it, when your down time coincides with your urge to communicate. But don't mistake all that hullabaloo for actual writing.

There are only so many hours in the day, so get your priorities right!

* May contain irony.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Smart writers do it this way


Not so long ago, I was chatting away with fellow writer Terrie Leigh-Relf about our writing (there were probably other topics in there too) and the inevitable relfection on the year that's passed.
We've planned to each go away (i.e. offline) and come back with our writing goals for 2012. I know, the very mention of the 'g' word tends to make people and writers especially – go into sleep mode. But don't go just yet...


Goals, back in corporate land, were things you could control. And to make life easier*, especially when said goals helped determine your pay or bonus at the end of the year, they needed to be SMART goals.

Sing it with me, people:
Specific define what it is.
Measurable how you can tell when you've completed it?
Achievable is it within your control make this happen?
Realistic do you personally have the control and the resources to do this?
Time-bound when will it be done by?

Here are some goals that aren't SMART, even if they do appear to be desirable:
- Get my novel placed with an agent next year.
- Get my novel placed with a publisher next year (it's okay, I'm flexible - it doesn't have to be the same novel).

And here are some SMART goals:
- Write 2000 words per day. (Or, like Rachel Aaron, exceed that five-fold.)
- Spend three hours on my synopsis.
- Do a full edit of my manuscript by the end of March 2012.
- Identify three agents and three publishers to submit to.
- Prioritise my submissions.
- Contact the agent / publisher at the top of my list.
- Submit material from my novel.

Now, I will be the first to admit that SMART goals don't sound nearly as sexy or heroic. But they are...achievable. You're not reliant on anyone else to make it happen. You hold all the cards. Which means it's no one else's reponsibility but yours, if nothing happens (2012 end of the world scenarios notwithstanding).

My mantra of the moment is that we write, we edit, we decide who to submit to and then we submit. We need to do them all well because once our submissions leave us, it's out of our hands.

What are your SMART creative goals for 2012?

* May contain traces of irony.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Come on in out of the cold

Hello there,

If you've just joined me from my guest blog over at Bubble Cow:

And if you haven't, why not hop over there and then make your way back. I'll wait...hello again!

One of the things that impresses and surprises me is how willing other writing professionals are to share resources. Whether it be white papers, links, freelance writing websites or other useful reference material, there is a genuine sense of community out there. Yes, we are all in competition to the extent that we're all in business. But there is also the recognition that, as a profession, it's in everyone's interests to promote the highest standards of business practice.

So this particular post is a bit of a sharing exercise. In no particular order, these are some of the places that I visit regularly and the people who know what they're talking about:


Cathy Presland - www.cathypresland.com

Julian Summerhayes - www.juliansummerhayes.com

Brian Clark and Jon Morrow - www.copyblogger.com





For those of you who don't yet know me, I'm a freelance writer also produce fiction and comedy material. If you head over to www.professional-writer.co.uk, you'll see the range of writing and editing services I offer, as well as samples and testimonials. You can also email me direct on earthlight (at) btinternet.com and follow me on Twitter @DerekWriteLines

I look forward to hearing from you.