Music – One Of My Passions

From now on I’m going to blog about things that I feel passionate about and one such thing is music.

One of the main reasons I’m a volunteer hospital radio presenter is my love for music. I carry my whole music collection around with me on a massive 160 gigabyte MP3 player. It’s about half full with over 10120 songs – that will probably be 10150 by the time you read this because I already have three more albums in my sights. If we say an average song is about three and a half minutes then, by my calculations, it would take about 25 days of non-stop round-the-clock listening before I heard a repeat. My thirst for new music is insatiable and I like it even more when it’s performed live so I’m also a regular gig goer.

Music is my recreational drug of choice – I’m an addict, a true musicaholic. Music can make me high; make me cry; make me happy; make me sad. It fires my imagination and triggers memories. I have playlists for the gym; gardening; driving my car; riding my Harley Davidson; sending me to sleep; waking me up – I even have an Indian mix especially for when I’m cooking a curry. I find I can write better and for longer with music in the background and wrote my first novel, The Accidental Courier, to a hauntingly atmospheric soundtrack by Ólafur Arnalds.

And the beauty of this mood-altering drug is that there are no unhealthy, or life-threatening, side-effects – so long as I don’t go deaf by playing it too loud (or bother others too much!) then, with luck, I should be OK.

One of my latest finds – my new favourite artist – is Agnes Obel, whom I discovered because one of her songs, Riverside, is the eerie backdrop for a trailer of a new BBC crime drama called Shetland. She’s been around a while and currently has two albums available but she’s new to me. She’s also performing in Bristol next month but unfortunately, by the time I discovered this, the tickets have all gone. I’m not surprised she’s a sell out – listen to this live version of The Curse from her latest album Aventine and maybe you’ll see why.

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It’s Been A While…

…Since I wrote in this blog – I’ve been tidying up my horrendously cluttered office (yes my life is that exciting!) and I found an old school report that said, ‘Robert is inclined to rest on his laurels’, which is as true today as it was back then. I published my book The Accidental Courier last October and have been ‘resting on my laurels’ ever since – full of good intentions and weak excuses for not getting on with the next book. Actually, that’s not strictly true, I haven’t been completely idle, I’ve been plotting and planning and the first chapter and a half of my next thriller is already written but it’s fair to say progress has been slow.

I’ve also been busy promoting The Accidental Courier by writing press-releases and giving talks and even shooting a book trailer, which you can see below (it’s amazing how drivers slow down when there’s someone on the roadside pointing a camera at them!).

I was also invited to be a guest blogger on Tony Riches Blog – The Writing Desk (http://tonyriches.blogspot.co.uk/2014/02/guest-post-accidental-courier-by-robert.html) and it was this which made me think it’s high time I kick-started my own blog again. Tony writes historical fiction and has a new novel coming out soon called The Kingmaker – watch this space for more information.

So, if I have any followers left after my long absence, thanks for your patience and you can expect more regular blog entries from me from now on.

Meanwhile, why not enjoy my two-minute video:

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Don’t Be A Spectator In Life – Be A Participator

A couple of days ago I took part in a funeral cortège with several other members of the Harley Owners Group Great Western Chapter. Around forty of us rode our Harley Davidsons through a tiny Welsh village near Tonyrefail to pay last respects to Charlie, a former member. The sight of all those powerful machines roaring through valley communities brought many people to their front doors.

HOG Great Western Chapter UK

HOG Great Western Chapter UK

I felt privileged to be honouring Charlie’s memory as it was his express wish that his fellow bikers join him in this, his last ride, and afterwards be with his family for a curry. Although I’d never met Charlie it was evident from the turnout and the many funny stories that he was a popular character in the chapter. His wife and family were clearly moved to see so many of us there.

It was another funeral a few years ago, when my friend and work colleague Uwe died unexpectedly, that led me to buying my trike. I knew Uwe owned a Harley but the entourage of Harley’s that followed his hearse took me by surprise. I was waiting with others outside the crematorium when an incredible roaring sound like an approaching thunderstorm filled the air long before we could see them. It was a thrill for me to see all these fabulous machines and reminded me of a life-long ambition to own one. I was also reminded by Uwe’s sad death that none of us know how long we have left on this earth and how important it is to try and enjoy every precious minute. So for me to be honouring another biker by riding my own Harley as part of the same group that honoured Uwe was a very special moment indeed!

Our Trike

Our Trike

I wish that I could have known Charlie and ridden with him and also with Uwe but we can’t turn back time. It is sad that it was the death of a friend that prompted me to follow through and finally buy the dream Harley – especially as it has given me and Mrs D so much pleasure already and introduced us to a whole new bunch of friends. So, if this strikes a chord with you, please don’t put things off! Seize the day and follow your dream, whatever it is, while you’re still able – don’t be a spectator in life, be a participator. Because participating is so much more fun than just watching!

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One From The Heart – A Dream Come True!

I’ve been busy since my last blog self-publishing my debut novel The Accidental Courier. For me this is realising a lifelong ambition but even I wasn’t ready for the emotional impact when the proof copies arrived from Createspace and I held the first printed copies of my own work. Wow!

The Accidental CourierI haven’t really come down from the ceiling yet. In the first 10 days or so, I’ve sold more copies than I dared hope and, so far, the feedback has all been great with (at the time of writing) two excellent reviews on Amazon. It’s so gratifying and exciting and I can’t thank enough those of you who’ve bought a copy and taken the time to provide feedback – either via Facebook or, better still, on Amazon.

In the first couple of days my sales put me in the top 10,000 on Kindle – OK so there’s still some way to ‘best-seller’ status (I won’t be upgrading the Harley just yet) but there are over 2 million books available so that put mine in the top 0.5%!

Sooner or later, I know some cynic will try and burst my bubble with a bad review or some snide remark and I’m realistic enough to know you can’t please everyone but for now I’m flying high and I don’t ever want to come down.

If you haven’t discovered me yet and would like to give the book a try here is a link to my author page on Amazon.co.uk (I’m also available on other countries’ Amazon sites – just search for Robert Darke)

I sincerely hope it gives you as much pleasure to read as it did me to write!

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Plotting in Coffee Bars

Clouds in my coffee

Clouds in my coffee

I’m sitting writing this month’s blog in one of my favourite haunts – a coffee bar – my intention had been to continue plotting my next novel, which is already largely written in my head, while enjoying a large Americano. But my mind has turned to plots of a different kind: plots of land. This plot for example was once occupied by a bank but now belongs to a national coffee chain. The coffee is good, the ambience of the place is pleasant and the chairs are comfortable and, of course, it has Wi-Fi – a prerequisite for me these days. Between the bank closing and the present occupier, another national coffee bar chain opened here that I also used to visit. That chain too provided good coffee, fine ambience, comfy chairs and Wi-Fi but after a while I stopped going and I assume several others did as it closed its doors after about twelve months.

So here we have two successful coffee chains occupying exactly the same plot, offering almost identical product to largely the same clientele: one ultimately failing to make the grade and the other doing well. Why? Both chains train their baristas to be friendly and greet you when you walk in but while the former lacked sincerity and warmth, the latter makes a real effort to connect. But that’s not the only reason for the failure: The management and staff of the first chain allowed the tables to remain uncleared. Tables and floors soon became sticky and the upholstery appeared stained. In no time at all this neglect gave the place a run-down, grubby feel that the new chain have managed to avoid. I believe it’s down to skills and training of the local management, the treatment of customers and the attention to detail that makes the difference between success and failure.

What has any of this to do with plotting a novel? Well quite a bit actually. Anyone who has ever studied creative writing will have been told at some point that there are only seven basic plots (if you don’t know what they are I recommend you read Christopher Booker’s ‘The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories’ – see link below). Just like the two coffee shop managers, we writers are broadly operating from the same place. It is the treatment of our chosen plots that makes the difference between great, good and poor writing. Readers are your customers – how welcome do you make them feel? Do you treat them with sincerity? Do you give good service, know their likes and dislikes? Is your narrative clean and fresh, or sticky and over-used? Do you pay attention to small details like good punctuation and grammar? Also, if you are writing in a particular genre, whether you like it or not, you’re part of a production chain. Do your readers get what they’re expecting? Or when they walk into your coffee bar needing a nice creamy Latte are you trying and sell them tea?

Well, it’s time I tried to inject into my own plot some tantalising froth to excite my readers’ taste buds (or add some spice perhaps?) so goodbye until next time and, in the meantime, good luck with your own plotting.

Christopher Booker – The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories

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Inspiration From Other Writers

Christie 1What a time I’ve had during the past week and a half! It started with a trip to Greenway in Devon to see Agatha Christie’s summer residence. One of the room guides claimed that Agatha’s work is the most read after The Bible and Shakespeare – I don’t know if that’s true but I’m certain she must be the most read crime writer of all time and deservedly so – her ingenious plot twists are as popular today as ever and characters such as Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot will surely live forever in the imaginations of present and future readers. For this relatively new crime writer it was inspirational just to be there seeing some of her correspondence on display: I even bought a box set of the novels either about, or influenced by, Greenway.

Robert Darke/Jeffery DeaverNext, I attended a Jeffery Deaver seminar at the start of Bristol’s annual CrimeFest Convention that left me feeling empowered and with several ideas I can’t wait to put into practice.

During CrimeFest 2013, I listened to many heroes of mine talk about the craft of writing and rubbed shoulders in bars and elevators with the likes of CrimeFest 2013 ProgrammeRobert Goddard, Felix Francis, Denise Mina, Michael Ridpath, Lindsay Davis, Chris Ewan and loads more people I’ve read and enjoyed. I met many new authors too that I look forward to reading and my ‘books-I-must-read’ list has grown exponentially. In one session, Robert Goddard admitted that, even to him, reading other excellent writers can seem quite daunting but he concluded that great writers provide inspiration while not-so-great writers provide encouragement to do better. I made new friends too, from all around the world, including writers from Hawaii and Australia and came away feeling sorry it was over.

Monday, I gave a talk to a small group of writers in Sully where I met Eileen Younghusband who was awarded the British Empire Medal last year. At the age of 91, Eileen has also just won the People’s Book Prize for her autobiographical account of serving in the WAAF: during the Second World War, she played a crucial role in the RAF Fighter Command’s Filter Room monitoring and tracking Hitler’s bombs – what an inspirational lady!

Many of us have dreams and aspirations but, unlike those who yearn for success in, say, sport, one of the joys of writing is that the dream of ‘making it’ can be kept alive well into old age. If I can only manage to live as long as Eileen, then I still have a 30-odd year writing career ahead of me. And that’s a lot of books…

SO NEVER GIVE UP!

Links:

www.crimefest.com

www.onewomanswar.co.uk

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Distractions from Writing

The_Trike

I suppose I knew deep down that buying a Harley Davidson Trike was going to eat into my writing time – and I was right. The only reason I’m now sitting writing this in the sunshine is because I’ve been caning the trike too much and it’s caused acute tendonitis in my clutch hand. My doctor has ordered me not to ride for a day or two (well he said a week actually but that’s not going to happen while the sun is still shining!).

I bought the 4-year-old Sportster Iron 1200cc trike from a lady US Marine and she had only done a little over 1600 miles. In just two months I’ve almost doubled that mileage. It’s the new love of my life. Fortunately, Mrs D is far from jealous because she loves it too – you could say we’ve become a trikesome – and we’ve been out on it almost every day, weather permitting.

The reaction of our friends and acquaintances has been interesting and mixed. It seems everyone has some stereotypical picture of bikers in their heads. Some think I’m having a (late) mid-life crisis and seeking to recapture my youth (that could be true – and it’s working!). In truth, owning a Harley Davidson has been on my bucket list for many years.

Our older friends remember the clashes between mods and rockers that terrorised many a seaside town in the sixties, or the rise of Hell’s Angels gangs in the seventies – they believe we’ve succumbed to a cult and gone over to the dark side.

The grandchildren think it's a new climbing frame

Can we have one of these Daddy?

Our close family are bemused but they know well enough that we’re a bit mad and unpredictable – it’s a bonus that we can still shock our grown-up kids. The grandchildren think it’s a climbing frame! (See photo)

I’ve had my own stereotype views challenged too. We have unwittingly become part of a wide camaraderie between bikers that we didn’t know existed and this came as a truly pleasant surprise. Mrs D and I have been amazed at how friendly other bikers are (although some go to great lengths to look terrifying, so far they’ve really proved to be just big softies underneath). They watch out for one another on the road and keep an eye on each other’s property when parked up. In Wales, most riders give a nod, or a wave, when passing (I’m told this doesn’t happen over the border in England, which is a shame). We’ve already made some good friends and met some truly interesting characters (who may well appear in some guise in future novels!). The fact is whenever we park up someone will come over and talk to us.

As for riding the trike – well it’s everything I hoped it would be and more. We love being out in the fresh air when travelling and we see so much more of the countryside than we ever did in the car. The feeling of exhilaration when shooting the breeze on motorways is wonderful too and the acceleration when I twist open the throttle gives a real adrenalin rush. And, to be honest, riding a Harley attracts whoops of delight from children and a lot of admiring glances from parents too, all of which makes us feel like minor celebrities.

So what if it is a distraction from writing? I’ve always thought of writing as a winter pursuit anyway and I can still dream up stories while cruising along the highways and byways of this beautiful country. And at the moment I am busy planning the next book in my head (and, no, it’s not about bikers…).

All I need now is for this damned tendonitis to disappear before the sunshine does!

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