Monthly Archives: June 2012

The Birth of a Novel

I’ve hardly mentioned it so far, but I started this blog with the intention of diarising my attempts to bring my debut novel ‘White Van Man’ to public attention – ideally via the traditional agent/publisher route, although I won’t rule out self-publishing either.

Most of my big ideas come to me in the bath and this was no exception. I’d just finished reading a magazine article when I spotted in the small ads a ‘white van man’ offering his courier services with the claim ‘no job too small’. It started me dreaming about the freedom of being my own boss and having the kind of job where the only real decision I faced each day was where to stop for coffee (well it was a dream!). In these austere times, many of us have faced the looming prospect of redundancy and, in evaluating our skill set, have had the thought; ‘well at least I can drive’. I know I certainly have.

At the time, my wife worked as a customer services manager for a nationwide courier firm and she shared with me some of the tough realities that their freelance van drivers faced (I think she was worried I might seriously be considering a career change!).

And from that germ of an idea, I thought wouldn’t it be fun to have some poor ordinary office guy and take away his job and then his wife and then toss him into an unfamiliar world of which he has no real experience and watch him struggle as I threw more and more difficult choices in his path. Once I started, and as the characters came to life for me, the book practically wrote itself. I sincerely hope that, when I’ve finished editing and lovingly polishing it, people will get as much enjoyment from reading it as I had writing it.

I’ve booked some one-to-ones with agents at a Writing Festival in September in the hope that one of them will wave my book in front of the big publishers and start a bidding war for the rights to publish me (Well, I never stop dreaming! As they say in the song ‘Happy Talk’ – you gotta to have a dream, if you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true?).

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Pit Zips

I know this blog is allegedly about writing but occasionally, like all writers, I get distracted.

With all the rain we’ve been having of late, I decided to buy a new waterproof jacket. There are many to choose from so in the end, for me, it all boiled down to colour: I generally try and avoid bright reds, blues or greens, so I chose a nice plain charcoal-grey. It was only when I got home and took off the labels that I noticed my new waterproof has ‘Pit Zips’. Now, for the uninitiated, these are zips, about a foot long, beneath each armpit and the blurb tells me they can be used to regulate my temperature.

So there we have it – next time I get all sweaty climbing up a mountain, I can unzip my pit zips, put my hands on my head and shoot the breeze, pirouetting like Maria in the early scenes of The Sound of Music. It’ll release all of those nasty underarm odours and replace them with sweet mountain air. I wonder if there’s any danger of my jacket filling up and making me look like a big charcoal balloon.

These pit zips could be handy for letting out steam on a crowded tube train too; although I’m not sure what the other passengers’ll make of it! Also great for having a good old pit scratch, without the need to take the jacket off.

Of course, its hardly rained here in Cardiff since I bought it.

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Writing & Music

Do you listen to music while writing? Writers seem divided on this question; some can’t write without music, while others can’t write without silence (although where they find that in this noisy world is a mystery!)

Twilight author Stephanie Meyers states she can’t write without music in the background saying, ‘writing Twilight was a very visual, movie-like experience.’ She’s even collect her favourite Twilight songs into a sort of soundtrack for the book. (If you’re curious there’s a link at the end of this blog.)

On my hospital radio show, I once interviewed crime writer Lesley Horton who was then chair of the Crime Writers’ Association. She told the listeners she always writes to music and said she finds silence more of a distraction. Lesley goes as far as selecting the music to match whatever scene she’s writing. For example, rousing brass band music for a fight or murder scene, or softer music for a quiet gentle scene.

Alexander McCall-Smith also writes to a personal playlist, his favourite track being ‘Soave sia il vente’ form Mozart’s opera ‘Cose Fan Tutte’. He believes music has an effect on the brain, calms it down, and helps access the subconscious mind.

I love most kinds of music and play a great variety on my weekly radio show but I can only write to certain instrumental music because I find lyrics distract me. The following albums are great for stimulating my imagination and are currently top of my music-to-write-to playlist:

Olafur Arnalds – …And They Have Escaped The Weight Of Darkness/Endalaus
John Barry – Moviola
Debbie Wiseman – Piano Stories

Links:
Stephanie Meyer: http://www.stepheniemeyer.com/twilight_playlist.html
Lesley Horton: http://www.lesleyhorton.co.uk/
Alexander McCall-Smith: http://www.alexandermccallsmith.co.uk/
Olafur Arnalds: http://www.olafurarnalds.com/

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Snatch and Grab – a free short story

This week I’ve made a free 1500 word short story available on my website. It’s a prize-winning story that I wrote in 2002. The story was later published in a local short-story magazine which, sadly, is no longer available.

The inspiration came from an exercise on a creative writing workshop. Participants were given two fictitious lists of contents for a briefcase and a handbag and had to choose one of them and paint a pen-picture of whoever they imagined might be the owner. I chose the handbag and when I returned home this story just developed. If you can spare the time please download and read Snatch and Grab and I sincerely hope you enjoy it.

Here is the link: www.robertdarke.com/stories.html

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Falling Out of Bed

Last week I fell out of bed, something I vaguely recollect happening to me once as a child. Funny isn’t it – right up there with slipping on a banana skin, or walking into a lamppost. I can laugh at it too now but at the time it didn’t seem funny. It isn’t something I imagined would hurt very much. After all, the bed isn’t that high off the floor – about a metre – and I was asleep so I must’ve been relaxed which, combined with landing on a carpet, should’ve eased my fall. Actually, I rolled backwards out of bed lending a certain momentum as I spun towards the ground and then smacked face-first into the wardrobe near the bed. I didn’t wake up during the fall – the first thing I remember is sitting dazed on the floor besides the bed wondering what the hell had hit me and trying to stem the flow of blood from my nose (and uttering a few choice swearwords that I’m not proud of!). It didn’t do Mrs D much good being woken in the middle of the night by a loud bang and a lot of swearing and putting the light on to find me sitting on the floor next to the bed soaked in blood. Luckily for me, no bones were broken: I was just bruised and battered. For the next couple of days my nose glowed like Rudolph the Reindeer’s and I had to put up with my friends and family crying with laughter at my misfortune.

So what has this to do with writing? Well, they do say ‘write what you know’ and I can now write with first-hand knowledge about what it’s like to be woken by a sudden blow to the face; how it took two cups of hot tea and over an hour to get over the shock; how getting back into bed was a bit like climbing back onto a horse that had just thrown me; how, a week later my nose is still sore and a little swollen making my glasses uncomfortable to wear. I also learned that blood can be washed out of a pale carpet after several applications of carpet shampoo (although I’m sure forensic scientists would easily find traces remaining).

Much of this will no doubt find its way into one or more of my crime stories. Of course, it won’t be about falling out of bed but I can now imagine how it would feel if intruders decided to wake me with a baseball bat for the combination to my safe.

Everything that happens to us as writers is useful in some way and even through the worst of times (and far worse things than falling out of bed happen) I find myself guiltily stepping back to take note of my emotions and feelings at the time for potential future use. Guilty because it can make one feel a bit like a photographer in a war zone taking a picture to share with the world before actually reaching out to help the individual suffering in front of you.

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Invisible Money

After reading my last blog ‘The Art of the Invisible’ (June 6th), a family member joked that offering invisible money for groceries wouldn’t cut much ice at the supermarket. This made me wonder whether one might try and blag one’s way past the ticket office for the ‘Invisible Art’ exhibition at the Haywards Gallery by slapping a few invisible notes on the counter and then showing your invisible ticket to the attendant. After all, invisible money isn’t much of a stretch for the imagination – my money disappears so fast these days it could almost be invisible. And, isn’t the world financial crisis largely down to banks lending invisible money that they never actually had to people with invisible means of paying it back?

As I stare at the blank page before me (as we writers allegedly do) I’m still thinking that publishing a blank book containing an invisible story isn’t such a bad idea. Perhaps the blurb on the cover would read something like this:

Between these covers is a story that will change your life. Autobiography, Science Fiction, Crime, Romance, this work transcends genre and defies classification. A story that knows no boundaries and is limited only by your imagination. It can be whatever you want it to be. You won’t need a bookmark as you can turn to any page and take up exactly where you left off. You can even read it in the dark. This extraordinary tale is available in every language in the world and can be purchased from all good stationers, or as a download from selected websites in a variety of electronic formats.

The other thing that is invisible and disappears almost as fast as money is time – so thank you for sharing yours with me. Goodbye for now, please do return soon.

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The Art of the Invisible

The Hayward Gallery in London is running an exhibition between 12th June and 5th August entitled ‘Invisible: Art of the Unseen’ which includes framed blank canvasses daubed with invisible ink and empty plinths and other similar works. People have to pay admission charges to see (or rather not to see) these works and are encouraged to think ‘where is the art in a work of art’. At school, I once forgot to do my art homework and handed in a blank sheet of paper telling the teacher it was a picture of a cow in a field that had eaten all the grass and mooooved on – all that got me was detention but maybe I was just ahead of my time? Perhaps I should send a blank notebook to this exhibition with an invisible story inside – some people may even be daft enough to part with good money for it.

On a more serious note, all this reminds me of a wise tutor on a journalism course I attended explaining that good writing is invisible. Readers should be so absorbed in the story that they are completely unaware of the writing. If their concentration is interrupted by a misspelled word, or a misplaced comma, or having to reach for their dictionaries to look up a complicated or unfamiliar word then the spell is broken and the pace of the story is destroyed. So us writers put all that effort into polishing our work in the hope that no one notices it – the art of the invisible.

Ah well, I’d better get on with making my next chapter vanish…

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