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.
…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:
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