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
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!
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!
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
What 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.
Next, 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 Robert 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!