Category Archives: Writing

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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Filed under Crime Writing, Fiction, Writing

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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Filed under Crime Writing, Fiction, Inspiration, Writing

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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Filed under Humour, Random, Writing

I Wouldn’t Start From There…

…or have told the story that way, or chosen that viewpoint, or said that…

We’ve all heard criticism that irritates or down right hurts us from time to time. And it’s always hard to take because even if you find yourself agreeing, it irks that you didn’t see it for yourself. Often it makes you feel like you’ve lost ‘face’ and have to defend yourself: in my writing circle from time to time I hear dark mutterings along the lines of ‘of course it’s just a rough draft’ implying that they would have picked that up themselves in the very next revision. This is wrong thinking by the way because it’s almost impossible to see your own mistakes; you already know what the piece is supposed to be saying, so you tend only to see what you think you’ve written rather than what you’ve actually written. So it’s best just to accept it and don’t be embarrassed.

At a recent writers’ conference workshop I attended, led by a published and talented author, we were all invited to read a short extract of our work for comment. In each case the course leader gave constructive and helpful feedback and delivered it in a most positive and considerate way. I found myself in complete agreement with nearly all of what she said. However, when one woman received this kindly meant feedback, she jumped up and yelled, ‘I get this kind of criticism everywhere I go. You people just don’t understand what my novel is about!’ Then she stormed out of the workshop.

Later, I found myself next to her in the coffee queue where she was continuing to protest loudly at her treatment. I couldn’t help feeling sorry for this woman. She obviously wanted to write and be read but if, as she said, she was receiving the same criticism everywhere, she clearly wasn’t taking it on board. I could have tried explaining this but I have a feeling she would just have started ranting at me too.

But if she carries on ignoring this constructive feedback, I fear she may never realise her ambition to sell her work (I was going to say see her work in print but self-publishing is so easy now that this is no longer the case). Such a shame. There is no doubt in my mind that some of my published short stories in national magazines like Best and Bella, would never have made it into print if I hadn’t listened to, and acted upon, excellent feedback from my trusted inner circle of first readers and my colleagues in various writing groups.

So if you’re lucky enough to find people who are sufficiently interested to give you genuine feedback then LISTEN and, even if it hurts, thank them politely, go away somewhere that you can quietly lick your wounds, allow some time and then evaluate what you’ve been told. After all, you will always have the final say and if you don’t agree well you’re in charge and you can just ditch the advice you don’t like!

UK Writers’ Circles

Cardiff Writers’ Circle

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Inspiration – Where do you find yours?

Signs
Writers often get asked where they get their inspiration from. The answer, in my case, is from the world around me. For example, I spotted these signs on the railings as I left the supermarket and it made me chuckle – there must be a story in it somewhere! Maybe it would go like this…

Someone eats too many portions of the ‘award winning’ fish and chips and gains weight. They try dieting and eventually turn to a hypnotherapist for help. Failing to lose as much weight as quickly as they’d like their partner starts to bitch and complain and they decide to go to marriage guidance and counselling but they suspect their partner might be ‘straying’ and so they decide to hire a private detective.

OK – you get the picture so I’ll leave you to take it from there – good luck!

If you’d like to share where you take your inspiration from then please feel free to comment below.

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Filed under Humour, Writing

Walking to Work

Musselwick-strollers

 

One of my 2013 New Year’s resolutions is to walk to work every day. This may
sound a bit odd because, now I’m a full-time writer, I mostly work from home.
However, I find that just moving from one room to another doesn’t really work
for me after being used to a lifetime of commuting. I miss that distance and the
thinking time it gives me. So, from now on, I have resolved to take a walk to
work every morning, whatever the weather, before starting my writing
day.

I’ve stuck at it for three days now, which is pretty good for a New
Year’s resolution (close to a new record for me!). I’m enjoying varying the
route each day and can make it as long or short as I like; it gives me exercise
and time to think and dream up new plots for stories; I also get to hear the
birds singing in the trees. Down side is everyday so far I’ve ended up in a
coffee shop where I take a break to sit and plan my day. This means I often
don’t arrive at my desk until 11:00 AM – but then there’s no one there to tell
me off for being late – that’s one of the best perks of being my own
boss!

Happy New Year

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