Tag Archives: fiction

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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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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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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Stranger Than Fiction

This blog has been triggered by two unrelated items that talk about coincidence, or are they unrelated? Maybe something spooky is going on that drew me to two articles on coincidence in one week?

The first of these occurred in a late-night repeat on BBC4 of a documentary called Tails You Win: The Science of Chance in which Professor David Spiegelhalter explains that although strange to our human mind, which is forever seeking logical explanations for things, coincidence is statistically more likely to occur than we might think, with some types of coincidence relatively common.

The second article I found in fiction editor Beth Hill’s blog where she is pretty scathing about writers resorting to coincidence, suggesting it’s a sure sign of poor plotting and can quickly lead to a reader’s suspension of disbelief.

(See links below)

Coincidences certainly do linger in the mind and demand explanation and this eery but true story happened on Christmas Day 1987 and it still disturbs me when I recall it!

In the summer of 1987, my family returned to a holiday cottage we had found the year before on the coastal path in West Wales. It is in a beautiful and remote setting and was large enough to comfortably sleep 10 of us. It fulfilled all our needs for the foreseeable future and we planned many more annual stays there. I took a photograph of the cottage in all it’s glory with the beach in the foreground and the Preselli Hills in the background and was so pleased with it that I ordered two framed, poster-sized, prints, one for myself and one for my in-laws. Now, because I own the negatives, I can be fairly confident that only two of these framed photos exist, one hanging on the wall in my home in Andover and the other over 150 miles away on my in-laws wall in Swansea, which makes them pretty exclusive.

At precisely the same moment, 3:00pm on Christmas Day 1987, both these identical photographs fell off the wall and crashed to the floor. Nobody was near them when they fell, there were no earthquakes in Britain that day and no other pictures fell in either household. Then, to add even more mystery, in the first post delivery after Christmas, my father-in-law opened a letter from the owner saying that the family were banned from the cottage because of the state in which we left it. I was one of the last to leave the cottage and can say hand-on-heart that the place was in immaculate condition when we left, we’d even hoovered the carpets! Could a poltergeist have visited after we left and trashed the place? Was that same troubled spirit responsible for our crashing photographs six months later? Can they work their mischief simultaneously while being hundreds of miles apart?

SPOOKI don’t know the answers and confess I am baffled to this day. It certainly made me wonder about the supernatural, even though I tend not to believe all that stuff. But what other explanation can there be? What are the odds of the only two existing copies of a photo falling off the wall in houses separated by well over a hundred miles on the same day, let alone at the same moment in time?

If you have an explanation, or you’ve had a similar freaky experience to share, I’d love to hear from you so please comment on this blog. Professor David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk at the University of Cambridge, would also like you to share any strange coincidences on a website where he collects coincidences: there’s a link below.

Links
Here is Professor David Speigelhalter’s blog: http://understandinguncertainty.org
and his website for reporting coincidences: http://cambridgecoincidences.org

And here is Beth Hill’s blog: http://theeditorsblog.net/2012/01/20/coincidence-destroys-the-suspension-of-disbelief/

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The Next Big Thing

I’ve been asked to be the next link in a chain of authors answering the same set of questions on their blogs and author pages. Last week was Meg Kingston’s turn and her blog can be seen here: http://megkingston.wordpress.com/2012/12/11/my-next-big-thing_2.html Meg has written many short stories as well a non-fiction book called The Monster and the Rainbow about her experiences with disability, which should be read by all for its wonderful insights. Meg has recently completed a crowd-funded Steampunk novel, Chrystal Heart is to be released on 13/03/13.

So, it’s my turn in the hot seat:

What is the working title of your book?
White Van Man – although, as book titles seem to be getting longer and quirkier, it did cross my mind to call it: The Curious Incident of the 50 shades of White Van That Drove into The Twilight Zone

Where did the idea come from for the book?
Same place as a lot of my best ideas – in the bath. Also (shameful admission) I was a white van driver for a brief period in a long and varied career and my driving skills still live up to people’s low expectations!

What genre does your book fall under?
Crime.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
I wrote the first 50,000 words in November 2011 because I’d decided to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) but it took until February 2012 to complete the first draft. Since then I have rewritten and edited it four times during the last twelve months. It is currently with a professional editor now for a final polish.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
This is a tough question as I feel comparing my work to other novelists would be presumptuous of me. It’s easier for me to say what it isn’t: it’s not a police procedural, or a serial killer novel, or a whodunit. I’ve simply taken an ordinary guy who’s led a fairly sheltered life and dropped him into a criminal world where the life-skills he has acquired up to that moment are of little use to him. I believe the writers who do this type of story well are Robert Goddard, Peter May, Chris Ewan and Dick Francis and if anyone were to mention me in the same sentence as these fine authors I would be cock-a-hoop!

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I’ve wanted to be a writer since The Beatles released ‘Paperback Writer’ as it sounded like an easy job (how wrong was I?). I began writing stories in school exercise books and wish I’d kept them now. Early favourites that inspired me were Treasure Island and Kidnapped by R L Stevenson and the Biggles series by Captain W E Johns.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
As well as trying to extricate himself from gangsters, my lead character, Martin Blake, is also coping with redundancy, his wife’s infidelity, a teenage daughter, building a new business and, hardly surprising, some stress-related health problems. He could be the guy next door and I think he is someone to whom people will find it easy to relate. To follow the novel’s progress towards publication you can occasionally check my website at: www.robertdarke.com, or keep following this blog, or like my FaceBook page at www.facebook.com/RobertDarkeWriter

And we’re done, time to pass this blog-baton onto…
…anyone who wants to take this on and be The Next Big Thing!

Just let me know and I’ll update this blog with a link to you.

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Professional Editing

Today I printed off the first hard copy of my novel. It’s funny how you spot things in a hard copy that you don’t see on the screen. Even as it was printing out, I spotted the odd typo and spelling mistake that had somehow slipped through all my previous edits.

Once I’ve completed yet another edit on this hard copy, I plan to send the book to a professional editor to give it a final polish. It’s not cheap to use a professional editor and a few of my writing friends, who are considering self-publishing, wonder why I’m doing it so I’ll try and answer that here:
Every book published by mainstream publishers has been through a separate editing process performed by somebody other than the author: I don’t know of any author who feels that their book was not improved by the process – you only have to read the acknowledgements at the end of most novels to see evidence of this.

The simple truth is that I’ve invested a huge amount of my own time in this project and I want my work to be as good as it can possibly be to enable readers to get the maximum pleasure from it. I don’t regard this as an expense but as an investment in quality.

Even so, it is scary handing over something that I’ve been working on for a little over 12 months to someone else to criticise. I want them to like it but I’m paying them to pick holes in it. A speaker at the York Festival of Writing said that giving somebody honest feedback on their work is a bit like telling a mother that her newborn is ugly! So it’s fair to say I’m nervous about what they might tell me …

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The Magic Is Mostly In The Edit

Castell Coch

Remove distractions and add warmth and colour when editing

On a rare sunny day this November, I set out to capture a picture of Cardiff’s fairy-like Castell Coch (which is Welsh for Red Castle) surrounded by glorious autumn colours. Unfortunately, by the time I found my chosen location, the sun had gone behind the clouds and some of the trees looked distinctly bare! Also, although the view was beautiful, unsightly distractions like telegraph wires and lamp-posts spoiled it.

The photo on the left is ‘As Shot’ and, like some of my first drafts in fiction, it feels a bit dull and lifeless. The wonder of digital photography is that, just like fiction, with a few judicious editing adjustments, one is able to erase the distractions and tease out the richness of the colours to end up with the photo on the right. Those colours were lurking in the trees all the time: they were just hidden from view.

So if you feel the first draft of your novel, or short story, has too many distractions and lacks warmth don’t give up on it. Maybe all it needs is a few deft cuts and a tweak of colour to turn it into a masterpiece.

If you want to know more about editing first drafts then why not spend eighteen minutes in the company of my good friend and fellow writer Paul D Williams who’s done a Video Blog on this very topic.

Here’s the link: http://www.pauldwilliams.com/2012/author-vlog-day-6a/

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How Much Research Is Enough?

‘How much is enough?’ was once a question on an internal audit examination paper asking what is sufficient evidence to form an accurate audit opinion. It’s also a question I overhear writers asking about research. The short answer is ‘it depends’ but that wouldn’t earn many exam marks so here is a longer answer:

If you stick with the old adage and ‘write about what you know’ then you may not need to do much research. My novel White Van Man is about a redundant banker who turns to freelance deliveries. I have worked in a bank, driven a white van and Mrs D worked for a national courier firm so my research needs were minimal. On the other hand, if you know little about your subject, you may need to do a lot of research ‘up front’ to make your story seem authentic and plausible. I recently felt inspired by a TV documentary to write a short story about Kalahari bush men hunting antelope. I’ve never been to Africa and all I knew about the bush men was contained in a 5 minute excerpt from that programme. I spent more time leafing through library books and scouring the Internet for that story than I did writing it! But when I read it to my writers’ circle, two members of the group who’d lived in Africa said it evoked wonderful memories for them and assumed I must’ve been there. Their comments made all that research worthwhile.

At this year’s Hay Festival, Ian Rankin told his audience that he did no research until after the first draft was written because that way he knew exactly what he needed to know and didn’t waste any time researching information he didn’t require.

Some writers research up front, some at the end, and some say they write until they reach a point where they need to know something and then research it. Personally, I don’t recommend this last approach because it can disrupt the flow of your work.

So, either you know what you know, or you can find out what you don’t know. But it’s not that simple! Some novels suffer from what I call over-research-syndrome. This occurs when an author, having dedicated so much time and effort on research, is determined to work it all into the novel come what may: The result can read like a text book rather than a piece of fiction. Which brings us neatly back to the question: How much is enough?

The reader needs to have sufficient confidence to believe the situation described in the novel is as real as it can be but not so much that they lose the plot. A few telling facts scattered here and there is usually enough to achieve this.

Perhaps the biggest danger is what you don’t know you don’t know. I once heard P D James tell of a reader who complained about one of her early novels describing a motorbike reversing down a lane. Apparently, motorbikes don’t reverse down lanes (although I’ve not researched this!).

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