GETTING MY LIFE BACK

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Last Sunday I handed over what I fervently hope is the final version of The Shrewsbury Murders. The place was a pub called The Coach & Horses and the time was the start of Happy Hour.

No coincidence, that. After working on it all the previous week I was satisfied I’d done all I could. And boy, did I need a drink.

My editor Mike, a self-confessed pedant, asked whether I’d changed it much, or just worked through his suggestions from the first time he’d seen it. He’s a Cambridge man, and these dialogues always make me feel like the errant schoolboy who’s late with his homework.

“Well, I took nearly all your suggestions on board Mike. Particularly when you’d written things like NO VERB IN THIS SENTENCE! Or, THIS IS NOT OLD ENGLISH!

He nodded. He really did print those and several other pithy bits of advice in various parts of the MS.

“Much change in the word-count?”

“Yes: about seven thousand more.”

Silence while he swallowed, and then:

“SEVEN THOUSAND?”

This was said in disbelief, as though rather than producing something of 95,000 words I was giving him a tome a bit longer than War and Peace.

“Yes. I just wasn’t happy with some of Books 1 and 3. I’ve added to Book 2 as well.”

[TSM is divided in to three sections; each called a ‘Book’.]

“So I’ve got to read the whole thing again?”

“Well, be good if you could.”

I grasped at a straw:

“And thanks for redrafting the old English verse in Book 3; makes a big difference.”

This did little to calm him, and rapidly I caught Susie’s eye and signalled for two more.

An hour and a few beers later waters were calmer. He asked me if I’d done a blurb to help publicise it. I hadn’t, but have now. Proving I sometimes do not shrink from shameless self-promotion here it is:

     ‘The Shrewsbury Murders’ is the second novel in the Mike Ambrose trilogy that begins with ‘Project Overkill’.

     Near the end of the 10th century a famous Archbishop is finally laid to rest in Glastonbury, England. A few private possessions are buried with him. Later, when his body is being relocated to Canterbury some of these artefacts are stolen.

     In the late 16th century two friends meet in an ale house in London. They decide to embark on a journey together. As a result they make a life changing discovery, and later become bitter enemies.

     In Whitechapel, London a series of five brutal murders begins in August 1888. They are perpetrated by a murderer known as Jack the Ripper, who is never identified or caught. He is afterwards regarded as the first serial killer. Inexplicably his crimes endure in the public consciousness up to the present day.

     In Wales, following a German air raid in 1941the lives of each generation of a family line are marred by severe bouts of depression and dread. 

     In Shrewsbury in December 2011 Mike Ambrose, his partner Marcia and their close friend Claire Osbourn are hosting a Christmas party. An inexplicable occurrence at the end of it stays in Mike’s mind.

     One day they encounter Cassie, an almost penniless young woman who desperately wants to work. They believe in her and decide to help.

     Months afterwards a series of gruesome murders begins in Shrewsbury. The killer leaves a note signed ‘Jack the Ripper’. Incredibly, there are reasons to believe it may indeed be the same man.

     But that is impossible!

     Amidst the ensuing terror, happily fuelled by press, radio, and television Mike and those closest to him are themselves threatened, and have no alternative but to take matters in to their own hands.

     In doing so, they stumble on to a secret even more chilling than the murders themselves.

So there it is, and thank you for reading. It may be that Ms. J. S-C is congratulating herself on getting the world exclusive, but I doubt it. I’d still love to know whether it whets anyone’s appetite though.

But the very best thing about finishing TSM is the feeling of getting my life back. Waking up Monday morning felt like being on holiday. It still does. Once again there is time for tweets, Facebook, Tomb Raider, and best of all reading books by other people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

GOING UNDERCOVER by Alan Shaw – Blog Post Revisited! :-)

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GOING UNDERCOVER…

Part-way through what I hoped would be my final rewrite of Project Overkill the penny dropped that I’d need a cover. Even at that stage I was sure I knew the sort of thing I wanted but had the advantage of knowing an artist, and I approached her for ideas.

Cherie once owned a graphic design business in London and subsequently moved to Shrewsbury to open a delightful ‘individual’ shop where you could buy anything from unusual greetings cards to a dolls’ house. She was always busy when I went in but still made time for my doubtless gauche and naive questions.

When I outlined my thoughts she suggested I visit Waterstones and look at covers of titles of similar genre to my own. Excellent advice, but Overkill is intentionally cross genre before reaching its central plot. So I decided instead on a cover that would depict a scene from the novel. I wanted strong female hands above a computer keyboard, with a swishing black tail somewhere significant.

A week later Cherie produced an excellent working version of what I’d asked for and a few good reasons for why it might not work. Suitably chastened and knowing her life had recently become even busier I retired to lick my wounds and reconsider. I still wanted something from the book but this time felt a portrait of one of the main characters at a pivotal part of the plot would be right.

 

 

I Googled around; downloaded; retouched, and came up with this. I loved it! It was just right! This was Marcia at her moment of truth when her life would never be the same again. Full of joy and confidence I furtively showed it to a couple of people. ‘It looks a bit graphic’ was one response [even though I’d toned it down considerably!]; the other was ‘what is IT?’. I explained ‘IT’ was Information Technology; everyone knew that. ‘Are you sure?’ came the reply.

Suddenly I wasn’t. I needed advice again and by great good luck a friend knew a local graphic artist called Joel Stone. Hesitantly I contacted him and we met. After telling him my life story and showing the ‘IT’ cover he asked if he could read the novel to give him a feel for the content. It was finished by now and I sent it to him. He read it; asked a few questions; talked about captions and produced this. The monochrome effect would suggest night and duality and black and white was also very appropriate because there is plenty of both sorts of ‘magick’ in the novel. The pentacles were my idea I think but Joel engineered them perfectly.

 

 

 

I followed his suggestion to kick his cover around with the other ideas I’d had in mind and let him know the outcome.

Someone I know from my book club took a look and said Joel’s was the one she’d take off the shelf. I then showed the options to some friends and family and received no end of flack from my daughter.

“I don’t want my father having an 80s porn star on the cover” she said of the ‘IT’ image. ‘You’ve spelt ‘magic’ wrong said someone else, and was unimpressed when I explained it was the correct spelling for this book. My daughter’s partner, after I told him a bit of the plot and my early wish for a cat produced on his own initiative a selection of feline options expertly put together on Photoshop. I still have them as a memento; they are very good.

The heat went up. Like me, all of them are individuals with their own opinions. Someone walked out of the room in exasperation and my agent took me aside to patiently explain the cover decision was normally outside the talents of the author. That is why publishers have their own people to work on them before showing the writer their final decision. A third suggested that using the ‘80s porn star’ version would need a rewrite and that in no way would they want to be associated with it.

Ninety minutes later, feeling I was sweating blood, I asked them which they would choose from what they had in front of them. Unanimously it was Joel’s. I thanked them, genuinely, and at the same time promised myself I would never put myself through this again. If ever they read this they’ll probably echo the same sentiment.

Since publication the book has been reviewed favourably and people have told me the cover is memorable. It is. He was right. They were too. I wasn’t. The experience doesn’t tell me how anyone else should choose a cover for their book but it tells me how I should. Easy: go with Joel. That’s why he has me again for The Shrewsbury Murders. Here’s his latest blog about it: http://bit.ly/YEOV9G  Already it’s proving a challenge! In addition he wants to take me to task for my Facebook comments about The Dark Knight Rises so I may well be in double trouble when soon we meet.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! If Ms. J S-C has me back I’ll see you again early 2013.

 

 

Blog Post…Ohhh I’ve lost count! The number doesn’t matter. The fact that I’m having a chat with author, Alan Shaw, does though!

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Dear all,

This here is an introduction to Alan Shaw, author of   Project Overkill.  I have had the pleasure of reading Alan’s work and I can say I was completely hooked and, at times, properly freaked out too. On one occasion I was sure I saw a fly stumble across my breakfast bar (yes ‘stumble’) before disappearing into my USB port! It was late and the obvious conclusion to draw was that my computer had been possessed! Thanks, Alan!           

So, here are the questions I put to Alan, in an attempt to discover a little more about the man behind the thrillers…and because I have a sneaky suspicion you’ll be seeing a lot more of him around here. Here is a little pic so you recognise him 🙂

 

 

 So,  Alan, Can you tell us a little bit about yourself please and all the places we can find you socially (Don’t worry we won’t all turn up at your local :-D)

I’m an ex many things: accountant, civil servant, infanteer, Regimental Paymaster, Communications Manager, trainer, and PR type. Don’t worry I won’t go on.  Socially you can find me on Twitter  @Billypike  and FB at http://on.fb.me/OndS4S   I’m also on Goodreads, but still blundering about there so won’t bother you with the link.

I tend to hang on to friendships and regularly have boozy sessions with people I first knew in the 70s [I’m 102 by the way]. I’m also loyal, and manage to avoid most of the Seven Deadly Sins, at least on Sundays. I also used to love doing magic tricks and once won a competition at Butlin’s. My piece de resistance was making a silver coloured ball float.

 

Wow! How did you get from floating beach balls to writing? (If I had glasses I’d be pushing them up my nose right now and looking all News Night-ish)

I think I’ve always liked words; rumour has it I was reading at four. I also remember I liked going through the dictionary. Later on I enjoyed doing essays and I guess it kind of grew from that. I tried doing a novella in the 70s but gave it up as my job was intensive and I was studying for a law exam. And it remained like that, with very busy careers, until I chucked ‘em to write. I do envy those who produce novels while still working full time: they are made of stronger stuff than me.

 

Well I envy people who can float silver coloured balls, Alan!  What is it about writing that has you hooked? (I’m tapping my pen thoughtfully…and nodding. Might lean back in my seat and narrow my gaze a bit)

Hmm. I love assembling situations that fit the plot and deliver the best reader experience I can. I see a novel as an enormous jigsaw puzzle with very few straight edges. Also, I like researching the plot and use a blend of Britannica, Wikipedia, and reference books.

 

I totally get the jigsaw analogy, that’s spot on. So, how often do you write? (This incorporates my interrogation technique this question.  I got it from none other than Jeremy Paxman! ) Are you particular about when and where you get creative or can the writing mood strike anywhere, anytime? Where were you yesterday at approximately 4.35pm and, more importantly, do you accept responsibility?

Lol, I love easy single strand questions!

Not nearly often enough time.  Part of that is due to still settling into this Victorian house and dealing with the myriad of things that are planned or just crop up. Another is time on social networking; we all have that of course and deep down enjoy it – for example I’m enjoying this interview believe it or not. Another is everyday life; I’m sociable and enjoy conversation while I watch others fall asleep…

Creatively I get all my best ideas away from the desk. For example I was recently stuck on producing a credible escape scenario. I walked into town that day along the river and looked as always at the buildings along the opposite bank. Suddenly, based on what I saw, the scenario came. Another time, writing Overkill, the solution came while I was sitting on a park bench watching a fountain.  And the main plot of Overkill came while I was waiting for a train.

At 16:35 yesterday I was chopping wood. It was entirely my own fault.

 

Guilty as charged! Ha ha and, just so you know, I would NEVER fall asleep while you were talking! 😀 I’m listening, loud and clear, and wondering what you’re working on at the moment? (Just the plot, characters, title, manuscript – in windows 7 – would be great for my personal plagiarising purposes please.)

I think your questions are excellent and your comments in parenthesis have me lmao.

I haven’t shared plot details with anyone except my editor / agent and I haven’t told him much. I’m also not very good at this but here goes:

In the mid-10th century Bishop – formerly Archbishop – Dunstan dies. There is a legend that he triumphed in an encounter with the devil at an earlier time of his life. As a reward he received a secret.

London in the 19th century is a cesspool within a diamond.   Commerce rules and the poor go to the wall. During the autumn of 1888 a killer stalks Whitechapel. He becomes known as Jack the Ripper. He murders six women. The final victim, Mary Jean Kelly, is reported at the inquest to have been seen hours after her corpse has been examined by the police surgeon. No-one can explain this.

Two world wars occur. Between them certain events in Wales add a fresh dimension to an old mystery.

Shrewsbury 2011. A Christmas party offers clues to a series of events that will be known as The Shrewsbury Murders. Messages left by the killer suggest he is Jack the Ripper.

Part 2 of the Mike Ambrose trilogy begins.

 

Awesome! I’m so off to tell your editor/agent that I got plot info! Go me!  Are you a big reader, Alan, and what kind of thing usually takes your fancy? (My most normal question thereby illustrating that I am a good all rounder on the interviewing front. I can do normal, see!)

I used to be but now that I write I read far less than before. One reason is time but the main one is that I do not want to be influenced to go in directions that are not my own. Preferred writers are James Elroy, John le Carre΄, Ian Fleming, and CP Snow.

 

I can so relate to that.

Do you judge a book by its cover? (Now I’m being clever) 😀

No. I can be attracted by the cover but I judge by content. Covers are very important though because they form part of the reader experience.

 

Totally!

Do you have any mega writing plans for 2013? (Please note that although this is a closed question, ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ just won’t do! :-D)

Oui!

 

Ugh! Clever!

Are there any tips that you have found ‘writing wise’ that have helped you tremendously and that you might like to share with some of us other writer types? (Beware I will, from this day forward, claim all credit for the following tips, Alan :-D)

Do as much research as you can. It’s easier to hang clothes if you have a wardrobe. [Blimey, that sounds far too profound for me…]

 

I write in the hopes that one day I will be able to afford a wardrobe and something smart to hang in it 😀 

Finally, would you like to write a blog post here on a more regular basis, Alan? (Please say yes) And, if so, when can you start and what kind of exciting things are we in for???

Yes. My pleasure. I’d like to describe the course of writing The Shrewsbury Murders. Maybe once a week. Possibly other bits and pieces too. Does that sound OK?

 

That sounds fabarooney to me! I can’t wait for you to get started and thanks for sharing this here blog with me! Thanks also for being such a great sport, Alan, and answering some questions. It’s always great to chat to you! 

You too, and thank you Jess. I’m looking forward big time to PF2. And I wish I possessed your capacity for self expression and wit. You are definitely a bit of a Dorothy Parker.

 

Why, I’m flattered, and I don’t mind being a little bit like her at all! The good thing about my not being serious is that when you fall down a flight of stairs at a formal Christmas dinner for lawyers and barristers (I did this) and successfully manage to land right next to your chair, nobody is surprised! Better still; the most you get is a sideways glance, a hand, and another non-alcoholic drink!

 

Please do check out Alan Shaw’s current work on Amazon:-

 

 

And remember to keep an eye out here for how the next installment of thrilling story telling is progressing.

 

Thanks from both of us, guys! As always, your comments and likes are very welcome, appreciated and supportive like you wouldn’t believe!

 

Jess 🙂 x