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THE STRANGE CASE OF THE ELUSIVE PLOT…

Don’t worry: this isn’t about me losing an allotment; it’s far more important than that. As background I’m currently at the getting my breath back stage with my new book The Shrewsbury Murders.

TSMcatalog

 

At the beginning of July I was at last satisfied with my own final edit and turned it over to a professional.

From phone conversations so far he’s liking it and I’ll certainly be making the changes he’s suggesting. Mainly they cover the need to set more historical atmosphere when it takes place long in the past, especially when outside the UK. He even noticed that in one part I’ve used nineteenth century words but more in a way they’d be used now! I’m still wondering how I missed this; I need sometimes to think more about the moment and less about dogged plot advancement.

Normally I tell him everything but on this occasion left out that I radically changed the main plot almost when I was on the last page. I’m not exactly ashamed of this but it has the ring of really bad planning and I knew I’d plotted it very carefully. So what, I wondered, was the reason?

I’ll give out no spoilers I hope but the original plot centred on the replication of a notorious series of 19th century murders in modern-day Shrewsbury. Most of the original planning focused on how to do this credibly. In addition I worked at how to get suspense into the modern setting.

There’s a problem here that I’d sum up as the temptation to write the same murders twice but with different characters. First I just didn’t want to do that; second it would be short changing the reader by taking an easy way out.

To avoid it I constructed a present day plot that begins as a fresh story that gradually and only at the margins introduces the new series of murders. It has its own dynamics and slowly starts bringing the whole thing together.

It was important of course to write some credible victims.

At a party late last year I got asked quite a lot about the first book and what I was doing now.  I said I was after victims, so’s to speak, and how useful it would be to get a few real potted histories.

To my surprise and delight some volunteers emerged when word got round and I found myself chatting in turn with about half a dozen guests. They were incredibly helpful and provided a range of personal information I could never have just dreamt up, and knew I could use despite of course protecting identities. And they wanted me to use it; some of them reminding me as the night progressed!

Now I had what I was looking for I pulled together various fragments and came up with my literary victims. I did not use everything I was told because the context often did not require it. I did so once though and I’m wondering whether those concerned will recognise themselves in the composite character. I think I’m quite happy if they do as long as no-one else does either.

The flow of the book improved with my confidence that thanks to the kindness of others I could now write far more credibly.

All went well until I had only about a thousand words to go. At that point I began to feel dissatisfied with what was coming out despite it being per the plan. It wasn’t that I was struggling with what came next; more that I was reluctant to write it.

I had no idea why, so continued but with a few different scenarios. One is a lengthy river trip sequence that replaces what would just have been a house party. I liked it for what it was but still nursed this curious sense of anxiety about the planned conclusion of the book.

I got to the last chapter and wrote a couple of scraps of dialogue that rang feeble, almost as if we’d come all this way to a very predictable destination. Maybe we’d changed buses a couple of times for variety but they still had the same number on the front.

I stopped and wondered what to do. My one inflexible rule is to produce a book that I’d want to read myself. This one hit the spot for much of its length but by no means all of it.

I’m not a natural sharer on such occasions but would have happily shared this if I could think of a way. But I’d pretty much need to get someone to read the whole thing. And that wouldn’t really work either because I needed to know why I was unhappy before I could do anything about it.

I don’t have a Fortress of Solitude and wouldn’t use it if I did. Instead I put everything away and had a couple of days not touching the book itself but just mulling things over while I did other things. I walked a bit in town, stopped for coffee, chatted, all the usual stuff. At one point I remembered I’d promised to deliver the MS within a fortnight and wondered whether I’d get anywhere close. Worse still, would it get shelved?

I didn’t want to even think of that. But I determined not to get neurotic, and not to give up hope.

I was still thinking when I went to sleep two nights later. Next morning, waking very early, I felt I was on to something.  I made coffee, grabbed a pencil and wrote it all down before I had a chance to forget it. I went back to bed, couldn’t sleep, got up and started the rewrite.

The real plot isn’t about the re-enactment of the murders at all, although they are an essential component. It’s actually about the reason the original murders remain so well known and notorious after more than a century. That is far more mysterious as an enduring mystery, and what better way to discover the reason than via a present day replication?

Relief surged: the rewrite was almost a pleasure and I delivered it a week later. But I’d love to know how, when I’d been living with the thing for about two years, I missed what my own book was really about.

Comments and any shared similar experience are welcome: I’d like to hear someone say it’s happened to them too.

What I was careful not to change was descriptions based on the information my kind party victims gave me. Not forgiving oneself is one thing; letting down a whole group of new friends would be quite another.

The cover image also remains unchanged and is attached to this blog. The text of the letter is taken from the novel.

 

 

 

 

 

BOOK LAUNCH AT THE SHREWSBURY COFFEEHOUSE (Blog Post Revisited)

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Until a fortnight ago I’d never attended a book launch. Sometimes I was in a hurry and just noticed one happening as I passed Waterstone’s or I’d seen them advertised and wasn’t much interested. And they were all of the turn up, buy, and get it signed variety.

A few months ago I was kindly invited to one. I was tempted because I would have very much liked to see the house – pretty much a castle really – and grounds. It belongs to an ennobled person I’ve met once or twice and who had self-published a lengthy book of poetry about his ancestors.

Like a spy in the night I did a bit of surreptitious checking and discovered the order of service. On arrival you received a conducted tour of the house and immediate grounds and then assembled in the library and were given one glass of white wine. The way I drink that wouldn’t have lasted long but that was all you got.

There would then be a speech by a quite well known associate of the author – many local dignitaries would be present it seems – and then the great man himself would talk about the book and read extracts.

While these were still fresh in your mind there would be a sort of shuffle to a table laden with his work and then everyone, and I mean everyone, would pick up a copy; pay for it – and with full colour illustrations these were definitely not cheap – then present it for signing and afterwards disperse.

Well, I did think about it but not for long. It might have been different if I ‘do’ poetry but sadly I’ve never been able to appreciate it much unless it’s something like Hiawatha or The Burial of Sir John Moore. You know: the sort of thing that stirs the blood a bit. But these – I had seen a few promo passages – were more introspective, contemplative, and without much rhyming.

So I politely declined. I was pleased to hear later it went very well; plenty of books were sold and the tour was lengthy, if a little chaotic when the guide lost her way for a while!

Then, rather like the number 27 bus another invitation turned up. Again the author, John Comerford, is someone I know slightly. His novel, which I have not yet read, is What Blind Customers and is available here http://bit.ly/YZIedm The venue was The Coffeehouse, a place I visit anyway where the service, coffee, food and most of all atmosphere hit the spot. I decided to go to this one; I’d know one or two people there and it would be good to congratulate John on getting published.

I met him as soon as I walked in. He didn’t know I’d got a book on Kindle and despite the hubbub insisted on looking at the reviews and reading the synopsis there and then. Quickly he was whisked away: he used to lecture at Shrewsbury Sixth Form College and there were many of his former students present, together with musicians, photographers, poets, and Rob Savage, a very up and coming film director. [Another candidate I hope for deciding one day he just has to film Project Overkill.]

John welcomed us all and very kindly included me in his long list of arts associated people there. He then launched into an excellent guitar / vocal section with one of the many talented musicians. Next came a former student who is destined to become an excellent stand-up comedian – I am so sorry I did not take a note of the names – and then there were more musical acts.

After that, selected guests read extracts from his novel – which I found amusing and clever and demonstrating a deep understanding for words and doubles entendres. There was genuine merriment in the room and the atmosphere was Let’s Party. I duly complied with a large glass of excellent Merlot; my companions wanted coffee and that was excellent too.

It went on with more of the same; the staff volunteering to extend their working day because everyone was having such a great time. Sadly I missed the final acts – including the excellent Chris Quinn whom I’ve heard and enjoyed several times before – because of time.

I remember Ms. J.S-C advertising a launch for Poker Face II which included cakes and freebies and free wrapping of her book as a pressie and wishing I could go, but sadly Northampton was an event too far at the time. It sounded like fun with a launch included. Which is exactly what this was: the author focused on guests having a good time.

So, if ever I have a launch I’m going in that direction. I would need to tap John for names of musicians and Ms. J. S-C for wrapping and freebie ideas.

But more than anything I’d want the guests to enjoy the party.

 

WRITING UNDER THE INFLUENCE…

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No, this isn’t what you think, although I must confess to occasionally having a glass of elderberry wine close by when I’m having a tough time with a chapter, which happens quite a lot! 

Instead, I’m talking about the influence of other books and writers.

First of all I don’t think it can be avoided, even when every effort is made to do so. For example I’m influenced in ‘my’ style of chapter headings. I like a date stamp and location, which feels a little weird if much of the novel is set in the same place. I’m not keen on chapter titles as such, probably because I’m not very good at them and always think that any I come up with are either meaningless or possible spoilers.

My date stamp / location thing I get from the later novels of James Ellroy, a writer I admire enormously. In his case it makes more sense as the books can move from Hollywood to Las Vegas to New York and so on. Mine are more static, yet still I can’t shake the habit. I only wish I’d been more influenced by, say, John le Carre´ who does an eminently sensible ‘Chapter I’ and so on, which at first and even second glance would be better for me. But somehow I’m stuck on dates and places.

Another thing I find irresistible is to occasionally switch tenses, with a particular penchant for the present tense. In the first draft of Project Overkill I went way over the top with this and can remember the many ‘phone calls from my editor that began “I am vexed by the number of times…” and so on. Many writers do this and I must have read quite a few of them because I liked it big-time, especially in action sequences. When I redrafted Overkill I axed huge chunks of Present in favour of its more sensible relative Past tense, and have not fallen into that particular trap since. I learnt a lot during that episode, which presumably is an example of undue influence providing a good lesson. [Alternatively it probably means never be excessively influenced by anyone else’s style.]

Despite the final sentence above I never use parenthesis in a book because I think it’s lazy. Many other writers happily and successfully use brackets but I will sit for minutes on end redrafting to avoid them. In The Shrewsbury Murders – still in production and which by now you’ll all want to avoid like the plague – I had a lengthy section I was happy with before realising I’d omitted one vital bit of information that I could happily include in brackets. I didn’t of course; instead I rewrote the whole chapter to integrate the snippet into the chronological narrative.

I discussed this with my editor: he rolled his eyes heavenwards and said ‘Why?’ I told him I just don’t do brackets and he sadly gazed into the middle distance. I’m not sure where this aversion originated, but suspect it was novels by Ian Fleming and Raymond Chandler, both of whom wrote clean narratives that told their story without add-ons or supplementary bits of information in brackets.

Speaking of Fleming he had a brilliant pen for short sentence description. My favourite is when he describes a dead body as looking like an empty envelope. Rereading a piece of Murders recently I found I have described one as looking like a vacant room. Not an intentional copy – I don’t do that – but clearly paying homage, and for better or worse I’ve left it in.

I also like those words and lines that you associate immediately with one character.  In Harlot’s Ghost by Norman Mailer you just know one of the agents is unpleasant because he is always telling people to ‘explicate’. So a character you like says something to this guy and the next line of dialogue is “Explicate!”, and you immediately visualise him. I’d love to have a try at that but haven’t got round to it. A famous one of course is “Shaken not stirred.” I don’t think anyone could get away with that but whenever I’ve been tempted to do something similar I get this mental flash involving Ms. J S-C. It is time for her annual thimbleful of wine and she approaches the quivering bartender with an icy stare and growls “Decanted, not from the bottle.” This has happened a few times so it’s her fault I’ve made no progress.

Some influences of course work in a different direction, i.e. you know you’ll avoid them all your writing life. Chief among them is those unfortunate individuals who are found in a pool of their own blood. This is so often repeated over the years through all kinds of media that for a while I used to think it was commonplace for folk to die in a pool of someone else’s. I would imagine hospital and police station situations where one gobsmacked official said to another: “Guess what? Today I had a case when someone died in a pool of their own blood! How often have you seen that?

Close behind are the poor souls who choke on their own vomit, as distinct from someone else’s. This time: “I’ve seen everything now! Someone swallowing their own vomit before some other sod could throw up all over them!”

Yes, I guarantee I’ll never use those.

Another device that fascinates me is multiple endings, where they are told from different standpoints with an epitaph to boot. I’ve no idea why, maybe it’s because having lived with the book so long I’m reluctant to finally let it go. Anyway, until some kind reader of this blog advises me otherwise I’ll claim that as my own.

So I guess I’ve come to the conclusion that given writers all read other writers we all get influences and play with some of them until eventually we find something that is actually us.

[I was of course tempted to write that paragraph with a date stamp, from three different perspectives, and add an epitaph. But instead I’ll just sign off until next time.]

 

ALAN SHAW – WHEN A CHARACTER REFUSES… (Blog Post Revisited)

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Before going back to it in the first week of January I’d last worked on The Shrewsbury Murders for a couple of hours on 23 December. It was hardly creative writing; more a stop-start exercise on a chapter that should have been easy but was now proving stubborn.

What bothered me most was the fact I knew exactly what I wanted it to achieve but I kept hesitating. All I needed to do for the plot was introduce an old cottage in Wales and the mother of Cassie, one of the main characters. Cassie’s mom Penelope was to be something of a forlorn figure, very unwell and plotted to die in the not too distant future. She was late 40s; pale countenance; lonely and overall sad. Like her antecedents she’d known a lot of men but ultimately none had wanted to stay with her.

The cottage came easily enough; I’d actually toured a former mine manager’s cottage during a trip to Wales in August and taken photographs. And I knew what Penelope would look like and pretty much what she’d say. But when I began to write her the oddest thing happened: the image I had kept being replaced by someone vivacious; unlucky, but still hoping for the best. And this person was in robust health with a sense of humour and a hard edge to her. I suddenly had great trouble describing her per the original plan. I could almost feel her behind me hissing ‘I’m not like that!’

So strong was this impression that I decided on impulse to write her in the new unplotted way to see what happened. I’ve had similar things before but only with major characters, and doubtless all other writers have too. I set about it and for the first time that day the words flowed well and the figure behind me relaxed. She’d become attractive, vivacious, and her ‘victim’ aspect had changed to that of someone who realised most of her issues were her own fault. She was also feisty and just a bit sexy. She was definitely not going to die of a ‘wasting disease’ as my plot overview intended.

I discovered she smoked rollups and enjoyed Mike Ambrose’s  cocktails so much she took his recipe for Dry Martinis. She also now had good rapport with Cassie who treated her more as an older pal than a somewhat estranged sick mother. She somehow got herself invited to Shrewsbury where the murders are taking place. The chapter also acquired a ghost that scares Mike but which she is matter of fact and almost humorous about. All this rolled off Microsoft Word as if I’d planned every detail. I felt I’d done the character justice but then realised it was ridiculous to write her this way when it tore up a chunk of plotting and removed rationale for what would happen a couple of chapters further in.

I’m not the most disciplined writer in the world but I’ve plotted Murders carefully and had no reason to interfere with a perfectly acceptable scenario. Writing the novel as planned wasn’t easy so why on earth make it harder at this relatively late stage? Much easier to stick to the original plot: credible in context and providing a neat way to reveal the cottage’s dark secret.

It was very late and I decided to stop and revise it tomorrow. I was annoyed with myself for wasting two hours or so for the pleasure of giving myself unnecessary grief. I had no idea why I’d done it and went to bed feeling distinctly low.

Early Sunday morning I fed the cats, chopped logs for kindle, emptied bins and suddenly had an idea whereby I could give the unwanted section a piece of additional business that would make the overall plot far creepier than my original. But I would still be left with a major structural problem. ‘Don’t be tempted’ I thought, but soon found myself putting the new words into last night’s unwanted section just to see how it read.

Like the other unwelcome words it read well. Nevertheless if I seriously considered keeping it I’d need a clear explanation for the new activities the chapter now contained. The ghost would be difficult but matters preceding it even more so. Again I just wanted to go with the original plot, but there was Penelope reappearing, wagging her finger and insisting she would not be merely an empty vessel; she had as much right to come to life as anyone else in the book.

I gave myself an hour to sort it out or go with plan A. By noon I still couldn’t square it but the new sections remained unchanged. I had no idea why and once again retired in confusion. We had lunch, watched a football match, went for a long walk, lit the fire, washed up; all the usual stuff. By six I was back at the desk and doing more research. If I kept the new stuff I had to find a way to justify the additional Mike / Cassie / Penelope activity and find a credible place for Pen later in the book.

An hour later I had it, and excitedly wrote it out in pencil on scrap paper. I slept better that night; did the final changes Monday morning and now have my cantankerous and rebellious Chapter 10 in the main draft. I’m happy and believe Penelope is too.

I still have no idea how it all happened and just hope none of the other characters decides to rebel. But I am sure, despite the risks of judging your own work, that what I have now is more interesting, varied and a better read than what I would have had originally.

So thanks, Pen: you’ve earned the right to grow wings and take a more permanent place in The Shrewsbury Murders.

I just wish I knew how.

 

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.

 

 

THAT ELUSIVE FEELGOOD FACTOR by Alan Shaw

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I’ve often moaned and groaned about not getting much time to actually write because of real life getting in the way [along the lines of Woody Allen’s comment: ‘If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans’].

This year, after months of intense on/off negotiation we bought a Victorian pile [Vp] that needed lots doing to it, only some of which we were aware of at the time. Much has been achieved, often involving visits by skilled folk plying their trade morning, noon, and night. We are on first name terms with all of them and have even speculated about annual reunions if indeed we ever cease to see them on a regular basis. There is more work to come although thankfully the worst may now be over. [The last time I thought that though there was a storm that night and much interesting gutter renewal work sprang into view.]

What with this and the social networking – which I enjoy – writing the follow up to Project Overkill is like one of those New Year Resolutions to quit smoking, drinking, and to exercise every day. You know; more wish list than declaration of serious intent.

The thing is I started to feel that even though I had my excuses lined up like ducks I still felt I was letting the side down. I felt bad about my lack of progress. Scratching around for a solution I had the brainwave of taking the writing where Ruby wasn’t allowed to take her love [Kenny Rogers’ Ruby; not Ms JS-C’s]. So I put it on the iPad and headed to town.

This began quite successfully but I would soon get caught up in the ongoing needs of Vp. ‘Can you come and move the car so they can fit the van round the back?’ ‘They need another spirit level and I’ve no idea where ours is.’ ‘You’ve got the cheque book and we need it now!’

This of course highlighted the fact that I wasn’t really playing the game by not being there. It wasn’t as if I was completing something where the final cut would be auctioned to an array of anxious publishers and the millions forthcoming would satisfy even Vp’s insatiable needs. No; I had to do the right thing and so again became home-based.

Despite all these fabulous reasons my conscience – never something unduly troubling – began to pace around my head and stopping to glare – in exactly the same way I imagine Ms JS-C to be doing because this copy is a bit late. Desperate measures were called for and I began a new regime of what one day I shall patent as ‘The Vampiric Approach to Completing Your Novel’. Put simply this involves freshening up late at night then working through with whatever legal stimulants you can find until you either finish or fall asleep at the desk.

I’ve certainly managed the former often enough but by using this method I have now recast and changed the thrust of a chapter that was somehow managing to scamper about in all the wrong directions, and I recommend it as a useful port of last resort.

The best thing though was the feeling of sheer elation afterwards. The weekend was full of Remembrance Day associated activity and despite fatigue I plunged into it with relish. My only mistakes were four double brandies after the Regimental Dinner and ordering an expensive and probably unnecessary new tie. But the Feelgood factor was with me throughout. Without my late night sojourn it wouldnt’ve have been.

Next time – provided Ms JS-C allows me on her boards again – I’ll be banging on about the importance of book covers and how being sure I know best represented pride going before a fall.

 

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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007

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