Divine Inspiration

I’ve got about fifty pages of yellow legal paper that have been sat on my bedside table, all of them relating to Harry Hicks’ backstory. It’s been in my head since I wrote it down three or four years ago, but it’s been ages since I’ve actually read it.

I’m looking forward to reading it, and I was just sorting through them getting the pages into order before I started to type it all up… when I found a page in amongst it all that didn’t quite belong. It’s just five simple pieces of speech, no narrative just dialogue, and it goes a little like this:

“I can’t do this anymore, Mary. I’m not who you think I am.”

“Who do I think you are?”

“Joe. The boy you grew up with. The boy who made love to you in that tree house. The man you married. I’m not him. I can’t be any of those things any more.”

“What do you mean? What happened?”

“That war happened! Those guns, the blast. All that blood. I watched my best friend die. He got a gunshot wound in the leg. He should have survived, but he bled out, died right there on the ground in front of me. All I could think was thank God it wasn’t me. Thank God. I felt so lucky. He was the lucky one. He’s already dead… we’re all still dying.”

I’d love to know what I was thinking of when I wrote this down… and why I never revisited it. I have no recollection of ever jotting those words down, but it’s definitely my messy scrawl.

I’m so intrigued by it, there’s so much history in there, so much story waiting to be tapped. I’m also a little unimpressed with my lack of imagination when it came to naming the characters – Mary and Joe? Maybe this is all that remains of a lost biblical epic.

You Never Forget Your First Draft

Last week I grandly proclaimed that I was aiming to have my novel finished by the end of the year. Now, eight days later – about 5% of the way through the remainder of the year – how am I doing?

It’s not going very well. In fact, it’s not going at all.

That’s not to say I’ve done no writing, just done nothing on the novel. I’ve started clearing through my bedroom, and started on the big pile of papers on my bedside table.

I’ve got a load of pads and notebooks, which I’ve used over the years to start bits and pieces, which I’ve never finished. I’ve always refused to throw them away because you never know when you might want to pick them up again.

I started digitising them this week, by typing them up on my laptop so that I can get rid of some of the clutter.

Lordy, there’s some nonsense there, though. The grammar’s all over the place, the story is non-existent, and the handwriting’s not too great either. However, there are some good bits (I’m particularly proud of a Meatloaf joke that I put into one piece) and if there’s only one good bit then it’s been worth doing this exercise.

I’m still making my way through the papers, but some of them include some of the material that I wrote three years ago for the sequel to Memories of a Murder. The plot has changed since then, but some of the elements are still there, so much of that is probably salvageable.

So, I did slightly under represent myself when I’d written 0% – assuming I can find room for that Meatloaf joke, I’m 0.03% done.

The Nicest Rejection Letter I Ever Had

I said way back in the first post on this blog, that I was doing it because I wanted to start writing again.

Specifically, what I mean by that is I want to start concentrate on my writing again. It’s not just about writing, it’s not just about story telling, it’s about trying to get Memories of a Murder published.

Having worked in the book trade for the last seven and a half years, you might ask why I haven’t tried before. The truth is, I have. I’ve just never done it to any great extent.

I have contacted a couple of agents that I’ve met, I’ve spoken to other authors and I’ve spoken to publishers. Ultimately, I’m in the wrong part of the industry to really influence my writing career – at least right now.

Don’t get me wrong – once I’m published, I can put my book in front of store displays in every WHSmith in the country, but before then, I need an agent, and then that agent needs to find a publisher who’ll take the book.

I have only spoken to a small handful of agents – literally, you could count them on one hand – and from all of them I’ve had polite rejections… except one.

Camilla Wray works at the Darley Anderson Agency – the agency which represents the likes of Lesley Pearse and Martina Cole – and a short couple of weeks after sending off some sample pages, Camilla rang me.

We discussed the book, we discussed plans for future stories, and she asked to see the rest of the book – I even rewrote sections of it based on that initial conversation while I was waiting for her verdict.

Camilla emailed me back with the best rejection letter I’ve ever had. Memories of a Murder was not the sort of book that the agency normally focuses on:

“I was thinking we could try and work on focusing the crime and bring it to the forefront at the beginning, but after reading your manuscript I don’t think this would be a beneficial thing to do and would be charging the essence of your story

 

I don’t think it is right to pigeon hole the manuscript in the genre and for me, Memories of a Murder is as a fantastic tale about families, deceit, greed and love. The murder is the crescendo of the story as opposed to the cause and pushing force, and it was important for me to recognize this.

Camilla’s response both encouraged and discouraged me at the same time. Here, I had someone finally telling me what I thought I had known all along – I’m a good writer – but she was still rejecting it.

However, as important as it is to get an agent, it’s important to get the right agent, and vice versa for the agent, it’s important to get the right book. Although I knew it, I didn’t really get it until quite recently. It doesn’t mean that the book is bad or that the agent is wrong, it’s just not a fit.

Camilla even went so far as to say if I ever wrote a more traditional crime novel and was without representation, then I should get in contact.

For the next couple of years, I started trying to write that more traditional crime novel, and a few false starts and some scribblings I wrote the first ten thousand words of The Killer Inside.

I don’t feel the same way about The Killer Inside as much as I do about Harry Hicks, though, and that’s partly why I stalled in my writing career. I was trying to fit into a box that wasn’t the right shape.

Maybe one day, I’ll finish The Killer Inside or something similar and I can get in contact with Camilla again – but for now, I’m refocusing on Harry and Memories of a Murder.

I Was A Teenage Fan-Gurl

Forget Harry Hicks and Memories of a Murder – have I written anything else? What follows is a brief, almost-complete list of other pieces that I have written – or attempted to write.

Schooldays Are Such Fun

One of only two poems that I have written in my career thus far, this was a piece of forced creativity from my English teacher – Mrs Walker. Every member of the class was given the heading ‘Schooldays Are Such Fun’ and asked to write a poem to fit the title.

I still remember part of me rebelled at the thought of poetry being manufactured in this way, and so I wrote a poem about a boy who was bullied all through his school career, an experience which lasted with him all the way into his adult life, and ultimately his suicide.

Mrs Walker praised me highly, and she gave it a reading to the whole class, as well as putting it in pride of place on the wall. The reason it’s important to me, is Mrs Walker was probably the first person to read a piece of my work and declare that I might have a future in writing – and from an English teacher no less. I was thrilled.

I’m sure somewhere, I still have a full copy of the poem – I know I published it to an old LiveJournal account some years back – but I still remember the opening (and closing) verse:

Schooldays are such fun,

Schooldays are so great

What could be better

Than anger, pain and hate?

 

All Rhyme, No Reason

One module of my coursework for my English Language A-level was to write an original piece of fiction of approximately a thousand words in length. This told the story of Mary and Steve and their new friend Luke.

The story is told from Luke’s point of view and starts when Steve wakes up in the forest ‘as naked as the day God made him’. That was literally the first line – and there were several other examples of these subtleties throughout the story which signaled the surprise twist that this was actually the story of Adam and Eve – told through the eyes of the snake.

Luke/Lucifer spoke only in rhyme, which was quite a fun challenge – and to write the story without revealing too soon just what it was about.

I got 98% for that piece of coursework, but even now I still feel slightly concerned that I tried to pass it off as ‘original’ when it was basically a rip off of the first few chapters of the oldest story in the world.

Into The Darkness/A Series of Unfortunate Valentines

For a while, I channeled my creativity into writing fan-fiction for Angel the spin-off of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, obsessed as I was at the time with the beautiful Charisma Carpenter.

I do still have these, and I likely won’t be sharing them, but my reason for mentioning them is that Into The Darkness – a piece set at Cordelia’s funeral where Angel is comforted by a vision of Cordelia herself – is probably the best thing I’ve ever written. Slightly cheating, as it relied on over eight years of back-story to achieve the emotional pay-off.

A Series of Unfortunate Valentines was a challenge I set myself, and tracked ten different Valentines days throughout Angel’s long history. My main challenge was to write this one man throughout his whole history in all his different moods, and I taught myself a lot about characterisation during that. But also, each of the ten sections was written in a different style, including one where – recognising early on my over-reliance on dialogue – that contained no speech at all.

Both pieces were invaluable in terms of teaching myself to write and I’m not ashamed of them, but for a while there, I was a FanGurl.

The Blue Continues

Several years ago, while watching The Curious Case of Benjamin Button I was so bored that I turned to writing poetry. The Blue Continues was partly inspired on the scenes I was being subjected to (truly an awful film, although a great idea). I do still have that, and I will post that in the near future.

There have been others, but these are probably the four most important ones, and almost certainly the only completed works in my catalogue.

The only other pieces in existence are half-hearted attempts at starting new novels with new characters. All of it is in my head, and much of it is in notepads and books that are lying on my bedside table.

Hopefully, they will be used again, in some form or another, because there are some great (even if I do say so myself) ideas in there.

Lastly, I feel like I need to end this post with an apology for my misleading use of the word ‘brief’ in the opening paragraph…

It’s Been Four Years!

 One of the reasons it took me eight years to write Memories of a Murder was because at the time of starting it, I was still in school. After that, college and then work – in short, life got in the way.

I worked in a shop and I got two days off a week – Sundays and a day during the week. I used Sundays to catch up with family and friends, which left the day in the week and evenings to write my novel.

To be honest, that day in the week was a write-off. I would sleep in until late mornings or early afternoons to recover from the previous long days, and I’d just want to switch off and do nothing. I’d end up just watching TV, or going shopping.

Then I got a job in an office, and suddenly, I had my weekends back. I was able to regain my energy, meet up with friends, and then still have some spare time in which to write. In short, I had a routine back.

Most of Memories of a Murder was written between 2007 and 2010, although the plot had been worked out prior to that, and in addition there have been some minor edits since.

Part of me now thinks – ‘It’s been four years! What have you done since then?’ and the truth is, I’ve not done much in the way of writing.

There are plenty of excuses, for a while I was a touch disillusioned with writing, I travelled to Australia for the best part of a month, I joined a book club, I met my best friend, decorated the flat and most of all work got incredibly busy. All of these led to more of my spare time being eaten up, leaving me less and less time for writing.

To be fair, there was still time to write, but with all that going on, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Writing is a horribly slow process, mentally – if not physically – exhausting. Even the most prolific of writers take six months to write a novel – on average, that’s about seven hundred words a day, assuming you get everything right first time and there’s no editing.

Taking the odd hour here and there was not going to deliver much quality writing, and so more often than not, I just didn’t write.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t write anything at all. While I was in Australia I managed to write about ten thousand words of my second book (there were a lot of planes and coaches involved!) and in the follow summer, I also wrote around five thousand words of Harry Hicks’ history – which may never go anywhere, but at least tells me more about the character.

On top of that I wrote eleven thousand words on an altogether new novel. Although, that one is parked for now.

One of my todgers (Incredibly popular Twitter game #ReplaceLodgerWithTodger invented by me. NB, may or may not be popular) once told me I’m too sociable to write, and maybe that’s true, but what’s also true is that a story won’t be told if you’re telling it wrong.

I made the assumption four years ago that Harry had led a successful life since the end of Memories of a Murder, however that created a false world, which made it difficult to pin down the motives of the characters involved. Now, I’ve realised that his life went down a different route and it’s helped me make sense of the how the plot progresses from there.

This realisation has coincided with a fairly relaxed period in my life, one where I’ve managed to pin down a proper routine. I’m finally ready to start telling Harry’s story again.

Storyteller, Storyteller, Tell Me A Tale

The obvious question that is asked by my previous blog posts is “Ok, so you’re not a writer, you’re a storyteller. Well, what stories do you tell?”

I have created countless characters and plots in my head over the years, that there isn’t enough space on the internet to write them down, but the one story that has dominated for me has been that of Harry Hicks.

The idea for Harry first appeared, back in December 2002, when there was a misunderstanding about something at a family Christmas Day meal. I’m not even sure what the issue was – but I do remember it bringing quite a frosty atmosphere on the day for some period.

That is until it was explained that what had been a perceived slight on one person’s part to another person was, in fact, completely innocent and not intended at all.

This idea that reality is dependent entirely on the perception of the person experiencing it was not a new one, but it was new to me at the time. I came up with the idea of a murder mystery which presented the facts of an event from various points of views, all the facts in the story would be presented, but they wouldn’t connect, wouldn’t be resolved until the end.

That idea bubbled under while I sat my GCSEs and then started work and college. Then one day, I was re-reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (pretty much everything I do will connect back to JK Rowling at some point or another) and it struck me, how intricately plotted and rich the Potter world was. Specifically, the mentions of Sirius Black and Mrs Figg in the opening chapters of book one, despite not actually making appearances in the story until books three and five respectively.

I was in awe. I wanted to be able to write some massive mind-bending complex plot that was both entertaining and impressive. Something, that with the last chapter of the last book tied up everything and referenced back to something from the very first chapter of the first book.

It was at this point that the idea of the murder mystery came back to me and the story of Harry Hicks and the Cromwells was born. Originally dubbed the imaginative Family Affairs this would be a complex novel with hints dropped in the very first sentences and red herrings littered about all over the place. It would take careful potting.

About eight years and over a hundred thousand words later, my first novel was finished. And it had gained a new name in the process

Memories of a Murder is my first fully-fledged novel and involves rising superstar Harry Hicks visiting his boyfriend’s family home for Christmas (about the only thing left from the very original idea is that it would be set at Christmas), and while they’re there, the patriarch of the Cromwells, Ernest is brutally murdered, with every guest a suspect.

I immediately started writing a second novel continuing the adventures of Harry, but that’s another tale, for another time…