A matter of timing . . .

Strange times. Strange times indeed. Like the rest of the world I am largely in lockdown. Venturing out to walk the dog, heading into the garden for an hour to throw some weights around (I think the gyms closing hit me harder than the pubs).

I’m still working, although my regular crown and magistrates’ court beat is done and dusted for now – I’m largely writing stories about positive things people are doing for each other during the coronavirus pandemic.

Me with my book – A Garden of Bones

It is pretty much the only story in town at the minute, after all, and to be fair, people are doing some incredible things out there – from launching workout videos to help older people stay active, to donating masks and other protective equipment to the NHS, to cooking off all the fish and chips in their soon-to-be-closed chippie for the elderly and vulnerable and NHS workers.

It’s fair to say that we are living through ‘interesting times’.

‘May you live in interesting times’ is an ancient Chinese curse btw.

I’ve always loved apocalyptic fiction – from Stephen King’s The Stand through I am Legend, and Day of the Triffids, and if I can make any predictions on the back of all of this – aside from a baby-boom and an increase in domestic violence and divorce – it would be a massive spike in people writing ‘end of the world’ novels.

Might even do one myself. We’ll see.

But what is a bit of a dilemma as a recently published author – did I mention I’ve just published my book A Garden on Bones, which is now available to buy on Amazon? – is how do you keep the impetus going during such difficult and challenging times. And, actually, should you?

The answer, I have concluded, is ‘F**k, yes.”

I’m not in any way making light of the situation, really I’m not. But people are stuck at home. People are bored, crawling at the walls. I have never seen so many joggers running past my house. They need something to do, they need something to read.

To make it worse for people who love reading, the bookshops are closed, along with the libraries. Elderly people can’t even meet their friends to swap. I’m planning a book run to my mother’s house later this week – to effectively dump a load of paperbacks on her front lawn for her to collect later from a safe distance.

Problem is that I read a lot of crime, thrillers and horror, whereas her tastes tend to be Victorian romances/hard luck stories, and the only Victorian-based novels I’ve got in my collection are Fingersmith and Tipping the Velvet – and I really don’t want to finish her off from any other causes.

So she’ll just have to make do with Robert Harris and Jo Nesbo for now.

But I am pushing my book all the same, and next month I’m going to drop its price on Kindle to 99p for a week (other currencies are available, depending on where you’re reading this from in the world) and I want people to be able to access it and enjoy it (hopefully) at a time when they may be worrying about making ends meet.

Selfishly, perhaps, I also want people to buy it . . . although mostly I want them to read it.

Kindle, in many ways, is the answer for readers through this sh*t-show . . . at least until the electricity does. I AM JOKING.

It takes 30 seconds to pick a book, buy it, or borrow it, and download it.

I don’t think my timing was in any way perfect . . . I’d have preferred not to have put it out their days before the 21st Century’s equivalent of the Black Death . . . but it’s out there. Buy it, read it, borrow it, share it . . . please.

It’s available on Amazon at the moment. I’ll put it out on IngramSpart in a few months, but I’m waiting until the libraries to reopen for that one.

Another step closer . . .

I’m hoping that the initial artwork will be arriving over the weekend, and to be honest I’ve been incredibly vague about what I want . . . because I don’t know what I want.

I know what I don’t want.

I don’t want a shadowy detective standing in a snow-filled forest.

I don’t want photographs of Susan and Christopher Edwards . . . that would be too ‘true crime’.

“Something a bit abstract,” was all I could really come up with.

Not the sort of book cover I want

I’m working with the fabulous Liam Relph to produce my book covers, and he was an absolute find.

Apart from his artwork – check him out on Reedsy – which is diverse, he has a sense for the abstract. What sold him to me was his promise to read the book. Sounds an odd thing to say, but most of them don’t. And then he came to me with real enthusiasm and a hundred questions . . . because he was genuinely interested and enthusiastic. I’ve talked about Liam in my last post, so I won’t go on, other than to reiterate the learning curve of going it alone.

Through this process, when I finally took the decision to be in charge of my own destiny as a writer; when I decided to move away from that notion of conventional publishing, I effectively had to become a small business.

I had to become my own PR and marketing department, my own accountant, my own project manager. And one of the keys to successful small business, I have learned, is that you need to hire in expertise.

I also don’t really want her on the front

Back in my pre-independent days, I truly never gave this any thought. It would just happen, right? Well yeah, it would . . . to a greater or lesser extent. You may get consulted on covers, but you wouldn’t have the final say, or perhaps not any say at all, because now it was the publisher’s book, not yours.

Would they even ask you about typesetting? Don’t know, but I doubt it.

And then to the editing. When I had lunch with my then agent one thing he said really struck me.

He said: “Of course, this is just the start,” After I’d worked through the night to make all the final amendments he wanted to get it out ahead of some of the bigger book festivals. “Once one of them bites, they’re going to want to appoint their own editor, to pull it around until it’s the book they want.”

With hindsight, I should have said, “Fuck that,” then and there. Because all they want is Inspector Morse and Harry Hole, or any one of a handful of other templates. What works? Just keep churning it out. More of the same, more of the same. Get it in the bookshops at the airport for that extra push.

Books bought at Heathrow and abandoned in hotel rooms all over the world, or left, finished, soaking up pool water in the fading sunlight until the artwork fades.


And that’s not the route I want.

I will share the initial designs when I have them.

Light and shade . . .

When I discover an author I tend to go all out with him or her. My recent discoveries have been Shirley Jackson, Sarah Waters, Donna Tarrt and Patrick Süskind.

I’m not always that highbrow, it has to be said. A couple of years ago I discovered Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole series and – following advise not to bother with the first two ‘because they’re crap’ – started with the third novel and read nothing else for the best part of a year until I got to the end.

There’s a new one out which I haven’t read, but it will probably be next on my list . . . unless something else catches my eye.

I did go back to his first two, after I stumbled into them in a bargain bookshop in Buxton. They’re not crap. They’re just not as good as the rest of the series.

And the reason, I think, is that they lack darkness. A crime novel set in Oslo, where it’s dark from 2.30pm in the afternoon, automatically adds a hell of a lot of mood . . . of weight.

If you set your first novel in Sydney and the second in Bangkok – as he does – then the sun is out, the light nights are late, and you have no real way of creating any sense of ‘Noir’.

I can see why he did it. He was new to it, and the notion of exotic foreigh locations must have appealed. Only it was counterproductive to the overall impact of the books. If it had been set in some winter-filled world, interspersed with the intrusion of neon street lighting, freezing smack addicts and the heavy weight of snow on the ground like an intrusive blanket, then the Bat and Cockroaches would have worked as well as all the others. It is a journey of discovery, I have come to realise..

As a writer, and as a reader I am drawn to darkness. I don’t just read crime. My tastes are fairly eclectic. 

But all the same, give me darkness, give me noir.

Give me Dark Materials over Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, give me Perfume, give me Secret History. Whatever the genre, darkness for me opens up the human condition. It makes us explore what is most wrong with us, by exploring characters in works of fiction who have the most wrong with them.

I mean . . . come on . . . who wants to read about people like the ones who live next door . . . unless they’re Bill and Pat Wycherley.