24 December 2013

Bribery and Corruption

Jenny Parker is having a hard time. She's desperate to take her baby son and leave her husband but can't afford to.

In the course of her work as an accountant, she undertakes a due diligence exercise and thinks she has uncovered some irregularities. She voices her suspicions to a colleague but he overrules her.

A representative of the company she's investigating gives her an envelope containing ten thousand pounds in cash. He makes it clear that this is payment for a positive report, which she knows is going to result even if she objects.

Whether she takes the money or not, the outcome of the exercise is going to be the same.

The money is enough to change her life, to allow her to make a new home for herself and her son.

What would you advise Jenny to do?

If you were faced with the same circumstances, what would you do?

Let me know what you think.

In the meantime, have a Happy Christmas.

Oh, and if you want to know what Jenny does, read Due Diligence. You'll be astonished at the consequences.

20 December 2013

Where's Jenny Parker?

I believe that setting is important for a novel. It can help add a feeling of authenticity to the story and provide a solid backdrop for the action. As a writer, I can immerse myself more easily in places I know.

That's why Jenny Parker is in the centre of Manchester to begin with, working as an accountant in a modern glass and metal building.

Her life is difficult enough as a working mother but further complicated by an affair with her boss, Martin, who's apartment is conveniently close to their office.

This, unfortunately, is as good as it gets for Jenny. Things soon change for the worse.

They say that you are never more than a few metres away from a rat. In similar fashion, the nice, comfortable, safe parts of Manchester are very close to the bleak, dangerous ones. And that's where Jenny soon finds herself, fighting for her life.

I find it very satisfying when I recognise a place I know, or have visited, in a book. It's often fun to make a point of visiting them just to stand there and breathe in the atmosphere, feel how a favourite character might have felt.
It's important to watch out for rats while you do.

13 December 2013

Point of View

People ask me what changed between the unpublishable Technical Difficulties and the very successful Due Diligence.

Two things.

First, me. I changed. By the time I'd finished Due Diligence I'd written four complete novels. I'd also attended weeks of writing retreats, attended regular writers circle meetings and been on plenty of writing courses.

The second big change is point of view.

The 'hero' in TD was offhand, jokey, unaware and didn't develop with the story. He was exactly the same at the end of his epic 250,000 word adventure as he was on the first page. I wrote in third person and past tense, keeping a fair distance away. This meant there was less chance of a reader to making an emotional attachment.

I decided to change point of view into one much closer and more challenging. If I'm not feeling emotionally engaged with what's happening, a reader can't be expected to be either. I wrote Due Diligence in first person and, to make it even more immediate, present tense. This is a very close viewpoint and not an easy one for a thriller. Everything has to be seen through the eyes of the one protagonist, there's no opportunity to fill in the back story or bring in another pair of eyes to broaden the scene.

To make it even more challenging, I chose a female protagonist.

Writing Due Diligence didn't come easy. There's no opportunity for automatic pilot, no chance of an easy run. And it shows. Readers are engaged by Jenny's plight, they want to see what happens next because they care about her. The plot unfolds with breathless speed courtesy of the point of view from which it's written.

So those are the changes. They've worked for me and reader response has shown they also work well for them.

Maybe, I'll write something a little more comfortable after I finish Limited Liability which will be my third Jenny Parker novel.

Perhaps I'll go back to Technical Difficulties.

On the other hand...

8 December 2013

Limited Liability

I'm finishing off my third crime thriller, Limited Liability, at the moment. It has to be the best novel I've ever written. I'm not just saying that out of misplaced arrogance, it has to be. It's required. I need it to be. My editor is being even more demanding than usual. Let me explain why.

My first novel, a SF thriller called Technical Difficulties was written in 2007/8. I had at last found a writing process that worked for me and was able to wean myself off crap telly to make time to write. For years (and years and years) I'd tried to write on a keyboard but I spent too much time tinkering and editing, fiddling about, changing the font, the appearance, anything to avoid writing what I wanted to.

In 2007 I started to write with a fountain pen. I just wrote and wrote. When I had a few chapters, I dictated the script into a voice file and sent it to a lady who transcribed it into a Word file. I not only had a method that produced results but I also had a built in incentive to write more. My novel was finished inside a year despite the time constraints imposed by a full time job and a family.

I sent Technical Difficulties to lots of friends and family members. They all agreed that it was amazingly good.

I sent it off to a professional SF editor, John Jarrold, who disagreed. He thought the main character was an arse and that readers would not be at all interested if he lived or died. John's preference was for him to die, quickly and painfully.

By the time I received this feedback I'd already written the sequel, Acceptable Behaviour, and was well on with the third book, Divine Intervention.

There was another, rather upsetting aspect. My main character, the unfeeling arse that readers hated was pretty much autobiographical.

It took me some time to come to terms with the fact that I'd written three unsaleable novels.

I did some courses and writers retreats, found a great teacher called Barbara Turner Vessalago, worked hard on my craft, joined the local writer's circle. And kept on writing.

My fourth novel, Due Diligence, turned out to be very different. I hired a professional editor, submitted it far and wide until it was published with the help of Stephen Leather, a very successful thriller writer.

Due Diligence has been very well received and sells very well. The sequel, Proceeds of Crime, is also doing well.

Which brings me back to Limited Liability and why it has to be the best yet.
LL is the first novel I've written knowing that it will be published. I have a readership out there waiting for it!

That's why is has to be very very good.

And it will be.

3 December 2013

Hospital Food

The word hospital has the same root as hospitable. This implies that you're welcome, stay as long as you like, it's what we're here for.

Hospitals don't want you to ever leave, it's their job to keep you for ever. Or at least until you die.

It seems to me that the economic difficulties that this approach of free hospitalisation brings are being dealt with by the cunning device of hospital food.

They're not allowed to kill you with medicines but they can certainly speed up your departure using food.

Of course, the whole of our society eats really badly. We're stuffing rubbish into our bodies on a daily basis. But that's our choice, if we want to kill ourselves that's fine. My problem is with medical care that fails to recognise the correlation between what we eat and how we feel.

I've had a sneaking feeling about this for a long time but only recently received evidence that supports my misgivings.

Here are two plates of food:

Pick the one you think might aid patient recovery. No, not the one you might prefer to eat! Just because there are chips on the plate doesn't mean its tasty.

Try these two:

Now compare with this:

I believe that hospitals have a duty to administer a bodily intake that's appropriate and conducive to our well being. They have an opportunity to demonstrate a healthy diet that will help prevent further illness. From the reports I'm getting, they don't seem interested.
If hospitals feed their patients stodgy crap, any patients lucky enough to leave without being dead are going to think that's what they ought to be eating.
It's a crazy world.


I'm on week ten of a ten week beekeeping course. After the classroom stuff, I'll be getting hands on experience in the spring. Or getting stung, as the experienced beekeepers so delicately put it.

Bees are important, they are needed to pollinate our food crops and they are massively under threat.

This lady explains it much better than I can:


It's just one of the many things going wrong with the world, I suppose. Like I said previously, it's easy to get discouraged and give up.

There is another way, though. Pick something you can do and do it. Even if it's as simple as being more mindful about what you consume. And plant some bee-friendly flowers.