Thursday, 31 December 2009

Best night of the year*

Here we are again, folks, another year flown by and a new one set to wipe the slate clean. MrsQ is working till about 1opm, so I'm off with the kids to our friends' house for a few snifters, and MrsQ will join in the fun later.

There's something fantastic about New Year's Eve, and it's long been my favourite night of the year*; it's a time for realising the true value of family and friendship, and for putting whatever crap life has thrown in your general direction behind you.

I'm quietly excited about 2010 - big plans, great opportunities - and plenty to look forward to. All the very best to those of you who kindly drop by to read my ramblings and I hope the coming year delivers everything you want it to.

Right, kids, let's party...

See you all next year!

(* a quick note - obviously, the best night of the year is my wedding anniversary, closely followed by MrsQ's birthday and the birthdays of the nippers. So NYE is now, in fact, about the fourth or fifth best night of the year. How times change...)

Monday, 28 December 2009

A look back on 2009

The thing about to-do lists is that they contain jobs that, well, have to be done. Anyone who knows me knows I like a good list. That's not to say that I'm any good at getting through them, but they sure are pretty to look at.

When 2009 arrived, I posted a list for the year on this here blog. It was ambitious, certainly. But I felt good about it. Twelve months down the line, and it makes for difficult reading; going through point by point makes me wonder what the hell I've been doing for the last year.

Have a shufty:

1. Send The Manx Giant to publisher. First draft is completed, work on second draft to start tomorrow, anticipated to be ready by January 31. Publication due for late 2009.
Done and dusted. Good start, although the time taken to complete the book had a knock-on effect on other projects, as you'll see...

2. Finishing touches to young adult novel, working title Quackenbush, polish submission package and start hitting agents. Submissions to start April/May.
Ah. Yes. Hmm, let's leave that one for now. Suffice to say, big fail.

3. Finish text for Nemesis Publishing website, and set up associated blog, which will be a warts-and-all look at getting a small publishing business off the ground from scratch. Website and blog should be up and running by mid-January.
Yes and no - the Nemesis website has been designed, but text has not been finished. Blog is up and running, although updates over the last few months have been scarce. Must do better.

4. Publish first edition of Vertigo short story anthology through Nemesis. Currently working with authors on edits for selected stories, publication due November 2009.
Close, but no cigar. The stories have been edited, the design completed (other than a few minor tweaks), and publication is set now for March/April. There was a reason/excuse for not hitting deadline - we agreed to publish a book for our local school, which celebrated its 175th anniversary, and this book was indeed finished and is now on sale (proceeds to the school). It was, however, slightly more complicated than expected, hence the delay on Vertigo.

5. Once Quackenbush is out doing the rounds, launch into next novel, the working title for which is Mr Stone. Aim is to have first draft of this completed by end of the year.
Another big fat fail. I did write a thousand or so words back in June, but Mr Stone still lurks patiently inside my brain.

6. Complete a batch of short stories and submit to magazines/anthologies/competitions. I’ve never focused on the short story format, but looking forward to the challenge.
Yeah, right. No chance. Moving swiftly on...

7. Develop script ideas – three in the melting pot, including two collaborations. Would like to have first drafts of two of the three finished by the time we’re singing Auld Lang Syne again.
Was I stoned when I devised this list? There was more chance of me getting round to clearing out the garage, which, as Mrs Q can tell you, is another constant on the house to-do list.

8. Lose two stone in weight. No, I won’t be cutting off a leg. A daunting peek at the scales on Dec 31 told me I was the heaviest I’ve ever been, period. With the big four oh just 15 months away, I want to be down to my fighting weight by April 4, 2010. Hitting 40 is going to be challenging enough for my state of mind without looking like this.
Hellfire. What was I thinking? The only good news about this is that, at last count, I'm a few pounds lighter, not to mention the fact that I have another three months before the day of reckoning.

So there you go. Not a particularly good strike rate. Yet as disappointing as the above might be, I can't be too harsh on myself. The last twelve months has seen The Manx Giant hit the shelves and the first book published over at Nemesis, while it's been a cool year for Family Q, not to mention a good and busy year over at Isle of Man Advertising & PR.

I've also been an occasional panellist on the Litopia After Dark podcast and I'm in the final throes of edting the first issue of the new Litopia ezine, Muse. So it's not as if I've been sat on my backside watching crap on TV.

Early in January I'll be posting my list for 2010, for which I will try to rein in my optimistic tendencies. Won't work, of course.

All the best for 2010 to those who stop by this blog, and here's hoping the coming year brings what we're all looking for.

Cheers!

Friday, 11 December 2009

In the beginning...

There's something stirring over at Litopia. Something sleek and beautifully formed...

A while back, one of the members suggested pooling our writing energy into producing an ezine, a platform where we could share ideas, advice, interviews, reviews and short fiction with others of the writerly persuasion. There has been plenty of scurrying behind the scenes in recent months, as first an editorial team was chosen, then a name for the mag, followed by design and layout and, finally, the content for issue one was drawn up.

The end result will appear at the end of January 2010, when the first issue of Muse will be distributed via email and be available for download at Litopia.

For some reason I still can't quite comprehend, the editorial team asked me to take on the role of editor for the first issue, which was a privilege I was only too keen to accept. Each Muse will have a theme running throughout, and each will contain a corner dedicated to a particular genre. It being the first issue, and it being the start of a new year, we've gone with 'beginnings' as the theme, and I've chosen crime as the genre focus.

My spare time over the next few weeks will be taken up with Christmas partying, eating turkey and editing articles for Muse, in addition to penning a few too. It promises to be a fascinating first issue - we have main interviews with Lee Child and RJ Ellory, not to mention contributions from the likes of Bernard Cornwell and MG Harris.

I had the pleasure of interviewing both Lee and RJ, and very different experiences they were - I had to phone Lee in New York and rapid fire the questions across in the space of half an hour, and with RJ we fired Q&A back and forth via email over the space of a couple of weeks. Both have some fascinating insights and views into writing and publishing, and their respective backgrounds in writing couldn't be more different.

There will be columns, articles, publishing news, reviews, cartoons and a Q&A/agony aunt column with a Stig-like mystical guru, whose identity is so closely guarded that nothing short of a £50 bribe will reveal it.

The bottom line - if you're a writer, Muse is a must. But it's not just for writers; if we do our job right, it will provide a cool insight into the publishing world for those voracious readers among you.

I'll blog more about Muse as the deadline, and publication date, approach. If you want to get on the distribution list, drop me an email at johnquirkbooks(at)gmail.com and I'll do the rest.

Cheers

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Indecision is getting me down. I think.

I've been feeling a bit flat over the last few days. In fact, it got so bad on Sunday night that I powered down the laptop at 9.35pm and told Mrs Q that I was off to bed. I've not seen a look on her face like that since I told her I'd mopped the bathroom floor, and that was three years ago.

I was struggling to put my finger on it, the reason for this flatness. I was tired, but that's not usually enough to cause my energy levels to shut down. At first, the only thing I could attribute it to was the fact that The Manx Giant was out in shops, and after the buzz of Saturday's book signing at the Lexicon, I was coming down from a literary-induced high.

The hole in this theory is that I have another signing this Saturday (Dec 12 - Waterstones, 1,00pm to 3.00pm if you're passing) and there's good coverage in local press and on the radio (you can have a listen to one of the pieces here - Wednesday shows, Shiaght Laa, 11 mins 45 secs in, lasts for nine minutes). So the buzz is still there.

It hung around me like a dirty big rain cloud for a few days, until it finally became clear to me on the drive into work this morning.

With the Giant done and dusted, I'm now free of writing commitments for the foreseeable future, other than the occasional freelance piece for magazines. After four years focused on first The Manx Connection and then the Giant, I can now turn my attention to the itch that will not go away - fiction. So, with a host of projects at various stages of development, you'd think I'd be ecstatic and raring to go.

If only it were that simple. The truth is, I don't know what to do, at least for now. If anything, I've got too many options and I can't see the wood for the trees. Do I jump right back in at Quackenbush, the young adult adventure, which is about 8,000 words away from completion of first draft, but the mother of all edits away from actual completion? Or do I tackle Mr Stone, the literary-fiction-turned-conspiracy-theory-thriller that I've been unable to dislodge from the back of my mind for many months? Or, do I return to the original itch - crime fiction, and a couple of starts I've made in that genre?

There are others, but those are the ones leading the torment of my poor mind. Quackenbush is the obvious answer. However, it needs such a major rewrite and edit and the thought of tackling it is, at this moment, rather terrifying. That said, the first draft is so bloody close to being finished, surely it makes sense to carry on?

Mr Stone is an intriguing idea and, in terms of pitching it to agents/publishers, could be the one to raise an eyebrow or two. Yet since I started taking writing seriously, crime has always been the genre in which I wanted to make the breakthrough. And that's not all.

If a writer is good enough, and lucky enough, to snag a deal with a publisher, the chances are they will have to continue to write in that genre; for example, if your debut novel is a dark crime story about a character with great series potential, you can be pretty sure your second - and third - book will be a dark crime story. Unless you are supremely talented with a strong followng already hanging on your every word, you won't suddenly be able to write a comedy sci-fi and expect to have it published.

So I find myself wondering what kind of books do I want to tie myself to, at least for the foreseeable. That probably all sounds very melodramatic; let's face it, the chances of selling the first manuscript is very slim, at best. And to do so before you have your second and third books (in any other genre) finished is so slim as to be barely visible.

So earlier tonight I told myself to wise up and stop being so damn precious about it. I do need to take a commercial viewpoint on all this, because at the end of the day an agent wants to read something he or she knows can be sold. But I can't beat myself up about it. I need to make a decision, and start writing. Sooner or later, I'll reach the end. And that's when the hard work really starts.

Now, about that decision...

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Mulled wine, mince pies and lots of tasty book sales

In two days' time, I should have my mits on the first few copies of The Manx Giant: The Amazing Story of Arthur Caley, as it's been christened. I've been in that weird pre-publication limbo for the last few weeks, during which you experience two emotioins - first, you can't quite believe that something that has been a huge part of your life is finally over; second, you look back at what you've done and can't seem to remember writing huge sections of it.

For those of you chomping at the bit to read the book - wife, mum and dad, maybe the odd sibling and aunt and uncle - there are two signings arranged, the first at The Lexicon on Saturday, December 5 (2.00pm-4.00pm) and the second on December 12 at Waterstones (1.00pm-3.00pm), a few doors along Strand Street in Douglas.

With town full of Christmas shoppers unsure of what to spend their hard-earned on, Mrs Q is pulling out all the stops for the Lexicon and putting on mulled wine and mince pies. Now, I'm not for one minute suggesting that the only people who are going to get their hands on wine and pies are those who put their hands in their pockets and buy the book. I'd never stoop to that sort of tactic. Mrs Q might, but not me. I'll just keep my head down and scribble away. Best just to nod and do as she says, so let that be a warning to you.

We might have the mulled wine and mince pies for Waterstones as well, just need to run it past the store. Not sure what their policy is on such things...

I'm also hoping to set something up at the Manx Museum before Christmas, but not sure what format that will be yet. Just so long as I don't have to spend too long down in that National Folk Gallery, where Caley's boots and the casts of his hand are on show. Always was a damn spooky place down there. All those mannequins, and not one of them Kim Cattrall.

One final note - if you are really stuck for something to do on December 5 and 12, and fancy stopping by to keep me company, don't all come down on the same day; spread yourselves out a little. Otherwise I'll be sat there like a spare part talking to myself.

Oh, and another final note - if you can't make it, and need to buy a load of copies as Christmas presents, the book should be available online from the Manx Heritage Foundation website in a week or so.

Cheers

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Drawing inspiration from evil buttons


Earlier this evening, I read the last page of a book, closed the cover and sat back, unsure of what to do next. There was plenty to get on with - emails to send, stories to edit, design and layout to finish for Vertigo, website text to sort for Nemesis Publishing - but all I wanted to do was write.

I've read two books this last week, while Mrs Q and I and the kids have been on a week's break at Center Parcs. The first was John Connolly's new one for kids - The Gates - and the second, the one I finished this evening, was Coraline, by Neil Gaiman, which has been around for several years.

Both books are superb - I'll post a review of The Gates soon on this blog - but it was Coraline which left me perched on the end of the couch, unable to do all those things that needed doing.

It's one of those books that can't help but inspire a writer to, well, write. It is simplistically brilliant, and that's not a backhanded compliment.

As someone who is working through several ideas for children's books, it is one of the most inspiring books I've read in a long time. Man, those buttons. Creepy is not the word. I really must get round to reading The Graveyard Book. It's even better, so I'm told.

In other news, the publisher of the Manx Giant biography emailed tonight to say the book should be in our hands by the end of next week, which is cool, and an email came in while I was running around, trying to protect Center Parcs from Junior Q and Baby Q, inviting me to give a talk at the Celtic Congress season of winter talks, for March. I don't know much about the Celtic Congress, but it's always nice to be asked to such events, and a chance to promote the book.

But that's one for the future. Right now I'm off to try and forget about those bloody buttons.


Wednesday, 14 October 2009

The tallest man in the world!


It's been quiet on the writing front recently, with all attention focused on Nemesis Publishing and the first two books, which need to be with printers within next couple of weeks. But behind the scenes things keep ticking over.

The Manx Giant is at the printers, and the publisher - the Manx Heritage Foundation - fired across the cover to give me a sneak preview. It's not what I was expecting; to be honest, I'm not sure what I was expecting, but something a little less colourful and more along the lines of the previous biography it published, of Henry Bloom Noble.

But I think this works - it's certainly eye-catching and captures the circus that was Arthur Caley's life. The book should be on shelves around the middle of November, and over the next few weeks we'll be firming up details of signings and talks, with one talk provisionally booked for Douglas Library.

First up, we need to get a 7ft 11in foamboard cut-out of the Manx Giant produced. He's coming to the signings and the talks with me. It'll help take the focus off my ugly mug.

As for other writing, everything is on hold till mid-November. I'm knackered, and once the Nemesis books have been done and dusted, I'm collapsing in a corner with a shedload of DVDs, a crate of beer and a tonne of popcorn. Bliss.

Oh, and Caley wasn't really the tallest man in the world. But it made you look...


Friday, 11 September 2009

Giants, Vertigo, that man Pelecanos and Manx comedians

It's been a while. Almost a month, which is scary. And I'm not sure where to start. So, let's keep it simple. A list:

  • The Manx Giant is.... (drum roll, please) finished. At long last. The final draft went off to the publisher on time, a turn of events that left Mrs Q's flabbers somewhat ghasted. I still have to write a short bio for the book, and been asked to tackle the back page blurb, and there's an overview of the book to submit for another website, but, by and large, I can sleep easy at night, knowing that Mr Arthur Caley is the worry of the publisher for the next few weeks, at least until the publicity for the book kicks in early November.
  • Attention turns now to Nemesis Publishing, with design and layout moving along for both the Arbory School 175 years book and the first edition of the Vertigo anthology, plus two submissions to read and respond to. I'll be updating that blog over the weekend...
  • Which is what I'll also be doing for the 113 Supposedly Greatest Books Ever Written - I've finished Treasure Island and The Handmaid's Tale since the last post (The Maltese Falcon). Need to pick the next book.
  • Book reviews for this blog - miles behind. Reading John Le Carre's A Most Wanted Man at moment, having finished Chris Ewan's Good Thief's Guide to Amsterdam, with a view to reviewing his latest, Good Thief's Guide to Paris soon. Chris is starting a crime reading club in the Island, first meeting at the end of September, and the book choice is Chandler's The Big Sleep, which I need to read again before the meeting.
  • Topping all those books, however, and with all due respect to those authors, a review copy landed on my desk yesterday, from one of those writers for whom I'll happily drop everything (within common decency, of course). The author - George Pelecanos. The book - The Way Home. I'm going to try and make George wait for a few weeks. It won't be easy.
  • Somewhere in amongst that lot I've got two magazine articles to write in the next five days or so, one an interview with Manx comedian Rob Heeney, who rumour has it is returning to his roots in October for a couple of gigs. If I can catch him in between gigging and playing tennis, I'll let you know all about it.

Right, think that's all. Sure I've forgotten something, but as you don't know what it is, it doesn't matter.

Till next time.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Kayaking with sharks and other exciting adventures

I've barely written a word in anger for ten days. It was The Little Madam's birthday last week, and then her christening on Sunday just gone, and Mrs Q's family invaded The Rock to mark both momentous occasions.

It was a great few days - a night out for a Chinese, trips on the steam and electric railways (not that I actually got to go on a train...) and a kayaking trip around Peel Castle and up the coast, where I got to see my first ever basking shark when it swam under our kayaks. At least a fifteen-footer. The christening itself went well - Mrs Q was also dunked - and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves at the celebratory nibbles and drinks afterwards, and we rounded the night off with a barbecue and several beers. A couple of days (and a Scrabble defeat to my mother-in-law; I'll never hear the last of it) later, and the shenanigans were over.

The only problem with all this revelry and general excitement was that a couple of days before it all kicked off I heard back from the publisher of The Manx Giant after I'd asked him to give me a final deadline. He told me he needs the final draft by September 5, which means I want it finished by August 31 to allow me a few days to review and tweak. So through all this fun, I've had one eye on the fact that date is drawing ever closer.

There are eighteen days left, including tonight. Where the hell did that time go to? I'm not too far away, but there are still some awkward edits and adds that need finishing, and it means the next few weeks will be serious head-down-time. I'm meeting the publisher on Monday night to sort through photographs, and that will help focus the mind.

Things are complicated somewhat by the fact that it's reaching crunch time for our endeavours to launch Nemesis Publishing, which I'll be blogging about over at the Nemesis blog later tonight.
Suffice to say, both the anthology, Vertigo, and the book we're publishing to mark the local school's 175th anniversary need to be at the printers by mid-October, which means the next two months are going to be interesting. And busy.

In terms of writing, I'm looking forward to November. I'll be able to tackle existing projects with a clean slate, and I've an idea bubbling away for entry in next year's Debut Dagger, run by the Crime Writers' Association.

But that's for another time. Now, it's back to living among giants. And editing. Oh, the joys of editing.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Searching for Gorry, son of Orry

Nope, it's not the follow up to Finding Nemo. I'm hoping someone out there has a copy of a book, which I need to research as part of the final draft of The Manx Giant.

A children's adventure story, Gorry, Son of Orry was written by Manxman Clucas Joughin and published in 1903 in London (by Jarrolds) and America. It's a story of smugglers, Redcoats and Manx nationalistic fervour, with a young hero descended from the legendary Viking King of Mann.

I'm told that Arthur Caley features in the story, as one of two giant heroes, and it would be cool to include a reference in the biography, along with the cover of the book. But I've had no luck finding a copy.

So, if you have one, or know of someone who might, please let me know - I will be forever in your gratitude. Leave a comment below, or drop me a line at johnquirkbooks(at)gmail.com

Now, on with the draft...

Cheers

Monday, 6 July 2009

Fear and loathing in the Arctic Circle

Review - Revolver, Marcus Sedgwick

Fear. Whether you’re fifteen or fifty-five, fear is one of those constants in life that we all experience. The passing years may change that which causes you fear, but when in the grip of it, age is taken out of the equation.

Fear lies at the heart of Revolver. It may have ‘Orion Children’s Books’ on the front cover when it’s released later this month, but Sedgwick’s latest novel will resonate as much with adults as it does teenagers.

The story centres around fifteen-year-old Sig Andersson who we meet, in the year 1910, in a remote cabin north of the Arctic Circle. He’s alone, or at least he would be if it wasn’t for the dead body of his father, Einar, lying on a table. Inexplicably, Einar had tried to take his dogs across the frozen lake by their home at a time of year when he knew it would be melting. While Sig’s waiting for the return of his sister and step-mother, who have gone for help, and trying to figure out why his father would have risked his life, there’s a knock on the front door. It’s a stranger, a monster of a man called Wolff, who carries a gun and tells tales of hidden gold... and who is calling in the debt that Einar owed him.

Having set the scene beautifully, teasing the reader with half-morsels of information on which to chew, including the existence of his father’s revolver – ‘a gun is not a weapon’, Einar had told a young Sig. ‘It’s an answer to the questions life throws at you when there’s no one else to help’ – Sedgwick rewinds eleven years to tell the story of how the Andersson family reached this point.

The book weaves between the two timelines, with each revelation in the earlier story increasing the tension in the cabin as the threat from Wolff grows with each passing hour. Sedgwick takes great care in detailing the back story and the development of the relationship between Sig and Einar, particularly in the case of the revolver, which lies hidden in the store room just yards from where Wolff is holding the boy, so much so that the gun becomes a major character in itself, almost calling to Sig, pleading with him to be used.

At a 170-odd pages, Revolver is a lean, mean exercise in menace. Few words are wasted as Sig searches deep within himself for the courage to make a play for the revolver, while trying to buy time from Wolff. The stand-off between the two is like a game of chess, each probing for weaknesses.

Sig is a superb creation, a boy who wants to be a man who finds himself thrust into a situation which offers him that opportunity, and Wolff is a fine sparring partner, although there is a feeling that perhaps Sedgwick held back a little, despite the brutality his antagonist exudes.

Revolver is dark, no question, and as the tension mounts the turning of its pages soon becomes a necessity rather than a desire. But more than that it’s a coming-of-age tale, and an example of how a family’s love can endure against the greatest of odds, including overcoming a fear that leaves you stricken, unable to act in the face of death.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

The forgotten author


It's funny what happens to our reading habits, and those favourite authors who we read religiously, hunting down every new release the moment it hits the shelves.

I was reading Nick Stone's blog earlier - Nick wrote the ultra-cool Max Mingus thrillers Mr Clarinet and King of Swords - and he mentioned that he was reading the new James Ellroy, Blood's a Rover, the final installment in his American Underworld trilogy.

Ellroy has fallen off my radar. Having devoured everything up to and including his utterly brilliant LA Quartet - The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, LA Confidential and White Jazz - I bought American Tabloid, the first in the Underworld trilogy, but struggled to get into it.

In his early novels, and the trilogy featuring brutal cop Lloyd Hopkins, Ellroy had a sparse writing style, but it flowed beautifully. As the LA Quartet progressed, that style changed, until by White Jazz he was writing in what has been termed 'telegraphic prose', omitting all connecting words and using short sentences.

White Jazz, while a great book, had grated on me slightly, and I was coming off a run of particularly stylishly written books when I picked up American Tabloid. I read a few pages and put it down, aiming to return at some point in the future. That never happened, and I don't think I can find a reasonable answer as to why; Ellroy just slipped off my must-read list.

But Nick's post has rekindled a fire. I dismissed American Tabloid far too easily, and Ellroy's back catalogue deserves more. I've retrieved Tabloid from the bookshelf and dusted it off. It now sits with new friends, in a pile of to-be-read books. It's a fair chunk of a size, and the second in the series - The Cold Six Thousand - is even bigger. So this could take some time.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Maine's very own dark knight draws closer to the truth


Review - The Lovers, by John Connolly

Lovers of literature and film are suckers for a tortured soul, and souls don't come any more beaten and crushed than Charlie Parker, the dark hero of this, the seventh offering in Connolly's series about the Maine-based private investigator.

Forget last year's The Reapers, which focused on Parker's deadly sidekicks, Angel and Louis, with Parker supplying a third person cameo. While entertaining and faster than a speeding bullet, The Reapers was Connolly-lite, like supping a shandy when you what you really need is the most potent ale on the menu.

The Lovers opens with Parker working in a bar in Portland, having lost his private investigator's licence at the end of the last fully-fledged Parker novel, The Unquiet. He's been told by the authorities to keep his nose clean - spotless, in fact - and he's doing his best. But this is Parker we're talking about. Spurred on by revelations made by the dangerous and enigmatic Collector in The Unquiet, Parker begins an investigation into his father's suicide three decades ago in an attempt to understand what made Will Parker kill two unarmed teenagers, a boy and a girl.

Perhaps the greatest of Connolly's skills in developing this series has been the way he has balanced the undercurrent of supernatural influences on Parker's life with the possibility that we, the readers, are being totally suckered by an unreliable narrator who is slowly losing the plot following the death of his first wife and daughter, and the estrangement of his second love and daughter. The books have grown in intensity and the bleak mood of The Unquiet suggested a resolution to this issue was coming. The Lovers delivers it, and then some.

As Parker interviews his father's former colleagues, it becomes clear that there was a cover-up into the circumstances that led to his father killing the two young lovers, and indeed his suicide. The Collector had hinted at Charlie having secret 'friends', that even he doesn't know about, and as he peels away the layers of the cover-up, he learns that everything he thought he knew about his family - indeed, his own origins - has been an elaborate, but necessary, deceit.

Running parallel to Parker's first person-related investigation is the emergence of the lovers of the title, as they close in on Parker. This element is told third person, a device that Connolly has used increasingly in the Parker books, and further evidence to undermine the unreliable narrator theory.

The Parker novels have always had strong themes running throughout - loss, revenge, redemption, hope - and they are again present, but it's betrayal that forms the focus of The Lovers, and the strength of character to forgive that betrayal.

Be in no doubt - this isn't a James Patterson easy-to-digest thriller you're reading here. Crime novels, although that is far too broad a term to define this series, don't come any bleaker. There is humour, of course, and as usual it's bang on the money. But Angel and Louis, whose banter with Parker lights up the darkest night, are mere footnotes in The Lovers. And that is how it should be; this is Parker's story, or rather his father's story.

This is also not a book for newcomers to the Parker series. It does stand alone, as much as it can, but there is so much rich backstory here, with characters from earlier books making reappearances, that I can only imagine that, as an introduction to Parker, it would be something of a hollow experience.

For Parker fans, that is not an issue. The Lovers might just be the best Parker novel yet. It may not have a Mr Pudd, Brightwell or Caleb Kyle for a villain, or have the pace and action of earlier novels, but Connolly's writing is sensational. Much of the story is told either in flashback or recounted by characters to Parker; little happens in the here and now, and it takes some writing chops to create such an intense story with Parker, by and large, being talked at by others.

Connolly has hinted that he has the end of the Parker series in his mind. He knows how it will be resolved, it's just a question of how long it takes to get there. Given the developments in The Lovers, there is a sense that we are building to a crescendo and I don't think there will be too many books left. Three, maybe four. And this, too, is as it should be, as Parker deserves some closure. Still, it will be one hell of a ride getting there.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

New blog launched - the greatest books ever written

I've long known that I don't read as widely as I should. In fact, for a writer, my list of books read is embarrassingly modern. I did experience a few of the so-called great works of fiction at school, but since then... well, it just hasn't happened.

But that's all about to change. I've started a new blog - The 113 Supposedly Greatest Books Ever Written - and over the course of the next two years (hellfire, that's optimistic...) I'll be reading each and every one of them. And ranting/raving about them.

The first post is up - it explains what the experiment is all about, and first on the menu is a book I've been meaning to read for, oh, the best part of 25 years. Better late than never, I guess. Have a gander and you'll see what it's all about.

More importantly, feel free to join in the discussion about each book as I make my way up the list, or join in and read a book or two with me.

Gentlefolk, start your engines...

Monday, 15 June 2009

The Amazing Morphing Literary Concept

There's been an itch I've been, er, itching to scratch for several months. The seed of an intriguing idea for a novel formed last autumn and really caught hold - I was desperate to play with it, see how it developed. But I knew it had to be stuck on the back burner while other, more pressing projects, were completed.

It was still in limbo until the middle of last week, when the moment arrived when I could ignore said itch no longer. You know what I mean. So I opened up a fresh word document and typed in the title - I'll call it Mr Stone here, for the title kind of gives the game away at this stage - stuck 'by John Quirk' below it and scrolled down to the top of page two. And away I went.

I wrote just over a thousand words, and it did me the world of good. First and foremost, it helped brush off some cobwebs. I'd hit a bit of a trough, as what should be the final draft of The Manx Giant has been slow in coming together and I've been feeling a bit rusty. It also reinforced my early belief that the core idea for Mr Stone was a solid one.

However, as the word count climbed, I found myself repeatedly returning to read what I'd written. I wasn't sure why this was, until it slapped me across the face with a dodgy kipper. The concept for Mr Stone was unusual - it would involve taking the bare bones of the central idea, but with no plotting, treatment or notes, and researching that idea as the protagonist does in the book. The bottom line would be that I learned what happened next at the same time as the protagonist did.

This was the first time I'd come up with what I guess is termed in the dark recesses of the publishing world as 'literary fiction'. No, it's not a term I'm comfortable with either, but in broad terms it would relate to character and theme rather than plot, and it wasn't to be a book that could be easily defined by genre.

I was happy with that; I'd be turning my hand to something new, hopefully improving my writing as I did. Yet, after those thousand words, I'm left with something of a dilemma.

As the opening unfolded, I couldn't help but think of possible plot developments - where before, I had no idea where the story was going, ideas for major turning points popped into my head and before I knew it the ending had all but formed, uninvited and unwanted. What was literary fiction is threatening to morph into an adventure story, with some fantasy elements thrown in and a conspiracy theory to boot.

So I've stopped. I've left the word document floundering in the new Mr Stone folder I'd set up on my desktop and I'm ignoring it. Because I don't know what to do. Should I strip it all back and start again, keeping it based in the bleak setting I'd created for Mr Stone? Or do I go with the flow, follow my instinct to where it's taken the story so far?

Buggered if I know. So I'm back on the Giant, which is starting to come together nicely. As for Mr Stone, answers on a postcard to one seriously confused mind. Or, alternatively, stick them in the comment box at the end.

Monday, 8 June 2009

A love letter to Afghanistan


Review - Born Under a Million Shadows, by Andrea Busfield

The bottom paragraph on the back cover for this, Busfield's debut novel, describes it as a 'humorous and harrowing love letter to a troubled land' and you'd do well to remember that phrase - love letter - as you read it.

Sage advice to would-be novelists looking to snare an agent or publisher is full of 'show, don't tell', particularly early on in a manuscript, and the need to hook the reader immediately, to produce the goods and induce that 'move to the sofa' moment for said agent/publisher. And go easy on the back story, whatever you do.

But they say rules are there to be broken, and Busfield seems intent on doing just that. Million Shadows is narrated first person by eleven-year-old Fawad, a boy born in Kabul during the time of the Taliban. It opens very quietly, as Fawad describes life with his friends on the streets of Kabul, working the foreigners, his fractured home that he shares with his mother, his aunt and her brood.

It's scene-setting - beautifully done scene-setting at that - but after ten or fifteen pages I had one thought in my head... when's this thing going to start? What I hadn't realised was, it had. And it had the hooks in, too, but all with such subtleness that by the time the 'story' kicked in I was unaware that the author had slung a bag over my head and carried me off into her world.

The event which sparks the plot into action comes when Mariya lands a job as housekeeper for Georgie, an intelligent and sexy western woman who shares a home with two friends, James, a journalist, and May, an engineer. Fawad, understandably, develops a huge crush on Georgie, who has relationship issues of her own - she's in love with an Afghan warlord, Haji Khan, who Fawad soon learns isn't the kind of bloke you want the girl you love so achingly to be hanging around with.

The story unfolds slowly - Fawad tries to act as matchmaker between his mother and a guard; he gets a job working in a small store with a blind shopkeeper; the three westerners take Fawad under their wing and introduce him, unintentionally, to alcohol and sex education; and he watches, helpless, as Georgie's love for Haji intensifies before, inevitably, their world threatens to break apart around them.

Busfield first experienced Afghanistan while working as a journalist for the News of the World covering the fall of the Taliban. In interviews she does not hide the fact that she fell in love with the country, so much so that she made it her home, and this knowledge permeates everything that transpires to Fawad and his friends. It also explains the 'love letter' reference, because that's exactly what this is. Plot is secondary here; it's a look at a year in Fawad's life, a momentous year during which he grows from a child into a young man. A love letter from Busfield to a trouble-torn but beautiful country.

Her style might not suit everyone, but for those who are happy to wait for their riches there is much to admire here. She manages to give a history lesson without preaching, and outlines the politics without being political. Fawad isn't just a fully-rounded character, he all but steps from the pages and grabs you by the hand. The relationship between Georgie and Khan is deftly handled, when it could have come across heavy-handed and cliched, and most of the supporting cast - particularly Pir Hederi, the blind shopkeeper - are a delight. There's also some real humour on show here, and not just the obvious situational comedy, such as the incident involving Fawad, a knife and a Frenchman's ass.
There are issues which detract. Some of the word choices for Fawad's internal monologue feel awkward and out of place and at times the dialogue, especially between the westerners, doesn't work; it feels clumsy, almost forced in order to propel the story onwards, and this is in stark contrast to the exchanges between Fawad and friends, not to mention some of the long descriptive passages which bring the country and its natives to colourful life.

As debut novels go, Million Shadows is a fine effort, a beautiful, slow-burning story of unconditional love, tragedy and, ultimately, life-affirming hope. Well worth a read.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

A tale of cocktails, marathons and intense suffering

If truth be told, I've been struggling for the last eighteen months since the publication of The Manx Connection. Sure, I've been writing. And some of it might even be halfway decent. I'm one draft away from crossing The Manx Giant off the to-do list, and Quackenbush is a few solid weeks of head-down-no-distractions away from being a completed first draft, albeit one that needs major rewrites. I've knocked out some freelance stuff, and started this blog. So it's not as if I've been sitting under a palm tree drinking Douglas Town cocktails (two ounces of kahlua, one ounce of tequila, half an ounce of lime juice and stacks of ice, first sampled in Galva, Illinois).

But the bottom line is, I've not been anywhere near as productive as I should have been. There are reasons for this - wedding, honeymoon, baby, sleepless nights - the kind of thing over which you have little control. There's one other factor, however, which I could have done something about.

I'm a great believer in the whole healthy body, healthy mind way of thinking. Seven years ago, I could barely run for five minutes without risking coughing up several internal organs. I was a regular at the gym, but I've always been short and stocky and not built for running. After a particularly heavy night on the juice, I informed everyone that I was going to run the New York marathon. Cue much hysterical laughter.

Six months later, after one broken collarbone and some intensive late training, I completed the marathon in an okayish time of 4hrs 4omins. It was painful, but not an experience I'd swap. I don't think it's coincidence that in the two or three years that followed, when I was running fairly regularly, that my life kind of fell into place. My career developed, my writing improved, the idea for the Manx Connection was born and the research carried out. Everything came together.

Yet since December 2007, I've been somewhat slack. Or downright lazy, take your pick. Exercise has had to be shelved, with so many other commitments on my time. I've put on a stone since the wedding, and I was still a tad overweight then. It's not all my fault, mind you. Mrs Quirk is such a damn fine cook, that some of the weight gain has been out of my hands. When she works her magic, the angels drop their harps and gather round, wishing they were mortal. How's a bloke supposed to stay in shape?

However, I know that my disillusionment with my output during the last eighteen months, and in particular the last five months - when I had so much planned - stems largely from the fact I'm unfit, out of shape and developing bulges in places which I've been informed become increasingly difficult to shift once you hit forty, which is now just ten months away.

So, it's time to kick my arse into gear. I went for a run tonight, the first one in a long, long time. Three miles, over the steam railway line and down to the eerie, tree-veiled and walled estate near the beach at Gansey (I've got to get that place into a book one day) and back up in a loop. If I hold on to something, and avoid sudden movements, I can still stand up. But I feel exactly how I did seven years ago when starting out on the marathon training - damn sore, but determined to get back in shape.

All this is not just about providing the inspiration to write, although that's a major aspect to it. It's also about the quality of the writing I produce, which I know is reflected in how I'm feeling health-wise. Now, if I can just cut out the chocolate. And the cake. And the beer. And not forgetting the pasties...

PS - next blog post should be a review of Born Under a Million Shadows, the debut novel from Andrea Busfield. Well worth a punt.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

The final big push

This weekend marks the beginning of the end for The Manx Giant. It's been a month or so since I met the publisher to get his feedback on the previous draft, and after several false starts, I'll be getting my head down come Saturday on what should be the final draft (it would have been Friday evening, but I'm being dragged kicking and screaming for a night on the tiles, which is another story).

It's been a bloody frustrating last couple of months for writing. There's still a fair bit to do on The Giant: more editing, a few rewrites, new information to try and add seamlessly into the book, some new leads to investigate. And it's not something I can dabble in when I get a spare half hour or so. I can't work that way - it has to be all or nothing.

For a variety of reasons, it's just not been happening. I've been unable to focus, until now. It's as much a mental issue as anything. I've got to get myself in the right frame of mind, which does come across as a load of psychological bullshit. But it can't be helped.

I'm looking forward to the final stretch. Other than some tweaks to the preface and chapter one, the publisher is happy with how it's shaping up. I'm hoping to have it polished off by the end of June, the gods of luck and time permitting, and it will allow me to focus on other projects that I've been neglecting for far too long.

Yet it's not just the writing of the final draft that needs my time. With just six months to go before The Giant is in shops, I need to start the marketing push. I've got a talk lined up at the local library, a few primary schools are interested in me going in to speak to the kids, and signings need setting up, along with press and radio interviews. We've even got a life-size cut out - all 7ft 11ins of the brute - which needs mounting in such a way that it can be easily transported to talks and signings. But all that is barely scratching the surface.

The Giant is being published by the Manx Heritage Foundation and while it's clearly aimed very much at the Manx market, with a fairly small print run, Arthur Caley's adventures in America, where there is a significant Manx community, provide a good opening there. An added bonus is that I've already got stacks of contacts across the States thanks to The Manx Connection.

Caley was something of a dude - a huge man mountain who revelled in his 19th century New York celebrity status as one of Barnum's regular stars - so it should be a reasonably easy sell to those who know of Caley. I only hope the writing is good enough to snag the interest of other readers.

So roll on the weekend. Or at least roll on Saturday morning after a Friday night that could get a little messy...

PS - twitter update - number of followers now up in the nineties, but I'm picking up one or two rather, er, interesting fans. If I hadn't led such a sheltered life, I might think that these people are using their porn names. I have, of course, blocked such folk from being able to follow me. Honest.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Big twitter, small world

So I've been doing this here twitter lark for three weeks now. I didn't have a good goddam clue what it was all about, to be honest. Seemed like a waste of time - a glorified facebook status update. But, you know, it is very intriguing.

I wouldn't say I'm addicted. Lack of time takes care of that. But it is a fascinating concept. In the first few days, I followed some friends and contacts, they followed me. All very simple. Then something weird happened. I started picking up followers from all over the place, folk I'd never met, even online. Slowly but surely I found my twittering feet.

I'm up to 38 followers (I did have 39, but one mysteriously vanished last night. I've no idea who it was, just that the number had dropped. I'm not suspecting foul play) and they're scattered around, in the UK, the US and Australia. Best of all, in the last week I've caught up with two friends who I'd not spoken to for best part of ten years, thirteen years in one case. For that reason alone, as with facebook, it's worth giving it a go.

This morning a fellow Isle of Man twitterer (hey Pippa) started her twittering with 'Hello world!'. I didn't think anything of it at first, but then what she said hit home. When I first blogged about twitter, I likened it to being on a conference call with your mates. But it's more than that. It's like having an open line to the world, or at least all those who you are linked to. And that line is constantly open, assuming you're logged in.

From a writer's perspective, it's superb - both as as a research tool, in terms of picking up the latest skeet about the world of publishing, and as a marketing tool. The former I can use 24/7, the latter as and when the opportunity arises.

So for anyone out there who's not twittering, give it a go. You might think you've got nothing to say, but once twitter has its claws into you, the words will come. Trust me.

Right, back to the 'to do' list. Christ, I've barely scratched the surface. Ah, well. Onwards and upwards.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Murder. Adultery. Facism. Rotting hearts sent by post. Just your average day in the mind of author Andrew Taylor


Review - Bleeding Heart Square, by Andrew Taylor

There is something so beautifully sinister about Taylor's work that makes me hope I never have the pleasure of meeting him in person. Sure, he comes across as a perfectly sound bloke on his website (other than the dodgy one-eyed photograph), and he's married with children and a couple of cats and all that. But having read first The American Boy (the one featuring a young Edgar Allan Poe) and now this, I wouldn't recommend being stranded alone with the man.

Bleeding Heart Square is set in mid-1930s London and, as with The American Boy, Taylor has spun another complex web of intrigue and deception: A woman flees her abusive husband, seeking refuge with her father in a gloomy lodging house in the eerie-sounding square. The owner, a middle-aged spinster called Miss Penhow, hasn't been seen for four years, and a plain-clothes policeman lurks in the shadows, watching everything that happens in the square. And someone is sending parcels of rotting hearts to the house, addressed to Miss Penhow's estranged husband, the wonderfully menacing Serridge.

At the core of the story are two threads. Lydia lives in upper class splendour on a vast country estate. On the surface, she has everything. Beneath the surface, she's a prisoner to her manipulative bully of a husband, Marcus, a rising young politician within the British Union of Fascists. The book opens with her taking one beating too many, prompting her to flee to London and her father.

The second thread revolves around Rory Wentwood, a struggling journalist just returned from India, who is engaged to Fenella, the niece of the missing Miss Penhow. Snooping around Bleeding Heart Square under orders from his fiancee, Rory is coerced into taking a room at the lodging house by Detective Sergeant Narton, an enigmatic cop who is investigating Serridge and the disappearance of Miss Penhow.

When Lydia and Rory meet, they become embroiled in each other's stories as Rory tries desperately to hang on to Fenella, Lydia learns the disturbing truth about Marcus and both of them fall deeper into the murky world that Serridge inhabits and the evil that pervades Bleeding Heart Square.

Taylor isn't just one of the best crime writers around. He's one of the best writers, period. Bleeding Heart Square is a slow-burn. It has a measured pace to it - not for Taylor the short, sharp edge-of-your-pants cliffhanger chapters that James Patterson churns out. Taylor lands the hook in your mouth without you realising it and before you know it you're turning those pages, drawn into the gothic atmosphere that all but rises from the page to devour your senses.

Part of the story's intrigue is down to Taylor opening each chapter with a present tense, first person passage (the rest of the book is third person), in which the reader takes on the increasingly sinister persona of one of the characters who is following Miss Penhow's missing journal. It's a clever ploy, but one which could have backfired in the hands of a lesser writer.

The time and place that Taylor evokes is frighteningly vivid, a period of social and political uncertainty, with the fascist subplot adding to the suspense that gradually builds throughout the book. All this work would, of course, be wasted if Taylor had dropped the ball with his characters, but he can't be faulted here either.

Lydia's slow transformation from aristocratic wallflower who is waited on hand and foot to independent, streetwise woman is a masterclass in character development, and each of the supporting cast are given ample room to breathe and come to life. It's Serridge, however, whose memory lingers longest, a wonderful creation of charm, mystery and utter villainy, although the wretched Marcus isn't too far behind.

The beauty of coming late to an established author like Taylor is that you have a backlist of books to catch up on. It's been four years between reading The American Boy and Bleeding Heart Square. Rest assured I won't wait as long next time.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Stephen Fry: The Da Vinci Code of Twitter

So I took the plunge this morning and started twittering, because I've obviously got far too much time on my hands. (Anyone desperate enough to twitter up can find me @johnquirkbooks)

It's a bizarre concept. Like calling a bunch of friends, colleagues and contacts on a conference call and telling them your innermost thoughts, or that you're off down the pub on the piss. My problem is that most of my family and friends aren't interested in Twitter. The majority of them don't even know about Facebook, so there's no chance of them twittering.

Of course, one of the most intriguing aspects is the insight Twitter offers into the lives of those celebrities you choose to follow. I've picked a few authors, and that will do for now. Some authors I'd like to follow haven't taken the Twitter bait yet, and I've managed to avoid the temptation of following the exciting life of Britney Spears.

There's one celebrity who has pretty much raised the profile of Twitter single-handedly. Check anyone's page for who they are following and chances are you'll see a small pic of Stephen Fry. He's bloody everywhere. People new to Twitter are hearing about how Twitterific Mr Fry is... so they follow him to see what all the fuss is about.

He has quickly established himself as the Da Vinci Code and Titanic of Twitter - phenomenons that feed off the media frenzy created around them, creating an ever-perpetuating popularity. When the Da Vinci Code hype started to buzz, I had to read it to see what all the fuss was about, as did just about everyone. Same with Titanic.

But not this time. I'm not going to follow Mr Fry, although I do realise that by talking about his popularity I'm helping stir that big pot of Twitter buzz for him. I'm going to give him the cold shoulder. Should he deem me worthy of following in the coming weeks and months, then I may well return the compliment. But by Christ I'm going to play hard to get.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

From out of nowhere

One of the most common questions asked of writers is: 'Where do you get your ideas from?'

This generally applies to fiction, as non-fiction ideas, or subjects, seem far more clear cut - if you're writing a biography, for example, the genesis of the idea is (in most cases) obvious.
At least that's what I thought.

I was in bed last night, with my Muse snoring gently by my side, trying to fall asleep while last minute thoughts about a media training course I was running today flitted around inside my head. Then, from out of nowhere - and I mean completely nowhere - an idea arrives. It doesn't just sidle in with its coat collar pulled up around its neck and lurk in the corner. No, this one explodes. Eyes open, a real sitting-up-in-bed moment.

The birth of any new idea is met with a mixture of excitement and despair, as my growing list of 'to do' projects will soon dangle as far as the upper reaches of Hell. What's frustrating about this latest idea is that it's a non-fiction book - and I've told myself (and my ever supportive Muse) that once The Manx Giant is done and dusted, I'll be focusing all efforts on fiction.

But, damn if this new non-fiction project isn't enticing. It arrived fully formed, with bells and whistles. It's very much a concept piece, and - in my opinion - would be hugely commercial. It's got TV tie-in potential, a ready-made publicity campaign and I've spent the last 24 hours looking for the flaws in the idea. Not found any yet, other than some minor hiccups that could be easily addressed.

Ultimately, it's not time sensitive - other than if someone thinks of the same idea and steals my thunder. So for now I'm going to let it stew, look at it again in a few weeks and see if my initial excitement has been dampened.
As much as I'd love to get a proposal package together to fire off to agents, I know I need to concentrate on fiction, for the sake of my own sanity.

At this stage, it's imperative that the Muse doesn't find out about this new idea. If she hears it's non-fiction, and might delay completing Quackenbush (again), my life won't be worth living. Again.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Leave my damn Weetabix alone

Over at Litopia, there's only really been one issue up for discussion around the water cooler these last couple of weeks - Scribd, the online social publishing site, where 'tens of millions of people share orginal writings and documents...'

That's one way of describing it. Scribd hit the headlines when it was raised on the Litopia After Dark podcast - the panellists wanted to know how the hell so many published works seemed to be available for free download from the site. JK Rowling and Wilbur Smith are just a couple of big names whose work is, or at least was, available up until recently.

The story was soon picked up by The Times, with The Bookseller, Sky News and a host of others hot on the trail.

Litopia After Dark host Peter Cox invited Scribd CEO Trip Adler on to the show last Friday to put Scribd's side of the argument. At first, it appeared Trip had agreed. Good move, I thought. This man knows the importance of PR and the need to meet a challenge head on. In the next breath, someone claiming to be from Scribd joined Litopia and insisted Trip had agreed to no such thing.

Litopia After Dark went ahead, with Peter ringing Trip's number and the panellists - and an army of Litopians hanging about in the chatroom - looking forward to getting the Scribd side of things straight from the horse's mouth.

Sadly, Trip didn't show.

Given the publicity this issue is continuing to generate, any organisation worth its salt should have had a PR action plan quickly drawn up and been ready to rock and roll.

When facing such a situation, the best response from an organisation - or an individual - is to hold your hands up and take it on the chin. Stand up and be counted. Say, yes, we realise we have an issue - whether we were aware of it or not - and we're doing X, Y and Z to deal with it.
Indeed, if the organisation feels there is no issue, and that it has done nothing wrong, then it should come out and say as much. If there's one thing that will piss off the media and the public alike, it's a 'no comment'.

As someone who's in the process of establishing a small publishing house, the Scribd situation - hell, any kind of download site where authors, and publishers, aren't seeing any reward for their work - makes me bloody angry.

There is, in my opinion, absolutely no excuse whatsoever. Scribd can argue that this wasn't what it set out to do. It can say that its purpose was to give unpublished, or self-published, writers a platform to have their work read, and hey, maybe picked up by someone. And that's all well and good and worthy.

But in just two years Scribd has become a victim of its own success. It cannot monitor the sheer number of documents being uploaded to the site. It responds to requests from publishers to remove certain documents when those publishers bring it to Scribd's attention. But what use is that? Unless a publisher is employing someone around the clock to constantly monitor these 'social publishing sites' - and I've heard of one that does - they will lose money even if they are on the ball and spot indiscretions quickly. A book doesn't have to be available for long for it to be downloaded any number of times.

What Scribd - and other similar sites - should be doing is reassuring the publishing industry. They should be bending over backwards to get this issue resolved. They should be facing up to their responsibilities and not ducking the issue.

If they do that, they might just retain a modicum of credibility and, hell, maybe even benefit from it. The ebook is not something that's going to disappear, regardless of what traditionalists like myself, who need to feel a book in their hands, might hope. They continue to chip away, increasing in popularity year on year, and as such I don't have a problem. If they are here to stay, then we must embrace them and learn to accept them as part of the normal publishing business.

But as a writer, and a publisher, I want to see my damn money coming in. End of story. I've put in the long hours, I want my reward. Regrettably, that train of rational thinking doesn't seem to cut any ice with the likes of Scribd. The onus is on writers, publishers and agents to make sure they don't have any choice but to listen.

And the onus is on us all as readers. For Christ's sake, don't download published books for free. You might as well come into my kitchen of a morning and steal the goddamn Weetabix from under my nose.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Back in the groove

Okay. I can't wait any longer.

It's been two days since my embarrassing lightbulb moment and I've got to scratch that itch.
I was going to leave it a week or so before launching into the lightbulb-inspired overhaul of young adult WIP Quackenbush, to allow time for the ideas to ferment.

But they won't let me. My fingers are twitchy. They need to burn up the keyboard. So here goes. No point resisting when the urge is on you. It's time for the home stretch. By the time I come up for air, the first draft will be completed.

I'm not sure how long this is going to take, because it's difficult to gauge how much work is required. I need to write a completely new intro, probably three thousand words or so, then take the original prologue and blend that seamlessly into the story. The new intro requires the introduction of two new characters, who will fix a gaping plot hole that perplexed me for what felt like eternity. Well, six months. Finally, there are two big scenes to tackle towards the end of the book which will tie the threads together and bring the climax, already drafted, into play.

I've opened a new word document, saved it as 'New Quackenbush' and that magical moment awaits - a blank screen, waiting for the words to start flowing. Or not.

To be honest, it's kinda scary. I've had so many delays in getting this finished, partly because of deadlines for other projects, that I've questioned whether or not I'd be better off scrapping it and starting afresh on a new project. Thankfully, the buzz is back and I'm in the groove.

But first, a cuppa. And a cookie. That should get me going. You can't rush these things.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

The Lightbulb Moment; Or, How to draw attention to oneself on the bus

It's been a good day, as the old geezer in the fire safety ads used to say after bringing the horses home from the show and before dozing off in his armchair and burning the house down.

These kind of days are few and far between, so you need to treasure them when they strike. It started with a pre-work doze on the coach in this morning. In that fantastically hazy realm between consciousness and sleep, I had what is commonly known in the trade as a lightbulb moment. This one didn't just light up, it exploded and had me wide awake, staring at the headrest in front of me, while the woman in the next seat glanced up from her paperback and gave me a look that made me check to see if I'd left the house naked.

I'm about 8,000 words or so away from finishing the first draft of Quackenbush, the young adult novel I've been dabbling with for the last couple of years. A few months ago, I hit a wall. A bloody big one. I'd opened the book with a prologue and when I posted it in Litopia for feedback last year, I kinda new what would be coming. The opening was set 35 years ago, with an action scene that introduced a young Quackenbush, before fastforwarding to present day and the start of the story proper.

The problem was, as integral as Quackenbush is to the book, and as cool a character as I think he is, he isn't the main protagonist. That is young Tom, and the way the book is structured at the moment, the reader doesn't meet Tom till page 10, which is not the greatest idea when trying to persuade an agent to, in the words of Mr Cox, move to the couch with his or her mug of coffee in one hand and your manuscript in the other.

Dump the prologue was the general consensus. But writers are a precious lot, fond of their babies. And, goddamit, I liked it. The events in the prologue are fundamental to how Quackenbush becomes the man he is, and crucial to the bond that develops between between him and Tom. I was loathe to lose it, even though I knew, deep down, that it had to go. I tried to focus on the rest of the manuscript, completing parts that I'd left hanging because extra research was needed, but it was no good. I had to sort this prologue issue out in my head.

So I've waited. Other projects have come to the fore, some have been completed, and others are still hanging around like an irate zombie who's been locked out of the mall while his mates are enjoying a feeding frenzy. And still I've waited. Until this morning.

The answer to the prologue dilemma is so bloody obvious I feel somewhat embarrassed for not having realised it earlier. A dynamic opening? Check. Straight in with Tom, strutting his stuff? Check. Managing to hold on to the events of the old prologue, in a roundabout way, and so give the reader the information they need about Quackenbush? Check.

It's a huge relief. And I'm chomping at the bit to get started on revising what I have of the draft, and then completing it. But I'm going to wait, at least a few days, to let it all stew. It's been rattling around in what passes as a brain for long enough, a little while longer won't harm it.

So, score one for Wednesday. The feelgood factor was improved when an email dropped in the inbox from my publisher for The Manx Giant. I fired the manuscript off to him about five weeks ago, which marked the first time he'd read a word of it. The days ticked by and I heard nothing. Holidays, I thought. Or maybe he's ill. Or so tied up on another project that he's had to forsake everything else. You can't help but start to fear the worst.

Today, I got his reply. He likes it. In fact, he's very pleased with it. He wants to meet up to discuss a few minor points, but he's happy. I'll be starting on the next draft this weekend, and the finishing line feels very close. Another big relief.

So that's it - two major scores in one day. I'm not naive enough to expect more fireworks soon. I'm only too aware that the literary gods have cocked up and they'll be arguing amongst themselves as to how some halfwit writer managed to get lucky twice within a matter of hours. They won't let that happen again soon.

Finally. a heartfelt thanks to all who attended the Olive Lamming Address to the Isle of Man Literary Society last week and had to endure my ramblings for the best part of an hour. I didn't mean to go on that long, honest. But, well, you did ask me to talk. And anyone who knows my father will be aware that us Quirks do like a good natter...

Friday, 13 March 2009

No room for shrinking violets


It's funny how the years change us.

I was never an outgoing kid - outside my close-knit group of friends, I was fairly shy, or at least never one who wanted to be the centre of attention. I skulked at the back when it was time to cast plays and tried to wriggle out of any attempt to include me in a presentation. The bottom line was, I didn't like performing in front of people. More precisely, I didn't like performing in front of people I didn't know.

After studying journalism at university, I went to Moldova for six months to teach English. I was 23 by this time and had several classes, ranging from six years old to sixteen, and if anyone needs short, sharp shock treatment for getting over nerves relating to standing up in front of people and fearing for your reputation, I'd recommend some teaching every day of the week and twice on Sundays.

Several years in journalism helped things along; you can't be a journalist - scratch that, you can't be an effective journalist - if you're shy and reserved. All that said, it's only in the last four or five years that I've started to feel comfortable talking in front of groups.

While travelling for The Manx Connection, I was asked by most societies to give a talk on the book, about why I was writing it and what I'd learned on my globetrotting. The experience has stood me in good stead. The audiences ranged from seven or eight to thirty or forty. It got to the stage where, when my friend asked me to be best man a couple of years ago, I was actually looking forward to the speech, although I can't deny it wasn't nervewracking or that I hit the odd bum note.

If you harbour any aspirations of being a successful writer, giving talks and readings are part and parcel of the game in today's publishing industry. There's just no getting around it - if you can't buy into the whole marketing and promotion game, you'll find the odds stacked against you from the start.

Anyway, this Tuesday (March 17), I'm at it again. I've been invited by the Isle of Man Literary Society to give the annual Olive Lamming Address and will be attempting to keep the audience in the land of the living with a talk on The Manx Giant.

The book is being published later this year, and obviously the hope is that the talk will generate a bit of interest and help sales along. But it's also a chance to educate people about Arthur Caley, who I've grown very fond of in the last couple of years, and put some of the inaccuracies and myths about him to bed.

So, if you're in the Isle of Man and free on Tuesday evening, doors open at the Henry Bloom Noble Library in Douglas at 7.00pm, for a 7.30pm kick-off. No booking necessary, just turn up on the night.

I promise you, there'll be no tall tales.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Review Central


When I started blogging last summer, the intention was to include regular reviews of books (and the occasional movie). It's not happened, mainly because my reading has been irregular, to say the least, and I've not been to the cinema for, well, I don't remember the last time I got the popcorn in.

But that's all gonna change now.

The first book review should be up in a week or two. It will be Bleeding Heart Square, by Andrew Taylor, which I'm immersed in right now. My first taste of Taylor's work was The American Boy, published in 2004. It was a very fine read, a sumptuous blending of crime, mystery and history revolving around a young boy called Edgar Allan Poe, and I'm not sure why I've waited five years before delving into his work again.

The next two on my list will be Daisychain, by GJ Moffat, a debut crime novel set in Glasgow, and Born Under a Million Shadows, by Andrea Busfield, another debut novel this time set in Afghanistan.

The idea is to review new books, be they new in paperback or hardback. But I might just throw in an oldie from time to time.

****

The Manx Giant is with the publisher, finally. When I sat down at the start of the year to edit and complete the second draft, the plan was to have it completed by the end of January, but every time I thought I was there, another element to Arthur Caley's story reared its head.

But it's done now, and while I move on to other projects, which I'll blog about soon, I'm left in that eerie limbo land waiting to hear what the publisher thinks. There will be another draft required, as there are still some research irons in the fire, but the draft I've sent through is pretty much the finished article. And so the writer's insecurities have surfaced, worrying that it will return through the post with CRAP scrawled across it in big red letters.

All you can do is change focus to keep your mind off it. So here we go. What to do next...?

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Editing with Giants

I have a love/hate relationship with edits and rewrites. When I get into it, I enjoy the whole juicy mish-mash that is the editing process, which is just as well as I'm in the thick of the juice at the moment for The Manx Giant.

I also believe that editing is just about the most important tool in helping you develop as a writer, particularly if you're editing, or critiquing, other people's writing; assessing the work of other writers has taught me more about my own work than other people's edits of my writing, if that makes sense. Hey, it's late.


Having been shunted out of my office to make way for my darling daughter's gigantic cot and army of cuddly toys, which have confined my not-quite-as-gigantic-but-still-huge writing desk to the garage, I'm stuck in a corner of the master bedroom with a small (but cool, despite the lack of leg room) replacement desk, although I'm relying on memory that it's a desk, because at the moment it is nothing more than a vaguely organised mess of random piles of notes and research. Non-fiction books will do this to you.

The edits are going well and the additional info that needs slotting in has, so far, found itself a natural home. The word count has risen slightly, which is not a problem as it's a fairly short book. Meanwhile, bearing down on me is this Sunday's deadline, when the revised draft will be fired over to the publisher, marking the first time he will have set eyes on it. Always a scary time. After that, it's wait and see until he gets back to me.

Thankfully, the deadline is not only focusing the mind on the job in hand, it's easing the frustration that editing brings with it - namely, the curious sensation of going back over old ground when there are a hundred and one other projects screaming for attention, demanding to be worked on, a fact made even more frustrating because I know full well that I won't be able to focus properly on the shiny new stuff until the editing is finished.

Alongside the editing and rewriting, I'm finalising the pictures I'm suggesting to illustrate the book, which includes wading through a few I've taken (assuming they are halfway decent) and mixing them with old drawings and photographs of the Giant. That, too, is a slow and laborious process.

But I'm on countdown now. A few more days, and it will be time to move on, at least until the revised draft comes back from the publisher and I have to tackle his red pen. Then the circle starts again.

Friday, 30 January 2009

Another deadline, workshop bliss and a blatant facebook plug

Earlier this month I mentioned a gargantuan to-do list for 2009, which I peer at from time to time in the hope that a tick will magically appear beside one or two items.

Number one priority was to get the second draft of The Manx Giant completed, at which point it will go to the publisher for feedback. The aim was January 31, into which we have just slipped, so that's gone. But this week I informed the publisher that it will be with him by February 15, so deadline city here we come. I've booked a week's leave, giving me nine straight days off work prior to the deadline, so I won't have any excuses not to get it polished off.

Before all that, tomorrow offers up the chance to experience that all too rare a beast - a day's solid, uniterrupted writing. The writing group has booked a room in the Erin Arts Centre for a 9am-5pm workshop. Us writers, our laptops, a steady supply of hot brews and only the sound of busy fingers tapping away. Bliss.

Elsewhere on that list, I was hoping to have the website for Nemesis Publishing up and running by now, but that too has been a slow mover. A start has been made, including setting up the blog, but it's a week or two away from being ready.

Another item on the list has changed - the two collaborative script ideas have been shelved for now, and we're working on an idea for a TV serial. Early doors, but we believe the potential is strong in this one...

And so to the final goal on the list - to lose two stone by the time I creak to the age of 40 in April next year. Four weeks gone, and half a stone has been shed. Which feels mighty fine. As an advertising slogan spotted by a work colleague recently suggests, nothing tastes as good as slim feels. And when I'm slim, I'll find out.

Finally, a google alert informed me that, in terms of number of fans/readers, this blog - which falls under the headers of publishing, writing and books - stands at number 22 in the top 50 'publishing' networked blogs through facebook, which came as a pleasant surprise.

Sadly, my total of 26 facebook readers is some way behind the leader, who has 160-0dd, and I don't make the top 5o in either 'books' or 'writing'.

A couple of fellow Litopians are just ahead of me in the publishing list - Emma is 18th and David an impressive 10th. I hate to admit it, but the competitive streak in me is rearing its ugly head. If you've had one of those annoying facebook requests to access networked blogs and join the gang, and haven't bothered, take pity on me. Add the blog. Push me up that list. You'll be rewarded in the next life, I'm sure of it. And I might even buy you a beer if I see you in the pub.

If you've not had a request to join, blame facebook. I can never figure out who has had invites to join and who hasn't.


This week John is reading:

Mort, by Terry Pratchett (again)

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Adventures in Podcasting

So, I've been roped in again as a guest panellist on the Litopia After Dark podcast this Friday. And the lovely Eve, the Litopia podcast officer, has talked me into appearing on a (roughly) monthly basis. I say talked, but I didn't have to think twice about the offer.

Litopia supremo and literary agent Peter Cox produces two podcasts - Litopia Daily, a Monday to Friday 15-minute fix of writing and publishing news, and the 45-minute-long, chatshow-style After Dark, which goes out live at 8.00pm (Isle of Man mean time). Peter then removes the hmms and ers, applies a bit of spit and polish, and posts them on Litopia for download.

I felt incredibly out of my depth on my first LAD appearance - the regular panellists, Donna and Dave, made it seem effortless and I just muttered away in the hope that something worthwhile escaped my lips. I can only assume it did, because Eve has asked me back on a few occasions in times of need.

It's a bizarre experience - the podcasting is done via Skype and to be sat at home with a headset on, staring at a screen, watching Peter in London and talking to the other panellists around the world (Donna's a Florida gal, who provides the essential The Write Report) is almost too much for my limted techie skills to comprehend.

If you have any kind of interest in the world of writing. books and publishing and haven't listened in yet, I urge you to give both the daily and LAD a whirl. (Not when I'm on, of course, wait until they've got someone decent...)

LAD is usually funny, often irreverent and occasionally insightful, and more often than not all three. It's humbling to be asked to appear and I'm looking forward to learning more from the masters, D&D, Litopia's answer to Eric and Ernie.

Elsewhere, work continues on edits for The Manx Giant, which is slowly but surely coming together. I've been sorting through some photographs I've taken, which I'm hoping will appear in the book, and might post a few in the coming weeks, along with a more in-depth look at the larger-than-life Arthur Caley.

Right, I'm off to bed to try and not think about the fact that Friday night's podcast will be listened to by 21,000+ people around the world...

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Tip, you're it.


Hmm. I've been tagged, it seems. Not once, but four times. At least. At last count, Donna, Emma, Richard and Kate have all tagged me. Should I take that as some kind of compliment? Ah, why not. Cheers folks...

So this is how it works: Display the award. Link back to the person who gave you this award. Nominate at least 7 other blogs. Put those blogs on your blog. Leave a message on the blogs of the people you've nominated. You can only answer in one word.

So here goes:

1. Where is your cell phone? Desk
2. Where is your significant other? Bed
3. Your hair colour? Brown
4. Your mother? Remarkable
5. Your father? Cool
6. Your favourite thing? Children
7. Your dream last night? Nothing
8. Your dream/goal? Published
9. The room you’re in? Study
10. Your hobby? Writing
11. Your fear? Dying
12. Where do you want to be in 6 years? Alive
13. Where were you last night? Home
14. What you’re not? Tall
15. One of your wish-list items? Castle
16. Where you grew up? Isle of Man
17. The last thing you did? Brew
18. What are you wearing? T-shirt
19. Your TV? Pants
20. Your pet? Cats
21. Your computer? Dell
22. Your mood? Content
23. Missing someone? Yes
24. Your car? Honda
25. Something you’re not wearing? Make-up
26. Favourite store? Book
27. Your summer? Short
28. Love someone? Passionately
29. Your favourite colour? Black
30. When is the last time you laughed? Tonight
31. Last time you cried? August

And I will tag...

The problem is that everyone is tagging the same people. So I'll try and be a bit different, as this is all about generating a bit of traffic...

Ady, Kelly and the entire NAMA, Pippa, Eve and the Vulpes Libris gang, Brian... and that's about all the blogs that I can think of who've not been tagged so far.

Have fun.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

2009 and the Big List From Hell


The beauty about taking a break from writing is that you come back feeling you’re invincible, positively buzzing in the knowledge that the items on the to-do list will be rattled off in machine gun fashion.

The reality, of course, is somewhat different. That list, which was already depressingly long, has only got longer in your absence and you haven’t got the first damn clue where to start.

So, back in the saddle after some fine festive fun in London and Norwich visiting Emma’s folks, it’s time for that list.

The 2009 to-do list*.

The following is most definitely not in the order in which they will be completed, but rather the order of importance, which, by the Quirky rules of procrastination, means anything is likely:

1. Send The Manx Giant to publisher. First draft is completed, work on second draft to start tomorrow, anticipated to be ready by January 31. Publication due for late 2009.

2. Finishing touches to young adult novel, working title Quackenbush, polish submission package and start hitting agents. Submissions to start April/May.

3. Finish text for Nemesis Publishing website, and set up associated blog, which will be a warts-and-all look at getting a small publishing business off the ground from scratch. Website and blog should be up and running by mid-January.

4. Publish first edition of Vertigo short story anthology through Nemesis. Currently working with authors on edits for selected stories, publication due November 2009.

5. Once Quackenbush is out doing the rounds, launch into next novel, the working title for which is Mr Stone. Aim is to have first draft of this completed by end of the year.

6. Complete a batch of short stories and submit to magazines/anthologies/competitions. I’ve never focused on the short story format, but looking forward to the challenge.

7. Develop script ideas – three in the melting pot, including two collaborations. Would like to have first drafts of two of the three finished by the time we’re singing Auld Lang Syne again.

8. Lose two stone in weight. No, I won’t be cutting off a leg. A daunting peek at the scales on Dec 31 told me I was the heaviest I’ve ever been, period. With the big four oh just 15 months away, I want to be down to my fighting weight by April 4, 2010. Hitting 40 is going to be challenging enough for my state of mind without looking like this. Two days in, and two pounds have been shed. So two stone should be a piece of cake, then. Hmm, cake...


There you have it – the magnificent eight. In addition, I've got a raft of freelance articles to write (first one finished yesterday) and front page stories to write over at Litopia.
If I can achieve all these goals during the coming 12 months, I’ll be stunned. But it’s going to be fun trying.

I’m off to lie in bed and wonder what I’ve missed off the list.

Happy New Year folks, and I hope it’s a good one for everyone – particularly those writers among you.

Cheers

(*I reserve the right to throw my toys out of the pram and alter or delete any of the items on said list.)