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.