Failing our future?

Two recent news stories have added to my fear that we’re not planning properly for the future in this country of ours.

Image courtesy of BBC News

 

Imagine for a moment, you live in Whaley Bridge, Derbyshire, perhaps in a new development. It’s peaceful place, with beautiful countryside nearby to walk the dog, including Toddbrook Reservoir, its calm waters lapping against a mighty dam that towers above the village.

Then the rain comes and comes and comes. Torrents of water flow down the outside of the dam. There’s a knock on the door and the police ask you to leave your home. The dam’s damaged and millions of tonnes of water could sweep through the village if it fails.

It’s difficult to imagine, let alone believe that a village could be swept away in this day and age. The drama was intense, the stakes high. Could those battling to save the village empty the reservoir in time? We had pumps, Chinook helicopters and the massed ranks of the media on hand to keep us up to date.

Below the village became a ghost town. Those evacuated watched and waited to learn whether they would have homes to return to.

Image courtesy of BBC News

 

On Friday, large swathes of the country lost power around 5pm. Trains stopped running. Stations were closed. Traffic lights went out. For a while, no one knew what was happening. Power was restored, but what had caused such a massive failure in the national grid?

It appears two generators went offline with minutes of each other, leading to the failures.

While these are very different events, they share one thing in common – can they cope with the demands of today and the challenges of the future?

In our rush to move forward, to develop and build, are we neglecting the infrastructure needed to support our future?

The intense rainfall that damaged the dam at Whaley Bridge may have been unusual, but scientists say global warming will lead to more extreme weather conditions. Then there is the age of the dam, its construction, its condition, the wear and tear it faces daily.

And let’s not forget the housing developments permitted below the reservoir over the decades.

The purpose of planning is to balance development needs with their impact on the environment and local communities. The pressure to build more houses leads to encroachment into the countryside and development on flood plains. Local authority refusals are often overturned by government inspectors, which can make you wonder whether there’s any point in local plans.

Each house built needs water, power and drainage. While estates spring up, where are the new reservoirs, sewage works and power stations to sustain them? Where are the extra schools and GP surgeries for the people who will live there?

If anything, we’re losing teachers and GPs at a time when we need them more than ever.

The same imbalance seems to be building with power supply. More and more homes and businesses draw electricity through the National Grid. Are we generating enough power to meet the growing demands of more households with more computers and electronics? Can the existing systems cope with the extra power they have to move?

And what about the future, when the government imagines we’ll all be driving electric cars to reduce carbon emissions?

Do we have enough charging points around the country to tempt people to switch to electric cars? If we did, can the National Grid cope with the additional consumption?

Why aren’t solar panels a legal requirement on all new build properties to increase the amount of green energy we produce?

Existing sewage works and drainage networks were designed and built for a different age. They now have to cope with the waste water from thousands of additional properties, while ensuring the final effluents meet strict environmental standards. How many more developments can they cope with before they fail?

Water pressures are increased when more houses need a supply. Old supply pipes can only take so much pressure before joints burst. When they do, they can close roads for days, affecting the local economy and wellbeing of people.

And as many of the companies responsible for our infrastructure are privately owned, will shareholders agree to fund the new reservoirs and sewage works we need? Will developers be made to pay for and build schools and GP surgeries for the people who will occupy their estates?

During my time as an environmental health officer, I was consulted on major developments by my colleagues in the Planning Department. Many times, I questioned whether the local sewerage systems could cope with the additional volume of waste water likely to be produced.

I don’t recall newer, larger sewers ever being built.

I’ve queried the impact of development on local communities and raised concerns about the impact on groundwater and potential flooding. Years later, I’ve been called back because residents had water ponding under their floors or flooding in their gardens.

The role of local government, particularly Planning and Environmental Health, is to protect the community and the environment and foresee and prevent future problems.

But when will government and the political parties do the same and agree a long term strategy to ensure we invest as much in the infrastructure and wellbeing of our communities as we do in new development?

What do you think?

5 things I learned from No Accident

No Accident is the first novel in the Kent Fisher series of murder mysteries.

It taught me a lot, including the following five lessons.

#1 – I could create original crime fiction

Years of rejection can erode your self-confidence and make you believe there’s a conspiracy against you out there. Equally, you could take the view that you’re free to develop ideas, knowing publishers probably won’t be interested.

Publishing articles in national magazines taught me you not only have to write what people want, it has to be something that sells. In a crime fiction market, bursting with police procedurals, private eye stories and psychological thrillers, it wasn’t going to be easy.

At its heart, No Accident is a whodunit, a traditional murder mystery that owes its origins to Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and Colin Dexter’s Inspector Morse. Their complex plots, filled with red herrings, false trails and devious twists inspired me. They taught me how to disguise clues and mislead readers.

But it was private eye Kinsey Millhone, created by Sue Grafton, who showed me how to write a gripping whodunit, driven by a strong, highly principled lead character. You didn’t need graphic violence, language or sex to create memorable crime fiction. There was nothing tame or cosy about Kinsey, whose guts and determination shone through.

She’s the inspiration behind Kent Fisher, an environmental health officer like me, who investigates a fatal workplace accident and discovers a murder, only to find it’s the least of his problems.

Blending my knowledge and experience of environmental health with a complex plot and story led to an original murder mystery that paid homage to the traditional whodunit while remaining firmly rooted in today’s world.

When the first review for No Accident was posted, I knew I’d learned to write original crime fiction.

#2 – you can’t do it alone

friends

Unless you collaborate with another author, writing a novel is a solitary discipline. It’s you, the computer and your ideas. Sometimes a blank screen taunts you. At other times, you wish you could type as fast as the ideas coming out of your mind.

But what do you do when you’re struggling, when you need help or information, or simply a few words of encouragement?

You could talk to your partner, your friends or your West Highland white terrier, Harvey. He’s a terrific listener if you reward him with treats and attention. He was so helpful I put him into the novels as Kent Fisher’s dog, Columbo.

But pets aside, in the real world no one understands like another author. In the days before the internet brought us together, authors met at Writers’ Groups. They still do, but social media offers a more instant and accessible place for authors to gather and share.

In the case of No Accident, it was a chance meeting with a fellow author that nudged me towards publication. I first met him on my environmental health rounds, unaware that the man who ran the tearooms also published historical naval fiction.

We talked about writing. He read the first couple of chapters, gave some encouraging feedback, and suggested a few revisions. Not long after, he offered to introduce me to a publisher, who was setting up a new company and looking for authors.

One email later, the publisher offered to publish No Accident.

I read the email several times in stunned silence. Then the panic set in.

#3 – when a publisher wants your novel, there’s nowhere to hide.

hiding

The novel was a mammoth 145,000 words long, at least 50,000 words too many for a crime story. I also had a bigger challenge – Kent Fisher couldn’t solve the murder, essential in a whodunit, you could say. While I read through the contract, I wondered why I didn’t deal with these issues before approaching a publisher. I didn’t because I never expected anyone to be interested in my novel.

That’s what years of rejection do to your self-confidence.

To cut a long story short, I had to cut a long story short.

As I removed unnecessary scenes, characters and subplots, the novel became sharper. Suddenly it was clear how Kent Fisher would solve the murder. I wrote a new ending, reducing the word count some more.

Finally, after five months revising and editing, I sent the completed manuscript to the publisher, hoping they still wanted to publish it. They did, but it needed professional editing.

#4 – editing is fun

editing

For someone who would rather move on to a new project than rewrite something and submit it again, I took to editing like the proverbial duck and its fondness for water.

It’s not straightforward or easy, but once someone points out some of the flaws in your writing, your eyes are suddenly opened. The issues that let down your writing leap out at you. Sometimes, so many jump out, you wonder whether you have any talent at all.

Did I really write that?

I asked myself this many times as 100,000 words became 90,000. The manuscript went back and forth across the Atlantic five times before the final proof edit. Even then, I uncovered errors we’d missed before.

But what made it fun?

Simple – I could see the story getting better and better with each revision. Not only did it boost my confidence, I think it made me a better writer. And nowhere through the process did I feel like I’d lost or sacrificed anything valuable.

#5 – never give up …

… you never know what’s over the horizon.

Apart from being Kent Fisher’s core belief, this lesson fits me too. People who know me will tell you I’m stubborn. I prefer to call it determination. At school, I once filled 14 pages of an exercise book with calculations to solve a maths equation. The teacher wrote, ‘Well persevered’.

Not all challenges in life can be solved in an exercise book, though I suspect many can.

I could have quit writing many times over, but a lack of success doesn’t make you stop loving something. It’s frustrating, sure, but so are most things in life at one time or other. You don’t stop living when things don’t go your way.

If you believe you can, which is not always easy when no one wants what you write

if you learn from your mistakes

if you find people who share your passion and are willing to share their secrets

if you work hard and try to be better

you can probably achieve anything you set your heart on.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comments box below.


No Accident is available from Amazon

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River of Dreams

5th July 2019 – Songs that changed my life

Sometimes you listen to a song and it has a special significance, a deeper resonance. It touches you in a way that makes your spine tingle.

That was my criteria for selecting songs for my appearance on the Martina Mercer show on Hailsham FM recently. We had two hours of conversation, punctuated by my favourite songs. (Click here if you’d like to listen to the show and some great songs).

River of Dreams by Barclay James Harvest is a song about regret, about looking back at what might have been, about hopes and dreams unfulfilled. This was the original band’s last studio album in 1997, so I guess it was inevitable that they would look back on their career.

Ironically, River of Dreams stirred me to look forward, not back.

Up until then, I sometimes wondered if my life had been a series of missed opportunities.

Don’t get me wrong, I was happily married with an interesting and fulfilling job in environmental health, a gorgeous wife and a lovely home on the south coast. But my success as a writer amounted to a few articles published in national magazines and a regular column on technology in Writers Monthly magazine.

When I wrote my first novel at the age of 17, I dreamt of becoming an author like Graham Greene or Harper Lee, writing books that could change people’s lives. The unimaginatively titled book, Survival in the Garden, was written for children as my life experience was mainly the wishful idealism of a teenager.

Publishers, Hamish Hamilton, wrote me a lovely letter, complimenting me on my realistic dialogue and story. It was a shame I’d used anthropomorphic characters as they felt the story would have had more appeal with human characters.

Had I known better, or had anyone to advise me, I would have revised the story and used human characters.

I would also have told them I was 17 years old.

I didn’t mention this because I thought they wouldn’t take me seriously or think I was precocious.

I guess this was my first experience of regret. Every rejection letter took me back to that missed opportunity, which seemed to set the pattern for my life.

rejectionWhen I wrote, I always felt I was a notch below where I needed to be. But what did I need to do to lift my writing a level? What was the secret ingredient that years of searching had failed to uncover?

Even my modest success writing articles didn’t translate into better novels. I kept trying, though my output was minimal since my first flurry into novel writing – five or six finished novels in 30 years. Many unfinished, I suspect. Plenty of short stories and humorous pieces though.

Life got in the way – marriage, creating a home, my career as an environmental health officer. If I couldn’t make it as a writer, I could succeed at these.

But I couldn’t help looking back, regretting chances I could have taken. I resented the success that others had, wondered why they got all the luck. My writing was as good as theirs, wasn’t it?

Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. I never tried hard enough to improve. I joined writers’ circles on the internet and at home, critiquing while others critiqued me, but I never believed in myself.

I thought success happened to others, that I was fated to feel frustrated and a failure.

failureHadn’t a careers teacher at school destroyed my dreams of becoming a journalist?

Hadn’t I made a childish mistake with my first novel, writing about animals and insects?

And then I listened to River of Dreams. This was me, getting bitter and resentful because I hadn’t had the life I deserved.

Only I had. You get out what you put it, right?

Had I really tried to improve my writing by editing and revising my work when it was rejected?

Had I really learned from the articles I sold to national magazines? I succeeded through hard work and preparation, market research, revising and honing my words.

Couldn’t I do that with novels?

Why not? All I had to do was apply myself, work hard and learn. If I stayed positive and believed in myself, I would find a way. Better that than looking back with regret over what might have been.

I did the market research. Crime was filled with detectives of all kinds, but no one had an environmental health officer solving murders. It sounded ridiculous at first, but it’s not as daft as it may sound.

I created Kent Fisher shortly after listening to River of Dreams. It was a turning point that eventually led to an independent US publisher giving me what I’d always wanted – an offer to publish my novel.

Would I have got there without River of Dreams? We’ll never know.

River of Dreams


No MysteryIf you’d like to find out whether you’d enjoy the Kent Fisher mysteries, this free introduction to the series is free when you sign up to my monthly newsletter, which will keep you up to date news and releases. Click here to continue.

Silent Running

unless you count the panting.

23rd June 2019.

Race for LifeThe highlight of the week was last Sunday’s Race for Life, when Carol and I ran 10K around Hampden Park in Eastbourne and raised £265 for Cancer Research UK.

It was the twisting course of two laps through woodland and around fields. My abiding memory will be the first time I turned from the main lake to be met by a stream of pink, four or five people wide, heading in the opposite direction. Young and old, some in fancy dress, some with their dogs, one or two in wheelchairs, all taking part to raise money for charity.

This was the first year men were allowed to take part and it was lovely to see families going round together in what was a carnival atmosphere. The noise drowned out my panting as I pushed myself hard to run as fast as I could around the course.

It wasn’t a race – it’s what I do. I set off faster than intended and keep it going for as long as possible.

Only this time, it was fun.

It’s a pergolette

On a less serious note, the works in the rear garden were completed on Monday with the construction of a small pergola over the start of the new path. As it only has four posts, I’m calling it a pergolette.

It also means no more distractions from the writing.

It’s long been my belief that cups of tea are an essential part of any construction job. I won’t tell you how many I go through while I’m writing, but I use those moments when the kettle boils and the tea bags release their magic to think about my story and what I’m going to write next.

I’ve lost count of how many good ideas I’ve had while watching hot water darken to a golden tan.

With another cup to brew for Chris, who’s done a wonderful job of transforming the patio and garden, and decisions to be made about layout, how many cross timbers for the pergolette, and why soil always finds it way inside your trainers, my mind hasn’t always been on writing.

But if I ever want to bury a body in a garden, I know how many cubic metres of soil I’ll need.

Mercy Me

Released from brewing duties and topsoil traumas, the writing picked up with the usual crop of complications that I can’t help throwing in at the end of chapters.

It stems from wanting to make Kent Fisher’s life as difficult and complicated as I can. It creates a more interesting story, if nothing else.

I don’t like stories where protagonists get what they want too easily. Every step forward should be an obstacle to overcome, leading to another, preferably more difficult one ahead. It means I often wonder ‘what’s the last thing Kent needs at this point’ and then throw it into the mix.

The ending of No More Lies, if you’ve read it, should confirm that.

That’s why I don’t always know what’s coming next when I’m writing, but that’s how I like it.

Talk about making life difficult!

Anyway, with just shy of 20,000 words written, No Mercy is shaping up well with an intriguing subplot that’s crept in under the radar, adding to his misery.

And in case you’re wondering …

or even if you’re not, I’m going to use the titles of songs for my future blogs. The aim is make the song title appropriate to the content.

Silent Running by Mike and the Mechanics features the wonderful, silky vocals of Paul Carrack, and was the best of many songs I could have chosen about running.

 

 

Back in the groove

Or why I took a two month break from Robservations.

14th June 2019.

Sometimes you have to step back to move forward. In early April my thoughts turned to the publication of the fourth Kent Fisher mystery, No More Lies, due for release on 9th May. I needed to prepare for the launch, write guest posts for the blog tour and improve my visibility on social media.

The first two I managed, the third remains a work in progress.

If you’d like to find out more, click here for No More Lies and here for the blog tour posts.

Did I rest on my laurels?

Nope.

Radio saga

My first task was to prepare for a guest appearance on Hailsham FM, a local community radio station that covers part of Kent Fisher Country. I’d been invited onto the Martina Mercer radio show on Sunday 2nd June. The aim was to chat and play a selection of music, chosen by me.

I could have flicked through my 600+ album collection for tracks I liked. Instead, I wrote down favourite records from the past, then I checked the artists in my collection, which reminded me of a few more tracks and songs. Eventually, I had about 30 tracks to choose from. I whittled these down to 15, which I took with me to the studio on Sunday.

After a chat and sound test with Martina, I adjusted the headphones, settled back and  we were live on air. I enjoyed watching Martina work the controls, insert weather reports, adverts and sponsor messages, seamlessly switching back and forth to me and the music.

It looked effortless, but when things do, it usually means a lot of work has gone into them.

It was an enjoyable, fun afternoon. People who listened in have said how much they enjoyed the show, learning more about me and my books. They complimented me on my choice of music, which was great because many of the songs had a story to go with them.

The most recent song I chose was released in 1997, which kind of tells you where my music heart lies.

The show is available to listen to online by clicking here.

The best moment was listening to Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding by Elton John, probably my favourite song of all time. It sounded amazing in the studio. If you’ve never heard it before, click here and settle back for eleven minutes of an artist at the top of his game.

Slurry seems to be the hardest word.

Okay, I admit it. I was tempted to substitute a different last word.

Not content with choosing favourite songs, I asked a friend, who works for the Environment Agency, if he would take me to look at some slurry lagoons in the lovely countryside of East Sussex.

Why would an author want to look at big holes in the ground filled with cattle poo, you might ask?

Simple, I wanted to find out how easy it would be to dump a body in one. My friend took me to three different farms to give me an insight into the world of dairy farming and the waste it produces during the winter months when the cows are brought into barns.

It was a glorious afternoon. The sun was shining, the South Downs looked as beautiful as ever, and I was getting used to the smell, constantly watching where I put my feet as I walked around the farms. Nothing prepared me for the vast lagoons, which were much bigger and deeper than I’d expected.

Slurry lagoon

Maybe I could dump a few bodies in one of these.

I’ll say no more at this point, as I wouldn’t want to spoil Kent Fisher #5, which I’m currently writing. But, if the action moves to a farm, you’ll have a pretty good idea what’s coming, but you won’t know why if I do my job correctly.

That neatly leads me into writing the next murder mystery, which started on 17th April.

No Mercy
When there is no justice, you make your own.

Like the previous novels, I’m trying to keep things fresh and different from the usual crime fiction out there. This time, the focus is more on Kent’s environmental health work and the problems which arise when an arrogant restaurateur feels he’s been treated badly.

Things go from bad to worse when the restaurateur is found murdered and Kent has no alibi.

I can’t tell you more because I don’t have a detailed plan or road map for the novel. Like No Remorse and No More Lies before, I start with an idea and a few suspects and go from there, working it out as I write.

And like the previous stories, Kent never misses an opportunity for social commnet when he walks from the town hall to a restaurant on Bank Street.

‘The banks have gone now, allowing pub and takeaway chains to move in and do their bit for obesity.’

Time for a cup of tea and a biscuit, I mean banana.

Until next time …


No MysteryIf you’d like to find out more about the Kent Fisher mysteries to see if they’re the kind of books for you, you can claim a free copy of No Mysteries by clicking here or the link in the sidebar to your right.

Let’s talk about listening

There’s an adage that says you have two ears and one mouth – use them in those proportions.

WriterSound advice, you might say, but us writers have our pens and word processors. We often have an audience who like our words, which is why we write for them. We talk to them too on social media, through newsletters, and at events.

Writers have something to say, something they want to bring to the world, whether it’s to entertain, raise awareness or change opinions. Who knows where this urge comes from? Maybe we spent too much time alone as children, being ignored or afraid to raise our voices.

I spent my time reading, which is a solitary activity. Like writing, ironically. But both sides of the coin involve imagination, the excitement of exploring new worlds, learning something new – often about ourselves.

It’s difficult to learn without listening. When you read, the author’s words are talking to you, giving you information, laughter, insights. You take them in, listening in your mind. Sometimes these words strike a chord and move you.

“Don’t let your failures define you.”

That gave me a jolt. The words struck deep, tapping into some dark corner of my subconscious where I hid feelings that had the power to unsettle and undermine me.

Is that how I defined my life – by my failures?

Once I’d read those words, there was no going back. I’d listened. I was speechless, aware that I’d made a discovery that could change the way I viewed life and me.

That’s how powerful words can be, whether written or spoken.

I’d like to think the words were significant to the author who wrote them. She couldn’t have realised the effect they would have on me, but she spoke and I listened.

In case you’re wondering, it was Cheryl Bradshaw in Hush Now, Baby, and you can read my review of this terrific novel here.

As an author, you should also listen to the comments readers and reviewers leave about your books. You learn fast that not everyone likes your books. How could they? If you could please everyone on the planet, you’d be a wealthy genius, right?

But you should still listen to those who don’t like your style. They could be pointing up areas you need to improve, mistakes you could avoid in future.

Like my school reports used to say, ‘Could do better.’

That’s why I love editing and revising my novels. When you write, you’re telling a story. When you revise and edit, you’re listening to what you said. If you stumble over a sentence when you read, it needs improving. If something feels wrong, it is wrong.

Sometimes, those little niggles speak so quietly you can miss them.

Listen hard, listen closely.

That’s how I’ve spent the last few weeks in Crouch Corner, revising and polishing my Kent Fisher mystery #4, No More Lies. I cut around 20,000 words to make it sharper, fresher and as smooth as I could. I listened to every sentence, every word almost.

reading KindleThen I put the finished novel on my Kindle and read it as a reader.

I thoroughly enjoyed the story, but still found quite a few areas to improve. Sometimes the rhythm of a sentence or line of dialogue wasn’t right. One minor character underwent a name change.

Then a blogger read it and found more things I needed to put right.

That’s an awful lot of listening, which makes me wonder if the old adage is correct.

Writers may have plenty to say, but I suspect we listen more than we realise.

So, tell me what you think. I’d love to hear from you.

And if you’d like to find out more about the Kent Fisher mysteries, click here to visit my website or here to visit my Amazon author page.

 

How I rewrote my future.

Did I really write that?

Well, no one else did. It’s your name and title on the front cover.

HarveyI could blame Harvey, my adorable West Highland white terrier, who sometimes wanders up, seeking attention or a treat. He may wonder what I do, sitting at my desk in Crouch Corner for most of the day, typing away.

I doubt if he realises I’m creating imaginary worlds, populated by exciting characters. Not that you’d believe it if you read some of the writing.

Ernest Hemingway said, ‘the first draft of anything is shit.’

I can’t help feeling he was being a bit hard on himself. I’m sure he wrote some brilliant prose first time around. Occasionally, I disturb Harvey with a whoop of delight when I write a terrific cliff hanger at the end of a chapter. I’ve also been reduced to tears when something I write touches a deeper chord.

So, in deference to Hemingway, while I agree that first drafts need work, not all of the writing is bad.

And I’ve just realised that Hemingway would be a brilliant name for a dog. A determined terrier, methinks.

Michael Crichton said, books are not written they’re rewritten.

That’s not so self-critical and clearly accurate. The chances of turning out a perfect novel first time must be greater than winning the lottery. The National Lottery wasn’t around when I submitted my unedited first novel to a publisher, so I had no idea of the odds facing me.

I was 17. What did I know? I was high on Tippex fumes.

WritingYep, it was the era of manual typewriters, carbon copies and Tippex to mask typos and mistakes. I used liberal quantities of the stuff, hating how I had to interrupt the creative flow to correct a misspelling or add a better word.

Suffice to say, I was no fan of editing or revising. You had to check grammar and spelling because people got really uptight about that. I suspect many editors were in fact English teachers, who seemed to like nothing more than to spot the mistakes and highlight them with a red pen.

Looking back, I wonder if I might have improved my chances of publication had I spent time improving my first drafts. When my work was rejected, it didn’t occur to me to take a long hard look at what I’d written. I’d already moved on, excited by the next project.

Eventually, I ran out of steam and ideas. I began to question my cavalier approach to what I wrote. Maybe I’d missed a few opportunities along the way because I couldn’t be bothered to make the extra effort.

Could try harder.

Was that written in my school report?

Could do better. That was.

Was it the story of my life – almost but not quite?

The possibility knocked me off course for many years. It made me doubt myself, ripped chunks out of my self-confidence and left me wondering whether my dream was beyond my reach.

But the desire to write and be published ran deep. I did moderately well with articles, publishing a few in national magazines. But it wasn’t novel writing. Where were the characters, the conflict, the suspense and resolution in Making your own cold frame?

Okay, there was a journey of discovery – I discovered I could make cold frames – but it didn’t lift the soul.

Things improved when I created Kent Fisher. I’d found a niche in the crowded crime fiction market and the juices were flowing. This time, I would try harder, do better.

No BodiesI wrote the first novel, which went on to become No Bodies, the second in the series, and revised and edited it, using a word processor. No Tippex to cloud my thinking or dent my enthusiasm.

I left that to the publishers and agents who weren’t interested – with the exception of one. She read the whole story, but felt the characters didn’t leap of the page.

I considered a novel about an elite team of high jumpers, the Fosbury Fixers, but as you’ve already guessed, it flopped.

Humour was always my main defence against disappointment and pain. When we played football as children and a kid kicked me, I always smiled to annoy them. See, you can’t hurt me. If only that were true.

But, I thought about what the agent said and worked on improving the characters by writing a second Kent Fisher novel, No Accident. It became the first in the series, having to dovetail into No Bodies.

That’s right, I’d moved on to the next project again.

Let’s wind forward a few years to submitting the first three chapters of No Accident to a publisher. Within a day, I had an offer of publication. Okay, it was dependent on the rest of the story being up to standard, but it was an offer.

Overnight, things had become serious.

No AccidentSomeone wanted to read the rest of my novel – the one gathering dust on a hard drive. Maybe I should read it, see whether it’s any good, whether it needs a crack team of high jumpers to give it a lift.

I was appalled by the long, lumbering story I’d written. It was as if my eyes had been opened to my shortcomings – the writing kind, not my lack of patience.

It took six months of revising, rewriting and replotting to turn No Accident into a sharper, fresher novel. The publisher liked it, thankfully, and I signed up, oblivious to the real editing and revising that lay ahead.

Enter the professional editor.

Her first run through of my novel produced plenty for me to think about. At one point, I wondered why the publisher wanted my work if it needed so many changes. But that’s what you get when you look at something with an objective, dispassionate eye.

It never occurred to me that other people wouldn’t see my story the way I did.

So, I edited and revised, threw in a few improvements of my own and emailed it back. It wasn’t too painful, and begrudgingly I had to admit the story was better.

I wasn’t expecting more comments and changes. Hadn’t I done what I was asked to do?

Oh, I’d made a few changes, which affected the plot lines later and a few more typos came to light.

In truth, it didn’t involve a massive amount of revision and the editor had a great sense of humour. She enjoyed the humour in my story, which I was striving to retain at all costs.

There were two more revisions before the finished novel was published. When I saw it on Amazon that first morning, I knew all the revisions, edits and rewrites had been worth it.

Even better, I could now see the faults and weaknesses in my own writing. It allowed me to revise No Bodies and improve it.

My first drafts are now better written, though far from perfect. I know when something isn’t working – better still, why it’s not working. My self-confidence has grown too, refusing to let me accept something that isn’t working or up to standard.

That’s been the story of No More Lies, the fourth and latest Kent Fisher murder mystery. It’s been a difficult birth, with lots of early complications that took a lot of time and effort to correct. But having now completed two edits on the novel, I’m glad I made the effort.

I tried harder. I did better.

And the Fosbury Fixers, who were waiting anxiously in the wings, ready to step in, were sent home.

No More Lies is now with my editor. I await her guidance before the final round of revisions and proofing. If all goes well, the novel should be available for pre-order from Amazon in April with a release date of 9th May 2019.


If you’d like to find out more about Kent Fisher and the murder mystery novels, click here to visit my website. I’m offering a free copy of No Mystery, which is an introduction to the series and characters. All you need to do is sign up to my monthly email newsletter, which will give you more insights and updates. Click here to find out more.

Enjoy!

 

Running Commentary

I learnt to run as a child, mainly to escape from the kids who didn’t like my stories and jokes.

In time, this led to my selection for the school’s Junior Cross Country Team. Any initial euphoria at being selected soon paled when I finished a race sodden from the rain and covered in mud. My legs and hands were red with cold, my toes and fingers numb and unresponsive.

Not my favourite way to spend a Saturday morning.

But cross country running inspired me to come up with creative and imaginative excuses to escape the Saturday morning mud bath.

These intimate moments with the worst of the local weather persuaded me to keep my distance as I progressed through senior school. I found ways to avoid physical education, as it was called. I used these periods in the timetable to take the science subjects I’d studiously avoided before.

Science left me with the same feelings as running through mud and rain. Unfortunately, unlike cross country running, science enabled me to go onto further education.

I didn’t return to running until my 47th year.

With no slack left in my shirts and trousers as my weight increased, I decided exercise was cheaper than buying a new wardrobe of clothes.

After monthly gym fees, proper trainers, breathable vests and shirts, a variety of shorts, running socks and jackets, I discovered I was useless at mathematics too.

Robert Crouch runningOver the years, thanks to running groups and many enjoyable years as a member of Hailsham Harriers, I’ve become a much fitter, healthier person and kept my weight under control. I’ve got to know lots of great people, run in some terrific events and enjoyed the magical scenery of the South Downs.

Most of all, I suspect, is the boost in confidence that health, fitness and achievement bring. At one time, I was running personal best after personal best, going well beyond my expectations. But success takes its toll on the muscles and I retired from competitive running four years ago.

From time to time, I think about doing an event, but it’s more wishful thinking. The drive and commitment have gone. The legs lack the stamina and strength needed for competition. And I’m not going to match the times of old, am I?

I still look forward to every run, even when gale force winds are blowing as they often do at this time of year. It’s a chance to clear the mind, to consider challenges, think through ideas and plans.

Sometimes I think of nothing – a kind of mobile meditation, I guess.

Last Sunday, I needed to resolve the name of a character. Having gone through five or six first names already, I was starting to wonder if I would ever find the right name. Names are critical because they tell you so much about a person. Many evoke characteristics, attitudes and values.

It was such an important issue, I ran two miles more than planned – but I got the name I wanted, along with some additional character insights.

This morning, as I battled the swirling winds, I composed the blurb for No More Lies, the fourth Kent Fisher murder mystery, currently on its second edit. I should say that I’d already had a couple of stabs at a blurb with mixed results.

But as is often the case, you know when something has potential, when it’s got legs, if you’ll forgive the pun.

If you’re interested to see what I came up with, click here to find out.

I’d love to know what you think, so please let me know.

Must run along now as I’d like to read a little more of Want You Dead by Peter James, one of my favourite authors. The story’s developing nicely after a slow start with lots of tension, suspense and malice.

Want You Dead Peter James

The next murder mystery novel is only an idea away

Ideas are everywhere.

Sometimes it feels like you can pluck them from the ether. And you can lose them just as quickly if you’re not careful.

Many of my ideas come when I’m drifting off to sleep. Shaving in the morning seems to generate quite a few. Running seems to stimulate the creative juices too.

So why are these bad times for ideas?

Simple, I have no way of recording them at the moment they announce themselves.

Okay, I’ve pulled back the duvet and felt my way in the darkness to my study in Crouch Corner to scribble a note on a Post It. That’s why I use a battery powered electric shaver – it’s easy to scurry back to the study. And I have been known to repeat the idea over and over like a mantra while running to imprint it on my brain.

But sadly, I’ve lost ideas in the blink of an eye.

The idea arrives. I stop what I’m doing and head upstairs to the study. On the way another thought hijacks me. It can be as mundane as ‘I still haven’t filled that small hole beside the loft hatch’. But it’s enough to wipe the idea from my mind.

No amount of coaxing and retracing my steps can bring it back.

That’s the trouble with ideas.

Idea writingWhen they stimulate more ideas, you’re in trouble. Writing down the first idea often sends the second and third out of your head.

That’s when you wish you’d taken the shorthand class you thought you’d never need.

Short of attending a mental Zumba class, I’m not sure how to make my mind and memory fitter and better. Then again, there’s a good chance I’ll have forgotten all about ‘Zumba for the Forgetful’ by the time I’ve returned downstairs for the cup of tea that’s now stone cold.

Ideas solve problems.

“Everything begins with an idea.” – Earl Nightengale.

I wonder if everything begins with a question. Or a problem, if you prefer.

Questions set the mind working. Problems need to be overcome.

The stage is set for ideas, especially when new or better solutions are required.

When readers ask me where I get my ideas for plots and crime novels, it’s as if they believe there’s a mystical well that I dip into when I need inspiration. If it’s a whacky idea or something out of left field, I wonder where it came from.

But thinking about it, the mind is perfectly adapted to solving problems and answering questions. Feed in the information and the mind will process it, consider the alternatives and present you with an answer.

Be warned, you won’t always get the answer when you want it – or the answer you want. It can take weeks, even months. The lag allows you to dress it up as inspiration, but there’s no magic here.

WowIt doesn’t mean the idea can’t be imaginative or take your breath away.

Many times while I’m writing a murder mystery novel, an idea crashes through my concentration, stopping me in my tracks.

Often, it’s an insight into something deeper in the story that I haven’t quite grasped.

When I was struggling with No More Lies, the latest Kent Fisher murder mystery, I had one of those moments. The end of the chapter was almost upon me and I needed a hook to round off everything. Not that I was thinking about that. My thoughts were probably on what I would write in the next chapter.

My fingers simply typed a sentence that left me stunned.

One sentence.

Those few words changed my understanding of the dynamics of the story. Suddenly, the main struggle in the novel became clear. It wasn’t the one I was trying to write. It was something deeper and more fundamental – something that made the rest of the novel easier to write.

That’s when I had the idea for my January Challenge

If you read my posts, you’ll know I challenged myself to complete the first draft of No More Lies before the end of the month. Now I’m in the vacuum between the end of the first draft and the first edit and revision.

Murder sceneBut the ideas keep coming, which means there are still issues that need to be solved.

Top of the list was Kent Fisher #5 – the next murder mystery.

No More Lies has gone through three different titles so far. The first half of the story required a similar number of revisions before the ‘sentence that changed everything.’

No such uncertainty with Kent Fisher #5 –

No Mercy
When there is no justice you create your own.

The idea simply answered the question – what’s the next Kent Fisher murder mystery about?

What do you think? How does it sound?

More ideas have flowed from this. They’re all recorded as a rough story begins to take shape. But I won’t be saying any more. Ideas often lose their shine when you share them. In your mind, ideas sparkle and tantalise. Once verbalised, they often sound far less exciting.

And some should never see the light of day.


If you’d like a free copy of No Mystery, the story behind the Kent Fisher murder mysteries, add your details to the form in the sidebar.


Something for the weekend

This week, some quotes about ideas. It seems like I’m in esteemed company, relatively speaking, of course.

“Why is it I always get my best ideas while shaving?” – Albert Einstein

And one for the crime fiction writers –

“You can kill a man, but you can’t kill an idea.” – Medgar Evers

The hole after the whole

Maybe I should have been a copywriter. After all, I love words and I love playing with words.

No, I’m not in search of an alternative career. It’s another of those random thoughts that flit through my head now I’ve completed the latest novel, No More Lies. It’s the recovery after the sprint finish, the gin and tonic after the performance.

Writing a novel can be exhilarating, especially when you write crime fiction and there are murders to solve and killers to be arrested after a hectic climax where the hero almost becomes the final victim.

Then it’s all over.

It’s time for Mr Logic and Mr Rational to regain control of your head. And never forgetting that little devil on your shoulder, reminding you of all the loose ends you forgot to tie up.

So much for writing, ‘The End’.

Did the story make sense? Did the characters feel real? Did they behave credibly … or at least in character? Did everything hang together or fall apart?

For months you’ve immersed yourself in your story, living the lives of the characters, facing the drams they face, anxious as they start making up their own stories and lead you in an unplanned direction.

Now you’re sitting at your desk, desperate to dive straight back in and deal with all the questions you keep asking yourself.

Maybe desperate is too strong a word. Tempted perhaps.

Nah!

Experience has taught me that when I write ‘The End’, it means the book goes away for a few weeks. While I don’t physically pack it off on a cruise of the Caribbean, that’s the sort of distance I’m trying to put between it and me. I need the space so my mind can recover and relax, so I can get on with more mundane, but necessary tasks like reading and return to my story refreshed.

The story doesn’t completely disappear from my thoughts. From time to time, my subconscious will intrude to remind me about a certain detail. Or it tells me more loose ends are fraying. I make notes and forget about it until the cruise ship, Editing and Revision, arrives back in port.

That leaves a few weeks to catch up on all the jobs I set aside while I wrote the novel. Pruning the apple trees takes less time than anticipated so maybe I should plan the promotion for the new book. I need a cover, a blog tour or launch team perhaps.

What about the website? It doesn’t quite cut it the way it used to. Is that me raising my standards? Or is it a while since I took a good look at it? What made me think that selfie looked cool?

Then again, it could be time to venture into the garage and clear away the stuff I’ve collected since I finished the last novel? And those prunings are now strewn across the floor since the refuse sack toppled over.

Somehow, none of it seems appealing.

My January challenge forced me to remain disciplined, so with more logic than enthusiasm, I did a stock take. Within minutes, I morphed into the manager I used to be, identifying priorities, creating project plans and task, allocating resources.

Okay, I wrote a list, but you get the idea.

Fisher's Fables coverIt was like Fisher’s Fables all over again.

For those who haven’t read them, Fisher’s Fables was a humorous blog about my time as the manager of a team of environmental health officers, who mainly inspected restaurant kitchens, that kind of thing.

The blog allowed me to send up management in general and local government management in particular. The characters I created to deliver these send-ups migrated into my crime fiction and the Kent Fisher murder mystery novels.

But as I sat at my desk in Crouch Corner, assessing how I would prioritise which priorities to performance monitor, I found myself looking back, reliving those blogs and the early Kent Fisher stories that went before them.

I opened up the draft of No Mystery, which is the story behind the Kent Fisher mysteries, charting the events and decisions that led to me creating the character and trying my hand at writing crime fiction.

It’s amazing what you forget. And what you remember.

I’d forgotten that I needed to complete No Mystery, having set it to one side while I completed my novel.

The idea’s simple enough – show readers and those who might want to learn more about the characters and books how it all began and developed into the series it is today.

All I had to do was finish the edit, format the paperback and eBook versions, write a back cover blurb so Jane at String Design could complete the cover.

It’s taken a few days, but what fun I’ve had reliving some of the memories – until I realised how many years it’s been since I first conceived Kent Fisher.

Anyway, I’m delighted to say there’s now a paperback version of No Mystery on Amazon for anyone who might be interested. I had planned to put up an electronic version, but I thought it would be good to offer it free to anyone who subscribes to my email list, the Kent Fisher Readers Group.

Just click the ‘Yes, add me to your mailing list’ option below if you’d like a free copy of No Mystery.

Alternatively, you can sign up on my Facebook author page, or use the form in the sidebar on the right.

And in case you’re wondering, I didn’t spend all week working on No Mystery. I updated my website and started planning a book launch for No More Lies. The garage still looks like a holding station for the rag and bone man, but as it isn’t on my list of priorities …