No doubting the doubt

When it comes to 2019, there’s only one thing I’m sure about – uncertainty.

The year began with doubts over No More Lies, the fourth Kent Fisher mystery. Despite numerous revisions and edits, the first half of the book never felt right. Whether I was pushing the characters too far, or whether I simply lacked belief in my writing, I don’t know.

Weary of looking back and analysing, I decided to complete the second half of the novel by the end of January.

While I’m not sure what prompted this, the prospect excited me. Then I paused. What would happen if I didn’t achieve my target?

I ignored the doubts and set a publication date in May. At the end of January, I would book a blog tour for the launch of the novel, as bloggers prefer at least three months’ notice. My editor was available in April, which gave me February and March for my own editing and revising.

At the end of January, I finished the first draft of the novel. It took six months to write the first half and one month to write the second.

Crazy.

(I would add that it took me much longer to edit and revise the second half of the novel, which needed far more work to bring it up to standard.)

I also know how people can write a 50,000 word novel during National Novel Writing Month, usually November each year.

Now all I had to do was take direct action marketing my work.

When I was a manager in my former career as an environmental health officer, I had a couple of mantras. Unlike Danni in my novels, I didn’t post them on a pinboard, but I often quoted them to my team.

Actions are not the same as achievements.

If only I could embrace it in my work as an author.

After completing No More Lies and booking the blog tour, my marketing efforts consisted of research, reading informative articles, and planning. Lots of planning – even a dreaded spreadsheet. (You can’t get more middle management than that.)

Lots of actions, but no achievements until the tweaks in December to improve and simplify my website.

Okay, I posted on Facebook, tweeted occasionally, and wrote a few blog posts, but it was all a bit half-hearted. Trouble is, I feel self-conscious when I write about my writing. I see other authors promote themselves in various Facebook groups with some style, able to talk about themselves without sounding unnatural or boastful.

These authors also spot opportunities to promote themselves, start conversations, share photographs and discuss problems they’ve faced and solved.

I’m always concerned I’ll sound pretentious.

Net result – I did hardly any marketing last year. I read many useful articles. A few ideas popped into my thoughts, but I lacked organisation and plans. I took a short online course, which was informative, but I’ve yet to turn it into actions, or achievements.

Thankfully, there’s nothing wrong with the writing

I completed the fully edited fifth Kent Fisher mystery, No Mercy, by the middle of December. Unlike the previous novel, this one flowed from start to finish. The editing and revising were thorough and everything is now ready to go for publication on 16th January, complete with a launch team to help promote the book.

I’m feeling good.

So good it makes me wonder whether I can repeat the process with the sixth novel. With little more than a scattering of ideas and disparate events, there was nothing urging me to write.

Then yesterday morning, I picked up a pad and my fountain pen, determined to make some sense of these ideas. Within a few minutes, my imagination took over, making connections, raising questions and complications, producing a delicious twist that took my breath away.

Okay, it’s all background detail rather than a synopsis. I don’t have a plot or outline. I prefer to write the story as it happens, discovering and detecting alongside Kent Fisher as he weaves his way along, a chapter at a time, never quite sure what’s coming next.

That’s the positive side of not knowing.

Maybe I should translate that into marketing – simply have a go and see where it leads.

I might even surprise myself in 2020.

Friday Feedback- 29th November 2019

There’s not much to report as I’ve spent this week fitting new doors inside the house. However, Wednesday turned out to be interesting.

Carol finished reading No Mercy on Wednesday morning. “Loved it,” she said. “Even better than the last one.”

Around lunchtime, my editor, Liz, emailed me her report on the novel. “It’s a cracker!” she said. “Not much to adjust.”

Not bad, I thought, before picking up the mallet and chisel. I can move on with the final edit and proof reading this coming week and get the book ready for pre-order and publication. I’m hoping the cover should be available soon, so it’s all coming together.

I’m also looking to relaunch my Robservations blog soon, prompted by Agatha Christie, no less. I’m currently reading and loving The 4.50 from Paddington, one of Miss Marple’s adventures. It’s interesting to see how the BBC and ITV have tinkered with the story for television. I’m not sure why they did as the story’s excellent. I also began to realise what I’d learned from her over the years.

 

 

Friday Feedback – 22nd November 2019

This is the updated Saturday version, delayed in the spirit of Brexit.

Like most the weeks this month, it’s been non-stop editing to ensure No Mercy, the fifth Kent Fisher murder mystery, is as good as I can make it. It’s now in the hands of my editor, Liz, for an objective evaluation. I’m working with my cover designer at the moment and hope to bring you a preview of the finished result before too long.

The story starts at the point No More Lies finished and will take readers deeper into the lives of Kent and some of those close to him, with some surprising revelations. Alongside the murders, the plot has a strong environmental health thread to it, which includes the restaurateur from hell.

No Mercy will be available on Amazon from Thursday, 16th January 2020, and it should be available for preorder before Christmas.

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?

From looking back to moving forward

‘You were a bright lad, but you were in the wrong job.’

Two years ago, after 39 years of service, I quit my job in environmental health to write full time. I rang Ged, who was my first manager when I started as a student Environmental Health Officer (EHO) in 1977. He chuckled and said, ‘You were a bright lad, but you were in the wrong job.’

Looking back, he was probably right. But I never had the courage, conviction or support to become a writer, as you’ll see if you read my post, Alas Poor Robert.

It may have been the wrong job, but I loved environmental health. It’s one of the most varied and rewarding jobs you can imagine. You’re out and about, meeting people and finding solutions to all manner of problems and issues to protect and improve public health.

Like nursing and teaching, it’s a vocation. And like many public sector jobs, it’s suffered in the last ten years as funding cuts and the media’s deriding, but false image of local government have taken their toll.

managerI was managing a team of officers by then. I spent much of my time justifying my actions and decisions to senior management, councillors, colleagues, my team, the press, the public and numerous other government bodies. It seemed crazy to me as I was following policy, working efficiently, within budget, and providing a good service.

In the end I couldn’t take any more and quit.

It wasn’t an easy decision. I had doubts right up to the moment I pressed send to email my resignation, but I’ve no regrets.

Okay, it took me 39 years to find the right job, but during that time I was hardly idle. I wrote and struggled like many other aspiring authors, working into the early hours most nights. A couple of novels drew interest from agents, but not enough for them to take me on and nurture what talent I had.

WritingDuring the 1990s, I sold articles to national magazines and had a column in Writers’ Monthly magazine. It was a hard slog, fighting for recognition among the stalwarts and regulars that magazine editors favoured.

And I wanted to write novels – crime novels.

As the millennium stepped up to the horizon, I’d already created my protagonist, Kent Fisher. Like me, he was an EHO, but that’s where the similarity ended. Unlike me, he was ex-army, married to the wrong woman, and in desperate need of a vice to fit in with all the other detectives on TV.

Kent appeared in three novels, shifting and changing like a chameleon as ideas came and went.

I was running low on rejection slips to paper the walls at Crouch Corner, so I sent the second novel to publishers and agents here and in the USA. One agent read it from cover to cover, but didn’t take me on.

Around the same time, I was promoted to manager and once more writing took a back seat for a few years. I loved the new role to start with. There I was, in control, setting policy, leading my team. Then I discovered the joys of meetings, human resources and memos. I also spent a lot of time checking the holiday planner to make sure we had enough cover on Fridays.

I immersed myself in service plans, performance management reports, and reading my manager’s mind so I knew what his priorities were. Like many senior managers, he never felt the need to explain what he wanted done.

Fisher's Fables coverKeen to record and poke fun at these moments. I named it Fisher’s Fables after my gung-ho detective EHO and let him be my mouthpiece. I created a fictitious environmental health team, populated by imaginary officers, who worked for a mythical local authority in a town that didn’t exist.

Over the years the length of the blogs increased as the number of post each year decreased.

By then, Fisher’s Fables was almost a sitcom, with a healthy following, which included the Chief Executive. I don’t know if he was disappointed to discover he didn’t feature in the stories, or relieved.

And that’s when it hit me between the eyes.

Not the blog, or the Chief Executive, but the realisation I had a cast of characters for my Kent Fisher murder mystery novels. More importantly, I’d found my author voice.

I don’t know whether it took 39 years to develop this voice, but looking back the clues were there from the age of 16. If only I’d stopped to look, to take notice of what my gut was telling me.

But that’s a story for another day.

Looking back

Over to you

Did you ever realise you were in the wrong job? What did you do about it?

If you’d like to find out more about Kent Fisher and the mystery series, click here to visit my website.