Can a fiction writer still be a private person?

Patricia Highsmith is quoted as saying – and I paraphrase heavily, that every writer is a very private person, that to talk about one’s self is to a writer like standing naked in front of an audience.

This is a statement I can identify with. While it is obvious not all people who write feel this way, (hello conference talks, Facebook, twitter) many do and plenty of non-writers do too. Maybe it’s just that old high-school psychology definition of introversion but I find that too simplistic, it misses the point.GOPR0613

To have to talk about yourself can be for some very cruel and even once you have mastered not talking about yourself, you will find the problem is still there when people ask you questions.

And when you write, people ask you questions about your work and yourself – all the time.

Just don’t ask!

There is sometimes a strange and instant repulsion that comes from a question. I don’t mean the type that comes from the stranger who stops you in the street to ask where the market is or even those direct questions from your boss about your views on obesity or global warming, the ones that seem to silence the entire room and send the wall spinning off into space. Chilling questions can be inconspicuous to most, simple small talk that can just as easily come from a stranger standing next to you at a wedding who asks you if you don’t find the church beautiful.unknown

Of course we all know about ‘loaded questions’, the ones that back you into a fight, the “You don’t love me” statements. I have one particular friend who I am often very fond of who occasionally asks me a question it seems just to try and interrogate me about my answer. She simply cannot accept that we have different opinions on the fundamentals of life and half an hour in her company leaves me racked and comatose on the sofa

So when you write something that might be interesting to yourself or others, you do so by uncovering an idea that is not explored in everyday life. It can be about an everyday subject; child rearing, food preferences, crossing the street but to make it interesting it has to explore an element of this activity that is novel or not immediately obvious.

Do you have anything interesting to say?

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A lot of people, who try to do this, simply can’t. It’s not that they are not creative (I know a lot of very creative scientists and designers who can’t find an interesting thing to say about their day if their lives depended on it) but they lack that certain awareness of the other person’s perspective, the outside view that tells them, this is me- and where I finish something else begins that is not me and what ever words come out of my mouth or fingers will be perceived by the other side completely outside of my control and computed and stored. For me, it is seeing that gap, be it a millimeter or the breadth of a continent that gives you a creative perspective and also the adamant desire for privacy.

For example, I sat in on a creative writing class with a group of students who were asked to write a short story about something that would happen everyday in London, – to write without editing if possible.

One girl wrote about someone finding out she was adopted through a long and winding tale that lead to someone simply telling her. One had a double suicide ending on the big wheel while cameras rolled. One was about a bomb at the Olympic development site.bustour-1000x659

There was no angle, no feelings or positions on any subject offered. When I thought later about this, I wondered if these people were actually too afraid to just tell a story from their point of view. What if instead of telling the double suicide story, you had someone see it and think it was an act of fame-hunger? Well the rest of the class would judge you. They would look at you and think – right, I know something about that person’s insides, about their personality and attitude to suicide- and as they say “Knowledge is Power” and power if a finite attribute that by definition, we can’t all have.

In the end if you can imagine enough to write something interesting containing the thoughts of someone who isn’t you, you can also imagine what other people think of you after they read it.

With the earlier example of the fellow guest at the wedding in the church, if you take the easy route to this question “Isn’t it a beautiful church” and say “Yes. Very beautiful.” You may be (white) lying and if the conversation continues, if the person digs further this may be reveled and you will then become “dishonest”.

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If you tell the truth, that churches, with their over use of gold and violent imagery remind you of all the oppression and thievery of religion, and make you question how anyone could ever consider celebrating a marriage in one, you will be considered rude and possibly insane. Even though the guest may not reply to that answer, you will not be able to block out the thoughts going through her head as they are portrayed in your own.

Let’s talk about Patricia Highsmith

Highsmith wrote about private people with secrets and she played with the attribute of power freely, moving it sharply between her subjects. The people with the most privacy were gifted the most power, and concurrently if the privacy was removed, the power slipped.

In the Talented Mr Ripley, Tom moves quickly through conditions of privacy, first he is living in an apartment with a man who he hopes won’t come home – as the offer comes to travel on the Greenfield account, he hopes this flat mate doesn’t come home before he leaves so he doesn’t have to tell him about his trip. This privacy gives his the advantage. He loses power sharply when he is caught playing in Dickie’s room and after he assumes Dickie’s identity, allowing him complete privacy for Tom, Tom becomes the most powerful character in the book.Pathigh

Similarly in Sweet Sickness, David has a beautiful house where he lives part-time as the character Neumeister, stalking and obsessing over Annabelle who is married to someone else. He is powerful enough to be able to rely on others not voicing their suspicions after her husband dies but once he tries to ‘come clean’, buys a house in his own name and have a relationship with Annabelle, he is open and vulnerable. Everything unravels.

So how can someone who writes mediate this gap between the Self and the outside world when the essence of creating something interesting requires that the self be exposed and privacy be abandoned and if this is so, how can one possibly write without absolute privacy?

If anyone knows the answer to this…

Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self – Cyril Connolly (1903 – 1974)

Sherlock Holmes and the Glad Game by Matt Ferraz

While we’ve become quite use to ‘reimaginings’ in literature – especially in the classics, we very rarely get an honest to goodness reimagining mash-up, and even when we do, the mashing stays safely within one genre… It makes you wonder… can it be done any differently? Well, I guess Matt Ferraz had the same idea, because that’s exactly what he has accomplished with his work – Sherlock Holmes and the Glad Game. Below, I’m really happy to be able to share with you the book blurb and a guest post from Matt about his experiences writing Sherlock Holmes and the Glad Game.

The Blurb

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British sleuth Sherlock Holmes can solve any mystery from a small clue. American traveler Pollyanna Whittier can only see the good side of every situation. The only thing they have in common is their friendship with Dr. John Watson. When Pollyanna shows up in London with a mystery for Holmes to solve, she decides to teach the detective the Glad Game: a way of remaining optimistic no matter what. A dangerous – and hilarious – clash of minds, where these two characters of classic literature need to learn how to work together in order to catch a dangerous criminal.

 

Guest Post by Matt Ferraz

 Writing Sherlock Holmes and the Glad Game

The genesis of Sherlock Holmes and the Glad Game was a challenge I made to myself: pick two public domain characters that apparently have nothing to do with each other, and somehow make them work together. I’ve been a Sherlockian all my life, and wanted to write a book with the detective for some time. But who could I match him with? Other writers already crossed Holmes Jack the Ripper, Mr Hyde, Captain Nemo and so many others. What could I bring to the table that was new and fresh?

 I was at a bookshop in my home town when I saw brand new editions of Pollyanna and Pollyanna Grows Up, by Eleanor H. Porter. Those were books I had never read, but knew the basic premise: a girl who always sees the bright side of everything no matter what. I had seen the 1920 movie with Mary Pickford, one of my favourite actresses, but remembered little of it. So I bought copies of those two books, and while reading them, a novel started to form in my mind.

No one had ever had the idea of putting Holmes and Pollyanna Whittier in the same story. After all, they’re so different! But my mind was made up: I was going to write a book where Pollyanna comes to London and assists Holmes and Watson in an investigation.

The one month first draft

People didn’t believe I could pull it off. In fact, my fiancée thought it was a crazy idea to begin with, but decided to give me the benefit of doubt. I wrote the first draft of this book in a month – faster than I had ever worked before! For that whole month, I was completely immersed in the story, having re-watched several Holmes movies for inspiration and re-reading big sections of Porter’s books.

 My idea wasn’t simply to have Pollyanna ringing at 221b Baker Street offering a case for the detective to solve. I wanted to fit her in the Holmes canon as organically as possible. My book starts with Pollyanna becoming a good friend of Dr. and Mrs. Watson while Holmes was considered to be dead after facing Professor Moriarty.

Bringing the two together

 Pollyanna is in London to see a special doctor due to an injury she suffered in her childhood – which is shown in the first Porter book. She eventually returns to America, but shows up in London two years later, when Holmes is already back from the dead, with a brand new husband and a lot of trouble on her back.

The best part of writing this story were the comedic possibilities in the interaction between these characters. I tried to avoid making Pollyanna too annoying and naive – she’s actually pretty smart and kicks a few butts. It was also nice to create a more humane Holmes, different from the stubborn and arrogant versions we’ve seen in movie and TV in the past few years. It’s a little, quirky and funny book I’m very proud of.

Signing off, Matt.

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If you want to learn more, you can contact Matt on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter: @Matt_Ferraz

Click the links to go to his Amazon and Goodreads pages.

Strangers on a Bridge – Louise Mangos

Strangers on a Bridge, is Louise Mangos’ debut novel and quite a stinger. I was attracted to the title right away, yep – it has that Patricia Highsmith tone to it, so I had to check it out!

The premise is great – Alice Reed while taking her early morning run in a beautiful Swiss location, talks a man down from the edge… but should she have saved him?

It feeds into all our fears of helping people – that we’ll somehow become entwined in their lives if we do. The premise of Choke by Chuck Palahniuk is exactly that – the protagonist pretends to choke, someone saves his life, he milks them for cash for the rest of their lives!

So I won’t give away any spoilers – enough to say. The book delivers.

The tension builds, turning to frustration and fear until we find out how she will resolve the situation.

If you enjoy the books by Patricia Highsmith, Ruth Rendell and Peter Swanson you’ll like this one.

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The Blurb…..

When Alice Reed goes on her regular morning jog in the peaceful Swiss Alps, she doesn’t expect to save a man from suicide. But she does. And it is her first mistake.

Adamant they have an instant connection, Manfred’s charming exterior grows darker and his obsession with Alice grows stronger.

In a country far from home, where the police don’t believe her, the locals don’t trust her and even her husband questions the truth about Manfred, Alice has nowhere to turn.

To what lengths will Alice go to protect herself and her family?

Publisher: HQ Digital

Publication date: 6th July 2018

Print length: 384 pages

 

Tricks of the Trade: An interview with Euan B. Pollock

LP: So Euan, where did the idea for this story come from?

EBP: My inspiration to write Tricks of the Trade came from spotting a way a locked room mystery could be done which at least I hadn’t seen before. I’ve always read and enjoyed murder-mysteries, trying to untangle the various clues throughout the novel and see which ones are red herrings and which point towards what actually took place. And having found, I think, a straightforward yet puzzling method of committing a crime, I decided to write my very own murder-mystery novel.

LP: Where do you find inspiration?

EBP: As for inspiration to write in general, I’ve always been writing, since I was very young (my mum apparently has some stories I wrote when I was six. Full of dragons, wizards and spelling errors…). Even the career I chose reflected that. I studied to become a lawyer and practised for about 8 and a half years, in Scotland and abroad, and that involved a lot of writing. In December last year I finished work on a big case, and had a three month break (I hadn’t had a holiday in quite a while). I went to El Salvador to house-sit for a friend. Without anything concrete to do, and having just come from working long, long days, I decided to try my hand at writing a book. Tricks of the Trade was the result.

LP: Does the book have a theme?

EBP: While it’s a classic murder-mystery, I’ve also tried to deal with an issue close to my heart, concerning masculinity. My main character, and narrator, is in essence a young male, living through all the inward doubts and questions and outward expressions of confidence that come with that. I’m currently writing the second book in this series (they’ll all be murder-mysteries) and it’s a theme I’m looking to expand on.

Check it out here….

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Tricks of the Trade: New Release: Cosy Crime

 

In this Edinburgh legal/detective drama, readers get a refreshing, modern take on the cozy-crime mode of crime delivery. Well written and fast-paced, the story hits its stride in chapter two and holds on to the reader until the big reveal. For fans of Agatha Christie, Robert Barnard, Minna Lundgren, Ann Cleeves and M.C. Beaton, this new writer is a ‘must follow’.

I didn’t have any preconceptions going into this story and wasn’t sure what the angle or style would be until the story got going. It starts off with a trainee solicitor complaining about his lot, scratching his head and musing. But that’s not a bad thing. Think back to Dorothy L Sayers’ Gaudy Night, ten thousand words on her memories of her old college and a clock, before anything happens, and that’s a classic!

But somewhere a few pages in, out protagonist, Stewart, starts confiding his thoughts in his friends and then we get to see the wheels turning. There’s been a potentially suspicious death and the as the solicitors responsible for executing the will, Stewart’s firm has a strange interest in making sure they know what happened because this dead man has a proviso. If he commits suicide, he doesn’t want his family to inherit. And there’s the perfect cozy crime set up.

The author works the premise well. Once the story starts flowing the writing is excellent and fast-paced. It has the feel of a book written in one go, a polished first draft, which keeps the excitement the author felt while writing, still intact.

Readers who have been enjoying the resurgence in interest and re-publication of some out of print oldies will appreciate several elements here – the cozy crime angle, the whodunit, and also the classic locked-room approach. The story wraps up nicely with a closed room Cluedo style ending and although there is a little police procedural action, only the bare minimum to make it more believable. So have a look. It might be just your thing.

Click here to read a free sample…

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Published by Endeavour Press 19th January 2018
http://www.euanbpollock.com

 

Writing is both therapy and addiction: Robb T. White

Join us this week with Guest Blogger Robb T. White, author or Dangerous Women and Perfect Killer.  

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People often ask, what’s my attitude towards “creative writing”? Well… It’s an ambivalent attitude. I see it as both therapy and addiction. It takes me out of my self and away from my consciousness of this world, my own limitations, my failures as a person, and being trapped in the bubble of my own life. Who can see the world as it is and not feel overwhelmed by feelings of helplessness, impatience, and loathing? Writing anything removes you for a while from the sordid and the tedious both. It’s ironic for me because I despise actors as the some of the most useless of human beings on the planet. Yet to be involved in creating and deploying fictional beings across an imaginary landscape invented from one’s own mind is a joy, sometimes indescribable, comparable to a junkie’s fix. (That is, when it goes well.) But to what purpose? Indie crime writers don’t make money and there’s no fame to speak of. You can get some kudos from readers on Goodreads and Amazon, which I admit are flattering for the moment, but there are the negative critics (bloggers and readers) to offset them. It’s like running in place: some exercise for the body but you go nowhere.

What about crime writing? Now this is… niche writing, rarely more than entertainment of a low-brow sort, although some crime fiction is superior to so-called literary writing. I’ll take a third-rate crime novel over a formulaic academic or mainstream novel any day. Marlon Brando once said there’s nothing that turns the stomach faster than some celebrity talking about him- or herself on late-night TV. Nothing’s changed. Novels about middle-class relationships don’t interest me unless done with a scalpel as in Tirza, by the Dutch novelist Grunberg. I once devoured true-crime paperbacks, lamenting that the majority were so pedestrian in style despite the flamboyant subject matter. It isn’t that every criminal per se is complex. Far from it. Most are obtuse, empathy-deficient, and lacking in the emotional layering of ordinary people; they deserve the contempt society has for them (namely, prisons). Crime fiction, however, comes with an expectation of larger-than-life characteristics, plot violence (a kind that affords a “new” view of reality, not just cursing, stealing, and killing), and gutsy rule-breaking in narrative point of view. Both Dostoevsky and Camus qualify as crime-fiction writers in that sense. Besides, no one disputes Milton’s Satan is more interesting than the dullard “hero” Adam.

What writers got you writing?  I’m still enamored of my usual favorites, those beautiful writers like Thomas Harris, Martin Cruz Smith, and David Lindsey. I should mention the anti-influence of those other writers, whom a reader can cull from any New York Time’s bestseller list. Those Christie imitators and the endless Dreck of cozies cranked out like spoiled sausage ever since. If you crack open ten novels from the mystery section of any library shelf or supermarket rack, you’ll see in 9 what’s waiting for you from the first page on: the same dull writing, cute plot escapes and solutions, chatty (or comfortably nonconformist) narrating, and stockpiled banalities.

 

Lissa: Thanks Robb. I have to say, I agree on all points. Screw boring books. 

 

Gritty Mid Western Crime Fiction: Robb T. White

I came across a couple of titles this week that had slipped my attention. These two books from Robb T. White are full of red-blooded anti-hero protagonists, the kind good old fashioned pulp fiction loves and my own Lilly Lessard would run into.

The first book, Dangerous Women was brought out by Class Act Books. Here’s the blurb:

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Violence, they often say, is a male prerogative. But someone forgot to tell women like “Baby” Frontanetta in the first story of the collection, or Francie, for whom robbing an armored car isn’t that big a deal, if only her lover will “man up” to assist her. Even parricide isn’t beyond the pale for her. There are the twins Bella and Donna, aptly named, as the narrator of “the Birthmark” will discover. There’s semi-literate Bobbie from West Virginia, a gorgeous lap dancer in a sleazy club in Cleveland, who knows what price men will put on owning beauty like hers. Come meet them all—the hustlers, con artists, thieves, and all-around trouble-makers; you’ll see what the women in these pages are capable of—but beware: they are not your mother’s “ladies.”

 

 

The second is Perfect Killer.

UntitledJade Hui is an FBI agent on the way down – until, that is, her supervising agent assigns her a triple-murder investigation. She soon must overcome bureaucratic obstacles to catch a free-roaming, amoral killer who leaves neither pattern nor motive in his wake. Her suspect is not a typical spree killer or psychotic fantasy killer. Born into wealth and privilege, gifted with great intelligence and strength, Charles Wöissell has his own reasons for travelling across America selecting victims. Wöissell intends to burn every bridge left – home, family, safety – for revenge against the one woman who has put herself in his path.

 

 

Isn’t it great when you find a new/old good book!

Robb T. White will be dropping by next week to give us an insight into his inspiration and some tips on getting a book (or two) finished.

Travelling with your laptop

Jetting off to visit friends – hopefully, friends with a spare room, if not, at least a comfortable sofa bed – is one of the highlights of being freelance… and being a writer. I’m all about getting to the airport early, clearing security with more than an hour to spare, staking out a good bar table with a power source and settling in to do some serious, distraction-free work. But after a few delays, and one too many strong coffees, working on your laptop starts to take its strain.

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Oh no – not you again!

If it were only typing, it might not be too bad, but these days, writing means finding images, resizing, editing and moving stuff around. It means formatting, more formatting, and even more formatting and I’m doing the two-finger-dance on a touchpad the size of a packet of Camel Wides… Not that I smoke Camel Wides anymore (does anyone? Do they even still make them?).

Do I have Carpel Tunnel Syndrome?
I recently did a 3-hour delay in Stuttgart (lovely airport, btw) and I’m not joking, by the time they called the gate I was relieved. My hands had started to take on a kind of clawed raven look and the thought crossed my mind, “have I just given myself repetitive strain injury from trying to re-size an image for Twitter?”

In case you’re wondering, the general symptoms are; tenderness or pain in the wrist, with a throbbing or pulsating sensation, tingling and a loss of sensation.
Yeah, I looked it up.

But even if you don’t have CTS, which I don’t and didn’t, there are exercises you can do to relieve soreness in your hands from spending too much time clicking. I checked them out too. They do help somewhat but they’re not the kind of exercises you’d want to do in public.

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One involves pulling your index finger backward, which might make your seat neighbor think you’re about to flick a bogey at him.

The next one is a fist… I probably don’t need to explain why that’s bad. And finally, there’s the one where you hold your hand up in the air and rotate all the fingers in tiny circles individually.

Yeah, I accidentally ordered a beer that way, so not all bad.

But seriously, none of these really did anything to help my poor right hand, which by the time I landed had swelled up with cabin pressure and water retention until it looked like a novelty Incredible Hulk hand. I got into Heathrow and headed to the city, but despite the 20-minute train ride, was in no mood to open my laptop. That’s okay, I’m not so obsessive that I need to write on short train rides, but I was planning to do some writing over the weekend. There’s only so much coffee, sushi, and pedicures you can handle in 48 hours and fortunately, the person I was visiting is a late sleeper and knowing this, I planned on getting a couple of hours in before she even woke up.

But the next morning, before she rose, I spent most of my time searching out options to alleviate hand pain. Those in the know, architects, designers, and gamers, it would seem, are all about the ergonomic mouse (is the plural of mouse still mice in this context?). Anyway, after a few minutes research, I was ready to buy one, but after a few more minutes research, I realized, I had no idea where to start in this new field. Because it’s harvest time here, and the mice or mouses are all over the place. Seriously, they have categories and sub-categories; medical mouse, productivity mouse, productivity-gaming mouse. That second one sounds like a superhero. But seriously, you do need to do a little ergonomic mouse research before you decide on one.mice_21

Anyway, I’ve discovered, I’m an ergonomic productivity mouse kind of girl and without naming any names, it’s got Bluetooth and it’s wireless and it’s only just occurred to me, that it doesn’t look like a mouse at all. Right. Without the tail attaching it to my laptop, it doesn’t look anything like a mouse.

But thanks to overnight delivery, I had my new pet ready for the trip home and as it turned out, a relatively delay-free hour in the airport bar. So I got it out and a sat there with my right hand comfortably positioned at around 45 degrees to my side, with a firm but loose grip and relaxed shoulders and wrist muscles and I must say I really noticed the difference.

One thing I must mention. When they call your gate and you jump up. Do remember the thing isn’t attached.

Thank you, nice Grannie, from Texas or thereabouts for pointing out that I had forgotten my “compact”. Much appreciated.

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Hulk signing out…