Reminiscing

I was sitting down discussing with my granddaughter how we’re going to approach what will become an author interview.

We were talking about how old I was when it was I first wrote a story, and what was that story about.

OK, that sent me back a long way into the distant past.

There was also a trick question; “What was the first story you read that put you on the path to wanting to become a writer”.

That was easy, Alistair Maclean’s HMS Ulysses.  I showed her a copy of the book.

But, back to the main question.

Grandparents are old, I said, older than your parents, so that should give you some idea.

When did I start writing, that required a little thought, and there were several triggers that gave me a date, where we lived at the time, the fact I used my mother’s old portable typewriter, and the fact I had not been long out of school.  I was, in fact, about 17.  It was 45 years ago; I’ll let you do the math!

What was it about; that I couldn’t tell her, but I said I had rescued a lot of old scribbling of mine and put them in a box to look at later when I had the time.

I guess that time had arrived.

And, yes, there was the book, the individually typed pages, some with corrections, unfinished.

The pages were brown with age.

The story, well, I read the first few pages, and it seems I’d started down the thriller path then, the story so far, an agent comes ashore from a trawler to a bleak and isolated village, perhaps on the Scottish coast,

The next question, understandably; “What was the first book you ever finished?”  That was The Starburst Conspiracy, soon to be published on Amazon.

It also led to a few more discoveries, including a book I had forgotten I’d written. And all of the short stories I’d written when at University.

The interview is proceeding.

The memories it is bringing about my earliest forays into the world of writing are priceless.

It’s all about the Cover

And, of course, the description.

Probably one of the hardest things for a first-time author is not so much the writing but what is needed after the book is written.

You need a good description.  Short, sharp, incisive!

There’s a ream of advice out there, and I have read it all.

And, still, I got it wrong.

Then there is the cover.

I wanted simplistic, a short description to give the reader a taste of what’s in store, and let the story speak for itself.

No.

Apparently, a good cover will attract the reader to the book.

When I tendered my books on various sites to advertise them, sites such as Goodreads, and ThirdScribe, all was well with what I had done.

Then I submitted my books to a third site and they rejected the covers as too simplistic and the descriptions mundane, and wouldn’t post them.

Wow.

There’s a huge blow to the ego.  And just the sort of advice that would make a writer think twice about even bothering to continue.

But…

Perhaps the person who wrote that critique was being cruel to be kind.

At any rate, I am changing the covers, and rewording the descriptions.

Will it be a case of ‘what a difference a cover makes’?

Schedule, what schedule?

There are good days and there are bad days

Today is a bad day.

You know how it works, the night before you set out everything you’re going to do.

What could go wrong?

All those irritating little things have been taken care of, especially so you could spend this one day so you can ‘stick to the schedule’.

Those re-writes you were working on last night are just not coming together.

The three phone calls, the urgent request for a small job, the family member with a crisis (and how often is that crisis a storm in a teacup) and to top it off, the cat got shut out is now howling at the back door.

Concentration?  Gone!

Picture next morning.

No distractions.

Computer on, pages sitting in front of you, phone off the hook, no annoying calls, ideas are flowing.

You start…

The monitor dies.

Maybe tomorrow…

 

Typing those words ‘The End’ isn’t exactly ‘The End’, is it?

Can you actually say you know the exact moment a story is done, finished, and that’s it?

For me, the end never quite seems to be the end, that point where you finally draw a line in the sane and say, that’s it, I’m done, step away from the typewriter.

But are we ever satisfied the story is done, can we not make one more change, it’s just a little tweak, it won’t take long.

Please!

My editor tolerated three ‘minor’ changes.

Firstly, a change of name for a character

Secondly, consistency of word use, such as times and contractions

Thirdly, I wasn’t happy with the overall story, and it needed some more action.  More writing, more editing, more prevaricating.

It took three weeks to sort out all of those issues, and last night I send the final draft to the Editor.

It’s like watching your child go to school on their first day.  Not knowing what will happen but expecting everything will be fine.

This morning I sat in front of the computer, a blank sheet of paper on the screen.  I know it’s not a matter of starting the next story from scratch; I have so many started and finished, sitting in the wings to be ‘tinkered with’.

It’s my way of savoring the moment.

Just before I dive back into the murky waters.

I am my own worst enemy!

I think most authors are.

Just when you think that the story is done, and you’re on the third re-read, just to make sure…

Damn!

I don’t like the way that scene reads.

It doesn’t matter the last three times you read it, it was just fine, or, the editor has read it and the scene passed without comment.

What is the matter with me?

I find sometimes after leaving a finished story for a month before the next reading, the whole picture must formulate itself in my head, so when I re-read, there was always a problem, one I didn’t want to think about until the re-read.

Even then it might survive a second pass.

I know the scene is in trouble when I get to it and alarm bells are going off.  I find anything else to do but look at it.

So, here I am, third re-read, making major changes.

At least now I am satisfied with it.

Only 325 pages to go!

I’m in training for NaNoWriMo

It’s frightening to think that I have to write 50,000 words in 30 days.

Yet I have done it before, last November in fact.  But I believed then I couldn’t do it but persevered and I surprised myself and finished up with a novel titled ‘The Enemy Within’.

Rather apt I thought at the time, writers are always battling those inner demons!

But this year, I’m in for the challenge once again.

Usually, I sit down and start writing, not sure where it’s going to take me.  Some say a book needs to be meticulously planned,

Characters planned down to their foibles,

Plot lines to drive the characters, adding twists and turns until the surprise ending that no one saw coming.

Even me.

All in 30 days?

Another issue I have is that when I start writing, it is not necessarily the ‘start’.

Some of my stories in the rewrite, or even when I’m halfway through, suddenly cry out for a new start, something relative to the plot earlier, or a missed detail will come to you, usually in the most unlikely place, and this for me is the shower.

This can cause a cascade of rewrites of earlier chapters.

Nothing a little planning might have resolved, but there will not be time.

Once again, it’s going to be a challenge.

At least I have a title, ‘The Document’.

I have the basis for the central character, a man who’s been existing, not living.  I have a clear idea of where it will end, but that could change as the story progresses.

I basically know where and when it will start.  I’ve always like the start to the James Bond films, that short period when the action of pulsating just before the credits, a small slice of what’s to come, but not today.  This is going to be a gentle nudge.

What’s in between?

That will be topics for November.  What I’ve written and where it’s going, if I have time.

Stay tuned.

 

“The Price of Fame” – a Short Story

I’ve been toiling away and this is the result.  My stories are usually longer, but I thought I’d try my hand at writing a piece of short fiction.

 

I looked at the invitation, a feeling of dread coming over me.  It was not entirely unexpected but like a great many things that had suddenly come into my life, it caused equal measures of fear and excitement.

The gold edging and the perfect script displaying my name in the exact center of the envelope made it almost unique.  Very few people ever received such an invitation.

I held it in my hand for a longer than necessary, then put it down on the desk carefully, as if it would explode if I dropped it.

My first instinct, driven by fear, was not to accept.

But, fear or not, there was no question of me not attending.  Circumstances had painted me into a corner; I’d agreed to go a long time ago when I thought there was no chance it would come to pass.

Way back then, I had been compared to the aspiring painter in an attic having to die before I made any sort of impression.  In those days people thought it amusing.  I thought it was amusing.  Kirsty, in particular, had thought it was as impossible as I had.

Now it was not amusing.  Not even remotely.

 

My life was once quiet, peaceful, sedate, even boring.  That didn’t mean I lacked imagination, it was just not out on display for everyone to see.  Inspired by reading endless books, I had the capacity to transport myself into another world, divorced from reality, where my boring existence became whatever I wanted it to be.

It was also instrumental in bringing Kirsty into my life.  In reality, I thought she’d never take a second look at me, let alone a first.  So I pretended to be someone else.  Original, witty, charming, underneath more scared than I’d ever known.

And yet she knew, she’d always known and didn’t care.

As we spent more time together, she discovered I liked to write, not finish anything, just start, write a hundred pages, then lose interest.  Like everything I did.  Start, and never finish.

Why not?  It would never be published.  It would never succeed.

So she bribed me.  If I didn’t finish my first book and send it away, I couldn’t marry her.  It didn’t matter if it was rejected, all I had to do was finish a book, and send it.

The thought of marrying her had not entered my mind, because I hadn’t thought she would.  Incentive enough, I picked out one of the unfinished manuscripts and humored her.  She read bits of it, not saying a word.  Sometimes she’d put a note or two on the manuscript, her equivalent to sweet nothings, and with it I gained an inner confidence in my own ability, not only to write but in many other aspects of my life.

When it was finished, it was Kirsty who sent it off.  She read it, packaged it, addressed it, and sent it before I had a chance to change her mind.  Once gone, I heaved a huge sigh of relief.  It was done. That was, as far as I was concerned, the end of it.

 

It was not possible that one letter could change a person’s life so dramatically.  I came home to the all-knowing smile and mischievous whimsicality that had always suggested trouble.

Trouble indeed!

My book was accepted.  With a cheque called an advance.  For more money than I knew what to do with.

This was followed not long after by publication.  And a dramatic change to my life, one I didn’t want.  To become a public person, to face an enormous number of people, people I didn’t know.

I went back to being scared.

 

Kirsty smiled at me and told me how wonderful I looked in my monkey suit.  Why couldn’t I go in jeans and a dress shirt?  All the best actors in Hollywood did it.

“This is not Hollywood.  You’re not an actor.”  It was a simple, practical, answer.

The hell I wasn’t.  I could act sick, dying, fake a heart attack, anything.  “What am I going to say?”

“You could talk about books.”  Quiet, efficient, oozing the confidence I didn’t feel.

She didn’t fuss.  She took it in her stride.  She dressed in her usual simple elegance, in a manner that made me love to be seen with her.  I couldn’t tie my tie, so she did it for me.  She straightened my jacket because I couldn’t do that either.  Nerves.  Can’t live with them, can’t live without them.  Or was that a reference to wives, or mistresses, or something else?

The palms of my hands were sweating.  Meatball hands, I thought, the sort of palms that betrayed the pretenders.  Me, I was the pretender.  My neck felt too large for the shirt.  Beads of sweat formed on my brow.  Where was a sponge when you needed one?

“I can’t do this.”

“You can.”

We hadn’t even left the hotel yet.

“How long before the execution.”

She looked at me with her whimsical smile.  “Long enough for me to give you a hard time.”

 

I lost count of the number of times I had to go to the bathroom, for one thing, or another.  Nerves I said.  Perhaps a dozen Valium or something similar.  Did I have any?  Had she hidden them?  Why did she keep smiling?

In the car, I looked at my watch at least a dozen times.  I couldn’t breathe.  It was too hot, too cold.  She held my hand, and it served best to stop the trembling that had set in.  Why did I agree to this?  Why?

We were greeted by the Events Manager, who was polite and genuinely interested.  He took us inside where he introduced the interviewer, another woman who oozed confidence and charm, who went over the format and generally tried to set me at ease.

I didn’t let Kirsty’s hand go.  Not yet.  She was my lifeline, the umbilical cord.  When it was severed, I knew I was going to die.

Bathroom?  Where was the bathroom?  Hell, five minutes to go, and I felt like passing out.  No, Kirsty couldn’t come in.  Comb my hair.  Straighten my tie, no it was straight.  Maybe I could hide in here?  I looked around.  No, maybe not.

Time.

The cue man was standing beside me, hand gently on my back.  He knew the score.  He knew I would turn and run the first chance I got.  Kirsty was on the other side, smiling.  Did she know too?

Then the announcement, my cue to walk on.

The gentle shove, the bright lights, the deafening applause, the seemingly endless walk to the chair, dear God, would I make it without tripping over?

How many times had I made this trip?  I stood, facing the audience, waved, then sat.  It was the fifteenth.  You’d think I’d learned by now.

There was nothing to it.

 

© Charles Heath 2016-2018