Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Sherlock Holmes and The Adventure of The Waving Man

Earlier this year, in my day job as a radio producer I made a documentary about Sherlock Holmes - specifically, about the links between the character of Sherlock Holmes and the county of Norfolk. It was called Far From the Fogs and it seemed to go down rather well. Certainly I was very pleased with it - and incidentally, with a nice bit of timing ahead of the return of Sherlock on BBC One the same day, it's getting a repeat on BBC Radio Norfolk at 6pm on New Year's Day.

While making the programme, I came up with the germ of an idea for what I thought was a pretty good Sherlock Holmes case. I wrote a few thousand words in September, but then got sidetracked by other work matters and didn't have time to sit down and finish the thing until taking a week off for Christmas. I finished the story yesterday and today, and now here it is for your entertainment, as a sort of Christmas special!

Click here for a link to an HTML version to read online.

Click here for a link to download a MOBI file to read on your Kindle or similar device.

I'm fairly pleased with it - I think I've done a pretty good job of the characterisation, and I think the beginning is excellent. The second half probably isn't so good, and it might all be wrapped up a little too quickly... But I hope you'll agree the case and the crime itself is quite a clever one!

Do let me know what you think if you do get a moment to read it, anyway.

And incidentally... a happy Christmas to all of you at home!

Monday, 16 December 2013

A Christmas Confession

As I may perhaps have made clear from a blog post last December, wherein I eulogised about why I think A Christmas Carol is the finest piece of fiction ever written, I am rather fond of Christmas. This is almost entirely for nostalgic reasons, and as with many people in this country it's an enormous contradiction - some might say extremely hypocritical - because I'm not a Christian. Not only am I not a Christian, I'm not even a member of any religion at all. I'm an atheist, and have been pretty much ever since I can remember.

So this blog post is by way of a bit of a confession, an admission of a sordid secret from my past. I'm afraid that a couple of years ago I, Paul Hayes... helped to write a nativity play. A retelling of the most Christian of all Christian stories.

It was all because of my colleague Emma Craig, the station sound producer where I work at BBC Radio Norfolk, and formerly the presenter of our Sunday Breakfast show, from 2010 until 2012. Back in 2011, Emma realised that as Christmas Day fell on a Sunday that year she'd be presenting in the morning, so she wanted something a little special to mark the occasion. What she came up with was the idea of doing The BBC Radio Norfolk Nativity, starring our presenters.

I was Emma's broadcast assistant for the two years she presented Sunday Breakfast (basically, I answered the phones and made the tea). Knowing my penchant for a bit of writing, she asked if I would help her to write the script for the nativity - initially, I think she was planning to take an existing school nativity script and just tweak it to suit our presenters and add a few radio in-jokes.

I faced a bit of a dilemma over this. On the one hand I was very flattered to be asked to help out, and always enjoy taking part in special projects of this sort. On the other... well, being involved in anything religious is always a bit off-putting for me.

In the end though, my arrogance and my ego won out - I simply couldn't bear the idea of a bit of fiction being written involving the radio station, and not being involved in it myself. So I told Emma I'd have a go, and ended up bashing out the six episodes one morning before work - they were only short, about four pages each. In the end, I justified it to myself as being no worse than writing something based around any other set of godly myths, like the Greek myths of Zeus and so forth.

And do you know what? I think I actually did rather a good job.

Most of the main ideas were all Emma's, of course. It was she who decided we should cast our Treasure Quest team of the time, David Clayton and Becky Betts, as Mary and Joseph. She also decided that the Bishop and Archdeacon of Norwich, the dynamic duo of Graham James and Jan McFarlane, should be our narrators, which they very kindly agreed to do as they're good fun and up for a laugh. Emma also knew that we should have local MPs as the "Three Wise People." Casting-wise, I just made sure we filled the rest of the roles with as many regular on-air voices as possible.

 Emma Craig with two of our "Three Wise People" - South Norfolk MP Richard Bacon and Norwich North MP Chloe Smith.

I have always liked, and I think the audiences like, the idea that we are one collective whole at the station. That vague notion that we all live in the same house, and it's Nick Conrad's turn to buy the milk. I wanted to bring something of the sense of a broadcast pantomime, all your old favourites together and in roles that reflect and mock their on-air personalities. That old Children's BBC "the Broom Cupboard and Blue Peter" feeling of us all being together in a broadcasting factory.

I think I succeeded best at this in episode four, the best of the episodes, where we had our football commentary team doing a re-cap of events so far, and Nick Conrad chairing a debate in a "Bethlehem town square" with "Leader of Bethlehem City Council" - actually Norfolk County Council's then-leader Derrick Murphy.

The "Wise People" ended up being MPs Norman Lamb, Richard Bacon and Chloe Smith, opposite whom I gave my King Herod to the world. I was rather crestfallen when Chloe Smith said she'd been made to sound like "the boring one" when I thought I'd given her the best lines of the three! Probably because she had most of their exposition, I suppose.

We had regular on-air voices like antiques expert Mike Hicks and farmer Chris Skinner in it, and my fellow producers Thordis Fridriksson and Edd Smith were so keen to be in it in some capacity that Emma cast them as sheep!

After all the fun and games, to avoid offending anybody and bring home the point of the thing, the very end had to be done dead straight. To this end I had to write something completely alien to my way of thinking, a paragraph of straight Christian praise for the Bishop of Norwich to close the thing with. And do you know what? It's actually rather good. The Archdeacon of Norwich said how much she liked it. I was oddly rather proud of the fact that I could write a bit of effective prose about something I actually had no interest in.

Of course the main work was all down to Emma, recording everyone's parts, putting them all together and making the whole thing sound right. She did a superb job, we ended up with a great little production which was very well-received by the listeners on Christmas Day. Emma even ended up being nominated for a Jerusalem Award for it, which was thoroughly deserved. I don't know what ended up beating her to the win, but I bet they didn't have as much fun making it as we did.

So, despite not being a Christian, I have to admit I am rather proud of my little role in The BBC Radio Norfolk Nativity, which you can still hear online in its entirety by clicking here. I think it succeeded in doing exactly what we wanted to do with it, works as a nice time capsule of some of the people and personalities around and about at BBC Radio Norfolk in 2011. Something to be nostalgic for in Christmases to come.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

"Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book...?"

The best part of six months after I finally finished writing the first draft, my latest attempt at a novel is finally ready to be released into the wild, for friends, family and any interested parties to have a look at, if I am able to convince any of them to do so!

Yes, Another Life is finally in a fit state to be seen by the outside world.

I had hoped to have had it ready much sooner, but in the end it proved to be a very busy second half of the year. I had always planned to leave it for a couple of months after I'd finished the first draft, to be able to come back and proof-read it with a fresh eye at the beginning of September. The proofing stages always take a little longer than they perhaps otherwise might for me, because I like to print the novel off and go through it on paper, rather than reading it on a screen, so once I've scribbled all my changes on it in pen, I then have to go back to the keyboard and implement these on the actual manuscript.

That was all done by the end of September, but then I started getting rather busy with other things - mostly, producing our Doctor Who 50th anniversary coverage at work, and putting together our annual Treasure Quest Live stage show in aid of Children in Need. So I ended up grinding to a halt halfway through putting the changes onto the computer, and only picked up the thread again at the end of November.

Once that was done, I married the two halves of the novel together. It's told from the first-person perspectives of two characters, Rachel and Linda, with the novel alternating between them from chapter to chapter. I'd written and proofed them separately, so I now had to marry the two parts together, try and ensure they worked, and go through it all again for a second proof-read in its finished state.

I finished that this week, and put all the new corrections and changes through today. I've put an order in to print off a few copies via Lulu.com so I can try and force some copies onto friends and work colleagues to see what they make of it. But if anybody would like a PDF copy to read on a Kindle or the like, do let me know - I'm always happy to get as many people to read my work as possible, so long as I can get a bit of feedback!

But what sort of a novel is it, you may want to know before deciding if you want to read the thing?

It's a small, fairly simple story. The tale of two women who have each lost someone very close to them - Rachel is desperately trying to get that person back, while Linda knows that she never can. This is the story of how they try and rebuild their lives, and what ultimately brings them together.

I am pleased with it. I think it's got a good central idea, and is decently written. It's certainly the best novel I have so far written - but then again, you'd always want that to be the case with your most recent work, wouldn't you?

The only slight reservation I have is that it's still too long. In the proofing process I managed to get it down from 81,299 words to 74,854, which is better but still longer than I'd originally envisaged. So if you do read it, any recommendations of what I could cut would be very gratefully received!

After I've managed to get some feedback I'll try and work on any changes that come out of that, and then, sometime next year, begin the long slog of submitting it to agents and publishers. And then...?

Who knows.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Going Home

In the BBC East TARDIS at work, yesterday evening. 

Thanks to the wonders of modern technology, I am writing and posting this while on a train speeding from Norwich to London, on the first leg of a journey home to spend a couple of days staying with mum and dad back home in West Sussex.

There are several reason for the journey. One is that, after a very busy few weeks at work, I wanted to have a little break from it all, a chance for a bit of rest and relaxation. (This is all relative, obviously – I am well aware that my job, even at its most stressful and difficult, is an absolute walk in the park compared to being a nurse or a teacher or anything else important that actually keeps things going, but anyway…)

The second reason is that it gives me the chance to meet up with some old friends tomorrow and join in with one of their gatherings to watch Formula One, which will be rather nice.

But there is another reason.

Today is, of course, the 23rd of November. Which is a date that means something to people like me. It is the anniversary of the first episode of Doctor Who, and a rather special anniversary this year – the 50th. As you can’t have failed to notice from even a casual look at the rest of this blog, and as you surely already know if you know me at all, I am a Doctor Who fan. Always have been, always will be.

You can’t explain it, not really. It’s just something that I am, a part of who I am. An important part. It’s like being a fan of a football team – pretty much exactly like it, actually. It gets into you when you’re a child, you fall in love with it, passionately and completely, and then it’s there for life. You stick with it through thick and thin, enjoying the good times and staying with it in the bad times in the hope it will be better next week.

I could try and come up with some rational explanation for loving Doctor Who. It may be because it had a mysterious, enigmatic quality to it which greatly appealed to me as a child – the mythic quality it got from there being so much of it, so much history that you could only ever catch glimpses of, on BBC Two repeats. Or the fact that it can go anywhere and do anything, can change so much, and there’s always a completely different story, something new and unknown with the potential for brilliance, waiting just over the hill. Or the fact that, even when it goes away, there’s always the hope, due to the very nature of its format, that it will come back. Indeed, for fans, it never really goes away – someone will always be making professional novel or audio versions.

So I am heading home to stay with mum and dad because I love Doctor Who, and because I want to watch this evening’s 50th anniversary special in the very same living room where I fell in love with the series as a child. The living room where my brother urged us to be quiet because he wanted to record the opening titles of Battlefield on his personal stereo in case the theme tune was different. The living room where he and I mocked our sister for thinking the title sequence had changed that night, when we knew it was the same as last year. The living room where I sat on the floor, huddled in terror, at the first sight of Davros at the end of part one of the Genesis of the Daleks repeat in 1993. Where I ran, thrilled and excited, from the room to tell mum all about it when I actually saw a regeneration for the first time, in the Androzani repeat.

I was there when I saw the TV Movie for the first time at the age of 12, after mum had reluctantly driven us to Worthing and back to get the video on its pre-transmission release. I was there, on an Easter break from university, when the show came back in 2005. And I shall be there tonight.

 I don't usually wear anything Doctor Who-related, but as today is a special occasion I wanted to make an exception, and the badges are the only wearable-Doctor Who items I own! (Well, aside from a pair of Dalek cuff links!)

I could have gone to watch it at the cinema, in 3D, at one of the showings happening across the country. But while big screens and 3D are all very nice, mum and dad’s lounge at home is where great events in Doctor Who should be watched.

I’ve had a wonderful anniversary year. I’ve been lucky enough to attend four of the anniversary screenings at the BFI, including the première of An Adventure in Space and Time earlier this month. I’ve been part of Doctor Who News’s series of articles telling the story of the birth of the show. At work I have been incredibly fortunate to have been the one chosen to put together our local Doctor Who anniversary features, meeting and interviewing some fantastic people with some great stories to tell, and some real legends of the show. Our coverage was “mentioned in dispatches” on the main BBC Doctor Who website, and I even rather unexpectedly got a byline on a News Online piece by my colleague Martin today, written by him from one of my interviews. And I even had the "Star Letter" in the anniversary issue of Doctor Who Magazine!

But tonight will be the biggest thrill, as I get to regress to childhood and watch a brand new episode of Doctor Who, back home, in the lounge.

I probably won’t sit on the floor this time, though.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Far From the Fogs

 I know, I know, but I'll do anything for a few more listeners! Here I am on the cover of the Saturday supplements of the Eastern Daily Press and Norwich Evening News at the weekend.

I’ve mentioned before on this blog how one of the aspects of my job as a radio producer that I most enjoy is the occasional opportunity it affords me to make documentaries. Pieces you can take more time over than the cut-and-thrust of live radio allows; something you can really work at and craft and get right, much like a piece of writing.

Today, my station – BBC Radio Norfolk – broadcast a programme I’ve been working on since the late spring. It’s a documentary called Far From the Fogs, and it looks at the connections between the character of Sherlock Holmes and the county of Norfolk.

I was quite pleased with how it turned out, and lots of people have been very nice about it. But what’s also something of an added bonus is the fact that making the programme has allowed me to do another little bit of professional writing for a change.

My boss at the radio station, David Clayton, suggested to his opposite number at the Eastern Daily Press (effectively Norfolk’s ‘national newspaper’) that a tie-in feature article would be a good idea. They liked the idea, and thanks to the editor Nigel Pickover and the features editor Trevor Heaton, I ended up not only writing a 1200-word piece for the weekend (or Weekend) supplement in Saturday’s edition of the paper, but also looking slightly silly on the cover of the supplement in a cape and deerstalker borrowed from the Maddermarket Theatre!

The piece also appeared in the EDP’s sister title, the Evening News. It’s probably the largest number of readers I’ve had for anything I’ve written since my broadcasting features for The Stage back in the day. Truly, I am now a proper member of the Norfolk media Mafia!

 My piece in the EDP.

What’s especially rewarding is the fact that nothing much seems to have been done to the article since I submitted it. Being a bit out of practice writing features of this kind, I had expected it to be cut to ribbons by a sub-editor, but it actually appeared in the paper pretty much word-for-word as written. Which means it must have been to a decent enough standard, which is a very nice thought.

I’m also pleased with the fact that I managed to write a completely different, shorter article for my colleagues at BBC News Online, for which opportunity I must thank Martin Barber. Whereas the EDP piece was a more authored article looking at the broad range of topics covered in the programme, the BBC News piece was shorter, more neutral and less authored in style, and focused on one particular aspect of the documentary.

 Top news for Norfolk!

So, not fiction, but nice to have a couple more professional credits to my name. Even if it does reinforce my belief that, rather sadly, I’m probably much better at writing non-fiction than I am fiction. I need to come up with an idea for a novel that I can write as if it were a piece of non-fiction, perhaps – as if reporting in a journalistic fashion on events which never actually happened.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Anniversary antics

"Oh look, here's a bit with you in it, see...?"
Hanging around with the Special Weapons Dalek, at the BFI last Saturday.

As you may have picked up from one or two of my previous posts on this blog, I am, have been, and always will be a Doctor Who fan. I make no apology for this, as I think it's a fine thing to be and has, in some small way, made me a better and more productive member of society than I might otherwise have been.

With the fiftieth anniversary of the show coming up in November, I'm rather pleased to have been able to be involved in fandom a little more than I have been of late... Or for the past several years, come to that!

When I was in my teens I was forever writing pieces about the show, usually for Celestial Toyroom, or for any number of websites. But it had been a while since I actually sat down and wrote any kind of proper review of a Doctor Who episode, until earlier this year when my friend Tim pointed me in the direction of a project called Celebrate Regenerate, being run by a chap called Lewis Christian.

The concept is very simple - a collection of reviews of every episode of Doctor Who, written by fans. I was keen to make at least some small contribution towards the fiftieth anniversary celebrations in some minor way, so was pleased to have a piece about the episode The Beast Below accepted by Lewis.

The book came out earlier this month, and can be purchased as a hard copy from Lulu, downloaded for free as a PDF, or read online at the Celebrate Regenerate website. It's nice to have something in print in a book again, even if I only contributed a few hundred words among the many thousands!

All through this anniversary year, the British Film Institute has been running a series of special screenings of Doctor Who stories, one for each Doctor. Last weekend I was very fortunate indeed to be able to attend the Seventh Doctor event, a showing of Remembrance of the Daleks, an excellent story which means a very great deal to me as a fan. It had been many a long year since I last attended any sort of Doctor Who event, but I was glad I was able to go along, as it was a highly enjoyable afternoon.

You can find my review of the event in the reviews section of the Doctor Who News fansite, here. And speaking of Doctor Who News, I was also very pleased last month to be able to contribute an instalment to their series of articles telling the story of the creation of the series as it happened, fifty years ago. You can find my effort, Who's that Girl?, available here, and I hope to be able to contribute one or two more pieces to the series in the coming months.

There's still a way to go before we get to the climax of the celebrations in November, of course, so perhaps I'll get to flex my fan writing muscles a few more times by then. I'd certainly like to.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Come in Number Twelve

 The end... or the end of the beginning, at any rate.

Eighteen months after I started it, and following a complete grinding to a halt and then a gradual resumption of activity, I have now finished the first draft of my latest novel.

Yes, Another Life lives.

Having done quite well on writing a little of it every day from the beginning of January until the end of March, I then had a bit of a collapse in April. However, from the first of May onwards I wrote something every day until last Thursday (when a long working day at the Royal Norfolk Show rather wiped me out), and throughout June sometimes wrote a few thousand words a day, keeping things motoring along nicely.

The end came unexpectedly. The novel is told from two different first-person perspectives, of two ladies called Rachel and Linda. I knew I was coming towards the end of Linda’s section, but I hadn’t actually been writing it all in order. I’d ended up writing bits and pieces from across her story, and it was only after finishing a chapter with a final few hundred words today that I checked my notes and realised...

That’s it.

Well, that’s it for the first draft, of course. Nowhere near the end of the work. As always with any first draft of a novel I’ve written, the overriding feeling is one of disappointment in myself. Because, as is frequently the case, I think that I have a very good central idea at the heart of Another Life, but I am far from sure that I am a good enough writer to pull it off.

I don’t entirely hate the whole thing. I am fairly pleased with Rachel’s section, which is surprising as she was the one I thought I knew least and would have the most trouble writing. But I think she actually ended up living and breathing as a character far more effectively, whereas Linda... Perhaps it’s too early to tell.

My intention now is to do absolutely nothing with it for a couple of months, just leave it to settle so I can come to it with a fresh eye and start the process of editing, cutting, improving... I already know it’s too flabby – I had envisioned a short, pacey novel of 60,000 words or so, but the first draft stands at 81,299. Which is far too long for the story being told – too much waffle.

But at least it exists. Improving something is always easier than trying to conjure it out of the air. As to whether it gets me anywhere... Time will tell.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Fan fiction

Da-lin da-din, da-lin da-din...

I have never been one for writing fan fiction. While I don’t have anything again those who pour all of their writing time and energies into doing it, for me the interest in writing has always been in trying to create characters and stories that are my own.

But there’s another aspect to it.

Those who know me, even a little, will know what a great fan I am of Doctor Who. And yet, you may perhaps find it curious that it has never been my ambition to write for Doctor Who. This is partly because I don’t want to be a scriptwriter – I’m far too selfish to be any good at that, anyway! – but also because, well... I’m just not up to it.

Hundreds, probably thousands by now, of pieces of tie-in fiction have been published connected to Doctor Who down the years, most notable the series of original novels from Virgin Publishing and later BBC Books in the 1990s and 2000s. Many written by some splendid and very talented writers... But also some written by writers who I wouldn’t say were any more talented than I am.

So maybe I could have had a go.

But there’s always been one great block to this. I simply don’t have the ability. For whatever reason, whenever in the past I have sat down to try, I have never – not once – been able to come up with a decent idea for a Doctor Who story. Not one.

It depresses me to consider that, when it comes down to it, I just don’t have the imagination for it. I love Doctor Who almost beyond all other things... But I know that, sadly, I will never be able to be a part of it. Not professionally, anyway.

However, that love of the series has burned all the brighter in this fiftieth anniversary year. And when An Adventure in Space and Time was being filmed in February and March, such was my excitement as I followed the development of its production that I was inspired to actually sit down and have a go at writing a Doctor Who story. Just a short one. Just for my own entertainment.

The draft has sat there doing nothing for a couple of months, but with time to kill before the last episode in the present series this evening, I dug it out to have a look. And, do you know, I don’t think it’s actually too bad? It’s not the greatest or most original story ever, and like many of the writers back in the 1960s I found I didn’t have enough for Susan to do... But I must admit I am rather pleased with my First Doctor, and perhaps one or two nice moments for Ian and Barbara.

So, I present...

(Doctor Who, the TARDIS, the Doctor, Ian, Barbara and Susan are all, of course, the property of the BBC. This story is presented purely on an amateur basis)

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Still here

Apologies for the lack of blog posts of late, for anybody who has been coming to check. Are there such people...? Hello, anyway!

Work on Another Life sadly ground to a halt towards the end of March, and April has seen me do almost no writing at all. I am determined to get back on the wagon soon, however, and I have at least managed to write a short story, which I may post here soon.

Yes, my grand plans of trying to write something every day this year have collapsed into ruins. But I haven't completely given up all hope for Another Life. I've come too far with it to abandon it, so I'll certainly finish a draft... As to whether that draft is any good or not, well...

I'm still around, anyway!

Thursday, 14 February 2013

The Book Group

Not the Mod Mums Book Group!
(Image: German Federal Archives. I know, I know, but you try finding a copyright-free image of people reading that might sum up the idea of a book group...)

One of the most commonly-recurring pieces of advice you will come across about writing is this – get your work read by strangers.

Platitudes from friends, family and colleagues are all very well, and many of those close to you will have insights and criticisms that can be useful. But there is nothing that matches the honesty of people who don’t know you. They have no reason to be either unnecessarily harsh or unduly kind, and will simply say it as they see it.

This is why I was very pleased early last year when my old friend Amye asked whether it might be possible for the “Mod Mums Book Group”, of which she is a member, to have some copies of The Wicket in the Rec to read. I enthusiastically provided her with some copies of the manuscript, and she promised to pass on any feedback the book might get from the group.

Well, the verdicts have come in. And they are not good.

However, I was quick enough to crow a couple of months ago when I got a very nice review from a complete stranger. So it would be dishonest of me not to disclose the thoughts of other strangers, who were somewhat less enamoured with my work.

One of the main complaints seems to be a certain immaturity regarding how some of the themes of the novel are tackled. Says one commentator:

“It read, to me, like it was written by someone who is obsessed with sex and all things sexual. It displayed classic schoolboy trait of 'those who boast the biggest d!ck, in reality, have the smallest wiener'.”

It’s not a new criticism of my work that sexual themes may be unduly prominent – my colleague Steve once stopped reading one of my books because it had become, in his words “too porny” for his tastes. But it was something of a surprise to read the above, as there are no sex scenes in Wicket. Goodness knows what the reaction would have been if I’d given them Honey and Harvey to read...

The plot itself also came in for... not so much out-and-out criticism, more apathy, I suppose: “A little predictable at times... I found the general story line a little simplistic (a bit dum de dum de dum if you know what I mean)” being one such comment. And another: “I remember feeling quite a lot that I knew what was going to happen... I didn't really get grabbed by the storyline nor the characters.”

Probably the criticism I most expected – and the fault of which I was already most aware of in Wicket – was the fact that there are just too many characters, or at least too many introduced in too short a space of time, if nothing else. This is a weakness that’s simply inherent to the text as it stands, and was one definitely picked up on and repeated by the book group commentators.

Similarly, observations that “...I felt that some characters were pointless, and you do feel after a fairly full description that they should have some bearing on the plot, and this didn't always happen. I felt that sometimes a character was introduced as a 'writing to describe' exercise,” and “I found the introduction of characters too in depth, eg physical description down to tiniest detail and info about their past n personality of characters who barely featured in the story itself,” are probably well-taken. They confirm my decision to try and adopt a much simpler, more stripped-down style for my current project, Another Life – far fewer characters, sparser prose – and we’ll see how that goes.

But I think the comments that really caused my heart to sink the most and brought the greatest self-doubt were these:

“It did feel a little bit like the author had been given a checklist of things to remember about writing style when writing and book and had strived to achieve every point... Try not to follow conventions of a 'good short story' as learnt at school and go more with your own style and see where it goes.”


And, from another reader:

I also feel that the author uses 'big words' unnecessarily which, unfortunately, rather than impress me it makes me feel like he is constantly referring to a thesaurus..”

I found these particularly grim reading because... Well, that’s not what I was doing in either case. Had I been consciously following some set list of conventions, or looking up big words to use, then these would be faults which I could fix.

But I wasn’t. I was writing, as I always do, in my own style, without deliberately attempting to conform to or copy anybody else’s styles or guidance. I was just writing as me. And seeing where it went.

Not far, evidently.

So there isn’t any obvious fault I can fix there. Or rather, there is an obvious fault, but it’s not one I can easily fix – the very fact that my writing style, the way I naturally bolt words together, is one that results in such observations of poor quality from two separate readers.

And it’s hard to know what to do about that.

It was a fairly soul-destroying experience reading through some of these comments this morning, as you can probably imagine. I spent a reasonable amount of today wallowing in self-pity, but when I got home from work and re-read them, I felt slightly less bruised by the whole experience – after all, for all the criticisms, there were still some positive comments in there, such as: I did enjoy the book in the end... it was better than some of the trash that I've made myself read!”

And it would in any case be silly to be upset by criticism, really – especially when it’s kindly given by people who’ve taken the time to read the novel when they had no need to – because I spend a lot of my time convinced my writing is crap, just within my own mind. So why should it feel worse to have someone else confirming what I already knew, or at least suspected?

Yet somehow, it did. Despite knowing how useful it is to have this feedback, and being genuinely grateful that these ladies took the time to read the book and to give me their thoughts, it still felt bad to know I was found wanting – and by quite some margin.

But what can I do? Nothing different to what I always do – keep on going, keep on writing, and keep on trying to create something better.

Admittedly, having read that lot you might think the most sensible course of action would be to give up. (I certainly suspect that would be the advice of the Mod Mums Book Group members!) But I could no more give up trying to be a writer than I could give up breathing. It’s who I am, and for better or worse I am stuck with it forever.

In slightly happier Wicket news, those behind the website of the village in which it is set, Clapham, have kindly put up a link to the book. Whether the members of the Mod Mums Book Group would consider it worthy of being brought to the attention of further readers is another matter...!

But thank you, ladies. I am flattered and grateful that you gave your time to read it. I only hope you enjoy it more in the, admittedly unlikely, event if you ever willingly reading another of my novels in the future!