In the mid-1990s an organisation called People for Action (PfA) was set up in the UK to support housing associations to develop their approach to something called ‘community investment‘, a form of corporate social responsibility. Put simply, community investment, in this context, is the work carried out by housing associations beyond basic housing provision. It might include such things as money advice and support to a whole range of community initiatives. I was PfA’s Chief Executive between 2002 and 2006, when, sadly, the organisation closed down due to lack of funding.
PfA ran a programme of seminars, workshops and conferences alongside a range of networking/information sharing activities including a newsletter, a knowledge and ideas database and written ‘briefings’.
The briefings, around 100, were compiled into a report called ‘Shaw’s Apples’ in early 2006. I recently discovered that none of the material seems to be available on the ‘net so have decided to include it on my site, even though it is not strictly relevant to my writing. I believe it is still important information and should be shared.
I acknowledge the work of all of the contributors to Shaw’s Apples, both in carrying out the initial work reported and those who wrote it up.
My last post was a short piece I’d written some time ago entitled A New Life. Little did I know that within a few weeks I’d be ‘twisting and turning’ myself, embarking on an adventure which threw everything into turmoil. I sold my house and moved back to England.
Not that this was entirely unexpected, we’d been trying to sell for a few years, but boy was it a shock to the system when it happened. I’d moved house before, I’d even changed countries before, though the world has changed. There’s no trust any more. I’ve been totally unprepared for the weight of officialdom and bureaucracy involved these days. No service providing (hah!) organisation is willing to take, for example, a simple note telling them of a new address, oh no. My bank wanted a form completed which included my tax code in my new country of residence which, of course, I didn’t have because I didn’t live there yet. They also wanted the form signed by both signatories on the joint account, even though, as I pointed out, a cheque to empty the account could be signed by one person, and this was only a change of address. I could go on, but will spare you the details, and me the rise in blood pressure.
As a result of all this nonsense, there’s been little time for writing over the last few months. My current novel, thankfully, had reached the end of the first draft by the time this whirlwind hit and I’m hoping that the enforced absence will provide the distance to help in the redraft.
My sequel to A Shadowed Livery continues to receive regular rejections although I’m given hope by a well respected editor who found little to change when reading it at a recent workshop and suggested that 25 rejections is nothing. A major author he edited had 90 rejections before his book was accepted – and later turned into an acclaimed film.
So, as I settle into my new life, in a new house, in a new town, I’ve three tasks awaiting: keep submitting until someone gives in; get on with the redraft of A Mother’s Love; and post more often.
Wish me luck.
I’m falling. Twisting and turning through the air. One moment I can see the brightly lit bridge rapidly moving away from me. The next I’m hurtling towards the inky black river below. I can hardly breathe as the air is sucked from my lungs by the air rushing past and my heart is pounding in my ears. I never thought it would be like this. Not the graceful dive through the night air and the faultless entry into calm waters that I’d imagined as I stood on the edge contemplating my next move. No perfect 10s for artistic impression with this one.
I hear a crack. Pain momentarily sears up my spinal cord and lights up my brain like a cluster bomb. Then it stops. I realise, with no passion, that my neck has broken and I can no longer feel my arms or legs. If I could still sense the pain I’m sure there would be lots.
After an eternity my broken body smashes into the solid wall of water. Christ, I felt that one.
I explode out again through a veil of red, unable to open my eyes or mouth. My chest strains for air. I’m grabbed and lifted, and realise I’m naked. A slap stings my skin and I shout at the bastard to cut it out but all that emerges is a pitiful wail of pain. I’m laid gently on something soft against my back, and I open my eyes to see a giant smiling down on me.
I can fit none of this with what’s gone before. Months of anguish as first the job, then the savings, disappeared, soon followed by the house, my lovely wife and the boys. The final bout of drinking. The long walk out of town. The scramble over the railing to the very edge of the concrete parapet. The last, searching conversation with my long-dead father, seeking his forgiveness and his guidance in my latest hour of need.
Warm hands wrap a blanket around me. The hand above my face is small, pink and wrinkled so I close my eyes for a while and find I’m gurgling.
Not so long ago I could see the face of Anna and our children in high definition but now they’re smudged like there’s Vaseline on the lens. Father’s features have all but disappeared. Even his voice is a distant whisper.
I drop my lids again, striving to get it all back in focus but all that I have is a void growing out from the centre. The only memories that remain erupt like solar fires, before dying back, forever lost in the darkness.
I awaken and the void is complete.
I gurgle again and the eyes continue to smile down.
(With thanks to https://openclipart.org for the great image)
Afraid this is just a rant – no insights into my writing habits in this one. A couple of hours ago I received a Whatsapp message from a friend warning me that the service is going to start charging from this weekend. I had a pretty good inkling that it was probably just a scam circulated by some fool who likes to clog up the internet or gets gratification from seeing how many people have been duped into circulating his/her nonsense.
It took me less time to check it out than it would have taken to send messages to all my contacts. And yes, it was a pathetic chain letter type message which has been circulating for at least three years and Whatsapp are not beginning to charge.
So why do people still circulate this stuff rather than checking to see if it’s real first? Is it due to fear or lack of knowledge on how to look it up? ( I use Hoax Slayer or Snopes, or even just a Google query).
Why does it bother me? Because every little bit of stuff circulating clogs up the internet and makes it slower. If someone sends a message to 50 contacts, and 10% of those then send to 50 contacts, and the same again, it works out, if my maths is correct, at over 3 million pointless and incorrect messages whizzing through hundreds of servers. One day it will all break down.
I don’t consider myself skilled enough yet to give the impression I actually know what I’m talking about with this writing lark. Ten years ago I had the enjoyable experience of having a new house built and working with an architect to design our dream home. Even before we moved in we saw things we’d have wanted to do differently. When I was talking to a neighbour about this I was told ‘aah, you have build three houses before you get it right.’ And so I think it might be this way with writing.
I’m halfway through my third novel and am beginning to get the feeling that I have a better idea that I’m in some kind of control, but that’s only because (a) I’ve written a lot of words over the past five years and (b) I’ve read quite a lot on the craft of writing. One of the best guides I’ve read is James Frey’s How to Write a Damn Good Novel. In fact, I read his How to Write a Damn Good Mystery first because that’s what I was trying to do at the time, but he covers more of the fundamentals in the former and he’s such a good writer it was no heavy labour to read the two.
A few days ago I signed up to Jane Friedman’s newsletter which led me to her excellent video on audience development for writers. Check it out – I wish I had the staying power to follow it through.
I’m a procrastinator in my writing. In real life I’m pretty good at making decisions and figuring out the shortest path between two points. My creative self is significantly different.
First of all I plan. Some time ago I discovered the joys of Scrivener after working my way through FreeMind, Writers’ Cafe and half a dozen other programs designed to supposedly increase my output. I can’t help thinking that if I’d dedicated half the time to writing as I did to mastering (huh!) the software I’d have finished my first novel in half the time. Still, you never know if the effort is going to be worthwhile before you put it in. I’ve certainly been impressed with the way Scrivener has helped but it’s a shame it took me so long to get to it.
Secondly, I commit that cardinal sin warned against by writing pundits – I edit as I go along. I’m not sure why it is but I read and rewrite every sentence, every phrase, two or three times before I move on to the next. Not that it stops me making mistakes, nor enables me to write faultless prose, that would elevate it to the status of being time well spent, it’s just something I do.
Finally, I have a need for accuracy and this leads me to endlessly research history and location. My family and friends tell me this is because I prefer the chase to the feast and I’m afraid they might be right. Today, for example, when writing two short scenes, I happily Googled 1930s women’s fashion, the distance on foot between Alexandria and Suez, and the names of British troopships sailing to Cape Town in 1852. I thought, perhaps, I was going too far when I typed ‘how far can a donkey walk in a day’ into my browser. I was going to include the answer in this blog but decided you can waste your own time if you really want to know!
I’ve recently returned from a long holiday in France and whilst I did do some writing (honest) a lot of my time was spent reading. I’d loaded my Kindle with a mix of material but I set myself a goal in the first few days of getting through an anthology of the complete collection of Sherlock Holmes stories. There are four novels and five collections of short stories.
In one respect I failed, I only read three of the novels and all of the short stories. I chose to miss out on The Hound of the Baskervilles, partly due to me having read it before (but then I’ve read them all before) though primarily because it’s been done to death on TV and film and also I didn’t enjoy reading it the last time.
The plots of all of them are absolutely bonkers but they’re largely very well written. The crux of the story is almost always revealed within the first couple of pages then Holmes darts here and there gathering clues until the culprit is revealed. With alarming frequency what happens to the perpetrator depends largely on their social class. Genteel, or just plain rich, murderers always seem to have had a good reason to have done away with their wife/husband/business partner so Holmes lets them go or speaks on their behalf at trial. Woe betide anyone from the lower classes, however, as they’ll find themselves shot or at the end of the hangman’s noose.
A device used quite a lot by Conan Doyle is to have the perpetrator, once they’re caught, tell the background story of why they committed the crime, it seems quite a clever way of revealing this without Holmes having to appear even smarter. Unfortunately, if you’re wading through every story it can become a little wearing.
Conan Doyle wrote many of the stories for publication in periodicals and I was fascinated to see two of them share the first few pages word for word. I was also interested to note that the title of Mark Haddon’s highly successful mystery novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time was taken from one of the Holmes short stories Silver Blaze.
The stories are of their time, as is the language (I lost count of how many times Watson ‘ejaculated’), but I think any aspiring crime/mystery writer should at least take a look at them to consider structure and how to move a plot along.
For my part, I loved them, though I’m not likely to try to read them all again on one holiday!