Meeting readers

Patrick Gale was recently in our fantastic independent bookstore, The Falmouth Bookseller, at the beginning of his book signing tour. It was an unticketed event (unlike many on his tour), and when I was there, there was only a chap ahead of me. I had a short, but enjoyable conversation with Patrick about the book, the tour, Cornwall… I said that the tour must be a blessing and a curse, to which he replied, “but I get to meet my readers”

Writing can be an isolating choice, and reviews can be dispiriting but in a book signing tour, you’re generally going to meet those enthusiasts. It must feel very affirming, as well as doubtless meeting some contractual obligation with a publisher. In my own small way, it struck me, I love hearing that someone has appreciated (let’s not say enjoyed) my book “Hurt”. Imagine my delight yesterday when someone took the trouble to phone me having just put the book down. It’s not someone I know well, so it gave me even greater pleasure to hear someone not only praising the endeavour (and therefore recognising my passion and drive to make the book happen) but also the writing. That’s the little bit of me in the process. I felt that it was a real act of kindness to call me, and I appreciate it.

This week I’m still ploughing on with the words (15,000 to date) and have resisted going back and editing it. I need to look at some sermons today, as my priest needs to start ranting and thumping the lectern, and it’s beyond my experience (and I do want that to be authentic as I write it). I’m revising an article for Sailing Today (I’ve been told it will be in the next edition, presumably not the one that will be released in the next few days), and then I really want to tout for an article looking at the watershed of Savile/Operation Yewtree and the publication date of Hurt. Ideas floating around, which need to percolate and then be pinned down. I’m so enjoying writing at the moment.

The inner critic is in the Fogou


It’s three weeks in since I left Rosemerryn and The Writer’s Retreat, and I am feeling heartily glad that I attended.  It has reinvigorated my writing.  Hurrah!  There are many gems that I’ve picked up along my writing journey – ‘show up’, ‘just write’, ‘warm up’, ‘flex the creative muscles’, and so on – but there’s something about being immersed with writers, being led by experienced tutors.  Writing is a lonely art, because when it comes down to it, it’s just you and the page.  Well, it’s just you, the page and the loud-mouthed inner critic in my case.

What has really shifted in me, as a result of The Writing Retreat, is that I now don’t care if my first draft is shit (to quote Hemingway), because it gives me something to work with.  That’s why the inner critic gets placed in the Fogou, and is allowed out when it comes to editing.  I am a master in the art of critical – in my accountancy training, I was a financial and then a systems auditor.  The great thing about the auditing profession is that it develops your critical eye.  The terrible thing about the auditing profession is that it develops your critical eye – and a tendency to see fault first.  You wouldn’t believe I left that profession some 10 years ago, but perhaps now I have a model to to kick it into the Fogou, and allow it back out to let rip.

In the three weeks that I’ve been back, I’ve written 8,500 words (of shit, hahahaha).  That pleases me no end.  I write every day, but not necessarily on the novel.  I chose the days when I’m going to write this, and I set myself the minimum of 1,000 words, and then the deal I have with myself, is that when I leave my desk, I know where I’m going next.

Where am I on the Snowflake model?  Well, it got me a long way, but having planned, plotted and schemed, I’m using this to drive a bit more of organic stuff that goes on between my characters.  I set up the scene, and they are running the show… at least they are in Draft One, the shit one.  I have to say that I love the freedom that this gives – but I also love knowing where I’m heading, story-wise.  I seem to be a combination of a planner and a pantser!  Maybe that’s a subject for another blog!

Anyway, happy weekend, whatever you’re doing.

Book Review: Playing Mrs Kingston, by Tony Lee Moral

Playing Mrs Kingston is set in 1950s New York, and tells the story of Catriona Benedict, an actress with ambitions.  To the dismay of her boyfriend, she agrees to play the role as the wife of Miles Kingston, a rich playboy, in exchange for a fat fee.  Miles Kingston needs to find a wife so that he can claim his inheritance. This is the starting point for a tale of glamour, intrigue, envy, family drama, murder and tragedy for the Kingstons – with Catriona at the heart of it, getting far more than she bargained for.

Playing Mrs Kingston is an engaging debut novel by Tony Lee Moral, which gets better as the book unfolds.  Catriona Benedict is no modern female hero, but taken in context of the days of the American Dream, she shows strength and passion.  It took me a while to warm to Catriona, who initially came across as shallow.  Miles Kingston, the character with strength and power, clearly thought she was malleable – and therefore this is where the reader takes their cues from.  It was only later in the book that Catriona showed some guile and character when the story unfolded.

Moral writes a compelling story, and the suspense builds and builds as the body count rises.  This makes it more than a mystery, more than a thriller, and certainly a ‘just one more chapter’ book.  It is a clever plot, with an antagonist who is psychologically well developed.  I thought that the killer was the most rounded of the characters, and wished that Moral had given more space to explore Catriona and her rather unconvincing boyfriend, Mario in similar vein.  It is hard to understand why Catriona remained with the surly Mario, particularly when Freddie appears.  Mario felt more threatening than exciting to me, with that bubbling edge of violence.

Moral’s writing took as many twists and turns as the plot.  Playing Mrs Kingston is a third person narrative, but from multiple viewpoints, therefore allowing the reader into the experiences of characters other than the protagonist, Catriona.  The dialogue was strong, as would be expected from a film maker, as was Moral’s ability to convey setting – Moral made it easy to believe that you were in 1950s New York.  At times the writing was cinematic, and very compelling.  At others it was a little clunky.  The detailed description of every new character, and frequent references to what they were wearing took me away from the story.  When the ‘action’ unfolded, this level of detail slipped away, which made for a much more fluid reading experience.

Perhaps my greatest beef with Playing Mrs Kingston was the book cover.  I would not have picked it up on the basis of the cover, which suggests a rather flowery romance.  It is not! Playing Mrs Kingston is very much a ‘Hitchcockian’ thriller, and would have suited a black and white, book jacket with a cinematic feel.

Overall Playing Mrs Kingston is a beguiling story that gains pace. It was ultimately a highly enjoyable, satisfying read.