Monthly Archives: June 2014

Adventures in Writing – two thoughts

Two items this month, which I hope interest you.
A few days ago, I received the final edits from my publisher of my latest novel ‘Whipped Up’ (the second in the Paul Chaise series, which began with ‘Burnt Offerings’) and it started me thinking about the whole editor/author partnership and how vital it is.
Nowadays, with the explosion of self-published books, an entire industry has surfaced, one which I assume has always been there, lurking in the deep shadows, but which now is everywhere to see. I am bombarded by emails, as well as adverts on Facebook, for book-publishing services, editors, gurus, marketing advice, videos and blogs telling me how wonderful it is to be self-published. I’m not going to get into all the pros and cons of that, I’ve said it all before, but what struck me are some very simple facts.
For a book to be even moderately successful, it not only has to have at its core a good story, it has to readable. This means fundamental aspects of grammar, syntax, spelling. No matter how good we might think we are, a second, or indeed third eye looking through our work, is essential. But nothing beats a good editor. Someone who has the knack to notice what you never did, even after the fourth draft. Stupid things like ‘an’ when it should have been ‘and’, or, what I am particularly guilty of, mixing up people’s names. My editor has such an eye; she asks such incisive questions, forcing me to think deep about my reasons for writing a particular line, or even using a particular word. Whatever your level, you need and editor, and a damned good one at that.
So, how do you find one? I have no idea. This is one of the many reasons why I steer clear of self-publishing. It’s a minefield. Do you put in a search, look out for recommendations, what? I read somewhere there are now almost as many writers as there are readers. You only have to go on Amazon to see the numbers. It’s mind-blowing, all the wannabees out there. And they’ll all be using these ‘services’, so the opportunity to make lots of money is so easy. The vast majority of self-pubbed writers will never write a second book, some will write more and they will be as dreadful as the first, and a tiny few will work hard, improve their craft, and make a modicum of success. This demands hard work, determination and, most fundamental of all, a love of writing. It’s not something you can be taught to do, not matter what the hype or the power-salespeople tell you. Read good fiction, not ‘How to be a Writer’. Be consumed with the desire, work at it, treat it as a job, and always carry a notebook. Write, write, and write some more. But please, don’t pay attention to the so-called experts. Ever wondered why they’re not writing fiction? How many great authors have written how-to books? I mean books, not articles. Stephen King, Elmore Leonard, a few others. But not many. Best thing, write your book as if your life depends on it and get yourself a publisher and with it, a good editor. It’s all free and that, in this mad, mad world in which we live, has got to be a good thing!

I’ve been writing a novel recently, one which explores the fascinating world of reincarnation, parallel universes and how our present is shaped by the past. I included some scenes from the reign of Richard II of England, the king who, at the tender age of fourteen, stood up to Wat Tyler during the Peasants’’ Revolt, lied and succeeded in maintaining his power. Well, he was much more than that. It appears he was easily led, may have been in lust with one of his favourites (how many times does that happen in history! My God, what a list it is, of kings having it away with their bosom pals!) and struggled ceaselessly with the nobility. He fell out famously with one Henry Bolingbroke and that, ultimately, was his undoing. When Bolingbroke invaded England to claim the throne from the deeply unpopular Richard, he had the former-king incarcerated in Pontefract Castle in Yorkshire. He was never seen again.
Shakespeare, in his play, had Richard murdered whilst imprisoned. Historians have cast some doubt on this, but the truth is nobody actually knows. In my book, I played around with this idea and came up with one of my own. And as I wrote, I gained quite an affection for Richard. A tragic figure who simply faded away. I teach history, and his story is never touched upon in school, but I see him just as worthy of investigation as William II’s death, or the mystery of the Princes in the Tower. One of the joys of writing historical fiction is we can play around with the facts. We don’t know everything and never will. It’s too long ago. And there lies the opportunity for our imagination to be let free! I love writing historical fiction and can’t wait to get my teeth into the third volume of my Hardrada series. My first volume is doing quite well, so why not check it out for yourselves over on Amazon. ‘Varangian’ is a fast-moving tale of double-crossing royals and generals, of fighting men and servant girls, all set in the magnificent city of Constantinople. The second volume, ‘To be King of the Norse’ is now with the publisher and should be out in the autumn. After that, I think I might just delve ever more deeply into the tragic world of Richard II. Sounds like a plan!
Thanks for stopping by and please, if you get the chance, take a look at my website for more information about my work. http://www.stuartgyates.com.
Keep reading everyone!

 

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Adventures in Writing… a slight deviation from the usual

Hi, I thought this month I’d do something a little different.

You may have followed my tale, of not so many months ago, of the problems I was experiencing with a publisher. The sequel to Burnt Offerings was written, but the publisher decided British writers were not selling in the USA, so ‘goodbye’. Not sure if he’d ever heard of J.K.Rowling, but never mind. Well, to cut a long story short, my other publisher, Rebel-E, who have published my most successful book to date, ‘VARANGIAN’, offered to send it out into the world. ‘Whipped Up’, a contemporary thriller featuring Paul Chaise, who first appeared in Burnt Offerings, will appear sometime this summer/autumn, which is wonderful news for me as I think it’s a good story.

Well, to help you all decide, here is an exceprt. Chapter One. The opening you can read at the end of Burnt Offerings, so here’s what happens next …

.varangian and burnt

CHAPTER ONE

He stood at the top of the aircraft steps and took a moment to look around. The grey sky matched his mood, and the fine drizzle didn’t help either. Not for the first time he wondered about the rightness of his actions. Coming back home. There was Linny, of course. She figured large in the decision. Even more so than the coercion perhaps. Being told what to do was not something that came easily to Paul Chaise.
The air stewardess touched his arm and smiled. She beckoned him to continue; some disgruntled passengers wanted to disembark as quickly as possible. Lost in his thoughts, he hadn’t noticed. He gave a nod of apology and descended. Overhead a plane soared into the sky, all around the noise of jet engines and the smell of kerosene invaded his senses. The steel steps clanged under his shoes, each one sounding like a death knell. Back home. Blighty. He sucked in a breath, hating it as much now as he ever did.
He’d been in the Costa del Sol for a long time, building up a comfortable little niche for himself selling real estate to the ex-pats. He’d done well, managed to earn enough to buy a lovely villa, which Linny loved. Life was good, at first. Everything came tumbling down when he became involved with gangsters and drugs. None of it of his own making, but that didn’t prevent Linny from leaving him.
She was sick of the lies, she’d told him. Sick of the way he kept his past so secret. She’d never understood, how could she? He’d created a protective layer of deceit, and for a few years it had remained intact, with no hint of who he really was.
Nothing about his life as a covert killer in Iraq, the follow-up operations in Bahrain, Kosovo, Pakistan. He couldn’t reveal anything. He’d signed the papers, and the men in grey suits had him under their thumbs.
The shit hit the fan in Spain, when he’d killed one of their own. Since then he had become an undesirable, a threat. They’d recalled him, leaving few options other than to acquiesce. The alternative meant death – his own.
He went through the various exits and down an endless stream of corridors. When he finally arrived at the check-in – or should that be check-out, he wondered – he felt tired and hot. Some idiot had put the heating on.
A smiling security guard in navy blue uniform guided him towards one of the queues. Hundreds of people milled about. Britain, gripped with paranoia over terrorist activity, had up-graded its passport controls. Chaise couldn’t work out whether it had more to do with illegal immigrants rather than bomb threats.
The politicians vied to hit the right nerves; preventing anyone not ‘British’ from trying to enter the country was always worth a few votes. Eastern Europeans in particular blamed for the nation’s ills. Strange how all the hotheads kept quiet when a ‘white Anglo-Saxon’ committed an outrage. None of them grasped the simple truth that good and bad resided in everyone, regardless of colour or creed.
He took a breath, sick to the back teeth of such thoughts. He’d never been able to get inside the heads of racists, nor did he wish to. His own troubles monopolised his time now, chief amongst them being how to get in touch with Linny.
Finally, his turn arrived and he stepped up to the little cubicle. Chaise presented his passport and the customs officer scanned it. She stopped, pulled a face and studied her monitor. He knew what was coming next. He watched her turn to a colleague standing with arms folded some way behind her. She motioned him to approach. An exchange of whispered comments, followed by a quick glance towards Chaise. The colleague stepped away and pulled out his mobile.
Chaise stood and waited, his breathing shallow and controlled. This was what he’d expected, but it irked him nevertheless.
After a short while, two more uniformed men arrived. These were a different species. They were big, serious looking, with automatic rifles strapped across their chests. Another brief exchange and they came up to him, one on either side. “Can you come with us, sir?”
Stupid question. Chaise shrugged, accepting there was little gain in taking the men apart. He nodded to the customs clerk, and went wherever the men with guns wanted to take him.

He didn’t know how long he sat in the tiny, clinically-clean room in which they’d deposited him. Before leaving, they’d taken his watch, trouser belt, wallet and passport. He wore slip-on shoes, otherwise he felt sure they would have taken the laces from them as well. Now, alone, he sat and waited. There was no window, the room claustrophobic, with nothing but a small table and the strip light for company. In the corner, high up, a security camera. A little green light blinked underneath the lens. Did that mean it was operating, or not? Chaise didn’t really care. He closed his eyes and slept.
When the door flew open, he woke with a start, turned around. Two men came in, one of them moving behind the opposite side of the desk. He sat down, dropped a manila file on the top and leaned forward on his knuckles. He didn’t look happy. “My name is Commander Mellor,” he said.
If this revelation was meant to impress Chaise, it failed. He merely gave Mellor a blank stare.
The Commander scowled, somewhat put-out by Chaise’s lack of reaction. “I have a message,” he said. “From London.”
“Where are my things?”
Mellor blinked. “What?”
“My things. My passport, my watch. Why did you take my watch?”
Mellor shook his head. “Didn’t you hear what I said? I have a message for you, from Control.”
A heavy silence descended. Chaise looked from Mellor to the other man and back again. “And?”
“You’re a surly sod,” said the man positioned against the wall. Chaise gauged the distance and knew he could be at his throat before anyone could react fast enough to stop him. He noticed the man had a gun in a hip holster, and he filed it for later. It might be needed.
“Don’t waste your breath, Simms,” said Mellor, his eyes narrow. “Our Mr Chaise doesn’t like authority, do you Mr Chaise?”
“Why don’t you just tell me what the message is, then give me back my things.”
“We keep the passport.”
“Like fuck you do.”
“Listen, Chaise, you’re here on the behest of Her Majesty’s Government. You don’t make the rules, Chaise – we do.”
“So tell me what the rules are.”
“We have a flat for you. Simms here will take you, help you settle in. Someone will be in touch. Until such time, you stay quiet, keep your nose clean. You crossed the line over in sunny Spain, now it’s time for you to toe it.”
“Jesus, where the hell did they find you?”
“I told you, Chaise. I’m a Commander in the Royal Navy. You’d do best to remember that.”
“And you’d do best to remember that I am also a commander … at least I was, last time I checked.”
“London wants you to stay at your flat, keep low. They will want to talk to you about a few things. In particular, why you killed Embleton.”
“He was about to rape my girlfriend.”
“Well, that’s as maybe, but London will need to get it all straight, with no misunderstandings on either side. Until then you do as you’re told.”
“I need to find her. Linny. My girlfriend. She left. That’s the only reason I’m here, not to answer questions or kiss the arse of anyone from Control.” He stood up. “Now, if you’ll give me my passport, I’ll be on my way.”
“Sit down, Chaise,” said Simms, sounding bored. “You heard what the Commander said; you’re coming with me to your new flat.”
“No,” said Chaise and looked deep into Mellor’s eyes. “Tell London that I’ll be in touch, when I’m ready, not before.”
Mellor straightened and tapped his finger on the cover of the manila file. “It says in here you can be difficult.”
“Did it really. Where’s my passport?”
Mellor reached inside his jacket. Chaise spotted the gun.
The passport fell to the desktop. “I’ll do a deal,” said Mellor. “You can keep the passport, if you go to the flat.”
“I’m going up to Liverpool,” Paul said quietly. “Find Linny.”
“London won’t allow that.”
“London can kiss my arse.”
Simms moved, reached for the gun at his hip. He probably thought it would intimidate Chaise, cause him to rethink his approach, but he thought wrong.
The elbow hit Simms under the chin, snapping his head back, stunning him. In one easy movement, Chaise twisted behind him, locking Simms’ arm, wrenched the gun free, and pointed it directly at Mellor, who sat and gaped, everything happening too fast for him to react.
“Now,” said Chaise, applying more pressure on Simms’ wrist. The man squealed, Mellor closed his eyes and sighed. “I want you to put all my things on the table, then take off your trousers and shoes, whilst Mr Simms and I go for a little drive.”
“You’re being bloody stupid, Chaise.”
“It’s in my nature. So is killing people who don’t do what I ask.”
It only took a few moments for Mellor to comply. With his few belongings secured, Chaise left the airport with Simms. In one hand he held his suitcase and Mellor’s bundled up clothes, in the other the trim Walther automatic relieved from Simms. Simms himself didn’t appear too happy and spent most of the stroll across the car park rubbing his swollen looking wrist.
When they reached the car, Simms handed over the keys and Chaise hit him very hard in the solar plexus. The man folded and fell to his knees, groaning loudly. Chaise pushed him aside, opened the car door, threw his bag in the rear seat and slid in behind the wheel.
On the way out, he saw Simms in the rear-view mirror, still down on his knees, taking time to recover. For a moment, Chaise thought that perhaps he should have killed him. The man would almost certainly come looking for him. But it had been a bad start to the day. Chaise didn’t really want it to become so much worse.

Unfortunately, as Mellor later discovered when he phoned in to Control to tell them what had happened, it already had.

Well, I hope you enjoyed this opening chapter. Keep an eye out for when the book is released, which shouldn’t be too long I hope. But the publishing world is slow, slow, slow, so we all have to be patient. Keep visiting my webpage, http://www.stuartgyates.com where I shall post more information.

Thanks for dropping by and…keep reading!

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