Welcome to my blog. People sometimes ask me how I came to start writing. Some people express surprise at the idea of a mathematician becoming something as creative as an author of fiction. Some people wonder why I write. and then there are the people who say, “I don’t know how you manage to do it!”
The plan is to attempt to answer some of those questions. It’s going to take a while, because writing about writing isn’t as interesting as the writing itself. If you’re interested in the answers to any of those questions, then be patient and read on and eventually you may find some answers.
If you have other questions about my writing, then feel free to ask them in the replies below, and I’ll try to answer.
www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0848T71L3. It is about the first stages of grief for Gavin and Chrissie Hughes when their police officer son is killed on duty. The others books were intended to be following them six months on and as they approach the first anniversary of Kenny’s murder. The second book was going to centre around the victim impact report that Gavin and Chrissie would write for the judge at the trial of Kenny’s killers. That was all de-railed by COVID-19, which led to Crown Courts being closed down and jury trials suspended indefinitely.
So Book 2 is now going to be about the coronavirus lockdown and how different families experience it: Gavin still in frontline policing; Chrissie teaching her school children remotely, Bernie, Peter and Jonah confined to their home; Wayne and Dean struggling to keep their two lively adopted boys happy and occupied in a small house and garden; the Whittle family grieving the loss of their older son and facing financial problems with Trevor’s taxi service no longer able to run. There’s going to be a police investigation included in the plot, but Jonah can’t be involved because he’s being shielded at home, so Anna Davenport will be the Senior Investigating Officer. And the investigation is going to involve Wayne and Dean and their adopted sons, Carl and Harry. Yes, you’re right, it’s going to be horrendously complicated, but simplified by the fact that all the families are segregated by being confined to their homes for the duration.
Book 3 is tentatively entitled “Victim Statements” and will be written after we know when Crown Courts will open again and how long the backlog is likely to take to be dealt with. I’m hoping that it will be before the end of 2020 so that it can cover the anniversary of Kenny’s death. The subtitle is currently “Cold and Frosty Mourning”, so those courts had better get back to work before Spring 2021!
The reason that I can’t leave all that completely on the back burner until after I’ve finished writing the next Bernie Fazakerley Mystery “Crowd of Witnesses” is that the action in “Locked Down: May Day Mourning” is all scheduled to take place this May and I need to have Bernie writing about it in her blog. You can read it all here:
So, at the same time as planning how to tell a story that dates back to 1982 (safely away from any unexpected twists to the COVID-19 saga!), I’ve got to think about how all of my characters are going to react to the daily Downing Street briefings, the news about lost lives and lost livelihoods, and the continuing stresses of limited freedom and an uncertain future!
As I said in my previous post, my next detective novel is going to be about a crime that took place nearly forty years ago, when Our Bernie was still a postgraduate student and DCI Jonah Porter was a mere Detective Constable. The idea is that he decides to write his memoirs to while away the time during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown, when he is confined to the house because his spinal cord injury makes exposure to the virus high risk for him.
I planned to interleave current events, such as discussions of the case between Jonah and his friends, Peter and Bernie, with past event pertaining to the murder case. The next question was how to do this.There were three main options:
Write both current and past events from the point of view of an omniscient narrator (my usual approach);
Write current events as third person omniscient, but use chapters from Jonah’s memoirs (written in the first person) to tell the story of the past case;
Write both current and past events in the first person, possibly changing narrator between Jonah, Bernie and Peter.
When I read fiction, I’m not a great fan of first-person narratives, but I have to admit they do sometimes work really well. Jonah is a bright guy and quite capable of writing up a case in a way that would make a good story. In a fit of enthusiasm, I got him to write some case notes for Bernie website. They never got very far, because he’s a busy man and writing is time-consuming when you only have two fingers to type with, but you can read about one of his very early cases here, if you’re interested:
I think I’ve decided to go for third person omniscient for the present-day and to allow Jonah to narrate the past – perhaps with interventions from Peter (who was there and may remember things differently) and Bernie (who was very much on the periphery and may have questions about what happened from the point of view of an outsider. I’ve planned out the chapters. Now all I have to do is write them!
I’ve finally decided to re-purpose the plot from “Crowd of Witnesses” as my next book. It will be set in 1982 with the death taking place in the middle of an anti-nuclear demonstration, protesting against Cruise missiles being stored at Greenham Common.
I’m having to go back through the plan, removing all reference to Kenny Hughes’ trial, deleting regular protagonists who weren’t around back in 1982 and changing the rolls of the ones who were. Now I’m reviewing the names of the “cast” and changing them to ones that suit their new dates of birth. The younger ones are the most unsuitable now that we’ve gone back in time: I can’t imagine any young people being called Phoebe, Grace, Lois or George in 1982!
Planning out the sequence of events is more complicated than usual because I’ve got to keep track of both events in the present (where Jonah is using his time of inaction during the COVID-10 lockdown period to write his memoirs) and those in the past (where he is a young DC assisting in a murder investigation).
To make things even more tricky, the present-day situation is changing daily, so that things that Jonah, Peter and Bernie are able to do today may be forbidden tomorrow.
And, back in 1982, while Bernie is going to feature as a friend of Peter’s wife Angie and also as one of the demonstrators, I have to be careful that she doesn’t come into contact with either Jonah or Richard, who are already documented in earlier books as never having met her until many years later.
Back in the ancient history of three or four weeks ago, I’d planned for the murder in “Crowd of Witnesses” to have been done by an injection of Ketamine. I was confident my murderer could have obtained through the illegal trade in recreational drugs. But what about back in 1982? Had it even been developed back then? If so, what was its availability? Was it plausible that my murderer would have heard of it and know how to get a supply?
A bit of quick research reveals that it was first synthesized in 1962 and began to be used as an anaesthetic in the1970s. Apparently it was also used “nonmedically” on the West Coast of America, but recreational use only really took off in the 1990s. So,either my murderer is going to have to get the drug some other way (contacts at the hospital, perhaps?) or I’ll need to find a different method of killing.
Stabbing would be more straightforward, but how to dispose of the weapon and keep blood off the murderer’s clothes?
Then there’s the question of whether this book is going to be mainly about the trials of being caught up in the COVID-19 lockdown or about a murder in 1982?
On Friday it was 980. Nine hundred & eighty souls.
On Saturday, it was 917. Nine hundred & seventeen souls.
Those are the numbers of people who have died from coronavirus in just two days. Just in this country. Actually, those are the numbers of people who died in hospital. The totals don’t include those who died at home, or in a care home, or anywhere else. The reality – the final toll – will undoubtedly be significantly higher.
It is an unimaginable horror story, playing out in real time all around us. The overwhelming loss of life. The sheer unbearable scale of it all. The inevitability that thousands more will die.
At Hillsborough, 96 precious lives were lost. On 7/7, 52 precious lives were lost. At Lockerbie, 270 precious lives were lost. When the Marchioness went down, 51 precious lives were lost. When the Herald of Free Enterprise capsized…
I thought that I’d got the plot sorted for the second book in the trilogy that I’ve got planned, tracking Gavin and Chrissie Hughes through the stages of their grief following the murder of their son, Kenny. The first novel, Weed Killers, launches on 10th April (Good Friday). It’s all ready now. The paperback and Large Print editions are on sale; e-books can be pre-ordered; and the audiobook has been recorded an uploaded and just awaiting review by ACX before they go out on Audible. You can find links to all the editions here: https://sites.google.com/site/llanwrdafamily/a-good-read-1/weed-killers
So now it’s high time I got down to writing the next book.
My plan had been to have two main strands to the plot: a murder investigation involving the victim being struck down in the crowd during a mass demonstration calling for more action to prevent climate change; and the trial of Kenny’s killers. I’d got a title (Crowd of Witnesses) and a subtitle (Midsummer Mourning) and a cast of characters lined up as victim, suspects and witnesses. Gavin and Chrissie would be watching the trial and having to re-live their son’s death as they listened to the evidence. The action would take place in June 2020, which seemed to be a suitable length of time after the charging of Kenny’s killers on Christmas Eve 2019. It all seemed very clear and watertight.
Then COVID-19 came along. Large gatherings were banned. Then even small meetings were stopped. Churches, pubs and restaurants closed their doors. It became impossible to imagine that any large scale demonstration would take place in June of this year. What exactly will life be like by June? Who can say? The idea of writing a story set in the near future has become ridiculous. By the time it was published the world could be vastly different and the event related impossible.
So I started hunting around for a different plot to go alongside the trial, but that idea was short-lived, because soon all new Crown Court trials were suspended. Kenny’s killers would not face justice for many months longer than I’d anticipated. June 2021 now seems a more likely timetable!
With so much uncertainty and with our way of life changing daily, I decided that the “Kenny Hughes Memorial Trilogy” had better be put on hold until I can write about the events of summer 2020 with the benefit of hindsight. And the trial can’t be a focal point. However, the difficulties associated with surviving the combination of ongoing grief and social distancing could be a good basis for the book. Gavin is a police officer, so he will have extra work to do enforcing the new regulations for keeping people indoors to prevent the spread of the virus. How will he and his wife cope with the additional stresses of long working hours, empty supermarket shelves and being shut in together at home for long periods?
I’m keeping a log of how things develop over the days and weeks following the start of the isolation regime, so that I can write about Gavin’s experiences later (perhaps starting writing in the Autumn). Meanwhile, what to write about now?
After some thought, I’ve decided to go back in time and set my next story in the 1980s, which I can write about confidently because that’s safely in the past and I can remember what it was like. I’m also going to bring COVID-19 into it by having my characters reminiscing about the past while stuck at home, unable to work or socialise. They’re going to clear out the attic where some old diaries have been stored …
Watch this space to read about how it’s panning out.
I produce my books in five formats: EPUB, Kindle, Paperback, Large Print and Audio. I like think that this means that they are accessible to anyone, whatever their needs or preferences. Of course it means extra work for me. I’ve already talked about the delights and challenges of narrating and producing audio books. Often it’s the audiobook edition that is submitted in its final form for publication first, because there’s a longer period of time between submission to ACX’s review team and the audiobook going on sale. At that point the actual text is also complete and has been checked several times, but it still needs to be typeset into the different written formats.
E-books are the easiest to produce, because the e-reader and the user together control such things as pagination and font size. So to produce EPUB and Kindle editions from my master manuscript only takes a matter of minutes or a few hours at most. Kobo and Kindle accept Word files and convert them into EPUB and MOBI format respectively. It’s important to check the converted file to make sure that everything is as expected. Generally, the Kindle converter tends to throw up fewer surprises than the Kobo one, which sometimes inexplicably produces changes in font size between paragraphs that appear identical in the Word document or suddenly switches from Arial to Times Roman for no apparent reason. However, usually all the bugs can be fixed fairly straightforwardly.
It’s when we come to the paperback editions that the fun starts! Although KDP allows manuscripts to be uploaded as Word files, I’ve discovered that the pagination often goes wrong if you do. It’s more reliable to save it as an ISO-19005-1 compliant PDF file, which is reproduced exactly as it appears and doesn’t throw up any complaints about embedded fonts. But before doing that, I have to edit the Word file to contain the pages of the book exactly as I want them to be printed.
E-books work best without any headers and footers, because the pagination changes dynamically as the reader adjusts the settings on their device. Print books need page numbers (usually at the bottom of the page) and tend to look best with headers displaying the title and author, or else the chapter name and title. These need to be added, but it looks strange to have a header at the top of the first page of a chapter, so each chapter needs to be the start of a new section and the headers have to be set to be different for the first page and also for odd and even pages. The pages need to be re-sized to fit the size of each paperback. I use 8”x5” for the standard paperback edition and 9”x6” for the Large Print edition. The margins need to be changed to fit in with the new paper size and to give a larger margin on the inside (where the pages are attached to the spine) than the outside. At this stage, any images need to be checked to make sure that they still fit on the page (and inside the margins), re-sizing them if not.
My latest book, Weed Killers, is a detective novel, but it also has some recipes at the back. One of the characters in the book is constantly baking cakes and biscuits and handing them round, so I thought that readers might be interested to know how to make these goodies for themselves. I decided that it would be better if the whole recipe could be fitted on to a single two-page spread, because then the book could be left open at the page for reference while the baking is going on. That meant making sure that very recipe that took up more than one page (most of them don’t) started on an even-numbered page.
It was more difficult with the Large Print edition, because one recipe just had to be allowed to go on to a third page; so cooks will have to turn over to read the final part of the Method.
Typesetting is a fiddly business sometimes. In theory, Word does it all for you, but sometimes it doesn’t come out quite how you intended. The highlighted sentence here looks fine in my master draft, which is A4 format, but when I put it on to a 5″ by 8″ page for the standard paperback edition the closing quotation mark ended up on a line on its own, instead of at the end of the speech. It’s because Word thinks that the hyphen, which I’ve used to indicate that the speaker is cut off before he can finish, is a good place to split the lines of text. I puzzled for a while about how to fix it. In the end, I went through selecting each space on the line and reducing the font size. That turned out to be just enough to allow the closing quotation mark to fit on the end of the line.
Then I had to scroll down to the end of the chapter to check that this hadn’t affected the start page for the next chapter (which would have required changes to the Contents page). Luckily, it hadn’t.
Getting the cover exactly the right size can be tricky. The spine thickness depends on the number of pages. KDP will provide a PDF template with the spine width on it, but irritatingly it doesn’t explicitly state how much extra is needed for trimming all round. I know that the front and back cover images have to be 0.25 inches larger than the dimensions of the book, so it should be a straightforward enough calculation … It’s a pity Publisher (which is the software that I use to produce the cover image) expects page sizes to be specified in cm. I got this one right first time.
You can find links to all the editions of Weed Killers on my website: https://sites.google.com/site/llanwrdafamily/a-good-read-1/weed-killers. The official launch date isn’t until 10th April, but the paperback editions are already available and the e-books can be pre-ordered. I’m still waiting on ACX to confirm that the audiobook has been accepted and published in Audible and iTunes, but it shouldn’t be long now. I hope you enjoy my latest novel, however you choose to read it!
And fear is a little bit like a virus. It attaches itself to living cells and spreads relentlessly from one host to the next, causing immeasurable harm as it does so. Fear is dangerously infectious – and the realisation of that fact must surely lead us to search for a cure.
But is there a cure for fear?
There are certainly all sorts of things that might help us to feel less afraid. Things like:
Facts: understanding what it is we’re dealing with.
Advice: understanding what we need to do by way of a response.