PSST! HEARD ANY GOOD BOOKS LATELY?

If so, you’re in excellent company. Latest figures indicate that audiobooks are the fastest growing format in publishing. In 2015 the number of downloads rose by nearly thirty per cent, well over 40,000 titles were released and leading retailer Audible estimated in 2016 that its customers around the world were on track that year to listen to two billion hours worth of programming.

Two billion.

As a writer with audio books out there I see – and hear – the format’s huge popularity as aural bon mots, which is why I was more than happy to take part in a recent campaign to promote them. What you might call, spreading the spoken words.

better brindley audio

A while back now I met my publishers to celebrate the digital recording of one of my books. BLOOD MONEY is the sixth title in the Bev Morriss crime series. Thanks to Creative Content’s Ali Muirden and Lorelei King – there are now seven Bev stories available to download.

Maureen and us (1)

On the same day we went along to Audible’s studios where we talked – among other things – about writing BLOOD MONEY how my writing style is influenced by my years working in TV news.  The interview was recorded and is now available on-line.

studio me

So . . . audiobooks

I like to think of them as a sort of grown-ups’ version of children’s bedtime stories – with a cheeky bonus or two. For instance, they can be listened to any time and almost anywhere: in the gym, in the car, on the commute; while dusting the lounge, digging the garden, queuing in line. I’d maybe draw the line at listening while swimming the Channel.

Narrators can whisk you back a century or six or fast forward you to the next millennium; they’ll take you on a tour of Morse’s Oxford colleges, Rebus’s Edinburgh bars, Philip Marlowe’s mean streets or Sherlock Holmes’ Baker Street. The multi-talented Clare Corbett who narrates my crime novels will happily show you round Bev Morriss’ Birmingham haunts.

Seeing things 

Though crime fiction’s the most popular genre in the audio market, it’s not the only one, of course. There’s literary fiction, science fiction, non-fiction, romance, chick-lit, biography, the classics and . . . you get the picture.

I’m sure you do. It’s another reason why audiobooks are so captivating. They free us to close our eyes – literally or figuratively – release our imagination and see the pictures in our head. It’s like playing a mental movie with a sensational soundtrack provided by a narrator with the vocal range equivalent of a full orchestra.

Hair-raising

To continue the analogy, the first time I heard one of my books narrated was music to my ears. Even though I’d written every word, every line, the power of the narration had me on the edge of my seat, raised hairs on the back of my neck; I laughed out loud at some of the dialogue and one bitter-sweet sequence brought tears to my eyes. If an audio book can move me, the author, like that, I’d love to know their effects on others.

So to sum up, I guess that means I’m with the late broadcaster Alistair Cooke, whose Letter from America was required listening on the BBC for nearly sixty years.

alistair cooke quote

I think, like me, he’d probably feel the same about audio books.

The Bev Morriss titles available on audio are:  

blood money

death line

 

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WRITE ON OR WRESTLE WITH?

I’m talking words – get them right or get them down? I ask because recently I spent rather too much time playing Oscar Wilde’s Comma. You recall his dilemma?

oscar

Unlike Oscar, I tinkered with more than the odd comma. I tussled with an entire sequence.

As in . . .

I’m about halfway through writing the the next book in my Bev Morriss crime series. The deadline’s the end of June. As per, I aim to hit a daily daily word count but last month several days went by when no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get the words down.

Actually, that’s not quite true. I could. I wrote hundreds and hundreds of words but not les mots justes – they just weren’t singing off the page. To misquote Eric Morecambe, it was a case of all the right words but not necessarily in the right order. Or maybe they were the wrong words in the wrong order.

Whatever, they just didn’t work.

snoopy better

I rewrote the sequence countless times, spent ages reworking, fine-tuning and still it didn’t read, look or sound right. A lot of writers do this, of course. It’s certainly the way I work but not to the extent I had to recently.  And that’s the operative phrase: had to. 

As an author, I’ve never been able to move on to the next passage, even paragraph, until I’m as happy as I can be with the one I’m writing. I know it’s down to the years I spent in TV journalism.

tv report

Every news story I covered, I had to edit, edit and edit until it was right. It had to come in at the correct length and it had to come in on time. Only then could I let it go and move on. I’ve been a fiction writer for fifteen years now and constantly editing is still the way I work.

But, is it the best way?

Since my Oscar experience, I’ve been giving it some serious thought. Was the later version of the passage I’d struggled with for hours and hours really that much sharper? Did the first version not have a fresher feel? Did it not flow equally as well, if not – whisper it – even a little better?  Had I been over-thinking, over-writing? I was certainly overwrought.

Out of interest, I asked a writer friend to cast an eye over both versions. We’re in almost daily touch and share highs and lows (meaning, keep each other sane) and she was well aware I’d been having a hard time. Anyway, I asked her verdict.

Before revealing it, here are two slightly shorter versions of the passages she read.  Bear in mind they’re both early drafts and neither will make it to the book.

 1

‘They live in Bourneville, gaffer. I’m heading out there now with, Tyler.’ Kay Henderson had barely been able to string two words together on the phone. Bev knew a face-to-face would be more effective and if her instinct was on the money, quicker in the long run. She had an inkling the Henderson girl had paid a heavy price for shooting her mouth off. The ultimate. If that was the case, they needed the mother to open up, soon as.

         Having collared Mac in the car park, she’d brought him up to speed as they walked back to the motor. She’d badly needed his chauffeuring services, so she could do some serious detecting en route via the phone. Now she’d accrued a bit more info, she’d just put Powell in the picture.

          ‘So you’re saying this Gemma bird’s got form?’ The DI sounded a tad sceptical; probably thought she was going out of her way to miss the early brief.  But when did the blond ever listen properly? 

          ‘I’m saying if it’s who I think it is she made a false accusation a few years ago that landed a guy in court.’ Bev was still waiting for Terry, a mate on the West Mercia force, to get back with confirmation of the girl’s identity. In the meantime, she was scrolling on-line newspaper reports to refresh her memory. She and Tel had discussed the case in the run-up to the trial and she was ninety per cent sure she’d heard him mention the name, Gemma.

        The Gemma in question had a habit of telling fairy stories. Quite the serial offender. Little Miss Anonymous in the media had got off lightly but the same couldn’t be said for the teacher she targeted. He’d very nearly been sent down before the truth – make that the fantasies – came to light.

2

Could rush hour traffic get any louder?

          ‘Bristol did you say, Morriss?’

          Frowning, Bev clamped the handset tighter to her ear.  ‘No, gaffer, Bourneville. It’s where the family live.’             

        Moira Henderson had barely been able to string two words together on the phone. Bev knew a face-to-face would be more productive and if her instinct was on the money, getting out there now would be a damn sight quicker in the long run. As she’d tried telling Powell – she had an inkling the daughter had paid big time for shooting her mouth off. Either way they needed to get the mother talking, soon as.

           ‘Are you saying this Gemma bird’s got form?’ Powell sounded a tad sceptical; probably thought she’d do anything to avoid the early brief. Her and Mac both. She’d collared him in the car park before he even set foot in the nick. Mac was doing the driving honours while Bev did some homework on the phone.       

          ‘I’m saying if it’s who I think it is she made a false accusation a few years ago that landed a guy in court.’

         The case had been West Mercia’s baby; Bev was still matey with one of the detectives who’d been on the inquiry. She’d messaged Tel the sixty-nine thousand dollar question, and was waiting for an answer. Tel had been well hacked off when the trial collapsed, called the girl all the names under the sun, including – if Bev recalled rightly – Gemma Henderson. 

        ‘And you’re thinking this Aiden bloke’s waited till now for payback?’ Powell sniffed. ‘Sounds pretty unlikely to me.’

          ‘You might be right, gaffer.’ Always a first time.  ‘Won’t know till we’ve checked, will we?’

    What Bev did know was that the Gemma she had in mind had a habit of telling fairy stories.  Little Miss Anonymous in the media had got off lightly considering she’d spun a web of lies. Unlike the guy she’d vilified. Apart from having his reputation shredded, Aiden Manners had very nearly lost his liberty before the truth – and fantasies – came to light.

 

So which version did my author friend prefer? The first. Her thinking? That it had the edge in pace and focus. I have to say neither version really did it for me, and I agonised a while more until feeling happy enough to move on. Still I found it an interesting experiment, hardly scientific, but it certainly made me question further the way I work.

edit

The bottom line is – I know I won’t change. Probably, can’t. Not least because other factors come into play.  I feel if a sequence is wrong it can have a knock-on effect on the next and the next and so on. Plus I’d hate to get to the end of a book knowing there are sections that aren’t right and that serious work’s needed to fix them.

Not, I hasten to add, that I’m ever completely happy with a book when it’s finished. Is any author? I fine-tooth comb the script several times, editing and tightening yet again.  But when it’s ready to go to my editor, at least I know that – as far as I can – I’ll have hit the right notes in just about the right order.

Until the edit comes back.

To finish – two of my favourite quotes on writing.

 

And as for Mr Hemingway’s words . . . I couldn’t put it better myself.

rewrite

KILLER HEELS . . . part two

louboutin

Avoiding SWR

It sounds like a dodgy virus or a defunct railway line. It’s neither. SWR’s short for Series Writers’ Rut and for an author trapped in one I reckon it can cripple creativity.  Let me explain . . .

More than a decade ago, a writer I know had two crime series running. The first was fairly well-established when the second started appearing in the bookshops. For several years, the series were then published more or less alternately. I remember the author telling me that starting to write a new book in the first series felt like slipping into comfy shoes. I was unpublished at the time and staggered by the remark. I didn’t understand the concept and – now that I write two series myself – I still don’t.

For me, comfy is a tad too close to cosy; cosy not far from complacent and complacent not a million miles from prose plodding along a well-worn path.

The way I see it, keeping a series fresh is anything but easy. The fact is I find it more and more difficult every time I sit down to start a new book. Not that I’m whingeing. If original inventive writing came easy – where’s the challenge?

So how to sidestep SWR . . .

A gripping new storyline goes without saying but for me the crucial key lies in a bunch of lively characters. There’s a degree of comfort (that word again) in an author knowing her/his characters well, but it’s a two-edged sword. It’s important not to get too close. There’s an old saying about familiarity and contempt. And, of course, characters – like people – change over the years.

So my detectives not only have new crimes to solve and killers to collar, they also have dramatic, often life-changing events, to deal with in every book.  They have no idea what’s coming, of course, but I’ll have planted several plot seeds earlier in the series.

Probably my best known character is DS Bev Morriss. I’ve heard readers talk about her as if she’s real and it pleases me no end. It means I’m doing my job properly. And it is a job – even though I’m the boss and get to call the shots. Unlike some authors who claim their characters have a life of their own and ‘take over’– mine definitely don’t. I decide every step Bev (and the rest of the cast) takes, every move she makes and every bon mot she utters. Given she’s been pounding the crime beat for fourteen years now and her nickname’s Motor Mouth that’s a lot of mots – bon, mal or otherwise.

Even though I write two series, I try to make each book work as a standalone. Seamlessly weaving in on-going strands from previous instalments is one of the biggest challenges. Too much would confuse, let alone infuriate, new readers, but there has to be enough continuity to keep fans of the series happy. Many readers are as interested in detectives’ personal lives and emotional baggage as they are with police procedure and intricacies of the plot. It’s little wonder crime series are almost always character-driven. Not that they’d get far without a cracking story.

And there are thousands vying for readers’ attention. According to the International Publishers’ Association, twenty new titles were released every hour in the UK last year. Yes. Every hour.  Clearly not all the titles are crime fiction, but given the genre’s popularity, go figure . . .

I reckon that unless I have a deadline looming, I read six sometimes seven books a month – mostly crime novels. I love the genre but I also think that as a practitioner, I need to keep tabs on what’s out there and what the competition’s up to. I’ve never understood authors who say they don’t read when they have a work in progress in case it influences their style or content. If a writer’s voice is strong enough and their characters are people that readers want to spend time with – it’s not going to happen.

Anyway . . . back to SWR. Years ago for a magazine article I was writing, I asked several well-known authors how they dodged it. John Connolly spoke of introducing unpredictability into the blend. Mark Billingham lets characters age. Ian Rankin said new story lines maintain freshness. Liz Evans had a novel solution: asked how she kept Brighton PI Grace Smith fresh Liz said, ‘an effective deodorant’. But then went on to talk about giving Grace new challenges in every book.

Sometimes, it’s not enough . . .

Around the same time, an author who’d just finished the sixth book in his series told me he’d write a standalone next. The reason?  He admitted he was getting bored with his characters.  I think he made the right decision. If he was bored – what hope for the poor reader?

I know I’m biased, but I still find Bev Morriss as complex, caring, cavalier, exciting and exasperating as the day she first stepped on to the page. Am I being harsh on the author who said going back to write her first series was like slipping into comfy shoes? Maybe she didn’t intend to sound smug or complacent.

Either way, I know that if the time comes when writing the Bev series – or the DI Sarah Quinn books – feels like donning cosy footwear, I’ll pull the plug on the DS, the DI and my PC.

When I start a new book, I reach for the Louboutins.

Killer heels – they keep you on your toes.

DEAD MEN DON’T SMILE

Is the title of the first short story I wrote nearly twenty years ago – and it still makes me happy.  Not so much its dark humour (well, I think it’s funny) but the fact it broke a long and frustrating publishing duck.

Over the previous five years, the three crime novels I’d been sending out had garnered a fine collection of rave rejections from countless publishers.  Some pretty close calls but no contracts.

Then in November 1998, the editor of The New Writer magazine threw me a career lifeline. She showed faith and published my first fiction. I’ll never forget how good that felt or how much I owe her.

new writer cover

Ahead lay a further three years of ‘thanks but no thanks’ rejections for my full-length fiction.  But throughout that time, I kept TNW open on my desk so that every morning when I sat down to work my story was there proving I could do it. Seeing it acted as a spur and helped me through the self-doubt and dark days that every writer – published or not – faces.

Persistence can pay off and success in the shape of an offer finally came in 2001. Working Girls my first crime novel was published later that year.  I didn’t know it then but it turned out to be the first title in one of two crime series that I now write.

Copy of working girls cc

Anyway, I didn’t start a blog to dish out advice or deliver lectures but, for me, the lesson I learned way back was, and is: never give up, and maybe don’t try and run before you can walk?

I look back on those eight years as my apprenticeship and on the publication of that first piece of fiction as the start of a new chapter for me as a writer. This is that story . . .

dead men

For a woman who didn’t believe in ghosts, her first book signing was fast becoming a spiritual revelation. George Cornwell – so solid a presence in her recent life – was putting in a late appearance due to his untimely death.

Claudia Connor – fake tan and false smile – was approaching the end of a painstakingly prepared spontaneous address when she looked up and spotted George in the middle of the back row. She stared mesmerised as he puckered full lips and blew a light kiss. Claudia lifted an eyebrow; he was more expansive in the afterlife than he’d ever been in this one.

She almost returned his smile until she remembered that dead men don’t. Dead men don’t do anything. Do they? She shivered despite the heat.

‘Ms Connor. Are you OK?’

The voice broke the spell. Claudia tossed big blonde hair and turned to the small bland man hovering at her side. She flashed a beam that could have powered a small continent and which had already paid for her orthodontist’s holiday in one.

‘I’m fine.’ Claudia ran a moist pink tongue over impossibly red lips.’ Perhaps a glass of water?’

The little man – whose badge said Manager – but whose manner said Uriah, scuttled off.

Claudia looked round attempting to dismiss the apparition as a temporary aberration. The place was packed and what Claudia lacked in literacy she more than made up in numeracy. A quick head count times the cost of her book equalled fair recompense for the start of her holiday.

Studiously avoiding the space George had appeared to fill, she treated her waiting fans to a full range of batting eyes and beatific sighs. Even her retinue of runners and fixers, PAs and POs was impressed, sensing previously unsuspected depths of dissembling. The adoring multitude was less sensitive, concentrating exclusively on Claudia’s physical dimensions.

For an aspiring actress it was a bravura performance. She thanked God for all those years on the catwalks and front covers. Despite the shock, she’d kept her cool. All the posing had endowed a superficial calm. Quite what it had contributed to her talent as a writer was considerably less clear.

But Roll Model: Kittens on the Catwalk was the reason Claudia Connor was standing in the middle of Waterstones, in the middle of London, in the middle of August when she should be lying on a beach, smoothing on sun cream and sipping on cocktails, not perspiring and seeing spirits.

The Scuttler returned, hand out-stretched.

‘Thank you so much.’ Claudia sipped slowly. She was in no hurry to put her theory about George to the test.  She glanced at the display table to her left. It was stacked high with copies of Roll Model. She sashayed over, her red satin sarong as tight as a second skin except for the thigh-high slit. She felt slightly unsteady on her long legs and was relieved she’d eschewed the four inch heels in favour of soft leather flats. She bent over to put down the glass, fully aware of the impact on The Droolers but not so prepared for the dizziness that came on as she lifted what felt like a very light head. All the more reason to take her time.

She’d decided to count to twenty before letting her gaze rove along the back row again. She  returned centre stage, averting her eyes until the last second.

Thank God. He’d gone.  Well, of course he had. He couldn’t have been there in the first place.

It must have been a trick of the light. Or the heat. Or something.

She switched on her brightest smile. ‘Perhaps, after that little interruption, we could do some Q and As?’ Claudia simpered. Then get down to the signing, Claudia thought. Then get the hell out of here, Claudia gloated. Felix was waiting in the penthouse; the helicopter was waiting on the roof; a St Lucia beach was waiting in the . . .

God, she couldn’t remember, but it was somewhere hot where she wouldn’t be bothered. She dragged her mind back to the dreary little people in front of her. Their contributions were ranging from the banal to the full of bull. Did anyone really give a shit about her favourite colour?

Claudia answered everything with a fixed smile and a winning manner. She couldn’t lose. Instead of punters, she saw pound signs. The session seemed to have run its course. There were no more hands in the air . Then she heard another question.

‘Do you think you’re a good writer, Ms Connor?’

The emphasis was on the adjective and the inference was on the negative. Claudia was unaware of either, she wouldn’t know an adjective from a conjunctive but she’d recognised the voice. She’d know it anywhere. She moved her gaze in its direction. No one else moved a muscle.

Couldn’t anyone see him? Had they heard? They must have. She’d have to answer. She did, but faltered.

‘I . . . I think I’m a f. f. f. fine writer.’

There was a pause and puzzled expressions. Shit! They hadn’t. Get a grip girl. She fought a wave of nausea. God. She was so hot. Her body was on fire. Sweat was seeping from her armpits and trickling between her thighs. Damn the air conditioning. The sooner she got on, the sooner she could get out. She managed a weak smile. ‘And I hope you do, too.’

The Scuttler took his cue and took Claudia by the elbow to a second table where a short line was already getting longer.  It was more of a challenge now to keep the smile in place and there was little she could do about the tremor in her hands. Her signature was barely decipherable.

By the time she’d written mind numbing messages in sixty or so books, she was beginning to relax again. The furtive glances she’d been taking suggested George had vanished.

Her thoughts – although she couldn’t place it – were in the Caribbean. Felix hot in one hand and a Pina Colada cool in the other.

And then the glass shattered.

Not the one that had been in her head; the one that had been on the table. She’d placed it there herself only a few minutes ago. No one was anywhere near it. Yet she’d just seen it rise and fall and heard the smash. Her books were showered with sharp fragments and drenched in cold water.

Scuttler raced across to investigate. ‘How on earth . . .?’

‘It’s nothing on earth,’ Claudia murmured, tight hands clutching her even tighter chest. She lifted her glance to find that the queue has dispersed. Only one figure remained.

‘What on earth are you doing here?’

Claudia didn’t bother to look at him. He could have been part of the furniture. George Cornwell was installed on the three-seater and had no intention of leaving until she’d handed over what he’d come for. He’d spent enough of the last year in this place to last him a lifetime. He had no desire to stay any longer than necessary.

Claudia moved to the drinks cabinet: all hard liquor and soft lighting. She poured a large vodka then strolled to the black leather Chesterfield opposite her uninvited guest. George wondered idly whether she’d bought the trousers to match.

‘Look, darling,’ she ran scarlet-tipped fingers around the rim of the cut crystal, ‘No hard feelings. It’s over now. Let’s put it behind us.’

George looked round for a purring cat until he realised that only he and Claudia were in the room.

‘Move on? Don’t be ridiculous. I’ve given you everything. You can’t pretend it never happened. You needed me.’

Claudia laughed. It was a mistake.

George – a man of many words – decided for once in his life that action might be louder. He covered the distance between them before Claudia had finished crossing her legs.

‘You owe me. You dumb bitch.’

‘Who’re you calling a bitch?’

George laughed. It was a mistake.

Claudia – a woman of limited vocabulary – always took decisive action. In this instance it took the shape of ramming a four-inch steel-tipped heel into George’s groin. The other found its way into his neck. The fact that it hit the jugular was pure chance. Claudia neither knew what it was or where it lay.

She knew one thing for certain: George would have to go. Six hours later, a man wearing women’s shoes in unorthodox parts of his anatomy was anguishing at the bottom of the Thames.

So why – fourteen hours after that was the same man standing in line, book in hand, waiting for her to sign?

The newspapers told a story but not The Story. The Mail was typical . . .

Claudia Connor has died during a book signing at a well known London store. Shocked bystanders desperately tried to revive the former model but she was dead on arrival at hospital. It’s believed she suffered a massive heart attack. Ms Connor (27) one of the best known faces in the world of fashion had recently turned her hand to writing. She’d cut short a holiday in the South of France to promote her first book. 

Roll Model, a racy look behind the scenes of the catwalk, has been speeding up the bestseller lists. Ms Connor, who’d been hoping to play herself in a Hollywood film version had angrily denied not having read the book let alone written it. Her publishers acknowledged the invaluable given by Mr George Cornwell. Mr Cornwell, a highly regarded writer who has ghosted work for a number of international celebrities, was not available for comment.  

Later editions carried a few lines on an inside page about a man’s body being discovered by an angler on the Thames. Police were appealing for help as there was nothing on the corpse to identify it. They were also asking the owner of a pair of gold leather stilettos to come forward. A brief description of the man was issued: five feet eight inches tall, slightly overweight, thinning grey hair; an expensive suit and handmade shirt.

A police spokesperson said, ‘He was obviously a professional gentleman who appears to have been fairly well-heeled.’

Even Claudia might have laughed.

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