Quit to succeed

frustrationDo you sometimes wish you could do things again? I know I do.

But first you need to find out what works and that’s not always easy. You need someone to give you an honest appraisal, to make some positive suggestions that you can work with. As a writer, which can be a solitary profession, you don’t always have people on hand.

You can’t rely on publishers and agents either. They’re busy people, flooded with manuscripts from everyone who thinks they are the next JK Rowling. If you send your work to publishers and agents, you’re guaranteed a long wait for a response, if you get one at all.

You think I’d be used to this after years of rejection and lack of interest. And once the frustration and disappointment subside, you remind yourself that each rejection is a learning experience.

You learn not to expect anything from publishers and agents, especially a reply. You learn to keep your expectations so low they could limbo dance under a closed door.

But I never learned when to stop and call it a day. That was the trouble. Despite all the rejections and disappointments, I never learned to quit or stop dreaming.

Until I had no choice.

Time to quit

If you’ve ever quit smoking, you’ll know it can be hell as addiction grips like a vice. When I quit in 2006, it put an end to my writing. Without cigarettes, I couldn’t concentrate or write. The bad devil on my shoulder urged me to start smoking again so I could fill the blank screen with words.

But I refused to give in.

I quit writing instead.

‘You learn to keep your expectations so low they could limbo dance under a closed door.’

Have you ever experienced that wave of relief when the pressure lifts from your shoulders?

I wasn’t expecting that. Writing was a habit and a joy, despite the rejections. It was in my blood, like nicotine, yet I didn’t crave it when it was flushed from my system. Days turned into weeks and then months. Still I didn’t miss writing.

But with my health improving, I felt rejuvenated. Within a year, I knew I’d made the best decision ever.

I’d proved I could succeed.

That’s when the tingle started.

You know that feeling. It’s anticipation, expectation, the thought of what might be. You play it down, keep it under control, reminding yourself that things didn’t go too well last time. Start small and manageable. Build slowly. Tell yourself it’s not that important.

Not that I knew what to write, of course. My mind remained stubbornly blank until I read a blog from a plumber, who spent hours searching a village for the house he had to visit. Finally, when he popped into the pub, he discovered that two villages shared the same name.

It wasn’t particularly well-written, but the plumber had a distinctive voice and style that made me chuckle. A few weeks later, I was still laughing when I wrote my first blog about a radio interview I did. Ironically, it concerned the ban on smoking in public places.

bloggingTo protect the guilty and my identity, I named the blog Fisher’s Fables after the protagonist in my last, unwanted novel. Kent Fisher became my mouthpiece and became a rounded, complex character, based on me, but more daring and driven. The dysfunctional team around him developed a life of its own, adding to the humour of the blog, which ran for seven years.

Along the way, I discovered my voice and style.

Filled with confidence, I rewrote the previous novel, changed the title to No Accident, and fired off three chapters and a synopsis to a new publisher. Within a few days, a response arrived in my Inbox.

Publishers don’t respond that quickly unless they’re not interested. For a moment, I was back where I started, hoping for the best, but fearing the worst.

Then I realised I wasn’t that person anymore and opened the email.

‘Hello Robert. I am interested in reading the entire manuscript if you can send it in. First chapter was fun.’

Sometimes you have to quit to succeed.

Maybe you need to break a habit or routine. Maybe you need to create distance so you can reflect and make changes. Or maybe you just need a rest.

What do you think?

Over to you.

If you enjoyed the post and would like to learn more about the Kent Fisher mysteries, including exclusive content and insights about the novels and the characters, click here and sign up. I’ll send you a free extract from Fisher’s Fables, which started it all.

 

weekend

‘Age wrinkles the body. Quitting wrinkles the soul.’ Douglas MacArthur

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Seven Sisters and No Bodies

Seven Sisters, South Downs

The Seven Sisters

Sometimes a place or setting touches your soul. It reaches out to you, inspiring and uplifting, invigorating and healing. You feel a connection that goes beyond appreciation of its beauty or nature.

You feel you belong there.

For over thirty years, I’ve walked, run and photographed this magnificent stretch of the East Sussex coastline from almost every direction. It never ceases to take my breath away – especially running up and down the steeper slopes between the Sisters. I love the way the light plays on the chalk cliffs that stretch up above the sea.

No matter what the weather or time of day or year, the Seven Sisters never fail to inspire of lift me.

Having lived and worked in the area for over thirty years, getting to know its villages, its people, its history and its secrets, it’s the perfect setting for the Kent Fisher Mysteries. The gentle and peaceful hills evoke a fierce pride and sense of belonging in Kent Fisher, the environmental health officer at the heart of novels.

From his animal sanctuary at the foot of the South Downs, he fights to protect this land from developers and speculators. To relax or think through a problem, he runs over the hills. And when he needs inspiration or courage or both, he walks along the coast towards Birling Gap and the Seven Sisters.

He has fond memories and regrets, rooted in this particular spot.

Birling Gap, East Sussex

Birling Gap and the Seven Sisters

When a longstanding family friend asks him to help find his missing wife, Daphne, it’s her love and paintings of the South Downs that draw him into the case.

Then he discovers two more missing wives. But there’s no motive, no connection and no bodies. It sounds like he needs a walk along those cliffs before he can solve this mystery.

To learn more about No Bodies, scheduled for publication on 19th October 2017, and the Kent Fisher mysteries, please visit my website.

If you’d like more details, insights and previews then simply click here to receive my monthly newsletter and a free excerpt from Fisher’s Fables.

weekend

Kites rise highest against the wind, not with it.

Sir Winston Churchill

What happened to August?

Here in Crouch Corner on the south coast of England, with the sun pouring through my study window, I’m wondering what happened to August.

It strolled in off the back of July, filling the streets and beaches with children and families as the school holidays got under way in earnest, tossed in some wicked weather to break up the sunshine, and then quietly slinked away under the cover of darkness, which now arrives around 8pm.

For me, August began with a satisfied sigh, as I’d completed the first draft of my third novel, No Remorse, the day before. The draft will now sit on the metaphorical shelf, gathering dust and distance until late September, when I’ll return to edit and revise with fresh eyes.

No AccidentWith time available for the other jobs and activities involved in writing, August was a chance to catch up, take a fresh look at what I do, and embark on my first blog tour for the relaunched No Accident. It promised to be exciting and scary, starting with a reveal of the new cover for the novel.

The amicable split with my publisher has given me the freedom to work with an editor, a graphic designer to a produce a new look and cover, and the blogging community which passionately supports authors and books.

Since becoming a full time writer in 2016, I’ve witnessed, followed and enjoyed many blog tours, discovering new authors and books, reading intriguing interviews from the well-known to the unknown, and wondering whether anyone would be interested in featuring my work.

Thankfully, the lovely Caroline Vincent of Bits about Books, came to my rescue, setting up a cover reveal and blog tour for No Accident during August. Looking back, I’m still stunned by how much tireless work she, and the amazing bloggers who took part, did to promote the book over the course of nine days.

Reading alone must take up hours each day, yet these selfless people keep their followers informed and entertained, producing reviews, articles and interviews on a daily basis in most cases. I don’t know how they do it, but now that I’ve seen their work at close quarters and engaged with them on social media, they deserve respect and credit. I’m truly in awe of what they do to help authors.

And a little nervous, if I’m honest.

Like many authors, I imagine, it’s one thing writing a novel in the safety of your study, but putting it out there for the world to see and judge … yeah, that makes the stomach tremble. Okay, an editor’s helped you iron out the faults. The graphic designer turned your rather vague ideas on a cover into something enticing.

But there’s no telling what others will think of what you’ve written – and you have nine of them, lining up to tell you over as many days. These are not friends and family, who pat you on the back, but honest reviewers, passionate (and dispassionate), but always professional.

I’m still a little stunned, but delighted, by the amazing reviews and insights they produced.

If you’d like to check them out, please visit the News tab on my website for all the details.

BaskervillesI was also delighted to interview Colin Garrow, author of the excellent spoofs of Sherlock Holmes, as told by a rather irreverent Dr Watson. His latest, The Curse of the Baskervilles, kept me chuckling away for days with three tales filled with dark humour, imagination and wit.

You can read the interview on this blog, and please visit his website and sign up to his newsletter as he’s a busy, busy writer, producing lots of great work.

That left me with the final edits and revisions to No Bodies, my second Kent Fisher mystery. Though comfortable reading and revising on screen, you can’t beat a printed version, especially when you can put your feet up and enjoy several cups of tea in between scribbling notes all over your manuscript.

It’s taken me three days to read and make notes to add a little more polish. Once updated on computer, advanced reader copies can be sent out to reviewers and bloggers before the final version is uploaded, ready for release on October 19th.

If you’d like to find out more about No Bodies, or any of the Kent Fisher mysteries, and keep up to date with previews and free excerpts and downloads, then click here


weekend

‘Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.’

Robert J. Collier

 

My Favourite Five Fictional Detectives

As a lover and writer of crime fiction, what better place to start than my Favourite Five Fictional detectives.

I chose these characters from books and TV because they have consistently entertained, inspired and influenced me over the years. And they continue to do so. Repeated readings and viewings often reveal nuances, clues and moments I haven’t noticed before, also helping me with my plotting.

While there’s a long list of fictional detectives that could have made my favourite five, the ones I’ve chosen share certain characteristics that draw me to them.

  • they’re unlike most of the usual fictional detectives, which means they offer a different, usually refreshing view of the world and crime
  • they’re dogged, determined and quite fearless in their pursuit of justice, having high principles and ethics they never sacrifice
  • they have a sense of humour. Whether wry, dry, sophisticated or slapstick, these detectives have a lighter, human side that makes them even more endearing.

1. Lieutenant Columbo

Lieutenant ColumboFrom the moment I first watched Prescription Murder, I loved the scruffy detective, who focused on the tiny, incongruous details that seemed out of place. With dogged determination, a bumbling approach that disguised his razor-sharp mind, and a love of his work, he unpicked perfect murders, often deflating some huge egos in the process.

Better than that, he deflates the huge egos of the killers, who think he’s a bumbling fool and no match for them.

And who would have thought that a crime drama which revealed the killer from the start would make such different, but compulsive viewing?

2. Chief Inspector Morse

Chief Inspector MorseIntelligent, intellectual and a hopeless romantic, Morse must be the most out of step detective ever. More at home with opera, literature and cryptic crosswords, he casts a weary eye over a world he doesn’t quite belong to, making him a misfit, or a loose cannon, depending on your viewpoint.

His vulnerability, demonstrated mainly through his failure with women, adds to that sense of feeling lost in a world he struggles to make sense of. The magnificent Oxford setting, with its historic and buildings, populated by the elite of academia, heightens and reinforces his disillusionment and sense of failure.

Set against such a peaceful and beautiful setting as Oxford, the complex murders seem more brutal and painful.

 3. Miss Marple

Miss MarplePerhaps the best disguised detective of all time, Agatha’s Christie’s forthright, no nonsense sleuth never misses a trick, or a chance to unravel complex cases that thwart the police. While she puts her skills and incisive logic down to studying village life, she’s ruthless and fearless, perfectly safe behind her knitting and tweed jacket.

Agatha Christie set the standard with her complex plots, red herrings and dead ends, culminating in a reveal that often unmasks an unexpected and surprising killer.

While the BBC TV dramatization with Joan Hickson brought depth to the incisive character of Miss Marple, Christie’s plots and ability to divert attention have provided both a benchmark and inspiration for other crime writers.

4. Kinsey Millhone

Sue GraftonSue Grafton’s feisty private eye from California grabbed my attention in A is for Alibi, and never let go. The first person narration, crammed with attitude, humour and compassion, underpins Kinsey’s dogged nature as she ekes out a living in a small, coastal town.

With an intriguing family backstory, which slowly develops over the series, this detective is more than a match for the crooks she encounters and often hunts down. Like many private eyes, she often comes off worst, thanks to her high principles and refusal to be beaten, but this never dents her positive outlook on life.

She’s happy with her lot, aspiring to no more than a quiet life in her tiny apartment in a gentle coastal town with her small circle of friends. Yet she never gets the peaceful life she wants, as she’s dragged into all manner of intriguing investigations.

Who says that gentle isn’t interesting?

5. Detective Inspector Humphrey Goodman

Humphrey GoodmanIt would be easy to dismiss this contemporary drama, wrapped in a gorgeous tropical island setting. Humphrey’s another misfit, whose accident prone antics often provide a slapstick element to counteract the often brutal crimes that have made Saint Marie the murder capital of the world.

Yet it’s a traditional locked room murder approach in a similar vein to Jonathan Creek (who comes in at 6 in my Favourite Five). Filled with well-developed characters and their backstories, murders that seem impossible to solve, and those sandy beaches, this is Columbo, Jonathon Creek, Midsomer Murders and Agatha Christie, all wrapped up in an addictive, entertaining package that’s about as different as you can get.

Perfect entertainment.

And that’s my final reason for choosing these five. I’m aware of how dark, troubled and painful life can be, but when I sit down in front of the TV or with a book, I like to escape.

I’m sure you have your own favourite detectives, and there are so many to choose from, so who would make your Favourite Five?


A book is a device to ignite the imagination´- Alan Bennet.

A busy, busy writer

I’m deligBaskervilleshted to interview Colin Garrow on my blog. Thanks to his irreverent sense of humour and great writing, he’s become one of my favourite authors.

This weekend, he’s releasing the excellent Curse of the Baskervilles, the third book in the Watson Letters series. You’ll find it on Amazon, along with my 5 star review.

 

Please tell me a little about yourself and your writing.

Colin pic for web 300I started writing when I left school, but for a long time found it difficult to write well. In fact, it wasn’t until I embarked on a degree in Drama as a mature student that I began to understand why some things worked and others didn’t. At uni I wrote plays (some of which were eventually performed), but it wasn’t until the summer of 2013 that I settled down to write my first novel.

When did you first realise you wanted to be an author?I didn’t really want to be an author to begin with, though it’s always been at the back of my mind. When I was 16, I wanted to play in a heavy metal band and go on tour. My guitar skills were pretty good, but I was very shy, so that particular career path never really got off the ground. Nowadays I’m more into folky-type music and am quite relaxed about singing and playing, but I think that’s more to do with the fact that I’m past the stage of caring what people think.

Describe the first piece you wrote and what it meant to you?

The first thing I remember writing (after deciding I wanted to be ‘a writer’), was a radio play called ‘Down Where the Moon is Lonely’. It was meant to be a sort of spoof of ‘Under Milk Wood’ by Dylan Thomas. I convinced myself it was a fantastically clever play and fiddled around with it for a few years , tyring to get it right. Eventually I sent it to the BBC, who recognised it for what it was – a pile of crap – but I’d had problems with endings for quite a while, so I was glad to have written something I’d actually been able to finish, even if no-one wanted to read it.

What do you most enjoy about being an author?

I love creating stories and characters, but mostly I enjoy entertaining people and, with any luck, making them laugh.

What do you least enjoy about being an author?

The length of time it takes to become rich and famous 🙂

I see from your Amazon biography, you’ve had quite a variety of interesting jobs. Any particular favourites you’d like to tell me about?

I studied Drama at university and subsequently did a lot of freelance work, including storytelling, mask making, and running writing and drama workshops. I loved the variety, though there was never enough work to keep me busy full time, so I’d have to take on less enchanting jobs (like working in a fish-processing factory, or handing out leaflets), to make ends meet.

How much did your work inspire your writing and the subjects you write about?

Hardly at all, though a few years ago I co-wrote a stage play called ‘No Phones on Planet Pluto’, a piece about mental illness. The play consisted of a series of monologues, including one I wrote based on my own experiences of depression. I also performed in the play and found the whole thing quite cathartic.

You also publish a variety of books from children’s to humour to detective mystery. Perhaps you could tell me about this.

DirtyMainly, I write about murders, mysteries and adventures, starting with children’s novels (because the ideas I had at the time seemed suited to that age group). It was only after I’d begun writing short stories aimed at literary magazines and an older readership that I got interested in writing for adults. (Although the stage plays I’d written previously where mostly for adult audiences.) My first novel for adults, ‘Death on a Dirty Afternoon‘, was inspired by a short story I’d written called ‘How Green Was My Lovely Big Sleep’ – a spoof Raymond Chandler tale.

DevilgateI’ve now written six novels for children, including my first venture into the horror genre. I had the idea of writing a series that would rival RL Stine’s ‘Goosebumps’ series (yeah, right!), setting it in one town and featuring many of the same characters. The first one in the series is called, ‘The Demon of Devilgate Drive‘ and was inspired by the Suzi Quatro song of (almost) the same name. I even called one of the characters Suzi Q as a sort of homage to the leatherclad rocker.

Tell me about the inspiration and motivation to write ‘The Watson Letters’. Were you worried you might upset fans of Sherlock Holmes?

The Watson Letters started between myself and a friend as a series of emails taking the Mickey out of literary characters, the main focus being Holmes and Watson. Then I built a website about the Conan Doyle books and the Watson Letters Blog became part of that. Eventually my friend didn’t want to do it any more and that’s when I started to think about developing the stories, instead of the disorganized mess they’d become.

WickerThe first book (The Watson Letters Volume 1: Something Wicker This Way Comes), was an experiment to see if I could take the essence of the Blog and make it into a readable book. Book 2 was more structured, though the stories were (and still are), published on the Blog first, then edited into book form.

I don’t really worry about offending Sherlock Holmes fans, since there are already loads of people on the Conan Doyle bandwagon. And there’s plenty of variety to choose from if my innuendo/fart gag scenarios don’t appeal – my particular favourites on the more serious side are ‘House of Silk’ and ‘Moriarty’ by Anthony Horowitz.

Which type of book do you most like to write and why?

My favourite type of books are the ones I can finish. At the moment, I have one unfinished novel which has been doing my head in for quite some time. It may be that my method of not planning my books is partly to blame, but I could never write a novel where I already knew the ending – the reason for writing is to find out what happens and quite often it’s a surprise to me as much as  anyone else.

Who inspires you? Why?

I’m inspired by good writing, so I strive to be as good as the writers I admire: Stephen King, Peter Carey, Margaret Atwood, Sharon Bolton, Tim Winton, Mo Hayder, Raymond Chandler, George Orwell, Christopher Brookmyre, Louise Welsh  and of course Ian Banks.

If you could invite four guests (fictional or real, alive or dead) for dinner, who would you choose and why?

Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley, because they’re all absolutely fabulous, and the lovely Victoria Wood, because she was the funniest comedy writer ever.

Please tell me about your latest project.

I keep telling myself to stick to one book at a time, but at the moment, I’m working on the next Terry Bell Mystery, ‘A Long Cool Glass of Murder’, the second of my middle grade horror books, ‘The Curse of Calico Jack’, and the third Christie McKinnon adventure, currently titled ‘The Phantom of Fiddler’s Lane’. And of course, I’m also posting on The Watson Letters Blog which will eventually become book four in that series.


Thank you for your candid insights, Colin, and for taking a break from your busy schedule to answer a few questions. Good luck with The Curse of the Baskervilles and I look forward to the next Terry Bell mystery.

If you want to find out more about Colin and his books, please visit his website at https://colingarrow.org/ or his Amazon Author Page.