Unsympathetic characterization?


Settling in at ‘home’ again? Is a crime imminent, or has one already happened?

In HOMED, the second in my Crime Shorts series, a boy is being ‘helped’ to settle in a civilised manner.

One of the issues I had in mind when I wrote this was the Australian disgust when they built standard homes for aborigines and then found that understanding and use of sanitation and housekeeping did not come automatically with the facilities provided.

We have to be inside the head of our characters when writing fiction. Even more so, perhaps, by ‘the helping professions.’

There are crimes motivated by negative emotions: jealousy, anger, need to control/overpower. There are also crimes perpetrated by ignorance. The crimes we may feel most are those that penetrate our individuality. Blind kindness, adherence to established process, bureaucracy – these can lead to damage also.

Read this story and decide where the crime lies.

Homed. (Crime Shorts Book 2)


Birth of a trilogy: WWII in micro

TRIPLETSThe birth of a singleton is a mammoth event in the life of any parent. As for triplets, there’s now a changed and increased expectation, the anxious anticipation of the event, the prolonged delivery and the certainty of ongoing attention. It isn’t surprising if all this results in the emotion of ‘never again. For an author, fledging a trilogy can feel rather the same. Nicholas Rossis has recently discussed the decisions around producing a series.

A Relative Invasion is a coming-of-age trilogy set in the Home Front of WWII. The concept is that the feelings and tensions in Europe (macro scale) are mirrored in micro by this family, and particularly the two cousins in their emerging rivalry. The protagonist, Billy, a sturdy well-meaning boy is manipulated and bested by the frail, artistic Kenneth who is silently envious. There is a secret symbol of power,the shashka, which insidiously permeates the family’s fortunes.

???????????????????????????????????????           For me, writing in the voice of a young boy, a growing boy who will be a man by the end of the trilogy, was the greatest challenge. I was very aware that if the voice is not right, the reader will not identify with the character. Furthermore, only those scenes that he can directly witness can form the narrative. I had to use devices such as Billy’s reaction to being told information or stories where he had not been present. 3D

BOOK 1. WWII, two boys, a fateful rivalry. In INTRUSION, as the adults worry about the onset of war, Billy’s is already beginning. He so wanted a play-mate but it came in the form of Kenneth. The four parents only see the porcelain looks of Kenneth and not his darker soul. Emotionally neglected or misunderstood by parents and aunt, and bullied by uncle and cousin, Billy imagines owning the precious Cossack sabre of his father’s colleague, a man who champions Billy. This icon sustains him through the invasion of his life by Kenneth, through an evacuation and the shock of war, but can the icon damage as well as protect?

BOOK 2. Two boys, one family, a world at war. INFILTRATION, follows Billy through a second evacuation where he spends the rest of the war while Kenneth is billeted beside Billy’s family.


Kenneth quickly takes the opportunity to invade Billy’s territory further.  On the plus side, Billy has settled very happily with a nurturant couple who have a smallholding. He loves the people, the environment and the animals and he can befriend the poor family who first took him in. Then a tragedy enforces a dramatic change in both the boys’ futures. There will be much to face when they return to South London. Meantime, Billy’s growing attachments develop his confidence and capabilities so that he almost becomes like a hero from his precious book. Kenneth’s artistic talent overlays his weaknesses. By VE Day, the boys’ mutual admiration and deep suspicion must be transported back to Wandsworth.

Book 3 is to be published in December 2015, IMPACT, finds the two boys returning to the ruins of London.impact_2

As they adjust to their new lives, adolescence and the sharing of emotional space brings the rivalry to a crisis. A dreadful incident follows, darkening the boys’ interaction into adulthood. The outcome is devastating for all members of the family. Billy must find an honourable resolution which will enable his survival, while Kenneth ensures he will always have the last word.

INTRUSION and INFILTRATION  are available in ebook and paperback, with IMPACT to follow.

In a much earlier draft, the first three chapters were Highly Commended in the Novel section of the Yeovil Prize 2011, and an extract from Infiltration converted into a short story, was runner up in the Guildford Festival.

Nicholas Rossi has recently blogged about the particular issues around writing a series. It can be found here: http://nicholasrossis.me/2015/07/11/writing-and-promoting-a-series-a-joint-post-with-charles-e-yallowitz/

Writing persistence

Leonid Pasternak


I’ve never read any Stephen King novels because I don’t like the horror or dystopia genres, but now I shall, starting with The Stand, (the novel he rates as his best.)


I just finished his biographical On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft which reveals Stephen King as an avid reader, a no-nonsense advocate of writing skills, an honest, humorous, generous guide and a devoted husband of over thirty years to boot. Such a guide soon impresses with his engaging style and self-revelations. The first half of the book is less about writing than about Stephen King’s early life, hardships, and above all, persistent writing. He writes when he’s hungry, in a corner, on his lap, in a trailer, in a run-down apartment, after ten bit jobs and later a rough day’s teaching. He does everything to put food on the table for his wife and little one before the time when he can prioritise his writing. Then the wondrous telephone call comes and he makes his first big money. (Carrie is the novel).

‘This is such a nice guy,’ you find yourself thinking, ‘I want to know and celebrate his success and then take account of the how and why.’ That success is so immense, but above all, so appealingly hard-won, that you just can’t refuse to accept what he is saying. Essentially, what he says about writing comes in the second half. It is clear, uncluttered, simple and to the point.fountainpenpaper

Many, if not most writers read books about writing: plotting, planning, joining retreats, engaging in courses, identifying underlying themes and despair that their organisation and acquisition of techniques will never be sufficient.

King has no truck with much of this.  His recommendations come down to this: honest, always honest writing, getting the story down ‘as it comes’, ensuring that the action is or could be true of the characters, similarly that the dialogue rings true of them. He is not precious, and does not value pretensions.  His stories all stem from some initial experience and the personalities he has met. Add to this the imagination to latch on to a stunning ‘What If?’

He gets his first draft finished without recourse to beta readers, then puts it strictly away for six weeks. He works on other things.  In the second draft he fills out as well as corrects. At this point he may sit back and think what the novel is really about, what is important and consistent throughout the story.  This is when he might come up with an image or metaphor that enriches the writing. What is very apparent is that Stephen King is excited about what he writes and loves the activity. He is not identifying a genre where he can make money or intending to write blockbusters. He writes with an audience, an ‘Ideal Reader’ in mind.

This book cleared my mind and stopped the flow of words circling round and down the plug-hole.


It’s not a new book and it will have been lauded and praised many times before this.

However, if there is any reader who has not read a book on Writing, they would do well to read On Writing.   It’s changed me from avoiding his novels to seeking them out.




THE SECOND THIRD. Writing a psychological drama.

ONE THIRD THROUGH in the process of writing this novel, I thought I’d share something of the process.

There seem to be two approaches to writing a novel: the planned and the unfolding. I so admire, no, emulate, the well-organised planned way, but I’ve consistently failed in my attempts. You can’t write against your nature.  I’m disorganised, I don’t often make notes in my specially bought Moleskin, I’ve never kept a diary. The calendar is not up to date – if indeed I have one this year. It isn’t something I’d buy. If I get given one, even if it’s covered with garage repair adverts and no pictures, I’ll use it. A bit.

Therefore, it won’t surprise you to learn that I’m an unfolder.  I start, and the plot unfolds gradually according to the characters’ nature. I comfort myself that this messy method is in tune with character-led writing. Since my characters have dominated me from an early stage in my Me-Time blog (http://fictionalcharacterswriting.blogspot.com)   I do trust on or other of any newly created ones to direct the turn of events in my novels.

I’ll discuss the novel I’m writing now –  ‘Speechless’.                                                                       Notes about this cover in another post.


I call it a psychological drama rather than thriller because no-one is murdered. There is some mystery over whether there is in fact a baddie lurking beneath one of the well-behaved personas inhabiting the drama.

My beginning was the idea of an unexpected behaviour in a normal child. The environment is that of a comfortable, stable, supportive family. The child’s behaviour causes concern, then confusion, then external investigation, and lastly, internal investigation. I don’t enjoy fantasy – I have to believe. Therefore, the aim of my novels is always for the reader to feel it could happen to anyone.

The next step was to start and develop each of the characters. There is a father, mother, older brother, grandparents. The way each of these decided to unfold in relation to the shadowy main character determined the first few chapters.

The central problem has to cause a series of new events.  These involve secondary characters. I’m not sure how far I will let these intrude, or whether they will allow me much of a say in this.

Planning ahead? I always know what the next chapter will be when I finish one. I do know the ending. It mustn’t be predictable, but it must be believable, so I have thought this out. I probably did this by the end of Chapter Three.

Now I’ve reached the point of writing in tertiary characters. The parents need to discuss their problem with friends. They are going to do this at a dinner. It’s a tradition that this group meet up monthly. I know that the help is not going to be helpful. Other than that I don’t know yet how the conversation will go.  I do enjoy writing dialogue (perhaps that’s why I like the retort style of Twitter rather than report style of LinkedIn). The dialogue will happen (unfold) of its own accord because of the nature of each friend.

For that reason, I have written a brief biography for these people. I need to know how and when they met the parents, what their work is and sufficient about their individual experience to colour their reaction, comment and advice to the troubled parents.

Perhaps I will write an update to the process of writing this novel at a later stage. For now, I must off and prepare the dinner the eleven characters are about to sit down to. Their reserved table at the Soft Swan is already laid.