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)


Writing between the lines

IMG_0530About a holiday taken with others. If you want to choose exactly what/where to visit, go alone or become a dictator. There are some wonderful art galleries in Belgium and the most beautiful riverside areas. No, I didn’t get to many, as I’d predicted, for I was holidaying with 7 others, including one engineer, one planner, one shopachocaholic and three teenage boys, one a football fanatic, one hyperactive and the other uninterested in the world outside the ipad. (The story of the engineer’s day will appear on this blog at some point.)

Bear with me. There will be a writerly message in this post. The philosophy is that writers should be open to all new experiences. There is always something to be gained, and I did.

This diversion en route to Maastricht to admire a transparent church in the middle of a field was the brainwave of our planner.  Yes, it was difficult to find. The satnav, using the postcode, brought us to a small, uninteresting village. As we trekked around in 37 degree heat, with nothing likely in view there were numerous complaints in tenor voices. After all, there was no shelter from the sun and we were delayed from a much more important stop to photograph a football stadium to add to the list of visited stadiums by our fanatic. The church wasn’t visible from any of the surrounding roads.

Isn’t it great that continentals have learned to speak English? Very sensible of them, given the language limitations of ourselves.  One local directed us to the remote lane that led to a field of maize.    IMG_1617

Shopachocoholic spotted the faint steeple outline hidden behind a water tower. We walked between fields of pear trees and maize until it came better in view.

The walk wasn’t really that long in the heatwave. And it was exciting to spot an apparently rusting edifice afar, at least for our planner, such that the remaining over-heated 6 considerably cheered up.


The design of the structure imitates the village church standing not far across the landscape. It was designed by Gijs Van Vaerenberg and built in 2011 by Belgian architects Pieterjan Gijs and Arnout Van Vaerenbergh in conjunction with the art museum Z33.

Is it transparent? Yes. When viewed directly from any side of the church, its walls appear to be roughly see-through.  Is it substantial?  Yes. If you see it from the right angle, the building seems like a solid chapel.IMG_1619

We approached the solitary church to find that it was amazing cool inside. The strong sunlight hit the ground fragmented in an intricate design worthy of a photograph in its own right. Planner provided one.

We all but one stayed inside and admired the construction. 100 layers of stacked steel forms create the semi-transparent walls.     IMG_1625

Each layer is separated from another by over 2,000 squat steel columns. It weighs over 30 tons. By the time we had absorbed half of this, hyperactive had climbed to the top of the spire. From his point of view, the church had been built with flat layers for just that purpose.  IMG_1631

Planner was photographing his find; engineer was closely inspecting construction and metals used; shopachocaholic and co. were ready for the next excursion; hyperactive was circling the cross on the top. I’m a writer so I was making associations and thinking of allusions.

The different perspectives allowed by the structure considerably change the outlook, and that changes according to the direction of focus. Of course I thought of narratives that change according to point of view, and how the author can alter again by redirecting his/her focus.

The unexpected cool of the interior on this hottest of days made for a dramatic in/out contrast. It reminded me of the heat or being inside or the cool of being outside a situation.

What was the purpose of this church, clearly not designed in any way for services or ceremonies? Effectively a giant optical illusion, it makes a number of statements and these are relevant to the writer.IMG_1623

I believe the architects’ intent was to show the permanence of architecture in relation to the landscape dependent upon weather and man’s use of the land, and the steeliness of church institutions against all onslaughts. The creation of a quiet place of reflection so far from other buildings means that a visitor is both removed from and exposed to the outside world.

The church is called Reading between the Lines. The landscape is read between the lines of the walls, depending on direction of viewpoint, but so is the temporary view of that world. My greatest pleasure in reading is when I surmise something that is not stated, or when it is stated but needs decoding.
MesopotamianMost tellingly, these artists of construction dreamed up a way that the visitor would be both absent and present in the landscape, as indeed the artists are. When I read fiction I don’t want to be aware of the author. S/he can let his readers invest in his characters, not in himself. He is wise to refrain from presenting himself as informer about the plot or background. However, he is the creator. The writer is both absent from the current scene, and always present.


Awesome Indies

aia_webadgeI was very pleased yesterday to receive this badge of Approval for my collection of ironic short stories, Me-Time Tales, from Awesome Indies.

I can officially say that Me-Time Tales, tea breaks for mature women and curious men is ‘Awesome Indies Approved’ or ‘has been awarded a place on the Awesome Indies list of quality independent fiction.’ 3D-PB_opt

 Male/female – perfect to pocket for a holiday, or in the long wait in traffic to get there!

The book gets a badge and my website gets this one. In the spirit of cross-fertilization, I have to admire the design. The watch works suggest that time is not to be wasted (in getting the writing done) and the gold reminds of the gift a worthy worker was given when he retired after a long period of contributing his skills to the firm/organization, or perhaps won a prestigious contract for the firm. I’m all for badges of approval.

In Awesome Indies case, they have a mission.  Two of these aims are to:

Identify and honor independently published books that meet, or improve on, the standard of books published by major mainstream publishers and their imprints.
Raise the standard of independent publishing,

‘Self-published’ is gradually becoming less of a blight on a writer’s mojo, and with

initiatives such as Awesome Indies, the momentum towards quality increases. We all know that anyone can publish a book, that marketers will promote them as long as there is money in it. This is true of mainstream publishers too. If there is a huge market for an author, publishers will take him/her on, agents will gladly represent him/her.

The organization I am glad, in fact, grateful to belong to is author-member

The Alliance of Independent Authors. This has a wealth of skilled professionals all aiming for a high quality in the writing of fiction and non-fiction, and helping authors in different ways to achieve this. Quality is not just in the writing, but in the presentation of the book. Many writers will bemoan that this aspect takes as long or longer than the writer. More to be said about this in another post . . .

Writing: how to improve your focus

Samuel Johnson in close focus

It’s commonly mentioned by writers as a problem: keeping focus on the book you’re currently writing. It isn’t just the intrusion of other writing or everyday chores. More than ever, writers blame the ingress of social media caused by two pressures: firstly the attraction of seeing friends’ and family’s daily activities, with consequent need to like, comment, or even worse, engage in a to and fro dialogue; secondly, the constant emphasis on the importance of social media for marketing the books we write.

There is only one way round this problem. Limitation. In the same way that we curtail, if not curb, our pleasure in food and drink in order to escape obesity, we can avoid gluttonous social media activity.

Easiest to restrict family/friends to a time of day assigned to relaxation. Just best not to open those Facebook etc at other times. There’ll always be something to divert you. For marketing, wisest to schedule a set day and time for such work and avoid it at all other times.


I wonder if Pasternak was having trouble focussing in this picture, or was tormented in sympathy with his characters?

Keeping focus on the book in process does not mean never doing anything else until it’s finished, however. You can take off for a break somewhere entirely different and yet keep your focus on your characters. Keep them and their problems in mind and relate what you hear and see to their situation.

For instance, working on my WWII trilogy, A Relative Invasion, I realised that my protagonist, Billy, had not been punished by his adversary, cousin Kenneth, for a well-meaning interference. Manipulative Kenneth would surely not let Billy get away scot free.  Taking time away from the computer, I set off to wander round an arboretum and get some fresh air (and fresh ideas). On the way, I listened to a radio programme about printing and book binding. The word ‘pigskin’ made me sit up. Of course! The pigs Billy loved had been taken to the abattoir. Kenneth could punish by giving Billy a pigskin wallet for Christmas.

Van Gogh

The arboretum itself made me realise that I hadn’t included much description of the boys’ surroundings beyond the initial one. How would they react to the countryside when evacuated away from the blackened buildings of London?

I listened to an interchange between some children nearby. The running and quarrelling suddenly stopped when one of them saw a squirrel burying nuts. It was vigorously stamping its feet, or that’s how it seemed to the younger child. She turned to her mother, ‘It’s having a tantrum!’  A lovely moment, and one I could work at for hostility between my two boy characters.

There were other ideas, too, that came from this outing. These could be called ‘writing refreshments.’

I could have taken a break and thought of other things, but keeping my focus on my book didn’t stop me benefiting from this time away from the computer. In fact, I wrote more rapidly once I got home, all the new ideas fresh in my mind. As is often the way, one new idea helped others so that the narrative moved along.

Have any of you gained unexpected ideas through taking a break away from your desk?

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/

Social crimes, a story.



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

This is the second in my Crime Shorts series. ‘Homed’ is the story of a boy being ‘helped’ to settle in a civilised manner. I had in mind 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, when we are ‘in 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.

If you are in US this 5k story is discounted for a week. 99c for dot.com Amazon users only.

Homed: Who’s guilty – child or adult? (Crime Shorts Book 2)