The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz.

Book recommendation! (No spoilers outside of what is written in the blurb on the back of the book).

The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz.

This was a rare thing for me. I don’t usually grab a book off the shelf in the supermarket just because of the cover. My tbr list is already so long I try not to add to it. But something drew me to this one. I was walking by and it caught my eye.

I read the back of the book and the first page in the store and felt the rare excitement of discovering a voice that I connected with. It wasn’t bland or generic storytelling. It was something more interesting. It was compelling. Jean knows how to put words together in that rare and satisfying way.

People get bored of authors making the main character of their book an author. But as an author, I get it. She captures the writer’s life so well. It rang true for me. Maybe a little too true. I felt seen.

In the story the main character, Jake, teaches writing. One of his students, a particularly arrogant man named Evan Parker, talks about having a plot that can’t fail. Jake disregards him, thinking he’s just an overconfident and inexperienced novice. Until he is told the story, and gets to read the first few pages. The plot really was a rare thing. It was unique. A story that has never been told before. A guaranteed bestseller. The holy grail of story. Even the worst writer couldn’t fail with this plot. And then Evan Parker dies, taking the plot with him. The novel unfinished. Barely started even.

Jake decides to use the plot. He writes the novel and becomes hugely successful. The book is called Crib.

The problem is, somebody knows what Jake has done.

A lesser writer could have set herself up to fail. Jean Hanff Korelitz now has to deliver on the goods. The fictional plot in her book has to be believable as unique and great. I figured, as I was reading, that maybe we would never find out what the unique plot was. But no. Jean doesn’t shy away. Over the course of The Plot there are chapters of the fictional novel, Crib, within. We get to read parts of the unique novel. And by the end of the book we find out what the plot is.

I loved this book. The standard of writing is exceptional and I was kind of sad when it was over. I’ll be going back and looking at Jean’s previous books for sure.

Tabby vs Maine Coon

My brother visited today and brought his Maine Coon, Odin, with him. He’s still growing (the cat, not my brother) but our own adult cat, Calcifer, looks like a kitten next to it. Odin wanted to play but Calcifer, understandably, wasn’t into it. Probably because one false move by Odin could accidentally remove Calcifer’s face.

Staring at the blank page while armed cowboys await my instructions.

I have been staring at chapter ten of Blue Pulp for an hour. I wrote thirty six words and then stared at them for a while. They were no good. There is something I’m missing. Something my subconscious is aware of but I am not. There is another, better way, for this chapter to be than the one I have in mind. I need to sleep on it.

This is what some people call writer’s block. It’s not a block of words, I’m still capable of laying down the letters; it’s more like the engine that powers the imagination is running on fumes and requires more fuel. Fuel is often made of caffeine, this time it requires something more ethereal. It needs inspiration. A new idea.

Normally in this situation I tell the story to Rachel and it turns out I knew what needed to happen next all along, my subconscious simply needed me to verbalise it. This is different. The path ahead is blocked. A new path must be made before I can walk it.

I think the problem lies in a simple storytelling problem. So far the whole story (a western) has been told from Robin Castle’s point of view (from the third person, but we as the reader only know what he knows), and I need the reader to see what another character is doing as Castle walks away from town with trouble coming up behind him.

I need to break the unspoken rule I have set for the novel. I need to look away from Castle. Maybe that’s the problem.

You see, we’re solving it together right here. So what do I do next? I’m going to ask my subconscious to figure this out and let me know the plan in the morning. I’m going to bed.

Listen up, anti-vaxxers.

To those of you who are still refusing the vaccine, saying things like, “Nah, mate, last I heard it was a free country. It’s my freedom of choice to get vaccinated and I’m free to choose not to!” You are taking away our freedoms by not getting vaccinated.

If all the anti-vaccine folk had got vaccinated when the rest of us did we would be in a much better position. For some reason you want to drag this thing out. If you keep staying un-vaccinated maybe you can drag it out for years!

I want my freedoms back. That means you have to sacrifice a small prick in the arm. I know it’s scary, and it weally weally hwurts, but you’re big boys and girls and I think you can be brave and get that jab.

I am bored of restrictions against all of our freedoms. If you mean what you say about wanting to be free, then you need to rethink your logic. Your poorly thought-out idea of freedom is leading to your freedom being taken away.

If I can put up with a little prick, so can you.

As a child you were vaccinated against
diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), polio, Hib disease, hepatitis B, and a few other things too. Maybe you’ve been abroad to an exotic country and happily got a jab to protect you while you were there. You’ve done it before, you can do it again.

I feel reasonably confident in saying, considering you are reading this, that none of those jabs killed you.

In the UK, 46.7 million people have been vaccinated. I am one of them. You will notice, if you glance out of the window, that the streets are not filled with the bodies of those 46.7 million. The vaccine is not going to kill you, the desease is.

146,000 people in the UK have died from Covid 19. You are free to add yourself to that number, but I’d really prefer it if you didn’t. I think you’re probably a very nice person and I would like you to keep being alive.

For those of you who believe there is a global conspiracy to get us to take a vaccine in order to cull our numbers, or whatever garbage you believe, I urge you to look at the politicians currently running the country. They are barely capable of getting dressed. They are far too incompetent to carry out a deception this grand. They couldn’t even keep a Christmas party secret.

Get vaccinated. Get boosted. Get free.

On Writing Historical Fiction

On Writing Historical Fiction

One day this period that we are living in will be the subject of historical fiction. Our Instagram, electric cars, and smart phones will seem like medieval devices. We will seem backwards in our dress and old-fashioned in our thinking. People will think the 2020s were populated by small-minded simpletons, that the people were afraid of science and new ideas, that the governments were stuffy and the class divide was great.

I write westerns under the name, Elwood Flynn (they will be published next year, but you can find Elwood on Instagram if you are interested in following that journey) and so I spend a lot of time thinking about how people thought back then.

It is easy to write two dimensional flat characters, stereotypical and slightly less intelligent than our far superior future selves. To write engaging real people in historical fiction you have to keep in mind one very important thing: Every person who has ever lived believed that they were living in the most modern times in all of history.

Cowboys photographed in grainy photographs in the late 1800s, in bowler hats and waistcoats; how old-fashioned their minds must have been. But even though these were gunslingers in a lawless land, they were wearing the highest Victorian fashion of the time, dressed like the British upper-class. Even outlaws were trendy, just not to us, not now.

Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch were some well-dressed dudes.

Maybe people will look back at teenagers in DCs and hoodies, and wonder, “Why were the teenagers back then dressed so formally?”

That’s how I dressed when I was a teenager, twenty years ago. When people were afraid of youths wearing hoodies. Front page news: BEWARE THE HOODIE! And now there are photographs of politicians wearing hoodies to make themselves seem more normal. More like the average working class man. Rishi Sunak, the British MP, trying to fool us in his hip garb.

Could you imagine Winston Churchill wearing a hoodie?

We think the ideas we are having now about people being scared of vaccines, or getting angry at cancel culture, are modern problems. And they are, just as they have always been.

This is a classified ad from 1952 –

There are articles from the 1800s about the new smallpox vaccine. One article from the Chamber’s Journal, July 31, 1886, reads, “The newspapers constantly remind us that there are many persons in the kingdom who object to vaccination…”

qrf

Comedian’s from 1903 declaring we can say, “good-bye to comedy” because racial and ethno stereotypes were banned on the stage.

In 1957, comedian George Gobel said, “…a TV comic nowadays needs the soul of a seismograph to know where the rumble of public wrath is coming from. We have to be verbal tightrope walkers.”

It has always been this way, and so it will remain. Nothing changes. Not really. We are not advanced. We have not learned from our ancestors.

We have always been, and will always be, modern.

There is a film from 1971 by Ken Russell called The Devils. It was banned pretty much everywhere for its blasphemous sex scenes (the infamous raping of Christ being the main problem), and has still not been released in full by Warner Bros. But that film did something very interesting. If you watch it, it looks weird to the eye. The sets are all so… modern. The prison scenes have bright white tiles, brand new bars. The town walls and the castle are clean and built with new stone.

The film is set in 17th century France and when the set designer came to build the sets, he went, as one does when making a historical film, to create moulds of crumbling walls. Ken Russell stopped him, reminding him that at one time these old castles were not old castles, but modern architecture. And so they built them as new. When we watch The Devils, we are not watching old fashioned people in the past being barbaric, we are watching modern people in the present raging against new ideas, just as we do now.

People have always had complex thoughts. There has always been extremes in outlook. There have always been people who are racist and bigoted, but there has also been people who are against those things. Not everyone in the 1800s was racist, otherwise the politicians, who sink or swim in an ocean made of popularity, would never have been able to abolish slavery.

This post has gone on longer than I had planned, and it’s all to illustrate one point. One lesson about writing historical literature. We must view them with a modern eye.

The thing is, about those cowboys I write about in my westerns, they have no idea that they are living in the past.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN! (… it’s officially launch day!)

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

In need of a good scare? Read something terrifying this Halloween!

Today is the official launch day of Jack’s Game! – mybook.to/JacksGame

IT meets READY PLAYER ONE

BLOOD WILL FLOW THROUGH THE STREETS OF SHELLEY TOWN

Billy Rain is a fourteen year old kid with two close friends with one thing in common. Their parents created the most successful computer game of the 90s.

Something dark happened in 1992. A secret their parents would rather keep buried.

Now, in 2002, Billy finds a games console on the grounds of the abandoned Matterson House. Playing the game, Billy and his friends realise it’s a map. They go out at night and dig. What they find, under the cold ground, is a decaying human hand.

An evil like no other is released from its grave. Jack Matterson. He’s back from the dead and out to take revenge on the kids of those who wronged him.

GET IT NOW on Amazon in ebook, paperback, and hardcover right here- mybook.to/JacksGame

Flying Towards Reality

When I was a kid, I could fly. I remember this very clearly. It wasn’t how you imagine it, not like Superman, but if I placed my foot just right, I could step onto the air.

Gradually I was able to move forward. The sensation was not like I was zooming down the street but that I was still and the houses were moving past me. I could travel far and wide in this way at speeds that would make an astronaut sick.

This memory is as clear and as real as when I learned to ride a bike, or the first time I fell off a skateboard.

Of course really it was just a recurring dream, I wasn’t actually able to fly, I think, but I’ve always had difficulties keeping the dreaming world out of the real world.

There are two ways to go with this problem. Your can either spiral into madness or become an author. Writing, after all, is nothing more than applied daydreaming.

That harnessed flight of fancy has been tamed over the years, chained to the page by grammar and story structure. it has now been enclosed in a paperback which you can purchase, if you wish.

Jack’s Game is more than a novel. It is the culmination of years of keeping my feet on the ground and my dreams on the page.

Breaking Out Of Your Echo Chamber To Write Believable Characters

Okay, so this is basically an escuse to react to a mad video that I think you will enjoy…

I made a video reacting to Marjorie Taylor Greene’s Republican campaign video.

Here’s a picture of the tags I set for this post. I think they speak for themselves –

I talk about the need to break out of your own echo chamber in order to create believable non-stereotypical characters in your novels, but really I just wanted to share the madness of a the far right conspiracy believing politician.

“WIN THIS 50 CAL GUN!” if only politicians in the UK had incentives like that…