Characters, Writing

Ups & Downs

Amazing how you can go through a few ups and down in the space of 24 hours. I’m only talking about little things, nothing earth-shattering, but changes in mood nevertheless.

A little over 24 hours ago, I was delighted to receive a four-star review on Amazon; outside of the review, I even had a good bit of feedback from this person on what worked with Monkey Arkwright and what didn’t. This kind of insight into the reader’s mind is invaluable, and I’m most grateful when it happens (because at this stage of my writing career, it hasn’t happened that much!) When this reader commented that my book was a lot better than some of the books that he’d read recently and then mentioned Lee Child in a not-so-favourable way, well, I was most chuffed, as we say in the North. Never mind Lee, I’m sure that you have more fans and more money than me, but I’ll claim victory in the Campbell versus Child write-off that took place in my imagination last night. I’m gearing up to play Dan Brown in the Round of 16 next, but I digress.

Then there was a downer. Remember how last week, coming out of my free promotion period, I said that I’d made four sales, but two had been chalked off via some barmy “returns” system? Well six whole days later, I lost another sale! You can imagine how that made me feel before I went to bed last night. I’d reported that I’d reached the milestone of 30 sales, only to find out that I was suddenly back down to 29. It all seemed so unfair (like I said, minor crisis; nothing major really).

I felt a bit better when I woke up today, and my mood improved further when a work colleague told me that he’d started reading my book. “It’s strangely readable,” he said, with a sense of wonder in his voice. We then had a quick chat about my character, Train Man, and I let slip that he might be important later in the story. You’d be amazed how many comments I get about Train Man; I need to do a blog post on him at some point.

I titled this post “Ups and Downs,” but to be fair, there are more ups than downs to report. This evening, I checked my sales report to find that I’d sold another copy today! After I’d fist-pumped and cartwheeled across the lounge, I realised that for the second time, I’d reached the 30 sales mark. So, if you bought Monkey Arkwright today, give yourself a pat on the back because you’ve made my day. Thank you very much.

Amazing how the trivialities of life as an indie author can make your mood swing so easily.


The Boy Who Loves To Climb

In addition to coming up with a plot that would keep readers guessing, whilst I was writing Monkey Arkwright, I also had to come up with several scenes where Monkey would be climbing something. He is, after all, the boy who loves to climb. I couldn’t have him sitting around in a cafe all day, could I?

Early on, I had the idea of him climbing onto a church roof. Soon afterwards, I thought that it would be good to have him rescuing a cat that had become stuck on the roof. Then this idea changed slightly as I thought that the scene would be more memorable, more cinematic, if he didn’t just climb on the roof, but also made his way up the church tower. But at this point, I was thinking that if I was the reader, I would want to know the nuts and bolts of how Monkey actually managed to get up the tower. After all, he isn’t Spiderman, he’s just a boy.

The answer to this question that had been puzzling me for several days came when I was on my way to pick up my daughter from college. My journey from work to the college can be a nightmare at the best of times; at Christmas, it seems that every man and his dog is trying to get to the Trafford Centre. Whilst sitting in queuing traffic tests the patience of most drivers, it does allow me to listen to a good deal of music whilst giving me a bit of thinking time. Plus, this autumn, there was the added benefit of driving past the Dino Falls adventure golf as it was being constructed – seeing rocks, waterfalls and dinosaurs slowly rising out of the ground in the shadow of the Chill Factor-E skiing centre was an incongruous sight.

But anyway, back P1020879to 2016 when it wasn’t Christmas, but thanks to council’s fiendish road management schemes, things were still difficult. Once the chaos of the M60 motorway is behind you, there’s the relatively serene glide down the M602 into the heart of Salford, before you enter the madness that is the A576 running past Salford Royal Hospital. Battling past the ambulances and visitors entering and leaving the hospital, you are faced with the constant need to change lanes because of the bus lane scheme that attempts to squeeze the maximum amount of traffic through the smallest possible gap. With a slew of traffic lights, pedestrian crossings, critical right turns and random people crossing the road at assorted points, I swear that this would make an entertaining video game – just think of the Death Star trench sequence in the original Star Wars with the added bonus of traffic lights and you’ll get the idea.

It was whilst I was sitting in a queue on this road that I got a good look at St. James church, just outside the hospital. It’s a beautiful church with a stone tower topped off by a spire, but what interested me the most were the buttresses that flanked the sides of the tower. As I gazed upon this elegant building, I began to imagine that a small boy like Monkey could wedge his feet between the tower wall and the buttresses that protruded at ninety degrees. By pushing one foot against each wall, I figured that he might just be able to climb the tower. But please don’t try this at home because remember that Monkey is a fictional character, and whilst he’s not a superhero, I may have taken liberties with such a climb being possible! P1020884

Although I’d come up with the idea for Monkey’s character several years before, this was the moment that truly fired my imagination in regards to what he might be able to achieve. Before long, I was dreaming up an assortment of structures and buildings that I could have him climb up (or down) as the story progressed.

Remember that Monkey Arkwright will be FREE to download on Amazon from 18th to 22nd January. If you are reading my blog, then a big thank you, but please can you tell as many people as possible about the free download. Thanks again.


It’s A Goocher!


In this post, I’m going to talk about the development of my main antagonist, Charles Gooch.

What makes a convincing villain? What is their motive? How do they set out to achieve it? Does the villain have to be scary in a physical sense or is it better if they appear to be normal but turn out to be frightening on a psychological level? These were the types of questions that I was pondering when I set out to create a plausible antagonist for my debut novel, Monkey Arkwright.

Creating some form of antagonist is vital for any plot; whilst their presence makes life complicated for the heroes, it wouldn’t be much fun for the reader if they waltzed their way to the objective with little or no resistance. A good (or is that bad?) antagonist gets in the faces of our heroes, confuses them, makes them feel uncomfortable and in general terms, stands in their way.

So, once I’d come up with the theme of my book and set up the heroes, I knew that I had to nail the primary antagonist. The genesis of Charles Gooch came about in a Paris hotel, shortly after I’d begun my planning for Monkey Arkwright. Disneyland Paris to be exact. I distinctly remember the moment that the idea of Charles Gooch came to me – I was with my two daughters in the Disneyland Hotel, and we were walking down one of the long corridors that led to the gallery just above the main reception area. In the distance, we saw a man waiting for the lift. Although we couldn’t see his face, we could see his attire – a brimmed hat and a raincoat, and he was holding a briefcase. Somebody said that he looked a bit dodgy (I can’t remember who said it), but I followed this up with a comment about him looking like a hotel inspector. In this moment, the character of Charles Gooch was born.

When I returned home and set about adding a bit more detail to my characters, I recalled Mr Bronson, the teacher from the TV series Grange Hill. From memory, he was often seen in a raincoat and carried a briefcase, and it was this similarity with the guy that we’d seen in Paris that solidified the look and feel of Charles Gooch in my mind. Mr Bronson was not your typical villain in that the worst he would do was give the pupils a withering stare, but nevertheless, his character provided the ideal template for my bad guy – the wire-rim glasses worn by Gooch are directly based on those worn by the frightening teacher. Incidentally, Mr Bronson was played by actor Michael Sheard, also known for his portrayal of the incompetent Admiral Ozzel, throttled by Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back. What better inspiration for my villain than an imperial admiral?

Charles Gooch’s name also owes a debt to television, but the 70s/80s American sitcom Diff’rent Strokes is probably not the first programme that you’d imagine would provide the inspiration. In that series, on many occasions Arnold and his friend Dudley would mention the notorious school bully “The Gooch”, Arnold going wide-eyed with fear at the mere mention of the name. But the funny thing was that “The Gooch” never appeared on screen, and that was always one of the best things about the show for me – the fact that the characters could talk about somebody that the viewers never saw, yet inspire a feeling of fear just by the sheer mention of his name.

Whilst the choice of my antagonist’s surname was in homage to this school bully, there’s also another link worth mentioning. In the film Stand By Me, when the boys flip their coins and all four land on tails, Vern is dismayed, saying that it’s a “goocher”. He goes on to explain that this is really bad luck. In a previous blog post, I’ve written about my love for this film (and The Body, the Stephen King novella that it is based on), but I had genuinely forgot about this scene until I re-watched the film about a year ago; this was long after I’d created the character of Charles Gooch. The fact that a “goocher” ties in with bad luck is an amazing co-incidence, given the plot and themes of my book. Or maybe it was something in my subconscious mind beavering away?

I’ve deliberately limited the number of appearances of Charles Gooch in my book, as I wanted to maximise his impact by using him more sparingly than many screen and book villains. He works more on a psychological level – most of the time he’s not overtly threatening, nor is he angry all the time like Frank Booth in Blue Velvet, he works more like Hannibal Lecter, getting under people’s skin. Whilst Darth Vader carries his red light sabre, Charles Gooch is synonymous with his battered briefcase, but I wanted to keep a lot of his background hidden away. Lorna and Monkey find out bits and pieces as the story progresses, but there’s still a lot more to learn about the mysterious Charles Gooch. The concept of a villain who carries some kind of bag is not necessarily new, but I’m hoping that what Gooch carries in his briefcase will be a mystery worth pursuing for my readers.


Why from Lorna’s perspective?


Lorna's Diary
Lorna’s Diary


Lorna is the second of my two main protagonists, and she serves as the story’s narrator.

Whilst the novel is named after Monkey Arkwright, the boy who loves to climb, Lorna’s part in the unfolding drama is equally important. Whilst I could have chosen a best friend for Monkey to share the plot with, a boy his own age, I felt drawn to the idea of one boy and one girl.

Now let’s get one thing straight; if you are expecting a romance in the style of Twilight, or countless other books from the same genre, then you’re looking in the wrong place. As Obi-Wan Kenobi might say (whilst waving his hand in a half circle): You don’t need to see any more romance. Move along. I’d like to think that there’s plenty of heart in my book; plenty of feeling and emotion, but there’s certainly no romance. And no vampires.

So, with that clarification out of the way, let’s talk a little more about Lorna. At the start of the book, she’s in a dark place. I’m not giving much away by saying this, because it says in my blurb that she’s struggling to come to terms with the death of her father, and I would imagine that at fifteen, that’s a really tough place to be. She’s looking for some meaning in her life; something to focus on to help pull her back towards normality. When she meets Monkey, who promises to show her something worth writing about, this kindles a spark. You see, Lorna is a budding writer, so this sets up the story nicely.

I thought that rather than having Monkey as the narrator, it would be interesting to see the story through somebody else’s eyes. By having Lorna tell the story, it also gives me license to use a higher level of prose than you might expect from a fifteen-year-old. Thanks Lorna, you solved a potential problem for me there!

So, as well as bringing a valuable emotional side to the book, Lorna balances out the story nicely in more ways than one; she’s the studious sensible one, whilst Monkey is more spontaneous. One girl, one boy. One thinker, one action man. Just don’t expect any romance. At least not yet.


Inspiration for Monkey

P1020881Monkey Arkwright is an important character; after all, my debut novel is named after him. He is one of two main protagonists in the book.

The idea for the character came from my youngest daughter. As soon as she could walk, Rachel would be forever climbing on the furniture, the tables and chairs, as well as anything else that she could get a grip on. When we went outside, she couldn’t resist a children’s play area, fences, stone steps or anything else where she could expend her boundless energy. We used to call her a little monkey. So, putting the name and the actions together, this is where Monkey’s character came from, but for some reason, I felt that he should be a boy.

In my earliest ideas for the story, I was going to cover Monkey’s life; documenting all the climbs that he made growing up. I’d have a secondary character (who became the book’s narrator, Lorna) who Monkey would tell these tall tales to. One of the scenes that I dreamed up was the time that three-year-old Monkey climbed on top of an ice cream van, whilst his dad was waiting in the queue. The scene would climax with Monkey hanging onto a giant plastic ice cream on top of the van as it sped off.

Whilst dreaming up this type of scene made me laugh, I began to feel that any book that I would write in this vein would come across as a child’s story, which was not the tone that I was aiming for. So, I began to dream up ever more daring climbs for the teenaged Monkey. I drew inspiration from stories from the world of urban exploration, where daring everyday young people would risk life and limb (illegally I should point out!), getting into scrapes in sewers, abandoned buildings and perched on precarious towers.

As the plot unfolds, Monkey gets to use his climbing skills to drive the narrative. He has a special skillset that puts him front and centre as the mysteries at the heart of the story are revealed. But whilst this is a significant part of what happens in the book, he’s not without a few secrets of his own.