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January Update

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A couple of quick updates to kick off the new year.

Editing on the final part of my YA mystery trilogy, The Well of Tears, is almost complete. After plenty of read-throughs and going through the text with a fine-tooth comb, I’m ecstatic with the way that it’s turned out. Soon, you’ll be able to find out what happens to Monkey and Lorna and discover whether they can get the better of the dastardly Wardens of the Black Heart. I’ll be sending it out to my trusted reviewers soon, and the book will be available for pre-order on Amazon before the end of next week.

In my last post, I promised a cover reveal. That hasn’t happened yet, and I apologise for the delay, but it will be available soon, closely followed by the upload to Amazon where you will be able to see the cover anyway.

The second bit of news is the upcoming blog tour for Monkey Arkwright. The tour has been organised by Rachel’s Random Resources, comprises a combination of features and reviews, and runs from 10th to the 16th January. You can see the list of sites that are participating on the tour in the image above. I’m excited to see what the bloggers make of my debut novel, and I’ll be posting a round-up when the tour wraps up.

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Book #3 Progress Report – October 2019

Autumn

The autumn leaves are falling from the trees, the mornings are chilly and the nights are colder still. But that’s great news for us authors, right? There’s less to do outside and we can spend more time hunkered over our keyboards bashing out words. In my case, that means rummaging through my big sack of ideas and pushing the third and final part of my Wardens of the Black Heart trilogy – The Well of Tears – over the line. Lorna and Monkey have a date with destiny, and yours truly is the one to report on the action.

Now, I know measuring words and chapters is boring and scientific, and doing it this way always makes me feel like I’m the one on the receiving end of Robin Williams’ monologue in Dead Poets Society – “Oh, I like Byron. I give him a 42, but I can’t dance to it!” – but nevertheless, it helps me focus on what I’ve achieved this year. In my last progress report way back in June, the total words and chapters stood at 41,000 / 19 respectively. As we enter the home straight, I’m pleased to report that the totals are now 62,000 / 27. And what a home straight it is! Monkey will finally get some answers about his dad as more skeletons come out of the closet and the machinations of the Wardens become clearer. Or do they? Well, naturally, you’ll just have to wait and see.

So, “What’s left to do?” I hear you cry. Well, 20 of those 27 chapters have been subject to the first round of editing by my eagle-eyed younger daughter, Rachel. That’s another 7 chapters for her to pour over. There’s the small matter of writing the remaining chapters – that looks like another 9 at the moment but don’t hold me to that. I’m hoping that this task will be completed by the end of November, which will give me 2 to 3 months to do the necessary re-writes, chopping out the clunkier bits and replacing them with sharpened descriptions, character and dialogue. Oh, and then there’s the arduous task of reading my own work through about 4 or 5 times, (Rachel will do the same) so that the reader doesn’t have a bad experience where the text is littered with stupid errors. My original target was for a release date of February/March 2020, and I see no reason to alter this prediction.

Even though I say so myself, I’m proud of the fact that despite doing a full-time job, I’m able to crank out a novel in 12 months. Despite these self-imposed deadlines, I won’t release The Well of Tears until I’m happy that it’s the highest quality I can make it, and it doesn’t betray the hard work I’ve done over the last 4 years in bringing this trilogy to life. Lorna and Monkey have grown as characters and they deserve the best finale that I can possibly give them.

In other news, I’ve made arrangements for Monkey Arkwright to go on tour. In an attempt to bring new fans to the series, I’ve signed up with Rachel Gilbey, of Rachel’s Random Resources, who’s organised a blog tour for early January. This will be the subject of a post nearer the time, but I’m excited to see what the reviewers think of Monkey Arkwright, so I thought I’d mention it now.

In the meantime, thanks for reading, and if you haven’t read the first two books in the trilogy (plus a short story), they’re available on Amazon Kindle at ridiculously low prices (links below):-

Monkey Arkwright (Wardens of the Black Heart #1)

Black Hearts Rising (Wardens of the Black Heart #2)

The Mysterious Mr Gooch (Wardens of the Black Heart short story)

 

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TV Review – Sick Of It

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Karl Pilkington’s radio/TV career goes back more than fifteen years, but he only came to my attention through the An Idiot Abroad series. There’s something wonderful about his plain-speaking laconic wit and delivery that makes him eminently watchable. It probably helps that, like me, he is a Mancunian who is more comfortable with the simpler things in life and dispenses downbeat views on anything and everything. He likes a good moan, does Karl, and he channels this moaning brilliantly in his various TV vehicles.

In his latest series, Sick Of It, on SkyOne / NowTV, which Karl co-wrote with director Richard Yee, he plays a fictional version of himself. He’s a taxi driver and having recently split up with his girlfriend, he is living with his Auntie Norma. But what’s this? A second version of Karl? Yes, that’s right, Karl also plays the uncensored voice in his head, the manifestation of which we see standing in a mirror behind the real Karl, loping along behind him or simply sitting in the passenger seat of his taxi. So as not to confuse the two, because obviously, they’re identical and are of a similar mind and disposition, the producers have decided to kit the inner Karl out in a beanie hat. Much of the comedy derives from the conversation between the two.

With that particular problem solved, we’re off into episode one, and it’s not a happy start for anybody involved. Karl wants to sell his old sofa because it brings back too many memories of life with his girlfriend, Zoe. But in classic sit-com style, he has managed to schedule delivery of the new sofa during his Uncle Vinnie’s wake! Without giving anything away, this is a nicely constructed episode that gets a lot of comic mileage out of a very simple premise.

In episode two, Karl is forced to visit a therapist following an angry outburst when his nerves have been frayed by a crying baby. But all is not as it seems, and in this case, there’s a nice twist near the end of the episode. The crying baby next door leads us to a perfect example of Karl’s humour. When his auntie reminds him that he split up with his girlfriend because she wanted a baby and he didn’t, Karl uses this as an opportunity to poke a hole in the oft-repeated logic about having a baby because there are so many people in the world who want a baby but can’t have one. “There are lots of one-armed people in the world,” he states, before asserting that he is not going to use this as a reason for taking up juggling. Classic Karl Pilkington.

In the third episode Karl decides to take a holiday somewhere quiet, but his need for solitude doesn’t go down well with the well-meaning locals, who try to get him involved in activities. To the shy and retiring Karl, this is like being in some hellish version of the Hi-de-Hi holiday camp. Worse, his accommodation is next door to a man who takes part in “scream therapy”.

During the early episodes, the viewer might wonder why Karl’s auntie has an American accent. Nothing is said on screen, and we just assume that it was an odd casting choice, but in episode four, Karl takes Norma on a trip to Eastbourne and as part of the backstory, we find out just exactly how Karl has an American auntie. The trip comes about because in a bout of spring-cleaning, Karl has managed to give away one of Norma’s cherished photos. It turns out that the photo had sentimental value and, unable to get it back, Karl tries to make amends by taking his auntie to Eastbourne to help her relive her past. This is a great episode, nicely balancing the sentimentalism of fading memory with more off-beat observations from Karl.

In episode five, Karl gets stuck in a traffic jam at a gay pride festival and ends up crossing paths with somebody from his past. The series concludes with an episode in which he combines twin searches: a date and a cure for constipation. This leads him to a Polish (I think, it could be Ukranian or Russian) party where he doesn’t understand a word anybody is saying, but he has fun as he gets roped into a game involving vodka shots and a spacehopper. Karl and his inner voice discuss the possibility that, unlike his earlier failed attempts at dating, it’s a positive experience because nobody can understand him and therefore he can’t upset them with his innocent, off-the-cuff, yet somehow offensive remarks.

It’s an odd idea for a TV series, but thanks to Karl’s portrayal of a man trying to move on with his life, constantly fighting the negativity of his inner voice, it works brilliantly. In the press for this series, Karl is quick to point out that there’s not much acting going on. That’s true – he’s just playing the same-old Karl that has been on our TV screens for the last few years. He also points out that this is not a laugh-filled half-hour in true sit-com style. He’s right again (the episodes are nearer the twenty-minute mark) and it’s a gentler humour, although there are some laugh-out-loud moments sprinkled throughout the series.

Focussed on the idea of loneliness and depression, and a middle-aged man going through hard times, it certainly isn’t a laugh-a-minute, but crucially, it is funny. And like much of the best TV, you find yourself nodding your ahead and saying “I know that feeling, mate” at regular intervals. Whether it’s annoying recorded voices on an answering machine, reassuring you that “your call is important to us”, large groups of people talking way too loud in a restaurant or people getting in your face when you just want to be left alone, a lot of what happens on-screen will strike a chord with viewers.

Sick Of It may not stretch Karl Pilkington’s acting skills, but in terms of his writing and delivery, he is on top-form here, and I can’t recommend this series highly enough (although Karl’s inner voice would probably downplay the whole affair by just saying something like “It’s not exactly Fawlty Towers, is it?”).

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The Hundred Heroes Column

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Being an obsessive music fan, I quite often read all the fine print in those little CD booklets. I think it was a Bon Jovi album where the band had a section called the Hundred Heroes Column. In it, they thanked their families, road crew and anybody else who made it possible for them to do their job. Whilst I haven’t got a hundred people to thank, there are four people who in some way, helped make my debut novel, Monkey Arkwright, what it is.

First up is my friend Darrin. Darrin and I had a go at writing a book and a couple of scripts many years ago, and although we never got them published, the joy we had writing together will stay with me forever. We still fondly recall some of the scenes from our unpublished epics, and the set pieces that we conjured up in our comedy farces make us laugh even now. So, when I was looking for somebody to proofread my manuscript, Darrin was the obvious first port of call. I’d write three chapters at a time and then hand them over to Darrin and my two daughters. I knew what I was doing was right, and what I could do better, by the reaction that I got from Darrin when he gave me his thoughts. If you ever write a book, you need somebody that you trust to tell you what will work and what won’t. Plus, if you don’t like the ending, blame Darrin, because he told me that my idea would work!

Next, my eldest daughter Lauren. She patiently read the novel from start to finish, but Lauren’s main contribution came when the book was finished. She was the one who held a gun to my head (metaphorically of course) and demanded that I set up the relevant Twitter and Facebook accounts, and then she helped me set up my website. If any small part of what I achieve with this book looks good, then it is probably down to Lauren.

Whilst everybody on this list has contributed in some way, it is my youngest daughter Rachel who has given the most time to the project. Rachel is well known for being a maths and science genius, but her skills as an editor were, until recently, well hidden. When we started reading the completed first draft, she pointed out my hideous misuse of commas. A short argument erupted, and it was only later when I went to read some basic grammar guides that I realised she was right. After all, she’d studied the nuts and bolts of writing English far more recently, and compared to my ancient knowledge, her opinion was far more relevant. So, the two of us went through my manuscript line by painstaking line, and with each iteration, we improved the grammar and reduced the errors. I’m hoping that the lessons that we all learned from the process will make writing and editing my next book far more efficient; if this is the case, the credit will be mostly Rachel’s.

Finally, my wife Hazel. Young Adult mysteries are not her cup of tea, so the fact that she gave up many hours of her precious reading time to labour through my clunky first manuscript means a lot to me. Better still, her opinion that “it was alright” was a seal of approval that is the equivalent of the Booker prize in this house. Well, not quite, but you know what I mean.

Tomorrow sees the publication of Monkey Arkwright, and therefore the realisation of a lifelong dream. I am immensely grateful for the time given by Hazel, Lauren, Rachel and Darrin along the way, and their enthusiasm in helping me bring the project to fruition.

In addition to my four beta readers, there are two other people who I’d like to thank for spreading the word ahead of the book’s release. Kelli Drage, guest relations manager at my favourite hotel in Spain, graciously put a post about my book on the hotel website. I did not seek this free promotion; it was something that Kelli wanted to do for me, and this speaks volumes for the wonderful person that she is.

Finally, I’d like to thank Ed Ryder, a fellow member on the Digital Fix forums. By publishing his own book on Amazon, Ed showed me that it was possible for an independent author to create and sell a book that measured up to efforts by authors with far more editing and marketing clout behind them. Ed has provided the few bits and pieces of advice that I needed to get me over the line recently. I just hope that my book can measure up to his wonderful debut – scientific dystopian thriller In Vitro Lottery.