The Bluebell Informant – First Chapter Sneak Peek

I’ve been talking a lot about The Bluebell Informant and the main character of Detective Sergeant Evelyn Giles over the past few weeks. Part of that has, admittedly, been to spread the word a little about this upcoming book. But part of it has also been because of the sheer amount of excitement I have had putting this story together.

What started as just a character building exercise for my novel, Obsession, has now grown in to a fully fledged story in its own right. I have learnt so much about Giles (who she is, where she’s come from, why she acts the way she does) that my initial picture of her has been completely blown out of the water and replaced with a living, breathing entity.

At least, that’s how it seems to me.

So…

I figured its about time I showed you all what its all about.

Today, in this post, I am releasing the first chapter of The Bluebell Informant here on my blog for all you lovely blog-readers and fans to see what I’ve been up to over the past few months.

Have a read and tell me what you think.

Chapter One

 

Daniel Baker sat quietly in the darkest corner of the most secluded room he could find. The dark, brown fluid swirled around the bottom of the whiskey glass as he rotated it in the air, thinking about how everything had gone so spectacularly wrong.

He had built a career off the backs of his friends; for every speech they were there to support him. Behind the scenes they formulated plans and schemes, spread fear and distrust, herded people to Baker’s cause. But none of them were here now. They were off celebrating in the bright lights and drunken throes of victory. With the glee of triumph had come the bitter pill of defeat, bringing with it momentary pats and kind words of sympathy before they all gallivanted off into the night to enjoy their success.

Anonymity was Baker’s only friend now. The only friend he even wanted. The wolfhounds of the tabloid press, his one-time allies, were surely out there now, hounding every pub and bar from London to Edinburgh to find him. To break his soul even more than it had done already. He hoped that, for a time at least, the seclusion would somehow shield him from the rest of the world, keep him hidden until he was ready to stir out of the dark and emerge to fight once again.

But it wasn’t enough.

The route through to the next room had no door to close and the sounds of the early morning drinkers drifted in, contaminating his safe haven. One by one, they crept up to the doorway and peered inside, nudging one another gleefully and daring their friends to be the first to step through. Out of the darkness, Baker’s once approachable eyes glared out with ferocity. He sucked hard on his cigarette, breathing the toxic smoke deep into his lungs before blowing it out forcefully towards his observers. His fingers scratched at the whiskey glass whilst the ice tapped rhythmically against the side.

When he could bear their curious looks no longer, he threw his head back and tossed the whiskey down his throat, barely allowing his tongue to taste the liquid as it cascaded down.

His throat seized up. He plunged the whiskey glass down on the table and clutched his neck as he coughed the liquid back up again. The first wave of spectators backed away from the door as Baker heaved deeply to clear his trachea, but they still watched with interest. Perhaps this was to be the end of the Baker Story.

But it wasn’t. Regaining his breath, Baker slouched back in his chair, delicately wiping his lips where the phlegm had congealed. His blood-shot eyes glared back up at the crowd outside the door, causing them to scatter back in to the main bar of the pub. They would not ask any questions today, not if they knew what was good for them.

Baker was grateful for the solitude.

He banged the glass loudly on the table. ‘Another!’

With obvious distaste, the bartender set down the glasses he was cleaning and moved over to the optics to poor another whiskey. He tried not to make eye contact with Baker as he brought the drink out from behind the bar and in to Baker’s room. Through the murkiness of the smoke, the bartender had to hold his breath as he quickly deposited the drink before darting back towards the door. He had considered demanding that Baker extinguish his cigarettes. It was after all a legal requirement. He had planned it all out in his head. He was going to tell Baker that it was a fineable offence and that he would have to leave if he didn’t stop. But in the face of it, he baulked every time. No one was going to be the one to confront Baker…

Not after the day he’d just had.

He had just finished his fourth whiskey of the day and lit up his ninth cigarette of the afternoon when the silhouette of a large, bald headed man appeared through the smoke. His tailor-made suit clung desperately to his body, moulding the shape of the unsightly man into something akin to attractiveness. A purple tie hung half-tied around his neck and his white shirt bore all the hallmarks of a heavy bout of partying: breadcrumbs, red wine stains and sweat.

He didn’t ask whether Baker wanted company but simply crossed the room and took the seat next to him, a sneer stretching beneath his disjointed nose. There were no more thoughts of solitude, no more wishes of being left alone. Baker wasn’t going to stop him. Not this man.

‘I am surprised to find you here,’ the man said, clicking his fingers for the bartender, who promptly jumped from behind the bar and jogged over to take his order. ‘I would have thought you’d be celebrating with the rest of them.’

The bald man ordered two more whiskeys and, as the bartender turned his back, removed a large Cuban cigar from his jacket pocket and proceeded to light it. The two men sat quietly as they waited, Baker inhaling from the cigarette, his visitor sucking loudly on his cigar. The bartender returned with their drinks, keeping his eyes pinned to the floor as he approached. The bald man opened his legs, pointed his large belly towards the bartender and rolled the cigar smoke around in his mouth.

‘What’s your name boy?’

The bartender was probably in his thirties but, rather than being offended by the comment, continued to place the drinks down on the table whilst keeping an obvious distance from the two men.

‘Tom Richardson, Mr Haines.’

‘Do you like it here, Tom?’ Haines asked, slowly rubbing his fat thighs. ‘Do they pay well?’

‘It’s a good job, Mr Haines.’

‘Maybe you might like to work for me?’

Tom’s eyes flickered with fear. He quickly stood up straight and paced out of the room in to the fresher air. As the sounds of his coughing drifted in through the door, Haines sniggered to himself and sat back up straight. He grabbed hold of his glass and, with his smile still tinted with glee and his eyes sparkling with mischief, he raised it in a toast and took a sip.

‘To your success.’

Baker did not join him.

Haines noticed but didn’t react. With his eyes glued on Baker, he finished his sip, lowered his glass and continued to play with his cigar as he watched Tom through the open doorway.

‘You lied to me,’ Baker said. ‘You went back on your word.’

‘I disagree. I believe I fulfilled my part admirably.’

‘The agreement was that I would gain power…’

‘The agreement was that your party would gain power.’ Haines tore his eyes away from the barman. ‘There was never any specific mention of what would become of you.’

‘It was implied…’

‘I don’t do business by implication, Mister Baker.’

Baker sunk back into his seat. All the fight had gone out of him and, even if it hadn’t, there was little that could be done about it now. Haines’ emphasis on the word ‘Mister’ did little to breathe fire back into his battered ego. Reluctantly, he reached across and took a drink from the fresh whiskey, allowing it to slide easily down his throat until the glass was all but drained.

Haines nodded approvingly, snapped his fingers and ordered two more drinks from the bar. When Tom returned this time, Haines paid him no attention. He’d had his fun, now there was a new game to play.

‘I would have thought you would be more happy about this scenario,’ he explained. ‘What was it you said during the campaign, ‘Britain needs a party capable of making the tough choices’? Well, you certainly got the British people on your side; now they have a government capable of making the tough choices. But they didn’t really like you, did they?’ He chuckled, taking another suck on his cigar. ‘I suppose Dobbs would be the best replacement for you. He hasn’t got the same man-of-the-people appeal as you, but he’s been in my pocket longer. In a few weeks, when they do the vote, you’ll be able to relax unbothered, nothing more than a footnote in the history books…’

‘Will you rig that one as well?’

Haines’ eyes sparkled. He took another puff on his cigar.

‘Of course,’ he said, ‘having fulfilled my side of the bargain, I fully expect you to fulfil yours.’

Haines smiled, sliding his untouched whiskey across the table. Baker peered down at the clear, amber fluid as it swirled around the semi-transparent rocks of ice. Dashed against them and sinking to the bottom of the glass were all his hopes and dreams; his ambitions and desires for the future…

A sixth won’t hurt.

‘I have nothing left to give, you saw to that…’

He drained the glass, squinting as the bitter taste caught in the back of his throat. Haines leant forward and placed a hand on Baker’s upper thigh, squeezing it tightly. Baker felt the bald man’s hand before he saw it; the warm palm pressing hard on Baker’s thigh whilst pudgy digits squeezed and relaxed, stretching as though they intended to creep further up his leg. Under the hypnotic gaze of those eyes, Baker froze and waited as he felt Haines’ breath on his neck.

‘Oh, I don’t think that’s entirely true. Do you, Mister Baker?’

Evelyn Giles let the phone ring.

It was a Bank Holiday and there was no way she was going in to work. Not again.

From the kitchen window, the world outside was bright and sunny. The crisp, cool air wafted through the open window, floating the suggestion that spring was nearly over and the summer would soon be here. The blue sky, scattered with the merest suggestion of small, puffy clouds hung like a great protective veil over the city and the cheerful sound of children playing drifted up from the park at the foot of her apartment block.

As the phone shrilled from the lounge, Giles continued to beat the cake mixture in the large ceramic bowl, trying to make as much of a racket as possible so as to drown it out altogether.

But the phone continued with persistence and soon, as the interruption reached its limit, Jason emerged from the bedroom and shot across to pick it up. The stocky, thin figure of her husband arrived at the telephone long before Giles’ reacted to tell him to stop. As he stood, speaking with whoever was on the other end, Giles began to regret not taking it off the hook earlier.

Will I never learn?

Her eyes levelled on Jason’s back. Water from the shower dripped delicately off his bronzed back, disappearing into the neat white towel around his waist. As he talked on the phone, Giles smiled to herself as her eyes continued down to his bare legs, promising herself that she would follow when he went back to the shower.

When he turned around, the idea was shattered.

‘Eve,’ he called out. ‘It’s important.’

Giles took as long as possible to set down her bowl, wash her hands and then saunter through to the lounge. As she approached, Jason’s eyes glinted with a curious resignation. No one in the world knew her better than her husband and Jason was wise and patient enough to know there was no point in attempting to intervene. Whoever was on the other end was going to get one hell of a shock. Nothing short of an emergence was going to ruin this Bank Holiday – that was what they had both agreed.

He handed her the phone, planted a delicate kiss on her cheek and headed back towards the bedroom. Giles watched him walk away, her eyes locked firmly on his muscular back until he had disappeared behind the door. She lifted the receiver to her ear.

‘Giles,’ she barked. Her smile had vanished and her dulcet tones had given way to something more clipped and professional.

‘Detective Sergeant Giles?’

The voice on the other end of the phone belonged to a man, that much was clear. But his words with taut, his pitch was laced with anxiety that became clearer and more defined once Giles confirmed her identity.

‘Detective Inspector William Harris, Kent Police. I was wondering whether I could steal an hour or so of your time?’

‘I’m afraid that’s not possible. I have plans.’

She didn’t know Harris and perhaps it was this that made it easier for her to rebuke him. For one horrible moment, Giles wondered whether she had been too abrupt on this occasion. She did have a reputation to uphold after all. She had been slated for good things in the future. Her superiors found her always willing and able – no job was too difficult; the soul of discretion and a stickler for the rules. She was their model officer to represent the service in times where the integrity and honesty of the force was under close scrutiny. And yet here she was, callously shooting down a fellow officer with her bluntness and unwillingness to accommodate them. A senior officer no less.

The voice that replied seemed more confident and steadfast than before, but through the cold, hard plastic of the receiver, Giles could still hear the anxiety it masked.

‘I think you will break your plans when you hear what I have to say.’

Giles didn’t reply for a moment. Her eyes flickered longingly between the baking in the kitchen and the bedroom door, wanting nothing more than to tell Harris to call again another day. But the fear, and she had no doubt it was fear, in his voice began to sow a familiar, yet unwelcome, seed of interest in her mind.

‘What can I do for you, sir?’

‘There has been a murder. The body of a man has been discovered in a field near the town of Edenbridge. We were hoping you might come and have a look, if it’s not too much trouble?’

It is too much trouble. This is my day off.

‘With the greatest of respect, sir, a body in Kent is a little outside of my patch…’

‘Granted. But the circumstances of the case may well interest you.’

It can wait until tomorrow.

‘What circumstances?’

The door to the bedroom opened and Jason emerged, the towel now replaced by a pair of jeans and a white, open shirt. He peered across at Giles and mouthed, ‘Is there a problem?’

No, there is no problem. Nothing is going to ruin this Bank Holiday.

Giles let loose a small smile before turning away from her husband.

‘Well, I haven’t arrived at the scene yet, but my officers inform me that there is some evidence that may pertain to you or maybe one of your cases…’

It can definitely wait until tomorrow.

‘I don’t understand…’

You don’t need to understand. Deal with it tomorrow.

Harris took a deep breath on the other end of the line.

‘I think we have the body of someone who has been giving you information,’ he explained. ‘I think he may be one of your informants…’

You are off-duty. This can wait until tomorrow.

Giles raised her hand and squeezed her temple between her thumb and middle finger. The voice in her head fell silent and her mind was once again able to think clearly.

‘I’m listening.’

Giles lowed the phone and wandered back in to the kitchen. She reached the counter just as Jason turned around. He handed her a cup of fresh Italian coffee, his keen eyes surveying her as she sipped at it gratefully. As though he already knew, his face began to fall and disappointment settled in. With his eyes glued to the floor, he fell back against the counter and drank bitterly from his own cup.

‘Another Bank Holiday gone then?’

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The Private Patient – P. D. James

Set in a private hospital, surrounded by the Dorset countryside and a Neolithic stone circle, The Private Patient reads like an Agatha Christie novel of sorts. It has everything that we might associate with the Golden Age of Crime; a couple of brutal murders, a hugely evocative setting, and a cabaret of varied suspects. The story follows Rhoda Gradwyn, an investigative journalist, who travels to Cheverell Manor to have a rather grizzly scar removed from her face and winds up throttled in her room. The case is taken on, somewhat unwillingly, by Adam Dalgliesh (one of James’ mainstay detectives) and we are led down a dark path where everyone is a suspect and, when another is murdered, potentially a victim. With the undertones of a witch burning that occurred at the stone circle in the 17th century, the reader is promised a whirlwind mystery that will leave you shocked at the end.

And to a certain extent it did and, yet in quite another way, it was the most obvious solution to what had been set out as a baffling crime. As I picked my way through the story, it occurred to me that the main reason why I wasn’t quite seeing clearly through all the fog of the mystery was because there was very little to distinguish between the many characters occupying the manor at the time. In fact, when the final reveal came, I found myself less shocked by the identity of the murderer and more stumped about which of the characters it actually was.

And I think this is where this novel stumbles a little. I made the mistake of reading it over the course of several sittings, but it occurs to me that, with its many hard to distinguish characters, it would have been wiser for me to read all in one go. In addition to this, I found it very hard to really believe in the characters due to the odd way in which everyone spoke. In this novel, it almost felt as though characters were not really talking to each other in conversational styles, but were communicating by some odd form of monologues.

That being said, the authors’ attention to detail is remarkable and I found it very easy to immerse myself in the world that had been created.  Admittedly it took a fair amount of time for the story to get going as it spent the first hundred odd pages of the book detailing the life of the victim as she prepared to have her treatment. In that respect, my only real criticism is that the story could have dealt with the backstory (for that is essentially what it is) a little quicker or not at all, given that a lot of the facts are later eluded to by other characters in the story.

Generally speaking though, it is a relatively lively and satisfying read, but one that I do recommend is conducted in as few sittings as possible to avoid confusion. Four out of five stars.

The Development of Character – A Case Study from ‘The Bluebell Informant’

Clever, loyal and moral. Vicious, arrogant and consistently haunted by her past.

These are the words I tend to use when describing the character of Detective Sergeant Evelyn Giles, the main character of my upcoming novella, ‘The Bluebell Informant’. A detective with a sharp mind who relies heavily on her instinct to read a crime scene. One of the most successful detectives in the Police Service. And yet, for all of her brilliance in the field of crime, Giles is plagued by her past, forever at odds with the world around her. Her desire to always do what is right, frequently brings her at odds with her own superiors and has led this promising detective to start turning down the dark path of failure and ridicule.

But this picture of a detective simply caught in the wrong time, fighting against oppression and corruption against a world full of it, was not how I imagined Giles when I first put pen to paper. In many ways, in fact, the Giles that exists now is almost unrecognisable from the original Giles and, as I have continually drafted and redrafted, Giles has slowly turned from a name on a page to a fully-fledged character that I can quite believe is out there somewhere.

Giles

The character of Evelyn Giles was originally conceived for my first attempt at a crime novella over two years ago. In many ways, the character has always had the whiter-than-white moral code and the story of pitting the detective against a corrupt world is very much there in my original drafts. However, a couple of major differences exist between that version and the Giles that exists today – most notably the gender of the character.

In the novella, titled but never retitled ‘Giles’, David Giles was not only a man but was also of a higher rank than the current character. As a Detective Inspector, Giles had a certain amount of autonomy, but his team were largely part of corrupted world that he was trying to take down. Whilst this gave Giles a great deal of power to make his own decisions, it did make him somewhat boring to read about. There was little conflict, except with the officers that he knew to be corrupt, as he never found himself in a situation where he had to report on his activities or was ordered to stop what he was doing.

Needless to say, the novella never really got past the first few chapters and has languished ever since in the Box File of Woe.

But that was not to be the end of Giles as a character.

Obsession

A year later, and appearing this time as a woman and at the rank of Detective Sergeant, Evelyn Giles leapt on to the page, once more attempting to bring an end to corruption. But this time, the character found herself at odds with her superior, Detective Inspector Bolton, who has Giles on a tight leash following a botched operation. Forced to investigate domestic murders instead of pursuing those she really seeks to bring down, Giles finds herself investigating a murder where the chief suspect has the ability to bring down the corrupt officials that she is working against.

Although the character had returned, this version of Giles was not the focus of the story but was more of a sideshow to the character that she was chasing, known only as Adam. However, as I progressed further through the story, I began to realise that I was more interested in Giles’ plight rather than that of the man she was chasing and, in future drafts, Giles became the centre of the story with Adam dropping in and out of the narrative.

After several drafts, though, I found myself struggling to get to grips with the character. Even though her actions in the story were solid, I had little idea about what it really was that was driving her forward. At this point, Giles was still very much a name on a page and, without a more detailed backstory I had no way of understanding her.

The Bluebell Informant

The novella, ‘The Bluebell Informant’, was very much a product of my desire to work on Giles’ past. I wanted to explain her and the world around her, not only how she came to be watched so carefully by her superiors, but also how her environment came to be so corrupt.

The British General Elections gave me the basis of the plot of my story, and keeping a careful eye on the political back-and-forths appearing on my Facebook page provided me with the substance. I created a new story; a story of a failed politician who is accused of murder and a detective (Giles) who feels compelled to help him regardless of her ill-feelings towards the man.

It was only after I had finished the second draft that I began to get a real handle on the character, creating the detective that I described earlier. But it was at the beginning of the third draft that I finally made a decision that would completely alter the tone of the story.

Up until this point, ignoring the fact that I had already changed her name, I had always envisaged Giles as a British, middle-class, white woman. But with the development of The Bluebell Informant, I found myself at a crossroads where I could begin to question what I had always assumed about my character. I wanted to explain why my character had such hatred for the politician and yet would want to help him. The answer to second lay in the familiar trait of morality that had been present in the character from the off. But the first, I discovered, lay in her ethnicity.

And thus David Giles, the white, middle-class, male Detective Inspector, turned in to Evelyn Giles, the female Detective Sergeant whose mother was an asylum seeker who later married a British labourer. Over the course of nine drafts from three different stories, Detective Sergeant Evelyn Giles has become a delight to write about.

And I hope you will have just as much pleasure reading about her.

To keep up to date on the progress of ‘The Bluebell Informant’, please subscribe to this blog for the latest news and articles about DS Giles and her world.

Draft by Draft – What Does Each Draft Bring to my Writing?

Earlier this week, I wrapped up the second draft of ‘The Bluebell Informant’. After months of scurrying around on the study floor with pieces of manuscript and a pencil, I have finally got to the stage of starting on the third draft and, at last, the story is beginning to take shape.

But, as I put the final flourish on the very last page and sat back with a well-deserved cup of tea, it occurred to me how different writers approach the task of editing their work. For many the task is so anti-climatic after the thrill of penning the first draft that it is little wonder that so many authors decide to skip it altogether and, as a result, produce work that has no bearing what so ever on their true talent.

The problem, I feel, is that a lot of authors haven’t quite worked out their own way of approaching the editing process. I have heard so many different techniques from simply sitting in front of the computer and going through the manuscript line by line, to taking a Dictaphone and reading out the entire book and then playing it back to hear what didn’t quite work. There are no hard and fast rules about producing your second and third drafts, or indeed any of the drafts that follow it, and a lot of writers have to struggle for a long time until they find the process that works for them.

As for me, I have found my own process that is working for the time being. It is by no means perfect, but it is better than what I was doing before.

So, this post is ultimately about two things. Firstly, I want to discuss my process for producing a first, second and third draft and, by using example passages, show how the work changes between drafts….

Which leads me on to the second – in order to show this process to its fullest extremes, I will be using passages from ‘The Bluebell Informant’ which means that you reading this post will be the first to see what has been going on over the past few months.

Enjoy

Draft One

I like to think of the first draft as a purging of sorts. There is a story in my head and, no matter how many times I write notes or plan bits of it out, that story is going to stay in there until I have it written down from start to finish.

As such, my firsts drafts are usually completely lacking in subtlety and class.

The dialogue is clunky and to the point. My descriptions are either vague or channel my obsession with describing people’s eyes. There are no subtle nuances because I can never be entirely sure where the next few chapters will lead. But the story is there and, usually within a month or so, it is out of my head and my imagination is allowed to breathe again.

Take a look at the opening passage from The Bluebell Informant to see what I mean.

Daniel Baker sat quietly in the darkest corner of the quietest room he could find in The King’s Arms public house. Through the doorway, he could see the bartender slowly cleaning glasses, trying desperately to look inconspicuous as he watched Baker swirling his whiskey around the bottom of his glass and listening for the faint tapping of the ice against the side.

Every so often, the bartender looked as though he might emerge from behind his fortification and brave the murky smoke of Baker’s room to ask him to extinguish his cigarette, but he never actually did it. For all the legal issues associated with smoking in a public place, no one was going to blame Baker for doing it; not after the day he’d just had.

Draft Two

The second draft is by far the slowest of my drafts. I usually print out my first draft, stick it in a lever-arch folder and then proceed to go through, page by page, cutting bits out or adding sections in using a pencil in the margins of the spare pages. Over the course of weeks, usually spending a day or so on each page, I meticulously cull the bits that don’t sound right when read out loud and try to add a little bit more atmosphere around my characters. Every so often a word or two changes or a paragraph is interrupted by a brand new passage. Some paragraphs are cut altogether.

Daniel Baker sat silently in the darkest corner of the most secluded room he could find in The King’s Arms public house.

But it wasn’t enough.

The route through to the next room had no door to close and the sounds of the early morning drinkers drifted in, contaminating his safe haven. One by one, they crept up to the doorway and peered inside, nudging one another gleefully and daring their friends to be the first to step inside.

Baker glared out of the darkness, sucking a cigarette and blowing the smoke forcefully towards the observers. His fingers scratched at the glass of whiskey in his hands whilst the ice tapped rhythmically against the side.

The first wave of spectators passed without incident. Baker didn’t know if they were simply too cowardly to approach him of if their sense of compassion had guided them away from his sanctuary. Regardless of the reason, he was grateful for the solitude, even if it only lasted a little while.

Draft Three

In comparison to the second draft, the third happens almost like lightning. Whilst the second draft consisted of hours of careful deliberation, made even slower by my limited writing speed, the third moves quite quickly.

As the second draft consists largely of hand written notes on paper, the third draft starts with the transcription of these notes on to a word processor. Whilst this seems like a waste of time that could be achieved by simply doing the second draft straight on to the computer, it actually serves a useful purpose as I am practically reading back the story at regular speed. This allows me to make little changes as I am typing to make the chapters read well and I can usually get through this at about a chapter every five hours or so.

It is also at this point that I start to focus on the characters a little more. At this point, they stop just being names on the page and start to turn in to living, breathing entities.

The result, quite often produces something that, whilst similar to the earlier drafts, is remarkably different in many ways. I even end up changing back something that I thought was important to change in the second draft at times…

Daniel Baker sat quietly in the darkest corner of the most secluded room he could find. The dark, brown fluid swirled around the bottom of the whiskey glass as he rotated it in the air, thinking about how everything had gone so spectacularly wrong.

He had built a career off the backs of his friends; for every speech they were there to support him. Behind the scenes they formulated plans and schemes, spread fear and distrust, herded people to Baker’s cause. But none of them were here now. They were off celebrating in the bright lights and drunken throes of victory. With the glee of triumph had come the bitter pill of defeat, bringing with it momentary pats and kind words of sympathy before they all gallivanted off into the night to enjoy their success.

Anonymity was Baker’s only friend now. The only friend he even wanted. The wolfhounds of the tabloid press, his one-time allies, were surely out there now, hounding every pub and bar from London to Edinburgh to find him. To break his soul even more than it had done already. He hoped that, for a time at least, the seclusion would somehow shield him from the rest of the world, keep him hidden until he was ready to stir out of the dark and emerge to fight once again.

But it wasn’t enough.

The route through to the next room had no door to close and the sounds of the early morning drinkers drifted in, contaminating his safe haven. One by one, they crept up to the doorway and peered inside, nudging one another gleefully and daring their friends to be the first to step through. Out of the darkness, Barker’s once approachable eyes glared out with ferocity. He sucked hard on his cigarette, breathing the toxic smoke deep into his lungs before blowing it out forcefully towards his observers. His fingers scratched at the whiskey glass whilst the ice tapped rhythmically against the side.

When he could bear their curious looks no longer, he threw his head back and tossed the whiskey down his throat, barely allowing his tongue to taste the liquid as it cascaded down.

His throat seized up. He plunged the whiskey glass down on the table and clutched his neck as he coughed the liquid back up again. The first wave of spectators backed away from the door as Baker heaved deeply to clear his trachea, but they still watched with interest. Perhaps this was to be the end of the Baker Story.

But it wasn’t. Regaining his breath, Baker slouched back in his chair, delicately wiping his lips where the phlegm had congealed. His blood-shot eyes glared back up at the crowd outside the door, causing them to scatter back in to the main bar of the pub. They would not ask any questions today, not if they knew what was good for them.

Baker was grateful for the solitude.

He banged the glass loudly on the table. ‘Another!’

I am currently ploughing through the third draft of ‘The Bluebell Informant’ with many more drafts expected before it is released. If, however, you would like to read the first chapter, subscribe to my blog and you will see it here in the near future.

Should I use my Fan Fiction to Write an Original Story?

We live in the age of fan fiction. With the relentless march of progress with the internet and such like, there is no shortage of sites online dedicated to stories written about established characters and franchises. From NCIS to Sherlock Holmes, from Buffy to Twilight; the internet is brimming with stories that take these characters in new and exciting directions, written by authors who’s grasp of storytelling neatly matches their passion for these existing concepts.

But what happens when an author takes the important step of turning their fan fiction story into an original concept in its own right?

It had always been something that I wondered about for a while and on several occasions I even began drafting posts on the subject – but none of them ever saw the light of day…

That is until I saw this question on a writer’s forum….

Question: I’ve been an active, busy fan fiction writer for almost two, three years now. And I’m wondering if I can rewrite one of my fan fictions as an original story. It’s a complete work of around 50,000 words. The story didn’t get the reception I hoped and I’m wondering if I could reach a greater audience by making it original. Any thoughts, suggestions?

First and foremost, it is entirely possible for a fan fiction writer to turn a piece based on someone else’s characters into an original concept. More to the point, it is possible that such a story would then sell.

Just look at E. L. James and the Fifty Shades franchise.

Now I’m not suggesting for a moment that I am in to the Fifty Shades franchise; in fact I have never felt the compunction to even pick up one of the books, let alone read it. However, on this occasion, it is a perfect example of how a fan fiction writer took their work, made it original and are now happily successful. More impressive still is the fact that James’ original story was received somewhat badly by the fan fiction community and yet still managed to become a global success.

Which brings me to my first point about this post – a terrible piece of fan fiction could end up being a brilliant/successful original story.

The points that make a piece of fan fiction bad are not necessarily going to translate if the piece is made more original. Readers may have taken offence to the type of story you’ve written, or what you’ve done with the characters, or maybe the style isn’t consistent with what has happened before. Maybe you’ve messed with the established canon too much or contradicted a story that is well-liked within the fan fiction community. Regardless of which it may be, these are all problems with your story as a piece of fan fiction, not as a story in it’s own right.

Whether or not a writer should take that step and convert their fan fiction in to an original concept is a slightly trickier question to approach.

The most basic answer anyone can give you is that if you want to take that step, then go for it. There is no one stopping you and if you think it is worth putting the time and effort in then why the hell not?

However, for those of you who are eager to succeed, the answer may be a little more complex.

Yes, you get success stories of fan fiction that were changed to be original stories but that doesn’t mean it’s a given. The thing about fan fiction is that you are writing something for a specific group of people whereas writing something original in the same genre is likely to expose you to a larger cross-section of the readership. It could be argued that that is a good thing.

However, the question ultimately depends entirely on the type of feedback you got in the first place. Did people have issues with a story you created using established characters, or did they just not like the story? Answering this question may not be as easy as reading your reviews (or maybe the problem is that no-one reviewed at all) but it is important to work out for yourself what type of criticism the work has received before you try to take it forward.

If people just didn’t like what you had done with an established story, then turning it into an original story may well be the sensible approach. However, if they generally like whatever is written about those characters, but didn’t like your story, the problem might be with your actual storyline. If this is the case, I’m afraid turning it into an original story is not going to solve the problem and you may find you receive a similar sort of reception.

Remember, a good house built on a poor foundation is just as likely to collapse as a poor house built on a good foundation.

Every week I will be scouring the internet for writers’ questions to try to answer in my posts. If you have a specific question that you would like my opinion on, please leave it in the comments section and I will address it in a future post. 

Art, Originality and the Original Art of Good Writing

A little something different this week. Instead of answering a question I will be talking about a sticking point for most writers. However, as with previous posts, the comment on which it is based has been posted on an online writing forum and I will tackle it in much the same way.

Statement: I think, right now, that the problem with writing these days is originality. Yes, past writers were genius to make such readable works of art, but such advancements are preventing the rest of us from writing something different. Likewise, we are doing the same – and everyone dislikes clichés.

This is a statement that is not too dissimilar from the sort of thing I used to say some years ago when I first started committing myself to my writing. We all believe it at one point or another; that writing is art and art, being the beautiful and pure thing that it is, can only be truly called art if it is powerful and, above all else, original.

There comes a time in everyone’s writing career where they are striving to create something original. We think of the great authors of the past: Asimov, Clarke, Shelley, Christie. We see what they produced and we think to ourselves, ‘those people created real art – those people created something original’.

Point Number One – Something doesn’t have to be original to be art.

The most scathing review I ever had was from someone who, for reasons known only to herself, decided to write the worst review she could for one of my stories. This review, whilst deciding from the outset that it was going to be negative, didn’t actually contain what I considered to be a single bad comment about my writing or the story I had produced. In fact, the only thing the review really did say was that they didn’t think my work was original and therefore it wasn’t good.

This prompted one major thought for me. I felt, and I mean this sincerely, sorry for the reviewer in many ways. If this person can only truly enjoy things that are original then their life must be severely lacking in enjoyment.

We have  all heard the old saying – there are only seven original stories in existence (or six or twelve depending on who is telling this to you). And it’s true. The vast majority of the stories you have read are not original. I could even guarantee you that some of the stories that you think are original are not in fact original. In fact, the only way to really achieve what we would casually call ‘originality’ is by taking an established idea and subverting it in some way. Maybe we subvert it by changing the location, maybe we change the character dynamics, maybe we change the structure or we update it to make it more relevant to events today.

Subverting the form is, and always has been, the way to develop true art. You take what has happened before and you move it in a new direction some how.

Point Two – Originality is unoriginal

We write by our experiences and by our imagination, and unfortunately our imagination is very much influenced by our experiences. This is true of all things, even our dreams. Scientists even suggest that the random people who appear in our dreams (you know the people you’ve never seen before but arrive fully formed in your head) are actually people you have subconsciously seen at some point in your life. Maybe it was someone in the background on the television, or some person you didn’t notice when you past in the street… Who it is doesn’t matter.

What matters is that our brain has stored what we would probably assume to be irrelevant information and has played it back to us in the form of dreams or imagination. What matters is this suggestion that our brains may not even be capable of creating an entirely original person. And if we can’t even create an original person, how can we ever hope to create an original story?

Back to statement in question.

This person is suggesting that good writing can only be achieved by originality. He suggests that this lack of originality is why writing is bad. Now, there are several things that you could pick out from this very short statement, but the thing that was most apparent to me was that this was a person who was basically asking how they could be expected to be a good writer if they couldn’t come up with an original idea…

And I understand where he is coming from.

As I said, this was not too dissimilar to something I used to say. I got bogged down in this idea of originality as well. I spent years trying to perfect a way of generating original ideas and writing in original ways and, if I do say so myself, I got quite good at it. But not a single one of those ideas ever got sold and, if I am brutally honest with myself, not a single one of those ideas ever produced good writing…

Why?

Because I was so fixated with this idea that good equals original that I completely ignored the fact that the writing itself is just as important as the story. I wasted so much time trying to come up with original ideas that I completely forgot to create good ideas.

I guess what I’m trying to say is don’t try to be an original writer, concentrate on being a good writer and let your talent guide you to where you should be.

Every week I will be scouring the internet for writers’ questions to try to answer in my posts. If you have a specific question that you would like my opinion on, please leave it in the comments section and I will address it in a future post.