Before ebooks – Adventures in Writing II

Adventures in the Writing Trade – Or

How Ayatollah Khomeni prevented me becoming  rich beyond my wildest dreams of avarice (and a Spanish weekly magazine did a little to redress the balance)

                                        Part Two.

We arrived in London a few days before the Sun was due to begin its serialization. Over the weekend, the paper ran advertisements which featured a Diana lookalike and the sound of heavy machine gun fire. On Monday, we went to the Sun’s headquarters in Wapping.

Above the Sun’s offices was a large sign which read “You are now entering Sun country” – a clear indication, if one was needed, that this was no ordinary newspaper.

Once inside, you noticed the blow-ups of previous front pages which hung on the walls:

Freddie Starr ate my hamster” (Starr was a popular comedian at the time)

“Gotcha!” (Referring to the sinking of the Belgrano during the Falklands War).

There was a great feeling of energy and purpose in the office. This was, after all, a newspaper which had been in terminal decline before Rupert Murdoch took it over, and was now – with its catchy headlines, give-aways and semi-naked girls on page 3) – the best-selling daily newspaper in the world.

And this was, it should be remembered, a time when newspapers were much more important – the internet was in its infancy, no one used the term “social networks” and mobile phones were the size of a large house brick.

The reporters were a million miles from the seedy hacks portrayed in films about tabloid journalism. They were, to a man – and woman – hard-working and intelligent. Some of them justified working for paper by saying that it contained all the news that could be found in other papers, but in a more concise and readable form. Others cheerfully told me that whilst the paper was deliberately striving for the lowest common denominator, their bank managers were ecstatic about the large checks they deposited in their accounts every month.

Part of the energy of the place came from the proprietor. Murdoch would turn up, sometimes unannounced, wearing sweat shirt and tennis shoes, and queue for his food in the canteen like everyone else, but whilst engaged in these democratic processes would make it perfectly plain – if only by example – that he expected all his staff to work just as hard as he did.

Part of it came from the editor. It was claimed (though I can’t verify this) that he sometimes emerged from his office and sat on an umpire’s chair from which he could survey his kingdom. In some accounts, he had a megaphone, through which he would issue random instructions that there should be more “bonking” in whatever story the reporter who had caught his attention was writing.

My own encounter with the editor went as follows –

He approached us (my writing partner and I) and shook hands.

‘I’ve read your book,” he said.

My writing partner swelled with pride.

‘And did you enjoy it?’ he asked.

‘It’s a load of bollocks,’ the editor told him. ‘Still, the (expletive deleted) morons who buy this paper will lap it up.’

I can’t remember most of the rest of the short conversation, but I recall his closing line.

‘Well, if you’ll excuse me,’ he said, ‘I’ve got people’s lives to destroy.’

He may have been joking.

Now we come to the tragic part, or – depending on your point of view – the part where we got our just deserts.

The Sun learned from its contacts in the House of Commons (I put it no stronger than that) that certain Members of Parliament were about to raise questions in the House about the suitability of the book, and might even say it should be banned.

Since there was nothing in the book to justify it being banned, we had no worries, but a national television news team was standing by to interview us once the speech or speeches had been made, and they would no doubt be followed by others. The publicity would have been amazing. We would have sold shed-loads of books and could start thinking about buying our own private islands.

What we didn’t know was that in far-off Iran, the Ayatollah Khomeni had been told about called The Satanic Verses, had decided that it was blasphemous and had issued a fatwah against its author.

Thus we had, on one side, two unknown authors who had written a book which might be considered mildly controversial, and, on the other, a Booker Prize winning author who had been sentenced to death for his book.

The parliamentary questions about Princess were never asked, the news teams never appeared.

We sank without trace!

Before ebooks – Adventures in Writing I

Adventures in the Writing Trade – Or

How Ayatollah Khomeni prevented me becoming  rich beyond my wildest dreams of avarice (and a Spanish weekly magazine did a little to redress the balance)

                                        Part One.

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In 1989, I co-wrote a book called PRINCESS, which part of me regrets and part of me wouldn’t have missed doing for anything.

Here’s how it happened:

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Where I live – Calpe

We used to live in Madrid, which I still think is the greatest city in the world – I may be wrong because, though I’ve visited a good number, I haven’t seen them all – but for the last eleven years we’ve been settled in Calpe, on Spain’s Costa Blanca.

peñon from oceanicCalpe is a great town. It’s dominated by a large outcrop called the Peñon de Ifach, which is the sister rock to the Rock of Gibraltar, and was once a trading post for the Phoenicians. The Romans were here, too, and work is currently being carried out on excavating their salt pans.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe old town was built on a sharp hill, because of the fear of pirates – it wasn’t an irrational fear, by the way, a few hundred years ago, most of the townspeople were captured and sold into slavery.

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My Favourite Crime Writers

What I Read – Part 2: American Crime Writers

Although I’m terrified that reading someone else’s mystery style will seep into mine, I do read some American crime when I’m working, because that’s so different to what I do that there’s no danger of it influencing me.

Perhaps the best of them is Stanley Ellin, who wrote three masterpieces – STRONGHOLD, VERY OLD MONEY, and MIRROR, MIRROR ON THE WALL. STRONGHOLD is the story of how an isolated Quaker community deals with being taken over by a psychopath. VERY OLD MONEY concerns an aspiring writer and his wife who take jobs as servants with a very rich family in New York. The details of how the house is run shouldn’t be the least bit interesting, but I found myself gripped from the start. MIRROR, MIRROR is just weird, but beautifully constructed.

Another fine writer, whose books are not so much mysteries as thrillers, is Ross Thomas. Continue reading

How do I write a book?

One of the things my readers often want to know is how I write a book. It’s not an easy question to answer – Somerset Maugham once said there were only three rules to writing, but unfortunately nobody knew what they were – but I’ll give it my best shot.

I usually start my mysteries by coming up with a motive for a murder. This can be very difficult, because all the straightforward motives – murder for money, murder for jealous etc – have already been grabbed and milked dry by other mystery writers, decades ago. Having come up with what I think is an original motive – it probably isn’t, by the way, given how many mysteries have been written since Edgar Allen Poe invented the detective story, but at least it’s original to me – I start work. Continue reading

e-books – why I like them

When I first started writing, books stayed in print for several years, but over time the publishing/book selling processes have accelerated, so that now, unless you’re a very famous writer, a book will be out of print in a year, or even less.

I can see the logic behind this – but it’s still a bit frustrating for the writer – and for some of my readers, who email me to say that they enjoyed a later book in a series, but can’t get their hands on the earlier ones. Continue reading

What do I read? – part 1

The advice that most established writers give to aspiring writers is that they should read, read, read – and specifically, they should read in the genre they’re writing in. It’s advice I’ve often given myself, but in my case, it’s advice I don’t follow, and there’s a good reason for that. If I’m working on a book – and since I bring out 2-3 a year, I usually am – I’m terrified that reading someone else’s mystery style will seep into mine, so the first half of the book will have echoes of Reginald Hill I was reading while I wrote it, and the second half will be vaguely reminiscent of Val McDermid, both of whom are very fine writers, but whose style would jar in the middle of my books.

What I do tend to read are books that have no chance of “infecting” my writing, and since writing a new novel is usually head-banging work, I tend to choose something humorous. Continue reading