MYNYDD EIMON – PRIVATE HELL – opening chapter of new book

DAY 1

Sky-red – blood red – falling – hit ground hard – not too hard – office – golf club – red carpet – books and books and books – grey safe – easy money – alone – Cai presence outside – falling – vultures – watching – goading – sneering – flying and falling – flying and falling – “destroy the ungodly” – 6 stars – 6 daggers – 1 angel – 3 sticks, vertical like stumps –  mother – Mary – stick – gopher wood – battered old goose-necked putter – Bobby – Mary – Molly – Malone – cockles and muscles alive alive-o – her ghost wheels her barrow through the streets – “Sam” – “Wake up “ – Run Sam run – “Who built the ark, no-one, no-one. Who built the ark, brother? No-one built the ark”– “Wake up” – Bob – Mary – Sam

 1. the lady confesses

It started with a dame. It always started with a dame. Well sometimes it does. This dame was different and unique – like they all were. She was older, a lot older. She was the treasurer, the golf club treasurer. She was respectable, church-going and old. How old? Very old.

It was an ordinary morning, as they all are until something happens. I was walking along grey and grim Malakoff Street and although I didn’t know it I was about to be asked to investigate the possible murder of Cai Tywysog.

What was particularly unusual about this possible murder was that I had dreamt that Cai was dead. I had also dreamt that the sky was on fire. I was looking out of the window when I saw someone fall from the roof. It was Cai and his face cracked as he hit the ground. I wasn’t sure if the fall had killed him or something had happened before. Neither option mattered too much to him at that particular moment.  I also dreamt about an empty safe. Apparently this could signify loss, lack of security or a secret getting out. Or even an empty safe.

Unsurprisingly I felt a little tense this morning.

I knew that Cai wasn’t dead as I had seen him just five minutes ago. I had been in the corner shop talking to Mrs Evans’ when he had walked in. I picked up my packet of Lucky Strikes and a pint of milk from the counter, gave an assertive nod in Cai’s general direction and walked out of the shop. He looked a little pale, but definitely not dead. I walked to the end of Malakoff Street and turned left onto Alma Road.

Alma Road was quiet. Mynydd Eimon was quiet. Not just because it was a Friday morning, but because Mynydd Eimon was quiet. It was boring. It was dull. Mynydd Eimon was a typical Welsh valley village. It looked exactly the same as any other Welsh valley village at any time since the early Victorian Age. It was grey, cold, dull, quiet – calcified in an indeterminate age. It was home. My home.

I walked slowly toward my office. Perhaps office was a little grand in that it was two small rooms on the ground floor of my house. It didn’t look much like an office but it was. It was the office of Sam Watcher, private investigator. That’s me. I was a bone fide ‘ditectif preifat’. I had a business card and everything.

I smiled at the exquisite lettering on the door of the office, “Samael K. Watcher … Investigations”. I didn’t have a middle name but thought the K added a touch of class. I went to unlock the door to the outer office, formerly a coalhouse knocked through, but found it had already been opened. I stepped inside and looked at my little universe. The room contained an old black Davenport, two old, old, grey chairs, a bit of carpet and two doors – one to the outside, real world and the other to my inner sanctum. Everything was neat and tidy just as I needed it. There was the light grey carpet and dark grey walls. I had designed the room myself based on films I had seen.

What the room didn’t contain was my secretary who I had assumed had unlocked the door. I moved carefully toward my private office and opened the door slowly expecting an intruder. I was correct.

My office and refuge being invaded me nervous. I liked things to be where they should be.  My visitor was a dame. She had moved a chair. I looked around to see if anything else had been disturbed. Her coat and bonnet were hanging on the coat stand. I looked around slowly, carefully.  I didn’t notice anything else. I breathed. The room had a similar colour scheme to the outer office with a larger desk, a fireplace, a Reliable wall safe and a little state of the art, Prestcold fridge, a violated coat stand and a moved chair.

I looked hard at the dame in the chair. She was a frail old woman dressed in a long black dress, grey shawl, and tight bun with a lethal looking hair slide.    From the back she seemed very peaceful as she stared into the empty fireplace.  Her coat and bonnet were hanging up on the oak coat stand near the door and she had made herself completely at home. I walked across the room in a business-like manner and placed myself in my chair behind my desk. I turned my chair to face her. I reached in my pocket to get a cigarette, looked at the dame and thought better of it. I picked up a pen from my desk and started twirling it in my fingers.

I breathed. “Aunty Mary.” I said a little too loudly, “What are you doing here?”

“It’s about a murder, cariad, I’m ashamed to say. It’s about the murder of young Cai, my nephew.”

“Cai!” I feigned astonishment for some reason, “but I’ve seen him just now in Mrs Evans’.”

She thought for a minute. ”Well the murder may not be Cai and anyway it’s not today.”

“I see.” I clearly didn’t. I sucked hard on my pen in a way that I thought may convey serious thoughtfulness.

”So what is it you want from me?” I inquired.

“I need some information, some advice if you will.”

“Shoot”

“How am I looking if I were to murder someone?” she asked thoughtfully.

I sat down and continued working on my thoughtful expression, “I imagine you would be put in jail Aunty Mary.”

“Ah,” she paused, “I thought as much. But what about my soul?”

“Well.” I paused. “That would be one for you and the priest to negotiate.”

She looked disappointed.

“And the soul of the victim?”

“Again your priest would be the one to talk to there.”

“Not you?”

“Not me.”

“Are you sure about that?”

“Pretty sure.”

“And I would definitely go to prison.”

I paused to consider the question, “Very, very likely.”

She sighed, “So how long would I get?”

“Probably 10 years or life.”

We both silently assessed who would win that particular race.

“I’d like you to investigate the murder, when it happens. Would you do that for me?”

I nodded professionally.

“Thank you Samael,” she continued as she stood up, “You’ve been very helpful. Now how much do I owe you?”

“Aunty Mary you know I couldn’t take money off you.”

“You’re a sweet boy.” she said as she ruffled my hair and handed me a shilling piece, “Now take it and let’s hear no more about it.”

I took it and helped Aunty Mary put on her ancient grey fur coat and black bonnet.  I shivered slightly then I walked Aunty Mary out.

You can get this book on Amazon and Kindle here (and it’s free through Kindle Owners Lending Library if you’re in that).

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How Would You Like To Be Remembered?

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For many of us writing is not a full time job – yet. We can dream. Until the day we are ‘discovered’ w e have to pay the Government, feed the kids and help pay many, many, many other peoples’ mortgages.  I suspect you find, like me, there is never enough time to write. Life is taken up with all those ‘things that get in the way’. Writing is shoved in between  cleaning the bathroom and mending the brakes on the car. You wonder where the time went as you look back on most days and realise that you’ve achieved nothing. Maybe it’s time to see if  you can manage your time a little more effectively. I know. I know. Time management is usually so boring with activity logs, timesheets time logs, Time Tac, Toggl and Time Tiger. This is different – it’s free. It’s about you and determining what is important to you.

Try this exercise. Imagine it’s ten years in the future. You find yourself in a church at your own funeral. One by one people you know get up and talk about you and your contribution to the world. What are they going to say ? What will your partner, your kids, your colleagues say ? I can bet all the money in my pocket they won’t be like Mr Burns  when he thought he was dying announcing, “I just wish I’d spent more time at the office.”

Ask yourself this question – “How would I like to be remembered ?” What would you like those who care about you, and you care about, to say ? What would you want to leave behind you? You need time to think about this. Once you’ve really got this big picture sorted you can move on.

The next step is an exercise from Stephen Covey. It’s known as ‘Stephen Covey’s Big Rocks’-

Imagine a bucket. Put three or four big rocks in.

“Is the bucket full ? ” I ask.

“No” you reply.

“Of course not” I say and put some smaller rocks in it to fill in the gaps.

“Full now ? ”

“No”. I put in some sand. Then I add some water. It’s full.

So, what’s the learning here ? It’s to do with the order. What would happen if I’d reversed the order ? What if I’d put the water in first, then the sand, then the small rocks. There would be no room for the big rocks. These big rocks are the important things in your life. You need to schedule them first, not try to squeeze them in after arranging the water ( writing pointless reports ), sand ( unnecessary travel ) or small rocks ( staff meetings where no-one listens and everyone looks at the clock ).

What are the big rocks in your life ? For many it’s things like family, time to watch the children grow up, time to finish that novel, time for themselves, time to make a difference. You decide. You identify 3 or 4 things you believe are important. The 3 or 4 things that will make a difference at your funeral.

When you’ve decided what they are then schedule them. Schedule time for yourself, time to take that creative writing class, time to spend a week with the children at half term. Once these times are scheduled, fit the rest of your work around them.

It’s not big and it’s not clever to work more than forty hours a week. I repeat, it’s not big and it’s not clever. So stop it. Stop that ‘poor me, look how many hours I work’ nonsense. Work as little as you can. Do as much as you can in the time agreed, but once you’ve done – run away – go home. The surprise will be how little people miss you. It may be hard at first to realise the world of work can carry on without you but give it time. This feeling will be replaced by one of immense joy. “I’m dispensable !” This will give you enormous freedom.

But never forget the big picture. Why save 30 minutes by delegating some work when ‘re only going to spend it playing online poker. (Well, that’s the theory, but maybe becoming an online poker millionaire is one of your big rocks?).

Remember you can’t save time – you’ve only got so much. You know that. So, what do you want to be remembered for ?

 You can read the opening chapter of ‘Mynydd Eimon: Private Hell’ here, or you can get the book on Amazon and Kindle here

 You can get the ‘Essential Management Skills’ Kindle book here    

Marketing

'Madam, could I sell you a collection of encyclopedias that you’ll probably never read?'

My agent said there should be a marketing campaign for my book. “Great,” I said, “where do we start?”

“We?” she said.

I did some research.

1. ‘Start your marketing before you write the book’. Bit late for that. How the hell does that work though? So, I’ve got an idea for a book so I should put the idea on hold and launch a marketing strategy ..… ‘Only 275 days to go before the launch of my new book. It will be something to do with crime and there’ll be a murder and a lot of thrills and excitement. No characters yet. ” Sign me up for that one.

2. ‘Write a Remarkable Book’. Good idea. Never thought of that.

3. ‘Word of mouth recommendation’ – sounds plausible. Sounds more that plausible. Sounds excellent. So how does this happen? I read more…“All you really need for word of mouth marketing is a book worthy of sharing, and a way to get it into the hands of people who will spread the word.” Right.  So, the first part. Have I got a book worthy of sharing? Well of course. I must be unique in this regard mustn’t I? I’m not? What. You say everyone who writes a book believes they have a book worthy of sharing?

So, let’s go for the second part… “Get it into the hands of people who will spread the word”.   Two parts to this – 1. Who are the people who will spread the word? And how do I get it into their hands? I have a think. People who will spread the word – Martha Whatsername from the Newsnight review show thingy on a Friday sometimes. She’d be good. Where does she live? I research. Martha Catherine Kearney. No email address though – shame. How do you get books into the hands of people who will spread the word? Even if I did manage to track her down and force my book into her hands who can I be sure she reads it? Short of a kidnapping and holding her eyes open with match sticks I can’t see how this tactic will work. Bad advice. Try another. Mariella Frostrup. Well I’m going to the Hay festival next week. I’ll take a book for her. I’ll let you know how I get on.

You can read the opening chapter of ‘Mynydd Eimon: Private Hell’ here, or you can get the book on Amazon and Kindle here

Distractions

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Having researched, completed and published the vital, essential-that-I-spend-three-hours-on-this, ‘difficult second book/album phenomenon’ post, I found myself having to buckle down and do some proper writing. But only for a while. I managed to find another distraction.

This distraction wasn’t online poker, sudoku or experimenting with the different places I could put my (unwritten) subsections on the Scrivener corkboard. Oh no, this was another vital, must-be-done-this-instant, serious distraction.

Let me tell you the full story. It concerns my second novel. I’ve got plenty of time.

My characters are set in a 1930s ish mining village in the Welsh valleys. It’s a place, if not a time, that I am very familiar with. In my childhood there were still echoes of those days in the remnants of the Welsh language spoken, the clothes, the attitudes. I’ve tried to incorporate some of these half-remembered, third-hand-me-down elements into my book.

Let me explain. Even today in Wales there is the odd Welsh word or phrase that creeps into English-speaking areas – dad, eisteddfod, penguin. Penguin, really. It’s from ‘pen gwyn’ (white head). As a child there were many more examples. I remember my grandmother calling me a ‘dirty mochyn’ (pig) when I came home from rugby covered in mud. The outside toilet was known as the ‘ty bach’ (small house). Distracted by these thoughts, and in the name of research, I started googling and eventually found  an excellently distracting post by Steffan Rhys:

http://www.walesonline.co.uk/lifestyle/fun-stuff/21-things-you-only-remember-6366551

I digress. Back to my story. I was describing a funeral in one scene and imagining the sight. I remember my first funeral. The men wore shiny suits and caps, not hats, flat caps. These were called ‘dai caps’. This was something I remember from over 40 years ago so I thought I would add them for some colour. Just two words – dai caps. I thought I’d better google them to make sure of ….. something or other. A few hours later I have learnt nothing useful except that they are fashionable now in some quarters and Brad Pitt sometimes wears one.

The point of this lecture, however, is not dai caps or Brad Pitt or my nanna. It’s about distractions. I was appalled with myself when I noticed the time I had wasted on two words. I had spent most of the morning googling, checking, surfing. At this rate the book would take … just let me work it out.. No. Stop. It would take a very long time.

No more distractions for me. But how to stop myself. I googled ‘distractions writing’ and started reading the articles. What I can gather is that there are lots of tips and gadgets and stuff that can help you. For instance there’s one that limits the time you’re allowed on the ‘blocked sites’ you set up. There’s a programme that gives you an ambient sound and a ‘focusing’ background image to keep you single-minded somehow. Apparently this isn’t a new problem. Herman Melville, writer of a book about a whale and great great great grand-uncle of musician ‘Moby’ had his wife chain him to his writing table.

I’m thinking now that the problem may be that I write in a room in a house. How amazing would it be to have JD Salinger’s shed at the bottom of the garden? Or to have George Bernard Shaw’s hut he called ‘London’? Or even get away from it all and write in a motel like Jim Harrison? Or maybe, just maybe I could go away to Llaugharne and write in Dylan Thomas’ boathouse. It looks like an amazing distraction-free place to write.

Where would be the best place to write? Now that could be an interesting blog. Perhaps I could do some research……….

You can read the opening chapter of ‘Mynydd Eimon: Private Hell’ here, or you can get the book on Amazon and Kindle here

The Difficult Second Album / Book Syndrome (DSAS / DSBS)

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The Difficult Second Album Book Syndrome (DSAS DSBS)

This has come as something of a shock to me. I had written a number of non-fiction books and they seem to come out ok. They are quite tedious to write, of course, once the initial enthusiasm starts to wane. However there was always something for me to do; something to keep me away from the online poker and moving forward – some research, some tidying up the grammar, some renumbering of the pages, or trying out new fonts.

With a fiction book – there’s not. I assumed the second book would be easier. As part of a series I have the characters, the location, and have set the tone – all aspects that took a while to get right. However it’s not as easy as I thought.

In an effort to help me understand the DSBS (and of course to deflect from actually working on the DSB) I decided to do a little research.

The DSBS or sophomore slump or second season syndrome is not restricted to writers of course. There are many examples of the great difficulty of following a success with another success.  In the world of Premier League football look no further than two superstars, for a year, who spectacularly failed to continue that success – Fernando Torres and Javier Hernandez. Now without going into all the reasons these millionaire players failed to live up to their early promise, we can imagine the psychology; perhaps it’s a little complacency, perhaps it’s difficult to get motivated. These may be things writers can identify with – well the lack of motivation definitely.

The more interesting parallel though comes from other forms of entertainment – films, music and books.

There are a number of spectacular failures for the film sequel:

‘Shock Treatment’, the follow up to ‘The Rocky Horror Show’;

‘The Sting 2’;

‘Staying Alive’ follow up to ‘Saturday Night Fever’;

‘After World’s Collide’, the magnificent follow up to ‘When World’s Collide’.

And these films almost, almost, got made – I kid you not:

‘ET2: Nocturnal Fears’;

‘Casablanca 2: Brazzaville’;

More bizarrely, perhaps, for the sequel to ‘Gladiator’ – ‘Gladiator 2‘, rock star Nick Cave wrote a treatment. You couldn’t make it up. Well I couldn’t.

Some embarrassing second albums include:

‘Peasants, Pigs and Astronauts’ (Kula Shaker);

‘Endlessly’ (Duffy);

‘Pinkerton’ (Weezer);

And ‘Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie’ (Alanis Morrisette).

Showing my age and influences I know.

As writers of course we could never succumb to commercial pressure and produce sequels that were not adding to the rich tapestry we created in the original. However, sometimes even literary sequels have proved less than successful:

‘Scarlet’, follow up to ‘Gone with the Wind’;

‘Return to Peyton Place’, follow up to … well you have a guess;

’The Serious Reflections of Robinson Crusoe’;

‘Tom Sawyer, Detective’;

and the ever to be forgotten ‘Son of Rosemary’ follow up to ‘Rosemary’s Baby’, and the film sequel ‘ Look What Happened to Rosemary’s Baby’.

I refuse to name names here – even writers need to eat.

There are many, many good examples, even in the world of music – ‘The Bends’ – Radiohead – but they are less interesting than failure – well, to us anyway.

Ok distraction over. Back to the sequel. Where was I?

You can read the opening chapter of ‘Mynydd Eimon: Private Hell’ here, or you can get the book on Amazon and Kindle here

Golff Noir

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Finally. It’s finished. At least 5 years after I started thinking about writing a novel. It is finished and published. I should be feeling excited, elated. I’m not. It’s just relief. Pure unadulterated relief. Finished. God it’s been painful.
I read that you should “Write what you know”; Mark Twain. I did. I wrote about golf, Wales, and private detectives. I also wrote about “things that you don’t know”; Brian Klems. I chose angels, the supernatural and the Book of Enoch. I chose the genre I’m most familiar with – film noir crime fiction in the style of a 62 part box set cult series. I mixed in some advice from the New Yorker with the words of Steven King, “If you want to be a writer you must do two things; read a lot and write a lot”. I do. The result was my first novel – a golff noir, Taff noir, crime thriller fantasy fiction entitled ‘Mynydd Eimon: Private Hell’.
There are some excellent golf books – biographies mainly – by Mark Frost, James Dodson and some wonderful golf writers in general – Bernard Darwin for instance. But when it comes to writing fiction around golf the results are as embarrassing as watching a film combining a story and a football match. Cringingly bad. This is the type of PG Wodehouse writing that I’m certainly not familiar with on a cold, windy day stuck at the top of West Mon.
The book I ended up writing combined (chucked together, some would say) a number of the elements that make up Golff Noir, a phrase evolving from film noir, to Nordic noir, to Taff Noir to golff noir (and yes the double ‘f’ is important).
This is my first attempt and I hope it entertains you. I hope others will try this approach and, who knows, we could end up with a little Celtic enclave of Tartan Noir.

You can read the opening chapter of ‘Mynydd Eimon: Private Hell’ here: https://byronkalies.wordpress.com/2014/04/12/mynydd-eimon-private-hell/

You can get this book on Amazon and Kindle here (and it’s free through Kindle Owners Lending Library if you’re in that).