Today may be one of those rare days with two blogs. The reason? Well, if everything goes according to plan, two more of my 40Fifty challenges will be completed—one almost certainly less painfully than the other.
This morning, task number 16 became the twenty-fourth tick on the list, when I saw “one of my books on sale in a high street book shop”. The book in question is my latest BearManor Publication, Desperately Seeking Marie Prevost, and the shop is the Middlesbrough branch of none other than Waterstone’s—situated on Newport Crescent if [shameless plug alert] you want to pop along and purchase a copy.
For the record, the task said “high street book shop”, but as far as I’m concerned, a few copies of my recent Hollywood bio are now standing proudly in the local author section of la crème de la crème of that particular kind of store—maybe even la crème de la crème de la Frances de la Tour—and I’m thrilled to bits!
Obviously I needed plenty of help and support for this to happen—although there was a very real temptation to rush in, lob the books on the nearest shelf, take a quick photo and leg it back out again—and I am indebted to the branch manager Jen Wytcherley for agreeing not only to display the book, but as I understand it, to also promote the challenge at some point during the week.
When Jen told me her surname, I couldn’t resist dipping into my trivia pot to mention the late rock ‘n’ roller Billy Fury, whose real name certainly sounded the same. Sadly, on checking, Billy was born Ronald Wycherley, so the names aren’t spelt the same... and I should therefore have kept my mouth shut! I’ll learn one day...
I’m intending to visit the shop again on Saturday to take another couple of pictures alongside the poster that Jen is so kindly going to prepare, but I’m including the photo taken this morning because my head is being shaved on Wednesday and I thought you might appreciate the “silver fox” look rather than the Phil Mitchell. (Just so you know Jen, I’m going to try and persuade you to join me in the photo on Saturday, so you’ve only got five days to book the morning off!!)
Anyway in a little over two hours time, I will be heading to Brothers in Ink for... actually I’ll let you guess why. More photos will follow, but for now, I just want to say a big “thank you” to Jen for enabling this ageing writer to turn a hope into a reality.
After ten years (on and off) of writing, deleting, starting again, more deleting, rewriting etc etc, I recently sent the finished draft of my first - and last - novel to five readers for their appraisal.
It was - and will remain - important that any reviews or comments that are received are totally (but perhaps not brutally) honest, because I really have no idea whether or not my writing style can adapt to a work of fiction.
As well as that, there is a decision to be made about what I do with the book. Do I self-publish for the sake of it? Or how about an e-book? If reaction is positive, do I maybe try and see if there are publishers out there who might be interested? Or if the reviews are crap, do I just shrug my shoulders and move on?
Well, earlier today, the first review arrived - unexpectedly quickly despite apologies for a slow reply! The sender was Sarah, a primary school classmate from way back when, and someone I haven't seen for well over thirty years - see, I didn't just plump for the "safe option"!
Sarah has therefore become the first person to read the completed work; she said she'd be honest - and that worried me - but here is what she had to say about The Beige Beetle:
"I really enjoyed the book - I think you write beautifully and the characters are totally believable. I was interested in them both, their lives and, of course, clever of you to provide tension right from the beginning - it meant I couldn't wait to get to the end!
"Very very good insight into the female mind; conversation was well thought through and easy to read - and yes, I liked the plot and [spoiler alert] the fact it wasn't a happy ending. It left me wanting more.
"I suppose the only thing I would say is that although I was sympathetic toward the couple, I felt a little too sorry for them, but that is such a minor observation. Really, I was hugely impressed!"
Wow! It's safe to say I wasn't expecting that... and I'm absolutely thrilled, flattered (and surprised if the truth be told) to receive such encouraging feedback. Hopefully over the weeks and months that follow, the positive theme will continue, but people who know me will be only too aware that I take nothing for granted...
What is for certain though, is that task no.28 on my 40Fifty Challenge - that of actually completing the novel - has now been achieved. Tick number fourteen, and for a while at least, a very happy writer!
There is one bit of news for you on the 40Fifty front. I have now completed the first draft of my novel The Beige Beetle, which has been e-mailed to five friends for objective review (as opposed to preaf rood). An attempt at fiction has been—and is—a new experience (albeit one that has lasted a decade!), so receiving honest feedback is really important to me.
What happens afterwards will depend on the views of others, but the act of finishing the book will soon allow me to tick off a fourteenth task. And on the left is the intended cover....
Yesterday afternoon, I had a call from a reporter at our local paper, the Evening Gazette, offering to include a short story about my charity challenge in an upcoming issue. We chatted for about ten minutes and hopefully a positive article will follow sometime soon.
Getting media coverage to try and raise the profile of what I’m doing was never going to be easy; after all, irrespective of any charitable cause, I’m barely a household name in my own home, let alone.... That said, I’ve done three radio interviews, two live and one pre-record, and been given one excellent newspaper feature (it was excellent because I wrote it myself!!), all of which is fantastic.
As well as those who have been kind enough to allow me to tell my story, I have been amazed at the help I have been given, occasionally by friends, but predominantly by strangers who received random e-mails from me, but were still prepared to give up their time to enable me to progress further through my series of challenges.
Two months ago, I received the news that my job was being disestablished at the end of the year, and clearly the need to find work and support my family has to be my priority. But with this setback has come an even stronger determination to fulfil my challenge, and maybe prove a few things to myself in the process.
So, to everyone who has helped and supported me thus far, I am more grateful than you could ever know, but if I may, I would like to close with a special thank you to this young lady, Alex Danson, one of the country’s finest sportswomen, who posted the following message on Twitter after our brief meeting last Saturday, a message that was both incredibly kind and genuinely humbling.
I’m having a couple of days off this weekend, but hopefully there’ll be more updates very soon. Thanks again!
A week off work beckons and a chance to at least try and recharge some pretty flat batteries. When I return, Christmas will be two sleeps away, and then in January, details of our restructure will be unveiled – and my fate, along with that of colleagues and friends will be known. It’s an anxious and unsettling (and any number of similar adjectives from the old thesaurus) time for all concerned and whilst I am doing my best to remain positive, it’s undeniably tough going at the moment.
I’m well aware so many other people in with differing working back-grounds right across the country have been through similar experiences, but whatever lies ahead, I hope the reality holds some comfort for those with whom I share an office – and me as well!
I’m trying to keep busy – the draft manuscript of my Marie Prevost biography has gone through the initial editing process, so I’ve got that to review, and I’ve even taken up drawing (after a fashion). Certain members of my family are ridiculously talented when it comes to all things “arty” – but it’s safe to say I’m not one of them. No harm in having a go though…
My latest offering is this not-very-good sketch of the statue of St Gregory (Gregorius) of Nin, which is situated in the beautiful Croatian city of Split. The statue has a shiny big toe (don’t we all?) courtesy of years of being touched and rubbed (if only…). There is a legend that if you place your hand on the toe of the statue and make a wish, it will come true. I’m not going to reveal exactly what I hoped for back in the summer of 2011, suffice to say that time will soon tell if St Gregory is a man of his word!
Fingers and (shiny) toes crossed…
In amongst all the entertainment, the BBC’s annual Children in Need evening always highlights some amazing stories—and last night was no different. The appeal puts so many things into perspective—money worries, job security, the aches and pains we all have—but there was one family in amongst all the remarkable people whose experience was profoundly moving.
Not long after his birth, Chris and Steph Churchill’s baby son Harry was diagnosed with the skin condition epidermyelitis bullosa—and yes, I had to look it up. It’s extremely rare, but essentially the sufferer’s skin is incredibly fragile, so much so that the simple act of being picked up would probably cause the skin to shred.
Chris and Steph knew there was a risk that a second child might also inherit the condition—one in four apparently— but if the odds seemed favourable, the reality must have been a devastating blow as baby Cody was born with the tell-tale blisters under his finger nails.
The pair apparently became known as the “butterfly brothers” because of the facial marks caused by the condition. Harry and Cody’s life expectancy was short, but the boys shared a unique bond and clearly enjoyed each other’s company. The respite care they received must have been an enormous help to the boys’ devoted parents, but the cruellest twist of all came earlier this year when Harry and Cody contracted flu and passed away—within two days of each other.
Emotive, heart-breaking, whatever adjective you choose, it’s impossible to imagine how the past few years have been for the Churchill’s. I suppose you never really know how you’re going to react to any particularly difficult situation until you’re faced with it—the overwhelming majority are fortunate that they never have to find out. Chris and Steph are inspirational people and they were blessed with two equally special boys who, in the couple’s words, are now together again.
Three years ago, I sold the first version of Desperately Seeking Susan Foreman to raise funds for Children in Need. Writing a book and handing over a cheque for one hundred and something pounds frankly seems pathetic given the fundraising efforts of others, but I’ve started a new project for 2014 and hopefully it will raise a bit more—otherwise it’ll have to be the shaved head and bath of baked beans!
Here is the book’s Facebook page link—and I think I already know the two brave and remarkable kids to whom the book will be dedicated.
Yesterday was a first for me. I had been invited to attend “Who’s in the Library”, an event which was taking place at Mansfield Library and although it was a 250-mile round trip, I had never done a book signing before and on the basis that I might never get asked again...
Elaine made the trek down to Nottinghamshire too – just so that there would be one person in the building that had actually heard of me! The special guest at the Doctor Who-themed afternoon was Nick Briggs, who is currently the man behind the voice of the Daleks. We received a warm welcome and Joanne, who had organised the event, had arranged a table and lovely little display for me – as the photo shows.
I had no idea what to expect, but beforehand, I had told Elaine that selling ten books would be more than I could have hoped for. After twenty minutes, I would have settled for selling one book, because nobody seemed to notice my little stall. But then some interest, a bit of a chat, and a sale!
And then another, and another. Three books – that was the petrol cost covered. One more book and we could get a bite to eat too!
I would guess there were about one hundred and fifty people at the event, including a few dressed as various incarnations of the Doctor (which was a bit on an eye-opener!). Plenty of people came over for a chat, I was even asked to sign a few autographs – I did try and talk my way out of it, but they absolutely insisted. I also had a quick natter with Nick Briggs – he seems like a nice bloke. I gave him a copy of the book, so that’ll be the last I hear from him!
In all, I sold eleven books. Perhaps that’s nothing to an established author, but I was genuinely thrilled. I have no idea whether or not I’ll be asked to do anything like this again – obviously I hope so – but it was great to be invited to this event and I’m certainly looking forward to finding out what the good folk of Mansfield thought of my book!
Something approaching four years ago, I started writing to actresses that had played companions in Doctor Who. The result was a self-published book entitled Desperately Seeking Susan Foreman that raised a three-figure sum for Children in Need. Three years on, and the third, definitive, final version has been published by BearManor Media and on Sunday, I am going to Mansfield’s Central Library to do a brief talk and hopefully sell a book or two at an event being held to commemorate the series’ upcoming fiftieth anniversary.
I’m sure there are an awful lot of people who have achieved far greater things, but I’m actually proud that a professional company was willing to publish my book, and that someone thought I was worthy of being asked to attend an event – even though Mansfield is miles away from Middlesbrough!
All this because I wanted to try and raise a few pounds for a wonderful cause.
I am therefore using my ever popular (artistic licence) blog to announce that a new Desperately Seeking… project is underway and that the profits from the finished book will be donated to next year’s Children in Need appeal.
I’m a quick writer, but I’m not that bloody quick.
The book’s theme is music, and in particular my all-time top-ten records and the “seeking” bit will involve trying to track down singers or members from the bands in question. Somewhat fortuitously, all but one of the vocalists is still alive, but the bad news is I’ve got to try and find people in America and France as well as the UK, and some of the songs were recorded over thirty years ago (one nearly fifty years ago).
Well if it was easy, it wouldn’t be fun would it?! And even if I don’t quite find everybody, at least I know I can ramble and digress with the best of them! So here’s to another bout of “seeking” which hopefully won’t become too desperate, but will result in a book that some of you will want to read.
BearManor Media has been kind enough to show interest in my biography of Marie Prevost. I thought you might want to read these extracts from three e-mails I sent to someone whose research on Marie I had genuinely admired. I haven’t included the replies because of what follows:
“I readily admit that I am not an expert – and that your knowledge of Marie and her life is far greater… I have retyped the acknowledgements with a paragraph mentioning you and your fantastic site, but I would also note the source of any images you are prepared to let me use.”
“I’ve been reading through some of your older posts and saw one about people using your work as their own to write about Marie. I hope I’ve been open enough to tell you what I was doing, that this is only a part-time hobby and that if you were to publish a book, it is likely to be about as definitive as you can get. In fact, I’d be first in the queue to buy it...”
“Until two months ago, the thought/hope/prospect (call it what you will) of a book deal was nothing other than a dream. I have self-published more than a dozen books and lost money on every single one of them. Hobbies tend to cost money, but it was my choice and if it bothered me that much, I could always stop. I just wanted to write and if friends and family wanted to read my books, then I’d probably just give them a copy – but that’s just me. What’s happened in the past few weeks has been a total surprise – I’m just excited to see a book produced by a professional company as opposed to editing, typesetting and designing everything myself. I actually don’t care if it makes money or not – if I did, I’m absolutely sure I’d pick someone well-known... Sorry for bothering you. “
This is part of a lengthy blog on this person’s website:
Recently, someone wanted all the research I had not yet blogged about for free because they “just didn’t have time” to read books. He hadn’t even heard of Marie Prevost until last year, and refused to do research unless it was all online. I didn’t give him any of my research. Ultimately, he used [my] posts and other webpages about Marie for a biography which is now being published by a house infamous for its inaccurate and cheap bios. He, of course, wanted more free stuff from me once he inked a deal with the publishing house — free info from me for a book he is making money off of. When I pointed this out to him, he acted as though I was stepping on his dreams, then complained that he wouldn’t make much money anyway because Marie wasn’t famous enough.
Part of this is certainly true, I rarely read complete books and I hadn’t heard of Marie Prevost until 2012, I readily admit that I’m new to all this and if I’d gone about asking for help in the “wrong way”, then I probably wouldn’t argue, but to see words completely twisted and my character effectively stained in a public forum is, let’s say disappointing.
I might be wrong, but I’m presuming you could have the best research in the world and still churn out a poor book, simply because you actually can’t write very well. Other people might research differently and probably comparatively “better” than I do, but I’ve counted FIFTY-FOUR separate sources for my attempt at telling the Marie Prevost story. I certainly don’t over-estimate my own ability, but I do believe I can write. I’ll leave it up to others to judge how close to the line this particular person is treading.
And here is another paragraph from the blog – I sincerely hope I’m not being considered a bully by definition.
A full length, comprehensive and factual book about Marie Prevost will take the kind of time and money I don’t have right now, and I would bet none of the bullies who has emailed me has that kind of time or money, either. If they’re the kind of people who think everything they read on blogs is true, that everything women do can be appropriated by men, that a little online research is all one needs for a proper bio, then no, they have no idea what they’re doing. They just don’t.
Temper that with the following opinions of two undeniable Marilyn Monroe experts (Marijane and Hanna) about my self-published MM bio which was researched exactly the same way…
“Richard, when taking into consideration how many YEARS it takes for us fans to discern fact from fiction and considering the huge, awful, just ridiculous errors in some of the more famous bios, what you have accomplished is nothing short of remarkable. You did more than a “reasonable” job, you did an amazing job and you should be proud of
“I have come away with a sense of pride that the Author, who started out knowing very little about Marilyn, has shown himself how to use the evidence provided and write a very good book. I just wish others would do so! Richard does not claim to be an expert on Marilyn . . .as so many have done before and his book is certainly not the doorstop he makes it out to be! The only time I would use it as a doorstop would be to make myself fall over it, to remind me to read it again, which I certainly will!”
I’m just an ordinary bloke, with an ordinary job, who likes to write in his spare time. I could bin this book tomorrow and my life wouldn’t change. I’m not going to mention the person involved or their site: I am bothered by what’s been written, I probably shouldn’t be, but that’s just me and I’ve no intention in trading insults. I hope I'm better than that.
All I will say is my book might be published, it might not, but whatever happens, I’ve certainly learned a lesson about human nature.
Almost ten years ago, I embarked on what was to be my first attempt at a novel. Coming up to a decade and several rewrites later, it is finally starting to take shape. I’m certainly not a novelist—I’m not even sure if I’m a decent writer— but this book is, or will be something very important to me.
The book revolves around two students, Matthew and Jodie, who meet at college in the 1980s. The book isn’t auto-biographical, but I wanted to be comfortable about the setting. Maybe unusually, no other character will be properly defined. The story is simply about the relationship between these two teenagers and covers some pretty difficult subjects (which I’m not planning on mentioning here), and any other rounded protagonist would merely serve to distract.
I have written 44,000 words so far and what follows are two very brief extracts. One from Matt and Jodie’s “first date” and the second a “morning after the night before” for Matt. Please ignore any typos or grammatical errors… story first, English accuracy second…
Any comments would be more than welcome—unless they include the word “crap”
The restaurant was fairly busy. Not packed, but there seemed a nice atmosphere or buzz about the place. We received a friendly welcome from what appeared to be one of the waiters—the notepad sticking out of his apron and pen behind his ear gave it away—I confirmed that we had booked and we were duly escorted over to a small table, at the end of a row of other tables set up for dining couples at the far side of the room. The tablecloths were of the disposable variety, but comprised the red, white and green colours of the Italian flag, adorned with a small candle flickering away happily in the centre.
Jodie slung her jacket over the back of her chair. She had taken the seat next to the back wall, which meant she could look out across pretty much the whole of the restaurant. I couldn’t but I was more than happy with the view!
We were handed menus and asked what we wanted to drink. We decided to sample the house white wine—a bit of a gamble on my part, because I was hardly a connoisseur—and within moments, a different waiter brought along a wine-filled glass container which, to the untrained eye, looked like a cross between a large flask from a chemistry lab and some sort of urine specimen bottle. Right at that moment, the reality of the taste could only be better than the prospect.
The waiter poured a small amount of wine into my glass, stopped (too quickly for my liking) and looked enquiringly at me. I glanced at him, and then across at Jodie, who was already giggling. “Try it!”
“Because that’s what you do. Make sure it tastes okay then he’ll fill up both glasses.”
I peered sheepishly up at the waiter, who didn’t quite manage to stop rolling his eyes in time. “It’ll be fine. Thank you.”
I couldn’t be certain, but with glasses duly filled, I was sure he mumbled something under his breath as he turned and walked away. I felt such an idiot.
“You don’t come to restaurants very often do you?!” Jodie was still chuckling as she sampled the wine. “Mmm, that’s nice. Quite dry.” She took another sip.
“Yeah, dry. Just what I was thinking!”
Jodie put a hand across her mouth, spluttered as she swallowed the wine, then laughed out loud.
“Anything you fancy?” I nodded towards the menu that was covering most of Jodie’s side of the table. Jodie’s smile and raised eyebrows were enough to make me look at the floor as I felt my cheeks starting to glow—yet again. “. . . on the menu!”
“Ahhh,” Jodie sighed melodramatically. “Surprise, surprise I’ll have the chicken salad.”
It only needed a quick look to confirm what I’d picked earlier, a hot and spicy pizza with pepperoni and chilli, although I should really have had a plan B because the jet-black hair and slightly-olive skinned waiter who was on his way over to our table could only be . . . yes, it was bloody Luigi.
He acknowledged Jodie, then me: “Ciao Signora, Signore. Are you ready to order?”
I so wanted to say “hello Dave” back, but after my faux pas with the wine, I thought it best just to be polite: “Hi . . . er, yes . . . can we have the chicken salad and a pizza . . . Inferno please?”
I gave myself a mental pat on the back for using the restaurant’s name for the pizza, thereby avoiding having to say “pepperoni”, and denying Luigi the chance to repeat the order but roll several extra r’s into “pepperrrrroni”.
“Grazie. Any garlic bread or chips?”
He actually said “cheeps”, but I’ve opted to anglicise rather than try to attempt anything vaguely phonetic.
“No thanks.” I smiled and handed back the two menus.
I woke to find that my head had been transformed into a lead weight that was way too heavy to be lifted up off the pillow. The scuffling sounds from the corridor suggested that some of the lads were getting themselves ready for some midweek education, one instructive boat I looked destined to miss. I groaned loudly as I rolled over, rubbed the fingers and thumb of my left hand across two very painful temples and, with admirable concentration and no little effort, managed to sit up.
Having struggled to my feet and shambled pathetically over to the sink. I turned on the cold tap, cupped my hands and doused my face several times. The effect was one of apparently instant refreshment, which disappeared as soon as the tap was turned back off. I screwed up my eyes and became aware of a sickly, bilious feeling somewhere between my stomach and my throat—although I couldn’t work out exactly where.
I glanced over at the foot of the door, half expecting to see a reply to my note, but there was nothing except the faint streak of brightness from the corridor lights. My thoughts turned to Jodie. How had she slept? How did she feel after last night? I shook my head to banish any negative thoughts. There was no logical reason for me to doubt that the special person I saw in Jodie was real and, more relevantly, that she saw something similar in me too. The most pressing concern was to get rid of the throbbing pain in my head: then, and only then, would I be ready to face however much of the day was left.
I didn’t quite make it for the eleven o’clock lecture—mainly because it started at ten. The topic was due to be Victorian social history. It was actually quite an interesting subject, or rather it should have been. Sadly the History department seemed to be inundated with particularly dull lecturers, and Mr Henderson was just one more face in a wholly uninspiring crowd.
Buoyed by a cheese and ham toasted sandwich—served with lettuce, tomato and a nicely blackened piece of cellophane which was well and truly stuck to the bread—I was able to face the afternoon’s lessons with renewed energy. I managed to last through two one-hour talks, along with a half hour tutorial. Seemingly the powers that be were slightly more impressed with the quality of my work than I was with the standard of some of the lecturers, but it was certainly comforting to know that as far as the course was concerned, I had made a steady start.
As I strolled back across the campus, I wondered whether there would be a piece of paper waiting for me. I turned the key and clumsily opened the door, the simple action being complicated somewhat by the weighty text books I was carrying. There was no note. I flung the books onto the bed—two remained on the duvet, but one bounced off the edge and onto the floor, coming to rest face down on the rug. I bent down and dejectedly spun the book back onto the bed. . . .
As you can see, I’ve decided to overhaul the site—hopefully a thumbs up if you like orange!—and this is the first of a new series of blogs, with all my previous offerings now consigned to the “archive” tab.
I’m intending to focus more on my BearManor Media books, and although I’ve retained the reviews of all my self-published books, they are now neatly gathered together on one single page. The tab containing photos of friends with books is still here—waiting patiently for any newcomers (you still know who you are!) and I’ve kept the page about some sporting exploits from yesteryear, mainly because my left hip is in a lot of pain at the moment, and I’m trying desperately to remember a time when I was even reasonably athletic.
The need for replacement joints is sadly inevitable—albeit not imminent—but I’m hoping there’ll be a way of better managing the pain, because every step hurts at the moment and a 100 mile-a-day drive to work certainly isn’t going to make things any better. That said, with the announcement last Monday of two layers of management being removed as part of our ongoing restructure, I might not have the drive for too much longer! And yes, the CV has been updated—looks quite good . . . I’d employ me!!
Work on the Marie Prevost bio is back on track—sincere thanks to everyone who left such positive messages in response to the inaccurate and actually quite upsetting comments made on another blog page. The fact remains that however my research is perceived, I believe that I can write—writers surely don’t get offered contracts purely on the basis of an interesting subject?!
Finally, I’m really excited to receive the first copies of Desperately Seeking Susan Foreman—fingers crossed the reviews will be good and the book will prove popular. I’ll post a photo when the books arrive, but for now it’s time to hobble to the kitchen for my Sunday morning cornflakes.
Until next time!