So, here's the thing! Is it possible to write more than one book at a time? Oh, I know James Patterson does it - he usually has about ten projects on the go at once. But 1) I'm not James Patterson - don't say, "I've noticed" like that, Toady; and 2) James Patterson has lots of helpers - a bit like Santa with his elves! Now if I could get me some of those there elves. They could write the books, and I'd just put my name on them. Hey, why didn't I think of that before? Are there any elves out there?
Now, I don't want to wade into the long grass regarding paid reviews, sock puppets, and castigating your rivals, but I feel a bit miffed that every author - and I don't differentiate between indies or trads - is being tarred with the same brush. I'd like my own brush, please.
I'd like to state here and now, in the open, and without any fear of contraception, that I am not now, and have never been a member of the paid review and sock puppet party of the United Kingdom or the United States of America. As such, if a review attached to one of my books says that said book is rubbish, you can wholly believe said review. It has not been written by any of my relatives, I have not paid for it, and I certainly didn't write the damn thing - the review, not the book!
So, that's that off my chest, and I feel much better for it. Let's talk about characters now. Oh dear! I killed off some, promoted others, and introduced two more. Some love 'em, some hate 'em. I don't know... what to do, what to do. Well, should we have a poll? Let's see what the readers want!
So, here's the thing! I've just finished a little story called 'As You Sow, So Shall You Reap' for an anthology. Yeah, it's about murder! Yeah, the characters are fantastic! The Detective Inspector is a grumpy old sod, but nice with it - yeah, a bit like me, Toady - called Inigo Morgan. On his travels, he meets a pair of obese twins who run a cafe - and I had in mind Tweedledee and Tweedledum when I was writing their interactions with Inigo. There's strange places as well, like the London Necropolis Company who had their own railway line to transport the London dead to Brookwood Cemetery in Surrey! You'll be glad to know that they don't do that anymore! Well, not legally anyway, but I understand there's been a few bodies dumped there with missing organs! Hey, maybe there's a story there somewhere!
The story is set in Little Haven in Pembrokeshire (see picture below) on the Welsh coast. No, you can't dowload the anthology yet because the other people who are writing their little stories aren't as task-centred as me! They're dragging their arses around wondering when, where, who, why? And generally shilly-shallying like writers do. Not me, I just do it, eh Toady? You and me against the world!
So, what's he going to do next, I hear you holler? The Graves Beneath Eternity Wharf is my considered answer. Well, after I've finished this bloggy thing, of course. Promises is promises, ain't they, Toady? The trouble is, as I was telling some body parts earlier, that when you write a number of different series, it takes a couple of days to swap heads. I mean, I've been a 59-year-old grumpy Inigo Morgan for two weeks. Before that, I was a 31-year-old Jed Parish for four months, and now I've got to become Quigg until June. I can't remember how old he is until I re-familiarise myself with the storylines again. What I do know is that, regardless of age, they all have different personalities. All I can say, is that it's a good job my own personality can accommodate multiple personalities. And you know what they say - one personality can do something the other personalities don't know about!
Which personality are you writing this bloggy thing in, I hear you ask? And well you might! The thing is, I could be anybody, couldn't I? I've put a picture up there on the right, so you know I'm 59 - or do you? I've created a complete personality on this website, but I might very well be someone else. I could be an 18 year-old Ukranian drummer girl for all you know. I'm not, but that picture doesn't do me justice. I'm often mistaken for a young Clint Eastwood - you know, the one in Dirty Harry - "Make my day, punk!" I have to autograph their Magnums (ice creams not guns) when they recognise me! But that's it see, you have to give your characters a personality, one that people will remember forever. Make 'em speak differently, give 'em a catchphrase, make it so that they seep into people's heads, so that they feel as though your characters are real, that they want to meet them when they're not so busy being characters. Yeah, it's not just writers who are crazy people, you know - readers are as well! Right, that's it! Ta ta for now, crazy people.
So, here's the thing! I'd finished the 5th book in the Parish & Richards series 'His Wrath is Come', and started a long short for an anthology. As I was writing I began to wonder whether the lead characters in both sounded similar - well, you do, don't you? And it doesn't do any harm to remind oneself of the rudiments of creating characters, dontcha know!
I mean, let's mull over the author's voice. I know, you're asking, what the hell is that? Well, take these bloggy things for example. If someone read this blog - having read my previous blogs - they'd know it was my fabulous work because of my voice, which consists of a number of exceptionally well thought-out indicators: 1) I meander all over the damned place - so I've been told anyway; 2) Toady does a lot of jabbering from behind me, but when I turn round he's never there - how weird is that? There's a name for things that appear in the corner of your eye - they call them shadow people - I see a lot of them, and sometimes have conversations with them, invite them for tea, and...
Anyway, enough about my little idiosyncracies. So, you can see, some authors have a voice you can spot from a thousand other authors. Not all authors have got a unique voice though! If you read ten anonymous chapters from ten of your favourite authors all writing about the same thing, would you be able to say, "That's Stephen King" or "That's JRR Tolkein"? If you're an author, you gotta find your voice, and don't come looking round hereabouts 'cause I ain't stumbled over any strange sounding voices.
Next, is the characters. How do you make each one different from all your other characters? How can the reader spot it's that particular character in the middle of things without you having to say, this is Queequeg - don't you just love that name? I mean, didn't Dickens and Melville steal all the good names, like Uriah Heep (also a fantabulous band), Tommy Traddles, Ebenezer Scrooge, Samuel Slumkey... So many, and now what's left for us poor authors? I've named two characters today - Socrates Jones and Tegryn (Tig) Roberts - See, that's what I'm saying - that Dickens has got a lot to answer for! I've been playing around with Jones though. First I had Balthazar Jones, then Tiberius Jones, and now Socrates Jones - I know, call me wishy-washy - and I'm still not happy. If Dickens wasn't already dead...
So, apart from a name, how else can we make a character different from other characters. Hey up, Toady's made a list!
'Is it a long list, Toady?'
'Long lists are the only good lists, boss.'
'If you say so. Go on then, tell us what's on your list?'
'I haven't had time to put them in order of importance, boss.'
'Be reckless, do it anyway.'
'You got it.'
Differentiate your characters by one or more of:
The way they do things;
What drives them (motivations);
Provide an image, so that readers can visualise;
Differentiate even minor characters;
Flaws, strengths and weaknesses;
Use of similes and metaphors;
Psychologica traits: (Psychotic: aggressive, impulsive, cold, unempathetic, creative, anti-social, impersonal, egocentric, tough-minded. Neurotic: anxious, angry, guilty, depressed, easily stressed, interprets ordinary situations as threatening and minor frustrations as hopelessly difficult, self-conscious, shy, trouble controlling urges, phobias);
Characters describe themselves;
Create an image of one person, but hint at another inside;
Don't infodump - build up a character's personality slowly;
Physical traits: Height, weight, colouring, features; sight, smell, hair, voice, dialect;
Social traits: Beliefs and attitudes.
Have I missed anything?
The other thing to remember, is to have your characters change over time - to grow. I made the mistake of keeping a character the same, and readers soon grow bored with a character who doesn't develop, mature, and grow over time.
In 'His Wrath is Come' I created a character called Lola Laveque - See what you think:
Constable Lola Laveque was a short rotund black woman of indeterminate age who wore a permanent smile on her face. He’d caught her eating some strange food out of a plastic container.
‘You wanted to see me?’ he said.
‘And you are?’
‘From the MIT?’
‘Okay, take a seat.’
He looked around but there was nowhere to sit. ‘Where?’
‘People usually perch on the corner of the desk.’
‘Do you want to share my ackee and saltfish?’ she said thrusting the fishy dish under his nose.
He hated fish. ‘Thank you, but I’ve just had lunch.’
‘Don’t know what you’re missing.’
‘Chief Kirby said that you’d found something?’
‘I’m always finding one thing or another in here.’
‘A pattern?’ He was beginning to wonder if he’d stumbled into the twilight zone. The tiny office boasted a desk, a computer, a filing cabinet, a chair, and stacks of files on every surface.
Also, I had Lola using malapropisms - that is misusing similar sounding words - i.e. instead of commendation > combination; instead of presentation > impersonation. And she also practised Hiatian vodou. So, you can see that I gradually created a 3-dimensional person, and people have already asked whether she'll be included in the next book in the series.
Oh, the other thing - before I shillyshally back to my writing - is do you know why I used Lucy Van Pelt in the picture? Give yourself a high-five if you do!
So, here's the thing! Hordes of fans, well a few anyway, have said how they'd like to see the Parish & Richards books adapted for television - I agree! Well, I would wouldn't I, but no... I'm being serious. I mean, what's on the TV worth watching these days? Bugger all is my answer - excuse um moi! Ha, ha, you didn't know I could speak French, did you? Anyway, A Touch of Frost came to an end, and that was brilliant. Dalziel & Pascoe came to end, and that was just as brilliant. What have we got left? Oh, there's been some other adaptations.
Mark Billingham's Thorne is quite good. David Morrissey does a reasonable job as DI Tom Thorne, but for the life of me I can't recall any of the other characters, which is not good. You've probably guessed I'm a character man, I love creating characters, and that's what a lot of the reviews say - "Parish & Richards are wonderful characters, and they want to hug the Chief..." Then there's The Body Farm - not good. Now, Waking the Dead was brilliant - why? Because Trevor Eve and Sue Johnston were brilliant. In The Body Farm, Tara Fitzgerald and her bunch of weirdos have no personalities - they're one-dimensional. Silent Witness was also very good, but I quite fancied Emilia Fox who plays Nikki Alexander. I'll do some more, but I'll let you into a little secret now - Of course, there has to be a good storyline, but unless there are some three-dimensional engaging characters, it's generally no good because people want to root for or hate your characters.
Stephen Tompskinson also does a good job with Peter Robinson's DCI Alan Banks, and I also like Andrea Lowe as DS Annie Cabot (but I think I might have a bit of crush on her!) The Killing (Danish version) was also fantastic, but the ending was rubbish - again the characters were suberb. Sofie Grabol as Inspector Sarah Lund was really excellent - sacrificing everything to get to the truth. Her partner, Jan Meyer was very good as well. Also, there's a 2nd series due to be aired on BBC4 on 19th November - only nine days to go - Excellent!
Now, you'll note that I've only been discussing British TV crime series - Well, that's because I live in Britain, Toady! But hey, I'm not a complete anglophile - I've just ordered the complete Prison Break (series 1 - 4 including the Final Break) just in case there absolutely nothing on over Christmas, which is probably a dead certainty!
Now, let's continue on, Toady. Taggart - getting a bit dated, and without Mark McManus it was never the same. Sherlock Holmes - I'm afraid I still like the Black & White ones with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Hawthorne (I know, call me a dinosaur!) I definitely don't like that weird-looking Cumberpatch doll! Midsomer Murders - dear me! Morse with John Thaw and Kevin Whately was brilliant. The spin-off Lewis isn't bad, but without Thaw, well it's just not the same is it. Agatha Christie's Poirot with David Suchet is also excellent, but again a bit dated. New Tricks and Foyle's War I've never fancied. Luther was very good, but I began to lose sympathy with the character. The Wire in the Blood with Robson Green and Hermoine Norris was fabulous, as was Rebus with Ken Stott, and Spiral - the French series, Rose & Maloney with Sarah Lancashire and Phil Davies (I particularly like Phil Davies - I think he's a superb actor, and was excellent in this series). Linda LaPlant's Prime Suspect with Helen Mirren was brilliant. In the past, there was Cracker with Robbie Coltrane, which was wonderful. There are some I've not mentioned, which are okay, such as George Gently and Criminal Minds.
So, the common thread running through each of the TV crime series that are successful is a strong lead character(s), and strong supporting characters as well. In the Parish & Richards series we've got Jed Parish, Mary Richards, Ray Kowalski, Chief Day, Doc Michelin, and Paul Toadstone. I know there are others, but let's focus on Parish and Richards to start with. Who do you think should play these two?
Now, I've looked at some male UK actors, but none make me think of Jed Parish. I think I'd have better luck trying find someone to play Mary Richards. So, I don't want to colour your judgement, who do you think should play these two? Now, that's not necessarily a redundant question, because I'm teaching myself scriptwriting with a view to writing a Parish & Richards script for TV - How hard can it be? Anyway, I'll keep you in the loop, but books and scripts to write Toady, so toodle-pip for now!
So, here's the thing! I've just published the 4th Parish and Richards novel - The Shadow of Death. I know, it's a bit scary. Why is it scary you ask? Well, although it's my 16th book, you wonder if the reader will like the story, the plot, the characters, the descriptions, and well... I'm sure you get my drift? And when I say "You" I do, of course, mean Toady! I don't care, I say 'publish and be damned', but Toady always worries. As soon as I upload the tome to Amazon he begins to have panic attacks. I have to keep a stock of brown paper bags (you know the ones, the small ones with dinky little handles from Primark), soothing phrases like 'pull yourself together wimp', and marzipan chocolate bars - you don't want to know about those!
Anyway, you'd think it was a pleasant experience, but with Toady nothing is ever simples. I mean, I'm moving on with my life - you know, catching up with my emails, saying 'Hi' to people I've ignored for 4 months, reading stuff that has come through the letterbox and been added to the pile, filling in forms, ringing the bank and pleading with them to reinstate my dedit card, and a million other pathetic things that create stress and never-ending aggravation - In fact, I said to the wife only yesterday, 'Get to the nub. What do you actually do?' So, she says, "Assess whether parents are fit to look after their children!" She's a Social Worker by the way. Yes, I know, they're like the worst kind of effluent in society, but somebody has to keep our children safe from the deranged people who have them. Hey, if the cap fits...
Where was I? Oh yes, Initial Assessment! So, I said: 'What prevents you assessing and reporting on that assessment?', which is what she's paid to do?' Here are some of the things she told me: Hot desking - when she gets in she has to find a desk to sit at; the docking station at the desk she sits at won't work with her laptop - she has to find a computer tech' to sort it out - by the time she actually gets on the computer it's bloody midday - It's a good job I don't work where she works because I'd have to kill someone (or everyone); a million emails from jobsworths; forms that run to pages and pages, which repeat information on other forms attached... Anyway, what I'm saying is: 'What do you actually do?' I write, anything else is an obstacle to be overcome. Things don't get done in my house until I've finished writing my novels. We could all say, but... 'life gets in the way!' Yeah, that's what Toady says. Sometimes, Toady makes me want to strangle him with a wet nappy!
Oh yeah, Toady! Well, as I said, I'm moving on with my life, but that crazy frog is checking to see if anyone has emailed to say how much they loved the book, checking the KDP sales every... 17.5 seconds, checking the book's position in the charts, checking to see if anyone has left a 5* review... Toady drives me to distraction with his checking!
Anyway, the book's out there, at the mercy of readers, waiting for the thumb's up, or the thumb's down. And you know what? I'm trying not to write. WHAT? I hear you mutter. Well, as I said, I've got all these admin' tasks to do, but I created a character called Celia Rowe for the next Parish & Richards book - His Wrath is Come. She's a Haitian and practises voodou, and... Well take a read, you'll get the idea. Characters are like members of the family, and you can hardly move in my house with the number of characters that are vying for my attention. So, this Celie wants me to write about her - Pah! She should be so lucky!
And while we're talking about members of the family - I had five shitzhus until Monday evening, but now I've got four! I know, Mim was 10 year's old, but had tumours in her ear, so the wife and I agreed that it was time to let her go. Not an easy decision, but the right one. We had 10 years of fun and love with her, and she gave us three puppies, which we've still got, so it's not all bad. I've only ever cried twice in 40 years - both times when we lost dogs! Right, Toady and me have got to go now, but... oops, forgot to finish it off... but what? Well, I suppose we'll be back... Didn't someone say that once? Have a good one!
Hi, I'm Tim Ellis - I write a lot and I hope you enjoy what I write.