Saturday, 15 April 2017

A (Reluctant) Outtake from Shiny Coin - plus FREE stuff.

Don't forget - I have ten free paperbacks left. 

Drop me a line on the usual channels and I'll despatch a signed paperback, free of charge, after Easter. It's a lovely looking book and so far, it's been well reviewed.


For e-book readers, I'm on Kindle Countdown on May 4th. 

You can avoid the Twitter Countdownquake by getting one of these, for free :-D



Here's an extract from Shiny Coin. 
Well, its an outtake, but, really, it should have gone in. 
I'm kicking myself.

I have this idea, oft expressed, that readers don't want long books nowadays. 
Shiny, well reviewed so far, is under 70k words, but it is actually closer to 90k in uncut form. Contemporary dramatist, Terry Tyler, who has become a good cyber friend of mine in the past two years, commented in her review that the beginning was a slow one, like many of my books. 

I wasn't surprised, nor was I offended: Many people say the same thing. 
I guess this is how I roll. 

One of my favourite books is Harvest Home by Thomas Tryon. 

That opening is so funereal it is like reading backwards, yet the ending is utterly memorable, I realised that a slow, in-depth introduction was, in that case, a fundamental investment in the climax. 
I have forgotten much of the beginning of that book, written in the nineteen seventies, but I have never, ever forgotten the ending. 

Because of this, and some of King's best stuff, the early stuff, Rosemary's Baby (or any Ira Levin), and Burnt Offerings by Robert Marasco, and films such as The Wild Bunch, Straw Dogs (a major influence on Shiny Coin) and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, I write climaxes. 
That's my be all and end all. 
I want to make readers remember a climax for a long, long time. 

The 101 bloggers and MA lecturers tell you to put your best stuff at the beginning. 
I never understood that edict. A reader should trust a writer and they have more than enough evidence nowadays, with the free preview, swift reviews, and blogs and social media, to know what they are getting when they spend their two pounds or so on an ebook. 

Those of you who are into horror will, of course, remember Robin Hardy's The Wicker Man and it's astonishing, unpredictable climax. Yet, the vast majority of the book (and the film) is an introduction to that ending.  Nothing much happens. But I remember I didn't mind. I trusted the writer.
I knew something big was going to happen.

Times change and so do readers, it seems. 
I support work on a Creative Writing course. One session, I put up three free Amazon introductions as part of an exercise in Literary Openings. 
One, a popular Indie thriller - so poorly written I would have given up long ago if that were the extent of my ability - begins in the middle of the action, mid-torture, as it were, a young boy in a modern Nazi torture scenario, a bit of an Apt Pupil rip-off by the looks of it. 
I was expecting my students to laugh along with me, (which is, in itself, a cheap and nasty populist gesture), but to my astonishment, they liked it - some decent writers among them too. 
I took that away with me, still astonished. 

So, when I wrote Shiny I resolved to be brutal, without compromising my principles. So I have taken notice of the market, what's out there, and come the drafting stage, I was savage. 
I chopped 15k words from the initial draft. 
Nothing superfluous survived. 
Mark Twain's famous dictum was observed as if it were a Parliamentary white paper.

This extract, placed before the appearance of Toby Gifford, the nasty villain of the piece, would have slowed the beginning down even more so it had to go. 
Yet, it explained, with minimum exposition, Carol's love of the night, and the darkness, and, again, without the need for explanation, it attempts to explain her love of the Gothlife too. It's a huge metaphor, which, I reasoned, would probably have been missed. 
So I binned it on draft three. 

I looked at it the other night and I found myself longing for the seventies and a world where people had time and patience. It probably should have stayed in.

Marky xx

PS: Oh, and beware; this extract contains a mother of a run-on sentence. I love a good run-on sentence. If it was good enough for Trollope, it's bloody good enough for YOU. 

PPS: Aren't you sick of staccato sentencing yet? :-D

PPPS: I mean, like, generally?

Night time. 
That night. A time for sleep and for peace, but I never sleep. Cannot sleep for more than an hour or two at a time. When I was a child, I slept normally and safely, my father in the next room, but that ended in my teenage years and the insomnia continues to this day.
Yes, I nap in the afternoon after the bookshop, and I can fall asleep listening to my music or reading a particularly relaxing book, but I come to life at night and have done for the past four years. 
I suppose it is only to be expected, of course. 
I have taken the tablets and the pills and the ointments and the alternative treatments but none worked for me and thus, I embrace the night and work with it, confront its messengers, accept their offerings.

I once stayed with a girlfriend on the Kent coast, on the estuary, within sight of the nuclear plant on the escarpment opposite those calm seas. 
My friend was from a prosperous family and their house stood sentinel, detached and severed, in the middle of acres of hop fields, rows and rows of orchards growing apples and pears and grapes and figs, and at night, as I tried to sleep, failing miserably, I cast my consciousness as far as it could go, but I could hear nothing and the night outside my window was a glorious, unequalled black.
I could see nothing and hear nothing.
Not rain, nor wind, not the hooting of owls, nor the crossing of geese, nor the passing of gulls. 

I experienced nothingness, the intense silence of the void. I learned that the night was something to embrace and experience and it was a thing of sheer wonder. That somnolent, endless quiet, that eerie hush of the grave. 
We sleep and we miss this. 

That insight was a wonderful feeling; sleep was an option, not a necessity. In Kent, I stayed up all night, by the window staring into the void, listening to its nothingness and it felt like sleep. It felt like peace in my soul. It calmed me and by the time the first cock crowed and the sun began its crimson ascent into its natural domain, I felt wonderful. I may have slept for an hour. I may not. 
My consciousness was calmed and somewhere in the distance, enveloped in the black of the night outside. 
I simply could not get that where I lived, in Manchester, where there is no silence. 
There is nothing but life and movement and noise.
I couldn't remember if I could get it in The Fields, my home town, but imagine my delight when I did finally come home and discovered I could.
I had forgotten how peaceful it could be here, in a town of old people, a country town, a town of conformity and order over chaos, a town of early nights and parish ordnances, of expensive beds and respectful neighbours.
It felt like peace in the middle of a conflict. 
These nights can be as special as those in Kent. They can be silent and dark and peaceful. Nights here are like death might be, a darkness of contemplation. 
At three in the morning, on a weeknight, no cars pass by on the way to Oxmouth or Follow Field, the drivers tucked up safely in bed. It almost seems rude here to drive past midnight. Streetlights are dim and there are no midnight walkers on my street, save the odd student full of themselves as they pass, and they are soon gone. 

Night rain is the best, for an insomniac like me. 
I can sit, in my armchair, my recliner by the window, my dad’s old chair, and watch the rain fall and better, I can listen to it, unsullied by the sounds we humans make and which they now call pollution. 
In the darkness, the rain is even more glorious as it pitter-patters on my window and some nights, it is accompanied by a magnificent wind from all points of the compass. 
I have, in the conflict of a summer night, walked into the garden and stood, naked in the rain, my pale, guarded, protected body exposed to the elements, rainwater pouring from head to my varnished toes, the moonlit sky, blue and black and scarlet, the cloudburst a foreboding omen, a warning from Thor, maybe even Odin.
I have stood there and felt each raindrop touch me, the accompanying wind in my hair, tendrils stroking my face like one of the hundred lovers I have foregone this past four years since...since...
Toby, who came from a different kind of night, a rampaging night, a horror night, a night of vampires and beasts and monsters; a night so cold, I could never embrace its beauty, because what beauty there may have been was coated in fear and loathing and nothing but.


  1. You write beautifully - am very envious! Thanks for sharing the outtake. Definitely makes me want to bump your book up my cyber TBR pile!

    1. Thank you, Rose. That's a very nice thing to say. It's much appreciated and thanks for taking the time :-D

  2. Okay, do you already know what I'm going to say??!!

    In an ideal world, every reader should 'trust' that a writer might be bringing his better stuff out later, but in reality, they don't. Think about it. Do you? Your books are always worth reading, slow or pacy, but I'm talking generally here. If you start a book and it's a bit slow, or start watching a film, and it's a bit nothingy, there's a good chance you'll abandon it. The point is this: the reader doesn't KNOW it's going to get more interesting. All he can see is what's in front of him. First impressions matter. If you walk into a job interview and seem a bit don't-care-ish, because you're holding back, the interviewer doesn't know that your enthusiasm for the job will come out when you're actually doing it. And this has little to do with the soundbite world we live in now; it's just human nature. No writer has a right to be read; it's up to us to make the reader want to carry on, and you do this with a beginning that's just as good as the middle and the end.

    I agree about people having more patience with stuff back in the 1970s, because there was less entertainment available to us. Less options. We might stick with a slightly lacklustre TV drama because there was nothing else on, for instance. Sadly, though, we no longer live in that world. To do well in this far more competitive 21st century, we all have to 'up our game' a bit. Maybe the answer is to find a happy medium between the book you want to write, and being aware of what the reader will find appealing. I don't know if anyone ever gets that medium just right!

    Like you, I think the ending is just as important, but it's not MORE important, because if the beginning doesn't grab the reader, he or she will never get to read that brilliant climax. Oo-er Mrs.

    btw, that passage is fab. I wonder if you might revise your thinking about keeping your books short to make them saleable? 70K is very short for a novel. You could have kept it to 90K words. All my books are over 90K; three of them are 120K. I don't have one single review complaining about the length, except for a couple for Best Seller (40K word novella) saying that it was too short. A book is only too long if you don't like what you're reading, or if there is much that is superfluous to the story, or holds up the plot so that the reader is thinking 'oh get on with it'. This part you've written is terrific mood and character development. A 60K book can contain waffling that should be cut, while a 150K one can have every word worth reading. I am writing this from a reader's POV, btw!

    Hope that gives a bit of food for thought. And the beginning of Shiny wasn't boring, or slow at all, it was just low-key. That's fine, isn't it? The reason I often write about pace in reviews is to let readers who like a lot of stuff HAPPENING know to hang in there, because it soon kicks in!!

  3. Morning, Terry

    Loads to respond to here - and thank you for taking the time to comment in such depth. I know how busy you are - this is the first chance I have had to connect this week!

    You are right of course about the beginning. I don't think slow is necessarily boring -
    I think a writer should explore words for a start, sentencing and paragraphing, just try stuff out. I know that in "Indie", which is notoriously conformist, story is everything, but there's room for experimentation. I think so, at least. As regards slow paced intros, you are right to talk about alternative entertainment. A good friend of mine introduced me to the concept of FOMO - Fear of Missing Out - suffered especially, but not exclusively, by the young. So why a novelist is intricately starting a novel at their own pace, the reader is already thinking of what's happening on Snapchat. Anyway, following on from a chat we had, I have a book in my head, which I shall probably write, that came to me on a run last week, that will easily be the fastest paced book I have ever written. It seems like every time I put something on paper, like this blog, I try and disprove it :-D

    I guess we don't know; we simply don't know.

    That length thing. I have always disagreed with you slightly here, without knowing particularly why: I thought 70K was pushing it, to be honest. Especially in the modern era.

    A big long book is a quest. Have you had a go at Marlon James' Brief History of Seven Killings? That's a massive book, 250+, part-written in patois. I was determined to finish that and I did so. I read twenty pages at a time. I didn't finish The Goldfinch, because, quite frankly, I simply didn't care about the characters (standard American Manhattan class), but I wasn't daunted to begin with. I love to read a long book. Do you think willingness to read long books depends on the genre? What's post-apocalyptic fiction generally like in terms of length? I Am Legend cannot be more than 50k? Yet The Stand must be 300k!!! Incidentally, I have read that most contemporary fiction writers have been told to trim their work by their editors.

    To be honest, Terry, I doubt I'll write a book longer than 70k again. Carla, Criminals and Shiny are all 70k and my best ever seller, UV, is 50k, which is plenty for that genre. In the end, its all about the story.

    I did like this outtake I've got several more. I've got a beauty where Carol actually buys the reprint of the comic at the centre of the book and assesses it. Isn't it a pain when you have to trim! Thanks for the kind comment too :-D

    Mark x

    1. There's a world of diff between 250K words, and just having another 10k words in to keep in some good stuff, though!!! I started The Goldfinch and abandoned, too, just because it didn't grab me, either, although I admit the size of the paperback put me off!!!! I don't think about the length of a book before I read it, though, generally, and don't even look at the page count - if it's good I want to read it, and if it's not, I don't care how short it is. I'm surprised your books are that short, they don't feel like it. UV is almost a novella, then! I didn't realise. I tend to read for long stretches - if I love a book I'll read it over a period of 1-3 days.

      Post apoc fiction length - I don't know. I've read 3 whole series (2 of which are 8 books long), and they're all about 70-100K, I think. I read a lot of histfic, which tends to be longer. I asked Gemma Lawrence how many words were in her latest book (the Norman conquest one!), and she didn't know; she thought between 100 and 120K. It's selling really well. I wonder if you over-think it? My take on it is that a book is as long as it needs to be to tell the story properly, that's all. My current project is a series because the story fits nicely into 3 books of around 100K! I agree, over 200K is TOO long, but we're talking extremes here. I've read several times that publishers prefer books to be between 70 and 100K, and won't look at anything over 120K, but you're not looking to be published by a publisher, so you can do what you like. You buy a book because the title, cover, blurb and genre spark your interest, not because of its page count.

      I think we come from this whole thing from vastly different outlooks. I don't know what you mean by 'in Indie', exactly? If you mean that self-pub books tend to conform to established boundaries then yes, I agree to a large extent; I believe that to be because a lot of self-pub authors are a)not that talented and b) desperate to nail the formula to get a best seller, so try to conform to what has worked before. I don't think most readers are even aware of whether books are trad, indie press or self-published. You only have to read lots of reviews to see that. I read an article by a book blogger recently, in which she talked about her lightning bulb moment when she actually started looking at the 'published by' bit on Amazon, and realised about different publishers bringing out different types of (and standards of) books. Rosie, for instance, didn't understand about indie publishers being different from trad pub until I explained it to her. As for the not concentrating on for more than five minutes before you're wondering what's on Snapchat, you're not writing for that market, though, are you? You're writing for people who like to sit and read books. The point I made about having more competition, generally, is just that; if there were only 10 books in the world, you would probably read them all, regardless. But there are probably 100 million, so in order to be read, you need to be competitive.

      We could go on about this all day, I know!!!!!!!!! But next time, please don't take out your wonderful passages for the sake of conforming to some imagined word count ideal. If you want to trim, you can do it in individual sentences, so it's hardly noticeable, and can make them more succinct, too. I trimmed 6K words from Kings and Queens by doing this (because I wanted to get it to 120K and send it to agents, although I eventually decided against this). This is only written as an opinion, btw - I know I am no expert!

  4. Superb outtake Mark and a terrific advert for your writing, but it should have stayed in the book, IMO. It doesn't matter to me if there's a steady start to a book, it's all down to whether the writing engages me or not. If I find it interesting, even if not much is going on, I'll totally stick with it assuming something will happen at some point. I have read long books that felt too short and short books that felt lamentably long, so there's really no right or wrong, just what works for an individual reader.

    1. Oh yes, yes yes - it'a all about whether or not the writing itself grabs you. That is ALL it's down to. I agree 100% with all you have said - so much that I think Mark and I needn't have bothered with our long discussion!!

  5. I found chapter 0 intriguing, had to keep reading to put the pieces together. I have no beef with a slow start. Carol returning to Wheatley Fields and re-establishing herself - vital to the plot. The only long sentences that trouble me are those in which the sense becomes lost. Or endless strings of adjectives. The outtake is beautifully observed and would have added layers to the suspense: what did Toby do to Carol??? 'Shiny' is the best book I've read so far this year and I can't imagine anything else surpassing it.