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What is your book all about? Can you tell us a little more about its genre?
Sow And You Shall Reap is a fast paced modern day macabre thriller set in England then Majorca. I never started out to write Sow And You Shall Reap as a black comedy, but it sort of finally come out that way. Well I think so? Alfred Hitchcock always said Psycho was a black comedy; although it was brilliant, I never got a laugh. But there are snippets in my book that you may find funny. Some people already have found my novel offensive. But that’s no reflection on my own personal views or opinions. It’s just how the characters think and behave. If you’re a cat lover or fond of old people, I’m sorry.
The novel fits into the Horror/suspense genre, along with Stephen King’s The Shining. It shows how cruelty, sexual abuse and greed created this monster of a former care home matron and the haunted hotel that hid her evil secret.
The story unfolds with the two main characters being released from prison after their care home atrocities i.e. former matron, Elizabeth Waverly, and her accomplice, Norman Christie. They team up and see an opportunity to inherit two million pounds. But first they have to kill the main beneficiary, Elizabeth Carragher, with Elizabeth Waverly taking on her identity.
At the reading of the will they see their plans back fire when the solicitors produce a second will and a long lost brother, Victor Carragher, turns up and claims all the money.
Salvaging what they can, they plan to kidnap the brother’s young precocious daughter, Helen, for half the inheritance.
Before the kidnap can be arranged Victor Carragher, a hotel manager, very quickly fulfils a life long ambition and moves to Majorca with his daughter, and new found wealth, to buy his own hotel. The killing couple follow him with Elizabeth Waverly still in disguise helping Victor run the hotel. But unbeknown to them the hotel he purchases is haunted.
What follows is a series of terrifying events including flashbacks of the main characters, the breakdown of their early family lives and how cruelty, abuse and greed, installed with a liberally wielded trouser belt, can manifest itself later like a cancer on their morals.
What gave you the incentive to write this book?
My plot for Sow And You Shall Reap was inspired by the true chilling revelations of the Parkfields nursing home exposé in Somerset during the year 2007; and from my tennis holidays at the hotel Font de Sa Cala in Majorca. The hotel kept guard dogs, way out of sight in kennels somewhere. But while we were playing, you could hear them at feeding times. They made this terrible frenzied barking that would frighten the daylights out of you. Honestly, everybody stopped playing and froze.
It sounded like they’d caught something and were ripping it apart. I thought at the time, all you needed was somebody screaming to really set the scene. So with that, coupled with an old rumour; locals used to say the former hotel owner many years ago was killed by his guard dogs; gave me the idea of a short story. You know how it is; from a short story carried on writing till it got to a word count of 98,000.
Can you sum the book up in one sentence?
To sum up the book in one sentence is a tough one, but I suppose it shows how cruelty, abuse and greed, installed into the early vulnerable life of the main protagonist, Elizabeth Waverly, with the help of a liberally wielded trouser belt, can manifest itself later like a cancer on her morals.
Have your characters or writing been inspired by friends/ family or by real-life experiences?
The evil character, matron Elizabeth Waverly, is based upon my mother-in-law…No! I’m only joking. I’m not saying my mother-in-law is hard to get along with…yes, come to think of it, I am saying my mother-in-law is hard to get along with. No seriously, some scenes in my novel were inspired by real life experiences, the dogs for instance. Another one in particular is the scene when a character gets planted by a mechanical palm tree planter. This actually happened to an MD of an engineering sub-contractor my company used a few years ago. He hired a mechanical tree planter for his large back garden and some how got caught up. They found him buried up to his armpits, very dead. The accident was in all the local newspapers.
What is your favourite scene in your book? Can we have a snippet?
My favourite scene would be the nasty old lady going up the stairs in a stair lift with her yappy cocker spaniel on her lap and seeing Rupert, the rubber snake, threaded through the balustrades. Here’s a snippet:
Later, Mrs Crackston watched some television. Then, with great effort, got out of her chair; wincing as she steadied herself, leaning on her stick. She moved slowly into the kitchen to make some Horlicks. The cocker spaniel padded behind her. She poured some water for the dog. Winnie, all excited wagged her tail and slurped in her bowl while Mrs Crackston dipped her gingernuts; sucking on them with her toothless gums as a small piece dropped into her hot drink.
After they finished she switched off the kitchen light and made her way to the stair lift. She carefully manoeuvred herself into the mobile chair. Then Mrs Crackston patted her lap for Winnie to hop on. She pushed the control for ascend and they slowly began to move up the stairs. Winnie had done this many times. She sat still licking the old ladies hand.
As they turned the right angled bend it was Winnie who became restless. A low apprehensive whine at first, then a yap.
‘What’s up, Winnie?’
‘Calm down. What’s the matter with you?’ She patted the dog’s head but Winnie was up on all fours standing on her lap. ‘Come on now, sit down.’
Her dog was looking up the stairs and began to growl. ‘Stop it, Winnie.’ She got a soft slap on her rear. ‘Behave yourself.’ The cocker spaniel meant business. It began to bear its teeth in a viscous growling snarl at something Mrs Crackston couldn’t see.
As the stair lift slowly climbed she stiffly turned her head upwards. Winnie had started barking aggressively; jumping in her lap with the full force of each bark. She had never seen the dog in such a state. Winnie had her lips pulled back into a nasty curdling sneer.
‘Shut up, Winnie!’ She slapped the dog hard this time. It yelped at the blow and jumped off, rolling down two stairs then steadying herself. She looked up and continued barking in a frenzied state.
‘Winnie, you naughty dog, I’m going to give you such a…’
Rupert had slid down the balustrades and was peering over the top of the Landing.
Mrs Crackston let out a scream when she saw the Black Mamba. She cowered, half out her seat. ‘Keep it away...Oh God! Help me, Winnie…Kill it…’
The dog quickly moved up the remaining stairs snapping and barking. Mrs Crackston was standing on the moving chair, leaning away from it screaming as the long olive grey body and the black gaping mouth came nearer.
‘Kill it, Winnie…kill it for mummy…ARGHH!’
Mrs Crackston lost her balance; she lunged at the thick newel post to save herself but missed her grip. She rolled over and over screaming down the stairs. Her face smashed into the wall at the turn, leaving a bloody smear; then she somersaulted down the remaining flight. The brittle snap of her neck as she hit the bottom echoed through the quiet hall. Her walking stick followed, clunking and bonking down the treads until it came to rest across one arm.
Winnie had grabbed Rupert. She had the snake in her mouth as she ran back down the stairs and dropped it by Mrs Crackston’s body, yapping at her face. Then, Winnie quietened. She began to whine, wagging her tale. Not understanding the staring eyes, the twisted head at right angles. She licked the blood from the ear and nose, affectionately, hoping to waken her master.
Winnie snarled and grabbed Rupert; the rubber snake bouncing up and down in her mouth as she took it to her basket. She nuzzled the old blanket and left it under there with her favourite ball and chewed slipper.
Do you have an agent, or have you gone alone? (If agented please give names, if not please tell us a little about your journey into self-publishing). Would you SP/use that publisher again?
I don’t have an agent although I’ve tried to source one many times. I think the majority of agents these days, unless they can immediately place your work and earn a quick buck, will play safe and keep with their client list. That does sound sour grapes I know, but there’s probably a bit of truth there.
I sent my manuscript to fifteen agents listed in the Writers’ Artists’ yearbook that handled my genre; and got back seven rejections. Never heard from the remainder.
I went to the London Book Fair this year and the HarperCollins seminar. At both venues I met many first time published writers who would never use an agent or publisher again. Many said they had been let down and still had to do their own marketing and set up their own website and Blog. All the publisher did was make them a book with some veiled distribution promises. Many of them said there book wasn't even listed on some of the major book stores sites they’d been promised. They had to do most of the social networking themselves.
The writers I met said they would definitely go the self publishing route. More control over their work. Although their is a slight stigma/snobbery attached to self publishing; many in the trade still call it vanity publishing i.e. for writers not good enough to find a real publisher so they have to resort to vanity publishing; the only way their going to see their name in lights.
This attitude, fortunately, is gradually disappearing with many reputable self publishing companies filling the gap for much needed aspiring talent out there.
Also many agents and publishers, although they'd strongly deny, would prefer to use writers with creative writing qualifications; masters degrees etc. I suppose authors qualified to this level does reduce some initial costs involving copy editing along with typos, grammar, punctuation, dialogue, view point, narrative, exposition, prose, scene structure and uncle Tom Cobly etc. If agents and publishers can be assured a manuscript is pretty well clean at submission stage; they just have to rely on story changes, if any; then, presumably more money can go on marketing and advertising.
To support this, if you tot up the last twelve or so winners of the most popular book awards i.e. Mann Booker, Richard and Judy. Orange Prize, Nokia, Times and Observer Literary prize etc; you'll see many winners with creative writing qualifications. Nothing wrong with this; in fact creative writing has had a strong resurgence in recent years with internet, university and college courses packed to the rafters; with the popularity of self publishing as a knock on.
All this influenced my route into self publishing. I used AuthorHouse self publishing. The total cost with discounts, £1,757. I found them very helpful and co-operative through the setting up stages and getting it onto the popular book sites.
What marketing have you been doing to help sales?
As well as paying AuthorHouse for a social media setup package i.e. for my finished book to be place in the AuthorHouse book store and on Goodreads, Amazon, Waterstones, Posterous, Shelfari,Goodreads,LibraryThing,Squidoo, Priceminister. Barnes & Noble and not forgetting, Twitter and Facebook.
Readers will be able to order copies of my book at any Waterstones; don’t get trampled in the rush. See links for: Isbn:9781456771713
I’ve done some footslogging of my own. Been to bookstores and left complimentary copies with an A4 poster. Its currently in the window of Waterstones at the Sutton and Epsom branches. A few stores wanted me to deal directly with their warehouse, but most, if they were happy with the synopsis, said they would put my book in their window section set aside for local authors. I’ve also uploaded my finished manuscript on the HarperCollins Authonomy website at www.authonomy.com.
How long does it take you to write a book? Have your written other books (give titles)?
Being my first book it seemed like a life time, but in fact to write SOW AND YOU SHALL REAP took about three years. I had to do a lot of research in-between the internet, creative writing classes, reading and post assessment alterations.
The rough outline with the start, middle and end took about three months. Although much of the finished book doesn’t resemble the first synopsis.
At creative writing classes they told us to use index cards at the planning stages. I found this invaluable. I would recommend this to anybody starting out, especially with a lengthy novel.
The Literary Consultancy based in London also assessed my manuscript for, Sow and You Shall Reap,at a cost of £530. I can recommend these assessments as they firmly bring you back down to earth. And using their assessment report I spent another four months tweaking the manuscript again.
I’ve also written some short stories and entered various internet competitions, never winning anything mind you. Although I did win a book token once as runner-up for my short story, The Letter, in the London Borough of Sutton Library competition.
Which comes first for you – characters or plot?
I'm a plot man first, then characters second. When I start I spend time on the plot; from start to finish, continually roughing out then enlarging, bit by bit until I've got the basis of a synopsis, from beginning, middle and end. Then on to the characters. The characters grow with the plot, increasing many plot avenues as the story unfolds.
The index cards I first used to plot the story three years ago hardly resemble the finished manuscript. I think that’s probably true for a great deal of writers? The main thing is to read a lot in the genre you’re writing in. Also, no matter how many writing classes or courses you attend, I personally don’t think you'll ever learn as much as writing your first novel. Lets be honest, your novel will cover everything their is to know about creative writing, provided your open to assessment and criticism. A bit like learning to drive. Read as many theory and practical books as you want but there's nothing like getting behind the wheel.
How did you get into writing? Did you always want to become a writer?
I never wanted to become a fiction writer although I’ve always been a constant reader of crime novels. I just sort of slipped into creative writing. I studied engineering at College and eventually became a member of the institute of quality assurance.
My engineering career took on many roles including technical writer for an artificial limb manufacturer; but I always enjoyed (if you can enjoy something during the daily grind) putting pen to paper for creating quality manuals and report writing.
As well as playing tennis I write tennis articles for my local Surrey county magazine. I suppose this, coupled with a technical writing career, partly influenced my transition into creative writing.
Are you working on another book? Possible to have a preview snippet or blurb of that?
I am currently working on my second novel, working title, On Black Monday, using the same nasty protagonist, former care home matron, Elizabeth Waverly. I just couldn’t simply kill her off in the first book. She was far too valuable and we’ve been down a long road together. None of us would want to see Hannibal Lecter dead; be honest?
In this book she’s a prostitute in her late teens.
Set in the year 1973, her pimp in a rage; he thinks she’s been holding money back, starts a fight and the client she’s with gets killed by accident in the local park. Elizabeth and her pimp hide the body. A schoolgirl, who witnesses the murder, recognizes Elizabeth and puts it in her diary. A chase follows but the schoolgirl hides the diary. Elizabeth and her pimp are unaware that one of the items they stole from the body is a wallet that holds vital information in the lining, concerning the identity of terrorists.
The murdered client is part of a Black September group who plan to carry out a terrorist attack on the Centre-court during Wimbledon fortnight. The terrorists will stop at nothing to carry out their attack but they must find the wallet. Elizabeth will stop at nothing to find the schoolgirls incriminating diary. What follows is a rollercoaster ride of two stories that merge to form a catastrophic climax. It sees Elizabeth desperately searching in a blazing house for the diary, while Black September, from three helicopters, pour eight-thousand gallons of aviation fuel onto the Wimbledon crowd and then set light to them. Later, the diary falls into the hands of a blackmailing pawnbroker.
See the following snippet.
By nine-forty it wasn’t busy. Basildon Central was winding down for the day. The diesel with it four carriages was in. Elizabeth made her way past four seated people and sat as near as possible to the carriage door. She eyed them; two gentlemen and an elderly couple. The couple smiled at her as she took her seat. Elizabeth clutched her bag. Why the shit did he ask for her new Dior handbag for the drop? Why not an old carrier bag or something? It was like rubbing salt into it. She felt like deducting it from what he wanted. Then she thought better. She’d managed to scrape four thousand pounds together. Elizabeth had put a letter with the money; hoped to appeal to his good nature. Told him there wasn’t enough time; asked for another couple of weeks to get the extra thousand. Just hoped he’d buy it. She put a hand into her pocket. She felt the handle. It reassured her.
At Laindon station the last of the four passengers got off. The carriage was now empty. Elizabeth swayed slightly with the train as she moved to a seat near the door. She sat down then shifted uncomfortably. Was he going to go through with it? Had he changed his mind? Chickened out? Would he cut his losses? Tell them he’d found the wallet; send it all to the police and collect the five-hundred pounds reward?
Suddenly there was a blast on the driver’s horn and Elizabeth lurched sideways as the train braked sharply, then slurred to a halt. She got up tentatively and moved to a window. Elizabeth shielded her eyes from the reflected light and looked out. But it was too dark. Before she parted with four-thousand pounds she had to make sure this was the spot. She pushed the carriage door window down and leant out. There was a crossing up ahead all lit up. A man with a torch, probably the driver, was playing the beam around, surveying something at the front of the train. Elizabeth turned as the interconnecting carriage door opened and the ticket collector walked through.
A large fat man, wearing a cap and with a waist that could easily have burst his British Rail uniform trousers, looked around and then spoke loudly; mostly to know one, in a well prepared, off to pat reassuring little speech. ‘Just to let you know we have an obstruction on the line and the matter is being dealt with. Please do not make any attempt to get off the train, and, don’t worry, we will be moving shortly.’ With that he closed the door and was gone.
Elizabeth was convinced. This had to be the drop. She took the bag, leaned out the carriage window and looked into the darkness. She swung the cream coloured bag backwards and forwards in an exaggerated motion. She wanted to stand out, wanted him to see where she was going to throw it. With a heave she let go and it bounced and rolled and then came to rest across the opposite line.
‘Shit!’ Elizabeth muttered. She stared down into the darkness and could make out the cream shape sitting smack on the polished steel strip. She looked up startled. In the faint distance she could see the lights of an opposing train approaching. Elizabeth’s expression turned to horror. Instant thoughts flash through her mind. The train could be derailed, the money all chewed up under the wheels. She’s had to do something, get it off the line and quick. Mustn’t let him see me; don’t want him to think I’m taking the money back.
Elizabeth crouched and made her way to the other side of the carriage. She got to the door, pushed the window down then put her hand through and turned the handle. It swung open. There was a steep embankment directly opposite. Not a lot of space but enough. She clutched her shoulder bag; in that split second she was grateful she’d worn sensible shoes, then she jumped down.
‘Jesus!’ Elizabeth cried out as she hit the steep grass then rolled back under a large steel wheel. She frantically scrambled out from underneath the carriage thinking it might start rolling again any moment and hauled herself up. Elizabeth brushed herself down and temporarily examined a grazed knee and torn stocking. She listened out, then using the carriage as support she carefully trod her way to the back of the train.
Suddenly she heard crunching noises; someone nearby walking on the sleeper gravel. Elizabeth crouched; as she peered around the end carriage she could see the cream bag and a figure approaching. The silhouette of what looked like a man appeared picking his way along the track; stopping, looking around, moving on then stopping again. Now outside away from the glare of the windows it was a clear night.
Elizabeth wasn’t sure, was it a railway worker doing his job? Last minute checks before moving off? If it was, where was his torch? Even so, once he clocked the bag the money would be gone? She knew what she had to do.
Elizabeth looked behind; she had to be quick, the lights of an oncoming train were getting clearer and brighter. Then a horn sounded. She heard carriage doors closing. Her own train was about to move off. Now she knew for sure.
The figure stopped. At about thirty feet away it spotted the bag. It began to move quickly, coming towards her. Then the horn of the approaching train sounded. The figure checked himself, looked at the oncoming lights and continued faster. Elizabeth felt in her pocket. She took out the hammer and held it down by her side. Then the figure tripped and half stumbled to one knee. ‘Shit, you mother.’…Elizabeth was near enough to hear his cursing. It was definitely a man
He got up and brushed himself down. Up front the horn sounded again and her own train started moving off. Her cover was gone. Elizabeth crouched in the dark, but his eyes were only for her cream bag containing all that money.
On the opposite line the chugging of the leading diesel carriage was getting louder. He was now at the bag. The figure stooped to pick it up; then tried to open it. He was having trouble with the clasp. Elizabeth had twenty feet to cover. She looked behind. The diesel was getting nearer; looming out of the dark like a giant angry serpent, all lit up, puffing out its rage. With some cursing he opened the bag and got the money. He stood there totally oblivious, feverishly tearing at the newspaper she’d wrapped it in.
The approaching noise drowned out her footsteps. With the hammer at shoulder height Elizabeth moved in with that fixated and purposeful look. Like a Lion that had crept behind a wildebeest on its knees at a water hole she was upon him, swinging the hammer to the back of his head. He half turned as the blow glanced off then she hit him again above the right eye. He swore at her, ‘You fucking bitch!’ Then grabbed at her arm, pulling her down with him. Elizabeth was on top, trying to hit him but he had her arm. Then with her left hand she through gravel in his face. He let go to rub his eyes then he screamed as she smashed the hammer into his face. Sitting astride him she swung again, then froze. She knew this man; even with the black blood pouring down his face. It was Boris, the owner of the pawn shop. His doorway was part of her patch where the punters cruised by.
‘Boris, what the fuck…?‘
‘Get off me, you bitch!’
‘Give me back my money?’ Knowing him had taken the sting out of it. She dropped the hammer. The noise behind her was deafening. Elizabeth could feel the approaching heat, smell the warm sickly oil. They were lit up in the trains beam. The horn sounded again. He reached inside his jacket and got tangled up trying to pull out a gun; she caught a glimpse of steel and instantly grabbed at it. It went off, and then fired off again with his finger on the trigger and her hand clutching the barrel, shouting with the pain from the heat of the rounds. Still astride him they wrestled, both her hands now holding his with the gun. She let go with one, feverishly clawing at the gravel until her fingers felt the wooden handle. She grabbed at it and swung the hammer down into his face. Blood from his broken nose sprayed her. He screamed with the pain and it made him drop the gun. Again she tried to get up, but he was pulling her down on top of him. Even with his injuries Boris wrestled with her, screaming at her, ‘You bitch! You fucking bitch!’…
She rolled with him between the rails, dropping the hammer again, trying to kick him away, break free. Elizabeth could feel the vibration of the giant steel wheels as they bore down on them. He wasn’t going to let go. Out of the corner of her good eye she saw the gun, just out of reach. Her fingers clutched at nothing. The train was less than twenty yards away. The ground was shaking like an earthquake.
Boris began to cough, some blood clogging in his throat. He relaxed. Elizabeth strained and her fingers wrapped around the barrel. She looked behind, the steaming monster was nearly upon them. She wasn’t going to make it. With one last exhausted lunge Elizabeth smashed the handle into his forehead. Blood spurted out his nose and mouth as she pushed him away. She rolled and rolled in the gravel across the sleepers, crying out in pain as her head and knees hit the steel rail passing over it.
It was as if the devil had invited her in. Hells door had opened; the heat, the wind, the roar with the burning stench of diesel thundered past taking Boris and her money with it. Elizabeth lay there on her back, not quite believing; breathing in deep snatches as she looked at the stars. All of a sudden she felt cold and started to shiver. She held up her hands, memorised by them for a while; they were covered in blood.
Elizabeth pulled herself up. She swayed a bit unsteady. Taking in what happened, where she was. She took a step, stopped, hesitated then straightened herself and slowly walked over to the bag and reached down for it. She buffed it up under her arm with her elbow; wanting to get rid of the scuff marks; as if it was the only thing that mattered.
Holding her cream coloured Dior handbag she walked slowly along the track; it was surreal, as if strolling down Bond Street on a Saturday afternoon. She spotted the hammer; close by to it was the gun. Picking up the items she wiped them on her sleeve. Elizabeth now recognised the piece; a Smith & Wesson 10 Military .38 revolver. Her late step-daddy owned one; it was his pride and joy. When her mother was working he would sit in his wicker chair, no shirt, just vest and braces, with a tumbler of Johnny Walker at his side, sucking the stub of a wet cigar, polishing the steel then holding it up occasionally to admire. Step father Ralph was a Pentecostal preacher; a healer from the Deep South. Back where he came from; a 1950’s trailer park in Louisiana, he would tell a young Elizabeth it was kept under his pillow to keep the niggers in line. Saturday night they’d get drunk and come into town lookin’ for white girls. Then he’d squeeze up his cheeks and spit on the floor.
She checked the chamber, there were three bullets remaining. Elizabeth carefully wrapped the gun in a bit of old bloodied newspaper she found by her feet. Then put it in her handbag.
The first part of Boris she came across was his left leg. Elizabeth nudged it with her toe, as if it might be still alive; perhaps start moving of its own accord. She carried on another fifteen yards and then, on the left side of the outside rail, was an arm cut off at the elbow. Elizabeth stepped over to look at it. The left hand little finger twitched nervously; as if beckoning her to come closer. The remains of some newspaper were still clutched between the thumb and forefinger. Again she carelessly poked it with her foot, then turned and slowly walked on.
Elizabeth had gone another twenty yards when she saw the shape. It was the moaning as it dragged itself along over the railway sleepers that attracted her, leaving a trail of smeared blood. Elizabeth walked ahead and then blocked its way. The thing in front of her stopped. It stared carefully at the shoes, recognising them, then lifted its pitiful head.
‘Please help me?’ Boris said weakly with pleading eyes. ’Look…look, take the money.’ He rolled over onto the stump of his left arm and bellowed out with the pain. With the remaining hand he opened his jacket giving Elizabeth access. She knelt down and put her hand inside the pocket. The money felt warm and slick as she withdrew it. At that point she turned and vomited at the side of the track. Elizabeth leant back and took deep breaths, then spat some phlegm a couple of times. She dabbed her mouth with her sleeve, then wiped the money using the same sleeve and placed the bundle of twenty- pound notes, fastened with an elastic band, into her bag.
Boris could hardly speak, he was losing blood and fast. He managed to whisper, ‘Don’t leave me here, please help me?’
Elizabeth crouched and asked him, ‘Where’s the goods?’
She kicked his leg stump and Boris screamed, ‘Ahhh!!!…there in the car…there in the car…please God, don’t, I beg you?’
‘You lying, fuck! You never was goin’ to give ’em back to me, was you? Going to milk me another time, wasn’t you?’ She kicked his stump again and he screamed out.
‘Where’s the car keys?’ She didn’t wait for a reply. Elizabeth took a deep breath and fumbled again through his ripped jacket; wincing until her fingers felt the key ring. She pulled them out. Attached to the main bunch was a separate ring with a rover tag and two identical keys.
‘What’s the car, and where is it? And don’t lie otherwise you will know real pain?’ Elizabeth moved to kick his stump again.
Boris raised himself up, half sitting. He put up the arm he had left and pleaded. ‘No, please. I’ll tell you anything. It’s a white rover two-thousand, up ahead.’ He had to pause to get his energy, then said weakly, ‘it’s parked on the left side of the crossing, about fifty feet from the gates.’ He collapsed back exhausted, turning to cough up blood and spitting on the side of the track.
Elizabeth sighed with relief pushing her hair back and leaving a bloody scuff on her forehead. Boris in desperation rolled onto his stomach. His good hand clutched the bottom of Elizabeth’s coat; he looked up at her, whining, begging her to get help, get an ambulance. But she wasn’t looking. Her eyes were focused on the distant lights. Boris’s eyes followed hers. He saw the approaching train.
He shuffled and slithered towards her, slipping and slopping in the blood. ‘Don’t leave me here,’ he begged, ‘I’ll give you anything…Pleeeese…?’
Elizabeth stooped and patted him on the head. ‘Goodbye, Boris. It’s been nice doing business with you.’
She moved off along the side of the track amidst his last desperate cries. She headed towards the flashing warning lights and the level crossing gates that were now swinging open; as if allowing her a grand entrance. Like some Cleopatra or Boudicca coming home after a great battle.
His last scream was drowned out as the ten-forty-five to Basildon swept past, and then there was nothing. It was as if Boris had never existed, been swallowed up.
Elizabeth ducked down out of the beam of headlights as she approached the signal box. The gates were now swinging open to allow cars. Some, quick off the mark, slowly bumped their way along the raised crossing. She crouched until the traffic had gone and then moved into the lane keeping close to the hedges. After a while the white apparition of a Rover two-thousand slowly appeared out of the dark. She fumbled with the two keys and then eased herself back into the posh leather seats.
With the Dior bag on her lap she unlocked the dashboard flap and found a brown A4 envelope containing the wallet, her photo and the business card with her phone number on the back. Also tucked away was a small bottle of Napoleon brandy. She unscrewed the cap then wiped the top. Elizabeth took a swig and winced. ’Needed that she mumbled.’ She relaxed. Elizabeth gazed through the windscreen; trance like, not really seeing. She took another small swig; the initial sting had been dulled now. After a few minutes her eyelids grew heavy; they flickered briefly and closed. The brandy bottle slipped slowly from her fingers. She said a few things incomprehensible, then twitched as the sleep took over.
What mistakes do you see new writers make?
I think most new writers like to style themselves on a favourite writer until they develop a style of their own. Also new writers tend to over concentrate on plot rather than characterization. The plot is their be-all and end-all. I personally think the hardest part for a new writer to grasp is choosing the right point of view and narrative. For me, understanding narrative and how to work it correctly in conjunction with the current point of view is very important. Readers can go off the boil with a book if they feel cheated; the narrative has spoilt a surprise, or some things are kept from them, or they feel left out or alienated. Especially if they can’t empathise with the main protagonist; all of which poor narrative can cause.
A common fault for new writers is they tend to lose, ‘what’s at stake,’ as they drift through the book. All those enticing subplot avenues lead them away from the real reason for writing the story.
What advice would you give aspiring authors?
Write for enjoyment; not so much to get an agent or be published, and most certainly not for money. Anyone now days can write and be self-published, with your book networked to all the main book search sites. But to write and get an agent? Then the agent has to find you a publisher? Then you hope to make lots of money out of it? Plus all that hanging around; waiting for that phone call, being given all those promises. One could end up being very disappointed. Know your limitations.
With your feet firmly placed on the ground, writing can give you years of pleasure, and the opportunity now, with self-publishing, to see your name in lights. If you want to pay for it that is.
Always remember, few people have a natural talent for something. I love playing tennis but I’m never going to get to Wimbledon.
Years ago when I was fourteen years old, unbeknown to me, my same age school mate sketched my portrait while we were all watching TV with his mum, dad and the dog. He showed me afterwards. It could have been done by a young Jan Vermeer. He’d caught it all; the facial anatomy with the fine lines, the curly hair, the correct balance between shadow and the light, even my Jewish nose. He’d never had an art lesson in his life, apart from secondary school with me. There wasn’t a picture of his work on the wall or in his bedroom, where we used to smoke and drink his dad’s fags and scotch. And he wasn’t even interested in art. He wanted to be a boring engineer like me. What a waste. But he was naturally talented.
I think the same goes for writers; some are gifted, others have to learn the nuts and bolts of it, and may still, after years, never quite get there. But as long as you get a kick out of it; get that buzz when you fall through the hole, as Stephen King says; there’s nothing better.
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