Drive – stop – eat/drink – drive

Short and sweet today. We’re sat waiting for our late night ferry to Calais having been (as always) royally looked after by R&C in Dover. Thank you! Drive – stop – eat/drink – drive. How lucky are we to have friends like that!

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It’s been a few days of not much. We drove back from Colchester to Bristol (via Lambourn where we saw Annie, C’s sister) on Monday. We then had a day of admin, then turned round again, back via Mary’s to Dover. We do travel. A lot. I don’t mind driving, and driving Doris is a breeze – even if we had to reverse down some country lanes today after a hold up on the M2.

For me it’s been about trying to finish the book. I’ve either been too tired (yesterday evening), or not had enough time (I pushed out 800 words this morning). None of that is a problem as I am well ahead of where I normally am – but, being so close is so tantalising. I just want to finish it and then make it better – and better. I’m 107/120k words in, and I think it’ll end up being just 115k. Which, if you remember a previous blog, is still close to being an’epic’ – that is anything over 120k. And having picked up an Ian Fleming book just now – my first – and seen how short they are (under 50k?), then I’m beginning to understand why my books might be considered to be on the long side.

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[Frank Harper (actor/director) – Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels; St George’s Day; Ripper Street.] Next time I pen this we should be half-way down France. With, I hope, Mrs Sun in attendance. We’ll see.

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Then I make things up

It’s tough here, at Mum and Dad’s. They are resolutely stuck in the house. And so they should be. But every time we visit, they become frailer and frailer. Dad’s dementia is getting worse – we get asked the same question time and again. Mum is a stalwart, but she can’t see (much) and struggles to shop. Between them they are in a pickle. But they do not want help. And they certainly don’t want to move. As our good friends in Kent told us (and they’ve been through this, so they should know), you just have to wait for a catastrophe – and then come in and mop up. It wasn’t said in an uncaring way. It just is as it is. But it’s blooming depressing.

The good news (selfishly for us) is that we are just three days away from catching a ferry and heading off to southern France. It’s our usual trip. Down to the bottom – finish the book, and back in time for Christmas. It’s a tough life.

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Words from book 4

Talking of book, I’m 105/120k word complete, and so close to finishing. I reckon I might be there before we get on the ferry. Which would be fab, because it means we can take the next 5 weeks at a slightly slower pace and I can work harder at the edit. Which is fun. Let me share with you a couple of Twitter quotes. First, ‘I’m an author. I get out of bed, drink coffee and then make things up’. How true! Second, ‘You can’t edit what you haven’t written’. How true – how true. I just write and write. And then pick up the pieces on the same day (a running edit), and then much later on the first edit. And then, as often as you like after that.  Final Twitter quote (I think it’s Stephen King): ‘Your first draft is telling the story to yourself.’ That is also true.

Am I excited? Easily as much as I was at the end of all of the previous three books. I’m still short of a title. It might have the word ‘Armageddon’ in it. Of a bastardisation of ‘Cry havoc! And let slip the dogs of war.’ Which is a Shakespearean quote. We’ll see.

Finally we had a fab evening on Friday back down at Wells. The (student) symphony orchestra with singers gave us a Broadway evening. And it was extremely special. Until you’ve heard these young people play and sing, you can’t quite get how good they are. We had a very special evening indeed.

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a fab evening

Back down the West Country tomorrow to pick up Doris. Via Mary’s, then Richard and Caroline’s before we catch (hopefully) a late Wednesday night ferry. Can’t wait!

On-on!

I had a writing interlude yesterday. I took some work down at my old school in Somerset. Three years ago, after we’d had our initial 8 months away, I followed two strands of self-employment. The first was being an author – I had finished my fist novel in the Sam Green series, Unsuspecting Hero. The second was bit of educational leadership consultancy, which built up into a very small business. I enjoyed the work, felt I was making a difference, but it tied us to the UK at specific times. I didn’t advertise, and so it grew very slowly. But it brought in a few beans – and kept my brain working.

Then book 2, Fuelling the Fire arrived. Then book 3 – The Innocence of Trust. This summer my work with a second school naturally came to a close and, between us, we decided that writing was so much more fun (I decided that) and that it was much more flexible (we decide that) that I should let the consultancy slip – even though the consultancy was bringing in more beans than the writing.

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So, I’m an author! But, I still had a couple of clients at my old school – and had decided to keep them going. I went down yesterday for the day and, the problem is, when I do go down there is often a new piece of work that pops up. Like I might have to go back down again on Friday. But I love the place so much, that it’s difficult to say no.

Writing continues. Book sales continue – I’m still not at the target of 10-a-day, but I am averaging 4-a-day. All of sales are organic. For example, I have sold 4 today already – and I tend to sell a couple in the evening. We’ll see. Reviews remain v positive. I’m now at 139 reviews on Goodreads – with all 3 books well over the 4* rating. Interestingly Unsuspecting Hero continues to get good reviews on all platforms. As my first and shortest book, I think it lacks the depth of the others, but people still seem to like it. Which elicits an hurrah!

And I’m waiting for a telephone call from Frank. We’re to talk over the synopsis of Unsuspecting Hero’s screenplay before we both try and tout it to various agents and producers. He remains v positive – me less so. Thankfully he’s on my side!

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my mate JRB – brush ‘n all

We have the weekend planned with my mum and dad, then back here to pick up Doris before we head off to the South of France. The ambition is to be back in early December having completed two thorough edits – one of which is with Claire, who does a fab job as Joe Average Reader.

On-on then!

Busy, busy

It’s been a long day. We’ve been helping out at a party with Mary (which was fun), I have just managed to push our 1,322 words and now I have got the blog to write. Twice a week, week in, week out. It’s part of what I do, when what I really should be doing is putting my feet up. But, you’re worth it.

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Good colours at the mo. Words are from The Innocence of Trust.

It’s all been about the writing this week. I’m tantalisingly close to finishing book 4, which I think will have the word Armageddon in its title. I don’t want it to sound too dramatic, so I’ll use a couple of words to tone it down – but Armageddon is in the text, so it’s a nice catch to add some connection between text and title. I also know pretty much exactly what happens in the last 15,000 words. In bed, when I really should be sleeping, the scenes keep turning over in my mind. However, such is my mad imagination, I started out on Sam’s bus journey between Caracas and Amazonas (Chapter 16) just now. Then, within three sentences I decided it would be a good idea if she were mugged at the bus station – which happens a lot apparently (don’t travel by bus in Venezuela!). So that got written – and it was really fun!

On Thursday I tripped to London to see Frank, my director friend, to discuss a plan for Unsuspecting Hero’s screenplay. The short outcome was that he would now act as my agent and try and sell the manuscript around his producer friends – and I would email it to a couple of agents. He wanted a synopsis – which I didn’t have for the screenplay, so I butchered the book version and sent it to him. He’s yet to come back to me.

And I have been working hard on social media. I now paint a story on Twitter – which I love doing. It’s about a writer’s day – ups and down. And I’ve put on 150 followers in 3 weeks, growing at a rate of about 7 a day at the moment. Find me on @rolandtheauthor if you’re interested. My Instagram still gets a post a day and I’m close to 300 followers there. I have, by the way, no idea if this actually helps me sell books. But at least I am getting a following of sorts.

Finally, off to pick up Doris tomorrow. V excited. We both hope she’s ok. The plan is to stay with our Jen for a couple of days, visit my Mum and Dad next weekend and then head off down to the south of France for a month to finish the book. That’s the plan!

Still writing

I’ve never suffered from jet lag before, and I guess that’s what you’d call this. My bed keeps calling me. C, on the other hand, has kept going (we’re at Mary’s helping out for a party at the weekend). I have still managed 1,500 words today, but I’m pretty sure that what I spat out just now is rubbish. But, as we say in authorland, you can’t edit what you haven’t written. So I’ve written something. Running edit to follow.

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Which is what I do. I write, checking as I go along. Then at the end of the day, I edit. I call this a running edit, in that I’m doing it as I write. Edit 1 will be later this year when I’ve finished the manuscript, checked it over myself and then C and I sit down over a period of two weeks and almost get divorced. She’s very good at spotting when what I’ve written doesn’t make sense to Mrs Normal. And, even though it hurts when she says ‘this doesn’t make sense’, she is always right. And so we have two weeks of her being curt and me sulking. But the outcome is worth it.

The good news is that I have found myself a new proof reader. You may recall that I paid a princely sum for The Innocence of Trust to be proofed, only for it to come back littered with mistakes. They re-edited and republished the manuscript, but it’s still not perfect. Anyhow, a friend of Mary’s who is a mighty Sam Green fan has proofed it again and done a fab job. And, if I don’t go down the traditional publishing route for book 4, she will be my proofer. Fabulous.

Finally, and I’m sorry this is short but I’m struggling to keep my eyes open, I’m off to London tomorrow to meet up with my director friend, Frank Harper. We’re going to talk through the strategy for getting Unsuspecting Hero’s screenplay into the hands of someone who has the money to get the mini-series out there. I shall report back!

Have a great rest of week!

Time to go home

Today is our last full day in The Bahamas. We fly tomorrow, via NY. We should be back in the UK first thing Tuesday morning. It’s therefore probably not a bad time to give you my overview of the place. (I think it’s C’s too, but don’t quote me.)

The key thing to remember is that The Bahamas is a huge archipelago made up of over 700 islands. New Providence, where we’ve stayed and pretty much in the centre of the group, is one of the smaller islands. It’s where all of the industry is – most of the businesses, and is the seat of government and power. It is where the cruise ships stop (they must find a better name for these floating ants nests – they are huge) and  where the big hotels are. At round 250,000 people it’s a busy place. And it’s been our home for 4(+) weeks thanks to Bex and Steven who teach at one of the schools here.

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The Bahamas is/are an outcrop of jagged limestone and coral. There’s a dusting of soil and some sandy beaches, but it’s not what you’d call a fertile place. Roots have nowhere to go. Palm tress, for example, are not indigenous. They couldn’t be bothered. As a result it’s a shrubby; low-lying and wiry. Even the mangroves are ‘dwarf’. It’s hot. I don’t mean to brag but I’m both jungle and desert trained – the army took care of that. But, without air conditioning (which both C and I loathe), it’s a hot and humid place – too much and too often for me at my age. And I haven’t mentioned the hurricanes! As we search this land for somewhere to call home, for that reason alone the weather here has drawn a line through The Caribbean as an option.

The Bahamas’ history, and I don’t exaggerate here, is a tale of pirates, smuggling, drug-running, prohibition breaking and easy money. It’s no surprise that being a tax-haven was the next big thing. I’m going to repeat a generations-long Bahamian now, so don’t come after me with knives and sticks. ‘The men here are idle. They do as little as possible for as much as they can get.’ And you get that feeling. Yes, the heat doesn’t help. But the women folk are mostly the industrious gender. There’s no class structure on New Providence. There’s just the uber-wealthy and the poor (and the tourists). Quoting my same source, ‘there is no middle-class’. But I think that’s a simplification. Demographically I would say this island is split vertically and horizontally. There’s a thin, rich crust floating on a sea of poverty and near-poverty. And, down the middle, there’s the women and the men. The women hold nearly all of the aspiring middle-class jobs; positions that require an education. Shop assistants, cashiers, clerks. The men, less so.

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And with that comes gang culture and violence. There’s lots of it here. Again, a crust of affluence exists around the northern side of the island – where there are estates and hotels and gated communities and tourism. Then there’s the centre, which is much more run down. Look closely and you’ll find ghettos, desolation and furtive men driving muscle cars.

OK, so most of the politicians are men – and the latest prime minister is apparently a good one, trying hard to put The Bahamas straight. But corruption is rife. Whilst we’ve been here the latest scandal is top politicians not paying their electricity bills (one to the tune of $60k).

Half the problem is that there is no income tax. The government has recently introduced VAT, but other than that I don’t get where its revenue comes from. Tourism is the biggest earner by far, and every day on the local radio there’s a plea for all the locals to be smart and happy and welcoming and smiling. To make people like me feel welcome. But, it’s not exclusively so. Most of the girls behind the tills are dour and uninterested. Few smile, and less still engage. If they tried that in the UK, many would be sacked. I don’t feel particularly welcome, except when they’re taken $70 from me for one activity or another. Everything costs at least $70 here. Come armed with a credit card.

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Having said all of that, when you get to a beach and have acclimatised for the sun, the vistas can be extraordinary. The water is completely clear – and it is, as our friends the Randalls, say a screenshot view every time you turn the corner. Yes – absoluetly. Especially away from New Providence. We did a day trip to a local cay – the one with the sharks and rays? And it was idyllic. Perfect. But, if snorkelling is your bag the fish and the reef are good here. But they’re not great. We’ve snorkelled in The Gulf of Aqaba – and there the reef and coral is a rainbow of colour (here, just brown and sand). There, the fish are straight from an aquarium – fish of every shape and colour. Here, the four or five species are beautiful, but nor plentiful.

So why come? We wouldn’t again. Cuba would be our next choice – you get the same Caribbean island feel with so much more history. And that’s on our list. If we wanted the sun, sand, sea – and the beaches, which is not really just our bag, I guess we’d try The Maldives next – or somewhere else in The Indian Ocean. Yes, it has been a fabulous break and we wouldn’t have missed a moment of it. But we probably won’t come again.

Oh, and how’s books? I’m 80/120k into Book 4 and loving it. Sales have been OK and the marketing is keeping me busy. I’m meeting Frank, my director friend, next Thursday to discuss Unsuspecting Hero screenplay – and I’m trying very had not to get excited by that.

Our own micro-climate

It’s raining here in The Bahamas – and has been since Sunday. Those of you who follow this blog know that C and I create our own micro-climate. Wherever we go, so follows the poor weather. To be honest with you, though, we were beginning to have had enough of the penetrating sun – and hardly managing to sleep in 80+ degrees of heat. I know, I know. I’m a soldier. I’ve been in the desert and served in the jungle. Yes, and do you know what? I’ve slept under canvas – and in a hole in the ground. But now we live in a v plush motorhome. Any idiot can be uncomfortable.

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no spoilers, but, yes, Wolfgang and Frank do get together in the book 4

What’s been happening?

Writing first. I’m 76/120k, which translates to 12/20 chapters. And loving it. I had a moment the other day when B&S had gone to bed and I read my latest bit of a draft to C, who was knitting ( a beautiful baby shawl). At the end she said, ‘That’s really good. I don’t know how you do that.’ C is, in the nicest possible way, my fiercest critic (and a v good editor). So I must be doing something right. I am struggling with bringing the plot lines together at the moment, but something will happen – I’m sure. Anyhow, I’m ahead of schedule and should have draft one finished easily by Christmas.

Books are selling OK, especially in the UK. And reviews keep coming in. What is really encouraging is that out of the latest (this week) 6 reviews on Goodreads, 4 have been for Unsuspecting Hero – 3 x 5-star and 1 x 4-star. You’ll probably know that Unsuspecting Hero is the first in the Sam Green series – and my first book. As such it is experimental in so many ways – but clearly still a good read. And, hopefully, a springboard to start the series for newbie Sam Green fans.

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when it wasn’t raining…

We’ve pottered about. We did have a lovely day of snorkelling and sunbathing on Sunday, on Cable Beach – the nicest beach within easy driving distance. And yesterday we did some present shopping for friends and family back home. As for the rest of the week? Well, I guess that’s weather dependent. We shall certainly try and get the most of B&S’s company as we are unlikely to see them again before Easter next year.

So that’s the plan.