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The perils of a pantser. Who’d be a bloody writer?

writer, brimson, lazy, ebooks, amazon, itunes, screenwriting, author, novel, green street, sex, monkey, imac, windowsStrange though it might seem given my lowly standing within the literary world, I am often asked for advice on different aspects of writing. However as someone who has never received or sought any kind of formal training (no need for any comment there thank you!) I have nothing much to fall back on and so in the majority of instances I can only offer advice based on my own experience. Not that there is anything wrong with that of course.

But these last few days, I have been the one seeking advice because I’m confronted with a major quandary and truth to tell, I’m still some way from making a decision.

You see when it comes to writing non-fiction it’s all fairly straightforward. Basic idea, outline, research, tweak outline, write. Easy.

Fiction however, is a different matter and the way I write it very much depends on the genre. For example, if it’s a comedy such as Billy’s Log, I’ll develop a plot and then work on constructing my characters until I know them inside out. For me, that starts with a name, a face and a voice. Once I have those (and they can be based on absolutely anybody from Vinny Jones to my mum) I’ll develop a back story for each of them until they become pretty much real people in my head and only then will I start the actual process of writing the book.

However if it’s a thriller such as The Crew, it’s all about the ending. That after all, is what people tend to remember (and if you doubt that, read the reviews of The Crew on Amazon and see how many people mention the ending) and so I take a great deal of time to get that right before I sort out my characters and start finalising the basic plot which in many respects is only there to get you, the reader, from the beginning to the ending I already have tight in my head.

At that point, I’m ready to start the actual process of writing and the first thing I’ll tackle is the ending. Always. Only once I am totally happy with that will I head for the opening line and go from there.

Now be it comedy or thriller, I always write the actual story in the same way because I’m what is known as a panster. And by that I mean I write by the seat of my pants. I know my characters intimately and I know exactly where they (and by default, the reader) are going but I’m never totally sure how I’m going to get them there.

The joy of writing in this way is that it allows me to be totally flexible with every aspect of the plot. I can add things in, take things out and even go off on completely odd tangents if I want but no matter what I do, I’ll always find a way back to the all important ending. That makes the process much more exciting for me and if I’m excited by what I’m writing when I’m writing it, that can only be a good thing when it comes to the finished product.

However, whilst being flexible is generally a good thing, occasionally it isn’t. And that’s where I am right now.

You see I’m currently working on a new comedy novel and up the two days ago I was more than happy with the way it was unfolding. The story is great, the characters believable and both the dialogue and humour sound. I’d even sent some to a couple of fabulous people who provide me with totally honest feedback on in-work projects and they were both extremely positive. All was looking good and then an idea suddenly hit me.

You see like The Crew and Top Dog, this new book is written in the third person. However, given the emotional journey the central character has to go on coupled with the fact that there will be a lot of ‘me’ in there, it suddenly occurred to me that it might actually be stronger and funnier if it were written in the first person.

Quite why I hadn’t considered this before continues to escape me but the fact is that for whatever reason I hadn’t and so I am now faced with the aforementioned quandary. Do I carry on with my third person version and end up wondering if I made a wrong decision and delivered a weaker book or do I start from scratch on a full first person version even though I’m still not sure if it would work properly.

Of course the obvious thing to do would be to write a new opening in the first person and show that to a few people to get some feedback on which works best. Well I’ve done that and all I’ve ended up with is a 50/50 split. As if that’s not bad enough, the more I read both, the more each version actually feels right.

But I still have to make that all important decision and I have to get it right because once it’s made there will be no going back. If I do decide to change my approach it will require pretty much a full rewrite and whilst that would usually be no problem, I actually have a very tight deadline because this book has to be out ahead of EURO 2012. However in the back of my mind is the nagging thought that if I make the wrong choice I might not realise it until after publication. Can you imagine the horror of that?

Who’d be a bloody writer!

writing, thriller, author, screenwriting, uk film

Could I once again say a very humble thank you to everyone who has kept my books so high up in the various online charts. I really do appreciate that you guys spend your hard earned cash on my work and utilise your valuable time reading it which is why I answer every single mail, tweet or Facebook message.

I think that’s the very least I can do!

Oh, and in case you hadn’t realised, this is an old blog and it refers to my latest novel, Wings of a Sparrow which is now available in ebook and print formats.

Do It Yourself…. go on, you know you can.

As a writer of a certain age and someone who is well known for telling things as I see them, it should not come as an surprise to learn that I am often in trouble of some kind of another.

I have for example, been banned for life from the TV show ‘Soccer AM’ for remarks I made in my book ‘The Geezers Guide to Football’ about host Helen Chamberlain and even once had a contract for a proposed book torn up for the sole reason that my very female editor took great exception to something I had written about the impact of the menstrual cycle on we poor males.

To be honest, I am quite happy with this position. In fact, truth be told I actually revel in the infamy some of my remarks attract because having a reputation as someone who is willing to speak their mind and tackle issues others dare not has proven to be quite lucrative. Yes, I am indeed one of those loons who crop up on the news every so often talking about anything from football hooligans to my distrust of anyone involved with the Labour party.   

Yet when I’m speaking or writing, every single word I utter is considered and whilst it might occasionally attract criticism, I never say anything I do not genuinely believe and cannot or will not back up. Which is ironic given the fact that as anyone who knows me personally will confirm, when I’m not talking in the media or writing for publication, I do have a habit of unwittingly engaging mouth before brain and saying exactly the wrong thing at exactly the wrong time. This is never more true than when I am talking to women when with alarming frequency, I drop myself in the mire.

I once for example, crushed one of my best mates by informing her that whilst she looked frighteningly healthy, her face looked somewhat rounder than normal (only to be informed, somewhat tearfully, that she’d spent the previous month dieting and exercising like a fanatic) and on another occasion, mentioned to another of my closest friends that having just signed her first book deal, it might be a good idea to lay off the Cadbury’s because she was going to have to have her photo taken at some point and the camera adds ten pounds.

In both instances, like always, I started out with the best intentions but knew even as the words were coming out of my mouth that they were going to be taken in the wrong way. By then of course, it was too late and the consequences for me were severe and well deserved ranging from a lengthy stony silence to my own gut wrenching guilt. Either way, they added up to trouble.

I could of course, put up some kind of defence for my insensitivity by arguing that it is typically male and to a certain extent, it is. However, I would also argue that where women are concerned, the fact that we males tend to be insensitive, unromantic or even simply stupid is mostly the fault of the female of the species. We are relatively simple beings you see whereas the other lot are phenomenally confusing.

On an almost daily basis they do things which bemuse and bewilder us then ridicule us because we don’t understand them! Equally, they spend large portions of their lives demanding honesty from us but continually ask us questions which are specifically designed to make us lie!

I mean for goodness sake, all women must know that ‘how do I look?’ is only going to attract one answer so why do you feel the need to dump him in that minefield by asking such an obviously provocative question in the first place?

Be clear, crystal clear, other than love, the greatest emotion any male in a relationship will experience is self preservation. It’s the reason why we take our partners shopping when we almost all hate it with a passion, why we stay in when we would rather go out and why you rarely hear any man say anything along the lines of ‘why aren’t you as good looking as your friend/sister/mother?’ or ‘that dress makes you look like a seal wrapped up in gaffer tape.’

It’s also why no male with a brain in his head will ever speak those seven little words that are guaranteed to earn him a period in a Siberian wasteland; ‘I’m not doing that, that’s woman’s work’.

Which is, in many ways, something of a liberty given that there is one area of domesticity where many women remain more than happy to play the ‘I’m not doing that, it’s man’s work’ card. However, when this particular boot is on the other foot, it is applied sure on the knowledge that there will be little or no complaint because it is still both accepted and expected that as men, this is actually our domain. I speak of course, of DIY.

Quite why it has remained thus is a mystery to me. This is after all, 2010, not 1910 and the majority of women are more than capable of doing anything a male can do. For the most part DIY isn’t exactly rocket science and ‘check penis is in place’ isn’t stage one of wallpapering the living room or assembling an Ikea bookshelf.

Yet the idea of a woman doing DIY by choice as opposed to actually having to do it as a result of the lack of a capable/willing man remains not only unusual, but something of a source of humour and if nothing else, that’s incredibly patronising.

Personally, I not only relish the idea of any woman taking up the rollers and power tools, I am happy to celebrate it. Not because the ability to wield a paint brush is some kind of sexual turn-on (well, not to me it isn’t) or because the capacity to use a Black & Decker is some kind of confirmation of female empowerment. It’s simply because if my partner is capable of doing it, it means that I don’t have to. Indeed, as I have often informed my own son, in terms of opposite-sex attractiveness it is vital to remember when sizing up a prospective long-term partner that anything which potentially lightens the load on him as a male should certainly be up there with ‘own car’ and ‘decent sized breasts.’

You see, like most males, I am inherently lazy and in my spare time, I enjoy doing one of two things: enjoying myself or nothing. DIY fits into neither of those categories because it is a loathsome chore.

Don’t get me wrong, 18 years as an engineer in the RAF and a couple of decades racing cars and motorbikes have certainly equipped me with the ability to carry out pretty much anything and I’m still at my happiest rolling around under a car or tweaking an engine. But these activities fall into the ‘enjoying myself’ category whereas DIY is more often than not ‘necessary.’ And don’t give me the ‘satisfaction of a job well done’ argument. I prefer ‘thank god that’s finished.’

That isn’t to say I’m not happy to change a bulb, fit the odd plug or even help out around the house. Nor does it mean that if my beloved wanted something doing which I know would make her happy, I wouldn’t do it for her. But what irritates me is the continuing inference that as a man, DIY is my job. It isn’t, not any more. Those days are long gone in exactly the same way as washing up or ironing is solely the responsibility of the female. In these enlightened times it’s a brave man or a fool who remarks that the vacuum could do with a trip out or, perish the perish the thought, that there’s a nappy that needs changing!

So why is it still acceptable for women to use that same argument when a shelf needs putting up?

That’s right… it isn’t. It’s actually quite sexist. 🙂

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