As someone who is lucky enough to converse with people from pretty much every point of the spectrum on which human life sits, I frequently find myself responding to questions of some kind or another.
Inevitably, the bulk of these will revolve around subjects linked to writing and be of the ‘how can I?’ variety which is fine by me, after all, my work or writing will have been the thing which brought us together and if someone takes the time to contact me, it’s only right that I afford them the courtesy of a reply.
Occasionally however, I’ll get a curveball question and the range of issues these can cover is, to say the least, broad. Only recently for example, I found myself explaining to someone from the other side of the world why we British drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road.
To be honest, I like this kind of random stuff. Not only does it tax the brain (or test my proficiency on google) but I find it quite rewarding to think that people actually feel comfortable enough to ask me these things. Especially when in some cases, I’ll have been the first Englishman they’ll have ever emailed.
My favourite question however, is one which lands in my inbox on a regular basis. It is quite simply, why football?
Usually of course, this will be used in the context of violence or hatred of some kind but increasingly, it’s being asked by people who don’t follow the game and want to know why those of us who do are so fanatical about it.
My response to this is that there is no such thing as a standard answer because there is no such thing as a standard football fan. To the uninitiated we might well come across as sheep (or even mugs) but when you look a little deeper, you’ll quickly discover that there are all kinds of reasons to explain why we are all unique in our love of the great game and our respective teams. There are even different degrees of obsession but if you want to know more about that, then you best read this.
Amongst those of us who actually get off our backsides to attend games in the flesh however, there is one common thread and that is that being a fan of the game is not just about the 90 minutes of actual football. And I mean football, not even great football. For it’s fair to say that some of the best days I’ve had as a supporter have been on days when my team -the glorious Watford- will have lost and I’d bet that most fans reading this will be nodding in agreement.
For the simple reality is that watching football is about one thing, hope. Hope that things will get better (or at least not get worse), hope that you will win promotion, not get relegated, beat your local rivals or even just carry on for one more season. And with that hope comes every kind of emotional experience possible all wrapped up in one simple word, passion.
To be a part of that passion and share those experiences with other like minded souls is why we do it and why we love it because it’s where we feel that we belong. It’s out religion and it’s addictive, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
So don’t ask me why we do it, just try and explain to me why you don’t.
Speaking of football and fans, my old book Rebellion is now available as an ebook.
First published in 2006, it tells the background to some of the more infamous fan protests including those at Charlton, Wimbledon, Manchester United, Manchester City, Norwich and Bournemouth amongst many others.
Let’s get this out in the open from the start, rejection sucks. It sucks big.
Unfortunately, if you want to write, be it for publication or screen, you had best get used to it because like it or not, it’s coming your way.
The only comfort you’ll have to draw on is that you’ll be in good company. I’m not just talking about J.K Rowling who was famously rejected by numerous agents and publishers before someone finally noticed the pot of gold under her arm, I’m talking about all of us. For with very few exceptions, every single author, screenwriter and journalist has to deal with the dreaded R word on a regular basis. I know I do. In fact my current hit rate is one script in three actually getting anywhere near being filmed.
To be fair, I am happy to acknowledge that to most writers a 33.3% success rate will actually look half decent but to me, whilst I’m obviously delighted with the one that gets through, I’m just as pissed off about the two that don’t. For each one represents a very personal failure.
You see I’m a lazy screenwriter and by that I mean that generally speaking, I’ll only write a script when I’m being paid. Therefore, if I write one on spec, it means that I think it’s something special and so if it subsequently gets rejected, it’s personal. Very personal. However, what makes it even tougher to handle is that often, the rebuff will come after I’ve already taken a few steps along the development path and the anticipation of a dream actually coming true has begun to take hold.
To give you an example; a few years ago I wrote a script called Boots on the Ground which examines the thorny issue of PTSD amongst British military veterans. For obvious reasons, this is a subject that has special significance to me and so once we were happy with it, we went out and pushed it as hard as we could.
Eventually, it landed on the desk of the head script reader at a studio who took it to his boss claiming it to be the best script he’d read all year. After reading it for himself, the studio head rang me to give me his word that he would put up most of the money to get it made and then introduced me to a very high-profile British director who was all over it like a rash. We even had BAFTA making some very positive noises about putting money in.
Then, as soon as it began and for reasons which I’ve never quite been able to fully fathom, it all went cold. And now, like Wings of a Sparrow and numerous other scripts I’ve written, it sits languishing on my hard drive until we stumble across the right person to put it in front of next.
Gutted? No, I was devastated, and continue to be so. Not just because it’s possibly the best thing I’ve ever written but because it talks about something that this country HAS to talk about.
But as I say, rejection is a part of the writers job so the question is, how do you get used to it?
The answer is that you don’t. And nor should you because if you want to write for a living, rejection HAS to hurt. And for one very specific reason.
A mate of mine, Brad Burton, is a motivational speaker and one of his ‘braddisms’ is that if you have a plan B, don’t get upset when others don’t believe in your plan A. In other words, if you prepare for rejection, it means that somewhere in the back of your head, you’re expecting it. And if you’re expecting it, how can you possibly put everything you have into your script?
The answer is that you can’t. But what you can do is to take the gut wrenching pain of being knocked back and pour it into your next script or book. Keep doing that and eventually that pain will be replaced by the ecstasy of success. And it will. Because if you want to call yourself a proper writer, you have to have absolute and total belief that it will.
Because if you don’t, if you’re not totally committed to yourself and your work, what the hell are you wasting your time for?
Speaking of being committed, my latest thriller, Three Greens, is moving swiftly toward production with casting of the major roles currently underway. In addition, I am delighted to announce that another project has now been given the green light and with finance in place, is also heading toward casting.
For reasons which will soon become obvious, I can’t say much about this new movie at the moment other than I can guarantee that when it’s announced, it’s going to cause quite a stir in certain circles.
When I first started out on what is laughingly called my writing career, I imagined that at some point, I would end up sitting somewhere warm doing pretty much sod all whilst my bank account was being drip fed a steady stream of royalty payments.
This money would then be spent fuelling my passions for motorcycles, stock car racing and Adidas Gazelles with the remainder being wasted on expensive holidays and flash restaurants. Sadly, it has not turned out like that.
Instead, like most writers battling against the combined curses of mid-list anonymity and the explosion of electronic publishing, I find myself working long hours developing new projects whilst waiting for decisions from people who are either barely qualified to make them or are simply too terrified to. These days, saying ‘no’ is both easier and safer than saying ‘yes’ or even ‘maybe’.
Given that I am keen to eat once in a while (well, this belly doesn’t maintain itself!) what this means in real terms is that since time is one of only two tools I have for the generation of income (the other being what could jokingly be called ‘talent’) it has become an extremely valuable commodity. One which once consumed, is irreplaceable.
I mention this not in an effort to elicit any kind of sympathy but for a very specific reason. For I recently read an amazing article by a best-selling American writer called Leslie Banks in which she talked about the demands placed on a writer’s time and in particular, the value placed on that time by other people. And what she says is correct.
You see, like most writers I receive a steady stream of unsolicited mails from people asking for either help or advice and in the main I’ve always welcomed these and been happy to help if I can. After all, we all started somewhere right?
Recently however, increasing numbers of these mails have gone beyond simple questions about the basics of writing or publishing into requests to critique whole manuscripts, help find an agent and/or publisher or even come on board to help develop a project from scratch. This would be fine were there ever the offer of any money to carry out this work but this is rarely, if ever the case. Remember that, because I will return to it in a moment.
I’d also ask you to consider another point raised by the fabulous Ms Banks. For like her I rarely read anything else whilst I’m writing because I have learned from experience that if I do, I tend to adopt that authors style in my own work. But equally, whatever I’m reading sinks into my brain and on one occasion, something actually fell out of my subconscious and made it onto a page I’d written. Thankfully, I caught it whilst editing but supposing I hadn’t noticed it and it had made it into print only to be picked up by some eagle eyed reader who went on to point it out to the offended author. Can you imagine?
Indeed, with more and more people paranoid about the theft of ideas, it’s only a matter of time before a writer is dragged into court and accused of ripping off a plot line.
Now, put all this together and you might start to understand why more and more writers are not simply reluctant to respond to requests for help but are becoming increasingly angry about them. Because when that mail drops in my inbox what it’s actually asking is “Dear Mr Brimson, can I take advantage of your 20 odd years worth of experience and a shed load of your time to offer you the opportunity to risk getting sued to shit and back? Oh, and can you do it all for free?”
Not exactly the most attractive proposition and in all honesty, it’s actually quite insulting. After all, would you go to any other experienced professional and ask for their time free of charge? What do you think a lawyer would say to that? Or a plumber? What would you say if I came to you at your place of work and asked for something on a non-existent account? I rest my case.
So the bottom line is this; if you want to be a writer, then write. And if you want to be a published author or a credited screenwriter, then as you write, learn. Learn about the delights of plotting, the fineries of character arcs, the stress of editing, the nightmare of pitching, the complexities of contracts, the (occasional) thrill of PR, the gut-wrenching pain of rejection and the never-ending irritation of waiting.
But if you want to circumnavigate any of that and take advantage of someone else’s experience, then be prepared to put your hand in your pocket. It might cost you in the short-term but it will almost certainly save you an awful lot of both angst and time in the long terms.
And as Leslie Banks says only too well, time is money. My money.
For any writer, be it of book, script, article or blog, reviews are not just important, they are vital.
This is especially true of those just setting out along the rocky path of penmanship and who have followed the self-published author route.
However, as much as we’d like every review to be a glowing endorsement of our creativity, the reality is that not everyone is going to like what we produce. Sadly, those readers are increasingly happy to hit the internet and slaughter both a book and its author if they feel disappointed or worse, cheated.
That is their right of course, they are customers after all, but make no mistake, when this happens to you (and it will happen) it hurts. Bad. After all, if you’ve put your heart and soul into a book, having the former ripped from your chest and publicly stamped on is not exactly a barrel of laughs.
Yet the sad fact is that no matter how good a writer you are, bad reviews are an inevitability and dealing with them goes with the territory.
So how do you do it?
Accept them for what they are: an individual opinion. Yes, they’re tough to accept and trust me when I tell you that a bad review can eat away at you forever. However, if you’re happy to wallow in the affirmation of a 5* review, you’re got to learn to take the 1* criticism.
Never respond. Whilst it’s always tempting to rip into a bad reviewer like a rabid dog, leaving aside the fact that it’s bad manners, it’s also inviting trouble. Trolls love a good author spat and if they get hold of you they can do more damage to both your book and your career than you can ever imagine so don’t give them that opening.
Develop a thick skin, and fast. The more books you produce, the more negative reviews you’re going to get. Conversely, you’re also going to get more positive reviews so keep re-reading those to balance things out.
Be honest. Reviews aren’t just feedback, they’re market research so if you’re getting more bad than good, it might well be that there is actually some truth in what’s being said. So whereas good reviews will always tell you what works, bad ones will often tell you the rest. Use both as learning tools and use that information to help you make your next book better.
Enjoy them. Even a bad review means that someone has read your book, YOUR book! Be proud of that and remember, not only does each and every review push your book up the amazon rankings, it also means income. Why do you think authors are so desperate for them? Even bad ones.
Away from books, my next movie, the thriller Three Greens, is moving swiftly toward production with casting of the major roles currently underway. In addition, I am thrilled to announce that another script has been given the green light and with finance in place, is also heading toward casting.
I can’t say much about this new project, but I can guarantee that it’s going to cause quite a stir!
I am a Falklands Veteran. Yes, that’s right, 36 years ago I was one of those brave souls who headed south to drive the invading Argentinean scum from our land.
However, I have a confession to make. You see I wasn’t one of the amazing Para’s who yomped across the Islands carrying a weight akin to a medium sized child on their backs, nor was I one of the sailors who spent their war bobbing up and down on waves which, from the films I’ve seen, gave them a ride like a non-stop trip on the Big One at Blackpool.
No, my war was easy. More importantly, it was fun.
You see as a member of her majesties Royal Air Force, my war was spent on the relative luxury of Wideawake Airfild on Ascension Island which, for those that don’t know, is a pile of volcanic rock in the middle of the Atlantic. Being close to the Equator, it’s also quite warm. Well, very warm.
Now I won’t go into what my actual job was (I’d have to hunt you all down and kill you) but after a very exciting flight down, most of which was spent in the cockpit of a VC10 talking UFO’s with the crew –well at least those who were awake- it involved a lot of sitting around and waiting. Now this sounds fun and to be honest, as someone who does pretty much that for a living now, it generally is. But when you’re at war and both chaos and uncertainty are all around you, you do kind of get caught up in things and so in an effort to do my bit, I ended up working with the American Fire Crews who, it’s fair to say, pretty much ran the Island. As a result, I would be tasked with all kinds of odd things from dragging extremely stubborn donkeys from the runway with a Landrover through to sorting through the endless pallets of gifts which had been sent down to the Task Force from the fabulous people back home. Gifts which included everything from beer and fags to hard core porn!
And when I wasn’t doing that, I spent my time doing everything from swimming with what I later learned to be sea-water Piranhas (yes, really) and trying to break into the NASA station in the middle of the Island through to being spied on by the SAS. And that really is a tale!
I was also prone to playing practical jokes on people. Jokes which included placing a huge land crab in my bosses sleeping bag which he only found when he climbed into it after a 24 hour shift and scaring the shit out of the intelligence officers by hiding in their porta-loo in the middle of the night and screaming ‘BOO!’ when they pulled the door open. Trust me, the impact that can have when you’ve been told to expect an Argentinean Special Forces attack is quite dramatic!
Of course, things changed dramatically when rumours of the Vulcan raids began to break -and I cannot even begin to describe what it was like to be involved with those- and once our fabulous soldiers had actually landed and the fight to reclaim the Islands began, even those of us thousands of miles away felt like we really were at war. Which of course, we were.
And then the losses began, and when the injured started to drift back I started to actually understand the realities of war for those who had been on the front line. That really was an experience I will never forget nor is it one I would ever want to repeat. Humbling doesn’t come close.
Victories were of course, celebrated in time-honoured style but oddly, the actual surrender came as something of an anti-climax. But whilst I remember exactly where I was when I heard it, nothing much changed for me, at least not initially. My job, such as it was, continued whilst supplies still had to sorted, planes still took off and landed and donkeys still had to moved!
When troops started making their way back it actually became even busier and in fact one of my most emotional periods of the entire war came when a Hercules full of Harrier lads landed en route back home. Amongst them were lads I knew personally having worked with them on 4 Squadron in Germany only months previous.
Then out of the blue came the news that I was to go home. In fact, I was the first RAF serviceman on Ascension Island to be told that their job had been stood down which is something I’m quite proud of. Within days, I was geared up to head back to the UK, thankfully, on the very plane that the new (and first) Station Warrant Officer arrived on and those of you with experience of the RAF will know what that means!
My arrival back at RAF Brize Norton was unintentionally hilarious as I flew back with a group of those special men from Hereford who had no intention of hanging around for the elaborate ceremony that had been organised to welcome back the other soldiers on the plane (Cue potentially very violent stand-off!). This being followed by a three-hour wait for a car to take me back to Abingdon and a row with the orderly Sergeant who refused to take my rifle off me. Hence my having to sleep with it in my bed.
And that was that. Not for me the civic receptions nor the big parades but I cherish my South Atlantic campaign medal and am as proud of that as I am of anything I have ever done before or since.
Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. War may be hell for some but for many it’s also where they feel more alive than you can possibly imagine. Even those of us who played only a minor part.
To all those who lost loved ones or who have endured untold suffering since 1982, please do not think for one second that I am trying to belittle what you have gone and are going though. Nothing could be further from the truth as I am, and continue to be, in awe of you all.
All of my books, including the comedy Wings of a Sparrow are available in ebook and paperback format from either Amazon or iTunes.
The audio version of Top Dog is also now available to download and joins the ebook, paperback and movie to make the clean sweep of all platforms! Not too shabby if I say so myself.
Work continues apace on a variety of movie projects including a brand new comedy about a group of very special old ladies. More on this as and when.
And yes, the third book in the The Crew/Top Dog trilogy is almost finished!
armed forces, hooligan, british film, top dog, green street, self publishing, manchester united, liverpool, sex, maggie thatcher, veteran, UKIP, tory Argentina
green street, falklands, top dog, martin kemp, leo gregory, author, writing, screenwriting, script, hooliganism, violence, football, soccer, war, Ukraine, Russia, Crimea, sex, porn, perversion
I won’t go into the medical details other than to say that whilst it wasn’t exactly unexpected, his ultimate demise was quite sudden but it was also very peaceful. I know that, because I was with him when he died.
He was a great man my dad, a legend in fact. I know many people says that about their fathers but in his case, it was true. Indeed, he is cited by many of his peers, including Billy Connolly and Jasper Carrott, as being one of the most influential figures on the British folk scene that exploded in the 60’s and 70’s.
However, it wasn’t simply his undoubted abilities as a musician that earned him that accolade, it was as much his skills as a story teller. Oh yes, the old boy could certainly tell a tale. Indeed, a quick search of Facebook will reveal numerous threads containing ‘my favourite Derek Brimstone’ joke.
I mention this now because one of the questions frequently thrown at me is how, and indeed why, I made the transition from humble serviceman to best-selling author and screenwriter.
Usually, my answer is something along the lines of ‘it was the only way I could think of to earn a living sitting at home watching football’ but the truth is, it was because of my father. For he was the one who taught me not only how to to weave a tale, but to construct humour. Be it as a simple one-liner or in a full length novel such as Billy’s Log.
Sadly, I never really acknowledged that until recently and I certainly never thanked him for it. But the truth is that every book and film I’ve ever written has the DNA of my dad running through it and for that, I will be eternally grateful.
Talk to any writer for long enough and they will inevitably tell you that their heads are pretty messed up.
Not in the sense that they/we have some kind of mental issue (well, not all of us), but in the sense that our brains are constantly filtering random thoughts and ideas. Be they for books, characters or even simple scenes.
This is especially true of those writers who tackle contemporary issues because if we have any intention of injecting reality into our work it is vital to actually get out there and experience a bit of it. In my case, as someone who tends to feature football in most of my work, watching games really is research (which is why my local and most fabulous Watford FC supporting tax officer always tells me to deduct it against my tax!). It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.
Sometimes of course, an idea will fly in and fly out, other times it’ll hang about for a bit and then be forgotten whilst a few will eventually find their way into a project. But there are others which, by virtue of the fact that they are just too good to ignore, simply wedge themselves into my consciousness like some kind of mental post-it note. And if an idea can survive my Alzheimer like memory, it generally means it is worth taking notice of.
I have a few of those hanging around and hopefully, most will see the light of day at some point in the near future. Indeed one in particular already has me buzzing even though I have two books to write before I can even think about tackling it. And much as I’d like to tell you what it is, I can’t. Or rather I won’t.
Because you see in my warped world, ideas are currency. They are after all, the very basis of my creative output and so I need to not only nurture, but protect them!
I mention this now because my new book, a comedy entitled Wings of a Sparrow, is the result of such a process because it stems from an idea I first had over six years ago. I actually pitched it to my publishers at the time and even though they turned it down, I knew it was a great idea which is why I kept tinkering with it. Now, thanks to the joys of self-publishing, it will very shortly see the light of day. Hopefully as soon as the first week in December.
Full details of what will be my fifteenth book (how did that happen??) can be found on its dedicated website but I have to say that I am genuinely excited about this one, more so in fact than I have been about a project for a long time. It just feels…. well, right, although ultimately of course, that will be for you lot to decide!
And now, having finished Wings, I am already onto the next one which is, as promised, the sequel to Top Dog, the third book in the Billy Evans trilogy.
The plot-line I’ve developed is quite possibly the best I’ve ever come up with and as I’ve been fleshing this out, I’ve been buzzing with ideas including some which will involve characters from the previous books. Indeed, I am almost certain that I’ll be writing this in a way which means it will be quite difficult to read it without having read the previous two. To me, and to others I’ve discussed it with, given the nature of the central character and the world he inhabits, that makes perfect sense but if you have any thoughts, please let me know.
Two things I am certain of are the title and the fact that it will be released as an eBook initially, all being well around late spring.
But in the meantime, I have the release of Wings of a Sparrow to deal with and that should hit the online stores in the first week of December. Test-reads have been universally positive and hopefully, given the subject matter (and the fact that there is no mention of hooliganism!) it should attract some decent press.
As ever… watch this space!!!
I know I seem to say this every month but thanks to everyone who continues to keep The Crew at number one on the free soccer book download charts of both Amazon and iTunes.
That’s into 15 straight months now which is some kind of achievement and something I am incredibly proud of. Top Dog also continues to sell really well (it’s currently at #2) so here’s hoping the new book does just as well.
As a professional writer, I’m often asked what I find most difficult about my job.
Aside from the obvious answer of ‘getting paid’ my usual response isn’t finding an idea, nor is it getting motivated, it’s remaining motivated. Indeed, when a project will inevitably take many months to put together, it takes a special kind of commitment (or madness) to keep the enthusiasm and motivation going long enough to be able to sit down every day and drive it along to completion.
However, it is important to remember that motivation isn’t within us, it’s something we have to provide for ourselves. And having been at it for over twenty year now, I have learned that key to doing that are two things: routine and reward.
WRITING ROUTINE There is no way to write, only ways. Therefore it is vital that you find what works for you and stick with it.
For some, that will mean an office, a quiet corner or even the sofa whilst for others, it will mean Starbucks or even the local beach. Some like to write in silence, others like noise, some in the morning, some late at night. Whatever it is, once you have established a routine, stepping into it will help your creative mindset and you’ll be away.
WRITING REWARD A simple love of writing or a desire to tell a specific story may well be all the reward you need but for others, like me, there have to be two specific and personal incentives. The first when you hit your daily word count can be something as simple as a glass of wine or a Mars bar and the second, when you hand over the finished work, can be something major such as a holiday or even a new motorbike.
Whatever they are, keep them fixed firmly in your mind (maybe even write them as your screensaver) and make sure that when you’ve earned them, you take them and you savour them.
Fairly soon, these, like your routine, will become part and parcel of your writing life and with any luck, the process of writing won’t ever be a chore, it’ll become relatively easy. Which is pretty much what’s happened to me although to be fair, I have been doing it a long time.
So I know what works for me, the question is, what works for you?
A couple of weeks ago, whist sitting at my computer as I do most days, I had one of those gut-wrenching writing related moments when I begrudgingly accepted that what I was working on wasn’t working.
These, as you can imagine, are painful times for a writer because not only do they signify wasted creative effort, but wasted time. Worse than that, they inevitably kick off feelings of frustration and anger and can even signal the start of what some people refer to as writers block (and my feelings on that are well documented).
Anyway, when such a moments occur in Brimson Towers, any one of a number of things will happen:
1. I will make tea before simply dumping everything I’ve written and starting again.
2. I will make tea and settle into a few hours of quiet reflection (sulking) before going back and finding a way to make it work.
3. I will make tea, curse my life and lack of talent and settle into a few days of quiet reflection (sulking) before going back and finding a way to make it work.
4. i will switch on the internet and waste hours of time arguing with someone in the name of research and/or spend loads of money on eBay before going back and finding a way to make it work.
5. I will go out on a motorbike for a few hours and return with not only a way to make it work, but a way to make it better.
Sadly, due to the ravages of time on my knackered back, number 5 is no longer an option which left me with only four choices, or so I thought. Because as I switched on the obligatory kettle, it suddenly struck me that I wasn’t actually enjoying writing. Not just the project I was actually working on, but at all. This light-bulb moment instantly presented me with a fifth option and it was one which, as someone who lists ‘laziness’ as a personal attribute, had an obvious appeal. So much so that right then and there, I grabbed it with both hands. It was retirement.
Yes, that’s right. I didn’t tell anyone about it but early on in November I made the conscious decision to retire from writing altogether. It was bliss, and it lasted approximately two days.
But what dragged me back to my keyboard wasn’t boredom, it was a series of phone calls informing me that two scripts I’d written had taken major steps forward along the development path whilst another idea I’d thrown into the mix had begun to generate some serious excitement.
As motivational tools go, mentions of A-List actors and doubled budgets sit pretty high on the list and so I am happy to announce that my short-lived retirement is now at an end. In fact my writing life is more hectic than it has been in ages.