Steven Dunne: The Reaper, and Writing a Novel

Steven Dunne is another author who locates his work in Derbyshire.

Previously I posted a video of Sarah Ward and Stephen Booth talking about their work. Those two writers set their stories in the rural north of Derbyshire, Dunne uses the city of Derby itself.

During my childhood I lived in the south of the county, about 15 miles from Derby. Trips to the city were rare. My specific memories are vague and they either centre on shopping trips or the area around the Baseball Ground, the former home of the Derby County football team, where I was taken many times on Saturday afternoons.

As for the north of the county, I recall two day trips where we ended up at Matlock Bath. The original destination had been Buxton, but navigation was never my dad’s strong point. Often we set out for one place only to arrive somewhere unexpected.
While we didn’t get to the place we intended, at least I got to see a lot of the countryside.

reaperI’ve just finished Dunne’s first book The Reaper, originally self-published, the book was eventually picked up by a major publisher.

Detective Inspector Damen Brook is an outcast within his department.  When the on duty Detective is called out to investigate a murder, Brook is the on-call officer called upon when a second murder is reported on the same night.

Brook finds  a murder scene that seems far too similar to those he’s witnessed in the past when he worked in London; the work of a serial killer Brook had named “The Reaper”.

Is this case related? If so why has the Reaper reappeared and why has he seemingly followed Brook to a new city?

The novel switches back and forth between Brook’s current investigations and his memories of the earlier cases, looking for the links between present and past, hoping to find proof of The Reaper’s identity.

The opening of the book was quite unpleasant, starting with a young, highly unlikable teenage boy, with a foul mouth and even fouler mind. A boy well on his way to being formed in his father’s image, living with the belief that women are good for only one thing.

I found this beginning had an unpleasant harshness that thankfully didn’t carry thorough the book, but it plays its part in establishing an important character and setting up the circumstances of approaching crimes.

Skimming through reviews on-line, I found a lot of mixed feelings about the book, but none that were overly unfavourable. Most found the book enjoyable but flawed, recognisable as an author’s first; and I agree. My feelings about it were also mixed. I found it mostly compelling, with a few unexpected twists, but I also found that one or two aspects of it made its main character, Brook, hard to empathise with, and I wonder whether he’s someone I really want to spend more time with. However, as I’ve already bought the follow up story, The Disciple, I’ll have to give him an opportunity to prove me wrong and win me over.

 

As this “Out of Shadows” blog site was originally intended to encourage me to regain my own writing ambitions (to date an unfruitful intention), I’ll add the following link to Steven Dunne’s blog where access is given to a four part series of article on “Writing a novel” The link also gives access to an interesting radio interview with Dunne.

 

The question Steven gets asked most often is: how do you write a novel and get it published?

There’s no easy answer and all novelists have their own way of working, but in the series of articles [at the link] below, Steven talks about the challenges and pitfalls he faced as he sought to get his first novel, Reaper, published.

https://sdunne2013.wordpress.com/2013/06/18/writing-a-novel/

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Baghdad Burning

An article in the Guardian, “Top 10 books about the Iraq war”* made me aware of the Baghdad Burning blog:

https://riverbendblog.blogspot.com.au/BB vol2BBurn vol1

The blog content has been released in book form, with two volumes. After reading through the first few entries on the blog I didn’t hesitate to order the books.

 

 

Thursday, August 21, 2003 posted by River

EMAILS

Most of the emails moved me to… gratitude. Thank you for understanding… no, thank you for even *trying* to understand. Other emails, on the other hand, were full of criticism, cynicism and anger. You really don’t have to read my blog if you don’t want to and you certainly don’t have to email me telling me how much you hate it. It’s great to get questions and differing opinions- but please be intelligent about it, and above all, creative- if I want to hear what Fox News has to say, I’ll watch it.

And keep one thing in mind- tanks and guns can break my bones, but emails can be deleted.

____________________________

 

* https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jul/13/top-10-books-about-the-iraq-war-chilcot-report

Not Working, by Lisa Owens

not workingThe subject of Lisa Owen’s book appealed to me.
Claire leaves her job of six years, hoping/expecting the newfound time and freedom will create the opportunity to find her “purpose” in life.

I understand.
It’s the kind of thought I’ve often had.
It’s the kind of idea I’ve acted on more than once; firstly when I ceased fulltime work to study, then several years later when I left my job and home in the city to start again in country New South Wales.
In neither case did my desired outcome ultimately lead to anything different, but both times it seemed like it was necessary to at least try to break out from the rut I’d worn for myself, if I wanted to find a better path in life.

Therefore, as soon as I heard about Not Working I wanted to read it.

Apart from the appeal of the story itself, I really like the structure of the book. Each chapter is subdivided under headings identifying locations, events and times. The text within those subdivisions can be  gems of “wisdom”, Claire’s personal observations, or part of the ongoing narrative of her quest for purpose.

Lists Each section adds to our unfolding understanding of Claire and her situation, with varying degrees of subtlety sometimes with pathos other times with humour; sometimes with clarity and other times more cryptically.

It’s the kind of approach I could see myself using – IF in some other reality I’d actually taken the literary path I’d wanted. If I’d disciplined myself to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, on a regular basis without the pressured incentive of deadlines and university demands.

karmaBut maybe there’s still hope.

I now see a way to use disparate ideas, isolated thoughts that of themselves have promise but aren’t amenable to stretching into a more extensive story.
Maybe they can be used without expansion, a scattering of them throughout a larger narrative, helping to pause the story flow: but not without significance. Each one in some way adding to the story, revealing more about its characters and their relationships,  and not merely serving as padding.

availabilityA larger story created out of shorter, seemingly incomplete, isolated incidents that over time the reader can piece together as common elements start to coalesce.

I may seem to have digressed from the book itself, but in fact the book has helped me return to the main reasons for creating this blog: encouraging me to read (and finish) more books and to reinvigorate my long-time neglected ambition/desire to be a writer.
Not Working is the type of book I genuinely enjoy to read. The kind I can’t wait get back to. It’s a book with an engaging story that re-stirs my desire to write, written in a way that presents some practical and interesting story writing possibilities.

pillow talk

FORTY. (a 1992 short story by Onesimus).

Figments

This is my only surviving story.

It survives because it was included in an anthology of work published by a University writer’s group. The title of the anthology is Figments. It was published in 1992.

The version below is a slightly edited version of the original; amended to fix a couple of parts I wasn’t happy with.

 

___________________________

FORTY
A shadow came from darkness and flecked my face with scarlet as rushing stars twinkled around me. My foot hit the brake and I skidded to the kerb. Did the tyres scream or was it me?
I left the car and ran to the nearby shops. The shadow stained the road with redness as I fumbled with the payphone.

“It’s all right mate, we’ve already done that”. A hand reached across and removed the receiver from, my trembling grip.
*
The police arrived and took control.
“What was your speed at the time of the accident?”
“I…I’m not sure. I think it was around forty.”
“What, forty k’s?”
“No. it was miles. I’ve got an old speedo.”
“Better say thirty-five then. Forty’s a touch over. Could you remove your valuables from the car? We need to take it to the station. We’ll have to keep it for a few days for inspection…”
I removed a few loose items and glanced at the damage. The bonnet was turned up harshly, a circular indentation smeared with blood marred its centre: a head-sized depression.

A twisted shoe on the road mourned the loss of a wearer.
*
The ambulance drove slowly as it left. Dead on arrival the papers would say.
The tow truck driver hovered in the shadows, his presence revealed by the glow of a cigarette. At the policeman’s signal he moved in. I watched as my car was hauled away in disgrace, it’s rear almost dragging on the road.
“We’ll need a formal statement from you,” the policeman said, returning a notebook to his pocket. “Call down at the station in the next couple of days and we’ll fix it all up. Okay?”
I nodded and tried to smile.
*
I didn’t sleep that night but relived the few seconds of the accident continually until daylight interrupted. Later I relived them again for the police statement; for concerned family and friends, for the insurance companies and finally I relived them for the coroner.
*
There weren’t many in the court. Only a routine case. Nothing interesting. A policeman sat next to me, showed me photos of my car and told me not to worry. But that was easy for him to say. What was the sentence for manslaughter anyway?
It didn’t take long. The victim was drunk. Extremely drunk. Lucky he could walk at all with so much alcohol in him. Lucky! That was debateable.

I smiled. I would sleep in my, own bed that night after all.
*
Celebrate, I thought.
It’s all over. It wasn’t my fault.
I left my car at home. No way would I drink and drive. Not with the amount I planned to put away.

I grinned my way through the first four drinks. Laughed through the next three, then silently appreciated the last two.

As the lights dimmed the barman caught my attention.
“Time to go mate. We’re closing. Dýa need a cab?”
“Nah. I’m right…Walking home.” I opened my wallet and took out a ten dollar bill. “Here, have a couple yerself sometime.”
I walked to the door leaving the money on the bar.
“Thanks mate. Sure you’ll be right?”
I waved acknowledgement and pushed out through the door into the cool air.
The street light’s lined the side of the road, marking out the route home. I followed them carefully until I reached the shops where I had to cross over.

I turned to the kerb and looked towards the approaching headlights. I’ll be alright, I thought as I stepped onto the road. He’s only doing around forty.
__________________
©Onesimus 1992.

Note. The reference to “speedo” in the above story has nothing to do with swim wear :), but is an Australian colloquialism for speedometer.
Likewise the term “bonnet” is not describing headwear 🙂 but refers to the part of a car Americans call the “hood”.

The story was inspired by personal experience.

At the time of writing it, I was using favourite song titles to name my stories, even though the songs themselves usually had no link to the story’s content. This title came from a U2 song.

Risky Reading (and blogging)

There are clear risks for a Christian to have a book blog, particularly when the majority of books mentioned (and included on my reading lists) are “secular” books.

Now that word “risk” may seem a strange choice – what risk could there possibly be?
Well… some people like to dig around and find “evidence” they can use to discredit the blogger elsewhere. It’s happened to me in the past, when I was a frequent contributor to a Christian forum. One of the other contributors visited the blog I kept prior to this one, and saw something I’d written about a Stephen King biography – BINGO! – They had “evidence” to prove what a compromised Christian I was, and therefore whatever I wrote on that forum couldn’t be trusted.

A similar thing happened this week, when a poster on a Christian forum pointed out that I’d read five secular books so far this year (clearly finding that information on this blog) , presenting that as evidence of a compromised spiritual state, attempting to invalidate what I was saying in the discussion underway.

That kind of thing is something I have to weigh up before posting anything to this blog – but to date I haven’t held back anything I’ve wanted to say and I haven’t left any books off my “books read” lists to hide my reading material. I have no need to be dishonest about it.

The only concession I make with regard to this issue, is to limit links from my other blog, (one that deals more specifically with Christian matters) to this one. I find I can’t trust some people to put aside religious narrow mindedness to appreciate the reasons for what I read, and the subjects I write about here.

On the other hand, I have no reticence in sending traffic from here to there. In fact I’d like to think that people, who may come here through an interest in books, could also be interested in visiting that other blog and be exposed to a more targeted Christian viewpoint on a variety of issues.

Here is a link to that blog
https://onesimusfiles.wordpress.com/

History Mine: a personal history of history (1)

My interest in history developed too late: after my parents moved our family from England to Australia. It was only then that I started to regret not taking a greater interest in the historical landscape of the place I’d left. Wishing that I could again visit castles, churches, cemeteries and grand houses that I’d taken for granted as a child.
They were only old buildings to my pre-and early teen self. I’d had no awareness of (or interest in) the people and events associated with them. That only came when they were no longer accessible.

It was hard to get excited about the “history” of my new country. In England I’d been to houses older than Australia’s recorded history*.
Maybe it was partially “home-sickness” that started to draw my mind back, reminding me of what I’d lost and giving it a significance I’d not previously considered.

If only I could see Tutbury Castle again, now knowing of its connection with Mary Queen of Scots. And the nearby St Mary’s church, parts of which date back to the 1100s, where my friends and I raced around the graveyard to see who could find the oldest grave.

Then there was Kenilworth Castle and Stonehenge, visited on different school trips – and the Tower of London where my family seemed to queue for hours to catch a glimpse of the crown Jewels, and where I was very unimpressed when I saw the Bloody Tower, which wasn’t really tower, and didn’t have people sitting around swearing at each other as I’d imagined as a young child.

I could probably list more of those places I visited without appreciating. And I could look back at things closer to home – such as the WWII air raid shelters alongside my school, the entrances of which were all sealed, apart from one, which no-one dared to enter beyond the first few steps, for fear of what may still be down there.

So, separated from those physical reminders of centuries of history, I’ve had to make do with books about that history.

Unfortunately those books can only provide a distant view that lacks some of the thrill of seeing and touching where history was acted out. And that distance is greater when it rarely touches upon the local links I recall, when local histories of places I lived aren’t easily accessible.

Why She Writes.

I’d never heard of Laurie Penny until yesterday when he saw her participating on a discussion panel on the ABC TV show Q&A.

That particular episode aired a couple of months ago and I watched an on-line recording.

She and I would disagree about many things, but I thought she made some very insightful contributions to the discussion on a few different topics.

I decided to find out more about her and came across her article “Why I write”, published in the Spring 2014 edition of Overland.

It is an excellent piece of writing about writing and writers.

Here is a sobering excerpt from the article that I should remember every time my desire and/or ambition to be a writer starts to stir :

When it comes to being a writer, there are a couple of questions that really matter. Do you write? Would you prefer to put words on a page than almost anything else? Do you stay up late to write, get up early to write, escape your friends and partners and small children to be alone with words? Can you actually finish a story – have you mastered the habit of whipping your wild thoughts into a workable form, signing them off and letting them go? Do you have enough patience to sit with a manuscript for hours until it’s done, but enough impatience to chase a story through the small hours of the morning until you’ve caught and nailed it down?
Most importantly: do you read?
There is no universal writing life. But there are a few qualities that most of the really fantastic writers I know have in common – and the first of those is reading. Writers read widely and compulsively.

Full article here:
https://overland.org.au/previous-issues/issue-216/feature-laurie-penny/