Allan Mayer’s Weblog

Posts Tagged ‘thriller

I try not to blow my own trumpet- I know where it’s been!

Thanks to Simon Jarrett for doing it for me in my latest review on Amazon:

Tasting the Wind by Allan Mayer.

 I read this book after hearing Allan Mayer read some extracts from it at a conference – and I’m so glad that I did. Anyone who was around during the ‘big resttlement’ of the 1980s will cringe as they recognise many of the absurdities and contradictions of the time. These are beautifully captured by Mayer in the debates about language and ‘real choice’, the early experiments at social integration ending in tragi-comic farcical outcomes in pubs and shops and his hilarious minutes of residential home staff meetings. He also gives a riveting portrayal of the utterly, bizarre, other-planetary world of the long-stay hospital: that asylum where people were anything but safe, the hospital were people weren’t ill and didn’t get treated, the NHS facility where most of the staff were more institutionalised than the patients. If you weren’t around at that time then this book will give you a searingly honest portrayal of what it was like, including the mistakes and the new absurdities perpetrated by some of the well-meaning but at times over-zealous ‘liberators’ who supported people out of the hospitals. However the book is much more than this. At different times it had me shaking with laughter, welling up with tears and consumed by rage – sometimes within the space of one or two pages. He is a gifted comic writer, but never at the expense of the people of he is writing about and has created a world of believable, rounded people, including the people with severe learning disabilities who are the stars of the novel. Although very, very funny at times this is not a comic novel – it has very serious themes and an underlying poignancy. To have created a thriller in which the stars are two people with severe learning disabilities, one of whom can’t talk and the other seems to chant nonsense, is some achievement and gives an identity to people which no amount of worthy ‘values’ training could ever achieve. Allan Mayer captures something very important about the post-hospital experience of people with learning disabilities and the people who work with them. However progressive and ‘person centred’ the thinking, we seem to find ever more ingenious ways of not listening to what people with learning disabilities are trying to tell us, even the most progressive amongst us. Some would say especially the most progressive amongst us. I share other reviewers experience of the at times bizarre layout of this novel, with strange gaps and rogue paragraphs floating up or down to where they shouldn’t be. I believe it arises from this being printed to order rather than in bulk. However for me it somehow reflected the world it was written about – it’s the sort of book layout you’d expect to come out of the strange world of the mental handicap hospital.

Thanks Simon, Much appreciated.

       ‘Tasting the Wind’ is now available!

                 

cover1

                       Christmas Eve, 1976: a man dies, tied to his bed in a Victorian Mental Institution…Andrew saw what happened. Eddie saw what happened. But their severe learning disabilities prevent them from communicating what they have seen.

 Ten years later, the hospital is destined for closure and Andrew and Eddie move to a bungalow in the community.

  Enter Martin Peach, who has come into care work for all the wrong reasons. And as if the challenge of helping six severely disabled people settle into a sometimes hostile community is not enough, his new manager, ex-nurse Della Belk, has a deadly secret which links her to the new residents…

 

 Can Martin and his colleagues put together the fragmented clues about Andrew and Eddie’s  pasts before one of them becomes the next victim?

 

 

 Praise for Tasting the Wind

 

 I immediately cared. I will be reading more…!     Ruth Estevez

compelling reading – couldn’t put it down.     Janet Thompson

 Superb …a real achievement   Lee Morris

Couldn’t put the book down! Hope you sell loads!  Linda Jackson

WOW!! This has got to be a winner… brilliant.  Jane Dunnett

 

Tasting The Wind is a truly gripping read.  Darren Houghton 
  (You can read these comments and more in my guest book)

 

 

               You can buy Tasting the Wind now at:   Amazon.co.uk  (free delivery available)  or at over twenty online booksellers. Compare prices here:   Bookbutler  or for free delivery anywhere in the world go to book depository

 Or order from your Local W.H. Smiths or Waterstones bookshops, quoting :   ISBN-10: 1849233802   or   ISBN-13: 978-1849233804

 

50% of my royalties will  be going to Derian House Children’s Hospice

 

 

As ‘The Wizard of Oz’ is to Pink Floyd, so The Seven Dwarves are to…

For some time now there has been a school of thought on the internet which has pointed out a spooky synchronicity between Pink Floyd’s ‘the Dark Side of the Moon’ and the film, ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ (Go on- check it out!)
The latest rumour of this type is that an unidentified bestselling author based the characters in his novel upon those of the Seven Dwarves. Judge for yourself from the exerpts below, which are taken from an early draft of the work acquired only this week…

Chapter 94

‘The curator even died with a smile on his face,’ said the albino assassin. ‘He was always happy, even in death. What bloody right had he got to be happy all of the time? He should have tried living my life.’

The Doc tried not to pay too much attention to the rubik’s cube which he was holding, because he now knew beyond doubt that it held the answer: at its centre was a parchment, wrapped around a vial of vinegar, which, if broken, would cause the material upon which the clue was written to disintegrate.

The Doc had had no trouble securing the cathedral for his private use. After all, the Archbishop owed him one, and all he’d had to do was say ‘nice frock, Bish,’ to reduce him to a blushing, beard twiddling, malleable heap.

So now it was a case of waiting with Miss White, whose skills as a cryptographer were second only to her indescribable beauty, to see who turned up.

And so far, it had been the albino.

It occurred to the Doc that even in the unusually tourist-free cathedral, the monotone voice of the albino failed to produce an echo, as if the immense walls were themselves finding him too tedious to engage with.

Just listen to him, whingeing again about his cilice. And it’s not even about it cutting into his flesh… oh no, it’s the style and colour this time… not what he would have chosen… so who did choose it? Who is the mastermind behind all of this?
The Doc’s train of thought was interrupted by the rustling of paper.

‘Gee what a nice little museum. Have they got dinosaurs?’

It was John Doe, P.I.

‘Surely,’ said the Doc, ‘you can’t be the evil genius who …’

‘No, I just got these from an English chipshop and stepped in out of the rain- want one?’

The Doc suddenly realised that in the last twenty-four hours he had traveled the length of two continents and as well as having no sleep the only thing he’d touched which resembled food had been a poisoned apple.

He reached out to take a French fry, but his hand froze as he heard an all too familiar sound from a dark corner of the cathedral:

‘Aaaaaa-choooo.’

‘Professor Teabing… I should have known… or ‘Sneezing Teabing,’ as we called you at the seminary.’

The Doc slipped the Rubik’s cube under Doe’s ‘chip paper’ and into his oily palm, whispering: get this to lecouchez at Interpol.

He knew that this could be a gamble. Lecouchez’s narcolepsy tended to kick in at inconvenient points during investigations… but who else could he trust?’

Spinning round, he saw Teabing hobbling toward him, and wondered why he had never noticed his strong resemblance to Magneto.

‘Give me the… A-a-a-a… give me the… A-a-a-a-CUBE!’

‘Haven’t got it,’ said the Doc, holding up both hands.’

‘Don’t lie to me, Doc, I know that.. Aaaaaaarrrrrrgggghhh…’

‘Was that meant to be a sneeze?’

‘No, it was meant to be an aaaarrrrggghhhh… you fool! What have you done?’

Teabing was staring over Doc’s shoulder. He turned to see Doe, who was holding one half of the cube over his dinner.’

‘Gee,’ he said, waving the broken puzzle , ‘who’d have thought: a Rubik’s vinegar shaker.’

Jack felt his pulse quicken, but the cube was no longer the focus of his attention. Something else, something he had never expected to see, was rising from the midst of the grease-soaked potato snack.

Chapter 95

Grabbing Miss White with one hand, and the bag of chips in the other, Doc ran for the door, leaving behind him the crumpled, sneezing theologian, the hapless Investigator, and the grumbling albino.

‘Where are we going?’ asked Snow.

‘Haven’t you worked it out? What we are looking for is not a grail, but a woman with royal blood from the line of king David.’

‘But who could it be?’

‘I don’t know Princess,’ he said, pulling a long turd-shaped object from the bag, ‘but I’ve got the next clue.’

‘What’s that?’

‘Deep fried Mars bar… we’re off to Scotland…’

I would be interested if anyone has any information of a similar kind. A.M.

Is Novel Writing Character Building?

So we have estabished the novel’s setting and it’s genre. Now to people it with characters.

Your story should be character driven, in which case you will find that the situations which start to form in your mind already come from what those characters are ‘about.’ All novels, whether they be thrillers, romances, Science Fiction, or whatever, should reflect life in that they deal with what happens when person A, with a certain agenda, meets with person B, with his particular motivations.

Some characters will mix well, but what really drives the story forward is conflict.

This doesn’t mean that your major protagonists always have to be a ‘goodie’ and a ‘baddie.’ Conflict can arise between characters who are really well matched- Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy being the classic examples of this.

As I am no Jane Austen (and who is?) I have stuck with clearly defining who wears the black hat and who the white from the outset.

But it is still important, having said that, to remember two things: firstly, unless you’re writing pantomime, characters never believe that they themselves are wrong or evil, because people in real life don’t think that way. Apparently Al Capone saw himself as a great public benefactor, and I’m sure that Robert Mugabe will think that he has been a great president.

Secondly, a character MUST have shades- even a bad guy has endearing features, and a good guy has flaws and even vices.

I once read a suggestion in a ‘how to write’ book that you could keep your characters differentiated by basing each one on the characteristics of a different star sign.

Now I wouldn’t want to knock someone who has taken the trouble to write a book which helps people to create, but personally I would find basing my characters on the supposed characteristics of their star signs about as useful as basing them upon those of the seven dwarves.

The problem with using this sort of formula is that it could lead to you not creating characters, but types.

Yes, you need consistency, and yes, the old cliche is true that there is a point where the characters take on a ‘life of their own.’ BUT… realistic characters, in literature as in life, have contradictions.

I have just been reading an article:

http://digg.com/arts_culture/The_Art_of_Character_Depth

where this very subject is being discussed with reference to film characters. Hannibal Lecter tops the list- a monster, but a cultured gentleman. Similarly, there is the much earlier example of Alex in ‘A Clockwork Orange.’ He takes part in gang warfare, rapes minors, terrorises an elderly intellectual, but doesn’t half love a bit of Beethoven!

And these contradictions not only give depth to the character- they are the hook upon which the whole premise of the book hangs.

In ‘Tasting the Wind,’ Della causes the death of a patient in her care (listen to this in the first video on this blog.) It would probably be classed as manslaughter. Without giving too much away, when we next meet Della she is a born again Christian. She has also developed from being an abuser, to the level of potential murderer. How are these related?

The backstory that emerges is of her seeking absolution, being told at an evangelical rally that her sins are forgiven, and spending a lifetime being tortured by her attempts to balance this against the weight of what she has done.

So if star signs and the Seven Dwarves don’t work for you, where do you get your characters from? You could always do what successful writers have done down the ages, which is to use a combination of experience and imagination.

It is well known that Shakespeare based his Falstaff on a man called Sir John Oldcastle, that Thomas Hardy drew heavily upon his background, D.H. Lawrence based the characters of ‘Sons and Lovers’ and ‘Women in Love’ upon himself, his family and his social set and (this one’s for the kids,) Andy Cope’s ‘Spy Dog,’ Lara, is a family pet.

I never met Della. She is a combinaion of 3-4 people I have known (not all female,) plus a large dose of imagination.

Obviously, if you are developing an unsympathetic character based upon someone you know, no connection should be left which can be used in court! Think what you want to say about the character. If your model is an obese woman, make your character a thin man. You can do that without losing essential elements of the character, and it will open up other avenues which will add complexity.

There are even bits of me in Della: large frame (Euphemism alert!!!,) love of gadgets. but that, hopefully, is as far as it goes.

That’s all for this meandering. I must admit, regardless of what I said, the idea of bestselling novelists basing their characters on the Seven Dwarves has somewhat fired my imagination.

Hmmm… I think I’ll explore that one in my next posting.

Friday, 25 April 2008

The baby wasn’t what I had expected…

So- I’ve got the setting, what is the story?

Needless to say the original idea was nothing like the finished product. My original intention was, purely and simply:
to write a novel about the grim realities of life in a Victorian institution, to chart the progress of individuals moving from one, and to give an insight into ‘Care in the Community.’

(Recognise that phrase? These days it’s used mainly by comedians or newsreaders delivering tragic reports. It used to be used by politicians to mean ‘cheaper option.’)

In the original story, Frankie Adams, or whatever I called him then, died halfway through the book, just before he was about to move to his new home. The novel was to be an unrelenting exploration of the harsh realities of institutional life. Frankie would die, tied to his hospital bed, and the cause of death would never be determined. That’s life- or death- for those at the bottom of the pile.

But I was never happy with that version. I wasn’t happy, because it made for depressing reading- and if it was depressing me it would certainly depress the reader.
I wasn’t happy, because it had been done before, and done well, in a novel by David Cook, called ‘Walter.’ That book was done so well that it was dramatised and shown on channel 4’s opening night with no less than a young (pre-Sir) Ian McKellen in the title role!
And I wasn’t happy because I work every day with people with severe learning disabilities, and I felt that for me to portray them in a purely ‘victim’ role would be disloyal, as well as being a complete misrepresentation.

So I fiddled around with it. Some ideas were better than others. There was one, which I now realise was particularly pretentious, which had a surreal, metaphysical subplot.
If you’re not into surreal and pretentious, then skip the purple passage below. If you’re Frasier and Niles Crane’s long lost brother, or sister, then this one’s for you:

For a long time in the evolution of the story it was interspersed with chunks of dialogue between God and the devil. That was probably more to do with personal hang-ups about what I felt was a failure of traditional religion to answer the questions about profound disability that were rising in my mind at that time. Basically, the devil took God on over aspects of the incarnation. Why, he asked, do we say that Jesus understood the human condition when he took on the form of a healthy young man who could perform miracles. Shouldn’t he have taken on the form of someone less than ‘perfect?’
Following the advice of my wife and a professional reviewer (my wife is still waiting for her cheque) I ditched the subplot. I am now very very glad…

Back to reality. ‘Tasting the Wind,’ was still to find its form.

The breakthrough came with one simple change. I cut and pasted the death of Frankie Adams to the front of the book and made it into the prologue which you can now hear on my first posting to this blog.
This had two immediate effects. The first was to open the book with a jolt, a horrific, memorable scene in which a man dies in unusual circumstances.
But a second thing happened: the whole nature of the book was changed. A man had died- not halfway through the book, at a point where his failure to escape the institution was an awful, tragic thing, but at the beginning… and if Frankie died at the beginning, there would be a tension : how will this come out?
I had already created the characters known in the prologue as ‘The Thin Boy’ (Andrew) and ‘the Moon-faced Boy,’ (Eddie.) They were the only witnesses.

Then the voices began…
There were only two witnesses…
… but one of them can’t speak… or even move…
… and the other one talks nonsense…

Given that, how was the truth ever going to come out?

And then it came to me, not a comfortable voice, but a challenging one from somewhere deep down in my subconscious. And it said: THAT… is what you have to find out.

Suddenly, something quite unplanned for and unexpected was happening. My creation was, for the first time, starting to separate itself from me and take on a life of its own.
What had been conceived as an ultra-realistic social comment was now being born. But it was being born as something else. After a lengthy gestation, ‘Tasting the Wind was emerging as… a thriller.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

So what do you know?

They always say- write about what you know. Strange really when you apply that to some best selling fiction. Did Frank Herbert know about space travel and the politico-religious structures of far-flung empires when he wrote ‘Dune?’ Did Martin Amis live his life backwards, as in ‘Time’s Arrow,’ and is J.K. Rowling regularly seen running through a pillar on a railway station platform?
Of course not. J.K. worked out that she would save a fortune in reconstructive surgery by leaving that sort of stunt to the imagination.
Now of course imagination is essential to good writing, but is a work ever one hundred percent imagination?
According to J.K. Rowling, the character of Hermione was based upon herself at the age of eleven. In the upper sixth, she had a friend called Sean who drove a torquoise Ford Anglia. That is a fact, and not particularly impressive, but what if that car could fly…

I’ll be writing more on how I created my characters in a later blog, but for now, back to ‘writing about what you know.’

There is a school of thought which says that all writing is autobiography. You probably couldn’t extend this to shopping lists, but I can see what they mean.
Look at a little baby- look how they take it all in, processing everything which comes to them through their senses. We are programmed to do that, although it doesn’t carry on at that rate (imagine your capacity for learning new languages if it did!)
What I am getting at is that for some reason we are a part of the universe which has been gifted or cursed with self awareness, and as such we are constantly processing information, trying to make sense of it either through science, through art, through music, maths or literature.

I spent much of my academic career trying to make sense of the Bible. Theology- another way in which we process ‘reality’ through interpreting what we know (Discuss!)
Somewhere back in the mid nineteen nineties I had just finished my Master of Philosophy thesis on ‘Who wrote the Gospel of John?’ After 60,000 words I had concluded that I didn’t know. I didn’t feel that it was a waste of time, because it was now an educated ‘I don’t know,’ and I had a piece of paper to prove it.
But something was missing- big style.
I was no longer writing. The poetry I had once written and performed no longer seemed to satisfy. Seeing 60,000 words bound, with my name on the spine, feeling the weight of it in my hands, oooohhhh…. I knew that I had to write a novel.
Even as a child, this had been an ambition. At the age of thirteen I had tried to write a complex science fiction story, but had given up after several fase starts, realising that at that point I didn’t have the tools.
I left college in 1984, with a combined honours degree in English and divinity. Things had happened there which I thought would one be the makings of a good novel. But again, I wasn’t ready, so what will one day become my second novel, ‘Legion’s Daughter,’ was placed on the back burner.
The next ten years were taken up with making a career in the caring professions, and completing my M.Phil.
This brings me to where I started this blog. It’s something like 1996, and I’m reaxing in a reclining chair on a visit to my brother-in-law’s house in Stafford. My mind is wandering to the idea of a novel, when the words come into my head: ‘Write about what you know.’
Well I didn’t think I could pull off a biblical epic. But what about a book in which people with severe learning disabilities are major characters?
In the mid eighties I had been involved in re-locating people from longstay ‘mental handicap’ hospitals. This was a world of which few people had first hand experience, and surely this quiet social revolution would provide a memorable backdrop for a unique story.
Thus ‘Tasting the Wind’ was conceived.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

So you thought writing it was hard…

…publishing it? Well that’s another story. Another story, written by someone else with half your talent whose appeal to publishers is not so much their writing skill as the size of their implants and how many grubs they ate in a jungle…

But enough of the rant- although this blog does come with a warning that frustration with trying to publish your work of art could lead to insanity.

If this is where you’re at, then you may wish to take the Hannibal Lecter route and create recipes for the untalented ‘writers’ who offend your sensibilities. Instead of fava beans I use baked beans. Budget baked beans.

So what is this blog about? It charts the progress of my novel, ‘Tasting the Wind,’ from conception, through revision and development, up to the present search for publication. Although I have yet to find a publisher, I have chanced across some interesting highways and byways of late, which I think will be of interest to both aspiring authors and anyone interested in the writing and publishing process.

The first few blogs will be ‘the story so far.’ After that, it goes live…
So join me on my journey, feel the frustration, share the eventual euphoria and drunkenness when I eventually sign that publishing deal… and if there are any publishers out there- OK, I will eat grubs… but you can forget the implants….


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