To write, to edit – at the same time

Yeah, a crazy idea, to edit one book while writing another but hey, after a few weeks of this it’s not that bad a deal. To edit you need reasonably quiet surrondings and the ability to research online or offline, which isn’t easy to do unless you’re based in a library. And when you’re in a coffee shop or a bar that’s not going to be feasible. But you can scribble down ideas, even string together sentences of an idea. That’s my take on it anyhow.

So, at home I edit the third novella I’ve written using a character named ‘Bobby Olsen’, a guy who comes from a dark background but who now acts on the right side of the law as a private investigator (no, it’s not hardboiled Mike Hammer stuff…) in late 1950s, early 1960s New York. The writing has developed over the three books and has, I think, become less quirky and more straight forward. Not sure that’s for the best but I guess I find it hard to write in one way as the protagonist all the time. and Bobby’s quirky manner of narrating and talking can annoy even me at times. Hopefully it’s readable, light and makes some kind of sense.

The hardest part has been developing or even maintaining the relationship he has with his sidekick in work and life. It’s easy when they were first acquainted, when she might have lasted only one chapter, and it was fun with the ‘jousting’ of words when they were in the ‘are they/aren’t they’ stage of friendship/lovers. Now they are an item it’s tricky not to make them sound bland, sound the same in their speech, or to continue the ‘banter’ of earlier dialogues for too long. It’s very tempting to write ‘her’ out, with a baby, and leave Bobby to pursue storylines by himself, along with any new sidekicks, male or female, I feel like bringing in female ones might cause problems as it would be so easy to make them sound like possible lovers and so ruin the happy family life in place. So this might be the last ‘Olsen’ story for a while. Or, I’ll sit in a coffee house with nothing to write and fall back on yet another tale involving the guy.

By the by, anyone else have the problem of catching the ‘Num Lock’ key when aiming for the Backspace key? I keep doing it and the blasted icon comes up on the screen telling me the lock’s on. It’s like hitting the \ key when I’m trying to get the Shift key for a capital. As you can tell, I’m not a trained typist!

The new story I’m attempting while coffeeing most days is a homage to or a rip off of, depending on your view, of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It’s set around the same time, same location, with a similar single woman as the centre of the story which is told by an admiring guy who flits in and out of her life. Or rather, she flits in and out of his life. I wanted to keep it to the same length as B. at T., around 100 pages/30,000 words and I’m at around 25,000 right now and closing in on the final scenes. I’ve no idea how it hangs together as I’ve only read short passages each day after I’ve written them. It was quite straightforward to write the early scenes as the woman appears in the first two ‘Bobby Olsen’ stories I wrote so I was able to ‘lift’ her appearances from those and retell them from this other guy’s point of view. The final scenes have proved more problematic. And the ending still hangs in the balance. Do I go for the movie’s happy-ever-after-ending? Or the novella’s she’s-disappeared-could-be-anywhere-ending? Or something more dramatic; a death? a wounded-we’ll-never-know-if-she-survived-ending? a walkout which leaves a broken-hearted guy behind? I’m still not sure.








Book 3

Strange how you can create a character for a single piece of writing, say for a writers’ group meeting, then you end up spending most of the next two years creating stories for him/her. That’s how ‘Bobby Olsen’ has come about. As mentioned in a blog post somewhere earlier here or over on my other blog dedicated to him and his books, he started as an unnamed character in a 1500 word piece written during the Xmas break from my writers’ group meetings. Three months later this nameless guy made his audience debut and I have written mainly about him since.

And now it looks like a third book/novella is in the making (or writing). Some months ago I had finished a novella (not about Bobby Olsen!) and yet wanted to go on writing whenever I found myself in a coffee house. Usually about three to four times a week! Gulp! Yes, literally, gulp!

I started by writing something along the lines of the story I had just completed, a story set in the present day, but after two or three paragraphs I found myself sliding back into the comfort zone of late 1950s New York…and Bobby. Over the past three or so weeks I have used my coffee house visits to edit what I had written to see if there is a coherent story to be continued. And there just about is. I love beginning new scenes with new characters for Bobby and his business/lifetime partner Carol to interact with. Joining them all up into a plot can be tricky. Some can be red herrings in that they are Bobby’s everyday clients early on in the book before the main storyline takes over, but this time I am trying to tie more of them into the long term plot.

Then I reached the stage where I had to get the paper and pencil out. And the eraser. All the characters and their connections or lack of them were written out on several pieces of paper taped together and I tried to link as many as possible with lines and arrows. And something like a plot has been created, if maybe a little stretched in places.

Hold on, was that the ping of a broken line I just heard? Help!

And then I have started transferring this from the tablet I use in the coffee houses to the Scrivener programme I use on my laptop at home. And where I try to break it down into chapters. So, it’s the tablet for creating the new writing, Scrivener on the laptop for ordering it all and editing it. In the coffee shops I don’t like logging on to the public Wi-Fi so I have to do all the research (I am an Englishman living in the UK writing about 1950s New York/USA…) at home on the laptop. And at some point I need to read it all through to see if it makes sense and is actually interesting!

I have reached around 30,000 words so far and Bobby and Carol have only just left New York (there seems to be a road trip in each book with these two characters) so it might develop into a 60,000 word book. Or crash and burn around 32,000! I guess the danger is to fall between the trap of being too long for a sharp-written novella and a full-blown novel. It’s a journey and it’s fun. And I don’t even try to market the books when finished, so the emphasis is on FUN! The fun of creating something out of nothing.

So, onward goes Book Three. A title? Absolutely no idea..!




Creating characters

I guess every writer has their own way of creating a character. I tend most of the time to start with a name. With my stories being set predominately in the late 1950s/early 1960s New York and America I find there is a rich vein of names to mine into. Just by googling surnames or first names for America in a given decade or even a particular year leads me to either lists from government departments or baby-naming websites. Nancy Hecht, Mildred O’Connell, Dirk Allocca, Walter Ernlaid, and Ruby Dexheimer all featured in my last novella.

One of my favorite characters – delectable and dangerous Buffy Summers.

I have to admit I’m not the best at keeping records of what my characters look like. Although I have been using Scrivener for the last three years and I do use the facility to create ‘Character’ pages, I am lazy at updating them and seldom if ever fill in details such as ‘inner motives’ or ‘personality’. I expect my characters come across as very shallow because of this. I just about remember to keep records of their hair colour and what make of car they drive. I did have an awful time with the last book when I realised I had given the protagonist, Bobby Olsen, two different cars during a lengthy road journey. It wasn’t fun sorting out Chevies and Packards.

Another – the cunning Odysseus

Of course it’s interesting to think of books you’ve read where you get to the end and you realise that you’ve never been given a description of the main character by the writer or by the other characters in the story. Some writers go the other way and give a very detailed description early on. I think I prefer the former method. That is maybe why I don’t describe Bobby closely. You can all think of him how you like. I can remember when I was reading episodes out of the first novella involving Bobby at a Writers’ Group and finding out that some of the people there thought of Bobby as looking like me! I guess that’s easy to do when you’ve read out a story with ‘I’ telling the tale. Well, if I’m Bobby, I can’t wait to meet my Miss Rios…(you have to read the books to get that reference, or you can probably guess).

And Tom Hanson from 500 Hundred Days of Summer

Now, how about killing your characters off? Easy with the bad guys, unless you get a secret desire to use them again in a sequel. But the good guys, or the innocent ones, that’s hard. I can remember in the first Bobby Olsen story I had him teamed up for half the book with the above-mentioned Miss Rios. Toward the end she gets shot. That was a big dilemma. Kill her off and get a real shock value, or have her recover and possibly be a permanent sidekick for Bobby? I fear a movie director might finish her off, especially if they were not planning a sequel. Me? Well, read the story and find out.

And my greatest two from childhood – The Lone Ranger and Tonto



Circe by Madeline Miller



A shout-out for this book, published a few months ago. If you buy into the Greek myths you will love this story about Circe, a character most of us only come across when she appears in The Odyssey. The author has researched the myths well and put her own spin and interpretation on various aspects, especially at the end where she both shows awareness of the sparse surviving remnant of The Telegony and makes a slight change to this elusive text.

It is the overall style that will capture the reader, however. It reads like a myth itself, and what greater praise can you give such a book than to say it reads like a translated version of a tale.

Some critics might argue that the author had an easy ride in that she had most of her plot already written for her – some 2,000 years ago! – and most, if not all, of her characters already created and their personalities at least hinted at in various other myths. But it is still a heck of a task to tell the story in a knowledgeable and coherent form, and to keep it entertaining and moving at the same time.

Time now to track down her earlier publication about Achilles…

Personally, I am still trying to edit a story I wrote two years ago and continuing to add another three or four hundred words to another tale whenever I am in a coffee house alone. I find it very difficult to concentrate on writing at home , hence my absence from posting here.




A day of new beginnings

The story I’m writing at present, the one I’m working on predominately in local coffee shops, started after a brief conversation with a sales assistant. I used our chat as the first few lines of the story. Yesterday I had three incidents, in coffee shops by coincidence, all of which could be used, and might be used, as openings for new stories or novels.

The first was a silent one. I sat with my coffee around 8.45 in the morning, trying to get my tablet computer to start up and I looked up and saw a woman staring at me. She was seated at a table across the way,Β  mid thirties, coat still on, coffee steaming in front of her. I recognised her from a few days previous when she had been standing in front of me in the queue for coffees. The barista had seen me and said ‘Your usual?’ The woman looked at me as if surprised someone like me (as old as me?) bought their coffee so often in this place that the assistants knew my order by memory. And there she was, looking my way a few days later. I continued battling with my tablet (see yesterday’s post) and when I glanced her way again a few minutes later she was looking my way again. Now, I know I bear an uncanny resemblance to George Clooney…(that’s humour by the way). With further comings and goings she must have exited quite soon after as the next time I peered her way the seat was empty. But…what a story could develop from this…she comes over and says hello, asks me what I’m typing, or whatever. The beginning of a romance story? A murder mystery? Could be taken anywhere.

About fifteen minutes later I’m head down tapping away now that my tablet is working properly when suddenly a woman waves her hand in front of my face saying ‘Hi, how are you? I didn’t see you there!’ I looked up. I’d never seen the woman before in my life. Once she saw me face on she quickly said ‘Oh sorry, I thought you were someone else…’ etc. A very pleasant mid thirties lady, very apologetic. Now, where might that incident go? Mistaken identities? Her way of forcing an introduction with this handsome guy working mysteriously on his computer? Could be a good start of something.

Then, in the afternoon, in a different coffee shop, actually the cafe area of a local bookshop, I’m tapping away again on the tablet (I had a free coffee on my loyalty card at this establishment) and on the next table was a very attractive young woman in her mid to late twenties, no ring on her finger, computer open, books and folders all over her table. I heard her make a phone call, something about ’10 gigabytes’ I think. Ordering internet connection? It’s a very pleasant seat I’ve got, watching this woman, close to the counter so seeing all the new customers coming in, and next to a window overlooking the inside of the small shopping mall. Suddenly the young woman gets up, comes to my table and says ‘I need to pop to the toilet. Can you keep an eye on my things while I’m gone?’ Of course I say yes. She returns a few minutes later and says ‘thanks’. We go on working until I have to leave. So what might that have led to? Suppose she hadn’t returned? I would be left with a computer. What might I find on it? Or she might come back and offer to buy me a coffee to say thanks. Our conversation would start and ..? Could be another interesting opening.

You can see that February 7th was quite a day one way or another. Considering I’d been going to these coffee shops for near three months and nothing had happened, I’m wondering how much longer I have to go before I have more interesting incidents occurring! Now, do I go back to that book shop cafe this afternoon, at the same time? Will she be there? Would I dare sit near her..?


George Michael: literary giant?

Well, the title might have got you here anyway.

I was watching the video of ‘Last Christmas’ a few days ago and although I have seen it many times before and heard the song many times before for some reason the opening two lines stuck in my mind on this occasion.

‘Last Christmas I gave you my heart
But the very next day you gave it away’

That first line, there’s a whole story waiting to be told to explain those simple words. Had the two people just met? Had they known each other for months, years? What happened to make one of them give the other their heart? Did the other appear to feel the same way on that day? Were they only pretending? There’s a novel there.

And the second line, what made the person give the heart/love away? Did they meet someone else and suddenly realise they had made a mistake? Had they been pretending all along to reciprocate the love offered to them? Again, a story waits to be written.

So in just two lines of writing the author has presented us with a myriad of alternatives.

George Michael: literary giant?