Friday 12 September 2014

Double Your Mid-life Crisis with Half a House

Pistorius is what happens when you bang your head hard.

An entire season has passed since I last blogged as part of the creative writing process tour. Why? Well, I’ve been writing all the words (and sustaining a head injury, but that's another story). I wrote and wrote until I had written an entire novel – not crime, this time, but contemporary women’s fiction. It’s got funny bits and sad bits and sexy bits in it...oh, and a three-legged dog called Pistorius, who leaves tagnutty arse trails around the house, like the outlines drawn around dead bodies at crime scenes, but drawn with poo, not chalk. Would you expect any less from The Horrormoanal Woman? My efforts may turn out to be a literary diamond in the rough or equally likely, the obfuscated work-wank of a partially hearing middle-aged woman, suffering from Dead Beryl inhalation and an uncontrollable addiction to mid-afternoon self-nuptials.
Hot laptop? Hot storyline? Really, nobody needs to see THAT face.
Good job I’ll be getting an office to myself very soon, is all I can say...

Speaking of which, I’ve been busy busy busy in Dead Beryl’s house. While my fingers were flying over the keyboard, builders raged on in the background with an angle grinder and disappointing bum cleavages. Yes, I’m finally having my horrid house renovated and extended. You lucky voyeurs can watch my existential meltdown on Channel 4 on Wednesday 8th October 2014, 8pm, when I will be appearing, together with the other Richeses, on Sarah Beeny’s excellent property show, Double Your House for Half the Money

Ever changing hair colour. Ever diminishing weight. Watch my meltdown on Channel 4!

I have no idea what particular bits of our journey will make the final edit, but let’s just say, living on a building site encouraged more disgusting personal habits and emotional trauma than ten years spent welded by dried in body-fluids to a gaming console, while Zombie Shooter 2 flickers like a strobe on the gore-filled screen. 
Building & writing. Warning! Can cause a ripe intimate savoury twang.
I’m looking forward to seeing the building process on the tellybox, but slightly dreading watching myself and hearing my northern nasal noise on prime-time national TV. I just know I’m going to look like a small clown with a gut. Worst of all, will be if they incorporate the shot of me in a helmet, looking like Otto, the bus driver in the Simpsons. Curly hair and safety helmets DO NOT mix. I should add, however, that the process was highly enjoyable and meeting Sarah Beeny was great. She really is as nice as she comes across in her programmes. 

Stay tuned for progress reports on my building and writing endeavours...

Tuesday 22 April 2014

Creative Process Blog Tour - Ed Chatterton

Ed Chatterton
No, I haven't had a gender reassignment. This week's Horrormoanal Woman blog post is a guest contribution to the Creative Process Blog Tour from successful novelist, Ed Chatterton - author of the gripping Frank Keane thrillers, A Dark Place to Die and Down Among the Dead Men.  

Over to Ed (also known as Martin for his illustration work)...

What am I working on?

Is anyone really interested? Writers, myself included, are such appalling windbags. I’m always astonished at the idea that (a) I know anything and (b) anyone would be interested in hearing about it. Anyway, with that said . . .

I have bitten off much more than I can chew. Ever the work slut, I have taken on too many projects and I’m now paying the price in sleepless nights, hypochondria and heavy drinking. 

I’ve just started the second draft of my third crime/thriller book, tentatively titled Eighty Eight. This follows on from A Dark Place To Die and Down Among the Dead Men

I’m also working on a novel as part of my PhD. This is called The Last Slave Ship and is a multi-narrative fiction which combines a story of a contemporary race-hate crime (and subsequent civil unrest) in Liverpool with an account of a ‘supernatural’ campaign of rebellion and resistance aboard the final slave trade voyage to leave the city in 1809. The book is an attempt to re-examine Liverpool’s legacy of involvement with the slave trade but is also a work about memory, amnesia, Hillsborough, class, race, the media, Antony Gormley, angels, redemption, vengeance, punishment, shame, blood, identity and the slippery nature of time itself. Oh and it has a killer ending even if I do say so. 

The third item on my desk is a Middle School book I’m co-writing with James Patterson (yes, that James Patterson). This is something of a technical project as I’m attempting to slip into a world and characters that already exist in the form of previous Middle School books. The carrot I’m getting offered is the obvious added exposure of being associated with the Patterson brand. The stick? The possibility of failure on a massive scale and public humiliation. 

There are other things on the go: Archangel, a YA sci-fi novel spun off from my PhD which is at about halfway point and I’m illustrating three books for other authors (Allison Rushby, Jonathan Emmett, and Phillip Simpson). While all this is going on I’m also putting together a Secret Project which may take me in a completely different direction.
How does my work differ from others of its genre and why do I write what I do?

This will be a stream of consciousness sort of thing. Part rant, part moan, part insight. Like everything...
The honest answer is that I don’t really know how my work differs because, as with all the books I’ve written, I’m making this stuff up as I go along. I don’t trust writers who claim some sort of career strategy. Maybe the one thing I can claim is that all my books are much more layered than they appear. I’ve written a number of children’s books that deal with death, time, physics, Shakespeare, crime and punishment, and fart jokes. The last Frank Keane novel was loosely based on the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur in which my unarmed protagonist has to engage with a powerful enemy in unfamiliar surroundings. While there was a physical echo of the Cretan labyrinth in one of the Liverpool locations (the Joseph Williamson tunnels), the ‘real’ labyrinth is the shadow world of US geo-political covert operations. In the current novel, Keane’s physical and moral decay find an echo in the rise of neo-Nazism in Berlin. I choose to write about this stuff using the framework of ‘crime fiction’ but it could just as easily be dressed as ‘literature’. 

I don’t read much contemporary ‘literary’ fiction now. Too many books in the ‘crime’ genre seem to be formulaic and often badly written. Obviously mine are an exception. Some contemporary writers I do like a lot are David Mitchell, Mark Haddon, Richard Price and George Pelecanos all of who can write me (and most people) under the table. To make my jealousy worse, Mark Haddon was also an illustrator. Bastard. In Australia – where until recently I’ve been spending most time –  I admire the work of Krissy Kneen the erotic writer, although I have to admit I do struggle to engage with most Aussie writers other than Krissy, or Tom Kenneally. My loss, I’m sure. 

Sounds like Gerrard, writes like Lars Kepler on testosterone
Most of my writer heroes are dead. PG Wodehouse, Evelyn Waugh, Patricia Highsmith, Joseph Heller (is he dead?), HG Wells, Conan Doyle, Kingsley Amis, Graham Greene. Dead writers tend to be better writers. Why this is, I’m not sure but I think it’s linked to the decline in pipe-smoking and drinking cocktails at 5 and being stoic. I’ve started wearing tweeds in an attempt to stop the rot. One of the tragedies of my life is that my inner voice is a clipped Trevor Howard type of thing, while my real voice is sadly more in the region of Steven Gerrard’s nasal monotone. I can’t imagine a trilby-wearing Stevie G on the platform with Celia Johnson no matter how hard I try. 

The reasons I write the books I write are varied. Before I started writing ‘crime’ I wrote ‘comedy’. Now I’m writing (or attempting to write) ‘art’ for want of a better word. Money plays a part, as does the voice of anyone who wants to publish me. Basically, like most creatives, I lurch from project to project like a minesweeping drunk at closing time. I actually think the book as an entity is dying in the sense that content consumption has shifted. Books are now guzzled like sweets – which is probably why so many are written by cooks. Cooks! Jesus, is this what we’ve come to?  

This shift towards imbecility has been accelerated by everyone on the planet thinking they should be a writer. They shouldn’t. At the risk of sounding like some sort of Victor Meldrew type, why is everyone in the world now hellbent on trying to be a singer or a dancer, seemingly without any scrap of ability? What happened to paying your dues, learning your craft and knowing the business you are attempting to squeeze into? Bah. Nurse, where’s my tea?  

The best tip for becoming a writer? Make sure you are privately educated and keep writing debut novels. If necessary you should change your name from book to book. The biggest regret I have when I went into writing crime was not choosing a Scandinavian pen name. 

How does my writing process work?

There’s always the feeling that there’s a neat trick to this but the sad truth is that writing is incredibly demanding and quite often deadly dull. You just sit down and start writing. Then you do it again and again. Assuming you have an idea of the subject, and the basics of grammar, spelling, sentence construction, dialogue, plotting, drafting, editing, character development, pacing and the like are all in place, then the process is just a matter of piling words on top of one another in the correct order. If they’re not in the correct order then a decent editor will tell you. 

I have been moving around too much in the last year to have a routine. Projects are being completed more through the fear of missing deadlines rather than via some refined process. This has had the effect of stopping me becoming precious (I think) about how I write: I just write. Doing the PhD has startled my long dormant brain into some focused action and now I think my stuff (commercial and otherwise) is a lot sharper and deeper than previously. 

I usually kick an idea around for a long time before starting work on it properly. This might be years in some cases. I do plan a little, but mostly I have an idea about the set up for the book without a clear idea of where it is going. I change and rewrite as I go, often writing the first five or six chapters over and over until I have the tone and pace in my mind. I’m happy if the characters take the book in a different direction. I can’t abide books in which characters are made to do things that they wouldn’t do simply to take the plot where the writer thinks it should go. I’ve stopped reading books sometimes when that happens. I like plot but it should happen naturally, driven by the characters in the drama. 

OK, that’s it.
Illustrating as Martin Chatterton

Sunday 13 April 2014

Strops, sex and death: creative essentials for crime writers.

So, there’s a blog tour on, and The Horrormoanal Woman was tagged by the very lovely writer and possessor of amazing white hair, Wendy Storer. The idea is, that I’m going to say a few words, like a bad father at a wedding or a covetous best man trying to show his lifelong friend up in front of a room of 100 drunken, beige people wearing nice clothes from BHS, because really, he would have liked to have knobbed the bride. I’m going to talk about my creative process...except for me, of course, this presents a problem. This blog that you’re reading now, festooned with lurid tales of shitting in baths full of cold baked beans and being fingered on the night bus, belongs to The Horrormoanal Woman. She’s an anonymous type, pictured right, in a snowboarding anorak. You can’t even see her face. And that’s the way she likes it. The one who does all the serious work, however, is her alter ego, Marnie Riches, who wears actual deodorant and nice clothes.
The only good hair day in 20 years.

For today only, for the purposes of this exercise, I shall write as a strange mash-up of The Horrormoanal Woman and serious author, Marnie Riches, because as Marnie Riches, I don't have a blog and as The Horrormoanal Woman, I just sit around swearing and drinking and generally lady-frotting against the flotsam and jetsam of the internet.


What am I working on?

Just like in love, you know when you've written The One. Chemistry is King.
I have a euro-noir crime thriller, Blown Away that is on submission to editors. The book is marbled with so many of my own experiences, and the characters have become so real to me, that I would say it's my soul-book - a term a friend came up with. Rather like a soul-mate. If you’re lucky enough to find a true soul-mate, you cling on for the ride no matter what, don’t you? Because you know life without them will be a poor facsimile of what it would be with them. It’s a high risk strategy emotionally. You may crash and burn. But it’s so worth it, if and when it blossoms into something wonderful. I’ve always felt like this about Blown Away

Being on submission is a tricky waiting game and can mess with your mind after a while. When my agent first started sending Blown Away out, I was faced with making a decision. Should I start something new? Should I plan further novels in the series? Or should I just twiddle my thumbs and wait? Thumb-twiddling was never an option. So, for a while, I worked on a high concept Young Adult novel. I got half way through a first draft and then Christmas happened and then I limped on for a while longer and then my inspiration ground to a halt. I switched tack and have started work on sample chapters and an outline for an entirely new adult thriller. But to be honest, my heart still beats strong for Blown Away. My fingertips are poised to launch into the second book in what I hope will be picked up as a series. Time will tell...

How does my work differ from others of its genre and why do I write what I do?

In terms of writing crime, I try to meld well-crafted prose with snappy dialogue and a plot that moves at a blistering pace. There’s no doubt that my tastes are commercial as a reader and my writing is too. I want to thrill. I want to be thrilled. I like to punctuate the darkness with lighter moments. Humour is often frowned upon in the crime genre. But life isn’t like that, is it? Even in the midst of tragedy and horror, life is full of those darkly comedic moments. We can fall in love even when our worlds are crumbling around us. We see it in TV series like, Breaking Bad. Why shouldn’t we read it in novels?

Violence is good in crime, as far as I’m concerned. It ups the stakes. I’ve always been fascinated by chains of events that turn apparently ordinary people into dangerous psychopaths. I’m interested in a serial killer’s modus operandi too. Guns? Strangle and dump, sexually motivated murders? Boring! I strive to make this element in my writing as unconventional as possible.  Best of all, I choose to have really strong, complex characters – many of them women, of course - who are often deeply flawed or anxious beneath their evil or heroic exteriors. I’m interested in blurred boundaries and grey areas. This is what holds fascination for me in life, as it does in fiction.

Different locations and cultures lend a rich, extra dimension to my writing. I have lived abroad and like to travel extensively, finances permitting. The criminal landscape of today is an international one, so why would I ever base an intricately-layered story in just one place? Blown Away is set mainly in Amsterdam, but the action also moves between Heidelberg, London and Cambridge. Writing stories with international reach offers the reader a more interesting journey.

I like to explore racial politics and have at least one major character who is Black or Minority Ethnic. Although I am white, I have a culturally rich, minority ethnic heritage. White, middle class, Anglo-Saxon is not my experience of life, so I write ethnically different characters because they feel familiar.

How does my writing process work?

Well, if I was writing as The Horrormoanal Woman, I would tell you that I wait until I have stinking PMT and get pissed off about something and then I compose a rant. Then I go through it and inject some laugh-out-loud bullshit observations and phrases, which makes me seem a little less like a homicidal old bag with an axe to grind. Writing seriously as Marnie Riches...? Not much different! In savouring the melodrama of life, stories come to me fairly thick and fast. I select the more compelling ideas. Initially, I might do an outline that is about four pages long, before embarking on the manuscript. First, I’ll write a rough draft. I’ll think it’s the best thing I ever wrote. Then I’ll realise it’s cobblers and the characters are thin. Then, I’ll do a second and third draft until it’s better and about five times longer and full of swearing and nookie (which is one of my favourite things to write – always nice to deposit new thoughts in the wank bank - and one of the most excruciating things to have other people read) and really horrible violence. Now, it’s definitely the best thing I ever wrote. By this stage, my agent might tell me it’s still shit, except he wouldn’t actually say “shit” but something like “needs a bit more thought”. I might throw a paddy in the privacy of my own home but I will listen to good advice, go back and take a machete to as much of the text as needs be, rewrite it and finally, produce something good. Maybe. Until the next draft. And most of the nookie and swearing will have gone, because reasonably well-behaved and professional, Marnie Riches is more likely to sell lots of books than that filthy cow, The Horrormoanal Woman.

So, that’s your lot. Watch out for news on Blown Away...

Now, I’ll pass the blogging baton onto two real stars

First, the tremendously inspiring and energetic Martin Ed Chatterton - a fellow north-westerner who shares my passion for crime writing, children’s fiction and general interest in world-domination.

Martin Ed Chatterton has been illustrating and writing for thirty years. His children’s books have been published in more than a dozen languages, and have won or been shortlisted in awards in the UK, US and Australia. Mort, his time-travel series is in production as a TV series by Endemol Australia. As ‘Ed Chatterton’, he writes dark crime fiction. He is currently combining writing his PhD with co-writing a children’s book with James Patterson.

...and secondly, the novelist, Emma Jane Unsworth whom I met a while ago through a mutual friend and who shares my keen interest in drinking and swearing. Her word-wrangling is both elegantly executed and funny.

Emma Jane Unsworth's first novel Hungry, the Stars and Everything won a Betty Trask award and was shortlisted for the Portico Prize 2012. Her short story 'I Arrive First' was included in The Best British Short Stories 2012 (Salt). Her second novel Animals will be published by Canongate in May. 

Tuesday 18 March 2014

Women over 40 - improving like strong cheese.

There was a thing going round on Facebook this week. You of those quotes from someone I’ve never heard of that rang true and everyone I know ticked “Like”. It was about women over forty, but the wisdom had been espoused by a man. Though I agreed with it all, I think it should have come from a shouty woman, who is actually 42 AND HAS FUCKING PMT THAT COULD TAKE OUT HALF OF CENTRAL ASIA.

So, here are the facts, in no particular order, on behalf of women like me. I know there are lots of us out there. And if you don’t agree with us, we don’t give a flying fuck, because they’re OUR facts, not YOUR facts:

1. Most of us have shat children out of our foofs. Don’t mistake this for weakness. We gave life. We are God’s emissaries on earth. 

Think carefully before you say whether it looks big in this or not
2. If we say our arses are fat, it’s because our arses are currently fat. We do not have self esteem issues. We just like wine and crisps and sit on our arses a lot doing clever things. But please note, just because we say it, doesn’t mean you are allowed to agree with us.

3. Many of us work. Some of us have been self-employed for years. We are successful, ruling entire families like benevolent dictators. We are used to being our own bosses, so don’t think we’re hoping you’ll help/participate/let us out in traffic. We are expecting you to do our bidding. Our cars are bigger than yours. Fucking move it!

4. We don’t play mind games because we don’t have to. We ask for the things we want, praise the things we love, drop the shutters fast on people who disappoint us and God help anyone who really gets on our tits. 

5. We don’t need to be told how intelligent or impressive we are, because we have a raft of qualifications that prove how intelligent and impressive we are. That’s not to say that we don’t enjoy being told how intelligent and impressive we are, so SAY IT, MOTHERFUCKER! 

6. We don’t need to be told that we’re attractive. We’re very comfortable in our own skin. But we do enjoy being told. Follow the previous instruction.

Seriously? Fatal Attraction was not a documentary.
7. We have love, energy and enthusiasm in abundance. If you are nice, we will share them with you. See point number four. This does not mean that we are going to eat you/boil bunnies/start crying at 4am, clutching an empty bottle of gin. Although if you are not nice, we might well eat your liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti.

8. We are human. We have piles and fart and belch after meals. We like to talk about ailments. We don’t care if you find this unpleasant. We like to talk about masturbation and our enjoyment of sex, which should raise the roof if you’re doing your bit properly. We make no apologies when we forget to shave our legs and armpits. We have 1970’s lustrous pant-shrubbery. Deal with it.
If we wanna rock a Brian Blessed on the beach, we will.

9. We’re not domestic drudges. If you’ve been treating us like that, we’re angry now, so get some fucking life insurance.

10. We are not your mother. You already have a mother. Never confuse us with her.