• Professor Rimmer has Absconded

    Perry Iles, author and regular contributor to Words with Jam, muses on his muse, and his latest opus, Hand Knitted Electricity

    Shably (n, prop.): A new name for the children of people who live in caravans, West Ham supporters, girl-band members, former page three stunnas and sportsmen’s wives, which would be Chablis if they knew how to spell.

    Professor Darren Rimmer has absconded. He’s either on the way to Venus in God’s spaceship or he’s buried in a shallow grave on the outskirts of Roadkill, Arizona, just off the line of the old Route 66. Of course, there are those who say he was apocryphal in the first place. Like that Tom Waits song, some say that he was never here at all.

    I hope he comes back, because he was my muse. Muses come in all shapes and sizes. Back in the days when literature was about having a really strong hand and being good at carving on stone, muses were Greek goddesses who were inevitably bang-tidy and inspired writers who were invariably male. More recently, Stephen King had a muse; it was a Fornit called Bellis who lived in his typewriter and ate dead bits of skin and fingernail parings in exchange for giving King the odd idea. It was a grumpy bastard, and it was decidedly male.

    Professor Rimmer was my muse. He came along one day and started squatting in my laptop, where he produced unpleasant smells and occasional outpourings of bile that made me laugh. Occasionally I had to clean his sick up and chase really scabby women from his bed. Usually those women spoke with Geordie accents and had the sort of faces you could slice bread with. Rimmer was an ill-tempered, unreconstructed old sod who smelt of stale cigarettes and cheap aftershave – Lynx or Brut it was, the sort of stuff you give to pimply teenage nephews you don’t like very much who will grunt something at you and rush off upstairs to masturbate to a picture of Nicki Minaj. Rimmer’s gone now, but he did leave a parting gift. Well, he left several, but the most palatable was a book called Hand-Knitted Electricity, a compendium of neologisms such as the one above, which reads a bit like the thinking man’s Profanosaurus. Some people think it’s funny, others just want to burn it. Either way, they have to buy it first.

    But one thing it did do was to get an embittered old hack writing again – sorting through the dross Rimmer left in my head and hard drive, alphabetising Rimmer’s list – which is a bit like Schindler’s list only less helpful to humanity. I was a washed up old has-been who used to stare at blank Word documents with drool sliding down my chin as I waited for either inspiration or opening time. I live in Scotland, where opening time started in 1678 and hasn’t stopped yet, so precious little writing got done before Rimmer came along and shat on my head. It has to be said at this point that I did not work alone. There were co-conspirators, fellow plotters, other writers who contributed vast swathes of filth and general ghastliness to Hand-Knitted Electricity, and who would be mentioned in dispatches had they not insisted on complete anonymity in return for having their contributions aired like dirty laundry for all the world to see. I remember a time when I was small and an Italian family came to stay with my parents, and in true Italian tradition they hung their bed-linen from the front window of our house in a small English village soon after getting up. When my mother saw her best linen blowing in the breeze for all the world to see, she reacted with typical English reticence. The desire for anonymity that relates to Hand-Knitted Electricity is probably similar to, if a little stronger than this. However, if you, dear reader, wish to buy the book, you can get it in ebook or proper form off of Amazon. It’s quite funny and not very expensive.

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Hand-Knitted-Electricity-First-Edition-ebook/dp/B009ZLRYDQ [e-book]

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Hand-Knitted-Electricity-First-Edition-absurdities/dp/1480078417 [paperback]

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  • Ten Top Tips on How To Write A Book Review

    Author and reviewer JJ Marsh has some tips this week on how write good book reviews - and how not to!

    Step One: Read the book. Trust me. It’s best.

    Step Two: Get over yourself. This is not about you. Write the review as if you were talking to a good friend. Reviews which begin ‘I don’t normally read erotica but ...’ / ‘As a lifelong vegan, I must say ...’ are about the reviewer and her/his tastes. Yawn. Just talk about the book.

    Step Three: Spoilers. When handing over an artistically wrapped birthday present to a friend, do you blurt out, “It’s a toilet seat!” before they even begin to open it? If yes, you are a git. Never ruin someone else’s journey of discovery through spoilers. Don’t give away key plot twists, don’t allude to the Ohmigodineversawthatcoming bit and never ever ruin the ending.

    Step Four: Only refer to the author by surname. If you sound like mates, your review is suspect.

    ‘Tolkein’s underworld of polarised ethics encapsulates a mythopoeic legendarium’ = good, if a tad pretentious.

    ‘John Ronald Reuel pulls off that Middle Earth stuff the same way he cooks a chilli. Hell, he puts pretty much everything in there!’ = faux familiar and untrustworthy.

    Step Five: Tell future readers why they might (not) like it and manage their expectations. Signpost via familiar references. ‘Bella Twilight meets Hannibal Lecter in a twist on Jane Eyre scripted by Dario Argento. If you love squirrels, look away.’

    Step Six: A quote from Alice Roosevelt Longworth: ‘If you haven't got anything nice to say about anybody, come sit next to me.’ I love this sentiment, especially at weddings. However, it does not apply to reviews. If I can’t give a book at least three stars, I (try to) keep my opinions to myself. Likewise, I refrain from standing on street corners, pointing at a turd and yelling, ‘Yo! There’s some real stinky shit over here!’

    Step Seven: Review as a reader. Writers are horrendous snobs. Most readers care not a fiddly fig for excess adverbiage, speech tags for which Elmore Leonard would shoot you, alliterative indulgence or a cacophony of clumsy clichés. Is it a good read? Say so. Are there elements you could do better? Go do it and stop wasting time having a go at others.

    Step Eight: Review THIS book. Beware of comparing the book to the rest of the author’s oeuvre. Everyone has the right to reinvent themselves, and I already feel for poor E.L James when she releases her three-volume analysis of British Coalition Governments since 1900, where the only use of handcuffs is as metaphor.

    Step Nine: If you do any of the following, you are a complete arse.

    • Review your own book under the guise of a sock puppet

    • Write poor reviews of books with a similar readership to yours

    • Refer to your own book in reviews of other people’s work

    (If you do all three, you’re as lowdown and dirty as a dung beetle’s undercarriage.)

    Step Ten: If you loved a book, share it. Paste your review on Goodreads, Amazon (both sides of the pond), Shelfari, Library Thing, that bored lady behind the fish counter at Sainsbury’s – spread the joy!

    JJ Marsh is European Correspondent and regular book reviewer for Words with JAM magazine. Her second book in the Beatrice Stubbs crime series, Raw Material, comes out on 1st December 2012. www.beatrice-stubbs.com

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  • The Next Big Thing

    The idea of this is that a writer puts up a post on his or her own blog answering ten questions about his/her work in progress, and then “tags” three – or five, depending on which version you see – other writers to do the same. Then, the writer posts a link to his/her “tagger” and to the people he/she is “tagging” so that readers who are interested can visit those pages and perhaps discover some new authors whose work they’d like to read.

    I was tagged by John Hudspith, http://www.johnhudspith.co.uk author of Kimi’s Secret. ‘With a deformed hand, an affection for animal skulls, and a soft spot for Marmite, Kimi always knew she was different - but never how much until she’s thrown into the supernatural dimension of Heart, given powers beyond comprehension, a mission to alter the past, and a secret which must never be revealed.’

    What is the working title for your book?

    A Puff of Madness

    Where did the idea come from for this book?

    The idea came from a documentary shown a few years ago about twin sisters who tried to commit suicide by jumping from a motorway bridge. Neither succeeded, and the reasons for their behaviour were never explained. I thought it would make a great jumping off point for a novel.

    What genre does your book fall under?

    A crime thriller

    Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

    It’s a peculiarly British novel, but with a French twist! Choosing actors is a tough call, but I think Rupert Penry-Jones (Spooks, Whitechapel) would make a fantastic Ruben Quinn (the main character), with Robert Glenister as the world-weary police inspector, David Miller. Across the channel, Marcel Bernard, an investigating magistrate, bears more than a passing resemblance in my head to Philippe Duclos, who plays, funnily enough, a magistrate in the superb French TV series ‘Spiral’. Quinn’s psychologist sidekick would be a perfect role for Lenora Crichlow (Being Human).

    What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

    When psychiatrist Ruben Quinn is called in to assess the mental health of a young woman in custody, he is thrown into a tangle of murder, corruption and conspiracy spanning three decades - and a shocking secret that some will go to any lengths to preserve.

    Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

    It’s too early to say at this stage – I have been lucky enough to have my fantasy trilogy published by Wild Wolf Publishing, but this is a new departure, and right now I’m just enjoying the process of writing.

    How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

    I’ve been working on the novel for around six months, and anticipate completing the first draft by early 2013.

    What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

    I suppose it could be described as Val McDermid meets Dan Brown – but that is probably doing both authors a disservice!

    Who or what inspired you to write this book?

    As a working psychologist, there is always an element of that in my writing, and I wanted to create a character with a profession I feel confident to explore. I also adore good crime novels – I started as a small child reading big print versions of Sherlock Holmes and have been hooked on crime ever since. Currently my favourite crime writers are Val McDermid and Colin Dexter, and some great upcoming new writers – JJ Marsh, Gillian Hamer and Frances Di Plino.

    What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

    Because my main character is a psychiatrist rather than a policeman, the plot unfolds from a different perspective to that of the police procedural novel. I’m hoping Quinn’s viewpoint gives readers a new slant on the developing investigation – especially as the law and the medical profession don’t always see eye to eye!

    Include the link of who tagged you and this explanation for the people you have tagged.

    I’ve included a link to John Hudspith above, who tagged me – thanks John! His Young Adult novel, Kimi’s Secret, is a great read, even for a rather old young adult like me! I’ve known John through all the trials and tribulations of drafting, submitting and finally publishing our respective novels, and he is one of those rare, generous people who gives his time, support and expertise at the drop of a hat.

    As this is titled ‘The next Big Thing’, I have chosen just two writers who are about to publish their debut novels.

    The first is Sheila Bugler. Sheila is an Irish crime writer living in London. She writes novels and short stories. Her work has been shortlisted for a number of awards, including the Harry Bowling Prize for new writing and the Yeovil Literary Prize. She is represented by Svetlana Pironko of Author Rights Agency. Earlier this year, Sheila signed a two-book deal with the O'Brien Press and her first novel will be published under their Brandon Books imprint in 2013. website: http://www.sheilabugler.com/

    My second choice is Jasper Dorgan. Jasper’s debut novel, The Open Arms of the Sea, is due to be published under the Triskele Books imprint. You can read more at www.jasperdorgan.com and on Jasper’s blog, http://www.jasperdorgan.com/blog/ He is also on Goodreads: http://www.jasperdorgan.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=255&action=edit

    I know I should have a third tag – I’ll post another here shortly – there are so many great novels coming through these days it’s almost impossible to make a choice!

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  • Virtual Stormy Weather

    Last week I finally managed to crawl out of the wreckage of a hacked website and assess the damage. It wasn't pretty. In real life, I spend some of my time sailing yachts (other people's, sadly, not my own), and I could see at a glance that had my website been a 50 foot Bavaria, there would be a big hole in the hull, a snapped keel and six feet of water above deck. There wasn't going to be an awful lot to salvage. The structure and content weren't so much of a problem. The old site was in need of a bit of antifouling anyway. There were quite a few barnacles clinging to the underside - glitches, errors and dead links that needed scraping off. I was quite philosophical about that. What got to me, though, was the psychological effectt. My little beacon of existence in cyber space had been snuffed out. I no longer existed as far as the world wide web community was concerned. Other friends whose sites have, at one time or another, suffered the same fate, agreed that this was by far the most distressing legacy of the hacker. Once upon a time, our personal relationships, our business dealings, from household shopping to buying insurance, were done with and by people we actually knew. We introduced ourselves by shaking hands and saying 'Hi' to someone standing in front of us. The Internet, at the beginning, was little more than a geek's bulletin board. Before that, of course, there were telephones and, in dire circumstances, paper, envelopes and stamps. Now it is the 21st century, and without a web presence, it is difficult not to think of oneself as invisible, cut off from the world, non-existent on some fundamental level - like someone not invited to a party, peering through a steamy window at the revellers inside. I'm pretty sure that, in some ways, isn't a good thing. But it hasn't stopped me from wriggling into my posh frock, breaking out the lippy and getting myself reinstated as a party animal. I can't help the feeling of relief at once more having a door to open, even if there's nobody out there to let in!

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