Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Hopeful Deadlines by Dennis Hamley

As usual, once Christmas is over, New Zealand calls. Wonderful. And it looks as if Kay's protracted fight with the insurance company over damage in the 2011 Christchurch earthquake may be nearly over, with a result very close to a victory. Even better.

Over the last two months, whenever my blogs haven't been in prophetic, apocalyptic or merely nostalgic mode, I've been talking of the projects I have in hand and my deadline to get them all sorted by the time we leave in the New Year for two months. 

As I remember, they were (1) finishing  and publishing a short story collection, Yan Tan Tethera: five stories and a very tiny novel, (2) finishing and publishing the second in the Bright Sea, Dark Graves trilogy, The Nightmares of Invasion, (3) completing the editing and production of Dora's Story, written by Dora Ganeva, the indomitable nonagenarian who escaped from Communist Bulgaria to New Zealand in 1976 with her family, (4) writing the ongoing advertising copy for Margaret Quon's jewellery website, with the associated yearsworth of Birthstone stories, (5) medieval song lyrics for a singer up in Manchester.

So what's happened with them? Well, Yan Tan Tethera is up and running, both as ebook and paperback. It was held up for a while when I realised that one of the new stories didn't really work and it took a bit of time to sort it out. But anyway, it's up now, looking good with a lovely cover, this time done by Danila Lipscombe, and still awaiting its first reaction and opinion. 


From a photograph by Danny Poole entitled 'Moonlight on the Downs' 
and used with his permission. It refers to the title story, which is a retelling
 of an old English folk tale.

It's the same with The Nightmares of Invasion.  Looking back over my blogs, I realised that this book was supposed to be ready for last Christmas. Vain hope. Just in time I realised that the story wasn't really working and would need major surgery, which is what it has received and now I'm happy with it - and quite proud too. So that's OK. It's now in final draft and going through the Createspace review process. I hope it will be available by the end of the week.

The story continues the progress of Edward Trefusis, Midshipman on the frigate HMS Fortune in 1803. I see the three books as being freestanding as far as possible, but they tell an overarching story, which concerns the consequences of the raid by Edward and the powder monkey Amos Tunks to spike the guns of the battery of St Therese and also the feud between Edward and Midshipman Throstle, which defined the first book, The Guns of St Therese. In this new sequel, these themes are continued, as Edward is faced with the dangerous reasons for Throstle's animosity and a dizzyingly sinister plunge into depths of treason and treachery where nothing is as it seems. At the back of all this is the constant fear that Napoleon will invade at any time - and that the weapon which can destroy the Royal Navy and leave the way open for the French is even now being perfected. That may sound a little over the top, but I do my historical research carefully and I can assure you I'm not far wrong. The third book, still only a faint shadow in my mind, will bring all these themes to a conclusion, but whether for good or for ill is not yet quite clear to me.


Kay's cover image and Anastasia's lettering make a great design.

I do really see these books as a serious attempt at bringing to young adults something of the high action and deep seriousness as well as humour of Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander series about Captain John Aubrey. If anyone thinks I've come at least within shouting distance, I would be well pleased. After all, you have to aim for the Premiership, even if you're only in League 2.

The Guns of St Therese, which is still reviewless in the UK (though there is a good one on Amazon.com only) except for a 5-star from the ever eloquent and shrewdly insightful Reb MacRath, could also do with a bit of evaluation. I shall be putting the ebook versions of all three books on a free offer for a few days at the beginning of next week, as soon as I'm sure Nightmares is available.

Next is Dora's Story. I'm expecting the final piece in Dora's autobiographical jigsaw to arrive soon - and it should be the most harrowing episode of this story and the life both deeply ordinary and shockingly extraordinary which it describes. When I last wrote about it, I thought there was a chance I might have copies to take to Christchurch. That's not going to happen now. I might just make a proof copy with what I've got to take and hope that Createspace can get it to me in time, so that the family can have an idea of what it will look like in the end. But believe me, this is some story!

What next? Ah yes, the medieval lyrics. I made a few, including the blacksmiths' poem I put in a blog. But everything seems to have gone quiet on that front. I won't bother chasing it up until we get back.

Now to the jewels and the birthstones. Margaret Quon's parent website has started laying the law down about their requirements, which they never did before, and it seems they want copy from their members which is purely descriptive - a real regression to the mean, in my opinion. I haven't decided what my final reaction to this is going to be. But they don't 'see the point' of the birthstone stories. Pity, because I'm half way through them. But no matter. We can give a free copy of each month's story to the lucky punters and my resolve to make a book out of them when I've been through all twelve is undimmed, because I'm enjoying solving the problems of making an overarching theme while writing a separate story for each month.

Image result for birthstones

The birthstones

Well, that looks like the lot. Except that I've accepted another challenge, which comes from Cherry Mosteshar's The Oxford Editors agency, for which I do quite a lot of work. The task is something really new to me - to 'ghost-write' a children's novel. No names, no pack drill, but the client is also an independent author who has produced some good non-fiction, to be found on Kindle.

I was sent a detailed synopsis. The basic structure is a timeslip story between the present day and the time of the Viking invasions and is set in the north of England, in what Sue Price and her readers will recognise as Reiver country. It was Viking country too and the synopsis is shot through with striking images and vividly gripping situations.


This fellow will be in it.

But here I found something interesting. I had expected - and, I think, so had the client - that as the story was chronological and made sense with a beginning, a middle and an end, it would merely be an expansion into about 30,000 words. But this is, I suppose, where the novelist and storyteller really does have a special insight. I could see that the synopsis as presented missed out a large amount of inference, implication  and motivation which would give three-dimensionality to the narrative. The timeslip plot and the opposing correspondences  and fierce differences between the two time settings and the tension between reality and myth central to the Viking passages suggested a deep structure which had to be explored to make this really successful and help to turn interesting characters into significant creations. All stories worth the name have deep structures which can be discovered and I interpreted my role to be to dig deep for this one and then to work with the client so that it can belong to both of us.

Well, that's my aim and I hope I'm carrying it out. So far it's going well, I think, and our discussions are good but I doubt if I'll have the first draft ready by the time we go, as I'd hoped. But one thing I know. This is a mind-clearing exercise and I'm learning a lot.

Happy Christmas and great New Year to you all. My next two blogs will be from foreign parts and written in warm sunshine while waiting for the evening barbie - then in March the (relatively) hard work starts again!








4 comments:

Bill Kirton said...

Fascinating, Dennis. What a lovely sharing of how a writer's mind works and of the huge experiences beneath and around the actual story-telling. We're so lucky to be able to travel not merely in time and space but also across personalities and states of mind, real and imagined - without even getting up from our chair. Good luck with all these projects, enjoy New Zealand, but keep in touch.

Jan Needle said...

Your work ethic amazes me, Dennis. I just hope it's not catching! And who'd've known that a chance meeting on the canal side would have led to such globe trotting delight. As to Number Two in the saga - have I been rejected as an early reader/technical adviser? And Julia? I think we should be told!

As to reviews - well Amazon seems to have invented a new algorithm whjch means you don't get em. A couple of people I know who did independent reviews of my latest, In Too Deep, about Buster Crabb have been in touch to ask why the reviews never went up. How should I know, was my reply. As Ransome once said, it's enough to make you say bah gum.

Have a lovely trip. Love to Kay.

Susan Price said...

Watch out for those Viking-reivers, Dennis: they can be tricky opponents.

Why no links from your books to their Amazon pages?

Dennis Hamley said...

Bill, you're so right. I feel very privileged to be able to travel freely in the same way as you so beautifully do. Jan, the reason I didn't send it to you and Julia this time was because I thought for a long time that it was so bad as to be beyond salvage and I didn't want anyone to see it, least of all you two. Besides, there's a sort of speculation in it about how Fulton's submarines worked and I feared that, with the submarines in Napoleon's escape, you might laugh and insist my speculations were irrational beyond belief. I held off reading NE until I'd finished this and then saw I needn't have worried: technology seemed to have progressed quite a lot in the quarter of a century between the two books - and in ways I hadn't expected. I also thought you might not like the way Tunks reappears. Foolish of me. But that's par for my particular course. But I'm sending you a PDF for you comments anyway.

Sue, no links because I forgot, as I always do. I'll put them on the AE Facebook. I really am totally inept about this sort of thing.