Writing from the Heart, the Head or the Wallet? by Ruby Barnes
I am nothing if not modest. In fact, modesty is the greatest amongst my many talents. I lay claim to an average level of proficiency in most physical pursuits, with the exception of gymnastics, ice-skating and throwing a ball, all of which I'm pretty crap at. But I can twirl several martial arts weapons with a worrying degree of almost efficiency. When it comes to tastes in music, I like a bit of everything – the latest tunes on the pop transistor radio station, classical pieces by people in suits, bluegrass by folks with no teeth, heavy rock by hairy ones. Stick a label on it and I've probably got examples in my music collection. I myself can play fairly averagely well on several musical instruments – guitar, piano, trumpet, anything that plucks or blows. Regarding TV, films – I'll watch Downton Abbey, Dr Who, Lillehammer, The Middle, almost anything.
A Jack of all trades and master of none, I first realised my inclinations as an author were similarly tainted when I joined a one year creative writing course here in Ireland (which became three years and has never really ended, in true Hotel California style). Without exception, every other course participant was firmly entrenched in a genre. That led to many a teething trouble between fans of different genres as we developed our peer group critique dynamic. I found I couldn't stomach cutesy stories about cats and doves or political diatribes dressed up as fiction, but I could still see the appeal of all the genres I like to read. The result for me was a writing direction that didn't fit neatly into a pigeonhole. We were schooled in submission letters to agents and publishers, advised to make our work look commercially appealing. I became a genre contortionist. Without much success. So I went Indie and eventually founded a small Indie publisher – Marble City Publishing (enter their freeKindle Paperwhite draw here!) – that specialises in those pickled eggs (you'll have to have clicked and read the genre contortionist to get that reference).
|pickled eggs on the bookshelf
Fast forward four years and reviews of my first novel Peril have attributed such labels as noir, gritty urban and picaresque. Many folk agree with my modest author viewpoint that it's not a bad read at all (even if the most liked reviewer says they want to punch the MC narrator in the head) but when I try and think of other novels or films that are on a comparable theme I find obscure, financially unsuccessful cult offerings such as the Coen brothers' Big Lebowski of 1998 – "a crime comedy". I flatter myself of course (another of my great talents along with that bucketful of modesty, and flattery is always effective, even if it's not sincere, even if you do it to yourself in a bout of flattery onanism).
Before the end of that writing course I had embarked upon a new novel which became The Baptist – a psychological thriller centred around a mentally ill MC with religious mania. Something along the lines of Shutter Island. In my adventurous genre-bending style the narrative was delivered first person, which meant the reader was inside the crazy head of John Baptist. Couple this with lack of happy ever after and the result was described by reviewers as a demanding and disturbing read. So enough weird stuff, back to a sequel to Peril, and I wrote Getting Out of Dodge, more picaresque chuckles and dead bodies.
The next step was to attend a writing weekend with a crime fiction bestseller who described how best to keep things on track. “Read what you write, write what you read,” he said. So I drafted a cozy mystery, went home and re-wrote an old political conspiracy thriller, Koobi Fora. Having got that out of my system, I resolved to write a further follow-up to Dodge, as I could then start to market it as a serial. Instead, a nonsense novella about a solemniser (try saying that in polite company) materialised in the form of #AllUsers.
This year I had mostly been trying to get back on track with something serial for Dodge or The Baptist. Then I took a trip to