Occupied Elsewhere

The title says it all, hopefully.  I’ve had commitments elsewhere and haven’t found time to blog recently.  Dismal weather here in the UK. Still waiting to hear back from an editor regarding my novel and busy working on several foreign languages and piano playing.

Back soon.

I’ve reached that point again – polishing a novel, sending it out and waiting to hear the outcome. In the meantime, I’m trying to relax. By that, I mean paying close attention to my breathing, slowing it, allowing the breath to take on its own natural rhythm.

Diaphragmatic breathing.

I’ve read lots about it. Apparently, the improved breathing rate has a wide range of positive effects on a person’s health and nervous system. There are many articles on the internet and in popular magazines, but I do wonder whether the reader needs to take more care and critically evaluate some of the claims. For instance – how safe is it for the average person to alter their breathing rate without any supervision or professional advice? Can it, in fact, do more harm than good? I always hunt for the science behind the breathing technique – and if I can’t find any science to back up the claims, I give the technique a miss.

At the moment, I’m experimenting with Coherent Breathing – a technique that involves the person breathing in through the nose for six seconds, then out for the same duration, creating a sense of balance or symmetry.

Personally, I’ve found simple breathing techniques beneficial – for example, four in, eight out. Obviously, the breather would need to build up to the longer exhalations/pauses; plus she or he would have to avoid air hunger at all costs, as that would defeat the object of the exercise. So, always read the science and make sure the breathing technique will not exacerbate an existing medical condition (crucial!) – and enjoy.

The Storm

Back to gloomy autumn weather and a wait to hear news on the latest novel, a psychological thriller.

Talking of which…after high temperatures and a late summer, the weather suddenly changed. I woke up at around 3am on Thursday, aware of the steady thud of rain outside. Lightning flickered, causing the clock radio to crackle. Thunder roared close by.

Generally, I like storms, but I lay there unsettled, thinking of another storm that took place when I was a child, maybe five or six years old. When that storm occurred, I fled from the bedroom, convinced that the house was haunted and that the ghosts were pursuing me. Obviously, I have no idea whether the house was really haunted. However, from time to time, I’ve found certain places or atmospheres disquieting right from the start, and still do occasionally. So I suppose I must believe in the possibility of hauntings and ghosts, although the whole thing scares me.

Anyway, I think the above would do well in a psychological thriller.

I recently read the Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz and thought I’d write a brief review.

The book, a true story set in the early war years, sees the central character Slavomir and six of his companions escape from a harsh labour camp in the middle of Siberia. I don’t want to give away the ending, but there are a number of surprises along the way, along with sadness and loss in places.

The author, also the central characters, creates a compelling mood throughout the narrative, and I, the reader, could feel/almost see the freezing and bleak conditions of Siberia. Later, the author describes his experiences in the Gobi Desert, and again I almost felt the overwhelming heat and dusty sand, along with the terrible sense of thirst and weakness that persisted day after day. There are also mountains scenes which evoked an almost tangible sense of danger.  The ending provokes intense emotion – one almost wants to remain with the central character and his companions – and I was slightly disappointed not to see some form of afterword.

In all, an excellent read, absolutely compelling.



I’ve finished the writing for the time being and hope to put it aside, in order to gain a fresh perspective. In the meantime, Bank Holiday Monday beckons, hopefully warm and sunny.   As the novel, a psychological thriller, explores the events of a Bank Holiday Monday in the central character’s past, I thought I would include the opening in this blog article:

They say a group of teenagers saw me on the field that August Bank Holiday Monday.

One called over, asked if I was all right. I didn’t answer, apparently. Just continued stumbling in the direction of home, sweat dripping from my face. The teenagers didn’t hang around. They assumed I had sunstroke. If I had seen myself, I would have probably thought the same.

Others noticed me wandering along the main road towards the estate where we lived. Drinkers in the pub watched me stagger like a drunk. I continued walking. Up the hill, through a ginnel, past the church. Down the hill, along alleyways of back-to-front houses, to the car park at the bottom of the estate.

Dad was out with your dad that afternoon. They say your mother saw me and came out. ‘Where’s Craig?’ she said. ‘What happened, Alan?’

They say I muttered two words.

A name.


A man went to prison.

A local.

End of story.

So I thought.

Clammy, sticky weather, and I’m ploughing on with the novel, making the changes needed to strengthen the story. A psychological thriller. It’s hard.  A fresh twist in the plot increase the tension, but often at a cost, as each alteration affects the rest of the story and errors creep in, usually unnoticed.

I’ve also observed that ruthlessly cutting superfluous sentences – for instance, 100 words here, 50 words there – will tighten the prose, but might result in the loss of the writer’s unique voice. The story may take on a racy-pace, but lack originality.

For me, psychological thrillers must create an atmosphere (preferably portrayed through a first person narrative) that the reader relates to, even if their own experience differs from that of the main character. The atmosphere determines the plot, I believe, although this runs counter to the general advice that plot should be character-led.  Perhaps there is room for both then – atmosphere and character actions?

Let’s hope so.

In the meantime, I have another fifty-five thousands words to deal with.

A writer works on a manuscript, with or without a plan. The writer learns more about the character during the writing project. The plot seems to flow naturally, without any hint of contrivance. Afterwards, the reader could reasonably wonder if originally the writer had originally taken advice such as: “just begin the writing and see where that takes you.”

Consider an alternative approach. Tight plot, careful structure, little time for introspection. Here, the writer may even have mapped out story events before writing a word.

Two distinct approaches. So which one is right – introspection or projection?

Obviously, each writer will favour one over the other. I tend to favour introspection and atmosphere, not to mention immediacy, but often my plotting will require further attention. I suppose each writer must concentrate more on her/his weaker approach without losing the overall original voicing resulting from the stronger approach.

Just a few of my thoughts.