In many ways, the question of whether a glass of water is half empty or half full applies, and I think that if a writer, musician or other artist feels overwhelmingly confident about their own work, they should present it to the public by whatever means possible. In recent years, the internet has opened up opportunities that weren’t previously available.
Lawrence (lawrenceez.wordpress.com) is a musician and a writer from the UK. Originally from the north of England, he studied music at Dartington College of Arts in Totnes, Devon, and classical piano performance in London, and he has performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and in many of the City of London lunchtime recital events. He’s also a keen photographer and Web enthusiast. Recently, he published his first novel Secrets, a psychological thriller set in the north of England. Here, he answers some common questions about Secrets and his life in general:
Q: What led you to write Secrets?
A: Lots of things. Mainly friendships formed in childhood, and essentially, what happens when those friendships end abruptly – the effects many years on. I also wanted to create a safe place for the main characters, somewhere where they could relax and be themselves, a place where readers might also wish to be. I wanted psychologically chilling moments, but also fun and laughter. The balance is crucial – too many pleasant evenings or hikes in the countryside, no story/too many scares, the reader loses interest. Much of the scene writing typifies the areas I grew up in in the north, but the novel itself isn’t semi autobiographical.
Q: So Secrets is a thriller?
A: Yes, a psychological thriller with an element of serious crime thrown in. Linking the two (Psychological and Organised) created difficulties, since organised crime usually occurs due to non-psychological causes (such as excessive greed , drugs, etc ). Rarely do mind games or the sort of psychological issues seen in psychological thrillers account for repetitive serious crime incidents (basically, crimes that carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment under English law , and for which custody is the starting point in sentencing). I also needed to make sure that the balance (the variations in tempo and mood) mentioned in my previous answer remained throughout the more serious or chilling sections of the story without detracting from the rising tension.
Q: And your musical career to date?
That has been most demanding, with several avenues and cul-de-sacs. Originally, I trained in composition, music psychology, piano, analysis, and twentieth century music (too much of it, I think). When I first came to London eighteen years ago, announcing that I wanted to be a concert pianist, I would hear things like, “Oh no, not another pianist. The world’s full of them.” Soon after arriving in the capital, though, I won the Fritz Gottlieb Memorial Scholarship for Piano allowing me to study with the well-known piano tutor, Vera Yelverton,, who ‘d set up the scholarship in her husband’s memory some decades earlier. After two years on the scholarship, I studied with an international concert pianist and went on to perform the Liszt Dante in the (extremely) scary St Lawrence Jewry venue where the performer can see the audience on both sides. For a while, I was giving several concerts a week in different parts of Greater London and getting expenses.
Then, around 2002/3, the concerts started to taper off and I lost some of the interest in performing, perhaps a sort of burnout that’s apparently common amongst performers. I was later to perform in an international lunchtime series and have continued to give recitals whenever and wherever possible. In the meantime, I’ve explored other avenues, such as producing recordings of my piano playing and placing them online. More than three thousand people from all over the world (that’s all five continents) have heard me play as a result of the online recordings.
Q: Wouldn’t publishing a novel be equally as difficult to pull off?
A: Possibly more difficult. I had to abandon a previous novel told predominantly through the viewpoint of a woman from an unsettled background trapped in a commuter village on the London outskirts and married to a man of questionable nature (pretty old-fashioned idea all round). The book attracted considerable interest from a literary agent, but wasn’t successful, possibly because of the principal character and my attempts to tell the story through a female viewpoint. Eventually, I decided upon the present novel Secrets (a sort of blokes’ novel with a couple of fights thrown in for good measure). This attracted further interest from several sources, but eventually I chose to publish through a Print-Demand website, feedaread. Many first time novelists are now chosing such sites to publish, as the costs are phenomenally low. In fact, the whole venture cost me less than ninety pounds and I now have a book in the British Library available in many parts of the world. I think POD is an excellent idea, so long as the author takes it seriously and does the necessary editing work first.
Q: So did you get discouraged during the writing?
A: Many times. I found plot structure particularly difficult to bring off, largely due to the question of balance that I mentioned earlier – too much tension, and the story loses credibility; too little, and the story loses its edge.
Then there ‘s the problem of character decisions. For instance, supposing a character suspects that someone has come into their house – fairly common in thrillers. What do they do about it? Do they tell anyone? Call the police (assuming the police will take it seriously)? What happens the next time the character suspects that someone has entered their property? This would warrant a greater sense of unease and uncertainty, along with another decision on the character’s part – and so forth. Each incident has to reveal something new. The tension has to develop. Faces at the window don’t really work anymore (perhaps they never did). Nor do shadows in the dusk, unless they somehow feature in the character’s overall psychological makeup. In writing, problems often arise when some element of the story (plot, reactions, accompanying emotions, potential for fear, resulting decisions) fails to come across as convincing. Any reaction or lead, though, is plausible, as long as it is presented persuasively.
On a different note…despite the many difficulties I encountered in putting the story together, I genuinely liked my characters from early on and felt they had a valid story to tell. In other words, I felt passionate about Secrets but not as passionate about the pre-debut novel.
Q: What about the names of characters?
A: The easy part. You chose a common first name and draw attention to the character by the choice of surname or association with a geographical area. Alternatively, you can choose a name that conjures up a particularly strong image, then show how the character deviates considerably from that image, bit by bit.
Q: And you like photography?
A: Yes. I often take photo albums and upload them to sites like Facebook, WordPress and Flickr. In particular, I enjoy creating photo collages. However, unlike with the music and writing, I consider myself to be an amateur photographer. I also love graphic design and anything to do with websites – but again, I consider myself to be a well-informed amateur, and not a professional, on those subjects.
Q: Will you write anything else?
A: At the moment, I’m not sure. I put a lot into Secrets and the other novel and I don’t know whether I want to go through the entire process again from scratch. It gets exhausting. At the same time, I can’t really imagine myself not doing so, and I guess I probably will get to work on another project at some point.
UPDATE: HAVE JUST COMPLETED A 74,000 WORD NOVEL FEATURING AN ADOLESCENT PROTAGONIST/CRIME THRILLER
Q: And the music?
A: I’m currently polishing up that great Beethoven sonata, The Pathetique, and I hope to record it online soon, along with various works by Chopin and Scriabin. In some ways, I would prefer to concentrate on the music for a while. For me, the music’s more personal. The music’s me.
Q: Any advice for hopeful musicians, writers, artists?
A: Yes. Keep on with it and find a way of sharing it with the public. If the content has merit, it will show, and you may well get international exposure via the internet and not have to pay much for that (if anything). But don’t expect a financial breakthrough from your work, because it probably won’t come.
Secrets by Lawrence Estrey – is available from Amazon (paperback, e-book). Genre: psychological thriller.
Newspaper article on author.