My Novel: Questions & Answers

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.   

Sample Chapters

Newspaper article on author.

Local musician publishes crime thriller

 

 

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Almost Done/My Second Novel

I’ve just completed the advanced proofread for my second novel EggHead, a crime thriller featuring an adolescent boy who goes by the nickname of Egghead.  In the first part of the story, the fourteen-year-old Egghead resorts to drastic measures to tackle a bullying vendetta.  His actions backfire and he has to leave home.  In the second part of the story, Egghead, now seventeen, struggles to rebuild his life in a secluded village off the North Sea, but his past soon comes back to haunt him, leaving him isolated and in danger….

My heart nearly stops when I see the elaborate blue handwriting on the envelope, fountain pen style.  The writing doesn’t belong to Uncle Graham or Mum or Grandpa or anyone else I remember. No one I know uses a fountain pen, just Biro. No one should have this address, only Uncle Graham and Belinda. Official mail always looks official, not personal like this letter.  Should I open it or not? Supposing it explodes in my face, blinding, scarring me. 

I tear the envelope open.

A newspaper cutting falls out.

An obituary. 

Best wishes, kid, someone has written. 

Meanwhile, my first novel – Secrets by Lawrence Estrey – is available from Amazon (paperback, e-book).   Genre: psychological thriller.   

Newspaper article on author.

Finished First Draft Of EggHead

I finished the first draft of my second novel EggHead, a crime thriller set both  in Manchester and the North East coast and I am relatively happy with the first half of the story but not the second.  In EggHead, central character Wayne (17) is forced to rebuild his life in a remote village off the coastal after taking drastic measures to deal with a bullying situation.

The following takes place towards the end of the novel:

The car starts to slow its pace, weaving down a trail with bumps in the ground and turns, twisting and scraping against hedges and bushes while sleet and rain splatter outside and the night wind wails like a banshee caught up in a cycle of distress.  I remain perched on the floor in the back, body racked with discomfort, but I don’t see a thing.  I only sense the trail, a deserted path in the middle of nowhere, hidden by trees, a path leading to nowhere.  For a minute or two, the vehicle seems to hover.   The Ghost sits in silence, his gun fixed on me.  The blokes in the front light cigarettes and flick ash out of the windows, letting in freezing night air.   

The engine dies.  ‘Time to go,’ The Ghost says. 

Meanwhile, my debut novel – Secrets by Lawrence Estrey – is available on Amazon.    Reviews

Crunch Point: A Writing Sample

I’ve reached a dramatic peak  in the current novel I’m working on.   In EggHead, a crime thriller, central character Wayne (14) has to leave home after he takes drastic measures in dealing with a bullying campaign against him.   Three years on, he struggles to build a life for himself in a remote village off the North Sea.  But the past begins to catch up with him again and Wayne has to escape once more…

I stagger up a ginnel with a railing in the centre, reaching a steep incline, and start to climb.  Up and up and up, past houses and chimneys and back fences, struggling on, panting for air, the night temperature dropping to below freezing.  Straight up in a direct line, the incline getting steeper and steeper, the shouts and dog barking still present but starting to fade into the distance.   The incline bends to the right.  The gradient begins to level.  Just about bearable, although the weather’s slowing me down.

The incline stops abruptly.  A road lies ahead, a still country lane with hedges and fields on the opposite side, fields covered in mist, fields rising up a steep hill bordering the V-shaped housing estate at the top of the village.  I’m on the main road that runs adjacent to Dead End Lane.

I take out my phone, nearly dropping it on the ground.  My fingers have turned clumsy, useless frozen clumps that refuse to obey my brain, and the SOS icon on the screen remains mockingly still, indicating that none of the recipients have received the message.  I turn left on the main road, moving further away from the crossroads and Dead End Lane, along an empty stretch of lane with no houses or cottages.  And then, I hear the fanfare all over again, a fanfare like a hunting party with bugles and hounds.  Van doors slamming shut, dogs whining and barking, men and women shouting in the night.  Over there.  He’s over there.

Meanwhile, my debut novel – Secrets by Lawrence Estrey – is available on Amazon.    Reviews

A Knotty Problem

Experiencing some difficulties here with my latest novel EggHead, a crime thriller.  In the original version, the 12-year-old protagonist takes drastic action to deal with bullying and suffers the consequences.   Aged 19, he struggles to rebuild his life in a bleak northern village.  I don’t see anything wrong the general premise.  However, basing a story on increasing feelings of isolation and pointlessness means there’s nowhere to go…no excitement, no development of relationships, just bleakness.   It is certainly depressing for me, the author.

I’m redrafting the sections told through the 19-year-old’s viewpoint and continuing in a new 14-year-old perspective to allow the entire drama to unfold in a single time frame.  For instance, boy runs away from the bullying and finds kindness in a remote sea bay.

Meanwhile, Meanwhile, my debut novel – Secrets by Lawrence Estrey – is available on Amazon.    Reviews

EndGame

I’m in the final stages of my novel EggHead, a crime thriller focusing on a boy at the ages of twelve and nineteen.   The twelve-year-old gets into serious trouble when he faces up to bullying.  As a nineteen-year-old, he is struggling to rebuild his life in a remote village on the north east coast (England, UK).   

The atmosphere inside the pub is rising.  The mood is ugly.  Again, I sense the hostile stares, the silent accusations, the thirst for revenge against the monster who killed the missing lad. 

The locals think that I or one of the other men at the Halfway House played a role in whatever happened on Wednesday night.  Worse, I can’t account for my movements that night.  I don’t recall any of it, apart from coming to in a groggy state shortly after midnight in an unfamiliar squat less than a quarter of a mile from this pub on the promenade where the lad was last seen.  I stumbled back home.  Someone must have seen me approaching the Halfway House in the early hours of the morning and passed on the information to the teams of villagers patrolling the area.  That would explain why the teenage boys and men stopped outside the Halfway House in the middle of the night, lingering by the front wall, talking in quiet voices. 

Because they suspect me of foul play. 

They must know my background.  They will have lifted it from the internet.   The anonymity required by law wouldn’t stop people in my hometown identifying me

 Meanwhile, my debut novel – Secrets by Lawrence Estrey – is available on Amazon.    Reviews.

The New Novel

I’m approaching the two sets of ending scenes in my latest novel, EggHead.  EggHead, a crime thriller, features central character Wayne at the ages of twelve and nineteen.  In this section, the twelve-year-old boy has decided to run away from home to escape a bullying vendetta.

I glance at the time on my mobile.  Enough time to get a hot drink and a couple of heated sausage rolls from the overnight garage.  The only thing I’m slightly concerned about is my phone, as I haven’t charged it since Tuesday and the battery’s getting low, but anyway they won’t expect me to have it on at this time of the day, so I turn it off and head over to the garage.

The sausage rolls smell fantastic.  I munch one as I stride towards the playing fields and take a left in the direction of the tobacco factory.  I can see the high rise blocks of flats and Baxendale Court where Zipper lives.  He’ll get upset when he hears I’ve gone. Definitely.  He relies on me to help him with his school work and we’ve always had loads of fun.  I decide that as soon as I’m settled, I’ll get in touch with him and apologise for leaving so suddenly.

 

Meanwhile, my debut novel (Secrets by Lawrence Estrey) is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Another Writing Sample

I’m working on a new crime thriller set on the outskirts of Manchester and told through central character Wayne (12).   The biggest challenge, I think, lies in the narrative style and getting it to reflect the age of the character.  At the same time, the character, an only child, seems to have developed in ways that other twelve-year-old boys might not have.

The following section tends more towards the psychological thriller aspect of the story:

Ginger and I finalise the arrangements for tomorrow, and I set off for home, shivering from the cold and wishing now that I’d taken up Ginger’s mum’s offer of a lift.  I could go back, I suppose, and say I’ve changed my mind and that I’d appreciate a lift, but it would probably look awkward of me or rude. In any case, the cold isn’t the real reason why I regret accepting the lift.  It’s what happened last night after I left Zipper’s place: the weirdo chasing me along the main road, ducking into shop doorways and following me into the side alleyway, down to the mews at the back of the maisonette where I live. Tonight, I chicken out of walking home via the usual route, cutting through quiet side streets and crossing roads further up from the main road, until finally I have no choice but to face the main road and run the two blocks home. I leg it as fast as I can, racing those final yards, and then I’m tearing up the concrete steps like I did last night, my heart hammering hard in my chest, just like then. 

Home.

Empty.  A thundering silence greets me in the hallway, and suddenly I don’t want to be home at all. The maisonette has a bad feel to it, as if someone’s come in and wandered through all the rooms, touching things, looking at things. I keep expecting the figure to leap out at me – or, worse, for someone like Tara Wilde to appear.  I jump when the phone rings unexpectedly and hurry to the kitchen to answer the call.

Silence.

 “Yeah?”

No answer.

The line goes dead. 

I dial 1471. 

Number withheld. 

New Month And Freezing Cold

First day of February, and the temperature has dipped.   You can feel the chill against your bones, and apparently things will get worse at the weekend.   

Recently, I read through viewpoint sections of Dark Whispers, the first ever novel I wrote (the one I felt just didn’t come alive for me in the way I’d hope), and I can see certain parallels with some of my earlier photo shoots.   When I was editing the shots in Google’s Picasa, I tended to bring out the colors and emphasise contrast – but I can see now that the photographs would probably have benefited from less color/saturation.  I think the idea extends to the writing too, especially in Dark Whispers, that first problematic novel that never seemed to work, no matter what changes I made.   The tone of the writing, I suspect, contained too much “color”, when it needed less. 

I think the choice of subject matter didn’t necessarily help.  The other novel tended to have an otherworldly feel and contained classic whodunnit clichés: the village, the vulnerable (possibly paranoid) wife, rhymes, etc.  When a writer paints a picture like this, s/he often has nowhere else to take the story because the story has a tight but limited focus preventing further plot and character development.  However, when I worked on my debut novel (Secrets by Lawrence Estrey), I ditched about two-thirds of original material and began almost entirely from scratch, resetting it in a different part of the country (no more villages) and concentrating on varying degrees of crime.  Suddenly, I had plenty of places to take the story and ways of broadening the central characters, plus better ideas of how to make sections truly chilling. 

I’m currently working on a new crime thriller set in Manchester and the central characters have already begun to make an impact on me.