Quitting Smoking, Seven Years On: Part Two

In the following few posts, I tell the story of how I gave up smoking, something I had long believed impossible. For the sake of immediacy, I’ve written the narrative in present tense, but the events all took place during July 2012.

At this point in the story, I’ve expressed an interest in a Quit Smoking Program but the Health Practioner in charge of the program does not think I’m ready. I posted Part One yesterday.

The Quit Date looms. I smoke continually, determined to enjoy each cigarette without the usual concern and guilt.

The weekend passes. The final night. And then the unexpected happens. A blessing in disguise, perhaps. I choke while smoking my last cigarette – if such a thing’s possible. The smoke causes me to gag and cough, and I panic and think I’m about to faint from lack of circulation. Shaken by the experience, I finish the cigarette and go to bed.

The end of an era. The smoking era.


I wake with the usual Morning Cough.

I’m early for my appointment at the Medical Centre. I spend a while in a public garden close by, strolling along winding paths, up to tennis courts. I take photos of flowerbeds and trees on my phone as I envisage life as a non-smoker.

How did I begin smoking in the first place, given I’d viewed the habit as disgusting and smelly, a habit that caused old men to cough and splutter and spit on the ground?

Yes, I hated the smell, originally. As a child, I vowed never to smoke, but like a lot of children I felt enough curiosity to take a drag on a cigarette. Twice. Both encounters repelled me. How can one describe the horrific strangling sensation, like inhaling the fumes from a burning rope? A stench like car fumes. My vision dimmed. No thanks. Never. This was madness.

Then, one day, I, too, became a smoker. I had a bad day at school and someone offered me half of their cigarette later that afternoon. After a brief hesitation, I accepted. The acrid stale-ash taste now seemed pleasant. My vision didn’t dim. Nor did the sensation of smoke going down my throat overwhelm me. On the contrary. The smoke tasted pleasant and I wanted more. I was under-age, of course.

At first, I smoked once or twice a week. Just a few cigarettes. I probably wasn’t addicted at that point. The just a few, though, progressed to daily smoking, then a complete pack of ten. A packet of twenty followed. Soon, twenty cigarettes a day no longer seemed enough.

In the meantime, I went through school and three years of Sixth Form before moving to Dartington College of Arts in Totnes, Devon, to begin my degree studies in Music. My first time away from home. Chips, beer and cigarettes.

After a while, I realised I couldn’t afford to smoke cigarettes, so I switched to rolls ups, but even they failed to satisfy my cravings for nicotine. The years passed, and I became increasingly more dependent on cigarettes.

I tried to block out the obvious. The yellow fingers. The stained teeth. The wheezing. The persistent chesty cough.

I smoked and I could not stop. I was hooked. An addict.

And now I’ve decided to quit.


At the appointment, I say I want to quit immediately. That I’ve given the matter a great deal of thought during the previous week and have managed not to smoke today. I’m ready.

The Health Practitioner agrees and issues a double prescription: Nicorette Inhalator and Nicorette Patches.

‘Come and see me on Wednesday,’ she says.

Wednesday, two days away. About sixty hours after my final cigarette. In other words, Wednesday’s appointment will fall about halfway through the Third Day of Stopping Smoking – the day countless ex-smokers lapse, thinking that just one cigarette won’t hurt. I know that day only too well, and how easy it is to give in to temptation.

To Be Continued

Teen Fiction (YA) – A Sample

I’m about halfway through a new novel aimed at teenagers and Young Adults. 

In the story, a group of musicians meet at a Summer School.  The central character (aged 17)  falls for one of the girls on the course (not the one in the writing sample).  Meanwhile, a third girl arrives with a secret regarding a serious crime in her background and her actions during the week of classes bring about danger for all the participants. 

As a trained classical pianist and graduate of Dartington College of Arts, Totnes, Devon, I felt qualified to write the novel.

We reached the car park, paid a quarter of the fair each and got out, walking along the promenade to the Grand Theatre, through the August rain and a hint of mist, the waves crashing in the background, the air tasting of sea salt. The sky looked like a gigantic bruise, all purple, black, yellow and storm like. The wind was bitter, the ground slippery. The pier full of graffiti and rubbish. Small groups of hoodies gathered by the railings with cigarettes and cans of cider, staring when we passed.

‘Freak,’ I heard one of them mutter. 

I must have tensed because I felt Dawn’s hand on my arm. ‘Ignore them,’ she whispered to me.


Genre: Crime, Psychological Thriller

My debut novel Secrets by Lawrence Estrey is available from Amazon in paperback and e-book. 

Check out the reviews for  Secrets.

Newspaper article on author.

Local musician publishes crime thriller

EggHead by Lawrence Estrey: Questions And Answers

Capturing The Atmosphere At A Concert Or Gig

Having written and published a couple of novels (one adult psychological thriller, the other teenage socio-economic), I’ve recently completed the draft for a third.  Currently, I’m revising along the lines suggested in a professional Editorial Critique – basically, more action, more intensity. The novel falls under the genre of Young Adult Fiction and tells the story of a group of advanced classical pianists, all in their teens.  In the novel, the students meet at an International Summer School, but events soon veer out of control.  The central protagonist (17) embarks on the studies shortly after narrowly escaping  prosecution by the police, and during his week on the course, he struggles to reconcile his former gang mentality with the rich teenagers around him.   He also becomes involved with two girls, one of whom presents her own story in alternating third person narratives.

Having trained at music college myself, I can relate to a lot of the musical stuff that goes on.  I spent three years at Dartington College of Arts, Totnes, Devon, where I studied for a degree. 

In the following section, the central character switches into music student mode.  The Editorial Report recommended simplifying  these sections and making them more immediate.

After taking a bow, she finished the concert with the Heroic Polonaise by Chopin, leaving the audience on their feet in a standing ovation, cheering and whistling and demanding more. Like, wild. The cameras going crazy.  The guy next to me updating his Facebook page. Everyone shouting and clapping, apart from Philippa who sat there, stony-faced and silent. The atmosphere electric. The music alive. I, too, wanted to scream and shout and whistle along with the others. We all belonged.   Yeah, and I got that mad feeling as well. You know the one?  The type that everyone is supposed to get at these sorts of events…like life’s totally perfect and you’d be happy to die there and then. 

Music Videos by Lawrence Estrey

Most of the time, I blog about creative writing or black and white photography, but I’m also a professional musician, a classical pianist.  I got my main music degree from Dartington College of Arts in Totnes, Devon, and did piano performance studies in London.  As you will probably guess from the link, I prefer romantic composers like Chopin to classical, although I’ve performed the major Beethoven piano sonata.

Check out my videos on youtube:






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.



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



The Novel, Secrets


A local musician has published his debut novel Secrets, a psychological thriller set in Lancashire. Lawrence Estrey, a classical pianist, grew up near the Pennines but is now based in Muswell Hill, North London.

“I really wanted to keep many of my childhood memories alive in the novel,” he says. “Even though I’ve lived in Devon and Wales since then, I’ve always had a nostalgic feel for places like Rochdale and Oldham and Bury. I wanted readers to experience this world through the novel. To meet the people and hear the accents and view the landmarks. ”

In Secrets, the central character, a web designer, has to leave London and return to his native Lancashire when his marriage collapses. However, as the title of the novel suggests, the character has a secret of his own and he is quickly forced to face his secret past when events in his home town spiral out of control. The novel is a mixture of psychological thriller and serious crime.

Lawrence trained in music at Dartington College of Arts in Totnes, Devon, and later came to London to take up a piano scholarship with local pianist and teacher Vera Yelverton. “The early days were amazing. One year, I ended up catching an overnight coach to Edinburgh to give a recital in the Fringe Festival, and that was during a heat wave. The same week, I performed another three concerts in and around London. I used to love the buzz of it all.

“I also used to write on and off, but often it would come and go in bursts. I only seriously got interested in creative writing about 2003, shortly after I moved to Muswell Hill from another part of London. Then I ended up at the local novelist group.”

Lawrence originally approached agents and publishers with a couple of proposals about three or four years ago, both of which attracted considerable interest, but he decided to go it alone, largely due to the recession and the huge difficulties new authors often encounter.

“It’s interesting…after Secrets, I wasn’t sure I could go through the lengthy process of writing another novel, yet I’m more than two thirds of the way through my next novel EggHead, a crime thriller about a boy at the ages of twelve and nineteen. The process is very similar. I expect I shall release EggHead early next year. Meanwhile, I’m concentrating on the piano and releasing recordings and short videos through the internet.” Lawrence Estrey’s debut Secrets is available from Amazon in paperback and in Kindle.

Cambridge,The Great City


Visit to Cambridge June 2010 by Lawrence's Pictures

Although I’ve been based in London UK for years, I don’t really know many places in the south of England.  Before today, I’d never visited Cambridge.  A couple of friends and I travelled along the North Circular and up the M11 this morning, arriving in Cambridge shortly after eleven o’clock.

I thought it was an interesting city – some great architecture, but a bit too touristy and crowded for me.  (I prefer rural villages and quiet pubs.)  We visited a number of the university colleges, including the famous King’s College (see above photo), and enjoyed lunch in a crowded pub.

A fascinating day out.  My own degree training in music took place at Dartington College of Arts, Totnes, Devon, which is so completely different from Cambridge.  More rural and “alternative”.

Dartington College of Arts

I’m still waiting for the editing report on my first novel.   In the meantime, I’ve been working on a different writing project detailing my student days at Dartington College of Arts, Totnes, Devon, where I took my music degree.   This account tells of my first visit to Totnes:

I liked Totnes immediately.  I spent a couple of nights in a bed and breakfast house in a steep lane tucked away from the main street.   On the day of the audition, I set off up the hill to the college, past fields and a river, knowing that this was where I would like to spend the next three years.  The air was fresh with the scent of the country and the unmistakable smell of animals and manure.  I savoured the feel of the mild winter chill against my cheeks, like I had done many times during my childhood rambles in the countryside in the north of England.              

The college stood near the top of the hill: three adjacent buildings for the dance, drama and music students;  a courtyard consisting of the Great Hall, the White Hart bar, admin offices, staff room, library and cinema, a central lawn.  An archway connected the library and cinema.  Further on was Higher Close, the student area overlooking the fields below. 

After attending an introductory talk in one of the studios with the other prospective students, I took another short walk to the front of the music department where the main offices were situated.  Mr Artherton had helped me prepare the first movement of a Haydn piano sonata and one of the pieces from Debussy’s Children’s Corner.  When I finished playing these, the lecturer at Dartington said, ‘you have an extremely musical ear.’

An Ongoing Wait

The wait for the editor’s report goes on… It’s slightly complicated in that a third party arranged the report on my behalf, but pretty frustrating all the same.  In the meantime, I can’t really face working on the other novel until I know exactly what’s happening with the editing report, so I’ve been concentrating on writing about my student days at Dartington College of Arts, Totnes, Devon, where I once studied piano and composition.

A Long Wait

I’m still waiting for the editing report on my first novel, a psychological thriller set in the English countryside.   That’s one of the things in trying to get a book published  – you end up spending ages waiting each step of the way.  For me, the waiting is the worst bit.  It feels long and drawn out, and I tend to get impatient and worry about what might happen next.  

In the meantime, without having a definite time frame to work in, I don’t think I can continue with the most recent novel (another psychological thriller set near the Dorset coast), so I’ve made extensive backup copies of the first fourteen chapters and hope to return to the story sometime next year.  I’m working on something entirely different while I wait for the editor’s report – my student days at Dartington College of Arts in Totnes, Devon, where I studied music and classical piano.  

I’m also spending a lot of time at the piano, playing works by Beethoven, Chopin, Grieg and Liszt.