April 27th, 2006

International Kittens of Mystery

The Short Mystery

Two years ago I had a plan. I wanted to blend Fantasy, Mystery and Humour. And, as I didn't want to commit a year to the project, I wanted to trial the idea first in a short story.

And so my humorous Fantasy Detective story was born. I had the detective, the setting, a pretty good magic system and a locked room puzzle with a difference. Then things started to go wrong. Small things at first - there was something missing with the main character. He was 90% there but something - something I annoyingly couldn't put my finger on - didn't gel. Then there was the magic system. It started off great but as I fleshed out the detail I realised I'd made it too powerful and suddenly my tight plot had several large holes in it. So I revised the plot to take that into account and suddenly the short story grew into a novella. Extra characters arrived, extra plot twists. I was 16k words into the story and still the end was a long way off. And worst of all I didn't feel enthused enough to continue. The story had grown from funny and tight to amusing in parts and rambling.

So I put the story aside.

Then last week I had one of those lightning flash ideas. The really cool idea that lands in your head pre-formed and begging to be written. Again it was a comic Fantasy detective but this time I could see it working. The magic system was similar but far tighter, and the premise moved the focus from the puzzle to the characters and procedure. Which, I think, is the trick of writing short mysteries. If you focus on the puzzle - and you're anal about making sure your puzzle is not only clever but only has one solution - then the page count can multiply. The puzzle consumes you, you feel the need to add red herrings, plot twists, cliffhangers and before you know it you're halfway to a novel.

So, this time I've kept the puzzle element simple and used it as a vehicle to show off the characters and setting. So far I'm 3,600 words in and the end is very firmly in sight.
International Kittens of Mystery

The Book Launch

I've posted this elsewhere but for those who missed it here it is again: The Book Launch (or ... How I must really have pissed off an important deity in a previous life:)

Everything had started so well: I'd found a pub in London's Leicester Square that would hire me an area free of charge. I'd tracked down old friends I hadn't seen for decades...

Then fate intervened.

With twelve days to go, Amazon UK decided that my book wouldn't be published for another two months - even though they'd been shipping the book for a fortnight - and removed the £6 discount. This was a disaster as Amazon was one of only two places that were selling my book in the UK. (unknown author syndrome: UK book chains won't touch unknown authors with a hardback from a foreign publisher)

I complained, they shrugged. Then, with a week to go, the French rail unions decided to call an all out strike starting Monday night. And, of course, I was booked on Wednesday's Eurostar from Paris to London.

So, I'm left panicking until the last minute - not sure if the strike is going to be settled, not sure whether to book the ferry just in case and not sure if I have to rebook the London hotel (which was part of the train package.)

Seven hours before I'm due to leave, the strike is settled but the trains are in all the wrong places (seedy bars, all night sidings - you know the sort of trains I'm talking about) So I get up at 4:30 to take an earlier train to Paris just in case. This plan starts well - until Fate finds out - and one hour into the journey the train stops. Someone has thrown themselves onto the line in front of the train. Pause for incredulous cry of 'What!'

They survive, the train timetable doesn't. So I arrive in Paris 75 minutes late. Then the Eurostar, which had been running on time all through the strike, decides an electrical fault is long overdue and hides in the Channel Tunnel.

Naturally, I have a meeting arranged for 2:30 with some old friends who can't make the evening launch. Added pressure - very popular with capricious deities. So, already late, I sprint out of Waterloo for the hotel to dump the heavy luggage (because of Amazon I'd had to bring all the spare copies of my book with me for the launch) and 20 minutes later I arrive at the hotel red-faced and dripping with sweat. Did I tell you I believed the weather forecast that morning that said that London would be hit by arctic temperatures and dressed accordingly (double trousers, ski jacket, woolly hat). And that the hotel reception was heated to tropical temperatures for its American clientele?

So I filled out a soggy registration card - by that time sweat was falling off me like a curtain in front of my eyes - ran up three flights to the hotel room - couldn't find the lift - dumped the luggage, shed some clothes, had a wash, ran down the stairs, remembered I'd forgotten the leaflets I was going to hand out, ran back upstairs...

I arrived twenty minutes later oozing sweat and sporting a beetroot tan.

But then it got better. Yay, the good news! I knew there'd be a happy ending! The area in the pub was a sunken area with comfy sofas and perfect for about 25 people. And from 6:25 the evening couldn't have gone better. People I hadn't seen for 15 and 20 years started arriving. Three people from college turned up. One had even brought along the 1974 Plymouth Rag Mag I'd edited. It was like being in a 'This is your Life' episode. People had come up from Southampton, Oxford, Manchester. But the biggest surprise was seeing two old friends from primary school back in Bournemouth - I hadn't seen them for 35 years and didn't even know they were coming, one had even come down from Manchester. I spent most of the evening in a daze and time flew - along with the books. I sold every copy I'd brought. And then it was closing time. I'd only booked the area until 8:30 but everyone stayed until after eleven.

So, a great night.