Works in Progress

Everything really is a work in progress. I can’t read any of my stories – long or short –  without wanting to make changes. Sometimes it’s a stray comma, or a line that no longer rings true, or the bit that sags in the middle.

Nothing is perfect, though each one has been through more rewrites and edits than I care to remember. There is still the odd typographical error (I do not make spelling mistakes) and occasionally a word may have been incorrectly included or omitted. The joy of electronic  and print-on-demand publishing is that any mistakes can be corrected relatively easily. If you spot such a mistake, please let me know.

But for the most part I am happiest when working on new stories.

There is always a short story on the go, and at the moment I have two other novels at different stages of unreadiness.

Innocent Monsters (Working Title)  

Like all good stories, the idea for this one started in one place and ended somewhere else. In fact, there were three moments – in the loosest term – that contributed towards the themes, characters and structure of the novel.

The first was several years ago, during one of many, many journeys to work. One of those days when I just wanted to be somewhere else: anywhere else. We all have them. For a couple of quid and a Mars bar I would have walked and kept on walking. And there, hidden in the middle, was that thought – “We all have them.” We all have times when life isn’t working. So the thought extended itself. Suppose there was the perfect crap storm lousy job AND failed relationship AND debt AND family problems AND … whatever. What would it take to keep walking? You see, I’ve never really understood suicide, not when running away is a perfectly valid option. In fact, I imagined the idea of running away from it all would appeal to all of us at one point or another. So here I was with a universal theme.

Of course, with a theme I needed a story. This took some time coming together but the idea arrived after a chance game of scrabble with a highly dodgy, probably abusive, yet strangely entertaining character. The thing is, he was representative of a whole bunch of dodgy, abusive and yet oddly engaging parents, step parents and ‘carers’ I used to come across when working for social services. To cut a long story short, the story I came up with involved two characters sitting on the banks of Loch Ness, watching out for the monster. Both had run away from their past. One was a burnt out social worker – failed marriage, debt, etc – and the other a paedophile with enough self-awareness to want to put himself out of harm’s way. And they would sit there for years, dreaming up get-rich-quick schemes and never talking of the past or what had brought them to the loch in the first place. Into this precarious but stable world a young girl turns up having run away from home. The change in dynamic and the reason for the change are enough to get both men thinking of why they are there – with inevitable consequences for the young girl in question.

Over the years I have made several attempts at starting this novel. Although I had the beginning and the end, there always seemed to be something missing. The characters were a little too clichéd perhaps, or the scenario a little too restrictive. Besides, there was job to do, a family to support and, ultimately, other stories to write.

Then there was the third moment in deciding on the structure of the book. It had something to do with the novels we were studying on the MA, and something more to do with the writing workshop. In a third person novel, the separation of the author from the implied author would allow me to be a little braver. Separating the story from the plot encouraged me to look at other characters – two more had been added somewhere down the track and this was the moment the whole thing came together.

The novel as it now stands is not (just) about the two men and the girl. Nor is it (just) about running away from home, life or anything else. In creating a world that was consistent and credible, I realised I had made a home and a way of life for the characters that they would want to defend.

So, two men – Clive & Tom – sit on the banks of a fictional Scottish loch, drawing and carving monsters to eke out a living while coming up with get-rich-quick schemes. They are aided and abetted by a couple – Molly & John – in a nearby croft. A young girl – Leah – arrives in their midst at the same time as the loggers move in to fell the forest that protects Tom & Clive from the outside world.

It is written in the third person but follows the perspectives of two of the characters – Clive & Leah. It is written in the past tense but a very recent past. The events at the loch unfold naturally and chronologically but there are flashback episodes for both Clive and Leah as they reveal what brought them to this point. (There were no great traumatic incidents for either – merely the grinding down of daily life and, for both, a small final straw.)

To cut to the chase. This book is not about Clive & Tom. They have a lifestyle they want to preserve but they have moved before and they can move again. Nor is it about Leah. She was running away and she can keep on running, or return to her family, for what they are worth. This book is about Molly. Molly has made her home at the loch and she will do anything and everything to keep it.

The Reformation (Working Title) 

The Reformation is a novel that has been jumping in and out of drawers for the best part of 5 years.

You see, I like the idea of church. I like the idea of a place where everyone is welcome. Where stories are told, and there are singsongs on Sundays. A place to celebrate births, deaths and marriages – beginnings and endings – and provides pastoral support for those in need.

I just don’t like the idea of God. Or maybe I just don’t get it.

Anyway, Alma is on a mission to save St Mary’s from the Christian left and the political right.

Josie is a muse. She inspires painters to paint, players to play, and artists to art. Or at least she would if she could leave her tatty bedsit for more than an hour a day.

Alma is 75 years old, with early onset dementia – not that she knows it. Josie is in her early 20’s and atypically agoraphobic. Every day they meet on the bus where Josie has invented a fantasy world, and for 15 minutes a day every passenger buys into it.

After 75,000 words, I have finally figured out the ending, and the sequel.