The Mangle Street Murders by MRC Kasasian

Mangle Street Murders Kasasian
The Mangle Street Murders
4-stars

When March Middleton goes to live with her guardian, the ‘personal’ detective Sidney Grice, she is faced with two problems: firstly, how is she ever going to live in the same house with a man so annoying, so irritatingly contrary and so stuffed with self-importance that she can barely get a word in edgeways? More significantly though, how is she to persuade the detective to take on the case of a young wife who has seemingly been stabbed to death by her quiet and unassuming husband?

This is a wonderfully grimy detective story in the tradition of Holmes and Watson, though with more grime, a sprinkling of sexist policemen and a distinct lack of meat at meal times. M. R. C. Kasasian paints a vivid portrait of Victorian London, complete with beggars, blind match-sellers and wig-wearing Italians. The writing style was at times a little disconcerting – seeming to jump about a bit, but that’s probably just me, and in any case, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and will definitely be reading more by this talented author.

 
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First Drafts and Other Hurricanes

Hemingway Draft copy

Ernest Hemingway once said,

“The first draft of everything is shit.”

Maybe it is, but it also depends on what you term to be a First Draft. As my approach to writing has changed dramatically in recent months, I no longer write and edit as I go along, but instead, simply write until I get to the end and then start the process of re-writing/editing/correcting.

So is a first draft simply the first version of the finished novel? Maybe, maybe not.

The first novel I attempted to write without worrying about spelling, grammar, editing etc, was ‘Mortlake’, book 2 in my mid-range children’s adventure ‘The Maps Of Time.’  During the writing process I found myself feeling a little unnerved by my new regime and consequently began to make a few ‘rules’ to keep in mind, that I hoped would make life easier:

Don’t wait for the right word/phrase
Normally I strive to find the exact word or phrase that I need. Finding that word or phrase can, of course, take time and any time spent looking for it means time not writing, so what I do now is to write something that sounds like the sort of thing I’m looking for, so I’ll know what I was thinking about when I come back to it later. For instance in this passage I wanted to describe a puppet show, but wasn’t clear on what sort of puppets I had in mind or how to describe it. In my first draft, I wrote something like:

Charlie stops to watch a puppet show, distracted by the colours and stuff.

The first re-write sounded like this:

He stands for a moment, as the young puppeteer begins to run through his repertoire

with one of the marionettes. The gaily-coloured toy dances a jig on the grimy

cobblestones, oversized wooden feet clattering and tapping an infectious rhythm.

Don’t delete the beginnings – yet:
Sometimes it takes a few goes to get into a new novel and that first couple of paragraphs may feel right at the time, but won’t necessarily work later on. In the past I’ve tended to delete anything that doesn’t seem right, but now I’ve learned to just leave it – even when I’m fairly sure it’ll end up going the way of all flesh. Why? Because it might be useful elsewhere in the novel or it might shed light on my thinking about a particular character or scene. So even if I do get rid of that original opening eventually, I’ll leave it until I’m absolutely sure it doesn’t work, just in case.

In terms of ‘Mortlake’ my original first scene related to what happened at the end of the first book, but it got the old heave-ho because I realized I needed something that would grab the reader’s attention, whether they’d read the previous book or not.

Leave the damn mouse alone:
I’ve never been one for using those pesky little pads on laptops to negotiate my way around my screen – no, I like the mouse. And because I like it I tend to hand on to it, cling to it almost, and consequently highlight anything that isn’t perfect and immediately re-write/edit/delete as appropriate. Since this is simply another interruption to my writing, I’ve discovered that standing up to write (see my earlier post) is a great way to avoid this habit, as I can’t reach the mouse from my new standy-up position.

This means I write faster and less episodically, leading to a finishing-post that’s in sight, rather than a mere dot at the end of a long, long, tunnel.

By the way, the Hurricanes mentioned in the title of this post obviously don’t exist, except for those rather windy tumbleweedy thoughts that clog up my brain when I’m trying to write. Just in case you were wondering.

Stand Up and Write!

Some years ago, I hosted a writing course with the above title. I forget why I worded it this way, since the course was certainly not about standing up to write, however, this post is about that very activity – writing standing up.

ernest hemmingway

Ernest Hemingway famously wrote standing up. Even though he apparently had a ‘tower workroom’ which he retired to when the need arose, most of his writing was done standing at a bookshelf in his bedroom with his typewriter on top.

Hemingway wasn’t the only devotee of standing up – Dickens, Virginia Woolf and Philip Roth are only a handful of the many famous writers who’ve pursued the habit. And authors aren’t the only fans: Thomas Jefferson had a six-legged ‘tall desk’, while Otto Von Bismark and Winston Churchill stood up to do specific tasks during their working days.

But there are more pressing reasons for standing to write rather than sitting:

As John Moir pointed out back in 2008 (Poets & Writers),

“Sitting down to write…can actually lead to a decline in mental acumen”

Which is clearly not a good situation for a writer, but recent studies (and there are lots of them) show that standing to write is better for our health – it improves posture, burns more calories, generates a genuine tiredness (so we sleep better) and prolongs life.

Since my day job involves a fair bit of sitting on my butt, I thought it was about time I did something to combat that declining acumen. Now, there are all sorts of ways to bring your writing desk up to a suitable height, but as I don’t have either tools or wood, I won’t be knocking up a workbench in the near future. Neither will I be forking out for one of those gorgeous Varidesks that really are the biz when it comes to standy-up writing.

I do my writing at my kitchen table and as there’s nothing else in my house that’ll give me that additional height, I resorted to that good old standby method of piling-things-up. Admittedly, this ttowering deskeetering tower is not going to work in the long term, but I reckoned it would do as an experiment.

So, did it work? You betcha! Although there were pros and cons as I expected, I was surprised to find it quite a comfortable position, enabling me to get several hundred words banged out before I resorted to my usual butt-on-the-chair routine.

As you can see from the photo, my towering workdesk will have to be swapped for something safer and sturdier, but I think I can say I’m well and truly converted. All I need is an easier method of getting my laptop up to the required height, since any difficulties will (I know) result in going back to the old routine. And that ain’t good

Amelia Dyer – the Killer Character

Amelia DyerLooking for a plot for Book 2 in my mid-range children’s series ‘The Christie McKinnon Adventures’, I happened on a bunch of Victorian villains. One that stood out from the others was Amelia Dyer – baby killer. At first glance, maybe she wasn’t ideal material for a children’s adventure, but I reckoned she’d be good for a bit of source material:

Having trained as a nurse as well as bringing up her own family, Amelia must have appeared to be a fairly ordinary woman in her adult life, but her childhood was another matter altogether. Amelia’s mother had developed a mental illness (a result of typhoid) and her daughter was forced to nurse her mother through many violent rages until the woman died. Amelia was barely 10 years old at the time.

After staying with an aunt, she went on to marry a man almost 40 years her senior. In the meantime, Amelia’s nursing experience had taught her how to make an extra income by taking in young women who had given birth illegitimately. She could then earn additional cash by putting the children up for adoption.

Following her husband’s death, Amelia began to develop her ‘profession’ in a rather more deadly manner. Taking in unmarried mothers, Amelia also offered her services as an adoptive parent – for a fee, of course. After some years pursuing her new calling, Amelia was caught out when a doctor reported her for a series of what he thought were suspicious infant deaths. This led to a 6-month jail sentence for neglect. But Amelia had a plan: back home, she set out to make sure that in future there wouldn’t be any evidence to convict her. Instead of calling in the doctor to confirm infant deaths, she simply got rid of the bodies herself.

Her modus operandi however, was far from perfect and her habit of stuffing victims into carpetbags and throwing them into the river was to be her undoing. When one package was discovered, the police found letters leading them to Amelia’s house. They quickly put their suspect under observation and raided the house. Although convicted of the murder of only one child, the police suspected Amelia had killed more than 400 infants over a thirty-year period. Amelia Dyer was hanged at Newgate gaol in 1896, having apparently shown no remorse for what she had done.

Now, I know what you’re thinking – maybe this is a bit too dark for a children’s book? Absolutely, so that’s why I’ve tamed my villainess down to a more acceptable level. In my novel ‘The House That Wasn’t There’ the child-snatcher Mrs McIver doesn’t kill anyone, but if it wasn’t for the investigations of my young heroes Christie and Donal, there’s no telling what the wicked woman might get up to.

Of course, that’s assuming the intrepid pair manage to catch the kidnapper before she gets out of hand…

Sequel Schmequal – What Should I Do With My Characters?

Finishing one novel is fine, but how easy (or difficult) is it to start the next one? And more to the point, should the novel stick to the same formula? Having just finished the second book in my ‘Maps of Time’ series, I’m now back to working on the second one in the ‘Christie McKinnon Adventures’. While I’m well into the story, I’m not completely sure where my characters are headed.In Line for Murder 150x

The first in the series (The Hounds of Hellerby Hall) introduced a host of strange and likeable characters and established my heroine’s penchant for solving crimes, with the help of her pal Donal, her writer friend Hugo Skene and the affable Inspector Robertson. The second book ‘The House That Wasn’t There’ is about a child-snatcher who prays on vulnerable parents. Christie (naturally) comes to the rescue.

However, thinking about how to move the series forward, I also wrote a wee story about the Inspector in what I fondly imagined was something akin to the style of Arthur Conan Doyle. In Line for Murder is a short story (free to download, by the way) about an apparent murder where there doesn’t appear to be a body. Anyway, it got me thinking that perhaps some (or maybe all) of my characters could potentially have their individual stories (a bit like boy bands whose members also have solo careers).

Although I’m not seriously considering knocking out another five or six novels (one for each band member), I am wondering about my audience. The difficulty is that Christie and Donal are children, whereas several of the other characters are adults. If the grown-ups had their own novels (as it were), the books can’t really be aimed at children, since children’s books really do need to have a child as the main character. So Inspector Robertson is off solving his own (grown-up) crimes, and there’s my dilemma.

Of course, I realise I’m probably making too much of it and I should just let the Inspector do whatever he feels like doing and see what happens. In a perfect world, I’d be able to finish off this post with an explanation of how I’ll go about that. But as we all know, nothing is perfect, so I’ll just leave it out there for a while and you never know, like all good ideas, it might just get up and walk itself into another story.

Please Release Me – Dates

A recent blog post from sci-fi/paranormal novelist Allan Krummenacker, highlighted his decision to postpone the release of his latest book, “The Vampyre Blogs – Coming Home”. Why did he do this? Simple – he had the good sense to realize that pushing the proverbial boat out and burning the two-ended candle just wasn’t going to give him enough time to finish the book to the standard he wanted.

Sounds like a sensible decision. Which brought to mind a few questions about my own planned publications dates:

  • Are my deadline dates achievable?EBook_Reader_PocketBook_Ultra_-_Frontansicht
    Are the publication dates realistic?
    Am I expecting too much of myself?

Well, the short answers are:

  • Not sure.
    Maybe not.
    Absolutely.

Hmm.

My original publication date for the pre-order copy of ‘Mortlake’ (book 2 in my mid-range historical time-travelling series) was the middle of November. And yes, if I’d been able to stay on track with the thing, maybe that would have been fine, but since my particular style of writing is firmly set in the Land-of-Not-Planning, this means when the story sets off on a longer journey than I’d anticipated, it obviously adds another chunk of time to the work involved.

The tricky bit is, unfortunately, moving this deadline has an impact on my other deadlines, therefore adding another month to the ‘Mortlake’ release date, adds another month to the finish dates for my next book too. But that’s okay, since, as Allan says:

‘Timing your release and making sure the product is as good as it can be
is crucial to your book’s success.’

So when common sense prevails, the finished product will be the better for it. After all, writing the book is just part of the process – getting it ready for your readers is a whole other kettle of haddock.

So, now that ‘Mortlake’ is set to be released in mid-December, I’m feeling a lot less stressed and ready to make sure my book hits the virtual shelves when it’s properly finished. Of course, if I’d realized this earlier, I might have saved myself a bit of anxiety.

Cheers Allan.