I’m having a Spring Book Sale. If you’re looking for an autographed book for yourself or as a gift, I have you covered. Use code SPRING10 and you’ll get 10% off your order. Just go to http://simonwood.net/bookshop/ and if there’s an out-of-print title/hardback or any audiobook you’re looking for, drop me a note, as I may have one hidden away. For the more adventurous among you, you might be interested in one of my famous Mystery Book Boxes. Whatever you want, just let me know.
Simon Wood's Blog
This one is for the writers amongst you. Over the last few years, I’ve developed a number of online writing courses for Sisters In Crime. The workshops haven’t been available outside of their membership until now. I’m planning on having a different writing workshop every month, but I’m kicking off this first phase with five classes. Here’s what’s on the docket for the first half of 2021:
The start dates for the classes are as follows (just click the links for course details):
KILLER SUSPENSE: May 3rd
PLOT THICKENERS: March 8th
MANAGING POINTS OF VIEW (POV): Feb 8th
SHORT STORIES: April 5th
AUTHOR PROFESSIONALISM: June 7th
The nitty gritty:
The format of classes is a mix of videos and handouts as part of an online classroom.
The classes run for two weeks with 6 to 7 lessons in each workshop, except for the plotting workshop, which is three weeks.
With every lesson, there’s an assignment and feedback. You aren’t obliged to do the homework or send it to me for feedback. It’s entirely up to you.
The class is conducted via groups.io. People are expected to join in and comment on everybody’s work.
Lessons will be posted every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. That is subject to change. If people need more time then I will slow the lessons down.
Workshop cost: $50 each (exception for the Plot Thickeners – that’s $65)
If you’d like to sign up, just go to my WORKSHOP page.
It’s with a heavy heart that I have to report the movie adaptation of THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY is over. The film company that had been developing it for the last few years pulled the plug last month. The uncertainty COVID-19 has had on the entertainment industry meant it wasn’t financially viable for them to continue under the current circumstances. It’s a shame as they’d developed a working script after several screenwriters.
I’m disappointed but not surprised. The producer has said she hopes to return to it when the industry turns itself around. Hopefully, someone else will step into the fray.
Just before Christmas, the audiobook edition of LA RAGAZZA SENZA PASSATO (aka the Italian version of THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY) was released. As a dyslexic, audiobooks are very special. With this release, this is the 4th different language for my audiobooks are available in!
It’s available here.
THE SCRUBS is another of my supernatural crime stories. This is also a title of mine which has fallen between the cracks with readers and I hope you will take the time to check it out. I think you’ll find it worth your time.
The Scrubs is what people commonly call Wormwood Scrubs prison, located in west London. It’s an unusual name for a prison, but not as unusual as some in Britain. In Manchester, you’ll find Strangeways prison (although, it has been renamed in recent years because of its bad image). I do like how British prisons have weird names whereas American prisons sound like vacation getaways. Pelican Bay. San Quentin. Soledad. It seems like cruel and unusual punishment to be incarcerated in a place that sounds so idyllic, but I digress.
Wormwood Scrubs was built in the Victorian era and is a typical piece of neo-gothic architecture. The prison strongly resembles a fortress in some ways, except it keeps people in and not out. It’s not very big as prisons go. Less than fifteen hundred people call it home. If you ever take a trip on a Central Line train of the London Underground system, you’ll see the prison as you ride through Acton. If anyone has watched the original version of The Italian Job with Michael Caine, the prison he’s released from is Wormwood Scrubs. But any relationship between the real life prison and the one contained within these pages are purely fictional. I took the prison’s name and its location and ignored everything else.
Anyway, I stopped thinking about Wormwood Scrubs in terms of a name of a prison and started thinking about what the words meant. This is a habit with me. I think about words we all take for granted and break them down. Too often we take words at face value and forget their meanings. Places were named for a reason, not by chance. So I forgot the prison identity and just wondered about Wormwood scrubs. Wormwood is an herbaceous plant. It’s a key ingredient of absinthe. Wormwood oil is poisonous, considered psychoactive and possibly addictive. Wow, what a herb! The word scrubs bolts on nicely onto wormwood. A scrub area or scrubland is an area of stunted vegetation. I wondered whether Wormwood Scrubs the prison had been built on an area of scrubland covered with wormwood.
I liked the concept of a prison built on top of an area covered in a poisonous, psychotropic and addictive plant. It’s just asking for trouble. All we need is a psychotic prisoner with special powers and we’ve got ourselves a story!
I have to admit that THE SCRUBS is a guilty pleasure. It started out as a short story but kept getting bigger as I got caught up in creating this alternate universe for this prison and its inmates. And it’s not going to stop here. They’ll be two more installments—SCRUBBERS and SCRUBLAND. There’s just too much fun to be had playing with THE SCRUBS. Besides, someone has to stop Jeter. I hope you agree and you’ll come back for more.
Like with all my books, the stories have origins in something from real life. WORKING STIFFS is no different and as a story collection, it has a bunch of inspirations. Here’s some of the stories behind the stories.
Old Flames Burn The Brightest
I’ve been in the US twenty plus years now and during that time, I’ve gained a bunch of friends, but this has been at the expense of my friends back home. I’ll be digging through some box of junk for something and come across something else that will make me all nostalgic, and I get to wondering about all the people I’ve lost touch with. What are they doing? Have they changed? Are they married or divorced or both? In my mind’s eye, they haven’t changed. They’ll always be the same people I knew back in England, forever frozen in 1998.
But these people can’t be the same. During my brief trips back to England, even my friends I still see have changed. Their lives have moved on and I haven’t been around to witness it. I don’t think I’ve changed, but I’m sure those people see differences in me too. It’s odd to think about, but true.
But with the writing, there’s a chance I may re-encounter lost friends. It’s happened already. Now and again, I’ll get an email along the lines of—aren’t you the Simon Wood I used to go to school/beat up once/stole my cat?
I still have hopes that I’ll bump into these lost friends and that was the inspiration of Old Flames Burn The Brightest. Colin Hill encounters a never-was girlfriend, Denise. He hopes to rekindle something that never existed, but Denise isn’t the same person Colin used to know and unfortunately for Denise, neither is Colin.
My Father’s Secret
This was an easy story to write because Raymond Chandler told me what to write. I have an old BBC recording which features Ian Fleming interviewing Raymond Chandler. Fleming and Chandler discuss the differences in their work and what inspires them to write what they do. During the interview, Chandler describes how mob hits were arranged in the U.S. I thought, wow, what a great idea for a story.
I used the mechanics of a mob hit for the skeleton of the story, but I added the complication of the relationship between father and son. Don’t go reading anything into the relationship between my own father and me. Rarely does anything from my own personal experiences make it directly to the pages of my stories. Rather, certain facets of life and people tug at my sensibilities.
So thanks, Ray. I owe you a gimlet.
Where do you get your ideas from?
It’s a familiar question I’m asked. Literally anything can inspire a story. With Parental Guidance, it was a TV advertisement. It just goes to show that TV advertising works—just not the way they hoped.
The ad was for credit consolidation. It was one of those cheesy, homemade adverts that do the product or service being pimped no favors. The ad was simple. A family, consisting of husband, wife, and two kids, sit in front of the camera while the father tells how his life was out of control because of credit debt until he turned it all around thanks to blah-blah credit counseling. The ad ends with the father saying, “I took control and my life has never been better.”
It was such a creepy line to end the advert on that it gave me the chills. There was just something about the actor’s delivery, like he was trying to let us in on his real secret. The story came to me before the ad break ended. I wanted a tale of keeping up with the Joneses with a difference. I wanted a tarnished tale about what it means to keep up with not only the Joneses but the world in general, but I wanted darken it with the uneasy sentinment I felt after hearing the father’s last sentence.
A Break In The Old Routine
I people watch and I have a nasty habit of giving the people I watch a whole history. A Break In the Old Routine began life that way. I was riding BART into San Francisco and there was this striking women sitting several rows over from me. Watching her, I came up with a character prfolie for her. Wasn’t that nice of me?
I got an attack of the guilts when I went to get off the train and she got off with me. For a frightening moment, I thought this woman was going to call me out for staring. She didn’t and she went on her way, but I thought about what if she had called me on it? What then?
I have to give credit to Working Stiffs’ editor, David LaBounty for the success of this story. He took what I thought was a decent enough story and turned into something special. He read my draft and said that he felt the story should end differently. And he was right. I hope you agree.
The Real Deal
The Real Deal, like Parental Guidance, was inspired by television. And no, I don’t spend all day in front of the TV, just most of it. I watched an episode of Night Gallery which featured an old gangster trying to preserve his legacy. It was an interesting story with a lame ending. But the crux of the story, trying to preserve one’s own mark on history, stuck with me. A couple of years later, I watched an episode of Lonely Planet and travel icon, Ian Wright, traveled to Peru and went through a bizarre witchdoctor ceremony to cure him of all his ills. These two things clashed to create a story about an ailing businessman trying to save his equally ailing business empire.
This was one of those story ideas that once it came to me, I couldn’t dislodge it. This image popped into my head of a police officer getting shot in the line of duty, but surviving because of his kevlar vest. The key thing that stuck with me was that tiny moment before being shot where you believe you’re going to die, only to survive.
I was fascinated by how someone would cope with that juxtoposition of living when you believed you were going to die. Could a person continue under those circumstances? For the character in Officer Down, I decided he couldn’t.
To pile on the pain, the police officer is shot with his own gun after he loses it in a tussle with a thief. The cop can’t move on with his life until he gets his gun back and in doing so, he breaks the rules he was sworn to uphold.
Because of coronavirus, this year’s Bouchercon (aka the World Mystery Convention) went virtual. I took part in a couple of events. I interviewed Distinguished Guest of Honor, author Anne Perry and I emceed The Not So Secret Lives of Authors where writers tell tall but true stories from their lives. My fellow talltaletellers included William Kent Krueger, Catriona McPherson, Gary Phillips & Ellen Bryon. The events were recorded a little while ago but they’re now available to the public. You watch the videos below. Enjoy!!
The inspiration for No Show began with a real life incident that happened over twenty years ago. When I came to the US, it was for love (yes, awww…). I had met an American girl in Costa Rica and we hit it off. We carried things on after Costa Rica. Every few months we would meet up in a different country. After a couple of years of this, we decided to take things to the next stage and settle in the same country as husband and wife. I was the one with the fewest attachments, so I made the decision to leave England for America. I left my job, sold my house, reduced my possessions down to what I could pack into a couple of bags and jumped on a plane.
I arrived at San Francisco International airport very excited at the prospect of a new life in a new country. I entered the arrivals lounge expecting to see Julie with a ‘Welcome to America’ sign or some such thing. Instead I saw a sea of strangers’ faces. Julie wasn’t there. I was disappointed not to see her, but I knew Bay Area traffic could be rough and guessed she was stuck in it. The smart thing was to wait in arrivals because she’d be there in a minute.
Then the minutes piled up and my imagination began to churn. There was late and there was late. Had she gotten cold feet and changed her mind? It was possible. We were taking a huge leap of faith. Had she had an accident? If she had, I had no way of finding out. And regardless of the outcome, what was I going to do now?
And this was where things got a little tricky. I hadn’t concerned myself with the minutia of such details as bringing her address or her phone number. I didn’t need to worry about such things, as Julie was my guide in the US the same way I was her guide in the UK.
Just as panic was sinking its teeth into me, Julie arrived an hour or so late and full of apologies for the hideous traffic. I’d arrived on a day when three events were taking place at the same time in the city.
Well, not quite. Our missed connection taught me a valuable lesson—have a Plan B, because I hadn’t realized until that moment how carried away I was with the romance of what I was doing. I suddenly became aware of how little homework I’d done for myself. I didn’t know how America worked.
The bigger question my overactive imagination kicked up was—what would I have done if Julie hadn’t turned up. Got the next flight home? Looked for her? As these thoughts piled up on each other, I saw how unprepared I was for my new life. I’d put all my faith in Julie and if something had happened to her, I was a lost. Was this naïve of me? Yes, but we take our eye off the ball sometimes.
When it comes to my books, I like to put characters in difficult circumstances. Naturally, my thoughts came back to my first day in the US. No Show gave me the chance to play with my neurosis and the paranoia of that day and explore the worst possible outcome—my wife going missing.
As for real life, Julie and I will have been married twenty-two years at this month and she’s yet to go missing on me.