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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!!
DID NOT FINISH is a book that is very close to my heart as it’s a mystery centering on the world of motorsport. Thirty years ago, I raced open-wheel cars motorsport in the UK.
In the book, a death threat is circulating around the pits. Derek Deacon says he’ll kill his championship rival, Alex Fanning, unless Alex throws the championship deciding race. Rookie driver, Adrian ‘Aidy’ Westlake, doesn’t put too much stock in the threat. He figures Derek is just playing mind games. That changes when Alex dies on the track after banging wheels with Derek. A cover-up ensues. The police wrap up their investigation without following up on the death threat, TV coverage omits the crash and the racing community seems happy to ignore what they heard. Aidy is the exception. He feels obligated to expose the truth and finds himself dragged into a much larger conspiracy.
A real incident is the basis for DID NOT FINISH. I was competing in a regional championship where a rumor was floating around the paddock that a driver threatened to kill the championship leader if he didn’t win and, just as in the book, that driver died in a crash during the race. At the time, I felt quite helpless. There is a world of difference between an idle threat and an actual murder. What made the situation even harder for me to accept was that minutes before the race started, the driver who died had shared something with me that he hadn’t even shared with his family. It’s a confidence I’ve kept for twenty years.
Did Not Finish is not an attempt to expose a crime or rewrite history but illustrate life in the fast lane. Motorsport is an expensive game. To compete, you need more than just a bat, a ball and a pair of sneakers. You need a small army. Even at a grass roots level, it costs tens of thousands each year to own, maintain and race at a competitive level. Because of that, the desire to win gets amped up and tensions run high. Competition brings out our best, but it can also bring out our worst, so dirty tricks aren’t out of the question.
Naturally, there’s rule bending in motor racing and I can’t say I didn’t pull some stunts to help me survive in the sport. Other people I knew took more drastic measures, especially when it came to money. Some people borrowed heavily, in some cases turning to loan sharks. Others got involved in a variety of criminal pursuits to make ends meet. They ranged from misdemeanors such as theft to major felonies such as drug trafficking. Some individuals felt they had to protect their interests and did so by intimidating others or flagrant cheating. Some of the stuff that occurred is enough to make your hair curl. And in most cases, all these acts boiled down to people doing anything to hang on to their dream and win. It’s a siren song that’s hard to ignore.
Dick Francis showed the dark side of the world of horseracing, I’m hoping to do the same through Aidy’s adventures. He lives in the shadow of his famous father, the late, great driver, Rob Westlake, who died along with Aidy’s mother in an auto wreck after securing a Formula One contract. Raised by his grandfather, Steve, himself a retired Grand Prix mechanic, Aidy is following in his father’s footsteps.
As the series develops and Aidy makes his rise through the world of motor racing, he’ll be drawn into the various issues affecting the sport. And as he does, he’ll learn one thing—in motorsport, murder will always happen breakneck speed.
Sadly my website was hacked earlier this week, totally destroying it. The site is back up but it was down for a couple of days, so if you sent a message and I didn’t get back to you, let me know or please resend.
My first thriller ACCIDENTS WAITING TO HAPPEN has come of age. It was first published 18 years ago this month! This book is very special to me because we’ve been on a quite a journey over that time. It’s been responsible for a lot of firsts in my writing career:
- First book I wrote.
- First published book.
- First mass paperback release.
- First book to be translated.
- First book to sell a 100,000 copies.
When I look over my writing career, this book has been the one that kept me career moving on to the stage. Although first published by a small publishing house, it picked up a lot of good trade reviews which gave me some legitimacy as a writer. That resulted in the book picking up a contract with a New York publisher. When the NY publisher folded during the credit crunch, it was the book to reboot my career I relaunched it as an ebook. The sales success of the ebook resulted in an 8-book deal with a new publisher and a new edition. And if it weren’t for that 8-book deal, I wouldn’t have the success with other books. Wherever I examine my writing career, invariably it all stems back to ACCIDENTS WAITING TO HAPPEN.
This book about obscure facet of the insurance industry changed my life. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for it. I will forever be in this book’s debt.
If you’d like to learn more about the book, you can learn more here.