Simon Wood

Posts Categorized: shelf life

I’m the current guest on the podcast WISH I’D KNOWN THEN… with Jami Albright and Sara Rosett.  Some of the things we discussed included my writing successes, failures and the things I wished I could get a do overs for.  You can listen to the episode below.  I hope you enjoy it

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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.

Crisis over. Disaster averted. OverdramaNoShow2tic imagination quelled.

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.

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For every seventeen-year-old male in the UK, the number one purchase is a car. It’s a rite of passage–the first step towards adulthood and independence.

I was in engineering college when I turned seventeen. My birthday occurred late in the school year and several of my friends had already turned seventeen, passed their test and gotten cars–albeit jalopies for a couple of hundred quid.

John was the first of us to get his wheels, a ’72 Ford Cortina. Instead of running for the train to get to and from college, we rode with John. The convenience of car ownership was all too apparent to me, even by proxy. The responsibility of this convenience came a few weeks later. We’d returned back from lunch to the college parking lot. John found a stall behind the science block and went to park. He backed the car up, doing all the right things, but his skill deserted him and he reversed into the side of the Vauxhall Cavalier. There was no mistaking the buckling of sheet steel.

We all froze and waited for John’s reaction. Panic spread across his face. He had just kissed goodbye any possibility of a no claims insurance bonus.

“Do you think anyone saw?” he asked us.

The parking stalls were pretty secluded from the main parking lot. We looked around and saw no one.

“We’re going. Cool?”

We didn’t reply, just nodded. John burnt rubber and parked on the street a couple of blocks from the college. We walked back to our afternoon classes. John told us we weren’t to talk about this. He was stern, but I noticed his hands were shaking. He knew the crime he’d committed and the one we were accomplices to.

I was beginning to think we’d gotten away with it by mid-afternoon, until the cops interrupted second period. Two officers walked in with one of the college lecturers and some kid I didn’t know. One of the cops asked for John by name, but not the rest of us.

My heart was pounding, so I couldn’t imagine what John’s was doing. Unlike most college kids, we had more to lose than the rest. We were employed by an array of big name companies underwriting our college education and paying us a salary.

John came back thirty minutes later, looking sheepish. We were forced to wait until break to find out what had gone down with the police. We’d thought our crime had gone undetected but we were wrong. One of the other lecturers had witnessed the fender bender from the classroom. The lecturer not only knew us, but he knew the name of the second year student who owned the Cavalier. Giving the cops their due, they were pretty cool about it all, all things considered. They weren’t pressing any charges as long as John paid for the damage. They would be checking in with all parties to make sure amends were made.

John made good on his error and the event never made it back to our respective employers or parents. We all learnt our lesson. It was a stupid thing to do and we were damn lucky to have gotten away with it.

About a year later, a form of retribution came knocking. Kevin (who’d been in the car with us) came back from lunch to find a broken headlight and a note under his windshield wiper. The note said: People think I’m leaving you my name and address. I’m not.

No one had witnessed the incident and Kevin was left to carry the expenses.

These two incidents have always stuck with me. It’s one of those situations where I’d been on both sides of the equation, even if it was by proxy. So when it came to writing THE FALL GUY, my thoughts fell upon these two incidents and the storywas born. In the novel, the down on his luck protagonist, Todd Collins, backs into a Porsche and leaves a note not dissimilar to the one Kevin found under his windshield. This sets in motion a series of calamities, which winds up with Todd being indebted to organized crime and spending the rest of the story trying to get the monkey off his back.

I don’t know if I wrote the story as a penance or a warning to others, but it may have something to do with a theme that occurs in many of my stories. A crime, even a little one, can’t remain covered up for long. I learned that when I was seventeen.

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Damn my dyslexia!!! Usually it’s a problem (a.k.a. a pain in the arse) but for once, it did me a good turn. The idea for my new book DECEPTIVE PRACTICES came from a misread. A couple of years ago I was flipping through the TV Guide on my television and I came across a TV movie called The Green-Eyed Monster. The description said it was about a wife who hires an organization to beat up her cheating husband. That was right up my alley so I watched it. The movie had nothing to do with what I’d read. It was about a woman who fixates on her next-door neighbor’s husband. I went back through the TV Guide and found the description was accurate to the movie I just watched. How the hell I’d read what I thought I read I have no idea. The descriptions weren’t even close. It’s one of those frustrating things that comes with dyslexia. You start reading something, your imagination takes over and rewrites it all for you, and you end up with something completely different. I remember being in engineering school during a class where we had to read some chapter from a book and when we came to dissect it I seem to have been the only one in the class who’d read something completely different. Like I say, dyslexia is a pain in the arse.

When something like this happens, it usually comes with a large chunk of frustration. How can my brain be that far off on its interpretation of just a few sentences? What is wrong with me? Why can’t I just read the words in front of me? You really shouldn’t be let out in public without a seeing eye person to help you! But this time around I wasn’t so pissed off. Had my brain just handed me a book idea? What if a woman did hire an organization to beat up her cheating husband? I did a quick search on IMDb to make sure I hadn’t read the right thing but on the wrong channel and found there was no movie like that made. I let this idea grow for a bit and came up with the concept that there was an underground business that operated on a similar basis to the scared straight documentaries in that if you hired them, they would beat some sense into a wayward spouse with the aim of turning them around or getting some marital revenge. The ideas started coming and I developed a company name and their sales pitch: Do you have a cheating spouse? Has counseling failed? Want to get even with them? Then hire Infidelity Limited to teach them a lesson…

And DECEPTIVE PRACTICES was born. I know, I know it sounds like a crazy business idea but if I were to attach an app to the concept, I probably have a billion-dollar company. If it’s got an app then it’s legitimate. I think that’s how it works.

Naturally I can’t have a plot line that is that straightforward. I have to toss a few hand grenades into the mix. So the plot line for the book goes like this: Olivia Shaw is living a nice suburban life until she discovers her husband is cheating on her. When her sister suggests Infidelity Limited can offer some closure, Olivia buys their sales pitch. Olivia learns how Infidelity Limited really works when her husband turns up dead and she’s drawn into a dark web of blackmail and murder — just like all their other clients. Now, Olivia finds herself the prime suspect in her husband’s death and as the police close in on her, she has only one option—take down Infidelity Limited.

Usually dyslexia is nothing but a problem for me, but for once it gave birth to a book so I can’t knock it too much. So here’s to the next misread and all the ideas it conjures up!

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I’m very topic driven when it comes to my books. I latch onto an issue, it becomes the basis of a conflict and a book is born from there. With THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY, survivor guilt was the driving force behind the story. It was a subject that had been in my head for awhile. I had the beginning of the story—two women are abducted and one of the women is given an unenviable decision—attempt a futile rescue or leave her friend in order to escape. My heroine in this case, Zoë Sutton, weighs up the odds and runs, but her life is forever tarnished by that selfish, yet logical decision.

That was the crux of the story, but I had to decide where to go from there. I knew little about the topic of survivor guilt, but at the time I was under the care of a neuropsychologist for a head injury and subsequent memory loss after crashing on my bike. I mentioned that I wanted to talk to someone about survivor guilt.

“Go to the VA.”

“But the book isn’t about soldiers.”

“Doesn’t matter. If you want to learn about post traumatic stress disorder, then go to the VA.”

I was introduced to a psychologist who counseled veterans of various conflicts going all the way back to Vietnam. I outlined the basic premise of the book and opened with a question that outlined my basic ignorance and sat back and listened. The great beauty about in-person interviews is that I don’t have any idea where they’ll go, other than nowhere where I thought.

I thought I had an idea of what survivor guilt and PTSD were but it was a good example of an outsider’s perspective. Our long and lengthy discussions got into the meat of the subject. Some of the common afflictions affecting people include sobriety, impulse behavior, isolationism, arrogance, and contempt to name a few. I’ve attempted to incorporate these behaviors into Zoë’s character which also helped drive the plot.

As I tried to absorb this information, I couldn’t help but marvel at this condition where people feel shame for surviving. You fight for your life and win, but your mind discounts the win and obsesses on the loss. The survivor takes on the emotional weight and responsibility for those who didn’t make it and it’s just too big a burden for him/her to bear. The result is that the survivor drives themselves to destruction either directly by throwing themselves into similar conflicts or indirectly through substance abuse and depression. This has to be the most paradoxical illness on the books.

But it’s this paradoxical thinking is what drew me to write about the topic. Ten years ago I was undergoing first responder disaster training. One of the modules dealt with the psychological effects of rescuing the dead and dying; making life and death decisions for total strangers. Then they told us the suicide rate for first responders and it was quite scary. A friend of mine who is both an author and veteran recently posted a stat about returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan. Almost four times as many veterans have taken their lives since coming home than those who died in battle. There’s not a lot I can say to that other than we’re strange and complex creatures who don’t always make sense.

I hope with THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY I’ve made an entertaining read but at the same time, I’ve shined a light on a subject that most of us aren’t really cognizant of. If you read the book, I encourage you to let me know what you think.

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I hadn’t intended to put my heroes, Scott Fleetwood and Tom Sheils, through the fictional wringer for a second time but something cropped up.

When I start a book, I don’t build it around a character or plotline. I’m premise driven. More often than not, that premise is a real world one. TERMINATED was built around the issue of workplace violence. ACCIDENTS WAITING TO HAPPEN explored corruption in the life insurance industry. It was survivor guilt for THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY. And for my latest book, SAVING GRACE, it was the manipulation of the free press.

Now before you go rolling your eyes, it’s not what you think. This has nothing to do with the current fake news claims. I’ve been looking into this issue for a quite some time. The tough thing about writing a book is it takes a long time from concept to final product. Who knew an election cycle would muck things up for me?

My interest dates back ten years when there was a kidnapping of a child in Portugal. Planted stories and media manipulation marred the investigation, which hasn’t been solved even today. The more insidious side to this story was that people profited monetarily from the incident. My writer’s radar became attuned to the issue and I came across more instances of abuse from within and outside the media. I’m sure you’re aware of some instances.

The subject was too enticing to ignore. If I was going to turn to the world of media and evil shenanigans, there were two characters I could turn to—reporter Scott Fleetwood and special agent Tom Sheils of the FBI. They were protagonists of a fan favorite, PAYING THE PIPER. I’d put these guys through hell in PIPER, and it’s that notoriety that gets exploited in SAVING GRACE.

No longer a reporter, Scott Fleetwood is still recovering from the aftermath of tangling with the notorious kidnapper, the Piper, when a new foe emerges from the shadows. The Shepherd announces to the San Francisco Independent that he has snatched a young girl from a vacationing family. The Shepherd has two demands for the safe return of the girl—a cash ransom and for Scott to act as his intermediary between the family and himself. The kidnapping brings in Special Agent Tom Sheils and his team to work the case and watch over Scott. The Shepherd promises the girl’s safety as long as Scott follows the rules of his game. Forced to trail the kidnapper’s twisting lead—and haunted by a previous victim he failed to save—Scott is desperate to keep the past from making a brutal comeback.

Each of the Shepherd’s demands are played out on the world’s stage for everyone to see with Scott as the star of a perverse reality show. As the stakes get upped, Scott realizes he’s a pawn of a much larger scheme.

I won’t say how the media is being manipulated in SAVING GRACE. For that you’ll have to read the book. And when you have, come talk to me and I’ll tell you about the facts behind some of the lies. You can learn more about the book here.

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It’s been a pretty crappy last few weeks with canceled projects and events due to the Corona virus, but finally a shaft of light! I won HAW CREEK HORROR‘s contest for real life ghost stories.  I saw the call for true stories about the paranormal and on a whim, I entered.  I was quite chuffed to take the win.

The story is called MY OTHER SISTER and it’s my account of an apparition I encountered when I was seven-years-old. To this day, I can’t explain what happened but the events still haunt me now forty-five years later.

You can read the piece here and I hope it give you some chills while you are in isolation. 🙂

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The first Aidy Westlake mystery DID NOT FINISH is my Book of the Week. It’s 99c/99p on Amazon.  DNF is very personal to me because it’s based on my experiences as a racecar driver. It’s a period of my life I am very proud of…and that’s includes the good, the bad and the ugly. Motor racing shaped me as a person and I’ve infused that into the character of Aidy. The storyline is inspired by an actual incident and a secret I kept for twenty years.

Amazon.com
Amazon.co.uk

The books are available elsewhere in all e-formats, print and audio. You can find all the links here. I hope you’ll pick up this story because this series is very special to me.

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My frustrated DJ self emerges yet again for a playlist for my the latest Aidy Westlake book, HALF-INCHED. The playlist reflects the various themes and plotlines from the book series. If you’ve read the books, these songs will make a lot of sense and if you haven’t, it should give you an inkling as to what to expect. Either way, the songs should result in a shake of the head…or a groan.

So here’s what’s on the playlist:

“The Distance.” – Cake

“Fast Car.” – Tracy Chapman

“Jerry Was Racecar Driver” – Primus

“The Road To Hell” – Chris Rea

“Shut Up And Drive” – Rhianna

“Cars” – Gary Newman

“Road To Nowhere” – Talking Heads

“Keep The Car Running” – Arcade Fire

“Everyday Is A Winding Road” – Sheryl Crow

“One Headlight” – The Wallflowers

“Passenger Seat” – Death Cab For Cutie

“Drive” – The Cars

“Passenger Side” – Wilco

“Granddad” – Clive Dunn

If you have any musical suggestions, leave them in the comments and I’ll add them to the playlist.  Now just hit play to listen. Enjoy!!

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As many of you know, Julie and I rescue and foster animals. The animals were tend to adopt tend to have problems. We’re suckers for a weirdo. This year, we’ve working overtime to help out the county pound taking in a bunch of long term fosters. That brings us to Gordo. A big mop of a cat that we discovered has a big problem. He has a bone deficiency which means a lifetime of care.

Several people have asked how they can contribute. I’d love it if people would take part in A BOOK FOR GORDO. Buy a book from my bookshop and the money will go to medical bills. Use the code GORDO10 and get a 10% discount.

I hope you’ll buy a book in support of us supporting others. Thanks!

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