Slush Piles – and my contributions to them
In 2009, I began writing in earnest. I had several reasons for doing so, none of them associated with making money. Instead, it was partly a challenge, a way of defying the odds. After all, numerous schools had done little to foster any belief that I could write. However I had lived a fairly eventful life, and had also read widely. More importantly, I felt I had something to say about the human condition, and at the time I was unable to see a way of expressing those thoughts with painting.
I began by writing about my family, but things soon changed and I realised I had the makings of a crime novel. The book had a protagonist, plus a beginning, a middle and an end. It eventually contained 75,000 words, and since anything greater than 60,000 is regarded as having passed the length test, I decided to get someone to read it. I found a volunteer, a leading literary agent. She was terribly sweet and kind, and told me, in the tenderest possible way, that my novel was rubbish. But hell, you can’t keep a bad man down, and so I gave my black heart a transfusion of poison and set about writing another novel, which was also rubbish. Then I wrote a third novel, which was good enough to stagger away from a slush pile stinking out another leading agency. Unfortunately the agent said, “Close, John. But no cigar.”
I took heart, after a week of weeping, and set about writing more novels. Seven years later, the count has reached a Fellini-esque 8½, and all bar 1½ have been met with either a deafening silence or a standard rejection slip. But despite this I continue to write.
I have no desire to write the great ‘literary’ novel, no hankering after producing 100,000 words of sparkling prose, preferring to work in the genre of crime fiction.
There are other reasons for persisting, even if I am unlikely to gate-crash the mainstream publishing party. I certainly have little expectation of emulating the best of what I have read — by that I mean Raymond Chandler, Patricia Highsmith, James Elroy, Denis Lehane, George Pelicanos and James Lee Burke. But I do think I can write as well as some who have found a publisher — no names, but they are mostly British.
There is also something else that continues to gnaw at my insides, which stems from, and there is no getting around it, a family background that was comfortably familiar with the criminal class. In fact some of the older members of the clan, who are without exception deceased, were out-and-out villains. Two went to prison, (you can read about one of them here) while others were more successful and avoided incarceration by being clever, lucky or wealthy. In one case, the individual concerned, without whom I would not be here today, paid a substantial sum of his ill-gotten gains to a senior police officer at Scotland Yard, thus ensuring liberty was preserved along with a swift return to the business of the day, which of course was making more money.
From childhood, I was raised on such stories, thus learning that the truth is often a different beast to the one presented for public consumption by those in authority. Consequently if there is one recurrent theme running throughout my work it is corruption, as well as betrayal, and of course murder.
However I believe a book is not complete without it being read, and so I recently took the decision to self-publish.
Publish and be Damned
I currently have three books available either as Kindle downloads or as epub files from Smashwords.
After finding the body of a murdered boy in a London park, Leo Wilkes sees an opportunity to rescue his flagging career as a police detective. However the investigation soon runs into trouble, and after the body of a young woman is dragged from a canal, Wilkes follows the trail overseas where he learns that a man will take poison if he’s first shown death.
Leo Wilkes is a private investigator with a bad case of curiosity and a desperate need for reassurance. Money’s tight and trust is thin on the ground. Leo suspects his partners, Dave Sangster and Phil Liakos, are lying to him. Consequently Leo has questions to ask, only he doesn’t care much for the answers, particularly when they involve murder, blackmail and his parents.
The Three-Towered Castle
Derry, 1970, and Bill Hamilton is a part-time cop with a full-time grudge against the IRA, but following a violent confrontation with Jimmy Connolly, a teenager from a diehard republican family, Bill is forced to reassess his past as both are propelled towards a final reckoning with a bloody history.
I have written more about this book here.
My Amazon author page can be found here.
So, will any of these pay dividends?
The answer to that question is possibly a little, but probably not much, and like most writers I live in hope rather than expectation. But I will continue to write because I enjoy doing so, and that is something money cannot buy.