The Cuckoo’s Calling

Last week I blogged about writing a Romney and Marsh File as a script for the stage. I’ve spent this week turning that script into a short story. It’s the first short story I’ve written. As last week, the breaking of new writing ground has been an interesting and enjoyable process. Perhaps they’ll be more short stories (I hope so) but I don’t have any ideas at the moment. I would like to add a collection of short stories to my writer’s portfolio. At this rate I should finish it around my seventieth birthday. (I can just hear my children’s sharp inhalations as they contemplate me lasting that long and denying them speedier access to their inheritance, such as it is.)

I won’t be blogging next week. I’ll be on holiday. I’m off to Canada to visit my daughter. She’s promised to take me hiking in the wilderness. I just hope she intends bringing me safely back. (Maybe it was a mistake to make her executor of my will and then to tell her that.)

It’s going to be a long old return flight. But I have plans to use the ‘dead’ time productively. The first draft of R&M#5 Particular Stupidities has been sitting in the bottom drawer for a few weeks – long enough for me to feel that the time is right to get it out and set to with the highlighters. So that’s what I envisage spending most of my fourteen hours each way in the air doing. Here’s hoping the travellers with screaming infants aren’t sitting within ten rows of me and that DVT isn’t something I actually suffer from on long haul flights. (Could kind of spoil things to touch down in Canada for a walking holiday only to be rushed off to hospital for an amputation or two. [Note to self: keep receipt for walking boots.])

When I return home I expect to be able to send it off to the gentleman who fixes my English mistakes. And then I’ll be back to R&M#6 Happy Families which was going rather well until I decided to put it on hold for the play script and accompanying short story. It’s good to know that when Particular Stupidities is off my hands I don’t have a blank page to look forward to but a good start to familiarise myself with.


A while ago it was suggested to me that Rope Enough (Romney & Marsh File#1) is the odd one out among the four currently published R&M Files – the bastard child, the cuckoo in the nest. I don’t disagree with this. I think, like the mother who stares wistfully at the child she’s never quite sure is hers (or her husband’s), I’ve always known that RE is different to its siblings. And the more of them I give birth to the further removed from the ‘R&M Files family’ RE becomes.

RE is not representative of the evolved concept of the R&M Files. (Notice that evolved. There was nothing planned about the R&M Files and I can think of one gent who drops by the blog from time to time who will smile wryly at that as he thinks and therein lies the root of the matter.)

One reason RE not being representative of the writing of the rest of the series bothers me is that it’s not representative of the writing of the rest of the series. Another reason it bothers me is that it’s RE that I give away in the try-before-you-buy initiative on Amazon. It’s just possible that RE puts more readers off downloading the second in the series than encouraging them to go for more. And those that do (I don’t know) might just finish the second feeling that it wasn’t what they bargained for after the first. Mmmm… sometimes, like now, I wonder if I might be better off removing RE from Amazon and just kicking off the R&M Files with book two. Or maybe inserting a foreword to RE that covers what I’m struggling to get at here.

So what is different about RE? For a start it’s quite dark, it’s quite serious and it’s almost entirely without humour. That sentence alone is enough to set the book apart from the others and sums up the biggest difference between them. (Remember I have the advantage of being familiar with book #5, a good chunk of book #6 as well as a ten thousand word short story, so I have much more material to back up my assertions with.)

I didn’t discover the R&M Files’ identity until halfway through book two. I have commented before in this blog that it was in book two, Making a Killing, that it occurred to me to start introducing some of my own brand of humour. I started having fun with my characters and I enjoyed it. I’m not sure that I enjoyed writing Rope Enough. (There were just one or two incidental moments where something of my humour slipped out and I remember feeling I should keep a lid on it. I was writing a crime book after all and I don’t think I’d ever read crime novel that was written for laughs.) But I have enjoyed writing the others in the series. Enjoyed as in had a lot of fun and laughs. I see the R&M Files, the concept (post book#1), as light entertainment. Rope Enough is not that.

I can’t know exactly how many readers have been really put off by Romney’s character in RE but I know that there are at least some. I regret that I wasn’t more aware of what I was doing with him. That same person that called RE a cuckoo told me: you may think that Marsh was “unfairly” treated but Romney was your major “victim” in the first book. For anyone that doubts that here is a link to a Goodreads comment that’s worth a look. For the record I don’t resent the feedback. In fact I find it perversely both amusing and dispiriting. (Amusing because Romney provoked such a strong reaction, and in some ways that’s a good thing. Dispiriting because Romney provoked such a strong negative reaction, which encouraged the reader in question to not finish the book and ‘rant’.) The only person who is really hurt by putting off readers is me.

Maybe that’s part of the risk for the novice writer, unless you are someone prepared to sit down and plan a series of books to avoid such eventualities, or an experienced writer. I’m not a planner and when I wrote RE I was very naive as a writer. And I didn’t know I was going to end up writing a series. And even if I had known I’m not sure I’d have been capable of doing things differently. I am very much a make it up as I go along type of writer. It’s the only thing that works for me.

So what? you might say: RE is different. And? The ‘so what?’ is one of the reasons I’ve titled this post The Cuckoo’s Calling. (The other reason is that ‘The Cuckoo’s Calling‘ is the title of the first crime book written by JKR Rowling and by linking this post to the search term I might get some crumbs from her table. Internet browsers who click the wrong button. Every little helps!) Apart from that try-before-you-buy reference above being a so what? when I wrote R&M#4, R&M#5, the start of R&M#6 and the short story, I heard Rope Enough calling out to me across the hundreds of thousands of words, like the call of summer’s cuckoo carrying on the still, balmy evening air across the flat fields and dykes of Romney Marsh. And, like summer’s cuckoo, I can’t understand a word it says, but I get the gist of the noise: here I am the black sheep of the family (cuckoos now sheep?) doing the R&M Files wrong.

Am I sounding like RE has been a bit of a cross to bear? It really hasn’t. And a lot of Amazon readers have liked it. But there’s this nagging compulsion to deal with (particularly) the Romney of RE by focussing on those same elements of his character that some readers didn’t like – the narcissism, the vanity, his views on women of a certain age (There is one passage in particular that I regret including and might one day remove, although with the number of downloads the book has had it’s really going to be stable door time.) – and doing something about them through, for example, the reactions of those he interacts with.

At times (particularly in the latter books) I’ve tried to use his behaviour to make him more of a figure of fun than someone to be taken seriously. Through the series he has evolved into someone that I hope the reader can laugh at for his pomposity, his erroneous thinking, his mistakes, the events that befall him. I want readers to be in on the anachronistic ‘joke’ that he is, to see him more through the eyes of DS Marsh, his patient and more (I hope) likeable sidekick, and her colleagues.

That said, I don’t want him to become a farcical character. He is a policeman who strives for justice. He is incorruptible. He is loyal to his team. He does want to get the bad guys. It just so happens that sometimes he’s a bit of a dick. Well who isn’t in real life?

Bottom line: I don’t want readers to take DI Romney too seriously and in RE I didn’t do enough towards ensuring that, because I hadn’t worked it out for myself.

14 thoughts on “The Cuckoo’s Calling

  1. Stop beating yourself up about Rope Enough. Intelligent readers understand that this is fiction and not all characters in fiction (as in life) are likeable. Some of us have stuck with you and R&M because of RE rather than in spite of it.

    If you’d included more humour it’s likely that you’d have faced even more criticism for combining laughs with rape, even though you would not have been making fun of the crime.

    I see from reading the Goodreads rant from Tami that she provoked a response from another (female) reader disagreeing. You can’t please all of the people all of the time, so why try? Keep on ‘evolving’ just as you are because lots of us are just fine with that.

    Have a good trip – and come back to us safely.

    • Thank you, sir, for your (as ever) common sense input. My instruments of self-flagellation are going back in the drawer. (Pity. I was just the hang of that Flagrum. [Look it up – I just did])

      I agree that the theme in book one was not suited to looking for laughs (can you imagine the mincemeat that would have been made of me if I’d been that stupid?).Maybe that’s why I’ve subconsciously stayed away from certain themes that would not lend themselves to humour. (Murder is funny? Depends who’s dying, I suppose.)

      I didn’t notice that there had been responses to that Goodreads comment. I’ll pop over and have a look. (After I’ve had a drink. It’s the only way I can face Goodreads.)

      R&M will continue to…whatever it is happening to them. Whatever it is it’s fun to write and that pleases me.

      Dog willing, I’ll be back. Complete. With happy memories.

      Best wishes.

  2. I think you’re over-analysing ‘Rope Enough’ – if you’ve ever had any sort of skirmish with Patricia Cornwell and her Kay Scarpetta novels, (just as a for instance, there are lots more……..Rebus, DCI Banks etc etc) then it’s very easy to see how the characters change in depth, personality and empathy to the reader from the first to subsequent stories……………. Surely it’s better to look forwards rather than backwards?

    • Hi Lucy

      I have a tendency for such introspection. Maybe it’s a fault. I blame my mum.

      You are quite right with your examples. I’ve read a couple of series where the central character undergoes change over the course of several books. I suppose they have to or readers may become bored with them. But DI Romney will never wear a dress on duty!

      A thought occurs: maybe I could blame the change on CID on the arrival of Marsh to Dover. In fact in #5 Grimes does comment that the death rate in the town certainly has gone up since she was posted there.

      Look forward instead of back is sound advice. I’m taking it.

      Best wishes and thanks for your thoughts.

  3. Reading RE certainly didn’t turn me away from reading them all. Having read Rope Enough I came back for all the others. Just keep on “keeping on” and let things evolve. Have a good trip–be safe. I’ll be looking forward to reading your next one.

    • Thanks for your comment. Much appreciated. It’s always good to learn that RE has encouraged a reader to come back for a second helping. (Please forgive that awful food joke.) And thanks for your thoughts regarding my upcoming trip. I’m looking forward to sharing R&M#5.
      Best wishes.

  4. Oliver,
    Stop thinking and do more doing. I’ve just returned from a short sojourn in Sweden where I was constantly walking for five days and am now in recovery. Have a good time in Canada and keep away from those big brown bears. I will keep track of your adventures on your blog.
    Suggestion for R&M 6 – they travel to Canada on the trail of a serial killer who’s escaped Dover on a merchant ship. They eventually catch up with him in the wilds with the help of a team of Huskies and a mountain guide. Good hey? No? Never mind, must be the fact I’ve not written anything for six days and my brain is working faster than my legs or my digits.
    Best wishes.

    • Hı Pat
      I know, I know. I guess I’m just a reflective kind of guy. (I think it’s this silver foil suit I wear to keep the bad rays off me.)
      Walking in Sweden sounds fun. I’d like to see that country one day.
      Big brown bears will be avoided. I hope.
      Funny you should mention using the trip to my writerly advantage. I must be the writer in you. As soon as I booked it I wondered how I could use it. I’m actually thinking that Acer could end up there for something. Maybe he’s on the trail of a serial killer who’s escaped UK on a merchant ship. He eventually catches up with him in the wilds with the help of a team of Huskies and a mountain guide.
      hahaha. All writers are thieves.
      Enjoy your time back in the chair of words.
      Best wishes.

  5. Read the Goodreads review from Tammi and methinks she is a bit of a dried up prune. I liked RE and although I did comment on him at the time he is quite like many men I have met in my lifetime. Reading RE encouraged me to continue reading your books including the Acer novels. I think that Romney is a rather irascible chap and I don’t know if I would like him changed…..I would discount the rant from Tammi as it is a bit overly femInistic! (is there such a word? if not I lay claim to it!) Had a brief look the comments from readers, on your books, on Amazon and I would say the goodreads woman is standing very much alone! keep on doing what you are doing as many of your readers testify to your writing ability…..just don’t forget Acer 🙂

    • Hi Somnus
      As Francis Urquhart would say, ‘You might very well think that, but ı couldn’t possibly comment.’ 🙂
      I think Romney is quite representative of a certain type of middle-aged man. Actually, he reminds me of me. A lot. Like the leopard’ spots, he won’t change. I hope he has some redeeming moments for his fellow Man occasionally just to give us hope but it won’t be in #5 or #6 and he was pretty bad in the short story.
      Acer is not forgotten. I have a really good start to the next planned but…boo hoo.. time is against me. I want to continue his story.
      Best wishes and thanks.

  6. I have just finished RE and it hasnt put me off. i enjoyed it and have come looking for more.
    There are a few things, I dont like the names Romney and Marsh, really twee. Why not Pennine and Way or cheviot and Hills!! Just seemed a cliched way of finding names for your detectives.
    i hated the passage about women of a certain age and it didnt endear me to Romney or to you the writer. iM glad Romney isnt so far, a serioulsy damaged, grumpy, alcoholic with a hidden past he’s trying to come to terms with like virtually every other detective I’ve ever read about. he takes time off and doesnt work like a maniac. I’ ve seriously never read another detective novel where they seem to stick to shifts and work hours! Refreshing. am looking forward to book 2, off to Amazon!

    • Hi Ruth
      Apologies for the delay of my reply. I’ve been away for a week.
      Thanks for your contact. Good to know that you enjoyed RE. I hope the second in the series doesn’t disappoint.
      I was originally going to call my pairing something else, but when the idea occurred to me to use Romney and Marsh I couldn’t resist it. The reason: I was born and bred on Romney Marsh. As well as amusing me I was also glad of the opportunity to maybe raise some awareness for the place. Plenty of readers have expressed an opinion on the names. Some, like you, don’t like them, but just as many do. It’s a bit like Marmite.
      As for that passage you mention, I have come to regret that. I might one day do something about it in an edit, but with the number of downloads the book has had I think it will be a case of stable doors being bolted after horses have long gone.
      I look forward to learning what you think of MAK.
      Best wishes.

      • i have now read Book 2 in the R&M files. I loved it and devoured it all the way until the last chapter. I hate a charachter being introduced at the last minute. i’d spent the whole book going, ‘was it A, was it B’ and them this charachter appears and is also a ‘mad woman in the attic’ type of character!!! I feel that its sloppy and ‘easy writing. if Jo Nesbo could be critiscised for doing it……! Anyway, am just started on book 3 and so far so good.!

        i read your blog on Vancouver. I went to Toronto,21years ago for my sisters wedding. i wish we could’ve afforded to go back The coty was clean. i couldnt beleive how safe we felt. We went on the underground at 2am! My children were5 and2 when we went and people were lovely towards them. the shop assisants were to helpful and friendly. my sis and B-I-L were going on honeymoon in 3days and had a problem with their suitcase. They went back to the shop. The assistants bent backwards to help them. Non of this surly, ‘ we dont have one in stock. No I dea when the new stock is coming in’ business . Then we got back to the UK and went to B&Q and waited 40 minutes as the only person allowed to deal with vinyl Flooring was on his lunch!!!!

      • Hi Ruth
        Well, ı did ask you to let me know what you thought of MAK when you got around to it 🙂
        Sorry the ending didn’t please you. A couple of readers have expressed similar opinions to yours. I write, I learn. I probably won’t do it again. Still if that kind of ending is good enough for Jo Nesbo…. 🙂
        Yes, Canada was fantastic and the people were wonderfully friendly and nice. I could live there. But they won’t be interested in me now. Too old. How depressing.
        Best wishes.

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