Tweedledum and that…

Writer’s diary: stardate:16.01.2014

You’d need to be of a certain age to know what this is a still image from. It obviously made a deep impression upon me. It’s from episode ten of Colditz and it dates from December 1972. That’s forty-one years ago. I would have been nine and sitting in our lounge probably on a Sunday night glued to the TV. I don’t remember any other episode or incident from the series. What was it about this that made it stick in my memory? Maybe it was portentous.

Wing Commander Marsh (Michael Bryant), an assistant to the British Medical Officer, decides to use his extensive knowledge of mental illness for an escape. (Mmm, this might be worth looking into.) He proposes to “go insane” and be repatriated. Colonel Preston agrees to let him, so long as he follows through with it to the bitter end. Marsh does a very thorough job: his bizarre, disruptive behaviour continually annoys the other allied officers, who remain unaware of the scheme. (I’m already half-way there – none of my colleagues can stand to be in the same room as me.) However, the Germans are not convinced, and Ulmann asks a Corporal to observe Marsh closely. The Corporal has a brother who is insane, so Ulmann believes he is a better judge of Marsh’s condition than any doctor. The Kommandant initially refuses to allow the Swiss authority to examine Marsh, but relents when Marsh’s evident madness embarrasses him in front of an important visitor. (I can do that.) By the time the Germans are willing to consider repatriation, Marsh has done such a convincing job that even the Doctor is uncertain whether or not Marsh is simply pretending to be insane. After Marsh has been successfully repatriated to the UK, it is revealed that his feigned psychosis has become genuine and irreversible, and that he has been committed to a mental hospital for long-term care. (Oh. Not a happy ending. Back to making the glider in the roof space for me.) Colonel Preston immediately forbids any further escape attempts along the same lines. (Of course he does. Historically, the British military needed all the insane for officer material.)

The method of escape is based on that used by Ion Ferguson, a Royal Army Medical Corps doctor imprisoned in Colditz, who certified a number of prisoners as insane in Stalag IV-D, who were then repatriated to Britain. Ferguson then feigned his own insanity to gain repatriation in 1945. Ferguson detailed his escape in his account of his wartime experiences, Doctor at War, and the episode, Tweedledum, is a fictionalised account of his means of escape retold as tragedy.

(Thanks to Wikipedia for that. I do donate.)

What’s it got to do with me and my writing? Not too hard to guess, I would have thought, when one understands that I’m still reading through my Romney and Marsh (what a coincidence!) Files for the second time in a month. I feel like I’m going effing mad. My head is full of R&M Files bits and pieces. Yesterday, I read something and thought, ‘Oh crap! I wrote that exact same line in one of the other books.’ It took me nearly an hour to realise that I hadn’t. I’d just remembered it vividly from a previous reading. The plots of the three books are blending into one great lump of story.

In last week’s blog-post I touched on my apparent affection for the word ‘that‘, which I seemed to pepper my early writing with like a drunk absently salts his chips. I’ve lost count of the number of ‘thats‘ I’ve chopped from Making a Killing this week. But it’s worse than that. I fear that in my quest and gusto to cut them all out – like a surgeon digs out cancerous tumours – I might have removed some ‘thats’ that maybe should have stayed. Christ on a crutch!

I still read other people’s books at night in bed. Just for a break from my own stuff. And now every time I come across the word that I find myself pausing to wonder whether the text could have done without it. More often than not I think it could.

On to Joint Enterprise now. I have to hope I don’t end up like my abiding memory of Wing Commander Marsh – standing to attention at role-call in the yard and pissing himself just at the camp Kommandant wanders up to him. (It’s @ 9mins 20 secs if any one’s interested in a trip down memory lane.)

It would not do my career prospects much good to suffer such an embarrassing episode at the Friday afternoon playing of the Turkish national anthem in the school playground with Herr Headteacher standing next to me. Actually, now I come to think of it, there are a number of other striking similarities between the school and that infamous old castle.

Disclaimer: It is certainly not my intention to suggest that work is like being in a WW2 prisoner of war camp in Nazi Germany. I would not like any one who dropped by here to think that. For a start, I understand that the meals served in Colditz were usually hot…

Interfering with my offspring.

Writer’s diary: stardate: 06.12.2013

Last week I got a bit sticky over completing a decent draft of the fourth Romney and Marsh File. I got it printed off at a ‘friend’s’ and now have it in hard-copy form awaiting all that lovely highlighting of stage 2. But I need a week or two away from it. Bring a refreshed perspective to the reading of it. Bad Sons is with Martin. I could crack on with another book but I’ve got something else to do. It’s something that’s been hanging over me for months. Literally. A year, actually. Literally. I have got to produce new editions of the three Romney and Marsh Files that are already out there. Literally.

I self-published the three R&M Files last December and January. I invited readers who felt so inclined to point out mistakes regarding spelling, punctuation and grammar and (heaven forbid) plot. I invited that on Amazon and on my blog and at the back of each ebook. Many readers took the time and trouble to get in touch and let me know about errors they had found in the books. (That sounds worse than the reality). I am eternally grateful to each and every one who did that. It’s been a great help. Honestly. And now, with the first year’s anniversary of my self-publication of Rope Enough looming on the horizon, I feel it is a good time to do something about it all. I imagine that all the mistakes have now been pointed out to me (I haven’t received any new suggestions for some time) and I’m sort of between books. Also, because I have the fourth R&M coming along nicely, I’m determined to have the first three updated with corrections before I self-publish this one.

I started this task last weekend. I wasn’t looking forward to it. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been putting it off. I knew it would depress me. I knew I’d writhe and cringe and lament all the copies that are out there with silly mistakes in and what readers would think of my ‘professionalism’ for them. I remember that when I waved bye, bye to them I was confident there weren’t any errors. I’d read each title at least ten times.

One of the starkest lessons I’ve learned with self-publishing is that you cannot do your own proof-reading. You just can’t. After a while you stop seeing things. You read what you want to read not what’s there. Give me an English test and I’m confident I’d get most if not all of these mistakes right. I think I’d have got them right last year. I know them but I just didn’t see them because I developed a form of text blindness.

Another lesson learned is that I should have noted each and every correction and suggestion as they came into me, but I didn’t. Consequently, I had to spend most of my weekend writing time going through my email inboxes and blog pages seeking out all the changes I need to make. It wasn’t actually as painful as I expected it to be. I got my lists out of it and with the spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors I was able to quickly make the necessary alterations in all three books. I find it hard to communicate exactly how wonderful it was to correct the grammatical error of ‘would of’ and ‘he’d of’ which are among the most oft remarked upon.

So that was the easy part. Now I’m reading through them again and seeing if a year away has done anything to give me a new perspective on my writing style. I’m only part way through Rope Enough but I’m seeing things I missed all the times I read it before. I’m also changing a few sentences around that don’t read as well as I now think they might. I’m not going to drastically rewrite any of the books or do a hatchet job on any of them. That would be silly because generally readers who have expressed an opinion for the books have liked them as they are. And these books are part of my publishing history, something of my journey that I don’t want to disturb too much – think sympathetic renovation work of a listed building. They represent the ‘green’ me, the ‘naive’ me and I find a certain appeal in them as they are. Is that weird? If I hadn’t published them already, I’m sure I really would go to town on them. But I have. With the books largely unmolested, readers are also able to get a sense of progress (hopefully) in my writing style and expression. They have a sort of rough diamond unpolished charm. Or am I just being stupidly sentimental? Another good thing about self-publishing – ultimately all that is my decision. And the fact that I can do all this so easily is another bonus of self-publishing and its dynamics that I appreciate.