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.

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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.

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1040592578?book_show_action=true&page=1

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.