Writing a Sequel to Stories People Tell

Of course, I couldn’t resist. I began a sequel to Stories People Tell. It starts in Waterloo Station, in the press of commuters under this clock where an unpleasant surprise is awaiting Annie and her girlfriend Kevin.

Not all innocent causes are as well-intentioned as they might wish to appear. Under the banner of self-righteous indignation and professed sanctity, many a powerful woman has been branded and burnt as a witch…

Here’s a first draft of how the tale begins:

A feral chant greeted Annie as she threaded between the barriers separating the platform from the concourse. A pack of guttural voices growled “Witch!” or was it “Bitch!” repeated over and over. Alarmed, she dropped Kevin’s hand and squeezed in front of her girlfriend, her eyes darting this way and that in search of trouble. The train had been packed and a throng of panicked commuters elbowed their way forward as if the station were on fire. Borne by the flow bursting from the gates, there was no turning back. If only her bodyguard, Xenia, had been there. 

Coming out of the publisher’s closet

Promoting Boy & Girl

I wrote a book called Boy & Girl in which Peter discovers that dressing like a girl is not at all akin to being in a girl’s head. Writing the novel was a real joy. Publishing it was tedious, but not so difficult. However, promoting it was much more of a headache. Till now…

As with all my published books, it is Secret Paths that publishes Boy & Girl, using Createspace to provide on-demand print copies through Amazon, in bookstores as well as from Secret Paths website for those living in Switzerland. Ebook format is provided by Smashwords, Kindle and Apple’s iBookstore.

So what about promotion? Secret Paths has a rich collection of websites covering both my books, but also my short stories, my artwork, book reviews and political and social commentary. There’s also a Secret Paths Facebook page along with accounts on Instagram, Tumblr, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Despite this web ‘presence’, promoting an English novel when based in Switzerland, with a very tight budget, seems an impossible task. A common reaction here is, When will you translate it into French. Groan.  Yet I am convinced there is a considerable audience for the book. People who have read it are full of praise. One person writes, This book is brilliant. I’ll be thinking about these characters and this plot for a long, long time. Another writes This book was a wonderful read. (…) I read it as a parent of a child who is considered “different” and found it great for many reasons… So how can I reach my audience?

It’s still early days, and time might prove me overenthusiastic, but I may have found a possible solution. Facebook ads. Now I know Facebook is getting a lot of heat at the moment both for the algorithms that drive it and how the data collected and the algorithms used have and can be abused. There is clearly an urgent need to address those issues and the future evolution of the platform. See Zeynep Tufekci’s TED talk. However, concentrating solely on negative aspects fails to see the advantages the platform offers. 

When trying to reach multiple communities concerned with issues raised by Peter’s story, having a Facebook page is not enough, even if you have a relatively wide circle of acquaintances. Using Facebook ads for my books connects me to those people worldwide in one convenient place. Without it, I would have no feasible way of reaching them. It does so in a way that draws the attention of people potentially interested in my book but leaves them free to move on, should they wish, or buy it and discover the story.

Stories people don’t tell

Who is going to speak the names and tell the poignant tales of those that don’t get told? We are! When fiction and reality reach out and link hands.

Naomi Wadler, 11, Virginia, March for Our Lives, Washington

I am here today to acknowledge and represent the African American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper, whose stories don’t lead on the evening news.
Naomi Walder, 11, a speech during the March for our Lives.

As an author of stories depicting the awakening and empowerment of young people, it is an immense pleasure to see fiction written over a year ago and today’s reality reach out to each other across time and link hands.

To the seventeen minutes walkout of students across the US to mark the deaths of seventeen students and faculty at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, Naomi and her friend Carter led their elementary school classmates in an additional minute to remember Courtlin Arrington, an African-American girl who died in a school shooting in Alabama. By her act, by her determination, she drew attention to those victims not in the forefront of media coverage. All the speakers at the March for Our Lives in Washington were both victims of gun violence but also chose to be the voice for other victims.

Annie, the main character in Stories People Tell, is driven by a similar motivation to Naomi Walder to name and give voice to those who are not normally heard. In a world where, to quote Annie, “there is a raging battle with each side drumming up the hardest hitting story at the expense of those caught nearby”, the strongest story wins out. But not every group of people make it into the spotlight and even those who are singled out for coverage are often little more than a pretext.

Emma Gonzales, at the March for Our Lives, Washington

Propelled to the forefront of media attention, rather like the astounding Emma Gonzales, Annie becomes a figurehead for a movement. And like Emma, her judgement, her audacity and her courage earn her recognition as the leader she has become.

Unlike a journalist, Annie does not go in search of untold stories. Rather, they come in search of her just as unbidden violence sought out Emma and her fellow students. In Annie’s quest to end violence against girls and women and the adventures that befall her she meets those whom main-stream media have passed over. She listens to those people and, with the help of her friends,  coaxes them to tell their story to the camera.

The Internet is Annie’s main avenue when it comes to making these neglected voices heard. There is also a certain press. Something like The Guardian or DemocracyNow! for the young people of Parkland. These media recognise the promise of the young people and actively support their cause as a positive force for democracy. Annie has struck up a solid friendship with some of the staff and the editor at one of the rare national papers, The Daily, to cover such questions.

Fenchaw, the editor of The Daily in Annie’s story, says “I like the idea of short eyewitness reports. At a time when truth is being challenged, the use of multiple perspectives from people who were at the scene gives solidity to the acts portrayed and enriches the narration without being difficult to read.

To return to the reality a moment, the fact that Emma and her fellow Florida students were in the classroom when the shooter opened fire, who lost dear friends to that violence, makes their story so compelling. It is also their determination and their ability to articulate a coherent vision of the future that gives their stories the hope we yearn for. As Annie says, disagreeing with advice given by an adult about the telling of stories, “Sure, there were necessarily upsets and things didn’t always go as planned, but what readers really wanted was a story that made sense of the world around them and gave hope.”

When Annie’s friend Riya in Stories People Tell suggests setting up a dedicated website to publish these short eyewitness reports, Annie refuses. “I don’t want to be cornered into making more. They are good because the moment was right and people had something to say. But if we feel obliged to continue, we might lose that spontaneity and urgency.” Annie is no doubt right. Herein lies the difficulty of Emma, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students and all the others in their nationwide movement as they move forward. How do you pursue the impetus without getting trapped by the routine of ineffective ways and means that adults use?

Stories People Tell
Order it. Read it. Talk about it.

Order Stories People Tell now

You can now order your copy of Stories People Tell either in print or ebook format. For more details including sample chapters go here.

Stories People Tell is a tale about Annie Wight, a shy schoolgirl who, despite sustained, cruel treatment and personal doubts, blossoms into a major voice in the grassroots movement ‘London Whatever’ celebrating gender diversity while struggling to end violence against women and care for the weak and marginalised.

Annie wasn’t expecting to stumble on love or notoriety when she got swept up in ‘London Whatever’. Nor could she have known that, right from the outset, she would become the number one target of Nolan Kard, the homophobic Lord Mayor of London. who was campaigning to ‘Keep London Straight’. She bore the brunt of attacks from his rogue police, not to mention from a sinister gang of ghostwriters, the nightmare of all Kard’s enemies.

  Check it out, buy a copy, read the book and talk about it to others.

Hymn to the power of girls

Why do I find the performance of Karl Jenkins’ Adiemus by the Carmina Slovenica girls choir and the Chorus Instrumentalis Orchestra under the direction of Karmina Šilec so deeply moving? Why does the sight and sound of these girls fill me with such joy? Probably for the same reason that I was moved to write my novel Stories People Tell about Annie, a shy schoolgirl who, despite sustained, cruel treatment and personal doubts, blossoms into a major voice in a London-based movement celebrating gender diversity while struggling to end violence against women and care for the weak and marginalised. The power of these girls lies in their potential and their sheer beauty striding forward into adulthood as expressed in their movements, in their voices, in their very being both individually and as a group united.

The dresses of the Slovenian girls are not fanciful, just a sober blue that leaves their forearms and calves uncovered. Their bare feet are firmly planted on the floor, their heads held high, their hair pinned up to reveal the lines of their faces, etched with determination and lit with joy. The word sensual would be misleading. Yet these girls inhabit their bodies in a way that is both earthy, spiritual and true. This worldly and ethereal presence echoes the force of their voices which come to us directly, as Karl Jenkins’ music requires, without all the cultural artefacts that have hemmed in much of western singing. Directness but also sensitivity are the hallmarks of my character Annie. She stands behind her words in much the same way this girls’ choir invests its music and movement. Beyond Jenkins’ music, the ritualised gestures of the girls’ hands, their feet and their heads, while remaining seated throughout, evoke age-old ceremonies that stir the forgotten depths of our memories. There is something truly beautiful and uplifting in these girls who reach out to embrace their full potential.

For a more extensive selection of screenshots visit Secret Paths Artworks.

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Stories People Tell – Galley proof

Stories People Tell

Just received the galley proof of Stories People Tell. This is the sixth of my novels to be published. In the next few days the new novel will be available on Amazon around the world and the electronic version will be posted to Smashwords, Apple, Kindle etc…. Four sample chapters and more details can be found here: stories-people-tell.com

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The politics of elimination

Stories People Tell front cover

A systematic striving to eliminate as a solution to problems is a self-defeating, reckless if not unhinged way of behaving.

According to certain newspapers including CNN, the New York Post and the Washington Post, the use of seven words are to be banned from the budget of the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) by the Trump administration. The words are vulnerable, entitlement, diversity, transgender, foetus, evidence-based and science-based. The news is so outrageous  and outlandish, it is hard not to suspect it is a fabrication or to shoot back with the suggestion, “Let’s do away with the word trump.” Elimination is an enticing solution when dealing with a man and an administration that further enriches the rich and privileged while wreaking havoc, misery and destruction on everybody else.

But first reactions are not always the best. Talking about doing away with the man would mean aligning our logic on that of Trump. Elimination is the hallmark of his ‘policies’. Eliminate North Korea, ban Muslims, deny climate change, do away with abortion and birth control, ban transgender people from the army, remove funding for social services, repeal net neutrality laws, fix voting laws to exclude those who don’t vote for you, dismantle federal government, disqualify the press, and undermine the notion of truth and, with it, justice.

In the sense of the word used here, the Oxford Dictionary of English says of elimination, the complete removal or destruction of something or the removal of someone or something from consideration or further participation. What the dictionary does not mention is that a systematic striving to eliminate as a solution to problems is a self-defeating, reckless if not unhinged way of behaving. George Orwell’s 1984 was a story about a state that sought to eliminate opposition. Totalitarian states are held up as perpetrators of government by elimination. What is so striking about the Trump administration is that it should systematically apply elimination politics in the heart of a society supposedly based on liberalism and diversity.

To be able to eliminate, or at least try to, Trump and people like him have to undo the links that bind people together so to minimise the backlash from solidarity and natural human concern for others. Isolating segments of society and pitting one group against others as well as fostering rampant individualism are part and parcel of a strategy to eliminate.

The close ties between elimination and the breaking down of social bonds point to an alternative strategy to counter elimination. Rather than responding with further elimination, the only viable way to combat elimination politics is to strengthen grassroots links between people and to nurture a form of solidarity that embraces diversity.

In my forthcoming novel, Stories People Tell, it is by just such a drive to strengthen the bonds between Londoners and to celebrate diversity that Annie Wight and the women’s movement she epitomises seeks to respond to Mayor Nelson Kard who aims to drive the gay community out of the capital and have Annie silenced. 

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Stories People Tell – Sample chapters

Catch a glimpse of the new cover of Stories People Tell and read four sample chapters here. On sale early 2018.

Stories People Tell

Annie, a seventeen-year-old schoolgirl, wasn’t looking for love or notoriety when she got swept up in ‘London Whatever’, a grassroots movement offering support and healthcare to gay girls and women. Yet in the struggle to end violence against women she stumbled on the love of her life and grew to be a key public figure. The movement bore the brunt of homophobic attacks from Nolan Kard, Lord Mayor of London. Rich entrepreneur turned politician known for his off-hand attitude and tasteless humour, he campaigned to ‘Keep London Straight’. Annie became his number one target and that of his rogue police, not to mention his sinister gang of ghostwriters, the nightmare of all his enemies.

Jake and the challenge of a new language

I’m up to chapter 22, that’s 27,000 words, of People of the Forest. I make a point of halting each day in the forest during my long walks to write for half an hour seated on a rock surrounded by trees with only squirrels and the occasional roe deer for company.

But you will no doubt want to know about the story itself. If you have been reading the extracts you will know that Isla briefly met Jake before each of them was flung into the other’s world. In the extract below Jake is in Isla’s world having been rescued by a band of dissidents who live in the relative safety of the forest. He is not enamoured of their lifestyle and takes off alone into the nearby woods.

From a writing perspective, one of the challenges in this extract was to portray how Jake was able to understand a page of a book in a language he hardly knew and thus to offer a glimpse of the history of that world. Another challenge was the compression of time in an otherwise continuous narration.

Extracts

Jake half expected Kody to run after him, she did shout, but no one followed as he strode deeper into the forest. The sun’s rays were slanting closer to the horizon and his stomach growled. He swung his bag from his shoulder and slid the book inside before pulling out his hunting knife. Time to find something to eat.

The tinder was dry and the fire caught without a hitch. Soon,  the skinned and gutted rabbit was balanced over the red hot embers. The wild greens Jake had uncovered in a nearby glade would serve as an excellent salad. There was even a handful of blackberries for his desert.

He licked the meat juices from his fingers and popped the berries, one after another, into his mouth. Leaning back against his bag, he sigh with pleasure. The shadows were creeping between the trees. Time to prepare for the night. He would have preferred a cave, but finding none, he’d built his fire in the middle of a tight ring of saplings not far from a fast-running stream. He’d woven branches and ferns between the trunks forming a screen against inquisitive eyes.

The stream was surprisingly cold for a summer’s day, but Jake stripped off and had a thorough wash. Just because these people didn’t care about cleanliness, he wasn’t going to imitate them. His mother aways insisted that keeping clean was the key to a long and healthy life. He also rinsed his clothes and hung them out to dry on the lower branches inside his makeshift bower.

The screen he’d fashioned offered little resistance to the breeze that rose as the sun set. He shivered. Pulling a rain cape from his bag, he wrapped it around his shoulders and drew closer to the fire. Time to look at that book. He flicked through the pages eyeing the pictures in the firelight. Although many of the scenes made no sense, he gathered it was some sort of history book.

In one picture, a massive fleet of silver vehicles, like the one they’d stolen, was driving past a man on a raised platform saluting with an upraised hand. In another, a catastrophe must have struck because houses lay in ruin and the streets were littered with bodies. One picture depicted a child’s ankle with a flesh coloured bracelet around it. Had that been what the man was looking for when he rolled up Jake’s trouser legs?

Turning back to the beginning of the book, he tried to read the first and only paragraph which spanned most of the page. It was hard going. Few of the words were known to him. When he reached the end, despite having understood next to nothing, there was a familiarity about the words that intrigued him. He ran through the text again. If you replaced the soft ‘sh’ and ‘h’ and ‘ce’ with harder sounds like ‘tsh’ or ‘tch’ or ‘kk’ the similarity with his own language was striking. Reading it was like untying knots in his brain, although there was a trick to it.  You couldn’t force it. You had to let the knots unravel on their own.

He read the paragraph a third time, slowly, letting the spelling of words blur into his own language. To his amazement, the meaning of the text sprang out at him. It was a summary of the whole book, the history of a world in one paragraph. Some terms still escaped him, like ‘multinational company’ which he guessed was a powerful group of people making and selling things although he could not understand how they might be found guilty of causing bad weather.

From what he read, ‘bad’ was too weak a word for it. Violent storms had rolled in off the sea while in other places there had been severe droughts. Whole towns had been the victims of tornados. Elsewhere there had been massive flooding. The situation became so disastrous, people had been forced to take shelter deep in caves in the mountains. And there was the ’nuclear bomb’, whatever that was, which, despite being very small, terrified people and caused so much death and destruction.

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People of the Forest

Isla, a  fifteen year-old computer wizkid, has escaped from a prison for young offenders in a world where everyone is electronically tabbed by the ever-present Trackers. She crosses paths with Jake, a boy of her age from another world, who is on the run from the Baron’s henchmen. She is flung into his feudal world, getting involved in the intrigues of the Baron’s castle, while Jake tries to survive in her world in company of a group of dissidents living in the wild.

People of the Forest is currently work in progress. Learn more about it and read extracts here.