10 Day Book Challenge: Day 2

Reading & Writing


This is the 19th century building in which I live, a great stone dungeon that’s ice-cold even in summer (modern architects take note; if you build it properly nobody needs air conditioning).

I’m clearly being tested, as today is hot and sunny, skylarks soaring about in the blue. My flat is so dark you have to leave the lights on, and I’m planning a 12 hour working day. Plus it’s Cine Europe in Barcelona, which means that all my old film industry friends from the US are in town and want to go out. Oh, and it’s Sonar, the massive EDM festival that has an amazing lineup for its 10th anniversary, to which my local friends are going.

A bit part of being a writer is learning to say no. Samuel Beckett was once asked what he’d given up for his art and he said, ‘I have fairly often not gone to parties.’ I think I can manage that.

So, to the work itself. One advantage of running the days together is that you not only recall who everyone is and what they were doing, but you maintain the atmosphere of the book and make it consistent. One of the biggest problems at this point is finding an evenness of tone. Watch Hollywood blockbusters and you’ll always see the joins, where a committee decided on this scene, where that plot dialogue was lost, where all those last-minute additions were made.

One of the most depressing things I ever saw was Ivan Reitman, one of the Hollywood’s worst directors, gluing pages of jokes he’d been mailed from various commissioned script doctors into a screenplay in a desperate attempt to make it funnier. We don’t hit beats in books; we try to tell an emotionally truthful story. Nobody said to Edward St Aubyn, ‘Take out that whole surreal drug scene in Book Two of the Patrick Melrose cycle, it’s slowing down the beats.’

I have a detective who larks about mischievously, but I’m dealing with death and tragedy. I keep the two states separate by making sure that Arthur Bryant is never rude or mean to those directly involved in the case. However he will attack incompetents on the sidelines. He doesn’t suffer fools, and underneath it all he cares.

I wonder how much I should put in of the private man versus the public case. The Golden Age mysteries sketched in very little about their crimefighters. We find out almost nothing about Hercule Poirot and very little about Lord Peter Wimsey, but times have changed and personality is now more important than plot. John Dickson Carr’s Merrivale was a cypher – Carr was interested in the mechanics only.

I start today by adding a new chapter involving Bryant meeting one of his mad academics. I try to put these near the front because if a case has a ticking clock it’s hard to have the hero wandering off just when he should be pulling the case together. I have a habit of rushing the climactic scenes – I think the unit lockdown in ‘Wild Chamber’ could have yielded more if I’d slowed it, but you also want to maintain momentum.

Luckily with Bryant I created my own Get Out Of Jail card, because his mercurial character allows for swift changes of mood. Also in this draft I want to give John May more character, and I need a scene between Janice Longbright and another strong woman on the other side of the law. I respond to changing times by trying to reflect them in the novels, so I’m adding a third female to the team next book – I can’t do it in this one because I have to get rid of someone to make room.

I wonder if readers can only take in so many characters before tuning out. By the time you add up all of the speaking roles in a book, the number is quite high, so I have to keep a watch on that. The book needs to follow the same lines as before, yet be surprising.


The afternoon’s biggest challenge will be a murder. Do you show it or just reveal the aftermath? I know that showing it will be more exciting (although boring to write) and the latter creates more suspense because what just happened? It’s not Dostoyevski, just a crime novel, but it has to work within its own world.

I need to post this and get on (social media damages the day’s writing). I’ll report back in the morning.




11 comments on “10 Day Book Challenge: Day 2”

  1. Adam says:

    How’s the word count looking after day 2? 10 days for a full first draft sounds almost impossible…

  2. Jan says:

    A friend of mine lives in a very very old cottage with mighty thick walls – the place is cool in summer and never really cold in winter. Its 16C I think. Thatch roof the whole roses round the door package but the building really works in itself.

    Give this daft idea up go out see your mates and the music. Let it go.

  3. Denise Treadwell says:

    I have been to Las Vegas and Tucson, and the first thing I do is turn off the AC . I keep lights to a minimum and it works! If you are able to open windows you will have air flow, it helps too.. Never had to use AC , and I have experienced high temperatures, the most was 118 °F.

  4. Jan says:

    Is there a day three or are you off down the (Tapas) bar?

    Have one for me.

    How many lives you got Mr Chris? Have u really got time to waste on this crazy scheme?

    The weather’s probably glorious and your ‘e sat there in a cold room shivering at Franco’s skool desk or whatever 2nd hand piece you got hold of from some Barcalonian charity shop …….Give it up! Behave yourself + be a proper person. Find a bar where the World cups on and enjoy yourself.

  5. Helen Martin says:

    Right on, Jan! Except that Chris doesn’t care about football. I’m writing this as Friday’s game between Spain and Portugal is ready to start so I don’t know how he’ll be able to concentrate on writing. (Is it possible to have a game without a Glaswegian commentator? it takes one to a whole other world.)
    Of course, if he does that we’ll not get our upcoming book so I’m split.

  6. Jan says:

    Helen I was in Spain when they last won the European Cup the celebrations went on through night and into the next day we were staying in Northern Spain not that far from the Pyrenees. Mr F wants to be well out of Barca b4 the semis it won’t be quiet if Spain get through. Mind you the Portuguese team well sorted them out last night.

  7. Helen Martin says:

    Jan, that was a great game and should be an omen for the upcoming ones. And Iceland tied Argentina. How about that?

  8. Jan says:

    Was working + didn’t watch it. That overhead clapping the Iceland supporters do is fantastic. It’s such a powerful thing that the sound of it, the way it looks I’ve never seen anything like it.

    It’s a really impressive thing. Primal.

    Let’s hope we can beat Tunisia tomorrow!

  9. Helen Martin says:

    So far, so good. Too bad about Egypt, though. Loved the costumes.

  10. Jan says:

    Unbelievable pictures were on break fast telly today of Senegalese supporters TIDYING up ‘the terraces where they were standing during their match! Fair play to them.

    Yeah Egypt’s world cup over. Salahs tournament over almost b4 it got started. Quiz ? there which one of world greatest footballers only scores a penalty in 2018 World Cup.. Mo Salah

  11. Ovina Feldman says:

    “It’s not Dostoyevski, just a crime novel, . ..”

    Had to laugh at this. Makes one wonder whether Fyodor asked the same question of himself, and decided, “Nyet, it’s no Pushkin; it’s just a little murder story.”

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