Write What You Like No.2: What On Earth Was I Thinking?

Books, Bryant and May

Fret not, for ‘The Foot on the Crown’ (official title) will be published, although now you have me thinking about splitting it into two volumes. I never write long, which makes me suspicious that I had too much fun with this – probably more than the average reader can stand. (Not, dear fellows, that I would consider any of you average.)

What held me up for so long was that I revealed the novel’s punchline only in the last ten pages, which required me to make most of the book somewhat vague and allusive. With the truth about the set-up now acknowledged from the earliest chapters everything flows better.

But here’s the problem. I started it almost a decade ago, when its bleakly comic tone was more acceptable. Now we live in a time of feel-good fan service, safe spaces and trigger warnings, and while I applaud many Woke attitude adjustments they’re not an ideal fit with the cruelty of the Dark Ages. I spent much of my writing time merely trying to keep the main characters alive and sometimes failing horribly.

I loved ‘Game of Thrones’, which brought fantasy to the small screen until the concluding episodes wrecked such careful world-building. It wanted to broaden the appeal of the genre. It couldn’t just be about appeasing the social misfits who had taken the show slightly too much to heart. GoT went to some dark places, but did so without a shred of humour. The deadly serious tone made the absurd believable. ‘The Foot on the Crown’ wants to have its cake and eat it, describing gory battles but pointing up the ridiculous elements inherent in the genre.

No wonder my American agent was appalled. Really, the real problem is one of tone. I derive an inordinate amount of pleasure in writing about death and destruction. You’ll find it in my earliest short stories, and in my most recent work (new tales coming up in several anthologies soon).

Speaking of which, ‘Total Midnight’ just got longer by three tales (one of which is a new Bryant & May story), which brings the number of pages to – I don’t know, the document is so long that it takes about ten minutes to load. My publishers say they’re interested but so far there’s been silence. While I still have the energy I’m taking one more pass at this what-was-I-thinking epic.

In the meantime, ‘Bryant & May’s Peculiar London’ comes out next month, with the book’s first appearance at Waterstones, Islington on July 6th, when I’ll be accompanied by Kim Newman and Barry Forshaw, talking about Raymond Chandler and Georges Simenon respectively. And Bryant & May, of course.

11 comments on “Write What You Like No.2: What On Earth Was I Thinking?”

  1. Jan says:

    I’m not sure I understand this really Chris. So instead of a late reveal of the “punchline” the full truth of the City of London set up is now given to the reader from early on in the proceedings.

    How’s that gonna work then?

    I know this not a detective novel with an end “reveal” of the solution being strictly necessary but how will the novel work out now then? How will you make it work without a “punchline” or is it just now straightforward storytelling?

  2. Jan says:

    Your love of giving your characters violent endings was there in its fully g(l)ory in “Roofworld” it took me a long time forget keelhauling the results of which must have been very similar to those motorcycle or motor scooter RTAs you go to where on hot days the riders wear shorts but not protective leather jackets or even shirts.. It’s not pleasant.

  3. Stu-I-Am says:

    @admin Fun is good. Too much fun even better. So ‘Dark Ages’ of two posts ago is actually ‘The Foot on the Crown’ when it’s at home ? For a while there, being as prolific as you are, thought you might have forgotten an installment in the Fowler canon. Do consider two volumes. Maybe even a signed limited edition set in a handsome slipcase (offered to us above average personages at a well-deserved discount).Btw — any truth to the rumour that ‘Total Midnight’ will now be retitled ‘The NeverEnding Stories?’ I always thought you might consider publishing short stories in subscription installments. The way you seem to be going — ‘Total Midnight’ should probably be published as a loose leaf ring binder (or three). I also note that you are to be a ‘special guest’ at the Waterstones 6 July event. What exactly does that mean ? One of the other authors insisted you be included (overruling Waterstones junior marketing executive) ? You arrive to the sound of herald trumpets ? You sit in an elevated, throne-like chair ? In conclusion (speaking of ‘never ending…’) great picture of you and, I assume Pete (or your bit on the side) at the beach on Twitter. Next you’ll be hanging ten. ‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.’

  4. Joan says:

    Chris I think I know what you mean about our social awareness and wokeness when reading now. For years I had been advised to read The Pillars of the Earth by friends, since I love historical fiction. It came out as a best-seller in the 90’s. When I read it I was appalled by the descriptions of sexual cruelty and animals being tormented. I wonder if I would have felt the same way 30 years ago. I never thought of myself as a sensitive reader but it took away the real enjoyment of the story.

  5. Alan R says:

    Good news today. Lots to look forward to from CF this year. Fantastic. I love a good “bleak comic tone” so I will not have a problem with drifting into the dark side with you and your readers Chris. As they say, “nobody loses money selling sex, laughter and violence”.

    After watching The Pajama Game YouTube video you posted earlier, I became so depressed and anxious I had to take an Ativan and lay down. If only the director/writer had the long pre-dance duet section replaced with some hot 90s Tarentino-type action – and added a Pulp Fiction “Vincent and Mia dance routine”, Reta and Eddie Jr could have lifted The Pajama Game to great heights.

    We have gotten ourselves into a place where creativity (and publisher choice?) is driven by consumer research in an attempt to maximise revenue. It’s not about the money, it’s about creativity. It’s not about paying the rent and feeding the kids, clothing the family, visiting the spa, and putting petrol in the car. Oh well …….., maybe I do see where they are going with their business-focused approach.

    Maybe I will give the non-bleak comic tone of The Pajama Game another chance after all. Lets see another clip. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9GYUYfrICwA

  6. Helen+Martin says:

    Looking forward to whatever turns up on the release dates. Somewhat concerned by “While I still have the energy.” Good to hear you both are having beach getaways.

  7. Jo W says:

    Thank you Alan R, I enjoyed that clip too.

  8. BarbaraBoucke says:

    Alan R., You watched the Vaudeville style “I’ll Never Be Jealous Again” in a clip that was separate from the entire score and didn’t explain the purpose of that number. The character of Hines is violently jealous of any male who even looks cross-eyed at his girlfriend Gladys. At one point, I think, he throws a knife at the male lead Sid because he thinks Sid is trying to take his place with Gladys. The choreography of Bob Fosse – especially with the Steam Heat number – was quite remarkable for its time in the history of Broadway productions. Neither of these bits of info may compare with Quentin Tarantino’s style of doing things and the Pajama Game may not be something you’d want to see all of – and that’s ok – but I just thought I’d add my two cents worth here – or 7 1/2 cents worth – the amount of hourly raise that the Sleep Tite Pajama Factory workers were trying to pry out of management.

  9. Helen+Martin says:

    I rather like the Pajama Game and that “Not in Love” song is one of my favourites. Note that she was eating an apple – and appeared to actually be eating it – while she sang.
    Imagine 7 1/2 cents, but then you have to adjust for modern dollars.

  10. BarbaraBoucke says:

    Helen, I always enjoyed the part where the workers sang about what they would be able to do financially if they got the
    7 1/2 cents raise – every hour, forty hours every week, “N that’s enuff for me to be livin’ like a king”.

  11. Peter T says:

    There’s a similar old song in Italian. The singer dreams of all he could do with a thousand Lire a month. In modern terms that about one or two cents per day. You can’t buy many books on that. Though books are looking increasingly good value compared with nonessentials like food and gasoline.

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