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The Lone Sailor Returns

DSCF0342Good intentions, it seems, are blown to shreds when you go sailing. I set out on my Great Sailing and Writing Adventure on April 28th with the certainty that I would blog at least weekly. If you’re reading this, you will have some idea where that notion went. It’s not that I didn’t write stuff. I kept a log of the voyage which now amounts to about 60,000 words; I wrote chapters of the new novel; I shared pictures and occasional snippets of the log with family and friends on Facebook. The thing I failed to do was keep blogging.

Ah well. Now that I’m back on dry land, all that will change…

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A Brief Taster from the Coffee Shoppe!

My very warm thanks to Ann Marie Dwyer (a.k.a Red) for this excerpt from her recent blog. Follow the link for more fun!

Red wanted to see who the newest member of the M3 Coffee Shoppe was. Stuart Haddon stowed the wayward tablet and got wound up in Red’s typical game of over-caffeinated stick and move.

M3: The Butterfly & The Bull means a good bit
to you. Why is this one so close to your heart?

SH: Because, in its conception, I found my voice as a
writer, created some great characters who continue to give me
pleasure, and explored some of my favorite places in the world. I also
get a lot of positive feedback about it, which does my self-esteem no
harm.

Stop by the M3 blog to find out about The Butterfly & The Bull and a few
secrets about Stuart Haddon.

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Twitterpated

A couple of weeks ago, I took my moribund Twitter account (still with its tags on), tied it to my person, lit the blue touch paper and hurtled myself, in a shower of sparks and noxious gases, into the Twitterverse. This is the main reason why it is five days since my last confession – sorry – blog post. Somewhere out beyond the viral galaxy is a universe which seems at first sight to be a place of utter chaos. New rules, new language, new protocols, new ways to spend huge amounts of time when I could otherwise be writing the sequel to The Butterfly & The Bull.

I noticed that, since I first opened the wrappings and pressed the ‘on’ button, I had acquired some ‘Followers.’ Not many, I admit, but most of them had materialized spontaneously from the ether. Some of their postings were intelligible, others seemed to consist of random letters and there was a lot of use of the @ symbol. Hmm. Where to begin? Search for authors, writing and other likely tags. Voila! Here are some folks I can maybe relate to. I’ll follow them and see what happens. Days later, I am following 95 and have 74 Followers. But I’m so busy trawling furiously through the increasing deluge of Tweets and thanking people for Following me (part of the protocol, I surmise), that I’ve only managed to spit out 105 Tweets. But never mind, there does seem to be some beautiful symmetry to be achieved by having Tweets, Following and Follows all at the same number. My fevered brain decides that this is a possible goal. What other might there be? Yet, try as I might, the Tweets keep inching ahead. If I stop tweeting, the Followers slow down. Curses! And still they keep pouring in. I look away to take a mouthful of coffee – 5 new tweets; I get up to go to the bathroom – 15 new tweets; I go to bed, bleary-eyed and exhausted – 1454 new tweets. This is small beer, of course, by comparison with others in the Twitterverse. The more followers you have, the more tweets (duh!).

But wait – what’s this? Some little nuggets of gold flash past in the endless trawl. Take breath, dear man, and stop a moment.  Here’s a wonderful quote, lots of links to really good books, a website that offers to review my book, an invitation to be interviewed on someone’s blog, AND – wait for it – I suddenly have a huge audience who will spread the news of my three Giveaway days on Amazon. Now I begin to see it making sense. It’s going to take a long time before I get to grips with all the possibilities and nuances, but I think I might be hooked.

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An Author’s View of The Butterfly & The Bull

The following is a recently posted review of The Butterfly & The Bull on Frederick Lee Brooke’s website.  My thanks to him for this high-quality critique and for sharing it with his fan-base.  Fred is the author of Doing Max Vinyl – a high octane, highly entertaining thriller with a green heart (www.amazon.com. www.barnesandnoble.com. www.smashwords.com.).

“In this marvelous thriller, the government of the United States has collapsed due to a world economic meltdown, and the military has taken over.  Shots can be heard all over the city, even as the protagonist and his girlfriend head to a restaurant for a quiet dinner.  We are one step away from martial law in our own country, and innocent people are being pulled off the street and spirited away in black SUVs on orders of the FBI.

I talked about this scenario with some friends, and we all agreed it seemed awfully plausible.  In the book a resistance movement has coalesced in reaction to the military coup d’état and the kidnappings, and there is hope.

Our main character is a transplanted Scotsman living in the U.S. for some years now.  Two things you learn about Donnie: he has premonitions, and he’s a world class computer hacker, in part thanks to his psychic powers.

When Donnie’s newlywed wife is abducted by the FBI, he learns he can gain her release if only he will work for the military government.  Hero that he is, he instead joins the resistance.  Now he both has to rescue his wife from the FBI’s clutches and also overthrow the government.

The writing throughout this book is elegant and spare, alternating riveting action with meaningful flashbacks to Donnie’s childhood or other scenes from his past.  The workings of his brain are central to the development of the plot, so it all fits together beautifully.  The action moves from Washington D.C. to the Chesapeake Bay to an ocean crossing in a small craft, to Ireland and England, and back again.  Bonds grow strong through shared hardship and danger between Donnie and a battle-scarred band of others who are determined to fight for what is right.  The special relationship between America and the UK is affirmed.

A small sample of Haddon’s prose: ‘Our wake trailed behind us, a transient signature of our passage. People slept.  Except John.  I took the helm just as dawn revealed a bloody mess of sky to the east.  Sailor’s warning.  A fresh breeze began to brush the oily look from the sea and stirred the surface into wavelets.’  There is a self assurance here that belies his status as a first-time novelist.

I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of The Butterfly and the Bull.  This book reminded me not a few times of the early Tom Clancy novels, in which the characters were fully developed and in which there were always deep moral underpinnings to the basic story.  In this book, the first novel of author Stuart Haddon, a perfect balance is achieved between a good, taut storyline, well-drawn characters, and fine writing.”

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Errors and Omissions Accepted

Writing a novel is one thing, having it published quite another. What would be perfectly acceptable in the privacy of one’s own boudoir becomes unacceptable when exposed to the quirky light of public scrutiny. The typos, missing quotation marks, variable spaces between sentences and other minor blemishes in one’s magnum opus become suppurating sores in the mind of the author, post-publication. In the run up to the final act, it is easy to come to the conclusion that, even while the precious .docx file is tucked away on the hard drive, errors are randomly generated by some mysterious, subversive process which it outwith your control.

There are other varieties of errors, though, and these are not always quite so readily apparent to the reader. They fall into a spectrum which ranges from factual and/or continuity blunders to deliberate manipulation of fact which falls under the general heading of “artistic licence.” An example of the former would be the point in The Butterfly & The Bull where the hero is standing in the road beside the forest and can hear the rain “as it followed the call of gravity and slipped from canopy to floor, leaf by leaf. ” An observant reader, who also happens to be familiar with the seasons in Southern Maryland, would realize that this action is set in March and there would be no leaves on the trees.  The author, having spotted his mistake, thought it a risk worth taking to leave well alone, mainly because he liked the passage so much. He did consider briefly an alternative solution which was to change the whole time frame of the novel, but baulked at the magnitude of the task.

An example which is somewhere near the other end of this spectrum is to be found when the action moves to an island off the west coast of Ireland.  At one point, the hero and his companion are bundled into a van and driven onto an old ferry which takes them to the mainland.  In point of fact, research revealed that ferries of the “landing craft” type which the author had in mind are not used in that part of the coast.  But he stuck to what he had originally written, because it suited the flow of the action better (and also because of many warm memories of being carried on such craft in his native Scotland).

There are several more examples, but I’m not going to share them with you.  Read the book, and you can find them for yourself.

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In a Varicose Vein

When Juli and I go on a road trip, we take a ‘talking book’ with us. It’s an excellent way to help pass the time. The choice of title in these circumstances is crucial, of course, and we have had some occasional disasters.  For a start, the quality of the narration is crucial. Anyone with a tendency to boring monotones should be avoided. And an actor who can create characters’ voices and maintain them throughout is a definite plus. A recent trip started with an American narrator trying to do several voices in a Cockney accent. If I tell you that he was worse than Dick Van Dyke in “Mary Poppins,” then you may get some sense of how bad it was.

A very complicated or convoluted plot is also a no-no. For the person driving, there are bound to be points where it’s heads-up.  Come to think of it, the driver really should have her or his head up throughout.  The passenger, on the other hand, is likely to be drifting in and out of sleep (especially as our road trips tend to start at stupid o’ clock) and cannot be expected to cling to all the plot nuances involved.  This can lead to tricky discussions.

(Pauses the disc) “Who’s the woman with the triplets and the wooden leg?  She seems to have appeared from nowhere.”

“Sorry, haven’t a clue.  I must have been negotiating the George Washington Bridge at that point. I’m struggling with the role of the dwarf and the Russian guy caught with the llamas in his trunk.”

All of which leads to Dean Koontz. For a couple of trips, well-narrated versions of his stories provided the perfect accompaniment to the unrolling of the Interstates. We thought we had struck a productive seam and selected him again for our next trip. Error. Your Heart Belongs To Me turned out to be a swollen, knotted mess of a novel, an example of what happens when a talented writer gets to like the sound of his own writing voice so much that it plays havoc with his judgement.

I’ve since discovered lists on the GoodReads website which separate the good Dean Koontz novels from the clunkers. I’ll take that with me, next time we go to the library.

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A Little Jura in the Night

Good friends came to enjoy dinner with us this evening. Mark brought a bottle of Jura whisky which I had given him as a thank-you for looking after Joe The Dog.  He hadn’t yet sampled it, so we had a post-prandial bottle-opening session. This is the whisky I like best – robust, yet not heavy and with hints of oak and notes of honey and caramel, soft liquorice and roasted coffee beans (OK, I got that from the Jura Distillery site – it just tastes like a stonking good whisky to me!). Mark only knew that this was a Scottish whisky, so I showed him the Island of Jura on Google Earth and then some photos of the place. This is my favourite place out of all those I have visited in the world. That’s why it features in The Butterfly & The Bull. Although it’s only about seven miles from the Scottish mainland, it has a wild and isolated feel about it.  It is rugged, with wild moorland and rocky coastlines.  And yet, at Jura House, there exists the most luxuriant walled garden with shrubs, herbs, vegetables and herbs galore. About one hundred and fifty people live on the island. There is one road, one hotel, one store, one distillery.  In the novel, I envision an island bereft of its absentee landowners, its tourist trade and its reliable links with the mainland.  The island community pulls together to bridge the gap between one set of circumstances and another. They are helped in this by one of their own. Colin McKay. A modest genius. The character is based on a real Juraman I met in 2009. He liked the local whisky, too, as I remember.

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