Pavel Sergeyovitch Vodyanov

I enjoy creating new characters. Here’s one that turns up in my new novel Flight of the Butterfly, due to be published in September 2012. This is a first draft, so may contain errors.

The man in the black wool coat and fur hat was turning white. Everywhere, a crusted, frictionless treachery had given way to deep snow, squeaking underfoot. Mournful stone buildings created a canyon around him. The wind sought its narrowness, revelled in the lift of speed it gave, the obliterating effect of the locust-swarm of flakes that came with it. He pulled his head down into the inadequate embrace of his coat collar, leaned forward into the blast. He knew Edinburgh better than any taxi driver. Especially its secret places: the dark corners, alleyways and blind crannies. And yet – the whiteness disoriented, his confidence dipped, stride slackened. Then, a brief glimpse of dark grey fluted columns and steps up to a grandiose entrance. Moments later, he turned right into Rose Street. In its narrow confines, the wind eased and he strode the last few yards to the pub.

His pub. The public house of Pavel Sergeyovich Vodyanov. One of only three left in the centre of the city. This was his haven, the only unsullied and legal aspect to his life. It floated like a swan above the murky, tendentious waters of the Vodyanov empire. There were no drugs, or prostitutes or paedophiles or bank robbers or swindlers allowed. Only ordinary folk and alcohol. At least, that was what he liked to believe.

The entrance was set in the corner of the building. Oak half-doors in a bulky stone surround; above, a semicircular fanlight; above that, the name in gold letters – McTurk’s. Pavel pushed the doors open, stepped into the narrow entrance porch and shut the weather out behind him. He knocked the snow from his shoes, removed his coat and shook it. Then he went in, pushing the inner door against its closer. Warm air swaddled him, familiar smells of malt, wood smoke and human frailty. Yellow-orange light from the fire made an ever-changing tableau of faces and furniture and shadows. Conversation ebbed. Pavel walked to the bar, set along the back wall, and laid his coat on the old, polished surface. Cherry, his favourite wood. He ran his hand over it. Conversation picked up.

“What can I get you, Mr Vodyanov?” Behind the bar, a thin man with a stoop and a slack grin, wearing a black waistcoat.

“Visky. Best malt.”

Davie the barman reached down for the bottle he kept specially for his boss, poured a generous measure into a shot glass. Pavel drank it Russian-style. Lift, pause, lift, head back, gone, glass smacked on the bar.

“Now, slow one.”

Davie palmed a whisky glass this time, same full measure. Pavel nodded wordless thanks.

“Kerilas is here, yes?”

“Aye, he’s up the stair.”

“Anyone looks for me, I’m not available, okay?”

Davie nodded.

Upstairs: a room lit by a wood fire and the reluctant glow from a single window; unfurnished, bar for a single table and two chairs. A heavily-built man with a face like a boxer who had long passed his sell-by date was sitting, reading a newspaper. He looked up when Pavel came in, leaned forward to stub out a black cheroot.

“Ah, Pavel Sergeyovich. Good morning. How are you, my friend?”

Pavel sat down, put his glass on the table.

“Karilas, my old friend, I am svimming against tide of history. And history is going down plughole, make no mistake. Country has gone to dogs, chickens and fucking animals of all kinds. Once I made honest living from prostitutes and gambling. But now? Pffft! Money is gone. No one pays. Whoresons all poor, Pavel Sergeyovich poor.”

Karilas chuckled.

“We haven’t quite got to that pass, my dear man. But times are tough, I do agree.”

“Tough? Tough you say? Tougher than ex-vife’s fucking heart, I tell you. And what do you know? You are just ignorant Lithuanian peasant.”

The other man smiled.

“I may be ignorant and I may be a peasant, but at least I have a university degree in accounting, otherwise Vodyanov Enterprises Inc. would have gone down the plughole a long time ago, along with history and everything else.”

Pavel took a mouthful of whisky, rolling it round his mouth before swallowing, held out a hand towards the other man.

“Listen to him. Thinks he is bees ankles, this Lithuanian.”

He thumped his chest.

“Who was it who came here twenty years ago with nothing but clothes he stood in and made name for himself? Who was that, eh? Not fucking Karilas. No! It was Vodyanov.”

“Sure it was.” Karilas leaned back, enjoying the ride. “And the fact that you had the balls to slip a sharp knife between the ribs of Godfather Rubienski just at the right moment in time, did you no harm at all.”

He leaned forward and tapped his finger on the table.

“But these days are gone, Pavel Sergeyovich. And we have to think differently.”

Pavel’s bluster evaporated and his head went down, shaking from side to side.

“I know, I know. But it is hard for old bastard to learn new tricks.

He ran a hand through the thick bristle of his greying hair.

“Anyway, anyway. Tell me about what you have done with woman and her two companions. I worry about them.”

“We have them locked away in a safe location. They will do us no harm.”

“Perhaps we would better neutralise them completely, then they would truly be harmless, yes?”

Karilas shook his head.

“We’ve already had this conversation, old friend. They could be useful to us, to give information, or to find information, or as hostages. We must keep them unharmed until we are sure that we can no longer use them to our advantage.”

“And what of American?”

The other man frowned, compressed his lips for a moment.

“Nothing further. He keeps himself well hidden. I have men working to find him, but I suspect that he is too wily an operator for us. No doubt when he wants our assistance, he will contact us again.”

Pavel threw himself back in his chair, swung on it for a moment, then sprang to his feet and stood, back to the fire, hands behind him.

“I don’t like it. Pavel Sergeyovich wishes to know what goes on in his patch. Find him! Find this American and bring him to me. I will make him talk.”

Karilas crossed his legs, lit another cheroot, exhaled its acrid smoke.

“You really want me to allocate more resources to this? Already, we have to keep fewer and fewer people running hard to stop us falling on our collective faces. I’m telling you, the American will show himself when he is ready. Or not. We have other things to worry about.”

Pavel flopped back into the chair, the flash of impatience running to ground.

“Okay, okay. I leave it to you. What else have you to report?”

Karilas pulled a map from his pocket, unfolded it on the table. It was his favourite prop when he reported to Vodyanov. The crisp outline of city streets had blurred over the years, the corners of folds opened up to allow light through. Both men leaned over it, though it was a merely a talisman. They carried all the information they needed in their heads.

“Wieng is up to something,” Karilas said. “It may be big or it may be nothing. Impossible to tell. I will know more tomorrow.”

Pavel shivered, picturing the small, dapper figure of the Chinese, bowing and smiling. He put his hand on his chest, fingers spread.

“You know I have heart of lion, Karilas, but I swear Wieng makes shivers in spine.”

Karilas nodded.

“I also feel that way.  But these people are in the same situation as we are. The cake is no longer big enough to divide amongst us. If you ask me to guess, I’d say that Wieng is planning to take it all.”

Pavel circled a finger over an area of the map.

“And what about Pilton? What news from there?”

Karilas sat up slowly, stretching his back, rubbing his hands on his thighs.

“Lost, I fear. Gone to anarchy. Local gangs fighting it out on the streets, good people moving elsewhere. Nothing there for us anymore.”

“Not possible to have meeting with gang leaders? Work out deal?”

Slow head shake.

“To what end, Pavel Sergeyovich? We would be negotiating over dust and rubble. These people are nothing but trouble for us. Now that we no longer supply them, because we lost so many of our people, they come looking for what they want. This kind of chaos will just move out from these areas and engulf us, if we don’t come up with a plan.”

“I know, I know. You tell me this all time. We talk plan.”

He sat back.

“Okay. But I warn you, this is going to be a whole new way of thinking for us.”

Pavel had folded his arms.

“You want old dog dance new tricks, yes? You think I am not able?”

“It’s not your ability that’s in question, old friend.”

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Character Interview – Mike O’ Malley

Mike is one of the main characters in The Butterfly & The Bull. This is not so much an interview as a stream of consciousness.

Make mine a large whisky there, while yer at it.

Childhood? Ah, well, that was just a grand time, so it was. Me father was a farmer in County Mayo. That’s in Ireland – will folks know that? Oh, right. So. There were three of us – me and me sisters. I was the youngest. We all helped our Da on the farm, but there was plenty o’ time for me to be gettin’ up to mischief, so there was.  Me Ma was a nervous wreck with it. Never sure when me remains were goin’ to be brought to her in a shovel. Anyway, me bein a wild child an’ mostly as disreputable lookin’ as yon cow o’ Feargal Byrne’s that he accidentally hauled through a hedge backwards with his tractor, they were all taken aback (and none more so than me, I can tell ye) when I did well at the school. Most o’ the time, they forgave me for the bloody noses, the torn jerseys, the angry phone calls an’ the occasional visit from the local bobby, as long as me test marks held up.

Oops! My but I’m all thumbs the day! Just as well the glass was empty. Another one? Ah, don’t mind if I do. Yer a scholar and a gentleman, sir.

Where was I now? Oh, aye. So, I finished me schoolin’ an’ went off to Dublin to study medicine. Probably because I’d heard these boys have a whale o’ a time at Uni. And I’m here to tell ye that was a terrible understatement, so it was! The first year was just a blur and the good burghers o’ Dublin were lockin’ up there daughters, oh yes indeed they were. But I showed me mettle again. Takes more than six pints o’ Guinness a day an’ a few parents threatenin’ to blow him to kingdom come to slow done Mike O’Malley. I got five star reviews for me studies and it wasn’t until me last year that the real trouble started. Found meself walkin’ down the road one day with a bunch o’ bold boys an’ realized we all had guns in our hands. And that was it. Oh, I finished me studies and became Dr O’Malley alright, but the IRA was like a Dyson vacuum, so it was – sucked ye in before ye knew it and whirled ye round so hard ye could hardly think.

What? Psychopaths? Oh, aye, like a magnet to those boys, for sure. But most o’ them were ordinary folk like me, thinkin’ we were doin’ the best thing for our country. Well, I was soon enough dissuaded from that point o’ view, I can tell ye! But it was a bit like bein’ in the Templars or whatever – hard to get into an’ even harder to leave. So I just bided me time. When the Troubles were passed, I went back to County Mayo. Me Da an’ me Ma had passed an’ I ran the farm for a whiley an’ did some doctorin’. Then the financial collapse came an’ I took a leaf out of me ancestors’ book an’ became a kind o’ a pirate. The place was hemorrhaging folk by then an’ I chummed up with a couple o’ local boys an we set ourselves up on an island. Yon was the place where I met Donnie McLennan. Did he tell you I kidnapped him? Who’d have thought it, eh? Grand way to make new friends!

Another one? Och, well that’s very good o’ ye. I’ll not be sayin’ no to such an offer.

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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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A Hero’s Underpinnings

As a lead up to a series of interviews with the characters in my novel The Butterfly & The Bull, I am posting the following account of the early life of the hero of the story, Donnie Mclennan.

My name is Donnie McLennan. As in “Donald,  Son of Lennan.” Although where old Lennan comes into the picture is lost in the convoluted and bloody mists of Scottish history.  All I know is that my early ancestors probably came over from Ireland sometime in the fifth century.  The first people known by the name “Mac Ghill’ Fhinnein” occupied Lorn and the area around Glenelg on the west coast. Later,  but still many generations before me, some of the clan moved to the Isle of Lewis, a land of endless peat bogs where the reefs of ancient bedrock emerge from a sea of thin topsoil. On its western strand, beaches of pure white sand, mile upon mile,  edge this wasteland and the eastern coast is a rocky moonscape heavily indented by lochs and inlets. It is a wild and beautiful place, dark with superstition and mythology. And it was on this Lewis that I was born, in a two-storey croft house which stood on the west coast of the island and stared out sightlessly on the Atlantic Ocean.

“The wind here,” my father would say, “comes all the way from America.”

My mother had sworn, after giving birth to my sister three years previously in Raigmhor hospital in Inverness, that she would birth her next child at home. Her husband was vehemently opposed to this plan,  but mother prevailed  (“As bloody always” he would later mutter when the subject came up), citing the almost legendary capabilities of Ealasaid McDonald, the midwife. Sadly for all of us,  Ealasaid suffered a major cardiac infarction and died just hours before her patient’s waters broke and contractions began. She was hurriedly replaced by a much younger woman with only the barest of experience. The subsequent birthing was a disaster.  The doctor was called, but by then matters were beyond even his skills and the dying woman and her almost dead son were helicoptered to Raigmhor. There,  I finally emerged into a world of stainless steel and bright lights and peeling emulsion paint, thanks to the skill of the surgeon. But there was nothing he could do for my mother and she died without regaining consciousness, deprived of the joy of holding her newborn son in her arms.

It is a piece of McLennan family lore that father barely grieved for his departed wife, although my sister Susan and I were obviously too young to have adduced any evidence for such a story.  Whatever the truth of the matter, we were not long without a woman in the house that we could call “Mother” (or, in my case “Mamamama”).  The day after the funeral, father arranged for Jessie Corrigan,  a young Irish woman who lived in Stornoway,  to come in and clean the house, do the laundry and cook the meals. No doubt in the early days she was paid for her travails, but she soon moved in with us.  As father in his dotage so crudely put it “I quickly promoted her from paid help with benefits to full family member.”

As far as my sister and I were concerned, Jessie proved to be a wonderful choice. She was warm-hearted, imaginative and quick-witted.  Her notions of child rearing, looking back on it now, were inspired and we had a joyous early childhood as a result.

My father was a crofter. By this I mean that he was someone who farmed so little land that it was impossible to make a living by that alone. He tilled beds in the grassy plain which stood between the croft house and the moody ocean, where crops were wrested annually from a nutrient-hungry soil. He tended his few cows and a little flock of brainless sheep whose sole aim in life appeared to be seeking out the nearest high cliff and flinging themselves from it, or using some ancient instinct to locate pieces of wire or plastic bags and become hopelessly entangled or choke to death.

Father also had a half share in a fishing boat, with his brother Andrew. The pair of them would talk proudly and lovingly about this doyen of the ocean,  but in fact it was an antiquated wooden scallop boat named “Star of the Sea” with a temperamental engine and a tendency to leaking seams. The success of this harvesting of the sea  enterprise was hit and miss, even on a good day.

Childhood was defined by the pleasure of being part of a happy family and by our intimate closeness with Nature.  We were free to play as we pleased on the rocks, the sandy beaches and the moor.  I still have vivid memories of Iong summer days and of nights when it never quite got dark ; of the skylark rising over the moor,  singing its inspirational song as my father and I tramped to the peat hags to cut next year’s fuel; of peewits and plovers over the lochan ; and of oystercatchers crying frenetically around the bay as we searched for edible seaweed for mother’s soup. We rejoiced in summer evenings when we would walk through the glorious sea of flowers which exploded annually on the grassy plain, our ears filled with the rasping of corncrakes, to explore the “old women’s house”, an ancient ruin on the shore, believed to be a nunnery.  My father brought these remains to life for my sister and me, describing the early religious orders from Saint Columba’s time when disciples of the great man spread up the west coast, occupying wild places and building monasteries, nunneries and lonely cells in unlikely locations and living hard lives on the edge of world.

When I was six years old, my father announced that he was going to give up the unequal struggle, leave the croft in the safe hands of our Uncle Andrew and move us to Oban, where he had got himself a job with Caledonian Macbrayne, the ferry company.  Jessie told us that she was going to return to teaching,  a profession she had abandoned in her native Ireland (to run off to Stornoway with a married man, as we later discovered).

Susan and I were in a state of shock.  The news caused a dramatic shift in the plate tectonics of our existence. This lifequake seemed certain, we thought, to cause devastation in our daily lives. Of course, it did nothing of the sort. We hadn’t realized that the warm, loving and confident relationships we enjoyed were a sure buffer against such disturbances.

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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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The Editor Regrets…

Behind every author who has ambitions of success, there is a good editor. In my case, she is also my wife, Juli.

The Butterfly & The Bull is my first novel (indeed, my first significant piece of fiction writing) which means that the whole enterprise, from blank sheet to publication and beyond, was a constant learning experience. From the first glimmer of an idea while walking on the beach by the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, I developed the plot and action of the story in my head over a period of six months.  I shared it with no one but Joe The Dog and the occasional turkey buzzard or seagull that happened along during my meanderings.

It wasn’t until I decided to write the story down that I began to get a sense of the key role of the editor.  I shared the hasty outpourings with her. She was encouraging, but offered advice which proved to be crucial. Things like:  “Donnie is the hero. You just can’t make him behave like a wimp. It spoils his character;” and “The story is really about Donnie trying to get his wife back. And yet you’ve got several chapters here where she isn’t mentioned at all. It won’t work;” and “This section is just boring – you need some action here;” and  “Donnie/O’Malley/Ellie/Lynn would never say something like that. It’s out of character.” And so on.  In amongst comments about grammar and style and typos, there was this flow of advice. I didn’t agree with all of it and we occasionally has some robust discussions, but almost always her sense of what would work was spot on.

Then, I rewrote the whole novel and, in the process, began to find a style and a voice. The author/editor relationship began to change.  I got even more positive feedback, but also harsher criticism when I overwrote or failed the realism test.

And then it was done and we began the long process of checking for inconsistencies, typos and formatting errors. I completely underestimated how hard that was going to be. Adding to the challenge, what I thought was a tight control of document versions proved to be too sloppy and we would occasionally find errors appearing which we knew had been corrected. But after maybe six line-by-line passes, we felt ready for the next stage.

When the interior and cover were finally uploaded to the CreateSpace website, I was fairly confident that the final proof would need very little correcting. I guess it depends what would count as “very little” – it seemed like a lot at the time.

The book has now been on sale for several months. I know that there is a character in it called Willits who has his name spelled Willets at one point. Apart from that, no one has pointed out any typos.  Of course, that doesn’t mean that there are none there…

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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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Sequelitis

Sequelitis (n): A severe condition experienced by authors who have committed to writing a sequel, especially to a first novel. Characterized by mental stress, plot confusion and an inability to decide on a working title. May be alleviated (though only temporarily) by copious amounts of alcohol, administered internally.

The working title. Hmmm. At the moment, it is “Sequel to The Butterfly & The Bull.” A couple of days ago, I spent the best part of an episode of “Grey’s Anatomy” probing the quagmire of neural chaos inside my skull for inspiration. And was I successful? Let me tell you. Today, I couldn’t find the four draft chapters I’d completed so far. Several moments of raised b.p. later, I discovered them in a folder named “The Consummate Paradox.” I kid you not. Forty minutes of mental gymnastics, and I came up with something that I couldn’t even REMEMBER, never mind relate to.

People who make movies don’t seem to have this problem. So I guess I could call the sequel “The Butterfly & The Bull 2” or “The Butterfly & The Bull – The Reckoning” or even “The Butterfly and The Butterfly – a Tale of Two Fritillaries.” A rich seam? I think not. Perhaps there is inspiration on the bookshelf.  Take somebody else’s bright idea and modify it – a touch of justifiable plagiarism. Unfortunately, from where I’m sitting, it doesn’t look promising. None of: Guatemala – A Visitor’s Guide, The Farmers’ Almanac 1992 or Estate and Trust Administration for Dummies seem like very fertile ground.

It seems so simple.  I know the plot (roughly), the settings and the characters. You’d think I could come up with something inspirational – or at least mundanely acceptable. The McLennan Six (or Seven or Eight)? Donnie’s Revenge? Jura to Edinburgh – A Traveler’s Guide? Nope. I give in for the moment. Pass the Pino Grigiot, for goodness sake.

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