Monthly Archives: January 2012

Film Review – Margin Call

I saw Margin Call the other night – I thought it was very good. It’s the story of 24 hours in an investment bank during the 2008 banking crisis. Despite almost the entire film taking place in an office,  the result is a tense, gripping production.  I particular liked the opening scene of risk manager Stanley Tucci  being fired.

I found the younger characters convincing but I thought the older characters lacked the nastiness one expects from senior banking executives.  The character played by Kevin Spacey was far too cuddly.  Spacey is a fine actor so this is not his fault rather the script’s. 

Jeremy Irons, one of my favourite actors, played the vulpine CEO well, but I didn’t feel the character was menacing enough.  The CEO was in awe of the junior former rocket scientist (Zachary Quinto)  and showed it; in reality a CEO would never openly display awe or admit ignorance.  

An exception was the character played by Simon Baker.  This was a 43 year old senior executive, who despite his boyish looks did show considerable menace and was really quite scary.

Book Signing Saturday 28 January 2012

I’ll be signing copies of The Banker on Saturday at Waterstones Richmond  from 12 to 3 pm. The address is

2-6 Hill Street, Richmond, Surrey TW10 6UA

The bookshop is quite close to the Odeon Cinema.

By sheer coincidence the signing coincides with this year’s WEF at Davos. Chapter One of The Banker opens at the 2009 Davos WEF.

I got my Goodreads glitch sorted out and I now have an Author page up.

Writing – POV

This week’s session with Anne Aylor covered Point Of View (POV).   The three POV categories are First Person  (In general draws the reader closer to the character), Second Person (rarely used in novels) and Third Person (creates a little distance between reader and character).  However there is more to POV. The first and third persons have further subcategories, namely:

First Person Protagonist

First Person Witness

First Person Re-Teller

Third Person Omniscient (or God)

Third Person Objective

Third Person Limited

 As an exercise we wrote a story for 10 minutes in one POV, then rewrote the same story in another POV, and compared both. I wrote about a police detective arriving at a crime scene, first in Third Person POV (3POV) then in First Person POV (1POV).  Both I and a fellow student thought the 1POV version was better.  The 3POV was more like a report, whereas the 1POV contained all the 3POV information plus how the detective felt on seeing the uniformed police had already arrived and how he felt on being asked to produce his ID.

On reflection I think that if I had written the 1POV first, I then would have had to find a way of adding the detective’s feelings in the 3POV (for example through dialogue).   The 3POV version might have been better (for example dialogue may make it easier to show rather than tell).

An experienced author, writing in 3POV, would be able to incorporate such 1POV aspects into his or her first draft.  But I wonder if it might be good idea for a novice writing in 3POV to produce a first draft in 1POV.

Iron Lady Movie

I saw the Iron Lady the other night and although Meryl Streep is outstanding I would give the film only seven out of ten. A number of people have found the depiction of Margaret Thatcher old and suffering from dementia disturbing, I thought this was the better part of the film. The way she believes her husband Denis is  still alive and has imagined conversations with him was depicted well. Meryl Streep gave a very convincing performance here. The Iron Lady rummages through Denis’ possesions and these are used to link to a series of flashbacks to her earlier life and career as politician and Prime Minister.
Its the flashbacks that I had a problem with. There were far too many and meant that only a few minutes could be spent on each scene. This lessened their dramatic impact, although these all demonstrated Meryl Streep’s superb acting. She had Mrs T down to a T.

Writing – Characterization

Anne Aylor’s second session was on characterization. Some bullet points:

Give your characters free reign.

You need to show people with their flaws.

Notebook your characters: what do they like to eat, their key experiences, moments of epiphany.

Write short stories about your characters.

Show don’t tell.

The main cast of characters shouldn’t be too big (3 or 4 max).

 We also talked about the importance of naming your characters well. I’m still in the early stages of planning my second novel, but one character in it will be a thirty something male police detective. Off the top of my head I came up with Jack Deegan, but after discussing it with the group I changed it to Andy Deegan. You heard it here first.

Book Signing at Waterstones

I’ve arranged my very first book signing. Its with Waterstones at their Richmond upon Thames branch on Saturday 28th January from 12 to 3. I’ve had some posters printed for the event.

I’ve also joined the Goodreads community, although I had a problem trying to join their Author Program. The Banker wasn’t on their database so I tried to import it from Amazon but the import program didn’t seem to work.

Writing – Getting Started

I’ve started going again to creative writing classes with Anne Aylor.  A couple of years ago I went to a few of her classes while writing The Banker. What I liked about her classes that as well as tutorials there are plenty of writing practice sessions on a given theme. Usually 3 or 4 students would read their work and the rest of us would comment.  So in a couple of hours you get to listen to several different writing styles.

The first topic was getting started writing your novel.  I won’t attempt to summarize all we covered, just some of the points made.

Write little but often. Just 250 words a day will result in 81,000 at the end of a year (70,000 words is regarded as the minimum for a full-length novel).

Immerse yourself in your characters and their worlds. Think about what clothes they own , what shoes they might wear for a night on the town.

You don’t have to start at the beginning; the writing need not be linear. Start where your ideas are flowing.

Always have a writer’s notebook, preferably bound, to hand.

A few quotes from the class:

A good writer finds it difficult to write.  – Thomas Mann

Stop when you get to an interesting place. – Ernest Hemingway

Write first, think later. – Ernest Hemingway

Hemingway’s a good source for quotes, he not only wrote prolifically but he had a lot to say about the writing process.  I’ve come across another version of that last quote:

Write drunk, edit sober.

Interview with London writer Terence Jenkins

Terence Jenkins is a historian, journalist, London guide and author of Another Man’s London.  The book tells the lesser known but fascinating stories of some of London’s most interesting people and places.

[Michael Drysdale] What inspired you to write this book?

[Terry Jenkins] After more than 30 years at the chalk face teaching English Literature, I retired early and thought, “What do I do now?” I did a London Guide course, joined the NUJ and tried some freelance journalism which proved successful and after becoming one of the winners of a short story competition, moved from there to a book of short stories which was quite well-received. I then wrote my first book on London, “Another Man’s London” which also went down well.

[MD] Was it something you’ve always wanted to do?

[TJ] I’d always wanted to write and had dabbled since I was a student.

[MD] How did you find the writing/researching process?

[TJ] I enjoyed the research process because it took me out and about the capital. The writing process I found painful because it isolates one and you need other minds to cross-fertilize with.

 [MD] How long did it take?

[TJ] It took me about ten months, including walking around London most weekends, visiting places, talking to people, taking photographs, going to libraries etc

[MD] There are about 30 stories in Another Man’s London. Was there one you particularly enjoyed researching?

 [TJ] I enjoyed “ The French Imperial Family” very much.

 [MD] I’m visiting London for the 2012 Olympics. I have a copy of your book and would like to visit some of the places described. But I have only time for three. Which three should I pick?

[TJ] ”The Outcast Dead”, “Bunhill Fields” , “Hodge”

[MD] Do you have any current writing projects?

[TJ] I’ve just had another book published, “London Lives” which is selling well and I’ve delivered some chapters of a third book on London which will be ready by next summer ( I hope) after which I’m going to try another book of short stories.

[MD]  Thank you and best wishes for 2012.


Why I Self-Published

In this post I’ll explain my reasons for self-publishing. It’s all about odds really.  The chances of a debut novelist finding a traditional publisher, unless he or she is already a celebrity (in any field) are very low indeed. The traditional route to having fiction published is first to find a literary agent who in turn will find, and negotiate with, a publisher.  Agents claim to receive two or three hundred manuscripts a week; of course it’s in their interest to talk up these numbers, so the actual figure may be a bit lower. Most agents will take on three or four new authors a year.  So the odds of being taken on by an agent is less than one in a thousand. Of course if your novel is really marketable the odds are more in your favour but they’re still pretty slim.

Nevertheless I still tried finding an agent. I sent the first 3 chapters of my manuscript to about a dozen agents specializing in thrillers.  I picked a mix of large, medium and small agencies. With the smaller agencies I made sure they had a good track record; I didn’t want to have to commit to an inexperienced agent who might take me on then spend a year or two and not find me a publisher at the end of it all. The rejections came as no surprise to me. I felt I had given finding a literary agent a shot and it was time to look at alternatives.

In the past it was very difficult to sell more than a few hundred books by self publishing. But with the advent of print on demand technology, on-line retailing and especially ebooks, it is possible to generate reasonable sales by means of self publishing.  I still wanted some of the services an agent provides such as editing, copyediting, proofreading and jacket design.  Rather than buy-in each of these services individually I decided to use a self-publishing company.

I picked Acorn Independent Press, a self publishing company that only started up at the beginning of 2011.  I picked them because of the personal service you tend to get with a start-up and because they are based in Crystal Palace, a London suburb not far from my home.

That’s all for this post. In my next post I hope to have an interview with London author Terry Jenkins.

Happy New Year.