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The Burning Chasuble: how it came about

16 Jul

I think the genesis of the book came from the wastelands of the end of the eighties and the very early nineties. I was living in London at the time, and I had a dream where a girl I was dating at the time was sucking liquid heroin out of her female friend’s hair. At around the same time, in the real world,  I was approached in the street by a religious cultist trying to recruit me to their cult. We had an interesting conversation about life, society and the alienation felt by many people in this modern world.  I never joined the cult, of course; I didn’t even go on their famous ‘introductory’ weekends. But the legacy of this meeting was that I had to ask myself:  why did this guy pick on me? Was there something lost about my look?

The result of this period was the book in its first incarnation. I originally called it Lazarus’ Kingdom and it was written very quickly in the period I describe. It was the simple story of someone who is recruited to a religious cult, brainwashed by them, but not 100% effectively, because he changes his mind and then escapes. What made it different, I suppose, was the lashings of non-religious horror fantasy that I incorporated into it.

I am also a child of the Cold War; my Mum and Dad travelled for their jobs and I lived in Poland for four years as a child, and also saw Ceausescu’s Romania first-hand. I read spy thrillers by the likes of Le Carre, Deighton, and most importantly, Graham Greene. I saw compassion and  warmth in Greene’s work in spite of the riveting pared-down plainness of his style. And I saw Greene as a left-wing Catholic who was constantly questioning his conversion to the church.

Which leads me to Catholicism. I was brought up as a Catholic, but I have always been very uneasy with it, and have been an agnostic since I was about 14. Unlike the protagonist of The Burning Chasuble, I certainly never felt any vocation, though just by watching priests at work I had a glimpse of what motivated these people to preach. I saw the teaching side of it, or perhaps the lecturing side of it.

I now live in Poland more or less permanently, and so it was a natural thing for me to set the book in two Polands: the contemporary one and  the Cold War one.

I found Lazarus’ Kingdom again about five years ago, languishing in a drawer, so to speak. I picked it up and decided that combining the ideas (I copied absolutely nothing from that original manuscript) with the love story I already had in mind was the direction in which I was going to go. And so, over five years,  this morphed into a combination- the parallels between religious cults and old communism, a thriller, a murder mystery and a small dash of science fiction/ fantasy, not to mention a love story.  If you, gentle reader of this blog, have any questions to ask I shall try to answer them without giving anything away.

 

My book and publishing

13 Jul

I am sorry if anybody has turned to this blog in search of English Language teaching tips or methodology; there are none in here, because there are so many blogs out there talking about these two things, while I prefer to use this blog as a way of talking about my hobbies and interests, and, alas, methodology is not high on the list.

So, what have I learned about self-publishing my book, a novel set in Bydgoszcz, Poland, a thriller combined with a crime story and a love story? On the positive side, it has been a great experience, and I have enjoyed learning about so many aspects of publishing. Secondly the feeling of having achieved something just by completing something was great. I don’t pretend to be a 21st Century Le Carre or Graham Greene, though these are both writers I admire. So now to the book.  Well, the most important thing is that in the first edition of the book there were enough typos and howlers to remind me to proof read much better, and so I adjusted accordingly and went through the book with a tooth and comb and still there were one or two typos, and so it went on. Now I understand the difficulty even the most experienced proof reader faces.

The second thing about the publishing process in this case is the fact that you have to do your own marketing. You can’t pretend that everyone on your Facebook account is going to want to buy the book, or even read it, or even your friends and family who are not out there in cyber space. But this is where you begin, without shoving it down their throats. So, what to do. Word of mouth is not enough, especially if you want people to part with their hard-earned cash. I know people who have publishing launches in bookshops. But my book is set abroad, and I’m selling it not just on feed a read and amazon, but also trying to sell it in Poland.

That’s the thing I’m coming to. I thought, since the book is set in Bydgoszcz, surely the English language bookshop in Bydgoszcz would be interested? Given the fact that not everyone in Byd speaks English and certainly doesn’t read it to the standard of the book, and they’re hard pressed enough as it is, I suspected a no and I got one. If I’d published another version of it using a Polish printers it might have been possible to do something.  I also tried the tourist office with the rebuke (after considering it) (justified) that they didn’t sell fiction, they sold guide books and leaflets.

So I’m thinking of other routes: the radio comes to mind. I used to know the person who ran a TV arts show in Bydgoszcz, but she’s moved on. So I will from now on occaisonally issue bulletins about various aspects of this. But do get it if you’re interested, it’s on the amazon.co.uk and other amazon websites, and it’s also available from feed a read. Soon I will be talking about why I wrote the book I did.

The novel is near

23 Dec

Yes, this is to say that I’ve published my novel The Burning Chasuble.  At the moment, it’s available from the feed- a – read website, but they only deliver books directly to the UK, the US, Germany and Spain, so for my Polish readers they will have to wait for a few more weeks if they are interested in purchasing it, when it will become available on Amazon. I will of course make my second announcement when that happens. It’s a thriller set in Poland but it’s also a tragicomedy about human relationships. I will leave a link later.

 

The Burning Chasuble by Daniel James Villiers is available from feed a read

 

When writing a novel: where to begin? Or end?

30 Dec

‘The first time he ever flew, he looked out of the window and saw Central Europe passing below him. Polka-squared buildings merged with chockablock blocks and spires which glinted in the sun. Cities and towns meandered between stretches of brown and green fields. Rivers curved, straightened and snaked in the middle of valleys. Wisps of white clouds scudded along, and passed below the wing. He was eight years old, and from that day on he had wanted to be a pilot. He also had an ambition to be a ghost hunter, because his grandmother at teatime used to tell the children ghost stories that she swore were true. Someone, or something, had disturbed her sleep by dragging chains up the steps. Parties took place downstairs when no such function had been arranged. In the haze of conversation and clinking glasses people whispered: ‘we’ve got to escape,’ though Gran never found out from what. Her favourite story was that of a dark figure who leaned over her bed. She had told him to go away, and he had.
When John became an adult, he didn’t fulfill either of his childhood ambitions. He was myopic and so couldn’t be a pilot, and ghost-busting wasn’t a ‘job’, it was something done by priests and spiritualists who believed in that sort of thing. He had a go at staying in a couple of places in East Anglia known to be haunted, but he didn’t see anything, even after he’d groped for his glasses and fumbled them on to his nose. On one occasion, he heard scratching at the door, but when he investigated this evil spirit, it turned out to be the cat. He didn’t believe in ghosts any more.’

O.K., so this is the start of a novel/ story I never wrote – the other paragraphs got caught up in other works, and it’s not exactly a ground-breaking beginning, but it does leave me with the question: how should this continue? Is he
a) going to stay at a haunted Central European hotel and realise that the hotel itself is a ghost?
b) going to fly and find out that the pilot, co-pilot, flight attendants etc. are all ghosts?
c) going to end up on a farm in North East Poland?
d) going to end up being the protagonist in a post-modernist, knowing homage to Alain Robbe-Grillet when everything gradually dissolves into a dream sequence full of unresolved questions and answers?

This is the kind of dilemma that faces writers who just ‘start a project’ without knowing where this is all going to take them. John Irving once said that he started one of his books from the end and worked backwards. Though I can’t pretend I’m a big fan of Irving, I can see the point of what he says. Best selling authors always say how important it is to suck the reader in from the very beginning, because if you haven’t got the reader hooked by p. 10, you’re unlikely to ever get the reader hooked, though of course Malcolm Lowry wasn’t thinking that when he wrote the most over-descriptive opening (Mexico’s Day of the Dead) in his classic book Under the Volcano. As with Irving, I can’t say I like Malcolm Lowry. On the other hand, the quiet and lengthy opening to John Fowles’ The Magus is perfect. It just shows that the opening doesn’t have to be bam-bam-bam. P.D. James also often wrote gentle openings that acted in counterpoint to the murders in her mystery novels.

And how about starting in the middle, (at one of the peaks) and then working your way round that? People often do. You know the scene: a swimming chase through box-jellyfish and shark-infested waters where an angry pearl diver is trying to kill your flawed protagonist because he tried to steal a pearl. Of course all of what led up to this scenario comes in the back story – what he’s doing in this pearl-diving paradise with its attendant dangers.

So, I leave writers with the not at all new, but sobering thought that one of the most difficult things to do is to start a work of fiction. It’s the sigh of someone trying to tell a long story, but not knowing where to begin because it is rather complicated. It’s the sigh of staring at a blank page.