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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

 

Twists in novels

2 Jan

Why isn’t there a twist in this novel:
there’s a couple living in a hovel
and a pinstripe-suited taxman who plays whist,
so why isn’t there a twist?
A tortured priest is having an affair
with the taxman’s P.A.,
swimmers and sunbathers are spread
out all over the beach and the bay
the tourist is in bed with the receptionist
so why, oh why, isn’t there a twist?

(Bad, lazy doggerel by me to try and make a point)
One of the more amusing websites around has a plot generator and a plot twists generator. Following on from what I was saying a couple of days ago, if you really are stuck for inspiration for a plot, then they have some ideas that could come straight out of a Brazilian soap opera and some truly loopy twists (forgive the groan-making pun).

But real life is full of inspiration: the homeless person sitting on the park bench may once have been a computer whizz kid who fell apart and while doing so, so did his life.

Of course, plot isn’t everything, in fact with some people it’s less about plot and more about character. I’m thinking, for example, of Martin Amis’ Money, or, conversely (as far as plots are concerned) Raymond Chandler, whose plots could be so complicated that it didn’t really matter who murdered whom, it was, like the old travel cliche, the journey, not the destination, that mattered and that journey was peopled by unforgettable characters such as Philip Marlowe or the corrupt Bay City policemen.

And there’s revenge, too. You can make horrible characters out of people you actually know and don’t like; they are not going to recognise themselves should they ever get round to reading your book if you’re cunning enough. Someone once challenged me over a pint about the writing cliche, or perhaps aphorism, which is write what you know. The person who challenged this notion tried to cite J.K. Rowling as an example. I pointed out to her that part of the appeal of Harry Potter is not just the fantasy, but it’s also that the characters are real, at least a few of whom were probably based on people she knew.