I read this lovely thing about Tom Hanks on Buzzfeed, talking about the favourite films which he’s made and aspects of the performances and his co-stars and what not. It’s a brilliant article and well worth reading. You’ve got to love Tom Hanks in my opinion. Even in films like the Da Vinci Code (remind me again… If Mary Magdalene is in the painting of the last super then what happened to the twelfth disciple?) he’s a good actor. But this isn’t about Tom Hanks… Though thinking about it, there are worse things I could do than write a couple of thousand words on Tom Hanks. Reading that article made me want to talk about my own work and literary universe in a similar way- about the inspirations and the writing process etc… As Machiavelli wrote in The Prince, ‘follow in the footsteps of greater men. That way, even if you do not surpass them in greatness, you can still share in their glory.’ Ok… I know Tom Hanks didn’t write the article and what not but he still did the talking, right? And whose footsteps are better to follow than Tom Hanks?
UNDER THE FUHRER’S CONTROL
‘It was simply a question of who would fire first…’
Ahhh yes… My first full length novel, though it will never be released I’m sorry to say. I’d written stories before, tried writing a novel before, but this was the first one I consider to be a proper novel. I was thirteen at the time and there was this series on the television called POW- it had James D’Arcy (Now known as Jarvis in Agent Carter) in it. One of the episodes involved a murder and I thought- ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if someone wrote a whodunnit in a POW camp?’ So I started to write one. By about the fifth or sixth chapter (each was two pages of size ten writing long, so about twelve pages in) I’d revealed the identity of the murderer, killed him off and the whole thing turned into a weird tale about a group hunting Nazis who were actually communists- And they were on an island the size of Wales, off the coast of France, which nobody had noticed- And all the main characters were dead by the half way point. It took me three years to write 75,000 words, often in the hour or so before bedtime. Sometimes I would write a little and others a lot. Friends, who had never read it, were overtly negative and told me it would never be published. Whilst they were right on that front (though not for the reasons they thought) I ignored them and carried on, thinking it would be published.
It’s a good thing I did carry on, ignoring the naysayers, as that book booted the whole Morfaverse into existence- It’s event one, the big bang. From it came the Morfasson clan, what would become their family business (Nitidus/Chwedl) and would-be star of his own future book, Charlie Fuller. As far as books go, I’ve read worse, but it was pretty terrible when all things are considered. At the time I was proud of it and I pushed on to further the Morfasson story, writing two more books over the next two years, expanding everything and letting things grow. I even spent a year editing this book in the hope I could send it away to be published. Quite funny now, looking back at how awful it was, that I bothered to edit it at all.
Those first three books I now consider to be my apprenticeship period, where I learned how to write all proper like. They taught me about character and plot and story structure, taught me more about how to write than I ever did in English class (and I was top set English, by the by) and without it I wouldn’t be where I am today.
‘He meant the Bathroom? I thought he was just talking Limey shit…’
I’m at university… End of my second year… And I’m starting a long, downward spiral into depression and someone is pissing me off. That being pissed off starts formulating the idea of The Rebels in my head and two years and a lot of writing later it was done. By that time I absolutely needed to get it right, make sure it was perfect, so I spent what seemed like an eternity editing it and polishing it to perfection.
It’s been a continual disappointment to me ever since- Not in terms of the actual finished result, personally I think it’s a perfectly fine book, but it’s never had much love from the general public. Nobody has ever really taken to it in the way I hoped they would and I’m not actually sure why. There are certainly some things in the book which I would now write differently- I’d make Claire less of a ‘damsel’ and ‘love interest’ and give her more of a personality for one thing- But I know there’s a lot to like in there and be proud of; Otto and Harry’s relationship and the way it develops, the chapter where Otto has dinner with the Lebron family and the whole culture clash that comes with it… And Cutler- A damned horrible villain who is certain to make anybody clench their genitalia in fear. I’m still proud of it, still glad I wrote it, but disappointed that the reception hasn’t been that grand.
I still hope that one day it will find its fans. It is far from being my best work, that much I will admit- what I’ve wrote since is on a higher level altogether- but Rebels still has an awful lot going for it. It will still be around in five, ten years so when people want it, it’s there waiting for them.
SPAWN (AKA: THE DARK LEGEND DOSSIER: VOLUME 1)
‘Harris… You’re going to die!’
Of all the things I have ever written the Dark Legend saga is not only, in my personal opinion, the best but also the one I most want to share with the world. It started out life as a TV series, then became a radio drama and then when the TV version was rejected for being too expensive it became an online serialization and then a book. Currently the first instalment is known as The Dark Legend Dossier: Volume 1 but thanks to the subsequent books that have been released I’m planning to drop the ‘Volume’ convention. This will probably happen when the next, the fourth, book (Sting) is released. I’m also toying with the idea of releasing an omnibus edition of the first two books, perhaps with extra material and illustrations.
But back to Spawn (as it will be called)- It feels disparate compared to the books that follow, but that sort of works in its favour. It means that it can be viewed as a sort of prologue to the rest of the series, introducing the characters, their relationships and the main plot. This is down to the original TV edition and the way it was structured. I wrote the first two episodes (each episode forms at least one three chapter segment of the books) as introductory episodes, purposely designed to be light on the main arc. Too many TV series these days start by dumping all the mystery and a whole lot of arc in the first episode instead of easing people in, which turns viewers away. I didn’t want that, I wanted to ease my viewers in and make them feel like they could jump on with the second or third episode if they happened to miss the previous ones. And that’s reflected in the book… The first three segments are light on connecting plot and despite the consequences of each playing a part later on, the segments are (more or less) their own independent story. Compare this to the following volumes where the stories all feed directly into one another, with each being a consequence of the last.
But as with all of Dark Legend what makes reading it truly worthwhile is the characters. The mains are some of my most developed and well rounded individuals and that shows through into the book (Everyone seems to love Dan in particular.) I think that’s the result of having already written the whole story out once before and so when I started I already knew who everyone was in quite a lot of detail beforehand. Plus, in order to adapt the original, I needed to expand on everything and that, naturally, included expanding on the characters. I’ve spent a lot of time with them over the years and whilst it might be going a bit far to call them friends I know them as well as (and in some cases better than) my actual friends. It’s a good bit of advice actually… Get to know your characters, and know them well. Spend time with them and you’ll be able to write them to a much better standard than you would otherwise.
STING (AKA: THE DARK LEGEND DOSSIER: VOLUME 2)
‘When darkness falls… A legend will rise!’
I can’t decide if this or the third Dark Legend book are my favouritest thing which I’ve ever written. Clocking in at a massive 180,000 words it is certainly my longest work so far; a story filled with gruesome death, destruction and chaos but one that still keeps the characters and their relationships at its heart… Oh and it contains my first full on (and, so far, only) hot and dirty sex scene. Everybody likes a good sex scene!
The major issue I had with writing this book involved what was originally episode 5 of the TV series. All the characters are split up for most of it, each with their own story strand. Now the episode jumps between the stories and tells everything in a chronological order, with one story briefly told in flashback at the start of the last act. With the book that would have just made things all a bit too heavy and jumpy and confusing (what works on TV doesn’t always work with text) so I split the strands into three individual stories, each as a chapter in one segment, and the third act in another segment, along with replacing the flashback with something completely different. I ended up deviating from the TV version in a massive way, adding in elements that weren’t in there originally- Eliza’s conversation in the doctor’s waiting room, Will working for the police and the chase scene involving the psycho-Randy for example.
I made quite a lot of changes to this one, now I think of it. What was a nursing home in the TV version became a hospice in the book, and the plot altered so that rather than Will just spiriting away one old man he freed the whole hospice from being experimented upon. There was a skateboard chase scene after that as well, which was removed. The whole first chapter with Will and Dan in Amsterdam was a new addition, as was the epilogue. The ending of the car chase in the first part was altered, from Randy’s stolen car crashing into a brick wall to a cataclysm involving a petrol station. Then there is the scene where Will is wandering the town after the revelation at the plaza and he finds himself outside Eliza’s… The TV version ends sooner and doesn’t carry on like it does in the book. What happens isn’t actually shown, it just cuts to the second act. Also, Donk- In the TV version the car now known as Donk was a Lotus Seven (not a Donkervoort D8) and it wasn’t introduced until Episode 7, unlike here where Will buys him at a point that relates to somewhere just before the start of 5. Nobody takes the piss out of him for buying it in the TV version either.
If this book has any overt problems they are in the length, that whopping 180,000 words… For some people that is just going to be too much to get through. Even some of the individual sections are quite chunky (There are four + a single chapter opening + epilogue + extra materials). There are whole books shorter than some parts of this. D.S Proctor (below) is a similar length to the first two chapters of the first main section, for instance. I’m not sure I could ever split the book apart though- Each of the sections are too interwoven and dependant on one another for that. It may not end up as my longest work ever (That honour may yet go to the currently in progress Charlie Fuller, which is slowly closing the gap) but if you are going to have trouble reading it I’d recommend taking it one section at a time, perhaps having a break in between each one.
And oh yeah… I’m really, really, really sorry for a certain death in this book. I had a choice between killing two characters at that point in the story, originally, and I made my choice based on the fact I thought that the one I ended up killing had run his/her course. I couldn’t alter the whole remainder of the story to fit it, sadly, but rest assured that I even hate myself for it.
STOP THE CAVALRY
‘Ferdinand was dead, slain by my own hand at his request.’
Also known as the book that fucked up the whole Dark Legend saga (in numbering terms.) It was all supposed to be a part of Volume 3 but thanks to the length it ended up being its own book… And that meant Volume 3 couldn’t be Volume 3 any more because it actually wasn’t. So that had to be called Sting… Which then led to plan to renaming Volume 1 and 2. And to make that worse, all of this was new material.
There is a story time-gap of about a year between the original episode 6 and 7 and the characters of Dast and Hailey were just dropped into the TV version at the start of episode 7, no explanation as to how they got there. I needed that explanation with the book (The TV version could have done with it as well, really) so I came up with two stories to introduce them- One for Dast and one for Hailey. Dast’s story worked fine, I used it as set up the main arc for the then third and fourth volume and I moved onto Hailey’s story… Which somehow got wildly out of hand.
And I love it. What resulted was an exploration into the nature of war and what happens when a group of soldiers find themselves trapped on a bridge behind enemy lines, waiting for relief that might not get through. It asks some important questions, like ‘who are the people we’re fighting against?’ ‘Aren’t they actually just like us?’ ‘Do they deserve to die just because they don’t think the same way?’ ‘Should we be killing them?’ It asks those questions but it’s a heck of a lot of fun at the same time- I wanted to pay homage to all the great war films of the past- The Dambusters and A Bridge Too Far are the most obvious influences but there are bits of Saving Private Ryan, Kelly’s Heroes, Where Eagles Dare and a whole host of others peppered throughout. And somewhere it still manages to be its own story, to not just be a series of homages.
The best part is that you don’t need to have read the previous volumes in order to enjoy it- You don’t have to read Spawn in order to read Swarm either, though you might have trouble when it comes to knowing who Greg is if you do that. You can jump on here if you want. You can read only this book and it will still, mostly, make perfect sense, though be warned there is a cliffhanger. That singular readability, I feel, should be inherent in all multi-book series. You should be able to jump on anywhere and it should all make sense- A lot don’t but I, personally, make a conscious effort to see that mine do and this book stands alone more than the rest.
There isn’t a lot I would change about this book… In fact, virtually nothing, not even how stark raving bonkers insane the plot is. Ok… There’s one thing I’d change but it’s practically impossible. I’d stop it from completely ruining a Bridge Too Far for anyone who reads it. There’s one particular scene where Edward Fox details the plan and he ends it with these words: “I’d like to think of this as one of those American western films. The paratroops, lacking substantial equipment, always short of food – these are the besieged homesteaders. The Germans, well naturally, they’re the bad guys. And 30 Corps, we my friends, we are the cavalry, on the way to the rescue…” Every time! EVERY TIME that speech will remind you of this book- Though I didn’t actually remember this speech when I wrote the book. It was only after I wrote the book that I found out about the speech.
‘Cosmopolitan? Isn’t that a kind of ice cream?’
My shortest book, though not out just yet. I’m quite happy with the way it turned out and I’m hoping that people will like it but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t afraid that it might just get dismissed by people. But that’s part of the package we go through when we create something, especially in the modern age. I suppose I’m more worried about this than otherwise because it’s already been dismissed by several agents. I try and tell myself it’s because of the length and being a bit shorter than a standard novel but there’s a little thing inside my ear whispering that it might not be… It might be because the book is mind numbingly bad and I haven’t realized it yet.
It wasn’t the most fun book to write but the results, I think, are the absolute opposite. I had to make sure the whole murder thing was watertight and it all worked… It does, mostly, I think- But I find that even if people think the opposite they’ll still love it for what’s going on around the plot and the titular D.S Proctor- In the characters and they way they respond to being interrogated, characters like the overly dim Francesca Chalmers and newspaper magnate Mr Guinness And the characters who are on the fringes of the investigation- Proctor’s son Corwen and the ex wife who thinks that she’s Audrey Hepburn. If I ever did a prequel about how Proctor met her I’m going to title it after the term he uses to describe their relationship- Breakfast at H.Samuels.
Despite being about a gruesome murder it’s remarkably light in tone. There is a lot of joy in this book, especially in the dialogue and I think that is the reason people will remember it.
MAX & ANNA
‘As I stepped out onto the jetty I was struck by the overwhelming stench of effluence from the docks around me…’
Finished just this week- All 50,000 + words handwritten and (near enough) copied up onto computer. I’ve been copying up as i’ve gone along which means I’ve been editing as I’ve gone on. It’s been the most involving book I’ve yet written and it works so much better for it. The best part is Anna herself, who despite playing second fiddle on the title (Max & Anna works better than Anna & Max) is the star. She is definitely not a weak female character. From the moment she arrives in London, standing at the prow of Thames Coal steamer, she shows her mettle. Max has told to her dress humbly for her own protection but she’s openly defying him and wearing a very ostentatious gown. She does change her clothes at his persuasion but for the rest of the book she leads him a merry dance, determined to get her own way at all costs. Sometimes Max is able to gain the upper hand but most of the time she steps over him and gets what she wants. And in the end it is Anna who ultimately saves the day. There is something she does that later proves instrumental in the climax and it is her suggestion that puts the climax in motion.
I like the way she and Max relate to each other as well. It isn’t a romantic relationship and there’s no sex or kissing involved, which is nice. The tensions between them don’t come from love, they come from Max trying to keep her safe and do what is reasonable whilst Anna is openly trying to defy him at every turn. She ridicules him. She belittles him. But there is a clear fondness between them, a sign that they like each other. Early on in the book Anna insists on being addressed as ‘Your highness’ but Max (in a rare moment of him triumphing over her) manages to persuade her this isn’t safe and so she becomes known as Miss Anna. She in turn starts to call him Mr Max and it becomes this endearing thing between them.
The main issue I’m having at the moment is the second to last chapter… There is a revelation of sorts and Anna is far too happy about it, when her character states that she should be kicking the forest to the ground (it happens in a forest… I can say that much.) I need to spend some time working on that, getting it right. There might be a way around it but if not I can at least tone things down and make her reactions more believable at the very least. If I get this wrong it could ruin the whole book, turn it from a work of gold into sugarplum fairy shit.
It isn’t a heavy book, despite the somewhat dark premise of the plot (Max is assigned by Anna’s father to protect her after some revolutionaries, who want her and her entire family dead, chase her half way across europe. He takes her to his home in North Wales, believing it to be the safest place- Only the revolutionaries are close behind.) Like D.S Proctor (which, also, is fairly grim in terms of actual premise) this is a light and joyful book. There is peril and there is danger but for most of the time it is in the background. There are only one or two places where it comes to the fore and one of those is towards the end of the book where there is a particularly brutal event. But the rest is jovial and, at times, hilarious. It isn’t overtly bleak or gothic or heavy on the action scenes (there is about one specific action scene in total) and I like that about it. Even the writing has an easy going, light appeal. I was going for an old fashioned sort of vibe and what comes across is something simplistic, straightforward and to the point. It keeps things moving along and makes this novel, perhaps, my most readable.
I’m too close to this one to say a lot about it, or judge it fairly, but it gives me a good feeling. I know that there’s some good shit in there- Anyone who has ever been to Bangor will probably laugh out loud at the over the top description Max gives it. I also managed to slip in something at the end which, if you read Rebels afterwards (or even before) becomes absolute genius.
‘GREEK MYTHOLOGY BOOK’
‘The old replaced by the older…’
I haven’t even started writing this one yet- But its going to be another handwritten affair- and the plan is to do it in an artsy fashion, filling the story with allusions to greek mythology as well as having it occur on two separate dates, fifty years apart, at the same time. It’s going to be a challenge to write and if I pull it off it may well be a corker. If it fails… Well let’s not talk about that.
But already I’ve had problems. I was planning to use something as a sort of stymphalian bird. But the problem is the image of the bird I wanted to use has been inexplicably trademarked by a certain who already used it on a badge AND they already had the badge trademarked- It’s not something that should be trademarked, in my opinion, as it has been around in some form or other since at least the middle ages. From what I’ve discovered this trademark was instigated in 2010 and whilst the bird itself isn’t trademarked, its image is. This means the bird can’t be used on merchandise, logos, for ‘financial and insurance purposes’ or on printed material. I’m not sure what the ‘printed material’ includes- Although I know it means I probably won’t be able to use an image of the bird on the cover as I wanted, it might also mean I can’t include the bird in the book, full stop. I’d have to describe it and by doing that it might breach the trademark. I need to look further into it, to see if I can use them or not, and whilst it would be cool if I can get the birds in there, if I can’t use them then I can’t use them. End of story.
Ok… Didn’t turn out as good as the Tom Hanks article but I hope you enjoyed this insider peek into my catalogue anyway.
I’m also currently on the lookout for questions (the more bizarre the better) so if you have one drop me a line through Twitter- It’s JPCrocks.
All released books (The Rebels + The three Dark Legend books,) are available through Amazon kindle store. See ‘releases’ tab above for future releases.