After a quiet dinner in Stone Mount, Dr John Basford, our guest, noticed a missing volume from my collection of B S Johnson novels. He gave me not only a copy of the missing work but an enthusiastic response to all the stories of Beneath Napoleon’s Hat, a collection of pieces set in the famous literary cafés of Paris. The final story, La Coupole, had won the Mentoring Prize at Writing East Midlands and also admiration from John. So began an exciting and splendid collaboration. John was determined to publish these stories as art objects in their own right. Each of the three volumes would be produced by Colleybooks.com on fine quality French paper specially imported from Paris, printed in a Twenties style font with a beautifully designed cover.
The first volume, Eagles without a Cliff, is ready.
Robert McAlmon, Bryher and H.D. are determinedly en route to Paris. Soon enough McAlmon will inhabit Le Dôme and Bricktop’s, Montmartre and Montparnasse, but first he must honour the conditions of his false marriage to Bryher and accommodate Hilda Doolittle (H.D.) his wife’s lover.
The Hotel de la Tour Eiffel in London served the purpose of a café. It was artistic enough to house Wyndham Lewis and his Vorticists and equally acceptable as an escape for McAlmon from the oppressive and controlled world of Audley Street and its master, the improbably wealthy Sir John Ellerman, his new father-in-law.
The complex psychology of Bryher, the ambivalent sexuality of H.D. and the hedonistic, self-destructive qualities of McAlmon make up the entangled relational triangle at the centre of these stories.
McAlmon will meet his hero James Joyce, the less heroic Ernest Hemingway, Djuna Barnes and so on — a who’s who of American expatriates passing through Paris. If this ‘Bunch’ are a part of a ‘Lost Generation’ as Gertrude Stein declared (she was there as well) then it is McAlmon who leads them astray.
Volume 2 A Black Violet will be published in March 2016.
Volume 3 Sylvia Beach and the Melancholy Jesus, La Coupole and others will be published in June 2016.
I met with Carole Blake of the Blake Friedman Agency on Saturday, March 28th, at the East Midland Writers’ Conference. ‘The Boy who made God smile’ had been awarded an Agent one-to-one. In our discussion Carole was most encouraging. She found the work colourful, with a strong narrative voice and picked out several passages for praise, some for their concision and one particular paragraph as an excellent example of ‘show not tell’. She liked the layering, the combination of cultures and the background of serious and contemporary themes. I was told afterwards that this was hard won praise. Henderson and Aimee were delighted.
My latest novel, ‘Patchwork – a story of Paris in the dark’ has been awarded a Critical Read at the Literary Consultancy. I have received a really helpful report from Michael Langan. I have woven together a number of narratives, as I did with ‘Godsmile’ and it has been difficult to unravel them. Last Sunday I think I succeeded. I have a final draft ready. I have sent it to a number of willing and suspecting readers.
I have been silent but far from idle these past months. The task of interweaving the three new narratives [each one almost as long as the original host] has been teasing and difficult. By the end of April, I began sending this new draft to friends for feedback and copy-editing. Most responses were splendid–full of kindly praise that a writer instinctively mistrusts at this stage of the work. There were few reservations concerning the writing so I had little to work with.
Anne stepped in and gave me plenty to think about. She also prepared a full copy edit for me. I dreaded pages full of red ink but she was reassuring: “I used an orange pen!” she declared.
We met on 30th of May to discuss the new format. It was a long and difficult meeting. By working separately on four disparate elements, it was inevitable that there would be repetition and moments of clumsiness in the overlapping stories. We decided there were too many characters and no one dominant narrative. Anne wanted me to offer her an ‘elevator pitch’–a one-liner that a Hollywood producer would only deign to listen to between floors in a shared lift. I couldn’t offer one. Not then.
For the next two months I ruthlessly realigned the novel. I removed the character of Anastasia (the crazy Russian painter with her constant accusation ‘You are Balzac!’ I liked her) and The Presence (the dark and brooding voice beneath the stairs. I liked her as well.) I blurred two other characters into one and gave the anger of The Presence to the character Rita, to strengthen her personality. I added back-stories to all of the Sarnhi family and used ‘silk’ as an actual and metaphorical means of binding the story together. I found ways of making Maddy more likeable.
When you change a novella into a novel, the sharp and rapid techniques to present characters and places before moving on needed in the former, are unnecessary in the latter. Lunasha was one paragraph in the original story, now, as Anne suggested, she could be a novel all by herself.
By the end of July, somewhat exhausted, I was ready to be read. I sent the new draft to Anne. She responded quickly and reassuringly: ‘I’m well into the revised ‘Godsmile’ and I’m really enjoying it–you’ve done an excellent job on what I’ve read so far, very well done! No wonder you feel drained, you have performed major surgery but it has made all the difference.’
We met on the 25th of July and apart from a few ‘tiny’ details we felt we were finished.
We decided to enlist the help of Henderson Mullin, the CEO of Writing East Midlands, for advice on what to do next but first, he must read the book. I made one more edit and sent off the final copy in late August.
‘The Boy who made God smile’ began as a 32,000-word novella. It was now an 85,000-word novel. I do have an elevator pitch. ‘The Boy who made God smile’ is the story of three generations of a silk family whose business and influence spread from Birmingham to Bangalore.’
We were to meet Henderson at the Galleries of Justice in Nottingham on October 15th. Jaqueline Gabbitas, who has also been supporting us, couldn’t be there but were to meet up later.
Henderson really enjoyed the novel. He described ‘The Boy who made God smile’ as work of real quality. He congratulated Anne and myself on what we have achieved.He has taken over the role of marketing the novel and now I wait for the next and most exciting phase. Will the agents and publishers enjoy what we have made as much as we have enjoyed the making?
I met with Anne Zouroudi this weekend for our first official meeting in our mentoring process. We are making good progress. The minutes of our meeting follow:
WEM Mentoring Scheme Update
25th November 2013
Following an informal meeting in October, Garry and I agreed the manuscript we will work on is ‘The Boy Who Made God Smile’. Though the version I read was short, it’s a beautifully written tale of a young boy in India, and has all the ingredients of commercial appeal – originality, human interest, an exotic setting – which we’re hoping will give Garry the breakthrough he deserves.
Prior to our meeting on 25/11/13, Garry had rewritten the opening of the book which is now much stronger.
Our overall game-plan is as follows:
– Develop a strong sub-plot to give one of the most intriguing characters, Lunasha, a full character-arc and a positive outcome to her story
– Develop the main plot to resolve the central issue of the grandfather’s illness and the choice he has to make: life or death
– Develop the role of Jack within the narrative to add intrigue to the storyline and bring out the theme of godliness and corruption
– Develop the supporting characters, fleshing out especially the young boy’s relationship to his mother and father, and the father’s relationship to his own father
This work taken together should naturally increase the word-count from where the original stood (around 30k) to a full-length novel of between 70k and 100k words.
Garry has already begun work on the Lunasha sub-plot with extremely promising results. We agreed that he should continue on the sub-plot with the aim of completing it by the new year when we plan to meet again.
I have however stressed that this deadline is moveable as we are looking for quality rather than speed.
We agreed the next task would be to talk through the development of the main plot.
I have also suggested Garry read as much as he can from the fiction best-seller lists to gauge current tastes and what publishers are buying.
All in all, I’m feeling very positive about how the novel is developing and am looking forward to reading more.
G J Martin’s second novel, Cling, is now available as an eBook on Amazon. Priced at £2.59 (inc VAT) the book can be bought here.
I have received this email from Aimee Wilkinson, Writer Development Manager at Writing East Midlands and my new best friend.
I am delighted to tell you that you have been successful in your application for the Writing East Midlands mentoring scheme. It was a very difficult decision for us, the quality of writing submitted was incredibly high and competition was tough, therefore it is no small achievement that you have been chosen for this partnership and I would like to congratulate you for achieving this.We feel that your work shows great promise, talent and depth of imagination and we would love to help you achieve your goals of refining your work for publication.’
Aimee has asked to read ‘Beneath Napoleon’s Hat’ and ‘Paris in the Dark’ – my latest two books – and will work with me to find a suitable mentor who can guide my writing career for the next twelve months.
What an opportunity.
Italo Calvino’s novel ‘If On a Winter’s Night a Traveller’ is fascinating. Each chapter restarts the same lost book with a totally different cast of characters. I thought I’d offer something similar for these autumn nights, a few paragraphs from the books I hope to develop for publication in the future. The first is called:
A Story of Love and Gravity
I knew she’d be here. I just knew it. She would have to be late and slip amongst the people unnoticed then watch from a corner. That would be her style. I wonder if Laurie’s noticed her yet. I bet he’s been looking out for her as much as I have. We’d both deny it, I’m sure. We’d feign surprise at the very thought. How old is she now? Twenty-three. It’s six years almost exactly since I first saw her. She was at the end of the first year of Sixth Form then. She was seventeen.
“Hello again,” I say.
“You look really well.”
She doesn’t look healthy but she looks interesting. It’s hard to describe her effect. She isn’t tall but seems it; she isn’t pretty but you feel she must be because she is so attractive. There is a beauty about her, but nothing that is traditional. She is oddly old-fashioned, something from the Thirties. She is skinny and her facial bones are angular. Her brown eyes shine but their surrounds are grey from little sleep. Her hair is a fashionable mess: careless and scruffy, longish but clean. She has a habit of redirecting it around her head as if it were liquid, adjusting its flow with a comb of fingers. The act takes effort, as if the hair was leaden. All I know she is wearing is an ankle length overcoat. It is expensive camel hair, possibly vicuna or cashmere. It hangs elegantly. She wears it like an evening dress. So far, she hasn’t taken her hands out of her pockets. She looks annoyed, bunching her coat into a pile as she joins her pocketed hands across her stomach.
“Do I know you?”
In my youth, to be an artist was a liability. Now it is an asset. My contemporaries recognize the sense of purpose and driven need all my tribe and I have to re-create the world in words and images. They see it gives value to our days.
To Weave a Rainbow explores the difficulties and frustrations that confront a young man with a poetic soul who hoped the world might be as beautiful in truth as it was in his imagination. It is very much a first novel, a young man’s work. It is based in London and examines my first sightings of the adult world of work. I was disappointed even though this was the London of the late sixties and early seventies and to be there at that time was magnificent. I believe I saw London at its finest.
I assumed the years of my education were cocooned, an idyll protected and distanced from the actual world of getting and spending: The City, Business, and Money. There were no quaint little Personal Computers then. Giant mainframes took whole office-block floors for themselves and whirred their importance to the world. But not to me.
This entwined structure of government and commerce seemed islanded and remote from a life that could be significant.
Dan is based on my friend Angus. Sadly, he has already died but I remember vividly the day when, after a long absence abroad, he burst into the room and smacked a hugely annotated copy of To Weave a Rainbow onto the table and announced: ‘You wrote it down. What we said. You wrote it all down.’
The novel is full of talk. Young men are trying to understand the world and their place in it. It is a beginning.
I have come to believe that mine was the first generation that could actually choose when to have a family. The accident of conception was lessened by the advent of clever birth control and the growing independence of women meant that their careers and choices had to be accommodated by the once all-powerful men.
I became a father a year or so either side of forty. My wife was a prima gravida and her pregnancies were treated with great care. It was a risk for her to have waited so long. My children have been a life-long delight. I would stress that. The difficulty and torment that confronts Jessica in Like a Fat Gold Watch is a fictional creation entirely.
The novel began as the outline for a play called The Mother. It was to be a companion piece to Strindberg’s The Father. Later I turned some of the ideas into a novel and, after encouragement by more than one agent, I expanded the book into a trilogy called Song of the Mother. Later, when Crimes of Obedience was taken up by an agency, I worked for several years shedding 150,00 precious words to create Like a Fat Gold Watch. I know the characters so well, I think, because I have a secret, much more extensive knowledge of their fictional lives elsewhere.
I began my work, questioning the validity of the maternal instinct by studying psychological and anthropological texts, particularly The Mountain People by Colin Turnbull. Amongst the Ik people this fabled instinct had vanished, overwhelmed by the need to survive. Postnatal depression was another area of study. It is devastating and clearly, Jessica suffers from this debilitating disease.
On 14th September 2013, the long awaited G J Martin novel Like A Fat Gold Watch finally became available as an eBook on Amazon. Priced an incredibly competitive £2.47 (inc VAT) the author commented:
‘I am delighted to publish Like A Fat Gold Watch. I am hoping it will fly off the shelves! More to come!’