…Authors… stuff I learned from John Steinbeck, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, John O’Hara, Umberto Eco and others…

…as a young child growing up in 1950s Docklands Govan in Glasgow, my heroes were mainly cartoon characters from the black-and-white television programmes on offer from basically only two channels  – Auntie BBC and the Scottish Television arm of the Independent Television NetworkTop Cat, Yogi Bear, and Freddie Flintstone were foremost among these… moving into my teens and my own professional football playing days, the idols were Slim Jim Baxter of Glasgow Rangers, Dave Mackay of Hearts and latterly Tottenham Hotspur, and emb’dy who played for Manchester United… progressively, into my twenties and thirties, my inherent love of books led me toward literature, and some of the greatest novelists who ever manoeuvered a quill, pen or typewriter… of course, at school, exposure included the icons of the craft, the classic writers such as Dickens, Stevenson, Lamb, Burns and dozens more… little wonder, then, when the scribbling bug eventually snuck up, ambushed and kidnapped me, that I should have ample grounding in writing-style examples… not plagiarism, which I abhor whenever I see it, but the sense of emulation of the techniques the Literary Gods employed… by no means do I claim any parity in the quality they each produced, but at at least my desire is metaphorically to track their footsteps in the print trails… …fr’example, Steinbeck wrote such a host of work encompassing the early California hinterland experience that his books seem to interlap, becoming a ‘phalanx’ of his writing… Zafon, in his magnificent ‘Shadow of the Wind’, has his closing paragraph almost paraphrasing the opening sentences  in the story, ‘bookending’ his novel, so to speak, thereby producing a satisfactory narrative parenthesisO’Hara is the master of highs and lows of sentiment in continually mixing perceived triumph with defeat, emphasising  that both of these are really imposters, almost a la the timeless poem, ‘If’ by Kipling... Umberto Eco inspires amazing caricatures in his work, as if each player is handcrafted by the comic art genius of the model-maker, Guillermo Forchino and I LUVVED them all, and still do… fellow authors, what’s your take on who has impacted the approach to your writing?  see yeez later… LUV YEEZ!

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…where did ‘Jack Calder’ come from?…

…as with many of my author friends, I’m frequently asked if the characters in my Jack Calder crime thrillers are based on real-life people… the true answer for most of them lies sum’where ‘twixt ‘yes’ and ‘no’… however, for the main man, Jack, the ex-SAS officer, there does exist a gentleman… a true gentleman at that, and a man I’m pleased to call a friend, who fits most of his characteristics… he would not thank me for naming him, but he lives in my books almost precisely as I’ve seen him behave in civvy street many times… without pinpointing the location in which the following event happened, let me describe one incident which enthralled me at the time… ‘Jack’ as I will continue to use his pseudonym, was owed some money by a guy who belonged to the local Hell’s Angels chapter, and was slow to repay the debt, despite several polite, and then not-so-polite requests for its return… one evening, on a late Saturday night in Asia, the English Premier League football was showing on live television… some friends and I were watching the match in a local bar, in which there were also a bunch of the Hell’s Angels, including the debtor… the place was crowded… the bar door swung open, like a passage in a movie… framed in the doorway, the six foot, two inches of ‘Jack’ stood, dressed in his customary, black, muscle-bound T-shirt… he took his time to look  around… the place hushed quiet… only the sound of the television commentary was unusually clearly audible… he noted the bikers’ group and approached slowly, staring at the recalcitrant debtor… the group parted until ‘Jack’ came face to face with the man… wordlessly, he stretched out an arm and opened the guy’s jacket and removed his wallet from its inside pocket… he glanced from the man, to the group, to the wallet, and took whatever money was inside, then threw the wallet onto the bar… not a word was uttered during all of this… nobody moved a muscle, least of all the debtor… there were at least six of the Hell’s Angels present… not one of them budged even as much as an eyebrow… ‘Jack’ backed off one step, and turned his back on all of them before taking his time to walk to the door and left, without looking back… it was the darnedest thing I have ever seen that, dear readers, that is my man, Jack!… see yeez later… LUV YEEZ!

THE VIOLIN MANS LEGACY

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VENGEANCE WEARS BLACK

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SAVAGE PAYBACK

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KILLER CITY

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DEADLY IMPASSE

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…Tony McManus poses the question… Voluminous Volumes or Tiny Tomes?

…followers of this ‘ere blog will recognise my great pal, Author Tony McManus, who frequently drops by with interesting literary discussions for me to muse over… enjoy this latest epistle from the man :

IN PRAISE

OF

LEAN, MEAN THRILLERS 

Remember them? Those small, slim paperbacks your father and grandfather used to read. Novels with titles like No Orchids for Miss Blandish, Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon, Farewell, My Lovely. True page-turners they were that punched their weight and usually got the job done in less than 250 paperback pages from the pens of such writers as, James Hadley Chase, Earl Stanley Gardner, James M. Cain, Dashiell Hammet, Mickey Spillane, and the one and only, Raymond Chandler. These were hard-boiled thrillers, that Americans called ‘pocketbooks’. Novels that slipped easily into the inside pocket of your jacket to be read on your journey. These were the books and writers who started it all.

What happened to them? What happened to those lean, mean thrillers of yesteryear?

The good news is many are still in print. And most are now available in digital form on the internet. And you can find old copies when you go treasure hunting in used bookstores. Quite a number of them are lying on my bookshelf.

The bad news is, the writers are dead and gone, passed away. Another Raymond Chandler novel will never be written. The torch has been passed. New eras have begun.

Apart from anything else, modern thrillers have put on considerable weight. Like the human race, crime novels are getting obese. Mean they may be, but lean no more. And it’s not just the thrillers. The increasing flab seems endemic across the genres and even infects the ‘literary’, prize seeking, works. It’s especially evident in biographies.

Visit your local bookstore and look at the big, fat fiction books on the shelves. Look at the thickness of the spines, and ask yourself, as I do, what happened to brevity? Well, on the evidence it appears it’s no longer the soul of wit; it’s definitely out of favor. Wordiness is much in vogue.

Why is this? I don’t know. How? Let’s try to find out.

But before going further, let us concede that, as in everything, there are exceptions: Classics such as Middlemarch and War and Peace, immediately spring to mind along withThe Brothers Karamazov, Vanity Fair, Time and the River and many other works. And from more contemporary fair, James Jones’ From Here to Eternity, and the wonderful Shogun, James Clavell’s 1100 page masterpiece, the reading of which occupied my summer of 1974. And there are other excellent big novels that without doubt punched every bit of their weight.

So, I did a little checking. I took down some old books, lean mean thrillers all. Ian Fleming’s From Russia, With Love, and Diamonds are Forever, Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep and The High Window, Dashiell Hammet’s The Maltese Falcon, and Double Indemnity by James M. Cain. I paced these head to head beside newer works and made comparisons.

Printed in 1974, my copy of Ian Fleming’s From Russia, With Love is 41/2” x 7”. The novel’s word count is 77,865. It’s slim and fits easily in the jacket pocket.

Printed by Amazon in 2017, my own novel, The Sum of Things has a word count of 84,456. But, as Amazon doesn’t print 41/2” x 7” books, it is in 5” x 8” format. It’s longer, wider, and it’s a lot thicker than the Fleming book and won’t fit in your jacket pocket.

Fleming’s novel has 42 lines of text per page and is 208 pages long. My novel has 31 lines of text per page and is 385 pages in length. The font is larger and the space between the lines increased. They’ve increased the white space. They’ve also increased the page thickness. What about the writing?

Thickening the paper, raising the font size and increasing the line spacing will only give you so much. To really bulk up, one needs the writer’s involvement. Writers willing to overwrite and pad out their works, and editors who either don’t care or are more than willing to push authors into doing so.

I then compared the lean prose of the older books with David Balducci’s thrillers, Absolute Power, and Total Control. I must say that I enjoyed both those novels, though I felt at the time they were more than a little overweight. Absolute Power weighs in at 704 pages and 214,720 words. Total Control yields a whopping 720 pages 219,600 words. A sample of nine David Balducci stand-alone novels gives a mean average page length of 564 and a word count of 172,115 words. Big fat books indeed. Overwritten? I’d say so.

Scott Turow is a writer/lawyer of legal thrillers. His novels are notable for their courtroom duels of impressive drama. I enjoyed his first book Presumed Innocent immensely. I also liked his second novel, The Burden of Proof. He’s a fine author who knows his legal stuff and so he writes with skill about what he knows. But he overwrites. For him, I came up with an average of 477 pages and 141,615 words. Though the book was recommended to me, one of the things that put me off reading his novel The Laws of Our Fathers was the sheer size of it; 534 pages and 212,860 words.

It’s worth mentioning that Turow is a strong admirer the British writer, Graham Greene. Turow writes that Greene is the writer he long aspired to be. He feels that Greene’s novel, The Power and The Glory, is a novel he can’t live without. I read this book at school and I also became a Graham Greene fan. The Power and The Glory delivers the goods in 190 pages and 78,445 words. Lean and clean.

Tom Clancy was a high-tech windbag who overwrote and even padded out his work. I only read one of his, The Hunt for Red October. I saw the movie first then read the novel and enjoyed both. However, I felt the book at 656 pages and 200.080 words was seriously overblown.

Overwriting is not the province of bad writers. Some of the greatest writers have tended to do it. For many writers it comes with the territory; it’s natural, they can’t help it. It’s a chance to show off. Thomas Wolfe was such writer. The famed editor Maxwell Perkins fought hard with that brilliant and difficult man, and against the odds convinced Wolfe to cut 90,000 words from his epic, Look Homeward Angel, and in so doing, showed the importance of good editing.

Other writers reveal a keener affinity with brevity.

John Le Carre’s The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, launched his career and is in my view the finest spy thriller ever written. It’s done in 240 pages and 60,900 words.

That chilling and, unforgettable novel, Graham Greene’s The Quiet American, delivers the goods in 180 pages and 58,145 words.

The mean average for Raymond Chandler’s seven novels yields 268 pages and 80,580 words.

James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity: 115 pages 35,075 words; a novella.

   Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon: 217 pages 62,205words.

In classic thrillers, Stevenson’s Treasure Island takes just 156 pages and 47, 580 words.

Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, 140 pages and 53,940 words.

And though not a thriller, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is a brilliant fast read at 180 pages and 54,900 words.

But, one may ask, if the overwriting is well done, should we mind? Well, since word inflation and padding run counter to the writer’s golden rule, make every word count, I feel we should mind. And that’s where editors come in. Or should come in.

So what happened to editing?

I recently read a handful of thrillers authored by Lee Child. Child is a heavy hitter, scoring over 70,000,000 sales worldwide. Seeking a new thriller writing experience, I got into him. I have to say I was expecting a new Elmore Leonard or Raymond Chandler. What I got was a shock. I was appalled at the banality of it, and the lack of editing. (see my blog, ‘Good Writing, Bad Writing and Market Forces’). Apart from anything else, Child seriously overwrites and in a crude, clumsy way. He is on record as saying that his publishing house editors are reluctant to show him their notes. “They’re afraid to piss me off,” he said. That should not be the case.

To my mind, publishing house editors have become little more than cyphers today, employees who punch a time-clock, put in a shift and do as they’re told. And as today’s authors use word processors and online editing software, manuscripts should arrive on editor’s desks in a pretty clean state. So, armed with modern computer tools, copy editing seems to be little more than a walk in the park.

The more thorough, substantive or comprehensive editing, seems to be a thing of the past. It’s time-consuming and expensive. It demands greater effort, more involvement. It requires imagination. Publishing houses today possibly feel it’s a luxury they can’t afford. But it’s substantive editing that cuts most of the flab.

The days of Maxwell Perkins are over. He was the editor who discovered and nurtured. F. Scott Fitzgerald. It was under his disciplined guidance that Fitzgerald gave us The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night. Through Fitzgerald, Perkins met and worked with Ernest Hemingway and together they made history. Hemingway honored him by dedicating his Nobel Prize-winning novella, The Old Man and the Sea to Max Perkins. Perkins discovered James Jones and that association resulted in the novel, From Here to Eternity, and made Jones rich and famous. Such editors function as a writer’s coach and guide, teammate and even friend. And it has to be every writer’s dream to find such an editor.

But this becomes irrelevant if publishers decide that it’s big thick books they want. They call the shots. Remember this. When you buy a book, you naturally feel it’s the author’s creation; it’s not. It’s a publishing house product. It may be that the author doesn’t like the title. He or she may not like the cover artwork. The same goes for its bulk. The big books are a marketing ploy, editorial considerations are cast aside.

I’ve concluded that the ‘fat book’ syndrome commenced in America. And I find it rather apt that publishers in the land of big servings of fast food should believe, and encourage the public, that bigger is better. I gather they like to see their big shiny hardbacks in the windows and on the display tables of high-end bookshops. I once read that Ian Fleming would have difficulty getting published today on account of his lean, come to the point style. Today he’d be more or less forced to inflate. And so it goes.

But do we need these crimes against brevity? Do we need massive doorstoppers? I don’t believe we do.

Tony McManus was born in Manchester, England. He resides alternately in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

He can be found at: http://downeastern.wix.com/tonymcmanuswriter Or via his email: downeastern@hotmail.com

He has recently published: The Sum of Things,Book #1 in a new thriller series.

He is also the author of a novel: The Iran Deception.

And a short story compilation: Down and Out in the Big Mango.

He has just finished a new novel A Bangkok Interlude, the first book in a series featuring sleuth Mike Villiers.

…thanks, again, Tony… see yeez later… LUV YEEZ!

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…’Michael Row The Boat Upside Down!’…

…it was all of at least 50 years or so ago, but it’s amazing how the mind can re-conjure with precision the whole event… at the time I worked and lived in Tobermory, on the beautiful Hebridean island of Mull… I had been here just long enuff to acquire sufficient fluency in the Scottish Gaelic language that still prevails there… my singing prowess fortunately married my ability in the language, and I became  a bit of a ‘circuit ceilidh’ singer… one weekend, a ceilidh invitation came to go across the water to Oban for a ceilidh in the town… accompanying me were Joanie and Fiona Mackenzie, possessors of angelic voices (even to this day) and both with astonishing ability to harmonise beautifully with any song in English or in Gaelic…and their father, the master of Scottish fiddle music, Pibroch Mackenzie... of course, it was on a weekend, so it wasn’t necessary to get leave from the Clydesdale Bank where I was a Trainee Financial Master of the Universe… the Saturday night performance went well, and the next day, Sunday, dawned into a vicious storm with a howling gale… the usual Sunday schedule for the large MacBraynes ferry, the  M.V.Columba, was cancelled… so what to do? I had to get back to Mull for work on Monday morning… we knew that the small motor launch that took the Sunday newspapers from Oban across to the island would prob’ly run, as it was skippered by the legendary Cailleach Spencer, an aging seadog of a lady for whom tempests held no fear…  we managed to persuade her to take us with her on the paper run… also in attendance was the Lady Maclean, the wife of Lord Maclean... she had been in Oban attending a gathering of the Red Cross for which she was the president in Scotland… she wanted to get back home to Mull and her husband in their castle at Duart that Sunday also… the resultant trip will stay in my mem’ry forever… Pibroch, Lady McLean the two girls and myself were seated in the rear of this 20-foot long vessel, in a small cabin, over which Cailleach Spencer threw a tarpaulin to keep out the excess sea spray… and it was needed!…

…the trip across normally takes around 45 minutes… the crossing that Sunday lasted three and a half hours… after the first few minutes ,. the motor launch edged out past the shelter of the Oban harbour and the weather hit us full on… the waves were crashing like thunder rolls on the roof of the cabin… up front, our undaunted skipper was alone, steering the boat toward her destination… imagine being on a giant roller coaster for three hours, and not seeing the world around you… our stomachs flayed around from our toes to our skulls… it was beyond scary, and a journey I would never knowingly undertake ever again… but we were in it, and had to deal with it… we started to sing, to try to keep our spirits up… and even changed the words of the song to ‘Michael Row The Boat Upside Down!’... after what seemed like an eternity, we docked at the pier in Craignure, and stumbled ashore, jelly-legged, and high with the adrenaline of gratitude… the next day, while working in the bank, a messenger arrived and delivered to me a personal handwritten letter from the Lord Maclean, thanking me and the girls for our courage and for having kept the Lady Maclean from devolving into total panic… little did he understand, we did it because we too were absolutely terrified… to this day, I don’t like being on anything other than calm waters when I’m afloat… see yeez later… LUV YEEZ!

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…the first singing performance I ever witnessed…

… at this distance in time, I now understand that I was listening to a gloriously-full First Tenor voice… completely unaccompanied by any musical instrument, the notes rose in perfect resonance in the amphitheatre… the melody a familiar song, born of the trials and tribulations of generations of good, honest, hard-working folk… the history of their struggles encapsulated in the vocalist’s rendering… a setting known to thousands of immigrants in the slum cities of Scotland and elsewhere in the UK — the backcourt tenements where we lived in Docklands, Govan in Glasgow, my birthplace…

…the grey, granite buildings carried the echoes of the singer’s efforts upward toward the smoking chimneystacks…  and penetrated into the small, cramped living spaces on each of the three- or four-storey levels in our block… clad not in operatic nor theatrical clothing, but dressed in factory-floor dungarees, under a light raincoat, with a belt tied at the front rather than with a long-since-lost buckle… the sleeves and the shoes were ragged, well past their ‘use-by’ date… the busker, to my child’s eyes could have been a hundred years old, but was in fact only in his late twenties or early thirties… his delivery of ‘Danny Boy’, ‘I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen’, and other favourites was greeted before long with the opening of the tenement windows, and the sporadic tossing down of a penny or two, wrapped in a bit of newspaper to keep the money directed toward the man… strangely, I have the strongest memory of his picking up the offered donations only after he had finished each song, and not while he sang… and forever, I have the enduring sense that he was not begging, although heaven knows, he needed cash for his family to survive like many others in those times,… no, he was not begging… he was offering a service… his solo entertainment a welcome interlude in that humble, communal, post-war existence… he deserved every penny he collected… and I’m still grateful for the fond recollection of his voice… you see, that man was my father… see yeez later… LUV YEEZ!

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…seriously, would you buy a used bank from this man?

…the Passage of Time is a great distortionist… this mug shot above of Master Gallacher, in my prime as a Fully-Fledged Master of the Financial Universe was captured around 35 years ago… a generation away… a lifetime for some… and yet, it seems so recent… how skillful the mind tricks that can visit me… I was the Chief Trader and Treasurer for a financial institution in Hong Kong, called Wardley Limited… the merchant banking arm at the time of what was the mighty Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corporation… since then Wardley has morphed into ‘HSBC Investment Asia Holdings Limited’, while the parent has seen its glorious monicker contract into a rather paltry, ‘HSBC’… liquidity sloshed around the Asian markets then in billions rather than millions of dollars…

…it was an exciting and fun period… changes in appearance have been made not only to Wardley and HSBC but also to my own image… gone is the Zapata mustache… gone is the Beatles-style of top hair… chameleonised from the dark thatch to a somewhat lighter crop (but still there in full!)… the sharp, always white shirt, replaced with more modern-coloured attire, and who would ever wear so thin a necktie nowadays?… the pinkie-finger ring, a memento of my time at Harvard’s Advanced Management Program (not-so-subtle name-drop, there!) has found another place to hide… spectacles now adorn the bridge of my nose, a result not of creeping age, but of a naughty attack of shingles on my face and left eye earlier this year… oh, yes. and please note that instrument I’m holding… with its strange, black, twisty cord protruding from the bottom of it… a real landline telephone… a collector’s item prob’ly these days… the pinstripe suit has been replaced with a succession of less ‘in-yer-face-financier’ garb… but observe the earnest, honest stare from these eyes… seriously, would you buy a used bank from this man?… see yeez later… LUV YEEZ!

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…Glasgow’s Kelvin River water flow, Bahrain Pharmacy business and desalination… unlikely links?…

…I never cease to be amazed at the wonderful ‘coincidences’ that march across our lives… my separate personae of businessman and writer/author/blogger sometimes get together to produce ‘Wow!’ moments… yesterday delivered one such confluence… I met with a fine Bahraini gentleman, Dr. Abdulmajeed Ali Alawadhi, who is a Board Member and Chief Executive Officer of a prominent local group, Bahrain Pharmacy… my purpose was to interview him about some other business relationship in Bahrain… but our conversation soon turned to his early days in the 1970s, when he was studying for his Masters Degree in my own home city of Glasgow… many young men and women from the Middle East over the years have chosen Scotland as their preferred destination for higher learning… Abdulmajeed pursued his degree in Mechanical Engineering, and rejoiced under the tutelage and guidance of one of science’s unsung heroes – Professor R.S.Silver… Professor Silver was a leading pioneer in the evolving area of water desalination and his name appears all over Google in that field… however, the personal linkage with Abdulmajeed is remarkable… apparently, Professor Silver was a gifted teacher and would give his class individual projects that encouraged them to think and develop their own minds… he tasked Abdulmajeed to find out how much volume of water flowed daily in the River Kelvin, nearby the university… a daunting challenge… the young Bahraini was undeterred… he went immediately to the bridge alongside the Kelvin, equipped with string, stones and a floating plastic ball…

…with the stone tied to the bottom of the string, he measured the depth at various places in the river, thereby charting the riverbed geography and parabola… next, the floating ball thrown into the water moved at a certain speed along the surface, allowing Abdulmajeed to calculate how much volume moved from A to B in a certain time span… he finished the exercise and his calculations around 5 .oo pm and, excited, ran all the way back to the university, hoping that Professor Silver would still be at his classroom desk… he was there, and the young scientist/engineer shared his results with the great man…

…the next morning, in front of the other students in the class, the findings were revealed and praise showered upon his student… even while Abdulmajeed was telling me the story yesterday, I was projected back into that classroom with him, and could feel the everlasting wonder, pride, and delight at having solved his first assignment so well… as the saying goes, a lot of a water has flowed under the bridge since then… but the tale lives on… see yeez later.. LUV YEEZ!

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