Julia Hughes - writing thrilling adventures - time after time after time.
Walking the dogs late last night, I met one of my son’s friends, he wanted to talk so we walked up to the village and back, while he poured out his troubles. Life was getting him down. It wasn’t just pressure of work, his latest girlfriend had been messaging him throughout the day, mainly with news of her family and the dramas they were currently experiencing. Although he’s only been dating her five days, he already knows all about the mother’s nervous breakdown, the brother’s run in with the police and her sister’s messy divorce.
He sighed heavily. 'I don't think we're right for each other.'
‘Why don’t you cool it for a couple of days?’ I advised, wanting to help but not wanting to get too involved.
‘Nah, that’ll just drag it out - I’ll tell her now.’ And he began composing a message on his phone, thumbs dancing over the tiny keyboard.
‘No - not like that - that’s really unkind go and see her ...’
‘Too late.’ And he walked forward with a spring in his step, chattering happily now about a course his employers were sending him on, a design for a tattoo, the speakers he wanted for his car, and other stuff close to a young man’s heart.
His phone starting beeping, as messages arrived. Standing under a street light he read them.
He nodded. ‘Oh god, she sounds really cut up. She says she’s crying her heart out, she doesn’t want me, she needs me.’
Even as he read message after message pinged in, all from her, all in the same ‘please I know we can make it work’ vein.
‘Oh god, what am I going to do?’ He really was miserable again.
‘Nothing you can do now. I told you not to dump her by phone.’ People sometimes call me hard when I’m realistic.
‘But she sounds so .... crazy! What if she commits suicide or something?’
I didn’t laugh, he sounded desperate himself.
He’d been dating her for five days, they were both barely out of their teens and already this young girl had invested all her hopes and dreams into a young man without even knowing what toothpaste he used for christsakes!
But I remembered when my own life revolved around someone else, and the agony of break up. All I could do was give him the same advice my mother had given me.
‘You’re not responsible for anybody else’s actions. You can’t force yourself to love someone, and you can’t make someone love you.’
Freewill. It’s the greatest gift of all. Use it wisely. And chose with care the people you depend on for your happiness.
Crombie’s Crocodillo is based on an idea by the late great Jack Bickham, who in addition in penning 75 novels, also found the time and generosity to share his knowledge of the craft with fellow authors. Amongst his “38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes (and how to avoid them)” is this:
“Don’t Drop Alligators Through the Transom”
An American friend was kind enough to translate, (actually he was duty bound having recommended the book to me) and I was delighted to discover that a "transom" is something we Brits call a "fanlight." Generally found in older houses, this is a small pane of glass above a door, intended to provide secondary light. Usually they’re so high up, they never get cleaned and just sit there collecting dust, and screaming at visitors: Yes the chatelaine of this house is a slut. I hate ‘em. And the thought of an alligator crashing through one is absolutely irresistible. Jack Bickham of course was making a completely valid point about introducing something quite unrelated to the story line, (a deus ex machina).
Apparently there are lots and lots of alligators in New York. Even more in Florida, but there aren’t that many in London; so surprise surprise! Our story begins with the circus coming to town.
This started out as a piece of flash fiction, promised it would stop at a short story now it’s grown enough to be called a novella - Crombie’s Crocodillo just keeps growin’ and growin’.
Although very much a work in progress, Chapter One is available to read now, and unsurprisingly owes more than a nod to the old style Ealing Studio Comedies, in my opinion. Click here to read Chapter One on Goodreads
‘I think Julia’s deeper than she seems.’ A mutual friend once confided in another friend. Who couldn’t wait to tell me of course. Over the years his off the cuff remark has by turns annoyed and amused me. If we’re wise, we only reveal our most innermost self to those we really trust. People you’ve known a lifetime will surprise with a hidden talent, or desire. Or shock you by confiding an episode they are deeply ashamed of. Any writer who wants to breathe life into their characters understands this. A pivotal chapter in ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ has Scout and Jem discovering that in addition to being ‘just’ a lawyer who can make a will watertight, their father is the deadliest shot in Maycomb County. This allows Jem at least to look at him in a new light.
The mutual friend has fallen by the wayside, so he’ll never know that yes, at the time I neutered a secret ambition that one day my writing would be read by someone other than English teachers. Neither can I hope in my wildest dreams to emulate Harper Lee’s genius, that doesn’t mean I can’t at least try, and have fun trying.
Part of the joy of reading is getting to know people, and what motivates them. Even when they act out of character, as J K Rowling’s Neville Longbottom does when he attempts to stop Harry Ron and Hermoine from risking their lives, we understand his actions.
With these examples before me, and leaning heavily on advice from Scott Morgan’s excellent “Character Development from the Inside Out”, I revisited my very first attempts at ‘real’ writing and felt emboldened enough to release it as a prequel. The first hint that there is more to Rhyllann Jones than a typical sports mad, girl obsessed mouthy teenager comes when he is forced to admit his secret hopes and dreams to Crombie, quietly chipping away at our hero’s facade of nonchalance and pretence. At this point too, Rhyllann is allowed to realise that Detective Inspector Crombie is even more dangerous and closer to the truth than he appears. Rhyllann’s cousin Wren is also hiding behind a public image. Rhyllann believes him to be hopelessly socially inept, his nicknames for Wren include ‘The Pubeless Wonder’ and ‘Prince of Geeks’, which goes to show you can know someone for a lifetime and not really know them. DI Crombie with more experience of life, and the games people play recognises Wren for what he is: A highly manipulative, accomplished liar. And those are just his good points! Joking aside, Wren has some redeeming features; even though those coincide with his own interests, he demonstrates ruthlessness whenever anyone he cares for is threatened. That Wren constantly uses Rhyllann’s diminutive, and Rhyllann sometimes addresses his cousin by the Welsh term for brother hopefully demonstrates their closeness.
Some characters only have minor parts; it’s impractical to allow their growth to develop naturally, essential as it is for an audience to grasp their function within a few lines without resorting to stereotypes. An author who has this down to a fine art is Stephen Spencer who creates believable cameos within a few sentences. Fans of Mr. Spencer’s ‘The Paul D Mallory Adventures’ will be nodding their heads in agreement. Just in case you haven’t yet already downloaded a sample, here’s Stephen’s description of a man whom it’s probably best not to know too much about:
From ‘It’s Always Darkest’:
‘“Leave it,” the man said, using the “familiar” form of the Russian imperative, as one would with a small child or animal. His voice was quiet, flat and cold as dry ice. It was not a voice that invited further discussion. ... The waitress bobbed her head once in quick assent, and took two careful steps back from the table before trusting herself to turn and walk away.’
Reading those lines, I marvelled at the young waitress’s self-possession. I would have run away, so vivid is the image of a dangerous persona.
It’s a truism; life and art imitate each other, to a greater or lesser extent depending on your skill at both. For some people, I’ll never be more than a walk on character, they won’t know ‘the real me’ only that which I (sometimes inadvertently) reveal. Hidden vices or virtues make even fictional people more human. And over time I’ve come to accept my mutual friend’s remark for what it was; a backhanded compliment.
Scott Morgan's 'Character Development from the Inside Out': Click here to sample or buy
Stephen Spencer's Paul D Mallory Adventures: 'It's Always Darkest' and 'The Devil You Say.'
(Click on titles to sample or purchase).
A Raucous Time is available on Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk for
Wren Prenderson; "A Ripple in Time" best hero.
"The Griffin Cryer" best Urban Fantasy. Thank you to the hard working judges and everyone who voted at the eFestival of Words, organised by Julie Dawson, of Bards & Sages.
A Raucous Time, A Ripple in Time, and The Griffin Cryer. Thank you to Julie and her hard working panel of judges and reviewers.
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