Monday, 3 April 2017

Voss - The Price of Innocence, Manuscript Assessment

A few weeks ago I received the following from Merlene Fawdry, the editor who worked wonders with my novel Kundela. Reading this again made me feel a little chuffed and for aspiring writers an assessment like this is gold.

The manuscript has now had a copy edit and several proof reads, all it needs now is a publisher.

Wish me luck


Manuscript: Voss
Author: Terry L Probert
Genre: Crime
Word Count: Approx. 57,000
Date: 18 January 2015
Editor: Merlene Fawdry

The story is built on layers of intrigue that make it a compelling read. The quality of the writing is high and shows a crafting of all elements that make a complete whole. There are some areas requiring attention and these are listed under the relevant categories below.
Story Concept
This is a solid crime story that follows a series of murders through from detection to resolution. Along the way the lawmaker becomes a suspect law breaker, when a perceived conflict of interest is detected, sidelining him from the case. Determined to prove his innocence and bring the killer to justice he works behind the scenes with a reclaimed dropout from society, 
The plot has sufficient conflict and resolution, with carefully crafted rising action woven as subplots throughout the chapters, to keep the reader interested from first page to last. Most importantly, it is realistic and believable.

The characters are well developed, some more than others, with most evoking emotional responses from the reader. Although stereotypical to some degree, in terms of the setting, they manage to retain their own sense of uniqueness that is required to set this story apart from others in this genre. I have some difficulty with the relationship between Una and Voss. At times this is inappropriately flirty, considering their rank, even though they go back a long way. You get it right when he states he sees her as more of a sister and it would work better if she responded with this parameter. Consider revising last para on P 150.

There is a clear beginning, middle and end, with each component serving the story as a whole. It has a strong opening, which is well written, graphic and enticing to the reader. The middle, which is most of the book, is a marvel of plots and subplots that are believable and all relevant to the bigger picture.  The end, when it comes, is surprising, yet believable and satisfactory to the reader. Another strength of this ending is the sympathy and understanding it invoked in the reader. Well done.

Point of View
The first person POV is consistent throughout. It works well to give immediacy to the story while allowing the reader insight into the protagonist’s thought processes and actions. We hear Voss’s voice loud and clear and this helps the reader in the knowing of the man.

The plot move at a pace fast enough to grasp and maintain the reader’s interest. There are a couple of places where it flags a bit due to a deviation from the story line and these are mentioned below.

Chaptering has been masterfully done, finishing each with satisfaction for the reader while propelling the reader into the next chapter.

The use of language is fresh and appropriate to the characters or narrator most of the time, the dialogue is realistic and immediate and research into the subject adds authenticity to word choices.
 An example of ambiguity:
I dumped everything into my brief case and started to unplug the laptop.
‘Leave that and your car keys. I’ll need this for somewhere to drop in to check up on things and I’ll use your car too, at least until you get back.’ She turned and I opened the door for her. She leant in and whispered to me, ‘That’s if you do get back.’ And not for the first time, I watched Una Knight leave my office.
I’m not sure what this means or even why she would need to use his laptop and car when she would have her own. If her taking these things is important to the story then there needs to be a disclaimer in there somewhere, like maybe her own car is out of action – going in for a service or repairs and she’ll use his to save requisitioning another one from the pool her use. You would also need to have a concrete and believable reason for her to use his laptop instead of her own.

Fictional Dream
Writer and teacher John Gardner had a concept he called the fictional dream, which was the idea that fiction does its job by creating a dream state for the reader, and as long as the writer is doing a good job of maintaining that dream state, the reader won't "wake up" from it and will continue to read and believe in the fictional world the writer has created. Gardner argues that this fictional dream first happens in the writer's head, and the writer's job is to write it down for the reader.
I felt the Fictional Dream was established early in this work and maintained throughout through fast paced plotting and use of language to create imagery to enable the reader to step inside the story. Areas that detract from this are mentioned below.

Distractions and issues
A distraction for me was in the selection of names that dated the characters, giving the impression that either they, or the work itself, were older than intended. One older name might slip past the reader, conjuring an image of parents thinking outside the box or using a family name. Use too many, and the work and the writer become dated. Older names in this category include: Una, Baz (Barrie- even the spelling doesn’t save this one), Gerry (Roger), Ronald, Marion, Dulce, while names that work for this contemporary story are Estelle, Gabby, Lucy, Tamsyn, Patrice, Brigitte, Steph etc. and all the ethnic names, with Tony and Peter just scraping through.
I took on board your desire to keep her name and have taken the following approach on P21:
‘For Christ’s sake, Voss. I must have told you to call me Una, a hundred times.’
‘But these days, you’re my superior ma’am.’ Besides, I didn’t really like the name. It reminded me of a fusty great aunt and this Una was anything but. I remember her telling me once her parents choose the name for it for its Gaelic meaning, “she knows”, well they got that right. Someone just forgot to add “it all’ on the end of it.
When building characters, once their age has been established, one tip is to research names used in their year of birth and choose from these. This adds authenticity to the work, while not placing the writer into a particular age demographic. This can be quite challenging at times for the older writer as using contemporary names that we aren’t used to hearing can take us out of our comfort zone.
Regarding Gerry, apart from his name which puts him in the 60 + age range, I recommend you revisit a number of facts about this character.
  1. If he had been living for several years as a homeless person with a penchant for drink, his habits would be established and it would be virtually impossible to make the rapid and almost seamless transition back to the world of the living.

    ‘Don’t you ever want your old life back?’ I had heard about him once in a police economics lecture, a bloke who’d had it all. An eighties entrepreneur who made it in property development. He’d ridden the crash out in the nineties, but the GFC smashed him. Seven years later and he’s living in my front yard.
  2. If he had a problem with drink then one assumes he is an alcoholic, then having alcohol around him in any form would be a recipe for disaster, before or after he moves in.
  3. Homeless people don’t live in suburban front gardens, particularly in the garden of a cop, as they usually hang closer to services for ease of access, so I think this needs to be reconsidered. A solution could be to have Voss living in a townhouse closer to the CBD or welfare service precinct.
  4. No cop would have a homeless person living in the front yard so to make this believable you’d need to establish a former relationship. This doesn’t need to be complex, maybe consider Gerry as a former cop before moving into the world of finance, perhaps someone who was at the academy at the same time.
There is a section, pages 53 – 56 which does nothing to progress the story and I wondered why it was in there at all. It didn’t work for me and I suspect any reader from the LBGT community may find it offensive, which I know is not your intention.
There is some confusion around Estelle’s will. If she was divorced from her husband and had a legal will naming beneficiaries then the order of death is academic.

Other recommendations
P 46 reference to Voss collecting ex pursuit cars. This crops up later with the mini and the subject of garaging the collection hasn’t been broached. Also the mini isn’t mentioned when first the garage is first referenced in relation to setting Gerry up in there. You could take care of this by mentioning storage elsewhere.
I went to the police garage. Eddie the manager knew I collected pursuit cars and kept me informed about anything special that was coming out of service. I’d have to pull back on this at some stage though as my storage unit was almost at capacity.
P 107
‘Thanks, I think I might slink over to Patrice, see how she’s doing.’ I put another twenty on the bar. ‘Order up boys or leave the barman a tip, up to you.’ They ordered drinks and Beach counted the change, they had enough for a couple more.
$20 probably wouldn’t buy a glass of water in this place so maybe increase this to a fifty.
All in all Terry, this is an exceedingly well crafted story that only requires minor tweaks before the final edit, although it is always your choice as to whether you accept the suggestions for change. I look forward to hearing your views.


18 Jan 2016

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Two Engagement Rings Don't Make A Marriage

I'm a good way into the edits of the follow up story to Kundela, in this passage Jeff Rankin one of the supporting characters has asked Tilly to marry him, but she has a problem with the engagement rings. Check it out as she chats with one of her friends.

‘What do you mean you have two rings?’ Angela said. ‘You sure you’re not being a bit greedy there, girl?’
‘Ah, it’s not that. I wanted us to find a jeweller and choose the one we liked, that’s all. I don’t want to seem ungrateful and I can’t favour one family over the other, but if I’m truthful, neither of these is me. Do you know what I’m getting at, or am I just being a bitch?’
‘If, I ever get the chance,’ Angela her nodded head toward Andy and rolled her eyes. ‘If ever I get asked, I’d want to pick my ring too. Either that or...’
Tilly took a ring from her pocket and dropped it into Angela’s open hand.
‘My god girl, look at those stones? Your problem is one I’d like to share.’ She slipped a ring onto her finger and stretched her arm out. ‘Uhmm, no not really my style either.’
Tilly passed her the other ring and said. ‘I know, after lunch Jeff asked Em if she wanted to look at Ted’s cattle, chooks and horses.’ Tilly looked around to make sure Jeff couldn’t hear her and whispered. ‘Ted and I were in his kitchen talking, you know, trying to get to know each other better. Well, Ted said he’d spent almost three month’s wages on this ring. Imagine that, sitting on a horse tailing along behind cattle for all that time and knowing when you got home, you’d blow all your wages on an engagement ring.’
‘Wow, a fair bit to put into a ring?’
‘That’s why it’s so hard, he said, he picked it out and all. Told me it was the best move he ever made.’ Tilly heard her own voice crackle with the images Ted’s story conveyed. ‘I saw tears in his eyes when he gave it to me. God, I don’t want to piss him off or Jeff either, but just I don’t like it.’
Angela was rotating Ted’s ring around in her fingers, letting the light catch the diamond. She gave it back and Tilly passed her the other one. This was older and made of rose gold. A smaller diamond, mounted high on white gold and ringed with rubies, its style came from another era.
‘They are ugly, aren’t they?’ Tilly said.

‘Yep, what does Jeff say?’

Saturday, 1 April 2017

A little bit from KUNDELA

To celebrate the finishing of my Detective Voss manuscript, I thought I'd like to share a little bit from my first novel Kundela. The setting is Port Augusta, at the cross roads from Pert to Sydney and Adelaide to Darwin. Regarded as the gateway to South Australia's outback Port Augusta has many attractions to interest the visitor.  
In this chapter Senior Constable Jeff Rankin has asked his superior about getting forensics to examine the remains of a dead steer clay panned (shot and dressed on its skin) on the Gillespie's property, Wanooka's Well. The sergeant has another plan.

Commended in the FAW Christina Stead Award 2013 
Kundela is available through the Kindle Store for less than $3.00 for another 2 weeks.

The Sergeant had stored an assortment of tools in the back of the patrol car earlier and now, with a frozen cow’s head riding alongside everything they needed, the two officers drove to the gliding club. Jeff unlocked the gate and swung it open, red dust powdered by the car’s wheels hung in the still mid-morning air as Jeff returned to the passenger seat.
‘What’ve you got planned?’
‘Watch and learn Jeffery boy. Watch and learn. When I was a kid, I was fishing out in the gulf and caught this big spider crab,’ He indicated its size by taking his hands from the steering wheel, stretching his arms across the width of the car, ‘My old grandad showed me how to keep it as a trophy and that’s what we’ll do with this one.’
Doug Simpson stopped the car and pointed to a bare patch of ground near a stand of acacias that defined a long established bull ant’s nest. He opened the boot and took out a toolbox. It contained a mix of spanners, knives, string, pliers and tape.
‘Here Jeff, put these shopping bags over your boots, use the rubber bands to seal them against your trousers. You won’t want any of those angry little buggers getting into your strides. I parked back a way, because I don’t want any of them riding back to the station with us.’
Jeff watched as his boss worked, setting up his bush laboratory. Ants reacted to the vibrations coming from movement near their nest and streamed out in angry lines, ready to attack the intruder. A deft hand sent the lid from a twenty-litre paint tin, frisbee style into the centre of the nest, stirring them up even more.
Jeff wondered what an onlooker would make of two police officers dancing around in the scrub. He looked at the ground, high stepping, trying to keep away from the insects, and then he worked it out. Studying his footprints in the sand more closely he yelled, ‘Modern day Kadaichi Man. That’s it Boss. Look at your footprints. They look the same as in the photos. Those buggers had their boots covered, but why? There was no ant nest close enough at the kill site.’
Doug unrolled his long shirtsleeves and, tucking them into the blue rubber gloves, placed the beast’s head onto the plastic lid. Battalions of soldier ants attacked, clambering onto the plastic protecting his shoes. Jeff burst out laughing as his boss danced and stamped his way back to the car, his jagged movements ensuring any remaining ants fell into the dry red dust, while he brushed at them savagely with his hand.
‘Now we have to protect it from eagles, foxes and crows. Pass me that old plastic rubbish bin and a few bits of wood’
Jeff stood back as Doug assembled his contraption. First, he placed the bin over the thawing head, then the woolpack Joe had given him to cover it last Friday and around the perimeter, he used the wood Jeff had collected to hold everything in place. Ants swarmed over Doug’s boots again, he started stamping and slapping at them, making sure none breeched his defences.
‘I should take a photo of you and put it up in the rec room,’ Jeff laughed.
‘After all I do for you. I don’t think so!’
Back at the car, Doug stripped off the plastic bags and pulled his trousers out of his socks, checking carefully to see if any ants remained on his clothing. Once satisfied he was ant-free, he removed his gloves, putting his and Jeff’s discarded protection into a zip-lock bag and sealing it.
A stop on our trip through the Oladdie Hills north of Orrooroo
searching for inspiration when writing Les Gillespies Gold
‘Now we can come back in a couple of weeks and they will have stripped that out, leaving any projectiles on the lid for us. What do you think?’
‘Should work I reckon. With those skills, you could have a bit of blackfella in you too.’

‘Don’t think so, mate.’

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Take 2

Rain and hail beats a heavy tune
Wind's fingers rip at the walls of my winter room
And like a heard of scalded banshee it just wails
I’m trying hard to force the words to flow
But my tiny chapter just won’t grow
Yesterday I had the muse that precious gift
But now today, I just don’t know.

Words that tempted me when I was young
Haunt me now like songs we’ve sung
Today every sentence I’ve written just fails
So I tap the keys time and time again
I read margin notes I’ve scratched with pen
Where is that story tellers gift I’m sure I had
And why today are my words so bad

A ray of sunshine tries to sneak through
But rain and wind wipe away my sky of blue
Write something else I say to me
A song a rhyme to find the flow
My advice for others if their words were slow
But what’s it worth, this advice for free
Looking out at an angry day of stormy sea

Hail and rain still beat their tune
And wind still rips away at my writer’s room
And like a hundred banshees still does wail
Still trying hard to force the flow
Words still fail and the chapter doesn’t grow
Yesterday I had my prize a writer’s gift

And yet today I’m lost I just don’t know

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Pining fo you

Gunna miss you Annie,
Gunna miss your smiles
Gunna feel your love shine through
Across those vacant miles
I saw your face reflected
In a great grandmother's tears
Happy happy tears.
We may have met but only once
And once again must do
So as you say goodbye
To Australia's shores
Our best wishes and lots of love
Go off to foreign shores with you.
Should you travel down to Cornwall
And walk among ancient stones
Look upon the names carved there
I'm sure you'll find a family name
or two there
It's where we our forefathers sailed from
where our genetics grew
So sing of your Australian links
When the flag of Australia's flown
With a foot in each hemisphere
You can call Australia home.
Gunna miss you Annie,
Gunna miss your smiles
Gunna feel your love shine through
Across those vacant miles
I saw your face reflected
In a great grandmother's tears
Happy happy tears.
We may have met but only once
And once again must do
So as you say goodbye
To Australia's shores
Our best wishes and lots of love
Go off to foreign shores with you.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

A little bit from Chapter 28 of Les Gillespie's Gold

Within minutes she had set up an office, arranged a colour printer for her suite, ordered paper and arranged a temp for tomorrow. She perused the menu and wine list and arranged for room service. It was time to open the picture files from Spoggy’s phone. Her own phone kept beeping with messages. She set it to, silent and decided to look at them later, but now the geologist in her wanted to study the samples she’d collected from the creek.
She rummaged in her case and found a pair of pantyhose. Out of habit she sniffed them and screwed up her nose, better to wreck a pair she had worn, rather than cut up a good pair. A coffee cup would serve as the repository to catch anything small and heavy that washed through her sieve. Sam didn’t know what to expect, semiprecious stones would be great, diamonds a possibility, but gold would be better. Sam stretched the stocking over the cup and secured it with a rubber band. Using a finger to create a void and poured in half of her sample. She sealed the bag and dropped it into her briefcase.
Room service arrived and the waiter steered in a tray. Sam slammed the briefcase shut, closed the screen on her laptop and washed her hands.
‘An experiment,’ She said when the waiter looked at the cup, ‘for my thesis. Prof says it’s easy, but I’m not so sure.’
‘Better you than me, I was too interested in girls to put much stock in study. Now look at me, nearly fifty and still waiting tables. It’s a good job that one of those girls said yes and made me get a steady job, eh.’ He laughed at his own joke. ‘Want me to set out, or are you right to manage it.’
‘Thank you, I’m fine, I’ll do it. And tell that lady of yours, she picked good, yeah.’

‘Thank you, Miss.’ He pointed to the phone, give the desk a ring and I’ll come back for the tray, or you can leave it outside the door if you don’t wish to be disturbed.’

Ode to the Flinders Ranges

CJ Dennis was a poet we studied at school and last weekend while in Laura I took a photo of his statue.

They were having a country music festival there and I'm sorry I missed it. However, this morning prompted by photos one of my friends had posted on Facebook, a poem started forming in my mind. It's still rough, but in recognition of the Sentimental Bloke, here is my ode to the Flinders Ranges.

For you CJ

I hear your hills a callin'
Callin' me back home
To see my friends and family
And stop this ache in my heart
When I feel sad and alone
So somebody please
Write me a letter
Send me a card Sing me a song
When I feel lost
And times are hard
I feel your pull
You are the mighty Flinders
Place of my birth,
I'll keep missing you
And your people so badly
Until that sweet day
I’m returned to your earth.