How I Wrote: The Paris Ripper

How I Wrote: The Paris Ripper

The Paris Ripper is a crime novel set in the 1930s. It features Chief Inspector Belmont and his squad from the Judiciary Police. Belmont’s milieu is one hardened by the Great War and made desperate by the depression. His Paris is teetering on the edge of civil war while, unknowingly, counting down to the German occupation.

This book emerged from a completely different novel. After my first book, Salazar, was published in 2103, I got the idea I should storm through the first drafts of future books. Write fast and don’t look back until the edits. After-all, the first draft is not meant for human consumption.

A draft of Salazar #2 was finished in short measure. Leaving that to dry, I moved straight on to Salazar #3. When that was complete I returned to work on #2. But I didn’t like what I found.

With Salazar #2 failing muster, Salazar #3 seemed destined to rot on the vine. However, where the previous books had been written from the first person point-of-view, #3 wasn’t. Although centred on Salazar there were large sections focused on Chief Inspector Belmont. Why not, I wondered, give Belmont the lead role?

Extracting Salazar meant gutting the text. The book which became The Paris Ripper bares only a superficial resemblance to Salazar #3. Sergeants, who’d been loitering around the Quai des Orfevres for dramatic effect, now wanted names and home lives. And I wanted good cops and bad cops and for it to sometimes be hard to tell which were which.

The Paris Ripper – out now

I had a main plot line from the original text. Nothing else. The void had been filled by Salazar’s personality. Belmont didn’t have a personality beyond being a foil for Salazar. I needed to flesh him out with a back story and to find a way to bring that story to life. What would it be like, I wondered, if the Chief Inspector had a promiscuous wife? And why would she be that way? So Madame Belmont was born, giving Belmont something to think about outside of the office.

With a working first draft, I began editing. Instead of looking for poor sentences and badly constructed paragraphs, I decided to edit from the point of view of the main/medium players. Sergeant Gracianette, for example, got his own edit. I concentrated on the scenes where he played a part and skipped the rest. It helped define a consistency to his speech, his actions and his desires. This process revealed one or two characters who served no purpose. I either amalgamated them with an existing character or eliminated them.

After the character edits I found myself asking: why is Sergeant Jouvin doing this, why is Inspector Tabaraut doing that? It wasn’t that these characters were dictating what they should do, it was that certain actions were out of character. People do behave out of character, it’s why we might overhear someone say: ‘that’s not like him at all, he never normally eats apples for breakfast, I wonder what’s gotten into him?’ However, out of character acts should happen for a reason and not because one character has been poorly amalgamated with another.

The character edits were single sweeps through the text. The general edits were Sisyphus pushing his rock up the mountain. I’d print out a chapter and go over it again and again until I was happy, then move on to the next. When I reached the end of the book I returned to the beginning.

I eventually reached the point where I could read the whole novel and not make more than a few changes. (I believe it might be impossible to read your own work without, at least once, reaching for a red pen). At this point, I sent the text out for some feedback. The advice I received was incredibly useful: tighten it up here, lose the Americanisms, if you swap the last two chapters around you’ll get a more dynamic ending.

Finally, I sent the manuscript out on submission. A new crime-focused publisher, 280 Steps, liked what they saw. As a result, The Paris Ripper will be released on Feb 18th 2016 as an eBook and paperback. Available from Amazon and your local bookshop (if you ask them nicely).

Salazar will be re-released, by 280 Steps, this autumn. It will be followed by Salazar #2: A Dead American in Paris, later in the year.


Belmont #1: The Paris Ripper, paperback version

Belmont #1: The Paris Ripper, eBook version

Advertisements
Posted in 280 Steps, British Crime, Chief Inspector Belmont, French Crime, French History, Harry Hole, Historical Crime, Kindle, Maigret, Paris, Research, Salazar, The Paris Ripper, Writing, Writing Fiction, Writing targets | Leave a comment

Perpetual Movement

Belmont #1, The Paris Ripper, is released tomorrow, Thursday 18th Feb. Currently, I’m nearing the end of the first draft of Belmont #2 (working title: The Beast with a Human Face). That probably won’t see the light of day until this time next year. Writing/publishing is a slow process.

I’ve never been a slow person, I’m the guy in the waiting room whose leg is twitching up and down. Because of this I’d had a tendency to rush at writing: don’t let it simmer, turn the heat up high and eat it now. Only the flavour comes out when you let it simmer. Actually, what am I talking about?

I slowed things down when writing The Ripper and I’ve slowed them further for #2. I had a very fixed idea of how I wanted this book to feel, so I went over the first chapter until I got close to that feeling. I don’t need to nail anything yet, I just need to be in the zone. Draft one is the story draft. But, whereas before I went at the first draft hell-for-leather I’m now more of a jogger than a sprinter. The reason for the speed was a) to get it done and b) to stop myself getting distracted by details. Details can be sorted out in draft 2. All I’m looking at now is the feel of the story.

The Paris Ripper – cover

The big distraction for me, at the moment, is the next book. I wrote about this before here (Writer’s Block). To get around this I’ve created a few projects (I use scrivener and my books are projects in there). In those projects I’ve got a virtual cork board with index cards. Each card represents a distinct scene. If I can get 20 scenes then I’ll develop that book further. I’m reckoning on about 30 scenes in a book (although I’ve never actually counted and I’ve never defined what a scene is). With a start of 20 I should be able to pick up 10 more on the road. I have two projects in progress at the moment. The first will probably become the next book – it’s not a crime novel – and the second will probably form the basis for Belmont #4. That’s right #4. It’s a nice idea but it wouldn’t follow on nicely from #2.

I’m planning how I’ll start work on the next book. I really have no idea what sort of world it’ll be. So my plan, vague as it is, will be to write some long scenes, set in various locations, and build up the world. Those scenes won’t be used directly, they’ll form a kind of research layer. I’ll try and do the same for some key people. I’m not interested in how’ll they’ll fit into the text but how they work. For example, I think there’ll be some ice plains and some nomadic warriors of the Genghis Khan ilk. So I’ll write a few pages about the ice dessert then a few on Khan – these will be both general and specific. I’ll look at how vast the dessert is and also how do people sleep there. For the Khan, how does he control his army, how does he sit down to dinner.

I’ve got to stop now else I’ll begin those writing samples and I currently have a dead body waiting to be discovered in Belmont #2.


Belmont #1: The Paris Ripper, paperback version

Belmont #1: The Paris Ripper, eBook version

Posted in 280 Steps, Belmont, British Crime, Chief Inspector Belmont, Crime Fiction, Eva Dolan, French Crime, Hard-Bolied, Historical Crime, Nick Quantrill, Paris, Paul D. Brazil, Police Procedurals, The Paris Ripper, Writing, Writing Fiction | Leave a comment

Writer’s Block

I’d never had a problem with writer’s block. It just didn’t affect me, or so I thought. This weekend I realised I was going through a period of writer’s block. The reason I hadn’t noticed was simple: I’d defined writer’s block in such a way that it didn’t cover what I was going through. Quite a political bit of thinking had been going on in my subconscious: you haven’t got writer’s block, writer’s block is where you sit down to write and no words come out and you’ve never had that problem.

That’s true, I’ve never had that problem. If I really don’t know what to write I’ll type anything and after a couple of minutes I’ll be drawn back into the story. Then I get going and all is fine.

At the weekend I realised I’d been going through about a week of writer’s block. How did I find out when my subconscious was convincing me I didn’t suffer from such a thing? The answer is blindingly obvious – I hadn’t written anything. It wasn’t because I couldn’t. As soon as I realised what was happening I started writing again, but I had to overcome a certain resistance in order to do so. I’m a couple of days in and, luckily for me, things are back on track.

What caused it and what form did it take? I don’t like to say this out loud but I think it was caused by a lack of planning and a reluctance to work (ie to do the actual planning). I’d reached a point about 2/3 of the way in when I needed to start tying up the loose ends or at least thinking about how they would tie. And I just could not be arsed with it. To get started again I worked out how one or two of the threads would tie and that was enough, for now, to get me writing.

Of course, it wasn’t as straight forward as that. If it was only a case of being lazy I would have kicked myself in to working. Writing had become such a routine that unless I’ve achieved something in the day I can’t relax properly in the evening. (Something usually means 500 written words or, if I’m editing, a chapter edited.) To get around this lack of work I’d stared thinking of the next book. It happens that when I approach the final straight of one, ideas start percolating through for the next. I try not to follow them too much as I want to stay focused. This time, however, the idea that took hold was not for a crime novel. This was an idea for a sci-fi on a distant planet. It opened up a lot of scope and got me reading about early humans and the history of our solar system. I began re-reading the Colin Wilson books that had so interested me in my early twenties. And with this scope of almost infinite research into anything I found interesting, I managed to fill my time with a substitute for working while still letting the puritanical side of my brain believe I was putting in the hours. And of course, a little murder down in the South of France is going to pale when stood next to the infinite.

I’ve managed to put a lid on it for now – when I’ve finished this draft I can begin research on the next book. Until then I’m having to block it out of my mind. Unsuccessfully, I might add. This morning I got up late because I was reading about Manicheanism. Last night I went to bed late because I was reading about Mongol hordes. Neither of which have anything to do with the Paris Police. But, as I’ve been hitting my writing targets I’m letting that slide.

Posted in Crime Fiction, Research, Sci-fi, Writing, Writing Fiction, Writing targets | 1 Comment

The Blogging Saddle

I’ve got a new book out next month, The Paris Ripper, published by 280 steps and that’s inspired me to get my blogging arse in gear.

I don’t want to go back to book reviews and self-promotion, if that inspired me enough to blog I wouldn’t be talking about getting my arse in gear and there wouldn’t have been such a long gap between this post and the last.

I will, of course, be promoting my books. But I’ll also be exploring ideas. I’ve backed away from this in the past as, I think, I didn’t want to air my ideas in public. But I’m interested in the ideas of other writers and, as I’ve got another novel out later in the year (+ Salazar #1 is being re-released in paperback) I can count myself as a writer. Not a rich writer, they are rare fish, but a writer none the less. So perhaps my ideas will be of interest to some mysterious, unknown, others.

The Paris Ripper

This book took a strange path to conception. It began as Salazar 3, even before Salazar 2 was finished. This was a few years ago, 2013. Back then I had this idea that I should race through first drafts. Then leave them to rest while I tore through the next. So I wrote a draft for Salazar 2 in about 3 months then did the same for Salazar 3.

But I didn’t like them.

I rewrote Salazar 2 and I still didn’t like it.

So I wrote another draft about something else, The Doorbell Maker’s Daughter. It was a short sci-fi noir novel. I quite like it, but not enough.

I went back to Salazar 2, completed another draft, and still didn’t like it.

I think it was at this point I decided to re-write Salazar 3, without Salazar. Rewriting a novel without the main character is rather drastic. For one thing, they were the focus of the book, and for another, they were in most scenes. Most scenes. Unlike Salazars #1 and #2, I’d written #3 from a 3rd person POV. I ended up ripping out about 80-90 percent of the original text.

The Paris Ripper – cover

I started again with Belmont as the lead. He’d played a minor part in Salazar #2 and a slightly larger part in the early drafts of #3. Now, however, he was the lead. And that meant the focus of the book was no longer a freelance PI but a Paris cop. Therefore, the slightly anonymous sergeants he had around him had to become full-blown characters in their own right, with their own ambitions and conflicting interests. I had to give Belmont a home life and a back story. And I gave him a new killer to hunt.

Belmont, to me, is a cross between Maigret and Harry Hole. I didn’t want to back away from the violence of the Police in the 1930s and especially not the violence of the French Police. So Belmont gets his hands dirty in the interview room. Yet, I didn’t want him to be a mindless thug. You could call him a harsh realist. What he really is, is a sensitive man who’s become slightly immune to the violence. Like most of the cops and most of the criminals in the 1930s, he lived through the war. What, to me, would be abhorrent, to him is every day. I couldn’t give Belmont my values, I’ve not walked one inch in his shoes. I was playing in a chess match once, in the back of a village pub, and one of the opposing team dropped dead. He was an old chap and had a heart attack. It left me shocked and I thought about it a lot (it happened 30 odd years ago and I still sometimes think about it). Belmont witnessed death on an unimaginable scale every day for years. Horrible grinding deaths, of friends of men he’d shared cigarettes with. Not only that, but he has killed. Fired shells into enemy lines, pointed his gun at a man and pulled the trigger. Take him out of that environment and stick him, along with a load of other ex-army cops, into an interrogation room and things will get bloody.

I’m not excusing or justifying, I’m explaining. I used to hate the phrase from Maigret where he’d say he didn’t judge. I’ve always been quite judgemental but I’ve come to understand Maigret’s approach and it’s seeped into my writing and my life. Try to understand not to judge. Part of understanding, however, means differentiating truth from fiction. And fiction is something that drips from us, a sweaty slime which prevents anyone getting to the truth. Even if that anyone happens to be yourself looking at your own truth. I won’t go into this any more here as I’ll have more to say about it later – it’s a general theme in Belmont #2 which I’m writing at the moment.

Belmont’s a good guy but he doesn’t drink with the angels. In fact, he doesn’t know for sure where he drinks. By birth it ought to be champagne on the family estate. By nature it ought to be wine at gallery openings. Instead, he has created a character for himself, the character of Belmont the flic. It’s a role he plays because he feels comfortable playing it. His identity as a person was shot to bits by the war and the events which followed soon after it. He found he was a good flic, a natural. And so he made himself more flic. Which left him something less outside of work. That’s something I explore more in #2. For now Belmont drinks in a seedy flic bar near Police HQ, The Scarlet K. It’s named after my daughters to whom the book is dedicated. They won’t be allowed to read it for a good 5 or so years. You don’t have to wait so long: The Paris Ripper is out on February 18th 2016.

Seth Lynch

Jan 11th 2016

R.I.P. David Bowie who died today.

Posted in 280 Steps, Belmont, Crime Fiction, French Crime, Georges Simenon, Harry Hole, Jo Nesbo, Maigret, Paris, Salazar, Thrillers, World War 1, Writing Fiction | Leave a comment

The Paris Ripper

My next book released will be The Paris Ripper, a Chief Inspector Belmont mystery. This will be put out in Feb 2016 by 280 steps and available in paperback as well as e-Book. I’m very pleased to be working with a publisher which specialise in crime fiction with an expanding list of authors. They also have pretty cool covers. I think the one for the Ripper looks like an old film poster.

The Paris Ripper – cover

In autumn 2016, 280 Steps will be re-releasing Salazar, which will be available in paperback for the first time. Autumn 2016 will also see Salazar #2, currently titled: A Dead American in Paris. It took me a long time to get Salazar #2 to the point where I felt it was right. I wanted to keep the same character while reflecting the fact that he had changed. I must have thrown away at least 2 complete versions before reaching this one. I hope I’ve got the balance right. Salazar #2 sees Belmont make a cameo appearance.

Early this year I had a short story appear in the Shotgun Honey anthology: Locked and Loaded – you can get this on kindle or paperback. My contribution is The Hangover Cure.

At the moment I’m working on Belmont #2. I’m hoping 280 Steps will also put this out and am aiming for it to be ready for publication in Feb 2017. I’ve changed my tack a little with this one. It’s set in the south with Belmont on holiday (taking a well-earned rest after the events of The Paris Ripper). A rest which doesn’t last long as he encounters The Beast with a Human Face, which is the working title for this book.

Posted in 280 Steps, Belmont, British Crime, Crime Fiction, Historical Crime, Kindle, Noir, Paris, Police Procedurals, Salazar, Thriller, Writing, Writing Fiction | Leave a comment

The Secret History, Donna Tartt

I got three books for Christmas this year. I didn’t ask for many as I have a huge collection of books ready to read. One was the brilliant Tune In by Mark Lewishon. I’ve read quiet a few Beatles books over the years but none of them come close to this. It must be one of the best music biographies out there. I pleased to say that this is Vol 1 of 3. Not so pleased that I’ll have to wait a few years before Vol 2 comes out. I have to thank Nick Quantrill for tipping me off about that one.

The second was the autobiography of Alex Ferguson. As well as being a life long Beatles fan I’m also a life long United fan. However this book was pretty crap. A fantastic manager a rubbish writer – but for all those trophies I can forgive him a bad book.

The third, no surprise as it’s the title of this post, was The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I’d asked for this as I saw it on someone’s top ten crime books list. I don’t know what I thought it would be about or how good I thought it would be but it knocked my socks off. After spending the first half of the January in some stinking dives with the Beatles I was happy to be back at university. A much nicer one than the one I went to. Except for the murdering, we didn’t have any murdering at my university which probably evens things out. Still, if you like crime fiction read this book. If you’re not too keen on crime read it anyway as it’s as good a book as any and a lot better than most.

Posted in American Crime, American Literature, Book Review, Donna Tartt | Leave a comment

This Writer’s Toolkit

Books

The first tool is books – other people’s books. If you aren’t a big reader the chances are you aren’t a good writer. Books for me a the blood of writing. As well as straight research they offer up inspiration. Not only that but they show you how other authors go about their craft, what techniques they use. Finally, they let you know what’s out there – no good you trying to pitch a novel about two strangers who meet on a train where one of them wants to murder his father…

One book in particular is of use to me – a Paris guide book from the 1930’s. It has maps of the arrondissements and Métro time tables. Most importantly it has street names. Paris streets are names after people and events and these people fall from favour. A good example: after World War 1 Marshal Pétain was known as the hero of Verdun. Many streets, across France, were named in his honour. After World War 2 he was known as the treacherous head of the Vichy government and executed. A lot of street re-naming takes place after wars. The same thing happens in England too – all references to Jimmy Saville were quickly dropped when the abuse stories came out.

My other book tool is the kindle. It’s covered with annotations I make as I read and all stored in one place.

Pen and paper

This is less important for me now-a-days. My first few early drafts of Salazar were written long hand in note books (many, many, notebooks) . Everything since then has been written on a computer. However, I still have notebooks and pens. I use them to jot down ideas and draw mind maps. When I get stuck I get out a pad and mind map the possibilities. Then I get back to writing knowing what direction I’m going in.

Evernote

This is an app which I have on my phone and my PC. I use it to make simple notes. As it’s on my phone I nearly always have it with me. It then syncs with the copy on my PC. This has replaced the notepad I used to carry around.

http://evernote.com/

DropBox

Again, this is on my phone and PC and is used to sync documents and photos.

I once lost a day’s worth of editing. I’d printed off a chapter or two, scribbled notes all over it then typed it all up. The notes were put in the recycling bin and the file I was working on got deleted. Since then I was on the lookout for a good and easy backup solution. Dropbox was the answer.

Select a folder on your PC or Mac and everything under that folder will sync to the cloud – and

any other installations of Dropbox you have. I use a notebook which I use in my lunchtime. The files are then synced when I turn my PC on in the evening.

Although I’m too paranoid to rely on this Dropbox does have a version control – so if something goes wrong you can sign in to the Dropbox site and download a previously saved copy of your work. I’ve had to use this once but instead I have subfolders and in each time I’m about to start work I take a copy of the file, add the date to the file name, and drop it in a sub folder – they have imaginative names like; draft 1, draft2.

Install drop box and it’s got your back. http://www.dropbox.com

Word

I used open office but the word count can’t be trusted so I switched to Word. Everything I write is written on Word.

I won’t go into too much detail about it but these are a few features I like: Auto correct – I write novels set in Paris. This can involve writing words like Sûreté. When I write that word I don’t use the accent or circumflex, auto correct adds those in for me. It’s the same with café. I used to know the short-cut keys for those characters but now I just type on and let word clean up after me.

Series Bible

This isn’t a tool it’s a document. Starting with the first book I keep a note of characters, where they live, where they were born. It also has key events in the books along with dates. It helps when I want to remember who that person was in book one who had a café…

Google Maps and Google Street View

I write about Paris but I’m sat in Corsham – street view is my friend. Now and then I’ll drop the little man on the Paris man and walk about. Obviously it’s not 1930 so the scene is not the same but details like the width of the street will be similar. Also, a building form the 17th century will have been there in 1930 and so on, same with rivers and most railway lines.

Google Maps is a friend for a different reason – you can save your own. I have a Salazar map of Paris. There are pins in this map for fiction and real locations. They say things like: Book 3 – place where Belmont finds the first body. Or Real Location – Dingo Bar.

Now I can check routes because Salazar is likely to mention the fact he’s just walked past the spot where he was once dumped in the river.

Wikipedia

Take it with a pinch of salt but some of Wikipedia is incredibly useful. Before I got my Paris guide book I used to go on there and read about Paris streets. This section is in French but I can just about make out what I want to know – like when the street was named and what it used to be called. If there is any more info then Google Translate will help. For streets named after people I’ll then read their wiki bio.

Feedly

This is a news feed. I follow a lot of blogs by writers, on writing, on France on cycling, on veganism and they are all held in this neat app for PCs and Andriod phones and probably more. feedly.com

The rest of the tools I use are more specific to me – for example French newspapers have been archived online and are available as pdfs (you have to pay for the English versions. I haven’t used this enough as my French isn’t good enough but I can read the weather reports, advertisements and the headlines.

Posted in Kindle, Reading, Writing, Writing Fiction | Leave a comment