Monday, 28 March 2016

GUEST BLOG: Nigel Bird

Out Of My Depth? by Nigel Bird
For many years, I’ve held the dream that one day I’ll be able to earn a living as a writer of fiction. Sadly, though I’m writing harder and better than ever, that dream seems to get further away instead of closer. It’s something I’m coming to terms with.  Not that the dream has vanished. It still appears as a small speck on the horizon every now and then, especially after a particularly challenging day in the classroom. 
In order to turn things around in the sales department, among the pieces of advice I’ve been given has been the suggestion that I turn my attention to something with a larger market. A police procedural for example. 
That advice has always made a lot of sense and I’ve never had an issue about working in a variety of writing styles in order to hone the craft or widen my audience. The only reason I didn’t take the path was that the ideas just weren’t there. My muse has ADHD and tends to flit about between genres, which has probably been a part of my problem all along. 
When the idea for The Shallows took root some time after reading Chuck Palahniuk’s Non-Fiction, things began to change. 
For the first time I had a story to write that actually needed police involvement. Two lots of police involvement, in fact, as it required the Navy to work alongside the civilian force. As soon as I realised that, I became rather excited. Maybe this would be the springboard to the new pastures I’ve been seeking. One has to hope. 
To explain. Brad Heap has gone AWOL from his position on one of Faslane’s nuclear submarines. He’s on the run with his family and is looking forward to a bright future and a new life. Unfortunately, they inadvertently stumble upon a drugs operation and this wrong turn lands them in dire straits. What ensues is a chase between the authorities and the Heaps that I hope thrills and entertains from start to finish. 
I had no difficulty working with the family on the run. As I followed them from one tight spot to another, I felt I was on familiar ground. 
The writing of the police angle, however, was a nightmare. 
It had never occurred to me that I might not have touched upon a police drama before because I didn’t fully understand how to construct one. And how ridiculous that seems. I grew up on a diet of police heroes on television (Kojak, Bluey Hills, The Sweeney, Five 0, Hill Street Blues, Starsky and Hutch et al). I’ve been reading detective fiction forever. Spent hours at the cinema soaking up double and triple bills of the stuff.  Live in a country with a rich history in police novels as well as a thriving contemporary scene. Surely I had all the foundations and flavours I could ever need. 
Not so. 
Even now I’ve completed and published the book, I can’t really explain why it was so tough to work through. Partly it was a lack of understanding of real procedure, not helped by a total absence of desire to do bury myself in months of research. Maybe it was the fear of setting out trails of clues and evidence that didn’t properly stack up. It could have been because when I looked up to find the pinnacle of the genre it was so high up I needed binoculars to see it. I was scared to set foot on the mountain for fear of having to give up on the gentle slopes at the bottom. Of all things, crisis of confidence was probably the greatest issue. 
In the end, I decided not to let it get to me. I ignored the worry and ploughed on regardless. I decided to work in the way I usually do – to let the characters take shape and come to life, then to take me where they needed to go. That and a little bit of fudging. And John Locke was a great help. He kept disappearing off to work as a lone wolf like all the best detectives, which meant the stations and the meeting scenes were cut down to a minimum.  
And all of that’s okay, mainly because the police aren’t the real meat of the story. At its heart is the family. It’s their struggle to keep going through adversity and their attempts to remain one step ahead of their pursuers that I was wrapped up in. It was Brad and Molly and Shem who kept me going and their plight that had me rooting for them to the end.  
To help reduce the anxieties on the police front, I set the book in places I’ve come to love over the years – Eyemouth, Berwick-Upon-Tweed, Alnwick and Grange-Over-Sands. I may not have created exact copies of the towns, but working with the familiar helped to balance out the things I didn’t get. 
I’m sure I’ve learned a thing or two about story telling with this one. I hope that some of that knowledge is woven into The Shallows. I’m also pretty sure that I should probably leave the telling of police stories to those who know what they’re doing. Not that I’d rule out another visit. The truth is, I became rather fond of John Locke and wouldn’t mind spending more time in his company at some point in the future.
If you ever do get to take a look, I’d value your opinion. Tell me what works, what doesn’t and why and I’ll be a happy man. 
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll get back to writing the first person/present tense/female perspective/urban fantasy/new adult paranormal romance/Florence set novella I’ve been hammering out. I wish I could say that it’s a breeze after those police guys. I can promise you, it really isn’t.  

:: Nigel blogs at Sea Minor