How many books should a self-published author aim to sell? If you are writing a book, how much money are you likely to make from publishing it yourself?
When I lived in Germany, trying to get my second book published, I was friends with a German author. I was rather jealous of him: he had written four novels, all published commercially.
But he was not happy.
‘My publishers don’t market my books properly,’ he would say. ‘They simply publish them and forget about them. I keep trying different publishers, but they are all the same.’
I asked how many novels he had sold. He told me he had never sold more than 600 copies of a novel.
I thought of my friend when I self-published my first novel, “Blood Summit“. I set a target of selling 600 copies. How did I do?
The first year, I sold 246 copies (more…)
What if the cure for coronavirus is worse than the disease? What if after COVID-19 we have COVID-21, COVID-35 and COVID-42? How will coronavirus change society, and the world?
Lockdowns, flight bans, quarantine, school closures, contact tracing – coronavirus has changed society in ways that would have been inconceivable twelve months ago. What will a post-pandemic world look like?
I told my gal the future looked a scary place to be.
She said, don’t worry Dad, it’s cancelled.
I saw it on TV.
Coronatime is a thriller, a comedy and a love story. In a future world where universal contact tracing and advances in medical technology have created a society of oppression, corruption and injustice, one man and one woman must defeat a system which makes 1984 seem as menacing as a teddy bears’ picnic in a kindergarten. (more…)
A famous poem highlights the challenges of English spelling and pronunciation.
Many readers of this blog use English as their second or even third language. Having lived in Russia, Germany, Ukraine, Turkey and Austria for 23 of the last 28 years and learned languages myself, I know pronunciation is one of the trickiest issues. Some languages, including German, Russian, Ukrainian and Turkish, are largely “phonetic languages”, ie they are written consistently with the way they are pronounced. Others, like English and French, are less predictable.
This leads to some oddities when Turkish uses French words such as “vale” (French: valet), “bisiklet” (French: bicyclette) or “otel” (French: hôtel), dispensing with unnecessary letters.
It has been said that the book on the right represents a French novel; that on the left, the same novel including only the letters which are pronounced.
For example, even speakers of near-perfect English are sometimes unsure how to pronounce “salmon”. They tend, logically enough, pronounce an “L” in the middle. But the word is pronounced Sammon: the “L” is silent.
How do you pronounce bomb? (more…)
The Overton window is a way of describing the acceptable range of political culture at any given moment. Wikipedia defines it as “the range of policies politically acceptable to the mainstream population at a given time”.
The Overton window can move, or be moved, so that an action or point of view which was formerly unacceptable becomes acceptable. I wrote about this in my 2018 post The Overton window and social media manipulation, giving as an example of the Overton window Brexit: an idea which was not mainstream in the 1990s but became British government policy by 2016.
So I was intrigued to see in an Austrian newspaper on 31 May a piece by the Austrian meteorologist and climate researcher Helga Kromp-Kolb (in German) linking the Overton window and Coronavirus to climate change.
This short video on my YouTube channel features ominous weather
Ms Kromp-Kolb drew attention in 2019 when she compared children asking their parents, in the future, whether they had flown to London to go shopping despite knowing about the dangers of climate change with children asking their parents what National Socialism (more…)
Many people writing a book are looking for writing prompts or ideas for stories. A couple of simple writing tips may help, including: start writing!
How to start a new story? How to start a new blog? Many writers find beginning a new piece of writing an enormous challenge.
That’s not surprising when you consider that your first sentence, or first page, will define your story; be the shop window for your book; and decide whether your writing will be read.
Thus it is that when you sit down to start writing, you suddenly find that other activities – making a cup of coffee, checking the latest news, phoning a friend – suddenly take on a weird urgency.
So I was intrigued when top Vienna-based artist Sophie Thun drew my attention to the catalogue of her latest work at the Vienna Secession gallery, entitled Sophie Thun (in German).
The catalogue consists of a dialogue between Sophie and 90 year-old artist Daniel Spoerri, a Romanian artist based in Switzerland, one of whose “snare” pictures I remember seeing at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2019. In the frontispiece to the book, pictured above in hard-to-read black-on-black script, Spoerri recalls a friend struggling with a book:
It was that he couldn’t find a beginning. He had to have the first sentence before he could start. I met him again and again in Ascona at the bar, in the evenings, and I would ask him and he would say: No, still not; no, I still don’t have anything.
And then one evening he was suddenly very happy and said: Now I’ve started! (more…)
The coronavirus crisis shows us a number of ways to deal with uncertainty. But dealing with uncertainty is easier with practice and a bit of structure.
‘Are you refusing to shake hands?’ My friend shakes his head. ‘This whole coronavirus thing is overblown.’
It is 4 March. Austria has only a dozen new cases of coronavirus per day, but neighbouring Italy is suffering hundreds. It will be another twelve days before the Austrian government implements one of the earliest, and strictest, lockdowns in Europe to try and control the pandemic.
Neither my friend nor I really knows what is happening. We both take information from whatever sources we can, and come to different conclusions.
Wearing an obligatory facemask in the Vienna metro
Twelve weeks later I meet my friend again. In between, Austria has had around 16,500 known coronavirus cases and 668 deaths. He grins. ‘Are you still refusing to shake hands?’ (more…)
A review of “Unsheltered” by Barbara Kingsolver, with quotations, reflecting on what it says about the mood of contemporary America.
Barbara Kingsolver is a great writer. “Unsheltered” pulses with beautiful prose about two families living in a crumbling house in Vineland, New Jersey, 150 years apart.
When Thatcher Greenwood, the hero of the 1870s cycle, scolds his wife Rose, we hear that: Her eyes flared like a struck match before she looked away.
As the FT says, the book is – in many ways – magnificent.
Willa Knox, the hero of the contemporary cycle, admires her grandson: She lay with her chin on her forearms admiring the baby’s wren-feather eyelashes and delicate nostrils, the bottom lip tucked into the infant overbite. The melon of belly expanding, contracting.
Each chapter ends with the title of the following chapter. We learn that Willa, faced with a grisly task, mommed up and did the deed. This is elegant, powerful stuff.
But the book drove me half crazy. Here are 9 reasons why. (more…)
As the coronavirus crisis continues, I’m writing upbeat posts to celebrate countries I’ve lived in.
Here are ten reasons to like Austria, where I lived from 1984-87 and have again since 2016. I’ve tried to pick some non-obvious things as well as favourites – comments welcome. Here we go.
1. Vienna has more flak towers than – I think – anywhere on earth. Did you know that “flak”, as in a “flak jacket”, stands for Flug Abwehr Kanone or anti-aircraft gun? They were built during the Second World War and mostly stand empty, although one is occupied by a climbing wall and an aquarium.
Flak tower in the Augarten, Vienna (all photos RP). Never again, indeed. (more…)
The Finnish ambassador turned to me.
‘It’s not true that Finns have no sense of humour,’ he said. ‘Or that we lack passion.’
‘For example,’ the ambassador said, ‘there was once a very elderly lady. One day she turned to her even older husband, and said: “Darling. Why do you never say you love me any more?”
‘”Well,” said the husband. “On the day we married, seventy five years ago, I told you I loved you. If the situation changes, I shall let you know.”‘
George Eliot’s Middlemarch is incisive on relationships: “Poor Mr. Casaubon had imagined that his long studious bachelorhood had stored up for him a compound interest of enjoyment”
I thought of my Finnish friend when I was browsing my post about one of the funniest writers in the English language, the great George Mikes (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site). I recommend the post if you have not read it. Mikes said it was the English, rather than the Finns, who were sometimes lacking in passion, as in this example: (more…)
To say W Somerset Maugham is unfashionable is like saying that J K Rowling has sold a few books.
Yet he remains popular. My post about his memoirs, W Somerset Maugham on sex, turnips and the meaning of life, is one of my most visited (links in bold italics are to other posts on this blog).
He was an extraordinary character. Born in the British Embassy in Paris in 1874, he grew up speaking French and lost both his parents by the age of ten, when he moved to England. He served in the ambulance corps in the First World War before joining the Secret Intelligence Service and working in Switzerland and Russia. Later he travelled widely in South East Asia, China and the Pacific.
W Somerset Maugham is famous for his short stories
These experiences provide the setting for Maugham’s most famous tales. In the preface to his collected stories he says of the most famous, Rain: “Rain was written in 1920 in Hong Kong, but I had hit upon the idea for it during a journey I took in the South Seas during the winter of 1916.”
The settings, in the dying days of doomed empire, (more…)
You can now see a selection of videos of Robert Pimm in action on my new YouTube channel.
Who knows? Perhaps one or two of them can keep you entertained for a bit during the coronavirus lock-down.
- my reading of a complete Hotel Story, “The Two Rooms” (pic below). The video is just under 40 minutes long. Sit back and enjoy it!
- my reading of substantial excerpts from my Hotel Story “Gents” (warning: contains alligators);
- a video of my first ever reading from my Berlin thriller Blood Summit (were you there?) at the Cafe Korb in Vienna, in March 2018. This video was made professionally by top film-maker Sibylle Trost;
A recent reading from “Seven Hotel Stories” (more…)
Let’s celebrate. We’re going through a ghastly coronavirus crisis. But we should not forget that the world is wonderful. I thought I would write in praise of several countries I’ve lived in.
Here are ten things to like about Lesotho, where I lived from 1964-70. We didn’t have digital cameras back then, so the following photos are a mixture of old slides digitised by my brother Stephen, and pictures from trips I made back to Lesotho in 1980, 1988 and 2011.
1. Lesotho is a mountain kingdom with beautiful scenery. These are “The Three Bushmen” at the Sehlabathebe National Park in the east of the country, viewed through a rock arch (photo: RP).
2. Lesotho has what is said to be the highest pub in Africa, at the 2,876m summit of the Sani Pass.
The first of the three February readings included a Reichstag tour and was organised by film-maker Sibylle Trost.
Someone did an interview with me the other day using the “60 Seconds” format. I found the questions searching, and had to invest a little time to answer them. Here is the result.
Walking the Pennine Way, 2017
Who was your first celebrity crush?
That would be Claudette Colbert in Cecil B de Mille’s Cleopatra which came out in 1934. I saw it at the King’s College Film Society in 1976 and swooned, especially at the famous seduction scene with Mark Anthony and the slave galley. (more…)
Let’s celebrate. We’re going through a ghastly coronavirus crisis. But we should not forget that the world is wonderful. I thought I would write in praise of several countries I’ve lived in.
Here are ten things to like about Turkey, where I lived from 2012-2016.
1. Istanbul is one of the most ancient and spectacular cities on earth. Here’s me by the Golden Horn.
2. Turks are crazy about fresh fish. Here’s a chap delivering some to a restaurant.
What to do, when you are stuck at home because of the #coronavirus outbreak?
Read Middlemarch, by George Eliot.
George Eliot’s real name was Mary Ann Evans, 1819-1880
I read Middlemarch recently and posted on its wisdom about sex and relationships (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site).
Middlemarch is also full of splendid epigrams. Here are 25 beauties which caught my eye: (more…)
In these coronavirus days, it’s worth recalling how to be happy. I’m going out to dinner tonight, so this might be my last chance.
I’m prompted by a BBC report from 2019, which suggested five things you could do:
- Make a list of the things you are grateful for.
- Sleep more.
- Meditate, or do something which engages your full attention.
- Spend more time with family and friends.
- Get off social media (except this blog).
Me being happy with friends from Deep Purple – who also have some happiness secrets. My post at the link includes pix of Deep Purple in Kyiv
One thing not on the list, but contained in the piece, is that being happy requires a conscious effort. As Professor Laurie Santos says: “Being happy isn’t something that just happens, you’ve got to practice to be better at it.”
How can you practice being happier? One way is by following some of the advice in these “how to be happy” posts – some of my most popular entries:
- W Somerset Maugham on sex, turnips and the meaning of life – (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site).
- Appreciating the Cloud Appreciation Society – taking note of nature.
- Austria: the best footpaths in the world? Moments of walking ecstasy.
- Sex, alcohol, people: what makes you happy? We derive pleasure from feeling that we understand the world, and can cope with it.
- Being happy: Paranoid and Bachelor Boy. Music and happiness.
By Robert Pimm
Financial Times, May 9, 2003
I’m picking up the kids from school here in Berlin when a teacher accosts me. “Started being a house-husband yet?” he says. “How do you like ironing all those shirts?”
“Pamela was never a housewife,” I say. Am I being too defensive? “And she never ironed my shirts.”
“How about the vacuum-cleaning?” He has that look in his eye. Does not compute.
“Nope. Mostly, it’s looking after the kids. And I cook.”
“Why not get an au pair? Find yourself a job?”
“The whole point is that I’m with the children. So Pamela can go back to work knowing it’s me looking after them.”
Standing there in the corridor, with kids swarming around him like ants, the teacher shakes his head. “I hope you know what you’re doing.”
In the garden in Berlin, 2003
What I’m doing is this: in October 2002 (more…)
Which rooftop bar in Vienna has:
- outstanding cocktails
- the best view in Vienna
- total coolness?
Here’s a clue:
Here are some reasons I like the Aurora rooftop bar at Hyatt’s fancy new Andaz Vienna am Belvedere:
- I am picky about cocktails. The Aurora has a terrific Nordic-themed cocktail menu. My favourite is the “Berserker’s Punch” (white rum, overproof rum, orange, coconut, pineapple, lemon, milk, and a cola lolly). To be honest, I can’t see or taste any milk in it. I advise against drinking too many of these;
At a recent reading from my blackly comic “Seven Hotel Stories” in Vienna, a man asked me:
‘These stories seem explicitly feminist. Is that intentional?’
This led to a discussion of “can a man be a feminist?”, to which most of the women present clearly answered “yes”.
My recent reading at “Shakespeare & Co” in Vienna. Great bookshop!
My answer was equally simple: yes, the “Hotel Stories” are intended to have a feminist flavour.
Indeed, an early reviewer of the story “The Two Rooms” commented: “dark, feminist and fun – not three words you often hear together”.
I would be delighted to hear your views. To the question: “Are the Hotel Stories Feminist?” would you say:
(iii) why does it matter?
(iv) some other answer.
If you do not yet own a kindle or paperback copy of Seven Hotel Stories (click on link for Amazon) you can find excerpts from all the stories in this blog – have a browse – including a free copy of The Two Rooms.
Let me know what you think!
Incidentally, another thoughtful person asked me whether I thought the title of my story “Seven Ukrainian Girls” (Hotel Story no.8) could be politically incorrect. I urged her to read it and see what she thought. Comments welcome on this, too. You can read the first part of “Seven Ukrainian Girls” at the link.
P.S. If you enjoy fresh, original writing, please friend me on Facebook or sign up for e-mail updates (top right – see the “click here” blue button). Check out the range of writing on this site via my 5 pleasure paths.
My two live readings in Berlin are coming up.
I shall be reading from my thriller Blood Summit in Berlin on 21 and 22 February. I will also be doing a tour of the Reichstag and nearby locations where the action in Blood Summit takes place.
A video by Sibylle Trost of me reading from “Blood Summit”. Now you can see the real thing.
Unfortunately, the tour, first publicised last month, is sold out. But the readings still have places available:
- 21 February 18.00, a reading from Blood Summit in a room with a view of the Reichstag generously provided by Mazars GmbH & Co Berlin, Alt-Moabit 2, 10557. Full details of how to register, plus help with planning your weekend in Berlin, are at this link. This is a free event. I will be signing copies of my books Blood Summit and Seven Hotel Stories.
- 22 February 19.00, a reading from Blood Summit at the salon of Christiane and Ari Großkopf, Bamberger Str. 56, 10777 Berlin. This is a free event which Christiane and Ari are kindly hosting. If you would like to attend, please e-mail me on firstname.lastname@example.org with your name(s). I will also be signing books.
How a convicted killer introduced me to his girlfriend – who loathed him. What I thought about love aged 21. The lawyer who took me back to his office in Brooklyn. Running out of gas in a Ford Pinto on the New Jersey Turnpike. Soviet statues in Washington DC. Being charmed by Mexican con artists on the Redwood Highway in Northern California.
Welcome to “The Americans”. Who are they? What can they teach us in the 21st Century?
You can click straight to each episode from the links above. Please share this story if you find it interesting. I am working on a book based on this piece.
The first thing I saw were his butcher’s arms: broad and sheened with sweat. Next, I saw tattoos and a square jaw, thick with stubble, set in a sullen half-smile. A broken six-pack of Schlitz was wedged between his thighs on the driver’s seat.
Schlitz – the beer that made Milwaukee famous. What made Milwaukee famous made a loser out of me.
Heading west on I-40, 1979
Was it dangerous to enter the cab of the old Ford pick-up? Standing by the roadside outside Durango in the cooling evening, I had the usual split second to decide. I weighed contradictory feelings: fear and an urge to keep moving.
‘Where are you heading?’ I asked. (more…)
I am listening to literary folk on the Queen Mary Literary Festival at Sea (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site). After a powerful Martini in the Commodore Club, a well-read literary editor admits he has never read George Eliot’s classic 1872 novel Middlemarch.
This depiction of Dorothea and Will Ladislaw does not make “Middlemarch” look a fun, contemporary read
Like some other 19thC fiction, Middlemarch has provoked negative responses or indifference over the years – yet critics now see it as one of the greatest novels in the English language.
I agree, and I don’t. Middlemarch is a daunting read – over 900 pages in most editions. Not much happens; there is an immense cast-list of characters; and some of the issues with which it deals, such as the 1832 Reform Act, have faded from memory.
Yet the wisdom (more…)
Welcome to a brand new “Hotel Story”.
The Ultra Platinum Paradise Beach Resort offers fabulous facilities. The exclusive Black Hole Coral Reef Dive Adventure, the Blue Planet Fish Restaurant and the Metaphysical Balance Repair Clinic and Spa should surely guarantee guest satisfaction.
So why is the Ultra Platinum losing money – and why is no-one drinking the famous Megastar all-day cocktails at the Beachfront Ultra Platinum Club?
Ms N, the world’s most brilliant, unpredictable and occasionally homicidal hotel manager, has been sent in to solve some problems. Her beautiful but naive ally Tatiana has accompanied her.
Ms N believes that “in every challenge, there is an opportunity”. But how will she tackle the hotel’s problems by calling in seven beautiful Ukrainian girls, who bring with them five large suitcases of high pork traditional country sausages? (more…)
It is time to plan your weekend in Berlin.
I shall be doing two readings from my thriller Blood Summit in Berlin on 21 and 22 February.
A video of me reading from “Blood Summit”. Now you can see the real thing.
- 21 February 18.00, a free reading from Blood Summit in a room with a view of the Reichstag at Mazars GmbH & Co Berlin, Alt-Moabit 2, 10557. Full details of how to register, plus help with planning your weekend in Berlin, are at this link. This is a free event. I will be signing copies of my books Blood Summit and Seven Hotel Stories.
- 22 February 19.00, a reading from Blood Summit at the salon of Christiane and Ari Großkopf, Bamberger Str. 56, 10777 Berlin. This is a free event which Christiane and Ari are kindly hosting. If you would like to attend, please e-mail me on email@example.com with your name(s). I will also be signing books.
What are the Top 10 Vienna cafes? How can you find the best Viennese cafe for you? Start here with Robert Pimm’s fun, objective and characterful Vienna cafe reviews.
Vienna is full of cafes. But which are best?
The entrance to the Cafe Hawelka – photo Robert Pimm
Many Viennese cafes are rather good. I like the fact that most of them use old-fashioned Viennese coffee types (kleine Schwarzer, kleine Brauner, Verlängerter, Franziskaner) instead of, or sometimes in addition to, the world-conquering Italian descriptors (Cappuccino, Macchiato, Latte & Co).
Some Vienna cafes have a wonderful, unrenovated charm, often accompanied by service which varies from the friendly and efficient to the traditional clockwork stop-motion effect where waiters emphasise by their every action the fact that they will not deviate from their intended, inexorable plan of action under any circumstance.
But then, what do you want? Would you rather, in Vienna, have a traditional-looking Austrian waiter, who maybe doesn’t speak English and isn’t conspicuously polite, or a fast-moving identikit youth who could be in Seattle or Siena?
I even mention the service of Viennese waiters in my novel Coronatime.
Viennese cafes also often serve terrific cakes; and other food and drink, from sausages to breakfast and beer. Check the menu; and choose your cakes at the counter if you’re not sure.
All of the cafes reviewed are ones I would to return to. If a cafe does not appear in the list, that means either that I haven’t tried it yet; or that I have tried it and am not desperate to return.
Welcome to the opening chapters of my Berlin thriller, Blood Summit.
I wrote Blood Summit from my personal experience, after years of working with real terrorist incidents and real intelligence agencies. I have exercised with special forces and fired live rounds at their training facilities. This is the real thing.
What if the leaders of the eight most powerful countries in the world were taken hostage by terrorists, who then starting executing them live on-line in a facility designed to be impregnable?
What if you knew how to stop the slaughter, but no-one would listen to you and those you loved were amongst the hostages?
“Utterly gripping: I devoured it” – Edmund de Waal, author of “The Hare with Amber Eyes”
“Blood Summit is a cracker. Pimm has hit the ground running” – Matthew Parris.
You can find Blood Summit on Amazon as a paperback or, for instant download, an e-book. For a sample, read on.
A novel by Robert Pimm
Two years earlier
There were children playing in the street outside her door. Turkish, Uli Wenger guessed from their dark skin and bright clothes. He walked around them. The first insect Uli ever killed had been a child. Today, he had more important business.
The surface of the door was rough with dirt and spray paint. Sixteen buzzers studded the wall. The target lived on the third floor. Uli pressed the button by her name.
There was a crackle. ‘Yes?’
‘Post,’ Uli said. ‘A package.’
‘OK.’ The door popped open.
The hallway was cool and dark and smelled of damp stone. Two bicycles (more…)
I’m sitting on a high-speed train, next to the window, with an empty paper cup. How best can I make myself happier?
One of my most popular blogs is W. Somerset Maugham on sex, turnips and the meaning of life (links in bold italics are to other posts on this blog). In his 1938 essay The Summing Up, Maugham explores whether alcohol, sex, writing or companionship can give you fulfilment.
If you are interested in this subject, you may want to explore the links in this post.
I was thinking about happiness recently as I caught a train from London to Manchester (where my mum lives). I had treated myself to a cup of tea at Euston Station before boarding the train. Having enjoyed the tea – hot and wet – I wanted to discard the cup.
On the train to Manchester
‘These old Intercity trains usually have a bin by the doors,’ I thought. I got up, went to the end of the carriage, and, (more…)
My blog of January 2016 recorded the discovery of a handwritten list of ten rules of behaviour amongst my father’s papers, two years after his death in December 2013. The title of the list was: “How to work better”.
You can see the list itself, in my father’s handwriting, at the link above.
The rules seemed profound – or were they?
Research revealed a mystery around the words and whether they represented, as some believed, wise slogans from a Thai factory; or were actually a project by some Swiss conceptual artists.
A reader, @mrRooBKK, has brought to my attention this photograph:
What are the John Connolly “Charlie Parker” novels about? Should you read them, and where should you start? My answer, based on reading four novels and meeting John Connolly, is an unqualified “read them”.
“They come now, the dark angels, the violent ones, their wings black against the sun, their swords unsheathed.“
Does evil exist independently? To read this quotation from the third of John Connolly’s Charlie Parker series, The Killing Kind, one might think Connolly believed in malice independent of man.
At the Erich Fried literary festival
I had the privilege of interviewing John Connolly at the Erich Fried literary festival in Vienna last month. A writer of prodigious output, his recent works include he, a literary imagining of the comedian Stan Laurel, and A Book of Bones, the 17th in the Charlie Parker series.
In preparation for interviewing John I read the first novel in the Charlie Parker series, Every Dead Thing, followed by Dark Hollow and The Killing Kind. I found Charlie “Bird” Parker a fine creation: disturbed, vengeful, tough, (more…)
Trollope is an outstanding writer on relationships between the sexes. Lessons on gender from 1869 are still 100% relevant.
How men think, how women think and whether there is a difference is one of the abiding puzzles of life. We all want to understand other people. Many of us want to understand the opposite sex.
How to understand women, or men?
One of the wisest writers on relationships between the sexes was the 19th century British writer Anthony Trollope. My piece Trollope: 11 reasons to read him sets out his awesome qualities (links in bold italics are to other posts on this blog) – including the fact that much of what he wrote is still 100% current. More Trollope links are at the end of this post.
Trollope’s 1869 novel He Knew He Was Right examines relations between the sexes in detail. You can explore quotations from the book below on men (6), on women (9), on relationships (22), on literary criticism (1) and finally (as a reminder of Trollope’s wit and continued relevance) on “the railway sandwich”.
Nothing changes. Enjoy!
My Trollope Society edition of “He Knew He Was Right” has 823 pages
The reader may be quite certain that Colonel Osborne had no premeditated evil intention when he allowed himself to become the intimate friend of his old friend’s daughter. There was nothing fiendish in his nature. He was not a man who boasted of his conquests. He was not a ravening wolf going about seeking whom he might devour, (more…)
How was the Cunard Literary Cruise 2020? Would I go on the 2021 version? Would I bite your hand off to have another chance? What about other writing courses?
“You have 15 seconds to capture someone’s attention,” crime writer Mark Billingham says. Outside, the ocean rushes by, waves flecked with white horses. The wreck of the Titanic lies 150 miles south.
Not a bad place for a literary festival
My friends Phreddie and Rosalind put me onto the Times and Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival at Sea. “Sebastian Faulks, Louis de Bernières, Victoria Hislop, P.J. O’Rourke – what can go wrong?” they said. I checked it out. The package included a flight to New York, three nights in a hotel, then seven nights on Cunard’s “Queen Mary 2” in the company of literary greats, plus a top team of (more…)
Review of Ian Fleming’s Goldfinger, including James Bond’s sexism. Not one of the best books of all time, but a time capsule of 1950s homophobia which also highlights some of Bond’s positive qualities.
‘Are the James Bond novels any good?’ a friend asked me the other day.
‘They are anachronistic, homophobic and sexist,’ I replied. ‘But James Bond himself is a splendid creation and some of the novels tell a terrific yarn.’
The cover of my Folio Society edition of “Goldfinger” is almost parodic
Unfortunately, Goldfinger is my least favourite Bond book so far (I have read, this time round, Casino Royale, Live and Let Die, Moonraker, Diamonds are Forever and From Russia with Love – reviews below). The narrative is short on drive and tension and the plot makes no sense. Why, for example, when (no spoilers here) Bond has driven villain Auric Goldfinger to a paroxysm of suspicion, (more…)
I wrote the following story as flash fiction at a writing course I attended recently at Loutro on Crete (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site). Unlike my recently-released collection, Seven Hotel Stories, it is not a comedy.
Taxi to London
I had my head down over my exam revision when the hospital called.
‘Is this Dave Ellingsworth?’ The girl’s voice was so calm I felt my adrenalin spike.
‘This is Dave.’
‘You are in a relationship with Joanne Jones, is that correct?’
‘JJ, yes, Joanne, I know her, yes.’
‘In a relationship? I can only speak to next of kin.’
I felt a sense of despair, and weightlessness. Was I in a relationship? JJ had said she thought we were. But I thought I had ended it last night.
‘Sure. In a relationship.’
‘She took some pills. She is out of danger now. She asked if you could come and see her.’ The woman on the phone sounded like she thought I should go. (more…)
Five great ways you can turn your own experience – whatever it is – into compelling storylines, story ideas and writing prompts.
I have finished reading from my book Seven Hotel Stories when a guy in the audience raises his hand.
‘How many of your story ideas are made up, and how much is real?’ he asks. ‘And in general, how do you use your real life to create storylines and fiction?’
This struck me as a great question. How much of fiction is the writer’s experience, and how much is made up? Suppose you work as a lawyer, or in an insurance office, and are not an astronaut, a detective, or an assassin? Can you still write about something thrilling?
Marilyn Monroe trained hard to become an actress
Here are five ways you can turn your own experience – whatever it is into compelling storylines and story ideas:
(i) anyone can write great stuff: don’t worry about who you are, or what you do. All you need is a paper and a pen, or a screen and a keyboard. The trick is to get started (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site);
(ii) do use what you know to help write your story: whatever you can do and however you live, you can draw on your life experience to create rich, multi-layered fiction. John Grisham started out repairing roads, then became a lawyer – he used his legal knowledge to write The Firm. Tom Clancy worked in insurance: his hero Jack Ryan is, like Clancy, of Irish Catholic stock; (more…)
Have you seen the classic 1949 British thriller The Third Man (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site)? If not, watch it immediately! Either way, consider the following nuggets I recently unearthed about possibly the best film of all time.
My review at the link above sets out 8 reasons The Third Man is movie magic. But did you know:
(i) The Third Man was nearly never made. In early discussions, producer David O Selznick said a film called “The Third Man” could never be a hit. You can find out more in Frederick Baker’s 2004 documentary Shadowing the Third Man;
(ii) the classic ending to the movie, which I shall not reveal here, was nearly changed. Graham Greene, who wrote the screenplay, initially planned for an upbeat final scene with Anna and Holly Martins forming a relationship. How this could have squared with the rest of the story, which leads inexorably to the magnificent ending as it was eventually released, I have no idea;
What do you think a reading with Robert Pimm looks like?
I was delighted on 18 October to read from my Berlin thriller Blood Summit in Innsbruck.
The reading took place at the magnificent Stadtbibliotek
Q&A afterwards with Andrew Milne-Skinner
Questions were incisive and challenging
Afterwards I signed copies of “Blood Summit” and “Seven Hotel Stories”
As I mentioned in my curtain-raising post (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site), the reading was organised by the excellent English Reading Circle in Innsbruck. I am particularly grateful to Maria Kandolf-Kühne, who brought the book to the Reading Circle and suggested I do a reading in Innsbruck; and to Andrew and Sandra Milne-Skinner, who were instrumental in setting things up.
If you want to know more about Blood Summit, see my blog Blood Summit: the US President in the killing chair. It is available from English language bookshop Shakespeare & Company at Sterngasse 2 in central Vienna, or from Amazon. If you have a book group, you may like to read my blog post Blood Summit: Reading Group Questions.
I also presented in Innsbruck my recently-published paperback of Seven Hotel Stories. It seemed to go down well.
P.S. If you enjoy fresh, original writing, please follow me on Facebook. Or you can join my mailing list – I’ll be delighted to give you a free “Hotel Story” to say thanks. Check out the range of writing on this site via my 5 pleasure paths.
I wrote the following story as flash fiction at a writing course I attended recently (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site). Unlike my recently-released collection, Seven Hotel Stories, it is not a comedy. Comments welcome.
I was born in sadness. My mother, bless her soul, was not killed by my arrival on this world. But she was ruined, my father said.
The doctors agreed. My head was too big, they said. I ruined her.
Maybe the doctors in our village were not too great, either.
I never knew my father before I was born, of course. I never knew whether he hated my mother before I ruined her. I never knew if he hated me, either, before I arrived.
What I do know is that after I arrived, he wanted neither me nor her.
Maybe my mother tried too hard to please him, after he said she was ruined. It made him angry that she could no longer climb the stairs of our small house, to where the bedrooms were. She made the front parlour sparkle and the kitchen smell of bread and herbs and put wine on the table for when he came home.
Still, my father was angry.
One of my first memories was of her, dragging her poor broken body (more…)
The paperback version of Seven Hotel Stories is now out. It looks like this:
I’m pretty excited about this, so all shares, retweets etc welcome!
The text on the back reads:
“Funny, pacy and sexy” – Matthew Parris
You’ll never make a fuss at a hotel again. (more…)
Hello to all you readers out there.
I shall be reading from my Berlin thriller Blood Summit at the Stadtbibliotek (city library) in Innsbruck at 1900 on 18 October. Come along!
The reading has been organised by the English Reading Circle in Innsbruck at the magnificent Stadtbibliotek, whose rather good slogan is “Innsbruck’s biggest living room – a place for everyone”. This seems a splendid description of a library. You can read about the event at the site of the Stadtbibliotek. I shall read from Blood Summit and will be happy to answer questions, as well as signing copies. (more…)
“From Russia with Love” was Ian Fleming’s breakthrough: a hard-hitting, Soviet-focused romp on the Orient Express delving deep into James Bond’s psychology and habits and presenting top Bond villains Rosa Klebb and Red Grant.
What if Ian Fleming wrote a James Bond novel in which the hero did not appear until halfway through?
The cover of my Folio Society edition of “From Russia with Love” is by Fay Dalton
Such a book exists. It is the fifth novel in the series, From Russia with Love, which came out in 1957. The first ten chapters of the book outline a dastardly Soviet plot to kill Bond. They take place in Crimea and Moscow within the bureaucracy of SMERSH – an actual organisation created by Stalin in 1943 whose name is an acronym for “SMErt SHpionam” or “death to spies”.
These chapters introduce two of Fleming’s most memorable villains: (more…)
What is a shill? What images of America stayed in the mind of the young Ian Fleming? What does James Bond know about women, and relationships? “Diamonds are Forever” pulses with insights into America in the ’50s, and shines a light on everyday sexism in that era.
A new James Bond movie, No Time to Die, lurches over the horizon. Will it be any good?
Almost certainly not (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site).
Will it contain bizarre and dated attitudes to women, clothed in feeble nods to political correctness? Almost certainly.
But I will keep hoping.
Despite the ghastliness of most recent Bond outings, I remain a fan of the original Ian Fleming novels. I am the proud owner of a growing set of Folio Society editions, and recently read Diamonds are Forever, published in 1956, whose illustrations by Fay Dalton evoke the mood of the book:
The story moves at a leisurely pace. Bond does not take the menace of US gangsters seriously, and attempts a relationship with the magnificent but damaged Tiffany Case before a satisfying resolution on board a transatlantic liner. Like many in the series, it contains a good deal of language which by today’s standards is racist, homophobic and misogynistic. I tend to feel that such texts should not put a book out of bounds for today’s audiences, even if they make a modern reader cringe: they are a reminder of how far we have come. But many readers may feel differently.
Diamonds are Forever also contains some splendid set-piece descriptions, for example of the “Acme Mud and Sulphur Baths” or of US horse-racing at Saratoga, which are reminiscent of the descriptions of fox-hunting and cross-country horse racing which appear regularly in Trollope. (more…)
When I climb into an Uber driven by Jonathan (not his real name) in San Diego, he is playing reggae. Rashly, I comment on this. He tells me, silencing the music as he does so, that he likes reggae because the music speaks for the downtrodden and left behind of the earth. The world would be better, he said, if we could get rid of money.
Unfortunately, the credit card payment has already gone through.
San Diego has many beautiful features. This is the beach at La Jolla
Visiting California in 2019 for the first time in 40 years, I am struck that people’s certainty about everything, together with their openness, friendliness and confidence that it is reasonable to explain their views, their religious beliefs, their financial situation, their relationships and their medical history to total strangers has not changed one iota from my 1979 hitchhiking trip around the United States (bold italics are links to other posts on this blog).
In 1979, too, I heard many confident and confidential explanations of how the world really worked from people I met hitch-hiking. One young man in Seattle of profoundly liberal views, including on the legalisation of narcotics, argued passionately that numerous events which I regarded as historic facts had not in fact taken place. A truck-driver with whom I shared a ride in Arizona regaled me and others in the vehicle with an account of his miraculous escape when the driver of the vehicle in which he had been riding had been impaled on girders projecting from the trailer of another vehicle. He told us of his subsequent stranding in the desert; his wandering in the wilderness; and his eventual escape to be with us on the ride. (more…)
Vor kurzem war ich zu Besuch in Berlin. Ich habe den Reichstag besichtigt: die Kulisse für meinen Berlin-Roman Blood Summit.
Blood Summit gibt es noch nicht auf Deutsch – ich suche einen Verlag. Aber wenn Sie gern wissen würden, worum es geht, schauen Sie bitte dieses Video an. Und wenn Sie noch mehr Infos möchten, schreiben Sie mir! Oben rechts, “Contact me”. Das geht ganz einfach.
Blood Summit ist ein echter Thriller: viel Blut, viel Action, unterhaltsam und schnell zu lesen. Die perfekte Lektüre, wenn Sie English einigermaßen beherrschen, und auch für Buch- und Lesegruppen gut geeignet.
Happy reading! Viel Vergnügen beim Lesen!
P.S. If you enjoy fresh, original writing, please follow me on Facebook or sign up for e-mail updates (top right – see blue “click here” button). Or you can join my mailing list – I’ll be delighted to give you a free “Hotel Story” to say thanks. My 5 pleasure paths provide a site-map and guide to the more than 300 posts on robertpimm.com.
P.P.S. Thanks to the lovely Sibylle Trost for the video and the lovely Andrea Linecker for teaching me German. Excellent professionals.
P.P.P.S You can get hold of a copy of Blood Summit thus:
(i) go to Amazon.de (or your local Amazon if you live somewhere else). You can order a paperback or download a copy for your Kindle or e-book;
(ii) if you live in Vienna, stroll along to Shakespeare & Company at Sterngasse 2. It’s a terrific bookshop and stocks many other books in addition to Blood Summit;
(iii) come to one of my readings.
A recent reading at Cafe Korb in Vienna
I usually have books at my readings (see piano in the picture above) which I will be delighted to sign for you. At the readings, I usually read a couple of chapters and then answer questions; up to now, people have seemed to enjoy them. If you buy a paperback elsewhere and bring it along, I’ll be happy to sign it, too.
(iv) if you want to read the book for free you can take a 30-day trial membership of “Kindle Unlimited” which permits you to read books on Kindle, including Blood Summit, for free. Or you may already be a member of Kindle Unlimited. I’ve been surprised how many readers access the book this way.
An Austrian friend of mine was reading my Great Vienna cafe reviews recently (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site).
My friend commented: But my favorite coffee house you did not even name. It is the Café EILES… Friendly staff, great environment, good coffee. And all the essential papers. And they do leave you alone, this is priceless. All the other coffee places I visit several times a month waiters become friendly and ask you things or even worse they involve you into their own problems, just because I am very friendly and leave good tips…
The Eiles is spacious, in the tradition of the grand old Viennese cafes
There is much wisdom in these comments:
(i) friendly staff: I have often written about the grumpiness and mixed quality of waiters in Vienna and in Germany. As someone said to me the other day, “you don’t go to the classic cafes for good coffee or good service – you go for the entire cafe experience”. Most perceptive. But the service in the Eiles is good; (more…)
To brush up your writing ideas and technique, a good writing course is unbeatable. I attended a short story writing week in Loutro, in Crete, and found ideas and prompts on every side.
In the shade of a quiet taverna, eight people sit writing. Crickets chirp on the fragrant hillside. A glistening kebab rotates; as fat hisses in the embers, mouthwatering aromas tickle our tastebuds. A fishing boat nudges across the bay, ripples gurgling in its wake. My pen scrapes across the page.
The village of Loutro has no roads or vehicles.
The “Poetry and Writing” courses organised by espirita.org.uk in the tiny Cretan village of Loutro are a unique way to focus for one, two or three weeks on your story ideas and writing techniques in a sparkling Greek resort. Stewart Wills is the delightfully unclassifiable spirit being behind espirita – slogan: “A not-for-profit travel service for the cultural traveller”. Other espirita offerings include Taiko Drumming in Japan, The Oriental Garden in China, and Aromazzata in Italy. Tempting stuff.
I attended the “One Short Story” course on Loutro in summer 2019, tutored by Christopher Wakling, author of seven fine novels and lead fiction tutor at Curtis Brown Creative. I’d been on an Arvon writing course led by (more…)
Writing a book? See how story ideas and story location come together when I visit the city where my Berlin thriller Blood Summit is set. The visit also unleashed the idea of doing a reading in the Reichstag.
The primary goal of my visit to Berlin was the Reichstag, where much of the novel takes place. It is a sombre building with a tragic history of arson, destruction, occupation and dereliction. In Blood Summit it takes more punishment. Yet on a sunny day it can look quite innocuous:
The lawn in front of the Reichstag suggests accessibility and openness: features of the building which are problematic in “Blood Summit”
I was delighted to meet film maker Sibylle Trost at the Reichstag (click on the link for her website, also available in German). Sibylle, whose documentaries for German TV receive audiences of four million and who also works freelance for companies and others, is a fan of Blood Summit and made a top quality video of my first reading from the book, in Vienna in 2018 (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site). (more…)
In the city, the heat is oppressive. Yet the evening, in a deck chair under a beach umbrella, is cool. The beer in my hand is icy. All around me, hundreds of people are upending a beer or slurping a cocktail. Open water glistens nearby. What could be better than this?
The Strandbar Herrmann is a regular haunt of mine; is a unique spot in the centre of Vienna; and has charm. So here is a review.
Strandbar Herrmann – the Urania is the domed building in the background
Seven great things about the Strandbar Herrmann:
(i) it is close to town. Vienna has tons of outstanding beach bars next to the Danube, many of which I recommend, but which are a train- or bike-ride out of town. Herrmann is on the Danube Canal, which loops round from the river towards the city. You can walk there from the town centre in 15-25 minutes;
(ii) it’s big and bustling. OK, so I love the Kleines Cafe (click to see all my Vienna cafe reviews – links in bold italics are to other posts on this site). But when you’re having a cooling drink out of doors, a hum of contented (more…)
How beautiful can a footpath be? Austria’s are amongst the best.
I particularly enjoy the country’s system of footpath signs. Over the past three years here I have photographed many of them. I reproduce a selection here.
You may wish to pay attention to:
- nature – many signs are worn or overgrown or both, as wind and weather reclaim them. This is usually a good thing;
- texture: the interplay between sign, tree (or rock) and background is often sublime;
- seasons: some, but not all, footpaths can be enjoyed all-year round.
Each of the following pictures represents a moment of perfection, somewhere in Austria. If you know where, feel free to comment.
This squirrel is urging people to care for nature (more…)
‘Where can I find out more about your paperback “Seven Hotel Stories”, featuring the world’s most homicidal hotel manager, Ms N, and her beautiful but naive ally, Tatiana?’ someone asked me the other day.
‘Try my blog,’ I said.
‘Sure,’ she said. ‘But can you be more specific?’
I took a look and realised I had not written a post about my Seven Hotel Stories since May 2018.
Clicking on the image above will take you to Amazon
Apologies. I have been a bit busy since May 2018. I have found time to complete two all-new Hotel Stories, entitled Seven Ukrainian Girls and Total Control, but have not yet published them. This is partly because (more…)
I recently visited one of my favourite places on earth, Lundy Island off the north coast of Devon, for the 22nd time.
Lundy Island has superb cloudscapes
Between the arrival of the island ship, the MS Oldenburg, and its departure that evening, I was puzzled to see dozens of people wandering around wearing badges around their necks. (more…)
Exactly ten years ago, when I was living in Kyiv, I visited Chernobyl for the first time. Following the HBO TV series “Chernobyl”, I thought people might be interested to see what the real place looked like. Here are 25 of my pictures, with captions.
In 2009, 23 years after the catastrophe, the town of Chernobyl itself was still functioning – 4,000 people worked there. The nearby town of Pripyat, a place of 50,000 souls where workers and families were evacuated the day after the explosion, generated the spookiest “ghost town” images.
Comments and shares welcome.
In 2009 there was a small but thriving tourist business taking visitors to Chernobyl from the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, around two hours’ drive away. To enter the area of Chernobyl and Pripyat you had to pass through a control point. (more…)
“14 Plums” is a great introduction to PG Wodehouse and a great book to start with.
Where to start with Wodehouse? Which Jeeves book should you read first? What is the best reading order?
I have so far read 14 of the 20 P G Wodehouse Jeeves and Wooster and Blandings Castle volumes of my father’s splendid Folio Society collection (links in bold italics are to other posts on this blog). What joy these books have brought to the world!
But greater experts than I, such as the fabulous fellow WordPress blogger Plumtopia, who specialises in the works of P G Wodehouse, have pointed out that there is much more to “Plum” than Jeeves and Wooster and Blandings, splendid as they are.
So I was delighted to discover recently another Folio Society edition, The Plums of P G Wodehouse.
My Folio Society edition of “The Plums of P.G. Wodehouse” (more…)
When you are writing a book or selling a book, rejection is likely to be a constant companion. Seven tips on how to cope – and maybe turn rejection to your advantage. These techniques may also help you tackle writer’s block.
You click open your e-mails. Your heart leaps.
The agent to whom you sent your cherished work in progress has replied to your letter pitching your story ideas.
Could it be that she liked your work? With trepidation, you click on the e-mail.
She has rejected you.
Many authors long to see their book in a bookshop
What should you do next?
Here is my seven-stage plan for dealing with rejection.
First up, I know a lot about rejection. Every writer does. Stephen King had a lot of rejections. So did J K Rowling. How do they – and I – stay motivated when things are looking bleak? Here is my seven stage plan. (more…)
It was a wonderful evening. The hosts were the fine Vienna Storytelling Collective: you can read about the event at their Facebook site. If you are interested in writing, reading, or listening to new talent and live in Vienna, I encourage you to join them.
I started off talking about this blog (NB for some reason the videos are previewed sideways before you click on them; but they appear the right way up when you click “play”).
Congratulations! You have finished writing your novel.
First step: celebrate. You’ve achieved an awesome feat.
Now what should you do?
You should do lots of things, and quickly. This post looks at how you can make your novel as good as possible, before you send it out to seek an agent or a publisher.
Of course, you may want to send your novel out as soon as you have written “The End”.
Feel free. Perhaps you are a great writer (see below) and your first draft is of such quality that it needs no further improvement. Well done.
Signing a copy of your printed book is a great experience
Most first drafts of novels, however, will be improved by editing. This raises the question of how you, the author of a book, can best edit your own manuscript. Some of this post is based on a course I attended at the Arvon Foundation (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site). I found both Arvon and the two tutors excellent and would recommend them.
Here are my recommendations on seven steps to improve the first draft of your novel. I illustrate the steps with experience of my new Istanbul-based thriller Palladium, which I revised for several months a year after finishing the first draft. (more…)
How to beat writer’s block? Beating writer’s block is easier if you have clear strategy and routines.
I recently wrote on how to write a novel: plan in advance or not? (Links in bold italics are to other posts on this site.) I quoted Stephen King, and Stephen Donaldson, whose main tip on how to write a novel was “start today”.
Maybe you would like to write a novel, or a story. But you haven’t started yet. You often say, or think “I’d like to write a story”. But you never quite find the time.
People. Start today.
Starting to write a novel can be difficult
Of course we all feel obstacles to writing. We are busy. We worry that what we write may not be good enough. We don’t have the right computer, or the right software. We are waiting until we have finished another project, until a child is older, until we change job, until the stars are aligned. Starting to write is hard.
Here are five ways to get in the habit of writing. (more…)
Good news for story-lovers.
Click on the cover if you’d like to buy a copy from Amazon
The hosts are the excellent Vienna writers’ organisation “Write Now”: you can read about the event at their Facebook site. The evening starts at 19.00 on 17 June in the rather fantastic Art Lounge of the Cafe Korb at Brandstätte 9 in the First District. I should be reading sometime after 20.00, although timings are flexible.
All are welcome! I hope to see you there for an evening of creativity, entertainment and, perhaps, a few laughs.
Where can you read a few Hotel Stories before the event? Option 1 is to download them from Amazon. Option 2 is to read the introductions to a few of the stories right here on this site – see my post The Hotel Stories – 7 reasons you should read them (links in bold are to other posts on this site). Option 3, if you want to read a complete story and can’t bear Amazon, is to download one free here.
Also on 17 June, I shall be signing copies (more…)
Excellent piece from Wodehouse specialist Plumtopia marking the centenary of “My Man Jeeves”.
My Man Jeeves was published 100 years ago in May 1919.
Jeeves–my man, you know–is really a most extraordinary chap. So capable. Honestly, I shouldn’t know what to do without him. On broader lines he’s like those chappies who sit peering sadly over the marble battlements at the Pennsylvania Station in the place marked “Inquiries.” You know the Johnnies I mean. You go up to them and say: “When’s the next train for Melonsquashville, Tennessee?” and they reply, without stopping to think, “Two-forty-three, track ten, change at San Francisco.” And they’re right every time. Well, Jeeves gives you just the same impression of omniscience.
May 2019 marks 100 years since the publication of My Man Jeeves, P.G. Wodehouse’s first Jeeves story collection.
Well, sort of. It’s complicated.
Wodehouse chronology always is, because many of his works were published in magazine format on both sides of the Atlantic before appearing…
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What is the best way to write a novel? Should you plan a novel in advance, or not? A few tips for writers.
Let’s explore two common methods. I’ve tried both. Each can work well: which is best for you will depend on how you write and what you are writing.
Before we look at that, let me cite the US fantasy author Stephen R Donaldson, who was once asked by an admirer how to achieve success in writing. “Start today,” Donaldson said.
Donaldson’s advice is great. If you want to start writing fiction, don’t wait until the conditions are perfect and all the stars are aligned (“I’m waiting until the kids grow up”; “I have to get some new writing software”; “I’m too busy right now”). Set aside some time tonight, this afternoon or even this morning; get out a pen and paper; and start writing.
How do you begin?
How to begin? There are different ways of writing a novel
The first method is taught in writing courses and top universities across the world. You should plan your story around a standard structure. This structure is set out in a thousand primers – try googling “narrative structure” or “three act structure”.
This plan goes back to the ancient Greeks. That’s no bad thing: it has stood the test of time. In brief:
- the first part (or “act”) of your story introduces your main characters and describes their situation, usually including a problem or conflict;
- the second part involves an “inciting act” (eg: a letter in the post; discovery of a body; a glance across a crowded room) leading to, or highlighting, a conflict or problem. This then escalates, perhaps via a series of mini-crises, to become a crisis;
- the third part sees the main character or characters developing and changing (“digging deeper than ever before”) to a climax where they overcome the crisis, often preceded by a section where it seems that “all is lost”. This leads on to the end of the story, with the main character in a new equilibrium.
Should you edit your writing as you go along? Or should you write a first draft and then edit once you’ve finished?
I once visited a wonderful friend who was a successful writer (DF – it was you!).
At the time, I was struggling to complete my first novel.
When she suggested we go for brunch at her local cafe to read the New York Times and the Washington Post, I was delighted. As I waited to go out, I glanced at her writing desk, filled with admiration for her hard work and achievement.
On the desk was a book about writing technique. Intrigued that she, a well-known author, should need such advice, I leafed through it. A sentence leapt out at me.
You can see the results of all this in my Berlin thriller Blood Summit
“Don’t keep writing and re-writing the same chapter or the opening to your book,” the guide said. “Doing that risks preventing you from completing the task. You must keep moving forward.”
At that point my friend was ready and we went out for a terrific brunch in Alexandria.
But I never forgot that sentence. I have found it invaluable in helping me to complete many novels.
“Wait!” I hear you cry. “Surely I shouldn’t write (more…)
The technique of “scenes and sequels” is a great way to build tension in your writing. Some practical examples of how to use them.
An experienced commissioning editor told me recently that one of two main reasons she rejected manuscripts was “no story”. The other was “overwritten” – I’ll write about that another day.
How can you make sure your fiction has a strong story, that people will want to read?
To put it another way, how can you make sure your fiction has bite?
‘How the hell do I apply these techniques to my writing?’
Swain said that to have a cracking good story you should start with a scene in which someone is trying to achieve a goal. The sub-elements are:
(i) goal: the character is trying to achieve something;
(ii) conflict: something prevents the character achieving that goal;
(iii) disaster: the quest to achieve the goal ends in catastrophe. (more…)
I recently started a list of e-mails for people who might want to hear about my writing activities – eg my next reading from “Blood Summit” in Vienna on Monday 17 June.
The e-mail list is organised by a company called “Mailchimp”. You can sign up to receive comments here (in theory, a pop-up should appear at this point – do feel free to subscribe if it works!) Or you can e-mail me on firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll be delighted to add you to the list myself.
I send an edition of “Robert Pimm’s Writing News” rather rarely – over the past 18 months I have sent five of them. They are a good way to stay in touch.
But if you want to stop, you can unsubscribe by clicking on the link in the mail.
If you do sign up, please reward yourself by downloading a free Hotel Story by clicking on the link.
Nice to have you on board!
P.S. If you enjoy fresh, original writing, please follow me on Facebook or sign up for e-mail updates (top right – see the “click here” blue button). Check out the range of writing on this site via my 5 pleasure paths.
So I thought I would give away, to everyone who finds their way here, a complete, free Hotel Story: The Two Rooms.
Ms N, the world’s most brilliant, unpredictable and occasionally homicidal hotel manager and her beautiful but naive accomplice, Tatiana, have to deal with an avalanche of problems involving Mr Burke, an unspeakably obnoxious guest; a dodgy Prime Minister on a moral crusade; Ms Gentle, a provider of specialised services for men; a pack of cigar-smoking Russian ice-hockey fans; and a murderous Japanese sushi chef. The story contains a startling twist. Is it my favourite Hotel Story? Perhaps it is.
To receive a free PDF copy of The Two Rooms, please click on the cover below:
If you’d prefer to download a “Word” copy, click here:
If you like The Two Rooms, you may like to read the complete Seven Hotel Stories. But that’s another story. Six, in fact.
P.S. If you enjoy fresh, original writing, please friend me on Facebook or sign up for e-mail updates (top right – see the “click here” blue button). Check out the range of writing on this site via my 5 pleasure paths.
Previous posts in my series The Americans have included The Americans: prologue; The Americans: leaving New York; The Americans: Avenue of the Heroes; and The Americans: Valley of the Rogue. Feedback welcome. This is how the story begins.
Fast Trip to London
The first stage of my journey to Candy McCarthy, Cortez and beyond began in Manchester. That’s Manchester, England.
I left home at 3.30 Tuesday June 26thwith my usual red rucksack and fairly light load, my diary opens. Fast trip to London, as always.
January 1979, Isle of Mull
On the third of May 1979, seven weeks before I wrote that diary entry, Margaret Thatcher had been elected Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. This event is not recorded anywhere in my journals.
I did note the fact of my attending a “Final Selection Board” for the British Civil Service in London on 11 April, 3 weeks before the election. The first question from the intimidating, all-male panel, sitting in the Old Admiralty Building in Whitehall, was: (more…)
Do any of our actions make any difference to anything? What makes us happy? What makes us laugh? What about the power of memory?
This week’s quotations look at all these issues. The scandalous Alan Clark, whose remarkable and disturbing diaries I have reviewed, clearly thought that sexual activity was keeping him young. Evelyn Waugh, in his elegiac Brideshead Revisited, blows us away with his reminiscences. P G Wodehouse, on whom I blog frequently, is the one of the best comic writers on earth. Lawrence Durrell, meanwhile, is sceptical that any of our lives achieve anything. I disagree!
Personally, I am a strong believer that our lives can make a difference
Why am I still, in the main, so zestful?
I know, but I don’t like to say
In case the gods take it away.
Alan Clark, The Diaries (more…)
How to understand British politics: why Trollope’s 19th century books are the best guide to Westminster which exists today – and a great guide to British humour.
Trollope is, perhaps, my favourite novelist (although PG Wodehouse is up there).
I have described before 11 life-changing reasons you should read Trollope, including his views on religion, sexual politics, and the media (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site).
But not everyone is convinced.
So I thought I would give an example of the brilliance of Trollope by quoting an entire chapter from his 1869 novel He Knew He Was Right.
He Knew He Was Right deals with the breakdown of the marriage between Louis Trevelyan, a wealthy young Englishman, and his wife Emily. As a description of how jealousy and stubbornness can destroy a relationship, it could have been written yesterday.
My Trollope Society edition of “He Knew He Was Right” has 823 pages
Emily’s father is Sir Marmaduke Rowley, Governor of the fictional Mandarin Islands, a distant British colony. An old friend, Colonel Osborne, who is also Emily’s godfather, arranges for Sir Marmaduke to be summoned back to London, ostensibly to appear before a parliamentary committee, but in fact in order that he can return to London at the taxpayer’s expense to see Emily. Sir Marmaduke acquiesces in this subterfuge; yet is dismayed when he is summoned before the committee of Members of Parliament, which is chaired by one Major Magruder: “a certain ancient pundit of the constitution, who had been for many years a member, and who had been known as a stern critic of our colonial modes of government”.
I have reproduced here Chapter 68 of He Knew He Was Right, giving an account of Sir Marmaduke’s appearance before the Major Magruder’s committee. I often counsel people who want to understand politics, and British parliamentary procedure, to read Trollope. Chapter 68 (out of 99 in the book) illustrates why. The procedures described; the emotions of the elderly Sir Marmaduke as he is questioned; the chairmanship and motivation of Major Magruder; and the outcome of the hearing, including the way Sir Marmaduke is treated compared with the incomparably more competent “Governor from one of the greater colonies” who has also been questioned by the committee, could describe the proceedings of a British parliamentary committee in 2019.
Read, and relish. I hope you enjoy it.
Major Magruder’s Committee
Sir Marmaduke could not go out to Willesden on the morning after Lady Rowley’s return from River’s Cottage, because on that day he was summoned to attend at twelve o’clock before a Committee of the House of Commons, to give his evidence and, the fruit of his experience as to the government of British colonies generally; and as he went down to the House in a cab from Manchester Street he thoroughly wished that his friend Colonel Osborne had not been so efficacious in bringing him home. The task before him was one which he thoroughly disliked, and of which he was afraid. (more…)
“Summer Lightning” is the first of six novels set at the inimitable Blandings Castle, in Shropshire, featuring Lord Emsworth and his prize pig, the Empress of Blandings. This series is different from the Jeeves and Wooster classics – but the 36 quotations below show why it made me laugh out loud.
My recent blog Reading Wodehouse: a plea for help recorded that I had finished the main body of Jeeves and Wooster stories. I sought advice on what other Wodehouse was out there, and what I should read next. I received a host of helpful comments (at the link: feel free to take a look). Thanks, everyone.
In the light of this advice I have started reading the Folio Society Plums of Wodehouse collection, which opens with the magnificent short story Uncle Fred Flits By. I have also read Summer Lightning.
My Folio Society edition of “Summer Lightning”
To read these works is like discovering a delicious new wine from a much-trusted region: a whole new fountain of pleasure which recalls the original, sublime experience. I look forward to getting to know Uncle Fred, and Blandings, better.
What struck me about Summer Lightning, (more…)
What kind of woman is tough, yet keeps her femininity and beauty?
Meet Ms N, the world’s most brilliant, unpredictable and occasionally homicidal hotel manager, and her beautiful but naive ally, Tatiana. Ms N is one of the most formidable women in fiction
Ms N is so modest that she does not want anyone to know her real name. But no-one handles men more effectively and more conclusively than she does, in the Seven Hotel Stories in which she stars.
If you don’t want to pay for a story, contact me via the form below and I’ll send you a Word copy of one of the stories. We try to please!
P.S. The Seven Hotel Stories are not intended for children. “The White Blouse”, in particular, contains some very evil men indeed, who get what they deserve.
P.P.S. If you enjoy fresh, original writing, please friend me on Facebook or sign up for e-mail updates (top right – see the “click here” blue button). Check out the range of writing on this site via the sitemap and guide.
What are your all-time favourite songs?
If you are over 25, did you first hear those songs recently or – as I suspect – did you hear them in your teen years or early ’20s?
I am intrigued that the usual lists of things that make people happy, such as family, friends, work, wealth, health, freedom, personal values, and beautiful environments, do not include music or the arts (bold italics are links to other posts on this site).
To hear music is a profound human need; the impact on your wellbeing can be sublime.
So I was fascinated when writing my recent blog How to stay sane: never take yourself too seriously, featuring the wit and wisdom of Deep Purple, to explore my old collection of singles. What were the first I ever acquired?
To be honest, I am not certain. My singles were once mixed up with the larger collection of my elder brother (who I believe I remember bringing home “She Loves You” by the Beatles in 1963); and have been culled over the years, including by my giving some to my daughter for her new-fangled vinyl record player.
Leaving aside these quibbles, the oldest singles now in my collection, in reverse order of antiquity, are:
6. Paranoid, by Black Sabbath (1970) (more…)
I need help.
I need help from Wodehouse experts, or Kenner as we call them here in Austria.
For years, I have been relishing my father’s Folio Society collection of Jeeves and Wooster stories. I have so far read 14 of them, as reported in my blogs Aunts aren’t gentlemen – 10 quotations, Jeeves and the feudal spirit: 20 delicious quotations, and Right ho, Jeeves – 14 fruity quotations (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site).
I have now reached the final boxed set of my father’s collection, which I find comprises six volumes set at Blandings Castle: Summer Lightning (1929); Heavy Weather (1933); Uncle Fred in the Springtime (1939); Full Moon (1947); Pigs Have Wings (1952); and Service with a Smile (1961).
The cover of my Folio Society edition of “Summer Lightning”
My problems are: (more…)
The lights go down.
Heavy metal chords ring out.
It is clear that Deep Purple have lost none of their ability to rock.
I’ve seen the loudest band of all time (Guinness Book of Records) twice: in Kyiv in 2011 and in Vienna in 2017. I was fortunate enough to share a beer with Roger Glover and other band members after both shows. (more…)
How to be a genius, or a great writer: quotations from P G Wodehouse and Lawrence Durrell
How seriously should we take ourselves?
One of the keys to happiness is not to take yourself too seriously. You can take life seriously, and your family, and your work. You can, and should, take pride in yourself and your achievements.
But the minute you start thinking that you are a rather amazing person, and better than other people, you are in danger of taking yourself too seriously and should stop it at once.
“Thank you, Jeeves” is an absolute corker
I was reminded of this wisdom by one of this week’s three quotations, which are below. (more…)
Is kissing allowed in the Cafe Malipop?
How about smoking?
How about being cool and hanging out?
Clue: only one of these activities is allowed in the Cafe Malipop.
Here are eight reasons I rate the Cafe Malipop one of my great Vienna cafes (links in bold italics are to posts on this site):
(i) Viennese cafes, like London pubs, occasionally get “renovated” and, sometimes, ruined. You can feel safe at the Malipop. No renovation has taken place there since time began;
The Malipop: how a late-night cafe should be
(ii) the 10 Ungargasse address in Vienna’s Third District is far from the tourist trail, indeed far from trails of any kind unless you study at the nearby Music University;
(iii) like the Hard Rock Cafe, the Malipop has a song about it. Malipop, written and sung by legendary singer, activist and comedian Willi Resetarits (also known as Dr Kurt Ostbahn) is crooned in impenetrable Viennese dialect, opening with the lines:
Heid noch im Malipop, drink i an feanet, iss i an schbedsialdosd und rauch a smaat…
This means roughly: (more…)
James Bond has evolved over the years in both “Bond movies” and “Bond novels” written by other authors. The “James Bond brand” could evolve further: a black, female Bond might be intriguing.
Ian Fleming’s James Bond, created in a series of novels and short stories from 1953 to 1966, is a magnificent, unforgettable creation. But how much of a problem is it that his attitudes often now feel dated (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site)?
Can one hate Bond’s views, for example on women, yet still admire his single-mindedness and style? I think so. If you cannot discount dated attitudes in a historical context (“Plato was a slave-owner”), you risk missing out on countless treats.
For writers, characters like James Bond are gold dust. Like him or loath him, he is well written. He thinks about his actions, has values and opinions, behaves within a clearly defined framework, yet is full of ambiguity. No wonder movie-makers adore him.
Can you update a character such as Bond? Movie makers have been updating James Bond for years, drawing on the original material in Fleming’s novels to create stories set in the present day. Results are mixed, although as I say in the piece at the link, many of us keep going back to cinemas in the hope Bond’s next outing will be better than the last.
Debate swirls around a black or female Bond: my view is that this would be fine, so long as the character retained key Bond characteristics such as sophistication, humour, gadgets, great grooming, and a merciless streak.
The cover of my Folio Society “Casino Royale” is suitably dated both in style and content – get a whiff of that cigarette smoke
Some updating is essential. A modern movie which used Bond’s line about his former lover (more…)
I recently read East West Street by British law professor and international human rights expert Philippe Sands.
If you have any interest in the cataclysm which overtook eastern and central Europe between 1933 and 1945, I recommend East West Street. It explains the development of the concepts of “crimes against humanity” and “genocide” against the background of the Second World War and the appalling crimes which took place in the run up to, and during, that conflict.
It also considers the relevance of what happened in 1933-45 today.
My copy of ‘East West Street’. The endorsements ring true
Sands humanises and illustrates his account by focusing on four individuals. Hersch Lauterpacht was a professor of International Law who developed the concept of crimes against humanity. Rafael Lemkin was a prosecutor and lawyer who developed the concept of Genocide. Hans Frank was Hitler’s lawyer and later governor-general of German-occupied Poland from 1940-45. Leon Buchholz was Sands’s grandfather, who died in Paris in 1997 (‘He took Lemberg to the grave, along with a scarf given to him by his mother in January 1939. It was a parting gift from Vienna, my mother told me as we bade him adieu.’) (more…)
Learning about nut-grafs and cosmic kickers is a helpful way to write better blogs and newspaper articles.
So you want to write a brilliant blog or newspaper article? Help is at hand, in three easy stages.
First: decide your message, and make sure people want to read about it. Part 1 of this series, 7 tips for writing the perfect article, explores how to ensure your piece will land well (links in bold italics are to other posts on this web-site).
Next: structure your article. Part 2 of this series, Nut-grafs and Cosmic Kickers, sets out a simple 4-step template to write your piece – including how to get started.
What else? Practice makes perfect. Read pieces critically. Understanding how others use these techniques will help you do the same. Here, in Part 3 of the series, are two more worked examples. I hope you find them helpful. If you do, please feel free to re-post this series, or draw it to the attention of others.
Nut-grafs and cosmic kickers: two worked examples
The following article appeared in the Financial times of 22 October 2004. It includes all the four elements – Lede, Nut-graf, Body and Cosmic Kicker – set out in Part 2 of this series.
Where even experts fear to tread
The Valluga II cable car above St. Anton is one of those boxy, old-fashioned affairs that sways from one mountain peak to another across a gulf of nothingness. At the entrance is a sign showing a pair of skis, crossed out. Next to it, to avoid any confusion, the words: NO SKIS.
“What’s that?” I ask Willi, a fellow skier with whom I am about to enter the six-person cabin.
“It’s OK,” he says. “It means no skis unless you have a guide.”
For skiers who have mastered the basics, the benefits of skiing with a guide are not always clear-cut. Holidays are all about freedom to do what you want, when you want, and to escape the workplace hierarchy. So it seems perverse to yoke yourself to someone who’s going to tell you where to go and what to do when you get there, especially when you have to pay them handsomely for the privilege. But a good guide can raise the quality of a day’s skiing from enjoyable to sublime. That’s why, when I make my next annual pilgrimage to Lech, in the Arlberg region of western Austria, I’ll be joining Class 3A (or maybe 2B) for at least half my stay to be guided around a resort I already know intimately.
Looking up the hill after the passage of a 3A class in Lech, February 2019 (more…)
For all you ardent Wodehouse fans, I have fine news.
Much Obliged, Jeeves is one of the funniest Wodehouse books I have read.
The cover of my Folio Society edition of “Much Obliged, Jeeves”
Why is Much Obliged, Jeeves so hilarious? I put it down to a consistency and richness of comic language from start to finish. In between laughing out loud and wiping the tears from my eyes, I noted so many fine lines that I had to cut the total down radically for this blog.
Here are 24 wonderful quotations from Much Obliged, Jeeves:
- I am always glad… to renew my acquaintance with the unbeatable eatables dished up by her superb French chef Anatole, God’s gift to the gastric juices. I have often regretted that I have but one stomach to put at his disposal.
- [Of Aunt Dahlia’s stentorious voice] ‘I wonder whether she ever sang lullabies to me in my cradle. If so, it must have scared me cross-eyed, giving me the illusion that the boiler had exploded.’
- ‘My fiancée wanted me to,’ he said, and as his lips framed the word ‘fiancée’ his voice took on a sort of tremolo like that of a male turtle dove cooing to a female turtle dove. (more…)
What are the health benefits of drinking Martinis? Is it possible drinking vodka might be good for you? Two top surgeons explain.
At the roof bar of the Istanbul hotel, I don’t notice a thing.
Below us, the Bosphorus sparkles in the setting sun. I slurp my cocktail and feel a powerful sense of well-being.
When we sit down for dinner, however, I spot it at once.
‘You’re both drinking vodka,’ I say. ‘Why is that?’
My dinner companions, both top cardiac surgeons, glance at one another.
At a “Spectre” premiere in Istanbul. Lousy movie but inspired character (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site)
‘This is because pure spirits are the healthiest way to ingest alcohol,’ one surgeon says. ‘Of course, not drinking alcohol may also have health benefits, although some studies indicate the opposite if consumed in moderation. But if, like us, you enjoy a drink from time to time, without excess sugar and calories, pure spirits are the best.’
‘Wow.’ I sip my glass of red wine and wonder if I should have a re-think. (more…)
I am Pilgrim has a compelling plot, rich characters, horrifying jeopardy and seat-edge cliff-hangers. Here are 8 reasons I recommend it.
I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes is an epic, breathtaking chase from New York to Afghanistan to Bahrain to Gaza to Bodrum to Bulgaria and back.
Hold onto your hats – I am Pilgrim is quite a ride
Here (no spoilers) are 8 reasons I am Pilgrim will thrill you: (more…)
One key to writing better is to read critically. I attempt to do so, often noting down excerpts from books as I read. Here are three examples.
Read, enjoy, and – if you are a writer – learn from the great authors below.
See my February 2017 blog for a full review of this frightening book
Comedy: P G Wodehouse
‘Oh, I’m not complaining,’ said Chuffy, looking rather like Saint Sebastian on receipt of about the fifteenth arrow. ‘You have a perfect right to love who you like.’
Thank you, Jeeves – PG Wodehouse
Thriller: Lee Child
You’re going to Mississippi. They’ll think you’re queer. They’ll beat you to death.’
‘I doubt it,’ I said.
Lee Child – The Affair. Unusually, “The Affair” is narrated in the first person by Jack Reacher, Child’s indestructible yet – on a good day – ironic hero. My review of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels is positive.
Diary: Alan Clark
“This morning I bathed, before breakfast, in the loch just opposite the targets. I don’t know what the temperature is, a tiny trace of Gulf Stream perhaps, but not much. One feels incredible afterwards – like an instant double whisky, but clear-headed. Perhaps a ‘line’ of coke does this also. Lithe, vigorous, energetic. Anything seems possible.”
Alan Clark, The Diaries
For earlier posts of “selected quotations from master writers”, see Carols, the perfect Martini and love: three quotations; Short story technique from the master: 3 quotations; or Two-and-a-half literary quotes.
P.S. If you enjoy fresh, original writing, feel free to like or follow my Facebook page or sign up for e-mail updates (top right – see blue “click here” button). You can explore the range of writing on this site via my five pleasure paths.
For a taste of what my readings are like, see the video below by Sibylle Trost, a film producer in Berlin.
If you live in Vienna, you may wish to note that Blood Summit is available from English language bookshop Shakespeare & Company at Sterngasse 2 in central Vienna:
What better book to read at Christmas than Right Ho, Jeeves – a festive winter wonderland of Wodehouse, a rich Christmas pudding of Plum?
Right Ho, Jeeves opens with Bertie once more estranged from the genius of Jeeves. This time, the offending sartorial item to which Jeeves objects is a white mess jacket with brass buttons:
He rose, holding a white object. And at the sight of it, I realised that another of our domestic crises had arrived, another of those unfortunate clashes of will between two strong men, and that Bertram, unless he remembered his fighting ancestors, and stood up for his rights, was about to be put upon.
The cover of my Folio Society edition of Right Ho, Jeeves
When Bertie Wooster arrives to Brinkley Court without Jeeves to help him, he is beset not by one, two or three problems but by an unprecedented five, at my count. Most atypically, Bertie causes the resignation of Aunt Dahlia’s fabulous French chef Anatole, who makes a rare appearance:
This wizard of the cooking stove is a tubby little man with a moustache of the outsize or soup-strainer type, and you can generally take a line through it as to the state of his emotions. When all is well, it turns up at the end like a sergeant-major’s. When the soul is bruised, it droops. It was drooping now, striking a sinister note. (more…)
Is “50 Shades of Grey” brilliant, entertaining erotic literature, or misogynistic horror-show? Either way, the technique of the author is outstanding.
‘I only finished the first volume,’ my friend says. ‘It was so badly written. And boring.’
‘I disagree,’ I say. ‘I think the writing is brilliant. It hits every target for a best-seller. I read all three volumes. But I ended up hating it.’
What to make of 50 Shades of Grey? Last time I looked, it had sold 150 million copies in 52 languages and spawned a hit movie series. The book has 85,000 reviews on Amazon.com with an average of 4*, and a further 21,500 on Amazon.co.uk – also averaging 4*. A lot of people love it. Why?
The following review contains spoilers. Links in bold italics are to other blog posts on this site.
Each volume of “50 Shades” is substantial
Here are 5 things I found brilliant about the 50 Shades trilogy:
(i) everything is big. In her book “How to write a blockbuster“, Sarah Harrison says a bestseller must have glamour in the sense of absolute, undeniable, gobsmacking allure… with all the maidenly restraint of Joan Collins on speed. It’s got to be BIG, she says. Everything about 50 Shades is big – Christian Grey is not just rich, he’s mega-rich. He isn’t just talented; he is a concert-quality pianist and outstanding skier and linguist who excels at martial arts. He’s not only a good person: he wants to help poor people around the world. He’s not just handsome – every woman he passes is entranced by his charisma. As Ana sums him up:
A writer compares turnips and sex. Is he wise, or daft? Can we use his wisdom – if any – to make ourselves happier?
I have written often about happiness on this blog. You might like to look at a summary in my piece The one with the links to happiness.
W Somerset Maugham considers happiness and the meaning of life in his essay The Summing Up, written in 1938. Perhaps we can learn from him. Try not to be put off by the old-fashioned way in which he often refers to “men” when he means “people”
W Somerset Maugham is most famous for his short stories
In The Summing Up, Maugham asks whether writing itself is enough for a happy life…
From time to time I have asked myself whether I should have been a better writer if I had devoted my whole life to literature.
… and concludes:
Somewhat early, but at what age I cannot remember, I made up my mind that, having but one life, I should like to get the most I could out of it. It did not seem to me enough merely to write. (more…)
The Arvon foundation offers some of the world’s top writing courses. Find out why here.
Ahead, in the kitchen, everyone seems to be laughing. As I approach, the noise swells. I push the door open to find ten people sitting around a long wooden table, drinking tea and eating lemon drizzle cake. In an instant, the din dies down as everyone turns to look at the newcomer – me.
What have I left myself in for?
The prospect of attending a writing course holds both fascination and dread for would-be authors. I recently attended the Arvon Foundation’s “Editing Fiction: Turning First Drafts into Publishable Books” at The Hurst in Shropshire. So what actually happens on a writing course? Do they help your writing? And what if you don’t get on with the other participants?
I long to sit longer on this bench in the grounds of the Hurst
The Arvon course I attended, in November 2018, lasted from Monday afternoon to Saturday morning. It consisted of morning workshops, followed by afternoons free for writing, walking, or attending 1:1 seminars with the tutors. Workshops included sessions on how to edit a novel (including the advice “enjoy a moment (more…)
Learning to write in the Greek sun. If you want a great writing course, and wonderful weather, Skyros is where inspiration comes from.
I recently attended an outstanding writing course in Shropshire. I blogged about the experience in my piece: Arvon residential writing courses: review (links in bold italics are to other posts on this blog).
Researching for my Arvon post, I found this piece, commissioned long ago by The Boston Globe but never published, about a rather good writing course on the Greek island of Skyros. It follows the rules on structure set out in my piece The 4 elements of the perfect article: Nut-grafs and Cosmic Kickers. It sums up the Skyros course well.
Dancing for New Orleans
Ten would-be writers sit on a terrace high above the Aegean. We’re lapping up the bright sun, the cool breeze, and advice on how to get our books published. Suddenly we’re interrupted: up the hill, participants in another course are venting their emotions in a cacophony of eerie howling. In response, a donkey brays: a shocking, raucous noise. Everyone laughs.
The entrance to the Skyros Centre is low key
There’s a huge amount of laughter on a Skyros holiday. That’s the idea: by combining holistic holidays, writers’ courses and a Greek island, operator Skyros holds out the promise of both self-improvement and self-discovery in an idyllic setting. But how well do the different elements fit together? The answer is: better than you’d think.
You sense the island of Skyros is something special before the ferry from the Greek mainland even moors. As ship nears shore, music floats across the sea. A cafe on the waterfront is playing “Also Sprach Zarathustra”. (more…)
Should you use a computer or pen and paper to write fiction? How about if you are writing the first draft of your novel? Practical tips on how to get started.
I sit down at my desk in Vienna to continue writing my current novel, code-named The Boyfriend. Outside, birds sing in the trees; all is well in the world.
When I start to write, do I reach for my computer? Or for my pen and paper?
Many authors write first drafts direct on their computers, or always write on paper, without thinking too much about which works best. Here are a few things you might want think about.
In 1986 my then-employer acquired its first computer. I was thrilled by the idea that I could move words around on a screen, and only print them out when I was happy with them. It seemed to make the creative process less daunting. I started to write my first novel on that computer the same year – after work, of course.
In this pic I am writing the first draft of a blog direct on an iPad in Austria
In 1987 I bought my first home computer, an Amstrad PCW. Later I bought PCs; then Macs. But over the years, I stopped writing fiction on the screen. I write all my short stories and novels in long-hand.
How do I do that? And why?
How: I like to use a ring-bound A4 pad, (more…)
Where do story ideas come from? How can you find inspiration for fiction?
You are an author. You are about to sit down and begin to write a story.
How do you get started? What will it be about? Where to generate story ideas?
As the author of eight novels and nine short stories*, I work hard to find ideas. Here are my four sources of inspiration, and one non-source:
(i) how to get story ideas: my best source is random ideas which pop into my head – when I am reading, walking down the street, in the shower, whatever. These ideas have one thing in common. I write them down. Everyone has great ideas, all the time. What makes a difference is keeping a note of them. Maybe you are a genius and can remember good ideas indefinitely. I can’t. As soon as my mind wanders off – as it will – I forget my good idea. Action point for writers: make a note when an idea strikes you and ensure you can find that note later. Keep a notebook or web page where you store your blog ideas or novel ideas;
Some things are obviously inspirational. This deserted children’s bumper car ride near the Chernobyl nuclear power plant is crying out for a story (Photo RP). For more pictures, see my post “Lunch in the Chernobyl canteen“
(ii) my second big source of story ideas is external inputs. If you read the piece about my hotel stories at the link above, (more…)
W Somerset Maugham was one of the great short story writers. We can learn from his short story technique.
Every writer wants to write better.
Some of my most popular blogs set out tips on how to do this. That is why I have a “Writing about writing” category (see top left), including such gems as:
- #howtowrite: Where to write
- Two great sources of writing inspiration
- 2 sets of brilliant tips on “how to write”
- How to work better: 10 rules? Or not?
- How I write;
- #howtowrite: ViennaWritingInspiration; and
- The 4 elements of the perfect article: Nut-grafs and Cosmic Kickers
The last piece, with the Cosmic Kickers, is my most-read blog this year.
To find out more about these two, see The Russians: Vladivostok
I mention this because this week’s blog consists of three literary quotations of very different styles. One is by W Somerset Maugham, (more…)
A review of “Jeeves in the Offing”, the 1960 masterpiece by P G Wodehouse, featuring 15 hilarious quotations and 8 examples of peculiar Wodehouse vocabulary.
“Jeeves in the Offing” is an exquisite contribution to the Wodehouse canon and a reminder that the master’s skills never faded in an extraordinary 72 years of novel-writing.
The front and back cover of my Folio Society edition of “Jeeves in the Offing”: Jeeves waits, reading Spinoza, outside the Fox & Goose, while Bertie, within, meets Bobbie Wickham
“As night falls on All Hallows, the Zentralfriedhof is transformed into an ethereal wonderland. It seems every visitor throughout the day has lit a candle at a headstone. Kneeling black-clad women rake frozen earth around graves. Candlelight shimmers on stone angels’ wings. Visitors move toward the cemetery gates, their breath forming clouds .”
A stone cherub lit by a candle on 1 November 1986
The central cemetery in Vienna is worth a visit at any time of year. The old Jewish cemetery, its overgrown state controversial, is symbolic and evocative (you may see deer there, or other wildlife). (more…)
What is the perfect martini?
A couple of years ago in Istanbul I was taken out for dinner by two top cardiac specialists.
In between gazing out over the Bosphorus, I noticed that they both drank neat vodka before the meal, when I had a cocktail, and during the meal, when I was sipping wine. I asked why this was.
They told me that, as heart specialists, they enjoyed a drink from time to time; but they wanted to ingest the alcohol in the healthiest way possible. Drinking neat vodka, they said, met this criterion: compared with wine, beer or cocktails it saved calories, sugar and other unnecessary ingredients.
I took this advice, er, to heart. As I was at the time reading Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale (see my review at the link) I began to drink martinis, which involve no ingredients at all which are not alcoholic, unless you include the olive.
How best to explain the effect of one of my martinis?
After all, do you want a drink, or not?
At my reading this week from my Berlin thriller Blood Summit, someone asked when I found time to write.
I wrote a blog on “Where I write” recently.
A blog on finding time to write is a fine idea – I have added it to my list.
Because, it’s a bummer. Finding time to write is hard: lots of other things I dearly want to do, dear friends, dear family, dear visitors, and a job which I dearly want to do brilliantly.
Sometimes things don’t work out.
Writing at the Wolfgangsee in Austria
Like, this week, I have been away from home all day Friday and Saturday and a bit busy and haven’t got around to writing my planned blog.
Interesting take on “50 Shades of Grey”, which I have just finished reading. Will deliver my own thoughts in a blog later.
With the new film just released, Fifty Shades of Grey is being savaged everywhere again – everyone seems to have an opinion, no matter how poorly informed, and those opinions are almost uniformly scathing. Everywhere I look, I see Fifty Shades of Grey being used as a byword for leaden prose, abusive relationships, sordid pornography, and any other evil the author cares to lazily name.
That all irritates me. Not because I love Fifty Shades, but because I believe rather strongly that you shouldn’t criticize things that you don’t understand. I bother, before venturing opinions on books, to actually read them, and I don’t think that that is an unreasonable standard to hold others to. If you are going to criticize something, gain at least a limited understanding of it.
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Josef had long dark curly hair and a roguish smile. He stood aside from the tiller. ‘Fancy a go?’ he said. We were speaking Russian.
‘I’ve never sailed a yacht before,’ I said. The sea off Russki Island stretched endlessly around us.
‘Go for it,’ Josef said. ‘Keep your eye on a point on the horizon, and head for that.’
I seized the tiller and, under the watchful gaze of Josef, his business partner Pavel and their girlfriends Olga and Galina, began to chart a path through the waves.
Olga and Galina on the yacht
I’d met Josef and Pavel months earlier, on Daydream Island in Australia. They were young, confident and had plenty of money. They were there to buy a yacht, they said, and (more…)
This time the hosts are the excellent Vienna writers’ organisation “Write Now”: you can read about the event at their Facebook site.
I am grateful to Write Now for allowing me to join their “Open Mic Night”, which is open to all creative types – as “Write Now” say, “we look forward to hearing your stories, songs, poems, stand up comedy and other creative enterprises”. The evening starts at 1900 on 18 October in the rather fantastic Art Lounge of the Cafe Korb at Brandstätte 9 in the First District of Vienna. I should be reading around 2030, although timings are pretty flexible at these events.
All are welcome! I hope to see you there for an evening of creativity, entertainment and terror.
A video of my previous reading at Cafe Korb, courtesy of Sibylle Trost
This blog is now historic! Austria banned smoking in bars and restaurants on 1 November 2019. I published this in September 2018, and can claim zero credit for the change.
How long will Austria retain its unusually permissive attitude to smoking in bars and cafes?
Back in the 1970s I used to ride on the top deck of a double-decker red Routemaster bus to school in Manchester, an hour each way. On winter mornings the air was thick with cigarette smoke, and the windows would mist up with condensation on which we would draw pictures and scrawl messages.
No-one thought twice about the health hazards to children sitting in a smoky bus for two hours a day.
Campaigners are trying to introduce a smoking ban in cafes in Austria
In 2003, New York introduced a ban on smoking in all enclosed workplaces, including bars and restaurants. Ireland followed in 2004, becoming the first country in the world to do so. In 2006 Scotland followed suit, followed by Wales, Northern Ireland and on 1 July 2007, England, including bars, restaurants, and buses.
I remember entering a pub for the first time after 1 July 2007 and finding that the removal of the permanent haze of smoke made it possible (more…)
‘Hey,’ your friend says in Vienna. ‘Let’s meet up for a coffee’.
‘How about a cup of tea? Or a beer? Or a glass of wine?’ you say.
‘All good. We could grab a bite to eat, too.’
‘Where shall we go?’
‘How about Cafe X?’ your friend replies.
A fine cup of coffee in Vienna
You have a nanosecond to decide how to respond.
Vienna is crammed with world class cafes. I review my favourites (so far) on my “Best Vienna cafes” page. You may think my judgement sucks; but I welcome comments and suggestions.
So I was intrigued to see the Austrian newspapers rejoicing last week that a list of the “50 greatest cafes on earth” featured three from Vienna. The list itself is in the British newspaper “The Daily Telegraph”: I thought it a good effort, particularly for attempting a genuinely global list, ranging from Swansea to Hanoi. I also like the fact that the writer, Chris Moss, says he has visited 40 of them himself (more…)
The rather awesome J K Rowling wrote swathes of the “Harry Potter” series in cafes in Edinburgh.
Can other writers do this?
With iPad at the Wolfgangsee.
Writing techniques vary. When I am writing major pieces – such as a novel – I write in longhand, in an A4 pad. While typing straight onto a keyboard is in theory quicker, I find sitting staring at a screen for long periods makes my brain melt. Making quick amendments to what you have already written is also clumsier, and slower, on a computer.
By contrast, on my A4 paper pad I am constantly making amendments, (more…)
In 1979 I hitch-hiked for seven weeks around the United States.
What does the US of 1979 tell us about America today? What can I learn about about myself? How have I changed, and should I seek to reconnect with that carefree 21 year-old?
My page The Americans gathers together several episodes of my US odyssey. Enjoy the ride.
The changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery, July 1979
On 6 July 1979 I visited Arlington National Cemetery and the Pentagon, in Washington, D.C.
Avenue of the Heroes
The cemetery was the other side of the bridge.
As I set off to cross the water, two metal statues flanked the road. Each featured a huge, muscular, nude, bearded man on a huge, muscular horse.
Each was accompanied by a naked woman.
The women were both on foot.
One of the men clutched a child. Looking at pictures now, I am reminded of the statue of a Soviet soldier unveiled at Treptow, in Berlin, in 1949.
Also sculpted in metal on a titanic scale, the Soviet hero holds a child in one hand and an improbably large sword in the other.
The children which the men in Berlin and Washington are holding look eerily similar. Perhaps this is not surprisingly, as they are of the same era. In fact the Washington statues, designed in 1929 and erected in 1951, predates the Soviet statue, designed and erected between 1945 and 1949. (more…)
In 1979 I hitch-hiked for seven weeks around the United States. What became of the carefree, relaxed young 21 year-old of these pages? Can I reconnect with those qualities, forty years later?
What about America itself? Was it better then, or worse?
Perhaps the US needs to reconnect, too.
You can read more episodes from this journey on my page, The Americans.
Here is how I set off from New York on my first day of travelling, on 3 July 1979. Pictures below!
Leaving New York
On Tuesday morning, Harold and Dorothy drove me from their house in Ardsley to the Major Deegan Expressway, heading south for Washington, D.C. The road stretched out ahead. First target was to reach the New Jersey Turnpike.
How was I not terrified?
Dorothy Berkowitz seeing me off on the Major Deegan Expressway
Aged 21, my primary emotion was excitement.
Looking back, I think: “how can I reclaim that boldness, that clarity of purpose, that focus on the present, that carefree calm?”
Things I was not worried about:
– my career. It had not yet started. I had nothing to screw up;
– money. I had all my cash, for seven weeks in the US, in traveller’s cheques on my person;
– other people. During my trip, I wrote several letters and postcards home. I tried to make one phone call, reversing the charges because I had no coins, to Harold in Ardsley – I can’t remember why. On the line, I heard him telling the operator he refused to accept it;
– information about the rest of the world. The Internet did not exist. I do not remember buying a newspaper. I had a tiny transistor radio (thanks, Harold) but mostly listened to music;
– death, injury or other cataclysm. Sure, hitch-hiking posed risks. But what would life be like if it consisted mainly of avoiding risk?
Things I was worried about:
– how quickly will I catch a ride?
If living in the moment had been invented, I would have been doing it. (more…)
Blood Summit is ideal for reading groups and book clubs. This intelligent thriller appeals to a wide range of audiences (see reviews on Amazon) and contains a host of controversy and material for discussion. Here are some questions you can use for discussion.
One publisher rejected “Blood Summit” because they said Helen, a female action hero, was insufficiently feminine or “too much like a man”. Do you agree? Is Helen lacking in feminine qualities? Would it matter if she did?
How would the plot develop differently if Helen was a man? Which elements of the story, if any, would be less compelling or make less sense?
Helen is furious that her husband refuses to leave London and come with her to Berlin. How would life with Nigel fit in with her lifestyle in Germany? Are they sufficiently compatible to live together? (more…)
People often ask me: ‘What is the best city you have lived in, apart obviously from Manchester? Is it London? Berlin? Moscow? Istanbul? Kyiv? Or Vienna?’
I usually answer with Oscar Wilde: ‘Comparisons are odious.’
Vienna has much to recommend it, including lovely countryside nearby
I thought of Oscar Wilde when I heard that that Vienna had this year taken first place in the annual Economist Intelligence Unit’s global liveability index – the first time a European city has ever won. I certainly can confirm that Vienna is a magnificent place to live, offering everything from terrific cafes (see my cafe reviews) to awesome local countryside, great outdoor pools, and – my favourite – outdoor cinemas, comparable with Berlin’s. I am very happy here.
When I was deciding in 2011 whether to try and move to Istanbul, I was influenced by a report in the Financial Times which made fun of rankings such as that of the EIU, or the widely quoted Mercer quality of living survey (where Vienna also came top in 2018 – for the ninth consecutive year). The FT said that not all of the cities which tended to do well in such surveys were actually cities where people want to live – Osaka, Calgary, Toronto or Zurich were all fine cities but not on everyone’s bucket lists. Cities where people did actually want to live, such as New York or London (more…)
Many years ago I worked alongside a young woman who, long before in another city, had had a relationship with a man who now worked in the building we were in. Whenever she spoke of him, her voice quavered and her eyes brimmed with tears. She was sure he was in love with her, but was dismayed that he showed no interest. She longed for him, but had not spoken to him for years. At certain times of day, when he might be due to leave work, she would go to the window and gaze out, hoping to catch a glimpse of him in the distance.
The cover of my (borrowed) copy of Prep
I thought of that colleague when I read “Prep” by Curtis Sittenfeld, published in 2005. The book follows a 14 year-old girl, Lee Fiora, who leaves her family home in Indiana to take up a scholarship at Ault, an elite boarding school on the US East Coast. Through her four years at the school, she obsesses about her relationships and develops a crush on a boy.
What a crush. (more…)
The influential gallery director sits down with the visiting guest in a museum cafe. Both are speaking English but only the guest is a native speaker.
‘This place is epic,’ the guest begins, meaning the museum. ‘Back home, the Arts Council is doing its bit but they don’t have the oomph to shift the dial. ITV has done a whole series on cock-ups in UK local authority arts funding but it’s a dog’s breakfast. You are blessed!’
Anish Kapoor show in Istanbul. But the conversation could be about business, politics, or anything at all.
‘We are very lucky, yes,’ the local gallery director says, cautiously. She has understood: her guest thinks the gallery director is fortunate, and something about a dog.
We live in an age where English is spoken to a high level as a second language by large numbers of people. But native English speakers often make no allowances for (more…)
The woman at the entrance seems delighted to see me. Having sold me a ticket, she rises from her seat and accompanies me to the first room of the museum, highlighted key exhibits.
The “Third Man Museum” in Vienna’s 4th District (Pressgasse 25) is one of the finest small museums in the city. Interested in the film? Want to know more about post-WW2 Viennese history? Want to see what obsession can achieve?
Look no further.
The first surprise about the Museum is its breadth. Part 1, comprising seven rooms, is packed with fascinating detail about The Third Man: clips, shooting locations (including the sewers and the Central Cemetery), and the stars of the classic 1948 film often described as the best movie ever (see my review at the link). I noted a fine quote from Orson Wells: “My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four… unless there are three other people”.
Film stills and publicity stills from Room 1
Part 2 focuses on the music of the film, including the famous “Third Man theme” played on the zither. A mighty 1930s cinema projector (more…)
All I saw was the dame standing there in the glare of the headlights waving her arms like a huge puppet and the curse I spit out filled the car and my own ears. I wrenched the wheel over, felt the rear end start to slide, brought it out with a splash of power and almost ran up the side of the cliff as the car fishtailed.
My 1960 Signet edition of “Kiss Me, Deadly”, swapped on a Greek ferry*
The opening lines of Mickey Spillane’s 1952 Kiss Me, Deadly are arresting. So is the blurb: “Mike Hammer swears to avenge the killing of a satin-skinned blonde and rips into the vicious Mafia mob to run down her murderer”.
When I first read Kiss Me, Deadly in the ’80s, I was shocked by the casual violence and sexism. (more…)
Those who know the code of the Pimms will know that the blogs on this site are consistently honest. No fake news here, or indeed fake reviews.
So I have to report, sadly, that “Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves” was not my favourite P G Wodehouse book.
In fact, of the mouth-watering shelf-full of Wodehouse I have enjoyed so far since 2017, it comes some way behind Thank You, Jeeves, Ring for Jeeves, Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen or indeed Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit, all of which I have reviewed on this site (click on links above) and all of which positively heaved with quotables.
The cover of my Folio Society edition of “Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves”
To say that Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves is less hilarious than some other P G Wodehouse masterpieces, however, is not to say it lacks humour. I feel it has less of a (more…)
It has been a good run.
Since 12 August 2017 I have written a blog every week, usually published on a Saturday afternoon, in addition to writing my new novel and one or two other writing projects such as the Hotel Stories.
Thanks to all my readers for clicking on robertpimm.com, and sometimes the links in the blogs. It makes me happy when you do so.
And should I update my author pic from the 1981 black and white version?
It is not always easy to produce a blog every week. Today, for example, I have written my novel for a couple of hours, have 30 minutes to write my blog, then am going out for a walk and to watch the England-Sweden game.
Usually my blogs take 2-3 hours to write – time when I could be writing that novel!
So I have a couple of questions for you. You do not have to answer all or indeed any of them, but feedback would be welcome. You can find a “comments” form at the bottom of this page. Or you can write to me privately using the “Contact me” tab at the top of the page.
(i) does the regularity of my blogs, ie one a week on a Saturday afternoon, make any difference to you, (more…)
George Mikes’ “How to be an Alien” is one of the funniest books in the English language. It’s not about aliens, of course. It is about the English. Its real title should be: “why the English are absurd and hilarious – but I kind of like them”.
If you have not read How to be an Alien by George Mikes, please go and buy a copy instantly. You will not regret it.
George Mikes was a Hungarian who came to England in 1938 (as he said: When people say England, they sometimes mean Great Britain, sometimes the United Kingdom, sometimes the British Isles – but never England). He wrote dozens of books but is remembered mainly for his seminal 1946 How to be an Alien. He described the genesis of the book thus:
Some years ago I spent a lot of time with a young lady who was very proud and conscious of being English. Once she asked me – to my great surprise – whether I would marry her. ‘No,’ I replied, ‘I will not. My mother would never agree to my marrying a foreigner.’ She looked at me a little surprised and irritated, and retorted: ‘I, a foreigner? What a silly thing to say. I am English. You are the foreigner. And your mother, too…’ I saw that this theory was as irrefutable as it was simple. I was startled and upset. Mainly because of my mother whom I loved and respected. Now, I suddenly learned what she really was.’ (more…)
How much cruelty can you squeeze into a 150,000 word novel?
A huge amount, if that book is Lady Anna, written by Anthony Trollope at the astonishing rate of 16,500 words a week on a voyage from England to Australia between 25 May and 19 July 1871.
The plot (no spoilers follow) revolves around a conflict: should the eponymous heroine marry a low-born tailor; or a young earl, of her own class? She loves the tailor – or does she? Almost every other character in the book, especially her mother, believes she should marry the earl; and subject her to extraordinary pressure to bring about this result.
This is heavy stuff. As so often with Trollope, his female characters are often more attractive than his men, some of whom, like Anna’s father the earl, are vile:
It must be told that the Earl was a man who had never yet spared a woman in his lust. It had been the rule, almost the creed of his life, that woman was made to gratify the appetite of man, and that the man is but a poor creature who does not lay hold of the sweetness that is offered to him… The life which he had led no doubt had had its allurements, but it is one which hardly admits of a hale and happy evening. Men who make women a prey, prey also on themselves. (more…)
‘How many people are you expecting at your reading?’
‘Well, it’s impossible to know. Maybe five, maybe 20.’
‘But how many people will you will be happy with?’
‘Well, anything over three.’
We’re on our way to my reading from my Berlin thriller Blood Summit at the excellent English language bookshop Shakespeare & Company at Sterngasse 2 in central Vienna. Not only is it a Friday night, but the World Cup has started: Portugal vs Spain, no less. I am managing my expectations appropriately.
We gather in the bookshop. It is a beautiful place, in the heart of Vienna’s old town. Outside, a cobbled street. Inside, books reach to the ceiling: a temple of imagination, stories and ideas. If you have never visited Shakespeare & Co, go today or, at the latest, next weekend. They are open until 9 p.m. six days a week.
People keep coming. By the time I start the reading, at 1930, the shop is already crammed – I count 19 people. More keep arriving, slipping in cunningly through a hitherto unsuspected back door.
A wonderful place for a book-reading – Shakespeare & Co
What does reclusive author Robert Pimm look like in the flesh?
You can find out on Friday 15 June at the wonderful Shakespeare & Co bookshop at Sterngasse 2 in central Vienna.
I will be reading from my new Berlin thriller “Blood Summit” (“a rip-roaring romp of a thriller” – Sir Christopher Mallaby). Entry is free and copies of the book will be on sale.
Come along – and bring a friend!
For a preview, see the video below, from my March 16 reading at Cafe Korb, also in Vienna.
In fact, you can buy “Blood Summit” in Shakespeare & Co any time: (more…)
What makes Lee Child’s Jack Reacher thrillers some of the best? I put it down to consistent quality; great characterisation (including fine women and minor fellers); humour; dialogue; satisfying problem-solving; and wisdom. If you like thrillers, worth putting on your list of “best books to read”.
Burly, yet brilliant. Violent, yet sensitive to the needs of women. Loyal to friends, yet indifferent to relationships.
Jack Reacher, hero of Lee Child’s thriller series, is an ex military policeman with terrific characteristics.
“The Affair” is excellent
I’ve been a Jack Reacher fan since reading my first Lee Child novel, “Tripwire” (Jack Reacher 3), over a decade ago. That book features a cunning plot; extreme violence; and a powerful, satisfying resolution.
Child has published two dozen Jack Reacher novels, one a year since 1997. They are hugely successful: “Blue Moon” (no.24 in the series, published in 2019), for example, has over 9,000 reviews on Amazon.com and over 8,500 on Amazon.co.uk.
Here are 8 reasons why people love Jack Reacher:
(i) the early novels are consistently good. In addition to “Tripwire” I enjoyed, for example, “Killing Floor” (JR1: crisp, authoritative writing and richly textured, eg Reacher’s quest to find legendary guitar player Blind Blake), “Die Trying” (JR2); “The Visitor” (JR4: an original, creepy and tricky mystery which Reacher struggles to solve); “Echo Burning” (JR5: strong, complex plot); and “Without Fail” (JR6);
(ii) great women. I particularly like the enigmatic Frances Neagley, a female equivalent of Reacher who is if anything even cooler and tougher than he is and also features in “Bad Luck and Trouble” (JR11); “The Enemy” (JR8); and “The Affair” (JR16). I also liked the improbably beautiful Elizabeth Deveraux in “The Affair”, with her remarkable appetite:
The grease from the meat made her lips glisten. She was a slim woman. She must have had a metabolism like a nuclear reactor.
(iii) in some novels, eg “The Enemy”, Reacher displays dry, ironic humour (US readers: apologies for my UK spelling tendencies), particularly in displaying insubordination. When asked “Where did he have the heart attack?”, Reacher replies “In his chest cavity”;
(iv) fine dialogue, such as this, between Reacher and Deveraux, after sex, in “The Affair” (Reacher is narrating):
Afterwards Deveraux yawned and stretched and said, ‘You’re not bad for a soldier boy.’
I said, ‘You’re excellent for a Marine.’
‘We’d better be careful. We might develop feelings for each other.’
‘What are those?’
‘What are what?’
She paused a beat.
She said, ‘Men should be more in touch with their feelings.’
I said, ‘If I ever have one, you’ll be the first to know, I promise.’
She paused, again. Then she laughed.
(v) some of Lee Child’s later works are again excellent. I recently read “The Affair” (Reacher 16) which re-introduces not only Neagley but also Reacher’s sense of humour;
(vi), Lee Child also write some strong male minor characters, such as military men Leon Garber and Stan Lowrey, of whom Reacher, narrating the story, gives this splendid account:
I leaned on the wall next to the phone… because Lowrey’s stories were usually very long. He fancied himself a raconteur. And he liked background. And context. Deep background, and deep context. Normally he liked to trace everything back to a seminal point just before random swirls of gas from the chartless wastes of the universe happened to get together and form the earth itself.
In addition to Garber and Lowrey, I particularly like Major Duncan Munro, another military policeman, who delivers some splendid one-liners, such as this exchange, as Reacher explains why he wanted to keep certain information secret:
[Reacher:] ‘I wanted Munro to go back to Germany with a clear conscience.’
Munro said, ‘My conscience is always clear.’
‘But it’s easier to play dumb if you really don’t know the answer.’
‘I never had a problem playing dumb. Some folks think I am.’
This exchange, where Munro actually gets the better of Reacher, is reminiscent of the famous “Does your dog bite?” exchange between Peter Sellers, as Inspector Clouseau, and a hotel receptionist in the 1976 film “The Pink Panther Strikes Again”, in that the hotel receptionist has the better lines:
(vii) Jack Reacher has an almost Holmesian ability to infer events from invisible clues as he, for example, reconstructs the murder of Janice May Chapman in “The Affair”;
(viii) Finally, Reacher has plenty of good one-liners and epigrams, eg:
I didn’t like him much. A snap judgement, maybe, but generally those are as good as any other kind.
Is there a down side to Jack Reacher? Personally, I think some of the middle and later novels are less good than others. My least favourites include “Bad Luck and Trouble” (JR11) and “Nothing to Lose” (JR12), where Reacher’s fine sense of humour seems to have been excised. I found “61 Hours” (JR14) slow-moving. But things picked up with “Worth Dying For” (JR15). “The Affair” (JR16) is so good it inspired me to write this blog.
My advice: if you like thrillers and want to sample Lee Child, try some of the earlier books listed above. If you are a fan but have been deterred by some of the less compelling tales in the series, keep reading!
For: solid thrillers with a hero saved from caricature by his great sense of humour (more humour in future episodes, please, Mr Child)
Against: in those books low on humour, Jack Reacher is less entertaining.
P.S. If you like thrillers, you should try my own Blood Summit (“Hugely entertaining” – John Connolly).
I am on a four-stage plane journey, from Vienna to Sharm-el-Sheikh and back via Istanbul. On the first leg, from Vienna to Istanbul, my Turkish Airlines flight features seat-back video and I choose recent blockbuster “Black Panther”.
Unfortunately the crew make many announcements in numerous languages (bold italic links are to other blogs on this site), interrupting the movie. So I miss the end of the film, which I am hoping will include astonishing plot twists but fear will mostly be superheroes slugging each other (a fundamental problem with all superhero movies: if two superheroes have a superhero fist-fight, how do you make it interesting? No-one knows).
On the next three legs, Istanbul-Sharm, Sharm-Istanbul and Istanbul-Vienna, the Turkish Airlines aircraft are older, without seat-back video. So I haven’t seen the end of “Black Panther”. Should I make an effort to catch the last 20 minutes? What do you think? No spoilers please!
The news gets worse. On the communal screens on the older planes, the airline shows episodes of Fish Tank Kings. This is (more…)
I have so far published seven hotel stories, available on Amazon in the novel-length Seven Hotel Stories: The Complete Collection.
All the stories feature the world’s most brilliant, unpredictable and occasionally homicidal hotel manager, Ms N; her beautiful but naive ally, Tatiana; and Ms N’s unique methods of solving problems.
The first story, Britches, shows how Ms N and Tatiana first met; and how they sorted out the hotel owner from hell using a Combined Burns Night and St Patrick’s Day Ball (they exist – I have been to one); the President of China; and something Tatiana found under a handsome Scotsman’s kilt. You can read an excerpt from Britches here.
The second Hotel Story is The Two Rooms. It features an obnoxious guest; a hypocritical Prime Minister on a moral crusade; some Russian ice-hockey fans; an angry Japanese sushi chef; and a startling twist. Is it my favourite? Perhaps it is. You can read an excerpt from The Two Rooms on this site.
I have written several times in these chronicles of my slow-burn devotion to the works of P G Wodehouse, including my induction (How to read P G Wodehouse: a practical guide), drawing on the excellent advice of fellow WordPress blogger and Wodehouse specialist Plumtopia – strongly recommended for all things Jeeves and Wooster and beyond.
Hence my concern, bordering on panic, at my initial perception that “Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit” was not quite such a pearl of the Wodehouse canon as, say, the wondrous Thank you, Jeeves. Bertie Wooster’s early decision to grow a moustache, to the disapproval of Jeeves, felt a little familiar as a plot device. The plot of the first half of the book meandered – well, I am reminded of Bertie’s description of Daphne Dolores Morehead on her first appearance in the novel as having “a figure as full of curves as a scenic railway”.
The cover of my Folio Society edition of “Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit”
That very reference to Ms Morehead, however, signals my sense of relief that I can in fact recommend “Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit”, the seventh P G Wodehouse novel to feature Jeeves and Wooster and his sixtieth book overall, wholeheartedly. From about the half-way point, the story spreads its wings. The subsequent flight is sublime. The scene following the unexpected arrival of the aforementioned Daphne at Brinkley Court is amongst the funniest (more…)