When I was at Harrogate last July, I was introduced to the author Wes Markin. To my shame, I’d never heard of him before but, in person, he was very engaging and, it transpires, his writing is too. Unfortunately, I’m not going to be singing Wes’s praises any further here. I’ll save that for another time (honest, Wes, I will – you’re not the only one I’ve been ignoring for too many months). His involvement here was serendipitous (and that’s the word I can spell but not always pronounce) in a number of ways.
The serendipity started when I was in a queue waiting to speak to Lee and Andrew Child. It was one of those queues that works its way around rope barriers, so you shuffle along and keep moving past the same people. The lovely Sharon Rimmelzwaan was further back in the queue and we spoke as we passed each other the first time. The second time was when she introduced me to the bloke alongside her, Wes. Obviously, the time spent close enough to talk was limited, so only so much could be said. In a way, that interval was useful, because a comment made had stuck in my head. He was with Boldwood, a publisher I’d been interested in submitting to, but knew were closed to submissions. When we came together the third time, I asked him about his experience with them, and this led to a brief (and disjointed) discussion about my writing. By the time we had our final pass, he’d offered to read my novel.
Some weeks later, he gave me feedback about the book. He’d read it on holiday, along with several other books, and said it was the one that stayed with him afterwards. That’s something an author always wants to hear. As an aside, he said it reminded him of the Charlie Parker series by John Connolly.
I was aware of Connolly (and heard of Parker), but hadn’t read anything by him. My curiosity piqued, I decided to check Charlie Parker out at some point.
Of course, that didn’t help me with my novel, but that’s not really the point of this post. Because, only a week or so later, I heard that John Connolly would be giving a talk at Newark library – not far from where I live. As a volunteer at the town’s book festival, I also knew the organiser of this event. Serendipity playing a part again?
My partner, it turned out, had read some of the Charlie Parker books and enjoyed them. Having read the first draft of my novel, she hadn’t made any connection between my writing and Connolly’s. Still, she was keen to go to the talk as well.
So it came to pass that, on a Wednesday evening in September, we arrived at Newark library and enjoyed an evening listening to Connolly sharing his thoughts on other writers (probably best if I don’t share those), his writing process and why he’d written his latest book – The Land of Lost Things. Being Irish, there were, inevitably, some tales to tell and he told them well.
Afterwards, we joined the queue to speak with him and get books signed – the first Charlie Parker book, Every Dead Thing, included. Funnily enough, he seemed at least as interested in us as we were in him. Maybe we were potential character material, but I did come away from the encounter feeling like he’d be a good bloke to spend time with in a pub.
Not long after, I finished the book I was reading and decided it was time to try Every Dead Thing. The previous novel I’d read had felt like a bit of a slog, but I don’t think it was a reflection of the writing. Sometimes, it’s just your state of mind. Unfortunately, my state of mind hadn’t changed that much. I recall flying through the first few chapters, so there was a brief shift, but then I found it could be a couple of days before I read another chapter, followed by another burst of enthusiasm before dropping back to more time-lapses between chapters. It was a pattern that was repeated over the next few weeks, which meant the story dragged out. The saving grace was that, as I neared the end, a second wind blew in and I raced through the final pages.
So what did I conclude? Did the serendipity continue?
Well, Connolly can write – though I’m sure he doesn’t need my approval to cement his position on the bestseller lists. Charlie Parker is a character I’d like to read more about, and hopefully when I’m in full-on reading mode. Did Parker remind me of the main character in my novel? Not really. If there is a similarity it’s possibly the tone. Both are written in the first person and the voices of the protagonists could be compared to Chandler’s Marlowe or Spillane’s Hammer – albeit their voices are more contemporary. Of course, the comparison is perhaps more relevant with Parker as he’s an American, whereas Rand Scott, my character, is an Englishman living in the north-east.
There’s also a melancholy about Parker, which is hardly surprising if you know his back story. Scott isn’t melancholy, but there are regrets and a drive to atone for past sins. So maybe Wes saw something in those elements. That said, I wouldn’t want to sell this series on the basis that, if you like Charlie Parker, you’ll… Well, you know what comes next.
So, there was some serendipity, and it was interesting to see how things played out. What’ll be more interesting, is what happens when the novel is released. In the meantime, I got to meet two excellent authors, and that’s a joy in itself.