A Multimedia Introduction to the New Reform Quartet

I have completed the Kindle and Paperback project of my four-book series of novels under the banner of the New Reform Quartet.

As I write, the Kindle box set edition has launched alongside the doorstep sized Paperback – all 775 pages and 360,000 words of it.

I have an offer coming soon, from the 17th August 2020 in the UK and USA where for one week the four individual books in the series will be 99p or $0.99 as part of a Kindle Countdown promotion. Time Zone differences will vary.

This blog is a personal introduction to the series, and in the times we live in, I have put it in the various formats which book consumers expect today. I have made a video, with the audio introduction which will be included with the Audible box set which will be ready by the winter of 2020.

I hope you find it interesting if only to see the lengths that authors will go to to get their labours of love out there.

The YouTube version of the upcoming addition to the Audible box set.

An Introduction to the New Reform Quartet

I was seventeen years old, and it was a Wednesday. The exact date was 6th of December 1978. I had an overwhelming desire to write poetry – which was odd for me, as I didn’t read poetry, and whenever I had to study it at school, I never cared for it – I didn’t get it.

I spent a lot of time alone after being thrown out of the home by my mother’s live-in partner – the latest one, at sixteen. He was a member of a gang in my hometown, and he was well known for his violence. I annoyed him by being there, I was in the way. In the run-up to my unceremonious eviction, the leader of his band of brothers had been stabbed to death by his own daughter.

Fortunately for me, I had a job, and I found a landlady who would turn a blind eye to my age, and she let me rent a one-room bedsit from her. At least I wasn’t homeless, just as well, nobody came looking for me.

I was angry and brooding. I tried keeping a diary, but I wasn’t disciplined enough to keep it going. The entries were hard-edged and made of concrete and steel, probably because I was currently an apprentice at an industrial pipe-makers.

My poetry books from 1978 – 1983.

On that Wednesday, and for the next two days, I turned these diary entries into my first epic poem. Of course, it was terrible (all amateur poets use this disclaimer), but I was on a natural high while I was writing it. I couldn’t sleep because of all these incredible ideas I had.

The obsession for writing poetry continued for the next four years until I was told that my Father had committed suicide in January of 1983. This coincided with the ending of a three-year relationship – entirely my fault – at the same time. As you can probably guess I was not easy to know. I was obsessive, I drank heavily, gambled and had strong opinions on everything. My saving grace was that I was equally obsessed by working hard, and luckily for me, this hadn’t gone unnoticed.

By now, I had gone from an apprentice draughtsman – until I was made redundant, to a job with a national retailer on a Railway Station and then into a High Street store – what luxury – uniforms and shop central heating! By day, I was working full-time in the store, with great staff and my future wife – and at night, I worked in a bar. It wasn’t unusual for my nights to end at 2 am, and my working days to start at 6:30 am. But I never missed a shift.

When my Area Manager – a man I envisioned working in a golden tower – heard of my father’s death, and then that I lived alone, he arranged – unbeknownst to me – for the manager of another store to take me in with his family for a month, under the guise of giving me management training. On the last night, he told me the truth. He liked me and my work and didn’t want to see my life ruined by this event.

The kindness of these men, who were virtually strangers to me, completely upended my views on male relationships, and made me realise what my own father hadn’t been able to give me, and what a good father – a good man – could be.

I returned to my bedsit. I gave up drinking for five months but continued writing what turned out to be my last book of poetry. It was a searing look at myself and my relationship with my Father but still with a strong sense of masculinity – toxic or otherwise. It ended with my Father, as a fighter pilot, high on octane fuel, dropping bombs on his family, while I watched on from an empty field as he aimed the plane at me, but he missed and crashed and burned, leaving his wreckage all around me.

I had a choice – I could be a part of this wreckage and use this as an excuse for any bad behaviour I set my mind to in the future. Or, I could take the pain and grief from this and rebuild my life.

On Sunday 18th September 1983, I wrote the final chapter of my fourth book of poetry. The final chapter was a sea-shanty in my mind, but later, when I revisited it, I recognised it as a mantra:

The lifeline lives

On scalded hands

Repairing the damage

With material from the wreckage.

I didn’t write another word of creative writing until June 2014 – thirty-one years later.

After reading a book by the singer-songwriter Roy Harper where he deconstructed his songs and explored their meanings. I thought – for the first time in years – of my own ancient poetry books. As I opened them, I was struck by the fact that I barely recognised that angry young man, now. I was a happy family man, whereas this guy was raging at the world. But when I read the last book, it was clear to me that it was a textbook case of someone writing through their grieving process.

 I never considered myself one of those people that had a book in them. Something like that would take far too long. But as I was writing again, a novel began to emerge. At first, it was based on events from my life (as most first novels are) – but as other characters appeared and evolved, I got more and more excited. I knew my own life too well. But I didn’t know these people at all. Over time, I shrunk my own life story almost to nothing, to give room for these new characters to take over.

Still, I found the more I wrote, the more patterns emerged. Over time, these developed into four distinct themes – four windows – through which I viewed and shaped the series. From the outset, I was writing fiction, so I didn’t have to be scientifically accurate, I chose not to over-research, but instead to take my own skewed understanding of the things I had been taught.

The first rotten window frame I retrieved was Johari’s Window. I put it up against the concrete wall, where the original brickwork had crumbled away and tried to remember. There were four windows into how we are perceived. The first was the public version of the character. The second was how that person was viewed by others – of which they were unaware. The third was the private, innermost and intimate thoughts of the person of which nobody else knew – the secrets we keep. The fourth and final window was that of the unknown, where we only find out what we are truly capable of when placed into extraordinary circumstances.

I pulled out another window frame, the glass smashed, though some of the original paintwork remained. This was from one of the most precious periods of my working life, and that was about inspirational leaders – archetypal Good Kings, Warriors, Great Mothers and Medicine Women (where I fitted the most).

The third battered window was the Conscious Competence learning model. In the first window, you are bad, and you don’t even know it. Moving through the second window, and you are still bad, but you are becoming aware of it, and you begin to work on your flaws. By the time of the third window you are good, but you are still mindful that you are working hard at it. When you reach the fourth window, your excellence is a habit, and you just do it – you are not even aware of it anymore.

The final frame was the most personal. I analysed my own father’s disappearance from view and the stages it took. At first, he was present – in my early years, an active participant in the family unit. In the second stage, when he was drinking heavily but still at home; he was detached but still a presence. By the time I viewed him through the third window, he was absent. He had left home, and he had left me behind. By the fourth window he was lost – he had taken his own life and threw it away.

With these four windows in place, I kept rearranging them, putting different ones on top of one and other, or turning them around until something appeared in the gaps.

I love big ideas, and these books could easily have drifted into a high concept attempt at a literary novel, but I wanted them to be action thrillers, so I have plotted them tightly, and by the end of book four, I have tied up the significant plot strands and character arcs. I haven’t left anything dangling to encourage another book in the series, after all, a quintet into a quartet doesn’t go.

And so, I hand you over to my characters – who took over this book in the first place and are itching to do so now. The film is about to start, the Art Director is summoning the next set of transitions, and I’m beginning to dissolve.

This is the last you’ll hear from me.

Heather and Trevor settled back into each other on the sofa, they had flicked around the channels on the TV and Heather had picked out a new box set she fancied watching. She said, ‘Let’s watch this – it looks like it’s up our street.’

‘What’s it called?’

‘The New Reform Quartet.’

‘Sounds a bit posh. Are you sure? What’s it about?’

‘It says it’s an action thriller, one of those alternate-history things. It’s got a dystopian vibe to it.’

‘Any zombies.’

‘No, babe.’

Trevor laughed, ‘Tell you what, if the warnings are good then we’ll watch it.’

The screen announcer said, ‘The following programme contains violence, bad language…’

Trevor said, ‘Sounds promising.’

‘Scenes of a sexual nature and flashing images.’

‘Woohoo! Full house.’

Heather dug him in the ribs, ‘Let the credits roll babe, I’m going to get some ice-cream, do you want some?’

‘Yeah, go on then.’

Heather went to the kitchen, grabbed a couple of tubs of ice cream from the freezer, then picked out a couple of clean-ish spoons from the drawer. She wandered back to the living room and flopped back down next to Trevor. ‘Did I miss anything, Babe?’

‘They had this eerie, or maybe it was a dreamy piece of music for about a minute.’

‘Who was it by?’

‘Becky Rose – 1:42 am – have you heard of her?’

‘Can’t say I have, babe. Anything else?’

‘Not much. The music changed to some jazz music, and it showed a weirdly dressed woman wandering down some deserted city streets.’

‘You of all people are criticising her dress sense.’ They both laughed loudly.

Trevor was just about to continue the joke when Heather put a finger to her lips, ‘Quiet now, babe. I want to watch this.’

How Do Writers Come Up with Ideas?

Whenever somebody creates something, out of nothing, whether that be an artist, musician or writer, the most common question they will be asked is ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’

How Do Writers Come Up with Ideas?

man looking up with idea light bulb above head

Whenever somebody creates something, out of nothing, whether that be an artist, musician or writer, the most common question they will be asked is ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’

Experienced and famous creatives, will have been asked this question so often, that this cliché would be greeted with some inward eye-rolling, before answering with something along the lines of, ‘Oh, it just comes to me.’

I’m new to the marketing games we self-published authors we have to play. However, when I was first asked, ‘Where do I get my ideas from?’ Initially, I was delighted – someone was interested in my writing – great! I wasn’t famous, I had time to give this simple question a thoroughly thought out and insightful answer, but I struggled to come up with anything to add to the answer above.

But it did make me think.

In those frustrating hours in the dead of night, when I should be getting a good night sleep ahead of a hard day’s work that waited for me. All my mind wanted to do was figure out the pathways back to the first seeds of an idea.

The trouble was, whereas before, I had an answer that was too brief, maybe, even a little glib, now I had an answer that I could never use in polite company because it was far too long, and would have given the poor questioner the impression that they were talking to a man on the edge of madness.

I wanted to do something to make the lost night’s sleep worthwhile, so I thought I would write it down. I went into this believing that ideas were created in the here and now – the thunderbolt, or light bulb moment. What I discovered, for me, at least, was different. My ideas were in a pool of long-forgotten moments, that were always there, they were just waiting for me to fish them out.

The first fish I caught was a trout.

The idea I chose to explore was a mysterious thread through the New Reform series of books of the number 142. I published the first novel in August of 2019, and yet this idea went back to December 2011. Not only was this, eight years, before publication, but three years before I even considered writing a novel at all.

I was a big fan of Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band. Also, I devoured music biographies, and was utterly engrossed by the memoir by the drummer of the band – he was so much more than just the drummer – Through the Eyes of Magic by John Drumbo French.

A lot of music biographies leave me cold, once they move into the I’m now a big star phase – you know, the groupies, the drugs, the trashing of hotel rooms and ‘Oh, did I tell you how I met, Tony Blair, Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan (delete where applicable), but this was different. With John French’s memoir, I had found the Dead Sea Scrolls of music writing.

The 864 pages of smallish print went into infinite detail of not only the cult conditions he was enduring, but also, the inspiration, and the construction of every single track the band made. I read music biographies to find nuggets of inspiration, with this book I hit the motherlode.

John “Drumbo” French on his experiences of living with the cult-like conditions, with Don Van Vliet aka Captain Beefheart.

I was already absorbed in the book, but then on page 805 I came upon the track notes to My Human Gets Me Blues from the legendary Trout Mask Replica album. I’m not a musician trained in musical notation, but I was intrigued by his description of the musical interplay between the musicians at 1:24 minutes into the track.

He described how the band members were all playing in different time signatures, but how they intricately locked to give the impression of being on a roundabout, with the slower rhythms at the centre and the faster ones flying around the outer circles.

I realise that this is 1:24 and not 1:42, but events seem to lead up to an idea.

I played the track repeatedly, in much the same way as I used to try and view those old Magic Eye pictures, where if you looked long enough, kinda sideways, an image would appear in 3D, as if you were looking through the eyes of magic – you did see what I did there?

Over and over, I played the track but then the section just after this, at about 1:42 – this would eventually embed itself in my brain at exactly 1:42 – fiction is not fact – fact!

This 1:42 lyric stated: You were afraid you’d be the Devil’s Red Wife.

I thought, ‘Who on Earth is the Devil’s Red Wife?’

I picked up my diary and decided I needed to do some research. Even the internet back in 2011 had very little, so I began digging more in-depth, and the obsession was forming. I found something about an eastern European folk tale about an old woman gazing upon a pair of red shoes, in a shop window, when Satan offered her a bargain. If she could break up a young couple who were obviously so in love with each other, then he would buy her the red shoes. She went to work and succeeded in splitting up the lovebirds. But the ease in which she did it, made even the Dark Lord himself afraid of this old woman.

My thought was, ‘How did Don Van Vliet, a musician from near the Mojave Desert have this kind of knowledge?’ My mind was utterly blown!

142 was now a number my mind was seeking out in every variation. It was a made-up obsession to test out my subconscious and unconscious mind. I started to notice the number in some bizarre places.

Holy cow! Where did that come from? I bet I was the only guy on the planet compelled to take a photo of a cow on Sky News!

I decided that this was my art number and began to put it into stuff I was working on. The strapline for my YouTube channel became, what you lose on the roundabouts, you gain on 142 swings to the left.

I got into YouTubing by accident – always seems to happen to me. My youngest daughter had her very first gig at the Spread Eagle open-mic night in Hereford. My wife had taken her camera and camcorder along to film this for the family when she decided she couldn’t do both. She passed the camcorder to me. I was, like, ‘Where’s the power on button? How do I use the zoom?’ Over the next five years, I filmed over 200 local bands with 1300+ videos with nearly 300,000 views.

During this period, I conducted a series of interviews for the my channel called, On the Record. I wanted to capture all the different professionals, musicians, enthusiasts and audience supporters. The people who make it happen and help it to thrive.

One of these interviews was with James Gwynne, a singer-songwriter and local promoter. He mentioned how he loved the YouTube channels that promoted quiet acoustic music within an overall theme. He discussed a channel called the Mahogany Sessions, and I said that we should try and do the same and collaborate on the 142 Sessions. I would be the filmmaker, and he could arrange the performers and the venue.

The 142 Sessions would have visual references within this working-class pub, the darts would score 142 on the dartboard, the clock would be stopped at 1:42, and the performers would take a book – there for decorative purposes, probably from a car boot sale – and read aloud whatever was on page 142, before performing two original songs of their choice.

The only exception to the original songs, was where I tasked my daughter with learning My Human Gets Me Blues and that the only time I wanted her to turn to face the camera was when she sang the line, you were afraid you’d be the Devil’s Red Wife.

BBC Introducing gave the show a lot of coverage, with an interview with myself, and many of the acts had their songs played.

I needed something new to get stuck into. I re-visited the dark poetry I wrote between the ages of 17 and 23. I thought that decoding them of their deeply personal, private and deliberately obscure words, would keep me occupied for a while – there was lots of this stuff. I gave up poetry after the final book had worked through the confusion and grief of my father’s suicide.

I was in a good place – I can deal with this now, after all, I’m a different man nowadays.

I recalled why I wrote poetry back then. I equated this with my sportiness – I played football and trained hard, I could make the sprint across the pitch, and walk back forever – no problem, but ask me to run long-distances – no chance. Poetry was a sprint, novels were long-distance.

The old poetry stirred up the old waters, and new fish began to appear, and then I had an epiphany, I could write a novel, if I thought of them as being a series of sprints, rather than a marathon.

It goes without saying, that one of the threads had to be on the theme of 142. This is not a plot spoiler, it’s merely the seasoning, but it does run through the whole series of the New Reform Quartet.

You’d have guessed that a character called the Red Wife would be in the book – and you’d be right. However, she didn’t come to me until I’d written two thirds of the first book. This demonstrated to me, that my mind was closed off to her, until she was fully formed enough for it to send her up to the surface.

Available from Amazon and Audible

https://tinyurl.com/y46f3ag3

https://tinyurl.com/yygv8zvs

If you were talking to me in a kitchen, at what point would you have made your excuses and left? Answers, on a postcard…

If you’d have stayed this far – maybe you were avoiding somebody in the living room – then I’m guessing by now that you’d want me to come to some kind of conclusion, about where writers get their ideas from?

Well, I think that other well-known writer’s advice cliché comes into play, write what you know and what you know better than anything is yourself.

I don’t go to the blank page and hope for ideas for creative writing because the blank page has nothing inspiring on it. The best ideas are probably in my past, but I wasn’t paying attention.

I believe, the ideas pool of the mind is unfathomably deep, I now peer into the water, and wait for something to surface. When it does, I pop it into my net, and if I think I’ve caught it before, and thrown it back in, I take another look, as it might have grown since then.

Finger touches surface of mountain lake