GILLIAN VERMILLION - DREAM DETECTIVE, ON SALE NOW!
If anything that has taken this long could be said to have good timing, Gillian Vermillion - Dream Detective has arrived in paperback in perfect time for Christmas!
This story of a little girl who can see what people are dreaming began life nearly ten years ago. My other half, an infrequent but occasionally keen writer of fiction, came up with the title and a first draft of the story. By his own admission it wasn’t great, and it definitely wasn’t commercial — back then, the idea of a kid's story featuring a transexual was pushing it a bit. Nowadays, that might not be a bad idea. But in the interim, and through numerous redrafts, the character of Caress (she was the father's girlfriend) has disappeared.
The book as it stands today tells the story of Gillian and her little brother Boris, who are spending one of their alternate weekends with their dad, Professor Vernon Vermillion, the not-very-famous inventor. Dad is separated from the children’s mum, and lives with his now quite conventional girlfriend Patsy, a traffic warden. Gillian and Boris are very excited by his latest invention: a machine that can show and explain the meaning of dreams. But with Professor Vermillion's confidence rattled by so many failures, he gives up on the Dream Detector before it's been tested; cue the opportunity for his children to finish the job for him.
So begins a series of adventures as Gillian, Boris and their Scottie dog Redvers put the machine through its paces. Expect chocolate-eating dragons, canine heroics aboard a storm-tossed galleon, and a race through outer space inside giant hats! Beautifully illustrated by David Harris, Gillian Vermillion - Dream Detective is ideal bedtime reading for children aged six to eight, as well as older independent readers. And with a week to go before Christmas, it’s as good a stocking-filler as you’ll find for £3.99!
Whether this is the sum total of Gillian’s adventures or the first of many depends on how it does. Suffice it to say, there is potential for many more stories — and I’ve still got my notes from all those years ago on how the next three books would proceed…
3 July 2016
HIT ME WITH YOUR ALGORITHM STICK
Summer is here - off and on. Politicians are treacherous and times are tempestuous, so the best a writer can do is get his head down and write.
I've been doing lots of that since I started a new novel in February. It has the working title of Boomerangs which it definitely won't end up with. But after a breezy start I decided to park it 15,000 words in, while I attended to a couple of other things...
Firstly Five To One. My debut novel, about the day a helicopter crashes on Clapham Common, is currently off sale. Previously digi-published only, it's been receiving a little textual massage and will see daylight again before long, this time as both paperback and e-book.
After that, please keep an eye out for Dinner At The Happy Skeleton. This is a wry, witty, sometimes saucy romp around Europe with a feckless ad man who finds himself with a summer on his hands and nothing repeatable to fill it with. Expect the kind of bad behaviour only too much time on the internet can bring, as he pursues a figure from his past he blames for the sorry state of his life.
But before either of those [FANFARE!!] Gillian Vermillion - Dream Detective will be with us soon! It's the tale of a little girl who can see what people are dreaming, courtesy of a machine invented by her dad. Aimed at children aged 6 to 8 it's illustrated by my good friend David Harris. And like all the others it's being published in paperback and e-book by J. Mendel Books, available on Amazon.
Talking of which, I was delighted to see Light From Other Windows qualify for best-sellerdom (proof below) when it hit the Number One spot in Australia last month. Not quite the achievement it sounds, since this was in the Children's category - where, as anyone who's read page 216 will tell you, it definitely shouldn't be... It's down to a glitch with Amazon's all-powerful algorithms they're trying to rectify. But as an England footballer would say (theoretically) 'A win's a win' - and also - 'I'll take that!' Hoping not to get sued by any Aussie parents for being a grubby-pom-corrupting-young-moinds! Trust instead that it's a good omen for Gillian Vermillion - Dream Detective.
More news re publication dates as we get it. Enjoy the sun if you can find it. Meanwhile I'll be going back to Boomerangs - probably again and again...
25 January 2016
THE MIGHTY AMAZON
Happy New Year!
It certainly was for me last week, when I saw the latest sales figures for Light From Other Windows. Amazon slotted it into a few of their December promos around the world which was nice of them...
There's a thing on each Amazon page called the Bestsellers Rank. It's the only day-to-day indication of how your novel is doing, and given that there are hundreds of thousands of books on sale at any one time, the ranking usually looks soberingly low. Then it'll suddenly shunt up a few hundred places, which means you've sold a copy! I could see the book was clearly shifting a few in December. What I didn't anticipate was the difference Amazon's marketing made. Light From Other Windows sold nearly 600 copies in a month, including 70-odd each in France and Australia! The latter, despite Amazon.com.au categorising my book as for 'Children & Young Adult'. Not quite what I had in mind. But it made it into the Top 10 just after Christmas, so I shan't complain as long as Aussie Interpol aren't after me for corrupting minors.
Five To One, my first novel, also seems to have had a new lease of life. Not sure how much longer it'll be on sale, so if you do fancy it grab an e-book while you can. Meanwhile I've delivered my next novel to the agent, and now find myself mulling over what to write next. I have an inkling of a seed of a germ of an idea - I'm just deciding whether to take the plunge now or wait for deeper inspiration so I can plan it meticulously. The first option sounds risky, the second like it could take forever. At the moment I'm thinking I might just dive in and see what happens.
More news as we get it. Oh, and if you were one of the nice people who bought Light From Other Windows lately (like Ms F. Richards below, spotted last week on a Mexican beach) let me know what you think via Twitter, Facebook or the Contact page. I'm all ears.
22 September 2015
Along with a fair few happy readers on Amazon, Light From Other Windows has just received its first review from a respected blogger. Jackie Law, proprietor of https://neverimitate.wordpress.com, preceded her review with this tweet the night before:
Here's the full review. Beware spoilers if you think you might read the book. Or just skip to the last para, which I'm very thrilled with. Thanks Jackie, for your astute and thoughtful observations - you've just made it all worthwhile...
Sept 21st Book Review: Light From Other Windows
Light From Other Windows, by Chris Chalmers, is a story about a family coping with bereavement, and the secrets that we keep from those we love. It is a reminder of how fragile the lives we construct for ourselves are, how easily the house of cards can be blown away when difficult truths are faced. It raises questions about perception, the roles we play, and how much we really know about those we feel close to.
Nineteen year old Josh Maitland is nearing the end of an around the world adventure which he has embarked upon in his gap year between school and university. He is visiting the Canary Islands when a devastating tsunami hits, claiming eight hundred and fifty-eight lives. Back home, his family watch the dreadful news unfold on TV, unsure of exactly where Josh is. When his body is found they each struggle to cope and find their lives unraveling in different ways.
Diana, Josh’s mother, believed that she was close to her youngest son. She puts her business acumen to work organising his funeral, but then finds herself unable to move on. She worries about how Josh was feeling just before he died, wanting to know if he was happy. In an attempt to help, her husband contacts Josh’s friend Stella, who reveals that Josh had been writing a blog while he was away. As the family read the words that Josh wrote for his friends they realise how little they knew about the boy they had lived alongside for so long.
Rachel and Jem, Josh’s older sister and brother, had pictured themselves as Josh’s mentors, siblings he looked up to. They perceived him as the child they helped to care for after their father walked out on them all just before Josh was born. Growing up, Josh had seemed carefree and popular, someone they would indulge and advise. They had never regarded him as their equal.
As each family member reads Josh’s words they pick out in particular those brief segments which refer to them, and worry about how the others will react to the secrets that are revealed. It is difficult enough that the illusions they had created around Josh are shattered, now they must also face having the image they have crafted of themselves peeled back. Each is absorbed in how they will henceforth be seen, paying scant regard to the words written about others. How true to life this seemed, the world revolving around our own inner selves.
It is not just the siblings who have been keeping secrets, but also the parents. When the family get together to discuss the blog, further revelations shatter perceptions which they have lived with all their lives. A recalibration is required.
As a parent of teenagers this book raised so many emotions. The first half of the book, which covered Josh’s death and the immediate aftermath, were difficult enough to consider. The second half, where grief took its toll and each family member faced up to a changed past, proved equally challenging. It is known that young adults turn to friends, but what is rarely discussed is why they hide from family. How much does the advice given by well meaning elders deter the young person from being honest about their actions and feelings?
This story is beautifully structured with a pace and flow that draws the reader effortlessly in. At its heart is the raw emotion of trust and love. It is a powerful, thought provoking read about modern family life that will challenge comfortable assumptions. Despite the difficult subject matter its message is life affirming. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
3 September 2015
LIGHT FROM OTHER WINDOWS - OUT NOW
Happy Birthday to me!
It was a long old haul but we go there! Light From Other Windows is now out in paperback and e-book, published by J. Mendel Books.
The production process proved a little more convoluted than any of us expected, but it was worth it in the end. The paperback in particular is a thing of touchy-feely, suede-effect beauty. I don't think I realised how much I was missing out on by solely e-publishing my first novel, until that first proof copy arrived from the printers. It was a joy to (be)hold, even with its typos, and they've been ironed out now.
I'm now in marketing overdrive, trying to give the book some stand-out in a crowded market. Light From Other Windows gets its inaugural reading at Brixton Book Jam next Monday September 7th (details here: http://www.brixtonbookjam.com), and feedback from early readers has been terrific (6 reviews on Amazon and counting). If you do decide to give it a whirl, expect tragedy, comedy, exotic locales and ad agency intrigue, and a few too many family secrets.
Then let me know what you think. I can take it.
16 June 2015
LIGHT FROM OTHER WINDOWS
In the vein of buses, three-legged racers and ark-bound elephants, after a long wait since Five To One I’m about to have two books come along at once!
Independent publisher J. Mendel Books are unleashing Light From Other Windows in a matter of weeks. Available in both paperback and Kindle format it’s a contemporary adult novel; the story of what happens to the Maitland family, when youngest son Josh is caught up in a tsunami on a gap-year trip round the world. Like Five To One, it’s full of lively characters, unexpected twists, poignant moments and a leavening dash of humour. I’m honoured to have one review already, from one of my own favourite writers. Penny Hancock, author of the best-selling and darkly brilliant Tideline, says of Light From Other Windows:
“Once again, Chris Chalmers combines sensitivity and wit in his observation of human behaviour with a cracking storyline. Unputdownable.”
(She’s a dreadful fence-sitter, Penny, but I do love her.)
Such is the way of the publishing world these days, I’ve also been lucky enough to be more involved in the process than is often the case with authors. I even had a hand in designing the cover, feeling rightly or wrongly that with my advertising background I know a bit about what makes an arresting image. Big thanks to the hugely talented people at http://redbuttonpublishing.net for their invaluable help with design and more. It’s been strange being the client, after so many years on the other side of the fence. I don’t think I’ve been a particularly easy one (“Can I just see the title in six more typefaces — and would it be a heinous hassle moving that cloud a bit to the left?”) but Karen and Caroline’s patience and unflappable good humour have been much appreciated.
Anyway you can decide for yourself if my control-freakery was worth it — the cover of Light From Other Windows is below.
More news re exact publication date as soon as we get it… And about my other new book, which is a little something for younger readers…
25 April 2014
THE SUTTON MARMOSET lives!
Completing the first draft of a novel always feels like a special day.
What it doesn’t feel like is crossing the finishing line. Because there’s always heaps of cuts and addition and revisions to do, before it’s in a state where you feel like showing it to Another Living Soul – partners, agents included... So in my case, the sense of relief is more like being a decathlete, and knowing you’ve made it through your least favourite event without tripping on a hurdle or skewering the measuring-tape man with your javelin. Great that you’ve done it, but now on to the next challenge…
The novel is called The Sutton Marmoset. It’s the story of a would-be journalist, investigating a TV natural history expert who comes clean about a long-forgotten hoax at the end of his life. As usual, the first draft still has a few holes, mostly where my enthusiasm to get down all that plot-driving dialogue got in the way of the bits in between. There’s also one scene I still need to write, to make my lead character’s tryst with a colleague at work feel more intense (– sex, aaargh!) ...I don’t know where I’ll be slotting that in, so to speak – but barring those and a thousand other little amendments, I think I’m done.
Anyway, that was Tuesday. Since then an impromptu, low key celebration has taken place at a Champneys spa – a present to my partner from the in-laws, on the occasion of his Big Birthday. It was a lovely experience, under the watchful gaze of three broods of in-house ducklings and a wall of signed photos from 1980s celebs... FYI according to our cab driver, Jimmy Savile got taken down pretty sharpish. (Quote: Left helluva brown stain... Unquote.)
I’d never been to a spa before, but I expect to incorporate it into the plot of another novel one of these days – along with fjord cruising and jury service. Not that I’m even thinking about that just yet... I’ve this one to polish up/off first. And in the meantime I'm also hopeful that one of my earlier novels, probably Light From Other Windows, will see commercial daylight soon.
More news as we get it.
25 January 2014
A PICTURE PAINTS...
Belated Happy New Year!
Perversely, for my first blog post of 2014 I thought I'd turn back the clock, to answer an enquiry about how the cover of Five To One came to be.
For an e-book perhaps even more than the print variety, getting the right cover image is crucial, because that little thumbnail is the first thing a potential reader sees when they’re browsing Amazon. As a card-carrying advertising man, I’d given much thought to the cover of Five To One long before it was published. I even went as far as designing one myself, for a print run I did for friends at my local KallKwik one Christmas.
(Aesthetically sensitive? Look away now...)
If you’re wondering why there’s a large lizard on it (FYI it’s an iguana, and if you’re thinking they’re not native to Clapham Common, you’re right) that’s because the book is also set in the Galapagos Islands - a gem of a place, close to my heart.
Crude as the concept is, I rather liked it. But my e-publisher didn't, so he came up with his own:
Which I wasn’t happy with... Partly for giving the impression that Five To One is some sort of drippy, windswept romance; and partly because there are no rowing boats in it whatsoever... So at this point I asked Carl, my web designer from www.dwyl.co.uk, to come up with some ideas…
Like this, featuring Clapham Common's famous bandstand:
And this one (- nice concept!):
And this one, which my publisher was actually prepared to go with:
Well, I didn’t love it, but I could live with it - and it was better than a dingy dinghy any day…
Then, at the eleventh hour, I received a sketch from my good friend David Harris, who'd been the recipient of one of those shonkily printed copies the previous Christmas:
It shows the shadow of a helicopter, with its rotor blades mimicking the hands of the clock at five minutes to one. I loved it immediately, and so did the publisher, who put back the launch date yet again so our designer, Diego Marquez, could perfect it thus:
The finished cover still delights me every time I see it, and other people seem to like it too. Including no less than publishing industry guru Scott Pack (@meandmybigmouth), who judged it “Very good, very nice work” when I made bold enough to show him on Twitter.
Back in the present, I'm now three-quarters through the first draft of another novel, and already mulling over the perfect cover for that. Of course, if it’s published conventionally, the decision will be largely out of my hands - but either way, I hope the result will be as pleasing as Five To One.
8 December 2013
NEXT STOP, BRIGHTON
These days, even high profile novelists are expected to do much of their own promotion. For those of us way down the food chain, whose publishers have little or no budget to bang the drum on their behalf, that’s even more true. When your novel is published as an e-book it’s trickier still. Because while reading events are increasingly open to digital authors touting their wares, the option to sell and sign a hard copy to anyone tempted by your 15-minute taster simply doesn't exist.
The feeling of validation that comes from seeing a diminishing stack of your babies on the sales table is denied to the e-author. It’s a problem I tried to head off at the start of my e-bookery adventure, by printing 5,000 postcards with the cover and blurb for Five To One. The thousand or so that I didn’t then thrust through the Farrow & Ball-tinted letterboxes of Clapham Common, where the book is set, are slowly decreasing as I take a handful to another reading.
Bookish blogs and the well-meaning diatribes of publishers are full of advice on ways to promote your book, sometimes even of the digital variety. But on closer inspection most of it pertains to non-fiction where finding your market is easier, or to fiction that fits a clinically defined pigeon hole. For a book that even its author can only classify as “contemporary fiction, a bit literary but not very… Sort of Intelligent Soap, to appeal to people a bit like me…”, the route to market (and marketing) is less clear. The most frequent advice you receive is to watch for a topical event to hang your book on, and garner publicity that way. Trouble is, when your book concerns the before-and-aftermath of an urban helicopter crash – mirrored horribly in the last year by tragedies in South London and Glasgow – the idea of making hay is too ghastly to contemplate. So if you know of any more ways to keep an intangible product afloat in a sea of the enticingly stroke-able, eminently sniff-able competition, I’d love to hear them.
One thing that surprises me after a year of book promotion is the duration of the promo window itself. When Five To One first hit the invisible book shelves I assumed novels were like pop singles: fail to make your splash in the first week and you’ll be swamped by a tide of shiny new releases in no time. In fact, the opportunities to do readings have continued. Last month, at an ad agency in Farringdon; next Tuesday I'm taking the stage at Have a Word, Brighton's vibrant arts revue at the Latest Music Bar on Manchester Street (details here, come along if you're free and local: https://www.facebook.com/#!/events/629874937055496/). So I'm grabbing every opportunity I can. They're fun, they're usually full of lovely people, and my heart still flutters at the teeny sales spike that follows if I don't gabble or stand too squealingly close to the mic.
Note to self: Choose the premise of your future novels with care, for something you can push and puff and spin into an irresistible marketing confection… Or failing that, carry on writing what the hell you like... Enjoy the pleasure it gives you - and thank your lucky stars you still quite like the day job.
22 September 2013
Have recently returned from celebrating a big birthday on a floating metropolis in the Norwegian fjords. It was the chance to experience some of that glacially-hewn majesty I’ve mused over since Mrs Bottomley's slideshows on klippfisk, stockfisk and hydro electric power in O-level geography… And yes, the scenery was stunning...
And the ship itself a gargantuan, seamless operation...
And the people… Oh, but the people were most extraordinary of all… Three thousand passengers, in all shapes if mostly two sizes (XL, XXL), and crew so plentiful you could have shared one-between-two.
(No stories, sorry…)
And I tried to resist, I really did, but the scenario had a way of setting the narrative cogs a-whirring… So far I’ve woven my travels into every novel I’ve written barring the one I’m working on now. So it seems inevitable those eight days and nights, cutting silently through steel grey seas, will end up as fiction fodder one day… Whether it's the ship's spotless interior acres, or certain jaw-dropping signage...
Or the immaculate staff in their racially delineated roles (Filipinos pushing trollies in corridors; South Africans in the gym and spa; Rumanians helming the restaurants)... And not forgetting the round-the-clock torrents of temptation from the palace-sized kitchens...
Alas resistance, as with the endless doughnuts (but enough about the passengers), was futile. By the end I was measuring my willpower in minutes, and one four-pudding breakfast was a memorable low point...
But what truly characterised life afloat was the breathless schedule of the entertainment...
Highlights were trailed each morning on the ship’s own cable TV channel, by our curly-permed Cruise Director and her Matt Lucas-a-like sidekick. It was car-crash viewing as they ran through the day's smorgasbord of pub quizzes, family-challenge water polo and glitzy extravaganzas in the 750-seat theatre... But it was other events, hidden discreetly in the newsletter delivered to the cabin nightly, that caught my imagination. The Botox seminars... The early morning Bible studies... The LGBT Get-Togethers (“Unhosted”) in the Explorer’s Bar… And an event referred to hazily as Friends of Dr. Bob and Bill W. Meeting - a floating chapter of Alcoholics Anonymous. It seems there's no such thing as a holiday for some.
I’d always promised myself a cruise on a mega-liner one day and now that box is ticked. But I’m certainly not saying ‘never again’. Some places in this world you can only truly appreciate from the water. Like the fjords and the Galapagos Islands; and I can’t see myself experiencing the treasures of Egypt except from a boat on the Nile...
There’s also something uniquely inspiring about the microcosm of the world, at work and play, that a cruise ship offers to nosy writers. But, unless my current plot takes an unexpected detour, I’ll save that for another time. For now I’ll reflect on the magnificence of the Norwegian vistas, hoping to succeed where Monty Python’s parrot failed. The pining has already started, but I'm trying to keep it to a minimum.
4 August 2013
AT LONG-LIST LAST!
Hey, I've got my name in The Bookseller! If you've nothing better to do you can see it here...
I'm thrilled that Five To One has made the longlist for the Polari First Book Prize, generously sponsored by Societe Generale. No matter how many words you've had published (or in my case, printed in ads and websites for cars and mobile phone companies), it's always nice to see your name in the press. And knowing your book has been read and given a tick by a panel of respected authors, critics and publishers is a major boost too.
I'm also appreciative that the Polari Prize is structured around a long- and shortlist. I entered the same novel for another award earlier this year (printing up half a dozen copies specially, cos they couldn't cope with e-books even though you were allowed to enter them - ug?!) Then... nothing at all, till a single winner was announced months later. I guess they simply didn't have enough pairs of hands. But it did seem strange, not to give a few publicity-starved authors (and themselves) the chance to whip up a bit of excitement around the contest beforehand.
Polari's longlist of eleven shrinks to a shortlist of five in September. And after that, of course, it goes from five to --
Well, I can dream! All told it's been a good week, despite twisting my ankle outside the curry house as I ran home in the rain in Converse All Stars (- Grow up, idiot...). I've added 5,000 words to my new novel, which proved far easier to pick up after three crust-earning months off than I expected.
So onwards, upwards, thanks to Polari for giving me and all the other authors a valuable namecheck... And may the best book win.
29th June 2013
Last time I read at Polari, the venerable LGBT literary salon on the South Bank, I brought – in fact bought – a discreet little video camera. With Five To One on the verge of publication, it seemed like a good idea to film myself reading a bit to put on YouTube. (You’ll find a link on the very first blog post if you’re interested.) But this time round, aware that what I was about to read was a mite risqué, I decided against it… I mean, you never know where these things will end up... Or if you might still decide to take holy orders, in which case a lurid description of your protagonist rolling round a mattress with a fading gay porn star would probably count against you.
I take reading opportunities seriously, with a careful choice of material, lots of practice and far too much time choosing my shirt. But looking back on last Wednesday’s wonderful night, I now wish I’d made that movie. I was in fantastic reading company, with authors James Wharton, Jack Wolf, Antonia Cridland and performer extraordinaire, Lorraine Bowen And the extract from Dinner at the Happy Skeleton, my first and as yet unpublished novel, went down better than I dared expect, with lots of laughter happily not from me. I might still have been reticent about putting the footage online; but now I wonder if it would have been a handy extra weapon in my agent’s armoury, as she sends out my wares to prospective publishers... You can’t fake the reaction of a live audience after all. And my partner Rolf, a musician and composer, finds that these days promoters are increasingly asking for videos rather than audio files or scores. In the ever-pressured world in which publishers operate, mightn’t they also appreciate video of a prospective author? Unlike my character in Dinner at the Happy Skeleton, I'm sure they prefer to know who they're getting into bed with.
There was another reason I decided against it, and this one I’m still not sure about. I was worried that the extract would pigeon-hole me as a ‘gay author’. I mean that in the sense of someone who writes exclusively about gay life and issues (which I’m not), as opposed to an author who happens to be gay (which I proudly am). In the past, I have heard writers decry being so labelled as a dangerous, ever-narrowing path best avoided if you have any hope of commercial success. I’d like to think that’s changed a little in the more enlightened world of 2013. Certainly, taking a straw poll from the front table at Polari, my reading went down remarkably well with MC Paul Burston’s mum. She’s a delightful lady of a certain age with (I’m guessing) only a passing interest in the sleazier nuances of metropolitan gay life. You can see Mrs B below (taken by the ever-eagle eye of Krys at www.krysphotos.co.uk); Paul assures me the fact she's covering her face is a sure sign she was enjoying herself.
But on balance I wish had taken my camera. Publishers value authors who are willing to self-promote these days, and being able to entertain an audience is proof of that. Plus it would be good to have a video of yourself on a night when it all went right, to watch in the darkest hours holed up in your writer’s garret, when you're wondering if you’ll ever really make it. That said, maybe next time I won’t spend quite so long worrying about my shirt. I was variously described as looking like a darts player or a taxi driver... But hey, it doesn’t matter how you get the laughs as long as you get ‘em, right?
8th June 2013
I've never been happier to have my work turned down than I was last week, when my agent received a thoroughly uplifting rejection for Light From Other Windows. it came from an editor at one of the most prestigious imprints in town, who called it an "impressive and profoundly affecting novel... This is one of the most polished and unpretentiously executed storylines I have read in a long time, with a cast of beautifully realised characters. I particularly enjoyed spending time with Diana Maitland, an enormously charismatic and complex woman...."
Diana Maitland is my sort-of main character, a mother who loses her teenage son in a tsunami. This particular publisher is renowned for books that are a bit more highbrow than mine so the rejection was no surprise. But it's great to feel you are on the right track.
I actually received the email, in the way of all things 3G, beside a swimming pool in Turkey. It was on a holiday of mixed fortunes, from the mosaic intricacy of Topkapi Palace to the heinous unpleasantness of food poisoning on my last night in Istanbul. The morning after promised a long, juddering taxi ride, an hour's flight and another hour in a car to my friend's villa outside Bodrum. I'm not sure how I made it, fortified by one ice lolly and a few dried figs filched from the hotel breakfast... But the holiday ended well, with two books read in three days, in and out of the sunshine... I loved Room by Emma Donoghue, which I've been meaning to read since the day it came out, and found a copy waiting for me in the house as irresistible as Alice's bottle of potion. The way the author sustained the POV of a five year old boy in extraordinary circumstances was first class. And just when you worry the scenario is getting a little over-worked, the plot turns on a sixpence halfway through into something completely different.
The second page turner - also lying around and not one of the three books I'd Kindled up for the trip - was Mary Ann in Autumn. It's a recent addition to Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City series which I and just about everyone I know read in the Eighties and Nineties. As well as being an irresistible page-turner, it brought back so many memories of the San Francisco that the original series evoked beautifully, and which my one and only visit never quite lived up to. Maupin is a magnificent writer whose prose seems the best sort of effortless. The only downside, which I also remember from the other books, is a tendency to make all his storylines dovetail a little too conveniently. It gives them a fairy tale quality - which may, after all, be exactly what he intends.
4th May 2013
PALMA, POLARI AND PLOT POINTS
The new novel is going quite well. I’m 22,000 words in, which puts me on target for the early-2014 finish I’ve been pointlessly self-flagellating with since the day I began. That said, the old paid-employ is a bit quiet, so you never know it might be sooner.
I was in Palma de Mallorca recently, retracing my late dad’s footsteps in his favourite city in the world. I had to guess what they were, but it’s a safe bet they involved long walks round the harbour looking wistfully at the yachts, and copious beer and tapas. He’d have been proud - I did plenty of each. The London Book Fair happened while I was there, and for the first time I had the pleasure of knowing my books were being represented. Thanks to Valeria at Raimondi & Campbell, Light From Other Windows is now being read by three publishers. Who knows if any will bite but it feels good to be in the mix.
On the subject of Light, I’m reading an excerpt on Monday at Brixton Book Jam [http://www.brixtonbookjam.com/readersspeakers/], a riotously well-attended event in sunny SW2… It’s meant to be sunny too, more than Majorca according to the weathermen, and that's sunny I can tell you... In June, I’m delighted to say I've got a return read at Paul Burston's ever-glittering Polari on the South Bank. I was in the audience for the last one which was a hoot, with a galaxy of star readers and a preview of something special from Celia Imrie. You can see highlights of the night here www.polariliterarysalon.co.uk/Polari/Media.html. I’ve already decided what to read (...wear / eat beforehand / route to take if the trains screw up...) It's something rumbustious and just a little saucy, which should suit the occasion nicely.
Until then if you want me I'll be on the wind-blasted Exmoor of the late 1980s – where a man with a chip on his shoulder and a very peculiar hobby is about to have a life-changing encounter...
13th April 2013
ALL THE FUN OF...
I'm delighted that all my books are going to be represented at the London Book Fair next week. Raimondi & Campbell will be showing Light From Other Windows, Five To One, Dinner at the Happy Skeleton and Gillian Vermillion - Dream Detective to anyone who stops at their stand!
Good luck to them, fingers crossed for me and if you'd like to know more about my books, you can find them all here http://www.raimondicampbell.com/
Meanwhile I'll be taking a break from the world of words - at least the English variety - in Palma de Mallorca....
9th March 2013
FIRST PERSON PARTICULAR
Just finished reading The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. I haven't always been smitten with the Booker Prizewinners I've read, but this I loved. I don't remember seeing the film, though from the way I heard Hopkins and Thompson saying every word I surely have.
I keep a stack of novels on two shelves in the landing, which constitute my intended reading for the year. As I finish one book I pick up another, more or less at random, though governed partly by whether I'm commuting that week and if it'll fit in my bag without recourse to a neck brace. The Remains of the Day was also a serendipitous choice because it's a first person narrative, like the novel I've just begun writing. Whilst I wouldn't dream of putting myself in the same stratosphere as Mr Ishiguro, it's the first time I've tried it since my first stab at a novel, Dinner at the Happy Skeleton.
Back then it seemed like the obvious thing to do. The words flowed like the apologies at a Liberal Democrat conference, tripping from my fingertips with an effortlessness I haven't experienced since. In fact it's been a continuing disappointment to me that writing fiction hasn't got easier with practice; and while it's tempting to tell yourself it's because your standards are improving, I'm not so sure. I suspect it may be that describing what did (or almost) happened, is simply easier than huffing and puffing and making the dang stuff up.
That said, my new novel ( - yes, it does have a title; no, I won't tell you, because you'll laugh and not in a good way...) does seem to be materialising with relative ease - and I can only assume writing in the first person has something to do with that. I find I'm much less critical of what comes into my protagonist's head than when I'm writing in the the third person. Without wishing to sound too writerish-ly up myself, it seems that when you channel someone's thoughts and words 'direct', you find less reason to take issue, dissect every syllable, and wander downstairs to see what's in the fridge.
Early days of course. But now, when I sit down at my keyboard, I do feel less like an all-in wrestler confronted with a bad tempered eight-foot eel than usual.
And how welcome that is.
10th February 2013
POEM WOT I WROTE
While the papers whip themselves into a frenzy over horsemeat in Findus beef lasagne, here's a little something from the archives.
(You can judge for yourself whether it should have stayed there...)
A couple of years ago I went on a Faber writing weekend, held above a bookshop in one of the Chipping villages. I didn't see David Cameron or Rebekah Wade, though we did share a restaurant with Alex James one night, who was holding forth about farming... Anyway, on the Sunday afternoon the tutor who was Salley Vickers, author of Miss Garnet's Angel, sent us into the village square to write about something we saw.
I saw the butcher's shop, which was closed reasonably enough. This was the result:
Carcasses in the Window
Trev Cumbernauld, when you were young
Did you talk careers with mum?
Astronaut or engine driver,
Referee or deep sea diver?
“Not for me,” perhaps you crowed,
“Mine, Mum, is a different road!
Chops and brisket, ribs and haunch
From snout to tail, from plate to paunch;
Meat is where my future lies
And serving folk, eschewing cries
Of tastelessness at my display
From passing vegans; for what do they
Know about the finest fillets
For roasting, grilling and filling skillets?
My shop will be a fleshly beacon.
So sod the veggies, Mum, for they can
Go and take a running jump
If they object to oozing stump
Of ruby flesh turned flaky grey;
A feast on any sunny day!”
But had Mum hoped, Trev, you’d aspire
To nobler cause, a calling higher?
And would she, if she’s still around,
Change her viewpoint as she found,
Pausing at your shop, no less
Your Three Gold Stars for cleanliness?
Your posters for the local shows,
Card for spinster miss who sews?
Your stickers from the Daily Mail
Urging ‘JUST SAY NON’ to filthy snail
Eaters from across the channel,
Chompers of frog’s legs, dodgers of flannel?
Yes! Mum would smile, Trev, she would see
You skewered your market perfectly.
Retail raja, self-made man,
Lord Liver, King Kidney, the Hitler of Ham!
Lefties! Veggies! Vegans! Frogs!
Twittering do-gooders, writers of blogs;
However they sneer, Trev, however they look
Tell them to sling their butcher’s hook.
[Author's footnote: I don't eat meat. Can you tell?]
7th February 2013
It was a pleasure to read at the very impressive Library of Camden Working Men's College last night. As an avowed South Londoner I'd never heard of it before, though it's quite a local landmark. Happily the audience gave Five To One - a tale of love, tragedy and the pre-and re-percussions of a helicopter crash on the other side of the river - a generous reception. Thanks to everyone who came along.
It's the first time I've read from it on the Watford-side of town, and the first since last month's dreadful accident in Vauxhall when a helicopter hit a crane, killing the pilot and one person on the ground. My blood ran a little cold that day; not least because one of the inspirations for that novel was an incident a few years ago when a crane collapsed in Battersea with similar, horrifyingly random results. It was a bit like fact and fiction coming together, all in the space of two square miles.
On to cheerier things. Outside my window this morning the sun is shining and one of our two semi-resident foxes is asleep under the fir tree. In other words, it's a perfect day for writing. And while my agent, Valeria, hunts down a home for the follow-up to Five To One which is called Light From Other Windows (by the way, I don't think I have second sight but just in case, you might want to avoid the Canary Islands this summer), I'm at the planning stage with my next novel.
This is always the scariest part for me, because every decision you take is accompanied by a looming feeling that if you set off down the wrong route, you just might spend the next year and a half of your life down there... But I have alighted on an idea I quite like. It popped into my head following recent revelations about the despicable Lance Armstrong and the even more odious Jimmy Savile. That said, it has nothing to do with cycling, drugs or under-age sex (...at least, not yet).
I have a title and I have a few characters, and now I'm going to see where they go. Wish me luck and I'll tell you all about it - probably in late 2014!
Oh, PS.... Big shout out for www.nationallibrariesday.org.uk this Saturday 9th February. Our libraries are a unique resource and under pressure like never before. As I looked around the majestic, be-sculpured interior of the College Library last night, it did strike me that, whilst I don't believe they'll ever disappear, they are in danger of becoming academic museum-pieces instead of a living environment available to all.
If you haven't visited your library lately, pop in this Saturday and see how they've moved with the times. Let's show our support and keep them where they belong.
15th January 2013
TALES OF THE CITY, CAMDEN STYLE
Lauded novelists, prize winning poets and me will be reading at the Working Men’s College Library in Camden from 7pm to 8.30pm on Wednesday, 6th February.
The event is called Tales of the City, and promises quirky takes on the textured fabric of London life. It's free and full details are here: https://www.facebook.com/events/454463884619327/
...Or for the un-facebooked (how is that? Is it lovely?), the address is 44 Crowndale Road, London NW1 1TR. Nearest tubes: Camden and Mornington Crescent.
To reserve your seat, please email: email@example.com
The Working Men's College Library is a historic building by all accounts, and despite the name you can get in without a donkey jacket. There is definitely a bar though, so pop along if you can.
5th January 2013
NEW YEAR, NEW AGENT
I couldn't ask for a better start to the year than being signed to an agent! Raimondi & Campbell will be taking my new novel to market.
Light From Other Windows is re-drafted to within an inch of its life, and their head honcho, Valeria Raimondi, believes it's going places... The agency has offices in London and Milan, and with lots of experience abroad they're going to be pushing the novel in Europe as well as the UK, which can only be a good thing.
Thanks to them for taking me on (and to Justine at www.bytethebook.com, for it was at one of their fine soirées at The Ivy Club that our fateful meeting took place). I'll be helping R&C in any way I can - when I'm not writing my next novel, that is. At the moment I'm at the hunting/gathering stage, rifling old moleskins for inspiration and stalking Waterstones, as I try to work out what exactly I want to write about. For me, this is the scariest part of the whole process, because I know whatever I alight upon is probably going to dominate the next year or two of my life - and you so don't want to get that wrong!
At the moment I'm mulling the discord of metropolitan vs. non-metropolitan siblings, the horrors of house-swapping, and why a conversation at a horseshoe bay on the south of Ireland still preys on my mind after 15 years... What sets the ball rolling may be none of the above. But when the spark ignites, you'll read it here first.
Thanks also to everyone who bought Five To One, and for all the reviews on Amazon. One way or another, I hope there'll be something more for you to read before too long.
Happy New Year!
5th December 2012
NICE LINE, TIDELINE
I'm delighted and honoured to receive this assessment of Five To One from Penny Hancock, author of the best-selling Tideline.
'Chris Chalmers takes us on a circular journey back to a fateful afternoon when disparate lives become entangled. Five To One is a funny, often painfully honest and moving story about the absurdity of modern life and the concerns that propel us. He writes with a sensitivity and wit that recalls Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City.’
19th November 2012
Croydon Radio is a digital station with studios in the nifty Matthews Yard at the centre of town. The cafe does a fine soya decaff in a proper mug (funny how that seems a novelty these days) and the toilets are so cool, you half expect to bump into Boris Becker and a waitress.
Here's the podcast of the interview I did yesterday. Extra prize if you count how many times I say "Errr...."
PS. The competition question again.... Long-term resident of the Galapagos Islands, Lonesome George, died last year. Who was he?
15th November 2012
NEXT BIG THING(S)?
I’ve been invited by Tracey Sinclair, author of the wonderful Dark Dates novels (and blogger extraordineuse at www.bodyofageekgoddess.blogspot.co.uk) to take the Next Big Thing questionnaire, where authors talk about what they’re publishing next.
So here’s me!
What is the title of your next book?
Contrary as ever, I've got two ready to go at once:
Dinner At The Happy Skeleton is the first novel I ever wrote. It’s just received a radical make-over after fermenting sulkily on my desktop for a few years.
Light From Other Windows, my latest, received an offer of representation from an agent today! More news as we get it...
Where did the idea for the books come from?
Dinner At The Happy Skeleton – A bit of living and a lot of imagination... Is the world finally ready for The Gay Bridget Jones Novel?
Light From Other Windows – the blog an Aussie friend of mine was writing while she and her boyfriend drove round Europe in a camper van; plus the twitter feed I was following during civil unrest in Iran, when I was meant to be plotting my next novel.... How’s that for a combo?
What genre do your books fall under?
Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
In the first, Michael Fassbender. In the second, probably my next door neighbours because the lead characters looks exactly like them!
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your books?
Dinner At The Happy Skeleton – Single, cynical, slut-in-a-rut Dan Myers blames the man who fed his brains into a shredder for his life going nowhere; but when his quest for closure leads to uncharted corners of Europe, hope beckons from where he least expects to find it.
Light From Other Windows – When the Maitland family's youngest child is caught up in a tsunami, the travel blog he leaves behind reveals secrets he knew about them all – and one about himself that will change the way they see him forever.
Will your books be self-published or represented by an agency?
One of each, maybe…
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscripts?
Eight months and two years respectively.
What other books would you compare the story to within your genre?
If you like Zoe Heller, Catherine O'Flynn or Patrick Gayle, I'd like to think you might like me.
Who or What inspired you to write them?
Getting made redundant yet again and thinking, 'If I didn't have to go back to work full-time, what would I do?'
What else about your books might pique the reader’s interest?
They’re both funny, despite some poignant subject matter. Dinner At The Happy Skeleton is romantic and very raunchy in parts. Light From Other Windows, like my first novel, Five To One, explores what happens when ordinary people are caught up in an extraordinary event - but there the similarity ends.
Two fine authors, will be answering the same questions next week. Zelda Rhiando, recent winner of the £10,000 Kidwell-e Book prize for her amazing debut Caposcripti - find her at www.badzelda.com; and acclaimed romantic novelist, Helena Halme, who will be revealing all about her next book at www.helenahalme.com
16th September 2012
Nice to catch up with Zelda and the Brixton Book Jam crowd at Lambeth Country Show yesterday. Did a short reading from Five To One to a backdrop of sheep-shearing and burger-flip aromas ( - my favourite scene with Tony and the police; I laughed and laughed, inside only luckily).
As with so many of London's outdoor events this summer, the weather was kinder when it mattered than you dared to hope. And to commemorate, the download price for my book has been cut to £2.56! If you haven't checked it out, it's here http://tinyurl.com/8n46q4u
Meanwhile the search is underway for a home for my new novel, Light From Other Windows (see 12th July entry). Had one close-but-no-cigar meeting with a big literary agent so far - here's to another soon. This week I'm also dusting the cobwebs off an earlier book, DInner at the Happy Skeleton. It's getting one last draft before I self-publish it on Amazon, along with GIllian Vermillion - Dream Detective, my first foray into children's books. The aim is to get them both on sale before Christmas.
There, a bit of added pressure - let's see if I can do it...
5th August 2012
THE INVISIBLE [sales] MAN
How on earth can you sell something that isn't there? Here's me, guest-blogging on the subject at strictlywriting.blogspot.co.uk...
31st July 2012
ZONE ONE RADIO
Squeeze, The Stranglers, Gary Numan as you've never heard him before, and me on Five To One - what's not to like?
Follow the link to my last-but-one radio appearance (hey, it was a busy weekend!). Includes the inside track on getting published and the truth about wearing 31 year old tee shirts...
20th July 2012
THE JOLLY @ THE IVY
The Ivy Club isn't meant for people like you and me (okay, me...) On Tuesday nights their Piano Bar is awash with big-cheese TV stars, producers so famous even I recognise them, and grey-haired thesps who can pull a tight young thing at a laudably early hour.
This week, at the regular Byte The Book e-publishing soiree, we were upstairs in the Club itself for the rest of the evening, where I was honoured to share a panel and my publishing experiences with three accomplished lady authors. Adjudicated by a sun-kissed Justine Solomons, they were Penny Hancock, author of Richard 'n Judy-pick Tideline; e-pub supremo (-a?) Talli Roland; and rising star and writer of Wednesday Night Tupperware, T.A. Gilbert. All of whom have taken different routes to a legal, publishing high accompanied by varying degrees of e-.
Talli in particular was an eye-opener, for the way she's swapped conventional print publishing for going it alone. Her sales figures speak for themselves, and if her books are half as cool, confident and witty as the lady herself, they're a great read. More at www.talliroland.com
The audience were attentive - even indulging a Johnny-Come-Lately like me, as I oafishly corrected an American lady questioner's pronunciation from 'metrics' to 'matrix' ( - she meant 'metrics', you plonker, and she knows far more than you do. Oops...)
A good night had by all (...I'm strenuously avoiding an actor pun here) and, for me, a welcome respite from the task at hand; namely, finding a home for Light From Other Windows... Met a couple of agents who expressed an interest there and then, with another possible lead courtesy of a kind fellow panelist...
To e- or not to e-... That, more than ever, is the question...
12th July 2012
Barring one or two comments from my incisive in-house reader, my next novel, Light From Other Windows, is complete. Now all I need is an agent and publisher - any leads to the usual address, please!
Too busy to read 88,000 words? No problem, here it is in less than 60:
Nineteen year old Josh Maitland is on the last leg of a gap year trip round the world when the tsunami hits the Canary Islands. For the grieving family he leaves behind, his travel blog makes devastating reading, revealing secrets he knew about them all – and one about himself that changes the way they see him forever.
What do you reckon?
5th July 2012
This week has been a multimedia whirligig, beginning with a reading at BrixtonBookJam on Monday, held at a pub in SW2 that smelled authentically herbal. Audience of 150 according to the organisers, though I was glad to be on early before 16 other readers and a lot of beer did unkind things to the concentration... My five minute slot reading from Five To One earned some kind words from literary heavyweight, critic and current holder of Hatchet Job of the Year, Adam Mars-Jones. What a nice man, and what impeccable taste.
Tuesday, nifty article including front cover image and mug shot in the August edition of Writing Magazine. Centre spread, top left; 10/10 for media placement... Then today my presentation, Published at Last - A Tale of Nine Years, Four Books and the Small Matter of an e-Revolution, got another airing, in a breakfast do at ad agency VCCP. And finally this afternoon I was interviewed on CityBeat, the UCLH radio station... Slightly queered my own pitch here, talking of helicopters live on air and mashing the words 'blades' and 'rotors'. It comes out as 'bloaters'; not ideal... Funny how you can tell someone's trying to keep a straight face even when you can't see it....
All this on top of long days and late nights at the biggest new business pitch a certain ad agency has ever undertaken. Hope it went well when they saw the client today. My key contribution was inspiring a Tammy Wynette pastiche, recorded especially for the presentation... (Industry moral: Assemble That Pitch Team Without a Gay Man At Your Peril...)
But tomorrow the whirligig comes in to land, softly I hope. I'm back to the keyboard for a final finessing of the last 20 pages of Light From Other Windows. And god, how they need it...They're the weakest of the lot, in need one final push before my latest novel, two years in the writing, is ready to go out into the world.
May the muse be with me.
18th June 2012
LIGHT... AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL
Taking a breather from the promo for Five To One to get back to my work-in-progress... I started Light From Other Windows almost two years ago and it's nearly finished. Or at least, it's on its seventh draft... The trouble with novels - my trouble with novels - is that you never know when they're finished.
A couple of months apart has done us both good. This one is feeling like it's there or thereabouts. It just needs a bit more tweaking. I'd love to get it out and show it around before the summer's over (not that it feels like it's started yet, weatherwise...) Is Diana as convincing as she should be? Have I mined the depth of feeling around her sudden, shock bereavement? Are Jem and Rachel's reactions to the book's ultimate revelations true to their characters?
Been doing my research, reading The Boy Who Fell Out of The Sky by Ken Dornstein, who lost his brother in the Lockerbie bombing. Not sure it's helped; I thought the premise had similarities to the events I'm mining in Light From Other Windows, but our subject families are poles apart. Bereavement is not a fixed template you can fit over everyone.
I shall ponder on't. And you, I hope one of these days, will get the chance to decide if I was right.
14th June 2012
TRAMPING & TRUMPET-BLOWING
800 promo postcards delivered round sunny Clapham Common Northside yesterday.... First performance of my presentation, Published at Last - A Tale of Nine Years, Four Books and the Small Matter of an e-Revolution, today!
And thanks to Dave Harris at Wunderman London for organising and providing an attentive audience with lots of interesting questions... I particularly liked the suggestion of slipping my Five To One postcard into copies of John Lanchester's Capital... (Pity I could never be that naughty - could I?)
If you know of any other audience that might be interested in hearing about my experience of getting published in the digital age, please get in touch.
22nd May 2012
GREAT DANES & A VERY SMALL FOX
Back from a great few days in intermittantly-sunny Copenhagen. Snuck a few of my promo postcards into the racks at the Carlsberg Dancehalleren and even managed to sell a couple of books!
First author interview today in my own back garden, with journalist Melanie Roberts plus guest appearance by a naughty little fox... Meeting old friends at the London Writers' Club tonight, and a radio interview on Sunday. All go....
12th May 2012
Great review for Five To One today from those champions of digi-publishing, ByteTheBook.com. See http://www.bytethebook.com/book-reviews/charmed-by-chalmers-five-to-one-by-chris-chalmers.
It was enough to send me postcard-dropping round Nappy Valley SW4 with a spring in my step... 1,000 down; just the other 4,000 postcards to go...
9th May 2012
SHOW & TELL
Networking harder than a short-armed trawlerman in a gale here... But it's paying off, cos I've been booked to do a presentation at VCCP, one of the sexiest ad agencies in town! It's part of their Curious sessions: show-and-tells by people with a story from outside the agency (- well, sort of outside, in my case - I freelance there occasionally). Now, wonder if I can do the same at any other agencies? At least they'll know I'm not going to turn up with a massive stack of books under my arm...
7th May 2012
ME & THE LWC
Like to hear how it was for me? Here's my blog at the London Writer's Club on how I got published: www.londonwritersclub.com/2012/05/guest-post-chris-chalmers-on-how-he-got-a-publishing-deal/
5th May 2012
I'm reading from Five To One at South Lambeth Library, 180 South Lambeth Road, on Wednesday 9th May at 7pm. Be great to see you there!
23rd April 2012
PUBLISHED AT LAST!
Did you see the rain tonight? Did you see the rainbow afterwards?
I was sitting in a sushi restaurant with him indoors at the time. And while we were there I got a text message from my friend, Dave, to say he'd just spotted Five To One on Amazon. My publisher only submitted the file this morning and the approval process is meant to take a couple of days, so that was a surprise.
Fitting too, because my friend Dave is the same friend Dave who told me, eight years ago, to write a novel about a plane crash on Clapham Common.
Funny old world. Also a very lovely rainbow. I'm not expecting a crock of gold but it'd be nice to think it's a good omen.
21st April 2012
IS IT A BIRD? IS IT A...
IT'S NEARLY HERE! The engine's roaring, the helicopter's over the horizon and it's coming this way!
Five To One will be on Amazon within the week. Choosing the right cover and sorting out last minute glitches has delayed things a little, but we're nearly there. Thanks to everyone who's been asking – I hope to reward your patience with a really good read!
10th April 2012
Delighted to have the chance to read from Five To One at Paul Burston's long running literary salon, Polari. Despite being Easter week it was a full house at the Royal Festival Hall venue. Thanks to Paul, and also to Nigel from Wink Publishing who drove all the way from Wales specially (and back again) with a fistful of flyers!
For the full horror of me and my shirt, click here: youtube link