Literary Award!

My third novel, Efraim’s Eye, has been awarded second prize in the category General Fiction by Reader Views Literary Awards – 2012.  The complete list of winners can be found at  I notice that three books from Strategic Book Publishing (my publisher) won awards.  Although it is the author, not the publisher that has to submit the entry to the competition.

This is the first time I have submitted one of my novels into an awards competition.  A full description of the awards and the submission process can be found at

Reader Views is a company based in Austin, Texas that provides a wide range of services to self-published authors, and authors who use small publishers.  (The latter is my category.)  Reviewers who judge the awards are independent, professional readers and critics.





Editing by the Author

When I first started writing, I would write a couple of pages, then review and edit what I had written.  When I had completed a chapter, I would go back to review and edit that chapter.  When I finished the book, I would review and re-edit the entire book.  At each of these three stages, I found mistakes or text that I wasn’t happy with, and I made changes.  A professional editor would then take over, and finally, I would check what the editor had done.  (In most cases, the editor had done an excellent job correcting typos and syntax errors.)

My first four novels were what one might call ‘four dimensional’.  That is, they told a story about characters, events, places and times.  Most novels are four dimensional.

My fifth novel has two additional dimensions: a spiritual dimension and a philosophical dimension, and as I was writing the last few chapters, I began to realise that my editing of the entire novel would have to be far more rigorous.  I became concerned that some of the material in the earlier chapters would not fully support the spiritual and philosophical dimensions that I wanted the reader to understand.

So, now that I have finished writing the last chapter, I am going back to the beginning, and reviewing each chapter.  This review is much more rigorous than before.  I spot whole sections (one of more paragraphs) which were either not interesting enough to the reader, or did not support the spiritual or philosophical dimensions.  I delete or completely re-write those sections.  (I think it is easy for a writer to become ‘mesmerised by his/her own writing’ and get carried away in prose.)  I found, also, that I had to add small pieces of text to help clarify the spiritual and philosophical messages.

It is necessary in this fifth novel that the central character changes his identity and his values, but I noticed that what I had written before did not support the vulnerability of this character to the changes that come later.  So, I had to make subtle changes to his character.

In the second, more rigorous, review of each chapter, I was also sensitive to accuracy of time, place and characters.  (See my post on Accuracy.)

During this review, I tend to be merciless about what I would call ‘ordinary writing’.  That is, writing which lacks uniqueness and character.  For example, rather than write that a character ‘fell to the floor, sobbing’, I’ll write ‘she collapsed onto the floor, hiccoughing with sobs’.  Doesn’t the latter version better convey her desperation?

And of course, each time I review something I have written, I’ll find typos, awkward syntax and punctuation errors.  (That’s a never-ending battle!)

So I no longer trust my self to ‘Get It Right First Time’, as the quality gurus like to say.  For me ‘Getting It Right’ is the result of at least six re-reads and improvements, and some of the improvements can be pretty extensive!

Lady Chatterley and Sex in Writing


The Daily Telegraph carried an article last Tuesday in which the author Julian Barnes suggested that the failure of the Lady Chatterley’s Lover obscenity prosecution in 1960 opened a whole new world for writers. Barnes won the 2011 Man Booker Prize in for The Sense of an Ending.  He said that upon hearing the outcome of the prosecution when he was 14, “At last, I remember thinking, British literature would be able to catch up with foreign, especially French, literature, which for a century had been far more truth-telling – and far more titillating than its British equivalent.  But having a new freedom and knowing what to do with it were two quite different things.  Instead of a blanket prohibition, there was almost the reverse: not a writerly desire, but a commercial obligation to write in a detailed way about sex.  And sometimes all that happened was that the misleading old euphemisms were replaced by new misleading cliches.

“It’s easy to mock, and each generation will mock the previos one because each generation needs to imagine that its attitude to sex strikes just about the right balance; that by comparison its predecessors were prim and embarrassed, its successors sex-obsessed and pornified.  And so writing about sex contains an additional anxiety on top of all the usual ones: that the writer might be giving him or herself away, that readers may conclude, when you describe a sex act, that it must have already happened to you in pretty much the manner described.”

This is an interesting point of view.  Some I agree with; some I don’t.  While the Lady Chatterley prosecution may have been a watershed at the time, in my opinion, it has little effect on literature today, 50+ years later.  What affects literature today is what the public wants to read and what critics think they should read.  Critics don’t speak with one voice on the subject of sex: some criticise authors for attempting to write about it, and others point out the blank space left by its omission.  Some readers today may be ‘prim and embarrassed’, but others, as the success of Fifty Shades of Grey shows, are quite happy to be immersed.

For myself, I don’t feel any ‘commercial pressure’ to include sex in my novels.  I include it because it helps to define the personality and values of the characters involved.  Here, for example, is a passage from Efraim’s Eye:

Paul was suddenly awake.  There was someone in the room.  A slight, pale figure had slipped almost soundlessly past the door.  The figure made no threatening movements.  He tried to see through the gloom.  Like a butterfly shedding its chrysalis, the figure dropped its robe.  It was Naomi.  She lifted the bed covers and climbed in beside him.  She was trembling.

“What’s the matter, Naomi?”

“He tried to attack me.”

“You’ve been dreaming.”
”It was horrible.”

Still trembling, she clung to him.  Gently, he stroked her hair, which cascaded across her face and shoulders.  There was peaceful, utter silence in the room.  She lay on her side, against him, her head on his shoulder.  He kissed her forehead, and stroked her back.  Gradually, he felt the tension seep out of her.  There was the faint scent of her perfume.  He felt one of her breasts against his chest.

“Thank you, Paul.”

Desire swept over him.  “I want you Naomi.”

She said nothing.

She stroked his chest, and her hand strayed down across his belly.  “Oh!”  For some time she continued to hold him.  “Do you have a condom, Paul?”

“No, but I’ve had a vasectomy, and . . . and I have no . . . “

“no STD’s,” she finished the sentence for him.

She continued to caress him.  Then deliberately and languorously, she slid on top of him.  Reaching down for him, she guided him.  She gave a little groan of pleasure and began to move.  He was almost passive, knowing that his time was later.  He caressed her face, her breasts, her back, her arms.  “God, you feel lovely!”

She gave soft mewling sounds as her passion flamed higher, and the pace of her movements increased.

Then, suddenly she convulsed, buried her face at his throat and gave a long sighing groan.  He could hold out no longer, wrapped his arms around her, and succumbed to the surge of ecstasy.

They floated down; lay on their sides, her back against his chest, pressed tight against him, his arms still around her.  She felt blissfully safe.

They fell asleep.

This passage is intended to reinforce several points about the characters.  Naomi can be child-like and she is very frightened by the terrorist; she views Paul almost as a father figure; she did not come to him for sex, but for security.  Paul admires Naomi, and would not normally have tried to seduce her, but her naked presence is too much for him.

I don’t agree with Barnes that the ‘old euphemisms’ and the ‘new cliches’ are necessarily ‘misleading’.  It is not a word I would have chosen.  I think what he probably means is ‘ill-conceived’.  For me, this is the challenge: how does one choose the right words and construction to have the reader feel what the characters are feeling – no more, no less?

I think that Barnes has a point when he says that ‘readers may conclude, when you describe a sex act, that it must have already happened to you in pretty much the manner described.’  I had a friend who emailed me after reading Efraim’s Eye to the effect that he felt he now knew me better, “including your sexual experiences ha ha!”  My reaction on reading the joking email was to shrug.  He doesn’t know as much as he thinks he knows.



It seems to me it is frequently the case in movie thrillers, particularly the complex variety, that inconsistencies and errors creep in.  For example, I noted several errors/ inconsistencies in Arbitrage, the news film starring Richard Gere.  Gere plays a billionaire hedge fund manager who is leading the good life.  (He has Laetitia Casta, no less, as a mistress.)  An investment in a Russian mining venture turns sour because the Russians will not permit the metal to be exported.  This is rather unlikely, though it is possible that the Russians have decided to use all of the mine’s output domestically.  But, in that case it would still be making money.  Could the hedge fund get the money out of Russia?  Even oligarchs fleeing Russia are able to get their money out of the country.  Not a credible scenario.  It would have been more credible to have the venture fail for environmental reasons, but no savvy billionaire investor is going to make a mistake like that.  Then to cover up the $400 million hole in his fund, he borrows $400 million from another investor.  (Gere wants his fund to look like a winner so he can sell it.)  Whoever wrote this into the script doesn’t understand accounting.  A four hundred million dollar loss can’t be offset by borrowing the same amount.

Gere has an automobile accident while driving with Casta.  She is killed, while he has superficial injuries (?).  To protect his good name, he flees the scene of the accident, and, at a gas station, he makes a collect call to a young black man whom he has befriended in the past.  The young man picks up Gere and takes him home at 4:30 am.

A police detective suspects that Gere was driving the car and has left the scene of the accident.  He says that Gere’s cell phone records show that he went to a gas station.  (I doubt that this is possible: the location of a cell phone can be traced at the time, but not historically; to do so would require the service providers to store enormous quantities of data.)

To put pressure on the young man, the detective produces a photo, taken at a toll booth, of a car with which has his license plate.  This is intended to prove that the young man was in his car, when he says he was home.  The story line is that the police altered the ‘tapes’ from the toll booth.  How this was done is not clear.  Wouldn’t it have been more sensible for the police to have doctored a photo with software?

Apart from problems like these, I took an immediate dislike of Gere’s character.  He pretends to be a loyal family man, but this is clearly not the case: he is late for important family gatherings.  So, at the end, when Gere’s future hangs in the balance, I have no sympathy for him.  For me, when writing about a villain, I think the reader should have a trace of sympathy for the villain, or at least understand him.

I think it is fair to say that it is not to easy, in a book, to ‘pull the wool over the reader’s eyes’.  It’s all there in black and white.  If one were to write in chapter 9 that a character wore a pink dress, but in chapter 3 it says ‘she hated pink’, what would the reader think?  He would think that the writer was either sloppy or didn’t remember.  Technical (or accounting) details can be important to some readers.  If these details are inaccurate, some readers may not notice, but those who do will question the author’s credibility.

I frequently find my self going back to check something I had written earlier.  If I find an inconsistency, something has to be put right.  Sometimes I write about something on which I’m not an expert.  In The Iranian Scorpion, for example, opium is harvested and converted to heroin.  Since I knew this was possible, I could have just said: “The opium was harvested and converted to heroin.”  But to take this shortcut would have taken a great deal of significance out of the story.  So, I did the research, and in The Iranian Scorpion, it tells exactly how opium is harvested and converted to heroin.  Harder work for the author, but it makes it more interesting for the reader.


In my post ‘Emotion’, I have touched already on the importance of a writer of fiction feeling the emotions of his characters.   This is a kind of follow-up on that post.

The other evening at about 6:30, my wife came home from her work.  I was in my office upstairs working away on my latest novel.  She came upstairs and put her head in the door.  “Why are you crying?” she asked.

“Henry’s son was just killed,” I said.  (Henry is the key character in my fifth novel.)

“Oh,” she said, “I thought something was wrong.”

In fact, something was very wrong: William, Henry’s son, for whom he had great admiration and fondness, had been killed.  For me, this felt like a tragedy.  One might ask, ‘Is it really necessary for a novelist to get so emotionally involved with his characters?’  Perhaps it is possible for a writer to maintain a level of detachment, but for me, that wouldn’t work.  One might also ask, ‘You knew that William was going to get killed – in fact, you plotted his killing – how can you be so sad when you kill him?’  First of all, I didn’t kill him.  I wrote about how he was killed fighting Somali pirates.  And secondly, fore knowledge of an event doesn’t necessarily protect us from an emotional response to the event itself.  For example, when you know that your daughter is going to get married, you may also know that you’ll be feeling a little weepy (as I did), but that slight anticipation doesn’t stifle the watery eyes when you start down the aisle.  At least it didn’t stifle the tears for me.

Emotion is one of the features of humanity which makes us so interesting, and separates us pretty definitively from the rest of the animal kingdom.  (As a dog lover, I knows that animals have feelings, but not the grand passions of their human masters.)  Emotion, or the lack of it, can go a long way to define our character and our values.

For me, Van Gogh was an artist who understood the power of emotion, and his canvasses reflect this understanding with their powerful brush strokes, brilliant colours and fluidity.  Just look at ‘Starry Night’:

Starry NightFor me, Van Gogh has captured the wonder we feel looking up at the night sky.  In a similar way, I believe that the novelist must try to capture the feelings of his or her characters.  And what better way to capture them than to feel them yourself.  Emotions are only real if you can feel them; if they are not felt, they are only synthetic.  To feel the emotions of a character, one must know him or her, and to know her, the writer must define her.  Then, one can begin the process of empathising: I am him, in this situation, how do I feel?  Angry?  How angry?  What’s unique about my anger?  If my anger is only a stereotype, it doesn’t define me as a person.  The writer not only has to empathise with his characters, he has to capture the feelings of the character in distinctive language.