The Guilty Party by Mel McGrath

The Guilty Party: Dive into a dark, gripping and shocking psychological thriller from bestselling author Mel McGrath by [McGrath, Mel]

Candice : I bought a collection of books from Sainsburys before jetting off to a lovely holiday to Majorca earlier in the summer.

As it always the way, and what happens when you buy books from a supermarket, the selection was limited to chic lit or crime drama.  I picked this one up because it looked a little different.

The premise is built around four friends who meet at university and then stay connected over the next ten years. Their lives change – one gets married and has a child, one comes out as gay, one becomes wildly successful as a business man, and one gets left behind.  But they have something that ties them all together, they are all serially unfaithful to their partners and keep a record of their relationships by photographing their conquests naked and posting pictures on a shared ‘black book’.  Their appetite for competition and  being sexual predators drives them to stay in touch even though, by the time we enter their lives, they don’t seem to really like or trust each other.

The story is held together with a central premise; they have all been to a festival and on their way home a fight breaks out, in the ensuing melee they see a girl being raped.  The next day she turns up dead, drowned in the Thames.

Meeting a month later one of the party is unsure that the story she has been spun by her friends about the rape is the truth, she wants to tell the police what she has seen but they are reluctant to spill the beans. Why, she is doesn’t know but as the weekend in a remote house unravels it seems that each member of the party had more to do with the deceased than it first seems, and each has something to hide which informing the police would expose.

The book is hard to read as it flits between the view points of each of the four characters, and both past and present, so you struggle to keep up with what is going on unless you read it in long stretches.  It also struggles with empathy, as each character is exposed as someone is isn’t that likeable; the play each one off against the other, and don’t seem to care about anyone else but themselves.

Many years ago I read ‘Gone Girl’ and felt a similar way about that book. I read it to the finish as I wanted to know what happened with the characters, but I didn’t really like any of them or care that much what happened to them.  This seems to becoming a more prevalent style of writing, both in novels and TV shows, where every character is so flawed you don’t particularly want to root for them.  I recently watched ‘The Affair’ and felt this too.  It probably gives a truer version of the world, but I’m not sure I want to see it.  I want escapism not nasty reality.  I can watch the news for that.  I’ve got no doubt however that this book will get optioned soon as it seem to fit with what TV and film producers are looking for these days.  I don’t think I will be watching.

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I hope our book doesn’t date this badly

Phil: Picking up a book of short stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, I’m struck by the contents, some of which make me feel uncomfortable.

Round The Fire Stories contains 17 tales from the master who created Sherlock Holmes. Many of them read and feel like something the great detective could have been involved with. Indeed, one of them includes a letter from someone who could very well be Holmes. If you like the style, then this is an interesting read.

But, and it’s a big but, some of the text has not aged well. Conan Doyle writes of an age of empire. Form the days when most of the map was pink and the sun never set on Her Britannic Majesties lands. We have plucky Brits out running the colonies or travelling to mysterious lands.

I quite like a bit of this. Part of me hankers for an era when travel was difficult and going abroad was an adventure, not somewhere you go for a stag/hen weekend and spend the time bladdered.

But with this comes some unfortunate racial issues. The Brown Hand revolves around a ghost of a beggar who comes to claim back his hand from the surgeon who severed it (saving the mans life) and keeps it in a jar. The hero of the story allows the spectre to find another hand made available after an accident and this seems to satisfy him enough to cease his haunting. The ghost can’t rest until he is “whole” and yet is happy with some else’s hand – because in the spirit world, all brown hands are apparently the same and he won’t know the difference.

It gets worse in The Fiend of the Cooperage, where the N-word is used repeatedly, not as an insult, just because that’s what people said in that era.

Is it fair to judge stories written around 1900, and republished in 1991, but today’s standards?

No, I don’t think it is. Any book is a historical document and to say you can’t read it leads quickly to book burning. These stories are of their time and my discomfort is a good thing. Most people (loons excepted) wouldn’t write something like this today. To be honest, things like Cooperage wouldn’t get published because it’s rubbish anyway. You could update it, but I’m not sure it’s worth the effort. Spoiler: A giant snake did it – see what I mean?

Conan Doyle was very keen on mystic and occult stuff and it shows here. Many of these tales intended to be told around the fire involve ghosts, the existence of which is never questioned. Holmes would have not been impressed.

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Men DO suffer from Imposter Syndrome

What IS this? We aren't at eat n park! #imposterPhil: I was loitering on the station at a steam railway last weekend, chatting to a fellow magazine editor, and someone interrupted our conversation.

“You’re Phil Parker. I just wanted to say I really enjoy your work.”

It took me a few moments to recover, but I quickly slipped into the “Thanks very much. Glad you like it.” mode followed by my standard “Don’t forget, if there’s anything you’d like me to cover, drop me an e-mail.”

Working in hobby publishing, and appearing on a DVD for subscribers, it’s long fascinated me how people seem to think they know you. I admit, I enjoy this most of the time as I’m not great at starting conversations, but comments of my on-screen work have kicked off many pleasant chats and provided me with inspiration for several projects.

The best bit though – feedback.

A comment this week on Instagram annoyed me. “Women suffer from imposter syndrome and men don’t.” It’s not the first time I’ve read this, and not just from random people but proper newspaper columnists, and it always winds me up. 

Imposter syndrome is the nagging feeling that you aren’t good enough for your job, and that one day you’ll be found out and asked to leave.

Some people enjoy massive amounts of self-confidence and breeze through like not caring about anything. Not me. I’ve always been sure that I’m hanging on to whatever position I have by my fingernails. At least once per employment, I’ve been involved with something that I’m sure will result in me being fired. Not deliberately, just because I’m Not Good Enough.

I’m sure most people are affected in varying degrees. We all have moments of self-doubt – yes, even men.

Which is why feedback is important. I like to think I’m doing OK, but that outside validation is important, otherwise, I might be deluding myself.

Even critical feedback is useful. That way you can assess whether the person offering feedback is likely to be reliable, or operating on their own agenda to undermine you. It happens and recognising this is an essential skill, albeit, not one that’s fun to learn.

The thing is, we can all help each other. If you read something and like it – say so. Hit the like button, send a Tweet or an e-mail. Do something to spread the positivity. There are enough negative thoughts in the world right now, make some positive ones!

The Interweb has put the power of feedback in everyone’s hands. At the moment, it’s largely used by sad trolls sat in their pants in front of a computer to bully others or hurl abuse. This doesn’t have to be the case. Both Candice and I have contacted authors whose books we’ve enjoyed by Twitter to say something, and they have generally responded to say thanks. Even moderately famous people like reassurance!

Now, you see that Like button, you know what you have to do now… 🙂

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Back to School

cardiff-bayCandice:  I’m typing this from an apartment in Cardiff where we have come for a last-minute break before the return to school next week.

I can’t believe it is a whole year since someone started school and what a rollercoaster that has been.  One of the biggest rollercoasters has been trying to work out how to wrangle the new way of life:  Work, childcare and school holidays.

Though my daughter has been in childcare since she was quite young that was different, it was 51 weeks of the year and the hours never changed.  Once she started school things got very different as we had to make sure she had a place in breakfast and after school club, whose opening and closing times were different to what we were used to. There were also after school clubs that she might like to attend, which meant more jiggery-pokery.

I also changed jobs, and went from being employed somewhere with flexible working (i.e. working from home when I wanted) to being at home for a bit, to being somewhere where I had to be in the office set times all the time.  That little voice saying “Why can’t you pick me up earlier?”  really hurt sometimes.

And then finally the saga of school holidays.  Planning if we were going to be away or not, if we weren’t then booking in some time at the school holiday club which had to be done as soon as you got back from the last holiday as it would fill up quickly.  And then the six week holiday…. there were many hours spent with a chart working out who would cover when, if she was going into paid holiday club, where she would go when that wasn’t open, and all the time trying to work out if we could spend some quality time together too.

Somewhere in all of this, I was trying to find some time to write. To be honest I failed miserably.  When I wasn’t working the first time I was too busy trying to get a job that I couldn’t focus on anything else.  Now I am between contracts again but I have a slightly different view and am finally having the time to write.  I’ve taken to going to the library and working there for a few hours to help me concentrate, and its working.  In the last week, I’ve done 4000 words.  So, until something else comes along I will do that as my new ‘job’ and also plan how next time I work I’m going to get the work/life/child balance better.

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Plans and ideas

Phil: Last week, team NolanParker kick-started the writing process again.

On a wet day in Birmingham, we got cracking on one of those projects that have been in hiatus thanks to stupidly busy lives getting in the way.

Over tea, chicken and mango sandwiches and (shared) cake, we bashed out the basic outline of a side-project to our book we’ve been thinking about for a while. Sitting in the Birmingham Museum and art gallery cafe (which is excellent) Candice fired up her laptop and we actually did some work.

The problem at the moment is we have too many plans. Book 3 is taking a back-seat for the moment while we make a bit of progress on some secret ideas that need to be finalised reasonably soon. Sorry, I know you are all waiting for the latest in the Kate saga and we will get back to it.

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Why do authors need an editor?

Phil: A few weeks ago, I enjoyed some delicious home-made custard creams while listening to author Mike Gayle and his editor Nick Sayers courtesy of Kenilworth books.

With 15 books to his name, it was interesting to hear Mike explain what working with an editor entails, and why it is important. Despite being an editor myself, I’d never really understood the role played by someone with the same job title in fiction.

It turns out that the editor plays a big role in shaping and sharpening up the book. They read through and provide the fresh pair of eyes unavailable to a writer too close, and to invested in, the story.

The editor continually challenges the author. Do the characters work? Are there too many of them? Does the plot flag partway through? Does the thing even make sense?

All this after the publisher has shown enough interest in the manuscript to assign someone’s time to work on it.

Mike had worked with several editors in the past and credited all of them with improving his work. I can see how this relationship is important but also how easily it could break down if the suggestions were at odds with the original creative vision.

There’s a special skill in being the editor and managing a potentially fractious author. I did take the chance to ask exactly how things worked out if they disagreed. Sadly, neither would admit to an all-out fight (they both came across as really nice people) but I can imagine some egos getting in the way.  It must be especially frustrating being an editor if the writer keeps ignoring the advice offered.

For team NolanParker, I think we provide at least some of the editor services to each other. You’ll have read in past blog posts how we’ve disagreed with each other over plot points. It’s not always an easy situation, but we respect each other’s opinion enough to be able to get over this each time. After all, we both want our books to be the best they can.

 

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A picture of some cheesecake

Candice and Phil are too busy to come to the blog right now.

Your visit is important to us, so please enjoy a picture of some strawberry cheesecake Phil ate while listening to a poem about dogging.

For your information, it was very nice and so was the poem.

Normal service will be resumed next week.

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