I’m delighted to be bringing you a spotlight on Games People Play by Owen Mullen as there is a special price promotion running from today until 25th March 2016 when Games People Play is only 99p on Kindle with Amazon UK. Games People Play is also available in paperback.
As well as telling us how Games People Play came about, Owen has written a guest post all about learning from life and the writing process and you can read the opening of the novel too.
About Games People Play
On a warm summer’s evening thirteen month old Lily Hamilton is abducted from Ayr beach in Scotland, taken while her parents are yards away. Three days later, the distraught father turns up at Glasgow PI Charlie Cameron’s office and begs him to help. Mark Hamilton believes he knows who has stolen his daughter. And why.
Against his better judgement Charlie gets involved in a case he would be better off without. But when a child’s body is discovered on Fenwick Moor, then another in St Andrews, the awful truth dawns: there is a serial killer out there whose work has gone undetected for decades. Baby Lily may be the latest victim of a madman.
For Charlie it’s too late, he can’t let go. His demons won’t let him.
How Games People Play Was Born
For a long time I had a book in my head, just a vague idea. I even had a title. Games People Play. What I didn’t have was a story far less a beginning.
One late summer’s evening, around seven, we were walking on a beach near where we live in Greece. Christine, my wife, pointed to a couple in the distance, sitting on the sand. They had a child with them who couldn’t have been more than eighteen months old. They were laughing, having fun.
Christine said, ‘Nice to see, isn’t it.’
‘But what if somebody stole the baby? Wouldn’t that be awful?’
‘How could that happen?’
Christine thought for a minute. ‘I’ve got it, she said.
She did. I had the opening I’d been searching for and Games People Play was born.
The University of Life
A Guest Post by Owen Mullen
When I started writing I was just a crazy 58 year old kid…with a dream.
I had a track record at the old scribbling game. When I was ten I won a national primary schools short story competition. But since that early success… not a word.
We had just moved to Greece, looking forward to kicking back in the sun and reading all the books we’d been too busy working to get round to. Little did we know the world was about to implode. Something called subprime mortgages – until then I had never heard of it – triggered the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s and put us and millions of other people under pressure. What was to be done?
My wife, Christine, asked if I had any ideas.
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I’ll use my skills.’
She laughed. ‘We’re in a foreign country, you don’t speak the language, what skills?’
‘My transferable skills.’
‘Did we bring them with us? I don’t remember packing them?’
‘Of course we did.’
‘So what are they? Give me an example.’
‘Answering a phone.’
‘Mmmm. Okay, answering the phone, fair enough. What else?’
I couldn’t think of anything else. There was nothing else.
Suddenly I remembered my secret talent. ‘I’ll write.’
‘Stories. Books. Bestsellers.’
Christine has always been very supportive. She said, ‘Sounds good. You knock out a couple of bestsellers, and if the phone rings…’
I was ahead of her ‘…you answer it.’
And so it began.
I guess I believed a reasonably educated geezer – Msc Dip M MCIM – wouldn’t find it too difficult to string a few sentences into a few paragraphs into… tack that arrogance on to my primary school triumph and you get the thinking.
Too late I realised that kind of learning, all very well in its place, isn’t what it’s about.
The lessons weren’t long in arriving. And I wasn’t ready for them.
Like wheelwright or shipwright, writing is a craft and needs to be worked at. Of course I was unaware of this when I opened up my PC and tapped the opening line of a new short story, a modest start to brush the cobwebs off and ease into my neglected gift. The King is Dead ran to 20,000 words and took me about three weeks. At the end I set it on the table, staring in awe at what I had achieved. Four decades had come and gone, was the magic still there? I turned the pages, fingers trembling, heart racing as a sobering truth was revealed. I didn’t. Years of indifference had claimed whatever ability I’d once had. What was in front of me was over written pretentious twaddle. ‘I’m a writer’ dross. Pure dead up itself, as they say in Glasgow.
I went through the manuscript again in case I had misjudged it. I had, it was even worse the second time. I had assumed too much and paid the price.
People fool themselves into believing the main obstacle between them and the book inside is finding the time. If only. Anybody who wants to create finds the time. End of. Finding the time is the minimum requirement.
I put aside the disappointment at how bad I was and became obsessed with getting better, those letters after my name hadn’t helped. Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing and Stephen King, On Writing, showed me the way. Now when I read I studied how the tale was told, the characters, the dialogue: the language.
At one point I even bought three novels – won’t tell you which ones – by authors with reputations as literary figures. To ‘improve’ myself. A bust. Didn’t enjoy reading them; too many words, not enough story; too much description, no sense of humour: plain bloody boring. Not for me. So what was I to do ?
The answer was simple. Write a book I would want to read in a style that appealed to me. Over time [because it takes time] I developed an approach and a routine.
Everybody creates differently. Usually with me it goes like this: I get a core idea [or Christine does; no monopoly on ideas in our house] and tease it into a tale. Almost always I will know how it ends. That just leaves the bit in between. During this part of the process other plot lines and secondary stories are folded in. All kinds of interesting events and tensions jump out and are added to the mix. Then I begin.
Routine is essential: 4-6 hours 5 days a week. If you can turn out a thousand words a day, in 3 months you will have a book.
Reading: Look at what other authors are doing. There is no such thing as a bad example. Spotting what not to do is a quick road to becoming better. Other people have made mistakes so you don’t need to make the same ones.
Write what you know: How often do we hear that? Most of us don’t know what we know until we put it down on paper. Our life is a resource; a newspaper article, a joke, an experience, an incident, an attitude…it’s all there. Dig it out.
Storyline and plot line: Not the same thing. [didn’t understand that] For example, poor boy becomes rich man; the story. How, the journey of the character is the plot.
Rewriting: In the beginning I didn’t do much rewriting. I thought all my babies were beautiful. Now I examine each line to decide if it’s pulling its weight in taking the action forward. If it isn’t it’s gone.
Now and then I ask myself an important question. What story am I telling here? It is so easy to lose direction. In one book I cut an entire subplot of 40,000 words because it took the reader away from the main thread.
Last, Keep Going: Stay the distance or forget it.
Outside the sun is shining in a clear blue sky. The shrill sound of the phone ringing breaks the silence. Maybe I should…no, let Christine get it. Have to go easy on those transferable skills. Don’t want to wear them out.
Next up is getting published. When I discovered something I had long suspected.
God hates me.
Yeah, he does.
But that’s another story.
Now that Owen has whetted your appetite for Games People Play, read an extract from the beginning of the novel:
The footsteps came after him, racing as he raced; slapping the sand, crunching shingle, beating against rock. Grass beneath his bare feet meant he was almost home. Almost safe. Then the crunching became a heavy pad. Gaining. He ran faster.
His chest burned, heavy legs refused to carry him; he couldn’t go on; he fell, panting and terrified.
The footsteps stopped.
For a long time he lay, too afraid to move, expecting a hand to touch his shoulder.
But no hand came.
He gathered his courage and looked behind him.
There was no one there.
Ayr, 35 miles from Glasgow.
They walked along the beach and stopped not far from an old rowing boat with a whole in the bottom. Mark carried the folded push-chair and his daughter. The sun fell towards the horizon, it had been a great day, a scorcher, but the best of it was behind them. Noisy gulls scavenged, soaring and diving and calling to each other. Lily pressed her face against her father’s chest, too tired to be interested in the birds.
‘We ought to get back,’ Mark said, ‘Lily’s tired, she should be in bed.’
Jennifer didn’t reply. He knew what she was thinking. ‘Surely not?’
‘Last one? Five minutes?’
Mark glanced at his watch – ten past seven – and limited his concern to a sigh, the last thing he wanted was to spoil things with a quarrel; there had been enough of those. Red flags fluttered in the evening air, he saw them and said, ‘Be careful, Jen. The waves are getting bigger. Don’t go far.’
She dropped the bag with their towels and the baby’s things at his feet. ‘I will. In and out. Promise.’
The water was cold, colder than in the afternoon. When it was waist high she kicked her legs and headed out. Jennifer caught a glimpse of Mark and Lily standing on the sand: her whole universe, she loved them so much. That thought almost made her turn back, instead she took a deep breath and dived.
It happened so fast. One minute she was swimming, the next the current was dragging her to the bottom. Seawater flooded her mouth. She fought, thrashed to the surface and tried to shout; a hoarse whisper was all that came. Her head went under and stayed under. Her lungs were on fire. With no warning it released her and she saw blue sky. Jennifer gulped shallow ragged breaths, shocked and scared, and started towards her family. She would never leave them again. But the decision was no longer hers, the force drew her back into a world without light or oxygen. This time it didn’t let go. Her arm broke free in a desperate attempt to escape, tongues of spray pulled it down and Jennifer knew she was going to drown.
She’d dreamed of watching her daughter grow into a woman. That would never be. And Mark, poor Mark, how unfair to leave him. Her body rolled beneath the waves, she stopped struggling, closed her eyes and disappeared from sight.
Seconds passed before Mark realised something wasn’t right. ‘Where’s mummy? Where’s your mummy?’ The baby sucked her thumb. ‘Where is she, Lily?’
At first he couldn’t move. Cold fear consumed him. A hundred yards away a group of boys played football, apart from them the beach was deserted. He yelled. They didn’t hear him. He threw the push-chair to the sand, yanked it open and sat Lily in it. His hands were shaking, the damned straps wouldn’t fasten. He spoke to himself. ‘Please god, no. Please god, no’ and raced into the sea.
The water was freezing, what the hell had Jen been thinking? This was Scotland, for Christ’s sake. He swam to where he’d last seen her and went under. Mark was a good swimmer but it was dark. His frantic fingers searched until the pressure in his chest forced him to the surface. He took in as much air as he could and went back. Something bumped against him, he grabbed hold and dragged his wife up. Two boys ran into the water to help: the footballers. They hauled the body the last few yards, Mark fell to his knees on the sand beside his wife. Jennifer wasn’t breathing. People appeared on the beach, silent witnesses to the nightmare the day had become. Where had they been when he needed them? He shouted, half in anger, half in desperation. ‘Somebody call an ambulance!’
The crowd kept a respectful distance, they believed what he believed, that he’d lost her. Jennifer’s face was white, Mark covered her mouth with his and breathed into her. His hands pressed against her demanding she come back to him.
One of the boys took over with no better luck. Mark tried again, refusing to let her go. He pumped her heart, whimpering like a child, sobbing for himself as well as his wife. Jennifer’s eyes fluttered, she wretched and vomited water. Mark turned her on her side and rubbed her back, whispering reassurance, blinded by tears, aware his prayers had been answered. A siren sounded in the distance, it was going to be alright, his wife was safe, they would be together again.
The three of them.
He raised his head, ambulance men were racing towards him across the sand. Mark jumped to his feet, they must have drifted… except the boat was there. His voice rose from a cry to a scream. ‘Lily. Lily!’
He spoke to the group who had offered nothing. ‘I left a baby here, somebody must’ve seen her.’ They stared, no idea what he was talking about. A new terror seized him. He ran a few steps up and down the beach, lost and afraid. The bag lay where Jennifer dropped it. But no push-chair. No sign his daughter had ever been there.
Lily was gone.