Today I am going to talk about evolution. No, no, not survival of the fittest, ape to man evolution (I'm not opening that can of creationist worms at this time in the morning). Today/night/morning I'd like to talk about my evolution as a writer and also the evolution of the books I've written.
Once upon a time (might as well have a fairytale start off like this, it'll be comforting for any creationists) I was suspended from high school for errr, being naughty...ok falling foul to peer pressure, hammering a turbo (bong) at dinnertime, and going on a whitey for fourth period Chemistry and then a greeny for fifth period P.E.
I was sent to the deputy head's office, spewed all over said office and also the deputy head, mum came and got me and I was grounded for a thousand years...and suspended for two weeks.
Two weeks off school, yay! It's like a half term in the middle of term time...which would be half, it being the middle and all. No, wait forget that. Anyway, I was off school and the folks weren't having their fifteen year old idiot hanging around the house like he was on holiday so they sent me off to work, for free, for one of my dad's clients. There I learned to cut sound proofing kits for Land and Range Rovers and had an absolute blast. I loved it. Bob and Jen the owners of this little business were brilliant, I could smoke while I worked, and it didn't feel like being grounded between the hours of nine and five everyday.
When I arrived home after work though it did feel like I was grounded.
I was grounded to fuck. Forever. Until the day I found myself lying on my death bed, then, and only then, would I be ungrounded.
Needless to say the TV was out of the question. The internet didn't exist properly, and smart phones thought they were clever because they weren't attached to the wall by a lead.
So I started reading. Jack Higgins and Jeffery Archer was my tipple. Especially Higgins' Sean Dillon novels. I lapped them all up. And then I arrived at one of those forks in the road which, looking back, you realise was life changing. Pulling the greeny at school had been the first because it had led me to this moment.
Having finished another Sean Dillion novel I decided to have a go at this story creating myself, and so I picked up a pen, found a blank school exercise book, and started writing about an ex-SAS guy who had his nephew kidnapped by the Iraqis. I know, I know, what a heap of shit, but it was my first go and 40,000 cliched words later I finished my first attempt at a novel.
I was ecstatic. I had written a book! I put it to one side and started in the sequel which I called The Magician. This time the book was about a secret assassin called Phoenix Antonio (I defy you to come up with a cooler name than that) who had to save the U.S president's kidnapped brother from the triads. But there was a twist...ooooooohhhh, a twist. Antonio's brother in law was Chinya, the head of the triads and the one who had sanctioned the abduction.
This book was soon finished and I was so proud of my four exercise books/two novels that I stopped writing for some reason. Oh yes, I was now back at school and still fifteen years old who, like all other fifteen year olds, liked getting fucked up on the weekend and don't usually stop in writing cheap Jack Higgins’ imitations.
I kept reading though, literally any book I could get my hands on, and when it was time to start writing again the now eighteen year old Rob made room in his busy working a dead end job and going out on the weekend to get fucked up life, to plot a new story called The Assassins Game.
Ooooooooh...yes, sounds like another Higgins imitation doesn't it, well yes it was. In this one Liam O'Shaunessy must hunt down and assassinate the assassin hired to kill his boss as well as saving the kidnapped (what the hell is it with all these kidnapped people younger Rob? It isn't a prerequisite for writing a story you know) Marie, a student Liam barely knows but falls in love with anyway. Oh and she's French. Not her fault, she was just born like that.
While I was writing Assassins little did I know but I was living the plot for a future novella series called Checking Out. I had moved out of my shit dead end job and half way across the world to Cape Town to live with my Aunt and Uncle and go to college there, but more about that later. This post is about evolving through writing.
Next up was Assassins sequel AS BLACK AS THE NIGHT, and the reason for capitals is just what the fuck is that title about? I was back on english soil and stuck in London, the South African princess (not literally unfortunately, just a term of endearment) had left me minutes after landing in the exotic big smoke and I was alone, trapped in a bedsit, bordering alcoholic (just the three cans of Stella for breakfast before I go to work) and with no money except for rolling tobacco and of course Stella, I started writing AS BLA...ewwww, that book.
Liam was back but this time no one got kidnapped. Yay for growing as a writer! In AS BLA...I can't do it. I literally can't bring myself to say it. In that book Liam had to try and rescue his buddy from prison for a crime he blatantly committed. Now if that's not hard boiled drama I don't know what is!
Out of my bullshit six month stint in the bedsit in London, I headed back home. I was 21 years old. I'd just spent two years in Cape Town and six months in London and all I wanted now was the one thing I couldn't wait to get away from when I was 19. Home.
I took up a job putting small boxes into bigger boxes into cages onto wagons, and then at the end of the working day I would go home and read. And I read everything I could get my hands on apart from Jack Higgins novels. I'd read 60 of them in my life, it was time to move on. I read horrors, legal thrillers, romance, chick-lit, lad-lit (think Brian Jones instead of Bridget). I read sci-fi, time travel, steam punk, YA, apocalyptic end of the world apart from the zombies and a sprinkling of humans stories.
And then I sat down with an idea.
Stolen, of course, and then bastardised.
The book I was going to write would be in first person and would have multiple characters, and it would be in present tense. I wanted the reader to feel like they were living through the character's eyes as events were unfolding.
Four Guys, Eight Days, One Greek Island. Let The Games Begin...
This book I called Boys Will Be Boys. I know right? It's a bit gay isn't it? I later changed it to A Race To The Finish and then shortened that down to The Race.
Yes, I wrote that one. 138,000 words in two months and I'd never had so much fun. Around this time I decided I wanted more than putting small boxes into bigger boxes...and so I got myself a bar job at a local pub in the town centre called The Flying Horse. For those of you who have read Barman, this is the pub I based The Unicorn on. Clever that, flying horse, unicorn. I should really be a member of Mensa.
While working as a barman I also enrolled at university to study a BA in Creative Writing. I was pursuing my dream of becoming a real writer.
Five classes into the year and I realised I was actually better than I had thought at this writing lark. The other students in my class struggled with setting scenes, choosing which tense to write in, swapping tense mid-sentence, swapping POV mid chapter...erghhh. I was bored, but not as bored as when I picked up a copy of the creative writing tutor's novel to read after she shamelessly promoted it at every class. Now that was a special kind of boring. It was about a sister, who had another sister and neither of them did very much. Well at least not in the first hundred pages. I gave up after that and realised why this particular teacher taught instead of doing.
So I was bored and in a class of four year olds, 'can I call both my goody and baddy in my story John?'
That was a real question one student asked, and enough of my class stopped what they were doing to find out the answer which led me to believe I was in the wrong place. The right place, I found, was the library and in front of my laptop writing my next novel. In this book I was going to try and carry a whole novel on the shoulders of just one character instead of the previous four in The Race.
If you are reading this Newsletter then it stands to reason you have read Meat Market. The story of Greg, our hapless hero who struggles with the dating scene and even talking to and flirting with women, and with the help of his mate Stu ends up becoming a successful male escort.
Meat Market, I think, cemented my writing style. Like The Race this was first person present tense, but unlike my first ladish novel this one had a little bit of heart in it. The characters were as real to me as anyone. Perhaps this belief will one day have me strapped into a straight jacket gibbering nonsense in some dreary insane asylum to my imaginary characters who are really real, I promise, but while I can still get away with it, I'll continue to invent more 'real people' and write about their lives.
It took four months to write Meat Market and straight away I knew what my next project would be. I would write about the two years I spent in Cape Town.
Checking Out, a 180,000 beast was born six months or so later and I was now creatively knackered. It was hard writing that book because it had been such an important time in my life. To try and put it into words challenged me to no end.
And then I stopped writing, once again living what would become some of a book I'd later write called Barman.
Being in my mid-twenties, and being single, and being a barman, was perhaps the most fun thing I could have ever done. The next two years of my life are just pissed up snapshot memories of hotel rooms and girls, lots and lots of girls.
I came out of this pissed up daze by getting one of those girls pregnant. I guess it was inevitable. They do tend to get pregnant if you don't use protection. I'm actually surprised it didn't happen sooner if I'm honest.
Fast forward nine months and I'm all domesticated with said girl and now a new baby girl, Sophie my daughter. And I started writing again, only this time I wanted to tackle something completely different. An Idea I'd had rolling around my head for a number of years.
Work on The Divine began as my daughter was approaching six months old, and this was great. It was completely different to anything I had ever written before. This book was about the next step in man’s evolution. It had characters from real life history in it, I was excited about writing again, the juices were flowing…and as I approached the 25,000 word mark I lost the entire manuscript.
The thing I find with breaking up with your crazy baby mummy is she’ll do the darnedest of things. Like deleting every trace of the manuscript you have been working on for the past few months.
With my story gone, and indeed my baby mummy too, I stopped writing, for like four or five years. I concentrated on work, brought up my daughter, and then my son when the big man came along. And then one day I sat down and thought, ‘what if I introduce a new character to The Divine? I female character.’
Once more the juices started flowing. I had never written a female character and I was excited by the prospect. What came next was, I think, my finest work and the novel I always wanted to write.
The Divine opened up a whole new world and as I was writing this book I was also getting into the indie publishing scene. I had published Meat Market and The Race, received a few positive reviews, received a few stinkers too, but it was all good.
I launched The Divine to the world and all I heard back was crickets. Unfortunately crickets don’t read, or rather they weren’t reading The Divine but it was fine, I was already writing my next novel. This one would become many of my reader’s favourite and steal the crown off Meat Market.
Now I’d always wanted to write about suicide. It was a topic I wanted to explore in my writing, the emotions, the reasons etc. I also wanted to write about my time tending bar. So I put these who topics together and after coming up with an awesome ending (even if I do say so myself) I knew this one would leave the reader raw.
While I was writing Barman I had re-edited Checking Out into a four part novella series and put the first one out, nervous because this shit wasn’t made up. How would my readers react? Was it funny? Who the fuck am I to think I’ve ever done anything worth writing about?
Checking Out book 1 stayed at number 1 in the Amazon humour charts for a little over a week and I breathed a huge cliché inducing sigh of relief. The next month I released part 2, the month after part 3, the month after part 4 and the in the fifth month released Barman to fantastic reviews.
Around this time I received an email from another lad lit author who ran a lad lit blog. Without me realising, off the back of Checking Out hitting the number one spot Meat Market had made it’s way up the charts hitting number 1 too. At one point Rob Radcliffe novels made up a fifth of the top ten in the humour charts and I couldn’t be happier. People were reading and more importantly enjoying my scribbles.
Now this has been a bit of a long winded wafflefest and for that I apologise. Call it self promotion sure, but these posts aren’t meant for that. They are to tell you a little more about me, about my process, my journey and my babies (the made up ones).
Still writing now, as always, I have my readers in mind when I start a project.
Last year after lots of people asked for a sequel to Meat Market I wrote Escorting Eric which took the Meat Market novel and turned it on its head by recounting that story through Stu’s eyes. I thought my readers would go mad, feel cheated because it is essentially the same story as Meat, but no they enjoyed it.
I always try to do something different in each novel I write but remain faithful to the character my readers have connected to.
After two years of promising The Healer, The Divine’s sequel will soon be out. It is written, the story is there waiting for you but I just need a little more time to make sure all my glaringly obvious mistakes have been eradicated.
So yeah, thats me, the reluctant writer who can’t ever have more fun doing anything else but write.
As part of my evolution as a writer I have found my books and covers, website, mindset, and writing style have also evolved. Perhaps I will continue to evolve as a writer and, who knows, maybe one day write a decent Jack Higgins rip off.