Writing is not just about having a good idea.
It’s not just about being clever with words and finding new and interesting ways of combining them,
It’s the whole deal and that’s why it can take a long time to really get that to work, to learn this craft of ours.
And burning at the heart of any good novel needs to be a question, one that makes the reader want to read that book and then keeps them hooked throughout, even to the last page!
Some stories are what we call high concept, the kind that often end up as movies, a great idea, something that feels like it surely must have been done before and has real universal appeal. I hope While No One Was Watching might be that. It’s not like something I set out to do, and I am not so sure I Am Wolf does that, but we’ll see!
I was thinking about ideas that hook yesterday when the lovely Roy Noble interviewed me for BBC Radio Wales. It airs on Sunday morning, 10.30 onwards. We talked a lot about Kennedy and about this idea of what’s happening at the same time, who was Eleanor Boone and why did she disappear? Of course I wasn’t going to answer that exactly. He also asked after all my research who did I think killed Kennedy? Well not sure I can answer that either, only to say I was quite convinced it could not have been a lone assassin. I suspected a cover up, and I tried to evoke many of the ideas and theories in my novel — I would say no more. No spoilers!
Roy did also say the idea of being apart from a child is one that is current and he talked about the film Phil0mena. I’d like to see that.
Yes I think there are two things that I hope have that universal appeal with While No One Was Watching. One is that it deals with an iconic moment in history where everyone, who is old enough to remember, recalls where they were and what they were doing, as does Edith Boone who was standing on the grassy knoll. But we take it a step further with her because she got stuck in that moment forever. Can you imagine turning around, distracted for a moment by the gunshots and the panic (and can you blame her? Does this make her a bad mother?) — and then turning back and the child is GONE.
That in itself is a horror story for any parent, right? But amidst an assassination, a moment anticipated with excitement at seeing the President turns into a murder in front of you … and not only is your child gone but she is never found.
So why? Why does she disappear? Is the story really what it seems? Is the question that beats at its heart (as has to be the case in good story telling) and the hook to add page turnability, what really happened to Kennedy? Or what happened to Eleanor Boone? I think it’s this: if Kennedy had not been assassinated that day, would Eleanor Boone still have disappeared?
That is the one I set out to answer.
So what about your novels — can you identify a single question?
With the anniversary week approaching and the conspiracy theories rearing their heads again, there was an interesting programme on Channel 5 last night, although not sure when it came to suggesting an accidental gunshot by a member of the Secret Service, I can buy into that. They glossed over quite a lot and when it came to the key elements of the argument, like that the magic bullet could have been right as Governor Connally has a lower seat than originally suggested there was no real evidence to show this or the trajectories, just a sweeping ‘so the Warren Commission was right after all and the ‘magic bullet’ could have passed through Kennedy and Connally etc.’ And in concluding the final head shot that tore the President’s brain apart was an accident, the agent in the car behind reaching for his gun and falling onto it and that was the fatal shot made me say — hang on, show the evidence? And why go to such lengths to cover that up when they had one man to blame. Okay one that would cast terrible shame for the US if one of their own secret service agents (Hickey) had fired the fatal shot, but in fairness a response to a real assassination attempt by Oswald. But really? It could be that simple? And would an agent (even though they did say he was not experienced) have made such a mistake? Hmm …
What about you?
There is another TV show on tonight ITV 10.35 that I will await eagerly.
I do wonder at this incessant need for conspiracy, but there is little doubt for me with this story that this is what we have and with records remaining sealed until 2029, what do they have to hide?
I think this obsession with conspiracy in any story taps into the same primeval need for a good story. Diane died tragically in a car accident as many do every day, didn’t she? Or something much more sinister? Add a cover-up and you have all the ingredients for a high concept bestseller, right? Do we like to wallow in tragedy?
Maybe as humans who seek pleasure in escapism, be it film, TV, books, plays etc, there is an inherent need to inhabit other lives and for things to be bigger and better and at the same time far worse and more sinister than they might be. So maybe that’s why we buy into it, who really knows.
All I know is we constantly seek new angles and so I hope that what my novel does, is find a different angle that makes an old story feel new.
But you will be the judge of that.
Some wonderful reviews coming in! Thank you and if you read it and enjoyed it, please do post a review on Amazon too!