Monthly Archives: May 2018

Bristol author Jeff Dowson talks books, Bristol and his favourite screenwriters

Director, producer, and screenwriter Jeff Dowson, has added novelist to his string of titles recently and has launched his second series of books set in Bristol. His first is based around Detective Jack Shepherd and is set in the current time.

One Fight at a Time (2018) is the beginning of  Dowson’s new series, set in the 1950s and starring Ed Grover. It was a time when Bristol was a broken city and was going broke. Well, Bristol is going broke now too so the latest book feels particularly apt but why start a new series?

“I decided a change of style was needed for One Fight At A Time.  I wanted to write in the third person — Jack Shepherd belongs to a first-person tradition where the reader learns no more than the lead character discovers — and I wanted to sprawl a bit. Use a different writing style altogether.

“I looked around for an historical setting that would give me lots of scope. Ed is an American, in England with the Eagle Squadron long before the US enters the war, who transfers to the infantry before D Day. He battles his way across Europe from Omaha Beach to help win the war, spends another four years in West Berlin trying to win the peace, before being sent home. Just before his repatriation, Ed ends up in Bristol visiting a family he knows, and from there the front story begins.

“I grew up in the 1950s,” Dowson says. “As a kid, I didn’t realise just how bad times were – I was protected from that by my parents who struggled physically and psychologically to get through the years following World War II. It’s only during the last 10 or 15 years that I’ve looked back at that time.

“The early 1950s is a rich vein to mine – the recovery from a world war, rationing, the black market, extortion, corruption, capital punishment, the terrors of being homosexual, racism faced by the actual ‘Windrush Generation’, soldiers coming home from leave with Lugers taken from dead Germans, the infamous underworld of 1950s club land, the growth of organised crime… the material just keeps on giving.

“Bristol influences my writing to a huge extent. I was born in Blaydon on Tyne, lived in the Northeast until I went university, then moved to Bristol at the close of the 1970s. I’ve lived here ever since. Like Jack Shepherd I know the place.  I want the city to be another character in the stories – like Edinburgh is to Rebus, Northumberland is to Vera, Shetland is to Jimmy Perez, LA is to Jim Rockford. I hope I’m doing that successfully.”

Dowson comes to the Bristol-novel scene with a wealth of experience and I ask him about the difference between screenplays and writing fiction in story form.

“Actually the skillsets merge much more than they used to, thanks to the advent of studio theatres and live multi-tasking technology. But the basic difference is still there. For the theatre you write in words and sentences. For the screen you write in pictures and moments. And you have at your disposal BIG close ups, in which you can see your characters thinking. Just take a look at Douglas Henshall playing Jimmy Perez and watch him thinking… Terrific.

When I started to write Closing the Distance, it was the first lonely thing I had done. Plays and films are collaborative efforts – sometimes involving hundreds of people. What was liberating with the book was discovering the joy of writing sentences again. But there I was, channelling Elmore Leonard, until my agent said, ‘Why is Jack Shepherd doing that?’
‘It’s obvious,’ I said.
‘No, it isn’t,’  she said.
I realised I was making transitions between sequences, visualising them in my head, but not getting them down onto the page. That problem took some serious work to solve.

I’m over it now. The stuff is still lean and fast paced, but it’s much improved.”

Seeing as he is going on to write his fourth book in the Jack Shepherd series and the second in his Ed Grover one, I had to ask for his advice to writers.

“Advice for other authors, oh God… Just write. Whatever else you do. However crappy it reads on the page. Write every day, however good or bad you feel about yourself, or the material… And in time you’ll find something you want to say and the way to say it.”

I ask him if he imagines his stories as screenplays and it’s more out of curiosity about the difference between the two mediums. I imagine that sticking to ‘showing’ what is happening rather than ‘telling’ must be great practice in writing.

“No, I don’t imagine my stories as screenplays; although there is a great deal of the screenwriter in me always. And I think it helps, because as a screenwriter, you have to get to the point. You can’t meander off into side roads or unnecessary thinking. Again, if I can call upon Elmore Leonard… I try not to write the stuff that the reader skips over.

I haven’t the patience or the concentration level to read long books. So I don’t write them. I believe that if you can’t say what you have to say in a riveting story over 350 pages you shouldn’t be in the trade. Books, all books, should be page turners. But no writer should give any reader too many pages to turn.”

Bristol  again feels like it’s going broke and due to the cuts foisted on the council by the Conservative Government, crime writing and thrillers feel like ever-more prominent echoes of reality. While looking through his website I spot a particularly great quotation from famed Screenwriter Cannell and it easily applies to our city too.

“One of my heroes, Stephen J Cannell, said about writing crime stories… ‘All the way through, keep asking yourself – what is the bad guy doing?’”

One Fight at a Time is out now. 

 

 

Louise Conan Doyle stars in her own mystery set in Bristol

Front cover of book Brimstone by John Allen

Californian author John Allen is so convinced that Sherlock Holmes was created by Arthur Conan Doyle’s wife that he has written the first in 12-part series of books in which she is the sleuth. Louise Hawkins Conan Doyle investigates her first mystery in Allen’s book Brimstone, set in Bristol, 1879.

Allen was born in California and first latched on to the idea that Arthur Conan Doyle couldn’t have been the writer after he read a 1980s essay by Martin Gardner called “The Irrelevance of Arthur Conan Doyle.” Gardner claimed that Arthur was “too gullible and to easily duped to have created Sherlock Holmes.”

Allen’s thirty year fascination with the true Sherlock creator culminated in his book Shadow Woman published in 2017. He has also published original research about his stylometric method for author identification.

The claims include the theory that Louise and Arthur co-wrote the Sherlock Holmes portion of the first Sherlock Holmes Adventure, A Study in Scarlet while Arthur wrote the Utah narrative of that novel. Louise wrote each of every other early Holmes adventure, up to and including The Hound of the Baskervilles, two of the intermediate stories –those collected in The Return of Sherlock Holmes– and Arthur wrote two of those intermediate stories.

Allen says, “I have never been to Bristol. But I have grown quite fond of Bristol from afar, researching it extensively for the Louise stories that will be set there. I’ve walked remotely through Bristol’s streets via Google Maps street level view. I’ve studied old maps of Bristol and refer to them frequently. I’ve studied Temple Meads Station, and New Gaol Prison, and police stations, and pubs, and churches, and the observatory. I would really like to visit, but time and distance and money are considerable barriers.

“Regarding why I located Louise’s first novel in Bristol. I did so because she lived there as a teenager, at least she lived in Clifton. She was a resident student at Badminton School for Girls, and I have the census records to prove it. I discovered them while working on Shadow Woman, and I consider it one of the great discoveries of my effort.

“Louise Hawkins [w]as a resident student at Badminton School in 1871. She was only thirteen at the time, tied for youngest of the students.”

Allen is not the first author to set their Sherlock Holmes-ian tales in Bristol. In Cavan Scott’s Cry of the Innocents, Sherlock and Watson visit the city to investigate the killing of a priest. The series Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch has filmed in Bristol a fair few times and you can follow the film trail from here.

The ‘original’ Sherlock, just as in the new Louise Conan Doyle books, never did go to Bristol but the city is mentioned in The Boscombe Valley Mystery where one of the characters visits for three days to be with his barmaid wife. Sherlock will not be making an appearance in the new series either.

Further information is available at the following URL: louiseconandoyle.com.

Brimstone is published 18 May on Amazon

My naivete at Corbyn being in power and a letter to an MP

 

to: “MCCARTHY, Kerry” <kerry.mccarthy.mp@parliament.uk>
date: 6 July 2017 at 17:06
subject: Re: consultations about budget cuts and a question about business rates

Dear Kerry,

Thank you once again for being so open to discussion.
Your question to Sajid about local councils keeping more of their money https://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2017-06-26a.346.5&s=Bristol#g362.3) at least puts his response on record, however vague it is.
As a very worried Bristolian I would love to know what you think of the possibility of opposing the cuts that have been imposed on Bristol. Jeremy Corbyn is sure to be in power within months and if we allow the cuts to go through and the libraries and services shut down and cut off, it will be so hard – if not impossible – to get them back.
Is this not the best time to refuse to impose the cuts? Labour are so close to power now and there must be some leverage.
Also, what do you think of the possibility of the Local Government Finance Bill not being debated and passed since it was not in the Queen’s Speech? It is looking extremely unlikely that we will be able to keep 100% of our business rates from 2020, so what do we for the budget already announced?
I am not asking you to reply in place of Marvin, I’m just hoping for some perspective on what’s possible.
Where do you think Glenn Vowles got it wrong in his article?
Thank you so much,
Joanna Booth (@stillawake)
There was no response and our libraries are still in the plans for being defunded, shut down, and turned over to mutual public trusts, which in turn will see many of them defunded and shut down.