Most of my working life has been in training and consultancy or in retail. The retailing began with a passion – motorcycles – and the training was generally to do with retailing, that is, helping people do a better job in their customer facing, sales or service roles or very often, managing the team of people who perform those vital tasks. The consultancy was all about running a better, more successful business. One way and another my work involved quite a bit of writing, whether that might be proposals, reports, training materials, letters to customers, blurb for trade magazines, presentations or conference speeches.
For whatever reason, this part of my work was especially rewarding. I liked the writing process and the fine-tuning and editing required to arrive at something pleasing. Admittedly, I definitely over-egged everything and never let ten words suffice when I could pad it out to twenty. It was obvious that like a lot of other people, I was at least in part, a frustrated author. If I was in any way different to many of the other frustrated authors, it would be that I had ample practice stringing words together, seeing them in print and the confidence to ignore sound advice about how to do it better. And so over time a style developed. Chatty, sometimes funny, anecdotal and meandering, heavily researched and so scientifically sound. I’ll take you ‘round the houses but I’ll get you there and it won’t be horrible. If it is, get out, you’re on the wrong bus. No, no. Changed my mind, right bus, wrong passenger. No, that’s rude. Right passenger, wrong head. Stay on board and be won round.
The feedback suggested that what I wrote was largely good and throughout my career I have encountered my training materials heavily plagiarised or even just photocopied with my headers and footers Tipp-Ex’d out. Harsher critics recommended I could do better by conveying the same message with fewer words and after due consideration and begrudgingly arriving at the conclusion that they probably had a point, I mostly just used even more.
In most aspects of my life, I am frugal. Born to parents who remembered rationing, waste wasn’t allowed and while we weren’t poor, it’s safe to say we had no money so things were bought second-hand and made to last. It’s a hard habit to break and mostly a good one anyway (if a bit tiresome for others), but I’m that person who switches lights off, believes windows can be open or heating can be on, but never both at the same time. Food should not be wasted and the most interesting thing on my car’s dashboard is the fuel consumption readout.
When it comes to words though, I’m not saving them for a rainy day or eking them out because there aren’t many left. There’s no need, there is an endless supply of all these magical little combinations of the alphabet. It’s like a mobile phone plan with unlimited everything. Let’s make the most of it. Stream a movie, send a WhatApp. Words are my opportunity to be lavish, generous, wasteful even. Here, have some more, you are an excellent reader.
I award you this bonus paragraph constructed entirely from extra, unnecessary words.
The merry-go-round of lockdowns affected people in a lot of different ways. For me it was a taste of semi-retirement and like a lot of people (including, it seems to me, every actor and every singer) I wrote a book. Unlike some of the others though, it’s a good one. Well, that’s the general opinion anyway and guess what, no one (so far) has said it should have been shorter. And naturally, if they did, they’d be wrong.
Though only in my opinion. Mine. From me, the bloke what wrote the slightly long book.
Fictional novels are supposed to be 80,000 – 100,000 words long. The Rescuists is about 104,000 words which pretty much sums me up. As a child, if my parents had said I could spend £5 on something, I’d probably end up asking for something that cost £5.25. As a dad to two daughters of about 11 and 8 (at the time), I once told them they could have 300 grams of Pick ‘n’ Mix each to take into the movie we were about to see. This would cost me about six quid at the time and hopefully the offer struck the right balance between me being a certified tight-wad on one hand, while on the other, a generous dad wanting his young-uns to have a great time.
As I waited, I watched them ferret through the selections, taking after their dad and making the absolute most of their allocated budget, choosing the confection known to be the tastiest, yet also that which was likely to weigh the least. Where there were colour choices, time was taken carefully using the tongs to extract only the favourites. Even then though, it was clear that the youngest was dropping far more into her bag than her older sister and it dawned on me that neither would necessarily have much of an idea what constituted 300 grams. It’s a system whereby you choose on faith and then swallow the bill when the young employee behind the counter puts your bag on the carefully calibrated scales and reveals the awful truth about what a greedy pig you are and how you’ll have to pay, pay, pay for your inability to moderate yourself.
Well after enough time picking and layering (as opposed to mixing), the younger daughter brought her bulging sack to the scales and we discovered it was about 800 grams. This is a generational thing. As a nipper, I might have dropped in an extra fifteen grams or so, but she almost tripled the budget. Raw ambition? Oh, how we laughed when I explained to the cinema employee she’d been told she had a 300g limit! On the upside, it gave me an executive right to share in her excess over the next two hours. Her older sister, cool as a cucumber, wandered up and to no surprise to anyone except the server, her bag weighed 300g. Not 299, not 301, just precisely, exactly 300. Because that’s how she has always been, a precision instrument.
Her book would be 90,000 words but only after her publisher realised the young author didn’t like the lack of precision inherent in the vague 80,000 to 100,000 range. Meanwhile, her sister would laugh as she served up something longer than War And Peace.
Naturally, the sequel to The Rescuists is longer than its predecessor. Currently, it comprises 141,000 words and I’m a few chapters short of finishing it.
So you see, a meandering anecdote as promised, though I realise not very much has been disclosed about me, the author in this section about the author, so I’ll briefly remedy that.
Born in the rather excellent Somerset county town of Taunton towards the end of the last millennium to a heroic policeman dad and a hardworking farmer’s daughter mum, I attended grammar school before embarking on a career in this and that, returning to further education and finding work in far flung places like Hong Kong, Australia, Japan, Hawaii, Canada, South Africa and pretty much everywhere in Europe and Scandinavia. They say travel broadens the mind, I say it hardwires a deep distaste for airports.
Living in the U.S. for a while and marrying an American created a Brady Bunch situation with four daughters between the two of us. For the last umpteen years we have lived in Shrewsbury and all the daughters have flown the nest. In between writing these rather splendid books, I work at the Norton Motorcycle factory in Solihull.
By the way, War And Peace is 587,287 words long. Not even the third book in The Rescuists series is likely to be that long.