Thursday, February 28, 2008

Naming names

One of the (many) tricky things about writing a book is finding names.

It's not easy to pick a name that suits a character and it's very much a trial-and-error process. Sometimes I come up with a random name for a hero or heroine - any old combination of first and second, and try it on for size.

Imagine being able to pick your own name. Think one up, work with it for a few months and then, before you have to make a final decision, you either embrace it, wholeheartedly, or bin it. That's what happens with my characters.

Of course, it's not all down to me. My editors (official and unofficial) will have their two cents' worth - "you've got too many Pauls," for example, or "too many Christian names beginning with an 's'" and I'll have to change one or two.

And there are other factors to consider, not least of which being if the name has already been over-used. In an early attempt at a manuscript I got halfway through a book before realising that Michael Jackson was, in fact, the name of an African American singer, as well as my leading man.

Then there are the real people who want their names used - vis-a-vis the infamous Michelle Parker, who was the heroine of 'Safari'. Now safely married with a new identity, the former Miss Parker started her literary life as reasonably chaste (for one of my books - it being quite difficult to write smut about a very nice young co-worker), but ended up as something of a raunch bucket after the editing process.

Who knows what is in store for my friend Jane, who is the leading lady in the current draft of the so-far-unnamed Book 6?

Complete strangers have also ended up having their names used in my books. For example, there was the tyre fitter, Vincent, from somewhere in the freestate who did such a good, quick job of fixing a blowout on the Land Rover, that I made him (with his blessing), a detective in Far Horizon.

I've also taken a leaf from other writers' books (and used a very clunky literary analogy there) and offered up names for sale. Rest assured, though, that this was done for charitable purposes and not to line my own pockets (although the thought has crossed my mind).

Two names of minor characters in Safari were auctioned off to raise money for a child care centre and pre-school attended by the offspring of friends of mine. From memory, the princely sum, in total, was a couple of hundred bucks.

But a new record was set recently, when I was asked to be guest speaker at the SAVE Foundation's (NSW) fundraising dinner. Some big money changed hands at the Hunters Hill Sailing Club, including a substantial amount (close to four figures) for two character names in my sixth book.

First to go was a woman's name and when the MC and auctioneer hinted that the lucky bidder of the man's name might get to have (fictional) sex with the female character (something I had actually vowed would not happen), the bidding for the gentleman character intensified. In the name of chivalry (and, perhaps, in keeping with the overall spirit of drunken abandon that characterised the bidding on the night), the lady's husband stepped in an paid to be the male character.

Here and there I've doled out favours to friends and friends' children. There was the German spy in African Sky (not the main man, the one who gets ignominiously consigned to the gallows early on) who shares his name with the son of friends, and the smart-mouthed cameraman in Safari who bears a more than passing similarity to a smart-mouthed buddy of mine.

Of course, it's always good if someone has an interesting - thought not too interesting - name to offer up. I mean, we can't be having too many John Smiths, for the same reason that Orelia Lipschitz is unlikely to ever appear in a lead role. I need acceptable, though slightly colourful, and preferably evocative handles.

So, if you have a less-than-bland, though not too out-there name, and an inclination to contribute money to some worthy cause, I'll always be happy to hear from you.

Be warned, though, that I may not be able to squeeze you in (sometimes it just doesn't sound right) or, of perhaps greater concern, you might just end up killing someone, being killed, or having sex with another real-life person who you may or may not know.

Without revealing too much of the detail of Book 6 (which has not even been accepted yet by my very good friends at Pan Macmillan) I can hint that the subject matter concerns something that (so far) seems guaranteed to set the hearts of my female readers a-flutter. Several have already volunteered to be extras in this book.

Fortunately, all the volunteers so far have very acceptable names. The only problem is that once I start writing I cannot be held responisble for what these characters get up to (I don't plot my books - I just make them up as I go along).

So, the good news, D and S, is that while you are both stunning women in the book (as you are in real life), you're both so attractive that you... um... can't.... err... resist each other's charms.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Random acts of coolness

People often say to me, "Mr Blog, you have an interesting life, spending half of your life in Australia and half in Africa, writing number two (in Exclusive Books, OR Tambo International Airport) bestsellers."

I can't lie, Legion of Fans (LOF), but those of you who know me know that I am a humble soul, so I usually reply with something meek, such as "Can't complain"; "mustn't grumble", or "oh, it has it's ups and downs". (Actually, that is a bit of a lie... I actually say, depending on the company, something such as: "F-ing A!", or "Too right I do!")

Anyway, there I was, quite content to be living my interesting life when I received an email out of the blue last night from a Mr Dominic Medley, late of the Afghan capital city of Kabul. Dominic, so he tells me, has been living there for the past six years working as a media type and contacted me from Cape Town, where he is currently on R and R.

In Kabul, he lived in a guesthouse called Gandamack Lodge which was once owned by Osama Bin Laden. The guest house's decor is themed on the adventures of George McDonald Fraser's fictional character, Harry Flashman. As well as offering decent meals and alcohol (neither of which was on offer during my sojourn in Afghanistan with the Australian Army in 2002), Gandamack Lodge also has body armour for hire to its guests.

Now that is interesting.

I really like getting emails from people who read my books and they come from all walks of life and many parts of the world. Apart from my mate JR (or Mike Williams as he likes to call himself these days), I don't get too many from people who've lived in Afghanistan in guesthouses where you can hire your own helmet and bullet-proof vest (or from places where you need your own helmet and bullet-proof vest to go to work).

Anyway, he'd just finished reading my fourth book SAFARI during a stay at the Matetsi lodges on the banks of the Zambezi River, in Zimbabwe, near Victoria Falls.

Part of SAFARI is set in the region, in the Matetsi Safari Area. Not only was Dominic kind enough to drop me a line about the book (he liked it, but was able to pick the twist), he took this very fetching picture of my book, overlooking the mighty Zambezi.

How cool, and nice, is that?

Monday, February 18, 2008

The "Top End" - Australia's Africa

(Warning, this post contains a good deal of shameless self promotion).

In fact, let me be quite honest about this, 2008 is going to be the year of shameless self-promotion, Legion of Fans (LOF), so suck it up and get used to it.

But don't complain too much, because soon I'll be releasing details of how you can get on board the Safari gravy train. Yes, you, LOF, and other readers of my books are in store for a big surprise later in the year... the chance to win a luxury safari in Africa. I am sworn to secrecy, however and can say no more for now.

But now to more immediate matters... my next speaking engagement is going to be in one of my favourite places in Australia and one of the very few that I have actually ever paid money to visit. I speak, of course of the Northern Territory, Australia's "Top End".

I first visited Darwin (capital of the Territory) as an impressionable young soldier in the early 1980s. Back in those olden days, before the influx of half of the army, Darwin was much less... how can I put this without offending my soon-to-be hosts... civilised than it is today.

There were strippers (exotic dancers as we say these days) in the pubs at lunch time, and a drunken free-for-all at the Nightcliff Hotel on Sundays called the 'Rage in the Cage' - so called because it was a big rage, with live music, in a big cage. What more can I say.

There was a sense in the Darwin of old that the rules that applied in the cooler (temperature-wise) southern states didn't all apply in the Northern Territory. In that respect it was rather similar to Africa.

Riding around in the back of utes (bakkies to the Africans among us) was, if not encouraged, tolerated, as was the practice of measuring road distances in cans of beer, rather than kilometres. Tut tut you say, and rightly so. Strippers, unsafe road practices and drink driving are not things to be encouraged (OK, strippers should be encouraged, but only in a non-exploitative forum). But, unlike much of the rest of my home country, it was FUN!

Of course, the Darwin of today is different to the Darwin of yesterday. The rule of law prevails and as far as I know there are no cages and (I presume) fewer naked ladies.

Best of all (and this segue has taken a very long time), there are libraries.

And I, LOF, have been kindly invited to speak at three of them. I will be speaking at lunch time on March 5 at Darwin City Library, at Casuarina Library in the evening, and then at Palmerston Library on the evening of the 6th.

This is the first time that a library has ever invited me to speak, though I give notice here that I will be harrassing many more public lenders around the country to suffer my presence in the coming months.

While I am fairly certain there will be no public nudity or drunkenness involved, there will be wine and nibblies on offer at Casuarina.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

"Blue Harare"... Elvis in Africa

I'm back, by popular demand. Ok... by the demand of one of you "The one from Nambia", whoever you are. See, all you had to do was ask, Legion of Fans.
As I sit here, thinking of devious ways to make Mrs Blog think I am actually working hard on finishing the Epilogue for my next book, the Silent Predator, I am listening to a simply superb CD entitled “Elvis at the Movies”.

Publication day approaches and we already have a title – Silent Predator - and, as attentive readers will note from my last post, a very fetching cover. But no ending. I should definitely not be listening to Elvis songs and blogging. I wonder what Elvis would do in my situation? Probably break into song, I suppose.

I’ve drawn inspiration from the late Mr Presley all my life.

Mother Blog introduced me to Elvis movies at a tender age. I've been a fan of His cinematic endeavours ever since those pleasant nights when she and I would stay up late watching old Elvis flicks while waiting to see if the late Father Blog would survive another nightshift working as a barman at the toughest pub in Sydney’s south western suburbs. (He came home – or rather didn’t - one Christmas Eve with a broken jaw, courtesy of a biker with a pool cue).

Elvis was a fine role model and he and his movies offered many lessons for impressionable young boys. He served his country proudly (and picked up a teenage bride in the process); punched many a baddie cleanly in the jaw (no need for pool cues); knew how to deal with stubborn, opinionated women (put them over Your knee and give them a spanking); and got it on with a nun (Mary Tyler-Moore in ‘Change of Habit’).

Yes, He was a man among men, and I wanted to be Him. Still do (young Elvis, of course, not old, fat jumpsuit-wearing Elvis).

Elvis actually nearly caused Mother Blog and I to crash the family car once. Whenever He drove a car in His movies He moved his hands (in the ten-t0-two position) vigorously to the left and right. Of course, He wasn’t actually driving. He was in a stationary car, with a film of a streetscape or country road playing on the screen behind Him and a buxom starlet beside Him. When Mother Blog was teaching me to drive, at age 16, we tried a little controlled experiment to see how long you could actually drive like that, wiggling your hands left and right. An oncoming semi-trailer put an end to the experiment.

I practised my arm-windmilling and air-guitar technique in front of the TV for nights on end, and, as I grew older, worked tirelessly on my hip swivelling.

Sadly, by the time I reached my late teens I realised I would never be able to grow sideburns (still can’t) or sing. That never stopped me from trying, though. Every time I’m in Africa I try to grow sideburns, and I sing most days. Badly, but with gusto.

Elvis made many movies set in exotic locations – Hawaii, Germany, Mexico, and Kentucky, to name but a few - so it may have been He who inspired me to travel extensively later in life. (Of course, Elvis didn’t actually travel to any of these places, He just jiggled up and down along a sound stage while lavishly-shot films of these locales played on a screen behind Him).

What a shame, then (or “Ag, Shame,” as my leading South Efrican lady, Sannie van Rensburg says far too often in the soon-to-be released Silent Predator) that Elvis never made a movie set in Africa.

So where, in what period, and about which issues, could Elvis have sung and danced in front of Africa’s many stunning backdrops?

What if Elvis made a movie version of Nelson Mandela’s life? It could have been called “Long bop to freedom.” Picture The King in Jailhouse Rock prison Denim, a modern day freedom fighter, incarcerated for His noble political beliefs and immoral sideburns on Robben Island, sharing a cell with Mandela.

"Nelson, ahm, hee-uh to hep ya, in yo struggle agin thuh evil fawces of Eh-pah-tired, man." (Rests hand on Madiba's bony shoulder, shakes curl from forehead, points out across the waters towards Table Mountain and breaks into song).. "Yoooooo've, gotta folla that dream wherever that dream will take you......."

Or Elvis in modern-day Zimbabwe….

In the pitch black of yet another night without electricity Elvis flicks a cigarette lighter (as do a large ensemble of attractive young ladies of all hues around him) and breaks into the title track “Niiight and yoooooooo, and blue Ha-rar-e…”

In a sequel to his seminal motion picture on stock car racing, “Spinout”, new-age Elvis could star in a pic set in contemporary Johannesburg against the backdrop of the city’s minibus taxi wars. “Shootout” would feature His Majesty gripping a steering wheel, white knuckled, in one hand, and an AK47 in the other, weaving in and out of morning traffic, bumping yet another busload of rival commuters off the road.

Perhaps a bio-pic on new ANC President and noted polygamist Jacob Zuma, reprising that other great facts-of-life-for-young-boys epic, “Girl Happy”? We’d need a new song for a new age, perhaps Old Fat Elvis in Zulu makeup singing “Do the shower – vigorously” in order to wash away life-threatening sexually transmitted diseases.

What about Elvis sporting a Germiston mullet (Germiston, a suburb of Johannesburg, I learned from a book in Muriel's toilet on my visit to her country home near Cape Town, lays claim to being the home of the mullet, that iconic hairstyle pioneered by Billy Ray Cyrus) in body shirt and stone-washed jeans playing the slot machines in “Viva Monte Casino”.

Elvis, as a country boy at heart, would have loved the wide open spaces of the Karoo. I can see him now, on horseback, guitar rested across the pommel of his saddle, making his way slowly back to the ranch in an Afrikaner farmer’s two-tone shirt and short shorts strumming and singing: “I can’t help, falling in love, with ewe.”

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Stop press... valid reason for not blogging!

I'm sorry for not blogging lately, duo of fans (I'm sure the Legion has suffered a 50 per cent casualty rate, at least, by now).

But there's a good reason, believe me.

Grace Kelly.... err, I mean my financially-independent, witty, single publisher, C, has brought glad tidings to Blogland. Book five, which now actually has a name, will now be released in June instead of the traditional August.

And here it is, above. THE SILENT PREDATOR. You saw it here first, the pair of you...

It's good news because this means Mrs Blog and I can return to Africa earlier than expected (for those of you not related to me, I can inform you that we are now "home" in Australia). Bad news is I have to finish the copy edits on the new book by Monday.

So it's head down, bum up, here down under (which, for the non-Australians means hard yakka... err... work for the next few days).