Omnimystery News is pleased to welcome Bill Kirton, whose most recent crime novel, The Sparrow Conundrum (PfoxChase Books, March 2011 trade paperbook and ebook editions), was the winner of the 2011 Forward National Literature Award for Humor. (That's right, humor!)
Today Bill asks the question … Identity crisis? What identity crisis?
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Cliché alert — "No two writers are the same." OK, good to get that out of my system. But it's relevant to what I intend to say because I want to develop it a little and suggest that "No ONE writer is the same." (In fact, no one PERSON is the same but, even though that's true, it's verging on philosophy and some of you will already have stopped reading as a result.) For those who are still with me, here's what I mean.
Photo provided courtesy of
We all know the publishing business has changed significantly and increasingly quickly over the past five years or so. When I started writing novels as opposed to plays, you polished your MS, printed out a copy (not cheap if it ran to 300-odd pages) and sent it out to agents and/or publishers. Postage wasn't cheap either, especially when you had also to cover the costs for its return if they didn't like it. Then, through the (sometimes) months you waited for them to condescend to reply, you got on with the next novel. Meantime, you also had your day job. So you were a writer, an (insert day job), a husband/wife/lover/significant other/social outcast/hermit/father/mother/son/daughter or whatever other role your social situation demanded or imposed on you. See what I mean? The proliferation of different "yous" suggests there were several people inhabiting your body. But the writer bit was just that — you wrote, sent your stuff away, waited patiently but eagerly for a reply, then swallowed your disappointment at yet another rejection.
Today, though, even that writing bit has fragmented. Being a writer doesn't just involve the one role. There's still the writing (the best bit), but there's also:
• the PR person, desperately trying to learn and apply marketing techniques;
• the social networker, scrolling through tweets and Facebook comments and trying to elbow his/her way to the front of the multitude of other writers doing the same thing;
• the blogger, trying to sell him/herself as well as the books;
• the prostitute, willing to do just about anything to be published;
• the reviewer, lavishing praise on the works of others in the hope they'll return the favour;
• and, mostly, the unrecognised genius, whose blockbuster novel will change the course of humanity but lies misunderstood in the depths of a computer.
I exaggerate, of course, but only on the basis of fairly common experiences shared by many.
And all of this is simply the lead-up to a boast on my part, because recently I've been given the chance to add another "self" to my list. I am now an "award-winning author". My publisher, Diane Nelson of Pfoxmoor Publishing, submitted two of my books to the 2011 Forward National Literature Awards. My spoof crime novel, The Sparrow Conundrum, was the winner in the "Humor" category, and my thriller, The Darkness, came second in the "Mystery" category. OK, trumpet blown, so what?
First, while I'm naturally delighted at the news, the notion of "competitive literature" isn't a comfortable one for me. Even though I know there are terrible novels out there as well as terrific ones, I applaud anyone who's had the stamina and the commitment to actually write one and see it through to the end. On the other hand, being able to add that little "award-winning" tag to me and two of my books theoretically gives me a wee marketing edge. (I say "theoretically" because I don't yet know whether that'll be the case and, anyway, it'll be up to me to make it happen and idleness comes too naturally for that to be a given.)
Perhaps more importantly, though, it opens up another tricky area when it comes to our "selves". My two awards were for very different books. The Sparrow Conundrum is, as I said, a spoof; its sole purpose was to make readers laugh. The Darkness, on the other hand, is a stark revenge/vigilante story with a pretty chilling resolution; the purpose with that one was to entertain, yes, but also to ask readers "What would you do in such circumstances?" So what does that make me? A funny man or a scary man? Well, according to the Award judges, I'm both. To complicate things further, I've also written police procedurals and a historical novel that was both a mystery and a romance. But this multiplication of "selves" isn't necessarily a good idea.
Readers, naturally enough, like to know what to expect when they buy a book. If they've enjoyed your gore-saturated slasher mystery, they'll probably feel cheated if your follow-up is a light-hearted romantic romp through the tulips. In a way, then, they impose an identity on you — and they have every right to do so. But what happens if the characters in that follow-up decide that they do actually want to fall in love and that skipping through a field outside Amsterdam is just the way to express it? We're at the mercy of both readers and characters; we have our own set of "selves" to manage, but we also have "selves" over which we have little control.
But, but, but … what a wonderful dilemma to be faced with, isn't it?
By the way, neither gore-saturated slashers nor tulip skippers feature in any of my books.
If this hasn't made you vow never to go anywhere near anything written by Bill Kirton, there's more on my website Bill-Kirton.co.uk and my blog LivingWritingAndOtherStuff.blogspot.com.
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About The Sparrow Conundrum:
Chris Machin isn't his name, at least not to the bottom feeders in Aberdeen squabbling over North Sea oil and gas contracts. Chris has a code name, and when his garden explodes, The Sparrow takes flight, plunging everyone involved into chaos and violence.
A sociopathic cop and an interfering ex-girlfriend don't exactly make for clarity of thinking, not when the one fancies a bit of violence to add spice to an arrest. The ex adds other, more interesting, dimensions to Chris' already complicated life.
The bodies pile up — some whole, some in fragments — and two wrestlers join the fray. A road trip seems just the solution but then so do Inverness, a fishing trawler and a Russian factory ship as the players face … The Sparrow Conundrum.