Martin Brunt on SNJ – 28/08/14

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I’m delighted that Britain’s leading crime reporter, Sky News’s Martin Brunt, has read Saturday Night Jack and has written this blog for me.
Martin is a big fan of crime fiction and I’m delighted to say, is also a big fan of SNJ.

Dylan Dronfield’s debut novel, Saturday Night Jack, is a gritty and grim crime story with a strong whiff of reality.

It centres on a relationship between a crime reporter and a detective and reflects a time, not so long ago, when hacks and cops recognised the help they could give one another. They conspired for the common good – to bring criminals to justice.

Today, post phone-hacking scandal and the Leveson inquiry, it’s a fantasy – a world we crime hacks have had to reluctantly move on from.

In the book, Det Chief Insp Simon Sharpe gives local paper reporter Mick Rogers off-the-record briefings, shares his deep thoughts and tips him off on developments.

It’s all based on the common sense that the serial killer police are hunting is probably a local man and any witness with vital information about him is likely to read Mick’s newspaper.

So, the hack gets the story first and the cop reaches his target audience.

The relationship works because the two men have known each other a long time and built up trust.

As a crime writer, Dronfield draws on his experience as a journalist in the city to reveal how Rogers and DCI Sharpe employ their particular skills to try to unmask the psychopath killing young women.

In a race against time the two men use their friendly, but sometimes-uneasy relationship, to follow each twist and turn of a plot as it rises to a chilling climax.

Does it achieve its aim in Saturday Night Jack? You will just have to read it.

Today, such a sharing of information would probably land both the cop and the reporter in court on a charge of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office.

Just look at the stick the BBC is getting for having its cameras and helicopter in place as the police searched Sir Cliff Richard’s home. Not so long ago you’d call that good journalism. A real scoop.

Oh, for the good old days.

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A dirty word? – 07/03/2014

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In the last few weeks I’ve talked to a lot of people from all walks of life about my book and there is one tricky area I come to each time – when do I first mention the dirty word? Mention it too early and some people lose interest; leave it too late and it’s like you’re hiding it; don’t mention it at all and you’re a fraud. So – when do you first say it? When do you first say “self-published”?

I’ll be honest, I still feel a bit awkward about self-publishing. Why? Well, I spent the best part of a decade trying to get Saturday Night Jack published and I failed. I guess that’s part of the reason. Nobody likes failure and I’m particularly bad at it. Also, let’s be honest, most people assume if something is self-published then it’s not good enough to be taken on by a publisher. Right? Maybe I’m reading too much in to it, but when I mention SNJ is self-published I feel some people are already judging it and judging me.

Happily, the demons in my head have had very little bearing on reality, so far at least. Most people I speak to about SNJ think that finishing it in the first place was a great achievement, full stop. I’ve also had a lot of supportive emails and tweets from people praising me for going it alone and ditching the traditional publishing deal. Critically for my self-esteem, the sheer number of positive reviews I’ve had about the book has justified my decision to self-publish. It’s incredibly gratifying to think it has given a lot of people a lot of pleasure.

There’s no doubt about it, thanks to this early success I am getting better about using the dirty word. It’s just a description. In fact, it’s the reality of modern publishing for so many first time writers. And do you know what, I’m growing to be more and more proud of it as each day passes. What I’ve achieved, I’ve achieved on my own.

A year ago, I had never spoken to anyone who had published their own book and through the wonderful world of social media, I’ve had fantastic advice, notably from Louise Voss, Polly Courtney and particularly Mel Sherratt whose success has been a model of inspiration. Coming from the cutthroat world of news journalism, I had no idea that writers were such a friendly bunch to newcomers. A year ago I knew nothing about designing a cover, writing blogs, getting hard copies made, what to wear to a launch party… so far it has all been tremendous fun – fun I am completely in control of.

Yes, self-publishing is very liberating and fulfilling… etc etc… you’ve probably read all about it from people with far more experience than me. But the fact of the matter is that anything that is published and wants to be taken seriously has to be of the highest possible quality. While I didn’t get a publishing deal, SNJ is infinitely better as a result of two major rewrites under the guidance of agents who showed an interest. While they didn’t take it on, I will forever appreciate their guidance on plot, structure and character development. SNJ has also been edited and proof read. It’s essential to get this kind of help.

I spend a lot less time now thinking about the past and what could have been. Ultimately I wanted to get SNJ off my computer’s hard drive and out there for people to read. Frankly, I am delighted with what’s happened so far and I’m already enjoying making plans for a second book. Self-publishing has allowed me to do all this. A dirty word? I don’t think so. Not any more. Not to me.

 

@dylandronfield

http://www.facebook.com/saturdaynightjack

Obsession – 19/03/2014

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Ok, so I check my Amazon listing – a lot.

Sometimes up to 10 times a day looking out for new reviews.

I admit it. I am obsessed.

I know it’s sad, but I’m really excited when I discover a new review has been posted. I hoover up every word and analyse carefully what’s been said.

Can you blame me? After all, reading opinions about your work is one of the great bits of being a writer and the digital age makes it sooo easy.

So far I’ve been really lucky and all the reviews (28 when I last looked just before I started this blog) have been very favourable. But I yearn for more. Simply put, the more reviews I get, the further SNJ moves up the book charts.

When SNJ was first published it was around 470,000th in the Amazon paperback charts. Two weeks ago, when I had around 20 reviews, it had risen to around 80,000th. Today, with my mighty 28 reviews, it has risen to 50,000th. I don’t think Dan Brown is looking in his rearview mirror just yet, but it’s gratifying nonetheless.

Nobody has a firm idea of how Amazon’s algorithm works but it’s clearly linked to sales and reviews. Obviously I want the paperback and ebook to sell but getting people talking about it feels even better. After all, that’s what stories are about isn’t it? They are for reading and for sharing.

This obsession is beginning to wear thin on Mrs D though. Fair enough, I really don’t need to have my nose glued to my iPhone all day on the off chance a new review is posted. I admit it is a bit antisocial and yes, perhaps it has gone beyond obsession towards addiction. A bit of smartphone detox maybe?

It’s a tough habit to kick though… hang on, I just need to check my phone…

I don’t bloody believe it!! We’re up to 29!! And I’m NOT joking!

I’m just going to read it. I’ll get back to you…

 

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Murder in Ian Rankin’s ‘hood – 27/01/2014

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I remember covering a particularly grim murder in a wealthy area of Edinburgh a few years ago. The dismembered body of a former history teacher, who had been jailed for sexually abusing pupils, was found wrapped in a carpet beneath a pile of rubbish. He’d been hacked in to six pieces.

There were several remarkable things about this story, which is why it sticks with me 10 years later.

Firstly, the details of the murder were unusually shocking, so much so that it could have been the plot for an Ian Rankin book.

Secondly, hang on a second, the crime scene was on the next street along from Ian Rankin’s home.

Thirdly, Ian Rankin turned up at the scene to have a look!

It was almost unbelievable!

But the most remarkable part of the story, as far as I was concerned as a budding author who had just finished his first draft, was that Rankin said it was the first time he had been to a real murder scene.

I vividly remember reading the copy our Edinburgh reporter filed to the news desk in London.

Rankin said: I received a phone call this morning and was told there had been a murder just around the corner. Obviously I could not believe it. This is not the sort of area you expect this sort of thing to happen.

It’s almost better than fiction to have this kind of thing happen on your doorstep. I took a walk down and saw police removing the wheelie bins outside and tagging them for evidence.

“It was also extremely interesting to see how many police were there and what they were doing. While I write about murders in the Rebus novels I’ve never been to a real murder scene before. Watching the real thing will make the books even more realistic.”

Now, I’m a huge fan of Ian Rankin. The Rebus books have been inspirational to me. Let me make it absolutely clear that nothing I say from here on is in any way a slight on him. That would be absolutely ridiculous from someone in my position. In my opinion, he is the rarest of talents, the best crime writer of his generation and the shelf-full of his books in my living room have plot lines to die for.

The point of this blog is that it got me thinking about whether it is essential to have experienced everything you write about. As Rankin said on his visit to the crime scene, first hand experience can leave an indelible mark on you. Obviously you need a good plot and strong characters, but for a first time writer, the experience of reporting from dozens of crime scenes gave me confidence in what I was doing.

There’s a certain atmosphere at the scene of a murder – a bit like how Christmas Day somehow feels different to any other day. It’s difficult to put your finger on why, but there’s a certain serenity, a definite finality. You can feel it in your bones, your soul.

There’s all the comings and goings by all sorts of police officers, pathologists and forensics. It’s fascinating to watch. Then, of course, there are the journalists, photographers and camera crews to add their own black humour to the occasion.

Beyond the crime scene, there are the interviews with grieving friends and relatives. As a journalist and a human being there are few less appealing jobs than knocking on someone’s door in the days after their loved one’s murder and asking for an interview. Why would anyone let you in? Of course there are valid reasons for doing it beyond filling column inches and TV news bulletins. Some people find solace in a public tribute and some use it to appeal for witnesses. Either way, the process is extremely difficult for all concerned. I’m not ashamed to admit I fought back tears during my first successful “death knock” as a man told me the tragic story of his young wife’s death on their honeymoon. If you’ve ever sat in death’s living room and listened to someone recount the last moments of their loved one’s life, you cannot come away unmarked.

After the interview there is the inquest and the inevitable court case. Hours of evidence comes out about the last known movements, injuries, post mortem examinations and forensic tests. It’s methodical and fascinating. To follow a murder investigation through from the first report of a missing person, to a conviction in a criminal court is a journey like no other.

So in SNJ, when I write about a crime scene, the journalism and the police process, I do so with a deep experience. At times, it’s a very personal and emotional experience as you’ll read in the first chapter. It doesn’t need imagination. There is enough drama there already.

Dylan

@dylandronfield

http://www.facebook.com/saturdaynightjack

First blog – 22/01/2014

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Today is a very exciting day – my 14-year slog to get Saturday Night Jack in to print is finally over. I’m turning a corner and beginning a new phase of this incredible journey.

This is my first blog on my new website. Today I am also launching my SNJ Facebook page. Last but not least, I’m picking up the first paperback copies of the book from my publisher. It doesn’t get much better, eh.

It’s the end of a long journey, a journey I started in November 2000 when I wrote the first chapter of SNJ from a small office in the shadow of the Tyne Bridge. Back then, the determined little bugger I was, I said I would have failed myself if I did not see it through to the end. I knew the publishing road was littered with half-finished manuscripts and dashed dreams and I was determined not to be another one of them. Little did I know how long the road would be – it’s taken a lot of commitment and desire.

Dreaming up the idea, sketching out the plot and writing each chapter was undoubtedly the most enjoyable experience of my life. I would get lost for days on end as I powered through the chapters, sticking closely to my original plan. It still took time though, three years to finish the first draft, as I had to fit in writing around my day job as a reporter at The Press Association.

Then came the hard bit: trying to find an agent. I hated it. It was zero fun tailoring each approach to different, faceless people. Over the next few years – eight I reckon – I came close to success on a couple of occasions, both times substantially rewriting the manuscript to their suggestions. Sadly it didn’t work out. Rejection became the norm.

A decade after starting out, the enthusiasm I had for SNJ in the halcyon days of writing was all but extinguished. Stubbornly, I continued to try a few more agents but when I drew a blank, I thought I had reached the end. But then the self-publishing revolution started. I read about success stories, exchanged tweets and emails with those authors and decided to take the plunge myself. I used a fantastic artist to come up with my cover design (Design for Writers) and employed Troubador Publishing to make the paperback and ebook.

In little over nine months, a 90,000 word document on my hard drive has been transformed in to a book – a book I will get my hands on for the first time later today. It will be quite some moment.

In the last 14 years, my two main protagonists, reporter Mick Rogers and DCI Simon Sharpe, have been with me everywhere I go. I’ve taken them on my journeys home and abroad, on my honeymoon, to hospital as I waited for our first child to be born… they’ve never been far from my thoughts, my SNJ notebook never far from my side to jot down a new idea. There have been times when I’ve had to step away from them due to the pressures of daily life, but they’ve always been there in the background, nagging me for attention.

I’ve changed a lot in the last 14 years, my job in journalism has changed significantly and while the plot of the book has remained broadly the same, large parts have changed too. It starts in a different place, the division of the narrative between the two main characters is vastly different and the ending has been tweaked. Oh, and the sex scene has been totally axed. Too embarrassing.

But while the book is very different to the first version I completed in 2004, Mick and Simon have always been the same, patiently waiting their chance to be read.

Today is also the start of a journey for my two friends. I’m excited for them. Finally they will be out there and that’s quite some moment too. I hope you enjoy them as much as I’ve enjoyed living with them.

Dylan