Never So Young Again

‘Never So Young Again’ is a book written back in 1943 by Dan Brennan. It is one of the books I inherited from my father some years ago. Finally, a couple of weeks ago I got around to reading it.

My father’s copy is a second edition from 1944 but I don’t know if he bought it or was given it then or a year or years later. It is a story about an American guy who volunteers to join the RAF early on in the Second World War before the United States enters the conflict. To sum up, he completes a tour of 30 operations and then, at the end of the book, he finds himself being transferred to the US air force as his country is now in the war.

It is partly a love story as Mack falls in love with an English girl, Diana, but it is more about why certain young men from abroad came to Britain and joined the war before their own countries entered the fighting. And perhaps it is mostly about how these young men coped with the loss of their friends and colleagues. The only way was to forget them while they, the living, fought on but once the war was over, to remember them and never to forget them.

The story is written in an unusual style in that the narrator, Mack, speaks not as ‘I’ or ‘he’ but as ‘you’. It takes a bit of getting used to but it becomes quite hypnotic after a while and it has the affect of dragging you into the story, literally by using ‘you’.

The descriptions of the flying are very accurate as Dan Brennan served in the RAF and USAF. In fact, his wartime experiences are really those he puts Mack through, although I don’t know if there was a ‘Diana’ in the real version.

As my father was in the RAF and completed some 45 operations I found the book very interesting and very revealing. It gave me an insight into how my father might have coped with similar situations and gave me a picture of what he went through on the ground in the bases and in the air. I don’t know how he and the other men did it all.

The love story in the book has a rather unconvincing conclusion. It’s a little ‘corny’ and cliched. Another, more believable, version could have been written and still brought about the same conclusion. That’s my only criticism of the story.

Dan Brennan wrote 40 novels and had a British and US best seller in 1946 with ‘One of Our Bombers Is Missing’. He was a highly decorated tail gunner, flew 80 missions with the RAF and USAF then became a news reporter and highly published outdoor sports writer. Many of his stories after the war appeared in Sports Afield, Field and Stream, Argosy and other magazines. He stayed on in England for some time before returning to Minneapolis where he became somewhat notorious for his ‘potboilers’ and war books.

In later years his writing appeared in the L.A. Times, in particular a piece picking out the inaccuracies in the movie Memphis Belle. He married Helen from South Africa and they had five children. He met Helen during the war when she was a WAC Battery commander in London. Dan died in 2002.

You can find copies of this book, maybe others of Dan’s, on eBay. His bestseller, I believe, can be bought from an American publishing company.

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Raw draft

I’ve mentioned many times that I do most of my first draft writing in a coffee house early in the morning. I add the researched material later at home, often weeks later when I am editing the text. I thought I would post some of the raw, unadulterated first draft here.

So this piece I wrote on Saturday morning around 8.40 through to 9.30. It was quite busy in the coffee house by the time I left but I managed to get something down ‘on paper’. The scene is where the narrator, Bobby Olsen, a PI in New York in 1960, is trying to talk down a client’s son-in-law who is threatening to jump from a bank building. He’s in money trouble. It’s nothing very action-packed or a wonderful piece of writing, just the raw first stuff that comes out of my head.

‘What about Tommy?’
‘He’s in hospital. Busted ribs, teeth missing, fingers mangled. Told he’d get worse when he gets out. Unless we pay up.’
‘But he’s your buddy. You can’t bail out on the guy. Stand together, like troopers on the beach, in the jungle, like a crew on a Flying Fortress, the flak burst all around. Your’ll leave him to face it all alone.’
‘I…I…’
Seconds went by quiet. I waited. Let Earl realize he had no good answer to my statement. Only a selfish one. To jump. To quit. I had never talked anyone down from a ledge but I had gone face to face with many who saw only a brick wall when they tried to deal with their problems. Often they needed another voice to say things they weren’t strong enough to say themselves. I played Earl’s reflection in the mirror; the mirror he probably stared into an hour ago before walking out his apartment.
‘Let’s go visit Tommy, tell him you stand with the guy, then we meet up with Linda. You forgotten your wife? How’s she gonna go on without you?’
I wondered where she was. Perhaps she couldn’t face the situation. Maybe the cops kept her back in case she screamed her husband off the ledge, either with words of undying love that drove the guy crazy or words of blame that made that one step into empty air seem a blessed relief. Or had the bad guys jumped a step on the list, taken her early to apply extra pressure. Did they know Earl was about to jump ship, going to face up to the big guy outside the pearly gates with the book of reckoning rather than the small guys down here with their debt numbers scrawled rough on old receipts from a take-out restaurant.
‘She’s got insurance, she’ll be…’
‘Don’t think they pay out for jumpers, Earl.’
A horrible thought crossed my mind. Had Earl ever thought of pushing Linda into the Hudson and claiming the insurance to clear his money problems? Maybe the idea had occurred to him and that was why he stood here.
‘I gotta go, Mr Olsen, I’m going…’
But he didn’t move. I began to guess he wouldn’t. 

Edited out

I have finally finished editing another book and have now uploaded it on Amazon in paperback format. The e-book is just awaiting review on the site. As with the last couple of books I edited twice on the computer then printed out the book. With four pages condensed onto two sides of A4 paper it is not too wasteful of ink and paper. And it’s surprising how many errors I find on paper, both spelling/grammatical and mistakes in the actual storytelling. Anyway I expect some mistakes are still there, in fact I know there is one spelling error in the paperback version but I can’t be bothered to correct and re-upload it all again.

The story, ‘Home Run’, was a ‘filler’ of a book, something to write in the coffee house while I was editing the last book about the New York private investigator, Bobby Olsen. Once that book was completed, ‘Home Run’ became the main task even though I struggled to keep going with the story at times. Several Mondays, as I walked to the coffee house, I promised myself I would scrap the story and write something else or go straight on to the next Olsen tale. But each time I sat down with my coffee and fired up the story I decided it was easier to grind on with the Home Run book. I quite like the last few chapters and did think I could continue the story much further but I would have found it dragging again no doubt. It’s finished, and is what it is; parts of the tale make me cry so it must doing something right.

Oh. and I found a good site for designing your own cover – Canva dot com.

While editing Home Run at home I begun a new Olsen story in the coffee house. This will be number four. So far I am about 40,000 words in. It’s a bit mixed up at the moment, usually everything works out and characters link together quite well. I hope the same will be true here. It is hard to keep the same character going over four books, keeping their ‘voice’ intact and the references they make to music and movies and odd facts. All those little things that define their personality. As Bobby Olsen has a permanent buddy now it’s also hard to keep her character consistent and develop their relationship together. I try to keep it light-hearted so I don’t drive myself to drink and the gutter trying to keep them together.

I do get the feeling I ought to try a different genre of writing, I used to write quite dark pieces when I first went to a writers group back in 2015. I might have a go at writing a book-length story ‘on the dark side’, a bit ‘Sin City’ maybe, or ‘Dark Knight-ish’. I don’t think I could write a romance or a story just about peoples’ feelings and relationships, I need something meaty to get my writing pen nibs into.

I’ve also been thinking about paying for a proper website, probably by upgrading one of my WordPress sites. I can’t decide whether to base it around Bobby Olsen or this more general site, or start a new one under my writing name. It would cost about £100 a year so I have to be sure I can stick with it. It’s on the backburner for now.

So now I have the luxury of being able to write only one story, in the coffee house and at home. Hopefully the storyline will straighten itself out with a more concentrated approach.

Another birth of words

Over the last four months or so I have continued to write three or four days a week, in a local coffee shop, and have today reached what I think is the end of the story. It’s not a tale about my two main characters, Bobby Olsen and Carol Rios, but one that starts in New York in 1959 then quickly moves forward to New York in 1969. It’s getting interesting having to research a different period to add details about clothes, music and all the rest.

On several occasions, no, let’s be honest, on many occasions, I thought about stopping the writing and moving on to another Olsen story. But I have persevered and got to the end. When I begin to edit it I just hope there’s an interesting plot line there.

The working title is ‘Home Run’, due to a baseball interest the main two characters have. It’s funny how some books take ages to think up a title for them, others you almost get the title before you start writing. Presently it comes in at around 77,000 words; it may touch 80,000 after I had more background detail about New York and the time period. My editing never seems to decrease the word count – must be because my writing is so perfect – oh yes, hah!

And I have now to quickly think of a new story to begin when I go into the coffee house next, probably on Friday. I’ll try another one with Olsen and Rios as I have a friend who seems to really enjoy them. What I would like to do is rewrite one of my books as a screenplay, as I think my stories are more like a movie, the way I ‘see’ the scenes in my head before writing them down. Quite a challenge.

 

 

 

To write, to edit – at the same time

Yeah, a crazy idea, to edit one book while writing another but hey, after a few weeks of this it’s not that bad a deal. To edit you need reasonably quiet surrondings and the ability to research online or offline, which isn’t easy to do unless you’re based in a library. And when you’re in a coffee shop or a bar that’s not going to be feasible. But you can scribble down ideas, even string together sentences of an idea. That’s my take on it anyhow.

So, at home I edit the third novella I’ve written using a character named ‘Bobby Olsen’, a guy who comes from a dark background but who now acts on the right side of the law as a private investigator (no, it’s not hardboiled Mike Hammer stuff…) in late 1950s, early 1960s New York. The writing has developed over the three books and has, I think, become less quirky and more straight forward. Not sure that’s for the best but I guess I find it hard to write in one way as the protagonist all the time. and Bobby’s quirky manner of narrating and talking can annoy even me at times. Hopefully it’s readable, light and makes some kind of sense.

The hardest part has been developing or even maintaining the relationship he has with his sidekick in work and life. It’s easy when they were first acquainted, when she might have lasted only one chapter, and it was fun with the ‘jousting’ of words when they were in the ‘are they/aren’t they’ stage of friendship/lovers. Now they are an item it’s tricky not to make them sound bland, sound the same in their speech, or to continue the ‘banter’ of earlier dialogues for too long. It’s very tempting to write ‘her’ out, with a baby, and leave Bobby to pursue storylines by himself, along with any new sidekicks, male or female, I feel like bringing in female ones might cause problems as it would be so easy to make them sound like possible lovers and so ruin the happy family life in place. So this might be the last ‘Olsen’ story for a while. Or, I’ll sit in a coffee house with nothing to write and fall back on yet another tale involving the guy.

By the by, anyone else have the problem of catching the ‘Num Lock’ key when aiming for the Backspace key? I keep doing it and the blasted icon comes up on the screen telling me the lock’s on. It’s like hitting the \ key when I’m trying to get the Shift key for a capital. As you can tell, I’m not a trained typist!

The new story I’m attempting while coffeeing most days is a homage to or a rip off of, depending on your view, of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It’s set around the same time, same location, with a similar single woman as the centre of the story which is told by an admiring guy who flits in and out of her life. Or rather, she flits in and out of his life. I wanted to keep it to the same length as B. at T., around 100 pages/30,000 words and I’m at around 25,000 right now and closing in on the final scenes. I’ve no idea how it hangs together as I’ve only read short passages each day after I’ve written them. It was quite straightforward to write the early scenes as the woman appears in the first two ‘Bobby Olsen’ stories I wrote so I was able to ‘lift’ her appearances from those and retell them from this other guy’s point of view. The final scenes have proved more problematic. And the ending still hangs in the balance. Do I go for the movie’s happy-ever-after-ending? Or the novella’s she’s-disappeared-could-be-anywhere-ending? Or something more dramatic; a death? a wounded-we’ll-never-know-if-she-survived-ending? a walkout which leaves a broken-hearted guy behind? I’m still not sure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2018 – a definite Write-Off

A Write-Off in the sense that writing is the only thing I seem to have done in 2018!

One book, started in December 2017, was completed in March 2018, edited and published on Amazon at around 60,000 words. A simple tale, written in cafes, edited at home.

Another book, the third using a character I created back in 2016, has just been finished in its first draft at around 68,000 words. Again initially composed in cafes with some of the final chapters written in the late afternoons at home, it now awaits editing. While I am starting this at home I need something to occupy myself when sat in various cafes if there is no one around to talk with, so in the last few days I have written about 4,000 words of a new story about one of the minor characters in the three book series, an attempt to ape the style and length of Breakfast at Tiffany’s – yes, a slightly high bar to jump at, I think I have aborted several take-offs already…

And so on we go, hopefully the writing is improving in style and content and readability, certainly my latest book had more dialogue in it after my experiment with writing a tale mostly in dialogue.  Are we any nearer writing something of worth? Not really, but it’s fun to keep trying and it keeps me out of mischief. More or less…

Oh, I nearly forgot, I also published the second book, 35,000 words, using the Bobby Olsen character. That had been completed back in February 2017 but I only got around to editing it in 2018. Blame it on house moves and plans to make it longer which never came to anything.

 

 

 

 

 

The dialogue-narrative bust-up

Well, I got a few hyphens in there anyway.

As I progress with my fourth novella, the third using the character Bobby Olsen, I find I am using more dialogue in this latest piece of writing. Or that should be ‘dialog’ as my story is set in America with American characters.

Before I wrote the first book I used very little dialogue in my writing, it was all description or narrative. Then in my third book, not about Bobby Olsen, I determined to try and tell as much of the story in speech as possible. It made the tale speed along, and the word count to mount quickly. Now in my current novella I find I am incorporating a lot more dialogue. Again the number of words is climbing, 53,000 so far compared to 43,000 and 35,000 for the other two stories involving Bobby Olsen. Of course, does this mean the story is better? Or is it all waffle?

I find in particular that there are scenes where I could easily just have the narrator, Bobby, tell us what happened but I am finding I am writing these out as dialogue. Yes, the answer is to strike the right balance. Too many conversations and they must run the risk of repeating phrases from earlier dialogues, or prolonging the action too much. Too many characters, particularly minor ones, might start to sound the same, trying to make peoples’ speeches sound different is hard work. And you have to include more details about the characters such as mannerisms and just general descriptions such as what they’re doing with their hands or how they are standing. More and more words. A good thing?

One particular difficulty is the relationship between Bobby and his sidekick and partner, Carol. With more dialogue between them I am having to really think about how their relationship must be developing and avoid them sounding too much like each other. It was easy when they first met and the dialogues were sort of ‘jousts’ between them, those sort of ‘will they/won’t they?’ scenes. Now they are an item it’s tricky to move their relationship forward. Or does it need to?

And there’s the action sequences which in the type of stories I am writing do tend to occur. If you have two good guys chasing one bad guy, how much dialogue can you have between the two good ones? People don’t talk much when running, yet the reader needs to know where the narrator’s buddy is. Yes, it’s question of balance again but by including more dialogue overall I find I naturally start adding more in every scene. It’ll be much easier when the books are made into movies – you can see where everyone is!

The conclusion is, there is no conclusion. You need a balance of dialogue and narrative. Poor dialogue is as bad as poor narrative. Overlong dialogue is as bad as overlong narrative. Strike the balance and you’ll be a good writer, my son/daughter…