I have completed the Kindle and Paperback project of my four-book series of novels under the banner of the New Reform Quartet.
As I write, the Kindle box set edition has launched alongside the doorstep sized Paperback – all 775 pages and 360,000 words of it.
I have an offer coming soon, from the 17th August 2020 in the UK and USA where for one week the four individual books in the series will be 99p or $0.99 as part of a Kindle Countdown promotion. Time Zone differences will vary.
This blog is a personal introduction to the series, and in the times we live in, I have put it in the various formats which book consumers expect today. I have made a video, with the audio introduction which will be included with the Audible box set which will be ready by the winter of 2020.
I hope you find it interesting if only to see the lengths that authors will go to to get their labours of love out there.
An Introduction to the New Reform Quartet
I was seventeen years old, and it was a Wednesday. The exact date was 6th of December 1978. I had an overwhelming desire to write poetry – which was odd for me, as I didn’t read poetry, and whenever I had to study it at school, I never cared for it – I didn’t get it.
I spent a lot of time alone after being thrown out of the home by my mother’s live-in partner – the latest one, at sixteen. He was a member of a gang in my hometown, and he was well known for his violence. I annoyed him by being there, I was in the way. In the run-up to my unceremonious eviction, the leader of his band of brothers had been stabbed to death by his own daughter.
Fortunately for me, I had a job, and I found a landlady who would turn a blind eye to my age, and she let me rent a one-room bedsit from her. At least I wasn’t homeless, just as well, nobody came looking for me.
I was angry and brooding. I tried keeping a diary, but I wasn’t disciplined enough to keep it going. The entries were hard-edged and made of concrete and steel, probably because I was currently an apprentice at an industrial pipe-makers.
On that Wednesday, and for the next two days, I turned these diary entries into my first epic poem. Of course, it was terrible (all amateur poets use this disclaimer), but I was on a natural high while I was writing it. I couldn’t sleep because of all these incredible ideas I had.
The obsession for writing poetry continued for the next four years until I was told that my Father had committed suicide in January of 1983. This coincided with the ending of a three-year relationship – entirely my fault – at the same time. As you can probably guess I was not easy to know. I was obsessive, I drank heavily, gambled and had strong opinions on everything. My saving grace was that I was equally obsessed by working hard, and luckily for me, this hadn’t gone unnoticed.
By now, I had gone from an apprentice draughtsman – until I was made redundant, to a job with a national retailer on a Railway Station and then into a High Street store – what luxury – uniforms and shop central heating! By day, I was working full-time in the store, with great staff and my future wife – and at night, I worked in a bar. It wasn’t unusual for my nights to end at 2 am, and my working days to start at 6:30 am. But I never missed a shift.
When my Area Manager – a man I envisioned working in a golden tower – heard of my father’s death, and then that I lived alone, he arranged – unbeknownst to me – for the manager of another store to take me in with his family for a month, under the guise of giving me management training. On the last night, he told me the truth. He liked me and my work and didn’t want to see my life ruined by this event.
The kindness of these men, who were virtually strangers to me, completely upended my views on male relationships, and made me realise what my own father hadn’t been able to give me, and what a good father – a good man – could be.
I returned to my bedsit. I gave up drinking for five months but continued writing what turned out to be my last book of poetry. It was a searing look at myself and my relationship with my Father but still with a strong sense of masculinity – toxic or otherwise. It ended with my Father, as a fighter pilot, high on octane fuel, dropping bombs on his family, while I watched on from an empty field as he aimed the plane at me, but he missed and crashed and burned, leaving his wreckage all around me.
I had a choice – I could be a part of this wreckage and use this as an excuse for any bad behaviour I set my mind to in the future. Or, I could take the pain and grief from this and rebuild my life.
On Sunday 18th September 1983, I wrote the final chapter of my fourth book of poetry. The final chapter was a sea-shanty in my mind, but later, when I revisited it, I recognised it as a mantra:
The lifeline lives
On scalded hands
Repairing the damage
With material from the wreckage.
I didn’t write another word of creative writing until June 2014 – thirty-one years later.
After reading a book by the singer-songwriter Roy Harper where he deconstructed his songs and explored their meanings. I thought – for the first time in years – of my own ancient poetry books. As I opened them, I was struck by the fact that I barely recognised that angry young man, now. I was a happy family man, whereas this guy was raging at the world. But when I read the last book, it was clear to me that it was a textbook case of someone writing through their grieving process.
I never considered myself one of those people that had a book in them. Something like that would take far too long. But as I was writing again, a novel began to emerge. At first, it was based on events from my life (as most first novels are) – but as other characters appeared and evolved, I got more and more excited. I knew my own life too well. But I didn’t know these people at all. Over time, I shrunk my own life story almost to nothing, to give room for these new characters to take over.
Still, I found the more I wrote, the more patterns emerged. Over time, these developed into four distinct themes – four windows – through which I viewed and shaped the series. From the outset, I was writing fiction, so I didn’t have to be scientifically accurate, I chose not to over-research, but instead to take my own skewed understanding of the things I had been taught.
The first rotten window frame I retrieved was Johari’s Window. I put it up against the concrete wall, where the original brickwork had crumbled away and tried to remember. There were four windows into how we are perceived. The first was the public version of the character. The second was how that person was viewed by others – of which they were unaware. The third was the private, innermost and intimate thoughts of the person of which nobody else knew – the secrets we keep. The fourth and final window was that of the unknown, where we only find out what we are truly capable of when placed into extraordinary circumstances.
I pulled out another window frame, the glass smashed, though some of the original paintwork remained. This was from one of the most precious periods of my working life, and that was about inspirational leaders – archetypal Good Kings, Warriors, Great Mothers and Medicine Women (where I fitted the most).
The third battered window was the Conscious Competence learning model. In the first window, you are bad, and you don’t even know it. Moving through the second window, and you are still bad, but you are becoming aware of it, and you begin to work on your flaws. By the time of the third window you are good, but you are still mindful that you are working hard at it. When you reach the fourth window, your excellence is a habit, and you just do it – you are not even aware of it anymore.
The final frame was the most personal. I analysed my own father’s disappearance from view and the stages it took. At first, he was present – in my early years, an active participant in the family unit. In the second stage, when he was drinking heavily but still at home; he was detached but still a presence. By the time I viewed him through the third window, he was absent. He had left home, and he had left me behind. By the fourth window he was lost – he had taken his own life and threw it away.
With these four windows in place, I kept rearranging them, putting different ones on top of one and other, or turning them around until something appeared in the gaps.
I love big ideas, and these books could easily have drifted into a high concept attempt at a literary novel, but I wanted them to be action thrillers, so I have plotted them tightly, and by the end of book four, I have tied up the significant plot strands and character arcs. I haven’t left anything dangling to encourage another book in the series, after all, a quintet into a quartet doesn’t go.
And so, I hand you over to my characters – who took over this book in the first place and are itching to do so now. The film is about to start, the Art Director is summoning the next set of transitions, and I’m beginning to dissolve.
This is the last you’ll hear from me.
Heather and Trevor settled back into each other on the sofa, they had flicked around the channels on the TV and Heather had picked out a new box set she fancied watching. She said, ‘Let’s watch this – it looks like it’s up our street.’
‘What’s it called?’
‘The New Reform Quartet.’
‘Sounds a bit posh. Are you sure? What’s it about?’
‘It says it’s an action thriller, one of those alternate-history things. It’s got a dystopian vibe to it.’
Trevor laughed, ‘Tell you what, if the warnings are good then we’ll watch it.’
The screen announcer said, ‘The following programme contains violence, bad language…’
Trevor said, ‘Sounds promising.’
‘Scenes of a sexual nature and flashing images.’
‘Woohoo! Full house.’
Heather dug him in the ribs, ‘Let the credits roll babe, I’m going to get some ice-cream, do you want some?’
‘Yeah, go on then.’
Heather went to the kitchen, grabbed a couple of tubs of ice cream from the freezer, then picked out a couple of clean-ish spoons from the drawer. She wandered back to the living room and flopped back down next to Trevor. ‘Did I miss anything, Babe?’
‘They had this eerie, or maybe it was a dreamy piece of music for about a minute.’
‘Who was it by?’
‘Becky Rose – 1:42 am – have you heard of her?’
‘Can’t say I have, babe. Anything else?’
‘Not much. The music changed to some jazz music, and it showed a weirdly dressed woman wandering down some deserted city streets.’
‘You of all people are criticising her dress sense.’ They both laughed loudly.
Trevor was just about to continue the joke when Heather put a finger to her lips, ‘Quiet now, babe. I want to watch this.’
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