Work in Progress

Prologue from my forthcoming book. “Hell at High Water” due out later this year:

He scrambled down the hill from Middle Hope, making for the rocky shelf beneath Swallow Cliff. High water wasn’t due for another two and a half hours yet so now was the perfect time to check for flotsam and jetsam swept in on the previous tide. Conan, his three-year-old black Labrador bounded on ahead, pausing occasionally to cock his leg or sniff at a scent he’d picked up. The early morning air was still cool, but the flawless blue sky and the bright sun sparkling on the sea promised another hot summer’s day. He could see the coast of Wales, nine miles straight ahead across the Bristol Channel and just make out a hazy outline of Cardiff with the mountains beyond. The twin islands of Steep Holm and Flat Holm lay in between. To his left, over to the west, was Sand Point and to his right, at the north-easterly end of Middle Hope, St Thomas’s Head. 

He’d been beach-combing around here for as long as he could remember – almost fifty years now probably – but although there were plenty of other places to go in search of washed-up items, the area below Swallow Cliff had always delivered them in the greatest abundance. A retired coastguard – long dead now – had once told him it was because submerged outcrops, extending south-east from Monkstone Rock, set up swirling currents in the tidal flow which carried anything caught up in them to that particularly favoured spot. Consequently, even though it was good to have a change of scenery from time to time, this was his location of choice for picking up sea-borne treasure. It also had the advantage of being quite difficult for others to reach. Approaching from the top involved tackling the precipitous, bramble-strewn path he was descending now and no-one – certainly no-one in their right mind – would ever attempt the trek around from Sand Bay because the rocks were so jagged and unstable. He reckoned that he could count the number of people he’d seen down here over the last decade on the fingers of one hand.

He’d reached the bottom now and Conan already had his nose buried in a crevice near the shoreline which suggested that he’d found something interesting. He was a dog of two parts: up on the headland he’d have been fixated on catching rabbits, but down here he was a consummate beachcomber.

The object was a green glass bottle that looked like something an apothecary might once have used. It was so firmly lodged in the tight space that he had to ease it backwards and forwards a few times before he was able to pull it out. It contained a clear liquid and was sealed with a rubber bung, but there was a crack all the way down one side through which the contents were leaking. He traced the substance with his finger and found it was viscous.

Then he noticed that Conan, who’d been nuzzling against him while he’d been trying to salvage the bottle, had gone strangely quiet and turning around he was alarmed to see the dog lying on his side, panting for breath and writhing frantically. As he went to attend to the ailing animal, his own breathing became more laboured and his vision began to cloud. Then his legs gave way beneath him and he fell to the ground. He started shivering uncontrollably, the tightening in his chest intensified and pain, like a red-hot blade, seared through his head. He heard himself scream, but from a distance as if the sound was coming down a long dark tunnel. Then blackness enveloped him and there was nothing…

The next chapter…

I’ve just started writing chapter 20 of “Hell at High Water”, the sequel to “Black Moon Over Malvern”. I’d describe progress with the book as steady rather than fast – though, having said that, it’s proving to be considerably faster than Black Moon which took me over 12 years to complete! Anyway, the fact that I’ve reached chapter 20 has prompted me to take stock of where I am and reflect on some of the lessons I’ve learned so far.

The bottom line is that, for me, writing a book feels significantly different the second time round. For a start, I’ve no delusions of grandeur this time: I’m not doing it because I think I’m going to be a blockbuster novelist (embarrassingly, up until about a year ago, there was a part of me really believed I would be!) I’m doing it because I genuinely love writing and simply can’t stop. I still want to sell thousands of copies and get lots of plaudits – what writer doesn’t? – but I recognise that it’s only a very small proportion of novelists who have that sort of success and the rest of us either carry on because we enjoy it or give it up as a bad job. The long and the short of it is, I’m not giving up.

It feels different in practical ways too. Firstly, my chapters are shorter (6 or 7 pages, compared with around 20 pages in Black Moon) and I can already tell that this is giving the story more pace. The decision to go for shorter chapters was mainly based on my own experience of reading (usually in bed, last thing at night) and my preference for concise sections rather than extended ones that I’d usually have to bookmark halfway through because I needed to go to sleep! Secondly, I’ve moved the main location from Malvern, where I haven’t lived for nearly forty years, to Weston-super-Mare which is a mere 7 miles from where I’m living now. In simple terms it means that if I need to visit for plot reasons (to check a particular view or the distance/time between one location and another, for example) I can easily do it. Before, I had to rely on my memory/photographs/Google or make a special 200 mile round trip. Thirdly, I’ve been able to choose which characters to bring forward from the previous book (mainly Dennis, Margaret and Julian for those lucky/discerning enough to have already read Black Moon!) and which to leave behind. This has enabled me to balance continuity (it is a sequel after all) with freshness: i.e. introduce new personalities (some of them very dodgy indeed!) with whom my trio of familiar faces have to contend.

One thing I haven’t changed however is the amount of dialogue (there’s still a lot of it) even though I was once advised by an agent to reduce it in favour of more description/exposition. Basically I like dialogue: I like reading it and I like writing it (and remember, I’m now writing primarily because I enjoy it – sales and plaudits are just the icing on the cake!). Also, despite what that agent said, I know a lot of other people enjoy reading dialogue as well. Indeed, a very good friend of mine once told me that if he opens a book in Waterstones and it isn’t chockablock with spoken passages, he rejects it immediately and looks for one that is.

I could go on and tell you about the international element I’ve introduced into Hell Over High Water (specifically, a glamorous, but shady, film actor from Uruguay) and how useful Google Street View has been in helping me get to know the back streets of Montevideo (necessary because it’s slightly more than a 200 mile round trip from Somerset!), but I think I’ll save that for another post.

In conclusion, if you haven’t read Black Moon Over Malvern already, do yourself a favour and read it now. I can guarantee you’ll enjoy it and it’s a great and inexpensive (only 1.99 for the Kindle edition) way to fill those long lockdown hours. And when you’ve finished and find yourself champing at the bit to read more, console yourself with the knowledge that the sequel, Hell at High Water, is well underway and should be available very soon…

Clearing a path through the thorny world of self-publishing…

It took me about twelve years to complete my first crime novel, Black Moon Over Malvern. As I’ve mentioned before, this was because I was learning how to write a book as I went along, so naturally I made a lot of mistakes which slowed the process down considerably. When, by early 2020, I thought I’d produced a text worthy of publication, I reached for my Writers and Artists Yearbook and sent a synopsis, the first three chapters and a covering letter to around twenty-five agents. Two thirds of them got back to me to say (quite constructively in most cases) that the book wasn’t for them. The rest didn’t reply.

It didn’t make me feel too demoralised because it was more or less what I’d been expecting – it’s what all the books, articles and websites warn you about after all. And despite the fact that no-one had snapped up my precious book, it was encouraging to know that at least two of them had given it serious consideration. What it did make me feel though was that, rather than banging my head against a brick wall another twenty-five times, I’d give the self-publishing route a try and see if I did any better there.

The business of setting it up on Amazon, using Kindle Create, was remarkably easy. More than that, it was a creative experience in itself because the intuitive design tools for producing a cover and laying out chapter headings immediately transformed what had previously been a standard Word document into a strikingly professional-looking book. Launching it on Kindle was ridiculously easy too – literally just press a button and away you go!

The next stage, however, was (and continues to be) much trickier. For a start, I realised that my glossy new crime novel was just one of tens of thousands of similar books vying for attention in a highly competitive market and I was right down at the bottom of the rankings. I wasn’t necessarily down there because my book wasn’t any good, but rather because no-one had heard of it and so why would they bother to pay it any attention? I scoured Google for advice on how to sell more copies of your eBook and what I learned seemed to break down into three main themes:

  1. Set up a website to tell people who you are, what you’ve written and why what you’ve written might appeal to them;
  2. Make extensive use of the marketing and promotion tools that Amazon provide. These include: an author’s page; access to Kindle Unlimited, where subscribers can read your book for free; special promotional deals like offering the book free or at a reduced price for a limited time; advertising campaigns (at a cost you can set in advance);
  3. Price the eBook at a level that makes people think it’s worth taking a risk on – an amount they’ll hardly notice, like the cost of a coffee – but not so low that you feel you’re underselling it. Anything between 99p and £1.99 seems to be about right.

So far, in response to all this, I’ve set up a website (you’re looking at it now) and set up a parallel Twitter account which I tweet on most days. I’ve also set up an author page on Amazon. In terms of marketing tools, I’ve run one “get my book for free” day which resulted in 75 people downloading my book in a twenty-four period. And where price is concerned, the eBook currently sells at £1.99.

So where am I now, two months on?

Well, first of all, I’ve sold the grand total of 100 copies. I have to admit, however, that about 70 of these were downloaded at no charge during my free promotion day. I’ve received four 5-star reviews and one (anonymous) 1-star rating with no review attached. I’ve also received an abundance of really helpful reader feedback. Most of this has focused on typographical errors and continuity issues, but I’ve also had invaluable advice on technical matters like police ranks and procedures. All of this has enabled me to improve the text significantly (ongoing amendments are extremely easy to make on Kindle Create) and has helped make up for not having access to the services of a professional editor – self-published authors can rarely afford such luxuries unfortunately.

And what have I learned so far?

Mainly to be realistic… because however highly you (and those who know you) might rate your book, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the rest of the world will be the slightest bit interested. Persuading the public to download your novel rather than the thousands of others they could choose is a long-term business and you have to keep coming up with different ideas about how to promote it. If you’re persistent, adaptable and innovative you might eventually break through to a wider audience, but, as in the rest of life, nothing is guaranteed.

You also need a thick skin… I have to admit that receiving my first 1-star rating on Amazon came as a bit of a blow. I wouldn’t have minded so much if there had been a review attached, explaining why they disliked it (obviously it would be ridiculous to expect my book to be everyone’s cup of tea) or where they thought it went wrong, but an anonymous negative rating with no explanation is no help to anyone. I’m sure I’ll get over it though!

The long and the short of it is that this is still work in progress and, just like writing the book in the first place, I’m learning as I go. I’ll keep you updated as the story unfolds.

Black Moon Over Malvern Featured on Cheddar Nub News

I am very proud to be featured on local online newspaper, Cheddar Nub News, today with an article discussing my debut novel Black Moon Over Malvern, as well as the upcoming sequel Hell at High Water. The article also notes that you can get Black Moon Over Malvern free on Amazon Kindle for one day only, today; and provides some really exciting coverage of my work.

You can read the article here as well as get your free copy of Black Moon Over Malvern on Amazon here

Black Moon Over Malvern – Free for One Day!

If you’ve thought about picking up a copy of my debut novel, Black Moon Over Malvern, today’s the day because, for 24 hours only, I’ve made it available free on Amazon Kindle.

Black Moon Over Malvern is a classic, detective crime thriller set in 1957, against the beautiful backdrop of the Malvern Hills, Worcestershire and in which its protagonist, Dennis Powell (a journalist with the Malvern Gazette), uncovers the deadly truth about an infamous and secretive local society.

I’m already well into writing my next book, Hell at High Water, this time set in and around Weston Super-Mare and concerning some shady goings on at the local helicopter factory.

Lots of people have read the book now and are giving it really positive reviews, describing it as a “page-turning thriller”, “a gripping read” and “difficult to put down”. However, I’m keen to bring it to an even wider audience, hence the decision to make it free for a day. Hopefully, once they’ve read it, they’ll be keen to read the sequel as well.

You can get your free copy of Black Moon Over Malvern on Amazon here

Welcome – A bit about me

Hi, I’m Rob Kail-Dyke and I’ve just published my first novel, Black Moon Over Malvern, on Amazon. It’s taken me about twelve years to complete because it began as a side-project which I worked on whenever time allowed.

When I started out I was employed full-time as regional manager for a national charity. It was a demanding job, so most of the time I was preoccupied with work issues which tended to eat up a lot of my creative energy. Nevertheless, whenever I had a chance to just sit down and write, it was a huge pleasure to be able to lose myself in a world I’d created and worry about the challenges faced by my characters rather than the ones I was facing myself. Sometimes (and I’m sure this is common to all writers) the words poured out, but more often it was a slow, laborious process which, though frustrating, was still a welcome relief from the obstacles I’d otherwise have been grappling with in the “real world”. I also realised that writing isn’t something you just do (unless you’re a literary genius of course; which I had to concede I wasn’t), it’s something you have to learn to do.

By the time I officially retired from full-time work, five years ago, I had a sprawling manuscript which, to all intents and purposes, was a finished book and at that point I suppose I should have asked someone (my wife maybe) to read it and give me some no-holds-barred feedback, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Basically, I knew it was all over the place and needed a major rewrite before I’d be to be prepared (confident enough) to share it with anyone else: the plot was too complicated; it was written from too many characters’ perspectives and it was riddled with continuity/consistency errors. A close (and painful) re-reading also told me that this was a book I’d written primarily for myself – a sort of therapeutic exercise – and now it needed to be turned into one that would genuinely intrigue and entertain a wider audience. There was nothing for it but to go right back to the beginning and reappraise everything I’d written. I decided to base this re-appraisal on three guiding principles: there should only be one perspective, that of the central character, Dennis Powell; the narrative should be led by dialogue rather than exposition; all unnecessary (pretentious) complexity should be rejected out of hand.

Five years later (January 2020), after at least three major overhauls, I finally had a novel that I was ready to share – albeit, only with a select group of people: my wife; my youngest son and a close friend who is also a writer/blogger. I chose them for one important reason: I knew they would’t hold back from telling me (in the nicest possible way of course) if I’d been deluding myself for the last twelve years and what I’d written was absolute rubbish! Fortunately though, all three of them thoroughly (and I’m sure, genuinely) enjoyed it. My wife and my friend are both avid fans of crime literature and they both said that Black Moon Over Malvern is at least the equal of anything else they’ve ever read in the genre and in some cases – dare I say it – a lot better. My youngest son, aged 19, has read it (slowly, it has to be said, but he’s read it nevertheless!) and he says he was gripped throughout.

So, on the strength of that, I decided that it was time to introduce Black Moon Over Malvern to a wider audience by self-publishing on Amazon. Having done so, just a month ago, I now genuinely want to hear what people think of it – warts and all – because although I know, twelve years on, that I’ve become a much better writer, I’d be deluding myself if I didn’t accept that, like all of us, I’ve still got a lot to learn.

Next time I’ll share my experience of self-publishing for the first time on Amazon and hopefully give those of you who are thinking of doing the same a few useful tips based on my experience…