[Interview] Sean Parker
The novel, which is set in Manchester, is the first of a trilogy of crime fiction thrillers exploring the city's mean streets.
In a recent interview, Sean Parker spoke about his writing.
When did you decide you wanted to be a writer?
My first job was as an engineer working in the nuclear power industry. At that time I used to read a lot of westerns, especially those by such quality authors as Paul Wellman, Will Henry and Louis L'Amour and, as time went on, I decided to write one of my own.
After completion, the manuscript went out to the genre publishers. I knew that very soon I would be taking up shelf space next to Louis.
The rejection slips began to land on the carpet with some regularity, accompanied by the words: "Unfortunately the manuscript is not suitable for our list, but you may well find another publisher who thinks differently, a list of whom you will find in the Writers' and Artists' Year Book."
Naively thinking that these letters were personal to me and me alone I persevered until finally, the penny dropped like a ship's anchor. Through the pain of realisation, I began to understand about indentation; justification; colons and semicolons et al.
At the same time, I was also writing some children's stories for my two daughters, which involved them and their pet rabbit Snowy. Fortunately, their school found them good enough to print for the other kids. Unfortunately, I overfed Snowy and one morning I found him dead in his cage. The hire of a JCB was necessary to get him out and give him a decent burial, under a rose bush in the back garden.
I then switched careers and went into financial services with a major U.K. life assurance company. I now began to take up the business of writing very seriously. A year later I sent a manuscript for a non-fiction book on training and fitness to the publishers Foulsham & Foulsham. It arrived on their desk on a Friday morning. On Monday morning the M.D. telephoned and within twenty minutes the deal was done.
I told my wife we were on our way up; a year later she died of cancer.
How would you describe your writing?
Peter Walsh, the best selling author of Gang War, a definitive non-fiction history of the Manchester gangs, has endorsed Junkyard Dog by saying: "The Junkyard Dog is as close to real life as it gets."
Manchester can be a scary place and I'd like to think that my novel depicts the urban brutality hidden under the surface. I see the 'Dog' as a Mancunian, Long Good Friday.
What motivated you to start writing in this genre?
Being very independent, I tend to do what I believe is right, instinctively, on occasions and on the assumption that if others are telling me what to do, then I am leading their life and not my own. So, influences are very few.
However, on the discovery of a novel by Tom Barling called The Smoke, I was instantly hooked on crime fiction.
I told Tom that I was going to write a novel about modern day criminals in London.
He replied: "Come on, Sean. Don't tell me that Manchester is so crime-free you have to invade my territory. Get lost."
I got the message.
Bernard Cornwell who, after learning about my writing ambitions, very kindly gave me the name of his agent. What a gentleman.
Another influence was the author Derek Raymond. We once went out for a drink, a fatal mistake on my part. I finished up plastered, chewing on a beer-stained carpet but still trying to pick his brains. Another gent.
Also, there is a club in Manchester, which, for the last fifty years, has been at the forefront in providing training facilities for those with an interest in amateur wrestling and boxing, along with the teaching of general fitness. The founder of this club was Max Shacklady. The place was, and still is, known as Shacklady's. Max was for nearly twenty years the coach to the Olympic boxing team. His son, Tony, won a silver medal in the wrestling event in the New Zealand Commonwealth Games. Word spread about the club and one day the famous Joe Louis turned up to meet Max.
Max was also a Magistrate and his idea of justice was to sentence all young offenders to attend his club for two months of intensive training. Not many dared re-offend.
Because of its growing reputation, Shacklady's had begun to attract many of Manchester's bouncers and doormen who realised that keeping fit was a big help in staving off a spell in traction. I got to know many of them and have used this 'inside' information as the basis for the 'Dog'. And no, I do not know where the bodies are buried, honest.
What are your main concerns as a writer, and how do you deal with them?
I don't have any. I just write, and then re-write until I'm happy with it.
As a writer there is, initially, only one challenge to overcome; that of getting the book published. If you are not able to produce the best you are capable of then you're never going to be in with a chance.
How many books have you written so far, and what writing plans do you have for the future?
The Complete Training Diary was a non-fiction book published by Foulsham. It was designed to help those who did some kind of exercise every day to accurately record it so as to keep an ongoing record and therefore assess one's progress along the way.
Junkyard Dog is a crime fiction thriller published by BeWrite Books. As for the future, the second novel, which is complete, involves the same characters and is called Clap Hands Here Comes Charlie.
The last in the trilogy is about a cousin of Charlie and Burnett. Jack Mitchell is another Gypsy head case that, on the odd occasion, enlists the help of the Manchester mob in sorting out the opposition. It's at the halfway stage so I don't have a clue about the ending, other than that it will be an intriguingly explosive one.
What would be your advice to aspiring authors?
If I can help anybody I will.
The first thing is to ask yourself the reason why you are writing. If the answer is not money, then you'll be forever seeking assurances from family and friends about your masterpiece. They will tell you it's fantastic, and your chest will still be puffed up with pride when you're six feet under.
So, you're writing for money. Now you have to do whatever it takes to get there. Learn your trade. Write to authors that have a similar style to that which you are trying to achieve. Many will not reply, but from those that do, take their advice on board. You don't have to use it, but somewhere along the line it will all begin to click into place.
Is it true that all publishers have readers who go through the slush pile?
If they don't like the first line, the MS is rejected. Same thing happens again if they don't like the first paragraph; first chapter; or first line of the second chapter. So what does that tell you?
Now have a look at the "The Ten Deadly Sins" from Elmore Leonard:
- Never open a book with the weather. Unless it's needed to create atmosphere, and not a character's reaction to the weather. Don't go on too long because the reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people.
- Avoid prologues. They can be annoying, especially if they come after an introduction that comes after a foreword.
- Never use a verb other than said to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied.
- Never use an adverb to modify the verb said. Example, "He admonished gravely." To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange.
- Keep your exclamation marks under control. You are not allowed more that two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
- Never use the words suddenly or all hell broke loose. Writers who use suddenly tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation marks.
- Use regional dialects, patois, sparingly. Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apostrophes, you won't be able to stop.
- Avoid detailed descriptions of characters. A simple reference can tell the reader everything there is to know about the character.
- Don't go into great detail describing places and things. Too much description can bring the action and the flow of the story to a standstill.
- Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Readers will skip thick paragraphs of prose, all the writer is doing is taking another shot at the weather, or going into the characters head. The reader either knows what the guy's thinking, or doesn't care.
The most important rule is one that sums up all ten. If it sounds like writing, rewrite it. Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. You cannot allow what you learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative.
I prefer to remain invisible, not to distract the reader from the story with obvious writing. Words can get in the way of what you want to say.
Write scenes from the point of view of character that has the best view to bring the scene to life, that way you are able to concentrate on the voices of the characters telling you who they are and how they feel about what they see and what's going on. You, should be nowhere in sight.
And finally, for now anyway, some advice from me. Never use a word that is not needed; or a sentence; or a paragraph or a chapter. Take it all in and turn out the best work you are capable of. Rewrite it, and then cut, cut and cut again.