Monday, April 18, 2016

Those Jeffries Boys - preamble, blurb, excerpt

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I'm writing! Woot! And as 'The End' of the novel is tantalisingly nigh, I decided it was about time for an excerpt from Those Jeffries Boys - the next instalment of Hiding Behind The Couch.

Those Jeffries Boys is a 'character special', and it follows chronologically from Two By Two (Season Six), but as always, I'm trying to write in enough back story for the novel to stand alone (as far as is possible with a series), whilst at the same time not including so much back story as to set existing readers' eyes rolling.


Who are Those Jeffries Boys?

Readers of HBTC will already know Andy and Dan Jeffries very well. Tall, dark and handsome (of course), they're the younger two of three brothers. Prior to Season Six, their older brother Mike only appears occasionally - usually not on page, and rarely in a good light, because, as his brothers would tell you, he is a knob.

A what?

OK, so here's the deal.

I write 'British' stories with 'British' characters (or 'painfully British', as a recent reviewer put it). Let me clarify this - again. I am English. That's different to British, and, in fact, most of what is touted as 'Britishness' makes me feel ashamed of the cultural heritage you wrongly attempt to impose, so if you're trying to cause offence, keep on calling me 'British'. I guarantee it's far more painful to me than the presence of radio plays and other cultural artefacts in my writing appear to be to some readers. If you want to show some respect for my identity, then get it right. I'm English. Specifically, Northern English. Does that matter? By heck, it does.
Fish and Chips by George Hodan

That said, I do write about characters from other parts of the United Kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and no, thank you, I don't wish to get into a debate about the (un)happiness of that union. (See previous concerns regarding 'Britishness'.)

The Jeffries brothers are Northern English, too, hence, Mike is...a knob. See 'UK - offensive' on this page if you don't know what that means: http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/knob

Now, the thing is, one might read the story of these three men and see elements of that 'Britishness' I maligned above and think I've been and gone and contradicted myself. No doubt at times, Mike, Andy and Dan portray aspects of our culture that I utterly despise (well, perhaps, not Andy...). They are, when all is said and done, white, English, upper-working-class, heterosexual men who enjoy a game of footy and a pint with the lads. They're materialistic and not the kind to take offence at being (wrongly) referred to as British. They may even be proud of it. They may also, at times, say or do things that would be considered -ist (sexist being the most notable), and it would be unrealistic for me to write them in any other way.

English Soccer by Dawn Hudson
But they're all right, really. Nice lads, you might say.

Any road...

That's enough preamble.

Blurb:

Three brothers: doting dads, dealing with the everyday challenges of fatherhood.

Following the imprisonment of his ex-girlfriend, Mike Jeffries has one priority: his six-month-old daughter, Bethan. Between caring for her and being a self-employed painter and decorator, he's already got enough on his plate, without his sisters-in-law insisting he's ready to date again. Now Bethan's grandmother intends to fight him for custody, and Mike's not sure he can rise to it.

Always up for an adventure, Andy Jeffries has finally found the perfect challenge: keeping the woman he loves satisfied and raising their twin daughters, Rosie and Sorsha. The problem is everyone else thinks he needs more, and dealing with his brothers' trials and tribulations means he's getting it, whether he wants it or not.

Dan Jeffries is about to become a father for the second time, and he's terrified, not that he's the kind of man to admit it. But after the premature birth of his daughter, Shu, he's taking no chances until his son is safely delivered into this world, which means putting a hold on his hunt for the perfect family home. However, the house he wants comes with a very big price tag, and not of the monetary kind.

Those Jeffries Boys is a novel-length character special. Part of Hiding Behind The Couch series.

Excerpt(s):

Bethan was three days old when Rachel walked out on them, and Mike had panicked. He could barely look after himself, never mind a newborn baby. He'd focused on what he could do - get them both away from the flat, to somewhere safe - but he'd caused so much trouble that Len - his mum's fourth husband - had threatened to do him over if he came anywhere near them again. In desperation, he'd turned up on his brother's doorstep - not Dan's, but Andy's. He'd begged for asylum, and Andy had granted it without question.

Even now, Mike was amazed - and profoundly grateful - that Andy had taken them in. They'd never got on. Back when they were kids, their mum used to say 'two's company, three's a crowd' to explain why one of them was always left out, and the one that was left out was usually Mike. But then, there was only a year between Andy and Dan; they were more than brothers, they were friends, whereas Mike was just the loser who couldn't keep a job or a relationship. He might've been the eldest, but it didn't guarantee their respect, because respect was earned. He knew that now. And he'd done nothing to earn theirs.

*

With Rosie on one hip and Sorsha lying on the changing mat and kicking her legs in the air, Andy attempted to keep his phone gripped between his chin and shoulder. Nappyless Sorsha gurgled and started to pee. Andy grabbed a wad of tissues to soak it up. His phone slipped and fell with a thunk and a splash, right into the puddle.

"Crap," he said, hoping his cursing wasn't a prediction of what was coming next. He retrieved his phone and set it to one side. "Dropped my phone," he said loudly by way of explaining to Shaunna on the other end of the line. "Give me a sec."

Andy grabbed a cushion off the couch, put it on the floor next to the changing mat and laid Rosie on it. Both sisters turned to look at each other and made cooing noises. Andy sighed contentedly - being a real dad had well and truly done for his pretentions of wanting to be free and independent forever - and gave his phone a quick once-over with a baby wipe. He put it to his ear again and felt a dribble run down his cheek. Could be pee, could be baby-wipe juice, he didn't care.

*

If Dan had one great regret, it was letting Tom go through with the wedding, because he'd honestly thought Adele would back out of it before the big day. As was to be expected, Adele's dad had paid for everything, and she'd handed over the planning to Eleanor, so Dan had successfully avoided contact with Adele for months. But as the day drew closer, their paths had crossed more and more frequently, and there was still such animosity between them that Adele had suggested they go out for dinner together, or whatever would give them an opportunity to escape everyone else for an evening so they could clear the air. The result of that evening was sitting in the back seat.

It was all in the past, and they were happy. They had a healthy almost-four-year-old daughter; in four days' time, they'd have a son, and it sounded as if Tom was finally moving on, too. But for all of that, Dan wished he'd stopped the wedding. If he had, then Adele might just have considered marrying him.

***

Those Jeffries Boys will be out at some point this year. I'll keep you posted!

Thanks for reading.
Deb x

N.B. This post is intentionally brought to you in Northern English dialect. Why? Horses for courses, and all that. Be assured, however, that as a first-class social science graduate with a sound command of the English language, I can also write in Standard English, should the occasion suit.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Hiding Behind The Couch series - some stuff you might like to know

A while back, Hans Hirschi sent me a set of questions about my ongoing series, Hiding Behind The Couch. He used snippets from it in his review of A Midnight Clear, but, of course, I write long. I thought I’d share the rest of my responses, as they offer insight into where the series came from, my favourite character(s), the best order to read, and so on.
So, without further ado…

What is Hiding Behind The Couch?
Hiding Behind The Couch is the ongoing story of nine friends from high school/university and the important people in their lives. The stories are about life, so there’s love and romance, births, deaths, marriages, murder, industrial espionage, accidents, affairs, successes, failures – it’s a fictional micro-social study, and it’s inclusive. People are people, and I don’t distinguish by superficial differences, but to clarify, there are LGBTQ and heterosexual characters, as well as characters from some of the different ethnic groups that make up the rich culture of the UK.

Why did you write Hiding Behind The Couch?
Why I started writing it? Therapy.
November 2007: I was a month into a period of depression that lasted six months in all. I hadn’t written anything since finishing Champagne in 2002 (which was not the reason for my depression – depression doesn’t need a reason), and I was beginning to think it was the only book I had in me. Then I saw a blog post about NaNoWriMo, and I decided to have a go – nothing ventured, nothing gained.
But what to write? I had no idea. The only thing I knew for sure was that I didn’t want any of the characters to be based on real people in any way, shape or form. So, I just started writing and decided to see where it took me.
It began with Josh’s dream…a recurring dream…he was recounting it to a friend (Eleanor) at another friend’s (Adele’s) wedding. Dan was best man; Andy was in hospital following a near-fatal car crash, Shaunna and Kris were smooching at the table in front, Jess was mocking the bride, George arrived late… Nine characters? Utter madness.
But I wasn’t planning to publish it. I just needed to write.
108k later… I realised something. What I’d actually needed was a therapist, but us social scientists are a cynical bunch, so I was loathe to talk to one. I did see a psychologist back in 2007, who referred me to the women’s refuge (WTF?). How utterly pointless. I’ve seen one since (in early 2015, about my weight) who dismissed my critical appraisal of CBT which is based on teaching undergraduate psychology for 15 years as ‘she is resistant to cognitive therapies because she’s writing a novel about a psychologist’.
So if you ever wonder why Josh and Sean are a pair of arrogant, cynical buggers, it goes with the territory. Maybe it’s part of the job spec for psychologist: must be a condescending git. ;)
Ultimately, I wrote my own psychologist, but –
This is the bit where either you’ll decide I am completely insane, or…well…
Here’s the thing. In between writing HBTC #2 and #3, I wrote a short science fiction novel called And The Walls Came Tumbling Down. I say it’s science fiction; it’s posited in superstring theory, or my understanding of it, but I’m a social scientist, not a theoretical physicist.
So I suppose And The Walls... is theoretical contemporary fiction. The story is about a young man whose dead-beat existence gets turned upside down by a chance meeting with an anthropologist from another dimension. It needs a good edit, which I’ll get around to doing one of these days, but the indie-published edition is still online.
In the process of researching for And The Walls..., it dawned on me that potentially, these worlds we authors ‘create’ are not actually creations at all, but inter-dimensional incursions. Now, as I say, I’m not a scholar of whichever kind of science this is – quantum mechanics? Theoretical physics?  – but this is my interpretation/understanding.
Within superstring theory (the 10-dimensional version), the first 4 dimensions are our understanding of space-time; the 5th dimension is a world that is slightly different to ours; the 6th dimension is a plane of worlds that have the same starting point as ours – I’ll leave it there, because it’s the 5th dimension that is relevant here (this page offers a good layperson’s explanation: http://www.universetoday.com/48619/a-universe-of-10-dimensions/).
We can’t readily perceive beyond three dimensions – we struggle to comprehend the 4th (time) in anything but linear form, and our limited 3D perception effectively renders the other dimensions invisible (see Carl Sagan’s explanation of Flatland for how this works  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N0WjV6MmCyM).
As I say, we can’t readily perceive those other dimensions, but there are theoretical models that support the idea that at least some of the experiences purported to be ‘ghost sightings’ or ‘channelling spirit’ may be moments of inter-dimensional perception: surplus gravity (potential evidence for a multiverse), ‘ghost’ sightings and other supernatural occurrences are theorised to be the consequence of an inter-dimensional incursion – a momentary connection between the fifth dimension and ours.
Those experiences are not dissimilar to the way in which many authors produce stories. It certainly describes my experience of writing Hiding Behind The Couch. I know the characters like I know people in the world around me. They have distinct personalities, preferences, daily routines. I have no control over the events in their lives.
At any given time, I can ‘tune in’ to their realm. I can tell you, for instance, that as I write…
  • Josh has just decided to have another cup of coffee – even for him, it’s too early to leave for work.
  • Sean is ready for work, sitting on his sofa, drinking tea and watching news on TV and talking to himself in low-level amusement/horror at world events.
  • George is already at the farm, and it’s raining. He’s taking his time, opening the animals’ stalls and giving them their morning feed.
  • Shaunna is sitting at her kitchen table, mug of tea in one hand, phone in the other, while she scrolls through her Facebook feed and slowly comes around to the day.
  • Andy is…
I’ll stop there, because of spoilers (and I could go on and on), but I’m sure you get the gist.

How many books and words (approx) are there now?
Approximately? LOL.
To be honest, if you’d asked me the same question this time last year, I would have had to take a wild guess, but with readers’ preferences shifting towards shorter stories, plus the few requests I’ve had about reading/writing order, I put the info into a spreadsheet.
To date, the series consists of 21 stories, of which:
  • 5 are works in progress
  • 7 are ‘seasons’ - think TV series with seasons consisting of run-on episodes, plus seasonal specials / character specials
  • 4 are stand-alone novels focusing on specific characters (e.g. Ruminations is Josh and Sean, Crying in the Rain is Ade and Kris)
  • 6 are novellas
  • 1 is Deb self-indulgence and irrelevant (when I crossed from our dimension into theirs)
Word count (including WIP): 1,447,820
At the end of this post, I’ve included the full list of stories, listed in both the order they were written, and in chronological order. They can be read in either of those and remain spoiler-free.

Who urged you to turn HBTC into a series, and why?
Andrea, my very good friend and editor, although she was neither of those things when she ‘urged’ me to turn HBTC into a series. Originally, we met through what was then my main job: teaching in a high school sixth-form college; Andrea was one of my students, and she’s always been an avid reader. She’d left sixth form before I started writing again, so at that stage I’d only written Champagne. She read the original edition and (thankfully) can’t remember it. First novels, man…they should be consigned to some kind of reverent cemetery of fiction, where we can leave flowers and appreciate their contribution to the world without actually looking inside the casket.
Andrea read HBTC #1 after she’d graduated uni, and I wasn’t going to publish it, or HBTC #2, but she persuaded me to publish HBTC #1, and then she read HBTC #2. Her review ended with:
All I can hope is for the possibility that Debbie McGowan might like to make this into a trilogy, or even a series that I can keep indulging in for either the rest of my own or the characters' lives!!
And I thought…I can do a trilogy. I had NO intention of going beyond that. I wrote HBTC #3, called it a day. My depression returned. The characters wouldn’t leave me be.
That was the point when the series became ongoing. Until then, I’d tried to ignore the constant bombardment of my mind with stories and events – a lot of the time, it’s only interludes, moments in the characters’ lives. My job seems to be to put it all in the right order and find an overarching plot to link it together.

Will you ever stop writing for that series?
I don’t know. I don’t plan to, but I have no conscious control over it.

Your favourite character? (I had to ask)
Hm. My favourite character changes all the time, depending on whose story I’m telling.
For the most part, it’s Sean, because he’s a bit broken but functional. He’s got ‘the Irish charm’, he’s intelligent, compassionate and imperfect. I always adore George. He’s one of the genuine nice guys – such a big heart.  Josh… Sometimes I could strangle him. He’s a pain in the arse, but I try to be patient, because George is a good role model. ;)
Jess – she’s difficult to describe. I don’t dislike her, but she’s never been a favourite. She’s not the kind of person I’m drawn to – too driven and ambitious, and a bit ruthless with it. Dan and Adele, I’m kind of ambivalent about, too; they’re very materialistic and all about the ‘body beautiful’. Eleanor – I forget about her a lot of the time, because she puts herself on the outside of the group.
I’m very fond of Shaunna. She’s sensual, fun, independent, funny. I love her optimism and strength. Kris, I like, but our similar life experiences seem to divide us (that, along with the many ideas my husband has for how Kris meets an untimely end – very entertaining, I might yet publish them as a collection!). Ade is fun. I’m slowly getting to know him better.
Andy…I have a king–sized crush on, which is surely definitive evidence that I am in fact quite, quite mad. ;)

The series, in writing order:
Hiding Behind The Couch (Season 1)
No Time Like The Present (Season 2)
The Harder They Fall  (Season 3)
Beginnings (prequel 1)
First Christmas
In The Stars Part I  (Season 4)
Breaking Waves
In The Stars Part II  (Season 5)
A Midnight Clear
Red Hot Christmas
Crying in the Rain
Ruminations (prequel 2)
Two by Two (Season 6)
Hiding Out
Breakfast at Cordelia’s Aquarium
Chain of Secrets
Those Jeffries Boys (WIP)
The Wag and The Scoundrel (WIP)
The Lost Mitten (WIP)
Reunions  (Season 7) (WIP)
The series, in chronological order:
Beginnings (prequel 1)
Ruminations (prequel 2)
Hiding Behind The Couch (Season 1)
No Time Like The Present (Season 2)
The Harder They Fall  (Season 3)
Crying in the Rain
First Christmas
In The Stars Part I  (Season 4)
Breaking Waves
Chain of Secrets
In The Stars Part II  (Season 5)
A Midnight Clear
Red Hot Christmas
Two by Two (Season 6)
Hiding Out
Those Jeffries Boys (WIP)
The Wag and The Scoundrel (WIP)
The Lost Mitten (WIP)
Breakfast at Cordelia’s Aquarium
Reunions  (Season 7) (WIP)

For more about the series, including links to buy/download*, visit:
*Season One is available for free on my website.
Beginnings and Breakfast at Cordelia’s Aquarium are also both free on all platforms.