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  • tonyauffret

Call Me Sweetie to the Popcorn Bush (Have I Lost the Plot?)

As I stepped off the kerb, the words and tune just popped into my head, after all it is a well known and popular song. Call me sweetie to the popcorn bush, I sang silently, before jumping backwards as the single decker bus came round the corner. I wasn’t expecting that, the Guildhall forecourt has been cobbled over for at least the last 25 years, but now it was back to the 1970s when it had served as the local bus station.

A few minutes earlier I had been looking at the artwork in a long gallery, that stretched as far as the eye could see, before finding myself back in the small room where the exhibition started. I was sure I knew the lady in the white dress but there was no time to chat, it was time to leave. The window was open and, thankfully, it was only about a foot or so below the level of the pavement, so myself and the dogs had no problems hopping out.

I managed to pull my two dogs back onto the pavement as the bus appeared but the lady in the blue dress, pushing her bicycle across the forecourt, wasn’t so lucky; although she didn’t seem to have been harmed in any way, there was no doubt she had become stuck to the nearside front corner of the bus, before slowly sliding off. I would have gone to help her had I not been distracted by the people who were throwing themselves into a scrum just to the left of the now stationary bus. At first I thought it was a fight, it certainly looked like a brawl but it turned out they were just helpful passers-by who had only been trying to help a young child put her teddy bear back into its pushchair.

It was all a dream, of course it was, though I hadn’t intended to slip back to sleep. The real problem was that I was, still am in fact, searching for a plot for the third instalment of the Tufton Street saga. A third instalment? I had never planned to write a trilogy, and certainly have no plans to write an endless series about the same people tackling a different threat every time, but about ten or so people have already asked when the next in the series will be published. It would seem that Harry Nevile and his team have gained some fans. In a brief moment of enthusiasm I wrote prologue and I did have a vague idea about the ending. It was the bit in the middle that was causing me the problem.

Neither The Death of a Smoker nor Unsavoury Business had been plotted out in advance, yet that is what the self help ‘How to complete your unfinished novel’ style books suggest is the way to go about these things. No, the first two novels both began with a very definite and distinct idea but from chapter 2 onwards the plot evolved. Events happened, details were added, characters came and went, sections rearranged as I was writing. It was all very fluid and dynamic. It did mean that I left a few loose ends, but life is like that, is it not? Not everything is neatly tidied up or understood. Never having planned a third in the series, I had already embarked on a fresh venture, a detective ‘who dunnit’ style novel with entirely new characters. But the dynamic system didn’t work and it slowly ground to a halt after about 20,000 words. The plot was too convoluted, and complicated by sub-plots which, somehow, I thought I could bring together in the closing final reveal. The whole thing didn’t really hang together all that well so I decided to start again. The same detective but a completely different storyline, what happens when a well respected and fêted pillar of the community becomes the suspect in a murder case that echoes of the death of one his contemporaries in the past? That too ran out of steam, disappointingly after only 6,000 words. The ‘dynamic process’ just wasn’t working for me, and then the suggestions came for a third episode of Harry Nevile and his Tufton Street based MI5 group. I knew how to set it up, I was going to use a short sharp prologue, which was fine, but then what? ‘Trust the dynamic process’, I told myself. It never made it to 1,000 words, and that included the prologue. A decent plot was eluding me!

So, I got into the habit of letting my mind wander, which I found especially easy just as I was coming to in the morning, before I was fully awake. Ideas have come and gone. Sometimes events came to me; characters have have been murdered, characters have been suspended from duty, regular characters have become suspects, but still a plot has eluded me. There are certain similarities between The Death of a Smoker and Unsavoury Business; in both, the team are frustrated when people or circumstance block their current investigation, and both, in a way, explore the idea that if the greater good is served, does it matter if all the loose ends are not tied up, or if some deeds go unpunished? Which then begs the question, do my readers want more of the same, or will they be looking for something different, something fresh. I was certainly struggling to come up with a threat for the team to investigate. Is it time to move away from biological threats? Systematically writing possibilities down and reviewing them is fine, but you have to think of the options in the first place. I found it easier to do that when I was only half awake. Of course, some mornings I just drifted back to sleep and that’s how ‘Call me Sweetie to the Popcorn Bush’ came to be.

Although it may seem that way, I haven’t lost the plot, I never had it in the first place. But I do have a title, ‘Imperfectly Innocent’. Now that gives me an idea. Watch this space!

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1 Comment

Sep 23, 2023

Just finished Unsavoury Business, I really enjoyed it. I must say that I had the ideal reading location - overlooking the quiet North Atlantic on the Algarve, about 240 miles north of Casablanca. Could just as well be Aegina!

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