Friday 14 June 2013

Route into writing

I came up with the character of Dan Richards more than 20 years ago when I first had the idea about wanting to write when I was a 19 year old bouncer in Hong Kong. After coming back to the UK and my home town of Liverpool I became involved in delivery sales for a small company. The inevitable barriers of building a  business and family imperatives stood in the way and whenever I was frustrated at work my thoughts turned to writing about Dan.

Then as the business grew and became more successful I forgot about him. When after 15 years in the rough and tough world of sales and marketing I decided to have a lifestyle change and move to beautiful North Wales in 2007 instead of trying to be a writer I bought a hotel, pub and restaurant business instead and with high hopes dragged my wife to a rural coastal North Wales village. I had worked as a glass collector as a kid and then a bouncer and I had stayed in hundred of hotels. Plus I was a great businessman and I wanted to be my own boss so what could go wrong? It turned out that plenty could go wrong. Despite building the turnover and improving the reputation after a couple of years it became a hard slog. Realising that our lifestyle choice adventure was turning into an unprofitable and unrewarding venture and after yet another wet and disappointing Summer I managed to escape with my sanity barely intact in Autumn 2010. 

After being told by a business headhunter I was “unemployable” as having too much experience to be hired by a new company and too little money to buy or start another business I was pretty downhearted. I had all this business experience of success and failure and I wanted to pass on my hard won knowledge. So I started to write about my experiences in the hotel. At first it was called “The Lifestyle Choice – Don’t Do it” and then as I quantified how much money I had poured down the drain in the experience it became “Ten Thousand Bottles”. It was a cathartic exercise and I looked at the hotel as much more of a journey although it was a business failure I did leant a lot about running a business, dealing with people and about Life in general. The book was a sprawling mess and if I had let it would have run to 150K words. So I pared it down to 120K words and tried to sell it to Literary Agents who not surprisingly were not in the least interested.

In the meantime I wanted to stay in North Wales and my wife was just happy to be out of the hotel and concentrate on her own separate career. I also didn’t want to return to Sales again and the traffic jams on the M6, speed cameras and customer’s problems. So at 40 I turned back to my old stop gap profession of becoming a Bouncer. I had dealt with trouble at the pub and I still played rugby and so I asked around, took my Door Supervisors course, sent off for an SIA License and have now done the job for two years. Its been great, I have worked in pubs, football grounds, rock gigs, concerts, hotels, nightclubs and even a big fat gypsy wedding and a sheep shearing contest. I have even taken an SIA Close Protection course and am qualified to be a bodyguard and have been asked to look after minor celebrities. I have made some good friends, met a lot of decent people and plenty of idiots and I have had a lot of fun.

I don’t know as much of the lovely lyrical Welsh language as I should do but I do know when I am being sworn at. If a customer is rude or aggressive then I throw them out. I don’t even have to smile. I am experienced enough  that I have nothing to prove and am too old to be a threat to the young lads’ egos but can make my presence felt when it is neccessary. I do the job, get paid and go home again. The only downside is that the late hours in the nightclub mean I am grumpy the next day. The pay is not fantastic and we have battened down the hatches in the way we live, but is better than bar work or labouring and for the moment I enjoy it.

In the Autumn of 2012 as I came to the end the umpteenth rewrite of “Ten Thousand bottles” and was struggling to keep up the enthusiasm Dan Richards came back into my head. At first it was a faint knock saying “remember me” then the banging became more insistent and in October I put my non-fiction (pass on my hard won experiences) work to one side and started to write Dan’s story. I was 5 years older than when I had changed my career from Sales Director to hotelier, restaurateur and publican. I had been through the mill and I had learnt a lot about the hard facts of life.

Dan’s story rapidly progressed and the writing flowed. I started the book in Hong Kong, where I had first thought about becoming a writer. The smells, sounds, bustle and general excitement of living there came back to me although I have only revisited the former colony once since leaving after my prolonged two year stint in 1991. Then I developed Dan’s story twenty years on. I know a number of current and ex-service men and women some of who have been traumatised and others who have not been affected as badly through their experiences.

Working on the doors of a nightclub you see the worst of humanity after drink and drugs lay the personality bare. I have thrown ex-servicemen out of licensed premises and listened to their accusations that they have fought for their country and what have I ever done. I have also had great conversations with men and women who have seen terrible things in combat and who have a quiet reticence, dignity and calm about them. My development of Dan’s character comes from dealing with people who have seen so much and who with fortitude and bravery have survived.

I finished the first draft of my book in February 2012 and realised that I wanted to develop Dan’s journey into a series of books. The first chapter about Hong Kong was surplus and so I have decided to publish it as a separate stand alone ebook called Dragon. Some of the characters he meets are too good not to meet again so will come back in a later period of his life. Dan was my hero so why shouldn’t he have some good sex, mixed in with his hard times. That led me to thinking that perhaps some readers wouldn’t want to see quite so much of Dan so I edited the book and published it as two editions Splinter and Splinter (18). Splinter (18) is the author’s cut but I hope that the story of Dan’s redemption is a good one and I didn’t want to cause offence.

Dan was in the Royal Marine’s because at one stage I wanted to join up myself. Then I went travelling, ended up in Hong Kong and two years later thought myself too independent to join the services. My best friend did join the Royal Navy and as an officer went on the “All Arms” course with the Marines. He was so proud when he achieved his green beret after the thirty mile route march on Dartmoor and rightly so.

Dan is the hero of my story so he can be fit and strong, handsome and an all round capable good guy. I have many ideas for Dan to have more adventures and I hope you will follow him on his journey.  

As a footnote about a week after I had finished my first draft about Dan’s story I was working in a nightclub. It was late on a Thursday night and I went in to stop a fight on the dance floor. As I split the fight up, I was punched twice in the face by a blonde lad of about 20 with wild black eyes who had turned his aggression on me. I was still standing and was just about to throw him out when his father who was with him at the club started shouting in my face. He said the lad was “just two days back from Afghan.” The father tried to say that his son had been provoked but I had been waiting for trouble from the lad all night. He had been looking to fight the world and perhaps should have gone out of the club earlier. His regiment had marched with flags flying behind a military band through the streets of the town just the day before. The lad left but he walked rather than being carried forcibly down the stairs. His father apologised and begged us not to have him arrested. Having just written a book about the difficulty of a soldier coming back to civilian life then I could hardly have him arrested for assaulting me and we let him go with his father’s thanks. Young men going to war and coming back with feelings of hostility towards the civilians who do not appreciate the dangers they face has been going on as long as there have been soldiers and civilians, so since time immemorial. With modern technology and modern understanding of post traumatic stress we must be aware of the issues these combat veterans face. I hope my book will help if only in a very small way.       

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