12 October 2011

First Faltering Steps

by Neil Schofield

My name is Neil Schofield, and it’s been that way for longer than I can remember. I am an Englishman born in Yorkshire. For the past eighteen years or so, I have been living in Normandy, France, with Mimi, my partner and live-in French person. France, incidentally, is just off the English coast. (A headline from the 1940’s: “Thick Fog In Channel: Europe Isolated”) That tells you something about our thought processes.

What else? – oh yes, I write short stories.

Neil Schofield
This is me. Snapped in holiday mood in the summer, which I seem to remember happened this year on July 17. The truculent smirk I am modeling means, unless I miss my guess, that we were approaching l’heure de l’apero: Time for a Little Something, time to put up the Big Parasol, watch the garden tick over and sip a little white wine. A Muscadet, probably, because a Muscadet helps you work, rest and play.

I come to Sleuthsayers as a complete baby. I have –had– been for the 4½ years of its existence, an avid follower of Criminal Brief. Never a contributor, more a professional lurker. What interested me, and astonished me every day, was the seemingly endless stream of ideas. Who were these people who could turn out a column every week, week after week?

The invitation from Leigh and Rob to join SleuthSayers came as something of a shock: I had to be helped from the room. I have been writing crime/mystery fiction for a little over ten years. What could I have to say that might interest anyone? How was I going to manage among all these heavyweights? Although the idea of writing just one piece a month didn’t seem too difficult, the cons seemed to mount up.
  • I don’t have an encyclopaedic knowledge of crime and mystery fiction. I’ve read a lot and I remember almost all of it, but as an authority I would lack a certain something.
  • I haven’t published a book – not even come near yet.
  • I don’t have an enormous library of reference works to call on and plunge into.
  • I’m a Brit, and I live in France, what’s more. I might be the object of derision and opprobrium.
But then I read the list of contributors, and read the first articles/posts, it occurred to me that I had a little more in common with some of the senior partners than I had at first thought.

Rob Lopresti, of course, I know. I am an enormous fan of Rob’s stories. (Well, I say enormous – I’m six foot, and 160 pounds, which isn’t really enormous, but never mind). Rob and I have conversed digitally, and sometimes bizarrely, on diverse subjects, for some time. What is more, we share a birthday, September 19. Which seems a little unfair. I’d like to have had one of my own. It was also Rob who revealed to me that 19 September is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. I tried it here, with predictable results. The French don’t seem to have the right sort of soft palate you need to say ‘Aarrgh’ properly.

Then comes Dale Andrews with whom (entre autres) I shared the same Barry Award shortlist in 2008; Dale for his Ellery Queen story “The Book Case”, and I for “Murder: a User’s Guide”.

A previous Barry Award shortlist - in 2005 - I had shared with Melody Johnson Howe. But that was another story. So what’s to worry about, I said to myself. You’ve already rubbed shoulders with the great. Go and rub a few more.

What has also secretly pleased me about the Sleuthsayers, is that, reading the contributions over the past two weeks or so, I have realized that I am not the only late starter in the frame. Because ‘late starter’ is putting it mildly, in my case.

My crime/mystery (somebody tell me what to call it!) career began a scant ten years ago. Before that, in other lives, I had spent ten years in theatre lighting, first as a production electrician and touring chief, and then edging into lighting design. From that, I morphed, seamlessly and without apparent effort, into becoming a writer and producer of what Americans liked to call Industrial Theatre: conventions, sales conferences, product launches, et al. I was usually at the loopy end of the spectrum, when the client –the Suits– would accept a series of comedy sketches or even a daft two-act play as a vehicle for The Corporate Message. In the 1990s I graduated to writing ‘Tourist Rides’ for attractions around the world in France, Singapore, Australia, Berlin, and so on. Even London.

But in 2000, now living in France, (I think I was attracted by the smell of cheese) I started to write the stories that had been stacking up in my brain for years. My very first stories, to my amazement, were accepted by Cathleen Jordan and Janet Hutchings. And it still astonishes me whenever I have a story accepted by EQMM or AHMM. In the decade since, I have sold thirty stories to these two extraordinary magazines. (The current score is EQMM 17; AHMM 13, I don’t know why. I must do something about evening up the numbers) Without Ellery and Alfred, (Mimi insists on fondly referring to them though they were two members of her already extensive family) I wouldn’t be writing these words now. And whenever I was on some shortlist, or quite simply published, I would look at the names with whom I was rubbing shoulders, keeping company. And I would find it hard to believe. I still do.

I’ve never met any of my fellow-writers. I’ve never been to Bouchercon (and incidentally, it was Elmore Leonard in an interview on the BBC who taught me quite recently that it’s pronounced Bowchercon. For years I’ve been giving it a French pronunciation) I was once invited, as a Reader’s Award Finalist, to a Dell Magazines bunfight, and near as dammit went, but family matters intervened. So I never got to rub actual shoulders with anybody.

So I am very happy and proud to be rubbing shoulders with this company. And I hope– even as a once-a-month junior partner– I’m going to be able to step up occasionally and say something that interests SleuthReaders. Anyway, I’ll do my best.

Talk to you soon.

16 comments:

Velma said...

Welcome, Neil! Glad to have you and Mimi with us!

Fran Rizer said...

Neil, welcome! We look forward to hearing more from you!

DavidDean said...

What a great beginning Neil, and welcome to our side of the pond. Hopefully you can manage a visit sooner rather than later, providing, of course, that fog has not isolated us.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Welcome, Neil. (1) Opprobrium? If you talk about nothing but French cheeses and pastries, we'll probably all be happy. (2) Never mind cher. You've been saying "con" in French? Tsk tsk.

Janice Law said...

Welcome and I hope you'll enjoy Sleuthsayers

John Floyd said...

Neil, I too sold some of my very first stories to Cathleen Jordan, and I too was amazed that she bought them. What a wonderful lady.

And what a great introduction! Welcome to the group.

Neil Schofield said...

Thanks everyone for the kind comments. I owe pecial thanks to Rob and Leigh who saved me when I lost Internet at the very worst time.It is entirely due to these two kindly geniuses that I appeared at all.

Neil Schofield said...

Thanks for the kind comments. I owe special thanks to Rob and Leigh who dug me out of a deep hole when I lost Internet at the worst time.

Neil Schofield said...

Thanks for the kind comments. I owe special thanks to Rob and Leigh who dug me out of a deep hole when I lost Internet at the worst time.

Leigh Lundin said...

Neil, as Susan Slater learned, there's some sort of blogging law that the internet (or your computers) will collapse at the worst possible moment.

Welcome!

Dixon Hill said...

"... atracted by the smell of cheese." LOL You kill me, buddy! That was great.

And don't feel like the Lone Ranger when it comes to pronouncing Boucheron; I was in the same boat up to a couple of weeks ago.

--Dix

R.T. Lawton said...

Neil, this is great, here you are making your first post and I'm already hitting you up for something. Some of my stories in AHMM are in my 1660's Paris Underworld series. From time to time, with your permission of course, I may ask you about interesting locations in old Paris for new stories in the series. Enjoy that wine and we'll be listening for you in the future.

Velma said...

Wait… If I took a bow for shooting my bow

Louis A. Willis said...

Welcome, Neil. I look forward to reading more of your articles.

Neil Schofield said...

Thanks again everyone.
RT - feel free. My daughter-in-law lives in the Marais - the Marsh - which is one of the best and oldest bits of Paris. Be happy to help.

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