Ideas can be recycled, too - Bill Kirton

I’m in a bit of a dilemma at the moment – not a nasty one, a nice one. Through some pathetic management on my part, I’ve had 4 books published in the last few weeks, so plugging them and giving each the attention I should is becoming difficult. It doesn’t help that they’re in 4 different genres: the first of a children’s series about a grumpy male fairy who lives in my washbasin in Aberdeen, Scotland; a children’s novel; book 4 in my crime series and, most recently, The Sparrow Conundrum.

Strangely, perhaps, The Sparrow Conundrum is the first novel I ever wrote, and yet it’s only just appeared. But it’s the one I think of when I say in writing groups or workshops that you don’t ‘write a novel’, you write some words, then some more words, then some more – and eventually there’s a substantial pile of paper on the desk and you realise you actually have written something that’s a lot longer than a short story. That’s making it sound easy and unstructured – it’s not, and I have great respect for the form and conventions of novel-writing, but that was my experience with the Sparrow.

I’d written lots of stage and radio plays which were produced and broadcast and a few short stories, but it never occurred to me that I should try a novel until I read about a competition and decided to enter. This was so long ago that blogs, Facebook and the rest didn’t exist and even PCs were scarce and definitely unaffordable. So I wrote it in longhand and typed it up. It didn’t win the competition but I sent it to an agent and he took me on.

In the end, he didn’t manage to sell it, but the important thing was that it had shown me I was capable of writing an extended narrative, so I started on the next one, which was an early version of The Darkness and which led me to another agent and my first published novel, Material Evidence.

And so what’s my point? Well, I’m suggesting that ideas, words, even apparently unwanted stories can be successfully recycled. The Darkness is another example. As I said, it was the second novel I wrote but, after many, many rewrites and changes of title, personnel, and themes, I think it’s become one of my best. So ‘recycling’ doesn’t just mean you keep sending it off to one agent and/or publisher after another, it means keep working on it, rewrite, edit, polish, improve. OK, some ideas don’t work and should be discarded, but give them a chance and only throw them out when it’s obvious they’re rubbish.

We all know that writing and editing are separate processes. In your first draft, don’t be held back by the need to be ‘correct’ – either in terms of grammar, spelling or, for want of a better term, morality. Let the words flow, let the characters do what they want, don’t try to drag them back into any preconceived plotlines without first checking whether they’re actually leading you to somewhere more interesting. Then step away from them, forget about them for as long as possible and return to them as an editor, with your critical faculties sharpened.

The Sparrow Conundrum has been through even more changes than The Darkness. It started as a spoof spy story, moved to a spoof crime story, changed locations several times and titles even more – but its personnel and central story were there from the start. I’ve always had a soft spot for it because it’s (intended to be) a frankly comic (absurd, farcical) novel which I wrote purely to entertain.

So there, that’s its story. It's available in Kindle and paperback so what I want you to do now is …

… first of all, become its friend or fan or whatever the correct designation is on Facebook. I’ve cleverly called its page The Sparrow Conundrum. Then, after you've written comments there saying how wonderful and funny it is, buy it, read it, tell all your friends and extended families and community groups and reading groups to buy it, order several copies for all the libraries within a twenty mile radius of your home and place of work and, in your spare time, try to get it put onto the reading list of every subject in your local schools, colleges and universities, nominate it for the Man Booker and Pulitzer prizes, nominate me for a Nobel prize, tell the Coen brothers they can have first option on the film rights and … well, that’s enough to start with.
©Bill Kirton
25 March 2011

You can download the prologue and opening chapters of The Sparrow Conundrum free at:



Chris Machin isn’t his name, not to the bottom feeders in Aberdeen squabbling over North Sea oil and gas contracts. Chris has a code name, and when his garden explodes The Sparrow takes flight, plunging the power struggle into chaos and violence.

A sociopathic cop and an interfering ex-girlfriend don’t exactly make for clarity of thinking, not when the one fancies a bit of violence to add spice to an arrest. The ex adds other, more interesting dimensions to Chris’ already complicated life.

The bodies pile up—some whole, some in fragments—and two wrestlers join the fray. A road trip seems just the solution, but then so do Inverness, a fishing trawler and a Russian factory ship as the players face … The Sparrow Conundrum.


Machin opened the door and saw a large raincoat surmounted by a terrifying smile. Its owner said, ‘Good morning, sir. Detective Inspector Lodgedale, C.I.D. Might I have a word?’
Machin looked at the brief flash of identification card and back at Lodgedale’s evil features.
‘Well, I was just having breakfast actually,’ he said.
Lodgedale tutted.
‘Bit late for that, isn’t it? I had mine ages ago.’
‘Nevertheless, that’s what I’m doing, so if you wouldn’t mind …’
But Lodgedale was already past him and on his way through to the kitchen. Machin, angry, followed him.
‘Look, I’m trying to tell you, it’s not convenient at the moment.’
Lodgedale helped himself to some toast and began to butter it.
‘It is for me, sir. Just a few questions, that’s all. It won’t take long.’
 He sat at the table and took a bite of toast. Machin accepted the inevitable and made to sit down with him. A gesture from the policeman froze him.
 ‘Er, just before you start making yourself comfortable, I’ll have a cup of coffee. This bread’s a bit dry.’
 ‘Why don’t you just move in here?’ asked Machin.
 Lodgedale looked around the kitchen and back at Machin, wrinkling his nose.
 ‘Not civilised enough for my tastes,’ he said, and Machin inwardly acknowledged that the rapier of his wit would never penetrate a skin over which a steamroller of mockery could drive without leaving a blemish. 
Gracelessly he scooped instant coffee into a mug and switched the kettle on.
‘How many sugars?’ he asked.
‘Seven,’ replied Lodgedale.
Machin turned to see if this was a joke, but Lodgedale was flicking through the pages of Decline and Fall. He looked up and caught Machin’s glance.
‘Read a lot of dirty books, do you?’ he asked.
‘What do you mean?’ said Machin.
Lodgedale indicated the volume he was holding.
‘This,’ he said, ‘Roman Empire. All perverts, weren’t they? Orgies and that. I’ve seen them on the telly.’
Machin poured water onto the pile of sugar in Lodgedale’s cup. He carried it to the table and placed it in front of the policeman.
‘Is it all right for me to get on with my breakfast?’ he asked.
Lodgedale waved him magnanimously into his seat. Machin sat and picked up his spoon. As he scooped up some cornflakes he said, ‘What exactly are you here for?’
Lodgedale leaned forward and with a sudden movement flashed his hand from his coat pocket and thumped it onto the table, releasing from its grasp as he did so the postman’s thumb.
‘This,’ he said, staring hard at Machin.
Machin looked at the object. The end nearest to him was the jagged base of the thumb from which bone and tendons protruded. It looked like a small, bald, disembowelled mouse wearing a flat, pink crash helmet.
The colour drained from his face as he put his untouched cereal back into the plate. Lodgedale noticed his reaction and immediately deduced guilt. He settled back, confident of success, and took a sip of coffee, which immediately provoked a grimace.
‘Ugh!’ he said, ‘Not enough sugar.’
‘It’s not been stirred,’ stammered Machin, fighting back nausea.
Lodgedale looked for a spoon, saw none, and picked up the thumb instead.


Nya Nicks said…
WOW 4 BOOKS at the same time and I thought I was in challenge mode releasing 3 within 3 months. My hats off to you! Enjoyed the blog and will be checking out your main site too. I LOVE how that bird pops out on the book cover for the Sparrow. Continued blessings!


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