Daniel O’Brien is coming to terms with the death of his girlfriend, working in a job he hates, and the fact that he will probably never be truly happy. Then one day his computer starts playing up.
Fast forward a few weeks and he finds himself searching for a serial killer on a Greek island blighted by weather everyone suspects has something to do with the greenhouse effect, but that Daniel thinks is probably just his own private black cloud.
I wrote Broken in a first person narrative style the same as The Magpie Diaries because it is the format which I feel most comfortable with – The Music is the only book so far that doesn’t use the first person exclusively – but even that book might have had Tomi in the first person.
I did intend to rewrite the story in the third person once it was complete but then I felt happy with having the story told by Danny and since it was not really a multiple character tale I left it alone – I also realised that the books I have enjoyed the most recently have all been in the first person.
The book is fundamentally my attempt at a modern ghost story crossed with an action tale, and the main influence without a doubt was Stephen King. He is one of my favourite authors because he is great at characterisation and creating an atmosphere in his books.
Ideas behind Broken
The two ideas that I had and combined in this book were as follows:
- Wouldn’t it be weird if there really was a ‘ghost in the machine’ – a dead girl in your PC. I guess this goes back to the AI in The Music and so back to the work of William Gibson and the Japanese Anime.
- Stories about serial killers are often based in dingy places like the Southern States in the US or in inner city areas. I wanted to base a story somewhere really nice like Skiathos.
I didn’t visit Skiathos until after I had idea number (2) – this idea actually sprang up while I was in Rhodes two years previously and gestated inside my nutcase for a long while.
When I got to Skiathos I thought it was a perfect size to cover in a book and the weather was crazy – like it was broken. The period of time in 2009 featured in the book coincides with one of the two weeks that I was there and I can say that the weather described in the book is 100% accurate for that time period. It pissed it down.
I took loads of reference photos while I was out there and I used a lot of real locations in the book. I would recommend Skiathos as a holiday destination, but don’t go in September!
The first draft was given to two friends at work to read and they provided really good feedback especially about the pacing of the book. I had also just read one of Raymond Khoury’s novels who seems to have realised that Dan Brown hit on something which was worth emulating – that is short sharp chapters of five or so pages.
I blatantly used this chapter size for Broken in an effort to improve the pace. I feel it still has a slow build up – but this is more akin to King who likes to spend time setting the scene. In my mind it was worth the time introducing the character of Nicky into Danny’s life in increments of oddness which also allowed time for Danny to tell the reader a bit about himself. I know you’re supposed to ‘show’ rather than ‘tell’, but it’s pretty tricky in the first-person.
The character Danny is based on a mixture of people I know at work plus myself. Everyone else is pretty much made up. The military elements were introduced as I wanted to comment ever so slightly on Iran/Afghanistan and have a strong reason for why Gill is the way he is.
The choice of character names was important and I will let you discover why this is the case; Peter Portman being the most obvious Dickensian like choice of name given his role.
There is a religious undertow to the story, but I didn’t want to over-egg it. Those who know me will understand why. Religious ‘referencing’ is a useful story-telling tool as I think in a Christian culture we do universally have a certain set of stories we hold inside our heads that everyone is familiar with and that have certain moral sets associated with them. It helps to use these stories as shortcuts sometimes to explain motivations or create character types – the most obvious being good and evil.
The title was important and once I had decided on it it gave me a real focus – I wanted to give the overall impression that all the characters and everything in the book was broken in some way (not just my spell-checker). Danny is broken by a previous relationship, Gill by the army and Nicky by Gill. The economy and climate seem broken too.
I originally wrote Broken over a twelve month period; the quickest I have written a book so far, and it showed. The original version was too full of exposition at the start and Danny was a difficult to like.
I revised the book before it went onto Kindle; chopping out a lot of scenes at the start of the book, tweaking the storyline to make Danny a little more likeable, and dropping the dead Mum back-story.
It is also worth mentioning that originally Flick left Danny rather than dying in a road traffic accident. We also never really got to meet Flick which was a bit silly in terms of story-telling – if Danny is so cut up about losing her then we should, as readers, have met this girl, at least briefly. The idea of killing off Flick was entirely my own and may improve the reader’s feelings towards Danny, and perhaps allow me to write some kind of sequel some time.
Where to buy
Broken is available in paperback or for 99p in Kindle format from Amazon.
Detail taken from Image: (c) Olegusk from Shutterstock Image 53520607 (duly paid for).