A couple of years ago, I uploaded my novel, TAXI, onto the Harper Collins website Authonomy. com. The idea is you share sample chapters of your work with fellow writers who then critique and vote on each others books. At the end of the month the five highest ranking novels are selected for a review
from a Harper Collins editor. Like it or loathe it, it can become a very addictive site, offering many writers their first opportunity at finding, readers as well as like-minded budding authors.
Any way at the end of March I created something of a record by reaching the 'editors desk' with two novels at the same time. My epic fantasy novel, Tribesman, soon to be published by Cogwheel Press, and my genreless, gritty, urban drama, TAXI (click on the link to read some sample chapters) Below is the review from Harper Collins. If this is your first visit to my blog why not follow me or click the Facebook thingie to 'like' my fan page.
Taxi by Paul Freeman
This is the story of Danny Coyne, a Dublin taxi driver whose whole life is turned upside down when his cab hits and kills a teenage girl on the street. Although he is acquitted of any wrongdoing, he cannot move the guilt from his mind, and soon turns to alcohol, pushing away the people who love him.
There are several positives aspects of the novel. The most significant of these is simply the quality of the writing. Freeman clearly has a sound understanding of structure, character arc, and the trick to weaving a convincing narrative. The main character Danny is likeable and, through a series of ‘asides’ (Danny’s thoughts written in italics throughout the story) we get some insight into the sheer panic and constant guilt which plague him, and which eventually lead him to seek some kind of vengeance. The fact that Danny is in every scene and that we get to see his paranoia gradually engulfing him allows us to witness constantly the unrelenting nature of his torment, as he moves from extreme happiness with the woman of his dreams to a drunken, angry wreck.
Even though this sort of guilty-paranoia angle is nothing new in fiction and doesn’t feel particularly novel or original, it is rendered quite convincingly in TAXI. On top of this, Freeman has managed to establish through plot the sense of frustration that Danny feels. The more Danny tries to pull himself free of his remorse, the more he gets dragged into an increasingly troubling and dangerous situation. These are definitely the most encouraging parts of the novel from a Publisher’s perspective.
There are several issues with the writing that let the work down, however. These are certainly issues that can be addressed, problems with real solutions, and I believe that making these changes would make the book more sellable.
One of the main issues which occurred to me is genre. To make a book marketable, and get readers and retailers interested, it has to fit into at least one recognisable genre type. TAXI lacks the excitement and suspense one would expect in a suspense thriller. And, whilst a crime sits at the heart of the story, there is no investigation, no element of mystery, which would make it a true Crime novel. On the face of it then, considering the story (a man’s psychological decay) it should be literary fiction. And yet, while the story certainly makes for an interesting read and we do sympathise with the main character, the content and the rendering of the story do not contain the metaphor, depth, even psychological insight one would expect from literary fiction. If the author tends more towards the crime novel, I would suggest creating an extra element – the investigation. The idea of Danny’s actions being scrutinised externally as well as internally immediately raises the stakes. Then the question becomes Will Danny be able to convince himself AND the police/another external accuser that he’s innocent? And this holds some exciting possibilities.
There is also the fact that Danny seems to be rather reactive – he only confronts one of the ‘killers’ from his taxi when he happens to bump into him in the street, having made no previous attempt to find them. It is fine to have a reactive main character, but the deficit in willpower needs to be made up in psychological insight and analysis. I don’t feel that this was strong enough. Meanwhile, though the asides in italics give us some sense of the blind panic he feels, they are not insightful enough to carry the story.
This also brings us on to the lack of tension. To build suspense, there has to be some build-up of tension. The author doesn’t leave the feelings or situation to mount long enough before releasing all tension and moving on. For example, again when Danny meets the killer (the chip-eater), the tension is only allowed to mount for a couple of hundred words before the chip eater is killed off. As a result, the excitement which the reader could potentially feel if the situation were drawn out, the tension raised, Danny driven insane with the frustration of his own inaction, is lost. Because, surely it’s the inaction, the build-up, that makes a moment dramatic. It’s the inner turmoil, Danny spotting this foul creature and thinking ‘look what I’ve become because of you’ and yet doing nothing (at least for a while), which makes the situation interesting.
It may sound like a contradiction, but the pacing is actually one of the strengths of this novel. While there is possibly a weakness in terms of genre definition, the plot moves with pace from one scene to the next, rarely drawing out any scenes longer than necessary, and showing as a result how quickly Danny descends to the depths of his guilt and despair. The challenge will be to keep the pacing, to keep the reader turning pages, while also adding tension and moving the book towards a real crime novel. Without the tension, set-ups and pay-offs which the crime novel brings, I worry that there would not be enough interesting stuff to maintain the work to full novel length.
It is important to remember that each character is the protagonist in his or her own story. Danny is a very strong main character but many of the characters in TAXI felt like little more than 2-dimensional plot devices. The characters have to be the story, which in turn informs structure. Everything has to flow from the characters, and while this is achieved through Danny’s character arc, the author should be wary of adding characters merely for the purpose of moving the story along.
In its current form, the commercial value in this work is questionable. It may appeal to some people as it is undoubtedly well-written and an interesting read. But positioning this title would be a big challenge. The author has produced the makings of a good novel, but until certain things are added or altered it cannot become a real crime novel. Genre is not everything, but genre exists for a reason – a work can fly or fall on how comfortably it fits a certain market. If it cannot be defined as fitting into a genre, it may not find an audience.
I feel that the author perhaps needs to ask himself what would shake up this novel. What will make this novel stand out? How can tension be added? This might be changing one of the main characters, changing the setting or time, perhaps even introducing some kind of intelligent non-linear narrative form, which when done well in crime stories can be extremely effective. But whatever changes, the author must bear in mind the need to define the genre. Taking this into consideration and addressing the issues outlined above could make this eventually a publishable novel.