Howard Hawks, Raymond Chandler, Review, The Big Sleep

Review, "The Big Sleep" By Raymond Chandler.

Bogart And Bacall

If you’re a regular visitor here, you’ll know that, while I love to read, it takes me a long time to finish a book. What with writing full-time, family life, my garden, and looking after our dog, hens and  bees, I rarely time to sit and concentrate. As I’m a slow reader anyway, I’ve generally lost the thread and have to go back a page or two from when I last put the book down. Half the time I seem to be going backwards, which can be very dispiriting.

I received a wonderful haul of twelve books as Christmas presents last December 25th, so I’ve decided to post one review per month. That will encourage me to keep reading!

You can find my review of the first book I read this year, Cryptozoologicon Vol I, here.  I wanted to alternate non-fiction and fiction, so my second review is of The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler.

The Big Sleep is the first outing for Chandler’s Private Detective Philip Marlowe, first published in 1939. My copy is the 2011 Penguin reprint, with a forward by Ian Rankin.  The Big Sleep is a book very much of its time, which was an age long before political correctness. Anti-hero Marlowe drinks, smokes and wisecracks his way through a plot that has more twists and turns than a maze. 

Marlowe is employed by wealthy General Sternwood to foil a blackmail attempt on his younger daughter, Carmen. In other (apparently unrelated) news, Rusty, the husband of Sternwood’s older daughter Vivian, has disappeared. There’s a long and convoluted road littered with corruption in high places, heavy drinking, gambling, violence, smoking, swearing, and several bits that would never get past the politically-correct lobby today, but if you can get past the name-calling, this is a great read. Marlowe eventually draws almost all the threads of the convoluted plot together, and ties them up neatly. One loose end left dangling is Who Killed The Chauffeur. If you can’t work it out, you’re in good company. Howard Hawks, director of the 1946 film The Big Sleep with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, quizzed the author about it. Chandler confessed that even he had no idea! 

Despite a long list of characters, every one of them has a vital part to play and there isn’t a wasted word in the whole book. In common with all great stories, The Big Sleep transports you into a different world, peopled by well-drawn characters and set in a location far beyond anyone’s usual existence. Not many of us are likely to get mixed up in murder, illicit sex and a pornography racket (thank goodness) but we can all enjoy watching knight-in-sightly-tarnished-armour Marlowe bring his own sense of honour to bear on this serpentine plot. 

I could fill pages with great quotes from this book,  but here’s one of the best:

“Neither of the two people in the room paid any attention to the way I came in, although only one of them was dead.” 


The description of Marlowe opening up his office first thing in the morning is a classic, and the idea of driving in Californian orange groves (flat tyres, torrential rain and all) really drew me into the story. Wow. That’s what I enjoy in fiction— local colour!

Creative Writing, NaNoWriMo 2016, Raymond Chandler, Roadblock, Writing your Book

Writing Your Book, Part Six—Beating The Curse Of The Saggy Middle….

This week marks the half-way point for everyone trying to write a novel in a month by taking part in NaNoWriMo 2016. Writing any book at any time is hard work, but around about now momentum slows. Authors hit a roadblock.  We slump against it, and so does our work. The Great British Bake-Off suffers the curse of the soggy bottom.  Writers live in fear of their manuscript having a saggy middle. Here are three ways to beat the block…


Bogart and Bacall in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

Blast Your Way Through


Raymond Chandler wrote his best-selling crime fiction at high speed. He was a master of the all-action, snappy story. He said his specific method for beating any block in the type of book he wrote was to have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand. I’m not suggesting you take Chandler literally, but throwing something unexpected into your fictional mix can kick-start your writing when you’re stuck. How would your major character react if they lost everything in a fire? Let them swing into action during a local disaster, or a national emergency. Remember, your fictional people aren’t only brought to life by the insights you give readers into their thoughts and actions. The way they interact with others shows us more facets of their characters.

It’s a thought…

Tunnel Underneath


If you’ve read Part Five of Writing Your Book (you can find it here), you’ll know I’m a great believer in the power of dirty drafting. Let your ideas tumble out and capture them in a fast and furious stream of consciousness. There’ll be plenty of time to work on the finer points of your story in later drafts, but when you’re stuck at the mid-point of your story, try burying some treasure among your major characters. Dig down into the core of their being. Give them a phobia, a cause that’s dear to their hearts, an unusual hobby, or a tragic past. Forget about beating your word-count for an hour or so, and give yourself the freedom to have fun planting clues. Your iron-jawed Alpha male may never be blackmailed over his secret love for flower-arranging* in your final draft, but it would explain his appreciation of structural integrity and design.

*like many a samurai general, as your feral hero can explain with relish to his arch-enemy and potential blackmailer…

Go Over, Or Swerve

Warning: This method is an out-and-out cheat, so it’s only to be used in your first draft, when you’re really stuck. 

Abandon your work at the point where you’re flagging, and type the words With one bound (s)he was free in centred, 20-point bold text. Then move straight on to whichever future scene in your story takes your fancy. You’ll be inspired, and the words will flow again. By the time you’ve finished your first draft and started going through your manuscript a second time, your subconscious will have collected your later ideas at the roadblock, ready for some remedial work. 

Whatever you do, don’t sell your readers short by using this third device  or anything like it in your final manuscript. They’ll be burning your book and flaming you alive online before you can say “…and she woke up to find it was all a dream…”!