Stiff Competition - the novel
Me and my typewriter on a Bournemouth beach.

Yours truly on the rocks in Bournemouth - and not for the first time!  I was once reduced to living in my car while trying to make a name for myself as a poet.  When it became clear I was chasing a phantom star, an old dream resurfaced to keep me from despair: one day I’d write a novel and become a famous author.  Well, I’ve done the writing bit.

The Good Car Park Guide

I lived in so many car parks I could have written a guide.  The best was beside the River Stour in Tuckton.  It had toilets,  washing facilities and superb views.  Better still, thanks to nearby woods, it had an abundance of wildlife guaranteed to gladden the heart of any poet.  Delightful squirrels would scamper over my car as the dawn broke every morning, and if I was quick enough I could have one for breakfast (but usually, animal lovers, I was too slow due to hypothermia).

For a small sample of my humorous poetry and songs, click on the link box at the foot of this page (but not just yet!).

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Stiff Competition - the Novel
Comps Novel

How To Write A Bestseller? by Michael Shenton

‘Write about what you know,’ advise the experts in the how-to-write-a-blockbuster books.  I tried this in the 1980s with a humorous novel about a group of friends who go on a treasure hunt and spend most of their time fighting each another.  One of the characters was based on my ex-pal Simon, another on his ex-wife, and a third on my ex-girlfriend.  It was a sort of romance.

   For reasons which still mystify me, the novel didn’t make it into print (‘Entertaining, but not our sort of thing,’ said the publishers), but was I deterred?  Damn right.  But after sulking for only a decade I plunged right back in and tried again, this time with a story about the extremes to which some people will go to be top compers.  The result: Stiff Competition.

  I sent the manuscript to Piatkus Books and received in response a letter which began, ‘Your lively and entertaining style draws the reader into the story ...’  I thought, ‘Ah - success!’  But they went on to say that crime with a humorous subtext doesn’t sell as well here as it does in America, so they would have to say no. 

   At that point my confidence crumbled.  I became convinced that all publishers would hold the same view.  Rather than suffer another series of ego-mangling rejections, I decided to rewrite the story into something more serious.  Then fate intervened in the form of the Peter Pook Humorous Novel Competition run by Emissary Publishing.  At last - a firm that actually wanted an entertaining novel!  Where had they been all my life?  I sent in my entry, luckily scooped the prize, and at length became a published author.  A lifelong dream had come true.

   All I needed now to get the book into the big stores and consolidate my career as a novelist was some mass media publicity.  Enter the magazine FHM wearing its most sincere ‘trust me’ smile and promising the world on a string ... (see Treasure Hunt page for details).


No newshounds turned up for the press conference when I won the Peter Pook Novel competition. They had  more important things to write about.

Cartoon - Man at my cancelled press conference waving a newspaper.   

 

‘Look - I won a knobbly knees contest!’

Two people leaning against a wall 

Excited fans queue outside a shop where I’m due for a book signing.

 

                              The Unsuccessful Poet

Me with my novel, surrounded by competition entry forms. 

I often say the poetry I used to write was unsuccessful, since it seldom earned me any money, but I did get a lot of it published.  Then I met a comper who’d been reading it for years, and he convinced me that my facility with rhyme would make me a wiz at competition tiebreakers.  As a result I became a comper myself, won a lot of prizes and eventually wrote a prizewinning novel on the subject. Poetry unsuccessful?  It depends how you look at it!

             STIFF COMPETITION - What’s It All About?

Paul Vantage, chief researcher for TV consumer affairs programme Streetwise!, finds a cryptic message on his answering machine from top comper Harriet Frome, who has some unspecified mystery she wants him to investigate.  Alas, before Paul can speak to her she is murdered.  The body, impaled on a sword and surrounded by black magic paraphernalia, is found by Paul’s friend Martin, himself a keen comper. 

Martin is clearly withholding information about his involvement in the affair, a fact which handicaps Paul’s subsequent investigation.  Another handicap is Bernadette, a tyro journalist who works for a down-at-heel comping magazine.  She needs a big story as a ticket to better things, and she is determined to steal this one from Paul.

During his investigation, Paul learns about the offbeat world of consumer competitions - or rather the offbeat people who populate it.  He sees first hand the obsession, greed and envy this ‘amusing little hobby’ can inspire.  He also meets and falls for Sarah McTay, boss of a promotions agency his investigation is likely to ruin. 

To add to his problems, Paul finds himself in conflict with the police. his boss and just about everyone else he meets. Then he stumbles across a coven of comping witches, and things really begin to get awkward.

The story is set in Southampton and the New Forest.  The latter has a strong tradition of witchcraft, although that isn’t why people call it magic.  It’s an area I’ve known and loved for many years.  My treasure hunt novel was set there, and so is the new story I’m working on now (for which I hope to find a mainstream publisher this time).

Strange Cat

Stop Press: The new novel, The Amazing GM Dog, was shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Award 2003.  I don’t have a publishing deal for it yet, but that’s a promising start.

Believe it or Not

I based Stiff Competition on my own experiences - but no one believes me.  ‘Skulduggery?’ squawk the sceptics. ‘Witchcraft?  You cannot be serious!’  How little they know about the weird and wonderful world of comping.  See Competitions section for details. 

Stiff Competition - the novel

‘Compellingly funny’ - Competitors’ World

Stiff Competition by Michael Shenton is published by Emissary Publishing. If you would like a copy but can’t see it in your local bookshop, ask an assistant - they might be keeping it under the counter in plain wrapping.
Late News: Novel currently out of print.

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Copyright: Michael Shenton 2003

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