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Woodcutter by Shaun Baines

Article by Shaun Baines ©.
Posted in the Magazine (Tell Your Own Story: , ).
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My debut novel Woodcutter has been launched by Thistle Publishing, bringing about a change in life that has already had a number of curveballs.

Like Batman and Bruce Wayne, I have two separate lives. By day, I am your common or garden gardener, tending to your lawn and cursing at your weeds. By night, I am a writer of gangster noir. My first life is one of outdoor exercise and fresh air. The other has me hiding in shadows thinking dark thoughts. My alter ego? You can call me Grass Stain Man.

Woodcutter follows Daniel Dayton, a man on the run from his criminal family. When his daughter is harmed, he returns to Newcastle to find the person responsible, but his family have problems of their own. A mysterious mastermind is targeting their empire, causing chaos among the Daytons. Daniel may be their solution. His father wants to use him as a weapon. His brother wants him dead and his mother has an agenda of her own. In his search for the person who hurt his daughter, everyone becomes a suspect.

I’m from South Shields, a coastal town in the north-east of England famous for being the finishing line of the Great North Run. We’ve had many top-flight athletes attend, including winners Mo Farah and Kenya’s Mary Keitany. There have been celebrities, too. I remember seeing that bloke from Eastenders. You know, the shouty one? But I’ve never run it. I was too busy running a gardening business, not a race.

Gardening is physically demanding, but not mentally stimulating. Mowing lawns left my mind free to wander. At this stage, I was writing short stories, many of which eventually found homes in anthologies, but I didn’t think of myself as a writer. I was a gardener with an active imagination. Writing kept my idle brain ticking over.

In August 2015, my wife and I went in search of the Good Life. We left South Shields and moved to a damp cottage in rural Scotland. We adopted ex-battery farmed chickens, grew our own fruit and vegetables and suffered from creaky broadband coverage. We’re surrounded by fields, trees and cows. In the distance is a single, other building.

If you decide to write a novel about gangsters, where better to draw your inspiration than from an isolated cattle farm? Not much happens in our area, so we quickly became village news. Rumours spread like they were shot out of the back of a slurry truck. I wondered what our new neighbours thought of us. Were we a Geordie terrorist cell? Undercover cow inspectors? I decided they probably thought we were criminals on the run and Woodcutter was born.

It seemed right to set my book in Newcastle, a city of many faces. It’s a good-time place and a popular host of hen and stag do’s, but there is fantastic shopping at the Metrocentre, award winning architecture such as the Sage and a home to the kind of people who don’t wear coats, no matter how cold it is. However, Newcastle has its share of criminality. This is the side most people don’t see and organised gangs are behind our most shameful crimes.

Daniel starts his story in an anonymous Scottish village, though a man like Daniel can’t hide for long. My story as a writer begins the same way, though my family aren’t criminals. They’re normal, working class people. Well, normal-ish. I intended on self-publishing Woodcutter, but in a rare bout of self-confidence, I submitted it to a handful of agents. I was lucky to be picked up by David Haviland of the Andrew Lownie Literary Agency, who spotted potential in both me and my book. Following his suggested re-writes, Woodcutter was offered to publishers in 2017, eventually finding a home with Thistle Publishing. The rest, as they say, is mystery.

Some people ask – when did you first think of yourself as a writer? I’m not sure I have yet, but I came close when I saw the Woodcutter front cover for the first time. It blew me away and if I wasn’t repressed and British, I might have cried. I was struck by how the publishers had used my tagline – Some Family Trees Are Meant To Fall. I was so proud. It took my wife to tell me they’d also used the other eighty-five thousand words I’d written.

Soon I’ll have another decision to make. With the growing success of Woodcutter and the completion of its sequel, I may have to choose between being Shaun Baines the writer and Grass Stain Man. There are only so many hours in the day and writing is a time-consuming occupation. I won’t give up gardening entirely. Not until my knees give up on me, but I suspect my lawnmower will come into retirement in the coming years. I want to expand Woodcutter into a series and that takes commitment.

And the truth is many of my gardening customers have read Woodcutter and are looking at me funny these days. I used to be able to dig a hole in their garden without them worrying if it was a shallow grave. Or take out a chainsaw without them breaking into a sweat. I’m a gardener, not a gangster, I explain. I only write about bad guys; something I’ll hopefully be doing more of in the future.

(c) Shaun Baines

About Woodcutter:

On the run from his criminal family, Daniel Dayton returns home to Newcastle Upon Tyne when his abandoned daughter is attacked.

But his family have problems of their own. Targeted by a brutal mercenary, their empire is destined to be destroyed should Daniel refuse to help.

Betrayed by his parents. Despised by his brother. In love with his sister-in-law. Home has become a dangerous place to be.

Daniel wants his daughter safe. And he wants his revenge, but in the shadowy streets of Newcastle, things are never what they seem.

Order your copy online here.

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From a damp cottage in Scotland, Shaun writes crime noir set in his native North East of England. Dark characters. Mean streets. Suspicion everywhere. Pop by for a visit at shaunbaines.com or @littlehavenfarm
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