Monday, 10 March 2014

The Blog Tour: What, Why & How I Write

There’s this cyberspace thing called The Blog Tour: an ongoing chain of bloggers tagging other bloggers to blog.  I have no idea who started it.  For all I know, the whole thing could be secretly funding Al-Qaeda in some obscure way.  But when William Gallagher asked if I’d like to be ‘tagged’ into writing a post answering four set questions about writing, I said yes, because it sounded like fun and also William is a very nice man with no known terrorist affiliations.  Here are some biographical facts about William, with a picture of his face:

William Gallagher is a writer, dramatist and lecturer. He writes Doctor Who audio dramas, stage plays and has appeared extensively in Radio Times and BBC News Online. He’s also the author of the British Film Institute book BFI TV Classics: The Beiderbecke Affair, B7 Media’s Blake’s 7: The Ultimate Guide and co-author of Radio Times Cover Story. He once had afternoon tea on a Russian nuclear submarine and regrets calling the place a dive. 


And now I’ll answer those same four questions, right here.  Off we go...

***

1) What am I working on?

This month?  Just one thing. 

One.  Thing. 

Oh, the joy of that.

As you might have gathered, the sheer singularity of this thing is significant to me. 

That's because I’ve spent the last four months squirrelled away in my own private development process.  I hesitate to call it a personal Hell, but it’s been trying at times.  A bit of a wilderness.  This period has involved coming up with ideas for novels, developing them, testing their viability, then either discarding them, putting them on the back burner or taking them further.  I aimed to come up with three great, viable ideas.  And while all this was technically fun, it also felt like my brain was being tugged in several directions by Hellraiser-style hooks, for months.  It didn’t help that I was regularly maintaining a Word document entitled Top 10 Ideas Chart, which listed, funnily enough, nutshell-descriptions of my current 10 best ideas, in their current order of appeal to me.

Sometimes writers really need focus and limitation.  Otherwise it’s so easy for their minds to fire off in countless directions, which can lead to a terrible, grinding creative paralysis.  And when you’re spending your days generating and furthering ideas, it’s harder to maintain a sense of how much work you’re actually doing.  The whole thing's more abstract than the usual markers, like a word count for instance.  So it was such a relief to have lunch with my new book agent Oli Munson (see joyful announcement-post here) last week and agree on going for gold with a proposal for one of these novels.  Just one.  Maybe with a single page at the end of the proposal, summarising a second book, but essentially just one.  My Hellraiser-hook-stretched brain suddenly pinged back into itself and became one again. 

So, for the first time in a while, I have a specific writing mission.  I need to write the first 15,000 words of this novel by March 31 ― a deadline inspired by the London Book Fair on April 7-8.  I have 21 days, then, in which to write 15,000 words.  It’s pressure, for sure - especially since I want to make those words, you know, great and stuff.  But I love deadlines.  Deadlines are our friends.  I was raised by deadlines, out in the field of rock journalism for weekly mag Kerrang!  To paraphrase something the Tenth Doctor says in Doctor Who’s Silence in the Library, deadlines give us size and perspective.  Otherwise we are liable to meander on in a void, typing away, unsure of when to stop.  Or we simply don’t write at all.  Except on social media, obviously.

This novel is a supernatural horror story.  Which leads me on to the next questions...


2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Bit of a poisoned chalice, this question.  Kind of wish I’d read the four questions more closely, if I’m honest, then told supposedly-nice William to shove them.

Having thought about it for a while, though, I’ll tell you how I want my work to differ from others of its genre  Over the years, I’ve absorbed a great deal of horror fiction ― probably more than is sensible or sane.  Pretty much every possible kind of scary tale has been fed into my brain, making me aware of what’s been done ― what worked and what didn’t.  And while there are only so many story archetypes ― just as there are allegedly only seven magic tricks ― I still aim to devise new things to do with horror.  Or, at least, new ways to couch horror.  I tend to steer away from horror’s established tentpole monsters ― the vampires, werewolves and zombies (except for my recent zombie comic story Consumed for the Dead Roots anthology).  That’s just personal taste and of course other writers play with those iconic monsters superbly. 

So, new stuff ― ‘next level’ horror ― is something I always aspire to.  Whether I ever achieve it is very much for the reader to decide.  And, of course, loads of other writers aspire to that too, so it's not unique at all.  Gah.



3) Why do I write what I do?

The writer’s brain generates two types of viable story.  There’s the viable story which is intimately connected to some part of you ― to your personality, experience, preoccupations or all three.  Then there’s the story which is viable but isn’t really connected to you at all.  It might work fine as a story, but there’s no emotional umbilical cord.  The latter type of story, I reckon, is best forgotten about, or at most saved for later when you might discover a personal link to it, or handle it in a completely different way.  Always go with the story which resonates with you.  Happily, those are the stories which tend to persistently bubble up in your mental cauldron, anyway.

I think I tend to focus on horror ― and supernatural horror in particular ― because I’m perhaps more preoccupied with death than the average person.  Death is this gigantic elephant in the room of our lives and I can’t seem to help glancing awkwardly at it, several times per day.  I’m also a worrier, regularly imagining terrible events which will most likely never occur.  And horror is a vicarious rehearsal for the worst possible things that could ever happen in life, death and beyond.  An invaluable vomitorium for our darkest fears and urges.  Compared to most horror stories, life hopefully isn’t going to be quite so bad.

Hopefully.



4) How does my writing process work?

A typical writing day ― on Draft Zero, at least ― involves the steady build-up of tension.  

I’ll generally start with a mere trickling undercurrent of tension over breakfast, reaching often excruciating levels of tension and frustration by mid-afternoon when no words have been written.  

Finally, often towards the end of the afternoon, all that frustration will explode onto my screen, as I hammer out about 2000 words in the space of an hour or two.  So my writing tends to be quite compressed and intense.  I’m not sure that’s ideal, but I’m positive that whatever gets the job done is valid.  Of course, every single day, I forget that the build-up of tension will result in actual work, and become infuriated with myself as I dick about on the internet, looking at old VHS films on eBay or something.  It’s important to remember that the brain has to be ready to write - it needs to carry out a whole load of background checks in the subconscious and unconscious, before permitting the words to splurge forth.  And yet, each and every time, we forget.  Which must be part of the ritual, too.  Best not to question it.

***

The three writers I've asked to hop aboard The Blog Tour, next Monday on March 17, are as follows:


Phillip Barron is a UK scriptwriter who's had nine feature films produced. In addition to movies he's written for BBC3's BAFTA and Rose d'Or nominated sketch show, The Wrong Door, and co-created Persona, the world's first smartphone-delivered drama series.




Catherine Ryan Howard is a writer, TV-watcher and coffee enthusiast from Cork, Ireland. She's self-published a couple of travel memoirs,Mousetrapped and Backpacked, which she followed up with the obligatory 'how to': Self-Printed: The Sane Person's Guide to Self-Publishing. Now she does social media stuff for a major publishing house and is working on a novel she hopes someone else will publish. She currently divides her time between the desk and the sofa and wants to be a NASA astronaut when she grows up. (She's 31.)
 


Piers Beckley came into this world naked, screaming, and covered in blood, and feels that this has coloured his outlook ever since.

He’s been a production manager, stage manager, project manager, line manager, extra, actor, web producer, theatre producer, short film producer, copywriter, interviewer, sub-editor, and editor. He’s also directed two short films, and a radio play.

He does not photograph well. As you can see.

***

They all wrote these bios themselves, by the way, just in case you thought I was being terribly and unnecessarily rude about Piers.  If you so choose, you can check out their splendid blogs now, by clicking on their names above.

Have a delightful day.  Just look out for face-eating weasels.  They're everywhere.

***


Want to feel afraid in your own home?  My 10,000-word short story A Sincere Warning About The Entity In Your Home can help.  Presented as a letter to YOU which is delivered to YOUR house, this grave warning from the previous resident tells you things you really don't want to hear.  A Sincere Warning... can be purchased as a low-priced ebook or as a uniquely personalised physical letter which is mailed to your home address!  Full details at ScaryLetter.com

My dark thriller novella Beast In The Basement is a twisted tale of obsession, revenge, censorship, blame culture and parental responsibility.  In a big house in the countryside, an increasingly unstable author toils over a new hotly-anticipated novel which will close the best-selling trilogy of Jade Nexus books.  A violent incident tips him into a downward spiral with horrific consequences.  Read it before someone spoilers you!  Beast is available for Kindle (which can be read on most devices) at Amazon UK, Amazon US and more.  It's also available as half of Brandy In The Basement, a collaboration with JMR Higgs.  More details here.

My Amazon-acclaimed non-fiction ebook How To Interview Doctor Who, Ozzy Osbourne And Everyone Else aims to tell you everything I learned about interviewing people, in my past life as a journalist.  It's available via Amazon UK, Amazon US and Amazon Germany, among others.  You can also buy it direct from me, in a Triple Pack of all three major file-types (PDF, ePub, Kindle), via PayPal.  Full details here, you splendid individual.

How to Interview Doctor Who, Ozzy Osbourne and Everyone Else

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Agent News!

Hello, lovelyface!

I'm absolutely thrilled to announce my new literary agent.  He's Oli Munson of AM Heath: the legendary mover and indeed shaker who represents the likes of Lauren Beukes, Sarah Lotz, Scott K Andrews, Stephanie Butland and Mari Hannah.  AM Heath was founded in 1919 and still represents the estate of the late, great George Orwell.  Christ on a crutch.

Oli is a tremendous, instantly likeable guy who shares my thoughts on contemporary horror and genre stuff.  He also knows what thrash metal is, which is always a bonus for me.

Furthermore, Lauren Beukes' The Shining Girls and Sarah Lotz's The Three really are the finest novels I've read in the last 12 months.  The Shining Girls (an often gruelling but utterly compulsive tale about a time-travelling serial killer, but you already knew that, I'm saying, because you're up on all the hot stuff) emerged via Harper Collins last August, while Hodder will release The Three (a brilliant faux-non-fiction affair which concerns the child survivors of four simultaneous 'plane crashes around the world) on May 22.  To share an agent with such authors is both awesome and slightly surreal.

I had lunch with Oli today - on World Book Day, no less - and plans are afoot.  Oh yes, make no mistake, there are plans.  Obviously, you'll get to read about them first, when the time comes, because you've always been my favourite.  You do know that, right?

Yeah y'do.

                                                                         * * *

Want to feel afraid in your own home?  My 10,000-word short story A Sincere Warning About The Entity In Your Home can help.  Presented as a letter to YOU which is delivered to YOUR house, this grave warning from the previous resident tells you things you really don't want to hear.  A Sincere Warning... can be purchased as a 96p ebook or as a uniquely personalised physical letter which is mailed to your home address!  Full details at ScaryLetter.com

My dark thriller novella Beast In The Basement is a twisted tale of obsession, revenge, censorship, blame culture and parental responsibility.  In a big house in the countryside, an increasingly unstable author toils over a new hotly-anticipated novel which will close the best-selling trilogy of Jade Nexus books.  A violent incident tips him into a downward spiral with horrific consequences.  Read it before someone spoilers you!  Beast is available for Kindle (which can be read on most devices) at Amazon UK, Amazon US and more.  More details here.

My Amazon-acclaimed non-fiction ebook How To Interview Doctor Who, Ozzy Osbourne And Everyone Else aims to tell you everything I learned about interviewing people, in my past life as a journalist.  It's available via Amazon UK, Amazon US and Amazon Germany, among others.  You can also buy it direct from me, in a Triple Pack of all three major file-types (PDF, ePub, Kindle), via PayPal.  Full details here, you splendid individual.

How to Interview Doctor Who, Ozzy Osbourne and Everyone Else

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Adventures In London And Brighton

Ah!  Hello there.  Do come in and warm yourself.  I'll toss another blog on the fire.

Just wanted to quack about a few events I've infiltrated lately, in London and indeed Brighton...

1) BFI SCREENING!

I delightedly trundled along to this November 12 preview at the BFI's London South Bank venue, thanks to the remarkable BFI-ticket-hunting skills of Roland Moore, the TV-writing genius who created BBC One's Land Girls.  An Adventure In Space And Time, as you may well know if you're a Doctor Who fan, is a feature-length BBC Two drama which documents the creation of Who as a TV programme.  So we get to see how maverick Head Of Drama Sydney Newman (Brian Cox) had a crazy notion for a new series about a time-travelling maverick.  He gave his former assistant Verity Lambert (Jessica Raine) the chance to produce it; Indian up-and-comer Waris Hussein (Sacha Dhawan) the chance to direct it; and film actor William Hartnell (David Bradley), then approaching the twilight of his career, the chance to star in it. Then he gave them all quite a hard time as Doctor Who became a reality, trying to achieve the impossible in cramped, hot White City studios.

What with Doctor Who writer and Sherlock co-creator Mark Gatiss having written and executive-produced this, I expected great things.  Even then, An Adventure In Space And Time surpassed my expectations.   It is superb from start to finish, shot through with so much love, cleverness and talent in every department.  Even if you dislike Doctor Who, I swear you'll get a whole lot out of it.  It's a drama, first and foremost, and a surprisingly affecting one.  David Bradley is particularly amazing and I'd advise you to avoid Twitter for a while after broadcast if you're planning to watch it on the timeshift.

After the screening, there was a well-deserved standing ovation, followed by a Q&A with (from left-to-right in my pic above) director Terry McDonough, Sacha Dhawan, David Bradley, Jessica Carney (William Hartnell's granddaughter!), Mark and host/broadcaster Matthew Sweet.  It was a funny and touching discussion, during which Mark admitted he was often tempted to use his cast of actor lookalikes to recreate old Doctor Who stories missing from BBC Archives: "Many was the time I wanted to say, 'Oh let's just lock the doors and make Marco Polo all over again!"  But don't take my word for it: you can watch it here on the BFI site.

An Adventure In Space And Time is on tomorrow night, Thursday November 21.  Truly a glittering jewel amid Doctor Who's remarkable 50th Anniversary celebrations, along with this Saturday's bumper anniversary special The Day Of The Doctor.  Which I know nothing about, thankfully.  Can't wait.

It's become somewhat traditional for me to put my journalist hat back on in November and December and write Doctor Who Magazine's Review Of The Year.  I'm doing that once again for 2013 and there's a hell of a lot to document in these very special 12 months.  You can read the result in the next Doctor Who Magazine, out December 12.

2) FANTASY CONVENTION!  AWARDS!

It was very thoughtful indeed of the organisers of World Fantasy Convention 2013 to embed it in Brighton's Metropole Hilton hotel, a mere stroll along the seafront from my home.  Naturally, I was straight along there, braving ludicrous gale-force winds to meet fantasy's great and good.

Over the weekend I met many fine editors, agents and writers I hadn't had the pleasure of bumping into before, as well as some great folk I'm already lucky enough to know, like Angry Robot Books' Lee Harris, Jonathan Green (see pic right, in which Jonathan Green helpfully wears green to avoid the necessity for a picture caption), Rebecca Levene and Scott K Andrews.  Mr Andrews made me love him more than ever, by practically becoming my guardian angel during this con.  On two occasions, he popped up, with immaculate timing, to recommend me and my work to editors and agents.  What a generous gentleman he is: there aren't many writers around who are quite so keen to give others a helping hand.  Especially ones with quite such a loud speaking voice as Scott's, which guarantees the nice things he says are heard by everyone within a 10-mile radius.  I expect great things from the three-book deal he's signed with Hodder.

On Sunday November 3, The British Fantasy Awards joined forces with The World Fantasy Awards, for one afternoon only, in order to provide the weekend's grand climax.  In the picture to the left, you can get a feel for the room.  The gentleman in the far distance, onstage, is Neil Gaiman, who book-ended the whole affair with some hot intro/outro action.  I was one of the British Fantasy Awards judges this year, presiding over the Non Fiction section, and it was a pleasure to give that particular gong to the thoroughly switched-on and passionate genre book site Pornokitsch (a tough choice, though, with the likes of Stephen Volk, Diana Wynne-Jones and Fantasy Faction also among the worthy contenders.)  It was also a pleasure to sit next to Angry Robot's managing director and publisher Marc Gasgoigne, who I mercilessly quizzed about all manner of things, not least his former involvement with Fighting Fantasy gamebooks and Warlock magazine.

Lots of very deserving writers bagged awards, many of them genuinely touched by such warming peer recognition.  You're reminded of how very solitary writing can be.  It's amazing any of us can enter rooms containing so many people without keeling over in frothy-mouthed shock.  Needless to say, there was considerable sadness when the late Ian Banks was unable to collect his special Karl Edward Wagner Award.

A great weekend.  I'm already looking forward to FantasyCon 2014, which lands in York, September 5-7 2014.

3) BOOK LAUNCH!


I went to a launch bash at London's Phoenix Arts Club, for Behind The Sofa: Celebrity Memories Of Doctor Who, a great book whose profits go to Alzheimer's Research UK.  Unstoppable editor Steve Berry, whose late mother Janet suffered from the illness, cunningly roped in the likes of Charlie Brooker, Jonathan Ross, Al Murray, Charlie Higson, Neil Gaiman, Stephen Merchant and indeed me, to pick our favourite memory of Doctor Who and write about it.  I chose the time I became an extra on the set of 2008's Doctor Who episode The Sontaran Strategem, playing an ATMOS factory worker held at gunpoint by UNIT.  Any excuse to talk about that, frankly.

It was a lovely evening, with the book's buyers able to secure autographs from its contributors.  A very nice bunch they were, too.  And I got to see lovely Sarah Jane Adventures/Wizards Vs Aliens composer Sam Watts, writer/former Doctor Who script editor Andrew Cartmel and Doctor Who writer Richard Dinnick, briefly meet former Who companion Katie Manning and have a chat with Charlie Higson, Orbital's Paul Hartnoll and a slightly tipsy Rufus Hound.  All of which was just spoiling me, to be honest.

4) TALKING ON THE TV!


Last week, I was interviewed for forthcoming TV 'list' show The Greatest Ever Christmas Movies.  This was disorientating, as it meant refreshing my memory on a whole host of festive flicks in early November, when I usually don't start celebrating Christmas until December 1 when the Halloween decorations come down.  Still, it was all very enjoyable and the filming went well enough.  Like many writers, I find writing so much easier than talking, so this kind of stuff feels like a real challenge.  You can see me babbling about the likes of Die Hard, Gremlins and Black Christmas on Channel 5 on Christmas Eve from 9.10pm.

Right, that's you all up to date with my movements.  And rest assured, I have been writing like some crazed demon too.  Oh yes.  Don't you worry about that.

***

Brandy In The Basement is a collaboration between me and the author JMR Higgs.  This 'double A-sided ebook' bundles my novella Beast In The Basement together with Higgs' great short novel The Brandy Of The Damned.

It's available at a mad price, compared to what you'd pay if you picked up the books separately.  Check it out at Amazon UKAmazon US or any of the Amazon sites worldwide.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Scott, The Dog And Starting Your Story With Questions

Hello!  This lunchtime, while walking around Brighton, I overheard a snippet of conversation between a man and a woman.

Actually, "overheard" isn't the right word, as they were almost entirely toothless, can-clutching alcoholics, yelling hoarsely at each other across the full width of a road.

"Scott ain't gonna be happy when he finds out," shouted the man.

The woman's face crumpled with confusion and disgust.  "Who the fuck is Scott?"

"Yeah, Scott," came the reply.  "The one who give you the dog."

That's all I heard, before I turned a corner.

When I tweeted the exchange, questions immediately arose on my timeline.  One in particular.

@Kayleidogyn piped up with "Is the dog OK?"

I couldn't help her there, as there had been no dog in sight.

"WHAT HAPPENED TO THE DOG!?" queried @gfdewards.  Again, I couldn't help.

"And what happened to Scott?" wondered @ReluctantGeeks, only compounding the mystery.

"Conservative Party conference?" wondered a cheeky @MrsNickyClark.

Many other questions were asked, mostly centring on the dog while some focused on Scott.

I'd tweeted that exchange because it struck me as a fascinating slice of life, but over lunch I realised it was interesting for another reason.

It was a pretty good example of how to start a story.


Some of the best stories throw you right into the deep end without a rubber ring.  It's then up to you, from the cunning snippets provided, to piece together what the hell's going on.  This is a particularly prevalent technique in prose, the best of which inspires the brain to fill in blanks and build up the big picture in a really satisfying way.  It credits the reader with intelligence rather than offering them big ladle-loads of straightforward information.

Completely disorientating the reader is, of course, optional.  What's absolutely vital is the posing of questions.  If a story were to start with the aforementioned yelled conversation across a street, then the reader would instantly have the following questions in mind:

1) Where is this dog and what the hell's happened to it?

2) Where is Scott and why did he give this woman the dog, when she doesn't even know his name?

3) What will be the repercussions when an unhappy Scott finds out about all this, whatever it is?

4) How do this yelling pair know each other?

5) How many times today have they already had this exact same conversation?

And so on.  In a short space of time, our imagination has been engaged.  We also have ideas about this duo's nature as characters and how we feel about them.  Don't know about you, but I'm leaning towards the guy in terms of likeability, as he seems to question the woman's apparently negligent behaviour.  But of course this initial impression could soon be turned upside down as we learn more.

As this story unfolds, we might start to realise that the woman conned Scott into giving her the dog, because Scott was mistreating the animal.  Perhaps by pretending not to know who Scott is, she's playing down or covering up her efforts to give this dog a better life.  Maybe she stole the dog but told this guy that Scott gave it to her and now he's publicly bringing it up, she hastily lies.

Anyway, the point is, if one thing keeps people hooked on a story, it's a question, or ideally a whole raft of them.  As the story continues, the number of unanswered questions diminishes, but hopefully we're caught up in character and momentum and don't need quite so many question marks to motivate us.  One thing's for sure: when the final question is answered, the author should get the hell out of Storyville as quickly as possible.

It's good, at the start of a story, to throw the audience slap-bang into the middle of things, into a pool of questions and intriguing characters.  Give them the dramatic equivalent of an overheard slice of conversation, or literally an overheard conversation, provided it poses questions.

Often, this will involve starting your story in the middle.  Or right at the end, then flashing back.  Arguably, we see the latter technique more often in novels than film or TV, because a novel can generally handle time-jumps with greater ease.  Prose can flash back so much more smoothly.  Film and TV have admittedly become slicker at that stuff - these days, it's no longer all about "Two days earlier" cards and screens going wobbly - but all a novel has to do is start with Rosie getting an ear-bashing from Doug about the dog Scott gave her, then say "Rosie's week had started normally enough..." and we've time-travelled in the blink of an eye.

We don't always have to start our stories in the middle, or at the end.  Some perfectly great stories are perfectly linear, from start to finish.  The only important thing, really, as ever, is that questions are raised from the off.  We can follow Rosie from A to B to C to D to E, provided that, for instance, we don't fully understand why she's taking that route until, say, B or C or even D, by which time the story's well underway and we're invested.  Or the question, right from the off, is "Will Rosie manage to evade the furious and violent Scott who's scouring Brighton for her and Rover?  Will the pair of them end up in a nice flat in a new town, safe from harm?"

Anyway.  Hope that dog's all right, wherever it is.

***


As Halloween approaches, you'll naturally want to have a personalised paper horror story mailed to a loved one.  There are now two such stories at ScaryLetter.com: A Sincere Warning About The Entity In Your Home and A Letter From Your Twin.  The latter is available as a free downloadable PDF here (print it out and read home alone), as well as a Paper Edition which addresses the recipient by name, among other personalised elements. Order now!



Brandy In The Basement is a collaboration between me and the author JMR Higgs.  This 'double A-sided ebook' bundles my novella Beast In The Basement together with Higgs' great short novel The Brandy Of The Damned.

It's available at a mad price, compared to what you'd pay if you picked up the books separately.  Check it out at Amazon UKAmazon US or any of the Amazon sites worldwide.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Free New Short Horror Story!

Hello!

I like the idea of giving away a free story as a PDF, which can then be freely distributed.  It's like throwing a bottled message into the ocean: one which then has the potential to magically multiply.

A year ago, I wrote a short supernatural horror story called A Sincere Warning About The Entity In Your Home.  It was written like a letter to you and really was about YOUR home.  No, really, yours.  Read the story and you'll see.

A Sincere Warning... was (and is) available both as an ebook and as a personalised physical letter, snail-mailed to your home address.  The physical Paper Edition proved extremely popular and I was rather overwhelmed with the response.  It was mailed off all around the world, to Europe, America, Australia...

I'm interested in methods of storytelling which are specific to certain media.  In this case, I love that prose can ask the reader to provide imagery themselves.  And what happens when that imagery is specific to them, such as the interior of their own home?  Everyone walks away with an entirely different, personalised story in their head and I like exploring that and pushing it.

What with the nights drawing in and Halloween being closer than you think, I thought I'd have some fun and write another story using a similar technique.  I'd then give it away for free as a thank you to all who bought A Sincere Warning About The Entity In Your Home.

This one's called A Letter From Your Twin.  It sees you being contacted by the twin you never knew you had... and will wish you hadn't.

It's an unpleasant tale, much shorter and sharper than A Sincere Warning..., so watch yourself if you decide to read it.  If A Sincere Warning... was a creepy cappuccino, this one is intended to be an evil espresso shot.  Like A Sincere Warning..., it is also available as an actual paper letter, which comes through your letterbox, addresses you by name and is generally even more unnerving.

Thanks to the mighty magic of Dropbox, you can access the PDF version of A Letter From Your Twin and download it, print it, distribute it and generally do whatever you like with it (except sell it, or send it to a lovely old lady with a weak heart.)  You'll have access whether you're a Dropbox member or not.

For best results, though, I strongly suggest you follow these steps:

1) Go to this Dropbox link (opens new window.)
2) Print the pages out (there aren't many, this is a 1500 word story.)
3) Wait until you're home alone at night, or at least in a room alone at night.
4) Read the story.

Enjoy!  Happy Halloween.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Ten Screw-Ups You'll Fix In Draft Two

I've blogged about how I love writing the very first draft, or Draft Zero as I call it.  The sheer exhilarating freedom of knowing that no-one will ever read it.  Slamming words down on the page, doing the very best you can, safe in the knowledge that subsequent drafts will sort it all out.

I'm on the second draft of my first novel since 2005.   (Because I call my very first draft Draft Zero, this means there is technically no first draft and I proceed directly to the second.  Nothing confusing about that at all, no sir.)  So I'll scribble about that process, since it's markedly different to writing Draft Zero.

Here are 10 things that, if you're anything like me, you'll strive to fix while working on Draft Two.  I'm talking about prose here, but many of the principles are the same with script.  Apologies in advance, as always on this blog, if I'm teaching grandmothers how to suck eggs (what the hell does that saying mean?!)

1) SENTENCES ARE TOO LONG AND IN FACT THEY SEEM TO GO ON FOREVER, MUCH LIKE THIS ONE
On Draft Zero, we overwrite.  Come Draft Two, we notice that many sentences are over-long and are full of the word "and" and "then" and then more "and"s.  If Draft Zero was sent straight to a recording studio to be turned into an audiobook, breathless actors would want to kill us.  The majority of sentences will benefit from being chopped down or hacked into two new sentences, whether they're description or dialogue.  In script, a wonderful technique is to systematically eliminate all widows and orphans.  This makes you tighten sentences, which almost always improves them.

2) YOU'VE USED ALL MANNER OF STUPID SIMILES...
Most of these will be surplus to requirements.  You really don't need to have people flying around a room "like rag dolls", as I did in Draft Zero of this novel.  Having them flying around the gaff will be sufficient, thank you very much.  Generally speaking, it's the subtler and more striking similes which will make the Draft Two grade.  The ones which don't make you sound like Garth Merenghi.

3) ... AND ADVERBS.
Draft Zero is bound to be littered with all manner of adverbs, many of which you won't be wanting to keep.  As Stephen King has said, "The road to Hell is paved with adverbs".  I'm especially tough on needlessly precise adverbs which lessen the effect: things like "slightly", "quite" and "somewhat" (bloody hell, always kill "somewhat".)

4) THE PLOT DOESN'T MAKE SENSE
There are holes the size of the moon.  The moon!  There's stuff you spontaneously threw in during Draft Zero, but which doesn't gel with the planned stuff.  Then there's stuff you didn't plan all that well in the first place.  It'll need to be fixed, but not all of that needs to be achieved in Draft Two.  Why?  Because you can sort it out whenever the hell you want to.  The end result is all that matters: how you get there, with all your idiosynchratic methods, is immaterial.  You do of course need to remain very much aware of plot problems and massively fundamental ones may cause you to effectively return to Draft Zero.  But fixing most will require deep thought, which will slow down this draft.  I prefer to do my deeper thinking between drafts, employing whiteboards or index cards, but that's just me.  Hopefully you've been aware of some plot holes since making your running notes during Draft Zero, but others will rear their ugly heads this time around.  Start a brand new series of running notes for Draft Two, so that Future You will never be allowed to get away with this nonsense.

5) THE WRITING IS VARIABLE
Oh so variable.  One fun game I enjoy, is trying to discern the points in Draft Zero where I was clearly running on empty towards the end of a working day.  One minute the words are all sparky and full of life... and then you can suddenly feel the inspiration dry up.  It's like that moment in Human Traffic, where everyone's off their tits at a party, really bonding... and then the comedown strikes and they're barely able to talk to each other.  In your novel, people suddenly start flying around like rag dolls.  Never fear: no-one will ever know.  The second draft is when you swoop in to replace all that lacklustre prose with shiny delights.  I tell you, though: when bits of Draft Zero read well, you love your past self for making life easier for you.  That's why, despite my love of Draft Zero's initial creative blast, I do make it the very best draft I can.  I don't just sit there slapping the keyboard like I'm pretending to play the piano (not often, anyway.)

6) CHARACTERS SAY THE STUPIDEST THINGS
Don't they just, throughout 90 per cent of Draft Zero.  This is because you generally fed them the first words which popped up in your desperate, caffeine-fried, oh-dear-God-90K-words-is-a-LOT brain.  In particular, when Draft Zero characters have to deliver important expositional information, they will do so with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer-wielding baboon.  They'll utter especially large amounts of mechanically transparent crap at the intersections where plot meets subplot and it all ends up feeling terribly clunky.  In Draft Two, you can begin to smooth out that kind of wince-making dialogue.  As with the rest of this novel of yours, you had to create the bones so that you could drape them in lovely Draft Two flesh.  Hey, and if you like the look of this stuff, wait 'til you see what you come up with in Draft Ten!  (Another note about characters: unless you've written them before, most of them probably won't have their voices fully in place in Draft Zero.  They're saying things they shouldn't, in ways that they wouldn't.  Come to think of it, your own voice as a writer might be all over the place too.)

7) CHARACTERS ARE OPINING!  AND HISSING!
Okay, so in Draft Zero you thought you were being clever and varied with your descriptive words for how characters say stuff.  In Draft Two, however, you realise that "said" (or "says" if you're working in the present tense) is all you need, nine times out of 10.  Having characters "opine" is the kind of thing which will make readers opine that you're a dodgy writer.  "Also beware characters doing impossible things," he laughed.  It's impossible for a character to speak a sentence and laugh at the same time.  Characters hissing dialogue is another pitfall, albeit one which I regularly have to stop myself from blundering into.  Humans do hiss, but again, they don't talk at the same time.  Snakes on the other hand - who knows?  That probably is an ancient, evil language.

8) THE PROSE ISN'T DIRECT OR IMMEDIATE ENOUGH
You, you clever fiend, may well get this right first time 'round.  Me, I sometimes write Draft Zero stuff which feels too distanced from the reader's eye or just plain hard to read.  It comes down to a few factors: the way in which you present adjectives, those over-long sentences again and the use of the dreaded passive tense.  Things like that.  In the giddy rush of Draft Zero, it's all too easily done.  For instance, in that last segment of this very piece, Draft Zero of one sentence began like this:

"This is because you were generally feeding them the first words which popped up in your..."

That "ing" on the end of verbs: that's the killer.  Destroy those "ing"s and make the sentence more immediate and direct.  So the sentence became:

"This is because you generally fed them the first words which popped up in your..."

Here's another example: the subhead for point seven in this piece would've been better and more direct as "CHARACTERS OPINE!  AND HISS!"  The only reason I haven't edited that is so that I could make this point.

Tell you what, I'll throw pride right out the window and go the whole hog: here's a random godawful sentence (why am I doing this to myself?) from Draft Zero of this new novel, which I haven't yet dealt with in Draft Two...

"The man’s bony hands, with their gnarled misshapen knuckles, began ferreting around on the floor around him, trying to find purchase."

Five (at least!) problems present themselves here:

1) Jesus Christ!  "Ferreting"!  What the hell was I thinking there?  I was probably wondering what was for dinner.  Perhaps I hoped it would be ferret.

2) The sentence is too long.  

3) I probably don't need to have an adjective for both this man's hands and his knuckles. 

4) "Around" appears twice.  All those thousands of words in existence and I had to use one of them twice. 

5) There's that problem of directness.  If I was going to keep that terrible verb, then "began ferreting" should become the more compact and direct "ferreted".  Characters "beginning" and "starting" to take action is a common bad habit of mine, which I always look out for in Draft Two and beyond.  It weakens the action: don't tell the reader what someone's starting to do, tell them what they're doing NOW.

"The man’s bony, misshapen hands scrabbled on the floor, trying to find purchase."

That's at least an improvement.  Still not a great sentence and I'll think about it some more when I come to it 'proper' in this draft, but it's better.  (UPDATE: I ended up deleting this entire 757-word scene.)  

This segment's been too long, hasn't it?  I'll cut it down in the next draft.  (Hope I don't forget!)

9) YOU'VE REPEATED YOURSELF REPEATED YOURSELF
You know all those neat little moments and turns of phrase you were pleased with while carving out the first version of this novel?  Between the countless writing sessions it took to create Draft Zero, you forgot you'd already used them.  You went on to use them again in another session.  There are no less than three characters whose smiles don't reach their eyes.  There are five instances in which the sun bleeds over the horizon like an open wound (kill that simile, no really, kill it dead.)  This time, provided your Draft Two sweep is conducted as continuously as possible, you'll notice all this stuff.  You'll pick the most appropriate single junctures to use your neat bits and ditch the repeat appearances.

10) YOU'VE DONE THAT RIDICULOUS STUFF THAT ONLY YOU DO (BUT OTHERS PROBABLY DO TOO)
Everyone has their own peculiar habits which spill out all over Draft Zero, then need culling.  I've mentioned one or two of mine already, but here's the big one that I'm obsessed with: people looking at things and turning to look at things.  Oh my sweet Christ, I'm fixated on that stuff in Draft Zero.  Can't get e-fucking-nough of it.  For some reason, I feel the need to not only describe people looking at stuff, but also specify them turning to look at it, as if the reader needs to know in which direction characters are facing at all times.  During Draft Zero, I'm dimly aware that I'm doing this, but the best remedy I can generally muster up at the time is to have characters occasionally "gazing" at things instead.  No, Mr Arnopp, that will not wash.  Come Draft Two, I hack through all that stuff with a large scythe, because 99% of it isn't necessary.  If you describe stuff in a scene, then it's generally obvious that the characters involved are seeing it too.

So that's ten.  I could go on with this stuff and talk about inconsistencies of tone, patches of missing research, jokes that need to be funnier, scares that need to be scarier and so on... but Draft Two beckons.  I've got ferrets to ferret out.

What are YOUR own quirks and foibles in Draft Zero of the things you write?  I want to see them in the comments below.  Give us your most memorable Draft Zero similes, too.  C'mon, we're all friends here...

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Brandy In The Basement is a coupling of two fiction ebooks: my own horror-thriller novella Beast In The Basement and JMR Higgs' brilliantly uncategorisable short novel The Brandy Of The Damned.  A double A-sided ebook, if you will, with a brand new introduction.

It's available at a mad price, compared to what you'd pay if you picked up the books separately.  Check it out at Amazon UK, Amazon US or any of the Amazon sites worldwide.