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 story which is intimately connected to some part of you ― to your personality, experience, preoccupations or all three.  Then there’s the story which 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.


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.

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