Monday, 14 April 2014

Do I Have a Writing Process?

 When friend and fellow author, Shehanne Moore, invited me to answer the four basic questions involved in the blog hop, 'My Writing Process', I immediately said, 'Yes'. Then, a millisecond after I'd hit the 'send' button on my acceptance email, I thought, 'Hang on, do I actually have a writing process?

Being a notorious 'pantser' (and aren't we the bane of the lives of our much more careful, studied 'plotters'?), I do tend to leap when an idea strikes, so this seemingly innocuous and straightforward subject is going to involve something of a journey of discovery. Ah, well, let's get at it then.

First, I offer this link back to the superb and highly entertaining world of Shehanne Moore, author of my second favourite genre - historical fiction - and some of my favourite characters ever. When you've finished here, please pop along and enjoy yourself.Please note, no hamsters were harmed during the creation of her blog, although they did run off with - and eat - my favourite editing pencil:

And now, for the first question:

1. What am I working on?

This is quite a busy time for me. Last autumn, I learned I had been fortunate enough to be one of the four winners of Samhain Publishing's Gothic Horror Anthology competition and my entry - Linden Manor - is coming out initially as a standalone ebook on May 6th, along with the other three). In addition, I have my first full length horror novel for Samhain - Saving Grace Devine - following hard on its heels (July 1st). 

As a result, I'm hard at work on activities related to those two stories. I am also putting the finishing touches to a radically revised draft of a novel I wrote before either of these two were conceived. I also have a novella in the pipeline and one simmering away at the back of my mind. More details when these are fleshed out.

2. How does my work differ from others?

Maybe this is a combination of factors. You won't find happy families in my stories. My main characters are usually either psychologically damaged or have suffered great hurt in the past. I tend to set my stories in places I am familiar with, even though I change them around and rename them.

Stromness, Orkney
In Saving Grace Devine, I created an entire island! My fictional Arnsay (from the Old Norse word 'Arn' meaning 'eagle' and 'ay' meaning 'island',) is set in Orkney and I combined a couple of Orcadian towns, and countryside from other isles to give it form. I generally invent my own demons, rather than relying on the tried and trusted, and try to mix things up a bit to keep my readers guessing. To give an example; Saving Grace Devine involves a timeslip, which I hadn't used before. I also endeavour to establish a 'twist in the tail (tale?)' at the very end.

3. Why do I write what I do?

 Because I love good horror. I love being scared and, when I write something and become totally engrossed in a major dramatic scene, I become so wrapped up in it, I scare myself. I've even been known to scream out loud if I haven't heard my husband come in and he speaks to me! He treads very carefully these days. He'd like to preserve whatever hearing he has left!

4. How does my writing process work?

Now this is the tough one I referred to at the beginning. An idea will come to me. It may be when I'm out for my daily walks (which have so far spawned two short stories and a potential novella). It can be a chance remark (as happened with Cold Revenge. Just what would happen if the old saying, 'Revenge is a dish best served cold' was taken literally?). On more than one occasion, a first line has been the trigger. This happened with Linden Manor where the initial line that came to me was 'Have you ever been so scared you left your body?' This was eventually edited to 'Have you ever been so scared your soul left your body?' - much darker, thanks to Julia Kavan.

More than one idea has been born out of a nightmare - Saving Grace Devine came to me that way. I had a scary dream that I was in a museum in Orkney. I opened a drawer and took out a rolled up artist's canvas. As I unravelled it, it revealed a picture of a drowning girl. As I stared, the picture came to life. The waters moved, the girl's eyes flashed open and she mouthed 'Help me!'
Then I woke up - and immediately wrote it down.

 Once I have my trigger, I set to work thinking of the bare bones of a plot. I start to work out where the story will be set and search for photographs on the internet. I create files on my computer and store pictures of notable locations, interiors of any significant houses or other buildings. Simultaneously, I think about the main characters and what they would look like, their personalities and back stories. These develop over time because, fairly quickly, I begin a first draft. 

At this point, I let the story develop by itself. the characters take over. The horror manifests itself and, finally, with the first draft complete, I can actually start the real process of writing which, for me, involves a series of redrafts. I need to be ruthless. If a scene doesn't work, out it comes. Additional scenes are written one week, discarded the next, reworked the week after - whatever it takes. There's no room for loose or sloppy writing these days.

When I've gone as far as I can by myself, I consult my writer friends who know what they're talking about, tell me what I'm doing right and, crucially, point out the error of my ways. I take heed of their advice and my manuscript is always the better for it.

Then I put it away for a few weeks, retrieve it, read it through with fresh eyes...and send it off to my editor. It's out of my hands then. And that's the scariest part of the whole process!

Now it is my pleasure to tag friend and fellow horror author, Steve Emmett, who has reason to know more about Grace Devine than he would perhaps be willing to admit! He has agreed to pick up the baton and write about his writing process in the near future. Why not follow his link now and find out more about him?

Friday, 4 April 2014

When The Camera Shows All Is Still and Quiet...

...don't you just know something awful is going to happen?

Well, you certainly do if the 'still and quiet' camera shots happen to be on your DVD of a 'found footage' horror film.

In common with many people, I should imagine, my first exposure to this type of film was The Blair Witch Project in 1999. Now, I know an awful lot of people love this film. They get quite passionate in their defence of it, but I'm sorry, I have watched it a couple of times and it still doesn't really do it for me. It's entertaining enough in its own way, but I never felt it got going enough. I did, however, applaud its originality. Needless to say, so cheap was it to make and so popular was it at the Box Office, it spawned many imitators in the year that followed. Some worked, some didn't. Most incorporated the principles of low budget, unknown actors and minimal sets.

But 'found footage' films had been around for over nearly thirty years (at least) before Blair Witch hit the screen and the headlines. Early examples included Punishment Park , made in 1971, and UFO Abduction - The McPherson Tape from 1989. Even the BBC got in on the act. Halloween of 1992, saw the televising of  Ghostwatch - presented by popular TV host, Michael Parkinson in live documentary style. In fact, Parkinson and his co-presenters - all well known personalities - were interacting with footage shot weeks earlier. The premise of the story concerned an ordinary family, haunted by a presence they call 'Pipes' (because he taps on the water pipes). During the hour and a half transmission, some 30,000 calls were received by the BBC switchboard. As a result, many simply heard the engaged signal and never got through. Any viewers who were able to get through were instantly greeted with a message informing them that the show was pure fiction, before inviting them to contribute their own ghostly experiences. It fooled a lot of people and caused quite a furore at the time. Judge for yourself:

All good clean (if now somewhat dated) fun.

Moving beyond Blair Witch, we'll skip past the first of the phenomenally successful Paranormal Activity series and alight briefly on a 'found footage' film that worked well, in my opinion. The excellent sci-fi monster movie, Cloverfield. In common with many of its genre, considerable 'handheld camera shake' was incorporated into this movie. In fact, there was so much of it that, in some cinemas, audience members were warned about it and told what to do if they experienced 'motion sickness' - as some reported so doing. J.J. Abrams, hot on the heels of his success with TV series Lost, scored a winner with this in many people's eyes but, for others, the handheld camera wobbles were too much. Told in the first person, you either love the ending, or hate it. There are some heated exchanges to be found on the subject across the internet.

From titles such as, Cannibal Holocaust, Man Bites Dog and The Zombie Diaries to Long Pigs and The Last Exorcism, the list keeps growing, but now to return to Paranormal Activity.

The first in the series kept me riveted, had me hiding behind a large cushion (and my cat) and made me jump on more than one occasion. I actually squawked (well, gave sort of a mini squeal actually) at the ending. Excellent stuff, I thought, and eagerly awaited the sequel. Paranormal Activity 2 . Yes, I enjoyed it. Some really scary moments. Paranormal Activity 3 . OK, I've put the cushion down now and my cat is sleeping soundly on my knee. Still enjoyed it though. Paranormal Activity 4  gives further continuity to the story of demonic possession etc., but am I becoming sensitised? Or maybe the storyline is getting a little weak? I'm not sure, but it didn't deliver quite the ratio of scares I had hoped for.

Having said that, I am looking forward to the recent spin-off Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones

So far it has gained a wide spectrum of reviews - from 'Where was the story line', to 'Winning entry in this terrific franchise'. The only way to judge is, of course to see it for myself. Which I fully intend to do. Will I also watch Paranormal Activity 5 when it comes out in the autumn? I expect so. And so will millions of other people, hooked on the series. Even though it has lost a lot of freshness and impetus, largely as a result of our over-familiarity with the techniques employed here, I have this fascination that comes with so much of the 'found footage' genre. You see, I just have to know what happens next...

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

The Ghosts of Temple Newsam

 Dubbed, 'The Hampton Court of the North', Temple Newsam House is a magnificent and intriguing Tudor-Jacobean mansion situated on the outskirts of Leeds. Set in 1500 acres of glorious parkland, the house has seen many tumultuous events in its 500 year history. To cite just one, Lord Darnley - ill fated husband of Mary, Queen of Scots - was born here. For 300 years, the house was owned by the Ingram family and eventually sold to Leeds City Council in 1922 by its then owner, Lord Halifax.

Over the years, it has known fires, many changes, renovations - and acquired an impressive collection of ghosts. I used to visit the house regularly when I lived in Leeds and, on descending the main staircase, never failed to feel a chill that raised goosebumps on my arms and the hairs on the back of my neck. A feeling of dread - of something evil - would penetrate me, quicken my step and disappear as soon as I reached the ground floor. Who or what was responsible? I have no idea, but the feeling was all too real.

Here are the stories of two of Temple Newsam's most popular ghosts:

Lady Mary Ingram
The Blue Lady of Temple Newsam

Tragic Mary Ingram, granddaughter of Sir Arthur, was just fourteen years old when, on returning by carriage from a party, she fell victim to an ambush by a gang of highwaymen, who tore her pearl necklace from her throat. In addition to being valuable, the necklace held great sentimental value as it had been a christening present from her grandfather.

Mary was taken home, sobbing and in a state of collapse. The next morning she had no recollection of the robbery and seemed convinced she had somehow lost them. She looked everywhere, saying, 'Where are my pearls? Where are my pearls?' She unpicked cushions and even tried to lift floorboards in search of them. She also refused to eat and sank into a terminal decline. Two weeks later, she died. Her unhappy spirit still searches the house for the missing necklace. Eyewitnesses have reported seeing carpets ripple, hearing unexplained creaking noises and feeling sudden blasts of cold air.

The Ghost of Phoebe Gray

A great feast, celebrating Britain's victory at the Battle of Blenheim, was celebrated one hot, humid night in 1704. There was much merriment with roasting hogs, bonfires, music and dancing. Beer flowed freely. A little too freely in the case of servant William Collinson. He was a coarse fellow indeed. Foul mannered, foul mouthed, this ugly brutish man was a stranger to soap and water, even by the low personal hygiene standards of the day. He was, however, not averse to trying his luck with a pretty sixteen year old nursemaid called Phoebe Gray.

Phoebe had rather more discernment and rejected his advances, but William would not be dissuaded so easily. The night wore on. At midnight, fireworks exploded over the grounds and William, by now steaming drunk, remembered that it was Phoebe's routine to take Nanny Backhouse her hot drink last thing at night.

Phoebe found the upstairs corridors spooky at night. Her candle cast flickering shadows on the walls and made her nervous. Tonight she had good reason to be, for, in one of the darkest corners, William lurked and, as she passed, he pounced. Scared witless, she screamed and struggled. William fought to contain her and, in his stupor, he forgot his own strength. Her body suddenly went limp. Phoebe screamed no more and slipped to the floor. Dead.

William panicked, dragged her body down the back stairs to the damp cellars below. He opened the cover of the well down there and threw her in. Then he ran away. 

At first, people assumed he and Phoebe had eloped, but then, her body was discovered, and two servants went off in search of William. They found him, dead drunk again, in a nearby inn.

He was charged with her murder and sentenced to be hanged. 

Poor Phoebe is said to haunt the back stairs and passages where her muffled screams have been heard. People have also reported hearing a succession of bumps - as of someone's body being dragged down the stairs.
Temple Newsam in mid 18th century - Bridgeman Art Library

Find out more about Temple Newsam House HERE

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Don't You Just Love a Liebster?

I have Shehanne Moore and her trusty band of renegade (not to say, slightly scary) hamsters to thank for this latest award. And I do. Most sincerely.

As always, this award is not to be accepted lightly. No simple 'thank you to the world, the universe and everything' speech will do. No. Firstly, I'll link back to the fabulous Shehanne, because that's rule number one:

Actually, that was a real pleasure as I love her blog!

Now, I must answer her (or is it the hamsters'?) questions. Here goes:

1 Which fictional character would you most fancy having a fling with and why?
Probably Heathcliff - dark and dangerous...

2. You’ve been shipwrecked on a desert island, what book can’t you be without?

'28 Barbary Lane' by Armistead Maupin - a compendium of the first three books in the 'tales of the City' series

3 Do you have a favorite literary series?
I have two 'Tales of the City' by Armistead Maupin wins hands down. I love his wonderful quirky characters and I'm so sorry that, with his latest - The Days of Anna Madrigal - he has finally decided to bid farewell to Barbary Lane. I was lucky enough to see him in Liverpool recently, and to meet him. He is a wonderfully warm and witty guy with such talent for both characterisation and plot.

My second is a series of books by the amazingly talented Scottish author Martin Millar, all based around an extremely badly behaved werewolf called Kalix. The characters in all Martin Millar's books are not the sort you would want to take home to meet your spinster great aunt. They're wickedly funny, irreverent, exciting and at times poignant and sad. For all her heinous faults, I love Kalix. Her self-harming, insane lust for battle, pursuit by werewolf hunters and total disregard for the mayhem she causes to anyone unfortunate enough to come within a mile of her, should make her unlovable. But she isn't. The plots are riveting and the author's talent is that he can make the unlikable, lovable.

Even though these authors write in totally different genres from each other and from me, I have learned so much from them. I'm really grateful for that and eagerly await their next novels.

4 What are you working on right now?

Some short stories for a number of competitions that are coming up, plus a dark novella which is in its early stages. I can say little about it at this stage beyond it's theme. Revenge.

5 Who is your favourite author and why?

Armistead Maupin is obviously right up there, along with Stephen King. Both of them are such great and versatile storytellers who keep me locked in until I finish the last page. Then I'm hungry for more. One of my earliest influences was the ghost short story writer, M.R. James. I love curling up on a winter's day, wind howling, rain beating against the windows, cat on my lap and losing myself in his world.

6 Favourite colour?
Red - teamed with black preferably

7 Are you a plotter or a pantser

Pantser with slight plotting tendencies, mostly conducted on my daily walks down by the river.

8 Have you been known to ‘torture’ a character and if so why?

My characters are tortured all the time. They're in a horror story!

9 Do you prefer sweet or angsty?

Angsty. Sweet has no place in horror!

10 Which part of the craft have you found hardest to learn?

OK, Now I need to present this award to some of my favourite authors. Step forward:

Julia Kavan

Steve Emmett

Ute Carbone

Brinda Berry

Keith Pyeatt