Tuesday, 28 June 2016

If You Go Down To The (Screaming) Woods Today...

...You had better be prepared to experience more than you bargained for. Especially if the woods in question are in the vicinity of the Kent village of Pluckley. Properly known as Dering Woods, this forest is more commonly known as the Screaming Woods – and for very good reason. 

The area itself is situated just south of England’s (arguably) most haunted village – Pluckley – where it seems almost every building and piece of land has its own ghost story to tell. Pinnock Bridge has its Gypsy or Watercress Woman who is supposed to have set herself on fire from a combination of the pipe she was smoking and the gin she was drinking at the same time. She wafts around as a misty figure.

The Elvey Farm has a haunted dairy where an 18th century farmer – Edward Brett – fatally shot himself. He is still heard, muttering ‘I will do it.’

A black silhouette of a miller haunts the site of an old windmill, while a red lady walks her small white dog around the churchyard and a white lady wanders around inside the same church. The locals at the time of her death must have really feared her. She was buried inside not one, but seven coffins AND an oak sarcophagus. She’s still pacing around there though!

An unfortunate love affair led to the suicide (by poisoning) of the Lady of Rose Court, and a poor man who fell into a clay pit still screams in agony. A schoolmaster who hanged himself is still apparently trapped at the site of his demise.

Now, after experiencing all that, you could well be forgiven for deciding to retire to the local hostelry (the Black Horse Inn). Surely here you could kick back and relax over a pint of foaming ale or a glass of comforting wine? Not a bit of it! After the phantom coach and horses have thundered by outside, expect things to start flying around you as the resident poltergeist gets to work.

But I digress. Back to the woods.

In the 18th century, a highwayman called Robert du Bois was tracked down and run through with a sword while he hid in a tree in these very woods. Another version states that he was dragged to the woods before being lynched. Either way, his are the screams which give the woods their name - along with a couple of other unfortunates, such as the army colonel who hanged himself and still can be seen dangling from his tree, and the ghostly soldier who wanders the woodland paths. Others who have simply lost their way - and never found it again - add their desperate voices to the cacophony from beyond the grave.

Sceptics might say it’s just foxes. Everyone knows foxes can make a terrible racket. As if hell itself had opened and let the screams of the damned escape.

But those of us who know about such things, don’t need any such explanations.

Do we?

Friday, 17 June 2016

The Changeling - How Fiction and Reality Intersect To Create A Novel

J.G. Faherty is one of my favourite modern horror authors, so when I heard about his latest - The Changeling - I had to learn more. Today, he tells us how this story developed - and how you can win a copy:

A few years ago, I came across some articles about how the U.S. military was experimenting with lightning as a potential weapon. At the time, I had some notes in one of my several notebooks of ideas about a young girl who develops superpowers but can’t control them. I’d put the concept aside because it seemed to common – another superhero story? Who needs that?

But the idea about lightning appearing out of nowhere to destroy things stayed with me, and I started adding to my notes. Lightning. Military weapons. What goes wrong?

Eventually, I received that Aha! moment all writers love. “What if the girl isn’t a superhero? What if the powers she has are hurting her, but she’s forced to use them anyhow?”

From there, the rest of the book came to me in a nice, tidy bundle. Girl. Struck by lightning. She survives, but starts to develop these weird abilities. Then she discovers it was part of a military experiment, and now they’re after her to figure out what happened, why she can do these crazy things. And after some thought, I decided that she shouldn’t have common superpowers. No super strength, no lightning bolts from her fingers or lasers from her eyes, she can’t fly. Instead, I decided to give her abilities that would be hard to understand, and difficult to master.

But every book needs a subplot, and it needs to resonate with the readers emotionally. In most superhero stories—comics, movies, books—these fall into 3 basic categories: romance, personal relationship with the villain, and the idea of responsibility. Spider-Man had MaryJane, The Lizard/Doctor Connors, and his Uncle Ben. Professor X has Magneto and his dedication to bridging the gap between mutants and normal folk. And so on. 

And therein lies a problem. When you’re writing a story, you want to work with what the readers like to see/read about, but you don’t want to just do more of the same old thing. You want to break new ground. Be original.

That’s when it came to me: this wasn’t a superhero book. My character wasn’t going to become the next Wonder Woman or Supergirl or Jean Gray. She just wants to be a normal teenager, to get her life back from the people who ruined it.

So I took some advice from an old mentor – When you’re writing a book, take your first idea and turn it upside down and inside out – and reworked my story in a way that allowed me to be original while still delivering the basic expectations of the reader. A love story? Yes, but not a traditional one. Relationship with the villain? Yes, and it leads to considerable problems. Responsibility? Yes. As a teenager, my heroine not only has to be responsible, she has to first figure out how to be responsible, something that up until now only meant finishing her homework, not breaking curfew, and getting her chores done. She’s thrown into the pool and has to learn how to swim, because the lives of her family depend on it. And she makes mistakes. Big ones.

Over a period of two years, I wrote the book, in between other projects. The original title was Lightning from a Clear Sky, but during the editing process it became The Changeling, a nod to the main character who undergoes so many mental, physical, and supernatural changes. It also evolved from the before-mentioned super hero story to a YA science fiction thriller. An experiment of sorts for me; I’d written YA before –horror, dark fantasy – but never sci-fi.

And now I’ve embarked on a second experiment with that book. Rather than submit to traditional publishers or small press, I’ve set up a Kindle Scout promotion. For those of you not familiar with this, it’s part of Amazon’s publishing arm. For 30 days, readers get to peruse an excerpt of the book and vote for whether or not they’d like to see it published so they can read the whole thing. At the end of the 30 days, Amazon’s editing team reviews the votes, reads the books, and decides which ones that month get publishing contracts. 

 What’s the prize for the readers who voted for it? They get a free Kindle copy of the book.

You can read the excerpt here: https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/3SNA1TEAOMD0F and vote if you like it. There are other great books there as well – horror, sci-fi, mysteries, thrillers; adult and YA. You can nominate as many as you want, although only 2-3 per week. And Amazon tracks if you actually read the excerpt, just so writers don’t screw around with the system.

Needless to say, it’s been a nail biting experience. I’m only 2 weeks in, so I’ve got a ways to go before I find anything out. But if it gets a contract, The Changeling will surely be a project where fiction and fact came together like peanut butter and chocolate for me!

 JG Faherty

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

The Imaginary Friend Who Crossed the Line

When you were growing up, did you have an imaginary friend? Did they seem real to you? Maybe sort-of-real. You could talk to them, imagine their responses, play with them but you probably kept the ‘relationship’ within certain boundaries – however young you were. In my case, I invented an entire family of siblings – three sisters (two older, one a few years younger) and an older brother who looked out for us girls. Being an only child, I found them comforting, and fun, but I never imagined them to be real. They, in turn, kept themselves firmly lodged in my own mind and never attempted to cross any boundary into the real world.

In my new novel, The Devil’s Serenade, my central character also had an imaginary family when she was a child. Scarily for her, they now start to appear in her real adult world.

Of course, my story is fiction, but there have been a number of accounts of small children making ‘friends’ with most unsuitable imaginary characters – who then cross the line. They can do this because they are not really imaginary at all – just invisible, at least to all except the child itself.

One instance involves the story of a four year old boy called Jayden and the strange events that began during the height of summer when his mother heard him apparently talking to someone. She didn’t think too much about it at the time as he was playing with his toys and she assumed it was part of the game he had invented for himself that day. “C’mon, Jack! You’re the bad guy!” her son said.

A few days later, her son had a vivid dream and told his mother about it. In it, he had been going away somewhere with his friend, Jack. From then on, Jack seemed to be his major topic of conversation. Eventually his mother became so irritated by the constant repetition of his name that she demanded to know who this ‘Jack’ was.

Immediately, her son pointed behind her and said, “Why don’t you ask him yourself?” 

She turned, but there was no one there. The mother was momentarily unnerved but then decided there was no harm in it. Jack was obviously an imaginary friend.

A week later, Jayden was in his room and started yelling. His mother dashed upstairs to find his room in chaos. Toys, books and clothes were strewn everywhere. His mother demanded he clean up the mess rightaway, but Jayden was in a furious temper. “It was Jack!” he insisted.

“It wasn’t Jack,” his mother said. “There is no Jack!”

Soon after that, Jayden’s mother came into his room to find him standing on top of his cupboard. She was perplexed as to how he could have got up there by himself as it was a metre and a half high.

“Jack told me to jump,” Jayden said. “I have to be nice to him or he will hurt me.” His mother helped him down and cuddled him close, as her mind raced. What was happening here?

All was quiet for a few days until she was passing his room and saw Jayden playing. To her horror, she saw toys and books move by themselves across the room. Her little boy cried, “No, Jack, no!”

She dashed in to comfort her child. Instantly, the activity ceased.

Jayden’s mother installed a baby monitor in his room. She didn’t have to wait long for a result. Listening downstairs, she heard Jayden’s voice on the monitor. White noise or static followed and every so often she could make out another voice. She couldn’t understand what it was saying, but it was clear Jayden could.
Suddenly over the monitor, a strange male voice boomed out. “I will hurt you!”

A loud thud echoed around the house. When Jayden’s mother reached him, she found her son lying on the floor, injured, crying and in pain. She rushed him to the hospital, where they found he had a sprained wrist and a fractured rib.

“Jack pushed me off the cupboard,” he said.

His mother called in a priest, who conducted a house cleansing and, mercifully, this seemed to do the trick because Jayden has never mentioned Jack since and life has returned to normal.

Imaginary friends. They can be innocent good fun – but some of them clearly have alternative agendas.