Hey, wanna hear something cool?

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My horror short story, ‘The Fledgling’ will feature in the Tales to Terrify podcast on the 18th of May this year. That’s just one week away, so if you like to hear your horror instead of reading it, head over to the site and check it out. You’ll find podcasts of stories by fabulous authors such as Angela Slatter, Kaaron Warren and Alan Baxter.

Oh, and Stephen King. Excuse me while I run around in mad circles like a toddler let loose after birthday cake.

‘The Fledgling’ explores a mother’s unease with the private school system. If crows give you the creeps, you might want to close your ears.

If you liked ‘The Fledgling’, have a look at some of my other published short stories.

Happy listening!

 

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A New Home for a Lost Soul

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My short story, ‘The Pontianak’s Doll’ will be republished in the Lost Souls Gothic Fantasy short story anthology in September this year. The anthology will be brought out by Flame Tree Publishing and will feature many new writers as well as classic masters of the Gothic tale such as M.R. James, Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. Here’s a link to the blog post from Flame Tree Publishing if you’d like to learn more.

Is Your Focus Skewed?

cat-2151400_1920When we read, we tend to try to anticipate what will happen in a story, or project backwards (for example, in a murder mystery novel). We use details such as objects, time and setting to create a picture of where, when, and what is happening. When an author spends time describing something in a manuscript, it’s a clue to the reader to pay attention. These details also help to immerse us in the story. A problem in some manuscripts is when the focus is on the wrong things or details that don’t matter. The reader doesn’t know what’s important and can feel bored or cheated.

One reason for this skewed focus is the author writing their way into the story. I’ve read plenty of scenes describing a character waking up, making tea or coffee, or commuting to work. I tend to think of these scenes as mental stretches before tackling a heavy writing session and they probably reflect more on the daily life of an author than what’s important to a story. That’s not to say that you should cut all description of a character’s day-to-day doings from the manuscript. These can be a great way to provide characterisation and may be part of the plot. Just be aware of repetition, spending too much time on these scenes, or reverting to cliché in how you describe them.

If a writer is passionate about a topic, this can also skew the focus of description. This isn’t always a bad thing. I love learning something new when I read. One of the great joys of fiction is slipping into another person’s shoes and exploring their world. Now imagine that person is a keen lepidopterist and just when you get to a critical point in their story, they stop to show you their collection of pinned butterflies. The main story is shooting past but you have to stop and listen to them talk about their favourite moth. It’s frustrating and slows the pace unnecessarily. If the topic is crucial to the plot, that’s a different thing entirely; if it isn’t, think about cutting back.

A third reason that a story’s focus can be imbalanced is that the manuscript is in its early development. The first draft is often the writer telling themselves the story, getting the images and ideas in their head down on to the page. It’s in the subsequent revisions that the author can then go back over the manuscript and expand scenes and flesh things out. The first couple of chapters are usually the most heavily revised. Authors know that first chapters are crucial for hooking a reader or a publisher and will spend time polishing the start of a manuscript until it’s shiny and bright.

In the rest of the story, particularly heading into the climax where the pace is breakneck, things can tend to get summarised. While short, sharp sentences and chapters are great for reflecting the rising tension, what you don’t want to do is leave the reader feeling short changed. They’ve followed you for the past two hundred pages. Make sure the climax you’ve promised is satisfying by giving it enough attention and space on the page.

The final reason for a skewed focus is not trusting the reader to do their job. A common problem with many manuscripts is overwriting. The author can feel the urge to explain what is happening because they don’t trust that the reader will ‘get it’. This can lead to repetition, telling and too much description.

To make sure you’re getting the balance of focus right in your manuscript, read great fiction. Examine how the author has guided the reader’s attention. Look at the balance of description and action. Read bad fiction. Take note of when you drop out of a story or feel frustrated with the narrative. What made you stop reading? Were you bored? Did you feel cheated?

Enlist the aid of a couple of trusted beta readers and ask them to make note of if and when they drop out of your story. Check that focus is right and you’ll elevate your writing.

 “In many cases when a reader puts a story aside because it ‘got boring,’ the boredom arose because the writer grew enchanted with his powers of description and lost sight of his priority, which is to keep the ball rolling.”
Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft  

Would you survive?

gasmask-2142459_960_720 (2)There was a guy who worked at my local supermarket who never said a word. I always thought that he would have a really interesting story.

Sadly, both he and the local supermarket have long gone so I can’t ask him. What I did instead was write a story about how I thought his first day at a new job would be in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse.

Not so hard, right? Except that the zombie infection only takes super healthy people: the ones who get up at 4am to cross-train for two hours before refuelling with a kale, quinoa and protein booster smoothie. The ones who get to the gym twice a day and run ultramarathons. Can you imagine zombies with that level of fitness? If you can and you’d like to read about it, my story, ‘The Zoo of All Things’ will feature in the After the Rebirth anthology brought out by TANSTAAFL press in April this year. Would you survive the rebirth?

Thirsty for some dark Christmas fiction?

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Shades of Santa: Tales from the Bloody North Pole is a collection of thirty-seven dark flash fiction tales with all proceeds going to charity:water. 663 million people in the world today live without access to clean water. Charity:water is a non-profit organisation bringing clean, safe water to people in developing countries.

My story, ‘Teatime’ is the tale of the wicked Miss Maisy, her devoted manservant, Mr Poole and Juniper, Winter’s child. It appears in the section of the anthology on Snow People and I hope it stirs a shiver or two up your spine.

If you’re thirsty for some fabulous frosty fiction, check out the anthology on Amazon by clicking on the link below.

Shades of SantaAvailable now

 

 

New short stories: coming soon

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Keep a look out, I have two new stories coming in 2018!

‘A Pet is For Life’

Asian urban legends give me the heebie-jeebies. There’s no redemption, no reasoning, no rhyme to how these vengeful ghosts operate. ‘A Pet is For Life’ is my take on the Kuchisake-onna tale and will feature in Behind the Mask – Tales from the Id.

The anthology is scheduled for release in early 2018 by Oz Horror Con and will feature works by authors such as Clive Barker and Ramsey Campbell.

Keep an eye out for the anthology here.

‘The Fledgling’

My short story, ‘The Fledgling’ has been contracted with Tales to Terrify and will feature in their 2018 schedule of podcasts. The story delves into a mother’s guilt and the alien landscape of religious education.

Keep an eye out for it on their website here.

If you can’t wait until next year, you can read about some of my other stories in the Published Work section.

Mentorship Moment No. 4: How to Write Characters That Are Not You

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There will come a time in your writing expedition where you’ll want to write a character that’s very different from who you are. Maybe it’s someone of a different gender or a different culture. If you like the types of stories I do, you might be writing someone from a different planet or something supernatural.

The main character in my work in progress is a dead fourteen-year-old boy who’s stuck in a grey purgatory and can’t remember how he got there. Being spatially-challenged, I can empathise with the sense of being lost but I’ve never been a boy and last I checked, I’ve never been dead.

A teen protagonist can also be tricky. There’s a lens that’s peculiar to that stretch of time. Things get skewed and magnified, and our personalities distend and distort while we try on all the different shapes we might become. Then the one that seems to fit best sets hard and it can be strange to look back and remember.

One piece of advice that’s been shopped around on how to capture an authentic teen voice, is to eavesdrop: sit next to a group of teenagers and listen to the rhythm and syntax of their speech. I don’t know about you, but that suggestion makes me supremely uncomfortable. A less creepy way is to realise that essentially, you’re the same person as an adult as you were at fourteen.

The key to writing authentic characters that are different from you is to remember that we share many more fundamental similarities than we have differences. We have the same basic brain chemistry, and want and need and fear many of the same things.

Carve up parts of your own personality and think about how you would react in the situations facing your characters. Comb back through your own life – what experience matches this emotion that you’re trying to write? Can you channel your own memories into what is happening for your character?

An example Deb (my writing mentor) shared was a character who had to shoot someone in the face. Now, Deb’s never shot anyone in the face, but she could remember what it was like to know that she had to hurt somebody. She was able to translate that emotion to the scene without having to actually pick up a gun. Neat.

Here’s the mentorship moment: trust that you are legion.

Trust that within you, there are multitudes. Yes, do your due diligence when writing characters outside your experience: research, interview people, read widely, stalk teenagers (please don’t, that was a joke) but don’t discount the resources inside your own head. Remember that you have the capacity to imagine and exist as many characters and your experiences can translate across to your narrative. Write honestly about feelings and it will ring true for your characters.

Who or what is the protagonist in your latest work in progress? Are they someone like you or are they vastly different? What methods have you used to get inside their head?