The human heart is a strange vessel. Love and hatred can exist side by side – Scott Westerfeld
Welcome to the Writing Gym, a place to have a little writing exercise away from other cares. It’s a fairly casual place, but there are always a few rules.
Rule Number One – the purpose of the Writing Gym is to encourage you to play around, have fun and perhaps develop ideas. The most important part of that is to have fun. Have lots of fun. Write weird stuff and crazy stuff and stuff that you would never, ever consider outside of this. It’s a gym (of sorts) so use it to stretch.
Rule Number Two – keep it more or less, sort of, kind of, in general clean. This isn’t a good place for erotica or out-there sexy stuff. If you want to write saucy, spicy, red hot stories then I think you should go for it with gusto, but not here. I’d pitch it as the sort of level that you would admit to your mother, or possibly a straitlaced teacher even if you wouldn’t read it in front of them. Mind you, a little passion isn’t a bad thing.
Rule Number Three – and not too much of the nasty stuff. Gratuitous gore, crazy violence and cruelty, especially to children and animals, aren’t welcome here. Go for a subtler scare instead.
Rule Number Four – ditch the hate and keep it kind. Would the nicest, kindest, loveliest person you know think less of you if they read that piece? Then don’t write it.
Rule Number Five – encourage others. If you see other stuff posted that’s linked from here, please be kind. There is a human being on the other side of that screen who bared a little of their soul writing this, so be gentle with them. And if you could have a look and leave a positive comment, that would be an awesome thing to do.
Rule Number Six – this is the boring stuff. The story should be something that is sparked by the picture and/or the quotation but doesn’t need to be a literal reference. Look at the picture, read the quotation and let yourself drift a little into ideas. The story should be between 20 and 500 words, but I’m not going to check and I’m certainly not going to shame, especially if it’s the good stuff. Post your story on a blog (you can find places to blog for free) or perhaps Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr or wherever you feel comfortable. Once you’ve done that, comment below the prompt with a link to your story. The prompt will be up on a Tuesday and really you should aim to have the story written by the following Monday. If you are late, that’s okay. I’m not going to check up or chase.
General Notes – This gym can be a gentle warm up for other stuff, an intense training ground, somewhere to hone a specific skill, or a place where you can practice without pressure. Please enjoy it in ways that work for you.
And if you have any questions or suggestions then let me know. I’d love to hear from you.
“Come on, kitty, come for a cuddle,” Kane hoped he didn’t sound as helpless as he felt.
“Can you see him?” Adele called over his shoulder.
“He seems to be stuck behind the bookcase,” Kane said, “Come on, Kitler, come on.”
“I’ve never liked cats,” Adele said, trying to get a look. “But when my aunt died, well, I couldn’t let him go to a shelter. I mean, my aunt loved the evil creature.”
Kane stared helplessly at the ghost of the cat. The ghost stared back. Kane recognised the expression of bland assurance, the hint of secret wisdom and knowledge, and the pause of waiting for a thought to turn up between the furry ears. “Come on, Kitler, there’s a good kitty.”
“He was supposed to be called Sam, but after he terrorised next door’s rottweiler and dropped a live rat in front of the vicar, we thought Kitler was more appropriate.” Adele said. “He was a bit of a character.”
Kane reached out and tickled Kitler under his ghostly chin. The cat snuggled down onto the cuddle and edged forward. “He sounds a little difficult.” He could hear the phantasmal purr echoing.
“Do you know, the first week he was here, he chased a postman down the path,” Adele said with a hint of pride. “We had to collect all our post in the end, and we were blacklisted by Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
“Who’s a good kitty?” Kane said, as the spirit of the cat edged closer.
“I didn’t expect to miss him when he went, but I do,” Adele sighed. “I wonder if that held him back from crossing the Rainbow Bridge?”
“I think he was still happy here,” Kane said, watching the shade of Kitler push blissfully against his tickling fingers.
“I suppose so,” Adele said. “I mean, next door’s Alsatian still runs away from the post where Kitler used to sit. But he makes such a noise at night, racing around and knocking things over. It’s like he never left.”
Kane looked at the smug spirit in front of him. That’s why the ghost hadn’t moved on. He was having too much fun terrorising the household to want to see what happened next. “He is a strong character.” Any minute now, Kane thought. Any minute now the purr will turn to a hiss. I wonder if he can still scratch?
“But I’m not getting any sleep, and it’s unnerving having a ghost in the house.” Adele said. “So can you do something?”
“I’ve only really done people,” Kane said, pulling his hand back quickly as the cuddle turned instantly into an attack. Kitler glared at him. “I’m not sure how to get a ghost cat safely over.”
“Could you bribe him with ghost treats?” Adele asked. “He used to do anything for Dreamies.”
Kane stood up. “To be honest, I really don’t know what to do.” He looked around. “Aunt Brenda, do you have any ideas?”
The ghost of his foster mother tickled Kitler behind the ears. “What a sweetie. I wish I could take him home with me.”
“I’ll take it from here, my good woman!” A disembodied voice rang out before a spectral figure shimmered into view.
“Aunt Charlotte,” Adele whispered, holding on to the back of the chair.
“You can see her?” Kane asked.
“People always said I had a presence,” Aunt Charlotte said smugly. “And now I’ve come for my Sam before he gets exorcised or some such nonsense.” She grabbed Kitler firmly around the middle and hoisted him, unprotesting and stunned, into her arms. “He’s coming home with his mummy.” She turned to Adele. “You did your best for mummy’s little kitty. You should get that painting I left you valued, the one that you put in the spare bedroom.” She sniffed. “If you appreciated art, you would already know about it. The certificate of authenticity is tucked behind the frame at the back.”
Adele and Kane watched the ghost of Aunt Charlotte with her malevolent companion fade from view.
“Have they definitely gone?” Adele asked. “I mean, both of them?”
Kane smiled reassuringly. “I’m pretty sure that they won’t come back either.” He watched Adele sag with relief.
Auntie Brenda nodded in approval. “You’re going to find it very quiet around here now,” she said. “Perhaps you should get another cat.”
Kane decided that was one message he was not going to pass on.
Daisy shifted nervously in her seat. “Grandpapa,
are you sure about this?”
Her husband held her hand. “It’s okay. We’re
doing the right thing.”
“It’s okay for you, Russ, you didn’t grow
up with Grandpapa.”
“He’s not exactly your grandfather,
though, is he?” Russ said. “I mean, he’s your great-great-great grandfather. And
he’s old enough to know his own mind.”
Daisy looked across at the ghost sitting
next to the fire. It was an open fire, hissing softly with the smokeless coal
they had to use in this part of the city. Grandpapa had never countenanced
changing to central heating. “But it seems so final.”
“I know what I’m doing, girl.” Grandpapa
puffed on his ghostly pipe. “But I’ve stayed here long enough.”
“Is it about Mrs Henderson?” Russ asked.
“Russ!” Daisy hissed.
“I’ll have you know that I was always
faithful to my wife, your grandmama…”
“Great-great-great grandmother,” Russ whispered
“… but I do admit that when Mrs Henderson
moved in next door I was struck by her character.” Grandpapa ignored Russ’s
comment. “And, yes, now that she has passed over, it has made me think that perhaps
I should go and join my Millie…”
“Or Mrs Henderson” Russ murmured to Daisy.
don’t mind.” Grandpapa snorted. “It’s time to join my Millie. I just hope you
found someone suitable to take my case.”
“Are you sure you need help, Grandpapa?”
Russ asked. “Can you not just, I don’t know, decide?”
Grandpapa shifted awkwardly. “I’ve not had
any luck so far.” He admitted. “I may be a special case.” He puffed on his pipe
again, enjoying the thought. “But hopefully you have engaged a suitable
specialist, one who can manage matters with appropriate dignity.”
“He is the only one we could find,” Daisy
said. The thought of the familiar, irritating figure disappearing left her unsettled.
“But three separate people said he was very good. All the other people we asked
were, well, fakes.”
“And he isn’t asking a fortune, like some
of them out there.” Russ added. “If he can’t help us, it will have to be a
“No priests!” Grandpapa snapped. “I don’t
approve of them. The old vicar ran off with his secretary and his replacement
cooked the books.”
Daisy and Russ exchanged worried glances. There
were plenty of stories about bad priests, but who else could get rid of ghosts?
Daisy waved her hand at the table. “Are you sure we need to have this ready for
Grandpapa snorted, “Anyone who can get rid
of me will be a man of some courage, a man of discernment, a man of taste and
refinement. It won’t be some teddy boy in a silly jacket or one of those punk
mohicans. He will be a gentleman.”
Russ looked over the small table set aside
for the ‘ghost whisperer’. “I hope he smokes.”
“All gentlemen smoke.” Grandpapa said. “Or
they should. A man should be able to choose a good cigar. That’s how you can
tell the quality of a gentleman. It may make all the difference in whether he
accepts the case or walks away. And have you water for the whisky? I know we
have soda, but some of the old guard take water with their whisky.”
Daisy and Russ avoided looking at each
other. Grandpapa was becoming more and more out of touch, but Daisy had had the
opinionated ghost in the background all her life and Russ had grown to love the
old man – more or less. Neither could imagine the house without him. But now
that the sprightly and scandalous Mrs Henderson had gone, a spark had gone out
of the old spirit and he had become quieter and a little less visible. They jumped
as the doorbell echoed through the room.
“Don’t keep him waiting!” Grandpapa said, “Or
he may realise we no longer have staff! Go on – answer the door!”
Daisy and Russ raced into the hall and
then paused at the door. Daisy looked at Russ. “If we open this door, we won’t
be able to stop it.”
“If we don’t open the door, Grandpapa will
carry on being miserable.” Russ said, “And he’ll make our lives miserable with
it.” He looked at the door as if seeing it for the first time. “But I know what
The doorbell rang again. “Open the damn
door!” Grandpapa roared from the sitting room.
Daisy swallowed and, despite shaking
fingers, opened the door. “Oh!” She looked at the skinny lad in the thin jacket
and supermarket jeans and wondered what Grandpapa would say about this.
“Mr and Mrs Smyth? I’m Kane Thelwell. We
spoke on the phone about a ghost.” Kane smiled nervously. “May I come in?”
“Can you see anyone?” Justin asked. He stood at the window, tension in every line of him.
“One moment, Mr Birstall.” Kane tried to concentrate on the sobbing ghost in front of him. “Calm down and just try and…” You couldn’t tell a ghost to take a breath. “Just take it easy.”
“All my life I’ve heard the story of the family jewels.” Justin said. “I’ve waited my whole life to buy back my family home.”
Kane nodded distractedly as the ghost slowly straightened up and looked at his sister’s great grandson. “That’s better. Now, this is Justin, and he wants to know what happened to his great grandmother’s jewellery.”
Justin looked between Kane and the gap that Kane was apparently speaking to. “Dad said that the jewellery wasn’t much, but it would be great to be sort of reconciled with that, to be part of the family.”
“I never thought she would leave.” The ghost started sobbing again. “I thought if I forbade her to marry then we would be together and comfortable. But she wanted to go to London with this clerk.”
Kane nodded politely. “I’m sure you missed your sister…”
“I missed her so much. How could I know that I would drive her away.” The ghost pulled out a spectral handkerchief. “I mean, if I had realised perhaps I would have at least had letters.” The ghost looked between Kane and Justin. “I have to know – did she die in poverty? Did she die in pain? Did she have a family? I’ve worried about it for so many years, I can’t rest.”
Kane looked at Justin. “Your great-grandmother, was she happy?”
Justin smiled. “I grew up with stories about her life. She loved the theatre, was devoted to my great-grandfather – she was so proud of him. She was always well dressed, and had all the latest fashions, especially when she went to the big dinners and galas.”
“What do you mean, big dinners?” The ghost forgot to sob into his handkerchief and stared at Justin.
“The ghost is surprised your great-grandmother went to big dinners.” Kane said, a little timidly. A skinny kid just out of local authority care shouldn’t ask questions of a high flyer in the City.
Justin didn’t take offence. “My great-grandmother ran off with my great-grandfather to the horror of all their families. But they settled in London, he went back to his father’s firm and they were very happy. Once he took over, there were shareholders’ dinners and charity events with the Lord Mayor.” He smiled. “Granny used to tell us stories about how they met with royalty and all sorts.” He sighed “But she used to whisper to Granny that all the fancy necklaces she had didn’t have the same feel as the locket her brother gave her and that she left behind.” He shook his head. “That’s why I’m here. One last chance.” He sighed. “Who am I kidding? That locket was probably sold or thrown long ago.”
“How dare you, sir!” The ghost stood, indignant. “The very thought that I would do something like that! Of course, I didn’t want the maids finding it and perhaps sending it on to London, so I hid it.” He turned to Kane. “Boy, you can fetch it for me.”
“What?” Kane said, bewildered. “I mean, what do you mean? Where is it?”
“I put it in the kitchen.” The ghost said. “No-one would think to look in the kitchen for something I hid. I never went there as an adult.” He shook his head. “Everyone forgot that I grew up in this house. I know every nook and cranny. Come on, lad, smarten up.”
Kane followed the ghost out of the empty study and down the echoing, uncarpeted hall and into the kitchen. Justin trailed after him.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m following the ghost, Mr Birstall.”
“What ghost?” Justin said. “I can’t see anything. Don’t you have to have a seance and call on them or something.”
As Kane walked into the kitchen, he wondered what it would be like to have to ask a ghost to come instead of trying to get them to shut up and leave him alone. “I’m getting a message.” He said.
“Hmph, a message.” The ghost snorted. “Anyone would think you were some sort of spiritist. Come over here, lad, and put your hand up the chimney, quick as you like.”
Kane looked at the soot-encrusted mantle and took off his jacket. “Whereabouts up the chimney?” He asked doubtfully, rolling up his sleeves.
“What?” Justin asked.
Kane ignored him and, following the ghost’s instructions, slid his hand behind the mantle. “The ghost, your great-great-uncle, would like to know if his sister was happy, and how she died.” The soot felt unpleasantly damp and a little slimy.
“What?” Justin asked. He stared at Kane and then shrugged. “Everyone said she had a happy heart. She died in the Blitz, direct hit on the house.”
“She wouldn’t have suffered.” The ghost said quietly. “And she was happy.” He sighed. “Try a bit further left, boy.”
Kane looked down at the soot streaking his newest jeans and trainers. “Are you sure? Hang on…” His fingers found a loose stone and he wiggled it a little before he managed to prise it out. He set the stone carefully down on the hearth and tentatively reached in. “I think this is it.”
Justin took the small tin box from Kane, regardless of the soot falling on his bespoke suit and, after a struggle, opened it up. He swallowed and tipped the contents onto the dusty windowsill. “Great-grandmother’s locket.” He pushed aside the discoloured pearls and the garnet necklace and pulled out a simple locket, still faintly gleaming under the dust.
“She didn’t die poor, she died happy.” The ghost sighed as he started to fade and pass over. “I didn’t drive her to poverty. She was happy.”
Kane watched the ghost go home and turned to Justin. “The ghost has gone, Mr Birstall. I don’t think that there’s anything else.”
“Hmm?” Justin was staring at the picture in the locket. “Sorry, I was caught up with this.” He showed the facing pictures to Kane. “My great-grandmother and her brother. I have a similar picture of her at home, look.” He pulled out his phone and scrolled through to show Kane the picture of the same laughing young woman that was in the locket.
Kane looked at the faded photographs and smiled politely as he tried to brush the soot off his jeans. “So, I’ll see myself out.”
Justin came back to the present. “I’ll give you a lift to the station.” He handed Kane an envelope. “Agreed fee.” He added a second envelope. “And the bonus for finding the locket.” The smile on his face grew. “The family jewels.”
I am useless at planning, which annoys me. Many, many years ago I worked in jobs that demanded accurate and speedy work with seriously hard deadlines, but those skills are long gone. For ages I’ve tried to stick to a timetable of a little fiction on most Mondays, a little chat on some Wednesdays and an occasional book review on Fridays. Recently that has gone so far out of the window that it can’t be seen with a telescope.
This doesn’t just apply to my writing, by the way. I have a mound of knitting projects that have been started and forgotten that is large enough to hide a lost city. I am on Christmas card terms with all the delivery people around here as I have so many internet impulse buys. And my poor husband has learned to live with my erratic attitude to grocery shopping.
To be fair to myself, I’ve recently been busy with a lot of projects. This is partly because in nearly sixty years of life I have not learned how to set realistic goals. The quirkiest project that I’ve been involved with is #HazardousToYourSanity where a number of different bloggers write about projects that interest them. I’ve contributed a couple of posts about British Superstitions, here, here and here and there have been all sorts of topics from other authors, such as soup recipes, music playlists and some very spicy ideas. I’m committed to regular spots in the roster and I’m a couple of pieces ahead now, which is a relief. I was also incredibly honoured to be asked to write the Afterword for the next Kindle edition of A Place Called Paradise by Essie Summers. I’ll share when that comes out, but my part in that is now pretty much done so that’s off the list.
Of course, October is rapidly approaching and as so much of my writing revolves around the supernatural, I feel that I have to go for it. October Frights is back between October 10th and October 15th again, organised by the amazing AF Stewart. I have already got some stuff sorted out for that, and I’m planning a few good things for the rest of October, so watch this space!
Of course, Invitation Accepted is continuing and I have a lot of plans for that.
I am always reluctant to post that I am going to do something, as chaos always follows. If I say I’m going to turn right then, no matter what I do, I turn left every time. However I’ve finished the next instalment of Invitation Accepted and cued it up to be published on Monday, I’ve picked a book to review in eight days time, so the next realistic Friday, and I’m making notes about what I can chat about next Wednesday. I’m hoping that I can get back on track in time for October.
Now all I have to do is try and rein in my imagination and be realistic about what I can do in October – but I think it will still be worth it to watch this space!
The reason for doing research is so that you don’t look like an idiot.
The reason that you stop doing research is to avoid boring your reader and losing your sanity.
You should only research when it makes life easier for you.
In my opinion, when you are starting a piece of fiction, when should be a question that is asked early in the process. If you nail down that time then you make life a lot easier for yourself.
Let’s consider a sweet and gentle heroine, Gwendolyn, and a strong jawed hero, Kurt. They first meet during a magical moment at sunset. In the soft glow of the fading light, they smile and perhaps their hands touch as they part and go their separate ways towards… towards what?
I live in Leeds, UK. If they met today, 21st June, at the end of my street (possibly the least romantic place in the world), sunset would be 9.40pm. She could be wearing a floating dress and cute sandals while he would be wearing jeans and a tight t-shirt that of course showed off his manly muscles. They would part and go towards their separate beds. However if they met, say, on March 21st, then sunset would be 6.20pm and they would be going back to their evening pursuits, perhaps in snug sweaters and waterproof jackets. Gwendolyn will be embroidering a picture for a friend and Kurt will be rebuilding a motorbike. And if that first, tingling meeting was on 21st December then sunset would be at 3.46pm and they would be rushing home for their evening meal. They are wearing warm boots and scarves and Gwendolyn’s meal probably involves a cupcake while Kurt is definitely having steak.
Most readers will probably not go around marking in pencil the different times of day and keeping track. On the other hand, those who notice that Gwendolyn and Kurt are suffering from irregular sunsets will find it incredibly annoying. Having a sunset at 5pm one day and 8pm the next isn’t great continuity and could jar if it’s noticed. It may not only stop them reading the book, it could stop them recommending the book and, worse, stop them buying more of your work.
It doesn’t matter if you are on the exact second. To a normal mortal like me, I couldn’t tell you the exact minute that the sun sets as I’m going about my daily life. I just know that the sun sets later on some days than on others and hang out my washing accordingly. When I’m writing, however, I know that I can use a rough rule of thumb to know whether the exciting chase through the woods is in dappled sunshine (which makes it harder to spot the dropped clue in the light and shade) or in darkness (which makes it easier for the dastardly ambusher to creep up on them).
Setting the time based on the present is one thing, but how about having Gwendoline and Kurt battling Victorian Vampires. They are creeping around 19th century London, valiantly stalking the bloodsuckers. If the vampires struggle with daylight, knowing when the sun is likely to set is really important and, fortunately, sunrise and sunset times stay roughly the same for millennia. You can look up the times for this year and apply them whenever. In this scenario, the year is the important detail.
Queen Victoria came to the throne in 1837. She died in 1901. That’s roughly 64 years, or the difference between 2023 and 1959. A lot of stuff happened in science, industry and politics and many people know enough about that time to quibble. If the characters are huddled together under a streetlight, is it powered by gas (from the 1820s) or electric (in general use from around 1878)? And as Lord Kurt has one manly arm around the fainting Miss Gwendolyne, does his other hand hold a Colt Walker (introduced 1847), a Colt Peacemaker (1873) or a Colt New Service (1898). While someone in 1898 could absolutely be using a well-maintained Colt Walker or even a blunderbuss, it’s slightly harder to have a Colt New Service in 1847, but that depends on the plot.
In general, on the whole and by and large, it doesn’t matter too much. If you are getting complaints, you can look the critic firmly in the eye and tell them, ‘It’s like that in my world.’ After all, vampires aren’t real, so what does it matter if a young Charles Dickens is using a commercial typewriter? If you want to give your story authentic bones (with room to fudge a year or two if the plot needs it – plot comes first) then if you pick a date at the start then you can always look up information as you feel you need it. Perhaps Bram Stoker writes Dracula after learning about vampires in a chance encounter with Gwendolyn and Kurt. Dracula was published in 1897, so let’s have the story set in 1875. That means that Kurt can have a shiny new Colt Peacemaker and Gwedonlyn will be wearing rigorous corsets and a bustle. And as you rattle through their amazing adventures, if you are in doubt, you can just have a quick look to see what was around in 1875, fiddle with stuff to make the plot work and carry on.
Fantasy writing is not too different when it comes to time. You may be creating a new world that is stuffed with elves and goblins and magic, but if you do a little bit of research at the start, you can make life a lot easier for yourself.
Kurt the Barbarian may be meeting the sweet Gwendolyn the Healer in the fabled city of Tarsh, but unless you feel like worrying about planetary physics, you can use the same rules for their daylight hours. Are they meeting as the sun sets and the gates of the city are closing? You can absolutely use the prosaic timings of Leeds. Perhaps it’s winter, and the sun dips below the Virnoth Mountains early and Kurt the Barbarian, resplendent in his furs, wraps a warm woollen cloak around Gwendolyn the Healer before leading her to a sustaining meal in a local inn. Or is it later in the year and the hot summer winds are swirling up from the plains of Redumar as the incense rises from the temples on the soft evening air.
By the way, did you know that sunrise and sunset are different depending on where in the world you are? Let’s take a sunset on 10th November. In Leeds, where the modern day romance between Kurt and Gwendolyn is progressing nicely, the sun sets at 4.16pm. If you are being extremely detailed, the Victorian Vampire Hunters in London have sunset at 4.18pm on November 10th (and the chance of those two minutes being significant is extremely small). But perhaps Lord Kurt and Miss Gwendolyn have followed the vampires across Europe to the capital of Romania. Sunset at Bucharest on November 10th is at 4.54pm. But wait, the fanged fiend has fled to an unexpected lair in Hong Kong. As they scull across the bustling harbour on that fateful 10th November, the sun sets at 5.41pm. Alas, they miss their chance, and the bloodthirsty Count is now in Santiago, Chile. November 10th is late spring or early summer in the Southern Hemisphere and as Lord Kurt escorts Miss Gwendolyn into the International Exposition in the Quinta Normal grounds, they fear that the sunset at 8.18pm will awaken their nemesis.
This may all seem like a lot of research, but it’s just a few clicks on the internet and then you have some bones to hang your story on. If you choose 10th November in Leeds for the modern romance between Kurt and Gwendolyn then you can use the run up to Christmas with the city Christmas lights, the displays in Roundhay Park and all the Christmas shopping events as easy ways to frame their encounters as the story progresses. And if Lord Kurt and Miss Gwendolyn are searching Victorian London, it’s so much easier to know if a London Underground station would be open in a particular area if you can just check the history pages of a website for 1875 rather than worrying about making something up and then contradicting that two chapters later. And surely it’s easier to remember if Kurt the Barbarian and Gwendolyn the Healer are battling ice or heat waves if you have nailed down an equivalent real world date. After all, you don’t want the heat of the summer sun shining on the gilded domes of Tarsh if you’ve described the snow storm two paragraphs and three hours earlier.
My opinion is that a reader wants to know about the characters and the plot. The most important thing is absolutely the story. I believe that it’s easier for a reader to savour your wonderful writing if those minor, background details work together, support the story and help things flow. And if research gets in the way of the story – junk the research!
It’s No1 in the ‘Horror Short Story Collections Free on Amazon UK’ Bestseller list as I type, so I guess that I am officially a best seller of sorts.
As I have mentioned, Whisper in the Shadows is a collection of short stories with a slightly darker cast to them or perhaps a supernatural leaning. Eight of them were previously on my blog, though now have been moved to the eBook, and there are four new stories. It seems only fair that I give at least some value for money.
I thought that it would be a chance to talk about the inspiration of a couple of the new stories. Or, perhaps, make shameful admissions. I read posts about writers struggling to find inspiration, to find ideas and characters and places. I’m not one of those. I get mugged by inspiration. I have a list somewhere of dozens of plots, characters and settings. The actual writing is the thing that slows me down.
The short story First House on the Left was inspired by four houses in a row at a junction. I’m often stuck in traffic there, and I started to wonder about them. I couldn’t see any easy parking nearby, and I’m usually too rushed to park and walk for much distance, so I took a screen shot from Google Maps.
I checked for copyright, and as far as I can tell, as long as I don’t go overboard with the screenshots and credit Google Street View, this is okay. I’m definitely not trying to pass this off as my own work. It’s not only blatantly from Google Streetview but I can’t take pictures as good as this. Anyway, I’d be stuck in traffic here several times a week and wondering about these houses. Why were three boarded up and not the fourth? Who would own these houses and let them go to ruin? What would it be like to live in that last house when the others were boarded up? Would there be ghosts? I have no idea who lived there or anything about this terrace, but my imagination took over and the next thing I knew there were just over six thousand words of a supernatural story.
That was inspiration that grew over months. On the other hand, I was happily shopping at the supermarket with most of my mind drifting away as I tried to remember whether we needed breakfast cereal and I noticed a woman forget the coin in her supermarket trolley. As someone chased after her, I wondered if that was a failed attempt to get rid of an unlucky coin and the result of that train of though was that I forgot breakfast cereal but wrote The Coin. I had to go back to the shop, but I don’t regret it as I had a blast writing the story.
This is the final reminder that Dark Picture, Under Dark Hillsand the stories associated with At the Fireside will be removed from the blog on 30th April. Dark Picture and Under Dark Hills are likely to be converted to novels after a serious tidy up, so watch this space.
I’d love to hear what you think, so feel free to drop a comment, thought or question.
I fail at Newsletters. I fail so epically that it is almost visible from orbit. I have been planning newsletters for years. There is still no newsletter. I have a few draught newsletters on my laptop that have never been sent out. I’ve plans for Mrs Tuesday’s household hints with lists and copies of ancient housekeeping manuals that are currently going nowhere. The biggest obstacle is that legally I need to include a physical address in my newsletter and it can’t be a post box.
If anyone pays the slightest attention to me, they almost certainly can find me. I have a habit of wearing my heart on my sleeve and saying what’s going through my mind at the time. This has got me into so much trouble at times, but it means that you can pick up all sorts of details about me. However I don’t quite feel comfortable putting my home address down, and while you can pay to have a physical address somewhere, it’s a little more money than I want to spend, at least until I earn a little more from my writing.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and when I found out about Substack, it seemed like the answer. Anyone who wishes can set up a Substack account for free. There are paid for subscriptions, but I’m not going there. I may later, I’m not ruling it out, but I’m not currently comfortable with it. If you subscribe to me on there Lyssa Medana’s Writing (it is such an unoriginal title but I couldn’t think of anything else at the time) then whenever I post something on there, you will get an email letting you know. It’s like a newsletter, but not a newsletter and I’ll take it.
There are two main downsides to this. The first is that there will probably be something like a chatty bit like this most weeks, or maybe two or three times a month and it may feel like spam. The other main downside is that apparently you can do podcasts through there, I am very good at talking indeed. I’m not very good at shutting up, however, and I lose the thread a lot. My train of thought often leaves the station without me. Me having access to the chance to talk without interruption is not necessarily a good thing. By the way, it looks like there are a lot of interesting writers and accounts on there to browse.
There are some instalments of Invitation Accepted on there at the moment, but they are likely to go. I may well be sharing the fiction I post freely on here on other sites but I’m working that out. As I went to link to my account on Substack, I realised that there were still references to books published by Three Furies Press which no longer exist. And that made me realise that I have a lot of places where I need to go and edit. I’m still finding it a little hard.
I was looking on Unsplash for pics to represent the notes I’m currently taking, then remembered the pic above. I was trying to sort out the blog and found over 170 stories on here. Around eight, I think, made it to Whisper in the Shadows(I added some new stuff, of course). As I work out what I’m going to do now and what direction I’m going, the stories will be a little reduced and there may be other stuff going on. I’ll share when I work it out myself.
As I have mentioned a few times over the last month or so, Dark Picture, Under Dark Hills, and all the stories that aren’t really speculative fiction, such as those found under At the Firesidewill be taken down on April 30th. Dark Picture and Under Dark Hills will eventually find their way into ebooks, but I don’t know when that will happen.
There are likely to be a few posts like this over the next few months as I work out what I’m doing, make mistakes, try and correct them and generally dither. I hope that you can bear with me, and I would love to hear from you. What do you like? What gets on your nerves? What do you want to know?
I am easily distracted, and far too easily bored. I found myself wondering how someone who found the blog for the first time would see it, and whether they would find the fiction easily or whether they would get bogged down by all the notes and articles.
That is why I spent most of this weekend going through the fiction and poetry on here. I found 170 separate pieces, which is a lot more than I expected. Most of those pieces have been collected together and you can find them on the menu above, on the right, under ‘Collected Fiction’. There is a drop down menu and you can find collections of poetry and fiction. Please feel free to have a rummage and see if you find any old favourites. I’ve also left them in place in the blog for anyone scrolling through.
Over the next few weeks I’ll be doing some blog housekeeping. I’ll delete any duplicate posts, junk any stuff that I think is below standard and I am going to force myself to go through and properly tag all the posts. I’ll do a little editing, tidy up punctuation and hopefully find a way of formatting that means that all the posts have the same line spacing.
I’m also considering removing some stories and perhaps placing them in an ebook. So many stories are lost in the crowd here, and I think thinning out some of the posts will make it easier to read. If I do put them in an ebook, though, I promise that I’ll add plenty of new material as well.
By the way, the pic above shows some of the notes I was making.
I’d love to hear any opinions you have on this, so please leave a comment if you have any thoughts.
“Are those your new neighbours?” Cerne waved a hand at the lads setting up some speakers next to a barbecue in the garden next door.
Taranis nodded. “They moved in last week. I think they’re sharing the house while they’re at college.” He took a slow sip of his home brew. “I’ve given them the first word, and I’ve let them have a housewarming, and now we see what happens.”
Cerne looked sideways at his old friend, “You just go looking for trouble living next to student housing. I never get any trouble from any of my neighbours.”
“And where’s the fun in that?” Taranis drained the last mouthful of his beer. “This batch of homebrew came out pretty well. It’s much easier to get the ingredients these days.”
Cerne nodded. “I used to have to grow a lot of stuff myself. It’s much better now there is that internet.” He looked down at his glass, filled with golden liquid that glowed in the last of the days’ light. It tasted of summer and sunsets, with spices and lightning as an undertone, and filled a heart with wild wind and thunder and warmth of heaven’s fire. It was a brew for the gods, not frail mortals. “Are these the glasses we stole from that pub in Brighton?”
“I knew we were going to get kicked out anyway.” Taranis stood up creakily. “Especially after those bikers started.”
Cerne caught him eyeing the lads in the garden next door. “Remember, no paperwork.”
“That’s always my motto. Whatever you do, no paperwork.” Taranis wandered into his kitchen and came out again with a couple of bottles of his home brew and a plate of sandwiches, thick with roast pork. “Lisa sent some more pork around, after I sorted out the people parking in front of her house.”
“You had a word with the council, didn’t you?” Cerne said, grinning and throwing some pork to his dog, Garm, who sat patiently next to him.
“And no paperwork,” Taranis said. He poured himself another drink and topped up Cerne.
“Hey, grandpa!” The redheaded lad from next door hung over the fence, far too close to Taranis. “You want to switch your hearing aids off now. We’re going to party.”
The scruffy one with dyed dark hair slouched over the fence next to him. “And my dad’s in the police, so there’s nothing you can do. Just get used to the loud music.”
“It won’t be that loud, will it?” Taranis said, allowing a slight hint of weakness in his normally booming voice.
“This kit cost more than you ever earned in your life, grandpa,” The redhead laughed. “They’ll hear it all the way down to the Estate.”
Cerne put his hand on Taranis’ arm. “No paperw- Bloody hell!” The dark-haired lad had switched on the sound system and it vibrated through the houses and gardens, making Garm yelp in dismay.
The redhead laughed again as he turned the music down, though keeping it at a level that could rattle windows. “We’re starting off quiet, grandpa, but don’t expect it to stay this level.”
“Well I never did.” Taranis sounded frail. “That’s a very loud system.”
“Don’t overdo it,” Cerne muttered to him.
“I tell you what, young man,” Taranis mostly hid his grin from the lads. “Why don’t you have a drink on me? I’m sure we can work things out.”
“Homebrew?” The redhead looked sceptical.
“It’s a bit stronger than average, so take it steady,” Taranis said. There was a brief rumble of thunder, unnoticed by the lads, but Garm hid under the table and Cerne grinned.
“We can manage more than your cocoa, grandpa.” The redhead took a large swig and looked at the bottle. “Hey, this is the good stuff.” He passed it on to his nearest friend.
Cerne watched the redhead. “It’s taking it’s time kicking in.”
“I went for smooth rather than strong,” Taranis said. “It’s not like it’s for a proper feast.”
Cerne checked his watch. “Perhaps it was the ingredients,” he said. “Even with a smoother brew it normally hits quicker. Ahh, there it is.”
One by one the lads started shivering, huddling into themselves and staring at sights that only they could see. The dark-haired lad was rocking slowly to and fro and his blond friend was sobbing. The redhead was noisily sick in a planter next to the patio door.
“Look at me!” Taranis commanded, all trace of the frail old man gone. He waited until all their frightened eyes were turned to him and then pointed at the sound system. With a sharp crack, a bolt of lightning did several thousand pounds of damage and left an echoing silence. “Now go inside, sleep it off, and remember to think of your neighbours next time.”
Cerne watched them slink off. “That was a bit harsh, wasn’t it?”
Taranis fondled Garm’s ears as he slunk out from under the table. “They’ll be fine tomorrow. It wasn’t the really strong stuff, and there won’t be any paperwork.” He fed the huge dog another piece of pork. “Another glass?”
A little warm up to my entry in the Grumpy Old Gods Anthology, out today, which you can find here