October 12, 2015

What 5 Items might help you survive a Zombie Apocalypse?

zombie survival apocalypseIt’s Halloween, so it’s time to talk horror movies! If you and your friends are anything like the people I know, then you’ll have had the zombie apocalypse conversation. You’ll know what you’ll do, where you’ll go, and how long it’ll be before you ultimately panic.

I’ll be honest, I’m a big fan of Shaun’s plan – sit and home, make a cup of tea, and wait for it all to blow over.

But how many people actually have their zombie survival kit to hand?

The folks at Man Crates, a company who provide boxed gifts for men that need to be opened by a crowbar (the gifts, not the men), want to know what you would want to have in your kit. So here are my top five items!

1) Maps of the local area.

zombie survival apocalypseForget using Google Maps – you can’t expect to get much mobile phone coverage when it all hits the fan. You might need to leave where you are and hole up somewhere safer – and you don’t want to get yourself stuck in a dead end. Good old fashioned paper maps don’t need GPS or batteries. Just make sure they’re recent.

Incidentally, this is good advice if you go fell walking or hiking. Don’t be the person who needs to call Mountain Rescue because you thought you could rely on your iPhone.

2) Crowbar

zombie survival apocalypseA lot of people always say they’d want a gun, or a sword, during a zombie apocalypse but be honest – do you know how to use one? Do you know how to maintain a gun? And come on, if you live in affluent Chelsea, where will you even come by one? Sure, a sword doesn’t need ammo and they’re quiet, but you still need a bit of skill.

Not so with a crowbar! Swing and a thud, that’s all you need. Plus they’re useful for getting into places that might provide shelter, as well as being relatively light to carry.

3) Plants identification guide

Zombie survival apocalypseOnce the power goes, any food that needs to be kept refrigerated will need to go. Most people don’t know how to hunt and prepare their own food, so once the canned goods run out, they’ll turn to foraging.

Do you know the difference between parsley and water hemlock? Or cherries and belladonna berries? (Hint, the berries in this picture are belladonna…and they’re poisonous!) Best equip yourself!

4) A flint

zombie survival apocalypseYou’ll need fire for various reasons (cooking, keeping warm, defence) and matches might get wet, and lighters don’t always work. You might even want to just randomly set fire to zombies but remember they don’t feel pain so they’ll probably just wander about setting fire to other things.

Learn how to use a flint and keep it handy!

5) Motorbike leathers

zombie survival apocalypseMost people in movies get bitten on their extremities and while a set of motorbike leathers won’t guarantee ultimate protection, they’re tougher than denim and they’ll hopefully keep most bites at bay.

Plus leathers will prevent general cuts and scrapes that’ll be harder to keep clean once you can’t just pop to Boots for a tube of Savlon.

So that’s what I’d like to keep handy! What five items would you keep in your kit?

October 9, 2015

Halloween Season – Queens of Twilight

Halloween Battle of the BandsThe inhabitants of Karloff Falls gathered at the single bar on Main Street for the annual Halloween Battle of the Bands contest. Some of the townsfolk wore homemade T-shirts to support their friends or neighbours. Others wore disinterested expressions, there solely due to the lack of anything else to do.

MC Marie Festre adjusted her Morticia Addams wig and wiggled onto the stage.

“Good evening, Karloff Falls!”

The crowd yelled a greeting in reply.

“Are you ready for the Battle of the Bands?”

Another shouted affirmation. Marie smiled.

“Well give it up for the Queens of Twilight!”

Isolated pockets of applause were scattered among the silent crowd. Four women shuffled onstage, greeted by stony faces. They looked at each other with dead eyes and shrugged. The tallest woman headed for the microphone, and wrapped bony fingers around the stand. Her skin bloomed pale green under the stage lights.

“What’s up, Karloff Falls?!”

Silence. The singer shot a glance to the guitarist to her right. The guitarist gestured to the crowd. The singer bit her lip and turned back to the audience.

“I’m Elsa, and this is Glenda, Lyra and Rita,” said the singer, pointing to the bassist, guitarist and drummer.

Several fans whooped in the crowd. A man near the front mimed a dramatic yawn. Elsa narrowed her eyes and leaned in towards the mike.
“People keep complaining that music is too manufactured these days. Well, our manager scoured the length and breadth of the state to put us together!”

Elsa’s pronouncement provoked squeals and cheers from the band’s few rabid fans in the crowd. Bored chatter began among the rest of the audience. Lyra picked at the ugly seam that ran up her arm from her wrist to her collarbone. Glenda tightened the bolts in her neck before adjusting the strap of her bass.

“So we say yes, a lot of music is manufactured, but they don’t get more manufactured than us!”
Elsa punched the air to more scattered cheers. Rita and Lyra leaned in to squeal into Elsa’s microphone and the band launched into their first number, Little Lightning Bolt.

Their manager waited in the wings, smiling as the band’s raucous blend of punk and 50s rock n roll won over the more skeptical patrons in the crowd. He twiddled the ring on his little finger, caressing the Frankenstein family crest set in gold.

The Queens of Twilight finished their first song to screams for more.

Their manager smiled. Great-great-great-grandfather would be so proud.

October 5, 2015

5 Classic Horror Movies to watch this Halloween

It’s October so we’re now officially into the Halloween Build-up! Each Monday I’m going to post horror related content, and this week we’re looking at classic horror movies! There are various arguments about what year ‘modern horror’ begins, which will be another post for another time, but for this post I’m going with the 1968 cut off point.

Classic horror doesn’t have the guts and gore of the Saw franchise, and you can forget the never-ending Paranormal Activity cycle with its endless shaky cam and wooden dialogue, here are five classic horror movies that I think you should watch this Halloween!

The Haunting (1963)

The Haunting 1963You wouldn’t think that two years later, director Robert Wise would go on to make The Sound of Music, so chilling and creepy is The Haunting. Based on the Shirley Jackson novel, ‘The Haunting of Hill House’, this film tells the story of a parapsychologist who assembles a group of volunteers at the vengeful Hill House in an attempt to discover proof of the supernatural.

Eleanor ‘Nell’ Vance (Julie Harris) is the most susceptible to the influence of the house, and slowly begins to unravel as it works its eerie magic on her. The biggest star of the film is perhaps Hill House itself, but there is no awful CGI (as there was in the 1999 remake), just good old fashioned sound effects and taut tension!

Night of the Demon (1957)

Night of the Demon 1957This is an often underrated little gem, based on the short story ‘Casting the Runes’ by M. R. R. James. Also known as Curse of the DemonNight of the Demon tells the story of psychologist Dr Holden (Dana Andrews) who is cursed by occult practitioner Dr Karswell (Niall MacGinnis). Skeptical Holden soon learns to put his cynicism aside as he must figure out a way to undo the curse and thus save his life.

Directed by Jacques Tourneur, who also directed the 1942 classic Cat People, the film uses shadows and suggestion to hint at an occult world alongside our own, a place where logic and reason have no effect, and demonic forces lurk. The plotline was later re-used in the utterly unforgettable Drag Me To Hell (2009).

Dracula (1958)

Dracula 1958There have been many representations of the Count, and while Bela Lugosi’s 1931 turn is perhaps the most iconic, my favourite is that of the late Christopher Lee, in his second outing for Hammer Films. Jonathan (John Van Eyssen) is a vampire hunter bent on Dracula’s destruction, but after he kills the Count’s bride (Valerie Gaunt), Dracula decides to steal Jonathan’s fiancee Lucy (Carol Marsh) as revenge. Enter the indomitable Peter Cushing as Van Helsing to set matters right.

Where Lugosi was the consummate foreigner, Lee brought English nobility and poise to the role. Both charismatic and dominant, Lee’s Dracula paved the way for the many seductive versions of the Count that would come plater. Plus Peter Cushing is just too cool as Van Helsing.

Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

Bride of Frankenstein 1935It was the earlier Frankenstein (1931) that turned Boris Karloff into a star, but the 1935 sequel was director James Whale’s masterpiece. Brimming with dark humour and crackling with the intensity of Colin Clive’s performance as the prototypical mad scientist, Bride tells of Frankenstein’s decision to build a mate for his erstwhile creation.

Frankenstein’s focus on his artificial woman at the expense of his wife led many to assume the creature’s mate was Frankenstein’s own bride, and Elsa Lanchester’s hair and costume at the film’s climax has become truly iconic. Karloff brings pathos and humanity to his role, turning the Monster into a pitiable creation, while Clive’s twitchy performance has never been bettered. Classic horror at its absolute finest.

Black Sunday (aka The Mask of Satan, Revenge of the Vampire) (1960)

Black Sunday 1960Starring the incomparable Barbara Steele as evil witch Asa, Black Sunday is an Italian classic horror from director Mario Bava. Full of family curses, a heroine who is the physical double of the evil witch, and a villainness intent on immortality, the film is Gothic excess at its absolute finest.

Horror is normally more synonymous with male performers, such as Vincent Price, Christopher Lee or Boris Karloff, and Barbara Steele was one of the few actresses who carved out a niche playing seductive but evil monsters. Playing the dual role of Asa and her descendant Katia gave Steele the opportunity to show off her dramatic range, and she certainly turns in a memorable performance in this film which manages to be both cheesy yet highly effective.

What classic horror films would you recommend?

September 28, 2015

How to cope with rejection as a writer

how to cope with rejectionThere are few things guaranteed in life, but if you’re a writer, then at some point or other, you’re sure to encounter rejection. No matter what you’re submitting, sooner or later, you’ll get some form of reply saying “Thanks, but no thanks.” It’s hard, I know, but it’s something every writer goes through.

Picture the scene. You’ve spent so much time on your masterpiece that your family have forgotten your name, and you’ve finally released it off into the world. One day, an email/letter arrives. Could it be? You open it… and the excitement falls flat when you find the dreaded rejection slip. Unless you’ve been lucky enough to get a personalised reply with feedback, you may sit there in disbelief, wondering what was wrong with the piece. Sadly, the chances are – you’ll never know.

So here are five things to bear in mind, and to hopefully remove the sting!

It doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer

It’s easy to assume that a rejection means you’re a terrible writer but just because one editor or agent doesn’t like your work doesn’t mean no one will. I once submitted a piece of flash fiction to one magazine to have it rejected, only to submit it elsewhere and have it accepted within twelve hours. The phrase, ‘One man’s meat is another man’s poison’, springs to mind.

So don’t panic. Maybe you sent the work out before it was ready. Perhaps you need a little longer to hone your craft. It’s also possible that your work wasn’t to the editor’s taste, or maybe they liked it, but it just wasn’t what they were looking for at that time. Sometimes stories are rejected simply because an editor has recently accepted something similar.

The Editor is Not Rejecting YOU

It’s also easy to assume that the rejection is not of your work, but of you personally. Writers find it difficult to extricate themselves from their work, and sometimes take criticism of their writing as a criticism of themselves as people. It’s hardly surprising, given how much of a person goes into the act of writing.

All I can say is try not to take the rejection of your work as a rejection of you – think about how many writers whose work you don’t like. Do you dislike them as people? No, you don’t even know them. It’s the same for editors and agents.

If You Can’t Say Anything Nice…

Resist bitching about the title online. Some editors have either their own names or the names of their publications set up as Google Alerts. They may not have told you so, but your piece may have been rejected simply because it wasn’t a good fit for the theme of their next issue, and future work may have stood a better chance. If you badmouth them, you risk blacklisting yourself for good.

Come Back to It Later

Try againPut the story aside for a few days and work on something new. Try switching it up a little – if you normally write in first person, try third. If you normally write in past tense, try present. Come back to your rejected piece with fresh eyes (and the perspective that comes with distance) and give it another read. Can you spot any structural problems? Could your phrasing be tightened up? Have you over-used clichés that could be reworked into something more unique? If you were lucky enough to get feedback, can you see the points the editor is trying to make?

Try and Try Again

Have you got a trusted band of writer friends who can act as beta readers? Two (or more) heads are much better than one, so if they’ve looked over your piece and given you comments, then you might want to try submitting again. After you’ve made a list of possible titles, check their submission guidelines. Are they actually open to submissions? Do they have a preferred formatting style (font/size/line spacing etc.)? Do they accept multiple or simultaneous submissions? Do they have a minimum, or maximum, word count? Have you read other stories published by them? After all, your romantic epic might be perfect as it is, but it’s no good sending it to a science fiction magazine. These guidelines apply to everyone – don’t assume you’re the exception to their rule.

Submit – and Good Luck!

If you’ve done all this, then get submitting again. Just remember that your story is perfect for someone – you just have to find them!

Please share your thoughts and stories of rejection (and triumph!) in the comments section below.

September 25, 2015

#FridayFlash – The Eyes That See

The swing band in the corner fought for attention over the din of chatter in the hall. Women in furs quaffed champagne as their menfolk told dreary jokes and ignored the exhibits. Gabriel scowled at them – no appreciation for history at all. He’d assembled the finest pieces ancient Egypt could offer, and they were more interested in society gossip.

Marie St John sashayed up to him, all shining eyes and pearl strings. Marie’s mother was one of Gabriel’s greatest supporters, although she might not invest as much if she found out about his tiny crush on her daughter.

“Gabriel, darling. Splendid show you’ve put on.” She kissed both of his cheeks, leaving scarlet imprints like plague posies beside his mouth.

“I’m glad you approve, Miss St John. Your mother had a lot to do with this. So sorry she couldn’t be here tonight,” replied Gabriel.

“She’ll come along and see it in a few weeks when she’s back from Paris, I expect.”

Gabriel nodded. Mrs St John’s other daughter lived in France, and felt obliged to help out now the war was over. Pity she wasn’t in Paris in 1940 – the Germans wouldn’t have stood a chance.

“So has anything in particular caught your eye?” asked Gabriel.

“The jewellery is fascinating.” Marie looked across the room at a large glass case. Women clustered around it, cooing over the ornate collars and gold bands.

“Very different from what you wear.” Gabriel nodded to the Lalique brooch on her dress.

“I daresay Mother would wear it!”

Gabriel laughed. Mrs St John was no shrinking violet, and it was easy to picture the mountain of a woman draped in white linen, and dripping with Egypt’s finest. Marie smiled and looked away, her eyes roving the crowd. Feeling his chance slip away, Gabriel laid a hand on Marie’s arm.

“Have you seen this piece?” asked Gabriel. He steered Marie through the crowd towards a glass case set on a plinth in the middle of the room. A wooden box lay inside the case. Scenes of Egyptian life were painted on three sides, with hieroglyphics adorning the lid. One side was blank, except for a pair of painted eyes.

“What is it?” asked Marie. She wrinkled her nose.

“A coffin.”

“I thought mummies came in things like that,” said Marie. She pointed across the room to a brightly painted sarcophagus. A young man lounged against the case containing the sarcophagus, a cigarette in one hand and a cocktail glass in the other. Gabriel frowned.

“Later ones did from around 1550 BC. Before that, coffins were rectangular. The mummy lay inside on its side, facing the east, and the eyes were painted on so it could ‘see’ out,” said Gabriel. He pointed to the eyes. Marie shuddered.

“That’s awful.”

“Why do you say that? It’s no different from burying a body in the hope it’ll be resurrected on Judgement Day.”

“Is there a body in there?” Marie stared at the box, her rosebud mouth turning down at the corners.

“I daresay there is. I don’t believe in opening them up.”

“So you brought me over here for a dead body in a box?”

“I thought you might be interested. It’s not every day you come this close to an ancient civilisation.”

“Indeed. If you’ll excuse me.”  Marie tossed her head and stalked away, heading for the throng of young men around the statue of a bare-breasted goddess.

Gabriel sighed. He thought Marie had the same fascination for history as her mother. Still, he’d been wrong about women before. Two ex-wives proved that.

“I despair of humanity sometimes. I’m so sorry you had to witness that,” said Gabriel, laying one hand on the glass case.

He looked down at the coffin. The eyes on the box blinked.

September 21, 2015

The Beauty of Ghost Signs

Ghost Signs

© Icy Sedgwick 2015

In my day job as a graphic design instructor, we’ve been running a project for our returning students about found typography. It got me thinking about my love for ghost signs! We used to have a brilliant one for Jack Daniel’s in Newcastle, until someone installed a brand new billboard over it. They’re a fantastic link to the past, and in a lot of cases I think they should actually be preserved properly.

Take the photo to the left – the building is now the Tyne Theatre on Westgate Road but the sign on the wall advertises it as being the Stoll, ‘Tyneside’s Talkie Theatre’. The original theatre was converted in 1919, and became the Stoll Picture Theatre on 2 June that year. Incidentally, it was the first cinema in Newcastle to show ‘talkies’. The rise of television saw its decline and it closed in 1974. Luckily a campaign was started to save the building, and it was converted back to a theatre and it reopened in 1977. It’s a little slice of cinematic history, right there on the street!

But Icy, what are ghost signs?

Glad you asked! Ghost signs are those advertisements for long gone products or places that exist, often on gable ends, on older buildings. The services they advertise no longer exist but through a bizarre quirk of preservation, the signs remain. There are an abundance of them in London, out of the way but not out of mind, while they can be found across America, France, and even further afield.

Paul McIlroy, via Wikimedia Commons

This ghost sign from Dunfermline, Scotland, advertises Angus Campbell Ltd, ‘for all motor cycles, scooters & three wheelers’, on the side of a building now occupied by a second hand store of some description. The shop frontage has moved with the times, with new signs being added when the business changed hands, but the original proprietor remains present, haunting the property through the perpetuation of his name, painted on the gable end. The lettering recalls the typographic choices of the 1930s, and while the scooter and the three wheeler are vehicular choices of the 1950s and 1970s, it’s difficult to really ‘date’ the sign properly. What strikes me is that the name has not been painted over, or covered with something else.

Ghost Sign Baltic 39

© Icy Sedgwick 2013

I found this ghost sign in Newcastle, inside the Baltic 39 studios on High Bridge. A quick search on Google reveals that T. A. Hall & Sons Ltd occupied the Grade II listed building at 31-39 High Bridge, until the former printing warehouse was converted into a public gallery and studio space, operated by the BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art. The interior of the building might be swathed in Baltic’s black and concrete staircases, but the walls remain the white tiles of the warehouse, with this sign the final testament to the building’s former use. Strictly speaking, the term ‘ghost sign’ refers to adverts that had been painted directly onto the brickwork of a building, but this sign should still be included as it is painted directly onto the internal tiles and advertises a company who is no longer there.

Why do ghost signs matter?

Ghost signs are tangible, and they record something that no longer exists. Just as photographs or movies can capture the likenesses of people, preserving them for posterity, so ghost signs remind of us products or stores that existed before Google and Yell.com, when a visible advert in a prominent place was the best way to alert passersby to your presence, or products. The introduction of the billboard in the 1950s rendered such signs obsolete, and the switch from brick to glass or concrete as the construction material of choice surely added to their demise, too.

It’s easy to erase or misdirect a digital footprint, and the continuing presence of these ghost signs is both comforting, and disquieting. They bring ghosts among us, a quiet testament to days gone by, reminding us of simpler times, while intruding upon a visual culture that has no place for hand-painted adverts on brick. They’re poignant in the paradox of their existence – the point of an advert is to tell us about something, but when that ‘something’ no longer exists, what use do we have of the advert? Some of the signs now appear divorced from their context, as the world changes around them. Without their purpose, is their meaning now obscured, or do they retain a purpose, albeit a new one?

Often advertising mundane products, or home grown businesses, ghost signs a monument to those who have gone before, and a fascinating glimpse into a world that all the websites in existence can never truly recreate.

Do you have ghost signs in your town? Leave a photo in the comments below!

September 14, 2015

Fake motivation until you feel it

How to fake motivation until you feel it naturallyMotivation is a slippery thing. You have it…or you don’t. If you’re anything like me, you’ll find you have motivation to do non-essential, but enjoyable, things, and no motivation to do things that are fundamentally necessary, but probably not particularly fun. If you find yourself in this boat, what can you do about it? Well motivation is a funny old thing, and once you gain momentum, you generate the motvation to continue!

Here are four ways to fake motivation until it appears on its own!

1 – And snap! The job’s a game!

Mary Poppins was onto something with this one. How can you turn the task you need to do into something you want to do? I particularly use this with writing. If I have chapters I need to edit, then these become levels – I can’t progress in ‘the game’ until I’ve successfully completed them.

The mindset of ‘necessary evil’ is a difficult one to break, and sometimes you can think your way around it by telling yourself it’ll be worth it when it’s done and out of the way. If that isn’t working, turn the chore into your Big Boss and go Chun Li on its ass.

2 – Treat yourself.

How to fake motivation until you feel it naturallyThere’s absolutely nothing wrong with incentivising yourself to complete a task. I’m certainly far more likely to do something if there’s cake at the end. Be strict with yourself – only ‘accept’ the reward if you actually did the work, and make sure the reward is appropriate to the task.

I find it difficult to work up the motivation to exercise, but promising myself cake for every successful Pilates work-out is counterproductive at best. So if I won’t let myself buy new make up until I’ve done a month’s worth of work-outs, and I’ll only let myself buy new books when I’ve written so many chapters of my own work!

3 – Make a To Do list that’s actually achievable.

A lot of bloggers advocate the To Do list, and they also advocate that you do the smallest jobs first. It makes sense – the more you cross off the list, the more likely you are to keep going! It also gives you a greater sense of productivity if you can see what you’ve actually achieved so far, which is why I combine a To Do list with an I Did list, so I can see what I’ve done, particularly if I come across something that wasn’t on the To Do list but needed to be finished anyway.

But there’s no point in making a To Do list that you can’t finish. “Do housework” or “Complete research” are so vague, and sprawling, that you could argue they’ll never ultimately be finished. So focus on setting smaller targets that you can actually measure. “Do housework” might become four separate items, like “Sweep floors”, “Put clean laundry away”, “Dust living room” and “Clean kitchen”. That might make your list look longer but it makes it easier to tell when you’ve actually done those things.

4 – Tell yourself you need to be motivated!

How to fake motivation until you feel it naturallyThis one sounds hokey but it works, I promise! Simply tell yourself that you need to be motivated to complete the task. I often have work I don’t want to do because I’m not in the mood, or I have other things that also need to be doing, but I’ll just make myself sit down and do whatever it is that I’m putting off.

I set aside a time limit, close Google Chrome (unless I’m doing internet-based research, in which case it’s quite handy) and get to work. You can combine this with incentives (“I’ll give myself twenty minutes to get started and then I can check Facebook for five minutes”) but whatever you do, just tell yourself that you need to be motivated, and focus.

Now pick something on your To Do List – or actually write one – and get cracking! Let me know how you get on in the comments below.

September 9, 2015

Why have a blog anyway?

I was tagged by Bronagh of Bronagh’s Beauty and Books to take part in the Blogger Interview Tag and as I haven’t done many of these on this blog, I figured I’d do one over here at the Cabinet, instead of on one of my other blogs.

After all, why have a blog if you’re not going to use it? Mine’s gotten a little quiet since I stopped posting Friday flashes every week, although I’m trying to keep up to date with useful posts about the writing process. I’ve made these mistakes so you don’t have to!

How did you get into blogging?

I started in about 2009 (I think) as a place to share my fiction. Once I got involved with the #FridayFlash community on Twitter, it became a place to talk about writing and all manner of things related to publishing. It’s been a good way to get to know other writers, and readers, and to explore different types of writing. Now I’ve branched out and I have my make up blog at Wicked North, and my craft blog at IcyHandmade too.

What advice would you give to bloggers starting out?

Decide on your topic and work out exactly what it is that you hope to achieve. If you want to share your passion or enthusiasm for something, that’s great – you can use your blog as a space to explore that, and then combined with social media you can get to know other people who feel the same way you do. If you’re hoping to get rich quick then possibly think about something else which will have better returns in the short term…

What would be your dream campaign?

I think this question was more relevant to the beauty bloggers but I’d love to do something with one of the major publishers.

Do you have a plan for your blog?

I want to keep using it to connect with people, to continue offering advice to writers who are just starting out, but to share my interests with people who enjoy my writing. Expect a lot more Gothic posts in future!

Now that’s done, I tag…

Nadia of Abso-knitting-lutely

Nerine Dorman

Adam Byatt of A Fullness in Brevity

Katherine Hajer

Monica Marier

September 7, 2015

Restart Your Stuck Novel

You know what it’s like – you get an idea for a story and, full of the excitement of new plots, you feverishly start writing. For a few days, even weeks, it all seems great. You’re enjoying the story, it’s fun, and everything’s going well, but then you hit The Wall. If you’ve been pantsing, you can’t work out how to make the story work. Dead ends crop up everywhere you turn, and you’re no longer sure where you were going with it. Even if you’ve been plotting, characters won’t behave the way you want them to, and you can’t work out how to get from where you are now to where you want to be.

In short, you’re stuck. You put it to one side, promising to go back to it, and you abandon it to a corner of your hard drive while you chase after the latest plot bunny to grab your attention. Thing is, the idea you had might have still been a good one, and with a bit of work, you can finally reach The End with it. You just have to go back to it, teach it whose boss, and continue.

So how do you get back into a project that stalled months ago?

Step One – Re-read it.

This might sound like a no-brainer but it’s amazing how much of it you will have forgotten. Print it out (to avoid the temptation to edit as you go), or email it to your Kindle, and just read it. Re-experience your idea. You’ll probably get new ideas, or you’ll see connections between previously unrelated dead ends that will allow you to continue. Note them down.

Step Two – Give it a polish.

If you’re anything like me, your writing style will have evolved even in the space of a few months. Maybe you’ve realised the way to fix your story is to change from third to first person. Maybe it needs to be present tense instead of past. Whatever you’ve figured out during step one, fix it now before you go any further. I’m doing this right now on a novella for the Bloody Parchment novella competition – I’d written it in third person in 2013, which just didn’t work, so now I’m converting it into first person before I complete it.

Step Three – Get writing.

Now you’ve re-read it and polished it into something resembling your idea, you can get on with writing the rest of it – but stick to any notes you’ve made along the way, and make sure you know how each chapter will end before you close the document down for the day. You might only know the plot day-to-day, or you might have your entire structure planned, but try to avoid that feeling of helplessness that got you stuck in the first place.

Happy writing! Do you have any tips or tricks that help you rescue an abandoned project?

August 31, 2015

Location, location, location

Writers often spend a great deal of their time concentrating on developing authentic dialogue (spoken by fleshed out, 3D characters), and on creating a coherent plot, contained within a sensible structure. All well and good, but how often do we give setting, or location, only the most cursory of nods?

Setting is by far one of the most important parts of storytelling. Think how many stories begin with “In a faraway kingdom…” or “In a galaxy far, far away…” Location, or setting, not only helps define genre (‘the Wild West’ informs the Western, while noir is often set in grimy or shadowy urban landscapes), it also gives us a sense as to why things happen the way that they do – The Thing just wouldn’t work outside of the Arctic, and nor would Twister be even remotely plausible if it was set in the Home Counties of England. Beyond that, the setting can almost become a character in itself – Mordor is a physical manifestation of the otherwise absent Sauron, while the island and its moods in Lord of the Flies reflects the transformation of the boys.

So how do you go about writing a good setting, or choosing a location?

If you’re writing fantasy, you essentially have carte blanche to write whatever you want. Alice in Wonderland would be a perfect example! Science fiction in space is open to almost boundless possibilities, and even science fiction on Earth can be bent whichever way you want. Futuristic settings, or alternate realities, let you go crazy with the invention. I’d recommend Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next books for a good example of alternate realities. Swords’n’sorcery-style fantasy requires the kind of geography associated with the likes of Lord of the Rings – think castles, forests, plains, etc. Fairly generic, but as you don’t need to have visited, you get to decide what goes where.

If you’re writing the kind of fantasy wherein weird stuff happens to ordinary people, then you’ll want to ground your story in a more realistic setting. After all, the weird happening becomes all the more weird when set against a mundane background. In this case, you’ll need more of a grasp of where your story is taking place. You can set it in your hometown and just change the names, or you can keep the setting intact. It helps to keep things believeable – one of my many problems with 28 Weeks Later was how wantonly they screwed with London geography. Two of the characters are supposed to get to Wembley from Westminster via the tube tunnels, despite the fact that they’d need to change lines on the way! Once you annoy someone in that way, it’s difficult to persuade them to further invest in your story. You’ve broken the ‘suspension of disbelief’. These issues equally apply to other genres outside of fantasy.

But what if you want to set your story somewhere that you’ve never visited?

I’m a big fan of using Google Maps and Street View. When I wrote The Guns of Retribution, I spent hours exploring the ghost towns of the Old West that actually show up on Google Earth, and there are a myriad of photo posts on sites like Urban Ghosts Media, not to mention images on Flickr, that help me to build up my mental picture of the location. Sure they won’t give you a feel for what it’s actually like to live there, but you’ll get the spatial dimensions and the aesthetics right.

You could always go down the Neil Gaiman route, and give your location the Neverwhere treatment – translate place names into their literal meanings (if you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it as a masterclass on location). It doesn’t matter if you’ve never been as the places are given a whole new meaning by you. Alternatively, you can take settings you’re familiar with from visits, film or TV and combine them in a new way – I smashed together subterranean Edinburgh, Victorian London, and snippets of other cities to create the Underground City and the City Above in The Necromancer’s Apprentice.

Of course, you could always treat yourself to a holiday and visit that pretty Alpine town you want to use as a backdrop to a 1920s murder mystery…