Sunday, 29 April 2018

Do you believe...?

Scene setting:

Sat in a hotel room at sunset listening to The Doors' Riders on the Storm. (It has just finished the incredible extended instrumental in the middle of the track). I know I should be finishing short stories but I am tired and to quote Jim Morrison my 'brain is squirming like a toad' so anything I write now will have to be ripped apart and rewritten tomorrow. So instead I will scrawl out a blog posting which can suffer a bit of stream of consciousness.


When you write ghost stories or supernatural tales there is one question that you get asked almost incessantly. As soon as people know your genre, you can see the question perched on their lips or lurking behind their eyes, just waiting for the right moment to pop out.

"So, you write ghost stories. Do you believe in ghosts then?"

I am not sure why this question is so commonly asked of supernatural writers. I am pretty sure Fantasy writers don't get asked if they believe in elves and hobbits. Equally I am pretty sure Science Fiction writers don't get asked if they believe in Martians. Or maybe they do. Maybe in the public's mind one cannot write stories about things unless one believes in them.

We will stay away from fairy tales as I am not sure I want to be accused of mass pixiecide if I say I don't believe....

So the short answer to the question is no. No I do not believe in ghosts. Why? Well because I have never been presented with any believeable evidence for them and I can rationalise many reasons why people might create stories about ghosts to explain natural occurrences for which they can find no rational answer. So as I say my short answer would be no.

My long answer would also be no. Closely followed by a big BUT....

Actually there are two big buts. (Stop sniggering at the back there)

BUT #1:

I don't believe that science can currently explain everything. Indeed my first ghost story - The Curious Obsession of Matthew Deacon - is based on one of those unexplained events that is most easily portrayed as a supernatural encounter. To this day I have no rational explanation for what I saw. But that doesn't mean I automatically subscribe to the idea that it was the spiritual remains of some long dead girl. As the great comedian Dara O'Brian likes to say in his act, "Just because science doesn't know everything doesn't mean you can fill in the gaps with whatever fairy tale most appeals to you".

So no, I don't believe in ghosts as most people tend to imagine them but I do believe we still have a huge amount to learn about our world and our universe.

BUT #2:

Even though I don't believe, I really, really want to. I want to live in a world where the mist laden woods are the haunt of goblins and sprites, where marshes and fens hide malevolent shades and the ghosts of their unfortunate victims, where no isolated village is safe from the predations of the Black Dog.

I long for a time when celebrating the turning of the year, the changing of the seasons, singing up the sun at dawn on Beltaine and lighting bonfires at Samhain had real meaning, where banging drums and singing songs to chase the spirits from the orchard on a frost stilled January night really would make for a better apple harvest in the autumn.

In my head I know these things are meaningless. In my heart they give real meaning to my life.

The world needs a bit of mystery and a bit of wildness, not just around its edges but right at its heart. Hence the stories I write. They are not a reflection of the world as it is, but of the world as I wish it was.

Do I believe in ghosts? No. But I wish I did.

And now for some spirits I can believe in. Pass the bottle someone.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Local books ... for local people.

Scene setting:

(Because as every good author knows, it matters)

Sitting in an Aberdeen hotel bar on Sunday afternoon, headphones on and listening to Warren Zevon's Werewolves of London on Johnnie Walker's Sounds of the Seventies. Definitely conducive to stimulating the creative processes. Book editing, short story writing and, of course, updating the blog. Too early to start on the Calvados but the coffee is good and almost makes up for it.


Whilst the national distribution is pretty much dealt with by my publisher Green Cat Books - making sure the books are available at Waterstones and Amazon - there is a fair bit of very important local promotion to be done as well. This has become all the harder over the years of course with the demise of so many local bookshops. Long before the advent of the internet most of these were driven out of business by the supermarkets and WH Smiths (which hardly now counts as a bookshop) who, now their competition has been largely killed off, are only interested in stocking the top few hundred best selling titles.

So in Newark we are very fortunate to still have a bookshop and one which, moreover, has been so willing to support local authors. My Green Cat stablemate and friend Steven P Lee and I are both delighted that Strays on Middle Gate have put our books on sale and are so ready to promote local authors.  

If you live in the area and fancy a copy of Aldwark Tales then do choose to buy it from Strays rather than online. It is important that we continue to support our local bookshops where they still survive.

In addition Newark now has its own book festival. It was at the first of these last year that Steve and I both met Lisa Greener of Green Cat Books which led to our publishing deals and this year we are returning as authors with our own shared stand to promote our books.

The festival runs from 13th to 15th July 2018 and Steve and I will have our stand in the Market Place on the Saturday and Sunday. Pop along and see us. We may both look scary but we are really very friendly. 

Details can be found at the Newark Book Festival website. 

Now, back to some editing. I need to earn that Calvados. 

Friday, 23 March 2018

Musing on writing

No promotional puffery today...

(Okay I lied, go buy my book!!)

No, seriously, I thought it would be fun to use the blog to describe some of the process that goes into actually writing a story - be it a short story or a full length novel. I am not sure this is how other people do it - actually I would be somewhat surprised if they did work in the same way I do. So this is certainly not a set of rules about how you should proceed if you fancy turning your hand to the discipline of writing. Indeed part of the issue for me is that I lack discipline when it comes to writing. But I think that is probably something I do share with many other people. So if, like me, you are a lazy writer who has a life filled with other priorities, then this may well be of use to you.

First and foremost you need to write stuff. Now I know that comes under the heading of 'stating the bleeding obvious' but I know how many people I have spoken to who have said they would love to write but don't know what to write about.

So Rule Number one, - and please don't look back at the first paragraph where I said this was not a set of rules - rule number one is write anything. Unless you have the most boring life on earth, unless your day consists of sitting in a chair staring at a wall (and apologies at this point to all those readers currently sat in a prison or an asylum), then you will have something to write about. Pick a person you like. Better still, pick a person you really hate. Describe them. Start with the factual bits and then once you have the basics move on to just making stuff up about them. The wilder the better. Give them a back story. Make it nasty. Give them a really nasty personal habit. Something that makes people gag when they think about it. Describe their voice, the way they walk and the way they eat their food. Now you have the basis for your first character. You can refine it, dampen down the more extreme bits or accentuate the bits that you like. Make them real. Make them live in the m id of the reader. And then when you are happy with it, pick another person and do it all over again. Before you know it you have written 500 words and you have a couple of characters sat on your laptop ready for use when the right time and the right story come along.  

And this leads on to the next rule.... again no peeking back at that first paragraph please.

Rule number two. Don't start by trying to write a story. Too many writers fail because they pick up a pen and try to start at the beginning. And even if they do manage to start at the beginning they will inevitably get to a point where they get stuck. They lose track of where the story is going or they are unhappy with a paragraph they have written and they spend hours trying to push the thing forward. Unless you are incredibly focused or incredibly skilled (and I am neither), the only thing you get out of trying to write in a linear fashion is bad writing and disillusionment. Of course at some point you have to have an idea in your head of how the story will start, develop and end. But none of that is necessary for you to actually start writing. Descriptive passages, conversations and narrative sequences can all be written as independent, self contained bobbles of words which, as long as they  have an internal and external consistency (they work as passages on their own and also fit into the eventual story narrative) can be slotted into the larger work at a later date. Remember that life is not linear. It only appears to be so. events and people slip into our perception and then drift off again. The trick of good writing is to reflect this randomness within an internally consistent story. Too many stories sacrifice the randomness - the bit that makes life interesting - for the sake of linearity.

I began writing seriously back in the late 1980s when I was working in the Middle East. Working deep in the desert in some fairly dodgy countries it was better not to spend too much time flashing a camera around. So I started to write descriptive passages which I used to help me remember some of the amazing places I had visited. It was only years later that some of these passages would form the kernel of my novel "The Winds of the World" which will hopefully be published later this year (Oops more promotion, sorry!). The point is that, as long as it is of a reasonable quality, there is no such thing as wasted writing. It may take many years but eventually any well written passage will find a home for itself.

So go and write. And if you get stuck just go and write something else.

As for me? Well I have just written this which I think is good enough for the day. So as it is Friday afternoon I think it is about time for a snifter of something.

Pass me the bottle someone...

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Progress report

So, the book is out there in the big wide world fending for itself.

I have called this a progress report but in truth there is not much to report on Aldwark Tales at present. The official publication date was March 1st and the book can now be bought at Waterstones (either online or ordering through their shops) and at Amazon where both the paperback and the kindle versions are available. In addition the book can be bought direct from my lovely publisher Green Cat Books. Alternatively, if you are lucky enough to live in or around the real life inspiration for Aldwark, then you can pop into the wonderful Strays bookshop on Middlegate in Newark and pick up a copy there.

Meanwhile, and away from the blatant promotional activities, I am writing and editing again.

Next out, hopefully in the autumn, will be my first full length novel "The Winds of the World". This is, of course, another supernatural tale but this time I move away from the comforting familiarity of Aldwark and travel overseas - to Italy, North Africa and finally the Rub' al Khali or Empty Quarter. This is the vast desert at the heart of the Arabian Peninsula and also at the heart of my new story.

The land where the winds of the world go to die.

And whilst I am editing 'Winds', I am also writing more short stories - again all supernatural. Some of these are set in Aldwark whilst others are tales of places further afield. notably in the mist shrouded, mountainous lands of Scandinavia. I have dozens more tales rattling around in my head and hopefully I will have many of them down on paper for you very soon.

But for now I think they need some company and the bottle is far from empty.

Pass it over old chap.      

Thursday, 1 February 2018


Well the big day has finally arrived. The only problem is I wasn't there to see it.

Yesterday two boxes turned up at home containing copies of 'The Aldwark Tales' fresh off the presses.

Here we go.

Unfortunately I am stuck up in Aberdeen at work for a few more days yet so I will have to wait to get my hands on these lovely things. But the time is fast approaching when everyone will be able to get a copy as the book is officially published in both hard copy and e-book format on March 1st.

I am so excited I think I need to celebrate with a tot of cider brandy. I don't need anyone to pass the bottle this time as I have one right here.


Monday, 15 January 2018

The rumours of my literary demise appear to have been exaggerated.

Well, it has been a staggering seven years since I last wrote anything on these pages.

Just a few short months ago, when I revisited the blog and thought I ought to update it, I was preparing to explain why it was my stories had evaporated into the electronic ether - a tale of woe, betrayal and not a small amount of derring-do with some staggeringly beautiful maidens thrown in for good measure. It would have made a fine tale; funny and shocking in equal parts and would, of course, have been complete fiction. I am, after all, apparently, a writer.

The truth was far more prosaic. So much so that I am not even going to bother explaining it.

The reason I can do this is because, all of a sudden, I am to be published. A lovely lady by the name of Lisa Greener from Green Cat Books had a chat with me at a local book fair and decided to take a chance and read my short story collection. She also did a wondrous thing called editing, something I consider to be one of the darkest of dark arts and a skill reserved only for those who have sold their souls - and those of the whole village - to the devil himself.

In short, I have a publishing deal and my collection of supernatural short stories - The Aldwark Tales - will now be appearing on sale from March 1st.

I will be back with more details of this amazing turn of events over the next few weeks but for now, in the tradition of this blog, I think I need a tot or four of Somerset Cider Brandy.

Someone pass me the bottle.  

Friday, 17 September 2010

Black Dog howls at the moon

Prolific is probably not a word that springs to mind when looking at my current output. So far my published work consists of a total of six rather long short stories collected as the Aldwark Tales. There is, of course, a lot more in the pipeline with a further four supernatural tales and a couple of science fiction stories under way.

But in the meantime Neil Jackson over at GWP is concentrating on trying to get my work and that of the other writers out in as many different formats as possible.

So next up is the second chapbook release of a story taken from the Aldwark Tales - Black Dog.

With a suitably scary cover designed by Neil himself, this is a story of supernatural events driven by a very natural human condition and it draws its inspiration both from the classic Black Shuck/Black Dog tales of English folklore and also from the evocative description of his own depression by that greatest of all Englishmen, Winston Churchill.

The story is available in ebook form from Smashwords and will shortly be available for Kindle from Amazon and direct from Ghost Writer Publications as a chapbook.

Hope you enjoy it.

And now once again I need to write and I feel the need for inspiration.

Pass me the bottle someone?