Writing – How Hard Can It Be?

I am pleased and honoured to have been asked to contribute to the lovely Helen Hollick’s Tuesday Talk on her blog.

If there’s anything you want to know about pirates, Helen is the lady to ask. She is the author of King Arthur: The Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy, The Sea Witch Voyages Series and more recently Amberley Press have published her non-fiction book The Truth and the Tales – Pirates.

All her books can be found at www.helenhollick.net

She is also incredibly brave and generous in letting a complete unknown loose on her blog.

Follow the link to read what yours truly had to say about the rumblings of her embryonic writing career.

https://ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.fr/2017/06/writing-fictionwell-how-hard-can-it-be.html

Ghosts – They’re Out There!

I thought I’d let you know that ‘The Siren and Other Strange Tales’ my book of ghostly stories is now available for pre-order or directly available from all Amazon sites from 8th May.

Today I’m offering you some teaser quotes in the hope that they will part you from something just less than three pounds/dollars/euros. I know cash is hard to splash these days.

So, to summarise: The Siren etc (why did I choose such a long title??)is a collection of six short stories, set in different decades of the twentieth century. Each one has something spooky about it but not to the extent that it will keep you awake with the shivers.

First up is ‘That Cat’ – care worker Mandy meets a mysterious cat that knows when death approaches. But does Mandy?

They walked along the long corridor towards Mrs Beck’s room. The night lights cast little white puddles on the green lino. A whiff of disinfectant lingered in the air. All was quiet.
‘Isn’t it spooky when it’s quiet like this?’ Christine whispered.
‘Whatever are you whispering for?’ Mandy’s clear voice sliced the silence. ‘We can’t wake the dead or the nearly dead, which is what most of these old folk are.’

For the second story we move to France for ‘Toussaint’ when egotistical artist Gavin is given some ghostly marriage guidance.

‘Why do you hate chrysanthemums’ I asked, inconsequentially.
‘What? Oh, haven’t you noticed? All the shops are full of them at the moment – flowers of death I call them – always at funerals and gravesides. Me, I prefer roses.’
‘Roses? At this time of year… you’ll be lucky.’ I couldn’t help but give a huff of half-laughter. ‘I am going mad. Here I am talking to a ghost about bloody flowers. It’s surreal.’

Staying in France, we move to the Swinging Sixties when rebellious teenager Sukie receives one life-lesson too far.

Once they left I ordered a glass of white wine and lit up one of my duty-free ciggies. Oh I felt so sophisticated. I cast what I hoped was a sultry glance across at Sean Connery Mark II. With hindsight I probably looked more like a hungry hippo in search of its first good meal for a year. Whatever! It worked and Mark II slid his chair across to my table and in a rich melted chocolate voice asked,
‘May I join you Mademoiselle?’

German-occupied France provides the setting for a tale of collaboration and betrayal.

As he stood at the window the smell of smoke grew stronger. In the reflection of the panes he saw a dark shadow standing behind him. Forcing himself to turn around he let out a terrified scream. In front of him, emitting little puffs of smoky sooty breath was the charred and blackened figure of the Boy.

Back in England in the Roaring Twenties – what could be more normal than a genteel game of whist for four middle-aged ladies?

‘For heaven’s sake, can we get on with it’ Enid snapped.
‘Yes, for heaven’s sake, let’s’ Doris chirped and picked up the pack. Expertly she shuffled the cards, riffling through them so that they interleaved with each other and for good measure she riffled them back together into a solid pack. Her hands barely seemed to touch the cards. We all stared in silence, mouths agape like trap doors. When, with a flick of the wrist, she dealt out the hands without a fluff or fumble we all knew something strange was happening.

Finally, we meet a stranger in a remote seaside village in the middle of winter. Is it grief or guilt that haunts him?

‘What happened, Adam?’
‘I can’t say Lily. I saw him go past the forge looking like death warmed up so I followed him, quietly like. A sea fret came on sudden and I lost sight of him in the mist. Next thing, I heard him crying out to someone called Sophie and how he had to find her. When I found him he were up to his knees in the mud – he must have tumbled into a patch.’
‘Oh my’ Mrs Lawrence replied, ‘I told you didn’t I? He’s not right in his head. You did well Adam’ she added.
‘Mebbe, but I don’t reckon he thinks so.’

I hope you’ve enjoyed these snippets and that perhaps you might go and have a peep at the book which is on all Amazon sites.

What’s in a Title?

Those of you who are kind enough to follow this blog may remember that a couple of weeks back I held my own referendum…er straw poll about the title of my collection of short stories. The winner was “Spook Me Out”.

I was not happy with the result. I protested. I argued that the demographics of the poll were skewed (as were the participants after copious amounts of the juice of the grape). I pointed out that it was a meaningless collection of words and that titles need impact. In short, I wanted a recount.

Do you judge a book by its cover? Those who are said to know about these things say yes, the cover and the title are a big part of the decision to buy or not to buy. I tend to look at the blurb on the back but it is usually an intriguing title that catches my eye and preferably one that gives me an idea of the genre as well. Quite often the cover design leaves me cold. I’m never moved by the piccys of impossibly handsome muscle men with fine etched six-packs and thighs like tree trunks, wielding their swords with gusto. Well, not on a book cover anyway! Have you guessed by now that fantasy is one of my favourite genres?

Now let’s be serious. A few days after the results of my poll were in some of the participants sidled up to me murmuring that er…perhaps they’d got it wrong; they didn’t like the title any more and perhaps a rethink might be in order.

Much heartened by this chink in the voters’ armour I rethought. It is, after all my book. I have created and disposed of the characters within. Their fate is and has always been in my hands. Is this not the annual occasion when I assert myself? Yes, it is.

And so, a retitled collection of six short stories. It is a simple title – it describes the content. Let me introduce you to:

I was going to use the word ‘ghostly’ rather than’ strange’. Unfortunately the typeface I’ve chosen makes it look, at a quick scan, a bit too much like ‘ghastly’. I shied away from it. The reader might find the stories ghastly but my amour-propre won’t allow it.

Publishing day is now 8th May in the Kindle Store on Amazon and if any of you dear readers feel impelled to give the book a toot on your own social networks I shall be Uriah Heep-ish in my ‘umbleness and gratitude.

Stormy Nights and Women in White

The church clock struck midnight. Outside the rain fell in torrents beating a tattoo on the porch roof. Wind moaned through a gap in the shutters. In my office the chandelier lights flickered and the computer gave an apologetic “huff” and died only to mysteriously self-resuscitate a few seconds later.

I was researching more ghosts, myths and legends for another set of spooky stories and had arrived at the legends of the Dames Blanches – White Ladies. They’re everywhere in France but especially in Normandy and the Pyrenees. There are two around me haunting Chateaux Puivert and Puylaurens. At Puylaurens, the great-niece of Phillipe le Bel, restlessly walks the battlements.

Chateau de Puylaurens

At Puivert their Dame Blanche appears on rainy nights at one of the tower windows and just over the border in Andorra there is one who defended the principality from a huge wolf which was really an angry bishop in disguise. Goodness knows how many more there are lurking in the shadows.

Chateau Puivert

What is it with these ladies; flitting around in the most inclement of weather wearing little more than some flimsy draperies?

Martin Antonio Delrio, a Jesuit writing in the sixteenth century reassures me. He writes that these ladies are generally benevolent towards we mere humans, they are merely feés appearing in the woods and on the plains. They appear to be kind to animals too as he asserts that often the ladies appeared, carrying a lighted candle, in stables. There, they would let a few drops of wax fall on the incumbents’ manes and tails and then proceed to tenderly and carefully comb and plait them.

Another writer, Thomas Keightley makes me nervous though. In his book “The Fairy Mythology” he recounts tales of the malevolent nature of the Dames Blanches where they lurk at cross-roads, narrow bridges and ravines and insist on forfeits. If you want to pass by you may have to dance with them, get on your knees to them or assist them in some way. Woe betide you if you refuse. You may end up in a patch of nettles and brambles. These unkind phantoms are said to be found mainly in the north of France, particularly Normandy. Did I tell you I’m going to Normandy at the end of April? Me with my cronky knee. Just my luck.

PS Did I also tell you that my collection of spooky stories – “Spook Me Out” will be available from Amazon at the end of March?

The Story So Far

I’m about to disappear for a week in the wilds of the west of Ireland so I thought I’d take the opportunity to recap on where I am with The Novel. I am about three-quarters of the way through –   60,000 plus hand-written words – (I just cannot write direct to my PC…too many distractions) – building up to what I hope will be a thrilling climax.

 

60.000+ hand-written words
60.000+ hand-written words

It has been truly hard labour these past weeks. I have a track record of starting to write a novel and then throwing in the towel at about the mid-point as I always seem to lose my way. This time I have been determined to get past the mid-point. Now I think I know what the ending is going to be so I truly believe I’ll get to the finishing line. (sorry about the mixed metaphors!)

My “baddies” the vengeful Madame Ombrine and the inscrutable Oskar have ridden through the centuries, thanks to…oops no, can’t tell you that (but it’s not a time machine), lying, cheating, robbing and killing to arrive in France in 2013.  As a last throw of the dice in the game they have been playing they open the Nonesuch Club – a club for struggling writers. There they draw in my neurotic protagonist, Richard a writer of ghost stories who is broke, blocked and bedevilled by his past.

Are these the doors to the Nonesuch Club?
Are these the doors to the Nonesuch Club?

In the club’s writing room Richard finds he can shake off his writer’s block and, at the same time, lay some of the ghosts of his past to rest. But all is not as it seems and Richard becomes suspicious as other club members begin to disappear and ….That’s all for now folks.

So, a week exploring the Emerald Isle seems like a fair reward and I feel quite sure I’ll come across a heap of spooky stories to provide new material.

Do You Believe in Ghosts?

I have never been able to make my mind up about Ghosts and as a writer of spooky stories and things that go bump in the night this may seem a little odd, (but then I am a little odd). I think I may have had a few supernatural experiences; sometimes a place or building seems to me to resonate with times and people of the past – the battlefield at Culloden in Scotland was one such place; other times I have thought I saw someone or something out of the corner of my eye that just shouldn’t and couldn’t be there. Maybe there is a rational explanation:

1. Over-enthusiastic imbibing of alcohol
2. Over-heated imagination
3. Fatigue

There is just one experience where my rational jury is still out.

I was fifteen at the time and on an exchange holiday in France. I was thoroughly miserable at the time suffering an outbreak of teenage angst. After another day of trying and failing dismally to “fit in” with the crowd of posh teenagers on the beach who formed the circle of friends of my exchange family, I went to bed sore, sunburned and sniffing snuffles of self-pity. I shared my bedroom with Arianne, the seven year old daughter of the family with whom I was staying.

Sometime during the night I woke up. In the corner of the room was a huge ‘peacock’ chair, one of those woven basket-work affairs like a throne, and sitting in the chair was my Gran of whom I was very fond and who had died earlier in the year. She looked at me, smiled and said “don’t worry love, it’ll be alright, just be yourself.” Then she seemed to fade away. It was all very calm and not a bit scary.

I would probably have put this down to a half-waking dream or subconscious thoughts of my Gran were it not for the fact that my roommate, little Arianne asked me in the morning who the nice lady was that I was talking to in the night – the one sitting in the chair. “She had a kind face.”

My Grandmother as a young girl
My Grandmother as a young girl

Now umpty years later as I am writing spooky stories I still wonder – was it a ghost who came to comfort me? I don’t know but whatever it or who it was, my French exchange holiday took a turn for the better.

What about you? Do you believe in or are you a sceptic?