Fiction Fragment: Best Laid Plans

I’m sitting in a coffee place, and this little fragment that may end up in the book came tumbling out:

I phoned Kay to see how she was getting on with the grimoires, and to let her know we were going to try our luck at the house. As ever she was the voice of reason and pointed out it was “the middle of the bloody night,” and asked “what part of Powers of Darkness is failing to register” in my plans.

If you ever wonder why I love that woman, I give you Exhibit A in her continuing struggle to get in my way of becoming a horror story case study.

Fiction Fragment: Wake-up Call

The dreaded novel is back in production – the following is a sneaky blick-breaker/first draft that has already been combined with something else to be a bit different in the typed up main draft. Confused? Just roll with it.

I woke from a dream of confusion and pursuit into a tangle of bedsheets and the hollowed eyes of a dead girl. I wish I could say it was the most horrifying thing I’d experienced this week. With everything that was going on my nerves were not as calm and sanguine as I might have hoped.

My scream was embarrassingly shrill. Autumn flinched back and disappeared just as Kay barrelled into the room. She glared at the spot our guest had just been standing in, as if daring her to reappear.

“I’m okay; just startled, that’s all.”

“Keep away!” Kay hissed to the empty air. I couldn’t help chuckling, which earned me a glare of my own.

“I think she was just curious Kay. I wasn’t having the most restful sleep; you know how I thrash about.” Kay pulled a face but came over for a kiss anyway.

” Well it’s time you were up anyway. Everyone’s here and coffee’s brewing. Better put some clothes on so you don’t frighten anyone else before breakfast.” She rubbed noses with me in lieu of another kiss, and straightened back up. 

I could hear sounds from the other room now I was more alert, but I was still glad of the warning. The prospect of walking into a room full of relative strangers in only my skivvies and no warning was enough to start my stomach churning.

There you have it – my dirty little secret: I’m not a morning person, and especially not in company. I’d rather square off against the flayer of pixies than face people before I’m dressed and caffeinated.

Ten minutes later, I felt up to rejoining the human race. Well, a number of its representatives in the next room anyway. Kay had grabbed some of my bulkier and more shapeless clothing from the wardrobe and left them out, so I pulled them on and tugged everything back more or less where it was supposed to be. Then I inspected myself in the mirror.

I looked pale. The bags under my eyes had seen better days and had obviously called for reinforcements. I ruffled my own hair a bit to try and tease some form and shape to it, but resigned myself to it being beyond help for now. I just hoped everyone else was having a bad hair morning too.

Fiction Fragment: Board Meeting Announcement

Doodles and writing
Doodles and writing

I’ve just been transcribing from my notebooks and found this scrawled next to a sketch of some kind of alien (nothing unusual about that if you’ve ever looked at my notebooks or social media feeds):

“Jimmy couldn’t be here today, but says ‘Hi'” *waves a severed hand* “He went all to pieces in our last negotiation.”

“Pay no attention to the men in dark suits with automatic weapons by the boardroom door. If you make the right decision, they’ll go away. Otherwise just feed them some Weetabix in the morning and everything will be fine.”

 

Autumn’s Teeth – Synopsis and Extract

This is the synopsis and extract I posted on the Nanowrimo website while writing. I’ll be putting up the first three chapters as a pdf on this site in a few days probably – mainly as its an extract that I’ll be using when trying to sell the book to a publisher next year. As a taster then:

Synopsis

A London tale of magic, werewolves and little girls who walk through walls – Dorian Quiller has been hired to find a locket stolen from a child’s grave – what seems like a fairly simple retrieval case soon degenerates into murder, magic and slumbering family mysteries

Excerpt

I made my way up the steep staircase, wooden slats creaking in turn beneath the carpet as effectively as any nightingale floor. I could feel their gaze on my back as I climbed. Without making a big show of it, I let my fingertips trail across the walls as I climbed, feeling the texture of painted plaster. I opened my senses a trickle to feel a small cascade of images flicker past my mind’s eye: quick fire flashes of shouting faces and smiles gave way to balloons and books; a ray of sunshine and a field. A slight weakness in my knee became an ache along my thigh; this disappeared the moment I let my fingers come away from the wall.
They followed me up the stairs – I kind of wished that they hadn’t but they were paying the bill – if only indirectly – and it was their house; so I bit my tongue and let it pass. The landing doubled back on itself, which meant that the bathroom was above the hallway. Pausing to look at the nameplate on the room next to the bathroom, I noted without much surprise that it was Autumn’s room. Even from here I could feel an echo from inside – but I’d said I’d look at the bathroom first so I pushed the door open, walked in and realised how small it was – barely enough room for me, the bath and a toilet and sink.
I took a breath and looked around once I’d closed the door behind me. There was a tense prickling sensation at the back of my neck – which usually meant I wasn’t alone. Sure enough, out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement in the mirror behind my reflection and there she was – the slightly flickering spectre of a young girl.
For looking so young, she felt old – I can’t pin what gave that impression as it was hard to make out any great details – like she was hiding, or had forgotten so much of who she actually was. This was interesting – I was pretty sure that it wasn’t Autumn from the photos I’d seen and it felt different from the echo in the other room. She caught my eye in the reflection, looked startled and immediately disappeared. All sense of her disappeared with her. Probably a spirit in visitation then – maybe drawn by what else was happening here – or maybe she’d lived here a long time ago, but I was sure she hadn’t been causing the problems. I spent a moment and said a small prayer for her anyway – it would move her on if she tried to come back casually. The whole thing took maybe a minute or two – and I’m guessing they’d heard me because Laura’s face was pale when I came back out.
“Was that..?” she couldn’t quite bring herself to say it.
“No, I don’t think so – but think of it as my giving the room a bit of a spiritual spring clean if you like. Let me know if you still have problems in there. Shall we?” I gestured to Autumn’s room. There was that look again, but Laura stepped forward and opened the door for me. Her room was the typical mess of a young girl on the cusp of puberty – a bed with a pink and pastel colour scheme largely featuring princesses and fairies. There were pictures of horses on the walls that looked largely to have been cropped from riding magazines, an impression heightened by the riding helmet and whip resting on top of the wardrobe. On the windowsill, a small jewellery box sat next to a stuffed pig that had been tucked into a bed made from a shoe box and tissue papers. Her parents hovered at the room’s threshold.
I sighed – it was heartbreaking on so many levels to see all this and know its owner wouldn’t be back – not really anyway, despite what her parents thought. I felt a tingle as I brushed my fingers over the jewellery box – a snatch of music, a smile and the flash of a silver fairy on a chain. The plush toy was old – at least as old as she had been, and it came to me that he was called simply ‘Pig’ and that as his stuffing compressed and his fabric grew threadbare from being a constant companion that she’d made him this bed to rest in. Was this a child’s optimism or a nascent awareness that things ended? A little of both, I decided, and moved on.
The bed was warm; safe memory echoes coming from it – nothing distinct, but a general contentedness remained – she’d felt safe and happy here. I felt relieved – and in that dark cynical place in me was also glad that things hadn’t been complicated by my urge to check that she hadn’t been a victim in life and that I wasn’t opening any cans of worms on that front. Whatever else, she had been loved sincerely, and the loving parents were just that – no smokescreens here.
That did make me wonder why I was being asked to step in though. George should have been able to deal with this without breaking a sweat. I guessed it was time to bite the bullet. I concentrated, touching Pig lightly and reached for the sense of that echo I’d felt on the landing: that uniqueness that was drawing her – or something that remembered being her anyway – here. Slowly I felt her recognise that she was being looked for, and the sense of her presence grew, like the flame on a wick of a small candle cupped in my hand. Holding her there I turned to them.
“I’ve got a sense of her, yes – I think you’re right.” Easier to say that than try and engage in a discussion in metaphysics right now. Laura sobbed and I saw Rob’s jaw clench. “This locket – the one with a fairy on it, right? I didn’t see anything in the papers but that’s the one that was buried with her isn’t it?”
“Yes – how?” Rob bit back the question. He was still suspicious that I was a fraud, and I couldn’t blame him to be honest. I opened my palm to reveal a small witch light bobbing in the air. It wasn’t really little Autumn, but it was only a little lie to focus their attention – sometimes a little showmanship helps get past the questions and keeps things simple. They looked sick and scared and fascinated in equal amounts. “We… we were told not to tell anyone by the Police, so they could rule out time wasters in their enquiries… Autumn?”
“That’s what she’s missing then – and why she keeps coming back here – she remembers keeping it in this box and is checking.” The knowledge burst into me and I let it roll out.

Nearing the Finishing Post

November is slipping away, and I’m taking a brief pause from the writing to, um, write here instead – mainly because I need a break from writing about werewolves and ghosts for five minutes while the kettle is boiling.

As of the time of writing, I have 1800 words to go to reach the fifty thousand word target for nanowrimo. That’s just shy of two hundred pages over the averagely formatted novel just to give some perspective. What this tells me is that the story I’m writing does have the legs to go to a full novel length and isn’t the flimsy novella that I’d feared it might be – so just because the month is nearly up I won’t stop work on this story and will eventually have something worth publishing in some format or other.

In terms of how polished it currently is, I have six properly formatted chapters of roughly three thousand words each and then a lot of fragments of varying lengths from a couple of hundred words to several thousand words that I’m slotting together like pieces of a jigsaw. At this stage I’m throwing ideas and bits of dialogue and description and research at the files and seeing what sticks. A lot of it is working with little need to majorly tweak it, but this morning I made the decision to re-write the end of chapter five and the beginning of chapter six so that I could move a revelation in the story to a little later where it will have more of a dramatic impact.

So, do I regret the sleepnessness and nerves of the last month? No – though there have been a couple of days where my grouchiness has tested the calmness of my loved ones, and for that I apologise. What I have brought out of this though is the confidence of knowing that I can do this and produce the word count within the deadline – artificial as it is (though aren’t they all in the final analysis?). Recipe lists and the like will almost certainly make a return here in due course – but for now I’m signing off until I’ve got this last bit done.

Snarky day

Ever get the feeling you’re having one of those days and just haven’t recognised it yet? I’ve just written this and felt faintly pleased even while wondering quite where it came from:

A car pulled up alongside me. It was one of those sleek, dark, expensive looking ones that proclaimed loudly that here was money that could afford to shout and still expect to be left alone. It was the sort of car that casually cuts you up on the A3 just before the Tolworth junction. I disliked the owner already.

Ah well – back to the keyboard and my Green and Blacks Espresso chocolate

A quick Update

So yes, here we are – November and Nanowrimo has begun – my profile page there is http://www.nanowrimo.org/en/participants/ludd72 and should be reflecting the word count as I remember to update and transcribe my pages of notes. I’m only counting what I’ve typed up as opposed to what is scribbled, so the actual running total is somewhat higher.

This week has also seen a significant step forward in my shenanigans with HSBC over missold PPI – having upheld/agreed to follow the court decisions and told me as such back at the end of August, I was supposed to have been told by the end of September what they would be offering as a settlement. That date came and went and after giving them a week or two extra I started making myself known at the local branch on a regular basis and being politely irritated about the lack of information.

After being told that my name seemed to have dropped off the distribution list without explanation and expressing a little mild disbelief at the failure of their efficient CRM systems I’ve had a call this week offering a new settlement which sounds reasonable and which should pay off the last of the wedding costs – so we’ll see what arrives in the post shortly and make a decision at that point.

And this evening’s fun and games would not be complete without revealing to you that even as I sit here typing, my first wholemeal dough is currently ‘proving’ in the kitchen ahead of its bake. If it works then it should be an intriguing chocolate wholemeal loaf. If it fails then it might be turned into a Dwarven Battle Croisant.

If it works I’ll post the recipe and a picture…

From the Nanowrimo – a short extract posted today:

It has to be word of mouth, I guess, for the most part. Really, it has to be – I don’t really have the budget to advertise, no matter how tax-deductible it is. There’s a regular advert in the local paper, and an entry in the yellow pages and the online equivalents – but there’s only so much I can put in one of those before attracting the attention of either trading standards or the tax man. Craigslist has been a bit of a boon – though its also a source of serious headaches – the very anonymity that is its draw makes for a high signal to noise ratio which can make it extremely frustrating, especially if I don’t recognise a time-waster soon enough.
Quite how this had translated to a semi-regular stream of consultations I never really worked out – I’m still resolutely an outsider but I have useful skills that I’m willing to use. I’m not a charity and I don’t pretend to be anything but mercenary – and perhaps that simplicity appeals. Money is never discussed, but a fair price ends up being paid for results. The poker games down the pub are always fun too – although I don’t play as often as I like. This is a pity as its often at these evenings that the work finds me. In this particular instance I’d been introduced to my client by one of my semi-regular fellow players in one of the breaks in play while we waited for the other tables to finish their games.
I’d heard the basics – the bones of the story if you’ll forgive the somewhat macabre pun under the circumstances. I’d mostly heard it from the professionally scandalised reports in the local news: the desecrated grave, graffiti, damaged headstone and picture of the grieving parents and local gypsy spokesman.
It was being reported as a hate crime: a senseless targeting of the gypsy community by small-minded bigots on a drunken rampage. The family – or families, rather – were not so sure.
The grave itself had been disturbed and that seemed to be too much effort for drunken thugs no matter how drunk or drugged up or otherwise sick in the head. The police pathologist had confirmed that the body was intact – but in the listing of grave contents, the girl’s mother had noted that a locket buried with her was not mentioned.
Distraught, the family had raised it with the investigating officers but no great progress was made from that point. The trail had precious little evidence about who had disturbed the poor girl’s final resting place and more than enough circumstantial evidence to link it to anti-Muslim attacked in nearby Feltham.
Angry as they were, the family might have given up – chalking it up to the system failing them again, were it not for their daughter’s ghost appearing to them at the dinner table.
The ghost part of the story hadn’t been reported of course – as the stranger at the bar told me, they’d thought of asking a local priest but they didn’t much like any of the current bunch:
“Your old man now – he knew what was what – he did good services and people stayed down when we put them in the ground. The new guys though – good enough for the births, weddings and the like but they’d laugh us out the church, or try counselling us…” and here he paused a visibly shuddered at the thought. “No good to that poor girl and her parents though. Can’t ‘counsel’ a girl away – doesn’t work like that, wouldn’t be right if it did either.”
I’d known at that moment where this was going – its never been a part of how I define myself but that damned word of mouth bit tends to embroider what I’ve done sometimes.

Plotline thoughts for Nanowrimo

I’ve been using this morning to go for long walks down to harass the bank over money they owe me (seems only fair) and try to go to the library (only to find its closed on Mondays) and along the way clear my head a bit to think about the basic plot of what I’m going to write for Nanowrimo this year.

I’d already decided its going to have a loose connection with the main story I’m working on – in as much as I plan to use some recurring characters and locations so that if I want to I can use this story as unofficial backstory – but that it will have a much more overtly fantastical feel to it without, I hope, wandering too much into pure fantasy.

This got me thinking about what tone I did want to go with – the voice of my protagonist already has a pretty noir feel to it –  a wisecracking private eye of sorts, but a lot of the standalone images and scenes that I’ve mentally scheduled to wander into also range into some quite disturbing territory and it was in search of a way to describe it that I recalled seeing a tv production recently of Terry Gilliam‘s production of Berlioz’ The Damnation of Faust that had struck a number of nerves.

By some process that I haven’t quite analysed yet this has become the thought that the way I’m currently writing the story in my head can also be interpreted as the protagonist having only a fairly tenuous grasp on reality – blurring the real with the unreal and the maybe real… and that will, I hope, also help propel me through what may be some pretty stream of consciousness writing for the first draft that the competition is aiming to produce…

It is of course a totally different view and interpretation of the main character than the way I’m currently writing him in the main story – and yet I can already see a way to bridge the gap with debate on reality, mental health, treatment, acceptance, healing and redemption.

I think I’m setting myself some pretty tall targets to hit, but then I’m already trying to write a novel in one month – so if there’s any chance of a failure, why not make it a spectacular thing to watch and learn from the mistakes?

And of course, having had my own experiences with depression in the past, I have some small fuel and sympathy that I can add to the mix for my poor confused creation. I just have to make sure that this doesn’t turn into an open mic therapy session 🙂

Plotting

One of the things I do while plotting the bones of a story, or while editing sections written at different times, is to create a beat chart.
Similar in layout to a flow chart in structure, the beat chart is a graphic way of representing the stages, twists and turns of the narrative. Rather than forking to show alternate paths though, it tends to be a single flow with occasional parallel flows to keep track of secondary elements or background events to be referenced later.
I typically think of each step as roughly equivalent to a chapter or so to keep track of the general structure of the story and then write a short 1-3 word label for each ‘beat’.
The label is either descriptive or thematic depending on context (or whether I’ve actually firmed up what’s happening there), and the list descends, typically with arrows between the labels.
For pacing I also try to place events into one of several categories: hooks, explanations, twists or resolutions. A short list might therefore be structured hook-> explanation-> twist-> hook-> resolution and have key words describing the story as: fight thief-> bag stolen-> not him!-> find real thief-> catch thief.
Brainstorming this way helps me when feeling blocked or unsure about the logical structure of a tale, and usually if I mention here that I’ve just resolved a nagging plot hole, then the above sketchy process has usually played a part in my mental process…

Revisions and Re-Writes

I’m taking a short break from job hunting and laundry and – oh yes, vast amounts of scribbling in notebooks – to update a moment:

1) Today I am a tired and grumpy old git – the neighbours are currently being noisy, being some nice young men down from Bradford and doing their best to celebrate Ramadan all bloody night as far as I can make out. After being ignored pressing the door bell I found that just hammering on the door until they answered worked wonders in getting them to switch off the music at gone midnight and close the open doors and windows so they weren’t broadcasting their joie de vivre to the whole estate. To give them their credit, they did actually simmer down sometime about 1am just as I was about to phone the police. To be fair a lot of the noise was generated by just one of them who has a particularly penetrating voice but… yeah… think my William Defoe thousand yard stare and grin perturbed them a little.

2) I’ve shifted to writing most of my current draft material in an A3 sketchbook I got for Christmas – this means that there’s enough room for both my ever-expanding doodles and text written around them

quick phone camera shot of the current writing pad
Writing and Drawing - each as odd as the other

At some point I’m sure I’ll get round to scanning in better detail on the pictures to produce weird and wonderful things on deviantart and the like but it’ll have to wait until the house isn’t groaning and filled to the rafters with visitors. In the meantime its giving me a good chance to claim large amounts of space on the sofa, balancing this enormous pad on my knees to scrawl and scribble to my hearts’ content.

The biggest problem I’ve been trying to get around was that I hit a point where I realised that I had a couple of major plot discrepancies and a break in logical progression for some set pieces that I’d separately written. So I’ve made the decision to scrap some of the later elements and develop things from earlier in the manuscript – and keep the discarded elements either for another story or for possible recycling/reuse in another way as I go along. Its kind of affecting the whole picture I’d built up in my head of the nature of the plot and setting – and in particular the narrative voice of the main character has changed a little; but its in a way thats more consistent with the way I’d written the initial short piece this story has developed from.

3) The Meganick returns from Japan this afternoon – tonight will be a crammed household – I may have to investigate the elastication of the walls to fit us all in tonight before they head home in the morning. Maybe it’ll counteract the noise from downstairs.