Are Writing No-Nos Really as Bad as They Say?

Recently, I was scrolling through an interesting thread on a bookish Facebook page. The OP had asked what tropes or events in a book would cause you to stop reading in frustration. The answers were pretty surprising.

It wasn’t necessarily the answers themselves that interested me, but the response to the answers. For every person naming a certain pet-peeve as a reader, there were multiple responses stating “Oh, I don’t mind that at all, but I really hate it when…”.

As a fairly neurotic writer, I opened the post comments wondering if I should read it at all. I was afraid that the first 5 responses would list 5 of the things that I most definitely used in my upcoming book, and that I would cringe and sweat and quiver inside a little, wondering whether everyone would instantly see me for the big fat writing fraud that my brain insists that I am. But the responses were immediately comforting.

It was great to see the sheer spectrum of loves in comparison to the personal grievances of the reading community, and for just as many readers to reply and state that a particular trope or writing “faux-pas” is something they actively seek in a book, and get pleasure from when they see it.

Because it’s impossible to please everyone. There is not a chance in hell that you can write a book or create a piece of art that everyone will enjoy. Pleasure is unequivocally, beautifully subjective.

Just for fun, here are some of the ‘hated’ tropes or writing mishaps that were listed, followed by some of the rebuttals (although they are in speech marks, they are summarized from the answers given and are not direct quotes):

  • Spelling mistakes or grammatical errors (naturally – we need to make sure there are as few as possible!). But here’s what a few of the readers said: “I find it kind of comforting when there’s a mistake in a book. It shows that the writer is human, too.”
  • Writing a character’s accent within the speech patterns. (And if you’re looking for an example of this, think about all the recent Benoit Blanc memes for reference!) For all those who listed this as a gripe, others said: “I love it when a character has an obvious accent, especially when it’s familiar to the area I’m from. If it’s done well, I can hear it in my head, and I instantly warm to the character.”
  • A main character who vehemently dislikes someone, only for them to end up falling in love a few chapters later. While a lot of readers agreed that this was annoying and unrealistic, there were plenty who disagreed. “This is my favourite kind of tension in a book! The ‘will they/won’t they’ keeps me turning the pages until I get a definitive answer, and I love it when they finally get together. I don’t care how many times I read it, the characters are always different, so it doesn’t matter to me.” While another said, “This is how I met my partner – I hated their guts. It always feels realistic to me. We’re married now!”
  • The baddy becomes the goody or the goody becomes the baddy. While some readers find the switch utterly frustrating, others couldn’t disagree more. “Character development is the best part of reading for me. I put this in the same category. If the character changes dramatically, I can only see it as a good thing.” Another mentioned that they had been a bit of a bully in school and managed to turn it around. Reading a bad character turn good always felt familiar to them, affirming their choice to make the switch all those years ago.
  • Writers going into detail about the food the character is eating. This one surprised me, as I’ve always enjoyed a good food description in a book, and find it really puts me in the scene (Richard Laymon’s hotdog descriptions in Funland and The Midnight Tour, anyone?!). And let’s not forget about Hemingway. This was one of the most divisive topics. You either love it or hate it. But, like all good foods, perhaps moderation is key to this bug-bear. As one reader stated, “If it went on for pages and pages of description then, absolutely. But I like to experience the food along with the character if it’s within reason.”
  • Characters referencing pop-culture such as real-life movies, or using social media apps like TikTok or Instagram. This one intrigued me as some of my characters (students in 2016) actively use social media apps in the story. I felt the same way as many of the people responding to the contrary – “We aren’t living in the 1950s. If it’s a contemporary book about young characters, chances are they spend a lot of time on their phones, so it adds to realistic world-building.”
  • Finally, one of the readers (who was also a writer, I’m assuming!) hated the question itself. Why? Because there is no one-size-fits-all way of writing, and so she found the question frustratingly irrelevant.

I guess my summary here is drawing the same conclusion, but unlike the final reader’s response, I’m glad the question was asked. It reminded me that even if you accidentally (or intentionally) include a reader’s most hated trope or writer mistake in your work, there WILL be another reader who appreciates it.

So the old adage that you should write the book that you always wanted to read really is true. If you like it, chances are there will be many more who feel the same way. And don’t be disheartened if you get bad feedback. Sometimes, the ones who don’t like what you do are the ones who shout loudest, or take the time to voice their opinions. In the background, there may be 10 more people for every 1 of the ones who don’t like it just quietly thinking how much they love what you do. Don’t fixate on that negative opinion because it looms largest.

As with all things, you just have to find your audience.

The Students of Brackenby House

Within the walls of Brackenby House, 5 students reside. They know the dark history of the Victorian townhouse, but it’s never really bothered them. That is until Halloween 2016, when the group attempt to recreate the notorious séance of 1876. One by one, the students find themselves haunted by the spirits that were responsible for The Suffering massacre. As each of the residents deal with the oppression their attachment causes, they find the essence of their personalities falling under attack. Before they lose themselves completely, they must find the truth about the original séance, and the ghosts that grow more violent every day. Before it’s too late…

Kyle

A distant relative of famed Victorian psychic, Lucius Holgrove, Kyle is proud of his ancestor. In 1876, Lucius was unwittingly drawn into the chaos of the Suffering séance and, as the sole survivor, his ability to banish the ghosts within the walls of Brackenby House is legendary. Kyle is also proud of the fact that he and his friends can use Brackenby House as their student digs, paying peanuts in rent thanks to his descendant purchasing the property following the massacre.

An anthropology student, Kyle finds the rumours of the ghosts fascinating. He’s especially intrigued by the monster known as Po, using his thesis to try and uncover the ancient Incan giant’s secrets. It’s Kyle’s idea to host another séance, paying homage to his relative. But his blind trust in Lucius’s abilities means that he underestimates just how eager the ghosts have been to come back out to play. Thankfully, Kyle’s obsessive research gives the group some clues as to how to uncover Brackenby’s secrets, and he’s determined to make amends and defeat the spirits before his friends succumb to the ghosts.

Tad

Kyle’s best friend, the pair met through a pen-pal scheme at their schools. Emigrating to the UK from Japan, Tad is all-too-happy to accept Kyle’s offer to move into Brackenby while he completes his engineering degree. He knows his friends are envious of his male model looks, but Tad sees them as nothing but a hinderance. He’s invented a prototype for a method to turn sewage into renewable energy, and as far as he’s concerned his looks are holding him back.

Stoic and sensible, Tad calmly assesses the spiralling situation in the house, trying to ignore the strange sounds and smells that seem to escalate after the Halloween spirit session. But it isn’t long before he begins to spot the ghosts’ individual patterns. Worse still, he sees that each of his friends are being targeted by one of the spirits. And, judging by the sound of an axe slapping against an impatient hand throughout the night and the smell of rotting flesh that follows him around Brackenby House, he is connected to the ghost that frightens him the most.

Pete

Known for his quiet and brooding nature, Pete falls further into solitary when the séance leaves him with physical symptoms that he just can’t shake. He loves to hike in the mountains to clear his head, but an unrelenting spell of vertigo means that he’s stuck on low ground, confined to his bedroom most of the time. He finds it difficult to confide in his housemates – even Cassie, who has been his best friend for as long as he can remember. There is a wedge growing between him and his friends, through no fault of his own.

The footsteps that patter down Brackenby’s landing seem to stop right outside his room. And when a sudden spell of vertigo stops him in his tracks, he’s sure he can hear a sinister chuckle emanate from the stairwell. Most concerning of all, he finds himself drawn to the banister, his body lurching to the edge in an unconscious effort to throw him over. For Pete, his choices are bleak. Either stay trapped in his room or step out and fight. But there are a lot of high spaces out there. And the pattering footsteps seem to follow him, even outside of Brackenby…

Cassie

Living in a house full of boys, Cassie fights hard to give a good show of herself. But her impulsive and brash personality sometimes lands her on the wrong side of people. Particularly the other women in her life. Still, she has to keep an edge about her if she’s going to successfully swim the Channel. Training is going well, despite the fact that the other girls in her swim team are forming a vicious clique against her. But she’s having bigger problems than bullies. Damp seems to follow her everywhere, with droplets of water appearing in impossible places. She smells the dank depths of the sea, even though the team are still training in the university pool.

Before long, her lone swim sessions begin to get treacherous. Unseen hands touch her under the water, preventing her from breaking the surface. Her friend, Martin, turns up at the pool, his expression trance-like. In the shadow of the sea witch, Lisa Vaughan, anything can happen in the water. And, even when Cassie stays away from the pool, Lisa’s powers may just bring the water directly to her.

Lance

With his perky nature, bouncing blond curls, and giddy personality, people could be forgiven for thinking that Lance is the extrovert member of the bunch. But crippling anxiety plagues him, meaning that all of his attempts at employment have ended in disaster. Because of this, Lance is keen to set himself up as an influencer, pulling in income from behind his laptop and phone screens. His friends know that navigating the trolls of the online world are often more challenging than anything Lance could face in an office, but he’s determined. Aside from his constant Insta posts and dreams of setting up a YouTube channel, Lance becomes more and more distracted by the scent of smoke and neighbourhood cats yowling in the grounds of Brackenby.

A dark figure hangs around the porch, its shadow visible through the hallway windows, and Lance is driven crazy when he constantly finds the spare stool pulled up to the table in the kitchen by unseen hands. His ghost is Hellfire Club member, Anthony Pile, and the more Lance learns about the club’s history, the more fearful he becomes. The club had a habit of pulling up a chair for the Devil, and the freezing cold seat of the stool means that perhaps Brackenby is getting visits from a presence even more terrifying than the ghosts themselves. And Lance is in his sights.

Join the students as they piece together the puzzle of the original Suffering séance and navigate the oppression that plagues Brackenby House. Can all of them survive The Suffering?

The Suffering published by Wicked House – coming soon!

Resolutions for Writers (And How to Stick to Them!)

Happy New Year my fellow geeks and ghouls.

This is a strange and exciting start to the new year for me as I’m currently preparing for the launch of The Suffering in February, so my goals and strategies for this year have shifted considerably compared to previous years. To kick off 2023, I wanted to share some of the things that worked for me and helped me to get to this crazy stage.

Plan Your Time

Use an online calendar tool or a good old-fashioned pen-and-paper chart to visibly block in your time and work out how you can squeeze your writing needs into your week. When you’re working a demanding job and have family commitments, this can be pretty daunting at first. But being able to see those small snippets of spare time can really help you to focus on making writing fit into your schedule each week.

  • Start with a list of categories depending on what stage you’re at in your writing process, and what you need to focus on above all else.
  • Break each category down into smaller sections and be realistic about timescales. Do you really need to start worrying about getting beta readers or an editor when you’ve still got half the book to write? Move tasks that can wait until a few months down the line into a separate list that you can revisit later in the year.
  • Make the timetable less daunting and easier to reference at-a-glance by using colours, stickers, or specific fonts to break up each task.

Explore What Works for You

Your writing process is completely unique to you, so the best tips even a bestselling writer could give you may not resonate at all with your style or personality. Don’t try to follow a list of things that work for someone else if they just don’t fit your needs. The best way to understand your own process is to reflect on the times you were most productive. If you’ve just started out, or can’t think of a time when you felt as though you had a good ‘flow’, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I work better when I have a variety of things to do, or do I work best when I focus on one task at a time?
  • Do I work better in a group so that I can bounce ideas off my peers, or am I better working alone until the writing is over?
  • Do I start writing and see where the characters take me, or do I like to plot the entire book before I start?
  • What is more engaging for me: the characters or the plot?

Questions like this can really help you to understand how your brain works, and what makes your writing tick. You may even be surprised by your answers, especially if you’ve been told there is only one way to write in the past.

Work through each question (and add a few more of your own!) and consider how to plan your writing time around your answers. For question one, my answer is changeable depending on what part of the process I’m at. Usually, I love having a number of things on the go in order to keep my excitement levels high and avoid getting stagnant. I check lists of short story sub calls (Authors Publish is a great one!), or pick a random writing exercise to keep up my inspiration levels. But, when I’m nearing the end of a project, or I’m in final edits, there’s no way I can work on anything else but the biggest task at hand. Your answers may be just as changeable, and that’s perfectly fine! Do what works for you at any given time.

For the question about character or plot, you may think, “That’s stupid. They’re both just as important.” And you’re absolutely right. But usually when you begin to write, it’s because you’ve been inspired by one or the other. Perhaps a brilliant character has popped into your mind and you can’t wait to write them down. In doing so, you unlock members of their family and friendship group, followed by their antagonist/s. That might lead you down the path of who the villains were in the past, and why they are the way they are. When you’re on a roll of discovering characters, you might not want to pull away from worldbuilding to plan out a specific plot for them. If you stop and think, “Wait, I need to actually work out what happens in the book, otherwise I’m going nowhere with this,” you may find your inspiration dries up completely. Finish getting out all you need to know about the characters, and then work on the plot. You don’t need to do it all at once. The most important thing is finding a way to work that keeps you interested and inspired to keep going each week.

Be Firm But Fair

This goes for the people around you, but also yourself.

  • If you live in a busy household and there’s no way of getting out to write, try to set a firm boundary around the hours or minutes that you schedule in to work on your writing. If you have young children or carer’s demands, etc, you might need to consider adjusting the time you get up in the morning, or trying to work later into the evening. This isn’t always healthy, so be sure you’re setting acceptable goals that won’t impact your health and wellbeing.
  • Acknowledge that some weeks just don’t work out. Life gets in the way of writing and that’s okay. Instead of beating yourself up and frantically scrabbling to get the time back the next week, simply re-set and start again, sticking to the scheduled plan. This will help you avoid burn-out and keep you motivated throughout the year.
  • Even ten minutes is better than nothing. Don’t obsessively count the minutes at your computer or your wordcount, just show up each week and the rest will follow.
  • An “unproductive” week might be anything but. By this, I mean that the time spent twiddling your thumbs and staring at a blank screen aren’t wasted moments. The ideas will come eventually, and by intentionally making the choice to work on your book, you’re setting the ball in motion for those eureka moments that will strike you when you least expect it.
  • Be extra kind during your writing time. Do you have a favourite coffee or tea? A type of sweet or another snack that you just can’t resist? Make it a part of your writing session. This works especially well if you have to fight to make the time to sit and write when you’re already pulled in a million directions and feeling exhausted from a day working hard at everything else life throws at us. Give yourself something to look forward to, and make it synonymous with your writing time.

In a nutshell, it pays to:

Be organised, be flexible, and be realistic.

Those are the main ways to see results as you start your new year of writing. But, above all, be kind to yourself.

Meet The Suffering ghosts

Which one will haunt you?

When Professor Josiah Grant called upon young Victorian psychic, Lucius Holgrove, to host a séance in 1876, neither of the men could have been prepared for the massacre that followed. Under Grant’s instruction, Lucius called forth 5 spirits that would represent the elements needed for his divination spell: Strength; Stealth; Frivolity; Deception; and Malice.

After the deaths of all of the attendees at the séance, Lucius managed to banish the ghosts within the walls of Brackenby House, where they have been waiting for another chance to come out.

Now a student home, Brackenby House finds itself the setting of another séance. A distant relative of Lucius Holgrove has called out The Suffering ghosts, unleashing them back into the house. The only trouble is, unlike his notorious ancestor, Kyle has no clue how to banish them.

And the ghosts are determined to continue The Suffering…

Connor Rourke (Stealth)

A thieving factory worker, Rourke was caught stealing and tried to escape his punishment, plunging to his death through a trapdoor.

The poor wretch who is haunted by Rourke is plagued with vertigo, and the fast and endless echoing footsteps of Rourke’s final run through the factory rafters before his deadly fall will drive you slowly insane. Worse still, you may find yourself giving in to the sudden urge to leap over the railing and tumble to your death. It’s not the call of the void. It’s Rourke. And he won’t stop until you take the plunge.

Anthony Pile (Deception)

A member of The Hellfire Club who committed Satanic rituals to keep his stolen fortune in the afterlife.

The squeal of tortured cats and the smell of burning follow you when Pile is attached to you. You might find chairs pulled out around the house, the seat cold from the touch of a sitting devil. Your money may go missing, but poverty is the least of your worries when Anthony Pile is following you. He made a pact with the devil. And he wants to take you with him back to hell.

Lisa Vaughan (Frivolity)

A teenaged fortune teller who, in the early 1700s, cursed the sailors who sought her wares. Days later, the men would jump from the ship into the sea, joining her woeful spectral horde.

Powerful oracle Lisa Vaughan doesn’t have to lift a finger to torment her victims. You’ll find damp and condensation in the strangest of places, and the smell of the deepest, darkest seas will permeate your clothes. She has the power to drown a person where they stand, and, if you try and fight, her horde of lost sailors will stop you in your tracks. Beware the foghorn moan of Lisa’s horde. It may mean you’re next.

Jarvis Rice (Malice)

A corrupt 17th century executioner who enjoyed his profession so much he murdered women and framed their husbands for the killings, having them sent straight to his axe block. In the final moments before their death, he would whisper the truth in the doomed innocents ears.

When Rice chooses you as his next victim, expect to hear the thudding of an axe handle slapping against an impatient hand throughout the night. A smell of decaying flesh will follow you wherever you go. And, as he gets stronger, be sure to duck if you hear the swish of an axe cutting through the air. Executions are Rice’s favourite hobby. And he doesn’t intend to stop any time soon.

Po (Strength)

An ancient Peruvian monster. Not much is known about Po, apart from the fact that he has nothing in the sockets under his brows and 3 hate-filled eyes across his forehead. And that he’s the size of a truck.

Crashes and creaks in the basement just might mean that the Incan giant, Po, is lurking in the shadows. A tickle of breath on the back of your neck or a grunt in your ear may mean he’s edging closer. And, when the giant gets too close, close enough to touch you, you may just fall victim to the brute’s huge hands, ripping you to pieces in the blink of one of his 3 eyes.

As each of the 5 students at Brackenby are targeted by one of the ghosts, they face a race against time to uncover the secrets of the original séance before it’s too late. But the ghosts are growing stronger every day. And there’s no guarantee that Kyle, Cassie, Pete, Tad, and Lance will ever make it out of the second Suffering alive.

Meet the Students of Brackenby House!

Would you want to live in a haunted Victorian murder house?

How about if the rent was dirt cheap?

That was the dilemma faced by Cassie, Pete, Lance, and Tad, when they first moved into Brackenby House. And it wasn’t too much of a dilemma at the time. The house was famous in the local area, and it had featured in a few dark history books, but the students were sceptical about the rumours that the home was still haunted. Their friend Kyle (housemate and son of the current homeowner) liked to tell them regularly that his distant relative, the psychic Lucius Holgrove, had managed to banish the ghosts within the walls of Brackenby House after the séance massacre of 1876. So they accepted Kyle’s offer of low rent and the 5 of them settled into both university life and Brackenby in no time. That is until Halloween night 2016, when the group decide it will be fun to hold a séance of their own. Nothing bad will happen – not in this day and age. Right?

Plus, the jury was still out on what really happened that fateful night back in 1876. Did Lucius’s séance really pull forth 5 cursed ghosts from hell in order to fulfil a spell found in an ancient book? Did the hapless group of wealthy merchants and professionals, guests of Brackenby’s then-owner, Professor Josiah Grant, really die gruesome deaths at the hands of each of the ghosts? Or was Lucius the only survivor for another reason. A reason no-less dark. After spending months in jail awaiting trial, and then being freed into a sanitorium, Lucius was finally freed. The judge and jury hesitantly agreed – surely one young man couldn’t have been responsible for the carnage discovered at the house. A house that would claim another victim, when Lucius leapt from a cliff to his death shortly after being released. Victorian newspaper records detailed the initial carnage, Lucius’s graphic and terrifying testimony, and the news of his untimely death all too thoroughly. The séance was dubbed The Suffering, a sensationalist name that had lasted, almost 150 years later.

Kyle loves to big-up his distant uncle and his astonishing abilities not only to resurrect the dead but to send them back to whence they came. But trying to emulate him for a Halloween party trick doesn’t go the way he’d hoped. Now, the 5 ghosts are released back in the house: Jarvis Rice, a 17th century executioner who framed men for murder so he could get the thrill of killing twice. Connor Rourke, who died falling from the rafters of the grain factory he stole from, his footsteps a constant echo along Brackenby’s landing. Anthony Pile, a member of the Hellfire Club who struck a deal with the devil so he could keep his ill-gotten riches in the afterlife. Lisa Vaughan, a fortune teller who cursed the sailors who visited her, forcing them to jump into the sea and join her deadly hoard halfway through their next sail. And, most terrifying of all, the ancient pre-Incan giant, Po. Rumour has it Po has nothing in his eye sockets, and 3 eyes on his forehead. And he’s now residing in Brackenby’s basement.

Each of the ghosts latches onto one of the students, the individual hauntings driving them all to the brink. But the students soon learn that they can’t leave Brackenbury. When they do, the people around them are at risk, and the ghosts only grow stronger. Only Kyle’s uncle Caleb can help. Unlike their distant ancestor, Lucius, Caleb isn’t dashing, charming, or remotely psychic. But, as gruff and rude as he is, Caleb has his uses. He’s been trying to get to the bottom of the house’s secrets for years. And he may just have found a solution that turns the reported history of the séance on its head. The housemates must each do battle with their own individual ghost. But not all of them can make it out alive…

The Suffering, published by Wicked House Publishing – coming soon!

Next up: Meet The Suffering Ghosts! Which one will haunt you?

Death in the Deep

After finally getting over the hazy funk of completing The Suffering, it was time for me to start submitting short stories again. I was over the moon when my first 2022 submission was accepted by Dead Sea Press, and was published last week in the third volume of The Dead Seas series.

This publication is awesome because, not only is it crammed full of fantastic maritime horror fiction, it also raises money for The Shark Trust. I’ve always loved sharks, and so it’s a cause that is really close to my heart. It has made the publication even more special.

One of the first stories I ever had published was in a charity book called Writers for Animals, and my tale was about a little girl trying to help a Moon Bear to escape the bile trade. Even though that was years ago now (before I had my pen name and exclusively started writing horror), there is something very special about it. Being published is the greatest feeling in the world, but if you can raise money for a good cause while you’re doing it, it’s even better.

So, please head on over to Dead Sea Press and pick up your copy of Death in the Deep. You can get the Kindle version for peanuts on Amazon (every little bit helps the cause!), or go even further and get the beautiful paperback. If you’re a fan of horror shorts, why not go ahead and grab volumes 1 and 2 while you’re at it! Terror in the Trench and Shadows Beneath the Surface are crammed full of awesome stories to keep you away from the water this summer.

Both me and the sharkies are grateful!

Reigniting the Spark

I used to find motivation pretty easy. All it would take was an interesting story, a mystery, a book with an intriguing character, or a film that I wished I’d written. Lately, whether it’s because of lockdown blues, self-doubt finally taking hold or – dare I even think it – age, I’ve been finding it harder and harder to find that spark again.

The kind of spark that sends you characters when you’re trying to close your eyes at night and leaves your heart racing so fast you’re still awake at 3am thinking up voices, items of clothing, favourite places, and songs for a person who doesn’t even exist.

The thrill that stops you from reading in the middle of a bath because the words on the page have been pushed out by the words forming in your own mind. Where your eyes trace the paragraphs on the book held above the bubbles in front of you, but your mind sees something completely different as your brain replaces that story with your own.

The joy of taking a walk and feeling the heartbeat of a new protagonist forming with every step you take, until you can’t wait to get home and sit at your computer.

I miss that feeling.

The funny thing is, I had it until the moment I finished my last book. Since then, I’ve been in a slump. But maybe this is the universe’s way of telling me, “Don’t you dare start something new until you’ve seen this one through!” Because, now that I’ve finished it, I need convincing that it’s good. And, for someone like me, that doesn’t come from inside. The process of submitting is mentally draining and makes me clamber into my cave before it’s even really begun, which is a feeling that I know many of you share. But this is the brink. This is the truly exciting part. The moment when anything can happen.

So, perhaps the spark is changing for a reason. It’s not the after-effects of lockdown, or the self-doubt taking over. It certainly isn’t age, because…fuck that! The spark can’t be about new projects for a while. It has to be something different. Something that already exists. The sleepless nights can be from wondering whether today’s agent query will be the one that leads to success. The bath time daydreams that take over the book I’m reading can be about signings at a book fair, or the premier when it gets turned into a movie (it’s going to happen – of course it is! I’ve picked out my dress and everything…)

The spark might well be there if I just let it grow for the manuscript I already have, rather than something I’m yet to write. Losing it may be just another form of self-sabotaging procrastination, when really all I need to do is light the match under the next stage of the process. Next time I take a walk, I won’t be thinking about a new protagonist. I’ll be thinking about the ones I already have. I’ll get as excited about you meeting them as I was to get home and write about them when I first started my book all those months ago. And I’ll hurry home to sit at my computer. I’ll hit “submit query”.

And that’s when I’ll feel that spark.

Querying in the ‘Dead Month’

Making mistakes is all part of the process. In every walk of life. And it’s just been brought to my attention that I started querying The Suffering at the worst possible time. In the world of literary agencies, August is dubbed “The Dead Month”. It’s a month where nothing gets picked up. Where the few foolhardy authors who don’t know about this are likely to immediately hit the deleted pile, where their hopeful submission will be lost in the ether.

I didn’t take this into consideration when I sent my query emails to my first three choices in August, but that’s how the chips have fallen. I was so happy to have finally finished the book, I didn’t even stop to consider whether the time of year might be a factor. Was that stupid? Is this something everyone knows, except me?! I mean, when you’re going through the process of writing a manuscript, there are so many industry secrets and hints to learn, some things get left by the wayside. This just happens to be a potential biggie.

But hey, you never know, perhaps one of the agents I submitted to likes to work in August, when it’s quiet? Perhaps it’s a benefit that every other writer except me knows not to query in August, because there’s bound to have been less competition, right? I’ll keep telling myself that to feel better about it.

Plus, I can console myself that perhaps my top choice agents would have loved my submission…if only I’d sent it during a month when they actively review queries. That if I hear nothing back from them it’s simply that it slipped through the August cracks, and isn’t a reflection on how successful The Suffering might be…

I’m smiling as I write this, because it is so typical of how things work out. And I’m constantly trying to put a positive spin on any negatives in the process and prevent my nagging brain from convincing me that this is a dumb endeavour that will get me nowhere. Because that’s not how we roll around here. We have to keep pushing to make our dream a reality.

When people say, “If you don’t believe in yourself, how will anyone else believe in you?” it makes me cringe inside because my internal monologue is a savage. It berates me on the regular, especially when it comes to writing. When we make these stupid mistakes that add extra fuel to the fire of the internal monster inside us, we have to find a way to shake it off and continue. So I’m laughing about it. I fucked up, potentially, but it’s okay.

There are plenty more submissions to come. And hey, it’s September now, you guys! This month, there’s a good chance someone’s actually gonna read it…

Which part isn’t the hard part?!

I haven’t posted on here for almost a year now, a fact that has kind of been weighing on me (and my auntie Elaine, who keeps reminding me – hey Elaine!!). But I completely threw myself into finishing The Suffering ready for querying, so that’s what took up all of my free time. I didn’t have anything else to say. But now the book is complete, the querying has begun, and I can breathe a big sigh of relief at having some time to do other things.

I checked the properties when I finished the wip and couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw I’d spent 2,300+ hours on writing, editing, editing, editing a little more…and just a smidge more editing. It seems like a ridiculous number. A huge mistake. If someone had asked me how long it had taken me to write it I might have shrugged and took a stab, “I dunno…a hundred hours, maybe?” – feeling like an overly-dramatic sensationalist at that.

So this is why I felt like I never had time for other things (or…ahem…people). This is why every time I tried to relax and play games or watch a movie I had an annoying voice in the back of my mind reminding me that I had far more important things that needed to be done. And once I’d finally drawn the line and decided that I had to quit the endless editing process for fear of removing any ounce of my own personal writing style, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off me.

I’ve taken a few of weeks away from writing after sending the book out to my first and second agency choices, and the break has been fun. It’s strange not to have characters and scenes jostling for brain-space at all times of the day. My baths have been spent relaxing in bubbles, not leaping out and pattering wet footprints down the stairs in search of a notebook halfway through when an idea pops into my head. On my walks down the local quay I can now stick a headphone in and listen to music, not having to worry about drowning out a potential plot twist or character arc that may come to mind.

I’m starting to feel the urge to write again, returning to the Calls for Submissions pages and contemplating new horror short anthologies. I’ve missed the rush of writing to a set theme and waiting to hear if my story might just be good enough to make it in. That too went on the back-burner, and for the last year I haven’t submitted a single short. I’m excited to see what’s to come.

But I’m also feeling the anxious little pangs every time I check my writer’s email. The dread of the upcoming rejections by my prospective list of dream agents. It’s part of the process, of course. I don’t think there’s been a writer in history who was snapped up on their first attempt at representation (well, perhaps there have been a lucky few, but I’m positive it’s a rare occurrence).

So, writing the book was hard. Being away from all of my old favourite additional activities, writing-related or otherwise, was a bind. But it’s done with, at least for now. At least until that magical offer of a 3-book deal comes sliding into my emails. Until then, I’m going to enjoy my little blog posts (when I can actually think of something to say!). I’ll get excited about sending out various shorts and writing to set anthology themes in the hope they get accepted.

But, if that deal does come about I’ll be dropping everything again in a heartbeat! Another 2,300 hours to write a sequel – count me in! It’s a crazy dream. It’s almost impossible to find time. It’s ALL the hard part. But it’s worth every second. All 8280000 of them.

5 Things I learned while doing a video reading of my story

It’s not as scary as you think

When I heard that Horrorgasm were calling out for authors to read samples of their work for their Virtual Conference, I felt conflicted. I’ve made 2020 my year of saying yes, meaning I’m trying as hard as I can to stop the nagging voice of doubt in my mind and put myself up for things I would never have done a year ago (skating, anyone?). But did I really have the guts to take a video of myself reading one of my own stories for everyone to see? Added to that, I knew nothing about vlogging, hadn’t edited since uni, and had zero kit. The one thing I’ve learned this year is that I need to commit before I second guess myself, so I immediately checked my savings then went onto Amazon and bought a vlogging kit. It wasn’t massively expensive, and I justified it to myself with the knowledge that I really should set up an author channel to gain more exposure (it’s true, officer!) so I bought the camera stand with built-in mic and LED light in the hope that the Horrorgasm reading wouldn’t be it’s only use.

I picked my outfit, slapped on the make-up, even curled my hair a little bit, just to feel that extra shot of confidence in the arm, and went about my reading. I read it through a few times in my bedroom with my door shut. There was nobody else in the house other than me, but it gave me that false feeling of privacy that made it seem a little less cringe-worthy to hear my pitchy little voice reading my words. After a few read-throughs, during which I isolated the section of the story that would feature according to time-limits and action, I took my little production downstairs to my writing room. I must have read it through at least twenty times. I spent most of the day going over and over my introduction and then the reading. But it did get a little easier. Comparing my first reading to my last is so interesting. My body language has changed. My mouth is less tight-lipped and terrified looking, and my words flow so much more naturally. If you are ever in the position to record a reading of your work, be prepared to read it multiple times – you will get better! And it does get easier, I promise.

YouTube training videos are a Godsend


Like I say, I’d not used an editing suite since uni. You might think having two years of a media studies degree under my belt would be of some benefit, but guys – it was over 15 years ago! Technology has changed A LOT. And, even if it hadn’t, I can’t remember much about my late teens and early twenties, let alone how to use a fucking editing suite. So, I had my video recording. Now I had to make it pretty enough for Horrorgasm to accept it. I hit YouTube like there was no tomorrow. I was on a deadline, and I knew the editing might cause me huge time issues. First thing was first – which editing software should I use? I scoured through a few videos and decided that DaVinci Resolve looked like the best fit for me. I downloaded it onto my laptop, opened it with eager anticipation…and might as well have been looking at the Mars Rover controls. I had no idea where to start, or even how to import my video clips in the first place. Back I went to YouTube. Massive shout-out to Justin Brown, whose comprehensive basics guide was a true lifesaver for me. I followed each step, making notes on the important parts (soon learning that the hot keys don’t work on a laptop but, hey ho, trial and error got me around that, too. All I can say is, thank God Ctrl+Z worked, and I could undo my many, many mistakes as I went along.

I threw in an intro and a final Canva plate to make it look somewhat professional and I suddenly had a half-decent video. Okay, so the intro has an overwhelming amount of zoom-cuts and my colour ‘correcting’ has made my complexion a little Housewives of Beverly Hills. But I had my video! Two days prior I didn’t have a vlog kit, didn’t know if I’d even be able to read my story out loud, and had ZERO clue how to go about an edit. It’s amazing how things go, sometimes!

Reading out loud is an incredible editing tool

So, during my fifteen thousand (possible exaggeration) readings, I started to notice areas of the story that sounded better with a few little tweaks. I started instinctively reading my mental amendments instead of the published text, and I think the story is improved by them.

I kind of wish I’d spotted them before the story was originally submitted and published, but you can’t turn back the clock on things like that. My year of saying yes goes hand in hands with a “No Regrets” mantra, so there is no point wasting that kind of time. But in future, I will be reading my submissions out loud to myself. It really makes a huge difference. No matter how silly you think you’ll sound, find a quiet spot and try it yourself.

It’s almost impossible to hide your natural accent

I had a small experience of this when I posted a short video to my insta account this year. One of my lovely followers in the writing community commented, “Oh, you’re a proper Lancashire lass!” Am I? I thought. In my head, particularly when I’m being recorded for whatever reason, I always thought I was quite well spoken. Reader, I’m deluded! I realised this when I was making the reading recording. I was trying my hardest to dampen down my Lancashire accent for the American audience. I did my best, but there are the odd words where it creeps back in. But hey, that’s me! It’s part of my ‘brand’ as an author, whether I like it or not. I’m not going to take elocution lessons, so I need to just get on with it.

The more you do it, the easier it gets

I cringe, watching it back. Of course I do. Everyone hates the sound of their own voice. Everyone wishes they looked a little different on camera. Everyone wishes they could orate like Lincoln. But the more I did it, the more I stopped worrying about each little step. I managed to step back and look at the whole. And it was great! If I’d stayed focusing on each little thing, I’d never have finished the video at all. And, this weekend, it was screened to an audience of horror loving conference-goers (virtual, naturally, but it still counts!). Because of this, I’ve bitten the bullet and set up my YouTube channel ready for next week, when the conference is over and I can show my family and friends who couldn’t attend. The channel’s built. I have the vlogging equipment. I know how to edit, after my extremely crash course. There’s no stopping me now, I guess.

It’s my year of saying yes, after all.