Friday, 20 May 2016


                I have entered one of my short stories in a competition. I got it together and sent it off a mere two days from the closing date. I knew about the competition for at least a month beforehand. It was specifically for horror stories. I kept telling myself that I didn’t have time to write anything new. It never occurred to me that I had all those unpublished horror stories languishing on my memory stick.
                By the time I thought that I might like to enter the competition after all, there was only about a week left. I decided to have a look at what I’d already written. Predominantly they were first drafts, and even though I’d had feedback on most of them, I hadn’t, out of sheer laziness (or, perhaps, a fear of revision) done any further work on them. I knew I would have to act fast.
                There was one story which my writers’ group said needed very little work on it. Unfortunately, it was 500 words short of the limit. I pondered over what to add (as I read it back, I found myself actually crossing out words), and came to the conclusion that all I would be doing was padding it out, and therefore making it less effective. I would have to find something else.
                Looking through the junk in my locker, I found a lot of feedback notes on another story, and this one was about the right number of words. I was reasonably pleased with it, but knew it could be improved. So over two days I revised it.
                I’m proud of myself for doing this. To have actually written a second draft of something is an achievement for me, and the second draft does actually improve it. I wish I’d started a whole lot earlier, and I feel ready to look at some of my other stories and to revise them and send them off. Obviously, I want to win the competition, but even the fact that I posted the story has energised me and given me hope.

                I edited on my work computer, when I was meant to be working. As I travelled home that night, my back was aching and my eyes were swimming from staring at the screen for longer than was good for me. I was aware that I’d had a gnawing tension all day, as I’d tried to beat the clock. But I’ve got a story out there, and that feels terrific.

Saturday, 14 May 2016


We had a new door fitted this week, between the hallway and the living room. The previous door had been plain, but the new one is glazed, and lets in the light. I had the idea to do this when we first moved into the flat, over twenty years ago, and my poor wife has been begging me to do it ever since.
The main reason it has taken me so long is my dread of home improvements. Even the idea of knocking a nail in the wall brings me out in a cold sweat. My decorating is horrible - our woodwork looks like it's got smallpox - and when I put a blind over the kitchen window, I drilled through a cable and took our electricity out. My dad was alive then, and I had to ask him to come round and fix it for us.
Nor do I like workmen coming round. You hear all these stories about cowboys making a mess of it and charging you for the privilege. Even when they're competent, there's the banging, crashing, scraping and the whine of the drill. Our cat hides behind the sofa, and to be honest I wish I could join her.
There's also the matter of his (I've never had a woman plumber /electrician /telephone engineer) personality. I'm thinking here of the norther who fitted our boiler, and who criticized my music collection at the same time.
I knew the handyman we were going to get, because my brothers -in-law recommended him. They said that he was good, reliable and wouldn't rip you off. Furthermore, he was polite and friendly. Even so, I felt on edge all the time he was there. I wanted to put on the radio or television, but began worrying about which programmes he wanted. Or would it distract him? I was glad when my wife got home -she's a lot better with people than I am.
The handyman earned his money. We’d bought a pair of beautiful crystal doorknobs, but once he fitted them he found he couldn’t close the door properly. They banged against the jamb, which the door handles had never done. So I was despatched to Homebase to buy a brand new pair of brass handles, which he then had to fit. But he did a terrific job, and the new door looks great.
My writing has stalled. Too many projects vying for my attention. One minute I’m trying to write a novel, the next a stage play. My writers’ group have decided to put another magazine together, and the teacher is encouraging us to come up with short stories for it. John Braine wrote, in his How To Write A Novel, that when you have to choose between two story ideas, you should decide between them as you would decide between two dinner parties (i.e; you choose the one that appeals to you the most). But what if there’s a dinner party you’d like to attend but haven’t been invited to (i.e; you don’t have an idea)? And what if you don’t want to go to a particular dinner party but feel you ought to?

Friday, 6 May 2016

Just One Day Out Of Life

                As fond as I am of bank holidays, I find that the weeks which immediately follow them are the pits. Remember, this is one day, only one day, and yet as soon as you go back to work, the sh*t hits the fan. Trains will be late, and ridiculously crammed. Computers will break down. Half a dozen delivery men will think it’s a great idea to arrive at lunchtime (do they work any other hours?); and the general public will be frothing, slavering because your building was closed yesterday. You had the temerity to stay at home, when your bosses weren’t paying you, and lie in. Or go to the coast, or the cinema, or a walk around the park. They have had to organize their own activities.
                If my council ever paid us to work on bank holidays, as shops do, I wouldn’t complain, in the same way that I never used to mind doing overtime on Sundays; it took the sting out of the week ahead. You’re ahead of the game, that bit more ready than your colleagues who took a rest. These days, when I know that there’s a bank holiday approaching, I feel dread, and try not to think about it. And even though my wife and I had a great time on Monday, I was mentally trying to prepare myself for Tuesday, anticipate the arguments and rehearse my replies. Like trying to play a game of chess that hasn’t started yet.
                It isn’t the same as going on annual leave, because usually your building stays open and your colleagues carry on in your absence, if not quite so brilliantly and stylishly as yourself. I wish we could all have personal bank holidays. A budget of days off which we can arrange with our line managers, independently of our colleagues, so that you don’t get this unnecessary rest-of-the-week tension.
                I find that, if we don’t plan anything for bank holiday weekends, we end up drifting aimlessly. For some reason, you can’t, on bank holidays, plan what you’re going to watch in the evenings; you have to watch whatever’s on. We never seem to get to the cinema, although bank holidays strike me as a good time to visit them. It’s a shame to stay indoors, but you have to decide where you’re going well in advance. The tension seems to build up even when you’re trying to think of nice things.
                I’ve started sketching out a character. Again. I’ve taken three people I know, in real life, and I’m trying to assimilate bits and pieces of them into a composite. At the moment, he’s simply called Hero. And there’s a whole lot I don’t know about him. And I know nothing about what’s going to happen to him, or what he’s going to attempt, when the story begins. I’m hoping something will occur to me.
                I thought it might be useful to sketch out his parents first, so I did that at the beginning of the week. Because their relationship will have affected Hero’s childhood. And I sketched in Hero’s sister and best friend, too.

                I was going great guns on Tuesday, but the very next day, I stalled. I’m trying to think about what Hero’s parents will have argued about in the course of their relationship. But it’s become a blur, now, and it’s maddening.

Friday, 29 April 2016


                We’re back from our break in Dorset. The trip we were going to take last September, before our flat became infested with fleas, and we had to stay and tackle them. But the delay made the trip all the sweeter. The weather was changeable, but the views were stunning, the food was good (especially at By The Bay in Lyme Regis) and the people were friendly. We went to quirky local museums, where I unearthed all manner of arcane nuggets.
                I also went on a Ghost Walk. It was held in the town where we were staying, seven o’clock on Thursday nights. I was in two minds about going. Would the guide be a nutcase? The rest of the walkers? Supposing only I turned up- would I have to spend two hours alone with some bloke shouting at me?
                The trip was meant to start on the porch of a pub. I sat across the road, waiting to see if anybody else turned up. Four people plus a Westland Terrier congregated, so I went over and joined them. The guide walked up in a black hat and cloak, wielding a stick with a silver head. We put our money in the hat, and we were off.
                I’m glad I took the trip now. As the sun set, the town took on a more sinister atmosphere, as he pointed out the site of a gallows here, a pond where someone drowned there. Sightings of spectral monks, grey ladies- all the usual suspects except Anne Boleyn. Finally, he led us to a deserted churchyard and recited a suitably gothic poem, before we sauntered away again, somewhat pale and nervous.
                I didn’t write for the whole trip. I was with my wife nearly the whole time, and I could not get away by myself to jot anything down. So I’m still trying to catch up. But I feel like I’ve recharged my batteries. I’ve got my horror stage play on the go, one or two ideas have come to me. Sometimes you have to lie fallow.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Horror Story

I'm sorry that I haven't posted here for a while. There wasn't much to report, writing-wise. I was straining for an idea which wouldn't seem to come. This stupid horror-film-for-live-theatre thing that I was desperate to start. I did get ideas, but none of them seemed right. Yet I couldn't bring myself to put it aside and start a different project, either. Nothing else would content me, only this.
 Lately, I've been working on an idea. It's an old idea, and I can't say I was all that wild about it, but I was stuck. As I've mentioned before here, I've been trying to write a horror stage play. The newer, better Woman In Black, as I've thought of it in my more grandiose moments. The stage play which M.R. James might have written. But there are reasons why there are so few horror stage plays. It's that bit more difficult to avoid melodrama (even though I would admit that the whole project is a melodrama), to make the characters convincing.
 I have been trying to get this thing off the ground for at least a year, now, maybe two. But I'm sure I can do it. The natural home for this story idea is probably the printed page or the cinema screen rather than the stage; but I think I can make it stage worthy by the skin of my teeth. So here goes. My first job is probably to create my protagonist. I'm determined this time (although I've said this a million times before, as well) to write his/her biography. That means perhaps writing the biographies of the protagonist's parents first, even though they probably won't appear in the play. Hemingway said that a story should be like an iceberg, with only its tip showing. I'm going to take my time and make a good job of it.
 It's a relief to have an idea. To finally settle on one. And even though this idea didn't seem all that promising to begin with, it's grown on me. I can see possibilities in it. It has the virtue of being simple, which means I can let the characters breathe, and build up the atmosphere slowly

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Cold Sick

                I haven’t posted here for a while now. For one reason or another, I didn’t know what to say. They tell you to have a few ‘emergency’ posts ready in advance, but this is a diary kind of blog.
                Monday was the last day of term for my writing class, and it was my turn to take something of mine in to read and have critiqued. It crossed my mind, at the beginning of term, to ask not to bring anything in, because I didn’t have anything. I felt short of ideas. I’ve been struggling, for a while now, to write a non-genre story. I’d got on a treadmill of churning out horror stories and, while I still love reading them, and watching them and listening to them, I felt that my own stuff was becoming stale. But I could not seem to come up with anything else.
                Still, I persevered. On Monday, I took in a synopsis for a proposed novel- a contemporary, straightforward story, not in any genre. It was an idea I’d had kicking around for a while, had even begun writing once. I thought that, even if I never write the actual novel (and I didn’t feel inclined to), at least the class would see the sort of thing which I wanted to do.
                The synopsis was only about a thousand words. As a make-weight, I also took in a newly minute horror flash fiction, also around a thousand words.
                Well the synopsis went down like cold sick; but the class seemed to like the horror story better than anything I’ve ever shown them. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.
                I suppose the horror story was more fun. I try, when I write horror (well, when I write anything) not to let my characters seem cardboard. With horror, I start off with a plot idea- I don’t know any other way of doing it. But it’s so easy, then, for the characters to seem like chess pieces. I try to keep the plot mechanics to a bare minimum, and to let the protagonist become involved in the story through a personal failing, such as his greed or her blatant disregard for what other people are saying. I also like to sketch in the protagonist’s everyday life. M.R. James does this brilliantly.
                I thought I might at least be applauded for trying something different. Anyway, I haven’t given up thinking of a straightforward story.

                Happy Easter.

Friday, 19 February 2016

In Dreams

                I’ve been steadily filling up my Writing Practice notebook with rubbish of all sorts. I’ve been trying to keep a dream journal, as suggested by JennyAlexander in Writing In The House Of Dreams, and an earlier book which Jenny Alexander suggested, PatriciaGarfield’s Creative Dreaming. You’re supposed to be able to get insights about your life from your dreams, and you’re also meant to be able to ‘induce dreams’- that is, decide what you want to dream about, in order to get your unconscious mind to solve problems for you and give you ideas.
                I keep a pocket notebook and pen in my jacket in the hallway. When I wake up, I scribble down whatever it is I can remember of the dream I’ve just had. If I can get even a few details down, I find I can remember more when I come to write about the dream for writing practice. I usually wake up once in the night, to go to the toilet, so even my bladder is helping my creativity. If I don’t write down anything, though, I find that I forget everything, even dreams which I’m certain sure I’ll remember. An odd side effect is that I’m beginning to remember dreams which I had one or two years ago, before I even decided to keep a dream journal.
                Eventually, you have to work out what all these dream symbols mean to you (that is, to you personally, not what Freud, Jung, etc; tell you they’re supposed to mean). I haven’t done that yet. I’ve been James Bond in a few of my dreams, and I wonder if there’s anything in that other than the obvious.

                This week, I induced (I think) my first dream. In said to myself, as I shut my eyes, that I would dream up a romcom, and that night I had a dream in which MartinFreeman (playing his Tim character from TheOffice) was looking after the flat of the girl he was is in love with. There was weird stuff in it, such as a rain of fish, and the girl turned him down three times, but it kind of fulfilled my requirements. The next night, though, when I asked for a romcom with a happy ending, I couldn’t repeat the feat.