Wednesday 31 October 2012

Are you scared yet?

31st October - Halloween. Traditionally the scariest night of the year, when the veil between the real and the supernatural worlds is reputed to be at its thinnest. For weeks the shops have been full of masks, fancy dress, singing skeletons, biscuits with ghosts on them - you name it, they produce it. I think the most realistic looking edible thing that I have come across was a magazine recipe for severed fingers - thin sausage rolls with black olive fingernails at one end and tomato ketchup blood at the other. Now those did look quite gruesome!

Ghost and horror stories, the supernatural and the paranormal, have a long tradition in literature and drama - from Shakespeare's witches, through Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, Dickens's ghosts to Susan Hill's long running play The Woman in Black - still shivering spines after twenty plus years. It seems we like to be scared. But there does appear to be a change in the nature of the scare. Vampires and werewolves used to be the inhabitants of nightmares. These days finding a vampire sitting on the end of your bed may be more likely to provoke joy than terror. I know it depends on the vampire :) Fashions change, but the unknown is always a constant fascination. And scary things can take many forms and be portrayed in many ways.

Last week I saw a performance of the RSC touring production of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. A play primarily about politics and civil disturbance - yet even that has its paranormal moments - the appearance of the ghost at the end of the play and the prophetic uttering of the soothsayer - in this production a spectacular figure based on an African witch doctor, on stage for a large part of the action and managing to combine both menace and a degree of pathos. It was a memorable supernatural figure which will stay in my mind for a long time  - human, but with a special power, in touch with something fundamental and unknown.

Hands up everyone who turns to the horoscopes fairly soon after picking up a newspaper or a magazine? Yes - I thought it wasn't just me. Prediction, prophecy, fortune telling - all have a perennial attraction. The future may be the most deeply scary thing a human can confront. We KNOW that the things that go bump in the night are not real - mostly - but we don't know what tomorrow might bring. Doesn't stop us trying to find out though.

I write thrillers. I put people into difficult situations and challenge them to get out of them. And for me, that is the key - difficult situations, not impossible ones. They have to be problems that my characters can resolve from their own resources, physical and mental. Situations that you might possibly meet in real life. If you were very unlucky. I don't write the stuff that sends shivers down your spine, but I do like to put readers' hearts in their mouths.

Enjoy your Halloween - and may all your vampires be handsome ones.

Wednesday 24 October 2012

But will they like it?

Second books are notorious. They're legendary for being difficult AND scary.


For the author, there's the problem of producing something as good, if not better, than their debut. They may be producing it to a deadline for the first time. They have to think of something new and different, but sufficiently similar, so that any fans they may have acquired are not disappointed. The first book - well, that may have been the product of years of work, that has been refined over time, at a leisurely pace, with no deadline pressures and with no-one but the author and a few critique partners to please. Not that critique partners let a writer get away easily, but you know what I mean.

But the second book? The second book is the proof that the first one wasn't just a fluke.

I'm pondering all this, because I am in the middle of editing my second book to be published, and am closer to it at the moment than I have been in several years. I'm not quite a typical 'second booker' in that Out of Sight, Out of Mind was written before my debut novel, so I haven't been producing it to a deadline. As an unpublished manuscript it was actually more successful in competitions, so theoretically it has just as good a pedigree as Never Coming Home.  

But - the new book is different. Never Coming Home is a fast paced thriller, with a high, and rather gory, body count. Quite where all that gore came from, I'm not too sure.  A lot of people have said how much they enjoyed it, and how much they are looking forward to the next one. Out of Sight, Out of Mind is a love story, and a thriller, but it's not the same as its predecessor.

For a start, it has a paranormal element. Both my leading characters can read minds. I like to think I've explored that phenomena as a challenge that sets them apart and which they have to learn to live with, but some people just don't like anything in their reading matter that isn't 'real'. I think Out of Sight, Out of Mind is more romantic than Never Coming Home, as most of the scenes are between my hero and heroine and the focus is very much on the development of their relationship, which is actually one of the hinges of the plot. It has a few deaths, but nothing like the number in the first book. At the opening my hero is destitute and homeless, not exactly conventional stuff. So - a lot of things are very different ...

I still love the story. I hope other people will too ...

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Full Supporting Cast

"Finish, good lady; the bright day is done, and we are for the dark."

This is one of my favourite lines of Shakespeare - why? I don't really know, probably the very simple contrast of light and dark and the sense of going into the shadows, never to return? Whatever it is, it's one of my spine chilling moments, as I was reminded when I heard it in performance at the Chichester Festival Theatre a few weeks ago. The play is Anthony and Cleopatra, and the line is spoken by Iras, one of Cleopatra's maids - a supporting character. Enjoying the line made me think about the importance of supporting roles. 

In Shakespeare a number of plays open with minor characters discussing events - an insight into the back story that would be classed as an 'info- dump' in modern terms - but necessary on Shakespeare's stage where there were minimal props, costumes and scenery. It's difficult to imagine what it must have been like to be in a first night audience for a new play from Shakespeare - that would be top of my list of places to go if I ever got hold of a time machine. The only way you'd know where you were would be from listening to the actors. And Shakespeare has some memorable openings - in Hamlet, the battlements of Elsinore, with a ghost wandering, the Scottish play, with three witches casting a spell, Othello, which begins in the middle of an argument - all great scene setters. And then throughout the plays supporting characters report and comment on the action, keeping the playgoer up to date with what has gone on off stage. 

We're a little more sparing with our supporting cast, these days. Early in my writing career I was picked up in a critique for inventing too many people. I was writing a rom/com and they were all having funny and witty conversations all over the place. At least, I thought they were. Except, as was crisply pointed out to me, they were detracting from the main protagonists, the hero and heroine, on whom attention should have been focused. I wasn't happy with the criticism. I'd worked hard on all those witty asides, but I kept it in mind. 

Now, writing romantic thrillers, I find I'm much less tempted to over indulge in supporting cast. While the hero and heroine must have someone to bounce ideas off - the hero needs a side kick and the heroine a best friend - part of the tension comes from isolating the protagonists and throwing them back on their own resources, and on each other. Which means they have to trust each other ...
These days I chose my supporting cast carefully - when they do appear, I want to be sure that they have a significant role. 
Listen carefully to that supporting actor - what they have to say may be a matter of life or death.  

Wednesday 10 October 2012

Inside Cardiff Castle

Exterior of the house

My day at Cardiff Castle.  
Discovering William Burges. 

The Tower - with Burges' decorations.

Exterior details 
The Winter Smoking Room - the blue figure is Dusk

As readers will probably have gathered by now - I have a bit of a thing for Gothic style art and architecture - so the chance to spend a day finding out  more about William Burges and Victorian Gothic, as part of a study day with Matthew Williams, the curator of Cardiff Castle, was too good to miss. Burges was a genius/eccentric, who believed that an architect's brief extended to the inside of a house - decorations, furnishings, windows - as much as the outside. He was also very expensive - so his involvement with the Third Marquis of Bute - who shared his taste and had the money to indulge it, was one of those serendipitous events that sometimes occur in history.

'Wednesday' window
The day was labelled 'Research' in my diary. I leaned a lot, some of which is supposed to find its way into a book. Eventually. At the moment, the emphasis is on 'eventually'. Although I do have an updated picture in my mind, of a painting, which will be a significant part of this projected book, which now features some rather distinctive wall hangings ...

I had a lovely day. The lectures, the conversations with other enthusiasts and the food, provided by the castle cafe, were excellent. After the lectures Matthew took us on a quick tour, and I was able to snap some interior shots of the Winter Smoking Room. As you can see, Burges' decorative style is  ... distinctive. You might say hectic. The theme of the room is Time - the days of the week, the seasons, the phases of the day. It has all the accessories of a lads' retreat, including storage for cigars and various alcoholic beverages, in specially designed furniture.

The mantle over the chimney - winter pastimes. 
We also had the chance to look at some of Burges' original drawings for the decorative work - many are not simply sketches but full blown watercolours that are works of art in themselves. As watercolours feature in my ideas for this projected book, they were particularly interesting.

This is only a brief glimpse, but it give you a flavour of the Castle. It's an amazing place.

Wednesday 3 October 2012

Announcing - The Location Tour

I promised something special today, now that my first set of revisions for my second book - Out of Sight, Out of Mind  have gone to the editor and I have a short breathing space before they find their way back to me.

Here it is - in the post below, and the tabs above - my first attempt at adding pages to the blog.

A project I've been working on for a while and am excited about sharing. I hope it adds to the enjoyment of Never Coming Home.

Never Coming Home - The Location Tour

A number of people have told me that they were saving their copy of Never Coming Home to take on holiday with them. I hope they all enjoyed it. Now that the summer and the beach holiday season is drawing to an end, I thought it was a good time for some arm-chair travel, either to remember places visited, or to plan holidays to come.

So, I give you ... 

Never Coming Home - The Location Tour. 

The book moves around the globe at a brisk pace. The settings for the action were important to me - a way of adding extra texture to the manuscript, and a chance to re-visit my own memories as I wrote. Thankfully, none of my experiences were as scary or heartbreaking as those I created for Kaz and Devlin. I've visited, or lived in, a lot of the places I wrote about. And taken photographs. Now I'm sharing them. I hope a glimpse of the locations which inspired me will add to your enjoyment of the story.

To see the tour, just click on the pages link above.

Bon Voyage!