Thursday 31 October 2013


At times of stress, I've had a tendency towards nosebleeds. Sometimes, I'm immediately aware of it, when the pressure behind my sinus builds until it feels like it pops and drains, and the red warmth spreads down from my nostrils. Other times, I'm not even aware of it until I feel the coppery, tangy taste on my lips, glance down and see the tell-tale drops on my shirt or my shoes or the floor.

The worst one was the day our daughter died.

Months old, lying in the cot, and I was woken by my husband's screams. I remember opening my eyes, and I remember standing with him by the cot, but I don't remember actually getting out of bed. I only remember standing there with him, looking down at her, and registering somewhere in the base of my skull that I was barefoot.

I hate being barefoot. I always have. Usually, when I get up, I plant my feet into a pair of slippers, and I obviously hadn't done that. The screams had made me move with a primal urgency, but when I got there, when I stood there with him looking down, my brain wanted to think about something else rather than admit what I could plainly see.

She lay still, her eyes unfocused and staring without seeing. My husband was crying, and touching her hand.

"She's cold," he said, and then he wrapped his arms around me and squeezed me so hard that it hurt. "I'm sorry, Annie. I'm sorry. I'm sorry."

I wanted to push him away from me and hit him and hurt him and blame him, but I couldn't do that because it wasn't his fault and it was hurting him as much as it was hurting me. I just wanted someone to blame. But I let him hold me. For a short while, and then I made him let go so I could touch her and hold her for myself.

Her skin being cold felt wrong, but the lack of any movement felt more so. My fingers pressed into her side as I lifted her and it felt like I was handling a large piece of meat rather than my daughter.

As I held her against me, I didn't feel the pressure popping. I didn't even notice the wetness spreading down my face, as it was mixed with tears of anger and sorrow.

"Annie!" My husband shouted, and I looked down and realised that the blood had poured over her face and babygro, making it look like an obscene blessing. I put her back in the cot, as quickly as I could.

"I'm sorry", I said, cupping my hands to my nose. "I didn't know." I fled to the bathroom to clean up, and the main thing I could think of was how much I hated being in bare feet, the cold lino against my skin.

As I washed, I heard him shout again, and ran back, blood and water still down my front.

"She's... she's..."

Her mouth was opening and closing, as she fed on the blood. Her eyes were moving, and as we watched we could see her skin grow warmer.

We just watched for a few minutes. Neither of us moved. I could feel the cold bloody water on the front of my pyjama top.

"We can't tell anyone," I said.

He looked at me and, after a moment, nodded.

We soon learned that she wouldn't eat anything else other than blood. We tried other options. We tried blood from animals (sourced from the local butcher), but she wouldn't go near it. We heated it up, and that almost worked - she accepted it, but couldn't keep it down, vomiting up a lot of creamy blood.

It needed to be human, and it needed to be fresh.

For a while, we took turns. We bought razor blades, and kept them carefully sterilized. We would cut our arms once a day, and drip feed the blood into her mouth. He took mornings. I took evenings. Sometimes, she would gurgle happily while she drank it. Other times, she would accept it grumpily. It depended how hungry she was.

But after she fed, those hungry small little eyes would look sated and sleepy.

We took to wearing bandages on our arms, covered up with long sleeves. The skin became a little weaker and would break more easily, so we had to be careful otherwise people would see the blood seeping into our clothing.

After a while, I took to using the razor blades to slice the skin just above my nipple. I had to do it deeply in order to produce enough blood, but it also felt a little like she was latching on and feeding normally, and for just a little while, I was able to feel like a proper mother. I would watch her scrunch up her eyes and concentrate on suckling.

Changing her should have felt more grotesque than it was. The thick, clumped blood that she excreted was messy, but (as with all emissions at that age) it felt more like an extension of our own bodies, so we just quietly got on with it.

It exhausted both of us. It took quite an amount of blood each time to sate her, but she was healthy and comfortable, and that was the most important thing.

It wasn’t long until she started teething, which was obviously painful, but it did, at least, make her gums bleed sometimes, which appeared to be something that let her ignore the pain at times and stop crying.

But it was when she moved onto solids that things became difficult. Her teeth had grown in enough for her to clamp down and bite, and it was with a sense of wanting to feel her close to me again that I sliced the skin above my nipple (easily gouging into it enough for blood to flow now – fresh scar tissue is thin and tears easily). She clamped and bit and slowly tore, and it took all of my love not to ball my hand into a fist and punch her to try to get her off me.

When she finally let go, and thankfully with not that much flesh torn off my breast, she swallowed and then laughed happily. I held her and patted her back as she brought up a little bit of blood. Thankfully, no flesh came along with it. It was the first solid thing that she kept down.

I performed first aid on myself, and my husband stitched the skin back together when he got home. It hurt and I cried and I swore.

We tried meat, and we tried everything we could think of, but she either wouldn’t eat it or (in the case of raw pork heated in the microwave), she wouldn’t keep it down. We were reduced to drip feeding her again, but she was getting angrier and more hungry.

My husband talked of cutting fine slices from his leg, but I pointed out that she was only going to need more. He wouldn’t be able to heal fast enough, and I wasn’t prepared to lose anyone in this family in order to keep another part of it alive.

We drove around the streets of our city, in the early hours of the morning, looking for the homeless. We didn’t look too much in the centre, from fear of hidden cameras. Instead, we looked for those who sought privacy themselves.

The first was a young man, drunk and high and asleep on a park bench covered with a blanket. He looked thin and gaunt, and we were able to carry him to the car with the promise of taking him for some food. When we got him to the house, we took him to the cellar and we killed him there, and cut a large strip from his thigh. Almost panicking, my husband held the warm, bloody meat to our daughter’s mouth, and she carefully ate it and we held her and we told her what a good girl she was and we cried out of relief. We had enough from him to last her weeks.

Or so we thought. Actually, after two days, she wouldn’t eat it any more. We managed to get her to eat a little more by heating it, but after another day, she couldn’t keep it down any more. It had to be fresh.

We became ghouls, tracking down the homeless and abducting them, taking them to our cellar and keeping them drugged and gagged as we crucified them against the wall. We would give them enough food and drink to keep them alive, and we would do our best to keep them clean, even though there was so much blood, so much more than we ever thought could fit in a person. Once, our daughter sat underneath the stream and played. It was the happiest we had ever seen her.

We could keep them alive for weeks as we carved as much flesh off them as possible to feed her. Men and women. Old and young. Sometimes younger than we imagined. Runaways and homeless.

But she fed and she grew stronger, and, given a break from being the sole source of her blood, we grew slowly stronger as well.

She’s been crawling recently, and beginning to make words. We have gates against the stairs and anywhere where we might sleep. But we are scared of what could happen when she grows old enough to totter and move quickly. She looks at us greedily, and it is frightening to be looked at by someone you love so much as they balance their love and their instinct. We are beginning to be scared of sleeping, and for now, we do it in shifts, but we won’t be able to do this forever.

I’ve been ill recently, and it took me over a month before I realised that I hadn’t checked my cycle. I’ve never not thought about it before. I don’t even remember the last time my husband and I had sex. We have had, but it happens as instinct rather than love, and sometimes I’m not fully awake. It doesn’t happen often, but it happens.

And now I know I’m pregnant again. It’s too early to feel it, I know that. But I imagine that I can. I can imagine it inside me, growing and feeding from me.

And it is hungry.

Tuesday 29 October 2013

Magic Falls Part 29

I am at the venue Jack asked me to come to, in order to hear his talk. The theatre is large. I don’t know how it was booked at this short notice. When I give my name at the box office, I am handed a ticket with a large smile from the woman behind the desk. “We’re very glad to have you here,” she says.

I take the ticket, and am escorted to my seat. It’s in the front row, to the left hand side. I am asked if I would like any refreshments, and am brought some wine.

I wait quietly for the show to start, as people mill around me and start taking their seats. After a while, the lights are dimmed, and anticipation fills the room.

“You know,” Jack’s voice comes out over the speakers. “When the cancellation for the venue we were originally meant to have came through, I was told I was mad for booking somewhere this large with just a week to go. I was told there’d be no chance it would be filled.”

The lights come down further, leaving us now in complete darkness.

“But the power of social media, and the power of the truth. The power of needing to ask the questions, whether or not we have the answers. The power of seeking. These things, these things told me that you would be here.”

Jack walks out onto the stage, and while I was aware how many people were there, I don't feel it until they break out into applause and cheering. The energy from the clapping hits me from behind from all the seats, and I physically feel it, slamming into me like someone’s hit me, but also sending electricity of excitement through me.

He is so much more confident than I would be in this situation. I hate speaking in public. I don't like speaking to more than one person at a time. It makes me feel scared about how I come across, and I feel like I lose control of what I'm saying, and then only realise later what I've said.

He's at ease, though, introducing himself and explaining his background, with easy jokes laced through it to relax the audience. He asks a few people what their background is, and is generally acting almost like the MC at a comedy night. Just getting the audience to get used to listening for a little while, before he makes it more serious.

"The question we have to ask is why we're being lied to. That's usually the question we have to ask, but it's usually combined with wanting to know what we're being lied to about."

There's a shift in the atmosphere in the room. Nervousness and anticipation.

"This time around though, we know we're being lied to about a specific thing. It's the thing that the government are trying to stop the media talking about. They're trying to create a complete blackout on it on social media too, by attempting to get the words blocked from trending, but because they don't really understand how the internet works, it hasn't happened.

"Raise your hands if you know what's at Trafalgar Square."

I look around. There's barely a hand not raised.

"Okay, put your hands back down again. That's good. Means I don’t need to spend too long explaining. But I'll come back to Trafalgar Square. First of all, raise your hands if you've ever been in the presence of an unexplained phenomona."

Most of the hands are raised this time, and I'm not the only one looking around. Lots of people are, and I can see small discussions happening between groups of people. Couples, surprised by one or both of them raising their hands.

"Okay, take them down. Now raise your hands if it happened before this year."

A number of hands are raised, but it's fairly minor.

"How about this year? How about in two thousand and thirteen?"

Almost the same number of hands as were originally raised go up, this time with lots of energy again.

"You can see what we're talking about, can't you? The sword in the stone in Trafalgar Square is only the visible tip of the iceberg with this. Put your hands back down now, and we will take a break soon, I promise, so you can get a chance to chat to each other. I can see you, this couple in the front... you didn't know each other had experienced something, did you?"

I look to my right where he's talking, and both of them shake their heads.

"You can talk about it soon, I promise. This isn't just a talk by me. We're researching and building a databank of experiences, because we're trying to understand more about what's going on. There are volunteers in the audience who will record all of your stories. I mean, don’t worry, you’ll get your money worth if you think your money is well spent listening to me talk, but we will take breaks during it.

"But before we get to that, I need to clarify something. I said that we knew what we were being lied to about. The sword, the stone, Trafalgar Square. But that doesn't mean that there aren't any questions. I've just raised one for you now. Why this year?"

There are nods of agreement and murmers of sound as people talk to each other again.

"This was happening before, but the level on which it's happening now... this is totally new. This is why I...I think you'll agree, it's fair to say, someone who was known for being a sceptic... am here talking to you about this and raising these questions. I've seen things. Things that I am not comfortable talking about. Or at least, I wouldn't be if it weren't for the fact that we are all amongst friends and equals here, and I know many of you have experienced similar issues. Maybe not to the same level. But you'll see what I'm talking about with that shortly.

"But before I get to that, I've got another question for you, and it's the one nobody seems to be asking.

"This is happening all over the world. There are phenomena occuring everywhere. But the frequency of them happening, of them being reported, and also the intensity of the incidents themselves … are unique to Britain.

"There have been more unexplained phenomena in London alone in the last year than there have been in the entirety of the United States.

"This is happening here. In Britain. And it’s centred here. In Britain. And it's happening and it’s centred here for a reason.

"And I'm going to tell you why."

Saturday 26 October 2013

Sandman: Overture and Being Eighteen.

Neil Gaiman returns to comics this coming week with Sandman: Overture. Set before Sandman, it'll tell the story of the events that led to the first volume of the Sandman series that Gaiman made his name with in the nineties. Outside of a book of short stories, it'll be the first time he's gone back to it in a serious way.

Sandman was an incredibly influential series. It was a smart, beautiful series of stories about stories that built together to tell a story of Dream of the Endless, a personification of an idea like the rest of his family, who was unable to change. It was filled with fantastic and beautiful artwork by a number of talented artists, to match the brilliant writing by Gaiman.

It was an enormous hit, and really helped to launch Vertigo Comics, the mature readers imprint from DC. It helped many people to realise that comics could genuinely be an art form, and even taken seriously - and all without involving superheroes (except in the briefest of cameos). It was also a series that appealed to women in a way that the industry at the time didn't really try to. It brought new people into comic shops, and many people fell in love with it.

So why am so I nervous about Gaiman returning to Sandman?

It's because it'll be impossible for me to read it in the way I read it then. Because I read Sandman when I was eighteen, and I'll be reading Sandman: Overture in my thirties.To explain why that's so different, I need to look at who I was when I was eighteen.

It's difficult looking back at yourself sometimes. I didn't yet know who I was, and was casting around trying to work it out. When I look back, it's with a lot of embarrassment. I tend to remember the negatives first.

At eighteen, I was a combination of confidence and anxiety. I was studying acting at university, and was convinced that I had enough talent that I could do whatever I wanted - but I was also eaten up with fear, not least because I appeared to have an ability to precisely annoy just about everyone I was around to a lesser or greater extent.

This was probably partially because I skipped ahead a bit at school (due to a mixture of the time of year I was born and my moving back and forward between England and Ireland), and ended up starting university before I was eighteen. I had a huge chip on my shoulder because was worried that I wouldn't be taken seriously, and ended up trying hard to impress everyone - you can probably guess how well that approach worked. When I stopped trying to fly, I landed with a pretty hard bump.

Going to university meant that I'd moved away from home. I'd spent my teenage years in rural Ireland, and being so close to Leeds felt pretty metropolitan. It felt like a big adventure, and the opportunity to prove myself, but I was also without the immediate support system of my family for the first time, and only saw them a couple of times a year. At times, I felt like I had it all in my stride, but at other times, I felt hopelessly lost. But I was more frightened of never trying than I was of failing.

Also, like many of us, periods of my life are inextricably linked with the relationships that I was in at the time. I got into a relationship that had its positives, but wasn't particularly good for either of us. I didn't know how to make her happy, and that meant that I went through the latter stage of it constantly scared and feeling like I was always doing the wrong thing. And because I'd never been in a relationship before, I had no idea how to deal with that. I had yet to learn to be better at listening and reacting.

And, because I was still that young, I thought that it would work out because of first love, true love and a hundred romantic films. And we both did our best to make it work, which probably made things worse. With the best of intentions at the time, I think it's fair to say that we screwed each other up pretty badly.

I look back on that time with a lot of sadness. I wish I'd been better for her (and I'm sorry I wasn't), and I also wish she'd been better for me, because with what we both put into it, I think we both deserved a better experience. But that's the dangerous thing about serious relationships when you're young - you don't necessarily know how to be good at them. She ended it very shortly after university, which was good because I don't know if I'd have been capable of doing so. It was a painful experience for both of us, which makes the whole period of time a bit of a difficult one to look back on.

I don't have many pictures from the time. I've always tended to avoid being in photographs. I don't like having them taken and I tend to hate seeing pictures of myself, which means that I don't have too many pictures of me at that age. This may have something to do with my three fashion icons from the time being The Crow, WWE superstar Shawn Michaels in his DX days, and Gambit from the X-Men. I'm sure you're all devastated at the lack of evidence of this. You can only begin to imagine how cool I looked, damn it. I was all about the long hair and long coats.

I was scared a lot of the time, but there was a tremendous amount of enthusiasm in there as well. For the first time in my life, I was being gripped by the possibilities of story-telling, and the complete belief that I could do it, partially because I believed that anyone could do it. We all had stories to tell, and we all had our unique experiences.

Sandman was important for me. It inspired me enormously and exhilarated me, and I wanted to pass on that exhilaration to others. Morpheus was a difficult character - spiky and self-important and rude and outright unpleasant at times, but as you grew to know him, he was such a deeper character than I'd been seen in almost anything else. And his story surrounded so many other stories, and with the overall underlying messages that we all have stories and we all have dreams.

Story-telling is at the root of our communication. We learn to understand each other through stories and we learn to understand how the world works through stories, and then we learn to create and tell our own stories. And when we sleep, our brains tend to make sense of our thoughts by turning them into vague narratives in our dreams.

These were big ideas to grasp, even if I didn't fully understand them at the time. But Sandman took me from wanting to be a performer to wanting to be a story-teller.

As part of my final year's projects, we each had to write and direct a performance of a thirty minute adaptation of something. It could be anything. I chose to combine and adapt two different things - the story of Edmund from King Lear and Neil Gaiman's Sandman.

Loosely based on a story from the comics involving a bet between Dream and his androgynous sibling Desire, I wrote a story which involved the embittered illegitimate son of Gloucester being given the ability to become the man he has always wanted to be, as he then seduces queens, banishes his brother and arranges for his father's murder, before being killed in battle by his returning brother - all watched over by The Endless, who occasionally took on roles within the story (before it all turned out to be a trap by Dream to try to take teach Desire a lesson).

That's how much I loved Sandman, and how much it meant to me - I integrated it into my degree, because there was no story I wanted to interpret more. It opened an eighteen year old's eyes to the wonder and possibilities of the world, and I wanted to share it with everyone, and I wanted to start telling my own stories. Putting on that performance was an acknowledgement and tribute of that.

When I look back at one of the few pictures around of that eighteen year old, I see a kid who was an awkward mixture of confidence and fear, who appeared to have a talent for making life more difficult for himself than he needed to. I'm torn between wanting to give him a hug or a smack. I'd also probably want to apologise to him for not turning out to be the person he wanted to be, although I'd hope that he understood how I eventually became the person he needed to be.

But I'm not him any more. I'll never be him anymore. There are parts of him that I'm glad and relieved to have left behind, and there are parts of him that I am envious of, and that I miss.

It may not matter whether or not Sandman: Overture by a Neil Gaiman in his fifties is better, worse or equal to the Sandman stories that he wrote when he was in his thirties. I'm not reading it as an eighteen year old either way, and that's going to make it a very different experience.

I'm unlikely to have my eyes opened to the world by it in the way that Sandman opened my eyes to the possibilities of storytelling when I was eighteen. I'm not likely to love it the way I loved Sandman when I was eighteen, because it was new and it was exciting, and I was inspired by it in the way that you get inspired by stuff when you're eighteen.

I'll be reading it at thirty-three and thirty-four, and I'll be older, balder, heavier and hopefully more wise and a bit better at listening and understanding.

So I'm just going to hope that it's good. And if it can make me feel like an eighteen year old with the world in front of him, waiting to hear his stories, even for just a moment, then I'll be delighted, but if it doesn't, I'll still be satisfied with a good story.

Thursday 17 October 2013

To those who say NaNoWri-NO!

It's always strange when you see people getting angry at something that is, at worst, harmless, and at best really quite proactive. Nanowrimo is one of these things. It's a challenge to try and write a 50,000 word novel (or 50,000 words of a novel) entirely within the month of November.

Some people scoff at NaNoWriMo. Some people get angry at it. I can only assume these are people who get annoyed at anyone trying to do something new, be it learning to paint a picture, play an instrument or learn another language.

"Ah-ha haha ha," the NaNoNoSayers say. "You're not doing it well! Don't you understand that you need to spend years and years doing this before you're good?"

I may be misrepresenting this a tad. But I've not seen many good criticisms of NaNoWriMo either.

Personally, I'm a fan of NaNoWriMo. It's a big, silly, thing and it's marvellous. I've attempted it once (and failed magnificently), and I've used it as a kick up the arse to get some serious word count down by going along to all-nighters at the rather wonderful Big Green Bookshop, which allow a large number of people to all sit in the same place at the same time and write a lot. (Seriously, the bookshop is fab - I run their writing group as well, which I've wittered on about elsewhere).

I found it to be a fantastically encouraging thing. The worst I'd say about it is that it's a bit odd. But only in the way of being in a room of people who are enthusiastic about the things they're enthusiastic about tends to be odd. I've been involved in conversations about how nobody uses twitter any more (two years ago) and about how I'm strange for not having heard of the cupcake-murder genre of novels (which combine cupcake recipes with murder mysteries to produce  presumably delicious, delicious murders). But they've also been welcoming, fun and completely non-judgemental (unless you haven't heard of cupcake-murders, of course).

I don't understand why some people consider NaNoWriMo to be a negative thing. But I do have my theories.

I once heard a story about someone who enjoyed going to high-flying Hollywood parties and whispering in people's ears "Have they found you out yet?". It's cruel, but it portrays a simple truth.

We're all scared, deep down, that we're not very good at what we do, and that despite the hard work we've put in, we don't belong. That if we get any success, it can end up feeling easy, and failure feels like only a matter of time. We all have to balance the voices in our head that involve our ego telling us that we're the greatest artist since Orson Welles and our fear telling us that we shouldn't be allowed crayons in case we accidentally write something on a wall somewhere and someone realises how shit we are.

Writing a novel is hard work. But it's also something that's easy. That anyone can do.

Not writing a good novel, no. That's hard work and involves hard work and talent. But putting 50,000 sequential words on a page that tell a story, however good or bad it is? Yeah. Anyone can do that. It might be good. It might be bad. It doesn't matter.

Anyone can do it. You can do it. Even within a month.

That terrifies some people.

Because it is still hard work. And it's something that can involve long hours in front of a pen and paper or a computer or a fresh victim and a knife. And it's something that can involve a lot of time of not knowing what to write. And that can absolutely suck to feel, when you are just sat waiting for the right word, especially when the police may turn up at any point.

It sucks because it feels like failure. Failure to function in your fundamental nature as a storyteller. And as a result, when you finish in your hard, struggling labour and you finally give birth to your precious, vulnerable little word-baby, it feels like it was a part of you. Physically as well as emotionally. You're exhausted, but damn it, you achieved something. And it took every ounce of your blood, sweat, tears and semen (writer's block leaves a lot of time free for masturbation), but you did it.

And then some fucker comes along and does what you did in years in a month.

And it doesn't matter that they've written a rough first draft only, and it has more holes in it than a zombie corpse in Texas, and it's nowhere near a finished novel.

Because you would kill to be able to write that much in 30 days. And because you see all the flaws in your own work anyway, and deep down, you're worried that it actually is that easy and you're the one that makes it difficult, and this reminds you that you took too long to write it.

They're making it look easy. And it isn't. It's difficult. It's painful and you have to gouge the words out of your own skin sometimes in order to make that sentence make sense.

Every sentence you write has to be perfect. Anything less is just playing at a craft.

I've been there. I've had writer's block. It took me four years to write my first novel (I Am Legion). My first book that got published took me two days (POV). Go figure. But I'm definitely taking part in NaNoWriMo this year.

If you're the kind that has to craft every sentence, and has to pick every word, and endlessly and endlessly writes and rewrites that first chapter, here's my advice for you.

Take a month off. Do NaNoWriMo. Don't criticise it - see what you can learn from it.

Sure, some of the books that come out of NaNoWriMo are going to be awful. But some of them are going to be really quite good. A handful may be spectacular. But you know what each and every one of the people are doing that are taking part?

They're getting better at being writers. Because the only way to get better at writing is to write.

They're moving forward while you stand still and rage at them for being able to do it.

It's not going to be easy. It's going to be hard work. But it's going to be a different kind of hard work, and it may actually make you better as a writer. It may make you learn to trust yourself a little bit better.

Parts of writing are easy. They're the fun parts. And people who take part in NaNoWriMo, in my experience, have had a lot of fun.

And that's the big question at the end of the day, and it's the one that all of this revolves around.

Why shouldn't writing be fun?

Thoughts? Questions? Want to tell me why I'm an idiot and why NaNoWriMo is an insidious beast that will devour literature? Comment below or talk to me on twitter.

Wednesday 16 October 2013

Magic Falls Part 28

I watched it on TV.

We all watched it on TV. That's how you do anything, isn't it? You sit and watch it happen on a screen. Whether it's the internet or digital, it's still television at the end of the day when you're watching something happen live.

Officially, it didn't happen. Officially, the area has been cordoned off and the media isn't being allowed to discuss it.

But we all know that's not how things happen these days. Not with the internet. Not with social media. In a world where an indiscreet picture can be shared amongst thousands in minutes, neither the media or the government have the ability to completely shut down information flow.

So nobody can get to Trafalgar Square. Nobody can fly over it. Nobody can print pictures of it or broadcast it, because somebody, somewhere, very high up, decided that this could not be discussed.

And I have decided not to do anything about it. Not this time.

Maybe this time, it doesn't have to be me. Maybe I didn't need to come back.

Maybe that's why everything has gone wrong.

Maybe I shouldn't have come back.

Either way, it's no longer my problem.

I am just going to sit and watch and wait and see what happens.

And then my phone rings.


"Hi Jack," I say. "What's up?"

"Trafalgar Square," he says. "Literally."

"Yeah, I've seen."

"When we were in Bretton, you mentioned Trafalgar Square."

I think back to Bretton. The long night in the realm of the faerie to rescue Jack's daughter. "Did I?"

"You did. You talked about how the grounds in Bretton was one of the... what was it? Concentration of ley-lines, that was it."

"There's no such thing as ley-lines, Jack. You know that. You're a rational person." I don't fully know why I say this.

No, that's not true. I just don't want to get involved. I've been fighting it ever since I came back, and I am sick and tired of it. And I've lost everything because of it.

"And after what we saw there," he says, "the only rational response is to accept that things have changed. Or that they were always different and we didn't realise."

He waits for me to respond, but when I don't, he keeps talking.

"Look, things have changed, and you obviously know more about it. You said that ley-lines themselves aren't the important thing. That the belief is the important thing. Right?"

I can hear him trying to keep irritation out of his voice as he continues.

"I don't know if we're creating them or if they're feeding off us, but I have some theories. I'm doing a talk tonight. I've sent you the details. Are you checking your emails?"

After a moment, I can't help but respond.

"Yeah, I've been checking them. I haven't had anything from you."

"Check your junk mail. I added you to the mailing list."

"My junkmail autodeletes."

"Christ, I'll send you another email then. Just to you. But seriously, come along. I think you'll find it interesting."

"You try this sales approach on everyone?"

"No, it's not like that. You won't have to pay. Yours is a comp."

Something about the way he says that makes me pay more attention. "Wait, you charge for your tickets now?"

"I have to."

I frown as I ask him why.

"It's gone insane recently. I mean, it's been building over the last few years, but it's always been handfuls. Maybe dozens. The last few weeks, though... ever since the square... it's been hundreds. And hundreds. Lots of people are looking for answers. And a lot have been coming to me. My books, my blogs... I've been one of the first with any kind of profile to talk openly about this. I've got TV appearances coming up soon. And I want you to see what people are thinking."


"Because if belief is important, then I need to know what we can get them believing. From what you said, I think we could do something important here."

My heart is pounding. The last time around, Jack had raised a group to fight with us. We called them the Knights of Reason.

This time around, it was happening faster. If it continued to grow... Jack could be raising an army.

"Why do you think it's happening now?" I ask. "What's changed?"

Jack loses his temper now and almost shouts at me. "What's changed? What's bloody changed? Darren, get out of your house and look around. Everyone's talking about it. Trafalgar square rose out of the ground and turned into a hill. You do know that, don't you?"

"I know."

"I mean it forced its way up through the earth. It just pushed upwards, and it happened over a couple of hours. And what's on top of the hill?"

I already know. "A stone."

"And the big thing, the thing they don't want anyone to know until they figure it out. What's in the stone?"

"A sword."

"That's right. A sword sticking out of a stone on a mount that grew out of Trafalgar Square in the middle of London. And you're asking me why people are looking for answers?"

Wednesday 9 October 2013

7 NaNoWriMo Tips - Write a Novel in 30 Days

NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month - is coming up in November. Thousands and thousands of people are going to try to write 50,000 words in 30 days, primarily for the sheer hell of it.

If you haven't done it before, I recommend it. And I say that with the voice of experience. You see, I've done nanowrimo before, and I started a novel, and I completed it.

Four years later.

Yeah, I sucked at NaNoWriMo the first time I tried it. But the last couple of years, while I've been working on another book, I've used NaNoWriMo as a kick up the arse to get some serious word count done. There are Nano events all around London, and they're honestly a good way to get going. So I semi-did the whole NaNoWriMo thing.

But earlier this year, I took part in NaNoWriWee- National Novel Writing Weekend, set up by The Kernel. It was a 30 hour novel writing challenge. Slightly more realistically, it was aimed at around 20,000 words or so, and HarperCollins offered to judge the entries and publish the winner under their Authonomy brand as an ebook. My entry, POV, won and you can buy it here for just 99p.

So, I'm not a nanowrimo expert, but I do get a lot of what it's about, and I do have some success in speed-writing. And I think Nanowrimo is a fantastic idea. I'll be using it this year to try to write 50,000 words of a new novel, and I encourage anyone I know who wants to write to think about taking part.

So, if that's you, if you're someone that's wanted to write for ages, but just hasn't, or has started and stopped too many times,  here are my tips on how to write a novel in 30 days. Seven short tips to getting through NaNoWriMo. Because lots of people with no real experience write books about how to write books, and a lot of them waste your time (my two notable exceptions - On Writing by Stephen King and Story by Robert McKee. There are others, but they're my favourites) and promise you'll have a bestseller afterwards.

And you don't have much time. You only have a month. So I'm not going to waste your time with a book about how to write. Besides, you might think my advice sucks.

So, instead, here are seven bite-sized tips to writing 50,000 words in 30 days.

Tip 1 - Plan.

Don't worry - this isn't anything too complicated. All you need is a very rough outline of what you want your story to be. It can have gaps and it can be incomplete. But if you have a vague idea what you want to write about, then write it down. If you have them already in mind, write down a brief list of story points that you want to hit over the month.

You don't want to end up like Rimmer in Red Dwarf, who spent the majority of his revision time for an exam creating his revision timetable and then revising his revision timetable. The plan is, at this point, just a rough outline. It may help you when you're writing to know what you're vaguely aiming for, rather than just filling in space.

When I wrote POV, my outline was actually just nine short points that I jotted down when I sat to start writing.

1 - Setup world

2 - Discover body

3 - Suspect

4 - Arrest / Escape

5 - Confrontation / Revelation

7 - New POV

8 - (something that would spoil the novel if I actually put it in here)

9 - Resolution

Now, yours can obviously be a bit more in-depth, but this should hopefully give you an idea just how vague they can be. What it meant was that I knew what I was aiming at with any section. And it's a lot easier to write a scene when you have an idea what the point behind it is.

Oh, and I didn't stick to all of it either. Some of it changed as I was writing. That's fine too. Again, don't panic.

Tip 2 - Names

I don't know about you, but I hate coming up with character names. It's a horrible chore that never feels quite right, because trying to come up with one in the first place, with all that choice... it can be rather paralysing. You could choose any combination of names you can think of. And I don't know about you, but when I'm faced with all the first and last names in existence, it feels like an impossible task. After all, the odds I'll get it wrong are astronomical.

So, if you can come up with a list of names right at the start, then you can start picking from that. A list of first names and last names, so you can mix and match quickly. You can always change the names later, but you'll be surprised how often you stick with them straight off the bat.

I used comic book creators, but you can use anything. Get a cast list of a film and jot down names, and stop when you have five times too many, then start putting together first and last names. Then just start casting which ones sound most like the characters you have in mind. The main thing it does is to start limiting your choices, and allow you to get moving.

(I wrote about this point recently for Alasdair Stuart's blog in a bit more depth - What's in a Name?)

Tip 3 - Move onto chapter two.

And then onto chapter three, and then chapter four and so on. I know so many writers who spent ages stalled on their first novel because, when they finished their first chapter, they went back to rewrite it. And then back to rewrite it. And then back to rewrite it. I did it myself the first time I tried to write a novel. Just kept rewriting that first chapter.

It's difficult to let something go if it isn't right, but it's easy to trade that off with not actually making any real headway. But you get the illusion that you're doing well, because you're still putting a lot of work into the book. You're spending the same amount of time that you could be spending actually working on the novel, but not getting anywhere. It's the writing equivalent of jogging on the spot instead of actually running a marathon. Except you won't lose any weight. You'll probably gain it, actually, because you're spending more time sat down at a computer. So if you're going to do that, you may as well get a novel out of it.

That novel I wrote where I kept reworking the first chapter for ages? By the time it got looked at by an agent, guess what their first recommendation was?

Bin the first chapter. She was right, too. It was crap. Full of stuff that I wrote while I tried to figure out where the story was going. It didn't get going until the second chapter. So that became my first chapter.

Tip 4 - Get unstuck

If you're getting stuck and you're not sure how to proceed the scene you're on, don't panic. We've all been there. There are a few tips you can try here. Your mileage will absolutely vary on these.

One is to jump ahead in the plot. You may not know how to get from A to B, but you may well have a rough idea what happens at B. So start writing that instead. You can always come back to what you're stuck on. Or you can even complete it in the edit. The edit comes later. When it comes to writing a lot in a short time, the edit always comes later.

One is to try writing something completely out of character. Try writing the scene in a way that completely contradicts everything you've come up with about the characters. Have them go on a killing spree or turn out to be aliens or win the lottery or steal a car or become a vampire or strip naked and run through the streets. Or all of them. Anything. Just get writing again. You'll probably find one of two things. Firstly, that it doesn't work, but in clarifying to yourself why it doesn't work, you lodge a couple of those little levers unstuck and you figure out where you need to go. Or, and I admit this is more unlikely, you decide that the novel works a lot better with streaking vampire alien thieves going on kiling spree.

In fact, damn it. I'm going to write about that instead of what I was going to write. That sounds awesome.

Personally, I favour jumping ahead. If you find that you're stuck because, right now, you don't care about this scene, then write a scene you do care about. Once you've got the gaps, those gaps will start becoming pretty appealing.

Tip 5 - Give Earlier-You the benefit of the doubt

At some point, you may lose confidence in your story. This happens to lots of people. It happened to me with POV.

Halfway through, there's this big plot twist. It's also one that was part of why I wanted to write the story in the first place. It embodied the entire theme of the novel. And I couldn't wait to write it. And then I got to it.

And I realised it didn't work.

In fact, it was stupid.

How could I have convinced myself that it was a good idea? It was ridiculous, it came too out-of-nowhere, and it fooled people into reading a different book than they may have thought they were reading. Obviously, I had to come up with something else. And since I was trying to do this in thirty hours, I had to come up with something fast.

I have never missed smoking more than I missed smoking at that point in time. I went out for some fresh air, but it felt incomplete.

And I remembered the me from the day before who came up with the plot idea and was energised and enthused by it. He had the same level of experience in reading the genre as I had. He knew it was a good idea and that it worked. What changed?

I got scared. That's all that changed. I started second guessing myself.

I had to trust that the me from the day before wasn't a complete idiot. He was convinced it could work. So let's give him a chance.

A couple of pages into it, I was back enthused about it again. And it's my favourite moment in the book, and based on feedback, it's also a few other people's favourite moment.

Of course, it's entirely possible that the you from the day before was actually an idiot. But give that idiot the benefit of the doubt enough to start a little down the path they suggested.

Tip 6 - The edit always comes later.

You don't have to show anybody the first draft. You can share it with people if you want. But at the moment, your fragile little word-baby isn't ready to walk by itself yet. And it's all yours. Take a little break, wrap your word-baby up carefully, and put it to bed for a little while. It'll wait for you.

Here's the thing about editing - it's a little magic trick involving time travel. All those mistakes you made? All the scenes that don't match up? All those things you tried that didn't quite work? That time you were writing at 5am and you apparently forgot how language works because you were writing what the Incan Monkey-God was telling you to write in his mysterious but beautiful language? You get to fix it all so that it never happened.

And at first, you'll be convinced that other people will look at it, and will know. They'll know you just changed something, you massive cheater. But they don't. Because it's not cheating. It's a perfect magic trick, because when they read it, that shit didn't happen.

But wait for it. Come back to it later. Right now, you just need to write. This is the construction phase.

Tip 7 - If you can eat a sandwich, you can write.

"But I can't write. I don't have the time. I have a job, and I travel and..."

No. You do have time. You don't need much each day, and if you can grab five minutes, you can write a couple of paragraphs. If you have a lunchbreak, go somewhere quiet, take a notebook or a netbook or a slate and a sharp piece of stone and put some words on paper. Or slate.

Personally, I write quite often during lunch. I go to a cafe, and I have a coffee and a soup and I write. But when it's really been going, if I've been able to get a seat on public transport, I've written there, too.

You don't need optimal conditions to write. You are not a precious little writing-flower who has to be nurtured and cared for.

You're a word machine. A merciless, time-travelling, word-baby generating machine.

You're sitting down to have a sandwich? Put it to the side, open your notebook and start writing, and when you finish a sentence or a paragraph, take a couple of bites. You can multitask. You can give up a TV programme or a videogame or you can stop reading a book for a while, and write one instead.

So, yeah. There's nothing stopping you. There's no magic entitlement to writing a novel.

There's just you. And a story that you want to tell.

Good luck and see you in December.

Want to ask me something? I'm on twitter and I'll happily chat to you about your Nano.

Want to see if I know what I'm talking about? Buy POV - it's just 99p for a fast-moving SF thriller involving nasty things happening to eyeballs. But it's not that icky, I promise. And there are some bonus short stories, and one of them is even sweet.