How to Write When You’re Not Writing

Okay, so today’s post is a day late. No, it’s not because I spent ages trying to think of a pun for the title. As you can see I failed in that anyway. No, it was was to do with the fact that I was away at Download Festival in Donington Park all weekend. I fully intended to write a post when I got home yesterday, but energy and time escaped me. So, you can have it today instead. Aren’t I kind to you?

Today’s blog is in a way about Download Festival. Not directly as such, but more what happens when things like festivals, conventions, and other events get in the way of your writing. If you’re an aspiring writer then you probably will be, and should be, attending all sorts of conventions and events to meet fellow writers, agents, and publishers. Things like writing retreats are great to get away and put pen to paper. But what if the event you’re attending isn’t conducive to writing? What if it’s something like a festival where you are stuck in a field for days, cut off from the internet, and horror of horrors, having fun? *gasp*

Well, I would say that this is where ‘thinking’ comes in. Yes, it sounds silly, but it’s something I’ve talked about before. There is a lot more to writing than just typing words on a page. There’s research, planning, and plotting. All of which I’ve covered in previous blogs.

When I’m not by the computer, and even when I’m not carrying a notepad (this isn’t very often, but sometimes I forget it), I spend a lot of time thinking about my story. This can be absolutely anything to do with your story, but it’s a good idea to sometimes take some distance from the page and to just think about it. As I’ve said before before you start writing you need to know certain things about your story and characters.

A writer is always writing.

Right now, as I type this, I’m thinking about a few plot points of the novel I’m currently working on. Because to be fully immersed in it, to be able to write it well, it can never leave you.

I find it useful at the very least to run through dialogue. This can often be tricky to write, and young/inexperience writers often try and cram too much information into dialogue. It needs to be natural. Just sit somewhere and listen to how people talk. Most of what they’re saying is in what they’re not saying.

So, what I’ll do is run through the dialogue in my head, before I’ve even written it. What would that character say in that situation. No that doesn’t sound right, try again. Yes, that’s what they’re trying to say, but this is what they’re actually saying. By the time it gets to the page it’ll feel more ‘real’. As far as you’re concerned those characters have already had that conversation, you’re not making it up on the spot any more.

Dialogue isn’t the only think that you can think through. This weekend, I spent a bit of time, on the bus between Nottingham and Donington Park, thinking about the hierarchies in my novel. Who represents the main organisation, and what are their job roles? This all works towards having a workable, relatable world, even if it is science fiction. By thinking through this, it also brought up relationships between characters: if that was so and so’s job role, then actually they would treat so and so like this…

In short, there is so much that you can be doing, when you don’t have a chance to actually write prose, that will benefit your story. Try not to beat yourself up about not ‘writing’ and realise that actually what you are doing is ‘writing’, just not the physical side of it. I’m not saying drift off and waste time daydreaming and never get you’re writing down. But if you can’t write, then thinking through dialogue, characters, setting, or scenes can help you when you come back to the computer and that blank page that you left behind.

Thanks for reading, and if you liked what I have to say, or even disagree with it please comment below.

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Objection and ME

I’m annoyed. Annoyed at myself mainly, but also annoyed at this condition I suffer from. (Last week I published a post about ME, which you can read here.)

As part of my MA in writing I set to writing a World War One novel. There were two main reasons for doing this. The first was that I have always had a love for history, and learning the lessons of the past to contextualise where we are today. As a teenager, I visited the battlefields of the Somme and Ypres. The graves and memorials set off something in me, something that I can only describe as a longing to understand “why”?

The second reason for writing the novel is that I wanted to take myself out of my comfort zone of science fiction and fantasy and take advantage of the advice and guidance available on my Masters.

The more I researched the setting the more I saw how much Liverpool was linked to the war, and how much it was shaped by it. Everything around me held some link to the war. There were also several Liverpool regiments that fought in the bloodiest battlefields of the Great War. There were so many stories that needed to be told. I’d also watched a Sky one show called ‘Chickens’ about the conscientious objectors, those that refused to fight in the First World War, and it struck me that even a hundred years later these people were considered to be cowards. It infuriated me, and I decided to put a conscientious objector in my novel; the soldier’s brother.

Through drafting it became more and more obvious that both brothers had a story to tell, and through their contrasting stories would show the greater horror of The Great War.

I’m annoyed because last May (2016) I finished the full manuscript of the novel. (The first part was heavily edited as part of my portfolio work for my MA), and I was fairly happy to start sending it out to agents.

I’m annoyed because I then got very ill. I had the worst sinus infection I have ever had, and begun to feel like I did before I was first diagnosed with ME. I’ve only recently started to get back on my feet.

I’m annoyed because I’ve been sending it out to agents recently, but I’m worried that they will think I only wrote this novel to ride on the interest and popularity of the centenary of the First World War, which to me was merely a coincidence for the reasons I have mentioned earlier. I’m also worried that because it is already 2017 and a publishing cycle usually takes about two years (or so I believe?), that agents/publishers won’t take a risk because they think that it will miss the centenary of the end of the war, and the resultant interest.

I’m also annoyed because the film Hacksaw Ridge came out of left field and told the story of a ‘conchie’ in the second world war. It’s a different story, as conchies in WWI arguably had to go through a lot more, but it’s still a concern that people may feel this novel was written due to that. (I wish I could write 130,000 words that quickly!)

I hope that someone will pick it up. It was a very important story to write, and an important story to tell. I genuinely believe people will gain something from reading it. It would be a shame for it to sit in my drawer for the rest of my days.

If you know someone who may be interested, or are interested yourself, please get in contact. I will be more than happy to hear from you!

Oh, The Horror!

So I guess I can finally talk about this now that SFX #250 is out. About two issues ago (it might have been three, I can’t remember!) they advertised a competition to write a flash fiction piece of no more than 1,500 words. It was a competition to win a selection of signed Darren Shan Zom-b books, but they’re not really my thing. It did, however, catch my eye as a good incentive to try writing something different. I wouldn’t say I’ve ever written anything that fit within the horror genre before, especially not about zombies. 

To improve as a writer I’ve really been pushing myself to try writing in different styles and genres, so why not write a zombie story?

Sadly, I didn’t win the competition. I have no idea where I can, but I thought I’d wait until the issue was out until I posted it up for everyone to see. The title is a play on the saying ‘The reality is better than the dream’. I often have zombie related dreams (does anyone else also ‘suffer?’) and that was my direct inspiration for this piece. A nightmare may be bad, but I’m sure the reality would be far, far worse. Any way, here it is for your reading (dis)pleasure…


 

Reality is Worse than the Dream

by Michael J. Hollows

 

The wood cracked and splintered under my feet as I slipped again. The twin ends of the plank crumbled and fell as I chocked back a start of fear. I had thought I was safe up here, away from them, but I had been too confident, too complacent, too slow. Nothing was safe any more, they would always find me, no matter how much I ran.

I pushed myself up from my hands and knees and carefully propelled myself across, as the distant groaning grew louder.

Always the groaning. Why did they do that? They were dead, or undead, at least that’s what we’d been told. So why did they always groan? What kind of long-dead body function created that horrible keening noise that haunted my thoughts. Even when there were none of them around, I could still hear the sound, a phantom image pressing into my skull.

Jessica was calling to me from the window, screaming at me to hurry up. I reached for her hand, but I was too far away. I looked down at the ground and my vision swam, I never did like heights. This was a stupid idea.

‘Run, John. Run you fool!’

She never understood, I was too weak. With a grunt I pushed against the wooden boards and ran further, but I was too slow. With a sickening jolt, the boards cracked again and all resistance disappeared.

Time slowed interminably. I saw it all, even though it happened in an instant.

I was falling.

The wind, slow as it passed me, hummed in my ears and I expected any moment now to fall into the grasping, clawing hands of those groaning beasts. Jessica screamed again.

I tried to right myself, but the distance was too small and I hit the ground with a thump that knocked the wind from my lungs. My back burnt with pain and I felt like blacking out, but I had to get up, to run.

I could feel the broken, bloody finger nails about to claw at my skin and I shuddered, my back eliciting another jolt of pain.

Nothing happened.

Did I dare open my eyes? The moans were too distant, and as I opened my eyes and my vision returned to normal, pushing back the pain, I was alone.

‘Bloody, bastard zombies,’ I raged, daring to shout the words that everyone left unspoken. The movement made my head throb in pain and my vision swam again.  I looked up to the window and Jessica was gone, I hadn’t noticed the cessation of her screaming, my world was a sea of pain and terrible noises, one less didn’t make much difference.

The problem now, is that the shelter would presume me dead, and no one would come looking for me. Why bother? I would have to try and find my own way back.

It was her damned idea to climb over the roofs, even though I warned her. I may not be good with heights, but that wasn’t the point. In this part of town, after all the rain fall, the planks we’d placed were rotting. She was light, she could get across, and I wasn’t. Now I was here, lying on my arse, seconds away from doom.

I pushed myself up from the concrete and looked around for any signs of life, or unlife for that matter. I was in an alleyway between two buildings. Neither had any access, just a wall of impenetrable red-brown brick. To get anywhere I would have to leave the alley and go out into a more open area. The prospect didn’t exactly excite me. For the time being I was safe here, but I couldn’t stay in the alley indefinitely. For a start I would need food soon. That was what had brought us out on this insane foray. A foolish idea, we were pretty set as we were. We just got greedy.

I tested my legs to see how much mobility I had and everything hurt. Pain shot up my spine and down my legs, but I would be dead if I stayed here much longer. I looked around the alley to see if there was anything to use as a weapon, but couldn’t see anything. I searched under some boxes, wet and mulching, and pushed things around until an iron bar rolled free with a clang.

It wasn’t much, and it wasn’t my particular weapon of choice, but it would do in a bind and I was in a bind. I hefted it, testing the weight and took a few practice swings. The trick was to remove the head and I was fairly confident I could put enough force behind it.

I moved towards the end of the alley and it presented me with a view of the town. It had once been fairly prosperous, but now the houses and shops were boarded up, or ransacked. Family cars lay haphazardly, with their windows smashed and bodywork dented.

The undead milled around the ruined landscape, shuffling along with no sense of direction or purpose. They hadn’t noticed me yet, so I edged my way out, around the corner of the end terrace. I took careful footsteps, despite being dead, their hearing was ridiculously sensitive. I swear they could hear you breathing from a few metres away.

I took another step and an unnoticed can skittered away, clanging against an overturned bin.

Damn!

I had been too busy watching the zombies to pay attention to where I put my feet.

The nearest zombie, once a young man, wearing the remains of a black t-shirt and jeans, tilted its head in my direction and snarled as it saw me. I couldn’t think of it as a he anymore, that snarl was something feral, animal, dead.

It started shuffling in my direction, bringing with it that horrible groaning, keening sound, and the stench of putrefying flesh and decay. The smell made me want to gag and I dry-retched as it came closer.

Others spotted me as soon as the first one had and joined the attack.

The way to my right was clear, and I could flee, but I was rooted to the spot, terrified and indecisive. All I could do was bring up the iron bar and wave it threateningly at my attackers. They didn’t notice, and didn’t care, I was just food to them. That insatiable urge to snack on human flesh. What brought that about? And was it just humans?

I swung the iron bar at the first zombie, the one that snarled in me in that unfriendly way, and its head snapped back with a sickening crunch. It didn’t cry out or scream in pain, but kept stumbling on in my direction. I smacked it again, feeling encouraged by the weight of the bar. The blow finally removed its head. I expected blood to spurt from the wound, but it had none left.  The stench of decay grew stronger, and the body tottered where it stood, but the beast finally collapsed to the ground, really dead this time.

I swung and another skull cracked, and another, but still they came. With each attack I grew more tired, and they wouldn’t stop, nothing fazed them. They just had that urge to destroy. I should have run, but now I was pinned. I was trying to move, but they kept catching up with me. I was always too slow.

The wave of zombies lightened slightly as another fell at my feet. The putrid smell of necrotising flesh abated slightly and was replaced by a more familiar perfume. It was a heady scent of rose petals and honey. I had no idea why it reminded me of those things, but it always did.

I swung the iron bar in fury and another zombie collapsed. I turned and tried to run away, but on the backswing the bar got caught on something. I yanked and it stayed firmly stuck. I looked back at it and a pale hand, with signs of dying flesh, gripped it.

It had my weapon!

It was unexpected, but I could easily drop it and continue my escape. Something kept me there. This beast barely made a sound, compared to the others, only a faint mumble. I looked up into its face, a dead face, but one I knew well.

Jessica’s face.

Everything finally added up, with a sense of understanding that sucked the blood from my limbs with a feeling like I’d been punched in the stomach. She had been alone after I fell; had she tried to save me, or had she fled. Either way, she had become one of them. It made me feel sick.

Her grip on the bar was tight, a remainder of her will. She hadn’t yet fully turned.

But I turned and ran, leaving her with the bar, and with them. There was nothing I could do for her now except to run and to remember her.

Always running.

 

 


Well, thanks for reading.

As usual, feel free to comment.

The Horror Goes South

So, I’m getting pretty good at this getting up earlier thing. I’m going to need to be once my day job’s working hours move an hour earlier and I may have to teach at the ungodly hour of 9.30 am (I don’t actually mind, it will be good for me). However I chose to shift my sleeping pattern around in order to do some writing in the mornings and then have more time in the day. I think I have successfully worked my transition in to a ‘morning person’, before now I was more of a ‘those-few-hours-in-the-middle-of-the-day-I-feel-like-doing-something…person’.

But I need to do some more writing. I’ve been pretty lax this week as I’ve had some other things on. I also haven’t written a blog since last week as far as I can remember. However that one at least was a story rather than my random ramblings. I’ve actually been busy sorting out my move. Yesterday I handed in the notice on my current flat, which is both exciting and scary. Exciting because I am now moving out of this flat which has caused me so many sleepless nights and moving somewhere new. Scary because the new place hasn’t actually gone through yet so unless it goes through by the time my notice runs out I may end up homeless.

So, what am I working on? Well, Games Day UK is coming up pretty soon, which I’m immensely looking forward to. Although my wallet is already silently weeping to itself in the corner. It doesn’t know what’s hit it yet! I do love Games Day, a place where like minded individuals all come together to have a day of pure geekyness about something they love. You will probably see me there running between various stands trying to catch as much new stuff as possible and take in all the atmosphere. Got to get to the Black Library, Forgeworld and I will also be checking out Fantasy Flight Games. I’m hoping to get hold of a copy of their new 40K game, Relic. I did have a few years out of going to Games Day and I really did miss it. I went again for the first time a few years ago and fell straight in to it without missing a beat. Though I don’t spend nearly as much money as I did when I was a kid. My poor parents!

Anyway I am digressing. The reason I mentioned Games Day is because, as the Black Library will be there, they have started to take submissions on the day. I am currently wondering whether to take something I have already written or begin work on a new 1000 word story to take with me specifically on the day. Any suggestions as to this will be greatly appreciated. If you really like something I’ve already written and think it’s worth submitting let me know.

I’ve also been given an opportunity of possibly having something published on Amazon. On a forum I peruse they are compiling a horror anthology and I have had my name listed as part of it. I already have a story idea; A Lovecraftian horror set on the Island of Portland in Dorset. That’s all you’re getting out of me for now. I just have to write the thing…I’ve not really written any horror before (except for Tyranid infested space ships) so I’m a little bit scared by it. I’ve done the leg work, I’ve written a plot outline, I just need to research the writing style and get to work on it. I will try and do that this week, look out for updates and wish me luck.

On Twitter the last few days I seem to have had a lot of authors follow me. I’m slightly perplexed, do they like my work? Is my writing starting to have some form of impact? If so, that’s really great, wow. Or maybe they have just seen that I have called myself an ‘aspiring-writer’ and have decided to see what I come up with. That’s also great. Perhaps they can offer me some advice? If you’re reading this, please send some twitter-esque tips my way!

Right, I really must get on with my day and some writing. This blog, amongst cooking breakfast and tidying some of the flat, has taken me the best part of an hour to finish. Ooops.

 

More stories soon, hopefully. Thanks for reading.