All posts by jowritesstuff

Book Recipes: How to Write a Sports Novel

Time for another book recipe! It’s been brought to my attention that there is some sort of sport thing this weekend and I intend to join in, in the most sitting-down-and-not-getting-off-the-Internet way possible. Grab your favourite sports top and let’s get started!

 

Ingredients:

  • A plucky bunch of ragtag misfits. Choose your own flavours from any of the following:
    • The loveable prankster
    • Big and dumb
    • Child of another famous athlete
    • Twins
    • The nerd
    • That one really angry kid
    • A girl
  • One grizzled yet not-too-jaded coach
  • A big ol’ trophy
  • A team of professional yet evil players
  • A beloved community thing in peril
  • One sleazy corporate betrayer
  • Sports, I guess

 

Method:

  1. Choose your setting. It can be anywhere, as long as you make one thing perfectly clear: it’s being held together by one (and only one) beloved community thing. Probably sports-related. Sure hope nothing happens to it.
  2. But oh no, here comes the sleazy corporate betrayer! They’re going to buy the community thing and turn it into a mall! (It’s always a mall.) There’s only one way to stop them…
  3. …entering this sports competition and winning the big ol’ trophy!
  4. Assemble your team of ragtag misfits. The one who came up with the idea is the leader.
  5. The team try and play the sport, but they’re bad. Like, really bad. Looks like they need…
  6. …a grizzled yet not-too-jaded coach! Good thing we found one staring wistfully at an old sports thing.
  7. Training time! Don’t forget to listen to an eighties power ballad.

  1. Time for your first match!
  2. You lose. But not permanently – it’s all about the journey. More training!
  3. The grizzly old coach dispenses some life advice. Pay attention, it’ll help you resolve a moral dilemma at the end.
  4. One of the players is having an issue that means he’s having trouble with the sport thing. You know what this means – more training.
  5. Time for another match and this time, you win! You’re through to the next round of the sports competition, oh boy!
  6. The professional yet evil players make their first appearance. They’re this year’s favourites to win, which means they’ll never win.
  7. Time for more matches! The team are winning, all thanks to the power of love working together.
giphy care bears
I mean, that’s not what I had in mind, but I guess that’d work. (image: giphy.com)
  1. Time for the semi-final and it’s a close thing. That one player with the issue freaks out and the team almost don’t make it through.
  2. But oh no, here comes the sleazy corporate betrayer! They offer the leader a massive, MASSIVE bribe to let the evil team win.
  3. Angst about it for a bit. The bribe would save the beloved community thing, but what about the teeeaaaaaam?
  4. Remember the grizzled coach’s life advice right before the final. Give a rousing pre-match speech and decide that you’re playing to win. To heck with the corporate betrayer!
  5. Time for the final! It’s, like, soooo tense. The evil team cheat, that one player with the issue finally gets over it and does some good sport, and nothing is resolved until the final five minutes of the game…
  6. …where you win by just one point! Hooray! The beloved community thing has been saved, the coach is 20% less jaded, and we’ve all learned a lesson about team spirit. Go home for tea and medals with the big ol’ trophy.

THE END. Serve painted in sports team colours, so everyone knows you’re serious about sports.

 

Tips:

  • Your coach can’t be too grizzled and sad because he needs to get over it by the end of the novel. Instead of going for a properly dark backstory, just have him mutter about ‘the worst mistake of my career’.
  • All your characters must be invested in the sports, apart from one comedy side character who just doesn’t get it. This character is either blonde or a nerd.
  • Don’t get too technical with your sports talk. Your reader wants to see the ball get put wherever it goes – no-one’s here for a discussion about windspeed.
  • Always put your rivals in matching clothes, but like, in a sinister way. It’s got to be about 20% more evil than normal sports gear.
121125_ful
EXACTLY. (image: atlantasportandsocialclub.com)
  • Winning the trophy fixes literally everyone’s problems. Can’t afford university fees? Trophy. Need a prosthetic leg? Trophy. Dead parents? Trophy.
  • Always let your characters make big life decisions live on air.
  • If there’s a couple, make them break up about two-thirds of the way through. Then one of them gives a big speech on camera at the big game, and then they get back together while the crowd cheers.

 

And here’s one I prepared earlier…

 

As he walked home from the Community Sports Centre, Tommy King ran through the match play in his head. It had to be perfect. The big game was on Saturday, and there was still so much to do. The legs training, the arms training, the strategy bits…not to mention he still had to get his mum to wash his kit. But it would all be worth it. Once they’d won that trophy, they’d all be free to –

“Ah, Mr King. Let me offer you a lift.”

A shiny black limousine had pulled up alongside him. The back window was rolled down – tinted glass, he noticed – and a man in dark glasses was smiling at him. Tommy kept walking. He’d sat through the Stranger Danger talk at school and okay, that was seven years ago now, but his old headteacher had really known how to hammer home a point. He’d done the voice and everything.

The man’s smile didn’t even flicker. “Be reasonable, Mr King. It’s going to rain. You’ll ruin your sports shoes. We don’t want anything to happen to them before Saturday, now do we?”

Tommy glanced up. Big, dark clouds were building like a metaphor over the Community Sports Centre. The car door opened.

“Get in.”

He did, and his mouth fell open. The seats were upholstered with the fur of a snow leopard. The door handles were made of diamonds. A light-up bar ran along one side of the car and when he sat down, a robotic voice said ‘Good evening, Mr King’.

“Don’t forget your seatbelt,” said the man, “it’s real silk. Champagne?”

He pressed a button as the car pulled away. A compartment in the wall popped open to reveal a bottle of champagne in a bucket of ice, and two tall glasses. Tommy instantly became very aware of the smell of his sports kit.

“I’m only going down the road,” he said, “there’s no need for all this.”

The man opened the champagne with a pop. There was a brief explosion of swearing from the driver’s compartment and the car swerved widely.

“On the contrary, Mr King,” he said, pouring out a glass, “I’ve wanted to meet you for some time. We have a lot to discuss, you and I.”

“We do?”

“My card.”

The man stuck a business card into the glass of champagne and handed it to Tommy. It was made of embossed glass. He fished it out and read the name: Edgar Slythe. Now, he remembered. Edgar Slythe worked for CompanyCorp, the company that wanted to tear down the Community Sports Centre and build a mall on the spot. Tommy tried to crush the card in his fist, but he just cut his finger instead.

“You’ve made quite the impression, Mr King,” said Slythe, sipping his glass of champagne. “Everyone’s talking about you and your little team. I see you managed to sort out that unfortunate business with the rackets and the clubs.”

Tommy took his bleeding finger out of his mouth. “Anyone who knows anything about the sport knows that you need both.”

“Yes. You’ve shown real promise. But tell me – do you really think you’re ready for the Big Sports League?”

“Of course we are! We’ve been practising. Coach McGroughlin has taught us all about how we’re not supposed to do handballs, how to do a two-handed grip on the club and the racket at the same time, and about how we’re not supposed to hit the ball with our feet, except when we are. We’re as good as any other team!”

Slythe raised his eyebrows. “If you say so. Remind me, how many sports trophies have your little band of misfits won?”

Tommy said nothing. He couldn’t; his finger was in his mouth.

“The other sports team,” continued Slythe, “are up against you in the final. They’ve won last year’s trophy, and the year before, and the year before that, and they’ve all been nominated for the Sportiest Sportsperson Award for the past five years. You’ve got a tall order, beating them.”

Tommy inspected his bleeding finger. There really was quite a lot of blood, and he was starting to feel a bit queasy. He poured a bit of champagne onto the hem of his sports top – Slythe winced – and wrapped his finger in the damp material.

Slythe leaned forward. “Listen. Tommy. We all know how Saturday’s game is going to go. You’ll be eaten alive. Why not spare yourself the humiliation? I’ll make it worth your while.”

“What do you mean?”

“A full scholarship to Sports Academy. When you’ve graduated, you’ll be drafted into the bestest sports team in all the land. And after that, a job with CompanyCorp, as our official sports spokesperson.”

Tommy sat back in his seat. He’d dreamed of going to Sports Academy since he was a kid, but only the very best at sports got to go there. Nobody knew how to put the ball in the place where it was supposed to go like a Sports Academy graduate.

“All you have to do is lose on Saturday.”

Tommy bit his lip. Getting into Sports Academy would set him up for life, even without the job at CompanyCorp. He’d be able to buy himself a limo just as nice as this one, and still have enough money to buy his mum a new house. But throwing the match… What would Coach McGroughlin say? How would he face up to his teammates? There was a stinging feeling in his lip; he’d bitten it so hard he’d drawn blood. He always did that when he was thinking.

“I can see you’ve got a lot to think about,” said Slythe, looking slightly disgusted. “My number’s on the card. Give me a call when you’ve thought about your future.”

The car slowed to a halt. Tommy handed back his glass of champagne and tried to put Slythe’s card in his gym bag. To his credit, Slythe didn’t even flinch at the smell. And when Tommy dropped and broke the card, slicing open his finger again, he reached into his pocket and pulled out another.

“Wrap it up in a hanky or something,” said Slythe.

Tommy reached for a sock.

Slythe went white and shook out his hanky. It was silk, and printed with a copy of the Mona Lisa. “No, no, take mine, I insist.”

 

My full book-cookbook can be found here. Let me know what you’d like me to look at next – and as always, take this recipe with a pinch of salt.

Alice-In-Wonderland-I-See-What-You-Did-There
Heh heh heh. (image: replycandy.com)
Advertisements

Reading Roundup: Audio Edition

A while ago I made a short list of some of the books I’d been reading lately. I’m going to do the same thing again, but with a slight twist: everything on this list will be an audiobook.

I haven’t really talked about this before, but I absolutely love audiobooks and always have done. They were a huge part of my childhood, mainly thanks to Stephen Fry’s excellent reading of the Harry Potter series (I listened to them so often that to this day, when I read them myself I can only hear the words in his voice). There’s just something really relaxing about having an audiobook read to you, and a good performance can really make all the difference.

So! Here’s what I’ve been listening to that has really stood out:

 

51qXrdVdy9L._AA300_
image: amazon.com

Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Collection, by Arthur Conan Doyle – read by Stephen Fry 

This is exactly what it sounds like. Stephen Fry reads the entire works of Sherlock Holmes (apart from the apocrypha) and it’s great. The full recording is about three days long and took me the best part of a month to get through, but it was totally worth it. Fry does an excellent job of creating the right atmosphere for each story and there’s also a short introduction to each of the main collections where we find out more about the Sherlock Holmes canon and how Fry discovered it.

I really liked this one. Sherlock Holmes stories aren’t always my favourite, as a lot of them tend to rely on forcing their characters into pretty restrictive boxes, but Fry’s performance made me forget about that. It was a little strange hearing him do all the accents, as I’m just so used to him having the most English voice in the world, but he got the voices right. My only complaint is that I still don’t know how to pronounce Inspector Lestrade’s name right, as he used both ‘Le-straahhhd’ and ‘Le-strayed’ and now I don’t know how to speak. But all in all a really great collection.

 

To-Kill-a-Mockingbird-296074
image: audioeditions.com

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee – read by Sally Darling

This one has a special place in my heart. The first time I came across this particular recording was when I was writing my dissertation. I didn’t work very well in the university library, but needed to use lots of books on short-term loans, so what I would do was to take out a bunch of books, transcribe as many direct quotes from the useful passages onto my laptop and then take them all back three days later. My eyes hurt so much it felt like all the moisture had been systematically removed from each eyeball with a syringe. Do not do this.

Anyway. When I wanted to take a break, I needed to close my eyes. But I wasn’t sleepy – I just needed to not be staring at screens or tiny print for a while. So I was idly scrolling along when I came across this audiobook, and decided to listen for a while just to see if I liked the performance.

And it was perfect.

Sally Darling got the pace, the accent and the tone spot on for me. It was exactly like an older Scout had plonked herself down in my chair and was just telling me about her life. I was completely transported. Years later, after a death in the family, I’d listen to this audiobook again, and it was exactly what I needed: comforting, bittersweet and rich, without shying away from all the nasty things in life. After all that, no other performance can compare.

 

51Ob+YvFe8L._AA300_
image: amazon.co.uk

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson – read by Richard Armitage

I got this one as part of The Monster Collection, which is a three-in-one audiobook of Jekyll and Hyde, Frankenstein and Dracula. All three stories are read by different actors but it was Jekyll that really stood out. (For what it’s worth, Greg Wise and Rachel Atkins did quite a good job on Dracula, but I didn’t really think much of Dan Stevens reading Frankenstein – the voice he went with was a bit too woeful for my tastes, even though I can see why he made that choice.)

Damn, Richard Armitage. Damn. This man can really read a book. His performance was genuinely electrifying. He has the perfect voice for scary stories, managing to get just the right kind of slow-build menace in the scene-setting, but the really stand-out part was when he was reading Jekyll’s confession right at the end. As he was describing his transformation his voice started slowly changing, becoming low and scratchy as Jekyll transformed into Hyde – he did an amazing job of showing the transformation through his performance.

 

image: denofgeek.com
image: denofgeek.com

Discworld series, by Terry Pratchett – read by Stephen Briggs

I’m cheating slightly by listing a series, but it’s my blog and I don’t care. You didn’t think we’d make it this far without me raving about Discworld some more, did you?

There’s actually three different narrators for the Discworld audiobooks, but for me Stephen Briggs is the one that ready stands out. Nigel Planer reads the earlier unabridged ones, and he does a decent job, although some are better than others. Tony Robinson reads all the abridged audiobooks, and while he’s probably the better performer I am 100% not here for abridged audiobooks – don’t give me that nonsense, I don’t care that it takes a day to read it through, don’t cut out the story.

Sorry. Anyway, Stephen Briggs reads the later unabridged ones, and for me these are the best of the lot. He gets the voices and the tone just right, no matter which character he’s reading for, and best of all he seems to have a really intuitive understanding of the Discworld universe, which really makes a difference. It’s little things, like making sure all the dwarves in his Discworld audiobooks speak with a similar accent, that really gives his readings the edge.

 

51A99teA6iL._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_
image: amazon.co.uk

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak – read by Allan Corduner

I really don’t know why I bought this one. I love The Book Thief, even though every time I read it, it punches me in the face. So far, it is the only book I feel the need to cuddle after I’ve finished reading it. I don’t know why this is.

I was kind of sceptical about this one at first. I just love the book so much, and there’s nothing worse than having a narrator ruin your favourite book by getting the voices all wrong. But I’m happy to say I was proved wrong. Allan Corduner does a great job on the accents and the tone for each character, and he can really carry the emotional weight through his narration. I haven’t finished this one yet, but I know that I’m going to cry.

 

And there you have it! A short list of stuff I’ve listened to that I’ve liked. Ta-dah. Feel free to discuss in the comments (and leave suggestions if you want, I always like recommendations) but please do tag up your spoilers. Apart from Frankenstein. It’s been out for two hundred years, it’s a little late for spoiler warnings now.

 

Book Recipes: How to Write a Medical Romance

Time for another book recipe! This time we’ll be looking at medical romances. It’s OK if you faint – there are loads of hot doctors about in these ones.

 

Ingredients:

  • One hot doctor
  • One feisty yet vulnerable female lead
  • A big fancy party
  • The shiniest hospital you can find
  • A cute but sick baby
  • White coats
  • A big dollop of pointless misunderstanding
  • Some medicines or something.

 

Method:

  1. Put your hot doctor in the shiny hospital. It’s important to establish right off the bat that he is the best doctor in the whole of Medicine-Land.
  2. Enter the female lead. It doesn’t matter who she is, just that she’s feisty, but with a secret soft side.
  3. Your leads hate each other right away but oh no, this baby is sick! Now they must put aside their differences FOR THE SAKE OF THE CHILDREN.
  4. Hot doctor starts treating the baby. It’s going well, but the female lead huffs about it anyway.
  5. Angst about how much your female lead hates the hot doctor. He’s arrogant! He’s a maverick! But he’s also hot! What a dilemma.
  6. But wait, what’s this? Could it possibly be…sexual tension?
giphy chipmunk
Dun dun DUUUNNNN. (image: giphy.com)
  1. The female lead decides she definitely isn’t going to date him. Nope, definitely not. Boy, we sure are glad that’s been established as something that definitely isn’t going to –
  2. HAHA THEY’VE KISSED!
  3. More angst from the female lead. They kissed! But he’s arrogant. But he’s also hot! But she’s so secretly vulnerable!
  4. Let your female lead play with the baby for a bit or something. It doesn’t matter what actually happens, because you’re using this scene as a vehicle for…
  5. …more angst! Oh boy, looking at this cute sick baby sure makes our lead want to settle down and get married and that.
  6. Have a bonding moment with the hot doctor and reveal the female lead’s totally tragic backstory. This should explain why she can’t love/date/shag anyone, and especially not you, Dr Cheekbones.
  7. Time for the big fancy party! The whole hospital is going. What? It’s not like they’ve got patients to treat or anything.
  8. Have a special dance for your leads. Maybe they are going to get together after all…
  9. But no! It’s time to stir in the misunderstanding and now EVERYTHING IS RUINED
giphy sadness
RUINED I SAID. (image: giphy.com)
  1. The female lead mopes a bit, but doesn’t actually discuss anything with the hot doctor like an adult. Just run away from any attempts at straightening things out, we’ve still got four steps to go.
  2. OMG GUYS! THE BABY! IT’S SICK!
  3. Rush to the baby’s bedside. Time for some serious medicine. Enter the hot doctor, ready to save the day.
  4. Hooray, the day (and the baby) is saved! Time to sort out that misunderstanding. Now the baby is all better, but who’s going to take care of it now?
  5. JK IT’S THE LEADS NOW THEY HAVE TO GET MARRIED YAAAAAYYYYY

The end. Serve dressed in a white coat and garnished with medical jargon.

 

Tips:

  • Don’t let your hospital get too gross. Readers aren’t here for anything that oozes.
  • It doesn’t actually matter who your female lead is, or what she does. She can be related to the baby, or she can be a nurse in the hospital, as long as she’s got an excuse to be there regularly.
  • The misunderstanding at the end isn’t all that important. Choose from one of the following flavours:
    • No it’s fine, that woman was my sister
    • It wasn’t actually you I was talking about when you overheard me
    • I’m not actually going to move away after all
    • I only kissed that other woman to make sure we weren’t going to get together
  • Keep your hot doctor out of scrubs as much as possible. Have you seen those things? They’re like wearing a paper bag. Ideally you want him in a nice suit with a white coat over the top, stethoscope artfully draped around his neck, or just shirtless.
Ajg6yQ2CIAAl80f.jpg-large
It’s medically sound. (image: pinterest.com)
  • Don’t make your female lead’s backstory too tragic. The classic is that she can’t fall in love because there was a man who done her wrong, but you can always throw a dead relative in the mix as well.
  • Don’t spend too much time on the actual medicine – it can’t get in the way of all the lovely dates!
  • Why not let your adorable sick baby play Cupid? It’s what every fledgling adult romance needs – a sticky child asking them when they’re going to get married.

 

And here’s one I prepared earlier…

 

Bailey McRae sat at the bar, nursing a glass of red wine. It had been a long, long day. She’d spent it running between the children’s ward and the operating theatre, pacing up and down endless corridors and biting her nails. But now, her nephew Jackson was out of surgery, and it looked like he was going to be all right.

She drained her glass and ordered another. Someone slid into the seat next to her. Of course they did. The bar was half-empty, and there were plenty of seats to choose from, but she was a redhead sitting alone and this was what always happened. She turned, ready to tell him to go away – and stopped.

It was Max Stirling. Blond, blue-eyed Max Stirling, with the brains of a genius and the body of a swimwear model. Dr Max Stirling, who’d just saved Jackson’s life.

He smirked at her. “I’ll get this.”

She put a hand on his arm before he could wave down the bartender and flinched back. If the average human body was seventy percent water, Dr Stirling was seventy percent muscle.

“It’s fine,” she said, blushing.

He flexed a bit. “I know. Shiraz, right? We can split the bottle.”

Her temper flared. Why did he have to be so perfect? He was so arrogant, thinking he was always right. Why didn’t have the common decency to be ugly, so that she could hate him without going all conflicted and tingly?

Dr Stirling poured out two glasses and pushed one towards her. Bailey took it, trying not to smile. She couldn’t get close to him – to anyone. No-one would understand.

“I ought to thank you for what you did today,” she said. “Jackson couldn’t ask for a better doctor. I mean, he can’t speak yet, but…”

“I get it. I’m just glad you chose me.”

“For Jackson’s doctor,” she said, quickly.

He winked. “Sure. But, seriously, I’m glad you acted when you did. I’ve never seen a case of poorlyitis that bad. Not even in both my PhDs.”

“Really?”

He nodded. “Oh, yeah. I’m just glad we got the right medicine in time. I don’t know what Dr Bumble was thinking, giving him that other kind of medicine. That other kind of medicine is no good for people who’ve been in the wars in this particular way, and certainly not for poorlyitis.”

Bailey nodded and sipped her wine. She was having a hard time keeping up with all the jargon.

“Of course,” Dr Stirling continued, “we may still need to do an operation. But don’t worry, I’ll bring plenty of bandages.”

That made her feel better. Dr Stirling smiled at her and ran a hand through his perfect blond hair. It made it go interestingly tousled, and as a bonus, when he lifted his arm she had a really good view of his bicep.

“I never asked,” he said. “How come it’s just you and Jackson?”

“It isn’t. I’m only looking after him for a little while – just until my sister gets back. She’s exploring the Peruvian rainforests, looking for plottonium.”

He raised his eyebrows. “And there’s no…Mr McRae?”

Bailey’s mouth tightened. “No.”

“Really? That can’t be right. A pretty girl like you?”

Bailey snorted and took another sip of her wine. “Yeah, well. I’ve kind of sworn off men since –”

“Since what?”

Bailey took a deep breath. There was no point telling him. He wouldn’t get it. She was prepared to bet her own face that no-one had ever broken up with Dr Max Stirling, ever. He was too pretty for that sort of thing.

“Last date I went on, the guy never showed up.”

There. She’d said it. Her secret was out in the open. She’d told him. She’d come clean about her shameful past, at last, and now he would –

“That’s it?”

“What do you mean, ‘that’s it’?”

“Well, it just seems like a bit of a –”

Bailey downed the last of her wine, blushing fiercely. She knew she shouldn’t have told him. “Look, just forget it, all right?”

“But don’t you think it’s a bit –”

She grabbed her bag and pulled on her jacket. “I knew you wouldn’t get it! Look, sometimes things don’t work even when you flex at them. Got that, Mr Perfect?”

She stormed out. Dr Stirling sat at the bar, stunned, and emptied the rest of the bottle of wine into his glass.

“It’s Dr Perfect, actually,” he muttered.

 

My full book-cookbook can be found here. Let me know what you’d like me to look at next – and as always, take this recipe with a pinch of salt.

Alice-In-Wonderland-I-See-What-You-Did-There
Heh heh heh. (image: replycandy.com)

Harry Potter and the Passage of Time

About a month ago, my friends and I went up to Edinburgh.

I had the best time. By some miracle the weather was amazing and we had glorious sunshine for all our trips to Edinburgh Castle, Arthur’s Seat and the Palace of Holyrood – which was just as well, as a lot of the museums we visited were crammedwith very creepy mannequins and I couldn’t have dealt with it in the dark. But it was a pretty hilly city, and we had to regularly refuel with tea and cake.

giphy tea
I am British, after all. (image: giphy.com)

One of the places we went to was The Elephant House.

The Elephant House is a small café just opposite the National Museum of Scotland. It’s a little small, a little crowded, and the back room is filled with an eclectic assortment of chairs and tables, in a way that reminded me of going round someone’s house to see they’ve set up for a barbecue or something. I had a hot chocolate and my friends had some tea, and because we’re all used to London prices (a.k.a. “re-mortgage your house if you want another slice of cake” prices) we were all pretty happy with it.

But that wasn’t why we went. We went to The Elephant House because that is the place where JK Rowling wrote some of the early chapters of the Harry Potter series.

We had a full geek-out. We sat in the back room, by a window overlooking Edinburgh Castle, which was apparently the very place where the first draft of Harry Potter was actually written omigod you guys one of us could be sitting on the same chair as JK – and we were totally calm and mature adults about the whole thing. We didn’t even cry.

But the really nice thing was that we weren’t the only ones doing this. Our table was an old desk with working drawers. I pulled one open and found that it was crammed with letters, all written by visitors saying how much they loved Harry Potter. And that wasn’t all we found. Even the loos had been turned into a kind of shrine:

Harry Potter was a huge part of my childhood. I read all the books. I had the audiobooks too, and listened to them so often that to this day I can only hear the words in Stephen Fry’s voice. I’ve seen the movies, I’ve bought the merchandise, I’ve written fanfiction which (thankfully) is now dead and buried. But visiting The Elephant House really brought home the fact that it wasn’t just me. I got oddly emotional in those toilets, because it was so clear that people from all over the world had come to see the birthplace of Harry Potter in just the same way that I had done.

But Harry Potter wasn’t just a huge part of my childhood. It has also been a pretty constant feature of my adult life, and these experiences haven’t been quite so nice. The seventh book wasn’t the end of the franchise, though perhaps it should have been. Rowling’s efforts to continue the world of Hogwarts beyond that haven’t gone down so well. Her expansion of the wizarding world has been met with accusations of cultural appropriation. The follow-up play, The Cursed Child, was an incredible spectacle but, plot-wise, left a lot to be desired. And most disappointingly of all, Rowling has continued to support the casting of Johnny Depp in her Fantastic Beasts movie series: a man who tacitly admitted to domestic abuse in his official statement of separation from his now ex-wife, Amber Heard.

All of these things have changed the way I view JK Rowling and her series. Now, I’m much more sceptical of any new Harry Potter development. I’m less inclined to support a project just because it has Rowling’s involvement. Part of me wonders if, when I reminisce about the series, it’s not the books I’m nostalgic for but the way I felt when I first read them. They were an important part of my childhood, that’s true – but now, I am no longer a child.

giphy gothel
Actual footage of me ageing. (image: giphy.com)

Does this mean I don’t enjoy the series any more? If you mean the expanded HP universe, well, kinda. If you mean the original books, it’s a solid no. I still love those books. They were such an important part of my life that it would be kind of hard not to. Changing my mind about them would be almost like suddenly despising a childhood teddy. But it has made me look at them in a different light. Now I’m not afraid to look at them critically, or to share my (copious) opinions about them. I still enjoy them, but I can acknowledge that they have flaws, and that the author holds views that she and I don’t share. Despite everything that has happened since the final book was published, it was a formative series for me and I still appreciate having had it in my life.

And then, I left the toilets.

So if you’re ever in Edinburgh and want a cup of tea and a muse about children’s books, I can recommend popping along to The Elephant House. Perhaps you’ll pull a JK and inspiration will strike, and there’ll be different graffiti in the toilets the next time I go. Or maybe you’ll just sit at a table in the back room, pull open a drawer that you didn’t know was there, and you’ll find this:

img_1757.jpg

 

Book Recipes: How to Write an Urban Fantasy

Time for another book recipe! This time I’ll be looking at urban fantasy, so load up on eyeliner and edgy leather jackets. It’s about to get edgy.

 

Ingredients:

  • One feisty yet clueless female protagonist
  • One of the hot kind of supernatural creatures
  • A different (but still hot) supernatural creature
  • A token best friend
  • A cape-wearing villain
  • The Object of Power
  • One skyscraper-ey backdrop
  • Background spooky magic
  • A constant cycle of full moons

 

Method:

  1. Put your feisty female protagonist and her token best friend against your suitably urban backdrop. There, you’ve done your setting.
  2. You’ve stumbled across a mythical thingy! Hopefully this won’t be important later.
  3. Symbolic dreams!
  4. Suddenly there’s a lot more hot and brooding men about making vague allusions to The Prophecy. Huh. Tinder got weird.
  5. But no! It’s the plot. Our feisty main character is the proud owner of the Object of Power, and all the supernatural hotties want to get their hands on it.
  6. Have your first brush with death. It’s OK though – you’re immediately rescued by a shirtless vampire or something.
  7. Have sexual tension with one of the leads, then angst.
giphy angst
No-one understands. (image: giphy.com)
  1. Time for the main character to finally learn what’s been going on! Sit them down and ’splain them a thing. Make sure this covers The Prophecy, the weird supernatural world they’ve stumbled into, and setup for the conflict in the final third of the book.
  2. Wonder at all the magical stuff the main character can see. Maybe she’s pals with a dragon now! Maybe she’s made out with a wizard! Maybe she’s been to a market staffed entirely by snake-headed women! Pick a thing to illustrate this world’s weirdness and roll with it.
  3. Have sexual tension with a different lead. Think about the other lead, then angst.
  4. Here’s our first mention of our cape-wearing villain! Make sure to drive home to the reader that they are a bad, bad egg.
bad-egg
Like this. (image: gobrightwing.com)
  1. Turns out the main character has powers now. Time for a training montage!
  2. Time for another brush with death. Don’t worry, the main character is still fine.
  3. More sexual tension! We didn’t include all these shirtless werewolves for nothing.
  4. Learn some more about The Prophecy, or The Ancient War, or The Object of Power. Make sure to pay attention. We’re heading into the last quarter of the book, so there’s a 90% chance that any piece of new information will resolve the final conflict.
  5. Remember that best friend from step one? THEY’VE BEEN KIDNAPPED OH NO
  6. The villain demands the main character hand over The Object of Power or they’ll kill their best friend. This is a real and tangible threat because even though the best friend hasn’t been mentioned since step one, WE TOTALLY CARE ABOUT THEM YOU GUYS
  7. Go to meet the villain with The Object of Power. Be polite and let him monologue for a bit before you hand it over.
  8. Use your newfound powers to save your friend, get The Object of Power and save the day! Bonus points if you can get rescued by a shirtless hottie as well.
  9. Set up the next book in the series. And the next. And the next, because this will go on for ever.

THE END. Serve with plenty of moody eyeliner.

 

Tips:

  • Make sure you pick the hot kind of supernatural creature for your romantic leads – the angstier the better. Vampires, werewolves, fallen angels and demons are all solid choices, but trolls, ghouls and zombies are best left in the background.
  • Always include a love triangle.
  • In this one you’ve got the option for your main character to be secretly half-fairy or whatever. If you go down this road you’ve got three things to remember:
  1. This can’t have a bad effect on their appearance – pointy ears or an unusual eye colour is the most unique thing you can go for.
  2. The main character must be utterly and completely clueless about her heritage at all times.
  3. The reveal must be the Most Dramatic Thing
  • Don’t forget about your main character’s piece of significant jewellery! It’s almost always magical, but she’ll have had it all her life so she’s probably used to the glowing.
  • Don’t bother researching into actual supernatural lore. Just make it up! It’ll be fine.
  • Never, ever let your main character work out that supernatural creatures are real before someone else explains it to her, even if it’s super obvious. She can’t already believe in vampires or whatever, everyone knows they aren’t real.
giphy vampire
OR ARE THEY (image: giphy.com)
  • Your supernatural races should all look like human hotties, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a way to easily tell them apart by sight! Here’s a handy guide to get you started:
    • Vampires: wear black
    • Werewolves: beefy
    • Angels: blond
    • Fallen angels: blond, but also pale and sad
    • Demons: have piercings
  • Always have one ‘bad boy’ love interest who wears a leather jacket.

 

And here’s one I prepared earlier…

 

“I don’t understand! Just tell me what’s going on!”

Byron doesn’t stop. Hand clenched around my arm, he drags me away from the goo-spattered alleyway, his jaw clenched. “You could have got yourself killed! What were you thinking?”

I try and tug my arm out of his grip but I can’t – he’s crazy strong. He leads me into another alleyway, far away from the sticky black goop we left behind. We’re round the back of a nightclub in the bad part of town, sirens blaring and a nearly-full moon blotted out by flickering streetlights and grimy concrete towers. He drags me behind a dumpster – no-one can see us from the street now – and it occurs to me that this may have been a bad idea.

Still, I want answers.

I’ve got this old necklace I’ve had since I was a baby. It’s nothing special – just a perfectly spherical blood-red gem on a chain as thin as cobwebs. I’ve always worn it. But ten minutes ago it started glowing, and then the guy that my best friend Mary was dancing with grew a lizard head, and then I chased him out into the alleyway and he exploded into this amorphous blob of goop when I touched him. If Byron hadn’t been there I would’ve been covered in the stuff, but he just waved this knife around and the goop-blob kind of dissolved.

Byron runs a hand through his dark, floppy hair. His cheekbones glisten in the moonlight. “Echo Bellereve,” he mutters, “why is it that every time we meet I have to perform an exorcism?”

“It’s not my fault that – exorcism?”

“Yes! What did you think I was doing?”

His face is white with anger – but now I think about it he’s always been kind of pale. Maybe it’s just because he’s always dressed in black. I swear I’ve never seen him without his leather jacket. I don’t know what he’s going to do when it starts getting to summer – but now I think about that, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him in the daytime either. Huh. Weird.

“Do those pointy ears of yours actually work, Echo? Have you been listening to a word I’ve said? You don’t –”

I pull my auburn curls around my face, covering my ears. OK, so they are kind of pointy, but he doesn’t have to be a jerk about it. “Don’t make fun of my ears!”

“So you heard that, did you? Well, listen up. You don’t belong here. Go back to your safe little world and don’t bother me any more. You don’t know what you’re dealing with.”

God, he’s practically growling at me. I hate that he still looks good doing it. He’s got to have some flaws – but no. Perfect cheekbones, dark eyes, a jaw like granite. I guess his teeth are kind of pointy but I don’t think that really counts.

I glare at him. “I’m not leaving my friend behind! Now, are you going to tell me what happened back there, or –”

“You don’t know? You don’t – Echo, you could have died! It’s a miracle you weren’t –”

He stops. His pale face gets paler.

“You’re bleeding,” he says.

OK, his teeth really are pointy. Also, I can’t believe I didn’t notice this before but his eyes are kind of red. And glowing. Is he wearing contacts?

I touch my cheek and my fingertips come away bloody. “Oh yeah. But look, what was…”

He’s suddenly much, much closer now. Every eyelash stands out sharp against his cheeks. His eyes are really red now – like, properly vermillion, not just garnet – and suddenly I’m annoyed. He’s just doing this to scare me and he’s not even answering any of my questions.

“Stop being a jerk,” I snap, and shove him away. He doesn’t move. I’ve basically just slapped him in the chest and now I feel like an idiot. I did at least get to touch his pecs though, so there’s that.

He doesn’t say anything. Just stares, and now his canine teeth are like, super-sharp.

“I said, take your damn contacts out and stop being a –”

Someone slams into him.

I shriek. Byron goes flying into the wall. He hisses, eyes still glowing, and then someone – a huge someone, built like a goddamn mountain – slaps him right across the face.

“Echo!” says a familiar voice. “Are you hurt?”

It’s Rex Volkov, from school. Rex Volkov, who’s six and a half feet tall and so broad-shouldered he has to turn sideways to fit through the classroom doors. He comes running over to me, mahogany eyes wide with concern.

“Oh, Jesus,” he says, and there’s a certain amount of hissing and frantic scrabbling from Byron, “you’re bleeding. Did he bite you?”

I frown. “Um, no. Why would he do that?”

Rex stares at me. “Are you serious?”

Byron springs up again. His eyes are glowing red, his canine teeth are sharp and pointed, and he’s hissing at Rex. Rex doesn’t even turn around. He just punches Byron in the side of the head and he goes crashing down.

“He’s a vampire,” Rex says.

“Oh, very funny, Rex. There’s no such thing as vampires.”

“Jesus wept.” More hissing. “Look at him! Look at his teeth! His eyes started glowing at the sight of blood!”

“They’re just contacts! And…and prosthetic teeth, probably. You can get those, right?”

“Prosthetic…never mind. Look, you need to get out of here. He’s going to try and eat you now he’s scented blood. There’s a church a couple of streets away. If you run, I can hold him off long enough for you to –”

Byron scrabbles at his leg. Rex picks him up and throws him into the dumpster.

“Real mature, Rex. Real mature. Next you’ll be telling me you’re a werewolf!”

Rex goes very quiet.

“And that I’m a half-fairy, half-angel mythical being who’s like, princess of everything!”

Rex starts shuffling his feet.

“Yeah. I didn’t think so either. Now you’ve had your little joke, so why don’t you let Byron out of the dumpster and get him to tell me what’s going –”

Byron bursts out of the dumpster. His eyes are blazing red, his teeth have turned to fangs, and two large, leathery bat wings are poking through his jacket. Hissing, he rounds on me. Rex shoves me out of the way, rips off his shirt – and damn, by the way – and then promptly turns into a wolf.

And that’s when I passed out.

 

 

My full book-cookbook can be found here. Let me know what you’d like me to look at next – and as always, take this recipe with a pinch of salt.

Alice-In-Wonderland-I-See-What-You-Did-There
Heh heh heh. (image: replycandy.com)

Tales as Old as Time: How Stories Age

Picture this. You’ve just picked up a copy of a classic book. It’s the kind of thing that people study in English lessons or write dissertations on. People you know can quote one or two of the lines off the cuff. There’s about seventy million adaptations of this thing, usually featuring Hollywood’s latest chiselled British darling as the leading man. Cultured and intelligent people read this book in tweed jackets and discuss it over port, and now that you have finally got a copy, you’ll be able to talk to them about it instead of sitting in the corner and hoarding all the cheese.

So, you read it. And it’s kind of disappointing.

57facf1fddb81bd102070ce99691116d
Apart from the chiselled British darlings. They never disappoint. (image: pinterest.com)

This has happened to me too many times to count – especially the part where I eat cheese in a corner instead of joining in a conversation. I’ve read quite a few classic books and it’s very rare that they live up to the hype. Part of this is probably because hype is kind of everywhere now, and when you’re in the middle of a constant cycle of “This feels-wrenching drama will stop your heart and set your soul on fire” -style advertising, it can be very difficult to go into stuff believing that this heart-stopping, soul-searing experience is actually going to happen to you.

But it did also get me thinking. On my Strong Female Characters series, one of the things that came up most often for classic books was that when they were originally written, their characters were ground-breaking. Now that time has passed, they’re not. The way that we receive and interpret stories depends entirely on the context in which they are read, and this includes time and place. Meanings get lost over time. The definitions of words change over the years, and implications that might have been obvious to a historical reader are lost on a modern one. Similarly, readers bring new interpretations to historical texts because we are looking at those texts having grown up with ideas that hadn’t been conceived when they were first written. Context is everything.

Plots and clichés are an excellent example of how stories have changed over time. Modern readers expect different things from the things readers expected fifty years ago, let alone a hundred years ago. Ideas that were original and unsettling when they were first introduced have been used so often that the shine wears off and they become clichés.

The perfect example of this is that classic trope, ‘The Butler Did It’.

We’ve all seen this cliché before – in fact, I had a lot of fun with it in one of my Book Recipe posts. A bunch of people are invited to a mysterious old house, there’s probably a murder or two, and our plucky detective eventually discovers that the culprit was the butler all along! What shock. What horror.

But it’s worth remembering that when this trope was first introduced, it wasactually shocking. Servants were not just people who came to a rich person’s house, sloshed some bleach in the toilet and then went home. They lived with them. They washed and dried their clothes. They cooked their food. They made their beds. They helped them dress. They helped them wash, sometimes, or helped them clean their teeth. It was incredibly difficult to have secrets from a servant, because you had to depend on them for so many things. The idea that the person who cleaned the lipstick off the collar of your shirt, who swept up the pieces of your mother’s favourite vase, who saw how many cigarette butts you left in the bottom of your ashtray could also be plotting your death – it’s kind of horrifying.

It’s not just clichés. What is acceptable in terms of plot has completely changed. This is something that dates way beyond the invention of the novel. In the original epic fantasies – stories like The Iliad, The Odyssey, and Beowulf– storytellers would often take time out to send their heroes off on interesting little sidequests because they were fun and exciting. Sometimes these are pertinent to the plot, sometimes they’re completely irrelevant. Then, with the gradual move away from storytelling as a spoken form, there’s a trend to keep the plots more linear. You’ll still get little anecdotes off to one side sometimes, but generally these all serve a purpose for the story as a whole (probably because by this point editors had been invented). And then, later still, you have the move towards modernist fiction. In modernist fiction the idea of a plot can go completely out the window if that’s what the author wants. There’s more of a focus on mood, style and ideas, and most of the time that makes my head hurt a bit. We’ve come to expect different things from stories, and so we’ve rolled them out into new shapes.

giphy squish
Like this, but hopefully with less ruining cookies. (image: giphy.com)

This shifting definition of what is and what is not acceptable for a plot also affects characters too. Over the past few years there’s been a move towards stories that are more character-driven than plot-driven, and this changes what people expect from a protagonist. Stories where a character gets sent on a quest because of ~*Destiny*~ are slowly being replaced by stories where a character goes on a quest because they’ve decided to do it. It’s no good to have a protagonist who just sits around waiting for the plot to happen – much more compelling are protagonists who go and makethe plot happen for themselves. The classic example of this is the characters in fairy tales. When the stories were originally told the characters weren’t really much more than archetypes. You had your handsome prince, your wicked witch, your pure and beautiful girl, and that was about it. There wasn’t necessarily a lot of detail about the characters’ personalities. But when you look at modern adaptations of fairy tales, the characters tend to be a lot more fleshed out. Writers will make a lot more effort to give them goals, preferences and personalities so that they can move away from the archetype. The perfect example of this is Belle’s character in Beauty and the Beast. The Disney film went out of its way to establish Belle as a bookworm who felt isolated by having an interest that nobody in her village shared – something which is completely absent from the original fairy tale.

But this cuts both ways. As expectations move forward, some characters are going to get left behind. Details about characters are lost because modern readers aren’t reading literature in the same context as it was written. Take, for example, the first mention we have of Mr Bingley in Pride and Prejudice. We’re told that when he was seen about town he was wearing a blue coat, and we don’t get any more detail than that. For the modern reader, this illustrates the gossipy nature of Mrs Bennet and not much else. But for the Regency reader this was a pertinent detail. Blue dye was expensive and not many people wore it. The coat itself is a piece of outerwear and worn in the daytime, so it wouldn’t be the fanciest piece in Mr Bingley’s wardrobe. The fact that Mr Bingley’s coat he wears for slouching about town is blue would have spoken volumes to the Regency reader – it’s signalling that he has mad stacks of cash.

giphy unicorn money
Holla holla get that dollar. (image: giphy.com)

But it’s not just the minor details that get lost in translation. What constituted a radical and ground-breaking character a few centuries ago is now seen as old hat. This is particularly obvious in female characters, as the social and political capital of women has changed so much over the past few hundred years. When she was first introduced to readers, Lizzie Bennet was radical by anybody’s standards. She was cheeky, she got her clothes dirty, she turned down a marriage proposal from a man she didn’t love. But two hundred years on these things aren’t radical any more. They’re normal. Modern readers go into Pride and Prejudiceexpecting a character who’s radical and game-changing, and meet someone who is pretty conventional by today’s standards. It’s not hard to see why some people might find this disappointing.

So the big question is this: how do you make a story that lasts? Well, luckily for you I have the answer right here in my new book, How to Write an Epic that lasts for One Billion Years, very reasonably priced at $99.99 per chapter…

…I’m kidding. But it is a question that’s worth asking. How come some stories have lasted for centuries while others have been forgotten?

I don’t have a definite answer, but this is what I think. Let’s jump back to fairy tales for a moment. Yes, they’re vague, and yes, the characters are basically fill-in-the-blanks exercises. In this case, that’s what works in their favour. As the detail just isn’t there, this means the reader, listener or writer can fill it in themselves. It’s easy to make a new adaptation of a fairy tale because the basic shape of the story isn’t tethered to time, place or the personality of its characters. Cinderella can be a cyborg, Snow White can be a vampire, Red Riding Hood can be a werewolf (and yes, all those stories do exist). These are stories that have got legs.

Baba_Yaga_House
Goddammit, Baba Yaga, that’s not what I meant. (image: everything.wikia.com)

More complex stories are harder to preserve because so much of a story’s meaning is enmeshed in a social and cultural context. I talked about this briefly in my worldbuilding post so do look there for more detail, but what’s important to remember is this: what informs a setting also informs its characters. This applies as much to historical fiction as it does to fantasy epics. Stories written hundreds of years ago are caught up in a framework of cultural norms and societal beliefs that probably isn’t there any more. This is why editions of Shakespeare’s plays and Jane Austen novels so often come with big wodges of footnotes at the back – they’re crammed with references that modern audiences just wouldn’t get without some serious background reading. Going in blind would be like showing a doge meme to someone from the 1500s and expecting to get a laugh. At best, you’d get a ‘sayest thou what?’ and at worst, you’d get burned as a witch.

But obviously, more complex stories do last. We’ve got Shakespeare’s plays, we’ve got The Iliad, we’ve got The Journey to the West. Countless stories have outlived their authors and gone on to become beloved classics for generations of readers. There’s no hard and fast reason as to why this is. It isn’t just good writing, compelling characters and an interesting plot that makes a story get remembered. You’ll still need all those things, but there’s always something else in the mix as well – some mysterious alchemy that lets good mature into great. I don’t know what this is. If I did, I’d probably have my own island or something.

giphy money
Or just this. (image: giphy.com)

Context is everything. Unless the details of a time and place are meticulously preserved, as Shakespearean scholars have done, then modern readers will miss something and the original meaning will slip away. But modern readers bring their own contexts too, and can shed new light on old stories. Adaptations aren’t always a way for an author or a movie studio to make a quick buck: done right they can be a thoughtful and compelling examination of something we thought we knew. Readers and audiences have new opportunities to see familiar stories with fresh eyes, and that’s something that shouldn’t be forgotten. Perhaps that’s as close as we’ll get to seeing the impact of these stories when they really were new.

Stories that have lasted have something in them that speaks to people regardless of time and place. It can be anything from a feeling to a turn of phrase. Maybe it’s Shakespeare’s description of loss in MacDuff’s speech from Macbeththat speaks to you, or maybe it’s Cinderella’s message that no matter how bad things may get, things will, one day, turn out all right. Whichever classic you pick, there’s something there that has spoken to hundreds, thousands or even millions of people. And whether you like or dislike the actual story, it’s always worth acknowledging that that is truly extraordinary.

Book Recipes: How to Write a Spy Novel

Time for another book recipe! This time I’ll be looking at spy novels. Choose your code names and watch out for explosions!

 

Ingredients:

  • One dashing and debonair spy
  • Laaaaadies
  • An assortment of exotic locations
  • A dastardly villain
  • Gadgets
  • One superior officer, only to be ignored
  • A TRAITOR
  • So many ‘splosions.

 

Method:

  1. Your debonair spy receives his mission from his superior officer. This is the only time this character will ever be listened to.
  2. A plot is afoot! Infodump the details onto the main character. It doesn’t matter what they are – the only thing you really have to bring out is just how evil the villain is.
  3. Pick up your gadgets. Try not to look bored.
  4. Go to your first exotic location! Don’t worry about all the extensive research into place and culture that real spies have to do – just show up in your flash car, it’ll be fine.
  5. Meet your first beautiful woman. She must fall into one of three categories:
    1. Suspicious, but in a way that’s really hot
    2. Innocent, but ultimately doomed
    3. Foreign
  6. Do some spy stuff for a bit. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as you’re sneaking.
giphy hiding
Quick! Hide! (image: giphy.com)
  1. Receive a sinister message from the villain. If you chose the innocent-yet-doomed woman for step five, it’s time to kill her off.
  2. Go to another exotic location! Don’t worry about blowing your cover, we’re only on step eight.
  3. Oh look, it’s another beautiful woman! Let’s see if she’ll survive all twenty steps.
  4. Infiltrate, steal or smash something belonging to the villain. It’s all very exciting.
  5. Blow something up.
  6. It’s time to meet the villain! You can’t kill them because we’re only on step twelve, so have a tense conversation where you never directly address what’s going on instead.
  7. Form an uneasy yet sexy alliance with the highly suspicious hottie. It definitely won’t backfire.
  8. You’ve uncovered a code! Hooray! Celebrate with another explosion.
  9. Fight some baddies for a bit.
  10. Use your code to get into the villain’s secret lair. You’re so close to foiling their evil plans…
  11. …but oh no, you’ve been betrayed! The highly suspicious hottie has double-crossed you, as literally nobody ever thought she would.

  1. While you’re captured, the villain very kindly explains their evil plan, with diagrams. They then leave immediately, because they’ve got to take their fluffy white cat to the vet before they take over the world.
  2. Break free of your restraints, go to another exotic location and foil the evil plan! Fortunately this is very easy, as the villain’s plan is always foilable by cutting the right wire or pushing a big red button.
  3. Hooray! The day has been saved. Retreat to the nearest tropical island with all the surviving and non-traitorous hotties, and then fly back home for tea and medals.

THE END. Serve shaken, not stirred.

 

Tips:

  • There are no unattractive women allowed. Ever.
  • Don’t worry about memorising false names and elaborate cover stories when you’re infiltrating places. Just make it up! It’ll probably be fine.
  • If you include a beautiful foreign woman as one of your gorgeous lady friends, don’t bother actually researching her culture and background to give a better understanding of her character. Just stick a few of her lines in another language and give her an accent.
  • Always walk away from an explosion, never run.
giphy explosion
Otherwise you’ll end up looking like this. (image: giphy.com)
  • Don’t worry about cleaning up after the messes you’ve made, or blowing the cover of any other agents in the field. That’s your superior officer’s job. They’ll yell at you a bit, but it’s all fine.
  • Drive flash cars, fly private jets and pilot speedboats. These are the only acceptable ways for you to travel, apart from running along in the Mission: Impossible pose. Never, ever use public transport.
  • Give yourself a cool name. No-one likes a spy called Gerald.

 

And here’s one I prepared earlier…

 

“Mr Diamond.”

Leaning on the black marble bar, Jack Diamond turned. One of the General’s men was standing in front of him – a big, tattooed guy with a shaven head and a suit that strained across his biceps. He wore dark glasses, even though they were indoors, and he was sweating in the heat.

The man inclined his head. “My employer would like you to join him. This way, please.”

Diamond picked up his whiskey – Lagavulin, two fingers, with a maraschino cherry on the side – and followed the man through the casino. Past the craps table, past the roulette wheel, past the sheer glass balcony that looked out over palm trees and a long-dormant volcano. They passed through a crowd of suits and evening dresses until the General’s bodyguard led Diamond to a private room. He knocked on the mahogany door and showed him in.

There, at the head of the table, was General Victor Sly, dressed all in white to match his hair. Diamond knew him from the files, of course. The scar pulling down his left eye socket was enough; the glittering black opal that replaced his left eye made him impossible to miss.

He smiled. “Ah, Mr Diamond. So good of you to join us. Sit, please.”

Diamond sat down. Katya was with him, sitting at the General’s right hand as she’d said she would be. She wore the fur hat she’d had in Rome; she’d stuck a brooch in it to match her evening dress. Blonde and beautiful, she gave no sign she recognised him. It was part of the plan, but Diamond still felt a little stung. After all, they’d held hands.

“I do so like to meet my investors,” the General said, “it makes such a difference. I thought we might play a little game and get to know each other.”

Diamond raised his glass. “When in Rome,” he said, and drank. It was a mistake. He’d picked the whiskey because it had been on the top shelf of the bar and he could put it on expenses if he kept the receipt. If he’d known it was going to be this strong, he would have asked the bartender to mix in some lemonade. He tried not to cough in front of Katya.

“Yes,” said the General, “have you been to Rome, Mr Diamond?”

Someone poured him another drink. Diamond fished out the cherry and ate it, wishing he’d had dinner before he came to the casino. “No. Definitely not.”

“Really? How unusual. I was under the impression you had met with some of my investors there.”

Diamond took a gulp of his whiskey and signalled for another cherry, thinking fast. He’d been supposed to meet his contact in Rome to pick up the map of the General’s secret facility, but the man had been murdered before he could make the drop. Diamond had had to blow up the Trevi fountain just to make himself feel better.

“Oh, that Rome,” he said, after another mouthful of whiskey. “I thought you meant Rome, Georgia. Not Italy. Where I haven’t been.”

“I…what?” The General frowned. “Why would I…”

Diamond drained his glass and wondered if there was anywhere he could get some chips. “I haven’t been there,” he said again.

“Right…” said the General. He shook his head and smiled again. “You know my associate, of course,” he said, nodding to Katya.

“No,” said Diamond. “Definitely not.”

Nyet,” said Katya, glaring at him, “Mr Diamond and I have corresponded vith regards to his investments, but ve have never formally met.”

“Ah. Then allow me to introduce my business associate, Yetakerina Mikhailovna Lyegova.”

Katya held out her hand. Diamond kissed it, and felt all giddy. “Charmed.”

She sat back down and wiped the back of her hand on her skirt. Obviously, Diamond thought, she was doing it to maintain her cover. He ordered another drink.

“Well,” said the General, “now that we are all acquainted, let us begin our game.”

He signalled to one of his men, who stepped forwards and began shuffling a pack of cards. He laid down five cards in front of each of them and put the rest in the centre of the table. Diamond took another sip of his whiskey, and giggled at the funny slurping noise. Then he stopped, because Katya was watching.

He looked at his cards, lifting the edges the merest fraction off the table. “Threes?” he asked.

The General smiled enigmatically, and Diamond took a card from the pile.

“Sevens,” the General said. Diamond shook his head, and the General took another card.

“Jacks,” said Diamond. The General raised an eyebrow, and slid a card across the table.

“Secret access codes,” he said.

Diamond froze. Under the table, his hand strayed to his revolver, strapped against his thigh. He was feeling a bit wobbly, and really, reallywished he’d stopped for a kebab.

His finger curled around the trigger.

“No,” Diamond said. “Go Fish.”

 

 

My full book-cookbook can be found here. Let me know what you’d like me to look at next – and as always, take this recipe with a pinch of salt.

Alice-In-Wonderland-I-See-What-You-Did-There
Heh heh heh. (image: replycandy.com)