All posts by jowritesstuff

Book Recipes: How to Write a Historical Murder Mystery

I’m back and what better way to celebrate the new year than by going back to an old one. Make sure you’ve had your jabs, we’re going time travelling!

 

Ingredients:

  • One suspiciously ahead-of-their-time detective
  • A team of loyal assistants who can be shuffled into the following categories:
    • Dependable muscle
    • Slightly shady rogue
    • Science one
  • A noble patron who is kind of the boss but can’t say ‘turn in your badge’ because badges haven’t been invented yet
  • Urchins
  • A sinister yet attractive lady
  • Someone who will describe things as ‘most irregular’
  • About a dozen people who are there to show how backwards history can be
  • A couple of well-known historical figures for our detective to chat to
  • One historical backdrop, complete with smells
  • MURRRDERRRR

 

Method:

  1. Unroll your historical backdrop behind our detective. Allow the reader to experience the sights and many, many smells of The Past.
  2. But oh no, what’s this? A crime?
giphy chipmunk
Dun dun DUUUNNNNN. (image: giphy.com)
  1. Our noble patron tells the detective to solve the murder. We don’t know why they’re in charge of murder-solving, but they are, and they have a special office for it.
  2. Our detective assembles his trusty crew. Time to investigate!
  3. Go to the crime scene and look around, but y’know, historically. This basically means you will have to bribe everyone to tell you stuff and that the crime scene will be in an absolute state.
  4. A sinister yet attractive lady turns up. She almost certainly has a Secret, but it’s okay because secrets are hot.
  5. Introduce your detective to some historical figures. One of them will have an original character attached to them in some way but they definitely won’t become important at around step eighteen, why do you ask?
  6. Find a Clue and celebrate in the manner most appropriate to the time period.
  7. Our detective has seen a suspicious character. Better follow them past a bunch of super-famous historical landmarks.
  8. The Clue has led our detective to another important place! Go there and investigate.
  9. Have a chat with another historical figure to pass the time. The sinister yet attractive lady is there, so make sure you look cool.
  10. Oh look, another Clue! But this one links with the first Clue in a way that’s really weird, what could it meeeaaannnn?
  11. Receive a talking-to from the patron. Drop hints that the king is displeased.
2554
Hopefully it’s not this one. (image: theguardian.com)
  1. Examine the Clues. Get the science friend to basically recreate a procedure from modern forensics and at last, a break in the case!
  2. But wait! The sinister yet attractive lady has been attacked by ruffians! We must save her, as this completely proves her innocence and was definitely not staged.
  3. Start feeling all tender and squishy. Perhaps our detective could give up this detective business that he’s only just invented and settle –
  4. HAHA IT WAS A TRAP YOU’VE BEEN BETRAYED
  5. Turns out the sinister yet attractive lady has been in cahoots with the original character from step seven all along. It was them who DONE THE MURDER. Now the detective has been locked up or something while they carry out the final stage of their plan. How will you ever cope with the betrayal?
  6. Escape and foil their dastardly plan, that’s how.
  7. Gather everyone including your patron into one room so you can explain how you solved the murder. Receive a tip from your patron, mope a little about what might have been, but then go back home with your detective pals for some period-accurate snacks.

THE END. Serve with torn edges and stained with a used teabag.

 

Tips:

  • Choose your time period carefully. You want a nice big window between the invention of cities and the invention of a modern police force.
  • Make sure your background is really, really gross. Bonus points for every passing character with syphilis.
  • Spend at least the first fifty pages just pootling round, showing your readers the sights. They definitely won’t get bored!
giphy table
GET TO THE MURDER DAMMIT (image: giphy.com)
  • Have at least one character addressed as ‘my liege’.
  • Not sure how to solve a mystery without modern methods? That’s fine! Just make your character use modern methods, but y’know, historically. Have all the other characters describe their methods as ‘unconventional’ and all your bases are covered.
  • Anyone who coughs is a goner.
  • Pay particular attention to language. Don’t say ‘hello’, say ‘good morrow’. Don’t wear ‘trousers’, wear ‘breeches’ or ‘hose’. Swear all you like, it’s authentic, but never, ever do it in front of a lady. You animal.

 

And here’s one I prepared earlier…

 

William Fleetwood strode through the workroom doors and threw his handkerchief down on the alchemist’s table. It landed with a clatter. “There,” he said. “Best I could do, I’m afraid.”

Mortimer Banks put on his magnifying spectacles and opened the handkerchief up with a pair of tweezers. Wrapped up in the lace-edged cotton were about a dozen nuggets of misshapen metal. Mortimer poked one, experimentally.

“And they’ve not been contaminated?”

Fleetwood sat down heavily and got out his pipe. “It’s a clean hanky, if that’s what you’re asking.”

Mortimer took off his spectacles and gave him a look. “You know perfectly well that is not what I meant.”

Fleetwood took a puff on his pipe and tried to keep his temper. He took off his long, curly wig, scratched his head and propped his feet up on the tea-chest. “They’re as clean as they can be, considering where I found them.”

Mortimer went pale at the memory. The misshapen metal had been found stuffed into the mouth of Colonel Victor Timothy Gonnairgh – or rather, into the mouth of his corpse. Fleetwood thought Mortimer was being unnecessarily squeamish. After all, he’d given them a wipe.

“I hope you at least wore gloves,” muttered Mortimer, turning back to the metal. “There are the prints of many fingers here…show me your hands.”

Fleetwood held out his hand. Mortimer peered at them and made a disparaging noise.

“Yes,” he said, “I can clearly see the prints of your fingers, but there are others…if only there were some sort of base in which to store all this data. With some sort of searchable engine, the task would take but a moment…”

“Have you such an engine?”

“Regrettably not. Perhaps if my first laboratory had not been burned by that ogre Cromwell and his men – ” They both paused to spit extravagantly. “ – then I might have been equal to the task. Alas, I shall have to make do with what Lord Fitzffortescue affords me.”

“Cheer up, old man,” said Fleetwood, puffing on his pipe again.

“Hmm.”

Mortimer turned back to his bench and started boiling something in a beaker. He started dropping the lumps of metal into the beaker one by one, and then taking them back out again. “Did the maidservant say anything useful?”

“Not a jot,” said Fleetwood. “Dreadfully upset, wonderful employer, the usual. I happened to mention Cromwell –” They spat. “ – and she turned quite pale, but I couldn’t get anything out of her. Nothing that would satisfy Lord Fitzffortescue, anyway.”

Fleetwood’s patron, Lord Fitzffortescue, was a demanding man who took orders only from the king, having helped him back to power after the fall of Cromwell (Fleetwood spat again, just to be sure). He had charged Fleetwood with solving Gonnairgh’s murder, quickly, quietly, and with minimal bribes.

“Of course she didn’t,” said Mortimer, “not if you blundered in there like you always do. You know, sometimes I think that approach might work well if you had a partner with you – someone who might be able to play some kind of ‘good’ role, while you assume the ‘bad’…”

“A partner, Master Fleetwood?” came a low, female voice.

Fleetwood scrambled to his feet, dropped his pipe and rammed his wig on his head. He turned around and saw Lady Evelyn Hyde smiling in the doorway. With her gown of gold brocade and her shiny auburn hair, she looked very out of place in the cramped, spit-splattered laboratory.

“Lady Hyde! How may I –”

Do call me Evelyn. I hear you’ve been attending to the late Colonel Gonnairgh.”

Fleetwood tried to look regretful and sombre, but also still tall and manly. “It is my sad duty.”

“You must be very brave to look upon such dreadful things.”

“Yes, well.”

Lady Evelyn smiled at him and came closer, brushing past Mortimer’s workbench. “I must say, I would feel very safe if I knew that you were my protector.”

Fleetwood coughed on purpose to make his voice sound deeper. “Would you?”

“Oh yes…”

Just then, Mortimer sprang to his feet, shouting. His beaker was fizzing frantically and giving off a strange, noxious gas. He pointed at Lady Evelyn. “She put something in my beaker!”

She stepped back. “How do you – I mean, what do you mean?”

Mortimer jabbed a finger at the beaker. “You’ve added acid to this! Look, the metal’s all dissolving!”

Lady Evelyn fluttered her eyelashes. “Dear Master Banks, I am sure that I, a mere woman, would never even carry such – what did you call it? Ah-sid?”

Fleetwood sprang to her defence. “See? Of course she didn’t do that, Mortimer, she’s a lady. Why would she even have any acid?”

Lady Evelyn frowned prettily. “Is it a kind of ribbon? I do so love ribbons.”

“She did!” Mortimer wailed, “I know she did!”

“Perhaps it is best if I leave you to your deductions,” said Lady Evelyn, swiftly pocketing a handful of papers. “You simply must tell me what you find out, dear Master Fleetwood. I should be very glad to hear it.”

She left. Fleetwood watched her go with a dreamy smile on his face while Mortimer muttered at his bench. When he started paying attention again he noticed that he was short fifty guineas and three pewter mugs.

“What I wouldn’t give for some surveillance in this place,” Mortimer muttered, “perhaps in some kind of circuitry that could be closed to the public…”

Fleetwood laughed. “Oh, Mortimer,” he said, “what will you think of next?”

 

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

And They All Lived Happily Ever After: The Art of a Good Ending

There’s nothing quite like a good ending. It can be one of the most satisfying parts of a story, but it’s also one of the most difficult things to get right. It can make or break a story. I’ve lost count of the amount of books I’ve read or movies I’ve seen where I’ve come away thinking ‘it was all fine, up until the ending’.

So how do you get it right?

giphy shrug house
I mean, I could just end this blog post here. (image: giphy.com)

First, I think it’s important to consider the kind of things people expect from an ending. There’s a handful of things that keep popping up regardless of the type of story they’re in: the resolution of character arcs, the final confrontation, the big reveal. They don’t always have to be big, world-changing things, but the events of the story have to come to a head in some way. A good ending will have been building up naturally through the course of the story, thereby building anticipation for the climax throughout the plot. This can be obvious – for example, everybody knew that the Harry Potter series would end with Harry fighting Voldemort – or more subtle, like in murder mysteries where the clues are spread throughout the story but only brought together at the end.

Of course, some types of stories lend themselves to certain kinds of endings. This largely comes down to genre or structure. In a romance story, for example, people will expect the couple to get together at the end, whereas in a murder mystery, people will expect the case to be solved. Equally, if you use any kind of numerical structuring device to tell your story – for example, getting three wishes, spending seven years at a magical boarding school, or having to complete a task in a certain time limit – then people are going to expect the story to end when the last wish is made, or in the final five minutes of your deadline.

giphy typing
Just like writing my essays. (image: giphy.com)

Having these kinds of expectations can be really helpful as a writer. It’s a good framework to build your story around, and can help with both the pacing and plotting of the story as a whole as well as the ending. If your story ends with the couple getting together, then that dictates the shape of the rest of your story – as readers, we have to see them reach that point. A ‘ticking clock’ is also a really useful structural device: as well as providing a race-against-time ending, it also helps you build tension throughout the whole story. These two types of expectations tend to merge in crime novels. The conventions of the genre dictate that the murderer must be revealed at the end, and this affects the structure of the book. A good crime author will have planted the clues as to who the real murderer is throughout the book, but will have mixed them in with so many red herrings that the reveal is still a surprise.

It goes without saying that this is hella difficult.

Having these kinds of expectations about the way a story is going to end is something of a double-edged sword. It makes it easier for the writer to know where their story needs to go in order to reach that point, but readers are also aware of those expectations. It’s extremely hard to hit all the points you need without making a story seem formulaic. In some genres, readers are so aware of the conventions that it affects the way they view the story. The most obvious example of this is in murder-mystery novels. The first law of mystery novels is that it’s never the official suspect. Even if you build a strong case for that character being the murderer as a writer, the reader will discount them automatically because everyone is so aware of the genre.

butler
I did a blog post about this and everything. (image: rainybayart.com)

Of course, this can lead to a lot of fun too. Subverting readers’ expectations can be really fun, both as a writer and a reader. But it’s extremely difficult to pull this off and still have a satisfying ending. If you wrote a murder mystery where the murderer was never caught or discovered by anyone, you’d have a very tough time making sure that this was presented in a way that left the reader feeling satisfied when they turned the final page. The proof is in the pudding – if you can pull it off, it’ll work, but if you can’t, then you’re going to have some really irritated readers on your hands.

But what do you do when you’re writing something that doesn’t have an easy ending? While there are some stories that lend themselves to ending in a certain way, there are plenty of others that don’t. Your protagonist might have defeated their nemesis and completed their quest, but is that really the end of their story? Where do you draw the line?

For me, it’s just as important for a writer to know when to end a story as to know how to end a story. There’s been a real case of sequel-itis in the stories we tell each other lately, and it’s really driving me nuts. You’ll read a book or watch a movie with a really satisfying ending, and six months later a sequel is announced.

giphy restraint
I am trying so hard not to throw some very specific shade. (image: giphy.com)

I get the appeal of this from an authorial standpoint, but I have to say I can’t really think many times where this has actually worked. If an author has put a lot of time and effort into creating a world that they really love, of course they’d want to come back to it. A lot of writers will leave ‘back doors’ into their work – little plot threads that haven’t quite been resolved, just in case they want to come back to them in a fresh book. Sometimes, this can work really well, but it’s sad to say that most of the time it doesn’t. Continuing a story after you’ve properly written an ending is difficult, and sometimes it can undermine what has already gone before. If you story originally ended with your characters saving the world, anything they do after that is going to seem like a bit of an anti-climax. If you make them save the world again, it cheapens their efforts in the original story – an apocalypse should only come around the once if you want it to retain its dramatic effect. It can be really difficult to set something aside, but it’s far better to do that and write a really good ending than to just keep going until people lose interest.

Endings are hard. They’re something that a writer needs to consider in multiple different ways. Long before you pick up your pen, you should know how the story is going to end. You should also consider how people are going to expect the story to end, and decide whether you want to play up to those expectations or not. But the most important thing is that once you’ve decided on your ending, stick to it. Commit. A good ending will be building up all the way through a story, and carrying on after it’s finished will only cheapen it. It’s far better to go out with a bang than a whimper.

giphy explosion
Heh heh heh. (image: giphy.com)

And that’s it for 2018! No more blog posts until the New Year. I’ll be back in January with a bunch more opinions – see you then!

Book Recipes: How to Write a Christmas Romance

Time for another book recipe! Let’s get in the festive mood and write a Christmas romance. Put on a Christmas jumper and mull everything you own and we’ll get started!

 

Ingredients:

  • One feisty career-gal heroine
  • One smouldering hero
  • An adorably small hometown
  • Buckets of schmaltz
  • Pointless low-stakes drama
  • A big-city nemesis
  • Santa hats
  • Supportive relatives who say meaningful things in the background
  • One pointless Christmas tradition designed to get people to couple up
  • Snow

 

Method:

  1. Our feisty career-gal heroine has to go home to her adorable hometown for the holidays. Not to worry, she’ll be right back in the New Year and nothing will have changed, at all.
  2. Arrive in the adorable hometown. Look at it, it’s so cute! Everyone’s wearing Christmas jumpers and baking apple pies. D’aawwww.
  3. Angst about how life in the big city is better.
  4. Introduce your smouldering hero. He’s from Hometown, he always has his sleeves rolled up and he’s always seen leaning against a truck.
  5. Have some forced comedy about how city people are rubbish at everything, ever. Bonus points if you can work in some melodramatic squealing.
  6. Ugh, the hero and the heroine have to work together, for Christmas reasons. It’ll be lame, they don’t have anything in common.
  7. But wait, what’s this? Looks like…romantic tension…
giphy chipmunk
Dun dun DUUUHHH (image: giphy.com)
  1. Go for a walk in the snow and think about life and stuff.
  2. The heroine has decided she’s definitely not going to make out with Smoulders McGee. Nope. No way. She’s going to go back to the big city and forget all about –
  3. Make out with Smoulders McGee.
  4. The heroine gets a call from the big-city nemesis. Now she’s conflicted! Mope, you’ll feel better.
  5. Talk about your feelings with a supportive relative. They mention that, for Christmas reasons, whoever you make out with on Christmas Eve will be your forever-husband, or something, but let’s not pay attention to that until step twenty.
  6. The hero and heroine bond over Christmas things and start feeling all squishy.
  7. But uh-oh, who’s this? It’s the big-city nemesis, here to ruin everything!
giphy dastardly
Seen here in their file photo. (image: giphy.com)
  1. With their big-city powers, the nemesis engineers some sort of terrible Christmas misunderstanding! Oh no! Whatever will happen now?
  2. The heroine goes back to the big city, mopily, because love is dead and so is Christmas.
  3. But now she’s in the big city, everything seems rubbish. There’s not even any pie. She decides to go back home, for non man-related reasons, natch.
  4. But who should be waiting for her at the airport but good ol’ Smoulders, here to clear up that misunderstanding!
  5. Have a conversation like adults and work out the nemesis did the thing. Have some sort of hilarious Christmas-themed revenge.
  6. Go back home to Hometown with Smoulders, just in time for Christmas. Make out, fulfil the family tradition, get married, have babies etc.

THE END. Serve so sweet that you can feel the saccharine coating your teeth.

 

Tips:

  • Your big-city nemesis can be basically anyone in a suit. Evil fiancé? That’s fine. Evil boss? That’s also fine. Slenderman? I’ll allow it, he’s dressed for the office.
  • It is vitally important to the plot that you have at least three scenes in front of a roaring fire.
  • Everyone must wear a cosy Christmas jumper at all times.
  • Your family Christmas tradition doesn’t have to make sense or to be an actual Christmas tradition. Just wedge in whatever suits the plot.
  • If you have an opportunity to get your hero and heroine snowed in at a remote cabin in the woods where they have to spend the night, then take it, by God! What is this, Amateur Hour?
giphy slap
This is BASIC STUFF GODDAMMIT (image: giphy.com)
  • Bonus points if you include a cute child who helps our couple get together! That’s what Christmas is really all about.
  • It’s always important to remember that country = good, town = bad. Also, in the city snow gets manky really quickly, so therefore the entire place MUST BE GROSS.

 

And here’s one I made earlier…

 

Piper Sterling pulled her hair into a ponytail and sighed. “Do you really need me to action this, Mom? You know I’ve got to prepare that presentation for Mr Dartleyman.”

Piper’s mother gave her a warm smile. “Of course I need you, honey. No-one else makes Christmas cookies like you. I remember when you were a little girl, you used to put on your grandmother’s apron and say to me, ‘Follow your dreams, Mommy, especially when they lead to cookies!’ Oh, it was the cutest thing! Do you know, when you –”

Piper rolled her eyes and put on her grandmother’s lucky apron over her suit. There was no stopping her mother when she was telling one of her stories. She acquired flour, eggs, sugar and butter by closing the deal with the fridge and let her mother talk about the lucky apron some more. Family legend had it that if an unmarried woman wore the apron on Christmas Eve she’d meet her true love and share a Christmas kiss. Piper didn’t believe it. Who’d want to kiss someone wearing something so unflattering?

“ – but you’ve always been such a good girl,” her mother was saying. “Anyway, I’m heading out for just a minute, but Brick’ll be along in a moment so you won’t be by yourself. Mommy loves you, sweetie.”

“Mom, I’m twenty-eight, I don’t need a – Brick?”

“Bye sweetie!”

Her mother closed the door. Piper shrugged, and looked around for an assistant who could turn on the oven and start preparing her baking tray, but her mother didn’t even have an intern. That was typical of her hometown. There was only one sushi place, nowhere could produce a decent kale smoothie and every time she tried to order her signature double-turmeric yak-butter vegan mocha latte, the barista would smile and say ‘Oh, honey, you always did have a sense of humour!’ The sooner she got back to the city, the better.

Let her mother send her friends round for a visit; she wasn’t going to be here all that long. They probably just wanted to gawp at her shoulder pads and killer heels and listen to her talk about mergers. A few more days – just until Christmas was over – and then she’d be back in Cityville in her penthouse apartment. If she went home early, she’d have enough time to really polish her presentation, and then Mr Dartleyman would have to give her that promotion…

“Mrs Sterling? I brought the – oh. Hey.”

Piper looked up, hands covered in dough, and felt the world shrink itself down to the kitchen.

Standing in the doorway was one of the best-looking men she had ever seen in her literal entire life. He was tall and broad-shouldered, with brown hair and eyes and blindingly white teeth. His checked shirt was rolled up at the sleeves, revealing a pair of forearms that should’ve come with a ‘Parental Advisory: Explicit Content’ warning. And here she was, wearing a ratty old apron patterned with dancing reindeer. And there was flour on her nose. She edged out from underneath the mistletoe hanging from the ceiling.

“You must be Piper,” said the stranger, ruffling the snow out of his hair. “I’m Brick Campbell. Your mom said there was some wood needed chopping?”

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Piper said, trying to wipe off the flour. It didn’t budge and she started to panic. Flour on her suit jacket could lead to some serious decruitment. “I can do it.”

Brick raised his eyebrows. “No offence, but you don’t exactly look the type.”

“Well I am.”

“Really? They got much call for swinging axes in the big city?”

“…sure. All the time. In fact, I’m the head of chainsaw consultancy at Company Enterprise Holdings Inc.”

He leaned on the kitchen table and grinned at her. Another bunch of mistletoe was hanging over his face. “Is that so?”

Piper squeezed the dough and pretended it was his face. It didn’t work, he was too pretty. “Look,” she snapped, “I might seem like a big-city hotshot but I know where the pointy end of the axe needs to go. Into the wood.”

“Well…yeah, but –”

“Am I wrong?”

“That’s not really the – ”

Piper groaned and flicked the last of the dough off her hands. She was very careful not to pass under any more mistletoe as she went to the fridge and acquired some chocolate chips, dynamically. But when she turned back Brick was there, smiling at her, underneath a ceiling that was green with the damn stuff.

“I think we got off on the wrong foot,” he said. “Let me help you with that.”

He took the chocolate chips from her hands, their fingers touched and the world went pink and fuzzy. Oh no, Piper thought. Business school hadn’t said anything about this.

 

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)

Sherlock vs Dracula: How Characters outlive their Creators

It is a truth universally acknowledged that if a series runs for long enough, sooner or later the protagonists will end up fighting Dracula.

No, really. There’s a TV Tropes page about it.

There’s some characters that just pop up everywhere. These are the characters that are so embedded in the popular consciousness that, like Madonna, you only need one word to remember them by: Sherlock, Bond, Dracula. They’re giants. Their names are so well-known that just to say it conveys everything – their personality, their appearance, their genre. They’ve continued to be popular long after they were originally conceived of – and, in some cases, over a century after the author’s death.

But why is this? What exactly is it that makes some characters last for hundreds of years, and some get forgotten within a decade or so? There’s plenty of fictional characters that stick in the mind, but why is it that only a handful of these keep popping up again and again?

Let’s find out, shall we?

tumblr_lys9mns8ew1qf5do9o1_400
WOO YEAH (image: tumblr.com)

The one thing that characters like Sherlock Holmes, James Bond and Dracula have in common is that they’ve become archetypes. When you say ‘detective’, you might picture a guy in a deerstalker; when you say ‘spy’, you might picture a suave and besuited man with a predilection for explosions and shiny cars. Even though these characters were originally written just like any other, they have come to represent something much bigger than themselves.

This is really unusual. Archetypes are usually much more broadly-sketched – they don’t always have names attached (looking at you, ‘damsel in distress’) and they tend to represent characters in certain situations, rather than actual personalities. These are the kinds of characters that you find in fairy tales, myths and legends: in stories where it’s not always the character themselves which is important, but what they’re doing and what they represent. Fiction has, of course, moved on since fairy tales were originally conceived of, which is why it’s so unusual that characters with distinct personalities and development have been able to join this pantheon of clichés.

This is what happens when you write a really genre-defining character. When those kind of characters are written, they are not the only things being put on paper – what also gets written down are the things that eventually become the clichés that other writers will depend on. Everything that comes after these characters is, to a certain extent, a response to them. You can’t write a spy novel without people inevitably comparing it to Bond; you can’t write about vampires without the shadow of Dracula looming across the page.

nosferatu-shadow-300x232
Much like this, actually. (image: blogs.exeter.ac.uk)

Let’s look at some examples. How many detectives can you think of who are described as ‘eccentrics’, who immerse themselves in their cases so completely that it eclipses everything else in their lives? That’s Holmes. How many spies can you think of with neat little gadgets, bevies of beautiful women in their contacts list and at least three international trips per book? That’s Bond. How many vampires can you think of who swan about in evening dress, with dark hair, pale skin and a tendency to go after young women? That’s Dracula. These were originally features of particular characters, but now these characters have become so widely-known that these traits have come to define the archetypes themselves. Of course, writers can choose to deliberately leave all of these things out – that’s where we see gritty, violent spy movies, or vampire stories were the undead schlub about in jeans and T-shirts – but that heavy-handed rejection of the archetype just makes you more aware of it. When you consume these types of stories, you’re constantly being reminded that these vampires aren’t like the ones you know, or that this spy movie is nothing like the slick, suave espionage thriller you usually get. It’s like ‘Not Like Other Girls’ all over again – something like that doesn’t work unless you know what ‘Other Girls’ are supposed to be.

Characters become archetypes when they step outside the bounds of what their authors originally wrote. A certain amount of ‘placelessness’ makes this process easier. You can put Sherlock Holmes anywhere in the world – the focus of his stories are the cases he solves, and these can happen anywhere. James Bond can go anywhere he likes too – he goes where the danger is, and that can be anywhere. Similarly, Dracula can go anywhere too (although he always comes from Transylvania) – all you really need for him to work as a character is a few blacked-out windows and a steady supply of necks to nom on and before you know it he’ll be flapping through every open window and buying up all your evening wear.

f053836b3c0afd4412f405327f43dc8a
Fun fact: all of those drawers are filled with cufflinks. (image: pinterest.com)

But to a certain extent, this needs to be possible for their characters too. It can only go so far, otherwise it ends up becoming the rejection of the archetype I described above, but a certain amount of wiggle room is necessary. In the original novel, Dracula started out as an old man with hairy palms – now, he’s being played by Luke Evans. He’s become a spooky sex symbol, which is really not what you’d expect to see if you read the description of the horrible moustache he has in the book. Likewise James Bond, once so typically stiff-upper-lip, has been increasingly portrayed as suffering from PTSD. The core elements of their characters are still there – Dracula is still sinister, Bond still blows things up for Queen and Country – but the way in which we view these things has changed. Dracula is still evil, but he’s been allowed to ramp up the charm as people stopped putting so much faith in the restrictive morality that is set against him. Bond still does his duty, but we see the toll this takes.

This is where adaptations come in.

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

Everyone’s been getting a bit sick of adaptations lately, what with all the constant remakes we seem to be getting, but adaptations are one of the main things that help characters outlive their creators. Characters and stories only survive if they retain the public’s interest, and if they lose it, they get forgotten. Adaptation plays a huge role in helping to avoid that. Characters and their stories are updated for a new era, or brought to new audiences via a new medium. Being able to transcend one type of storytelling is part of the reason why these characters have lasted for so long – they’re accessible to a wider range of people and they stay stuck in the collective cultural consciousness for longer.

Let’s look at a couple of examples here. We’ll start with Dracula. He first appeared in the 1897 novel, which was rapidly turned into a play (which by all accounts, wasn’t very good). Then Stoker died, and Dracula appeared again in a collection of short stories, then in Nosferatu (which was rapidly hit with many a lawsuit, hence the vampire’s hasty name-change to Count Orlok), then another play, then several more films which may or may not have existed, then the 1931 movie with Bela Lugosi (which was actually an adaptation of the second play, which also starred Bela Lugosi), then several more Universal movies, then several Hammer movies with Christopher Lee, then more movies, then more plays, then a musical, an opera and a ballet and I haven’t even mentioned the TV shows, anime, manga, games, radio plays, cartoons and many a novel that have updated the original story since its publication.

My point is: it’s a lot. But it’s this kind of scatter-gun approach to adaptations that have made characters like Dracula stick in the mind. You can’t forget him, because he’s everywhere.

16cten
I mean, yes. (image: imgur.com)

A large part of why this was possible in the first place is because of the time in which these characters were conceived. Sherlock and Dracula had their first appearances in literary works of the late nineteenth century. These characters have had time to disseminate through the popular consciousness and really burrow their way in. A certain amount of time is necessary to see if something’s going to last.

It’s also worth mentioning that for these two particular examples, part of the reason why they ended up being adapted to Hell and back is because both Sherlock and Dracula are in a slightly unique position with regards to copyright laws. In the case of Dracula, Bram Stoker didn’t fully comply with American copyright registration laws and made a mistake on his application – therefore Dracula wasn’t subject to normal term of copyright laws and was public domain in the US. In the case of Sherlock Holmes, there was a bit of a legal grey area about whether the author’s estate had copyright over the character of Holmes or just the copyright to the stories in which he appeared. It’s pretty complicated and I can’t say I understand it well, but I’m pretty sure that without this wobblyness around the copyright, we definitely wouldn’t have had all the adaptations that brought these characters into the popular consciousness.

Of course, these days copyright and intellectual property laws have been tightened up like nobody’s business – that sort of thing can’t happen again quite so easily. The spread of characters happens a lot faster now, too. Thanks to social media it’s easier to generate a buzz about a new character or story – before Twitter, this could’ve taken years, but now it takes minutes. But whether this will stand the test of time remains to be seen. There’s so much information out there that it’s difficult to say which characters are going to last and which are a flash in the pan. If I had to pick one, my money’s on Harry Potter, but even that’s not certain. It’s impossible to tell what will be able to transcend its original story and the author’s lifetime – despite its popularity, we may find that Harry Potter is just too tied into a specific place and time to properly last in the way that Sherlock and Dracula have done. Perhaps the same will be true for all modern characters, as storytelling has evolved to the point where fixing a story in a time and place – or fixing a character with very specific situational responses and traits – is generally seen as being a mark of what makes a book good. Who knows?

giphy shrug js
Don’t ask me please please PLEASE (image: giphy.com)

There’s all sorts of things that lead to characters outliving their creators and unfortunately, there’s no magic formula that can replicate that kind of success. I’ve tried my best to sketch out the boundaries but frankly, there’s no way of knowing which characters will stand the test of time. You could write a memorable character that could easily get transferred into a range of different situations and still not come up with the next Dracula. All authors can really do is write a character they feel passionate about and see what happens. (And lock that copyright down.)

Who knows where it’ll take you?

Book Recipes: How to Write a Classic Boarding School Story

Time for another book recipe! This one’s on classic boarding school stories, so grab your boaters and pull your socks up. Let’s get started!

 

Ingredients:

  • One plucky gel for your protagonist
  • A collection of grubby but well-intentioned misfits
  • One unreasonably cruel teacher
  • Silly nicknames
  • Very worrying standards of pastoral care
  • A teacher’s pet
  • One ridiculously sprawling castle-school
  • Hideous uniforms
  • Lashings of ginger beer
  • Some sort of pointless school competition

 

Method:

  1. It’s the start of a new school year! And who should arrive at our uber-fancy castle-school but our plucky protagonist.
  2. Ramble around the school for a bit so the readers can visualise.
  3. Time to make some friends! Introduce your protagonists to your grubby misfits. Get ready for japes!
  4. Ugh, lessons, I guess.
  5. Time to make some enemies! Here comes the teacher’s pet and nobody likes them. Here comes the mean teacher, too – they’re snooty at the protagonist and they’re just crushed.
  6. Sneak out of your dorm after hours for a midnight feast! It’ll be fine as long as you don’t –
  7. Get caught. Mean teacher strikes again!
giphy curses
Foiled again! (image: giphy.com)
  1. The pointless school competition is announced. Our protagonist could never possibly win it though, so let’s just leave this information here until step nineteen.
  2. Lessons, s’pose.
  3. Get in trouble again, because of hijinks.
  4. For convoluted reasons, the protagonist has to enter the pointless competition! It’ll be so embarrassing you guys, she’s totally 100% going to lose, definitely.
  5. Get into some more scrapes, mainly just for filler.
  6. OK, let’s actually have a little go at this competition thing. Hey! Turns out the protagonist is actually good at this! WHO KNEW.

  1. Have another run-in with the teacher’s pet. Be snide to each other.
  2. Oh boy, we sure have been working hard on this competition thing! It’d be a real shame if something were to –
  3. OH NO SOMEONE HAS SABOTAGED OUR THING MY GOODNESS HOW UNEXPECTED
  4. Mope.
  5. But oh look! Here’s the protagonist’s plucky misfit friends, here to save the day! They all pull together and help fix the thing – just in time for the competition!
  6. Stride back into the competition like a BOSS with your newly-fixed thing and get declared the winner. Watch the mean teacher and her minion seethe, then celebrate with a secret midnight feast.
  7. The school year is only twenty steps long so it’s time to go home for the holidays. Reminisce about what you learned about the meaning of friendship, but with sweets.

THE END. Serve on my desk by Monday morning, or it’s detention.

 

Tips:

  • Make sure to give all your characters stupid boarding-school nicknames – it’s authentic.
  • Don’t bother about making sure your teachers actually look after the pupils. There’s hijinks to be had! They should only turn up to provide the necessary drama, or failing that, a backdrop.
  • Make sure to give everything its own weird name. It’s not homework, it’s prep. It’s not a canteen, it’s a refectory. It’s not elitist, it’s select.
Cmow
Sorry, your ladyship. (image: gifer.com)
  • Never include any mention of sex, drugs, alcohol or naughtiness that could not be committed with a catapult. Keep the socks pulled wholesomely up – the darker stuff is a whole other genre.
  • Prepare for the inevitable series – you can churn one of these out for every school year!
  • Teachers must always wear big black gowns and mortarboards.
  • So much hockey.

 

And here’s one I prepared earlier…

 

“Pocko! Stop shoving!”

“I wasn’t shoving, Biffy, your arm was in my way –”

“You were shoving, I saw you shoving, and Figroll saw you shoving too – didn’t you, Figgers?”

“Mmm? Be a brick and pass the electrical tape.”

Philomena ‘Figroll’ Atkinson did not pay attention to the small riot breaking out behind her. It was the traditional way to resolve conflict at St Curlicue’s in the first year, edged weapons being reserved for the Upper Fourth onwards and pistols strictly the preserve of the Sixth Form. Pocko and Biffy would come away with a few bumps and bruises and – yes, a missing tooth, but Pocko was going to be fitted for braces in the summer anyway, so no harm done. She bent a hairpin out of shape and used that as a screwdriver instead; it would have to do.

When she’d unscrewed the top panel of the trophy case, and Pocko and Biffy’s fistfight had devolved into some limp kicking, she said “I thought you two were supposed to be my lookouts.”

Biffy wiped her bloody nose. “We are, but somebody couldn’t just budge over –”

“I was not shoving, I said I wasn’t shoving, didn’t I say –”

Figroll glared at the pair of them, pinafores crumpled, shirts liberally spotted with blood. “Did either of you bring a screwdriver? You know why we’re here.”

Pocko rummaged around in a grubby pocket and handed her a slightly fluffy screwdriver. She gave it a quick wipe before handing it over; it did not help.

“The least you can do is keep watch,” Figroll muttered, starting work on the bottom panel. “If we want to claim the Cup for House Boadicea we’re going to have to steal it now, before the others do.”

“All right, Figgers, all right. But I wasn’t shoving.”

Figroll turned back to the trophy cabinet with a sigh. Her plan was not going well. Prof and Cheddar had performed their parts nicely: Prof had used her glasses to start a small fire in the Refectory, thereby causing a mass evacuation; Cheddar was faking a convincing stomach-ache to keep Dr Cripskett, languages mistress and head of House Bathory, safely out of the way. In theory, Pocko and Biffy were supposed to act as lookouts at either end of the corridor while she took the panels off the trophy cabinet and stole the House Cup – picking locks was so déclassé. But now, she was wondering if she should have just taken Miss Snyde’s advice and worked on her lock-picking. It was taking a lot longer than she thought.

The House Cup glinted at her, big and shiny, and Figroll imagined the look on Mildred ‘Winky’ Stanton’s face when she saw the empty, glass-fronted cabinet tomorrow morning. She grinned. It would all be worth it to put one over on Winky – Dr Cripskett’s favourite and Form Captain, no less. If she could only get the bottom panel off –

“Footsteps!” hissed Biffy, “hurry up!”

Figroll panicked. She wound the electrical tape around her hand, whispered the school motto (“furor, ergo sum”) and punched through the glass. It hurt like the blazes, but the tape kept the worst of the glass out. She snatched up the Cup, sprang to her feet, and the three of them tore down the corridor. If they could just make it back to House Boadicea, they could hide the Cup in the Junior Common Room before –

“Philomena Atkinson!”

Figroll skidded to a halt. The jig was up. All their efforts had been for nothing. The Headmistress, Professor Alnworthy, was coming down the corridor. Beside her, Pocko and Biffy stopped too. The Headmistress could bring down a girl at two hundred paces, three with a slingshot – there was no point trying to outrun her.

They turned to face her.

Professor Alnworthy was striding down the corridor, black gown billowing out behind her. She marched up to them, face set. Figroll put the Cup behind her back, but she knew the handles were sticking out.

“Well,” said Professor Alnworthy, “I never thought I’d see the day. Look at the state of you! Elizabeth Johnson, brass knuckles are not ladylike. Maria Poccolino, if you’re going to get blood all over your shirt at least tuck it in.”

Biffy slipped off her brass knuckles and stuck them, guiltily, in a hidden pocket. Pocko squirmed about trying to tuck in her shirt in a sufficiently ladylike manner. Professor Alnworthy glared at Figroll.

“And as for you, Atkinson. Setting fire to the Refectory. Stealing a trophy. Destroying school property. That is hardly the behaviour of a St Curlicue’s lady. Why aren’t you wearing your burglary gloves?”

“Professor?”

“Your burglary gloves, Atkinson – a quintessential part of any good heist and, you will note, the fourth item on the school’s kit list. Where are they?”

“I think I must have –”

“And that is not regulation electrical tape – dear me, that’s barely a step above parcel, no wonder you’re bleeding. And where, might I ask, is your standard-issue lock-pick?”

Figroll shuffled her feet, feeling very small. “I think I lost it, Professor.”

“Was it named?”

“Yes, Professor.”

“Hmm. Well, pop along to Lost Property in the morning. In the meantime, get Matron to see to your hand. She’s got some Lower Fourths lagging in Field Remedies. They’ll stitch you up, but the whiskey will sting.”

“Yes, Professor. Sorry, Professor.”

Professor Alnworthy straightened up. “I suppose that’ll have to do for tonight. Poccolino, I believe this is yours. I won’t have littering in the corridors.”

She held out a tooth, still bloody. Pocko took it and shoved it in a pocket, very embarrassed.

“Get to bed, you three,” said Professor Alnworthy. “I daresay House Bathory will conduct a vengeance raid tomorrow; you’ll need your rest. No running, mind you.”

They all nodded and shuffled their feet, mumbling “Yes Professor,” and “Sorry, Professor” until it sounded convincing. They slunk off down the corridor, ears burning.

“Girls?” Professor Alnworthy called. “One more thing.”

They turned.

“This is St Curlicue’s,” she said. “We have a reputation to uphold. The next time you try and pull off a heist, do try for a little more panache. A classic ‘smash and grab’ is really not what I expect from students of your calibre. Remember, you are ladies.”

 

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)

November is Coming: How to Survive NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month is nearly upon us. Forget Halloween, this is what autumn is really all about: finding an excuse to sit indoors under layers and layers of blankets.

giphy blanket
I cannot create unless I am cosy. (image: giphy.com)

But let’s be real. NaNoWriMo can be a pretty daunting task. The goal is to write a fifty-thousand word novel in thirty days. Fifty thousand. That totals out at roughly one thousand six hundred words per day, and the worst part is that you’ve got to make sure that they’re actually good rather than just stringing lists of adjectives together. It’s pretty intimidating, especially if you know one of those people who insists on comparing word counts.

Fortunately for you guys, I’ve done NaNoWriMo a few times before and have picked up a few tips that might make things easier:

 

  1. Plan beforehand, and only beforehand

Trying to write roughly 1,600 words a day is going to be difficult. It’s a lot of words to get down in one go, particularly if you’ve only got one time window to do it in. But if you don’t know what you’re going to write it’s going to be twice as hard to actually get it on paper because you’ll be working out what you want to say as well as how you want to say it.

This is where your plan comes in. I’d recommend starting this a week or so before NaNoWriMo, assuming you’ve already had the vague idea of what you want your story to be about. Start plotting things out in more detail, including character and setting. If you do it every day, this can also help you get into the rhythm of regular writing. But when you start writing, stop planning. It’s easy to wind up with a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the plot of your novel and no actual text, so don’t rely on this too much.

 

  1. Start your research in October

November is for writing. If you’re writing something which is going to require any kind of research, start it a couple of weeks before you’re going to write. Read as much as you can and get comfortable with the details before you launch into your novel. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve been plodding along with a paragraph when suddenly, I’ll go “Wait, when were pyjamas invented?” and it’s off down the rabbit hole I go. If you’re writing anything historical, I’d recommend starting even earlier, but this blog post is going up with less than two weeks until November so NEVER MIND YOU’LL BE FINE.

 

  1. Writing nine to five

WHAT A WAY TO MAKE A LIVIN’

No, seriously. It’d be great. But unfortunately it’s highly unlikely that you’ll have all that time just for writing. Just because you’re writing a book doesn’t mean the world will stop and wait for you to finish it. Realistically, you’re going to have to look at your schedule and try and work out when you’re actually going to have time to write. I’d recommend trying to find an hour each day, either in one go or in short chunks. Be a little flexible – if weekends are always really busy for you, try and find some time on weekday evenings. If you commute on public transport, consider taking a notebook with you and working there. See what works for you!

 

  1. Just do it

When it comes to November the first, just start. There’s nothing more intimidating for a writer than a blank page. It can take hours to come up with a first line (mainly due to all those writing advice blogs which tell you to make sure you have a good first line). But you don’t have time to dither – you’ve got a fifty-thousand-word mountain to climb. Just start, and worry about whether it’s any good later. That’s what the second draft is for.

 

  1. Get on with it

Sometimes, inspiration does strike. Sometimes your synapses are flashing, your neurons are firing and an idea comes into your head like a beautiful sunrise. You seize your pen, your notebook, your laptop and don’t look up for hours – for you, dear author, are inspired.

Ninety percent of the time, that won’t happen.

There are going to be days when you just don’t wanna. You’ll be tired. You’ll get home late. You’ll have a bad day and want to spend your writing time curled around a hot water bottle in front of the telly. But when you’re writing to targets and deadlines, sometimes you’re just going to have to make yourself do it. You have to –

– yes, exactly.

 

  1. Just keep swimming

Resist the temptation to go back and rewrite what you’ve already done. Focus instead on progressing through the narrative and get your key plot points down. This is where your plan can really come in handy (although hopefully having a plan will have helped you thrash out any potential plot holes). If you’re having some doubts about something you’ve already written, make a notes section in your plan and add them to that. That way you’ve kept a record of your ideas and you can keep going without needing to slow down. You can always go back and redraft when NaNoWriMo is over.

 

  1. Keep an eye on your daily totals, but don’t stick to them

There are special NaNoWriMo calendars you can find where the ideal word count for each day is written on them. They measure out the month in chunks of 1,667 words and some people find them really helpful.

nanowrimo_calendar_by_reapthebeauty-d31npzj
Such as this one. (image: deviantart.com)

Personally, I don’t. Some days are going to be better than others, and some days I’m going to come home too tired to do a sentence, let alone like, 160 of them. On those days I write what I can and try and make up the total another day, and I find that works much better than keeping to very strict limits.

 

  1. Details, details

Don’t be afraid to fudge some of the finer points to avoid getting bogged down. Obviously the really important details (i.e., the plot) should be in your plan, but it’s perfectly fine to put in placeholder names for minor characters and places. Just remember to replace these with real names when you’re done and you’ll be fine.

 

  1. More like guidelines

Some people are real sticklers for the rules of NaNoWriMo. I’m not. I once extended my NaNoWriMo project until the New Year because November isn’t over UNTIL I SAY IT’S OVER. I always found I got a lot less stressed about NaNoWriMo when I didn’t take it quite as seriously and that way, it was easier to balance writing with everything else going on in my life.

 

  1. It’s not for everyone

I’ve tried NaNoWriMo a couple of times now and on balance, I’ve decided it’s not for me. I could do it fairly easily when I was a student, but that was because I was on a course where I only had ten hours of class time per week.

giphy nap
It was blissful. (Image: giphy.com)

Now I have a full-time job, I find it way too stressful. NaNoWriMo has taught me a lot about the discipline required to finish a novel, and writing every day has helped me get into some really good habits, but I find the obsession with word counts kind of counter-productive. The structure was really helpful, but now that I’ve taken that framework and made it work for me I don’t find the old model quite so useful any more. I learned a lot, but it stopped being something I did every year a long time ago.

 

 

And that’s it! My advice for surviving NaNoWriMo. Hopefully some of you will find this helpful. It’s very easy to get swept up in NaNo Fever – it can be really fun, and it taught me some good writing habits which I still use. But I don’t think anyone should take it too seriously. It’s a good way to get into writing longer projects, but it doesn’t have to be the only way you write.

Book Recipes: How to Write Folk Horror

Time for another book recipe! Because it is October, the spookiest month, we’re going to be looking at folk horror. Grab your most flickery torches, we’re heading to the country. But, y’know, the creepy bits.

 

Ingredients:

  • One creepy village
  • A hapless, city-bred idiot
  • Spooky trees
  • A grab-bag full of miscellaneous Celtic imagery
  • Sinister villagers, possibly with catchphrases
  • A beautiful woman who is totally not going to betray the hapless idiot, honest
  • A contrived reason to stop your characters going home or calling the police
  • A bunch of straw, just, like, everywhere

 

Method:

  1. Prepare your creepy setting. Your village should be isolated, surrounded by spooky trees and have a bunch of, like, straw bales and that lying around. Because it’s the country.
  2. Enter your hapless city-boy. It doesn’t matter why he’s here – all that matters is that he is 100% definitely going to die.
  3. Oh boy, sure is spooky in this spooky village! We’re not leaving though. There’s still seventeen steps to go.
  4. Let’s meet some spooky villagers! They like to stand around and say meaningless but creepy things. It’s a quaint countryside pastime.
giphy swan
That and chasing swans. (image: giphy.com)
  1. Introduce your beautiful woman to the hapless idiot. She’s not like the other villagers – she’s hot.
  2. A mysterious thing has happened! Better investigate. Ooh, look at how Celtically spooky things are.
  3. Have another encounter with some spooky villagers. They’ll say cryptic things at you, but it’s probably fine. This is just what passes for fun when you can’t get reliable internet.
  4. Have a brief moment of contact with the outside world. Your hapless idiot could go home, but he won’t, because I said so and this is my blog.
  5. But oh look, here comes the only babe in the village! We can leave later – once we’ve got her number, amirite??
  6. The village’s resident hottie agrees to help the hapless idiot investigate the spooky things. It’s not a trap.
  7. Uh-oh, things are definitely getting spookier! Uncover some sort of vaguely mystic Celtic nonsense that’ll set things up for the final act.
  8. Have an encounter with a spooky villager, but, like, a really scary one. If you end up running through the woods, you’re doing it right.
giphy snow forest
See, Snow gets it. (image: giphy.com)
  1. Oh no, someone has attacked the village hottie and NOW WE MUST SAVE HER. Celebrate by making out a bunch.
  2. One last encounter with the outside world! The hapless idiot is offered the chance to leave, but he doesn’t take it because the clue’s in his name.
  3. Spooky things are happening more often! Almost like there’s only five steps to go…
  4. Uncover the village’s spooky, spooky secret. It’s, like, totally scary.
  5. Oh no, a thing has happened which means you can’t leave the village!
  6. The village hottie reveals that she was working with the rest of the creepy villagers all along! You feel so betrayed – but mainly you feel scared, because they all want to kill you.
  7. Run away! Time for a last-minute dash to safety. Here’s where you find out if all your cardio paid off…
  8. Hooray, you made it! Back in civilisation, you’re totally safe from creepy straw bales and corn dollies – until HAHA SURPRISE THE SPOOKY GOT YOU

The End. OR IS IT??

 

Tips:

  • Always set it in autumn. It is the spookiest season.
  • Don’t feel you have to get specific about the kind of spooky stuff that’s going on. Just make vague allusions to Celtic-sounding things and you’ll probably be fine.
  • Make sure to talk about the full moon at least three times.
  • Keep the technology to a minimum. Googling the spooky stuff is all well and good, but it’s nowhere near as effective as looking it up in a mysterious old tome.
Vampyr
AKA The Buffy Principle. (image: buffy.wikia.com)
  • Always have your creepy villagers say something like ‘you don’t belong here’, or ‘we don’t take kindly to strangers round these parts’.
  • If in doubt, chuck in some vague paganism.
  • Make good use of your agricultural props. Corn dollies – check. Rusty old farm tools – check. Spooky scarecrows – double check. Blue plastic tarps and government-subsidised windfarms – maybe not.

 

And here’s one I prepared earlier…

 

John turned up the collar of his jacket against the cold. Wind whistled through the trees as he approached the old pub in the distance. The lights in the windows were the only signs of life for miles around. But it would be worth it. In a place like Grimbrooke, he could write his masterpiece.

There was no better place for an aspiring writer. No Internet, no TVs and only one phone line in the whole village – in short, there would be no distractions. True, every time he passed an animal it turned its head and hissed at him, but that was probably just a countryside thing. He’d never been great with cows.

A shape loomed out of the darkness. John flinched and swung his torch around; it was only a scarecrow. Dressed in a ragged old smock and with a carved pumpkin for a head, it had one arm propped up to point towards the pub. Rustling came from the field behind it.

“How convenient!” he said.

He kept walking. The road was narrow and winding, and overshadowed by trees on both sides. Every now and then the path twisted, blocking out the lights in the pub windows, and he was left stranded in the dark. He wished he’d been able to get the taxi driver to take him all the way up to the pub doors. He’d asked, but the man had shuddered and said “Be nowt in Grimbrooke for the likes o’ ye,” and he’d driven off before John had worked out what accent he was supposed to have.

He passed by another scarecrow. For some reason, this one was hanging from a tree by a noose, pumpkin head grinning. He looked at it for a little while and decided that it made sense. It was definitely scarier that way.

There was some more rustling. John ignored it. It was probably just the wind – but then, a man dressed all in black stepped out of the trees. He was old, with a scraggly beard and wide, staring eyes.

He made a vaguely agricultural noise before saying “Tha’d best go home, stranger.”

“Hello,” said John. That was probably what the old guy had meant. “Can you tell me if I’m on the right path for The Grimbrooke Arms? I can hardly see where I’m going with all these trees.”

The old man wheezed at him. “T’Grimbrooke Arms? Aye, ‘tis yonder. But why ye should go tae such a dark and eldritch place, on tonight of all nights…”

John was still struggling with the accent. “Eldritch? Isn’t that just a sort of square?”

The old man waved a knobbly finger in John’s face. “Dinnae come roond here wi’ yer fancy city ways and yer Pratchett references! We Grimbrookers are a proud people, ootsider, and ye’ve no business here!”

“I’m sorry,” said John, wondering how far away they were from the Scottish border, “I didn’t mean to upset you.”

The old man nodded and fell into step beside him. “Aye, well, tha knows nowt of the old ways.”

The pub was growing closer now. John could see the little round windows and the big bales of straw stacked up outside. They passed by some more scarecrows. They all had pumpkins instead of heads – one of them with a knife stuck in it – and their ragdoll bodies had been bent to spell out the word ‘NOPE’.

“What are the old ways?”

The old man chuckled, spookily. “If tha goes t’Grimbrooke Arms, tha’ll find out.”

“Look,” said John, finally cracking, “where exactly are you from?”

The old man ignored him and pointed up at the pub. The trees had thinned back to show a small, squat building hunkered down beside a river. There were two more pumpkin-headed scarecrows outside: one holding a long, red candle and a tall pitchfork, and the other holding up the specials board.

“’Tis yer last chance, stranger,” said the old man. “Tha stands at a crossroads. Doon one path lies the familiar, doon the other leads…well, doom. Only tha can choose.”

John shifted his backpack higher onto his shoulder. “I’m just here to write a book.”

The old man looked interested. “Will ye put me in it?”

“If you like.”

“Then I’ll give tha three pieces of advice. One: dinnae trust a crow. Two: keep away fra’ the auld Grimbrooke estate, ye’ll find nae comfort there. And three – ” and now, he beckoned John closer, and whispered in his ear “ – try the special. They’ve a kale and quinoa-stuffed butternut squash yonder that’s to die for.”

 

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)