Book Recipes: How to Write a Psychological Thriller

Time for another book recipe! This one’s on how to write a psychological thriller and the most important thing you need to know is that you can’t trust ANYONE.

 

Ingredients:

  • One relatable female protagonist with an edgy flaw
  • A setting your characters can’t easily escape from
  • A selection of suspects/potential victims from the following list:
    • Frenemy
    • Jealous ex
    • Suspiciously clingy
    • Seemingly perfect overachiever
    • Bad boy
    • Domineering boss
  • Power shortages
  • A good dollop of non-specific mistrust
  • Terrible decisions
  • MURRRDERRRRR

 

Method:

  1. Your relatable female protagonist has been invited to a setting with no easily-discernible escape route. Oh boy!
  2. Meet your cast of friends/suspects/victims. Have a lovely time getting to know them all before they start to die.
  3. Introduce your protagonist’s edgy flaw that means that a) you can’t believe everything she says or b) she can’t go to the police in case anything happens. BUT THAT’S NO BIG DEAL BECAUSE NOTHING’S GOING TO HAPPEN, RIGHT GUYS?
giphy nah
Seems unlikely. (image: giphy.com)
  1. Your protagonist receives a vaguely threatening message from an anonymous creepo. It’s probably nothing.
  2. Establish some tensions within the group. Sure do hope those tensions don’t boil over into –
  3. Huh, that’s weird. All the lights have gone out for some reason.
  4. Oh no, one of your suspects/potential victims has disappeared! What could possibly have happened to them.
  5. Have a little search party just to 100% clarify for the reader that victim number one hasn’t just popped off to the shops or something.
  6. Uh-oh, protagonist has received another scary message! I’m sure it’s fine.
  7. Just in case it wasn’t absolutely clear that there’s a creepo about, start leaving threatening stuff about the place for the protagonists and her mates to find. You know, anonymous notes, animal skulls, dolls with scribbled-out eyes – that kind of thing.
  8. Try and escape. This is just for form’s sake, we all know they aren’t going to get anywhere.
  9. Share a tender moment with one of the suspects/victims. It’s nice to think that people can bond in the midst of all this –
  10. MURRRDERRRRRR.
giphy chipmunk
Dun dun DUUUNNNN. (image: giphy.com)
  1. Things are starting to get pretty tense! Receive another anonymous message that leads the protagonist to discover the body of Victim No. 2.
  2. The group splits off into factions, Lord of the Flies style, because the Internet is down and there’s nothing else to do.
  3. Aaaaand someone else is dead. Woops.
  4. Someone discovers that the protagonist has been receiving anonymous messages and accuses them of being the murderer! Everyone is convinced, because it’s step seventeen and we need a climactic ending.
  5. Our protagonist runs off to try and avoid getting self-defence murdered and runs into the real murderer – Victim No. 1, whose body was never found!
  6. They explain that it was all a plot orchestrated to kill the protagonist for reasons, helpfully going through all the steps in their plan in an extremely thorough monologue.
  7. Fight and defeat the murderer! Fortunately for you, their detailed monologue was overheard by literally everyone else and our protagonist gets off scot-free.

THE END. Serve to someone you really trust. They’d never betray you.

 

Tips:

  • Phones should only work as and when it’s convenient for the plot. Last-minute recording device to tape the murderer’s monologue? Absolutely. But calling the police when someone actually goes missing? Pssshhh, don’t be silly.
  • Don’t forget the tragic backstory!
  • Give your protagonist a job that either a) gives her license to be extremely nosy or b) gives her a lot of free time to pursue plot-related stuff. Doctors don’t have time to solve mysteries, they’re too busy.
  • A good way to make everyone look suspicious is to splash the word ‘seemingly’ everywhere you can reach.
suspicious-gif-18
Or is it… (image: gifimage.net)
  • Your setting should be remote, but also have a certain amount of glamour to it. It’ll make the pre-murder scenes more fun to read about and it’ll look nice on the book cover.
  • You must accept that all of your characters’ decisions – especially your protagonist’s – are going to make absolutely no sense.
  • Make sure your protagonist’s flaw is the right kind of edgy. You’re allowed to be PG-13 in this one, so it’d be OK to go with something relating to drugs or sex, but don’t take it too far or it’ll turn into a misery memoir.

 

And here’s one I prepared earlier…

 

Jane staggered into the living room, tights laddered, hair and glitter plastered to the side of her face, still carrying her heels in one hand. She was not sure what time it was, exactly, but it was definitely too early. She kicked aside a couple of empty tequila bottles and collapsed onto the sofa, accidentally puncturing Bella’s blow-up doll with one of her heels. It was only the first night of Bella’s hen do, but she did not intend to waste any time.

The living room – so pristine and elegant last night – was a mess. The floor was littered with empty bottles, cigarette butts, crisps that had been trodden into the hardwood floors and assorted bits of equipment for ‘grown-up smoking’, as she had never been able to stop calling it. Everything was covered in a fine layer of glitter – including the window. Jane had to squint to see the savagely beautiful mountain scenery, and there was no hope of catching a glimpse of the island’s one and only beach. The luxury mountain cabin on a private island was certainly a beautiful place for a hen do, but right now all that meant to Jane was that a literal ocean was between her and the nearest kebab van.

Still, she thought, at least she was the first one up. She was probably responsible for most of the glitter, and it couldn’t hurt to try and scrape some of it off before –

“Oh. There you are.”

Ah. The second one up, then.

Lily stood in the doorway, dressed in tasteful running gear and with her sleek blonde hair in a ponytail. She wrinkled her perfect nose at the sight of Jane, sitting in the midst of the debris.

“Have you seen Bella?” she asked, rolling her shoulders back and forth. “We were supposed to go for a run this morning.”

“Probably still hungover,” said Jane, lurching to her feet and stubbing her toe on a tequila bottle. “Want me to wake her?”

“No point now,” said Lily, rotating her arms like a windmill, “I’ve already been down the mountain, twice around the bay, and then to the docks and back. And in seven minutes, too – I’m really feeling all that chardonnay from last night. Did you know the boat’s not coming until Tuesday, by the way?”

“What?”

“Honestly, Janey,” came a voice from the doorway, “what are you like? Do try to keep up.”

Mimi, Jane’s best friend since childhood, had slouched into the room, closely followed by Bella’s friend Stella.

“Morning,” said Jane, tipping the deflated blow-up doll off the sofa.

Afternoon, you mean,” said Mimi, throwing herself into a chair. “Poor old Janey! You do look awful. You ought to take it easy, you know.”

Stella flitted around the living room, piling up empty bottles. “Is Bella up yet? We can’t let her see the state of this place! Her uncle’s boss’s friend let her use it as a personal favour, and if we don’t keep it clean she’ll get into terrible trouble!”

Jane staggered off into the kitchen to find some bin bags, and ended up throwing up in the sink. Stella squealed.

“You vomited! That’s disgusting! I can’t believe you would…you would befoul Bella’s uncle’s boss’s friend’s home like this –”

Lily rolled her eyes and did squats against the kitchen counter. “Oh, leave her be, Estelle. Bella won’t mind. All she needs is something to eat. Here, Jane, I’ll make you a kale and quinoa smoothie. Sebastian makes them for me all the time, they’re a real pick-me-up.”

Jane, who had seen pictures of Lily’s fiancé, suspected that anything would feel like a pick-me-up when it was served by someone who looked like Sebastian. She threw up again and started rinsing the glitter out of the sink.

“You don’t want a smoothie, do you, Janey?” said Mimi. “You want a big, fat, greasy burger, slathered in oily cheese, dripping with –”

Jane threw up again.

“Stop it!” squeaked Stella, “stop messing up Bella’s uncle’s friend’s –”

“Give it a rest!” snapped Lily, who was now doing pull-ups from a light fitting. “Why do you care so much about all this, anyway?”

Stella’s eyes filled with tears. “I…I just think B-Bella’s really sp-special…”

Lily dropped down from the light fitting and started doing star jumps. “All right, all right. There’s no need to get upset. Why don’t you make Bella a cup of tea and the girls and I will start straightening the place up a bit.”

Stella sniffed, nodded, and stuck the kettle on. Lily started picking up empty bottles and putting them into a binbag, touching her toes every time she bent down, Mimi started wiping up the glitter, and Jane sat outside with the deflated blow-up doll. The fresh air was making her feel a bit better.

She went to put the blow-up doll and Lily’s bag of empty bottles in the bin when she saw something that stopped her in her tracks. Painted above the bins in blood-red letters were the words ‘HELLO JANEY’. A naked china doll with all its hair cut off sat on top of one of the bins, a wide smile drawn on its sad face in permanent marker.

Jane stared at it for a moment – the doll seemed oddly familiar – and then threw up, spectacularly. She was entirely too hungover to deal with this nonsense now. She’d go inside, have a cup of tea and maybe a few crackers, and think about this when she’d got all the glitter out of her hair.

A shriek came from inside the house. Jane ran back inside, clapping a hand over her mouth, just in case.

Stella was standing in the door to Bella’s bedroom. It was empty.

“Guys!” she yelled, tears streaming down her face, “Bella’s missing!”

 

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)
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Book Recipes: How to Write a Children’s Adventure Story

Time for another book recipe! This one’s on children’s adventure stories so pull your socks up and get ready to go exploring. Gosh!

 

Ingredients:

  • A ragtag band of plucky kids. Choose your own flavours from any of the following:
    • The swot
    • The girly girl
    • The coward
    • The tomboy
    • The fighty one
    • ‘I’m the oldest, so I’m the leader’
  • A very vague piece of local history about treasure
  • One disinterested parent or guardian
  • A loyal animal sidekick
  • One dastardly villain, complete with bumbling henchmen
  • School holidays
  • A total lack of adult supervision
  • Good fresh air

 

Method:

  1. Your plucky protagonist has been packed off to Aunt Negligent’s house for the summer holidays.
  2. Assemble your group of equally plucky children and animal sidekick. Run along and play in the fresh country air, isn’t it bracing?
  3. Frolic outside for a bit and uncover your piece of vague treasure-related local history. Gosh!
  4. But what’s this? You have come across the dastardly villain and you just know he’s up to no good.
giphy nosferatu
But he seemed so normal! (image: giphy.com)
  1. Don’t bother the adults with this information, sweetie, the grown-ups are talking.
  2. Go exploring. Bring snacks.
  3. You’ve found something which relates to your vague local treasure story, golly! The old story just might be true after all…
  4. Have some side-shenanigans with a kid you don’t like, because we’ve got to get a whole novel out of this and we’re only on step eight.
  5. Uh-oh, the dastardly villain is hanging around again! He says some vaguely sinister things but your loyal animal sidekick frightens him off.
  6. Steal some food for a midnight feast!
  7. Play outside some more.
giphy skipping
YAAAAAAAAYYYYY (image: tumblr.com)
  1. But wait! You’ve found something which proves that the treasure is real and coincidentally tells you where to find it! Cripes!
  2. In a sudden shock move, your designated responsible adult tells you that you must stay inside, for reasons. How will you find the treasure now?
  3. Via a secret passageway, of course!
  4. Discover the treasure. Hurrah! Now you can afford to go to university!
  5. Oh no! The dastardly villain has captured the most useless member of your group! Whatever will you do?
  6. Hand over the treasure, dejectedly, as the villain gloats for a bit.
  7. But wait! The animal sidekick has gone for help, and/or untied you and your friends somehow! Good old pet of your choice.
  8. Finally, the police arrive and arrest the dastardly villain. They ruffle your hair, call you a scamp, and let you keep the treasure if you promise to be good.
  9. Go home for a slap-up feast.

THE END. Serve with lashings of ginger beer.

 

Tips:

  • Your designated parent or guardian should only ever behave like a responsible adult when it is convenient to the plot. The rest of the time, they are there to make dinner, provide clean clothes and disbelieve everything your plucky protagonist says.
  • It’s always sunny, unless your characters need to stay inside for plot reasons.
  • If an adult doesn’t immediately drop everything they’re doing to answer your protagonist’s questions, they are quite clearly a villain and cannot be trusted.
  • Keep the danger level at ‘mild peril’ and all injuries to bruises and minor scrapes.
  • There’s no need to go into detail about your villain’s motivations. Just give him a sinister accent and leave it at that.
giphy dastardly
Or a sinister moustache. (image: giphy.com)
  • Make liberal use of the words ‘jolly’, ‘gosh’, ‘ripper’, ‘cripes’, and ‘golly’.
  • Choose your animal sidekick carefully. They must be cute, intelligent enough to carry messages when you get captured, and scary enough to drive off the villain. Dogs are a reliable choice, as are birds and some monkeys, but a slug will fail on all three counts.

 

And here’s one I made earlier…

 

“Well,” said Pip, checking the map again, “it looks like this should be the place.”

All four children crowded round the old map. It was difficult to read, because it was really very old, and had some funny brown staining in the top-right corner. They had followed the map all afternoon, stopping only for one quick scones-and-lemonade break, paying special attention to the twists and turns of the trail. But the path had led them to the remains of old Creepstone Manor, which had been there for years, and nothing exciting had ever happened there.

Jonty snatched the map out of Pip’s hand. “Creepstone Manor isn’t even marked on here. You’ve read it wrong, Pip.”

Pip drew herself up to her full height. “I most certainly have not!”

“You have. We’ve already looked for the treasure here and we didn’t find anything!”

“Well, excuse me if you didn’t look properly the first time…”

The argument was cut short by a low, soft growl. It came from Tarquin, Pip’s beloved Sabre-Toothed Tiger. Tarquin had been a present from Uncle Victor, who was a very clever man who worked in a laboratory. Pip didn’t quite know how Uncle Victor had found Tarquin, but she didn’t let that worry her.

Gladys cast a worried look at the sky. It was starting to grow cloudy and none of them had brought their mackintoshes. “Perhaps we should go back,” she said. “You know what Mr Slythe said, it’s not safe out here after dark.”

Pip threw an arm around Tarquin. “You know Mr Slythe only said that to stop us getting to Captain Vaguebeard’s treasure first. Besides, Tarquin won’t let anything hurt us. Will you, boy?”

“Grar,” said Tarquin.

Charlie took the map from Jonty, adjusting his glasses. “I say,” he said, “when was old Vaguebeard supposed to have buried his treasure?”

Pip sighed. They had all heard the story before. Captain Vaguebeard, scourge of some of the seas, had come to their sleepy coastal village and buried mountains of treasure three hundred years ago. The treasure had never been found, largely owing to the very imprecise directions he gave to his first mate.

“You know that, Charlie,” said Pip, “it’s three hundred years ago. You made us look it up this morning.”

“Well,” said Charlie, pointing at a piece of rubble, “it looks like Creepstone Manor was built two hundred years ago. And if you look at the forest –” He pointed. “ – and the cliffs – ” He pointed again. “ – then it looks like we might be in the right place after all.”

“Good show, old man!” said Jonty, clapping Charlie on the shoulder. Gladys grinned and Pip let out a whoop of victory. Tarquin sat and watched Charlie’s pointing finger, licking his enormous chops.

“Well then,” said Pip, “let’s jolly well find some treasure!”

The children looked all over the ruins of Creepstone Manor. Gladys picked her way through the old kitchen, trying not to get her dress dirty. Jonty climbed on top of the tallest pile of rubbish and stared around impressively. Charlie peered at hunks of rock and started pacing around the site, counting to himself. Pip followed Tarquin, who was snuffling his way through the ruins. He had an excellent sense of smell. He also had very good night vision. His only drawback as a pet was his occasional tendency to maul people – that and the fact that he always got into her tuck box.

Tarquin stopped, sniffing intently. “Mrowl,” he went.

“Chaps!” yelled Pip, “Tarquin’s found something!”

They all piled over to Tarquin, who was pawing at something on the ground. Pip soon saw what he had found – the outline of an enormous trapdoor.

“Cripes, this is heavy! Help me shift some of this rubble,” Pip said, straining at the lump of rock. They all worked together and very soon, they had moved several chunks of masonry away from the rickety old trapdoor. They heaved it open and peered inside.

“Gosh,” breathed Charlie, “this must be older than Creepstone Manor! Look, the passage leads into some kind of cave. It must have been here before the manor was built…”

“Maybe old Vaguebeard put his treasure down there!” said Pip, excitedly.

Obviously not,” said Jonty, “and if he did it probably wouldn’t even be here. I bet you that passage goes right down to the cliffs – all the treasure would’ve been washed out to sea.”

Tarquin started growling again and Jonty went quiet. Pip stroked Tarquin’s fur and decided to write another thank-you letter to Uncle Victor.

“It’s awfully dark,” said Gladys. “Do we really have to go down there?”

“Of course we do,” said Pip, “it’ll lead us to the treasure.”

“But we don’t know how far the drop goes,” said Gladys. “There might be sharp rocks at the bottom, or seawater, and we might break something. And how will we get back up again? There’s no ladder, or rope, and there’s no-one nearby who might hear us calling for help and –”

“Don’t talk rot,” Pip said. “We’ve got Tarquin.”

“Yes, but Tarquin hasn’t got a stepladder…”

Pip ignored her. It would be an adventure. “Come on everyone. We’re going in.”

 

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)

Book Recipes: How to Write Dark Academia

Time for another book recipe! This one’s on how to write dark academia, which is a fancy term for nerd murder. Put on your most pretentious scarf and let’s get started!

 

Ingredients:

  • One insecure yet prone-to-monologuing protagonist
  • A really solid aesthetic
  • One twinkly-eyed academic
  • An elite group of attractive yet pretentious students
  • A really, really nice university campus
  • Old books
  • A bunch of well-meaning background characters there to misunderstand the protagonists
  • So much booze
  • MURRRDERRR

 

Method:

  1. Start with a sinister prologue where your main character monologues about a murder that they may or may not have committed as a student.
  2. Aaaaaaaand flashback!
giphy dr who
OOO-WEEEEE-OOOOOOOHHH (image: giphy.com)
  1. Your insecure yet prone-to-monologuing protagonist has just arrived at a fancy university. Try and make some friends with the well-meaning background characters but don’t worry, it won’t stick.
  2. Monologue about how no-one understands you.
  3. Introduce your attractive yet pretentious students! They’re all studying the same thing, taught by a twinkly-eyed academic who almost always drinks tea.
  4. Join the cool kids’ class!
  5. Attend the twinkly-eyed professor’s lectures. Describe them as transcendent, while sober.
  6. Fall in love with one of the pretentiously attractive students, but don’t do anything about it. Who wants to go on a date when you can yearn?
  7. Get so drunk with the pretentious students. It’s not like a normal college party, this one is special.
  8. Uh-oh, there’s tensions within the group! Sure hope nothing goes wrong that would provide some material for a sinister prologue…
  9. Remind your protagonist how boring interacting with normal people is. Good thing we’ve got those pretentious friends to rely on! Nothing could ever go…
  10. HAHA PSYCH SOMEONE’S DEAD
giphy chipmunk
Dun dun DUUHHHH. (image: giphy.com)
  1. The pretentious students decide to make it look like an accident, possibly because they are still drunk. Never ever entertain the possibility that you might actually get caught.
  2. Attend a lecture because WHAT NOTHING’S WRONG PSSHHH WHY DO YOU ASK
  3. Come up with some vague artistic/literary reason for covering up a murder, or possibly committing more.
  4. An authority figure starts sniffing around. Of course, you might get arrested, but talk about how this has affected tensions within the group instead.
  5. Uh-oh, looks like the least pretentious student is cracking up…
  6. Your tutor has realised what’s going on and they are, understandably, disgusted! No academic justification for your bad deeds for you, monologuing protagonist.
  7. Have a final confrontation with your pretentious friends! Fight! Kiss! Swear! Drink! The important thing is that it ends with another pretentious student dying and the irrevocable break-up of your friendship group, which is obviously more important than murder number two.
  8. Reflect on your youthful idiocy in the epilogue, now that the monologuing protagonist is older and wiser, and mope in a nostalgic yet sinister way.

THE END. Serve drenched in all the alcohol you can find.

 

Tips:

  • Your protagonists should spend 85% of the novel drunk, high, or hungover, but make sure they judge everybody else for doing the same. They’re too classy to be trashy – it’s decadent when they do it.
  • Pick an aesthetic and commit to it. I’m talking colour schemes, uniforms, specific kinds of weather, maybe even themed food. Cram it all in there!
  • Always make sure that your campus is suitably posh, and that your protagonist is not.
  • It’s safer to pick a humanities subject for the cool kids’ class. It’s pretty tricky to get pretentious about numbers.
Screen Shot 2019-02-09 at 08.43.00
Best leave that to the Numberwang Institute. (screenshot: youtube.com)
  • Always include some stuff in foreign languages that is not translated for the readers’ benefit.
  • Make sure to spend at least a chapter just talking about sexual frustration.
  • Always, always, always include a needlessly opulent fancy party – preferably a masked ball – which your protagonists will judge but then go to anyway. Because c’mon. Of course you’d go.

 

And here’s one I made earlier…

 

It was when we were all sprawling on the grass in the Cloisters that the idea of murder first came up.

We had strewn ourselves across the grass, draping our legs over each other and passing around a bottle of Veuve Cliquot that Bastien had purloined from his stepmother. I was propped up on an elbow and trying to read Derrida, in the vague hope that it would make more sense when I was drunk. Theo had slung a possessive arm around Ophelia’s shoulders as her head drooped against his chest. Aubrey had propped her feet up on the picnic basket, an inch of slim ankle peeking out from between her brogues and the cuffs of her suit trousers. Bastien was opening another bottle and swearing; Perry was asleep.

I looked up from my book and took in the stone walls of Pumdringham Academy, the rolling lawns, the view down to the lake through the colonnade, and tried to seem as if it were not all new to me. The past few weeks had been a dream of dappled sunlight, leather-bound books and afternoons gone in a haze of brandy and champagne. It was a far cry from home. At Pumdringham I was Edmund: the scholar, the poet, the dreamer. At home, I was Ed, and my brother Jimmy would make farting noises whenever I tried to talk to him about syntax.

Bastien finally got the cork out of the next bottle and cheered. It fizzed over Perry and he woke up, spluttering.

“Good God,” he groaned, pushing his floppy hair out of his eyes, “how am I hungover already?”

“Come, gentlemen, and drink down all unkindness…”

“What?”

“You’re misquoting,” said Aubrey, lighting a cigarette.

“D’you want another glass or not?”

Aubrey flicked her cigarette ash at him and stuck out her tongue. Ophelia took the bottle from Bastien and poured out another glass for her and Theo.

“Has anyone done the reading for Madame yet?” she asked, tucking a long curl of hair behind her ear.

Perry fell back on the grass and groaned. I wasn’t surprised. Sévérine de Compte au Lagneaulais – simply known to us as Madame – was our lecturer. She only dressed in black, kept rare butterflies and regularly set us punishing amounts of background reading for our French literature class. This week’s attempt to make sophisticates of we uncultured swine was Derrida, Sartre and Foucault, for Camus’ L’Etranger.

Bastien let out a snort of laughter. “La belle dame sans merci,” he said.

I nodded, to show that I definitely got the reference, but I didn’t want to show off about it.

Theo leaned back on his elbows. “I don’t see why we have to do all this extra reading,” he drawled, “nothing can compare to the real experience. When I was living in Montmartre…”

Bastien groaned. Aubrey rolled her eyes and winked at me. I blushed, and wondered if she could tell she was starting to look a bit blurry for me. I blinked, hard, as Theo steamed ahead with one of his stories about his ‘transformative experience’ buying baguettes and sneering at tourists on the bus to Disneyland Paris. Aubrey snapped back into focus, but by then she was looking at Theo and frowning.

“But if living through something is the only true test of the human experience, then what’s the point of literature?” she asked, pointing her cigarette at him. Even when she was arguing she was pretty. I wondered, briefly, if she would be impressed if I got her name tattooed on my chest, or whether she would think it was gauche. Maybe if I told her I did it as a satirical swipe at the gradual consumerisation of romance, she might make out with me in a corner of the library…

“There is no point to literature,” Theo scoffed, “nothing has a point. Meaning has no meaning unless it’s overturned, which is why it’s so important that we sit out here getting drunk at eleven am on a Wednesday.”

“Typical! That’s a typical misuse of the nihilist philosophy to justify decadence, and a wilful misunderstanding of the –”

I briefly tried to remember what nihilism was. Things were definitely getting fuzzy for me, and all I could say for certain was that it involved a lot of dressing in black, getting drunk and having a lot of casual sex, but in a transgressive kind of way. Actually, it sounded quite appealing.

“If you’d ever been to Montmartre, Aubs, you might actually –”

“But there are some experiences which only literature can illuminate for the decent human being! Surely you aren’t suggesting that to properly understand L’Etranger, the reader should go out and kill someone, are you?”

“See, there you go again with your crass limitations of so-called ‘morality’, but what even are these? Who decided what is moral and what is not? Camus didn’t –”

Bastien took a swig of champagne straight from the bottle and pointed at the pair of them. “Look,” he slurred, “unless killing someone is actually going to help me write my essay on French existentialism, you can both shut up. Now Aubs, darling, can I be a scab and scrounge one of your ciggies?”

Aubrey handed over a small leather pouch. “They’re not cigarettes.”

Bastien brightened up. “Even better.”

 

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)

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)

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)

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)

Book Recipes: How to Write a Time-Travel Romance

Time for another book recipe! Put on your corsets and make sure you’ve had all your jabs – we’re going BACK IN TIME. Sexily.

 

Ingredients:

  • One feisty heroine with a wildly detailed knowledge of history
  • One mega-hottie from THE PAST
  • A largely-irrelevant historical backdrop
  • One modern boyfriend, purely for angst
  • Buckets full of drama
  • A convenient historical event
  • A shakily-explained means of travelling backwards through time
  • Some sort of ticking clock plot device, which is utterly pointless because you have a time machine

 

Method:

  1. Put your feisty heroine with an incredibly detailed knowledge of history in the present, living a normal life with her normal, modern boyfriend. Sure hope nothing happens to them.
  2. HAHA TIME TRAVEL!
  3. Oh no! For convoluted plot reasons your heroine is now stuck in the past! However will she return to her one true love?
  4. Introduce the historical mega-hottie as dramatically as possible.
  5. Your heroine must spend a bunch of time with this historical mega-hottie, for plot reasons. She hates it, and it’s not because she like, likes him or anything, oh my God, why do you have to make this so weird??
giphy omg mom
I mean, why would you even say that? (image: giphy.com)
  1. Throw in some hilarious time-travel japes.
  2. Angst about the modern boyfriend for a bit. He’s probably frantically searching for the heroine right now, even though that’s not how time travel works and she can literally just bamf right back to the exact second she disappeared.
  3. Foreshadow the historical event!
  4. Your heroine and the historical hottie share a tender moment. Angst about it, then him, then the modern boyfriend, and then about the inevitability of history. It’s time for some serious brooding.
  5. Uh-oh! This historical event is not going to be good – and for reasons best left unexplained, you have to do a thing right before it happens!
  6. Distract yourself by staring at the historical hottie for a bit.
  7. More angst.
giphy angst
No-one understands. (image: giphy.com)
  1. The heroine and the historical hottie at last admit their tender, squishy feelings for each other. Then they make out, like, a bunch.
  2. Give up on getting back to the present. Your modern boyfriend is probably fine, and besides, in the present they definitely don’t make cheekbones like they used to.
  3. That historical event is coming closer! Time for aaaaaaangst.
  4. Finally tell your historical hottie that you’re from The Future. It’ll be a bit weird at first, but eventually he’ll decide he’s into it.
  5. Use some of your incredibly detailed historical knowledge to attempt to alter the course of history. That always ends well.
  6. You manage to do the thing right before the historical event! Phew. Guess that’s finally sorted out the –
  7. OH NO IT ALL BACKFIRED HOW COULD THIS HAVE HAPPENED
  8. Now that the history books have been proved right, the heroine must return to her own time. Say a tearful farewell to your historical hottie, then waltz off to the smallpox-free present.

THE END. Serve with a generous dollop of wistful staring.

 

Tips:

  • Make sure that you pick the right kind of historical backdrop. A little bit of grime is allowed, but it’s got to have some clean and pretty bits where the heroine can chill. Ideally you want to pick one that also comes with its own little outfit.
  • You can give your historical hottie an old-timey scar, but it must be the result of some brave and manly deed and not just smallpox.
  • No plagues. No-one likes a plague.
  • The heroine never tells people she’s from The Future unless it’s the hottie, but that doesn’t stop her from trying to influence what happens in the past. She just gives a bunch of really specific instructions and then gets very vague about why she’s doing it. It is the most subtle way.
  • Do not forget to describe your heroine’s outfits in rigorous detail.
  • Always make sure your heroine has an excuse to spend most of the plot in a rich dude’s house, so that the reader can see all the cool bits of the past. No-one wants to spend the whole novel in a mud hut.
  • Don’t forget to let your heroine spout off a bunch of pointless facts for no reason!
  • If you want to really ramp up the drama, have a random character accuse your heroine of witchcraft, and then your historical hottie can swoop in and save her. Everyone believed in witches in the past, obviously (no-one had invented telly, there was nothing else to do) so this is 100% bona fide historical fact.

 

And here’s one I prepared earlier…

 

Dr Julia Knight paced up and down her bedchamber, the long hem of her beaded yellow stola brushing the floor. She had to find a way out of here. The door was not locked, there were no guards outside, but that was not the problem.

She was trapped in the past.

She had no idea how it happened. One moment her fiancé, Blanden, was daring her to touch a mysterious glowing orb, and the next, she was wandering around the Forum. It made no sense. Luckily, she’d been taken in by Flavius Marcellus Barbarus, the wealthiest man in Rome, but still – nobody had any toothpaste here, and her three degrees in Romanology could only take her so far. She had to get back to her own time.

There was a knock at the door – a strapping, manly knock that made her heart flutter. And that, of course, was the other problem.

She patted her hair and tried not to sound too flustered. “Come in!”

Maximus strode into the room, eyes flashing, muscles rippling, still sweaty and breathless from his gladiator training, and Julia had to have a little sit down until she regained the ability to stand up. His legs looked great in his strappy sandals. Not for the first time, she wondered if making out with a super-hot gladiator would alter the course of history. Hopefully not, but she was prepared to risk it.

“Oracle,” he said, smouldering, “you have a client.”

“Oh. Yes, right!” Julia put on her most mysterious face. “Send him in.”

Maximus bowed, sexily, and Julia splashed her face with cold water. Moments later he reappeared with a man in a toga, who had a large nose and a receding hairline. Julia recognised him instantly, and tried not to freak out.

“Oracle,” he said, “I am –”

She held up a hand and tried to look spooky. “I know who you are, Gaius Julius Caesar.”

He frowned. “You do? How?”

Because I wrote my dissertation on you, Julia thought. Out loud, she said “Who in all of Rome does not know Caesar?”

Caesar looked pleased and pulled up a stool. “Exactly. Well, Oracle, I wish to consult you on –”

“Yeah,” said Julia, “I’m gonna stop you right there. Got some super important Oracle stuff to tell you. Have you got a pen?”

“What is this strange…pen you speak of?”

Julia blushed. “Stylus, I meant. Obviously. Something to take notes with.”

Caesar snapped his fingers. A slave sprang forward with a tablet and stylus and started to write.

“Right, so,” Julia began, “don’t go to the Senate on the Ides of March, don’t trust Cassius, Brutus, or the other Brutus who was also there –”

Caesar looked shocked. “But they’re all friends, Romans, countrymen…”

Julia laughed delightedly. “You said the thing!”

“I…what?”

“Never mind. So, yeah – Brutus one and two, and also Cassius – oh, and don’t accept the crown if you get offered it. Ever. You’ll thank me later.”

He blinked at her. “Why? I think I’d like a crown.”

Julia waved a dismissive hand. “More trouble than it’s worth. Also, it’ll give you a headache; those things are heavy. That’s it, Oracle stuff over.”

Caesar frowned while his slave scribbled down the last of her advice. “You seem to be very well-informed. Oracles are not usually so specific. Tell me – where have you learned such secrets?”

Julia caught Maximus’s eye. He smouldered at her.

“Oh, well, you know,” she said, waving Caesar out the door, “mystical Oracle stuff. The gods, obviously. And, like, significant dreams, goat entrails, reading bones and that. It’s all very technical. Ta-ta now.”

Caesar inclined his head. “I will think on your wisdom, Oracle.”

“Yes, yes. Off you go. Lovely to meet you, don’t get stabbed.”

“What?”

Julia shut the door and leaned against it, breathing hard. She’d just saved Julius Caesar’s life – and altered the course of history altogether. On retrospect, maybe that wasn’t her best idea.

When she opened her eyes, Maximus was staring at her. “Truly, you are wise, Oracle,” he murmured. “Do the gods have any advice for me?”

Julia hesitated. If she was going to be stuck in Rome, she may as well enjoy the view.

“Yes,” she said, in her most mystical voice. “They said you should take your shirt off.”

 

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.

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Heh heh heh. (image: replycandy.com)