Ten Things I’ve Learned Working in Publishing

As some of you may already know, I am not a full-time blogger. I work in publishing as an editor, mainly for genre fiction. I’ve mentioned my work once or twice before but I haven’t really talked about it in detail, mainly because I’ve been too busy making fun of stuff. But not today! Whether you’re interested in becoming an author, an editor, or are just a bit curious about what working in publishing is actually like, here’s ten things I’ve learned from working as an editor.

 

  1. Books are a team effort

There are so many people involved in putting a book together. Aside from the author, you’ll also have an agent, an editor or two, a designer, a copyeditor, a typesetter, a proofreader, sales reps, marketing and publicity planners, rights salespeople, and production controllers working on the same book – and that’s all before it actually gets printed. It sounds daft saying it now but when I first started working in publishing I didn’t realise just how many people would be working on the same project. I guess that’s why acknowledgements get so long.

 

  1. The author has very little control over the process as a whole

When I first started working in publishing I had the idea that an author would have the final say on everything – they’d written the book, after all, so it seemed to make sense. In practice this isn’t really true unless you’re mega famous. An author might write the book but they have very little say on when the publication date will be, what the cover will look like, whether it’ll be hardback or paperback, whether it gets made into an audiobook or not – the list goes on.

This might seem unfair but most of the time this is because of the ‘team effort’ nature of publishing. When a designer draws up a cover, for instance, they do so with a cover brief written by the editor and with input from sales, marketing and publicity – this is to make sure that everyone working on the book has a rough idea of what other titles it’ll be competing against and to signal to readers what kind of book it’s going to be. The author has input at every stage of the process, but so does everyone else working on the book.

 

  1. Publishing houses run on tea

If you want to bring any given publisher to its knees, just steal their kettle. Editors must have constant access to hot drinks at all times and if we don’t, we turn into a gibbering mess.

giphy tea2
Shut up I NEED IT (image: giphy.com)

 

  1. Multiple rounds of edits are normal…

Any given manuscript will probably go through four or five rounds of editing before the book gets sent off to press. First, the agent will go through it, making suggestions before sending it on submission to editors. Once it’s been acquired there’ll be a couple of edits from the editor – a structural edit (which looks at the book as a wider whole, working out if the plot makes sense, your characters’ motivations are consistent etc.) and a line edit (which looks at sentence and paragraph-level stuff and focuses more on use of language). Then you have the copyedit, which looks for technical flaws – so spelling, grammar, syntax, consistency, and fact-checking – and after that, the proofread, which focuses more on typos, layout issues etc. The author gets to see these at every stage of the process, but it’s always important to bear in mind that once a publisher agrees to take your manuscript your work is a long way from done.

 

  1. …but the best edits are the ones you don’t notice

Don’t let the fact that your manuscript is going to go through multiple rounds of editing alarm you. A good editor isn’t going to change what you’ve written – it’s more about bringing out what’s already there. A huge part of the editing process is assessing the author’s style and making sure the editor’s involvement fits with that. It’s like with sewing – the best stitches are the ones that are the hardest to see.

giphy eh
So you’re all aware I’m using this comparison as someone who once sewed a cushion to her leg. (image: giphy.com)

 

  1. There is always cake

I have never worked in a snackier industry.

 

  1. Editors have the creepiest search history

A large part of editing is fact-checking. Every detail gets checked to make sure that it holds up – either according to the internal logic of the manuscript or according to real-world facts. The form this takes varies wildly according to genre – editing fantasy often requires a worldbuilding doc so you can make sure the magical elements make sense, whereas sci-fi requires a lot of calls to your science-iest friends. Crime editors are definitely the worst offenders here.

giphy villain
I’m going to make that pun and NONE OF YOU CAN STOP ME (image: giphy.com)

You have to check all the forensic stuff to make sure it’s accurate, as well as the parts of the actual crime, alongside checking the investigative stuff – which means that your search history can get frankly disgusting.

 

  1. It’s never a nine to five job

In theory most publishing houses keep office hours. In practice, what constitutes ‘work’ in publishing is often a weird grey area that almost never fits into a nine to five day. Editors often don’t have time to read submissions at their desks, so they have to take them home, and sometimes this can bleed over into actual editing work as well. Reading stuff that other publishers put out also kind of counts as work, because if you’re acquiring stuff you have to be aware of the competition, and going to events and ‘making connections’ can count as work too, as it’s a very social industry and you’re likely to do better if people know who you are.

The downside to all of this is that yes, while reading and going to parties can technically count as work, it’s usually not work you get paid for. You can find yourself in work mode for very long periods of time and it’s quite difficult to properly switch off. At every single one of my publishing jobs, I’ve known multiple editors who take their work on holiday with them, and that’s not good for anybody long-term.

 

  1. Your friends and family will get used to hearing some very unsettling questions

The following is a condensed version of a real conversation I had with my dad, who works in medicine:

 

Me: So Dad…

Dad: Yes, love?

Me: Hypothetically, if I wanted to keep a grown man unconscious for eighteen hours, how would I do it?

Dad: [very long pause]

Me: It’s for work.

 

I have lost track of the amount of times I have bombarded my friends and family with incredibly specific questions, most of which are invariably disgusting. But when you’re editing a manuscript and need to check a fact, the Internet doesn’t always have the answers. The best place to go is to people with practical experience, which is why everyone who knows me is constantly prepared to receive a barrage of weird texts at all times.

 

  1. No two days are the same 

Publishing is a very varied industry to work in. Some days you spend an entire eight hours on data entry, some days you spend working out if this murder makes sense, some days you try and get your head around the physics of space, and some days you will spend darting from one thing to the other like a literary butterfly. More than once I have had to fact-check a fight scene by going through the motions with a willing volunteer. You don’t really know what you’re going to get, but that’s all part of the fun.

giphy dance fight
Fun fact: it’s very easy for fight walkthroughs to turn into a dance party, or a game of Twister. (image: giphy.com)

 

And there you have it! That’s ten things I’ve learned from working in publishing. Hopefully that’ll give all you hopeful writers a peek behind the curtain and all you hopeful editors an idea of what you’re letting yourselves in for. Whichever one you are, make sure you bring tea. You’ll need it.

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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)

Game of Thrones: Ten Predictions for Season Eight

We interrupt your regular programming to GEEK OUT. No writing advice or musings this week – it’s time to get nerdy. The final season of Game of Thrones is coming up and just like with season seven, I’m going to have a stab at predicting what’s going to happen.

Let’s jump right in!

for-the-night-is-dark-and-full-of-spoilers
Just gonna leave the spoiler warning here. (image: memegenerator.com)

 

  1. Jon will sacrifice himself

I feel like this one doesn’t need much explaining, because Jon Snow – curly-haired darling of the North – is about two steps away from sacrificing himself at any given point. It’s kind of his thing. The show seems to be setting him up for an epic duel with the Night’s King, so I think that’s probably how he’s going to do it.

 

  1. Dany will go full Mad Queen

Quick recap for those of you that don’t have time for a binge-watch: Danaerys Targaryen is the daughter of the famed Mad King – an insane despot whose penchant for burning people alive eventually cost him his throne and the downfall of the Targaryen dynasty. Speaking of the rest of the Targaryens, they have a strong family history of mental instability, so there’s a decent chance that our girl Dany has inherited this too.

The show has been setting this up for a while now. Aside from the very regular reminders about how bad the Mad King was, several characters have openly discussed the possibility that Dany might follow in her father’s footsteps. As I said in my previous predictions post, the Mad King didn’t start out mad – just like Dany, he seemed brilliant at first, but then got worse as he got older and after a couple of key events pushed him over the edge. We’ve already seen Dany burn people alive – remember poor old Dickon –

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

– and that was followed by a scene where Tyrion and Varys discussed Dany’s similarities to her father. She’s already found it much easier to just set people on fire than to resort to more conventional military strategies, so who’s to say that a serious setback – such as discovering that a certain broody Northerner actually has a better claim to the Targaryen throne than her – won’t send her down this path?

If that doesn’t convince you, then look at how Game of Thrones treats its characters’ overall story arcs. As a general rule of thumb, most of the characters start out wanting something, have a serious setback, and reassess their goals and dreams as a result. If they don’t have that moment, they’re usually the ones that get killed off – look at poor Robb Stark, for example. Dany hasn’t really experienced a moment like that, where she’s had to seriously question what she wants. She decided early on in the story that she was going to retake the Iron Throne and so far, everything she’s done to further that end has, by and large, worked. This makes me think that there’s a nasty twist planned for her story arc and that when it ends, Danaerys won’t be sitting on the Iron Throne.

 

  1. All of Dany’s dragons will end up dead

It’ll save money on CGI.

I’m kidding, but I do think that Drogon and Rhaegal are goners. Realistically, giving Dany two dragons (RIP Viserion) would make things too easy for her, so in order to keep the stakes balanced I don’t think Dany’s lizard-y friends are going to be around for that much longer. I expect they’ll come in handy in the battle against the White Walkers but I doubt they’ll survive it.

 

  1. Jaime will kill Cersei, then die

After the end of season seven, there’s a massive rift between Jaime and Cersei. She is staying in King’s Landing as Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, and he has betrayed her and gone to fight the undead – despite the fact that Cersei is pregnant with his baby. Regardless of that, I think that this split is going to end very badly for both of them.

This has its roots in both the show and the books – namely in the ‘valonquar’ prophecy that we geeks have been discussing for some time. To summarise: Maggy the Frog predicted that Cersei’s children would all die before her, and then she would be strangled by the ‘valonquar’ – which is High Valyrian for little brother. In the books, Cersei suspects Tyrion will play this role, which goes a long way to explaining their terrible relationship. However, as the eldest sibling, Cersei has two little brothers.

This would also tie into Jaime’s character arc too. Over the course of the show it’s become clear that Jaime is on a long and rather wobbly redemption arc. He started off as a fairly out-and-out villain, but as the series progressed he’s become a more complicated hero. Much has been made of his backstory, too, where it was revealed that his reputation as the Kingslayer only came about through necessity – if he hadn’t killed the Mad King, then the Mad King would have burned the capital city of King’s Landing, and everyone in it. However, he’s still done bad things, and when it’s all over I don’t think he’ll be waltzing off into the sunset for a happily ever after with Brienne.

tenor tormund
GET IN THERE TORMUND (image: tenor.com)

Cersei has already been giving off some pretty strong ‘Mad Queen’ vibes after indirectly causing her son’s death and blowing up part of her own city, so perhaps Jaime will find himself in the position of Kingslayer once again. The show really likes to remind us that Jaime and Cersei came into the world together – perhaps they’re going to leave it together too.

 

  1. Cleganebowl

I JUST WANT THEM TO FIGHT LET ME HAVE THIS

 

  1. Bran will possess a wight

This is actually one of my predictions from season seven, so I won’t go into too much detail – skip down to prediction number eight for the part where I show my working. I still think there’s a decent chance that this might happen, though, and not just because it’d look really cool. The show has gone to great pains to impress the extent of Bran’s powers onto the viewer, but we’ve yet to see him use them on a grand scale. If Bran can do this, he might be able to control multiple wights and turn them on the Night’s King’s own army – and that would just be sweet.

 

  1. The White Walkers will not be defeated – a truce will be necessary

The White Walkers and their army of wights are a massive threat. Even Dany’s three dragons could only put a dent in their army in season seven – and now, one of those dragons is all zombified. Add to that the fact that the Night’s King can resurrect the dead and turn them into his soldiers, and you’ve got a nigh-on unstoppable army. I don’t think one pitched battle is going to do it.

That’s not to say that the White Walkers are going to win, though – it’d be a really unsatisfying ending to the story. But the show has also made it clear that the White Walkers aren’t just mindless zombies. They are capable of wanting things and honouring agreements – just look at Craster sacrificing his sons to guarantee his own safety. There’s also more than a few hints that the Starks might have intermarried with the White Walkers at some point in the very distant past (check out this video if you want more detail on that). This is significant, because in Game of Thrones one of the surest ways to cement a truce is with a marriage.

Of course, none of this applies to the wights, who are mindless zombies that only the Walkers can control. But this ties into prediction one and my friend Claire’s theory – perhaps Jon will be the one to sacrifice himself so that this truce can happen and the Night’s King will retreat. Perhaps he’ll even become the new Night’s King. Who knows?

 

  1. Something will come out of the crypts at Winterfell

There’s been all sorts of hints in both the books and the show that the crypts at Winterfell contain hidden secrets. Parts of them are completely inaccessible and there’s all sorts of rumours about what could be hidden inside. I reckon this season, we’re going to find out, as so far the crypts have shown up in both the teaser and the show’s first official trailer.

I think this could go in two different ways. The first is that they find something in the crypts that will help the living – like dragon eggs, which were rumoured to be hidden there, or something that could be used to prove Jon’s true parentage. The second is that whatever’s down there will help the dead – whether that’s just something that the Night’s King wants or a spooky spooky monster that he’ll wake up.

 

  1. A beloved dead character will come back as a wight

This is exactly the sort of really nasty surprise which Game of Thrones just loves to spring on the viewers. Given that the Night’s King can resurrect the dead, I think we’ll definitely see a few familiar zombie faces when he descends on the living. My money is on Stannis or Hodor – not counting Viserion the dragon, of course.

 

  1. Samwell Tarly will survive and be revealed as ‘the author’ of the history of the series

I think this would be a really nice way to round off the series. We’ve already had a few scenes where it’s been hinted that Sam might record the events of Game of Thrones and it’d be a nice nod to Bilbo Baggins recording his own adventures at the end of The Hobbit. All Sam needs is a catchy title…

GoT book set
HMMM WHAT COULD THAT BE (image: theworks.com)

 

And now, just to make things interesting…

WILD CARD: The Starks will be remembered as the villains in years to come

Let’s lay out the facts here:

  • Ned Stark: Started the War of the Five Kings by meddling in Robert Baratheon’s succession. Revealing Cersei’s incest wasn’t a bad thing, but if he’d acted quickly and decisively he might have a) survived and b) overseen a smooth transition of power rather than sparking off a civil war.
  • Catelyn Stark: Made the War of the Five Kings worse by a) capturing Tyrion Lannister and b) letting Jaime Lannister go, which eventually led to the decimation of the North’s fighting men.
  • Robb Stark: Fought a protracted war in the Riverlands, laying waste to a vast swathe of the realm when they should have been preparing for winter. People starved because of his actions. Also broke his oath, which is not a good thing in Westeros
  • Sansa Stark: Largely seen as King Joffrey’s ‘poisoner’ after the Purple Wedding. Covered up her involvement in the murder of her aunt. Had her uncle by marriage executed in front of everyone, with no real evidence to back up her charges. (He deserved it though.)
  • Arya Stark: HOO BOY. Literal assassin. Wiped out an entire house (who also kind of deserved it). Carries around a bag of dead people’s magic faces. I MEAN.
  • Bran Stark: Terrifying mind powers. Literally drove the person he depends on mad through time and space (RIP Hodor). Can totally possess people, animals, and hopefully also zombies. Supervillain in the making.
  • Rickon Stark: …okay fine.
Screen-Shot-2017-09-03-at-11.37.43-AM
The rest of you are NOT OFF THE HOOK (image: fanfest.com)

When you look at what the Starks have done it’s clear that they’ve been making some pretty bad decisions – both for themselves and for the people they rule. They have basically spent the series creating a bunch of really messy drama which has distracted everybody from the much more important task at hand – preparing for winter and the coming of the White Walkers. Under their leadership, the North lost the vast majority of its fighting men, the Riverlands were all but destroyed, two noble houses (who sort of deserved it) have been completely wiped out, the Night’s Watch was deprived of men and supplies, and a massive civil war has wrecked the country. Now the North is facing the worst winter it’s ever seen and nobody is prepared for it, and this is directly because the Starks weren’t there. I expect that how the Starks get remembered will depend on what they do in this final season, but I doubt they’ll be remembered kindly.

 

And there you have it! My ten best guesses for what’ll happen on the next season of Game of Thrones, plus one rubbish guess thrown in. Let’s see how this plays out.

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
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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.
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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 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.
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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)

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.

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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.

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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.

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Heh heh heh. (image: replycandy.com)