General

Ten Fun and Spooky Activities for Writers this Halloween

It’s October! And that means that legally, we are all required to be at least 20% spookier than normal. But that doesn’t mean you have to stop writing! Here are ten fun things you can do as a writer to get into the spirit of the season.

  1. Sell your Soul in Exchange for the Ability to Write the Perfect Draft

Look OK I know this seems like a big step but think about it. You could write the perfect draft on the first go every single time. Every single time! You wouldn’t have to cut out repeated words or work out where objects are in physical space because you magically have that power! Yes, you do theoretically need your soul, but also – think of how easy the copyedit would be.

I mean I’m pretty tempted… (image: giphy.com)
  1. Summon a Ghost and Get Them to Give You Accurate Details for Your Historical Setting

We’re all busy people. Hitting the books for historical research takes time and notebook space and the prices at the library café are always marked up by a couple of quid at least. Why not take the easy way out and ask the restless dead? Will you get haunted – well, maybe a bit. But you’ll also know that your setting is on point, so swings and roundabouts.

  1. Make Out with a Vampire

They are the bad boy love interests in a solid 45% of YA novels so technically this counts as research.

  1. Predict Your Sales with a Crystal Ball

It’s totally possible to predict your sales without a crystal ball, of course, but that is a skill set I do not possess. And yes, I could learn about data and market trends and reaching new marketplaces OR – and hear me out – I could buy this crystal ball, which would also look nice on my bookshelf.

  1. Pet a Black Cat

Because he is a good boy.

SUCH a good boy.
  1. Find a Spell that will stop you getting RSI

Writing has a lot of physical effects on the body. Whether you write on a laptop or with pen and ink, you can often wind up getting some kind of hand or wrist strain and you usually end up all hunched over at some point. OK, you could just get a wrist support and make yourself a proper little writing area with a desk and a chair to help your posture, but you could also solve your problems with magic, which has never gone wrong even once.

  1. Hang Out in a Graveyard for the Aesthetic

When writers do it, it’s called “soaking up the atmosphere”. When other people do it, it’s called “loitering”. As an author, it is very important that you make this distinction clear by carrying a little notebook even if you don’t write in it and by saying the word “liminal” a lot.

  1. Learn How to Brood like the Sinister Yet Attractive Villain

Again, a very important skill. It’s important to get into the mindset of all your characters and fortunately this is an easy one to practice. You just sit in a shadowy corner or stare into the fireplace with your hands clasped behind your back, making grumpy faces until someone timidly interrupts you. Bonus points if you respond by snarling “leave me to my work” or “bring them to me” or something else equally sinister.

  1. Pet TWO Black Cats

Because they are TWO good boys.

SUCH GOOD BOYS
  1. Read from Every Spooky Tome you Find

And make sure you do it out loud. Even if it’s in Latin. They always say that the best writers are readers, anyway, and it probably won’t backfire.

General

How to Survive a Gothic Novel

All right! It’s about six weeks until the release of my debut novel, The Shadow in the Glass (HOW DID THAT HAPPEN) and that’s got me thinking. It’s a Gothic novel with a capital G and when I was writing it, I drew on a lot of the traits that you’d usually see in a novel like that. What this means is that scientifically, this guide to surviving a Gothic novel is 100% guaranteed to work. I’ve done studies.

  1. No-one’s going to chase you across the moors if you aren’t wearing a long white nightie. Foil the villain’s plans and pack pyjamas instead.
  2. Trust no-one in a big black cape.
  3. Or a big black hat.
  4. Please, please, please do not fall in love with the brooding Byronic type who monologues into the fireplace about a terrible secret. They’re never worth it and nine times out of ten they’re too tortured to get anything done.
  5. Do not listen to the sinister elderly relative.
But he seemed so normal! (image: giphy.com)
  1. Learn some basic vehicle repair skills. That way, if your car breaks down on the side of the road, you can fix it yourself instead of having to struggle up to the sinister house on the hill to beg shelter for the night.
  2. If you are offered food or drink in a creepy old house in the middle of nowhere, it’s gonna be poisoned. Just bring your own snacks.
  3. Do not open the creepy music box.
  4. Wear trainers at all times, so you’re always ready for the inevitable chase scene at the end.
  5. If you’re about to escape and someone says ‘let’s wait until tonight, I’ve just got to get this one thing sorted out’ DO NOT LISTEN TO THEM. Just run, the waiting is a trick to set you up for a tragic plot twist.
  6. Invest in a sleeping mask or a white noise machine so the ghostly noises in the night don’t bother you. It’s important to be well-rested!
  7. That portrait that looks exactly like you is a coincidence, I promise, you don’t wanna investigate.
  8. Bring garlic. Just in case.
This is a very Nosferatu-heavy post. (image: giphy.com)
  1. It’s important to make sure you have a wide circle of friends so that you do not get unreasonably hung up on your childhood sweetheart to the extent that you have an all-consuming relationship that ruins the lives of everyone around you and maybe turns her into a ghost, HEATHCLIFF.
  2. If you insist upon sneaking around the house at night, at least switch the lights on while you do it.
  3. Always get the number of a local taxi firm so that you aren’t forced to spend the night in a sprawling gothic mansion in the middle of the woods.
  4. Never agree to meet anyone at midnight.
  5. You can probably trust an ingenue in a billowy white dress, but don’t rely on them. They will buckle under the slightest bit of pressure from anyone with a sinister mien.
  6. Find out what a sinister mien is before you set foot in any mansions.
  7. If a woman with all-black eyes approaches you with a magical deal in the middle of the night, proceed with extreme caution.

And there you have it! This baby will see you through all the Gothic novel related shenanigans you care to have – some of them considerably more specific than others…

General

How to Survive a Horror Novel

It’s October and you know what this means! Spooky season is upon us. But how, you may ask, are we to navigate all of the terrifying ghosts and ghouls that October has to offer? With this handy-dandy field guide, that’s how! Allow me to distract you with spooky nonsense for the next five minutes – you never know, it might come in handy.

  1. Never, ever move to a creepy old house in the middle of nowhere. I don’t care if you’ve inherited your beloved Great-Aunt Methunia’s childhood home, just burn it down, it’s riddled with ghosts.
  2. Never, ever move to a creepy little village in the middle of nowhere, we’ve all seen The Wicker Man.
  3. Always carry spare batteries for your inevitably flickering torches.
  4. CHARGE YOUR GODDAMN PHONE.
  5. If you see anything with antlers, run. I promise you it is not a deer.
  6. On that note, buy running shoes.
  7. Be intensely suspicious of people who wear all black. They are either a) witches, b) people-eating murder billionaires, or c) serial killers.
  8. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from The Mummy, it’s this: YOU MUST NOT READ FROM THE BOOK.
  1. Girls: if your boyfriend ever tries to get you to go into a spooky old house by going “Come on babe, it’ll be fun,” dump him immediately. You might be single but on the bright side, you’ve still got all your own blood.
  2. Guys: don’t be that boyfriend. I promise you, it will not be fun.
  3. Never, ever go anywhere by candlelight. You’ll just get eaten.
  4. Get one of those little torches you can wear on your head. You’ll need your hands free.
  5. If your car breaks down not two miles from a dilapidated old house with a single light in one of the windows, please, please call a taxi.
  6. Children only ever laugh for evil reasons. Also, anything they sing will be slowed way down.
  7. For some reason all teens look and sound like twenty-five year old adults. They’re teenagers, though. Fleek.
I fit right in.. (image: giphy.com)
  1. Get some throat sweets and a bottle of water, so you can deal with all the screaming.
  2. Maybe take a first-aid course too.
  3. The second the sun goes down all of your lights are going to start flickering. Learn how to change a bulb, and don’t stand flicking the same switch on and off for thirty seconds while conspicuously not looking over your shoulder.
  4. Never, ever back into a room while panting because you’re just sooooo relieved you escaped the serial killer, gonna turn around now without switching on the light, it’ll probably be fine.
  5. Learn how to get bloodstains out of your clothes. Trust me, you’ll need to know.

And there you have it! Your foolproof guide to surviving any given horror scenario. Happy spooky season and don’t get eaten, guys.

Book Recipes

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

Book Recipes: How to Write a Teen Horror

Time for another book recipe! This time I’ll be looking at teen horror. Let’s head up to the creepy old mansion and get started!

 

Ingredients:

  • An assorted group of expendable teenage victims
  • One spooky location
  • Dire warnings that everybody ignores
  • Ghooooooooosts

985
Feel the fear. (image: knowyourmeme.com)

  • A series of graphic and horrible deaths
  • A generous dollop of sheer stupidity
  • Creepy shadows
  • Screaming

 

Method:

  1. Drench your spooky location in creepy legends. It doesn’t matter what they are, or if they make no sense. You’ve just got to make it clear that no-one in their right mind would ever go there, ever.
  2. Let’s go there!

giphy cheer2
YES BRUV (image: giphy.com)

  1. Nerd Teen tells us all about the creepy legends. It includes a detail which is quite obviously Very Important. Everyone ignores them.
  2. The teens are walking around the spooky place. There are mildly spooky noises, but they all assume that they are the work of the Worst Teen, who is probably called Brad.
  3. Doors mysteriously close. The words LEAVE NOW write themselves on the walls. Random objects start to bleed. Ignore them – it’s probably just Brad.
  4. Someone is separated from the group! They’re definitely dead. Better stick together and quietly and respectfully leave while everyone’s still alive.
  5. Screw that, let’s split up! And make jokes about the ghosts! That couldn’t possibly backfire.
  6. Spooky things are picking off the teens one by one! Instead of leaving like sensible people, they scream ‘WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM US?!?!?’ and knock things over.
  7. Time for the first extravagantly silly and disgusting death. It’s gross.
  8. Blonde Teen starts screaming.
  9. More horrific and gross deaths! Make sure to bring a sick bag.
  10. Worst Teen takes advantage of everyone being isolated and scared to do something really awful. He dies, and people are just so sad.

yoona
I’m really cut up about this. (reactiongifs.com)

  1. Time to consult those creepy legends! We’re about two-thirds of the way through now, so we need a Get Out of Jail Free card.
  2. Wait a minute. What if that Very Important Detail actually…matters?
  3. Try and regroup. Armed with knowledge they should have listened to earlier, the teens can now defeat the monster!
  4. But first they need a thing. Go and find it!
  5. They find the thing, hooray! But oh no, some more of them have died, gross-ly.
  6. Quick! Time to use the thing to defeat the monster before the last stroke of midnight or whatever!
  7. Hooray, you did it! Limp home in the sunlight and hope no-one asks about all your dead friends. Everything’s fine.
  8. OR IS IT???

THE END. Serve on a mysterious tome that you should never, ever open.

 

Tips:

  • Stuck on a location? Traditionalists go for abandoned mansions, disused asylums and any kind of burial ground. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it’s dark, isolated and makes weird noises.
  • Always set it at night. Daytime is not spooky.
  • Include a wide range of teens, but don’t bother giving them actual personalities because they’re just going to die. Football Teen, Nerd Teen, Blonde Teen and Prank Teen are all solid choices, but why stop there? There’s only one thing you need to remember: all of them must be as dumb as a bag of rocks.
  • Never, ever, ever include any responsible adults.
  • Always leave a loophole in your creepy legends, but feel free to ignore it if you want a great cliffhanger ending.
  • The ghosts’ behaviour doesn’t need to make sense. They’re ghosts! All they need to do is drift about spookily, smash stuff, and occasionally tear people into pieces. Logic is for the living!
  • Don’t call the police. Don’t leave the spooky place. Don’t stick together in a quiet, respectful group and slowly back away. That would be sensible and we can’t have that.

 

And here’s one I prepared earlier…

 

The moon was high over the old Darkmore place. Leaves skittered across the ground. Bats shrieked in the trees. As the five friends stared up at the old house, a cloud drifted over the moon, and Janey caught a glimpse of something moving at the window. A knife? No. It was probably just Brad.

“Are you guys sure this is a good idea?”

Lauren, who was blonde, rolled her eyes. “Come on, Janey, don’t be lame. Everyone knows Darkmore Mansion is the best place for a Halloween party.”

Something screamed in the woods. Janey flinched.

Russell, who had glasses, cleared his throat awkwardly. “Actually, the history of the house is fascinating. It was built on an ancient burial ground which was later used to execute seventeenth-century witches. The house was only built in 1846, when Hugo von Darkmore, a mysterious landowner, fled his native Bulgaria after being accused of committing unspeakable acts with –”

“Are you dorks still hanging around?”

Brad came out of the house, wearing a beer hat and a football jersey. Behind him, the front door creaked slowly shut.

“Did anyone see that?” Janey said, “that door just closed by itself.”

“Be cool, Janey!” Lauren hissed. “You better not ruin this for me with Brad!”

She went over to him. Kyle and Cole followed, high-fiving and exchanging fist bumps, and Janey wondered why they had both chosen to wear T-shirts with enormous targets printed right over their hearts. There was a strange howl from the woods. It sounded like someone – or something – was yelling “Goooooooo!”

Janey shrugged. It was probably nothing.

“Anyway,” Russell continued, “after the mysterious fire, which no-one survived, the house became an asylum specialising in the most murderous inmates, which was mysteriously closed down after…”

The wind rustled through the trees. For a second Janey thought she saw a face at one of the windows, but she blinked and it was gone. What she did see was a viscous dark liquid oozing out from one of the windowsills.

“Russell,” she said, trying to keep calm, “I think that window is bleeding.”

“…and of course after they found the altar…oh, that? That’s nothing to worry about. It’s a common household problem for these big old places.”

“Is it?”

“Oh yes. Now, where was I? Oh yes, the big pile of skulls. The really interesting thing was that none of them quite seemed to match a human head…”

There was that noise again. “Gooooooo!”, it seemed to say. But that couldn’t be right. A door slammed and Janey jumped again.

“Brad! Cut it out!” Lauren laughed.

The wind rustled through the trees again, and this time, it almost sounded like a very irritated sigh. Janey looked up. The face at the window was back, but this time, it had no eyes.

“…but really all of these unexplained apparitions are just, you know, ball lightning, unusual acoustics, and the restless dead. There’s really nothing to worry about.”

“Russell, I really think there’s someone in there.”

“Oh, it’s probably just Brad.”

“Brad’s outside!”

“Yes, but you know what he’s like. D’you want a beer?”

Now, the wind rustling in the trees sounded a lot like ghostly swearing. All the windows started to bleed at once, and smoke spontaneously curled out of every chimney.

“Sweet, brah! Party tricks!” yelled Kyle, fist-bumping Brad.

Janey stared up at the smoke. It had begun to form strange shapes – skulls, pentagrams, and the words ‘JUST GO’ in big scary letters.

“Maybe this is a bad idea,” she said.

‘YES IT IS’, spelled the smoke.

Cole and Kyle just booed her. Lauren glared. “God, Janey! Don’t be such a baby!”

Janey hesitated. There was that howl again – but this time, it almost sounded like the words “What do I have to do to make you leeeeeeeave?”

Brad shrugged. “Hey, it’s cool, brah. You can go home if you’re too chicken.”

Janey froze. Then she marched into the house – past the creepy woods, the graveyard filled with eerie tombstones, and the inexplicably screaming statue – dragging Russell in after her. The rest of them all went inside, exchanging high fives.

There was a moment of silence.

Then, a ghostly voice said “Goddammit,”, and everything went black.

 

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)