A Cause to Celebrate

Several weeks ago I considered that my site could do with a facelift so I set about giving it one. Now, buoyed by the completion of a problematic task, I’ve decided to mark the occasion with a special offer.
Launched yesterday on Twitter, the offer is replicated here for my loyal blog-followers who don’t receive my Tweets and may wish to take me up on it.
Here it is:

 

— “There’s no such thing as a free meal” —

We’re told to believe that if something sounds too good to be true – that’s because it isn’t.

Allow me dispel that myth:

After re-writing and constructing my new re-branded website I thought I’d celebrate the occasion by offering my services free of charge to any who feel they wish to submit samples of their fiction to the trained eyes of a proofreader.

Free Offer_1

But what’s the catch?

There is no catch.
  • Good things always come to an end, though, and this is no exception. I can therefore only offer so many free slots before the offer closes – I’m afraid it’s ‘first come, first served’.
There are also one or two exclusions.
  • This offer doesn’t include a critique of your work. You’ll receive no report or suggestions from me on how to turn your fiction into a Times bestseller. If I could do that I would already be heading the list. However, your sample will be proofread and grammar-checked.
  • Sorry, but the offer is also limited to those writers whose native language is English.

Dictionary Definition Image (2)

Here’s the deal:

  1. I’m offering a number of slots in which I’ll proofread fiction samples free of charge. For a full definition of how I interpret ‘proofread’ have a look at my Editorial Services page.
  2. The word-count ceiling is 2,500 words. It can be your opening, ending or from anywhere in-between.
  3. On receiving and agreeing to your commission I’ll schedule the work and let you know the date I expect to have it back to you.
  4. This offer is restricted to documents in MS Word format. My Procedures page explains how I operate and tells you what you can expect to receive from me.

Why am I doing this?

First of all, because I want to.

Not only that, I’ll gain the opportunity to read your fiction and to work on it. I enjoy proofreading. It’s that simple – ask anyone else already doing it. I also like working with people and making new acquaintances.

Of course, what you gain is your sample work proofread and lightly edited by an impartial professional who’s been trained to do that very job. I’ve had to restrict the word-count but I’m sure my edit of your sample will help provide you with some guidance for the remainder of your project.

And let’s not forget either that there’s always the possibility you’ll want to work with me again in the future. You may even want to recommend me to a writer-friend. Did I say there were gains on both sides?

And if I do a good job and you enjoy working with me …

… why not let me complete the project? Should you want me to proofread more of your manuscript as a direct result of this offer I’ll happily discount my usual fee by 10%

Offer close date.

As I’ve already said, my capacity restricts me in the number of slots I’ll be able to provide. That aside, the offer closes at 9:00 p.m. BST on Friday, April 29, 2016.

Venerable Bede
< I  LOOK  FORWARD  TO  WORKING  WITH  YOU >

Unfashionable Brits

A Shared Interest

Cover
Did we Brits take part, 1939-45?

A couple of days ago my eighteen year-old son was pleased to see the latest edition of ‘History of War’ land on the doormat as, like me, he has an interest in the subject. Such is the level of his own interest, he’s a member of a World War Two living history group. This joint fascination may stem from the fact that our family has a strong Royal Navy tradition. My grandfather served aboard HMS Dreadnought during WW1, and my father also served in the Royal Navy during the war that was to follow.

The Wrong Insignia – and Cause for a Rant

pq18
Arctic Convoy

From 1940 onward my father saw action in the North Atlantic and also on many of the convoy missions to Russia – these arctic convoys have since been recognised as the harshest of all naval theatres of operation. There, nature itself seemed to ally with our foe to attempt to bring about our destruction. With this naval heritage you may well imagine my delight upon seeing Josh’s magazine headline declare that ‘Sub Hunters – Battle of the Atlantic’  was a feature article inside. Sadly, my enthusiasm quickly faded when I saw that the aircraft illustrated on the cover showed American insignia, rather than the RAF roundels I expected to see. For here was yet another example where, given the opportunity to salute the heroics of our own forces, we choose to recognise those of our more fashionable American allies.

shropshire
HMS Shropshire – My Dad’s home 1939-41

 

A Special Relationship

Be assured that this post is in no way anti-American. There’s enough of that clat-trap in the world right now without me adding my voice. No, I believe British links to the United States go far beyond political expediency. Instead we share a bond of blood and, as a family, should support one another when the need arises.

Help – At a Price

The need did arise when Hitler sought to conquer Europe. Having stood alone against him and Nazi Germany since 1939, Britain finally received America’s support when they came to our aid in 1941. It has been said that the US ‘Lend Lease Act can be likened to someone selling the buckets and water so their neighbour may extinguish his blazing home, for indeed, it did cost us dearly. Britain was unable to settle the massive loan until 2006. However, in addition to armaments, fuel and more, the act provided much needed food to our starving island and thus saved our bacon. So no, my frustration on seeing the US star where I considered our own roundel ought to be was caused by what I perceive to be another example of the British’s failure to take pride in our own people and achievements.

Our Glorious Failures

apbritainscottslastletter_001
Scott’s South Pole Bid

The disappointing cover illustration is simply one in a long line of other such instances that have raised my blood’s temperature a degree or so. I’ll therefore have to reign myself in to avoid this becoming a rant. But this does lead to another question (perhaps the subject of a future post): why do we Brits appear to immortalise our disasters and failures yet fail to acknowledge the greatness of Great Britain? The Charge of the Light Brigade, Captain Scott and Isandlwana are a few examples that come immediately to mind. In the case of the last one, yes, we went on to acknowledge the heroism of Rorke’s Drift in the superb movie ‘Zulu’ but there’s no hiding from the fact that the event came on the back of one of the worst military disasters in our nation’s history. So, what do I mean by “long line of other such instances”? I’ll give you a couple.

Charge of the light brigade
Half a league, half a league, half a league onward …

Puttnam’s Lament

Memphis
More palatable than the RAF?

Director David Puttnam – well known for his film ‘Chariots of Fire’ – wanted to make a movie that showed the bravery of RAF bomber crews in facing danger night after night in their raids over enemy territory. However, this wasn’t considered to be good box-office material. Instead, it was believed (by the American financial backers) that cinema-goers wouldn’t be interested in a film about British aircrews. Changes were made.

Puttnam did go on to make his movie – in fact it was filmed only a few miles from here, at RAF Binbrook in Lincolnshire. The movie was ‘Memphis Belle’. Historical accuracy was tenuous at best but it featured the more dashing US aircrews and was, therefore, a success.

An Enigma

u-571-poster-2
U-571 Poster or rather  im-poster

In what has become a tirade- and for that I apologise (assuming I still have readers at this point) – I’ll wrap up by taking the subject full circle, back to U-Boats.

In 2000 another movie was released and was declared to be a ‘No.1 US Box-Office Smash’. Our own Sunday Express newspaper declared it to be ‘A blockbuster that really satisfies. Well, it didn’t satisfy me, I can assure you. The movie was ‘U-571‘, and its tag-line: ‘Nine ordinary men are about to change history’.

Briefly, an American submarine crew conduct a daring plan to recover a top-secret encrypting device – the legendary Enigma machine – from a German U-Boat. Stirring stuff, but widely misleading.

The Enigma recovery that changed the course of the war occurred in May, 1941. The machine was recovered from a German U-Boat by brave and daring sailors, and their actions were indeed the stuff of movies. But I’m afraid the sailors were those unbecoming British, serving aboard HMS Bulldog. Although it may not be ‘high-octane adventure’ here’s part of the report by Sub-Lieutenant David Balme:

At 1245 9th May, I left [HMS] Bulldog in charge of a boarding party to board an enemy submarine which had surfaced. The crew consisted of 6 seamen, 1 telegraphist and 1 stoker. “Bulldog” was lying to windward of U boat and there was a heavy swell running so to save valuable time I made for the weather side (Port).

There were numerous holes in the Conning Tower casing caused by “Bulldog’s” 3″ and Pom-pom. As no small arm fire was opened up at the whaler from the U boat, I was fairly confident that there was no one in the Conning Tower.

His report went on to say:

th5XG74AQE
Sub-Lt David Balme – The real Enigma Hero

Also the coding machine was found here, plugged in and as though it was in actual use when abandoned. The general appearance of this machine being that of a type writer, the telegraphist pressed the keys and finding results peculiar sent it up the hatch. This W/T office seemed far less complicated than our own-sets were more compact and did not seem to have the usual excess of switches, plug holes, knobs, ‘tally’s’ etc on the outside.

Untrendy Brit-Grit

So no, this is not an anti-US statement. Instead I share David Puttnam’s lament that he made about ‘Memphis Belle’ but which I also attach to the examples above. And that is, it would appear stories declaring the bravery of Britons can’t be rightfully told as they’re perceived to be of little interest to the paying public – a public who would rather learn of the individual exploits of those of a larger, more marketable nation. Not only that, they prefer to be entertained by fantasies which claim credit for that nation rather than hear factual accounts that reflect the bravery of our own, true-Brit heroes.

Rant over … sorry ’bout that.

Chapter One … In Pictures

My Own Wardrobe

It had been several years since I’d visited nearby landmark Thornton Abbey by the time I sat down to write ‘The Door to Caellfyon’. And what is the significance of that? Well, one door in its commanding medieval gatehouse had provided inspiration for the tale. There’s more about that in my blog-post ‘Fifty Years in the Making’. The door, after all, was my equivalent to C.S. Lewis’s wardrobe.

Flights of Fantasy

I made the most of the winter sunshine yesterday to revisit the abbey, now in the stewardship of English Heritage. I was curious to discover whether the mental imagery I had transferred into the opening scenes of my book were accurate or whether they were (like the tale) simply flights of fantasy. I took some photographs while I was there. I’m adding these here, together with those relevant passages from my story. Judge for yourself the accuracy of my recall.

For anyone who hasn’t followed my previous posts and know nothing of the children’s fantasy story I’ve been working on for a number of years, chapter one opens with my protagonist, Levi, being led to the abbey (Thornley Abbey in my book) by his uncle who wishes to show him the fantastic and mysterious door that – unbeknown to Levi – leads to Caellfyon … a land far, far away.

Levi’s Steps to Caellfyon

1

As they walked, the road bent sharply once again, this time to the left, skirting the edge of a large open field. Beyond this stood a line of trees, oak and beech mostly, their ancient limbs twisted like the gnarled fingers of old men. Behind them stood a tall and imposing limestone building.

‘There she is,’ said Seymour, pointing. ‘The abbey itself is nothing more than a crumbling ruin yon side. What you see there is the gatehouse. Splendid isn’t it.’

2

They had skirted the field edge and the stark and brooding façade of Thornley Abbey’s gatehouse now reared before them. He immediately sought the door Seymour had spoken of. Sure enough, high in the wall and right of centre was the timber door. Even at this distance Levi could clearly see a large stone lintel above the door, engraved with ornate carvings. A thrill of excitement ran through him and he gave a slight, involuntary gasp.

3

Just as he was beginning to believe his blood had frozen in his veins he saw Seymour stoop to enter a low opening in the ancient monument’s fence. Several foot-squelching seconds later he, too, entered the abbey grounds and dashed for the archway ahead.

3c

Here a large ornately carved arch loomed above him. The remains of two colossal gates hung on massive hinges, their timbers held open by thick rusting chains bolted to the walls. To the right of one of the gates was a narrow doorway and it was to here that Seymour was heading.

4

Once Levi reached the door he saw that the ancient steps, cold and narrow, coiled upwards out of sight. Already, Seymour had disappeared round the first tight bend. Levi paused a second, considering the uneven treads. Each step was smooth, dished at its leading edge like a pillow after a long night’s sleep.

5

Levi did not need to look down to see how steeply the curving staircase dropped away behind him – did not have to see the hard, unforgiving edges of the stone steps to realise a fall from here would be appalling. He snatched at the railing with his free hand and held on tight.

6

Levi followed his uncle upwards and, several steps later, was relieved to see a side stair branch off from the main spiral, leading to a small landing.

77a

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To Levi’s left was a huge, leaded glass window. Muted daylight filtered through its grimy pains casting pail bands of light into the room, painting the floor with a dull mosaic. To the right, several yards away at the other end of the hall, was the largest fireplace he’d ever seen.

7b

87c

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Together they crossed the hall and entered the slender passage, branching left. The air here was close and musty, reminding Levi of the small under-stairs cupboard back home. He hurried to keep close to his uncle, who was stooping along the low passage, his shoulders brushing both walls.

9

The opening Levi had seen was nothing more than a small, square chamber set into the passage. In one of its three walls was a large, black door studded with formidable square-headed bolts. Half way up the door, on one side, was a thick, iron hasp. Sure enough, the brass padlock hanging from it was open. Seymour turned and grinned at him.

‘Here, have a look through this,’ he said, pointing to a knot-hole half way up the door. Levi squatted and peered through the hole.

 

10

He peered sidelong towards the mystery door. Seymour was no longer there. Wherever the strange opening led to, his uncle was already there. He warily shuffled along as he’d seen his uncle do, and was soon at the doorway. He glanced up to the engraved lintel he’d first viewed from the road. Carved images of several animals spanned the huge stone beam. These were animals unlike any he’d seen before. Ratty looking, armour-clad creatures, standing upright and brandishing fearsome weapons, paraded across the stone’s surface. The effect was sinister and ominous – far more than the procession of diabolic gargoyles that stared down accusingly from the wall above.

A Mystery No Longer

After working on ‘The Door to Caellfyon’ for many years, with these and other scenes swirling around my head as I batted the keys, it was a delight to revisit this fine Lincolnshire monument once again. More than that, however, it was a surreal experience as, once I reached the door that I knew led onto the moss-covered ledge, I wanted to open it and step out. And the reason for that? The strange opening that has puzzled me for many years is no longer a mystery as I now know what awaits on the other side.

Find out for yourself: The Door to Caellfyon, paperback or Kindle versions from Amazon

A Pleasing Prospect

Book Review: ‘The Prospect of This City’

Further Education

I first met author Eamon Griffin when I began a Novel Writing course at Grimsby College. Eamon was the creative writing tutor there. What followed was an extremely enjoyable course at the end of which we all decided to continue our regular meetings in what became a small and informal writer’s group, our meetings held at The Wheatsheaf pub on Grimsby’s Bargate. During our association I was always impressed by Eamon’s powers of observation, his ability to ‘think outside the box’ and to quickly unravel prose related problems with such ease and clarity that one was left thinking ‘why the hell didn’t I think of that?’ I was thrilled, therefore, when I discovered last year that he’d published his first novel – more so once I realised that I’d seen the germ of his inspiration grow from what had been a shocking yet tragically topical event.

Terror in London

London, July 7th, 2005
London, July 7th, 2005

Eamon was in London on the 7th of July, 2005, the day when 52 innocent civilians were killed in a series of coordinated terror attacks. The event, inevitably labelled ‘The 7/7 Bombings’ (as though use of a cute handle somehow gives credence to evil) shocked the nation. It also had a significant impact on Eamon. However, with a writer’s insight he saw in it the basis of a plot of a different kind. One from which he could produce a story. That story, it seems, has become ‘The Prospect of this City’.

Sordid Backdrop

London, September 2, 1666
London, September 2, 1666

I have just completed his book and, whilst I am no book reviewer, feel I’d like to share some of those things that have made this such a memorable read for me. The tale, spun around those events leading to the Great Fire of London of 1666, paints a vivid picture of an over-populated, squalid city in which dirt and depravity are evident in every street. The cause of the fire has been speculated upon for centuries. Here Eamon uses the 2005 terrorist attack on London as the spark for a seventeenth century historical thriller, set at a time of political unrest and a bitter war between Britain and The Netherlands.

Such was the precision of Eamon’s writing that I would frequently become entranced by his accurate though concise word-use. So much so that, on putting the book down, I often felt the need to have a good wash. I’ll share one or two such passages here:

She was swathed in a once-black headscarf and a faded yellow coat that looked stolen from a battlefield. The only thing clean about her was the creaminess of the clay pipe clamped in her over-biting jaw. Grey smoke clung to her as though embarrassed for the wretchedness of her appearance.

And:

Look at him, gouging between teeth, affecting boredom and impatience, the coddled warmth of fear rising off him like steam from a fresh horse turd.

Throughout the story Eamon does well to portray the heat of that fateful summer, during which long sunny days had served to dry out thatch, timber and a multitude of other combustibles, preparing them for the ensuing conflagration. In this example Eamon combines the environmental and social conditions in one brief, precisely worded sentence:

 It was in the heat that clung to your neck as though you had a lecherous drunk whispering clammy indignity from behind.

I could go on. There are so many fine examples, wonderfully descriptive yet concise and accurate so as not to hinder the story’s flow. Throughout the whole book the writing also demonstrates his meticulous research.

Experiencing History

A Festival of History
A Festival of History

Eamon was no doubt drafting his novel when I met him at one of the ‘Festival of History’ events then run by English Heritage at Northamptonshire’s Kelmarsh Hall. The weekend event which celebrated all aspects of English history through the ages, with first class and exciting battle re-enactments from the era of Roman occupation through to the allied invasion of Normandy, was an ideal opportunity for keen historians to see history come to life before their eyes.

In addition to the set-piece battles was a large, well stocked market place in which you could buy anything from Viking beads through to replica fire-arms. Whilst there Eamon purchased a typical seventeenth century replica pistol as part of his research. He wished to know how such a pistol felt in the hand; the weight of its barrel, the smoothness of its stock. He wanted to get a sense of how it felt in the pocket. Such was his attention to detail, and it is evident in his novel.

Recommended Reading

Terror in London, 1666
Terror in London, 1666

For those of you who enjoy a tightly plotted tale, finely crafted writing and carefully drawn characters, I can confidently recommend Eamon’s book. In ‘The Prospect of This City’, he has provided all these things and more.

If you wish to read more of Eamon’s work here’s his web address:

http://www.eamonngriffinwriting.com/

 

 

Stepping Through the Portal

I’ve waffled on in previous posts, describing at length the seed of an idea that led to me writing ‘The Door to Caellfyon’. For anyone wishing to learn how one fantasy writer turned a childhood mystery into the foundation of a book series, may I suggest you read some of my previous posts. Rather than direct you to a specific post (or posts), may I suggest you rummage through them all. There aren’t many, and I’m sure you’ll find something of interest.

Thornton Abbey - Site of the Real Door (to Caellfyon?)
Thornton Abbey – Site of the Real Door (to Caellfyon?)

I’ll continue here on the assumption that you have read my previous material and know full well that Caellfyon is a ‘through the portal’ type tale aimed at 9-11 year-olds, in the spirit of Narnia, The Song of Albion and Thomas Covenant. Here I’d like to provide an extract from my book. The scene I’ve chosen is the one in which Levi (my thirteen year-old protagonist) steps through the mysterious door in Thornley Abbey, with no clue as to what awaits him on the other side.

Levi stepped from daylight into darkness. Not the shadowy murk of a moonless night, or the gloom of a small cupboard. This was absolute blackness.

Stepping through the strange opening had stripped him of his other senses, too. He no longer felt the ground beneath his feet. For all he knew he could be free-falling through space. But, without sight, sound or touch he had no idea whether he was safe or spiralling madly towards his doom.

Amazingly he remained calm. The panic he’d felt earlier had gone and, into this tranquillity, his senses gradually returned. First of all the light touch of a soft warm breeze caressed his skin, lifting goose-bumps on his forearms, shoulders and neck. From the tingling sensation, that was more thrilling than unpleasant, a light jingling seemed to rise from his quivering gooseflesh, the sound gradually evolving into the ringing of a bell, slowing, becoming clearer, more distinct, like …

like a call to prayer.

The thought came involuntarily to Levi’s mind and, as it did so, he heard voices. Men’s voices – a choir singing in beautiful harmony. Levi forgot his own plight, straining instead to hear more clearly. At first indistinct the sound shifted gradually as words then phrases formed themselves within the harmonies, until Levi finally understood. The song was in Latin. Of course! This was the sound of monks, their psalms echoing across the centuries.

As though triggered by this sudden insight, the gently melodious song suddenly increased in volume, taking on a rough edge, becoming a harsh shrieking; a din that became louder and louder still, until Levi felt that hacksaw blades were dragging across his ear drums. He screwed his face against the agonising racket and waited for the syrupy wetness of his own blood to trickle out of his ears and down his checks and neck.

Instead, the pain receded quickly as the screeching lost its edge, moderating, evolving into a wind; not a howling gale but a mild whooshing – a stream of air that whistled past his face. This was it, he thought, the realisation becoming a heavy weight in the pit of his stomach, he was falling after all. Falling fast.

The strangeness of his predicament and his gradual awaking senses had served to mollify him, diverting his attention from the dilemma he faced. But now the sudden shocking realisation bound his chest with icy tendrils of fear.

Mercifully there were no painful screams now. They had receded to the white noise of a badly tuned radio, the harshly chaotic hissing characterising his fear as he hurtled towards the impact he knew was to come.

There was no way of telling how long he’d been falling; no way that he could measure the time – whether it was seconds, minutes or a lifetime. Either way, he knew the end of his short life was only heartbeats away.

Would there be pain, he thought. Would his crushed brain register the agony before death took him?

Levi tensed instinctively, bracing himself for the impending impact when, with a sickening jolt, his feet connected with something solid – but, instead of the devastating collision he’d expected, he could have simply stubbed a toe against an uneven pavement. His body jolted, his teeth seeming to rattle inside his skull as his arms flailed for balance, and he pitched forward, his body flopping untidily onto something that was both soft and cool.

The Fictional Door, Now Available as Paperback or eBook via Amazon
The Fictional Door, Now Available as Paperback or eBook via Amazon

If anyone would like to receive a PDF of Chapter One from ‘The Door to Caellfyon’ please let me know. I’d be delighted to provide it. Thanks for reading.

Owning (and Blowing) a Trumpet

A Cunning Plan

The sublimely brilliant ‘Blackadder Goes Forth’ TV series included one particular episode that recent events have brought to mind. In the episode, entitled ‘Captain Cook’, Captain Blackadder and his men are invited to submit paintings to a competition. The winner will be rewarded with freedom from the trenches and a trip to Paris. In the following scene set in the officers’ dugout George shows Blackadder examples of his own artwork:

[George] takes out a stack of drawings from under his bed. They’re very good.

Blackadder:

These are brilliant, George. Why didn’t you mention these before?

George:

Well, you know, one doesn’t like to blow one’s own trumpet.

Blackadder:

No, but you might at least have told us you had a trumpet …

Blackadder
Rowan Atkinson and Hugh Laurie in ‘Blackadder Goes Forth’

Self-Demeaning

The reason this scene crossed my mind now is that today, two days before my fifty-eighth birthday, I’m about to publish my first novel forty years after first deciding that I wanted to be a writer. So, what’s held me back? Well, it’s my guess that those things that have delayed my own dream for so long will be the same for many other aspiring writers out there. The first is self-doubt as, irrespective of our abilities, many of us harbour doubts concerning the quality of our writing. This leads to so much fine work being pushed into drawers, left on hard-drives and never seeing the light of day. The other cause (and probably one that goes hand-in-hand with the first) is the mock word ‘wannabee’.

Unfair Comparisons

We all work hard at learning the writer’s craft. I know I have since 1994, both at home and through night-school classes run by my local college. In all that time I’ve used the term ‘wannabee writer’ for myself. I’ve also seen that same expression used by many others in forums, blog-posts and twitter-feeds. What I’ve failed to consider until relatively recently is that by demeaning ourselves with such a handle we’re failing to acknowledge that we have a trumpet – and one that is worth blowing. For too long I’ve produced work that I’ve been pleased with and then gone on to read material by such as Stephen King or Bernard Cornwell. This has led to comparisons being made with my own stuff, which then seemed shoddy and amateurish. These (mis)conceptions have provided an inroad for doubts to creep in and gnaw away at what little confidence in my abilities I may have possessed. I’m sure that I’m in no way unique here, and many other writers out there will see similarities with their own experiences.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Now available via Amazon

Thankfully, helped by a supportive family, I’ve been able to resurrect a dying hobby, pull one of my own writing projects from the back of the drawer and breathe life into it. The result is ‘The Door to Caellfyon’ which I’ll be publishing on CreateSpace and Kindle in the next couple of days. So, as I begin 2016 with a sense of achievement and a feeling of excitement for the coming year I urge every aspiring writer who reads this to revisit their social media profiles and remove any trace of the word ‘wannabee’ or ‘aspiring’ and simply declare themselves as writers. Make no mistake, this simple yet certain acknowledgement will serve as a powerful self-fulfilling prophecy and, in recognising yourselves as writers, writers you will be.

Have a happy and successful new year!

A Hand on the Shoulder

 

some_good_old_cosmic_horror_by_zxoqwikl-d634axl

One of My Writers' Digest Books - An Excellent Resource

The title here is taken from an article by Joe Lansdale in Mort Castle’s Writing Horror – A Handbook by the Horror Writers’ Association’, in which he explores the importance of setting in fiction. In it he begins:

In writing, if you’re truly connected to a region, sense of place is like a friendly hand on your shoulder.

Setting the Scene for Multiple Projects

I first read the brief four-page article when I bought the book back in 1997. I was myself writing horror – albeit in a role-playing game scenario format at that time. What has prompted me to revisit it today was my reading an excellent piece by Helen M Walters in the January, 2016 edition of Writing Magazine, in which she also explains the vital part setting plays in fiction. She does this by providing three examples of short stories, by Charlotte Gilman, D H Lawrence and Arthur C Clarke. As is the case when I seem to read anything nowadays, this set the cogs turning and I have since considered how I may use setting in my writing.

Additionally, as writers we are also coached to avoid writers’ block by having more than one project running at any time. This is on the basis that, when creative juices stop flowing on one project, a different recipe may be employed and work continued on another. So why should this extra piece of advice resonate with me today, prompting me to add it here?

I’m currently spending much of my time writing a series of fantasy novels for children. This is a project that I seem to have been working on since time immemorial. Although it’s a work dear to my heart (feel free to read my earlier posts on the subject), I also wish to resurrect my horror writing, and thus have two streams of fiction running in parallel. My previous post revealed those works of horror and their authors that have moved me and prompted me to produce my own similar material. Here I’ll look at setting. This is what Joe Lansdale has to say on it:

So many beginning writers ignore their background and region and try to write about places far away. Places that sound exotic. Places often written about, filmed and glamorized.

I tried this myself. But what I soon realized was that while there’s no crime in writing about places you don’t know – I’ve done it and will probably do it again – there certainly is much to be gained by writing about what you do know.

Cosmic Horror at Reading’s Game Fair

H P Lovecraft - One Scary Guy
H P Lovecraft – One Scary Guy

The short stories I’m planning (and who knows, I may even self-publish them) will be horror stories based on the ‘cosmic horror’ ideas spawned by H.P. Lovecraft and much imitated since then. Whilst I haven’t tried to write such stories, what I have written (and had published in the excellent and now extinct UK-based Cthulhu fanzine Dagon) has been role-playing game scenarios; specifically, scenarios for the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game. Writing these was a thoroughly enjoyable activity in which I strove to create an atmosphere sufficiently foreboding to chill the bejesus out of those who played it. One such scenario (and one which I intend to now convert into a piece of fiction) was ‘Fenland Fog’, which was play-tested at 1985s Games Fair, held at Reading.

Here’s what Dagon’s editor, Carl Ford had to say:

 

The Game that Launched a Thousand Sleepless Nights
The Game that Launched a Thousand Sleepless Nights

I decided I would add further insanity to the weekend with a playtesting of ‘Fenland Fog’ to a few Cthuloid freaks. The game ran smoothly and I was pleasantly surprised to see that the excellent research by Steve Wand paid off. The investigators lost, unfortunately, several falling prey to a hungry Shoggoth and the remainder being arrested by the local police on suspicion of arson. Though I enjoyed it the investigators seemed a little pissed off, for failing to discover exactly who or what was behind the mystery.

It’s a Mystery

Carl’s account in the ensuing edition of ‘Dagon‘ pleased me immensely – especially in view of the fact that I named the piece on the basis that one definition of ‘Fog’ is ‘Mystery’.

Dagon Fanzine - From a Time when £0.85 Could Buy Something of Value
Dagon Fanzine – From a Time when £0.85 Could Buy Something of Value

A major feature of the game would have been its atmosphere, and that came from its setting. You see, in order to create a realistic setting for a horror game scenario, I needed one that was familiar to me. As I hail from the fenlands of Lincolnshire that location seemed a logical choice. Whilst the huge open skies afforded by a fenland environment can provide a bright and cheery outlook, fill them with roiling black thunderheads, towering above the open fens and pressing down like a vice and you have a setting with the potential to unsettle all but the sternest heart. Additionally, while H.P Lovecraft and his ensuing acolytes used the piping sound of whippoorwills to add melancholy to their New-England settings, I can call on curlews and corncrakes to do the same.

Foreshadowing

Enough of my ramblings, here’s some literary examples of scene-setting worthy of note. First of all, some examples from ‘The Horror at Witches Hollow’ by Robert J Curran:

… roads … turn off at a strange angle … curious intersection … a queer set of low hills.

… around which clouds seem to hand oppressively.

… dwellings … wear an air of perpetual abandonment.

… rocky fields which crown down to the highway. A remote and inward-looking place.

… people seem more reclusive … no-one moves in the weed-choked fields by the roadside.

… a gloomy hog-wallow overhung by dark trees …

And here’s some excellent examples from Frank DeFelitta’s ‘Golgotha Falls’:

… stagnant ponds bred crawling mites on browned, drooping reeds.

… issued a stench like sour milk.

Low clouds of dense, bog like vapour hugged the clay banks of the creek.

… [as though] the town had crawled from the church and died in the process …

I love that last one. And now the master of purple-prose himself, H.P. Lovecraft, these two taken from ‘The Dunwich Horror’:

… brier bordered stone walls press close and closer against the ruts of the dusty, curving road.

And of the local populace:

The average of their intelligence is woefully low whilst their annals reek of overt viciousness and of half hidden murders, incests and deeds of almost un-nameable violence and perversity.

This next example is from one of HPL’s acolytes, August Derleth, the extract taken from ‘The Dweller in the Darkness’:

… there persists an intangible aura of the sinister, a kind of ominous oppression of the spirit … around which century old trees brood eternally … where the only sounds are … the wind’s voices – but is it always the wind’s voices in the trees?

This last example is from J. Vernon Shea. The piece is from ‘The Haunter of the Graveyard’:

Even the bridle path … had been forsaken for horses there always behaved strangely, skittering and shying at unseen obstacles.

A Deep One - The Bad Guys of 'Fenland Fog'
A Deep One – One of the Bad Guys of ‘Fenland Fog’

Familiar Imagery – With a Twist

That then is a collection of samples taken from my usual bedtime reading. These, along with works by such as M.R. James, Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood and Oliver Onions inspired many of my RPG scenarios; scenarios I now wish to convert into fiction format. I’ll finish with the scene setter for my own ‘Fenland Fog’.  Using a location well-known to me allowed me to call on familiar imagery and, by employing imagination stirred by such as those examples above, enabled me to produce something that both sets the scene and unsettles the reader, warning him of worse to come.

 

Lincolnshire's Fens with its array of drains and drove roads
Lincolnshire’s Fens with its array of drains and drove roads

Lincolnshire, England. This bleak east facing coastline fronts a patchwork of impossibly level farmland; a desolate landscape scoured flat, it seems, by relentless North Sea winds, its peat-black soil compressed beneath huge, cloud-stacked skies.

Products of the region, the rustic inhabitants are honest and productive. Dour, down to earth types, they labour on the land from dawn until dusk. But when the day is done and lamps are lit, and curtains drawn on those dark and silent fields, then is the time for tales. For evenings are for stories, and here in the most haunted county of England, tales are plentiful – and many of them, like the North Sea winds, are chilling.

It is the summer of 1925. Most of England is reeling from the aftermath of the Great War. Unemployment is high, poverty widespread and angers rising. Lincolnshire, however, remains relatively unscathed. For here in the scattered farming communities around the Wash it is ‘business as usual’.

But not all is well here. Unbeknown to those simple, hard-working folk, an evil stirs; one that is already spreading its foul contagion among their number – and it comes from beyond the foam-flecked beaches. Out where dark, white-crested rollers surge relentlessly over a hump-backed sandbank, lying beneath the waves like a dormant beast.

Merry Christmas!

Fenland Fog - To Be Reborn as Fiction
Fenland Fog – To Be Reborn as Fiction