Friday 13 July 2012

#FridayFlash - Ghost Train

The train lurches out of the Tottenham Court Road station and rattles east. Elsa flicks from her Kindle app to the clock - another ten minutes and she'll be at Liverpool Street. Plenty of time to catch the train to Stansted before her flight to Naples.

The train slows, and rumbles to a stop. Elsa looks up, expecting to see Holborn station. Instead, she sees simply darkness outside the window. Across the carriage, she sees the familiar tunnel walls, with their cables and metalwork. Just another random stoppage on the London Underground.

A scraping sound, like nails on glass, scratches behind her. She turns to look over her shoulder, and sees empty space where there should be a tunnel wall. She presses her face to the window and peers into the gloom. She makes out a wall several feet away, and the remains of old tiles form a sad mosaic of abandonment. Fragments of facts, dispensed at a party like ice breaking sweets, flit through her mind. Nothing substantial, just enough to amuse for a second or so. Elsa stares into the darkness, wondering if she's really looking at the remains of the British Museum station, closed almost eighty years previously.

A face looms large at the window, its eyes lined in thick kohl and beads hanging among braided hair. Elsa scrambles out of her seat and over her suitcase, terrified not just by the face, but by the fact she can see the outline of the tiles through it. Dark eyes catch sight of Elsa, and painted lips turn up at the corners. Elsa fumbles with her phone, scrolling through the apps to find the camera. She doesn't want a permanent record of that rictus grin, but no one will believe her without one.

The shutter sound breaks the silence in the carriage, and Elsa looks around to see if her fellow passengers have noticed anything is amiss. It is still too early for most commuters, and those few who ride the train with her are asleep, or engrossed in battered paperbacks. No one is aware of the smiling face in the tunnel, or the fingers that now stroke the windows. The curved nails leave grooves in the grime caked on the glass. Elsa stands and reaches for her case, intending to move down the carriage.

She glances at the face, the grin now replaced by a wide open mouth. A scream both surrounds and penetrates Elsa, buffeting her body and echoing inside her head. Elsa throws herself into a seat and clamps her hands over her ears. The scream is wild and unbridled, full of arcane lore and ancient deeds.

The train shudders into life and hauls itself onwards, leaving behind the ghost station and its resident. Elsa leans her head back against the window and closes her eyes, forcing her breathing to slow. The driver makes an announcement, mumbling futile apologies about unexpected delays.

Without looking at the screen, Elsa fumbles to slide her phone into her pocket. She does not see the saved image of the Egyptian princess with the grin of Death itself.

* * *

This flash was inspired by a Twitter conversation with the very excellent Nerine Dorman, whose latest book, Inkarna, is heavily steeped in ancient Egyptian mysticism. It's also inspired by the legend that tells of the ghost of a mummy who allegedly haunts the old British Museum station, that was closed in 1933. It lies halfway between Tottenham Court Road and Holborn, and you can read more about it here, here, and here, if that tickles your fancy. As a side note, I was once on a train that stopped in the station, and I could just about make out where the old platform would have been (before they tore it up). Sadly (?) no faces peered in at me that day.

Thursday 12 July 2012

Scrivener: The Verdict

I'll say up front that this is probably going to be a slightly contentious post but...I don't think I get all the fuss about Scrivener.

After everyone told me how fantastic it was, I downloaded the trial copy. I've still got fourteen days left, but if I'm honest, I don't think I'll be purchasing the full version. I've written my last few projects, including two novels, my weekly serial The First Tale, my novella The Guns of Retribution, and countless short stories, using Word, and I really can't see any reason to deviate from my system now. Before you throw your hands up in horror or leap to the comment form to tell me I'm wrong, let me explain (and please bear in mind that there are as many different ways to write a book as there are people writing them).

Everyone told me that Scrivener's big advantage was the note card system. Sure, it's a good idea, and I can see how others might find it useful, but with regards to my work in progress, I've almost found it restrictive, and I find myself changing the content of the cards on a regular basis as I find more story that I want to write than the cards might otherwise allow. It makes for a fluid outline, at least. Instead, I write out a list of scene headings, and a brief description of each scene, in my Word document. I use the paragraph style 'heading' to highlight each scene, meaning I can whizz between them using Word's Document Map option (2007 - in 2010, it's under Navigation). Next time I write a novel, I'll probably put my notes on ACTUAL note cards.

I like the fact that Scrivener keeps all of your work in one place, but to be honest, I already had separate documents for character sheets, location sheets, story arcs and other pertinent info. OK so Scrivener keeps them all in one place but that's no different to me having a folder on my hard drive (that's backed up regularly) containing the files I need. I might need to access them individually to retrieve information but I'm pretty good at remembering things. I just haven't colour coded anything in my Scrivener project as it doesn't suit my way of working.

Scrivener likes to keep scenes separate, and this leads to an awful lot of the Blank Page Syndrome. Sure, I can flick back to the previous scene to see where I left off, but I still have to come back to an empty page. At least if I write in a single Word document, that's simply broken into scenes using headings, my page is never blank, and I never feel like I'm starting from scratch.

I should also point out that I don't just write using a single machine. Sometimes I write on my laptop, especially if I have other things I need to do in a given timeframe, such as using Photoshop etc, and that's where I keep Scrivener. But I also write on my Netbook, as well as my PC at work if I want to write on my lunchbreak. It's difficult to do that with Scrivener, unless I work from a different file and copy and paste back into Scrivener whenever I get back onto my laptop. To be honest, I've been using a Word file containing all of my work in progress so far for the past couple of weeks and I haven't even noticed that I'm not using Scrivener at all.

I've seen some writers announce, in a somewhat patronising and supercilious way, that real writers don't use Word, as if the software used somehow influences the quality of the end product. Well I'm pretty sure Jane Austen didn't use Scrivener, and it didn't do her too much harm. I know a lot of people swear by Scrivener, but I just don't think it's for me. Sure, Word has a lot of issues and it isn't perfect, but it suits my particular methods for now. And before anyone says anything, I'll be formatting my next story collection (hopefully due out by Halloween) in InDesign before conversion to e-book...

Tuesday 10 July 2012

Inspiration behind Population, One

I haven't done an 'inspiration' post for a while, so I thought I'd do one about my most recent Friday Flash, Population, One. (If you haven't read it, do so now, for there are 'spoilers' ahead!) Now, my dad happened to tell me about a photo he'd seen online for a town whose population was just one, but he couldn't remember what it was called. A Google search later and I discovered he meant Buford, in Wyoming. The photo I used for the flash is the 'town' itself, although I chose to change the name on the sign, as well as changing the names of the people concerned and the circumstances surrounding the town.

It was strange, the moment my dad told me about Buford, I instantly wondered what would happen to the number on the town sign when the sole inhabitant died. Who would change it? I think the seed of wonder was sown by an old anecdote I heard about the last man on earth being so tormented by loneliness that he threw himself off a building, only to hear a telephone ringing as he falls to his death. On top of that, I came across the first two lines to a short story by Frederic Brown, called 'Knock', which simply read "The last man on Earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock on the door." This idea of 'The Last Man' intrigued me. The population sign came from the film, Population 436. If you get the chance to watch it, do so - don't let the fact it stars Fred Durst put you off, he's actually really good.)

Originally, the stranger was just going to be a regular chap who happened to drop by and wonder the same thing, and it was only when I was reading Carlos Claren's An Illustrated History of the Horror Film and he was talking about Death Takes A Holiday from 1934, in which the Grim Reaper goes on holiday, only to find that no one can die while he's not working (this was parodied in an episode of Family Guy when Death hurts his leg and Peter has to take over his job). Thus the idea came into my head to cast Death as the stranger - I know my version of Death is usually a black-lipped young woman with a voice like buzzing flies, but I think she likes to play dress-up from time to time, and in this instance, the man in the pinstripe suit seemed a better fit.

If you take all of these seemingly disparate elements and let them marinade for a while in the unconscious, they spring forth with an idea of their own. Once the idea of the stranger as being Death popped into my head, I wrote the story in about ten minutes - previously, I'd found it too hard to put it on paper, not knowing where to start or how to end it. I think my ultimate point is that inspiration can and does come from many different places, and a writer shouldn't be afraid to expose themselves to film and non-fiction as well as novels when hunting for ideas.

In what way has inspiration suddenly struck you when writing?

Monday 9 July 2012

Photo Prompt 93

New prompt available!

If you want to use the prompt, all I ask is that you include a link to this entry and a credit to me for the photograph, and that you post a link to your story in the comments box below so I can see what you've come up with! If you don't comment on this entry, then I can't comment on your story.

The 93rd prompt is Eye.

All photo prompts are my own photography - you can find more of it on Flickr. You can also buy my prints from Deviantart. 20% of all proceeds go to charity - the other 80% go towards my PhD fees!