Friday 7 September 2012

#FridayFlash - Skeletons

SkeletonChiapaRegMusTuxtla Cate watched a creased paperback jiggle in Daniel's back pocket as she followed him up the stairs. The glare of a Saturday afternoon lay at the top of the stairwell, and she blinked as they left the gloom of the tube station. She hadn't lived in London long enough to know this part of the city, and she trailed behind Daniel through the throng of tourists. She glanced at the back of his neck and wondered yet again if online dating was the best way to meet new people.

"Come on, it's just down here." Daniel turned around, as if finally remembering she was there. He turned off the main street and down a narrower road. Fewer people crowded the pavement, and Cate drew level with Daniel.

"What is it you're taking me to see?"

"Just an exhibition I've wanted to see for a while. Couldn't find anyone to go with me."

So you thought I'd do. Cate pasted a smile on her face but Daniel didn't even look at her.

He stopped outside a narrow building, all pale stone and Classical columns. A banner hung above the front door, obscuring the ornate pediment. A faux-medieval font advertised their latest exhibition.

"You want to go and look at skeletons?" A shiver ran across Cate's skin and she looked at Daniel. He looked back at her as though she were stupid.

"Well, yes."

"I see." Cate looked back at the banner. Fourteen skeletons, each uncovered in various sites around London, all of them purporting to tell "secret tales" of the capital's history. She didn’t really want to spend her afternoon around bones.

“Oh you’re not one of those girls who freaks out about stuff like this, are you?” Daniel fought to keep the sneer from his face, but it still infected his tone.

“No, it’s just…seemed like an odd thing to do on a first date.”

“It’ll be interesting.”

Daniel almost skipped up the three small steps to the door, and disappeared into the cool darkness of the entrance hall beyond. Cate looked back along the street.

Would it be really bad to just leave him here? After all, I don’t want him to know about me and what I can do. Not yet, anyway.

“Come on, Cathy!” Daniel’s voice echoed inside the hall. Cate gritted her teeth.

“It’s Cate,” she replied as she climbed the stairs.

Daniel led her down a maze of narrow corridors towards a large hall. Cate couldn’t have guessed the museum would be so large. Only a handful of people milled around inside the exhibition space, scattered between the glass display cases holding the skeletons. Panels hung from the nearby walls, emblazoned with photographs and maps. Dense text ran alongside to tell the story of each skeleton.

Not that I need the text, thought Cate.

Why am I here? The voice came from behind Cate. She turned and looked at Daniel.

“Excuse me?”

“I didn’t say anything. I was trying to read the board.” Daniel pointed to the text and looked away, mild irritation in his voice. Cate scowled and turned away.

Why are any of us here?

Cate stepped closer to the nearest case. In it lay the bones of a young woman, discovered during an extension to an office building in Clapham. The text said she was just over a century old.

Are you aware of each other then? Cate directed her thought question to the Clapham skeleton.

Yes, we’ve been together a month now. You’re the first person to talk to us.

But I have met one of your kind before. Your grandmother, many many years ago. The skeleton to Cate’s right, a man from Wapping, chipped in to the conversation.

You met my grandmother?

I did. She was a wonderful woman. A talented Bone Talker.

Cate smiled despite herself. Daniel spoke to her but Cate ignored him, his words drowned out by the ponderous musings of the skeletons. The three nearest to her told her their stories, stories which completely contradicted the conclusions drawn by the scientists who tested their bones.

So all of this stuff about you being a child prostitute in Bishopsgate is nonsense? thought Cate. A deep resounding chuckle boomed in her head.

Not at all. I sold meat in Leadenhall Market, died of overwork. We think the men in white coats make things up. They certainly don’t listen to us.

Not like you, dearie, added the Clapham skeleton.

Something shook Cate’s arm. She snapped from her reverie and looked up into the face of a security guard.

“You alright, miss?”

“I’m fine.”

“You sure? Only it’s almost closing time. I hate to ask you to leave, but…” The security guard turned the act of looking at the clock into a pantomime gesture.

“That’s ok. I must have lost track of time. They’re fascinating specimens,” said Cate.

“Really? I think the whole thing’s creepy.”

The security guard wandered off and began switching off the lights in the display cases. Cate looked around to find Daniel.

The bastard’s gone and left me here, she thought.

If it’s any consolation, you’re better off without ‘im. He was sayin’ some awful things while you was talkin’ to us, replied the Clapham skeleton.


Yes. Real rotter, that one.

Oh…well I have to go now. It’s been wonderful to speak to you.

You too. Come back, won’t you?

Cate left the room and trudged down the darkened corridor towards the entrance. Drizzle coated the pavement outside, and she walked back towards the busy London street. People hurried to and fro, heads bent to avoid the rain – or maybe just eye contact. Cate cast a longing look back at the museum before plunging into the crowd. They carried her towards the warmth and stale air of the tube station. A single thought occupied her mind as she reached the stairs.

Are any of these people Bone Talkers? Will I ever meet anyone like me?

She heard a single 'yes'.

Thursday 6 September 2012

Lee Child's Writing Wisdom

Last night, Lee Child made an appearance at the Tyneside Cinema to discuss his newest Jack Reacher book, A Wanted Man, and to introduce a screening of Se7en, his favourite film. I first heard about the Reacher books when my dad started reading them, and I bought the first one, Killing Floor, to read in Venice (it was that, or Fifty Shades of Grey). Despite its sometimes simplistic writing style, it's a compelling read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I always like to take the chance to listen to other writers talking about writing, as it's always good to get another person's perspective on the process. Writing can be a solitary task, and sharing your working practices with others helps make it seem less lonely. So here are Lee Child's top tips as I can remember them, summarised in one handy blog post.

1) Avoid unnecessary words.
Lee made a point of discussing his obsession with Chuck Berry, in particular the song, Johnny B Goode. It's a whole story told in just over two minutes, but Lee pointed out the opening lines, in which we are told that among the evergreens close to New Orleans "There stood a log cabin made of earth and wood / Where lived a country boy named Johnny B. Goode". We know what log cabins are made of, so making a point of its method of construction is essentially a waste of time, and a waste of words. I think this explains the stripped down, minimalist style favoured by Lee for the Reacher books, but it's equally applicable to other genres - and also helps to back up my hatred of adverbs. Don't tell me someone "shouted loudly" - how many other ways are there to shout? Find a word that communicates your point and use it - don't use several phrases where one will do.

2) Treat writing as a job.
Lee described his process as being like the artisans making various products in Birmingham as he grew up. You can't sit and wait for the muse to appear and provide a story - you have to turn up every day and get your fingers moving on the keyboard. There will be days when you don't want to, but once you get into the habit, the muscle memory takes over and you'll write. As Lee pointed out, truck drivers don't get truck driving block, so why should writers get writer's block? Be an artisan, not an artist, and concentrate on producing a product. You can refine the product through editing once you've gotten the words on the page.

3) Ignore all advice.
Most writers give this as a piece of advice, and it's Lee's belief that if a writer simply writes from the heart, and writes the story they want to tell, then they'll get an organic, vivid story. If you want to write a story and then read advice by, say, Stephen King, you may feel you may not be able to write the story the way you want to. If you then read advice by JK Rowling, you might feel even more stuck. By writing things your way, the story will be more 'natural'. On one hand, I can relate to that because I felt somewhat hamstrung when I started reading books about plotting and certain writers insisted you outline a story down to the last full stop, but on the other hand, you need to know the rules before you can start breaking them. There's nothing wrong with learning about writing, but be aware that you might need to bend or break rules for your story to really work.

4) Always leave reviews.
Finally, one of the questions he was asked regarded the so-called 'sock-puppeting' scandal, and the practice of leaving reviews for books. Lee believes the only way for readers to really know what to buy is to read reviews, but the only way to drown out phony reviews is for readers to always post reviews, even if they're not favourable. I know I struggle to get reviews, but Lee reckons he gets one review for around 2000 sales - that's a lot of people reading who aren't reviewing. So do a writer a favour today, and review one of their books!

In case you're wondering, I did get a book signed, and I thought he was thoroughly charming!

Wednesday 5 September 2012

The countdown begins

It's hard to believe that Monday marks the one year anniversary since The Guns of Retribution came out for the Kindle - two weeks later, it's the paperback release anniversary. Where on earth does the time go? I'm sure that proper authors don't bother marking anniversaries in such a fashion but I'm still really proud of The Guns of Retribution, and it's not every day you have a book published for the first time.

My idea is this - starting on Monday, I'm going to hold a two week long celebration of the Old West here at the Blunt Pencil, while some very excellent bloggers have agreed to let me post my Western-themed waffle at their blogs at the same time. The Western is sometimes seen as being a bit unfashionable or out-of-date but I hope my fortnight of festivities might change a few minds.

If you want to read The Guns of Retribution in advance, then you can buy the Kindle copy here in the US or here in the UK. I've got eight 5* reviews and counting...

Monday 3 September 2012

Bloody Parchment II submissions open

Anyone who reads this blog will know I have something of a fondness for horror. Therefore it won't come as a surprise to learn that I'm working on a short story for an anthology competition in the Victorian horror vein! Why am I doing this? Well, I want to submit to the second volume of Bloody Parchment, and I want to share the details so you can too. So if you have a horror or dark fantasy story of 3,500 words or less and you want to try your luck, click HERE to check out the guidelines. Submissions close on October 31. So get writing!

I should also note that the first volume, Bloody Parchment: Hidden Things, Lost Things and Other Stories, is available now, and features stories by the likes of Stacey Larner and Benjamin Knox. You can pick up your copy here.