On nightmares and writing Floorboards

**Warning: Floorboards doesn’t really have any huge twists but I will talk about what happens in the story below. Spoiler alert if you haven’t read it.**

LGOH cover

Most of my work has an element of horror, but my story for the Ladies and Gentlemen of Horror anthology was the first time I attempted to write pure horror, rather than fantasy or scifi with a twist of horror.

I spent a long while trying to decide what I wanted to contribute because I wanted to do horror right. In the end, the question that came to mind was ‘ ‘Well, what scares me?’

I have had nightmares since I was a child. For those lucky enough not to get them, nightmares are lot more than just bad dreams. They are vivid, horrible and as real as if they had actually happened. My body reacts in a very real way, except because it’s a dream I don’t have the luxury of being able to try manage my thoughts and reaction.

Nightmares are a very pure and physical experience. Pure terror. Pure grief. Pure panic.
When I wake up, I tell myself it was just a dream, but it takes some time for my body to get the message. I can still hear the screaming in my ears. My heart is still racing. Adrenaline is still pumping. I have to get out of bed and distract my mind with something else – TV or a book — until my body gets the idea and stops panicking. It usually takes me a good few hours to calm down and go back to sleep.

Most of my nightmares involve the death of a loved one, usually in a gruesome manner. When I was younger, it was my sisters or my parents. Now that I’m parent myself, it’s my son.

So, when I thought about what truly scared me, it was my nightmares that came to mind. I didn’t want to write about people I love dying. I shove those memories away in the back of my head and I never want to revisit them.

Instead, Floorboards is based on one of the few recurring nightmares I have and one of the few that doesn’t involve a loved one.

****Spoilers from here on*****

The nightmare is very simple. There is a corpse buried somewhere in my house or garden. I know that I hid the body, and I know that whatever happened to them is my fault.
The nightmare is a combination of guilt because someone is dead because of me, and terror that I’m going to be found out. I never know who the corpse is or what I did, but I know it is a woman. That’s it.

If I were to try and psychoanalyse myself, I’d guess it’s something about insecurity and ‘being found’ out as a horrible person, or something. Who the hell knows?

The characters in Floorboards aren’t in the least bit real or based on anyone I know. I don’t know a Vicky. I had a happy childhood. I thought if I put some logic and reason to the nightmare and made it someone else’s experience, writing the nightmare might be a cathartic experience and make it a little less scary. It wasn’t. It was just a horrible thing to write and I’m glad it’s done. I’m not going to read it again.

I’m not sure what it is that makes my work take such a dark turn, but after Floorboards I’m going to try to write some happier stuff.

Hive Memory: status update

If anyone’s waiting for Book Three, it’s on its way. Someone reminded me that I promised it would be out Summer 2015, so I really need to update the back matter.

I’ve been distracted this year by other projects and Hive Memory has fallen sadly behind. It didn’t help that I have a real tendency to get too complicated with my plots, and I got a little off track. I’ve now simplified it substantially (split the story into two, so Book Four has a plan). I’m working on it now, but it’s unlikely to be out before the end of the year.

Apologies to anyone waiting.

 

The Creative Apocalypse

Absolutely fascinating article from the NYT on the ‘creative apocalypse’. The idea that the internet is undermining creative industries with freebies is still going strong, but Steven Johnson makes a compelling argument that the creative people behind these industries are doing just fine — thriving in fact. It’s the big companies and conglomerates that are struggling.

I’ve been thinking about this quite a bit recently, and strongly believe we’re living through a creative revolution not a creative apocalypse. Johnson’s article completely nails the point. Anyone interested in how artists’ livelihoods have been changed by technology and the internet should give it a read.

On the benefits of getting to know other writers out in the wild

About a million years ago, when I first decided I wanted to write a book, I knew no one else who had done so. Not even in a cousin’s-friend’s-neighbour’s-dog’s-aunt kind of way. Of course, this was back in the days pre-internet when if you wanted to meet people with similar interests, you had to actually physically go out and find them.

Later I got to know of a few people who had written books (in the cousin’s-friend’s-dog kind of way), but it wasn’t until the last few years when I got seriously stuck in on ‘The Secret Dead’ that I actually got to know other writers and got involved in the writing community.

One of the best decisions I ever made was joining Meetup and going along to a Write Together group. Write Together is the brainchild of a guy named Joao who managed to find a fix for a very writer-y problem: procrastination. We all know we intend to write at home, but there’s always a distraction. Always a reason to put it off for another five minutes. And writing groups? Well, most of them either focus on critiquing (so you’ll have to have actually written the work), or on ‘Prompts’ or ‘Themes’. Again, not a bad thing if you’re looking for inspiration, but not all that handy on finishing the novel that’s been sitting at the back of your drawer for five years.

The idea behind Write Together is a group of writers getting together and…writing. That’s it. It’s a very simple concept and one that has become increasingly popular. We all work quietly on our own projects and at the end of the session (2/3/4 hours or longer) usually have a chat about writing. There’s no pressure to share (something that fills me with terror), or write anything off-topic. Something about being in the same place at the same time every week with people in the same boat turns on the switch in my brain marked ‘Writing Mode’, and from the conversations I’ve had with fellow writers, I’m not the only one.

A good portion of ‘The Secret Dead’ and most of ‘A Murder of Crones’ were written at the Pret near Monument Station in London on a Sunday where I hosted one of the meetups as a ‘write in’. 10am-5pm every Sunday for two years. You can imagine it’s kind of hard not to get work done with those sort of hours on a regular basis. Especially if you’ve got other writers there who can look over at your laptop any moment and go ‘hey, what are you doing on twitter?’

It was one of the first things I missed when I moved out of London. However, (yay) it turns out that Bristol is churning with creative people. Someone I met described it as ‘all you can eat art’ which is a fabulously accurate description. I’ve met more writers in the last two months than in ten years in London. The place is lousy with writers’ groups. None was quite the ‘Write Together’ concept so I tagged along to one of the ones already there and tacked my own meetups to it. And again, it’s helped me meet some lovely people. I’d love to be able to fast-forward a few years and see what they’ll all have accomplished/published then.

When you have a passion for something, there’s nothing quite like getting to meet another person with the same passion, and getting to have the kind of really intense conversation that involves a lot of head-nodding and excitement. If you’re an introverty type like me, it’s even better, because you don’t have to make small talk. There’s an automatic wonderful subject to talk about. Perfect.

I’ve also met some wonderful writers online (and will write a separate post about that), but my recommendation to new writers is that despite the incredible and wonderful world of social media, it’s still hugely beneficial to go out and actually meet people on the outernet too. (I don’t like calling non-internet space ‘the real world’ because online is real. It’s just different.)

So, if you’re a Bristolian look us up on Meetup (Writing!), and if you’re a Londoner, there are Write Together meetups almost every day to pop along to. And if you’re neither here nor there, then find out what is out there in your area. Or start a group if there isn’t one. You won’t be sorry.

On writing Merely a Madness

Merely a Madness appears in sci-fi anthology No Way Home which will be released on 2 March 2015.

No Way Home Kindle

Merely a Madness  signifies something of a shift change for me and my writing. Like most writers (or at least the published ones), I’ve put a lot of words down on screen and paper, and the vast majority of those haven’t seen print.

A couple of months ago, I came across the printed manuscript for my first novel Halcyon Days. I hadn’t looked at it in more than ten years, which is probably a long enough break to look at it objectively.

The objective verdict? It’s bad. The story idea isn’t that awful, but the writing? Definitely amateur level stuff.  Maybe one day if I have time and can be bothered, I’ll salvage the idea and rewrite it.

I wrote a second novel after that. It was some sort of horror novel about demonic possession. That one is long lost (I saved it onto a stiffy disk and lost that).  I suspect that’s no great loss either.

The Secret Dead was my third novel and I remember very clearly the first thoughts I had after reading the first chapter: ‘This isn’t very good.’

I’m a writer, but reading will always be my first love.  I know good writing when I see it. And that wasn’t it.

It was something of a watershed moment for me. Instead of getting miserable, I just grew determined. Maybe I wasn’t good at writing, but that was fine. All I had to do was work at it until I was good. Easy. All that was needed was  hard work, and I’ve never been scared of that.

This is the real reason The Secret Dead took so many years to write. Part of it was juggling writing with a full time job as well as motherhood. Part of it was sitting in front of the keyboard and rewriting that first chapter thirty times. Most of it was learning how to write and figuring out how to make something readable.

The Secret Dead isn’t perfect. It’s a long way from it, and more-experienced-writer-me wants to go back and fix it. I suspect all writers want to do this. It’s the way it works. As we grow in experience and learn more of the craft, the next book is (hopefully) always going to be better written. I still have a lot to learn.

Merely a Madness is part of this process.  Because it’s a short (just a tad under 10,000 words), it was an excellent opportunity to play around and try something new.

***Spoilers ahead if you haven’t read it. Consider yourself warned***

It started out simply as tourists stranded on a post-civilisation Earth. I had the vague idea that someone in the party would end up betraying them, and that was the seed when I started writing.

Scifi is also new for me.  I read boatloads of it, but I’d never attempted to write it. You’ll notice there’s not a lot of technical sciencey stuff in the story. That’s because I didn’t want to come across as an idiot. (No one wants to be the one who comes up with metaphorical midi-chlorians)

Readers had mentioned that Vivia (the protagonist in The Secret Dead) can be a bit of a cold fish. (They may be interested to know that I went in and did a draft just to add extra emoting because she came across as something of a psychopath in the beginning.) This is my comfort zone. I like description, and detail, and plotting. All that human emoting? Much trickier to get right.

The challenge: write a character who is emotionally driven to the point of ignoring common sense and logic.

That fed through into everything else. The story started off as past tense, but about 2000 words in I shifted into present because it suited the immediacy and emotionality of it. I’d also never written a love story before. My readers will know there’s not much sentimentality in my other work.  Again, new challenge.

I’ll admit I think it’s a little over-the-top and dramatic sometimes, but it works and I’m really proud of it. Reviewers have been kind too, which always makes me want to do the dance of joy.

I’m really excited about this. Not just because it’s something different, but because I have reached the point in my writing where I have learned enough and have enough tools in my toolbox, that I can play around and experiment.  And do so with some success.

I’m really enjoying it. I’m working on a couple of other short stories right now – some for the Ladies and Gentlemen of Horror anthology coming later this year, and also a couple of London Bones stories to give out as freebies.

Trying to turn each story into a good read is still hard work, but it’s fun work. I’m having a whale of a time.

Launch Party for No Way Home!

Yay!

We’re having a launch party for No Way Home on 2 March.  You can RSVP here.

While a physical party with wine and nibbles would be fun, this one’s going to be online (so all of us can attend).  And, and of course, there’s nothing to stop me you from having a glass of wine while attending… (just don’t spill it over your laptop)

The contributing authors are going to be chatting about their contributions, and there’ll even be some book giveaways (much better than nibbles).

Sound good? Of course it does. I’ll chat to you all there then!

The Work In Progress Blog Tour

Blog tour! Always fun.

The blog tour has some rules (which I’m going to break), but just so you know:

  1. Link back to the post of the person who nominated you.
  2. Write a little about and give the first sentence of the first three chapters of your current work-in-progress.
  3. Nominate some other writers to do the same.

Thanks to Michael Patrick Hicks for the nomination.

Mike’s debut novel Convergence was an Amazon Breakthrough Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist, and is a fantastic dystopian read.  Mike writes the kind of futuristic page-turners that are not only action-filled, but also get you asking the big questions about the nature of humanity.

I was  lucky enough to beta-read for his second novel Emergence, and regular readers of my blog will see more about his work here soon. I enjoyed both books so much that I asked him if he’d be willing to let me pepper him with questions about them, so keep an eye out for that.

He’s also the author of short story Consumption (which I really must read, because I’ve enjoyed his others so much) and Revolver.

Revolver is a story in the No Way Home anthology which features some of the best up-and-coming speculative fiction writers working today (including me: brag brag). But seriously, No Way Home is a fantastic set of stories. I thoroughly recommend it, and not just because I’m in it. No Way Home is due out on 2 March so watch this space.

First breaking of the rules (or at least bending a little), I’d also like to mention my fellow nominees Lucas Bale and S. Elliot Brandis, as well as J.S. Collyer who nominated Mike. They’re all authors well worth taking a look at.

My Work In Progress:

I’m busy with the third in the London Bones series titled Hive Memory.  I hate writing blurbs (so it should be shinier later) but this is what it’s about:

London’s famous werebees are about to select a new queen, but just at the most politically sensitive time, one of their own goes missing and returns three days later with no memory of where he had been or what had happened.  

Second breaking of the rules: I am a terribly disorganised writer. I write scraps and bits as they grab my attention from all over the story and then only decide later what order they go in. (Makes me sound great doesn’t it?).

In other words, here are three scraps, that may or may not be in the first three chapters:

Excerpt One:

Like many people, merely being around the police was enough to make me feel guilty. It didn’t help that the last time I saw Zee Haddad she’d given me a thorough dressing down. I shifted in my chair and tried to look innocent, or at least authoritative. This was my territory after all, and the werebee had come to me.
Zee sat in the client chair opposite mine, an untouched chamomile tea in front of her. We’d covered all the basic pleasantries — the how-are-yous, the miserable autumn weather, the tube delay that had made her fifteen minutes late. I’d provided her with a beverage. Then we’d chatted about my promotion to manager at the Trust. We were half an hour in, and I was still waiting for the reason she was sitting in my office.

Excerpt Two:

‘We’re meant to be workers, not lovers. Chastity’s a big thing in our culture.’
‘But?’
‘But we’re human too, and since when did humans keep it buttoned up? It’s like a French farce in the hive some mornings. Peek out the window and everyone’s sneaking out of one door and in through another.’

Excerpt Three:

I leaned back in my chair and studied his face. He wasn’t a conventionally attractive man. His face was a little too round, and the last of his hair made a Saturn-style ring around most of his head, but there was an intelligence to his eyes that made up for the lack of physical beauty. I could see why she liked him. What I couldn’t see was how he could be so blase about what happened.
I leaned forward. ‘You were missing for three days and you have no idea where you were. Doesn’t that bother you, even a little?’
He shrugged. ‘No, not really. It doesn’t feel like anything bad happened to me. And I’m clearly fine now. I wish she’d stop worrying.’
My internal weirdometer was pinging like crazy. Normal people don’t lose three days of their lives and just shrug it off. Despite the weirdness, I thought he was telling the truth. Anyone with the brain power to become one of the country’s leading fertility experts would also have the brain power to come up with a better lie. It was just a damned odd truth.

 Nominations

My first nominee is W. Freedreamer Tinkanesh.  

W’s writings have appeared in unknown, obscure zines and in the last ten years in various anthologies: ‘Write Now’ (UK, 2001), ‘Threads’ (UK, 2009, edited by Cassandra Lee aka Shawn-A-Lee McCutcheon-Bell), ‘Eclectica’ (2011, edited by Andrea Dean Van Scoyoc), ‘No One Makes It Out Alive (2012, edited by Hydra M. Star), ‘Blessings from the Darkness’ (2014, edited by Kelly J. Koch), ‘Ladies and Gentlemen of Horror 2014 (edited by Jennifer L. Miller).
W. Freedreamer Tinkanesh is the author of the novel ‘Outsider’ (2012) and the collection of short stories ‘Tales for the 21st Century’ (2014).

Walki’s novel Outsider is one of the most original books I have read in a while and I thoroughly recommend it.

Connect with W. Freedreamer Tinkanesh on:  Livejournal, Twitter, Goodreads.

 My second nominee is Heather R. Blair, who readers may remember did an author interview for me a little while back.

Heather writes fantasy and paranormal fiction, including Shivers, a collection of (shivery) short stories, the Celtic Paranormals series of novels, and Phoenix Rising. I’m very much looking forward to seeing what she comes up with next.

Connect with Heather: WebsiteGoodreads, Facebook, and Twitter.

I may have another nominee coming, I’m just waiting for her to let me know she’s happy to accept the nomination. Watch this space.

Goodreads Giveaway!

Woohoo! Physical copies of A Murder of Crones are now available on Amazon.  (UK link, US link)

To celebrate, I’m giving away signed copies of both A Murder of Crones and The Secret Dead on Goodreads.

The Giveaway will open on 29 January and close on 5 February. You can enter via the link below.

 

Goodreads Book Giveaway

A Murder of Crones by S.W. Fairbrother

A Murder of Crones

by S.W. Fairbrother

Giveaway ends February 05, 2015.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win