7 things I learned writing my book during NaNoWriMo 2018

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For the first time ever, I decided that 2018 was my year to tackle National Novel Writing Month . If you’re not familiar with ‘NaNoWriMo’, it’s an annual global event that encourages authors-in-the-making to thrash out the first draft of that novel they keep putting off.

I’ve never seriously attempted NaNo before, so this year I decided to just DO IT, partly because I’m a glutton for punishment, and partly because I had an idea for a witchy novel (oh yes) that I was desperate to try on for size.

In all honesty, 30 days later, I’m a mess. But it ended up being an… interesting challenge. I only just managed to hit that 50k on the final day of NaNo, but I’m so glad I took the plunge because now I have 50k of a new novel. Here are all the things I learned…

1. A little planning goes a long way
There’s that saying, ‘You’re a planner or a panter.’ In reality, I fall somewhere in the middle. I can usually scratch out a few chapters of something before I’m chewing on bricks, but it’s always useful to have a roadmap. There’s nothing more terrifying than a blank page and a blinking cursor.

So I spent the first two days of NaNo writing character profiles, planning plot beats and generally immersing myself in the world of the book. Although it meant that, at first, I was writing zero words towards my word count, those days were invaluable in helping me figure out my story – and then formulate a skeletal outline so I always had some idea what to write.

2. Finding time is difficult – but prioritising writing is worth it
We’re all busy. We all have to food shop and brush our teeth and sometimes even work. We might occasionally think about seeing our friends and family. Those are all things we have to do, but that’s the great thing about NaNo – for once, you have to write. If you don’t, you’re not going to birth that book baby you decided to have.

There’s something special about carving out the time to write. Making it a priority. And then seeing what you’re really capable of.

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3. When in doubt, just write
I’m a perfectionist. A part of me doesn’t want to even think about writing unless I know I’m crafting pure word-gold.

Of course, ‘perfect’ is notoriously hard-won, and at the start of NaNo, I really had to give myself the ‘bullshit talk’. As in, “This is probably going to be bullshit, but that’s OK. You can make it better later.” That really helped me to loosen up on the perfection leash and just write. My motto: Write badly. Edit goodly.

4. It helps you focus
I’m guilty of being a bit of a fair-weather writer. I often get intensely interested in a project, and as soon as it becomes difficult for whatever reason, be that plot or character, I find a new shiny toy to play with.

NaNo cuts that bullshit right to the bone. You choose a project and you stick with it until the bitter end (of the month), and oh how bitter you may be, but that sort of commitment is exactly what I need. No bailing, no getting distracted by something newer. This is your project for the month and you have to battle through no matter what.

5. Don’t compare!
Some people are sprinters, some people are long-distance runners. Others are amblers. It’s all good. Although it’s tempting to check in on how other writers are doing, or begrudge them their rejoicing when they’re all “I wrote 50k in a week!”, you’ll only drive yourself crazy.

Celebrate your milestones (NaNo handily gives you badges every couple of thousand words that you can flash around if you so wish), and celebrate the milestones other people reach, too. We’re in this together!

6. Quitting is oh-so tempting
Writing is exhausting, especially when you’re using all of your normal ‘down time’ to do it. By week three, I was sorely tempted to jack it all in.

Luckily, I have an amazing support network – my boyfriend (hi, Thom!), friends and other writers were all great cheerleaders who encouraged me along the way. So no. Don’t quit. You can do it. It may be painful but it feels SO GOOD when you finally hit 50k.

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7. You don’t have to finish a whole book
THIS IS THE BIGGIE. You’re writing 50k, but most books average out at 80k, so it’s unlikely you’ll have a full first draft by the end of NaNo (unless you set a different target or had different objectives, like redrafting an existing project).

About 20k into my witch book, I knew the first draft was going to be way over 50k. That disheartened me at first because I knew that even if I ‘won’ NaNo, I still wouldn’t have an entire finished draft to work on.

In the end, though, that was sort of freeing. I decided to just write whichever scenes I fancied and fill in the gaps later. So even though I don’t have much of the third act written, I do have the final chapter done. And I have two thirds of a pretty solid draft. WHOOP!

All right, that was me, now what about you?

Did you take part in NaNoWriMo 2018? How did you do? Let me know below!

#HalloweenFrights Day 8: SJI Holliday on why she ain’t afraid of no ghosts

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HAPPY HALLOWEEN! It’s the final day of #HalloweenFrights, boooooo! But what a creepy ride it’s been. Thank you so much to all of the fabulous authors who have contributed to the series, and succeeded in giving me nightmares for AN ENTIRE WEEK.

Today, to celebrate the fact that it is, in fact, All Hallow’s Eve, author SJI Holliday wants to talk to us about ghosts. And it’s something she knows a thing or two about – her new book The Lingering (Orenda, out now on ebook/audio, paperback on 15 November) is all about spooks. Take it away, Susi…

A recent survey by Groupon uncovered that 60% of Americans claim to have seen a ghost; 40% claim that their pets have seen one. Women are 20% more likely to have seen one than men, but men who have seen one are twice as likely to run away screaming on encountering one. Additionally, one in three claims to have lived or stayed in a haunted house.

So, with that in mind, its’ no big surprise that Netflix has decided to milk this phenomenon for all it’s worth – with the new version of The Haunting of Hill House taking a prime slot on their home screen.

But ghosts are nothing new. Ghost stories have been told since people first sat around campfires, trying to find ways to entertain themselves, and to explain the unexplainable. In my opinion, nothing has changed.

People still need to find ways to explain what they don’t understand – others may find comfort in the thought of an afterlife, as a place for their loved ones to carry on – personally it’s this element that scares me the most. The idea of waking up to find a dead relative standing by my bed, coming to let me know that they’re ok, would not make me feel ok one little bit.

I love ghost stories. I love ghost tours. I would love to go on a ghost hunt, but that’s taking it too far – I don’t think my heart could handle it, and I am convinced I would return with a Cruella DeVil style white streak in my hair. Forever haunted.

I decided to weave a ghost story into my latest psychological thriller, The Lingering, purely to entertain myself – to see if I could scare myself sufficiently while writing it – and to see if I could bring something new to the table. My two favourite supernatural tales are The Woman in Black and The Lovely Bones. The first, for the constant state of dread it invokes, and the second, for the emotionally gut-punching sadness.

I’ve used a common trope as a set-up – a haunted house – but I like to think I have subverted it. The haunted house is an old asylum, which now houses a spiritual commune – but it’s not the commune that’s ‘bad’ – it’s not a cult… it’s the inhabitants that turn things on its head. One of the main characters is a wannabe ghost hunter, who despite her best efforts, has not yet managed to see or even sense anything untoward, but she remains convinced that there is something unseen lurking (or ‘lingering’) within the walls. The other main character is an ex-psychiatric nurse and a sceptic – so, you can guess what might happen there.

Personally, I describe myself as a ghost agnostic. There is just too much that people have felt and seen for it to be completely inside our heads, isn’t there? Two people told me they’d seen a ghost in the house I once lived in. The both saw her at different times, months apart, both explained her in the same way without either of them knowing about the other’s account.

I would very much like some hard evidence. But ideally not first-hand…. #massivescaredycat

Thanks Susi. You can follow her on Twitter here, or check out her website here. And that’s a wrap! This week has been a complete whirlwind and I’m thrilled that people have been enjoying hearing from some of the best authors in books. Thanks for following along, and HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Have you enjoyed #HalloweenFrights? Want to see more things like this on the site? Let me know on Twitter here!

#HalloweenFrights Day 7: CJ Tudor reveals her horror origin story

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It’s day seven of #HalloweenFrights, and today I’m drawing the bedsheets up to my nose as CJ Tudor prepares to chill us with her horror origin story.

CJ wrote this year’s bestselling smash-hit The Chalk Man (Penguin), and I’ve just been lucky enough to read a proof of her new novel, The Taking Of Annie Thorne (Penguin, February 2019), which was even more gripping and scrape-under-skin unsettling. So here’s how CJ became horror’s number one fan…

I first realised that I liked to be scared around the age of eight.

I grew up on Enid Blyton – the magic Faraway Tree, Famous Five and Mallory Towers – but suddenly I found myself perusing the library for something different… something less scones and ginger ale and more spooks and chills.

There wasn’t a lot on offer in the children’s section back then so one of the first scary books I read was Hamlyn’s Book of True Ghost Stories Fact or Fiction. It gave me nightmares for weeks but I still found myself drawn back to it again and again.

Around the same age I’d go around to my friend Kirsty’s house to watch videos. My parents didn’t have a video recorder but Kirsty’s parents had a Betamax (oh yes!) plus they were fairly relaxed about what we watched. It was here, curled up on beanbags together that I was introduced to An American Werewolf in London, Poltergeist and, later, The Evil Dead.

However, my true revelation came when, aged twelve – and now armed with my dad’s library card – I picked up a battered copy of Christine. That was it. I was addicted. I sought out more and more King, and Herbert, Koontz and Barker quickly followed.

But WHY did I love horror so much?

I think all kids are attracted to dark things, the lure of the forbidden. Children are also pretty revolting. They’re fascinated by bodily functions, blood and poo and scabs. There’s always one child who takes a delight in pulling the legs off grasshoppers (my friend, Kirsty, again). And we’re brought up on stories about wicked witches, monsters and ghosts.

I was also a teen during the golden age of horror. King, Herbert and Koontz ruled. The garish covers glared out from every book store. Terrifying but oh so tempting. And then there were the films – Halloween, Carrie, The Shining.

Horror informed what I read, watched and wrote. I continued to love horror even when it fell out of fashion. I remember, when I first began submitting my work to agents, one telling me that my mix of creepiness and crime was not what publishers wanted. Horror was a dirty word in the book world.

I’m thrilled that that seems to be turning around. After all, horror has always remained hugely popular in TV and film. People like to be scared. Horror enables you to peek through your fingers at something bad from the safety of your own sofa (or behind it). The monsters and the gore are contained. And usually, good wins out.

Horror was last big in the ’80s – a time when there was a lot of fear in the world. Nuclear holocaust, the cold war. I think it’s no coincidence that it is making a resurgence now, a time that’s once again troubling and uncertain.

When there are very real human monsters and conflicts that are not so easily resolved there’s a certain reassurance in watching a man in a hockey mask meet his comeuppance at the hands of a gutsy heroine.

So, in a weird way, I suppose I love horror because I find it comforting. And just a bit scary.

Thanks so much for that, CJ. You can follow CJ on Twitter here. Sadly, tomorrow is the final day of #HalloweenFrights, boooo. But don’t worry, we’re going out with a bang as another of my favourite horror authors descends on the site with ghostly goodies.

Have you enjoyed the series? Want to see more things like this on the site? Let me know on Twitter here!

#HalloweenFrights Day 5: Sally Green on real-life Halloween horrors and the terror of Monsters, Inc.

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It’s day five of #HalloweenFrights, and I’m sort of quaking in my boots as author Sally Green swings by – but mostly just because I’m a huge fan. Sally wrote one of my favourite ever series, The Half Bad Trilogy, which saw her putting a very dark, very addictive modern spin on witchcraft.

Given how gritty her stuff can be, I’m sort of surprised to discover Sally’s a self-confessed wimp, but then maybe she’s just saying that to lull us all in to a false sense of security…

What do you do on Halloween?
These days. Get a big pumpkin (I used to grow them but it’ll be shop bought this year) the weirder shaped the better, carve it out, put a tea light in and put it by the front door. Roast squash for soup or stew*. Stay in and have some sweets for kids if they come trick or treating

A few years ago. I used to go trick or treating with other parents (mainly mums, let’s be honest here) and a gang of young kids (I suspect mainly ours but they could have belonged to anyone). Main horror – how much sugar a five year old in a ghost outfit can get through. Main fear – the five year old in flimsy ghost outfit will die of exposure in the rain and cold.

*My only really scary moment was mistakenly eating a bit of a pumpkin stalk and getting a horrible allergic reaction (I’m not allergic to anything else as far as I know).

Have you ever scared yourself while writing?
I’ve cried at the sad stories I’ve written, I’ve laughed at my own jokes (because they are just hilarious), but I’ve never scared myself, possibly because I know what will happen or at least I’m in control. It’s the unknown that’s scary and I’m the writer so I have control.

What’s really scary about writing – missing deadlines, my editor and plot holes/mistakes that are only spotted when the book has gone to print.

jawsScariest thing you’ve ever read?
OK. I have to own up here – I’M A WIMP. I don’t read scary books and I don’t watch scary movies BECAUSE THEY’RE SCARY! I take no pleasure in being scared BECAUSE IT’S SCARY. I learnt this lesson at an early age. I read Jaws when I was young and watched the movie and I’ve never really enjoyed swimming in the sea since then BECAUSE IT’S SCARY.

Most terrifying word(s) in the English language?
“Let’s go into the haunted building.” (Actually the most stupid and terrifying.)

However, in films the words are never as scary as the music – if there was no music most scary movies would be fine. I’ve mentioned Jaws – I hear that music even if I go for a paddle in the sea at Blackpool. Even nice music can be made scary though – Reservoir Dogs manages to make Stealers Wheel terrifying for goodness sake (in the chopping off the ear scene).

Freddy or Jason?
I suspect these are scary people and I won’t even Google them to find out who they are.

What’s the biggest misconception about genre writers?
Probably that children’s writers like children. You don’t really think I have these sweets here for kids do you? They’re just here to lure them in and down to my cellar…

Witches: scary or misunderstood?
Totally misunderstood. They are trying to help and only put a hex on you if you deserve it. Though, I admit, in my books some of them are pretty nasty, and violent and power mad.

Earliest memory of being scared?
Vaguely remember hiding behind the sofa (yes, really) for Doctor Who. I hated the voices of the Daleks and could never understand why people didn’t just flee upstairs or over some rough terrain.

Weirdest nightmare you’ve ever had?
Dreams, nightmares… they’re all weird. Let’s be honest here, the scariest thing ever is when a friend says, ‘Let me tell you about this amazing dream I had.’ And you know you have to feign interest for at least ten minutes.

Somebody painted I KNOW on my front door. Was it you?
Do I need my lawyer present for this interview?

Most underrated horror movie/book?
I think all scary/horror movies and books should be avoided, but some sneak up on you like Monsters, Inc. – the monster that goes invisible, voiced by Steve Buscemi, is terrifying to young children (glad to report that I wasn’t scared by this monster, so I’m not a total wimp).

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A guy calls to ask what’s your favourite scary movie. What do you do?
Hang up. I do not accept cold calls especially from weirdos who are selling subscriptions to ScaryMoviesRUs.

You have a crystal ball: what does your horror future look like?
I’m desperately trying to finish the second book of the Smoke Thieves series. It’s got some scary naked demons and some scary misogynistic men, but no one goes into a haunted house (though actually they do go into the demon world, which isn’t that smart a thing to do).

Thanks so much for stopping by, Sally! Tomorrow, we’ll be hearing from a horror author who knows a thing or two about effed-up folktales. Until then…

#HalloweenFrights Day 3: Phoebe Locke delves into the lingering power of fear – and the boogeyman

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It’s day three of #HalloweenFrights, and I’m very excited to have Phoebe Locke joining me for a seriously spooky post about the power of fear – and that undying figure of myth, the boogeyman.

Phoebe is the author of The Tall Man (Wildfire, 2018), which drew on the singularly creepy internet meme of the Slender Man. Here, she reveals why he inspired her to write her novel and why, despite penning one of the year’s most unnerving books, she still gets scared

I have a confession to make. I am 32 years old and last night I went to sleep with the lights on.

In my defence, I didn’t start the night that way. I went to sleep in the dark like most other well-adjusted adults do every night. But when I woke in the early hours of the morning, I couldn’t stop the images that began to creep into my head; couldn’t stop imagining that every sound outside my door was a footstep or the door handle slowly turning. So I turned the light on and eventually fell asleep again.

The reason? Yesterday I watched episode 4 of Netflix’s The Haunting Of Hill House and, frankly, scared myself shitless.

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The Haunting Of Hill House (Netflix)

I’ll avoid spoilers for anyone who hasn’t watched the series yet (do, though, because it’s brilliant) but episode 4 features a particularly frightening scene where Luke, one of the youngest of the Crain siblings, hides from one of the many ghouls haunting his family’s home: an impossibly tall and thin floating man.

Given I wrote a novel, The Tall Man, inspired by a similar figure, this should really be right up my street. And it is – I can’t wait to watch the rest of the series – but still, it scared the hell out of me.

When I was about eight or nine, the thing which kept me up at night was my fear of vampires. I’m not really sure where this came from or why it scared me quite so much (despite the evidence to the contrary so far, I don’t actually scare that easily – it would only be a year or two before that same child would be bingeing on Stephen King novels). But I remember very clearly wrapping myself up tight in my duvet, making sure it reached my ears and therefore protected my neck from any of the undead who might happen to be wandering through a Cambridgeshire village that night.

I also remember going to the library each week and taking out every novel about vampires I could find. It’s possible that I was looking for tips on how to fight one should the occasion arise, but actually I think it was simpler than that. Vampires scared me and somehow that was interesting. I wanted to keep poking at that feeling.

I think that we often have that duality as children – being frightened and yet fascinated by something. When I read about Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier, the two 12-year-old girls in Waukesha, Wisconsin, who stabbed their friend 19 times in a bid to please Slender Man, it was this which really drew me to the case and inspired me to write The Tall Man.

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Watching the recorded police interviews and reading various accounts, you see it over and over again: the girls were scared that Slender Man would kill them or their families, but they also wanted to go and live with him in the woods, to be his ‘proxies’, and be rewarded for their services. The original internet forum posts which had created this urban legend – a boogeyman in his most modern form – truly frightened them, but they kept going back for more.

Both Geyser and Weier are vulnerable individuals and the case is an extreme and tragic one. But I think their reaction to the story of Slender Man is a bigger version of something we often experience – both as children, when we’re told about the boogeyman in all his guises, and as adults, picking up a horror novel or choosing a scary film to watch. We want to turn away, turn it off, hide behind a cushion. And yet we desperately want to look, too.

I think that’s what draws me to writing about the things that scare me. It’s an addictive feeling, fear; an interesting one. It takes me, time after time, back to the darkest corners of my imagination, makes me want to pull the things that hide there into the light. To look at them more fully, to keep poking at that feeling. The same way I used to check out more and more of those vampire books as a kid. The same way I’ll watch the rest of The Haunting Of Hill House both dreading and hoping for another glimpse of the floating man.

Tonight I’ll at least try to start the night with the lights off.

Okay, I officially won’t be sleeping tonight. Thanks Phoebe. For more sleepless nights, you can follow Phoebe on Twitter here. Tomorrow, I’ll be joined by a very good friend (and occasional co-author), who’s briefly whisking us away from books for a movie-related post. Scream you then.

#HalloweenFrights Day 2: Part Two – Fran Dorricott asks, Where are all the queer witches?

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Let the magic continue! After Elizabeth and Katharine Corr’s rules for writing a witch story, today’s #HalloweenFrights continues with more wicca wonder from Fran Dorricott. Fran is the author of upcoming queer witch novel After The Eclipse (March 2019, Titan), which I can’t wait to read. Here, she discusses the idea of ‘otherness’ and asks, Where are all the queer witches?

Witches have always been my favourite ‘spooky’ creature. While my friends would dress up on Halloween with their false fangs and fake blood, I’d always be the one in the back smeared in green paint, a black cape and robes and a broomstick in my hand.

It’s no surprise that I’ve been consuming every witchy story I can get my hands on for as long as I can remember. My heart still jumps when I see a new book or TV show about them. What do I like about witches? Well, I’ve been puzzling about this for years, but I think it has something to do with the intersection of power and otherness.

Witches in popular culture do not generally suffer from the same level of persecution as the real women who are hurt and killed for their otherness, but their otherness still defines their lives. My favourite witches often worry about being exposed to others, their powers being abused or their lives changed by their magic.

And yet they are some of the most powerful role models in popular culture. Witches own their magic, use it boldly (whether that is for good or evil), and that has always made me feel strong. They are powerful because of their otherness, as well as despite it.

So where are all the queer and POC witches? Of course they exist, but while I was compiling a list of the witches I remembered from my childhood, the names on it were generally limited to white, straight, cis witches. Despite their otherness because of their magic, somehow the list looks remarkably like every other popular culture list.

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So I dug deeper. Of course we have a few exceptions to the rule. There’s Willow Rosenberg, whose same-sex relationship in Buffy heralds her as a queer icon for ever. And there’s Marie Laveau (I’m feeling special love for Angela Bassett’s portrayal in American Horror Story: Coven), the Voodoo Queen inspired by a real-life New Orleans figure. But otherwise my list of favourite witches is remarkably white and straight.

But things, I hope, are starting to change. I’m seeing a surge of queer witchy projects cropping up in young adult fiction. Anthologies like Toil And Trouble, and books like Labyrinth Lost, giving voice to LGBT and POC witches. The Charmed reboot has a lesbian main character (the middle sister, Mel), and I am so psyched to start seeing myself and my friends in more of the popular culture.

Just for fun, here is a rundown of my top ten witches in popular culture. These are the women who made me feel powerful – because of my differences as well as despite them – and I can’t wait to see more diverse witches in the future.

hida10. Hilda Spellman (Sabrina The Teenage Witch)
Hilda always reminded me of myself. Scrappy, a bit dippy, and very loving at heart. Of course Sabrina and Zelda are awesome too, but Hilda is just so much fun!

9. The Grand High Witch (Roald Dahl’s The Witches)
She was the cause of the very first nightmares I remember after watching a film. Anjelica Huston without her mask on was absolutely terrifying! I later had a dream where the Hocus Pocus Sanderson sisters came to save me.

8. Winifred Sanderson (Hocus Pocus)
Another glorious morning. Makes me sick! Same, Winnie. Saaaaame. Winnie’s brand of humour appeals to me in an ‘I work in customer service, too’ sort of way, and I love her even more as an adult.

7. Sally Owens (Practical Magic)
Book Sally and film Sally are a little different, but her gentle witchcraft always made me feel very safe and calm. Plus Sandra Bullock in braids is just adorable, honestly.

6. Piper Halliwell (Charmed)
My favourite of the Halliwell sisters, Piper’s freezing time powers always made me think I’d never be late to class if I could do it. Piper is the woman I always wanted to be: warm, patient, and kickass to boot!

Marie5. Marie Laveau (AHS: Coven)
Talking about badass women, Angela Bassett’s Marie Laveau is top of the list. Somehow her scenes in the show were always the most arresting.

4. Mel Vera (Charmed 2018)
I haven’t seen much in the way of the Charmed reboot but I’ve very excited for the potential here! Charmed was my all-time favourite TV show growing up, so more powerful young ladies being badass is what I’m all about.

3. Willow Rosenberg (Buffy The Vampire Slayer)
Look, who didn’t have a crush on Willow ok? A generation of queer girls everywhere owe a LOT to Alyson Hannigan. Just saying.

2. Manon Blackbeak (Sarah J Maas’ Throne Of Glass series)
Manon is one of my greatest adult-life loves. The perfect amount of cut-throat combined with a love for gross animals and I’m 100% down. Plus, who doesn’t love a cracking redemption arc?

1. Elphaba aka The Wicked Witch of the West (Wicked/The Wizard of Oz)
As a kid The Wizard Of Oz was my favourite movie. And when I found out that there was a musical about the witch telling us HER story I about died (I love Gregory Maguire’s book, too). In my opinion all good story-telling is about point of view, so I love hearing about characters whose story was originally very 2D. And I’m not going to lie and say I don’t support the Galinda/Elphaba ship, because I do. And Gregory Maguire does too.

This is a direct plea to the universe: more queer and POC witches please! With the world in the state it’s currently in, we need all the diverse badassery we can get.

Thanks Fran, I couldn’t agree more. I don’t know about you, but after all this witch talk, I’m feeling pretty green. Things are switching up tomorrow as we delve in to one of the most pervading myths in horror with one of my favourite new authors. See you on the other side!

#HalloweenFrights Day 1: Paul Tremblay talks pet spiders, claymation chicken heads and horror’s most underrated novel

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Welcome to day one of #HalloweenFrights! ’Tis the season to get spooky, and this year I decided to go all-out with a week of special guest posts from some of my favourite horror authors. Over the next eight days, you’ll be confronted with ghosts, monsters and witches – and that’s just the authors. Kidding… or am I?

To kick things off, I’m very excited (and only a little bit scared) to welcome Paul Tremblay to the site. Paul is the author of spook-tastic books Disappearance At Devil’s RockA Head Full Of Ghosts and The Cabin At The End Of The World, which means he knows a thing or two about scaring people. I asked him to give us a glimpse inside his creepy/creaky mind by answering 13 carefully selected and not-at-all-random Halloween questions. Here goes…

What do you do on Halloween?
Up until last year I go trick or treating with my daughter. She’s too old now. So now I’ll stay home and cry, and eat candy.

Have you ever scared yourself while writing?
Mostly no. I’m too close to the work and I see all the gears turning (or at least, I see how I hope they’ll turn).

I do a good enough job scaring myself when I’m home alone at night, or in a hotel room. Like now.

Scariest thing you’ve ever read?
Adam Neville’s House Of Small Shadows is a recent novel that really creeped the hell out of me. It’s just so wrong in all the right ways.

Most terrifying word(s) in the English language?
President Trump.

freddyFreddy or Jason?
Freddy, I guess. I don’t like slasher films, generally. But the first Nightmare On Elm Street is terrifying and the third one is a lot of fun.

What’s the biggest misconception about horror writers?
They live in black houses. They keep pet spiders. They write one star amazon reviews for authors they are jealous of. They like Dokken. They like pickles. They’re somehow messed up or some variant of the ‘what’s wrong with you?’ question non-horror readers (or non-readers in general) will ask. I find horror writers tend to be if not more well adjusted than your average bear, then at least more resigned to the madness of existence.

Earliest memory of being scared?
My first memory. A huge bumblebee crawling around inside the arm of my sweater before stinging me.

Weirdest nightmare you’ve ever had?
I once dreamt there was a fissure in the blacktop at the end of my driveway. Deep inside the crevasse was a substance that looked like a breathing omelette. At each end of the fissure were claymation chicken heads that were writhing and snarling. I cut the heads off with a shovel and buried them.

Have at it Freud. Or Jung.

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Somebody painted I KNOW on my front door. Was it you?
I painted I DON’T KNOW and someone erased the DON’T.

Most underrated horror movie/book?
I’ll interpret underrated as overlooked. Dave Zeltserman’s The Caretaker Of Loren Field should be read by everyone.

A guy calls to ask what’s your favourite scary movie. What do you do?
I say, The Thing. And then tell him his own call is coming from inside his house.

You have a crystal ball: what does your horror future look like?
Next summer will see my short story collection Growing Things And Other Stories. Four of the 19 stories have connections to my previous novels. In the summer of 2020, we will be taken over by aliens, and my next novel will be published as well.

Thanks Paul, I hope you get home safely from that hotel. (If you see Jack Nicholson lurking around, take my advice and RUN.) Tomorrow’s edition of #HalloweenFrights is all about witches, so make sure you come back then with your conical hat and wart cream. See you soon!

Author Patrick Kincaid: How the Loch Ness monster and Billy Wilder inspired my debut novel

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This month, Unbound is publishing Patrick Kincaid’s debut novel, The Continuity Girl, a historical romp about a film lecturer who embarks on a Highland adventure inspired by Billy Wilder’s forgotten 1970s Sherlock Holmes movie. Here, Patrick tells me the story behind the novel…

In 2013, while taking a boat tour of Loch Ness on my honeymoon, I met a monster hunter who claimed he had watched Billy Wilder’s model monster sink in the loch in 1969.

The monster was, of course, part of Wilder’s movie The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes, a movie I’d loved since I was 10. Like most of its fans, I’ve become as obsessed by what’s missing from it – the whole hour that the producers ordered the director to cut – as by what’s in it; a retelling of the Holmes myth that focusses on the bits Watson left out (i.e. the sex, drugs, and emotional damage).

The monster hunter’s story also reminded me of an interview I’d heard a few years earlier with Elaine Schreyek, who was the ‘continuity girl’ (as they were then called) for The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes. Those two things inspired me to write my debut novel, also called The Continuity Girl, in which I imagine the rediscovery in 2014 of an uncut print of Wilder’s Sherlock film. A film studies lecturer, Gemma MacDonald, is given the task of unveiling it to the world, which leads to her meeting April Bloom, my highly fictionalised version of Schreyek. And while April is telling Gemma her version of events, we also hear from a monster hunter who got to know her on the banks of Loch Ness in 1969 – the lovelorn Jim Outhwaite.

Wilder’s visual and narrative style informs The Continuity Girl top to bottom. I’ve resisted calling my book a romantic comedy, not because I don’t like them – the good ones, such as those by Nora Ephron, are very good – but because I was after a different kind of cinematic tone for my story. I wanted to capture the bitter-sweet nature of the comedies Wilder co-wrote with IAL Diamond, and I was thinking particularly of The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes.

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Robert Stephens and Colin Blakely in The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes (1970)

On the face of it, Wilder’s Sherlock Holmes ought to have been another of those slew of Victorian romps – Bryan Forbes’ The Wrong Box (1966), Don Sharp’s Rocket To The Moon (1967) – which came and went in the ’60s. But by balancing romance and cynicism, Wilder made something that lingers. It’s said he cast Robert Stephens as the lead because he looked like someone who could be hurt. Sherlock is typically portrayed as an unemotional thinking machine, but here he was a sensitive romantic, falling for a beautiful client (Genevieve Page) with an ulterior motive, while his brother Mycroft (Christopher Lee at his best) pulled the strings from above.

There’s no denying that the film’s romance is enhanced if you know about the difficulties surrounding its production and its box-office failure. It was a labour of love for Wilder, but so much went wrong – Robert Stephens nearly killed himself with an overdose, the model monster sank, and then the producers ordered their cuts. On release, the public didn’t take to it, and critics ignored it. It was only when it was screened on TV in the ’70s that it found an audience. Jonathan Coe has written compellingly about his obsession with the film and its missing segments. Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat funnelled their obsession into producing Sherlock for the BBC.

And it is a wonderful film: romantic, funny, achingly sad. The performances are superb, Christopher Challis’s photography is breath-taking, and Miklós Rózsa’s score is one the most beautiful pieces of film music ever composed. I had no idea when I first saw it that a cult had already developed around it. I thought it was mine alone – this film that reimagined a Victorian superhero as a man full of regrets and unachieved personal ambition.

In fact, The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes isn’t so different from other Wilder’s films which, on first glance, it doesn’t seem to resemble at all – those strikingly modern social comedies, The Apartment (1960) and The Fortune Cookie (1966).

These films also pitch romantics and cynics together, and to similar effect. In both, there is pathos in watching Jack Lemmon fall for a woman who is deceiving him, but we understand that she is experiencing the pathos too. Shirley MacLaine’s Miss Kubelik and Judi West’s Sandy are neither romantic heroines nor femme fatales. Both are manipulated by a powerful man behind the scenes – Fred MacMurray’s adulterous boss, Walter Matthau’s crooked compensation lawyer – and both eventually break that bond and turn towards the romantic dupe. There are no glib happily-ever-afters, though – Wilder’s best endings are inconclusive.

I attempted to cram as much of this Wilderian tone-shifting as I could into The Continuity Girl. My hero, Jim, has only known rural life in the North of England and the Scottish Highlands, and is as far removed from the permissive society as it is possible to get in 1969. He is continually on the backfoot when the happening Hollywood crew turn up, and with it the continuity girl whom he falls for so heavily. Meanwhile, it turns out that every organisation is subject to power politics – even tiny research groups looking for evidence of a legendary monster.

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Patrick Kincaid at Loch Ness

Additionally, Gemma’s 2014 perspective adds a commentary on the events of 1969. In the lost version of The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes, a prologue involving Dr Watson’s grandson did something similar.

I also tried to write descriptive prose to match Challis’s visuals, and dialogue with the wit of Wilder and Diamond. Tall orders – but I’m grateful for the generosity built into those filmmakers’ legacy. When in Wilder’s Some Like It Hot (1959), besotted Joe E. Brown answers Jack Lemmon’s assertion “But I’m a man” with a shrug and the best last line in film history – “Nobody’s perfect” – they gave us all carte blanche to aim high and not worry too much about falling short.

The Continuity Girl is available now from Amazon.

Killing Rumer update: blogs! blogs everywhere!

Hey all! Thought it was probably time I wrote another update on the Killing Rumer campaign at Unbound because (huzzah!) we’ve hit the two thirds mark! Thanks so much to the 146 people who have supported Killing Rumer over the past month, and continue to be calm, kind voices in the dark wilderness of crowdfunding. You’re amazing. I owe you all hugs and pubs.

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Innway, yes, we’re at 66%! We’re 44 days in to the campaign, which means I have 46 more days to hit 100%. Can you help? Why, thanks for asking! If you’re active on Facebook and Twitter, why not share some of the blogs that I’ve been squirrelling away at?

But wait, there are other things you can do to help get Killing Rumer in print and put a giant goofy smile on my face:

  • Share share share! If you have the time to email or message one person who likes quirky crime thrillers and kick-ass heroines to ask them to support the book, that would help HUGELY. One-on-one messages are the best way to tell people about the campaign, and be sure to include this link: https://unbound.com/books/killing-rumer
  • Tweet/Facebook/socialise to your heart’s content. Use the hashtag #KillingRumer and @ any of your book-loving buds. If you can share this banner, you might catch a few eyes (in a non-violent way): https://www.dropbox.com/s/dkoo0uxa3fldugq/Logo.gif?dl=0
  • Upgrade your pledge. If you ordered the ebook but you’ve decided you really want a paperback as well, that doesn’t mean pledging twice. To upgrade your pledge, simply click on the new reward you want, and rather than being charged twice, you’ll only pay the difference for the new pledge: https://unbound.com/books/killing-rumer

Oh yeah, did I mention I WAS IN THE PAPER! There’s my mug there in the Bury Free Press, looking a bit stern and stuff, but secretly smiling on the inside.

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Thanks again for your support. Until next time.

Support Killing Rumer by pre-ordering your copy of the book here!

Killing Rumer: we’re a month in!

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Hey everybody! How was your summer?! Over here at Camp Killing Rumer it’s been a bit of a whirlwind. The campaign to get the book funded launched on 1 August, and since then loads has happened. You lovely people pledged your support in huge numbers – as it stands, the campaign’s at 59% funded with 128 (I must say, rather beautiful) readers having contributed to Rumer’s story.

To all of you I can only say THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU. This character means so much to me, and you’re bringing Killing Rumer closer and closer to being an Actual Genuine Book. This is the stuff dreams are made of.

Had a busy month? Here are some things you may have missed…

  • The first review of Killing Rumer went live! The lovely Lynn at Book Reviews By Lynn got a very sneaky early review copy of the book, and her glowing review is up over here. In short, she said: Joshua Winning has written an intriguing crime thriller with a kick-ass heroine. I love his fast paced writing style, and the story flowed beautifully. He is one of only a handful of male authors who I have added to my favourite authors list and I can’t wait to see what he will come up with in the future.
  • Rumer joined Twitter! You can follow her here.
  • We have postcards now! You can get your hands on an extra special set of postcards (designed by the brilliant Louise Brock) when you select the ‘Awesome Extras’ pledge. (Already pledged but want the postcards? You can upgrade your pledge by logging in, at no extra cost.)
  • A few new pledge levels have been released! ‘Be Part Of The Story!’ gives you the option of having a character named after you. And with the ‘Superfan Special Collectable’, you can own a signed copy of my very first draft of Killing Rumer, complete with editorial scribbles (ooo, hello behind the scenes jiggery pokery).
  • I blogged! I wrote about the 5 women who inspired Killing RumerCheck it out over here. I also revealed a little bit about why I wrote the book in the first place – take a peek here.

There are other exciting things in the works, including a series of guest blogs around the internet, all to help get Rumer’s name out there.

So yes, you’ve all been fantastically supportive over the past month, and I’m so, so grateful. If you want to help even more, please do share this link with your book-loving friends and family members: http://unbound.com/books/killing-rumer Why not chuck them an email today?

Here’s to hitting 60% and beyond!

Pre-order your copy of Killing Rumer here!