screenwriting

Hacking Up The Hen Party Massacre

 

Cuchillo by Nedarus via Flickr

In an effort to keep this blog from falling into dusty disrepair as so often happens with my attempts at journaling, here is an update on what I’m up to, creatively.

Mostly I’m working on my feature script, Hen Party Massacre. It’s Bridesmaids meets Friday the 13th: An awkward hen party in a rundown cottage turns deadly when the bride and her hens are forced to fight off a masked killer if they hope to live to see the wedding. I’m on draft… 5… (I should have kept better notes of that, bugger. I’ll call it draft 5) and it’s a pretty strong script. Some lovely people have given me great feedback and notes, and it’s hitting Quarter Finals in some competitions, which is nice BUT NOT GOOD ENOUGH. Semi-finals or gtfo. Quarter-finalists don’t make waves, finalists make waves, and I’d be happy with even a ripple or two at this stage.

So right now I’m slashing up Act One of my slasher comedy (ok, ok, right now I’m writing this blog post as procastination, you got me) to tighten it up and nail the tone. As it stands, it’s pretty top-heavy; I’ve got scenes heavy on ‘shooting-the-shit’ dialogue, as a writer whose name escapes me called it. Basically friends hanging out and being funny while the plot moves at a glacial pace. It feels hard to cut these out, as there’s stuff in there that hints at the killer’s motive, but the readers are right: it’s too slow so it needs to go. I also need to add some creepiness in Act One to keep it tonally in line with the bloody shenanigans that ensue. I’m thinking something that’ll come back to play a part in Act Three, because setups and payoffs are important, you know?

It’s tough for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I’m not confident enough in my own abilities. For example I’ve added a new opening scene with an image that hopefully sets the tone (a close up of a knife being sharpened, followed by the sharpener filing their nails to look pretty), but I second-guess whether it’ll work as well on the screen as it does on the page, whether it flows ok into the next scene, whether it gives away anything about the killer, whether whether whether aaaaargh. I’m overthinking it, that’s all. I need to trust in my instincts, take a deep breath, write and then see what people think.

The actual writing is the second problem. Over the past few months I’ve found it increasingly hard to focus on any one task at a time. I get intensely, almost painfully bored and find myself reaching for my phone or booting up a browser almost unconsciously. Attention has always been a problem of mine, but it’s been especially tough recently. I think that when my wife got her ADHD diagnosis and I sat in on her assessments and thought ‘oh, oh I see’ at every other answer to their questions, a switch of some kind flicked in my mind. It’s like my mind went ‘yes, that’s me, don’t believe me WELL HERE’S THE PROOF’. And with my mental health being not so good this year, it’s kicked into overdrive. Lately I just feel too deeply. Sadness is despair, happiness is joy, anger is rage. That’s grief for you, probably. I’ve got an ADHD assessment of my own next month and I’m going back to therapy this month, so cross your fingers for me.

Anyway. That’s my current job, and the obstacles in my way. I’ve also applied for a traineeship in Film Exhibition, Distribution and Sales, and ScreenSkills have assigned me a mentor whom I’m meeting on Sunday. Hopefully they’ll be able to give me good advice on how to take the next step in my career. It’s probably going to be ‘make your own short films’ and I’ll cry because I’ve already tried that and burnt out. It’s been 5 years though, maybe if I can find someone who’s good at herding cats to do the scheduling…

There are deadlines coming up and windows of opportunity rapidly closing. I’m worried about a lot of things (it’s the anxiety, stupid) but I think if I just look at one thing at a time right now then I might be able to make progress. I don’t want to be the guy who spends 30 years on one script, but Hen Party Massacre is a good calling card script, it just needs finishing properly. And then I need to make sure I have ideas and one-pagers and am working on other scripts as well. One out of three ain’t… well, it’s not great, is it? But I’m getting there!

Look at that, a blog post that isn’t all false bravado or Negative Nancying.

I might be getting better at this journaling lark.

journal

2019 – A Dumpsterfire in Review

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Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

You know the old cliché. “Oh, it’s been such a roller-coaster of a year!” Well, clichés are clichés for a reason, and 2019 has been a HELL of a year. Ups, downs, loop-the-loops. For me, the past few months have been the dizzying plunge that makes your stomach lurch and crawl up into your lungs before you slow down and come to a rest at the end of the ride. This makes a retrospective pretty hard, as it’s difficult to see the world without the filter of negativity that my depression has slapped on everything lately. But I’m going to try.

This will be a long post, and it’ll probably get quite emotional at times. To keep things breezy, I’ll try to pepper in some pictures to break everything up. I’m also going to split into sections to make it all a bit more manageable, though things in those sections will be in roughly chronological order.

I’ll warn you now, it gets political towards the end. It has to, given the date I’m writing it. PLEASE: don’t debate me on the things I say. Don’t assume I HATE YOU SPECIFICALLY if you voted for the government we’re getting. I’m disappointed in you if you did, but I don’t hate you. You don’t need to defend yourself to me, I’m just zis guy, you know? Just let me get some fear and anger off my chest and then we’ll both go our separate political ways. I know at least one close friend who might have voted this way and I don’t to lose them over this. As long as they don’t want to lose me over it too.

Anyway. Pull that bar down across your laps and remember to keep your arms and legs inside the carriage at all times.

Let’s go.

Best New Films I Saw This Year

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Photo by Donald Tong from Pexels 

I managed to see more films at the cinema this year, which I’m thankful for. A writer needs to read and a scriptwriter needs to read and watch films. Here’ my favourites of this year, in the order I saw them in.

One Cut of the Dead : A Japanese comedy about a zombie film set that’s infested with zombies – or is it? About 40 minutes are shot in one long take, and it’s the most wholesome fun you can have with severed limbs and buckets of blood.

Captain Marvel : Doesn’t take itself too seriously, is packed to the gills with 90s references & music and has a great hero arc.

Booksmart : Achingly funny, smart and relevant. This was criminally underlooked at the cinema but it’s a must-see.

Midsommar: The director said it’s not so much a horror film as it is a breakup film, and it’s a HELL of a breakup film.

Knives Out: Daniel Craig’s country-fried accent is only the tip of a hilarious and supremely well-crafted iceberg. Another must-watch.

Work and Writing

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Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

I started this year reading scripts, having quit my job for mental health reasons in 2018 & vowed never again to work in a call centre. My condition has ruined me for customer service/public-facing jobs, so I’ve had to think very hard about what I can do. If anyone happens to know what I’m good at, answers on the back of a postcard, please.

The script-reading was great at first. I was reading on a volunteer basis for the Ojai Film Festival (still am, if they have me back for next year!) and had a paid gig reading for a different international festival. Unfortunately, the pay wasn’t great, amounting to around £8 per script for 30 scripts a month. For reference, UK average at the time was said to be around £20-30. With the amount of work required to write comprehensive and useful writers notes I found I couldn’t balance my time well enough and had to step away. I haven’t been able to find paid script-reading work since, which is a shame. I’m always happy to help other writers when asked, though.

Last year I got involved with Beeston Film Festival, joining the Programming team and helping select the films for acceptance. In the run up to the festival this year I helped set up and staff the pop-up shop and helped shift heavy stuff around when needed. The people involved are all lovely, and it feels so good to be part of an organisation dedicated to bringing international films to people who otherwise would have no chance to see them. They’re growing and growing, and I’m currently helping set up a tentative limited-series-run podcast to promote the festival and the film-makers from around the globe. It’s an exciting time!

Speaking of podcasts, remember Celluloid Scrutiny? That fell by the wayside as personal problems got in the way over and over, so it’s sadly on indefinite hiatus. BUT! This year I joined forces with my friend Panicky to start work on a brand-new podcast (actually two, but the fiction one is proving tricky to crack). I mentioned it in my last post. It’s called Mixed Pictures, because we’re mixing up our rather different film tastes and seeing what common ground we can find. The first episode compares/contrasts Upstream Colour with Robocop. We got three episodes in and, once again, personal life got in the way – but I’m not letting this die, not this time. I’ll drag this project into the light kicking and screaming and riddled with audio glitches if I have to. It’s worth it. Panicky and I are FUNNY, damn it. We’re FUNNY and INTERESTING and you should LISTEN TO US. I’m as MAD as HELL and I’m NOT GOING TO TAKE IT ANY MORE.

Sorry, got a bit angry later. Got to save that up for a later section. You know what section I mean. More on that bloody later.

Anyway, what about my writing? Well, I did some writing for Cultured Vultures and Midlands Movies, but due to mental health issues yet again I let that slip. I’ve started writing again for it recently, and I’m determined not to let things get in the way of making a living from my writing, be it from fiction or non-fiction or anything at all.

This year I shopped my feature script, The Bride Wore Blood, all over the place. I submitted it to the BAFTA Rocliffe competition (declined), TLC Free Reads (great notes), BBC Writers Room (denied), Shore Scripts (denied), The Screencraft Screenwriting Fellowship (quarter-finalist), The Finish Line Script Competition (quarter-finalist and great notes) and Sheridan Smith’s production company (won’t hear back from them, sent it on a whim!). As you can see, it was a bit of a mixed bag. But I’ve had some great notes from them and from writer friends, and I know how to proceed. I was going to do that in the past couple of months, but things got on top of me – more on that later. I have however renamed it Hen Party Massacre and come up with a good pitch hook – it’s Bridesmaids meets Friday 13th. I just need to work on the first act and the tone and I’m confident it’ll be a career-movement-conversation-starter. Mostly confident. Well, pretty confident. I think.

And of course, as you may know from me never shutting up about it, I wrote a script for my friend in film-school which has been filmed (apart from two scenes I think?) and will be released next year for festivals! Whoo! My first real proper non-amateur credit. I’m so excited!

I applied for a few things this year. I applied for a work experience day at Channel 4 (turned down), a media open day at an agency (turned down) and a script doctor role with the BBC (turned down). Part of me thinks I’ve set my goals too high, but then part of me consistently undervalues myself and my skills so I just don’t know what to think about myself and my work. This will be a tough nut to crack in 2020. I know I need to work on my pitching skills, perhaps even getting confidence and speech training of some kind? I just don’t know. BUT I attended a BFI Workshop on developing a feature treatment and I attended a Screenskills Open Doors event, so there has been progress and movement. See? I can be positive. Later today I’m finishing up an application for a trainee position with an organisation involved in exhibition and distribution of independent film – cross your fingers for me, folks, I need all the luck I can get. And to paraphrase those merciful sisters, I need all the luck that I can’t get too.

Finally, my friend Susan lent me a metric fuckton (much more than an imperial fuckton) of books and films and series to consume as research for the fantasy detective series I want to write a pilot for. Expect progress on that in 2020 too.

Personal Life

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Photo by Erkan Utu from Pexels

Whoo boy.

I turned 35 in January. As with anyone, the closer I get to 40 the more I start to think about what I’ve done with my life. It feels like I’ve done nothing, because materially I have next to nothing. I have no income. I have no job. I have no owned house, kids, pet, summer home and two holidays abroad a year. Without going into too much detail, I live in fear of not being able to afford food or rent, because thanks to my mental issues even the thought of applying for a job gets my feeling tight-chested and short of breath. And thanks to recent events (more on that bloody smegging later) I’m terrified I’m going to lose what little we’re able to have that help us live as we try to sort our psyches out. I want to work again, I’m just afraid of getting back into a toxic atmosphere and dealing with the public and falling to pieces all over again – it might be third time unlucky, and I might not come out of it alive this time.

And yet when asked by my parents if I need money, I’ve always said ‘I’m fine, thanks’. Because in reality, we do have enough to pay rent and eat right now. We just don’t have disposable cash or any real buffer. On a day-to-day basis, we don’t have to choose between eating and paying bills. We’re OK for now. But it’s not sustainable and it won’t last. If you read my last blog post, you’ll know I went to therapy. I won’t go over it all again, but it really helped me put some things in perspective and get some weighty emotions off my chest, baggage I’ve been carrying since I was a child. I came out of therapy with a spring in my step, confident that I could work on myself for a good few months and maybe think about going back to therapy some time near the end of next year.

Then my mum fell ill.

She’d struggled with emphysema (COPD to the white-coated and medically minded out there) for years and years, at first believing it to be just a tendency towards chest infections and bronchitis. As she got older, it got worse and worse. Her wheezing chest was a constant soundtrack to films watched with the family or books read while she watched Netflix on her laptop. A few years ago she had a stroke that severely limited her mobility and pretty much annihilated her appetite. She could speak and think fine (aside from a few memory issues, especially in recent months). She just barely went anywhere and barely had any exercise.

So when she got a bout of recurring chest infections she had to be hospitalised for muscle pains in her back. The hospital were alarmed at how frail she’d become – and so had I. It’s not until you see your mum tiny like a bird amongst the sheets and pillows on a hospital that it really hits you. She’d become hunched and weak and her breathing was so shallow. We basically lived in the hospital the first week, then managed our time and spent less time there for our own health. I got a cold, which limited the amount of time I could spend with her. I agonised over symptoms, second-guessing every day. “Sore throat but no coughing, is that OK, am I still infectious??”. She started to recover and they moved her to a small community hospital, and then she finally came home.

For about two days.

She had a massive relapse and went back into hospital. That day she came home was the last time I had a conversation with my mother, who could barely speak after being told to walk up the stairs by the paramedics, instead of using the chair specifically designed for stairs, which she said they talked her out of using because “it’s a faff”. She stopped eating. She stopped drinking. And, to make a long story short (too late), I was with her when she finally stopped breathing.

Remember how I said I wrote a film that’s being released next year? In it, a family is dealing with the loss of their wife and mother Nancy. After a year of silence and grieving, youngest daughter Eva finally opens up and says something that sums up pretty much exactly what it’s like to me. “It’s like there’s a hole,” she says, hand on chest. “And it’s just empty. And it’s never going to go away.”

That’s how I felt at the time I wrote the script, because I was I in mourning.

For my dog.

Yes, 2019 took my dog and my mum from me in the same year, and by cruel irony made me ascribe the pain I felt at the time to a fictional circumstance I’d be going through myself a few short months later. I lost my mum and my dog in the same year. If I’d lost a pickup truck too, then I could write a great country song.

Sorry. I’ve been getting darkly humorous intrusive thoughts for a while now. Things like “you can’t expect me to wash the pots, I’ve got a dead mum”. I’ve always processed my emotions with humour – but as Tonks is quick to point out, I deflect with humour too, so it’s damned hard to tell which one I’m doing at any given time. I like to keep her on her toes, you see.

So that was this year’s absolute low point for me (though not the last of them, more on that bloody smegging bollocking later). BUT there have been highs too. This year was my fifth wedding anniversary with Tonks. I credit our success to communication, compromise, empathy, love and me not swinging a massive masculine ego around every five minutes. I went to the Malt Cross pub quiz regularly with Panicky, Helen and Rachel, and once we even came THIRD. THIRD, people. SO CLOSE. And there are good things I can’t tell you about because they involve conversations and consent before I can reveal them, but one thing I’ve learned is that life is too short not to revel in the love you have.

The Politics

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Image by Niek Verlaan from Pixabay

 

OK.

I’m going to try not to vent my spleen too much at this, but I have a lot of pent-up anger that could well leak out into this here section. If you’re in a privileged enough position to be sick of politics or to think that nothing ever really changes anyway then A) I envy you and B) feel free to skip to the end bit now.

So things have been… hectic. This year. On the political front. Over the pond there’s the Orange Man and his cages full of children (which has been happening since LAST year). And now, in the final months of 2019, there’s a ray of hope as impeachment is going ahead.

But over here… well, Mrs Theresa May tried to get her Brexit deal through, and Parliament turned it down. She eventually, finally resigned, and we got Mr Boris Johnson. The first couple of months of his reign were littered with hilarious incompetency and failures, as he failed again and again to get his deal through parliament. He suspended Parliament to tie Parliament’s hands so he could try to force a No Deal Brexit, but it was ruled unlawful so it had to be re-opened.

Long story short (too late again), a General Election was declared. And a campaign of disinformation began. The other parties engaged in the usual mud-slinging, focusing on opponents’ weaknesses more than their own policies until the manifestos came out. But the Conservative Party was, again and again, caught out in lies and attempts at manipulation. 88% of their Facebook ads were deemed misleading (the other parties were not immune to this either).

The NHS was never going to be part of a UK-US trade deal, except it was, but maybe it wasn’t and maybe it was. They promised 50,000 new nurses when in fact they only planned to gain 31,500 new nurses. During a televised debate their press office Twitter handle pretended to be a fact-checking service to counter opponents’ claims. The PM refused to attend a debate on climate change and when Channel 4 replaced him with a melting ice sculpture, the government insinuated that they will look at having the company’s broadcast license revoked if they’re voted back in. The PM refused to attend a BBC interview and be subjected to the same scrutiny as the other leaders. He had to be cajoled into looking at a picture of a boy on a hospital floor after taking the interviewer’s phone and putting it in his pocket. A campaign of disinformation claiming the photo was fake sprung up soon afterwards. And the day before the election he ran away from a surprise interview with Good Morning Britain, but I can hardly blame him for that one, I’d hide in a fridge rather than talk to Piers Morgan too.

News came seemingly every day about Tory candidates in hot water. One candidate said that disabled people can’t understand money (and also apparently has in the past shared a blog post about a Muslim conspiracy to make people transgender). Several candidates were accused of Islamophobia. A candidate near me said he wanted to set up labour camps for problem neighbours to be held in (and was caught setting up a supposed-to-be-random doorstep interview with a friend). And my own constituency’s candidate said that poor people haven’t managed their finances properly and should consider payday loans as a solution.

They lied, cheated and showed the voting populace the utmost contempt, insulting our intelligence every step of the way. And we voted them in, in landslide numbers. All the candidates mentioned above got elected.

I was going to write a post about it yesterday, but I was shaking. I was shaking with fear but more so with anger. Because they got away with it. Just like the Trump campaign and, indeed, administration. They pissed on our heads, told us it was raining and sold us umbrellas. They got away with it, because we allowed them to. 9 years of austerity (proven to be ineffective and based on a mistake), 9 years of cuts and disabled people dying and homelessness & child poverty skyrocketing. And we voted them back in, seemingly because the biggest opposition party dared to suggest we should pay more to help the people who have the least.

I’m sure there are other reasons, and I’m sure I know a few people who voted for them. All I can say is your reasons for voting are your own, but just know that the party you’ve aligned yourself with doesn’t care about you. They’ve made it clear that they only care about making money for their friends. And the Brexit that they’ll bring about has the potential to be ruinous for the country. There’s already rumblings of Scottish independence, and with so much of the country voting SNP it’s not exactly unlikely.

It saddens and angers me that people across the country seem to have looked at the priorities of the Conservative Party (Brexit and making sure people with money keep making money) and looked at the priorities of the other parties (cancel or re-ask Brexit, make sure people with money pay their share to help people without it) and chose to look after themselves and those who have the most. To say nothing of climate change and the environment.

Perhaps the Labour manifesto couldn’t have been funded (or perhaps it could), but it could be adjusted and still provide the most help for the most people. The Conservatives as they are now will only ever care about themselves and anyone poorer than them can go hang.

More people are going to die. The most vulnerable among us are going to die. I might die. I depend on the NHS for my sanity, and if changes are made and we’re moved to an insurance-based system, I won’t qualify. Unemployed and pre-existing condition. I won’t be able to have my medication, and I’m not strong enough to keep working on myself without it.

2020 and Beyond

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Image by Myriam Zilles from Pixabay

 

BUT. BUT. BUT that hasn’t happened. And I’ll do everything I can to ensure that it doesn’t. I’ve been surviving thus far, and I may not have the resources to do much living, but next year I’m going to fight. There will be marches and protests – I’ll be there. There will be people that need feeding – I’ll be there, even if only to staff tables because I can’t donate myself. I can’t give money, but right now I have the luxury of giving time. I’m going to look at local grassroots organisations and see what I can do to give my time to them and use it wisely.

And I’ll keep working with Beeston Film Festival, because I admire their globalist and inclusive values. Film tells unique stories, but all stories are ultimately human, and we all have a common ground. Basic human values and needs. People need to see stories through a different frame of reference than their own if they’re ever going to start thinking of other people as worth helping.

And I’ll write. My God, how I’ll write. No matter what 2020 and the next decade throw at me, I’m going to write if I have to scratch it out in the dirt of the irradiated wasteland that used to be the town centre. I’m going to write if I have to get one of those special pens that lets you write underwater. I’m going to write even if I have to do it in my head and tell my stories verbally around the fire.

Because I’m sad. And I’m scared.

But above all, I’m angry.

And as Anansi once said in a rather different context, angry gets shit done.

screenwriting

An Update From the Word Mines

Man writing on notepad with open laptop and a clapperboard

 

We’re long overdue an update around these parts!

Let’s see, what’s been going on lately? Well, I set up a Letterboxd account – follow me as I try and remember what films I’ve already seen and fail to stick to a consistent rating metric!

Oh, and I finished my first feature script The Bride Wore Blood, got a few revisions deep and realised that there’s no use tweaking it any more. At this point in time, right here and right now, it’s the best script I can write for that story.

So I’ve let it fly.

I’ve submitted it to the Screencraft Screenwriting Fellowship, who fly the winner out to LA for industry meetings all-expenses-paid, among other things. I’ve submitted it to the Finish Line Script Competition, who offer a $1000+ grand prize and skype industry meetings, among other things. And perhaps most importantly, I’ve submitted it to the BAFTA Rocliffe New Writing Competition, which offers a live reading of the extract I submitted and an industry showcase right here in the country I’m most likely to be working in.

Do I expect to win any of these? No; I’m not delusional and I know there’s heaps upon heaps of talent out there. I know there’s also quite a lot of dreck out there too, and what I hope to accomplish here is introducing myself as a talent and not a dreck-peddler. Your first script is never good enough to be made, I’m told, but perhaps it’s good enough to get people to remember my name when my next script does the rounds.

Which reminds me, I’m slowly starting work on my next feature script. It’ll feature a non-binary teen who goes on holiday with their family and accidentally brings back a woodland spirit/creature/boggarty type thing. It’s early days yet, but I’m excited. I’ve applied to the BFI Network Feature Treatment Workshop at Broadway cinema, will hopefully find out soon if I got a place on it. And speaking of BFI Network, I’ve set myself up over there and uploaded The Tree. No idea what I’m doing or if anything will come of it, but whatever happens happens, right?

In other news, I finished a short comedy script about a young woman who moves into a haunted flat and refuses to leave no matter how hard the ghost tries to scare her. We’re taking tentative steps towards filming, but I’m rusty and frankly, scared. We’re going to be dipping our toe into crowdfunding, and it’s really quite overwhelming. I’ve been in a dark place mentally in the past week or so, but thanks to some much-needed love from close friends and the probably-all-too-brief return of the sunshine, I’m feeling cautiously optimistic about things.

So this is Sam, checking in, letting you know things are moving and I’m not giving up.

 

absurdity, dreams, fictional, story

The Farmer’s Dream – A Story

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It’s been a while, so I thought I’d share a little something I wrote a while back. Remember, when opportunity knocks you have the option to hide behind the sofa and pretend no one’s home.

 

The Farmer’s Dream

William was sleeping when the angel came to him.

He had been dreaming of hard labour in the field, ploughing and sowing. It was a common dream of his, one he’d often pondered the meaning of. He thought it was probably something to do with rebirth, or renewal, or fertility. More likely it was just too much cheese before bed.

In this dream, as in every previous dream of its kind, his plough would strike something hard, twist and buck in his hand. The dream would usually end there, but not tonight. Tonight the plough wrested away from his grip and sped off, leaving a deep groove in the soil behind it, merrily ploughing the rest of the field on its own.

He looked down at the ground, searching for whatever it was his plough had struck. A sharp corner poked out of the dirt. He dug away at its edges with his fingers, freeing it from the earth. He pulled it out to examine it more closely.

It was a box, about the size of his head, made of granite and marble but lighter than it should be. He was suddenly overcome by a strange feeling he hadn’t had on previous nights – he knew that this was a dream. He could feel the soft earth beneath his feet, could feel the cold rough surface of the box, but something was off; he was certain that he was actually asleep and in his own bed in the farmhouse.

“How curious,” he said to himself.

He looked around. The field was just as he remembered it from his waking hours, as far as he could tell. He wondered what would happen if he attempted to take control of the dream, perhaps to take flight or to change his surroundings. He looked at the plough retreating into the distance and willed it to come back. It didn’t.

“Perhaps I need a bit more practice,” he thought. “Let’s start with something small. Like opening this box.”

He opened the box.

A burst of bright light spilled out, blinding him. A great booming voice rang out in such rumbling tones that he could feel the soles of his feet vibrating.

WILLIAM, said the voice. HARK, WILLIAM.

William dropped the box in shock.

OW.

He nudged it gently with one toe. What was it?

WILLIAM, the voice resumed. ARE YOU HARKING?

“Um, I think you mean harkening?” William suggested.

GOOD, YOU ARE HARKING. PICK THE BOX UP, AND GAZE INTO THE LIGHT.

William did as he was told, though his hands were shaking so much he thought he would drop the box again. The strange voice rattled his back teeth.

I AM THE ANGEL OF DIVINE INTERVENTION. I AM TASKED WITH INTERVENING, DIVINELY. DO YOU COMPREHEND?

“No,” William answered honestly. The voice sighed, blowing the farmer’s hair back.

THEN I SHALL ELABORATE. I AM TO SET YOU ON AN ADVENTURE TO SEEK A GREAT FORTUNE. THE JOURNEY WILL SEND YOU FAR FROM HENCE AT GREAT PERIL, BUT IT IS OF HUGE IMPORT.

“What will I be importing?”

WHAT? NO. NO, I MEAN IT WILL BE HUGELY IMPORTANT. BECAUSE YOU WILL BE RICH.

“Well why didn’t you say that, then?”

BECAUSE… BECAUSE… BECAUSE IT JUST SOUNDS BETTER.

“Seems to me that sounding good isn’t quite as important as making sure you’re understood, don’t you think? Especially if you’re meant to be sending people on important quests.”

LOOK, DO YOU WANT TO GO OR DON’T YOU? BECAUSE WE DON’T HAVE ALL NI-

“No, thank you.”

There was a moment of stunned silence.

I BEG YOUR PARDON?

“I said no, thank you. See, I’m asleep at the moment and I don’t really know how long I’m likely to be. I can’t go on a long quest and then have to oversleep in order to finish it. Who’ll feed the pigs?”

OH, AHAHAH, I CAN SEE THE CONFUSION. NO, SEE, THE QUEST IS FOR WHEN YOU ARE AWAKE.

“Eh? How’s that work, then?”

WELL, SEE, I TELL YOU ABOUT THE TREASURE AND WHERE IT IS, AND YOU WAKE UP THINKING IT’S A DREAM ONLY I’VE LEFT A SHEAF OF WHEAT OR SOMETHING UNDER YOUR PILLOW AS A SIGN AND SO YOU GO OFF AND SEEK YOUR FORTUNE, GROWING AND MATURING ALONG THE WAY UNTIL YOU RECEIVE YOUR FINAL REWARD OF A KINGDOM AND A BEAUTIFUL WIFE AND SO ON.

“Oh, so the quest is for after I wake up?”

YES.

“I see. Well, in that case… no, thank you.”

LOOK, WILLIAM, I DON’T THINK YOU’VE GRASPED THE BASIC CONCEPT OF-

“Oh, I have, it’s just that I don’t want to do it. I simply haven’t the time.”

There was no reply; the voice seemed to be pondering this. William felt more was needed.

“Like I said, who’d feed the pigs? And the cows would need milking, and if I don’t get the field ploughed in time for sowing then I’ll be buggered. I can’t just up sticks and travel off to foreign lands seeking my fortune and battling monsters and outsmarting evil viziers. It wouldn’t be fair on the livestock, or the people who’re counting on my crops. So thank you, but if it’s all the same to you, I’ll have to decline.”

He laid the box gently on the ground.

NOW SEE HERE-

“No, I don’t think so,” William replied firmly, slapping the lid shut. The voice continued, muffled and confused.

wait, what are you doing? william?

William placed the box back into the hole and started to shovel dirt back over it.

are you serious? this is ridiculous … stop, william. william.

William didn’t stop. He filled the hole and smoothed the dirt over until the spot was indistinguishable from the rest of the field. He patted his hands clean on his trousers.

“Now then,” he thought. “Let’s give flying a try.”

And with that, William flew off into the clouds.

The next morning there was a long white feather under his pillow. He threw it away.

THE END

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My Free eBook – The Horror in the Library and Other Stories

I’ve finally done it – I’ve gone and self-published my first ebook.

It’s called The Horror in the Library and Other Stories, and it can be found over on Smashwords where it will cost you the princely sum of zero of your English pounds. That’s right, it’s completely free!

Why? Well, there’s only four stories in there – it’s a sampler, a taste of things to come, a sort of literary EP. If I can get people to read it, maybe they’ll enjoy it. And if they enjoy it, maybe they’ll want more. And if they want more, maybe I’ll be motivated to write harder to give them more.

How can you read it if you don’t have a smartphone, a Kindle or other such device! I’m glad you asked! My recommendation is to download a program like Calibre – it’s free and will let you read ebooks of all different types and formats (which means you can take advantage of the Humble Bundle book bundles more often!). I’m reliably informed that there are browser extensions that will let you read ebooks in your browser, but to be honest I’m not sure how much I trust them, so downloader beware.

I’d like to ask you all a quick favour – even if you don’t want to read the stories (which is fair enough), could you please spare a moment to spread the link to the book around a little? That way it might get in the eyes of people I don’t know, which is an absolute win as far as I’m concerned.

If you do read the stories, be sure to tell me what you think in the comments!

creativity, writing

Six Word Stories

Writing is hard. In my experience, it involves squinting hard at a screen then typing a handful of words, only to immediately delete most of them. Rinse, lather, repeat until braindeath. It’s nice when it comes easily, when you get into the flow of it, but that’s pretty rare for me.

That’s where writing exercises come in. I need to engage in these more often. They’re a way of flexing brain muscles that I’ve been letting atrophy. A drabble here, a stream of consciousness there. It doesn’t matter what I write, as long as I write.

One of my favourite exercises is the Six Word Story. The aim is to write a self-contained story that says everything it needs to say in just six words. The most famous one is attributed to Ernest Hemingway, though there’s doubt as to whether or not he actually wrote it : “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” There’s a whole story’s worth of sorrow in those six words alone.

I find it difficult to get a whole story in six words, but that’s why it’s a challenge. Here’s a few I came up with :

What goes up sometimes comes down.

I thrash, I flail, I sink.

I aim my gun. Still miss.

Since you left, I’ve been sleeping.

“Please don’t,” she said. I did.

“Please don’t.” I did it anyway.

Do Not Push? What could possibly-

No experience? No job for you.

Play it again, Sam. No? Ok.

Sad songs, empty glass. She’s gone.

Screams. Heart pounding. Crying. Baby boy.

“Look out for-!” SPLAT. “… never mind.”

My stomach hurts. Get it out.

Ate Dad. Could have tasted better.

Got super powers. Jumped. Couldn’t fly.

Dead on arrival. Why’s he moving?

Where’s the holy water? Oh shit.

I loved her. Now she’s gone.

Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. Click.

Now cut the red NO WAIT

I should write. What’s on TV?

The stench of death. How lovely.

The words won’t come. Blank screen.

Plastic bottle, plastic bag, plastic flesh.

I bite down and drink deep.

The hunger burns. I eat more.

Feel free to share your own in the comments!

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The Twitter Fiction Project That Never Was

Just a short blog post this time, to share an idea I had a year or so ago that I wish I had the commitment and discipline to try. It’s probably been done at least once before, but it still would have been nice to try.

My idea was this – I would recruit 5 or so friends and set up Twitter accounts with them. Each of us would have a character, based in Nottingham and close enough to our own selves that it’d ring true. Those of us with actual proper Twitter accounts would introduce them as friends, and encourage their followers to connect with them. Naturally, all the fictional accounts would follow each other.

Things would proceed in a very normal, natural manner. Lunches would photographed. Movies would be live-blogged. Hashtag games would be played. Over time, a community would be built around them, a phenomenon which I’ve seen happen many times over Twitter.

This would take two years.

Two years of business as normal, with no one realising that they’re interacting with fictional characters. Until, one day, an Inciting Incident happens. Maybe one of the characters is bitten by a shambling stranger. Maybe someone checks a dusty old book out of the library and livetweets the contents. Or someone witnesses  strange lights in the sky, loses time and starts to doubt their sanity.

In short, things would get Weird.

It would spiral into chaos across the fictional accounts – and the proper accounts of those running the fakes ones. That would lend it a bit of credibility. Before you knew it, Twitter would be abuzz with talk of aliens, zombies, demons, who knows what. All because 5 or 6 supposedly real, credible accounts suddenly went consistently haywire.

It would be a small scale 30s War of the Worlds radio broadcast scenario and it would be beautiful.

There are, of course, three problems with it. Firstly, it’s a bit ethically dubious. All the interactions with real people would feel dishonest, deceitful. Is that justified by the art itself? Probably not. Secondly, I’d need to recruit a few friends and wrangle them efficiently. Which leads into the third point : I just don’t have the self-discipline for this.

A project of this scale would require more than just ambition, it would require iron will and strong focus. I’d need to stay consistent in characterisation, over a course of a year or more, interacting with as many people as possible both as myself and as a fictional character. And then to keep track of everything once the madness starts? Whew.

I might still do it. If I can find enough people to join me, and if I can convince myself I have the focus, and if I can be ok with misleading my Twitter followers a bit. Of course, if anyone actually reads this then they’ll instantly know what I’m up to when it starts, but I doubt that many of my Twitter followers read the blog!

So, there you have it. The Great Twitter Deception. If anyone thinks this is a good idea and would like to convince me to do it, I’m open to arguments! In the meantime, it’ll just stay as yet another interesting pipe dream. Along with my potential standup career and podcast.

I’m good at pipe dreams.

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An Exclusive Glimpse Into the Writing Process

I’ve got something very special for you all today – in today’s blog post, I’m going to throw open the windows of my mind and let you peer in at my brain. Not literally, you understand, that would be dangerous and icky. It would also involve installing a window in my head, and then I’d have to measure it for blinds, and that’s just too much like work.

Anyway.

This blog post will allow you an exclusive insight into the thought processes of that most secretive of creatures, the Writer. Marvel at the astounding leaps of logic! Quail before the mysterious power of wordcraftery! Titter behind your hand at the rampant egotism! Come one, come all, and see the marvellous Writer in action! Tickets are £3.67 payable in all of your Earth currencies or by logging into Paypal in your dreams and imagining that you’ve sent the money across to me.

And now, with no further ado, I give you… Dave Daring.

Dave Daring

It was a dark and stormy night.

Wait, what? Shit. Shit no. I can’t start it like that. That’s the sort of thing a high-schooler starts a creative writing assignment with. That’s amateur hack cliché stuff. Dark and stormy night, fuck the dark and stormy night.

But I’ve got to set the mood. I mean, it’s a horror story, right? You can’t start a horror story with ‘It was a lovely sunny day,’ can you? There are rules.

Let’s see…

A blood-curdling scream ripped through the night.

Better! Blood-curdling scream, good stuff. Ok, who’s doing the screaming?

Barbara Devonshire pounded through the woods, her huge bosom heaving with-

No.

Steve Devonshire pounded through the woods, his massive cock heaving with-

NO.

The hideous monster pounded through the woods-

Ok, let’s drop the woods. And the pounding. Rethink this whole thing.

What’s scary? In terms of settings?

Woods. Caverns. Graveyards. Haunted castles. Empty hospitals. Abandoned amusement parks.

Graveyards might be good. Screaming in a graveyard, that could be a good mood-setter.

A blood-curdling scream ripped through the night. The graveyard, normally home only to the dead, was now teeming with life – terrible, horrible life, bent on the destruction of all humankind.

Nice. Grand scope. What does the bad guy want? Nothing less than the destruction of all humankind. The stakes are high.

I hefted my shotgun and aimed it at the lead creature.

“I don’t know what you are,” I drawled, “but I know what you’re gonna be – wormfood!”

I pulled the trigger and the creature blew apart, claws and tentacles flying, drenching me in ichor.

What the hell is ichor, anyway? Man, why do people have to use such stupid words for such simple things. Slime, I’ll say slime instead.

I wiped the slime out of my eyes and gritted my teeth heroically.

“No need to go to pieces,” I said.

Wait, does that even mean anything in that context? I mean, he blew it to pieces, so it’s gone to- oh, never mind, I’m sure it’s ok.

More hideous creatures gathered around me, surrounding me and hissing. This was not good.

More mood-setting, very important stuff, got to sell the danger factor here.

They were seven foot tall and covered with razor sharp teeth, but I wasn’t scared. It was all in a day’s work for Dirk Daring

Wait, has that name been used before? I get the feeling it’s been used before, like in a videogame or something.

It was all in a day’s work for Dave Daring.

Nailed it.

I reached into my pocket and pulled out my collapsible chainsaw.

“All right, suckerheads,” I said snarlingly, “prepare to meet your maker!”

“They already have – me!” cried a mysterious voice from behind a nearby gravestone.

MYSTERY! Always add a surprise villain.

“What?” I cried with shock. From behind the gravestone stepped my arch enemy, the evil Doctor Medical.

“It is I, Doctor Medical!” said Doctor Medical. “You have fallen into my trap for the last time, Dave Daring!”

“I think not, Doctor Medical,” I said, starting my chainsaw. I whirled it around my head and lopped off several monsters’ tentacles and arms. They howled with pain and the floor became slippery with blood. I killed many more monsters but more kept coming, and my arms were tired from swinging the chainsaw. I was doomed.

Oh shit, I’ve written myself into a corner. How the hell is he going to get out of this one? Think think think think AHA

I threw my chainsaw to the floor.

“Alright, Doctor Medical, you have what you want. Come and get me.”

“I thought you’d never ask,” he cried, gathering me up into his arms for a passionate kiss. The monsters all clapped their hands and tentacles. Doctor Medical and I were married the next day, and we moved into the graveyard to live happily ever after with our family of monsters.

I’m the best fucking novelist since Ernest Hemmingway.

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Letting Go

chimney swift by Ed Schipul

I have trouble letting go.

I have trouble letting go of preconceptions, of prejudices, of anger, of self-pity. I have trouble letting go of a lot of things.

Most of all, I have trouble letting go of my writing. I’m fiercely protective of it, knowing that if I spend more time on it I can polish it up and make it shine and sing and dance and do all the things that you expect a really dazzling piece of work to do. This is ultimately quite damaging, as the more I look at it the more flaws I spot and the more I resent it. Then I’m likely to never let it out into the real world.

I’m getting better, though. I’ve published a couple of short literary doodles on this very blog, and have managed to have enough scripts prised from my hands that we have a nice backlog of short films now. But still the temptation is there, the temptation to hoard and my work and clutch it to my chest and hiss ‘mine!’ at anyone who thinks I should actually do something with it.

This is a roundabout way of saying that I’ve just submitted 3 scripts to the Create50 The Impact competition. Are they perfect? No, and I have to be ok with that. Are they the best I can do at this moment in time? Yes, and that’s important to me. If I’d held onto them and tried to polish them, I’d have ended losing faith and never submitting them before the deadline. And not submitting anything at all would have been a crime. Nothing ventured, nothing something something etc etc, right?

So, with the help of a couple of beta readers (to whom I’m supremely grateful), I have finished the scripts to the best of my ability and sent them out, releasing them into the big wide world to fend for themselves. Will they soar above the heads of their peers? Will they stand out from the flock? Will they be torn to shreds or sucked into a plane engine? Will this extended metaphor never end? Who knows. Who knows.

Check out all the scripts (not just mine)(but do please read mine) over at the Create50 website. I think you’ll agree this project is shaping up to be a very interesting one indeed.

Stay tuned for the sound of your fingers tapping away rapidly at your keyboard as you write a comment on this post.

Picture: Chimney Swift by Ed Schipul, CC BY-SA 2.0

 

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Create 50 : The Impact

Falling Asteroids

Those of you who know me well may remember that I entered the 50 Kisses competition a couple of years ago. This was a fantastic idea – 50 scripts, 50 shorts, 1 feature film. It was also a great opportunity, a chance to get my work read and potentially noticed. I wrote Geek Love, which is now a short film trilogy that has been screened at the Derby Quad cinema.

This happened because, of course, I didn’t make it through to the final 50 in the competition. But I was longlisted, which gave me a lovely warm gooey feeling inside. I was also asked to write a blog post about my experience and what it meant to me.

So you can imagine my excitement when I saw that there’s a new competition – The Impact : same portmanteau format, now with an exciting scifi-tinged premise. There is a colossal asteroid heading for Earth, and there’s nothing we can do to stop it. The short films that make up the feature will chronicle mankind’s final minutes before its inevitable extinction.

The aim of the competition is to shoot for substance and emotion rather than spectacle and effects, which is just as well because you only have 2 pages to tell a self-contained story about staring oblivion in the face. It’s going to be tricky, but what’s writing without a challenge?

My aim is to submit 3 scripts for consideration. The reasoning behind this is that I’d quite like to to try my hand at different styles for it. I’ve today finished the first draft of the first one, a Geek-Love-esque vignette that will hopefully bring a smile to a few faces. With the other two I’m aiming for darker territory. I’ve not quite cemented the ideas, but I’m working on it. I’ve had a couple of thoughts, but they were exactly what you’d think they would be, so they’re on the back-burner. Cliché is all very well and good, but only if you can do something interesting with it.

I’ve got a good feeling about this competition. Not necessarily an I’m-going-to-win good feeling, just a vague sense of impending accomplishment and fulfilment. And who doesn’t like accomplishment and fulfilment?

Stick around, more news on this as it comes.

Picture: Falling Asteroids by Robert Davies, CC-BY-NC 2.0