Saturday, 13 October 2018

Oh, The Horror: Train Stations Versus Railway Stations

The Nature Of Language

Language evolves and changes. Even people who believe language rules should be prescriptive (unchanging, based on choices from the past) rather than descriptive (based on how people actually communicate) still have to choose a point in time when their prescriptive rules are set in stone. Which is, of course, as subjective as anything else to do with how humans communicate with each other.

Language is fascinating and living, and that requires us to understand that differences in word choice, pronunciation, grammar and so on are not deviations from the "one true way" - they all have some validity. We shouldn't try to stamp out varied dialects and accents and vocabulary, we should see that variety is what prevents stagnation. Accepting that alternatives exists prevents our minds from becoming closed. I wrote a bit more on that subject (and my support of Scots Language) here.

Train Station Versus Railway Station

Anyway, I shared the picture above on social media, saying "This is my favourite train station in the UK." For some bizarre reason it got seen and shared by more people than anything I normally say: over 120 shares, likes and comments just on Twitter when I checked just now. But amongst the guesses at what station I had photographed, there were many comments along the lines of "Argh, it is not a train station, it is a railway station, stop being American!"

Oh boy. I can understand having your own preference, but this was prescriptivism in saying "only the way I say things is correct: I'm okay, you're not okay."

Here's a shocker - in the UK, 2018, train station and railway station are synonyms, and can be used interchangeably.

"In British English [...] train station, which is often perceived as an Americanism, is now about as common as railway station in writing." [Source]

You only have to open your eyes to see that's true. I was looking at the Guardian data article Every train station in Britain listed and mapped, which begins with:

"Where are the UK's busiest rail stations? And how many people use them? We bring you one of the best datasets available about each of the train stations we use."

Note the change in terminology between the two sentences, yet they are referring to the same thing. And I usually buy my train tickets from The Trainline - who likewise refer to both train stations and railway stations on their station page:

"Did you know the UK is home to 2,563 train stations? [...] From these railway stations, travellers can catch a connecting service with train operators such as ..."

So the terms train station and railway station refer to the same thing. Individuals will have their own preferences as to what term to use based on what they grew up with (cf. napkin/serviette). So the preference can be a regional/class/cultural thing. I grew up in the 1970s North, and I never heard anyone say "railway station" - it would have sounded to us like someone was putting on airs. To me it was a station for trains to pull into, independent of whatever they said in the US.

That last point is important too. The alternative names for the same thing didn't necessarily come from two different countries. So how did they come about? Well, if you look at the terms railway station and train station, they are both missing prepositions. As such, a preposition has to be assumed - and the preposition you choose to assume determines what word pairs with station. If you assume the missing preposition is "on", then you will probably say railway station = "station on a railway". Makes sense - you wouldn't say "station on a train", so "train station" seems wrong. BUT! (There's always a but ...) If you assume the missing preposition is "for" then you will probably say train station = "station for trains". That makes equal sense - you wouldn't say "station for railways". So both cases depend on an assumption, a thing selected to fill the gap, and there are two equally likely and correct possibilities. The one you choose determines whether "railway" or "train" is the correct pairing for "station".

There, hopefully that's explained that both terms are equally valid, and also where the two options probably evolved from linguistically. Neither are created from a position of grammatical ignorance. Just use whichever you feel more comfortable with.

(Of course, despite all my support for descriptivism, I still get grumpy that many people celebrated "the new millennium" a year early in 2000: so you're welcome to call me a hypocrite.)

Why Do I Love That Station?

Let me end with something positive and answer the question above.

I chose not to own a car, so get to most places by train, bus, bicycle, walking or running. It means I have an affinity for train stations. But only nice ones. Many train stations are dirty grey places packed with consumerist chainstores selling things in throwaway packaging, and where you have to pay to use the toilet. I also hate train stations where there are restrictions on going onto or leaving the platform (e.g. Shrewsbury, Manchester or Cardiff, where you have to pass through barriers and show tickets - meaning you can't wave friends and family off, or easily pop out of the station during train changes).

None of that applies to Dumfries railway station. It gets full marks for having free toilets, and free water bottle fillers on both platforms. There are nice buildings with quaint features, and a small display of historical items. There is storage for bicycles, and the area is also used for local food markets once a month, which is a great use of space and makes the railway station a part of the community. There are no restrictions on going onto or leaving the platform, no barriers saying you are unwelcome. There's also amazing greenery thanks to Incredible Edible Dumfries and the South West Railway Adopters Gardening Group (SWRAGG), who both do fantastic work. Last time I met someone from the train I had time to wander round the gardens, and I picked a few things to take home (something Incredible Edible encourage): some fennel and lemon balms to use in making cups of herb tea, some chives for on my pasta, and rosemary that I roasted with garlic and potatoes. Next time I'll snip a couple of stalks of rhubarb and a few remaining crab apples, and stew them together. All for free.

Plus I love Dumfries in general (you can read about my move to Dumfries here).

For anyone wondering about the charmingly-painted building in that first photo: it was a store building, then became disused. A local artist painted murals there and elsewhere (I'll try and update this later on, with a link to her work). Round the back of the building there's a mural of the Flying Scotsman.

Me, in front of the hidden mural

Where next? You might want to follow me and my work, or even buy my books. Many thanks!

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Just Telling Stories Is Retold As A Story

Back in 2013 one of my stories was adapted as an online audio version by Midnight Marinara after they had discovered it on CreepyPasta, where it had been a popular story. In fact, my tale - "Just Telling Stories", from They Move Below - was the first story that Midnight Marinara adapted for their excellent series of podcasts and retellings.

Five years on, and history repeats - kind of. Midnight Marinara have decided to begin a new series called "Undercooked Analysis" (as I discovered when they kindly tagged me in this Tweet). They intend to revisit their earlier adaptations and see if they still hold up today, five years after production. And for their first episode, they picked ... yes, you guessed it, "Just Telling Stories" by yours truly. :-) You can listen to them discussing (and re-enacting) the story on Youtube.

And that's what I did last night for my evening's entertainment - listened to the hour-long episode, often grinning my head off as I got to hear thoughts on the tale in real-time, unscripted format. It was good fun, with some excellent points made, especially about the need to change or cut parts for the adaptation.

I agreed that the male character does go on too much: it is appropriate for how he is, but not always as much fun for the reader. I wanted the stories to work on one level as misdirection ("What's going to happen?") and mood-setting whilst characterising the protagonists, but that doesn't mean they couldn't be cut back a bit, which is what I would do if I ever revisited this tale.

However, the stories-within-the-story have multiple roles: they all tie in to the protagonists' situation on some level, whilst also becoming a catalystic part of the narrative, since the characters' fear releases hormones that gradually changes their blood in preparation for the ending.

And both commenters were right about the guy being a douche. :-) Fun fact that I've never revealed before: the story came out of a real situation when I was staying in a hotel room with a friend and she wanted to tell scary stories. Most of the tales in the story were part of the mutual scaring; the one about the cat called Poppy was the one my friend told. But in reality my friend was the one doing more of the scaring, not me, and no seduction attempts took place on either side. Afterwards she was supportive of me working with the raw material to create a scary story about people telling scary stories based on us telling scary stories. It was rather meta.

In fact, because some of my earliest books had a higher quota of dick-head male protagonists, I made a point in my last book of making all the protagonists female (and awesome ones at that), with men relegated to subsidiary dick-head roles. It seemed only fair.

Anyway, the episode made my night. Even better that I was alone in the house, and while I was listening to it in the dark, the French doors blew open in the wind. Full-on curtain billowing. Awesome, even if I did have to change my trousers.

[As an aside - there is an official audiobook version of They Move Below, narrated by Rosie Alldred, which includes "Just Telling Stories".]


Friday, 5 October 2018

Some Scary Books To Read In October

People often say nice things about my work - the image above is the latest example. I'm incredibly grateful to my readers, fans, other authors, book bloggers and everyone else who talks about and supports my writing. Altered Instinct included that tweet in their Horror Books For Halloween post, so go and have a look at all the other recommendations!

If that's not enough, here are some of my own favourite horror reads from 2018.
  • The Tank by Nicola Lombardi. This crazy book really impressed me, despite the terrible translation, and often left me sickened but unable to stop reading. I had a lovely chat with Nicola after I wrote my review, and encouraged him to keep writing standout stories like that.
  • The Sadist's Bible, by Nicole Cushing. A really satisfying horror novella that kept me riveted until the end.
  • Body of Christ by Mark Matthews. Another really good novella.
  • "Bent" in Rebecca Rowland's collection The Horrors Hiding In Plain Sight. Gruesome and short and inevitable. Good stuff.
  • Midnight Gods by Greg F. Gifune. It cuts out all the filler and confidently leads you from scene to scene as the horror grows from a late-night encounter.
If you want to know some other recommendations from previous years, there's Housebroken by The Behrg, which I see as a great example of being able to take a book in unexpected but satisfying directions. I also recommend trying some Koontz books, or sci-fi horrors that stayed with me, or a few classics.


Wednesday, 3 October 2018

Halloween freebie - Web, from They Move Below

They Move Below is my collection of dark tales, perfect for Halloween.

This is what one review said about it:
"It's nice to see Drinkwater playing around with form here - with some stories framed around internet chat logs, others in the shape of police interviews. [...] For me, the best of the short story collection was an unexpected one - Web tells a tale of a Somali woman who has been subjected to [redacted, for spoilers], and the mental illness she appears to be suffering from. It's a tough tale emotionally to read, but brilliantly done. The harsh honesty of the tale almost feels out of place alongside the fantasy horrors of the other stories - but it's perhaps the most horrific of all for that. Other excellent tales in this set are the nightmarish cave journey of Claws Truth Forebear and How It Got There, which is a treat." 5*
-- Altered Instinct
As a treat for Halloween, and in thanks to Altered Instinct, I've made a copy of that story temporarily available for free. Download it in PDF, Mobi or Epub format. Happy Halloween.

(I will also give away a new and previously-unseen short horror story in my next newsletter. Sign up here.)


Friday, 28 September 2018

Chasing Solace - The End

I've just written "The End" for Chasing Solace (the sequel to Lost Solace)

Word count = just over 90,000 words (the first novel was 59,000).

Drink = Penderyn Legend, Welsh whisky.

The book was begun in England (Shrewsbury) Friday 25th May 2018, continued in Wales (Aberystwyth), and finished in Scotland (Dumfries) Fri 28th September 2018, so its writing took place in three countries and incorporated one house move in August. :-)

It's been great to continue a story which had been originally intended as a standalone, and a bit of an experimental piece of thriller sci-fi based around questions that seemed to go against generally received wisdom. Could I keep a reader interested if most of the novel was just two characters conversing by radio? Could I have almost non-stop, continuous real-time action and not bore the reader or wear them out? Could I relegate men to secondary roles and give women the lead without losing what makes them women? And could I break the cardinal rule that the reader has to know the stakes, by hiding what the hell the protagonist was even trying to achieve (and why) until the end of the novel?

So, Opal is back in action.



Friday, 21 September 2018

About Me, 2016-2018

The "About Me" page needed updating, so I decided to remove all the info on publications, interviews, awards etc. It was getting too long! Here's everything from 2016-2018. (If you want to know what went on from 2010-2015, see this post.)

Interviews / Guest Appearances
Other Stuff


Monday, 17 September 2018

Moving Home

This is my happy face

I moved house last month. Country too - I had lived in Wales for twenty years, but am now a resident of Scotland. A big move that took over a year to put in place (in terms of all the legal stuff, mortgages etc). There are some significant differences in the laws for buying houses in Scotland compared to the rest of the UK, and I wasn't sure if it would work out.

It worked out.

Anyway, it seems I should have written a post about it on my blog. I've just been so busy. There are boxes stacked up in my office, and I'm getting to know the local area, and writing the sequel to Lost Solace.

One of my readers/fans/friends said: "I'm yearning for a moving house story" and sent me a link to this Tom Cox article for inspiration. Here are some thoughts.

If life is change, then moving is living. As a writer I need fresh ideas and voices and people and places in order to catalyse the fantasies in my head into stories. I'd been living in one small town for two decades. TWO DECADES. I didn't want to stagnate. I wanted a rebirth. To take a chance and go for it. We should all do stuff that scares us.

Even good things are stressful. Because our psychological systems are inherently conservative. All change causes arousal and stress. Some parts are more stressful than others. I think the element I dreaded most was moving house with my cat. She came into my life by turning up on my doorstep and asking to be let in. She'd had nine years of stability with me - she knew my routines, and she knew where the biscuits were. And I was going to overturn all that and could not explain it to her, could not reassure her with words. She didn't like the way boxes were gradually taking over every room. And on move day there were a number of things she had never dealt with - being in a vehicle; wearing a harness; being in a carrier for many hours. On top of which, she'd never used a litter tray (her wild-cat habits of going toilet outdoors had stayed with her even in domestic bliss). It was a lot to deal with, and I was proud of the way she adapted. The journey had one horrible moment when I thought things would go terribly wrong, but we were lucky, and I'm thankful for that every day. And now she is happy in her new home, and - amazingly - uses a litter tray when she needs a wee, and stays in every night, sleeping on my bed (she used to spend the night-time hours outdoors).

If cats can change, so can we.

I am grateful. I love my new town. I love my "new" big old house. I love the sights, the places I've explored, the cycle routes running past my door, the secret garden. I love my new office. I love writing while stood up, on an old Windows XP laptop with no Internet connection, that I have christened "Wordcruncher Turbo". I feel productive and energised.

Every night when I go bed I try to think of a few things I am thankful for that day. I say them out loud. It's not religious, just a vocalisation and appreciation. It means that the last thing in my mind before I go to sleep is a positive thing, nice memories, not worries about bills and spam phone calls and suffering beings and overpopulation. Being positive and thankful is one of the ways that we change our mind, and then, in turn, change the way the world reacts to us.

The view from my new office

Telling stories. We all do it. Every day. The friend I mentioned earlier, that was pining for a moving house story, also gave me a beginning. She wrote:

"After 20 years, Carlos pulled the heavy bookcase away from the wall in his study. He had already packed the shelves' contents preparing to move house, and want to check that no papers had slid behind the furniture, before arrival of the removal men.
All clear, no debris back there, but the wallpaper was quite darker in the unfaded retangle outline. In fact, the darkness on the pattern seemed dribbly. On closer look, the wallpaper was tearing away in places, and the plaster behind seemed blotchy pink. He wondered why...."

Sounds like something I would have written in They Move Below.

I have so many projects on at the moment - sequels, new editions, audiobooks, some editing for clients, new books - that I am focussing my energy there. And did you know I wrote a new horror short set in a library and written in the style of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz? I'll give a free copy of that new story with my next newsletter, I think.

Still, I had to do something. I'm sat here in the dark now, and the howling wind has blown open the French doors in my office twice, sending the curtains billowing. Yep, just like a horror film (the joys of old houses!) So I decided to finish the story she started.

Don't expect greatness, or duration, or sense, or even typo-free words. This is off the top of my head, purely as a free-writing exercise.

My old office, as I moved out

My new office, as I moved in (1)

My new office, as I moved in (2)

My new office, as I moved in (3)


They're Always There, Waiting

After 20 years, it was time to go. Stay in one place, you get heavier. It's the stuff you attract. The debris of consumerism, the mass of the unnecessary, the gravity that results, making inertia your daily companion, as secure and weighty as any chains. But it can be broken with enough effort.

Karl took the last book from the heavy bookcase in his study. Well, study was too grand a name for it. Box-room was more apt. Because it was a room, and it was square and small, and you probably could get boxes bigger than this space that was supposed to be a creative incubator. So it had a desk, sure - where else would a keyboard go? And a chair to sit on, that had been inherited from the 1960s and had castor wheels packed with fluff and seat edges and padding that were so worn that an old pillow had to make do for cushioning. And a bookcase, because you need a place to keep your style guides and dictionaries and examples of pristine prose from better authors, so you can flick through them and feel inept.

The bookcase had been there when he moved in. A big, solid, dark wood Elizabethan monstrosity that would have only earned beer money at auction because nowadays no-one wants brown wood furniture. Old stuff? Nah. Well, not unless it is painted pastel shades in shabby chic reimaginings that would make a Frenchman puke. But it held books, and it stood solid, and that was all you could ask of it. It was always there in Karl's peripheral vision when he wrote, as a dark shape just over his shoulder. A comforting and reassuring shape, apart from when it started to get dark. and then it felt somehow larger and more ominous. But that was just silly imagination. The curse of the writer. Karl knew the last thing you should do is give your imaginations leeway. They'd take a mile, and before you knew it you'd be terrified of looking in a mirror after midnight, or walking past the top of the stairs in the dark, or wondering what the creaking noise in the kitchen meant in the middle of the night.

That way lies madness.

He had already packed most of the shelves' contents in preparation for moving house. Boxes and boxes. Somehow boxes of books were always the heaviest. Maybe because the words in a book are condensed experiences and lives, it makes them super-dense like plutonium. Handle with care. Yeah, he actually wrote that on the sides of the boxes. Tough and precious at the same time, like all the best things we love.

It was all done. Well, hopefully it was. A sudden worry: what if papers had slid behind the furniture? Sometimes things disappeared in this house. A note, some food, a pamphlet, a pen. Odd socks, too, damnit, never a pair. But what if some of those notes contained the seeds of a new book? Ideas only come once, and you have to snatch them and hold onto them like you've found love. The slightest weakness in your will and it slips away forever. Yeah, this made sense. Some of the missing things might have slipped to the floor from his desk in a stray gust of wind, then drifted gracefully and spitefully underneath the looming bookcase.

Treasures. Buried under there. He had to check, before the arrival of the removal men.

He dragged at the bookcase. It was much easier to move than he'd expected. Almost suspiciously accommodating.

All clear, no debris back there. In fact, nothing at all was underneath the gap at the base of the furniture. No dust, no dead woodlice, no sticky notes. As if the carpet had been hungrily hoovered clean by the dark wood. Not the best image to have. Still, he was leaving the bookcase behind, it was just too big to -

Ah, that was weird. The wallpaper behind it was darker than the surrounding area. Shouldn't the rectangles revealed when you moved furniture be lighter, cleaner, protected from dirt? Karl looked more closely. In fact, the darkness still contained the pattern of the wallpaper - a cage-like series of interconnecting bars, that brought to mind a work by Charlotte Perkins Gilman that Karl had kept on the bookcase as one of his examples of super short fiction, and which had inspired one of his own stories. And here it was, antique wallpaper pattern that had only ever presented its faded face to him, now appearing as a dark thing, high-contrast, yet also strangely blurred, like charcoal in the rain. He rubbed his finger over the wallpaper. A strange shudder of loathing at the cold slickness, and his fingertip came away dark and smudgy. He rubbed it hard against his trouser leg to get rid of that icky smear.

He'd left a mark on the wall too. A diagonal finger-width line, revealing not clean wallpaper, but something else, something beneath the greasy veneer. A blotchy pinkness. For a second it made him think of boiled flesh, but no, it was plaster. Just old pink plaster that was coated with wallpaper that dissolved into dirt. Some things reacted strangely to light. Locked away from it for years, like a writer in his study, so that when the world shifts and the novel is finished or the bookcase moved he comes squinting into the light and wondering what the real world offers, the modern world that has changed while he was away; the world that had moved on while it lived in darkness and only knew sounds, but was unable to interpret them even through the darkness of this hard barrier, sounds that made it salivate greasily and hungrily, with love and yearning ... Karl realised his hand was halfway into the plaster, he'd been distracted, and he felt the loathsome sucking at his fingers but when he tried to pull them back they would not come - too much weight, too much gravity to that mass. It slurped his arm in, parts of his body sliding into the pinkness in vigorous spurting sucks. No pain, no damage, but a nauseating feel of cold and oily wetness, like a slippery tongue coiling around and around, tasting, savouring. We take the world for granted, we take words for granted, we demand books for free, because authors can survive on the fame alone, the recognition, surely ... and this starved being had missed out on a lot. So much. It wanted the stories, the words in this man almost as much as it wanted the squidgy softness coating the bones, and at last it could have both. The man thing screamed as it was sucked in but it was disappointing, not the words and stories and life experiences the creature desired after being locked away for so long, appetite growing ravenous as years passed by. But once the man thing was inside then it could be taken apart at leisure, and it would find the words, and it would live other lives, and tell its own stories. The words would belong to it. Another slurp and the man thing's head was pulled in, and it stopped that annoying screaming.

When the removal men came, there was no Karl. The empty bookcase was found to be pushed tight against the wall, as it always had been. They knew they didn't need to take it. And they'd already been paid. So they joked, and moved boxes, and drove away, and the house was silent once more.


Saturday, 25 August 2018

When Is It Too Late In Life To Begin Writing Fiction?

Image by rawpixel from Pixabay

Here's an email I received a while ago (a few details and the name have been changed).

"Hi there, My name is Jenny Hill and I'm a 69 year retired female. Being now retired and having a little spare time on my hands, I thought I would have a go at writing a short story (very short) to begin with. All I want is for someone with the expertise to analysis and critique my work. Just to see if It's worth pursuing. I have no GCSE's or 'A' level in English literature, just what I believe is a vivid imagination. I believe my biggest fear/problem is punctuation. I do not fear criticism has I have nothing to lose all I want an honest opinion on my work. Can you, or do you know of any literary organisation who can help? Regards"

This was my reply (slightly altered to remove some personal details).

"That’s impressive, and it’s certainly never too late to start! Short stories are also a great way to begin practising the craft. I’d suggest just writing to begin with – anything. Descriptions. Ideas. Let the inspiration take you and don’t worry about it too much. That comes later as you learn more (along with editing and rewriting skills). But to begin with – it should be fun!

Once you have some stories finished (by which I mean written, then edited, then polished, each time making it better) it is worth seeking critical feedback. Critical does not mean bad – just that the feedback will point to strengths and weaknesses in the writing, characterisation, plotting etc. If there isn’t a local group then you might like to try an online one. I wrote about these some time ago - and your best bet would be either Critique Circle or Scribophile. They both work on the basis that you read and comment on other people’s work; in turn you earn credit to get feedback on your own. Critiquing other people’s work is a valuable exercise, and really gets you thinking about what works and what doesn’t in a story.

It is very rare for anyone’s first works to be good. Very few people are naturally talented writers. Despite popular belief, it is mostly craft and polishing that makes things shine. On the plus side, we all improve. That’s a positive message. You could always buy a book about writing – there are many of them! Any one of them would probably have at least a few useful tips and pointers.

“Just to see if It's worth pursuing.”

As to whether it is worth it, that depends on what has worth. Financially? Rarely. Most writers would earn more working in McDonalds. It’s not a way to make money in most cases.

But is it worth writing because you feel compelled to? Because you enjoy it? Because you have stories you want to tell? Self-fulfillment? For all those reasons and more, writing is always worth pursuing.

So go for it!"