Friday, 9 November 2018

Plotting Your Novel

This scrappy graph is explained in detail below

Writers are the best villains, since we spend so much time plotting, and talking about plotting. Here are some of my recent thoughts on the topic, which may be useful to people taking part in this year's NaNoWriMo - an excellent pursuit, which led to three of my books. Hopefully this post is also useful to my editing clients.

Although I was thinking about novels when I wrote this, it also applies to plotting a short story, or a novella.

Story Structure

Stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Much of the talk about plotting is related to the middle, and how it connects the beginning to the end.

The beginning is not all the boring stuff that leads up to the story. Cut that shit out. No-one wants to read it. The beginning is the crisis situation, the "inciting incident", the thing that triggers the story. It's the bulldozer turning up to demolish a woman's home. It's the demon crawling out of the wardrobe into the child's bedroom. It's the moment when the man locks eyes with the person he falls in love with. It's the point when everything changes, and it can never be the same again. (Though it is fine to have a bit before this, to establish the scene and create a bit of empathy with the character, to create context; just don't drag the back story on and on - you can always fill in a bit of it later. Use your skills to keep it interesting and lively ... and brief.)

The middle is where momentum builds. I'll mention that again below, under the section on structuring.

The end is when things get resolved, for good or ill - the point everything up to that point has been leading to. If you do your job well then the reader will not be able to stop before they reach this point.

To give a practical example from my novel Lost Solace. We have an inciting incident: "Woman discovers a scary spaceship full of horrors; she overcomes her fears and boards it". Her life will never be the same again. Then there are a series of challenges of increasing tension and risk as she fights to survive and make her way to the bridge (with a goal that is hidden from the reader until the end - which breaks a key rule, but see the final section of this article, "Rules"). Then there is an ending, when we find out if she survives, and if she succeeds in attaining what she sought.

What Is Plotting?

Plotting is deciding on the main points of the story - what happens and when, what actions the characters take as a result, and what happens next. Ideally the plot points should tell a satisfying story, lead to some change in the world or characters, and probably tell a secondary story backed up by themes which make the tale more universal. When an author has an idea for a story, they may start to write down the main plot points.

Plot Or Pants?

Some authors plot every point in minute detail, so that when they come to write the story they have a good idea of what will happen in each scene. This prevents dead ends, and helps authors to get words written, because they always know what they are going to write. This system is known as "plotting". (Note that, if you have a good plot plan, you don't have to write the scenes in order - you can write them in reverse if you prefer. Some authors like to write the ending, then the beginning, tying them together with language and motifs, then fill in the middle bits later.)

Other authors prefer to let if flow and make it up as they go along, asking "what if?" and creating new scenes out of how the characters react to events. This is known as "pantsing" - "flying by the seat of their pants" (idiom), or "playing it by ear". The characters drive the story. It can lead to exciting and unexpected twists for the author and reader, or it can lead to wasted time and dead ends and more need for rewriting. Note that for pantsing to work, you have to already visualise strong and believable characters and interesting situations for them to exist in.

The reality is that many authors mix the two systems, they are not mutually incompatible. I plan out most major parts of my novels, but not in massive detail - as I write it leaves the characters with freedom to surprise me. It also means I have structure, but still feel excitement as I write.

Top tip: if you are new to writing then err on the side of plotting, with breakdowns of your scenes and chapters. This lets you spot problems, or areas to cut, before you waste time writing them. Ask the question about every sub-plot and twist and event: "Does this contribute to the overall story, or is it just words?" Usually only very experienced authors can use full-blown pantsing and still achieve good novels.

Structuring The Novel

Stories can be plotted onto graphs. The story's plot becomes a visual thing. Stories have shapes. Before I go any further, it's worth thinking about this, and the best way is to watch this short and entertaining video where Kurt Vonnegut talks about the Shapes of Stories. I never tire of that. Then look at the section on Freytag's pyramid in this piece about dramatic structure. Okay, now you're an expert at visualising your story on a 2D graph. Well done.

Now let's take a step back and begin to write down what happens in your story. There are many different ways of getting started with thinking about the plot points and shape. Some people follow a fairly traditional structure such as the Eight-Point Arc. Other use systems such as The Snowflake Method. I have also heard of authors who think of it as “The Pee Pee rule": "Plot Pendulum. Keep it swinging back and forth, further and further, so that the highs and lows for the main characters get more extreme as the story moves along.”

The point is to come up with a structure that has increasing tension as the characters try to overcome obstacles in order to achieve their goals (survival, or a love interest, or a successful heist), but the world responds to their actions and new, greater, challenges and threats are introduced. They make decisions, they perform actions, and the stakes get bigger. As an author, we can't make things easy for our characters if we want a compelling story. Pile on the challenge and see how the characters cope.

In simple terms this scale increases until the main peak where they succeed or fail.

So at this stage you may well map out your plot points on a graph, with the X axis as time/advancement through the novel, and the Y axis as tension or challenge. This is a tool you can go back to at any point in a rewrite to help you restructure effectively or check that things are going well (here's one practical example where I did that).

The opening image is how I visualise the graph for most stories - a bit like Freytag's Pyramid (mentioned earlier) but with the peak pushed towards the end point. We want more build-up and action than we do denouement. Also, the upward climb isn't a straight line - it is a zigzag or wavering line of emotional highs and lows as the characters have ups and downs. There will be twists, reveals, and moments of calm.

The end result should be momentum - a build up of tension and an increase in the stakes - that keeps the reader glued to the page, then a grand finale where they get their fix, then a bit of tidying up as the pressure is released ... and then you're done. Although this sounds like I'm describing a thriller, it works for love stories, for growing up tales, for all genres. We always need characters we care about, and there always needs to be something getting in the way of what they want (otherwise it is not a story).

Rules

As I say to my editing clients - any writing rule can be broken, as long as the end result works. Hopefully some of the stuff here is helpful, and it covers 95% of the stories out there, but there will always be exceptions.

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Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Data Tracking, Privacy, Amazon, And Clean Links

A "clean" Amazon link looks like this - https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0787HLF4X/

The Walls Have Ears

In recent years there has been an explosion in the amount of data collected about us without our permission, much of it driven by the desire to make money from ramming advertising down our throats (and some of it in order to manipulate us). You can see a teeny bit of what Facebook tracks about you here. Websites can find out a lot about where you are, what technology you use and so on just by clicking a link - see this site for a demonstration. And you know how every website says you are giving them permission to save cookies on your PC and track you, "to enhance your experience", even though all you are doing is reading a few paragraphs? "Enhance your experience" is a euphemism for "so we can profile you and make money from compiling and sharing that data with a mass of companies". As one example, I visit the PC gaming website Rock Paper Shotgun (now owned by Gamer Network Ltd). If you dig down to their "Privacy Policy" page you find out that by default they can share your data with 622 advertising companies. Six hundred and twenty-two! Just from one website visit.

A selection of advertising "partners" that Gamer Network Ltd can share your data with
(data from this page on 2018-11-06)

The default position taken by 99% of websites is that you have "opted in" to tracking unless you explicitly state otherwise - which is not in the least bit practical. I visit hundreds of sites a day, and using the web would be impossible if I had to find the settings and opt out of the forced spying on every site. Worse, it would usually only apply to a single browser on a single system, because - in order to opt out - they save another cookie to your browser! So you have to do it all over again, thousands of times, if you switch browser, or change PC, or use a different gadget, or clear your cache, or reinstall Windows etc ... blatantly it is impossible to opt out. And that doesn't even take account of all the other tracking taking place whenever you log into a site (or even don't - systems such as Flash cookies have also been used to secretly track people using Adobe software, as one example - see here, here, and here).

Amazon And Tracking - What Are "Clean" links?

A particular issue for authors (and readers, and reviewers) is Amazon. That's because Amazon is one of the largest marketplaces for books - but Amazon is also one of the companies making heavy use of automated data gathering and algorithms based on software-run assumptions based on that data. Assumptions which are often wrong, and can cause all sorts of problems.

Recently I suggested to someone who was sharing Amazon links to products that they only use "clean" links. I was asked for clarification, which reminded me that not everyone knows about how insidious all this spying and tracking is, and how it can affect us in the real world. It makes sense to share some of that information here. Then you'll know what is meant by "clean links" (at least in the case of Amazon links).

Basically, whenever you do something on Amazon, it adds codes to the URL with numbers that lead to references in their databases . E.g. if I search for my wonderful book Lost Solace, then copy the URL from the browser bar (e.g. to send it to someone else), then I get something like this:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lost-Solace-Karl-Drinkwater-ebook/dp/B0787HLF4X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=3551297207&sr=8-1&keywords=lost+solace


The format is as follows:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lost-Solace-Karl-Drinkwater-ebook/dp/B0787HLF4X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=3551297207&sr=8-1&keywords=lost+solace
Base URL

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lost-Solace-Karl-Drinkwater-ebook/dp/B0787HLF4X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=3551297207&sr=8-1&keywords=lost+solace
Additional book data – unnecessary, can be deleted entirely and the URL still works

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lost-Solace-Karl-Drinkwater-ebook/dp/B0787HLF4X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=3551297207&sr=8-1&keywords=lost+solace
ASIN – Amazon’s internal code for the book (like an ISBN)

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lost-Solace-Karl-Drinkwater-ebook/dp/B0787HLF4X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=3551297207&sr=8-1&keywords=lost+solace
All sorts of additional unnecessary gunk

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lost-Solace-Karl-Drinkwater-ebook/dp/B0787HLF4X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=3551297207&sr=8-1&keywords=lost+solace
Tracking data

That tracking data it the bit that connects the search to a database entry, which will also probably include the date and time of the visit, the country, the account doing the search (if logged into Amazon), the email addresses and physical addresses stored on the account, computer ID info, and connections to cookies saved on the PC – Amazon ones, maybe others too such as Facebook ones. So all sorts of stuff is being tracked, and because it is then stored on an Amazon database, you can’t see it or remove it. Amazon is understandably secretive about how all this works, so much of it is guesswork.

The problem is that if you share that URL and someone else clicks on it, their data is connected to that ID as well. A key thing to understand is that Amazon’s algorithms are automated (and often faulty – I have been incorrectly targeted by Amazon a few times with false positives based on their automated systems e.g. have a look at this article, which also links to other examples).

This can then lead to all sorts of issues. Suppose lots of people click on that link (for example, if it had been included in a review on a website), and they go on to buy the book and maybe review it – Amazon may then flag it up as “suspicious”, as if they are perhaps connected accounts, sockpuppets, accounts from a review manipulation farm, or are friends/family reviewing books for an author. All of those can lead to the reviews being removed, and sometimes even reviewing privileges removed, with no comeback or warning. Maybe also selling privileges and livelihoods in some cases. I read about this kind of thing regularly. And there’s no way to question Amazon’s data, or find out what evidence they are basing their incorrect assumptions on. And all that can potentially stem from just clicking on an Amazon link somewhere that has tracking codes in.

Therefore, if sharing Amazon links anywhere (blogs, emails, social media) the only safe option is to strip out the tracking data. Basically, everything after the ASIN needs to be deleted, so you end up with this:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lost-Solace-Karl-Drinkwater-ebook/dp/B0787HLF4X/

That’s a clean and safe link.

As I mentioned earlier, the book title can also safely be removed if it is present – not a safety thing this time, just to make a tidier link:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0787HLF4X/

That goes to the same book as the one above it, but is much tidier, and also 100% safe to share (you can click on both to test them). The latter is the type of clean link that should be shared.

That’s why professional author groups insist on clean links. Clicking on even a single tracking link can cause all sorts of problems down the line, and accusations of review manipulation from Amazon – including emails that say this (an actual one I received):

We have determined that you have violated our Customer Review Creation Guidelines. As a result, we have suppressed all of your reviews, and you will no longer be able to post reviews on Amazon.com.

We made this decision after carefully considering your reviewing account. This decision is final.

We cannot share any further information about our decision, and we may not reply to further emails about this issue.


In that case I was lucky, and they admitted that they’d sent it me by mistake, though never explained why or how (because it would reveal all sorts of dodgy issues with how they manipulate data):

We have reviewed the message, and determined that you were sent incorrect correspondence

That’s why all Amazon links have to be clean. This is something anyone using Amazon links needs to be aware of, for their own account safety as well as that of others!

Firefox Privacy Tip

If you use Firefox as your browser then I recommend installing uBlock Origin.

This is an additional option (you can have both installed at the same time): Privacy Badger.

Where next? You might want to follow me and my work, or even buy my books. Many thanks!
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Saturday, 3 November 2018

31 Days Of Horror


One of my author friends, The Behrg (whose novel Housebroken I loved) posted a series of articles recently called 31 Days Of Horror. He asked me to do a guest post as part of it, so I wrote about ... well, horror fiction. You can read my post on his site here. I've also included a backup of the article below (with The Behrg's introduction in italics).



So today’s post in 31 Days of Horror is brought to you by author Karl Drinkwater. Karl is an author from across the pond who’s done a tremendous job of blurring the lines of genre fiction. I’ve had the chance to read a few of his works and with each new book I can honestly say he keeps getting better.

lost solace

If you’re new to Karl’s work, his horror collection, which includes three separate books, is a great place to start. His latest work, Lost Solace, is a fantastic sci-fi horror piece which I blazed through. With an incredibly strong and memorable female protagonist and a fascinating plot with a mystery at its center, it’s a perfect example of why science fiction and horror go together so well. Check out my original review of the book here. (And from what I’ve heard, a sequel is coming soon).


But enough from me … Here’s Karl, sharing his thoughts on what makes the horror genre so great:

*******************************************************

Brandon asked me to write something for his 31 Days Of Horror posts on his blog. And that got me thinking about why we write this stuff. Hell, how does any author decide what they’ll write? How do authors decide whether to write fluffy sci-fi, or thriller romance, or steampunk mystery?

Some authors write in genres that are popular, because it helps them make a living. Some authors write in genres that they have a great affinity to, because they couldn’t imagine writing anything else. Horror authors often fall into the latter category.

They see horror in the world and don’t want to shy away from it. And yet, by immersing themselves in fictional horror, they do escape, at least for a while – into a more controllable world. Sometimes evil will still win there, but the experience of reading or watching the fictional story unfold can provide catharsis, rather than the depression that comes with real world horror. (The latter can only be overcome by changing the world through understanding, compassion, patience, empathy, and love. See, horror authors aren’t just obsessed with zombies and chainsaws.)

Each horror author had their own journey towards the dark side. I’ve been a fan of horror since I was a child, when I climbed trees with a horror book and got so immersed that I would forget to come down for dinner. It was a form of escape. It was a workout for my imagination (and climbing skills). The swaying branches and whispering leaves were the perfect backdrop for stories where I dreaded to find out what happened on the last page – but I also had to know. There was no ending the story part-way through. I learnt that we have to face things until the bitter end.

As an early teen I spent pocket money on books by King and Koontz, and spent whole days lying on my bed reading thick novels, or staying up too late because I couldn’t put the book down. The stories seized me by the scruff of my neck in ways that other tales couldn’t. Even when I wasn’t reading them I’d be pondering the things that haunted Derry, or Snowfield.

So I raise a toast to horror, and will defend it as a genre whenever I feel the need. Here’s a post where I was asked to argue the case for why more people should read horror books. I succeeded that time. I’ll keep doing it.

May horror’s darkness continue to light the way for quality fiction.

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Friday, 2 November 2018

Chilling Reads For Halloween


Whadya mean, I'm two days late? I was busy finishing Chasing Solace and sending it to my wonderful team of beta readers!

Well, I spotted this article "Chilling reads for Halloween" which included a mention of my own work:

"Web by Karl Drinkwater (as part of his short story anthology): this story is interesting for a couple of reasons: features a POC character from a culture I admit know little -she is a Somali woman, living in England-, there is certain ambiguity on it that will leave you to wonder what really happened. Sometimes horror doesn’t come from outside, but from inside us. It’s a tough read, so be warned."

I love reading what people think of my stories!

At the moment you can read that story for free here: "Halloween freebie - Web, from They Move Below".

Some of the other horror-related blog posts I wrote recently for official Creepy Day:

Where next? You might want to follow me and my work, or even buy my books. Many thanks!
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Thursday, 1 November 2018

Saturday, 27 October 2018

Halloween Special Performance

Me, reading a horror story (I'm the one stood up, not the skeleton)

Last night there was a Halloween Special event organised by Brave New Words (a monthly open mic night at The Stove for writers, artists, musicians and songwriters to share words spoken or sung to an audience). A packed crowd were treated to a range of excellent and varied poets, singers, magicians, performers, and authors. It was my first time attending one of these events, but I acted as the finale and read out one of my stories from my fourth book, the creepy collection, They Move Below. I chose one of the shortest stories, If That Looking Glass Gets Broken, about a strange old couple and their "child" - it's a fun one to perform because there's so much opportunity to embody the old woman's barely-contained excitement, and love of words. (You can read one of the stories from that collection for free here.)

I felt like I was being watched as I ate my cake

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Thursday, 25 October 2018

Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Music - The DMC 2018 Showcase

Left to right: Future Get Down; Frozen Shores Collective;
The Nickajack Men; Liv Mcdougall (image by DMC 2018)

Regular readers will know I love music. I wrote quite a lot about Manchester music when I was working on 2000 Tunes. I also have fun playing the guitar (at a totally amateur level). Since I moved to Scotland I've been exploring local places and going to events, and last night I went to a really good lineup of bands as part of the DMC 2018 Showcase (FB; Twitter) at The Stove (FB; Twitter). Eager beaver that I am, I was one of the first to arrive, though that meant I had first pick at the bar.


The first performer was Liv Mcdougall (Youtube; FB).
"Liv Mcdougall is a fourteen year old singer/songwriter from Dumfries. Much of her songwriting focuses on personal experiences such as love, emotions and the complex struggles of being a teenager."
I’ve seen her play a few times in the afternoon music sessions at The Stove, and have always been impressed. Last night she delivered a polished and emotional set to start the evening, singing her own songs and playing the guitar. It made a great start to the night, being able to just appreciate laid back and heartfelt songs from someone so talented.

Frozen Shores Collective (image by Jim Gellatly)

Then it was the Frozen Shores Collective (Youtube; FB; Twitter).
"Made up of local musicians Ruari Barber-Fleming, Michael Uphill, Kate Kyle, Liam Russel and Jenna Macrory. This collective of musicians has come together to give an emotive and raw performance. Focusing entirely on the music and how much it means to each of them. They aim to communicate this to the audience, creating an experience that everyone can share."
They were new to me and made a great follow on to Liv. Their music was laid-back and funky, but would erupt into more rocky outbursts that always kept me guessing about what was going to come next. Excellent performances all round, made me with I could play the guitar better, or sing, or play the drums. :-)

The Nickajack Men (image by Jim Gellatly)

The Nickajack Men (Youtube; FB) were next.
"The Nickajack Men are a five-piece band from Falkirk, who pitch their style somewhere between alternative-country and indie rock, with heavy influences from bands such as The Districts, The War on Drugs, Delta Spirit and The Alabama Shakes."
They were really energetic and took things up another notch of intensity that got even more people jumping around as they rocked out. I was grinning most of the time, and was so impressed with the whole band and their attitude and the effort they put into it. By the end the frontman was rolling on the floor playing rock-out riffs while the rest of the band were playing ferociously and throwing themselves into each other. A fantastic finale to a storming set.

Future Get Down (image by Jim Gellatly)

The final band were Future Get Down (Youtube; FB; Twitter).
"Our DMC 2018 headliner, Future Get Down are an electronic act from Edinburgh specialising in dark, throbbing dance music with propulsive synths! "Synths, stream of consciousness lyrics and beekeeper suits.. what more could you want?" BBC Introducing."
They were amazing. Made me think of a cross between Talking Heads, Daft Punk, and LCD Soundsystem, but then made totally their own. The performance was full of energy and fun and everyone was dancing and jumping by then. I loved the humour in their personas and some of the lyrics and performance, I couldn't stop smiling while I jumped around. From the moment they walked onstage in their beekeeper outfits to the time when they left the stage one by one, they owned the space.

What a great collection of bands and artists, every one different yet complementary. They were all so good that I'd see them again without hesitation, and recommend anyone else to do so if you get the chance, or to seek out and buy their music.

The night wasn't over yet because I went to the post-gig party at Liquid Lounge. More drinking, more dancing, though the music was inevitably a let-down after what I'd just experienced! I chatted to some of Future Get Down, making sure they knew how impressed I’d been.

People - please go and see live bands and support them. There's nothing quite like live music. Even better, there are bands and singers out there with more talent than more well-known acts, meaning you get to be up close with amazing performers in a way you never can when bands make it big. Your support means a lot to these musicians, who are putting such effort into their songs and performances. Going to see them is a win-win situation.

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

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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.

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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.)

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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.

Cheers!


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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
Publications
Other Stuff

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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.


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