An Unexpected Helper

Do you know what one of the hardest things about editing drafts is? Being too familiar with text. You can read over something a hundred times and miss that one mistake that has been there since day one. It’s funny how the human brain works. I remember in school (oh so many years ago) we used to have reading tests where they deliberately had paragraphs with extra words and missing words. But, depsite that, you could still read and understand everything that was written. The brain has an amazing ability to fill in the gaps and ignore the duplicates. While this is great for everyday use, it’s a bt of a bugger when you’re trying to edit.

Well recently I upgraded my ageing Office install and went with Office 365. Yes I still use Scrivener for formatting once everything is written but with Office I can use it on my phone and tablet (still no android Scrivener, grrrrr). And you never know when inspiration will hit. Plus my laptop is a little under the weather. Anyway, I digress.

I was playing around, learning the new interface and I came across an option called ‘Read Aloud’. You guys know me, I suffer technojoy. I’ll push buttons just to see what things will do. So I opened up one of my old short stories and gave it a go. It was a bit of an eye opener. I’ve read through that manuscript a hundred times and not noticed mistakes that now seem glaring and obvious. All from hearing it read out loud by a totally different voice.

Now obvioulsy the AI being used isn’t going to be able to replicate the nuace and subtleties of an actual person reading out loud. But that doesn’t matter. Hearing instead of reading makes it much easier to spot duplicates or missing words. Or even words with missing letters. Yes I do that quite often when typing, just ask my bestie about some of the utter garbage she has received in messenger. It’s a handy little tool and a rather pleasant and unexpected find.

Look at me, the former UNIX admin praising a Microsoft product. I feel a little dirty.

There is another unexpected aspect to all this. One that comes from that little voice all writers and artists have. That self doubting little bastard who tries to make you hate your own work. You all know the one. Well next time they try and pipe up, give the Read Aloud feature a go. It really puts a new persepctive on things. I’d even say it gives you a bit of a buzz. And you know what? That’s a good thing. We kick ourselves a lot when we create. So let yourself have a moment of joy for a change. Give that self esteem a boost and use that to keep the words flowing, the brush stroking, the clay moulding or whatever it is you are to doing to create. You’re an artist and you’re brilliant.

Evensong – Darkness Hungers

As I mentioned in my Writers Cramp post, I’m taking a bit of a break from the giddy world of childrens books and getting back to my horror roots. As many of you know I’m a massive fan of the genre and it’s where I started oh so many years ago. So, it is my great pleasure to announce the start of a new WIP: Evensong. This is the story of a long abandoned and much cursed asylum. Forgotten over the years, Evensong was a place where people were not sent to heal but instead to be forgotten.

Photo by Ekaterina on Pexels.com

I won’t go into too much detail here but there is a brief synopsis under the WIP section. Over the coming weeks I will introduce you to the cast of characters, including the members of the PRD; The Parapsychical Research Department. A little known and long forgotten government agency.

We are all familiar with the typical ghosthunter team goes to old hospital and gets eaten, fondled and genrelly messed up by vengeful ghosts trope. Evensong is going to be something different. The PRD are not amateurs, they are not flashy television celebrities; they are professionals who have faced more than their share of what lurks in our deepest nightmares.

So sit back and enjoy the coming character profiles. There is a darkness that is waking up and it is hungry.

Writer’s Cramp

Everyone has heard of writers block but there is another malady that is less known outside of writing circles: Writer’s cramp.

Okay I may have just totally made that up but it’s a good analogy for what I’ve been feeling latley. Think of it like going back to the gym for the first time on over a year (something quite a few can relate to right now). Those mucles that you used to exercise on a regular basis have been neglected and they re not happy with the sudden shock of being put through their paces. You’ve maybe put on a few pounds since last time because it’s cream egg season and you have to get as many in as you can before they vanish again. So without thinking, you hop back on the treadmill and off you go. Five minutes later you’re being knifed in the ribs by an unseen gremlin.

Well writing can be very much like that as I discovered recently. The writing process can be very much like exercising. The more you do it, the stronger you get and the better your endurance. Spend enough time away though, your fitness level will start to drop down and you need to take a few steps back so you don’t do yourself a mischief. This is what happens after a prolonged bought of writers block. Like the one I’ve been going through for the past year.

The block finally shifted about a week ago after what was a pretty horrific dream. As awful as it was, this dream did grab my block by the throat, drag it into a dark alleyway and nick its wallet. The muse had returned and to be honest I don’t think she’s been taking her meds. So here I am once again writing. After two years of working on childrens stories, I’ve returned to my roots and started on a new horror novel. And you know what, I’m loveing every second of it.

Until the cramp sets in that is. Instead of being stabbed in the ribs like you would in the gym, this one punches you in the brain. Like right inside the brain. It all started like normal; a bit of research, make notes, plan things out, the usual. Then comes the day to start writing and get these wild ideas out of the meaty blob in my head and onto the screen. One sentence, then two, everything is going well and suddenly it hits you. You can’t remember how to convert those ideas into words. You can see it in your head but the pathways that go from your brain to your fingers are running on a go slow. What you have on the screen is not what you have in your head. All those bad habits you had trained yourself out of are coming back. Things like editing on the go and being able to filter out the 200 ideas that are all fighting for your attention.

So here I am writing for the first time in ages and I haven’t even managed to finish the prologue yet because the damn story keeps changing. And every new idea needs to be tied in with what’s already been written. It hurts but if you take it slow and steady, you can get back to that level of writer fitness before the block came on. Slow and steady is the key. If this ever hits you, the best advice I can give you is to let yourself work back up. Don’t be hard on yourself if the words don’t come like they used to straight away. You will get there again.

Henrietta Book 1 – Free Download

Henrietta has come to say hello and offer her services to keep you and your kids entertained during this very strange time.

Pop on over to the Henrietta page where you can download the first book absolutely free. There also some ideas for some fun activities for you to do once you’ve read the first of her adventures.

Why not send in your kids drawings and fun ideas and get them featured on the Writers Stall facebook page? You can send them by messaging me on the FB page or by emailing to jbangellwriter at gmail.com

Happy reading, my friends.

Social Media vs. The Comma: Round 1 – Fight.

I will start by saying that I have been holding off on this post simply because I know if I get one comma out of place or have one typo, people are going to eat me alive. Today I am going to talk about a pet peeve of mine. It can be summed up in one phrase that I see all too often.

its facebook speling and gramer dont matter

(errors added for dramatic effect).

Social Media has become everyone’s favourite place to argue with total strangers over just about anything and everything you can think of. And that’s fine. I’m all for lively debate discourse. Admittedly that’s not what is going on but you get the general idea. More often than not, what we actually get is a lot of incoherent rambling. By incoherent I mean it’s basically unreadable. Endless run on sentences without so much as a comma or a full stop that would make even the best Orator of Ancient Greece scratch their head in confusion. (See the book: The Accidental Apostrophe to get that reference).

So here’s the thing. If you are trying to get a point across, people need to be able to understand what you are saying. And this is the whole point of punctuation. It isn’t some kind of system solely designed to torture school children; it is how we can convey meaning and emotion through text. It let’s the reader know when to pause for effect, when to stop and breath. How often do we see misunderstandings when a simple comma or even a full stop would have made so much difference? The classic example of this are: “Let’s eat, Grandad” and “Let’s eat Grandad”. Three identical words but two very different meanings. That little comma makes the difference between a nice family meal and patriarchal cannibalism.

How can you expect to convince someone of your point, if you are unable to properly get your message across. I’m not talking about everyone learning the finer points of correct grammar. I’m saying think about how your message sounds. If you read that, would you be convinced? At the very least throw in a full stop every 50 words so your audience can pause for a breath. Try this next time you write something with no punctuation marks. Breath in normally and the start reading, breathing out as you go. Now here’s the thing. You’re not allowed to breath in again until you are finished. You have to make that single breath last the entire time while taking in what is being said. Not so easy, is it.

Even the simplest of discussions will be made better by stopping and thinking for a moment about what you want you want to convey. If you don’t believe that your spelling and grammar are important, then very likely your point isn’t either. At the very least, that is what will be conveyed to your audience.

Just Who do You Think You Are?

‘The beauty of the impostor syndrome is you vacillate between extreme egomania and a complete feeling of: “I’m a fraud! Oh God, they’re on to me! I’m a fraud!” So you just try to ride the egomania when it comes and enjoy it, and then slide through the idea of fraud.’

Read more at https://www.marieclaire.co.uk/entertainment/celebrity-quotes-on-impostor-syndrome-434739#3UwtlRtPjiRMVpvH.99

Tina Fey

I want to talk a bit about impostor syndrome. This is something I’ve been fighting a lot of lately. It’s something that all artists face a lot during their careers. That feeling that you’re just not good enough. That you have no right to be doing what you are doing. How dare you write, or paint, or create something new and wonderful. You shouldn’t be doing any of that. Just get up in the morning, go to your regular mundane job, pay your bills and go home.

Suddenly, possible even moments later, you find yourself on top of the world. Your creative juices are flowing and the magic is happening. You know what you’re doing is what you were born to do. Nothing else matters. You could happily throw everything away and just do that thing you love. Of course the reverse is also true. You’ll be mid flow and those doubts creep in. That nagging voice that tells you aren’t good enough. I had this happen recently literally mid sentence. I was working on the second Henrietta Hedgekin story. It was flowing superbly. Every sentence, every word was falling into place. Suddenly, there it was. That feeling that I am absolutely and completely wasting my time. Why was I doing this? I’m no writer. I shouldn’t be doing any of this.

Luckily I have a very good and exceptionally talented artist friend (my best friend) who understood exactly what I was going though. She had been precisely where I was at that moment and she offered the best way to view these episodes is that they are meant to keep us humble. They help us to keep striving. If you face that feeling that you aren’t good enough but you still manage to keep going, then you are doing exactly what you should be doing. It keeps us in check and stops our ego from taking over. When an artist loses that drive, that will to improve and become better than before, that is when you are truly an impostor. So when you feel those doubts, when that voice is screaming at you telling you you’re not enough, you look it straight in the eye and tell it “Maybe not, but tomorrow I will be”. And above all, do not give up doing what it is you love.

Finding Your Style

Every writer has their own style. It’s like a fingerprint. You can tell who the author of a story was by the way the tail starts and grows. By how the characters interact with each other and the world they are in. Stephen King and James Herbert are two of the horror greats but the way they right is very different. Their use of language and scenery differs greatly. Yet both of them manage to keep us hooked on every word. Where does this come from?

Well I’m going to let you into a secret. These styles and ways of writing didn’t happen overnight. The individual style can take years. When you first begin to write, you find yourself imitating your favourite writer. When I first started in what seems like a lifetime ago now, I was very much trying to emulate James Herbert. He was my favourite horror writer and I had been consuming his work like my Shih Tzu, Mabel, eats sausages. Voraciously for those who have never seen a Shih Tzu eating a sausage.

Over time I started to add in bits of other authors, most noticeably H P Lovecraft, the father of modern horror. But things still didn’t feel right. It took me a bit of time before I realised that while my writing was evolving, I was still imitating. I was writing with someone else’s voice and ignoring my own. That was a real eureka moment for me. It was the start of a new chapter. Letting go of the comfy cosiness of other peoples styles and finding my own was scary, I’m not going to lie. But at the same time it was liberating.

Once I let go of the restrictions of other writers I found myself free to truly grow. I was able to create my own worlds and give life to my own characters. For the first time, they truly were mine. That was when I knew that I had become a writer. Not only that but I had come to realise it is not just something we do but something we live. A thing we love and feel. Yes we do become emotionally invested but now it was different. Once you make that leap you find that a part of yourself is in every single aspect of your story. Yes I still have characters that I hate from the second I give them life and I pretty much have a plan for their horrible demise. And sometimes I worry about the state of my own mind when I create them. But then sanity is overrated anyway.

So don’t be afraid to let go and move out of your comfort zone. You have the story inside of you. It is your unique tale and only you can tell it. But it will never be told until you can do so in your own voice.

The Hardest Thing I Have Written

Over the years I have tried my hand at various genres. As most of you who have followed me since the beginning know, I have always learned towards horror and fantasy with a bit of sci-fi mixed in. Well that all changed about a year ago when i decided to change direction completely and have a go at writing a children’s story. I have the say, this is the hardest thing I have ever written. And you know what? I have enjoyed every moment of it.

But surely kids books are easy? They are just short stories aren’t they?

Yes they are short and that’s one of the things that make them difficult. I once attended a lecture at university where the professor said something that has stuck with me: “I wrote 10,000 words because I didn’t have to to write 2,000”. Never has that been more clear to me than now. When I write a scene in say one of the Guardian stories, I can go into great detail. I can get every nuance of every moment because it’s for a mature reader. Now imagine having to get that same level of detail in a fraction of the space to a younger audience. I had always read that children’s books were the hardest genre to get into. Not only is it a very difficult market but the actual challenge of the writing it.

Despite all that I think I’ve found my niche. I love it more than anything else I’ve ever written.

Now you will notice I havent said anything about the actual story. I’m leaving that for another post when things are a bit more polished. I am doing this in collaboration with my very talented best friend who has been a massive support throughout. She has some great ideas for things to make the stories more interactive. It’s a very exciting time.

I think the big take away for me from all this is to never be afraid to have a go at something different. You might just might surprise yourself. Take a chance and get that story out. Writing is about more than just getting the story out of your brain and onto the page. It’s about constantly challenging yourself. About pushing boundaries and exploring new frontiers. So if you find yourself in a bit of a rut, try something new. You never know what you might discover about yourself.

Have You Seen A Spook, Spectre or Ghost?

  This is a special post for my fellow Guerns.

This wonderful island is famous for many things. Not least of all is its rich folklore. Everyone knows the tails of witchcraft and demons that have have haunted our shores over the centuries.

Even today, I bet all of you can think of at least one person you know who has a story of a haunting or a spooky experience. These modern day hauntings are what I am currently looking for. 

In conjunction with the Guernsey Ghost Stories Facebook group, I am creating a collection of modern experiences.  This is where you guys come in.

If you have any personal stories of hauntings, or if you have experienced anything at one of the many local haunted sites, and want to share it, I would love to hear from you. I have created a submission form (see the menu above) to make the process easier.

Submissions will remain open until March 30th, 2016.

I look forward to being terrified.

A Tale of Things to Come

Well here we are, a week away from the big move and as you can imagine, things are a touch chaotic here in writing land.  This doesn’t mean I have been resting on my laurels though.  A writer never truly stops after all.  As Halloween is approaching, I will be releasing a short story to chill the soul and haunt your dreams.

Once we have settled in and things are getting back to normal (or at least what passes for normal around here), I shall be taking a short break from fiction to work on a very special project.  During a recent tidy up, my Grand mother came across her fathers old war diaries.  She has given me permission to go through them and create a record of his journeys as a soldier during the 1940s.

I am very excited to be able to transcribe his journals.  I was unaware of this piece of family history until recently and to be given this opportunity is a great honour.   There is going to be a lot to do but I am looking forward to every minute of it.  It’s not often that one gets to do something like this.

So that, dear friends, is all for now.  I’m off to pack some more boxes with stuff I haven’t seen or used for about 4 years.