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It's Disturbing.

(Or: Game 101 - The Write Thing)

You know, for a while, I wrestled with what to call this entry? I toyed with the idea of subtitling it, "Some Of You Motherfuckers Need Jesus" - which is, to date, one of my favourite reviews about my work. FYI, that was from a beta reader on a story as-yet unpublished. Rest assured that when it is, I'll gladly share that 'motherfucker' story.


It occurs to me that for all my talk of game basics, i.e., Game 101, I've not gone into my writing process in such granular detail. So, here we are.

1. THE SOURCE. When people ask me where do I get my ideas from, I gladly tell them I have an active imagination. Truly, I do. I also recognise that I'm blessed in that I get ideas faster than I can write them, so I forever race to keep up with the muse. The flipside of this is that if I don't write quickly enough, I'll start to get disenchanted with the story I'm writing, so it's in my best interest to work as quickly as possible. For those ideas I don't get to write as soon as I have them, I write them down. It used to be notepads, on old receipts, one time was on a bathroom mirror. Now it's usually the notepad app on my phone.

Each story starts with an idea or a scene, which in turn comes from something I've actually seen or something I'd like to see. In the case of Forfeit Tissue, this was twofold. One, because I'd gone to the Jazz Café to see what shows were coming only to see the venue was closed for refurbishment. Two, because in a dream I'd had, a nightclub full of burning bodies had a mysterious blazing figure rise from the carnage in silence. At some point, I'd married the two together and Forfeit Tissue was born.

2. THE PREMISE. At this point once I have an idea or scene in my head, the next thing is the elevator pitch and the ending. These are key for me, because they give a very simplified view on what the story's about and how it will end. For those that don't know, the elevator pitch is a summary in a sentence or so that you could tell someone who asks what your story's about in the time it takes to get from one floor to another in an elevator.

3. THE NAME. The next thing is the all-important title.

Which can take minutes, hours, or days to come up with.

Why? Because I want something distinctive, cool, something that hints at the story beyond it. For those that might argue that this level of consideration is overkill, remember that there's only one Cary Grant or John Wayne. Only one Sexual Healing. Only one Mama Said Knock You Out. Only one Breakfast At Tiffany's, or A Nightmare On Elm Street. Only one Adidas. You get the idea. And I'll happily take that time to find something distinctive, something that provokes a sense of intrigue, unease. The original short story Seed that I'd written in homage to the likes of Demon Seed was a tale of a woman whom after a one-night stand, starts to doubt who - or what - she slept with. But 'Seed' didn't convey the gravity or potential of the tale. 'Semen', however, in an age of increased social awareness and accountability, post-#MeToo and such, had a more visceral reaction. Semen remains, to date, my most divisive work. I'm aware some don't like it - readers and reviewers, which is totally okay. I've been unfriended in real life over it. But would I change the title? Hell, no. So the title of my work may refer to a theme, or a spoken line of dialogue - Downwind, Alice is a prime example. And when you see that dialogue in context, you (hopefully) appreciate the gravity of the narrative.

4. THE HOOK. Once I have these, I move on to the next thing: the epigraph. For the uninitiated, the epigraph is an opening quote at the start of the tale which speaks to a theme or premise in the story. The pilot film for The Incredible Hulk live-action TV show in the 70s had one: "In each of us, oftimes, there dwells a mighty and raging fury." To me, this is one of the coolest things there is - that there's a quote or soundbite that'll whet your appetite for what's to come.

And this can also take minutes, hours, or days to come up with.

I will gladly search the internet high and low for something that fits the story like a glove; in much the same way that you may spend time shopping for the right shirt, or the right pair of shoes, or the right home, or the right martial art, or the right partner. In the case of Don't Run, while I felt the title was okay, it didn't take me too long to find the epigraph I settled on: "There are no wild animals until Man makes them so." For all the work I've ever written, this epigraph is still a personal favourite and fits the theme of the story perfectly. But don't take my word for it. In terms of epigraph, it doesn't need to be a literal reference to what's in the story, it's just a teaser; it's there to pique your interest and whet your appetite. Typically, I'll collect a handful of quotes, which can be a painstakingly time-consuming process and, as the story develops, I may select which one speaks to the story best. Or I may look for an additional quote. Once I have these things, I can finally start putting text on the page - outlining.

5. THE BLUEPRINT. Fiction authors appear to fall mainly into one of two camps: those who plot the story before writing - the plotters, or those who write on the fly and by the seat of their pants - the pantsers/pantsters. I'm primarily a plotter, since I need that basic framework on which to flesh the story out. That said, my outlines aren't so rigid that can't improvise while I'm writing. Outlining and plotting the story also gives me a basic handle on what kind of research I might to do. Which has included everything from basic practice from London Fire Brigade on attending escapees from a burning building (Forfeit Tissue) to Transport for London's regulation on transporting a 15-foot python on London Underground (Misery And Other Lines). Not only does it make your story more engaging if you can capture such realism, but what you don't want is to be caught with your pants down because you didn't do your homework. Besides, it's London, so it's a point of personal pride that I capture it as faithfully, vividly and intriguingly as possible.

6. REFERENCE MATERIAL. Exactly what it says on the tin - pictures, video, articles and such to help me visualise and create the story. Everything from newspaper articles to documentary videos, GoogleMaps of areas in London, etc. Misery And Other Lines, for example - when Charlie finally meets his stalker? Their true face was inspired by a close-up of this deep-sea fish at the top of this page.

With that groundwork covered, it's pretty much time to write. Right? Wrong.

7. THE RITUAL. I do have a ritual. And I need to give the nod to a couple of my Canadian friends that I love to bits - because they got me the whisky glass engraved with 'Get Shit Done.' I'll 'toast' both the start and finish of writing the story with a glass of Jack Daniel's and Coke. That glass.

8. THE BOTTOM LINE. Which just leaves the writing itself, along with one crucial element. Which is this: I'm going to disturb you.

It's not enough for me to 'just' write a horror story and maybe something happens to someone where it's graphic, violent or whatever - no. I don't necessarily want to write something 'cool.' I want to craft something that creeps up on you like a spider would - the thing you don't realise is there until you turn and see it there; then comes the shock that it got there without you knowing. I don't share the narrative equally: sometimes I'll put the readers ahead of the curve and the characters behind it. Or vice versa. I want to bring you fascination and dread in varying degrees. Even if it's 'just' a story, I want you to read cautiously. Re-read things that are well-crafted enough to have slipped past you the first time. To make your skin crawl.

In much the same way that compelled one of my beta readers to say, "Some of you motherfuckers need Jesus."

So, know this: if you read my work and I disturb you, it's intentional. Hopefully I engage and wow you.

And scare the shit outta you.



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