Sunday, 30 October 2011

From ghoulies and ghosties and long leggetty beasties...

All Hallows Eve
As a supernatural thriller writer, I could not let Halloween pass without making some kind of blog post so here goes.
For those not aware of the fact, Halloween is short for All Hallows Eve or 'All Saints' Eve, meaning it is the day preceding the 1st November which is celebrated in the Catholic church as the day when the Saints in heaven are remembered and prayed for. The following day, 2nd November is 'All Souls' day when the Catholic church prays for all souls, even those in purgatory. Halloween is also linked to the Celtic feast of Samhain, which was celebrated at that time. back in the annals of time, Samhain was originally a festive gathering and the setting for supernatural encounters.  
No one is quite sure of the origins of the custom of Halloween itself but it is inextricably linked with ghosts, spirits, monsters and the like and is enshrined in folklore as the one night of the year when supernatural entities thrive.
As a horror/thriller writer I cannot imagine a better night to read a supernatural novel with all the suspense and scary stereotyping it may bring. Great fodder for the imagination, even if it is all hokum! Of course, it also helps that it keeps the notions of good and evil, ghosts, monsters and things that go bump in the night truly alive in readers’ imaginations… And it doesn’t hurt to know the next generation of horror readers are keeping the tradition alive with their scary costumes and trick or treating on that one fright night of the year.

So Happy Halloween everyone!
Do you enjoy the customs and traditions of Halloween?

Monday, 24 October 2011

Are You Scared Yet?

“There is no fear in a bang, only in the anticipation of it.” Alfred Hitchcock.
That is sooo true! But how do you build that anticipation?
How indeed...
Why, by creating the best suspense and page turning quality that you can. This is the basic ingredient of all good thriller stories and certainly the foundation for any scary story.

I have to say that scaring people is one of the satisfying aspects of my writing life!!
Sorry about that uncivil statement but it is true… I get a real kick when people tell me they were scared reading my stories. It is such a difficult thing to get right, I think. After all you want definitely want readers to be scared a little - but not so much that it overcomes their inclination to read on.
Raising the hairs on the back of my neck or causing me to break out in goosebumps is scary enough for me. Blood and guts kind of scary is not my cup of tea – although I know it does it for plenty of other readers… So how scary is scary for readers of paranormal thrillers?
For me, it is setting the imagination in play. A few well placed suggestions can get readers wondering and if they wonder then all things are possible. Witness a group of people quietly playing cards late at night. One says, “shush - did you hear that?” Everyone stops and listens carefully. Then another person hears a noise and someone else says it sounds like the creak a coffin lid opening might make…. Suddenly everyone’s heart beats a little faster. Then the lights go out… Now one of the players screams as he imagines something touched him…
But what has actually happened here? A fuse has blown and a door creaked slightly as it moved in a draught. But what has really happened is the imagination has exerted its full force and - as perceptive as we humans are – such things as atmosphere and sensing fear from another person is as infectious as laughing and yawning. We are all victims of our own imaginations in the right circumstances. It is this fact that all paranormal thriller writers trade in and has given rise to some of the scariest stories ever without spilling a single drop of blood!
I must apologise for the clichéd scenario but I’m sure you get my drift…
Do you use fear subliminally? Without being as clichéd as this, of course…
Can you be scared by the use of suggestions and atmosphere?

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Big Threats - Big Stories?

Big Threats, small threats.
Threats make up the stuffing in all good thriller/suspense stories. And threats came in many sizes and many guises. (Sorry about the rhyme – couldn’t resist!)
When I am putting together a plot one of the first things I think about is what is the threat (or potential threat) and who it’s to. I once thought that all thrillers have to have a big threat – i.e. the end of the world, Armageddon or extinction of the whole human race but having read many of those kinds of books I have realised that a massive threat does not, on it’s own, make a good plot.
What makes a good plot work, for me, is strong emotion and high stakes. For example a man who stands to lose his entire family - who mean the world to him - if he doesn’t overcome what is threatening him is, in my book, a big threat story. If, on the other hand, he is about to lose his job, that might be tragic for him but not necessarily a big thing for a reader to worry about and be emotionally invested in. But if losing his job meant he couldn’t pay his creditors and they were threatening to harm his wife and children then that would raise the stakes and readers would be concerned and worry about that.
Empathising with fellow human beings is the vital ingredient that allows readers to care deeply about what happens to a character and keep them reading to the rewarding (hopefully) end.
So big threats it must always be but only in terms of emotional effect and empathy. However, if a plot to blow up the entire world is foiled along the way, so be it!
So what do you think? Do big threats figure in your stories? Or do you think otherwise – I’d love to hear, if so…

Friday, 14 October 2011

A Daunting Haunting - or Maybe Not...

“A Haunting we Shall Go...”
As we are coming up to Halloween I thought I would post on something 'sort of' topical! Well, an intriguing word, really...
I looked up the word ‘haunting’ in my dictionary and found it could refer to many different things. For instance, the most obvious to me is a ghost-type haunting which I guess we have all heard of even if we don’t believe in that sort of thing.
Then there is the disturbing, provocative meaning of the word, such as in a ‘haunting melody’. Another meaning is when we say someone is possessed or jinxed – they may be ‘haunted by’ someone or something. Then again there is the expression we use when someone looks very worried or troubled by something – they may look ‘haunted’. My last offering is to use the word haunt when we mean a hideaway or den or even a normal place that we regularly return to.
All these words say ‘creepy’ to me - at least in the context of writing thrillers. Especially supernatural thrillers…
Even the notion of a haunting, sorrowful tune can be pretty sinister if it’s used in the right scenario. As for ghost haunting – well, we all know that can be scary, if handled properly… Haunting by other supernatural beings such as a demon/devil can be made to be pretty Spine-chilling too – witness the terrifying ‘Exorcist’ (for it’s time a brilliant movie) but these stories can equally be a lot like an old ‘b movie’ and they can be steeped in stereotypes and cliché.
Even the ‘haunt’ as a familiar place can be made to feel eerie with the addition of one or two strange and unfamiliar things. Even as I am writing this a few ideas have tickled my imagination and I am a little excited at the prospect of getting to my regular haunt ( in front of my PC) to jot a few words down!
So do you ever pause to think of intriguing words and allow them to whisper in the ears of your muse?

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Nightmares, Darkmares and Demons

The Stuff of Nightmares
Nightmares, Darkmares and Demons
What a wonderful, fascinating  place the world of dreams appears to be. But an even more extraordinary place is the world of nightmares.
For the stuff of nightmares - or night terrors, as they are often called in children - is where many horror/supernatural stories appear to emanate from.  Of course, the scientists amongst us know perfectly well that nightmares or bad dreams are simply the subconscious mind making sense of scary, worrying things that happen to us. They are no more a precursor of bad things to come nor an evil sign of impending doom than dreams about fairies or paradise are harbingers of marvellous happenings. Ah, but here’s the rub – no one can actually prove that and so the workings of the subconscious mind remain a wonderful fertile ground for paranormal thrillers.
Nightmares in and of themselves are basically bad dreams that often can and do cause much distress. But the nightmare has it’s origins in folklore. The night part is easily explained but what of the other word mare? What is that? In Norway the Mare is a female shape shifter who can take the form of an animal or dwarf and who can change into a wind that can slip through windows and keyholes to get to intended victims whilst they are sleeping. By day the Mare is a normal woman but at night the urge to find and control victims is strong. The Mare enters a person’s bedroom and sits on their chests, causing tightness, troubled breathing and horrible dreams. In American folklore this Mare spirit eventually became the nightmare of which we are all familiar.
For myself, I used this motif in my latest unpublished book but called the nightmare a ‘darkmare’ as the character was not only troubled at nighttime.
Have you ever used folklore/mythology to garnish or deepen your stories? Have you ever used nightmares as a major part of your story?

Friday, 7 October 2011

Scribe, describe, or imbibe?

Recently I have been ruminating on my writing career to date (in between sips of an excellent rioja!) Describe or imbibe? Or maybe it should be 'To scribe or not to scribe'?  Mmmmm....  That sounds a bit dramatic - or more likely rather silly!
No, I am not giving up putting words on paper ( or keyboard as it seems nowadays) but rather trying to evaluate on where I'm at and where I want to go in the future.

I have written four complete novels of which I am immensely proud and I have absolutely loads of articles and shorts on my computer as well as the skeletal beginnings of more novels - one of whcih is my current WIP. The issue is whether I want to give up on the dream of having my work published by a large traditional publishing house or not. I do believe ebooks are the way to go and my last published tome is, in fact, an ebook as well as a paper book.

This is perhaps, where I do a bit of a plug for this latest ebook - 'The Witcheye Gene' The back cover blurb is reproduced here to hopefully interest one or two to take a peek at it.

The Witcheye Gene
by P J Newcombe
The Witcheye Gene
Kendal MacIntyre has fought long and hard to overcome the emotional scars of an unhappy childhood to create the successful boutique business she now has. Having lost her husband to cancer she is driven by one thing only – to see her daughter April have all the advantages in life that she herself was denied. So when someone appears to be snooping, she is terrified that her shameful secret will wreck April’s chances in life and she stubbornly refuses to acknowledge the hereditary trait of ‘special’ sight. But when an evil killer threatens the very existence of her family, she knows she must face her demons if she is to save the one thing she cares about.
Available on amazon kindle - £2.29

My latest unpublished novel is doing the rounds of agents and publishers but I, like many others, am considering simply publishing it myself as an ebook.

So have you had similar thoughts about your own writing? Do you think ebooks are the way to go?

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Slippery Slithers and Turn About Twists!

snakey, hissy, twisty, tricky!
Twist Endings
I do so love a sparkling, unexpected twist at the end of a novel, don't you?
However, reading it is one thing but writing it is quite another... And handling that surprise well - and let's face it, in real life twists rarely happen as they do in books -  is as tricky as holding a slippery snake. But, when it works well, the twist ending lifts the story right off the page!
And I know it is much more difficult to do in a full length novel but relatively easy in a short story... So for me, the writer who pulls it off in a novel-length story has my total respect.
Thrillers especially, I feel, benefit from a strong twist ending – as long as it is carefully done and arises naturally from the story. I don’t usually plan twist endings but they often occur to me a as I am writing the story and I get very excited at the thought of tailoring my story somewhat so they fit nicely. And there is no better comment from a reader than them saying they never saw it coming.
Of course, to work properly the twist must not be evident to the reader until well into the story - if not actually at the very end. In fact, if it is obvious early on, it can totally destroy the rest of the tale! So twists have to be handled with a great deal of care.
The setup for the twist must come well in advance so the ending is not suddenly manufactured for the express purpose of the surprise/twist. If the reader has to go back and figure out ‘how the heck did that happen?’ and they can then see that the story had not misled them, then that is quite acceptable but the author has to be very careful that it all makes sense to the reader. Confusion at the end is an absolute no no...
There are those who say a good thriller story ought to be one twist after the other from beginning to end with surprises coming by the bucket-load in order to escalate tension and increase suspense. Not easy if you are to hold it all together. But iIf you can do this then the story never stalls and is never dull.
In thrillers, the suspense must be maintained right up until the final moments of the story, so to have a twist right at the end and keep the reader on the edge of his seat, especially if it has been one surprise after another right the way through, is not easy. I guess that’s why they call a good thriller story a breathless read.
Do you find twist endings easy to write in full novels? Have you ever read stories with twists that fail miserably?