Friday, 20 December 2013

The Best Lie Ever Told??

The origins of Santa and the stories surrounding Christmas are buried beneath layers of popular cultural belief. I am, of course, for the moment, putting aside the religious meanings of Christmas – it’s not that I am anti Christian or anything, simply that the notion of telling children the story of Santa and his reindeer has got to be one of the greatest and most enduring stories of all time ( next to the bible and religious teachings). It is also the biggest lie that parents happily enthral their children with.

I mean, when you think about it, the image of a big fat man in a bright red suit sliding down your chimney (breaking into your house, no less!), eating your food and drinking your wine and then going into a child’s bedroom when they are asleep, ought to be pretty scary for most children. But, hey, it’s okay for this intruder because he’s bringing a sack full of presents! Right!
It just struck me that in other circumstances you could possible write a reasonable paranormal thriller story around the notion of this superman character who gets  his reindeer to pull a sledge around the heavens and visit every child in the world in the space of just one night!
But hey, who am I to spoil the kiddies’ fun? I believed it myself for a fair few years… And enduring and endearing it still is – especially when you watch the kiddies  little faces light up with the wonder and the thrill of it all because they’ve listened hard on Christmas Eve and heard the sleigh bells…
I first posted this article a year ago but thought it worth reminding everyone of the joy children bring and that Christmas is the time when families can celebrate together.
Mince pies and happy sighs – all wrapped up in a few good lies!!

A very Merry Christmas to one and all and here’s hoping we all have a peaceful 2014!

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

The Afterlife of Darkmares

Do you fancy a flight of fancy? A thrilling read? Or just want to indulge in a spot of escapism? Then take a look at my latest novel, if you dare…

The Afterlife of Darkmares  by P J Newcombe

‘When single mum Kate Linden’s disabled daughter dies unexpectedly she is stunned to find she is under suspicion of harming her. But Kate still has a 12year old son, Grif, who refuses to speak and is grappling with issues of his own – not least of which is his attachment to a supposedly imaginary friend. Kate’s relationship with her son is fraught as she struggles to make some kind of connection with him and also deal with her own intense grief.

Unbeknown to Kate, in 1665, a disastrous event - the plague - in a small Derbyshire village - has consequences that stretch into the 21st Century and she is blind to the fact that her son (feeling estranged from all around him) has unwittingly allowed an evil entity to awaken and threaten them all.

 Kate must now fight her own demons and accept help from unlikely sources if she is to save her son from a fate worse than death. The help finally comes from a sleep therapist, an elderly bereaved lady and Jeremiah, an old man who hovers between life and death on a life support machine…’

The Afterlife of Darkmares – now available on amazon kindle.
Do you enjoy thrillers - especially those that have the flavour of the supernatural about them?



Monday, 2 December 2013

The Unexpected and The Unexplained

One of my all time favourite programmes from the late 70’s was Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected. The music for that series still lingers in my mind and although I can no longer remember much about the stories I do recall being fascinated by the unexpected endings. I spent most of the programme trying to second guess what the ending would be.

What a great writer Roald Dahl was – and not only of children’s stories. The unexpected twist ending is still something that totally captivates me when I read a new story. Even if the story itself has been a little humdrum – if there is a good twist ending that I never guessed, it will leave me with the belief that it was a great story and I will have a wondrous smile on my face. How could I not have guessed, I will say to myself… And sometimes I even go through the story to check where I missed the signpost. For there should always be a sign post of some description but it does not have to be (nor should it be) obvious.

Twist endings are difficult to pull off as so many writers either signpost too obviously or not at all. Then the reader feels cheated if it comes totally out of the blue – how could they have spotted it, they ask? That twist also needs to be believable according to the plot of the story. For instance you cannot have a character suddenly exhibiting a trait at the end of a story that was not there in the rest of the story. “Able to jump tall buildings and save the day” kind of thing…

I have tried to do twist endings in many of my own short stories and also tried it in a novel. It is infinitely more difficult in a novel but it is possible. I’m never too sure if it worked well in my own novel (The Witcheye Gene) but readers have told me they did not guess who the villain was until towards the end.

Memo to self – read Dahl’s 'Tales of the Unexpected again'!

Do you try to use twist endings? Are you good at disguising them?

Friday, 29 November 2013

The Sticky Key

 So what exactly is the main thing – the key - to good thriller writing?

I believe it must be ‘edge of the seat’ stuff where you must turn the next page to see what happens next. Easy isn’t it? If only it were …

But there is no denying that ‘page turning quality’ is what it’s all about. The reader should be so engrossed in the story that they don’t want to put it down. The art of good story telling (and thriller writing in particular) means that the writer must use all the tools and skills of creating suspense they can muster to make sure that happens.

However rising tension and suspense is easy to say but not so easy to do and it can feel rather breathless and mind boggling if that is all there is in a story. Indeed there should be parts in a good tale where the action/tension lessens a little so that the reader can draw breath. But it should not be enough to allow the reader’s mind to start meandering or thinking about other things.

Actually, it’s the way I (personally) judge a story. As I get a little way into a book I decide whether the story is holding my attention or not, whether having started it, I even want to finish! If I begin to think about what we’re having for dinner or other mundane things I know the story is not gripping me in the way it should. Lots of passive descriptive telling passages will do that for me. I know you need some of that stuff in a story for it to hold together but it should not be the main thing – especially in a thriller.
Think of the passive bits as the glue that holds the story together. And like the best glue – a little goes a long way.

Do you use passive glue sparingly? Do you agree that too much description can make a book dull?


Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall...

Mirrors have always fascinated me a little for there is often a discrepancy between what I think I am/look like and what I see in the mirror. It’s a little like hearing your own voice recorded and swearing that you don’t really sound like that – do you???

But I digress… Back to the mirrors…

I actually used mirrors as a horror element in my first full novel “Insight”. I was in the bathroom one day and looked up to see the mirror so clouded with steam that you couldn’t see anything clearly and I started imagining a creature was in the mirror. Yes, I know I do have a peculiar mindset… But anyway it gave me the idea of using a mirror for a ghostly experience. I also realised that you could write with a greasy-ish finger on a mirror and it could not be seen but as soon as it became steamed up the writing appeared. Oh, I had fun with that book! Water and mist eventually became a major motif for the story as the character had a kind of phobia about water anyway. The possibilities really opened up then as the fear went right back to her childhood and… Well you’d have to read the book to know the rest! No spoilers on here…

But it did make me realise you could take something quite mundane and turn it into something – well, a lot less mundane!

Have you ever thought of using ordinary household items and turning them into fearful phobic elements in a thriller story?

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Back to work at last!

I really must apologise for being away so long. It has been a very difficult year which has resulted in our re-location back to Uk. Finding somewhere to live, renovating and dealing with other issues has impacted my writing severely BUT... I am ready to get involved again so here goes.

This time it should be okay as I am now settled with full internet service and a some time to write!! My latest novel is half way through first draft but I've not looked at it for some time so I need to refresh by re-reading the entire MS and going through all my notes and research before I can write a word. Yikes!

I must admit it's been so long I can't remember hardly any of the plot details although the characters have stayed with me.

Has anyone else had a long break and had to read through all the stuff again before writing a single word??

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

The Supernatural Story World

As a writer of paranormal thrillers, the world of the occult fascinates me.  On looking at the dictionary definition of the word 'occult', I see it can mean 'esoteric knowledge', 'secretive mystery' and/or the 'supernatural'.
To me the world of occult is mainly associated with the supernatural. It can include such things as Extra sensory perception, spirits, special powers, demons and devils, doppelgangers, possession and special powers (such as telekinesis, telepathy etc.). All these things are great themes/plots for the supernatural thriller writer. However one thing that is uppermost in my mind when I write is that, irrespective of the supernatural elements, the story must still hold together as a well plotted tale with good, believable characters. It must have the elements of a thriller with rising tension, conflict and suspense and a character in jeopardy.
I also do believe that stories centred on the occult world should grip readers and the supernatural element should be unnerving, scary and even a little terrible. Readers of these kinds of stories expect to be transported to an alternate reality where supernatural abound and yet are still pretty scary.
In the reader's minds a little voice poses the question, at least for the duration of the story, ”could this possibly happen?” Suspension of disbelief is what keeps horror and supernatural writers going, as well as the enjoyment of heightened sensations if the story scares as much as it should. The fear, I believe comes from the not knowing.
After all, we really don’t know what awaits us in the afterlife and the possibility of spirits, ghosts etc is not that unbelievable to many people. And lots of perfectly rational folk do indeed believe in the Devil and Demons (for that matter many religions do too). I guess it is this notion of belief and the outside possibility of these things actually happening that captures the imagination of so many supernatural thriller readers – including me!

So can you suspend disbelief to read a supernatural thriller?


Friday, 21 June 2013

How to make a thriller really matter

How to make a thriller really matter.

In my humble opinion, all the steps in creating a plausible plot in thriller writing should come from the premise of an antagonist (villain) wanting one thing and a protagonist (hero) wanting the direct opposite. This creates the basic conflict that will drive the story to its final climactic end. Layered in and around this conflict may be more subplots and story lines that enrich the central story. In other words the story is multi-layered and thick with intrigue and suspense. It is this potent mixture of forces set one against the other that is the engine behind any thriller story.

The stakes in a thriller must also be very high so menace and threat are around every corner. Of course, the greatest threat (and the one many successful stories have thrived on) is world domination or a catastrophic event that threatens the entire world. For example ‘War of the Worlds’, ‘Alien’ and various James Bond’s epics. Plotting a novel like this may start fairly worryingly but then the plot should rise to epic proportions and stakes go higher and higher as more danger is piled on and more people realise the gravity of the situation and a race against time.
But it doesn’t always have to be about threats to the entire world - it may simply be threats to a main character’s nearest and dearest! And, in my opinion, the best way to raise the stakes is for the reader to strongly identify with the characters in peril and thereby worry for their safety. So the plot cannot be all about action and suspense - character development and engendering empathy is integral to the plot too. Put together it should make for one heck of a thriller…
Do you try to raise the stakes as high as possible in your stories?

Monday, 17 June 2013

Dramatic Disasters and Deadly Diseases

Natural disasters - and man-made ones - make for brilliant thriller reads, I find. The age-old ‘race against time’ to save innocent lives and – occasionally - the whole human race is the ultimate in ‘edge of the seat’ drama if done well.
Some of the best stories I have come across in the genre of thrillers, involve the use of the word ‘epidemic’. To most people this word is scary as it is the world of science gone wrong and nasty things happening to unsuspecting people. But I suspect the scary part is more about our lack of control over such tiny (usually unseen) microorganisms that can and do kill us indiscriminately.
We can easily imagine catching a nasty disease and the thought that something can spread like wildfire and wipe out an entire population – well, we know in our heart of hearts that it could just happen…To add to the tension and drama there is usually a time element to these stories and so it is not so difficult to build in a page turning tension. A sceptic (often a politician) who does not take the threat seriously is generally built in to provide the opposition to the main character and - voila – a readymade thriller plot! I don’t mean to sound as if this is so easy but there is definitely a theme to these stories, and we all know it, but it doesn’t seem to stop readers wanting these kinds of stories.
I love these books and I have used the motif in my own novels a little. My latest thriller - The Afterlife of Darkmares - does have a plot strand where a type of plague is released into a small community.

Have you considered using an epidemic or disaster ( or the threat of one) to heighten tension and create extra conflict? Have you read a great book/story using an epidemic/disaster?


Thursday, 13 June 2013

Macabre - A Nice Word??

What a scary word macabre is to most people…
The dictionary defines 'Macabre' as ghastly or gruesome but in my mind, I always associate it with supernatural goings on. Books such as Stephen King’s “Danse Macabre” also spring to mind.  In his book King talks about the world of horror writing and it’s history and origins – an adventurous read if you are interested in horror literature. When I looked up the term ‘Danse Macabre’, I discovered that it appears to originate in medieval times and signified skeletons and other dead spirits dancing and leading mortals to their grave. A kind of unholy procession. There are quite a few artists’ impressions from that time depicting dancing gleeful skeletons holding hands with the dead and the still living.  Ugh! Nice pictures…
But I am thinking of the more common use of the word nowadays.  Macabre seems to be a word used for describing a grim or ghastly atmosphere.  It is generally only found in horror/paranormal -type literature. I think it is a wonderfully descriptive word which everyone knows the meaning of but it is rarely used in everyday conversation.
It’s almost as if it is beyond our understanding and therefore terrifying.  When one is struggling to describe a scary atmosphere or aura macabre is a good word to use…
Do you have favourite words that are relevant to your genre?

Sunday, 9 June 2013

The Promise of Premise

So what exactly is a premise?

Ta Da! I have a dictionary definition to hand…“Logic proposition from which inference is drawn” Mmmm… Are we much the wiser?

The point of the premise in fiction is that it truly is a kind of road map of where the story should go -and where it definitely should not! When I first started writing I did not understand this concept properly and, I must admit, I do still sometimes struggle with defining it for some of my story ideas. But when I get it right it really is as if a cloud clears and my ideas begin to coalesce properly in my mind. Sticking to my premise makes me keep to the point of the story all the way through instead of veering off at tangents and getting lost. When I wrote my first stories I did not plan - just went with the flow of a good story idea. But before I had gotten very far my story idea started changing as I stumbled upon new and fascinating stuff for my character to get into… I ended up in a hopeless mess with no idea of how to straighten it all out. Then I suddenly remembered the original story idea and realised I had unintentionally abandoned it.  (If you are a ‘seat of your pants’ kind of writer a premise of some kind is, I think, essential.  But maybe you can stay nicely on course without one.)
Anyway then I read a few books and realised that premise was what I was missing. It is not the plot of a story but the main point and leads directly from the main story question to the resolution at the end. James Frey describes it as “A statement of what happens to the characters as a result of the core conflict in the story.” For example: In Dickens’ Christmas Carol the premise would be – ‘looking and learning from past mistakes leads to redemption and forgiveness’ because in the end, of course, Scrooge is a changed character. In my latest book ‘The Afterlife of Darkmares’,  the premise I used was ‘mother love can overcome everything, even ‘other worldly’ threats. ‘

Adding subplots and other characters does not change this central theme of the story because the thread running through and holding it all together is premise which once promised must be delivered on at the end.
This is just how I try and stay on track.

Having said all that maybe you know a better way to keep to the central story line?


Thursday, 6 June 2013

To all my followers - if any are left!??.
So sorry to be absent for so long. I have had to relocate from one country to another and had no internet for some time - also family illness has been an issue too. BUT - I'm just about sorted and settled but it's been a long haul!
So here I am and I'm looking forward to getting back into blogland again. And it'll be great to catch up with reading all the blogs and finding out what you've all been doing...
Happy writing everyone!

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

What's in a name?

Am I the only writer who agonises over names for days on end?  I guess I find it difficult because I think names are so important in characterisation. They give the reader clues as to what kind of person they should expect. It may seem arbitrary as we are all given names by our parents - when they have no idea what sort of people we will eventually turn out to be.  Then again, many parents agonise over their children’s names too! We give children names and then hope their characters turn out to be what we would want for them. But in the world of fiction we try to choose names that suit the character we are trying to create.
For instance, age and era play a big part in my choices. A woman who was born early 19th century would not be called Rhianna or Stacy. Just doesn’t ring true, does it? But Arabella or Victoria does. The age of characters is also important in deciding names. I can easily imagine an older man called Hector or Jeremiah but not a young boy. I think most readers meeting a character with these names would automatically have in their mind’s eye and older man even before any physical description is given.
Whether your character is the antagonist or protagonist is also important in naming. Although sometimes one might want to increase surprise by giving an evil character an innocuous name… I think it depends on how you are trying to present your story. Male heroes names tend to be strong masculine names – they are not usually called Fred or Bert - but female heroines may also be strong ‘no nonsense’ names too. I wouldn’t choose a name like Ophelia or Primrose if I wanted my heroine to be seen as strong and capable. But then again, it is all a matter of personal choice… In fact, the more I think about it, the more I like Ophelia!!
When we are introduced to people in real life we may be told their names but it is not the only information we have of them. We can see how they behave, what they look like and hear them speak. We can make judgements about what sort of person they are (although we may turn out to be totally wrong, of course!)
But in writing fiction we have to give a strong first impression by words only to have the reader ‘see’ our character in their mind’s eye. I believe this is why names are so important.

How much importance do you give to naming your characters? Do you agonise or go with the story and change the name later to fit the character?


Saturday, 16 February 2013

Explosive Books - or Damp Squibs??

Hi everyone.
In todays post I'm looking at explosive story lines! Words like 'detonation', 'violent outbursts' and 'fireworks' also seem quite emotive terms but what do they actually mean in terms of story?
I have often wondered what the term ‘an explosive story’ actually meant when I've read it in a book review. Especially if the story never seems to quite live up to it's claims. So I guess it may sometimes just be a way to catch a reader’s attention. On the other hand it may mean it actually does have explosions in it!  Or it could simply mean a story is sensational. or outrageous in it's subject matter. 
But I have come to the conclusion that most people who use that word simply mean it to imply that something startling or shocking happens in a story. It could also suggest some kind of expose (especially if it is a ‘true-life’ type story).
Whatever the true meaning the term does have an ear catching ring to it and for those looking for a roller coaster thriller-type read, it meets the criteria for that kind of story.  However, it is disappointingly na├»ve to rely on these kinds of descriptions as the promise is not always delivered on.   But there again if it gets people to look at your story perhaps it is worth talking it up…
For me an ‘explosive story’ is one where the unexpected happens in a startlingly abrupt way. Sometimes, it is just such an action which turns a mundane story into an electrifying one. In other words a shocking, surprising development can make your story ‘explode into life’ and carry an impetus which will keep a reader gripped to the very end. Now that is a satisfyingly ‘explosive novel’!
So what do you think? Have you read many explosive novels?

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Secrets and the Nosiness of the Human Condition...

Secrets and things undisclosed is a quite fascinating subject. The very fact that some of us would go to great lengths to discover what someone else’s ‘secret’ is says it all - we hate to be kept in the dark about anything! For there is something about the human psyche that makes people want to make a secret un-secret! I guess it's about feeling that we are all operating on a level playing field (when actually, the reality is that we can never know everything!)

Whenever anyone says something is a secret there is a deep longing - on the part of most of us – to know what that something is. It is an almost irrepressible need to know – even when it is nothing to do with us. I suppose it must be something to do with the nosey nature of human beings… But the fact remains that calling something ‘secret’ gives it an allure all its own.
That is why many stories that centre around hitherto untold ‘secrets’ can be so successful. I once read an article in a writing magazine that stated that if you had the word secret in your title or back cover blurb you would be bound to get more sales! I don’t know if that’s true but I do know that many blurbs are written that hint at secrets waiting to be discovered in a book’s pages.  Readers love a good tale with a ‘secret’ expertly handled and told in a convincing way. And there is nothing more satisfying than finally discovering (often at the end of a good story) what that secret is.

A secret can also be a good tool to use to maintain suspense – especially if it’s hinted at the beginning but not stated – it leads to guessing games on the part of the reader. So if for no other reason the reader must read on to find out if they are right!  Or even when the reader knows the secret but the characters do not.

Secrets can be the main thread of a story or a titillating subplot but whichever way they intrigue and fascinate which is exactly what you need to keep readers turning pages!
Have you used a secret in your stories? Was it a big secret (as in a main plot) or a side issue?

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

ISWG - Inspiration From Successful Writers

One of the things that makes me feel less insecure when I am struggling to stay positive is learning about how other famous authors struggled early in their careers and how they mostly just pushed on regardless... Enter the world of 'how to' books! During my own writing adventures I have gained great insight and been grateful for those (usually) famous authors who have shared their knowledge of craft to help other would-be thriller writers.
In the beginning I read these books for their insightful advice on developing all the usual writerly skills – this in the days before writers blogs took off. And it wasn’t as if I was ignorant about writing, I studied for a creative writing degree at University and went on numerous writing courses/conferences etc where I not only learnt from lecturers but could also talk to those who had written successfully.
But always I came back to my 'how to' books. After all ,that is the bedrock of our profession – books. When I look at my bookshelves I can see I have amassed quite a collection of writing books over the years – some good, some not so good. But the interesting thing for me is that they still provide me with inspiration! Whenever I feel a bit down – usually after a rejection or a fit of self doubt - I pull out one of my favourites and re-read. it always lifts me and fills me once again with a sense of enthusiasm. As does taking part in ISWG !
I also turn to my books when I am struggling with a particular issue like the setting, characters or editing and revising. In the planning stages of a book my approach has been different with each project, (taking advice from my how to books) but the plus side is I now know what works best for me. So here’s some of my gems:                                           
My all time favourite:
Stephen Kings ‘On Writing’
‘How to Write a Damn Good Novel’  James N Frey.
‘The Key’, James N Frey.
‘How to Write a Damn good Thriller’, James N Frey.
‘How to Write Tales of Horror, Fantasy and Speculative Fiction’ J.N Williamson.
‘Hooked’, Les Edgerton.
‘Lessons From a Lifetime of Writing’, David Morrell.
‘Writing the Breakout Novel’, Donald Maas.
‘Stein On Writing’, Sol Stein.
‘How Fiction Works’ Oakley Hall.
‘The Techniques of the Selling Writer’, Dwight Swain
And for a light-hearted read:
‘Wannabe a Writer’, Jane Wenham Jones.
So who are you favourite ‘how to’ authors?

Friday, 1 February 2013

Tick Tock... Time to Thrill...

Time to Thrill

 The ticking clock is a plot device that I love to use when outlining my novels. Not every time, I must admit but if it lends itself to the plot why not use it?
For one thing it gives urgency to a thriller plot line that adds to the suspense for the reader. For another it is quite a useful aid for the writer too as it can provide a kind of framework which helps to keep the plot on target. Thirdly for me it is quite exciting and indeed, fun to do…
There are as many different ways of adding the time element to a story as there are for actually writing the story. The time element may mean that a future event is driving the story line and readers know the story is heading there. But, most importantly, they will not know the twists and turns of the plot along the way and it maybe that there are penalties that are time linked. For instance, the use of the ‘what if’ element as in ‘what if a protagonist doesn’t get to the scene on time?’ or what if he can beat the odds and rescue something before….whatever hyappens.
Another way I have used the timeline is delineating chapters and passages to show that one plot action is happening at the same time as something else.  I find the use of switching from point of view helpful in using this one.
I think it is very important to keep mentioning time if it is a plot device in the story. It subliminally reminds the reader that time is important and the ticking clock is a great way to raise the stakes and keep suspense going page by page. In my own writing I try to use shorter sentences and paragraphs to try to keep the sense of urgency and as the story reaches towards the climax, it should be mostly action and little information giving, meandering or asides.  Short sharp plot points resolved as time tacks relentlessly by.
I guess, in its broadest sense, it is the pace of a story that counts but that does not always mean it should be at breakneck speed – just the pace to suit the timeline.
Do you work time elements into your stories?

Monday, 28 January 2013

Getting Back Into Things...

Back to Work
I wonder if other writers have the same problems as I do when it comes to getting back into your routine after a long break/holiday?
I sit at my pc and fiddle around the edges of work in progress/articles etc. but my mind isn’t really connecting with it. And I find that, although I do remember my WIP plot and the characters, some of the finer details of whys and wherefores have slipped from my mind. I have to sit and read the whole work so far to get back into the mind-set.
It reminds me of how I try to organise my work so that a break comes at the end of a draft. The trouble is, if I get behind, it doesn’t work out like that and I have to leave it midway. Such a hassle – but we all have to have breaks don’t we?
Despite lot’s of notes and plot charts etc. I sometimes forget where I was intending to go next. This can be kind of interesting as my muse get’s jump-started, get’s all excited again and suggests new ideas and thoughts about plot development. So it’s not necessarily all bad news!
It just goes to show that without breaks we can all go pretty stale on a project, methinks. Well, that’s my excuse anyway…
Oh yes... And my latest book is now available on amazon kindle...

Do you have problems getting back to work after a break?