Trick, not Treat

This is a short story written as part of my masters course. Enjoy!

Trick, Not Treat

When the electricity failed, Pat was plunged into darkness and was not aware of anything except for the suspicion of a noise out on the porch. He froze, hands suspended above the keyboard, not sure if he had heard anything. It was so dark in the windowless office that he couldn’t see any light at all. Not only that but, with dawning horror, Pat realised he hadn’t been saving the work he’d been steadily crawling through. When had been the last time? Just after tea? That must have been at least three hours ago. He just hoped the computer had backed up some of it. He hoped. Slamming a hand down on the keyboard he jumped as there was an answering bang from the porch.

“What the?” he asked the quiet room, his voice echoing. Getting up and walking like a recently dead zombie with hands stretched out in front of him he stumbled from the office and into the hallway. For Christ’s sake this was his own house. Why the hell didn’t he know that the hall table would be there? Limping a little from a bruised toe he shuffled onwards. Near the front door he heard a scratching sound followed by a thump. He thought back to last night and, sitting alone, watching Jamie Lee Curtis in ‘Halloween’, appropriate, he had considered, for the thirtieth of October. A classic. But he couldn’t help but smile, realising that just like the heroine he had yelled at last night, he was stumbling in a dark house toward the creepy sound. Luckily he wasn’t a young girl but a six-foot twenty something. Still, he knew that should he find a mask encrusted serial killer he probably would scream like a girl and run.

Reaching the telephone table next to the front door, Pat pulled open the small drawer and fumbled for the torch that he was sure he put in there a week or so ago, just in case. Letting out an impromptu cheer as he found it he switched it on. A weak beam fled out of the thin device, lighting a small section of the hall. Not brilliant but it would do. Okay, now he had some options, should he open the door, or should he just run and hide? In the circumstances Pat was fairly certain Jamie would run to the darkest part of the house and hide whilst creepy music led the killer to her location. Luckily he could hear no music, but he could just make out a scratching noise, like a man with a boat hook dragging the tip back and forth across the wooden steps outside. Rotating his shoulders Pat tried to dispel the tension that had locked up the muscles of his back, but as his hand reached toward the front door he couldn’t stop the slight shake that made the light wobble.

Quick, I’ll do this quick, then if there is anyone there I will surprise them. Pat froze, hand on the doorknob. What if someone is there? A tentative voice asked. Don’t be so silly, he answered himself, this is not a horror movie and the only scary thing happening is that you are talking to yourself in different bloody voices. Pat grinned into the darkness and pulled open the door, not expecting anything but ready for action. This meant that as he opened the door quickly and aggressively he was in a half crouch and ready to pounce.

A hedgehog.

“A hedgehog,” Pat muttered, looking down at the terrified animal that was scrabbling and trying to get away. Somehow the little critter had got caught in the boot scraper. Relaxing his stance Pat squatted next to the now frantic creature. “Now, how did you get in there?” he asked. Carefully he put down the torch and lifted the heavy wrought iron contraption, an unwanted Christmas present from some uncle or aunt. The hedgehog took off and was quickly out of the reach of the torch.

Pat stood and looked up and down the street. There were only three houses in this stretch; his own and the two opposite. Neither had lights on that he could see. From the house directly opposite he could hear the frantic screaming of a baby. The young couple were new to the area and only a week ago they had become parents. Suddenly, the door flew open and the new father shot out and straight next door, his own torch beam laying a hasty path before him. Strange, Pat thought.

All that went through Josh’s head was the need for hot water. The power had gone off just as he’d switched on the kettle to give little Bill his feed. He knew that perhaps bottle feeding was considered bad but unfortunately Maria’s milk had never come in. Until that moment as the power shut off, he hadn’t realised just how dependent their lives had become on the kettle and that power switch. Now Maria was in tears and pacing with little Bill, trying to get him to stop the panicky sounds. And it was all Josh’s fault. If he hadn’t been five minutes late then they would be, at this moment, sitting cosily on the sofa and giggling about Bill’s first power cut experience. They’d been doing that a lot; first wind, first rain, first blanket. Except that because he’d needed to watch the end of the movie, although he practically knew the script of the damned movie, now he was rushing to Mrs Cullen, their elderly next door neighbour, their only next door neighbour. Mrs Cullen was so old-fashioned that she hadn’t changed from solid fuel. Yesterday he and Maria had laughed at the old woman as they watched from the upstairs window as she spread ash over her back garden path. Now she could be a life saver.

Reaching Mrs Cullen’s door, Josh knocked. “Hello?” He paused, waiting for an answer. Please be in, he thought. “Mrs Cullen?” he called. There was an answer – a groan. “Mrs Cullen? Are you alright?” he asked and at the same time pushed at the front door.

Surprisingly, it swung open. Josh stepped inside and back in time. The whole place was caught in the 1940s, everything in drab browns. Yet he was surprised to see no stairs in front of him; his own and this house were meant to be carbon copies but obviously the insides were very different.

“Mrs Cullen?”

A muffled moan came from where he thought the kitchen was. He walked in and there along the far wall sat a black Rayburn. And from the warmth in the kitchen it was on. But there was no sign of Mrs Cullen.

“Mrs Cullen?”

A moan, from a cupboard?

Either side of the Rayburn sat what appeared to be two full length cupboards. They reached the ceiling and stopped about a foot above the floor. Oddly, the one on the right appeared to be moaning.

“Mrs Cullen?”

Yep, the right one was moaning, which meant it held an injured Mrs Cullen. Who had put her in the cupboard? Josh put the bottle down on an ancient table and took a stance not unlike Pat’s as he had opened the front door, except he threw open the cupboard door and was confronted by stairs. Obviously, without the light from his torch, the stair well would have been completely black. On the floor, directly in front of him and mashed into the stair well, was Mrs Cullen. Blood had seeped from under her bobble hat and her limbs appeared to be twisted, especially her left leg. Josh dropped to his knees and shone the torch directly in her face.

“No,” she whispered. It was a fragile voice very unlike her usual strident tones.

“Sorry.” Josh lowered the torch beam. “Mrs Cullen, what happened?” he asked, feeling for her pulse.

“Fell,” she groaned in obvious pain.

Josh found her pulse but it was quick and not as strong as he expected, but then his doctoring experience only extended to colds and holding his wife’s hand during labour. She had a powerful grip.

“Mrs Cullen, I need a phone.”

The old lady raised an arm and revealing, clenched tightly in her hand, a cordless phone. Then Josh remembered her saying that her daughter had insisted on getting one. Which of course was great if she fell, unless the power was out. Still, Josh took the dead phone and gazed at it.

“No power,” he said. “It won’t work.” Looking round he tried to see an old-fashioned phone. “The old phone…”

“Gone.”

“Shit,” he said. “Look, I gotta go get help.”

Mrs Cullen looked at him and he saw the determination enter her eyes. “I know.”

Josh nodded and left, taking the torch. “I’ll be back in just a moment.”

“Hurry.”

Josh stormed out of the house and saw Pat standing on his porch. “Do you have a phone?”

“What?”

“A phone?”

“Yes,” he said, stupid question. “Why?”

Josh sprinted across the road barely missing a van that had to swerve to miss him, stalling in the process. For a moment he looked at the two men in the van and then hurried across the road. At the same time Maria came out of the house with a screaming Bill in her arms.

“Jesus!” the driver said.

“Fuck yes,” the passenger exclaimed.

Putting the van into first gear the two men pulled away.

“What do you think that was all about?” Simon asked.

“Dunno,” Frank answered.  “Mad folk live in these rural places.”

“True,” Simon said looking at the commotion behind him in the wing mirror. “Genius plan though, mate. Bringing down a tree to get the electric cable. Pure genius.”

“I know, mate,” Frank answered, a smug smile on his face. “Should get a few quid for the scrap metal.”

“Sweet.”

Fairytales and Folk Stories

Wednesday 20th February 2013

Now I have been addicted to fairy tales in the past. As a child my illustrated collection (two volumes) were my favourite books, but seriously I hadn’t thought about them for a very long time. So when I realised that the lecture was about fairy tales I was interested. But I did see the fairytale as a particularly old-fashioned type of writing. The old line drawing illustrations and the princesses in ball gowns, two-dimensional princes and animals that can talk. My eyes were opened!

First though the history. The fairytale came into its own with Perrault and the Grimm brothers. They were not necessarily written for children but more likely for adults and those at court. Any written story would have had a limited audience in the 1600’s as most but the well educated were illiterate. So Charles Perrault wrote modern fairy tales for his time, 1690’s, They were all illustrated in modern dress, again of the time, and had to have a moral teaching. The style of the illustrations and the moral fiber of the stories continues into our fairy tales, but we are only talking about a small amount of the tales. The other more widely used tale was by word of mouth.

It was these tales that the Brothers Grimm tried to capture. They saw that the increased movement of people could, potentially, contaminate the source of the German fairytale and so they wrote them down. They wanted their stories to express the base nature of humans, to say something about ourselves. But their first volume was criticised because the stories were not German enough, they rejected titles that were too close to those written my Charles Perrault. But what I found surprising was that they changed the language:

  • Fee / Fey (fairy) became enchantress / wise woman
  • prince became King’s son
  • princess became King’s daughter

Then the tales move into the Victorian era, and here they were picked up by a number of authors and given a sprinkling of fairy dust. Basically they became a mass of imagination, dragons, violence, good and bad. But no sex or sexual images, or at least no obvious ones. The images are always there – in the background or suggested but rarely shown.

So what about modern examples… Well, I love a little movie called “The Company of Wolves” and I was surprised to find it on the list of modern-day fairy tales. It is one of a series of short stories in “The Bloody Chamber” by Angela Carter. I’d like to say I was restrained but I had bought the kindle edition before leaving the classroom. Wow! Get a copy and give it a read. It shows the development of the female as a character from a passive creation to an empowered well-rounded character. The other examples we were given were also “Sexing the Cherry” by Jeanette Winterson and “Red Red Shoes” by Charles Way (this is a play).

This whole lesson was an eye-opener and I thoroughly enjoyed it. And have begun to create a re-working of Rumpelstiltskin. It is just fantastic, to pare back a fairy story and find its roots and then re-write it in a modern setting. And to change the audience – from child to adult. I have a copy of the Brothers Grimm and I have been flicking through it feeling as though I am in a sweet shop and someone has removed all the lids and said – help yourself.

But a re-working doesn’t have to be like the original. Just like Charles Perrault or the Grimm’s you can choose how you create the story. What is it you want the tale to mean? All I know is that it is thoroughly enjoyable. Give it a go – I dare you!

A dilemma

So my problem is this – I try to write everyday on the blog (even putting a story a day) but because I’ve been ill and am only just getting over it I haven’t been. Now I have a load of readers out there, at least more than ten, and I don’t want to disappoint. But at the same time I have lots of writing projects on the go.

What do I do? Do I struggle through with the writing a story a day, knowing that other projects will stumble or do I write a couple of stories a month and keep working on the projects?

It’s a dilemma…

I have a screenplay that I need to write as part of my course which is fun and difficult at the same time. I’m also trying to write a collection of short stories for publication and my dissertation idea has started to take shape. The last one is yelling at me to start research and on top of all that I have got to run a business. Whew!

I think this may be a rant… I don’t mean to rant, but sometimes I forget why I write. Perhaps it’s the dyslexia or just the fact I get lost in the process of doing things. Us, dyslexics do love routine and any break can be difficult, even if it is forced on us by a temperature. I love writing but I’m going to have to put all my attention on different things, I have to prioritize otherwise nothing will get done and I’ll end up with masses of unfinished projects.

So the plan is to write as much as I can – publish at least one story a week on the blog and continue with furthering the other projects. It all has to be done but I’m just going to write myself back into a sick-bed if I try to do everything.

Okay. Rant over. I’m calm now. Who needs a shrink when you can have a blog. 🙂

Screenwriting 2

Wednesday 13th February 2013

It’s time to actually put pen to paper and the first thing I get to decide is how to write something that happens in the story via narrator speak. I don’t want a voice over so I have to tell the story by writing a small plot…

It’s difficult – more difficult than I thought. The myth surrounding the house in the movie has got to be told but in the story it is inferred and in a movie you can’t infer. You have to show. So I’m having to create a group of small characters that have only one purpose – to tell the audience about this myth.

So I’m writing my first couple of pages, but the first ten have to have a hook. In screenwriting one page = one minute. So the first ten minutes has to have something dramatic happen. Have a look at some of your favourite movies and you’ll find they all follow the same formula; in “Deja Vu” a ferry blows up, in “Jaws” the first victim dies.

These ten minutes are part of the thirty that create the set-up. The part of the screenplay that makes up these points:

  • Introduce the main characters
  • Establish the primary environments
  • Convey a distinct mood or atmosphere
  • Establish the time period
  • Illustrate a routine or way of life
  • Provide any relevant back story (events that transpired before the story began)
  • Introduce the antagonist

And end it with a plot point, or a hook. In “Deja Vu” the lead agent is told ‘he can save her’ and in “Jaws” Richard Dreyfus arrives to find the bay turned into a shark-fest with one shark being caught, although ultimately the wrong one. Everything I’ve read suggests that the first 30 pages or Act 1 are important as this is the bit most agents and producers will read. If by the end of this they don’t know who the main characters are of what they want then the screenplay gets filed in a large reject pile.

Consequently I find that I’m questioning every sentence that I’m putting down. Does this further the plot? Is my character reacting right? The doubts are huge. BUT I’ve decided to just write it and see how it goes. After all, is that not what editing is all about?

🙂

Chinese

Chinese

Every time the family came we would get a massive Chinese take-away meal. My uncle was particularly partial to the meal. I loved water chestnuts and prawn crackers. Any dish with the chestnuts with them would disappear quickly as I fought with my brother and sister to get the most. It is a huge aspect of my childhood. That sort of soft feeling you get when you reminisce. The edges are soft and the picture flattering. Moving to Wales though we lost that, the nearest Chinese was half an hour away and piping hot Chinese is not the same as lukewarm Chinese. In fact it was almost ten years before I had a Chinese and then to our small rural town there came a Chinese take-a-way! Now I have had the delightful food and water chestnuts. But, it isn’t the same. Maybe my memories are rose-tinted but the Chinese didn’t even smell the same. Still that first mouthful transported me back to a chair too big and my legs swinging free; being able to hold a large fork in a fist and to sample the delights of egg-fried rice.

Illness and words a day

Okay so I’ve been ill. Really ill. Don’t get me wrong, nothing life-threatening but enough to knock me off my feet and into bed over the weekend. Which is why there have been no posts. If I had written anything it may well have not made much sense.

BUT I didn’t stop thinking about the stories I ought to have written or could be writing. In fact I think it has been one of the most frustrating weekends of my life… To have a story and not be able to do anything about it.

I’m still not right but the plan is that I will post as much as I can to catch up with words a day. The words I’ve missed are:

  • box
  • map
  • elope

And I plan on putting these stories in amongst the others. I will pick up later today (or tomorrow) with the story for that day and then interspace the others so that I post the right number of stories – they just won’t be in the right order.

Sorry for the silence but I will be back on form in no time. 🙂

Screenwriting 1

Wednesday 6th February 2013

My first lesson back from Christmas and it’s what I’ve been looking forward to since beginning the Masters. Screenwriting! Films… To say I’m a film-buff would be an understatement. I love movies and I watch them all, from the really bad ones where the camera shakes to the massive billion pound budget blockbusters. Oddly though I have found that the independents and obscure movies can have a better story line than others, if only they had more money backing them.

So my first lesson and I went with a story mapped out – thinking that just learning the basics would confuse me enough without trying to think of an idea. I was right. Goodness, there are some rules for screenwriting. I won’t go in to detail for all of them but the instructions even included how many holes in the paper there ought to be, what the front cover needs to be made from and how to fix the sheets together. It is also very different from novels, where you mustn’t fix the sheets together and the cover must be paper… well you get the idea.

Anyway I left the lecture reeling from all the information. The task this week – to write a treatment…

Okay… What’s a treatment?

Well it’s sort of a synopsis with extras.

  • a working title (got this – easy bit)
  • a logline (in the book world known as a tag line but can be a couple of sentences)
  • a proposal (a synopsis – brief but tells the story)
  • a premise (a detailed synopsis)
  • character biographies (more difficult than you would think)

I’ve got as far as the proposal and then got a little stuck. I think I’ll have to write the screenplay and then look at the treatment again, but I’ve got enough for a general idea, which is what my tutor wanted.

So I started looking at the screenplay itself. I have a copy of ‘The Piano’ and ‘The Dark Knight Trilogy’ so I looked at how they were written and also used the handouts from the lecture. The indents and capitals and typeface – how do you programme word to do it all?

The answer – I have no idea.

But I went on to the BBC website and followed their link for ‘free software’. Twelve seconds later my computer can format a screenplay and there is even internet storage so it can be share over different computers! True it isn’t a word document but you can publish it as a pdf so almost every computer can see it.

All I do is click the heading and voila the software typeset and format it. The only thing it doesn’t do is automatically correct grammar and spelling, but it is a small price to pay (I hope but the dyslexia may show more in this module).

So wish me luck as I jump off the cliff and start my first screenplay, or at least the first couple of scenes. 🙂