I smell smoke….

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Burning Down the House.”

I have never been in a house fire and I hope I never will. But I have stood and watched a house burn. Last year the local farm house burnt down. It is was our closest neighbour, but it went up like a bunch of dry wood.

I ought to say that it was empty at the time. The residence having built themselves a bungalow. So the house was really just used as a storage. It had a couple of antiques in there: a beautiful orange vase, a silver-point sketch, a rocking horse, and a large semi-circular cabinet. Not to mention the history.

That farm had been in the same family for hundreds of years and as it burnt I mourned its loss.

It got me thinking though. We have always had an escape route. I’ve always known where to go. What direction to run in…

I think this is odd, but my parents have always taken us through ‘The Plan’ in case of emergencies like a fire or crazed burglars.

I don’t think this is normal, but you know what? It makes me feel safe. Our fire alarms were updated by the fire brigade and we ran through the ‘way out’.

But I know what I’d grab if there was a fire in the house… Nothing. Because I would have maybe five minutes before my lungs would become strained from the smoke. Then the coughing would start and then I would be fighting to get enough oxygen. Instead, I would crack the window that is designed to be an escape hatch and slide down the kitchen roof and lower myself to the ground. Then I would open the doors and try to find my parents. But they have their own window, luckily on the ground floor. But as long as my family and the animals were out I wouldn’t grab anything else. I can replace the rest.

The picture below is after just five minutes of visible smoke… Don’t stop for anything – just run!

The Writer’s Blues

I don’t get depressed that often but today I am… Some things have not only gone wrong but the wheels have fallen off the cart. My references for my PhD haven’t arrived at the university. Now this could be an email that has got into the spam folder or it never arrived or I wrote the email down wrong… It could be anything or a variation of them. It doesn’t really matter. The result is the same…

My application can’t be processed. Now this wouldn’t be a problem but I am trying for funding. I am hoping that my references will send the forms in soon (but if this is the first time they’ve heard from the university it may take some time) and that I haven’t missed any deadlines for the funding. But still I find myself completely disheartened, and no one to blame.

Then there is the government. Like most small businesses I rely on working tax credits for a little money (and it really is a little being less than jobseeker’s allowance). But they have opened a case about my claim because there is another adult living with me!

Shock! Horror!

“Yes,” I said the the woman on the phone. “There are two. My parents.”

“Oh…”

But that simple mistake means I have to send a copy of my birth certificate and a bill to the company who are working on behalf of the government in order to continue to get working tax credits. I realise I am old to be living with my mum and dad but it isn’t completely unheard of. And then it would have been nice to have got a pleasant enquiry letter rather than an aggressive one says that I now owed them money and a fee. I mean it’s an easy fix but has left me feeling like a crook.

Never mind. By Monday all the emails and letters will be sent and, hopefully, everything will be sorted and my life back on track. Until then I may sulk.

Research is the pits… but I love it…

I really do. When I get an idea I sit down and write a plan. It normally starts as one sentence which I expand to a paragraph and then I start to think about semantics. How does this world exist?

Sometimes that is an easy ask, like the WIP which is set completely in one house over one day, but this new idea has been one that I’m having to create a world for. A world that has been stuck in the time of the Stuarts… That doesn’t sound too odd except that I don’t know anything about the Stuarts.

I remember during my A-levels (an awful long time ago) I studied the Tudors, but I failed the A-level, so I can’t rely on that. And anyway I need the era 50 years later, which in the lives of the people who lived there, one and a half generations would have passed. Can you imagine talking about modern life, but in terms of what our grandparents were like? It just doesn’t work. So I need to know what happened then and there, in that year if possible.

Then there is the other problem. It’s based in Scotland. I love Scotland, but the history I’m looking at is very different to what was happening in England and Wales. Even the belief system was different. So I’m having to start from the top…

Which takes time.

Which means that I’m being taken away from writing.

Yet I really love the research. So I’m having to balance it. And at the moment that isn’t working. I’m either doing the WIP or drawing. The new idea is languishing in its folder. The new idea is a kids book so not as big, but full of little details. I have to get them right.

So at the moment research is the pits because I have a very large and steep mountain to climb, yet with every sentence I read, I can’t help but love it. I just love to learn. But I must remember that I’m creating a story, not writing a history book. I need to learn enough but not too much.

MIA

I have been missing. Yep, you guessed it. The internet was down… again…

But enough about that, more about the WIP! I have done about 10,000 words since the net went down, baked 3 loaves of bread, done 5 large illustrations, 12 rolls, 2 cakes, 15 biscuits, done some gardening and walked the dog 4 times. And all that is only in 8 days! I didn’t know social media took so much time…

I missed the blog. I missed writing to all my readers and saying what has been happening.

I didn’t miss Facebook. Although I could have done with some access to messenger just to keep in contact with my family. We are spread far and wide. But I didn’t miss the compulsion to keep refreshing the news feed. That was a good miss.

But I’m back now. Hopefully the WIP will be finished soon and then ‘The Gone’ can be completed. All in all though I am in a happy place. Despite the snow and ice. 🙂

Dialogue and laughter…

I have recently just finished a book, I won’t tell you which one but it was free for the kindle. It tells of a sociopath in the world of serial killers, and is an excellent story. In fact it was really great. Except there were these huge monologues running through it.

One was three pages long; speech mark at the beginning and the end. Only to have two lines of dialogue from another character and then another three pages of monologue. I learnt more about torture in this book than I would have reading a text book.

I understand that as a writer you have to research your subject, but only put in the relevant bits. For one story I researched the different types of blade, before settling on my killer using a stiletto blade, but at no point did I think that I ought to list the blades in the story. I knew I’d done the work, but it wasn’t relevant to the story so I cut it. This book needed an editor…

Then there was the heroine. I loved her; a sociopath that lives a Sherlock-type life. Wonderful! But in the book there are two potential love interests. Which she ignores – completely. Instead the writer has made her into an asexual being. Even Sherlock has love… Sort of… I was so disappointed. Instead of light relief there were more murders and long complicated dialogue. Really, when was the last time someone you knew had a long speech that you didn’t call a rant?

It doesn’t happen. Sure, let the reader know about information but make it a conversation. Allow your characters to exist in their own world. Don’t tell the reader, show them. At one point the hero describes something that is so complicated I had to re-read it and I still couldn’t work out what it looked like. Keep it simple and use metaphors. How big was it? What was the shape? But the whole book was lacking in metaphors.

The problem was that the story was brilliant! It was so good that the author could have had a best-seller! It was just so annoying.

If they had stopped and slowed down. Re-written the rants into conversations and looked at the metaphors, added a few, it would have been fantastic. As it is the story has a two star rating and I was left feeling disappointed.

So when writing dialogue try to make it sound real. Read it out loud. Do the voices. Just make it feel normal and use a metaphor or two. Slow down and allow your characters to exist in their world.

And most importantly… give some light relief. Let your character have a romance or a friendship. Let them be more human… Don’t leave the reader thinking that the character missed an opportunity. Missed opportunities are for real life not the world in books. In books they take the bull by the horns, dodge the bullets and survive, or not… But they don’t leave a wake of missed possibilities, especially romantic ones. Make them shy but use it to give the reader a break from a traumatic experiences.

I love to read horror, and the best bits are that they have laughs, scares and gore. They are not written with one intensity, the story flows in and out. So put in the humour – please…

WIP and bread

I love the smell of baking bread and at the moment the house is filled with it. Every two days I have to down tools pen and pick up my apron and 2lb loaf tin.

Why? I hear you ask.

Well, I have noticed that I’ve been getting an allergic reaction for no reason. I mean I don’t eat nuts so it must be something else. I checked and had a little experiment, and it’s Palm Oil. I know – Palm Oil is meant to be totally safe for all allergies, but I react with it. It isn’t a life or death thing, but my hands, feet and ankles swell. It’s not pretty.

So I thought – no problem, I’ll just take it out of the diet.

Ha! It’s in bread, biscuits, sweets, cakes, drinks, toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner… It’s in everything. Absolutely everything!

I hate to think how much people are eating and what it is doing. I mean it has no nutrition content at all. None. So why use it?

It’s cheap. Very cheap. Sure it kills rainforests and is tasteless with no goodness in it, but it’s cheap. And I’m allergic to it.

So as of the New Year I have had to make my own cake, bread and biscuits. Not only that but because it is in margarine or solid vegetable fat I have to use butter.

Does it make a difference?

Yes, but not in the way you are thinking. I haven’t suddenly put on masses of weight, nor has my hair got greasy, nor have I suddenly got bad skin. Instead I have a piece of cake, a small piece. Because all I want is a small piece. A cake that would have once lasted two days will now go for four days. Biscuits are eaten singly instead of by the handful. It’s strange but I don’t eat as much and I’m not hungry all the time.

I’m not sure if I’m losing weight, only time will tell with that, but I feel better. And my hands and feet are deflating.

The only problem is how much time it takes. I have mastered my first white loaf, but I have to take a day out every two days in order to keep ahead of my own needs. And I know I could pop in more, but I only have room to prove two loaves at a time. And no, I’m not eating a loaf a day, but it is usually one loaf and some rolls. And, oddly, I get help from others in the house eating the fresh bread. Can’t think why…

I don’t mind, but my work has suffered. I know it is only working to a routine. I’ve just got to get used to it.

As for ‘The Gone’ – well, I have hit a flow on the WIP and would like to finish it before I get back to ‘The Gone’. Don’t worry I will finish it by Easter. The posts might be patchy this month though – sorry to my readers.

In the mean time, tomorrow I have got to put a loaf in and write a few thousand words. I can do it. I just got to get used to it all. This New Year has been full of surprises so far. But even the bad ones are good, I love home made digestive biscuits. Did you know they have oats in them?

PhD’s and the fact they consume your life!

And I’m not even talking about studying for the PhD but the simple fact of applying. The form is massive…

Although, saying that, I did once complete a bigger one. For a while I thought about applying for a CSI post with the police; a forensic officer. I was straight out of uni after completing my first undergraduate degree. It was exciting and I can’t remember why I decided to apply, it may have been that where I was in the Midlands there was a distinct lack of jobs. So I filled out the book-like application. It was bigger than the PhD one, but not by much.

I got an interview, and that was interesting. I have never anticipated what it would entail. I ought to, after all I have filled in the book that was the application, but I walked in there with a purse and an easy smile. Everyone else seemed very serious and tense. We were ushered into a room and sat in a cinema-like setting. They then turned out the lights.

“We will ask questions later.” Came the voice.

Okay, I thought and I watched as scene upon scene flashed before my eyes. I would like to say they were fluffy bunnies, but they weren’t. Some were staged and others not. Sometimes, even now, my nightmares are littered with these still-frame shots. I looked around with horrified eyes and realised that everyone was taking notes. I looked at the officer watching and he gave me a smile, and in it I could see he was perplexed. What had I expected? Not that.

You see, I hadn’t thought about it. If I had then maybe I would have realised that they have to make sure you can handle the everyday stuff; the RTAs and the domestic violence. I couldn’t, but then I had no idea until they started to show me those images.

The lights came on and I sat ram-rod straight. I know that my mind was in shock. They handed out a booklet.

“Answer the questions.”

There were things like, what was the colour of the car? But I just sat and looked at it. A comprehension test on what I’d seen. All I could do was hear the screams, you see my mind made stories for each photo. To this day I don’t know what I wrote, but I can tell you that I didn’t get the job.

My only wish is that it had taken me longer to realise that it was the stories I should have focused on. Now, they are the stuff of nightmares and although I will write them down one day, they are a thing of terror for me. Still, I dip into that feeling whenever I write, as I mostly write horror…

So, the forms are filled in and the PhD has gone to see if it will be approved. Now it is the waiting game. Now is the time that I can sit and write… with a little drawing. I have missed it as the PhD has consumed my life for the last month or so. For the time being though I’m back. 🙂