What You Can Learn from Reading Bad Books

Reading is wonderful. Books are wonderful. But some books are more wonderful than others.

We all have different preferences when it comes to reading. Sometimes it’s down to genre, or to what happens in a story, but mostly, I think, it’s down to a writer’s style and the way they construct a story.

I’ve just finished a book I found a struggle. We won’t mention any names here, but it was a genre I don’t dip into very often. But I like to read around and think that all writers should read widely, as you can learn just as much from a book you don’t enjoy as you do from one which is well-written and immersive. For one thing, you’re not so immersed in it as to stop thinking about the mechanics behind the book.

As a writer, you can’t please everyone, but you can still be mindful of a few pitfalls that make a book harder to read and harder to love. Here’s what I learned from reading a book I didn’t like:

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Out Now: The Brighton Prize Anthology 2017

I’m featured in the just-released The Brighton Prize 2017.

Last year I wrote and entered a flash-fiction story to Rattle Tales, a Brighton-based writing collective, for an evening of readings they were hosting.  My story Death Rattle was selected, and I got to read it live in Brighton to an audience of rattle-waving writing enthusiasts.

It was a great night – it was wonderful to see how other writers performed the stories they had written, and the audience questions that followed each story were often illuminating.  It’s notoriously difficult for writers to take their craft to a public stage, and I was really excited by the opportunity.  Sadly, the 2018 Rattle Tales night falls a little close to my wedding day, so I’ve refrained from submitting to it!

I wrote Death Rattle to be read out loud and tried to emphasise sound throughout the story.  I also tried to avoid certain tongue-twisting combinations of words that I might struggle with on the night!  I’m really proud of the finished tale; I think for such a short piece of writing it tells a much larger story than it first appears.

I’d love for you to check out the The Brighton Prize anthology; not only to read my submission but also check out the stories from the writers I shared a stage with last June as well as the acclaimed tales that were selected The Brighton Prize – the short story competition run by Rattle Tales.

Happy reading!

How to Cure Writer’s Block

Earlier this year I went through a bit of a dry spell on the writing front.  I took about a month off my usual routine due to some heavy targets in my day job and found myself unable to get off the ground again with any kind of writing.  I’d start, stumble, fumble for words and grind to halt once more.

Diagnosis: Writer’s Block

I found although I was making time to write, and even knew what I wanted to write, the words weren’t quite flowing.  It wasn’t that I didn’t have the ideas, or the motivation, or even time to write, it was just that I was really having to push to get anything down, and I wasn’t enjoying it.  This, for me, is writer’s block:  an inconvenient affliction that prevents you from writing despite your best intentions.  But good news – I managed to recuperate with a few simple steps.  Here’s what set me on the road to recovery perhaps it could be of some help to you too. Read More

Remembrance Day: A Poem

I wrote this poem in the days following Remembrance Sunday, which this year fell on 12th November.

 

Remembrance Day

November morning, near one hundred years since it all fell quiet

The city centre occupied by tourists, shoppers, poppy-wearers

Cold air invades hats, scarves, coats.  Shops offer warmth from overhead heaters.

The threat of Christmas is tangible now.

 

The department store speakers make their announcement close to the hour

Shoppers, entrenched in aisles, finger handbags, gift sets.  Buyers shuffle in the queue.

The radio switches to the BBC.  A presenter speaks the Queen’s English

As the bells begin to chime.

 

Silence falls.

Hats are removed and held like prayers.  Eyes cast to the floor.

Somewhere, a phone dings, apologetic.  Then quiet.  Somewhere else, the rustle of clothes hangers.  Voices outside raise and fall as their owners pass the door.

After a minute (and with a minute still to go), the checkout bleeps again, bleeps again, like radar.

 

Then the radio resumes its crackling Queen’s.  Shoppers reprise their plans for the season.

The silence is observed.  The remembrance is forgotten.

On Folk Horror

Folk horror is something of a retrospective tag for a brand of (mostly British) horror.  Although it is mostly affiliated with a clawful of early 70s horror films, it was 2010 before British screenwriter and horror aficionado Mark Gatiss popularised the term in referring to a trifecta of films with an emphasis on witchcraft, superstition and the British landscape.  The term has gained notoriety since then and many modern writers, filmmakers and musicians have made a conscious effort to tap its rich aesthetic.  I’m one of those writers.

Folk horror really speaks to me.  Maybe it’s because I grew up in a small English village; maybe it’s because I love nothing more than strolling through the countryside and letting my imagination run wild.  But I find rural English horror pleases me on a good few levels, and I enjoyed throwing my own hat in the ring with my most recent book Harvest House.  Here are some of my thoughts on why I like folk horror and why I find it horrifying, together with some signposts to exploring folk horror for yourselves. Read More