My favourite literary snippets

As we all know, sometimes you pick up a book/kindle/newspaper or whatever, and those words on the page just hit you. They soak into your blood, firing neurons of imagination and hooking you like literary crack. Sometimes it can be just a little snippet. The first line or a little description, perfectly written. Here are some of the snippets, quotes and excerpts that get my brain making that happy little noise inside my cranium. Enjoy!

Picture by Elle Ward
 William Hughes Mearnes – Antigonish (1889)

Yesterday, upon the stair,
I met a man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
I wish, I wish he’d go away…

When I came home last night at three
The man was waiting there for me
But when I looked around the hall
I couldn’t see him there at all!
Go away, go away, don’t you come back any more!
Go away, go away, and please don’t slam the door… (slam!)

Last night I saw upon the stair
A little man who wasn’t there
He wasn’t there again today
Oh, how I wish he’d go away

There is just something about this poem that reaches down into the animal part of my psyche and tells me to be utterly afraid. The first and last stanzas are often used in isolation and they’re the most evocative, but I think the whole poem really needs to be read with the lights on. And with this one in mind, there’s a quote from the eminent Stephen King which I think sums up that animal compulsion which gives the unfounded fear of the dark which we all have:

The thing under my bed waiting to grab my ankle isn’t real. I know that, and I also know that if I’m careful to keep my foot under the covers, it will never be able to grab my ankle.

We’ve all been there right? We’d like to think that it was back when we were kids, with the covers over our head, trying to breath quieter so the thing wont get us. But you and I both know it was far more recent than that…

 

Anyways, on the back of Stephen’s awesome quote, I’d like to share one of my favourite lines from a book. The opening of The Gunslinger, which I think is a brilliant piece of understated genius:

The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.

They always say that you should try to intrigue your readers in the first few pages of any book. With this opening line, Stephen (I like to pretend we’re on first name terms. It’s creepier) managed to make me think “Shit, who is he and what’s he done?”. Good work, King, good work.

Picture by Elle Ward

I know I seem to be obsessed with Dark Towers (and I am, no doubt about it) this description from one of my favourite books, Mervyn Peake’s Titus Groan, may have been one of the most influential sections of literature to ever grace my brain:

This tower, patched unevenly with black ivy, arose like a mutilated finger from among the fists of knuckled masonry and pointed blasphemously at heaven. At night the owls made of it an echoing throat; by day it stood voiceless and cast its long shadow.

Yowza. Creep-tastic! I want to go and read it all again now. It’s officially back on The List.

But I’ve been a bit dark so far so I want to share some Pratchett with you. However, as it turns out, everything he’s ever written (particularly in the Discworld series) is absolutely hilarious and I’m struggling to not only hold my stomach while reading, but to pick from the plethora of geniosity that is Pratchett. So here’s just a couple to tide you over. Hope you haven’t had recent abdominal surgery, because you’re about to burst your stitches:

“Sodomy non sapiens,” said Albert under his breath.
“What does that mean?”
“Means I’m buggered if I know.”

                                                                             (Mort)

“I’m not going to ride on a magic carpet!” he hissed. “I’m afraid of grounds.”

“You mean heights,” said Conina. “And stop being silly.”

“I know what I mean! It’s the grounds that kill you!”

                                                          Rincewind and his unquestionable logic (Sourcery)

Well, that’s it for now, folks. I hope that’s given you a little insight into what has made my brain tick over the years.

 

Thanks for reading.

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Research is your friend

It strikes me that I don’t talk about my writing process very much and, contrary to popular belief, I do have one. While I do most of my plotting in my head, only setting it down in notes when it’s exceptionally vivid to me, the rest of the idea-to-page process is pretty normal. One of the things I think are incredibly important, possibly beyond all others and especially for writers of Speculative Fiction in all its glorious forms, is research.

If you’re going to make your story/novel/flash fiction/novella as realistic as it can be (and by realistic, I mean believable despite the wierdness) then research is where it’s at. As an example let’s use my current WIP, The Adventures of Alan Shaw. This is a very different beast to Greaveburn. Alan Shaw is an Alternate History/Steampunk novel based in the very real Victorian era of England, albeit with some technological flights of fancy. But in order to make my Neo-Victorian elements work, I had to understand what the victorian era was really like. If I had a motto, it’d be:

Learn the rules before you break them.

And so I do research. A lot. Of course, the internet is your friend. There are sites or wikis on every subject known to humankind somewhere in the unending virtual vaults. But call me old fashioned, I still like my books now and again.

Here's what I used for Alan Shaw so far.

As you can see, there’s quite a mix in there. Let’s break down what I think is important about researchas the groundwork for your writing:

1. Know your genre

When writing Greavburn, I had no idea that I was actually working on a Steampunk novel. I was aware of the Gothic literature sub-genre and loved its aesthetic. Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake is one of my favourite books, and that was the kind of grand darkness I wanted to instill in Greaveburn. But Steampunk wasn’t even on my radar. And so, when I discovered that it existed, and that Greaveburn fit the bill, I panicked. What if someone had already done what I had? How restrictive to Greaveburn’s reception would that be?

I learnt my lesson for working on Alan Shaw. I’ve read James Blaylock’s Homunculus, J.W. Jeter’s Infenal Devices and pretty much memorised The Steampunk Bible by Jeff Vandermeer and co. And now I can confidently say that I know what to do and what not to do, what’s old hat and what’s relatively new (hey, that rhymes. I should write that down). Knowing your genre makes sure that you hit your demographic while avoiding any “it’s all been done” style comments.

2. Go simple

Finding reference books that are quick to read, while still being representative of the subject you’re researching, can be a real struggle. People love to bash on about their expert subject to the point of mind-numbing boredom. But you dont need a huge tome, reaching 3000 pages across four volumes about Victorian London by Lord Cyril Fanthorpe the 3rd esp. to know your stuff. In order to make your story realistic, all you need are the little touches. Those little details make the difference between just some woman in a dress and a young governess wearing a crinoline pinofore. You never have to mention it again, but that’s the kind of period detail that shows you’ve put the effort in.

But as I was saying, there’s an easy way to find those things out. Go for children’s books. They’re brilliant! They have pictures to help get the right feel in your prose, they hit only the important topics and give you great overview of any subject. The Eyewitness series is brilliant for historical stuff, if you’re interested in that stuff.

3. Get your facts right

If you’re writing about a certain place, be it a city or town or foreign country, get your facts right. Never forget that your readers know their stuff. Don’t think you can flim-flam them with sweeping references to places. With Alan Shaw, I have to evoke an image of Victorian London that rings true to someone who’s never been to London and someone who walks its streets every day. Google Maps can take you anywhere you need to go, and even tell you the quickest way for your character to walk/drive around their environment. You dont have to give an itemised list of corners turned between your Detective’s home and the mortuary, but it helps if you know how long it would take and what’s in between so you can describe it if need be.

While Google Maps is great for the present day, historical settings pose a little more of a problem. And so I got myself some maps:

Victorian London, imprisoned in plastic.

They came in four pieces, originally, but with a little industrious folding and one of those frameless plastic frames (contradictory, I know) I now have an easily accessible map of Victorian London. What’s better than that, with the plastic covering, if you get some dry-wipe markers, you can plot routes, circle areas or points of interest to your heart’s content without ruining the source material for later use! (This is an Art Attack!)

My doodles marking Covent Garden Market, and routes for Alan to take around London.
 4. The Counter-argument

 

Just remember: There’s another side to research. Don’t get too bogged down with it. Learn what you need and move on. It’s a tool to help you write, it’s not words on the page.

Well, folks, that’s it for now. I hope this post has been as useful to you as my researching endeavours have been to me. If you have any researching tips of your own, then feel free to share. I’m always looking for new ways to do what we do.

 

Thanks for reading!

My favourite Gothic movies

I love movies almost as much as I love writing. Most of the time, they become interchangable as I watch a movie that sparks some idea that ends up as a story (NOT Fan Fiction. I’m sorry, but I had to stipulate that). Anyways, as I’m sure you’ll have guessed by now, I’m seriously into my dark imagery. Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake is among my favourite reads, and I can’t think of anything more incredibly Gothic than that. Anyways, as I sometimes so, I’m going to talk about the movies that have inspired me ove the years or, more specifically, the Gothic ones.

Now, you might disagree as to whether these films are truly in the classical Gothic tradition. But I’m talking about the darkness, here. That feeling of dread or shivery exultation you get from reading a good ghost story, or experiencing something dark that you can’t help but like. So, without much further ado, here are my favourite Gothic movies…

Nosferatu

Let’s start with the oldest first. As well as being one of the first Vampire movies I ever saw (not because I was old enough to be there, but because it was on TV) this is one that still bloody petrifies me. The fact that it has no sound, and the camera angles/use of shadow just make the whole thing so ethereal. Take a look at what I mean, and turn off the sound. I don’t know why people insist on adding stupid music to clips of Nosferatu. Talk about missing the point!

Dark City

This probably isn’t in the true Gothic feel, being more of a sci-fi movie, but the imagery is certainly dark enough. There’s also a deep sense of being trapped and a feeling of futility to the protagonist’s fight. How can he possibly escape the labyrinthine avenues and alleyways of Dark City when the villains can warp the world around him. You might also see a bit of a similarity between the villains and Max Schreck’s character from Nosferatu. Oh, and it has Keifer Sutherland in it. What more can you possibly ask for? Apart from JENNIFER CONNELY! Schwing!

The Crow

And now to my favourite of this group. I have seen this movie so many times that the VHS (remember those?) warped from the heat and the DVD has lost its shine. James O’Barr’s utterly psychotic graphic novel is the inspiration for this film, and not a lick of the depth seems to be lost. The dialogue is dumbed down for the masses, since the comic was written in almost constant poetry, but parts of the original come through in Brandon Lee’s lines. It also has one of the creepiest villains this side of the Joker. This film, out of this sall selection, probably hits the Gothic feel the most. Eric’s return from the  dead to seek his revenge on Shelley’s murderers is always secondary to the love story, the power of which literally resurrects him from the grave. Take a look at the trailer, which focusses more on the action, and so does it no justice whatsoever. But you’ll get the idea.

 

This is what it looks like inside my head a lot of the time, folks 🙂 Greaveburn at the very least has been influenced by the kind of camera shots and colourscapes you see in these films. And since I tend to write my stories as I see them, and so as cinematically as possible, I think you’ll see where I get my obsession with dark imagery from.

Anyway, it’s been nice sharing with you as always, especially these three favs of mine. Let me know if you have any other suggestions. There’s always a chance you might put me onto a gem I haven’t seen 🙂

 

Thanks for reading.