Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Your Mother Should Know

Went to a Society of Authors drinks party the other day - met some lovely writers and their partners. It was in the back room of beautiful old colonial building, replete with wood beams, deep carpets and sweet staff to help the night along.

We met a writer who had the dream happen to her.

You know the one.

You spend a decade or so trying to write a book, in between work and life, finally getting it done.

You send it out and it's immediately picked up and published to great acclaim by the first major publisher you submit to...

I mentioned to her at this point, "You know that never happens?"

"Yes," she said. "And I feel awfully guilty."

"No need," I said. "Writers need proof it can happen. Just to keep us going!"

We met other writers at various stages in their careers. Some unpublished, some having books coming out of their ears. It takes all sorts - and curiously I realized it's next to impossible to tell how well a writer is doing just by looking at them...

Most have this de rigueur scruffiness about them. I guess because dressing up is alien to most writers and not something that needs to happen much.

A couple of the successful writers mentioned that the whole concept of going out into the world and talking about their books felt bizarre. Clearly, if you're the kind of person who wants to spend long hours alone and writing, you're not going to be ideally suited to being a great public speaker. With exceptions of course.

Many of the conversations turned to how our parents felt about us being writers. And how most of our mothers disapproved or were openly hostile to the idea of writing for a living.

Odd that - because Robyn and I thought we were unique in that regard. Apparently not. Mothers - as a breed - obviously regard writing as some kind of shameful career, not to be encouraged.

I'm sure much of that has to do with our mothers wanting the best for us - knowing instinctively that the odds of success are against us.

There again, in my experience, pretty much all writers who commit to the life eventually make it in some way.

No, it seems to go further. As though the act of writing is somehow a betrayal. As if wanting to be a writer is a kind of slap in the face to our mothers. Like they've somehow failed in their parenting if they spawn so lowly a life form as a writer.

Plus, writing is about commenting on life, our upbringing, our beliefs, making sense of the world's insanity. So I guess if we spend our lives questioning and recording life's inadequacies and people's foibles, then perhaps we really are worrisome individuals who don't necessary feel content in our skins... perhaps that is the bad thing in their eyes.

Maybe I'm reading too much into it - and my mother wouldn't approve. She who got angry when I said - at fourteen - I wanted to be a journalist - and cried a few years later - at seventeen - when I said I wanted to be a rock star.

I'd failed her because I didn't want to be a doctor or a lawyer. But this is the woman who thought I should be an assistant in a hardware store or a factory worker or an office drone - ANYTHING but an artist.

Even when I was turning thirty and we met for drinks in London one fine day, she was still saying, "Oh, Robert, you should settle down. Leave all the music and the writing behind and get a proper job. Haven't you got all that out of your system yet?"

As if I ever would...

Funny things, mothers.

Maybe we just remind them of all the things they gave up to look after us - like being a writer perhaps.

They only want us to be happy, apparently.

And perhaps being a writer is like saying: "I'm not happy!"

But of course, if that's the case, then writing is what makes us happy.

I shouldn't go on so. Ever since Freud mothers have had a bad rap, probably always have, even before. Nowadays they get the blame for psychopaths too. Hardly fair.

Robyn's mother once apologized for not having faith in her - admittedly after her eightieth book! Mine's yet to do that.

Dad's always was a secret admirer - even when he disapproved of my rock band days, he whispered to me confidentially that he thought it was cool I got paid for drinking in the day time (his personal fantasy) and sleeping till noon when I wanted.

Later he was just relieved I'd got a house, a wife and cars. The rest - having bestselling books - was just a bonus as far as he was concerned.

Mom's harder to read.

Maybe we can never live up to our mother's expectations, if we ever knew what they were.

In the mean time, I still have a few projects left to write, Mom, now that I have settled down - as a writer.

Keep Writing!


(c) Rob Parnell
WRITING ACADEMY

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Give Them Some Attitude

The other day, a writer friend of mine told me her publisher recommended she read a certain book to get the flavor of what they liked to publish. Eager to know, my author friend rushed to find the book and devour it... only to feel disappointed - and confused. She wondered what it was about this book the publisher liked. The story wasn't great. The writing was average. Some of the pacing seemed awkward. Then it hit her. It was the ATTITUDE of the protagonist that gave the book its appeal. The hero was feisty, quick to anger, even spiteful and yet somehow lovable.

It's no secret that I believe the key to good story telling is 'character'. It should come before everything else - before plotting, before story, even before putting pen to paper. If your characters aren't real to you, their stories will never work.

And while I've spent much time elsewhere talking about the importance of creating believable characters, I don't think I've given over as much time on their 'attitudes' as perhaps I could have done.

So let's do some exploring, shall we?

Think of some classic fictional characters. What's the first thing that comes to mind? Their physical appearance? Rarely. It's usually their demeanor, isn't it? Their unique way of interacting with the world - yes, their attitude towards what they do.

James Paterson's Alex Cross is a great character because he's all heart. He loves his family and truly values friendship - and takes his psychopath's activities very personally!

Patricia Cornwall's Kaye Scarpetta doesn't respond well to being patronized or underestimated. She's also way too protective of her niece. Notice too that she gets much more critical of her partner's habits as the series progresses.

The Da Vinci Code's Robert Langdon is intrigued by mystery and secret symbols. Interestingly, despite being a simple college professor he seems to possess almost superhuman powers of endurance. In Angels and Demons, for instance, he actually falls out of a plane without a parachute over Rome... and survives with barely a scratch!

I think Harry Potter's appeal has much to do his ordinariness. He never believes he's capable of what he has to face. Everybody and his dog knows he's supposedly destined for greatness but he doesn't ever seem quite ready for it.

The next time you're inventing (major and minor) characters, don't just imagine their physical attributes, try to give them depth by wondering what they would be passionate about or, conversely, have little interest in. What would annoy them - or thrill them?

Give them short term and lifelong agendas, things they are committed to achieving or seeing come to pass. These are the things that will help with your plotting. Once you know what one of your characters would definitely NOT do, your stories will begin to take on a life of their own.

Remember, never impose a story on a character. The best stories come out of the main character's conflicting agendas.

For example, it's not enough to have some anonymous killer trailed by any old ordinary detective. The killer must be fully realized - there must be very good reasons (if only in his own mind) why he does what he does. Similarly, for good fiction, the detective should be motivated by much more than just 'doing his job' to make a story like this compelling.

Once we know the killer hates women and perhaps himself, and that the detective is terrified of losing his wife to him, then we begin to care about the outcome.

I think one of the reasons Hollywood movies work so well is that the big stars come with a ready made attitude. We all know what to expect from actors like Robert Downey Jr, Brad Pitt and Scarlett Johansson. No matter what characters they play, we sense their attitudes, their strength and depth, even though we know they're only acting!

So, the message is that during character development, try to imagine being inside the head of your character. Don't just give them attributes, histories and agendas, go the extra mile and give 'em attitude!

(c) Rob Parnell
WRITING ACADEMY

Monday, June 21, 2021

Don't Look Back

Are you the kind of person who dwells on the past?

We all do it to an extent. Some of us more than others.

But have you ever found yourself getting stuck in a groove, replaying a mistake in your mind, over and over, ten, twenty, even thirty years after the fact?

You know the old maxim: "You get what you focus on." Has it occurred to you that when you dwell on past mistakes, you're setting up yourself to fail - again?

We all make mistakes. That's why there's a delete key on your computer. If everything we did was perfect first time out, our lives would be bland and most likely, unmemorable.

Our mistakes, our errors in judgment, our embarrassing interludes, help us grow and learn and become wise. But replaying them in our minds, cringing and wishing they'd worked out differently is a surefire way of ensuring the same kind of result in the future.

Don't Make Excuses

Have you ever noticed that most people have a hundred reasons why they shouldn't pursue their dreams?

Worse - they have a hundred reasons why you shouldn't pursue your dreams.

It's like some unspoken pact between 'ordinary' people.

They will present 'evidence' that supports their cause. Evidence that comes from experience, advice, feedback and watching TV. Evidence that seems compelling - but only if you happen to be in a negative frame of mind.

Super-successful people don't do this. They look for evidence of the opposite.

Super-successful people know that in amongst a thousand ordinary folks determined to live their lives 'hanging on in quiet desperation,' there are others who refuse to believe that life should be simply endured.

Opportunities hit all of us, all of the time. Trouble is, we're so wrapped up in our own little worlds, we ignore them or rationalize them away, even reject them.

Don't You Look Back

Stop for a moment.

How much time every day do you spend thinking about past events? I'm willing to bet the older you get, the more times you do it - almost automatically.

If you find yourself thinking about the past more than two or three brief times a day, you're holding back your dreams.

As an experiment, make a log - whenever you catch yourself thinking about something that happened way back, note it down - and resolve to correct this limiting habit.

Why? Because your past is irrelevant. Outside of your own mind it doesn't even exist. Mostly, it's just junk that clutters up your brain.

And slowly destroys you...

So - what's the answer?

Easy.

If you want a fun, exciting and super-successful life from this point on, you have to start thinking about tomorrow.

Seek Wisdom

You meet them all the time - people with rigid views about everything. People who can list all the reasons why things happen, why individuals and groups act and react the way they do, and why certain things are possible and why most wonderful things are impossible.

These are the same people whose lives are over. They've stopped learning and keeping their minds and hearts flexible.

Our lives are a series of events from which we learn and adjust. But to believe that one opinion holds true forever is a myth.

Tomorrow is another day and new truths, new evidence will emerge that disproves the past, again and again.

The generation before us was convinced that safety and security were all there was to aspire to. And what did they experience? Hardship, depression, two world wars, disease and poverty, violence and cruelty that caused more suffering than at any other time in history. And they tell us they were the good old days?

Don't Be Fooled


We live in our most exciting time. And that time is now.

Wisdom is not just knowledge. The pursuit of wisdom involves a willingness to absorb the future and its endless possibilities. True wisdom is never closing your mind to believing you can improve, excel yourself and follow your dreams, whatever your age or skill level.

There are no limits. You are only ever limited by what you believe.

Start believing that tomorrow can and will be different. That there is hope - and a chance for us to make a better world, where we can fulfill our destinies, if only we choose to do that.

Let Go of Your Past


The past is holding you back. It's like a large stone fastened to your neck that won't let you move forward. But remember: you have always had the key to your own shackles.

You don't need to keep living in a phantom place that only you created. Unlock the ties that bind you. The key is in your thoughts.

Consciously decide you will no longer let the past absorb you. Whenever you find yourself dwelling on past events, deliberately reject the associated thoughts and images. Replace them with musings and uplifting visualizations on the future - the forever undiscovered country.

Make a commitment now to take every negative thought you have and turn it around. See the positive. See the benefits. See the bright light of hope and opportunity that exists for all of us, all of the time.

The past is gone. It has no hold over that you don't give it.

Believe in yourself - and your dreams.

DLB - Don't Look Back.

Trust in the future and...

Keep Writing!

(c) Rob Parnell

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Self Publishing Tips for Authors

Imagine a book buyer on Amazon looking for a new book. They are going to be attracted to a nice book cover and a catchy title. They might click on the back cover summary. Before they hit the Add to Cart button, they might also want to see few pages of the book by clicking on See Inside. If they happen to find a grammatical mistake or typo, chances are they will be wary of investing in that book. The message they will get from that book is that it is sloppily put together. It might give them the right quality of and quantity of information, but lack of editing means their reading experience will be very poor with their mind doing double duty in not only reading it but also making sure they understand what the author actually meant. So if that is one of your books, sadly, the buyer will move onto the next book.

Authors are usually very anxious to get their books in print that they skip this very crucial step; so before you make a choice of which of the self publishing companies you are going to be working with, make a point of asking if they include editing in their packages. They feel their book is fine because it was checked by their sister-in-law or their son in college. They might run a spellcheck, check for typos, and call it good. It’s good that you did have support of your family to check your manuscript. But they would not be able to replace an editor. What they are is what we call in our industry a beta reader.

If you browse through Amazon reviews, you’ll find that one of the biggest turnoff to a reader is a poorly edited book filled with mistakes and flaws — problems that an editor would not allow.

Going back to reading experience, if the reader is preoccupied with punctuation mistakes, misspellings and grammar errors, they won’t be able to focus on what your book is trying to say.

The end result will be that you will be seen as an amateur writer, not a professional author.

1. Decide what sort of editing help you need

All editing is not created equal. Editing types range from content or story developmental edits to proofreading. Content editing will give you a general idea of where your story is strong and where it is weak, while proofreading only picks up obvious spelling and grammar mistakes. In between, you can get various forms of line and copy editing. Most editors will tell you what services they offer, and the different prices they charge for each service. Some will offer a mix of styles.

Once you know what sort of editing you need, you will be able to ensure that the editor you choose can do the things you need to improve your story. You may need more than one editor/edit pass on your book.

2. Ask for a sample edit

We can not emphasis this enough: Before you hire an editor, request to edit a sample of your actual novel for you.

This will give you an idea of what sort of things they will be looking at, how many issues they pick up, and whether their style matches yours.

3. BE PREPARED THAT IT WILL HURT

Editing is heartbreaking. No matter how good you think you are, an editor will find things you need to change. Every time I get an edit back, it is brutal. Allow couple of days to go over the changes, and think about them, before being ready to make a decision. Don’t rush it. Let the hurt pass.

In a nutshell:

A good editor keeps the rules of the English language in mind but also preserves the writer’s unique voice. Each writer is different, and sometimes their style overrides mandates handed down by the grammar police. A good editor will recognize and nurture individual style.

It’s difficult to edit your own work, as just about any author will tell you. Whether you’re a bestselling author or a brand-new writer with your first book, having an objective professional review work that is so close to your heart is a crucial step. And the readers you’re hoping to attract will be more willing to hit that Add to Cart button if they’re not distracted by poor reading experience and clumsy sentence structure!

Source: Free Articles from ArticlesFactory.com

I am Durdana Yusuf and working for an self publishing company in nc. My life's purpose is to help others articulate their thoughts into books by being a book writing coach, publisher and marketer. Read More articles : http://carypress.com/

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Kick Start your Short Fiction Stories

Is writing a novel something you’ve always wanted to do? Do you not have the faith in yourself to finish it? It’s very common amongst budding writers but is easily cured. A good way to start is by writing a short story rather than going straight into a full length novel.

​When you start writing your short story you may find that it ends up being more of a full length novel but it’s a good place to start. Short stories are also a good way to get your profile started – short fiction is often published in magazines. Short stories is definitely the way to start your writing career and it will probably give you the confidence to tackle a full length novel before you know it!

Short fiction is based purely on the word count of your story and is therefore structured quite differently. For a full length novel or story you have plenty of time to reach the crux of your story but when writing short fiction you need to get to your climax as soon as possible and then work in the background around it. Readers are nearly always hooked straight away and you can then bring all the parts of your story together as the rest of your story is written. This is a way of writing used by many short fiction writers and is certainly a great place for you to start.

Once you have written what you want to say put it away for a day or two. Go back to it with a hammer and smash out every word not needed. Start taking out the word "that" and carry on from there. You have to be ruthless. You cannot afford to fall in love with every word or sentence. You will end up with a crisper story.

There is another form of short story writing which is a brand of storytelling using 6 word sentences. Writers who write this form of story telling take their work very seriously and strive to make their work exactly ‘short’! It is a form of storytelling not suited to most people and is not really a good place to start. You should however make sure that you keep your short fiction just that...short! Don’t waffle on and on and end up with something in the middle of a short fiction story and a novel! The number one priority for you is to keep your readers interested.

When you have made a start it may be difficult to keep your work to a short or moderate size. If you find you are able to write so much additional information and have so much detail to add it may be that you just carry on and write that novel after all!

(c) Barry Sheppard

Publishing pro and author/filmmaker Barry Sheppard has written and published many books with hundreds of reviews in newspapers, TV and radio. He is now concentrating on eBook writing/publishing and starting his own television station.

Friday, June 18, 2021

If In Doubt, Leave It Out

You probably won't be surprised to learn I read a lot of unpublished manuscripts. I also read a lot of published work. Are there some glaring differences between the two? You betcha. The fact is most beginning writers write too much. That's okay for the first draft but when it comes to editing, you need to give that delete key a thorough work out! Good writing is about pacing. It's about taking the reader on a journey and keeping in step with them along the way. If you get the pacing wrong, the reader will stumble and begin to lose interest because it will seem you are more interested in writing the words than telling the story or relaying the information.

Here are some tips on how to cut down on unnecessary verbiage!

The Art of Description
With the advent of global communication and visual media, we all know what most things and even most places look like. It's no longer necessary to spend more than a couple of sentences establishing what things are, where scenes are set and what the weather is like, if that's important for mood.
Many readers nowadays will actually skip descriptive passages because they find them dull and interrupt the flow of the text. So don't beat yourself up over getting all the details across - that's what the reader's imagination is for!

Qualify That
Sometimes we write scenes etc., we're not sure the reader will understand - so we add extra words to explain ourselves, resulting in more confusion than clarity. For instance, look at this:
"With the divorce weighing on his mind, and his fears about losing his job, John was having difficulty deciding what to do with himself. Could he face going out, knowing that Pete would probably spend the evening ribbing him over his his inability to get along with his boss and his problems with his estranged wife?"
Clearly this is clumsy and confusing to read. Much better to remove the qualifiers and simplify:
"The divorce was on his mind. Did he want to go out? John wasn't sure. Pete would probably just want to rib him."
In the above version, even though the propositions are only loosely defined - the reader still gets it. You don't always need to explain every little nuance to get a point across.
Quite the opposite in fact.

Room to Breathe?
When you write you make a contract with your reader - whom you must regard as your equal. Not someone who is slow to understand and needs to be carefully led, shown everything and generally talked down to.
It's perfectly okay to leave out obvious - and therefore redundant - details. You don't always have to explain exactly who said what, what happened where, why and for how long.
New writers clog up their stories with unnecessary backstory, linking scenes, plot justifications and long complicated explanations of things the reader already regards as clear.
If you write with honesty and intelligence, your reader knows what and who you mean - when you over explain, you insult the reader. Don't do it.

Direction
Quite often writing suffers because the reader doesn't know where you're going. They wonder why you're focussing on certain characters and details - especially when you haven't first hinted at the 'point' of your story.
When you open a piece, you need a big 'sign' that tells the reader you're going THIS WAY - so that the reader knows what to expect along the way. You need to define your objectives - your purpose - in some way on the first page.
For instance, if you're writing a murder mystery, don't spend the first chapter following the protagonist around doing her laundry. Get on with the story and as soon as you can, show us the body!

Play By The Rules
Especially in genre fiction, you have to adhere to certain rules, because that's what the reader wants. Horror stories need to be at least a little horrific - right from the start.
Romance requires that you have lovers at odds with each other by page two. Science fiction and Fantasy require the elements of their genres too.
Publishers often say that, though many writers are good, they often write themselves outside of any given genre in their desire to be different or original - thereby, alas, disqualifying themselves from publication!
Of course it's important to be original - but if you can do that within the confines your reader expects, your chances of success skyrocket.

Focus
What you're looking for is sharp writing that relays the facts. When you go back and edit for sense, go for simplicity rather than exposition. If you waffle on about the intricacies of conflicting thought processes or meander through long descriptions of the countryside, you lose all sense of tension.
Pick up any popular novel. The best ones have no words that are about writing. They're all about story.

Speech tags
Okay. Speech tags - you know all the 'he said, she cried, they exclaimed blah de blah' - I'll keep this advice simple and precise. Unless you're writing children's fiction, lose them. As many as you can. It's the way of the modern writer.
Use other, more subtle ways of suggesting who is saying what. It's easily done, it just requires a little thought.
You can refer to character's actions just before or after dialogue, or use different styles to suggest different people.
Just as an experiment, try editing out all of the speech tags from your next MS. I think you'll be surprised and... master this technique and readers will love you for it!

Adverbs
Yep - we all know we're not supposed to use them, especially after a speech tag. They are redundant and add nothing to the story. Repeat to yourself three times before bedtime: I will edit out every word that ends in 'ly'!

​​​​​​​The general rule, by the way, is that at least 20% of your MS is probably surplus to requirements! And that goes for all of us!

(c) Rob Parnell
WRITING ACADEMY

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Away Notice

 Secret Attic is out-of-office from today to Sunday 20th June


Any emails received during this time will be responded to upon return.

Have You Settled On First Choice When Choosing a Title?

We’ve established what a title should be and we’ve also established your title is your selling tool. So if it can make or break the sale of your story, then we’ll have to agree that it is extremely important. 

How much emphasis have you placed when selecting a title?


1)You can’t write a story before titling it, so you jotted down the first thing that came to mind.

2)You added it as an afterthought when you completed the story.

3)You put a lot of thought into it and selected the best one.

I hope it was the latter – and I hope you did this…

1)You noted down as many titles as you could think of

2)Then crossed out the titles you thought were ‘so-so

3)And kept the most grabbing title of them all?


You did do this, didn’t you?

(c) Nick Vernon

Besides his passion for writing, Nick Vernon runs an online gift site where you will find gift information, articles and readers’ funny stories.

Source: Free Articles from ArticlesFactory.com




Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Does The Title Reflect The Story?

We all have different tastes in what we like to read. Some have a particular taste for horror, while others prefer romance or fantasy or crime stories, etc. My favourite genre in short stories is horror, so once the title grabs my attention, I will enthusiastically read the story.

You may want to leave your readers in no doubt of the type of story you have written. That’s fine. You want to grab all the fans out there and/or recruit new readers into the genre you are so fond of writing.

So, how do you select a title that reflects your story?

Should the title always reflect the story?

Not always. But your title must have some sort of connection with your story.

Is There A Connection Between Your Title And Your Story?

If you choose not to have the title reflect the story that’s fine too. But there should be some relevance between them.

If, for instance, your story is about a man walking on the moon, then it wouldn’t make sense to title it, ‘Walking on Mars.’

If your story is an uplifting tale about two characters finding love, then your title isn’t going to mention death, unless of course one of the characters’ die.

At first your title may not give away the nature of your story. But once having read the story, the reader will understand the connection. Let me give you a few examples…

‘The Fire In The Sky’

This can be the title of a story in which an airplane explodes in midair or a story about a meteorite on its way to earth, etc.

‘An Angel Amongst Us’

Can be the title of a story about a person with extraordinary kindness or about an angel that leaves the heavenly realm to reside on earth, etc.

~~~~~~~~~~

You can be ambiguous in your title if you wish. Your title doesn’t always have to reflect your story. Having more than one possible meaning intrigues the reader but remember…

There has to be a connection between your title and your story.

(c) Nick Vernon
Besides his passion for writing, Nick Vernon runs an online gift site where you will find gift information, articles and readers’ funny stories. Visit http://www.we-recommend.com

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

From Idea to Short Story or Novel

For many writers getting ideas is actually the easier part of the creative writing process. From overhearing a conversation on the train or bus, reading something in a magazine or newspaper, to your own life. However, taking that idea and forming a short story or a novel requires a lot more work.

There are integral aspects that must be followed if you want your short story or novel to stand a chance of being published.

So you have got an idea. It could be anything, for example a woman wanting to flee from an abusive marriage to an idea about a haunted house. The first thing you need to create is a main character that is strong enough to carry your plot/story right through to the end. This is vitally important when writing novels as it is obviously a longer piece of work than say a short story, therefore you need to keep your readers turning the pages.

It is worth spending a large proportion of your time creating the main character including as much detail as possible. Treat it as if you are constructing a real-life person, that includes personality traits, looks, family background, career, relationships, everything you can think of. The more you know about your main character then the easier it will be for you to write convincingly about them.

Once you have developed your main character then you need to create minor characters to support or oppose your main character and thus move your plot along. Although minor characters do not need to be as thoroughly constructed as your major character it will still pay off well the better you know them.

When writing a novel or short story you will need a clearly defined plot. This what your story is essentially about so it is vitally important to devise your plot before you actually start writing. More experienced writers for example Stephen King, write without detailed planning. However, for the novice writer a plan will help with the structure of your novel and will tell you before you start any major work whether this particular idea can be made into longer fiction. If you find that your idea is not strong enough to sustain a full-length novel it can be turned into a shorter piece of fiction such as a novella or a short story.

When writing fiction it may be useful if you see your main character as wanting to achieve something, but something else, usually the antagonist, prevents them from achieving this. Conflict is a vital element of all good fiction and is the reason why your readers will want to read to the end. If we use the above example of a woman wanting to flee an abusive marriage. The woman’s desire is to leave, whilst her husband wants to prevent her from doing this. What happens in between and the eventual resolution is your story and if written well, should produce an engaging piece of fiction.

(c) Sharon Wilson

Sharon Wilson is an aspiring writer who is serious and passionate about the art and craft of creative writing. She has undertaken several courses in this field and has gained extensive knowledge of writing novels and short stories. Sharon has a keen interest in poetry and is an avid reader. Her blog is dedicated to all writers, especially the new writer: https://sharonswriterstidbits.wordpress.com/

Monday, June 14, 2021

Writing Narrative Vs Writing Dialogue

One of the nice things about being an author is that we can break any rule we want. (I just did.) It’s part of our job description. Language changes through usage -- definitions, spelling, grammar -- and authors can help it do this. But on the other hand, we have to have some sort of agreement on the language or we won’t be able to talk to each other.

When we as authors break a rule or two, it’s not because we’re ignorant. It’s because we have reasons to break them. That’s one of the joys of writing.

Having said that, now I’m going to explain some rules. There are two types of writing in your novel. There is your narrative and there is your dialogue. The rules for the two are not the same.

For example, comma use. In dialogue, it’s not so difficult. Put in a comma wherever your speaker pauses in his/her speaking. In narrative, you have to consult the style guides and hope that you and your editor, working as a team, can sort it all out.

NARRATIVE

A cop thriller like my Vigilante Justice has a simple set of rules for the narrative portion. Third-person, straightforward writing, light on adjectives and adverbs, easy to read and grammatically correct. Sentence fragments are acceptable if communication is achieved, and you’ll note that I use them often in this article. Why? Simply because it’s more effective that way.

To a degree the genre will help you identify what’s appropriate. For a cop drama, write in the dry style of a journalist. For horror, a bit of hyperbole may be acceptable in the most dramatic sections. For romance (not my genre), you can probably use lots more adjectives (swollen, heaving, throbbing, etc.) than you’d normally dare.

When I wrote Rising From The Ashes, the true story of Mom raising my brother and I alone, I tried to adopt a “childlike voice” early in the narrative. As the character of Michael the storyteller grew older, I abandoned that childlike quality. (An entire book of that would get old fast anyway.)

When I wrote An American Redneck In Hong Kong, the humorous sequel, I once again used first person narrative. But the narrative of Rising is first person only in that it uses “I” instead of “Michael.” It still follows all the rules of “conventional” narrative. In Redneck, I threw most of the rules out the window.

I used what one author referred to my as “conversational” tone to maximum effect in Redneck. This fellow author felt like he wasn’t so much reading my book as just listening to me tell some stories over a few beers. That’s exactly what I wanted.

In Rising, while I was the “first person” character, I wasn’t really the book’s focus. In Redneck, I am. Center stage, in the spotlight. Using more of a “dialogue” style in what should have been “narrative” allowed me to focus the reader’s attention on the first person to a greater degree than simply describing him ever could. You may love me or you may hate me, but you’ll know me and you’ll laugh at me.

If you want to see such a technique used to maximum effect, I recommend A Monk Swimming by Malachy McCourt. (I read it after writing Redneck, by the way.) It’s about an actor who gets drunk and does very bad things to himself and his family, and it’s amazing just how much I laughed out loud reading about it. Doesn’t sound like a funny subject, does it? It’s not, and yet it is, thanks to his unconventional narrative style.

To tell you the truth, I don’t even think McCourt “wrote” that book. I think he just said it all into a tape recorder and transcribed it later. It reads that much like “a guy at the pub telling a tale.” If he used the grammar checking function in MSWord, I bet it underlined every sentence. And, bright fellow that he is, he ignored them all and didn’t change a word.

If you’re going to use a more conversational tone in your narrative, don’t think that means you just write something down and don’t have to edit it. You still have to organize your thoughts, and that means rewriting. While your style may be unconventional, you have to make the ideas easy for the reader to follow.

(I’m not entirely serious when I say McCourt just spoke into a tape recorder, and even if he did that doesn’t mean the rest of us can get away with it.)

I originally wrote Redneck in chronological order. It worked for Rising, and it works for memoirs and novels in general, right? Well, in the case of Redneck, it was a disaster. Way too much “remember what I said before about…” and so forth. So while it was accurate, and while it was conversational, it stunk. I changed everything to more of a “theme-based” approach and that did the trick. Still conversational and accurate, but organized. The ideas are as easy to follow as the writing style, and that’s always the goal. Ease of reading.

In the case of narrative, you have the choice. If you want to spotlight the storyteller to maximum effect, you can go with first person and let the storyteller’s narrative and his dialogue read the same. If you’d prefer to “move the camera” back a bit, make the narrative conventional in contrast to the dialogue. As a rule, this reader likes contrast, because he gets bored reading the same thing over and over again unless the style is really special. Or perhaps you can find a point somewhere between the two.

Every story has a way that it should be told for maximum effect. Maximum effect in the author’s eyes, of course, as it’s a subjective thing. Keep it in mind as you write. Make the call, stick to it, change it if it’s not working. It might even be okay to be inconsistent, but only if you do so deliberately. Just keep stuff like “ease of reading” and “maximum effect” in mind and go be creative.

DIALOGUE

Have you ever read a book where the narrative and the dialogue read the same? I hope you haven’t. But as an editor I’ve seen such things, and they’re very ugly.

Do you know why they’re so ugly? Because they remind the reader of the one thing an author does not want to remind the reader of. Namely, that every character on the page is a puppet under the author’s control.

As readers, we put that thought aside so we can enjoy reading. “Willing suspension of disbelief,” to quote the phrase an English teacher used when describing the performance of Shakespeare’s plays. If the author ensures that the reader can’t suspend disbelief, the book will not be read. Stilted dialogue is one of the quickest ways to make that happen.

I’ve decided that writing dialogue is the hardest thing we do. It’s certainly not the something we can go look up in a style manual like Strunk or Turabian.

What are the rules? “Make it sound real.” But with the corollary, “not too real because people always say um and er and crap like that.” Oh yeah. That explains everything! End of my article, right?

Nope. I’m still writing it.

Ideally, the greatest of the great creators of dialogue will have every character “speaking” in a voice so distinctive that he/she need never identify the speaker. Okay, that’s enough fiction. Back to reality. None of us are writing dialogue that well, are we?

People use a lot more contractions in speech than in writing. They’re faster. More sentence fragments, too. People very often use the wrong version of lie/lay or “who” instead of “whom” in speaking. (Personally, I never use “whom” in speaking or writing because I want to see that distinction scrapped, but that’s another story.)

The dialogue portion of Vigilante Justice isn’t difficult to describe. The hero is a self-destructive cop named Gary Drake. He is based on a real-life cop, my little brother. So his dialogue was easy because, in my mind, I always heard Gary speaking in Barry’s voice.

For my other characters, I had to find some other voice. For example, the voice of Doctor Garrett Allison is, to me, that of Michael Jordan.

That’s right, people. When I write, I literally hear voices in my head.

As a beginning writer, and not a very good one, I read some advice somewhere saying you might want to cut photos out of magazines and use them when writing your physical description, in case you can’t get a mental picture together of your characters. I’ve used this technique, and with some modification I’ve extended it to voices.

As an author, you should always play to your greatest strengths while working to improve your weaknesses. I know many authors who think visually, and I envy them that. I’ve read some stuff that can make you feel you’re skiing down a snow-covered mountain when it’s actually 85 degrees in your flat and you’ve never skied in your life.

One author told me that when he writes, he literally sees movies in his head, then just has to type them really fast because that’s how they’re playing. Lucky him! My novels first come to me in snippets of dialogue. Every character has the same voice at that stage. (My voice, of course.)

Tight dialogue is one thing I enjoy when I read. Here are the characters at some sort of verbal showdown. I know them, I know their motives, I can read between the lines and know what’s being left unsaid. I can just feel the tension in the air. I’m not so much mentally picturing bulging veins and angry glares as I am just feeling the spoken words.

I also have an excellent memory of voices. I always have. Like a dog remembers scents or an artist colors, it seems, I can remember voices. If I hear an unfamiliar song on the radio but I’ve ever heard that singer before, I can tell you who it is. I can tell you that the guy doing the voice of Gomez Addams in the original “Addams Family” cartoon is now doing one of the voices in the Tazmanian Devil’s cartoon series. I can spot an actor like Andreas Katsulas no matter what species of rubberized alien he’s playing, because I recognize his voice, although really that’s no great challenge in his case.

(For the record, if you’ve read The Chronicles Of A Madman, Ahriman looks and sounds like Andreas Katsulas. Clyde Windham is Dennis Franz. Wendy Himes is some girl who sold me some horse feed about ten years ago.)

But just “hearing” the voices (if you’re able) isn’t enough. The words themselves will be different depending on who’s speaking them, even if they’re relaying the same information.

To get back to Vigilante Justice, Gary Drake doesn’t use a lot of words. He almost never describes his own feelings, and if he does he always feels guilty about it. He speaks with a Southern drawl. He tends to use a single swear word, and that word is “fuck.”

Marjorie Brooks, on the other hand, mentions feelings and uses whichever swear word is the most accurate, except that she never says “fuck.” Doctor Allison doesn’t use as many contractions as the rest of us do. These are things I kept in mind as I wrote their dialogue.

Who remembers Mr. Spock? His speech sounds like written language, very grammatical and correct, and that’s deliberate. He’s a scientist, he’s logical, and for him language is only one more tool to be used with as much precision as possible. That isn’t just a different style of dialogue; it helps define his character.

In my The Chronicles Of A Madman, Ahriman used fewer contractions than the rest of us and he avoided sentence fragments. He probably even knew the difference between who and whom or lie and lay. That’s because he’s intelligent, you see. It kinds of goes with the territory when one is evil incarnate.

During an edit I did of a sci-fi book, I saw where the author wasn’t using enough contractions. I made many suggestions that he change the dialogue of the humans to use those contractions, except when military officers were giving orders, because order-giving officers tend to be more “serious” and “thoughtful” than folks just being regular folks.

I also suggested to this author that he change nothing about the “stilted” speech patterns of his aliens. English isn’t their native language, you see, and one thing I’ve noticed from living in China is that the locals don’t use nearly as many contractions as I do. So I thought that added realism. Plus, the contrast should help keep the readers keep everybody straight even if they aren’t consciously aware of why.

I remember in one edit where I read some character saying, “I am an historian.” Oh, I hate that phrase. I hate anyone ever putting “an” in front of a word that begins with the consonant “h.” Correct or not -- and that’s debatable -- it’s terribly pretentious and I don’t like it. As I kept reading the book, I quickly learned that the character in question is terribly pretentious. Nobody else in the book was throwing “an” in front of “h” words. It was a deliberate contrast on the author’s part, and it worked quite nicely.

CONCLUSION

I suppose the point of all this is, remember the difference between narrative and dialogue.

In the case of narrative, you’re simply trying to describe what happens. There is a famous quote of some sort that says, “Great writing is like a window pane.” Stick to that maxim unless you feel you have a good reason not to. If you’ve got what it takes to make your writing style superior to the conventional, and if your story allows it, let that style be an asset of your writing. Otherwise, just stick to the rules until you master them.

In the case of dialogue, you’re trying to write something that sounds like what the characters would actually say, but a bit more organized because “real” speech can be boring. Give every character his/her/its own voice.

Am I joking when I say “its?” Not entirely. The Chronicles Of A Madman contains a short story, written in first person from my dog’s viewpoint. But then again, I would never call Daisy an “it.”

There’s a stylistic decision you can make in narrative, by the way. I always refer to animals as “he” or “she.” Some authors always use “it.”

In dialogue, you can let some characters always say he or she, and let others always say it, to contrast the feeling with the unfeeling. (My heroes never call an animal “it.”)

In the end, the goal is always the same. Make your writing as easy to read as you can. Keep that in mind, and always keep learning, and you won’t go wrong.

Copyright 2001, Michael LaRocca

Michael is an American living in Hong Kong. He has been working as a full-time author for over two years and as an editor for over a year. He has 4 novels scheduled for publication. He’s proud of the fact that he rarely writes in the same genre twice. One of his novels is an EPPIE 2002 in the Thriller category.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

The Writer's Mind

I've always felt that writers aren't smarter or more creative than non-writers. I think the difference between a writer and a non-writer is that a writer doesn't have enough sense to know this should be difficult. Writing and creativity are products of the mind- not extraordinary minds- every mind. You can also tap into this creative power by learning a few simple tricks.

Recognize that your brain is awesome, but it has limits. It has a difficult time changing gears from one mode of thinking to another. Remember trying to get through math class right after lunch? Your mind was focused on the social realm and until it completed the transition, math was unnaturally difficult. The same is true for creativity. Learn the creative modes and keep them away from each other. Never try to do two of these at the same time. Each has it's own place.


Here are the modes:

Creative Freestyle- If you've ever sat down and scribbled out a great poem without much thinking, this is the mode you were in. This is also the mode you’re in when you’re in "the zone." When you’re actually entering the prose and your mind opens like a floodgate- that's the freestyle creative mode. In this mode there is no logic and no criticism. If you’re thinking critically or in logical, sequential terms- then you’ll and hamper your creativity.

Logical Freestyle- This is the plotting and outlining mode. You should be thinking in practical terms here. Times, dates, events, orders, locations. This is the mode of structure and planning. It is creative, but only in the sense that you creatively organize. Criticism is still out, and if you find yourself immersed in creative thought that’s not related to logical planning- you're in the wrong zone.

Logical Formal- In this mode your creativity is turned off almost entirely. You’re thinking like a mathematician now. Outline and plot your writing, but only to enhance the structure- no new ideas here- just organizing. Think of this as the finial edit of your plan or outline. No major creative changes- just focus on the plot or outline itself.

Critical Freestyle- Get out your red pen and mark up your manuscript. Be merciless- let all of that self criticism and doubt flood onto the page in red ink. When you feel yourself arguing against an edit- ignore it. This mode is for criticism only. Criticism can be general or specific. You could mark up your comma usage, or you could make a note that this portion of the story is weak. Don''t think of solutions- not now. Just criticism.

Critical Formal- Go over your marks and look for technical reasons why the writing is not working. Write some suggestions for improvement, but not in a originally creative sense. For example, instead of thinking of a million ways to make the reader more sympathetic to your character, you would write, "Writing in this passage is weak. Lack of reader sympathy for character. Find way to increase sympathy." If you were to go beyond that and start thinking of creative ways to do that- you're in trouble. Wait, be patient.

Always know what mode you need to be in. Keep each mode separate, and you'll find writing is easier and more enjoyable.

(c) Jeff Heisler

Jeff Heisler is a freelance writer and novelist.
Source: Free Articles from ArticlesFactory.com

Breaking Writer's Block

The most fearsome enemy to any writer, attacking without warning, without predjudice and without compassion, is (gasp, dare I say it?) WRITER’s BLOCK.

I feel a bit like Harry Potter speaking Voldermort’s name aloud to the horror of his fellow witches and wizards.

Writer’s Block is a curse to creativity. It’s as if all the characters and situations and what if scenarios, which normally ricochet around your brain have been sucked into a worm hole leaving only a void behind. It’s painful, it’s frightening and it’s self inflicted!

Writer’s Block is the residue of fear. For me, it is the fear of not being good enough. For you it may be fear of exposing yourself to criticism, fear of rejection, fear of humiliation, fear of failure, fear of success, the list could go on and on. Regardless of the fear that keeps you its prisoner, Writer’s Block is your prison.

It’s time to conquer your fear and get back to the business of writing.

Begin by identifying what is holding you back. As I said, I’m afraid of not being good enough. To counter this, I use a technique called free writing. I think about a situation and then write continuously for ten minutes, without stopping, without censoring any word or phrase or thought. Knowing that mistakes are acceptable, that the objective of this exercise is quantity not quality frees me from my prison.

Use every opportunity to write. If you have stalled on a novel, write a short story, an article, a poem, write in your journal, write a description of the checker at the grocery store, give her a name, a bio, a life…The idea is: JUST WRITE. I stall when editing. Sometimes I just can’t look at the story any more. I get so frustrated, I just want to chuck the whole thing and start over. At times like this, it’s better for me to turn my attention to a short story or write an article. Before I know it, I’m relaxed and confident.

Last, but not least, READ. Reading a good book always inspires me. Imagine if JRR Tolkien let fear stop him from writing. What the world would be missing! Every book is full of lessons you can apply to your craft. You can read a book and see the way a particular writer develops characters, overcomes obstacles or weaves their words. You may find tools to use and traps to avoid in your own work.

(c) Lisa Hood

Lisa Hood is the author of "Shades of Betrayal" and “Shades of Revenge”.

Source: Free Articles from ArticlesFactory.com

5 New Realities Authors Don't Want to Hear

Recently there have been articles in the media about the plight of the publishing industry and the state of play for authors in particular.

Here's a roundup of what these reports are saying.
I believe you should take note, even if you don't want to be reminded of the new realities of writing books for a living!

1. Traditional Publishers Finally Reveal the Facts

The truth is that when you're signed to a traditional publisher, there's no guarantee you'll make enough money to live on.

Less than one in a thousand authors with traditional publishing deals make over $100K per annum. In fact, 99% of published authors make less than $2000 a year.

Writers have long believed the myth that 'getting published' is the answer to their goals. The reality is different.

Even with all the “advantages” of distribution to retailers worldwide, third-party promotion, and the “kudos” of being signed to a publishing house, the vast majority of traditionally published writers will NEVER make enough in royalties to quit their day jobs.

Plus, The Big Five only publish a fraction of the books pitched to them by their in-house authors. So it's more than possible to get a publishing deal and then STILL not be able to release your books to the public!


2. The Net Has Come of Age

According to a recent survey of over 9000 writers, you're more likely to be making a living writing if you self-publish your work online.

The figures don't lie. Online authors who self-publish make, on average five to ten times the royalties per book than your average 'published' author.

Selling books online may be hard - but actually, no harder than it is for a publisher to sell books in shops. But, when you self-publish, you reap the rewards and don't have to give away up to 90% of your hard-earned royalties.


3. It's All in the Definition

Many people call themselves writers - but are probably not.

By government and welfare agency definitions, you can't be a writer unless you have a qualification of some sort, which is absurd.

But for the purposes of statistical analysis, the following is a useful definition:
"An author is a person engaged in writing commercial fiction or nonfiction AND who is actively working on a manuscript intended for publication soon."

Is this you? Or is this just what you aspire to do? Chances are, if the above definition does not describe exactly what you're doing RIGHT NOW, you shouldn't class yourself as a writer.


4. Amazon Rocks

The average successful author on Amazon Kindle makes up to ten times more money than the average author with a publishing deal.

Now that's a real eye-opener which completely flies in the face of those authors who consider self-publishing to be a cop-out - or not a definitive sign of success.
The truth is different. Having a traditional publishing deal now means you probably don’t write books worthy of self-publication.


5. Keep Dreaming

What's clear is that becoming a traditionally published author and then expecting this archaic route to somehow facilitate writing success is a dream. It just doesn't square with reality.

These days, having a book on the shelf of a bookstore doesn't carry weight in your pursuit of success - or even help you get by as a writer.

Simply put, the odds are completely stacked against you UNLESS you self-publish.

This is what most new authors don't want to hear!

But why?

You would think that authors would love to sell books - and the way to do that, clearly, is to sell them yourself online.

Think about it.

If you can't sell your own books, then you're not going to appeal to a traditional publisher.
And even if you do all the right things to impress a publisher and one signs you, you're still most likely going to end up with the 99% of published authors who make less than $2000 a year!

If you’ve been paying attention, you'll have noticed a trend.

Publishers have been clamoring to sign bestselling Kindle authors.
The reason is obvious. Successful Kindle authors write books that sell - which is the ONLY thing publishers want.

Clearly, the best way to get a publishing deal is to write commercial books and PROVE they're commercial by selling them YOURSELF through Amazon and Kindle.

But you need to change your thinking about this because, the fact is, if you believe you're not ready to self-publish, then you're definitely not ready to send a manuscript to an agent or publisher!

You should be absolutely convinced you've written a huge bestseller before you consider offering it to a publisher.

But, if you think you have written a bestseller, what better way to prove it than by self-publishing?

Too many writers send their MSS to publishers because they're really not good enough to self-publish.

There, I've said it.

That's the new reality most writers don't want to accept.

Anyone can send in manuscripts to publishers and agents with some vague hope they may get signed and then get famous.

But publishers only want authors who sell lots of books!

Listen up.

In this digital age, self-publishing is key to a writer's success.

Independent authors are far more likely to kick their day jobs than their snobby friends with traditional publishing deals will ever be!

Are you hearing me now?

Keep Writing!

(c) Rob Parnell
WRITING ACADEMY

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Mortal Sin isn’t what it used to Be by Jenny Worstall

Mortal sin isn’t what it used to be.

There was a time in my childhood when my life was like a tightrope strung carelessly over the boiling pit of hell. A wobble here or a mistake there would lead to mortal sin and send me tumbling into the vast fiery depths where I would roast for all eternity.

‘What do you think hell is really like?’ Trixie whispered during the early morning Chapel service. ‘Sister Dolores says it’s awfully hot.’

‘I’d give anything to be hot.’ I shivered in my school uniform, sitting on the hard bench. It was England in the 1970s; the power cuts were in full swing and the school was icy. ‘I don’t feel so good…’ Black spots appeared before my eyes and Trixie thrust my head between my knees.

‘You’ll feel alright soon. Keep your head down!’ She patted my shoulder.

Sister Dolores had a cup of tea with sugar waiting for me in the refectory. My fainting fits in Chapel were legendary. I once asked whether I could have the cup of tea before the service, to stop me feeling so bad, but there was no exception to the overnight fast before communion.

‘Offer it up, offer your suffering up to the Lord,’ advised Sister Dolores.

I liked the idea that my suffering might put me in credit with God – maybe he would send me less temptations as I grew older and make my feet stick on that tightrope. Maybe he would give me a ‘Get out of jail free’ card.

Fast forward over forty years and here I am. I realise I haven’t thought about mortal sin or hell for ages. Everything can be forgiven now, can’t it? People do all sorts and no one cares.

I look out through the windscreen of my car at the mangled red bicycle in front of me in the road. Where is the cyclist?

‘Anyone called the ambulance?’

‘Done it! Here in five.’

‘Should we move him?’

‘No – gotta protect the neck. That’s what they do on the telly.’

‘I’ve got a blanket.’

‘That’s good. Let’s put it over the kid.’

‘Gently now…’

‘He’s opened his eyes.’

‘Mum! I want my mum!’

‘Here, we should check the driver’s OK.’

‘She’s completely white in the face.’

I open my car door and vomit neatly into the gutter.

‘Damn! Mind me shoes!’

‘You all right, love? You’re shivering.’

‘I feel so cold. Think I was going too fast.’ I stand up and lean against the body of my car.

‘You don’t wanna say that, love.’

‘Excuse me butting in; I’m a lawyer and I agree with what that chap said. Obviously it’s to your credit that you want to take the blame, however if you were my client, I’d have to advise you not to say anything yet.’

‘Yeah, don’t blame yourself. The kid came straight out in front of you.’

‘But I was in a hurry. Oh, is he all right?’ I totter to the front of the car where the tiny child stares up at me.

‘Mum! Want Mum!’

‘Anyone know him? Anyone called his mum?’

‘At least he’s conscious. Where the hell’s that ambulance? I called it seven minutes ago.’

I feel myself going.

‘’Ere! She’s fainting!’

‘Sit down love, quick, here on the pavement.’

‘Put your head down.’

‘I can hear the ambulance!’

‘There’s a police car too.’

Within minutes the child is secured on a stretcher and slotted into the ambulance. I dig my nails into the centre of each hand as hard as I can, leaving deep welts. Let him be all right.

I’ll do anything if you let him live. This time.

A young policeman crouches beside me.

‘We need to talk to you Madam, when you feel up to it.’

‘I was rushing to work,’ I lied. ‘Didn’t have time for breakfast. It’s all my fault – will he live?’

‘Ambulance crew think he’ll be fine Madam. They’re taking him to hospital to give him the once over but all the signs are good.’

Tears burst from my eyes, drowning the image of yellow and red flames leaping up from the bottomless pit and licking my feet. My tightrope disintegrated a long time ago.

‘Here, love, have this. It’s from my café, over there. I saw the whole thing. I’ve put three sugars in it, the tea I mean. Sugar’s good for shock.’

‘You are so kind,’ I murmur, fumbling for my purse. ‘You must let me pay for the tea.’

‘You put your money away. It’s the least I can do – you’ve suffered enough.’

So it would be all right then, this time.

There’s something the nuns forgot to tell us, but I worked it out for myself over time: it’s not a mortal sin if no one finds out. Other people judge you, not God.

Today, when I saw the kid veering off the pavement onto the road in front of me, I thought why should others have a child when I never did, a lovely boy like that, on his red bicycle.

With his freckles and his blue lace-up shoes and a bell to ring. I put my foot on the accelerator then, even though I knew it was madness and I could be caught.

But it has turned out all right for me. And for the kid.

I’ll be more careful when I try again. Ram the car that bit harder, ensure the incident is fatal.

Then make a quick getaway. People do it all the time, don’t they? Hit and runs – they’re always in the papers. Today was just the dress rehearsal.

Mortal sin isn’t what it used to be.

The Rest of the Menu by Cindy Periera

Cindy has opted-out of online publication 

The Dis-Entanglement Dinner by Paul Garson

Where did I go wrong? I remembered our anniversary. I made reservations at her favorite Italian restaurant. I pre-ordered the best wine. I wrote something nice on a card. I took a shower, flossed my teeth, trimmed my beard so it didn’t tickle her and I wore the shirt she bought me for my birthday even though the stripes sometimes gave me vertigo if I saw my reflection.

I didn’t wear my favorite shoes because she didn’t like their tendency to squeak. I even bought new ones that matched the color of my belt, one of her pet peeves, my lack of coordinated accessories.

I arrived on time. The truck was taken to the best car wash and given the full treatment including the Lotus Blossom air freshener. I even removed the gun rack.

Maybe it was my choice of opening conversations. I had made a list of topics that I thought might interest her. And since she liked to chat, I started with the breath-taking news flash that I had just picked up on my quick-burst receiver thanks to the new 50 foot antenna I had installed over my vacation bunker in the New Hebrides, not that she knew about that since it would only “vex” her. According to her I could be very “vexing,” especially my “blitherings” about potential doomsday scenarios. I was “too negative” she said.

However I was working on that problem area. So back to my chat agenda. “Dear,” I said after she had finished her second glass of wine and I thought she was more receptive. “Dear, did you know that just today scientists in Moldavia overheard two atoms chatting with each other? Of course, it was actually magnetic quantum interactions, but I guess if you’re an atom, it’s chatting. In this case it was two titanium atoms a nanometer apart hooking up so to speak, the eavesdropping by way of a scanning tunneling microscope. Think about all the atoms in the wine glass you’re holding now chatting away to each other, a group chat as it were. But instead of discussing the merits of the ’76 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, they’re exchanging quantum information…in the form of a spin, a tiny magnetic momentwhen they actually feel each other unbound by space or time.

Yes, dear, I know you’re thinking the same thing I am…atoms love each other.”

When she didn’t respond and instead called the waiter to order another bottle of wine, I realized I had to take another tact, make another selection from my prepared list of topics.

Since she did favor her wines, I thought it dove-tailed nicely into my mentioning of the recent paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences regarding the detection of prebiotic ethanolamine in a molecular cloud near the center of the Milky Way Galaxy, i.e. our home galaxy. So I took a breath and broke the ice again, beginning with,

“Dear, did you hear about the discovery of the galactic appearance of the amino acid that may have contributed fundamentally to the development of life on Earth?

“In fact, it may finally reveal why life came to exist here in the first place, since we really have no explanation. This amino acid is the building block of protein. We are carbon based of course but couldn’t exist without proteins. We’ve also found this ethanolamine in meteorites which could account for the emergence of life on our planet and countless others, evidence of panspermia permeating the universe, and all thanks to a whiff of interstellar alcohol. Call it the galactic love potion if you will.”

That did it. I finally struck the right chord. Because, a second later, my dear looked me straight in the eye and murmured, “I’ll drink to that.” And she did, nicely draining the full glass, then seamlessly refilling it again.

I held my glass up as well and said, “I’ll drink to that, too.”

She finished the newly re-filled glass, placed it on the table and with one finger plinked it over. Then she sighed and said, “Must you copy everything I do and say. Do you lack all originality?”

I was stumped for a reply. I felt something tingly and wiggling deep down my throat. I think it was panic clawing its way up my esophagus. Were all my efforts to repair our relationship going to naught? I tried one last item from my list of conversation topics.

“Dear, I do have something totally original to reveal to you.”

She yawned.

“I’ve invented a transmutation device that will revolutionize our lives as we know it. It can turn the hardest, coldest stone to the warmest gold.”

I think she actually laughed but I wasn’t certain. It could have been a belch. Undeterred I pressed on. From my coat pocket I brought out the small white box with a red ribbon and placed it on the table in front of her.

She stared at it for a moment, then used her fork to bring it closer to her. Using her knife, she cut the ribbon. She looked up at me. I smiled. She looked back at the box and with the knife popped off the lid. Then it seemed Time stood still.

She stared into the box. Then it came. A tear. Then another.

She looked up at me, her face reddening. She slowly turned the box over. The rock rolled across the table and stopped right side up. In gold letters, it read “I love you.”

I smiled, then said. “Dear, it’s a meteorite and I painted the words in real gold leaf. Can we agree that it’s very original?”

“Diamonds are original,” she hissed and in a flash she was gone but not before she “returned” my present. Now I sit here holding the napkin over my throbbing eye, just waiting for the bill.

The Real Peter by Sheena Billett

How had it come to this?

Peter buried his face in his napkin and sobbed, oblivious to the other diners in The Golden Fleece, next to the Premier Inn on the ring road.

This was not how he had imagined his career would end – an ignominious send off with only his loyal secretary, Pat, for company; and even she had left, barely sipping her wine, muttering something about getting home to her mother.

Even so, he had put a brave face on things and ordered his meal. But as he raised the first forkful of food to his mouth, Peter saw himself – sitting in this anonymous restaurant with two Happy Retirement cards; one signed by everyone in the office and the other from Pat, and the Homebase gardening voucher in his wallet.

In his imagination, he would have held his leaving do in the swanky Yodo restaurant in town, with the whole department toasting his wonderful career, and wishing him and Anna a wonderful retirement in their French Villa.

Peter left a twenty pound note on the table, and strode abruptly out of the restaurant. He got into his Lexus and headed for the motorway – he might as well enjoy one more journey, as it was being repossessed tomorrow.

It was difficult to know exactly when things had gone wrong. Was it the morning he’d needed a drink before going to work? Was it the day when his hands shook so badly that he’d had to leave a junior surgeon to finish up? Maybe it was as far back as the first time he had drunk a bottle of wine on his own. No wonder Pat couldn’t bring herself to share a bottle of wine with him. What had he been thinking? It had been the final, pathetic, flimsy, attempt to pretend that things were normal.

Ten years ago, Peter had had it all. He was a brilliant cardio-thoracic surgeon, a pioneer of cutting edge techniques, highly respected by his colleagues and on the board of the hospital.

He had the perfect wife, two children at university, one of them at Oxford, and enough money to buy a villa in France. But somehow, there had come a time when having it all had not been enough, and Peter had found himself, in his early fifties, thinking: what else is there? In those days, no one talked about mental health, or depression; most people didn’t even recognise the symptoms – not even a medical professional like Peter, or maybe, especially a medical professional like Peter.

He and Heather had got into the habit of drinking a bottle of wine each evening, ‘to unwind’, after the younger of their children had left for university. Then, one evening, Heather had been visiting her parents and Peter, unable to break the habit, had drunk a bottle of wine on his own. From there, slowly but surely, over the next ten years, alcoholism had stealthily crept up on him. Things had come to a head when a junior doctor had alerted the chairman of the board that he could smell alcohol on Mr Walker and didn’t think he was fit to operate.

Peter had never stepped into an operating theatre since, as arrogantly and obstinately he refused help and refused to even acknowledge the problem, insisting that other colleagues were ‘out to get him.’ Left with no other option, the hospital had insisted on immediate early retirement with a reduced pension. And so it had come to this – still refusing to accept that a demon was running his life, even ordering a bottle of wine this evening, and expecting Pat to drink it with him. What had he been thinking? In fact what had he been thinking for the last year-or-so?

Heather had found out from a friend at the hospital, had immediately moved out, and was currently taking him to the cleaners, intent on bleeding him dry. The legal fees alone would wipe him out. His children weren’t talking to him, and he knew that he would have to leave the area. The hospital had hoped to hush things up, but inevitably, the local press had got wind of the scandal, and his face had been in every paper.

Peter found that he had driven almost all the way to Leeds. This was the first evening he could remember not having a drink – somehow he hadn’t been able to face it after Pat had left. He felt himself to be at a fork in the road: He could turn off at the next exit and return home and get some help, or he could drive on into oblivion allowing his pride, self-pity and anger to overwhelm him.

Three weeks later, Peter found himself dressed in uncharacteristic jogging bottoms and a T-shirt, running along a beach.

‘Come on keep going, old man,’ shouted Tim over his shoulder as he sprinted off.

Peter stopped, hands on his knees trying to get his breath. He had not felt this good in a long time.

Tim returned and patted him on the back. ‘You’re doing great, Dad – for an oldie.’

‘Do you know, Tim, I never thought I could feel this good with so little,’ he puffed.

‘I’m so proud of you, Dad. Mum and Lizzie will come round, eventually, you know.’

‘I know this sounds a bit soft, but I think I’m only now getting to know the real Peter.’

‘Me too. And I think I’m going to like him… a lot. Come on, let’s get you a latte and boost your sugar levels. Race you!’ And he was gone.

Spring Street Love Story by Beverley Byrne

‘You can set your watch by them,’ said Joey. ‘Every July 4th. Same time. Same booth. They’ll order the specials, open cards and hold hands over dessert. Man, that’s a New York love story.’

According to Joey, the couple had been meeting once a year at the Spring Street Lounge since forever.

‘The old guy once told me he fell for her by the jukebox,’ he smiled, swiping a cloth over the copper counter. ‘Fireworks exploding outside and in.’

He tapped his watch. ‘They’ll be here soon. Seven. On the dot.’

Joey’s stories of Little Italy mobsters, gang brawls and limos prowling the street, were a perk of my job. After Mum died, I found photos of her posing in front of New York landmarks wearing yoga pants and Bo Derek braids. Several featured her outside the Spring Street Lounge where she’s clowning with a couple of Springsteen clones and a russet haired woman holding a baby. Having never seen her that jubilant, I flew here searching for the mother I never really knew. When I stood outside the bar and saw the sign on the window saying ‘Staff Wanted,’ I took it as a posthumous sign.

Joey, the manager, said my British accent would be catnip to New Yorkers. The Lounge was a SoHo legend and tourists seeking Mean Streets scenes bantered with yellow cab drivers and steel toe capped builders. I loved it when they asked questions like, ‘Hey you met the Queen?’ or ‘Is there a bridge over to Ireland?’

I was serving beers to a bunch of tattooed students when Joey dug me in the ribs and whispered, ‘That’s him.’ An old grey bearded guy wearing a suit jacket was pushing through the Independence Day scrum. Joey left the bar to greet him. I’d seen Joey, flexing baseball biceps, throw out a mouthy jock twice his size. The solicitous way he took the elderly man’s elbow was touching.

The bar was sauna hot with sweaty punters waving Stars and Stripes flags. Occasionally, bodies parting like the red sea revealed the man seated at the table. He’d propped two envelopes against the menu and sat rifle straight, eyes glued to the door. With every creaking opening, his smile waxed and waned. In between, he checked his watch and mobile. Joey, mixing Manhattans in a cocktail shaker, said, ‘Never known her to be this late. Don’t say she’s stood him up after all these years.’

The giant clock over the optics ticked the minutes. People ebbed and flowed, shouting over the music and slamming down shot glasses. Amid the jollity, the old man looked out of place and uneasy. At eight thirty, Joey said, ‘Go ask if he wants to order. His lady was English.

Your accent might cheer him up.’ I doubted this but taking my pencil and pad, shouldered my way through the throng. The man had his head in his hands. I coughed. When he looked up his complexion paled to cement grey. Two fat tears rolled down his cheeks and nestled in his beard like twin diamonds.

‘Are you ok?’

‘Yes, yes. I’m sorry,’ he mumbled, ‘You’re just so like…….……’ His voice trailed off as if lacking the energy to finish the sentence.

I shifted from foot to foot before asking if he’d like to order. He interrogated my face for long minutes while I waited, pencil poised. Then he straightened his shoulders suggesting a decision had been made. 

‘Bring me the special and a bottle of house white. Two glasses please.’

I did as I was bid and watched, bemused, as he poured wine into both glasses. When I returned with his meal, he said, ‘Would you do me a favour?’

‘If I can.’

‘Join me for ten minutes. Joey won’t mind. I sure could use some company.’

Listening to strangers was part of my job but the bar was heaving. Yet Joey said, ‘I’ll hold the fort kid. Go talk English to the poor sap.’

His food was barely touched. When I asked if I could remove his plate he shook his head and pushed a quarter towards me saying. ‘Would you indulge me further by putting Dancing In The Dark on the jukebox?’ I looked round to see Joey give a big thumbs up.

Artie Shaw’s mellow big band chords worked magic and smooching couples shuffled in circles, arms limp across shoulders.

The banquette’s sticky plastic cooled my thighs as I sat opposite him. He pushed the envelopes towards me. ‘Would you mind opening these?’

What next? Hold his hand? ‘Please,’ he implored. ‘It would mean a lot to me tonight.’

The card expressed typical anniversary sentiments. Love on the front. Love on the inside and ‘Forever yours. Gerry.’ I propped it between us. He nodded at the other. I ripped it open.

Photographs fluttered out. Posturing lads. A red head with a baby. And my mother in blonde braids outside the Spring Street Lounge.

‘Why have you got photographs of my Mum?’ I placed my hands palm down on the table to stop them shaking.

‘You’re her living image. She’s dead, isn’t she?’

Tears threatened. I nodded and his hand covered mine as the song faded. I wanted to shake it off but the warmth was comforting.

‘They were taken the day we fell in love.’ He pointed to the other woman. ‘This is the woman I betrayed. Laurie, my wife with our son Eric. Your mother was her friend. She understood I couldn’t leave them.’ His lips trembled. ``We met every year. But she never told me about you.’

I thought back to summers spent with gran when mum went away. The reason was sitting opposite me in the Spring Street Lounge. I scrutinised his features for clues to the question Mum would never answer. Outside, fireworks illuminated the New York night.

The Cracking of the Mirror by Mary Farrell

‘ Wunderkind’ the press had called him. How the paparazzi would love to see him now! He imagined the tabloid front pages. Hiding in a booth in a side-street eatery! He’d ignored his sixth sense jangling lately. Now after just a few short phone calls….. !

His meteoric rise had made headlines in the financial world. With an instinctive nose for over-extended companies about to crash, he’d buy them for a song, break them up and off-load the smaller units at great financial gain. The moniker no-one used to his face was ‘The Spare Parts Dealer’. His business team was nicknamed ‘The Foxhounds’, eager as they were for both the hunt and the kill.

His personal life too had had a successful upward curve. From a Council Estate in Barnsley, a scholarship to Oxford had smoothed out his accent. Marrying Louise, the granddaughter of an Earl, a month after his graduation, brought him connections with both the Tory Party and the English Peerage.

The Company he soon founded was sleekly promoted by her brother’s PR firm. Moving up through the labels of millionaire, multi- and then billionaire, an amicable divorce re-allocated his assets and their three children to everyone’s satisfaction. Louise got the children and Cotswold estate and he the South Bank penthouse.

Oiled by his annual profits, his years passed comfortably. Saint Moritz in January,

Rio at Easter, his Bahamian holiday home in August, and Australia each November for the Melbourne Cup formed the backdrop to his very satisfying London life. He regularly featured in the media with this season’s mistress, each as beautiful and intelligent as the last. He had the usual entourage of housekeeper, cook, and personal trainer as well as Season tickets for all the appropriate events both cultural and sporting. His Private Accountant and Personal Secretary were as discreet as they were efficient. His life purred smoothly.

Until Monday morning. Only yesterday!

Arriving at the office, he was surprised to find Elaine’s desk unoccupied. His Personal Secretary had been there at 8.30 sharp every morning for the last fifteen years.

Disconcerted he nonetheless began his day by ringing Charles, his Accountant, but was told that he too was not at work yet. How very curious! Speculation over this was interrupted by a call from his Chief Investments Banker. Why had he cancelled the monthly funding for the Coral Project? As he had done no such thing, he ordered the banker to his office immediately. A subsequent investigation revealed a long list of similarly cancelled payments.

The funds for them all had, over the weekend, been diverted to a Cayman Island account.

The afternoon brought more bad news. Huge deficits appeared right across the wide band of his investments and bank accounts. The revelations continued long after business hours. After far too few hours of sleep, he spent the morning with four different Bank Managers trying to quilt together a patchwork of borrowed funds to disguise the extent of his financial disarray.

Just before noon he phoned Louise. She would understand and help. She was indeed sympathetic but explained that all of her available assets were tied up in the various business ventures of their children. And there was certainly no point in approaching the children she went on to warn him. After all, he hadn’t helped them with any initial funding for their businesses when asked, giving them instead a lecture on self-sufficiency!

By mid-afternoon he could no longer continue to ignore that the absence of both Charles and Elaine had a related significance. As the skein had further unravelled over the day, it had become clear that their combined knowledge about his funds and personal habits had created this crisis. Charles had indeed been one of his best assets. No-one could even begin to follow the money trail, the tracks were so cleverly hidden. Over the weekend, they, and most of his money, had vanished without trace.

By close of business, he realised he’d barely eaten for two days. Booking a table at a down-market restaurant where he would be anonymous, he left a voicemail for Chrissie, his latest mistress, to meet him there. He left the office building by the back entrance. Maybe he was being paranoid but he could swear he saw some reporters in the Front Lobby. Not wanting to use his own car, he took a taxi to Fusion. Sliding into a back-booth, he ordered food, and a very good Chardonnay. He was in deep trouble, yes, but he could still turn this round. He knew he could!

He poured a glass for Chrissie. He needn’t have bothered. A short phone-call informed him that she would not be coming. Elaine had phoned her on Sunday night, hinting that she seek out another benefactor. A handsome Italian high-flyer in the City had been very welcoming last night when she’d moved from the apartment which he’d rented for her into Ernesto’s new townhouse in Chelsea. Yes, she and Elaine had become very friendly indeed over the last few months. He hadn’t known? He’d never asked!

He stared at the cooling food on his plate…thinking. When the phone rang again, he was tempted to ignore it, but a fatalistic curiosity took over. Yes, this was he. Whose office? Dr Fisher in Harley St? but he’d had his routine medical check last week for the Insurance Company. The full works - blood test, x-ray, even a sight and hearing test. The results? Sorry but he was too busy to attend to routine test results at the moment. What!

Could you repeat that please?

As he put the phone down with a shaking hand, an unfamiliar sensation uncurled behind his eyes. Without warning, tears began to stream. When actual drops began to fall onto his place mat, he covered his eyes with a pristine Henry Poole linen handkerchief.

Even those born without a silver spoon but who had fought hard to buy one, should never doubt the ability of the Fates to decide who keeps it!

Big Bella's Piano Lessons by Graham Crisp

Jim tapped his watch, “Oi, lover boy, ‘bout time too. I was just about to clear off without you.

The digger is being delivered this morning, and the hire company won’t hang around. Get a flippin’ move on.”

Aaron jumped into the cab and straightened his hi-vis jacket, “Sorry Boss, me alarm never went off. Me Mam just called me in time.”

Jim glanced across at his companion and smiled, “So, young stud, what were you doing this weekend?”

He gave Aaron a sly wink. “You were spotted coming out of Big Bella’s house, Sunday morning, clutching an overnight case.”

Aaron scratched his head. “Oh yeah, go on then, who saw me?”

Jim, was now grinning broadly, “My missus, she was coming home from her night shift. She was on the number 12.”

"She saw you leave."

Aaron rubbed his hands together. “It’s not what you think, Jim.” He hesitated. “Oh, I might as well tell you, but promise me you won’t tell the other lads, OK?” Jim nodded, “Aaron boy your sordid secrets are safe with me, so go on then, spill.”

“She’s teaching me to play the piano. OK, have a good laugh, the bag is what I keep my music in.”

Jim’s shoulders shook. “The ‘kin piano! Hark at Elton here, you’ll be wearing sequin suits next.”

………..

Aaron tapped lightly on the front door. It immediately opened. A soft voice invited him in.

Aaron stood firm and whispered, “I can’t, we’ve been rumbled, I’m having it ripped out of me all day. I’ve got to stop.”

The voice replied, “Don’t be such a wimp, and get yourself in here.” The voice lowered, “I’ve run us a nice hot bath …… and I’ve bought that outfit you like!”

Aaron glanced furtively over his shoulder and slid in.

The Frog Walker by Cindy Pereira

 Cindy has opted-out of online publication.

But We Forgot About The Ropes by Steve Goodlad

“She saw you leave”

“How? I wasn’t even here. I was in Blackpool with my mates.”

“I know, you said. Your “alibi’s”. You told the police that. But Ali saw you that night.”

“She’s only a kid, she’s never liked me.”

Just then, Ali stepped out of the shadows and stood next to me. We’d got our Uncle just where we wanted him. He’d been hanging around Mum way too much lately since Dad died.

But he’d seen a chance to break the ice with her kids whilst she was at work. He said he’d take us out in the car.

Dad used to tinker with that car in the garage and I loved the smell of oil and exhaust. Traces of carbon monoxide mingled with the must of old leather, until the coroner told us that in an enclosed space, a mix of booze and sleeping pills was the suicide of choice for those hell-bent on finding an easy way out.

Later, the smell I came to hate the most was the fake tan that Uncle Tony wore; a more frequent presence; “providing comfort for your Mum.”

We never believed the coroner, because Ali had said she had seen Uncle Tony closing the garage door. The engine must still have been running then. She was not a credible witness apparently.

At McDonalds it had been easy to put sleeping tablets and whisky in his coke whilst he went to the toilet. He was yawning on the way home and the car wandered, but we made it home.

I opened the garage door and he drove in.

We tied him to the driver’s seat. We left what remained of the whisky and tablets on the passenger seat. Ali turned on the engine. We left and I closed the garage door.

Out of the Question by David Silver

"Who broke it?"

"Broke what?" queried Reg.

"The silence," said our quiz team captain Roger. "Who broke the silence by answering that

final contest question with a typically daft answer?"

"That was you, Roger," said Reg.

"I know it was me," snapped Roger. "All I'm saying is that we should all keep our mouths

shut from now on instead of compounding our ruinous reputation."

Roger was right in a way. Our team were a laughing stock in the quiz league. We would

possibly have earned a smidgen of respect by maintaining a dignified silence. But everything

had gone wrong from the start.

Whatever the subject, the lads invariably gave lousy answers. Not only that, the wrong

responses were cloaked in a mantle of stupidity.

Our replies to questions were forged in the fires of foolishness and hammered into poor

shape on the anvil of ineptitude.

Word soon got round about our awfulness. Our team -- Roger, Reg, Ziggy and me -- built up

a following of sadistic supporters who loved nothing more than to guffaw at our lamentable

efforts until their thighs became sore from constant slapping.

Ours was no longer just a poor quiz team. We had assumed the dubious status of a

hopeless cabaret act -- a quartet of comedians whose knowledge of general knowledge was

nil.

The decision had to be made. The team would disband at the season's end. And so it came

to pass. We went our separate ways and never saw each other again. Which is not quite

true. I saw our former captain Roger on a television quiz show.

He had to correctly answer his first question to stay in the contest. Question: What is the

world's largest mammal? Answer: A pregnant elephant.

Roger and out.

The Ghosts of Durley Hall by Jeff Jones

“Why couldn’t we all go for a nice meal like normal people do to celebrate their birthday? I mean, who throws a séance at a supposedly haunted house for a birthday treat? No wonder she hasn’t got many friends.”

“Firstly, Peter, Kate is normal, so don’t ever say that again. So she’s a little ‘out there’, so what? You know she’s always been into this paranormal stuff. It’s our job as her friends to support her in however she chooses to celebrate her birthday,” admonished Susan.

“And why couldn’t we have carried out this farce in town?”

“Because you don’t tend to get many haunted mansions in the town centre.”

“Waste of time, that’s what it is.”

“Give it a rest, Pete. Look, we’re here now.”

Susan stopped the car at the bottom of a long straight driveway. The rusty iron gates were open and a weathered sign saying ‘Welcome to Durley Hall’ hung above the entrance. The mansion was just about visible at the end of the tree lined drive, but no lights appeared to be on.

“Well it certainly looks the part,” said Lisa.

“It’s just a dark and neglected building, nothing more,” scoffed Peter.

The car crunched its way up the shingle drive and pulled up outside the mansion next to two other cars.

“Looks like we’re last,” said Steve.

The four friends hurried into the building through the already open front door, shaking the rain off their coats as they entered.

“Hi, guys, thanks so much for coming. I’m so excited. I’ve not met her before, but the medium I’ve hired is meant to be superb,” said Kate as she hugged each of her friends.

“Honestly, Kate, when you said bring your own spirits, I didn’t think you had this sort of party in mind,” quipped Peter. Everyone laughed.

“Come through all of you, everyone’s here now, we can get started,” said Kate.

They followed Kate into another room where they were greeted by three more friends. The room was small and smelled musty. Here and there old, discoloured wallpaper clung tentatively to the damp walls. The room’s solitary window was shuttered and the only light in the room emanated from three candles sat on a large, round, felt-covered table in the centre of the room. Only one of the seats was occupied and this was by a large woman in drab-coloured clothes, who seemed to be watching the friends with a bemused look. Her grey hair was flattened and pulled back into a tight bun giving her a stern countenance.

“Everyone, this is Edna Lucas. She is one of the most famous mediums in the country,” announced Kate proudly. “Please all take a seat.”

“Looks more like an extra-large to me,” Peter whispered to Steve.

Steve had to suppress a laugh, but Susan, who had also heard it, gave Peter an embarrassed dig in the ribs. The medium glanced at Peter, but if she was offended, her face didn’t betray the fact.

“Welcome everyone,” said Edna. “I know that some of you are sceptical about what we hope to achieve here tonight, but if we are to do this, I must insist that you all do exactly as I say. Are you all in agreement?”

Everyone voiced or nodded their agreement. Peter just raised his eyes to the ceiling. When he looked at Edna again, she was staring at him, a smirk tugging at the corners of her mouth.

“Good, then let us begin. Who are we trying to contact tonight; a loved one?” asked Edna.

“I... we'd... like to contact the original occupants of this house, the Durleys. It is said they died in a fire here some years ago. People say that the Durleys have never left here such was their love for the place,” said Kate enthusiastically.

“I have heard this too. Very well, please all join hands and close your eyes and I will try and summon their spirits forth.”

“Not a ghost of a chance,” whispered Peter.

Susan kicked him under the table before shutting her eyes. Peter rubbed his injured leg and saw that Edna was smirking at him again.

“You must remain silent,” said Edna.

Peter joined hands with Susan and Steve and closed his eyes while Edna began to chant. After a couple of minutes, Edna gasped and slumped forward in her chair. Everyone had opened their eyes by now and some were looking at Edna with real concern. Peter was smiling and shaking his head at the performance.

Suddenly Edna shot bolt upright and they all saw that her eyes had taken on a vacant, distant look. “Someone’s here,” she whispered.

“I hope it’s the pizza guy,” muttered Peter.

Some of the friends started to nervously glance around the room. Peter continued to watch Edna. Kate was smiling, enjoying every minute.

“Who are you?” asked Edna. “Make yourself known to us.”

There was no reply, but a sudden blast of cold air shot through the room, causing the candles to flicker and the friends to gasp involuntarily.

“Who are you?”

The unmistakable sound of someone’s footsteps walking across floorboards in the room directly above them broke the eerie silence. Two or three of the guests suddenly looked very anxious and pale, a look that was enhanced by the guttering candlelight. To Peter it was obvious that this fraud of a woman had an accomplice stomping around upstairs and he considered putting an end to this charade by running upstairs and grabbing the perpetrator. Then he thought about Kate and one look at her face told him that she was loving the whole experience and he suddenly didn’t have the heart to spoil her evening; after all, she had paid for this.

The sound of a door being slammed upstairs followed by heavy footsteps as they descended the stairs, drew Peter from his thoughts. Rachel let out a small cry and Peter felt Susan grasp his hand that much tighter. Whoever this accomplice was, they were obviously confident that nobody was going to get up and challenge them and would remain seated as instructed by Edna.

Behind him, Peter heard the door to their room slowly open, accompanied by the obligatory squeal of rusty hinges and he smiled to himself at the cliché. Rachel, who was sat opposite him facing the door, screamed and made to get up, but Edna forcefully told her to remain seated.

By the time everyone had turned to face the door it was wide open, but nobody had entered, nor could anyone be seen in the hallway beyond. Then, without anybody touching it, the door slammed shut again, making Susan jump. Her hand was really crushing Peter’s fingers now.

“Who are you?” Edna demanded.

For a moment nothing happened and then the table started to shake violently. A nice trick, thought Peter, and he was still thinking that when his chair was suddenly tipped halfway back and held there for a few moments. Shocked and confused, Peter swore he could hear rasping breaths behind him and detect the faint aroma of burning.

His friends were staring open-mouthed at the way his chair was precariously balanced on two legs, when suddenly it righted itself causing Peter to tip forward and nearly hit his head on the table. The door was open again.

Peter swallowed hard and looked at the people around him, his confidence in the fraud wavering. Even Kate looked worried. Only Edna looked unperturbed. Peter was about to say something when they heard the front door open and shut.

Despite Edna’s plea for everyone to remain seated, they all leapt up to investigate, some entering the hallway whilst others stood in the room’s doorway. Standing in the hall shaking the rain from her umbrella, was a woman in her early sixties with grey hair and a friendly face. She looked shocked to see them all staring at her.

“Hello,” she said. “You all look like you’ve just seen a ghost.”

Nobody laughed.

“Sorry, bad jokes are a by-product of the vocation.”

“Sorry, who are you?” asked Kate, annoyed at the intrusion.

“Why I’m Edna, of course, Edna Lucas, the medium. I’m sorry that I’m late, but my wretched car broke down – wish I could have foreseen that.” She smiled at her own joke.

“There must be some mistake, Edna’s in...”

They all turned to look at the woman sat at the table, but the room was empty.

Mary Durley and her husband watched from an upstairs bedroom as the eight young people sped off in their cars, closely followed by the real Edna Lucas.

“That was fun, Charlie.”

“I know, I never tire of it, particularly when there’s a sceptic. Did you see his face? Priceless. We could have had so much more fun if that medium hadn’t shown up.”

“This is our house and always will be,” said Mary. She kissed her husband and hand in hand they disappeared through the bedroom wall.