A Different Kind of Magic

A Different Kind of Magic

A lovely review for Rise of the Shadow Stealers…

danireadsx

It’s been a while since my last blog post. I assure you, I am not a slow reader but I’m on the run up to graduation which has meant a lot of shopping, pampering and last-minute cocktail-based lunches. So, sorry but here I am! My read over the course of this past week has been, without a shadow of a doubt, the most magical piece of fiction I have read since the last time I browsed the Disneyland travel brochures. Daniel Ingram-Brown’s Rise of the Shadow Stealers has captivated my imagination completely and given me a sense of nostalgia I wasn’t sure I would feel again after the trauma of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. 

As part of The Firebird Chronicles series, Rise of The Shadow Stealers follows the fast-paced story of Fletcher and Scoop. What is so great about these two is the realism that is evoked by…

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We Have Conquered Earth!

We Have Conquered Earth!

Over the past few months I’ve been working with students from Beckfoot Upper Heaton school in Bradford, running creative writing workshops for First Story, a wonderful organisation that places writers in schools to encourage students in creative writing. Today we launched our first anthology of student’s writing. I’m very proud of them – they’ve worked so hard and with such enthusiasm. The finished book looks amazing! A big thanks to Si Smith who illustrated the characters and the front cover.

Here are some pictures and my introduction to the book. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the first things that stood out to me when I started to work with the group from Beckfoot Upper Heaton was the banter, bravado and general good humour of the cohort. This was a group of (mainly) boys who enjoyed the surreal, the bold and the audacious. I think the title of this anthology captures that sense of youthful confidence well. We Have Conquered Earth is not a shy title! It had rivals for the prize – Prepare for Epicness being one of my favourites. I also liked, Do Not Knock, which captured the penchant for horror and the macabre that is sprinkled throughout the book, but also said, ‘Don’t knock us, or our writing!’ In the end, We Have Conquered Earth seemed to best reflect the weird and wonderful characters we had birthed, and the comic-like illustrations Simon Smith created to accompany them. So, I decided to be brave, throw off the straightjacket of subtlety, and jump headlong into this world of superheroes and monsters! I hope you enjoy stepping through the doorway into this strange and remarkable world too!

The anthology is divided into three main sections. To begin with, the focus of our weekly sessions was on the realities of life in Bradford, and reflections on our own identities. These sessions led to the first few pieces of writing, which explore our perceptions of the city and of our own names. I think these works highlight interesting conflicts, best expressed in the lines, ‘Bradford is hardly ever sunny. It is a sunny place.’ The group saw the city as being both, ‘magnificent’ and at the same time, ‘full of thugs’, both ‘The bluest part of the sky,’ and yet, ‘A broken water bottle leaking onto the carpet.’ That sense of polarity was also expressed in the writings about our names, which saw ferocious tigers and gentle sounds expressed in the same few lines. I think the group’s writing captures the reality of life, where good and bad co-exist around, and inside, all of us.

The idea behind the second section of the anthology arose from a project I worked on last year called, Stories from the Forests of Leeds. For that project, we imagined the city as a forest in a fairytale and asked what sort of characters might inhabit it. What tales would emerge from the shadows? In stories, the forest is a place of transformation, it’s where characters go to face their fears, battle monsters, escape as outlaws, or throw off disguises. This was an ideal opportunity to venture into the Forests of Bradford. We started by examining a big map of the city, identifying interesting place names, and then building characters in response to them. The students created flags, adding one sentence character descriptions to them, and then sticking them to the map. I’ve found in both forest projects this process builds a rich city mythology, which can be expanded and explored. In this anthology we introduce you to some of the characters of the Forests of Bradford in a sort of Encyclopaedia of Forest Folk. I’m hugely grateful to illustrator, Simon Smith, who brought these characters to life in his wonderful drawings. Simon took a trip into Bradford City Centre and sketched some of the people he saw there. Each character you see is based on one of those sketches of a real life Bradfordian. I’ve included a couple of these work in progress sketches at the back of the anthology.

The final part of the book is made up of monster stories. These reflect some of the themes in my current Firebird Chronicles book The Nemesis Charm. Throughout our First Story sessions, I’ve read sections of my work and the students have looked at my writing journals. We’ve talked about the process and experience of being an writer. I’ve been encouraged by the enthusiasm of the students to learn more about what it means to be an author and to engage with the writing itself and with the process of creating it. Monsters was a theme that particularly captured the students’ imaginations. Although at first glance, it may look as though these stories are purely fantastical, they do contain kernels of truth and real experience – fears from our own childhoods, the way we react physically and mentally to threat, and little pieces of our own history, like the Star Wars lamp and blue blanket Sahil Hussain mentions in his story I Am The Shadow.

I’m incredibly proud of the effort and enthusiasm with which the students have approached First Story this year. I hope you enjoy the fruits of their labour, and join us as we celebrate the victories of conquering blank pages with new pieces of creation. For WE HAVE CONQUERED EARTH!

 

Knaresborough Wind In The Willows

Knaresborough Wind In The Willows

So here’s something I got up to this summer…

I just created this video (last night) to keep the memories of this extraordinary project alive – let me know what you think!

1 mile. 34 performers. 24 sell-out shows. 8 giant ducks. 6 weasels to avoid. 1 mole. 1 badger. 1 rat. 1 enormous party. And, of course, the one and only Mr Toad!

“A rip-roaring, fun-packed, giant-sized hit” Knaresborough Post
“A spectacular, interactive production” Living North Magazine

See more trailers, readings, interviews and films about my theatre projects here!

Thanks to Rachel Burrows for the footage. For more of her work, and to see a longer video of Wind in the Willows, visit https://vimeo.com/kqrach

The Vampire Experiment: The Man In The Black Coat

The Vampire Experiment: The Man In The Black Coat

This is the final monologue in a series of stories being released as separate blogs. They form an account of an experiment performed at Knaresborough castle for Fright Night, Halloween 2013. Investigators travelled around the castle grounds to discover ghosts, who waited, hungry to tell their stories. As you read the accounts, I invite you to imagine that you are standing where the investigators stood, and having heard the ghostly tales, I challenge you to make the choice each experimenter had to make in light of the evidence given.

Dare you read on? Are you willing to face your fears, your own darkness? Dare you step into the realm of the un-dead and unmask the vampire in our midst?

**Please read the first three accounts before reading this one.**

To read the first account, Steven’s story, click here. To read the second, Elizabeth’s story, click here. And to read the third tale, John Henley’s story, click here.

For this final account, the investigators had to descend stairs into a rocky tunnel that runs beneath the castle grounds. There, they were greeted by a man dressed entirely in black. He gave his account turned away from his guests, his face concealed from their gaze.

***

The Man In The Black Coat

vampire-experiment-ian

So you’ve found me.

Welcome. Please, take a seat. You are my honoured guests.

You’ve been told not to look into my eyes. Perhaps that is good advice, but perhaps you will find it necessary. We shall see.

So, have you guessed who I am – the man in the black coat?

I am a part of you, each of you. The part you can’t see, that you choose not see – that is why I cast no reflection in a mirror.

I am the part of you that cannot, or will not, examine itself – that is why I cannot enter any place of prayer.

I am the part of you that will never transform – that is why I shrink from the image of the cross, that place of death transformed into life.

I am the part of you that will not die – that will feed on the blood of others to remain intact.

I am the part of you that will suck in, consume and destroy, rather than being destroyed myself.

I am the part of you you refuse to acknowledge – a foreigner and a monster.

I am hidden underground in the darkness, for you do not wish to see me – I cannot bear the light.

But from these hidden places I perform works of service for you, and you love me for it. You serve me as your master, although you do not know it. I take your weaknesses and build a wall around you, a wall of protection. For that you should thank me.

Take Elizabeth, brokenhearted – her love taken by war. I believe you’ve been acquainted. I perform a service for her. I take away her pain, remove her grief. She does not have to let go, or move on. I protect her from that. I have become Peter for her. I give her a way out, in exchange for her lifeblood.

Or Steven, caught in the middle of a war between his brother and the woman he loved. Or that is how it seems to him. But I perform him a service. I have stolen his memory, replaced the truth with a lie. For the truth is that his twin and his wife did not hate each other, in fact the opposite is true – they were lovers. It was not an argument he saw in the shadow of the castle, but a kiss. And in that moment his heart was rent in two. I offered to bind it up, to heal his love with anger, to change wine into water, love into hate. I gave him a way out. In exchange, he serves me with his lifeblood.

Or John Henley – poor John Henley – trapped by his own ambition, unable to acknowledge that he cannot unlock all the mysteries of the universe, that he is not God. I perform a service for him. I provide the room in which he is trapped, and quiet the part of him that knows he needs to escape. I give him a way out of facing truth. In exchange, he serves me with his lifeblood.

And what about you, my friend? What service can I perform for you?

I think, perhaps you have a choice to make. Do you look me in the eye, allow the scales to fall away? Or are you here to kill me? The choice is yours. I will not aid you and I will not hinder you.

In front of you are two objects. You must choose one of them. One will kill me. The other will show you my face.

Choose one now and we will discover the end of this story.

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The Vampire Experiment: John Henley

The Vampire Experiment: John Henley

This is the third in a series of monologues being released as separate blogs. They form an account of an experiment performed at Knaresborough castle for Fright Night, Halloween 2013. Investigators travelled around the castle grounds to discover ghosts, who waited, hungry to tell their stories. As you read the accounts, I invite you to imagine that you are standing where the investigators stood, and having heard the ghostly tales, I challenge you to make the choice each experimenter had to make in light of the evidence given.

Dare you read on? Are you willing to face your fears, your own darkness? Dare you step into the realm of the un-dead and unmask the vampire in our midst?

To read the first account, Steven’s story, click here. To read the second, Elizabeth’s story, click here.

The third account, John Henley’s story, was written in collaboration with Nigel Morgan, the performer who called him from the shadows.

***

John Henley

vampire-experiment-nigel

Who’s that? Who’s there? Be quiet! I have work to do, I’ve told you before, you will not distract me!

Keep away from my files! Missing persons – six of them – all their details here. I have scanned them, searched them, scoured these papers with a fine-toothed comb. I have examined them until my eyes are sore and my head pulses with their mysteries. They have become my world, my obsession. Elizabeth. Heartbroken. Lost her sweetheart to war. Steven. Betrayed by his brother. Forsaken by his wife. Edward. Andrew. Ivy. And John – John Henley. I see their lives when I close my eyes. I hear their voices in the night.

And you have come here to persuade me to leave? To break out of this cage? Never! I will not leave this place until I have discovered the secret of these disappearances. I will not be defeated!

When I arrived, I had just returned from Africa. An investigator – the best – employed by the government to delve into mysteries. And I never failed. I never fail. I was posted here to investigate a series of unexplained missing persons. Placed in this castle accommodation, close to the disappearances, I was shown to my room and locked inside. I have been here ever since, trying to untangle this riddle, but it eludes me. It is as if I am blind to something that is right in front of me, something that is staring me in the face.

There is no need for that lock on the door. I stay willingly, of my own accord! I am John Henley and I will not give up on this work! I will make sense of it in the end.

You do not need to lock me in! I will not leave this room, not until the task is accomplished!

But you have heard of my episodes, haven’t you? I can see it in your eyes. It is true that every day, just before sunset, I am gripped by the most ferocious rage, which I cannot explain, rage and then depression. It seizes me by the throat and throws me into a fit of violence and cursing. I hurl myself about this room, as if I am a rat, trapped in a cage. I bang on the door, calling to be let out, to be released from this cell. And then I sink into the deepest of melancholies. It consumes me from the inside. I am without light. In this state of delirium, the days and the nights merge into one. The noises in the castle mock me – footsteps and murmured voices. And the music. it will not stop! I do not understand where it comes from – the castle is a ruin. When I arrived it was void of life. The steward who showed me to my room – the man in the black coat – he informed me that there were, from time to time, other guests, but I have not met any, and would not wish to socialise anyway, not until my work is complete. You must believe me!

After the depression, he comes again – the steward. He comes to my room to dine, and drains me of the anger and melancholy that flows in my blood. When I have been relieved of these afflictions and restored again to my rational self, I am able to continue with my work.

That’s what I’m doing now, can’t you see? I will not be disturbed or distracted. These people need my help and I will solve their mysteries – Elizabeth, Steven, Edward, Andrew, Ivy and John – John Henley. Missing. Presumed dead.

Now get out and leave me to my work! The steward will be here soon and he must not find you here.

***

Make sure you hear the next fragment of evidence by following this blog. After the account, you must make your choice.

The Vampire Experiment: Elizabeth’s Story

The Vampire Experiment: Elizabeth’s Story

This is the second in a series of monologues being released as separate blogs. They form an account of an experiment performed at Knaresborough castle for Fright Night, Halloween 2013. Investigators travelled around the castle grounds to discover ghosts, who waited, hungry to tell their stories. As you read the accounts, I invite you to imagine that you are standing where the investigators stood, and having heard the ghostly tales, I challenge you to make the choice each experimenter had to make in light of the evidence given.

Dare you read on? Are you willing to face your fears, your own darkness? Dare you step into the realm of the un-dead and unmask the vampire in our midst?

To read the first account, Steven’s story, click here.

The second account, Elizabeth’s story, was written in collaboration with Sian Pearce, the performer who called her from the shadows.

***

Elizabeth

vampire-sian-for-blog

Have you seen him? My love? He was here. I saw him!

Don’t look at me like that. Don’t you pity me!

You think he’s dead too, don’t you? You vipers! You snakes! They’ve told you he’s dead, haven’t they? Well he’s not. My Peter is alive, alive I tell you. I’ve seen him. I’ve see him in the market square. I’ve seen him walking past Blind Jacks. I see him here, in the castle. He is alive.

You don’t even know him, do you? You don’t even remember what he looked like? Here…

old-soldierHe was my childhood sweetheart. He was fourteen, I was twelve. We were engaged when I was sixteen. But then the war came and tore out my heart, shattered my soul, ripped us apart. He left me – he was ‘called up’. I wrote every day, every day. We kept our love strong. I still have the ink marks on my hand!

And then, one dark day, a man in a black coat came – a man from the government, with eyes that bore into my soul. Usually, the names of the dead are just pinned to the board in the market square. But this man in his black coat, said he had been sent because Peter was special. It was at the Somme, he said, that they found it – Peter’s helmet covered with blood. I saw his mouth curl into a smile as he said the word – blood. But there was no body.

‘What should I do?’ I wailed. ‘My life is over!’

And then he told me. Meet him here every day at sunset, in the place where the memorial now stands, and he would keep Peter alive.

And so here I am. I talk to him every day – to that black coat – to Peter. I tell him about our children and what they’re doing at school. I tell him about our house and what the neighbours have said. I pour out my blood every evening as I speak. But Peter feeds on it, and he stays alive.

You don’t think I have children, do you? I can see it in your eyes. You think I’m insane. Well maybe I am, but I will not let him die! I would give every ounce of blood gladly to keep him alive. I would remain a spectre, trapped in this very spot forever, rather than let him go.

He’s here, I can feel him – somewhere, hidden. Go, find him and you will see! But do not look into his eyes, lest you become like me.

***

Make sure you hear the next fragment of evidence by following this blog. The next two accounts will be released in the coming days, and then you must make your choice.

The Vampire Experiment: Steven’s Story

The Vampire Experiment: Steven’s Story

The following series of monologues, released as separate blogs over the coming days, form an account of an experiment performed at Knaresborough castle for Fright Night, Halloween 2013. Investigators travelled around the castle grounds to discover ghosts, who waited, hungry to tell their stories. As you read the accounts, I invite you to imagine that you are standing where the investigators stood, and having heard the ghostly tales, I challenge you to make the choice each experimenter had to make, in light of the horrible evidence given.

Dare you read on? Are you willing to face your fears, your own darkness? Dare you step into the realm of the un-dead and unmask the vampire in our midst?

The first of the accounts, Steven’s story, was written in collaboration with John Pearce, the performer who called him from the shadows.

***

Steven

vampire-john-for-blog

Can you feel it? Spilling out of the gorge, flowing out from that wound in the ground? The anger? The rage?

It was right here that it happened, right here where my world came to an end, as they stood looking out across the river – my twin brother, Simon, and my wife, Clara.

Simon and I were as close as two people could be – one soul in two bodies they used to say. And I adored Clara, loved her with all my heart. She loved me back with reckless abandon.

But Simon and Clara loathed each other. My brother saw a whore who was stealing half his life. My Clara saw a false version of me, a man who used my face but did not have my heart.

They fought daily, and each time they did, it became more vicious, more heartfelt. They would tear into each other, leaving me to try and maintain some semblance of civility, in public at least. But one day they went too far. It happened right here in front of the castle. They were screaming at each other and I, as ever, sat helplessly watching. One word from me, and I would be seen as choosing sides, and I simply could not. Before I knew what had happened, my wife had struck my twin across the face. I watched my brother flush with rage and then strike her back in exactly the same fashion.

My world collapsed.

They had finally done it. They each turned to me and told me this was an end. I could continue to have a wife or a brother, but I could not have both.

That rage remains here to this very day. Can you feel it, embedded in the very ground?

But there’s a question in your minds, isn’t there? There’s something missing. A detail, any detail. What led to her striking him such? What were they arguing about that day?

I have racked my brains, searched the farthest reaches of my consciousness, and the fact is, I cannot tell you. Where there should be a memory of words spoken in anger, of accusations yelled, there is nothing, just blackness. It feels as though part of my mind has been cut away and in its place, all that is left is rage – a rage that will not leave me in peace. It follows me wherever I go. I curse the very sun for not being as black as my mood or as dark as my soul.

But in that blackness, there is an image that haunts me. I am stood right here where the catastrophe happened. There is a man. He is wearing a black coat. He moves towards me as quick as lightning, and as he does, it is as if the gorge itself has opened and blood flows through it, as though the valley were an artery. I feel my heart crack with pain and then the rage overwhelms me. It burns my veins. I see her strike him, and he strikes her back.

What a wretched man I am! I wish I could throw myself into the gorge and end my pain.

He is here somewhere; I know it – the man in the black coat. He waits for me. I wouldn’t stay here a moment longer. The ground is cursed! Be gone! Be gone!

***

Follow my blog to make sure you hear the next fragment of evidence. The next three accounts will be released in the coming days, and then you must make your choice.