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.

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Page to Stage: Adapting a Book into a Play (Part 2)

Page to Stage: Adapting a Book into a Play (Part 2)

The first stages of bringing my book, Rise of the Shadow Stealers, to the stage involved discussing the themes, simplifying the complexity of the book, writing, and re-writing. In this blog, I’ll talk about raising funds, planning, finding the team and starting rehearsals. In case you missed the first part of this post, you can read it here.

Bringing the Team Together

A play can’t be performed without people to create it, so we needed to bring together a dedicated team. I took on the role of director, with theatre company co-director Lynsey Jones being one of the actors. The play is a three hander, so we needed to recruit two more actors. We were really pleased when Tom Jackson and John Holden-White joined the team. We also took on a producer to help with funding and admin. During this time, we spoke to a number of other artists, asking them to become part of the team once the full amount of funding had been secured. You can begin to form relationships and build the team even while in the process of fundraising is in progress, in fact funders will be more likely to take the project seriously if they can see there is a good team willing to be involved. We needed a stage manager, a designer for set and costumes, someone to help us with puppetry, and an potentially an animator. Once we had our team in place, it was time to begin the planning process and production meetings.

Around this stage, we also began fundraising too. Nothing can go ahead without the funding, so it’s important to gather enough money to make the project possible (an ongoing challenge!). We’re so grateful to Greenbelt and Seedbed Trust for funding the first phase of the project. In a project like this, applying for funds has its ups and downs. Don’t let failed applications get you down, you have to adjust and troubleshoot. If things don’t go to plan straight away, don’t get disheartened – try again!

Planning and Rehearsals

In these meetings we plotted out the rehearsal process. We planned for the initial stage of rehearsals (the ‘research and development’ phase) to start this autumn. The aim of the first phase is to get the actors in a room and begin to build a ‘shared language’ of movement, an understanding of the themes, and to start to build a performance style together. Most importantly, it’s time to play and get to know each other. Our aim was to produce a fifteen-minute segment of the play to show at the Leeds Big Bookend Festival’s Children’s Day, in November. This will be followed by a workshop where we can get some feedback from the children. This stage of ‘market research’, finding out what the audience really think of the play, is so vital – it tells you what you’re done right and what you may need to improve on.

We’ve just completed this initial period of rehearsals, and our fifteen minutes of performance is ready to be shown! We had six days of rehearsal, three at Harrogate Theatre and three at The Carriageworks in Leeds. It’s great having the support of established venues (again, it helps with funding) and asking for rehearsal space is a good way for venues to support the project in-kind.

We started the first rehearsal by having food on a picnic blanket, while discussing the story and its themes. In the book, Fletcher and Scoop travel to a banquet, so I wanted our first meeting to reflect that. Food is always a good accompaniment to conversation and it was a relaxed way to begin the process and get to know one another. We then picked up on the theme of story threads, playing with various workshop exercises centred around this image. We developed the idea that the Storyteller could pull imaginary threads attached to the characters and make things happen, as if they were human puppets. We worked on some performance skills, including mime, before moving onto blocking and rehearsing the fifteen minute piece of the script to be shown, using the techniques we’d just practiced. At the end of the rehearsal process we headed out to Leeds Central Library to take some photos of the characters (not in their final costumes, but something we can use for publicity along the way.) The pictures are by Tom Jackson – it’s great when one of your actors is also a professional photographer!

After we’ve performed our fifteen minutes and led our workshop in November, we’re going to have a break from rehearsals and pick up again in spring. During this time our plan is to raise more funds, complete all of the essential admin and focus on the design elements of the production. In spring, we’ll have two weeks of rehearsal to bring the whole thing together, which is going to be intense and fun! Following that the real excitement begins…we’re going on a mini tour with the show, taking it to a variety of venues, including schools, theatres, libraries and community events. With the theme of stories being lost and knotted, before being rediscovered and untangled at the heart of the production, we’d like to make a link to issues around adoption and fostering, so we’ll consider working with adoption agencies too as part of the mini-tour. Once we officially know what works in terms of audience and performance space, we’ll aim to take the show on the road for a full tour in autumn 2017!

Why not consider it yourself?

Overall, the process from discussing our ideas to performing the finished production will be about two years. It’s so worth it! I’m loving every moment of the planning and the rehearsals.

The purpose of these posts is for authors who may be interested in developing their books into a stage productions. Don’t be scared to just give it a go and experiment! It’s definitely doable for anyone to put on their own small scale production. Find out about local production companies and approach them with your ideas, and I bet there will be someone who will be keen to work with you.

If you want to know anything else about the process, don’t hesitate to contact me and I’ll be happy to help.

Page to Stage: Adapting a Book into a Play (Part 1)

Page to Stage: Adapting a Book into a Play (Part 1)

Being an author and theatre director, I spend a lot of my time either writing about fictional worlds or bringing them to life on stage. The perfect combination? Adapting my own book into a play! I’m currently in the process of bringing my first book in The Firebird Chronicles series, Rise of the Shadow Stealers, to the stage. In the next two posts I’m going to take you through the whole process, from writing to rehearsing to performing.

The Process of Adapting Rise of the Shadow Stealers

I’m going to start by giving you one of my biggest pieces of advice: take it slowly. There’s not much use in rushing something and getting a bad end result. If this is something you care about and you want it to be the best it can, going slowly and carefully is the best option. It’s actually one of the values of the theatre company that I’m working with on Rise of the Shadow Stealers.

An important thing to remember is that working on a play compared to a book is a very collaborative process. This means that as an author you have to let go more. You have less control than when writing a book. That doesn’t have to be a negative thing, though: to have the chance for others to bring their ideas and vision to your story is an exciting opportunity. You can bounce ideas off each other and you might actually discover new aspects of the story you hadn’t considered before. Make sure you have some fun and enjoy the process!

The whole process of adapting Rise of the Shadow Stealers started about a year ago. The first stage was to put together a rough draft of the script with scriptwriter Paul Birch. Paul and I met with company co-director Lynsey Jones to have a chat about the book and talk through our ideas. Luckily they were both very interested to get started! We set a deadline for the first draft to be completed and Paul went away and wrote it. It took a couple of months to get the first draft back (remember, don’t rush!), and then we got together again to discuss it and make notes about what to include in the second draft.

Challenges and Decisions

More often than not, books are complicated. Whereas plays are often based in one or two locations, a book has the ability to travel to various times and places. That’s the case with Rise of the Shadow Stealers. It switches between different scenes, times and even worlds, which is a challenge when adapting it for the stage.

Because of that, the first job was to find the story’s simplicity; a through line for audiences to follow. When performing for children it’s important that the themes be apparent from the start. We decided that the main theme to draw out was the search for home, for a place of belonging: through the story, the main characters, Fletcher and Scoop have to find their home, their memories, their family and where they came from. We had to bear in mind we were making this play for kids, so the focus needed to be something they would be interested in.

The second challenge was to think of imaginative ways we could visualise the world the Firebird Chronicles on stage. Could we use puppetry? Show pieces of film or animation on a screen? These were all possibilities to explore, ways to bring our story to life. We also chose a main symbol to express the theme – that of ‘story threads’: Fletcher and Scoop following the threads of their stories and having to untangle them in the places where they’ve become knotted and tied.

One big challenge when bringing a book to the stage can be the number of characters in the story. Throughout the whole process you have to consider practical things like money and space – generally, more actors equals more money. Introducing a new character in a book is free and can be done as often as you like, but the reality is different when casting for performance. So, we had to get creative. Can actors play multiple characters? It happens all the time on stage. Take Peter Pan for example – often the same person will play both Mr Darling and Captain Hook, because they’re never on stage at the same time. We decided that the actor playing the Storyteller would play multiple characters, and that Knot and Grizelda would be large puppets, voiced and manipulated by Fletcher and Scoop.

The Second Draft

When Paul came back with the first draft we realised the story still needed to be simplified. As the author of the book this often means it’s your job to help make the big decisions about the plot: what to cut and what to keep. I made the difficult decision to cut Libby, a girl living in Leeds. The story switches between the fantasy world of Fullstop Island and our world. It became clear that this was too complex to portray successfully on stage and so Libby and our world had to go!

We wanted the whole piece to be about an hour long so cutting sections of the book was essential. Again, this isn’t a negative thing. It means that when the audience sees the play, and then hopefully decides to read the book, they get something extra. The book provides them with more depth and further insights into their favourite characters and places.

After chatting about the first draft and giving our feedback, last summer Paul wrote a second draft and the whole process repeated until we had a final draft that we were certain would work well on stage. The next phase was where the fun started: fundraising, casting and finding the right people to bring this story to life.

Read more about the process in Part 2.

Writing Tips: Where to Start

Writing Tips: Where to Start

When writing a novel, every author has their own unique writing process. Some may write an entire novel from beginning to end; others might plot out the scenes separately and piece them together. In this post I’m going to explain my writing process and how I plot my novels.

Where to Start

In my writing process, I do often tend to start at the beginning and work through. I know this is probably different to a lot of writers, who may start with a section or scene they’re particularly drawn to at that time and not worry about where it comes in the plot. But I find it helpful to work through in the right order. Although, having said that, once I start writing, the order rarely stays exactly as planned. I’ve found that the start, in particular, often changes. I start with one chapter that I think is the start but then end up moving it to the middle and finding a different point to jump into the story. So, yes, I start at the start, but then often I move that to a different place and find an alternative starting point.

I tend to have a rough plan, some anchor points, and then make a start with the writing. Often I only work out the shape the plot needs to take through the process of writing itself. I can have a plot idea and think it’s really good, but as I start to write it, I realise it doesn’t work or that it needs an extra layer, twist or element of excitement. When I start to write, I also realise that there are questions I haven’t answered or places where the plot is only half-formed, so you then go through a process of plotting – writing – re-plotting – writing etc. That’s not to say don’t plot, but plots are only good as far as they go. I think you need to be willing to adapt and change. Other writers might disagree, though – you have to find your own method and way of writing.

Plotting

The first thing to do is to ask yourself a lot of questions. Who are the characters? Where do they live? What is the world like? What time do they live in? If you’re writing a sequel, you need to recap what happened previously. Where did the last book finish and when will the next one pick up? Will minor characters in the previous story have a more major role in this one? Once you’ve answered all of the questions you can think of, you can start creating a skeleton of your story.

Then you can write out a brief overview. Focus on the main plot points and don’t get distracted by too many minor details. Go chapter by chapter, section by section. One great way might be to write down all of the possible plot points on separate pieces of paper and spread them out. This way you can play with the structure and order of events. Write just a couple of pages, and this will bring up more questions for you to answer. The process repeats until you have a full story plotted out and ready to pad out with details!

I’ve written stories that jump between different plots or different worlds (not necessarily times). Sometimes it’s worth reading a specific element or plot as a whole, even if you’re going to cut it up and intersperse it with other elements in the final telling. Other than that, I think it’s just about making good notes. When I’m plotting I might have the timelines of the different plots next to each other so I can see how they fit together, but still write separate plot lines for each element so that I can follow each one through and see how it works. So, I think planning is particularly important with that sort of story. As I said before, you then need to be willing to go back and re-plan at various points later in the process.

Below are a few images of pages in my own notebook that I use to plan The Firebird Chronicles. Click the thumbnails to see the full size images.

plotting_picture_3     plotting_picture_2     plotting_picture_1

Word Counts and Targets

In terms of word counts and targets, I tend to write until the story is finished. I think stories find their own length, depending on what’s needed to tell the story. Having said that, I do tend to try and keep chapters fairly short as I know that I like places to pause when I’m reading. So I have cut some chapters in two if they’ve been too long. I think it’s better to find ways of structuring the story well rather than compromising length in terms of how it’s told as a whole. Obviously, with some stories (for instance if you’re entering them into a competition) there might be a word limit to stick to, so watch out for that. Also, don’t use what I’ve said as an excuse to allow a story to be ‘flabby’ – try and edit it well, which often means cutting from the original draft to make sure the story is moving. But if it’s paced well, let it find its natural length.

Do I write every single day?

The simple answer is no, in contrast to conventional wisdom, I don’t. I think everyone needs to find a rhythm or pattern of writing that works for them. I tend to write in chunks, scheduling a day or a number of days to focus on writing. On those days, I try to forget everything else – emails and admin can wait. For me, writing is seasonal. There are times when I’m focused on marketing, workshops, school visits or theatre productions when I step back from writing for a while, and other times when I clear my diary (as much as is possible) and let writing take centre stage. It’s quite fun trying to work out what season I’m in and learning to work in the flow of that time. Often, if I’m stuck, it’s because I’m trying to do the wrong thing at the wrong time.


I hope this shows you that not every author follows the same rhythm when writing a novel. Don’t be scared to experiment with your writing process and your methods of plotting. If you’re unsure where to start, try various ways of organising your time and your writing and pretty soon you’ll find what works for you!

How do you work when writing? Do you use a different process when writing or is yours similar to mine? Let me know!

 

Image Credit: Ivan Kruk [Adobe Stock]

‘The Nemesis Charm’, by Daniel Ingram-Brown

“I haven’t wanted to enter another world so much since I first read Harry Potter.” 5 stars…

My Little Library in the Attic

9781785352850

I received a free copy of this book from the author in return for an honest, unbiased review. For your chance to win a signed copy of the book, head to my twitter @myatticlibrary, and keep an eye out for a Q&A with the author soon. 

About the book: 

They say only the dead can cross a Threshold, the dead and those who have faced a Nemesis Charm.

When Apprentice Adventurers, Fletcher and Scoop, discover their mother has fallen under the curse of a strange sickness, they prepare to sail for its source, a Threshold, a doorway to the world beyond the Un-Crossable Boundary.

But they are not the only ones seeking to cross the Threshold. Their old enemy, Grizelda, has heard that beyond the Boundary lives a woman with the same power as the Storyteller. With the help of a monster made with an undead heart, she plans to cross…

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