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.

vampire-experiment-mirrorvampire-experiment-holy-water

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.

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]