Death in the Deep

After finally getting over the hazy funk of completing The Suffering, it was time for me to start submitting short stories again. I was over the moon when my first 2022 submission was accepted by Dead Sea Press, and was published last week in the third volume of The Dead Seas series.

This publication is awesome because, not only is it crammed full of fantastic maritime horror fiction, it also raises money for The Shark Trust. I’ve always loved sharks, and so it’s a cause that is really close to my heart. It has made the publication even more special.

One of the first stories I ever had published was in a charity book called Writers for Animals, and my tale was about a little girl trying to help a Moon Bear to escape the bile trade. Even though that was years ago now (before I had my pen name and exclusively started writing horror), there is something very special about it. Being published is the greatest feeling in the world, but if you can raise money for a good cause while you’re doing it, it’s even better.

So, please head on over to Dead Sea Press and pick up your copy of Death in the Deep. You can get the Kindle version for peanuts on Amazon (every little bit helps the cause!), or go even further and get the beautiful paperback. If you’re a fan of horror shorts, why not go ahead and grab volumes 1 and 2 while you’re at it! Terror in the Trench and Shadows Beneath the Surface are crammed full of awesome stories to keep you away from the water this summer.

Both me and the sharkies are grateful!

Reigniting the Spark

I used to find motivation pretty easy. All it would take was an interesting story, a mystery, a book with an intriguing character, or a film that I wished I’d written. Lately, whether it’s because of lockdown blues, self-doubt finally taking hold or – dare I even think it – age, I’ve been finding it harder and harder to find that spark again.

The kind of spark that sends you characters when you’re trying to close your eyes at night and leaves your heart racing so fast you’re still awake at 3am thinking up voices, items of clothing, favourite places, and songs for a person who doesn’t even exist.

The thrill that stops you from reading in the middle of a bath because the words on the page have been pushed out by the words forming in your own mind. Where your eyes trace the paragraphs on the book held above the bubbles in front of you, but your mind sees something completely different as your brain replaces that story with your own.

The joy of taking a walk and feeling the heartbeat of a new protagonist forming with every step you take, until you can’t wait to get home and sit at your computer.

I miss that feeling.

The funny thing is, I had it until the moment I finished my last book. Since then, I’ve been in a slump. But maybe this is the universe’s way of telling me, “Don’t you dare start something new until you’ve seen this one through!” Because, now that I’ve finished it, I need convincing that it’s good. And, for someone like me, that doesn’t come from inside. The process of submitting is mentally draining and makes me clamber into my cave before it’s even really begun, which is a feeling that I know many of you share. But this is the brink. This is the truly exciting part. The moment when anything can happen.

So, perhaps the spark is changing for a reason. It’s not the after-effects of lockdown, or the self-doubt taking over. It certainly isn’t age, because…fuck that! The spark can’t be about new projects for a while. It has to be something different. Something that already exists. The sleepless nights can be from wondering whether today’s agent query will be the one that leads to success. The bath time daydreams that take over the book I’m reading can be about signings at a book fair, or the premier when it gets turned into a movie (it’s going to happen – of course it is! I’ve picked out my dress and everything…)

The spark might well be there if I just let it grow for the manuscript I already have, rather than something I’m yet to write. Losing it may be just another form of self-sabotaging procrastination, when really all I need to do is light the match under the next stage of the process. Next time I take a walk, I won’t be thinking about a new protagonist. I’ll be thinking about the ones I already have. I’ll get as excited about you meeting them as I was to get home and write about them when I first started my book all those months ago. And I’ll hurry home to sit at my computer. I’ll hit “submit query”.

And that’s when I’ll feel that spark.

Querying in the ‘Dead Month’

Making mistakes is all part of the process. In every walk of life. And it’s just been brought to my attention that I started querying The Suffering at the worst possible time. In the world of literary agencies, August is dubbed “The Dead Month”. It’s a month where nothing gets picked up. Where the few foolhardy authors who don’t know about this are likely to immediately hit the deleted pile, where their hopeful submission will be lost in the ether.

I didn’t take this into consideration when I sent my query emails to my first three choices in August, but that’s how the chips have fallen. I was so happy to have finally finished the book, I didn’t even stop to consider whether the time of year might be a factor. Was that stupid? Is this something everyone knows, except me?! I mean, when you’re going through the process of writing a manuscript, there are so many industry secrets and hints to learn, some things get left by the wayside. This just happens to be a potential biggie.

But hey, you never know, perhaps one of the agents I submitted to likes to work in August, when it’s quiet? Perhaps it’s a benefit that every other writer except me knows not to query in August, because there’s bound to have been less competition, right? I’ll keep telling myself that to feel better about it.

Plus, I can console myself that perhaps my top choice agents would have loved my submission…if only I’d sent it during a month when they actively review queries. That if I hear nothing back from them it’s simply that it slipped through the August cracks, and isn’t a reflection on how successful The Suffering might be…

I’m smiling as I write this, because it is so typical of how things work out. And I’m constantly trying to put a positive spin on any negatives in the process and prevent my nagging brain from convincing me that this is a dumb endeavour that will get me nowhere. Because that’s not how we roll around here. We have to keep pushing to make our dream a reality.

When people say, “If you don’t believe in yourself, how will anyone else believe in you?” it makes me cringe inside because my internal monologue is a savage. It berates me on the regular, especially when it comes to writing. When we make these stupid mistakes that add extra fuel to the fire of the internal monster inside us, we have to find a way to shake it off and continue. So I’m laughing about it. I fucked up, potentially, but it’s okay.

There are plenty more submissions to come. And hey, it’s September now, you guys! This month, there’s a good chance someone’s actually gonna read it…

Which part isn’t the hard part?!

I haven’t posted on here for almost a year now, a fact that has kind of been weighing on me (and my auntie Elaine, who keeps reminding me – hey Elaine!!). But I completely threw myself into finishing The Suffering ready for querying, so that’s what took up all of my free time. I didn’t have anything else to say. But now the book is complete, the querying has begun, and I can breathe a big sigh of relief at having some time to do other things.

I checked the properties when I finished the wip and couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw I’d spent 2,300+ hours on writing, editing, editing, editing a little more…and just a smidge more editing. It seems like a ridiculous number. A huge mistake. If someone had asked me how long it had taken me to write it I might have shrugged and took a stab, “I dunno…a hundred hours, maybe?” – feeling like an overly-dramatic sensationalist at that.

So this is why I felt like I never had time for other things (or…ahem…people). This is why every time I tried to relax and play games or watch a movie I had an annoying voice in the back of my mind reminding me that I had far more important things that needed to be done. And once I’d finally drawn the line and decided that I had to quit the endless editing process for fear of removing any ounce of my own personal writing style, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off me.

I’ve taken a few of weeks away from writing after sending the book out to my first and second agency choices, and the break has been fun. It’s strange not to have characters and scenes jostling for brain-space at all times of the day. My baths have been spent relaxing in bubbles, not leaping out and pattering wet footprints down the stairs in search of a notebook halfway through when an idea pops into my head. On my walks down the local quay I can now stick a headphone in and listen to music, not having to worry about drowning out a potential plot twist or character arc that may come to mind.

I’m starting to feel the urge to write again, returning to the Calls for Submissions pages and contemplating new horror short anthologies. I’ve missed the rush of writing to a set theme and waiting to hear if my story might just be good enough to make it in. That too went on the back-burner, and for the last year I haven’t submitted a single short. I’m excited to see what’s to come.

But I’m also feeling the anxious little pangs every time I check my writer’s email. The dread of the upcoming rejections by my prospective list of dream agents. It’s part of the process, of course. I don’t think there’s been a writer in history who was snapped up on their first attempt at representation (well, perhaps there have been a lucky few, but I’m positive it’s a rare occurrence).

So, writing the book was hard. Being away from all of my old favourite additional activities, writing-related or otherwise, was a bind. But it’s done with, at least for now. At least until that magical offer of a 3-book deal comes sliding into my emails. Until then, I’m going to enjoy my little blog posts (when I can actually think of something to say!). I’ll get excited about sending out various shorts and writing to set anthology themes in the hope they get accepted.

But, if that deal does come about I’ll be dropping everything again in a heartbeat! Another 2,300 hours to write a sequel – count me in! It’s a crazy dream. It’s almost impossible to find time. It’s ALL the hard part. But it’s worth every second. All 8280000 of them.

5 Things I learned while doing a video reading of my story

It’s not as scary as you think

When I heard that Horrorgasm were calling out for authors to read samples of their work for their Virtual Conference, I felt conflicted. I’ve made 2020 my year of saying yes, meaning I’m trying as hard as I can to stop the nagging voice of doubt in my mind and put myself up for things I would never have done a year ago (skating, anyone?). But did I really have the guts to take a video of myself reading one of my own stories for everyone to see? Added to that, I knew nothing about vlogging, hadn’t edited since uni, and had zero kit. The one thing I’ve learned this year is that I need to commit before I second guess myself, so I immediately checked my savings then went onto Amazon and bought a vlogging kit. It wasn’t massively expensive, and I justified it to myself with the knowledge that I really should set up an author channel to gain more exposure (it’s true, officer!) so I bought the camera stand with built-in mic and LED light in the hope that the Horrorgasm reading wouldn’t be it’s only use.

I picked my outfit, slapped on the make-up, even curled my hair a little bit, just to feel that extra shot of confidence in the arm, and went about my reading. I read it through a few times in my bedroom with my door shut. There was nobody else in the house other than me, but it gave me that false feeling of privacy that made it seem a little less cringe-worthy to hear my pitchy little voice reading my words. After a few read-throughs, during which I isolated the section of the story that would feature according to time-limits and action, I took my little production downstairs to my writing room. I must have read it through at least twenty times. I spent most of the day going over and over my introduction and then the reading. But it did get a little easier. Comparing my first reading to my last is so interesting. My body language has changed. My mouth is less tight-lipped and terrified looking, and my words flow so much more naturally. If you are ever in the position to record a reading of your work, be prepared to read it multiple times – you will get better! And it does get easier, I promise.

YouTube training videos are a Godsend


Like I say, I’d not used an editing suite since uni. You might think having two years of a media studies degree under my belt would be of some benefit, but guys – it was over 15 years ago! Technology has changed A LOT. And, even if it hadn’t, I can’t remember much about my late teens and early twenties, let alone how to use a fucking editing suite. So, I had my video recording. Now I had to make it pretty enough for Horrorgasm to accept it. I hit YouTube like there was no tomorrow. I was on a deadline, and I knew the editing might cause me huge time issues. First thing was first – which editing software should I use? I scoured through a few videos and decided that DaVinci Resolve looked like the best fit for me. I downloaded it onto my laptop, opened it with eager anticipation…and might as well have been looking at the Mars Rover controls. I had no idea where to start, or even how to import my video clips in the first place. Back I went to YouTube. Massive shout-out to Justin Brown, whose comprehensive basics guide was a true lifesaver for me. I followed each step, making notes on the important parts (soon learning that the hot keys don’t work on a laptop but, hey ho, trial and error got me around that, too. All I can say is, thank God Ctrl+Z worked, and I could undo my many, many mistakes as I went along.

I threw in an intro and a final Canva plate to make it look somewhat professional and I suddenly had a half-decent video. Okay, so the intro has an overwhelming amount of zoom-cuts and my colour ‘correcting’ has made my complexion a little Housewives of Beverly Hills. But I had my video! Two days prior I didn’t have a vlog kit, didn’t know if I’d even be able to read my story out loud, and had ZERO clue how to go about an edit. It’s amazing how things go, sometimes!

Reading out loud is an incredible editing tool

So, during my fifteen thousand (possible exaggeration) readings, I started to notice areas of the story that sounded better with a few little tweaks. I started instinctively reading my mental amendments instead of the published text, and I think the story is improved by them.

I kind of wish I’d spotted them before the story was originally submitted and published, but you can’t turn back the clock on things like that. My year of saying yes goes hand in hands with a “No Regrets” mantra, so there is no point wasting that kind of time. But in future, I will be reading my submissions out loud to myself. It really makes a huge difference. No matter how silly you think you’ll sound, find a quiet spot and try it yourself.

It’s almost impossible to hide your natural accent

I had a small experience of this when I posted a short video to my insta account this year. One of my lovely followers in the writing community commented, “Oh, you’re a proper Lancashire lass!” Am I? I thought. In my head, particularly when I’m being recorded for whatever reason, I always thought I was quite well spoken. Reader, I’m deluded! I realised this when I was making the reading recording. I was trying my hardest to dampen down my Lancashire accent for the American audience. I did my best, but there are the odd words where it creeps back in. But hey, that’s me! It’s part of my ‘brand’ as an author, whether I like it or not. I’m not going to take elocution lessons, so I need to just get on with it.

The more you do it, the easier it gets

I cringe, watching it back. Of course I do. Everyone hates the sound of their own voice. Everyone wishes they looked a little different on camera. Everyone wishes they could orate like Lincoln. But the more I did it, the more I stopped worrying about each little step. I managed to step back and look at the whole. And it was great! If I’d stayed focusing on each little thing, I’d never have finished the video at all. And, this weekend, it was screened to an audience of horror loving conference-goers (virtual, naturally, but it still counts!). Because of this, I’ve bitten the bullet and set up my YouTube channel ready for next week, when the conference is over and I can show my family and friends who couldn’t attend. The channel’s built. I have the vlogging equipment. I know how to edit, after my extremely crash course. There’s no stopping me now, I guess.

It’s my year of saying yes, after all.

Dumb things to do during lockdown

I don’t know about you, but lockdown has really made me wish I’d done more with my life. And I’m not talking about writing (it goes without saying – I ALWAYS wish I’d done more there), but dumb little things that have always bugged me. Things that I should have learned when I was a kid, but never got around to doing. Or, more likely, was too self-conscious back then to really stick at it and learn.

It started back in June, when a couple of my friends decided to set health related goals for the month. We pored over running medal sites and signed up to challenges, stuck Yoga with Adriene on three times a week, and happily accepted the 25 press-ups for 25 day Facebook challenges. Then July hit and I chose something a little different…

The Keepie-uppie challenge

I’ve always been jealous of people who can churn out endless keepie-uppies (a quick explanation, in case you need it – keepie-ups is juggling a football with your feet). I was a tom-boy as a kid, but my crippling social embarrassment prevented me from ever learning anything remotely tricky and physical. I always had the mindset that if I couldn’t do it within three tries, I was embarrassing and useless and should forget the whole thing. So, I decided that my July challenge was going to be learn how to keepie-up, finishing the month with masterful round-the-worlds and catching the ball on the back of my neck. Simple, right?

Oh holy fuck, I was so, so wrong. Out of everything I’ve done in the last couple of months – scratch that – my entire life, keepie-uppies are without doubt the hardest; not to mention my August challenge was to learn to skateboard to ollie (more on that later…). I got off to a rough start with the football, I have to say. I ordered a training strap and a ball (allegedly) from Amazon at the start of July. Only, I didn’t read the fine print and all that came was the strap. Pretty useless without a ball, my friends. Then, I had to wait three weeks for the ball to be delivered. And when it arrived it was flat, of course. Guess who didn’t have a pump?! So, as you can see, the universe did not want me to learn how to juggle a football in July 2020. But that didn’t matter, did it? Surely I only needed a week of practice to get a stupid ball to pop from one foot to the other? My God. Long story short, it’s the end of August, so I’ve been practising hard for about five weeks now. This week I managed to juggle three in a row, and have managed to go from foot to foot a handful of times. It took me two weeks to manage to get my foot in the right position so the ball didn’t just trickle away. In my defence, I only have size 3 feet, so I’m sure that doesn’t help, right? Anyway, when it came time to announce August goals I was feeling pretty disheartened. But, in the spirit of overcoming childhood insecurities and learning the things I’d always wanted to pick up as a kid, I set my challenge and bought my gear…

Skate to ollie

Okay, so this was ambitious. But, I’ve always loved skateboarding. I’ve played hours of the Tony Hawk games, watched endless X-Games and Tampa Pro clips, and daydreamed about skating down the boardwalk at Venice Beach. I should have picked up a board as a kid and just gone for it, but again my stupid brain decided falling was too embarrassing and so I never stuck with it. August came and I ordered my pads and helmet. Got a nifty little TH Pro board and some new DC skate shoes. I was ready.

You know what, it’s been going pretty well! I managed to get the basic skate down quicker than I expected, and moved on to kickturns. That ended pretty messily when I didn’t realise my elbow pad had ridden up, as you can see in the pic, but hey – it’s all part of the skate process. Last week we went out and learned ollies in the grass and a slow-mo video proved that I managed to lift all four wheels up on my last few ollies. Haven’t taken it to the pavement yet, and I’m not exactly hurtling into the SLS 9 club, but I’ve got the steps down at least. So yeah, for me, skateboarding is easier than juggling a frickin’ football. Slightly more bloody and painful, but hey, it goes with the territory.

A qualification in…monsters?!

That’s right, my friends. I now have a Cryptozoology Diploma. I have loved all things monster since I was a kid. I’ve trekked to Loch Ness (a twelve-hour round trip on a raging hangover), I’ve got Bob Gimlin’s autograph, I have a wall of sea monster maps and monster pics, and shelves full of books on the subject. And now, bringing my level of nerd to soaring heights, I have my diploma.

It’s not that I believe that all monsters are real. I get the science, and I know the chances are pretty slim. I think the reason I love the idea of real monsters so much is that it gives me that rush that I had as a kid, thinking about Santa coming. I remember staring out of my bedroom window, watching the rooftops for reindeer and wishing harder than I’ve ever wished for anything that I could see him. Sadly, I didn’t get that feeling for long – I found out about Santa on Christmas day when I was six years old. (Full disclosure, I snuck a look at the presents my mum was keeping in her wardrobe and when I opened the one I’d looked at on Christmas morning, it was labelled “From Santa”. Talk about instant karma). I think I’ve been chasing the high ever since then. But that is certainly another dumb thing I’ve done in lockdown. It makes me laugh just looking at it. But, it’s mine and I stand by it.

Other than that, my goals have been writing related, so they can’t really fall into the ‘dumb’ category. I’ve finished the first draft of The Suffering, and started first edit (bring alcohol). I recorded a reading of one of my stories for the Horrorgasm Convention, so I’m hoping that will get accepted and go live in October. Now that The Suffering first draft is finished as of last week I’ve started sending shorts out again and have already sold to The Dread Machine, so that’s a really nice boost after so long without submitting.

Long story short, I recommend a bit of goal-setting, particularly if it involves learning something you always wanted to know, but never got around to for whatever reason. I guess with learning footy and skate, I’m sticking a big two fingers up at my old insecurities, and proving to myself that I can do it. It’s never too late. It’s almost time to set our September goals. I guess I always wanted to learn a really cool magic trick…what do you think?!

Found Footage Horror Writing

After a crazy few months, I’m finally settling back into my old writing routine, working on getting my horror novel finished and sent out for trad pub later this year. With everything that’s been going on, I did slip into one of those distracted, disinterested phases where I was into pretty much everything but working on my novel.

For example, I completed a Cryptozoology diploma – if you were wondering just how much of a massive geek I really am, that should give you all the information you need, am I right?! While I knew I should have been working on The Suffering, it was kind of fun to step away and shake it off for a few weeks. The only problem with doing that, as most of you writers will know, is dragging yourself back to your original project and hitting the ground running where you veered off course in the first place.

The last few days I’ve returned to one of my all time horror loves – Found Footage movies. Now, hear me out. I know it’s a divisive subject. I know the prospect of watching a shaking, grainy Go-Pro and listening to the person behind the camera panting and screaming while they thrash through forests isn’t everyone’s idea of a great time. But FF movies immerse me in the moment like no Hollywood production ever could. Not even when Patrick Wilson’s on screen (and boy, do I love it when Patrick Wilson’s on screen….but, I digress). I never fall in love with the characters the way I do with FF movies. I never root for them and think of them as buddies I’m tagging along with the way I do with FF.

An example from this week – my all time favourite horror movie, hands down, is Hell House LLC. I just get fireworks of horror-induced joy whenever I watch it and its sequels. I NEED the Hell House sweatshirt that Sara wears in the movie. Clowns don’t usually freak me out, but the clowns in Hell House? Fuck, yeah!! That’s true horror, and I love it so much. It reminds me of why horror has always given me something that no other genre can. A decent horror gives me that crazy, life-affirming confirmation that I’m alive, that life is exciting, and that if I can use that passion in a writing project then that’s exactly what I need to be doing with my life. The director and cast of the first movie posted a Zoom chat on their Facebook page this week and hearing their behind the scenes recollections and discussions about how the movie unfolded through improv and B-roll resonated with me. It made me want to run straight to my laptop and pick up The Suffering again. Because my characters are my cast, and when they run off with their own little camera in my mind and do their own thing, I watch it happen and hope I can type fast enough to keep up. When I’m passionate about the story I’m writing, it feels just like I’m watching a Found Footage movie. And that’s when I get that little horror-induced, chest firework, life-affirming buzz that I’m doing exactly what I need to be doing with my life.

If you haven’t got a clue what I mean by Found Footage, dive right in to Amazon Prime and run it through the search. Hell House LLC is on there, as is Survive the Hollow Shoals, which has jump-scares for days and literally made me throw my phone across the room when I was watching it while wearing headphones. Getting me to jump is no mean feat, I can tell you, so props to Jonathon Klimek for that one.

In other news, we were supposed to be at the Hella Mega Tour this week, watching Green Day, Fall Out Boy, and Weezer performing in the sunshine. I was pretty disappointed that it has obviously been cancelled because of the pandemic, even though drinking in the garden listening to their most recent live performances wasn’t the worst way to spend a day. Plus, I found out that Dark Peninsula Press had released Negative Space, featuring my survival horror short Six Weeks, which definitely cheered me up. Working on that project has been a joy from start to finish, and I really hope the publication is a huge success. You can check out the link in my publications list here.

Anyway, my characters are calling from the shaky, grainy recesses of my brain. I’d better go see what they’re up to…

It goes without saying

Yesterday, I watched the social media black out in support of the #blacklivesmatter movement. I added my own black square to my Instagram page, and scrolled through post after post of my fellow writers who, for once, had nothing to say. Yesterday, we sat back and listened.

And I also saw the objections to this movement. Counter arguments from people who held up their hands in confusion, with the rebuttal, “Well, all lives matter, don’t they?” The thing is, the fact that all lives matter goes without saying. The fact that we should all be considered equal goes without saying. By supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, we are not saying that we believe that all cops are corrupt. We are not saying that looting and criminal damage is suddenly perfectly acceptable. We are not saying that black people matter more than others. We are not saying that injustices don’t happen to people of all colour. We are saying that this week, in a response to an atrocious murder, we wish to lend our voice and our acknowledgement to the fact that something is very, very wrong. And that we are proud to shout from the rooftops that we will not tolerate it.

There are other things that go without saying. As a white, British woman, I was taught that if I am ever in trouble and I see a police officer, I should run towards them because they will be my salvation. I only learned in later life that there are people in parts of America who are taught from a young age that if they are in trouble and they see a cop car, they should run in the other direction. That taking their chances with their original attacker might be a safer option than seeking assistance from the people who are paid to protect and serve them. It goes without saying that this is not okay.

If I borrowed a PS4 from a friend, I would think nothing of walking down the street with it in my arms. Because it goes without saying that nobody would assume I had stolen it. It goes without saying that I would not be running the risk of being shot at or arrested without being able to explain that I was borrowing it. Nobody would even ask. And, if they did, I would be listened to. I would be heard.

If I accidentally locked myself out of my house and found an open side window, it goes without saying that if I could hop up and climb in through it I would. It goes without saying that I can do that without fear of being shot.

Statistics clearly show that black people are being killed or seriously injured while they go about their daily lives. By police who are abusing their power and failing to follow set protocols. This is a fact. And, as we have seen in the case of Derek Chauvin, the police who harm these innocent men, women, and children, are not being punished, allowing them to continue to act with reckless abuse of their power. For me, supporting the Black Lives Matter movement this week is about saying that something has to change. That we need to ensure that instances of police brutality stop being the norm, and that perpetrators are punished, not protected.

It goes without saying that we should all want this for the world we live in. Because, right now, it isn’t fair.

And it isn’t right.

That goes without saying.

You can donate and help the Black Lives Matter cause here

Writing During Lockdown

How are you all doing? It’s a difficult question at the moment, I know. Albert Einstein once said, “In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity,” and for creatives and writers around the globe, lockdown has given many of us the opportunity to claw back a little time and focus on what we truly love. This is easier said than done, however.

After spending most of March and April indulging in bad habits and embracing the hedonistic disorganisation that the potential of impending doom can bring, I decided to set myself some serious goals for May. It was the only way I was going to break out of the “fuck it – lets drink endless glasses of wine and watch movies, the world has gone to hell in a handbasket” mindset. Don’t get me wrong, I had kind of enjoyed it. Those who know me recognise that I am very laid back when it comes to everybody else. But when it comes to myself I am the quintessential control freak. Having a well-earned rest from this taxing personality trait for a while was kind of rewarding in its own way. The pre-lockdown me would never have been in pyjamas at 3pm, nursing last night’s hangover while slyly checking the clock to see if it might possibly be acceptable to open the wine again. Old me would not have let a couple of weeks of no writing pass by without having an internal meltdown at the fact that time was ticking and I still hadn’t published the best-selling novel that’s most definitely going to be adapted into film yet. Think about it – if I wasn’t so lazy I could have been schmoozing at the premier by now, right?!! Wrong, of course. Things will run their course and happen when the time is right. Having dreams and goals is a positive thing, naturally. But that positive turns into a negative when you use those dreams to berate yourself when you take a little break from the treadmill. And, goodness knows, when the pandemic hit we all needed a bit of a break.

So, on Sunday, May 3rd I was sat in my pyjamas, nursing yet another hangover and thinking about how nice it would be to get things back on track. Coincidentally, two of my friends on a group chat chose that day to make similar choices, deciding that May would be the month to ditch the take-aways, exercise regularly, and fit back into those old pre-lockdown pants. Without their messages that coincidentally fell on the same day, I don’t know if I would have set my goals and stuck to them. We decided to have a weekly check-in with each other, and to message if we felt we were having a wobble and were liable to reach for the sugar/alcohol/insert bad habit of your choice. Having a sounding board certainly made the tasks seem attainable, so I would definitely recommend asking a friend to virtually spot you if you wish to do something similar in the coming weeks.

Along with the general healthier lifestyle goal I chose a few writing targets. I am dreadful for having unfinished projects lying around the house in various digital and paper formats. I almost finish a book, having spent months obsessing over every character and plot arc, only to lose interest at the point of editing, ditch it and start something shiny and new. My novel writing process is the embodiment of the meme where the guy turns to look at a passer-by who is pretty much identical to the outraged girl already on his arm.

In order to jump-start my interest in old almost-finished projects, I had a nosey at the upcoming unsolicited submission calls. I selected two that fit a couple of my long-forgotten WIPs and spent some time polishing and refining them ready for the submission dates. As of today, I have a drama script waiting for perusal by Screencraft, and the first three chapters of a fantasy book in the pile of entries to an agency’s Young Adult fiction competition. These projects steer away from my usual horror writing, but they are still just as valid and exciting in their potential, and it was helpful to remind myself of that. Naturally, my main goal is to finish the first rough draft of my horror book by the end of May. For me, this means having every chapter complete in some form, even if some of them will need fleshing out or trimming down in the editing stage. I can spend the last two weeks of May scaring myself silly writing the last few chapters of the first draft, and I’m very much looking forward to it.

As for June, who knows? I might revert back into a pyjama-wearing, wine-guzzling layabout. But May has been a good month, and it’s all thanks to goal-setting with a couple of pals who’ve got my back. As we keep messaging each other on wobble days:

#wegotthis.

Humour in Horror Writing

Well, you guys, it’s been a while. And how things have changed since I last uploaded a blog post. I hope you are all keeping safe and managing through these bizarre times.

Lockdown has given me invaluable time in front of the computer screen working on my horror novel. It got me to thinking about the relationship between humour and horror, and about how the two tend to meet. It’s a fine balance – make horror too funny and it seems silly and loses its tension. Make horror too serious and, for me, it loses an edge that a well-crafted story with elements of both will undoubtedly demonstrate.

Some of my writing heroes excel at this technique. The League of Gentlemen (Reece Shearsmith, Mark Gatiss, Steve Pemberton, and Jeremy Dyson), inspired me when I was a school kid. Their eponymous television show was like nothing I had ever seen before. Their skill at writing comedy immersed in horror, full of sympathetic characters and humanistic struggles, has stayed with me ever since. Pemberton and Shearsmith’s Inside No.9 continues to surprise me, a television experience that my husband pointed out is no mean feat! When chatting about the show to a work colleague, he stated, “It’s the only TV show that ever surprises MJ. Because she’s a writer, she always guesses what’s going to happen or what the twist in a show will be. With Inside No.9, she’s always just as surprised as the rest of us, so she actually gets to enjoy it!” I hadn’t thought about it until he pointed it out, but it’s so true!

And that’s what you can do with horror. Truly take people by surprise and thrill them, more than any other genre. It’s something that I am trying to focus on as I push on through this novel, working on balancing truly fiendish characters and events with personable humour and empathy. I am trying to learn from the masters – after all, I have been following them for about 25 years now.

The horror/humour balance can never be more topical than at a time of crisis. It’s important to laugh, even when the world around us seems to be falling apart. And it’s okay to find humour in the madness. In fact, there is nothing more human.

Stay safe my friends, and seek out a little humour where you can.