Monday, 30 December 2013

Dealing With Bad Reviews


It was bound to happen at some point. Getting on for four years of publishing stories, novels, blogs, poetry, articles, newsletters... Pretty much anything and everything that can be published (and getting paid for it too, which is always a nice bonus), a bad review was sure to come along eventually. In all honesty, I think I'm lucky that it took this long, and that it's only happened on one published work (ironically, the one that is selling best in paperback form... Well, there you go!). I came across the review by accident when I was searching for an Amazon link, and, I'll admit, it did take me a few moments to realise what I was reading.

It's not that I'm a complete egotist, it's just that I wasn't prepared for it.

My initial reaction was to comment on the review, to point out exactly where the reviewer had gone wrong, to correct spelling and grammar, to basically, very passive-aggressively, get a little of my own back. In essence, I wanted to review their review.

I didn't do it. Oh, in my head I commented a thousand times, ripping the reviewer apart for tearing into a project that I - and a small group of friends - had put together as a little bit of fun between us, but in reality I ignored it completely. Was it hard? Yes, it bloody well was. My book, something the group and I had slaved over and enjoyed working on, had been mauled, and I wanted revenge.

I guess it's a natural human reaction.

When backed into a corner, when hurt (literally or figuratively), the first response is to fight back. It's evident all over nature. But, just as in the wilds of Africa or the Amazon rainforest or the Jeremy Kyle show, or any other place you care to name, it is far too easy for the whole situation to escalate until you find yourself in a snarling, brawling, biting, name calling never-ending loop of pain and misery.

So my advice to you, whether it's a one star review on Amazon, or a bad report, or petty squabbling between so-called friends, is to ignore it. Take a deep breath. Hold your head up high. Walk away. Because the review is one of three things:

1. It's an attempt at trolling. Basically, it's a deliberate and mean spirited way for the reviewer to have some 'fun' at the writer's (or worker's etc) expense. And that's just not worth getting into - as they say, don't feed the trolls. Check out the reviewer's other reviews; are they all one star? Is he or she mindlessly cruel in general, or was it just you? This will give you an idea as to whether the review is worth anything or not.

2. It's a review left by someone who had a grudge against you. It has been known for other authors to rubbish their 'competition' by leaving one star reviews. It's petty and close minded, but they wouldn't do it if their work was any good, and if they didn't feel threatened by yours. It's almost - almost, but not quite... - a compliment. These kinds of people just don't have it in them to understand that they would be better off joining in and helping their fellow writer. It makes for a much happier existence, and much better book sales!

3. The review is correct. Hard as it may be to swallow, sometimes people don't like what you create. Yes, it hurts. Yes, it leaves you with an empty feeling. Yes, it is a truly horrible thing. But no one is perfect, and everyone is different. Those seemingly trite phrases are absolutely accurate in this situation. You may not have got it right, in which case a reviewer is perfectly justified in saying so. Even if you have dozens of five star reviews, that doesn't mean that everyone is going to adore your work. Just let it go; have you loved everything you've ever read?

Whichever one of the three the poor review your work has been given falls under, the best course of action is to ignore it. Time will move on, you'll write more, you'll publish more, you'll receive more reviews and one day, hopefully sooner rather than later, that one star won't mean anything anymore.

The key, is to just keep swimming...

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Thank St Anthony


Blame, blame, blame. Nag, nag, nag. That’s all Margaret heard, all she felt. It was, for the most part, all she knew. For years now she had craved a different kind of attention from her mother. Instead of recriminations and impatience, she wanted warmth, joy, love. Above all, she wanted to make her mother proud.
That was her ultimate goal, her main aim. It was an obsession, a compulsion, a need in her. Not because she particularly wanted her mother’s approval. It was too late for that now, too much water had spewed mercilessly under the rickety old bridge that she stood on to watch her life pass by. No, the reason was one of satisfaction for her; it would be a job completed that had been started decades ago.
And now, at almost forty, Margaret thought it was about time she got on with it. This year she would succeed.
Living with her mother made it both much easier and much harder to come up with schemed and plans and plots to get that small smile, that nod of the head, that hug. Easier because Margaret could pounce on the least little thing and make it into something that would help her get what she wanted. Harder because each time the idea failed, she had to live with the jibes and snide comments that went with it.
Nonetheless, she kept trying.
Cleaning the house. That, she had thought, would please her mother. Top to bottom every Saturday, and a run round with the Hoover on Tuesdays and Thursdays to keep it fresh. And all this before work. Or after it if she got up late. Or sometimes pushed to the next day if it had to be, if the car wouldn’t start or she got held up. But whatever and whenever, it was done. Eventually.
But apparently it was not done well enough.
“Look at this dust, Margaret. You’ve missed this whole shelf, Margaret. Did you use the blue cloth for the toilet, Margaret?”
“Sorry, Mum.”
It was always, “Sorry, Mum.”
Even when she wasn’t.
These days, most of the time, she wasn’t. She was usually already thinking of the next thing she could do to make her mother proud as the words came automatically from her mouth.
After the cleaning idea came the driving. She became a taxi service, when she wasn’t at work, anyway. Each evening it was bingo or the pub or the book club. Every evening there was something. Her mother was a busy woman, very sociable and very keen on late finishes, whether it be a friend’s birthday party or a trip to the theatre. It was all so tiring for Margaret, who enjoyed being at home early, tucked up and snuggled in, warm and comfy cosy. It was time consuming. It was not, she felt, appreciated.
“You’re driving too fast, Margaret. You’ve missed the turning, Margaret. You’re going to hit that car, Margaret.”
Margaret was within the speed limit, she knew a shortcut, and she was nowhere near the car in front of her.
But still; “Sorry, Mum.”
“I’ll drive myself from now on. I don’t know why you insisted on doing it for me anyway. I’m perfectly capable.”
“Sorry, Mum.”
Margaret did, sometimes, wonder why she was so bothered. She wondered why she stayed. After all, she could quite easily afford it.
Of course, Margaret’s pride was at stake. That was the reason. And she promised herself that once she had made her mother love her, or like her, or at least be mildly pleased with her, she would leave.
It was serve the old bag right anyway.
Why couldn’t she break through? Even as a child it had been the same. Marks in school had been too low (even when they had been the highest in the class). Her friends had been too common. Her uniform always looked a mess.
When she got a little older, her boyfriends had all been rude, ungrateful, potential thieves and mass murderers. Or they may as well have been, according to her mother.
So eventually, Margaret gave up on having one.
It was easier that way. Much, much easier.
And the easy route was always the best one, wasn’t it? Which was probably why she had never said anything to her mother about the problem. It was just easier not to. Margaret supposed the habit of criticising had just stuck, and now her mother didn’t know how to stop it.     
Margaret didn’t know either. Which was a problem.
And she was close to running out of ideas that would – or could – make her mother proud.
She had been awarded a first class honours degree in English. Her mother asked her why she hadn’t done any of the sciences.
“Sorry, Mum.”
She had already changed her job. Twice. To no avail. She had loved nursing, but her mother mentioned that she might be better off teaching. And when she had settled in at the new school, her mother had suggested that all the best jobs were to be found in banking.
Margaret sat at the dining table, sighing loudly, Open University brochures sprawled out in front of her, reams of job applications to this school or that hospital piled up to her side.
She was making a decision.
It was time.
Mother be damned.
Margaret could her hear mother complaining on the phone to a long-suffering and terminally patient friend. “I’ve lost my glasses again, Henrietta. Lost them completely. I only had them a moment ago and now I’ve no idea where I put them.”
Mother may not have known, but Margaret did.
And Margaret had an idea. She got up from the table and rushed away to the other end of the house, to the kitchen, where she had seen her mother’s glasses earlier that day. She would retrieve them, and all would be well. So off she went.
 She was soon busy searching for the glasses that she knew – just knew – had been left in the kitchen. And there they were, wedged up against the bread bin, squeezed in next to the toaster.
Margaret plucked them out and held them up, triumphant. She smiled to herself, forgetting all about the plans she had been making to live her own life. No, these glasses were the key to everything.
And then there would be no more excuses.
No more reasons to stay behind.
No more reasons to not do what she wanted, to have to stay where she was.
Where it was comfortable. Where it was easy.
Where it was safe.
Margaret slowly put the glasses down on the counter, where they could easily be seen. Where they could easily be found.
She shuffled back to the dining room and sat again, pretending to look through brochures that she would never really read.
Her mother’s voice drifted in through the open door and the words settled on Margaret, heavy and damning.
“And I’m worried about my glasses. I wonder if Margaret knows where they are?”
Sorry, Mum, Margaret thought. You’re just going to have to thank St Anthony when you find them. It’s nothing to do with me.

She gathered the shiny prospectuses and crisp forms together and wondered whether they would all fit in the bin.   

Friday, 29 November 2013

Write What You Know?


That old piece of advice, “write what you know”, has been tried and tested for decades, reminding writers that they ought to only write about what they have personally experienced, and what they truly understand.
Or at least that is how it has been read.

Personally, however, I don’t believe writers need to write about what they know. Not in the physical, literal sense, that is. After all, if J.K. Rowling had only written what she knew, there would be no Hogwarts. If Tolkien had only written what he knew, there would be no Hobbits. Imagine a world with no Oz, no Wonderland, no mysteries, no fantasies.

Every book written would be full of the mundane and, ultimately, the boring. Books are an escape from real life, not a reflection of it. Therefore, “write what you know” does not and should not apply to the actions of characters, or even the places in which they find themselves.

Research is wonderful for finding out about places and things that you want to write about, and it’s certainly not necessary to have experienced everything that happens in your book – not necessary and not possible. That’s the beauty of writing; it is fiction, and anything can happen.

The rest is down to imagination. And why not? Why not pretend? Create it, and the readers will see it in their minds. As long as there is a little something of yourself within the work, nothing else matters.
 
For me, writing what I know means putting my own emotions, thoughts, and feelings into my work. I add little snippets of information that only those incredibly close to me will understand, and perhaps not even then. But it’s not for anyone else, it’s for me, to keep me on the right track, to ground my ideas in some form of reality. This reality, however, is the one I have created for my writing, not the one in which I sit and write.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Poem - I Am A Liar



I Am A Liar 
I am a liar,
I eat too much,
I gossip,
I always smile,
I never cry.
I am a liar,
I don’t eat enough,
I can’t talk,
I never smile,
I sometimes cry,
And I never, ever lie.


©Lisamarie Lamb 2013 

Sunday, 27 October 2013

The Best Writing Places and Spaces



I write at home, in my study (spare box room). This is new to me, as for the past five years, I wrote in the back bedroom, amongst my books, with a view out into the back garden, and out over the fences to the world beyond. It was often fairly distracting, that view, and it's not even a particularly nice one. Still, I was used to it, and was comfortable there. I wrote around 1.5 million words from that room, from my corner desk with the nice/nasty view.

Then everything changed. My daughter turned three. And with that came the move - she had been in the nursery (spare box room) since she was born, but now that she definitely need a big girl's bed, and there was certainly no space for it in the smaller room, we needed to change things around. So she got the old back bedroom, and I got the small front one.




I'll admit, I was worried. I often have a hard time writing in unfamiliar places and spaces. I know other writers who really don't have a problem with it - they get their laptop or notepad out wherever and whenever they are able to, and jot down a few thousand words. But I'm not great at that. I like to be comfortable and settled before I can zone out into my writing world.

I felt slightly better in the fact that I am able to write many thousands of words when I go on my annual writing retreat at Retreats for You in Devon. That was a different room, with a different view, and I got on fabulously there, so perhaps... Perhaps this move wouldn't be so difficult after all.

But still I worried. What if I did lose my spark? What if it was all down to that desk in that place in that room? Was that where the magic came from? Was I just being completely ridiculous?

The day came, and we swapped rooms. Tired, aching from moving furniture, I had to get everything set up exactly as I liked it, even if the angles were different, and the walls were yellow instead of magnolia and the view was of the house opposite and not of the garden. I had a deadline to meet.

And I met it. And the next one. And the next one too, and I was writing fiction, and articles and blog posts (for other people, sorry Moonlit Door!). I wasn't just writing like before - I was writing more than before! Whatever had happened, whether this new room was where the magic really was, whether the new view was less distracting, or whether I had mentally made myself get on with it and get creative, it was working.

I decided it was time to branch out. I've often heard that other writers like to visit coffee shops or cafes, to spend a little time with themselves and their work with no distractions. So yesterday I tried that. I went to Barton's Point Coastal Park, which is a beautiful spot about 10 minutes down the road from my house. The cafe there overlooks a gorgeous lake with swans that glide across it, and people doing water sports. There is a crackling fire, continuous coffee, and simply delicious food. I was there for the day - six hours in total.



Did I manage to write anything? Well, that chapter 8 of the spy novel I'm writing has been bugging me for a while. It's a tricky one, in which the hero discovers a huge secret about his father, and that in turn sets him off on the main adventure of the book.

I'd been putting it off for a while.

But by the end of my time at Barton's Point, it was finished. Not only that, but I had hand written the whole lot, in an old notebook. I hadn't taken my laptop as I wasn't sure whether I'd be able to plug it in or not (and the battery isn't great). I'm fairly slow at handwriting, so I was even more pleased with the result because of that! Plus, as an added little bonus, a plot point that had been niggling away at me finally resolved itself. I'm wondering now whether this book has the potential be actually be pretty good. I'll certainly head back to Barton's Point very soon to see what else I can create while I'm there!





Saturday, 28 September 2013

Fairy Lights - Coming Soon from J. Ellington Ashton Press

O

Not long now!

On a whim, I decided to put all of my short stories together to make a collection. I've already self published one set of stories (Some Body's At The Door), and had another published by Dark Hall Press (Over The Bridge), and I thought that these new stories (around 50,000 words' worth) were interesting, creepy, and a little bit different.

There are interior monologues and streams of consciousness. There are real frights, and fiendishly amusing delights. There are tales of children going where they shouldn't, and adults behaving badly. It's not just the humans who get it wrong either - there are ghosts, ghouls, monsters, and some things that can't be named.

I sent the collection, entitled Fairy Lights after one of the longer stories included, to J. Ellington Ashton Press. Many of my online friends and associates from the horror community had good things to say about this new and exciting press, and I felt that my stories would be a good fit.

They were!

Catt Dahman of J. Ellington Ashton Press contacted me to offer me a contract, and of course, very excitedly and with a faint air of light headedness, I accepted. Fairy Lights was on its way to being published.

The cover, as you can see above, is complete, thanks to the incredible Susan Simone who used her artistic talents to create something suitable scary. I love it. I hope you do too.

Edits are currently underway, and the plan is to release the book on Hallowe'en (of course!).

Since there is still a little way away, here is a teaser from a story called Little Witch:


Would she rather burn or drown?
It was the kind of question that kept Jasmine Bird awake at night, keeping her from dreaming the sweet, pink dreams of childhood. It was the kind of question that she only asked out loud once because all it would earn her were sideways glances and gasps, never an answer.
 It was also the kind of question that intrigued her and interested her and made her wonder. The witches had to answer it when they were accused. They had to make that terrible decision. How could they? One decision left them struggling under the water, writhing and twisting as their lungs burst and the weight of the life-taking liquid pressed down and down and down on them, crushing them to death. The other had them tied to a stake so tightly that their fingers stung and their fingernails dropped away, dripping into the flames that quickly, caught hold of flesh and blood and hair and ate them up, piece by piece. The heat and smoke of their own skin cooked and blinded them.
Jasmine shuddered delightedly when she thought of it. Not of the pain, not of the indignity even, but of the surprise that the murderers – because that was what they were, not judges, not juries – would have when the charred or sodden bodies came back to life and haunted them forever. It only served them right, after all. Who would have thought a good little girl like Jasmine could think of such terrible wickedness? 





Friday, 13 September 2013

Where Do You Get Your Ideas From?


Where do you get your ideas from?

It’s that question. The one that writers detest and interviewers love.

But why do we dislike answering that one so much? Or do we? Perhaps, now, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy; we’re told that we should hate it, that’s it’s anathema to our creativity. And therefore, when we hear it, we do hate it, it does feel like giving away too much. Even if we have an interesting response. Even if we’re quite sure that our readers would like to know the answer.

I don’t mind it. If I’m honest, I quite like it. As a question it’s much better than being asked why I started writing (umm… I just did… I just gave it a go and quite liked it… er… something about school and an English project…) or why I write horror (I enjoy reading it, I enjoy writing it) because I never have proper answers for those ones. I always feel a bit of a fraud, a bit like I’m grasping for something – anything – to say just to sound interesting and intellectual.

At least with that question I can answer with either a piece of pure fabrication, or complete honesty. It simply depends on whether I can remember where the idea came from, and if I can whether it was an interesting occasion. Although, admittedly, even when telling the absolute truth my answer will vary from day to day, story to story to novel to flash fiction to poetry… Because that’s the beauty of it. Ideas come from everywhere and nowhere. They are incredible, intangible things that appear in a dream or a cloud or are gleaned from an overheard word or a misunderstood laugh. They are magical, existing in nothing, invisible and incomplete until they are written down and given form and meaning. 

If I were asked where I got my idea for my current novel, I might say it was the main character, Jude, who came first. Just popped into my head. Or was it a dream? Did I see him on a train, or walking down the street? Perhaps I based him on someone I know, or someone I’d like to know, or someone I’d never want to know. Or I could say that it was the thought of murders that looked like accidents, and that that idea came from a newspaper, or I looked at a bus and wondered what it would be like… well, you know. It could even have been a song I heard on the radio. Maybe I didn’t quite catch the lyrics and made up my own, and maybe they led me to my first line, which then set the tone for the test of the book.

Say anything. When asked that question, say what you like. Because who is to say what is right and what is wrong when answering, when telling the person who put the question what they want to know?

Equally, who can describe an idea? Not me. They aren’t there, are they? They aren’t real. Except that they are, utterly and incontrovertibly real. Without them we’d be nothing. And not just writers, but scientists, artists, doctors, teachers, lawyers, children, adults, anyone and everyone. Think about it… There, you’ve just had an idea. Just like that.

Now what are you going to do with it?


Friday, 23 August 2013

Review: Blueeyedboy by Joanne Harris


I loved this book. I mean, really loved it. For the first time in a long time, I made extra time to read, I went without sleep, I carried the book everywhere with me just in case I found myself with a spare couple of minutes in which I could manage another couple of pages.

Twists and turns were rife through the entire story. I guessed one. A big one. Joanne Harris was kind enough to put real clues in her writing so that the reader had a chance to work it out, and although I did, and although that can often be rather disappointing, in this case it was wonderful - it didn't ruin my enjoyment of the story, and in fact it gave it another dimension. 

Two of the other twists I did not work out. One was amazing, and literally had me gasp out loud when I discovered it. The other... the other is the reason for 4 instead of 5 stars. I found it to be rather far fetched, and since it led on to the big showdown ending, that was unfortunate. It meant that, despite all the time I had dedicated to this book, I still felt let down at the end. Maybe it's just me. Maybe I was tired, or distracted, or any number of things, but the ending to me felt rushed, confused, and nonsensical. 

I might read it again just to see if I missed anything that would help me out! 

All in all, this was a fantastic book, and, had the ending been better, this would have been a 5 star review.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Space Monsters! A New Horror (and Sci-Fi and Fantasy) Magazine


Wow! This is what we need, isn't it? This is just the sort of thing horror fans have been waiting for, for years, for decades. For what feels like millennia. Finally, a new classic has been born, and it's a sci-fi, horror, and fantasy magazine chock full of interviews, rare photos, and fascinating information.

Issue 1 (that's right, you can get in on the very first issue, and start collecting what is bound to be an industry classic) has articles on classic Star Trek (I don't think there's any need for me to explain this one, but do click the link if you want more information), Them! (a terrifying look at irradiated ants from the 1950s), and Space:1999 (the incredible 1970's British sci-fi show that led on to so many others) to name a few.

The next issue is set to be a horror fan's perfect read, as it is going to be a space vampire special! Check out the magazine's website and have your say on who (or what!) is the vampire that gives you chills... http://spacemonstersmag.wordpress.com/ Choose from monsters from The Thing From Another World (1951) all the way up to Dracula 3000 (2004), or if none of those choices are scary enough, feel free to add your own - the guys at Space Monsters are always on the lookout for gruesome ghouls to entertain them (and you)!

If you like the sound of Space Monsters, you can order it through the website above, or from Hemlock Books (http://www.hemlockbooks.co.uk/Shop/product/1299).

And if you really, really like it, why not also like the Space Monsters Facebook page and let everyone else know about it too!

Boo!


Friday, 26 July 2013

Things To Do With Chilli Jam by Jane Jones



Moonlit Door Publications' first book - Things To Do With Chilli Jam by Jane Jones - is almost ready to hit the shops!


This innovative new cook book will show you how to spice up the meals you know and love - mac and cheese with a bit of a kick? Warming cottage pie with extra heat? Chocolate cake with hidden spice? They're all in the book, and many more dishes besides.

Why not pre-order a copy by contacting moonlitdoorpublications@gmail.com? Not long now and you can be making food with bite!

Sunday, 21 July 2013

The Joy of Book Buying (And Browsing)


It took a morning for me to spend my book vouchers. Over three hours. I didn't think it would take that long (and it certainly didn't feel as though that much time had passed), and although I was armed with a list of a few titles I definitely wanted, once there, in the shop itself, I was far too excited to stick to the plan!

I did buy blueeyedboy by Joanne Harris, and Red Dragon by Thomas Harris, but my list was soon abandoned when I began to really browse the shelves - something I haven't had the chance (and pleasure) of doing in quite some time. 

So much choice, so many colourful covers and brilliant blurbs. I bought 10 books in the end, although four of them were for Alice - even at two years old she loves to lie in bed in the mornings leafing through her picture books (which affords me an extra few moments of writing time first thing!).

The experience reminded me just how wonderful brick and mortar bookshops really are - online shopping is great, convenient, it brings instant gratification, and all of that is marvellous, but nothing beats being able to pick a book from a shelf, feel the pages, read the covers, smell that smell...

Bookshops also give you the opportunity to speak with knowledgeable, interesting people who can guide you when you are a little bit lost amongst the rows and rows of delicious pages... 

Online you're on your own, despite the websites of reviews. They may point you in the right direction, but they'll never match having a proper conversation. Not for me, anyway. 

In the end I bought:
Red Dragon - Thomas Harris
blueeyedboy - Joanne Harris
The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
Ash - James Herbert
Sharp Objects - Gillian Flynn
Fragile Things - Neil Gaiman
The Singing Mermaid - Julia Donaldson
The Princess and the Wizard - Julia Donaldson
The Highway Rat - Julia Donaldson
Shhh... Don't Wake The Royal Baby - Martha Mumford

Many happy hours of reading ahead do Alice and me!



Friday, 12 July 2013

The Joy of Vouchers


It was my birthday last week - my parents took my daughter and I to London Zoo, and we had a lovely lunch out. It was a great couple of days (it was rainy on my actual birthday, so the zoo trip was postponed for a week), and everyone made it very special for me.

I got presents too - I am a very lucky Lamb. Beautiful dresses, chocolate, DVDs, and of course books, were bestowed upon me until I felt really rather overwhelmed by the whole thing. Happy, though. Very, very happy.

I also received a number of book vouchers. This is because I asked for them. In fact, whenever anyone isn't sure what to buy me, and they ask me what I want, after the initial, "Nothing, really, you don't have to," to which they always say they want to, I say vouchers. For anything. Clothes, books, food, a day out... the list is endless. Many tend to look at me in a puzzled way.

"Are you sure?" they ask. "Really? Nothing else?"

As though vouchers are a lesser thing than a physical present that they can hand over and watch me open.

But the thing is, I love vouchers. Book tokens are my special favourite, and I am looking forward to taking myself off to the local bookshop on its late night opening to browse and spend, a treat that I anticipate twice a year (birthday and Christmas), but whatever the voucher is for, I love receiving it.

There's definitely nothing wrong with giving gift vouchers.

What can be more thrilling than entering a shop you love, armed with money that isn't really real but that is able to buy you something you want? When it's real money, I'm careful, cautious, I think and think and think again. But when it's vouchers, I dive in. I am reckless. I try things I would never normally try, and find new authors to love that way.

It's fun.

It's exciting.

It's liberating.

And it feels damn good.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Flash Fiction: Did You See That Coming?


“I sense anger, resentment, a desire to do more, to be more, than you are.”
I had been sitting there, in that tiny room draped with black material that was all covered in silver stars and crescent moons, for ten minutes by the time Madame Sage said that, five minutes after I’d crossed her palm with some paper bills. I was a little surprised she had left it so long. Surely she could feel the waves of rage pulsing out of me and hurtling towards her, ramming into her, drowning her. It was so obvious, and it wasn’t as though I was hiding it.
Why would I bother to do that?
She’s psychic. There’s no point in hiding anything.
Right?
She wasn’t as good as some I’d seen. Which gave me a little hope.
“Is that right?” she asked when I didn’t respond. Her forehead creased a little and she leaned forward, gazing again at the cards spread out in front of her. Maybe I was a little psychic for a moment because I knew she was worried she had said the wrong thing.
I laughed. I couldn’t help it. If she thought I was going to help her out with this, when I was paying her, when it was her job, then she could think again. I tried to communicate my thoughts to her but she really wasn’t a mind reader. More’s the pity. And she didn’t look impressed with my outburst.
“Look, if you’re not willing to take this seriously…”
“What?” I let the word spill from my mouth because it was clear I was supposed to say something. It was the only word I could think of. 
She sat back, her own mouth straight and tight and seeping red and greasy lipstick into the creases around the edges. Bleeding. It made me think bad things and I changed my mind about wanting Madame Sage to read my thoughts.  She wouldn’t like them. No one would. Even I didn’t at times.
“There’s that anger. I told you, didn’t I?” Smug now, as though that proved something. I hadn’t even said it angrily. I hadn’t said it in any particular way at all. I didn’t really care whether she threw me out of her tent or not and it probably wouldn’t make much difference to the future anyway. It was already written. It had to be. Otherwise people like her wouldn’t be able to show off by spilling the beans.
I sighed, gave in, decided that if she didn’t say something about why I was there in the next five minutes I was leaving anyway. “Yes. Yes, you did tell me, you got it spot on. I’m full of fury, I just want to hit out, to hurt.” I was giving too much away, I knew I was, but she wasn’t biting. Not in the way they usually did.
Madame Sage was starting to get a funny look on her face. Fear, confusion, uncertainty, disdain, as though she was listening to some rather unpleasant gossip. It was not entirely unknown to me. My victims must have arrived. They didn’t always, but when they could… they did. The psychic paused, opened her mouth, changed her mind, shook her head. For my benefit or someone – something – else’s?
“Well now, Miss Mossing, I don’t think the spirits are willing to talk to me today. They’ve gone very quiet. Perhaps we can make another appointment? Another time…” She sounded desperate for me to leave. Sometimes they had a minder outside their carnival tents, but not this one. She’d clearly never seen the need. I bet she wished she had foreseen this now.
“Try the crystal ball.” I knew she had one. They all had one. And I knew she was lying about the spirits. They were there all right, you didn’t have to be psychic to know that. There should have been enough of them to make even the toughest sceptic suddenly call out for their mother and huddle under the covers.
She swallowed. She could see I was serious now, even if she had doubted before. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea.” She wiped a shaking hand across her forehead. “With angry spirits-”
“I thought you said there were no spirits today.” My voice was emotionless and flat. It was my turn to be smug, my turn to prove something. I held out my palm. “What about reading this then?”
She looked without meaning to, drawn in despite herself. Fascinated and repulsed. She gasped and I knew that my future was still the same as it always was. She didn’t even have to speak, and I don’t believe she could so it was fine. Twenty-seven psychics visited, and twenty-seven predictions, twenty-seven identical predictions; I was destined to keep on killing. I wanted to stop, I needed to stop, but they all told me that I would keep going.
I made it quick. “I’m sorry,” I said as I watched the life drain from her, washing away with the blood, as I slit her throat; “But I think you saw that coming."

©Lisamarie Lamb 2013 

Friday, 7 June 2013

I Made A Speech... And It Went Well!


The 18th May 2013 was a special day - it was my little sister Amy's wedding. She married Ben, her soldier, at Sandhurst Military Academy in Berkshire, and it couldn't have been better. Really, it was perfect, magical, a fairy tale of a day.

Except... I was giving a speech.

For a pretty traditional wedding, this was not a usual occurrence, but since Amy had given a rather wonderful speech at my own wedding ten years earlier, it was my turn to do the same. As maid of honour, this was an unexpected 'treat' for the assembled guests, who were prepared for the father of the bride, the best man, and, of course, the groom himself to stand up and speak, but who were not aware that I was going to say something too. 

Oh dear.

Oh dear indeed.

A speech, and a surprise one - for most of the friends and family gathered - at that.

The last time I gave a speech was when I was the school music prefect 14 years earlier. And it wasn't particularly good (it was also incredibly long). But I wanted to do this for Amy who had already made me promise that I'd keep it short.

No fear there; this would be a record-breakingly short speech! Or at least that was the plan. But when I read back through the first draft I realised I had got carried away again. Too many words, most of them not needed anyway.

In the bin.

The second draft was a lot shorter, probably less than a third of its original length, but when I read this one through there was no spark to it, no truth. No life.

No.

It had to be better than that. 

So instead of rehashing this poor speech for the third time, I disposed of it in the best way I know how (DELETE! DELETE!) and began again at the beginning.

I had an idea of how to get it just right - not too long, not too dull.

I'd make it a story about two little girls who grew up together and had shared memories about their childhood. 

It worked, too.

By treating such a difficult and personal task as I would any of my writing, I was able to distance myself enough to get the words down, but allow myself to be close enough to make the story real.

And Amy's tearful reaction tells me I got it right after all. 




Friday, 31 May 2013

Begin As You Mean To Go On: Children and Reading


It's one of my big things, something I'm particularly passionate about, and something I've been able to work personally on since the birth of my daughter, Alice, on 10th October 2010.

Children and reading.

Reading to children and with children, letting them choose their own books, watching their excited faces when they learn to turn the pages by themselves, or when they walk into a library for the first time.

It makes a difference. It shapes their lifelong love - or otherwise - of books, and therefore it's an important part of growing up. It can make them who they become. I know it did with me.

The best part is, it can be shared with one or both parents, grandparents, siblings, friends, teachers, or anyone else come to that, but it can also be a solitary pursuit, and there's enjoyment to be had in reading alone as well. That's a lesson in itself.

I have incredibly clear memories of sitting with my mother and listening intently as she read from one of my many story books. Time together, peaceful and serene and perfect. There was a library not too far from our house, and once a week or so we would walk there to exchange old books for new. I had a special book bag, and collected badges that the librarians had on their desk.

Books for birthday presents were some of the most exciting, more cherished than toys or clothes, and book tokens... Well, the magic was endless when I opened an envelope and those fluttered out! My own 'money' to buy my own books with.

I wanted Alice to experience that joy, so when I was still pregnant, I collected as many books as I could, and stored them on shelves in her nursery, ready for the time when she would start looking through them. Picture books, cloth books, hardback, paperback, classics and new creations - she has hundreds.

And as soon as she was born, I read to her. She was a few hours old, the hospital visitors had gone, and I fished a tiny little book of nursery rhymes out of my hospital bag. That night, the tiny baby in my arms heard all about the twinkling stars, baa-ing black sheep, and an egg that no one could fix.

It went on like that. I read to her whenever I could.

Now, at just over two and a half, Alice loves her books. Whenever we go on a car journey, she must have at least three to leaf through, even if we're only popping to the shops. We read together every day - I read the 'real' story to her, and then she 'reads' her own version to me. When she goes to bed, she asks for some books, and she sits poring over them until she finally nods off.



I can't ask for more than that.








Saturday, 25 May 2013

Poem: The Sea




The Sea


The waves crashed against the cliffs

And spray flew into the air.

It copied the flight of the gulls above

Who circled without a care.

 

The water moved with an ancient rhythm,

And was deep and dark and rough.

The pull of the moon became stronger still,

It would never be enough.

 

The tide came in and swallowed the beach

Leaving patterns on the ground.

The pebbles surrendered to the force,

And followed without a sound.

 

As the world spun round the sea retreated,

Moving softly away.

It carefully, gently, uncovered the stones,

 And then dwindled with the day.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Virginia Woolf... And Me


I was recently asked who my favourite author was. 'Richard Laymon,' I immediately answered, sticking to my horror roots, the genre that has brought me a modicum of success and which, for those who are my readers, I am best known for. And it's true, Richard Laymon is my favourite horror author, and one of my biggest influences. I don't write in his precise, concise style, but I like to think he gave me some useful clues about horror, about the blood and guts of it, and I try to remember what I've learned through reading his work when I'm writing a new story.

But when I really think about it, really sit back and look back at the books I've read and the essays I've written and the way in which they have all shaped me and made me the person I am, there are two authors who stand out above the rest. One is Enid Blyton, and to her I shall be eternally grateful for pushing my childhood imagination into new places - picnics with the Famous Five, clambering up the Faraway Tree with Moonface, laughing at the various pixies and fairies and woodland elves who got up to mischief... It was wonderful. And I owe her at least a blog post in the near future.

It is, however, Virginia Woolf to whom I turn today. I first discovered her by accident in the school library. Browsing, not sure what I was looking for, I closed my eyes and stuck out my hand, grasping at the first book I touched. It was Orlando. I read the first page and I was hooked. The first sentence ("He - for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it - was in the act of slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters.") intrigued me, as all good first sentences should - why? who? how? where? when? WHAT?

I've read all of Woolf's works, from The Voyage Out to Between The Acts, as well as the short story collections, and loved every word. Everything. There is such poetry in her prose, each word laden with meaning, even as they are flowing and beautiful.

This is the style which, without meaning to (at least not consciously), I have tried to replicate in my writing. In particular, my unpublished novel At Peace With All Things is heavily influenced by Woolf's writing style. It's the minutiae of the moment that she captures, draws out, and make into something worth noticing.

My favourite Woolf novel, if it is possible to have a favourite, is To The Lighthouse. This at first seems a sparse thing, a simple observation of events over two days set a decade apart, one family who spend part of their holiday looking forward to a trip to the local lighthouse. But it's more than that. Of course it is. There is nothing simple in Woolf's writing, nothing is as it first appears.

It's all about moments. Special or mundane, they make up life, and they are all precious. They all lead onto the next, but they leave the person experiencing them changed in some way. As Virginia Woolf herself says, "Every secret of a writer's soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind is written large in his works." This novel allows Woolf to simply write, to get everything she is thinking and feeling down on paper, all the while attributing it to her characters. It is freeing. And the result is wondrous.

And now, here is my attempt at a vignette written in Woolf's style. I'm still learning...:


An owl and a pussycat... They are staring at me. Both of them, just looking, glaring down from the rooftop above me. And I, unsure and unwise, stare right back. Not one of us blinking. Not one of us moving. Not one of us even breathing for long, long seconds that last for eons. 

The moon is thick tonight, fat and round and near yellow as the sun as she hovers above us. She has her eyes tight shut against the world, not caring about us down here. And why should she? She is a queen in the heavens, the stars her subjects, loyal and stubborn and loving for all that. If I were her, I wouldn't deign to cast my shuttered eyelids towards the earth either. 

I would stay regal and aloof and apart from humanity.

Just like the owl. Just like the cat. Perched together up on those dark red tiles, shaded by the night, lit by Her Majesty the moon.

The cat moves first, and for that I am glad. I may not have won, but neither did I lose. That is Puss's position, last place, first to give in to the temptation of the night. She stretches, shivers, stands and flicks her tail as though to say she meant to stop playing the game we didn't know we were playing. I let her go. I could call out, berate her, tease her, insult her for walking away from me and the owl and the moon who isn't looking.

I don't. The hour is too late, and the night is too quiet for any sound to be heard. 

But I do watch her disappear across the roof, I watch her drop down to the fence and then down again to the pavement, scrabbling at the wooden slats with her claws, balancing herself as she plummets. She lands on her feet, as is to be expected. And then she is gone, black against the blanket of darkness, eyes shining for a moment, tiny tip of tongue poking from the soft lips. 

I turn my attention back to the owl, hoping to let it know that it can go now if it likes, that I will win this, that I, with nowhere to go and no one to see, can stay here all night, staring upwards, my neck tense and knotted, my eyes misty with the strain of looking. 

But while my thoughts were elsewhere, the owl too has gone. 

I didn't even hear it go.

And I am left, my head turned upwards, my eyes scanning the scant sky. 

Waiting.


Friday, 19 April 2013

Sideshow - A Forthcoming Anthology


Sideshow, edited by Rob M. Miller, is an anthology with a difference.

Yes, it's full of wonderfully horrific short pieces of fiction from writers including Phil Hickes, Carole Gill, and, well, me. Yes, it's got a suitably macabre and mysterious cover designed by the talented Melissa Stevens. Yes, it's on its way and will be with us, haunting us, very soon...

But that's not all. With this anthology, you get extras; little snippets of stories that explain (or not) what really happened. Or what might have happened. Or what never happened at all. Call them bonus features. Call them free gifts. Call them just one more thing to add to the nightmares. Call them what you will, but enjoy them - they're for you.

Full details can be found on the anthology's own website: http://sideshowanthology.wordpress.com/

And here is the complete table of contents:






Friday, 5 April 2013

You Pedal And You Pedal And You Pedal...


Ever feel like that?

You pedal and you pedal and you pedal... maybe you pedal some more, perhaps a little more after that. But eventually, finally, you get tired. You have to stop. Of course you do. It's wearing and wearying and it takes up all your energy.

If you're not getting anywhere, that is.

If you're going nowhere after all that pedalling, it's not only tiring, it's frustrating and it's saddening and it feels like a waste of time.

It can put you off pedalling completely.

You'll sit on that bike, push one foot down with a sigh that hurts, and wonder why you're bothering. Then you'll stop and it'll feel good. Really good. It'll feel so good that you won't want to start again, and you'll continue your life without any pedalling at all, and you won't mind.

Ever feel like that?

I do. Stories stick and chapters freeze, and when they do I keep writing because I feel guilty if I don't. I keep typing one word after another, and it's wearing and wearying and I know I'm not getting anywhere. I know I'll just delete the words and replace them with fresh ones, or I'll forget about it all together and consign it to the story graveyard of my hard drive. Not a great feeling, but a familiar one.

And it feels good to give up sometimes. It's better for you, and for the story. Sometimes stories are just no good, and that's okay because we're not perfect, and not everything we do is brilliant or worthy of publication.

Not everything we do is going to be our best work. It doesn't work like that - after all, how can you have best if you don't have worst? There has to be something to compare it to!

Leave it long enough, though, and I have a feeling you'll get back on that bike, and you'll pedal again. Leave it long enough, and I have a feeling you'll get somewhere.

Don't push your writing - it's no good for anyone. Enjoy it, and the words will flourish.



Friday, 22 March 2013

Flash Fiction: Immortality


"I am a painter," Mr Archer would say. And they would laugh and ask how much to do their living room. Always. Sometimes, if he was hard up, or bored, or just to shock them, he would give them a price and do the work if they agreed. Sometimes. But most times he was busy trying to become immortal. Picasso, Rembrandt, Da Vinci... All different, but they all had one thing in common; their names would never be forgotten. And he wanted the name Archer to be added to that list.

Of course, there were a few others things that they had in common, and one of these was that they were actually good at what they did. Mr Archer, sadly, was not. But that did not deter him. It didn't bother him at all.

He painted his friends' wall and he painted his fresh canvases and time marched on.

One day, a hot, summery day full of promise and hope, where the air smelled of sunshine and the world was good, Mr Archer began to feel that walls and canvases were not enough. He needed a bigger platform to showcase his work; people were simply not noticing what he was doing. Not the right people, anyway. He gathered together his house painting brushes and his artists' oils and went for a wander, to see what he could do. To see what he could paint.

He walked into town and looked at the large buildings, the hotels, the schools, the hospital, but they weren't big enough and he dismissed them. He needed more. He knew exactly where to go. The cliffs. The cliffs were a big enough space for him. And he knew just what he would paint as well. He could see it perfectly in his head. The town, the county, the country, the world would see it, and finally they would know him.

Mr Archer, as secure as he was in his own talent, had no knowledge of cliffs. Looking down from the edge it seemed easy enough. There were footholds and ledges all the way down. He could do it. Only... he couldn't. Not really. Although he tried. And he got some of the way. And he even managed to put paint on the cliff face. Just a little bit.

No one ever discovered just what Mr Archer had wanted to depict in that lonely, dangerous place. Some thought it was a portrait, some a landscape. Of course, no one could ever be proven right (or wrong), but that didn't stop the town from creating an annual contest for people to guess what Mr Archer's creation was. The Archer Prize was highly sought after, and to win it was to be lanuded for a whole year, until the next contest. There was a cup. There were names engraved on it.

And Mr Archer finally got his wish; his name would forever be known. What he hadn't realised was that he had to be dead before he could be immortal.

©Lisamarie Lamb 2013