Synchronicity, road ghosts, and my own experience of the paranormal

Synchronicity is a strange beast. The more you investigate the concept, the more you seem to notice it. Could that mean I’m assigning deeper meanings to mere coincidences? Maybe. Or maybe the Universe is tipping me a wink just to say that I’m on the right track.

There are various forms of synchronicity: seeing repeated numbers or symbols, dreaming about people or events then encountering them on waking, thinking about something then having it happen. The latter happened to me over the course of the last month, beginning with edition 401 of the Fortean Times arriving through my letterbox.

One of the featured articles by Rob Gandy was about Lincolnshire road ghosts, entitled ‘The Ruskington Horror’. It happened to catch my eye because of a thread I’m developing in my WIP that involves an apparition appearing on a road and causing a fatal accident. The driver didn’t even have a walk-on part in the story to begin with. Now my stupid writer brain has decided that the trucker was so affected by his experience that he gave up driving and became a paranormal investigator (as you do), finding fame and fortune whilst simultaneously bombarding my protagonist with ‘evidence’ of his version of events that day, which she doesn’t want to hear. I realised as I was developing this idea that I’d need to gen up on my road ghosts. This is the kind of research I enjoy, since Forteana is one of my passions. I’ve shelves of books on ghosts and the paranormal, but I soon came to realise that poring through each on the off-chance I’d happen on a road ghost would take me forever.

Yes, I did draw a moustache on Eeyore

I’d just decided to hunt down a book written specifically about road ghosts when FT401 arrived and there was Gandy’s article. After devouring the magazine cover to cover, I did do a cursory eBay search in the used books section for just such an item but couldn’t find anything close to what I needed, so I shelved the idea since I wasn’t writing that particular part of the story at the time and could always come back to it.

A month later and FT402 arrives with part 2 of ‘The Ruskington Horror’ feature. Included in the article is a reference to a book by Peter A. McCue, ‘Paranormal Encounters on Britain’s Roads’, which is EXACTLY the kind of book I was looking for! And here’s my nice shiny copy, which landed a couple of days ago (if you fancy your own copy, and why wouldn’t you, you can help support independent book shops by buying via the bookshop.org)

So was it coincidence that just such an article was written at the exact same time as my need for information on road ghosts? Quite possibly. Was it also a coincidence that Part 2 of the article should feature the exact kind of book I was looking for, and had previously been unable to find? Maybe. But then, if you want to believe in synchronicity, it gets even stranger.

The first chapter of the book is entitled ‘Fundamentals’, which is essentially a definition of the various terms that are commonly used by those engaged in psychical research. The very first entry concerns itself with ESP, or Extrasensory Perception. One of my protagonist’s main struggles is with her extrasensory abilities, so now I have a book that quite unexpectedly covers two distinct topics that closely affect my protagonist.

Now you could argue that this is just a case of my interests crossing paths: I’m writing a paranormal mystery novel and I read publications such as the Fortean Times, so it’s quite natural that I’m going to come across similar themes and phenomena. But the timing intrigues me. Is the Universe giving me a subtle little thumbs-up for developing this particular story thread? I certainly like to think so.

One of my favourite features in the Fortean Times is ‘It Happened To Me’. This is where readers send in their own accounts of their experiences with the paranormal, and I’m particularly intrigued by this because it’s not something that’s ever really happened to me (or so I’ve always considered!)

First- and second-hand accounts of phenomena experienced are also often used in the various published features. In this month’s Ghostwatch column, Alan Murdie writes about the haunted property market (yes, apparently it’s a thing!). I was particularly intrigued by the story of real estate agent Joy Sushinsky, who related various paranormal experiences that she’d encountered in her very own home, such as her cat yowling at and watching things that weren’t there, and doors slamming and opening and closing by themselves. This was then followed by the account from radio & TV presenter Zoe Ball that her son kept insisting he could hear their recently deceased cat miaowing in their house.

If you follow my blog then you may remember that I lost my beautiful boy Welford last year.

Myself and the better half were devastated, and I’ve gone through my fair share of grief the past few years to know that it does some very strange things to you. On the second morning after Welford’s passing, I woke with a start having heard a very loud miaow outside of our bedroom door. I sat up immediately and listened, although I was certain it had probably just been the tail end of a dream. At the exact same moment my better half sat up and looked at me. “Did you just hear that?” he asked me.

“Welford?” I answered.

He nodded.

We both scrambled out of bed and went out onto the landing, where of course Welford wasn’t since we’d buried his body in the garden two days earlier. We do have another cat, but as you crazy cat people will know, a cat’s miaow is like a person’s voice: no two are ever the same, and Welford and Voldemort have/had very different ones. Also, Voldemort rarely goes upstairs, as that was Welford’s favoured domain. Nonetheless, we padded downstairs just to check, and lo and behold, there was Voldemort fast asleep on the sofa in the living room. Even if she’d miaowed in her sleep, the sound would not have carried that far and as loudly as we had heard it.

So was it my boy come to tell us goodbye, or that he was still there with us? I really like to believe so, as that wouldn’t make me quite as potty for walking around the house talking to him as I do most days. The only other hypothesis I can offer is that Better Half and I had a shared auditory hallucination, manifested, perhaps, by the power of our combined grief.

All of this got me to thinking in some depth about whether I’d had any more potentially paranormal experiences that I’d either forgotten or brushed off with some mundane explanation. As I mentioned above, I’ve always considered that I’ve (sadly) never come into contact with much unusual phenomena, either directly or via friends & family. So I sat and made a list, and I realised I’ve had far more weird shit happen than I think.

  1. Mummy / Blob apparition: When I was very little, probably about three years old, I woke up to find a mummy, about six feet tall, walking into my bedroom. I remember it very clearly, it was wrapped head to toe in white bandages, was walking quite rigidly in a side-to-side rocking motion with its arms held out, and was wearing a yellowish tweed jacket (of all things!). As it rounded the bed, it morphed into a purple blob, about four feet tall and the approximate shape of a Walnut Whip. I tried to scream but no sound would come out, and I found myself completely paralysed. Unable to move or to call out for my parents, I either fainted or fell back to sleep. At the time it felt that I’d blacked out through sheer terror. Could’ve been a very nasty dream. Who knows.
  2. Invisible animals: Like a lot of only children, I had two imaginary friends when I was young. Mine, however, were not human but animal. Sandy and Tom were a dog and a cat, and I remember them vividly. Sandy was a golden retriever puppy like the Andrex dog, and Tom was a black and white cat. I don’t remember how long I ‘saw’ them for, but they were such a part of my reality that Mum would put out plates of ‘food’ for them at dinnertime. Alas she’s no longer here for me to ask her about it. Imaginary friends are often explained away as the concepts of lonely children, but children are also said to be extremely receptive to the paranormal. I certainly know that I ‘saw’ those animals as solidly as any real human.
  3. Sightings of the recently deceased: Both my better half and my late Nan have seen their recently deceased loves ones. My Nan once told me that not long after my grandad died, she walked into the lounge from the kitchen and saw him sitting on the sofa watching the television ‘as real as if he’d really been there’. She would never be drawn on whether she believed it was his ghost or just a side effect of her grief. My better half reports having seen his mum in their kitchen not long after she died. Again, he can’t explain this, but tends towards the explanation that he was seeing what he wanted to see, ie. his mum, who had died very suddenly when he was just a young man.
  4. The door that opened on its own / footsteps on the stairs / wonky clock: Shortly after moving in to my current house, I began to notice something very strange: the door of the cupboard under the stairs kept opening on its own. It would be closed when I left the house, and open when I returned. It’s not the kind of door that can accidentally open on its own. It has what I believe is called a mortice lock. You have to turn the handle to release the latch bolt and so it can’t just ‘open’.

I also began to notice that a pendulum wall clock I had inherited from the previous owner would be hanging slant on the wall when I returned home. It wasn’t just slightly slant, it was tilted to a degree that you couldn’t explain away by traffic vibrations or the slamming of doors. We do have a quarry about two miles down the road, so the regular blasting could have caused both the clock to move and the door to open – except nothing else on the wall was ever affected.

And that doesn’t explain the sound of footsteps on the staircase and landing when I was in the house on my own! All of this occurred within the first few months of me moving in and I was extremely spooked by it all! I actually knew the guy I’d bought the house from and saw him in our local one night. I happened to mention the strange goings-on and he was not remotely surprised, informing me that his ex-partner had brought in a priest to bless the house because of similar experiences that were frightening their children. I had no reason to disbelieve him and he appeared truly genuine in his account. I was told the phenomena ceased after the blessing, and I wondered whether the upheaval of the exchange in owners had somehow ‘reawakened’ whatever was present. I decided to address it directly, standing on the stairs whilst I introduced myself, reassuring them I meant no harm and that whoever or whatever was present was quite welcome to live alongside me. I haven’t experienced anything untoward since. The door hasn’t opened on its own, there have been no footsteps on the stairs and the clock ceased to tilt on the wall. Voldemort occasionally sits and ‘watches’ things cross the living room, always in the same place, always from the kitchen to the hallway where the phenomena took place. Maybe she’s seeing what I can’t, or maybe she’s just being a cat, because they’re like that.

So that’s my paranormal experiences to date. I’d love to hear about yours if you’d care to share in the comments. If the supernormal is your thing and you don’t already read it, check out the Fortean Times for your monthly dose of strange phenomena. Now I’m off to read another chapter of my book and partake of a beverage or three. Friday nights in lockdown. What fun, eh?

Stay safe & strong all.

)o( Love & Light )o(

Kate Lowe is a speculative fiction author from Leicestershire, UK. Her short fiction has won first place in two competitions & has appeared in various zines, magazines & anthologies. Her story The Wolf Runs in the Barley received an Honourable Mention in The Best Horror of the Year Volume 4, edited by Ellen Datlow.

Kate is a goth, a keen Fortean and a proud supporter of Leicester City Football Club and Leicester Tigers Rugby. Her favourite band is Fields of the Nephilim, she loves silver jewellery, hunting for antiques and is usually to be found with a book in her hand.

Full of something but definitely not stories

Greetings, fellow blog folk.

I’m writing this post from my sick bed (ie. duvet on the sofa in front of the footie). Once again, I’ve gone and contracted the winter lurgy (in spring), and I’m currently drowning in tissues full of…

Anyway.

What I am not currently full of is stories, which is seriously frustrating because I need to write three in the next two weeks to meet a competition deadline.

No pressure.

Which is probably the issue.

But anyway, to get things moving I’ve been up to the study and grabbed this little beauty:

(Yes, that’s Welford curled up in the background, keeping me company / pinching all the leg room, and oh look! A tissue!)

I opened the book at random and came to the following exercise (easier to photograph than explain since I’m typing this on my phone – I’m not being lazy, honest!):

So I’m going to give it a go and see what I end up with, and if I’m feeling brave then I’ll post the results – whatever they may be 🤣

Just a quick shameless plug for The Case of Blue Ben, the 4th instalment in the Riley Pope Case Files, which came out last week and can be downloaded for free (along with the first three books in brand new revised editions) from Smashwords in epub or mobi format now.

Later 🤘

New release: The Case of Blue Ben (Riley Pope Book 4)

Just a quick update on the next Riley Pope installment…… (drum roll please)…..

DA DAAAAAAA!!!

4-blue-ben
Click me to download for free!

Here it is, available to download for free from Smashwords (or if you’re feeling extra generous and want to pay for it, 99p from Amazon), The Case of Blue Ben.

Mercators are solitary creatures, as a rule: the trading of cryptids is a competitive business – not to mention illegal – and single-minded ruthlessness doesn’t translate to a healthy social circle. So when a group of mercators convene in a London hotel, it sets off alarm bells, especially for cryptozoologist Riley Pope, who’d like nothing more than to put the mercators out of business for good… and settle an old score into the bargain.

But Riley’s employers seem reluctant to act, and it’s only with the unexpected help of Mo Liffey, the Firm’s resident sorceress, that Riley convinces them they need her on the case. Mo’s help doesn’t come for free though… 

Zealous in her quest to discover what the band of mercators are up to, Riley targets a face from her past with disastrous – and possibly life-changing – consequences. Faced with the option of admitting her failure or swallowing her pride, Riley asks for help from an unlikely source, and together they close in on the mercator’s prized purchase… only for Mo to call her debt in. And you don’t say no to the Queen of the Fae.

Cainsville, holidays and lots of reading

I’ve had a few holidays since my last post.

One wasn’t really a ‘holiday’ but a two-week break from the day job so that I could concentrate on writing, (with a few days out in between). It went far too quickly and it’s already a distant memory, but I did get a little bit further through the endless WIP edit. The other ‘holiday’ was a three day break up to Whitby Goth Weekend which was thoroughly enjoyable and went far too quickly 😦

The trouble with spending an intense period of time on the WIP is having to go back to reality; for the first few weeks I really struggled to get any further with it. Not for want of trying, and, to be fair, I edited and submitted that paranormal romance I mentioned previously in between times, so I wasn’t totally barren in the writing department (after 8 weeks of silence from the publisher, having promised a reply in 5 weeks, I’ve decided to submit elsewhere – life’s too short to wait, right?). As for the WIP, I set myself a goal of writing for 1 hour each day between 6pm – 7pm weekdays. This allowed two hours after work in which I could feed the cats, tidy up, feed the cats some more, do some exercise, clean up the mess that the cats left, and for my eyes to get some rest from a computer screen (I pay the bills by spending eight hours a day stuck in front of one).

And it worked. Invariably, I went straight through the hour and was still tapping away hours later. I’m now in the final third, which requires the least editing (I hope!) so fingers crossed I’ll reach my target of having the damned thing finished by the end of the year (I’m pretty sure when you’re this sick and tired of a piece of work, it’s a sign that it’s about as ready as it will ever get).

In other news, I’ve finished Kelley Armstrong’s Cainsville series. Anyone who’s read my blog knows that Kelley is my favourite author and I’m loathe to even suggest anything negative about her work… but I’m soooooooooooo disappointed how this series ended…

(SPOILERS BELOW)

The whole premise of the series was that Liv / Eden was going to have to choose a side between the Tylwyth Teg and Cwn Annwn, Gabriel or Ricky. I figured Liv would always end up with Gabriel as that was clearly where the books were heading. Ricky, unfortunately, became a bit of a one-dimensional afterthought near the end which was a shame, but as a ‘Team Gabriel’ lady, I wasn’t going to complain!

But then came the end… and Liv didn’t choose! Her final choice was NO CHOICE! She REFUSED to choose! She’d FIND A WAY AROUND IT somehow!

Well I’m sorry but that’s just cheating! Hopefully Kelley has left the series open-ended so she can continue with it someday, and aside from the ending/not-ending, the writing, as usual, was spot on. Now I’m faced with a very long wait for the final Rockton book, boo!

Since finishing the Cainsville series, I’ve read Lee Child’s Tripwire, Patricia Briggs’ Iron Kissed (see my in-depth review on Goodreads) and a mammoth book of short stories called 65 Tales of the Supernatural, which is possibly the best charity shop find I ever made.

 

Speaking of shops, we made a trip over to Trusthorpe on the Lincolnshire coast a few months ago. We ate chips and ice cream, played the arcades, walked on the beach and paddled in the sea. We also paid a visit to Sue’s Curios which is the most amazing antiques shop I think I’ve ever been in. It’s so chock-full of stuff you could spend a week in there and not see everything! There’s even a car in there! Anyway, I found this little treasure in there for the princely sum of £5 and I can’t wait to read it (I do love old books). And although Trusthorpe is right next door to Mablethorpe, which doesn’t have the most exciting reputation, it does have an amazing and often deserted beach.

20170831_173516

Riley Pope news: I’m 6K words into book #4 and only on Chapter 2… think it’s going to be a long one! And Helen the Cat, who starred in The Case of Walutahanga made the local news recently and you can read all about her right here.

Others news: Gliterary Tales, the upcoming anthology from Bridge House Publishing which will feature my story ‘A Very Unseelie Act’ is out in the next few weeks, eek! Check back soon for purchase / download details.

And finally, a big hello to my recent visitors from Canada!

Take care all and keep reading! X

Walking to Whitby, submission success and an urban fantasy series that I really should’ve read a long time ago

I did it!

I completed my Walk to Whitby! Well actually, I did it a month ago but thought I should mention it here since the last update I provided stopped at Day 12 and you may or may not have been wondering if I’d been figuratively mown down somewhere on the M1 motorway. Final total raised was £205 which is far more than I ever expected to raise for this very worthwhile cause. It’s time we kicked cancer’s arse for good, don’t you think?

In other news, I received a lovely email the other day. ‘Your submission has been successful’ said the title. Woo hoo! My short story A Very Unseelie Act will be included in Gliterary Tales and published by Bridge House Publishing this November. It’s been a few years since my last published story (Night Shift – you can read it online here) so it was very nice to be able to jump up from my chair and do the happy dance again (writers, you know the one I’m talking about). The story is in epistolary format and is written as an email exchange between a disgruntled fairy and a totally inept customer service department, of which we’ve all had experience at some time or other.  I wrote the story about four years ago and initially submitted it to a Writing Magazine competition, for which it was shortlisted. It then sat around on my hard drive until I saw the call for submissions from Bridge House Publishing for stories with glitter or sparkle. I’ve since had an email inviting me and a plus one to Bridge House’s annual celebration event in December, which I’m umming and ahing over but probably shouldn’t be because I know authors should never turn down an opportunity to network.

Buuuuuut…

Firstly, I’ve never been to one of these events before so I’m not really sure what to expect. I’m a total introvert and not very sociable, so the mention of ‘author speed dating’ had me coming out in a cold sweat. That alone is not a reason to avoid it though, and nor would the hubster (or my inner writer) let me. Secondly and more importantly, the event is in London (why does EVERYTHING have to be in London?) and it also falls on the day of my Nan’s 90th birthday party. The train isn’t an option as I don’t live anywhere near a station, so a simple train journey for most would actually be a taxi-train-tube-tube-train-taxi journey. So how much is this going to cost me three weeks before Christmas, when money will already be tight??? It means we’re going to have to drive from Leicester to London and back, on a Saturday a few weeks before Christmas. The event is 2pm-5pm, and the birthday party starts at 7pm. Even if I leave early, I’m still not guaranteed to get back on time. In light of my first point I feel like I’m making excuses, but I only have one Nan and she’s only going to be 90 once so there’s no competition. I’m still not sure what to do, so I might reserve the tickets and then just figure it out nearer the time.

Gah. There are worse problems to have, right?

And finally, on the book front, I’ve just read Lee Child’s Persuader (his seventh – I think – Jack Reacher) and also Patricia Briggs’ Moon Called, her first book in the Mercy Thompson series. Lee Child aside (Persuader, I felt, was probably the best Jack Reacher I’ve read in terms of plot and overall writing), I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to get round to reading Patricia Briggs considering my love of urban fantasy and all things vampire, witch and werewolf. Saying that, I can’t help but compare it to Bitten, Kelley Armstrong’s first book in the Otherworld series, and in terms of the plot I found it a bit thin and a whole lot confusing when it all came to a head. Otherwise, I really enjoyed her style and I like the character of Mercy – she’s not some cliched femme fatale kick-ass in leather (which is what put me off Kim Harrison’s books) but an average girl who lives in a trailer, works as a mechanic and just happens to possess the ability to shift into a coyote. I like the coyote twist and how Briggs has woven it into the general werewolf pack concept, and I’m looking forward to reading more Mercy Thompson (which I intend to do when I get home with book two in the series.) Oh, and Cainsville #4 has just come out in paperback in the UK this week, so that will no doubt be winging its way to me from Amazon some time in the not-too-distant future.

As for the WIP, I’m still plugging away at it and pleased with how it’s going. It’s still following the general plotline but with lots of new or revised scenes. I’m also working on the fourth Riley Pope and another long-short story about a vampire hunter on a mission to flush out a strigoi-trafficking dhampir. Also in the pipeline is a short story in the form of a memoir that I intend to submit to Writing Magazine for an upcoming comp. I imagine that’s going to take me about 5 minutes to write, and 5 days to get over, but then there’s always chocolate!

Have a blessed Lammas all

X

lammas

 

Antisocial media

I saw an advert / call for submissions from a traditional publisher recently, requiring the author to submit a detailed marketing plan with their manuscript.

Really???

Now I get that authors are expected to take a more active role in promoting their work than in previous decades, but unless you hail from a background in sales or marketing and have any knowledge of the publishing industry then where do you start? They might as well have printed ‘Beg, little author, beg!’ right? Well, quite frankly, f*** you Mr Publisher! Without us you’d be out of business. No wonder that more and more authors are turning to self-publishing, even the ones who’ve been traditionally published historically. If we have to do all the work ourselves then where’s the sense in wasting time seeking representation?

OK, so I know there are numerous advantages to having a publisher and many probably don’t require the aforementioned marketing plan – I don’t mean to tar them all with the same grouchy brush.

But.

We authors are, on the whole, inherently solitary creatures. We’re never more content than when we’re locked away, engrossed in our imaginary worlds and conversing with characters that live in our heads. Creating is the fun part of writing. None of us set out to write a novel with the thought of ‘Oh gee, I just can’t wait to market this’ in mind.

As I said in previous posts, it was always my intention to self-publish The Riley Pope Case Files, so promoting them myself was part of the package. I didn’t (and still don’t) expect to make a fortune from the venture. Aside from telling family and friends, my promotional work has solely taken place via social media – my dedicated author page on Facebook, my Twitter account, my Pinterest feed where oodles of gothic loveliness abounds, and Goodreads.

As I made the (sadly wrong) decision to subscribe to KDP Select, I am tied in to selling the first three books via Amazon exclusively, for a period of 3 months. It offers higher royalties in Japan, Brazil and Mexico, (none of which I’ve sold a single book to) and India (total sales: one), and allows you to earn via the Select Global Fund which calculates royalties based on the number of pages read via Kindle Unlimited (these take 3 months to show, so I don’t know what I’ve earned yet – probably a pittance). You also get access to promotions, either Kindle Countdown deals or a Free Book promotion which allows you to offer your book for free for up to 5 days.

I went with the Free Book promotion for all three books. The Case of Walutahanga sold well in this period, reaching No.16 in the Urban Fantasy Top 100 Free chart. As soon as the promotion was over, sales didn’t so much dwindle as dry up completely. The Case of Ahuizotl and The Case of the Brollachan had more modest sales during the Free Book period, and likewise went down to zilch post-promotion. As I write this, my Kindle Unlimited page reads are showing at 659.

I can attribute most of the sales to promotion via social media. On the days that I advertised, sales went up, so it definitely helps. On the flipside, I’m now pretty bored with repeating myself via updates and tweets and creative little JPEGs of book quotes, so I’m damned sure the rest of my audience is. As part of my sales drive I joined up to groups on Facebook and followed other folk on Twitter who either wrote or read urban fantasy, or had a keen interest in cryptozoology. A couple even followed me back, which was nice, but now both my Twitter and Facebook feeds are full of other people promoting their ebooks! Good for them! But am I paying them any attention?

Well… no.

The thing is, I don’t respond well to adverts, TV, online or otherwise. I know what I like and if I want it then I’ll actively seek it out. I don’t like being bombarded with commercials and little flashing GIFs, advising that I NEED to get this or that I MUST own that, hence I find myself cringing every time I post an ad, imagining all of those people going ‘God, not HER again! Sod off!’

It doesn’t help that I’m not very happy with the price that I’ve had to set the books at: Amazon won’t let me sell below 99p, which some might find pretty steep for a 9,000 word short story. The answer is to find other platforms to sell on for a lower price BUT – I’m now tied in to bloody Amazon until mid-March!

Gah!

The most consistent feedback I’ve had concerns print books and whether The Riley Pope Case Files are available in print. Sadly, they’re not long enough to print via CreateSpace. The plan is to release an anthology of Books 1 to 10 (when they’re written) in print, which won’t be for a year or two. I have seen a lot of other authors admitting their print sales are much, much higher than their ebooks, which doesn’t surprise me in the least. I personally own two Kindles and can’t remember the last time I used either. It’s not that I have anything against ebooks, but I just love print books more. I like to line them up on my bookshelves, I like the feel of a book in my hand and the smell when they’re new.

That’s right. I sniff books. Don’t you?

Liar. 😉

X

 

Three things to do over Christmas that’ll freak out your family

I recently watched the last ever episode of Banshee. For those who haven’t seen it, WHY NOT? I challenge you to watch the first episode and not be hooked by the time ten minutes is up.

As the final episode drew to a close and all of the characters I’d grown to know and love went their separate ways, not a happy ever after but a happy-ish for now, I found myself in tears and wondered WHY I was in tears! Nobody had died (well a lot of folk had, but not anyone I cared about). The fact is I’d come to feel close to the characters, to care about their lives and what happened to them afterwards. Except I wouldn’t know, because this was the end, and how daft does THAT sound when they’re only actors playing roles on the screen?

It got me to thinking just why I cared so much. The lead is an ex-con thief who assumes the ID of a murdered sheriff and goes on a quest to win back the love of his life, who’s now happily married to the mayor (but just happens to be an ex-thief herself, and the daughter of a mob boss who they lied to and swindled). On the surface there doesn’t seem much to root for – but, from the outset, we see our shady lead put himself in harm’s way to save a total stranger’s life. And he keeps on doing it, and keeps on doing it, and other shady characters join the party, and the plot keeps twisting and turning and thickening, and suddenly, just like the book you can’t put down, you’ve lost a whole day in your eagerness to find out what happens.

The strap line for Banshee is’small town, big secrets’, but even though it is a small town, it’s peopled with extraordinary characters. I know that in my current (never-ending) WIP, I’ve been guilty of not getting to know my characters well enough, and now am playing (soul-destroying) catch-up. So, to get to know my cast better,  I’ve come up with a trio of exercises aimed at really getting into their heads, discovering secrets even I didn’t know about, and finding out what their lives were like before they stepped into the pages of my novel. Feel free to try them out, or share them, but please keep a struggling author in biscuits and link back to my site- every little helps!

Exercise 1 – Correspond with your characters!

Everyone has secrets, even the people who live in your head! So why not invite them to spill a few? Write them a letter and let them respond, or, if you’re not entirely comfortable posting letters to imaginary people, then set up an email account for them. If you’re finding it difficult to switch between author and character then try corresponding as author at your desk, and replying as character in a coffee shop / on the commute / in your PJs from the sofa (you could go as far as dressing up as them if that helps!).

So what is the point of this exercise, other than freaking out your partner / parents / dog when they wander in and find you in full period costume, writing to a fictional entity?

Well, that depends entirely on what you want to know. I tried this exercise out with the antagonist of my current WIP, keeping the following questions in mind:

  • Why are you determined to kill my hero (you numpty)?
  • Why did you end up so bloody evil?
  • What drove you to do what you have done / are threatening to do?
  • What’s your motivation and is it rational?
  • What is your background?
  • Are you really all that bad or is there a chance of redemption for you?

I really have written the entire first / second / ninetieth draft of my WIP without knowing any of this important (imperative) information. No one is ever as simple as good guy / bad guy, though. Round out your characters by asking them to tell you a little more about themselves, and you might be surprised by the answers!

Exercise 2 – The Job Interview!

This can work for any character: protagonist, antagonist or secondary character.

Firstly, decide which position you are interviewing for. Secondly, write a brief job spec. For example: ‘Aspiring author seeks heroine for gritty urban fantasy debut. Must be industrious, tenacious and have a few skeletons in the closet. Supernatural qualities desirable, etc etc.”

Write up your own list of questions or pick from the selection below, then put on your best suit and tie and prepare to interview your candidates!

  • Name, age, sex, where do you hail from (these are mostly always essential)
  • List your strengths and weaknesses
  • Where do you see yourself five years from now?
  • Why should I consider hiring you for this position?
  • What motivates you?
  • Are you a team player or more of a lone wolf?
  • What are you passionate about?
  • What have you learned from your mistakes?

Or how about some more outlandish enquiries?

  • You win a million quid on the lottery: what would you do with it?
  • What do you think about when you’re alone in the car?
  • What were you like in high school?
  • How would you convince someone to do something they didn’t want to do?
  • You’ve been given a giraffe. You can’t sell it or give it away. What would you do with the giraffe?

What will you learn from doing this? Well, assuming you have a great plot and your protagonist is now up the tree, you’ll know exactly how he or she is going to react when you start throwing rocks at them, and how they might intend to get themselves down.

Exercise 3 – Let’s go shopping!

This is another time-consuming exercise, so make sure you have at least a few hours spare.

We challenge our characters with endless choices: the choices they make decide the route the story takes, but they also say a lot about the character.

Decide which character you’re going to get to know, then head off to your nearest town centre / supermarket / mall and take them shopping!

You can, if you wish, grab a basket or trolley and physically collect all the items that your character would buy. It does mean, eventually, you’ll have to put them back though. Or buy them. Or dump the trolley or basket in the shop for someone else to clear up, but even if your character would do this, I don’t recommend or condone it!

The easiest method is to browse as your character would browse. Would they go for the Heinz baked beans or the Tesco Value option? Would they eat baked beans? And what about alcohol? Are they a drinker or do they avoid it, and if they avoid it then do they have a reason, perhaps one that they’re hiding?

Champagne or Lambrini? Have they ever had champagne? How about fashion? Are they more of an All Saints or a Matalan girl? Do they even follow fashion or are they more of an alternative type? How about thrift shops? Do they rely on them to make ends meet, or would they rather walk around naked than wear other people’s cast-offs?

Hopefully, by the end of your shopping trip, you’ll have learned a little more about your character’s likes and dislikes, background, attitude, strengths and flaws (and hopefully you haven’t been arrested, or disowned by your partner / mother / best friend for acting like a weirdo – because they know we are anyway, right?)

If you try out any of these exercises, enjoy! I’d love to hear how you get on!

Blessed Winter Solstice to you all, happy holidays, and don’t forget to check out The Riley Pope Case Files, just 99p each from Amazon now!

The story behind Walutahanga…

Where did the idea for the story come from?

I’m not exactly sure – where do story ideas come from??? The original suggestion to set the story in a pub was – unsurprisingly – made in my local, inspired by a bottle with a snake inside that lives on a shelf behind the bar.

Where is the story set?

In my home town of Coalville, Leicestershire (well they do say write what you know). The pub in the story is based on my local, the Vic Biker’s Pub.

So it’s a real pub?

Yes! And you can go and look for Walutahanga if you like, she’s still behind the bar! There’s nothing supernatural about the bar staff, though (as far as I’m aware!)

What about the cat in the story?

Helen is real, known to the locals as Helen, Queen of the Vic. She turned up as a stray many moons ago and is now part of the Vic family. I didn’t intend to include her in the story but there’s tons of intriguing feline mythology to draw from so I thought, why not?

Who is Riley Pope?

Riley is a Remnant – a being possessed of magical ability. She uses her talents to seek out cryptids who are trapped in the human world – referred to as the New World – in order to relocate them to the world beyond The Rift, and safety. The magical powers of cryptids can be, and often are, abused by humans and Remnants alike, so this is why the work that Riley does is important.

And who is Bastien Cort?

Bastien Cort is the human vessel of the fallen angel better known as Azazel. Many, many years ago, Azazel was sent to Earth to watch over the humans, but soon began to lust after human females. He and a number of Watchers became the Fallen, and were banished to Earth for their sins. As for how Bastien and Riley became lovers, and how it all went wrong for them, well, you’ll just have to read the books to find out!

Download ‘The Case of Walutahanga’ now!