Category: Author


A few weeks ago I was in Cardiff visiting one of my closest friends. We met in college eleven years ago and, despite her moving to Cardiff in 2009, we’ve remained bestest buds. When we she first moved down we used to write to each other a lot. To a stranger, untrained in our ridiculous comedy, the letters would read like some sort of cry for help, but to us they were hilarious. We used to send each other all sorts of stupid stuff, writing letters as characters and sometimes creating over the top, ridiculous stories to entertain each other. On my recent visit, we were talking about these letters and how it had been a few years since we sent our last. I’d taken down a particularly long and bizarre ‘book’ that she had written for one of my birthdays and it had provoked plenty of hilarity.

‘Where did we get our ideas from? I couldn’t think of anything like this now….’, she sighed flicking through the pages of Christmas carols she had adapted with rude and absurd new meanings.

It’s a worrying thought that has also crossed my mind. Up until a few years ago I was constantly writing.  Whether it was short stories, bits of screenplay, notes of ideas, or bonkers letters to friends. There was a point where I was constantly typing in ideas into my phone or scribbling on the back of my hand. I often used to leave my evening job with my pockets stuffed full of till roll which I had covered with ideas during the laboriously dull shifts. I was bursting with ideas.

The last time I really sat down to write (and complete!) anything was in February, when I wrote a full script for the Performing Arts concert in school. Before that, I hadn’t written anything since the September following my PGCE, when I went a bit mad with freedom and channelled all my pent up creative energy into a short story. That was about two years ago now. Before that, I hadn’t written anything worth talking about for a long time.

So, when discussing this sudden halt in creativity, our first morbid thought was ‘It must come with age’. Now that we have reached the sickeningly disgusting age of 27, and hover on the brink of *gulp* 30, it seemed obvious that that creative vein from our late teens had just sort of slowed. But age can’t be to blame, really can it? People don’t just stop being creative once they reach their late twenties! It doesn’t happen!

So, what is it? We both have quite demanding jobs and, as I’ve said lots of times before, I do sometimes feel this horrible sense of creative restriction since I started my PGCE (3 years ago this week!). I don’t perform anymore and I don’t really have the time to write, which has resulted in me feeling quite frustrated that I’m not able to express myself like I used to. My friend’s job is similar – she works long hours and by the time she comes home all she wants to do is switch off.  On the rare weekend, where I’ll feel so frustrated that I’ll force myself to just sit and write, what comes out is re-tellings or twists of real life events. Things that have happened to me or my friends. My writing now is more grounded to real-life – totally different to Reset, which I started writing in 2009, that I created a whole new world for.

Maybe it’s not ‘work’ so much, just ‘life’. We’ve got all these horrid responsibilities now that we didn’t have as teenagers and it seems that life is just clogging up our heads. In the last year or so I’m finding myself getting increasingly forgetful. Whether it’s names or memories or highly important jobs I need to do – I always had a very good memory but I’m noticing a steady increase in my ‘scatty moments’. A few weeks ago I totally forgot the word for ‘flannel’, so how can I expect my mind to focus on creating a story?

Perhaps creativity is like a muscle. My life has seen big changes in the last couple of years and it’s meant that I’ve had to give up performing and not had much time to write. Maybe the problem is that I’ve neglected to stretch that muscle that was so strong just a few years ago, which makes it tricky for me to carry out any kind of lengthy writing session now. When I think about it, my ‘creative peak’ was at a time when I was writing daily and that time itself has come off the back of my time in education. At GCSE level, story writing was part of the exam so I had plenty of opportunity to practise (‘write a short story about friendship’ *shudders*). At A level I wasn’t so much writing but devising stories and improvs as part of a Drama and Theatre Studies course, which also involved writing analytical essays about how I would creatively stage productions. Then, finally, at degree level I chose a Creative Writing module which resulted in Reset being written. It’s important to remember that during that time in university I was constantly required to read all kinds of literature, so perhaps immersing myself in other people’s writing is another way to inspire my creativity.

It’s a sad fact, one that at times is difficult to accept, but my life now requires me to focus on things other than writing and performing. Once my ideas might have blossomed and flourished but now, my exhausted brain just tends to let them fester for a bit and then crumble away. But, determined to end on a positive, I’m going to make a promise to myself: to try to find the time to be creative. Whether it’s late-night writing, surrounding myself with inspiration novels, or spending time with fellow theatricals. That’s my promise….and I’m making it just as I’m going back to school!

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A few weeks ago I had a burst of inspiration. I was adding to old material and creating new work for what felt like a whole week solid. It was just pouring out of me and I couldn’t (and didn’t want to) stop it. The last few weeks that wave of creativity has truly crashed and become a pathetic dribble of vague ideas, all due to that frustrating mess of distractions – life. In the past, when I’m struggling, I find I can take inspiration from music. I’ve said before that music is a large part of my life and, aside from the stuff I might sing along to in my car, I’ve got a bank of music I turn to if I want to jump-start a story in my head. Below are five of, what I think, are the most inspirational musicians for writing (as well as providing dramatic soundtracks for your day….or am I the only one who does that?)

Murray Gold – I’m a Doctor Who fan and Murray Gold’s soundtrack comes with a whole TARDIS full of inspiration. Tracks such as ‘The Master Tape’, ‘The Majestic Tale of the Madman with a Box’ and ‘The Rueful Fate of Donna Noble’ are awesome kick-starters for a dramatic showdown or fully-charged finale. A lot of Reset was written with Murray Gold’s series 4 soundtrack blasting in the background, particularly tracks from latter episodes. Not only has he composed some deliciously dramatic pieces, but his tracks, such as ‘The Dream of a Normal Death’, ‘Goodbye Pond’ and ‘The Long Song’ can also be beautifully poignant. I’ve used Murray Gold’s music to inspire my own work but I’ve also played it many times in the classroom to inspire creative writing (and the children always love it). It’s also worth noting that Gold has composed some wonderful incidental pieces for Torchwood, such as ‘Death of Toshiko’ which always makes me a bit damp around the eyes.

Scala & the Kolacny Brothers – I first heard their take on U2’s ‘With or Without You’ some years ago on an advert for Downton Abbey. It was such a haunting piece of music that I had to find out more, and I’ve since added their versions of ‘Use Somebody’, ‘Heroes’ and ‘Every breath you take’ to my writing playlist. Nothing quite tops ‘With or Without You’ when it comes to sending shivers up your arms, though.

Michael GiacchinoLost was one of my favourite TV shows and, apart from the bonkers characters and quirky mysteries, I loved it for its music. My favourite piece of incidental music from Lost is ‘Moving On’. I love how it rises and falls, from soft and gentle to a breath-taking crescendo that just makes you cry! (It’s also great for calming down rowdy Year 6s, I’ve found). Giacchino is also behind some amazing scores from films such as Up and Jurassic World.

John Williams – Speaking of Jurassic World/Park, I had to include the film’s original composer, who created that iconic theme tune (and, alright, I may have been guilty of playing it at full blast as I’ve driven around Wales). Whether you’re into dinos or not, it’s really difficult not to get excited when the music swells. Of course, Williams is also famous for the Star Wars soundtrack, which is equally as inspiring for dramatic writing.

Alan Menken – Responsible for creating some classic Disney tunes, I had to include Menken’s work. Regardless of the catchy songs, Menken’s back catalogue of instrumental scores alone is worthy of this list. From The Little Mermaid to Tangled , Menken has created many breathtaking pieces of music. One of my favourites is ‘Transformation’ from Beauty and the Beast. (Close your eyes, have a listen and feel happy!)

I’ve always fancied writing about living in London. I tried to do it once when I dabbled with a sequel to Reset but the whole thing fell flat because….I’ve never lived in London! How could I write about something that I don’t have a clue about? I don’t know street names, hidden locations, shortcuts. I don’t know what it’s like to wake up there every day. To have my faced pushed against a tube window during a morning commute. To dash through the rain and streetlights in the middle of the night. To sip a drink in the shadows of a bar. I don’t know what it’s like to live in London. So I couldn’t possibly write about it.

It might sound like an obvious idea but this lesson has taken me a long time to learn.

When I was growing up my projects usually focused on characters in a theatre group or at school, because that’s all I knew. I didn’t click at first, but my projects all had similar threads. Reset is based in Cardiff because I’ve spent a lot of time there over the years. After Caitlyn focuses on a toxic friendship and the repercussions it can have. Alex’s story is about the struggle to find your place in the world. The strongest threads come from my own knowledge. Naturally.

A few weeks ago something happened and the more I thought about it the more I felt the need to write it down. I started with this tiny incident which grew, and is still growing, into a full story. I’ve got a character who is becoming more and more real and situations which I think are running very natural courses because the initial basis of the story is truth.

I’m sure it goes without saying that the best writers are those who have lived through pain and truly experienced life. It’s no wonder I’ve been getting so frustrated with my ideas, feeling like they’re old news, like my imagination is drying up. I’ve used up all my stock. How can I write about different cities if I’ve never visited them? About life experiences if I’ve never experienced them?

The message is to write about what you know. And if you don’t know it, go and find it.

Half term. I’m sat in the window of my apartment at a newly created workstation strategically placed so I can look out over the busy road, the commuters bustling through the train station and those handsome Welsh mountains in the background. I’ve been meaning to set this spot up since I moved in almost 15 months ago but only now have I managed to take action.

The last half term, in October, was a bit of disaster. I don’t have a good track record when it comes to half terms. Christmas, Easter, the Summer – they’re all great, but it’s these week long holidays in between that I can’t seem to handle properly. I always end up with cancelled plans or no plans at all. I just can’t do half terms! This was one, however, was going to be different.

For a few weeks I’ve felt myself bubbling. Frustration tightening a knot around my waist (but for more of that, see last week’s rant!) and I knew that this half term I needed to fix it. The most prominent activity in my busy schedule is ‘writing time’. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to grab quality writing time. A run of a few hours where I can lose myself in an idea. In fact, since September I have only managed to write for the odd hour here and there. And that’s not enough for me.

Saturday night, I settled down in my new spot and began to type. I’ve barely thought of anything else since. I seem to be having some sort of inspiration overload. Closing the gates on work for a week has unlocked a boxful of ideas and I am loving the luxury of time.

My first project to hit was the big one. Reset. I’ve been working on this since 2010 and I’m finally at the stage where its feeling polished. It’s ready. It’s my pride and joy and I hadn’t realised just how much I’d missed it.

After a few re-workings of Reset, I bounced over to my second pride and joy – After Caitlyn. Shorter than Reset by a country mile and totally different in tone and style (hmm…perhaps I need to squeeze some poetry into this week) but I couldn’t be prouder of this story. Although it brought unwelcome reminders of the real-life elements that run through the story, I enjoyed being reunited with these characters and adding tweaks to the story here and there. This one is almost ready.

A project that has taken me by surprise this weekend is something I didn’t think I was ready to do. In September, I agreed to lead Performing Arts Club at school. We have lots of fun and the children are buzzing with creative ideas and energy. When the time came for us to consider our big production I was adamant I didn’t have the time (or the energy) to write it. We’d have to order a script in. End of.

Well, here I am, 16 pages into an epic tale of Welsh Myths and Legends. I have to give credit to the children for their inspirational passion. I just couldn’t stop myself and I hope my script provides them with the material they deserve.

And on top of all that, I’ve even had time to re-visit that sitcom (the sitcom that’s not a sitcom. Don’t worry, I’m just as confused as to what it is at the moment) I’ve been talking about for years. If I can get the pilot done by the summer, I’ll be very happy.

So, I’m at an inspirational peak. I find myself thinking about a Reset sequel in the car and those first stirrings of excitement leave my fingertips tingling. I listen to a soundtrack – RENT, some of the most raw, evocative lyrics you’ll ever hear – and I start to think about the characters in After Caitlyn. I look down at the road bringing people to and from my town, and I start to think about a new project altogether, the characters already having a blazing row in my head. I finish The Girl on the Train and I’m in awe of the storytelling. This is what I want to be capable of. My mind is bursting with ideas and I’m relishing the process of channeling them into words. I’m feeling creatively rejuvenated and after a very dry few months, it’s about time too!

 

‘The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All was well.’

I remember reading those final words nine years ago and feeling utterly lost. I had grown up with Harry, Ron and Hermione and when they finally left my life I mourned them. All these years later, I experienced the same feeling as I finished my re-read of the whole series – a testament to the power of Rowling’s work.

Hallows is not only the perfect ending to an epic story, but a heartfelt love letter to fans. It has everything. Everything! Just when you think Rowling can’t cram any more action packed twists, emotional reveals or heartwarming nostalgia into the book, she pulls something else from her bag of tricks.

I could easily write an essay listing all of the fanstastic moments within Hallows, but I’m going to try and fit it all into this one post.

It’s always been clear that Rowling has the upmost respect for her fans, but I think Hallows is solid proof of this. It can’t have been easy, tying up a story that spans seven books featuring hundreds of beloved characters, but Rowling tackled this with perfection and her hard work shines through every page. I first read this book when I was 17.  I raced through it in just a few days and it never left my side. 9 years later, I feel like I was able to appreciate it even more, taking in every reference and moment but still rarely straying far from my copy.

Hallows is littered with references from previous books – characters, locations, events, objects – it’s almost as if Rowling has challenged herself with squeezing every ounce of Potter into one book. Saying that, the references never feel unnatural or forced. It’s a great feeling when you recognise or revisit something. The visits to the Chamber of Secrets, the Forbidden Forest, the Shrieking Shack, Godric’s Hollow, The Ministry of Magic and Gringotts Bank all bring back welcome memories of the previous stories, like revisiting a childhood den.

But Rowling doesn’t just re-tread old ground. This book ventures out of Hogwarts and sees our friends journey around Britain. Plenty of new characters turn up, including many that have been mentioned before but never seen. Xenophillius Lovegood, Ron’s Aunt Muriel and Tonk’s Parents all make long awaited, if brief, appearances, each progressing the plot in some way.

From weddings, to duels, to undercover missions, to breaking out of a bank on the back of a dragon – the story rockets a long, hopping from tense scene to another. Soon, we’re back at Hogwarts, where the magic all started, for one final battle.

It’s not all fun though. The stories have got progressively darker and this is book with the highest death rate. Hedwig and Mad-Eye start us of in dramatic fashion as they bow out during an airborne battle , leaving us distraught pretty early in the book. The pang of losing Hedwig, Harry’s loyal owl, matches the foreboding doom that comes with Mad-Eye’s death, who was Harry’s last remaining protector. Many characters are picked off throughout the book as the drama escalates but one of the most painful deaths is that of Dobby the House Elf. Loyal friend to Harry since book two, Dobby’s final heroic act is followed by tragedy as he is hit by Bellatrix’s knife (making us long even more for her demise! First Sirius, now Dobby!). Dobby’s death is a beautiful piece of writing, a moment that will have life-long fans snuffling into their pages.

I’ve said before that Rowling is incredibly skilled at writing dark, tricky themes for younger readers. These books tackle so much – death, torture, discrimination, power, teenage angst and jealousy. The list is endless. The scene where Bellatrix tortures Hermione is particularly harrowing to read, not to mention the earlier chapter where a snake is found to be inhabiting Bathilda Bagshot’s corpse. We’re not dealing with Enid Blyton here. Rowling flexes her talent by including these dark moments but never over stepping the mark. She doesn’t mollycoddle her reader, she exposes them to the dark side of the world, but always stops just short of traumatising her reader. I find that incredible.

However, to counter that darkness, Rowling sends a very strong message on the power of love. Love as protection has a strong presence in Hallows particularly that of a mother’s love. Harry’s survival is all down to his mother’s sacrifice for him as a child and Lily Potter’s presence is certainly felt throughout the final book, even more so at the end where she appears to Harry to reaffirm her support of him. Narcissa Malfoy also protects Harry, in a surprising move, by lying to Voldemort in order to protect her own son. So desperate to save Draco, she buys Harry the time he needs to overthrow Voldemort. And then there’s Molly Weasley. I think every reader cheered when she fatefully cried ‘NOT MY DAUGTHER YOU BITCH!’. Mrs Weasley’s fearsome protection of her daughter leads to her killing one of Voldemorts closest companions, Bellatrix (hooray! Justice for Dobby!).

Another kind of love is revealed as we learn that, after all these years, Snape was in love with Harry’s mother and has been protecting him as penance for (accidentally) playing a part in her murder. Snape is one of most wonderfully written characters as his true intentions have never quite been known from book one, but now the truth is out it all fits in to place. His whole story arc is a testament to the subtlety within Rowling’s writing. Snape’s patronus is revealed to be a doe, the same as Lily’s, and in book six we hear small references to Tonk’s patronus changing to reflect her love. Rowling plans every single detail.

I’d forgotten how much I loved these books and just how much they meant to me as I was growing up. Re-reading them over the last few months has transported me back to my teens and I’ve found myself looking forward to my pre-sleep read every night. Rowling makes you care about these characters and the world they inhabit, making it the perfect form of escapism at the end of a long working day. When I finished Hallows, I was eager for more. I spent last night searching Pottermore and can’t wait for the eighth story to be released in July. If its predecessors are anything to go by, it’s going to be amazing.

As a writer, I find Rowling’s dedication, subtlety and ability to make the complex accessible so inspiring and hold her high on my list of role models. As a teacher, I can see the endless lessons these books can teach children, generation after generation. As a reader, I find them utterly magical, with a story I can revisit over and over again, and still find something new. I really can’t imagine life without these books. They bring just as much comfort and wonder to me now as they did ten years ago. They have become classic books which will be read for many years to come and I hope Rowling realises just how many lives she has touched with her stories. She has brought magic to an ordinary life, and for that I’ll always be thankful.

 

 

 

Short post this week as I’m on a roll and determined to spend as much time as possible on the five year project!

So, in the last couple of weeks major developments have happened. The first episode is almost complete. Which, considering this has been five years coming, is a major step for me! I had a bit of an inspiration burst over Easter and began changing my plans for the pilot. One thing led to another and here I am, close to a full first draft of ep. 1. I’m so excited!

I decided to give my planning the ‘Reset treatment’. Whilst I was writing Reset, I stuck a huge piece of paper to the wall and covered it in post-its – each representing a chapter – which details key points in the plot. I was able to mix these around and throw some away and add new ones as well as get an overall view of where my story is going. It also served as a constant reminder (because it was huge!) that I needed to be working. So, when I sat down at my laptop I realised I needed some visual prompts. I took a piece of paper and sketched out an episode map which showed each characters journey throughout the eight episodes. Having this in front of me has been a great help.

Another planning device I used with Reset was to create a scrapbook of images – whether that be actors who would play characters, key props or pictures of potential settings. So over Easter I created the Big Red File. I split the file into sections, one for each main or recurring character. Each section starts with a collage of images of actors who could play that character, then on the reverse I have the random facts page. The random facts page is a working document which I plan on adding to as I go along. This page has the character’s key information (e.g., full name, DOB, family, etc) as well as any other facts (Such as stories from their childhood or guilty pleasures). The big red file is going to be my bible.

Something which I also found handy when I wrote After Caitlyn was to create a playlist of songs. I’ve not reached that stage yet, but I have jotted down a few songs which could feature.

Getting creative with my planning has definitely spurred the project on and rejuvenated my enthusiasm. It’s like looking at the story with a fresh pair of eyes. I can see what works and what doesn’t, and I’m able to make tweaks and changes, which leaves me very excited! I’d be interested to hear of any other techniques writers use to immerse themselves into their stories and develop their writing.

In the meantime, I’m pressing on with Ep. 1 and my next step is to give it a proper name, as five year project is getting a bit naff.

‘How long is this going to take?’ Bobby Fawcett, 2013

I gave those words to a character I’ve been living with for about 5 years and as I read them earlier today I found myself thinking the same thing. How long is this going to take?

I’ve been steadily working on a five-year-long project, but the initial germ of the idea has been cooking away in my brain for about ten years. I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear it all pivots around an amateur theatre society.

Having been part of a theatre group for 12 years, I’ve met many characters (many of which are completely bloody bonkers and should never have been introduced to the public) who just wrapped up buckets of writing material and presented it to me with a neat little bow. Whether I was listening to a man drunkenly ramble off outrageous lie after outrageous lie or watching a woman frantically fire proof a pair of knickers (in fear of standing too close to a pyrotechnic), being part of that group was a writers gift. This project was undoubtedly a comedy. It had to be. The material was so ridiculous there was a risk it would be unbelievable unless it was written as a comedy. I envisioned a sort of IT-Crowd-slash-Vicar-of-Dibley style sitcom, with a newbie entering this wacky world of self-obsessed amateurs and pompous, over-stuffed board members who took themselves far too seriously.

For the next four years I made notes of each hilariously bonkers moment or comment so that I could one day combine them into a script. The result is a ten page document listing everything from carnivorous pigs to yoghurt addicts injecting Muller light behind the storage unit and a late night escape from a dogging spot. The characters were 2D, comedy hybrids of people I’d met over the years and, on that level, they worked. But there was something that wasn’t quite right….

Then, last year, something struck me. I continued to read through each unfinished episode, hoping that this wasn’t just funny to me, and trying to work out exactly what the problem was. Then I realised. The story felt stilted and unnatural. It felt fake. It was funny, but this story was lacking heart. It didn’t feel real enough. It felt like a parody of a theatre group and I realised that’s not what I wanted to capture. What made that place special to me was that for all its panto villains and mad people, everyone cared for each other (well…sort of). It was a place where you could find sanctuary (among the madness) when life wasn’t on your side. That’s what I wanted to show.

This wasn’t a sitcom. It was a drama.

I realised the thing my characters were lacking was truth. I’d taken the comedy elements of people I’d met and mashed them into 2D figures of ridicule.  There was no heart. No pulse. Cue a sudden influx of drama. Stressed out Adam suddenly became frustrated with life and on the brink of depression. Cocky, man-magnet Bobby was flirty and sexy on the surface, but hiding a deep self-loathing and a very modern quest for love and acceptance. April, who was once superficial and fake, now hides a fear of the future and grieves for the past. By fleshing out my main cast, I’ve given new life to a project that was starting to grow stale. I’ve realised that with this new tone, the characters can go anywhere.  They can do anything. What I was trying to do before was squash them into a relentlessly laugh-a-minute setting which caged and limited them. Now, they can still be funny, but I’m able to tell their stories properly and, to me anyway, this makes these characters feel so much more real.

So, in answer to Bobby’s question, How long is this going to take?

I’m pleased to say, Not very long at all, now.

I have itchy fingers.

I am itching to write another story. To go on a fresh adventure and get to know some new adventures. The last few months have been pretty hectic and I can’t help but feel I’ve neglected my work. After finishing the first draft of After Caitlyn in September, I’ve re-visited it a couple of times to edit and tweak but whilst I know I should focus my attention on refining that story, my mind can’t help drifting off…..

The bones of After Caitlyn are on paper, it just needs fleshing out. It usually takes me a while to get a story down but I was particularly proud at how speedy I managed to write this. It probably took around two weeks to get the whole first draft down….but after that….I’ve neglected it. This is a writing-disorder I have suffered from in the past.

The work I’m most proud of is Reset, but I cannot get a final edit. It’s huge. It took a good 18 months to write and stands at 64 chapters. The problem I have is each time I come to edit I fix a few chapters and then leave it for a couple of months and by the time I’ve come back….I’ve completely lost track and have to start again. Feeling adventurous last summer, I decided to start planning a sequel. I made a few notes, but then After Caitlyn stole my attention.  When it comes to writing….I’m fickle!

I’ve also had a sitcom project that has been rumbling along for about three years. I’ve updated ideas and written a few scenes along the way but I’m yet to finish a solid episode. The characters in this script fascinate me and I really feel they are the most rounded characters I’ve created. I really think I could have a lot of fun with the material I’ve already collected but for some reason…I just can’t get started!

So my question is, as a writer, is it best to channel your energy finishing each project before moving on to the next? Or should you work on projects as they pop into your mind?  If I relaxed and simply worked on each project when I fancied it, it might take me years to complete something but the work wouldn’t be forced. On the other hand, over the next couple of years I could end up accumulating a laptop full of notes and incomplete documents but not one finished story! Hmm….a severe case of itchy fingers.

This year I decided to take a leap back into my youth and re-read a set of books that were a permanent fixture throughout my childhood. I first read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone when I was 11 years old. Fourteen years later, and the same book had me gripped all over again. There is something magic about Rowling’s work. She manages to discuss so many adult themes within these books – loss, death, betrayal – whilst ensuring they are still appealing to that younger audience. Philosopher’s masterfully introduces the wonderful wizarding world and its inhabitants, setting us with up for a journey that will last a further six books. I think it is a faultless children’s book, offering plenty of escapism, without being too childish for us adults either. I used to dream of worlds like this when I was a child and suddenly there was a whole book based around that dream!

When I re-read Chamber of Secrets I was struck by the cleverness of the plot. It really is the perfect whodunit! All the subtle references to snakes and events of the past are tied up beautifully at the end and I was almost jealous of my younger self for reading the story without knowing the outcome. The reveal of Tom Riddle’s true identity is beautifully written and a real surprise (to my younger self).  Rowling finds a neat way of using her main antagonist without actually using him (if that makes sense!) which means fans don’t get bored of Voldemort (after the first book, he doesn’t actually appear again until the fourth, but his presence is certainly felt.)

After plunging back into the non-muggle world, I was keen to move on to Prisoner of Azkaban. Again, I could not put this book down, even though I knew what was coming. The world Rowling creates through her descriptions of Hogwarts and Hogsmeade is wonderful. It really fizzes through the pages in Harry’s third outing. The subplots of Hermione’s timeturner and Scabbers’ apparent illness also pay off in the big finale and prove to be more highly significant details that Rowling has seeded through book. She create a brilliant faux-villain in Sirius Black and it’s really heartbreaking when Sirius is forced into hiding, meaning poor Harry is sentenced back to life with the Dursley’s.

Reading these books reminded me of that excitement I would feel on the eve of a HP release. It was like Christmas Eve. My mum would head to town at midnight to buy the book for me, so that when I woke up it would be there. I remember the weight of it. Running my hand over the cover. Studying the artwork. Then the reading would begin. I would read at EVERY opportunity until I had finished. I have never loved a book like I loved the Harry Potter books. Now, as an adult and a writer, I can appreciate their brilliance on a whole new level. To all wannabe authors, Rowling is the perfect teacher. You can tell that she immersed herself fully into this world and truly loved creating these characters and their stories. When it comes to writing, Rowling is a wizard.

So three weeks ago I went to watch Jurassic World with some friends. All I wanted to do was enjoy a relaxing Friday in good company, have a few drinks and see some dinosaurs. Instead I was forced to confess an embarrassing secret fear…

Those of you who have seen the film (and for those of you who haven’t – spoiler alert!) will be familiar with the scene were a pteranadon attacks Claire’s British PA. One minute she is chatting away to her fiancé on the phone, the next she is swept up by a winged menace and being tossed perilously above the park. Now birds don’t bother me (moths, however, are a different story) so as much as I was concerned for the PA I wasn’t too panicked at this point. However, just when it looks like she is about to be pecked to death, the poor woman is dropped into a large tank of water. Phew. Thank goodness. A nice soft landing….

‘Oh my God….Oh no! Oh Jesus Christ! I know what’s coming! Oh this is horrific! I can’t look! This is a horror film!’ I cry, clutching my bewildered friend’s arm and preventing her from reaching the popcorn.

The SeaWorld-esque tank is home to a Mosasaur (see above for terrifying image). After lots of gut-wrenching screams and splashing about, the dino-whale leaps from the water and the British PA is swallowed whole. And I am left, peeking through my fingers, totally disturbed.

Because I have a secret fear of whales.

I’m generalising with ‘whales’. It’s more ‘large underwater creatures that could kill you in a heartbeat’. Now, I can’t really pinpoint the origin of this fear. Jaws freaked me out a bit but I think it is more closely linked with my childhood fascination with Shamu (SeaWorld’s killer whale). When I was a child I longed to visit SeaWorld and would spend evenings looking at Orlando brochures and glossy pictures of killer whales. (Don’t judge. It was the 90s). At one point I even found a website with a live video link to Shamu’s tank! I eventually met the whale himself when I was thirteen and remember being completely shocked by his size. He was huge! A bloody big whale! Seeing Shamu made me realise just how dangerous he could be and the fascination twisted into a deep fear. The ‘Wow! He’s amazing!’ became ‘Yes, yes he’s great. Lovely. Thank you. But please don’t make me swim with him’.

I’ve awoken from many a nightmare where I am suddenly attacked by a killer whale or drifting in whale infested waters. When I go swimming (brace yourself for crazy) I always shudder getting into the pool as my mind imagines a dark, brooding shadow waiting beneath the surface…..

I don’t think this is an irrational fear. Whales are beautiful, majestic creatures but just imagine being trapped in a tank with one. How terrifying would that be?

So watching Jurassic World got me thinking about fears and how things change as we grow older. My fear of whales started in SeaWorld and has got worse as I have grown up. When I was a child I was terrified of Bigfoot (and obsessed with the idea that he was in my attic) but now, you’ll be glad to hear, I can look at pictures of him without hiding in the bathroom cupboard. I get freaked out now by more rational, fact-based problems and events. Talking about 9/11 gives me goosebumps. I shudder when I think about losing a family member…..

I started thinking about whether including our fears in our writing can be good for our work and wellbeing. Would it be cathartic or disturbing? Would it enrich my writing or reduce me to a quivering snotty mess? Lots of writers draw on personal feelings and experience within their work – could writing about your deepest fear be a recipe for success or disaster? In Reset there was a whale but I kept it tranquilised and buried in a vault beneath Cardiff (just in case) and I don’t think I’m quite ready to unleash the crazy in novel form just yet (title suggestions always welcome). This particular whale was also a harmless sub-plot but maybe it should have caused more chaos and been given the chance to be utterly terrifying.

So, having been forced to face one secret fear (thank you Jurassic World) the seed has been planted to utilise my phobias in future work. Perhaps writing about another unconfessed fear will prove to be an interesting project….