Category: short story


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!

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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.

For about two months I’ve been haunted by one of my own creations.

I’m in the middle of a re-draft and I am constantly querying my antagonist. Do we need to know more about her? Why is she like this? What would she do in this situation? What would she say to this person? Who is she?

I see her everywhere I go. She’s in the supermarket, she’s in work, she’s in my car, and she’s even joined me in the bath!

I know this is the case with every writer but the troubling thing is…… She is pure evil.

She is the most outrageous, offensive, cruel and manipulative character I have ever written. She’s Voldemort, Patsy Stone, Cersei Lannister and Darth Vader all rolled into one.

Last time I wrote her she was about to be challenged spectacularly in the women’s toilets of a bar by one of my (sort of) protagonists in what could be the campest showdown I’ve ever written. (Seriously, Kathy and Sharon? Pfft!)

To me, she is now real. I’ve created someone who I love to hate.

Now, I’ve always been one for a good villain. When I was a child I was more inclined to be fascinated with Ursula, Captain Hook, Scar and Maleficent than the heroes of their stories. It’s no secret that my favourite book is Wicked by Gregory Maguire that delves into the backstory of Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West. I am just a sucker for a good baddie. I’m intrigued as to what makes them tick and if they are misunderstood, like Elphaba, that earns them even more points.

I had two sets of villains in Reset. There was the elusive Marston, whose wickedness was probably crafted due to the pressures and experiences of his former career, and then there were Roache and Tremaine. These two weren’t pure evil, they were just doing their job, but happened to be pretty horrible people.

Caitlyn is a different story. From the beginning she is cold and mysterious and as the novel progresses she turns into a spiteful, poisonous bitch. By the end, the only redeeming feature is that she is…well….kind of funny. Her put downs and one liners are cruel and often upsetting but sometimes they can’t help provoke a chuckle. Those who have read the story have all said that it’s a shame she is so evil as she is such an interesting character. Isn’t this the case with all villains? For me anyway, the heroes are safe and boring but the villains have the real fun and there is something satisfying about unadulterated loathing. Look at Joffrey (and many other characters) in Game of Thrones. I hated him so much but his wicked doings were super entertaining (and I did cheer loudly when he finally bit the dust).

Anyway, anyway, anyway, my point is villains are just far more interesting than heroes. I think there is so much more scope for a gritty, powerful backstory with a villain and they, of course, can get away with fantastically wicked deeds. They can also say exactly what everyone else is too scared to say, which is something of a theme in After Caitlyn. I believe Caitlyn is a brilliant villain because none of the other characters realise it until the end. She connives, schemes, manipulates, bitches and backstabs right until the end, remaining mysterious and elusive even up to her sudden exit.

When I think of Caitlyn, I think of Shakespeare.

‘One may smile, and smile, and be a villain.’

Saturday night. Whilst other twenty-somethings were downing shots, snogging strangers and being sick in the back of taxis, I was blissfully reading through the full first draft of my second novel with a glass of milk and a Cadbury’s Flake.

I wasn’t bothered about how tame my Saturday was because in front of me was something I had done all by myself. I love that sense of achievement and I will always crave it.

It was all there in front of me (and now I’m going to say the title for the first time…oh God…ready?) – After Caitlyn, draft one. The total opposite of Reset – shorter, more humble and grounded – but still holding enough power in those few pages to make me feel totally fulfilled.  I’d written the whole thing in about two weeks after a sudden and unstoppable burst of inspiration (see last post!). So, again it differed to Reset which took me about a year and half to write.

Now the tough part begins – editing.

Tough for a couple of reasons (mainly because the editing stage is where I find myself most distracted to a point where I can no longer be arsed. Soon, months have gone by and I’ve disengaged with the story completely and have to re-read!). I’m sure it will be different this time. I start with a team of readers (who are reading as I type) then carry out a second edit following their feedback.

Tough, also, because I can be very indecisive. Several characters in this story have emotionally complex backgrounds which are often given as excuses for their behaviour. The dilemma I have is – how much backstory do I give them? I’ve been careful not to explain too much so as not to distract from the main story. I know what happened to my characters before After Caitlyn begins, but I’m not sure I want/need to share all of that with readers. In some novels I’ve read, the fact that a characters backstory is left uncertain contributes to the brilliance of the book, but in others it’s been necessary to know about the character’s history in order to make sense of their actions. I wanted to make this story as real as possible – focusing on real, human people in a real, human situation – so omitting details from a character’s past might work to promote that as, in life, we can never really know anyone.

One character has their background heavily alluded to but details are not given. I think I’ll stick with that. But another prominent character, who carries out really despicable deeds and behaves in a totally unacceptable way, does not have their history fully explained. By the time I’d reached the end of the story I couldn’t help worrying there was a danger of this character becoming 2D and…hmm…slightly pantomime! This character has had a very tricky past and I’m unsure whether explaining that would make their actions a bit more understandable (but not forgivable!) I don’t want to lay on this character’s backstory too thickly as I think their story needs an element of mystery to fit with their sudden arrival and subsequent disappearance. So, is it necessary to know a character’s backstory? Or can great characters often come from mystery and the reader’s own assumptions?