On Writing


What’s the difference between a writer and an author?  Or is there even one?  I write.  I’m not sure which of the two categories I fall into, or if I have a foot in both, but I write.  And I do that because I can’t help it.

I never have been able to.

Apparently I started to write when I was very young, and I’d draw pictures to go along with my stories.  I remember writing lots of stories in school, and English was my favourite lesson.  The teacher, Mr. Staniforth, was passionate about teaching us the craft and about books.  One of my main memories from that time is when he read To Kill A Mockinbird to us.  Apart from it being a great story, he put feeling and heart into the telling, and we were all held under the spell.  Maybe that’s a romanticised version of what really happened, but that’s how I felt.  I wanted my stories to hold people that way.

I wanted readers to pick up something I’d written and not be able to put it down.

And now I’ve managed that.  I’ve created a story that does that.  It’s a great, wonderful, humbling feeling.

Life, unfortunately, has a habit of getting in the way.  I have a full time job.  I have a family.  I know I’m not even slightly alone in that – it’s a club with millions of members.  But it means I have very little time for writing, and, when that’s something I feel I have to do – that the muse is almost a caged beast waiting to be set free – it can be hard!

Once, for various reasons, I didn’t write anything for almost a full year.  I wasn’t ‘in the right place’ (or should that be the ‘write’ place).  I hated it.  I felt that writing would be a release for the problems that I was facing, but it wouldn’t come.  The urge wasn’t there.  The beast was sleeping.  Or it was lying on a beach somewhere sipping cocktails, soaking up the sun, oblivious to my predicament.  Other times, I can’t stop.  I’m chomping at the bit to get the words down, even though I never know what those words may be.  On holiday last year, I went to Egypt.  It was a place I’d wanted to visit since being a child.  I’d always been fascinated by the pharoahs and their mythology.  When I walked in the Valley of the Kings, and stayed in a hotel right on the Nile, seeing the sun set to the left and the hills of the Valley to the right, it was amazing.

I wrote 15,000 words of Sin there.  It was bliss.  I couldn’t stop.  Sin was finished a few months later.  It had taken ten years from the initial short story that then formed the prologue to the novel.  I’d written a great many other things in that decade, but Sin was always there, lying in wait.  My ‘Dark Half’.  even now, with the book finished, he can’t stay quiet, hence his blog.

I never know where a story will take me.  I don’t plan – or very rarely do – the outline or the characters.  I just start.  A title, a phrase, something fragmented like that, and I find out what’s going to happen as it does.  I suppose that’s a weird way to do it.  Some people can’t get their heads around how I can write like that, but I do.  It’s a journey for me and, if I’m surprised along the way, then maybe the readers will be too?


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On Location

The Seven Hills – A setting from ‘Sin’

They say write what you know.

It’s an interesting premise, though I’m not sure it always works. Did Tolkien have experience of fantastical creatures? Or Rowling of wizards and wizarding school? Maybe they did. And that’s, perhaps, a contributing factor to their vast success. Does Rowling have a fringe hiding a certain lightning bolt scar?

I read a book once, by Clive Barker, where he described a normal town, back alleys and the like. It sounded very much like my own home town, Grimsby. But, to me, Grimsby was so… boring! Nothing happened. I led my life. It was fairly mundane. Work, rest and a little play. There were no alien invasions – and nothing that would warrant so much as a passing glance from one of the heads of a passing ET aboard his (or its) flying saucer.

The town had once been the biggest fishing port in the world. Once. A few years ago the makers of the movie Atonement filmed scenes here – though, to be honest – they were in a rundown part of the old docks. Oh, and it featured in the game Killzone.

But that was later. When I was starting out on my writing journey, back in school and beyond, it was just plain old Grimsby. Grim… As a child, you’d think the name meant something more suited to your opinion of the place rather than referring to the founder, a man who settled here to protect the heir to a throne from those who might kill him.

So how come Sin, the character in my novel, escapes to here? How come, he could have ended up anywhere (whilst on the run) and still felt the need to return home? Possibly for the same reason I, though I’ve lived in other towns and cities and have come back myself. Because it’s home. And it’s not so grim.

When I was a child, at school, before writing had seriously grabbed me (thanks to a reading of To Kill a Mockingbird by my English Teacher), there was a place called the Seven Hills. It was a plot of wasteland, undeveloped (it has houses covering it now) that was bordered by Cambridge Road, Yarborough Road, Chelsmford Avenue and Littlecoates Road. My schools, infants, juniors and seniors, were all on Cambridge Road, so I walked along it every day. On three sides the Hills were surrounded by houses that backed onto its unkempt borders. The fourth had a low, knee high barrier. That side was, you guessed it, along Cambridge Road.

Rats. Rats the size of small dogs. They roamed wild, breeding, mutating, dining on the limbs of children careless enough to wander in their domain.

Of course that’s rubbish. I don’t doubt there were rats, but that they had grown to such epic proportions and developed a case for human flesh. Either way, the Seven Hills were legendary. When you stepped over that barrier, you were entering a world where your heart could race faster than you. And if you returned unscathed, you were a hero.

So, when Sin’s dead sister desperately needs to show him something, where else is she meant to take him? Where else would a journey into the belly of the beast begin, other than in the land that developers forgot?

The Seven Hills, alas, are no more. At least when I drive past there’s houses all the way around now. I don’t know if they occupy all of the land that the Hills once covered, but I hope that they don’t. I hope that, right in the middle – a heart still beating – there’s a remnant of the old Hills, where the demon rats are sleeping until the day when they awake, hungry, and fancying leg on toast.

Perhaps Grimsby does have its ‘grim’ side, but in some ways, this can be a good thing.

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On Growing Up

What’s all that then?  Growing up?  Not heard of that one.

Nor sure I want to, either.  It sounds like something you catch from biting your nails after playing in the mud.  Oh, no.  That’s worms.  But close enough.  It still wraps around your insides and takes all your nourishment.

Why do people do it?  Lose their innocence.  Forget their sense of wonder.  For what?  You don’t need to be sensible to be sensible, if that makes sense.  Which it probably doesn’t…

Growing old is mandatory, growing up is optional, so they say.  They also say you don’t stop laughing when you grow old, you grow old when you stop laughing.

I agree.  I act the daft dad with my children, regardless of who might be watching.  Well, in context of where we are, of course.  If I ever meet the Queen (or King by then) for my MBE for services to British Literature, I won’t be cracking cheeky jokes.  Well, I wouldn’t think I would, anyway.  But grow up?

I want to believe in Santa and fairies and wonder if the sun really does go to sleep at night.  In my children’s book of poetry Zits’n’Bits, I ended the collection with a poem called I Want To Be Five.  How many people miss everything being magical or new or even scary?

I have a stressful job at an oil refinery.  I have children, a partner, bills and responsibilities.  I’m lucky in that my partner and my children share my view of keeping the dream, whichever dream that might be, alive.  My responsibilities don’t quite have the same outlook, though.  But I stick my tongue out behind their back.

For various reasons, I had to be ‘grown up’ when I was younger.  I was the first born.  I was the role model for my two younger brothers.  I was the <cough, splutter> ‘sensible’ one.  But now, I can let the facade drop.

I’m an adult, yes, but I want to find that second star on the left so I can fly straight on till morning.


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Somewhen Over the Rainbow…

Everybody’s gotta be somewhere.

That ‘somewhere’ could be over the rainbow, wearing ruby slippers and running from the Wicked Witch.  It could be in a dark alley, running from an attacker, hoping the shadows will hide you, protect you, wrap you in their cloak of warm night.  Somewhere could be sprawled on a sofa watching Coronation Street, with a box of Maltesers and a cup of tea to keep you company, running from the stresses of the day.
But you’ve just got to be somewhere.

Whatever the tensions or reliefs your life may pounce upon to leave at your feet like the half eaten remnants of cat for its beloved owner, you will always find yourself there.
But, what if you didn’t?  What if Somewhere was just the same as, well, somewhere?  That makes perfect sense in my head.  It doesn’t make so much sense written down.  It’s as if the words looked at each other, went ‘Huh?’ and fell about laughing.
I mean, somewhere could be Oz, an alley or on your sofa.  But what if actually being in a place at all was something you could choose?  What if you could take yourself out of PLACE completely?  WHERE was a pin on a map and all you needed to do was step off the map into nowhere?  The Wicked Witch and the potential attacker would never find you.
Granted you’d also not be able to buy Maltesers or tea bags.
But, what if?
Would you float in darkness?  Would there be a sort of murky light, hinting at the periphery of your vision so you weren’t sure if it existed at all or if your mind was simply filling in gaps it thought your brain had suddenly realised had appeared?  Would you feel substance?  Would you feel?
I suppose you wouldn’t.  I suppose your senses wouldn’t be able to take that step with you and would have to mill around on the precipice, passing the time by playing leap frog with each other and games of I Spy.  Not that you would know what Time was, of course.  Not that Time would know what Time was, either.  Nowhere would have to be nowhen, too.  Time would have nothing to hold on to.  Nothing to stroke with its decaying touch.
Would you find yourself standing in a crowded room, surrounded by the spirits of those who had lived and passed, each waiting for something that couldn’t happen because waiting was wasted when there was no Time to count the passing seconds.  Or seconds to count.
Fears and foes would be unable to reach you there.  So would wit, wishes and wonder.  Good and bad, opposite sides of a tossed coin curling in the air, could only watch as you spun endlessly in a field of emptiness.
Everybody’s gotta be somewhere.
But what if…?  Nah.  There’d be nowhere to plug in your kettle.
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Shaun Allan – The Nature of the Beast

What is Sin?

That depends.  Do you mean the person, or the act?  Is ‘sin’ an act?  Is it a state of mind or being?  Is it a malicious streak running red through your heart?

Doing bad things with good intentions.  Does that count as ‘sin;?  Or does that fact that you’re stealing that loaf to feed your family or killing that man to stop him murdering hundreds… does that make the act innately good, because your heart isn’t slashed by Sin’s vicious talons?

Then there’s me.

Sin-sin-siree, there’s no place for me.

I’m an ordinary guy.  An ‘Ordinary Joe’.  No frills, bargain basement, shops own brand – though I don’t think the local Tesco would even think twice about stocking any of me on their shelves.  Watch where you put that price sticker mister!

Am I bad because bad things happen around me?  Or rather, because of me?  Is Sin sinful?

I think so.  Well, people die.  That’s can’t be good, can it?  Believe me, please, please believe me – I don’t want it to be like that.  I don’t want others to suffer at my hand, whether they feel my touch or are just touched by me.  I would rather their cries didn’t haunt me.  I would prefer it if, instead of their deaths, I simply had my own life.

But I don’t.  It’s not my life, is it?  When my will is not my own, when the beast within me bursts forth to consume the innocent, that’s not my life.  I’m held hostage by a force not of my own creation.  If I could expel it, I would.  An exorcism.  A cleansing.

But I don’t feel dirty, just dirtied.  I’m not possessed – I am the possessor.  The demon isn’t in me, it IS me.

But it would be nice – it would be good – if that were not the case.


Forgive me, reader, for I am Sin.

But does that make me SINful?

They call me Reverend.

I suppose they would, considering my actual name.  But I’m also the one who helps them.  The one who listens.  Is that because I’m the only truly sane one in here?  I use the term ‘sane;’ very loosely, of course.  But I don’t fly off the handle like a witch after a bucketful of vodka.  I know that there’s no point in losing my temper as it’s a sure way to be the pea in the princess’s bed – the orderlies being the mattresses piled on top.

If I lose my temper – usually anyway – it’s because I need to.  It’s because the screams are too loud and I need them quieting.  it’s because, ever so slightly, the drugs help me forget.

Anywho.  I’m the Reverend.  I almost said ‘for my sins’… but I won’t.  The same people that called me that also called Benny the ‘Bender’ and Mickey ‘Mucous’.  I don’t wear a white collar and I don’t hold sermons.  But, nonetheless, they call me the Reverend.

But I’m not religious.  Not really.  I think I believe in a higher power (well, considering my own ‘talents’ I have to believe in more than this mere mortal plane), but I’m not sure.  I don’t know if there’s a single bearded guy sitting up there or a host of them, playing chess with our lives.  Or even jackal-headed creatures walking around swinging ankhs.  As such, am I even qualified to talk about what sin is or isn’t?

Oh, I think I am.  Don’t you?

So…  Sin.

What is it?  Other than me, that is.  What is the nature of ‘SIN’?  And who says what is actually sinful?

Well, I suppose it depends on which deity butters your toast in the morning.  If any.  One man’s sin is another’s pleasure.  And one man’s pleasure is another doorway into Purgatory.

Going down?  Third floor, electrical good.  Second floor, ladies wear and lingerie.  First floor is our newly refurbished restaurant.  Try the chicken salad, it’s delicious.

Ground floor…  Hell.

Mind the step.

Whether you’re Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Shinto or Jedi, you each have your own rules for what is right or wrong.  But is it as cut and dried as that?  Can ‘wrong’ be, under the correct circumstances, a shiver closer to ‘right’?  A paler shade of white?

Feed that family with the stolen loaf.  Kill that killer…

It’s not up to me to decide.  It’s up to you and your God, god or gods.  And I use the terms asexually.  Don’t crucify me for missing the ‘ess’ off.  Hey some people worship Justin Beiber.  And they call me disturbed.

But, I’m not here to judge.  How can I?  After what I’ve done – or at least what I’m responsible for?  No.  You and your conscience can fight it out amongst yourself.  No biting, no spitting and no kicking in the doodads.

Do you have to believe in God to believe in sin?  Is it simply understanding the distinction between right and wrong?  Good and evil?  Heads and tails?  There’s a growing trend in the youth of today, our offspring – those that shall inherit what’s left of the Earth – to not believe in a god of any kind.  Or at least to not think about it enough to believe.  That doesn’t necessarily make them ‘godless’.  They still try to save the planet, feed the starving, get to the next level on Call of Duty.  There’s still good in those that believe we’re here, then we die and we’re not.

So they no what it is not to sin (and TO sin), but they don’t necessarily think of it as ‘sin’.  It’s something you do.  Not something you are or you commit.

Deadly Sins.  Cardinal Sins.  Venial Sins.  So many types, a veritable pick’n’mix of depravity.



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Here Comes the Easter Bunny…

It’s Easter soon.  With it comes Easter bunnies, chicks and chocolate.  I am, actually, looking forward to it.


Often, in here, a smidgeon of effort is thrown at holidays and the like.  If that smidgeon sticks, bonus.  If not, as is usually the case, it misses, leaving only a trace of said effort.  The trace generally tends to be a bit too gloopy and so slides off leaving a pool of wishful thinking on the floor at our feet.


This Easter, however, Jeremy is involved.  Much, I’m sure, to the irritation of Connors, Jezzer wants to put a smile on our faces.  The weather outside has been as dismal as the food inside – grey and bland and uninspiring – and this has affected our moods.  Now, you may think we’re all happy and smiling and a-dancing all the day.  We’re not.  Sorry to disappoint.  Likewise, we’re not entirely miserable, staring into space (or corners), staring at each other, not staring at anything because our eyes were closed and we were shambling about the Recreation Room bumping into thing.


That last one was Penny Pocket, the riotous rocket.  She thought it would be funny to close her eyes and pretend she was blind.  She shuffled around, not looking or caring where she was going.  This was fine and even humorous until she happened to stand on Jersey’s toes.  Jersey, a dirty oil rag of a man and one of the more unpleasant orderlies, pushed her back with an angry shout and an angrier look.


Penny fell back, eyes still closed, laughing.  Then she stumbled against one of the chairs.  As they’re bolted to the floor, the chair didn’t move, so Penny fell sideways, her body twisting.  She hit her head as the rest of her hit the floor.  Penny Rocket was no longer as riotous as she had been.  She also didn’t need to pretend to be blind.  The blow to her head had sorted that one for her.  How generous.


Jersey thought it served her right.  We all thought Jersey should be served.  To a lion.  Or cannibal.  Or a rumbling volcano.


But good ol’ Jeremy has come to our rescue this Easter.  He, personally, bought everyone an Easter egg.  Even when chocolate eggs can be had three for a fiver nowadays, it would still have been a substantial purchase.  He’s even gone so far as to remember Chloe is dairy intolerant so has to have a dairy free one and Boris Phenaligan, ex-pentathlete and substance abuser, only likes dark chocolate.  Jeremy is like that.  He knows you.  He wants to know you.  He wants to make your stay comfortable and as happy as it can be under the circumstances (you’re in an asylum, fed slop and ‘care’ is something you’ll have to look up in the dictionary)..


Jeremy knows I liked Minstrels.  He’s bought me an egg which comes with two bags of the sweets.  Easter Sunday, when he’ll give us our eggs, seems forever away.


Not only that, but he has organised an Easter hunt.  I have no idea how he’s managed to garner permission for such a thing, but little fluffy chicks and rabbits – not real ones, of course, are going to be hidden around the asylum.  The Recreation Room, canteen, even the toilets will host tiny balls of fluffy fun.


Of course, this could backfire.  I don’t want to be pessimistic, simply realistic.  We’re dealing with people who, in many cases, are a little unhinged.  The doorways to their psychoses are hanging wide open and anything could trigger those doors to slam shut unexpectedly.  One person finds a chick and another wants it.  One finds a bunny and another thinks the bunny is whispering to them.  As Jeremy has announced a competition where the one who finds the most wins a prize (another egg), fisticuffs could break out among even the most placid of patients.


On the other hand, it may well be a roaring success.  The competition could be viewed as everyone is a winner purely because we’re able to do this in the first time.  The eggs might be consumed without incident – no stealing, dropping, hoarding or coveting.  It potentially could put a smile on our faces which will remain for quite some time, before Jersey, Connors or one of the others decides to do a little metaphorical dusting and wipes it off.


Who knows?  Ask me another.


Either way, I like Minstrels.  I’m happy.  I hope you enjoy yours too.

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