Writer’s Block

Writer’s block.  Is that what you rest your head on, waiting for that nice sharp blade to drop down and lop it off?  Or is it the particular piece of cliff you stand upon, looking down into the abyss below, a void of wordlessness?

Do you sit there, pen, pencil or keyboard in hand (whatever your poison), and feel a physical barrier, or are you looking out onto an empty field, the expanse stretching away to the horizon with no sign of life to break its monotony?

Then you see something.  A letter?  A punctuation mark?  A whole word or sentence?  You can’t be sure but you run towards it, hands outstretched, desperately grasping.  Then you take it in your arms and squeeze it to your bosom, only to feel it drift away into dust.

Or it stays with you and flourishes, growing into something that could actually be beautiful.  A blog post.  A short story.  Possibly a full length novel.

Granted you might, one day, decide that it’s ugly and needs casting aside – consigned to the recycle bin or the rubbish bin.  Or screwed up and thrown on the floor to gather dust in a dark corner.  But it’s YOUR child so, sometimes, you have to be cruel to be kind – cruel to your baby to be kind to the rest of us.

If you’re lucky, though, it might blossom into a masterpiece that others stand in awe of.  Or even a few just think is pretty good.  It all warms those cockles.

But what if <gasp> you stand on that precipice and can see no ledge to catch hold of, or you run through the field and there really is nothing between you and the horizon except simply somewhere else to place your foot?  What do you do?

I’m lucky, at the moment at least.  Well, after a fashion.  I don’t have a shortage of words.  I have more than one project on the go, for a start.  I have the sequel to my book, Sin.  Then there’s a children’s book I’m 40,000 words into.  Not forgetting Sin’s blog, his diary form within his asylum.  I’ve also recently finished a short story based on the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and a children’s book called Rudolph Saves Christmas!  Considering I get VERY little time to actually write, I don’t think I do too badly.

A few weeks ago I sat down to write work on the sequel to Sin and ended up starting the Rudolph story.  I have no idea why.

A few years ago, I had nothing.  There was no urge, no inner voice.  I would sit with a pad or my computer, wanting to write – needing to – and I wouldn’t write a single word.  That lasted a good (or bad) twelve months.  It was awful, but I just couldn’t come up with anything.  But I was trying to force it.  I was trying to make the words come and kick the voice into uttering something.  So it all rebelled, stuck two fingers up to me and turned its back.

I’ve had periods since where the same happens.  So I leave them all to their own devices.  I don’t sit there, begging for inspiration, I carry on and let inspiration come.  I think it helps that I have so many projects on the go.  I have my main one – currently the children’s book – and I try to work on that, but if it doesn’t want to play, I turn to something else.  Usually that something else is one of Sin’s blog entries.  They’re fun, are only about 500 words or so, and they take less than half an hour.  I don’t plan them, I just write and see what happens.

So maybe that’s why I don’t seem to have such a problem now.  When I had one story, it sometimes didn’t want to play.  Now, they’re all jealous and vie for my attention!  Now, I get to choose.  It all stimulates the little grey wotsits.  If I was struggling, I’d probably write my shopping list, but as a story.  The toilet rolls are on the hunt for the mysterious, legendary Granny Smith of Doom.  On their quest they have to defeat the cat food and reach the snow capped Cucumber of Halfness!

Write something, write nonsense, but write.  If you write it, it will come.

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The Interview

Hi everyone.  I’m Shaun Allan and I’m an author from Grimsby in the UK.  I’ve written for most of my life (I couldn’t hold a pen in the early days) and have penned a variety of stories, ranging from science fiction to horror to humour to children’s.  I’ve also written a paranormal thriller called Sin, and have appeared on Sky TV to discuss traditional versus electronic publishing.

Except, of course, I’m none of those things.  I don’t really exist.  I’m a pigment of Sin’s emancipation – as Sin himself would say.  I’m not surrounded by girls (in the shape of my partner and daughters) with only our three cats (all male) to back me up – we have fish too but their sex is undecided… although, as I don’t exist I suppose I don’t have fish…

Being unreal can be confusing sometimes.

So.  I’m Shaun, and I’d be pleased to meet you if there was any chance of escaping the confines of Sin’s imagination.  Going by some aspects of him, though, I wouldn’t like to say that isn’t actually possible.

Hi.  Oh, I said that.  Well.  I’m here to interview Sin, lunatic extraordinaire – or, as he would have us believe, non-lunatic ordinaire.  Why would one interview a madman?  Well, it worked for Clarisse when she met with the goodly Mr. Lecter.  And, as Sin protests that he’s not actually crazy, I may get some more sense.  We shall see.

SA: Hello Sin.

Sin: Hi Shaun.  How are you?

SA: I’m fine thank you.  It’s a little dark in here, but I don’t mind.

Sin: I’m sorry about that.  I’d like to brighten it up in there, but the gloom in the hospital kind of invades my head.

SA: A little like I’m doing?

Sin: *laughs* Not quite.  You’re a welcome deviation.  Connors is the only one who invades my head.

SA: Thanks, I think.  Although the hospital is glaringly white.  I wouldn’t have thought the term ‘gloom’ suits?

Sin: Well, you’d think so, but in a building where no one is particularly happy, even the blinding walls can feel dark.

SA: Well.  Yes…  Let’s lighten the mood a little, shall we?

Sin: Unlike the inside of my head?

SA: Indeed.  So.  You’re crazy?

Sin: Hey, don’t waste your time, OK?  I’d prefer it if you’d get right to the point!

SA: I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to be so blunt.

Sin: Don’t worry.  I’ve been called much worse in here.  In answer to your question, yes, I’m crazy.  Except when I’m not.

SA: When you’re not?  You switch it on and off?

Sin: After a fashion, I suppose you could say I do.  I’m crazy as a loon… when i want to be.

SA: So, from that, do I assume you’re not really?

Sin: You can indeedy.  My wibble doesn’t wobble.  I act up so they’ll come and give me the drugs.  Little pricks giving little pricks.

SA: Why would you do that?  I can’t see why anyone would want to actually volunteer to be locked up in an asylum.

Sin: Maybe I’m crazy to do it then?

SA: *I shrug my shoulders.  Maybe he has more in common with a certain cannibal than I thought*

Sin: You do realise, as you’re a conjuration of my consciousness, I can hear your thoughts?

SA: Oh, sorry.  I didn’t mean to offend you.  You just seem to be… contradictory.

Sin: I’ll take that as a compliment, thank you.

SA: You’re welcome.  Why, then, did you deliberately put yourself in here?

Sin: I needed it all to stop.  I couldn’t take it anymore.  I felt like I was being haunted.

SA: ‘It’?

Sin:  Yes, ‘it’.  The deaths.  The screams.  I couldn’t think of how else I could end it other than locking myself away somewhere where they’d pump me full of drugs to take it all away.

SA: What deaths?  What screams?

Sin: Shaun, people die around me.  I don’t like it and I can’t help it, but they do.

SA: They die?

Sin: Yes.  They die.  So I need a healthy dose of oblivion to keep me out of it, so it stops.

SA: Does Dr. Connors know this?

Sin: No.  He thinks I’m just paranoid.  I’m hardly going to tell him that, am I?  He’ll think I’m…

SA: Crazy?

Sin: Exactly.  Which I’m not.

SA: How’s it going with that plan then?  Is it working?

Sin: Actually, no.  I can still hear their screams and I can still feel their deaths.

SA: Hmmm…  What are you going to do about that?

Sin: I’m going to do the only thing I can.  I’m going to kill myself.

SA: Suicide?  So, people die around you and you want to commit suicide, but you’re not crazy.

Sin: That’s right.

SA: OK… I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt on that.  How are you planning on doing that?  After all, this is an asylum.  I assume you’re not even allowed shoelaces?

Sin: That’s the best bit.

SA: Killing yourself has a ‘best bit’?

Sin: It does indeed.

SA: So, tell me.  How will you do it.

Sin: Teleportation.

I think you’ll agree that that’s my cue to take my leave of Sin’s senses, as he’s clearly done so himself.  I must admit, though, that he seems at least as sane as I.  Perhaps that’s his composure, though.  He doesn’t look like Doc Brown for a start.  He looks like you or I.

He looks ordinary.

They do say it’s always the quiet ones.

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Planning a Book

Plan your book?  Plan?  Hold on while I look that up in the dictionary…

Hmmm… I can’t say that applies to me.  Perhaps I should plan my books, but I just can’t.  If I try to, I end up feeling the writing is forced.  Usually, I have no idea where a book or story is going.  Whether it’s a blog entry for Sin’s diary, a short story or a full blown book, I often have no idea what’s going to happen until it does.

I don’t even have the plot in my head.  Or if I do it’s very vague.  I start with a first line or the name of a character and run with it.  Sometimes I lose the race and am overtaken, but most often it works out.  Blog entries are written ‘off the cuff’ and, though the more extensive stories are written over a period of time, I don’t pre-empt the plot or the characters.  It’s a voyage of discovery for me as well as the reader – though the seas may be rough I (fairly often) manage it back to sure unscathed.

An example of this – other than the blog entries – is my Rudolph Saves Christmas book.  I sat down one night with my tablet computer and the TV turned down low, planning on working on the sequel to Sin.  1000 words (ish) later I discovered that Rudolph was sleeping in his chair and was about to be accused of attempting to sabotage Christmas!  I have no idea how one ended up being the other – SO far removed – but it did.

So…  Planning?  Let me just go and look that up again…

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On Writing

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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