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Bump in the Night (Part One)

Deepest apologies for the hiatus, but I come bearing gifts.“Bump in the Night” is a short horror story I was playing around with during my holiday. Enjoy the first part below. The sinister conclusion will be posted on a special Halloween update.

For best effect: read after dark, just before bed.

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Sarah opened her eyes. Her bedroom was dark. The only source of illumination was the white hue of her phone. Sarah reached blindly, knocking it off her bedside table to the floor. Now the room was pitch black.

She decided it wasn’t worth the effort of leaning out of bed. Text, email, whatever; it could wait until morning. Sarah only hoped she hadn’t damaged the screen. She closed her eyes and found the way back to her slumber.

Sarah’s eyes opened once again. The room was unchanged, it was impossible to know if she had drifted off for just a moment or a for an hour. Why had she woke again?
Downstairs, Sarah heard a bang.

She lay still in her bed, her breathing becoming a little less easy. She was groggy. Had there really been a bang? Even if there had been, it easily could have come from outside—a cat messing around in the garden or something.

There was another bang, and now Sarah was sure it originated from downstairs. Her heart thumped hard and a million thoughts swarmed around her brain.
It was probably too dramatic a move to call the police. She had only moved into the house a few days ago. Surely old houses were meant to have bangs and bumps in the night; it was more likely the noises were being caused by the boiler rather than some sort of intruder. Still…

She would call her Dad. He was a tall man, sturdy like an oak even in his aging years. If he thought it sounded serious he would bring her brother, perhaps. Hopefully, it would turn out to be nothing and they could all have a good laugh at her expense.

She reached for her bedside table but found nothing. A vague, tired memory of her dropping the phone hung somewhere in her mind. Shit.

She leaned up slowly in her bed, willing her eyes to adjust to the dark. Her bedroom door contained glass panels. An unusual decor choice leftover from the previous owner, but it meant she could see the landing and the top half of the stairs. There was nothing. Everything was still. Everything was quiet. As far as she could tell at least.

In her upright position, she reached over the side of the bed and patted the floor, keeping one eye on the stairs, just to be sure. Her hand found nothing.

She stole a quick glance at the floor. Yesterday’s clothes she had strewn about before bed, but no phone that she could see.

The stairs were still empty. She tossed the clothes across the room, expecting her phone to have somehow wormed its way under the mess. But there was still nothing.
Her phone was gone.

‘It can’t be.’ she whispered, double and then triple checking the floor around her bed. She strained her memory, yes, she remembered knocking it to the floor, remembered the hard noise it made as screen struck floor.

She abandoned her careful guard of the stairs and tore her bed apart. The sheets, pillows, the duvet. Each was checked and then discarded in the mad search, her panic rising. There was no question, the phone was gone.

Sarah jumped at the sound of another bump, this time louder than ever.

She slid as silently as she could from the bed, tiptoeing across her bedroom. The cold of the night assaulted her body, covering her in goosebumps. She picked through the mess she had made of her room until she found what she was looking for: her dressing gown. She threw it on and tied it tight.

That was one vulnerability sorted. Now Sarah scanned her bedroom in a vain search for a weapon. All she had was her drinking glass. If there was an attacker downstairs she would probably do more damage to herself with such a tool, but she took it nevertheless.

She tried to open the bedroom door as quietly as she could, but a damning creek from an ill-fitted door rang out for anyone to hear.

Sarah froze. She waited and listened but there was no further development downstairs.

She crept forward onto the landing, and, holding her breath, peered down the stairs.

Everything was still. Everything looked normal. Sarah’s hand holding the glass shook.

Step by step she made her way down the stairs. More and more of her new house came into view. The hallway looked undisturbed, the front door was closed, there was no hint of a light. All good signs.

Sarah walked backwards going further into the hall while still keeping her eye on the front room and the adjoining kitchen to the right. Carefully, she made her way a set of tools she had used the day before. A hammer lay on top. She replaced her drinking glass. The weight of the tool filled her with fresh courage. To her left was a doorway which led to the front door, a quick peek revealed this room to be empty. The front door was locked.

Sarah inched forward back into the hallway. From this angle, she had a clear view of the front room. She raised the hammer high and willed herself forward and into the kitchen.

Not daring to breathe, she sprung into the room, looking all around.
There was nothing there.

The backdoor was also still locked. After a cursory search of the few remaining rooms, finally, she started to relax. She checked the whole house a second time, this time turning on lights as she went until finally she collapsed exhausted on her sofa.

With her house now illuminated she was finally starting to relax. Her fingers crept into the sides of the sofa cushion. The search of her house hadn’t turned up her phone, but Sarah was glad of that—she would have felt pretty silly calling her Dad over nothing. She must have imagined dropping it in the night, she’d searched every inch of her bedroom with no luck. The only conclusion was that she’d misplaced it somewhere else. Wherever it had ended up, Sarah decided it could wait until morning.

***

Outside in the dark something stood perfectly still. The thing breathed in and out with a low rasp. The bright light from the house only helped shroud to make the thing less visible in the shadows of Sarah’s garden. Eventually, the house returned to darkness, and the girl made her way back upstairs to bed.

In its one hand, the thing clutched at a mobile phone with a deep crack down the glass screen. In its other hand, it clutched at something else.

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Need For Read

As of today, I’m on holiday. I’m off to sunny, sunny Scotland. A holiday for me means warm food, cold drinks, and plenty of time for me to catch up on my reading.

“Do lots of reading” has got to be one of the most common pieces of writing advice. Reading should be a basic staple of any writers day, but I have a suspicion it’s often one of the first things that fall by the wayside when time gets tight­­­­. I’m guilty of it, and I know plenty of other writers who are too.

I ran the numbers, and so far this year I’ve definitely read less than ten books, some of those audio-books. Screw you, yes they still count.

I’ve been slacking, and that’s bad.

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I am totally judging these by their covers

One of my favourite Tyrion Lannister quotes from George R.R Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” (better known as Game of Thrones):

‘A mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge. That is why I read so much.’

Reading improves your vocabulary, your sentence structure, your pacing, your dialogue. Basically every part of your writing. Reading helps you spot what works and more importantly what doesn’t. The more you read the more refined your own writing “voice” becomes, the end result is something of an unconscious amalgamation of all your favourite subtleties, and that’s pretty cool.

Reading also helps me a lot when I get stuck with writer’s block. When I get trapped too much in my own head reading a book helps ground the writing process and once again make it an attainable thing. I think, this seems easy enough, maybe I can do this.

Hell, there are reading benefits that non-writers need to get in on too. Studies show reading helps your memory and fights against diseases like Alzheimer’s.

More than that, reading is fun. You get the same pleasure as you would from watching TV, but with the added bonus of it being vaguely intellectual, meaning you can lord it over people.

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I’ll have you know Sir, I read books

More seriously, it’s been suggested reading increases analytical thinking ability and a person’s empathy, improving a person’s ability to see things from someone else’s perspective. My God does the world seem to need a bit more of both of those things lately.

I know it sounds dramatic but I really do feel like reading is slowly becoming a lost medium. Literary fiction is in decline, and naturally, that scares the hell out of writers. Movies, TV shows, even big video game releases have become these big cultural events. It doesn’t seem to happen for books anymore, not since the Harry Potter frenzy years ago.

I have faith that it’s a temporary blip, despite the decline there are also reports that millennials are reading more than ever—so maybe the next generation is going to help with a resurgence.

I know I need to start getting more consistent with my own reading. In 2019 I’m setting myself the modest goal of reading at least 50 books, which roughly means reading a book a week. I’m going to set some time aside to read before bed, spending less time on my phone, and hopefully benefit from a better nights sleep as well.

How many books have you read this year? Are you on top or could you stand to do better? Why are people reading less and how can we fix that? Maybe you’re freaking out about all this and want to something to read RIGHT NOW.

– H. L.

Murder at the Bookstore

Have you noticed that in 2018 the fiction section of your local bookshop is full to bursting with detective novels? Almost every other book is about a P.I Whogivesa or a D.I Whatsit.

I went on holiday last year and thought I’d pick up some reading at the airport. Mistake. It’s a tiny airport bookstore, so I’m not exactly expecting the library of Alexandria. But damn near every fiction book was in the crime genre. If you didn’t want crime you were out of luck. Best accept you’ll be doing Sudoku for the next three hours.

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Silver Lining: I actually don’t mind Sudoku

Some of these bloody books are even in disguise. Not content with taking up large section of the shelf, crime-fiction is masquerading as horror-fiction. They have titles like “Pale Ghost” and a book cover featuring an illustration of a demon, then you flip to the blurb and get:

Former homicide detective Quincy Jones has made a lot of mistakes in his career. Now some of these mistakes are coming back to haunt his retirement. Can this disillusioned old cop solve a case that he thought he buried years ago, or will his demons finally destroy him?

Get out of here. That is not cool. You tricked me with your tricky marketing. Bad writer. If crime-fiction is so hot why pretend to be something else?

I’m being sulky. I don’t want to bash the writers knocking these things out. I know they’re not easy to write. Essentially having to work backwards from the end and sprinkle in all sorts of red-herrings along the way. Like baking a cake with only a picture as a frame of reference, and you have to trick people into thinking you made it with a toaster at some point.

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Crime.

People have tried to explain the surge in popularity with everything from the stressful times we live in, to the accessibility of Poirot on Netflix.

I don’t really care how the genre got so popular. The only important thing now is sorting out a plan on how to take it down.

Here’s what I’m thinking: we increase actual crime rates. Murder your neighbours, set fire to your communities, generally just go run amok. Only when the real world starts looking like it does in The Purge will people stop turning to crime-fiction for escapism.

Drastic plan? Maybe—but it’s the best one I’ve got.

While I work on that, I understand the wheel is going to keep turning. So. If you really do feel the need to add another detective book to the pile, please, try and mix it up a bit.

There’s been plenty of material out there about various cliches in this genre that should be avoided, but I’ve gone one step further and offered some creative alternatives:

1.) Instead of having your detective addicted to drugs or booze…make him fat. He’s a heifer that buries his angst in goodies. You’ll get some George R.R. Martin-level food description in and it’ll make the chase scenes way more interesting.

2.) Instead of a retired detective sulking over that one case he just couldn’t solve…make him miss it. What if wife made him retire. Maybe playing charades with the neighbours is driving him mad and he longs for the days of being knee deep in blood.

3.) Instead of having your detective be a genius Sherlock type…make him bad at his job. Maybe his uncle is the Chief of Police and nepotism prevailed. Detecting is hard. Be brave enough to have him rub his temples and admit he is really goddamn confused.

Those are my tips. You have about a month or two to use them before this blog blows-up and there is chaos in the streets and variety in our bookshops.

Why do you think crime pays so well? Why is a habitual murder so much more interesting than a hobbit to the common man? Would Harry Potter have done even better if his parent’s murder had been a whodunnit? Let me know in the comments.

– H.L

Finding a Place to Write

A year and a bit ago I and my fiance moved into our first home. It took a while to get settled, but we’re finally happy with the place.

OK, I’m happy. The other half is still moving things around. I don’t really like change, it’s a whole thing. I’m getting off point.

The biggest challenges I faced include replacing a built-in-fridge, getting a second-hand futon (fully-assembled!) up a very narrow set of stairs, and of course, finding the perfect spot for me to sit down and write.

Your writing space can mean the difference between sweet success and that other, dark, harrowing thing.

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Failure, that’s the word

Traditional writing advice suggests your work area should be free of distractions, but not barren enough to stifle your creativity. You should be comfortable, but your space also needs to be practical.

My own search hits a few different rooms, which I’m now going to take you on a journey through, but where I finally end up might just surprise you.

The Study

The new house came with a study? Problem solved, right?

Not quite.

“Study” is actually a pretty generous euphemism we use to avoid telling people, this is where we keep all the video games and the second Playstation. Study just sound more…adult.

The best part is the previous owner had this cool multi-coloured mood lighting installed which helps set the tone for whatever I’m working on.

It does have a desk, but it’s littered with all sorts of gadgets and games, all fun, but not exactly conducive for productivity.

I used this room for a bit, but the numerous distractions and the lack of desk space was killer in the end.

Final Score: 5/10

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I was going to provide actual pictures of these rooms, but that would require cleaning

The Conservatory

The conservatory makes for a beautiful writing space. It’s where I envisioned myself getting to work when we were buying the house. Whether looking at the nice view of the garden or having the blinds drawn to create a cosy atmosphere, the room is just brilliant to write it.

But damn it, it’s just not meant to be.

The room has some hella-comfy chairs, but no desk. That means any writing means having a laptop on my lap—and that means less time writing and more time spent worrying about the damage I might be doing to my fertility.

Final Score: 0/10

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Not worth it

The Dining Room

The dining room is…serviceable. It has chairs, a table, no immediate threats to my swimmers. Nirvana right?

It’s practical. But so is an ironing board, and neither set’s my world on fire.

Final Score: 6/10

The Kitchen

Yes, this is where I ended up. Hang on, hear me out – it’s cooler than it sounds.

There’s a corner of our kitchen with a breakfast bar we seldom used. I was walking past one day…and inspiration hit.

Think about it. It’s close as you can be to all the local amenities. Snacks and drinks on demand. Plenty of desk space. There’s even a shelf overlooking the garden I’ve decorated with some notebooks and ornaments.

I’ve got a miniature zen sand garden I can rake when I’m stuck on a paragraph. A little quill and ink pot (stylish but not for actual use, I’m a lefty). A raven figurine I think I got from a Game of Thrones Monopoly set. The whole thing is pretty chill.

If you haven’t got your own writing space, take a look at your house with a fresh pair of eyes. The kitchen was the last place I expected to end up, but now I couldn’t be happier with my little corner of the world.

OK, the stools could be comfier, but hey, they keep me humble.

Final Score: 9/10

What does your writing space look like? What have you decorated it with? Do you put more stock in comfort or practicality? Let me know in the comments.

– H. L