How to write like . . . Ian Fleming

Fifth in a series of 7 Pastiches of Little Red Riding Hood in the style of my favourite authors. Use these to help you enhance your creativity, become a successful writer and be more happy and fulfilled in your creative life.

This time around I bring you a further retelling of the Red Riding Hood story, drawn from the original text LITTLE RED CAP by the Brothers Grimm and in the style of one of my boyhood favourites, Ian Flaming. I am such a huge Bond nut, it was hard not to do this one first, but I paced myself. I wanted to put a lot into this one. Afterwards I shall give you the matching commentary as to how it was done, and so on for all 7 stories. I hope you enjoy it, but be warned this one is a gritty spy story modelled around the gritty spy stories of Ian Lancaster Fleming. So there is death, sex (or at least the hint of it) and then a bit more death. Ok, pay attention double er . . . I mean, introducing Commander John Bane.

Wolf’s Bane
after Ian Fleming)

Commander John Bane carefully slipped the compact and powerful Zeiss Victory binoculars out of the pocket of his new black Berghaus backpack and pressed them against his eyes, smoothly turning the ribbed focus wheel with his index finger to bring the cabin into view. The air was intoxicatingly scented with pine sap, and all around him in the velvety darkness small animals hurried around looking for late night meals in the dusk. He was fully covered in fitted, black clothing and was lying very still. Lying so still in fact that the scurrying fauna ignored him, one or two of the unidentified creatures even running over his legs in their evening haste.

The girl was in there, he felt sure of it, and her grandmother too perhaps . . . Although, he noted with calm professionalism that the single matter-of-fact gunshot he heard on his approach might suggest at least one of them was already dead.


His journey to the Swiss German border was swift, having only started a mere 18 hours earlier in London. The head of Department OS9 had called him to an urgent personal briefing in her office. She was a brisk former Admiral and although occasionally betraying a liking for him in her motherly gaze, was quick to stifle any notions of favouritism or coziness with him by being extra curt and businesslike. So, as always at these meetings she pretended not to care about him, and he did her the respect of pretending not to notice.

“Commander Bane, good, please sit down. I’d offer you a drink, but you can’t get comfortable, you have a plane to catch. You’re booked on the next Lufthansa flight to Stuttgart.” She briefed him on the situation quickly while handing him a dossier to read on the plane.

A Swiss courier, Heidi Rotkapp, had inadvertently seen something she shouldn’t have on her last trip into Germany and had been promptly kidnapped. She’d been snatched at her grandmother’s house in the Black Forest, by Lake Constance in Baden-Württemberg on the Swiss German border. Intelligence indicated it was most likely a man they had been after for some time, a former Bulgarian secret service operative called Anton Schlecht-Wolf. He was most definitely a person of interest.

Bane’s eyebrows had gone up at the mention of that name. The Admiral saw the look. “I thought you’d be pleased. This is the first time we’ve seen him in years. I’d say don’t lose him again . . . but, you want that more than I.”

Schlecht-Wolf was the man responsible for the limp Bane tried to cover up at all his physical exams over the past few years. The Wolf was a nasty piece of work, kidnapping, extortion, and even some say cannibalism, although Bane thought that last was a rumour spread by the man himself to accentuate his myth.

Bane had almost captured or killed him in Siena, Italy, but Schlecht-Wolf had escaped by sticking a bowie knife two inches into Bane’s thigh and jumping out of a fifth story window into a glass conservatory. His body was never found, and Bane suffered months of painful surgery and physical therapy to get back into shape and on active duty.

The tiny triangular tip of the blade had chipped off against his femur and was still lodged in the muscle somewhere causing him a painful reminder of Schlecht-Wolf whenever he ran or jumped. The recovery from the shame of letting the bastard slip through his fingers was going to be much longer although, by the sound of it, relief was at hand.


On the flight, breathing the cool conditioned air and sipping a large Maker’s Mark bourbon on the rocks, Bane enjoyed several moments of private pleasure at the thought of finally drawing a line under that particular case. And in his luggage, authorised by his department for international travel, he had just the tools draw that line, and draw it in blood.

His standard issue Browning L9A1 Pistol, special issue Osprey body armour (light and thin enough to fit under any clothing), and most important a special purchase just for this trip, an exquisite hand made Bowie knife by Scottish knife maker James Noble.

The stewardess who served him was blonde, tall and slim. Delightfully not too slim, he noted with a grin as she turned to walk away from him. Her name was Fanny, a pretty name which of course carried no double entendre in Germany or Switzerland. He hoped sincerely she hadn’t caught his slight flicker of amusement when he read it from her name badge. She was clearly flirting with him. When giving back his Euros in change for his drink, she had held her other hand gently under his. Her touch was cool and soft.

Later before landing she had paused on her way up the aisle, checking baggage was stowed for approach, and she had asked him if everything was okay. As she did so she made a show of checking his seat belt, totally unnecessary as it was already firmly secured. Her head was close enough to his face for him to smell her hair and the warm scent of the perfume rising from her neck. Her hair smelled deliciously of almonds and the perfume he recognised immediately as Cefiro by Floris of Jermyn Street. So, an Anglophile and expensive tastes too? That all boded very well. She smiled and moved on, but it wasn’t till he unhooked the belt after landing that he found the slip of paper with her Stuttgart phone number written on it. A bold move, and one which had probably broken a tenet or two of the doubtless strict Lufthansa company policies, but in this case she had judged correctly that he would be receptive. He tucked it in his breast pocket and got off the plane.

As he breezed through customs he was in a good mood, and as collected his bags he refocussed with difficulty on the matter in hand. There would after all, he grinned to himself, be plenty of time for Fanny some other time.


The temperature on the forest floor by the lake was dropping rapidly, and Bane snapped the poppers on the high jacket collar and pulled the black woollen ski mask over his face. He looked at the cabin windows through the Zeiss binoculars once more, finding them all lit, but as if through thick curtains. That would be useful later. It was getting colder, and he saw the first plume of a newly lit fire emerging from the rustic chimney stack. It was time.

Slowly and without a sound he picked his way down the slope, making good use of the soft soled black hunting moccasins he wore to minimise any cracking of twigs. He planted his feet quickly but carefully, on patches of the forest floor with minimal twigs and leaves. The evening dew had softened the leaves so there was very little rustling as he approached the cabin. His clothing was soft and tightly fastened to him, so there was no noise from it as he moved, and he listened very carefully to the ambient sounds and made sure any noise he made was well below the noise of the forest. In this manner he traversed smoothly across the clearing towards a woodpile near to the North East wall of the cabin.

He almost tripped over a pile of groceries and a broken wicker basket in the driveway on his way to it, but saw them in time and hopped over them without breaking his stride. He crouched by the woodpile and looked around. He couldn’t be seen from inside unless he stood up. He took this moment to check his equipment. Gun in its holster on his right hip, safety off and one round quietly racked into the chamber. Knife in its buckskin sheath on the back of his left hip . . .

Light flooded over the top of the woodpile. Someone was checking the windows. Had he racked the gun too loudly? There was a voice momentarily, deep, very close, expressing boredom in Bulgarian. Then the light folded back into darkness. He had to move.

He pulled the Browning and went around the house, clearing the corners professionally in case there was a guard outside. Nobody. At the back door he soft checked the handle, turning it very slowly, finding it locked, but also noticed it was freshly screwed shut around the door frame. Hmm. They were taking no chances. Only way in or out was round the front. Fair enough. Front it is.


Inside the house Heidi Rotkapp watched the back door handle at the end of the kitchen turning on its slow rotation and back. Someone was here! Could it be someone to rescue her.

She was duct taped to a chair and the shoulder of her red dress was torn, revealing the top of her brassiere and several large bruises. She looked from the kitchen back into the room and watched the large man Schlecht-Wolf and his two thugs sitting by the fire they just lit. They were drinking vodka and talking in what she assumed was Russian or maybe Polish. Languages never were her strong suit. Her native language was German and although her English was perfect, learned when she went up to Oxford, she knew no other languages well enough to know what they were saying.

It seemed they were unaware of the movement of the door handle and continued to chat amiably. One of them, the giant with the crew cut, had just checked the window again, not because he heard something but just for something to do, it appeared. He had just risen up slowly and ambled over to it, eyes on her her all the way across the room. As he drew the curtain the boss man, Schlecht-Wolf, had said something that sounded like a kind of query, accompanied by eyebrow raises. “Az sŭm tolkova skuchno” the giant had replied under his breath. That didn’t sound like Russian.

The brute had shrugged and ambled back across the room, again keeping his eyes on her as he did so, only dropping them to his friends again as he sat down. He was an ugly man, well over six feet tall, stubbled hair covering a flat topped cranium which looked like a helmet, heavy brows and a thick nose with a wide mouth with thick lips.

The other two men were equally ugly. The smaller one looked as though he had been crushed by gravity, squat like a troll or a gnome. He had slightly prissily trimmed hair, almost too meticulously coiffured, and one droopy eye slightly bigger than the other giving him a permanently quizzical expression. Whereas the giant’s voice was deep and booming, the gnome has a lisping and slightly rasping high voice. She could see his larger eye was surrounded by angry purple, and couldn’t resist a slight smile about that.

But the ugliest of all was the boss, the Wolf man, Anton Schlecht-Wolf. Wiry dark hair culminating in thick mutton chop whiskers, browless, dark, beady eyes and a wet, gaping mouth filled with widely spaced, pointed teeth. He was big, not tall, but bulky, like a weightlifter. The ease with which he bossed around his two goons bespoke a concealed violence and cruelty which he kept under the surface. He used this evil aura to control anyone who displeased him. It came off him like a warm breeze of suppressed anger all the time. He slapped the goons playfully and they actually flinched as they laughed, as if to reassure him they were not a threat. Classic dog behaviour, she thought to herself.

To her however Schlecht-Wolf had been creepily calm and pleasant, from the moment they grabbed her outside the house and brought her inside. The calmness was jarring and it added to the horror of the man. Anyone who looked the way he did and radiated those palpable waves of violent intent, and yet was uniformly civilised and cultured in his manner set up a sort of confusion in the mind. It was one of his tools, the joy of playing with people’s minds, clearly one of his fetishes.

At first they had sat her in a chair by the kitchen door and brought her a cup of tea. It was unsettling but pleasant. Then at one point later on, after much careful and polite questioning, the Wolf man apologised, patted her gently on the knee and deliberately moved away with his back to her. He made a big show of it, starting to put wood in the grate in preparation for a fire, as if accidentally ignoring her for a moment. It was then the goons got to work on her.

They bound her roughly to the chair with tape and started slapping and poking her, at first almost jovially, then harder and still harder till her face grew as red as her dress. Then they took it in turns to set about her, the giant punching and slapping her with his huge ham hands, the gnome painfully pinching nerve clusters in her arms and legs with a kind of cruel glee. The giant seemed bored and professional, knowing how hard to hit to cause immense pain but little lasting damage. The gnome was feverish in his work for some reason, growing agitated, and each time he touched her she could feel he wanted to do more, to go further, to cause more pain and actual harm. To tear her flesh rather than just pinch at it excruciatingly.

Then finally he snapped, like an angry child, and he brought his quivering sweaty toad face close to hers so she could smell his stale fishy breath. He grabbed the sleeve of her dress and with a high scream of rage and frustration tore the sleeve clean off, cutting the soft part of her elbow as it parted across it. He began to stuff the sleeve into her mouth and she screamed through it. The giant looked over to Schlecht-Wolf for instructions, and the Wolf man paused then nodded slightly. The giant grabbed the gnome by his shoulders and lifted him from his feet as easily as one might pick up a child. The gnome shrieked and kicked, but almost casually the giant slammed him up against the wall so hard it jerked all the breath out of the squat figure, and then dropped him to the floor in a heap. The giant rubbed his hands on his trousers and turned back to Heidi. He took the cloth, surprisingly gently, from her mouth and tearing a strip of the material, bound the cut on her elbow. Then he stood aside to await further orders.

At first the gnome was stunned and disoriented but then he had roared and launched himself at the giant. The giant didn’t move until the last second. He grabbed the gnome by his throat and holding him up in the air he punched him in the eye with his giant ham fist, dashing him to the ground, where he finally lay still. Schlecht-Wolf muttered in English, “ok enough”. He walked right over to Heidi and spoke to her very softly, right into her ear so she had to strain to hear him. “Listen very carefully . . .” The he had fired his gun right next to her other ear. Her ear was still deaf and slightly ringing even an hour later.

So the torturing and the fighting had stopped eventually and the giant had picked up the fallen gnome, roused him back to consciousness and poured him a glass of vodka which he grudgingly accepted. The gnome’s tone was apologetic. They laughed a little and began to talk. After that they had seemed to lose interest in her. Perhaps they were resting and they would go at her again later. They would probably not let her sleep and wake her every hour or so through the night for more beatings. She suspected the gnome would not be allowed to touch her after his outburst, so she braced herself for the giant’s full attentions.

That is until the door handle moved. Until that happened she had become resigned to the fact she was not going to make it out of the cabin alive. But now someone was there, and they were being very discreet. Perhaps they would rescue her after all?


Outside, Bane was ready. He took a small object the size of an apple out of his pocket, prepared it and threw it as far as he could towards the rear of the house. The grenade went off seconds later, giving him just enough time to run to the front door and wrench it open. The back windows in the house shattered from the force of the explosion, but the heavy curtains prevented the glass from shredding everyone in the room. Heidi was screaming. The noise was so loud and shocking that no eyes were on the front door when John Bane slid into the room, feet planted and firing crisply, putting a bullet in the back of the gnome’s neck and the giant’s shoulder.

Before he could fire again Schlecht-Wolf turned fast and twin muzzle flashes in the air previewed the arrival of a couple of closely grouped .45 bullets in the centre of Bane’s chest, sending him crashing backwards through the flimsy dividing door into the bedroom. Silence fell, punctuated only by the giant’s painful curses, the reverberation of the girl’s scream and the odd tiny tinkle of falling glass.

Schlecht-Wolf looked down at the gnome. Large hole in his neck, blood pooling fast. Dead for certain. The giant was hissing Slavic obscenities and clutching his shoulder, but then composed himself, gritting his teeth and looking to Schlecht-Wolf for directions. Schlecht-Wolf nodded to the empty bedroom door, and cursing and puffing, entered the darkened kitchen pulling Heidi on her chair along with him. He stood there in the gloom watching the giant move cautiously into the bedroom. Heidi also stared. It was so quiet. What was happening?

Suddenly a thud, a grunt and sharp crack followed by a scream. The giant fell back through the doorway clutching an arm bent at an eccentric angle. As if in slow motion, standing on his chest as he fell was a man, dressed entirely in black, riding the giant down to the floor like a lumberjack on a falling tree. When they hit the floor the man trod down hard with a twist and the giant was still. Schlecht-Wolf fired wildly three times but missed. He stopped firing and the dark figure rose and levelled his own gun.

Schlecht-Wolf grabbed Heidi by the neck but kept the gun fixed on Bane. Heidi could hear him trying to slow his breathing. Finally Schlecht-Wolf spoke, almost conversationally. “Body armour, Commander Bane? That’s not very sporting.”

“This isn’t sport, Schlecht-Wolf, this is war. And you are my prisoner.” Heidi could see Bane’s blue grey eyes in the slit in his ski mask, his voice was level and convincingly cruel.

Schlecht-Wolf coughed. “The only one of us with a mrŭsna kurva . . . uh sorry dirty whore as a prisoner here is, er, me. Ms Rotkapp has not been very shall we say forthcoming about what she knows, so after I have finished with you I shall continue our conversation until she does. And she WILL!” he wrenched at her neck causing her to punctuate his speech with a yelp.

Bane shouted. “You’re not leaving this cabin, Schlecht-Wolf. You’re not getting away . . .”

“. . . a second time?” Schlecht-Wolf interrupted and then laughed, wetly. “Yes, Heidi, you see Commander Bane and I know each other quite well, I’ve beaten him before, you see. Now you get to watch while I do it again . . .”

He tensed and straightened his arm as if to fire, but Heidi suddenly drove her feet into the floor hurling them both hard into the heavy back door. Schlecht-Wolf’s grip on her neck loosened and she pushed forwards shouting with the effort, flinging herself with the chair to the ground. As she hit the floor she looked up to see Bane propel himself forwards tearing the ski mask from his head as he went and clutching at something at his left side. He brought it to the front as he collided with the Wolf man.

Schlecht-Wolf opened his eyes in time to see Bane’s face very close and feeling the impact of his body on his. How had he closed the gap so fast? Then he noticed a cold feeling spreading through him, realising with a small pang of regret it must be a knife in his chest. He looked up into Bane’s eyes, which were flaring with triumph. “Not today, Mr Wolf,” said Bane quietly, as Anton Schlecht-Wolf’s world went dark.


Bane had checked Grandmother Rotkapp’s ancient dusty Mercedes for fuel and was going to drive Heidi to the local village hospital. She was badly bruised and shaken although it seemed she was basically okay. Physically at least. But she should see a doctor just in case.

When he came back inside she was sitting on one of the chairs by the fire. Her dark red hair was catching the firelight and her deep blue eyes were large and searching. He put his gun on the table and sat beside her, touching her forearm and hand. Her pale lightly freckled skin was so soft he could hardly feel it under his fingertips. Her voice, steady at first, was accented with German, but her English was flawless.

“Fortunately my grandmother was away when I arrived or they would have caught her too. You know? They were waiting for me . . . I had no supplies and decided to walk to the village to get food . . . and so I was coming back with groceries, some wine and cake for grandma. And then they . . .” she stopped speaking and bowed her head, tears of relief finally flooding her eyes. “Thank you” she said in a whisper.

“No” he said, “Thank you. If you hadn’t acted I’d never have got him. You took action and that took a lot of guts.”

She lay her head against him. Bane comforted her, but his attention was elsewhere. His chest burned, the body armour spread the impact of the .45 bullets but his chest would be bruised for weeks. The giant had grabbed him by the throat, but he’d broken the huge arm with the butt of his Browning and drop kicked him out of the door. Most of these aches and pains were familiar to him and would heal, experience told him that. Nothing a shower, some freshly laundered clothes and large bourbon wouldn’t fix.

But there was another sensation, an old familiar ache, and one that for the first time he welcomed. The tiny triangle of steel glowing painfully in his thigh muscle, reminding him of Anton Schlecht-Wolf for the very last time.


Writing like Fleming is easy if you’ve read as many of his books as I have, but the key is sensual detail. Fleming was a well known lover of sensation, experiences, places, food and women. And these details were always very precise. He also knew what he considered to be the best of everything, and strove to discover it for whatever application he had; shampoo, watches, typewriters, clothes, food, coffee, you name it. What the best was, and why it was so darn good.

He also travelled extensively in Europe and the far east, knew America well, and used these travels in his work. But mostly he was a sensual writer and his prose is laced with the language of the senses, the touch of things, the smell, the taste, the light, and the sounds. Infuse your work with these details and almost instantly you are writing like Ian Fleming.


Oh and I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, The Wealthy Writer by Nick Daws and Ruth Barringham is truly wonderful book, containing a lot of insider information I wish I’d known before I tried making a living writing online. As I’ve said before Nick is one of the few writing coaches whose work I really respect, and on the strength of this work, Ruth is also one of my new favourite teachers. Most other ebook writers give you a 50 page cut and paste fest full of decent but unoriginal material and charge the earth. In my experience Nick does the exact opposite of that. This book is no exception, a huge 259 pages of densely packed professional advice to get you on the road to being a professional, and yes, wealthy writer. To purchase your own little piece of heaven follow this link. You won’t regret it.

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How to write like . . . Neil Gaiman

Fourth in a series of 7 Pastiches of Little Red Riding Hood in the style of my favourite authors. Now I bring you a further retelling of the Red Riding Hood story, drawn from the original text LITTLE RED CAP by the Brothers Grimm and in the style of the Dream King, Neil Gaiman. Afterwards I shall give you the matching commentary as to how it was done, and so on for all 7 stories. I hope you enjoy it, but be warned this one is a dark horror story modelled around the Victorian Jack the Ripper or Dr Jekyll tales. Those below the age of consent or of a sensitive disposition should look away now. That said, come with me into the London fog with…

A Wolf in the Stomach
Neil Gaiman)

How she was found and the butcher shop display he’d made of her, so violent, so destructive… the doctor, a man not given to emotional outbursts, had to steady himself on the dresser as he breathed deeply and spoke as how he’d never seen the like. He was an animal, this killer, this wolf in the coat of a man. Posing the body like that, they muttered darkly in the corners of the candle lit room, is either the work of an evil man, or as one wag quipped, an ordinary demon.

Grandmother, an honorary title at best, also slain with a single, terrible knife swipe to the throat after hearing the screams of her ward and arriving at the bedroom door, lay in the hallway, her boots peeking around the wainscoting at its foot. It was she who had sent the red haired girl to the shop for wine and cake, to be shared between her and the other girls who worked at Grandmothers house down here at Three Oaks in the East End of London.

The girl, Miss Hood, had begun her journey back to the house of medium repute from the local shop in Wood Lane, it seems. Detective Inspector Lumberjacke sat in the corner, a procession of vague figures came and went, some to scrape and clean, some to catalogue and box. He considered her earlier journey as he watched her take her last, seeing it in his minds eye like a magic lantern show, slide after yellowing slide painted in gay colours, stained with cigar smoke and dust.

Lumberjacke, eyes closed, could see Miss Hood skipping to the shop along the cobbles by gaslight, choosing the cake and wine, and bidding the shopkeep good day intending to return… But the dark figure in the doorway blocked her path. The shopkeep said only that the man was tall, and all that could be seen of him in light from the gaslight under the shadow of his broad brimmed hat was his whiskers and his large, stained and long teeth as he smiled. The shopkeep, Mr Redcap, said he didn’t hear all of what was said to the girl by this imposing gentleman, but he described the tone of voice as a sort of low rasping whisper. The snippet he heard was something about not liking cake so much as apple dumplin’s, and all looking at her bosom. The voice sounded like the throat of the speaker was full of earth, he had said quietly, and adding with a visible shudder that it was not a voice he would forget in a month of Sundays.

The shopkeep viewed her listening to the man’s proposal, nodding and smiling sweetly, and waving a slightly distracted farewell to Mr Redcap, she had accompanied this wolf back to Grandmother’s house. Any other man making so untimely a proposal would have a sharp reply; “that’s my eye, Betty Martin” or “shut yer bone box” she normally would have shot back. But this proposal, these silken, gritted syllables were delivered in such a tone you would not refuse, or so it seemed.

Of the journey back nothing was known, but upon being observed arriving back at Grandmother’s house, the girl gave the basket of goods to one of her “sisters” Elizabeth Bones, and said to go with the other girls and eat, she wouldn’t be long. Miss Hood turned and ushered the man into the downstairs front bedroom.

Miss Bones stated when questioned that the man was tall, as tall a man as she had ever seen, a giant likely, and she momentarily feared for the safety of Miss Hood, for she might be crushed beneath his enormous frame. But she had brushed this thought aside, she added tearfully, with thoughts of cake… Doubtless she could have done nothing against this monster even if she had come to Miss Hood’s aid, Lumberjacke mused.

What then? Miss Bones had turned, thoughts of cake in her mind, but as the man entered the room she caught a fleeting glimpse under the shadow of that great hat of one huge eye and one enormous ear. She recalled ruefully thinking they would be all the better to see and hear with, but chided herself for such frivolous thoughts. That cold eye would give her nightmares, she said after a long pause.

Miss Hood shortly called for drink, and after a gravelled reproving voice in the background repeated verbatim, “…and the gentlemen says not one of them short bawdy house bottles, a proper size.” The ale was brought, and the door was closed into its hole.

Then the crime. Within minutes of the door touching it’s frame, the first screams, then the last cut horribly short.

Lumberjacke rubbed his beard and asked one of the passing constables to give him a cigarette. The young man obliged, first rubbing a bloodied hand on his rough dark trouser, and carefully teasing the smoke from its box without hardly touching it.

Although he very much needed to know what had happened here in order to assemble clues and form some idea of who had done this horrifying thing, the crime itself was unobserved by any living soul. The ferocity of the blows and the cuts bespoke a large and strong man, and the intricacy and precision of the posing spoke of a derangement far beyond Lumberjacke’s experience. And the girl, Miss Hood, so pretty in the single vignetted photograph by the bed, now slick with dark fresh blood. How had she come to this end? What crime had she ever committed which fit such brutal punishment?

He exhaled and rocked back in the chair as the work continued, letting the men complete their work while he tried to marshall his thoughts and regain his composure.

It was there, he could feel it. Try as he might, the scene was so, disarrayed. So seemingly random. What was the motive?

Then he felt it. It was not a pleasant feeling, but it welled up like a sudden fear of heights or a noise in the night when you are sleeping. The thought, like a tiny apologetic sliver of doom, beckoned to him, just outside of his notice, a small thought which asked politely to be heard. He dismissed it angrily three times before he relaxed and squinted cutty-eyed out of the corner of his mind, reluctantly and helplessly, and let it in.

Was the man real? Was he a demon? A wolf demon come to Earth to slay the weak and the beautiful for his own psychotic pleasure? That was nonsense, he protested weakly, base hysterical tosh! But was it? Was the unknown a lie simply because it was as yet unknowable? The thought tried again. It craved his attention more strongly and he listened grimly to it’s message.

Do the fallen gods crave to mutilate and destroy the bodies of men and women for their own edification? In the absence of our praise and worship do the fallen reach out and take the red water of our life and meat of our bones? In these cobbled streets of night do they take their red and pink worship in the form of our blood and flesh?

With the still, cold ripple of realisation in the pit of his stomach, like the flickering knife which had just stolen worship from the flesh and blood of poor Mary Hood, he knew in his heart it was true.


You can tell the amount of relish I poured into this story. It’s a dark tale, and befitting my feeble attempt at emulating the Dream King comes from an angle that you might not expect. I don’t know about you but I love Ripper stories, and I’ve always wanted to do one. But Red Riding Hood as a Ripper story, have no clue where that came from and it didn’t occur to me until I sat down to write. It was a flicker of an idea from my subconscious and I went with it.

I found out after about 2 nanoseconds research that Neil Gaiman has already done his own version of Red Riding Hood, of course he has. As by this point he’s written so many stories covering every conceivable mashup and reworking of popular myths and odd slants on fairy tales, I’d be more surprised if he hadn’t. But I went with it anyway because a) I REALLY wanted to write the story once I’d thought of it, and b) ploughing ahead and making it work even if you think it’s impossible is something I encourage my students to do, even if it “fails”. It’s up to you to decide if I was successful.

The thing is Neil’s style is quite hard to categorise, but you know it when you see it. There is a magic realism edge to almost everything he does, wether fantasy of science fiction, and mythical beasts lurk in the shadows of all his tales. You don’t so much write like Neil as a attempt to psychically channel him.

I couldn’t find any commentaries about his work so a quick trawl of the internet came up with the following:

He starts with the whole story, then tells why
He writes outside the box, full of magical realism
He crafts a thorough setting, vivid places

Okay, I don’t really know if any of that’s true, but it sounded right. So you start out telling the whole story and then backtrack and explain how it happened. That way of you foretell something horrible is about to happen you get a fair amount of suspense. You write outside the box, coming at the reader from odd angles they don’t expect and introducing elements which don’t necessarily belong in the story but make them work and creatively sew them into the fabric of what you’re doing. And finally make sure that the overall flavour of the environment you are telling the story in is alive with gorgeous telling details.

To get a feel for the era, I read a wonderful book, The “1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue” which is available many places online. It contains many slang phrases which are long out of use but provide a tangy flavour of the times, phrases like “cutty eyed” or “my eye Betty Martin” or “Shut your bone box” and the concept of “bawdy house bottles” being short measures. In fact the title “a wolf in the stomach” is slang for being hungry. The original title was “an ordinary demon” and you can argue which was better yourself.

So I laid out the direction of the story pretty fast in the opening paragraph. It’s totally clear where we are and what we’re talking about. If this story was part of an anthology you would assume we were talking about Jack the Ripper, but of course you get clues, Grandma, Grandma’s House, Miss Hood, the Wolf and pretty soon you are getting the idea. Then we explain how we got here.

The out of the box element is the detective’s speculations about the gods, and how fallen gods might seek their worship in other ways. I have to say I really liked that little twist. It could have just been an ordinary murderer or maybe a werewolf, but that was for want of a real word, not really “Gaimany” enough for me. If you want to write like Neil then you have to go the extra mile, you have to not just put a twist on your stories but twist them around a few more turns. Then you stand back whistling and act like nothing is wrong, even point somewhere else in the room and say “what’s that over there”, and let the audience find the extra twists, and smile when they do.

Neil Gaiman is by this point not so much a writer as he is a magician and showman with words. What he’s saying is not very complex and if you look under the hood (if you’ll pardon the pun) what he’s actually doing is (like the secrets behind all baffling illusions) almost mundane. But the massive degree of showmanship, misdirection and distraction of the settings and overall mood lull you into a sense of security, wandering along looking at the scenery. Then BAM you wake up and you are off the beaten track and you wonder how he persuaded you to go so far away from home.

He is the Derren Brown of magical realism.


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Patricia Cornwell’s Creative Techniques

Surely the way to learn how to be a writer is not through brain training (as I’m always espousing) but to convey some hitherto unknown secret about the structure of a bestselling book. Well you don’t write great books with templates or grammar rules, you write them with your mind and brain. If you want to be more creative you have to do some work on your brain.

As a bit of food for thought, and living proof that successful bestselling writers use brain training techniques without even knowing it, check out these clips by Patricia Cornwell as she talks about using techniques very similar to my own.

And this:

What she is describing there is a form of hypnosis or brain training where the sound and sight of the water lowers her brain wave state to a more creative level.

Allowing your subconscious to work through you is the way creative people do what they do, and the more successful ones know how to to do this intuitively.


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Instant Writer, just add ABC

Being a writer is a lot like being someone with a product to sell. I know that sounds like selling out, and I can hear you thinking to yourself, “I am an artist, I’m not selling anything”. But that’s not true, you are selling your STORY no matter how niche, literary or mainstream your stories are.

Selling is just another word for communication, you have an idea and you want to transmit it to another person. You formulate a plan of action as to how you are going to transmit this information in the most entertaining and human way possible. And you execute the plan with awesome precision and talent. Simple, right?

In practice it’s a little more complicated than that. How do you decide what your story should say, and how do you figure out how to say it?

Creative people unwittingly obey a law of marketing which states communication should be Authentic, Brave/Bold and Congruent/Consistent, or ABC. Now this sounds very dry and technical but let me break it down for you.

You can write a story about anything but you choose certain styles, genres, settings etc. Why do you choose those things? Are they genres you are familiar with and have passion for? Are you a dyed in the wool Young Adult author because you love Young Adult books? Are you a spy novelist because you LOVE spy novels? Have you read 30 or 40 books in this genre for your own pleasure and know it inside out? OR are you just thinking you kinda wanna be a writer and spy or YA novels are doing really well at the moment and hey how hard can it be? You see the difference there is authenticity. You can’t fake authenticity BY DEFINITION. The story must be yours to tell. You must have passion for the subject matter and have something to say or the result will be dry, lifeless and just plain not very good.

Brave or Bold
Are you going out on a limb? Is your faith in your grasp of the genre so complete that you know someone can relate to what your saying? Do you even care if anyone else likes what you are doing but you are going to do it anyway because you are so damn fired up about it? Fortune favours the bold and with good reason, the bold take RISKS. People who are sure of their own mind, know what they want and take risks are successful. People who kinda sorta know what they want, but but play it safe are not successful. How can you get anywhere unless you know where you want to go? People who don’t know what they want are effectively getting into a cab and saying “drive” without any directions. It’s expensive and a waste of time. Bravery is eye catching and compelling and forces you to do things nobody else would do.

Congruency and Consistency
This is almost a given if you have the first two things, but you have to police it. Enforce consistency in all areas of your writing, both in execution and ideas. If you start out writing a sci-fi novel but decide halfway that you’d like it to be more of a police prcedural, then you have just lost any potential editors, readers and mostly yourself. You have to have vision but it has to be a consistent vision. Know where you are going and make sure that you get there. Edit all the inconsistency of tone and direction out of your work. Make it all match. But more than that make sure your aims and ideas FIT. This is a difficult concept, but in the planning stages or your story did it all feel somehow “right”. Did it seem like the ideas were coming from nowhere? The reason is you were tapping into a deep part of your subconscious which stores all your ideas and links those ideas together. The more ideas you pull from your subconscious that are linked, the more you get which fit with the overall feel of the story. It’s like visiting a library and pulling out a few books on science and the librarian says “oh you like science huh? Well check these out” and pulls a load you didn’t even know about. Ideas stick together. If you don’t have a clear vision of what your story means then why would anyone else? If you story seems to be pulling in different directions you need to remove anything which is going in the wrong direction. Before you can do that you need to know what the right direction is.

Make sure you try these ideas out in your work and you’ll see they will help you become a more vibrant, focused and genuine writer. I have many techniques to help you get answers to these questions and I’ll share these in future blogs and teaching materials, but for now practice being authentic, brave and consistent and that alone will make you better than the vast majority of good writers who want to be great.



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That’s it, many thanks and see you next time.