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
(after 
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.

THE END

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.

oOo

If you enjoy this blog then please comment and subscribe. Thank you.

Advertisements

How to write like . . . Douglas Adams

Third in a series of 7 Pastiches of Little Red Riding Hood in the style of my favourite authors. Today I give you another retelling of the Red Riding Hood story, culled from the original text LITTLE RED CAP by the Brothers Grimm and in the style of the late, sorely missed, Douglas Adams. 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. So now, let’s get to it…

 

Zen and the Art of Whup-ass
(after 
Douglas Adams)

VOICE OF A BOOK: (over twinkly starlike music) In the Nut Tree Nebula there is a planet known as Three Oaks, a surprisingly named place because a) there more than three oaks there, and b) in fact every piece of land on the entire planet is covered with trees.

It was speculated in the past that the name comes not from three OAKS, but three YOLKS. But this has since been discredited as a transparent ruse by the Three Oaks Egg Marketing Board. Someone certainly had egg on their face.

In any event you would assume, and who could blame you, that the major industry of a planet covered in trees would be wood.

And bird guano.

And actually those are two of the major industries, but not THE major industry…

This eventually became clear to ARTHUR DONT, an Earthman, and FRED PERFECT, an Alien of deliberately indeterminate lineage, who at the time of our story were strolling nonchalantly along in the forest of infinite unbroken trees. They had clearly just been jogging as they both had towels around their necks. Although on closer inspection neither had broken a sweat, both were a little paunchy, and it was impossible to run in a straight line on that planet for longer than about 4 seconds without running into a tree. In any event, they had towels.

Fred is about to explain to Arthur why they can’t leave.

FRED PERFECT: We can’t leave, we haven’t seen all the sights. I tell you Arthur, this place is amay-zing, you dig? Trees as far as the eye can see…

ARTHUR DONT: Which is not very far because of all the trees. At this point I’m craving a cup of tea and any kind of view that’s not obscured by tree trunks.

FRED: But don’t you feel at one with nature, surrounded by all this wood?

ARTHUR: Can’t see the wood… too many trees! And what sights? All we’ve seen for four days is trees. All the same. All on the same level.

FRED: Communing with nature, come on, doesn’t it speak to you, man?

ARTHUR: I talk to the trees, but like YOU, Fred… they don’t listen to me.

FRED: Okay okay, I get it. You wanna go. According to the guide it’s actually not far to the next ranger station, somewhere called Grand Mars Haus?

VOICE OF A BOOK: And indeed it wasn’t far, because a mere quarter league further down the road (or the distance it takes a man to stumble in bedroom slippers across bracken in an hour) in a grove of the aforementioned Woodfer Trees, they arrived at the Grand Mars Haus Ranger station.

FRED: Hello? Anybody home?

ARTHUR: Why do they paint Ranger stations to look like cottages made out of candy?

FRED: Tradition I think. Hello?

RANGER: (muffled) Hello? Who’s there?

FRED: Ah hello, you don’t know us, but we are Fred Perfect and Arthur Dont, tourists. We were wondering if you could direct us to the next transport station, or perhaps give us a lift?

RANGER: (muffled) Ah. Please come in, lift the latch and come in.

ARTHUR: For some reason I have a very bad feeling about this.

VOICE OF A BOOK: Inside the dark and dingy station the Ranger loomed large, a huge furry creature stuffed into a tiny ranger uniform clearly not meant for him.

FRED: Oh, hello. Gosh, sorry but er what big eyes you have.

RANGER: All the better to see you with. In fact they are very sensitive to light so can you close the door, there’s a good chap.

FRED: Of course. (FX: creak, slam)

ARTHUR: And sorry to mention it but I’m struck by, well, what big ears you have.

RANGER: Bit personal.

ARTHUR: Sorry.

RANGER: Okay so they are, you know, all the better to hear you with, but veeerrrrrry sensitive so stop shouting.

ARTHUR: (softly) sorry.

FRED: And er, can’t help noticing, but you know, what big, uh, oh dear, teeth you, er…

RANGER: Okay, enough already… (FX: growl, gnash, scream, GULP)

FRED: (inside the Ranger) Arthur?

ARTHUR: (inside the Ranger) Yes?

FRED: (inside the Ranger) I don’t think this guy is the Ranger.

ARTHUR: (inside the Ranger) Whatever gives you that idea?

FRED: (inside the Ranger) Apart from the fact he just gobbled us up whole, you mean?

ARTHUR: (inside the Ranger) Oh be quiet. At least there are no trees in here.

(FX: muffled knock knock from outside)

RANGER: (muffled) Who’s there?

LITTLE RED: (muffled) It’s Little Red, come to deliver cake and wine.

RANGER: (muffled) Please come in, lift the latch and come in. Ha ha ha… Oh shit!

(FX: Roar, battle sounds followed by final howling roar and a disgusting wet ripping sound.)

LITTLE RED: You boys okay in there?

ARTHUR: Thank god you opened him up in time and let us out. Although now there’s air around my face oh god I can smell how bad this is… Augh! Who are you, anyway, slightly built, gore covered woman?

LITTLE RED: I’m Little Red. I don’t open up wolves. I open up cans of whup-ass. This laser axe here is my can opener.

FRED: Ah. Thats a bit of cliché, isn’t it?

LITTLE RED: You got a smart mouth for a man covered in giant wolf guts.

FRED: Point taken.

LITTLE RED: Let’s go, I’ve got a ship waiting. Zipgun Beetlebrows needs you. Bring the monkey.

ARTHUR: (fade into distance) You know Zipgun? What is whup-ass? Is it a martial art? Where are we going? Is there tea? Hey, what monkey?!?

VOICE OF A BOOK: And so it was that our heroes found their way out of the forest through the guts of an evil wolf creature from the planet Grimm, reconnected with their friend Zipgun Beetlebrows via their meeting with the tiny but gorgeous warrior princess, Little Red, and how they established that when all’s said and done, planet Three Oaks’ major industry was in fact small, feisty, bipedal female-dispensed cans of whup-ass.

THE END

 Another enormously satisfying pastiche based on my love of dear late Douglas’ work.

The keynotes of his style are a razor wit, word play, and an attitude culled from the different parts of his personality. Ford Prefect, or Fred Perfect as he is known here, was the classless, adventurous guy who’d been everywhere and done everything, travelled widely and knew how to do things. He was enthusiastic and up for new experiences. Arthur Dent, or Dont as I have him here, was the opposite, middle class curmudgeon wearing a dressing gown and slippers who didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything, was constantly grumbling, wanting tea and not being able to get it anywhere they travelled, and contantly self depreciateing and yet wanting to be appreciated.

These two opposing personalities were the driving force of the Hitchhiker’s series, and I feel they were aspects of Douglas, wanting to be the adventurous Ford, but feeling like Arthur. Travelling and experiencing the sensual pleasure of new things and places and experiences, but being a bit crestfallen that he couldn’t get a proper cup of tea anywhere but home. Their arguments and bickering drove the plot and gave Douglas time to put forth his own ideas about Life, The Universe and Everything through the opinions of his cast.

All the place and character names, like in Philip K Dick’s work, are puns or jokes, but in common with Sir Terry Pratchett they are much more overt, staunchly British, and much less in-jokey than PKD. You always knew with Douglas, as with Sir Terry, that if someone had an obviously funny name which was begging for a joke, that at some point that joke, the very reason they were named that way, would be along shortly and would be worth the wait. Slartibartfast springs to mind.

And the woman were always very strong in his tales, modern women who stood up for themselves and never took any BS from the clearly childish male characters. In tight situations it was the women, and in rare cases and to his own surprise more than anyone Arthur, who stepped up and saved the day.

Douglas also had this way of writing long sentences with many clauses, sometimes with two or three asides inserted within commas, and yet no matter how long or wordy the sentences got, he refined and doubtless said them out loud until they read smoothly and naturally.

When all was said and done Douglas had a lot to say about life and had an unquenchable thirst for it. He chose comedy as a platform for his ideas, the way PKD chose science fiction as a platform for his philosophy. I tend to think of his stories not as stories, not in the way Neil Gaiman tells stories, but as yarns, a tall tale which entertains and informs while leaving you with a happy camp fire glow, and the comfort of knowing you can always come back to it or retell it to each other whenever you want to.

oOo

If you enjoy this blog please take a moment to comment and subscribe. Thank you.

How to write like . . . David Lynch

Second in a series of 7 Pastiches of Little Red Riding Hood in the style of my favourite authors. Today I give you another retelling of the Red Riding Hood story, culled from the original text LITTLE RED CAP by the Brothers Grimm. 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. So now, without much further ado, and not that there has been any ado before now…

Deep Red Night
(After 
David Lynch)

EXT. FOREST – NIGHT
A red haired young woman, LITTLE AUBURN, about 19 years old, in a blue hooded sweatshirt is walking along a forest path. A supermarket grocery bag in her hand. She has white cutoff trousers and silver glittery shoes. She seems ill at ease. Her shoes tick tick tick on the path and echo a little. The wind blows in the trees, whipping the tops making a lot of noise. She pulls up the hood over her hair and walks more quickly. Before the fade there is a faint throaty laughter and a dog barking.

FADE TO:

INT. KITCHEN – NIGHT
MOM is in the bright colourful kitchen wearing a 50s style house dress and apron, cleaning up after baking. The curtains are full length and dark green and the floor is a geometric black and white pattern. It has the flavour of 1950s diner about it.

There is a vinyl record playing on a record player. She wipes the tops and brushes flour off the top into her hand. She puts a book back on the shelf, “BAKING FOR MOMS” and the old fashioned wall telephone rings. She takes off the apron and answers it, brushing flour from her front with the apron. Halfway through the conversation she bends down and picks up a large sink plunger and holds it ready, as if preparing for her next task.

MOM

Hello?
 (shouts as to deaf person)
Hello! Hi mom! Yes. I know you’re not well, you called me earlier, remember? I’ve sent LITTLE AUBURN over with some wine and some cake! Wine and cake! Mulled wine and a little carrot cake! Carrot! For the love o’Mike, mom, wine and cake! Did you lose the batteries in your hearing aid? What? No don’t turn it off to save the the batteries! I keep telling you they are not expensive, and there’s no point if you can’t… Anyway I told her to stay on the path and to take great care! Care, not hair! No, of course I didn’t go with her! I’m talking to you now on the phone. Jeez Louise, mom!

The record skips and repeats the same notes over and over and Mom looks at the skipping record with a strange look of foreboding on her face.

FADE TO:

EXT. FOREST – NIGHT
LITTLE AUBURN walks along the path, tick tick tick, and an uneasy just audible drone begins on the soundtrack as she walks. She walks faster and faster and the trees rustle louder and louder. Eventually she’s running. She looks behind her as she runs.

She runs and runs and the drone gets louder until BAM!

She finally gets to a road and a car blazes past, horn going, almost mowing her down. The hood falls back reveling her hair and an apple drops from the bag and leaps out of the bag all in slow motion. The apple drops on the ground in slomo and comes to rest. She gasps for breath, looks around and catches her breath. She smiles, the shock has emboldened her. She seems to be relaxing a little.

LITTLE AUBURN

Don’t run off the path. I will take great care. Don’t run off the…

WOLF

 (off screen)
Good evening, Little Red Haired Girl.

LITTLE AUBURN

Woah! Who’s there? Stay back, Mister, I got a knife.

She grabs a butter knife out of the bag and flourishes it about inexpertly.

A shadowy figure leans agains a tree on the other side of the road. He’s smoking a cigarette. He laughs genially and flicks the butt.

WOLF

Woah yerself, ginger. Cool your jets, no need for the blade, mon cheri. I don’t bite, although my name is Mr WOLF. That might be a hair hard to swallow, but I maintain that I mean you no harm. Now tell me, child, where might you be going to, in such an all-fired hurry on this fine night?

LITTLE AUBURN

 (uncertainly)
Grandma’s house.

WOLF

I see. What’s in the, uh, bag?

LITTLE AUBURN

What?

WOLF

The bag. Le sac. The gladstone. What’s in the tote, mon petite dejuner?

LITTLE AUBURN

Oh, the bag, it’s cake. Carrot cake. And wine, mulled wine. Some, uh, fruit. My grandma is ill, and I’m taking her wine and cake. And fruit. T-t-to grandma’s house. Her house. F-f-for grandma.

WOLF

Understood, understood. And forgive me, but where might it be, this, “Grandma’s house”, eh?

LITTLE AUBURN

A good three quarters of a mile yonder on into the wood, under the three oaks? With the nut trees below? You surely must know it.

As he replies we sometimes see his eyes. Piecing blue.

WOLF

That I do. Three quarters of a mile, eh? What they’d call a quarter league in the olden days. Heh heh. You know a league was defined as the distance a man could go on a horse in an hour? Not many people recall that in these crazy times.
 (beat)
Listen to me rambling, you’ll be getting cold. Be on your way, but take your time, sugar. Smell the flowers, enjoy the air. Don’t rush! Hop skip. I’ll stand guard and mind you aren’t followed. Okay?

LITTLE AUBURN

Uh okay. Thanks Mr WOLF. Sorry about the knife thing. You’re very kind.

WOLF

Not a problem.

LITTLE AUBURN

Well goodnight then.

WOLF replies with a rigid wave of the hand like a sideways karate chop.

She crosses the road and strolls off into the darkness. The drone begins again, more loudly this time, along with some echoing music, perhaps a Jazz tune with a brushed snare drum, upright bass and finger snaps.

Mr WOLF emerges from the shadows. He is a thin, good looking young man, with black slicked back hair, a quiff and long sideburns. He is wearing a purple suit. He walks to where LITTLE AUBURN was standing and watches her vanish into the dark.

We see briefly behind him and not too clearly a dog crosses the path and disappears into the foliage.

Mr WOLF makes a soft coyote howl as he looks up at the full moon and begins to talk to it.

WOLF

Oh mother moon, what a tender young creature! What a nice plump mouthful! She will be better than the old woman. I must be crafty so as to catch both.

He goes as if to howl again, but stops when he sees the apple she dropped. He picks it up. He tosses and catches it. He regards it in his hand for a second then takes a huge crisp bite out of it, and while chewing with his mouth open begins to laugh around the huge juicy mouthful.

Still laughing and chewing he swings a large axe up onto his shoulder and follows LITTLE AUBURN as if he has all the time in the world.

THE END

oOo

and now my COMMENTARY

Again this was enormous fun as I am a giant fan of David Lynch, and have seen most of his films more than once. I have also read a number of commentaries of his work.

The thing to bear in mind about David Lynch is that he is a surrealist painter first and a filmmaker second. His stories are more like moving paintings. Events sometimes don’t make a lot of sense, and critics and viewers often assume that these events are “random” or “wacky” in some way. The thing is they are almost always deliberate, and yet Lynch is not necessarily completely aware of what it means either. He employs internal logic, often culled from dreams or daydreams, and goes with his gut about wether something belongs in the story or not.

Almost everything in his films is there as symbolism or humour.

Dogs and Record players are almost always significant, usually heralds of some kind of evil. Often he uses colours for the same ends. You may recall he has a fondness for red curtains and black and white tiled floors.

People in Lynch movies speak somewhat archaic 1950s English. They frequently seem as though they are in fact IN the 1950s no matter what the date on the calendar. In fact they speak such odd phrases I felt totally able to drop some of the dialogue in verbatim from the original classic Grimm tale.

Sound is very important, and he uses sound with these symbolic cues, dogs, curtains, swaying trees etc. to convey uneasy moods and impending doom.Sometimes sound is speeded up, sometimes it is reversed. But it is all deliberate and not at all random.

What’s the sink plunger about? Humour. Often characters will hold random objects while speaking. Sometimes it’s the actors choice and Lynch goes with it because it feels right. Sometimes he will get an urge to include something because it’s found on set. Sometimes he brings it in specially.

What is the significance of the apple? It falls out of the basket and the wolf guy finds it and gobbles it up without hesitation. A metaphor for gobbling her and her grandma up? Unlikely as it seems chopping them with the axe is on his mind. Perhaps it’s nod back to the original tale but in any case  it’s entirely up to the audience as to what that means to them. I know what I think it means to me but it’s an abstract thought, something which can only be conveyed with a series of pictures.

That’s the essence of David Lynch, sound and pictures, living paintings. It’s all about mood and overall feel rather than specifics of story and plot.

oOo

If you enjoy this blog please consider commenting and subscribing. Thank you.


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.

oOo

Please comment and subscribe. You know you want to.

Influenzpiration and Music Therapy

and other stories about how to get THERE from HERE

So, wow, where did February go? It’s flown by, or in my case FLU by. After completing the work on my writing course and sending it off to the potential publishing partner for approval, I heaved a sigh of relief, which quickly and unexpectedly turned into a heaving cough. After a week or so of the worst influenza I’ve had since the Beatles had all their own teeth, I was done in.

I suppose I had it coming. As a person who likes to keep in touch with his body, monitor my various body states and keep in tune with my senses and surroundings, I should have known I’d slump after working so hard and long hours and NOT (I freely admit) taking very good care of myself. I paid the full price with no discount for former good behaviour in the form of flu.

My senses were all but dull thudding appendages, touch was painful, my hearing a muffled roar, my sense of smell gone, my sight blurry and my mind, a previously orderly stack of what I’ve done and what needs to BE done… was like a library full of sacred texts besieged by mischievous squirrels.

Every time I closed my eyes I found myself having conversations with fictitious persons, having tea with them on occasion, and my following vague moments of lucidity were wasted thinking “what the HELL was all that all about…?” So I swerved in and out of proper consciousness, but in my coherent and pain free times I tried to read and watch films. God bless the Infinite Internet for your twinkly endless trove of information, ideas and inspiration.

Oh and god bless Apple’s little iPad and your flu friendly interface, an easy to browse device for those not in their right mind, and durable enough to slide out of my insensible, palsied, and sweaty hand onto the bedroom floor without breaking (unlike my mind which was brittle as sugar glass) the facts I learned and the ideas I had all too readily shattered into a hailstorm of unreadable shards, leaving painful needles in my brain rather than useful thoughts…

Then I slept for days on end. Feverish dreams of writing and teaching, hot sleepless nights of twisting in the covers, trying to find the one cool spot to bring me otherwise elusive solace and peace.

Then one day to my surprise I woke, dry, refreshed and actually conscious. I walked to the bathroom, washed and shaved with a fresh blade in gorgeously hot soapy water. I dried myself on a warm laundered towel and changed into cool dry and fresh clothes and sat drinking coffee and looking out over the river to the library, the March weather turning both cool and warm air currents colliding over the town into a pleasing, mysterious fog.

A week had passed, along with it my 52nd birthday. In my feverish state on that day, I remember being unable to write (and alone because my grown up children live at home but had plans of their own which didn’t include their ailing father) and it came back to me. I spent my birthday making an album of vintage synthesiser re-workings of Claude Debussy’s “Children’s Corner”. Ahem. Wow.

Yes I know, what curious glitch of my poor overheated cranium made me think that would be a good way to work off the fever? Folly! But listening back to the recordings I was astonished to find them quite good. I sequenced them using MIDI files of piano performances, to avoid my own fumble fingered playing ruining the thing, and rendered the performances on vintage synthesisers (or computerised simulations) and arranged and mixed them, and the results were very satisfying. If you are curious what the flu doing the rounds at the moment does to a creative man’s brain, go here to archive.org and download for free and listen for yourself. I even designed a cover to look like an old vinyl LP. A pretty productive day considering I was in truth half dead.

Download a free copy of my influenza inspired flight of nostalgia here
Claude Debussy’s Freakout Corner by Phil South
 

Ok it was a bad idea as I suffered for it painfully later on for not resting fully. I’m sure it added another couple of days to the fever. But it’s interesting to me where the mind goes when in retreat.

But where did the idea come from? I recall I watched a video at one point which had the (definitely non-PC these days) Golliwogg’s Cakewalk as the soundtrack and it set me off. What was that tune? Then I found out it was Debussy and that it was part of the Children’s Corner Suite historically commonly played for children. Of course then, I was played it as a child in school in the early 1960s. A scratchy old record. Along with Saint Saens and Peter and the Wolf and John Philip Souza’s Liberty Bell. So many memories…

So it was my birthday, and that always sets off all kinds of childhood memories, even when I don’t have a temperature of 101. Then I remembered Wendy Carlos and her “Switched on Bach”, and the vinyl records of those I had just last week found and played. And the weird old Nonsuch Guide to Electronic Music that had been such an ill advised piece of flu inspired entertainment earlier in the week. Surreal blips and blops in my ears while I slept.

But then it came to me, inspiration! I would make an album of music in the style of Wendy Carlos, but based on what music? The Debussy of course…

Well, that’s how I got there. I know it doesn’t make sense, but then inspiration NEVER does, only maybe internal sense. And in mitigation neurologically speaking I was impaired, the brakes were off in any of the usual ways I stop myself free associating. And as someone who just finished writing and recording a course in how to access your consciousness to improve your creativity, this should have come as no surprise to me. But hey cut me a break, I was ill.

Hope you enjoy the Debussy as much I enjoyed making it while off my trolley.

 

That’s enough music, next time I promise there I’ll be back up to strength and we can talk more about writing and how to turn yourself into a creative genius.

See you next time.

Don’t Force Creativity or you’ll Break It

Now you may not know this but Ellis Paul Torrance (1915 – 2003) was a psychologist from Georgia. In creativity circles (do we have a circle? I must find out so I can get to meetings) he is known for his research in creativity and specifically the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (or TTCT), which have become a standard test for creativity in children, mostly. Some say they are the creativity equivalent of an IQ test. Some say they are baseless tosh. Either way I find his work fascinating, and he did come up with some very interesting theories about what defines creativity in human beings.

The tests stimulated “divergent thinking” and other problem-solving skills, which were then scored on four scales:

  1. Fluency. The total of “interpretable, meaningful, and relevant” ideas generated.
  2. Flexibility. The number of different categories of relevant responses.
  3. Originality. The statistical rarity of the responses.
  4. Elaboration. The amount of detail in the responses.

Now that all sounds very dry, and there’s a good reason for that… it kind of is. But what I draw from these arguably arbitrary tests is the following:

Creative people are fluent, flexible, original and elaborate.

That sounds right to me. Creative people are “in flow” as I call it, a state of heightened awareness where they are able to flexibly make connections which are authentic to them, and then extrapolate or elaborate on them, in other words improvise.

Creative people have gotten used to being in a state of flow, where ideas come to them seemingly from nowhere. They have what you’d call a facility for ideas.

Like all things to do with the human body, and the brain is part of the body, it’s a supply on demand scenario. You need stamina, you get stamina, you don’t demand it by sitting around on your butt all day playing XBox, you don’t get it. Same is true of creative thought. If you demand ideas all the time you get ideas all the time, the gate is open and the ideas flow.

One thing that creative people do not do is strain. They make it seem effortless, and you know why? Because it is effortless. People who aspire to be creative try so hard to be creative, they make random connections which don’t work, they sweat and strive and try… and nothing comes. Because they are forcing it. Creativity is a natural process and you have to unclench.

You don’t get creative leaps by forcing the issue, you get creative leaps in the same way you get good at bench pressing weights or running or using parkour to leap from one building to another; you practise. You get used to how it feels and you know the feeling when you have it. What creative people do is get themselves into a mindset of creativity, because they’ve done it lots before and they know where to go.

If you want to be creative, you don’t need to force it out, you just need to learn how to let it go.

oOo

If you enjoy this blog please take the time to comment and subscribe.

Thanks for reading.

 

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.

Authentic
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.

oOo

 

If you like this blog consider doing me the honour of commenting and subscribing.

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