Death’s Apprentice – Part Fourteen

‘Can I help you, Sir?’

Joe wasn’t sure who had asked the question but he thought he knew the voice from somewhere but he couldn’t quite place where. He could just make out a new figure that had appeared next to the big guy that was questioning him. He didn’t think it was Azrail because Azrail was tall and thin and scraggly looking. This new figure seemed more ethereal like it had stepped out of the darkness itself.

Joe shook his head. Stepped out of the darkness itself? He really needed to get a grip of his nerves. Midnight digging in the cemetery seemed to have frayed his nerves.

The big guy wheeled around, and a streak of torchlight swept across the tombs and tombstones.

‘Who are you?’asked the big guy.

‘I’m Death,’ said the figure cloaked in black.

‘Very funny,’ said the guy. He reached down for something hanging at the side of his waist. It seemed to Joe like it was a walky-talky or something. The guy was a security guard.

Still holding the torch and pointing it at the figure in black, the guy pressed a button on the walky-talky and held it to his mouth. ‘Tom,’ he said, ‘we’ve got another bunch of weirdos….’ But he stopped talking and fell the wet grass with a heavy thump. The walky-talky and the torch were thrown from his hands. The torch tumbled onto the mud, it’s light coming to rest on the mysterious figure cloaked in black.

‘Harry! Harry!’ came a crackly voice from the walky-talky.

‘We haven’t got much time,’ said the figure stepping out of the black. ‘Where’s Azrail?’

‘I’m here, ma’am. I’m here!’ Azrail came running up from behind the mysterious figure, clutching at his wheezing chest.

‘I thought,’ said the figure, removing her hood, ‘you were supposed to keep an eye on him?’

‘I was. I just -‘

‘Mrs Crow?’ said Joe. He was very confused. Why was Mrs Crow in Angel Gate Cemetery at midnight? And why was she dressed in a black cloak like something out of a Victorian horror movie? And what had happened to the security guy?


Books that have helped me with my writing – Part Two

So, this is part two of my post, Books that have helped me with my writing. Let’s get right into it, starting with number six;

6. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers – Renni Browne and Dave King

This is a great little book and very handy for when you’re polishing your manuscript to send to agents, or publishers, or an editor if you’re self-publishing.

This book is great for when you’ve finished the first draft of your novel and don’t know what to do next to make it shine. It covers topics such as “show and tell,” “point of view” and “voice”. It’s full of handy and practical tips to help you get the best out of your manuscript.

7. The Writer’s Guide to Psychology – Carolyn Kaufman, Psy.D.

Now, if you’re like me, you like to write about characters that have a whole host of issues. If you’re dealing with psychological issues, human behaviour and mental health problems, you need to make sure you try and get it right. This is where this book comes in. Carolyn Kauffman has a doctorate in clinical psychology and wrote this book to put things straight because, “What you think you know about psychology may not be accurate. In fact, many common beliefs are misguided, outdated, or just plain wrong.”

This will help give you a guide to psychology but be aware, advances in mental health are ongoing and parts of this book may already be out of date. However, it’s a very good place to start.

8. All the books I love and all the books that I hated and couldn’t finish!

Okay, this seems a bit like a cop-out. But, I promise you it isn’t.

I have learnt so much about writing from the books I love; J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter Series (world-building and great characters), Arthur Golden and Memoirs of a Geisha (how to write beautiful prose), Mario Puzo and The Godfather (how to create suspense). But equally we can learn much from books we don’t finish; E.L. James’ Fifty Shades Trilogy (clunky writing, how not to write, but still capturing the public’s imagination), Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights (characters that I hate and the knowledge that some people think this is a classic, therefore all tastes are different!).

What books do you love? What have they taught you? How about the ones you hate?

9. The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck – Sarah Knight

Oh my, this book has changed my life! Some of you may know of Sarah Knight through her TED talks. This book could revolutionise your life and not just your writing life. This book is actually about teaching you “how to stop spending time you don’t have doing the things you don’t want to do with people you don’t like.”

This is great because by following some of the ideas in the book I have managed to find more time for writing. It has also helped me deal with rejection and people not liking my work.

For example, on page 52 Knight states, “Ten things about which I, personally, don’t give a fuck. [Number] 1. What other people think.”

Amen to that sister!

10. On Writing – Stephen King

Okay, this one may be a cop-out because this is high on my to be read pile so I haven’t actually read it yet! It goes back to what I was saying in part one, that we, as writers, should be open to learning and new ways of doing things. In all the writer’s groups that I belong to, both in real life and on social media, this book seems to be mentioned all the time as a great book to give you advice on writing. And who can argue with that when it’s written by the master himself, Stephen King? Once I’ve read it, I will let you know what I think.

So, that’s the end of my top ten! Do you agree with my choices? Or is there another book you’d place in the top ten? Let me know.


Further Reading:

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers – Renni Browne and Dave King (published by Collins, 2004)

The Writer’s Guide to Psychology – Carolyn Kauffman (published by Quill Driver Books, 2010)

The Life-changing Magic of Not Giving a Fuck – Sarah Knight (published by Quercus, 2015)

On Writing – Stephen King (published by Hodder and Stoughton, 2012)

Death’s Apprentice – Part Thirteen

The dirt made a thwump thwump sound as hit the plastic wrapping encasing the body. When he went for the job at the funeral home he really didn’t expect to be digging graves in the middle of the night to hide dead bodies. Obviously he knew dead bodies would be involved somewhere but not at midnight and not like this. There at least ought to have been a funeral first or something…

‘Hey you!’ It was a male voice, deep and threatening and not one he recognised.

He stopped still, his heart pounding even faster. The amount of work his heart had done on this one night he wondered how long it would be before he had a heart attack himself.

‘Put the spade down and turn around!’ said the man.

Joe did what he was told. He let the spade fall gently onto the wet mud with a thud, and, for some reason put his hands in the air like he was surrendering as he slowly turned around.

There was a dark figure standing in front of him but he couldn’t make out all of his features as he was shining a bright white light into Joe’s eyes. Joe tried to shield his eyes from the light with one of his muddy hands but it did no good, he couldn’t see much at all apart from the white blobs burnt onto his retinas from the light. The only thing he could be sure of was that this man was huge, built like a brickhouse and had caught Joe in a very compromising situation.

‘What are you doing?’ said the man.

‘I…’ What could Joe say? He’d been caught re-handed trying to bury a dead body. A dead body wrapped in black plastic. A body that shouldn’t have been there.

‘I…’ he repeated.

‘Well? Spit it out!’

Books that have helped me with my writing – Part One

I’ve been writing for a good while now but I’m still learning every single day. Whether it’s finding a better way to write, or a new way of researching, or how to market my books, or discovering a new writing app, I am open to learning new things. This is very important. I think a good writer needs to be adaptable.

This post is a shout out to the books that have helped me get to this point in my writing career and those that have inspired me along the way.

1. The Writer’s Journey – Christopher Vogler

This book has never been far from my side. The book is a breakdown of the mythic structure way of writing a novel. Vogler himself describes The Writer’s Journey, as “down-to-earth writing manual…a useful writing guide.” And it certainly is that! The first part of the book breaks down the eight main types of characters you find in stories – the hero, the mentor, the threshold guardian, the herald, the shapeshifter, the shadow the ally, and the trickster  –  in great detail so that you use them effectively in your storytelling. The second part of the book breaks down the twelve parts of the hero’s journey in the mythic story structure. These are – The Ordinary World, The Call to Adventure, Refusal of the Call, Meeting with the Mentor, Crossing the first threshold, Test, Allies and Enemies, Approach to the Innermost Cave, The Ordeal, The Reward, The Road Back, The Resurrection and The Return with the Elixir.

For example, there are several types of mentor that the hero might meet along the way, including a dark mentor or a fallen mentor and each has a different role to play. Or did you know that the part called The Approach to the Innermost Cave is where the hero’s fortunes literally hit rock bottom?

This book has proved useful to me. It has helped me to plot my novels and to use the various characters in my work whilst understanding their function. There are other ways to tell stories but this book is a great introduction to the world of mythic storytelling.

2. Reading People – Jo’Ellan Dimitrius and Mark Mazzarella

Reading this book coincided with me learning that there are ways of describing emotions without actually saying what that emotion is. I have found that using the body language of my characters is a great way to add another layer of depth to my work. For example, someone who is amused might throw their head back, or slap their thighs, or shake with laughter. Or they might do all three. Someone who is bored might yawn, or tap their feet or doodle or fidget.

Reading People is essentially a book that allows you to”understand people and predict their behaviour.” Although it’s not actually that simple, and I’ve learnt along the way that certain assumptions made in the book can be proven incorrect, this book is a great way to start delving into the subject of body language. It’s a good springboard into the psychology of people. Although my edition is quite old it’s written in a non-academic way so is a good solid starting point.

3. The Seven Basic Plots – Christopher Booker

The book is seriously mahoosive! As it says in the title, Christopher Booker believes that every story can be boiled down to one of seven plots. These are; Overcoming the Monster, Rags to Riches, The Quest, Voyage and Return, Comedy, Tragedy and Rebirth. Although it sounds nice and simple there is actually a lot of detail in Bookers analysis of these seven variations of plot. The book itself runs to 728 pages including the index.

This book has (along with Vogler’s book) helped me to focus on plot structure.

4. Wannabe a Writer? – Jane Wenham-Jones

I love this book! This is one of those books that I will never ever give away. It’s full of lots of useful advice from what happens in the beginning, when you decide you want to write, to what happens when you actually start to write, to how to keep on top of what’s happening to your characters and plot to the importance of writer’s groups and occupational hazards, such as something called “writer’s bum”. Jane Wenham-Jones goes through all of these points of advice with a sense of humour that makes reading about writing a lot of fun!

5. Crafting Stories for Children – Nancy Lamb

This is a more nuts and bolts type of book which takes you through all the elements needed to craft an amazing children’s book. It goes through building the foundations of your story, to the structure and all the other parts that are needed. There’s also a helpful section on using themes, how to use voice and tone and how to create depth in your writing with senses and setting.

I have found this book incredibly useful as it’s written in easy to understand format.

Further Reading:

The Writer’s Journey – Christopher Vogler ( Published by Michael Wiese Productions, 2007)

Reading People – Jo-Ellan Dimitrius and Mark Mazzarella (Published by Vermilion, 1999)

The Seven Basic Plots – Christopher Booker (published by Continuum, 2004)

Wannabe a Writer? – Jane Wenham-Jones (published by Accent Press, 2007)

Crafting Stories for Children – Nancy Lamb (published by Writer’s Digest, 2001)

Death’s Apprentice – Part Twelve

He thrust his spade in again and again ripping up more of the grave. And then…

Then he hit something hard. Rock solid. Like a coffin hard.

Eugh. His skin prickled, his stomach rolled. He picked up the candle lamp and held it over the grave with a shaky hand. He wanted to know what it was but by the same token, he didn’t. He swallowed the lump at the back of his throat and forced himself to take another look.

Yes. Yes. It was a coffin. He turned away disgusted with himself. Joe Bones was now the desecrator of graves as well as belonging to the most reviled family in Bloxwich.

‘Get out then,’ said Azrail, making Joe jump.

‘Do you think,’ he said, feeling the pounding of his heart inside his ribcage, ‘you could not sneak up on me?’

‘I didn’t,’ replied the old man, ‘what’s a matter? You not got the stomach for this line of work?’

It was only then that Joe noticed the long black package resting at Azrail’s feet. It was very long, probably as tall as the old man himself, and it was wrapped in what looked like black bags that had been stuck together with grey duck tape. It had a small part on top of it that looked like a…no, it couldn’t be a head? Could it?

It looked to Joe suspiciously like a dead body. And he’d seen lots of dead bodies. Not real bodies of course, but in the movies. He’d seen loads in the movies and they all looked like that; long and body shaped covered in bin liners and duck tape or brown tape, depending on what was available.

‘Is that…?’ Joe said pointing his shaky hand at the package. He noticed that his hand shaking. That was not a good look, so he quickly lowered it hoping that Azrail hadn’t seen his nerves.

‘What? A dead body?’ asked Azrail, with a smirk that made him look quite evil in the sickly orange glow of the candlelight.

Joe waited patiently for him to answer but it didn’t look like he wasn’t going to get one so he said, ‘So, is it?’

‘What do you think?’

Joe didn’t know what to think anymore so he said nothing and instead placed the lamp at the side of the grave, slung the spade beside it and began to pull himself out of the quite substantial hole. He dug his fingers into the side of the opening. The earth was wet and claggy beneath his fingers. He held on and pulled himself up whilst jabbing his knee into the side of the grave. He finally emerged covered from head to toe in black, sticky mud. His mother was going to kill him.

‘Grab that end then,’ said Azrail, bending down and grabbing the feet end of the body.

Joe bent down and…could he feel ears beneath the layers of black plastic and tape? The head felt squishy and…no he couldn’t think about it anymore else he was going to be sick.

On the count of three they hoisted the body into the air and with a fluid movement, they threw the body into the gaping hole.

It landed with a thump.

‘Off you go then,’ said Azrail, pointing at the hole.

‘What?’ asked Joe, worried that Azrail wanted him to get back in the hole. With the dead body. ‘You want me to get in?’

The old man hissed through his yellow jagged teeth. ‘No you moron, I want you to fill it back up.’

Wow,thought Joe, he leaves me to do all the work then calls me a moron. It’s a good job I need this work or I’d show him who’s the moron.

Joe swallowed his anger and grabbed the spade. The handle was sticky and black and caked in mud. He looked up at Azrail and said, ‘You gonna stand there and watch or…?’

‘No, I’ve got other matters to attend to,’ he replied. He spun on his heels, the tails of his coat swishing through the air and then he was gone into the black.

Joe looked at the pile of dirt and the spade in his hand. Great, he thought, just what he needed. And to think he could be lying in bed at home listening to his music or playing on his Xbox.

He dug his spade into the earth and began to shovel it back over the body.

My Six Tips for Handling Rejection

In life, there are times we all get rejected, whether it’s by friends or lovers, but as a writer, rejection takes on a whole new level of pain. This is equally true if you run a handmade business too. So, how do you handle it?

To be fair, this is one thing that I’ve always been quite good at. I have a very thick skin and my happiness doesn’t generally tend to rely on others. Having said that, there are times when rejection and bad reviews get to me. So, how do you deal with it and move on?

  1. Okay, so you’re book has been rejected. It’s okay to feel shitty for a bit. Rejection sucks. Allow yourself time to process it. Allow yourself time to feel crap, BUT don’t stay there wallowing in that crappy feeling. What I’m saying is, it’s okay to feel bad but don’t unpack and live there for a great length of time.
  2. Do something to make yourself feel better. What floats your boat? Do that. Feel like a walk? Do it. Wanna dance naked in the rain? Do it (but try not to get arrested). Want a piece of chocolate cake? Do it. Just don’t use it as an excuse to eat the whole goddamn cake because that ain’t gonna be good for ya! Feel the pain. Accept it. Find something to distract yourself and hopefully you’ll start to feel a bit better.
  3. Tell someone about it. This is where writing groups are fab! Fellow writers are amazing for this type of thing, both in real-life groups and those on Facebook. The best people are those that have been there and know how you’re feeling, but won’t allow you to feel sorry for yourself for too long.
  4. Just because your work was rejected doesn’t mean it sucks. I mean, the rejection sucks, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that the writing is bad. Again, use those writer friends and ask them to read through your stuff (but make sure you return the favour :)) Use it as an opportunity to look critically at your work. And remember, rejection of your work ISN’T a rejection of you as a person. It might just be that your writing wasn’t right for the person you sent it to.
  5. Maybe use it as an opportunity to put that piece of work aside and start something fresh. Leave your manuscript for a bit, start something new, then come back to it with fresh eyes. Is there anything that stands out now you’re looking at it again? Is it formatted correctly? Have you sent it to the right agent/ publisher? Can you write a better covering letter?
  6. Don’t allow rejections to control your future. Remember, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series was rejected by no less than twelve publishers! TWELVE! Think about that when you feel like giving up. Rejection isn’t about how many times you get rejected, it’s about what happens next. It’s about resilience. It’s about getting back up again, dusting yourself off and getting out there again.

Don’t let rejection define you. Use it as a tool to improve and keep pushing yourself forward. Keep doing your own thing.

What would you add to the list? How do you handle rejection?


Further Reading:

Death’s Apprentice – Part Eleven

‘Do you always ask this many questions?’

Joe shrugged. ‘Do you always ask people to dig up graves?’

Azrail blew through his yellowing teeth in a show of exasperation. ‘I don’t want you to dig up the coffin if that’s what you’re worried about.’

Joe threw back his shoulders and puffed out his chest. ‘I’m not worried,’ he said, although the pounding of his heart told him the exact opposite was true.

The old man smiled but it wasn’t a happy smile. ‘Good. Get on with it.’

Joe sighed. ‘Ok, but can I have the light?’

‘The light?’

‘Yes. How else am I going to find it?’

Azrail took a deep breath and passed Joe the light.

‘Thank you,’ said Joe, ‘and what will you be doing whilst I’m the one working?’

‘Working myself,’ replied the old man. He spun on his heels. ‘Now get on with it,’ he hissed as he disappeared into the gaping doorway of the tomb.

Joe was left alone, with only the silence and his own heart pounding against his ribcage for company. The wind began to blow and a crisp packet was tossed into the air.

He took a deep breath and held up the candle lamp and moved it from side to side to locate the grave of Sissy Simmons. A thin slither of sickly yellow light ran across the ground before him, picking out the raised mounds of the freshly dug graves. Inside, Joe’s stomach was doing cartwheels but he stepped onto the wet grass anyway, well aware of his need for this job.

He kept sweeping the light across the grass and the graves trying to locate the one he needed. There was Edmund Simmons, Joe Simmons and Barty Simmons but no Sissy. Onward he plunged into the cemetery, the legs of his jeans becoming wet as the tall grass brushed aganst him. The water was beginning to soak through the hole in his left trainer and now his sock was becoming like a sponge. The next row belonged to Christina Simmons, Jesse and then in the middle was an unmarked grave, except for a small, crudely nailed together cross measuring no taller than the length of his foot. He held the lamp higher to highlight the grave behind it, and there it was; Sissy Simmons.

Joe couldn’t tell if he felt relief or sick at the thought at finding the right grave. In for a penny, in for a pound, he thought, remembering one of his nanna’s old sayings.

He dropped the lamp on the ground beside the anonymous grave, quickly double-checking that this grave was the one in front of Sissy Simmons. Satisfied he was in the right place, he took the long spade firmly in his hand and thrust it into the wet earth.

It cut through the soil easily. Pictures of decaying bodies and opened-mouthed skeletons played in his mind. What if he, you know, actually saw a dead body?

He’d seen his nanna, of course, but that was different. She was of his own flesh and blood. He didn’t like it, it’d had made him really…well,…sad. He loved her. In fact, if he was really honest about it (and if he was honest, he didn’t really like to think about it), she was probably the only person he could say that he’d ever loved. But, he couldn’t deny, there was something comforting about seeing her one last time to say goodbye. But someone else’s dead body, under there, under the damp earth, with worms and things burrowing into their flesh? Eugh, how on earth would he get over that?

The spade went thump, thump, thump as it cut through the earth. He tossed it into a loose pile on the side of the grave.