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This week has not been a good week. My writing has been slow, I’ve had a character stuck in her kitchen for more than five days, and I’ve been on the brink of loosing my mind. So this weekend, instead of doing some gardening like I intended, I locked myself in my office and declared all out war on Chapter Four.

It paid off. My character left her kitchen, I finished chapter four, and my sanity (or what’s left of it) remains intact. 

On Saturday, I was furiously typing away on my keyboard when there was a knock at the window. Nothing wrong with that, I hear you say. Well you’d be right, if my office wasn’t on the second floor. 

I peered over my desk and looked down into the garden. There was my husband, giggling his little tush off and holding a long stick with a gardening glove hooked on top of it. The saying ‘small things amuse small minds’ really does have a place in our household, and as I remarked on Facebook later….I married it. 

But as I watch my hubby waving the stick around, I thought of something which happened a few years back.

My husband hates anything paranormal. He screamed like a girl when he watched ‘White Noise’ and ‘The Grudge’, and when I pull my hair over my face and imitate the woman from ‘The Ring’, he hides under the duvet, refuses to look at me, and won’t come out until I promise to stop doing it……which, of course, I don’t 🙂 

Well, with this in mind, I thought it would be funny to spend the night in a haunted hotel. I found a small guest house in Kent and for a laugh, invited my parents along too.

Hubby wasn’t so keen, but with the promise of hitting the local pub when we arrived, he agreed, and off we set. Three hours later, and staying true to family tradition, we were totally lost and didn’t arrive at the guest house until late.

The receptionist swiftly led us across the grounds to the old, and supposedly haunted, Oast house. Now there are times in a marriage when your partner gives you joy – and, as I looked at the fear in my husband’s eyes while he contemplated spending the night in a place so desolate, I knew this was one of those times.

Having missed dinner, and knowing we wouldn’t make last orders at the pub, we decided to turn in for the night. My parents were quick to apprehend the bedroom across the landing, leaving my hubby and I with the room at the top of the stairs.

With every creak that sounded, my husband gasped and shook me awake. He was convinced there was a ghost in the room. An hour later, there was a scratching at the door. My husband was on the verge of a heart attack and I was sure, if I’d switched on the light, I’d have seen that his hair had turned white.

“There’s something outside the door,” he whispered.
“Well go and let it in then.”
He was quiet for a while. Then the scratching sounded again.
“You go,” he begged.
I declined.

This went on for twenty minutes. Eventually, he got out of bed and tiptoed to the door. His trembling fingers twisted the doorknob. He opened the door no more than an inch, and peered out. There was nothing there. He closed the door and immediately something scratched against the door again. He shot towards the bed faster than a bullet from the barrel of a gun.

The scratching continued. He couldn’t sleep and, with tears in his eyes, he went back to the door. Again, he opened it a couple of inches and peered out. And as before, he found nothing outside. Slowly he closed the door. The scratching sounded and he yanked the door open. There was nothing there. He bravely popped his head out. To the right, an empty stairwell led down to the small hallway and lounge. To the left was a window, and in front of him was the vacant landing which led to my parent’s room.

He quickly shut the door and ran back to the bed. “There’s something out there,” he said. “You can get out next time.”

The scratching noise went on for the next half hour. My husband lay rigid in bed all night, too frightened to move.

I waited a few weeks before I admitted the scratching noise was my dad. He’d found a broom, lay it on the stairs, and hid downstairs just inside the lounge. All he had to do was reach out and wiggle the broom to scratch our door.

So, do you have any tricks, ghostly or not, that you’ve played on people, or that have bee played on you? Do you even believe in ghosts or stayed in a haunted house? Did anything happen? Let me know in the comments box.

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I had never heard of the author, Ken Bruen. Perhaps not the best of starts, but I honestly don’t know where to begin with reviewing this book.

I picked ‘Blitz’ from the book shelf purely because it had Jason Statham on the cover. Okay, so I’m shallow, but Statham’s rugged stance was too persuasive and I buckled in a moment of weakness. It would appear this 2002 book was picked up by Hollywood and hit our screens in June of this year. I confess I totally slept though this period, but the promo on YouTube looks pretty good.

So, what’s this book about?

Basically, a tough cop has to find and stop a psychpath from killing police officers. It’s neat and it’s simple.

Then, I turned to Chapter One. The first paragraph reads:

THE PSYCHIATRIST STARED at Brant. All round the office were signs that thanked you for not smoking.

      The psychiatrist wore a tweed jacket with patches on the sleeves. He had limp, fair hair that fell into his eyes, thus causing him to flick it back every few seconds. This doctor was convinced he had Brant’s measure.

So, nothing wrong with that. Then it continued –

    He was wrong.
    Said:
    ‘Now, Sergeant, I’d like you to tell me again about your violent urges.’

‘Huh?’ I had to back up and re-read. I’d never seen a layout like this before and it threw me. In fact, for the first thirty pages it kept throwing me. Eventually, I came around to Bruen’s way but it wasn’t without a fight.

So, what kept me interested?

The story. There are three stories going on here. Well, actually there are four if you count the killer. And each story lets its character have its own point of view. There is Brant, who I thought would be the main character given the picture on the cover and the blurb on the back. How wrong was I! It’s a bit like Tarantion’s Pulp Fiction and, fortunately, I like this format. Plus the stories drew me in.

What I didn’t like was the ending. I won’t reveal what happens, but I felt very let down.

Would I read another Ken Bruen book? I would have to say ‘yes’. The strange layout aside, I found the story engaging, fast paced and the characters very real. I just hope the next Bruen novel I choose finishes with more of a bang.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? Have you read any other Ken Bruen novels? Have you seen the movie version? Let me know.

You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Linkedin

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I always like to add a little piece of truth to my fiction.

This weekend I was writing a scene where I needed to research the Cornish fishing village my novel was set in. This led me to discovering many myths, including that of a smuggler who was shot in the neck and whose ghost is now reported to walk the narrow and cobbled streets of Polperro.

For a chapter in my book, this information was brilliant, but it got me to thinking. Urban legends; just how much fact is in the fiction?

When I was a teenager, my friends and I used to venture out near Epping Forest – High Beach to be exact. Some of you may know the place. There was a road called Hangman Hill; supposedly named because a man hung himself from the large oak tree at the top of it. The myth was if you stopped your car at the bottom of the hill, kept your hand brake off and waited, eventually your car would roll up the hill. How? Because the ghost of the hanged man pulled you up by his noose.

Did it work? Heck, yes. There were a lot of freaked out seventeen year olds that night, I can tell you! Unfortunately, and years later, you realise the hill is not going up, but actually going down and is nothing more than an optical illusion.

Urban legends have intrigued us for years. Many believe they stem from fairytales told by the Brothers Grimm. Others will swear to their story being true. But whichever way you look at it, you have to agree that people love an urban legend.

Over the years, urban legends have made their way onto television with shows like ‘Supernatural’ writing many episodes around a different myth. In 2003, the Discovery Channel devoted an entire programme called ‘MythBusters’ to test out the truth of urban legends. It’s still aired today, some nine years later. And, what about the 1998 Hollywood horror movie based entirely on Urban Legends, aptly named ‘Urban Legend’? That film earned itself a sequel.

My mum once repeated a story, told to her by a neighbour, that a ‘friend’ had her ear drum eaten by an ear wig. I still don’t know if that one is true or false.

But, my all time favourite has to be the young woman driving home along a deserted road at night, when she sees the road is blocked by fallen tree branches. She stops the car, gets out and moves them. As she is getting back into the driving seat, a car appears behind her, frantically flashing its headlights. Naturally, the young woman is unnerved and drives off. The car follows her, his high beam now on full. The young woman makes it home, pulls into her driveway and hurries inside her house. She runs to the window to see the car, high beam still on, parked behind her. The woman telephones the police and when they arrive, she watches while the officers question the driver. Then the police open the back door to her car. She is shocked when they pull a man from the back seat, carrying an axe. Supposedly, he had climbed into her car while she was busy moving the tree from the road. The approaching car had seen and tried to warn her.

I must admit, even though I don’t really believe there is any truth to this story, there was a time when one night I was driving on a deserted road in Scotland. In the middle of nowhere, I came to the red light of a portable traffic light. I stopped, well aware I was surrounded by nothing but forest. I began thinking of the axe man myth while I waited for what seemed an age. I scared myself so much I almost reached the point where I was going to jump the lights. Thankfully, they changed to green and I high tailed it out of there.

The urban legend is happening in a different kind of way at the moment. Two days ago, I received an email from a friend advising me of what I should do if someone forces me to withdraw money from a cash machine. And, I ashamedly admit I was intrigued enough to waste ten minutes and delve further into it. Okay, so the situation is this. You are at a cash machine. Someone orders you at knife point to withdraw some money. If you enter your pin number backwards, you notify the police as to what is happening. Sort of like an SOS. You will still be given your money, but in the comfort (if there is any while someone has a knife to your throat), that the police are on their way.

The truth is actually this, and it is so obvious I feel a wally for not realising in the first place. What if your pin number is 1221? 5885? 0330? Or one of the billion other combinations where the number is mirrored? How would the machine know you were typing it in backwards? DOH! I feel very stupid. So no, that one is false.

Just like when alcohol intoxicated people suck on 2p coins in the hope it will fool the police breathalyser. I asked a police officer friend if it was true. In return he smiled the ‘Oh Donna, you do make me laugh’ smile. Needless to say, that one is also false.

So, urban legends. Are they fact or are they fiction? Is there any truth to them? Let’s break it down.

The fiction:

  1. The story seems to change over time.
  2. It is extremely rare that an urban legend can be traced back to a reliable source.
  3. It always happened to a friend of a friend.
  4. The lack of specific information such as a date or location.

The fact:

  1. There’s no smoke without fire.

Well, that is 4-1. The odds seem to be that the urban legend is in fact fiction. However, we all like to believe there is some truth in them. And if nothing else, they’re good for scaring your younger siblings.

Now it’s your turn. Tell me what your favourite urban legend is, and convince us it is indeed FACT.

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When I walk into a bookstore, the first place I go is to the crime aisle. I love crime. I love the pace of it, I love the urgency of it, and I love the mystery of it.

So, as an avid crime reader, I thought I’d review ‘Behind You!’ by Linda Regan.

Behind You! was Linda’s 2006 debut novel. She has since written three more novels; her fourth book, Brotherhood of Blades, has just been released by Severn House.

So, what’s this book about?

Well, it revolves around a murder at a local theatre and D.I. Paul Banham is called in to solve it. Simple. What? You want more? No way! If I tell you anymore, I may as well tell you who done it.

I read this book with great interest. Not only was it a good story with an engaging plot but, because the author herself is an established actress, I got an insightful ‘behind the scenes’ look at what goes on in the world of acting.

I am a slow reader and, combine this with the fact that I only manage to read an hour or so a day (if I’m lucky), there are not many books I can confess to finishing in under two weeks. However, because Linda’s writing is so neat and effortless, Behind You! kept me hooked from the start and I finished it within six days. Not a record for me, but well below my average reading time.

So, what kept me interested?

Well , for one, it’s a good little story. It’s completely set inside a theatre and I found the further in I read, the more I began to know my own way around the back stage corridors and dressing rooms. Secondly, I loved the characters. D.I. Banham is a great protagonist with lots of baggage. And, fellow officer, Alison Grainger makes for the perfect love interest.

This book is sharp, sassy and humorous. A very good read from a very talented writer.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? Would you like to read it?

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There is no way to sugar coat this so I’ll give it to you straight. I like to talk. Anyone who knows me will agree. Sometimes, I just don’t shut up.

But, to us novelists and scriptwriters, dialogue is an extremely important factor of our work. Dialogue is good. Dialogue is a major player in forming our personality and creating our character. Just ask my husband. He will tell you that my dialogue sums me up as a nag 🙂

So, writing dialogue should be a walk in the park, right? After all, we all talk on a daily basis, some of us even in our sleep. We are knowledgeable experts in the field of speech. We’ve been using words to argue and laugh our way through life for twenty, thirty (or us old ones) forty plus years. We know what we’re doing. We don’t need help in this area. Right?

Wrong.

Elmore Leonard and Quentin Tarrantino are arguably two of the best dialogue writers around. If you’ve read any of Leonard’s novel’s (and I do advise you to, if only for the dialogue), or watched any of Tarrantino’s movies, you will understand what I mean. They give their characters a ‘voice’.

By a voice, I mean your characters need their OWN voice. New writers often make the mistake of giving their characters THEIR voice, meaning all their characters sound the same as their author.

But how do I know when you’ve done this? What are the tell tale signs?

In his book ‘Save the Cat’, Blake Snyder talks about a simple test you can do to check whether you have bad and flat dialogue. Take a page of your script and cover your character names. Then, by reading the dialogue, see if you can tell which of you characters are speaking. It’s simple, but extremely effective.

So, just how do we go about distinguishing Bob the Postman from Betty the Accountant? Doesn’t all the dialogue look same, and it’s the movie actors who breathe life into them?

Hell, no! Novelists don’t have the luxury of actors. The dialogue we give our characters to speak can be the difference between novelists and screenwriters getting published or ending up on the slush pile.

Take these examples:

“If Mr Johnson catches you with that, you’re certain to be suspended, maybe even expelled.”

“Yo, dude. If Jonno sees ya, you’ll be outta here. No messing.”

See how both lines are saying the same thing, only in different ways?

Dialogue is conversation. Make it real. However, don’t forget the ‘show, don’t tell’ rule. You don’t need three pages of a husband and wife discussing their marriage problems, when a husband eyeing up the sexy waitress is enough.

Now, I thought I’d have some fun and set you a little quiz. Below, I have listed fifteen lines of dialogue from various films. All you have to do is guess the movie and the character saying it. It’s so easy, I don’t really know why I’m bothering 🙂

I’ll post the answers in the comment box on Monday.

OH, and no cheating on Google.

  1. “You can’t handle the truth!”
  2. “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”
  3. “You had me at ‘hello’.”
  4. “What do they think I am? Dumb or something? Why, I make more money than – than, than Calvin Coolidge! Put together!”
  5. “I know what you’re thinkin’. ‘Did he fire six shots or only five?’ Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I’ve kinda lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya punk?”
  6. “They’re not gonna catch us. We’re on a mission from God.”
  7. “Get away from her, you BITCH!”
  8. “Life moves pretty fast. You don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
  9. “I am not an animal! I am a human being.”
  10. “…I’m NOT gonna be ignored.”
  11. “Wendy…darling. Light of my life. I’m not gonna hurt ya… I’m just gonna bash your brains in. I’m gonna bash ’em right the f–k in.”
  12. “The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms – greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge – has marked the upward surge of mankind.”
  13. “They’re here!”
  14. “Fellas, last year I made three million dollars. But your fifty thousand was the most fun. Are you ready? Then, let’s go get ’em.”
  15. “I was a better man with you, as a woman, than I ever was with a woman, as a man. Know what I mean? I just gotta learn to do it without the dress.”

You can find me on Facebook or twitter

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Like most of you, I like to read. Unfortunately, and probably unlike most of you, I am a very slow reader. With this in mind, I thought reviewing books would fit nicely into my two blog’s a month schedule 😀

My debut book has to be Kristen Lamb’s ‘We Are Not Alone’: The Writers Guide to Social Media. Why this book? Well, for one, I know Kristen and if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be blogging now. As for the other reasons? Take your pick. Kristen is fast becoming the Queen of Social Media. She has been an invaluable mentor to me, and heck, she’s just an awesome gal. And if that isn’t reason enough, ‘We Are Not Alone’ is a best seller.

A year ago, if anyone other than Kristen had told me to read a social media book, I would have told them to get on their bike and keep pedalling until they reached the Sahara Dessert. I was a Facebooker. I Facebooked with friends. What did I need social media for? I’d tried Twitter and, although I’d met a few great tweeps, I didn’t really ‘get’ it. Then I read Kristen’s book and it transformed the way I look a social media.

So, what is this book about?

Well, for starters, it will teach you the importance of branding yourself. I’m not talking about taking a branding iron and burning your initials into your butt. I’m talking about the ‘YOU’ brand. Your name, as a writer, is your greatest weapon. I didn’t understand that at first. I can’t even remember what my first twitter name was. Something stupid for sure, unlike the DonnaNewtonUK I have now.

Secondly, Kristen goes on to explain what Social Media is, and how we can use it to our advantage. Take Twitter and Facebook. I have transformed both of these so they are working for me now. I still have my personal Facebook page. But now, I also have a writer’s page (www.facebook.com/donnanewtonuk). Who would have thought a year ago I would have built platforms?

And, further still, you will become a blogger like me. I know, how clever do I feel. 😀

Kristen will walk you, step by step, through the WordPress set up. She’ll show you the importance of Bio’s, what a # (hashtag) is, the advantages and disadvantages of having a pen name. Everything you never thought you’d ever need to know is in this book.

Kristen injects such a style and sense of humour that you’ll read it totally unaware you are actually learning something. What’s more important, you can read it without the aid of a dictionary.

Kristen also has a fantastic blog in which she further strives to help people like me understand the world of social medial.

My advice? Whether you are published or unpublished, you should definitely read this book.

Have you read this book? Let me know what you thought of it? Did it, like me, help you tackle the world of social media?

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I thought I’d have a bit of fun and set you guys a little task. Now, I am not the best query letter writer. No really, I’m not being modest. I really hate writing them.

Below, I have swallowed what little pride I have, and copied an old query letter of mine. Now, your task is to read it:

Donna Newton
1 Writers Lane
London

Mobile: 01234567891
pointwelldonna@googlemail.com

5th July 2011

Agent 007
Their Office
Agent Lane
London

Dear Mr Agent,

Re: Legend – The Messiah’s Cross

The Legend is a supernatural story set around two Reapers in a small Texan town. The idea was created for TV, and the pilot was written for the American market. Earlier this year I went to L.A., where my manager also suggested I adapt it into a novel.

I have been writing for many years and my previous publishing credits are all article based within the UK magazine market. I am a member of the Romance Writers of America and belong to Kristen Lamb’s Warrior Writers Boot Camp. I spent many years with Essex Police, where a large majority of my ideas are born. I have written one other novel, and am ready to start my third.

I have enclosed a synopsis and three chapters as requested in your guidelines.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Donna Newton

 

Okay, read it? Good.

An author friend of mine, Linda Regan, severely chastised me for writing this letter. I want you to see if you can tell me why. Put your comments in the – you’ve guessed it – comments box, and I will publish the corrected version in a couple of days.

Have fun, and be kind to me.

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