Fantasy Creatures taking an unexpected Turn

Copyright Sarah ChipperfieldYes, I know, I’ve already blogged about my entry for the Inkitt Fantasy genre writing contest “Wanderlust” over at mariathermann.wordpress.com. HOWEVER, for some reason the link to illustrator Sarah Chipperfield’s about.me page won’t show up. So here it is:

https://about.me/sarah_chipperfield

duly delivered! She tells me she’s putting the page together, so just be patient.

In case some of you fall in love with the illustration she did for my http://www.inkitt.com/stories/23849 entry and want to commission some art work for a book cover for example or illustrations for a picture book: please form an orderly queue…We are not only working on an Early Reader’s book (for my Flippety Floppet series) but are currently pondering on a picture book for Willow the Vampire, set when Willow was a lot younger and still at Vampire Infant School in London. Watch out for one snappy little critter called Flora Fangs!

Back in rural Lincolnshire, 9-year-old Linus Brown discovers he gets more than he’s bargained for when he takes the advice of a mysterious scarecrow and chooses a road less well travelled on…things take a rather unexpected turn for shy Linus. Did I mention there are witches and any number of jokes about farting littering my Inkitt entry? Be careful when wandering into Linus’s world though, or you might step accidentally on a few leprechauns with your size tens. Thunderpants-a-go, please LOVE and VOTE for the story, if you like it and FORWARD to as many creatures of the night as you can think of. Thank you.

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For my next Publishing Adventure I’m heading to

Vampire-bats-animated…Neobooks(dot)com, which is affiliated to one of Germany’s most respected publishers.

Unfortunately, the site doesn’t seem to be available in English, which will cause problems for the non-German language indie authors among you, but when I emailed Neobooks a while back they assured me they do support literature of other languages and they do accept authors from other countries.

Your book will not just be listed and sold by the biggest ebook retailers in the world – including Amazon.de, Buch.de, Kobo, Der Club/Bertelsmann, Buecher.de, Google Play, Ciando.de and Apple iTunes – but will also cover the entire German-language book market, as they sell into Switzerland and Austria also.

These are the heavy-weights of ebook sellers in Europe, so if you’re thinking of publishing your vampire, fantasy or non-fiction book on bats as an indie author, don’t be put off by the German language aspect of it. All of these retailers sell English language books.
Covers: According to the blurb on the site, it looks easy to upload cover designs (which need to be 1,400 pixels wide min).

Text: All headings for chapters must be set to Header 1/Header 2 etc in order for them to translate properly into epub readers apparently – now would it not have been nice for other ebook publishers to tell us that? Grrr. Don’t bother adding one of those stupid “floating” tables of contents either, Neobooks do that apparently.

The difference between publishing with Neobooks and say, Amazon Kindle or Bookrix, is that at Neobooks authors can go straight into a daily “most liked/most read” type competition that could easily bag them a traditional publishing contract with Droemer Knaur Verlagsgruppe, which incidentally is working in cooperation with Rohwolt Verlag on this venture. These are two of Germany’s, and therefore Europe’s, most prominent, respected and powerful publishers of fiction and non-fiction. They feature heavily at all the big book fairs, inc. Frankfurt Book Fair and New York’s book fair.

And the partner list of Neobooks also makes for impressive reading: Leipzig Buchmesse (Leipzig Book Fair) is only one of THE biggest book fairs in the world and I think the second largest in Germany after Frankfurt Buchmesse. ZDF stands for one of Germany’s largest and most prominent TV channels. I don’t have to explain to magazine readers or men and women of the WordPress world who or what Stern.de stands for, do I?

werewolf-under-full-moonIf Neobooks accept your manuscript on their site for ebook publication and you put the time in to promote your book/s, you stand a good chance of not only making book sales but getting proper literary respect from your peers, publishers, readers and critics. They have nurtured a large number of authors who since then have become bestsellers.

The site encourages reviews and acts as a useful resource with lots of excellent tips how to protect your work. If you were looking for an outlet for your translated manuscript, this could be the one for you; you’ll just need to borrow/hire a German speaker to help you with the set-up and upload.

I’ll report back when it’s done. Incidentally, all my uploads into Bookrix (dot)com have now been made available at the retailers they work with. It took about a week, no more, before all was up for sale. Pretty good, bearing in mind that with traditional print publishers it can take up to 2 years before a book sees the light of day. Please stop by to leave a review if you’ve got the time…and give us a howl, if you cannot make sense out of uploading with Bookrix.

Happy writing everyone!

 

(source of animation: heathersanimations.com)

Taking Short-Cuts

bear on bikeIt’s been a very long time since I worked – still as an office slave – in London and now, that I’m staying here for a few months, I recalled how back in the 1980s and 1990s I used to walk everywhere in London because of constant bomb threats from the IRA. Frequently, underground stations would be closed for several hours at a time, making you either hopelessly late for work in the morning or delaying you to such an extent that train services back to sunny Surrey, where I used to live, would practically pack up and go home for the night before one managed to get back to Waterloo Station.

MonkWalkingJust as slowly as a medieval traveller on ox cart or on foot in air-conditioned sandals, the trusted cudgel by one’s side (which in my case tended to be a brolly), I would creep through the little rat runs and shortcuts of Soho to get back to Leicester Square and from there to Embankment, pushing through the crowds, the noise and the litter. Walking felt so much safer to me than taking the underground, even if it meant taking a risk in London’s dingy side streets.

Intellectual Short-Cuts

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATaking short-cuts in children’s writing is much harder to do, because their understanding of the world is less developed than that of adults. This has really hit home with me over the last few days, while I’m putting the finishing touches to my first German language novel for adults. When writing for grown-ups one merely needs to mention stiletto heels and the click-y-de-clack they make on the pavement and an adult reader will picture the type of person doing the walking perfectly. Finding child-sized short-cuts, as it were, is much harder.

If the writer takes examples from kid’s movies…those examples will date quickly…if one takes examples from classic literature kids might not have read those books yet. Be too long winded in the thing you want to say and kids throw your book away and head for a short-cut into the garden to play footie or go online to play games.

Travelling safely

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMedieval travellers, it strikes me, would probably have avoided taking short-cuts in real life, but they were masters at using metaphors in their paintings, illuminated books and swirly scrolls. Travelling was far too risky and best done in large numbers on well frequented routes.

monk with fishIf you wanted to get from castle A to fortress B, you joined a throng of pilgrims, preferably one with a few knights attached to their party, and hobbled along. Any creature of the night that might be tempted to drag you off to hell would think twice about attacking, for the throng of pilgrims might easily scare attackers off with a few well-aimed Hallelujahs, a punch on the nose and handy crosses aimed at the ghoul. Intellectual travelling, on the other hand, involved side-stepping a great deal of moral scrutiny, mostly from church leaders but also from an educated person’s peers.

What better way to avoid detection than using a few nifty metaphors of which only you and your mates knew the true meaning? Several hundred years later intellectual travellers looking at medieval paintings or books need an expert guide to help them find their way through the incomprehensible maze. Here taking short-cuts would have preserved the necks of those who painted or wrote something that the ruling order of the day did not approve of.

Getting lost in the Here and Now

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANegotiating the short-cuts we take in our stories thankfully no longer means trying to hide from the ruling classes for most of us – unless you live in a dictatorship or other type of evil regime. However, our writing short-cuts will be just as incomprehensive to future readers, no matter what age, if we go with the trendy phrases, the metaphors of Hollywood or TV. Yes, trying to please the “ruling classes” of current readerships is just as oppressive. Be a rebel, avoid the trendy and stick to the timeless!

What does that mean?

book00021 history book closesWell, if you want to describe a character in your book as somebody who’s easily led and superficial you could use the metaphor of gadgets, mobile phones perhaps or tablets…but remember, in just a few years’ time, a new generation may no longer understand what you’re talking about because technology moves on so quickly. If you’re aiming to write a book that will stand the test of time, especially in children’s and YA markets, and allow future armchair travellers to enjoy it just as much as readers would today, your short-cuts should be recognisable as such by future generations of readers.

A little moth-eaten around the Edges

The_Moth_Diaries_FilmPosterNo, I’m not talking about myself here! Although, admittedly the image staring back at me in my mirror could do with smoothing out, peeling off the old and pasting on a younger, fresher smile once in a while. At least you still have a mirror image, I hear the vampire enthusiast among you cry. You are right, one should always be grateful for small mercies in life and after-life.

Actually, my comment about being a bit moth-eaten around the edges was aimed at the movie “The Moth Diaries” which I finally got around watching last weekend when I wanted a break from writing chirpy travel articles about Spain and Portugal.

Although I’m not strictly saying that the film was boring – far from it – it just took such a long time getting round to what it wanted to say that I was tempted to shout “aren’t we there yet” at my laptop screen, like an impatient child sitting in the back of a car on her way to Harry Potter World.

I liked the moth element of this supernatural tale, which of course was chosen because it mirrored the protagonist’s happiest childhood memory; only the vampire knew how to twist and pervert this life-sustaining memory into something deadly and morbid.

Bela_Lugosi_as_Dracula,_anonymous_photograph_from_1931,_Universal_StudiosWhat I found interesting was the fact that this supernatural caper went back to the pre-Dracula days in the vampire genre when vamps where emotional life suckers rather than the blood-slurping variety. These are, of course, the type of vampires one is more likely to encounter in real life than the fangy Count D.

It made me think back of my school days and how certain types of people simply cannot bear to see others being friends or lovers without wanting to insinuate themselves into the middle and sucking the life out of that relationship.

Oddly enough, elements of the Transylvanian school of thought, as I call the emotional life sucker folklore, will be creeping into my 2nd Willow adventure too, although for the moment I have put this to the backburner to finish another book.

How do you prefer your creatures of the night? Biting with gusto into a throaty, full bloodied adventure or wheedling their way into the heart of the matter like a sly maggot?

 

(picture source Wikipedia: The Moth Diaries is a 2011 Irish-Canadian horror film directed by Mary Harron. It is based on a 2002 novel of the same name written by Rachel Klein)

Being a Witch is never easy

Examination of a Witch by T. H. Matteson, insp...

Examination of a Witch by T. H. Matteson, inspired by the Salem witch trials (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my second novel, Willow the Vampire and the Würzburg Ghosts, I’m using several real historical events as the starting point for my plot. One is the recent discovery of a “witch’s cottage” near Pendle in Lancashire, where in 1612 the infamous Pendle Witch Trials took place. Two men and eight women were hanged as witches after extensive trials.

 

The other main historical event I’m using as background for my latest vampire lore is the even more infamous series of witch trials that took place in the city of Würzburg in Germany between 1626 and 1631.

 

The Würzburg witch trials are regarded as one of the largest peace-time mass trials, which were followed by mass executions on an unprecedented scale.

 

Responsible for the persecution of innocent men, women and lots of children was Bishop Philip Adolf, on whose orders an estimated six to nine hundred people were burnt alive at the stake or hanged.

 

heks_in_maan witch flying against moonMy premise is that with such unjust killings there must be a lot of angry spirits about seeking revenge. As my previous posts have shown, ghosts have all manner of motives for clinging to the place where they lived or died. Revenge is always a good subject for a mystery or, in this case, a vampire story suitable for children aged 8 to 12 that discusses the subject of “evil” – what is evil, how do we stand up to it and who gets away with doing bad stuff?

 

This year marks the anniversary of two famous witch trials in the United Kingdom, by the way. Not just the Pendle trials but also the last conviction for sorcery, which took place in Hertfordshire in March 1712, is being commemorated this year. Fortunately, this trial had a kind of happy ending, when Queen Anne pardoned the accused sorceress Jane Wensham and thus saved her from the hangman’s noose.

 

"The witch no. 1" lithograph

“The witch no. 1” lithograph (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Pretty much anyone could be accused of sorcery – if you were overhead talking to your cat or pet pig you could be accused of being in league with the devil – and the methods used for getting confessions out of alleged warlocks and witches were utterly horrendous…thanks to the oh so Christian torturers in charge of interrogations.

 

Over on http://www.mariathermann.wordpress.com I’m discussing my home town Lübeck’s walled fortifications, in particular the famous Holsten Gate, which was once part of the city’s fortifications. Until 2002, the Holsten Gate housed a gruesome torture chamber and “dungeon” exhibition in the museum, which I remember only too well from various school trips and visits with my grandparents.

 

If I recall correctly, it boasted a rack and thumb screws, branding irons and various other torture paraphernalia among its exhibits. It seems utterly impossible anyone should be so devoid of compassion and feeling that they should use such instruments on anyone, let alone small children, but this is what happened quite frequently under the Christian motto of “love thy neighbour”.

 

Persecution of witches

Persecution of witches (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Willow the Vampire, champion for defenceless children and animals which get a rough deal at the hands of those who should care for them and protect them from harm, is having rather a busy time of it, what with saving the world from Ragnarög, saving best friend Darren AND dealing with an army of vengeful ghosts.

 

Burning at the stake. An illustration from an ...

Burning at the stake. An illustration from an mid 19th century book. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Vampires, as a rule, like to mind their own business, so getting involved with human and supernatural beings that have their own agenda, is always going to contradict a bloodsucker’s inner beliefs. Vengeance, on the other hand, is a subject vampires can relate to whole-heartedly. Will our Willow be tempted to go over to the dark side?

 

English: J.K. Rowling reads from Harry Potter ...

One thing’s for sure, Willow the Vampire will remain a champion for children and this writer won’t ever make light of their plight at the hands of adults. Unlike perhaps the writer who brought us Harry Potter. Am I the only one who finds the announcement that J K Rowling’s adult novel The Casual Vacancy will become a BBC drama incredibly ill-timed and utterly distasteful?

 

As if the BBC wasn’t in enough trouble over the Savill enquiry into paedophilia and rape allegations, namely sex crimes against children and young adults that allegedly happened under the very noses of former BBC bosses over a period of some 40 years! Now our licence fee is being used for this, a book that has not received much critical acclaim and is only being shifted thanks to the J K Rowling name?

 

One day I may write a Willow the Vampire novel that will deal with the ultimate evil creature of the night, the Jimmy Savills and Gary Glitters of this world. Naturally, I shan’t use the subject of children or young adults being threatened by rape as a subject for satire and parody, which most of J K Rowling’s readers found distinctly unfunny, when I last looked on Amazon’s reviews.

Willow in black dressNo, I ‘m far more likely to use the subject of BBC bosses in terror and utter distress, as vampire Willow and her friends barbeque them over a moderate flame, while basting them with home-made marinade provided by grateful licence fee payers.

 

Small Critters, big Impact

If you’re writing a paranormal story and are determined to use animals to set the scene, you may want to hold back on the gnashing teeth of wolves, gnawing fangs of killer rats and toothy grins of giant snakes until you’ve read this.

While it’s easy to write something atmospheric and eerie with animals such as bears, wild boar or wolves, because they occur naturally in a rural landscape, writing urban fantasies is often limited to creatures that have been “turned”, either by magic or by man-made means, into something that they are not normally, such as being way beyond their normal size and unusually bloodthirsty.

Here in the United Kingdom we’re not blessed with inquisitive city-dwelling wolves or nosy bears having a go at our dustbins. Vampire, horror or ghost stories include a staple diet of certain creatures of the night that lend a paw to the overall feel of a location. If your story’s set in the city centre of Nottingham, Chicago or Berlin, you might struggle to find a critter worthy of a mention.

It’s the fantasy genre, I hear you groan, just make it up as you go along…but the rule is that within our fantasy world logic still has to apply to really draw our readers in.

The more familiar some things are to our readers – and the more logical – the more shocking the fantastical will be, when it gate-crashes into our worlds. However, this artistic device has to be applied within reason.

Inserting a silky web and hideously fat, red-eyed, tarantula-sized spider will lend great atmosphere to a dark and twisted tale; perhaps a vampire’s kidnap victim is locked in a crypt or basement with little hope to escape and is wordlessly watching the spider munch one of its victims, foreshadowing his or her own fate? Your readers will feel a pleasurable, spooky tingle creep up and down their spine, urging them to turn the page and find out what happens next to the human in peril.

Take the same silky web and insert a cuddly but fanged hamster feasting on a marshmallow and your reader is putting down the book with a “what the f*** was that?” If your heroine is chased by a giant gerbil with insatiable bloodlust you’re not likely to get a second book sale either, so what do you do?

Tiny critters can have a big impact, but choosing the right ones can be difficult. Spiders, flies, hornets and bats, urban foxes, homeless cats and starving abandoned dogs all work in a creepy urban setting, as do crows, mice and rats. Koala bears, wombats and puppies not so much.

Cover of "The Birds (Collector's Edition)...

Cover of The Birds (Collector’s Edition)

The same applies to supernatural beings. Vampires are cool and can be quite sophisticated beings – they work well in any setting and can adapt easily. Let them wear coat tails and sip cocktails with the upper classes in Cheltenham or dress them in a creased linen suit and put their feet up in an office in downtown New York. When they pounce, the impact on your reader will be the same.

Ghosts also advertise their services as being versatile and flexible. They might secretly prefer to haunt a mansion in Belgravia but are just as capable of scaring the living daylights out of someone reading about a rundown brownstone in the Bronx.

Pixies, fairies and nymphs in Manhattan, Paris or London on the other hand are distinctly out of place. While a fairy queen with an attitude will have a big impact in Sherwood Forest, the Forest of Dean or even the Black Forest (especially when bursting out of a cuckoo-clock), a winged, miniscule madam zipping along Sunset Boulevard, LA will only succeed in getting squashed without ever fulfilling the promise of magically drawing your reader into your story.

In other words, the location you have chosen for your story should determine the type of creatures you insert into the plot and that they should be used in a logical way.

English: Studio publicity photo of Alfred Hitc...

English: Studio publicity photo of Alfred Hitchcock. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Choosing the right tiny critter for the occasion can be hard for writers. If like me, you detest anything that buzzes, the very mention of anything with six legs and fifteen eyes can put you off delving into research. But think back to the Indiana Jones films, how Indie hates snakes and bugs – it made us love him all the more for this chink in his armour…for one glorious moment he was just like the rest of us, no longer a super hero.

Français : Borsalino identique à celui d'India...

If the tiny creature of the night is to signify a flaw in your protagonist or is to be a signpost for heartache still to come, great care should be taken to choose the right creature, namely one that will stick in our mind, not just be a gimmick.

If your creature is to be a metaphor for darkness and your villain’s evil schemes – the rats leaving the ship in Nosferatu for example precede his arrival and widespread, plague-like death – than choose an animal or supernatural being that represents all you want to say about your villain.

Why not surprise us with something common place that suddenly turns nasty, when you want to describe a loner-turned-serial killer? The impact is so much greater and such a critter will stay with us long after we’ve closed the book. If I’m not mistaken Patricia Highsmith wrote a short story once about common garden snails killing somebody which has been haunting me ever since…forcing me to circumvent the slimy assassins with big steps whenever I see them, just in case they decide my time’s up.

Indiana Jones

Indiana Jones (Photo credit: creative location)

I can envisage a beautiful moth fluttering in through an open balcony window where it attacks the half-awake sleeper in his bed, gorging out his eyes. How about a toad in a city park that inserts toxic slime into its bench-dwelling, homeless victims before feasting on their flesh?

Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” worked so well because we largely ignore the birds in our city surroundings…unless they bombard us with their droppings, that is. Ordinary sparrows and starlings, gulls and crows with a murderous attitude are far more terrifying than a ten-foot parrot with a death wish chasing us down our street.

The point is that such creatures exist in real urban landscapes and we take them for granted without really noticing them…which makes their sudden appearance far more frightening. Turn a squirrel into a twenty foot Godzilla and its laughable but not scary. Making the same squirrel stand out with unusual behaviour rather than unusual size will turn them into something truly terrifying and memorable.

Patricia Highsmith

Patricia Highsmith (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This may seem very obvious when laid out in a blog, but all too often we find novels with werewolves trapped on subway trains in New York, when they’d rather be in Sherwood Forest and Godzilla-pretenders languishing in cramped conditions in England’s historic towns, when they’d rather be chasing Japanese maidens along comfortably wide highways in Osaka.

#3407 Mongolian gerbil (スナネズミ)

#3407 Mongolian gerbil (スナネズミ) (Photo credit: Nemo’s great uncle)

So before you sit down to write your urban fantasy novel, get to know your critter and its habitat!

One foxy new Friend

With squirrel spying for the antagonist, Willow the Vampire needs a creature of the night that can be her eyes and ears in the villain’s camp.

Unlike James Bond, real spies I imagine are unassuming, non-descript sort of people – let’s face it, if a chap built like Mr Daniel Craig walked into your office, you’d remember him for a VERY long time, wouldn’t you? In fact, he’d be the talk of the office for weeks!

Willow the Vampire therefore needs a nocturnal creature that’s so familiar in our landscape – rural or urban – that we don’t bat an eyelid when we see it. Budding young author Sarah Baethge (The Speed of Darkness) voted in favour of foxes the other day and I think she’s got a very good point.

Foxes have had a rough time over the centuries and have received an awful lot of bad press. To me, people who indulge in blood “sports” are nothing short of obscene, deranged monsters, but to many the hunting of foxes with hounds is a great amusement. They claim that foxes are vermin and therefore have no right to complain if they are hunted to exhaustion and then torn apart by dogs. Hm…it could be argued that this is EXACTLY what should happen to bankers, politicians and all those who indulge in blood “sports”. In fact, judging by the worldwide press and comments on the internet, there’d be millions of people in favour of making this a new Olympic discipline!

As a child I used to visit my uncle and aunt, who at that time lived in a small town at the Dutch/German border, where my uncle worked as a customs officer. He was a keen huntsman, but deplored the practice of gassing fox and badger sets and would have been disgusted at hunting animals with a pack of hounds.

One day he discovered a burrow full of dead foxes – a mum and her litter. Only one tiny fox cub was still alive. He took it home and nursed it back to health with the view of one day releasing it back into the wild.

My cousin and I used to take the fox out for walks on a leash, just like a dog. One day my cousin wanted to visit a friend (she was quite a few years older than me) and she took the fox with her on the train. As predicted, the ticket collector appeared and demanded to see a ticket for the “hound”. My cousin quickly pointed out that the rules of the railway company said nothing about paying for foxes – if the ticket collector showed her the relevant passage in the rule book, she’d certainly pay but otherwise…

After a long, drawn out battle with the might of the Deutsche Bahn (German Railways), the little fox travelled for free – and I guess we all knew at that moment my cousin would one day be joining the legal profession (she later became a judge).

Many years later, when I lived in south-east London, I had a family of foxes visiting my garden on a regular basis. One foxy mum even brought her young ones to see my shed in the early morning hours. They would climb up on the roof, from which they had a great view of the 90 foot, back-to-back gardens on Telegraph Hill. Their child-like cries would wake me up and their peculiar scent marking would terrify my cat.

Foxes are incredibly agile, being able to leap up to a meter into the air before pouncing on their unsuspecting victim with deadly accuracy (rats, voles, mice, frogs, snakes). Foxes have incredibly good hearing, as they will stand still in the high grass or undergrowth listening out for any little rustling noise, high pitched squeak or swishing mousy tail.

Fox

Fox (Photo credit: jans canon)

Their new born cubs are blind and helpless, looking very much like puppies, but after two weeks the cubs begin to change, their legs, ears and snout become longer, their coat changes colour from a non-descript brown to a rusty red. Being able to change your appearance is a great asset for a spy – in winter some foxes are able to change their red or brown coat to white (Artic fox).

Eventually, their mum takes them out and at eight weeks the fox cubs used to scamper about in my garden, as happy in the warm morning sun as any human toddler. When it was time to go to “bed”, they would snuggle up to their mum in the undergrowth that lurked at the bottom of my garden – that bit I’d never gotten round to tidying after I’d moved in.

Willow the Vampire will need a foxy friend, who’s smart, streetwise, has excellent senses of smell, hearing and sight. Willow is going to face some pretty monstrous opponents in her next adventure and needs all the help she can get!

Fox

Fox (Photo credit: Natasha Lloyd)

It also pleases me to think that the squirrel, which we all think is so harmless and cute, will be acting on the side of the villain, while an animal like the much-maligned fox will be acting on behalf of my heroine.

Little vampire

Little vampire (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At least in fiction, there can be some poetic justice…who knows, my vampires might even hunt a banker or two…

(picture credit DK: Children’s Encyclopedia of Animals, ISBN 978-1-4053-4885-0, published in 2009)