Phantom kitchen utensils

Seeing ghostly objects floating at the end of your bed is fortunately not an everyday occurrence. Most people would attribute it to a vivid imagination, a few too many drinks, tiredness or eating the wrong thing before bed. There is also something called hypnagogia which is a dream state where you can believe what you are seeing is real, even though you are half asleep or half awake.

A few years ago, I visited a hotel in Kent, England where I had this kind of experience and honestly, it completely freaked me out. I thought I saw a floating object, a bit like an upside down colander or large tea strainer hovering above my bed in the middle of the night. When I had calmed down and applied rational thinking, I did some research, only to find that I was not the only person to have experienced strange things at that location. It was listed on a paranormal website with stories of doors slamming on their own and sightings of ghostly staff. Discovering that I was not alone made me feel even more alarmed.

Amusingly, I also noticed that when I shared my story with other people their first reaction was not to back away, instead, they often chose to share their own weird stories with me. I’ve now heard some excellent tales of lights turning themselves on, strange voices and the appearance of full apparitions.

Years later, my experience proved excellent fodder for the first chapter of my first book and sparked an interest in going along to the occasional ghost hunt. My novel is not a ghost story, but investigating the paranormal is a passion of one of my characters and I wanted to write about his experiences with a degree of knowledge. I can now proudly admit to sitting in creepy, freezing buildings in the middle of the night with groups of people who are fascinated in anything unexplainable. I have discovered that there is a whole collection of scientific equipment that is regularly used for hunting ghosts and a host of people who profess to talk to them directly. I have also added a few more weird stories to my collection.

Having a good imagination is crucial to writing fiction, but you also have to do your research. It helps to know exactly how it feels to be alone in the dark in a supposedly haunted location before you can write about it convincingly. If you can recreate the situation in your head, you can explain how the darkness feels claustrophobic, how your body reacts to feeling nervous and how your mind can play tricks on you.

Personal experience is the best way to understand something and, one of the reasons why I love writing so much is that it gives me an excellent excuse to research lots of subjects that I find interesting.

So, if you ever want to write a ghost story, or a tale about paranormal kitchen utensils, I might be able to help.

 

S

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Wear your underpants on the outside

Why do superheroes wear capes? Do they really need them to fly? Maybe they add the necessary aerodynamic lift to propel Superman and Batman off the ground, but personally I think it’s more about their image. A cape is cool.

Earlier this week, I read my brother’s blog (www.themanatthefront.com) with interest, as his up and coming rock band struggle to find their image. First impressions count and they need to connect with their audience as soon as they walk out on stage, so they are thinking carefully about their costumes.

But, you don’t need to be in a rock band to wear a costume. We all have different guises every day of the week. A few days ago I met a sculptor who, by day, masquerades as a tiler. I once worked with a press officer who became a professional ballroom dancer at the weekend and, years ago I knew a cake shop owner who posed for saucy photos in a men’s magazine.

People are rarely what they initially appear and it can be short sighted to judge a book by its cover. The most interesting people are often those who are completely different to what you first perceive, take Clark Kent and Indiana Jones for example.

In fiction, characters go on their journey through the plot and often end up as different people at the end, just as we do in real life. Our past influences our present, which in turn shapes our future and morphs us into different people.

Jane Austen’s, Elizabeth Bennet is a perfect example of character who gradually transforms from a person who spends her days crocheting, to a feisty female who knows her mind and her heart.

In my own novel, one of my lead characters appears confident and aloof, but wears her persona as a mask to cover her insecurities and the difficulties in her past. She has chosen it as a costume to influence how people perceive her. How many of us do that?

So, do Superman and Batman really wear those capes to help them fly or to make them look cool? I’ve no idea, but I want one.

 

S

Know your sandwich

One of life’s most challenging tasks is discovering who you are as a person. What are your likes, dislikes, talents, beliefs and so on.

When I was 26 I remember deciding that I liked olives. It came as quite a shock to me that I liked these little black and green fruits, because for the previous 26 years I had actively avoided them. They are definitely an acquired taste. This week I had a similar conversation about Marmite sandwiches with one of my friends (she loves the stuff??) British people seem to be obsessed with sandwiches. If they disappeared, what would we all eat for lunch?

When I am writing, I find that I intrinsically know all sorts of fundamental information about my characters. When I create these fictional people I know what they look like and how they think. I know their past and their future and how they will respond in most situations. I know as much as I can about them before I start.

In my previous existence working in communications and PR, I was lucky enough to be contacted by the bestselling novelist, Lesley Pearse. She phoned me when she was looking for some information to help her research her latest book. I used the opportunity to ask her how she develops her stories. She told me that she focuses on her characters and then puts them into different situations, watching their reactions.

I would describe it as exactly like watching a home movie playing in your head. I watch my characters as they confront the confusing situations that I have created. I push them to their limits and watch as they discover more about themselves. In the chapter I am currently writing, my male lead character is soon to find out the true reason behind his father’s and sister’s deaths. I am very curious to watch his reaction.

Walking in someone else’s shoes is a very absorbing and useful way to empathise with others. It also helps me understand my own reactions to many things.

So, this week, while on my ongoing voyage of self-discovery, I reached a crucial decision. My favourite sandwich is cheese and onion.

 

S

Fly me to the moon

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” The words of John F Kennedy during his speech at Rice University in 1962.

This man clearly knew what he was talking about. Achieving difficult things can bring the greatest rewards, but they require a level of sustained effort that is sometimes exhausting.

If something is difficult to achieve, it is all too tempting to give up and admit defeat. Trying to succeed at anything creative can be particularly difficult because the audience is subjective.

Recently, the author JK Rowling spoke again about the number of rejections she received from publishers before finally gaining success. This gives me hope.

By completing a book which has been well received by friends and family, I succeeded in achieving my first goal, but now I would like to put it out into the world. So, how do I persevere with something difficult and never give up?

This morning, I was having one of my more in depth thoughts as I stood in the shower. It’s my 42nd birthday in the next couple of weeks and I was reflecting on things that have gone well and things that have not gone well in my life so far. My general conclusion was that success for me nearly always depends on my level of commitment.

I believe that once you have decided what it is you really want to achieve, you have to go for it. I know that if I was starving, my entire focus would be on finding food. I would put all my effort into that without distraction.

I have already learnt that being a butterfly brain and dabbling half-heartedly at lots of different things, never really committing to anything, achieves little.

So my conclusion for this week, while I was washing my hair, is to keep shooting for the moon with even more sustained effort.

 

S