I Recently Did A Somewhat Insane Thing 😳

Many of you will already know that on my birthday this year, the 12th May 2022, I attempted to write an entire novel in a single day. I succeeded. The novel is called The Mask Collector. At 7:30am on the 13th May, tired and weird, I wrote the Author’s Note that will appear at the beginning of that novel. I would like to share it with you here.

The Mask Collector

Author’s Note

This novel is the product of a single frantic day at the keyboard. I sat down at my desk at 9am on the 12th of May 2022 and I was still there at 9am on the 13th May (I’m actually writing this with an hour and a half still to go, but I know now that I will make it to 9am and my brain needs a break from the fictional).

I had a goal that I didn’t achieve. I thought I could write fifty thousand words in a single sitting (an idea born from The Bestseller Experiment podcast.) I was wrong. I managed half of that.

I mean, I didn’t really think I would be able to do it. I just wanted to try. 50,000 words. It’s an absurd number. It’s short for a novel, which average around seventy thousand, but the average novel takes a year to write. I was trying to do it in a day.

I both failed and succeeded. I told the whole story. It was complete when I finished. It was just much shorter than I had hoped. I ran out of road.

If I were to attempt it again (very unlikely—though it wasn’t an unpleasant experience), I would probably not adapt a screenplay. I thought doing that was a clever trick to save on having to think about what happens next.

I wrote the screenplay of The Mask Collector during the first Covid lockdown. A complete feature-length film. And a good one too. In the words of Mark Stay, it had blockbuster potential.

When the idea came to me to attempt this feat, adapting it seemed like the obvious thing to do. A screenplay is basically a very detailed outline. The problem is, it’s too detailed. I was caged in. I couldn’t let go and fly. It was a machine job of mechanically re-describing scenes that already existed with little scope for improvement, as it had already been worked and reworked in its original format.

If I had come up with a completely new idea and given myself a far looser outline, I might have been able to get in the zone and lose myself in rapid fire prose.

But I’ll be honest. The goal of reaching a big word count is a shallow one. Story is king. That’s the most important thing. Authors often forget that. We get carried away with what is expected and don’t let the story tell itself at its own pace. I didn’t succeed in writing a novel, but I did succeed in writing a novella. A lot of my favourite books are novellas (The Great Gatsby, Animal Farm, The Metamorphosis, The Heart of Darkness, The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, The Body, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, The Langoliers, The Mist, The Rats, The Hellbound Heart, War of the Worlds—should I go on?) and I’ve been writing a lot of them recently.

Under the penname, Elwood Flynn, I’ve been intentionally writing thirty-five-thousand-word pulp westerns. I love reading them and I love writing them. I like the leanness of the prose. The challenge of pairing the language back to its most raw form. It’s no wonder this ended short.

One of the great things that came from this was that I got to rediscover The Mask Collector as a reader. I had forgotten a lot of the script. I hadn’t realised how much of it I had forgotten until I started this experiment. It surprised me. What surprised me more was how entertained by it I was. I felt the suspense of the intended viewer/reader as I adapted it. I fell in love with the characters all over again.

A lot of the people reading this were there with me the day I wrote this. So many fellow authors and readers rallied around me and tweeted all day and night cheering me on and offering support (you got it to number ten in the horror charts between Stephen King and Stephen King, and it hadn’t even been written yet). It was a great day. An excellent way to spend a birthday. I was doing what I loved with the people that I love. The teenager was at her mother’s studying for her GCSEs, which start next week, but Rachel and the cat were here, cracking the whip (and making me coffee).

When things got desperate, at about 3am when the story was done and I didn’t know what to do to make the book fatter, I had a radical idea. The main character in the book is Pat Caine. He is a famous retired bank robber who wrote a very successful book about his life of crime. That was it! I could write chapters from his book, from his point of view, and place them randomly throughout the book! Problem solved.

I wrote two chapters. Told two stories from his early life. In one, Caine is fourteen and getting up to some thieving hijinks involving a milk float. In the other, he is twenty-four and planning his first bank robbery.

When it came to placing them in the story, all it did was slow down the pace. They were jarring. I have included them at the end of the main story for your amusement. They were written by an exhausted mind at an ungodly hour.

So, without further ado, I present to you, The Mask Collector. It was written with passion and sleep deprivation. I think it shows. I hope you enjoy it. Be kind with your reviews.

I think you will like DCI Conrad. I’m sorry there’s not more of her. Another book maybe. Another time.

Andrew Chapman – 7:45am, 13th May 2022, Bournemouth

Writing Westerns at 5am

5am is a good time to write. Blue Pulp is getting exciting. The western is an underestimated genre. When you strip everything out, all the things that distract us in the modern world, so all you have is the man and his thoughts, you can get deep and frightening with the human condition.

I know you can’t buy any of these books yet but soon you’ll be able to. This is book three and I’ve got one more to write. I think I’ll be done by spring.

I was reading a western last night. A slim novella. Less that 200 pages. There is something engaging and lively in the telling of a shorter novel. Something I embrace in my own writing.

I can wait for you to read this. If you’ve never read a western before maybe it’s time to try it out.

I’ll be posting covers and release dates right here over the next few months.

Tabby vs Maine Coon

My brother visited today and brought his Maine Coon, Odin, with him. He’s still growing (the cat, not my brother) but our own adult cat, Calcifer, looks like a kitten next to it. Odin wanted to play but Calcifer, understandably, wasn’t into it. Probably because one false move by Odin could accidentally remove Calcifer’s face.

Staring at the blank page while armed cowboys await my instructions.

I have been staring at chapter ten of Blue Pulp for an hour. I wrote thirty six words and then stared at them for a while. They were no good. There is something I’m missing. Something my subconscious is aware of but I am not. There is another, better way, for this chapter to be than the one I have in mind. I need to sleep on it.

This is what some people call writer’s block. It’s not a block of words, I’m still capable of laying down the letters; it’s more like the engine that powers the imagination is running on fumes and requires more fuel. Fuel is often made of caffeine, this time it requires something more ethereal. It needs inspiration. A new idea.

Normally in this situation I tell the story to Rachel and it turns out I knew what needed to happen next all along, my subconscious simply needed me to verbalise it. This is different. The path ahead is blocked. A new path must be made before I can walk it.

I think the problem lies in a simple storytelling problem. So far the whole story (a western) has been told from Robin Castle’s point of view (from the third person, but we as the reader only know what he knows), and I need the reader to see what another character is doing as Castle walks away from town with trouble coming up behind him.

I need to break the unspoken rule I have set for the novel. I need to look away from Castle. Maybe that’s the problem.

You see, we’re solving it together right here. So what do I do next? I’m going to ask my subconscious to figure this out and let me know the plan in the morning. I’m going to bed.

On Writing Historical Fiction

On Writing Historical Fiction

One day this period that we are living in will be the subject of historical fiction. Our Instagram, electric cars, and smart phones will seem like medieval devices. We will seem backwards in our dress and old-fashioned in our thinking. People will think the 2020s were populated by small-minded simpletons, that the people were afraid of science and new ideas, that the governments were stuffy and the class divide was great.

I write westerns under the name, Elwood Flynn (they will be published next year, but you can find Elwood on Instagram if you are interested in following that journey) and so I spend a lot of time thinking about how people thought back then.

It is easy to write two dimensional flat characters, stereotypical and slightly less intelligent than our far superior future selves. To write engaging real people in historical fiction you have to keep in mind one very important thing: Every person who has ever lived believed that they were living in the most modern times in all of history.

Cowboys photographed in grainy photographs in the late 1800s, in bowler hats and waistcoats; how old-fashioned their minds must have been. But even though these were gunslingers in a lawless land, they were wearing the highest Victorian fashion of the time, dressed like the British upper-class. Even outlaws were trendy, just not to us, not now.

Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch were some well-dressed dudes.

Maybe people will look back at teenagers in DCs and hoodies, and wonder, “Why were the teenagers back then dressed so formally?”

That’s how I dressed when I was a teenager, twenty years ago. When people were afraid of youths wearing hoodies. Front page news: BEWARE THE HOODIE! And now there are photographs of politicians wearing hoodies to make themselves seem more normal. More like the average working class man. Rishi Sunak, the British MP, trying to fool us in his hip garb.

Could you imagine Winston Churchill wearing a hoodie?

We think the ideas we are having now about people being scared of vaccines, or getting angry at cancel culture, are modern problems. And they are, just as they have always been.

This is a classified ad from 1952 –

There are articles from the 1800s about the new smallpox vaccine. One article from the Chamber’s Journal, July 31, 1886, reads, “The newspapers constantly remind us that there are many persons in the kingdom who object to vaccination…”

qrf

Comedian’s from 1903 declaring we can say, “good-bye to comedy” because racial and ethno stereotypes were banned on the stage.

In 1957, comedian George Gobel said, “…a TV comic nowadays needs the soul of a seismograph to know where the rumble of public wrath is coming from. We have to be verbal tightrope walkers.”

It has always been this way, and so it will remain. Nothing changes. Not really. We are not advanced. We have not learned from our ancestors.

We have always been, and will always be, modern.

There is a film from 1971 by Ken Russell called The Devils. It was banned pretty much everywhere for its blasphemous sex scenes (the infamous raping of Christ being the main problem), and has still not been released in full by Warner Bros. But that film did something very interesting. If you watch it, it looks weird to the eye. The sets are all so… modern. The prison scenes have bright white tiles, brand new bars. The town walls and the castle are clean and built with new stone.

The film is set in 17th century France and when the set designer came to build the sets, he went, as one does when making a historical film, to create moulds of crumbling walls. Ken Russell stopped him, reminding him that at one time these old castles were not old castles, but modern architecture. And so they built them as new. When we watch The Devils, we are not watching old fashioned people in the past being barbaric, we are watching modern people in the present raging against new ideas, just as we do now.

People have always had complex thoughts. There has always been extremes in outlook. There have always been people who are racist and bigoted, but there has also been people who are against those things. Not everyone in the 1800s was racist, otherwise the politicians, who sink or swim in an ocean made of popularity, would never have been able to abolish slavery.

This post has gone on longer than I had planned, and it’s all to illustrate one point. One lesson about writing historical literature. We must view them with a modern eye.

The thing is, about those cowboys I write about in my westerns, they have no idea that they are living in the past.

Ignore me. I’m sick.

What is this art form? This theatre of words moving across a page? The trade of building images out of symbols? Carving literary statues with grammatical chisels? Writing is so much and so little. A bad sentence is almost indistinguishable from a good one. It takes a person with a degree to know what is good and what is not. They will tell you Dan Brown paints his words with turds and shake their fists at the pages of The Bookseller magazine which dares to print sales figures that contradict their assessment.

The average reader has no idea. Nor do they care.

You can have a novel, 120,000 words long, and find nothing of meaning within its pages. Heroes running the same course as many before them. A save-the-cat journey of write-by-numbers plots designed to move and thrill. The same story sold bought and read again and again and again.

Another book. Which follows no particular pattern. Does not follow the rules of grammar exactly. And does not dance around a story circle. Filled with depth and aphorisms and wit. Is never read.

If a genre book is considered literary is it no longer genre? If a literary book is blandly written is it still art? Is storytelling itself art, regardless of the prominence or not of adjectives in its prose?

I always wanted to write whatever the British equivalent of The Great American Novel is. In wanting to learn how to do this I have become more and more interested in turning a collection of words on a page into a continuous moving image in the reader’s mind. I write westerns now. The goal of the books is not to blow you away with a skilful display of my vocabulary and the wrangling of obscure and rarefied words, but to put the words out of your mind entirely. I want my stories to grab you by the hair and drag you through the dirt. I want you to read them in one sitting and turn that last page with your heart racing and your eyes raw with fatigue and belly hungry. But instead of eating, or sleeping, I want you to turn right back to the start and read it again. Is that art?

To do that, maybe I have not created art. I have created entertainment.
Will that do? Is that enough?
I still want to write The Great British Novel, but writing pulp is too much fun.

Right now I am sick. I’m sat on the couch amidst a snowstorm of crumpled tissue. My nose is red. I’m sniffling. I have a tickle at the back of my throat that I have been refusing to turn into a cough since I started writing this incoherent nonsense. I should be writing the next chapter in my book but instead I am rambling about, what? Whether or not writing is art? I have no idea. I have lost the thread of my original thought. The cold that has turned my brain into a red hot storm of snot has forced my imagination into some kind of fevered spasm of bollocks.

I have the urge to write but not the clarity to do so usefully. So now I have done this. I started writing with no plan and have ended up here, and you’re right here with me, wondering what the point of any of this is.
We are conjoined in an existential crises of blog gibberish. I will set you free so I can go and sneeze.

Let me leave you then. I am going to drink coffee, cough up some lung-butter (as Rachel so juicily calls it), take some Sudafed, and try again to write what I opened my laptop to write in the first place. Some good old fashioned gun-slinging pulp fiction.

Would you like a gun with that ice cream?

In researching gun shops in Morgantown, West Virginia, in 1870 I came across this ice cream shop. (It didn’t help in my research but it did make me smile).

Top Google review – “Ice cream and gun shop, what more could you ask for.”

Isn’t America a weird place?

I remember meeting my parents in America once and as we travelled from Boulder City to Las Vegas we drove past a burger restaurant with a sign outside that read, “Enjoy a burger and fire a machine gun.”

I think it was called Burgers and Bullets.

And people think the western is a dead genre. In a place where you can ask for extra pickles and ammo, a scoop of vanilla and a Glock G19, the Wild West is still alive and kicking in the unbridled hearts of a number of its inhabitants.

Cover reveal tease and newsletter news!

Cover reveal for Jack’s Game!

Next weekend I’ll be revealing the cover. This is my vain attempt to build buzz.

It finally has a release date! My debut horror novel, the one I’ve been working on for two years, will finally be published this Halloween!

If you want to see the cover before everyone else, and get a FREE horror story right NOW, all you have to do is sign up to my newsletter. The link is in my bio.

http://www.subscribepage.com/gnome

When you subscribe you will get my horror retelling of the Brother’s Grimm story, Gnome for free. It is a homage to the creature features of my childhood. This is my Gremlins, my Critters, my Ghoulies!

Melody and Faith just wanted to pick fruit, but a cursed nursery rhyme could kill them both…

When you’re playing by the tree

Eat the fruit and then you’ll see

Eyes like marbles, black and small

Teeth like razors, sharp and cruel

If they find you feed them bread

Or you’ll end up dead, dead, dead!

Eat my flesh and break my bones

All should fear the twisted gnomes

– Playground rhyme*

*WARNING: DO NOT SING THIS RHYME IN THE WOODS AT NIGHT