Random Blog-ettes

This pic will give you a clue when you read the final paragraph!

Bad Chico. I’ve been neglecting the blogosphere too much recently. So here are some more mini-posts I’ve started jotting down but not taken any further.

Breaking the Rules

I have a bone to pick with the Pre-Raphaelites. When I was doing A-level Art in school I was completely obsessed by their jewel-like clarity and hyper-realism. And, unfortunately, I aspired to it. It wasn’t until I started taking watercolor classes eight or nine years ago that I realized (a) that wasn’t my style at all and (a) watercolors are for the exact opposite. Yes, you can create photorealistic images with watercolor, but the greatest thing about this medium is its spontaneity. I needed to learn the techniques and the tricks, but now there are no rules.

The same applies to language. Breaking rules is one of the great joys of writing. Countless numbers of people write turgid and stilted prose because they never learnt the rules, but others who have learnt them, don’t realize that knowledge sets you free! Only a few, though, really succeed in subverting them completely. And I think that it only works once. Hilary Mantel, in Wolf Hall, reinvented that old cliché of present-tense narration and made it a living thing instead of a gimmick… but it lost much of its spontaneity in the sequel. Bring Out The Bodies was a subtle disappointment, because somehow it had stopped working.

The Ultimate Anti-Hero

I like Dexter very much, both books and TV, and that’s a pretty good trick to pull off if you think about movie adaptations of a lot of books. I like his sardonic voice and his easy competence both in killing really bad guys and beating the crap out of lesser bad guys. How he plays so many parts so very well; thinks he is dispassionate but loves his family so unreservedly. Though after the first season the stories of TV Dexter and Book Dexter diverge, I somehow have room for both versions in my head. Dexter is the lone wolf taken to extremes, and as a fan of the lone wolf I am, like many others, now rooting for a serial killer.

Timey-Wimey Stuff

Time travel keeps TV alive, and I’m not talking about Dr Who yet. Reinventing the past and the future, whether through historical drama or SF, is what it does best. In fact, if you think about it, everything you see on TV is set in a parallel world. (That’s why crossovers are fun. Imagine the team in CSI Miami vs. Dexter. He’d leave them standing.)

I have watched Dr Who since the very beginning, and that was 1963. I can’t say I’ve watched every episode, but I’m pretty sure I saw all of the First, Second, Third and Fourth Doctors’ adventures. Given that I first started watching it as a child, when I was first starting to write, it’s perhaps surprising that I never actually wrote a Whofic. Until now. I don’t know why, but after I finished my last writing job, a bit of fun crept into my head and started to turn into a story. My very first fanfic, folks, is here (though perhaps it’s less of a fanfic than a sort of riff on the Whoniverse):



One of my older stories

There was once a campanologist who, on being appointed Librarian of the Diocesan Guild to which he belonged, determined to make a full and comprehensive record of all the peal-boards, Ringers’ Rules, framed notices about bells and other items which adorned the walls of the ringing chambers of all the member towers.

The examination of these interesting signs demanded a quite considerable expenditure of time, and the necessary photographs of each board, notice, and other example of the signwriter’s and calligrapher’s art, proved costly in a more material sense.

Mr Lindsay was a keen, but by no means a professional, photographer: a few of his pictures of peal-boards turned, by some inexplicable alchemy, into pictures of whitewashed stone walls, and even, in one memorable frame, into a representation of Mr Lindsay’s own feet, encased in a pair of stout brown brogues.

However, by dint of perseverance and determined duplication of every single picture, he slowly but surely built up his collection.

As he journeyed farther afield, Mr Lindsay was occasionally obliged to stay away from home for a night or so. Since he was careful to arrange his trips to coincide with practice nights at these far-flung towers, he was usually assured of a welcome and a convivial evening at some local pub.

In the case of the Abbey Church at Norchester, Mr Lindsay was invited by Mr Williamson, the tower captain, to take advantage of the latter’s spare bedroom. Brushing aside any suggestion of payment, Williamson generously offered hospitality for as long as Mr Lindsay would like.

The Abbey, which Mr Lindsay had not previously visited, was a great, grey-gold, mostly Norman pile shouldering over the town in the manner of the monster in Kipling’s illustration to The Butterfly that Stamped. The district in which it stood was known locally by the curious name of Edinburgh Well: Mr Lindsay imagined this to be a corruption of Eadburga’s Well, she being the principal saint honoured at Norchester (although the true dedication seemed to be the Virgin, St George, and St Eadburga. The saint, it appeared, had been Abbess there while the town was under siege in the seventh century AD. No water was to be had, until, the tale said, Eadburga had driven a staff into the ground, at which fresh water had burst forth).

The Abbey’s huge tower, square as a fortress, was adorned by Victorian-looking pinnacles, which Mr Lindsay thought would be better away. Furthermore, the climb up to the ringing chamber was one of the most exhausting and vertiginous which Mr Lindsay could remember. He especially disliked narrow passageways between staircases which afforded dizzying drops onto the floors of churches. Those of Norchester did not even boast any kind of railing between the dubious safety of the pillars bordering their narrow cloister.

Mr Williamson was an elderly, if robust — he had to be, to make that climb on a regular basis — ringer of the old school which knows intimately the history of each man whose name appears on the peal-boards, and that man’s family history back to the time of the Norman conquest. Mr Lindsay could not have wished for a more knowledgeable guide, though he might have wished for a less garrulous one — for when Mr Williamson regained his breath (a matter of minutes after their entry) he immediately began to give his visitor the benefit of his own accumulated years.

“Now the clock bell’s the oldest in the county, she dates from about 1280, sort of a flowerpot shape she is, you’ll see, not like proper bells. For all they’re a motley selection, we like the sound of our old ten. If you’ll just come over here and give this notice a glance, you’ll see just how mongrel they are; but when you ring, you’ll find they go well: I pride myself on those bells, for all they’re on plain bearings and the tenor’s 32 hundredweight, you’ll not find an easier ring of ten in the country. Now, if you’ll be so good—”

Mr Lindsay allowed his attention to be drawn to a framed list of the bells and their founders, such as most towers display. The oldest bell, he saw, dated from 1630: this was the seventh; the most recent additions were the two trebles which were dated 1921.

“Now do you see this photograft here?” went on Mr Williamson, relentlessly. “That’s our two trebles from Gillett and Johnston, and there’s myself at age eleven or thereabouts. This here’s my father, Chief Verger he was then, who rang four peals including the first on the ten in 1926 — there’s the board next the window, Stedman Caters as you see, my old dad was a devil for Stedman’s principle, he held there wasn’t nothing else really worth the ringing, though he would grudge a bit of Plain Bob or Grandsire had we learners in the tower; I dare swear there was never a single thing else rung in this tower before the old man died. Now did you want to take a pitcher of that board? — ’cause if you do, I recommend we pull the tenor box over there so’s you’ll be up on a level with it.”

“Well, that would be quite useful,” Mr Lindsay found himself saying, and, moments later, found himself standing on the aforementioned box and peering at the heavy black peal-board through the viewfinder of his camera. He took a photograph both with and without flash-lighting, just in case.

After this, his gaze strayed to the adjacent window embrasure. The walls of the massive tower, not surprisingly, looked to be well over six feet thick; and, as the Abbey was situated in the highest part of Norchester, the windows afforded fine views over the town and the surrounding countryside.

Mr Williamson, appearing by his shoulder, startled him by bursting into speech once more. “Some folk say Romsey Abbey’s a finer church; Norchester’s bigger, and older, and we’ve more and better bells!”

“That would be the chapter-house, would it?” asked Mr Lindsay, indicating a demi-ruin, picturesquely ivy-cloaked.

“You’re right; and if you’ll look to the left — no, farther: you’re over the transept there; there, do you see?”

“What is it I’m looking at?” Mr Lindsay enquired, perceiving what might have been a smaller ivied ruin, just within the churchyard.

“Well, that’s the Well — as they say,” rejoined Mr Williamson. “You know the legend? No? They say as long as that Well lies within hallowed ground, it’ll go on giving fresh water. Edinburgh Well, they call it. Or Ada-burga’s Well.” (Mr Williamson’s pronunciation of the saint’s name defies exact phonetic reproduction.)

“The legend must be taken seriously, then,” Mr Lindsay observed, noting that the churchyard wall bulged out in a sort of D-shape in order to enclose the Well.

“As to that, if you’ve half an hour to spare, I could tell you a tale.”

“Of course I should like to hear it immensely.”

“All right, then; now if you won’t mind stopping here a moment while I go up into the clock-chamber and give her a wind, then we’ll have time for a bite of tea before coming back for the practice.”

Mr Lindsay took a few more photographs — sufficient to satisfy even himself — and was examining a chalked line on a blackboard when a series of thumps and bumps announced the reappearance of Mr Williamson.

“What method’s this?” Mr Lindsay asked.” I don’t seem to recognise it — the frontwork looks peculiar, unless someone’s been fooling around, and I can’t seem to work out what the treble’s supposed to do.”

“Ah! That’s because she rings the method. It’s a principle, like Stedman. That’s our own row of Changes, as old Bill Davis used to call it — St Ada-burga Caters.” (Mr Lindsay bit his tongue to restrain himself from making a rejoinder on the lines of ‘Does she, by Jove?’) “Well, now, I don’t hold with my old dad, what wouldn’t ring nothing but Stedman, but I do like the sound of an odd-bell peal, with the note of the tenor behind like the beating of a heart, steady and sure. It’s more like the sea when you hear the tenor turned in: you never know where she’s going to turn up next; but then, these days it’s all surprise this and surprise that and nine-and- ninety spliced, and where’s the sense in that, I ask you? But there it is, I suppose everyone’s got their opinions.”

The discussion of the peculiar traits of some ringers — most precisely, their predilection for ringing so many methods to a peal that they could not possibly know each one in its entirety — occupied Mr Williamson almost up to the moment when he and Mr Lindsay re-entered the former’s house. We find them settled in the back room some short time afterwards, partaking of mahogany-coloured tea and slabs of fruit cake.

Mr Lindsay committed the substance of Williamson’s story to paper that same evening, but we shall probably find it expedient to condense his record to some extent.

Mr Williamson was born, it appeared, in the year 1910. His father and grandfather had both been involved with the Abbey, the latter as a chorister; the youngest Williamson being tone-deaf, he was taken to the belfry instead and taught to ring at an early age by his father.

After the Great War (Mr Williamson was pedantic in his terminology, although he had done more for the town during the Second World War, as air-raid warden and unofficial guardian of the church) — Norchester, an unassuming market town, enjoyed an upsurge in prosperity. Through the late twenties and early thirties an enormous amount of new housing was erected, a matter of concern to the more old-fashioned or Luddite among the townsfolk.

Mr Williamson thought he himself would have been around nineteen at the time about which he spoke. At this time, representations were made to the church authorities with a view to acquiring some of the land surrounding the Abbey. The intention, apparently, was to create something on the lines of a cathedral close around the church, leaving the graveyard severely curtailed and incorporating the ruins of the chapter house, the cloister pavement — and the Well.

In those days, apparently, water authorities notwithstanding, the Well was still an important source of drinking water for the upper part of the town; and sufficient of its users took the old story seriously enough to make their own representations to try and keep the Well, at least, within church land.

Mammon, however, proved in this case to have a stronger influence than St Eadburga, and these pleas fell upon deaf ears. Work went on apace: Mr Williamson pointed out a small row of thirties “cottages” which had been among the first houses to be built in the Edinburgh Well area. (With predictable insensitivity these dwellings had been christened “Caledonia Close”. Several decades of weathering and the growth of numerous trees had served to make them quite attractive in the late summer sunshine.)

It was around this time that a fairly severe drought began to affect the south of England. Always sensible of any supernatural connotations, the great British public in the shape of the populace of Norchester (or at least, what might be termed the pro-Well faction) tapped its collective nose and made pronouncements as to its being a “judgement” on disregarding legends of saints and such-like. The season was undoubtedly a very trying one. Many of the good people of Norchester, Williamson maintained, still remembered the hateful nightmares which visited them at that time: visions of indistinct shapes which crawled with horrid deliberation and which glistened dully where the moonlight caught them. Williamson waxed so descriptive in his account that Mr Lindsay was convinced the tower-captain had not escaped the dreams.

“Of course it got terribly hot up in the ringing-chamber those nights,” Mr Williamson went on. “We didn’t have no electric fans neither, and even with all the windows open, well, if there’s not a breath of wind to stir the air, there’s not much a man can do about it. Anyway one practice night I was sitting out of a particular bit of ringing and I got to looking out of the window — the same one what you was looking out of earlier — when I thought I saw something odd about the Well. Now you know the way the heat-haze comes up off the roads — like the air’s disturbed? Well, thought I, that’s what it must be, a heat-haze; but if so, it was a devilish queer one, and al around the Well for a matter of a yard or so was distorted, as if I was looking through bull’s-eye glass, and shimmering; and for all I was so far away with my old dad yelling bob and single over the noise of the bells, I thought I heard like a buzzing noise coming from that shivering. And all of a sudden I didn’t want to look any more, and I came over shaken, and had to get down from the window.

“Well, the next thing was this. I’d got to wondering about that queer heat-haze around the Well, and of course I’d heard what folk was saying and I was thinking there was something in it; though what struck me as odd was the unpleasantness of it all: and why should one of the Almighty’s saints go around frightening people in such a way? Anyway, to cut the story short, me and another of the younger ringers, we decided to go and have a proper look at the Well; a proper look, as you can imagine, not meaning just staring at the stones and going away again, if you take my meaning.

“However, we’d got no farther than within about a yard of the Well when both of us got the shivers. I can’t speak for Reece, but I felt all the hairs on my arms and up the back of my neck prickling as if they was standing on end.

“‘Here, Williamson,’ says Reece, ‘can a well be full of static electricity?’ ‘Don’t talk rot,’ I says, ‘it must be atmospherics, or something.’ And we stood there a couple of minutes gathering courage. Then Reece made a sort of lurch towards the Well, as if he’d just got enough pluck to make that one move, but if he stopped he’d freeze — you know the feeling — and he was down inside the Well before you could say knife, with just his head and shoulders poking out. So I got a bit ashamed-like and took a couple of steps closer, and it was as well for Reece that I did, because when I looked at him again, he’d got an odd expression on, and I don’t think I ever saw anyone so white in the face.

“‘I say, Williamson,’ he says, in a sort of croaking voice, ‘someone’s got hold of my foot.’ ‘Give me your hand,’ I says, though I was near terrified out of my wits by that time, and I held out my hand. ‘No,’ he says, ‘I dursen’t let go,’ so I got hold of him by the shoulders and gave him a great pull. And for an instant it was like something was pulling back, then he came out like a cork from a bottle and the two of us landed in a heap beside the Well. We took to our heels just as quick as ever we could; and when we’d calmed down a bit I had a look at Reece’s boots, and it was just as if something had chewed the heel off one of them in one big bite.”

After this Williamson gave the Well a wide berth, but it appeared that something, at least, had not gone unnoticed, because from time to time a group of men would gather some little distance from it and appear to be deep in discussion — Church officials and property developers alike. At other times no-one would even approach the Well, and water was in very short supply.

Matters appeared to come to a head not many days later. The Abbey band had been ringing for a wedding — call-changes on the back eight being all the depleted ringers could manage, with only the two Williamsons and two others capable of method-ringing: a great many residents had taken to leaving the town for weekends in an endeavour to find somewhere cooler.

“We got through somehow, and then my dad and Mr Henshaw — he was tower captain then — had to go up the belfry for some reason; so I waited down in the ringing-chamber, and Reece stayed to keep me company. We sat and looked out of the window, not talking very much.

“Next thing was, I see a group of men, including the vicar and the curate, and a couple of men with crows, and Mr Spencer the carpenter, come across to the Well, and they stopped just about a yard from it, just the way Reece and I had done. Well, I nudged Reece with my foot, and he nodded and said ‘Sh!’ a bit curt-like.

“Now sometimes you can hear bits and pieces of what folk are saying from up there; but I’ve never been able to explain how I managed to hear all the conversation of those men who’d come to cap the Well. And if you asked Reece, he’d say the same: we heard every word.

“So anyway, there they stood for a while, and then I heard the Vicar say, ‘Well, I’ve no time to waste; if you think it’ll satisfy Norchester people, I’ll allow you to do it; but I must say I never expected a practical man like yourself to pander to such superstitious nonsense. Of course I’d prefer to keep the Well Church property: historically it’s part of the Abbey; but needs must, Mr Spencer, needs must.’ ‘Aye,’ says Spencer, ‘and you know the rest of that proverb as well as what I do.’

“Meantime the curate had been peering at the Well, and now he ups and says ‘I think you can get a good purchase about here, Potter’ — this to one of the workmen — ‘if you sort of prise it out.’ So the man come round, and put his bar in, and just at that moment there was a fearful crack and he dropped the crow as if he’d been stung; and then there was something rose up out of the Well like a piece of darkness, and I heard the Vicar say ‘Good God!’ And then they all took to the heels.

“What was it like? Well, I couldn’t really see it properly, even in the sunlight: there was still that queer heat-haze around; but it was more like a toad than anything else. But no-one ever see a toad that big. I think Reece could see better than I could; though he never spoke about it but the once, and what he said was that it had such a hungry look on its features —though it hadn’t seemed to him to have anything you could actually call a face — that he thought it would be waiting for him when his time came, and he hoped he’d have been a good enough Christian that someone else would intervene for him.

“Well, that’s the tale of the Well, Mr Lindsay; as you saw, it still stands on hallowed ground; and the water from it is as pure and sweet as any you’ll find the length and breadth of the country. But you can testify to that: you’ve been drinking tea made with it this past hour.”

Mr Lindsay, out of curiosity, took several photographs of the Well. Perhaps he had some idea that inexplicable amphibian shadows, invisible to the human eye, would show up on photographic emulsion; if so, he was disappointed.

© Chico Kidd 1987

First published in Ghosts & Scholars 12 (1990)

Reprinted in Summoning Knells (Ash-Tree Press, 2000)

Recruiting the Scoobies

This is Melbourne Library. The only connection with my post is that it contains words.

Wow. Hadn’t realized it had been so long since I blogged… Have finally finished the ghostwriting gig, which was unexpected fun. Now I really ought to get back to Da Silva #5, which has been sitting at the same stage for longer than it took me to write the first four books. That’s not a case of writer’s block so much as getting a bit cheesed off at having four unpublished novels lying around.

(changes subject before starting to rant…)

So. Apparently there are rules for recruiting your Scooby Gang, I suppose there are also marketing guidelines so they appeal to as wide a range of readers/viewers as possible. And of course nowadays you have to be an equal-opportunity employer.

Sadly (or perhaps not) neither I nor the Captain had read the recruiting manual when we began to gather allies, and yet we still managed to amass a remarkably diverse bunch of people, ranging in age from da Silva’s son Zé, who is about 13 at the time of Demon Weather, to the 50-something Montague Pierce. The gang includes Harris the werewolf, from Boston; John Yeoh, originally hailing from Hong Kong; the Captain’s wife Emilia, born in Venice; and Pierce, an Englishman who lived in Brazil for many years. The ghost, Zacuto, lived and died in Lisbon, murdered by a mob 400 years before. (Isabella‘s crew are a polyglot lot, as well.)

Having gathered this gang together, the core five kinda fit into what TV Tropes calls the Five-Man Band (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/FiveManBand): “a group of characters whose members fall into archetypes which all complement one another. They are a very specific team with skills that contribute to the group in a unique way.”

The Captain’s Scooby Gang have something more in common, however: All of them are damaged in some way. Da Silva, of course, missing an eye, has metaphorical as well as real demons to fight, a shady past which he mostly manages not to feel guilty over, and a reluctance to take on the role of hero for many different reasons. Harris considers he has no soul since being “wolfed”. Pierce, purveyor of hard-to-find books, is wilfully blind to to the inherent wickedness of his clientele because he has surrendered to fear. Zacuto can’t get over being murdered by the Inquisition (and who can blame him?) and Emilia is crippled not only physically but by society’s attitude to women.

None of this was planned, as followers of this blog will know. The only planning that goes into anything I write was neatly summed up by Joss Whedon when he made a comment on the lines of “Take some characters, and add some peril.” And, also: “Humor keeps us alive. Humor and food. Don’t forget food. You can go a week without laughing.”

Traveling without a map

Into The Woods — my first gallery sale!

I sort of don’t do plot. Form doesn’t follow function, at least not the way I write. And yet plot seems to happen, connections appear, things work out and come to a satisfying conclusion. I don’t know how it happens, and I can’t explain how it works— it just does.

But I am greatly impressed by writers who plan everything meticulously in advance, although I do wonder if the process allows for spontaneity at all. After all, creative usually equals chaotic (or so my partner tells me), and a writer should always be able to take a little detour from the path if the opportunity presents itself. I can’t imagine sticking so rigidly to an itinerary that you ignore an opportunity: it is the journey, not the exact route, that is important (unless you have a flight to catch).

Likewise, I can’t honestly say that anything in the Da Silva Tales was planned at all. It may seem a little bit bizarre to sit down and write a story without knowing the ending, but that’s just the way it works for me.

You might think from this that I live in a state of complete chaos, and it is certainly true that I try to avoid the kind of timetabled routine my mother kept to. It is also true that in my deadline-driven day job I never ever handed in anything late, so something in me is at least a little organised. (And I shelve my books alphabetically by author, too, but that’s because I have so many I need to have some way of finding a book I want!)

I have come to the conclusion that my subconscious is working its butt off to get me where I need to be. At the moment, I am ghost-writing a story for which I was given the best brief possible: a minimal one. Certain elements had to be included, and the word count was to be 25K. As I wrote, all the elements fell into place to make a coherent whole, and now at around 22.5K everything is all set for the big finish.

In other news, I sold a painting yesterday, my first sale from an exhibition as opposed to commissioned work. People eyed me strangely in the car park as I ran round punching the air and going “Woo-hoo!”

And the gold goes to Team GB… again.

Chico’s first marathon!

I live in west London, and I admit I did not want London to host the Olympics. But I’m a convert. Only the most miserable old curmudgeon could resist the carnival of it all, let alone the fact that Brits are winning medals like it was going out of fashion. This is an unfamiliar sensation to a Brit. Most of us have been resigned to our athletes sucking at pretty much every sport there is at international level, which meant that the last Olympics came as quite a surprise. This time it’s like “You only managed a silver medal?!”

Sport was never really a big part of my life, although I am a great advocate of exercise. At school, I was quite good at chucking things and hitting targets. I enjoyed fencing and rowing, though we only got do do interesting stuff like that in our final year. After leaving school, I played soccer for a while. As this was long before the days when women’s soccer was even recognized as a real sport, it mostly meant traveling to remote fields and floundering around in the mud for an hour and a half. I’m not that much of a masochist, so I gave it up when I went to university, although I kept up the running in a desultory kind of way.

Later I took up going to the gym, back when membership didn’t cost an arm and a leg. And yoga, partly because I could do it at home. I like working with weights, because I can lift a lot, and that’s satisfying. And I like yoga, because I’m naturally bendy. These are things I still do, although I gave up my gym membership a few years ago.

And I run. Ten years ago, I ran the London Marathon for the first time. I’m not sure why. Maybe it was just simply because it was there. Is marathon running fun? No. Is it easy? No. Is it worth it? Of course it bloody well is. Coming over the finishing line after a long period of slogging along and thinking “Why am I doing this?” is a fantastic buzz.  And so I did it two more times. Paula Radcliffe ran on both those occasions… I came in quite a long way behind her. I also got passed by a rhinoceros, an Imperial stormtroooper, and two girls dressed as apples, although I did pass most of them back.

Yeah, I guess that was satisfying. Suck it up, Horny!

Weird Noir; or, The Full Monty

Monty James, aka “Father of the English Ghost Story”

My first novel, The Printer’s Devil, was in the pure English Ghost Story tradition. Even though I am not writing in that style these days, my “apprenticeship” as an author in the tradition of M.R.James, known to his fans as Monty— with a cheery familiarity he would probably hate— still informs my work. Malevolence and terror – check. (Demons ‘R’ Us. And werewolves, zombies, sorcerers, golems, trickster gods, you name it.) Slight haze of distance – check. (The years before the Great War.) Clear-cut detail – check. But the tone of voice has changed, and so has the milieu. The Da Silva Tales have little place for academics (except a certain Montague Pierce… note the name!), being set in their own “surrealistic and macabre, yet amusing and slightly crazy world” (Peter Bell, All Hallows 36), yet they were born in a typically Jamesian piece, as Cats & Architecture was until the Captain barged in and took over my writing life. So the frame story features a writer working in off-season Venice and being led astray in traditional fashion by near-fatal curiosity, when the past intrudes and suddenly here’s Luís da Silva dashing about, fighting demons and kissing dead necromancers.

It’s interesting to look back now (the story was written in 2000 and has been followed by, at the time of writing, 19 more short stories and four-and-a-half novels) and see how the style has evolved. That central section of Cats & Architecture was still at least nodding to its antecedents; later tales, as soon as I had the Captain start narrating them, move to the “salty, choppy diction of the seaman” (Jim Rockhill, All Hallows 32) and are influenced more by Raymond Chandler than M.R. James, to the extent that Rick Kennett coined the description “Weird Noir” (a term I love) for them. The other main difference is in pace, of course. James’s advice, peerless for traditional ghost stories, “Into this calm environment, let the ominous thing put out its head, unobtrusively at first, and then more insistently, until it holds the stage”, has gone right out the window!

And yet, now and then the Jamesian creeps back, as if it’s my default mode. Witness the story María Lisboa: “Kidd’s deft command of ‘Jamesian’ techniques and themes is on display… M.R. James is also evoked in the demonic theme: pursuit by things unpleasant and references to an order based on that ill-omened place, Chorazin, which features in Count Magnus… it is clever the way the ‘Jamesian’ motif is incorporated into the world of da Silva” (Peter Bell, All Hallows 36). The only deliberate thing was the Chorazin reference, and I wasn’t even thinking of Monty’s use of it at the time! But I do borrow Jamesian references as much as any other source: the chest in Arkright’s Tale* is straight out of Count Magnus, and there’s a Casting the Runes moment in Heart of Darkness, to name but a couple.

I approach MRJ’s aesthetics unconsciously, I think: they are ingrained, as they should be in every writer of supernatural fiction. How we choose to use them is up to us. Which, come to think of it, applies to a lot of things, including language: you need to know the rules before you break ’em.

*Arkright’s Tale can be found in Rick Kennett’s and my anthology of “Carnacki” stories, No.472 Cheyne Walk, published by Ash-Tree Press.

A comment about size

My author copies of Demon Weather arrived yesterday. Wow! Ebooks are great because you can reach an unlimited audience, but there’s nothing like actually holding a copy of your book in your hand. To bring me down to earth, like the Roman slave muttering in Caesar’s ear “remember you are only human”, my other half has spent most of today jibber-jabbering about his collection of cigarette cards (he’s still doing it now, as I am trying to type), and his only comment on the actual book was “It’s rather big, isn’t it?”

Such stuff as dreams are made on…

What? I just like this image.

Dreams sometimes give me ideas, but not all that often. Fictional dreams are rarely believable, because (a) they are there to serve a purpose and (b) they come from a waking mind and are therefore too logical.

My dreams at the moment seem to be obsessed with the idea of me going back to university and doing another degree— and strangely, not the art degree I should have done in the first place, but re-doing law to get a better one than I did get— with fighting, both literally and metaphorically; and with travel, both impulsive and interminable. There is an entire rail network in my unconscious: it has underground trains… a route map… precarious trains like white-knuckle rides, but slower… abandoned stations… neglected backwoods trains that only I seem to know about.

I have quest dreams like puzzles, which I learn from and which then fall into place (I am not a computer gamer. My best attempt got Lara Croft eaten by a tiger). I run up mountains and along familiar routes. I dream of places I love, but in unfamiliar guises. My New York City is suburbia and my dream Maldives are less than paradise. Yet I feel at home in the former and edged out by the latter, even though I spent a dozen or so perfect vacations there.

So I rarely use my own dreams in my fiction, although this one formed the basis of an entire story (Hunting the Wren) back in 1991:

“Jack Scar was another dream. A little, lithe figure, just about four foot high, and covered with the softest and shortest of black fur. His eyes were bright and kind, and he delighted children with his wicked, charming wit, and the way he mischievously but gently nipped their noses with his long scarlet beak which looked as if it were made of felt. An imp, perhaps, but a kindly one. Someone told him that he wasn’t a performer in a costume, but an automaton: he was vaguely disappointed. They showed him yellowing, tattered programmes of Jack Scar’s show, the red inks softened into the paper like an old comic; and he remembered, then, that the beaked imp had charmed him, too, in childhood. Leafing through the brittle memorabilia he seemed to remember other fragments of the shows: a many-armed machine which convulsed the young audience with laughter — remembered, as he looked at the programmes, many, many times that Jack Scar had woven magic round him…

“How could he have forgotten him?”

Yes, quite often I can work out why I dream something, but never did with that one.

Where do they all come from?

You’ve probably seen this image before, but doesn’t Harris make a handsome wolf?

Most, if not all, the characters in the DaSilva-verse arrived unannounced. I knew from his first appearance that the Captain was married, but not that his wife’s name was Emilia. She made herself known in the second short story, as did Father Pereira. It’s difficult to explain just how this happens. Because I don’t plan what I write, other than knowing more or less how I want the story to end, characters tend to pop up when they are needed.

I didn’t know, for instance, that when John Yeoh first appeared in Demon Weather, what he could do and why. I didn’t know that the ghost Isaac Zacuto was going to play such an important part, or how the witch Paciência’s daughter Luzia would grow. I certainly had no idea that Teresa Batista would do what she ended up doing. There’s more to everyone’s story than I’ve either written down or yet discovered. I find out about my characters mainly by writing them, but sometimes a fact pops into my head at other times. If I need a good think about something, I go for a run.

Most of the advice that is given to authors doesn’t really work for the way I write. I can’t for the life of me sit down and plan a chapter, let alone an entire book. (Writing a synopsis is the task from hell.) “Write about what you know” is a rubbish piece of advice, not to say a lazy one. If every author adhered to that one, there’d be no fantasy or science fiction.

Raymond Chandler once said that if the action flagged a bit, he’d make a man enter with a gun. I’ve been known to introduce a demon for the same reason. A lot of my demons come from Collin de Plancy’s 1863 Dictionnaire Infernal, but I put my own spin on them. That’s the trick with using supernatural nasties, unless they’re completely original: take your basic vampire or zombie, and give it a twist.

There’s nothing particularly original about Harris the werewolf (at least not in the first novel)— good wereguys have been around for some time, and Oz in Buffy was a member of the Scooby Gang— but John Yeoh is, I believe, an entirely original kind of supernatural. Zacuto is a ghost, but a very useful one. When it comes to vampires, in the third novel, I’ve made my own vamp lore by the pick’n’mix method.

For me, writing fiction is fun. I lost that for some years before the Captain saved me from the dreadful affliction that is writer’s block. The feeling of sitting in front of a screen with words coming out like sludge rather than quicksilver, is profoundly horrible. Fingers crossed, though, the muse is now here to stay.