So, What Do You Write?

So, what do you write? An innocent enough question, yet one that tends to fill most writers with instant fear and panic. Unless, of course, you’re one of the sensible ones who only writes in one easy to categorise genre. Oh, how nice that must be; to be able to answer quickly and succinctly, ‘I write romance,’ or ‘I write crime thrillers.’

For those of us who write in multiple genres, this is the question we dread people asking. Imagine the scene. You’re getting to know someone, or chatting to a stranger to pass the time at a bus stop or in the doctor’s waiting area. They ask politely what you do for a living and you say you’re a writer. (You probably wave a dismissive hand almost immediately and tell them that you also have a day job…) Or maybe they already know you’re a writer, maybe someone told them and they’re asking out of curiosity. They like to read, you see, so of course they want to know what you write. And you freeze. You look for an easy, quick answer, as neither of you want to drag this out too long, but there isn’t one. So, you start mumbling incoherent sentences about, ‘a bit of this and a bit of that…’ Before you know it, their eyes have glazed over and they no longer take you seriously, if they ever did.

I have always dreaded this question. When I first started publishing my work, I had no idea what genre my books were or how to categorise them. Amazon and other platforms force you to think about this if you haven’t already. You need to allocate your book a category and you need to choose keywords, for example. My first novel was YA but I didn’t actually realise it at the time – I had just written the story that was in my head, and at that time, I had no plan to market it towards a certain audience. Obviously, since then I’ve learned a lot and I now realise how important genre is in marketing your book, from the cover, to the title and the blurb.

My next books were The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series and I still struggle to explain what genre this is! The main character is thirteen in the first book, but twenty-four in the fifth, so I can’t really call it YA. It has a lot of crime and drama, but I would say the psychological elements are stronger. Having said that I wouldn’t really want to call is a psychological thriller. It has elements of suspense and horror, plus coming-of-age. Heaven help anyone who asks me what it’s about…. They’ll be stuck there a while.

Not being sure of genre or category is one problem, but what if you also continue to release books in different genres? It makes it hard to build a loyal audience, that’s for sure.

After that series, I released This Is Nowhere. At heart it’s a family mystery – the main character returns home to try and discover what happened to his mother who vanished when he was a boy – but it’s also an examination of mental health and in our ability to find meaning in life. Tricky. After that I wrote The Tree Of Rebels, probably the one and only time I decided to write a book to fit the market. At the time YA dystopian books were becoming very popular and as I had an idea for one, I decided to write it and market it as such. It ended up being the hardest book to write for that reason. Like someone was watching over my shoulder the entire time.

Since then I have released Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature, a book I still find hard to categorise. Its literary fiction; character driven with a young narrator, yet its not YA. My YA trilogy Holds End was easier to classify as YA, but it’s also a mix of things; coming-of-age, crime, drama, thriller, murder mystery…

I’ve released two short story and poetry collections, and two books so far in a co-written YA supernatural/paranormal series. I’m currently editing The Day The Earth Turned series which is YA post-apocalyptic, and I’ve written first drafts for more crime/drama/thrillers and a YA horror/fantasy… That’s not to mention the zombie apocalypse story I started a while back, and the family mystery/psychological thriller I’m making notes for…

It would be great to write in one genre. It would make life far easier for me. I would be able to call myself a horror writer or a crime writer and I would be able to market my blog and social media pages with this in mind. I would be able to work on building a loyal following of readers who know what to expect from me. Instead, the small amount of readers I do attract, never know what to expect next. YA supernatural, followed by YA post-apocalyptic, followed by gritty, crime drama?

There’s no doubt writing in multiple genres makes it harder to market and sell books. It’s almost as if people don’t take you as seriously as the writer that always writes to one genre… I’m not sure why.

I have come to the conclusion that I shouldn’t waste too much time worrying about it. Sales and reviews are hard to come by, but ideas certainly aren’t. My head is full of them. And whether the next idea is a murder mystery, a post-apocalyptic horror, or a story about shape shifters, I don’t think I’ll be ignoring it. How could I?

In many ways, writing in multiple genres keeps things fresh and new. I’m having fun so hopefully my readers are too. And there are a few things that all my books do have in common and I’m not too shy to mention them here. They are all a little on the dark side, often examining the worst elements of human nature, and they are all very character driven. My aim is to make you fall in love with my characters as much as I have. So, if you like things a bit dark and you want to make some new friends you will wish were real, you’ve come to the right place.

And the next time I get asked what I write, do you know what? I am going to hold my head up high and tell them the truth. That I write in many genres, and therefore, have something for everyone, no matter your tastes!

Addicted To Writing Or A Maladaptive Daydreamer?

My name is Chantelle and I am addicted to writing.

Or at least it feels that way… like a drug, a high, like something I crave for and cannot live without…

It’s always like this but its worse when a new story has truly captured me. Last week I blogged about the reasons people stop writing, and I mentioned that as a child and teenager, I wrote constantly and endlessly, before having a 10-year gap where I barely wrote at all. The way I am now is exactly the way I was as a kid and I recently discovered that it may even be a clinical condition. Maladaptive daydreaming is where people daydream so intensely that they subconsciously leave this world for one of their own creation. Within these made-up worlds, they create characters and storylines that they replay and tweak in their heads for their entire life. One person in this article https://www.theguardian.com/science/2022/aug/28/i-just-go-into-my-head-and-enjoy-it-the-people-who-cant-stop-daydreaming described it as like putting Netflix on and I relate to that in a big way.

Image by Pheladi Shai from Pixabay

As a child, I was nicknamed cloth-ears by my parents because it appeared I was never listening. I was the daydreamer, the one never paying attention, the one in her own little world. At some point, around the age of eight, I realised I could write these daydreams or stories down and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. I am at the mercy of the characters who live in my head and the drama that surrounds them. I identified so strongly with the people in the interview that the only difference between us was that I write my daydreams down and publish them as books! I kind of think these people are missing a trick if they don’t do the same!

I’ve blogged before about The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series, and how the characters grew in my head at the age of twelve. I’d lie in my bed at night and move them around, like watching a film that I was in control of. I still do this now, every night. As that series will soon have a spin-off and a crossover book, I think it’s safe to say that my daydreams truly have control of me. I’m not sure whether I am addicted to writing, or whether I am an intense maladaptive daydreamer, but just in case you are curious, this is what it feels like:

  1. I can’t stop thinking about my story from morning until night. I wake up with an urge to write and a head load of possible scenes and conversations and then I go to bed and lie awake, dreaming up more. Every night I fall asleep with my characters in my head.
  2. I can switch between worlds with ease. One moment I will be fully submerged in my created universe, hearing their voices, seeing their movements, picking up on every facial expression or nuanced gesture, and the next I’ll be back in reality, teaching a class, paying for shopping, filling the car up with petrol. My mind seems to know when to switch back without too much disorientation.
  3. Having said that, I do sometimes find it hard to concentrate on other things and this is especially tricky when I am writing a new story that is going well. Some stories take time and patience and lots of rewriting, whereas some of them just write themselves. Those are the best but they do make it harder to switch between worlds. At the moment, my WIP is completely taking me over to the point of obsession, and I find it is all I can think about. I find myself drifting off into noticeably thicker daydreams when it’s like this…
  4. I get a nervous feeling in tummy, because I am scared I’ll not do it justice. The story plays out like a film or a TV show in my head and it looks perfect. Perfect locations, settings, characters and dialogue. Fight scenes look flawless yet realistic, dialogue is spot-on, facial expressions are just right and if I could just encapsulate it as it is in my head, it would be perfect. Yet the tricky bit is writing it and trying to make it how it is in my head so that the reader can see what I see. I am never sure I am up to the job and this can make me feel quite anxious at times.
  5. It feels like having a movie on pause when I’m not writing. When I’m not writing, I feel quite torn away from it, quite lost. It’s like I’ve been forced to put a good book down when I am dying to find out what happens next,. It feels like leaving a movie on pause. They are all just frozen until I can think about it or write it again.
  6. I can’t wait to get back to it. The frustration I feel when I cannot think about my stories, or write them, is quite awful at times. I don’t really want to live in this world, but I have to. Because of this, I am constantly longing to get back to my world, constantly pining for it and missing it when I’m not there.

Whether I am addicted to writing or just an intense daydreamer who writes them down, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Writing has saved me time and time again and without it I know I would struggle. What about you? Were you nicknamed a daydreamer as a child? Do you still daydream? Do you write them down? Feel free to comment and share!

August Writing Challenge: Face In The Crowd

At the end of July I asked my Facebook page followers to give me some more random writing prompts to respond to and I had a great selection to choose from. I ended up blending two together for this weird little story. Author Paula Harmon suggested a story set within a crowd and author Sim Sansford posted a creepy picture of a faceless woman with faceless masks hanging on the wall behind her. I also played around with second person POV which was great fun! Please note, this is only a second draft and I will definitely be rewriting this story at some point, maybe even making it a bit longer.

Image by Keith Johnston from Pixabay

Face In The Crowd

You won’t see her coming.

Except maybe out of the corner of your eye…

And by then it will be too late anyway.

She seems to know who she wants; you see. She is a predator, stalking you, and you are the prey. Nothing more, nothing less.

Let me take you back to the last crowd you found yourself in. Heart already pounding faster than it should, prickles of cold sweat erupting on the back of your neck, while something tight and spiky curls into a hard ball inside your guts. You’ve felt it before. Bad things happen in crowded places. A human is never so alone as when lost in a crowd. You remember them all. Different types of crowds, none of them safe.

School assembly, remember that? Trapped on a hard varnished floor with your knees tucked up under your nose so that you don’t touch the people on either side of you. Not your friends. Never your friends. To the left, to the right, in front of you and close behind, surrounded, fenced in, unable to breathe. Always too hot. No way out. Panic beating its small wings inside your chest as your outward face insists that nothing is wrong here.

Supermarket queues… Not as hemmed in, but still, the heads bob too close before you and one glance over your shoulder reveals a horrifying snake of people behind you. You swallow fear and bite back the urge to run, because how weird would that be? Suddenly barging through, shoulders crashing into backs, pushing, shoving, running, running. You’d never be able to go back if you did that.

Christmas crowds: the hopeless horror of a shop wedged tight with angry, entitled bodies. You give up and go home and shop online. You don’t like crowds. Never have. Festival crowds. You gave those a go. Outside, fresh air, music thumping through your veins, alcohol and friendship spurring you on. You thought, I can do this! But then you made the mistake of looking behind you, seeing the impossible volume of human life, jumping, shoving, screaming, living, too fast, too hard, too close. You stumbled when they pushed and the pushing didn’t stop. You tried to pick yourself back up, breathless with fear, but they kept coming, trampling, not seeing you, because you had ceased to exist.

Remember, that was the first time you saw her?

Weaving her way through the herd with feline eyes, swivelling to take in every view; hunting someone down. She was tall, you remember that. Towering above the revellers yet hunched over to disguise it. Her neck swanlike, or snakelike. A small mouth, or no mouth. She pushed through them, not touching anyone, moving like oil, her pupils gliding eerily from side to side, until she reached out with a long hand, longer fingers, nails curled over and mottled grey. You saw her touch someone but you didn’t see what happened next because the crowd surged and you almost died.

That’s why I don’t like crowds, you tell anyone that will listen, I am not antisocial, just emotionally scarred from nearly dying. Broken ribs are nothing to laugh about you remind yourself when that chilly fear settles across your shoulders, telling you to turn around and go home.

Today the crowd bustle before you. They have taken over the entire square. It’s market day; you should have known. You shake your head at your own stupidity and lack of foresight. But you did the best you could – remember that – moving to a quiet seaside town, dead in the winter, smells faintly of salt and vinegar – humming with tourists in the summer but that’s when you stay home or go out on your boat. No risk of a crowd out on the water.

Today, market day, the crowd moves like a messy unified thing, a squirming mass of warm bodies and haircuts, small lives, red faces, sweat stains. You hate it. But you need to go to the post office, right on the other side. You sigh heavily, dramatically, your annoyance with these people’s existence out of proportion to their right to exist just like you. You’d fire a rocket launcher at them if you could. You still remember being trod into the mud. You shudder.

But you move. You have to. You can do this. They’re just people.

You step forward and before you are even ready, before you have taken the obligatory deep breath and shaken out your limbs, pulled your bag closer across your chest, the crowd sweep you up and take you.

This is what you resent.

This makes you wish you had a grenade in your coat pocket.

The inescapable claustrophobic nature of the crowd. Of people.

Just people, you tell yourself, but you know that’s not true. They’re not just people, not just this or that. Never underestimate them. Never expect the best. Instead, always prepare for the worst. For sickening body odour and hairstyles freeze dried into place, for sharp elbows and fat shoulders. For feet that trample your own. For bags that whack you out of your space. For bodies, thick and long and selfish and demanding, all moving, and moving you whether you want to be moved or not.

You grit your teeth put your head down and push through.

And then you see her.

Like you did when you were down in the mud.

Tall, hunched, otherworldly in her movements, she glides along, coming for something, someone. Lank pale hair hangs over her shoulders. She has her back to you, every bump in her elongated spine visible through the thin colourless dress she wears. Her arms are at her sides, the elbows jagged, the forearms raised and at the end of the wrists her long thin hands hang, fingers dripping, nails curled.

Your breath catches in your throat and you freeze, unable to breathe or move. Your scalp seems to contract and tighten under your hair and your entire body floods with ice cold fear. It feels like the world has stopped but it is just you, frozen while the crowd moves and circles around you. Unbelievably, they seem oblivious to the strange, hunched form who hunts among them. She doesn’t touch them as she glides between warm bodies and not one of them looks at her or senses her dark presence.

You want to scream out, do something. You open your mouth but nothing emerges except a cold puff of air. You stare in agony as the colours of ordinary life swirl around her and then slowly, you see her reaching out. For she has chosen someone, a woman. A small petite woman with bright red hair wearing a spotty blue and white raincoat.

The hunched woman reaches for her, claw like hand sinking into unwilling flesh and there is a small, awful moment when the woman with the red hair stops and turns and stares in haunting clarity up at the collector. But it is fleeting, a microsecond of agonizing helpless horror and then it is over.

The red-haired woman walks away unscathed, slouching through the crowd with her bag on her shoulder, none the worse. Until she passes you and you see that she no longer has a face.

But no, maybe you imagined it. You are seeing things. Panicking. It’s all this stupid claustrophobic fear that you have no control over. You find yourself moving, pushing through, determined to make it to the post office, determined to brush this off, brush it away.

But as you move through the crowd, you see her again. She is still hunting. Still collecting faces. She towers over the people, glassy eyes swivelling in hollow sockets until another catches her eye. Not you, not you, no, thank God. She does not look at you because if she did you know you would be helpless, unable to run.

This time she makes her way over to a young man chatting on his mobile phone. He is powering through the crowd in a hooded jacket and black jeans. He is smiling, laughing as he focuses only on his conversation. He is easy prey, too distracted to feel her sliding towards him. He freezes when she touches him and you see the same dull dawning horror explode behind his eyes before it’s over. His face is gone and he moves on, still talking.

You make it to the post office and shove your way, sweating, through the doors. You can’t get out of that crowd quick enough. You cower at the window, behind shelves of envelopes and pens. You peer out, determined to hide until the whole thing has dispersed. You won’t go out there again, not with that many people, not with her out there stealing faces.

‘Are you all right?’ a worried voice asks from your shoulder.

You glance at the little man who wears a tight expression on his weathered face. ‘Yes,’ you swallow hard and reply shakily. ‘I’m sorry but I’m not good with crowds. Do you mind if I wait in here for a bit until I feel a little better?’

He nods and smiles in sympathy and leaves you alone.

You peer back out at the ever moving, swirling, humming crowd of life. The shoulders and heads, the hats and coats, the faces and the faceless.

I will be needing more writing prompts for my September challenge so feel free to post any here!

The People In My Head

Being a writer means spending a lot of time observing people, writing down ideas, getting plot twists hit you in the middle of the night, hours leaning over a laptop keyboard pounding away and just as many hours staring helplessly at a blank screen. It also means editing, revising, proofreading and then all those on repeat. But one aspect of being a writer is a little less talked about and that is the phenomenon of having people living inside your head. And it really does feel like they live there. They don’t go away. Not for me anyway, not ever. All the books I have released have characters who at some point in my life have crawled inside my brain and set up camp. They’ve ignored the fact I am already working on a book and they have whispered and nudged and shouted and whined until they got their turn. You would think that once I have given them attention and written their story they would leave me alone, but you would be wrong. They stay there forever and sometimes pipe up again with ideas for a sequel… Writing their story does seem to shut them up a bit though. They seem happy enough to step back and take a back seat for a while. I guess they get bustled out of the way by all the desperate new ones. I have all my old characters in my head, and then I have the new ones too. These are the really noisy, insistent ones. They all want to be next. They overlap and jump the queue and keep me awake at night. They make it hard for me to concentrate on what people in real life are doing or saying! They distract me and overwhelm me and ultimately, they don’t stop talking until they feel they have been heard. So, as well as the old ones, these are some of the new characters I currently have living in my head. You’ll get to meet them all properly in time, but here is a sneak peek, if you like. Maybe introducing them to you will give me a little respite from them!

Hello Johnny – I know you are still there, still lurking, hovering, muttering in the background. I know you have bad asthma and are massively introverted so highly unlikely (at least in your dad’s eyes) to survive a zombie apocalypse – but once you are forced to move and act, you’re going to prove them all wrong aren’t you? You’re going to become a total bad-ass and a hero. Don’t worry, I’ve got the story, all of it, some of it in the notebook and the rest of it in my head because you’ve been very vocal lately. You’ve been through a lot already and you are a survivor. You are secretly in love with Billie, the girl in the cloak you met on the road – and you feel like its important to put down every single undead human even if it means risking your life to do so. A part of you enjoys all this and its that which keeps you awake at night. You are trying to get back home back to where you started, to wrestle it back from those who forced you out. Because you can do it now. You are not afraid. I’m listening, I am. Keep talking, keep moving, keep telling me your journey.

Reuben, Gus, Chess, George, Charlotte.…Gosh there are a lot of you. A whole community, in fact. Picking up the pieces after the adults were wiped out. I’ve left you alone for a while. I needed a break. But you’ve been creeping back, haven’t you? Letting me know that you are still there, hanging out in the remains of the old world, clinging to what you can, surviving, together. I love you all. I can hear you. It’s nearly time for you all to be heard.

Jesse, Willow, Jaime, Ralph, Paddy… yep, I can hear you too. I tried to shut you out for a long time but you guys really started hammering on the door recently didn’t you? I had you, I had your creepy town Black Hare Valley, but I didn’t really have the plot. But you guys started helping me with that and here we are… I’ve got the end in sight now, I know what you have to do, who you have to take down, why and how. It’s going to be quite a fight but you guys are stronger than you think. We’ve still got a lot of work to do as you come alive inside my head. So, keep talking. Knock back. Whisper in the night. Speak up on long walks. Let me know what you want and we’ll keep pushing to the finish line, I promise.

Alfie and Tom… You’ve been getting some attention recently. I’ve been plodding on, listening to you, looking back into your past to see you as children, to see what shaped you to become the men you are today. It’s been interesting, and traumatic, but we are getting there. Sometimes just a paragraph a day, sometimes more. You’ve been in my head for years! It was when I was writing the fifth book in The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series that you came forward, shyly suggesting your own storyline, your own place in that last book. You became so real, so much a part of that world, that I just had to give you your own book, your own time, your own back stories. I’m getting to know you better and I like that.

Lou… I know, I know, I started your sequel, then left it, started it then left it…. I’m sorry! All these other people started showing up, demanding their own time, desperate to be heard. I’ve got it all though, so don’t worry – I know what happens and I am sorry – It’s going to be another tough ride for you, maybe your toughest yet. You’ll grow up in this sequel, both you and Joe. Keep talking, I am still listening. You might just have to shout a bit louder than the rest of them!

There are others too. Once who don’t even have names yet… They wander in from time to time, muttering and shaking their heads. They’re not loud enough yet but one day they will be.