Hoxton Street Monster Supplies, Or: The Ministry Of Stories For Children

Good day my little falafel fillings! How is life treating you? No outbreaks of hysterical dancing I hope?

On Tuesday I went to London with Bill’s camera and was excited to see this shop for monsters. You might wonder how it makes any money? Well, there are either a surprising amount of monsters on Hoxton Street or it’s a cover for a children and young adult’s writing group. We’ll say it’s both.

The children are mentored to bring out their creativity and there was actually a group meeting in the next room while I took pictures of the front (see below), and all the while music from the 20s and early 30s played on an old style radio. I was in my own personal heaven!

Here’s a little video explaining it in further detail, then have a peek at their ghoulish and grizzly offerings. Here’s the address if you’d like to see it for yourself:

159 Hoxton St

London

N1 6PJ

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My Liebster Award Questionaire (And Nominations)

Hello! The other day my blog was nominated for a Liebster award. I may not have known what it was but I was very pleased as it made me sound intellectual, thus I purchased a pipe, a smoking jacket and crisps.

In actual fact it’s awarded to blogs with less than 3,000 subscribers. I must answer eleven questions given to me by Angela D’Onofrio and nominate 5-11 other bloggers, giving them 11 questions to answer which are at the bottom of this post (and they must then do the same). Here goes!

  1. What was one of your most random, unexpected inspirations? Probably the ones late at night when half asleep. It’s a cliche but ideas always come to me from dreams or sleepy thoughts.
  2. Which book made you realize that you wanted to be an author?
    I always wanted to write, or so my mum says, but the first time I clearly remember thinking I wanted to write my own books was after reading The Witches by Roald Dahl. I was so scared reading about all the horrible things that happened to children that I really wanted to make people feel the same.
  3. Is there a book that you absolutely love that’s the exact opposite of your “usual fare”? (Example: I hoard high fantasy, but have read Augusten Burroughs’ “Running With Scissors” three times.)
    I love Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, all of the sisters fascinate me. Actually it’s quite a gothic story so maybe it’s not so out of character. I laughed like a fool when I read Jenny Lawson’s ‘Let’s Pretend This Never Happened,‘ you should read it.
  4. Do you ever craft playlists for your writing projects?  (Please share some of the songs you’ve used, if you do!) I go a bit obsessive when it comes to music and writing. For specific projects I often hit on a song that keeps me going and play it on repeat. Sometimes it’s a playlist I find on youtube, but either way I keep the headphones on so I don’t drive anyone batty. Once it was this 20s jazz playlist on youtube. During the story A Piece Worth Millions it was anything by or including the vocals of Anneka Snip, such as this, and while writing Rainbows Suck I listened to Space Boots by Miley Cyrus. All in all a rather eclectic mix.
  5. Which authors do you read when you need to fine-tune your own writing voice? If I need assistance with personal style I try to stick to straight-forward prose about off-the-wall things. I love poetic writing but it’s just not me, so I might choose Alice In Wonderland or Leonora Carrington.
  6. What would your dream workspace look like?
    The Occult, 1920s room at Talliston House, Dunmow, Essex (but with a computer).

    The 1929 Occult Study at Talliston House
    The 1929 Occult Study at Talliston House
  7. Obligatory Writing Beverage of Choice Question! (Bonus points if it isn’t actually stereotypically coffee!)
    Diet Coke! And tea.
  8. CDs or MP3s (or, hey, vinyl or cassette)?
    MP3s. I love the idea that our possessions float in the ether.
  9. What’s your favorite Disney movie? (The former aspiring animator in me NEEDS to know.)
    I’m not really a Disney fan, however at the time I loved Beauty and the Beast, probably because it’s a fairly depressing one. I also quite liked The Little Mermaid. I loved Watership Down more than Disney (apart from that terrible song) because I enjoyed the violence and how much it upset other children. I also went through a phase of watching the Japanese Godzilla and it’s sequels over and over. I was an odd child.
  10. If you had to model your entire wardrobe after any fictional character, who would it be?
    I can’t make decisions so I’ll just say the gothic/rainbow/circus outfits worn by many of Neil Gaiman’s characters.
  11. Is there a theme which persistently creeps into your work, whether you want it to or not?  (Please tell me it’s not just me.) I’ve noticed my tendency to stuff as many bright colours in as possible, plus I seem to be currently pre-occupied with social media. It fascinates me how a person can be famous whilst sitting at home, and how much we bare ourselves to others.

There we have it! My nominees to answer the questions below are:

Leza Cantoral

Eraserhead Press

The Year of Halloween

Anastasia Catris

Betty Rocksteady

And my questions for you are:

  1. When did you first realise you were drawn to the strange and odd
  2. What do you love most about the strange and unusual
  3. What are your favourite books/art pieces/films/TV shows etc
  4. What do you want to say/show by blogging
  5. How easy do you find it to get an audience, and do you have any tips
  6. What are your creative/blogging goals
  7. Who inspires you, famous or not famous
  8. What’s your strangest memory
  9. Do you have a routine when you need to think up ideas
  10. What are you most proud of so far
  11. Have you ever had strong or unexpected responses

An Occult, Macabre Delight – Talliston House and Gardens

All pictures courtesy of the website.

Last weekend my friends and I decided to go look at a house. “Why?” You ask, “there’s houses everywhere. Look, I can see one now.” Well, yes, but this one “there’s one with a red door, and a green door, and…” Shush! As I was saying, this one is really special.

The 1929 Occult Study
The 1929 Occult Study

Talliston House and Gardens in Dunmow, Essex, has been a project of the owner, John Trevillion, for 25 years. It started as a regular ex council house and has become an art piece where every room exists in a different era, from a New Orleans voodoo kitchen to a late Victorian front room.

1960s Cambodia in the attic
1960s Cambodia in the attic

My favourites, however, were upstairs: a study from 1929 New York filled with occult books and props, a ‘haunted bedroom’ and 1960s Cambodia in the attic.

A Victorian front room
A Victorian front room

They’ve still not quite finished but there’s lots of things upcoming. They hold murder mystery nights, people can stay over on special occasions, plus there’s viewings, poetry and music nights (you can watch the videos on their youtube channel) and an event in October with actors occupying the rooms. Honestly, we thought it was wonderful. Visit if you can, and finally here’s a video showing how it was made (note: they had help completing it so don’t worry, they’re almost done):

A disturbing puppet show on being creative

Hello! I’m not very well at the moment and unable to sit at the desk too long (dry your eyes my little slices of pepperoni).

In the meantime here’s a puppet/animation film called Don’t Hug Me I’m Scared to inspire you to great heights of creativity, and it comes with a scary bit at the end so everyone’s a winner.

5 Reasons a spooky creative brain prefers winter

It’s that time again (almost). When a headless coachman appears out of the mist to take you to the cursed castle, and charges you double time on Saturdays (“But you went the long way round those crumbling gravestones”).

Nothing like a cup of haunted tea to warm the cockles

The good thing about being a creative type is that you can do anything and claim it as research: “What do you mean you spent the day watching the Twilight Zone?” “Shut up it’s research.”

So here are a few small reasons winter is best for anyone who likes to dally in the darkened spaces of art or literature or…something else.

1. Halloween. Yes, yes, it’s all commercialised and it’s for children etc, but who cares? Just for one year try not to be a Halloween McScrooge and celebrate the Day of the Dead with everyone else. Dress up, even if its as ‘your best friend who wears the exact same clothes as you.’ I began my first proper short story at school on the day of Halloween and ever since then its had a special place in my disturbed heart. I guarantee you’ll find some kind of inspiration, even if its a story about murdering trick or treaters.

2. Staying indoors. Let’s face it, writing or doing anything work related during summer is difficult and unpleasant. Maybe I’m alone here but I like knowing that the world outside is furiously cold while I sit indoors drinking tea and working/watching The Twilight Zone. Which brings me onto my next point.

3. Spooky films get spookier. It’s a cliche certainly, but there’s really nothing like watching a spine-chiller while the wind and rain howls against your window. Sometimes for extra cosiness I like to pretend there are zombies stumbling around my driveway too. That way I can feel smug that they can’t get me. Or can they?

4. Your surroundings are inspiration. Whilst its obvious you need to be wary of writing/painting/whatever in cliches, its hard not to think of great ideas when wandering through a mist clouded field. Just remember, focusing on the idea rather than lengthy descriptions of nature might be best. Unless your main character is a lecturer of some kind. Even then, maybe not a good idea…

5. More time to think. Summer is filled with Gestapo-like orders to have fun, but time seems to slow down in winter. People tend to vegetate and grow moss which is perfect for ruminating on thoughts, or simply trying to occupy yourself. You can either spend your winter obsessing on why Cathy brought all the men cups of tea and not you or Sally, or you can send your brain to another place and make up somewhere better. Or much worse, depending on what you like to do to your main characters.

So this was my little thought bubble on winter. I wanted to include the wearing of fluffy socks and colourful coats but it didn’t seem relevant, so I’ll just mention them here. Happy winter!

SCP Foundation – add your spooky stories

Today a friend alerted me to a website featuring spooky stories that the average person can add to called the SCP Foundation, although they apparently delete entries that don’t comply with the general tone etc.

They have been described thusly: “The SCP Foundation is a creative writing website centered around pseudo-realistic supernatural reports. The site allows members to author entries in form of reports and documents focusing on entities referred to as SCPs, which are objects whose existence would be considered scientific anomalies and often pose a significant hazard to human health or society.

If you’re still curious have a read of this.

Projects like this are fun, unusual and good practice, so what are we waiting for?

Professional tips

I found the first post shared here on Limebird Writer‘s site, and the second on the Creative and Professional Writer’s site.

Some of it’s fairly straight-forward but its easy to lose focus on simple things you need to remember ie. who your story is aimed at.

I’m going to own up to not being thick skinned; I’ve got thinner skin than… uh… a bat’s wing. It’s really thin skin apparently, I just checked. But…I always try to be ragingly polite no matter what and after half an hour of ‘woe is me,’ for some reason I just get on with it like a fool.

So anyway, here is Limebird Writer’s post:

 

I’ve been a professional writer for a fair while now, and in that time I’ve seen a number of people come and go. What most people don’t realise is that professional writing requires a far greater range of skills than merely ‘putting words on a page’. For a start, it requires superb organisation and an ability to produce quality content to a tight deadline. Writers also need to demonstrate a good working knowledge of their market, while proving themselves adaptable enough to write for any number of different audiences.

Think you’ve got what it takes?  Here are my tips for anyone hoping to start a career as a professional writer:

Get organised. Organisation is everything in professional writing. I really can’t overstate this enough. You can be the greatest writer in the world, but if you don’t know what it is you need to write, when you need to write it, and who you need to write it for, then you’re very quickly going to find yourself struggling.

Master your art. If your writing skills are going to earn you money, your grammar needs to be impeccable, and your proof-reading needs to be second to none. Not only should you be able to proof other people’s work, but you should also be able to proof your own!

Know your market. It doesn’t matter who you’re writing for, you need to know your market inside out. The more you know, the more you will be able to “bring to the table” as a writer. If you don’t know your market, it won’t take long before the cracks start to appear.

Prepare to sweat. Writing professionally is not easy. Nor is it well paid. Most of us do it because we love to write, or perhaps because we see it as a route to greater things. I tell you this now – if you want to be a professional writer, do not, I beg you, be under any illusions as to just how tough it is. If you want to earn the big bucks, I suggest you do something else.

Toughen up. Writing is tough. Writing for other people is tougher still. When it comes to writing on behalf of someone else very often you will find that it doesn’t matter how good your writing, or how well your work meets the criteria you were given, if the client doesn’t like it, the client doesn’t like it. As a writer, you work “at the coal face”. This means you take all the abuse, and receive very few of the plaudits. You know how the old saying goes: “If you can’t stand the heat…”

Get educated (or not!) You might be surprised to learn that you don’t need an English degree to be a writer. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that I’d almost recommend you don’t have one, though that’s an issue for another blog!

So… do you still think you have what it takes? I’d love to hear your thoughts below.

Until next time,

Mike”

 

And here is the Creative and Professional Writer’s post:

“5 tips for writing short stories

Short stories are a difficult art form to get right. Put too much in, and you’ll overload your reader with redundant information and they’ll get bored. Leave too much out, and you’ll alienate your reader and make them feel like there’s an abstract message they’re too stupid to pick up on. Get it just right however, and you’ll have an emotive, gripping, yet sparse narrative that captures a moment perfectly. Here are 5 things that any short story writer should think about before getting stuck in:

1. Show. Don’t tell.

It is important that you write in a way that allows your reader to experience your character’s actions, feelings, senses, words and thoughts, rather than learn them through description or summary within the narrative. By understanding this, your story will be vivid and relatable throughout.

2. Know your character(s)

People are complex, unpredictable and unique. It is your job as a writer of short stories to make sure that we as readers understand this about your characters without you simply telling us. A helpful task that will make this much easier is to build a web about your characters every detail. Age, personality, appearance, past, job, relationships and more. As much as you can. Fill a page with things that you wouldn’t even consider putting into a story. This is just for you. The better you know your character, the more convincing they’re going to be.

3. Choose your point of view

Who do you want telling your story? What is the narrative voice that you’re looking for? This will have a huge impact on the direction of your story. All perspectives have their pros and cons and it’s up to you to choose which one fits what you want to say.

• First person unites the narrator and reader with secrets and perceptions, but is always an unreliable perspective and can also lead to ‘telling’.
• Second person puts the readers right in to the story. They become the character, and are immediately engaged to confront possibilities. It is, however, vital that your character’s actions are real enough for readers to image themselves doing.
• Third person can be omniscient or limited, and allows you to be as intimate or distant with your character as you like. However, this is the most difficult perspective for maintaining a consistent narrative voice.

4. Create conflict/tension

With a short story you don’t have the luxury of acres of space to build a setting or context. This makes it more difficult to create conflict/tension within a certain scenario. You need some sort of opposition to your character. This can be against another individual, nature, society, God or even the character themselves. Make it clear exactly what the opposition is within your story, and understand exactly what your character hopes to achieve. Your prose style can also help create tension. Short, sharp sentences alongside longer sentences can really help dictate the pace and overall tone of your work.

5. Don’t ‘spoon-feed’ your reader

Subtlety is a key feature in short story writing. A reader wants to interpret your work in their own way and don’t mind a bit of ambiguity within the plot or character. Ernest Hemingway developed his ‘Iceberg theory’ as a way of helping writers understand that hinting to something within a narrative, rather than clarifying it completely can allow someone to read between the lines. He said:

If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them.

Subtext encourages a reader to take a more active role in a story and it is important not to ‘spoon feed’ the reader detail that, if written well, they can work out for themselves. It is important, however, not to be too abstract. There is a fine line between ambiguity and obscurity. Make sure that your hints are tangible to connect with reader.”

Et voila. Please do some writing now, otherwise you will upset me.