Tag Archives: fantasy

Getting Serious about Writing (wk11&12): There is no ‘normal’ any more

Our world has changed. If we’re honest with ourselves it will probably never return to normal. Even if this virus disappeared tomorrow we’ve all had a rare chance to take stock and rethink the way we live. That sort of objective look at our lives can’t be unseen.

Businesses and other organisations are considering closing offices and allowing staff to work from home in the long term. Schools, colleges, and universities are implementing strategies for distance learning. The nature of how we do business, how we learn, how we communicate, how we socialise, it’s all different.

For some, these changes will be costly and difficult, for others their lives will improve. For most of us, we’ll have experienced a mixed bag so far.

What is different for a Self-Published Author?

Over the past few months, my experiences have been mixed. Financial issues which are probably pretty common have risen and fallen back. The work I do when I’m not being a ‘proper writer’ has changed a lot too. Behaviours are different. The rhythm of the year is different. I’m different.

For a long time, I’ve been aware of just how much my life outside of writing has changed but I kept thinking that my writing itself hadn’t really been affected.

Being stuck inside in front of the computer is hardly a change from the ‘normal’ day of a writer. However, my motivations for writing have been changing in subtle ways and a bit of self-reflection has led me to understand that I really am the sort of writer who writes for an audience.

I used to look down on this approach a little. After all, your ‘authentic’ story can’t be pulled every-which-way by your concerns about how someone ‘might’ react. However, while I still see the importance of story integrity I have to confess that it can be hard to motivate writing when you can’t at least imagine some reader at the end of all of it.

I write most of my books for kids and I know that school author visits and workshops (the way I normally connect with my audience) are going to be deeply affected by what’s going on. In short, I’m currently working on a book with the niggling worry that the only person who will ever read it will be me. This is a big step backwards from the ‘proper writer’ I have come to see myself as.

What do you do when you can’t see your audience?

Photo by Alan Cabello on Pexels.com

So what do I do? My first effort to reconnect with my audience was a website where children can share their stories with the world. A place to vent and communicate with one another. They can write what they like (though any content for older readers should be tagged as such).

I launched this initiative after about two or three weeks of solid work back in March. The site isn’t perfect but I can make more improvements once I see it in use and understand what needs to be fixed. It’s free to use and all it takes is joining as a contributor (I made it sign-in only in an effort to increase security and safety).

I publicised it on my social media platforms. I told teachers about it, in the hopes that they might share it with their classes during virtual lessons. I messaged parents I know to see if their kids might be interested. I did a lot to tell the world it was there. Other than my kids, one person signed up.

The tougher side of Self-Publishing

free creative writing course for kids celebrating stories literacy scottish curriculum for excellenceI’m going to stop here and point out that this isn’t a ‘poor me’ post. This is an effort to highlight the reality of life as a self-published author. All you can do is play to your own strengths but sometimes you have to realise when something isn’t working.

Take two: I went back to a writing course for children which I had put together back at the start of the year. It’s the product of a month of work and is linked in as many ways as I can to the Scottish Curriculum for Excellence (the curriculum utilised in Scottish state schools).

This course was originally designed for use in classrooms but I took another pass at it and tried to change it to cater to virtual learning environments too.

Another fortnight went into these updates, and finally, it was ready to launch as a weekly series of e-mails. E-mails would appear in a teacher’s inbox and contain both the teacher’s guide (highlighting outcomes and other curriculum features covered) and class printouts for the kids (for use in class or at home).

I launched this back in August. Sharing it on social media and directly with teachers. To date, no one has signed up.

Keeping track of the things you have control over

Photo by Roman Koval on Pexels.com

Again this is not a ‘poor me’ moment, this is the raw edge of self-publishing. If no one is enjoying what you are doing you don’t have the buffer of an agent, or a publicist, or even a PA between you and this fact. You instantly know that it didn’t work. You need to be able to rally when this happens.

This week I will be contacting teachers and schools to offer free (virtual) book talks with their classrooms. Scottish book week is coming up in November and I normally book in at least a couple of in-person talks in the week.

Will the virtual alternative be well received? Will I be able to book virtual events like this (having never really done anything like it before)? I have no idea. It might fail. I might get no response to this as well. Or it might all go brilliantly. The reception is not in my hands.

What do I do if this effort too goes pear-shaped? For starters, I don’t blame the teachers/schools. Their world is in considerably more of a mess than mine is at present so it would be churlish for me to get annoyed at them for the failure.

Instead, I have to step back and look at each initiative as a product. This is where I fall back on my retail background:

  • Does this product (school talks/ 10-week free writing course/ story-sharing website) satisfy a need?
  • Is it a good in itself or does it bring about a good in a way which can’t otherwise be achieved? (e.g. food may be a good in itself, exercise is only good in that is leads to improved health)
  • Is the timing of the release of this product offering someone a way of making life easier for themselves or a significant other?

The checklist could go on for miles but the point is that each free initiative I have offered so far can’t win purely on the fact that it’s free. It needs to serve a purpose or bring about some good that my target audience needs/wants.

If no one goes for it then something about it didn’t catch. I have to drop it or rework it until it better serves its purpose. The problem could be as simple as the fact that our teachers are currently wildly overworked.

Perhaps nothing I’m offering helps with that. Instead, a 10-week writing course might be perceived by teachers as more work, rather than as fulfilling it’s intended purpose (an effort to lighten the load for teachers planning a week’s lessons).

Find the solutions within

Being self-published (sometimes) is a million miles away from sitting at the desk and writing. This can be disheartening at times but my personality type deals with this sort of thing analytically. I find my way forward by analysing factors, amending variables, and trying again.

Your own strengths may be very different. If you are more expressive perhaps a more active social media/YouTube presence might benefit the sales of your books. If you have a more PR/advertising mind you may have the fortitude to fire through several dozen calls in a day, drumming up interest in what you do (I personally find phone calls to be one of the most daunting of all the PR type jobs).

There might be no such thing as ‘normal’ life anymore but none of us is ‘normal’ anyway. Play to your strengths and push on. It’s a strange new world and the next big idea you have might well be the thing that gets your book(s) noticed.

I hope this week’s post hasn’t been too much of a downer. On a more positive note, my newest book is now back on. I had a blip for a few weeks there but the sleeves are rolled up again and I’m getting back into it. I had a deadline in mind for this book but missing a deadline shouldn’t be a reason not to finish what I started. This book will get out into the world.

In the meantime please feel free to visit my author page on amazon to see the books which already made it out into the world (it never hurts to throw in a quick wee plug).

Hope you’re all doing great and, as always, thanks for reading (those reader stats make it all the easier for me to sit back down and get back into it. I really do appreciate you stopping by).

Comments below are more than welcome,

All the best, John

Behind you!…

An eerie whistle sounds behind you.
There’s no one there.
He’s hiding now. Hiding in your phone, in your tablet, your Kindle Reader…
Yep, ‘Marcus’ (my dark fantasy/horror novel for readers aged ten and up) is now on Kindle reader and the Kindle app for Android and Apple. Pop over for a look now, click this link to find ‘Marcus’ on Amazon.co.uk.

Why did I wait so long to launch the Kindle edition?

Some readers may know (many may not) but ‘Marcus’ actually came out in paperback well over a year ago. I had a proper book launch and everything.

Prior to that, a less polished edition was made available here on my website on a chapter by chapter basis (you can still read the whole thing if you like, just follow this link to chapter one of ‘Marcus’). It was my attempt to replicate the old newspaper serials which worked so well for Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, H. G. Wells, and Arthur Conan Doyle.

All of my other books up till that point had been available in print and on Kindle but, on this occasion, I held off. I’m not sure why; possibly because I enjoy the face-to-face nature of paperback book sales. Either in communicating with a retailer or in signing a paperback copy, there seems to be something more ‘human’ to the whole business of paperback books.

However, this face-to-face contact isn’t a safe option in the current climate and I’ve come to realise that without a digital copy I won’t be able to engage with readers at all.

Please have a read and tell me what you think

Whether you read the serialised copy here or the Kindle edition of ‘Marcus’ I would really love to know what you think. Being cut off from your audience isn’t an easy thing and it would be great to hear from anyone who reads any of my books.

If a dark fantasy/horror doesn’t sound right for you, then feel free to have a browse of my Author page over on Amazon. It would be great to chat to any readers at the moment. You can find me on Facebook and over on Twitter.

Hope all is good with you,

As always, thanks for reading,

All the best, John

 

Horror at Ruthvenfield Primary School!

ruthvenfield primary school book writing workshop ruthvenfield's portal to the nineteenth 19th century author john bray perthshire scotland

Over the past few months, I’ve been working on an exciting new project with pupils from Ruthvenfield Primary School. Pupils from their p6/7 class have worked long and hard to create their very own book titled ‘Ruthvenfield’s Portal to the 19th century’.

I didn’t want to post about it until it was all ready. There can be a lot of changes to a book even after a first draft is completed so I felt that it was best to wait until they were ready to share their creation.

I just got back from a wee event they put on today in the forest that features in chapters three and four of their book. (I even got a wee thankyou from the kids written in sticks in some eco-art they worked on this afternoon).

Now that the book is here I’m so glad to finally get the chance to share what we’ve been up to.

More than a one-off workshop

One of Ruthvenfield’s pupils read one of my books (‘Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame‘) and his mum suggested to the headteacher (Sarah Burke) that she get in touch. Initially, I was happy to put on an ordinary book talk for World Book Day but Mrs Burke asked me if I would like to do a workshop as well.

I’ve always wanted to try something a bit different when it comes to workshops. I thought that it would be good to have the pupils themselves put in all of the work; creating their own book from start to finish, illustrating, editing, and marketing it. As far as I could see this was the best way to let them feel invested in their work.

This sharing of the workload also helped them demonstrate excellent teamwork. The project was a little ambitious, as it tied in a creative writing project, with young enterprise components, as well as a degree of community engagement/PR/marketing elements. I knew from the start that we were asking a lot of the pupils but they seemed up for it.

Exceeds Expectations

The pupils put together something fantastic. They’ve surprised me often, not that I had low expectations, it’s more that I knew this would be a challenge and they’ve met that challenge and gone above and beyond.

I left as many decisions as I could in the hands of the pupils. During our initial workshop, we listed genres and subjects on the board (nominated by the pupils) and they voted for their favourite; a horror story, focussing on relationships (both enemies and friends), set in their own school.

From this moment on they seemed extremely connected to their book (once the writing itself began one pupil, off ill, even logged in to the shared editing system and worked on his chapter). Miss MacKenzie (the p6/7 teacher) noted that they were all highly motivated to make their book as good as it could be.

About the book

I had the enjoyable task of looking over their work and offering editorial comments. It is a genuinely fun (and scary) read. It follows a group of classmates as they are flung into another time with a set of tasks to complete. If they fail they will never be allowed to return to their own time.

It’s a unique story with a perspective on primary-school-aged children that is both enlightening and very honest (because it’s written by primary school children). The book was divvied up with chapters written by small groups of pupils.

Despite the shared workload, they had a structured book plan and character maps for their main characters so the overall tone of the book is coherent and makes for an accessible read. I’m probably biased but I strongly suggest you get hold of a copy.

Copies are available from the school at the end of the day tomorrow (27th June), or from Fun Junction in Perth and Crieff. Priced at £4, it’s a great summer read for anyone aged eight and up.

For Teachers/Group Leaders/Educators (Obligatory Self-promotion)

This was a new take on my usual school visits but one that I feel went very well. If you would like to run something with your own class/group please get in touch.

The full writing task from the first workshop to a finished, printed, book is a complex and multi-faceted project.

In theory, a class could have a finished book in as little as two to three months (depending on the level of time that pupils have available for it each week).

It’s definitely possible to start in September and have a finished book completed in time for a school’s Christmas fair. However, I would personally recommend spreading the workload out a little further (especially for a larger school).

A more realistic timeframe would be to run from September until the following spring. This would allow pupils more time to work on their book. What’s more, this timeframe offers the added benefit of additional time to organise a ‘book launch’ event where the authors can sell (and autograph) their books.

I still have dates available for initial workshops in September (2020) and I’m happy to discuss additional details and requirements. You can reach me by e-mailing: greenflamecreative@hotmail.com

All the best, John

Reminding an Author about writing: Visiting Braco Primary School

This post is long overdue. I normally like to post about a school visit within a few days but I’ve been swamped with writing/book related work over the past couple of months.

Finally, I have a little breathing space so I thought I’d pop on and talk about my visit to Braco Primary School.

I was lucky enough to get to talk to the whole school. The children were brilliant, welcoming, and they asked some really interesting, and surprising, questions (like ‘Do you talk about ethics in your books?’ and ‘How does an author make money?”).

Everyone likes a story

multi colour rainbow shoes john bray author crieff perthshireI don’t always talk to younger year groups, as the Jack Reusen books are aimed at children aged 7 years and up. However, I came prepared with a wee story I wrote a while ago called ‘Drip the Bogey Ogre’ (you can read the whole thing by clicking this link). The primary ones and twos were lovely and we had a fun five minutes or so talking about my shoes as well (I wore my multi-coloured shoes).

From there I went on to talk to the older school. There seems to be a collection of would-be authors in the older school and they all had questions about improving their writing and about aspects of the writing process like motivation and inspiration.

I hope I didn’t sound too repetitive but one thing I kept going back to was the fact that writing is like exercise; you need to do it regularly to be in good shape, and you have to have good quality ingredients to put into it.

With writing, you get out what you put in

Just as a healthy body comes from regular exercise and good nutrition, so too does a healthy capacity for writing come from writing regularly and consuming only good quality books.

These sorts of things always have more impact when you use an example. I shared an experience from when I was writing ‘Marcus‘ last year. At the time I hadn’t written a horror story for young adults (12 and up) before so I started reading around to get a feel for the topics and limits associated with that age group.

Some books I read were fantastic but there was one (it will remain nameless) that was less so. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the story but I didn’t see what it was doing to my writing until editing time came along. It turns out that the chapters I wrote whilst reading this particular book were some of my worst, characters grew flat and I found it hard to get my bearings. Much editing was needed before they went public.

This was my takeaway advice for Braco Primary’s writers; do everything you can to make sure that what you are reading is good. Combine this with paying attention to the world around you in your own way. Understanding what your own point of view is will enable you to find your own voice. However, you’ll find that, only by reading work by experienced and talented authors, will you be able to make that voice as articulate and coherent as it can be.

Thank you for the enthusiasm boost!

Not only was my visit to Braco Primary an enjoyable one but their questions and enthusiasm for writing gave me a much-needed boost in the midst of this year’s NaNoWriMo (something that’s always welcome).

Thanks again for having me Braco Primary. I hope you enjoy the first two Jack Reusen books and I hope to have book three ready in the near future.

It’s Here!!!!

Marcus is now available as a printed book, you can pick up a copy from Fun Junction or order one to be delivered to your home by clicking this link (the price is £6.99, which includes UK postage).

If you would like to go back and read a draft version of the full book you can follow this link to chapter one of ‘Marcus’.

An eerie delivery?

On 31st October I received a delivery, one that I’ve been anticipating for a while. I have to admit it’s a little eerie that a dark fantasy/ horror story would be delayed so that it arrived exactly on Halloween but that’s how it went.

So… ladies and gentlemen boys and girls…may I introduce to you the print version of ‘Marcus’.

Set in Crieff, Perthshire, over varying time periods, this story follows the disappearance of numerous children, leading the reader to the slow realisation that something really isn’t right about Marcus.

From frenzied beginnings

I started writing ‘Marcus’ exactly a year ago to the day. This book was a departure from my usual. My other books are fantasy stories but they’re all part of the same series centred around a boy called Jack Reusen.

These books are aimed at children from primary 3 (around 7 years old) and upwards. Aside from the fantasy and (some) locations, there’s only one real thing that ‘Marcus’ has in common with these books.

Every book I’ve written has been the result of a writers community called NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Every November I disappear into my computer and craft a new story. NaNoWriMo pushes writers to complete 50,000 words in one month. So far I’ve never failed (which still surprises me) but I can’t pretend it’s easy keeping the pace to write that much in just thirty days.

In 2017 I decided to try my hand at something new. Not only was I going to write a darker, older, book. On top of that, I was going to use short punchy chapters to allow me to publish it as a serialised novel.

Tuning in each week

I can’t thank those who read my serialised version of Marcus enough. Knowing I had people ‘tuning in’ to catch the next instalment each week kept me on my toes and forced me through the editing process (editing is something I’ve never enjoyed very much).

I felt supported in a way I haven’t before during the run-up to a book release. That’s why I felt so guilty when an oversight on my part led to a month delay on the publication of this book. To everyone who has asked about when the books would be here, I am so happy to finally be able to say ‘now’.

A wee party

I’ve sold my other books at Fun Junction in Crieff and Perth for years. They have given me a ridiculous amount of support and now to top it all they’ve volunteered both shops for book-launch events for ‘Marcus’.

I’m planning on hosting the first one in Crieff (it is the setting of the book after all). More than that; the bulk of my support has come from readers around Crieff so I want to make it easy for people to come along.

I’ll get some food and drinks on and we’ll make a night of it. If you would like to come along please let me know (Facebook message, Twitter, leave a comment below, or simply send up smoke signals, whatever works). I’ll do everything I can to keep you up to date on the details of the book launch.

Fun Junction Perth will be running a late-night opening on Thursdays so I’ll also run a slightly different event through there as well.

It’s such a relief to finally have the books in my hands and I really hope you like the print edition (it has some changes from the web version). Please leave any comments or questions you like. I always like hearing from readers.

Once again, sorry for the delay, and thank you for bearing with me for so long,

All the best, John

P.S. Now I’m off to start another NaNoWriMo. I’m returning to familiar ground. Looking forward to getting back up to speed with a certain wee boy, a shape-shifting polar-bear girl, and an ‘owl man’ who always knows what to do. Wish me luck! 😉

We apologise for the delay…

I am so sorry. Local press in both the Strathearn Herald/ Daily Record Online and in the Courier reported that the print editions of ‘Marcus’ would be available by now. I am sorry to say that some miscommunication between myself and the printing company has lead to an unexpected delay.

I’m pushing on as quickly as I can. The misunderstanding has been cleared up and we’re now making progress. I’ll keep readers posted going forward but I just wanted to take this chance to apologise for the longer wait.

You have all been brilliant at supporting ‘Marcus’ as it has progressed from the first serialised week until now. I hope the wait won’t be long, but I can’t help but realise how close we are getting to Halloween.

To make up for the slow progress I’m going to put together a special launch event once the book is ready (it’s not a bad time of year to be launching a book with ghouls and monsters). If you sign up to the ‘Marcus’ mailing list (by clicking this link) I’ll be able to send you an invite once the books are on their way.

Once again I am sorry for the delay, and thank you for your patience,

All the best, John

Marcus: Chapter 26: In the ruins of the High Street

To go to chapter 1 and follow the story through from the very beginning, simply click on this link

(‘Marcus’ is now available in paperback, you can pick up a copy from Fun Junction in either Crieff or Perth)

Tash slammed on the breaks and tried to process the scene in front of her. A huge torso quivered on the road ahead, arms outstretched, head flung back in anguish.

Marcus climbed out of the car before anyone could stop him. The sheriff looked up at the boy. Recognition dawned slowly over Sheriff’s rotting features:

“YOU!? BUT HOW? YOU LIVE AGAIN?”

Marcus shook his head:

“It’s a long story, too long to go into. How bad is it there? I take it he did this?”

The sheriff bowed his head, he didn’t wear shame well:

“A CHEAT, THAT’S ALL HE IS. A FILTHY CHEAT.”

The sheriff drew back as Marcus knelt to lift his arm:

“I need to move you. We need through and you need to rest. You’ll be back to your usual self by tomorrow night.”

The sheriff nodded. Even half of the giant proved too much for Marcus’ new body to pull. Others came from the car to help. Straining to maintain their grip on his sinewy form, holding their breath against the stench. They hauled the huge rotten torso onto the pavement.

Looking at the exhausted form of the Sheriff, Tash couldn’t bring herself to start the engine. Andrew piped up from the back seat:

“Mum? Is dad still there? Is Auntie Nicky with him?”

Tash looked ahead and turned the key in the ignition.

*

Gordon had lost all hope. The only positive he could think of was that his kids were safely hidden behind the stone circle on the edge of town. Then he saw the boy.

He was a friend of Andrew’s, he lived next door to Tash’s place. Gordon couldn’t even remember the kid’s name and still he ran for him pulling him behind a flower planter. The boy yelled in protest, oblivious to the danger he was in.

A police officer flew overhead, crashing through a shop window. The boy stopped yelling. Gordon grabbed onto his shoulders:

“What are you doing here? Didn’t you hear the crashes? The explosions? The cars thrown down King Street? Why would you walk towards this?”

The boy looked him in the eye, sheer terror radiating from every pore. This kid wasn’t here through choice.

Daniel started to cry. He had promised her. He was so close and now the police had him. He was Andrew’s dad but he was still a police man. Daniel didn’t want to do it anyway but she had told him it was the only way to save everyone:

“I told her I’d be here. I promised.”

Gordon smiled. A girl. That explained everything (and it was a lot better than mind control). Gordon manoeuvred Daniel to crouch behind the planter and chanced a glance out in the direction of Mr Thomas. All was quiet.

*

Gordon’s car screeched around the corner and with it evaporated all hope of safety for all of them. Mr Thomas dropped a sandstone block from each hand and turned to face the oncoming police car:

“Marcus! You’ve come back to join me.”

The group exited the car. (All but Taz who slumped over in the boot. He wasn’t planning on any walking for a while.) Marcus didn’t even give an answer. Mr Thomas shrugged:

“A foolish hope I suppose. However, I see you brought me gifts. Now which to choose?”

Mr Thomas scanned the faces of everyone. Looking for something important, something the rest of them couldn’t see:

“I got more from some of you than others. It binds us in a way. I still don’t understand it myself…”

His eyes settled on James:

“Ah, perfect. Yes, it looks like we have a volunteer.”

James had no idea what the man was talking about. Marcus spotted it first:

“James you’re glowing.”

Through the skin on his face they could make out the faintest glimmer of blue in the shape of James’ skull. When James spoke you could see it even more clearly from his teeth. The glow grew brighter.

Mr Thomas walked to James, towering over them. He looked down at James with his newly luminescent skeleton. The new blue glow of his skull matching the blue flames in Mr Thomas’s eyes perfectly. The giant grinned:

“I wonder…”

Mr Thomas spoke under his breath and James dropped to his knees. The pain had come on so quickly that he didn’t even have time to scream. His teeth gritted against the strain as he felt every bone in his body trying to come out. His skeleton obeying the command of the giant before him while his flesh drew in the opposite direction.

Sweat dribbled down his chin. There had not been another moment in James’ life when he had felt so utterly helpless. Mr Thomas, at last, said something under his breath and the pain stopped:

“Fascinating.”

From King Street James could hear the voice of his oldest son Theo. Nicky screamed after him trying to persuade him to stay back. To stay with the other children in safety.

Mr Thomas took great pleasure in the scene:

“Oh, now, would that work?”

James had no interest whatsoever in finding out what ‘that was. He was given the opportunity to find out all the same.

His bones pulled against his flesh again. This time, the pulls were more coordinated. James was puppeted onto his feet and was made to walk towards his son. He tried to shout to him, to warn him to stay away, but his jaw bone held so tight that he could barely whimper.

The boy ran to him, closing the gap between them. James pulled against his bones with every fibre of his being, he could feel things tearing inside his body. If he had to tear himself apart to save his son then so be it.

His efforts did nothing in the end. Theo ran to him arms open wide. Beyond all control James’ arm swung at Theo. An alarmingly hard slap, but no more.

James’ emotions roller-coasted between relief at his son’s safety and revulsion at the pain he must have inflicted.

The boy’s face glowed pink and his eyes welled up with tears. Mr Thomas stood behind James and sighed:

“I’m not a monster James. I wouldn’t make you kill your own child. So long as you are loyal to me that is. Do exactly as I say and you can be assured that your family will remain safe.”

Willow ran to her son and, holding him close, led Theo away from his dad and the monster controlling him. James flopped onto the pavement, his forehead leaning on the frosted tarmac. He looked up at Mr Thomas:

“I will never be your puppet, you revolting piece of…

Mr Thomas slammed James’ jaw shut:

“Now now James. I did warn you.”

James lifted from the ground, writhing against the will of the man before him. His eyes swirled in his head, barely an ounce of willpower left. Everyone stood mannequin-still, hollow with fear. If they hadn’t witnessed the bifurcated Sheriff they would have considered doing something. At this stage one move could result in instant death for James.

Gordon wasn’t so easily put off. He grasped hold of a flag pole from among the rubble and ran full-pelt a Mr Thomas. The pole reverberated in Gordon’s hands. It was as though he had driven it at solid concrete.

Mr Thomas stepped back with the force of the blow, throwing his hands in the air:

“Remarkable; an evening of heroes! So many risking themselves for literally no gain.”

He grabbed the flagpole and swung it like a baseball bat, getting a feel for it’s weight. He laughed as it swung and collided with Gordon’s ribs. The man flew through the air and landed with a crunch at the bus stop.

His kids ran to his side (Tash wasn’t quick enough to hold them back). Mr Thomas grinned:

“I get the connection now! How interesting. So we have dads defending kids all round.”

Daniel stepped forward from behind the planter. Mr Thomas sighed with mock concern:

“Oh Daniel, what are you doing? You don’t have a dad to defend you,” he looked at the two men writhing on the ground “not that it would make that much of a difference mind you.”

Daniel reached into the inside of his jacket and pulled out a large kitchen knife. Mr Thomas’s fiery eyes widened:

“I am impressed. I mean I also find it hilarious, that goes without saying. A strong will too. I’ve seen many things in my life and yet you have impressed me young man. However, there is nothing you can do to harm me so long as that young man there is around,” (he pointed at Marcus) “I am, as far as I know, indestructible.”

Daniel had tears in his eyes:

“That’s what Beth thought too…”

Mr Thomas frowned:

“Who is Beth?”

Marcus looked to Daniel, his face ashen white, then back at Mr Thomas:

“She was my friend once. I’m not surprised you don’t remember her. You never remembered any of them. She was a very smart girl. Probably the smartest kid I ever knew. She would know what needed to be done.” (he turned to Daniel) “She told you didn’t she?”

Mr Thomas’s eyes blazed:

“What are you talking about?”

Daniel nodded at Marcus and stepped towards him. He hesitated for a moment looking into the ghost boys eyes. Marcus smiled:

“It’s OK. She was right. It’s the only way.”

Daniel thrust the knife into Marcus’ chest. It slid in much deeper than he expected.

Marcus fell to his knees. The others screamed. Seconds hung in the still November air, frozen and silent.

Marcus spoke in a whisper:

“Daniel, you missed.”

Mr Thomas roared. Blue light swirled from him, flowing up the hill, to the distant stones. Daniel knelt in front of Marcus, wiping the tears from his eyes:

“I’m so sorry. I didn’t know. What to I do?”

Marcus grunted as he pulled the knife from his ribs. It slipped onto the pavement between them. Daniel wiped the blade on his jumper. Marcus laughed a little:

“I don’t think you need to worry about cleaning it.”

He looked at the boy in front of him:

“It’s OK you know. I’ve lived too long. Seen too much death. I hurt people. I was lonely and dozens of children suffered because of that. I’d like to do something right.”

He had missed having a heartbeat. He used it to guide Daniel:

“Here!, And please be quick. He’s coming.”

Mr Thomas was striding towards them through the rubble, his steps less sure, his form less intimidating. Daniel looked to Marcus with a smile:

“He’s getting weaker. Maybe I don’t have to…Maybe you don’t have to…”

Marcus shook his head:

“No half measures. We have to mean this. Save your friends. Save my friends.”

He looked towards the crowd gathered around him. James had even recovered enough to pull himself towards them. Marcus smiled:

“You are my friends aren’t you?”

James grabbed the boys hand:

“Of course Marcus.”

Marcus relaxed:

“That’s good. Thank you….James you’ve got grey hair there old man. I don’t think I’ve ever had a friend with grey hair before…”

Mr Thomas propped himself up with the flagpole and heaved himself in their direction. Daniel looked up and pictured it all starting again. So many children, so many years stolen. His lips still tingled with Beth’s first kiss. A first that should have happened seventy-five years before:

“I’m so sorry Marcus.”

The knife found it’s target this time. As Marcus’ pulse slowed the blue light flowed away faster. Mr Thomas dropped to the ground, degrading into a walking corpse before their eyes.

The corpse quivered, lifting an arm towards the dying boy. Still reaching for a hold on life. Nicky wobbled through the rubble and grabbed a chunk of sandstone from the fallen hotel. When the boulder landed on Mr Thomas the bones collapsed like a melon. He was finished.

The others watched as Marcus drifted away. His body lay there, perfectly human, a smile hanging on his lips, but Marcus was gone. James reached over and closed the boy’s eyes.

A final glimpse of brilliant blue and it was done.

***

A smell of brothy soup and the feeling of rough hand-woven wool. Her arms held him tightly. The boy was home.

The end of the story

I hope you’ve enjoyed following this story over the past few months. I would welcome any feedback you might have.

The book will be available in print and in kindle format at the end of September 2018 (perfect timing for the long nights drawing in).

If you would like to pre-order a copy for yourself, or as a gift for someone else, please click on the link below to pay for your copy now via PayPal (you can also pay via Debit or Credit card).

It would make a great gift for any horror/dark fantasy fans who have some link to Crieff or the area.

I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you who have followed this story through. The readership has grown steadily over the past few months and your interest has made my job all the more enjoyable. Thank you all,

All the best, and thanks for reading, John

Pre-Order your copy of ‘Marcus’ now (£6.99 with UK postage included):

The Ogres: Chapter 4: Miners

To find your way back to the very first chapter click this link

Machines

Huge machines rumbled past the tent and shuddered to a stop. People climbed out to look around, wandering off in all directions.

Mee and Bur-up could tell that something bad would happen if one of these people found them. The Alex and the Logan told them to go back to the cave and do what they could to hide the entrance. They also took most of the stones and metal with them. The boys hid the rest in their jacket pockets.

The people from the trucks were everywhere. The sun had only just come up and these people were busy rummaging through the forest. The family tidied away their tent and did their best to hide too.

The boys’ parents called people on mobile phones and discussed the value of the hill and how much gold they might need to buy it. The Logan and the Alex worried when their dad said “That much?!”

The family had no car to go to and they didn’t want to risk hiding in the cave. If any of these people saw them going into it then all of this would be for nothing.

More phone calls and the boys grew more and more bored. The Alex wandered off with his big brother and played in the forest. Only a few rounds of tig later a man turned up. He was very smart and was carrying a shiny leather case:

“Sorry boys but I’m in the process of buying this place. We’re doing some very dangerous work today. Lots of drilling and digging. I’m afraid you’re going to have to leave.”

Neither of the boys knew what to say. The smart man couldn’t buy a hill could he? They wandered back to their parents just as their mum was getting off the phone:

“What’s wrong boys? You look upset.”

The Logan looked back at the smart man:

“He says he’s buying the hill. You can’t buy an entire hill can you?”

Their mum laughed:

“Actually, I think we just did.”

The angry smart man

They looked back to the smart man with his briefcase. His phone went off. Moments after he answered it, his face turned purple:

“That’s not possible! Who else could have known?…Wait how much did they offer? That’s ridiculous. Keep the deal on hold. There’s no way someone has access to that much money that quickly.”

The man hung up his phone and stuffed it into his pocket. He turned to the quiet trucks behind him:

“OK guys we have to pack up for the day. Deal hit a snag, we’ll be back though. Just have to sort out a few things.”

The angry smart man walked past the family on his way back to his fancy car:

“Looks like you’ve got another day to play boys. We’ll be back tomorrow I think. Enjoy your day.”

He opened his car, got inside, and drove away at top speed. The boys looked at their parents:

“How did you do that?”

Their dad’s eyes widened:

“We promised a lot. Lets hope our new friends can help.”

It took longer than they expected for them to find the cave. When they did it was clear that Mee and Bur-Up were experts at hide and seek. A heap of bracken had been torn up in small patches all around the cave and then piled up in front of the opening. It was so expertly laced that it just looked like a mound of earth.

You would only know the cave was there if you saw people going into it. As the family slipped into the cave someone did see. Far away the smart man was sitting in his car with a pair of binoculars. (“So that’s where they found the sapphire.”)

He climbed out of his car and followed the family’s trail as quietly as he could.

Great big steps

The stairs were very steep. Too steep even for the adults. The boys had to jump from one step to the next and after about fifty their legs started to ache. Surely they would find Mee and Bur-Up soon?

Every now and then they called down the tunnel in front of them, their voices echoing away to nothing. Finally they all needed a rest. The tunnel was getting warmer and it was getting harder and harder to breathe.

Above them a man took off his long overcoat and scarf and sat on a step as well. He could have kept going but the sounds of the family climbing down had stopped. He didn’t want to bump into them, he just wanted to find out where the sapphires were.

Deep below them the echoing voices reached Mee and Bur-Up at the bottom of the stair. The sound couldn’t have come at a worse time. Their leader Biggin was furious to see two bigger-folk strolling down the stairs of Ey-Kan as though it was an ordinary walk in the caverns.

He was figuring out the right punishment when the sound of little-people echoed down to them. Not just little people but little-people who knew both Mee and Bur-Up by name.

Biggin lifted his hands in anger:

“What did you do?”

Mee and Bur-Up hadn’t even told him about the trucks and about being ‘interesting’ yet. When they did he looked like he might just bounce them all the way back up the stairs himself:

“So how do we stop being interesting?”

Mee smiled:

“Don’t worry the boys’ parents had a plan. Though we left before we found out what it was.”

Biggin looked at them as though they had lost their minds:

“What were you thinking?”

Mee was almost in tears:

“It’s hard to explain. When we’re up there it’s like our brains stop working properly. I think it’s the cold.”

Biggin shook his head:

“So all of this bother and the big ice is still there?”

Mee got excited at this bit:

“No, actually no, the ice is gone. The boys explained. It’s just something called ‘winter’. After a little time goes by they get something called ‘spring’ when the plants grow and the animals wake back up again.”

There was a small crowd of bigger-folk gathered to listen to the surface adventurers. A few of them liked the sound of this ‘spring’ thing. In fact even Biggin liked the idea of seeing somewhere new (though for now he couldn’t admit it).

Biggin pulled himself up straight, looking as big and leader-like as he could:

“Right, before we think about anything else we need to see what the little-people’s plan is to make us less interesting.”

Presents for little-people

A lot of the bigger-folk wanted to follow Mee and Bur-Up as they made their way back up the stairs. Some even grabbed gifts for the little people they might meet up there.

As they walked up, each step made them feel odd. Mee and Bur-Up were more used to it now but more than a few of the others had to stop for a rest every few steps.

Their heads got a little fuzzy too, and their arms and legs changed colour and got more wobbly and thumpy (like it was harder to control them).

The yells from the family above got louder and louder (more loud hu-mans) until they could see four little people perched on the edge of a step looking down at them. The Alex jumped up and waved his hands in the air:

“They’re back, they’re back, and they brought friends.”

Further up the steps the smart man listened with great interest.

Who were ‘they’? Where were they back from? and Who were their friends?

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The Ogres: Chapter 3: Shiny Stones vs. Sweets

To start the story from the beginning just click this link

Mee wondered exactly what a ‘Supermarket’ might look like. As he approached the hu-man town a lot of doors slammed and a lot of people got really loud. Hu-mans liked to get loud when they saw Mee.

The old lady had given him simple instructions, follow the road down the hill then turn right. Mee did that. On the way a lot of the rolling boxes called ‘cars’ stopped their rolling and started making loud ‘HONK’ sounds. Mee covered his ears and kept walking.

The food hall

The ‘supermarket’ was beautiful. It was huge. Most importantly it was filled with food. A very shaky hu-man helped Mee find the mush mallows and also helped him use a rolling basket they called a ‘trolly’. It made carrying all the mush mallows much easier.

Mee also grabbed handfuls of other interesting boxes and filled the ‘trolly’ until boxes slipped from the top. He thanked the shaky man and walked back out into the cold outside.

More noisy hu-mans squealed and ran around as he walked back up the hill, past the old lady’s house, past the broken car, and back up to the Alex and the Logan.

The boys grinned at the trolly full of marshmallows, biscuits, and chocolate. For some reason there were also about four large boxes of washing powder, and several Mee-sized handfuls of perfume boxes (Mee insisted that they smelled ‘too lovely to leave behind’). After the initial fun of seeing all the food the boys had one important question:

“How did you pay for all of this?”

Mee shrugged:

“What does ‘pay’ mean?”

The boys’ faces hung long:

“Oh dear.”

Shiny stuff

Mee simply couldn’t understand what made the shiny metal in the Logan’s bag so important. The smooshed up wood sheets made even less sense:

“So I was supposed to give the supermarket soft useless metal before I took the food?”

The boys nodded. Mee laughed:

“When we bigger-folk are little they tell us stories about you. I always thought stuff about soft metal and shiny rocks was a joke. We even used to leave it on steps as presents for the little folk.”

The boys frowned. Mee hadn’t told them the story of the big ice and the steps under the hill. When he did they grew very excited. The Logan’s eyes were very wide:

“You mean there are more of you? And you throw away ‘shiny rocks’ and ‘soft metal’ because it’s useless.”

Mee frowned:

“Mee thought you all would know. Town under hill has hundreds of bigger-folk.”

The Alex looked in the direction of the cave:

“Is anyone else on their way up?”

It was Mee’s turn to look shocked:

“Bur-Up! He’s still following me. He got tired, stopped for a rest. I should go check he OK.”

Mee grabbed two big bags of marshmallows and made his way to the cave:

“Be back soon.”

The Logan called back:

“You might want to bring some of those ‘useless’ rocks and metal with you. You need to pay for what you took.”

Mee waved, a big bag of marshmallows flopping in his hand:

“I will.”

Dark

It was dark when Mee brought Bur-Up out of the cave. He wasn’t impressed:

“You said there was sun. Also this too cold. Listen to my talk.”

Mee shrugged:

“It not so bad, Mee got used to it.”

They followed the glow of the hu-mans’ fire. Two more hairy beasts were with them, bigger than the boys but similar looking. They made the loud noises and hid the Alex and the Logan behind their backs. The Alex pushed his way out:

“It’s OK. That’s Mee and his friend Bur-Up. They’re friendly.”

Bur-Up pushed past the noisy creatures and sat in the fire. The bigger hu-mans got noisy again. The littler ones calmed them down. Bur-up wondered if the bigger ones were pets or baby hu-mans, maybe they aged backwards to the bigger-folk.

Bur-Up could feel his body getting better. Mee smiled at the boys:

“Look I brought you presents. Useless rocks and squashy metal.”

He opened his hands and the jewels and gold glistened in the firelight. Mee laughed at the faces of all four hu-mans:

“You like them. I glad. Here, you play with them how you like, I don’t need them.”

A new idea

The boys looked at the pile of jewels and gold. their mum and dad looked at the pile of jewels and gold. It was hard to tell how much it was worth but easy to see that it was a lot.

The first thing to do was to sort out the bill at the supermarket. People would already be asking questions. The police had probably been called. The bigger-folk would be in danger of being found if the police followed Mee’s trail up the hill.

The Alex and his dad went down the hill to the supermarket. Maybe there was still time to keep everyone safe and happy.

Mee wasn’t sure why being found was a bad thing. The Logan tried to explain that Mee and his family might be taken and locked away. People liked to study unusual creatures, and the bigger-folk were very unusual. They needed to stay hidden.

Mee wished he was warmer, he might be able to understand all of this if he was.

The Alex and his dad took just one of the shiny blue stones. Mee had never heard it being given a name but they said it was a ‘sapphire’. How could a tiny blue rock be worth a trolly full of mush mallows and other tasty things?

Again Mee wished he was warmer. The little people were very confusing.

Why being interesting isn’t good

The Logan and his mum helped Mee make another fire beside Bur-up, gathering as many sticks and logs as they could find. Bur-Up nibbled on some of the glowing sticks as he laid back in the warmth.

The Logan was amazed by this:

“How can you eat that?”

Bur-Up frowned:

“Bur-Up’s mum says Bur-Up has to. Must eat proper food before I have treats.”

The Logan and his mum watched Bur-Up and Mee in fascination as they chewed on white hot coals from the bottom of the fire. Their skin now so deeply green it had almost turned black.

The Alex and his dad came back. They had spoken to a special little-person called a ‘manager’ and also some ‘police’ and the ‘manager’ said the little stone made everything better. Mee grinned but the Alex’s dad shook his head:

“They were very interested in where the sapphire came from. We’re going to have to do something clever to keep you guys hidden.”

Mee shook his head:

“No it OK. We won’t make it hard for you. We just go home. Go back down stairs.”

The little man shook his head:

“It’s too late now. They saw you, and they know you have sapphires. People are going to be very interested in this hill very soon.”

Mee frowned. All this attention didn’t sound good. He didn’t want to be interesting. The hu-mans climbed into their tent and promised to get up early to work on what to do next.

Mee pulled a big armful of branches into his fire and dropped another pile into Bur-Up’s (who had already fallen asleep). Mee tried to sleep but the stars above his head distracted him. He had never slept in an open space before. Even the cavern was only a few hundred feet high.

Mee watched the stars until the sky turned a cold, pale, blue and the sun struggled up from behind a hill. The morning wasn’t much warmer than the night time but it was a lot noisier.

More hu-mans, more noise. Up the road, alongside the campsite came big metal boxes on wheels, much bigger than a ‘car’. They had big, chomping, metal, mouths on the front. Some of them were so big that even Mee could have fit inside them.

THE STORY CONTINUES IN CHAPTER 4: MINERS. CLICK HERE TO READ IT NOW.

The Ogres: Chapter 1: The Stairs

At the top of a hill in Perthshire is a small cave. I can’t tell you where that cave is, but I should say that if you do find yourself at the top of a Perthshire hill please watch your step.

In films we see mysterious caves leading to caverns filled with treasure (or at the very least mystery). Most caves I encountered as a child were more like cracks in the hillside. We used our imaginations to make them seem bigger.

But there is one cave, one single cave that is very different. It has no name, no one ever thought to give it one. Even a child may have to duck to get in. So much wet, green, foliage surrounds the entrance that during the spring and summer you could walk past it without even noticing.

If you did notice. If you peeled back the moss and the bracken and slipped inside AND if you had a torch, you could walk to the back of the cave. That’s where the steps are.

There are legends about these steps but they are not our legends. These legends don’t lie hidden in the stories we tell our children, they aren’t part of our heritage.

They are someone else’s legends. A kind of people that would shock you if you met them. They are different from us, so very different.

One of their stories is often told around the campfire at the top of that hill. It’s an important story for their people; it’s about the second time they used those stairs. But, to understand it you need to know about the first time they used them.

The metal

Long ago. Long before the grass grew on Scottish hillsides. Long before we had great rivers. Even before we had a monster in Loch Ness. There was the ice.

The bigger folk (that’s what they call themselves) don’t do well in the cold. When the ice came they grew ill. Their food stopped growing. The cold bit them and they had no energy to bite back.

Then came Ey-Kan. He was the biggest and the strongest of the bigger folk. The largest there had ever been. He drew his strength from the earth itself and he made a fire that could fight the ice and warm their homes even when the logs were gone. He was their magic man.

Ey-Kan could only help so much and the ice grew thicker and colder every day. One morning he smashed through three feet of solid ice just so he could touch the ground. He asked it what to do and it’s answer left him colder on the inside than the ice ever could.

The earth told him that the ice would grow like this for many, many seasons to come. Soon food would not grow here, the water would stop flowing, and the few trees left growing would crumble and die. So full of ice that they would be useless even as firewood.

The bigger folk could not stay here. However, unlike the little people, they weren’t used to travel. Tribes of bigger-folk might visit one another but they always came home.

They were built for work. Ey-Kan was the last of his tribe to feel hunger and he used the energy he had left to do what he did best; make metal. The little people learned metal work from the bigger-folk but they could never master it. They were too feeble, too fragile, too flammable, to do what Ey-Kan could.

He ripped the ice away, then tore into the earth. He dug and dug with his huge, hard, hands. At last he found the ingredients he needed. A secret recipe of metal that is now lost from our world. One known only to Ey-Kan.

The Object

Ey-Kan took the ingredients to his forge and fuelled the fire. He grabbed his largest crucible (a huge stone pot almost as big as his leg). The ingredients were dropped in and Ey-Kan made a few more trips out to the hole, collecting as much material as he could. On his twelfth trip it was just right.

He held the crucible over the flames and waited. Once the chunks had melted together, glowing a dull brown colour, Ey-Kan changed the fuel underneath and bellowed air in. The flames grew.

The metal in the crucible changed colour over and over, from brown to purple, purple to blue, blue to red, then red to yellow. If Ey-Kan weren’t one of the bigger-folk this is where he might have stopped. Instead he took off his coat, added a special fuel and watched the other colours show (the ones only the bigger-folk could see).

His eyes were built for looking at fire. They relaxed in the glow. In the heat. A welcome change to the cold whiteness outside. He worked for hours, doing things that only someone with fireproof hands can achieve (and even then, only with practice).

As a new day’s sunlight trickled through his window, lighting the side of the forge bright orange, Ey-Kan lifted the object to inspect it.

Flattened out on one side, a spike as sharp as a needle on the other, and down the middle was a long, thick handle made entirely from the same metal. It was a pickaxe unlike anything the bigger-folk had ever made. It was the object that would save his people.

Digging

Digging was the wrong word for what Ey-Kan did that day. It was more like his pick-axe told the earth and the rocks where to move. It sliced through ice. Through soil. Through cold hard rock. Every swing the same. He pulled back, struck, and the material at his feet parted to let him through.

It took very little time to open the cave. The rock shifted aside with a noise like brick sliding on brick. Another step with each swing. At two-hundred swings Ey-Kan’s tribe wondered what he was doing and made their way to the cave. They stopped hearing him after the three-hundredth swing.

Their food was gone. Their water frozen. There was nothing left for them on the surface and so they followed the newly-formed steps cut ahead of them. As they went further they changed. Their bodies growing more used to the heat under the hill.

Ey-Kan’s steps kept going. So deep that the walls grew red with heat. The bigger-folk could take it. This was all energy to them.

Finally, after possibly a thousand steps their way opened up to reveal a huge cavern. A tunnel at the far end led back up to the surface. Ey-Kan had gone to find more of the bigger-folk.

In time these others found their way down to the cavern. It was here that they built their home. However, it was the last any of them would ever see of Ey-Kan or his pick-axe.

The second time

Years passed and the bigger-folk grew used to their home in the depths of the earth. However, two of them grew tired, and desperate to see the land of their ancestors. They walked up the thousand steps, coughing from the dust. These stairs hadn’t been used in centuries and in the world above, the bigger folk had become the stuff of stories.

There are many tales of their experiences up those stairs. I’ll tell you one of them next week. If you’d like these stories in your e-mail inbox (in an easy to print pdf document) click here.

Thank you for reading, John

TO READ ON TO CHAPTER 2: ROLLY BOX JUST CLICK HERE