Tag Archives: Inspiration

The Ogres: Chapter 2: Rolly Box

To read from the beginning click here

Every year the bigger folk talked about going back up and every year they decided to wait. It went on so long that they forgot about the idea. The cavern was home. It was warm. It was safe. But it was dull.

Mee and Bur-up were young by bigger folk standards, but they were old enough to know better. They considered themselves ‘brave adventurers’, everyone else considered them fools.

Either way they found themselves stomping their way up hundreds of stone steps on a fairly normal Thursday morning. Bur-Up got tired. The most exercise he got was lifting food to his mouth. He was good at that, Mee had to admit, but it didn’t really count as training for a walk that hadn’t been attempted since before their great granny was born (bigger folk live a long time).

No one is sure if Mee was the braver of the two or if he was just the most foolish but he decided to continue up. The walls grew colder than anything he had ever felt. He felt sure the ice must still be there above them. Surely thousands of years of snow must have left it miles thick by now?

Instead of ice he found a cave. It was different than the stories. Smaller, more damp, more mouldy, more occupied. That’s when he met the creature.

It was small, slightly hairy, and it looked as though someone had put some clothes on it as a joke. Mee wondered if it was a pet of some sort. The creature made a horrible screeching sound. Yes, definitely a pet or guard animal of some sort. So where was it’s owner?

Mee asked:

“Is you lost hairy beast. Where your bigger person gone?”

The creature stopped shrieking. The hairy little beast talked:

“My Mum and Dad are back at the car. What are you?”

Mee shook his head:

“I’m Mee.”

The tiny hairy beast laughed:

“No I’m me!”

“NO, I’m Mee!”

“No, I’m me!”

This went on for a while until Mee got a little upset and exclaimed ‘My name is Mee!”. The little hairy beast came over to him:

“I’m sorry. I thought you were playing a game. Hello Mee. I’m Alex. You look very different to me. Are you human?”

Me shook his head. He hadn’t heard the word ‘human’ before. Maybe that’s what the little hairy beast was. Mee tried to explain:

“Mee is one of the bigger folk. We live under the hill. We escaped the big ice. Is it gone now?”

The hairy ‘Alex’ didn’t know what he was talking about:

“It’s a bit frosty outside but I haven’t seen any ‘big ice’.”

He led the way to the cave’s mouth and that’s when Mee saw it; a huge ball of fire in the sky. He had heard about this in stories but he couldn’t remember the name for it. The ‘Alex’ called it ‘the sun’.

Mee told the ‘Alex’ about how Ey-Kan had made ‘the sun’ and thrown it into the sky with a machine. Outside the cave the cold air made everything blurry, the sounds were all soft and sort of wet.

When Mee spoke it was like there was cloth in his mouth:

“Two of the Alex. I’m not thinking good. All too slow. It’s really slowing out here.”

The Alex looked round. Mee was right, there were two of him now. Two humans anyway. His big brother’s face poked out from behind a tree; eyes wide, a silent scream struggling to escape his open mouth. The Alex waved:

“It’s OK Logan. He won’t hurt you.”

The Alex looked back to Mee:

“Did you say it’s snowing?”

Mee shook his head:

“No, slowing. My head not work so good out here. Need warm place.”

The two boys helped Mee find his way to their campfire. Their mum and dad had gone down to the car to get their picnic and the rest of their stuff. Logan had a backpack with him. In it were all the essentials for a weekend camping on a cold hillside; four packs of crisps and a big bag of marshmallows.

The bigger folk had nothing like this food. The squishy pink marshmallows were too good to say no to. Mee put twelve in his mouth then sat in the fire to get warm. The flames licked up his back and over his head. The heat melted the marshmallows in his mouth. It would seem that more melted means more delicious.

On Fire

The ‘hu-mans’ were being very noisy. It made it extremely hard to enjoy his mouthful of pink goop. It stuck his teeth together a little:

“What the matter? You both OK?”

The Alex squealed in shock and with laughter:

“You’re on fire! Isn’t it sore?”

Mee frowned slowly, enjoying the last of his marshmallows as they melted down his throat:

“Why would fire be sore? Not like it’s cutting me or bashing me!”

The hu-mans laughed but stepped back. The Logan tried to explain:

“It’s just, people aren’t normally fire-proof. Not many living things are.”

Mee shrugged:

“Hu? How strange. Can I have more mush mallow?”

The Logan slid the bag along the ground. Mee had grown so hot that his skin had changed colour; he was a deep, dark green now. If it wasn’t for the talking, and the moving, and the smiling, and the eating (and he was doing a lot of that now), the hu-mans might have thought he was cooking.

With a belly full of food and a freshly toasted butt Mee stood up and went for a wander in the forest. Cracking branches and knocking down the odd tree with a simple ‘oops’.

His next ‘oops’ came after he bumped into a big metal box. The box was perched on four squashy wheels. One bump was enough to send it rolling away from him.

The Alex caught up just in time to see the car rolling away down the road towards the town:

“Our car! What happened?”

Mee tried another ‘oops’ but the Alex seemed to need more than that:

“I bumped it.”

The Logan shook his head:

“Our stuff was in there. Our food was in there.”

Mee grew a lot more concerned about the runaway box:

“You mean more mush mallows?”

The Logan shrugged:

“Maybe.”

Mee ran after the ‘car’. It was far away, it had stopped, a wall had caught it. It was very broken. Mee went to look inside. He couldn’t find a lid so he just grabbed an end and pulled. It broke more. Since it was already broken Mee started pulling at all the sides looking for ‘mush-mallows’.

He found a smaller box inside, in it was lots of very cold stuff. Some of it could have been food, none of it was a bag of ‘mush mallows’. Mee wondered if they had fallen out, or if there was somewhere else he might find some.

Along the wall from the broken car Mee spotted a house. It was the first thing that looked right (though it was far too small). Mee knocked on the door and a hu-man answered. She was half his size, had steel coloured hair and her face looked strange, all stretched with eyes that didn’t blink. She was noisy too. She liked to say ‘arghhh’.

Mee looked down at the tiny person:

“Hello hu-man, I broke the car box and I need mush mallows. Where do mush mallows grow.”

The lady’s face stopped being all stretched and she seemed to have said enough ‘arghhh’ for now. Instead she became very quiet. Mee breathed slowly but it was still one…two…three, breaths before she spoke again:

“You can get food at the supermarket.”

Mee grinned a grin as big as the old lady’s whole head:

“Perfect. Where is the ‘Supermarket’?”

The tiny old person pointed into the town and told him it was at the very bottom of the hill. He gave her a quick “Thank you!” and went to get more ‘mush mallows’.

*

Thanks so much for reading. I really hope you enjoyed the story. Please let me know what you thought in the comments below.

I’ll have chapter three ready for you next week. Be sure to sign up to the e-mail list to receive chapters direct to your inbox (please click this link). You’ll also gain access to pdf printable versions of the stories (if you’d rather read without screens). I should also point out that the first eight chapters of the Bigger Folk will be available here on the website but later chapters will be released solely on the e-mail list.

As always thanks for reading, All the best, John

READ ON FOR CHAPTER 3: SHINY STONES vs SWEETS

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Lore

Sometimes we struggle. Motivation fails us. I got a taste of that recently as I neared the 30,000 word point in my latest book. Knowing that I was writing horror a friend (thanks Jo!) recommended I check out a podcast called Lore.

Humans are the real monsters

Lore is a fortnightly podcast (or web radio programme for those who prefer that term) that discusses the paranormal, the odd, the unpleasant. However, its primary focus seems to be the darkness that dwells in us all. The selfish voice, the creature that panders to fear, the red eyed monster of rage; all of these are distinctly human, distinctly internal, monsters.

Listening to tales of Lore drew me to that dark place, allowed me a closer view of those nastier human foibles that are the true basis of horror. Aaron Mahnke (the host/researcher/creator of Lore) introduces the listener to a selection-box of human awfulness. From the true story of the Pied Piper of Hamlin (NOT for children or the faint of heart), on to multiple tales of witch hunts through the ages, to the story of H. H. Holmes, a conman who created, and utilised, a hotel full of secret passageways and an underground ‘lab’ for his own sick ends (this hotel has since gained the name ‘The Murder Hotel‘).

The events in ‘Marcus‘ don’t come close to the horrors Mahnke describes in his show (for starters mine is pure fiction). However, I’d like to give credit to Lore, and Mahnke himself. He produced something that offered a custom set of blinkers for this first-time horror writer at those times when sitcoms, kids books, and social media, threatened to draw me away from my writing.

More to learn

There’s something else that Lore helped me see though. Mahnke persisted, every two weeks he got another solid bit of work out into the world. Well rehearsed, well researched, well performed. You can go back to the very first podcast and see the show evolve, gain a following, and importantly offer Mahnke the recognition he deserves.He made something people enjoyed and the world rewarded him. It’s an important takeaway whenever you come across this sort of creativity. The word ‘inspiration’ is banded about a lot, it has transient, insubstantial overtones. Instead I would say that Mahnke’s efforts provide more confirmation than inspiration.

Listening my way through the first episodes gave me confirmation that the right content, found by the right audience, and offered up consistently, will yield positive results.

Mahnke has his own Amazon TV series now (based on the podcasts) but he has also demonstrated his mastery of storytelling through the podcast in a way which has allowed him to market his own writing. Author of a host of books, and clearly working purely within a field he enjoys. What he has done has given me confirmation that all the slog is worth it.

Thank you Aaron.

Why listen to Lore?

Simply put it’s fascinating (if disturbing in places). Often we hear that the world has ‘gone to the dogs’ or that society is being eroded by one modern creation/concept or another. A step back in time (and in some cases it’s an uncomfortably short step back) is enough to show us that human beings have always found ways to be awful to each other.I’m not trying to suggest that we’re living in a golden age but lore can take the rose tinted glasses off of the reminiscence to ‘yesteryear’. We get by, we look after one another, we do what we can to help one another. The stories in Lore highlight this as well. It’s in our nature; the flip side of our darker internal demons.

Watch the news and you can be forgiven for thinking that we live in an age of terror. I find it odd that comfort can be found to remedy this perspective by looking at the horrors of the past.

I hope you take a moment to pop by the Lore podcast page and give it a try yourself (and no I’m not being paid to promote it/endorse it/otherwise send traffic his way).

As always thanks for reading, and feel free to pop back and tell me if you enjoyed the podcast,

All the best, John

Why are Jack Reusen books so short?

harry potter page 1A long long time ago (actually it was only three years back) I tried to read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to my eldest son. It was a few weeks after his seventh birthday and he was on holiday from school. I thought that at last he was ready to sit down and enjoy one of the best children’s fantasy series ever written. He wasn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, he enjoyed it but his attention started lagging in the middle of each chapter. I tried to keep my reading as animated as possible but we still ended up stopping in the middle of some chapters. We would take a break, sometimes for a few hours, sometimes until the next day. For the most part it seemed to work. However, with each break he seemed to forget more details about the book.

At their heart Harry Potter books are mystery books in a fantasy setting. There are clues to remember and puzzles to solve throughout. Forgetting details in these sorts of books takes a lot of the oomph out of them.

I would be asked things like ‘Who’s Ron?’ ‘Why can’t Harry just do magic straight away?’ or possibly the most telling ‘Why does he live with his Aunt and Uncle?’ (asked when Harry has his first Hogwarts Christmas). It was clear he was forgetting more than he was remembering and at around chapter six or seven I could see that almost everything was going over his head.

We put Harry Potter away, to come back to when he was a bit older. All the same, the experience of trying to retain his interest lodged in my mind.

This sensation came back to me when November of 2014 rolled in. The nights grew long, and I discovered a new way to write. NaNoWriMo (national novel writing month) fell into my lap. They said something like ‘you have a book inside you waiting to get out’ and I realised that there really was.

Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame became something that I needed to write; something fantastical, exciting, relatable, and importantly, a book that could (hopefully) maintain the interest of an energetic seven-year-old like my son.

There are lots of books for seven-year-olds. Incredible, exciting, sometimes hillarious books, but I felt like I could write something a bit different. I wanted an element of the seriousness of ‘older’ fantasy books, and a slight taste of the danger and thrills that come with that.

From my own experience I realised that I could hold my son’s attention for about ten minutes, so (estimating a reading speed of about 250 words per minute) I worked out that my chapters needed to be no more than 2,500 words long.

I also wanted to make sure the story could be read all the way through in a relatively small space of time so I limited my chapter count to be sure that the whole book could be read in around a fortnight (at a rate of one or two chapters per night).

When I released the first book in the Jack Reusen series I began to hear that other families were having exactly the experience I’d hoped they would. (I was also pleasantly surprised to find out that some parents were sneakily reading ahead to see what happened next). These responses were brilliant, then, around a month after release, I heard something that changed the way I looked at the books.

At the time I worked in a local toy shop. One of our regular customers came in specifically to thank me for writing the book. I hadn’t been thanked for the book before.

It turned out that she had been trying to get her nine year old son to read chapter books for years. Nothing caught his interest. Then she gave him ‘…the Fey Flame‘ and apparently he read the whole thing in just a few nights. I was taken aback and told her how happy I was that he had enjoyed the book so much.

That boy wasn’t the last to say something similar about the Jack Reusen books. The shorter length seems to have made it easier for a lot of children to enjoy. Now that I know I’m helping kids get into reading I can’t bring myself to change the formula.

The original idea was to give families something that they could enjoy together, but a fantastic side-effect seems to be getting more reluctant readers caught up in a book. I love reading and the idea that someone might miss out on the enjoyment of it is disheartening. If writing short chapters and short books helps get a few more kids enjoying reading then I’ll write as many of these books as I can.

Thanks for reading and please feel free to share your own favourite short/quick reads in the comments below. All the best, John

Boy from guitar lessons (it’s nice to be nice)

14224700_10157295428425401_4845612948376145664_nA few weeks ago, on the way out of my son’s guitar lessons I noticed one of the other kids watching me with a puzzled expression on his face, clearly trying to figure out where he knew me from. It’s not uncommon for me, for many years I worked in the local toy shop so a lot of local kids know me but struggle to get who I am out of context.

This wasn’t one of those times. Laden with bags, guitars, packed lunch boxes, and all the other paraphernalia that parents so often end up stuck with, I waddled along the corridor outside the music room. The puzzled boy kindly held the door open.

I thanked him and was half way through the doorway when he blurted out “Are you an author?”. At first I wasn’t sure what to say, I decided against my regular ‘Kind of, I write kids books.’ Replacing it with a simple “Yes, I am.”

He remembered me from a talk I’d done at his school. When I told him I’m still working on more books he explained that he thought the Fey Flame was great, then he thought for a few seconds and told me that, in fact, it was his “favourite book ever”.

It’s amazing to know that you’ve made something that someone has enjoyed that much. I’m so pleased he decided to share that with me because it made my day. It actually made my week.

Simply telling someone that you appreciate something they have done/made/written can be the most awesome thing, so thank you boy from guitar lessons. Thank you sincerely.

It’s so easy to praise people. Sometimes we need it more than you realise. None of us should be afraid to say a few words that could make someone’s day. So here’s a wee selection of praise I thought I’d pass on:

June: I have no idea where you get your energy and enthusiasm from but you’ve added a lot to our wee town. Thank You.

David: The Artspace is shaping up to be something brilliant. I don’t get along to events as much as I’d like because childcare isn’t always easy but I’ve always enjoyed the things I made it along to. It’s a real asset to the town.

Fun Junction: You guys are awesome. There’s a whole heap of stuff I could list here but mainly I’d like to highlight your awesomeness.

Valentines of Crieff: Superb clothes. Every shirt I owned used to bake me. I wasn’t a fan of dressing smart because it meant a day spent sweltered and sweaty. I have to admit I never spent as much on a shirt before but then I also never wore the cheap ones any longer than I had to. Thanks for helping me feel comfortable in my own clothes.

Marrianne: You are mental but like June you seem to give people the wee pushes they need all over the place. Most of all, on my part, thank you for being a constant wee niggling reminder that I need to get back to my writing.

On that note I’ll get back to my writing. I’m planning on sending Jack Reusen and the Fey Flame in to a publisher soon so it’s getting one last wee polish before it gets shipped out.

Welcoming the autumn

Image of Lady Mary’s Walk, Crieff from europealacarte.co.uk

Cooler crisper days. Longer nights. A time to read and a time to write.

I can’t say I’m sorry to see autumn looming. With autumn evenings on the horizon we’re moving into the weirder part of the year, and it seems no coincidence that Halloween is this season’s big event.

I set the Fey Flame at the tail end of Autumn as it seems the most believable time for a tear between our world and something very different.

Because of this my writing feels most at home right now. I can’t wait to grab a warm mug of tea and my old beaten-up netbook and make the most of it.

Is there a time of year (or a time of day even) when you feel most productive? Are you mourning the loss of summer or are you happy to see the nights draw in?

As always thanks for reading, all the best, John