Review of Tales from the Shadow Booth Volume 2 Edited By Dan Coxon Written by Dan Stubbings

Book Synopsis 

The booth juts at an angle from the sand, the canvas taut beneath the weight of the drifting dunes. Janet almost passes it by. But it’s the sign that snags her attention. Painted in rust-red onto three pieces of driftwood, the sun-bleached planks lashed together with lengths of twisted blond twine, it looks surprisingly fresh. Enter the Shadow Booth, it says, and you will never be the same again.
The Shadow Booth, a journal of weird and eerie fiction, returns for Volume 2! Drawing its inspiration from the likes of Thomas Ligotti and Robert Aickman, The Shadow Booth explores that dark, murky hinterland between mainstream horror and literary fiction.
Volume 2 contains new stories by: 

Chikodili Emelumadu
Dan Grace
Kirsty Logan
Johnny Mains
Ralph Robert Moore
Mark Morris
Gareth E. Rees
Giovanna Repetto
George Sandison
Anna Vaught
Aliya Whiteley

Enter the Shadow Booth, and you will never be the same again…
Review

This collection of dark and eerie tales from several contemporary and diverse writers is a readers dream. Once I started reading I couldn’t put it down. Every story has its own uniqueness that draws you in and forces you to keep reading with each one seeming to build upon the last.

Three stories from the collection that stood out for me were:

We Are the Disease by Gareth Rees. An eerie tale set abroad a ship trapped in the Arctic ice. As more crew members become effected by their isolation they begin to see and witness strange creatures and behaviours. Throughout the story Gareth had me on the edge of my seat making me wonder is this real, or is it the crew giving into their basic fears, which is making them create these sightings. Throughout the entire story your never quite sure what is the disease? Gareth’s voice and writing style is simply gripping. I could almost feel my fingers burning as I turned pages racing to finish.

The next was My Father’s Face by Giovanna Repetto. A tale about a man who has lost his memory and how he fights to get it back. As the story unfolds however we begin to question is this person trustworthy, and what are they hiding. It moves at a neck-breaking speed and makes you question everything you thought you knew about family. It was my favourite story in the collection. The voice is so unique. I want to read more by this author I loved it.

The final story was Feasting;Fasting by Anna Vaught. A story featuring elements of tradition horror and supernatural. A strange house, an unusual family, and a small village with a story to tell at no point does Anna give away who they are, what they are, and why they are there. She allows you as a reader to draw your own conclusions, and decide for yourself who these people are, and what their story is. It is a totally different take on the haunted house narrative.

This book has something for everyone. Unique writing styles, cultures, and author voices that make it stand out from the crowd. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys the weird and wonderful. The three stories I selected are only glimpse of what awaits. Go and check it out. It gets four stars. It is a highly polished read.

I received a copy from the publisher for an honest review this doesn’t effect my views.

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Review of City of Lies (A Poison War Novel) By Sam Hawke Written by Dan Stubbings

Book Synopsis 

I was seven years old the first time my uncle poisoned me… 

Outwardly, Jovan is the lifelong friend of the Chancellor’s charming, irresponsible Heir. Quiet. Forgettable. In secret, he’s a master of poisons and chemicals, trained to protect the Chancellor’s family from treachery. When the Chancellor succumbs to an unknown poison and an army lays siege to the city, Jovan and his sister Kalina must protect the Heir and save their city-state.

But treachery lurks in every corner, and the ancient spirits of the land are rising…and angry.

Review

Sam Hawke has been able to create a fantasy world, and plot that challenges the norms of the fantasy genre, and pushes the boundaries to great affect. As a reader I always look for originality in fantasy, as it can sometimes become bogged down in the same old plot lines, and characters. That are enjoyable however most of the time you can kind of predict their next move. However I couldn’t say this about Sam’s debut novel.

It has a delightful freshness and twists that you cannot predict. That ooze off every page with ease drawing you deeper into the world, city, and characters she has created. Her writing style has a uniqueness that you rarely see within the fantasy genre, and one I enjoyed immensely.

From the way she dip feeds information regarding the vast society within her imaginary world, to how much information she gives us on how its governed, and what poisons are at play. Her voice comes through, adding a insightful prose to the descriptions, and dialogue given to the main elements of characters and the world itself.

I also enjoyed the lack of a magic system within the narration. Due to the fact that at times I feel to much focus is given to how magic is used, and controlled within fantasy. However Sam didn’t need this to make her story fast paced and highly enjoyable.

I loved how every chapter opened up with a description of a new poison its symptoms, what it could do, and how it was administered.

At times I feared this would impact upon the tension within the story, as you believed someone was going to be affected by this new poison. However as I read on the poison fell into the background. As you hitched a ride on the coat tails of Jovan or Kalina the two main character viewpoints within the story.

I especially enjoyed how Sam chose to give us different narrations from what we are used to within fantasy. Enabling us to see the perspectives of the people tasked with protecting the heirs of their society, instead of an assassin who is tasked with killing them.

This bought with it beautifully detailed insights, and helped me warm to, and care about the characters deeper than I have in some recent fantasies I have read. Sam hits all the feels, and takes you on an emotional roller-coaster as you fight to understand what is happening.

The whole story takes places in one city however at no point does the scale of what Sam is trying to achieve feel small. In parts it reminded me of RJ Barker’s Wounded Kingdom Series. As readers are taken on a thrill ride of mystery and intrigue, asking you the constant question of whodunnit.

This is a brilliant genre mashup, and I look forward to seeing where this series goes. Also if the opening line to the book “I was seven years old the first time my uncle poisoned me”. Doesn’t grab your attention. Then quite frankly you need to give your head a shake. This book deserves to be huge. Go out and buy it well done Sam.

Extract from Lifeshocks by Sophie Sabbage Posted By Dan Stubbings

Extract

Just In Case

As the targeted radiation continues to strike my brain, the hours replenish themselves. I am no longer judging this experience one way or the other. It is what it is and I am in it. Letting go. I have entrusted my beautiful brain to a team of strangers who are monitoring it every second to ensure I am still Sophie at the end of the procedure. And as I recognise this reality, gratitude dawns and spreads across my chest. This is what cancer does. It repeatedly brings my need for control to its knees.

All my life I have encountered Something Greater in the ebb more than the flow. From early on, I needed to march into the world not away from it, to find the sacred in the slime and grace in loss and peace on the other side of pain. I have never encountered the divine by going to a church or temple. I find it in those ‘lifeshock’ moments when what is really so confronts what I believe is so – until all the bullshit is shaken loose.

This is what Dr Brown, whom I knew as ‘Brad’, taught me: to look for specifics in a shit-storm; to pick one crest of one wave out of the rolling surf, the one that picks me by catching my attention more than the others; to hone in on a precise moment within the whole cascading experience. Not cancer, but ‘twenty-seven brain tumours’; not the loss of my books but the words, ‘I threw them away’; not date rape, but the bruises on my thighs after a night I couldn’t remember; not Gamma Knife radiotherapy, but the sight of a metal helmet screwed to my head like a vice when I looked in the mirror.

This is a lifeshock: a moment in time when something happens that you didn’t want or expect.

The specificity of these moments is very important. The mind loves to analyse events retrospectively, interpreting what happened by looking back on it and drawing conclusions. This is why some people spend years in counselling, trying to figure out the causes of their pain (which is a great way of not feeling the pain). Analysis does not reliably access the unconscious mind, which mostly stays hidden because that’s where it likes to stay.

When Brad was a practising therapist, he realised that taking people back to a specific lifeshock moment, and asking them to re-experience it, instantly unlocked their emotions and unconscious ‘mindtalk’ (what we tell ourselves about any given thing). It is like opening a file on a hard drive. This is because the thoughts and feelings we had at the time, which went unnoticed, are sealed in the memory of a single instant. You may have observed those occasions when you tell someone a story about something that happened in your life and, as you speak about the particulars, your feelings surface again, sometimes with great force. What I am describing is a way to invite emotions and mindtalk to surface very deliberately so that we see them in the clear light of day. This is a way to access the unconscious at will.

We get dozens of lifeshocks a day, some more significant than others. We allow many to bounce off us, unnoticed. We perceive them through our senses: we hear, see, smell, taste and touch them. They are external to us, appearing as empirical data and colliding with our internal expectations of how things should be. They are out of our control. Through lifeshocks, factual reality knocks on the door of personal reality, inviting us to realign with it, like sailors responding to sudden changes in the

wind direction by adjusting their sails. Discovering how to do so on a daily basis, while awakening and evolving in the process, is one of the primary purposes of this book.

Sometimes lifeshocks need to get very loud before we hear them. Sometimes we need to look death in the eye to realise what we want to make of living. Sometimes we don’t keep our promises until it is nearly too late. We think we have time. We get distracted. We doubt we can live up to our self-imposed standards. Until now, I haven’t known how to write about what Brad taught me and do it justice. He didn’t even do that himself. I’ve tried a few times and came closest in my first book, The Cancer Whisperer. But that didn’t express its true essence, just as it didn’t express the most sacred aspects of my relationship with cancer.

Lying in this machine is a thundering wake-up call to remind me I am ready. I don’t need to write the book he might have written or attempt to emulate him in the process. There is a story to tell that integrates various wisdoms I have collected along the way, including my own. I have found my own voice.

My mind quietens and something stirs in the stillness. I breathe. I listen. I wait.

Extract from Lifeshocks by Sophie Sabbage, published by Hodder, priced £17.99.

Extract from Right of Passage by Lee Jenkins Posted by Daniel Stubbings

Extract

I’m very pleased to share an extract from a new romance novel from author Lee Jenkins, Right of Passage. In it, we meet Chris and Miriam, an interracial couple in 1960s America fighting against racism, sexism and intolerance to showcase the transforming power of love.

 
I said, “I went to my sister’s house in Atlanta, and her family, and then to Florida to visit my mom and my other sister. It’s curious. I missed this place and couldn’t wait to get back.”

 
“Maybe to see Miriam.”

 
“Sure, but I mean this place, the job.”

 
“I know what you mean. You and she seem to like each other.”

 

“Is that what people think?”

 
“She likes you,” he said. I nodded. “A fine girl, Chris.”

 
“You talk to her often?”

 

“We talk, about music, things, just like you and I do.”
“I think sometimes she misses New York.”

 
“How’d it come about between the two of you, if you don’t mind my asking?”
I sort of squinched my shoulders. How could I even begin to try to talk about that?
“Were you thinking of it?” he persisted.

 
“Thinking of it?”

 
“Attraction, between the races.”

 
“I don’t know.”

 
“How’s it working out?”

 
“Like any relationship, I suppose.”

 
“But is it like any relationship?”

 
“Why not?” Let me hear, first, I thought, what his idea was of why it wasn’t like other relationships.

 
“There’s a difference, racial, ethnic, religious,” he said.

 
“Then there’s the pleasure in overcoming it.” That was true, and something that moved me immensely, and yet it was also completely irrelevant—or was it? I was silent as we each waited for the other to speak.

 
“I wish you well.”

 
I said, “You spoke of overcoming religious difference in your discussion of Yom Kippur in class.”

 

 
“I spoke of appreciating religious difference, to bring about an understanding and acceptance of difference, to live and let live.”

 
“I agree with that. But I guess I’d like to abolish that difference too.”

 
“Black and white, Jew and gentile will always be, and a thousand other differences.”

 
“I guess I’d like to mate them, you know, merge them, graft them into one homogeneous thing.” Probably I did not really know I felt this way until I found myself saying it. Even as I said it I knew he was right, that if we got rid of racial difference, for instance, and everybody looked alike, a new, different hierarchy of difference would be established, would emerge, for instance, people with bushy eyebrows vs. people with sparse ones.

 
“You’ve got your work cut out for you. Life is being ourselves, living our differences. How does she feel about this?”

 
“She doesn’t say.”

 
“She knows what it’s like to be different, if you know what I mean.”

 

 

“You know she’s multi-ethnic, right—her father is Yankee, English and French.”

 
“I imagined it.” His saying it made me wonder, though, what he had thought.
“How’s that for difference—the American way. You and I are different too, yet the same in basic ways; what people in their distinctions forget.”

 
“I understand you. You two are so interesting to look at. She’s a lovely girl. You’re a good-looking black man. But not just that. Probably I’m also talking about the impact you make. I know you. But it’s still arresting, startling, to see you.”

 
“Doesn’t it ever wear off?” I asked. Howard smiled, and I returned the smile. I continued, “We try not to notice. By ourselves, we almost never do, unless it’s a way to make ourselves happy about something.”

 
“Would you have children?”

 
“Sure we would.” Even she thought that, and wanted to bring it about. I imagined she thought, as I did, that they would be beautiful, the world a better place, I thought, and said.

 
“That’s one way to look at it. I came down here, I wanted to do something in that spirit, commitment in a worthy way, you know, to people, mutual respect.”

 
“Everybody respects you, appreciates you, what you do.”

 
“There’s love too, a need to give—I feel I should say that—in this world.” He went to change the record.
Lee Jenkins is a psychoanalyst and author. His novel, Right of Passage, is available from AEON books, priced at £12.99 in paperback. For more information see http://www.aeonbooks.co.uk/product/right-of-passage/40447/

Right of Passage tour

Extract from The Biggest Idea in the World by David Joland

Thanks for inviting me to do this Book Publicist.

I’m very pleased to share an extract from a new comedy novel from debut author David Joland, The Biggest Idea in the World. In it, we meet Barry Goodman, the world’s funniest, most loveable loser, and go on a hilarious ride as he attempts to take on the corporate giants of the world…and beat them at their own game!

An extract from The Biggest Idea in the World:

I’d spent three days searching airline websites before I concluded there are no flights to Silicon Valley, primarily because Silicon Valley doesn’t actually exist.

I found out it’s actually just a label applied to an area within Northern California in which the city of San Jose nestles. Its name’s derived from the large number of silicon chip innovators and manufacturers based there. As far as I can find, silicon isn’t even mined there, and there are no listings for silicon superstores from which to buy it either.

Within the region lie the corporate head offices of the world’s leading tech companies, including the likes of Google, Apple, Intel and HP.

The only direct way to get there from London is to fly to San Francisco, about 40 miles to the South of where the mythological Silicon Valley starts.

As we pull up at Heathrow, I feel like a pioneer as I prepare to fly off in search of the region in which billionaires are spawned. I log the exact time and make a mental note to include it in my Autobiography.

The car’s barely stopped as I lean over to kiss my wife, simultaneously kicking the car door open with my foot in my eagerness to get out.

She pulls her cheek away, which frankly, I’m grateful for. I won’t have to spend the next ten minutes with the taste of her face-gunk on my lips.

Old habits die hard, and I forget that now we’re divorcing, there’s no obligation to go through the pretence. Where there was once affection there is now open-warfare. I remind myself I still need her onside, so make an attempt to look hurt. I try several pouts before settling on one, which I think looks the most credible, but she’s staring directly ahead so doesn’t see it.

The car groans then bounces up on its suspension as I exit. It’s like she’s even primed the car to insult my weight.

I open the back door and take out my carry-on case, which I place by the kerb before reaching across the back seat to retrieve my umbrella. I’d checked the forecasts for San Fran – like all cool techies, I decide to drop the ‘cisco’ – and I knew there was no rain forecast, but I wanted to appear quintessentially British and there’s nothing more British than walking around with an umbrella. I’d discounted the bowler-hat as it was too cumbersome to carry and I wasn’t prepared to walk through Heathrow wearing it.

DavidJoland

David Joland is a novelist and businessman. His debut novel, The Biggest Idea in the World, is available from Amazon, priced at £8.99 in paperback and £3.99 as an e-book. For more information see thebiggestideaintheworld.com

 

Review of Gods of the Black Gate By Joseph Sale Written By Dan Stubbings

Review

Joseph has delivered a delightful mix of crime, weirdness, and futuristic literature which at times has you questioning your own consciousness and deepest fears. The backdrop of Mars in this sci fi/crime masterpiece only helps to heighten the level of intrigue, as disturbing and danger elements of the red planet are brought to life in breath-taking focus.

The story centres around detective Caleb Rogers who is made to relive one of the most horrific moments of his career. A psychotic murderer that he put away seven years ago has escaped from a maximum-security prison on Mars, and he is the only one who can catch him. This leads to a chase against time purging Caleb into levels of obsession where everything isn’t as it seems. As he goes in pursuit of Smiley he is forced to question everything he thought he knew about this demon from his nightmares and risk everything for his own sanity. Multi -layer subplots help add a delicious ingredient to the dark undertones, making you wonder are they connected or are they separate from the torments Caleb is experiencing. Exploring ideas that border on insanity, as Caleb tries to piece to together why this case has absorbed his life, and who are the Gods of Black Gate? Are they mysterious beings or cult in which this twisted tale seems destined to encounter.

One of the high points for me about this novel is the way in which Joseph has been able to weave such complexity into his characters. So that as you read you are taken through every spectrum of the human condition anger, despair, obsession, insanity and all in between. By the time you have finished you feel as though your brain has been torn in two due to the vivid imagery, and detailed backdrops in which our characters walk.

This dark and experimental masterpiece has all the hallmarks of a weird noir, or grim-dark crime, and reminds me of China Mieville, and Philip K Dick taking your mind through a hypnotising dance as you fight to understand its warped ways. Its receives 4 stars a highly accomplished read.

I received an advance review copy from the author this didn’t effect my views.

Review Of Tubing by K.A McKeagney Written by Daniel Stubbings

Today is my day on the Tubing Blog Tour. Thanks for the invite Red Door Publishing I am honoured.

Book Synopsis

Polly, 28, lives in London with her ‘perfect-on-paper’ boyfriend. She works a dead end job on a free London paper… life as she knows it is dull. But her banal existence is turned upside down late one drunken night on her way home, after a chance encounter with a man on a packed tube train. The chemistry between them is electric and on impulse, they kiss, giving in to their carnal desires. But it’s over in an instant, and Polly is left shell-shocked as he walks away without even telling her his name.

Now obsessed with this beautiful stranger, Polly begins a frantic online search, and finally discovers more about tubing , an underground phenomenon in which total strangers set up illicit, silent, sexual meetings on busy commuter tube trains. In the process, she manages to track him down and he slowly lures her into his murky world, setting up encounters with different men via Twitter.

At first she thinks she can keep it separate from the rest of her life, but things soon spiral out of control.

By chance she spots him on a packed tube train with a young, pretty blonde. Seething with jealousy, she watches them together. But something isn’t right and a horrific turn of events make Polly realise not only how foolish she has been, but how much danger she is in…

Can she get out before it’s too late?

Review

When Polly meets a handsome stranger on the way home from a drunken night out. Little does she know that it will change her life forever. Exposing her to sexual desires she never knew she had. After their steamy encounter she becomes obsessed, trying everything in her power to track him down searching tirelessly for anything to do with Tubing the name given to this underground game.  Then one night she stumbles upon him by chance, on the tube home having sex with another girl. Unbeknown to her this girl will be her undoing taking her into a world of secrets, where everyone is out to get you. After she witnesses something horrific, she is drawn deeper into this dark world and characters true motives are slowly revealed.  As coincidences begin to pile up Polly begins to wonder was it really a random encounter, or was she targeted. Making everyone a suspect, from her long-term boyfriend Oliver, to his sister Charlotte. As she fights to discover who is friend and who is foe?

This book hits all the hallmarks of an psychological thriller. Dark secrets, multiple suspects, and a setting that will make you never look at your follow passengers in the same way again. K.A has written London in such detail that you can almost hear the tube carriages rattling along their tracks, and smell the sweat of the commuters as this deadly sex game is played out.

Tubing has a fast-moving plot making the reader second guess every clue, and red-herring.  Even though the story is told mostly through the eyes of Polly. Well -built intertwined narratives on every character gives a real sense of depth, making no character feel wasted or just created to fill time between shocks. This is what made me read on forcing me to discover the final twist which trust me you don’t see coming. My only criticism would be that at times Polly’s character can play into the victim stereotype, as she struggles to escape the hold in which Sebastian has upon her. Making her question all she once held dear.

This is a highly polished debut from a writer who has clearly studied her craft. I look forward to seeing what she produces next. 4 Stars perfect for fans of Gone Girl, Girl on the Train, and in places 50 Shades. It doesn’t disappoint.

I received my copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This doesn’t effect my views.

About the Author

ka

K.A. McKeagney studied psychology in Bristol before completing a Masters degree in creative writing at Brunel. She won the Curtis Brown prize for her dissertation, which formed the basis of her first novel Tubing. She has worked in London as a health editor writing consumer information as well as for medical journals. Her writing has been commended by the British Medical Association (BMA) patient information awards.

She is currently working on her second novel.

Review of Mageborn by Stephen Aryan Written by Daniel Stubbings

Book Synopsis

Thousands died when mages sundered the earth and split the sky.
It was a war that devastated entire kingdoms.
Now one man believes eradicating magic is the only way to ensure a lasting peace. He and his followers will do anything to achieve his goal – even if it means murdering every child born with the ability.

Review

A riveting tale of mystery, intrigue, and at times mind-blowing scale, is what Stephen Aryan delivers in the first of a brand series Mageborn. Set in the same world as his Age of Darkness trilogy, Stephen weaves a complex tale of character driven fantasy always leaving you wanting more. This book was one of my most anticipated releases of the year, and I am glad to say it hasn’t disappointed.

I love the world of Age of Darkness the magic system, characters, environments, and sensory detail stayed with me long after I had finished reading the books. This book adds further to this grand world, providing us with new storylines on characters we were only shown glimpses of in the previous series to peak our interest, as well as revealing some secrets on returning characters such as my favourites Balfruss and Eloise.

This story is set 10 years after the war has taken place after the Warlock was defeated. The mysterious Red Tower has returned run by the Grey Council of Balfruss, Eloise, and Garvey helping to train children who develop the ability to use the source the well of all magic in the world. However, all isn’t running smoothly with growing fear of magic increasing everyday due to the rallying cries of soldiers, under the guidance of the complex Habreel, and mysterious Akosh who is she really? Leading to chaos throughout the West, and other countries as seekers the gold mask wearing mages tasked by the Grey Council, and the Red Tower, to discover children with the gift are attacked. Leading to witch hunts resembling the Salem witch trials, and Medieval England which I couldn’t help noticing as an influence within this story, as the fear and paranoia increases throughout the narrative all magic is threatened. Forcing our characters to make some difficult choices how will it all end?

The story is told from several points of view, giving a wider insight into the world which Stephen has created and allows threads to flow more naturally enabling a fast pace to be maintained. Resulting in epic fight scenes, and snappy dialogue which doesn’t slow down as you frantically turn the page to keep up. Stephen really does put the epic in epic fantasy.

Some of the characters I enjoyed most were Wren a young girl who is from the strict country of Drassia. Where girls are expected to conform, and respect their elders, and when their ability to access the source develops are sent straight to the Red Tower and can’t return home. The reason why I found her to be such an intriguing character, is because at the beginning she is shy just wanting to learn, trying to fit in, and make friends, which she does in the shape of Tianne a sweet timid girl who never says a bad word about anybody, and Danolph who unbeknown to them holds a talent which could impact on them all. However, this all changes when she is attacked by the school bully, displaying a power over the source which causes other students to respect her, and poses questions what can she see within the source, and what does she do that others don’t? You can’t help but fall in love with her vulnerability, and her determination as the story progresses. Forcing her to make some decisions which impact upon her present and her future.

The other character which will draw me back for the next book is Munroe. A powerful battlemage who has a complicated past, and is extremely protective of her family her son Sam, and her mercenary husband Choss.  Choss is another character which Stephen has developed which has me wondering. what did he used to be? As well the way in which Stephen leaves his story in this first installment, tore at my emotions in a way I haven’t experienced with most support characters recently in my fantasy reads. I must know what happens next because trust me it is one hell of a cliff-hanger.

However, getting back to the Munroe the reason why I think she was the one character I raced ahead during the book, so I could read her chapters. Is because of her diversity. She isn’t like most females I read in fantasies. She is a badass with magic, and hot headed which we have seen a lot in fantasy, but what makes her standout in my eyes, is that Stephen has written her with a delicacy and vulnerability which draws you in and makes you follow his cleverly written clues about her hidden past, as well as highlighting her frustrations about her abilities, and trust issues as she goes on missions for the Red Tower. Leading us as readers down many paths asking us who will she discover, and what will she hide to protect what she loves? I loved her such a strong focal point.

This book poses many questions for further additions to this already widespread world. If you love your fantasy to have well structured magic systems, strong female and male characters, mysterious towers, and more subplots than you can count. Then pick up this book a powerful addition to the fantasy genre a 5 star read.

 

Guest Post by Louise Dean Award Winning Author and Creator of Kritikme.com Posted by Daniel Stubbings

Offering advice on how to write and  information on her 90 day course read on:

The Five ‘fs’ that make great novels

As a writer I am known for my frank and darkly comic novels and have been writing for twenty years, but it’s only in the last few months that I’ve undertaken to examine my own process as part of the ‘apprenticeship’ I offer to novelists in my creative writing course at Kritikme.com. I took a close look at the mechanics of storytelling in classic literary novels and discovered that all longer form stories are tragedies and underpinning them are five elements that date back to Aristotle’s own study of the tragedy in his ‘Poetics.’ I have dubbed these the Five F’s.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating to would-be writers the pre-fabrication of plot or rigorous and lengthy plotting. When it comes to ‘plot’ I’d rather you did not. Tools for plotting, spreadsheets and charts become an alternative to writing. You think you’re ‘writing’, but you’re not writing.

‘Now listen carefully; except in emergencies, when you are trying to manufacture a quick trick and make some easy money, you don’t really need a plot….’ Katherine Ann Porter.

The story of a novel is propelled by a major moral crisis. The idea for a great novel can best be phrased in a paradox. Try noting one down one today. It’s easy; the rub between two opposing ideas will give you the spark of a novel. Dying man learns to live. That was mine for my first novel Becoming Strangers which won a couple of prizes The Betty Trask and Le Prince Maurice and found itself on the Dublin International Literary and the Man Booker longlist too. So, put the kettle and grab a pen and write your paradox down on the back of an envelope.

As they won’t be happy until they’ve done one, I ask my Kritikme.com writers to prepare a plot and then I suggest they throw it away.

I don’t think I could bring myself to the white page every day if I knew for sure what would happen next. As I explain to my writers at the very outset, and no doubt they find it either rash or reprehensible – prepare yourself for something like a love affair. As you may know, these are finest when brief and intense. Stephen King recommends a season, or ninety days, as the perfect timing for an affair of the heart, which a novel most certainly is. He’s right. You need to change your ways and hunker down.

The structure of a novel is important, but it’s not as important as creating work that’s driven by the main character’s compulsion to avoid facing what he or she must face to grow and become a hero or heroine. So the structure must be relegated to the creation of material, ruthlessly. That’s the gambit, that’s the game changer.

‘The structure of a piece is often something that happens quite late. Normally you can only decide what to do with what you’ve got when you can see what it is that’s there.’ Hanif Kureishi

It’s the secret to novel success, but it’s terribly hard to stop yourself biting the nails of your writing hand, which is where the routine, rigour and group mentality come into their own. You’re being encouraged held to account and a word count.

Once your material has started to take life, the structure can be applied to it, helping you make sense of what you. It is only at the back end that we draw upon the Kritikme Five F’s tragedy which unfold sequentially in a longer story:

  1. Flaw. The situation which accommodates his or her fatal flaw or moral problem shows signs of no longer being tenable….it is shifting.
  2. False hope. Your hero or heroine’s remedy seems to succeed … but fails terribly causing them serious damage or a reversal of fortune.
  3. Flight. He or she runs from the situation and gets insight into their flaw, recognising their failing.
  4. Fury. In deep, he or she rages against the hell around them.
  5. Facing it. They emerge from the fight with deep acceptance of their mortal condition and reconciliation with their true universal nature, either in life or death.

A novel lives and dies on whether your hero or heroine lives or dies. The Five F’s will see them – and you – through and despatch us at the front door of a home truth; that our welcome on this earth is one which begs each us to be able to take leave with decency.

Anyone who would like to write a book can write a novel, so long as they read books. What’s more you can write a novel and hold down a day job. You should write it in ninety days without fussing over plot, and apply the Five F’s when your material is in your hands. Another old chestnut I’d like to roast is that this is a lonely, solo, undertaking requiring a dusty garret with a sulking cat. On the contrary, it’s good to write alone, but it’s better to write alone in great company and we can thank advances in technology for the virtual companionship afforded by a community like Kritikme for making that possible.

‘My novel took up the sweetest part of my mind and the rarest part of my imagination; it was like being in love and better. All day long when I was busy … I had my unfinished novel personified almost as a secret companion and accomplice following me like a shadow wherever I went, whatever I did.’ Muriel Spark.

Louise Dean is an award-winning author published by Penguin and Simon & Schuster and nominated for The Dublin International Literary Award, The Guardian First Book Prize, and the Man Booker Prize. She is the founder of Kritikme.com, an online creative writing course which teaches people how to write a novel in ninety days. You can get a 10% discount on this course by using the code MYNOVEL10 at the check-out.

Thank you to Book Publicist for getting me involved.km