Archive for October, 2012

One question writers seem to dread is ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’

Stories are everywhere but sometimes when you are sitting at your computer and facing a blank screen wondering why it is taking so long to come up with a thousand words, the ideas can simply vanish.

One way to get them back is to relax and stimulate your subconscious. There is far more going on in there than you know. The trick is to get at it.

One way is to use tarot cards. I like Barabra Walker’s tarot cards, although the deck is currently out of print. I used them to construct the plot of my novel Winternights and to tease out more detail about the characters.

I found this image of the Babylonian fish god, Dagon, on a blog called Mandrake’s Rootwerx. Interestingly, the writer says on his blog that it’s one of his favourites for constructing plots and for overcoming writer’s block. I’ve chosen this image because it features in my novel. It comes up during a tarot reading and helps the protagonist track down the murderer.

Many people are frightened of the tarot. They are frightened to look at the cards or to touch them. This illustration of Dagon does have something a little scary about it. It has a primal, jarring quality. There is even something diabolical about it.  I won’t put an image of the devil card here in case it really freaks you out, but if you search for the picture in Google Images, you will find dozens of different horned creatures set against fiery backgrounds and with worshippers or abject slaves at their feet.

That fear or even revulsion that some people have is a sign that the cards have a lot to tell them. I was very scared of the tarot at first. When I was a teenager, my parents wouldn’t have it in the house. It is this emotional relationship with the images that makes them so powerful.

A popular tarot deck is Robin Wood’s. He has written books on the tarot but he says

“I advise you not to look at the booklet, for my deck or for any others. I find it works far better to look at the card, and assign it the meaning that feels right for that particular reading.”

I agree with this. Although I am very literary and read dozens of books on everything, the best way to use the tarot is to let each card speak to you through its imagery.  In fact, I have trimmed all the writing off my Barbara Walker deck. I just use the pictures without any text at all.

Barbara Walker, incidentally, wrote two very good books about mythology and symbolism:

The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects (1988), Castle Books, ISBN 0-06-250923-3

The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets (1983) ISBN 0-06-250925-X

She wrote many more books than these, in fact. I’ve found they are good not just for women.


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I thought I’d write a scary book in time for Halloween. It’s called Winternights and it’s a murder mystery.

Winternights is like Halloween but without the candy. It happens in the Nordic countries. All kinds of ghostly creatures swoop down out of the sky and scare the living daylights out of you. In Scandinavia they celebrate this kind of thing.

But my novel is set in a little village in England, where a group of occultists are gathering in the home of an Icelandic shaman. It’s just like an Agatha Christie novel, in other words.

I wasn’t sure I’d finish it by October, which, like Halloween, is when Winternights happens. So to hedge my bets I put some Yuletide celebrations in there as well. If I haven’t sold any copies by December I’ll change my marketing plan and republish it as “The Christmas Murders.”

I’m not sure seasonal marketing is a good idea. The professionals start early. I noticed most of the Halloween articles appearing in online publications weeks ago. But there’s always next year, isn’t there?

Cunningly, I haven’t called my novel “Halloween” so I have some flexibility. In England we have winter nights for at least six months of the year.

If I appear flippant it’s because murder is a such a terrifying subject. In my novel you’ll find some very unpleasant themes. There are dark secrets, weird beliefs, shocking disclosures and sickening twists.

I hope it doesn’t give you nightmares. Although, in a way, I also hope it does.

Winternights is available at the following sites:

UK Kindle

US Kindle


German Kindle

French Kindle (dans le collection Joseph)

In the coming weeks you’ll also be able to find it on iTunes, Barnes & Noble and all the usual retailers.

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Ruggedly Intellectual

Ian Rankin isn’t stupid. He may be rugged but he knows when he’s beaten. The publication of his new novel, Standing in Another Man’s Grave, has been postponed until November.

He hopes the fuss about J.K. Rowling’s latest novel will have died down by then and people will have some pocket money once again to splash out on his new hardback.

I have to admit, I have never read an Ian Rankin novel, though I do own a paperback copy of Knots and Crosses that I bought after hearing him enthuse about R.L. Stevenson on television some years ago.  R.L. Stevenson is a particular favourite of mine. I thought, if Ian Rankin can be so articulate and passionate about this brilliant writer, his own books must have some good in them.

Unfortunately, I still haven’t read one so I can’t comment. No hard feelings, I hope, Ian. I do follow you on Twitter, at least.

Quite a lot of people comment without reading, though, as I noticed when scouring the reviews of The Casual Vacancy. And I don’t just mean the rowdy public, who, predictably, were running amok in the comments sections of the dozens of reviews and articles I saw. Even professional and quite intellectual journalists were venturing opinions and judgements on the novel without having read it.

One of the attitudes that really irritates me, which I have seen voiced many times by critics, commentators and, sadly, publishers, is that children’s authors can’t write for adults. As if writing for children is easier. It isn’t. In my opinion it’s a lot harder. This is probably open for discussion. But the dismissal of a book on this basis isn’t. It’s simply wrong.

And another attitude that grates is that R.L. Stevenson is a children’s author. I did enjoy reading his books when I was 15 but I would never give The Body Snatcher or Markheim to a child to read.

I did, after much frustration, come across one review that seemed to be informed by a thoughtful reading of The Casual Vacancy. It was by Melvyn Bragg in The Observer and it began:

This is a wonderful novel. J.K. Rowling’s skills as a storyteller are on a par with R.L. Stevenson, Conan Doyle and P. D. James. Here, they are combined with her ability to create memorable and moving characters to produce a state-of-England novel driven by tenderness and fury.

It was good to see Melvyn paying tribute there to R.L. Stevenson as well as J.K. Rowling.

I still can’t comment on The Casual Vacancy because I haven’t finished reading it. But I’m afraid publication of my own novel, Winternights, will be delayed because of it. I was hoping to get Winternights published by 15 October but I have been so engrossed in J.K. Rowling’s novel that I haven’t finished editing my own.

I am still planning to get it out by the end of the month, though, because October is the month of Winternights and the moon, you know, is a harsh mistress.

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