The 7 ways of the tale teller
May 23, 2013

sevenDid you think there were more? Well of course there are as many ways as people but a little bit of delving around reveals a strange and perplexing truth about storytelling – all the stories anyone ever writes are based around one or the other of the following seven themes:

1.       Overcoming the monster :dagger

Think of St George and the dragon, The War of the Worlds – and so topical now – Dracula and his gluttonous vampire army. Monsters represent our fears – dark and dank, and that we have to beat to achieve happiness. So of course that is why we are buried under a ton of vampire and werewolves  YA (young adult) fiction at the moment. What more dank and drear source of fear is there than adolescence?

 colours2. Rags to riches:

Oh easy, I hear you say – I’m getting the hang of this now. Cinderella, right? Well, yes, of course – and The Ugly Duckling, Jane Eyre, Slum Dog … it crosses all genre, cultures and  centuries. It gives credence to our belief in ourselves – we may start out mundane, poor, struggling, but we can – through hardship and trial, achieve the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and return home – bad boy done good etc. It may sound trite, but seeing the underdog triumph does us all good and gives us hope – so we love to read about it too.

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3. The quest:

Another very topical one here – Lord of the Rings is the best and most spectacular example of this – and it’s an epic journey too, but you could go for Watership Down, or Raiders of the Lost Ark as well. There must be a hero, a lure or pull to an all-important goal and thrills, spills and almost death along the way before success brings the conquering hero home again with their spoils. Uplifting, inspiring, escapism – wonderful!

4. Voyage and return:

The Wizard of Ox  – I had to have that one as it is the production my daughter is dancing in this summer, Alice in Wonderland, The Time Machine … Traveling out of everyday surroundings, the hero(ine) and the group of people traveling with them have to cope with the strangeness of another world, face shadowy threats  and make a thrilling escape back to a normality they now appreciate where they had found it boring and mundane before  – ‘there’s no place like home…’ (And of course there isn’t!)

5. Comedy:shoes too big man

Bridget Jones had us laughing all the way here and back with her, and then – if you’re a Shakespeare fan, so does The taming of the Shrew, A Midsummer Night’s Dream etc . It’s all good clean fun where the central character is blinded to the reality of things by their ego, short-sightedness, one track mind, whereas the reader/audience sees the wider picture and the humour lies in seeing the two juxtaposed. Of course our hero(ine) sees the error of their ways and All’s Well that Ends Well but not before they’ve been led a merry dance along the way. The end result is self-knowledge and reconciliation where there was harmony and unrest.

6. Tragedy:

Ironically the same as comedy – and essentially the same as all the other story lines ultimately, where there is a problem to solve, ordeals to overcome and a journey in search of the goal – but rather sadly, the outcome will involve – for some of the characters, at least – death, destruction or disaster. And if you’re watching  a Jacobean tragedy the body count on  stage will probably be higher than the numbers in the audience (I love a bit of blood and guts!).

And finally there is…

daffodils7.  Rebirth (as one would expect after death, destruction and disaster):

Again a journey to achieve self-realisation, but the enemy is often – at least in part – from within. Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, The Secret Garden are all based on rebirth. Often there is a direct confrontation between dark and light to achieve self-understanding and healing.

So let me think which of these I have written so far.

front cover CM

Chained Melody has to be rebirth, with an element of tragedy involved too. Someone or something has to fail, suffer or be lost in order for self-knowledge to enable the two main characters to achieve their form of happiness.

Web Web cover design - draftis dark and dire at times, and funny and lighthearted at others, but its message is all about seeing oneself and others clearly and putting that understanding together to create a whole. Two of the characters are so immersed in their own machinations they fail to see the most dangerous aspects of the whole until it is almost too late, and the other character is dark, dark, dark – confronting themself, and allowing the darkness to take over… It has elements of a tragedy too but is again a journey towards rebirth for my two dipsy daisies in it.

Then I have left to consider Falling Awake Falling awake draft cover design 2– which is definitely all about overcoming a monster – but defining the monster is as intriguing as finding out how it is overcome – or is it? And Patchwork People, which I have just started, is a quest, pure and simple.

Job done.

Web will be released in the Autumn, Falling Awake Spring 2014 and Patchwork People towards the end of 2014 (unless I get lost on the quest).

Which one of the 7 are you working on?

Follow me on twitter @Storytellerdeb

On Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/DeborahMartin.Author

Or find me on my website: www.debbiemartin.co.uk

His, yours, theirs or Gods – picking a POV.
April 28, 2013

daffodils

‘I wandered lonely as a cloud …’ (William Wordsworth)- 1st  person POV

 

 

‘He rammed the dagger hard under his victims ribs and watched the blood ooze stickily over his hand …’ (Debbie Martin) 3rd person POVdagger

 

And the tricky question is – ‘to be or not to …’ No, the trickier question still is ‘which POV to use?’

 

There are in fact several on offer – the five types of point of view (POV) are:

1. 1st Person Point of View – the person telling the story does it through their own eyes ‘I’. It allows the author to develop the inner workings of their characters mind and emotions in fine detail, but can be hard to pull off unless the character is completely ‘real’. Wonderful for psycho’s and deeply philosophical themes as you can really delve into motivations, but be careful not to get caught up in too much tell and not enough show..

2. 3rd Person Point of View – the characters actions are reported ‘he/she/they’ but can be expanded on by some explanation of why they do what they do… ‘she stole him. She thought Carrie must have known that she would steal her lover. Why wouldn’t she when she’d always been a bitch to her? It was just too easy not to …’ This POV reports fully, and has the advantage of being able to comment on the motivations behind the characters actions but is not ‘inside the head’ of the character as one could be when writing in 1st person POV. A useful mix of show and tell.

3. 3rd Person limited POV – the characters actions are reported but without the advantage of examining why they do as they do. The author has to really concentrate on showing why, rather than POV confusiontelling. ‘She stole Carrie’s lover. She’d always been a bitch towards her in the past …’ (but why had she?)

4. Omniscient Point of View – everything is revealed to the reader but not to the characters – often by a narrator, so the reader knows why everyone does everything, but the characters don’t. It’s rather like standing on the top of a tall building and watching the people scrabble around like ants below – you know who is about to be squished and who run off with the big crumb some other human dropped, but they don’t.

5. Limited Omniscient Point of View – like the characters, there are hidden parts of the story that the reader doesn’t know either  – a lot like real life, actually!

Once you’ve picked your POV, the trick is to stick to it – or rather, the trick is not to get unstuck by it and find you’ve switched POV half way through, without realising it…

‘He watched her approach from a distance, marvelling at the easy way she picked her way through the molehills that had erupted overnight on the smooth green lawn. She was slim and lithe, the way he liked women to be. The old fat woman who ran the site office disgusted him with her rolls of fat. This woman enchanted him.

She in turn was amused by his close scrutiny of her, wondering if he watched all women as closely as this…’

confusionIn the first paragraph, we are in 3rd person POV, which is fine.

 

In the second paragraph, we are also in 3rd person POV – which is also fine – but it is a different character’s 3rd person POV. Whoever you start with, stick with them; and whichever POV you are using, keep within it. Consistency is key.

 

I used 1st person POV all the way through in my novel Courting the Dark, which is due out in July. The twist though was that I have three heads I jump into to tell the tale – and one of them is very sick indeed, but the others don’t know that – and neither does the reader know who it is either! If you are telling all in 1st person POV, remember to also keep your reader hooked along the way. They either have to absolutely love and identify with the character your writing as, or be fascinated to know what is going to happen next despite being already in their head …

A little on characterisation  coming up next time …

Follow me on Twitter @Storytellerdeb

On Facebook: www.facebook.com/DebbieMartin.Author

or via my website: www.debbiemartin.co.uk

 

 

 

14 ways to turn a true tale
April 9, 2013

Style is a tricky tale. It’s not the letters and words that count, it’s the way you put them together – a bit like size not mattering. What’s even more difficult is that appreciation of style is completely subjective – what one person likes another hates. The most important aspect of style is finding the one YOU like.

quillSomeone once told me never to compromise myself or my values as whilst someone might detest me for my principles and manner of delivering them, someone else will love me and it whilst the person who loves me will read avidly and delightedly whatever I write, no amount of persuasion will coerce the detester to read the detested.  So what useful tips are there to be passed on about finding YOUR style? Here’s a flighty fourteen that I can think of, but there will be many more if you regularly listen to other writers views on writing and styling, starting with possibly the most important:

  1. Be true to you – be authentic. No –one else is you, and no-one else will express themselves like you so be you and be proud of you, whatever your thoughts, ideas, use of language or tone. You are unique: revel in it.
  2. Don’t worry about going over the lines. When we were children we learned how to carefully colour inside the lines and follow the required rote in class. Individualism is all about throwing away the rule book and devising your own so don’t worry if you express yourself differently or unconventionally. It is that too, which makes your writing unique and fascinating.
  3. Give your ideas room to breathe. If you cramp yourself up in either thought or response, you can never let anything grow and develop. Be prepared to let your mind and imagination wander, examine new and unexpected possibilities, learn new skills and question old ways. Open your mind and your style will follow.
  4. Say it aloud. When you read something aloud you have to out in the breathing spaces and intonation. If it doesn’t flow, make sense or has little impact, reading aloud will highlight the defects very quickly indeed.
  5. Tread the hire wire without a net. If you want to be fresh and inspirational, you have to be prepared to go out on a limb, examine ideas or concepts you may be uncomfortable with yourself, experiment with styles and words and content you might otherwise fight shy of. Don’t. Embrace a challenge and ‘blow the ****** doors off’!
  6. How do I ‘sound’? It isn’t only what you say it’s how you say it, so say it in a way that is both easy for you to express and for a reader to read. Your tone is as important as your content and style. If you moralise, you will potentially antagonise. If you judge, you will potentially alienate and if you don’t approach the issue with equilibrium, you will miss valuable aspects and opportunities to engage your readers.
  7. pen and bookDon’t worry if you aren’t the first. Plagiarism is word theft, but our ideas are nevertheless all the aggregates of every book we’ve read, film we’ve seen, discussion we’ve had or experience we’ve shared. Don’t be afraid to use these influences to bring your writing and your ideas to life because the take you have on it will be yours alone, and therefore, no matter how many times it may have been considered before, your treatment of it will be brand new.
  8. Write every day. Practice makes perfect, and more writing will encourage more writing – simples.
  9. Believe in yourself, because in order to write you MUST. You are the centre of your writing universe and in order to engage your readers, they have to believe that is so too.
  10. Don’t drivel – know what you mean and your reader will too. If you’re not clear on anything, research it until you are. Your reader needs to respect you and your information must be accurate.
  11. Study yourself know who you are so you can express yourself openly, honestly and with clarity. If you don’t know your own mind, no-one else will either.
  12. Write with passion. Become an artistic beast, not a domestic pet and express yourself freely. Don’t be prim, or proper, be bold and bad – readers want to read something inspiring and riveting- grab them, hold them and take them with you.
  13. Know your own values – much like knowing yourself, but values are the outward demonstration of your inner beliefs and they need to be apparent in your writing for your voice to be authentic and your writing to be credible. Take some time examining your belief systems and values so you know what it is you are subconsciously or consciously interpreting through your writing.
  14. 14.   Don’t follow the crowd – be unpredictable. You are, after all, aren’t you? You’re a writer …chinese writing

And if you want to try a bit of fun, see which writer you write most like here:

http://iwl.me/

and check out another useful blog/handout here (if you ignore the Americanisms):

http://writingcenter.unc.edu/handouts/style/

Follow me on Twitter: @Storytellerdeb

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/DebbieMartin.Author

Website: http://www.debbiemartin.co.uk

 

Finding a style
April 9, 2013

Writing style:

What is it? Is it genre-specific – a certain format that stamps the writers presence on their prose? Is it content specific – dependent on what you are writing about? Or is it all down to intent? An underlying principle that delivers a specific impact aside from the words it is conveyed through.

Probably all of these- and more. Style is a writer’s personal signature created through their collection and use of words. It seems easy, when we refer to a writer’s style, to assume that as soon as anyone starts writing, they immediately adopt their personal style and that’s it.

Child writing Of course it’s hardly that simple. Personal style is something that develops over a period of time- like the way children grow. The five year old shows only the tantalising whisp of the promise of the adult they will become. Professor Winston, in his documentary series of ‘7 up’, ‘14 up’ and so on tried to demonstrate how the adult-to-be was clearly present in the child, and in as much as he could indicate certain traits in  them, but it was very much down to the experiences they had and the opportunities that came their way that shaped their future. It’s the old nature/nurture argument. We have latent abilities  but we have to do something with them to develop them into skills, so writing style doesn’t automatically flow from the first piece of prose we write, it grows from practice and experimentation.

How to?

Trial and error, experimentation and repetition, and wide reading help, but in the end it will be down to time, volume and feedback that will ultimately develop the style you stick with – how you feel about it, how well it delivers the message you want to give, and whether your readers get that same satisfaction and understanding from reading it in that format. That is where writing exercises and prompts and subsequent feedback and critique has most value.

To play around with possible forms, look at a variety of writing styles amongst well-known authors – the flowing-thought style of Sylvia Plath in The Bell Jar , the densely descriptive and somewhat turgid style of Hilary Mantel (Bring up the Bodies), the pacy style of Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine (most recent – The Child’s Child)  or the almost conversational style of Julian Barnes (The Sense of an Ending). These are just a few ideas – pick a favourite author, or a new one you’ve not read before – or one that is a current award winner – of the Costa etc. Now, try out writing in their style and see how it fits with you. Take any piece of prose – it can just be taken from a newspaper article, if you like, and write it in the style you’ve chosen.  How does it fit with you? Are you happy writing in that style? How have you instinctively modified it? Do you like reading that style of prose?

writing 4

 

writing 3

 

writing 2

 

 

 

 

 

Now turn it around and take a section from one of their books and try paraphrasing it into your words. What comes out the other end? It will almost invariably be the style you instinctively slip into and that will form a basis for how you style your future writing, although you may adopt several styles depending on the work you are doing at the time. For instance essays and academic articles will almost certainly have a more literary and formal style, magazine articles more conversational and fiction may have any style you like to adopt as long as it melds with the genre you are writing in. After that, it is a case of write, write, and write, and you will hone your style more and more; and invite feedback and positive criticism whenever you can.

Do not take criticism personally; take it as a means to improvement, after all, the most successful style – however it is formed – is the one a reader wants to read.

Follow me on Twitter @Storytellerdeb

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/DebbieMartin. Author

Website: http://www.debbiemartin.co.uk

Tarantella – the art of the dancer
March 23, 2013

Having just blogged about burlesque and the art of person to person, body to body flirting that we seem to be losing in our digital age in my singles social blog ( ‘Have you got in touch with your naughty side recently?’), I thought I’d have a bit of a tinker with the start of the short story I entered for the ITV.com Racy Reads competition  about a month or so ago. No, I didn’t win – I wasn’t explicit, stemy or trashy enough – and I’ve never rally seen myself as the next Mills and Boon bodice ripper – or maybe now with the 50 shades advent; manacle gripper – but I did have fun writing something that would be more commercial than convincing.

Here we go then – the first 1000 words of Tarantella – do you fancy me completing it? If so, let’s have some naughty plotline suggestions please!

***

‘Carrie, come on – or management will be pissed with you.’ Danno sounded more than impatient, he sounded like management.

belly dancer for tarantella‘Coming.’

She pushed away from the spot-lit mirror and hurried up the stairs from the dressing room to the back of the stage. The noise and smells of the club greeted her, raucous and acrid.

‘They’re getting bored waiting,’ Danno chivvied her. She shrugged unconcernedly.

‘Then I’ll be all the more worth waiting for, won’t I?’ She hated this brittle bitch she had to pretend to be as ‘Tarantella’, but it was expected now. That was who she was to them all; a beautiful raven haired bitch, a tart without a heart. The private Carrie had got lost behind the public dancer. She wondered testily how they could be bored with so many other girls strutting and posing on the podiums around the club or desperately blagging dances in the VIP booths, but she knew what Danno meant.  They were waiting for her – for Tarantella, and the new club owner was there tonight too, wanting to see what he’d bought and what changes he might be making to it. She took a deep breath and stepped onto the stage to a mixture of cat calls and wolf-whistles, but a hush fell as she danced. In her private world she was Carrie, doing a job for money. On stage she was Tarantella, siren, charmer, beguiler, dancer; stripper. The chiffon layers slowly dropped away as she twisted and snaked, arching her back as her body undulated. The only sound was the music. The punters were mesmerised and she was glad the spotlight blinded her to them. She lost herself in the challenge to perform artistically, not simply strip. The music dropped as she slid the basque top away to show her small breasts, like ripe peaches, and the mood became more tense; sexual.

She didn’t like this part of the routine because it brought her too close to them and she could catch glimpses of the faces watching as she slithered and twisted. She reached the point in the dance where she had to face the audience and remove her g string, usually to deafening applause and shouts for more. She pulled the knot on the side but the sounds and the responses were lost on her as she met the piercing eyes she’d not encountered before – at the back of the audience, almost hidden. He looked smarter than most of the men there. He stood out from them for that alone. Maybe that was why she noticed him as she unintentionally glanced out at her audience?  His face was intent but not in a lustful way like the others; meditative – curious even. Who are you? It said. The bolt went through her like lightening. And who are you too?

She picked up her abandoned clothes and slipped quickly off stage.

‘Good stuff,’ Danno called after her. He was the nicer of the heavies and she called her thanks back – best to keep in with the bouncers. ‘The boss was up the back; the new bloke. Did you see him?’ She paused, pulling her clothes to her defensively; suddenly ridiculously shy at being naked now she was off-stage.

‘No, where? What’s he look like?’

‘Oh pretty non-descript, but smart-dressed, not like the other bums out there.’ So that had been the new guy, subtle, understated; but she’d sensed the power behind the quiet exterior. For the first time in ages her interest was stirred. She changed quickly into the cowgirl outfit she hated – all rhinestones and glitz. The hat was a monstrosity, but useful to play hide and seek with on-stage, gradually revealing the beautiful body she kept so privately to herself off-stage.

She didn’t hear him arrive as she strapped the tiny sparkling thigh holster on, stiletto boot braced against the vanity unit.Kinky boots

‘Ride-em cowboy!’ The voice was deep and smooth, like molten chocolate, but she was already anxious so she snapped a sharp response back without looking.

‘Oh get a life, can’t you?’

‘I already have a perfectly good one, actually.’ The reply came back quickly but mildly. She turned around in surprise to find him right behind her, so close her face was level with his chest and his musky maleness made her blood pulse faster. She looked up and met two amused blue eyes, crinkling boyishly at the corners. The same calm control and underlying power was apparent at close quarters too. She gasped under cover of stepping back to put some space between them before his proximity made her head spin. ‘I’m Jack Good, the new owner, and you, from the description must be Carrie – or Tarantella, by another name. Do you kill your lovers as well as your boss by paralysing them with your venom – or is that just a rumour?’ The barb was deserved but she couldn’t resist rising to it.

‘Only if they’re not clever enough to avoid it.’ She threw back her shoulders defiantly. The frail dark beauty became fire and fury. He raised his eyebrows.

‘I can see your spark isn’t just in your gun.’ He laughed and she felt put down. She didn’t like this man after all, but he disturbed her peace of mind nevertheless. He leant forward and whispered in her ear. ‘Dare you…’ So it would be a duel to the death then? She pulled the tiny gun from its holster and pushed it into his chest.

‘Bang, bang! You’re dead, Mister.’ She could feel the heat from his body and as she looked up their lips almost met. He smelt of brandy and the heady fumes mixed with her pounding blood.

‘Hey Carrie, where are you?’ It was Danno again.

‘Now you’ll have some fire in your performance.’ He breathed the words onto her lips. She trembled and he steadied her. What was this man doing to her? He surveyed her flushed cheeks and parted lips with satisfaction. ‘That’s what I like in my dancers…’

***

Images are:

1. Shakira at the Rock in Rio concert 2008 courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

2. Bondage by Raimond Spekking via Wikimedia Commons

Follow me on @Storytellerdeb

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And my website www.debbiemartin.co.uk

Protected: Confident dating
February 28, 2013

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Protected: A love tale come true
February 20, 2013

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In a box
February 12, 2013

I’m enjoying poetry at the moment – challenging to write about ideas and emotions, but truly satisfying when you manage to capture them in words. I’ve just finished editing Courting the Dark – the very first novel I wrote and which I have now reached version 4 with – that’s how many times I’ve changed it! I plan this to be the last time and in doing so, I added quite a bit more of the inner workings of my wicked teenage character Lily, who drives the plot and the narrative forward in the acerbic way only a sixteen year old could.

Having two teenage daughters myself – both with quick, brains, quick wits and even quicker tongues, I’ve been on the receiving end of the acid many times – but teenagers also have a pure and true vision of themselves and life unaffected by the ‘baggage’ older adults collect en route to enlightenment (or not). If one could distill this clarity of thought in amongst their confusion with growing up and learning how to live life, I think their vision of the world would be pure poetry, so I gave Lily a voice to make some. Here are her thoughts on her unrequited love for Matt.

 

walking legs lonely I watch you walk.

I hear you talk.

You walk and talk with others, not me.

It hurts.

I sense your presence.

I watch you listen.

You share your presence and your attention with others, not me.

It hurts.

I look into your world from the outside,closed window

Like a tramp looking through a window.

You’re inside, warm and loved.

I’m outside, cold and lonely.

It hurts.

dropped rose I put my feelings in a box –

A box full of darkness,

Because along with the love and the longing and the wishing,

There’s pain too, and pain is dark.

Pain, and anger and rejection.

They hurt.

Valentine’s Day is here, and lost love – or lack of love, will affect many people on the 14th February. Life isn’t all about romantic love, it’s about the love between all people, so smile at that stranger as they pass by, in case they have some hurts tucked away in a box too. Smiles have a way of opening doors – and boxes …

Follow me on Twitter: @Storytellerdeb

On Facebook: www.facebook.com/DebbieMartin.Author

And have a look at what’s happening next on my website : www.debbiemartin.co.uk 

A writers group is hopefully underway shortly so let me know if you’re interested in getting your ideas into words too.

Do you have an evil twin?
December 29, 2012

Do you have an evil twin?

You know the one that eats the packet of biscuits when you’re on a diet, or flirts with someone’s partner at a party, or secretly uses the credit card you’d hidden at the back of your purse when you know the credit balance is already too high, or eats the last rolo … the bad side

Yep, that’s the one. It’s your alter ego. The one you really don’t want to admit to but who is there with you, every step of the way, dogging the nice, kind, principled things you do with the mean little comments about what you’d really like to do…

Now that sounds bad – and a little weird, but actually its ok for us to all have that BAD person inside because comparing like with like doesn’t work, but comparing good with bad lets you see what is really the right thing to do and what really is not! Good and bad luck work the same way. If you didn’t have bad things happen to you occasionally, you wouldn’t be able to leap about in quite the same way when something good pops up. If it was all good, there would be nothing different to notice would there?

So why do we have a good and a bad side? Freud, Jung and a whole host of others psychs have plenty to say about it. Maslow is famous for proposing that human motivation is based on a hierarchy of needs. The lowest level of need is physiological and survival needs, such as hunger and thirst. Further levels up include belonging and love, self-esteem, and finally self-actualisation.

Self-actualisation, hmm – what the ****** is that? Well the nearest in layman’s language to it is

  • the discovery of one’s vocation or destiny,
  • the realisation of life as precious,
  • acquisition of important experiences,
  • being able to developing choice,
  • and having a sense of accomplishment.

Ok, what has that to do with good and bad? Well, the crux of that is as we approach a new ‘New Year’. Are your choices and your 2013 going to be ‘bad’, or ‘good’? Is your alter ego who grumbles about everything, criticises everyone, refuses to do anything new, and is dissatisfied about life in general because it is all ‘bad’ going to take the first step into 2013, or is your ‘good’ persona going to beat it there?

midnight approachesWe are all about to face the New Year’s resolution crisis point any day now in a time when the economy is in recession, businesses are failing and everyone is finding it tougher and more depressing than any time since the 1930’s. Those New Year choices will take you at least a year forward; maybe much further, so don’t let your alter ego keep you in the old ways of 2012. Be pro-active if you haven’t, brave even if you don’t think you are, optimistic even though you’re not. It’s not surprising to know that ‘self-actualisation’ is in your hands, and so is the fate of your evil twin …

I have given life to two evil twins in Courting the Dark which is coming out next year. One of the characters is my weak and silly side, and another is my very wicked one. Now you have to read the book when it comes out to see what they’re like, don’t you 😉

Come and read more on www.debbiemartin.co.uk

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The Dinner Party
December 6, 2012

Christmas ain’t Christmas without a bit of a spooky tale, so here’s mine …

tableware for dinner party‘A dinner party? Can I bring a plus one?’ A frisson of something trembled in my soul.

‘Of course – do we know them?’ He just laughed. We were on the phone so I couldn’t see his expression.

‘See you later then.’ He sounded happy – certainly not how I’d expected him to be after Clem, but he’d gone and I was left wondering.

‘Was that who I thought it was?’ The voice was muffled from under the table. The owner’s prone legs were splayed across the floor, extending oddly from under the table cloth, as if a murder victim had just been hastily stuffed out of sight.

‘Yes, and he’s coming tonight.’

‘That’ll be interesting after all this time.’ The tone was sarcastic.

‘With someone.’

‘Oh.’ Silence, then more curiously, ‘who?’

‘He didn’t say.’

‘In that case it’s going to be really interesting.’ The table shook as if the murder victim’s spirit was attacking it and then both table and legs settled into stillness. I waited for the body to rise from its last resting place, but table and legs remained motionless. It made me feel queasy but I didn’t know why.

‘Are you ok under there Alex?’ I asked, suddenly worried.

‘Yeah, just thinking.’

‘Thinking?’

‘About Jay and Clem and the way they just went – you know.’ Alex didn’t need to say any more. I did know. More than Alex did, in fact; but I was keeping that to myself.

‘Yes, well if you’re done under there, we should lay up now.’

‘Yep, all done, I’ve tightened up all the screws so it shouldn’t collapse under the weight of the food – or the conversation.’ The comment ended in muffled laughter and the table shook again. The legs wriggled out from underneath it, bringing the rest of the body with them.

‘Haha! Very funny.’ I turned away and went back to the kitchen to find the wine. Tuneless whistling floated in from the dining room and I guessed the table top was being transformed for the dinner party now it was safe to sit at again. I ignored the annoying whistling and turned my attention to the wine rack. I usually relished choosing exactly the right wine but my head wasn’t on it tonight. All I could think about was the plus one Jay was bringing – and what about Clem? I checked the clock. It was already seven-thirty. They were all due at eight. I called to the table and its legs.

‘If you’re done there, can you check the oven? I’m sorting the wine.’

‘OK.’ It was louder than expected and I turned in surprise as Alex appeared in the kitchen doorway, flushed and dishevelled from the table wrestling.

‘Maybe have a bit of a tidy up too?’ I added pointedly. Good humoured laughter bubbled around the hallway.

‘Um, I see what you mean.’ The reappearing vision was sleek and immaculate. I felt imperfect and uneasy. I pushed past into the cool of the hallway, assessing which me I saw in the mirror. I wondered what Jay would make of me, five years on. Five years – had it really been so long; since Clem had happened? I was startled out of my reverie by the doorbell jangling insistently.

‘It’s for you-oo,’ came light-heartedly from the kitchen, along with the smell of perfectly cooked Beef Wellington.

‘I’ve got it,’ I called back impatiently. I opened the door, the angry angst-ridden me well hidden under the hosts charming bonhomie. ‘Ange, Mike – how are you?  Ange enveloped me in a cloud of too-strong perfume and billowing chiffon.

‘Darrrling, how are you – it’s been ages.’ She was right – for all the overdone lovey-ness, it had been the same five years of ages as since I’d seen Jay or Clem.

‘We’re good, thanks Ange.’ I disentangled myself and Mike’s less flowery and more business-like hug was a relief. ‘Come on in.’ I turned to call out to the kitchen, but Alex arrived with drinks right on cue. Eventually the storm of hello’s, hugs and darrrrlings dissipated and we moved into the warmth of the lounge, warily convivial. The bell went again and I rushed to answer it, trying to quell the jitters that it would be Jay this time. It wasn’t. Agitation overcame courtesy with the Betterware woman collecting the catalogue she’d left earlier. I flung the unwanted package at her and slammed the door in her face. Belatedly a wave of shame made me redden. I re-joined the forced conversation in the lounge, knowing the only conversationalist I wanted to bandy words with was yet to arrive, but God knew who with. Unbidden, the old jealousy consumed me. I wondered if I could even be civil to Jay’s plus one. Trying too hard to concentrate on Ange’s gushing, I almost missed the third ring, but in the visceral depths of my gut, I heard it instinctively. I was beaten to the door. Momentarily I hated Alex with a hatred I’d felt only once before but I didn’t have time to dwell on when. The lounge door burst open and before I could prepare myself, Jay was standing in front of me.

‘Hey,’ he was embracing me and I was drowning in his sharp-spiced smell, his proximity, his warmth and the desperate yearning I still felt for him. My head spun and I held onto him tightly. ‘Such a long time.’ He breathed the words into my ear and they spiralled round my head like a tornado funnelling into oblivion. In the eye of the storm, was his plus one. As my head cleared and my vision settled, she stood quietly and ominously behind him in the dark hallway. I pulled away sharply, waves of fear travelling up and down my body like electricity, sparking, shorting, sparking; killing.  Clem from Dinner party

‘Clem!’ My exclamation killed all talk in the lounge. I sensed something behind me and found the lounge conversationalists had clustered there, mixing their sweat and perfume with my dismay. Jay smiled at Clem and beckoned her in. The clamouring bodies behind me parted like the red sea for the unexpected, and mysteriously, very alive, plus one.

She passed through us, as if we didn’t exist; or maybe she didn’t exist? I was starting to doubt my own senses and sanity now. Jay just smiled enigmatically, and followed her. From my vantage point obliquely opposite I observed her apprehensively. Exactly the same as the last time I’d seen that elongated bony face, with its too large eyes, black, black hair and white skin. Now if possible, the pale complexion had become almost translucent; unhealthily waxen, as if she really wasn’t there at all – the way I’d thought it was.

‘Who’s hungry? Shall we sit for dinner?’ The jovial enquiry broke the tense silence, and the buzz of who was sitting where eased us round the table. Legs sticking angularly out from a lifeless body as it sprawled out from under the table. I found myself directly opposite Clem and Jay; the last place I wanted to be.

‘Clemmie, darrrling; where have you been hiding yourself?’ Ange didn’t wait for a reply. She rounded straight on Jay. ‘We thought it must have been a crime passionelle when she just disappeared and then you went persona non grata too.’ I watched Ange preen herself for what she considered wit. Mike wriggled further back in his seat beside her, face closed, but body expressing his discomfort. I knew what was going on behind those blank grey eyes. I’d heard him explode at her once after she’d been particularly pretentious at one of our dinner parties long ago – Christ why were we having this one?

‘Crime passionelle and Jay? Oh, Jay would never hurt a fly. He wouldn’t be the one to be involved in a crime passionelle.’ Clem smiled icily and everyone froze a degree colder. Her eyes slid back to me. Jay interjected quickly.

‘We’ve been on a bit of a tour.’ Four pairs of eyes trained on Jay and waited for more. Clem remained supremely aloof, face shadowed, tensed, dangerous; in control. ‘Clem was a little unwell so we went some places to make her better.’ He flashed a brilliant smile at her and then at me, as if including me in the secret of the places they’d been to make Clem better. That last time, I’d left her, the skin had been pale as death, the face a mask, blood pooling stickily under her head.

‘You’re looking well now.’ Mike offered it up dubiously, and Clem nodded graciously at him. Ange looked at him as if he was mad – a green-eyed stare like a cat would give its enemy. Clem looked quiet and serious. A far cry from the lascivious woman who’d tried to steal greedy kisses from me just before I’d left her broken and lifeless.

‘The starter’s mushroom pate. I hope you all like mushrooms?’ Alex was valiantly trying to break the ice patina rapidly spreading over us.

‘Magic mushrooms, darrrling?’ Ange’s trill made the rest of us cringe.

‘Oh Ange, really …’ Jay patted her arm as if she was a naughty but delightful child. She tittered and combed her hair flirtatiously at him. Clem’s eyes swivelled back to her and the dark lights in their depths terrified me. Where had they been to make her better? How could you make a dead body better? 

‘How’s things in the psycho industry then Maz?’ He was talking directly to me. I pulled myself together enough to reply.

‘Oh, mad as ever.’ The laughter was appreciative and I breathed out, avoiding Clem’s black-eyed stare, wishing I’d never visited their house that day. ‘I dream about you day and night, Maz. I want you. I know why you are always round here, always offering to help, always checking in on Jay … ’ Her hands were clawing at me, grasping, squeezing, her mouth almost on mine, her heavy breath hot on my face, stealing my own away from me… ‘You know what they say about psychiatrists don’t you?’ I might as well play my audience for all I could if it would deflect that hateful stare from me. ‘You can’t tell them from the patients …’ Raucous laughter showed it had been well received and the wine choice I’d made had been a good one – one of the highest alcohol volumes I had, and chosen specifically for that reason, but not to promote gaiety, to promote softening. Jay’s softening, Jay staying, Jay, Jay, Jay. I tried to shut down the insistent voice in my head, but it was replaced instead by Clem’s,‘Maz, Maz, Maz.’ …

The memory of that last time I’d seen her couldn’t be ejected from my thoughts now. It had taken me over body and soul. She wouldn’t leave me alone; I couldn’t wipe the slimy disgust of her saliva from my lips or escape from her burning eyes, or the threat she posed … ‘Maz, Maz, Maz.’ … ‘Get off me you stupid bitch. It’s not you I come here for, but Jay.’ I flung her forcefully away from me and her head cracked against the table edge…

‘Do psychiatrists live in the real world, or their imagination, do you think, Maz?’ Clem was coolly vicious. The conversation around us flowed on, witticism, quip, joke, flirt, ‘more wine?’ No-one else heard her low-voiced question. They weren’t meant to. Only she and I were in this discussion.

‘This is real, so of course the real world.’

‘Is it?’

‘Is it what?’

‘Is it real?’

‘Of course it is.’ I looked at the exaggerated expressions on the other dinner party guests; wide-eyed, laughing, bored, polite, exasperated. I realised they weren’t talking to us and we weren’t talking to them. There was an invisible barrier between us – like we were in another world, alongside but not touching. Clem smiled mysteriously. ‘Are you dead, or alive?’ She tilted her head quizzically and my mind rushed back to that day again. Her face collapsed in on itself as if life had imploded as her head struck the table; first the surprised look, then the blankness of death. She tumbled awkwardly to the floor and lay there. The table wobbled and then was still. Her legs stuck out angularly from the lifeless body as it sprawled half under the table. Shock turned to nausea as I turned to see Jay coming through the door to the room. Could he forgive me?

‘What do you want me to be?’ I considered the question. The real answer was neither. Alive meant either I was going insane or she was some awful thing from beyond the grave. Dead meant she was some awful thing from beyond the grave or I was already insane. ‘Or more to the point, why am I here with you, and they can’t see me?’ I looked around at the four other faces. They seemed even more distant than before.

‘What is going on?’ I hated her. Now I remembered that hatred in fine detail where I’d only remembered it dimly earlier. I wanted to address Jay, but he was across the divide with the other dinner guests. It was only Clem and me here.

‘It’s confession time, my dear. Just tell them what really happened and we’ll leave you in peace.’ I didn’t want Jay to go, but I wanted Clem to. Greedy, demanding, disgusting, hateful Clem, who’d taken my Jay and made him infatuated with her. Greedy, demanding, disgusting, hateful Clem, who’d tried to kiss and paw me when the only one I wanted to do that was Jay. Greedy, demanding, disgusting, hateful Clem, who had Jay, and didn’t even want him. ‘I won’t go away until you admit you killed me.’

‘You fell.’

‘Fell?’ Clem’s voice was sinuous like a python coiling round me.

‘You fell.’

‘Why did I fall?’

‘You just fell.’

‘I didn’t just fall. Tell them, tell them!’ Her voice rose from its soft sibilance to a harpies’ shriek. I covered my ears in agony as her banshee wail made my head split apart and the blood pooled stickily under it.

‘I pushed you, OK? I pushed you off of me, you slut, and you hit your head on the table.’ My voice reverberated around the room as the dinner party froze, forks in mid-air, glasses poised to clink, heads’ thrown back in surprise. I catapulted back through the eerie barrier from Clem’s world to my own.

‘We said to absent friends, Maz.’ Alex touched me lightly on the arm, ‘and how sad it is Clem isn’t here anymore, but we’ll toast her anyway – across the ether.’ She turned to the rest of faces round the table, all looking oddly at me, and added, ‘to Clem – RIP.’ I breathed in the smell of fruity red wine and Beef Wellington, over-perfumed women and after-shaved men. Maz from the dinner party

I looked gratefully at my wife Alex. Jay and his new girlfriend looked back.

To me she still looked exactly like Clem.

Enjoy.

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Chained melody final cover

If you fancy longer reading in 2013, my new novel ‘Chained Melody is out on 18th January and will be available then on Amazon.