Visual Brain, Audio Brain

I don’t think I read like a writer. This makes things tricky sometimes, as ‘read like a writer’ seems to be one of the foundation pieces of writing advice. ‘Read like a writer, write like a reader’ – isn’t that how it goes?

I feel like I should concentrate on the words and structure when I’m reading – pick apart the way the writer chose to describe this or gloss over that, what techniques they use to form the sentences that become the story. But, unless I concentrate, that isn’t how I read.

When I read, I often lose track of the words completely. I’m aware of them on a subconscious level, but in my head, I’m seeing the story happen. I feel pretty weird about this – it seems like a way of reading that would make more sense for an artist or film-maker than it does for a writer and former literature student.
What makes it weirder is, when I discussed this with my boyfriend – who is interested in film-making, and does 3D animation in his spare time – I found out that his experience of reading is the total opposite. He doesn’t see the story in his head at all. Instead, he hears it, as if it were an audiobook.

Is it random? Or does the way we read contrast with the way we create? A sample size of two isn’t even close to enough to draw a conclusion, but as far as my own personal experience goes, it doesn’t feel complementary – I’m never sure if I’m writing well, because I can never remember how my writing (as in, the actual nuts-and-bolts, words-and-sentences of my writing) matches up to what’s already out there in the world. But maybe I’m absorbing it subconsciously, and my brain treats my writing like the reverse of my reading, taking images from my and somehow turning them into words.

How do you read? And does have any connection to how you write?

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Six Stories Amazon Could Adapt Instead of Lord of the Rings

This week, the news has been full of the announcement that Amazon is adapting The Lord of the Rings for TV – and the reactions haven’t been pretty. Many people have asked why they’d even bother, pointing out that the films really weren’t made that long ago, and that in the meantime, there are literally thousands of other stories out there that would make brilliant TV adaptations.

I’m firmly in that camp. I loved the LOTR films (the less said about the adaptation of The Hobbit the better), and wish that, instead of rehashing something that’s already been done well, Amazon, Netflix, or any of the other contenders would give a chance to some amazing stories that are somehow still yet to be adapted. Here are my picks:

 

The Song of the Lioness series, by Tamora Pierce

Alanna’s adventures as a trainee knight and then a legendary adventurer changed my life when I read them – and now, CGI is good enough to do the magic-heavy, monster-filled world of Tortall justice. Pierce has given any TV company an enormous sandbox to play around with, thanks to her extensions of Alanna’s world in follow-up series like Wild Magic and Protector of the Small. If you wanted to make a family-friendly Game of Thrones, you couldn’t do better than diving into Alanna’s world.

 

Cruel Summer, by Juno Dawson

A tense and shocking thriller never goes down badly, and I think audiences would love Juno Dawson’s Cruel Summer, where a group of friends meet after their first year out of school to catch up, soak up the sun, and perhaps find out which one of them killed the last member of their group one year ago. It wouldn’t even be expensive to film; one location, a tiny cast, and no fancy special effects – just creeping terror.

 

Ms Marvel, by G Willow Wilson

I will never shut up about how Netflix needs to bring in some light, fun Marvel stories to counterbalance the grimdark they’ve had going on for a few years. Ms Marvel would make a fantastic addition to Netflix’s Marvel canon, and bring in a child and younger teen audience. Kamala is one of my favourite heroines ever, and would work so wonderfully on screen.

 

The Dresden Files, by Jim Butcher

All right, I know The Dresden Files has technically already been adapted – but the less said about that, the better. A modern streaming platform could turn PI wizard Harry Dresden’s world into something as complex, chilling, and spectacular as the book series.

 

The Keys to the Kingdom series, by Garth Nix

This is another series where the potential of CGI needed to catch up to the content of the stories – but I believe it has, and Nix’s fantastic, confusing, constantly-shifting world would be such an exciting place for a TV series to explore. There are brilliant villains and compelling heroes and heroines in these books, and a gorgeous world for designers and animators to play around in.

 

Undead, by Kirsty McKay

You can’t go wrong with a zombie story, and McKay’s has a twist on the others I’ve read or seen during my ongoing zombie obsession – the outbreak occurs on a school trip, and the only people left alive to try and survive it are a handful of the children. It’s a survival horror story that ticks all the right boxes, and would translate fantastically from page to screen.

 

What neglected story would you choose to be adapted? Tell us in the comments!

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Inktober

This month, I decided to do Inktober. I used to draw all the time, but several years ago I got out of the habit, so I decided an online challenge would be the best way to get back into it.

Doing Inktober reminded me how much I love the physical act of drawing. I love the feeling of pen on paper, creating something tangible. Even though I do a lot of my writing longhand, it’s not the same – I’m drafting stuff to type up, not creating something for the sake of itself.

On several of the days, I was grabbing minutes to draw instead of taking my time over it. While I’d started out with the intention of doing wonderful, unexpected, esoteric takes on the prompts, I usually just ended up taking everything very literally.

Still, I’m pretty happy with how I did. I made sure to push myself, trying poses and full-body pictures that I normally wouldn’t have attended. (And hands. God, I hate hands).

Inktober was great fun – I loved participating, and seeing what everyone else was drawing as I went along. Next month, I’m diving back into Nanowrimo, but I’ll definitely be doing Inktober again in future years.

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Non-fiction faves

One of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve ever seen was to read as much as you can, in as many different genres as you can find. It teaches you more about style, structuring, and characterisation than you can learn any other way – what to do, what not to do, what works for your story and what doesn’t.

Reading non-fiction can help with this as well, but I’ve found that it’s most useful for other things – ideas, worldbuilding, and backstory, for example. Reading non-fiction leads me on trains of thought that end up taking my fiction in directions I hadn’t expected. Here are some of the non-fiction books I’ve enjoyed most this year:

 

Brain on Fire by Susannah Calahan

Brain on Fire is Susannah Calahan’s account of what she describes as her ‘month of madness’ – a time when she suffered from an autoimmune brain disease that was initially misdiagnosed as bipolar disorder, then schizophrenia, then psychosis. Calahan’s in-depth, personal account of her illness is a fascinating and frightening read, reminding us just how complex the brain is and how drastically it can change in the face of an illness.

 

Whoever Fights Monsters by Robert K. Ressler

Thanks to the podcast My Favorite Murder, I’ve been on a true crime binge this year, and Whoever Fights Monsters has been the most interesting book I’ve read in a long time. Written by one of the FBI agents who set up their serial-killer profiling unit, it goes into great (and often gruesome) detail about the ways killers’ minds work, and what might be going on in the heads of the people who commit the horrific crimes Ressler describes.

 

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

Another true crime read, this book is about the case of H. H. Holmes, the serial killer who built his ‘murder castle’ in Chicago in the 19th century – but it’s also an amazing account of the building and success of the Chicago World’s Fair. The positive, creative forces of the World’s Fair designers and architects are pitched perfectly against the equal but opposite ingenuity H. H. Holmes applied in his carefully-planned murders.

 

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

I think I’ve written about this book before (I have nearly 150 posts on this blog, leave me alone), but The Radium Girls is a horrific, terrifying, but ultimately hopeful account of the young dial painters who suffered from radiation poisoning after ingesting large amounts of radioactive paint that their employers had told them was good for them. The women’s legal battle to get decent compensation is heartbreaking and frustrating, but their stories deserve to be heard and remembered.

 

I’ve got a load more non-fiction books lined up on my Kindle, and I can’t wait to get through them. Which non-fiction books would you recommend?

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Thought Bubble 2017

Last weekend, Team Footloose went to one of our favourite comic cons, Thought Bubble. We’ve been there a few times before, but this year was different – for one thing, the entire con had moved. Instead of being at the Royal Armouries (which is a brilliant museum, that’s well worth a visit even when it’s not full of comic fans). This year, it was in the centre of town, over a much larger area – like comics were taking over the city itself.

 

These pictures make it look like it wasn’t busy at all. Trust me, it was.

Thought Bubble is indie comics heaven, and it’s clearly going from strength to strength. It always has the best guests, and this year, one of the people invited was someone I’ve been wanting to meet for ages – Spike Trotman of Iron Circus, who’s also one of the co-hosts of the fantastic comics podcast Dirty Old Ladies. (Note to everyone who’s as silly as me – don’t google that without adding ‘podcast’ afterwards).

Spike is one of my comics heroes – she’s an amazing storyteller, artist and publisher, and she also does brilliant Twitter threads (I’ve learned so many historical facts, and lived vicariously through some playthroughs of Real Lives and Dream Dads). I got to chat to her – while nerding out completely – and she was even more awesome in real life.

As well as meeting Spike, we got to catch up with loads of the indie-comic-scene friends we’ve made over the years, and got some comicky and arty loot to take home. I’d spent most of my money on an issue of Smut Peddler, but I also got myself some stickers for my laptop, and a fantastic political zine by a fifteen-year-old author from Team Ketchup.

I absolutely love this comic. It’s yet more evidence for my ever-growing file of “kids have got it sorted and they should probably be in charge instead of us”.

The comics weren’t the only fantastic part of the convention, thought. There was also this little guy:

Yes, one of the attendees brought her skunk along. His name was Pongo, he was five months old, and he was very interested in sniffing things. He was an extremely good skunk.

Thought Bubble was exhausting, as cons always are, but we had an amazing weekend. If you’re in Leeds next autumn, go along. I can’t promise a skunk, but I know you’ll have a great time.

I saw this on the way home, so this is how I’m signing off on everything from now on.

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My Favourite Zombies

I never used to be interested in zombies. When it came to Gothic horror, I’ve always been a werewolf girl first, with vampires coming a pale second. Zombies, though? They shuffled around (or sometimes ran), and they had no strategy, no personality, and no brains – except the ones they nicked from other people.

Things changed when I read The Walking Dead comics, and it hit me – zombie stories weren’t about shuffling corpses at all. They were about how terrifying the living could be – your friends, your neighbours, even your family. You know, like every other Gothic story ever. It only took me several years to figure that one out.

Lately, I’ve been bingeing zombie stories with the same fervour that I did detective stories (and if anyone knows of a zombie detective story – apart from the one I’m about to mention – then let me know). Here are some of my favourites:

 

iZombie

So, I love detective stories and cop shows – and iZombie is a great combination of this and the zombie subgenre. It’s silly, fun fluff with compelling characters and a good, pacey mystery. It subverts the usual ‘shuffling, groaning corpse’ trope; these zombies, as long as they get a good supply of  fresh brains, are as intelligent as ordinary humans – just much more resilient, much colder, and with much slower heartbeats. And, despite its silliness, the show explores some interesting ideas about marginalisation and discrimination – summed up in a brilliant scene where a group of zombies are set upon by a crowd of angry humans.

 

Zombies Run

I love podcasts, and (much to my surprise) I love running – and I will freely admit that I got a new phone in large part to be able to play Zombies Run. And it was even better than I expected. Zombies Run has a brilliant postapocalyptic (yet strangely hopeful) story, with diverse characters and fantastic worldbuilding, and it’s helped me keep my running spark alive as I try to outpace the dead. I don’t run much faster than a zombie myself, but at least I’m saving Abel Township as I go.

 

Shaun of the Dead

I can’t believe this film now falls into the category of ‘an oldie but a goodie’ (and that I’m now older than Shaun and his mates were supposed to be and yet I somehow feel even less grown-up). Still, it doesn’t feel remotely dated, and it’s got one (or rather, two) of my favourite scenes of all time:

Shaun of the Dead is one of those films that everyone needs to see – it’s got silliness, dark humour, and heartbreaking moments in equal parts, and more references than you can shake a cricket bat at.

 

Train to Busan

I’m not sure if fast, screamy contorted people-eaters actually count as zombies, but who cares? This film is deliciously terrifying, with a claustrophobic feel that doesn’t let up for the entire duration of the story. The pace is so intense that watching it pretty much wore me out, and it did convince me that the best strategy for a zombie outbreak on a train is “hide in the toilet”.

 

The Girl With All The Gifts

I wasn’t such a fan of the film version of this story, because it skipped out so much of the interesting worldbuilding that made me love the book so much – especially the exact origins of the zombie children. The characters were fantastic in both, but the book is one of those stories that makes you want to dive in and learn as much as possible about the world (or at least, its shattered remains). I love the idea of zombieism as a weird fungal infection (which, instead of making your feet stink, turns you into a ravening monster), and, like Zombies Run, I really enjoyed the human society desperately trying to cling on to a past that they’ll never get back.

 

The zombie seems to be a monster – or a hero – that a writer can make their own, and tell in whatever way they see fit. There’s a lot of life in this genre of the dead, and I can’t wait to work through the rest of the zombie stories on my list. If anyone’s got any recommendations, post them in the comments!

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Why writers should play D&D

I suppose it was always going to happen. I love making up stories and characters, I love fantasy, and my ideal night has always been less ‘go out and dance till dawn’ and more ‘stay in with friends and a big bag of crisps’. So it was probably inevitable that I would start playing Dungeons and Dragons.

I’d done a bit of role-playing before. I was an anti-robot terrorist in a game of Paranoia (where I got killed), and a biker granny in a Mad Max Fury Road game (where I got extremely killed). But those were both short, one-shot games. I’d heard that D&D campaigns could last for years, and involved a heavy dose of both maths and homework.

When my best friend (and co-creator of Footloose) Emily Brady recommended (read: pretty much put me in a headlock until I agreed to listen to) the podcast The Adventure Zone, I was a little sceptical. All right, I knew the McElroys were funny, but again – maths and homework. How could you make a compelling podcast out of that?

As it turned out – brilliantly. The Adventure Zone is amazing, and you should listen to it right now. I binged the whole thing – three years’ worth – in a couple of months, and by the end of it, I was determined that I too would start playing D&D.

So, I put out a call to my nerdiest friends, and soon I and Emily were part of a D&D group with five other friends. We put together our characters, and I came up with one of my favourite fictional people who’s ever popped into my head – Piper Wren, a dwarven bard who’s a cheerful, innocent, happy little hipster.

 

Since said group of friends is scattered a little bit far and wide (we’re mostly within 30mins of each other, but SOMEONE – our DM – had to happen to live way up North), we play via Discord and do all of the actual game mechanics online – which has solved the maths problem brilliantly, as we use D&D Beyond and Roll20. Thanks to this, all the calculations are done by the websites, and the only homework we need to do is the fun stuff – writing character diary entries, picking new spells and new equipment, coming up with backstories, all that.

Playing D&D isn’t just fun – it’s a great hobby to have if you’re a writer. Even as you’re having fun and laughing with your friends about just how badly your party’s cunning plan has backfired, you’re training your writing muscles. It’s storytelling improv, where you have to keep your character consistent and make sure your decisions make sense in the context of the story you’re all putting together.

It also gives you the opportunity to exercise a lot of other different forms of creativity (which can often help you build back the reserves in your writing brain). Playing D&D has got me drawing again:

I’m also planning to knit a floppy, schlubby hat that my character is now canonically wearing. And perhaps a beard, too. (Yes, you can knit a beard if you’re not able to grow one yourself).

Most importantly – being creative in a team with other people is a necessary break, or respite, or something, from being creative on your own. Writing can be really solitary work, and, like drawing or knitting, putting a story together with a group of people can help you get out of a rut, build those idea reserves back up, and then go back to whatever you’re working on feeling fresher and more excited than before.

D&D has been even more fun than I thought it’d be, and I can’t wait to play my next round. I think that, next, we’re off on the trail of some dragons…

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