Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

Well, it may be a couple of years late, but I’ve finally come up with the perfect sales pitch for Kikimora.

While signing books in Cromford recently, I was asked numerous times, ‘So what’s this book about?’

Despite having done these things a few times now and always getting the same questions, I was no better prepared than usual. I floundered my way through a couple of vague explanations, before tiredly offering,

It’s basically Poldark with magic.

That got a response (although one punter astutely pointed out: that pitch will only work on women).

Demelza Carne

‘Scruffy, neglected waif’

It’s not a facetious or cynical pitch though. In a blog post from five years ago I mention reading the first couple of Poldark books as research into mining in the (approximate) era, and being pleasantly surprised by their pace and humour. But I was very aware it was an obscure reference, meaning little to anyone under 40 who didn’t remember the 1970s TV show.

By the time new Poldark became the Sunday night TV phenomenon, I’d moved on from promoting Kikimora, and forgotten all about it.

But Kikimora actually bears a few similarities with Poldark, notably in the relationship between the charismatic but troubled mine owner, and the scruffy, neglected waif who takes up residence with him; in the families of marriageable young ladies eager to make his acquaintance, and their bafflement at his reluctance. Then there is his very plain (and consequently pitied and scorned) sister (cousin in Poldark)…

I won’t say more, to avoid spoilers.

Of course, Kikimora has many other things going on as well, in the battle of wills between the miners and the spirits of the forest, in Kikimora’s troubled genesis, and her journey to find acceptance.

I’d be interested to know, do any of my readers see the similarity? Or is it just my own over-familiarity with the story that brings it to mind? Let me know in the comments?

Wirksworth Book Fair, April 2017

Wirksworth Book Fair, April 2017

After a smashing day at the Wirksworth Book Fair in April, tomorrow I will be signing books at Celebrating Cromford.

It’s five years since I last did a book signing at the village festival. Last time I hitched a ride on the Women’s Institute stall (courtesy of my mum). This year I’m sharing a stall with fellow Cromford author, Sam Salt. Hopefully my mum will still come along and help – she is ten times the salesperson I could ever be!

Cromford is a lovely little town in Derbyshire, and is where I grew up (one of my sister’s friends refers enviously to our ‘Enid Blyton childhood’!) The weather forecast is scorchio. There will be live music, an Ale Trail, other refreshments, and a wishing pig, apparently. So it should be a fantastic day out.

Cromford, April 2017

Cromford, April 2017

If you’re in the area, do come say hello. It would be lovely to see you 🙂

Books and freebies

This Saturday I’ll be signing copies of Darklands and Kikimora at Wirksworth Big Book Day. I’ve also got some freebies and goodies to give away, so do come and say hello if you’re in the vicinity.

There’ll be other book stalls, and I am promised a variety of book-themed events going on around town.

Wirksworth is where I went to school many years ago, and is a picturesque little town with bags of character. There is fantastic involvement with and support of the Arts in the town, and its annual Arts Festival in September is deservedly renowned.

If you haven’t visited before, now is an ideal time to acquaint yourself with its charms.

The Book Fair will be in the Memorial Hall on St John’s Street, from 10am until 4pm, Saturday 8th April.

I look forward to seeing you there!

My work in progress, Slinter Wood, is largely set in the late 1980s, mirroring my own school days. I’m currently doing a lot of research to get the right tone and detail for the period.

I’d love it if you could help me!

Tell me in the comments (or via social media) any details you remember about school life, fashions, fads, insults, and pop culture in the late 1980s. If I use your idea in Slinter Wood you’ll get a thank you in the book – and (if it’s really good, and I haven’t already thought of it) a free copy when it’s released! (Don’t hold your breath. Given my usual pace, it’ll be years yet…)

It’s not the big stuff I’m interested in, the world events, the politics, the disasters – that’s easy to research. It’s the small, inconsequential details of life circa 1988. Sometimes we forget how much life has changed, but once you start thinking about it, it was a very different world back then.

What do you remember about those days? I’ve already filled 50+ pages with my notes and memories, and I know it’s only the tip of the iceberg. I’m not looking for cliches and buzzwords from popular memes (Spangles! Boggle! Marathon!), but actual memories – it’s those minute, true details that give a story depth and richness.

Here are some of mine:

  • That stink of stale cigarette smoke every time I walked into any school toilets. Burn marks on the toilet seats, and the unfathomable mystery of the ancient, rusted ‘Bunny Incinerator’* on the wall
  • the breath-taking agony of getting a hockey stick whacked round my ankles on a frosty morning
  • the school bus: a narrow prison of torment, with no escape from those who would shout insults, pull your hair, kick your seat, whisper about you – just loud enough so you knew, even though you couldn’t hear what they were saying. The humiliation if you stumbled when the bus lurched to a halt; the hot, damp horror of all that laughter directed at you
  • watching Threads** in Humanities class at school, and the idea of nuclear war becoming a constant background fear. Waking in the early hours and hearing an aeroplane high overhead, convinced it was about to drop a nuclear bomb
  • owning only three video cassettes, but being a typical obsessive teen and wanting to hoard all my favourite things; having to make the painful decision of which much loved music video or comedy sketch to sacrifice when I needed to record something new.

I could go on, but I think that gives you an idea of what I’m after: snapshots, impressions, details that bring the period vividly back to you. I’d really appreciate it if you’d share any with me.

Thank you.

* Because I think that is going to confuse a lot of you, just as it confused me all those years ago, let me assure you it involves no cruelty to small furry creatures, but turns out to be some old-timey solution to the disposal of feminine hygiene products.

** Having just read the Wikipedia entry, it’s a wonder I ever slept again!

Lake in Shining Cliff Woods

DANGER – DEEP WATER

‘Let’s make a film about revenge. About some kids who’ve had enough of being pushed around, having crap shouted at them. So they kill the guy who’s been picking on them, and make it look like an accident.’

‘How?’

‘I dunno. Poison? Drowning? Torn apart by wild dogs..?’

15 year old Rose accidentally joins her school Film Club. But it isn’t long before Film Club has transformed into Revenge Club, as she and video-obsessed loner, Paul, plot an elaborate trick on the popular kids who make their lives hell.

The trick works better than they could ever have imagined – disastrously so. And now they need to trust each other and work together to outrun the horrifying consequences.

But against her better judgement, Rose is drawn back to the scene of their success – to Slinter Wood, to its ruined cottage and silent lake, to the legend of the witch Mary Slinter, who met her cruel end there 350 years ago…


Slinter Wood marks a change of direction for me on two counts. It’s aimed at an adult, rather than young adult, audience; and rather than fantasy, there is more of a folk-horror vibe.

This new direction is largely the result of taking a year off from novel writing to concentrate on short stories. Every one of the short stories I wrote last year turned out horror themed, and pretty damn grim.

I did alright with the first one, and although I haven’t won any further competitions (yet), I wanted to take this theme through into a longer format. It’s early days, as I’m still working on the first draft, but I’m really excited about it.

I’m thinking Heathers meets The Loney.

Check out Slinter Wood’s Pinterest board for a flavour of what’s to come.

Now that Kikimora is finally published, and the day job is still as hectic as ever, I’m thinking I might concentrate on short stories for a little while, rather than immediately embarking on another novel. I know I got lucky with the first one, and am unlikely to repeat that success right away, but I’m going to give it a try.

This weekend I have submitted my entry to the Guardian Short Horror Story Competition – to be judged by Stephen King, no less! I know there’s going to be stiff competition for this one, so I’m not holding my breath. If you fancy giving it a go (UK only), you have just a couple more days until the deadline.

My entry is a sort of companion piece to Kikimora, since it concerns a woman’s confession to a Rusalka – though much darker in tone than anything in Kikimora.

This line in the Ts & Cs amused me: “(it) must not show inappropriate or dangerous behaviour…”

Er… but a horror story, right?

Needless to say, I have smashed that rule into a thousand glittering pieces and danced on the shards until they are ground to dust.

As a special Christmas treat I will be reading The Big Guy on Radio Free Smedley Street this wednesday. If you miss the program – don’t panic! They have all manner of new-fangled listening methods on their website.

If I don’t check in again before the holidays, I do hope you all have a far merrier christmas than the Big Guy…

Since Christmas is almost upon us, and in case you missed my prize winning christmas zombie story in SFX magazine earlier this year, here’s something to get you feeling festive.

Or not.

The Big Guy by Emma Woodcock

Winner of SFX short zombie story competition

The Big Guy

The sound of bolts snapping back. Hushed voices. A crack of light, thin as a hair, but blinding. It’s been months, I suppose. Time ceases to exist in the darkness.

The first latch flicks back, then the second. The door eases a little, as though drawing a breath. There’s a pause before it’s thrown open, and the light floods in, unbearably bright. I recoil – as far as the restraints allow – seeing nothing but formless, liquid shapes.

“He’s frightened.”

Mila. She’s still here then.

“Nonsense. He always does this. Come on. Wakey wakey.”

And Gustav. Of course. It’s always Gustav. “Up and at ’em, big guy.”

“Should I do the-?”

Gustav makes an impatient gesture, and Mila picks something up from the table, weaving back and forth in front of the light. My eyes are adjusting now, making sense of the figures. More are crowded behind these two, peering forward fearfully.

A small voice from the back, “Is he dangerous?”

Mila presses her lips together, as though to prevent any answer escaping.

“Not if handled correctly,” says Gustav. “Observe the double restraints. They must remain in place until the inhibitor is administered. Mila, if you would?”

She leans closer, touches my arm. Her fingers are warm with sweat. After so long without sensation of any kind, the touch is startling, revelatory.

Please, I want to say, but it comes out an incoherent croak.

She recoils, almost dropping the syringe.

Gustav rolls his eyes. “Shall I do it?”

“Sorry, Sir. No, I can manage. But, are you sure? I mean-”

“We’ve been over this.”

“I know, but seeing him like this-”

“And over.”

“It just doesn’t-”

“And over.”

“Seem right.”

“Objection noted. Please continue.”

She swallows. “Yes, Sir.”

No doubt she tries to be gentle, but to my heightened senses the scratch of the syringe is monstrous.

A heaviness comes to my still bound limbs. But it is an odd effect of the drugs that even as they dull my senses and inhibit my actions, my brain becomes more alert, memories sharper. To Gustav it is a year since we last began this game. To me, no time at all. My thought processes pick up where they left off when he closed the box, 11 months, 30 days ago.

Mila unfastens one strap, and then another. I droop forward, almost collapsing without their support.

“Come on out, then,” says Gustav. “My team have outdone themselves this year. We have Minecraft plushies. We have remote control quad bikes. We have robot dinosaurs that pee their pants. I’m not even kidding. That’s what kids want.”

I curl a hand around the box, steadying myself before I lurch forward with rusty, awkward steps. Gustav stands his ground as the younger ones shrink back.

“No,” I tell him.

“Don’t be like that. We all agreed, this is for the best. Would you leave the poor kiddies disappointed?”

I glance at Mila. She drops her gaze, murmurs, “There are other ways, Sir.”

“Don’t start on about online shops!” he says, anger flaring. “Transactions. Paypal. Postage and Packing! It is not the elf way. We create for the joy of it. We give freely of our skills. I will not sully our traditions with financial exchanges!

Her cheeks flush. “Come and see the team,” she says to me. “That always cheers you up.”

I let her lead me past the cowering others, down a narrow corridor where strings of coloured lights twinkle on the walls. She opens a heavy door, and animal smells surround me: hay and fur and rotting meat. Even here, flashing lights are strung across the stalls.

Reluctantly, I draw closer. “Vixen, old girl.” I lay a stiff hand on the creature’s head. Her ears are cold, ragged. She glances at me, as bone weary as I am. How long has it been now? Since age and ill health claimed me – and the elves, my immortal helpers, my makers, claimed me back again.

“Blitzen.” I move to the next stall. He is in a sorrier state than Vixen. Ribs show through the parchment skin. His eyes droop, seeing nothing. I move on, greeting each of them in turn, looking for some spark of recognition, some remaining spirit.

I reach the final stall. “Rudolph?”

He raises his head just a little. One eye swivels towards me, and the ears come forward. He still knows me, and it breaks what remains of my heart. A beast’s suffering is always nobler than a man’s. A man knows why he is punished, or can guess. He can blame himself for a thousand small mistakes and wrongs – whether they have any bearing on the issue or not. A beast understands nothing but that it is in pain, and it cannot fathom why – or why those it loves do not help.

“It’s almost time,” says Mila. “I’ll fetch your jacket.”

I don’t respond. My fingers stroke Rudolph’s cold, dribbling nose. He shivers, gives a wheezy bark.

“I know, old friend. I want it to end as much as you do.”

I glance at the coloured lights, winking on and off endlessly in preordained patterns.

She has left me alone. She is not supposed to do that. He will be angry with her.

I snatch down the lights, swiftly winding the cable around Rudolph’s scrawny neck. The little bulbs shatter, jagged edges piercing his desiccated hide, and my own. He still has a bit of fight left in him; kicks at the stall, shakes his big head from side to side, working the wire deeper into his flesh.

The commotion brings the others. A twitter of high, anxious voices, and then Gustav barking orders. A syringe is found, and another dose administered. The sense of purpose drains from me, and I allow the little hands to subdue me, steering me away from the thrashing reindeer.

A sudden silence signals Mila’s return. “It was only for a moment!” she says, before he has chance to accuse her. “I thought it would be alright. He seemed so quiet.”

“Just get the jacket on him.”

I allow them to dress me, pulling the huge red coat over my sagging body, fastening the buttons and buckling the belt.

“He doesn’t fill it like he used to.”

They stand guard over me as the skeletal reindeer are led out and harnessed to the sleigh. Last comes Rudolph, staggering, his big head drooping. My swollen hands are ringed with blood where wire and crushed glass has dug in. The little finger is almost severed, hanging at an odd, helpless angle.

“What were you thinking?” Gustav’s voice is soft, like that of a concerned friend. “Strangulation wouldn’t end him. You know that. Don’t you remember when you tried to hang yourself?”

I was aiming to decapitate him, but there is no need to tell him what I know and what I remember. There is always next year. There is always another attempt.

I look up at my team of undead reindeer, my sleigh filled with presents for children who don’t know what it takes to bring them this joy each year.

Mila cranks the handle, and the gramophone starts up. Tinny sleigh bells jingle. I sit up at once, tense, alert. I have tried to fight it. As often as I have tried to end my unendurable existence, and that of the reindeer. But it is impossible. Whatever they have done to me, they have done it well.

Reanimation. Mind control. These things do not contradict the Elf Way.

The piano comes in. Next year, I promise myself. Next year I will escape.

The scratchy voices begin: Dashing through the snow, in a one horse open sleigh…

And I am gone. Only Father Christmas remains. He climbs into the sleigh, he takes up the reins, as he is programmed. He waves to the elves as they load the last presents onto the back. He launches into the sky with a hollow, “Ho Ho Ho!”