Writing Different Genres

My favourite films are Jaws, The Wizard of Oz, Ghostbusters, Back to the Future: Part II, and Jurassic Park. Growing up I was always interested in film and TV, which then developed into more narrative driven games like Final Fantasy VII. It’s probably why I was more interested in Spyro than I was Crash. I didn’t start getting into books until I read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and that was only because I saw the film. Anyway, my whole creative spark comes from all forms of narrative storytelling. One of my favourite Doctors from Doctor Who is the Eighth Doctor, who only appeared on screen for a one-off TV Film and a mini-episode ahead of the 50th Anniversary, but flourishes in his audio adventures produced by Big Finish. Usually I’d find myself looking at a show and thinking to myself: “that’s not what I would have done”. I wouldn’t have made Tommy the leader of the Power Rangers while Jason was still in the show. I wouldn’t have made Scott so frustratingly underpowered in MTV’s Teen Wolf.

It isn’t just limited to TV shows. 2018’s Halloween is the exact opposite of what I would have done. I wouldn’t have set it in modern times and I wouldn’t have brought Laurie Strode back (again). Don’t get me wrong, I liked the film but when they announced they were retconning everything past the first film I wanted something more similar to the comics and the novels by Kelly O’Rourke. I mean sure, my ideas probably wouldn’t have resulted in the slightly unjustified critically acclaim that it got but still. Again, I like the film but c’mon. It really isn’t any better than Halloween 2 or The Return of Michael Myers and those films are critically panned.

I’m rambling. What I’m getting at is that by thinking to myself “I would have done it differently” I accidentally come up with new stories, regardless of the genre. Hush is totally an amalgamation of my original idea for a Halloween reboot/reimagining/recalibration and what I thought was happening in season 1 of MTV’s Scream. The Ulysses Chronicles is literally born out of me looking at Doctor Who and coming up with my own ideas for a series. I’m claiming my ideas are better than the actual product… except I’ll always be annoyed that Danielle Harris wasn’t brought in to play Laurie’s daughter. As a fan, I’m annoyed I’ll never get to see them on screen together. Anyway, with different genres means I have to come up with a different type of voice when writing them. I can’t write Darkest Nights the same way I write Hush. When having Darkest Nights - Awakening edited my editor pointed out that some of the scenes featured horror levels of gore. It was completely accidental. I hadn’t gone in thinking of it as a horror novel, and I still don’t, even though some of my friends and readers do. I looked at it in a similar vein to Buffy and Angel. If anything, I was going for a kind of vibe in-between Buffy and Ghostbusters. Ghostbusters is often considered a flat out comedy, but it really isn’t. It’s a comedy, yes, but there are plenty of horror elements to it. It’s even lit and filmed like a horror film most of the time. It’s sort of like how some people don’t consider Jaws a horror film. It’s 100% a horror film. It’s a horror film with action adventure elements that only come into play during the last act of the film.

Darkest Nights is a supernatural action/thriller series but Hush is horror with mystery elements. It’s mean-spirited at times. You’ll have scenes designed specifically to get you invested in the characters before I kill them off in graphic and unjustified ways. I have characters that are written to be unlikable that you’ll want to die but may just end up surviving…or they might not. The book isn’t out until next year so I’m not going to give away anything concrete but even though Darkest Nights has horror elements, it never goes into the kind of horror territory that Hush does. I took out the “horror-levels of gore” out of Darkest Nights but you can be damn sure they’re not going anywhere in Hush. I knew I was onto something when I had my best friend read a murder scene on the train to France and he went green. But on the flip side of that, I have The Ulysses Chronicles. It’s a sci-fi series and while I’m not against having horror elements in the some of the stories The Ulysses Chronicles, it’s not meant to be that kind of series. It’s meant to be light and breezy. Hush is raw and unfiltered while Ulysses is, for the most part, hopeful and fun. I have to be in a completely different mind set with each book. I can’t go from writing Hush Part II straight to writing my children’s novel featuring a mermaid (look out for news and updates about that).

One of my problems with writing different genres is that I sometimes prefer writing certain stories or elements of that story, meaning that the novels I’m writing that don’t have those elements can sometimes feel like a chore. It’s not that I don’t enjoy writing them, it just I’d rather be writing something else…if that makes sense. A problem with rewriting Darkest Nights - Ashes to Ashes is that I really have the whole editing/rewriting process so actually doing it really bores me. I love the story. I love where I take the characters, but I’m not enjoying putting it together again. It’s taken me so long to rewrite it that I actually had to write an intermediary novel just to tide fans over until I get it done. Ironically the intermediary novel is about the length of what I had left to write for Ashes to Ashes- but that was accidental. It was a novella that just sort of evolved to the length of a full novel.

The biggest problem with writing so many genres is that I’m not sure how to market myself. I don’t want to be a genre writer- or be considered one. Stephen King doesn’t only write horror, but it’s what he’s most famous for. J.K Rowling is always going to be known as the Harry Potter author, regardless what what else she puts out there. Whenever a Harry Potter article is posted about her expanding the universe there are always comments about “how she must need the money” or “can’t she just move on?”. Well, yeah. She has. The Cormoran Strike novels. She’s written four of them and had The Casual Vacancy…but I couldn’t bring myself to finish that one. How do I stop myself from being seen in the same light? It’s probably why I haven’t just looked at it as “finish the whole Darkest Nights series then do the Hush trilogy, then Ulysses” and so on. I don’t want to be tied to just one genre in people’s minds, but on the flip side it means that certain sequels will take longer to come out since I’ll be working on a new book. Awakening came out in 2015 and only four years later is it getting any kind of a sequel. On the plus side, I currently have three books written, with the plan being to have Ashes to Ashes and SurgeGlaive finished in the next few months, meaning after Ascension comes out in December that I’ll have four books written. I can set about coming up with a publication plan that allows me to push new stories out for readers while giving me enough time to get sequels and new original stories written, but how do I stop people looking at Hush and going “there’s no way this guy can write a children’s novel” or the alternative: “oh he writes children’s novels, there’s no way he could write something more adult”. Sometimes I wonder if I should use multiple pen names, but that then means I have to spend a huge amount of time building up a following for each pen name. I’m already trying to do that with one for a certain story but with writing and trying to keep up with my social media for my main account, my pen-name account is going neglected, possibly impacting that story in a negative way.

It’s all a work in progress really.

From Doctor Who Fanfiction to Original Novel (The Ulysses Chronicles)

The year was 2012, one year away from the 50th Doctor Who special and the departure of the Ponds was quickly approaching. Jenna Coleman (or Jenna-Louise Coleman as she was known back then) had been announced as the next companion and the thrill of the show going through another big change, along with the typical sadness of having to let go of the comfort of familiarity, was in full swing. At the time I was studying Film & TV Production at East Surrey College when a friend told me about a website she was part of that held events and competitions for people looking to get into the industry.

‘They’ve got a competition where you can get a script consultation from the script editor of Doctor Who,’ she told me, moving her screen so I could see. ‘You should go for it.’

At the time I was already planning my Major Final Project, despite the fact we didn’t have to start it until our second year. I had planned on doing a short film adaption of Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla and had already written a draft of the script, so I signed up and submitted it. Apparently over two-hundred people applied for it and I was one of a lucky handful who had won. I remember just how excited I was when I got the email giving me the good news and a week later I was on my way to London to meet the script editor of Doctor Who to discuss my script. It was a short session but I got to go through several bits of theming I had added to the story, which unfortunately would never get put to screen as we were unable to get a filming location for the interior scenes.

Being such a nerd and Doctor Who fan, the conversation ultimately ended up on the show.

‘I want to write for the show one day,’ I told him like the sad nerd I was (and still am). ‘My dream job is to be the Head Writer.’

‘Really?’ he smiled and began writing on a piece of paper. ‘I’ll tell you what. Here’s my email. Write an episode and I’ll read it for you. Give you my thoughts.’

My heart almost leapt from my chest and a combination of nerves and excitement started turning in my stomach. ‘Seriously?’

He nodded and handed me the paper. ‘Sure. Write any story you want and I’ll give it a read.’

I went back to college the next day and informed my friends and tutor what had happened.

‘You better thank me in your Emmy speech,’ my friend told me. She was deadly serious.

I had already written a Doctor Who fan script with an original Doctor but I wasn’t proud of it or anything. I turned to my tutor. I’d have to come up with something better if I was going to impress.

‘What do you think I should do? Write a script with an original Doctor or the current one?’ I asked him.

‘I’d write it with the current one,’ he told me. ‘You want to show that you can write for other people’s characters.’

‘Plus, your original Doctor wasn’t that dissimilar from Matt Smith anyway,’ my friend Matt told me and so I got to planning.

If the Ponds were leaving and we had no idea who Jenna Coleman was going to be playing, I’d just write it as a follow-up to the Pond’s departure (despite the fact I had no idea what that would be). I started planning that very day. I needed to come up with a companion. I was bored of them coming from modern day England so I decided to have her come from the future. A future University Student…on an Interstellar University! A University travelling through the stars, visiting other planets? I needed a name… Skye Foster! It just seemed so right!

I wanted to set up a potential story arc for the hypothetical series, but what could it be? My mind fell to the spin-off show Torchwood and its lead, Jack Harkness. In series 2 they had revealed that the Time Agency had been shut down but offered no other pieces of information. What if the Doctor had something to do with that? But why? What could they be doing that would warrant the Doctor’s attention? Well, if they were going through time and collecting Time Lord artefacts from the Time War then that would tie it into the overarching story of the Doctor experiencing survivors guilt. The Doctor even mentioned in Doomsday that both the Time Lords and Daleks had secrets. What if the artefacts were some secret plot?

OK, so I had a pre-existing Doctor, I had a companion and a series idea. I’d use the first episode to set it all up and so I began writing “Aboard the Bluestar”. It took me two weeks and several rewrites before I sent it off, only to get an email basically saying that he hadn’t realised that due to working on the show, he couldn’t actually read it in case any ideas accidentally resembled mine. Well, that was it. It was over. Being young and stupid, I had looked at it as my chance. That he’d read it, take it to Steven Moffat and say something along the lines of ‘I know we can’t use this actual script but the kid has talent’ and the next thing I knew I’d be writing for the DVD “mini-sodes” before being promoted to an actual episode. My Doctor Who career had ended before it even begun, and so I focused on the writing of my first novel, Darkest Nights -Awakening.

With DN1 written, I started working on other stories, along with two sequels. In Ascension -A Darkest Nights Novel- (releasing this December), I wrote about an immortal scientist called Ulysses. Ulysses, somehow, became an overarching character in my grand, interconnected universe of novels. The way I look at it, most of my novels are set in the same universe and when I finally started to turn a sci-fi story I had tried for years to turn into a web-animation series called Surge into a novel called SurgeGlaive -the reckoning- I used Ulysses as a source of world building and exposition in the form of reports. Every-so-often a “Ulysses Report” would appear before a chapter, detailing the world and what he had found as he experienced it. At the time, he was just meant to be some unseen character, a legend that was spoken of but never actually seen.

By this point, Matt Smith had come and gone and so had Peter Capaldi. The run of Jodie Whittaker was fast approaching and the internet was divided.

‘The Doctor can’t be a woman!’

‘He’s always been gender fluid!’

‘No, he hasn’t!’

‘He’s an alien who can literally change his body and you have a problem wit him changing into a woman?!’

It was a hard time to be a Doctor Who fan and be excited. I hadn’t been thrilled when Jodie had been announced…I was even less thrilled to hear that Chris Chibnall would be taking over as I hadn’t liked a single one of his episodes during his time on Doctor Who but I gave Broadchurch a go and it put my nerves to rest. Jodie was a great actor and Broadchurch had been fantastic! Maybe Chris worked better as a show runner than writing for someone else. So series 11 began and…it was certainly a show. I actually really enjoyed The Woman Who Fell to Earth and I thought The Ghost Monument was fine. I hated the Tardis interior but hey, it would probably grow on me…even if it had shrunk. Everything else though? Wasn’t for me. The fandom continued to be split. Some loved it, others hated it, some felt disappointed after months of the defending the change to find that it hadn’t lived up to their expectations and YouTubers on both sides of the argument gloated that they were right all along. I continued to watch but only out of habit. I didn’t hate the series like I did series 6 but at least that series got a reaction out of me. Series 11 just sort of bored me.

I was updating my iTunes on my old laptop when I started going through some of my old files out of nostalgic curiosity and I found my script for Aboard the Bluestar. I read through it and realised something: I could repurpose it. I had seen the first season of The Orville, which was essentially Star Trek in everything but name. I could do the same thing. I could write a Doctor Who story in everything but name. I would have to change a few details, but other than the story could basically remain the same. I already had a companion stand-in with the character of Skye Foster. I just needed a Doctor stand-in.

‘Ulysses…’ I said, looking at the old script. I had already introduced the character in Ascension, and he was part of an Immortal group that could easily stand-in for the Time Lords. Ulysses and Skye Foster. Just saying it out loud made me grin. Originally the Bluestar was the University that Skye was attending but that could be changed to Ulysses’ ship. I couldn’t use time travel for obvious reasons but being the huge nerd I am, I had come up with about four series worth of ideas. All I had to do was switch out the aliens and monsters with new ones and that was it. Cherry pick the ideas I liked the best and I had a series of sci-fi books just waiting to be written. So I decided to do the first draft of The Ulysses Chronicles -Aboard the Bluestar for NaNoMriMo last year. I had a few issues with it at first. It felt like I was writing a novelisation, which was fine but it was a novelisation of what was originally intended to only be a 42 minute piece of television. I wanted to be at least 76,000 words long. I felt that was a decent length for it but I was about 26,000 short.

I had to re-read it a few times, taking notes on what I felt worked, what could be expanded and what could be added. Going forward with the other books I think it’ll be easy since I only had one other script written, meaning I won’t feel as tied down as I did with AtB. Just typical that I’ve decided to write a 13-part sci-fi series on top of the eight-part Darkest Nights series, the Hush trilogy as well as the first SurgeGlaive trilogy with a New-Adult Romance trilogy being planned.

Sometimes I don’t think I’ll ever had enough time to write everything down.

DIY eBook Cover (Ascension & Hush Front Covers)

I think one of the hardest things for an independent author is the front cover. It’s literally the first impression and despite the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover”, many do. Published authors don’t have to worry about their front covers so much since the publishing houses sort it out with the author getting very little input unless they’re well established. When it came to my first novel Darkest Nights -Awakening, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted or how to go about it. I went to my friend Amy about designing the front cover and we had multiple conversations about what would work and went to bookstores to look at front covers in the same genre. In the end, Amy came up with several designs and I chose my favourite. I then came to a similar dilemma when I started writing Ascension -A Darkest Nights Novel. It being more of a side-story meant I could have a bit more fun with it to separate it from the mainline books, but once again I couldn’t decide on what I wanted.

As luck would have it, it didn’t take long for me to decide on the direction for Ascension. A few years ago my now-wife had done a wedding shoot based on the first Darkest Nights book, involving models for Lucy, Jordana, Peter and Dante. Being on set (and supplying the models for Peter and Dante), I made friends with Alexa, the model for Lucy, and already had a relationship with San, the photographer. We were all supplied with copies of the photos and there was one of Alexa alone, looking off into the distance in an amazing black dress. It was front cover worthy…so I asked San and Alexa if they would be OK with me using it. They both agreed and San even edited the image to fit the idea I had in mind for the cover. So that was sorted and that was before the book was even completed! Now the only book that need a front cover was my horror novel, Hush. Oddly enough, I always knew what I wanted. I wanted my main character on the front cover and I knew I wanted the killer with her in some capacity. I even tried my hand at using stock images and bought a mask online which I then made some modifications to but it just wasn’t right. With the Ascension front cover having recently been finalised I knew that I wouldn’t be happy with the Hush cover unless I did it myself.

Years ago I joked to my third cousin, Ann-Marie, about her modelling Jamie for the Hush cover and she actually seemed enthused with the idea, so I asked her if she’d still be up for it and she was. It’s also worth noting that at this point, me and Ann-Marie had never actually met. I had accidentally found her advertising my first book on her twitter at the request of my nan and we stayed in contact ever since. She would literally be driving two hours to model for a front cover written by a cousin she had never met before. She’s pretty awesome that way. Next, I had to find a photographer. I wasn’t going to ask San to drive all the way to take photographs for a horror front cover, especially since it wasn’t her genre (and I couldn’t actually afford her), so I went to one of my best friends, Charlotte, who had a degree in photography and was a horror fan like me. I explained to the two what I wanted to do. I’ve been in love with one of the posters for the Wolfman remake featuring Emily Blunt hiding behind a tree for years and wanted to do something similar. I already had a location so the last piece of the puzzle was finding someone to model the killer…so I sent a text to my best friend Ryan who didn’t hesitate in saying yes. I bought a new mask from HobbyCraft, painted it and Ryan went and bought himself a boiler suit for the day. We arranged a time and I bought a costume for Ann-Marie.

One of my favourite horror films is Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. I love it so much that I named the main character, Jamie Harris, after Jamie Lloyd and her actress, Danielle Harris. With this connection in mind, I immediately went to Jamie’s iconic clown costume for inspiration and used the red and white colour scheme when buying the clothes for the costume. On the day, I waited for Charlotte and Ann-Marie to arrive at my flat, both excited and nervous. Charlotte was the first to arrive and we went over the kind of angles I was looking for and soon Ann-Marie arrived. It was kind of surreal finally meeting the cousin I had been in contact with for almost four years.

“Just letting you know…I’m slightly hungover,” she told me as she sat down.

“It’s OK. It’ll give you that ‘pulled out of a hedge look"‘ we’re going for. Want tea with your sugar?” I asked.

“No thanks. I’m sweet enough,” was her quick reply. Clearly our sense of humour was compatible.

We then left the flat to pick up Ryan, who needed us to take him to collect the boiler suit. With the boiler suit collected, we left for the woods where Ryan got changed and the photoshoot began.

Just an ordinary day at the park…

Just an ordinary day at the park…

Ann-Marie with the prop skull also known as “Simon”.

Ann-Marie with the prop skull also known as “Simon”.

In fairness, those dog walkers were right to be confused when they walked past.

In fairness, those dog walkers were right to be confused when they walked past.

The problem with doing a shoot in a public space is the fact many people will walk past and, given the nature of the shoot and the fact Ryan was wearing a mask and holding a fake bloody knife resulted in quite a few strange looks. Regardless, we got the shots and left for the flat where I then proceeded to paint Ann-Marie’s face with fake blood and we had to do an interior shot using phone camera lights and closed doors to get the proper lighting. It was very DIY but we managed to get it to work. I just felt bad that the fake blood didn’t come off as cleanly as we had hoped and I had to send her back to her father with streaks of red across her face. Next came the photoshop. I’m not an expert so I went to YouTube for some tutorials for help, resulting in what I think is a pretty cool front cover. It was certainly an experience and something I think I’d definitely be interested in doing again when I eventually get around to writing Hush Part II.