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Your last chance to grab Ghoster for 99p

Hello there <<First Name (optional)>> ,

Been a while since I last dropped you a line. I hope this latest edition of The Necronoppicon finds you and yours safe and well... as every email is obliged to begin these days. Weird, isn't it. We used to express a hope that the recipients of our emails were well, but now we really, really mean it. 

I made sure to grab you before the end of the month, because the UK ebook editions of my latest novel Ghoster is on sale for a crazy 99p throughout May! This means you have only one week left to secure it at that price. So if you don't already have the novel, then why not nip over to Amazon right now

If you've already bought Ghoster - thanks so much! And it would mean the world to me if you were to post a review somewhere, tweet about the novel or just tell a couple of friends. If you do tweet about Ghoster, do tag me in, and provided I haven't already done too many RTs that day I'll be sure to retweet you.

Now! Let's get to the main body of this month's merriment...

The making of Ghoster: WhatsApp Q&A!

The other day, I was having a WhatsApp chat with crime author George Kelly, when the ever-impetuous youth asked if he could throw some questions at me about the making of Ghoster. It's always fun to talk about writing craft with a fellow scribbler, and so I told George to fire away. And then I realised I could cynically exploit George's professional curiosity by reproducing our WhatsApp chat in this very newsletter! 

Spoiler content note: I've made sure the content of this Q&A doesn't spoiler the book beyond the premise and the kind of info you can glean from the blurb. In case you're unaware of the premise of Ghoster, it's about Kate Collins, a paramedic whose partner Scott disappears the day before she travels across the country to move in with him. Kate finds Scott's flat  empty, apart from his mobile phone. Will self-confessed digital addict Kate be tempted to crack open his phone, in order to discover what the hell's happened to Scott? 

So here's the chat that George and I had. (Since we're talking about writing craft here, please note that it is never, ever right to say, 'George and myself'. Ha. God, talk about the pettiest hill I'm willing to die on. I really should let that go. Maybe some day.) Anyway, here we are...

George: In the Ghoster afterword, you said you got help with the paramedic stuff from a friend of a friend. And it all felt authentic as I read it... but one thing I wondered: did you think about Kate Collins being a paramedic and then seek out someone to give you some knowledge... or did you meet the friend of a friend first and think that would be cool to write about? It was an interesting choice and different from the usual — artist, writer, shop owner etc.

Jason: Oh! I can answer this! The job idea came first and I can tell you my exact thought process. First of all, I’m very aware that characters who have altruistic jobs that help others (teacher, nurse, paramedic...) have an in-built likability factor with the reader. I knew Kate’s actions might make some readers start to dislike her and so I wanted to give her the best possible chance to win them over, job-wise. Because I like Kate. Kate, in my mind, is a great, flawed human being.. And then I thought, “What’s the most dangerous possible job, within the boundaries I’ve already defined, for a person to have when they’re a phone addict?” And so I thought of a paramedic who essentially holds people’s lives in her hands and drives an ambulance. And then I cursed myself for the next year or so, while writing Ghoster, because so much research was required! Still, my helpful paramedic friend Victoria West made it so much fun at the same time. 

That’s amazing. Interesting that you made her a paramedic as a kind of antivenin for her phone-snoopery. I found her very relatable and likeable, so it definitely worked. So as a follow on to that, did you have to keep stopping the writing to ask some research questions, and then picking it back up again after? Or was it like you’d just put “write this scene when I have more info and move on to the next one”?

I planned the story out, then I thought about all the main medical things I’d need to know and asked my helper Victoria. And then, I would ask her, as and when I needed other stuff while writing. There was definitely plenty of the good old “MEDICAL STUFF GOES HERE”, where you write some kind of placeholding phrase, intending to come back later and fill in the details! Actually, something handy I do is come up with a kind of tag. Like, I’ll write the same thing every time I need to leave a gap, so I can later search for that tag. So I might write <MEDICAL>, then search the doc for all the instances of it that I need to replace with, like, actual words. 

Worth noting, too, that Victoria gave me quite a few great anecdotes that I couldn't help but incorporate into the novel, whether I changed the details around or just inserted them almost verbatim! Research can be great in that way. You just have to be careful not to let it show TOO much in the work.

I’ve never even thought of doing that, with a searchable tag, but it’s a good idea. So, I was curious about the dual narrative between past and present. Was that something you cooked up during a second draft or was it like that from the beginning? The reason I ask is because intuitively, I might have started the book with Kate entering Scott's flat and just carried on from there (worried about boring the audience with too much build up) and filled in some backstory as I went along. But if you did that, I probably wouldn’t have cared about their relationship or whether she finds him or not. It was a clever way of making me give a shit but also drawing out suspense. It was quite a few pages before she got in the phone and I was hooked for every single one of them. I would have been in that phone within 10 pages... 

I reckon you’ve answered that first question pretty much yourself! I did take a while to think about the structure of Act One. And overall, I did fear that no-one would care about Kate and her relationship with Scott, if I’d just started with her breaking into the flat. It’d be the equivalent of starting a story with an action-packed battle sequence, without establishing who we cared about or why. I mean, I could have flashed back from Kate breaking in, but a reader can’t really care about a moment in retrospect.  It was very much a risk, starting by showing the reader how Kate and Scott met, etc, but it seemed the best way to tell the story.

One key thing was the opening chapter, in which Kate gives a very brief overview of the story, establishing the mystery of Scott and that his phone will one day yield all his deepest, darkest secrets. So in a funny kind of way, I guess she effectively does unlock his phone on page one! It’s really important to make a contract with the reader on the very first page and assure them that there’s an overview at work here - a big picture! They have to feel like they’re in safe storytelling hands. An overview chapter, like the very brief opening chapter of Ghoster, can really help with that. 

That’s really helpful and interesting. “A reader can’t really care about a moment in retrospect” makes a lot of sense. I just went back and re-read your opening chapters again and I can see what you mean... I would have been tempted to open with the second one “Where’s Scott?” because I’d be worried the opening chapter is TOO tell-y, like HEY GUYS, DON’T WORRY, SHIT GETS MORE INTERESTING LATER... but then I read it AGAIN, imagining the first scene wasn’t there, and it didn’t feel right to start on the second one. That opening scene kind of grounded it (and their relationship, brief as the scene was) and also gave me the sense of unease (the reg flag in the stones, the chill of ice cream in her veins etc.) that the second one didn’t. Even the explicit THIS IS WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN IN THE FUTURE paragraph felt necessary. It’s interesting how just a few extra paragraphs can give the reader the sense that there’s some importance to come.

Was the plan always to spend a chapter or so on each app/section of the phone? Once again, I might have just had my character get through the phone in the space of an evening but you really drew out the suspense and made it work by tying her emotions into it (i.e I can’t read his WhatsApp right now, it’s too painful). Just wondering if all these choices were conscious or something you added later in, or a mixture of both.

Working out the order in which Kate examined the contents of Scott’s phone may have been the hardest thing of all. After all, if she's gone through everything in one breathless evening, then I would have had a short story on my hands, to some extent, because the phone contains so many secrets! So I had to make her snooping priorities realistic, while working out a way to stagger the release of information. That took absolutely ages. One thing I did was ask my female Facebook friends for the order in which they would personally look around inside a vanished partner’s phone. That helped, but then I had to come up with reasons why Kate either wouldn’t or couldn’t look into some of those areas. When she initially tries to open the videos folder, for instances, the whole phone crashes. That sort of device (no pun intended) was very useful.

By the way, here’s something it took me a while to realise about a character snooping around inside a phone - the snooping process itself is really, really uninteresting. In earlier drafts, there was loads more detail of Kate scrolling through screens and opening folders, etc. But eventually I realised that all the reader really cared about was the result of what she discovered! So the majority of that detail ended up hitting the cutting room floor. As did a scene in which she took the phone to do a dodgy shop to get it unlocked. The reader knows the phone is gonna get unlocked, so it was best to get that done ASAP. I’d already delayed it by that point, and the value of delayed gratification will only stretch so far before it snaps.

The phone crashing thing felt so natural and not like a gimmick to hold back information, so you weaved that in well, sir. Now, the chapter lengths are pretty similar (aside from a few longer ones) and again, I was wondering if that was deliberate, like you wanted each chapter to be short and sharp (say, 1200 words or so each), or if you were just following your natural rhythms? 

It can’t have been fully deliberate, because I must admit, I hadn’t consciously tried to make those lengths similar. Having said that, I do like to keep chapter lengths down as much as possible. I’m an impatient reader, and not an especially compulsive reader of novels, and I reckon that influences the way I write. Maybe I write partly for people like me, who wish they enjoyed reading more. I like sparse prose with the odd florid description or turn of phrase, for instance, as opposed to an author devoting two or three pages to describing weather or landscapes. That sort of thing drives me crazy and makes me skim-read like nobody’s business. 

Lastly: how much of the story changed, from the first draft, through the editing? Was there a big structural change, or any twists you added as you went along? Do you structure a story out in the beginning, and then as you write it, these twists come to you? Do new thoughts take the book in a different direction, or deepen it?

Over the years, I've learnt that it's better to plan as much as you can, right at the beginning, without planning it all in such minute detail that you lose the passion for writing the thing. I like a nice, fairly fleshed-out skeleton structure, which tends to pivot on big twists and/or revelations, while leaving myself enough space to make further discoveries as I go along. And so this approach definitely applied to Ghoster. I knew the ending and the big turning points. Structure fans might like to know that I divided the whole thing into four more-or-less equal acts. Or if you prefer, three acts with the second act chopped in half at the midway point!

The characters definitely become deeper, the more you write. When you're planning a story, it's harder to inhabit the characters' heads, but when you're at the coal face writing the thing, you're thinking like them a fair deal more. If outlining a story is like playing a game of chess, then the actual writing is like... uh... somehow managing to demonically possess several chess pieces. (Makes notes for next novel.)

In terms of story and plot, I did find a few new ideas and connections to make as I went along. That always happens. You can find new threads to layer onto the plot - and, once you know the ending, for instance, you can try and subtly plant a few clues that point towards it. A big part of the joy of writing, for me, is that process of discovery, especially when you're operating within the plot framework you already established, so you know you can't really mess up too badly. So, a semi-fleshy skeleton plot, coupled with fun exploration, strikes me as the best of both worlds these days.  

Hope you enjoyed this, dear reader!  If you haven't yet grabbed Ghoster, you can get it on Amazon right here, for just 99p if you act before the end of this month!  Big thanks to George Kelly for asking some great questions. Do go and follow George on Twitter and say hello. This guy is really one to watch in the realms of crime fiction. 

Free (or pay-what-you-can) writing advice!

Until further notice, I'm still responding to the coronavirus crisis by offering a simple service which sees me answer one writing advice question at a time via email for free... or for whatever you would like to pay, if you're able. See this page on my site for the full details!

Free motivation for creatives

Check out my free second mailing list, Jason Arnopp's Sunday Confession Booth!  In a nutshell, I email subscribers every Sunday at 7pm to ask what they created this week. Plenty of subscribers then actually reply to tell me, which is awesome. If you think this simple weekly prompter may bring value to your creative life, check it out here

Instagram: the trilogy

I now have three Instagram accounts. Yes, three! But I have varied interests and like to give people the option as to which ones they follow on IG. So here's the IG menu:

IG AUTHOR ACCOUNT - my everyday lockdown life in Brighton

IG RETRO ACCOUNT - my latest account, all about the kind of retro stuff I cover on my YouTube channel. Retro video games, classic Doctor Who, horror movies on VHS...

IG ROCK JOURNALIST ACCOUNT - all about my time as a rock journalist and my love of metal!

Come follow whichever take your fancy. Hope to see you in comments!

New 'free stuff' page

Everyone loves free stuff, right? That's exactly why I've added a Free Stuff page to my website. Sure, it starts by plugging the very newsletter you've already signed up for, but scroll down a little and you'll find an ever-growing list of free or discounted delights, including free trials of Audible, Amazon Prime and/or the Arrow Video Channel. Go take a look.

YouTube News: May 25, 2020

My most recent video sees me revisit classic Doctor Who serial The Masque Of Mandragora for the first time since 1976. What on earth will I make of it? Find out here. I've also done a couple of fun livestreams over the last month or so. You can see one of them in the Top 5 chart below.

Very soon, I'll be posting my first YouTube video about my beloved 1980s thrash metal! So do subscribe to the channel if that sounds like fun. 

Here are my five most popular YouTube videos in terms of 'watch time' (literally the amount of time people have spent watching them) over the last 28 days.

1) My 1996 interview with Type O Negative's Peter Steele

2) Doctor Who Season 14 Blu-ray box set unboxed

3) How to hook your old VCR up to your new smart TV 

4) Video rental store memories - archived three-hour livestream!

5) Doctor Who Series 12 (new series) DVD and Blu-ray unboxings
  • This newsletter is dedicated to my following awesome Patreon patrons: Cindy Leschaud, Francine Hibiscus, Paul Gibbons, Helen Thompson, Dave Morris & Leo Hartas, James Phillips, Stephen McMullin, Christine Blake, Cliff Shelton, Jane Louise Atkinson, Jay Lyons, Marjorie Taylor, Kristy Baptist, Lisa Golmen, Maria Fanning, Marissa Adams, Matt Ebbs, Alan Crawley, Rhiannon Marshall, Chris Limb, Sheena Perez, Mark Osborn and Vicky Brewster. All of these people are superb! If you'd like to have future editions of this newsletter dedicated to you too, check out my Patreon, a VIP club you can join for one dollar or more per month
  • Let me leave you with a really important thought, regardless of whether you're a 'creative'. Make a point of surrounding yourself exclusively with people who believe in you and your potential. Seriously, you wouldn't believe how much of a positive difference that kind of faith will make to your work and to your life. 
  • Thanks EVER so much for staying subscribed to this list and for reading! It's hugely appreciated. Stay safe and well, please, and I'll see you in the next edition of The Necronoppicon.
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