All posts by thefantasynovelist

I am a writer of YA fantasy novels living in London, England, with my debut novel being published early 2013. Stay tuned for updates!

Post Card From East London #2 How to Tell if You’re In a Walthamstow Park

About time someone brought out a post card series that sells east London as it really is. Enjoy!

 

I hope we’re all now clear on that! Stay tuned for ‘…#3 How to Tell if You’re In a…

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Similes and Metaphors: They Have to Make (at Least Some Kind of) Sense

METAPHORI felt compelled to get this short post written and at a pace: two reasons: first, to compensate for a subtle yet incrementally lengthening time lag between updates on this blog due to the editing of my latest manuscript(s); second, to try and stem the flow of dreadful similes and metaphors that I have been exposed to lately not only in unpublished MS’s I have been asked to comment on, but also, somewhat lamentably, several published books and print articles (and, to a lesser extent, one execrably memorable essay of eye-bleeding awfulness) that really should know better.

It’s straightforward:

The sea is an angry dog.

Good.

The sea is a flatulent drunken man, the waves the spittle at his quivering lips, the tossed ships his quivering lapels, flecked with whiskey, the distant beckoning shore his shirt tails poking through his undone flies, white as purest sand.

Bad.

Why? Simply because (unless this is done for humour as here) who ever envisaged the sea as such?

Basically, without wishing to preclude originality, similes and metaphors must be consistent with broader human experience to make sense, and not drift toward the laughable as above. (Unless, as mentioned, you are actually going for Evelyn Waugh-esque laughs!)

How so? Think about it. An angry dog requires respect and encourages awe in the same way as the sea. A drunk man requires a bucket to be sick into. So, er, what is this simile trying to achieve?

Q.E.D.

Watch out for them …

Peter Dobbin: The Art of Book and Game Illustration

I am fortunate to meet many, many talented people in publishing, illustration and design as I research my fantasy novel series – and none more so than Peter Dobbin.

Peter is a highly gifted and much-in-demand concept and graphic artist as well as an illustrator of books, games and comics, including the Harry-Potter games for EA games, no less.

Peter would certainly be one of my choices of illustrator for my novels, set as they are in a part of London both he and I find creatively stimulating as the ‘Personal Projects’ section of his website portfolio amply attests.

Peter’s eye for the nuance and detail of east London life is extraordinary: he manages to make a wood-slat rubbish bin beneath a looming concrete overpass in a deserted park look menacing; the weed-strangled pavement seems to writhe with resentment at the trainers that tramp disinterestedly across it. And that is exactly the feel those forgotten and abandoned corners of east London have about them; lonely places where few locals dare venture and rarely glimpse as they go blithely about their daily lives  and Peter’s work captures that perfectly.

Peter has very kindly allowed me to use some of his artwork in this post (all rights remain with the artist) to give a feel for the area in which my books are set as well as what the man himself is capable of.

Should anyone wish to contact him regarding illustration work, Peter informs me he is always available to consider new projects, and you can see more examples of his work at his website.

Contact Peter at peter.dobbin@gmail.com or through his website.

Fig 1. [Character/Environment] Local gang/The mean streets of Leytonstone, east London

Fig 2. [Character/Environment]  Bus ride to hell (or Hackney Road as it’s known locally)

Fig 3. [Character] Street kid ‘chilling’ in South Tottenham after dark

Fig 4. [Character] Hideous monsters from another dimension? Or east London locals after a few too many cans of White Star?

Fig 5. [Character] DIY zombie surgeon (Waltham Forest NHS trust is in need of a best practice review )

Fig 5. [Character] East London characters – ‘Spare some change, guv?’

Art Imitating Life? Haunted Walthamstow and Chingford

As I continue to research my novel series, I thought it was time I wrote something about the areas in which my books are set, as well as the spooky ghosts and eerie apparitions that may (or may not) inhabit them – after all, that is what my fantasy fiction is about.

I couldn’t, however, do a better job of this than Martin Belam (pictured), who has already researched (though not at the time of writing personally experienced) the ghostly happenings in this neck of the woods, and he has kindly allowed me to reproduce the blog post that reports his findings here.

It’s a great article, however do also check out the comments section at the end where locals have reported their own spooky accounts, as well as the links to his other London ghost walks.

I will let Martin take it from here …© Copyright Martin Belam. Kindly reproduced with the permission of http://www.currybet.net/.

Followers of this site will know that my wife and I are no strangers to traipsing around bits of London looking for the locations of alleged hauntings – in fact currybetdotnet even has a Ghost Walks category. In all these trips though we have never investigated the haunted heritage of where we live and where I was born – Waltham Forest. So finding ourselves at a loss for somewhere exotic to stay over the bank holiday weekend, and wanting to spend some time walking and talking together, we put together our own haunted tour of Walthamstow and Chingford.

We started off at Saint Mary’s Church near Walthamstow Village. Whilst we could not ascertain that this was haunted, it lies in the heart of an old graveyard, which contains some Grade II listed graves, and has been the subject of paranormal investigation. According to a local newspaper article from July 2004:

A pair of ghostbusters are coming to Waltham Forest to capture spooks on film.

Paranormal investigator by night Sandi Monarque, 36, will be visiting Vestry House and St Mary’s Church in Walthamstow Village with her photographic assistant Seth Farren.

She said: ‘I am not a psychic, I can’t speak to spirits. I research the place, go and visit, speak to people and when we see the pictures we know we have seen a ghost.’

Mr Farren, a teacher in Waltham Forest, said he had been a sceptic until he started taking pictures.

He claims to have photographed colourful globes of spirit energy hovering in the air, the faint outline of a man standing in a window, and clouds of mist hanging above gravestones.

He said: ‘I, like a lot of people, was sceptical, but these pictures have blown me away. I hope to find more ghosts in this area.’

Our next stop was outside Walthamstow School for Girls on Church Hill. The evidence I found for this being haunted was pretty flimsy, relying on the internet testimony of a pupil, who claimed that:

Five buildings make up the school, one of them being the old house, which was once a church vestry and is said to be haunted. It is not very likely you will see the ghost. I never have!

Our walk then took us down past Walthamstow Central, to something that wasn’t a haunting, but was a cryptozoology report in the local paper from 2001.

The big cat known as the Beast of Ongar has been spotted in Walthamstow near the marshes.

A dark, silky-sleek figure of a panther or puma was spotted going through bins near houses in St James Village, a block of flats near Low Hall Lane, on Saturday, at 7.30pm. A woman was sitting in her car waiting for her son when she spotted the animal walk past her round the corner to some bins.

Big cat experts claim the animal may be living on the marshes and making food raids on local houses.

The resident, of Downsfield Road, Walthamstow, who saw the beast, said: ‘It came to the front of the car. It looked like a dog but with the face of a cat and it had a long tail. It was as big as a fox. “I thought this is a huge animal. It was looking for food and rooting around. I must admit I was not really scared even though I recognised it was a puma.’

Being around the Low Hall area also took us past the Steam & Transport museum. I’m actually yet to visit it, but the next open days are October 13th & 14th this year, when my wife will be away for the weekend, so I think I might just manage to pay it a visit then.)

Next up was Leucha Road. In May 2003 this made the local news when a resident reported to the council that his house was haunted:

Mr Nembhard, 41, said: ‘I have to leave the television on as this seems to calm the ghosts down, and I can’t sleep because I feel a presence that keeps me awake.’

The first time the welder saw the ghost was while he was lying in bed and trying to get some sleep. He says he started to feel strange and it was as if someone was passing through him. The image he saw was a blonde woman, aged in her 20s or 30s.

The second encounter took place while Mr Nembhard was standing in his kitchen. He claims he saw someone pass quickly. He thought it was his sister but she was upstairs the whole time.

It seems the council at the time were pretty unsympathetic:

A council spokeswoman said: ‘Unfortunately, in this situation there is little that the council can do to help in practical terms.

‘Any physical problems with the property or services provided by the council should be reported to the housing department.’

It was also left unclear what the neighbours who hadn’t experienced the ghost thought of his television being left on 24/7.

Our walk covered quite a bit of distance, so for our next destination we caught the 158 bus from St James Street in order to get off at the Sinnott Road stop on Billet Road. Waiting at St James Street is one of the grimmer areas in Walthamstow, and so we spent an uncomfortable ten minutes sandwiched between a branch of Cash Converters and the bus stop, listening to someone from one of the flats above blaring out the second ‘The Streets’ album at full volume to the general bemusement of passers-by.

Once we’d got off the bus we walked to Cooper Avenue, to visit the street where another council house had apparently had visitations. According to a report on the Paranormal Database in 1969:

Shortly after moving in, a family demanded to be relocated after a white lady manifested in front of a four year old boy and ordered the child to leave. The family dog refused to enter the boy’s bedroom.

From there we headed to what is known as The Crooked Billet roundabout, named after a pub that disappeared to be replaced by a church when I was a youngster. I never visited it (too young), mind you, I’ve never visited the replacement Church either (too Godless). I do still remember the illuminated signs for Skol and Double Diamond that adorned the pub during my youth though – that’s naff brand penetration for you.

In any case, back in June this year a house near there had been the subject of a paranormal investigation by the team at the Eerie Investigations website.

A family in Walthamstow who had recently moved house contacted us regarding concerns which they had about the property. Numerous paranormal phenomena had occurred and been witnessed by multiple family members and friends both individually and in groups. These included; doors which had no locks ‘locking’ closed, DVD cases opening and closing by themselves, books moving across the room, sudden icy-cold blasts of air being felt – despite the house being double-glazed and the windows closed – and frequent occurrences of strong odours of cigarettes and whisky being smelled, although all of the house-residents are non-smokers and non-drinkers.

After investigating the local area and talking to neighbours we determined that the previous tenant had been a heavy smoker and a whisky drinker, and that the events had started to happen after the new family had begun modernising and re-decorating the house. We took with us the famous local medium Alma Butler and interviewed Alma and the residents. Our monitoring equipment noted EMF spikes in some areas of the house, particularly one window which faced onto the street. Without being told this, Alma immediately told us that she could see the previous owner’s spirit standing in this area. Alma performed a spirit-clearance, communicating with the spirit and asking to it move on. Since this date, there have been no further occurrences of any phenomena and the family feel that the house is now completely normal.

We then caught our next bus, towards the cemetery at Chingford Mount. This is reputed to be haunted by a ghost on horseback, who sometimes dismounts so that their footsteps are heard. According to “Ghosts Of The South-East” by Tony Ellis:

Romantics suggest that this could be Lord Nelson or the overworked spirit of Dick Turpin but it is more generally thought that the ghost is that of a member of the Royal hunting parties that used to frequent the area many years ago before it was turned into a cemetery.

We didn’t have a spooky experience in the cemetery, but we did observe a lot of playful activity by the local squirrel population, one of whom threw something down from a tree at my wife, much to my amusement.

We then got back on a bus and headed towards our ultimate destination, The Royal Forest Hotel by Chingford Station.

Before going in there we dropped into the Hunting Lodge, which I have to confess I have never visited before. The building was used as a grandstand for royalty and nobility to watch the progress of hunts through Epping Forest.

I hadn’t realised that the forest was only opened to the public around 150 years ago. The Lodge is now run by the Corporation Of London, and the information in the exhibit is really good – even down to the fact that when first designed it had to have a specifically designed extra wide staircase to allow portly Tudor monarchs to make their painfully slow way upstairs. There is also a dressing up box to allow you to get yourself up in some Tudor gear. I think it is aimed at children but we naturally couldn’t resist.

A Tudor Feast in the Hunting LodgeTudor Statues in the Hunting Lodge

Our trip ended in The Royal Forest Hotel. A characterless pub serving identikit food for people who have never eaten out before – I say this because on each table they have some forms to fill in where you write down what your order is to ensure that you don’t forget it in the seconds it takes to get from your table to the bar. It is also a pub that is meant to be haunted.

The local paper ran an article about it in September 2003 according to ghosts-uk.net:

While some diners and drinkers might describe the Royal Forest Hotel as their “favourite haunt”, the expression has taken on a whole new meaning for staff.

Manager Jo McCormack and his team believe the spirit of a woman they call Mary is causing them difficulties. Mr McCormack said: ‘Mary manifests herself in various ways.’

Common occurrences include lights and cookers being on without any electricity supply, or dogs barking for no reason. ‘One member of staff, who used to live upstairs, moved out because he felt someone was staying in the room and even felt that person sitting at the end of the bed. But when he looked, there was no-one there.’

The staff and Brewers Fayre, which owns the pub restaurant in Rangers Road, Chingford, is keen to hear from anyone who can provide information about the disastrous fire of 1912 which they believe may be at the root of the alleged haunting.

The hotel was built and opened in 1890 to provide for the many Londoners who started to come out to Chingford to enjoy Epping Forest after it was fully opened to the public in 1882. Tea gardens, pubs and other places of refreshment were developed to cater for them.

There is also a personal testimony about the events in the pub on the Eerie Investigations site:

Currently I am working in a pub in North Chingford. The building has a lot of history and a history of burning down (which I think it has done now twice). The last time it burnt down a few people were killed, one being a lady – she is the ghost we think we have here. I think she haunts the basement and the 2nd level.

Well I was down in the basement bottling up at night (all of us don’t really like being in there on our own) and I had called a friend from the upstairs to keep me company. Anyway she came down and we were talking about the ghost (we know her as ‘Mary’) and in the middle of the bottling up room there is a line of bottles. Just as she was talking about Mary a bottle flew out of its packing and landed on the floor with a bang, giving us the fright of our lives. Another time I was down there on my own changing the coke over and I could feel some one intensely watching me from behind, I couldn’t stop looking over my shoulder and feeling scared. A lot of people feel they are being followed around the basement and up the stairs.

Of course we didn’t have anything paranormal happen to us, but I was impressed with how much information we could find out about alleged hauntings in the Waltham Forest area with only a couple of hours research on the internet. Mind you, that only served to show how easy it might be to spoof being a psychic.

We finished off our evening by dining at Le Monde on Station Road – which was a shame. Although it looked nice from the outside, and the food was fine, their idea of ambience was playing Ronan Keating’s Greatest Hits, and it was priced at what it aspired to be, rather than what it actually was.

You can find more posts on currybetdotnet about the ghost walks I have been on:
Haunted Clerkenwell, Haunted St Paul’s and Barbican – “The city of the dead”, Haunted Knightsbridge, Kensington and Notting Hill, Haunted Westminster and Piccadilly, Haunted Liverpool Street to Mansion House, Haunted Walthamstow and Chingford, Ghosts by Gaslight, Haunted Belgravia and Chelsea, Haunted Canterbury, Haunted Cockfosters and Enfield, Haunted Malta, Haunted Great Portland Street and Theatreland, Haunted Highgate, Haunted Chiswick, Haunted Holborn and Haunted Hampstead.

The Literary Agent’s Secret Code: What Every Rejected Writer Needs to Know

This post is in response to an agent who recently replied to me asking what exactly is it that I want him to do for me.

Eh? It’s like a surgeon asking you to tell him what you think is wrong and where the best place to start the incision would be. You don’t know!? Well if you don’t, how the heck should I?

Baffling.

Okay. So. I am actually thinking of doing it the other way round and starting an agency representing agents to writers. That way I can decipher, for all those bemused unrepresented scribes out there, what appears to be a sort of literary agent’s ‘secret code’ that’s designed to make the gates to the kingdom appear open and welcoming, whilst in reality keeping them firmly closed.

Seems reasonable. And hey, I can be reasonable too. I’ll only take fifteen percent of the same amount that an agent won’t make from your writing (in other words, nothing), as they have no intention of acting for you anyway.

Be that as it may, I’ll leave you with the code-phrases a writer needs to look out for in ascending order of importance and arch imponderability:

1. We’re currently accepting submissions’, which means: ‘You’ll never hear from us again’.

2. ‘We really enjoyed reading your work, but …’, which translates as: ‘Didn’t you know that by stating, ‘We’re currently accepting submissions’, we clearly, and unambiguously, meant we didn’t want to see your unsaleable rubbish in the first place?’

3. Every writer’s favourite: ‘Send us your full manuscript’, meaning; ‘You’ve waited sixteen weeks to hear back from us after having sent your trite synopsis and boring first three chapters that we didn’t want to see in the first place (you just don’t get it, do you – see previous two points), so by way of a suitable punishment, let’s string the whole torturous process out by a further sixteen months before we reject you anyway’.

4. Finally, this old chestnut: ‘Please include return postage if you want your materials sent back to you’; i.e. ‘Trust us – your unpublishable manuscript will be winging itself in precisely that direction before you can type: “It was a dark and stormy night.”’

Nope. Me neither.

Good luck!