Friday, 11 May 2012

The Ghosts of London Underground

London, oh London. Where do I even start?

First of all, I have to say a huge thanks to Schelz and her family. They are such amazing people and so welcoming. I felt so comfortable being around them and feel blessed for getting to meet them. And Schelz, she is truly awesome. She managed to put up with me so she must be! Not only that, but I had such a brilliant time with her. Unforgettable for all the right reasons.

London is... well, it’s London. The culture is rich, the history immense, and there is just so much damn stuff down there! Whilst, on the surface, it’s so similar to many big towns up here in the North East, it’s also so different. The only other place I’ve been to that I feel I can compare it to would be Blackpool, as both places are rich with tourist attractions. But even away from all that, away from the inner city and all the tourism it brings, London really does not stop.

Everything in London is constantly moving. The trains and buses are so frequent because the demand and need for them is so high. So many people so much of the time, even during those periods where, up north, it would be quiet because everyone’s at work or already at their destination. Plus, up here, it seems like more people drive, but when I look at the roads in London, I’m not sure I would be all too keen driving around them. Taking the buses and trains is so much easier.

Luckily, the busses I came across all cost the same amount, no matter how far along the route I was going, because seriously – nothing screams tourist more than a strange northern lass attempting to explain to the bus driver where she needs to go. I tried once and the driver didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. Then I discovered the price would be the same no matter where I went so I needn’t have bothered in the first place. *headdesk*

This particular bus where I attempted my explanation of where I needed to go was the one that would take me from my hotel to the amazing (in so many ways) Schelz’s home (and thank God I’ve been pronouncing it right in my head all this time!). Fortunately, the bus number was pretty damn impossible to forget, considering that it’s possibly one of the dirtiest and funniest bus numbers in the whole of, well, everywhere... Unless, of course, you haven’t grown up surrounded by dirty jokes and a society that puts so much emphasis on sex (and if you haven’t, where the hell do you come from, or are you really just that pure?). 69. That’s all I’m saying. Your dirty minds can fill in the rest, or if you are really pure and haven’t a clue what I’m rabbitting on about – I shall direct you to Google who will happily inform you.

Damn... there is just so much that I want to write about, so much awesomeness packed into just a couple of short days. There was getting to watch Avengers with Schelz and seeing her reactions to the awesomeness of it. There was Baker Street, and Madame Toussades. There was the cute Australian guy named Matt and the London Bridge Experience. And there was Schelz and her family, which were the best parts of the whole trip!

So I guess I’ll start almost from the beginning. I say that because starting from The Avengers would just take far too long and would consist of a lot of incoherent flailing and keyboard bashing because that film is just so... perfect? So yeah, we’ll skip that for now and maybe revisit it when I’ll be less likely to post spoilers for people who haven’t seen it (seriously, get out there and see it... NOW!) and my thoughts may be more coherent.

That’s not to say my thoughts in the rest of this post will be any more coherent because everything was just far too amazing!!! Right, where was I? Let’s see...

Baker Street! On the second day, that was when Schelz took me sightseeing. Our first stop was Baker Street and the Sherlock Holmes museum. It reminded me of the Hackworth Museum in my town because of how old everything was. The furniture, the lighting, the design of it. It did truly feel like I had stepped into an old Victorian house and it brought back a few memories of old school trips.

Also, one of the things that really struck me was how creepy the place was. It is not a place that I would like to be locked inside, on a dark night, all alone – or really, any of the aforementioned. Even just being alone inside there is creepy. The place just has that feel about it. Fascinating and wonderfully put together, but as creepy as a Chihuahua with a bad eye and a scowl on its face.

I mean, there are goddamn mannequins in there! That in itself gives me the shivers. You daren’t take your eyes off of them in case they move, and don’t even think about blinking. Blink and you die. (Yes, that is a blatant Dr Who reference...).

Then, after the Sherlock Museum, there was the cute Australian – Matt. Very awesome guy – smooth talker. Schelz and I barely got several feet away from him before we decided we needed his photograph.

Following on from that and the giddiness that followed, because hey – I’m human, and female at that, we headed down the road toward Madame Tussauds. I don’t know, maybe I’m damaged but this was creepy as hell too. Maybe I just have an underlying fear of inanimate objects that have eyes and are incapable of moving but look so lifelike that you expect them to.

Don’t get me wrong – I loved it! I loved every minute of it, but I’m a writer who frequents the supernatural and fantasy genre a little too much. So I see a lifelike figure, I expect it to move. But they don’t move, and they don’t blink, they just stare at you as you pass by Sean Connery, Bruce Willis, Robert Downey Jnr and Alfred Hitchcock. And just when you think you’re safe, you realise that you’ve just passed Alfred ‘horror movies’ Hitchcock and really, you should have realised that you’re headed down toward a part of the place marked ‘SCREAM’.

They do give you the option to escape. They do. But, there’s the whole pride issue and the whole ‘you only live once’, even if the experience of walking through the ‘SCREAM’ part may give you a heart attack...

Creepy stuff I can deal with. I’m a writer, my head’s full of the stuff. Throw in some live actors that get all up in your face and are dressed up as something from a Romero movie and... I think it’s safe to say I often let my imagination and fear get the better of me. Especially when it’s dark, so freaking dark that you have a hard time seeing what’s in front of you, let alone what’s going to jump out at you. Needless to say that once we were told ‘you don’t touch them, they won’t touch you’, I hung onto that with the hope I would survive. It became my mantra, a reminder that even though they would make creepy noises and wave their arms in front of me, they would not touch.

Turn the lights on and they’re just a bunch of silly people dressed funnily, but in the dark, when you don’t know where you’re going or where they’ll jump out from, that’s just... well, it’s a wee bit terrifying. If Schelz hadn’t been there, I most certainly would have chickened out. But together, we got through it – Schelz up front, and me hanging on behind like my life depended on it, laughing nervously at the live actors as they grinned manically. Don’t worry, I paid for her being up front this time because apparently we didn’t learn from this experience, either that or secretly we love scaring ourselves... because after Madame Tussauds, we headed off to the London Bridge Experience and London Tombs.

Before that though, we had the rest of Madame Tussauds to get through – which included a weird cab ride thing which took us through a weird and brief history of London, and the Marvel Superheroes 4D Experience which was really cool and meant I got to see a waxwork of Chris Evans as Captain America. That wasn’t creepy. If that had come alive, I would have fainted for a whole different reason. And then there were cupcakes and rain, though not at the same time.

THEN, it was onto the London Bridge Experience and Tombs.

I’ve never heard of it before, and honestly, we stumbled across it by accident but I am so supremely glad we did. Going by the warnings they give and the whole atmosphere, you could tell it would be as scary, if not scarier, as the scream part of the Madame Tussauds. The waiting was torture, but there was a large group of people and after we’d handed our ticket in and joined the queue to wait to go inside, we were nicely in the middle.

On a walkthrough creep fest, I would say the middle is a wonderful place to be. During the scream walkthrough, of the group that was going through, we were up front in third and fourth position and when you’re up front, you don’t really get much warning before something jumps out at you. At least if you’re further back, you can hear the screams from up front. At the same time though, you don’t want to be right at the back, and you certainly don’t want to be last. Firstly, this means you get out last and secondly... well, you’re at the back. What if something comes along and grabs you and tries to eat you? No one up front will be any the wiser!!!

But yes. We were nicely in the middle in the queue. Then they started sending groups and individuals through separately. So that meant it would be me and Schelz... alone.

It was my turn to go first. I owed Schelz that much for getting us through the scream unharmed. ‘Just go on through’ the guy said when it was our turn. Go on through, away from the light and straight into a wall of pitch black darkness. Aside from the circle of red dots from the special night camera, I could not see a thing.

After some debating, we just headed straight forward... on into the darkness. Praying. Hoping. Though, maybe we weren't praying and hoping for the damn loud noise and flash of light and train thing that came shooting up beside us. I don’t think I truly realised what came up beside up until Schelz told me, I just knew there was light and I could now see a way out... and the way out led us straight into a nice and bright room where everyone who had gone before us were waiting and some laughing as hey, it turned out they got to see the whole thing on a screen that was linked to the special night camera that made up the circle of red dots in the dark.

But, we weren’t alone anymore. That was all that mattered. So we once again positioned ourselves nicely in the middle for when the main event would begin.

At first, when everyone was through and the group moved onward, it seemed nice and harmless. There were a couple of pit stops where a couple of live actors talked in character about events surrounding the London Bridge and London. The second was my favourite. A shortish guy who was so damn funny that he almost made me forget about the lifelike figure in the stocks right next to where I was standing as he – the shortish guy, not the mannequin in the stocks – talked about treason and high treason and of that William Wallace fellow who looked a lot like Mel Gibson.

The whole time, I don’t think I let go of Schelz. There was still always that expectation for something to happen. For something to move that wasn’t supposed to move. For everything to go pitch black again. Or for a thousand creepy noises to all start at once. But no, they were saving that for later when we found ourselves stopped once more in this large group where we were still firmly in the middle, and we were all asked if anyone wanted to back out now before it was too late. A couple of people did, but Schelz and I were already committed. We had already come so far, and we had both decided that since we put our characters through torment, it was only fair we got some of it too.

So we stayed... and everyone moved forward in groups to get their pictures taken and get ready to move into the main event. When it was our turn to get the picture taken, everything was fine, until we joined the others that had been ahead of us, and we were asked which of the two of us the braver one was.

Somehow, and I’m not quite sure how, the answer ended up being me and I was suddenly being asked if I wanted to be the leader of group three. The leader of group three. Implying that we would no longer be in the middle of a larger group that would protect us, but we would once again be right at the front as we made our way through the creepiness of the dark up ahead.

First of all, this meant we would be right at the front, and that in itself was bad. But it didn’t end there. No. This also meant that being group three, the last group to go through the twisted maze of creepiness, we had to wait at the starting point the longest. We had that fear of anticipation. We had to listen to the weird whispers and creakings around us for longer and let our imaginations go wild about what horrors would await us. We had to listen to the other groups screaming and we had to watch one of the members from one of the other groups being wheeled out in a wheelchair.

Oh no, we were fine. We were just bloody grand. Why would be scared? The other groups had lads to lead them through the maze. Group three had... me.

But the time came and I made sure I knew exactly where Schelz was. As long as she was there, I would be fine. I took in as much as I could that was ahead of me and kept saying to myself ‘it’s no worse than the Hazard Perception part of the Theory Driving Test. I’ve just gotta keep a look out for areas where live actors could be potentially hidden and avoid them as best I can’.

I did take a wrong turn... twice. The second time leading me to trip over some of the ‘scenery’ as I tried to make my way back around, and yes, it was damn freaking creepy the whole time, but I must admit, being at the front, I didn’t get the worst of it. In fact, I actually had more of an idea of what might be coming up ahead because no one was blocking my view.

The worst part of it was the chainsaw guy. There was the chainsaw noise and that smell of oil in the air that you expect from a chainsaw. There was even heat coming off of it when he brought it right close to you as he was hopping and jumping about and blocking your path with it. I knew it wasn’t real. I knew it was just a special effect. But it was dark and whenever that chainsaw was brought down in front of me, the heat warming the skin of my face, I couldn’t bring myself to move forward again until the guy had moved it.

And it was scary and creepy and I don’t know why the hell we put ourselves through it... but it was invigorating also. Knowing you had survived, being forced to face those fears and that claustrophobic darkness, it was such a great experience. It’s something you can capture for writing, but it’s also more than that – it’s a way of learning about yourself. For example, I learned that I talk a lot and laugh and attempt to act flippant when faced with a scary situation. And I learned that with a good friend by my side, I’m a lot braver than if I were alone.

When we finally escaped the Tombs, time was getting on a bit and most of the other places were nearing their closing times, so we headed off for a sit down and some food. The day had been exhausting but brilliant, and after an evening with Schelz’s amazing family, I slept quite well in the strange hotel bed that, to quote Nate, creaked every time I even thought about moving.

Of course, this meant Thursday came too quickly. The morning consisted of packing and a bit of souvenir shopping, then it was off to see Schelz for an all too brief good bye.

There were no hitches in travelling, no trains running late, and by half three I was on my train back home and was leaving London.

London was such a great experience and one I wish to repeat. I had such a fantastic time with Schelz and I’m so glad I finally got to meet her in person. So, this blog post is dedicated to her for giving me such an amazing time.

PS: Sorry about the lack of picture and hugeness of this post.

Keep Away From Fire

I noticed tonight, after who only knows how long, that a couple of my tops have ‘keep away from fire’ written on their labels. Keep away from fire. It’s like they actually expect people to say; ‘oh look, there’s an open flame here. I know! I’ll introduce it to my top and they can be best of friends’. Who does that? Who, in their right mind, does that? And seriously, anyone who would do that – do you really think they would check the labels of their clothes first? Like, they’re about to do something and think; ‘oh wait, I better make sure this is allowed and not like a dangerous risk or anything’.

The label doesn’t bother to tell me not to put my top in the microwave. And it doesn’t tell me to wear a jacket over it when it’s raining because I might get wet and catch a cold and die. And what about acid? There’s no warning about keeping my top away from acid... And considering I accidentally put my elbow into acid at school once and saw the effect it had on my school jumper... well, I very much doubt my top is acid proof!

Unless that’s why they’ve put it there. In some deep, secret government lab, they have developed a type of cotton that is fire proof and somehow, this cotton ended up part of many tops out there. But, they don’t want the public to know! No, if the public knew they could buy cheap and comfortable tops that are fireproof, those places that sell the specially designed fire clothing for the stunt people of movies, they would lose out right?

Then again, it could be this message isn’t even meant for us normal people. Perhaps, it’s meant for those in the future who do in fact possess comfortable, everyday clothing that is fireproof. They could be walking along one day in the future and they come across this ancient clothing store buried in whatever apocalyptic ashes the future will hold. And maybe they were mauled by a mutant bear-wolf-lizard-fish thing... and they need a new top. So they grab one off the hanger in this ancient little store thinking that just like the one they need to replace, it’s fireproof. Of course, they would have to check the size because you can never be sure that the right size top is on the right size-marked hanger (I doubt this will ever change with time), and as they’re checking the size on the label – they see the message: ‘Keep away from fire’.

After that, they know they’re screwed because their hometown is encased in a wall of fire as a safety measure against the mutant bear-wolf-lizard-fish things. Without fireproof clothing, how are they supposed to get back inside? But at least they’ll still have their pride and won’t have to wander around half naked like a chick from a bad slasher flick. The whole getting back into their hometown, they can work that out once they actually reach the wall of fire – providing of course that they don’t get attacked again by anymore mutant bear-wolf-lizard-fish things and that they don’t spontaneously combust because that would be... well, bad.

Maybe that’s it. I mean, if that is the reason – that’s some pretty forward thinking on the clothing designer’s part. Now they just have to figure out a way to ensure their clothes actually survive whatever comes before the apocalyptic ashes.

As for me... I’ve got to get back to writing up my account of my visit to London. My next post will be dedicated to that and if I can figure out how, there might even be pictures!!! So, next time on the blog of Ray: ‘The Ghosts of London Underground’.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner

Except I’m not. But in a couple of days, I will be on the train making my way down to London. Of course, even when I’m down there I won’t be able to claim to be a Londoner as I will clearly have ‘tourist’ stamped across my forehead as I walk around the place with my mouth wide open, attempting not to get lost.

This will be the third time I’ve been to London, the first time was with my school and the second time was with a friend and her family. They both seem like they happened so long ago, though in fact it was probably less than a decade ago... This time, I’ll be going by myself. Travelling alone doesn’t bother me, though with my parents constant worrying you would think I was heading off to Amsterdam and booking into a hostel where I’ll be swept away by some strange organisation that want to cut me open. You’ve seen the movies, so you know what I mean. Unfortunately for my parents, I think they’ve seen far too many movies of this sort... that and they watch the news too much.

Yes, there is a certain element of risk for a young girl travelling alone to a large place such as London – just like there is a certain element of risk every time you step into an elevator or ride a rollercoaster. But when it comes to London, I won’t be completely alone. I will have a guide.

One of the main reasons for this trip to London, aside from a holiday and much needed break from not only work but from home, is that I’ll get to meet one of the most awesome people I know. It is for this reason that what fills me most is excitement and not fear. I only hope I don’t annoy the living daylights out of her, because like me, she is a writer, so I know she’s very capable of exacting revenge by sending me away to some strange organisation that want to cut me open... in her writing, of course.

Whatever happens along the way, whatever mishaps I may encounter such as delayed trains or getting lost in the tube... it shall be an adventure. One I am truly looking forward to. Experience is something that writers can take with them and hold tightly to in order to add a sense of realism to their writing. Sometimes the best part of being a writer comes not from writing but from how it changes how you view the world and what you take from each adventure and each new experience. I spend so much time holed up in my room, staring at my laptop screen, that it will be good for me to get out and about in the real world.

So here it is... in 48 hours I should be in London and I am finding it incredibly hard not to squee the house down in excitement just thinking about it.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Writing Advice

 My friend recently mentioned this over on her blog, and it’s something I agree with and it was brought to my attention again as I was looking over my twitterfeed and found a piece of writing advice posted, along with a link to a longer article which explained the advice further.

As a young writer – and when I say young, I don’t mean in age – there is this subconscious need to find the rules set out by other writers who have come before you. I know, because I did it. Not so much in my early, early days where I didn’t really care about what I was writing because no-one else would see it but me. But when I started to share my work, I also started searching out advice on how to become a better writer. I wanted reassurances that I was doing it right...

And you know what the one thing I learned is? Just keep writing.

I sucked! I sucked to the point where I can’t even look at my old pieces of work without cringing. Nowadays though, there’s much less cringing (though it still happens too often because I’m a perfectionist in my writing), and as my friend pointed out – that shows growth.

Did this growth come from all that advice I read? The pieces that said avoid first person? The ones that said to avoid using adverbs? Or how about this latest piece of advice in which they say to write how you write, not how you speak?

No. Because those aren’t tips or bits of advice. They’re preferences. Preferences that vary from mine.

I love first person, both when writing and reading. I've never had a problem with adverbs when reading, unless they're seriously abused and used twice in every sentence. As for writing how I write and not how I speak, I like to write conversationally. And I enjoy reading pieces written like this too.

So what is the purpose of this blog post? It’s to say that not all writing advice is good for everyone. In fact, sometimes you have to break the rules. Sometimes you have to ignore the advice (unless it’s from Neil Gaiman, he often has some bloody good advice – such as write, write and write!).

The first step to becoming a better writer is to write, and read. It’s like learning to play the piano, when you begin, you’ll hit the wrong keys sometimes, but eventually, if you practise enough, your fingers will automatically reach for the next key without you even having to think about it.

When your confidence starts growing, and when your writing does too, you’ll learn what works best for you and what doesn’t. Just bear in mind that you can’t please everyone, so start by pleasing yourself.

Monday, 23 April 2012

The Bad Guy: Loki

I have this thing about bad guys, the antagonist of a piece. I just love a good bad guy. I love the truly evil and twisted bad guys that you love to hate, and I love the damaged and emotionally challenged bad guys where your heart goes out to them because you can see what made them the way they are. I think these are the bad guys that really stick with me.

Note: Beware of spoilers in this piece, as I do talk about the movie Thor. So if you haven’t seen it yet... then, here’s your warning.

Loki is one of these bad guys. Throughout many different mediums and stories, the character of Loki often comes across to me as one of those misunderstood antagonists that you want to take to the side and give them a huge hug and say ‘please, don’t go down that path’. Only, if they didn’t go down that path, there would be no story, would there?

In Thor, the movie that is because I haven’t read the comics, Loki is not a villain as such, as he is just a person trying to fit in. He was brought up in a world and with a family that wasn’t truly his. He was trapped, trying to find his place. And in the middle of all that, there was his relationship with Thor.

Thor, to Loki, was his brother. But he was more than that. He was his rival. Only, rival isn’t really the right word. Rival gives the impression of equality. That’s where the problem lies. Loki never felt like Thor was his equal. It wasn’t that he felt superior to Thor, if anything, he felt like he wasn’t good enough to be placed beside Thor. So Loki was jealous. He was the jealous in the same way any little brother would be jealous of their older brother who seemed to get everything.

It only makes sense that Loki wanted to prove himself. He wanted to be given the same chance that Thor had been given. He wanted to be his equal. Thus, the antagonist was born.

This also extends into actual Norse mythology.

In mythology, Loki was a trickster. He loved pranks and he loved stirring up trouble. There were antagonistic traits to him in early stories, but no more than any of the other gods. He was no worse than any of them, and yet he was never really an equal.

Depending on which source you read, some class Loki as one of the giants in Norse myths, one who spent a lot of time with the gods. In other sources, he is credited as a god himself. But whichever way you choose to look at it, whether he was a god or giant, he was never really an equal amongst the other gods. He was never given that.

Often, he is the scapegoat. When something goes wrong, it was Loki’s job to fix it or it would be his head on the chopping block. Sometimes, he caused the problems in the first place, like a young child acting out for attention.

Even his children were branded as dangerous and not just cast out, but punished for sins they hadn’t yet committed. But it had been foretold of what would happen, and so out of fear, the gods reacted to the extreme. When everything did come to a head, was that because what the gods had been told was true, or was it because of the whole idea of self-fulfilling prophecy? By reacting to what they feared would happen, had they caused it to happen?

I mean, I’m not an expert on Norse mythology. I haven’t read all the stories or researched them deeply, but of the ones I have read, these are the impressions I have formed.

But, I’m getting away from my main focus. Loki.

Stories need bad guys like fire needs oxygen. Sometimes, if the story had gone another path, if something had gone differently, the bad guy, the antagonist, could so easily change roles and instead become the protagonist. Sometimes, he truly believes he is the good guy. And sometimes, he gets thrust into the role of being the antagonist because someone has to do it. Somebody has to keep the balance.

Without darkness, how would we know light? Without sadness, how could we know happiness? Without someone to stand against, how could the hero prove himself?

So here’s to Loki, and all the other great bad guys out there.

Monday, 16 April 2012


It's 1:40AM and my eyes are getting bleary. My mind is fuzzy and I swear, right now, it's full of fluff. So please forgive any errors.

This is a writing meme of sorts. I was tagged by my good friend (who also happens to be an awesome writer, so please check out her blog: ).

Da Rules:
  • Go to page 7 or 77 in your current manuscript
  • Go to line 7
  • Post on your blog the next 7 lines, or sentences, as they are – no cheating
  • Tag 7 other authors to do the same
 I really like the idea behind this because it's basically like picking a random piece of a novel you're working on rather than giving you the full choice of which lines you want to choose. Originally, I was going to post a snippet from The Occultus (the novel I'm currently sending queries out for), but I thought it would be a good idea to post something a little different - a small snippet from another piece of work.

So here it is, 7 lines from page 77 of Soul of Fire (one of the stories I'm trying to finish). This is a snippet from the first draft:

Tobias swallowed and tried to understand the solemn look that had fallen onto the professor’s face, a slightly nervous edge to his eyes.
            “Now, I need you to hear me out. This is going to be a lot to take in and more than a little hard to believe but promise me you’ll let me get to the end before you make a run for it?”
            Now Tobias was getting worried. What could possibly be any more mental than dragons and their crystallised tears? “I’ll try.”

Now... for the tagging:
A double tag for Gen as I know she was already tagged by Miss Schelz :P
Another to Bambers
And because it's late (now 2:07AM, and my brain is officially fried) and I don't actually know many other blog writers personally, I'm gonna just tag everyone else who reads this. So, if you're reading this, consider yourself tagged. And also, if you do this, please post a comment with a link to your post - I would love to check it (and your blog) out.

I would end with some epic and inspiring good bye, but the more truthful one would be 'beeeed... zzzzz'. Good night bloggers and blog readers!