LEARNING CREATIVE WRITING ON THE CHEAP: BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©


LEARNING CREATIVE WRITING ON THE CHEAP.
BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

I nearly had a heart attack yesterday when I saw that the price for an online self-publishing course was nearly seven thousand dollars. Even in euros, that’s a ridiculous amount of money.

The online course business practically exploded during the pandemic and is still blossoming; all those people staying home and sitting in front of their computers, wanting to learn a new skill or sharpen and hone some existing ones.

I love a good writing course. I signed up to loads during the pandemic. Some of them were free- FUTURELEARN- and some were as cheap as a tenner- UDEMY. I’m not a millionaire, and, even if I were, there’s probably no way I’d pay seven grand for a course in self-publishing or creative writing.

Everyone is hustling nowadays. I sign up to a lot of writing emails and writing blogs because I’m a compulsive signer-upper, lol, and, plus, you never know what little gems of advice or pearls of literary wisdom you might come across in one of them.

Nearly every single one of those emails from bloggers is trying to sell me something. The ‘secret’ to being a successful self-publisher or creative writer, mainly. They want me to book a place on their live ‘training’ class or masterclass, and then buy a super-expensive course or ‘package’ containing all kinds of online writing-related doo-hickeys, some of which might be useful, others less so.

They want me to pay for an ‘in’ to an exclusive online writing community that will supposedly support my writing efforts and make the solitary business of writing a little less lonely. These are often held on Zoom, but I also know of a particular ‘exclusive’ writing group on Facebook that requires you to pay thirty-five quid a month to be in their snobby group.

 I’ve been offered the chance to join and ‘find my tribe,’ but I’m not paying thirty-five quid a month to be in a Facebook group, I don’t care how supportive the other members are! If I have thirty-five quid a month to spare, there’s always a gas bill or a lecky bill it can go towards.

And let’s not forget the books. Everyone’s flogging a book, and the book, like the masterclasses and ‘training’ videos and ‘bundles’ of writing aids which would normally cost thousands of dollars but are now going for a song at a mere fifty bucks, claims to reveal the ‘secret’ you’ve been waiting your whole life to hear.

The ‘secret’ to good writing, the ‘secret’ to keeping your readers engaged from the get-go, the ‘secret’ to selling a million books a year on Amazon, the ‘secret’ to being more successful than Stephen King mashed together with Hilary Mantel, even the ‘secret’ to writing a book without typing a single word, a new one I came across lately that just boggles my mind.

I’ve got news for you guys, though, and it might seem disheartening at first, but it’s actually good news. There is no ‘secret,’ no magic wand, no magic spell, no silver bullet, no special key that will unlock all the success and acclaim you’ve ever dreamed of.

And that’s good news, because it means that you’ve already got the power within you to be a good writer, and it lies in your own mind and your own hands. You don’t need ruby slippers to get there, because you’re already there. Well, nearly.

I’ve been writing for twelve years now myself and I’ve discovered that there really is only one way to do it. You have to sit down at your computer every single day, or as many days a week as you can manage it, and write stuff, and then you just have to keep doing that exact thing, year in, year out.

The more you write, the better at it you’ll get. That’s pretty much guaranteed. When I first started out, I joined a writers’ group and wrote a little something every week along the lines of the prompt they’d given us.

Physical writers’ groups might be thin on the ground at the moment due to Covid, but you can keep in touch with all your own writer friends on Facebook like I do (writing is a lonely business; that’s just the way it is), and I still maintain you don’t need to pay thirty-five quid a month to do it…!

You can also follow book bloggers and writers on social media, and read their posts exhaustively to find out how they do things. I do this, and I learn a lot about writing and books this way.

Books are an invaluable source of information. Not only is reading the number one way, next to practising, to improve your writing, but you can actually buy books- or borrow them from the library- that give you tips on writing and how to maintain good writing practices and a meaningful writing life.

My two favourites, ON WRITING by Stephen King and Anne Lamott’s BIRD BY BIRD, are frequently at the top of most peoples’ ‘Best Writing Books’ list, so you won’t go far wrong with them. You can also buy books of writing prompts, if you feel like you’re stuck and need a bit of a leg-up, or get them for free online.

You can also buy books filled with creative writing exercises, which will give you the feeling that you’re doing a self-guided course for next to nothing. Trust me, you don’t need to spend nearly seven grand on a writing course to improve your writing. (Unless you’re doing an actual degree course; that’s different.)

All you need is your writing space and laptop, a few notebooks, pens and how-to books, and, of course, access to the Internet and a positive wealth of free information on everything from good grammar to how to self-publish a book on Amazon for free with Kindle Direct Publishing.

Those are the actual physical, tangible things that you need. You’ll need other things too, like grit and courage and an absolute determination to keep going no matter how shit things get, and they can get quite shit, believe me. But you already have all those things within you, which is how I have a pretty good feeling that you’re going to be okay.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Vampirology. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

DAVID COPPERFIELD. (1999) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

david copperfield

DAVID COPPERFIELD. (1999) A BBC PRODUCTION: BASED ON THE BOOK BY CHARLES DICKENS. DIRECTED BY SIMON CURTIS. TOM WILKINSON AS THE NARRATOR.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘Like many fond parents, I have in my heart a favourite child. And his name is David Copperfield.’ Charles Dickens.

‘Barkis is willin.”

‘Janet, donkeys! Donkeys!’

David Copperfield the book is a mammoth achievement on the part of its writer Charles Dickens. Nearly a thousand pages long, it details the life of the titular David Copperfield from his baby days to much, much later on in his life, and in such detail it would truly take your breath away. I’ve been reading the book myself this year and was delighted to find this film version of it, which was first broadcast on the BBC in 1999, on Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

Everyone loves a bit of Dickens at Christmas, whether it’s his perennial festive favourite A Christmas Carol, or Great Expectations, Bleak House, Nicholas Nickleby or any of his other works.

His books are immensely popular when it comes to screen adaptations, the way Shakespeare’s works lend themselves so readily to staging in the theatre. It’s fantastic the way we’re still familiar with Dickens and his oeuvres nearly a century and a half after his death.

In this version, a pre-Harry Potter Daniel Radcliffe in his first screen role plays David as a child. His childhood at the Blunderstone Rookery in Suffolk is idyllic, spent with his adoring mother Clara Copperfield and even more adoring nurse Clara Peggotty, played by Birds Of A Feather star Pauline Quirke, who’s perfect in the role.

David’s childhood is all tender cuddles and endearments and picture books and gentle tuckings-in at bedtime. His father has pre-deceased him, so David’s childhood is a thoroughly feminine affair.

His blissful existence changes when David returns from a visit to Yarmouth, where he has been staying at the shore with Peggotty’s kindly seafaring brother Daniel (Alun Armstrong: This Is Personal: The Hunt For The Yorkshire Ripper), Daniel’s nephew Ham, Daniel’s niece Little Em’ly (who is not Ham’s sister) and a weeping widow by the name of Mrs. Gummidge, played by Patsy Byrne, the actress who portrayed Miranda Richardson’s dotty old Nursie in comedy series Blackadder.

David returns to Blunderstone Rookery, from the happiest holiday of his whole life, to find that his lovely sweet mother has married her horrible suitor, the grim, black-clothed, stern-faced and joyless Mr. Murdstone, played by an unrecognisable Trevor Eve (Shoestring, the Frank Langella Dracula.)

Mr. Murdstone brings his equally horrible sister Jane, played by Zoe Wanamaker, to live with them, and between them they pretty well terrorise both mother and son. Their only ally is now the wonderful Clara Peggotty, who would die for either of her precious charges in a heartbeat.

After an altercation in which David is savagely whipped by Mr. Murdstone, his nasty step-father sends him away to boarding school against his mother’s wishes. But it was very much what happened to the sons of well-to-do men in the Victorian era. The boys and their mothers had little or no choice in the matter.

At school, the boys were whipped by their teachers and by older boys (for whom they were forced to ‘fag’ or skivvy), made to learn a load of dry, dusty old Latin, algebra, theorems and trigonometry while deprived of most material comforts, and then they left school damaged, broken, determined to take their revenge on the world and with the most intense sexual hang-ups about being flogged that would never leave them. Okay, so I’m making a generalisation here but you get the idea.

David’s head-teacher, the sadistic old Creakle, played by Ian McKellen, is practically addicted to whipping the boys in his rather dubious ‘care.’ David’s only friend and protector is, rather luckily, the arrogant young toff Steerforth, without whose patronage David would undoubtedly have suffered much more in his schooldays.

When David’s bullied and broken young mother dies, not long after giving birth to Mr. Murdstone’s child, Murdstone removes a heartbroken David from school (heartbroken about his mum, not about leaving school!), begrudging the money that would be required to pay for the boy’s education.

He then forces him to work in a London blacking factory of which he is part-owner. It’s no more than slave labour and David is bullied there by the older boys. I’m not sure what a blacking factory is but it seems to involve a great many icky barrels of boiling hot tar. Not exactly the place for a vulnerable child.

David is happy to lodge with Mr. Wilkins Micawber (genially played by Bob Hoskins), however, one of Dickens’s most enduring characters. Married (his wife is played by Imelda Staunton) with several children, Mr. Micawber is constantly in debt, constantly hiding from his many creditors, constantly having to pawn everything in the house in order to have money for food and constantly living in the optimistic expectation that something positive will ‘turn up’ to save his family from starvation and his family name from a perpetual blackening.

The main thing you need to remember about Mr. Micawber is that you should, under no circumstances whatsoever, ever lend him money. It will undoubtedly be the last you see of it. He’s free with his IOUs all right, but unfortunately you can’t eat those. 

While lodging with Mr. Micawber, David has the experience of visiting his friend in Debtor’s Prison and of becoming intimately acquainted with the local pawnbroker, played by comedian Paul Whitehouse. When the Micawbers move away, on the promise of something’s unexpectedly having ‘turned up,’ David decides he’s had enough of the factory.

He runs away to Dover, to the one relative he has left in the world, his wildly eccentric Aunt Betsey Trotwood, played by Maggie Smith. David is as happy as Larry living with his Aunt Betsey and her no less eccentric but kindly and well-meaning lodger, Mr. Dick, played by Ian McNeice.

Aunt Betsey goes to bat for him against the odious Murdstones and, even when she does send him to school, it’s to a nice decent school in Canterbury. While there, he lodges with Aunt Betsey’s cordial lawyer Mr. Wickfield and his beautiful daughter Agnes, who treats David like a brother and becomes a lifelong friend. David has fallen on his feet here, lol.

The star of the whole show is Nicholas Only Fools And Horses Lyndhurst as the startlingly red-haired and sinister clerk of Mr. Wickfield’s, Uriah Heep. Being ‘umble’ is Uriah’s thing. Falsely ‘umble, that is, pretending he’s content to stay a lowly clerk when his ambition secretly knows no bounds. He’s the kind of poisonous wretch, however, who prefers to get ahead by bringing others down and trampling on their broken bodies on his way up the ladder to take their place.

He has his evil eye on Mr. Wickfield’s business and, even more disturbingly, on Mr. Wickfield’s lovely daughter Agnes, and he loathes David from the start, seeing him as a competitor for both ‘commodities.’ He tries to hide his hatred for David under a simmering veil of ‘umbleness,’ but I think both men know the real score. Can David prevent Uriah from doing the ultimate damage to his dearest friends…?

There’s so much more to the story. He meets the love of his life, Dora, and he entertains ambitions himself of becoming a writer, even though his grounding is in the law. My favourite storyline in the whole book/film is what happens to Little Em’ly and the poor devastated Peggotty family when David unwittingly releases a viper into their collective bosom.

And, as the cast list reads like a Harry Potter ‘pre-union,’ may I suggest that, as brilliant as Trevor Eve is in the role of Mr. Murdstone, a black-haired and hatchet-faced Alan Severus Snape Rickman might have been even better?

Michael Boone Elphick plays Peggoty’s suitor Barkis, and Cherie Lunghi is cast in the role of Steerforth’s autocratic mother. Thelma Barlow, who for years played the fluttery Mavis Wilton, Rita Fairclough’s sidekick, in Coronation Street, here portrays Uriah Heep’s mother (‘Be ‘umble, Uriah, be ‘umble!’). Comedienne Dawn French is the tipsy Mrs. Crupp, David’s landlady when he first lives independently. As adaptations go, this is an excellent one, and with an all-star cast to boot. It’s well worth three hours of your time. I say go for it…!

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS: MICHAEL ARMSTRONG’S 1982 SCRIPT-BOOK REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

house shadows papa and victoria

MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS: THE SCREENPLAY. (1982) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘Michael Armstrong is creating history by being the first film-maker to publish his entire screenwriting output. With the original uncut screenplays in print for the first time ever and peppered with a mixture of wildly entertaining anecdotes, astounding behind-the-scenes revelations, creative and educational insights and brutal ‘no holds barred’ honesty, these books are guaranteed to provide a completely new kind of reading experience while offering a unique insight into the movie industry. Starting from his first professional screenplay written in 1960 when he was only fifteen and which he subsequently directed in 1968, the books will ultimately encompass a career that has spanned over fifty years. The books will include not only those screenplays which made it onto a cinema screen but, for the first time ever, all those that didn’t- and the reasons why…’

http://www.michaelarmstrong.co.uk/publications

http://www.paperdragonproductions.com

‘Room for every nightmare… A nightmare in every room…’

The opening passage is lifted directly from Michael Armstrong’s own website and I think it describes his work better than I ever could, but I’ve been asked to say a few words myself in promotion of this fantastic new collection of books that he’s putting out, therefore I will now proceed to say several. Words, that is. Give me an inch and I’ll almost certainly take a mile. I’m a pushy broad and, anyway, there’s actually a lot to say about the man and his works.

Michael Armstrong (there’s a really cute photo of him on the back covers of all the books) is the screenwriter/director behind a load of films that you guys probably already know quite well. Some of you may even know his name already but, for others, this may be your first time hearing it.

Unlikely, as this rather prolific and obviously hard-working fella’s been penning film scripts for over fifty years, but you never know. Some folks who’ve been on Mars since the turn of the last century may need to be filled in on all the developments in the film industry since they’ve been ‘off-planet,’ so to speak…!

So, if you want to know where or how you might have heard of Michael before, I can tell you that he wrote the screenplays for the following films:

THE DARK- 1960.

THE IMAGE- 1964. Starring David Bowie in his first screen appearance.

THE HUNT- 1965.

MARK OF THE DEVIL- 1970.

THE SEX THIEF- 1973.

ESKIMO NELL- 1974. A riotous sex comedy starring beloved English actor Roy Kinnear and a young and handsome Michael Armstrong himself.

IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU- 1975.

THREE FOR ALL- 1975.

ADVENTURES OF A TAXI DRIVER #2- 1975.

ADVENTURES OF A PRIVATE EYE- 1976.

THE BLACK PANTHER- 1976. The story of Donald Neilson, the British armed robber, kidnapper and murderer who abducted wealthy British teenager Lesley Whittle in 1975.

HOME BEFORE MIDNIGHT- 1979.

SCREAMTIME- 1981.

HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS- 1982. The only film in the history of cinema to star horror legends Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Vincent Price and John Carradine all together.

LIFEFORCE- 1983.

Michael Armstrong’s writing is an absolute treat to read. Reading the pictures he paints with his words, as it were, is not much different to seeing them played out in front of you on the cinema screen.

I read the script of HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS on a dreary Monday morning when I was supposed to be doing boring housework. It was a more than acceptable alternative, I can assure you.

While I was reading it, I first amused and then annoyed the hell out of the family members present by constantly bursting out with: ‘They actually say this in the film! This is in the film, and this is in the film, and Christopher Lee actually DOES this in the film!’ And so on until they threw the book at me. The book and several cushions and a plastic sheep to boot. I said no more from then on, humph. I sulked royally and kept my additional (m)utterings to myself.

HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS, the film-script book of which features a darling haunted house on the cover, wasn’t just a great slice of ‘Eighties horror hokum. It had the distinction of being the first and, as it turned out, the only film to ever feature the four greatest horror icons of all time all together, namely, the aforementioned Christopher Lee, Vincent Price, Peter Cushing and John Carradine as well. Horror royalty, every last one of ’em.

There was a great supporting cast starring alongside the lads as well, people like Desi Arnaz Jr., Sheila Keith, a smashing horror icon in her own right, and Julie Peasgood, you know, ‘er off BROOKSIDE. She played Fran Pearson in the early ‘Nineties.

I loved a nice bit of Brookie, I did, on a Sat’day afternoon back in the day. Eatin’ me dinner while the Omnibus was on the telly, like. I’m imagining these words in a Scouser accent, by the way, so you’d better be too, or I’ll ‘ave ta tell ya to do one, as it were. Quaite.

Anyway, Michael based his marvellous screenplay on the 1913 novel, SEVEN KEYS TO BALDPATE by the curiously named Earl Derr Biggers. (Incidentally, he was the writer of the Charlie Chan detective novels, so obviously he loved a good juicy mystery.) It’s the story of a young American novelist who holes up at the titular Baldpate Manor to speed-write a book in order to win a bet with his agent.

Baldpate Manor is in fact a magnificent old Welsh mansion that’s supposed to be deserted, the perfect oasis of peace in which to do some serious writing. Supposed to be deserted. In fact, it ends up being more populated than the post office on dole day, and the baffled novelist will have a hell of a job getting any writing at all done with all the famous faces popping up there continuously to distract him from his goal.

The script may have been based on someone else’s novel, but the little tributes and homages and nods in it to various other iconic horror movies like PSYCHO and THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER are all Michael’s idea and no-one else’s. His writing really sets a scene for the reader too. Here’s a passage in which the novelist, Kenneth, and the damsel-in-distress Mary (‘er off Brookie), are entering the fabulous old dining-room of Baldpate Manor:

‘They enter the dining-room and stare in amazement.

The enormous room is brilliantly illuminated by candles.

The long polished table is formally laid out: cut-glass and silver, sparkling royally.

By the fire: GRISBANE and VICTORIA and the mysterious figure of SEBASTIAN; a slight, gaunt-faced man in his sixties, wearing a wing collar and a dark suit.

The three of them are gathered in a conspiratorial huddle. They break quickly, like naughty children caught out. KENNETH stares in amazement at the scene before him.’

HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS: PAGES 73-74.

I don’t know about you guys, but I can totally picture that scene in my mind’s eye. I’m moving now to the scene where the motley crew enter Roderick’s room for the first time. I won’t tell you just yet who Roderick (perhaps I should say ‘Wodewick?’) is but, after reading these lines from the script, I reckon you’ll be bursting to know.

‘A silence hovers over the room as they move slowly about, looking in amazement at its bizarre sights: clues to Roderick’s warped mind.

A toy fort on the floor, laid out as for a savage battle…

Scores of soldiers scattered around as though dead; all horribly mutilated,

The aftermath of an imagined massacre.

MARY gives an involuntary shudder as she spies in the corner of the room…

Piles of small animal bones neatly arranged into heaps,

Skeletons of dead rats and mice…

Hundreds of tiny white bones glinting in the candlelight:

Tiny white bones picked clean.

KENNETH glances behind him to notice the back of the bedroom door…

Down which enormous scratch marks can be seen…

Indicating the powerful fury of strong fingernails having clawed deeply

Into the dark oak wood.

VICTORIA indicates a narrow panel at the bottom of the door.

VICTORIA: I’d slide food into him through there… every night…

HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS: PAGES 105-106.

Cripes! Fair sent a shiver down my spine, that did, when I read it there in black and white. It’s every bit as effective as the corresponding scenes in the film, if not more so. Sometimes, when you read something really chilling, your mind works overtime visualising the scene and you do a better job yourself than the film-maker, almost.

It looks like Kenneth, the successful writer from America, isn’t going to get much work done in good old Baldpate Manor over this particular weekend. When the house is at its fullest, it contains the grim-faced Papa Grisbane and his daughter Victoria (Sheila Keith), his two sons Lionel (Vincent Price) and Sebastian (Peter Cushing), the posh rich property developer Mr. Corrigan (Christopher Lee) and the warring young couple (played by Louise English and Richard Hunter) who’ve lost their way while hiking.

Then, of course, there’s Kenneth the writer himself and also the blonde and bubbly Mary, his publisher Sam’s secretary. At least, that’s who she says she is, anyway. Sam the publisher (Richard Todd) even makes an appearance at Baldpate Manor at one point, and then there’s also the ever-present, rather sinister shadow of Roderick Grisbane.

Roderick (Wodewick!) is the one strangely absent family member who appears to have slipped through the rather gaping cracks in the family infrastructure somehow. And yet he’s tied up inexplicably in the reasons for the family’s converging upon Baldpate Manor on this particular night, this grim anniversary for which only the Grisbanes know the grisly reason.

What horrors lie behind Roderick’s stoutly locked bedroom door in the upper floors of the ramshackle old manor house and, once they are revealed, can the Family Grisbane withstand the after-shocks? Not to mention where all this intense Grisbane family stuff leaves Kenneth and Mary, the two truly innocent bystanders? Or are they? Truly innocent, I mean? I wouldn’t bet on it, dear readers. I wouldn’t bet on it…

In the extra features on the DVD of HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS, Michael Armstrong reminisces fondly, alongside ‘er offa BROOKIE, about the making of the film. He talks so passionately and enthusiastically about it that it’s lovely to see. He comes across as the kind of guy who’d sit chatting to you in the pub about films till the cows come home, or the landlord calls time, whichever comes first.

So that’s it, anyway. I’ve said way more than the few words I was asked for but whatevs, it was an interesting subject and I enjoyed myself. Michael’s books can be purchased through his website and from Paper Dragon Productions, Michael’s publishers, and they’d make the perfect present for film buffs and students of cinema everywhere. I’m keeping mine for myself, however. Ain’t no-one but me getting their hands on these babies…!

http://www.michaelarmstrong.co.uk/publications

http://www.paperdragonproductions.com

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor