Tag Archives: Writing

The following story is a guest post, written by Meg Johnson. It was inspired by this Writing prompt from Pinterest.

Meg has co-authored a book ‘Rose Scar’ which is due to be published soon.



Mr Henry Brookwood was reading the newspaper for the tenth time that day.

‘Absolute rubbish. They make me out to be a fool!’ He shouted. He scrunched up the paper and threw it across the room. ‘I saw them. Why don’t they believe me?’

His secretary entered the room, picked it up with a sigh and put it back on his desk.

‘Go home Miss Berling, and take that rubbish with you.’

‘Thank you, sir. Good night.’ As she got her coat and hat she glanced at the story that had so enraged her employer.

Once again last night the wealthy Mr Henry Brookwood from Brookwood and Sons contacted this newspaper and the police. He claims that is late wife, Clara, and two sons, Charles and Samuel, are still alive and walking the streets at night although they were found dead in the Brookwood household only five days ago by the maid. The police are investigating their murder. Mr Henry Brookwood has declined to be interviewed by this newspaper, but has sent regular letters.


Henry worked late into the night. Every time his thoughts turned to home he found something else to do. No point in going back to that empty house, or worse, a house full of grieving friends and relatives all after tittle tattle! He convinced himself. Finally, with clocks striking midnight across the city, he packed away his papers. He placed on his coat and his top hat, grabbed his cane and left his office at Brookwood and sons locking the door behind him. No one would be around this late at night he thought. No need to speak to anyone.

It was a cold and blustery winter’s evening with a typical London fog. As he walked his mind started wandering. It drifted to thoughts of his wife and sons from years before when Samuel was just a baby and Charles was a young boy starting at school. As the happy thoughts came back to him Henry saw the fog clear for a moment in the wind. On the street ahead of him he saw his young wife and holding the hand of a young boy, and pushing a pram. He shouted and walked a little faster but as he got towards them the fog moved again and they disappeared.

Henry’s shoulders sagged as he walked the next few streets slower than before. His eyes moistened, making it even more difficult to see. His mind wandered again and he thought of the times he’d spent teaching his teenage sons about his business and that they would one day takeover after him. His thoughts were disturbed as he heard his name being called. It was the voice of Clara calling out to him, he was convinced. He stopped and looked around him, blinking to clear his vision. At first he could see nothing, but then he heard his name again, this time from across the street. As he looked the fog drifted away and he saw his wife and teenage sons. But by the time he ran across the road to them they were no longer there. Henry turned and in despair walked the rest of the way home as fast as he could. He tried to shut out all thoughts by singing hymns to himself.

When Henry finally got home he got the keys from his coat pocket to open the door. At first, hands shaking, he fumbled the key into the lock but couldn’t turn it. He realised that it was already unlocked. Strange he thought the maid should have already have gone to her rest by this hour. I will need to speak to her about that. he thought as he walked to the drawing room, planning to take a small brandy and cigar to try and help him sleep. But as he opened to door he saw four police constables standing, hats in hands looking down at the floor and the police commissioner standing by the fire.

‘Henry Brookwood I am arresting you on suspicion of murder of your wife, Clara and your sons, Charles and Samuel.’ The Commissioner stated calmly, adding, more quietly, ‘I’m sorry Brookwood, old man. I can’t stop this, so thought it was better to do it myself.’

But Henry had stopped listening. All he could her was the cries of his sons shouting Father, you’re home! and his wife patently telling them to stop shouting. They sounded so real to him that he was smiling as he was handcuffed and led away.


(c) Meg Johnson 2016



IMG_0046sOne of my stories was rejected this week. I got some really good feedback, and a request to submit more work to the same publisher – so I’m happy enough. But it did get me thinking. I wrote the piece with the specific publication in mind. I read a couple of their recent publications, then followed a story arc and broad plot that aligned with, rather than copied, their apparent preferred style. Essentially, I wrote to their genre. But did I write a cliché? The feedback said that the publisher didn’t want my story as the pay-off was something they’d seen before. Fair comment, and really useful to know when I either re-write that piece or write something else for them (or anyone else for that matter).

But it does re-raise a question that I’ve been asking myself for a while. I write genre fiction. Most fiction writers do (whether they like it or not). But we all want to avoid clichés (I think it’s illegal to write that without adding ‘like the plague’). Readers want the hero to complete their quest, the white hat to win, the anti-hero to both succeed and reform or the troubled detective to solve the murder. That’s genre. But when does writing genre slip into cliché or even worse, plagiarism? When does one hero become a poor imitation of another, and a third, and so on?

Very few writers set out to plagiarise others (except, perhaps, for some re-tellings of classic stories – which is probably not plagiarism…) but there are only so many broad plots, only so many ways that a small cast of characters can interact and only so many twists which actually make sense.

Here’s the question, then. How do I square the circle? How do I (or anyone else) write in genre and to house style without becoming repetitive or essentially copying what’s gone before. How do we write something new without going so far out of genre that we fall outside the requirements of the publisher and audience we’re aiming at?

I’d love to hear your thoughts – as readers, do you want to be shocked or do you want your stories to follow the usual rules of your preferred genre? And writers, do we need to be brave and break common genres? Or are we writing into ever decreasing opportunities to retell the same broad plots? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments!


k12050275I’m on a deadline, so of course I’m procrastinating. After all, everyone’s more creative the closer to a deadline they get, right? Today’s procrastination – the word ‘deadline’…

The word deadline. What exactly does it mean? Why deadline? Why not timeline (I know that has another meaning now, but you get the point?) Professor Google tells me that ‘deadline’ means a time or date by which something must be done. I know that, of course. It also tells me that deadline is a line drawn around a prison beyond which prisoners are liable to be shot. ( This second definition I did not know. But it does make sense. It’s also less horrific than some of the other potential definitions I’d dreamed up for myself. (I’ll leave you to imagine those.)

What I’m not so sure about is how the word evolved from the latter (but earlier) meaning to the former. Again, according to Professor Google, the use of the word has ramped up significantly since the 1970s. Why? Are we a more deadline driven culture now? Or is it a word that’s come in to fashion (relatively) recently to replace something else that was in common usage before then? And is any of this of any use whatsoever in getting through my to do list and hitting my deadlines? (Spoiler – no, not in the slightest.)

For my creative writing friends, I think that ‘deadline’ would be an excellent single word writing prompt (take it if you want – I’d love to see what you come up with!) Once I’ve got over my own immediate deadlines (time bound, not prison related) I might have a go myself.

Oh well – back to my to do list. I have deadlines!

(c) Chris Johnson 2016

Where to set a novel or story is, for me and I suspect lots of other writers, a key decision. You wouldn’t set a western in northern England (unless you called it Jericho… but that’s probably for a different post). Readers want locations appropriate to the action, and internally consistent timelines and locations (no skipping from Edinburgh to London in five minutes unless you have already introduced technology that makes that possible…and you’re writing in a future fiction/sci fi genre).

I am also quite a visual writer. I like to have a mental picture of my characters and the locations where key bits of action take place. Even if these details aren’t shared with my reader. It just helps me to hold these in mind when I write so that I avoid inconsistency.

I am currently editing a novella for summer release. Part of the action requires my heroine to sit in a coffee shop whilst waiting for the villain of the piece to meet a confederate nearby. It is a pivotal moment in the story, as this is when the heroine first identifies the villain for certain from a range of potential characters. All ok so far? Well, yes. It’s a simple set up,  and not particularly location specific. So what’s the problem?

Well, the problem is this. I had a place in mind when I wrote the scene. And last week I happened to be in the area for the first time in a couple of years. I thought I’d take a wander past. And where there was a coffee shop (with my heroine sat just out of eyesight watching the world go by) with eyeline to the building (with my villains engaged in hurried conversation in a door way) there is now…a hole in the ground and a big sign saying ‘Crossrail’!

It probably doesn’t matter. I referred to the location in passing, but not in such specific detail that a reader would necessarily be able to find it, or frankly want to. And the location is not critical to the story so much as it is simply a place for the action to happen. It could be anywhere really. (Let’s face it, there’s a coffee shop on every street corner anyway). So it really should not matter one jot what is or is not there any more. But..I just have this horrible feeling that my inner editor is going to force me to relocate the scene to somewhere that isn’t a hole in the ground!

Does anyone else have a view on this – either as a writer or a reader? Does it matter of the locations in a novel are real, reimagined or entirely fictitious? And if they are ‘real’…does it spoil the work if the location changes and the novel becomes ‘wrong’? Leave me a comment, let me know what you think?


(c) Chris Johnson 2016

People who are, and/or self describe as writers and authors are regularly asked the same series of questions. ‘Have I read anything you’ve written?’ (Answer – I don’t know, let me read your mind for a moment’.) and ‘Where do you get your ideas from?’ (Answer – it depends, keeping my eyes and ears open mainly. That and Facebook.) But the one that gave me pause for thought this week was ‘Why did you publish your first book under a pen name? Are you ashamed of it?’ Forgive the cliché, but that is a really good question and one that I considered before I hit publish on Kindle Direct Publishing.

Publishing under a pen name is a well known phenomenon and (reasonably) common. George Elliot anyone? Robert Galbraith? Richard Bachman? Before anyone skips straight to the comments, I am definitely not comparing my efforts with theirs! What I’m actually saying is that if it’s good enough for them, it’s certainly good enough for me!

Assuming that you (dear reader) now accept that there is precedent, and have not switched off because this is an opinion piece not a short story (come back on Friday for one of those), let me answer the question (finally!).

I have recently published a novella, as an e-book, under a pen name. I did so for three very specific reasons:

  1. It is a genre novella. I prefer to call it pulp. It’s actually quite niche. A revenge story, with some gore and adult language. I intend to publish other work later, which will not be in the same genre or so niche. I also intend to continue writing niche/pulp/genre fiction. I don’t want my readers (assuming that I ever have any…) to be confused and pick up something which is well outside their expectations. Simple solution – write under different names.
  2. I already write, in a different field entirely, under my own name. (No, you won’t have read it, or at least it’s very unlikely unless you are a professional internal auditor or work for the same organisation I work for.) I wanted, for myself and for professional reasons, to separate the two styles of writing and content.
  3. Yes, I admit it, to some degree I am ashamed of it. Actually, not true. I’m not ashamed so much as I can foresee a time when I will be ashamed of it. This is my first attempt at a novella, and will contain plot holes and probably typos and grammatical mistakes. My defence is that it is a short, plot driven adventure story meant to be read on a train/tram/bus for fun, not a piece of literary fiction to be analysed and examined in detail. I wouldn’t recommend it to my mother’s reading group. It’s aimed at a very specific market and as yet I am still exploring whether there actually is a market!

You will notice that I haven’t told you what my pen name is…That is because this is an opinion piece not an advert for my alter-ego’s book. If you’re not interested in the advert I’d skip straight through to the final paragraph!

If you want to read the book, in the full knowledge that it is a different style and genre to most of the postings on this blog, it’s 99p/99c (or equivalent) to download from Amazon, or you can read it for free if you’re enrolled in Kindle Unlimited or from the library if you’re an Amazon Prime member. The links are UK: Amazon UK and US: Amazon US. My alter-ego also occasionally Blogs and tweets.

I’d love to know what readers who have made it this far think. Is publishing under a pen name duplicitous? Does it help readers when an author’s work in one genre is all published under the same name? Or am I simply trying to justify publishing work which I don’t want linked directly to me? (Although that ship sailed when I published this blog entry I suppose!) Leave me a comment, let me know.



(C) Chris Johnson 2016