Since I moved house I’m no longer within walking distance from my parent’s house. My Dad and I used to meet each other for a morning coffee once a week but recently we haven’t had the chance until today. As my Dad’s car pulls up into the car park of the local Distillery cafe he waves a magazine in the front window. I can just about see that it’s Dumfries and Galloway Life magazine, a local publication covering events in the near vicinity. I have no clue as to why he’s brought it along though.
Turns out it was this…
Turns out it’s a story about ghost sightings in Gretna written by my good friends Mostly Ghostly. I had no clue they were going to mention me and seeing the word ‘writer’ before my name in a magazine is certainly a buzz.
Okay, this one might get a little bit over thought. I was going to sit down and bullet point this entire entry out but I was going through the stages of denial in the space of about ten minutes whilst trying to eat my lunch today. It’s probably going to be a winged out chain of thought. It might also sound really like I’m complaining but that ain’t really the case.
I was in the queue for my lunch today having decided to escape work for a while. Whilst waiting for coffee my phone buzzed in my pocket having finally decided it was in a place where the internet existed. An envelope icon appeared in screen from the Yahoo app so I flicked it open.
Email confirmation had arrived, I didn’t get onto the Dumfries and Galloway Mentorship scheme this year.
As a result I was mentally spun out for a good few hours this afternoon. Which is great when your work involves being welcoming for members of the public. If I could have just gone and sat under a table somewhere I would have. As it stood I processed contact lens orders instead. At least that was constructive.
At first I was angry, the certain feeling of ‘How bloody dare they!’ flooded in. I put a fair chunk of time and effort into the application and genuinely had a battle with myself to shut up the inner voice saying it wasn’t going to be worth it anyway. I hadn’t sent the documents off after giving up and saying ‘It’ll do’. I’d tweaked them and edited them to give me the best shot I could possibly make.
Then I calmed down and started to think about things a little bit clearer. Also, I’d had something to eat by this time which probably helped.
Would getting onto this scheme have been essential to getting this book done? Not really, it would have been nice and been small justification for spending this long on the thing over the last eighteen months but it’s not as if getting onto this was the cornerstone.
Does it alter the overall aim? Not in the slightest.
They overriding thing it took me so long to shift today was the fact that this was the first time that a section of the book had been read by somebody else bar me and it had been found lacking. This thought was still battering me around my head as I was driving home this evening. To turn this around into something of a positive I had to tell myself that I’m only on draft two. This book will get better and I’m damned sure I have the ability to do that. It’s a slow process which there ain’t a shortcut for but it is getting there. It’s a process which is happening right now.
By the time I’d pulled into my front drive I had pulled the positive out of it. It’s going to get done some way or another regardless of any setbacks along the road.
All the while I’ve been writing this book I’ve never given the town itself anything like a name. It remains in my head something of a combination of my home town of Gretna and Pittenweem in Fife. These two places are separated by 150 miles or so in actual geographical terms but I’m taking the tourism and hotel bars of Gretna and mixing it with the harbour and seafront of Pittenweem. Whilst it works quite well as a slice of Scotland it seems odd that it doesn’t really have a sense of place yet due to lacking anything of a name.
I’ve been experimenting by coming up with a Scottish sounding place name and then Googling it to make sure it doesn’t exist. I haven’t found one so far.
I’m also thinking that the place name may also be the title of the book itself.
Those are words I’ve wanted to type for months on end concerning Order For Burning and finally I’ve made it. It’s a complete mess, a structure held together by sticky tape which needs kicked apart and rebuilt stronger and faster but it’s there, it exists and the hardest part is over.
Characters come and go, often without reason, the story wobbles from place to place with no apparent justification and historical accuracy takes a dive around page 40 and never comes back but these are things I can (and will) fix in the weeks ahead.
It hasn’t quite fully clicked yet, the story for ‘Order For Burning’ remains a little bit incomplete but I think I’ve got the characters down at least. This is good step forward for now at least. Hopefully by the end of today (if I can actually stop writing this) I’ll blaze the first five pages. As explained in previous entries of Howling In The Dark I usually set about writing the first five pages of any feature script before I’ve planned most of the long term stuff out. That way, when you finally do finish planning you’re not looking at a blank screen because you’ll have already got a head start. Also, the start of any project usually means the anxiety of where to go with this scene or how a character would say that line hasn’t yet kicked in. I go in dumb just wanting the first five minutes to be brilliant. If it grips me and wants me to write the rest then, in theory, the audience will be griped and want to know the rest.
Mind you, I’m speaking as a guy who has never had a feature script made. Bear that in mind before taking any of my advice seriously.
One major dilemma I’ve faced in the run up to getting ‘Order Of Burning’ off the ground has been the battle between sticking to historical detail and getting a good story. In the actual events as far as I can tell there were originally eleven women found guilty of witchcraft around Dumfries at the time. One killed herself in her cell and another, Helen Tait, somehow got away with it. She was never executed, only sentenced to fifty ‘merks’ and banished from the region never to return. The main question I would have is how she achieved this. How exactly did she defy the usual crowd mentality and live to tell the tale (assuming she’d want to go around telling people she was accused of being a witch after that, I’d probably assume she’d want to keep her head down)? The records are not greatly clear in giving any detail on what happened so I could use artistic license to fill in the blanks or strive to find out.
Helen is one of my main characters, simply on account of her surviving all this makes her very valuable to our story in that it won’t be just a case of everybody going to die. She is the hope, she is the exception to the rule and as such she is front and centre in the current plan. I’m picking another one of the group to concentrate on and stopping there as any more would be a major headache to keep balanced.
If that’s the story based most in the reality of the situation then I’m also writing my own characters into a parallel story concerning a young man being trained by the Church as a ‘prodder’ to extract confessions from suspects, usually by the means of torture. Obviously, at one point these two strands will almost certainly cross over.
If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to start a document file entitled ‘Order For Burning’ and stare at the screen for a few minutes.
It’s written on my left hand so I can see it all the time when I’m at my keyboard. Upon dropping my son off at school this morning I explained that I was driving through to Dumfries today to meet some friends so I can talk about witches with them. For a few minutes he thought his Dad was actually off to meet some witches. I assured him this was certainly not the case.
I met Kathleen and John from Mostly Ghostly which is always a pleasure. During our hour and a half conversation we started to piece together some basic structure on ‘Order For Burning’. Kathleen brought along her folder of information about the women who were burnt on the Whitesands in Dumfries on that day and many more. It’s something I really will have to sit with and digest over the next few nights. Even after that short time though there was something forming and taking shape, as ever at this early stage it’s whispers in the fog but it’s still there.
The three of us thought about how to present the story of this group of women and one question kept coming up again and again. Where is the hope? A feature film about these women being doomed and an audience just watching them go to their inevitable demise is no good, There needs to be some kind of hope, a small chink of light in the situation that these women might just be let off and people may just come to their senses. Of course, that’s never going to happen but for those who know nothing of the story the promise should be there. I need to find a way of introducing this.
The new draft of The Salesman’s Gamble went across to Holland a few nights ago. It’s reading much better, more rounded, better reasoned which means the ending is a genuine confrontation and not just a chance conversation. By making Ian a complete bastard who is willing to steal anything for money it’s given him more reason to go through with the coin toss at the end. Ian thinks in his arrogance that it’s easy picking, that he’s dealing with the ramblings of a old eccentric whom he’ll rob anyway. It ends up being nothing quite like that. We’ll see what they think of it especially as I have received no word back from Option 1 after the last email saying they had ideas for the story but wanted to know if anybody else was reading it before they continued. Despite sending one back saying ‘Okay, let’s go’ there’s been not a word uttered for a month.
Whilst this is being considered my mind goes to other projects, including one which might still only be in the very early planning stages but is gaining pace. You might remember me blogging a short while ago about the Dumfries Ghost Walk with Mostly Ghostly. The conclusion of the tour takes place by the banks of the River Nith, detailing the 1659 Witch Trials of Dumfries in which nine women were killed due to being accused of practising witchcraft. Although the evidence for this was fairly non-existent the people were encouraged by the Church to bring these people to their attention regardless. There were actually people trained to use instruments of torture to extract confessions from those the Church suspected, it was taken that seriously. I thought to myself, whilst I listen to the team describe this event in all the gory detail, that it would make a good film if it was done right.
A couple of years pass and the group put out a tweet a couple of months ago to commemorate the anniversary. I reply by reiterating that it would indeed make a good film if somebody was to write it. It would be a hard sell however as historical movies I thought more about it at the time and came to the conclusion that perhaps that somebody should be me. Historical movies are a hard sell to begin with, even more so with a historical event which very few people know about and I was on the verge of thinking it wasn’t going to be a great idea. Then I started thinking it could be a good story and does represent something of a challenge in that I’ve never tackled real life events at all, only ever making stories from scratch. I’m also scratching my head about how to tackle the dialogue itself. It’s painfully problematic to fall into the ‘lo’ and ‘art thou?’ samples of speech so it’s something that I’ll need to research a heck of a lot to get right.
These are all good problems to have though and it’s the solving of these that makes me enjoy writing scripts so much (as much as I might sometimes be chewing walls trying to find an answer sometimes). The first thing I require however is an ‘in point’ and somewhere to start the story from. Having nine main characters would be a slight case of storyline suicide so it may well be a case or narrowing it down slightly. In order to find this entrance to the story I shall enlist the help of my good friends at Mostly Ghostly, another coffee order at Barbours of Dumfries is very probably on the way.