The Round Robin Round-Up

In recent months, the authors at Choc Lit have produced unique short stories to celebrate special events such as Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. What’s fascinating is that we’re not producing a story each, but a contribution to one entire story, which is then posted day-by-day on wonderfully supportive book blogs. It’s a fascinating process. We don’t know what will arrive in the inbox or how the next author will progress what we’ve set up. It’s like tag wrestling, but without the leotards or catapulting off the ropes to floor the opponent.Mothers Day Round Robin

I was interested in how we approached our particular sections and asked for my fellow ChocLiteers thoughts.

Valentine’s Round Robin

Kathryn Freeman

I found it harder than writing a story by myself as I was very conscious I shouldn’t give away too much, too soon, but I already had in mind how I wanted it to end!

– I also found it more rewarding in a way, as I was so intrigued by how those after me would pick up the reins.  I felt proud to be part of the final result – but in awe of the ability of my fellow writers who managed to kick it off so well and then keep the suspense and so neatly tie the ends up at the end. I was very glad I went early!

Evonne Wareham

I did the Valentine one. It was great fun and also scary! I was day 4 of 5. The 3 previous instalments had set up some lovely leads, it was a responsibility to live up to them and also leave the story in a good place for the final instalment. Making a villain out of the character who would normally have been my alpha hero was interesting.

 Mother’s Day Round Robin

Alison May

I actually found writing part 1 quite intimidating. Normally the beginning of a story would be one of the last bits that I’d still be tweaking with and revising. This time I didn’t have that option. I had to write an opening that set up enough possibilities for the six writers that followed to apply their imaginations but wasn’t so vague as to be completely irrelevant to what came later. I think I stared at the blank screen for longer than I ever have before, feeling the pressure of not letting the later writers down. I ummed and aahed particularly about whether to introduce a potential hero in part 1. I do have a discarded paragraph where a mysterious stranger appears, but in the end I decided to leave the hero for the writers who came later. I’m now really happy with Kelly and sort of in love with little Lucas. I just hope that the writers and readers who came after me ended up feeling the same.

 Laura E. James

Alison wrote a great introduction, and that allowed me to take the story in any direction. Conscious of the fact it was a Mother’s Day story, and we at Choc Lit write romance, my focus was on developing a love interest and a father for Kelly’s baby son. I left it for the latter writers to decide if this man was one and the same. It was liberating not having to make that decision, however, now the story is complete, I have to say, I found what followed, and the conclusion extremely satisfying. I loved this experience.

 Berni Stevens

I was so relieved not to be given the first slot, and I take my hat off to Alison for doing such an amazing job. I still remember my own first day back at work after maternity leave, so writing Kelly’s feelings came easily to me. I loved the way Laura and Henri set up new possibilities for the story, but I couldn’t resist throwing in my own curved ball! I truly couldn’t wait to see how it all panned out.

Beverley Eikli

I was caught between a rock and a hard place with such excellent instalments having gone before. Now, with the story having only two more instalments after mine, I knew that it was time to explore the motivations of some of the characters who may (or may not) have a larger role to play and begin the process of tying up the threads my predecessors had left me 🙂

Unexpected plot twists are what I love best, though of course that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. However since it seemed to be ‘at that point in the story’ I thought I’d just go for it. I wrote most of it while travelling through Norway but had to think long and hard to come up with the direction I was going to take it. There were so many!

 Amanda James

I found it really tricky coming in at the penultimate section. I couldn’t end it obviously, but I wasn’t sure where to go either because of what had come before. Of course I knew we should probably have a happy ending, so worked towards that. The problem was that a couple of the stories before mine had said that Damien had wanted nothing to do with Kelly and his son, another had said that Kelly had ignored all Damien’s attempts to contact her by phone and text. Gulp. I realised that this was to set up intrigue and conflict and I eventually got it sorted  … I hope! It was great fun to write and I would love to do it again.

 Margaret James

I enjoyed writing the ending.  It was fun to read everything which came before it, seeing how the previous writers had developed the story, set traps for the unwary reader, suggested various directions in which the story could go, and also suggested various resolutions. I decided early on who the bad guy in this story was going to be and I wrote my ending to reflect this decision.

***

From a personal point of view, what’s struck me reading these comments is that as writers we’ve used our knowledge, experience and instinct to know how to start the story, when to add a hint of romance or betrayal, where to introduce the twist and turns, and how and when to start wrapping it up to bring it to a satisfying conclusion.

Beyond my contribution at Part 2, I was reading and discovering along with all the other readers and was captivated by the unfolding story.

I’m already looking forward to the next Choc Lit round robin.

Laura.

Here are the links to our Mother’s Day story, which can now be read from start to finish:

Part One by Alison May on Chick Lit Reviews and News

Part Two by Laura E James on Jera’s Jamboree

Part Three by Henriette Gyland on Laura’s Little Book Blog

Part Four by Berni Stevens on Cosmochicklitan

Part Five by Beverley Eikli on Chick Lit Uncovered

Part Six by Amanda James on Love of a Good Book

Part Seven by Margaret James on One More Page

Happy Halloween!

Last year's pumpkin

Last year’s pumpkin

Halloween is one of my very favourite times of the year. The fact it comes just before my birthday is irrelevant – honest! I can’t help that I love all things creepy and spooky, and I’ve always been drawn to the supernatural – books, films, legends –anything paranormal really.

When Halloween comes around, I want to carve a pumpkin, decorate the house, watch scary films – and eat chocolate! Bliss.

One of my favourite Halloween films has to be Hocus Pocus, and if you haven’t ever seen it – shame on you! Released in 1993, it starred Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy as the Sanderson Sisters, a family of witches burned at the stake in 1693, in (where else) but Salem. Inadvertently resurrected by the teenage Max Dennison on Halloween 1993, the three witches set off in search of small children to kill in order to restore their youth. In spite of the storyline, it is a children’s film, creepy but very funny! My son loved it and watched it all year round – a lot.

So what is my favourite supernatural being? To anyone who knows me, that’s easy – it is, of course, the vampire. Ever since I first read Dracula when I was fourteen, I’ve read anything I could find with a vampire in. I do also have a soft spot for witches, werewolves and ghosts, although I’m not so keen on zombies! (Apart from Michael Jackson’s Thriller.)

One of my favourite urban legends, The Highgate Vampire, fascinated me so much that I set my own book,

The entrance to the West Cemetery, Highgate. (Official tours only sadly.) http://highgatecemetery.org/

The entrance to the West Cemetery, Highgate. (Official tours only sadly.) http://highgatecemetery.org/

Dance Until Dawn, in North London’s Highgate, so I could feature the famous Gothic cemetery and its legend. It’s not hard to imagine vampires are real when walking around the West Cemetery. The Victorian Gothic mausoleums and tombs were said to be responsible for Bram Stoker’s inspiration for Dracula, and it’s easy to see why.

The Highgate Vampire first made the news in 1968, with alleged sightings of a ‘ghost’ and various attacks reported. But on the 27th February 1970, the vampire made the front page of the Hampstead and Highgate Express, and ultimately the tabloids. A photograph of a young man scaling the wall of the West Cemetery armed with a wooden cross and several pointy stakes appeared in the national press later the same year. Several witnesses claimed to have seen a ‘tall man wearing a top hat and cloak,’ others said a woman in white had been seen staring through the bars of the gate, and one witness even claimed to have been bitten on the neck whilst sleepwalking along Swains Lane in the early hours of the morning. (Bear in mind we’re talking late sixties, early seventies here!)

If you look on YouTube you’ll find a clip of a programme presented by Anthony Head of Buffy fame. He walks around Highgate Cemetery, talking about the Highgate Vampire – and vampires in general.

According to legend, the vampire was eventually tracked to the Circle of Lebanon in the West Cemetery, where he was staked in his coffin and the tomb resealed with cement mixed with garlic.  Another ending has a body exhumed, staked and burned at a derelict house close to the Cemetery. (To my knowledge, neither has ever been officially substantiated.)

The story changes depending which book or website you read, just like any legend. Although most agree the main protagonists at the time were Sean Manchester and David Farrant. Both have written books on the subject, and Farrant was actually jailed in 1974 for damaging memorials in the Cemetery. At one point, the men were going to have an ‘exorcism dual’ on Parliament Hill, scheduled for Friday 13th, 1973 – it never happened.

I first read about The Highgate Vampire in a book called The Vampire’s Bedside Companion by Peter Underwood. The book comes complete with photos, including one of Elizabeth Wojdyla, the young Polish girl who claimed to have been bitten by the vampire.

Whether The Highgate Vampire is ‘faction’ or pure hokum – it’s a great story for Halloween.

Available in April 2014!

Available in April 2014!