Doctors & Horrors: Why Doctors Scare Me

The Doctor Portrait
One of the first doodles I did of my main character in McTavish Manor, Dr Bilsland.

(En Español más abajo :D)

Allow me to set out exactly how you should proceed to contain Consumption. First, have one of the glasses in my studio heated—you will notice they have slightly sharpened edges. Then, when you are alone in your chamber—away from indiscreet eyes—hold tightly the scalpel I left for you & make a small incision in your skin. The cut has to be made under your clavicle, just above the breast. Immediately after, grab the glass—which should still be hot, not warm—& press it on the flesh—your hands must not tremble. I am sure you can perform the treatment—otherwise you would not have allowed your doctor to leave! Remember to take some linen towels with you to protect your garments.

McTavish Manor

 

¡Hola! How are you doing? Mondays suck. I’m sorry, but that’s who I am: I LOVE Fridays and get kind of blue every Monday. Dunno why, just happens that way.

So I’ve decided to spice things up a little and thought I’d open a new (temporary) section in my blog about doctors & horrors because these are two things I know a lot about. And what’s better than forgetting Monday’s exhaustion than reading a few spooky things you might not know?

As you may already know, I’m publishing my first novella written in English this Otober, and it’s a horror story. And yes, it is about the darkest parts of my soul and – it couldn’t be other way – it includes doctors. In fact, one of the main characters is a 19th century Doctor with a strange relationship with blood…  (Everything was related with blood at the time, in fact, and you can read in my quote of the novella the curious and real treatment of Consumption at the very beginning of the 19th century!)

Fun fact: thee doctor’s appearance is directly inspired in someone I saw in a dream and inspired McTavish Manor as a whole.

Horror fact: To cure Consumption (also known as Tuberculosis or TB) doctors in the 18th/19th centuery prescribed the loss of blod. So, basically, you were already coughing blood all the time and they also bleed you. Where is the logic in all this? Apparently, at the time, they believed that illness were associated to the poor condition of blood. So ‘purging’ blood was ideal to get rid of diseases…

(I’m convinced that at the time it made sense. Perhaps in 200 years people look back with horror at our surgeries in which people are basically cut out! Hopefully, they’d have discovered a better way of fixing things inside the body by then…)

Now, I want to ask you, are you scared of doctors?

If the answer is yes, we have lots of things in common! And if not… well, let me tell you a few things from my own experience.

Why am I scared of doctors?

Let me confess you a little secret: I have the very Gothic habit of fainting. I faint when I see blood, when I experience a strong pain… but also when I’m over excited (I fainted on my 10th birthday because I was soooo happy it was my birthday) and scared (I’ve fainted watching Crouching Tiger & Hidden Dragon when I was nine, no kidding).

I also faint when I experience strong emotions. Once I was doing muffins with my mum and she asked me to ‘massage’ the dough. It felt so… weird (that cold, wet and at the same time dry substance getting stuck in my skin) that I fainted too.

Are you surprised? Confused?

My parents were too, and that’s why they decided to take me to the doctor to see if someone could guess what was wrong with my brain causing all that non-sense fainting.

Now, after seeing a cardiologist (who put weird thins on my head and chest) and a neurologist (who hit my joints with a mini-hammer which was quite annoying), doctors decided to make some tests.

And this was the first one.

Picture me. I was 12 years old and basically still a child. My dad took me to the hospitals. Doctors had told me I couldn’t have breakfast that day, which is always a BAD omen, if you ask me. They made us wait for a little while then they called my name. My father wanted to come along (my parents always want to be present in any doctor’s interactions even now, and they are the kind of folks that won’t let me even speak about my condition!) But the doctor told him, politely, to wait.

I was alone.

The doctor took me to an enormous room of huge ceilings. There was just a hospital bed in the middle and intense lightubs directly over it. Nothing else. No nurse, no pictures on the walls or skeletons in the corner… nothing.

The doctor asked me to get naked and put on one of those thin green hospital robes (that seem to be made of paper). He disappeared for five minutes so I could do so. Then, he was back and made me sit on the hospital bed. I felt completely naked and vulnerable (to be honest, the robe didn’t make much of a difference). And quite uncomfortable, because he hadn’t told me what was going to happen.

Now, I realised that there was something attached to the hospital bed. Black straps. And that’s when the doctor told me.

The test consisted on the following: he was going to tie me up to the bed and then, he was going to make the bed turn exponentially faster until I was so sick and dizzy that I fainted. And then, they would study my brain.

Picture me in your heads: a twelve-year-old who faints with strong emotions. I felt like fainting just after hearing what it was going to happen to me. I don’t know if you have fainted, but it’s the most disgusting and horrible sensation ever – the complete loss of control (and conscience). So… letting them to make me faint?

Erm… no, thanks.

So I started crying. And screaming. And stating, very loud and clear, that I was NOT going to do that.

The doctor tried to convince me. It was an important procedure for my health… etc.

No, thanks.

Another doctor came to see if he was more persuasive.

Nop.

Finally they ‘threatened’ to call my dad.

I said, fine, bring him here.

My dad came.

‘Please, please don’t let them.’ I cried.

My dad looked at the doctors. Then he looked at the hospital bed with stripes. Then, he looked at me, his poor semi-naked daughter.

‘So, you don’t want to do it?’

‘No.’

And he took me home.

Since then, I don’t trust doctors – well, many other things have happened, but that’s for other chapters. I know I’m very coward and that what happened there was almost nothing compared to the procedures other people had undergone.

Still, it’s quite nightmarish in my mind.

Are you scared of doctors, too? Why?

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Permitidme explicaros con total exactitud aquello que debéis hacer para detener el mortal avance de la Tuberculosis. En primer lugar, mandad que os calienten uno de los vasos que hallaréis en mi estudio–veréis que tienen los bordes ligeramente afilados. Después, cuando os encontréis completamente sola en vuestras habitaciones –a salvo de cualquier mirada indiscreta– sujetad con firmeza el bisturí que os entregué & haced una minúscula incisión en vuestra piel. El corte se habrá de hallar bajo la clavícula, justo por encima del pecho. Imediatamente después, coged el vaso –que debe estar caliente, no templado– y usadlo para hacer presión contra la carne – no consintáis ni un solo temblor a vuestras manos. Confío en que podréis seguir este procedimiento –de otro modo, ¡estoy seguro de que jamás habríais permitido marchar a vuestro médico! Recordad que debéis tener cerca algunas toallas de lino con el fin de proteger vuestras delicadas vestimentas.

McTavish Manor

Hey! ¿Qué tal andais? Los lunes dan asco. Lo siento, pero soy de esas personas a las que les encantan los viernes y los lunes les ponen un poco tristes. No sé por qué, simplemente me pasa.

Así que he decidido animar las cosas un poquillo y empezar una nueva sección en el blog (aunque va a ser solo temporal). Se llama ‘Doctors & Horrors’ y en ella voy a hablar de estas dos cosas de las que resulta que sé bastante. ¿Os apetece empezar la semana leyendo algo horripilante?

Como seguro que ya sabéis, este octubre publico my primera novela corta en inglés (¡cruzo los dedos para que la traducción al español llegue pronto!). En ella podréis tener acceso a las partes más recónditas y oscuras de mi alma y, como no podría ser de otro modo, salen médicos. De hecho, uno de los protagonistas es un médico de principios del siglo XIX con una relación un tanto extraña con la sangre. (Casi todo estaba relacionado con la sangre en aquella época, como podéis ver en el extracto de la novela que he colgado al principio de este post. ¡Es una receta real de cómo curar la tuberculosis en el siglo XIX!)

Hecho curioso: La apariencia de mi médico la he sacado directamente de la persona que vi en aquel sueño que inspiró McTavish Manor

Hecho Tenebroso: Para curar la tuberculosis, algunos médicos de los siglos XVIII y XIX les recetaban a sus pacientes una ‘sana’ pérdida de sangre. Vamos, que los pobres enfermos se pasaban la vida tosiendo y escupiendo sangre y encima los desangraban… Ilógico, lo sé… pero es que resulta que en aquella época casi todos estaban convencidos que las enfermedades estaban relacionadas con tener la sangre en malas condiciones. Osea, que desangrar a un paciente era la manera perfecta de purgar enfermedades.

(Estoy segura de que, en su momento, todo esto era de lo más sensato. Es más, en 200 años seguro que la gente mira atrás para horrorizarse ante las operaciones que se hacen hoy en día en la que los médicos, básicamente, abren al paciente de un par de tajos… Seguro que para entonces se han descubierto procesos menos invasivos…)

¿A vosotros os dan miedo los médicos?

Si la respuesta es sí, entonces tenemos muchas cosa en común. Y si es que no… bueno, dejadme que os cuente una historia.

Voy a confesaros un pequeño secreto: tengo una manía muy gótica, desmayarme. Me desmayo cuando veo sangre, cuando experimento un dolor muy fuerte… pero también cuando estoy muy excitada (por ejemplo, me desmayé el día que cumplí diez años porque estaba ultrafeliz de estar celebrando mi cumpleaños… sí, en serio).

También me desmayo cuando me invaden sensaciones o emociones muy intensas. Una vez, estaba haciendo rosquillas con mi madre cuando ella me pidió que trabajara un poco la masa. La cosa es que, en cuanto me puse a ello, se me hizo muy… raro. Quiero decir, la masa estaba fría, húmeda y seca a un tiempo e increíblemente pegajosa. (Sí. Me desmayé enseguida.)

¿Sorprendidos? ¿Confusos?

Mis padres estaban en las mismas por aquel entonces, así que decidieron llevarme a un médico a ver si se podía resolver el misterio de mi cerebro ordenando desmayos a diestro y siniestro.

Después de ver a un cardiólogo (que me puso cosas en la cabeza y en el pecho) y a un neurólogo (que me golpeó en las articulaciones con un mini-martillo de lo más molesto) los médicos se pusieron de acuerdo para hacerme una prueba.

A ver, imaginad la escena. Yo tenía solo doce años (seguía siendo una cría). Mi padre me llevó al hospital por la mañana. Los médicos me habían dicho que no podía desayunar, lo que, ciertamente, yo ya iba considerando como un mal augurio. Tuvimos que esperar un rato en la sala hasta que el doctor me llamó. Mi padre quería venirse conmigo pero el doctor le dijo, amablemente, que se tenía que quedar en la sala. (Sí, mis padres son de ese tipo de gente que siempre quiere estar presente cada vez que voy al médico, y en la mayoría de los casos esto implica que hablarán ellos todo el rato sin dejarme explicar qué es lo que me pasa…)

Así que fui sola.

El médico me llevó a una habitación enorme con techos altísimos. No había nada (ni enfermera, ni dibujitos en las paredes, ni un esqueleto de plástico en la esquina). Solo una cama y, sobre ella, unos focos super intensos.

El médico me pidió que me desnudara y me pusiera una de esas batas verdes que parecen de papel que te dan en los hospitales. Después, me hizo sentarme en la camilla. En ese momento, yo ya me sentía completamente desnuda y vulnerable (entre llevar aquella bata fulerilla y nada…) Y encima aun no me habían dicho de qué iba la prueba.

Fue entonces cuando me di cuenta de que la cama tenía unas correas negras.

El médico me comentó lo que me iba a pasar: me iban a atar a la cama y luego iban a hacer que esta diera vueltas cada vez más rápido hasta que yo estuviera tan mareada que me desmayara. Y luego… estudiarían mi cerebro.

¿Os he comentado ya que yo era una cría que se desmayaba ante el más ligero estímulo? Vamos, que solo al escuchar al médico describiendo ese proceso me sentí flaquear una vez más. ¿Os habéis desmayado alguna vez? Entonces sabréis que es la cosa más horrible y desagradable (la pérdida absoluta de control y, obviamente, consciencia). ¿Acceder voluntariamente a que me provocaran un desmayo?

Eh.. no, gracias.

Así que me eché a llorar. Y me puse a gritar. Básicamente, les dejé muy claro que no pensaba hacer esa prueba.

El médico intentó convencerme diciendo que era importante para mi salud… etc.

No, gracias.

Otro médico vino para ver si podía persuadirme.

Nop.

Al final, ‘amenazaron’ con llamar a mi padre.

Estupendo, les dije, traedle aquí.

My padre apareció en la sala.

‘Por favor, no dejes que me hagan esto…’ Le rogué.

My padre miró a los doctores. Luego a la cama con las correas. Luego a mí, su pobre hija semi desnuda e indefensa.

‘¿No quieres hacerlo?’ Me preguntó.

‘No.’

Así que me llevó de vuelta a casa.

Desde entonces, no me fio ni un pelo de los médicos (bueno, la verdad es que otras cosas  han sucedido que han intensificado mi creencia, pero eso es para otra historia). Ya sé que soy una cobarde total y lo que me sucedió entonces fue practicamente nada comparado con lo que otra gente tiene que sufrir en los hospitales.

Aun así, yo lo recuerdo como una pesadilla…

¿Os dan miedo los médicos? ¿Por qué?

 

 

 

 

Climbing mountains and writing

Hiking-the peak.jpg
This landscape is one of the reasons why I chose to live in Lancaster…

Last week I went to Grassmere to do hiking. Hiking and writing are two things that I equally love and feel scared of. There’s always something beautiful about seeing mountains from the distance and thinking: in two or three hours, I’m going to be at the top. It’s also beautiful to imagine yourself with your own book in your hands: somehow the idea has made its way through paper and words.

But, what happens in between?

1. The desire.

All books and walks start with that desire, curiosity, wanderlust. Your life woul be ten times easier if you just stuck to routine, or job, or the simple things like eating and sleeping. But somehow you’re not enterely satisfied. You need to do something crazy like climb a mountain and write a book. Why? It’s not about survival or  being reasonable or realistic. But, who cares? You want to. So that’s why you decide to start up the journey: going towards the mountain or opening a new document in our computer.

 

Hiking-the mountain.jpg

2. The peak between the clouds.

You know this moment when you’re still down in the fields and you are surrounded by mountains and an endless sky? You’re still happy and curious but one part of you is thinking: ‘there’s no way I can get so high.’ You want to laugh, turn back, have a couple of drinks in the local pub and go home to watch a film. It’s also easier to turn on TV than defy the blank space of the page. But it’s not going to happen – leaving – because the peak between the clouds is still too fascinating. Too attractive.

Hiking-the big lake
That bag stands for myself in the picture.

3. Climbing.

Now it starts the fun part. The village and the field behind, you can just see one hill after the other. It might be easy at the beginning, but you know this is just the start of hours of struggling between you and the mountain. And then, zas!, you discover a beautiful view. Because that’s the joy of writing and hiking, the sublime might just be around the corner. Just as I started climbing in Grassmere I discovered this beautiful place where the mountains reflected in a big lake creating another world down the waters. The same way, once one starts writing a piece there is always an initial revelation.

Hiking-the crags

4. No way back.

There’s always a point when you find yourself climbing using hands, feet and mouth if necessary. You try not to look down – there are just crags and cliffs – and focus in each little step. The hand here, the feet there. I imagine myself going down, breaking my neck, or my leg, or even dying. ‘Young writer ends her days in the Lakes.‘ I can already read that in the local news. And, most important, I know there’s no way back. I would like to say: OK, I’m going home. But I know there’s no way I try to go down through those risks again, so the only solution is to keep going until the top (even if it seems there’s never going to be one). The same happens when have passed the mid point of your novel: you cannot leave it there even if what you have produced so far feels like crap…

Hiking-'the peak'.jpg

5. The peak?

After the difficult part, when you believed you would never make it, comes ‘the peak’. And I’m saying it like this because it’s never ‘the peak’. THE peak is still a little bit further away but at this point you need to sit down, enjoy the (already) astonishing views and take your time to eat some well-deserved lunch. This break always feels like the best part of the hiking. All the previous suffering is forgotten and you feel truly grateful for being alive. In writing happens something similar when you finish the first draft of your novel or piece. You feel you have done it, you feel like a hero. There’s still so much way ahead, but for a brief time it feels like a nice conclusion. The idea is already on the paper. The thoughts have turn into letters. Now, it’s good to remember we need to keep walking. If you stay too long high in the mountain just looking at the views you start feeling really, really cold and dump. In writing, the first draft is merely the door to editing and rewriting. So let’s keep going!

6. THE peak!

This can be a tedious part in the hiking. You had lunch but the hills are still there, one after the other. You start thinking why you bother about climbing, I mean, you already got the nice views and all, does it pay off to get to the peak? Who’s going to care in the end? When you are telling the adventures of the hiking to your friends next day you can always say you reached the peak anyways. I always tell myself these things when I’m dragging my body to the peak. It never seems good enough to deserve the effort at that point. In a novel, the editing process can be equally grueling. You always reach the point in which you just want to throw the whole damn thing into the bin, I mean, who cares? The world already got Shakespeare and Clive Barker and José Antonio Cotrina. But then…

Then you reach THE peak. And I’m not going to explain but that feels about because if you have reached THE peak in hiking and writing you already know it and if not… you need to discover it for yourself.

7. Missing the hills.

Yep. Remember all that suffering when climbing? You never thought you would miss such a thing, would you? Well, there’s just something worse than going up murderous hills… and that’s going down. Becasue the possibilities of sliding and suffering a bloody death increase in 267%.  In writing this is the moment when you want to put your piece out there and realise than the process of getting it published is much worse than getting it written. Because there are so many things you cannot control and don’t depend at all on you. It’s part luck but part hard-effort – believe, if something I’m learning from interviewing authors in The Writing Life is that all of them worked incredibly hard before they had that ‘lucky’ coincidence or encounter with an agent/editor. So even if you feel you’ll die, go slow but don’t stop. You need to get out of the mountain (or get your story out there) at any price. That’s why you climbed it in the first place!

Hiking-sweet hills
Can you see the tiny daffofil in the rock on the river?

8. Those sweet vallies.

And finally you’re down there. You find the path and everything is easy, too easy in fact. The mountain is behind and you already miss it. You feel happy with yourself but already start thinking about the next hiking, and promise yourself you’ll do it as soon as possible because damn it, it feels so, so good. Whenever I hold a book in my arms I feel incredibly proud but at the same time the story has been detached of myself. It’s not ‘interesting’ anymore. I need something new to ‘get me high’ and that’s writing another book!

 

Do you like hiking? Does it inspire your writing in any way?

 

 

 

 

 

No coffee, no writing

CW1

I mean, it’s 9.36am here in Lancaster and I’m drinking coffee while I write this. I have the light one because outside is pitch dark and rainny and… well, it feels like night time. Coffee is literally saving me life – and it does so every morning, preparing me to face the challenges of everyday.

I started drinking coffee when I was 18 in a London airport. I had taken a plane at 6am in the morning which meant I was at the airport at 4am and that I had got up at 2am. So when finally my plane arrived – to London – I tried a coffee because I was feeling pretty destroyed and I had heard that coffee lifts you up. A year into drinking it I decided to be a true coffee lover and drink it as it is – no sugar, no milk. It took me a while, but no I can’t stand it sweet, which I guess it’s good for my teeth. I try not to drink more than three or four coffees a day though.

What I noticed  when I started writing for my masters and I had to meet weekly deadlines is that the size of my coffees was increasing – significantly.  By the time I was polishing my novella I was drinking just large coffees, and I bought myself a massive mug that is with me in the office now. Normal mugs just seem too tiny for me now…

Coffee infuses warmth and happiness to my heart, basically, – and If I don’t drink it in the morning I get a  very bad headache. Also, it helps me a lot to associate the pleasure of drinking a super hot coffee with writing my daily 500 words, as I explained in this post.

Do you like coffee? Tea? Do you have any drink or meal that you need to be more creative?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing like a Hindi God… Congregation of Innocents

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Congregation of Innocents

 

Writing with several hands, is it possible?

I’m not only a writer, but also a pianist. And I know that playing four hands it’s incredibly difficult. There are so many things that can go wrong – the rhythm, the time… even physically, your fingers can just run over the other person’s! It can be a dissaster because it requires perfect communication with your partner – yes, you need to be soulmates to grant success, basically.

In writing should be easier because there is not the stress of the immediate performance – you have more time to discuss, argue and scream at each other hoping that the final product doesn’t come out drenched in blood.

I have experience on that: I wrote with my father, who’s also a writer. How was it? Well, it was writing with my father

We see things so differently. For him there is LITERATURE –  this includes all the books he likes, which are mainly Literary Fiction – and then that commercial crap that is not any better than a hamburguer at McDonalds – and this includes almost all genre fiction and the books he just doesn’t personally like.

Yes. We argued a lot.

Also, he thinks that what is told is always more important than how it’s told. And that anything you write has to be based on experience. I write about doctors who mummify children and perform c-sections without anesthesics in a lost mansion in the Highlands – did myself experienced all that…? Well, you might not want to hear the answer…

Of course for him is easier to talk about experiences – he has travelled all over the world. He’s also an amazing writer, and he’s funny, and satirical, and critical, and socially-engaged – all things that I admire and I wish my writing had – at least in a stronger way.

Our experience writing together was enriching but in the end, when the book came out everyone thought that the serious, literary parts were his and the funny comical bits were mine – because of the age, I assume. They got it wrong.

Today I want to talk about another book wirtten by multiple hands: Congregation of Innocents, edited by Curious Tales. It contains four short stories by Emma Unsworth, Richard Hirst, Jenn Ashworth and Tom Fletcher plus a graphic short story by Ian Williams. It also has the illustrations, photos and cover design by the artist Beth Ward.

I was lucky that this was the book read in our Gothic Reading Group at Lancaster University and Jenn Ashworth came to talk about the process. She mentioned very interesting things. First of all, the four writers are all friends and work all together editing each other’s texts. I can see here the challenge of having friends and giving them feedback and still being friends after that. We all have such big egoes – I do, at least, although I was partially cured since I started writing in English and I became really humble about it because it’s not my first language… Also, I’d also feel a lot of preassure if continuously giving feedback to my friends just in case I don’t like some of the stuff they do – even if I love them as people, obviously. Art is such a subjective thing… For example, Jenn pointed out that it too her quite a long time to understand Tom‘s short story whereas I fell in love with it immediately.

These people are not just professional writers, they also funded a publishing houseCurious Tales – and have done a trilogy of short story collections called Five Curious Tales. It all started when they decided to exchange ghost stories as a Christmas present. I think this is a such a genial idea.

How do they unifiy their collections, though?

They dedicate their volume to a writer and then gather inspiration fom him or her to write their short stories – as a response to the work of this particular author.

For example the second collection was called Poor Souls’ Light and it was inspired by Robert Aickman, whereas the third one, Congregation of Innocents,  – which I have in my hands – is inspired in the short stories by Shirley Jackson.

The illustrations are, in my opinion, what brings the stories all together. Jenn explained how Beth acts as the core of the project. She gives feedback to everyone, she decides how the illustrations will complement everyone’s story, she does the artwork from the cover  – and that picture is like the essence of the collection itself, not an easy thing to do, I imagine! She even decides the order of the short stories.

I think this is very wise. First because words can come together through other media – in this case visual images. And third because someone from another media may be more able to see the whole picture.

This volume – we all agreed in the Gothic Reading Group – it’s about endings. All the stories are drenched in the bittersweet essence of farewells. And the cover irself represents – as it couldn’t be other way – a detail from a pink and purple cherry blossom. It looks so Japanese and delicate… and the green colour from the title letters is ghostly and unsettling –as if it was whispering to us that this is a horror story collection nonetheless, so we should be prepared. The first pages also have details from the cherry blossom branches in black. It looked like a sort of radiography so again, even if cherry flowers are beautiful and delicate, it was as if they were already dead.

Preceeding each of the stories there are black and white rows of three photographs – without titles or any word indeed, just the naked image. In The Festival the images show what it seems a piece of embroidery (complexity? a hard work? women?), some round glasses reflecting two boats on the sea (travelling?) and white petals on the ground (death of someone who is young?)

In Do You Know How To Waltz? the photographs are difficult to see because there is something that reflects on them – like the light through the blinds over a dark room. What we can see are the silouettes of flowers and trees. (Nature? Something that is hidden? Danger? Vulnerability?)

The Women’s Union Relief has the image of an isolated park, then a mug filled with tea or coffe, and then another mug but from a different perspective. (Home? Comfort? Lost childhood?)

Desert Stories has – in my opinion – the most unsettling set of images – and this was the story I found more unsettling too among all of them. We have some small hands  closed as if praying (a child’s?) a seed that has just started to grow and an empty room with an open door and an empty chair. (Abscence? Infancy? Lose? Revival?)

Now that I have read all the stories I can interpret better the photographs and see how much they are linked to the story. I think it has a wonderful idea to have another medium – photography, in this case – to express another part of a story. We live in a culture where images are very important, why shouldn’t literature nurture from them? The images don’t just reflect what is said by words but also open new paths to the interpretation of these. It is as if images where an integral part of the story, another organ in the whole body. The fact that they are in black and white adds to the atmosphere – we tend to relate black and white with the past, from where ghosts come to haunt us. There are organised in three shots, and this makes the piece cinematic. The details in the photos talk to each other and tell a story by themselves. I think the plastic artist’s work was magnificent because she managed to create a decadent universe where all the stories in this collection can co-exist.

Another visual feature I want to praise was the inclusion of a short story but told in the form of a graphic piece. It’s written by Ian Williams and it’s called The Brood of Desire. The first image occupies the first page and it shows a key with an intrincate design in its hanger. When I saw it for the  first time I felt as if the author was invinting me to his world by offering me the key – but it looked like a key made to hide dark things, so I knew that taking it would bring consequences. The graphic short story is also in black and white and what stroke me the most is the way its simple pictures transmit me so much repugnance – in the best way, because when I read horror I want to feel repugnance, and fear, and shock.

To sum up, I believe that Congregations of Innocents is a rare not to be missed piece. It is a collection of short stories set in a dark, dangerous universe. You would not necessarely want to inhabit it – or to meet its people – but when Christmas comes and you’re sick of sweets and Christmas songs and blinking lights and you feel you need something to balance it… this is your thing! Winter is not just about warm fires and hot chocolate but also about naked sharp trees and never ending nights. And there is so much art and talent in this little book.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eating books and reading biscuits.

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Is this not the perfect combination? A bit of sugar, butter, chocolate… and words.

One of the most pleasant moments in my day is when I drink my night tea with a couple of biscuits while I enjoy a good book.

Last Saturday I attended a wonderful event in Lancaster: ‘Out of This World’ Fiction Fest, where I had the chance to meet authors such as J S Collyer, A S Chambers and Eddie Robson. The day was very Gothic – no sun at all and  I was drenched in rain before I could find Gregson Centre. Lancaster is a haunted town whose streets mutate constantly to drive people mad. Even the minotaur would have got lost in this laberynth, I promise. The castle is literally everywhere and the Ashton Memorial observes your confusion laughing from the distance.

But something really nice was waiting for me when I arrived.

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Books and home-made biscuits? Oh yes, please.

(My friends maintain I just bought Tomorrow Never Knows because it came with a free biscuit, but tha’s not truth at all. I had heard wonderful reviews about this book. It’s Sci-fi and it has in it a religious cult which worships the Beatles… I mean, how can you not be interested in reading that??)

All this made me think, though. Bringing biscuits was a very nice gesture towards the possible buyers of the book. Food is good – sweet and free food, specially.

Should we be grateful towards our readers for buying our books? Of course! However, an annoying voice inside my head says that readers must feel privileged for buying my books and they should be the ones bringing me the biscuits in any case!

But then again, I just think about how privileged I feel everytime I walk into a shop and they offer me free sweets. Or when I go to the bank and they give me free pens – although they’re so damn rich that they could give me something more like a house… Or when I go to a hotel and they have free tea and coffe in the room. It just makes you feel so cared and loved.  Writers should love their readers – and vice versa.

Plus it’s so cool when you go to some literary event to discover that your favourite authors are also friendly people – I would never forget meeting Gabriella Campbell and José Antonio Cotrina in the Wizard Con. And it’s devastating when authors behave as they were gods or as if they were making you a favor just by breathing the air in the same room as you – yep, this has also happened to me and to most people, I imagine.

I – at least – don’t write to be issolated or to hide behind my words. I’m also up to go out there to sell my books and talk about them – like the brave and enthusiastic authors from ‘Out of This World’ Fiction Fest did. I would like to be a minstrel, travelling – travelling is always good – and entertaining people with my words. A bit of drama? Yeah, sure. And baking biscuits? Yeah, although I’m afraid I’m not as good as Eddie Robson because… because last time I baked muffins they exploded inside the oven.

Yeah.

But no worries, I have a culinary talent, and it’s called Tortilla de Patata – you’ll have to buy one of my books first to try it, though!

What are your thoughts on this? Are you up to self-promotion? Would you enjoy it? What are your experiences meeting other authors?

Writing in… Glencoe Café

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There’s nothing more inspiring than the Highlands because, I promise you, they’re the best cure for the Artist’s Ego disease. Don’t you know what I’m talking about? Let’s be honest, we all want to be the next Shakespeare and/or write the next Fifty Shades of Grey

But when you are in Glencoe – West Highlands – and find yourself completely soaked in icy rain, with your body shaking under the wind and the sky is black and threatens to fall on the ancient mountains so they break and devour you… Then you feel the smallest and humblest creature on Earth. And I tell you, you might be even an atheist but you will pray to come back alive. The Highlands are like an old dragon. Terrible and fascinating.

I first went to Glencoe on April 2013, when I was living in Edinburgh. Because I was a poor student without a car I took the train to the furthest place I could find – Fort William – and booked a room in the cheapest hostal – Ossian Hotel. Now I woudln’t recommend this place to stay unless…

A) You’re a fan of The Shinning – the red carpetted corridors are smelly and equally creepy!

B) You want to get involved in Fort William’s local life – they were many of local aracnids in the toilet.

C) You have a fetish with vouyerism. The toilet window was a large one facing Fort William’s main street. And it didn’t have curtains – or anything – to cover it. Yep, I’m saying that every time you wanted to take a sh* or a shower virtually anyone could see you.

Nevertheless, what I do recommend is the trip I made by train from Edinburgh to Fort William. This is one of the most inspiring train trips ever – I love trains – and I won’t talk more about it because it deserves a whole new post.

Let’s come back to Glencoe now, whose name actually means ‘hell of never ending hard rain’ in Gaelic*. A bus from Fort William can take you to Glencoe village in half an hour. You will enjoy an impressive scenery – Loch Linnhe surrounded by dark woods. Glencoe village is a holiday place, which means that if you go on Summer the colorful cottages would be full of flowers and little dogs barking in the backyards – there is also a special cottage whose backyard is crowded with tiny china figures, quite spooky. If you go on November – as I did once – is a ghost village. But still pretty.

Glencoe Village’s main – and sole – attraction is Glencoe Folk Museum. Although I would like to, I haven’t visited it yet because you have to pay three pounds. Yes, I know, it’s not that much. But if you go to Glencoe you go to suffer – I don’t own any lovely cottage there, I go for hiking. So it seems a bit too much to spend, because if you have money believe me you want to save it to have one, two or three super warm coffes/teas/hot chocolates when your bones are frozen and you cannot stand Glencoe’s weather any more. Which takes me to the purpose of this post…

Glencoe Cafe is the coziest Highland’s cafe I’ve never been to. My perception might be biased because I always come to this place feeling miserable after a long hiking in Glencoe – and I have more in common with a smelly wet dog than a human being. Yet when I leave I always feel myself again. And warmer.

The best thing about this place is that it opens all year around. Even in Winter, when Glencoe is dead, it will be open. I cannot explain with enough words the happiness I experienced when I realised I could have a hot coffe here in November.

The local is small but very clean – and it has free Wi Fi. You’ve a few tables and a big sofa by the window – wher you can enjoy Glencoe’s beauty from a safe place. In Winter they even have tartan blankets – I just love them – in each of the chairs. There’s always music – pop-rock songs – and the smell of soup and home baked scones. The prices are alright – If I had the only Cafe in Glencoe I would be selling my coffes for ten pounds at least, but oh well… If you ask for a large cup  of mocca – I did so in November, obviously – you’re going to recieve a big pool of the sweetest coffe mixed with chocolate. Totally worth it.

Everytime I go they have cakes and they look awesome, but in the end I always go for the scone – I like scones because they’re not too sweet. Their scones are just delicious and you can tell they are home made. You also have colorful postcards with original drawings from the Highlands and things like soaps and pictures to buy. They’re a bit expensive though.

The owners are always friendly. Last time I was there – August 2015 – they even gave me paper and a pen to draw. And you can stay there forever – well, until they close. I remember nursing my gigantic mocca, reading The French Lieutenant’s Woman and imagining the characters of Mrs McLean’s Cabinet of Curiosities (my last novella) wondering around the Highlands…

Glencoe Café is the perfect place to write Gothic Horror.

*Not really… but it would have made a lot of sense…

Escritora Errante 5: Mis 3 pasos para terminar un proyecto.

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Escribir un libro no es cosa fácil. He tenido que rebasar la veintena para poder decir, mirada alta y desafiante, que he podido terminar un proyecto largo y de calidad publicable. Ha sido toda una odisea en la que he tenido que atravesar los tres umbrales: planificación, borradores y edición.

Bueno, he de reconocer que el proyecto que he terminado no es una novela, sino una novela corta. Pero me siento igualmente orgullosa, ya que además he descubierto que este formato (el de la novela corta, que tiene su propia palabra en inglés, novella, y voy a usar de ahora en adelante porque es más breve) es en el que me siento más cómoda. Pero ya hablaré en otro post de por qué me gusta escribir novellas.

Como a muchos escritores, las ideas me acechan en las esquinas, especialmente cuando camino, corro por las mañanas o me escaldo voluntariamente en la ducha… La idea inicial es como las burbujas que me rascan la garganta tras haber tomado el primer trago de coca-cola. Pero en el momento en que intento darle forma, empiezan a surgir los primeros problemas. Las ideas necesitan suportes, igual que los edificios vigas. Y estos no resultan siempre evidentes en las historias.

Si mi idea sobrevive el periodo de planificación, empiezo con los borradores. Y aquí está lo difícil. Como una corredora novata intentando un maratón, muero generalmente a la mitad. La historia pierde su fuelle. Los personajes se tornan planos, o se deprimen y se suicidan ellos solos. El tiempo se detiene o avanza tan despacio como la baba de caracol. Y yo, la escritora, estoy más aburrida que nadie de mi propia historia. Cuando ese sentimiento de hastío me invade, prefiero abandonar el proyecto porque, me digo, si esto no me entretiene ni a mí, ¿a qué lectores voy a engañar? Si, por otro lado, consigo terminar el primer borrador (esto quiere decir que he superado la crisis ‘del medio’, esa es inevitable) el proceso de edición suele ser tan tedioso que, como buena cobarde que soy, abandono mis manuscritos y me pongo a otra cosa. Como el marinero con una esposa en cada puerto, tengo al menos tres borradores de novellas por ahí olvidados. Sé que debería hacerme cargo de ellos (uno de ellos incluso está escrito a mano) pero la pereza me puede. Editar es como criar un hijo, me imagino. El fogonazo de pasión concibe la criatura, sí, pero ay, eso es solo el principio. Soy (he de reconocer) una madre bastante irresponsable y egoísta. Pobres manuscritos míos.

En octubre del 2014 empecé el Máster de Escritura Creativa en Lancaster y me prometí a mí misma entregar el que posiblemente podría ser mi único libro en inglés (aunque ahora parece que le he cogido el gusto y escribiré al menos otros tres libros más en el idioma de la Pérfida Albión, como dice Gabriella Campbell). ¿Cómo ha ocurrido semejante milagro? (Teniendo en cuenta que escribir en inglés me lleva el triple de tiempo). Dejad que os cuente los secretos que me han permitido atravesar victoriosa los tres umbrales…

1. Planificación.
Para esta novella (Mrs McLean Cabinet of Curiosities) decidí no saltarme este paso previo. Muchas veces, cuando se nos ocurre una idea es muy fácil dejarse llevar por la emoción y correr a arañar el papel cual felino juguetón. Pero he descubierto que si empiezo muy rápido también me canso rápido. A veces, menos es más. Y la planificación, aunque parezca aburrida en el momento en el que solo quieres ver tu increíble idea en acción, acaba siendo ese pegamento que mantiene todo el proyecto unido en las crisis venideras. (Porque las crisis vendrán, ya lo creo, como viene la lluvia a Inglaterra, más temprano que tarde, me temo).

a. Argumento. Para esta etapa del proceso creativo me ayuda mucho la técnica del snowflake (la conocí gracias a Gabriella, en este post). Intentad resumir vuestra idea en una línea. ¿Difícil, verdad? No desistáis. Al final puede ser hasta divertido.

Tras un sufrir un desengaño amoroso, un doctor obsesionado con su adicción a la sangre se marcha a una mansión aislada en las Highlands para hacerse cargo de la familia McLean durante los meses de invierno.

Sí, ya sé que esta frase es larga y enrevesada, pero mi novella es de terror gótico… ¿qué esperábais?

Desarrollad la frase en varios párrafos y finalmente una página. Puede parecer algo un poco estúpido, pero a mí me ayudó a poner cada cosa en su sitio y a aclararme con lo que quería contar.

A veces, en esta parte del proceso también me gusta planificar los diferentes capítulos del proyecto (aunque al final todos estos detalles me los suelo pasar por el forro una vez que le hinco el diente al primer borrador). Por ejemplo, para esta novella usé el disco Antiphon del grupo Midlake.

La idea original me surgió al escuchar su canción This Weight, tras lo cual decidí dividir la historia en nueve capítulos (cada uno relacionado con las canciones del álbum, y por ese orden). No es la primera vez que la música influencia tanto mi escritura (el álbum de The Thirteen Step inspiró mi otra novella, Kabuki). Pero como digo, esto es una simple pauta, porque al final Mrs McLean’s Cabinet of Curiosities acabó por tener veintiún capítulos en vez de nueve.

b.Personajes. ¿Quién quiere crear estereotipos? Desde luego yo no. Los personajes predecibles me dan (en el mejor de los casos) sueño. Es muy difícil huir de los clichés o de esas ganas de crear múltiples versiones de nosotros mismos en la historia (no es una buena idea, quizá solo les funcione a unos pocos elegidos, como Haruki Murakami).

En esta novella decidí usar (por primera vez) este truco de las cien preguntas. Es algo que me había ayudado a crear personajes para mis partidas de rol (sí, soy adicta al rol en vivo, lo confieso) pero que jamás antes me había planteado usar en mis propias historias. Sin embargo, ¡cuánto me divertí el verano pasado! Cien preguntas pueden parecer demasiadas, pero cuando escribes quieres saberlo todo de tus personajes, y en esta lista hay muchas cosas que en un principio ni siquiera me había planteado pero que luego resultaron ser fundamentales. Además, es un ejercicio creativo excelente porque pone en marcha el motor creativo. ¿Cómo fue la infancia de vuestro personaje? ¿Quienes son sus padres? ¿Cuál es su religión? ¿Es vírgen? ¿Zurdo o diestro? Os puedo asegurar que tras esta lista, personajes que en un principio eran bastante planos o parecían caricaturas (como la Mrs McLean del título) acabaron por convertirse en pilones con los que sustentar el argumento.

¿El único peligro de esta técnica? La backstory de los personajes corre el peligro de ser incluso más larga que la historia que quieres contar. No creo que eso sea malo: cuanto más pasado tengan nuestros personajes, más detalles jugosos podemos introducir en la trama. Lo malo es que te pueden entrar muchas ganas de querer contárselo también al lectorr (puesto que nosotros, los autores, lo sabemos, ¿por qué ocultárselo a ellos?) Creo que esto es un gran error, porque hay que ceñirse al argumento en sí. Lo demás, nos lo llevamos a la tumba. (O lo reciclamos en posteriores secuelas si el libro resulta ser un bestseller).

c. Documentación.  ¿Dónde sucede la historia? ¿Cuáles son las circunstancias que envuelven el argumento y los personajes? La documentación es clave cuando estás haciendo worldbuilding (creando el ambiente de tu historia). Las historias con un buen worldbuilding son las que al final se nos quedan en la memoria. En mi caso me siento fascinada por sagas como La Materia Oscura o El Ciclo de la Luna Roja, que describen mundos estremecedoramente oscuros, además de otros libros más realistas como Nunca Me Abandones, donde yo también asistí a la escuela de Hailsham. ¿Cuáles son las vuestras?

Suceda en el pasado (mi novella ocurría en Escocia a principios del siglo XIX), en el presente o en el futuro, el trabajo es el mismo: hay que investigar, encontrar (o crear) detalles, personajes y lugares. Aunque de nuevo, es sabio recordar que no escribimos la historia para mostrarle al lector cuántas horas hemos pasado investigando (afrontémoslo, nadie nos va a reconocer ni pagar todo ese tiempo en bibliotecas, museos, preguntando a expertos o frente a la pantalla del ordenador). Consolémonos pensando que la documentación, a parte de darle un sabor único a nuestras palabras, (pero que sea sútil, como la sal en la cocina) nos convierte en expertos de cosas insospechadas (Humanistas, si queréis, como Leonardo Da Vinci). Yo podría escribir ahora ensayos sobre las transfusiones de sangre en el siglo XVIII o las sangrientas batallas de la Revolución Jacobita en Escocia… o diseccionar y hasta embalsamar un cadáver. Nada mejor que la escritura para sorprenderse a una misma.

Como apunte final, la documentación no tiene por qué ser algo agobiante que nos quite las ganas de coger el borrador. Generalmente yo empiezo investigando un poco lo que me interesa para la historia en sí, y este es un proceso constante, a cuenta gotas, que se puede extender hasta la etapa de la edición. Una vez más, creo que es importante recordar que documentarse sirve para completar la historia pero nunca ha de ser más importante que esta.

2. Borrador(es).
La parte más divertida. ¡A escribir! Una vez. Y dos. Y tres. Suelo perder la cuenta de los borradores que hago de cada capítulo, pero la verdad es que siempre me divierto igual. En mi caso,  funciona mejor olvidarme de editar y saltar directamente a la historia. El subconsciente siempre me ayuda a encontrar nuevas y estimulantes conexiones, así que en esta estapa puedo escribir a cualquier hora del día, con la mente clara o bajo la influencia de sustancias misteriosas… todo vale mientras me lo esté pasando bien. Hablé más de cómo muerdo la hoja en blanco en este post.

3. Edición. Soy una persona inquieta y torpe (no sé cómo no me he despeñado ya por las Highlands o el Lake District a estas alturas, la verdad), así que esta etapa del proceso creativo solía ser la más odiada. Sí, tengo amigos escritores que la disfrutan enormemente, pero yo no soy una de ellos. Esta es también la razón por la que no me haría especial ilusión trabajar en una editorial (aunque ahora mismo trabajaría hasta limpiando váteres, la verdad).

No obstante, escribir en inglés me ha hecho entender que editar un texto no es solo esencial, sino también muy estimulante. Editar es muy diferente a escribir borradores. En el primer caso busco cantidad y expansión. En el segundo, me convierto en una escultora: tengo que mirar la roca deforme (conjunto de todas mis palabras apelotonadas tras los diversos borradores) para comprender la verdadera y armónica forma de mi proyecto… y si tengo la suerte de percibirla, entonces extraigo a cincelazo limpio lo que sobra, que suele ser mucho (la última novella que edité empezó teniendo casi noventa páginas y ha acabado con a penas cincuenta… ups). Ver como la historia va al fin cobrando forma, es una sensación muy placentera, como ordenar y ventilar una habitación caótica.

¿Cómo conseguir que no nos agobie el proceso de edición? En mi caso, el consejo de mi profesora, Zoe Lambert, fue fundamental. Primero, termina la obra. No puedo editar una historia si no puedo verla en perspectiva, con todo incluído. Luego, edita por capas, o corremos el riesgo de quedarnos por siempre en la primera página, ahogadas en un mar de frustraciones e insatisfacción. Si edito pensando en que todo tiene que ser perfecto, obviamente nunca voy a terminar. (La perfección no existe, entre otras cosas, aunque como artista me sigue costando asumirlo). Pero si agarro el manuscrito pensando que solo voy a editar aspectos concretos (los personajes, la trama, o la cronología de la historia, el lenguaje… etc.) la tarea se torna un poco más sencilla.

La edición se alarga hasta ese instante en el que sientes que quieres masacrar a todos tus personajes para luego ir a meter la cabeza en el horno. Nunca vamos a estar satisfechos con nuestros retoños creativos (asumámoslo) pero cuando la energía del proyecto se agota, es mejor dejarlo ir. Entonces llega el temido momento en el que deja de ser tuyo y pasa a ser también de todos aquellos lectores tan majos que quieren dedicar su tiempo a leer tus palabras. Es el momento también de tragarse las lágrimas (cuando le dedicas tanto tiempo a algo es duro admitir que se ha terminado) y empezar a pensar en cosas nuevas. A no ser que seas Joyce Carol Oates y escribas el primer borrador de una novela mientras editas la anterior (tengo que probarlo alguna vez, parece terriblemente difícil pero entretenido.)

¿Planificáis a la hora de escribir?
¿Disfrutáis al editar o es una tortura?

¡Nos leemos el siguiente viernes!