Perfect Timing – Halloween Flash Fiction

Perfect Timing

I waited. Her hand paused above the simmering cauldron. A bubble burst, spraying green liquid into the air. It landed on the ground with an ominous hiss.

‘What’s in it for me?’ The torchlight flickered, shadows dancing amongst the skulls that lined the cave.

 ‘I can get you into the underworld.’ 

She snorted. ‘The underworld?’ The spoon began to stir with a flick of her hand. ‘You can do that but don’t have the stomach to kill someone yourself?’ 

‘I’m looking for something that only you can do. I’ve heard you make a potion that has… explosive qualities.’ 

She cackled. ‘One vial of this will bring about a death as gruesome as anyone could wish for. It has served me well over the years.’ The skulls peered out of the darkness in agreement. ‘In fact, I used up my the last of my stores just a few days ago.’ She gestured to a skull on a nearby table, the last remnants of flesh clinging to its jaw. I grimaced.

Forcing myself to look away, I noted the bubbling liquid was darkening, bright green giving way to a thick, inky blue. 

‘Is it ready?’ I asked. 

‘Almost. It must be bound at exactly the right moment – with blood. Leave it too late and… well.’ 

She fixed her black eyes on mine. ‘Someone must have done something terrible to you.’

I met her gaze steadily. ‘I would be lying if I said I wasn’t looking for revenge. But I think I would be doing the world a favour too.’

‘How noble.’ She scowled. ‘So tell me how, exactly, you are going to get me into the underworld?’

‘Well… I’ve been there myself.’ I said. ‘Unexpectedly, I’ll admit. But I think I can point you in the right direction.’

Her eyes flickered towards the cauldron, which was starting to tremor. 

‘Ah, perfect timing.’ She cackled again, this time with a sharp edge. ‘You strike an impossible bargain. There’s only one way into the underworld. Fortunately, you do have something I need.’ She grinned. ‘My potion must be bound, and as you’re here…’

Her dagger was flying towards my heart before I had time to blink. 

It sailed through my body, hitting the wall with a clang.  

She gawped at me. 

I grinned. 

Being a ghost had its perks.

After all, we’d been here before. I wasn’t offended that she didn’t remember me, even though my decomposing skull was sitting on her table. Nor had she remembered revealing her ability to perfectly time the potion’s binding with gleeful pride – just before she’d thrown her knife and killed me. 

That’s how I knew if I could distract her for just long enough… 

She looked from me to the rattling cauldron in horror. 

Perfect timing. 

Unbound and furious, the potion erupted, and the witch’s final shriek was drowned by an explosion of dark, oozing liquid and a roaring hiss. 

Looks like I got her into the underworld after all.


I am absolutely thrilled that this story won a place in the ‘Alone in a Room with Invisible People‘ Podcast’s Halloween Special. It is read aloud by Mark Hermann, who does an incredible job – especially at bringing the witch to life! If you want to listen, you can find ‘Perfect Timing’ at the 75:24 mark.

Happy Halloween!



Five years later…

Wow. Ok. So.

Here I am, five years after I wrote my last post.

It’s weird coming back. When I read my old posts, I get a little ache in my heart. I’m such a different person now to who I was then.

Over the last five years, I’ve done bits of writing here and there. I attempted NaNoWriMo three times (finished twice, failed once), and although I promised myself I would, I never kept up the momentum. I was very much a ‘someday’ person: ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’, ‘I’ll start next month.’ But lately, I’ve realised that if I don’t do this now, I won’t ever do it. That, and the approach of my 30th birthday, has made me realise the dress rehearsal of life is done. Shit’s getting real.

I’ve made myself feel a bit weird, writing that. But I don’t mean it in a bad way. I am so much more ‘who I am’ now than I was when I was 23, and I don’t think I could have written what I want to write five years ago. In fact, I know I couldn’t (I might say the same thing again in another five years… but that’s ok).

So, I’m here. Last week, I finished my first ever flash fiction story (thanks to Holly Lisle’s brilliant How to Write Flash Fiction that Doesn’t Suck’ class). And when I say finished, I mean the drafted, revised, read by other people, revised again, polished kind of finished. Who am I? I’ve got four 500 word stories on the go. Who am I?

Tonight, I have written 450 words towards my current WIP, and then this blog post. WHO AM – no, just kidding. I think it is important to acknowledge that, and to feel good about it. It would be far too easy to slope off to bed, plug into my phone and fall asleep without really congratulating myself. Any amount of words on the page is worth celebrating, if you have sat down and tried. Sometimes it comes easily, sometimes not so much.

Part of me wonders if I should start a new blog, or if I should just carry on here. I’m not sure yet, but I am glad to be back on Melissa’s Compass for now.



Loughrigg Tarn and Sleeping in a Barn


Last night I slept in a barn. It is not the first time I have done this, nor will it (I suspect) be the last. 

There are a few barns around the Lake District which have been converted into great places to stay if you are looking for somewhere cheap with room for lots of people, and over the years my friends and I have spent several long weekends living in the wilderness. Some of these barns have luxuries like hot water and electricity; some of them have nothing at all except a few candles and a roof over your head. Some are in the middle of nowhere, found after traversing miles of rugged tracks, with no other buildings to be seen. And, for me, those are the best kind. 

Staying the night in a place like that gives me such great detail to include in my writing. As my characters to tend to frequent mountainous areas, they often stay in old barn-like places, or camp out beneath the stars. And what better way to know what this is like than to do it yourself? 

Last night as I lay in my sleeping bag, I made a note of all the little details (after all, there is no rest for the writer!): the cobwebs, the sounds from outside, how when the sun went down the air was suddenly cold, the smell of the old dusty barn,Then, when the lights went out, I noticed how dark it was. 

Imagination is a powerful thing, and can dream up details and sensations we could have never known otherwise. But sometimes, you just have to live it. And with places like this in the world, who wouldn’t want to? The photos below were taken on a walk around Loughrigg Tarn, and it was BEAUTIFUL. 

IMG_2546 IMG_2556














IMG_2619About two seconds later, the grey one headbutted the one at the back and ran off (you can kind of see it coming). Sheep drama. 


How to Write Without Writing: Tackling the Blank Page

You might be reading this thinking one of two things:

1. Whoever wrote this blog post is a deluded fool. You can’t write without writing!


If you went with number one, well, yes, you are technically right. But still, for the number twos, all is not lost!

In this post, I’ll be talking about writing in the same sense as ‘working’. For when you are an author, those two things are, more often than not, one and the same. So, I am going to suggest a few ways for you to make writing feel less like work, for those days when the blank page struggle is real!

It is a truth universally acknowledged that all writers struggle with the blank page. We all have stared at the expectant, unforgiving white square of doom and felt despair, rage, or even complete numbness. Sometimes, I wake up on my day off, full of joy and eagerness that I have some free time to write, but as soon as I sit down in front of my laptop I am hit by a wave of apathy so devastating it is all I can do to keep my mouth shut to stop me from drooling. Why? WHY?

Ok yes, I admit, I can be just plain lazy. But many, many other times, there is more to it than that. We are not always being lazy, and berating ourselves for it won’t help get the words out. So how do you write, without writing? In other words, how do you stay creative, motivated, and get some thoughts out of your head, without having to face down the blank page?

1. Use a different colour paper

Yes, it really can be as simple as that. A nice little blue piece of paper won’t set the sloth alarm off quite as severely as the white one that your brain has evolved to hate will. Or, if not a different colour, how about a different type? Who doesn’t love a fancy piece of parchment-like paper? It’s too nice NOT to write on! Just let your thoughts flow through your pen and, before you know it, that blank page won’t be so blank anymore.


2. Give yourself some time to think

This is as simple as sitting down and letting your mind wander into your story, thinking of scenes, characters, plot ideas… You can get lost in your world and dream up some great ideas along the way. Never feel guilty about taking time to think about your story. Without thinking, there would be no writing!

BUT – heed this warning: do NOT lay down. You WILL fall asleep. I am notorious for heading off to a quiet corner, innocently telling everyone ‘I’m just thinking about my book’, before being found an hour later completely out of it. Don’t let the sloth demon get you (for if you do it’s off to the Fade with you). Use this time well. I do this, and sometimes, I feel so inspired and fired up at the end I just HAVE to write it all out. And then it doesn’t feel like writing at all.

270px-SlothDemon (A Sloth Demon from Dragon Age: Origins. Just imagine that coming to get you when you next feel tempted to snooze)

3. Listen to music

This is one of my favourite methods, and has been for many, many years. It has produced some of my most treasured scenes, without me writing out a single word (although getting it down on paper does have to come later, of course). In fact, I have used this method so much I can’t listen to a single piece of music without my mind trying to fit it in with my story (which can be weird when the likes of Nikki Minaj comes on the radio).

All you have to do, is listen to the music, and try and relate it to part of your story. Is it a cheery song? Could it be the soundtrack to your character’s happiest moment? Is it a haunting, sad, bittersweet melody that brings a tragic incident of the past to light? Even if you can’t think of anything straight away, just listen. Often the music will write a scene for you, and you can sit back and watch. This is fundamental muse territory!

If you’d like somewhere to start, look up Two Steps from Hell. They are known for their ‘epic’ music which is just amazing to listen to, especially for fantasy writers. (People also say you should listen to this music whilst playing computer games, because it makes you feel like a boss.)

Of course, the music you listen to depends entirely on your personal tastes. You are more likely to connect your story with music which you actually like, after all. But I would advise you to be open to other genres – you never know what you might find to inspire you.


When I’m feeling stuck, I try one of these three methods, and they don’t let me down. Afterwards, I am ready to write, and barely even notice the blank page when I begin.

There’s no escaping the fact that, eventually, you just have to grit your teeth and WRITE. And my suggestions are by no means supposed to help you avoid writing at all. What they can do, however, is give your mind some time to wander and give you a running jump over the initial hurdle of the terrible blank page. If you go to it feeling inspired, with a starting point ready made in your mind, you can write without feeling like you are writing at all.

How do you banish the blank page blues? Do you have a way of writing without actually writing?

Excuses, excuses

Does anyone ever get that feeling, when they’ve been away from their blog for a REALLY long time, and know they have been away for a really long time, and get scared to log back in for some strange, inexplicable reason so stay away even longer?

Please tell me its not just me.

Anyway, weirdness aside, I suppose I did have quite a good excuse…


Yes, the last couple of months have been a bit of a blur, and in deference to my day job, invitation making, wine ordering, dress fitting, flower finding and all other things wedding, my poor little blog has gone completely ignored. Excuses, excuses, you say. I would have too, but its funny how a wedding that seems like a year and a half away can suddenly creep up on you. And creep it did.

ANYWAY, I plucked up the courage to log back onto my blog today and here I am. Nothing terrible happened. No one was there, waiting to shout at me, and tell me what I massive fail I am for not keeping up with my blogging. So now I’m over that major hurdle, I can get back to what matters – WRITING!

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and well, if my little blog feels ignored, then my poor novel must feel like it has dropped off the face of the earth. For six months now it has lain almost untouched, which was never my intention (see previous post, written by hopeful self). Yet this can only be a good thing, surely? The fresh eye that all writers talk about, where you view each word with a clear mind and new perspective – surely this is what I have gained during the time my brain was clouded by wedding fog? SURELY?

Well, we shall soon see. Now that I have cleared that wonderful all-encompassing major life event from my schedule, I can get back to spending all my spare time working on my beloved. I have to say, it’s a great feeling! (As long as I don’t get too scared to open the word document!)

Anyway, here are a few little pictures of wedding things that took up a lot of time (to prove that weddings are serious stuff people). It’s a lot of fun though, and you can be wonderfully creative if you try!

Come Back to What You Know

Well, it’s been a while!

I have recently started working full time again, and (funnily enough!) my writing has somewhat slipped over the last few weeks.

Yep, it is back to reality for me. My draft has remained untouched since I finished it just before Christmas. Yes, my characters still occupy my mind and I still think about my story all the time, but recently the thought of putting pen to paper has just been a little bit too overwhelming for me.

Well, enough of that. I’ve given myself a month to get settled into my new role, to get used to the workload and the commute (a beautiful commute through the Cumbrian mountains, but still). It’s time to pull myself together and get back to doing what I love.

Starting after the weekend, I am going to spend 30 minutes each evening work on my novel. Yes, it is a small amount of time, but is something I am going to build upon. Hopefully, this time spent will be short and sweet, and make me want to do more.

I’ll let you know how it goes next week!

How do you fit your writing in around work? Do you have a routine, or just fit it in where you can?

The World of Worldbuilding: Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day


Sounds like a big deal, doesn’t it? And yes. Yes it is.

Worldbuilding is one of the most exciting parts about writing. Who hasn’t spent hours and hours lost in research, bringing their own cultures to life, designing weapons and cities and weird animals and distant lands? It’s a vital part to novel writing, and at times a very useful form of procrastination.

Worldbuilding can also be difficult, daunting, and at times can even seem impossible. When I sit down in front of the dreaded blank page, and think: I need a city, a race, a culture, my brain says ‘erm no’ and scuttles away, leaving me staring vacantly at the wall.

I struggle with the vast unknown that comes with worldbuilding, as I like to know everything immediately. When I start a new job, I hate not knowing what to do in every situation. When I start a new computer game, I hate not knowing how all the controls work, and where the best stuff is. Like we all do in some way or another, I find the ‘unknown’ rather uncomfortable. When it came to writing, I would begin a chapter, and then think: ‘Well I can’t write anymore because I don’t know what that is, or what they should be wearing, or what happened ten years ago’.

So I have found that worldbuilding is tough. I used to get incredibly frustrated when my world did not reveal itself to me immediately as a perfectly formed, fully populated land with centuries of history somehow all relevant to my story. Don’t laugh. Well, ok, you can laugh a bit. I know that might sound ridiculous to some, but that was back when I lacked true appreciation for what worldbuilding is.

The key is in the name. ‘Worldbuilding.’ You are creating something from scratch that no one else knows about, and it’s secrets lie somewhere in the depths of your mind, and your mind alone. It is a ginormous blob of the ‘unknown’. Yet that is the beauty of worldbuilding! You take that blob and you play with it, ask it questions, talk to it, examine it, look at it from every angle, and your world will reveal itself to you as you go along, over days, weeks, months or even years. Give your world time to grow, and it will become layered, rich, fascinating and most importantly, real.

There are a lot of great articles and advice out there by writers who have successfully built many worlds. I have spent quite a bit of time taking in and using all this advice, all to my benefit. I’ve learned a great deal from Holly Lisle, a  sci-fi/fantasy author who has created some brilliant workshops and courses that offer great approaches to worldbuilding (check out Holly’s website, there is some amazing stuff there). I really recommend you spend some time soaking up the advice of such writers, as while everyone works differently, they do offer invaluable advice to the inexperienced and sometimes even the experienced world builder.

This year one of my goals is to work on the world of my current WIP, so I suspect I will be writing a few more posts about worldbuilding in the near future.

How do you find worldbuilding? Do you have any methods you like to use?

A Walk in the Park

Hello there!

Yesterday I went to the local park – one of my favourite places to walk. I have a new camera and wanted to try it in the great outdoors (well, the park isn’t exactly extreme wilderness, but you know what I mean). Anyway, it was a beautiful, crisp winter’s day, and I thought I would share some photos with you. I hope you enjoy them!

Here I am, trundling along in my giant parka (the best coat ever). 



My tree friend. Just look at his happy face!



Trees beyond the river. 



The end of the path. 



The castle ruins in the fading sun. 




2014: My Goals for the New Year

Happy New Year!


At Christmas I was given a personalised ‘Melissa’s Compass’ – the official compass for this blog!

Anyway, in the spirit of the new year, new directions and new opportunities, here are my goals for 2014:

1. Edit my novel

Now that the first draft is complete, I am ready to begin editing. I’ve read a lot about how difficult editing is, and from my own experience (mostly through university essays) I do know it can be a very hard task. Yet I am looking forward to editing. I’ve left my novel for a good few weeks now and I’m increasingly yearning to get back to work, and I think I’ve given the draft enough time to rest. I know there is a LOT of work to be done but I can’t wait to begin. 

2. Continue world building

 I’ve done a great deal of world building for my novel already, but I really want to spend some time solidifying everything, bringing all the information together in one accessible place. (I have visions of a beautiful large tome, bound in leather, the title printed in gold… but in reality my encyclopedia will consist of several lever arch files – not so glamorous). I aim to go through all my notes and bring everything together, expanding on the details I have already created. That means maps. Lots and LOTS of maps!

3. Experiment with different writing styles and genres

In the later half of 2013 I began to write a few short stories and poems, and consequently pushed beyond my comfort zone. Most of these were a result of the Walk Watch Write Challenge, which I completed in December. With each one, I felt more confident as a writer, and I hope this will continue with further work.

4. Go walking more often

I live near the Lake District, and can see Skiddaw from outside my house. I haven’t been fell walking for a few months now, and my boots are getting dusty. This is unacceptable (think Lemongrab), so I am determined to get back on the hills for some winter walks. 

That’s it!

I hope 2014 is a great year for you, whatever it may bring. 

What are your New Year’s resolutions? Do you have any writing goals for this year?

Just Keep Writing

‘The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.’ – Terry Pratchett

I have completed the first draft of my novel!

As I wrote ‘The End’, and then ‘To be Continued’ because I did not like the finality of the former, (plus this novel is part of a planned series) I felt like I was dreaming. I kept thinking, ‘write a little more, write just a bit more’ because I could not believe the moment had finally arrived!

I know this is not truly the end. I have so, SO much editing to do, and probably several re-writes. But this year my goal was to get my story down in some kind of complete form, from beginning to end, and that I have done.

As I’ve mentioned in a couple of other posts, at first I struggled with my writing, feeling each day that it was not good enough. It was only around August/September that I realised that I just had to keep writing, no matter how bad I thought it was. I do think it can sometimes take a while to truly believe this, as we writers put so much time, imagination and dedication into our creations, it is frustrating when perfection does not appear on the page the first time we let our ideas come tumbling from our heads. It certainly took me long enough!

The quote above was one I turned back to again and again whenever the doubt came creeping in. I tried to write around 2000 words a day, sometimes I got more, sometimes I got less. But as my word count crept up, that distant dream of reaching ‘The End’ became closer and closer to reality.

I am going to take a break from my draft now, as many writers advise, and come back to it with a fresh mind in a little while. I can’t stop thinking about it still, but I’m going to try and give it some space to breathe, before I attack it with my editing weaponry in the New Year.

So my advice to you, is to just keep writing. Don’t look back. Once I got going, I rarely did, other than to remind myself where I’d stopped the day before. Sometimes, when I did read over my work, I was pleasantly surprised. Other times, I could only laugh. But I don’t believe a single word of this draft is wasted, as every step has helped me become a better writer.

Everyone is different, and certain methods work for some and not others. There are many writers who edit as they go along, some who never do, or some work both ways. You just have to find the way that works for you.

If you have written before, you may already know how it feels to battle through the unknown, page after page. If you haven’t, then do not let that nasty inner critic tell you that chapter is pointless, that character is boring or the plot has gone to pieces. Yes, not every story works out, not every character survives the final cut, but you never know until you try. Every mistake you make and every lesson you learn helps you become better and better at what you love: your writing.

How do you write your first drafts? Do you write without looking back, or edit as you go?