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04 March 2021

#WriteCBC tip and task from Cynthia Murphy

Cynthia Murphy, author
by Jennifer Kerslake Events, Writing Tips

Welcome to our March edition of #WriteCBC. I hope it’s bright and sunny where you are – it does seem that we’ve been treated to the beginnings of spring this week, with the daffodils, primroses and crocuses emerging after what has felt like a very long winter. I hope you’re feeling positive and inspired – and ready for a new writing challenge! If you haven’t taken part before, we’re delighted to have you join our writing community – and you can quickly get up to speed by reading this blog with information about how to play. It’s a lot of fun, and you might just win a free place on one of our six-week online writing courses.

And now, after welcoming you with the promise of sunshine and flowers, this month’s #WriteCBC is going to take you along a darker, twistier path! Our special guest for March is the wonderful Cynthia Murphy. Cynthia studied on our Writing YA & Children’s Fiction course in 2015, found representation with Curtis Brown’s Stephanie Thwaites, and landed a two-book deal with Scholastic. Her first novel Last One to Die has been described as a voice-driven whodunnit reminiscent of Scream and Urban Legend. It’s the story of 16-year-old Niamh who arrives in London for the summer to discover that girls are being attacked who look frighteningly similar to her. When her drama course sends her to test her skills at the Victorian Museum, she begins to feel uneasy and realises things might not be as they seem… Dark and irresistibly creepy, with a supernatural twist, Cynthia’s novel will keep you guessing until the very end!

So, yes, here we go, be brave and eyes down, writers…

Cynthia’s writing tip:

When I want to write something shocking/scary, I often think ‘how can I take a mundane situation and turn it into a horrible one?’ Then I make it worse… Taking a familiar situation & flipping it on its head will grab your reader’s attention.

This is the ideal tip to come from Cynthia, who is brilliant at subverting the reader’s expectations with a terrifying twist!

Read this extract from Last One to Die and note how Cynthia draws on the senses to create suspense and place us right there on the escalator with Niamh. What do you feel after reading the piece? Are there elements that intrigue or frighten you? What questions are running through your mind? What makes you want to read on? 

The long, clunking escalator plummets into the depths, below the surface of the earth, where no one will find me. Jesus, I need to stop this, put the brakes on my overactive imagination. I hurry down the gliding steps and realize I’ve underestimated the height of this thing, I can barely see the bottom. I really hope there are other people waiting for trains down there.

I’m halfway down when the lights go out.

My head jerks back as the escalator jolts suddenly, stopping in its tracks. I struggle to see my hand in front of my face until my eyes adjust to the little emergency light, way down at the bottom of the handrail. I try to focus on it, but it’s there one minute and gone the next, replaced with darkness. Or a shadow.

I hear it then, from below me. The scraping of metal on metal. As though someone is dragging something sharp across the sides of the escalator. It’s excruciating. The sound tears through the silence and I could swear it’s getting closer. The darkness is closing in on me and I realize.

Someone is on the escalator with me.

I flash back to every stupid kung fu film my dad has ever made me watch and grip the rubber handrails either side of me, push down on my arms and blindly launch both legs out in front of me.

Nothing. My feet drop, clunking back on to the metal step. I pause, trying to breathe as quietly as I possibly can. The only sound now is my heart beating at my eardrums. Until a long, slow scratch sounds on the metal panel directly in front of me.

Nonononono. I take a deep breath.

Not today, Satan.

Cynthia’s writing tip:

The situation is mundane: cooking, gardening, cycling or shopping. But something isn’t quite what it seems. Write us a mini-scene that appears ordinary but is uncanny or strange – where something mysterious or unexpected may happen.

We’d love you to write us a little tweet-length scene that kicks off from Cynthia’s prompt. It’s important to place us at the heart of things – we want to know what’s going on and why everything is not as straightforward or ordinary as it initially appears. You might like to create an atmosphere dripping in tension as a platform for a supernatural happening, or perhaps you want to show us another side to a character by having them act in a surprising way.  

A little hint for you: we’re not asking you to write the most shocking, horrifying or grotesque thing you can imagine! The uncanny can be more about discomfort than fear. We want you to use your imagination to subvert our expectations, to hint at something mysterious or unforeseen. This could be a monster under the bed, but it could also be quite subtle, for example a police officer cycling past a robbery, or a father and daughter gardening at midnight. Take us into their world, show us what they’re doing and why.

Readers might feel cheated if you toy with their emotions or play a cheap trick for thrills, so do focus on your characters – make them believable so we go along with the story when something strange happens. Think about how you would react in a startling situation, or if someone you’ve known for ever does something you don’t expect. And remember, the ability to flip a situation on its head and surprise readers should not be reserved only for thriller and horror writers. Often an unexpected twist in the tale is precisely what keeps readers interested in your characters and turning the pages, desperate to find out what happens next.

Whatever story you decide to tell us, have fun making the familiar unfamiliar. Show us something that feels real even though it isn’t quite right. We can’t wait to read your tweets!

This month’s winner is… Jess @thgreencreative:

‘This one looks fresh, not as old as the others?’

‘No, look at that bruise. Clearly been battered before it was harvested.’

I rummage around the so-called Finest selection, and grimace. So many lumps, bumps, imperfections. How hard can it be to find a blemish-free body?

The twist in this mundane scene of picking produce is so well executed, it made us want to read on and discover more about the story and the strange dystopian world our protagonist is in.

Jess has won a free place on the six-week creative-writing course of her choice!

Well done to our runners-up! 

@AODWriting and @littlewritespac each win a £50 discount to be used on the six-week creative writing course of their choice. 

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