28 November 2022
Alex Davis, the organiser of WM's online supernatural fiction conference,outlines the key takeaways for writers
With Winter Haunts fading away to a ghost in our memories, I wanted to make a final visitation to the event with a look back at some of the key things that we learned from the event. So let’s delve into some of the main things to take away from the day for any aspiring supernatural and ghost story authors…
1) Persistence is key
In the day’s very first interview, author AM Shine set the tone with his story of getting published – and how he was on the verge of giving up when his big break finally came. Sarah Waters was also keen to pick up on that thread, describing her time of ‘dispiriting rejections’ prior to the publication of Tipping The Velvet. And that concept haunted the whole day – if you want to reach your target as a writer, whatever that might be, you have to be in for the long haul.
2) Read widely
It’s probably no surprise that many of our authors referred to some of the masters of the ghost story and horror more broadly, but there was a striking thread throughout – you need to read beyond that too. Much can be learned of tension from crime novels, how to develop the past evocatively from historical fiction and use of language and word choice from poetry. Don’t stop at just ghost stories – branch out to other areas and you can learn a lot as a writer to help you.
3) Plot and plan your way
There’s a veritable smorgasbord of advice out there on how to plan your stories – but what was obvious in interview after interview is that there was nothing standard, and authors ranged from very explorative discovery writing to very tight development of ideas and plot points. None of those things is wrong – it’s a question of what works for you and what gets the results.
4) The power of place
It’s no surprise that a great location is important to a ghost story, and it was striking how many authors throughout the day talked about either their home towns or places they had been. Both Carole Johnstone and AM Shine picked up particularly on the places they lived as having the right feel and atmosphere, and the concept of place was a key starting point for Stephen Volk’s Dark Masters Trilogy, with each story in the book named after a place. So if you’re looking for some spooky inspiration – get out there and go somewhere to find it!
5) Call upon the past
You could look at ghosts as something that are inexorably connected to the past, and as such ghost stories are often observed to call upon it. But it can be more specific than that, and many successful novels in the field are drawing upon particular myths and old stories as their genesis. Look back to folklore and legends, and locations with strong links to history, and you might just find your route into your next ghost story.
Read more from speculative fiction expert Alex Davis with this advice on how to write a really good ghost story