Seaflower Institute

A ridiculously talented friend of mine, Ele Marr, has started her own blog on WordPress – the Seaflower Institute.

Unlike my haphazard, what-the-hell style of blogging, Ele’s actually themed her blog and it looks amazing, you guys. Seaflower Institute is an organisation dedicated to hunting monsters and researching the Occult.  Set in a spooky universe full of mandrakes, Creeping Dreads and soul thieves, the blog keeps accounts of all the spooky animals, plants and artifacts the Seaflower Institute encounters.

This adorable critter is called a Lingering Horror.  The account sounds terrifying but I still want one.  Or ten.  D’awww.

Every account is written in character, by a cast that grows with each entry.  The blog’s still in early days right now, so there’s plenty of time to catch up and get to grips with the universe and characters before it’s chock full of entries.

After four years together at uni, Ele’s used to me gushing over her every creation, but she needs more people to gush over her, too.  If you like weird, half-horror, half-humour like Welcome to Night Vale, SCP Foundation and X Files, definitely check this out.

How to Motivate Yourself (with Bribery)

My steampunk novel is currently in the hands of Serious Professionals (GULP!), which means I can either twiddle my thumbs to stubs waiting anxiously, or distract myself by writing something else.  I choose distraction.

It’s been a while since I worked on a first draft of a book, and while it’s super good fun when everything flows beautifully, it’s awful when nothing flows, and I feel like I’m hacking at my characters with an icepick, screaming ‘PLEASE DO WHAT YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO!’ like an exasperated mother.  I try to write every day, but this weekend felt like pulling teeth.

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Today, however, I did over 2,000 words.  Not a world record by any stretch, but far more than I’ve managed for the last three days.

How did I manage it?

Bribery.

In important interviews, I like to say that I’m very self-motivated.  This is, technically, true.  However, what it ultimately translates to is ‘I’m very good at bribing myself to do things I don’t really want to.’

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At school, I used to turn on my Gamecube and fire up Twilight Princess, and then do my coursework to the background noise of the pause menu.  If I finished a page, I could play for ten minutes.  All my coursework got done on time, and Twilight Princess was the first Zelda game I ever completed.  At uni, I binged through Community by allowing myself  one episode for every twenty minutes of essay writing I completed.

And now?  Now I use friendship bracelets.

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It’s got to be a cool hobby if Mr. Obama does it.

Those little plaited threads are weirdly addictive.  I feel like everyone else learned to do them in the playground at school – or at summer camp, if you’re American – but I only picked up the hobby this year, and I can’t seem to stop.  I have a friendship bracelet for every outfit, in every colour.

This just goes to show, you can motivate yourself to do anything – even write 2,000 words when it feels like banging your head against a wall – if you have something to bribe yourself with.

Welcome to Nightvale: A Novel

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A copy of this turned up in our new books delivery at the library, and I turned into one of those seagulls from Finding Nemo in about two seconds flat.

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I’ve been a fan of Welcome to Night Vale since its early days.  For the uninitiated, Night Vale first appeared as an online podcast, each episode following Cecil Palmer, local radio host, and his descriptions of the events in the spooky desert town of Night Vale – where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and every night strange lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep.

After following five years’ worth of episodes about Night Vale, when the creators announced a book, I was actually pretty sceptical.  Welcome to Night Vale has a very specific tone, its language carefully crafted to give just enough detail to keep you intrigued, and yet remain vague enough to be deeply unsettling.  A lot of this is carried across by Cecil Palmer’s low, melodious voice – zipping quickly from a dread-inspiring near-monotone for the spooky moments to upbeat chipperness for Night Vale’s weird sense of humour.  (Kudos to the actor, Cecil Baldwin, for that.  Yes, they are both called Cecil.  That’s only the start of the oddness of Night Vale.)

WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE by Vasheren

(Artwork by Vasheren on DeviantArt.)

No way, I thought, can they pull that off in a book.

Man, I was wrong.  The Welcome to Night Vale book pulls off the exact tone of the Night Vale podcasts, expanding massively on the world of Night Vale and giving us a chance to see from the perspective of people that, until now, really only existed as secondary characters in Cecil’s stories (and man, Cecil can be a really unreliable narrator).  Plenty of favourites show up in the series, from Old Woman Josie to The Man In the Tan Jacket to Carlos the Scientist, without feeling like they’re awkwardly crammed in place for fanservice.

I was stunned at how fast the plot seemed to go in Welcome to Night Vale: a Novel, ripping me through one chapter after another and keeping me questioning the whole time.  This is especially impressive since the plot of Welcome to Night Vale: the Podcast is often … well, glacial.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s fascinating, but in comparison the novel felt like a mile-a-minute thriller.

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If I could find one flaw in the Welcome to Night Vale novel, it’s this: it’s not meant for new fans.  It’s packaged and advertised and presented as a way to get into the series for the first time, but I really, strongly recommend you don’t start with this book.

When Carlos appeared, a massive grin hit my face.  But to someone unfamiliar with the series, Carlos is a nonentity.  There are references to the forbidden dog park; the old woman who secretly lives in your home; the vast dark planet of thick black forests and jagged mountains and deep, turbulent oceans – which seem utterly random and pointless without the context of the podcast.

My advice?  Listen to the podcast first.  It can take a few episodes to get the hang of its bizarre tone and content, but it’s worth it.  The whole series is on Youtube for free, so you don’t need to spend a penny giving it a try, and it’s great background noise for doing the washing up / ironing / cleaning out the hamsters.  When you’re caught up – or at least coming to the end of the 2015 season, which is when the book was released – then read the book.  You’ll get so much more out of it.

But if you are a fan of Welcome to Night Vale and you haven’t touched this book yet … for the love of the Glow Cloud, get yourself a copy.  You won’t regret it.

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