Tag Archives: Dumfries and Galloway

Fret For Your Prozac

My town needs a name.

All the while I’ve been writing this book I’ve never given the town itself anything like a name. It remains in my head something of a combination of my home town of Gretna and Pittenweem in Fife. These two places are separated by 150 miles or so in actual geographical terms but I’m taking the tourism and hotel bars of Gretna and mixing it with the harbour and seafront of Pittenweem. Whilst it works quite well as a slice of Scotland it seems odd that it doesn’t really have a sense of place yet due to lacking anything of a name.

I’ve been experimenting by coming up with a Scottish sounding place name and then Googling it to make sure it doesn’t exist. I haven’t found one so far.

I’m also thinking that the place name may also be the title of the book itself.

Tagged , , , , , ,

The Orange & The Mango

The first draft is done.

Those are words I’ve wanted to type for months on end concerning Order For Burning and finally I’ve made it. It’s a complete mess, a structure held together by sticky tape which needs kicked apart and rebuilt stronger and faster but it’s there, it exists and the hardest part is over.

Characters come and go, often without reason, the story wobbles from place to place with no apparent justification and historical accuracy takes a dive around page 40 and never comes back but these are things I can (and will) fix in the weeks ahead.

This is an odd mixture of happy and nervous.

Tagged , , , ,

A Design In Fragments

It hasn’t quite fully clicked yet, the story for ‘Order For Burning’ remains a little bit incomplete but I think I’ve got the characters down at least. This is good step forward for now at least. Hopefully by the end of today (if I can actually stop writing this) I’ll blaze the first five pages. As explained in previous entries of Howling In The Dark I usually set about writing the first five pages of any feature script before I’ve planned most of the long term stuff out. That way, when you finally do finish planning you’re not looking at a blank screen because you’ll have already got a head start. Also, the start of any project usually means the anxiety of where to go with this scene or how a character would say that line hasn’t yet kicked in. I go in dumb just wanting the first five minutes to be brilliant. If it grips me and wants me to write the rest then, in theory, the audience will be griped and want to know the rest.

Mind you, I’m speaking as a guy who has never had a feature script made. Bear that in mind before taking any of my advice seriously.

One major dilemma I’ve faced in the run up to getting ‘Order Of Burning’ off the ground has been the battle between sticking to historical detail and getting a good story. In the actual events as far as I can tell there were originally eleven women found guilty of witchcraft around Dumfries at the time. One killed herself in her cell and another, Helen Tait, somehow got away with it. She was never executed, only sentenced to fifty ‘merks’ and banished from the region never to return. The main question I would have is how she achieved this. How exactly did she defy the usual crowd mentality and live to tell the tale (assuming she’d want to go around telling people she was accused of being a witch after that, I’d probably assume she’d want to keep her head down)? The records are not greatly clear in giving any detail on what happened so I could use artistic license to fill in the blanks or strive to find out.

Helen is one of my main characters, simply on account of her surviving all this makes her very valuable to our story in that it won’t be just a case of everybody going to die. She is the hope, she is the exception to the rule and as such she is front and centre in the current plan. I’m picking another one of the group to concentrate on and stopping there as any more would be a major headache to keep balanced.

If that’s the story based most in the reality of the situation then I’m also writing my own characters into a parallel story concerning a young man being trained by the Church as a ‘prodder’ to extract confessions from suspects, usually by the means of torture. Obviously, at one point these two strands will almost certainly cross over.

If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to start a document file entitled ‘Order For Burning’ and stare at the screen for a few minutes.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Whispers In The Fog



It’s written on my left hand so I can see it all the time when I’m at my keyboard. Upon dropping my son off at school this morning I explained that I was driving through to Dumfries today to meet some friends so I can talk about witches with them. For a few minutes he thought his Dad was actually off to meet some witches. I assured him this was certainly not the case.

I met Kathleen and John from Mostly Ghostly which is always a pleasure. During our hour and a half conversation we started to piece together some basic structure on ‘Order For Burning’. Kathleen brought along her folder of information about the women who were burnt on the Whitesands in Dumfries on that day and many more. It’s something I really will have to sit with and digest over the next few nights. Even after that short time though there was something forming and taking shape, as ever at this early stage it’s whispers in the fog but it’s still there.

The three of us thought about how to present the story of this group of women and one question kept coming up again and again. Where is the hope? A feature film about these women being doomed and an audience just watching them go to their inevitable demise is no good, There needs to be some kind of hope, a small chink of light in the situation that these women might just be let off and people may just come to their senses. Of course, that’s never going to happen but for those who know nothing of the story the promise should be there. I need to find a way of introducing this.

And this friends, is why I like writing so much.

Tagged , , , , ,

Two Shoes In The Lake

The new draft of The Salesman’s Gamble went across to Holland a few nights ago. It’s reading much better, more rounded, better reasoned which means the ending is a genuine confrontation and not just a chance conversation. By making Ian a complete bastard who is willing to steal anything for money it’s given him more reason to go through with the coin toss at the end. Ian thinks in his arrogance that it’s easy picking, that he’s dealing with the ramblings of a old eccentric whom he’ll rob anyway. It ends up being nothing quite like that. We’ll see what they think of it especially as I have received no word back from Option 1 after the last email saying they had ideas for the story but wanted to know if anybody else was reading it before they continued. Despite sending one back saying ‘Okay, let’s go’ there’s been not a word uttered for a month.

Whilst this is being considered my mind goes to other projects, including one which might still only be in the very early planning stages but is gaining pace. You might remember me blogging a short while ago about the Dumfries Ghost Walk with Mostly Ghostly. The conclusion of the tour takes place by the banks of the River Nith, detailing the 1659 Witch Trials of Dumfries in which nine women were killed due to being accused of practising witchcraft. Although the evidence for this was fairly non-existent the people were encouraged by the Church to bring these people to their attention regardless. There were actually people trained to use instruments of torture to extract confessions from those the Church suspected, it was taken that seriously. I thought to myself, whilst I listen to the team describe this event in all the gory detail, that it would make a good film if it was done right.

Witch trial

A couple of years pass and the group put out a tweet a couple of months ago to commemorate the anniversary. I reply by reiterating that it would indeed make a good film if somebody was to write it. It would be a hard sell however as historical movies  I thought more about it at the time and came to the conclusion that perhaps that somebody should be me.  Historical movies are a hard sell to begin with, even more so with a historical event which very few people know about and I was on the verge of thinking it wasn’t going to be a great idea. Then I started thinking it could be a good story and does represent something of a challenge in that I’ve never tackled real life events at all, only ever making stories from scratch. I’m also scratching my head about how to tackle the dialogue itself. It’s painfully problematic to fall into the ‘lo’ and ‘art thou?’ samples of speech so it’s something that I’ll need to research a heck of a lot to get right.

These are all good problems to have though and it’s the solving of these that makes me enjoy writing scripts so much (as much as I might sometimes be chewing walls trying to find an answer sometimes). The first thing I require however is an ‘in point’ and somewhere to start the story from. Having nine main characters would be a slight case of storyline suicide so it may well be a case or narrowing it down slightly. In order to find this entrance to the story I shall enlist the help of my good friends at Mostly Ghostly, another coffee order at Barbours of Dumfries is very probably on the way.


It might also involve a viewing of this as a key text.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

A View With The Buzz

I was walking back from my parent’s house today which involves a journey through the train station. As I approached the entrance I turned to see a new addition to the surroundings which made me stop, put down the bag I was carrying and take a photo.

Gretna Bench


A bench, placed there heck knows when. I walked around it, doing a complete 360 as I looked for a small metal sign to say it was placed there in the memory of somebody who just happened to like trains. There was nothing, it is blank.

It is surrounded by bare land, the grass does not reach it as it is directly under the huge footbridge they had to install when they upgraded the station from one platform to two about five years ago. This is, quite literally, the place the sun don’t shine. That box next to it is an electrical substation which emits a buzzing noise at a fairly continuous rate, possibly at a pitch to ruin the hearing of nearby teenagers and dogs. Beyond the train line behind the bench is a dual carriageway which is the start of the road towards Dumfries. Sitting on the bench will give you a brilliant view of the car park and the hedges beyond filled with bottles and crisp packets.

This is how we do stopping to enjoy your surroundings here in Scotland

Tagged , ,

A Rework Of Wording

My Dad has recently retired. Having reached the age of 65 he’s decided that it’s time to leave the hotel management game to others, he’s been involved in the trade for as long as I’ve been around and more. Our local newspaper, The Annandale Observer, are running an article on his career due for publication tomorrow. With this in mind, my Dad calls me last night.

“They’ve written about the family too” he says.

“Oh really?” I reply.

“Yes, I’ve put you down as ‘son Cameron who works for a chain of opticians and is a successful film maker'”.

My eyes widen slightly.

“A what now?”

“I asked them to put you down as working in a chain of opticians…”


“…and as a successful film maker”

“Hold it Dad”

“Hold what?”

“I’m not a film maker”.

“But you’ve got a film”

“I know, I didn’t make the film though I just wrote it. Somebody else has made it”

“Does that matter?”

“I’m not the one on set shouting directions”

“Well what are you then?”

“A screen writer if anything”

“I can get them to change it”

“Please do, the use of the word ‘successful’ is debatable as well”

“Well they’ve asked me what to put so I’m putting successful screenwriter”

I have given in by this point.

Tagged , , ,

Snug Like A Gun

After all that good news it’s probably time to consider what’s up next.

My listing of The Telephone Call has stopped dead, there were two people asking about it, one had a copy of the script e-mailed to him and said it sounded like an idea that ‘could go anywhere’. This probably means he hates the ending and wants to change it but I would be fine with that. The main problem is that he last emailed me around two months ago now and I’ve heard nothing from him since.

The second guy, upon reading the synopsis, sent me a simple message that basically said ‘is that it?’. I wanted to send something back saying ‘No of course not, there’s an ending involving s space station suddenly crashing down from the sky which kicks off an entire alien invasion with lasers and tank and Santa but I didn’t want to put that in the synopsis’. What I sent instead was something about how it’s ‘a simple story’ and ‘kept to it’s core elements’. I’m not sure it quite got through that this was a short movie, almost a comedy sketch, with a emphasis of brevity being the soul of wit. Once again I heard nothing.

This seems to be a regular part of the game, producers who might have spent years studying a vast amount of movies and know the names of a vast list of camera equipment from memory yet basic human consideration alludes them. So many of these people think that asking for a script, reading it and then never getting back to the writer is somehow acceptable. The message should be that it’s not, it makes you look like a complete tool and it shouldn’t be an effort to quickly write off a couple of lines saying ‘Sorry but not for me’. That way everybody knows where they stand. Being left hanging on ain’t exactly great for the confidence.

So we can probably assume that’s going nowhere very quickly right now. It’s no big deal, it was purely a quick off the cuff idea anyway.

In other news the new episode of Brake For Frogger went up last week, if you’re into video games then you might be interested in us waffling on about them. It’s had a fairly positive response so we’ll probably be back again soon. About halfway through the record I’d settled back into it again and it didn’t feel like the chore it had become last year.

There was also the small matter of the Kickstarter fund I linked to last week for Spring Fling Arts Festival here in Dumfries and Galloway. They were trying to raise money to take some of the works around the country before the 2014 event. I’m happy to say they did it with a few hours remaining which is pretty incredible. A big thank you if you followed the link and put the money down.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I’ll probably spend a couple of days sharpening up the synopsis for ‘Seven Lucky Stars’ to see if I can relist that then it might well be either back to the much neglected ‘The Last Alive’ or maybe something new. The Last Alive is still proving troublesome, there’s no foothold in it currently and I can’t get it working. I have an advantage at the moment of being an amauter writer so I can turf out scripts that I’m struggling with and move on.

Tagged , , , , ,

A Kickstart

Yes, yes I know..another Kickstarter. But wait, this one’s a little closer to home and something I consider well worth it.

The Spring Fling is an arts and craft festival that takes place in my home county of Dumfries and Galloway each May. As you’ve probably noticed from some of my previous blog posts it’s very rare for things like this to happen here. It’s a rural area and it doesn’t have anything that could be described as a city in it in which such events would probably take place on a regular basis therefore it’s important.

The campaign is to get the festival more exposure outside the region, by featuring work in Newcastle, Glasgow and London but the organisers need money to do this and £3000 is the total set. It would be brilliant if it made this total as it currently sits just below halfway with only a week left. I don’t have a vast amount of money to throw around but I’ve still stuck £20 in there to help along the way.

I don’t often do ’causes’ on Howling In The Dark, they drive me nuts enough appearing on my Facebook news feed, but this is a group of people who have brought this festival to the local area for 11 years and want to do more. Go to the site, check the video and put something in even if you’re not local. The knowledge you helped if it does get there will truly be something.



Tagged , ,

Built On War

Gretna is a small town built on war. It does sound a bit dramatic but the town was mainly built to house munitions workers for the nearby ammunition factory during the war. As such it’s pretty self contained for a town with it’s own doctor’s surgery, bank, grocery shop, bakers and butchers. It also had a bingo hall back in the day to entertain although it’s not much now. Whilst I was born in Dumfries, I grew up here. Gretna does have a very strange thing as far as national identity goes as a result of being so close to the border between Scotland and England. There’s not really such a thing as ‘a Gretna accent’ as some families have English connections and some Scottish. Further down the road in Eastriggs and Annan you’ll get the defined Scottish lilt but not so much here.

But anyway, I’m not here to talk about ammo or weddings. I wanted to give you a short tour of the places around here that are kind of important to me.

Gretna Hall Hotel

Gretna Hall Hotel stands on top of the hill just around the corner from my parent’s house which was handy because it’s the hotel my Dad managed from before my birth to 2006. As such I spent vast amounts of time in my youth wandering the corridors. It’s an old building, the original part dates to 1710, and when I was young it seemed like the corridors went on forever even though it’s a fairly small hotel in comparison to others. Gretna has a history of runaway marriages as a result of Scottish law allowing younger couples to marry without their parent’s consent. Often young couple’s were chased across the border by the bride’s father who would turn up a few hours later. As a result Gretna Hall has a secret room which young couples would hide in whilst Father searched what he thought was the entire building. It’s probably not an ultra secret but I’m not about to tell anybody where it is. There were also plenty of other nooks and crannies in the building and it was brilliant as a kid to walk down one corridor, vanish and then appear somewhere else in the building that seemed impossible to access. If it all sounds like a Scooby Doo haunted mansion, that’s because it was.

In the late 80’s to the mid 90’s (pretty much as far as I can remember) the hotel always used to close down for winter as the tourists simply weren’t there. Every November the place would close down and remain perfectly still until the following March. My Dad still took a daily walk around the place to make sure that everything was okay but it was cold and dark minus the heating and electricity. Its the reason why The Outlook Hotel in The Shining seems quite homely to me.

Gretna Old Parish Church

Across the road from the hotel is Gretna Old Parish and I’ve included it here for two reasons. Firstly, it’s the location of my ill fated trips to Sunday School when I was younger. My Mother insisted on sending my sister and I out to Sunday School every weekend. It was after my fourth or fifth visit that I returned home and told her that I wasn’t going back ‘because that God guy they always talk about doesn’t seem to bother either’. I did not return.

Secondly, the graveyard at the back holds a bizarre local kid’s fable. It was said that if the moonlight shone through the bell tower towards a tree at the back on the cemetery then the devil would appear in the branches. I never saw it myself.

Gretna Green Train Station

Yes I know it’s a train station and most places have something like this but, when it opened in 1993, it became quite normal for me to go through to our nearest city of Carlisle each Saturday morning without having to learn to drive first. There also the strange fact that the lighting they put in when it was first build used to sway in the wind with the kind of jangle sound as if they were windchimes. It’s a sound I always found relaxing.

The Gretna Gateway Outlet

Now I cannot confirm this in any way but I’m pretty sure I was the first person sacked from this building. Back in the 90’s it was just a field opposite the last garage you could fill up your car in before you hit England, then they decided they were going to build a shopping centre on it. It was an idea which seemed stupid at the time, a shopping centre next to a small town like Gretna, but it’s pretty much become part of the fabric now and it’s actually really nice to be able to take a walk and get a decent cup of coffee. People seem to travel from Glasgow every bank holiday to shop here as the place will be packed.

It was 1999 and I had just left school with zero of a clue what I was going to do with myself. I seriously didn’t want to go to university or college just yet and I was firmly sick of the education system at that time and was very much of the opinion that I didn’t want to leap back into it just now. I ended up getting a job in one of the new shops setting up in The Gateway. At that time we were just setting up so I went down on the Monday and worked a full day setting up displays and cleaning. Whilst I was working on the Tuesday I felt a little bit ill and off colour. By Wednesday I had a full force stomach bug forcing me to stay in bed. Due to the fact the phone line hadn’t been installed in the shop yet my Mum drove down the road to inform them that I was ill and couldn’t make it. The same thing occurred on the Thursday.

By Friday I thought it was high time I went back in but, upon being in the door ten minutes that morning, I was taken to one side and told I wasn’t a ‘team player’ and that I was going to be let go. I turned and walked out without really saying anything else. It was on the way back to my parent’s house I had a moment of clarity, as if fate had decided it wasn’t quite the right path to go down for now. I got changed into my suit when I got back home, caught the train through to the local job centre and then ended up getting an extras part on ‘A Shot At Glory’ when it was filming in Dumfries that summer. I also applied for art college which set me up for the next five years.

Essentially though I was fired before the centre had even opened which surely means I was first right?

It’s a small place so not much else to show, I’ll leave you though with one of the older pieces of grafitti from the tunnel which leads under the train station towards the town. It’s probably the first thing somebody coming over the border off the train would see.

Thanks for coming.

Tagged , , , , , ,