Sunday, December 19, 2021

2021 - A Review of Sorts

 Wow. Well we all thought 2020 was kick in the nuts, right? What about that 2021 then? That son of a bitch saw 2020 and said "Hold my beer!" Covid, Brexit, effects of climate change, supply chain issues, a dumb ass for a Prime Minister who makes Trump look almost competent, and now this grinch of a variation coming along to cancel Christmas like a second rate GoBot... 

Let's take a look back at the year, the books I've read, the shows I've devoured and the trials and tribulations I've endured as a freshling crime fiction author trying to find a home for my books.


I have really dived back into reading over this year, the majority of which were crime novels. Peter James' first Roy Grace novel, Dead Simple; Ian Rankin's Rebus novels Mortal Causes and Let It Bleed got me started and then I was into Lin Anderson's Rhona MacLeod series. So far I've finished the first 6 books and am currently close to the end of the seventh, The Reborn, and I have to say I am loving these. I went crazy and bought the entire set of fifteen books, so by the time the sixteenth comes out in paperback in April next year I should have finished reading them.

But even with a Stephen King novel thrown in there (which I'm still waiting to read), my number one choice for the year was MW Craven and his Washington Poe and Tilly books. Wow, these snuck up on me and bowled me over. Moorish is the best way to describe them; the chapters draw you on, the writing is clean and waffle free and gets right to the heart of the matter. Several breadcrumbs have been left dangling (can you dangle a breadcrumb?) and I'm excited to see where the series goes. The fifth book, the Botanist, is due out next year.

Next year I plan to finish the Lin Anderson collection and then start on the Peter James books. I've several new authors I'm looking forward to adding to my TBR pile, at least they are new to me: Harry Fisher, Leigh Russell and Colin Dexter to name a few.

What's on your reading list for next year? What did you enjoy reading in 2021? 

Let me know below.


It's been all about the Marvel Cinematic Universe for me this year. This is my go-to happy spot; usually Thor: Ragnarok or one of the Avengers movies. It used to be Star Wars but now it's all MCU. This year saw new additions of Black Widow and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings join the movie-dom, but also several exciting shows: WandaVision; Falcon and the Winter Soldier; Loki and most recently Hawkeye, each one adding more to the expanded universe while telling unique and intimate stories about some of what could be classed side characters. 

The inclusion of an animated series What If? which explores random potential stories such as What If Peggy Carter was given the supersoldier serum instead of Steve Rogers?

The latest movie to drop is Spider-Man: No Way Home and we're doing our best to avoid any spoilers due to not wanting to go to the cinema during this latest pandemic. We managed to avoid them for Black Widow and Shang-Chi, so fingers crossed.

And there's plenty more to come. 

Weirdly enough, I remember when I first started out writing screenplays many years ago, that I said to my brother how I'd love to write a Moon Knight movie, and he said they'd never do that. Well, there's one coming out soon...

What did you enjoy watching this year?


I have written pretty close to a million words this year. Four novels with a fifth one underway, one novella, six short stories and a ton of work for the final year at University. Early 2022 will see me finish the degree so the majority of my time will be devoted to that as I want to ensure I get the best outcome as possible - my wife did the same degree and she got a First - challenge accepted.

In regards Louise Miller; let's have a brief chat. It has been a tough journey finding a home for Dirty Little Secret and the Louise Miller books. What should have been a fantastic debut release became a nightmare; not through any malicious act let me add, mistakes happen, but there were just too many and no real way of getting them fixed properly for me to continue with the publishers (who were great, very passionate about the genre).

And the search continued.

I've had interest from several agents and publishers and I'm hoping that come the new year, I will be able to announce a new publishing deal for the Louise Miller novels.

In the meantime I'm writing some new stories, working on a new novel in a new genre and mid-way through writing the third Louise Miller book - plenty to keep me busy.

So Merry Christmas everyone. It's getting a little crazy out there again, so please do everything you can to keep you and your family safe, and please have the best holidays you can. I think we've all deserved it.

All the best and see you in the new year.


Sunday, December 5, 2021

When The Book Fights back

It has now happened with each of the three novels I've written, an occurrence so regular that this has now become part of my writing process, however frustrating it may be. The outline done, I get into my 6 pages a day routine, chugging along quite nicely, the story going where its supposed to, I'm happy as Larry and then BLAM! Major roadblock.

The story doesn't feel right; the characters sound wooden and hollow and I don't feel like the book is saying anything important. What follows next are days of stress, turmoil and serious self-doubt. What the fuck am I doing?

I'm writing, or at least I was. Right now, stuck as I am on this page fucking 60, I can't stand to look at it, let alone write anything. I question everything: my commitment to the work; the absurd reality of telling lies on a page for people to read. I hate the rapid taptaptap PAUSE taptaptaptaptaptapiity-fucking-tap that comes from my wife's side of the office as she happily types out her latest novel. I try to drown that noise out with Huey Lewis and the News or Bon Jovi, but when that doesn't work I call an audible and head to the couch where I spend the rest of the day snuggling between the kittens and watching Kitchen Nightmares on YouTube.

Thank fuck for YouTube.

It has saved me on many an occasion when the dreaded page 60 has struck. That Chapter and his videos of true crime cases, solved and unsolved; The Shaniacs and the Boogara's once of Buzzfeed Unsolved and now of Watcher. Then there are the live feeds of court cases the world over thanks to channels such as Law and Crime Network and Court TV. 

But you should be writing. Why aren't you writing? You're not writing.

No. I'm not writing because after 60 pages (roughly 20K words) I know there's something not right with the story I'd roughly outlined. This is one reason why I don't like to outline in detail and just put a few bullet points down for each chapter - because if it goes off the rails early on, my mind would be constantly trying to get it back on to that line, the destination the same.

Dirty Little Secret started out as a single murder with strong supernatural overtones that would be investigated with the help of a paranormal investigator - and that person would become the recurring main character on which the series would be based. From Sorrow's Hold, the second book in the Louise Miller series, was supposed to have wicked clues left with each body that needed to be decoded Dan Brown style. For the first 60 pages this is how each of those books went, but then the pause button was hit and the stories tweaked as they turned in new and better directions.

And taking a break for a few days certainly helped.

It has helped again. I've read more Lin Anderson (now onto book seven and loving the direction the series is taking), watched a lot of NCIS - as far as the free seasons on Amazon Prime allowed (15 if you're wondering) - and let the story churn and burn in the background, sifting through the story line, keeping what works and letting what isn't important fall away.

Tomorrow I get back on the horse and should have a finished draft by early January. I had planned to write the whole book in December, but (and I think this was adding to my page 60 nightmare) I can't just churn a book out in a month. I'd like to and I wish I had the skills to do that, but that just isn't me. It's not how I write and it's not how I want to write. I've cleared my head of a lot of the extraneous shit that was taking up space and I'm confident I can sit back down and get on with writing the book.

At least that's the plan today. Tomorrow that might change.

Fucking Librans!

Cheers - JP

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Cash and the Creative Long-Game


The golden dream of writing a bestselling novel that sells millions of copies, or a screenplay that lands with a multi-million payday, hangs in front of most writers when they first begin to put pen to paper. At least the honest ones. 

As they tap away at the keyboard, they dream big, and why shouldn’t they? It is human nature to dream of becoming financially-free, of buying that glorious house or vacation home in the Caribbean and taking care of family, friends and parents that have supported the fledgling writer through all the first draft nightmares and daily worries that being a writer brings.


But the dream is one that can quickly become a nightmare. Dreams are one thing, but the realistic expectations can be soul shattering for those who think writing is a quick dash to financial freedom. It is one thing to read reports of J.K. Rowling’s $92 million pretax earnings or James Patterson and his $70 million profits in 2019 (Forbes), but consider that Stephen King’s earnings dropped by $10 million while other big-hitters such as John Grisham or Dan Brown didn’t even make the list.

Unfortunately, the top 5% of authors represent about 70-80% of the revenue which can be a disheartening fact for new writers.

And even if you are lucky enough to get a publishing deal, chances are there won’t be any advance paid to you. Instead you will rely solely on the royalties paid yearly by the publishing company, and that might mean a long wait till payday. Most traditional publishers pay their authors between 7% and 10% for paperback and hardback sales, 25% for digital, usually based on Net Sales (the amount wholesalers and retailers pay the publisher).  In recent years there have been a slew of indie publishers cropping up, offering high royalties (around the 50% mark), but expecting you to do 80% of what you'd expect a publisher to be doing for such a high cut of your money.  For that, you could become an independent author, choosing to publish directly with Amazon and receive higher royalties, usually somewhere between 35% and 70% (less delivery and tax costs). A lot higher, right, but you as the author are wholly responsible for the editing, layout, formatting, cover design and all the many other minutia that goes into getting a book into print, all of which come with a cost of both time and money.

And you still need to make a living, to pay rent and put food on the table.

So how can you survive while still chasing your dream of being a published author or produced screenwriter?


There are many online and physical magazines that are accepting submissions for pieces of writing, either short stories up to seven thousand words or poems. Apex Magazine and Dark Magazine are two such magazines. These are fantastic opportunities to stretch your writing in new directions, trying different genres and styles of writing.

These publications can pay between £30 to £450 for a short story dependent on length but be expected to wait some time to hear back. Three to six weeks is the standard for most online publications, with some suggesting four to six months before you hear back. Most magazines will pay you only once a piece is finished to their satisfaction so factor in that time for editing, and you are looking at about seven months from writing the piece to getting paid – and that is only if the first place you submit to accepts your work.


Editorial services can include copy-editing, line editing, structural analysis and many other different facets that bring a manuscript from its rough draft to final, polished piece.

A quick glance on Fiver (I don't recommend this) and you can see the numerous people offering this service, and the, sometimes ludicrous, amounts they charge. From £50 for a line edit, right through to £5’000+ for a complete 12-page structural report on your manuscript including suggested edits, there is something for everyone’s budget. But are you getting what you pay for? What sort of experience does this person have in editing, and why should you trust them with your, as yet, unpublished work?

These are questions you should ask about yourself before thinking about offering editorial services. Do you also have the required skill and time to work on someone else’s manuscript? Editing at a professional level is strenuous, detailed work which demands a high degree of concentration and grasp of language.

For someone just starting out on the writers’ path, this is the option I would least recommend.


By far the most popular, widely used option to ensure an income is to find a regular job, the dreaded, and hated 9-5. Whether it’s stacking shelves, selling dishwashers, Encyclopedia Britannica’s or even small plastic goblins (all jobs I have done while writing stories, screenplays and novels), the knowledge that at the end of the week or month there will be money to pay the rent, heat the flat and feed the cat takes a huge weight off your shoulders.

There are a couple of connected downsides to having a regular job while writing. Most obvious is the time away from your writing desk. Most full-time jobs are around the 40-hour mark each week, not including time to travel to your place of work and back.

This leads into the second slight downside – you have to be organised. You need to have set schedules for your work, what you are going to write and when, plus deadlines to ensure you finish, all at the same time as going to your day or night job as well as maintaining your home.


Whatever you choose to write, the best way to ensure some form of income is having multiple pieces of writing all at various stages. Being realistic with what you want to achieve, and the realities of is everyday life key to this. Don’t expect your first ever novel to become an instant bestseller; neither should you expect the first magazine article you submit to get published.

Find work you enjoy and which won’t suck your soul from you while you pursue your writing dream. Pay your bills with this steady income, be organised and get up early to write and one day, if you're lucky, you’ll become an overnight success thirty years in the making.


Saturday, November 13, 2021

Top 3 Tips For Maintaining Creative Focus

The biggest obstacle to a writer’s success is their own inability to maintain focus on a current project usually by being distracted by all the copious ideas that flood into the creative’s mind at the most inappropriate time.

And that is a dangerous time of potential derailment, one that needs to be managed and controlled. 

But how does the creative writer manage that, without losing all those wondrous new ideas in the process?

Here are my best top 3 tips that will help you maintain your creative focus, another piece of writing I did during my second year Creative Writing degree.


It can be all to easy to lose yourself in the grand, romantic dreams of being a writer, basking in overnight success and the onrush of fame and fortune that being published or produced brings. Or at least, that’s what the movies would have us believe. The best way to avoid disappointment is to be realistic about this creative career you have chosen.


I originally wanted to write film scripts and wrote a couple before an idea for a novel took over. I then started writing the novel, only to have a producer request a meeting about a horror script I had written. I was back to writing scripts.

This went on for about ten years. If I had stuck with one or the other instead of flopping back and forth between novels and scripts, I would have made better progress – I certainly would have improved my writing by focusing on one form consistently.

Decide what you want to write: online articles, non-fiction books; film, theatre or radio scripts, or even novels. I'm definitely in the novel writing camp, with a current focus on crime fiction. I'll talk about my reasons for focusing on the crime genre in a different post - I was certainly surprised when I found myself writing in this genre, moving away from my usual staple, horror. With a long series in mind, along with some stand alone books, I have plenty of ideas to keep me busy for many years to come.

By making that decision early, you can put all your energy and focus into improving that skill, and by so doing, will reap the rewards.


I thought I would churn out a book, a publisher would buy it and my fortune would be made, all within a year, two at the tops. After making the decision to focus on writing prose, my stories improved, and opportunities started to present themselves. I wrote background and product text for a local tabletop games company; another hired me to develop their game world, and I wrote my first ever published novel, a tie-in for another company’s fantasy game.

It would be another ten years before a publishing company offered me a three-book deal for the first in a series of crime fiction novels. That unfortunately became a nightmare, and the following publishing deal, while better, ended up worse; but that is another story entirely. 

By managing your expectations of what being a creative writer means, you will avoid falling into the disillusioned trap that saps your creative energy and makes you lose focus.


I was definitely all over the place when it came to my writing when I first started out. In form I was writing screenplays, novels and short stories. In content I was writing character pieces, non-fiction and fiction, and my genre of choice depended on what day it was or what movie I’d just seen or book I’d just read. Fantasy and horror were my staple, but I tried writing westerns, sci-fi and even a Mills & Boon romance called Blackjack.

I was all over the place with hundreds of ideas of what I wanted to write, but no plan.


We can all have an idea of what sort of career we’d like to have, or what project we’d like to work on next, but until it is tangible it is but an idea, as fleeting as the rest. The best way to see your ideas to completion and your portfolio of consistent, quality work grow is to have a plan – and this means write it down.


My original plan for the Louise Miller series of crime novels was very simple: a list of potential titles under which was a three-sentence premise of the book. I am most definitely in the pantster camp when it comes to outlining my work: I start with the story idea and one or two notes and develop the story as I write.

Your plan should include all that YOU need to get started, but at the minimum a rough premise of the story/article, including a beginning, middle and end so that you have a goal to aim for.

By having a written plan, you can keep referring back to it when you feel your resolve start to wane, thus keeping you on track to finish your project.

I am now looking for an agent, giving myself a deadline in 2022 to get one and/or a new publishing deal, and if I haven't then I will explore the route of the indie author.


With your expectations managed and a plan to follow, you can now start to create a consistent body of work, adding to your portfolio of stories, articles, novels, screenplays; whatever your choice of writing is. This will give you a huge boost of self-confidence and take a little of the sting out when you get rejected. I now have two novels completed, both part of a larger (planned) series. I have numerous ideas for standalone novels across crime, horror and literary genres. I've a manuscript of short stories that I'm adding to, building up a collection, practicing different styles and topics.


Your work will be rejected, a lot. You will wait weeks and months for a response and, more often than not, no response will come. And when it does it can be disheartening and cut to the bone, but that is the nature of the creative business.

I print mine out and stick them on a spike on my desk and send out another submission. Over time, thanks to these top three tips, the sting grows weaker. 

This is my latest spike - lots of rejections coming in from agents and a couple of publishers, but also lots of encouragement. Many of them ask to see other work in the future - there's incentive to write one of the standalone. Also, it is very, VERY, satisfying to ram the spike through the latest rejection note. Just saying.


If you’ve practiced #1: MANAGE REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS you’re resigned to the deluge of rejections heading your way. You’ve followed #2: MAKE A PLAN AND STICK TO IT and know what’s next to submit and work on, and because you followed #3: CREATE A CONSISTEN BODY OF WORK you know exactly what those projects are.

There is no golden guarantee of your work ever being published, but by doing these top three tips repeatedly, you will develop a powerful writing habit and maintain your creative focus and mindset.

At least, that's the plan . . . 

Cheers - JP

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Adding To The Toolbox

In this week's article taken from the writing I did for my second year in BA Creative and Professional Writing at Derby University, I will look at how the differing forms of storytelling and the increased practice of reading widely have contributed to a seismic shift in my perception of what it means to be a writer, and how the addition of each to my own writing toolbox have affected my craft moving forward.

Stephen King talks about a writer having a toolbox from which to draw everything needed to tell a story[1]. After his usual poetic descriptions of his grandfather’s actual toolbox and the screen door they fixed together when he was a child, King goes on to explain that the writer’s toolbox should have several levels, starting with Vocabulary, followed by Grammar and then Form and Style. I’ve spent many years getting those levels of my own toolbox stocked and well-practiced with each new story I’ve written over the last thirty years, but taking a look at the work I’d produced, it was obvious that my tools could only take me so far. They were good stories, fun to read but they could be better. I just needed more tools.

Till recently, I have focused on writing commercial genre fiction, tales packed with mass-media popcorn entertainment; monsters, explosions and horror . . . oh, my! I’ve had some success with optioned scripts and published fiction for games companies. During this semester I fell in love with Ian Rankin’s Rebus series and wrote a crime novel called Dirty Little Secret, again using my well used three layers of toolbox to produce an eighty-five-thousand-word novel. But as the semester continued, and this module especially, I started to see the potential for several new layers to be added to my toolbox, and in so doing, gain the confidence needed to start writing a book that has sat in my Compost Heap of ideas for several decades. 

Being within arms reach of 50, I have obviously known about the different forms of storytelling. Poem, novel, short story and so on; I’ve known these in the same way I’ve known the differing types of music: classical, rock etc. What I hadn’t known on a conscious level were the many varied styles in which these stories took form and the countless ways these influence the way the story is told. For example, the Greek mythological tale of Medea, taken from Ovid’s great work the Metamorphoses, is a grand sweeping epic of daring and adventure, but told in a poetic, lyrical style[2], one which modern authors of Games Workshop’s Black Library fiction mimic very closely in their tales of epic warfare amongst the stars.[3] I have tried many times to write such stories when they had submission windows for new authors, but was never able to capture the tone or style they were looking for. I now know why. Their chosen language and style was that of myth, of the retelling of great deeds of heroes and legends, the word choice deigned to evoke feelings of majesty and wonder. Despite having read many Black Library books, until I learned of Ovid, I couldn’t see what I was missing in my submissions which were always getting rejected.

In a similar fashion are The Sagas of the Icelanders, a great body of mythic prose that the Czech writer Milan Kundera classed as possibly the foundation of the European novel[4]. From oral tradition down to written form, the Sagas utilises all forms of narrative from the mythic to the fairystory, and I achieved a greater understanding of the work after learning the details of the forms of narrative from this module. For example, Egil’s Saga uses both long form and poetic didactic narration to teach the reader the history of the Icelanders.

It was the realisation that the style of story affected the way it was told in everything from sentence structure, pacing and word choice that led me to look hard at my reading choices. I have always been an avid reader, but I could see now that I was drawing from a very limited palette, much in the same way that my writing wasn’t using the full capacity of the toolbox as I could, or should, have. Stephen King, Terry Brooks, Ian Rankin and John Grisham were my staple go-to’s, a generous mix of horror, fantasy and crime – all of which classed as commercial genre fiction; all of which my own style of writing lent towards.

Thanks to this module I was led to great works such as the Metamorphoses and the Sagas of the Icelanders. While researching Japanese tales of Kanashibari, I became aware of Lian Hearn’s Across the Nightingale Floor. The story is one of love and revenge, a staple of commercial fiction, but I could see it was written poetically, almost as a tale of legend[5]. The writing is extremely evocative, suitable to the era in which the story is set, and not usually associated with genre fiction. At least, not the sort I have been used to. This in turn led me to writers such as John Irving (Last Night In Twisted River, A Prayer for Owen Meany) and Paul Auster (Leviathan; 4,3,2,1), authors whose language is so clearly and precisely chosen; a layer of toolbox to which I aspire.

With a greater understanding of the different forms of narration and how they impact the creation of a story, along with a much broader scope of reading to draw upon, two new layers were added to my toolbox, bringing to my writing (I hope) a stronger, more confident tone.

[1] King, S. (2000). On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft. London, UK. Hodder & Stoughton. “I want to suggest that to write to your best abilities, it behoves you to construct your own toolbox and then build up enough muscle so you can carry it with you. Then, instead of looking at a hard job and getting discouraged, you will perhaps seize the correct tool and get immediately to work.”

[2] Ovid. (2014). Metamorphoses. London, UK. Penguin. “For he who was all the world to me, as well thou knowest, hath turned out the worst of men, my own husband.”

[3] McNeill, G. (2006). Horus Heresy Book 2: False Gods. Nottingham, UK. Black Library Publishing. “She had waited for this day since the great warriors from the sky had brought word of the sacred task appointed to her when she was little more than a babe in arms.”

[4] Milan Kundera quote on the back of the Sagas of the Icelanders: “(if the Sagas had been written) in one of the languages of the major nations… we would have regarded the Sagas as an anticipation or even the foundation of the European novel.”

[5] Hearn, L. (2002). Across The Nightingale Floor. London, UK. Macmillan. “Whatever I had inherited from him, I was also my mother’s child. I was woven from two strands that could hardly be less alike, and both called to me through blood, muscle, and bone.”

Thursday, October 28, 2021

The Development Of Story: Shadow People - From Supernatural Myth to Psychological Study

As part of my second year on the creative writing degree, I had to conduct a research project and tie it in with a piece of creative fiction. As I was starting to write the first Louise Miller book, Dirty Little Secret, I figured I'd hit two birds with one stone and do a research project on a particular aspect of that. 

I've kept the references in but any others such as Appendix entries, won't be displayed.

When I got the original idea for the book, Dirty Little Secret, I wanted a reason that someone would think there was another person in their room but not be worried about it. Reading several articles and medical studies, I found the reason in the phenomena of sleep paralysis. This is an illness in which the sufferer finds they can’t move their bodies, and sometimes struggle to breathe. Sleep is a period of unconscious mystery, a time of peace and content, and yet some find themselves in the grip of such a terrifying experience. Stoker commentates as such[1], though he refers to the deadly curse of Dracula rather than the terror of sleep paralysis.

My novel opens with the character of ten year old Joanna suffering from an episode of sleep paralysis which ends with devastating consequences and I thought it would stop there, but the more I looked into the topic, the more I discovered in relation to how stories change and adapt to fit  the culture and/or society of the time.  (for an example of how this research was used, read the opening chapter to the novel as Appendix A).

In this research study I’ll be looking at the myth/legend/tale of the shadow person, an elusive being that appears to those who suffer sleep paralysis and how it has changed over many centuries, as it is a strong foundation of the novel I’ve written. I’ll look at the early origins and some of its journey to present day representations, including how it has affected some aspects of language itself.

With the notion of sleep paralysis, I started to look back to its origins and discovered that even the early Egyptians had stories about being visited when sleeping, and their souls becoming wandering deities. In fact, the Egyptians belief system was heavily centred around the concept of the soul, breaking it into nine separate entities, each one overseen by its own god. In his book Temple Of The Cosmos, Jeremy Naydler commits two chapters to this subject; The Soul Incarnate and The Soul Discarnate[2]. One such aspect was that of Shut, the shadow or silhouette of the soul. In the opening commentary to The Egyptian Book Of The Dead (an ancient Egyptian funeral text), Egyptologist Ogden Goelet, Jr. described how the entombed would leave their shrines to wander as a formless shadow[3], and it is from this initial tale that I believe all the future stories would be formed.

In fact this would be further expanded upon by Dr Kasia Szpakowska, in her detailed study The Ancient Egyptian Demonology Project: Second Millennium BC[4]. This study gave deep analysis of the iconographic, archaeological and philogical aspects of every demon found in many texts, decorations and papyrus manuscripts, such as The Book Of The Dead. It is during an interview with Ancient World Magazine, where she discusses the Pavor Nocturne (night terrors) and from the Ramesside Period the Papyrus Leiden I, 348, an incantation against sleep paralysis.[5]

An example of the way in which these stories are adapted and changed can be seen in the collaboration with Dr Szpakowska’s academic study and the modern dance of choreographer Betsy Baytos, in which she discusses the connection to Egyptian iconography, and this modern form of storytelling.[6]

From this research I was able to include some details for further rewrites of the novel, such as the introduction of scarring on the body of Egyptian symbols of shadow deities as well as more detailed dialogue between characters as to the nature of sleep paralysis origins.

But as the story developed, I felt that there was more of a deeper evil lying beneath the surface. This was where I found the Japanese tales of the kanashibari intriguing, as these would add more of a layer of horror to the tale, creating a unique horror/crime hybrid. Lafcadio Hearn (Koizumi Yakumo) explored many such occurrences in his collection In Ghostly Japan, most notably in the story A Passional Karma, where the main character is visited by nightly terrors in the form of two women[7]. The subject matter of the nightly terror has now changed with the Japanese culture, moving away from the deity to be worshipped, to the demon to be feared. A later work, Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things would explore this topic further, and later be adapted into the 1965 anthology horror film, Kwaidan[8].

It would be in his book, Kanashibari: True Encounters With The Paranormal In Japan, that Thomas Bauerle would examine encounters with sleep paralysis entities. One such occurrence he describes in detail[9]. The book then goes on to detail the shift from historic folkloric tale to recent mental health diagnosis studies. This obvious shift in tone poses many questions ripe for further study: How did the storytelling change from ancient Egypt, to feudal Japan? Is this a societal shift or one of cultural difference? As this is beyond the scope for this report, one such starting point would be the excellent blog post Culture Change: The Waves of Storytelling[10].

A pattern was beginning to emerge of women representing the shadow personalities; the Egyptian texts refer to Shut in the feminine, while the Japanese shadow demons always took the form of women or old hags. The stories were changing again and as the Gothic tale now began to emerge with writings such as Walpole’s novel The Castle Of Otranto, or Radcliffes The Romance Of The Forest, so too did the tale of the shadow person evolve once more. Gothic fiction blends pleasure with terror, emotion and romance and some saw the appearance of the shadow person as the embrace of a lover. In her article Your Dark Side: Shadow Aspects of the 7 Feminine Archetypes, writer Ayesha uses the word shadow to describe the flip side of feminine personalities, tying several into Greek myth[11] – I look at the subversion of the language surrounding Shadow people later in this report.

In Appendix C, The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli (1781) is a further example of the Gothic imagination as previously shown in literature, with the fair maiden lying prone while she is dominated by the repressed desire of the male. Poking its head through the curtains is a literal depiction of the title, a dark horse, or night mare. Yet again this is a classic example of the heavy feeling victims of sleep paralysis feel on their chests. It has now become a trope of the tale, and I have further interpreted this to express the repression of women; my novel is set in 1987 when women in the Police Force were looked down upon and shunned by their male colleagues. That it still occurs to this day is obvious and abhorrent, but in the time I set the book, it was even worse. And this all ties in with the progression of the shadow people tale, not only as the sleep paralysis but the repression of the female characters.

As the twenty-first century arrived, the tales of shadow people had morphed once again, moving into the realm of outright horror, most notably depicted by the Slender Man. The very act of storytelling itself has moved from ancient Egypt where everyone told stories, to the Japanese lone Rakugo, wandering from village to village and now to modern day, where the Slender Man version began on an online platform called Creepypasta[12]. Here, it was acknowledged that several different countries all had the same story, each one derived from ancient tales of the shadow people, but now it was used for pure entertainment as opposed to furthering either religion or community. While the site is entertaining, none of the stories have any way of being verified as factual or based in reality and to that extent it can only be shown as how the tales have transitioned into modern day as pure entertainment.

However, a troubling side effect has been the effect on mental health, especially of young people who read these stories and take them on face value. I will briefly touch on how medical studies have been carried out into the phenomena of sleep paralysis later, but there is a more deeper potential study to be found here into the effects of mental health on the development of story, but that is beyond the scope of this report. I will add that in the case of CreepyPasta and the Slender Man story, this led to the attempted murder of Payton Leutner in 2014 in Wisconsin, where her two friends led her into the woods and stabbed her 19 times – she survived this – done to appease Slender Man. A documentary on this can be found here.[13]

What is central to this study about the tales of shadow people and sleep paralysis are the medical studies conducted on those who suffer sleep paralysis – because in our modern society, those who tell such tales are not to be taken on their word but instead studied and probed to find whatever infliction there is that causes them to think such things. I created a character who is a psychologist to explore this topic in more detail (and offer readers another possible suspect).

It was Shelly Adler in her book Sleep Paralysis: Night-Mares, Nocebos, and the Mind-Body Connection who describes in clinical terms the stages that those who suffer this affliction go through; not in terms of myth or legend, but actual physical occurrences from first hand witnesses[14]. Now, sleep paralysis is no longer simply a tall tale told around a campfire, but an illness that required treatment. Further studies into this phenomena continue to this day, the most recent being a paper about the effects of sleep paralysis on a sample of Polish students, in which fear and visual hallucinations were reported.[15]

Even the use of the word shadow has changed over time. The ancient Egyptians called the soul, the ba or shadow of one’s self[16]. Today, we have the term shadow governments, policed by shadow men as discussed in the book Shadow Men by Anthony Napoleon, PH.D. The term shadow people is also used to describe those who fall beneath societies norms, especially people addicted to methamphetamine; ironic as that is one of the drugs used to treat sleep paralysis. Huey Lewis sings: “She’s shadow boxing and losing the bout!” in his song Stop Trying, implying the woman of their affacetions is swinging at nothing but their own fear (and losing).

The tale of shadow people has been used to explain sleep paralysis through the centuries, the stories adapting to fit their time and culture, and yet they all retain central themes: a strong, unseen presence; the feeling of weight or being held down; unexplained noises and smells. Modern day culture has seized on the supernatural aspects of the story, expanding the horror to better entertain. The ailment has developed into an area of medical study that now has its own research departments in hospitals across the world, all of which stem from the first telling of the shadow of ones soul in Ancient Egypt. It is a fascinating subject and one I have only scratched the surface of in my quest to find a suitable narrative hook for my own novel with many diverging branches including the evolution of language, religion, physical and psychological doctoring and, of course, the campfire tale.


[1] Stoker, B. (1897). Dracula. London, UK. Archibald Constable & Company. “How blessed are some people, whose lives have no fears, no dreads, to whom sleep is a blessing that comes nightly, and brings nothing but sweet dreams.”

[2] Naydler, J. (1996). Temple Of The Cosmos. Rochester, Vermont. Inner Traditions International.

[3] Goelet, O. (2015). The Egyptian Book Of The Dead: The Book Of Going Forth By Day: The Complete Papyrus of Ani. Chronicle Books.In many BD papyri and tombs the deceased is depicted emerging from the tomb by day in shadow form, a thin, black, featureless silhouette of a person.”

[4] Szpakowska, A. (2016). Demon Things: The Ancient Egyptian Demonology Project: Second Millenium BCE. (19/12/2020)

[5] Szpakowska, A. (2019). Egypts Nightworld: An Interview With Dr. Kasia Szpakowska. (22/12/2020). “Papyrus Leiden I, 348 (Ramesside Period) seems to be an incantation to guard against nightmares. It begins stating that it is to ward against “terrors that fall upon a man in the night” which matches one of the most common symptoms of a nightmare – that inability to move like something is on top of you.”

[6] Baytos, B. and Szpakowska, A. (2019). Eccentric Dance Timeline. (18/12/2020). “After researching for several years the iconography of these ancient Bes figures, circa 1300 BC, I now recognise a distinct parallel to movement of the Eccentric Dance.”

[7] Hearn, L (1899). In Ghostly Japan: A Passional Karma. Japan. Curtis, Brown and Little. “Night after night the shadows came at the Hour of the Ox; and nightly Shinzaburô heard the weeping of O-Tsuyu.”

[8] Kobayashi, M (dir.) (1965). Kwaidan. Film. Japan. Bengei Pro Ninjin Club Production Company.

[9] Bauerle, T. (2017). Kanashibari: True Encounters With The Paranormal In Japan. London, UK. Asteroth’s Books. “…all of a sudden my eyes snapped open and I found myself wide-awake…I looked up to see a woman standing above my wife Tuesday as she slept…”

[10] Walters, A. (date published unknown). Culture Change: The Waves Of Storytelling. (22/12/2020).

[11] Ayesha. (2017). Your Dark Side: ‘Shadow’ Aspects of the 7 Feminine Archetypes. (19/12/2020). “In the shadows, the lover loses her self-sufficiency and comes to rely soley on her connection with others for validation.”

[12] (2010). Slenderman. (11/12/2020) “The Slender Man is an alleged paranormal figure purported to have been in existence for centuries, covering a large geographic area. Believers in the Slender Man tie his appearances in with many other legends around the world, including; Fear Dubh (or, The Dark Man) in Scotland, the Dutch Takkenmann (Branch Man), and the German legend of Der GroBmann or Der Grosse Mann (the Tall Man).”

[13] Crime Vault. (2018). Slenderman Stabbing: Documentary. (23/12/2020)

[14] Adler, S. (1963). Sleep Paralysis: Night-Mares, Nocebos, and the Mind-Body Connection. New Jersey, US. Rutgers University Press. “…these typically occur in clusters: (1) a sense of an evil presence accompanied by various sounds (footsteps, whispering); (2) breathing difficulties, feelings of suffocation, bodily pressure, sense of doom; and (3) sensations of floating, flying and falling (including out-of-body experiences and viewing one’s body from an external perspective.”

[15] Wrobel-Knybel, P; Karakula-Juchnowicz, H; Flis, M; Rog, J; Hinton, D.E; Boguta, P and Jala, B. (2020). Prevalence and Clinical Picture of Sleep Paralysis in a Polish Student Sample. Environmental Research and Public Health. Poland. (23/12/2020). “93% reported fear (most commonly fear of death, 46%), and 66% reported hallucinations (most commonly visual hallucinations, 37%”

[16] Wasserman, J. (1994). Fascimile of a vignette from the Book Of The Dead of Ani. (19/12/2020).

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