I must have a liking for all night events on a weekend. A fortnight ago, I was ghost hunting at Woodchester Manor. Last Saturday, it was writing while deprived of sleep inside a historical building while taking part in an event laid on by the excellent Birmingham Book Festival. Unlike two weeks ago, I wasn’t actively seeking ghosts but still found many as there were plenty to experience with all the exhibits on view. And that’s what a ghost is, an image or echo of the past.

The Locksmith’s House – Willenhall, is a museum dedicated to the town’s once thriving lock-making industry. A working forge, period décor and furniture; who could not be inspired by such surroundings?

The Locksmith’s House – Willenhall. As seen during the day.

Many writers find they work well during the early hours. Let’s face it, this is a time when the kids, allegedly, are in bed and lucid thoughts can hopefully prevail over the weapons of mass distraction during a typical multi-tasked day. In fact, as a writer of so much dark fiction, it’s only once the house goes quiet that I can finally rest at ease – before the screaming begins on my laptop. Therefore, what better than a few hours after midnight in surroundings a little different to that which you are used to.

On Saturday, the setting was excellent and the group of writers assembled, were the nicest bunch I’ve ever done a workshop with. We were well-led on this night-time literary feast by Anna Lawrence-Pietroni, author of the novel, Ruby’s Spoon. Good, useful exercises, all managing to stimulate the mind and inspire creativity. As well as writing, the evening included a demonstration in the art of making a sliding bolt and other items at the forge. There was also a tour of the house plus toasting bread in front of an open fire at nearly four in the morning.

Middle of the night feast. Toast made the traditional way.

Being a writer whose tales often include a higher than average body count, I was delighted by the array of ready-made murder weapons at my disposal, should I choose to write historical fiction. The bolt from the forge, any number of tools and even the toasting fork would prove painful, positioned in the right place. There was also the gas lighting. Surely some devilment could transpire from a little tampering with a valve or two?

Those gas lights were a high point for me. They were something I’d never seen before. Holding a taper (burned too near the end for my liking) then hearing the pop as the ball ignites was an experience surely destined for a place in a short story, somewhere in the near future.

As for the writing? I have to admit, I found it hard going that night, which is unusual for me. I’d been struggling with a bad cold and nearly thought of crying off but am glad I didn’t. Besides, I’d already paid and I’m mean when it comes to cash.

I noted down many ideas for stories during the night but did flag as the hours grew long and dawn approached. This wasn’t through tiredness. My cold had, unfortunately, decided it was time to raise the temperature a bit and by the last exercise, my head was spinning and not with multiple plot lines, either.

There was a bed in the house, but this was for display purpose, only.

This is the second night writing event I have done and it surpassed that of last year. Hopefully, there will be more to come in the future. The Birmingham Book Festival is a fantastic event and one which writers local and beyond ought to have firmly written in their planners. I’d recommend it to all. You may even find a few ghosts of your own.

Cheers.

Nick

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