It happens to me quite a bit: I pitch a project outline with the first ten thousand words done. Me not being Neil Gaiman, the response is usually: "We'll get back to you on that. Give us until the end of the month." Yessir. Welcome to the hangfire smokehouse, an in-between books limbo replete with all-you-can-eat buffet. But without the buffet. In these circumstances, I used to soldier on with the project anyway; get another ten or fifteen thousand words done, hoping they'd say 'yes' to it eventually. But that approach has ended up making me a lot of extra work; stuff I'd have to later undo, re-do, or ditch altogether.
So when I get stuck in the hangfire smokehouse nowadays, I switch work to one of the projects below; make notes, write, and ponder. I might update this blog now and again; just edit this piece and re-post it with additional stuff. (I once met a writer who said she had 28 ideas on the go. I can't promise to compete with that...) Some of these are written as pitches. Others are looser and more colloquial.
5 dead guys/gals team up to rob the bank that drove them to their deaths. For details of Melvin Burgess's reaction to Ghost Heist, see this post.
I admit there are problems with this idea. How do you heist a bank when you're dead, for one. And if you can walk through walls, why bother with all the planning to dodge security or set off alarms, etc? Needs work, but if the rules of ghost-world were clear and logical, it could be a winner.
A few nights back I was in the hangfire smokehouse and I thought this: the ghosts could be from different time periods, with different levels of understanding re. technology, social norms and so on. It's comedy central, folks.
OK. You're an A level student working the summer before your Year 13 exams. Your older cousin - a first-year undergrad - gets you a job clearing furniture from a condemned building on the university campus. In the basement, there's a rusty set of lockers, all doors open, all empty. Save for locker 29. It's fused shut. Curiosity sets in. You eventually find a way to open it. There's nothing inside except a mobile phone; an old style cell three generations out of date; certainly three or four years old. It's dead. Later you track down a charger and resuscitate it. It's almost empty of apps and content - certainly a burner - except there's a text-message conversation with another number. Some sort of plan being discussed, the conversation clearly suspended by the phone's owner - the final message a desperate "Where the hell have you gone?!" from the other phone. You've been longing for something interesting to happen in your life. "Hi" you type. "It's me. I'm back." You hit send. It's the start of a descent into chaos.
Deep Jones, aka Let's Be Mermaids
My magic squid story. A young man returns to his coastal home town for a friend’s funeral. The official verdict is suicide, but a disturbing event three years in the past suggests murder instead. Together with a surviving friend, the young man must recount the events of three years previously, revisiting painful memories of a discovery he and his friends made when they crossed a tidal causeway to a beached research vessel and found a strange creature in the ship’s hull; a creature with the power to heal. With the temporary re-appearance of the tidal causeway, they must return to the ship and free the thing trapped there. But they are not the only ones who have an interest in the creature, ‘Deep Jones’, and they must battle a powerful and determined enemy if they are to right the wrongs of their past.
Imagine you could empty the world of people, and leave every single locked door standing open - but only for eleven minutes. When your time's up, you're back in the real world again, surrounded by the hubub and noise of ordinary life. That's what happens to our gang of protagonists; Seven, Troy, Roscoe, Nixie and Spanish. They acquire a set of faulty headsets, and instead of a virtual reality game, the stolen kit takes you somewhere far sinister; a parallel, empty reality called the verges, where every door stands open. The headset battery life means visits are limited to eleven minutes to begin with, but those visits become shorter and shorter. And when the friends discover they can transfer objects between worlds, a series of frightening and exciting opportunities present themselves. But the decisions they have to make will ultimately ruin them. I think.
It’s the weirdest summer job you’ll ever get, ‘acquisition operative’ for an organisation called Takeback – mission: to re-appropriate valuable items (artwork, porcelain, cash, jewellery) and return them to public ownership. So when two young operatives are tasked to steal a super-sleek gadget, the job seems straightforward. Except it isn’t. Security is huge; the job is botched and the team barely escape with the item and their lives. And it gets worse; on their return, the offices of Takeback have vanished. Their employers are nowhere to be found. The client who requested the item is dead. And our opportunistic thieves are in possession of an object that more than one group of heavies want to get their hands on. As the net closes in on them, they must discover the nature of their enemies, build uneasy alliances, and stay true to their values. Ditching the item isn’t an option – instead, they must find a way to share its wealth, and make a decision that may ultimately cost them everything.