If it takes me a year to turn an idea into a book – and it does – and if I have nonfiction projects I want to complete – which I do – I need to face facts. I have more ideas than I have years left. I’m not some crook-backed ancient or anything but I’ve done the calculations.
So Hangfire is where I leave the ideas that’ll probably never make it. Write these up and sell them… and I won’t come after you with a crew of tooled up heavies I swear. They’re yours.
In the urban-gothic battle between good and evil - you know the one, you've seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer - who nurses injured hench-folk back to health? I thought this thought one day on a train and Century Heights popped into life. It's a medical drama set in a hospital called... you guessed it. Its patients are, in one ward, human and in another, demon. Kind-hearted medical folk don't see these distinctions because all life is precious, but boy oh boy do the patients cause trouble, rampaging around settling scores.
Then, one day, a new patient arrives. Deliberately injured and smuggled in as a spy. Turns out one of the hospital's patients is significantly more important than everyone suspects, and our spy is after them. An innocent doctor - let's call her Martha Sparks - gets caught up in the subsequent crossfire and is forced to choose sides.
I spent weeks and weeks on Century Heights before shelving it. In one version, the hospital is in orbit above a planet at war with its own moon. Make of that what you will.
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 There's nothing inside except a mobile phone; an old style cell three generations out of date; certainly three or four years old.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.
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.
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 have 30,000 words of this. It's quite good.