Creating suspense. A workshop by Liz Mistry.

Yesterday, Saturday 17th March 2018, I attended a two hour workshop on “Creating Suspense”. Hosted by Liz Mistry, the Bradford based crime author, the workshop was part of 2018’s Huddersfield Literature Festival.

The workshop was well attended and was a thoroughly enjoyable event. Liz gave us plenty of advice and thought provoking ideas designed to help us create suspense and tension in our own writing. Lots of useful techniques were explained and discussed and “quickfire” writing tasks were then set for us. I find these short exercises to be really useful for getting ideas down onto the page. Often I get ensnared in the writing of my novel and find it difficult to make progress with it. These workshop exercises are the perfect opportunity to step away from my work in progress and just enjoy the challenge of quickly getting something written. Sometimes what I write is utter tosh but, at least its is better than a blank page.

Most of the “class” had the opportunity to read aloud their writing from the workshop. The standard, often with only ten or so minutes per exercise, was very high. It is clear to me that we have a number of talented writers scribbling away in our region. An awful lot of grisly, murderous and unsettling scenes were penned between 1420 and 1620 yesterday and it is abundantly clear that many of the writers on the course have very dark and disturbing minds!

Personally, I think the workshop could have gone on a while longer, and I am sure other attendees would agree with me. I came way from the two hours with a renewed energy and determination to push on with own novel, The Kerning.

The following piece is based on the final exercise we worked on yesterday. Today, I have revisited my original piece written during the workshop and have, hopefully improved upon it. Yesterday’s writing is at the end so, if you want to, you can see what I originally wrote in the ten minutes we were given.

I hope you like what follows……

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“THE DECISION”

Tony opened his eyes, immediately shutting them as light blinded him.

He raised one hand to shield them and gasped in pain. Opening one eye slowly, Tony risked a look. His fingers bore smudges of blood. He tentatively felt the side of his face, wincing at the swelling around his eyes and the edges of a cut on his left cheek. The wound was about two inches long and ran from beneath his glasses towards his ear. It felt deep, dried blood crusting at its edges.

Tasting blood in his mouth, Tony probed carefully with his tongue. A tooth was loose. No, Tony decided, exploring further, two teeth were loose. One dangerously so. It wobbled as his tongue pushed against it. Fresh blood flowed into his mouth.

He opened both eyes and, for several moments, struggled to cope as he adjusted to the brightness. He was sat at a low table in a dingy room. A figure, partially blurred, stood before him, moving in and out of focus. Tony removed his glasses, his surroundings instantly appearing as if viewed through the dregs of beer at the bottom of a dirty pint glass. The left lens was missing from his glasses.

Perhaps that explains the cut on my cheek. Tony mused, placing his glasses back on his face.

Shutting his left eye, Tony concentrated on the figure in front of him. He was a short man with a shock of wild hair and a dark beard that had been left to grow full and long on his face. The man did not look happy. He glared at Tony, displeasure clear from his eyes, his impatience obvious in his curt gestures and words.

“Tell me!” Shorty demanded. “Tell me now.”

Jesus. Thought Tony. How long have I been here and what have they done to me?

Tony’s mind felt thick, his thoughts heavy and slow. He dimly recalled someone approaching him, a syringe in their hand, and a sharp stab followed by…

Followed by what? He couldn’t remember. Tony was sure he had been drugged. But by whom? And why? He didn’t know.

And where were the others in his team? Tony remembered that six of them had set out earlier that night. He couldn’t say why, but Tony knew with certainty that the others were gone. He was the only one left now.

“Tell me. We won’t wait any longer!” Shorty was shouting at him now.

Tony heard a door open and a second man entered the room. This man was shaven headed and taller than Shorty, though not as tall as Tony’s six foot five inch frame. In one hand, the new arrival held a long knife, its blade glinting wetly in the light. Tony tensed as Baldy stooped and whispered to Shorty. An animated conversation followed between them. Despite his diminutive size, Shorty was obviously the boss in the operation. Baldy looked unhappy with whatever Shorty had told him and approached Tony. He pushed a piece of paper into Tony’s hands.

Baldy looked, to Tony, like one mean motherfucker.

Tony looked at the paper. He recalled seeing one like it earlier, when he had still been with his team. The fog was beginning to receed; his scrambled thoughts forming into tangible memories that he could grasp at. He had been the leader of the team. They had called him captain!

But Tony felt helpless. He couldn’t decide what to do. Maybe it was because of the drugs he had been given, or, maybe, he wasn’t the leader that his missing men had thought him to be. Perhaps, Tony considered, I’m not the man I thought I was and am simply incapable of making big decisions when the big decisions need to be made.

“You must tell me!” Shorty was getting angry now. Tony knew he didn’t have much longer before the situation reached a climax. A climax that would, no doubt, not end well for Tony.

He looked again at the paper, his eyes tracing over the lines printed on it, scanning the information it held. He heard both men edge closer to him and knew it was now or never.

Shorty and Baldy loomed over him. Tony could smell the sweat that came from them. He could feel Baldy’s eagerness to wield the knife and see Shorty’s desire to make Tony pay. In desperation, Tony made his decision.

“Pepperoni. I’ll have a pepperoni.” He paused. “And a coke, please.”

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

ORIGINAL PIECE

The short man glared at Tony, his impatience obvious on his face. His displeasure clear in his eyes and in his curt words.

Tony paused. It shouldn’t be this difficult. Should it? Maybe it was the drugs he had been given that were clouding his judgement. Maybe he was simply incapable of making the big decisions when big decisions needed to be made.

He looked again at the paper in front of him, his fingers tracing the lines of text.

The short man continued to glare at him. A companion, fat and round and ugly, joined him.

Tony lifted his eyes. Both men had edged closer.

“Well?” Shorty asked.

In desperation, Tony decided.

“Pepperoni. I’ll have a pepperoni. And a coke.”

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