MIDNIGHT ENCHANTMENTS: The Magic of Paranormal Fiction

Welcome to Midnight Enchantments, a celebration of magical fiction and its appeal. Please welcome today’s guest author, kicking off the celebration, Colin Galbraith.

The Magic of Paranormal Fiction
By Colin Galbraith

What is it about readers of paranormal and magical fiction that keeps them coming back for more? As one of the most steady genres in fiction in terms of output, is there something that sets readers and writers of this particular form of fiction apart?

To answer these questions, I looked at my own reading habits: just what is it about stories with these elements that I find so interesting? Is it simply a genre that’s fun to read, or are there deeper reasons to it?

The first thing I realised is that I enjoy reading this type of fiction for the very same reasons I enjoy writing it, and I suspect, that goes for other writers, too.

It’s the ultimate “what if” fantasy; taking a reader into the unknown, the world of the paranormal where nothing is certain and there are no definite lines of physics or logic, and then manipulating that world to give the reader new and exciting stories.

Paranormal and magical fiction is a way out of every day life to a much more intense degree than, say, literary fiction. Both genres have their exciting moments, of course, but providing it’s done correctly, these forms of fiction allow the writer to create new stories far removed from everyday life, and for the reader to then live them.

One thing that particularly appeals to me with paranormal fiction, is when everyday life situations are enhanced by the specific elements of the genre. In paranormal fiction, the author can investigate new ideas, perhaps mix history and smudge it with what one sees outside the window, thereby bringing to life old and often forgotten tales and breathing new life into them.

Living in Edinburgh gives me a unique angle on this as it’s one of the most haunted cities in the world. Every street, building and pub, especially in the Old Town, has a resident ghost story (sometimes a resident ghost), so as a writer, I’m spoiled for great ideas.

In my debut paranormal book, STELLA, I took fictional characters and threw them into the ring with a satanic demon. Many people were shocked by this, but what I was trying to achieve was to take a more mainstream genre (a spy thriller) and turn into something new.

One of the successes of the Harry Potter series was taking a fictional character that everyone could relate to, and then giving him powers that made him stand out from the crowd.

What kid never dreamt they had a cloak they could hide behind that would make them invisible, or that they could perform magic at the stroke of a wand to wow their friends? JK Rowling created the perfect mix of dreams and magic.

Paranormal and magical fiction isn’t just about entertainment for entertainment’s sake, however, as it can also ask deep and meaningful questions.

Take God and Satan, two of the most well known lead characters in world literature. Do they exist? Are they one in the same? Did they come from the same place? Is there a Heaven and Hell? What happens when we die? All of these questions and more can be asked and explored through paranormal and magical fiction.

When the boundaries are less real, greyed out by what lies between life and death, it opens up whole new realms of possibilities for the reader and the writer. A writer can really go to town with experimentation in the paranormal and magical genres, and it is this, I think, that separates it.

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Colin Galbraith is the author of STELLA, a spy novel with a paranormal twist, as well as several books of poetry. Read more about him here: www.colingalbraith.co.uk

Guest Colin Galbraith: Half Way to A Winner — How I Kept the Same Book Selling

Today’s guest is Colin Galbraith, who tells us how FRINGE FANTASTIC came about and how, years later, it still not only sells, but positively affects his writing career. Thanks, Colin!

Half Way To A Winner
How I Kept The Same Book Selling

by Colin Galbraith

I first came to live in Edinburgh way back in the misty and long forgotten year of 1998. It was a long but memorable year: Bill Clinton was impeached, the Good Friday Agreement was signed, Dana International became the first transsexual to win the Eurovision Song Contest, Google was officially formed, France won the World Cup, Germany won the most Gold medals at the Winter Olympics, Armageddon was the highest grossing movie, Frank Sinatra died and little known Scottish writer, Colin Galbraith, had an idea for a book of poetry.

The idea was a basic one but it was one that would end up having repercussions from the day it came to be published in December 2005, through the course of the following five years. The fact it all happened quite by accident is neither here nor there, but how it happened and what transpired as a result, is something that can be repeated over and over given the right set of circumstances. Let me explain.

Here’s the original premise for Fringe Fantastic: a collection of poetry that encapsulates the spirit and magic of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It was as simple as that, and as the new boy in town with a bursting enthusiasm to write a book of poetry with a strong theme, it was the perfect choice to be my first chapbook.

Thoroughly inspired by a creative writing course and a couple of short story publications, I finally got to work in the summer of 2005. Much of the research involved getting out and about, which during Festival time in Edinburgh makes for a unique and often thrilling experience. The city becomes a massive cauldron of the odd, the funny, the artistic and the colourful. How then, could a poet possibly fail?

The writing of Fringe Fantastic also led to a few nights out and subsequent visits to several pubs around town. Who said writing was a solitary profession? I kept writing and within three weeks had more poems about the Fringe than I knew what to do with.

Over the next three months the book was assembled; poems selected, photographs inserted, layout decided, and a photographer picked to take the shots for the front and back covers. The book was produced and released to the world on 2nd December, 2005. Voila! I prepared to be bowled over by a mad rush of Scottish poetry readers eager to buy the book.

Except they never came and there was no selling spree. It was then I realised that mere press releases to online venues wouldn’t reach my target readership, and that getting attention in the local Press was harder than I ever imagined. There was only one thing for it: I had to get out onto the streets and sell the book myself.

Over the course of the following year I laid out more leaflets, fliers and posters around Edinburgh, Glasgow, Paisley and any other town or city I happened to be passing through, than trees were being grown in the surrounding fields of East Lothian. But other than sales to friends and family, the book just wasn’t taking off the way I’d hoped.

It wasn’t until the Fringe Festival came around again in 2006 did I realise the mistake I’d made: I didn’t actually know what my target readership was. I took to the streets again, handing out fliers whilst clutching a bag of books and selling them to anyone that showed any interest. The book started to sell. I began working the queues for Fringe shows to promote and sell the book, the queue for the Royal Military Tattoo at Edinburgh Castle in particular, I found to be particularly responsive.

I quickly realised that tourists formed the main readership of Fringe Fantastic. In Scotland, interest was hard to generate—I was just another wannabe poet with some self-published books to sell—but to the tourist I was offering something unique, something special and different that they could take back home when they left (signed, of course) to remember their holiday by.

Tourists come to Edinburgh every year and in August the population of the city doubles. In book terms this can be seen as half a million new potential readers of Fringe Fantastic every year arriving on my door step. Bingo!

As sales started to increase another strange thing happened. Suddenly I had credibility; suddenly I was a bit of a story. The Guardian and Sunday Herald newspapers both picked me up, as did The Leither and Scotland magazines. A circular effect on promotion had unwittingly been established; sales meant free advertising, which in turn meant more sales. Add a couple of follow-up chapbooks into the equation and all of a sudden I was a book seller.

Five years on and Fringe Fantastic still follows the same regular pattern of sales. Between September and June sales are slow, then in July and August when the tourists hit town, sales rocket. In 2010 I sold almost all of my books online, which I can only attribute to that circular effect of promotion, but the other side effect I’ve seen has been on my other books that have started to trend in line with Fringe Fantastic‘s ups and downs; all beneficiaries of the link between the worldwide phenomena that is the Edinburgh Festival and literature.

I never knew it at the time but it was a great marketing strategy. I’d stumbled into it but the secret is clear to me now: write a book you can connect to an event or place with which you are closely connected, and you are half way to a winner. Sell the book no matter what you have to do—embarrass yourself, don’t be afraid—because with sales comes credibility and with credibility comes attention.

Colin Galbraith is the author of several works of fiction and collections of poetry. Based in Edinburgh, he is a lover of the alternative side of Scottish life, rabbits, cheese and quaffing. Galbraith is an accomplished fake faller. Read more about him here: www.colingalbraith.co.uk

Personal signed copies of Fringe Fantastic can be ordered here.

Fringe Fantastic can be purchased direct from the publisher here.

Interview with Colin Galbraith, author of STELLA


My good friend and trusted colleague, Colin Galbraith, has a completely unique novella out with Eternal Press called STELLA. It starts out as a straight-up political thriller and takes some fascinating twists and turns along the way. I’ve never read anything quite like it, and highly recommend it.

I interviewed Colin, curious about the origins of some of the twists and turns.

CG:Hi Devon and hello to all your readers! Its great to be on BIBLIO PARADISE again.

DE: The story takes a really fascinating turn from a straight-up political thriller into a supernatural political thriller with strong religious themes. How did that shift occur?

CG: Through the music of the album that inspired it. The original idea came to me through the album of the same name by the pop band, Yello. It involved a pure straight up Cold War theme with spies, mysterious characters in long coats hiding in East European shadows under a full moon. Yet when I began writing, I came to a point where my original idea for a twist at the end of the book wasn’t going to work. Through one of the songs I had a better idea—a paranormal idea—and thus I was moving in another direction.

Of course, at that point it meant not really knowing how it was all going to end up so I just had to trust my muse and go with it.

DE: How much plotting did you do before you started writing? Was there a point where you had to stop and go back to re-shape material because of where the rest of the story headed?

CG: Because I had the bulk of the plot already ingrained in my mind after 20 years of listening to the album, I didn’t have much plotting to do. The process all started with me writing down the main scenes to see how they would fit the general story line. Then I flushed out the rest of the plot by linking them all up and forming the whole thing into something that was appropriate to my original idea, and that would make a half decent book. It was by far the easiest book I’ve written.

DE: Did you do any research within particular mythologies or cultures as backdrop? If so, which ones?

CG: One of the main themes in the story involved three roses but I didn’t just want any rose, it had to be dark and mysterious. I had no idea there was such a thing as the Baccara—the black rose—until I started researching it. Other than that I just stuck to what I already knew as far as mythology was concerned. I don’t think I’ve delved too far into it, and where I have I mostly made it up. I got the confidence to do that from an interview I read by Michael Crichton. He said, “everyone knows that dinosaurs can’t be cloned from fossilized DNA, but if they could…”

I did most of my research around the locations where the action takes place in the book. I know Amsterdam very well having been there several times. The church, coffee shop, sex shop and the lanes etc. all exist and were easy to write about. Fes was a little harder as was San Francisco and New York City, so I had to rely on the Internet, books and people I knew who had been there. I’m not totally comfortable writing about places I hadn’t been to, but the plot and the characters dictated a wide variety of locations would be needed so I ran with it. Hopefully it came off, though maybe not as well as I probably think!

DE: Did you set out to write a novella, or did content dictate form? Do you feel we’re entering into a Renaissance for the novella format?

CG: The content more or less dictated the form. The first draft of the book was too short for anything and I wasn’t happy with it at all. The first re-write was far too long and crossed over from being a novella to being a novel, but it was far too strung out and boring—it lost all the tension and drama. The third re-write saw me cutting it right back to make it a tighter story, while making sure not to rush through it, although looking back I still feel it’s rushed in places. I’ve learnt a lot from that experience, above all to let it go now it’s out there.

I’ve written three full length novel stories now—one published, two not—and I greatly enjoy the challenge and the satisfaction from the novel. But the novella offers something quite different but equally as gratifying.

Ideas for stories come to me all the time. Sometimes they make great foundations for a novel, other times a poem, sometimes a short piece of fiction. STELLA was perfect for a novella length story and I still think that.

The thing I like about novellas is that they’re long enough to tell a complicated story, but short enough to be able to hold the entire thing in one’s mind and see everything in one go. I can’t “view” any of my novels in my head from start to finish, but I can with a novella, and that makes writing them that little bit easier to cope with if they are complicated and have several arcs.

DE: Do you find that it’s different marketing a cross-genre novella from a single-genre novel and how, or how not?

CG: I’ve never thought about it like that, although when people ask what STELLA is about I tend to veer toward the “spy story with a twist” line. Part of the reason is that I think people might be put off if they think it’s paranormal and partly because I don’t want to spoil the surprise if they should read it.

I think paranormal and any other form of genre fiction, whether it be crime or sci-fi or fantasy, suffer from the same prejudice in that it’s not seen as mainstream or “proper fiction” by the establishment. Crime fiction, for example, is huge in Scotland but is looked down upon by institutions like the Booker Prize. And there are plenty of writers who do both. Take Iain Banks, who writes outstanding books of literary fiction and is generally accepted as one of the top UK writers, yet he also writes as Iain M Banks and is one of the top sci-fi writers the UK has produced. Go figure!

DE: How do you feel this unique piece influenced the writing you’re doing now?

CG: The obvious answer is that it spawned a sequel, which I’m working on just now. I would never have had the idea for BACCARA BURNING if it hadn’t been for STELLA.

But the main thing is that showed me I shouldn’t write to be published, that I should write for me. STELLA was never meant to be published, it was a private project I always promised I would do one day, and to see it published before the other work I’ve been pitching around the globe is quite something. I’m very proud of STELLA because it was 20 years in the making and thus very close to my heart.

Thanks for such great questions and for having me here—it’s been great fun!


Colin Galbraith has been publishing books, short stories, poems and non-fiction articles in print and online publications since 2004. He is a regular contributor to A-Listed, the News of the World’s Scottish music supplement, and is the Chief Editor of The Ranfurly Review.

Stella is his second book and was published by Eternal Press in June 2009.

His website can be found at: www.colingalbraith.co.uk