Missed Connections

Flash fiction for fickle folk.

Out of my left eye I see you waiting at the station. You’re on time, but the train is late, and you’re pacing. The seconds can’t tick by fast enough. There are places you need to be.

Out of my right eye I see him walking down the platform, with posture well rehearsed; an outer calm that belies inner worry. Be yourself but don’t get noticed. Can he get in to work and avoid balancing on the scales? Ma’at is hungry and Yahweh goads her on.

At first you think he’s attractive and your gaze quickens. But if something seems off, it is quickly forgotten as self-interest takes hold. Maybe he’ll notice how good you look if you stand just so. You’re a girl and he’s a boy so it’s only natural, right?

It’s a biting spring morning and you haven’t had enough coffee to deal with the others on the platform. Yahweh nestles into your soul and you wish, you long, to meet an angel. Something pure, devoid of the petty hang-ups and grievances of godless men.

The object of your attraction is looking up at the clouds, and his mind seems a million miles distant from the approaching train whistle. You get angered by a commuter brushing by, chewing loudly from a bag of greasy café food, and you start texting your friend. How rude some people are.

You almost miss the train, but the beautiful cloud-bound boy holds the door open, says, ‘Come on.’ You’re already bristly, and you notice it. His voice, too high in pitch. His clothes fitting slightly off, especially around the chest, his chin smooth and devoid of hair. He is far too old to be pre-puberty.

Words rise like soft, burning pumice. Unnatural. Disgusting. Liar. You were warned about people like him.

Your face starts to shift into brimstone as the crocodile god snaps him up on the scales, makes his heart heavier than a feather from your stony words.

Do you remember what you said to me when we both were young?

Today you met an angel. And you destroyed him.

—–

Many thanks to MJ Kobernus for your editing help!

Holy moly writing fest, Batman!

So it’s holy because, well, Easter, and there’s also been a ton of writing in the past few days. I am still healing from surgery but it’s going great, and am back at work, attending art class, and gaming nights round friends’ houses once again.

I lost the urge to write when I was stuck at home gaming on me tod, but then something interesting happened. I have been trying to write this time-travel short story for ages, and was getting hung up over the dénouement and the plot threads, when I played a videogame that pretty much used one of the story options I had (hint: it’s Fallout 4). And man, did it make me angry! Not because they used it instead of me, but because they managed to make me so caught up in the story that I properly took on the feelings of the main character. And main character was heartbroken, in denial, angry, and so was I. It fired me up to finish my time travel story, and I used one of the other story options instead (the depressing option instead of the anger-inducing option – not that either of them are that much better from each other, but hopefully will make people feel some kind of strong emotion). Nine thousand words later and the story’s submitted to an anthology. I wonder if it will get in.

But even if not, I feel pretty driven again.

This week art classes are back on, as is writing group, and we’re doing something pretty excited for the latter – I’ll be using my graphic design skills to assist the group in doing an on-the-fly cover design. Many of us in the group are interested in self-publishing at some point, so why not use a field of specialisation I already have to help them out? Plus it’ll be mega fun to experiment as a group and see what we come up with. I have no idea what the story we’ll be using as a basis will be, but I do know it’ll be something original from one of the members!

Finally, the Bath Novel Award deadline is coming up. I got my edits of City of Dis back from my old editor, so I’m polishing that to send in, and will probably send in Trees in November too if I feel I can get the writing quality up to scratch.

I may have to go and eat a ton of chocolate eggs now, because I ended up with far too many.

On Sadness Fuelling Creativity

It’s not been a great week. I’ve been seeking distractions for much of it, and some of those distractions have ended up becoming good things in themselves, but still the sadness remains when they peter out and it’s time to go home.

So I am sitting here at midday, drinking whisky far too early, because I’m caught between needing to not think, and needing to get it all out through my writing. Long story short, there are people I love who are in pain and not getting the help they need, and I don’t want to lose them.

I just keep thinking if I could write and make others feel something, maybe my loved ones would end up getting the help they need, maybe the propaganda would shift enough to cause change.

I feel hollow.

But there’s nothing I can do but keep on trying. So this week I’ve been forcing endorphins into my system by going to the gym, putting myself in a mental state where I’m able to keep going and keep creating things, and hopefully change things. It’s painful: with my own illness (EDS) I have a few extra obstacles to get over (this week’s stellar one was dislocating my middle finger, which makes writing hard, and which really reminds me I need to invest in a frogpad). The good thing about being where I am now is that I can actually afford these modifications. Others can’t. Anyway.

On Thursday evening I attended my first proper meetup with the Oslo Writer’s League (the OWLs). It was a fantastic evening, and aside from also being another thing to increase my endorphin levels, it was productive and I ended up making new friends. There were so many lovely people there, and so much good, in-depth discussion on various things. Also, turns out I already met one of the members (kind of) at a backstage event when prog guitarist Steve Hackett came to Oslo last year!

The other nice thing that happened this week is I finally received my proof copy of the story I wrote for my little sister Cara. This was meant to be her Christmas present but ended up a little delayed, and due to shipping problems, her final copy arrived in England before my proof one arrived in Norway. But the important thing is, it came out the printing process looking great, and I’ll probably write a separate thing on that.

Other nice things: it’s been cold and snowing a lot, and I love extreme weather. To top that off, the book I got in the writer’s club jackpot was about the first Western man to climb Mount Everest, so totally up my street. And another friend of mine is writing again with enthusiasm, so I’m watching her progress on her awesome fantasy story with great interest!

Behind all of this I’m trying to ignore the scratching dark tones, and get on with my writing. Considering the bad news of this week, which I’m not going into in any detail, I have not been able to handle writing City of Dis. So Nimbus edits is what we’re on. I’m 28k words in to editing, which is not bad, but god, do I just have to keep going.

I will make a fucking difference. For her sake, for all their sakes.

Hitting the wall

I’m fifteen days into NaNoWriMo, and have written twenty one thousand words. That’s a world record for me, although I won’t hide that I’m jealous of people who have already broken fifty thousand.

Yes, I am a little bit behind target, but I’ve had a rather demoralising experience. Not because of any incidents in real life (although in all fairness, it has been a saddening and depressing week for many of my friends), but because I have hit what long distance runners call The Wall.

It’s a little different from writer’s block, which can happen to anyone, anywhere, any time. It specifically happens at, or around, the halfway point of a predefined venture. In this case, it’s the end of the second week of NaNoWriMo, the point where I should have written around twenty five thousand words. I’m four thousand behind. I’ve had an almost completely stagnant four days in which under twenty words, cumulatively, were written. I gave up trying yesterday and replayed the entirety of Sonic Adventure 2, surpassing the final boss battle that had eluded me since I was fourteen. I do think there’s a benefit to giving in those moments, and distracting yourself with something completely ridiculous, whether it’s getting out the house for the day or just slobbing around eating pizza and playing videogames. I think I got most of it out my system, because today I’ve started writing again, and have another couple of thousand under my belt. Hopefully this means I’ll be back on track, and I hope my friends taking part in this writing challenge overcome their personal walls too.

It has been a very emotional week, and I know it’s a combination of personal relationships, terrible health, wider world events and my own internal landscape. I’m not writing about very healthy or fun topics, and this world I construct in my head does colour everything I do in reality, even if only a little. It’s made me want to fall back on some very old habits, and I’m glad that for the most part I turned to playing Sonic instead. From this I could postulate that Sonic is the cure for hitting the wall, and yeah, I’m happy with that.

 

 

November begins

And so does my writing. For the remainder of this month, I will be partaking in NaNoWriMo, and for the first time in years. I’m feeling more enthused than usual about this, largely because of my writing network having expanded – I am now in touch with a lot of writers who are serious about what they’re doing, and it lends me a lot of motivation to take myself as seriously as I wish to become.

So this month I’m using to finish up Trees in November and City of Dis. It’s the perfect month, as both those stories are terribly depressing. November’s good for that. I’m only about 20k into Trees, but am much further into City of Dis, so that’s coming first. If I can get first drafts for both by the end of the month, it would be fantastic!

After Sunday I’m already off to a good start with 4k in the bag, bringing City of Dis to a total of 60k words – almost enough for a first novel – and I’m especially happy that I’ve tackled some tricky scenes from the point of view of a rather unpleasant character. I’ve had real trouble trying to connect and make that character sound natural, because there’s so little in the way he thinks that I can emulate genuinely. But last night I got some great scenes down (well, I say ‘great’, but the truth of that will become apparent in the later editing…). I’m feeling positive about tonight’s writing. With a bit of focus and application, I might actually beat this year’s NaNo challenge!

If anyone’s on the NaNo site, why not add me? My author page

Can you change the world?

That’s a tall order contained in that question, but it’s something that everyone’s thought about at some point or another. The realisation that you don’t have to settle for being a bystander, that you can do something that will affect the world, is a potent one, and one that forms the basis of most great stories.

On a literal and slightly pedantic level, we are changing the world in minuscule ways every time we buy a coffee or walk past somebody. Those small changes we make – how hard we push past somebody, whether we roll our eyes or look interested when someone talks to us, how much we tip a waiter or waitress – can affect others in small ways that, like sand grains, contribute towards the bigger changes. But that seems obvious – we can’t exist in the world without interacting with it, and even the decision to not interact has implications. So what about the bigger picture?

There’s a story I’ve been wanting to write since I was fourteen. It’s a big undertaking, so it won’t surface for a good few years yet. But the route those characters take ends up with them affecting their world in a big way. And, like most people I’ve met in most jobs and most places in the world I’ve been to, they never set out with that end goal in mind. They sort of stumbled in to it, then tried to make the best they could of it as they discovered more about themselves and the values they hold dear.

I hold my characters up on the road ahead of me when I’m uncertain. When I’m feeling despair – as in the previous blog entry – those moments eventually pass and my mind starts searching for reasons to continue, for motivation, for promise that I can potentially do something about the things that make me sad. So I put the characters from this future story up there and I say, ‘They aren’t particularly special. They lucked out in a few ways, they ended up with some privileges and some misfortunes, but most importantly, along the way, they noticed something was wrong. They noticed people were getting hurt and they tried to do something about it. They had no idea what they were capable of, but they tried anyway.’

And if only I can catch up to them on the road. I can see them up there, not heroes but just people, and it’s comforting. It feels like there’s hope there. I sometimes wonder if this is why I write – so that the dark feelings of the previous blog entry are not all there is – both for me and for anyone else who might have felt similar dips in their outlook. I have to try anyway.

Last night I walked under the trees by the harbour, and golden leaves showered over my head in the breeze. It felt like being on that path. I wanted to share that with others.

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A rejection and a promise.

A while back I entered the MsLexia First Novel competition for the first time. I’ve known about this competition for years, but never bucked up to do it. And it was a real heart-sinking feeling to get the rejection letter, because I had been feeling incredibly confident about entering City of Dis.

But every cloud is not without a silver lining, and I did get a nice rejection letter with a view of overall trends in this year’s submissions, which is useful if only for the fact that it makes it easier to forecast what kind of approach I should take towards future submission cover letters and the like. In addition, there were some nice comments about the quality of writing in the genre I wrote (dystopian) although I’m worried they may have mistaken my first 5000 words for YA, which the novel is not, as the content is far too adult in nature.

So: I’m checking off the bonus points for writing quality, and the bonus points for starting the dystopian adventure straight in the middle of the action, which the judges seemed to like.

I am interested to see who won the competition, as it would be good to compare their work with my own and see what I can learn from it.

And regarding MsLexia itself, it’s the first rejection that’s left me feeling this positive. I’m potentially going to be subscribing to the magazine as it seems to be a good place to nurture confidence.

My current peak of confidence might just be a case of good timing, however. I’m feeling stronger than usual after letting a friend read the first chapter last weekend. Her review was positive, and she wants to read more. So I just have to keep trucking, and will be using NaNoWriMo as a creative space to get some serious editing done.

Dropped the binge-eating, gained some binge-writing.

I’m not sure which came first, the realisation that I hadn’t been eating or that I had been writing far more than is common.

I’ve got a relationship with food that mostly focuses around excess. When you’re down a lot of the time, sometimes embracing the fact that mudpie and cheesy crisps exist can be a lifesaving thing. When you’re experiencing the joys of a chronic physical illness, the fear of eating too much is overridden by the desire to eat enough to be strong, to have enough calories to get through the day and not be in pain. And when a person with this mindset and these needs is put on antidepressant medication that is also used as an appetite stimulant, the results can be gastronomically apocalyptic. I’m off those pills now, but years on it’s still hard for someone who already had a stimulated appetite to wean themselves off the urge even further. Not that I need to reduce this habit too much – I’m a healthy ten stone, which is a perfect weight for a bodybuilder and amateur runner, and I still would rather get through a day being strong and able enough to walk the five kilometres into work than worrying about getting a beach body. Put it this way: some people want to be gazelles and that’s totally cool. I, on the other hand, want to be a hefty horse.

But that aside, the point is that the excess around food can only be replaced by a few things. There’s not much that can make me feel satisfied enough in such a sustained way aside from when the creative urge takes me. And while the eating is taking stuff in, the creating is more throwing stuff out. Usually my creativity is a nice backbeat to my life, but every so often the urge grips me and it feels almost self-destructive because it threatens to make me stop anything else important I might be doing.

I noticed recently when I had foregone meals in favour of getting the next chapter down, without even thinking about it.

If I’m having a solid writing day I get through about a thousand words at best. The number is higher for non-fiction – that I can do two or three thousand. I’m a slow writer either way. It takes me years to write a novel. Sometimes I speed-write in a frenzy but usually I try to avoid it because I feel like I’m not doing the words justice by hurrying it up. I take my time.

So the fact that I’m almost twenty thousand words into Trees in November in the very first week of writing it is something that has caught me off-guard.

I had even gone out and bought food, but it had been laying around the house for days.

It was just far more fulfilling, no, necessary to write.

I can feel the urge to return to the novel now, scratching just behind my eyelids, promising fulfilment.

And these are the things that make me take a step back and promise I’ll keep a close eye on it. I’ll make sure I’m eating what I need to while I get this demon purged from me and onto the page. I’ll try and cultivate some kind of way to not constantly swing from excess to excess (even though I’m conflicted by the fact that this behaviour seems to unlock creativity). I’ll get my projects done and I’ll do them well.

The bottom line is, it’s interesting that it’s not necessarily the thing I’m doing to excess that’s the problem, but the fact I’m getting some kind of feeling of necessity, of absolutism from it. I thought that was worth a mention.

All in one take

I recently watched the trailer for Sebastian Schipper’s new movie, VictoriaIt’s a heart-pounding trial of a film based around what sounds like the gimmicky trick of all two-point-three-hours of it being shot in a single take. Apparently it is very good.

It makes me think of my own approach to writing, because this past week I have been on a writing binge – which happens every so often but not enough to be notable as a ‘thing’. The last time it happened was in 2009 and I wrote fifteen thousand words in three days. But even then I didn’t do what I’m doing now.

My best friend from primary school had this uncanny knack of being able to write an entire story in chronological order, straight up from start to finish. While she might have taken breaks between writing scenes, the fact that she plunged straight in and didn’t stop until the whole thing was written was something I found astonishing, because I was much more slapdash – jumping around from middle to end to start, impulsively skipping ahead to the scenes I liked best and writing them first, then filling in the gaps. It’s how I’ve done every story so far.

So maybe this is just because of the fact that the story I’m currently writing already exists in screenplay form, or maybe it’s because of the strange mood of this week. But either way, I’ve realised after the first week and the first ten thousand words of Trees in November that I’ve written almost the entire thing in complete chronological order. It stands out because I’m not merely transcribing the screenplay; there’s things in the book version that, understandably, are more fleshed out from the film, and there’s new material too. Maybe it’s an easier thing to do since the whole novel takes place over the course of one month – November 2005 – and maybe this gives it structure that I don’t need to worry about so much. Either way, it’s interesting to note. I expect that by the end of the novel (or more likely, novella) I’ll have had to jump around a bit more just to flesh it out more and add more stuff in. But we’ll see where that goes.

It makes me wonder if anyone’s ever written an entire story (and I’m thinking novella or novel kind of length) both in one sitting and chronologically from start to finish. It would no doubt require a lot of planning (and the understandable toilet break, plus nearby snacks) but it would be interesting to see if anyone’s done it. I expect the quality of work might suffer, but looking at the raving reviews for this new film Victoria, it might just be possible to have this happen in a writing context too.

 

image © variety.com

Soon it will be winter; the trees are losing their leaves

It’s my favourite time of year, and also the hardest time of year.

While I hunt for representation for Nimbus (a search which is starting to prove productive, but the process is slow), I’ve been getting on with some other stories. City of Dis is one of them, but I have to be in the right mood for that. It’s an incredibly personal novel and it pains my heart to write it. But it must be done, and it will. Until then, though, I’ve recently had my thoughts settling on other things.

Trees in November was first written as a screenplay, over ten years ago. It’s arguably as dark, if not darker, than City of Dis, and the story is quite upsetting to go through. Like Dis, and as its name suggests, it starts in November. It’s a story about loss, about obsession, about disintegrating mental health, and about how a person might cope with it. And more than that, it’s a snippet of how things were in 2005. The world I went to college in was very different from today. I couldn’t have known all the fantastic things just around the corner, and I couldn’t have known how strange seeing and reading all this work has made me feel. Not nostalgic, that would be the wrong word. But it is strange because it’s familiar; it’s a part of my history.

The story isn’t about me, but it’s from my world. South-East England, Nokia texts, fifteen years old hanging out at local community centres for rock gigs, avoiding townies shouting ‘greebo’ at anything that looked slightly alternative, sneaking out to that one cool friend’s house party because they lived on an estate and their parents didn’t care if we binge-drank all evening, going down the skate park, lugging massive guitar cases and amps round our small nowhere town to jam at friends’ houses after school, pretending we weren’t getting drunk in the park. My world was waiting back at home for time on the family computer because yeah, we had our own computers by then but there’s only one dial-up modem connection, using chat rooms and Myspace and getting three pounds eighty per hour for working at the local supermarket to fund getting to more gigs.

And so it goes. Many of us were not healthy, and many of us could have done with more help. But the support networks back then weren’t anything like today. You could find outlets in some online forums, but there was nothing like the connectedness I experience now. Living in a nowhere town, you realise how much it was a closed loop; it fed into its own understanding of how to cope with problems. I really can’t comment on whether it’s better or worse than ten years earlier or ten years later, but the important fact is that it is different, and I can really feel it. I gave myself a shock, going through my old folders, and finding some of the cutouts, the printed word of my own obsession, still from that time. It’s not healthy to hold on too long when your attempts at getting better involved bad habits, but it is important to get that story out if that’s what it takes to work through it.

So that’s what I’ve been doing. And it’s a stupid month to be doing it in, but it certainly gives it more feeling. Sometimes I think I need to be in that place to wring out the most emotion from it.

Most of my stories seem to take place in the dying light, in that place where hope seems to fade along with the seasonal leaves and you’re faced with the prospect of a cold, hard winter. There will be a spring, there always is, but the question is whether you’re there to see it or not. Some things drag you down places dark and hopeless, and exploring those landscapes is just as important and necessary as fighting back against them is for making your way back out of them again.