Category: Writing

Longer posts that I might actually have researched or at the very least I’ve thought about before posting.

The Blip

I’m standing in the room. It’s a room I’ve heard described by many others but here I am, finally. I can’t quite believe what’s happening, it feels surreal, like I’m still in a dream, which is oddly apt I suppose.

The message was waiting for me when I woke, as I rose from my bed the everyscreen on the wall chirruped its notification and up popped the message “YOUR BLIP DAY IS HERE” in the official corporament lettering, large and bold in the middle of the screen. It’s odd seeing something you’ve seen so often before, all those images posted to social feeds over and over, suddenly there in front of you, on your screen, in your reality, in front of your own eyes. It doesn’t seem real. I sat on the edge of the bed for the longest time just staring at the image.

Underneath it read, “Please report to The Centre by 10:00 today”, so I eventually rose, showered, and left my pod.

I was still a bit unsettled as I got on the shuttle, with all the other commuters heading to the Inner, and as it whisked silently along I looked around. Row after row of citizens minding their own business, headscreens in place here and there, eyes closed elsewhere. I rarely got the shuttle these days, my job being transferred to the Outer a few years ago, and it just added to the air of excitement that was slowly building as the Inner loomed closer and closer, with the grandspire of The Centre looming larger and larger.

The shuttle chime signalled the end of my journey and as I stepped out from the station into the street I could feel the nervous knot in my stomach churning tighter and tighter.

No-one walking past me knew what I was about to do today, yet I wondered if anyone would guess. Why would someone like me, clearly not a frequent visitor to these parts, be here at this time of day after all? But then part of the rules to avoid you being corrupted by people wanting to use your Blip for their own ends was to keep it secret, and we’d all seen the warnings and read the stories – that, one about the person who ended up being hit by a shuttle moving at full speed, still makes me shiver! – so I kept my head down and walked on.

I reached The Centre just before 10am and, after the usual rigmarole of scans and ID checks were passed, I was taken by a very polite assistant to a waiting room who told me someone else would be along soon to take me to the Blip Room and that I should take a seat. They said a lot of other things about the building we were in and the corridors we were strolling and the offices we were passing as walked from the entrance to the waiting room, all in the same breathless monotone that I daren’t interrupt.

I sat in the only seat in the room, my mind racing as I absent mindedly drummed my fingers on the soft leather of the arm of the chair.

A couple of minutes later another assistant, dressed in the same gentle green as the previous one, appeared and asked me to stand up and follow them. I stood up and almost walked into their back as they hadn’t moved, but then peering past them I saw it, just beyond them on the far wall, a door had appeared and was sliding open. I followed the assistant through into the darkened room, and stood where I was told. After a brief explanation to confirm why I was there and what I was to do and what to expect – entirely pointless because everyone already knows what Blip Day involves – they turned and walked out, closing their part in my day with the final parting words that I already knew they would say, “Take your time, start when you are ready”.

So there I stood, looking at the computer terminal in front of me. Set on a pedestal with a small keypad in front of it. At the top of the screen was the current date and time, which told me it was 10:01 and underneath in vivid neon green words splashed across the centre of the screen were the words; “Please enter the date and time from the previous week for your desired BLIP, then hit Enter.” Underneath the words was an empty line at the start of which was a blinking cursor waiting for me to make a decision.

It was as underwhelming as it was intoxicatingly exciting.

My Blip was finally here.

I’ve spoken to others who’ve been through today, and they all say similar things about wishing they’d known when they would be chosen, even though we all know it’s a lottery for a reason. Can you imagine living your life with the knowledge of when you would be the one standing here, in this place, with the cursor beckoning you to enter a date from your immediate past?

Imagine the havoc it would wreak, as you planned your “blip time” and did everything in your power to make it as perfect as you’ve ever dreamed. Just the stress of getting things right, knowing that you’ll only have one chance to relive that exact moment, that perfect hour over again, would surely be crippling.

That’s not to say I’ve not fantasised about what my perfect hour would be, we all have and anyone who says they haven’t is a liar, or they’ve already Blipped and are living with the regret of making the wrong choice.

My own fantasies veer from the ridiculous; a deserted beach, cocktails at sunset, and then a descent into as much lewd detail as I can cram into an hour (which, it turns out, is a quite disturbing amount), all the way through to a quiet lazy Sunday afternoon, lying on the hover sofa in the warmth of a summer breeze doing nothing much of anything. The latter is far more achievable than the former but hey, isn’t that what fantasies are for?

Then I realise how selfish I’m being and surely if I could reclaim an hour and do it all over again it would be better doing something productive, or something that will help other people? And then I realise that those people will also get to do an hour over so it’s ok to focus on myself for this and round the cycle goes.

They have counselling available after you Blip, if you want it, but imagine what the psychological damage would be like if knew when it would be your turn? It doesn’t bear thinking about.

All of this is flashing through my mind as I stand there, watching the cursor slowly blink.

“Please enter the date and time from the previous week for your desired BLIP, then hit Enter.”

They said I should take my time, I’m not sure they meant quite this long.

“Please enter the date and time from the previous week for your desired BLIP, then hit Enter.”

My palms are sweaty now and I force myself to focus, trying to recall every detail of the past week? I had a nice lunch on Tuesday with my sister, that was a nice hour? That walk at sunset on Sunday evening was beautiful, and… god what else did I do? Maybe I should go back and undo something rather than re-experience something I enjoyed?

There was that slip up at work that cost me an afternoon, I could go back and fix that. That homeless person I walked past that I ignored, maybe I go back and buy them some hot food and chat with them a while?

My brain was spinning and it was hard to focus and I started to realise how lucky I was. Here I stood, on my Blip Day and despite being able to go back and relive any hour of my life from the past week I didn’t feel any compulsion to do so? The things that didn’t go so well were not so bad that I need to fix them, and the good things were all with people I will see again in the future.

I wonder then if I could trade my Blip Day, hand it in and give someone else, maybe someone who had already used there turn many years ago. Someone who since then had had something bad, something you would want to undo? Perhaps the death of a loved one? Could I give them a chance to go back to the days before so they could say all the things they wanted to say?

Or that homeless guy, if he’s had his Blip Day already, maybe I can go back and let him make a different decision that saves him ending up cold and alone on the pavements of the city? One of my work colleagues recently ran over and killed a cat, maybe they get to go back in time to brake sooner?

The possibilities were endless, and the longer I stood there the more I realised how futile this choice was.

“Please enter the date and time from the previous week for your desired BLIP, then hit Enter.”

It was impossible, how could anyone, any single person, make a good decision? Especially someone like me, who by and large lived a privileged life, full of happiness and laughter? Surely there should be some level of worthiness, or need, considered when they selected the next Blip Day recipient.

“Please enter the date and time from the previous week for your desired BLIP, then hit Enter.”

Again the random nature of all of this struck me. I had been chosen so I should just make the most of this opportunity rather than waste it.

Yet still my brain struggled to latch on to anything of note from the previous week, no matter how hard I tried I drew blank after blank. I replayed every waking hour day by day, retracing my steps through time and there was nothing. I’d been doing this for my entire journey from home to the Inner and the walk to the Centre. I’d had a nice lunch one day but couldn’t recall if it was two or three days ago. There was a nice sunset last Wednesday I think? Or was it Friday? The harder I thought the more I struggled to recall any details at all from the previous week of my mundane life.

“Please enter the date and time from the previous week for your desired BLIP, then hit Enter.”

The room was warm, or maybe it was just me, and I could feel the panic rising. What happens if I can’t think of a time? Do I just leave the room? Do I get another chance or is this it? Why is my life so boring? All those people who talk about living your best life, and parrot that ancient phrase over and over – You Only Live Once – were right, I’d not been paying attention and so was faced with almost no choice at all, there was nothing from my last week that was of any interest or of any note.

My heart raced faster and faster as I tried to think. Surely there was a time limit, but then how long had I been standing here? Did they come and get me if I ran out of time, or do I just leave? I couldn’t even see a door for that matter, as soon as it had closed it had merged seamlessly with the wall. I looked around the room again but could see nothing bar the screen in front of me and that incessant, blinking, cursor.

I’d just need to choose something, anything. Pick a time and date at random and live with it.

God, what a laughing stock I’d be, but then is anyone any different, all those people who stood before me at these screens, surely they all went through the same experience? And how many people actually took note of their life in such detail that they could pinpoint an exact hour to relive? I remember reading about one person from the Outer 47th who went back to try and save a friend from a bad accident and ended up in the accident themselves because they got the time wrong by a few minutes, what if I did something like that?

I took a deep breath, forced my mind to slow. I am here now. I have one choice to make. Fundamentally that choice makes no difference to my life as it is, at the end of the hour I will be back here and I will leave and go home and tomorrow I will go work as normal and people will ask me what I did and I can tell them anything I like, even though I know I’ll tell them honestly that I didn’t make the most of this experience. And that’s ok too, not everyone has to have a great Blip, right? Surely the majority of them are all going to be like mine, an unremarkable hour of an unremarkable life.

How long had I been standing here? I glanced at the clock at the top of the screen which read 10:59, almost an hour! Are they watching me and wondering what I’m doing? No, don’t panic, just breathe. You aren’t the first person to stand here and the assistant said to take my time. It was no use, almost an hour of wracking my brain and I was still no closer.

“Please enter the date and time from the previous week for your desired BLIP, then hit Enter.”

My hands hovered over the keypad.

If only I had more time.

Writing space

Since moving, I’ve struggled to get back into my writing habit. I’m managing to keep my blog going although dropping the schedule I followed in 2018 has also had an impact – looking back it’s clear that some of the posts are not great – but I now have two rough ideas for a novel/novella which are currently stalled in draft purgatory with no signs of moving anywhere fast.

I am blocked and uninspired.

Now, I could blame many things for this; that I no longer have a separate desk and a nice adjustable chair, that I don’t have a separate space for when I’m writing, or that I’m just too busy with other things. But these are all excuses.

Ultimately I’m being crippled by my own fear of failure.

A couple of years ago I used NaNoWriMo as a way to push myself, a way to be held (somewhat) publically accountable, and to provide a focus. I met the word count but didn’t have a novel, more the structure of a story and some under developed characters, but it was a start. And I kept it going for a while but then I started to get blocked, stuck wondering where the story should go next, and my character notes kept chopping and changing (to the point I was wondering if I should rewrite and change the focus to be on a secondary character instead).

A while ago I had another vague idea for a story and, on the premise that NOT thinking about Novel 1 whilst I started Novel 2 would actually help me progress Novel 1 at some point, I leapt straight in, only to get blocked on Novel 2 because it wasn’t that great an idea in the first place (or maybe it is, I don’t even know anymore as I’m second and third guessing my second and third guesses).

So I stepped away from writing all together (interestingly I don’t consider writing blog posts the same way I think about writing ‘creatively’), and then life got busy (in a good way) and well loads of other reasons/excuses can be offered to justify why I’ve barely even thought about Novel 1 for over a year or so. All excuses, I know, if I was really passionate about this I would find a way, right?

Now, you may be asking (presuming anyone is still reading) why the hell am I writing a blog post about this? Well because it’s:

  1. A public acknowledgement of my ‘failure’
  2. A way to give myself a kick and hopefully regather some focus on this rather than continue to ignore it
  3. Yet another example of ‘I’ll write any old shite as long as I’m writing’…

The big question is; How do I get my writing mojo back?

Well I’m taking a small steps approach, hoping that each little thing will reduce the friction (aka the excuses) that are holding me back. The good thing is that, over the last few weeks as I’ve started to read back my early draft, a few new ideas have popped up to solidify parts of the novel I’d been struggling with, so I’m hoping to build on that momentum.

Step 1. Hack the physical space
I don’t currently have a comfortable space to write. We have a breakfast bar and stools but it’s not the best. So it’s time to clear up one of the spare rooms, get the table cleared and get a chair. Bonus of finally sorting out one of the spare rooms which have barely changed since we moved in.

2. Hack my mental space
Ohhh the articles I’ve read on this; How to overcome writer’s block, How to get your writing mojo back, Just write!, Finding your way back, and other such titles all spring to mind (I may have made some of these up but you get the gist). That said, I’m prone to procrastination (why do you think I have a blog?) and I know that if I really want to get back to Novel 1 I need to dedicate some time and make it a priority. Even if I’m just sitting down and going through my notes, or rewriting a chapter, it all counts.

3. Or just give up?
But here’s the thing, and I think this is the root of all of this prevaricating and pontificating, shouldn’t I just WANT to sit down and write? Why am I having to ‘hack’ my way back to it? If I don’t have the passion to do it and follow it through to completion then maybe it’s just not for me?

And there we have it. If that is the case, if my attempt at writing a novel has to go down as a noble effort that is ultimately doomed to remain incomplete, well a large part of me doesn’t want to admit that, doesn’t want to say I’ve failed. Logically I know I’m not the first person, and I certainly won’t be the last, to fail to write a book. I should take pride that I tried it at all, acknowledge that as an achievement in itself and move on.

Except I’m not quite ready to do that. Part of me still thinks I can do this, part of me wants to continue to explore the process of writing and finding my own voice and style, and part of me wants to prove that I can, at the very least, finish the damn thing. If for no other reason than to show that all of the words I’ve written about it in this blog post so far (973) aren’t just yet another scream into the void.

Even if that’s exactly what this is.

(994 words, done).

A man I hate

Last Friday I had the great pleasure of going to see a man I hate. He was reading some of his essays.

It was wonderful but he makes me sick to my stomach whenever I read anything he’s written, but I’ve long made peace with my ongoing resentment towards him. Hate is such a strong word, as my Mother liked to remind me during my teenage ‘strop’ years, so perhaps I’ll tone this down a little and say I merely dislike him an awful, awful lot.

But no, let’s not tone this down. He wouldn’t, so why should I?

I hate David Sedaris.

If you aren’t aware of who he is then let me offer a description of the man. He is a slight, balding, bespectacled, man with a high octave voice, and the air of a lightly eccentric literature professor and, according to his own website, “With sardonic wit and incisive social critiques, David Sedaris has become one of America’s pre-eminent humor writers. The great skill with which he slices through cultural euphemisms and political correctness proves that Sedaris is a master of satire and one of the most observant writers addressing the human condition today.” (bio).

I can’t recall when I first had the misfortune to stumble across his work, nor what that piece was but since then I have read many articles and essays, listened to him talk on the radio, bought his books, and yet regardless of the medium he remains cuttingly funny and poignant all at the same time.

I do hate him so.

I’m such a huge fan.

When I found out he was coming to Glasgow I snapped up tickets the day they went on sale and we were not disappointed. Always forthright, hearing him talk about his brothers suicide brought a lump to my throat, yet never strays too far from humour and satire. And this is why I hate him. The way he balances his stories, the comic timing, the gentle misdirection and deliberate provoking of sentiment are expertly intertwined with some brutally dark humour and pinpoint observations that are so seated in our humanity that you are laughing before you realise it.

He is a ridiculously talented writer, less so a public speaker but as he tends to read his own essays that’s not so much of an issue but this is a minor detail. He is eloquent, funny, and that wry self-deprecating humour is exquisitely tuned, particularly to UK ears.

It was an absolute joy to hear him speak, a marvel to my ears as his finely honed word play washed over my ears. The talented bastard. I hate him.

Writing sparks

Struggling with the duvet cover I paused and reminded myself just how good it is to slide between fresh bed linen. A few more wafts of the duvet and several curses later my bed was made. It took a lot of willpower not to just climb in right there and then.

What an odd phrase, how many people have a bed so tall they need to climb into it? Isn’t the English language wonderfully obscure at times. It strikes me, without recourse to research, that this is one of those phrases that comes from ye olde times, when beds were an entirely different proposition.

Ohhh how I adore such things, these quirks of conundrums, paragraphs of prose that puzzle and cause pause to ponder.

I miss writing.

Obviously I have been writing and posting here for quite a while now – this is not the writing I am looking for – but it’s been many months since I sat down and tackled any form of creative writing. Yes, let’s call it that, creative writing.

I have three stories that are languishing in various states of incompleteness. One is about a building. One is about daydreams. One is about beauty. None are beyond first draft (if that), and all are of indeterminate length. They may be novels, novellas, or just short stories, but length is not my concern as the aim isn’t to write a specific type of thing but to finish a thing.

It’s always good to finish a thing so it has been somewhat of a mild annoyance that these stories have been languishing in the doldrums, lost to the flat calm of a sea with no muse.

Writing is still an aspiration and remains a topic I read articles about, garnering advice, tips, and how-tos, in the hope that some (any) of them stick and perhaps will bring the spark that lights my desire to again pick up one of these stories and see where it takes me.

As it turns out, sparks can happen when you least expect them. All that time consuming books and articles on writing, all those hours reading short stories and poems, all the while trying to goad my brain into writing mode.

So it was the other night as I finally slid into my freshly made bed. I’m not sure where it came from, but there it was, a tiny flickering bulb of an idea.

It wasn’t a revelation but it was something. And it was enough of a something that I sat up and let my brain follow it to conclusion, realising it might be just the thing to get me over the bump and allow me to finish one of the stories (the daydream one).

It was such a good idea (I think, it’s hard to be subjective) that I got back up out of bed to jot down some thoughts so I wouldn’t forget them.

I’m not sure where it will lead but if I can get one of these stories to some state of completion then that would be a step forward, although if I’m being honest I have no idea if I’ll ever get to a stage that would render the morass of words I’ve thrown down to be anything that is consumable by others.

But that’s never been the point of why I’ve been writing.

Except, maybe it has? The closer I get to feeling like these stories are finishing the more I wonder how they might be received by a wider public. Is my ego trumping my fear? Perhaps, as it does have the echoes of some of my thoughts behind the years and years I’ve been posting nonsense on this blog; I’ve always stated that this blog is for me but knowing that others read it is definitely a factor in why I continue to publish.

It shouldn’t be, I know, but it is.

Regardless, if the writing bug is descending on me again then I’ll welcome it with open arms. I’ve missed the nagging feeling that it brings, prodding me into action with the promise of beautiful prose and cathartic release.

As I lay back in bed that night, my brain was already whirring away, extrapolating my idea into ever wider directions and themes and plotlines. As I started to drift off to sleep I took myself to my writing place and found I was already there, sitting at an old wooden table in front of window that looks out over a remote wilderness. I type the final words that finish every story that has ever been, push the keyboard away and, rising from my chair I lift the empty coffee cup and walk out of frame.

The End.

4 beeps in the night

I had gone to bed at a reasonable hour for once and was asleep in no time at all, my weary bones and tired mind happily conceding to the warmth of the bed and the darkness of the night. I fell fast into a deep and comfortable slumber.

So you can imagine my consternation and the enusing ire when, not long after the clock swept past 2am, I was rudely awakened by a short series of loud beeps. Startled awake, my eyes opened to the dark and in my chest the loudest of crashing thumps began as my heart beat the panic drum.

My mind raced to the source; was it the (unset) burglar alarm or one of the smoke detectors? Regardless, after the fourth beep faded and left just the pounding of my heart echoing from my bed, I knew sleep would elude me until I had it figured it out.

Having never heard these beeping noises before I eyed the closed door of the bedroom suspiciously. Was my burglar alarm signalling an attempted entry? Was the bedroom door about to be flung open by a shadowy thug wielding some form of weapon?

WAS MY WORST NIGHTMARE ABOUT TO BE REALISED?

Seconds passed as I lay there, white knuckles gripping the duvet, listening for a sound, any sound, that would signal my doom.

Nothing happened.

I quietly exhaled. Rising from the warmth of my bed, I warily made my way out into the hall. Glancing left and right as I jerked the bedroom door open – all the better to catch an unsuspecting intruder and use surprise to my advantage, oh yes I was ready to pounce into action – but no movement caught my eye, nothing was obviously untoward, the coat stand remained unmoved, the rug that slips easily underfoot was resolutely where I last positioned it.

I walked into the hall, turned towards the front door and, on seeing the locks firmly closed over, removed that as a potential entry point. I flipped open the cover on the alarm system and the display glared at me in the dark, forcing my sleepy eyes in to a squint, yet it had nothing to report. I stood in the dull glow to consider if this lack of information was a good or bad thing? My brain struggled to find reason for either.

I turned and walked back down the hall to the living room, pausing momentarily at the hall cupboard before I grasped the handle firmly and yanked the door open, again hoping that swift action would unsettle any devious fiend hiding in wait. But OHHH how my heart leapt as, in the act of opening the door, I must’ve dislodged the mop placed within, bringing it tipping towards me and only stopping short as the handle caught on the nearest edge of the bucket in which it stood.

It is to my eternal embarrassment that I fear my attempts to stifle my cry of fear only resulted in a somewhat high pitched squeaking. Look at me now, what a fool I am, stumbling in the dark, half-asleep, half-naked and still defenceless! I made a mental note to leave some form of defensive implement next to the bed for future and then I lifted the mop from the bucket, lest I enter the living room completely at the mercy of whatever spectre lay beyond, and quietly closed the cupboard door.

I could feel the adrenalin surging as I approached the living room, for if my would-be assailant didn’t enter by the front door then surely a window was the mode of entry! I paused again, listening, before I entered with wilful abandon, the door flung wide, the mop raised in front of me ready for battle.

Nothing.

I admit that by now I was starting to feel more than a little foolish, and so when the kitchen proved to be unsullied by an unwanted guest I retreated and, chastened, returned the mop to the hall cupboard.

As you know, there is no place to hide in the bathroom but I still checked behind the door, knowing full well that any stone left unturned would simply play on my mind later. Closing the bathroom door behind me I look up to the ceiling. In the corner is a sensor for the burglar alarm, and nearby one of three smoke detectors that guard over me while I sleep.

Pushing the thoughts of burglary to the back of my mind I stood, quiet as a mouse, and waited for the next set of beeps. I stood still with one ear to the detector in the hallway, the other in the direction of the living room and adjacent kitchen, lest my beeping foe be situated there.

Whilst waiting for the next tell-tale beeps I tried to gauge how long it had been since I was so briskly roused from my fitful sleep; has it been two minutes? More? Less? My heavy eyes pulled my head forward but I jolted myself upright, what folly it would be to fall asleep again only to be bested by one of those confounded smoke detectors! I will not stand for that.

Yet there I stood. Minutes pass and as I grow cold I wondered if I dreamt these monsterous noises, did I conjure them from my subconscious? I tried to recall what I had been dreaming of but the harder I tried to grasp it the quicker it seemed to evaporate from my memory, smoky wisps in the air.

Silence.

There are no beeps.

Above me, tiny green LEDs glow in the night to confirm that all is well, rest now human, there is no need for worry.

I eventually gave up. I’m not sure how long I stood there but I was glad to go back to bed, back to the cooling embers of the duvet. I closed my eyes and laid still and quiet, my heart beat slowed and my limbs settled beneath me. Eventually sleep returned and called for me once more.

In the cold light of this autumn morning I can admit that I was, perhaps, swept away by the darkness, caught up in the panic that beset me. I know it is not the first time nor will it be the last.

I have added new batteries for the smoke detectors to my shopping list.

Writing less to write more

This year, as some of you may have noticed, I’ve managed to stick to a schedule on this ‘ere blog by posting something every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.

The aim was to keep myself writing, regardless of quality or length, in the hopes that it would carry over into my other creative writing exploits elsewhere.

Alas, in the latter regard, it hasn’t really worked.

I think because the process I use to craft (ha!) a blog post and how I approach longer fictional writing differs quite dramatically (pun intended) so, despite them being essentially the same sort of thing (write some words), I don’t seem to get any flow from one format to the other.

In hindsight, it should’ve been obvious. I mean if it was just about churning out words then surely tweets should count and be part of the contribution? Not to mention the countless (endless!) emails, presentations, and documents I produce at work. Alas no, there is a different focus, a bigger world I need to step into when it comes to writing creatively and no amount of cheap words will do.

I say that not to cheapen what I offer here (I doubt anything I say here could do much to cheap the bulk of what I have published!) but the process I use for each format is telling.

Most, if not all, of my blog posts this year have been quickly drafted whenever thought and keyboard collide. I’ll revisit and re-edit most of them once, occasionally twice, and will happily reach for ideas wherever I can get them. For a random focus-less blog that’s just fine, the writing is allowed to vary in style, pace, prose, and content as much as I want (although inevitably it’ll all come out sounding like me anyway). Yet for a longer piece… say, a chapter for a novel… well things get a little more complicated.

Lessons learned abound and I now know that leaping straight in to writing a long piece of fiction with the barest bones of an idea is probably not the best approach for me. It works to a point, and discovering the characters and their traits as I write about them was oddly beguiling, almost maternal as these strangers emerged into people before me. But once I’d bashed out 50,000-odd words (thank you NaNoWriMo) I realised that whilst I liked the premise of the story I was trying to tell, it was falling short of how I wanted to write, and that’s not to mention the style I had seemingly adopted which on reading sections back felt oddly foreign at times. Did I really write that LIKE THAT?

I wrote a lot of words but as I’ve started to pick my way back through that first draft – which will never see the light of day, so don’t ask – I find myself peeling everything back and staring at what’s left in utter bemusement. Eventually I start to re-write, filling in the gaps as best I can until the shape of the very thing I’m trying to sculpt has twisted into something entirely else. All well and good for one chapter but slotting this newly carved piece into the jigsaw of the whole soon becomes a matter of futility, so it’s on to the next piece, and then the next, and soon you aren’t building a jigsaw at all but learning how to water-ski. It’s very off-putting.

Which means that returning to the short form simplicity of a blog post becomes very freeing and the next thing you know, despite starting out to write about how you might be taking a wee break from the blog for a week or so, because you have utterly no idea what to write about (and your recent vomiting bug is very much best left un-discussed) you find yourself realising that you’ll always have something churning about in your brain, you just needed to coax it out into the light and (still) the best way I have of doing that is to just start writing.

And lo I did write, and waffle, and meander through a topic that is specific to me but may be familiar to some (and hey maybe even helpful to another? I can but dream!).

This all goes to say, in as many words as possible (although I do end up boring even myself at times) that I want to congratulate you if you’ve made it this far. God knows I’d have given up several paragraphs ago. Maybe think on it this way; only the few (fool)hardy souls who have ventured to this point will know that I’m now taking classes and learning how to water-ski properly.

The Hunt

Ready, prepared, weapons in place,
the fresh stench of aftershave fills the air,
a clean shirt buttoned,
wallet checked, protection an annoyance.

On the bus, eyes everywhere,
bodies chat and vodka laughs,
the vehicle vibrates week long sexual energy,
the weekend hunt is on.

She with the warpaint camouflage,
ready with her lures,
lurid nails on glowing screen,
there in 10, get the drinks in.

Pools of light illuminate busy tables,
empty glasses to catch vapid souls.
You have to shout at the bar staff over indie classics,
to order your next round of avoidance.

People congregate, merge and flock,
friends and colleagues bellowing at shared jokes,
while the hunters quietly circle,
waiting for the herd to break, weakness to reveal.

Across the room a separate herd moves,
pristine feathers shine on Instagram,
gaudy money reflected, tasteless bling,
they are our screaming false gods.

Avoid the vain, they expect to be hunted,
Target the approval seekers,
the ones with the quiet laugh,
the scanning eyes, desperate to be seen.

Elsewhere lipstick is slowly applied
and she sees a reaction,
eyes met and the hunter moves,
her prey static, silent in headlights.

Eyes roaming over downed drinks,
watching for a split in the pack.
The hunters are patient,
and praised in this ritual.

Chat up lines miss at first,
circling to land later in addled ears.
A smile, a touch, not my place, yours,
agreement willingly coaxed, doused in want.

Later they wake in quiet places,
and fake their way home.
All they have are empty sofas and the ritual ends,
still alone, still empty, unfed and unloved.

Write way forward

This year I’ve deliberately kept to a schedule here on this blog. Tuesdays and Thursdays I post something, Saturdays are for the Weekend Reading compilations, so aside from monthly roundups, I’ve gotten into a routine of writing. That was the point, to make myself write more.

Sometimes it’s a bit forced, but sometimes it feels easy. There have a been a few bits of creative writing thrown in and they have (I think) mostly worked, but overall it’s about getting used to writing. I had gotten away from it here, away from writing in my journal, away from any notion of picking up the novel I started as part of NaNoWriMo.

I think it’s starting to pay off though. I’ve kept the schedule here, I’m writing in my journal more often (important for other reasons) and more recently some ideas for my novel have started to percolate. I think the time away from it has helped and I’m hoping that, with an empty weekend (what a novelty!) ahead I can sit down and progress things a little.

That said, there will be large parts which I’ll be rewriting but that’s ok, I’m not actually as bothered by that as I thought I might be. I’m more excited that I’ve a clearer idea of some character motivations and hopefully they’ll push the story in a slightly different direction and help me get towards the end. Oh yeah, I’ve had the start and end figured out for a while, in fact I’ve probably had about 75% of the damn thing thought through until you get to the last quarter before the final chapter. There I seem to stall and can’t quite get a handle on how I get from X to Y before heading to Z.

I’m not sure if the blog schedule has helped, or whether it’s just now that I’m starting to get past last year and the flat move, and starting to look ahead. And in that very spirit I’m not focusing on why, just the act of writing itself.

Who knows, maybe this time next year I’ll be able to say I’ve written a book?

Mission to Mars

My dearest loved ones,

I’m writing to all of you in the hope that my words will bring some solace and help you adjust to what is about to happen. You all know how excited I was when they announced this project, you’ve all supported me and encouraged me to work hard to make it happen, and you’ve all been there through my darkest days when I thought it was slipping out of my reach.

From the moment I heard about the mission to Mars I knew I had to be on the crew, all those years staring up at the sky, wondering what lay beyond, the holidays to the Moon bases, and my acceptance to Lunar College were all a stepping stone.

I know now that those early days were just the beginning of a longer journey, one I didn’t even realise I wanted. Getting into space was the dream, remember that family trip to the Armstrong memorial? What a happy time that was! The photo of us all pretending to moonwalk still cracks me up and a print of that very photo will be one of my personal items on the Mars trip.

We aren’t allowed too many personal items, it’s a long journey and the less we take the quicker we will get there but along with that photo I’m taking some other things that remind me of you guys, my crazy family.

Dad, that jumper you knitted me got me through Lunar College and whilst it’s a little worse for wear I think the comfort it will bring may be much needed, our pods will be pretty sparse (it’s a military ship after all) so it’ll be good to be able to snuggle up with it. It always reminded me of my childhood, how you used to wrap your arms around me on cold days to keep me warm, how safe and loved I felt.

Mum, the utility knife you gave me when I graduated is already packed. I’m technically not allowed a ‘weapon’ but I’ve managed to smuggle it aboard all my other trips so it’s going on this one too! That knife has been with me through a lot of tough times but even just holding it in my hand has helped me stay focused. It’s weird I know but it’s got a nice heft to it that, when I hold it, reminds of you. Assured, calming, level headed and prepared.

Andy, well of course I’ve brought all those mixed tapes you kept sending me, maybe I’ll finally listen to one all the way through and realise that you do have some musical taste (I’m not holding my breath but I’ve got about 14 months to kill so…). I’ve also brought that baseball. Yeah, I kept it all these years, it’s been with me everyday since the accident, my own little secret that reminds me that if you can rise above that, then I can rise to meet any challenge. You are more inspirational to me than you’ve ever realised. People once told me that having a little brother would be a pain in the ass (they weren’t wrong!) but they never told me that I’d eventually be looking up to my little brother.

Caz, after everything you’ve been through I should confess something. I stole a little thing the last time I visited, knowing that I was on the shortlist for this mission. I wanted something to remind me of you, something that I could hold in my hand and draw comfort from. I hope you don’t mind, and I figured the twins won’t miss their little knitted booties anyway. I never told you, but my adorable niece and nephew are one of the reasons I wanted this mission so so badly. The future of Earth is so unstable it scares me, so if we can find a better place on, or beyond, Mars then I hope that I can play a part in making things safer for them and their children.

It hurts that I won’t see any of you again, that as we fly further and further from Earth the communication delay will start to be measured in hours and then days. Our last interactions earlier today were the last real time conversation we will ever have. The journey I’m about to embark on is weighing heavy and it’s all these little things that suddenly seem to matter more than anything.

I will miss you all terribly, more than I can express using words but this might be the last chance I get.

I love you all so so very much, I know I’ve not always been a good son, and I know I could’ve been a better brother. I know I could’ve done more, tried harder, but I guess I’ve always been wanting this escape. I need to go now, final preparations are under way and in less than an hour we will leave the Moon behind and start our journey into whatever space has to hold for us.

I believe I am doing this for all of us, a chance for a better future, but that doesn’t make it any easier to say goodbye.

Right, enough of this! Next stop Mars!!

Beneath our feet

Do you ever get one of those weird compulsions to do something that you would never do? Like wanting to jump in a river fully clothed, or eating an entire raw onion? It’s kinda hard to explain and most of the time I just ignore them but the other day one of them struck me on my walk home from work.

It was a gorgeous day so I left work a little early, thinking to meander my way homeward and enjoy the evening sunshine. Early  spring had delivered the first buds of green and I was quite content, plodding along with no desire to hurry, lost in daydreams and the casual nosiness of the urban wanderer. I took lanes and paths I’d never noticed before, turned into streets that lead me to hidden parks and gardens, and comforted myself that I was  heading in roughly the right direction home, most of the time.

It was near one of these little parks, on an unfamiliar street, that my foot caught on a manhole and I stumbled. It was enough to jolt some adrenalin into my system but not quite enough to send me to the ground, just a few awkard stuttering steps before I  caught myself and got my feet underneath me. I prepared my worst glare and turned round to see what had had the temerity to trip me up and break me from my revelries.

The manhole cover was slightly raised at one edge and clearly hadn’t been properly seated back in place. A long crowbar of dulled iron lay nearby and I looked around, presuming to see a work van or even a worker on tea break somewhere but there wasn’t a soul in sight.

Clearly someone had forgotten to put the manhole cover properly back in place.

I huffed loudly to no-one and was about to turn and walk away, but my conscience got the better of me. I would do a good deed, unseen and unheralded, bonus integrity points for me! I walked over and lifted the crowbar.

It was heavier than it looked, but I raised it up and one end slipped into the required notch in the cover. My brain started searching for whichever Greek polymath introduced the idea of fulcrums, as it would only take a small push with the crowbar to drop the manhole cover back into place.

I paused. My mind shifted from polymath to compulsion.

What is down there under that manhole cover?

No, I mustn’t.

But there’s no-one around, no-one to see, no-one will know.

I looked around again, slowly checking over one shoulder, then the other, then check again to be sure. Not a sound, no dogs barking, no children laughing, no-one in sight. I shifted my grip on the bar and with one smooth motion, eased the manhole cover up and out of the way.

I stood there for a moment, peering down into the darkness beneath my feet. My eyes slowly adjusted until I could make out a tiny spot of light, far far below me. A shimmering sixpence at the bottom of a dark well, an object that had no right in being there, the blackness deeper than I thought possible. Was I just seeing a reflection? The light from above reaching out to touch the edge of nothing? I waved my hand in the air over the opening but the dot of light remained constant. No, not a reflection. How odd.

I looked around, glad that there was no-one else nearby to witness my behaviour. I knelt down beside the opening and, putting a hand on each side, lowered my head and shoulders down until they were inside the entrance and blocking most of the light.

Far below me the dot of light expanded. In it I could see colours and shapes forming and moving, like an out of focus film reel that my brain couldn’t quite make sense of. I leaned in further and the dot grew again, the shapes solidfying, shifting into a semblance of… wait, was that  a dog?

I sat up and sheepishly looked around, the street was deserted still. I glanced back down into the darkness to see that the dot of light had shrunk once more.

Ahhh, it’s an optical illusion! How clever! But how does it work?

Intrigued I leaned in again, moving slowly, watching the circle of light below me grow; the further I leaned, the larger and clearer the image below me became.

I was starting to be able to pick out familiar shapes, there was a bright blue car, and there a pink dog lolloping around a bright orange field. Every now and then a flash of colour and a new shape blossomed into view, colours clashing vividly. Purple bananas hanging from turquoise trees.

I leaned further and further in until I was at my limit, barely clinging on with most of my upper torso disappearing into the ground. It was then I heard a voice above me ask what the hell I thought I was doing?

I pulled myself back out, cracking my head on the wrought iron edge of the manhole on the way. I sat back, rubbing the back of my head, and squinted up at the woman standing over me.

She was older than I and carried the quiet air of school ma’am authority. She was looking at me with a stern  but bemused look, the naughty boy caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

How could I explain what I’d seen? A strange world at once familiar yet surreal, an reflection wrought in the wrong technicolours?

I clambered to my feet and as dusk fell I told her about tripping on the manhole cover and that I was just checking that nothing or no person had fall in. I lied. It was easier than trying to form the words that held the truth, most because as I was not entirely sure what that trush was, what had I seen?

She listened silently then beckoned me out of her way. I stood and watched in silence as she used the crowbar to slide the cover back over the hole, dropping it in place with a deep heavy thunk.

She turned to face me. With a nod she said that that was done and next time I should cover manholes not peer into them. It was phrased as a statement, a command to be followed. She held my gaze as I murmured and nodded in acquiescence, and after a few seconds she turned on her heel and walked away.

I watched her go, the long iron crowbar swinging lightly in her hand. I looked down at the manhole cover, admiring the intricate patterns and strange words that adorned it. In the distance a dog barked and the birds began their evensong.