Category: Writing

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

Murmurs

Wings pull at the air as they launch themselves at the sky. Tiny black spots against the dipping glow of the evening sun, soaring higher and higher, cajoling and sniping as the nervous energy builds, pulling them up, up, up..

Viewed from a distance the birds coalesce; the shape shifting from blanket to ball, a liquid mass pulled by invisible forces.

In the air they seem one in thought and movement, wheeling and diving, governed only by instinct and the common heartbeat of their motion. On the grass below a couple stand, hand in hand, their gaze held by the swift curves of the flock overhead.

More birds arrive, racing from bushes and trees, diving into the wheeling and spiralling noise. Soft down feathers float to the faces watching below, the frantic thrum of a thousand wings a gentle staccato on their ears.

The shape above them turns, spins, dives, swoops; wide brush strokes daubing the sky. The couple, transfixed, sway gently in time as they unconsciously follow the movement.

The sun slides below the horizon and in one last surge the birds turn, sated and spent, and the edges blur as the murmur descends. The noise of wings rustling leaves as the sky empties.

NaNoWriMo Reflections

I’ve been blogging for a long time, I keep an occasional diary – in Day One, a wonderful journal app – and have even shared some (very) short stories here. As I’ve mentioned before, I enjoy the process of writing and I’ll admit that NaNoWriMo has always intrigued me.

In its 16th year, NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) has flitted in and out of my radar for several years now, with some friends partaking, and I even got close to entering it about a few years ago but decided to get divorced instead.

However, with time on my hands I decided to try it this year, I figured that I’d manage to write 1667 words per day, if not more and even had a couple of days earmarked to get ahead, bash out 5000 words or so to make sure that life wouldn’t get in the road and stop me completing the challenge of 50,000 words in 3o days.

In the end I submitted my draft and the word count topped 51,000 so there’s that.

At this point I would like to pause and thank Stephen King. Yes, THAT Stephen King.

In the lead up to NaNoWriMo I read a lot of helpful articles, offering all manner of hints and tips that would help me structure my storyline, map out my plot lines, ensure my character arcs were in place and more. Turns out that writing a novel takes a lot of planning and forethought, and I found myself questioning whether I wanted to do NaNoWriMo at all, suddenly it all seemed like a lot of work!

Enter Stephen King and his book ‘On Writing‘. I’ll fess up and admit I have three or four different books on writing a novel but have only thumbed through a couple of them. I’m not quite sure what prompted me to pick his book, other than being a fan (not his Number One fan of course), but I’m glad I did.

His premise is simple, to start writing a story all you need is an idea, a spark. After that, the story will be discovered to you as you start to write it and your characters start to experience it.

This was one of those lightbulb moments for me, realising I didn’t need to (as I’d read over and over and over) have the main points of my plot marked out, nor a good understanding of my main characters backstory and motivations, but that I could just start writing and the story would unfold before me was a revelation.

So I started writing.

What I’ve ended up with is a very rough draft of a story with a lot of holes, some confusion but it’s mostly there. I don’t fully understand all of the characters, and some parts of the story don’t link up properly yet but that’s ok, this is a first draft.

Case in point. I sat down one day to write a scene that would allow me to bring in my second main character. To do that I created a new character and, remember I didn’t have any of this planned, killed him off later in the scene. I would later go back and use the, now dead, character for some backstory but that was never the intention when I created him.

And so it went, the more scenes I wrote, the better I understood the characters, the more I figured out about the twists and turns of the story, none of them planned beyond a few key points here and there.

So from a basic idea – which involves a macguffin and the notion that the main character day dreams a lot – to what has turned into a cross between a Hitchcock ‘wrong man’ thriller and the Fifth Element, I have a first draft of a novel completed.

I’ve not looked at it since November, and I won’t until January which is one of Mr. King’s suggestions. It’s still percolating in my brain and I think about it from time to time but mostly I’m doing other things and writing blog posts is one thing that is helping divert my ‘creative’ brain (believe it or not).

I’m intrigued to see what I will find in January as, and this is hinted at above, I know that I tend to visual story points as scenes in a movie, visualising them and then trying to capture what I am imagining. I’ve no idea if that approach will work but I guess I’ll find out early next year.

So, it’s fair to say that after some initial jitters, and a couple of points where I was a bit stuck – thanks to Auburn for the suggestion of mapping out a timeline of character events – I enjoyed my NaNoWriMo experience and now that it’s a couple of weeks past it’s moved from ‘thank god that’s over’ to a growing sense of achievement.

I just hope that sense remains when I re-read the first draft in January!

Create to win

I have no job at present.

All the fish I had have died.

I started Couch to 5K but my ITBS flared up so I can’t run.

I’m behind on my reading challenge for the year.

Just in case anyone was wondering why I’ve been a bit quiet on this blog, and other places, it’s because I’m failing. I predicted this would be a year for failing I just didn’t think it would be this kind.

I like to keep busy, so not working isn’t the best for my mental health, neither is not being involved in anything creative so I’m pushing to fix that in a few ways, one of which being NaNoWriMo which starts in November.

I know. I’m mental.

I just need a few wins.

The Wait

He sits down and carefully places the cold glass on the table. He squirms on the wooden chair, trying to get comfortable as he slowly looks around, taking in the clientele as some vaguely hip electronica burbles from the speaker above his head. He wonders if he’s chosen the best seat, the window offers a view of the street and the distractions outside.

He takes a sip of beer, he’s on his second already, pulls his phone from his pocket and completes the modern ritual of those who live in this always-on connected world. He disconnects from everyone around him as he checks messages, emails, delving into social media this and status updates that as he whiles away the time which is slowly, ohhhh so slowly, creeping forward.

Bored, listless, he puts the phone down and once again surveys the room. Nothing has changed since he entered.

The music changes and his gaze shifts to the window and the view beyond. He watches a couple, deep in frantic conversation, slowly walking past, a teenager peeks out from beneath her hood as she strides forward, determination on her face and lurid green headphones clamped to her ears, a woman at the end of her working day heads home to her children and inside the pub the man  wonders about the excitement that will bloom on their faces when she arrives at her destination and reveals the contents of that bulging Toys R Us bag.

The door to the bar is pushed open, a figure framed in the frosted glass for a moment. A man enters the bar and across the room a flicker of recognition becomes a smile as his friend rises to greet him once more.

Pieces of you

Your golden brown skin hides so much from me, dry and flaking it repulses me at first, pushes me away, but I know the wonders that lie underneath. Never judge a book by it’s ageing, dead cover.

Inside is where your true meaning is found, your curves offer movement, your sharpness brings me to tears. I love the way you taste, no matter how you arrive on my tongue it is always a moment to be savoured, sweet at times, sour at others.

Sliced through you reveal your heart, wrapped in so many layers of protection, hidden away from the world. A tortured soul deep within. Each layer of your protection grown and cultivated with purpose, keeping your core safe that it may grow again, that you may have the chance to heal and offer up life anew.

In my hands your ageing skin crackles and crumbles, your brown husk falls away to reveal a fresh version of you.

I pause, giving you a final moment of rest, a final feeling of belonging, of completeness. You are whole.

My plans for you are set, as they always are. An age old tradition that we must hold to, strengthening our will in the knowledge of your fulfilment.

The blade you fear is next, slicing you in half, brutally expected. You know it has to be this way and with the first cut made you finally start to realise your true being.

Again and again the knife slashes at you until you are reduced to rubble. You will never be whole again, never be rebuilt. It must be this way.

The blade is slick with your juices, its work is done.

I gently bring your pieces back together but I cannot reshape you. In cupped hands I lift the these pieces of you, a final touch, cool and moist on my palm, your innards as colourless as your core, a beguiling transulency soon to be realised.

I raise you up for your final journey, offering you to the heavens before I tip you into the waiting depths below, the fiery pit, your final resting place.

Add butter and crushed garlic, fry until soft.


Idea from 642 Things to Write About

The Coffee Shop

A welcome cliché.

Tourists mingle with the eclectic mix of locals; students revel in their dishevelment, bleary eyed passers-by, shoppers planning their raids, hipsters hiding behind headphones and signal red socks.

The air is every sense. Rich bitter coffee, sweet cakes and savoury pastries, reflections from the pavement puddles and the cloud scrolled light, Sound upon winding sound; the gentle rolling chatter, the little black boxes providing the melody of a slow acoustic guitar song, the occasional clink of cup on saucer, the sudden punctuation of an unexpected laugh.

Large glass panes frame the rest of the universe, far outside this cosy place. Cars drive by in their own cocoons, people with bags walking to the next shop, a curious dog enjoys an incident free daytime.

People leave.

People enter.

Each movement of the door adds and detracts, subtle changes to the air, to the sound, to the culture, to the mood. A constant flow, ebbs, tides.

There are groups and couples here, enjoying their own company, discussing the world in over heard snippets. Pieced together they offer an image of a bizarre land, a fabulous place of nonsense, where weekends are sautéed mushroom, new books are made from purple sand, and television is nothing but a wipe-able surface.

A few of us sit alone. A woman sitting on a stool at the window, gym bag at her feet, idly swings her legs as she watches the couple across the road dreaming into an Estate Agent window. Beside me a younger man addresses his laptop with a glare and a sigh before resuming his furious pecking.

I sit in these places from time to time but never feel part of them. I guess that’s the point. Transitory places, strangers thrown together, a ragtag crew that will drift away like wood on the tide.

The door opens and in from the rain more faces appear. A mother and daughter laugh at a shared moment and both clear their suddenly steamy spectacles. An elderly couple guide each other with a familiar love to the vacant seats within.

I order another coffee and wait for the scene to change once more, wondering what sense will fill the air before I too float away into the pavement tides.

A night in the office

There he goes, walking through the Final Portal, leaving me here in this office again.

I always get a little flashback ss the doors swing shut, back to my Delivery Day which feels so long ago now, the day I said goodbye to the Transporter – a large and kind van that wished everyone well whether they were arriving or departing – and entered my Place of Destination.

I’m getting older and those memories are starting to fade now so sometimes I have to concentrate really hard to recall what life used to be like beyond the Final Portal, remembering how nervous I was as we all huddled together in the Great Birth House of Ware, listening to rumours of where we might go, what might happen to us, and the perils of the journey ahead; beware the Idiot Who Drops.

I can remember parts my journey, hazy images shimmer, a bright warm glowing light falling on my surfaces. I can see that light now as I look at the where the Uprights go but I must have upset it as it doesn’t even look my way any more. I miss the way it felt, warm on my metal and wood.

More Uprights leave and the evening chatter begins. From the other end of the room I can hear Matilda complaining about the third cup of tea that she’s had spilled on her. I feel sorry for her, her companion Up and Downer, Gareth, is never very sympathetic. I think he misses Federico, I’m still not sure why they were separated but the Uprights never seem to think about these things. I’m glad I’m not on wheels.

We never really know how long our companions will be with us, nor who our neighbours will be; the Uprights like to move us around sometimes, oblivious to our feelings and friendships. They can be such selfish, thoughtless things.

That said I guess I’m lucky, my companion and I have been together for many years now, and my Upright likes to keep me tidy and rarely spills anything on me. Some of my neighbours aren’t as lucky though, and every night I look over and see them covered in bits of paper and cold coffee cups, the detritus of the working day left to rot overnight.

Ahhh, here comes the Bright Mover, keys jangling on his belt. He is a very different kind of Upright, at least as far as I can tell. Solitary and slow, he likes to look us over as he passes, moving the Bright Circle he casts slowly back and forth. I think he must like us as he does this a few times every night. I watch as he wanders off again through the Final Portal, the doors gently flick-flacking to a close.

As the night passes we chat quietly about this and that. Mostly we talk about the things we’ve seen that day and, as the night deepens, the older ones regale our newer friends with the things we have seen. And then everyone moans as Peppa the Curved starts to drift off into her usual worrisome thoughts about the day she will once again pass through the Final Portal on her way to the death fields of Take it to the Dump.

I feel sorry for Peppa, she’s seen so many of her type go that way, she stands alone amongst the Straight Edges, a matriarch out of time. Sometimes I think about the death fields and have to admit it scares me. No-one really knows what happens there, I’ve never heard of anyone coming back, unless you believe the old story we were all told as children; The Tale of Old Oak. As the legend goes, there is one of us who made it back from the death fields and back to new Place of Destination but every time I’ve heard the story the details change slightly so I don’t really believe it. It’s still scary though. I hope Peppa shuts up soon.

Thankfully the light is brightening so soon we will be joined by the Uprights again. These Uprights are the ones we all secretly like the most, with their tickly feathers and cloths, and we all love to see Henry each morning, he’s always so cheery and genuinely happy. I think he’s a bit simple but you can’t help but smile when he’s around.

And then, before long, my Upright is walking back through the Final Portal, rolls my companion back, gently places his laptop on me, and the day begins once more.


Idea from 642 Things to Write About

No Big Deal

It’s early evening. Two men sit In a car parked outside a warehouse. They are deep in conversation.

“It’s definitely a sliding scale, right? I mean things that are important to you might not be important to me so how do I decide?”

“Are you telling me you can’t decide what’s important in your life? Or don’t know what the last important decision you made was? Seriously?”

“Hey, look. I know what decisions I’ve made but I’m just not sure I’ve changed my mind on something important, like, ever? No big deal really, yeah?”

“Bullshit, brother, bullshit. You might not be willing to admit it to yourself but there must have been something, somewhere, at some point that you changed your mind about. C’mon man, you know there must be, why can’t you just tell me? Stop flapping and spill.”

“Jesus, alright lemme think… hang on, what about you? If this is such a big deal then you must have an example, c’mon man, help me out. Heh, who knows maybe you’ll inspire me, you could be my muse…”

“Ha frickin ha… OK, so I’ll tell you one thing but let’s be clear, this stuff is important to me, yeah? I mean what I’m about to tell you isn’t a decision I took lightly, I agonised about this for a few days, kept me up nights it did, so don’t get all pissy about it when I tell you, alright?”

“Hey chill, we’re just talking here, yeah, it’s all good, no need to get uptight, just talking, it’s all easy man, no big deal. Make a decision, change your mind, all good with me.”

“Goddammit, this is my point, your always backing away from this stuff, you never commit, never really speak your mind, always lost in your own damn world! Like the other day, I was trying to tell you about that weird job I did last week, how weird the building was and you just started banging on about that damn movie you never shut up about…”

“The Shining? I still can’t believe you haven’t seen it!”

“Yeah, and next thing I know I’ve forgotten what we were talking about in the first damn place, pisses me off … anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that you need to start taking some accountability, you know, be more aware of what your actions? I bet there are loads of decisions you’ve made you’ve hardly even thought about, right?”

“Well maybe I’m just the kinda guy that doesn’t dwell on this stuff, I just go with the flow yeah? Life’s too short and man, you need to learn to lighten up, so we all make decisions, we all change our minds, I get it, it’s human nature, but it’s not like all over the world people wake up every day and think ‘whoa I wonder what scary big ass decision I might have to make today’ and then spend the rest of their damn day thinking about changing their minds like that’s some big deal as well. Unlike you, most people just let life happen man, you really need to take a step back.”

“I give up, seriously man, you need to re-assess your priorities.”

“Hey, my priorities are all straight, I’m not the one yakking on and on about life moments and how important they are, fuck you man.”

“Damn straight they are important, jesus, all I’m saying is that sometimes you need to stop and think, make sure you’ve thought things through, fuck me, why is that so hard to understand? And you wonder why people don’t wanna work with you?!”

 

Silence falls in the car, the men stare out of the window at the falling rain

 

“Right. Fuck this. Enough talking, let’s do the job.”

“Yeah. Fuck it. Let’s do it.”


Idea from 642 Things to Write About

Water Falling

The menial chores were easiest when she was lost in herself, a place she had visited more or more since it happened. Deep in thought she slowly moves around the kitchen, putting each item back in the proper place, wiping down the surfaces, filling the sink for the stack of dishes waiting to be washed.

She watches the water stream from the tap, the bubbles forming in the steam. She is trying to block out the noise that had gathered in her head, trying to forget the vivid images that taunt her.

It had seemed like the right thing to do. She had always hated settling, accepting that she had limitations, and even though it scared her she was proud that she pushed herself, tried new things and to hell with the fears and phobias! Or so she thought.

Her mind flips back, the slow grinding of the lift as it rose and rose, floor after floor before the doors slowly opened. She steps out and turns the corner, in front of her the floor to ceiling window revealing the distant horizon, building tops below peeking through the morning mist. She was on top of the world.

They were already there, her companions for this day, adrenalin junkies who seemed to exist on the edge of society, drifting from high to high. She nodded hello, found a space and started her preparations.

She checked and double checked her kit, triple checked it to be sure, pulling on each strap and buckle. There was little room for error today, the riskiest jump she’d tried, but she felt good, everything was as it should be. Her chute perfectly folded, her goggles snug, jumpsuit fastened tightly, helmet and camera ready to go. A last check by one of her jump buddies, thumbs up all round.

She paused and with a slow, deep breath fell into her ritual; studying her nerves as she looked out to the horizon, visualising her first jump, the fear she’d felt and the burst of adrenalin that stayed with her for the next few hours, the unadulterated joy as she landed back on earth.

A tap on the shoulder. Go time, and then she was at the edge, the wind buffeting her as it raced in through the open window, chute in hand. Go! And she was leaping out into nothing. The first few floors speed past, blinding reflections from office windows tracked her fall into the mist below.

Water droplets streamed across her goggles as she plummeted through the grey. Her jump was measured in seconds but with no frame of reference everything seemed to slow, she caught herself wondering if this is what death was like, an enduring, roaring nothingness. What was it like to die painlessly? she wondered. To slowly ebb and fade into the beyond, a quiet end to cacophony of life. She hated that thought, she’d rather go out screaming and screaming, her final voice confirming just how alive she was in those last moments, maybe it would happen on one of these jumps … with a sudden jolt she yanked herself from her daydream and checked her stopwatch.

The numbers screamed out at her.

TOO LATE TOO LATE TOO LATE!!

Panic hit, she flung her chute out too fast, too tight but it started to unfurl and she gasped hard as it caught, yanking her straps tighter. Still in cloud though, still falling too fast, she desperately searched for any sign of the ground below her.

Suddenly she broke through the cloud, the ground loomed up at her, still too fast. She glanced up to see her chute still not fully deployed. She tensed, adrenalin screaming through her system, she was slowing but not enough.

Still too fast. Still too damn fast.

On her second base jump she had watched someone else go through this, a chute delivered too late, not catching properly, a novice who seconds later made a sickening impact with the earth. Six feet under.

And now as she fell, time seemed to slow as she tumbled and spun out of control towards the ground. She could see every detail, each rain drop that surrounded her, hear every car horn and siren of the busy city. Soon thoughts of friends and family flooded her view. Tears formed and flooded her view.

The ground readied to meet her.

She remembers wondering what her final noise would be. Such grotesque.

Back in her kitchen, she snaps back to reality with a twitch of her leg, the one that had taken the brunt of the remaining fall after the chute finally caught in the last few feet of her descent.

Standing there in front of her sink, all odd socks and unkempt clothes, she takes a deep breath, shakes her head and takes the first plate in the pile. She dips it in the hot soapy water, scrubs it clean then reaches over to place it on the draining board.

The edge of the plate catches on the side of the sink and was slips free. Time freezes and everything else disappears as she stands transfixed, watching the plate spun and tumble to the floor, the pattern glinting and gleaming as the sunlight catches each surface in turn.

Shards fly.

She drops her head and the tears fall like rain to the sink below.

The White Stick

I can still remember the white stick.

That’s what we called it, “get the white stick” we’d say.

It must have been an old chair or table leg, the dull chipped white paint from years gone past, reconstituted into a rounders bat, or corner post, or whatever other need we had for a foot or so long, broad, flattish piece of wood.

It had been left out in the rain many times, that poor stick, it had been rescued from neighbours gardens on more than one occasion (and one of those involved a very near miss with a greenhouse) and is an oddly enduring part of my childhood, I can picture it now, the way it tapered towards one end, the rounded ends, the weight of it in my hand.

A simple white stick.

I can still remember the way it tumbled through the air that day, a gracefully slow arc, a gentle Kubrick spin as it left my hand.

I had missed the ball completely which was probably just as well for, in my excitement, I was calling on my best Botham impression and heaven knows where it might have ended up, although I will admit that part of me thought I knew or at least hoped, what the result would’ve been.

I find it odd that I have such a specific memory of that moment, that I can remember my exact thoughts as Gillian prepared to bowl. As she ran up I can remember deciding that I would try and copy something I’d done recently.

A few days before the ‘day the white stick flew’ I was standing in my parents back garden. I had been pitching and putting a golf ball around the grass in an aimless, constrained fashion. I’m still not entire sure why I decided to progress from pitch and putt to a full on golf swing in a garden which, even on a good day, was no more than 65m long.

A full swing was impossible unless I found somewhere safe to aim. I looked around and found a possibility.

That day the naïvety of my youth seemed to make quick acceptance of the narrow boundary between success and failure as I took aim between the neighbouring houses, hoping the ball would miss them and their myriad windows and land safely on the grassy slope beyond.

Too far and I’d bring the dual carriageway into play, a folly of course, I was lucky I could hit the ball straight, let alone carry more than a 100m or so.

I was full of confidence, my pitch and putt game was really coming on, and all I was really doing was pitching the ball a little further.. a lot further.

Somehow I was successful that day, a clipped 7 iron saw the ball rise to beat the fence at the back of my parents garden before slowly fading away to the right, dissecting numbers 34 and 36 with uncanny precision. A once in a lifetime shot.

The reality of what I’d done immediately replaced the momentary euphoria – what a shot! How did I do that?! WHAT HAVE I DONE! – I nervously sprinted out the back gate and around the block to try and retrieve my ball.

I never did find it.

Despite that scare it was the same self-belief that I channelled a few days later as Gillian tossed the tennis ball my way. The white stick firmly in hand, I started to swing hard. My technique was somewhere between that of a poor cricket player and a decrepit baseball star, quite a feat for a 10-year-old, but I put my heart and soul into it, remembering the golf tip of channelling power through the hips, pulling the shoulders round, I could feel the stick accelerate as it moved towards the ball.

Ohh but if I had put stick to ball that day what a glorious sight it would have been. The soft thwump of the ball as it connected then the silent awe of the watching crowd (Gillian and Stuart) as it sailed high and far, beyond numbers 34 and 36 to the grass slope beyond.

But I missed.

Instead of a solid connection there was nothing but the air of mild panic as I realised I hadn’t connected with the ball, there was nothing slowing down my momentum, and my grip was slipping.

I can still feel the rough edge of the stick, the pits and craters left as the paint chipped away, as it pulled through my hands. It was a warm night and we were in the midst of a battle of wits and strength that had us all exuberantly defiant of the fading light. Three happily sweaty kids at the end of a summer evening, innocently playing their own weird hybrid of french cricket, rounders, and baseball.

Out of my hands the stick flew in that slow end over end tumble, up and away over my head curving slowly yet, despite my gasped pleadings of realisation, defiantly towards the house.

It entered the house via my bedroom window, specifically through the bottom left pane of four.

The shouts and the distinct tinkling of broken glass alerted my parents, Stuart took off at a run, Gillian and I froze.