Category: <span>Writing</span>

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.

Writing

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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.

Writing

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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?

Writing

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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!!

Writing

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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.

Writing

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As they round the corner the pier reaches out in to the early evening gloom before them, colourful lights glow and flash, calling them forward; a magical wonderland of pulsing stars, glistening in the dusk. As they get closer the noise starts to build, the cheery organ music from the older stalls tinkles along over an electronic bass thump as the fairground evolves, new exciting rides sitting alongside tradition, wooden horses merrily going round and round whilst spaceships swoop and spin overhead. Laughter and screams, shrieks and shouts punctuate the thinning air.

They wander past the outer stalls, smiling as they are beckoned in for a quick game, an easy game of skill. Come on Sir, you look like you have a good aim, you can’t lose! Hoops, balls and targets, stalls lined with lavishly cheap looking prizes for the successful.

At the next stall there are yellow ducks bobbing on the slowly circling current, a weary teenager looks at them as they pass, his eyes full of all the hope someone who wishes they were anywhere but here can muster. She glances back then turns, tugging his sleeve. He glances at her and his heart melts all over again as her excitement bounces them forward. The stall teenager looks up as they approach and intones the price and rules of the game for the thousandth time.

They pay and both pick up their weapons, first one to get a duck is the winner! They laugh.

She was so excited, babbling about her own childhood memories, this first test of skill and achievement still vivid in her mind, brought to life for him through her smile, her wide eyes scanning the ducks as they drift past, choosing her victim carefully.

He lunges forward but misses his first few attempts, the ducks bobbing on what is suddenly a faster current than before. He doesn’t care; he can hear her beside him, laughing in her wonderful cadence, cursing as she too misses then, at last, a triumphant exclamation!

Turns out the ducks aren’t all yellow and she’s managed to snare a red one, a top prize awaits and she immediately points at the large teddy bear. Soon it’s in her arms; she holds it close like a child, a tender poignancy in her eyes as they softly close. It’s never far away, even on days like today.

Maybe the fairground was a bad choice, he thinks.

Her eyes open and she holds the teddy bear out in both hands, giving it to him. One prize she can give. The melancholy is etched on both their faces now as their hands touch and he pulls her in close, enveloping her and the teddy bear in a hug.

“It’s ok” he whispers.

“I know” she says, and turns her head to kiss his neck.

They set off again, quietly determined to have fun. The smell of hotdogs drifts over them and soon they are munching away as they wander. Later on they laugh in the hall of mirrors, scream on the ghost train and on the giant swing she closes her eyes as they spin higher and higher, a single tear rolling down her face, chilled in the evening air.

Candy-floss next and with sticky faces they head for home. Leaving the heaving sounds to the night behind them. They walk home in silence, holding the teddy between them, one paw each, swinging it back and forth.

He can remember it all to this day, the excited buzz of the crowds, marvelling at the strongman as he bent an iron bar as thick as his arm, gasping as the latest greatest ride rocketed people around the sky in spinning circles, up and down, higher and higher until their delighted screams became one, and the lights merged with the stars above them.

They didn’t go back to the fairground again. Life moved on or rather it moved on around them. They remained where they ended up, stuck, lost, unwilling to change, scared to let go of their grief.

Sitting on the edge of the bed he realises he is crying, silent tears drop to the floor as he clutches the rediscovered teddy bear in his arms. He had made it through her clothes and belongings, through well-meaning friends and old photos. He didn’t realise the unspoken memory was waiting here all along.

She is gone and he will be soon. Gone from this house at least, the last vestiges of their belongings being boxed up, shipped up, thrown out, moved on. He found the teddy on a high shelf at the back of the cupboard in the bedroom, out of sight for so so many years and as soon as he reached for it the memories were quick to follow.

He knows he has to let go but he’s so tired of all of this. Tired of going through it, tired of putting on a brave face. It’s only stuff, they say, things that don’t have value, and anyway you’ll still have your memories, they say. He doesn’t want to tell them that the memories are fading, he can’t hold on to them long enough when they arrive, and they are nothing but blurred, grainy, over exposed photos that fade further day by day.

He wipes his face with the back of his hand, holds the teddy out at arms length for one last look, then drops it in the box marked Trash. It falls back and looks up at him. He turns away, everything is past now.

Later that day he sits and waits for them to pick him up. They arrive on time in their fancy big car, all emblems and corporate imagery. They’ve sent two of them as if to remind him of his change of status. His place in the world is different now; he is no longer the key-holder and feels small and weak as one of them lifts his suitcase, the other his arm to help him out to the car. They fuss over his seatbelt and throw his suitcase in the back. He doesn’t complain, just stares out the window at the home he’s leaving, the life once lived.

As the car pulls away his eye catches the pile of bin bags and boxes lying on the pavement, ready to be collected. The final parts of his life. A sorry pile. Next to it is a box marked Trash. He can see the ragged ears of the teddy, its face tilted to the sky, glazed eyes raised to the heavens.

Writing

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I love mornings like this, the late winter chill fading away as the sun climbs lazily into the sky. I can feel the gentle dew on my extremities starting to warm, and the ground beneath me stirring into life.

There is a gentle breeze playing over my naked branches and I find myself yearning for spring, for the new growth it will bring, leaves that will play in the wind, I long for their rhythmic rustle. I miss my little snowdrop friends already but soon the daffodils will start to appear, tiny glowing suns that never fail to brighten my day.

Over on the other side of the field I can see the humans arriving on their machines, so noisy and smelly. The things they are building are as tall as me but there is something cold about them, unnatural. The humans come in the morning and leave as night returns, and more and more of the strange things rise up from the ground.

I never understand what they do.

I’ve been watching them for a while now, they are getting closer and closer. Recently they started making black patterns in the ground. One of the patterns is reaching out to me it seems, but I don’t know why.

Some of the humans are coming to look at me. They are such odd things, like birds or bees they move around a lot which I think is sad. Why can’t they be happy in one place, each day unfurling anew around them? I don’t understand it.

They are beneath me now. What is that they have around my trunk? It tickles my bark.

I never understand what they do.

Little noises from them, first one then another, back and forth, like birds singing to each other. One of them has picked up a shiny branch, ohh a horrible noisy smell and the shiny branch is moving and whirring. The human that grew it is moving it towards me, more tickling. The shiny branch is making all my tiniest branches jiggle and shake. What silly thing are they doing?

The shiny branch is disappearing into me, maybe they think I need a shiny branch? But what would I do with it, my branches are all I need, once the leaves have unfurled from deep inside me I will be complete again and all my power will return. I don’t need a shiny branch as well, don’t they understand?

I long for my leaves so I can breathe again, but I hope the humans aren’t still ruining the air. My air used to be full of life and stories, now it feels empty and sad.

The human is taking the shiny branch away! It must realise I don’t need it after all.

Ohhh wait, it’s trying to give me it in a different place, buzzing away at me. I’ll need to grow some new bark. The buzzing of the shiny branch makes me think of a giant wasp, trying to get inside me. I remember a long time ago when I made friends with a whole family of wasps, they created a wonderous new branch that hung from one of mine. They were my friends for a whole summer but one day, as winter approached, they all left and their branch broke and went to the ground. I can still sense parts of it down there.

That’s odd, the buzzing has stopped and now they are pulling out a bit of me. Why are they doing that? That belongs to me. I don’t mind them taking bits of bark, I have plenty of that but I need those bits. How rude of them. Silly humans and their noisy shiny spinning branches.

More branches now, with shiny ends. They are disappearing into my trunk. In and out as the humans swing them back and forth.

I never understand what they do.

More tickling, they are putting another long thin bendy branch round me. It is connected to one of their noisy machines. It’s spouting horrible fumes into the air, I’m so glad my leaves are hidden still.

The bendy branch is tugging at me, this is so very odd.

Now the sky is moving or is it the ground. I’m so confused.

Where have the humans gone, they were below me but now they are over there beside me looking at me. They are smiling. The sky is in the wrong place now. So is the ground. And I can’t feel the earth beneath me anymore.

I never understand what they do.

Writing

His chair sits to one side of the bay window. The unloved leather is cracked, shiny dark patches worn smooth, seams barely holding on, tired with all the life it’s seen. Cold air creeps through the rotting window frame, tickling the rising pale curls of smoke as they fade into nothing.

Beside the chair a small table, the walnut ringed with decades of cold drinks. On it a small wooden pipe stand, a heavy oversized cut glass ashtray, and a leather pouch spilling pungent dried entrails.

Another puff; a draw and dull pop from his lips as the last embers glow and die. Fragrant fumes drift on the gentle draught as he watches nothing beyond the glass outside.

The mantelpiece on the far wall watches over the room. Standing firm and heavy with memories and dust. Ornate gold frames the mirror above it, reflecting the spirals of smoke as they rise from his pipe. A few memories dot litter the surface, photos of old friends, mementoes of his past.

The charcoal in the grating below is long cold, winter has passed. An ancient iron poker is propped to one side, the diminished stack of wood at the other holds those lucky enough to have avoid sacrifice.

Across the bay window from his chair stands the bookcase, the inherited wood dulled and scarred by the centuries. Books of varying ages, style and condition line the shelves, each space filled, this way and that, wherever it fits, however it fits. One shelf displays a card for a birthday long since passed, the last writings from the dead scribbled inside.

Beneath all this floorboards peek through carpet, curtains hang striped by the sun.

Across from the fireplace stands the sideboard. A behemoth of carved wood and ornate brass handles, it fills the entire wall. The men from the antique store brought it in through the window.

On its there are two carved doors to either side, while the centre is devoted to three large drawers. It stands tall on feet that curve and twist from floor to base. It has been well polished in the past, but now it shows only tarnish and neglect. An unloved and forgotten relic, dust hugs every crevice chiselled by skilled hands.

Atop the sideboard, slap bang in the middle, is a white vase. Simple and modern, clean lines. It holds fresh flowers, shimmering reds, splashes of sunlight, sparkling jewels of colour.

Strange bright lights in this tired old room.

Writing

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