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Posts Tagged ‘fantasy’

X-Factor – a short story

September 21, 2014 Leave a comment

I’m supposed to be writing about sociological studies of the police. In fact I am writing about this. However in odd moments of downtime I’ve been playing with a story I wrote a couple of months ago. It’s not exactly horror, not exactly science fiction, and neither is it really fantasy or urban or any other easy-to-pigeonhole genre. If anything it’s a gentle meditation on a very limited aspect of unknowns, conspiracy theories, life, the universe and everything, and I don’t really see a commercial market for it. But I’m still vain enough to think you might enjoy reading it.

Rather that just include it in the post (it’s about 4,600 words) I’ve messed around with it, included a couple of images, experimented with prettying it up and saved it as a PDF. Partly, I confess, as an experiment in making PDFs available this way. There’s a download link at the end of this post.

The ‘X-factor’ tag comes from the Global Risks Report 2013  from the World Economic Forum (the ‘world leaders’ meeting that happens in Davos each year). The report outlines what it sees as the major global risks – chronic fiscal imbalances, systemic financial failure, increasing global income disparities, water supply, food shortages, greenhouse gases and other ‘usual suspects’. However it also discusses what it calls ‘X-factors’ – ’emerging concerns of possible future importance and with unknown consequences’, ‘serious issues, grounded in the latest scientific findings, but somewhat remote from what are generally seen as more immediate concerns such as failed states, extreme weather events, famine, macroeconomic instability or armed conflict’.

Here’s the opening of the story:

In crime novels, there’s often a point where the detective turns up at a murder scene and one of the uniforms says ‘A dog-walker found the body.’

That’s because it happens. Twenty-three per cent of dead bodies left in public spaces are found by dog-walkers. Not that I found that out until later.

My watch said 01:41. I’d left Miss Grosgrain at quarter to one, gone home, had a glass of wine, gone out with Daisy. I work unsocial hours. I often walk Daisy late at night.

The street lights around here have been switched to part-night operation as an economy measure. There are signs saying so on every lamp post. They turn off just before one. We’re used to walking in the dark.

On Botts Way there’s a grassed area, the kind of open space that developers put on their estates to add ‘amenity’ to the houses. Parents never let their kids play there.

In the middle of the grassed area there’s a body, face up in the dim starlight. A young guy, late teens or early twenties. Jeans, T-shirt. Much blood. Stabbed, I guess. Eyes open, brown. There’s a thin fuzz of hair on his chin. Close-cropped hair with a widow’s peak. Full lips, nose just a little too wide for the face. A small mole on the right hand side of his face, near his nostril.

I have my mobile phone. I take pics, just in case of… something. I don’t know what, exactly. I lean over the guy, make sure he’s not still breathing. I call the police. And wait.

If you want to read the whole thing, the image below is a link to the PDF of the X-factor story (should open in a new window):

 

Link to 'X-factor' story

Link to ‘X-factor’ story

 

And just for fun (sort of) here’s a snap of some notes I made literally on the back of an envelope while writing the thing:

 

Back-of-envelope notes

Back-of-envelope notes

So now it’s back to writing about studies of policing…

 

 

 

 

Writing on Walls – the stick!

September 20, 2012 Leave a comment
The stick from the 'Mabon Whores' story - photo credit Chris Cafferkey

The stick from the ‘Mabon Whores’ story – photo credit Chris Cafferkey

A few years ago I went to a local science fiction society meeting – probably Starbase Leicester – to attend a talk by an SF/fantasy novelist. I’m afraid my memory is poor about who the writer actually was, though someone may be able to remind me from the details I’m about to give. The key thing I took away from the talk was the idea that in order to get inside the head of his characters, he made puppets of them. Properly carved wooden puppets, about two feet tall, the kind on strings that you can use in a puppet theatre.

My memory says he’d learned the art of woodcarving from a family member (father? grandfather? uncle? I don’t know) and got into puppetry as a hobby from an early age. So when he started writing, it was a natural strategy for him to get a sense of his characters’ physique, looks and characters by carving and constructing them as puppets.

That is, I think, dedication – because I’d imagine it takes quite a time to get a puppet looking exactly the way you think it should.

The pics in this blog represent almost the reverse process, however. Because my Writing on Walls collection has a story in it titled ‘Mabon Whores’. Mabon is the pagan (some say primarily Wiccan, but there you go) name for the autumnal equinox and the story has references to various magical items made by dirt-poor people in a small rural community. One of those items is a magical stick.

In writing the story I  tried to imagine what such an item would look like. There are of course a range of possible variations – staffs, wands, etc. but I wanted it just to be a stick, the kind of thing you could pick up from a hedgerow or as fallen wood in a copse. And I didn’t want it to be well-constructed, made with craft and finesse. Not because the makers wouldn’t have had the resources to do that, because they’d be able to whittle and make home-made varnish and suchlike, but because they understood that the point and power of such an object lies in the intent with which it’s made. It’s the kind of WI Thomas logic at work here: if I pick up a random stick or twig and tell you it has powerful magic in it, and I’m convincing and you believe me, then for all practical purposes it does have powerful magic in it. If I tell you it can send out a force like a hurricane and wave it at you, you’d probably fall over (and think it was the stick that did it, not the power of suggestion).

The stick from the 'Mabon Whores' story, moodier image. Credit: Chris Cafferkey

The stick from the ‘Mabon Whores’ story, moodier image. Credit: Chris Cafferkey

So to cut to the chase, after I wrote the story I made the stick out of curiosity. And that’s what the pics are.

It came from the back garden, was painted with old spray paints from the shed, and decorated with random things lying about the house – some ribbon and beads, a plastic dragonfly (I said it was random, it’s that kind of household), an old keyring, the printing from the inside of a cigarette packet that looks almost-but-not-quite like buttons on a TV remote control.

If you read the story, the stick probably won’t knock you over. But the eviscerator might make you cross your legs…

Oh, and the pics were taken by Chris Cafferkey, who normally shoots far more elegant and beautiful things like flowers.

Fantasy, all over again

April 12, 2012 2 comments

Call it a reductionist, reified, economic determinist argument if you like. But I find it interesting that a bunch of TV and film productions in the last year or so have featured retellings and reinterpretations of fairy stories and folk tales.

The most obvious ones are Once Upon a Time (currently on UK’s Channel 5, but first broadcast in the US on ABC at the back end of last year); Grimm (police based but drawing on the Grimm fairy tales; currently on a UK satellite channel and first broadcast on NBC in the US late last year); and Mirror Mirror, a comedy fantasy just about to be released and based on Snow White. Several other films including Snow White and the Huntsman, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, and Jack the Giant Killer are scheduled for release later this year, or next year.

Meanwhile, it’s difficult to make a lot of sense of the competing figures for book and ebook sales because categorisations and descriptions of genres are so variable, but I’m willing to speculate that ‘fantasy’ is a fast-growing market especially for ebooks.

The thing is, so much fantasy chimes with the current social climate. A sinister world manipulated by strange beings who hold questionable values and don’t care about ‘ordinary people’? Threats lurking in unexpected places? Well, that would be the recession-hit world we actually live in. And if you look back at the roots of fantasy and folk tales, they constitute a body of warnings, parables and moral stories that encapsulate advice about how to survive in uncertain times. Watch out for seductive monsters with big teeth; for deals that appear to be too good to be true; for those who offer to fulfill your desires in exchange for your immortal soul, and so on. Yes, I know ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ can be deconstructed as a story about sexuality, but you get the idea…

So all the old folk tales are suddenly relevant all over again, because they respond to our current perceptions of the world, our concerns, and maybe even offer advice on how to battle ‘monsters’, however you might want to define them – demons, bankers, demon bankers or whoever. It’s unsurprising that TV and film production companies would catch on to that; it’s equally unsurprising that several competing series/films would go into production and onto our screens at around the same time.

The kind of argument I’m advancing here is hardly original: it’s been around for a long while. Try Lucien Goldmann’s Towards a Sociology of the Novel (originally published in French in 1964, in English in 1975, since reissued in different editions); or the more explicitly Marxist analysis of Georg Lukacs (the introductory book on Lukacs by George Lichtheim is a good starting point).

But I guess the interesting question is: what new stories, fantasies and moralities will come out of the current situation? Are we all condemned to our own personal Hunger Games? Or can there be a less horrific route to a happy ending?

Unseasonal thoughts!

December 12, 2010 2 comments

This is a very random post, and an idiosyncratic line of thought – so be warned!

Christmas isn’t nearly upon us, it’s a good two weeks away. We all know that for the last few decades, shops have started trying to drum up Christmas trade very early – and for the last couple of years I’ve noticed some ads for Christmas shopping starting around August! But in my childhood, which was admittedly quite a long time ago now, the ‘Christmas season’ started the week before the day itself. Indeed if you read Charles Dickens, you’ll see that many people didn’t really start celebrating or dealing with Christmas until the day before, or even the morning of Christmas Day (in those days you’d still find butchers, bakers and grocers open on Christmas morning, I think).

Well, times have changed. It’s not just turkey farmers who have to start production early to get the birds on people’s Christmas tables; pretty much all the stores have to order stuff well in advance for it to be shipped halfway round the world, etc., and that gives them several months to try to drum up interest in what they’re going to sell. These days, even I get interested in the event a month or so in advance – but that’s because I’m ordering a lot of presents online and want them to arrive by post and in time.

But in all this, spare a thought for the people whose birthdays fall around Christmas. For example V’s birthday is just the week before.  Does she want her birthday overshadowed by all the other festivities? No. So in our house, Christmas decorations only go up a few days before, once the birthday is out of the way.

Offhand, actually, I can’t think of any other culture where a regular annual event dominates the calendar the way Christmas does in Western societies. Chinese New Year? Nope – it falls around the beginning of February but when I lived somewhere that celebrated it big time, I never saw advertising for it until about two weeks before. Historically, the only events I can think of that took half a year’s preparation and involved an entire population were probably things like coronations, royal weddings, or wars!

This all looks to me like commodity reification; ‘the thingification of social relations to the extent that the nature of social relationships is expressed by the relationships between traded objects’.

Maybe there’s a case to start treating Christmas like a potlach? I quote: ‘At potlatch gatherings, a family or hereditary leader hosts guests in their family’s house and holds a feast for their guests. The main purpose of the potlatch is the re-distribution and reciprocity of wealth… Different events take place during a potlatch, like either singing and dances, sometimes with masks or regalia … the barter of wealth through gifts … and sometimes money. … Typically the potlatching is practiced more in the winter seasons as historically the warmer months were for procuring wealth for the family, clan, or village, then coming home and sharing that with neighbors and friends.’

Under modern-day circumstances, how could we replicate this? Short answer – banks and governments could give out large bonuses or  tax refunds, or declare tax holidays, for the whole of December and payable right around now. And retailers could start giving selected things away free.

I wonder if the idea of the Christmas potlach will take off soon!

(Note – yes, I did include ‘fantasy’ as a tag deliberately!)

Out soon – The Speculator

June 5, 2010 Leave a comment

I’m an occasional, inconstant member of The Speculators, a Leicester-based SF/fantasy writing group that came up with the idea of an occasional newspaper-format publication with members’ stories.

Issue 1 of The Speculator is now printed, I’m pleased to say including one of my stories.

The newspaper as a whole has 17 short stories, a news article, editorial and a bunch of artwork, which is a lot for 12 pages.

The plan is to distribute the paper free at the upcoming Alt.Fiction event on 12 June, a one-day festival of alternative fiction including horror, fantasy and SF in Derby (UK). Thereafter, I think the idea is that the PDF will be available online from the Speculators website (no, it’s not there right now – be patient!).

New story out

March 1, 2010 4 comments

Story of mine is finally out in Dark Fire Issue 44, which is an online SF/horror magazine – or as they put it, ‘spooky tales to stun, amaze, entertain and send shivers down your spine’. A direct link to my piece is here.

I’m obviously slacking because checking my files it looks like I only have another four out on submission at the moment… on the other hand I’ve been kind of busy working on stuff that pays actual money!

Hello world!

November 21, 2009 Leave a comment

I’ve been writing for years, fiction and nonfiction, but this blog is new. So I’ll start by trumpeting a recent success: have a look at Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction 30. The premise of a science fiction/dark fantasy convention in which the fiction and fantasy bleed into real life is one I find quite productive. In time there will be a few more along the same lines.

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