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Posts Tagged ‘stories’

Writing on Walls again

May 10, 2013 Leave a comment

horror cover 3Relaunched. New cover art. Updated link to the video of the first story. Lower price (99 cents or 77 pence, I believe, but don’t hold me to it – the UK price will fluctuate with exchange rates). Now you can ignore it all over again. Or maybe just for the first time?

Eight short tales of horror and dark fantasy based on the understanding that one characteristic of being human is the ability to use one’s imagination, that imagination constructs reality, and that we construct our own worst fears and horrors.

It’s on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. And if you want to view the video, which is an abridged version of the first story, shot in an amazingly low-tech way using the embers of a fire and an oil lamp for lighting, I just uploaded it to Vimeo.

A taster? This is from a bit you won’t see on the ‘Look Inside’ function, the story MacGuffin. And yes, the narrator is the MacGuffin of the story. I take it you know the meaning of the term – Hitchcock popularised it in film to refer to a ‘plot device in the form of some goal, desired object, or other motivator that the protagonist (and sometimes the antagonist) is willing to do and sacrifice almost anything to pursue, protect or control, often with little or no narrative explanation as to why it is considered so important. The specific nature of a MacGuffin is typically unimportant to the overall plot. The most common type of MacGuffin is an object, place or person’ (I’m quoting this from Wikipedia).

The story opens this way:

It’s more difficult than you’d think to dig up a buried box in the woods at night. I have explicit instructions, a spade and a torch. But I have company; there are more people out here at two in the morning than there are in the town centre. Couples use a small clearing for alfresco exchanges of DNA. Illegal immigrants are camped a hundred metres away. Some kind of deal is going down near to where I left my car.

Thank fuck I’d done a recon when it was still light. Go to this point on the path, head for that forked tree, see that rock outcrop, dig one metre directly in front of the fault line on the rock. It’s probably an SSSI, digging prohibited on account of rare species. I’m in favour of environmental protection but right now there’s something more important at stake.

Clearing away leaf litter makes a hell of a noise, but no one seems to care. I shield my flashlight, and find a slightly sunken square of earth. At some point in the past it has been dug and loosely refilled.

Do I know for sure there’s a box under here? I swear at Giles for his cloak-and-dagger temperament, his love of practical jokes. I could get to the end of this and find some whimsical object with a sarcastic note.

I know you have severe reservations about my work. Perhaps you think I’ve had a breakdown and went insane. Perhaps you’ll find the world has had a breakdown and gone insane. It doesn’t matter. I’m just relying on you to have the same sense of honour you had when we were postgrads. You said on a particularly drunken evening that whatever our differences, I could always count on you as a friend.

You’re reading this because something has happened to me. My fail-safe was that this email would be sent automatically in such circumstances. I hope can still depend on your drunken promise, because the fact that you’re reading this means there is an important task I need you to undertake on my behalf.

You must recover some information and evidence, and make it public in a way that will attract the attention of the public – not the authorities, who will no doubt label me a deluded fool and deny everything, but capable, right-thinking people who are able to determine their own best interests and act on them.

The email was dated a year ago but arrived last week. Outlook has a function to delay sending selected messages, and my guess was that Giles just kept putting the date back until, one day, something had happened to stop him doing it. The countdown clicked to zero, the message was sent. With instructions: this path, that tree, this rock, one metre in front of, about half a metre down. There was more: reference to a housing estate he was ‘investigating’. The roads show on Google Maps but there are no street views. I’m guessing it’s a scummy little place, low priority on every local authority agenda.

I curse Giles for a drama queen, an overweight and pouty prima donna of melodrama. Had he come out here at this time of night to bury the thing? It would have appealed to his twisted sensibilities. But he was never one for physical effort, which makes the fact of his actually digging a hole – if it was him that dug it – significant.

Thank you for reading this. To ensure it remains secret, now please set fire to the device you have been reading it on…

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States of Independence

March 19, 2011 1 comment

Went to States of Independence today. This was an event with independent small presses, workshops, readings and the like. I wasn’t involved in any of the readings but thought I’d scope it out. There were three sessions I wanted to go to but as usual (for me anyway) they were all running at the same time. Oh well… I have the programme, I have the links to the other things I wanted to investigate and I can follow them up later.

I went to the Shortfuse readings, which this time were short stories and flash fiction (and a haiku) by people who’ve been in a recent creative writing workshop series. They were all good. I personally liked some more than others (unsurprising) but the surprising thing to me was that the pieces dealing with topics like old age and housework were the most interesting. Huh? Quality of writing or because I feel I’m getting old? Both, maybe.

Went round the fairly extensive display of stalls. Only bought one book – well, I have about a yard of books at home waiting to be read. The one that caught my attention and where I bought a history of the Vikings was run by the Masked Booksellers. They’re charmingly eccentric but with a serious point at the same time.

The Masked Booksellers perpetuate the work of Josiah Saithwaite, a small-time Manchester businessman of the late 1800s, also a non-conformist preacher and socialist who believed that everyone was entitled to education as a right. Among other activities he sold second-hand books cheaply to the working classes, on the basis that books were a means of self-improvement. His strategy was that “Working people need to take pride in the purchase of their personal libraries by their own efforts” while the profits from sales went to charitable causes.

The masks came about because Saithwaite’s belief was that doing good should not be a matter of personal aggrandisement, and hence should be done anonymously. Apparently – and I didn’t know this until today – there are still groups of Masked Booksellers up and down the country, and indeed in several other countries as well. The money they made at States of Independence was going to a charity dealing with the needs of refugees. So given my own principles how could I not buy something from them?

Good day all round, except I managed to miss someone I was going to meet there because I didn’t check my email first and figure out where I was supposed to meet them. But I did meet one of the Speculators there. I should go more often to the meetings, but they run at the same time as other stuff I’m involved in so I rarely get the chance. Looks like my relationship with the group will continue to be largely by email rather than in person. Such is life.

I write like…?

July 23, 2010 2 comments

I write like
William Shakespeare

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

Apparently, anyway. This is from I write like, a text analyser I found mentioned on The Nuppdate blog.

I tried my half-dozen most recent published pieces and got: Dan Brown, Stephen King (twice), William Shakespeare, William Gibson and Cory Doctorow. My last blog comes up as like David Foster Wallace, who I confess I’ve never read (or even heard of, until now).

It’s a fun thing but makes me wonder what it’s based on, in terms of reference materials and analytical criteria. For example, I put in the first three paragraphs of Andre Breton’s ‘Manifesto of Surrealism’ (1924) and it told me it was like Arthur Conan Doyle. More scarily, I also tried a page on crime prevention and antisocial behaviour from a local police website, to be told it was written in the style of Ray Bradbury. Perhaps fortunately it didn’t particularly specify Fahrenheit 451.

Oh, and a selection from the training course I’m updating – it was actually a segment on prisons policy, and I originally wrote it a couple of years ago – shows up as like H.P. Lovecraft…

Fertile but febrile

May 12, 2010 Leave a comment

So how have I been these last couple of days?

Fertile to the point of being febrile would be a good description. I’ve had a few days where almost anything that happens – dreams, books I read, snatches of TV, overheard conversations, even the bloody pencil on my desk, spark off trains of thought that could be either new stories or elements within stories i want to write. I have a working file of notes – i.e. one-liners, a sentence or two of description, a couple of sentences from a TV or radio news item or book quote, each of which captures an idea I want to use at some point. And the file is 13000 words.

And actually this is a bit of a problem because what I’m trying to do at the moment is (a) write a story that’s already mapped out in my head, (b) rewrite a rejected story that’s a bit too Dennis Wheatley-ish in tone and feel so it’s more gritty and urban, and most importantly (c) carry on working through writing a distance learning module – currently this involves an overview and discussion of the occasionally complex links between ethics and law, which will enable students to make sense of the readings they’ll be required to on the topic. Being fertile and febrile is not a good state of mind for this, it’s too distracting.

While I think about it, I’ll also mention that as part of the distracted state I also wrote 1000 words last night diarising some conversations I had with a friend of mine who’s having a very hard time. Looking back at the things that have happened to him in the last month, it reads more like a horror story.

Sample (these relate to April: there’s more from May I have yet to write up):
– Some low-value items including a jar of loose change was stolen from his flat by visitors.
– Was assaulted coming out of a nightclub resulting in a short hospital stay for bruising, laceration and suspected concussion. He’d been at the club with a friend who tried to make out with another guy’s girlfriend; the guy initially attacked his friend and then him. This was caputered on CCTV, the offender arrested but later cautioned.
– As a result of stress (including threats made against him by dickhead lowlifes for fairly trivial reasons) had an episode in which he lost the plot and self-harmed resulting in outpatient treatment for severe cuts to a finger.
– Was threatened with eviction due primarily to complaints about noise from his flat, which admittedly has been an ongoing thing. He’s had a long-standing problem with some people he does know coming round with people he doesn’t, who know he’s easy to bully and want to use his place as a drinking den. Some of the disturbance was them; some of it was him trying to prevent them busting into his flat.
– Had a toothache which he refused to see a dentist about (he has a longstanding phobia of dentists). Eventually he went to the dental department at the local hospital which confirmed three abcesses, prescribed DF118s for the pain and told him to return next day for treatment. Instead he drank (why do young people always think they’re immortal?) which was an extremely bad idea due to the interaction between DF118s and alcohol. As I understand it he want into a kind of manic state during which he threw a bottle through the window of the people he believed had stolen from him. For this he was arrested and cautioned, and missed the hospital appointment.
– His flat was burgled a few days later. Not much stolen, because he doesn’t have much. But a window was smashed for entry and some other damage done.

The bottom line seems to be that if you live in a not-so-good area and don’t choose your friends with care, you end up in a situation where others try to exploit you; stuff that happened a while back can haunt you; small problems can turn into huge problems; you don’t have the resources to cope with small problems when they’re small, let alone when they become big; stress kicks in and you make bad choices; and you’re much more vulnerable to random bad stuff when you’re stressed. That’s not to deny that mixing DF118s and alcohol is an extremely bad idea, of course, not least because it could have been life-threatening and in that sense he was lucky. But there’s also the existentialist side of it – in some situations hell really is other people.

So maybe my own issue with getting distracted isn’t such a major thing after all…

The chaos theory of blogging…

April 2, 2010 Leave a comment

The other day I was reading a friend’s blog, a post that was just a quick this-is-what-my-day-was-like post, ending with ‘how did other people’s day go?’. So I replied, briefly, and said I was working on a new story. Gave headline details of what it was about, just the basic proposition/situation I envisaged for it. My friend replied with a comment on just one incidental point contained in my brief details. But this made me realise that that single point – originally intended as just a bit of context and descriptive colour – was actually the key thing that should drive the story and be the focus of it. Fortunately I was only 1000 words in to something that was only ever intended as about 2500 words, though I don’t know how much of what I’ve written is reusable – but the new focus is very, very cool and if not unique, then certainly only rarely explored.
So it’s one of those cases where a butterfly’s wing of a comment created a mental hurricane that should result in a piece that will be striking and original.

Saturday afternoon, bored!

March 13, 2010 2 comments

By 4pm I’d worked my way through three stories I’ve written in the last few months, rewritten sections, repurposed one with extensive editing and by including extra material, and put them back out to magazines. Whether I’ve made the wisest choice of magazines is a whole other question, of course.
I’d also written up four different bits that have occurred to me, usually by waking in the middle of the night in recent nights (on my time schedule that means about 6-7am) and decided that one idea is really a ‘chapter 2’ of one of the stories I ‘d sent out – so if they don’t want it, it’s suddenly become chapter 1 of a novella and if they do, I’ll have to write something else to get to the point at which my idea picks up a plot and runs with it.
I go through periods when not much happens, in the sense that I’m not getting replies (acceptance or rejection) from things I’ve sent out, and my response is to have a sudden burst of creativity like I did today – but now I have all this new stuff in my head and can’t decide what to work on first.
Beyond that, I still have the nagging feeling that I probably shouldn’t be working on any of it, because most shorts end up going for cheap (if all three of the stories are accepted, the total payment for first serial rights would be in the region of $35). What I should really be doing is focusing on novellas/novels where there’s both a print and electronic market that pays not a lot per download or per copy, but hopefully does actually make a bit more income over a longer term.
I realise this may all be a bit incoherent; but the bottom line is that sometimes I respond to boredom by having a bout of hyperactivity – though often not in quite the way that really has an eye to the most important issues!

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