Monthly Archives: February 2014

Friday (Phrases) I’m In Love

My love for the increasingly sexy phenomenon that is FridayPhrases is well documented here on this little blog – I even composed my dearest a love letter which, if you’re of a mind to, you can read here.

But it’s Valentine’s Day (or will be, or is, or was, depending on when you’re reading this) and by way of acknowledging the hugely positive influence FP has had on my work, I’m reposting some romantically horrible and horribly romantic little pieces that our weekly dates have inspired.

Perhaps, in the not-at-all-forced-or-manufactured spirit of the day, I should take the easy way out and close with a quote stolen from a movie, a “You had me at hello.” or a “You complete me.”, some line that might come close to showing my appreciation for FP, but all I can do is customise something that Jack Nicholson says to Helen Hunt in As Good As It Gets. If I was to retool a quote to illustrate how amazing FP and the talent of its increasing company of contributors actually is, it would be this one – a line about those times when something in your life gives you the kick you need and motivates you to raise the bar … and keep going.

“You make me want to be a better writer.”

He leaned into her long, dark hair, loving her, breathing her in. Formaldehyde was as the sweetest rose to him.

The guy behind the bar had a scar on his face that I recognised. I bought him a drink and we talked. He told me that she’d branded us all.

He never forgot her birthday, sent flowers every year. Two days after his funeral, he delivered a spray of orchids by hand.

I was excited to hear my blind date was a fellow Geek, but feared a slight misunderstanding when she bit the head off the chicken.

“Of course I love you,” he said. “I’d take a bullet for you, babe.” She pulled out the gun. “Let’s put that to the test, shall we?”

“Darling,” he breathed. “I never want this night to end.”
“Neither do I,” She smiled. “But we’re almost out of corpses. Get the car.”

I thought I had snuffed the flame, but the simple ignition of holding her hand made us combustible all over again.

She played the song and waited at the pottery wheel every day, but he never came back. In Hell, the Devil forced him to watch her weep.

He tied her to the bed. She seemed nervous but excited. She didn’t see the blade. He smiled, anticipating at least 50 shades of red.

She had been cold, manipulative, but he had once carried a torch for her. Now he used it to set her hair ablaze.

30 minutes, 40 … The coffee he’d bought grew cold. She was late again, she was always late. And because it was her, he always waited.

It was a great party. She and I danced all night. Only when I saw myself alone on the photos did I know I had waltzed with a vampire.

A portrait of a night walk, and you? A glimpse of moonlit skin and eyes that turn grey leaves to green, black and white to colour.

She had beauty AND brains. I saw the beauty when we met, and the brains when she came to my place for dinner.

Lips against lips. Clothes against clothes. Skin against skin. Skin against fur. The she-wolf dined well that night.

Almost dawn. A Bagpuss dressing-gown, flip-flops, panda-eyes, her hair teased into sleep-crazed corkscrews. He thought her beautiful.

He told her that day she was beautiful, but when she pulled a seatbelt across her middle that night she still worried she looked fat.

She moved to the box, swearing to unleash all the horrors of reality upon him. He smiled, knowing he’d hidden the remote well.

Time doesn’t blunt the hurt. I see their unformed faces in the rain, in the dust, in the long shadows of an empty hour.

The jarred needle skipped; our dance went on. She grew heavy in my arms. As the song ended, my supper and I shared a bloodstained kiss.

Much of it I wish I could forget, but not her smile through a dirty bus window, an unexpected wave filling the moment with light.

He’d unglued his eyes on the way home. They stared at her, white as scar tissue, staying open as she kissed his sewn-up lips.

More of my #FP scribblings:

A Love Letter To Friday Phrases

#FP – An Archive Within An Ark Hive – Part 01

#FP – An Archive Within An Ark Hive – Part 02

#FP – An Archive Within An Ark Hive – Part 03

#FP – An Archive Within An Ark Hive – Part 04

#FP – An Archive Within An Ark Hive – Part 05

#FP – An Archive Within An Ark Hive – Part 06

#jabeflash – The #FP 100: 1st December – 5th December

#jabeflash – The #FP 100: 6th December – 12th December

#jabeflash – The #FP 100: 13th December – 19th December

#jabeflash – The #FP 100: 20th December – 24th December


A DIY Autopsy

“There are no experiences too dreadful to cannibalise.” – Stephen King

It’s a curious word, cannibalise. I suspect for most people, it conjures up images of spiders consuming their mates, or serial killers, or sticky-pawed “tribesmen” dining on the longpig in fuzzy, fourth-generation copies of Video Nasties. But that’s not where we’re going here.

Where we’re going is the other, perhaps more colloquial use of the word, as in to utilise the spare parts of one machine to make another machine work. To take something old and make something new.

Where to find the parts, though?

“Memory is the greatest gallery in the world, and I can play an endless archive of images.” – JG Ballard

Obviously, imagination doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s anchored, if even by the thinnest of threads, to our physical and emotional lives. I’d venture that every writer, no matter how fantastical the tale, could show you the scene, or the line, or even the lone word that quite deliberately evokes or reflects some real life incident or reaction. Imagination and history hand in hand.

The history that makes us smile, the walk in the park with a loved one, the childhood joy of fresh snow, they’re imprinted on our brains in High Definition, every recalled sense engaged and accessible. Honed and controlled, those memories are a pleasure to translate to the page.

Other things … maybe not so much.

The choices we made, the obstacles we faced, the conflict we won against or lost to, these are all often difficult to revisit, at least with the relaxed openness with which we can transcribe the good times. But plots are made of choices, and obstacles, and conflict to whatever degree the story demands, and so my own view is that a writer should use whatever internal resource he or she can to lend those elements weight.

I’m talking about finding a method of raising the stakes, of (hopefully) making the characters feel as real as possible. It’s a technique that every writer employs, of course, but what I’m advocating here is the courage and self-belief to consider going further with it than you otherwise might. I’m talking about a DIY Autopsy.


Imagine yourself in a cool, tiled room. It’s well-lit, but it feels like there are shadows everywhere. In front of you, on a wheeled steel trolley, a crisp white sheet is draped like folds and dunes of snow over a shape you recognise.

Yes, you know that shape. You know its contours and contusions, its secrets and its scars. This is your real timeline, with it’s Favorited moments and RT’d remembrances of the good times and the bad. This is the cadaver of long-ago, and though it’s dead and gone, destined to be buried by the present and have it’s unmarked grave trampled upon by the future, there’s always time to scavenge it for parts, to recycle it into something vital and alive, to resurrect it as a body of work.

Draw back the sheet, though, and you might find yourself surprised. The past looks … different, somehow. The good times, they look the same, little slices of HD contentment, but the bad times, the break-ups and the deaths and the quarrels, they’re blunted now, their edges smoothed by the mercy of distance. “She was never right for you, anyway.” or “At least he’s not suffering now” or, damningly, “We argued, but I won.” are phrases stitched into the wounds like tattoos, while other needles have pumped numbness into the surrounding flesh. Those cracks in your heart? They’ve been papered over.

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” – LP Hartley

In its Proverbial sense, a quote perhaps most often interpreted as being about regret. Here, in this room, with the past on a trolley in front of you, I would retool the meaning to be about mis-remembering, about singing yourself to sleep with mondegreen lyrics. Time heals all wounds, but perhaps, for writers, sometimes it heals them too well, closing a breach that looks on to a world of possibility for the people on your pages.

If the disagreeable has been terraformed, made more palatable, it may seem like unfamiliar territory, but you have a map should you dare to use it, and there’s endless veins of writerly gold at your fingertips, just waiting to be mined. Your memory may resist, may tell you that you don’t want to go there again, may even try to make you afraid.

Ignore it.

Win this one. Bring a little swagger to the page with you, a little gunslinger flair. When the lungs are starved of oxygen, the body claws every last molecule of breath from every cell it can, even those in the fingernails. That’s the resourcefulness we’re striving for, that will to succeed even if means a cyanosed manicure.

Take a look at the wounds that haven’t quite healed, the sunsets of bruises that have yet to fade. Hell, take a scalpel to the old scars if you have to, but the point is to dig deep, to remember the missed chances and the lost loves and the comforting hands that have crumbled now to dust.

Touch the bruises, press on them until they start to twinge again. Push your fingers into the wounds. What you find there may feel cold, and alien, but give it time and you’ll feel it bubbling against the heat of your skin.

The memory is often merciful, half-closing the mind’s eye so as to obscure some of the finer emotional details of an unpleasant experience. It means well; to recall plainly the pain of a bruised jaw or a bruised ego, to remember at every moment and with absolute clarity the agony of a broken limb or a broken heart, would be to mark out the seconds of your life with torture. The mind’s eye closes, or turns away when it can, so as to allow us to relive our hurt in a more remote, survivable fashion.

But what I’m suggesting here, is that we pry open that eye, force apart the lids with surgical skill and courage, and remember an old piece of Gypsy lore, that the human eye retains the last image seen before death. Peel away the retina and hold it up to the light. See what you saw, feel what you felt, and paint it in pixels or ink.

When I was thinking about this piece I recalled a fine post by @DrewChial called “Keeping My Memoir Out Of My Fiction”, in which he elegantly discusses the perils of installing yourself to too great a degree in your work. It’s a post well worth reading, and I think that the perils he mentions can be comfortably applied here as well.

Yes, writing from the very personal level I’m talking about can be cathartic, but it doesn’t have to be an emotional anti-coagulant. You don’t have to bleed all over the page. It doesn’t have to be everything, and most likely shouldn’t be. Everybody has their own personal Privacy Settings. The important thing is to be able to access the resource when you need to.

One line of truth and a scene can come alive with not a Tesla coil in sight, a birth as opposed to a re-animation. One line plucked from your own personal hell can give your characters a wondrously flawed humanity, make their breath flutter from between the pages, and make the readers heart beat in time with theirs.

DIY Autopsy 02a