Monthly Archives: September 2014

Blog Hop – Why I Write

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Thank you to the splendid @amicgood for nominating me as a link in this chain of blog posts. You should know that I owe Amy BIG TIME for being the brains behind @FridayPhrases, a Twitter phenomenon of which I’ve written many times (some might say too many times … but that’s not going to stop me). Amy’s own post on why she writes can be found here, along with many other wonderful articles and her rich, surgically incisive prose.

So … Why I write …

I know why I started. I think the creative urge is something woven into our DNA, a seed planted in the soil of wherever dreams are born. Sometimes that seed flourishes, nourished by the sunlight and showers of the imagination, and the mind becomes a garden of vision and creativity. Sometimes, the seed grows into something more fragile, little more than a teardrop of colour in the black soil, and the imagination runs to smaller endeavours. Sometimes, heartbreakingly, the seed is ripped viciously from the dirt or trodden underfoot or withered by the unforgiving winters of the real world.

Maybe I’ve been lucky, maybe I’ve been given a modest garden to tend. Yes, it’s often choked with weeds, and there’s the occasional square of disturbed earth between the flower beds where the bodies are buried, but its mine, dash it, and I think there are perhaps two elements from real life that brought it to bloom.

One of them was the thread of solitude when I was growing up. My childhood … Stuff happened. It’s not quite up there with the fate of Thomas and Martha Wayne, but suffice it to say circumstances allowed me the retrospective good fortune of being left alone to my own imaginary devices, unburdened by family influences so that I might tend to that creative seed.

The other element was comics, of course. I like DC, but at heart I’m a Marvel fanboy, and Marvel has always fostered a wonderful warm connection with its readership, breaching the barrier between creator and wide-eyed reader with its letters from the Bullpen (Excelsior!) and its fourth-wall breaking asides (Deadpool’s nods out the frame are the bastard child of these, I think) and its little boxes that namechecked the artists and writers but gave them amiable nicknames (“Marvellous” Marv Wolfman, “Live-It-Up” Len Wein, “Rascally” Roy Thomas). It’s one of the reasons that Stan “The Man” Lee is so beloved today, and why his cameos are such a fun part of the movies. Well, I call them cameos. Either that, or he’s actually playing the same character, a franchise-straddling, ageless immortal whose varied career path has encompassed Army General, a couple of stints as a Security Guard, and a postman. But I digress …

Another comic that showcased its creators in this way was the UK’s own 2000AD, the home of Judge Dredd, referring to its writers and artists as Script Droids or Art Droids, and again it was a glimpse behind the curtain that not only fed my imagination but reminded me that somebody, somewhere, was constructing these worlds. And even better, they were grown ups, and I suppose that was what decided me on the kind of grown up I wanted to be.

I know why I kept going, even when I was heavily discouraged from writing even as a hobby.  I think a mantra sadly familiar to a great many aspiring writers is the one where people tell you that you can’t do it, or you shouldn’t do it, or you’ll never make a living out of it, or what will the neighbours think, or your words are no good. Yeah, like we need to hear that, when we’ve all considered these things and cast them aside, again and again? Bah! To hell with the neighbours! They can’t make me wear pants!

For me, being told that I couldn’t do it was probably the best thing that could have happened to me – I have something of a history of being unable to resist a dare (I once snorted an entire bag of Sherbet Flying Saucers!), and so I kept on writing (as we all must do, although I’d advocate avoiding the Flying Saucer thing). When I started to read Stephen King’s work, I found a friendlier, more encouraging voice, not just in the fiction, but in the many notes and intros that King includes in his books, the peeks into his creative processes. Again, it was that crack in the wall, that sense that the words on the page are one person talking to another, no matter the gulf of time and space between the writing and the reading, that reminder that You Are Not Alone.

Why do I still write? Hmm. What drives me to sit at my desk after a long day of dispiriting commutes and workplace politics and try to fill the page with words? Why have there been days when I’ve given myself headaches and heartaches, staring at a screen when I could be outside, enjoying the fleeting breath of an English summer, walking in the park and looking at real gardens instead of the one in my head? The easy (and honest) answer would be that I’m hoping against hope to make even a small living out of writing at some point, if only enough to leave that commute and the politics behind, but that might never happen, and even if that was the reason, then how do I explain the blog posts, or the stories that are written with no intention to publish, or the essays, or the journal entries? (I’ve discounted the #FPs, by the way, because I know why I do them – they’re beyond fun to write)

Certainly, the encouraging voices of fellow creators are still a factor – the writing community on Twitter is wonderful, and it’s fantastic to read the great fiction and inspirational articles of other bloggers, sharing their own sneak peeks into their creative processes.

So yes, of course, I want to make a living with this writing malarkey (and if I ever write for Marvel, I already have my nickname: “Jolly” Roger Jackson? No … no, perhaps not). But that’s not it, not really. I write because all this stuff in me … it has to get out. I wake up with another person’s thoughts in my head, a dream of a kiss or a punch in the face that I never gave or received, another person’s cares and concerns. Sometimes I have to let them take precedence over my own, because to not let the words out, to let the garden die when it’s weathered all those winters and stamping feet, to let those bodies stay buried … that’s not what we’re here for, any of us.

Why do I write? I think my answer is, ultimately, the same as every other writer’s would be.

I don’t have a choice.

 

And now to the part I’ve been looking forward to the most – nominating a couple of very cool fellow writers to continue the chain. I’ve chosen two people whose blogs are relatively new, but if their posts so far and their exceptional contributions to #FP are any indication, readers are in for many treats in the future.

KDYB6_8j@ElishaAshworth is a writer of enviable talent, as well as being a thoroughly delightful person to interact with on Twitter. In addition to her excellent geek credentials, she’s also a self-proclaimed Shakespeare nerd, and is indirectly responsible for the #jabespeare hashtag, as it was her infectious enthusiasm for the Bard that re-ignited my own interest. The stories on her blog show a great versatility of storytelling, and I look forward to reading her work for a long time to come.

 

@Larysia is a powerhouse of creativity, and I’m in awe of how driven she is in her dedication to her current WIP, the novel Lucidity. A proactive and supportive writer, she’s enriched her town by founding a writer’s group called The Scribe’s Society. She’s hugely engaging to converse with, and has the added bonus of being a committed gamer girl. Her ‘Let’s Play’ videos, where she and @WalkingCasino narrate their journey through various virtual dreamscapes, are a joy to behold. I can’t wait to read more of her work. Her blog can be found here.gJHBIMGK

 

 

 

My sincere thanks to both for agreeing to be nominated.

 


Dead Cert

There are a couple of versions of this story.  There’s the version below, and another, very different incarnation that was broadcast a handful of years ago on UK radio.  The radio version was actually called Blood’s Dream, which is a horrible title, but was all I could think of at the time.  The broadcast version is actually one of my favourite readings of my work, and the presenter was kind enough to call my story “spinechilling”.  I remember being thrilled because it was the first time I’d heard anyone say anything like that about my work.  I was extremely grateful for the comment, but goodness only knows what she would think about the version I’m serving up below …

She was staring at her reflection in the hard silver skin of the juke, dreamily unmoored to the wiry, leather-jacketed stranger staring intently back at her. The stranger’s image curved weirdly across the polished shell, distorted and distant, as though she was seeing it in some fairground hall of mirrors. She saw a half-child in monochrome warpaint; beneath the tangled spill of stormcloud hair her eyes were ringed with black, glinting dully like dirty glass, hollow orbs tattooed with living ink on the inside, pupils and irises and lacework veins. Tonight, she decided, the stranger’s name was Emma.

She selected the last of her three tracks on the juke and punched in the numbers. The first of her chosen 45s was plucked from the ranks and flipped on to the turntable. A moment later Patsy Cline commenced to serenade the breathing shadows in their smoke-fogged booths, singing about how crazy it is to love somebody. Emma turned and walked slowly back to the bar, sensing his cold, insectile gaze crawl hungrily over the swell of her breasts beneath her black t-shirt.

He hadn’t changed much in the last eight months. He was perhaps twenty-five or so, tall and muscular, sporting the same stubbled scalp as his companions. He wore the right jeans, the right trainers, and the football shirt of his team. They all did, just as they all drank the same beer and shots and smoked the same brand of cigarettes and leered stupidly over the same vacuously pneumatic models and pop stars.

When she’d walked in alone from the night and the sky’s promised tears he’d whispered something to his mates and oh how they’d laughed. It was then that she’d turned and made eye contact, held it for that all-important extra moment, the one he’d read as Yes, come on over. Talk to me.

She’d sat at the bar and ordered her drink from a claret-haired woman whose tired smile told her a lot. Whiskey and lemonade. The taste was cloying on her tongue but she drank it down and ordered another. Let them think she was in the mood for something sweet.

They were watching her now, filtering her presence and behaviour through a murk of male intuition, thinking with their scrotums, their sour cargo the only grey matter that mattered to them. If a woman’s alone then she’s waiting for a man. Fuck off and die means she’s playing hard to get, or she’s frigid, or she’s a lesbian. She imagined their conversation about her, full of lewd speculation and so-called compliments wrapped in dirty silk.

Nice tits …

Bet she bloody gives it away …

Yeah, she’s a dead cert …

She watched him for a few more minutes, in the long mirror behind the bar. Watched his companions goad and cajole him into making a move. Watched him and waited. She didn’t wait long.

He slithered up behind her, fed her some chat-up gambit strewn with cobwebs – it wasn’t Do you come here often? but it was close – and offered to buy her a drink. Smiling, she accepted. The second of her jukebox tracks was on now. Cheatin’ Heart. He offered her a cigarette. Again, she accepted, and smoked it slowly. If nothing else, she knew she gave good filter. They talked for a while. He asked her a few impersonal questions she gave him the answers he wanted to hear, knowing he’d never remember them anyway, the way he didnt remember her.  Twice during the brief conversation, he forgot the name she’d given him.

Eventually, he said, ‘My car’s just outside.’

She never did get to hear that last 45.

 

They stood in silence in the car park in the rain. She felt cold and soul-dead, her flesh as drained as a wrung-out rag. The world around her was a dirty, metallic grey. Colourless neon rippled and swam in the puddles at her feet. Grey thoughts in her head. Grey memories of a grey job in a grey factory, cutting small parts for some vast, unknown machine. Grey threads in her hair, though she was only young, she thought.  Grey dreams.

‘So,’ he said. ‘Your place or mine?’

‘No.’ she told him. ‘Here. Now.’

He half-smiled, surprised … and maybe a little scared, she thought. Good.

‘Erm … okay, right.’ He held the rear door open for her and grinned unpleasantly. Emma felt her revulsion uncoiling. She had a sudden, barely controllable urge to shatter that grin into a handful of enamel splinters.

Instead, she got in.

Sliding across the back seat, she caught sight of herself in the rear-view mirror. Her make-up had bled in the rain; behind the damp tangle of her fringe, her eyes were clogged with mascara tears, sunken grey moons in decaying orbits. They were naked now, it seemed; the stranger was gone. Quite suddenly she remembered a seventeen year old girl she had once known, taking a short cut home one winter’s night, across the waste ground that bordered the estate where she had lived. The girl had known she was taking a risk, the stretch of forbidden desolation was unlit and deserted, a landscape of burned out cars and reeking vegetation erupting through ancient concrete, of ruptured refuse bags and discarded condoms. She had been scared, scared of the dark and the silence, but not as scared of these things as she was of getting home late, of causing her Mum and Dad to worry.

Emma found herself wondering if she would ever remember what became of that girl, but then the man was scrambling on to the back seat beside her, his bulk squeaking against the cheap vinyl. She turned, hitching up her skirt and holding him in a dual embrace, like a spider, arms folded across his meaty shoulders, stockinged legs wrapped around his hips. Her hands ran through his wet hair like curious mice. He squeezed a hand between their bodies, unzipping and sliding his blunt fingers the length of her thigh. He meant to hook her panties aside, she guessed, his bloodshot eyes widening when he realised there was no need.

‘You’re cold,’ he breathed hoarsely. ‘I’m cold, too. Let’s see if we can’t warm each other up, eh?’

Emma didn’t answer and he didn’t seem to notice. When he tried to kiss her his breath reeked of beer and stale cigarette smoke and she turned her face away. He didn’t seem to notice that, either.

His tongue probed her ear like some squirming, eyeless worm as he held her open and guided himself to her. Emma felt him pause momentarily, perhaps wondering if he should use some protection but deciding to chance it anyway, after all if she ended up with a kid it wouldn’t be his problem would it and only queers caught AIDS didn’t they –

God Above, she wanted him dead.

He pushed himself a little deeper, cautiously, frowning as though something within her was blocking his way. She smiled and drew her legs back, pulling him in all the way in one sudden movement; sour air hissed between his teeth, pain or pleasure, she didn’t care. Finally inside, he whispered a name that wasn’t hers.

And stopped.

She felt him half collapse inside her, his lust stolen by the unnatural chill of her. ‘What -‘ he had time to say.

Her hands tightened suddenly against his skull, the blackened fingernails slicing his scalp like razor blades. He snarled and tried to snap his head back but Emma was stronger, stronger than she looked and stronger than him. She pressed her cold lips to his and he screamed against her mouth, thrashing between her legs and clawing frantically at her hands. Emma felt nothing. He tore at her clothes, and she found it good that it wasn’t drunken passion that drove him now but terror. Now she might start to enjoy this. His fingers seized a handful of her hair and pulled; it came away in his grip, strands of black and grey. He clawed at her face, make-up and meat peeling away beneath his fingernails.

Her tongue, somehow sinewy and slimed with filth, squeezed between his teeth and in horror and shock he bit down on it. It burst in his mouth, ejecting its payload of eggs laid in dead flesh. She heard his cries, choked and choking, and felt a wondrous savage joy bloom inside of her.

He struggled for a time and then was still. Emma disentangled herself from his remains and got out of the car. She could feel her tongue in tatters behind her teeth but knew it would heal.

She reached into her jacket and took out her own cigarettes and lighter. She leaned on the car and smoked, listening to someone else’s choices play on the jukebox. Her cigarette was only half done when she decided to flick it away, watching it arc across the dark like a shooting star, and only hearing its whispered death in a pool of dirty water.