Words

11 days in. Let’s see the numbers first, shall we?

day11

I’ll hit 25k on Tuesday, which is technically three days ahead of schedule. I’m still writing, then editing too, because as the narrative progresses, two things are happening:

  1. I’ll alter earlier narrative based on having written later narrative. This happens a lot, especially if character motivations change. In at least two cases in 72 hours, characters have changed sex and/or ethnicity. This requires earlier timelines or actions to shift.
  2. There needs to be dialogue. There always needs to be more dialogue, who am I fooling here. I am ahead purely because these characters, once on the page, start talking to each other in ways I have not anticipated.

In that regard, this manuscript is something of a revelation.

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I miss not having a graph of my word progress on the NaNo site, I’m not gonna lie. Maybe it exists somewhere and I’ve yet to relocate it. Regardless of this, it is all going amazingly well, and not having had an attack of writer’s block just yet, it can only be a matter of time before it happens. Plans are in place, all I can do is realistically work through it and push forward.

As to where I am in terms of story? Could not be happier. Things have happened that were unexpected. There’s better versions of ideas that first started their lives in my synopsis. Even if nobody else likes this, it will be my finest hour. To complete something like this has been the dream for years. My first novel my have been finished but it still requires extensive rewrites, because my abilities have improved.

That’s the biggest change of all, and it couldn’t make me happier.

Winter Trees

Welcome to the first of my #NaNoWriMo19 Updates.

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Things are off to an extremely positive start: in fact, I don’t remember having such a good first few days. It helps, undoubtedly, to have come into this with more planning than ever previously took place. Timings for this month have also been largely sympathetic; allowing several opportunities for clear, uninterrupted blocks of writing time. That will continue going forward.

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There are no worries or panics, either. This is the story I need to be writing, and completing it will happen. There is at least a part of my brain which thinks that 50k will not be enough, but that should be more apparent as we get into next week. Unlike last time, when the word total hit goal and then stopped, this is about completing the narrative. That’s what has to happen

No burning bridges or unexpected panics, and although there will inevitably be an attack of writer’s block somewhere, provision has been set aside. The eventuality is covered. All that is left therefore is the writing, sadly without my customary accompaniment of cake and biscuits. They’re both off the menu until  blood-work and cholesterol issues are resolved. Hooray for nuts and tea.

Mugs

I’ll be planning to post updates every Monday going forward, and next week will promise faithfully that this will be on time. It’s the arrangement of time post Half Term that got me this time, plus the front room reorganisation that still requires a measure of work to be complete. That’s the antidote to writer’s block, as it happens, but as we’re not yet in the realm of frustration, it’s time to crack on…

Love’s Great Adventure

You’ll be reading this in a time warp: It’s being published the day before NaNoWriMo 2019 began, yet the plan was to hype up how prepared I was for everything… the reality is, that as I type this, it’s already four days into the process. Last week’s health shock knocked everything into the air, and if truth be told, there’s still things I’m watching, waiting for them to land.

This year, however, organisation has saved me. Even if the real-time responses to things has been a bit arse about face, doing the preparation and knowing how important this whole process is to complete has provided the most welcome of cushions for the intervention of reality. It means that despite commentary being behind, word count is very much ahead of the curve.

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After a weekend where I took on an extremely important new responsibility (which I’ll talk about at length on Wednesday) it’s now a case of cleaning up the loose ends and ploughing forward. In reality of course, it’s not like tens of thousands of people read this blog and they’ll get confused with the timeline. If that were the case, it might be a different post that was being written.. but you guys understand how this works.

What this change also corresponds with is a marked improvement in organisation away from a desk. Those of you reading my personal blog will know that October, despite everything else, was my most productive month for physical health this year. That also needs to keep happening as I write, which means now I’ll be off for the first session of next week… or is this the third session of last week?

Trust me, true organisation is happening regardless.

Coming Up

It will several weeks before my dream working space is up and running. In the meantime there’s 10 days left not only before NaNo begins, but for me to whip a selection of my best poems into shape. In the midst of this all there’s also a bunch of single submissions to be done, many of which won’t cost me anything other than time and effort. It’s getting close to the stage where I need a year to view wipe clean calendar from Amazon to keep track of it all.

Crucially, none of this work is new, and is all being created off the back of existing effort. So, the question I find myself asking with increasing frequency is how much extra does an idea require before it’s good enough to be considered not simply as good, but completed. When is poetry ready to publish? When all is said and done, just how much polish is enough on your work?

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The best barometer I have of done is the Places of Poetry collection, all 24 of which are meritorious in my own head. Each one fulfilled the brief set out before I started: personal resonance, intrinsic link to the place being written about, plus a better than good technical standard. In that regard, polish was quite liberally applied to the raw works. It gives me real hope for working with my poems going forward.

Long form’s a bit harder, but reading through my synopsis today for NaNo there was a strong, unerring confidence that not only was my narrative basically sound, it could be established in a far stronger configuration if I swapped around some key pieces of action. As it transpires, the confidence that’s given me today’s helped to get a lot of those plot holes filled. It’s incredible what self belief can do.

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Instead of attacking the weekend’s folly with pitchforks and torches, it transpires all that was needed was a bit of polish: re-arrange the narrative flow and BOOM there we are, very much back on track. This has also helped me rearrange the poetry running order too, so that it too can have the appearance of narrative cohesion. Many of these poems were not written to go together but with the right connecting pieces, things can be constructed differently.

I really hope I can finish the poetry to my satisfaction for the weekend, because it will make my next project in December considerably easier to attack. In the end, all of this is a process of building confidence and accepting shortcomings. Everything will always benefit from one more read through and even if you know something’s pretty much done, there’ll always be a typo you missed on that last read-through.

judgingyou

That’s what polish entails too, of course: spelling mistakes, proper grammar, the minutiae of common sense that often is lost when people focus just on their feelings and not the work as a whole. Those things are as important as a workable narrative and poems with personal meaning. Put it all together, and the balance becomes apparent, even at an early stage.

Knowing what’s enough is half your battle won.

You May Be Right

This weekend, I learnt about Casuistry:

Casuistry (/ˈkæzjuɪstri/) is a process of reasoning that seeks to resolve moral problems by extracting or extending theoretical rules from a particular case, and reapplying those rules to new instances.

Wikipedia

Why the sudden interest? Well, it’s all the fault of a podcast my husband likes listening to, with a realisation that religion isn’t as black and white as perhaps I’ve always assumed was the case.

Learning how to think differently is undoubtedly the best thing that ever happened in my life this year. It isn’t just objectivity that’s improved in this time, but the ability to look at situations in a sympathetic manner: effectively, being less harsh on myself in the process. My personal approach to problem-solving, it transpires, is not far from that of the Jesuits. Knowing this method has a name is, frankly, a bit of a revelation.

It’s also not an exact solution:

Casuistry is a method of case reasoning especially useful in treating cases that involve moral dilemmas. It is a branch of applied ethics. It is also criticised for the use of inconsistent—or outright specious—application of rule to instance.

That needs a wee bit more definition before we go on:

specious

As became apparent in the Podcast above, and the next one in the series (which talks about contraception and the invention of the Pill) you can solve problems in any number of ways: what one person considers morally wrong may be the polar opposite to what somebody else would consider as problematic. Experience is the key to how we all look at solutions: the wider a world view, the more likely is that decisions are made based on optimal criteria.

It’s why the predisposition of so many people to live in their own bubbles is a growing concern: it is life experience that allows a person the opportunity to give reasoned, responsible input and therefore make decisions based on the most diverse set of perceived situations. I’ve often been accused of overthinking my approach to life in the past, and those people are right. To strike the right balance is a incredibly tough ask sometimes.

So, what has all this got to do with writing?

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When I was being interviewed on BBC 5Live about Places of Poetry, there was some discussion over how emotional poetry ought to be in reference to the subject matters in hand. Learning how to write objectively, especially when it comes to a form where economy of words can make a real difference, allows you the ability to problem solve a lot of situations where emotion must exist but not overwhelm.

It is the different between an impassioned feeling and a full-on rant: subtlety and clever word use will allow you to create vastly different solutions to the same problem. That’s also true in longer-form work: two protagonists are talking about a deeply personal event, that one feels uncomfortable about. How does one create a feeling of empathy between them? Is that even required with these two characters… how do their own moral compasses deal with casuistry within the framework of your narrative?

To understand your words, you must begin to understand yourself.

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Part of the reason why my fiction has suffered so much over the years undoubtedly has to do with being unable to really give emotional depth to situations and characters. I thought that this would be easily remedied but, it transpires, there is a lot of work to do. Helping myself expand as a writer isn’t just understanding tenses or the importance of narrative flow. There needs to be a more spiritual, philosophical element to proceedings too.

The best writing is that which is compelling and ultimately life changing, and to do that one must be prepared to alter parts of our own being in the process.

March Short Story: Hysteria

This story was first serialised in 31 daily parts (I know the graphic is incorrect) during March 2019 via the @AlternativeChat and @InternetofWords Twitter feeds [9am and 4pm GMT respectively.] It is now reproduced in a complete form, a number of small edits and corrections made to improve narrative flow and maintain correct continuity.

Enjoy.


Hysteria

‘You’ve not heard, have you?’

Harry is the Senior Sub and my liaison since January. I was here to catch up with Connie in Lifestyle, returning her West Wing DVD’s, and he’s collared me by the vending machine.

‘I don’t look at social media every 10 seconds, what have I missed?’

‘Your favourite bonkers actress gave possibly the most honest post-Golden Globes interview anybody ever wished for.’

Looking at my watch it’s 3am in LA. Alice Hooper was a shoe-in as Best Supporting Actress for a remarkably subtle turn in ‘Surviving’, a World War 2 blockbuster. The win I knew about, because I’m in the same WhatsApp group as her publicist. We’ve kept in touch since graduating from Guildhall together: Pip and I shared a curry the last time she was in London. This turn of events is a surprise, and isn’t being spoken about privately as yet.

I know what Harry’s going to ask this freelancer next: the paper’s editor can spot a story half a mile away with headlights on long before anyone else. What needs to happen now is me at a workstation, firing up YouTube, in the hope this interview’s bonkers content has gone viral. Polly Acres has the footage on screen already, trawling it for comment, and is happy to re-run the three minutes and twenty three seconds in its entirety. The first thing that strikes is Alice isn’t herself: both hands grasp the award, working hard to keep a shake under control.

In two hundred and twenty three seconds she calls her co-star a misogynist devil, attacks the director for sacrificing historical accuracy over trite one liners and confirms the production company insisted that their CEO’s daughter be given a totally pointless walk-on cameo role. None of this is lies, if rumours online were to be believed, but they’d all been strenuously denied or redacted. For Alice to pretty much rubbish everybody she’d worked with in such a short space of time is an impressive show of defiance even for her, but that’s not the killer.

The final question comes from this paper’s Entertainment editor: what do you have to say to your fellow nominees? Alice stares straight at the camera, eyes full of tears:

‘You’re wasting your lives. Nobody cares about you, or what you’ve done. It’s time to change profession.’

The press room falls suddenly silent as Hooper extends her arm, before theatrically allowing the Golden Globe to fall to the ground, where it quite impressively disintegrates into several pieces. As she walks away, there is undoubtedly signs of a limp that wasn’t there yesterday.

I’ve interviewed Alice eleven times in twenty years. She’s never done drugs, remains proudly bisexual: last time there was a lover in her life was over a decade ago. Their death from a pulmonary aneurysm had profoundly altered both outlook and approach to the entertainment world. As the expert on Hooper in the room, Polly is told the facts: this woman will have drunk water all night, it isn’t prescription pills or drugs talking. No slur, eye contact with cameras the entire time. This is just her and utter truth.

The question we should be asking is why.

My phone ringing at this point would normally be a massive inconvenience, until I notice the caller ID: Harry’s eyes widen as I show him, before connecting to Pip. She should be asleep, but if the call’s being made now, I’ll be on a flight to LA before the end of business today.

I know what’s going to happen before it does.


Eleven hours on a plane and a small fee for internet is all I need to get back up to speed on Alice’s life to date. There’s an immediate red flag: an appearance on a US genealogy programme was suddenly cut a couple of months ago. Buried away in a Variety byline are the details, language which is quite obviously chosen by someone with a legal eye on proceedings. I had no idea such programmes even existed, and with time to kill there’s an opportunity via the flight’s entertainment system to watch an example.

Fourteen minutes into this particular episode, elderly male celebrity makes jokes as he’s asked to swab inside his cheek for a DNA test, and I’m curious. My mother used to tell me I was wasted as a journalist and would have made a fantastic policewoman instead. She was right. This would have been something Alice would have loved: history, romance and intrigue around her family who emigrated from Italy to New York in the 1880’s. What if that DNA test had flagged something serious, the knowledge of which had forced her to withdraw from this documentary?

I’ve not replied to Pip’s last WhatsApp message yet, details of when to meet Hooper when I get to LA. Normally we’d meet at the Chateau Marmont, but instead it appears I’ll finally get to see Alice’s home for the first time, which fills my tired mind with a measure of excitement. El Cabrillo was built by Cecil B. DeMille in 1928: a two-story, ten-unit Spanish-style courtyard apartment complex, which has a history as rich and torrid as the man who was responsible for it’s construction. It has featured in countless TV shows and movies across the decades.

It’s one of three homes in LA, originally owned by her last long-term partner Lucy Welles. It was generally accepted she never stayed there any more as a result, but she will be there at 9am tomorrow morning, waiting for me. Nobody else will be offered either invite or interview. I ask Pip via WhatsApp if she’s okay, expecting a generic response. It takes fifteen minutes, then a video arrives: she’s still in the outfit worn for the Golden Globes. She thanks me for my discretion and honesty, before bursting into tears.

Something is terribly wrong here.


There’s a man waiting outside the Complex as I get out of the cab the next morning. LA is surprisingly sullen and grey, sweater weather for most. I’m still too hot and suddenly nervous, uncomfortable at this man’s presence. I’d come fearing the worst: this serves as confirmation. He’s a care nurse, unphased I’m a reporter, explaining that Ms Hooper has left strict instructions for my handling. There is breakfast inside: I must wait until Alice wakes naturally. It is important not to disturb her. As he opens her apartment door, I’m left completely stunned.

The place is a shell: no furniture except my chair, full breakfast tray and Alice’s hospital bed, for that’s what it is. Surrounded by quietly bleeping and clicking machines is the woman who yesterday was very much upright and defiant. As the front door closes, eyes flicker open.

‘Good morning, Ruth. I hope you brought enough hard disk space for a sizeable expose…’


I wish now I’d taken a proper camera, looking at photos downloaded from my ancient and much in need of an upgrade mobile phone. Back now at the Hotel, they’ll tell this story regardless. Alice Hooper was diagnosed with Lichen planus eleven months ago: after the disease failed to respond to traditional medication she was sent for specialist testing. Then came the discovery that her immune system had begun attacking other organs, including liver, heart and lungs.

She provides me with details of a charity set up to fund research and promote knowledge of this new condition, using her personal fortune after she finally passes. It could be weeks, or hours from now. Nobody really knew. Death stood, waiting for a prompt she was ready to leave. Asking about the outburst at the Golden Globes, why she spoke brutal truth elicited the only real smile in her entire interview.

‘I was a lousy actress, never made a difference. However as a test subject I might end up saving lives. I really wish I’d changed careers far sooner.’

It’s impossible to transcribe any more of the interview, I’m crying too much. This woman is a personal heroine, and I will be the last person to have interviewed her. This legacy, gratefully received, will ensure devotion to her life and career ends on the most positive of notes. On the way back to LAX that evening four calls in thirty minutes go to my answerphone. Rumours are flying after Alice’s performance that this is way more serious than a spat with the production company. People want to know why I’m in LA: they’ll be told, when I am good and ready.

Once upon a time I’d have been hustling for a deal, playing one media outlet against the other. Not any more: what she told me, with brutal honestly over four hours has already had a profound affect on existence.

To be so fearless, that close to death… her greatest performance.


Alice Hooper dies when I’m somewhere over Newfoundland.

Pip’s message is two minutes of tears, trying to get words out: she doesn’t need to. A stewardess asks if I’m okay, only passenger in First Class Alice bought for my return trip. I tell the truth: a dear friend passed away.

November Short Story: Piper

This story was first published in 30 parts via Twitter during November. It is now reproduced in a complete form, a number of small edits and corrections made to improve narrative flow and maintain correct continuity.

Enjoy.


Piper

Maggie Piper can’t sleep, won’t take the chance she’ll miss her son again. It’s 1.15 am, brain’s ramped up on coffee, waiting for when the phone sounds a tinny, dissonant alarm at 2.26. Then, without fail, Alfie will start what’s become a weekly, unstoppable sleepwalking ritual. When her husband left in the spring, things were initially difficult between mother and son. Alfie was quiet to begin with, and for a while said nothing at all at school or to friends. Then, Maggie decided to just tell him the truth, no frills. That altered a lot between them.

He admitted relief that Dad had left, watching violent abuse meted out after drinking and late shifts and had no idea how to help. His father had ignored him for years, the loss was nothing he felt either angry or upset about. What mattered more was their happiness going forward. For a few brief and glorious months, life had been full of smiles and laughter, but after the boy turned 12 in October, something changed. There are gaps in memory that cannot be explained, irritable behaviour, and now, twice a week at 2.26 am, he leaves the house without fail.

She took him to her aunt’s in Blackpool at half term, hoping sea air might help. He was less irritable, but still found his way outside regardless. There he stood, looking down for six minutes before returning to bed. She is too scared to lock doors, no attempt to restrain him… There’s a chirp from the phone, and immediate confusion: who could be sending texts at this time in the morning? Looking at the message, Mags’ brain is simultaneously amazed and frightened by what she reads:

‘My son is going to sleepwalk again tonight too. You are not alone.’

The first thought is to respond but there is no time, as second message appears:

‘Please pack an overnight bag. A car will come at 3am. Don’t be scared, please get in, because if you do we can provide all the answers required to not only help but support you both right now.’

‘How can I trust you?’

‘30 kids in Manchester wake up twice a week like him. One goes to Alfie’s school. We want to help them all and all the other kids across the country who have been doing the exact same thing since October 15th.’

‘There are others?’

‘There are thousands.’

Mags’ not scared any more, but comforted. If there are others like this, there will be a reason why this is happening, and if someone else is already dealing with the issue, she should be involved. There’s twenty minutes before Alfie walks; just time to pack a bag for them both.


It’s still dark as car rolls into the Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre. Alfie is asleep, head in Mags’ lap seeming far more relaxed and comfortable than she’s seen for a while. The driver, Bill, is a genial Mancunian but has kept silent to allow Mrs Piper time to read as they drove. The folder she’s been given is both reassurance and panic combined: across the UK, since October 15th, exactly 2027 children have been acting as a unit in Manchester, Liverpool and the market town of Nantwich in Cheshire, constituency home of the current Prime Minister’s family.

Elicia Redmayne, eldest daughter of Charles Redmayne, PM, is the most high profile of the 2027 sleepwalking children at the exact same time as Alfie. He’s also absolutely the last person Mag expects to have opening her car door at 4am: he waits, looking more nervous than she is. The papers have been full of his absence from Westminster in the last week: is he unwell? Is there an international crisis in full swing, with government leaders across Scandinavia and Europe also disappearing from public life? Mags now knows real reason why Redmayne’s gone AWOL.

He and his party may be disliked by large portions of the country for socialist policies and a distinct focus on environmental issues over encouraging profits, but there is no doubting the unerring commitment to three children after wife died from Breast cancer a year previously. This man would do anything for his family, and for others. Redmayne takes a still-sleeping Alfie in his arms, carrying the boy to a newly constructed area on the Jodrell Bank site. Khaki tents have been erected: portacabins mark temporary walls of a site where armed guards stand.

Perhaps before it would have scared Mags this place is protected but now there’s an understanding of the scale of Alfie’s significance, the Army serve as reassurance. It isn’t just kids in the UK who are acting as a unit, but across the globe, and to an extremely specific pattern. There’s a medical team waiting already, because this young boy is the last piece of an incredibly complex puzzle that’s taken since October 15th to decrypt.


Mags isn’t very hungry, pushing scrambled eggs around her breakfast plate. This temporary mess hall might be packed, but she feels very much alone. It’s almost lunchtime and Mrs Piper is exhausted, yet too scared to sleep. The briefing she was given still rattles around a brain that is simultaneously happy and stunned: her son is the last of the 2027 UK children to be located. This makes Jodrell Bank unique across the World.

Tonight sleepwalkers will be watched and monitored as the first complete unit to be gathered together in one space. Media is already saturated with this revelation after the story broke in Sweden the previous day. Redmayne will therefore address the nation in the next 30 minutes. The Army have already taken over the entire Butlins holiday camp in Skegness as the only place where 2027 children plus families and observers can be kept together without major issue. As soon as Alfie’s tests are completed they’ll be driven with the PM’s team to join the group.

Tonight, at 2.26am, all kids will be allowed to roam free across the camp. There have already been hints of individuals heading for each other, groups forming before moving to create some kind of shape or message. Various theories will now be examined under controlled conditions. Mags already knows what’s going on in her heart, and that’s what frightens her most. This is no different to all the times husband would manipulate them both, his threats of violence if they didn’t do as they were told. Nothing good ever comes of messing with other people’s minds.

Even if all this could be precursor to some wondrous, life changing event, Mrs Piper is already thinking ahead. Considering every possibility was how her soon to be ex husband was finally found out, his affair and misuse of joint cash exposed with quiet, unemotional efficiency. Her father, an ex Army man himself, had taught many lessons in survival. Always know your exits. Plan for the worst, so the best can be enjoyed as a true surprise. Most importantly, however charismatic and beguiling they may be, never believe politicians know little or nothing.

Watching the PM on screen in a now silent, rapt Mess Hall, all eyes are on his speech; Mags knows he’s lying. They’ll have a chance for conversation on the way to Skegness, and then she’ll push him for the truth. How he reacts will dictate what happens next to Alfie, and for her.

This is not the World she woke up to yesterday.


It is not the World anyone expected today.

Trying not to look back, it is impossible to ignore raging flames in Range Rover’s rear view mirror. Four children huddle on the back seat, too scared to even cry.

Maggie Piper is numb.

At 2.26am, every kid at the holiday park had woken simultaneously: not one sleepwalked. Instead, from their mouths issued noise unlike anything heard on Earth in tens of thousands of years. It was anguished alarm, sending unexplained fear into the souls of each assembled parent. Redmayne had argued long and hard against kids being bought together, but the Scandinavians were adamant. This had happened before in their history; no harm had come to any of the children previously. This time, circumstances were different. Many things had changed in a century.

As connections were lost with Sweden, Norway and Denmark, the UK Military’s communications were ruthlessly severed. These children’s presence alerted the first wave of invasion craft hidden on the far side of the Moon, that Earth was sufficiently self-aware to present a problem. This planet had solved a genetic puzzle planted by the Korsal 8000 years ago, ingrained to determine human’s level of sophistication, alerting when bodily harvesting should finally take place.

Redmayne and Mags, plus their children, are the only survivors from a deadly first strike.