Let the Right One In

Today, we present a lesson in need versus want.

You guys will know about the struggles with short stories last week. This morning, I’d sat down to work on the one idea I though had enough legs to transform into something saleable. It’s odd how so much of my mindset has, of late, simply focused on what other people are looking for, what style matters to make myself noticed. Forget that it’s become difficult to write because there’s a part of me being held back for a minute.

Yeah, I only just worked that out. But I digress.

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This little nugget dropped into my inbox yesterday, and set me thinking. There’s a prize, sure, but it’s not a publishing contract, or anything that would further my own desires. So, why on earth would it be of interest? Well, for one thing that’s the most detailed brief anybody’s given me about anything for about six months. Second of all, I have a story to tell. As it happens, it’s quite an important one as well.

This morning I tracked an article from the BBC Website about nature writing to its source, and then wrote 150 words for that and sent them off. No days of editing, no navel contemplation. Take a pictures, write the words, BOOM. I spend too much time worrying about stuff sometimes: I am the robot monkey girl who polishes everything so hard it shines, and yet nobody gives a damn about the result. Then, it hit me. I’m now a member of Mind. I wrote a story in two hours.

This one will need at least a couple of passes, and an edit from my husband, but in essence it is exactly what I wanted to write. It was the release of mental pressure I had no idea was really needed until it happened. Most crucially, it’s not fiction. It is autobiography. Perhaps, finally, the time has come to be totally honest not only with myself but the world in general about how this all affects my existence.

If all else fails, it’s been a very useful release of mental pressure on a part of my brain that’s been attempting to perform for an audience and failing.

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This’ll get sent off in due course; for now, it is time to see if the original job in hand can be completed today or not…

December Short Story: Solstice

This story was first serialised in 31 daily parts during December 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.


Solstice

In indistinct, freezing first light, Eric cannot forget why he is here. All that matters is to guard the perimeter fence, wood and wire, stretching along this natural escarpment. Scrub and frozen ground below suddenly transforms into the most dense and foreboding of pine forests. Standing tall in tower to his left is Hilda, daughter of Franz. Looking right, Melody, daughter of Rachel’s rifle is trained towards the tree line, perennial vigilance with outstanding attention. Both are barely older than him: at 16, youngest of nearly a dozen morning sentries.

Somewhere in the forest are his parents, one of the few  lucky enough to still have both alive. They are due home today, with or without enough food to last the camp for the next few weeks. The worst of winter has yet to hit Station 12, and when it does, everyone will be going hungry. Yet in the last week change has been inescapable: December’s normally brutal cold and bitter wind not yet arriving from the north. Eric is briefly distracted by movement upwards: birds wheel and shift as a group from the trees, hundreds moving in perfect, beautiful synchronicity.

A sound is coming from the forest, deep guttural rumble that is strangely familiar. The last time Eric heard this he was very young, whilst Station was in the depths of despair. This is an armoured transport heading up what remains of dirt road towards entrance to their compound. He’s scrabbling for ancient monocular, locating beast amongst fir, looking for the Saltire to confirm approaching vehicle is friendly. It is spread along the bonnet, battered blue and white flag undoubtedly his father’s. They have returned with a far greater prize than just food.

Behind the solar powered vehicle are two other, considerably smaller transports. One is obviously some kind of medical vehicle, the other a large, grey box on many wheels. Elsa, Eric’s mother is waving from the roof, second Saltire as confirmation the entire convoy is friendly. He’s not due to leave this post for another hour but there’s relief on the way: Saul’s smile tells all that is needed. Eric requires no further encouragement to sprint across concrete battlements, down battered metal ladder, jumping to ground level. He can meet parents in person.

Their convoy’s swamped as he approaches, support staff and medical team already looking beyond excited at these discoveries from the forest. The large, multi-wheeled box appears to be full of supplies: unused weapons, fresh construction materials vital for repair and maintenance. The hug from Mum is nothing compared to that of his father, more emotional than he has ever seen them both. The reason becomes apparent: the entire cache of equipment and supplies had been found hidden, area previously inaccessible northwards due to snow and large amounts of ice.

This is nothing compared with news camp leader is now reacting to: the only way out of the valley, previously completely inaccessible due to accumulated ice, has now opened. That provides unrestricted access all the way down the mountain, opening a direct path to the coastline. For close to a century, camp has been cut off from rest of the World. In the last decade their numbers have begun to dwindle: lack of food, an airborne virus and the cruellest of winters have slowly eroded away these survivors. Dense forest’s protection offers little nutrition.

Eric helps unload myriad contents of what he now knows is a refrigerated container in great condition as is everything else that parents liberated. The significance of that alone is enough to make months of harsh living and empty stomachs a memory: supplies can now be kept fresh. In the back of the container is a box full of items however that make no sense: strings of brightly-coloured, shiny material, electric cable with glass dots attached, and several smaller cardboard boxes fill of delicate glass ornaments which have not been handled for a long time.

Both parents are uncertain as to what these items are used for, but hold hazy joint memories as children of a tree being cut from this forest. It was bought into the compound before being placed and decorated with hand-made ornaments and garlands made of recycled cloth and paper. It was a tradition that the eldest member of Station’s staff had held, part of faith-based beliefs that had been forgotten over countless cruel winters, barely lived through since the base was built.

Items were instruments of long lost celebration, before World froze over.

With power, the cable easily activates: dots light up, emitting an ethereal, pulsing glow. Eric is then sent to outskirts of the forest with his father as backup, where a suitable fir is chosen and dug from ground that seems far less hard and frozen than was previously the case. Large, deep storage bin is located to act as pot, allowing tree to be prominently placed in the main compound. Suddenly, nothing else matters but process of decoration, sparking memories from the last three remaining base staff over sixty of what this process entailed: Christmas.

Eric assists with the container’s contents being sorted, listening intently to the story of how his parents had discovered, then buried remains of the Army convoy they’d come across. Six people transporting supplies to this base, literally frozen solid in a horrendous snowstorm. It was during that winter he had been born, last time snow fell continuously for almost a month. Ever since, temperatures had begun to rise, giving hope that upper atmospheric levels had finally begun to clear of dust from the 101955 Bennu meteorite’s impact in southern Algeria.

Eric still finds it hard to believe everyone knows about somewhere half a world away, but was able to forget about a holiday as important as Christmas at the same time. He might not be essential in this hierarchy, but celebrating anything well seems an idea worth working towards. It is now new task to inject a new, exciting set of events into the normal and often boring beyond belief drills and maintenance routines. The younger children are charged with a far more enjoyable task than painting and cleaning: they make cards, for exchange around the station.

Mother takes Eric to one side after evening meal that night, entire camp more energised and happy than anyone can remember for many, many years. She hands her son a small box, tied with what he knows is a ribbon, taken from one of the few non-military items of clothing she owns. From pocket comes a letter: not recently written, looking incredibly old yet is still sealed. On the front however is his name and date of birth. Asking who it is from, his mother tells him to go find a quiet spot alone, before reading what’s been given and then returning to her.

Sitting in his favourite spot, warmth from Guard Tower’s perpetually burning fire, Eric knows deep down what is held in his hands. This is confirmation that current parents aren’t his birth family: that mother died after giving birth, father was Station 12’s last adult casualty. He had perished when Eric was nearly five: remembering that day when he’d volunteered to hunt for food after weeks of punishing, crippling frozen rain. His ID bracelet, worn around left wrist, pushed into the boy’s palm: memory of kiss to forehead, tears falling onto his face.

Except, it appears, it wasn’t a hunting mission. His father had willingly taken a one way trip into the forest, in order to reconnect Station with their only supply of fresh, untainted water: that journey meant descent into cave from which there was no possible means of return. There is a second, older note too, written after mother passed away. Many apologies have been contained within, most significant at those who kept majority of planet in the dark prior to the meteor impact. In the end, father concluded, politicians allowed evolution to decide who survived.

He knew Eric grasped mother’s boundless optimism, warmth, practicality to improve the World and others. Watching boy grow, that was apparent; providing man no qualms over leaving. The right future was with his best friend and her husband, incapable of producing children of their own. With shaking hands, it is time to open box given to him by station commander who never said out loud she was his mother, yet did the job with fierceness and pride that was without equal. Inside is a badge, ancient crest of Army regiment who built this base a century previously.

Eric understands the gesture: he’s in charge of the Station, free to begin a new era of development and exploration. His first task is simple: once the solar powered explorer has fully charged there’ll be an expedition arranged: high time to leave valley and head towards the sea.

 

The First Time

Everything you will ever need to know about me exists online. No, really, it does. You’d be surprised just how much personal detail has been exposed via the wonders of the World Wide Web since the 1990’s, but to make it easier for you I’ve put together some notable moments in personal history.


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The ‘Writing as Therapy’ tag is where a lot of early, formative conclusions have come to be in relation to what I do here. It also has a lot of interesting anecdotes hidden within, including the reason why religion caused grief in my late teens. The quality may be variable, but there’s a LOT of good stuff here.


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Then, there’s my FanFiction. It would be a foolish woman who did not acknowledge the debt this form of hero worship has had on my life. My first fanfic was written, on a typewriter, somewhere in the early 1990’s. Yes, I still have it and no, it doesn’t get shared. Since then, we’ve covered multiple genres and countless TV shows and movies. Over Christmas, I’ll be taking the most recent efforts away for a much-needed edit.

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James Bond and I have a love/hate relationship right now, but the two fanfics I wrote (over 100k words) represent an important step in writing development. You can find Duet and Default here. I will never be anything else but utterly proud of these pieces.

I created two damn good stories.


Poetry

I hated poetry two years ago, with a fair passion, before it became apparent that the main reason for this was because I couldn’t write it. My artist friends keep telling me: if you want to draw, you should practice every day, and eventually you will get somewhere. They’re right, of course. Every day since that revelation, poetry has been written and now, after a LOT of hard work the form is now a thing.

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Search my poetry tags for weekly forms, one offs and daily ruminations, plus specially- created compositions using my own photographs. I’m particularly proud of the 2017 Thinktober visuals, which represented the first time both words and pictures were specifically designed to complement each other.


There’s a lot more on the site, if you’d like to take some time to wander about. Now I’ve explained the lay of the land, the next series of posts will give you some detail about the person behind it…

Not a Job

I have a confession to make, well several actually. The main one is to do with my mistaken belief that writing certain combinations of fiction at once is actually doable, and there won’t be any clutter or overspill in my brain. This, sadly, is utter bollocks. As a result, EX/WHI is on hiatus for November. I cannot cope with two lots of sci-fi simultaneously and so summat has to give. I’m also aware that last month’s short story needs publishing, and there’s a backlog of stuff to archive. I’ve spent a lot of today making sure that’s easily doable, and we’ll have October’s story up on site for Monday.

All in all, we’re off to a comfortable start.

I am planning to write 2k a day, give or take, which will happen as the first thing I do every morning. That means front loading as much of the rest of the month’s content as possible, which should hopefully come to pass by this time on Monday. Therefore, after that point if there’s more than 2k a day in me I can just have a go, and the house does not disintegrate around me from inactivity. There’s an important secondary point to all of this too: this is a good idea, it is sound and deserves the effort, and I need to prove to myself again that this is doable.

On the flip-side, I’ve also committed myself to edit and finish a previously unused NaNo project, which was submitted for a contest last month. I’m 100% confident I won’t make the shortlist, but regardless of this it would be nice to have the story completed and at the 40k limit required to be a novella. Once that’s done, I’ll have two things I can pitch at people, and not just one. The two things are different enough that I shouldn’t get my brain confused as is the case with Taeken and EX/WHI. It’s all part of a long-term plan to change the world, a piece of work at a time.

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There’s still poetry, of course, and I have a Monday deadline for two pieces. For now, however, as you read this I’ll be out in the dark, taking pictures for a project I’m working on for 2019…

Things We Lost in the Fire

Sometimes, I take things WAY too seriously. It’s been like this for decades, too: it isn’t just a mental shortcoming, either. I’d love to be able to say the wiring in my head is to blame, which means I’ll often completely misinterpret signals. Yes, that happens, and there’s comprehension as to why… but other times, it really isn’t. Really specific stuff upsets me. Thoughtlessness, arrogance and the inability to possess even basic empathy. When you politely disagree with someone and their reaction is to give you the finger. Nothing says mature and sensible like the bird, actual or metaphorical. That’s probably why I use it so much because, on my day, I’m that person too.

Except you’ll never see it happen.

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I am tired, and need a holiday, and so my tolerance is low. Things other people find funny I will object to, but with a perfectly sensible set of reasons… except there’s no point in listing them. Repeating them is largely redundant if your target audience is gonna flip you the bird and explain that you’re the problem. Get a sense of humour, lighten up, why are you so serious? I’m this way because these things matter to me: when the tables turn, and you get incandescently angry over summat I agree with, remind us to have the conversation again and then perhaps you might listen, though I doubt it.

Today I realised how my writing has become the means by which these problems are solved without conflict.

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Short stories and poetry are becoming metaphors for far more than simply my own internal demons. Other people’s actions are now being exorcised, their attitudes that can be so painful to read or observe. I have, in my poetry submissions, also dealt with Brexit and the Internet as general contentious topics: it was never meant to be political, but just ended up that way. What was provocation at 2.15 then vanishes into a poem or paragraph by teatime and all the angst is forgotten. This is certainly cheaper than therapy.

Ironically, it is the level of noise and discomfort that the Internet has always emanated which gave inspiration today for another project, which will be presented as part of a submission for the Hollingworth Prize for Poetry, the closing date for which is the end of August. If unsuccessful, I’ve already got plans afoot to self-publish, as this will make up a fully fledged creative project. Experience has shown me that you don’t go into these situations without being prepared for failure, and whatever happens, this is already a concept I’m proud of.

This is all part of the process of remaining sane, arguments and all. I’m not here to be lectured to or shoved about either, there’s been far too much of that in the past. Now, things happen on my terms.

If I fall down, it doesn’t matter.

Promenade

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‘Why do you write?’

Sometimes, it is compulsion: a injustice observed, moment recalled or future imagined. Often the urge strikes at an inopportune moment. It’s why a notepad and pencil have more significance than transcribing into the Cloud or dictating into an iPhone. Whilst fingers can grasp an implement, the default is always a pencil, making it easier to correct mistakes. There are many in those initial moments. Then there’s my keyboard, copy of an old style typewriter, to remind of the days that was the only option when creating formal work.

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‘What do you write about?’

Everything is up for debate, nothing beyond the remit. Once upon a time, for about thirty years, poetry was evil and impossible to fathom, but with patience and thought that fear is now overcome. I dealt with learning difficulties and social dysfunction via blogging, granting a freedom of expression that remains a constant joy to manipulate. It’s also a source of amusement to observe the interpretations of what gets written. Those loved the most in that regard grasp that writing, like most forms of expression, is supposed to offer at least some level of ambiguity unless you’re told otherwise…

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‘What does writing mean to you?’

Words are my salvation, and my Kryptonite. To be able to express myself is the greatest joy and freedom that has ever been granted in my half a century on the Planet. This is not about a massive follower count or critical acclaim, because neither of those will ever grant the same joy as a well-written story or the blog post that truly expresses my feelings. When those words fail me, inability to express what ails or distracts, it is as if I’ve been struck down. The incapability to write, once destroyed, brings relief that cannot ever be appreciated enough.

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‘What is your favourite writing form?’

Blogging (literally) saved my life when all other effective forms of communication had failed, so to admit a soft spot for just being able to write ‘today I woke up and felt happy’ probably ranks quite highly. However, the storytelling aspects of the craft are where the real satisfaction increasingly lies. There’s been an extension of that into photography too in the last couple of years, and that media degree in my twenties might yet have some actual use going forward.

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‘What advice would you get to start people writing?’

Routine and practice, as is the case in most pursuits, will garner real returns. However, for some people the ability to do this daily can end up stifling creativity, so the better path inevitably includes finding a routine that suits your lifestyle. Write everything down. Planning in advance will help, especially if you’re writing a massive fantasy epic from scratch. The best advice of all however is be you, especially in blogging. An audience will invest in your life far more readily than you will realise, and the more that is given… that’s up to you. All of this, ultimately, is in your hands.

Find Time

The Internet has changed my life.

It has been a long, often painful progress, but since 1992 (when our first dial up modem was purchased) a phenomenal amount of crucial, life changing events have taken place online. Many of those moments had the air of fiction about them, on reflection. Visiting a number of pen-pals I’d written to, who were all really annoyed there was a boyfriend in tow. Finding other people who shared my love of genre TV, and then making a fatal mistake in judgement… and the list goes on. However, there is one overridingly significant result from all these years online, and it has nothing to do with anybody else.

This is the place which gave me space to learn, at my own pace.

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This is where the truth about my body and how pleasure could be derived from it finally made sense. Reading articles about editing, writing and technique, over and again, finally began to stick. The fiction read was not nearly as important as news and opinion, in the end, because the path to storytelling was grounded in current affairs. The people met in Azeroth, via LiveJournal and Facebook, both which were ultimately ignored for Twitter, opened my mind, and were a reminder that people can be mean, cold and arrogant regardless of the environment.

However, eventually, the right people were found.

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The significant of positivity in this journey cannot be underestimated. Those who would hug me when I asked, and listen when needed. The faceless, anonymous nature of individuals wouldn’t matter after a while, because you would get to know those who mattered over time. Then, there would be the need to adjust behaviour to match the moods of others, or the situations that would arise online, and from this came the vital confidence to believe a strength existed to change other things too: fitness, general health, what was worn and how those in the Real World could be less intimidating as a result.

Without the Internet’s ‘fiction’, many facts in my life would never have been exposed as truth.

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Most importantly of all, the innermost workings of my mind would never have been exposed to critique or examination without the Internet as a backdrop. It has been the longest time to find the pieces and construct the puzzle in my head, but finally there is the understanding of what it is I am and what is being looked at. That has been the hardest journey of all, but looking backwards to where everything started, the path is now very easy to retrace. That says to me that everything that brings life to this point is intrinsically right. Both good and bad have their part to play. It has become an exercise in grasping everything, them making sense of those pieces as and when it is possible to do so.

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Sometimes, it is an act. There are moments when self-defence takes over and I’m just making what seem to be the right noises. Most of the time however, there is method and confidence, where before it did not exist. As each new piece is fished from subconscious and placed in the puzzle, those moments are less and less frequent. This is a place that is where I want to be, and remain.

This is the place I truly call home.