THREE

We have news, and it’s again very good: another piece has been accepted for submission. There is no idea as yet as to when and where you’ll be able to find it, but it proves for me a potent point. The first idea is often the best one you’ll ever have. I’ve let myself wander away a bit from that path in the last few months, but we’re back here now.

More significantly, that means that there’s been work published every month since July. I have two Open Mics booked for this month and October. The relaunch of Subscription content has been better than I had anticipated, but will need hard work if I am to capitalize on these successes. In the end, getting people to believe in you is hard work. Who knew?

I’ll have a graphic up next week and a proper list of where you can read / hear my work, plus there’s a bit of rejected creative writing from the start of this period of fruitfulness that might not have succeeded in its particular contest slot, but which remains a fairly potent indicator of not only where I am now, but where things are going.

Most importantly, you’ll see #Instaverse back here on Monday.

Do It Again

After what was an extremely productive and progressive week, it is time to capitalize on momentum. I have a phenomenal amount of old content quite literally gathering dust around these parts, and it is high time some of this stuff was found a better home. Therefore, this week I’ll be concentrating on submitting to a number of poetry organizations with open windows for work.

After that…?

It was suggested to me that there ought to be something other than writing and exercise to give my brain a chance to work through the various issues I’m having, and having lost a friend to COVID this week, it seemed only right and fair to see if the work/life balance could be restored via some gaming. I’ve found a lovely survival game called Valheim, thanks to a mutual. It looks as if it has distinct potential, and can be attacked very much at my pace.

With the middle of the month coming up, my son is being invited back to University and so there’ll be one less person here, with life (very slowly) returning to what used to be considered normal before this all began. The first Patreon project of 2021 is moving towards completion, and the next few months are beginning to look like they’ll be writing fiction instead of poetry, which I’m very pleased about. There’s a lot to be done.

Honestly, this is all coming together very satisfactorily indeed.

How Will I Know?

Those of you following me on the Socials will be aware I’m doing a bit more exercise than has previously been the case. This began with a post-Christmas burst which made me realise that the only thing holding me back from real, tangible progress is myself. It is very easy to let good habits slip when all you want to do is wear PJ’s and eat chocolate, but the older I get the harder it has become to maintain the consistency I crave. Therefore, it is time to adapt.

There’s still a bar of chocolate wound into my workouts. The occasional treat is perfectly admissible. This isn’t about only drinking protein shakes and boring people senseless with the power of positive thinking. It is knowing that, at some point, you just need to shut the fuck up and do the work. That’s the case for the writing too: November’s NaNo went out to people to read and this is, without doubt, the most positive feedback I’ve ever received. Even the dislikes are positive.

Therefore, it was time to do something with it.

It’s been entered for a contest I doubt we’ll make traction in, but for the first time a 10k submission actually looked like a story I’d like to read, not just something with a niche interest window. I’ve also been given some brilliant late-plot feedback that means there’ll be stuff added once the current poetry project’s past first draft and needs to have a rest. I’d not expected that to do what it has to my brain either, and so we’ll be working on that for a bit longer than anticipated, but no worries. Exercise is helping me think on the go.

I don’t expect any of this to be successful, so if it happens I will be beyond surprised. However, what this does do is allow me the opportunity to believe that this is the right path to be treading, and that the decisions that are being made, make sense. It’s as much about self-confidence as it will ever be about success. In the end, there has to be a method of self-propulsion that doesn’t require other people as fuel. It transpires words can move you forward.

Who knew?

Well Done

It is the best feeling in the world to obtain an unprompted compliment. Having had a couple in the last few weeks, I can tell you from personal experience to have someone care enough to come to you directly with feedback turns bad days into great ones. However, you have to be a realist. I’ve had my first piece of genuine negative feedback this week too, and if you’re not careful those kind of comments can put you back months.

Getting the balance right really matters. I know there are authors who don’t take kindly to being told what’s wrong with their work: it’s the equivalent of abusing someone because their Victoria Sponge is not decorated in the way other sponges should be. There is no right way to write, that’s the point. Sure, if you want a Booker Prize your icing and filling are gonna matter more, and probably need to look and taste a certain way. There’s clearly rules to follow.

However, for the rest of us, achievement is just ending up with a decent tasting cake.

Of course, none of this really matters if you get lucky enough to make a passable cake that someone of note really ends up taking a liking to. Most of us will bake a couple of cracking desserts in our lifetimes, but only the very lucky are emulated or considered as must-try formulas. I keep looking at the number of people who have rewritten Jane Austen for instance and wonder just how much money can you scrape from the romantic mismatch genre. The answer, of course, is rather a lot.

It also makes me laugh at how much original work I have churned out in the last year, most of which hasn’t been seen by anybody but me. In that regard, I am probably doing myself few favours by keeping the writing flowing. Maybe I should be going back to those pieces with more consideration and thought: can I build new recipes using these failed attempts? Quite possibly I can, and maybe the combination of seemingly disparate textures and flavours might produce a revelation.

At least I know now why I’m hungry all the time 😀

The next step in my journey is realigning myself with my work. There’s a lot written, sitting around me or on my hard drives, that needs to be considered in light of the events of the last couple of months. Now it is time to see what can be repurposed, what is disposed of, and crucially what can be done to minimise the amount of stress that submissions cause going forward. I think it is time to start preparing myself for self-publication.

After all, Christmas is not that far away.

The March of Time

The last seven days have been hugely significant for my personal development: on Friday I finally completed the first draft of a project that wasn’t initially part of my ‘Experimental’ work but has grown from the need to be able to produce to deadlines. It has been created for a very specific submission window, pushing brain into a different working mindset. However, that won’t be why it will be remembered, celebrated and ultimately published regardless of submission success.

Occasionally, it is necessary to go back to the past in order to continue an unimpeded journey through the present. On the weekend when history was remembered in this country for very different reasons, I was able to finally leave some of my regrets where they belong. Moving on will be slow, painful work but with this line on the ground, I can mark realistic progress away. Having these benchmarks is incredibly important for me in exercise, even more so as an indicator of personal progress.

This new work therefore is hugely important for therapy.

I hope to have some content on YouTube for Wednesday, but this will be largely dependent on getting the backlog here organized. The first two Drabbles will be with you later today (right now it is graphics holding me back, not words) and on days like this I wish all there was to worry about was writing and not all the other elements needed to make a website work to my liking. However, these are the challenges, self set, and which will all be eventually overcome.

My progress as a writer, increasingly, is measured by notional progress in organization. This is undoubtedly a huge step forward in those terms, quite apart from the quality of work I have managed to produce since Lockdown. To expand as a person is not just about success, or validation. It is vital I am honest to my own integrity, that how I act and conduct myself on wider stages is done with respect for the beliefs of others.

These are interesting and educational times for us all.

Love’s Great Adventure

Today’s been all about getting dragged, kicking and screaming, outside your comfort zones. I have pulled some Patreon work because, after due consideration, it wasn’t good enough. I’ve been writing experimental poetry all afternoon and it’s making me feel really uncomfortable. Oh yes, and then I laid my life bare in quite an unexpected fashion via Social media…

I’d not anticipated how hard this would be until the weekend, when part of my general discomfort was around just how much of my past would be hauled up for general inspection. As it happens, there’s a lot to be said for these choices being made as the right ones, when it would have been an awful lot easier to pick from some generic, obvious alternatives. This way, I will be challenged.

These first two polls are now up and running, and the results will be known in 48 hours. I’ll throw them about a bit later today and tomorrow too, just to see if I can garner a decent range of responses. After all, you never know who might pick these up and ping them into the Void for me… and it means that the results will end up as a genuine surprise. I’m not checking the polls until they’re done.

Once I know the results, I’ll fill in my graphic, and then we can get on with the business of writing. The plan is to have all six drabbles up in their own separate area by the end of the month: if this is successful, we’ll repeat the process with some new things later in the year. As always, it’s about working out whether your content is interesting enough to attract new people not only to your work, but also to potentially stick around as an audience…

April Short Story: Alone

This story was first serialised in 30 daily parts during March 2020 via the @MoveablePress and @InternetofWords Twitter feeds [9am and 5pm GMT respectively.] It was inspired by this song, written by The Divine Comedy:

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.


Alone

Sadness, yet again, consumes a form which has grown used to constant intrusion. Around me the throng of rush hour commuters continue their journeys, existing internally, no sign of any emotion at all. I wonder: how many of you live within this province, cannot escape its embrace. A decision was made, out of my hands. Others, more intelligent than I will ever be, decreed this period of separation. Sitting, watching you leave, suitcase in hand, unable to change what had been planned for years, real significance of that moment has only now truly registered.

Life is less than it was, diminished without your smile. Kind, quiet words missed with ache in my chest that’s alien, uncomfortable. It has taken this long to realise existence without your presence devalues that entire experience. It has taken this long to understand your love. Finally, I’m home: familiar comforts surround an aching body. Age begins to make what was academic in youth more of a challenge: after food and a lie down, everything will be better… except the hole where your presence should inhabit. I wonder, was this correct course of action?

The decision was made, using other’s rules. Not my language, but theirs, inherited over decades. All that can be done, as has been routine for so long, is wait, and hope that one day, soon, perhaps tomorrow, I will see you again.

When moment comes, you will know how much I care.


It had been a terrible mistake.

She sits on Platform Two’s cold, unpleasant bench, staring at the suitcase on wheels, excuse to ignore everything including the anger within that refuses to diminish. This really was all her own fault, absolutely nobody to blame but herself. Love had vanished almost as quickly as it appeared: on reflection, perhaps that was the wrong word to be using. Next time, lust and desire could be more easily identified. Leaving the parental home for good will one day be a certainty; not quite yet. She can admit guilt, finally.

Right now, options have narrowed: apologising to Dad was, as it transpires far easier than was first imagined. Mum’s capacity to care never diminished regardless of daughter’s stupidity, close friends still sympathetic. It appears everybody else knew what was coming, except her. The train arrives with an almost apologetic sigh, aware self-reflection was in full swing, but that was enough for the morning. Wallowing was never healthy, however competent she had become at self-indulgence over the last six months. Her relationship was beyond officially over.

Abigail felt fifteen again: surface coped, blustered then bluffed itself through anything thrown at her, but beneath so much was uncertain, in flux. It didn’t help to have everybody else consider her a prodigious talent either. Fame was overrated, ability more so. She was lonely. Pulling black baseball cap further down across her face, this is moment brain wished driving lessons had not been ignored in favour of piano practice. Someone had already recognised her walking to the station: she’d denied her own existence, feigned ignorance and hurried onward.

Blissfully, this carriage is empty: she can hide in a corner, staring out of the window, looking distracted all the way until train terminates in London. She’ll avoid any contact with the Tube and grab a taxi instead. Only Mum knows she’s returning today, a big problem in itself. Her father is already condemning actions, and she’s not even in their postcode. He never trusted Abby’s girlfriend, still harboured significant issues over her bisexuality. If she could have just fallen in love with a man, even a boy would have appeased very obvious discomfort…

Father’s stream of disparaging WhatsApp messages continues unabated: if she’s smart, he’ll be a supporter of her cause by the time her cab stops in their leafy South London suburb. Right now, there are ten stops to move personal mood from combative to lost, in need of support… If only she could manipulate ex-girlfriend as easily as parents… no, not any more. There need be no feigning of emotional frailty: her own shortcomings caused this. The need to feel loved not just as an accomplished musician, but as a person. This woman. Abby, not Abigail West.

This is exactly NOT the moment she expects to hear a piece of her own music on the Spotify playlist expressly curated to avoid such things. Listening to what competition was up to is supposed to keep ears keen, help composition skills for an upcoming album… not floor her instead. Gravity is different, suddenly: this isn’t her writing, but piece she remembers as a child. Past and present uncannily overlap: nine years old, sudden change from the normal diet of classical music pieces her teacher would roll out as fodder for voracious consumption. This song…

Miss Canning is crying: Abby’s skill in sight-reading is uncanny, whatever this is being played isn’t just practice but personal. Only when looking up for an encouraging word is it obvious she’s missed something significant. Young teacher is now sobbing, uncontrollably emotional. Brain recalls teacher’s sweet, floral perfume, someone else’s tears on her face: hugging tight, embrace instigated at Abby’s prompt. Never leave the piano until a song is finished except, that day she broke a cardinal rule. Support matters more than appearance. Never forget care.

Except somewhere between breakout reality TV stardom and here that’s exactly what has happened: basic personality warped, priorities hastily rearranged… her soul left behind, forgotten in the clamour of online celebrity, interviews plus two massively successful orchestral albums. One more stop, she’s in town: fate is unavoidable. Maybe this is the moment to stop hiding in her own shortcomings and make a difference, change the way things work. If it all goes horribly wrong, at least she tried. That’s all that left now, possibility with accompanying fear.

She really hopes that, once back home, everyone she still loves will find it in their hearts to forgive her behaviour.


This is different.

I wake awkwardly, nap a surprise. There was so much to do: now the morning has gone. However, it doesn’t matter: sudden excitement does…

My landlord is on the phone: something has changed. Your name is mentioned, multiple times, no longer spoken in anger. You are in a taxi, on your way home and I cannot breathe, sudden dizzying disbelief. You are coming back to me. There will be fresh opportunity to see you again. Excitement is tempered with caution: last words whispered, before your departure. ‘I have to do this, just to see if I’m right. I know you’ll understand. You always have.’ Except, at that moment I didn’t. It took absence to let truths emerge and settle. It all makes sense to me.

That song you loved so much, favourite of my best friend: letting you go, so you can be free and then finally return here, better person for the experience… a bittersweet song you would play on the piano, like all the others that finally made you famous, a household name. A star. From young woman to recording artist, consummate professional…and yet, through it all, you never truly grasped what it was you had become. Those secrets, whispered late at night, safe because nobody was listening. I heard them all, understood how Abby had evolved: here, to now.

It will be wonderful to see you again, because that’s the front door. Familiar sounds, even to these ears, rapidly advancing in age. Your voice, enough to make heart beat faster: Abby is home, finally, and all the foolishness and stupidity will be instantly, summarily forgotten. My best friend cries, always does at such moments. My landlord will try to be brave, always attempts to and fails because out of these two humans he’s the one with more emotion invested in his daughter. I know how Sam tried with Abby, but ultimately feels she failed as a mother.

I was the companion, bright younger sibling, true best friend and so much more. Silent parent, moral compass, confidante… because humans assume far too much not only about the worlds people build and inhabit, but those other species allowed to live within such spaces with them. Abby stands in the doorway, smile incandescent. I thought this was unrequited love, before my owners used a better word: it remains unconditional; no requirements or boundaries.

Whatever happens, until my last heartbeat, no one will ever break bond between spaniel and mistress.


February Short Story: Motion

This story was first serialised in 29 daily parts during February 2020 via the @MoveablePress and @InternetofWords Twitter feeds [9am and 5pm GMT respectively.] It was inspired by this tweet, from Twitter user @rob__mccallum:

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.


Motion

In murky darkness, illuminated only by pale headlights from a teen’s car, a long-dead body is tied to railway tracks. It began as desperate action covering a terrible accident. Three decades later, the next twenty-four hours will finally provide her story’s most suitable ending.

I know Elizabeth loved us both in some small part of that battered heart, affection-starved long before we were considered a possibility. There had never been any ill-will towards either of us, no hand raised or dreams dismissed. She was, for many years, only ally we possessed. We rarely saw Ian: never referred to as ‘Dad’ even during childhood. His biological contribution all that had ever been willingly given: they’d loved each other until arrival of twins broke a brittle heart. No sons, just daughters. Both, twice unconscionable: man never recovered.

The night he tried to kill Mum began as a singularly uninspiring visit, feigning interest at our upcoming eighteenth birthdays. For the first time ever, money was demanded: something clearly very wrong in his life at that moment. It took over a year to uncover true motivation. Nobody expected bread knife as first choice of weapon: that gash took three months to heal. Both of us were enough, just, holding him back as Mum kicked first to balls, then neck as body hit kitchen floor. Two of us trailed his escape as far as the northbound bypass; both cried.

That should have been the end, except a different story was written. Guilt pushed us both go find him, insist he stayed away: dark monster never again welcome under our roof. If we’d ignored our disquiet, it would never have emerged that Mum accidentality managed to end his life. We saw the car, parked inside old garage on dirty land he called home, just far enough away from civilization to remain anonymous. He died where he fell, into a bush: we should have left, right there and then, turned around and never looked back. Hindsight’s a bitch; so were we.

We wanted a statement. It took all weekend, covered under beautifully crafted alibis: no-one even thought collusion a possibility. Such a good job that even three decades on, the whole truth only emerged by accident. Mum would go her grave, blissfully ignorant of any culpability. Leaving body on the tracks without tying hands and feet would prove him already dead. He wouldn’t just sacrifice himself, after all. This was a man who lived life very large; we made this a mob hit, local gang’s well-known ringleader finally punished by rivals for gambling debts.

On day his demise made national news Mum just sat with the paper, stroking remains of scar on her left arm. She cried, yes, but never came forward as his wife, because it transpired they were never married in the first place. On our Birth certificates, that space remained blank. Local Police cited numerous inconsistencies at their crime scene, yet nobody objected over sentences for three men of murder who’d already been arrested for other crimes. Ian became the convenient truth, wrapped in somebody else’s dreadful mistake. Only Harri and I knew better.

For the next twenty-five years, that verity slowly destroyed our familial bond.


This isn’t revenge. Penance is difficult, painful work. Everybody suffers as a result. You get to hurt most of all. The path Harri chose to walk, away from me and towards pointless redemption…

Harriet’s ambition was obvious, early on. It was how Mum would tell us apart: she crawled first, walked first, spoke before I’d even thought about communication. It was if two people’s motivation and drive had been shoved into one stocky body, without thought of the consequences. Except, she couldn’t do anything with Dad’s circumstance but stare. I was one who suggested a plan, wrapped a by now very dead weight in tarpaulin. At exact moment when courage demanded action, Harri sublimated, suddenly submissive to a sister who previously always went second.

We’d both deferred University entry that year, already planning extensive trip across Europe; six months later she’d moved out to live with friends. Mum didn’t seem that surprised, even less so when I decided not to bother with education either, accepting solid offer at the Echo. Photography had become my saving grace; sure, I could have followed Harri to London and more money, but these aspirations weren’t wrapped in pretence and perceived glory. It didn’t matter anyway: ability would eventually lead to recognition. We were undoubtedly precocious talents.

The year I won a national photography contest was the same she was hired by the BBC as a trainee reporter. Mum had double reason to be proud: attention made people begin to ask questions that should have been raised years previously. Where was their father, after all this time? Truth, in the beginning, was enough: he’d ‘passed away’ was line all three of us would recite, emotionally free of details or context. Every year, easier to place events into someone else’s context, creating fiction from fact. Eventually, fear and anguish would finally diminish.

Except, they never did. Excuses would be made, time and again, never to go home, Mum becoming increasingly distant. Her heart had been broken; first by Dad, and then us. My move to Manchester was the last straw: both daughters now financially independent, ties to home redundant. There was a period in my 30’s when lies did not exist: my partner helped enormously. They knew something was being withheld; intimacy far more important than any misdemeanour in the collective past. A week before my 40th birthday however, everything known was summarily trashed.

Harri collapsed literally mid-shift, famously caught on camera during a BBC News broadcast; twenty four hours later she was dead. The brain haemorrhage that killed her, coroner concluded, probably began as a low bleed. She’d fallen off a bike the weekend before, without a helmet. Mum never showed for her funeral, nor indeed did anyone else. It was just me, a couple of onlookers and the funeral staff. Harri was neither popular nor cared about such things as important. Even the Corporation played down her demise; I knew better. Something vital was missing.

I’d moved to London the year before, not told my sister what I’d learnt. Mum hadn’t killed Dad by accident; it had been contrived all along, fight convenient means of scaring us into silence. Cancer would have killed him in months, nullifying a hastily arranged insurance policy. They colluded together: enough cash on his death remained to pay off all debts, providing more than enough to cover mortgage on our family home. After that, Mum sold up and moved, before repeating same morbid dance twice more. Both ‘natural’ deaths, very much to plan… until this.

Wedded twice, both low key. Two men dead before a year of marriage was done, both owning substantive insurance policies. My sister might have been paid for smart, investigative journalism: yet she overlooked significant information. Key evidence, finally, damning and inescapable. Last missing piece, crucially, was motive. Why was this happening, time and again, plus pivotally where did the money vanish to? Hundreds of thousands of pounds, previously untraceable… that last puzzle piece fell into place this week. No longer the victim; I, Isabel am evidence.

DNA is my inescapable, constant companion. When it comes to identical twins, however, using it as identifying evidence in court becomes a little more complex. Genetics have a different part to play; simple fingerprints remain empirical, damning confirmation of absolute identity. Twins are far more likely to occur on my father’s side. Once part of a pair, I’m alone. My father’s twin was responsible for that death, believing my sister was who’d discovered their unexpected collusion with my mother. He shoved Harri off her bike, attempted an assault, failed.

Two people appear in court today, charged with multiple counts of murder. My mum, her lover, dead father’s identical, more deadly half. This isn’t revenge any more. Penance is difficult, painful work: I am ready to send both to Hell.

It’s the least I can do for Harriet and me…

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