Nice Weather for Ducks

It’s odd, sitting here, realising that the way in which I write is altering every time fingers are placed to keys. It’s become easier over time, noticing how other not writing-related stuff is evolving: grip strength, breathing, lifting skills. It never really occurred that in the process of redefinition, the same might happen with words, spaces and punctuation. The economy of process is producing some really quite startling revelations.

One of the most important things learnt in the process of the last six months came from, of all places, a random tweet. Those of us who hang so many hopes on ‘that one piece’ whether it be novel, poem or article, that if we can get just one thing to be successful, everything will fall into a place. It is the hugest of fallacies, of course: once you’ve done it once, it’s an expectation it will happen again.

The tyranny of progression, ultimately, is your own expectation.

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My mental Angry Mob still exists, of course, instant indignation at the latest rejection to arrive, but with meditation, cake and belief, it’s progressively easier to rationalise the lottery, for that is what this will always remain. Every time I write a post like this, situation improves: less stressed over failure, not bothered with validation: what matters most of all is happiness. Is this good? If not, how do I make it better?

Perfection presents itself in odd ways: phrases of poetry, means by which voice and feeling seamlessly combine, memory sparking creativity. The pictures really, really help too as my work becomes less about words alone and more the two things together. This might be a way forward worth examining in more detail too. There is such joy in creating my own backdrops, and this is not diminishing.

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May this enthusiasm never end, and may I have the opportunity, for many years to come, to create my own words and pictures for many more projects such as #EndoftheFear.

Honestly, I could not be happier.

Somebody To Love

Starting on the 13th, the Mental Health Foundation is launching a week’s worth of posts around the topic of Body Image, and why it remains a serious mental health issue. Eating disorders, body dysmorphia, social media pressures and online abuse are rarely out of the news of late, and with increasing numbers of people refusing to be shamed or ashamed by the way they look, it seems the right time to be talking about these issues on a wider stage.

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I’ll be contributing two special blogs next week: one on my own issues with body image and the fight to stop being obsessed with my weight, and some reflections on how age has altered how I feel not only about my looks, but how I present myself to the world. There will also be a special set of poems this week at 9am and 5pm, both under the #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek umbrella.

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You can also join me in wearing a Green Ribbon during the next week as a means of showing your support for the initiative and those who require the vital help and support the Mental Health Foundation provide.

Purchase your Green Ribbon here.

Moving Right Along

The hardest part of this week’s Project goals is now completed. The beginning of #EndOfTheFear had a rough idea of locations, vague grasp of titles: there are now fragments of poems to insert onto spaces. I can create a working document where everything lives and can be referred to. There’s also the vaguest ideas of how we do the web side of things (and space in which to place it) which means next up it’s the photography element of proceedings to consider.

A couple of places already have pictures taken, selection of images to choose from. Next week, there’s a plan in place on my wall where we’ll be putting together geographically-close locations, getting to them early each day to take pictures. The plan is to have completed photos by lunchtime (travelling to places with a liquid breakfast after the School run) and then write poetry inspired by both places and pictures.

Writing the poems is happening in pieces every day. There’s already a tenable narrative thread front and centre, feelings to explore and expand upon, with proof that working in the locations gives a real sense of what matters and feels right at this point. I’ve taken a break today to write some poems for the Mental Health Foundation’s ‘Body Image’ week starting on the 12th, which was a lovely change of pace.

All that needs to happen now is an awful lot of legwork.

April Short Story: Altered

This story was first serialised in 30 daily parts during April 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.


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This is why airports have chapels.

Outside is chaos and noise, fire blazing thanks to aviation fuel. Only faint smell pervades, behind large oak double doors. Sitting under God’s benevolent gaze, Virgin Mary’s statue, no evil will flourish. Terrorism cannot exist alongside love. Such acts of mindless violence will be explained away as aberrations. The aircraft should have exploded on runway Two-Niner exactly twenty-three minutes ago. She should have died with the bomb. Instead, at last minute, Noomi called the police, begged them to immediately evacuate.

Exactly when explosives that had been carried in her luggage were due to detonate, no-one was even close to the aircraft. Everyone was in buses, being driven away, as bomb disposal teams considered their opening moves: damage to property alone, airport travel disruption complete. Perhaps she should be running away now, escaping her moment created, but by doing so guilt will not shift. Leaving it here, in a Christian God’s forgiving house, seems more sensible. At least for a time she will be at peace. Then, she’ll leave by the badly damaged emergency exit.

This is why they should never have picked a coward.



WPC Griffiths has no idea what she is supposed to do.

She’d seen the woman at the payphone, caught snatch of conversation, watched her run. Only as blast wave hit had it all made sense. She was warning them about the bomb. Her training had kicked in: look for the signs. Unusual, suspicious behaviour. When she’d first spotted this teenager, the first thought was trafficking: maybe she was trying to run away. Something was wrong here: Griffiths immediately compelled to shadow her panicked movements.

It took a while to grasp what she’d heard on the phone, too: Arabic, as her grandfather spoke when Griffiths’ family arrived in the UK. Words fractured, context garbled: she hadn’t been telling someone to get away from her. She’d been urging them to get away from something else. Then, as girl almost ran into the Airport Chapel, the entire Terminal had shuddered. Windows shattered, people literally blown off their feet. Time had stood still, until Griffiths turned, looking out of the remaining, intact windows. Across the runway, a lone plane was burning.

Not just a small, engine fire, but an entire aircraft, savagely consumed in a massive fireball that threw flames into the bright, blue morning sky. A 747 laden with fuel, but abandoned, emergency chutes deployed. Nobody there outside, or in. She had warned them all, get away NOW. Griffiths was afraid: had she allowed a player to slip through justice’s hands… but no, the girl’s there, praying perhaps for intervention. Does it matter her God doesn’t belong here, their religion is seen as the enemy of so many? It is time to find out, hoping she is unarmed.

As she approaches the woman stands, but doesn’t bolt. Instead, her demeanour changes.


Noomi should be running, looking at this female policewoman staring, but not threatening. She is armed, that weapon is not yet drawn: does she know what her part in these events has become?

Her English is minimal at best: trying to work out how to start a conversation, it’s a surprise when policewoman addresses her in Arabic:

“I heard your phone conversation. Did they threaten you to carry the bomb?”

Noomi thinks of her mother, hostage for over a year, and cries.


Griffiths wonders how things might have played out if her colleagues had found this girl: would they have threatened her with guns first? Perhaps she would have run, and they might have opened fire when she did. These consequences do not bear thinking about, so she won’t bother. She was assigned to the Terminal for precisely this reason: spy in plain sight, listening into conversations, looking between the cracks where people’s true personalities and motivations might lie. Griffiths’ worth had finally been highlighted, in the most serious of situations.

It is therefore a surprise when young girl holds out both hands, waiting for handcuffs. She knows there is nowhere else to run; perhaps this is an understanding that by surrendering to someone who grasps her plight, there might be chance to explain why all those lives were saved. The WPC has nothing formally to arrest her on, however: all that was heard was part of a conversation. She takes the girl’s hand, motioning for both to sit on the front pew. Time is of the essence: how much can now be learnt concerning both motives and whereabouts of the bombers?

This initial call to Dispatch will be vital: what she reports, who is asked for, what happens next. Before all that, she needs this girl’s name and address, who sent her here and what or who might be being used under duress to push an obvious innocent to give life as a detonator.

As it transpires, this young girl is surprisingly willing to talk.


Noomi is happy to tell the policewoman everything that is asked for, without fear or concern. Nobody will hurt her as much as those who imprison and torture her mother. It is high time to mete out vengeance. When other officers finally arrive, neither are in uniform: both are women. They don’t handcuff her, are not cruel. The WPC travels in the back of the van with her but it is not to a police station, first of countless surprises Noomi was not expecting for such an open rebellion.

Sitting in a white, anonymous room in what is most definitely not a police station, the first man she meets asks for an explanation why the phone call was made from the airport. He does so in Arabic without threat or menace. Under normal circumstances she should ask for a lawyer. These are not normal circumstances however: Noomi knows it is time to use her intelligence, what is known as leverage. She asks what the WPC has already divulged, politely requesting a chance her mother and sisters can be spared wrath of lawmakers in exchange for information…

The man smiles, first time since entering the room, moves from standing to sitting. She is, albeit briefly, a powerful force: the control it provides is galvanising, briefly brilliant. There is a deal to be brokered, possibilities indeed.

These people understand what she offers.


Aisha Griffiths has an unimpeded view of the police station as convoy comes around corner and into full view. Inside are three men responsible for hundreds of civilian deaths, masterminds of a massive and frightening trail of terror across three continents, now in custody. It has been an incredible three months, all told. One young woman’s strength and determination, growing up in a world of terror and idolatry had turned everything on its head, exposed hypocrisy. Noomi considered herself a coward, not worthy. Nothing was further from the truth.

Without her she’d still be on foot patrol in the airport, considered of minor importance. Instead now, she’s in training to become something far more significant and vital. Today is her last day in London, before being sent to Scotland where preparation for the future commences. Their convoy is heavily guarded, surrounded by outriders. Armed guards stand outside the police station entrance, incongruous against red Victorian brickwork. All of this doesn’t seem nearly enough when placed alongside atrocities this trio of brothers had wrought over a decade.

No-one had assumed a sister would turn against them. Family was intractable, loyalty until the very end. These men might be accomplished soldiers and terrorists but their weaknesses were easily exposed. They had failed to grasp the importance of love and devotion for other means. Griffiths trains sniper rifle’s sight on the area close to the police station’s car park entrance, as vehicles slowly rumble into the courtyard. Her shooting skills had been instrumental in MI5 approaching her: she was wasted in a uniform. There were better use for her abilities.

It will be great to see Noomi again too Aisha thinks, an opportunity to talk and catch up on what had happened since she’d seen the young woman in Whitehall. The deal she negotiated in order to capture her family will never be publicly known or acknowledged, for very good reason. How different things could have been that day, in house of a Christian god, if two women had not placed kindness before hatred. How much has altered, not just for the better. There will be consequences, there always are…

The lead vehicle suddenly explodes into a ball of flame.

Goodbye

This weekend, I tore up an application form. I’d picked it up in February, from the Poetry Cafe, fully intending to create an entry for the May 1st deadline… except other stuff kept getting in the way. A brilliant run with fiction over the last few weeks has meant that poetry (other than scheduled) really hasn’t happened for most of April. On reflection, that’s no bad thing, because there’s about to be an awful lot of poetry in May.

It’s also becoming tough to financially afford to enter everything I come across that uses such events as pseudo-fundraisers. After a while, you have to start making serious choices over what matters most, and ultimately, sitting looking at the next six weeks, there just isn’t any more spare cash left. It was easier therefore to admit defeat and try again when not only more cash exists, but when more time is available.

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It can be quite easy to get caught up in your own ‘bubble’ of things that look really important, but ultimately do not help you allow to grow as a writer. For me, at this point in the development process, there is more worth in being out in the Real World, gaining experience and talking to people than will ever happen being at home, and not focusing on anything except my work. Introspection is no longer useful.

What is needed is a shift in perspective and outlook: I’ll be editing a fiction piece this month, writing some poetry for Mental Health Week, but all of my focus is now on the major project forcing me not only to spend time outside, but to interact with those people for whom this town is their job and their home. That’s the input that’s been missing for a while, and I’m already looking forward to the possibilities.

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You can follow my daily progress starting May 1st. I hope we can both let go of the past, and use May to change outlook on the World in general.

Right Now

This week, I acted on instinct for the first time in a while.

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There are a PHENOMENAL number of online portals, websites and magazines that take submissions. A magazine such as Mslexia will give a vital insight into such places, but it is only the tip of a considerable iceberg. Countless places exist to send work to, but perilously few will pay you for the effort. It is, in certain lights, a poisoned chalice of effort versus reward.

Occasionally however I’m not here for the cash. There are moments when you just want to write summat for the sake of writing: this week, the day after my first successful counselling session, I needed to believe that writing remains enjoyable for the hell of it. So, I sat down and wrote three poems. Just like that. BOOM. Then, I stared at them for a bit and was really very happy with what had resulted.

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One of them, it must be said, had been written in a rough form whilst waiting in the counselling office. I feel this is a theme going forward, that it might be nice to do one a week for the next three months because if all else fails, that’s a collection right there. Then, they sat around for a day, as is the idea, before coming back for polish. After that, they were printed out, put in an envelope with a stamped-addressed return one for acknowledgement, and then posted.

That was an odd feeling: walking to the letterbox, sending my work away, not knowing when I’d hear a reply. Having to watch for my own letter’s return, I have to say, is considerably more exciting than anticipating failure via an e-mail. I’m far less likely to get upset too, amazingly, because this just feels like a better way to fail. If my poem from the waiting room makes it, of course, I’m one short for the collection…

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Should that actually come to pass, I reckon I’d cope.

Run for Home

It was all going so well. No really, it was: Confidence was high, stories were set. Tuesday afternoon I’d got exercise out of the way and was ready to roll… then, I got a phone call. After eight weeks, a spot is now open for me to be assessed for mental health counselling. I’m happy, comfortable and very ready to get started on that new journey, and so afterwards a couple more ideas fell out of me. One’s a sequel to my Bondfic that, on reflection, I didn’t know I needed to acknowledge, but have.

Going to bed Tuesday night, it really was like I’d managed to turn a massive corner: ideas are no longer the problem. As it stands, there’s enough content with what’s been written down thus far to keep me going until the end of the year. Except, none of it had depth, they are just ideas. The hardest part of this process, undoubtedly, comes when the ideas need to become stories. I sat down on Wednesday to begin and it wouldn’t happen.

In fact, as I sat down to work, I just wanted to cry.

It is inevitable, on reflection, that there will be struggle when a new thing gets learnt. Looking back on my issues with poetry, which presented over a far longer period, understanding shortcomings is nearly as important as admitting your problem to begin with. For me, the story side of things is incredibly simple, but it is the descriptive depth that separates a story from a great one where I truly lack the ability to be genuinely descriptive.

This is not necessarily an issue when working in the long form of fiction, but when you’re distilling down ideas into the limited word-count format, that ability becomes absolutely essential to pull narratives together. It is, at least in my mind, the ability to grasp the poetic and weave it seamlessly into your fictional tapestry: so well done that no-one ever notices it until they’re done. Then, on looking back, those are the portions of the story which really shine.

Except, looking at my work, everything is dull and lifeless. There is no depth, no massive bursts of brilliant. I am, undoubtedly, caught in the grasp of a pretty nasty attack of Impostor Syndrome, and when that happens by far the most useful thing I will ever do for myself is walk away. So, on Wednesday evening, I did. All my other work slowed, and instead, we went to the Gym for two days and pushed myself into a new zone of effort.

The work is not going to be looked at again until Monday, and when it happens it will be with a lot less critical eye, but with sympathy and understanding that perhaps, being too hard on myself and pushing too much for perfection might well be one of the reasons why mental health needs to be addressed with the same care as everything else right now. My physio summed it up brilliantly: my hip and ankle were damaged, so I go to a specialist who can fix them.

My head is damaged too: the same thing should apply, but so many people are too afraid to do just that.

There is only a finite scope of issues I am able to successfully manage. Maybe, just maybe, short stories are not a priority right now. When I’m able to understand better what exactly is going on in my head, then it is entirely possible my issues will become trivial, because that is how everything else has sorted itself out previously. If that isn’t the case, we’ll deal with the consequences when they get here.

If I can’t escape the clutches of Impostor Syndrome right now, it’s better not to let it win.