Things to Make and Do

The decision has been made, I’ve changed my NaNo page BACK to where we started a week ago. No more indecision. There’s a Soundtrack being updated and many changes in my head as to where action was initially going to head. Now, however, it is time for some honesty. I’ve mentioned before some of the technical shortcomings that hamper my long-form fiction work: repetition of words, bad grammar and the eternal problem of going on Multiple Tenses Safari.

All of this is known well enough to handle without worry: I can cut out superfluous words, but not too many, because that hampers decent narrative flow. It is a delicate combination of when and where, it is apparent. All of this goes without saying, but the majority of that should happen during my editing period and not whilst I’m writing. The issues then need to be admitted in public before going forward.

I seem to have terrible trouble being confident my narratives truly work.

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This is a pretty staggering admission from someone who likes to believe, on most days, that she’s capable of telling a damn fine story… except, there are always holes. This is the problem… going great guns, ready to start working… then discovering the plot’s got a gap in it that’s not really that wide, but can end up looking insurmountably deep. This time around, therefore, I’m going to do something that’s never been done for a NaNo before.

It’s time to transcribe the narrative, longhand, from start to finish. I don’t expect this to be either pretty or easy, but every plot hole needs to be identified and covered. If this doesn’t happen, it will just be like the last couple of times when I’ve tried to write something complex: my own brain will destroy the fragile confidence built up over the last few months and BANG we’ve gotten nowhere. It’s not happening.

The story is going to be finished.

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The hope is if I can do it once, then we can do it again with a couple of the unfinished manuscripts on my hard drive. Now the major shortcoming in long-form writing has been identified, it’s time to crack on with the task. There’s poetry scheduled over the next few days, but space has been provisioned at the weekend for the all-important first pass. Needless to say, you’ll know how it all worked out this time next week.

Cross everything please, it will be very much appreciated.

Free Yourself

I mentioned it on Monday: Tuesday, it became inescapable.

The last time I attended any kind of convention was nearly twenty years ago, and it certainly had nothing to do with any kind of career move. When I took this change of direction, an awful lot of people made the point that to learn how stuff works, it’s not a bad idea to find people to teach you. There are courses to take online. Individuals will offer editing services or email critiques.

Or, you can decide to drive for four hours each way to a place halfway across the country based on your gut feeling. That’s why I picked Mslexicon: it’s the first time its happened, a writing-focused residential event and I’ll know absolutely nobody there. Judgement and preconceptions will therefore not exist, so they can’t derail me. What I get from the three days will roughly depend on what I choose to put in.

It is time to see if counselling really has altered my ability to be a grown up.

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I have a week to organise myself. It’s not like I’m not ready: this is what’s been planned for literally years. Going with an open mind plus determination to record everything I can, it will be an adventure. Frankly, it already is. If you want to follow my shonkily organised excursion, this is what Social media and Instagram were made for, right? I may not be willing to influence, but I do love to share.

Right, I‘d better start by updating my laptop…

June Short Story: Indigo

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


Indigo

Many ancient cultures, when presented with technology for the first time, were wary of its power over them. Stories persist, as aborigines and native Americans initially encountered cameras, that they refused to pose, fearing that a portion of their soul could be stolen forever. Such fears were clearly borne from ignorance, inability to grasp how technology would transform then improved our lives, extending longevity and enhancing experience. Watching my daughter’s tiny form on ultrasound, this first picture of her is most precious of captured moments.

I take picture of her ultrasound, uploading it to a Cloud already stuffed full of a lifetime’s worth of moments: college, first real date, holidays and home. The Bean’s mother and I, trying for five years; last round of IVF finally, blissfully rewarding persistent determination. Then comes a moment of instant, inescapable fear: should I do this? Once, when a picture was taken, the only way to share was by hand, passing prints to Grandma and Uncle. Now in a moment, the World can see, smile and coo. What a beautiful foetus you have both created with love.

Abbie’s staring from her position on examination couch: not for the first time, it is as if she reads my thoughts. ‘Delete that, please,’ and I do, without a second thought. Grannies can see the original. Uncle Chris too. Let’s do our pregnancy journey differently than expected.

Technology doesn’t need to dictate everything.


I buy film for the first time since college, black and white: it will be easier to develop at home. The Internet provides everything required to build a darkroom in the shed, re-purposed for my task. This is the right thing to do. Abbie picks up a pencil, carefully draws Bean in her womb, first time I’ve seen her do so in years. There’s enough money in the bank right now that she need not go back to work after the birth: relief is palpable, joyous. Something fundamental altered during our IVF experience.

There are those who don’t understand, of course: why no baby shower? Where are the Instagram updates of Abbie’s body shape changes, baby room progress? Having worked so hard to finally create life, why on earth aren’t you making an effort to share this journey with everyone else? We lie together, night after night, talking through fears. Best friends understand reticence to share, admit jealousy we can live without validation. At least one couple are doing the same, trying to disconnect. There’s growing disapproval at work at the effect technology has on lives.

Life is so fragile, precarious, and we’re reminded of this six months into the pregnancy. My mother has a stroke and within 48 hours she’s gone, nothing medical staff can do. Two massive bleeds, separate hemispheres of her brain. She never regains consciousness to say goodbye. Leaving Abbie in London, I travel up to Manchester to arrange a funeral: no service, or wake. A simple goodbye, and then she’s ash, to be scattered on Ilkley Moor. This massive house, my home for two decades, seems like a great place to start history anew with new, precious life.

With mortgage paid for, furniture and fittings good for many years, time to employ Abbie’s brother Chris to oversee refitting and updating this house as a family home. All work is kept in the family, everybody can turn the tragedy into something positive: we’re all back north. However, Bean will enter the world in London: Abbie doesn’t need more stress, I have no desire to generate extra work than we’ll both soon possess with a newborn. The few friends we still talk to locally happily offer to help shift and relocate lives: loss is slowly rationalised.

I’m aware of the Digital Freedom Act being implemented across media only in passing: when own circumstances radically change, it’s easy to block out bigger issues. When government happily voted for reverses decades of austerity, supports vulnerable and needy, there’s no problem. What isn’t expected is that Eleanor Ruby Freeman will become one of the first children born who are bio-tagged at birth. There are no need for pictures when your own DNA becomes means by which a definitive ID will always be possible. Photos and faces can be altered, after all…

A tiny chip, inserted into her heel, is used for health professionals to store data on growth and development, vaccinations plus reminders on when boosters and check-ups are scheduled. Eleanor isn’t even phased by the insertion process: other people however feel less sanguine. We discuss our now mandatory implants for several months: is this really a good idea? As with everything else, it is usage that matters most: we won’t augment with recording glasses, audio implants. Others may record us, but we won’t do so electronically ourselves going forward.


Amazingly, we are not alone. The introduction of mandatory DNA recognition corresponds with the collapse of several major social media organisations. Others demonstrate disgust at global oversharing by ignoring all but their local communities, shunning constant internet access. As Eleanor reaches six months old, I finally leave my job in project management. Abbie and I go it alone as traditional signwriters, combining joint art skills in graphic design and illustration. Wherever possible, we barter services for daily necessities or domestic requirements.

This is surprisingly effective when customers sell their own produce: vegetables, fruit and grains become the staples in our household. Meat is a luxury that I learn to live without, chocolate now too expensive for us to ever consider as an option. Our World is changing rapidly. Turn off notifications, shut off outside distractions and no longer are you considered insular, dangerous. Instead, community spirit rises, unopposed: Manchester is a beacon as London’s status as capital city is suddenly, irrevocably wiped from country’s maps almost overnight.

In a dreadful, catastrophic combination of tidal surge and unprecedented rainfall, Thames Barrier fails to hold back an unstoppable torrent of water. Hundreds of thousands of people drown in low lying areas, many refusing to leave their homes thinking warnings were exaggerated. Those who believed the incoming calamity was seriously overplayed by a Government that permanently erred to being overprotective perished alongside those who listened to fake news claims that global warming had been invented as a left wing conspiracy to destabilise big business.

The central database that held country’s DNA ID data was located in East London: as it vanished under a twelve foot tsunami, suddenly it didn’t matter quite so much how the Government identified anybody. As physical backup records survived, humanity went back to what worked best. I mourn friends that have drowned. We take in another couple, known since college, displaced and desperate for somewhere to feel protected. They both tell me privately how I have become their idea of heroic, my values their goal. A new future where care will supersede aspiration.

The country is shrinking, coastal areas rapidly being eroded, flooded and lost forever. Technology that was once lauded as life changing becomes dangerous and potentially frightening. We watch in horror as Sizewell Nuclear Power station suffers a meltdown, irradiating Suffolk. Our culture, when presented with technology, has made such great advances, yet in a year we have regressed decades, possibly far further. We celebrate Eleanor’s first birthday in darkness, candles not on a cake but as only light source. Power is now rationed, as are food, medicines.

However, optimism remains in our home, the larger Community. Adversity has change many who were bitter, angry and lost in the years before. The need to survive and thrive may be absent in some places, but not here. In a way, we were already prepared for working without support. As the future becomes less tech and more graft, I wonder what my parents might now think of all this: hundreds of years of industrial progression has almost totally been eradicated, by a planet that never truly thought through the ecological consequences of massive consumerism.

Eleanor’s birthday gift is hope: we will prevail, rise from consequences of our combined arrogance and make good what has been so broken and destroyed. We have each other, a strong and smart group of friends, joint desire to survive. I can but believe this will be enough for all…

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.


Altered


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.