EX/WHI :: Part 22

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In a blink, Chris is no longer in the restaurant: instead this is broad daylight and he is at some considerable height, standing on a smooth, white platform. There he also is, standing opposite, making eye contact with himself; that Chambers, in a future he is yet to experience, is holding both of Ami’s hands, clearly struggling to get her to understand something important, quite possibly vital. There’s no context either, too far away to hear any conversation taking place.

The aliens are showing me this for a reason, he surmises, but too much information and the future might not happen. How do they make him certain of upcoming importance but at the same time not destroy the sanctity of a timeline they don’t adhere to but he is bound by? The answer is presented without any other prompt, consciousness grasping three intractable truths: jump, gasp then let go. Moments are placed in his head, but access restricted.

When time comes, you’ll know what to do.

He’ll see himself at each flashpoint: first moment will unlock second: the last will be the most pain he has ever experienced. The alien in his mind is careful not to draw attention to where these pieces of his future are tied, or what prompts them to manifest after this first encounter. It’s vital intelligence, on a need to know basis. When Part One is done, he’ll get access to the next part of this puzzle, for that’s what begins tomorrow morning.

None of what has transpired until now has been significant: they’ve been kept together and given time to bond. When they both wake up, that is when the real experiment begins. The word, in his head, is presented not as something insidious, but rather a challenge. Is he up to the tasks that will be presented? Can he complete the sequence correctly and complete what is asked of him?

There’s never been a physical obstacle that’s overcome Chris’ ability to either brute force it or solve it in time with common sense and bravado. This will be no different: his abilities, plus Ami’s calm and determination under pressure will combine and whatever is waiting for them both will be surmounted, together. He doesn’t need the reassurance of a shared bed any longer.

Returned to the dinner table, Chambers finally understands significance of what is to come.


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All Time High

Life, right now at least, is all about narrative. The NaNo project (more on this in the next post) is progressing better than anything I’ve produced of this ilk for several years. The reason’s simple: I want to do it. All of this is fulfilling ambitions that have laid dormant for as long as I can remember, fuelled only by the scheduled short story forays and that episodic fiction that will be finished for next year.

It’s becoming apparent in other avenues of existence that attainment is very much entwined with belief. Knowing you are good enough is not what is required if your bigger problem’s all about stamina. Being able to identify what needs work is possibly one of the hardest things that I’ve ever had to do. It also means that, like it or not, I can’t devote time to other forms of expression.

Don’t tell anybody, but I am really missing writing poetry.

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There’s a number of deadlines in December that are already being considered, a collection being re-written and numerous single poems in states of construction. It’s not like poems don’t exist in my head either: doing a month’s worth of micropoetry with imagery was enormous fun, so much so that there’ll be a Christmas selection starting December 1st… because, well, why not?

What November is giving me, believe it or not, is a chance to breathe. Only working to a 50K word notional deadline is considerably less stressful than anything else produced this year. It’s allowing opportunities to find the joy in other things too, which hopefully will leach through to other areas of my written work. Blogging is undoubtedly becoming easier, and I’ve even dusted off my gaming blog for a few posts already.

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I’ll do some work next week on getting dates and deadlines up on the wall: it’s not something I’ve done yet in this new space and that needs to change. For now, however, I think it’s time to take a cuppa to bed and decompress with some Solitaire on my tablet. Gaming remains hugely important to me, in all its forms, not just as relaxation, but in this case it most certainly is.

We’ll be back here again tomorrow to start again.

Look Out Any Window

One of the most important things learnt in over twenty years online involves other people’s perception of what’s right. Not everybody has the same opinion as yours: those opinions aren’t facts either, often they are a view of reality that’s distorted through a series of deeply personal, subjective lenses. Challenging your view of right should be everybody’s default stance: learning, growing, and most importantly accepting that multiple ‘right’ opinions can exist alongside each other harmoniously.

On the third day of Mslexicon, it became apparent just how many good things can co-exist happily alongside each other without any conflict occurring. When you are prepared to be vulnerable, truly willing to allow other people into your personal space,  astounding things can and do happen. More importantly, allowing yourself to be kind, not judging yourself on other’s benchmarks, can offer significant transformation to mindsets that previously were unwilling to shift.

My life has undoubtedly changed after three days away in Leeds.

These ladies deserve all the love: hardworking, enthusiastic and genuinely interested they also make a cracking cuppa when required. Events don’t work properly without solid, well-organised management at it’s core, and this whole event owes a significant debt to the people who created it. More of us who come to enlighten ourselves should remember how lucky we are to have such opportunities available in the first place. This weekend really was something utterly special.

On Sunday I’ll freely admit I hit maximum brain capacity, thanks to two stonking talks by Rosie Garland and Margaret Wilkinson. Quite honestly, I think more’s been taken from this couple of hours than I’d managed to glean from several years doing English and Drama at degree level: sometimes, you need somebody with whom you just totally click and then understand without months of thrashing about feeling perplexed. I’d have killed to have met both these ladies as an awkward twenty-summat, that’s for damn sure.

I’m also aware that there wasn’t enough sleep over three days to do everything that was presented to me justice. Assuming I can afford to do this again next year, lessons will be learnt. An extra day for travelling, for starters, so it’s easier to get comfortable quicker. I need to ask more people’s names, spend more time just talking and decompressing between sessions. Adrenaline’s a great drug, but it really does make switching off quite difficult when required.

I now have an idea for a novel that two total strangers have encouraged me to write. There’s confidence in my social skills that simply did not exist previously to last weekend. I know I’ve done a lot of that work, that accepting I had mental health issues and going to get them identified is half the battle; having people who support without thought and encourage unconditionally is an amazing way you can grow and develop as a person. So much of that is still happening too, seven days on.

The Mslexia people knew this concept was a winner when it was created. I don’t need to tell you that sometimes, all that is really needed is the means by which great ideas can become brilliant experiences. This is the gift to myself that will continue to keep on giving many, many months after Leeds itself becomes a happy memory. The fact remains however, this isn’t somebody else providing you with all the answers. If you came expecting to become a better writer, you have a lot of work to do.

I have a lot of other feedback too, and over the weekend intend to throw an e-mail off to the organisers to cover what were, in the main, minor quibbles. Nothing at all made this event anything other than hugely satisfying: that’s really important to state. This isn’t shameless fangirling, but the honest truth. I was given a space in which I could exist with utter safety, with only myself as the restriction. Moments like this need to be grasped, embraced, and then loved for the joy they produce.

This is just one of the many stops on a journey to true enlightenment.

Back to the Future

Tomorrow, we’re back to poetry after what was a scheduled break for real life and May Day bank holiday. I’m off to sit in the Jazz Centre tomorrow and write a poem, plus spend some time re-organising the game plan. You see, on Thursday night there was a bit of an epiphany about how the poetry’s picked and chosen going forward.

There needs to be a bigger human angle than was initially planned: initial selection of places was purely planned on geography. Sure these spots all have personal relevance, but what matters more, it is now apparent, is emotional resonance that specific spaces throw up. This became apparent last week in town, in a spot that didn’t previously merit a mark on the map but now does.

The poetic voice has most definitely altered during this planning progress. Doing counselling simultaneously is undoubtedly altering my mental landscape: this weekend proves that to be true beyond doubt. Therefore, tomorrow is a refocus of goals and objectives, where I need to go and take pictures, plus what the remainder of my locations will give in terms of emotional resonance.

Listing to a poetic voice that is altering on an almost daily basis is an odd experience, but the process is a natural progression from the space this journey originally begin in. I am not afraid of change, and never have been, and am confident everything will eventually find a level that is right and proper.

The goal, while this happens, is to keep on writing.

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…

My Favourite Things

Last day of February, and starting tomorrow there will be no more poetry until the start of April. The burnout really is real, and it has been a very long time since I threw myself into something that worked as wish fulfilment before anything else. Enter Ternary which is a writing project which is likely to be familiar already to those of you who have been here for a while.

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This used to be The Sayers which began as weekly fiction. Now it’s been amended, extensively edited and is in the course of being completely re-written from scratch. That’s what I’m going to do with my free time in the next few weeks, as well as the other stuff that you’ll have seen in Monday’s blog post. It has a soundtrack Spotify playlist (under construction) and I keep writing bits of dialogue down as stuff occurs to me and in that regard, it’s already a success.

The ultimate irony however is that it begins with a poem.

Progression and development means different things to different people. For me, even if I can’t stand the sight of it right now, poetry’s become part of my psyche. It is also remarkably important in the alternate history I’m writing, that the piece which starts the book pretty much underpins everything that takes place during the first part of what, on reflection, was always going to be a trilogy. How I decide to publish it remains to be seen. This year’s submissions elsewhere will probably determine that path.

For now, there’s the unbridled joy of a new thing to do, and that honestly the last thing I care about now is how other people get to read it when it’s done. All that matters is the telling: we have a beginning, middle and end, with all points in-between covered. That in itself is a glorious state of affairs that’s not taken place for quite some time.

December Short Story: Solstice

This story was first serialised in 31 daily parts during December via the @MoveablePress  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.