Monthly Archives: October 2013

Spooktacular!

It’s Hallowe’en again!

Michelle Pfeiffer, you're looking well!  Image: fanpop.com

MWAHAHAHAHAHAAAA!! Image: fanpop.com

The older I get, the more I enjoy this ‘holiday’, if it can be called that. I have had my little goodie bags wrapped up and ready to go for almost two weeks, awaiting our hordes of teeny tiny callers later tonight, and we have actually decorated the house this year. I know, I know, we’re falling for the hype – blahdiblah – but really. What does it matter if we’re helping a few local kids have a good time? Not to mention, of course, that it’s a whole lot of fun for us, too. Last year we had a tiny speck of a child, barely able to totter on her little feet, dressed up as a pumpkin. A pumpkin. I have yet to see anything cuter. (She got two goodie bags, but don’t tell anyone.)

Image: decorationforlife.com

Image: decorationforlife.com

Before all the fun begins later tonight, though, I have a lot to do. I am still trying to work out a story for the Walking on Thin Ice Short Story Contest, which I may have mentioned once or twice in passing (have you entered yet? Get on it!); writing my entry is proving a little more complex than I anticipated. I’m not sure why, because the theme is something about which I feel strongly. Perhaps, indeed, that’s the problem – I am too emotionally invested in the idea of mental health, and the oppression of those who suffer due to their mental health. I want to write a story which is authentic and which says something, not only about me but about the ethos of the competition, and it’s not as easy as it looks. I’ve written two stories now, and drafted them both at least ten times, but they’re still not right.

Sigh.

Anyway. Tomorrow is the start of NaNoWriMo – which is terrifying and brilliant in equal measure – and I’ve been thinking a lot about my project over the past few days. I’ve managed to plot out a little more of the story, but there’s still a huge Terra Incognita in the middle, between our heroine’s dramatic escape and the tension-filled dénouement; I’m hoping that the story will tell itself as I go. It’s a foolproof plan. It couldn’t possibly go wrong. Right?

One thing I do not have yet is a title for this new opus.

How about…

THE ICE KING

Nah. Or maybe…

THE CREATURE IN THE NORTH

Too general? How about…

THE WHITE FLOWER AND THE FROZEN GOD

Too long and complicated? Sheesh. Coming up with titles is thirsty work.

If you have any suggestions, let’s hear ’em. You might have guessed that the story will involve ice, north-ness, and frozen stuff. Oh, and a little girl called Emmeline Widget, just because.

Good luck with your entries for the Walking on Thin Ice Short Story Contest (I haven’t forgotten, you know), and with everything else you may be getting up to on this fine autumnal Thursday. I hope you have a scarily wonderful day!*

Image: goodhousekeeping.com

Image: goodhousekeeping.com

*Apologies. I couldn’t resist. Have a great day, if you prefer.

Wednesday Write-In #63

This week’s words for CAKE.shortandsweet’s Wednesday Write-In were:

hideout  ::  transitory  ::  share  ::  full bodied  ::  problem

Image: blog.kyletunneyphotography.com

Image: blog.kyletunneyphotography.com

Little Girl Lost

‘It’s almost full bodied, isn’t it?’ Becky settled her head on her folded arms as she stared out the reinforced window, her vision getting lost in the howling dark. Nelson cleared his throat, wondering where she was going with this one.

‘How d’you mean, full bodied? Like, curvaceous?’ He licked his lips.

‘Nah, you twit,’ she said, turning to smile at him. In the candlelight, her hair was translucent. ‘I mean, multi-layered. Sort of lovely, if you look at it the right way. Full of hidden depths.’

‘If you say so.’ Nelson settled back into his chair. ‘Just looks like a pile of snow, to me.’

‘Yes. Well. You never did have an eye for beauty.’ She waited for his snort of laughter, but the crackle of the radio interrupted them.

Hideout? We’ve got a problem.’ Becky moved smoothly, on silent feet, to Nelson’s side.

‘Control? Hideout here. What’s up?’ Nelson’s voice was steady, but his fingers weren’t.

It’s the signal. It’s fluctuating,’ came the reply. Becky wasn’t sure who was speaking – the voice was unfamiliar. Control changed radio operators pretty frequently; nobody lasted long, up here.

‘Fluctuating? How can it fluctuate?’ replied Nelson. The set started to squeal, like an animal in pain.

…can’t explain it. It’s strong as ever one second, and gone the next. Have you…’ The rest of the message was lost in a scramble of static. Nelson fiddled with the controls as Becky bit back her urge to tell him to hurry. She clenched her fists and turned back toward the window again, the darkness drawing her eyes like water to a plughole.

Then, something hit the glass. Something small. Something pale.

‘Nelson!’ she said, in a half-hiss. ‘There’s something – ‘

Hideout? Hideout, are you there?’ The radio sputtered. ‘Be advised we’re getting readings… levels of radiation off the…

‘Hello? Control?’ Nelson thumped the set. ‘Dammit! I can’t find the frequency. It’s like something’s bending the waves.’ Becky was only half-listening.

‘Nelson, there’s something out there,’ she said, her voice low. ‘Something alive.’ Nelson sucked his teeth in irritation and bent toward the radio again.

‘Your brain’s got frostbite, darlin’,’ he muttered. ‘Nothin’s able to live out there, Becks! You know that. Come and help me with this, willya?’

A small, pale shape slapped itself against the window pane, and then was gone again. It reminded Becky of a piece of paper caught in the jaws of the wind, a transitory message left unread. A downy feather, floating on a breath of breeze. A flash of sunlight through green leaves. A tiny face with dark eyes, lost.

She’d slipped into her jacket before Nelson even noticed she’d moved from his side.

‘Oi!’ he yelled, as a gust of frozen wind ripped through the hideout, upending equipment and dousing candles. Before he could move, Becky was out the door; by the time he’d suited up and made it to the threshold, she’d been swallowed by the emptiness.

Becky!’ he called, his breath fogging up his visor. ‘For God’s sake! Where are you?’ He took a couple of steps away from the hideout, trying to follow Becky’s tracks. He could only see a few feet, and he was terrified to move too far from the door. You could turn around in weather like this and get so lost you’d never be found, and Nelson knew it.

Already, he was getting tired. It had only been seconds, and his bones were starting to ache. He took two more steps, and then he fell to his knees.

Then, somewhere up ahead, something moved. Nelson’s heart skipped as he struggled to focus on it.

‘Becks?’ he shouted, realising as he did so that he was out of breath. ‘Becky!

A child – a child? – appeared out of the whirling snow. Tiny, white, dark eyes, dressed in rags. Nelson didn’t know her, but that was the least weird thing about her being there. He struggled to understand as his blood turned to slush in his veins. Nelson blinked, and the child was beside him, her cruel teeth bared and her tiny ice-dagger fingers around his neck.

‘Next time you’ll share your warmness and your good stuff, won’t you?’ whispered the child as it stepped over Nelson, its bare feet blue. ‘Next time I won’t have to take what I need, will I?’

The only answer the child received as it closed and sealed the hideout door against the night was the hiss of the radio, still searching for a signal that would never come.

Laying Foundations

So – yes. Hello. Happy Tuesday to you.

I regret to inform you that my plans for yesterday, Bank Holiday Monday (i.e. to do loads of work), didn’t really materialise as I expected.

It ended up looking a bit more like this than it should've... Image: gainesvillescene.com

It ended up looking a bit more like this than it should’ve…
Image: gainesvillescene.com

We had a lovely and unexpected visit from my parents-in-law, which basically made me relax and enjoy my day off. As a result, lots of the planning I wanted to do for my NaNoWriMo project is still undone.

This morning, however, I’m wondering whether that’s a blessing in disguise.

You might remember me saying that when I signed up for NaNoWriMo, I had a project in mind. I had a title for it, but very little else. I spent a day or two last week drawing up characters and their profiles and their relationships and family dynamics and the details of a plot, and then last Friday my brain was invaded. An entirely new story, an entirely different voice, a full-blooded, spiky and determined little character sat down inside my mind and a story started to tell itself. I scrambled for a pen and tried to follow this voice as it spoke, and three pages later it faded out. I’ve been trying to plan – all in my mind, of course – a story arc for this wondrous character ever since.

However, can too much planning, in this case, be a bad thing? Well. I’m still not sure.

It’s rare and fantastic to ‘hear’ a strain of a story, and it’s a lucky person who happens to be in the right place at the right time and whose brain is tuned in just the right way to pick up on a tale as it passes. Last Friday, I was that lucky person. I literally sat down and wrote, without even thinking, the opening few pages of a new book; I loved everything about it. I’m not saying these words are set in stone, or that they won’t change between now and the time I write ‘The End’ on this particular project, but I know it was exciting to feel so enthused and positive about a writing project. It felt fresh and spontaneous and free and unbidden, and I wonder if setting up a scaffold for the rest of it and expecting the story to fit a certain mould or conform to a particular plan, is something that will kill it stone dead.

Then, having said that, I don’t want to reach 20,000 words and hit a wall.

Image: thepunch.com.au

Image: thepunch.com.au

So, I’m trying to compromise. I’m laying foundations for this story, but they’re not solid like poured concrete, and there are no inflexible metal bits. My foundations are in my head, still – I’ll start putting them down on paper after November 1st, and we’ll see if I can keep the process as organic as possible – and they are, as yet, pretty vague. I have a main character, and I have a name for her. I have another character, and a name and basic outline for him. I have an Antagonist who has a Dastardly Plan (insert your own ‘mwahahahaha’ here), and I have a sense of the world they inhabit. Importantly, I have a handle on the voice of the story, which is different to anything I’ve done before – and, crucially, is in the third person – and I really want to keep that little voice alive, because it’s thrilling.

What I don’t have in any real sense is any idea how my protagonist is going to get from point A to point Z – as in, from the first site of conflict with her enemies to her final showdown. However, perhaps I’d do well to discover it along with her. I’m imagining a tense chase through the icy streets of Paris, a scuffle at the Gare du Nord, and a pair of stowaways bundling themselves onto a northbound train…

Anyway, stick with me through November and hopefully I’ll have plenty more updates to share with you. If you’re taking part in NaNoWriMo and you’d like to be my writing buddy (or if you just want to have a peek at my page), you can find it here.

Whatever you’re laying the foundation for today, I hope it goes well.

Image: ohs.com.au

Image: ohs.com.au

 

 

 

 

Another Publication!

My week is getting off to a good start already. My story ‘One’ was published this morning on Daily Science Fiction, and I have to say it’s a handsome thing. It’s great to see a story in its finished state, formatted and laid out to a publisher’s specification; it almost makes the content of the story seem better, too. It’s a long way from the day I first started tapping it out on my battered old laptop, months and months ago.

If you’d like to read the story, you can go here. Thrillingly, this time around, there’s an option for you to rate the story from 1 to 7, depending on how terrible you think it is. Currently, I’m holding steady at 5.4 average, so have fun skewing those stats!

I imagine the city Unubert lives in to look a little like this... Image: blog.zeemp.com

I imagine the city Unubert lives in to look a little like this…
Image: blog.zeemp.com

Today is a Bank Holiday in my fair isle. Most people, I would wager, are still abed. This is a shame, because they’re missing a beautiful morning. We had awful weather yesterday – not as bad as parts of the UK, which suffered the fury of ‘St Jude’, the winter storm they decided to nickname after the saint of lost causes – but today, the sky is blue again.

I hope good weekends were had by all? I met up with some of my old university friends on Saturday, which was wonderful. It was so much fun to slip straight back into our early twenties, as happens when we’re all together, and forget for a while that we’re not that young any more and our lives have all changed beyond recognition. It did me good to remember what it felt like to have nothing more than getting to your next lecture to worry about, and I don’t think I’ve laughed so hard in quite a while.

So, all in all, it was the perfect cure for a fraught week.

I’m feeling a lot better now, too. You might remember me saying I felt unwell a few days back, and that I wasn’t able to focus on the computer screen, and all that. Well, thankfully it turned out to be nothing serious – the optician diagnosed me with eyestrain. Part of the reason I know the day is bright and blue outside is because I’m making a point of looking out the window every few minutes, just for a few seconds at a time, in order to flex my lenses. That wasn’t the term the optician used, but I just like to imagine it that way.

LIFT and stretch and LIFT and stretch and LIFT... Image: generalcomics.com

LIFT and stretch and LIFT and stretch and LIFT…
Image: generalcomics.com

So, today will be spent ‘dividing my time’ (I’ve always wanted to use that phrase…) between my NaNoWriMo prep (my brain has been invaded by an entirely new idea, which is clamouring to be written), my efforts to write a story for the Walking on Thin Ice Short Story Contest, and spending a bit of time with that man who lives in my house, whathisname… oh yeah, my husband. So, you know. It’s going to be a busy one.

Happy Monday! Remember to keep those eyeballs supple and those typin’ fingers flying…

Book Review Saturday – ‘After the Snow’

I’ll say this about S.D. Crockett’s ‘After the Snow’: the cover image lets you know what you’re in for.

Image: panmacmillan.com

Image: panmacmillan.com

The book’s title, and the author’s name, are written in such small font that it’s easy to overlook them completely. What overwhelms, on the other hand, is the image of the dog skull and the hastily scribbled words all over the background – words which, we learn as we read, belong to Willo, our fifteen-year-old narrator. This is fitting, because ‘After the Snow’ is a book which does its best to absorb the reader into a world of its own making, a future world where the damage done to the environment in our present day has resulted in almost neverending winter. It uses Willo’s dialect and idiosyncratic language, and his relationship with the dog-spirit he carries with him, as well as the detailed and palpable descriptions of the crushingly cold landscape, to achieve this.

I’m not entirely sure it’s successful.

There were parts of this book which I really admired – the descriptions of the snowdrifted landscape, for one, and the sometimes beautiful language employed, as well as the fire at the heart of Willo’s character – but there were a lot of things about this book that I didn’t like so much. I found Willo’s dialect hard to process, at first, but it did get easier after a few pages; however, there were times when I found his voice frustrating. I did love the character, though, and his determination and bravery, so Willo kept me reading. I also found the book’s pacing difficult to understand – not a lot happens for at least the first half of the book, or at least that’s how it felt to me; it seemed that too much was then crammed into the second half, leading to a strangely offbeat ending.

As for the plot: Willo lives with his family, deep in the wilds of the Welsh countryside, far from the prying eyes of the totalitarian-seeming government. They eke out a living, and seem very happy – cold, deprivation and near-starvation notwithstanding. Lacking a formal education, or much exposure to the world outside his immediate family, Willo has a unique way of dealing with the world; he has a dog spirit, which he hears inside his head at moments of crisis. He wears a dog skull on his hat, and has made a cloak out of the dog’s tanned hide. I thought this was a marvellous touch, and really made Willo come alive for me. I only wish that S.D. Crockett had allowed more time to the voice of the dog, and made more use of it – I was hoping for a relationship like that between Todd and his dog Manchee in ‘The Chaos Walking’ trilogy, but it wasn’t to be. Nevertheless I thought it was a very realistic and touching detail, this relationship between Willo and his ‘dog’, and it more than anything else really described the world in which Willo and his family live.

Willo’s family have been taken away as the novel opens. We learn about his father Robin and his stepmother Magda, his sisters and brothers (particularly Alice, ‘who got a baby with [Geraint, their elderly neighbour]. And she only been fourteen’ (p. 25). We realise that Willo and his dog-spirit are alone now, without any idea where the family have been taken or why they are gone. Willo suspects Geraint is behind it, and goes on a mission to find his family and bring Geraint to justice. In the course of this he meets Mary, a young girl whose father has left her and her young brother Tommy in an abandoned house while he searches for food. Willo knows the children are doomed if he doesn’t help them, but the dog-spirit – in the interests of keeping Willo alive – counsels him to keep going and forget them. Eventually, he manages to rescue Mary, and she travels with him on his somewhat aimless journey toward retribution.

When the story moves to ‘the City’, it begins to pick up pace. We read about living conditions so dire that I could barely believe it, and a government with an iron grip on its people. Crime and cruelty are the orders of the day. Willo (in one of these annoying coincidences that can crop up in books, sometimes) becomes apprenticed to a man who can lead him right to a powerful woman who holds a life-shattering secret about Willo, and what has happened to his family; before he can escape to join them, however, he is apprehended by enemies he didn’t even realise he had.

This book is a strange juxtaposition of quiet and loud. For the first 130 pages or so, we have Willo in the wilderness, dealing with wild animals and hunger and cold; there are some gruesome scenes, particularly when he is trying to rescue Mary and her brother, but nothing too stomach-turning. Then, we come to the second half of the book, and it’s like someone switched the colour contrast up. There are scenes and descriptions of such horror that I wondered whether I was reading a book aimed at children – I think, despite the differences between it and a ‘typical’ YA book, this story is more suited to older teenagers – and there were times when I felt it was a little too graphic for me. I understand we’re dealing with a world in which people have to do anything they can to survive, and that doesn’t lead to civilised behaviour, but there were some scenes which will stay with me for a long time. It was powerful and effective storytelling, but rather bleak. The book’s ending seems to come out of nowhere, then, and – being honest – it didn’t make a lot of sense to me. The darkness that led up to it suddenly explodes into light, and it was a strange contrast. There were also so many brilliant details that we didn’t hear enough about, including why China is the new superpower in this strange world, and what ANPEC (the government entity keeping the City in lockdown) actually is. We meet several characters that seem pointless, serving only to get Willo out of a bind, and there isn’t enough detail about this world and how it operates to really get a handle on understanding it. I thought that was a shame, because there are some really excellent ideas in this book, and I would have liked to explore its story world a bit more deeply.

Having said all that, I enjoyed the book. I loved Willo and his strange, unique voice, and I loved Mary, the brave little girl who fights like a tiger for survival. The picture this novel paints of the future is horrifying, but that’s the point, I guess. It’s a future we’re heading for, with our eyes open. One aspect of the novel which I found strange was the vituperative way in which things like recycling and wind power were spoken about – they were decried as being worse than useless in a world which could have harnessed nuclear and large-scale solar power (huge banks of solar panels in Africa, which are owned and operated by China, are mentioned in passing); part of the blame for the state of the world is laid at the feet of those who were too busy sorting their rubbish and spending millions on ‘winfarms’, as Willo calls them, to bother about proper ways of dealing with the environment. I’m not sure I agree with that, entirely, but I do take the point. Unless something drastic is done, the world we will bequeath to our descendants is one not too far removed from that in which Willo lives – and I hope I won’t be alive to see it.

Give this one a go if you’re looking for a dystopian novel with a difference – just make sure you’ve a strong stomach for the second half.

Happy reading!

A replica of Willo's 'dog hat', which was offered as a prize by the publishers of 'After the Snow.' Image: goodreads.com

A replica of Willo’s ‘dog hat’, which was offered as a prize by the publishers of ‘After the Snow.’
Image: goodreads.com

Picking up the Pen

So, today I’m facing a disappointment. I’ve had another rejection, and this time it’s a big one. I’m dealing with it the only way I know how, which is by picking up the (metaphorical) pen and continuing with what I love best.

In that spirit, here’s a wee piece of flash fiction, which also happens to be my entry for Flash! Friday for this week. It’s a tiny bit risqué, but I hope I’ll be forgiven.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll be off. I have a bit of picking myself up, dusting myself off and getting back on the horse to do… Happy Friday, and happy weekend.

Image: silentfilmlivemusic.blogspot.com

Image: silentfilmlivemusic.blogspot.com

A Moment on the Lips…

‘All right, Mr. Fairchild. Nearly finished.’

‘Doctor, may I ask – is it serious?’

‘Not sure, old chap. Let me just take another look at your skull. Hold still, now.’

‘My skull? But I thought -’

‘Hold still, Mr. Fairchild, please.’

‘I say! Are you quite sure you know what you’re doing?’

‘Mr. Fairchild, be reasonable. I am the preeminent authority on STDs in the country, after all.’

‘S… STDs? What on earth?’

‘Supernaturally Transmitted Diseases, sir.’

‘Of – of course. Yes. Supernatural, you say?’

‘Mmm. Just turn your head, there’s a good chap. Ah, yes – just as I thought. Definite lengthening of the earlobe, and if I’m not mistaken… Yes. A nascent protuberance.’

‘A what?’

‘You’re growing horns, Mr. Fairchild. Tell me, was it a faun? It normally is.’

‘It – what? It was just a kiss!’

‘Yes, yes. That’s what they all say. Why don’t you have a seat, old bean. You look done in.’

‘Good God. What shall I tell my wife?’

‘Oh, I should think it doesn’t matter. I give it about a week before you’re gambolling and eating grass.’

‘You can’t mean…’

‘I certainly do.’

‘Isn’t there –’

‘Anything I can do? Afraid not, old bean. Now. Will that be cash, or cheque?’

 

 

Unscheduled Interruption

Phew.

So, apologies for the lack of a blog post yesterday. In my defence, I was quite unwell. It had been building up for a few days, but it came to a head yesterday morning, when I tried to write my entry for the Wednesday Write-In. I found that I couldn’t focus on the words I was trying to type – it was like my eyes were sliding all around the screen, and they were burning, and sore, and my head ached. I am much better today but I’m going to see the optician later, just in case there’s a problem with my vision. I guess spending hours on end peering at a computer screen might not be the best thing you could do for your eyesight.

Image: catster.com

Image: catster.com

I am working on cooking up a story using the Wednesday Write-In prompts, and I hope to post it just as soon as I am able. Sadly, however, today is not that day. I’m off to have a nice lady examine my retinas and test me for glaucoma and shine bright lights into my peepers, and if I don’t hurry up I’m going to be late!

I will be back, just as soon as possible. Do not adjust your sets.

Image: freethoughtblogs.com

Image: freethoughtblogs.com