All 13 entries tagged Icw
May 12, 2008
Writing about web page http://www.ommatidia.org/
Ommatidia is a webpage of 101-word short stories. Now this is something I can get behind. I have the attention span of a bole-wevil, but I still manage to read my webcomics every day. That probably takes me 15, 20 minutes before I have my shreddies. A daily update of a smidgen of fiction lets me feed the same habit, yet exercise my reading muscle at the same time.
The website also bounces back to the penultimate Icw session of term, looking at short stories. The point of a short story (under one reading, anyway) was to present the moment in a characters life when something changed; the story was the fulcrum between past and present, the lens through which both would forever be seen. If that was the case, I said, you could abbreviate the story into a flash fiction and be damned with the whole lengthy edifice of words.
And here we have a vast tract of flash fictions; neatly enough it provides a total counter-example to what I was saying. Because these stories, although (mostly) complete in and of themselves, suggest larger stories that could capture a greater moment. My favourite is "Jenna" (at least of the dozen or so on the front page - I'll trawl the records when I have a day), and I'm wondering how legal it would be for me to write out an expansion of the story. It is so terribly suggestive.
May 01, 2008
I'm nearing the end of the 5,000 word monstrosity that is my ICW extended essay. After researching almost entirely at random, here are all the essays I haven't written:
Alienation and possession: engendering emotive and intellectual responses to writing, Toby Litt, Mark Z. Danielewski, M John Harrison
Escape Velocity: writing against escapism, Michael Moorcock, China Mieville, M John Harrison
Fucking Thatcher!: writing as a political response, China Mieville, Alan Hollinghurst, M John Harrison
I'm just not happy: trying to induce suicide in your audience, Thomas Ligotti, H P Lovecraft, M John Harrison
Some of those are jokes.
February 20, 2008
So, I probably shouldn't post this, but - an e-mail conversation that shouldn't have happened got forwarded to me. A student (I'll erase their name) wrote to the head of English complaining about George Ttoouli. George got the e-mail by mistake, and this is his response. It's pretty... yeah, you can see. So, here they are.
I had hoped that the study of English Literature at Warwick University would be an example of high academic and moral standing. I am thoroughly disappointed in the teaching methods of George Ttouli who seems to disregard both of these important virtues by engaging the class with an exercise in writing offensive literature aimed at other seminar members. I would have expected such behaviour at Hertfordshire university, but never here, I expect an apology from the department.
(And here's George's response)
To the concerned but nameless student.
I'm sorry that you interpreted that particular exercise as an attempt to bring seminar members into conflict with one another. That was not my aim at all, although reviewing the lesson plan I can understand where you got the idea that it might have been by intention. I now regret including "The Butter Game" and "Onomatopeaic pistol whipping" in the first seminar of term - however, "Sexually aggressive pass the parcel" and "The three minute birch whip" will remain. If you want to progress in your writing, you're going to have to press your own boundaries. Try Olaf Grunison's great work "Svy svyortig von skronlinson" in the Harper-Collins translation ("Aggressive-herring-sales and their effect on my work"), or perhaps "The folded lily garden is a vagina" by Jasmin Al Fayed for examples of how interpersonal conflict can lead to great art.
I think I'm justified in saying me-yow! These cats have claws.
February 15, 2008
And another belated update - this time the exercise was to take the events from one genre and the style from another and mash them up. Events from Weird Fiction, style from Crime Fiction. Oh, and the key events in weird fiction? Making contact with the Other is the only real condition. But following Lovecraft I've also included an occulted researcher meeting a grizzly fate, and a powerful entity reaching into dreams.
Inspector Meier shuffled the blanket off the young man's body, delicately. The corpse's face was askew, as if all the flesh had teemed to one side in a rapid, brutal migration. The body was naked, arms pressed against the chest. He had been clutching the blanket when he died.
"Another one?" Asked Gugenheim. His partner lounged in the door frame, picking at his teeth indolently.
"You want me to give you the list?"
"I'll trust you." Gugenheim grinned, but Meier overcut him.
"Because discolouration, check, locked room, check, no fucking witness, check."
"I said I trust you."
Meier just grunted and looked back down. The marks were the same as the other Inkwell murders; dark blue bruising running down the neck and sternum, terminating in a pool of matte black that wallowed in the bowl of the solar plexus.
Another immaculate crime-scene. Inkwell was a near perfect killer. The whole investigation was a rotten house, two breaths from falling over, rancid with air-borne poison - two lead investigators had already quit in disgust. Inkwell took a CSI as a victim. The tabloids were drinking it up like mosquitos.
And that was before the fucking Sanderson Diary came out and the rotten walls of the case finally gave out.
"Well." Gugenheim purred, scratching his stubble. "Well well well."
The pair had been on their way to a domestic when the woman ran screaming from the tenement, out into the road. The breaks were slow on the antique cop car and they halfway hit her, knocking her to the floor and taking the skin off her right shoulder, but she didn't slow down, just scrambled back up like a rat and careened off. They had to run her to ground, Meier pouncing on her and pinning her despite his age, and all the time she was screaming:
"Opals! They were opals!"
Gugenheim had stayed with her long enough for the rest of the precinct to arrive and sedate her, peel her off into an ambulance. When he caught up he found Meier in her apartment, doing a cat-pad round and round the tiny room, glowering at the walls and floor and daring them to give up their secrets.
"Where are your opals, Mrs. Palmer?" Gugenheim murmured absent mindedly, thinking of the screaming woman he'd parcelled into the police meat wagon.
"In her head. In the Sanderson diary. Not here."
"Least it makes them easy to spot. Got in on this one pretty fast. Still warm."
Meier picked at the skin of his cracked lips, angry. "What I'm worried about, Frank, is that Inkwell's gonna get the same idea as Sanderson, and start with the fucking opals."
"I'm just saying, they're easier to spot."
The Sanderson Diary had fallen into the sweaty little hands of Rupert Downey, a minor sultan of the local media circuit. The diary was left by one of Inkwell's later victims, Patricia Sanderson, a small-time artist whose work had gone from abhorred to adored in the month since her death. Inkwell had been haunting her dreams. At first he was a tall, African man, with hair made of rope and eyes of black beetles. He fed her opals, he made advances at her. Before long she was painting him. He permeated her art. Soon she was seeing him in shop windows, the smoky corners of old terraced houses, the ring of rope tying a boat up at it's moorings. And then she died.
You could write it off as media hysteria; bored singleton fantasises about man of mystery murderer and ends up on his list. Downey had gone the other way. He'd set his little gargoyles loose, uncovering every scrap that could tie Inkwell into his victim's dreams and blanket them with opals.
What worried Meier was how easy he'd found it. Normally the papers had to make up about half their "facts" on a big murder case, but Meier had looked it through with the bureau. All legit. Somnambulists, insomniacs, astral projectors, narcoleptics, CFS-victims. Inkwell's victims were weird sleepers to a body. Some of them kept diaries too, though none of them as explicit as Sanderson's. One young poet wrote an "Opal series". A teen boy changed his fantasies from his math teacher to "the dark adonis of dreams". The only hole was the CSI. Nothing unusual about her; she was one of the most straight-forward girls on the force. Then her husband came forwards and revealed she was a "sexsomniac". A sleep fucker.
But it was all drek compared with the real opal Downey had found. Victim number one, Randalf Carter. The police's press release had him pinned as a psychologist, which was almost true. He was a sleep researcher - and more than that, he was also a covert para-psychologist. His expertise - his obsession - was the transcendance of the human rational state through the gateway of dreams. And his birth stone?
"Opals." Said Gugenheim, pressing Meier back into consciousness. He still couldn't decide what was worse; the supernatural media creature Downey had created, or the real Inkwell.
"What?" Asked Meier, but Gugenheim just pointed down at the body, and said:
The black inkpool in the victim's torso was pulsing, moving up and down as if some bulging thing was seeking egress through the skin. There was a moment of resistance, and then a breach. Showing through the split was the round head of pearlescent, shining stone; and then it receeded, the flesh seeming to repel the object with elastic force. The throbbing of the flesh continued, and this time the strange dance was joined by another bulge, mid-way along the sternum. For three seconds the flesh rippled with the pressure, and then the bodies breached again, two gem spheres peering through the veil of flesh like the eyes of some demon statue. This time they probed further, almost half an orb pushing through before being repelled back under by the resistance of the flesh. Meier had the horrible sensation that somehow, wherever the globes were being pushed back to, it was not inside the body.
"I think we should go." He said to Gugenheim, but the man had already gone. Meier split from the room as quickly as he could, seeing Gugenheim's retreating back as he vanished down the stairs, and as he rushed to join him, he could hear from the room the noise of a heavy clink clink whirr, a sound of opals dropping and rolling across the floor.
Belatedly, here's the exercise from two weeks ago. The task was to write a cliched character, without using cliches. My choice? French Philosopher.
The cafes are all gone.
The stairs fall under my creaking approach, and this is the thought I am summoned to – the cafes which were once, are now not. My lifetime was spent rationalising just such impossibilities, and yet again and again this fact stumps me – the cafes are all gone.
But I’ve spent too long dwelling where things are not, and before me now is a door, a door which swings open to reveal the type of bar the new generation meets in – or rather, the type of pub. I’m in England after all. “Pub” – a contraction of “public house” – a peculiar linguistic artefact hanging on long after it has lost any ability to capture the meaning of a place like this. I take pride in my knowledge of their foreign etymology; a little skill that is dwarfed next to my other achievements, but still indelibly a part of the big hazy “me”. I’m here to share my Philosophy with the lucky tyrones.
I believe that the cafes went to the Arabs. Arabic money backing French developers and (perhaps) an Italian architect, turning the south-bank café district into, what? Trendy residentials, desirable workplaces, “lasting commercial investment”. The warehouses and the granaries went too, and the docklands also, where my father and grandfather and some deep polluted stream of my forebears made things with their hands and tools.
What relationship do I stand in to this crowd of people? Each one a question mark. I’m unannounced and unknown. At the caf we were more than people. Jacques the poet, expounding his latest commercial disaster - Maudeline, whipping me with silence and the furtive promise of ash-tasting sex. Hazy glorious times which may never have been. Here we have the present, the indubitable present, and all I hold are unsatisfied existential statements; there exists some contact, who relates to me thus – we are to meet today, in order to discuss my paper for the colloquium tomorrow. Damn him.
I’m an oddity, a fact acknowledged by all but admitted hardly. One of the idiot Vienna circle stood where I am now, in this relation – intruding, enquiring, stupid and dumb, in a world which was not his own. Jacques lashed him, Paul promised him sex with bitter little whispers and of course did not deliver. I watched the bastard and loathed him, but now I miss those games of youth.
There’s a bar, a barman, a small gaggle of infants peeking at this methusela. I look, I believe, like some drawn out alcoholic. In a certain sense that is what I am, but not the important one. The glory of Philosophy is that midday absynthe binges can be written off as a working expense. I had a friend who knew a man who kept a shaggy dog that claimed back the tax on his alcohol problem. Or so he said; but he was an alcoholic too, and we’re hardly to be trusted.
Peculiarly close to Socrates, that’s how we stand. Corrupters of the youth. This gaggle seem so very child-like. Adult enough to wallow in their first existential crises, perhaps, but not wise enough yet to drink them away. This whole place has the aspect of a creche; the soft leather couches, blocky little tables, the pretend bar counter. My father would have suppressed a smirk at that sort of plastic joinery.
I find that I am increasingly reminding myself of the banal, to prevent myself from forgetting it. For example – what is required, on various levels, for me to purchase a drink, is;
I place myself in a physical relation of conversation with the man standing behind the bar
I enter into the conversation game of asking for a drink
I engage in the social practise of purchasing said drink
But you could probably collapse steps ii) and iii) together. And why these little lists? Because I am losing touch with it. One thousand fucks. Is it alcohol destroying my mind, or is it age? As a young man I would have put a bet down on it, lost, and refused to pay up. I am not acquainted with the answer; but this answer of all preys most heavily on my mind, and if I am denied it, what value is there in any other?
There was a time, a long time ago, when I could say “I am so close”. “I am so fucking close”. But I have been spinning away from that point for ever now. Here I stand, an infinite distance from the bar, asking a simulacra of a human for a lukewarm liquid, watching as my hand makes motions which could be interpreted as presenting him with money from behind the cataract veil of perception and hoping that when it lands on the counter, my body will not have dissolved into gas and I can clutch it, hold the tall smooth glass in my outstretched interaction and move it to my lips and drink.
The glass lands, and the beer is warm and flat.
December 03, 2007
We were treated two weeks ago to the first half of the excellent Orphee by John Cocteau, and told upon hearing the strange gibberish transfered across the radio in death's limosine that that was that weeks mission. Well, here are the messages I've recorded from inside death's station wagon - a little less impressive perhaps, but equally impenetrable, I hope. Of all of this, I think the only thing with any going distance is "Wolf figurines" - it makes me think of the statue of Romulus and Remus suckling at a wolf's teat.· First there is a mountain: then there is no mountain
· Wire bends without joints
· The bear has been skinned by the flies
· Philosophers make love on tables
· To watch a bicycle is to do very little
· Old Gods grow tired, speaking with the mouth of mouths
· The stars fell a long time ago
· My windowpane is cold: my counterpane is old and forgotten
· Wolf-figurines melt beneath me
· We desire the son of the sun
· Starshine underpenny
· Limes and bootwax, together
· The toast grenadier
· Jazz piano broke her teeth
· The lamp that burnt me is sorry - so sorry
· Watching a pianola, and fearing the radio
· A hard rain fell last night: we didn't care
· Say again? Oh, say again?
· CJD spins on the needlepoint
· Electric toothpaste
· Matchboxes hold suns
· Three point flash!
· Broken teeth are never regrown
· Superlungs and kryptohearts, breathe me please!
· Rainbows curl into discs - they want to print music
· An old man dancing ska is the absolute funk
· New worlds, old Gods
· Turn the door through the wall and smile
· Lipstick, oh lipstick, my lipstick!
· Blu-tack bubbles tie the world together
· Strung from one side of reality to the other
· String-tied hamster teeth
· A little wait and then-
· Tissue paper hearts lick lick lick the sky
· The teats of his mother dried up
· Skin the wolf, skin the bear, skin skin skin!
· Paper, ink, and a world dies
· Sheep-skin warms my back: wool won't be missed
· Ear-cushions are the next big thing: it is proven
· Big shrinks
· Little growths
· The teeth of cancer victims were treasured, once
· Say again? No. Forget me not
· Ulysses would rather be forgotten
· Acrylic paint sticks unforgettably
· Crispy chicken skin is paper
· Blue stones stare accusingly
· My thumbs are scared
· The animals will jump their cages, and burn down the petshop
· The boys are black in this town
· Walls compel amnesia, where love is concerned
· They are turning on the grave-point
· Poincarre, how beautiful you are
Oh, and also "limes and bootwax", I like that. Not sure if "bootwax" is a real thing, but never mind.
November 20, 2007
Right, so - here are the curse and the blessing for last week's assignment. Unchanged following the feed-back. The basic mission (for anyone interested) was to curse someone, and then translate the poem so produced by the antonymic method, that is to say by replacing each word with its opposite (or the nearest equivalent). We were then allowed to jigger the antonym around, and hopefully construct a decent enough blessing.
The curse was not well received. I can see why - the curse was supposed to be a "hammer of language", and this is very effette. I had another idea I didn't go with - the Curse of an A-Bomb (basically, what if an A-bomb effected its powers by magic?) but I got tied down talking about the bomb itself, so I went for this.
The blessing however got a good reception. I do enjoy the imagery it through up - the strange accumulations of language that the antonymic method produced really did create some beautiful images. I'm concerned that the poem doesn't have a coherent narrative or a consistent voice, though. Still, it's certainly something worth returning to.
The heartbreaker's curse
A lover’s blessing – direct antonymic translation
A lover’s blessing
November 14, 2007
I am mid-way through a writing "commission" for the MTW review, and I have suddenly noticed that I am working with a strange sense of "process" - on some bizarre level, I have become aware that I have approahced the project in a certain manner, that I am continuing in a certain other manner, and that by the end of it I will know exactly how I would do it if I ever had to do it again, and I would be able to do it better. Now, since ICW is at least half about "Process", it seems only fair that I should share that with you.
But allow me to rewind the tape a little. I jumped in at the start of this little ramble talking about "a writing commisssion for the MTW review". Some of you might now be hammering "WTF?" into your keyboard in surprise and derision. Allow me to explain. This year, the Music Theatre Warwick review show is being headed up by a pair of (clearly insane) visionaries; Genevieve Raghu and Natasha haven't-learnt-her-surname-yet-whoops. Their mission? To take what is traditionally a paper-thin excuse to produce a collection of unrelated songs from different musicals, and increase the thicknes of the paper. That's my job - I've got to get it up to cardboard strength.
I'm aware I sound quite off-hand there, but don't think I have anything other than absolute faith in the project. It's a good idea - a review is traditionally just a series of unrelated songs, and Jenny and Tash made the decision very early that by theming the songs around a location (in this case, a cabaret night-club), they could produce a show with considerably more substance - and established sense of place, world, identity and so on.
It happened that, one night in the art's centre, I bumped into Jenny. She attempted to court me into auditioning but, aware that I have the singing voice of a folk musician (somewhere between a broken violin and a bobcat), I declined. But I volunteered my services as a scrivener; I could create joining segments of dialogue that would tie the songs together. And just like that, I slipped into the gravity well of the show and was caught.
What does it consist of? At present, I'm doing just what I volunteered for, writing up the dialogue that stitches the scenes together. That's the easiest part so far (ignoring the deadline, of course - tomorow). But actually working out the interactions that need to happen between characters, and even the order of the songs, has been insanely difficult.
The songs contain pre-existing character relations and interactions. So, certain things have to happen. But, the songs must also be spaced out to maintain energy - five ballads in a row is not allowed, the big chorus numbers can only go start / middle / end of an act. Then there must be justifications for why certain people are in a certain relation to someone else, ie why he is singing a song to her about being not the right man for him. This little doozy is predicated by the actors chosen to sing the various songs, as their vocal limits and personas affect what it is they can sing...
Here's an attempt at a schema, showing all the different restrictions I found on potential character interactions;
- The singers voices. These affect who is singing which songs. The decisions have already been made by the directors. This sn't too much of a problem in most cases - singers are allowed to double up on characters. But, suppose a female lead is set up for a tearful goodbye at the end of one song, and then immediately has a minor (but named part) as someone utterly different in the next? Tricky.
- The type of song. This constricts which songs can go one after the other, and consequently which of the blocks of unchangeable narative can happen one after the other. So what if the ballad a) (he loves me) feeds brilliantly into ballad b) (I can't admit to loving her) and then into ballad c) (we must wave a tearful goodbye) - it doesn't matter if its the same singers, and the plot makes sene - thats three ballads in a row, and thats a no-no.
- The content of the songs. Lets call this weird phenomena "unchangeable block narrative". Imagine cutting out sections from twenty love novels - say, half a chapter from each. You can change character names (luckily, you can even have different characters), but they have to stay in the same setting. One set of characters is scuba diving and the other lot are ski-ing? Tough tomatoes, they're in the same setting.
Now, song order and the possible stories affect one another recursively - that is, ideas about possible stories affect song order, constrictions on song order affect possible stories, etc. And without knowing the songs, it is almost impossible to plan possible narative arcs. Before the song list was set, I had some "good ideas" (hah!) - but being presented with the songs was like coming to the table fresh.
So, there you go. That's what I've been up to and what I've been thinking about it. Turns out I didn't write anything about process at all, but rather about the constrictions placed upon me by writing for a certain sort of commission. Still, it was interesting to write it out and see what was actually going on inside my head. If you're very good, I'll tell you what it's like writing for a devised-horror-comedy-political commentary-physical theatre-puppet show-play.
Til next time!
November 01, 2007
Short-stories are what I'm all about. They're why I signed up to the ICW module (not to suggest that I don't enjoy poetry - far from it!) - I love writing short stories and I'm looking to improve. I find I can be vastly more expressive with them than I can with poetry - and I think I'm more adept at leaving things unsaid in short story format. This is a first draft, and untitled.
Kristen pulled the hair out of her face, spat into a kidney-dish, and spat again. Hollow green light sickened her features and pulled her face out, already made thin and sad by long, fruitless hours. She went to the sink and pulled the tap on the boiler. Scalding water screeched out, and she whisked her hands through it, teeth gritted.
The results-chart was already worked through to the eighth page. With a sigh she collapsed into the little chair at her desk and added another mark – “Negative”.
Long lab hours made you clammy. Her shirt, under the lab coat, was stuck to her joints with sweat. Her underwear was rucked up uncomfortably and she smelt raw, thick and vile. There used to be something lively about the smell of piss and sweat – a day spent, worn out, ready for washing off and putting on again tomorrow. Now it made her feel just dirty.
She toggled through the synthesis chart on the computer screen. The molecule should have got some result, but nothing. Inert, inert, inert, another dead chemical. One hundred twenty tests and not one positive.
She cleared her eyes – with a handkerchief, she didn’t need another bout of conjunctivitis just now – and looked unsteadily at the clock. 4 o’clock. Morning or afternoon?
She sank very slowly down onto her sleeves and fell asleep.
* * *
Kristen woke up in bed. The sun was low in the sky outside and she couldn’t tell if it was going up or coming down. The shower was running in the en suite. She rolled over very slowly, marvelling in the softness of the sheets and feeling the dirt in her hair and skin.
Mark came out of the shower, shining in the water, towelling himself off. When he saw that she was awake he gave her a tight smile and sat down on the bed. She slipped out and stumbled into the cubicle.
The water was deliciously hot and heavy against her skin. She felt her own body up and down, stretching out all the muscles. Some of them were tight and bunched – others were weak. The muscles behind her eyes were sore, holding her eyes dead ahead. There was a little phantom pain in the old scar on her abdomen.
She walked back into the bedroom. Mark was stretched over the bed, unclothed, reading a copy of some book. She collapsed down onto the bed with him, rolling over and holding onto his broad chest, kissing him once, twice.
“I thought you’d gone out.” He said, not looking away from the book.
“I thought I was on to something.”
“You need to get some distance. I hardly see you.”
“You don’t have to be sorry.”
She reached up, pulled the book from his hands and kissed him. They made love then, slowly, enjoying the soft feel of each other’s body, the hard press of the wooden bed-frame, the swallowing warmth of the sheets. Afterwards they lay panting.
“Are you going to get some distance?” He asked.
“Yes.” She said, softly. “Okay.”
Sooner or later she was going to have to tell him.
October 30, 2007
So another of our delicious multitude of assignments this week was to write a poem about something really huge as if it was tiny, and something really tiny as if it was huge. I started writing "Very Little" first, under the title of "The Over-Human" - yes, that is a reference to Nietzsche. The idea of the Ubermensch in Nietzsche is (under some interpretations at least) of an entity with such an amazing force of moral will that they can reform reality to match its desire.
On the Nietzschean model, the fundamental substrate of reality is morality and will, so reshaping reality is a matter of getting people to accept your moral standard - the Ubermensch has the capacity to shatter the chains of moral law in which they are raised, and then reconstruct a new morality. The destruction is the act of the lion, the reconstruction is the act of the lamb. I thought, why not have a literal, physical ubermensch?
Don't take "Very Little" as being an accurate representation of any Nietzschean thought - I just used the philosophy as a stepping stone.
In writing the poem, I came to the realisation that I was diminishing very large things by inflating the character of the speaker - by giving them a grotesquely huge ego, I was able to shrink enormous physical objects into diminuity. That helped me deal with the other poem of the pair, which I was struggling with at the time. I applied the reverse principle - give the speaker a tiny little voice. That was where "Big Thing" came from. I wanted to make it longer, but realised quite quickly that it had everything it needed. I like it a lot better than I like "Very Little" in fact.