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October 29, 2008

It's been a while… here's why

It's been a while - but hasn't it always...

Life became surprisingly busy of late and, barring panic attacks when I realise I have to hand in a dissertation form in two days time, I couldn't be happier. I think of myself as a bit like one of those wobbly donkey things that you can occasionally buy from a souvenir shop. As long as the wires running through them are tense they stand upright - but press the base in and down they flop.

I'm working on a film script with the marvelous Jon Plant - he directed and edited Anhedonia, a 30-minute comic film that screened at last year's WSAF. The most interesting part of the process is that we have almost entirely divided it down the middle. Jon writes descriptions of mise-en-scene, camera motion, character appearance, camera shots and so on - I write the dialogue. It works remarkably well; I'm getting quite good at characterising people with their choices in conversation, and he has an incredible visual imagination which he is very good at expressing on the page.

It's interesting to me that despite being young, already mine and Jon's skills have begun to diverge. I think it can only be a matter of practise - I've spent much more time working on scripts (two months on Crowskin, on and off for almost a year with An Evening Without Dignity, and now almost a year of intensive work on another project which for the moment I will decline from naming.

I'm at a stage where I have to make a lot of choices which could have a serious impact on my professional writing career (assuming I'm good and lucky enough to have one). One of them is this - do I want to continue to develop my skills as a script writer, or do I want to try and broaden my abilities? For my personal writing project I have decided to try and pursue an extended piece of prose. At the moment I'm not ready to let my skills solidify into just one area of writing. But looming over my future is the old phrase "a jack of all trades is a master of none." I have rarely found any one activity sufficiently diverting that I can devote my entire time to it. As a result, I'm sure that I've achieved competence in most things I've turned my hand to - but I've never gone beyond that.

So. Do I take the plunge and launch myself with both hands at one form of writing? Or do I try and broaden my skills base as far as I can?

No right answer of course. And besides, even if I'm working on screen- and stage-plays and short stories at the moment, there are plenty of other art forms I can hope to try out. Perhaps my es muss sein will arrive when I'm polishing off the dialogue for a Massively Multiplayer Roleplaying Game...

February 15, 2008

Belated Non–Cliched Events

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.

January 17, 2008

A little flash fiction

So, here's a little short story that literally smashed out of my cranium and onto the page. How bad a writing process is that? No structure, no idea of what would happen, just one metaphor and two faint characters and up this popped. I hope you find this enjoyable. George, I hope it's not too cliched ; ) Anyway, this is a first draft - if I'm ever happy with it I'll send a later draft out to journals.

“Carpe pullo” I scrawled on Marcy’s left thigh, ironically. Everything we did was ironic. Our affair was in the height of irony. Neither of us was married, for a start, although Marcy did have a live-in lover. Later he would break my nose and three of his knuckles in one impressive punch, but not over Marcy, and not for three more years. My nose is now wide and French, and he had to learn to write with his other hand.

“’zat mean?” She asked, and I replied, “Seize the cock.” So she giggled and scribbled up the words she was putting on my stomach, low, just above the jeans line. I wasn’t wearing jeans then, I wasn’t wearing anything, but I always wore them too skinny. They left a red band like a belt that I was inexplicably proud of.

We were in a wood, naked. It wasn’t overly warm and we hadn’t had sex – we never had sex. Not once in the whole thing. I wanted to of course, and nowadays I think she did too, but she told me the first time I ever asked: “Nuh-uh. If it’s not cheating for Monica Lewinski it’s not cheating for me. So it’s just oral and cigars.”

I didn’t actually know about Lewinski. The whole thing with her and the American president had passed my by, while I was still lurking moodily in my bedroom in my parents house, without a television but with a huge sense of universal injustice. I think I passed that entire period of my life either sulking or masturbating, so a television wouldn’t have raised my awareness anyway. Marcy had to explain the reference to me, and when she did I bought the largest Cuban cigar I could and fucked her with that instead of my fingers. “Carpe pullo” might have been one of those little pushes I made to try and get some more, like the forty year old rubbing his cock against his wife’s brown dot and grinning like a cat, hoping she’ll say “go on them” and let him in.

The sun was a hazy white dot through a streak of cloud, and between us we had four very rigid, painful nipples. It was Autumn, and soon it would rain, but not for a few more days.

“Keep writing.” She said, and I bit her softly on her cheek – her left buttock - and twiddled the marker in my hand. “You’ve gotta keep writing.”

That morning we were on the bus. I was Indie, and we were riding nowhere in particular. You have to have whims. I had secret hopes of spotting a record store I had found once, very drunk, late at night, closed of course, but very secret, rising from the drunken fugue like the ruins of Atlantis. I didn’t know where it was or what it sold. The chances were I’d hate the music. But a good whim.

Marcy was with me because her boyfriend was out of town and she was even more ironic than I was. “I’m a New Romantic.” She said, and she was. Text book. Apparently Romance was reinvented in the 1980s, landing with A Flock of Seagulls and taking off again around about the time of Thatcher’s second term. I listened to underground music, the deeper underground the better. My favourite bands fought troglodytes and morlocks to make it to the mic stand. Hers were just uncool. I ached to be that ironic.

“Yu?” I said. It was a solid reply.

“Yuhuh, I looked it up. All my faves’r New Romantics. And my beanie-hat”

I didn’t have a fucking clue about the beanie hat, so I said:

“Yep. That is one New Romantic beanie-hat.”

And she laughed, possibly because I was wrong, possibly because I was stupid, not that it mattered. That laugh. It was dreadful. I mean that in the ancient sense, the one that’s lost to our world of “downloading” and “computeach”. It filled me with dread. A base ape-like fear that I was missing the plot entirely. And it was beautiful too, in a Jackson Pollocky sense. Broken and cracked by a little too much smoking. The rest of her was dainty.

The trees moved very slowly, at their own pace. “They’re not moving with the wind.” I said that out loud, I distinctly remember it, and she said nothing, even though it was such a damn stupid thing to say. Admittedly she was distracted. We were both covered in ink, and now she was working it off me.

The bus was one of those clanky old fuckers with angry drivers who’ve long fused with their seats, one leg stuck on the accelerator, the other on the brake, their urinary tract feeding into the cooling system for the engine through a specially arranged catheter. We weren’t alone onboard or my hand would have been in her trousers already. I was an idiot for never fighting her boyfriend.

She had these small breasts that made her look like a boy, almost, and which I found intensely, worryingly erotic. They were nearly non-existent, hidden like faces on the moon – you had to want to see them. They were a wonderful secret. But they made her look very young.

“If you shaved your pubes,” I said, gazing into that tangled blackness, “I don’t think I could have sex with you. Too wrong”

“You can’t have sex with me anyway.” She laughed. “That would be cheating.”

And she dotted the “i” on my chest.

The cloud was low, soft and wide, wispy and English. Later I walked back under fish-skeletons covered in gold lace, black shadows and gold ribs melting into the fading sunset. “It’s getting colder.” I said, which was a lie. It was already too cold to feel the difference. The town had been sweating all summer and now that sweat was evaporating, chilling us down at the speed of science.

Walking through the town the cold had been crueller. My undeclared search for the record shop was over, abandoned due to pointlessness, and the weather had no respect for my feelings. Pointless projects are the ones closest to the heart.

I put that on her skin as well. And “2+2=5”. And “Autumn is the cruellest month”, which I scribbled out when I realised Autumn wasn’t a month. The mess turned into a mouth – turned into a monster – tuned once more into black nothing. I was gazing at her crotch.

Two weeks later she shaved it. We were on her boyfriend’s bed, fumbling in a well-practised way, when she pushed me back, silenced me with one finger to my lips and another behind the hem of her skirt, and then stripped, just the skirt, and left her t-shirt on. Then she lay back, legs akimbo, and said, “Come on.”

I hesitated. Just long enough. She caught it in my eye and pulled it out, reaching for a felt-tip pen – one of the same we bought the day I didn’t find a record store – and scribbled on herself, a fake fur of ink. “Eat me then.” She commanded. I did – rubbing my face and mouth in there, licking and working and building up a shiny black nose of ink.

The felt-tip pens came from the same store we bought the cake at. She was always better at whim than me.

“We pack a bag with felt-tip pens and cake and then we go out into the country.” And we did, filling my satchel with pineapple upside down cake and twelve thick marker pens, one of which got lucky later, barely ten minutes after we started to ink each other, and found it’s way as far into her affections as I ever had.

We were swimming in our afterglow which almost stopped me shivering in the dusk. I was covered in ink and the sun couldn’t be seen in the woods now.

“I should probably go.”


“Okay.” I said. “I’m just gonna stay here.”

“That’s right.”

“While it gets colder and darker.”


“My clothes won’t keep the cold out.”

“You’re naked anyway.”

“Very wise.” I observed. “What’re you gonna do tomorrow?”

“Don’t talk about that.” She said, and held on to me.

She looked very sad, sitting there still naked, this glade of trees bowing around her, her flesh a pattern of ink and white, so smeared and intermixed you could hardly tell which was the real colour, as I walked away. But then she laughed and waved and pouted and put on a sad face again, and then I almost hit a tree, and after that I watched the path instead of her.

We could have had sex, I’m sure, if I’d only had the nerve to break something. What she really wanted was for me to shatter society – to break my own inhibitions – to cripple taboo and just fuck with her, naked and covered in ink, in a town square, surrounded by the old and young and CCTV cameras and police and pigeons, slowly and pleasantly, at ease, enjoying it, with everyone watching and staring and wishing they could be us. But I think breaking her boyfriend’s nose would have done the job almost as well.

January 12, 2008

Some more thoughts on writing script

So here's an odd thing. I'm acting in Crowskin, (plug! week 2, Capital Centre, free tickets!) as well as one of the writers for it, and the other day we were rehearsing a scene which I have both written and act in (in fact I got to write almost all of my parts). What is odd though is that, coming to act the scene, I'm doing things with the character I never imagined I would do with him - that I never imagined anyone would think to do with him.

The scene is one which I wasn't happy with immediately after I'd written it. Having acted it and seen what can be done with it I'm much more content. Some things still niggle (I think the geek content might be a bit much, and I'm worried that I've treated one very serious topic with too much levity). But seeing speeches come to life in a way I hadn't imagined is gratifying and also suggests that there is a spark of life in them.

Not to mention seeing it in the context of other actors. The Crowskin team is excellent across the board, and having absolutely no control over how they treat certain parts is showing me (teaching me) where I've been too prescriptive with a line, and where I've gotten it right.

January 07, 2008

Musings on intelligent life

The Christmas break is over, and the creative vampire bats that suck up the blood of language have returned to me at last. Which isn't to say that I've not been creative over the holidays - anyone who witnessed my abortive attempt at roast potatoes would have a hard job denying it - but rather I have once more been hit with a mad spell of creativity. Which is why I'm writing this, of course.

Who knows how and why they come and go. Perhaps they follow magnetic currents and land marks like birds, moving in migration patterns from one willing mind to the next. Or perhaps they reside deep within the animal hind-brain of the human vessel, rising to the surface only when summoned with the correct libations - a certain concoction of stress, caffeine and milk. Who knows.

Anyway, as an impulse purchase I picked up a copy of "intelligent life", a new magazine being published by the economist. (My semi-autistic half is railing, since I managed to acquire episode 2 of voume one. Fortunately I have a yorkshire half as well, which wears a flat cap and keeps its money in the mattress, and it refuses to allow the autistic half to send off for a back issue numer one). I don't actually have very much to say about it, but I felt I had to blast something out before I started writing on a wonderful short story idea that just came to me.

The magazine is gorgeous, in terms of production values. It resembles those strange photography magazines you only find in very large or exclusive bookshops, the ones that cost more than a hardback. The print is large and sprinkled lightly over the pages like chocolate dust on a cappucino. Or Moccaccino-latte, or whatever kind of chocolate-topped caffeine beverage you sup on. The articles? An interview with Phillip Pullman, the main reason for my purchase, a little light musing on the value of language to clear thought (very much removed from all the Kripke and Frege I was studying last term, I'm sure), an interview with a man who believes that the average IQ is increasing...

It's chocolate box intelligencia, for people too busy and disinclined to read artistic journals, and yet too expensive and rich to read the Guardian. (G2 magazine specifically. A weeks-worth of G2 will give you pretty much the same content as two copies of "intelligent life", although the fashion advice and the review sections you would have to take from the Saturday Guardian and the Observer). You can tell the wealth of the demographic by the adverts - one of them, for a private money eating firm or something, reads "Too much money? We can help. Our specialist money-burners..." and so on.

It may sound like I don't like it. Actually, I very much do. The feel of it in my hands. The opulence. The lush paper of the pages (they're practically card they're so thick and glossy), the beautiful full colour photography throughout, the high quality graphic designer they've obviously shanghaid. I'm waiting for a moment to spring straight into Philip Pullmans dirty six page pull out, and gobble up every sparse word.

The magazine is classy, it promises to make the reader classy. Classy enough not to have to use words like "classy". Classy enough to be cool without saying it. Classy enough to be unafraid of its own intellect.

Will it last? I don't know. I probably won't buy it again unless they keep up the interviews. Not that that matters - the real demographic for this sort of thing is the rich. And how many rich people can there be?

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