Monday, 30 December 2013

Kirstie Allsopp and the Blitz Spirit

Earlier today, Kirstie Allsopp criticised those who had received compensation for losing electricity over Christmas and made reference to the lack of 'blitz spirit' during a twitter rant.

Now, mostly ignoring the immense amounts of privilege that her approach to this shows (she is, after all, the Honourable Kirstie Allsopp as well as being a TV presenter, being the daughter of a Lord) other than to point out that heating alone could be enough of a major issue for some older people without electricity to warrant it being an issue, the 'blitz spirit' point irritated me.

A lot of people romanticise or trivialise the blitz and the responses of those who survived it. It's almost as if their entire understanding of the blitz is confined to 'Keep Calm and Carry On' as if the pesky Germans were swatted off by pure British pluck.

When I look at the Blitz Spirit, what stands out to me is that it was such a painful and desperate time. That's what makes it amazing, but it's important to remember what it was.

I live in North London near Bounds Green. It's a nice area and I'm very fond of it. The tube station there dates back to 1932 and is particularly nice inside. It's a modernist style, as is much of the Piccadilly line - I'm a bit of a geek over this kind of thing and I find it absolutely gorgeous.

It was also, during the blitz, used as a shelter. Again, as much of the underground was. People would bed down there, cut off from the buildings above and, all things considered, fairly safe. And, at times, not knowing if they'd emerge the next morning to find the street they left above the way they left it.

This isn't unusual in that area. One of the things you begin to realise when you live in London is that you can spot where the bombs hit. They're often the parts in a street where the gorgeous, larger and older houses are suddenly interrupted by a run of 50s and 60s buildings that emerged out of necessity. The face of London was forever changed by the constant assault.

One of these assualts caused part of Bounds Green station to collapse while people were sheltering in it, killing seventeen people and injuring another twenty. Hiding in a dark station deep underground while the world collapses on top of you. I find it difficult to imagine a more terrifying thing.

And that's the thing about the blitz spirit. It occurred when Britain was getting the absolute shit kicked out of it and people didn't know if they would survive the night, let alone win the war. Many, many people died and the majority of the survivors lost people they knew. The blitz spirit came out of fear, grief and loss. It came about despite some people who took advantage of the confusion and damage in order to commit other crimes during the blitz as well - and I feel it's important that this is remembered as well. It wasn't mythical and it wasn't something that just naturally occurred. It was something deeply amazing that came out of the ultimate adversity.

This is why it offends and bothers me when someone invokes it in a way that trivialises it or reduces it to just meaning 'making the best of it' or even 'oh, we had to get the candles out'. It bothers me when people romanticise it and ignore the loss that occurred at the time. It annoys me when people miss the point and treat it as if it was some romanticised 'jolly'.

And why it really pisses me off when someone invokes it in order to make a meaningless, ill-thought-through point about people seeking compensation for losing power during winter.

My Most Embarrassing Moment - The Wide Awake Club

When I was a child, my parents enouraged me and my sister musically. We took piano lessons and we both joined the choir. For a few years, we did quite a lot with this choir, including singing in the Royal Albert Halls as part of the Junior Proms and touring Germany (where one young member of the choir goosestepped into a hotel restaurant and declared that we won the war for some reason). But our highlight was the day we sang Christmas carols on the Wide Awake Club Christmas Special.

The Wide Awake Club, ITV's early-morning children's show. Except it was 1990, so it was instead branded "WAC 90" for a while, with a bright font, because it was the 90s.

Yes. 1990. As 1990 as it gets, in fact. The year of taste.
The show was fronted by Tommy Boyd (who later funded an attempted revival of British Pro Wrestling), Timmy Mallett (who, don't forget, had a No 1 Hit Record with 'Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini) and Michaela Strachan (owner of my 10 year old heart, along with Sophie Aldred).

Timmy Mallett. This was deemed acceptable television for children in 1990. Somehow.

We were taken in a coach to Granada Studios, which was exciting in itself. We had to get up at 5am in order to get there in time, which was the first time I'd ever had to do that. The studios were enormous and it was by far and away the most exciting thing I'd ever been part of. We even had a dressing room, where we found a discarded Coronation Street Script, which was also the first proper script I'd ever seen. I was, of course, in my element.

When we got to the studio, there were a lot of wires and cameras around and it was hotter than I thought it would be. We met Tommy Boyd who was busy, but polite, and we met Michaela Strachan, who was every bit as lovely as I had imagined, but was clearly too busy to spend the rest of the day with me. But it was all amazing, and I was, obviously, destined to be discovered and would become a major star. This was my chance to show everyone just how great I was. And, of course, impress Michaela.

My 10 year old heart has never recovered.

We were performing towards the end of the show - also on the show was Damian, who had briefly somehow become famous doing a cover of The Time Warp. But he wasn't singing that. He was singing Wig Wam Bam (which I can still remember all the words to). And then there was some comedy with some characters badly doing christmas carols - and then, to show them how it was done properly, we were on!

We were going to sing 'Winter Wonderland', and much to my chagrin, I was not front and centre. We were in a horseshoe formation around the choir leader, and while I was on the front row, I was right on the end of the row. How was I going to get the attention I so naturally deserved? All was lost...except I'd spotted something out of the corner of my eye, which would allow me to take the spotlight a little bit more than any of my choir colleagues.

You see, I realised that if I looked to the right, I could see what the people at home were seeing, and which choir members were seen. So if I kept an eye on this, I would be able to make sure I was singing extra hard, and looking that bit more professional, with a big, charming smile. An offer to co-host the show was surely a formality.

So, in my head, all I was doing was watching the monitor, then when the camera came my way, I would smile and sing. An angel. Perfect for television.

Unfortunately, I didn't realise that what I was seeing was, in fact, the footage that was being recorded by only one of the cameras. The close-up one.

As a result, the footage shows a choir all paying attention and singing perfectly... with the exception of one (obviously not very bright) child on the far right of the front row, who was stood at a ninety-degree angle to the rest of the choir, blatantly neither singing nor paying attention.

I looked too stupid to realise which way to look, because I was too busy paying attention to the monitor for my big chance.

But, every time the camera came my way, I made sure to look the right way and sing and smile. I had, however, overestimated my ability to multi-task. Keeping an eye on what was going on at the same time as keeping an eye on where we were on the song was evidently too taxing for me.

And so, when the camera came for my closeups, which it occasionally did, it showed me suddenly looking the right way, smiling my little heart out.

And clearly singing the wrong words.

Fame did not come-a-calling that day. Instead, I had everyone that watched it wondering why I was having so much difficulty paying even the slightest bit of attention to what we were there to be doing. And I was too embarrassed to explain my mistake, so I just mumbled, which probably didn't help matters.

And Michaela never called either.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Magic Falls Part 31

I stand on the stage, looking out at everyone. A few moments ago, I was glaring at Jack for putting me on the spot like this, let alone under the spotlight. But now I’m standing here, and I don’t have a clue what to say.

“I…” I look out, and the lights mean that I can only look at the first few rows (and I suddenly understand why comedians always concentrate on the front row – they can barely see anyone else).

The light glares at me, and it feels like I’m looking out over a chasm. I say nothing for what feels like forever before taking a deep breath. I talk into the microphone, and suddenly my fear is reduced.

“Jack said that I know what’s going on better than anyone. I don’t. That’s not true. We all know, deep down, what’s going on.”

I’ve said this once before. Given…not this speech, but I’ve talked about this before. In a different time.  A different place.

“Magic is falling.” I say. “This isn’t a conspiracy, this isn’t an attempt to control us. We’re used to the government saying things like ‘we’re all in this together’ when they want to make us think they are, but if there’s one thing that scares the government, that scares the authorities, the military, all of them, it’s the idea that we are actually all in the same boat.

“They don’t know what to do, because this isn’t rational. This isn’t part of the usual order, and it’s something that’s… well, I say it again. It’s magic.”

I take another look at the audience. They are listening, but it’s blatantly not like it was when Jack was talking.

“Magic and belief are linked, and they’re a powerful force. It’s something we’ve forgotten over the years, and the more we move towards a rational, secular and science-based belief, the less potent it is. Now, that’s okay. That’s not a bad thing. Except that when you take anything that’s got power and you remove it, it’ll fight to keep it. This is what we’re seeing. A move by various elements of belief to retain power.”

I’m losing them. I can feel it. I wish Jack had let me know he was going to do this.

“You’re called the Knights of Reason. That was Jack’s idea. The idea of an army of you, disseminating information that people want to know. Harnessing information, harnessing the power of facts and reason, and using it as a weapon to challenge against those that prefer to argue with lies.”

Horrible, horrible flattery, but it gets them back on my side for just long enough for me to make my point.

I can feel the sweat dripping down my face. I feel embarrassed and self-conscious, but most of all, I feel hot under these lights.

“The rationality that we understood has been breaking down in front of us for the last while. We’ve all been aware of it. But now, we have something as irrational, as difficult to accept as the ground itself moving in front of us, and delivering a sword in a stone. We need to make sure that we’re not ignoring this and actually accepting it.

“So, what does that mean? Accepting it. It means accepting that our logic has changed. That our rationality has changed. That our sense of reason has changed.”

I should have started with this. I’ve got them listening now, and some of them (maybe even enough of them) are taking note of what I’m saying. But I already know I lost some of them to start.

“We can do that. All of us.  We can take a look at the world and realise that it has changed. The previous way of life isn’t going to prepare us. We have to look into ourselves, into those things that we believe without knowing. Those things that we know without understanding. We have to take the tools that led us to understand how the world worked, and use them to understand how it works now.”

I glance over at Jack, who is nodding. I know why he did this. If he’d asked me first, I’d have put it off and waited and waited, like I’ve been doing ever since I came back. I’d have held off and waited for it all to be the right time. I needed a kickstart, and by making me go public, he’s done this.

“We have a sword in a stone in Trafalgar Square. Let’s not pretend we don’t know what that means. It means that someone is going to be able to pull it out, and that person is going to lead us into the battle.”

Time to finish, I think. Time to start moving.

“So we need to stop wasting time. We need to start this. The sword needs to be pulled and we need to work out what that means for all of us. But if our government, our security forces, have decided that we can’t do this, then they’re in our way. But we don’t need to fight them. We can’t be divided on this for too long.”

They’re actually listening. It’s not anything to do with any kind of ability with words of mine. It’s because they already believe this. They just needed someone to articulate it.

“Make them listen. Thank you.”

And then I’m off the stage. The applause is there, but it’s far from rapturous – I really wish he’d given me more time to prepare. But it’s done, at least. Jack grins at me.

“Sorry, but – look, can we talk in a bit? Get a drink, talk to people. I’m going to call a break anyway.”

“Go, go.” I say, gesturing to the stage. “We’ll talk in a bit. And I’ll kill you for setting me up like that.”

I then go back to my seat, feeling more energised due to the adrenaline involved in talking to that many people, but it’s not until the break is under way and people are mingling and talking while I’m looking for Jack that it happens.

I feel it before I see it. And even then, it takes me long moments to comprehend what’s happening.

I’m distracted, stupidly, by the fact that one of their faces is familiar, but in a way that doesn’t make sense. 

Do I know him from TV or something? He’s nodding to one of his colleagues, confirmimg that I’m the one.

Then I feel the cuffs snapping around my wrists.

I look around, wildly, and then I see Jack.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “He says this needs to happen.”

The crowd is in shock. This is all happening so publicly.

“You’re under arrest,” says the man snapping the cuffs on me.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Short Story - The Bibliophage

I sit down at my computer and stare at the white rectangle on the screen. It is blank.

Frustratingly, maddeningly blank. Taunting me.

I close my eyes and I can see a page full of words in my minds eye. I try to focus on the words, but they refuse to clear up and let me read them and they remain just the vague shapes full of promise. I look more closely, but my eyes are drawn to the white spaces between the words, and the white space grows and grows until it surrounds me.

I open my eyes again and the white rectangle is in front of me.

And I know I have to kill again.

I don't know what made me do it the first time. I don't know what the compulsion was. All I know is that it worked.

I hadn't written anything for eight months, but my last book was being released in paperback. There was a publicity push, and I was interviewed by a lot of journalists. Not just the niche press this time, but the mainstream.

He was young. Handsome. Interesting. He kept my eye contact through the interview with so much admiration and hope that a drink afterwards sounded like a good idea. And it flattered me.

He showed me his manuscript and I was briefly hurt that I'd mistaken his interest in me for being a writer with interest in me for being a person. But the interest was there anyway, and his eyes were still stunning. It hurt more when I read his manuscript.

It was brilliant. Warm, funny, smart and fascinating. I fell in love with him because of that book and that hurt more, because it made me so angry with him. He was doing everything I couldn't.

When he asked me, a while later, what I thought, I told him to come to mine. I made him dinner and we went to bed and we made love and then I stuck a knife in his stomach and killed him.

I was hysterical. Still angry with him. I held the manuscript with my bloody hands and I cried. And then, and I still don't know what drove me to do this, but I tore the first page from its binding, crumpled it up and stuffed it into my mouth and chewed it until I could swallow it.

And then I did it with the next page.

And the next.

It took me hours and I could feel it tearing the lining of my throat to shreds, but I kept tearing and eating. It hurt, but when I finished, I felt a compulsion to sit at my desk.

The words came. The writing was easy. My fingers danced at the keyboard. It felt more like reading than writing, it was so easy.

And the book was the best I'd ever written.

It sold. The others sold more because of it. But once I'd finished it, I couldn't write anything else. There were no ideas. And the blank screen just stared at me.

The next time was more difficult. Great writers don't just turn up. I chose one this time, who was represented by a friend's agent.

I met her at a book signing, where it turned out she'd liked my last book (of course it had been the last one, which was so much better than the others) and we started talking. We became friends, and I waited and waited to be invited to her house.

Nobody ever saw her again. I made sure of that.

My next book was a best seller.

The one after that, a respected writer who supposedly committed suicide, was a phenomenon.

I don't want to do it again. I don't want to be like this.

But the white rectangle is there.

Even when I switch off the computer, I see it.

Burned into my vision.

I don't know whether it is the sex, the killing or the books that makes it happen.

I just know that it works.

The white rectangle is there and I must fill it.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Magic Falls Part 30

Jack Whittaker stands quietly in front of the theatre crowd for a few moments, allowing them to quieten, and then begins to talk quietly.

“The question we all have, or at least that we should have now, is why is this happening here? Why is it happening in Britain?

“We’re a relatively small country, with a middling population. We’re cramped and we’re heavily populated for our size, but we don’t have anything on some other places. So why here?

“We’re a country with history, and nowhere more so than London. All these streets, when you walk them, have had hundreds and hundreds of years of history. There aren’t many cities like this. You walk down here and there has been so much death. So much history.”

He’s becoming more animated now, his hand waving about as he talks, before he runs it through his hair. 
“Do you ever wonder how many dead bodies this city is built on? You should. You should think about that. We reside on a bed of foundations made of death. When the black death happened and almost the entire city died, we stacked the bodies into the earth and we limestoned over them and we kept building and we kept living because this is London and that’s what happens.

“History seeps into the buildings. History seeps into the people. It’s impossible to walk around London and not be aware of the history. We walk through London’s streets like blood cells travelling down veins, keeping it alive.

“We’ve created monsters and legends. Here. “

He suddenly seems a little less sure of his ground, but as he continues talking, I realise it’s that he’s almost hesitant to move onto the next piece of subject matter. “Jack the Ripper butchered five women. Maybe more. Maybe less. He was never caught, and he became the most notorious serial killer the world has ever heard of.

“People who know their horror films and their grotesque histories may point to Ed Gein. May point to Elizabeth Bathory. May point to Charles Manson or John Wayne Gacy or Fred and Rose West or Ted Bundy or…” He sighs.

“It doesn’t matter. When it comes to the death and the slaughter of women, nobody has ever turned it into a mythology in quite the way that Jack the Ripper did.

“Because he was the first creation of the media, which has never found something that it could masturbate over quite like the death of young women. Journalists took a murderer who was unable to be caught and they turned him into a legend who wrote taunting letters to the police making clear that he would never be found.”

His face is ashen, and everyone can see just how much he believes what he’s saying. If he doesn’t, it’s remarkable stagemanship.

“They took a series of murders and they turned him into a sensation the likes of which the world had never seen before. They took the deaths of women, the butcher of them, and they made them romantic. The swirl of fog, the glint of a knife, a streak of crimson and a gentleman in a top hat and cape sweeps away through the night, delighting in his crime.

“For the first time, or at least the first time successfully, the media created its bastard child, and they called it Jack the Ripper, and everybody believed it, and everybody continues to believe it and everybody continues to want to know about it and learn about it and find out more about it. Do you have any idea how many books have been written about Jack the Ripper? And do you have any idea how many of them sell? That’s when the media discovered that it had that much power to not just report, but to create. To establish narrative and to make people believe that narrative.

“We prefer the story. Every time. London gets less snow than just about anywhere in the UK, did you know that? And yet the images of every Christmas are of a suddenly Victorian London covered in crisp fresh snow, because when Charles Dickens was a child, there was a cold spell, and he forever associated it with Christmas.

“That’s what belief is. It’s what we prefer to reality.

“And London thrives on this. Of course it does. It’s a cramped series of villages, with people who spend significant parts of their day under the ground, dreaming. It’s punctuated with buildings that do their best to reach to the heavens, corporate totems slamming into the sky.

“And as everybody knows, the streets of London are paved with gold.”

There’s a mild chuckle at this, although it feels more like those that are doing so are doing so because it feels like it should be a joke rather than actually is one.

“The capital of a small island on the coast of a continent that established an empire larger than the people that built the city in the first place. London is not the most likely place for anything to happen.  It isn’t the biggest. It isn’t the one with the most history.

“But it’s the city with the most belief. The most untargeted belief, as well. How many cultures has this city consumed? How many beliefs has this city fostered and fed on?

“This entire situation that is happening now is centred around belief.

“The world is changing. We’re talking to each other more and finding out more about each other and we’re stopping being scared of each other and we’re finding out more about who each other actually are. We have information at the tips of our fingers at all times.

“And we can disprove things faster than ever before.”

He smiles, back on more familiar ground of reaching out to elements that more people are likely to understand straight off the bat.

“How many people here work in offices? How many people use facebook? How many of you have seen those bloody irritating emails that people send around when they’ve fallen for another urban myth? Or a warning from the police about something that sounds just plausible enough to be real.

“How many of you believe that if you put your PIN into an ATM backwards, you alert the police that you’re being mugged? How many of you believe that jews were warned not to go into work in New York on September the eleventh in two thousand and one? How many of you believe that the police decide the best way to dispel information about murderers, gangs and rapists is by chain email?

“How often do you see these status updates and chain emails and either bite your lip or send a link to and point out that they’re disseminating misinformation?”

There’s a more genuine laugh now, and a number of hands raised. After the intensity and length of what he’s been talking about, it’s a nice tension breaker to involve them again.

“We believe, as creatures. It’s something we’re almost hardwired to do. And this belief is swirling around, latching onto anything and everything to try to find a way to live.


“This is the crux of all of this. This is what I think is happening.

“All of this belief is turning into creation.

“And we need to understand that. We need to understand the implications of that. Especially when a sword and a stone rises in the centre of historical monarchy and democracy. Especially when it happens and for whatever reason, the authorities try to deny it. The easiest way to make people curious about what’s going on is to tell them they shouldn’t be looking, and they’ve done that with one of the most well known landmarks in the world.”

He turns in my direction, and gestures. The lights rise in the theatre, or at least they do in the front section of it, allowing the audience to better see each other.

“And now, I want to introduce you all to the man in the centre of all of this. The man who understands what is going on better than any of us.”

I begin to panic, but I don’t even have time to do that properly. He points right at me.

“Darren. It’s time for you to meet the Knights of Reason.”

Thursday, 31 October 2013


At times of stress, I've had a tendency towards nosebleeds. Sometimes, I'm immediately aware of it, when the pressure behind my sinus builds until it feels like it pops and drains, and the red warmth spreads down from my nostrils. Other times, I'm not even aware of it until I feel the coppery, tangy taste on my lips, glance down and see the tell-tale drops on my shirt or my shoes or the floor.

The worst one was the day our daughter died.

Months old, lying in the cot, and I was woken by my husband's screams. I remember opening my eyes, and I remember standing with him by the cot, but I don't remember actually getting out of bed. I only remember standing there with him, looking down at her, and registering somewhere in the base of my skull that I was barefoot.

I hate being barefoot. I always have. Usually, when I get up, I plant my feet into a pair of slippers, and I obviously hadn't done that. The screams had made me move with a primal urgency, but when I got there, when I stood there with him looking down, my brain wanted to think about something else rather than admit what I could plainly see.

She lay still, her eyes unfocused and staring without seeing. My husband was crying, and touching her hand.

"She's cold," he said, and then he wrapped his arms around me and squeezed me so hard that it hurt. "I'm sorry, Annie. I'm sorry. I'm sorry."

I wanted to push him away from me and hit him and hurt him and blame him, but I couldn't do that because it wasn't his fault and it was hurting him as much as it was hurting me. I just wanted someone to blame. But I let him hold me. For a short while, and then I made him let go so I could touch her and hold her for myself.

Her skin being cold felt wrong, but the lack of any movement felt more so. My fingers pressed into her side as I lifted her and it felt like I was handling a large piece of meat rather than my daughter.

As I held her against me, I didn't feel the pressure popping. I didn't even notice the wetness spreading down my face, as it was mixed with tears of anger and sorrow.

"Annie!" My husband shouted, and I looked down and realised that the blood had poured over her face and babygro, making it look like an obscene blessing. I put her back in the cot, as quickly as I could.

"I'm sorry", I said, cupping my hands to my nose. "I didn't know." I fled to the bathroom to clean up, and the main thing I could think of was how much I hated being in bare feet, the cold lino against my skin.

As I washed, I heard him shout again, and ran back, blood and water still down my front.

"She's... she's..."

Her mouth was opening and closing, as she fed on the blood. Her eyes were moving, and as we watched we could see her skin grow warmer.

We just watched for a few minutes. Neither of us moved. I could feel the cold bloody water on the front of my pyjama top.

"We can't tell anyone," I said.

He looked at me and, after a moment, nodded.

We soon learned that she wouldn't eat anything else other than blood. We tried other options. We tried blood from animals (sourced from the local butcher), but she wouldn't go near it. We heated it up, and that almost worked - she accepted it, but couldn't keep it down, vomiting up a lot of creamy blood.

It needed to be human, and it needed to be fresh.

For a while, we took turns. We bought razor blades, and kept them carefully sterilized. We would cut our arms once a day, and drip feed the blood into her mouth. He took mornings. I took evenings. Sometimes, she would gurgle happily while she drank it. Other times, she would accept it grumpily. It depended how hungry she was.

But after she fed, those hungry small little eyes would look sated and sleepy.

We took to wearing bandages on our arms, covered up with long sleeves. The skin became a little weaker and would break more easily, so we had to be careful otherwise people would see the blood seeping into our clothing.

After a while, I took to using the razor blades to slice the skin just above my nipple. I had to do it deeply in order to produce enough blood, but it also felt a little like she was latching on and feeding normally, and for just a little while, I was able to feel like a proper mother. I would watch her scrunch up her eyes and concentrate on suckling.

Changing her should have felt more grotesque than it was. The thick, clumped blood that she excreted was messy, but (as with all emissions at that age) it felt more like an extension of our own bodies, so we just quietly got on with it.

It exhausted both of us. It took quite an amount of blood each time to sate her, but she was healthy and comfortable, and that was the most important thing.

It wasn’t long until she started teething, which was obviously painful, but it did, at least, make her gums bleed sometimes, which appeared to be something that let her ignore the pain at times and stop crying.

But it was when she moved onto solids that things became difficult. Her teeth had grown in enough for her to clamp down and bite, and it was with a sense of wanting to feel her close to me again that I sliced the skin above my nipple (easily gouging into it enough for blood to flow now – fresh scar tissue is thin and tears easily). She clamped and bit and slowly tore, and it took all of my love not to ball my hand into a fist and punch her to try to get her off me.

When she finally let go, and thankfully with not that much flesh torn off my breast, she swallowed and then laughed happily. I held her and patted her back as she brought up a little bit of blood. Thankfully, no flesh came along with it. It was the first solid thing that she kept down.

I performed first aid on myself, and my husband stitched the skin back together when he got home. It hurt and I cried and I swore.

We tried meat, and we tried everything we could think of, but she either wouldn’t eat it or (in the case of raw pork heated in the microwave), she wouldn’t keep it down. We were reduced to drip feeding her again, but she was getting angrier and more hungry.

My husband talked of cutting fine slices from his leg, but I pointed out that she was only going to need more. He wouldn’t be able to heal fast enough, and I wasn’t prepared to lose anyone in this family in order to keep another part of it alive.

We drove around the streets of our city, in the early hours of the morning, looking for the homeless. We didn’t look too much in the centre, from fear of hidden cameras. Instead, we looked for those who sought privacy themselves.

The first was a young man, drunk and high and asleep on a park bench covered with a blanket. He looked thin and gaunt, and we were able to carry him to the car with the promise of taking him for some food. When we got him to the house, we took him to the cellar and we killed him there, and cut a large strip from his thigh. Almost panicking, my husband held the warm, bloody meat to our daughter’s mouth, and she carefully ate it and we held her and we told her what a good girl she was and we cried out of relief. We had enough from him to last her weeks.

Or so we thought. Actually, after two days, she wouldn’t eat it any more. We managed to get her to eat a little more by heating it, but after another day, she couldn’t keep it down any more. It had to be fresh.

We became ghouls, tracking down the homeless and abducting them, taking them to our cellar and keeping them drugged and gagged as we crucified them against the wall. We would give them enough food and drink to keep them alive, and we would do our best to keep them clean, even though there was so much blood, so much more than we ever thought could fit in a person. Once, our daughter sat underneath the stream and played. It was the happiest we had ever seen her.

We could keep them alive for weeks as we carved as much flesh off them as possible to feed her. Men and women. Old and young. Sometimes younger than we imagined. Runaways and homeless.

But she fed and she grew stronger, and, given a break from being the sole source of her blood, we grew slowly stronger as well.

She’s been crawling recently, and beginning to make words. We have gates against the stairs and anywhere where we might sleep. But we are scared of what could happen when she grows old enough to totter and move quickly. She looks at us greedily, and it is frightening to be looked at by someone you love so much as they balance their love and their instinct. We are beginning to be scared of sleeping, and for now, we do it in shifts, but we won’t be able to do this forever.

I’ve been ill recently, and it took me over a month before I realised that I hadn’t checked my cycle. I’ve never not thought about it before. I don’t even remember the last time my husband and I had sex. We have had, but it happens as instinct rather than love, and sometimes I’m not fully awake. It doesn’t happen often, but it happens.

And now I know I’m pregnant again. It’s too early to feel it, I know that. But I imagine that I can. I can imagine it inside me, growing and feeding from me.

And it is hungry.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Magic Falls Part 29

I am at the venue Jack asked me to come to, in order to hear his talk. The theatre is large. I don’t know how it was booked at this short notice. When I give my name at the box office, I am handed a ticket with a large smile from the woman behind the desk. “We’re very glad to have you here,” she says.

I take the ticket, and am escorted to my seat. It’s in the front row, to the left hand side. I am asked if I would like any refreshments, and am brought some wine.

I wait quietly for the show to start, as people mill around me and start taking their seats. After a while, the lights are dimmed, and anticipation fills the room.

“You know,” Jack’s voice comes out over the speakers. “When the cancellation for the venue we were originally meant to have came through, I was told I was mad for booking somewhere this large with just a week to go. I was told there’d be no chance it would be filled.”

The lights come down further, leaving us now in complete darkness.

“But the power of social media, and the power of the truth. The power of needing to ask the questions, whether or not we have the answers. The power of seeking. These things, these things told me that you would be here.”

Jack walks out onto the stage, and while I was aware how many people were there, I don't feel it until they break out into applause and cheering. The energy from the clapping hits me from behind from all the seats, and I physically feel it, slamming into me like someone’s hit me, but also sending electricity of excitement through me.

He is so much more confident than I would be in this situation. I hate speaking in public. I don't like speaking to more than one person at a time. It makes me feel scared about how I come across, and I feel like I lose control of what I'm saying, and then only realise later what I've said.

He's at ease, though, introducing himself and explaining his background, with easy jokes laced through it to relax the audience. He asks a few people what their background is, and is generally acting almost like the MC at a comedy night. Just getting the audience to get used to listening for a little while, before he makes it more serious.

"The question we have to ask is why we're being lied to. That's usually the question we have to ask, but it's usually combined with wanting to know what we're being lied to about."

There's a shift in the atmosphere in the room. Nervousness and anticipation.

"This time around though, we know we're being lied to about a specific thing. It's the thing that the government are trying to stop the media talking about. They're trying to create a complete blackout on it on social media too, by attempting to get the words blocked from trending, but because they don't really understand how the internet works, it hasn't happened.

"Raise your hands if you know what's at Trafalgar Square."

I look around. There's barely a hand not raised.

"Okay, put your hands back down again. That's good. Means I don’t need to spend too long explaining. But I'll come back to Trafalgar Square. First of all, raise your hands if you've ever been in the presence of an unexplained phenomona."

Most of the hands are raised this time, and I'm not the only one looking around. Lots of people are, and I can see small discussions happening between groups of people. Couples, surprised by one or both of them raising their hands.

"Okay, take them down. Now raise your hands if it happened before this year."

A number of hands are raised, but it's fairly minor.

"How about this year? How about in two thousand and thirteen?"

Almost the same number of hands as were originally raised go up, this time with lots of energy again.

"You can see what we're talking about, can't you? The sword in the stone in Trafalgar Square is only the visible tip of the iceberg with this. Put your hands back down now, and we will take a break soon, I promise, so you can get a chance to chat to each other. I can see you, this couple in the front... you didn't know each other had experienced something, did you?"

I look to my right where he's talking, and both of them shake their heads.

"You can talk about it soon, I promise. This isn't just a talk by me. We're researching and building a databank of experiences, because we're trying to understand more about what's going on. There are volunteers in the audience who will record all of your stories. I mean, don’t worry, you’ll get your money worth if you think your money is well spent listening to me talk, but we will take breaks during it.

"But before we get to that, I need to clarify something. I said that we knew what we were being lied to about. The sword, the stone, Trafalgar Square. But that doesn't mean that there aren't any questions. I've just raised one for you now. Why this year?"

There are nods of agreement and murmers of sound as people talk to each other again.

"This was happening before, but the level on which it's happening now... this is totally new. This is why I...I think you'll agree, it's fair to say, someone who was known for being a sceptic... am here talking to you about this and raising these questions. I've seen things. Things that I am not comfortable talking about. Or at least, I wouldn't be if it weren't for the fact that we are all amongst friends and equals here, and I know many of you have experienced similar issues. Maybe not to the same level. But you'll see what I'm talking about with that shortly.

"But before I get to that, I've got another question for you, and it's the one nobody seems to be asking.

"This is happening all over the world. There are phenomena occuring everywhere. But the frequency of them happening, of them being reported, and also the intensity of the incidents themselves … are unique to Britain.

"There have been more unexplained phenomena in London alone in the last year than there have been in the entirety of the United States.

"This is happening here. In Britain. And it’s centred here. In Britain. And it's happening and it’s centred here for a reason.

"And I'm going to tell you why."

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Sandman: Overture and Being Eighteen.

Neil Gaiman returns to comics this coming week with Sandman: Overture. Set before Sandman, it'll tell the story of the events that led to the first volume of the Sandman series that Gaiman made his name with in the nineties. Outside of a book of short stories, it'll be the first time he's gone back to it in a serious way.

Sandman was an incredibly influential series. It was a smart, beautiful series of stories about stories that built together to tell a story of Dream of the Endless, a personification of an idea like the rest of his family, who was unable to change. It was filled with fantastic and beautiful artwork by a number of talented artists, to match the brilliant writing by Gaiman.

It was an enormous hit, and really helped to launch Vertigo Comics, the mature readers imprint from DC. It helped many people to realise that comics could genuinely be an art form, and even taken seriously - and all without involving superheroes (except in the briefest of cameos). It was also a series that appealed to women in a way that the industry at the time didn't really try to. It brought new people into comic shops, and many people fell in love with it.

So why am so I nervous about Gaiman returning to Sandman?

It's because it'll be impossible for me to read it in the way I read it then. Because I read Sandman when I was eighteen, and I'll be reading Sandman: Overture in my thirties.To explain why that's so different, I need to look at who I was when I was eighteen.

It's difficult looking back at yourself sometimes. I didn't yet know who I was, and was casting around trying to work it out. When I look back, it's with a lot of embarrassment. I tend to remember the negatives first.

At eighteen, I was a combination of confidence and anxiety. I was studying acting at university, and was convinced that I had enough talent that I could do whatever I wanted - but I was also eaten up with fear, not least because I appeared to have an ability to precisely annoy just about everyone I was around to a lesser or greater extent.

This was probably partially because I skipped ahead a bit at school (due to a mixture of the time of year I was born and my moving back and forward between England and Ireland), and ended up starting university before I was eighteen. I had a huge chip on my shoulder because was worried that I wouldn't be taken seriously, and ended up trying hard to impress everyone - you can probably guess how well that approach worked. When I stopped trying to fly, I landed with a pretty hard bump.

Going to university meant that I'd moved away from home. I'd spent my teenage years in rural Ireland, and being so close to Leeds felt pretty metropolitan. It felt like a big adventure, and the opportunity to prove myself, but I was also without the immediate support system of my family for the first time, and only saw them a couple of times a year. At times, I felt like I had it all in my stride, but at other times, I felt hopelessly lost. But I was more frightened of never trying than I was of failing.

Also, like many of us, periods of my life are inextricably linked with the relationships that I was in at the time. I got into a relationship that had its positives, but wasn't particularly good for either of us. I didn't know how to make her happy, and that meant that I went through the latter stage of it constantly scared and feeling like I was always doing the wrong thing. And because I'd never been in a relationship before, I had no idea how to deal with that. I had yet to learn to be better at listening and reacting.

And, because I was still that young, I thought that it would work out because of first love, true love and a hundred romantic films. And we both did our best to make it work, which probably made things worse. With the best of intentions at the time, I think it's fair to say that we screwed each other up pretty badly.

I look back on that time with a lot of sadness. I wish I'd been better for her (and I'm sorry I wasn't), and I also wish she'd been better for me, because with what we both put into it, I think we both deserved a better experience. But that's the dangerous thing about serious relationships when you're young - you don't necessarily know how to be good at them. She ended it very shortly after university, which was good because I don't know if I'd have been capable of doing so. It was a painful experience for both of us, which makes the whole period of time a bit of a difficult one to look back on.

I don't have many pictures from the time. I've always tended to avoid being in photographs. I don't like having them taken and I tend to hate seeing pictures of myself, which means that I don't have too many pictures of me at that age. This may have something to do with my three fashion icons from the time being The Crow, WWE superstar Shawn Michaels in his DX days, and Gambit from the X-Men. I'm sure you're all devastated at the lack of evidence of this. You can only begin to imagine how cool I looked, damn it. I was all about the long hair and long coats.

I was scared a lot of the time, but there was a tremendous amount of enthusiasm in there as well. For the first time in my life, I was being gripped by the possibilities of story-telling, and the complete belief that I could do it, partially because I believed that anyone could do it. We all had stories to tell, and we all had our unique experiences.

Sandman was important for me. It inspired me enormously and exhilarated me, and I wanted to pass on that exhilaration to others. Morpheus was a difficult character - spiky and self-important and rude and outright unpleasant at times, but as you grew to know him, he was such a deeper character than I'd been seen in almost anything else. And his story surrounded so many other stories, and with the overall underlying messages that we all have stories and we all have dreams.

Story-telling is at the root of our communication. We learn to understand each other through stories and we learn to understand how the world works through stories, and then we learn to create and tell our own stories. And when we sleep, our brains tend to make sense of our thoughts by turning them into vague narratives in our dreams.

These were big ideas to grasp, even if I didn't fully understand them at the time. But Sandman took me from wanting to be a performer to wanting to be a story-teller.

As part of my final year's projects, we each had to write and direct a performance of a thirty minute adaptation of something. It could be anything. I chose to combine and adapt two different things - the story of Edmund from King Lear and Neil Gaiman's Sandman.

Loosely based on a story from the comics involving a bet between Dream and his androgynous sibling Desire, I wrote a story which involved the embittered illegitimate son of Gloucester being given the ability to become the man he has always wanted to be, as he then seduces queens, banishes his brother and arranges for his father's murder, before being killed in battle by his returning brother - all watched over by The Endless, who occasionally took on roles within the story (before it all turned out to be a trap by Dream to try to take teach Desire a lesson).

That's how much I loved Sandman, and how much it meant to me - I integrated it into my degree, because there was no story I wanted to interpret more. It opened an eighteen year old's eyes to the wonder and possibilities of the world, and I wanted to share it with everyone, and I wanted to start telling my own stories. Putting on that performance was an acknowledgement and tribute of that.

When I look back at one of the few pictures around of that eighteen year old, I see a kid who was an awkward mixture of confidence and fear, who appeared to have a talent for making life more difficult for himself than he needed to. I'm torn between wanting to give him a hug or a smack. I'd also probably want to apologise to him for not turning out to be the person he wanted to be, although I'd hope that he understood how I eventually became the person he needed to be.

But I'm not him any more. I'll never be him anymore. There are parts of him that I'm glad and relieved to have left behind, and there are parts of him that I am envious of, and that I miss.

It may not matter whether or not Sandman: Overture by a Neil Gaiman in his fifties is better, worse or equal to the Sandman stories that he wrote when he was in his thirties. I'm not reading it as an eighteen year old either way, and that's going to make it a very different experience.

I'm unlikely to have my eyes opened to the world by it in the way that Sandman opened my eyes to the possibilities of storytelling when I was eighteen. I'm not likely to love it the way I loved Sandman when I was eighteen, because it was new and it was exciting, and I was inspired by it in the way that you get inspired by stuff when you're eighteen.

I'll be reading it at thirty-three and thirty-four, and I'll be older, balder, heavier and hopefully more wise and a bit better at listening and understanding.

So I'm just going to hope that it's good. And if it can make me feel like an eighteen year old with the world in front of him, waiting to hear his stories, even for just a moment, then I'll be delighted, but if it doesn't, I'll still be satisfied with a good story.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

To those who say NaNoWri-NO!

It's always strange when you see people getting angry at something that is, at worst, harmless, and at best really quite proactive. Nanowrimo is one of these things. It's a challenge to try and write a 50,000 word novel (or 50,000 words of a novel) entirely within the month of November.

Some people scoff at NaNoWriMo. Some people get angry at it. I can only assume these are people who get annoyed at anyone trying to do something new, be it learning to paint a picture, play an instrument or learn another language.

"Ah-ha haha ha," the NaNoNoSayers say. "You're not doing it well! Don't you understand that you need to spend years and years doing this before you're good?"

I may be misrepresenting this a tad. But I've not seen many good criticisms of NaNoWriMo either.

Personally, I'm a fan of NaNoWriMo. It's a big, silly, thing and it's marvellous. I've attempted it once (and failed magnificently), and I've used it as a kick up the arse to get some serious word count down by going along to all-nighters at the rather wonderful Big Green Bookshop, which allow a large number of people to all sit in the same place at the same time and write a lot. (Seriously, the bookshop is fab - I run their writing group as well, which I've wittered on about elsewhere).

I found it to be a fantastically encouraging thing. The worst I'd say about it is that it's a bit odd. But only in the way of being in a room of people who are enthusiastic about the things they're enthusiastic about tends to be odd. I've been involved in conversations about how nobody uses twitter any more (two years ago) and about how I'm strange for not having heard of the cupcake-murder genre of novels (which combine cupcake recipes with murder mysteries to produce  presumably delicious, delicious murders). But they've also been welcoming, fun and completely non-judgemental (unless you haven't heard of cupcake-murders, of course).

I don't understand why some people consider NaNoWriMo to be a negative thing. But I do have my theories.

I once heard a story about someone who enjoyed going to high-flying Hollywood parties and whispering in people's ears "Have they found you out yet?". It's cruel, but it portrays a simple truth.

We're all scared, deep down, that we're not very good at what we do, and that despite the hard work we've put in, we don't belong. That if we get any success, it can end up feeling easy, and failure feels like only a matter of time. We all have to balance the voices in our head that involve our ego telling us that we're the greatest artist since Orson Welles and our fear telling us that we shouldn't be allowed crayons in case we accidentally write something on a wall somewhere and someone realises how shit we are.

Writing a novel is hard work. But it's also something that's easy. That anyone can do.

Not writing a good novel, no. That's hard work and involves hard work and talent. But putting 50,000 sequential words on a page that tell a story, however good or bad it is? Yeah. Anyone can do that. It might be good. It might be bad. It doesn't matter.

Anyone can do it. You can do it. Even within a month.

That terrifies some people.

Because it is still hard work. And it's something that can involve long hours in front of a pen and paper or a computer or a fresh victim and a knife. And it's something that can involve a lot of time of not knowing what to write. And that can absolutely suck to feel, when you are just sat waiting for the right word, especially when the police may turn up at any point.

It sucks because it feels like failure. Failure to function in your fundamental nature as a storyteller. And as a result, when you finish in your hard, struggling labour and you finally give birth to your precious, vulnerable little word-baby, it feels like it was a part of you. Physically as well as emotionally. You're exhausted, but damn it, you achieved something. And it took every ounce of your blood, sweat, tears and semen (writer's block leaves a lot of time free for masturbation), but you did it.

And then some fucker comes along and does what you did in years in a month.

And it doesn't matter that they've written a rough first draft only, and it has more holes in it than a zombie corpse in Texas, and it's nowhere near a finished novel.

Because you would kill to be able to write that much in 30 days. And because you see all the flaws in your own work anyway, and deep down, you're worried that it actually is that easy and you're the one that makes it difficult, and this reminds you that you took too long to write it.

They're making it look easy. And it isn't. It's difficult. It's painful and you have to gouge the words out of your own skin sometimes in order to make that sentence make sense.

Every sentence you write has to be perfect. Anything less is just playing at a craft.

I've been there. I've had writer's block. It took me four years to write my first novel (I Am Legion). My first book that got published took me two days (POV). Go figure. But I'm definitely taking part in NaNoWriMo this year.

If you're the kind that has to craft every sentence, and has to pick every word, and endlessly and endlessly writes and rewrites that first chapter, here's my advice for you.

Take a month off. Do NaNoWriMo. Don't criticise it - see what you can learn from it.

Sure, some of the books that come out of NaNoWriMo are going to be awful. But some of them are going to be really quite good. A handful may be spectacular. But you know what each and every one of the people are doing that are taking part?

They're getting better at being writers. Because the only way to get better at writing is to write.

They're moving forward while you stand still and rage at them for being able to do it.

It's not going to be easy. It's going to be hard work. But it's going to be a different kind of hard work, and it may actually make you better as a writer. It may make you learn to trust yourself a little bit better.

Parts of writing are easy. They're the fun parts. And people who take part in NaNoWriMo, in my experience, have had a lot of fun.

And that's the big question at the end of the day, and it's the one that all of this revolves around.

Why shouldn't writing be fun?

Thoughts? Questions? Want to tell me why I'm an idiot and why NaNoWriMo is an insidious beast that will devour literature? Comment below or talk to me on twitter.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Magic Falls Part 28

I watched it on TV.

We all watched it on TV. That's how you do anything, isn't it? You sit and watch it happen on a screen. Whether it's the internet or digital, it's still television at the end of the day when you're watching something happen live.

Officially, it didn't happen. Officially, the area has been cordoned off and the media isn't being allowed to discuss it.

But we all know that's not how things happen these days. Not with the internet. Not with social media. In a world where an indiscreet picture can be shared amongst thousands in minutes, neither the media or the government have the ability to completely shut down information flow.

So nobody can get to Trafalgar Square. Nobody can fly over it. Nobody can print pictures of it or broadcast it, because somebody, somewhere, very high up, decided that this could not be discussed.

And I have decided not to do anything about it. Not this time.

Maybe this time, it doesn't have to be me. Maybe I didn't need to come back.

Maybe that's why everything has gone wrong.

Maybe I shouldn't have come back.

Either way, it's no longer my problem.

I am just going to sit and watch and wait and see what happens.

And then my phone rings.


"Hi Jack," I say. "What's up?"

"Trafalgar Square," he says. "Literally."

"Yeah, I've seen."

"When we were in Bretton, you mentioned Trafalgar Square."

I think back to Bretton. The long night in the realm of the faerie to rescue Jack's daughter. "Did I?"

"You did. You talked about how the grounds in Bretton was one of the... what was it? Concentration of ley-lines, that was it."

"There's no such thing as ley-lines, Jack. You know that. You're a rational person." I don't fully know why I say this.

No, that's not true. I just don't want to get involved. I've been fighting it ever since I came back, and I am sick and tired of it. And I've lost everything because of it.

"And after what we saw there," he says, "the only rational response is to accept that things have changed. Or that they were always different and we didn't realise."

He waits for me to respond, but when I don't, he keeps talking.

"Look, things have changed, and you obviously know more about it. You said that ley-lines themselves aren't the important thing. That the belief is the important thing. Right?"

I can hear him trying to keep irritation out of his voice as he continues.

"I don't know if we're creating them or if they're feeding off us, but I have some theories. I'm doing a talk tonight. I've sent you the details. Are you checking your emails?"

After a moment, I can't help but respond.

"Yeah, I've been checking them. I haven't had anything from you."

"Check your junk mail. I added you to the mailing list."

"My junkmail autodeletes."

"Christ, I'll send you another email then. Just to you. But seriously, come along. I think you'll find it interesting."

"You try this sales approach on everyone?"

"No, it's not like that. You won't have to pay. Yours is a comp."

Something about the way he says that makes me pay more attention. "Wait, you charge for your tickets now?"

"I have to."

I frown as I ask him why.

"It's gone insane recently. I mean, it's been building over the last few years, but it's always been handfuls. Maybe dozens. The last few weeks, though... ever since the square... it's been hundreds. And hundreds. Lots of people are looking for answers. And a lot have been coming to me. My books, my blogs... I've been one of the first with any kind of profile to talk openly about this. I've got TV appearances coming up soon. And I want you to see what people are thinking."


"Because if belief is important, then I need to know what we can get them believing. From what you said, I think we could do something important here."

My heart is pounding. The last time around, Jack had raised a group to fight with us. We called them the Knights of Reason.

This time around, it was happening faster. If it continued to grow... Jack could be raising an army.

"Why do you think it's happening now?" I ask. "What's changed?"

Jack loses his temper now and almost shouts at me. "What's changed? What's bloody changed? Darren, get out of your house and look around. Everyone's talking about it. Trafalgar square rose out of the ground and turned into a hill. You do know that, don't you?"

"I know."

"I mean it forced its way up through the earth. It just pushed upwards, and it happened over a couple of hours. And what's on top of the hill?"

I already know. "A stone."

"And the big thing, the thing they don't want anyone to know until they figure it out. What's in the stone?"

"A sword."

"That's right. A sword sticking out of a stone on a mount that grew out of Trafalgar Square in the middle of London. And you're asking me why people are looking for answers?"

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

7 NaNoWriMo Tips - Write a Novel in 30 Days

NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month - is coming up in November. Thousands and thousands of people are going to try to write 50,000 words in 30 days, primarily for the sheer hell of it.

If you haven't done it before, I recommend it. And I say that with the voice of experience. You see, I've done nanowrimo before, and I started a novel, and I completed it.

Four years later.

Yeah, I sucked at NaNoWriMo the first time I tried it. But the last couple of years, while I've been working on another book, I've used NaNoWriMo as a kick up the arse to get some serious word count done. There are Nano events all around London, and they're honestly a good way to get going. So I semi-did the whole NaNoWriMo thing.

But earlier this year, I took part in NaNoWriWee- National Novel Writing Weekend, set up by The Kernel. It was a 30 hour novel writing challenge. Slightly more realistically, it was aimed at around 20,000 words or so, and HarperCollins offered to judge the entries and publish the winner under their Authonomy brand as an ebook. My entry, POV, won and you can buy it here for just 99p.

So, I'm not a nanowrimo expert, but I do get a lot of what it's about, and I do have some success in speed-writing. And I think Nanowrimo is a fantastic idea. I'll be using it this year to try to write 50,000 words of a new novel, and I encourage anyone I know who wants to write to think about taking part.

So, if that's you, if you're someone that's wanted to write for ages, but just hasn't, or has started and stopped too many times,  here are my tips on how to write a novel in 30 days. Seven short tips to getting through NaNoWriMo. Because lots of people with no real experience write books about how to write books, and a lot of them waste your time (my two notable exceptions - On Writing by Stephen King and Story by Robert McKee. There are others, but they're my favourites) and promise you'll have a bestseller afterwards.

And you don't have much time. You only have a month. So I'm not going to waste your time with a book about how to write. Besides, you might think my advice sucks.

So, instead, here are seven bite-sized tips to writing 50,000 words in 30 days.

Tip 1 - Plan.

Don't worry - this isn't anything too complicated. All you need is a very rough outline of what you want your story to be. It can have gaps and it can be incomplete. But if you have a vague idea what you want to write about, then write it down. If you have them already in mind, write down a brief list of story points that you want to hit over the month.

You don't want to end up like Rimmer in Red Dwarf, who spent the majority of his revision time for an exam creating his revision timetable and then revising his revision timetable. The plan is, at this point, just a rough outline. It may help you when you're writing to know what you're vaguely aiming for, rather than just filling in space.

When I wrote POV, my outline was actually just nine short points that I jotted down when I sat to start writing.

1 - Setup world

2 - Discover body

3 - Suspect

4 - Arrest / Escape

5 - Confrontation / Revelation

7 - New POV

8 - (something that would spoil the novel if I actually put it in here)

9 - Resolution

Now, yours can obviously be a bit more in-depth, but this should hopefully give you an idea just how vague they can be. What it meant was that I knew what I was aiming at with any section. And it's a lot easier to write a scene when you have an idea what the point behind it is.

Oh, and I didn't stick to all of it either. Some of it changed as I was writing. That's fine too. Again, don't panic.

Tip 2 - Names

I don't know about you, but I hate coming up with character names. It's a horrible chore that never feels quite right, because trying to come up with one in the first place, with all that choice... it can be rather paralysing. You could choose any combination of names you can think of. And I don't know about you, but when I'm faced with all the first and last names in existence, it feels like an impossible task. After all, the odds I'll get it wrong are astronomical.

So, if you can come up with a list of names right at the start, then you can start picking from that. A list of first names and last names, so you can mix and match quickly. You can always change the names later, but you'll be surprised how often you stick with them straight off the bat.

I used comic book creators, but you can use anything. Get a cast list of a film and jot down names, and stop when you have five times too many, then start putting together first and last names. Then just start casting which ones sound most like the characters you have in mind. The main thing it does is to start limiting your choices, and allow you to get moving.

(I wrote about this point recently for Alasdair Stuart's blog in a bit more depth - What's in a Name?)

Tip 3 - Move onto chapter two.

And then onto chapter three, and then chapter four and so on. I know so many writers who spent ages stalled on their first novel because, when they finished their first chapter, they went back to rewrite it. And then back to rewrite it. And then back to rewrite it. I did it myself the first time I tried to write a novel. Just kept rewriting that first chapter.

It's difficult to let something go if it isn't right, but it's easy to trade that off with not actually making any real headway. But you get the illusion that you're doing well, because you're still putting a lot of work into the book. You're spending the same amount of time that you could be spending actually working on the novel, but not getting anywhere. It's the writing equivalent of jogging on the spot instead of actually running a marathon. Except you won't lose any weight. You'll probably gain it, actually, because you're spending more time sat down at a computer. So if you're going to do that, you may as well get a novel out of it.

That novel I wrote where I kept reworking the first chapter for ages? By the time it got looked at by an agent, guess what their first recommendation was?

Bin the first chapter. She was right, too. It was crap. Full of stuff that I wrote while I tried to figure out where the story was going. It didn't get going until the second chapter. So that became my first chapter.

Tip 4 - Get unstuck

If you're getting stuck and you're not sure how to proceed the scene you're on, don't panic. We've all been there. There are a few tips you can try here. Your mileage will absolutely vary on these.

One is to jump ahead in the plot. You may not know how to get from A to B, but you may well have a rough idea what happens at B. So start writing that instead. You can always come back to what you're stuck on. Or you can even complete it in the edit. The edit comes later. When it comes to writing a lot in a short time, the edit always comes later.

One is to try writing something completely out of character. Try writing the scene in a way that completely contradicts everything you've come up with about the characters. Have them go on a killing spree or turn out to be aliens or win the lottery or steal a car or become a vampire or strip naked and run through the streets. Or all of them. Anything. Just get writing again. You'll probably find one of two things. Firstly, that it doesn't work, but in clarifying to yourself why it doesn't work, you lodge a couple of those little levers unstuck and you figure out where you need to go. Or, and I admit this is more unlikely, you decide that the novel works a lot better with streaking vampire alien thieves going on kiling spree.

In fact, damn it. I'm going to write about that instead of what I was going to write. That sounds awesome.

Personally, I favour jumping ahead. If you find that you're stuck because, right now, you don't care about this scene, then write a scene you do care about. Once you've got the gaps, those gaps will start becoming pretty appealing.

Tip 5 - Give Earlier-You the benefit of the doubt

At some point, you may lose confidence in your story. This happens to lots of people. It happened to me with POV.

Halfway through, there's this big plot twist. It's also one that was part of why I wanted to write the story in the first place. It embodied the entire theme of the novel. And I couldn't wait to write it. And then I got to it.

And I realised it didn't work.

In fact, it was stupid.

How could I have convinced myself that it was a good idea? It was ridiculous, it came too out-of-nowhere, and it fooled people into reading a different book than they may have thought they were reading. Obviously, I had to come up with something else. And since I was trying to do this in thirty hours, I had to come up with something fast.

I have never missed smoking more than I missed smoking at that point in time. I went out for some fresh air, but it felt incomplete.

And I remembered the me from the day before who came up with the plot idea and was energised and enthused by it. He had the same level of experience in reading the genre as I had. He knew it was a good idea and that it worked. What changed?

I got scared. That's all that changed. I started second guessing myself.

I had to trust that the me from the day before wasn't a complete idiot. He was convinced it could work. So let's give him a chance.

A couple of pages into it, I was back enthused about it again. And it's my favourite moment in the book, and based on feedback, it's also a few other people's favourite moment.

Of course, it's entirely possible that the you from the day before was actually an idiot. But give that idiot the benefit of the doubt enough to start a little down the path they suggested.

Tip 6 - The edit always comes later.

You don't have to show anybody the first draft. You can share it with people if you want. But at the moment, your fragile little word-baby isn't ready to walk by itself yet. And it's all yours. Take a little break, wrap your word-baby up carefully, and put it to bed for a little while. It'll wait for you.

Here's the thing about editing - it's a little magic trick involving time travel. All those mistakes you made? All the scenes that don't match up? All those things you tried that didn't quite work? That time you were writing at 5am and you apparently forgot how language works because you were writing what the Incan Monkey-God was telling you to write in his mysterious but beautiful language? You get to fix it all so that it never happened.

And at first, you'll be convinced that other people will look at it, and will know. They'll know you just changed something, you massive cheater. But they don't. Because it's not cheating. It's a perfect magic trick, because when they read it, that shit didn't happen.

But wait for it. Come back to it later. Right now, you just need to write. This is the construction phase.

Tip 7 - If you can eat a sandwich, you can write.

"But I can't write. I don't have the time. I have a job, and I travel and..."

No. You do have time. You don't need much each day, and if you can grab five minutes, you can write a couple of paragraphs. If you have a lunchbreak, go somewhere quiet, take a notebook or a netbook or a slate and a sharp piece of stone and put some words on paper. Or slate.

Personally, I write quite often during lunch. I go to a cafe, and I have a coffee and a soup and I write. But when it's really been going, if I've been able to get a seat on public transport, I've written there, too.

You don't need optimal conditions to write. You are not a precious little writing-flower who has to be nurtured and cared for.

You're a word machine. A merciless, time-travelling, word-baby generating machine.

You're sitting down to have a sandwich? Put it to the side, open your notebook and start writing, and when you finish a sentence or a paragraph, take a couple of bites. You can multitask. You can give up a TV programme or a videogame or you can stop reading a book for a while, and write one instead.

So, yeah. There's nothing stopping you. There's no magic entitlement to writing a novel.

There's just you. And a story that you want to tell.

Good luck and see you in December.

Want to ask me something? I'm on twitter and I'll happily chat to you about your Nano.

Want to see if I know what I'm talking about? Buy POV - it's just 99p for a fast-moving SF thriller involving nasty things happening to eyeballs. But it's not that icky, I promise. And there are some bonus short stories, and one of them is even sweet.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Magic Falls Part 27

My love.

I have waited.




To be with you once again.

For so long, you have been away. I thought you would not return.

But then, once again, I sensed you.

From the centre of the earth, I have scratched and fought and dug my way to find you.

It has taken months.

Fuelled only by my longing to once again be held by you. To feel your hands around me.

They complete me.

They give me purpose.

And I, in return, give you everything.

I can feel the air above me.

I can feel the sun.

I am so close.

So close to you once more.


The director sat opposite Shane Smith. In the previous few days, he’d gone from under constant supervision and enforced settlement to five star treatment. From a containment unit under the security services to a penthouse suite.

Shane straightened his tie and smiled. “You guys can be very generous when you want to be.” He settled back into the comfortable chair.

“You were treated more harshly than you should have been.”

He laughed. “Nah, it’s cool, man. I get it. Security measures and all that. And you don’t know who I am, right? You’ve got to take precautions.”

“Exactly.” The director sipped a coffee. “You’re still a concern for all of those reasons, but we’re aware that…”

“That I can be made to work for you?”

The director put the coffee down and looked out at the city.  The hotel was at the edge of Whitehall, and the view looked out at Trafalgar Square. There were tourists milling around, taking pictures of each other. The director could see children and teenagers clambering on the lower statues and around the fountain. “That’s such an ugly way of putting it.”

“It’s true.”

“Let us say you are helping us at our request. That is a much nicer way of putting it.”

“It is.”

He looked back at Shane, and hesitated before speaking. “This…gift of yours. How do you do it?”

The smile faltered and fell. “I don’t know.”

“When did it start?”

“While I was on stage,” he replied. “This guy was stood right in front of me, and I was… most of what I do, it’s about psychology, okay? It’s usually about getting people to say what I want them to say, or about making them give away what they’re thinking. It’s about… it’s about manipulation.”

“I know. You’re not the first psychic we’ve encountered. You’re just the first real one.”

The smile came back, measured and professional. “So, there the guy was. And I just…I just knew. It was like I’d always known. I could just… find the answers there. It was like looking at a painting. Just right there.”

“Is it switched on all the time?”

“No. I… at times. I can’t always control it very well. Sometimes, it’s overwhelming. Other times, I have to work at it.”

“Work at it how?”

“Kind of…” he let out a low breath. “This is weird to explain, you know? It’s kind of… like asking a question. But not out loud. I’ve got to do it like it’s at the front of my mind. Like I’m thinking of a question I want them to answer.”

The director nodded. “Is that what you did with me?”

“Basically. I knew there was something, and I guessed it was you just because you were there. It was a fairly obvious bluff, to be fair.”

“Evidently. But it’s something that you haven’t been prevented from doing yet?”

Shane shook his head. “No. Not yet, anyway.  As long as the person is relatively close to me.”

“How far?”

“I don’t know exactly. Same room, more or less.”

“What size room?”

He gestured around. “Around this size, I reckon.  So still fairly large.”

The Director saw something out of the corner of his eye, but it hadn’t quite made it to his brain yet. Something going on down below. It meant that he missed the illusionist’s question and had to ask him to repeat it.

“I asked what you want me to do.”

The thing he was looking at was still bothering him, but he put it to the back of his mind while he focused on the question. “Well, you just became more effective than a lie detector, and certainly more effective than torture in terms of accurate results, so that’s part of it. Also, there’s enough going on at the moment which we’re trying to contain. You’re unique in terms of your ability, but you aren’t the only… anomaly we’ve come across so far. Or found evidence of.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean… things are happening. Which we can’t explain. And not just in England, but across the world. And we’re still trying to work out how to deal with it.”

“What kind of things?”

“For want of a better word,” the Director said, feeling stupid saying it, but still being bothered by something that was gnawing into his brain, “… magic things.”

Shane looked at him for a moment.  “What’s going on?”

“We don’t know. There are too many things going on at once, and sooner or later, the media is going to start taking it serious – “

“I meant out there. You’ve seen something.” He stood up and walked over to the Director’s side of the table and looked down at Trafalgar Square. The Director turned and looked, and now the thing that had been prodding his brain that his eyes had seen but he hadn’t  been able to comprehend became clear in front of him.

People were moving away from the square. Some of them were running.

Because Trafalgar Square was moving.

The ground was rising, breaking up. It was happening slowly, but enough to see and feel happen right in front of their eyes.

Something was pushing its way up from beneath the earth, and it was breaking its way through the centre of London.


I break through the earth.

I break through the stone.

I rise and I feel the sun on me once again.

It has been so long.

I had forgotten its warmth.

Come to me.

My love.

Come to me.