Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Magic Falls Part Five

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I look at Maria and try to judge if she’s ready to hear this yet.

“The world is changing.” I say. “I thought I knew what was happening, but some things are happening differently than – “

She interrupts me. “You knew that this was happening to me? You knew about the lottery?”

“Not quite,” I say. “I know that you have some… abilities. The geek references suggested that this was you. So it just - ”

She looks at me, her eyebrows creasing into a frown. “Abilities? What are you talking about, abilities?”

She had never let me actually make a point without interrupting me when we were going out either. “ You can…. “ Actually, I could do with her interrupting me here, as I’m not quite sure how to put this. “This isn’t quite how I was expecting this conversation to go. I was expecting you to explain it to me.”

“The point. Get to it.”

“You can make things happen. You can make things come true.”

“No,” she said. “I can tell something is going to happen. Well, I can’t, but I… “

“That’s not how it works,” I say, and I reach out and take her hand. “It’s you. You’re making it happen. You can make it happen.”

She sits down, putting her elbows on the table and her hands clasped in front of her. “That’s ridiculous.”

Her knuckles are whitening. “I know it is, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening.”

“I don’t believe in predeterminism. “

“You write horoscopes.”

“That’s why I don’t believe in it. I make them up and sell them to magazines for idiots.”

“But other people believe in you.” I point out. “That’s part of it. That’s part of how it’s happening.”

“Nobody believes what I write.” She says.

“People… every day, people read your horoscopes and some of them believe them. Some of them take your words and they live their life by them.”

“They’re idiots.” She says. “Why would someone put any stock in them?”

Because… because for some of them, just due to coincidence, your words came true. Someone made a decision based on your writing and they then started believing in you.”

“And that led to me actually being able to see the future?” She asks.

“No. It led to you being able to create it.”

She stands up and walks to look out of the window. “That can’t be true. What if I… what if I said someone died?”

“Then they could.”

“I suppose I could do humanity a favour and predict that Margaret Thatcher dies tonig -I’m joking. I’m joking, okay?” she amends herself in response to me looking at her. 

I laugh. “I know. But yes, you could do that and it might happen.”

“Why ‘might’?” Why not “would”?”

“You want to kill people?”

“No. Well, no more than anyone else,” she says. “No. No, It’s Just – It’s a lot to take in. That’s…some serious power.”

“It’s why I’m talking to you about it.” I say. “Because you need to know, so you don’t do anything dangerous.”

“I don’t want it”, she says. “How do I get rid of it? This is too much power for me to deal with.”

“You don’t get a choice,” I tell her. “I mean, you can just not write it, but…you can help people with this.”

“…” She tries to think of something to say, but for the first time in a long time, I see her at a loss for words. Eventually, she just mutters. “This is ridiculous.”

“I know,” I say. “I’m sorry.”

“How do you know about all of this?”

I think about how to phrase the answer. “I’ve seen it before.”

“You saw the future?”


“You know how that sounds, don’t you?”


“I mean, it sounds crazy.”

“You’re saying that, and you just predicted the lottery results and the number of people who won.”

She nods, fear slipping back into her eyes. “Yeah…”

“So I can tell the future. You can tell it what to do.”

She stands up and makes her way to the door, opening it for me. “I want you to go now. I need to take this all in. Go back to skinny bitch.”

I follow her. “If you need to talk about this at any point, just call me. Talk to me online. Whatever works for you.”

She nods. “This is all going to get bad, isn’t it?”


“How bad?”


“Take care, Darren.” She says, softly closing the door. “I’ll talk to you soon.”

I am making my way back through London when I receive a phone call.

It’s Nina.

“Hello, you.” I answer.

Her voice is cold and angry. “Where are you?”


“You told me you were in work. I popped in to see if you wanted to join me for lunch. I was trying to be nice. And they told me you’ve not been in for days.”

I don’t know what to say. “Oh.” I feel pathetic and stupid.

“Darren, I want you to stop lying to me and tell me what’s going on.”

Monday, 28 January 2013

NaNoWriWee - Can Chris write a novella in 30 hours?

UPDATE - My entry won and was published by HarperCollins! Go to the link to the right to buy it for just 99p!

I spent the weekend taking part in the #NaNoWriWee challenge, which had been set by the Kernel Magazine, and supported by HarperCollins as part of their Authonomy/Friday Project brand.

NaNoWriWee is short for the National Novel Writing Weekend, and is somewhat in tribute to the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), during which a ludicrous amount of people try to write a novel in a month. The target wordcount is 50,000, which translates to a fairly slim paperback novel.

The NaNoWriWee challenge was to write a substantial piece of fiction in 30 hours.  A novella, effectively, with a rough target of around 20,000 words.

I tried in 2006, and failed hilariously. While the story I wrote ended up being over 90,000 words, it took me four years. My next attempt at a novel took me two years to write a first draft at 80,000 words. I am not a fast writer. There have been times when writing has been painful and slow and has felt like I’ve been gouging the words out of my skin with my nails.

Writing 20,000 words in a weekend? For anyone reading Magic Falls, my weekly serial, that’s roughly 30 entries worth in one go. For me, this was the writing equivalent of trying to climb a mountain.

As I live in London, I registered to take part in a shared writing space provided by The Kernel, along with 15 others, where they kept us well fed and supplied with caffeine. I chose to do this partially for the social aspect, but primarily because I didn’t trust myself to keep distractions down to a minimum. They had been expecting more people, but that's the nature of a lot of these things, especially when confirmation of places was fairly late. Many more people registered to start online and around 110 people have been reported as submitting finished pieces.

I found out about it on Wednesday, and had a very rough plot by Thursday. It involved a man being framed for murder and it involved the extra sci-fi aspect of a world where nanotechnology injected into eyeballs is an accepted and regularly used thing. I had no ending, and no character names, and I wasn’t sure about what would happen, but I did have a beginning, a middle and a climax. I just didn’t know what would happen at the climax.

I didn’t have much time for it, and this meant that throughout the weekend, I had no option but to go with first instincts. It is difficult to explain how frightening and exhilarating that is.

Halfway through the story, I revealed a major plot point. Almost exactly on 10,000 words.

This wasn’t just a plot point, incidentally. It was the entire thrust of the story.

And I was suddenly convinced that it was shit and didn’t work. The reader would obviously throw the novella aside at this point and declare me an idiot. And if they were reading it on an e-reader, they would blame me for it breaking when they threw it aside and would sue me. I lost confidence in it. Completely.

But I didn’t have anything else. Without this, I had no story. I had another 10,000 words to fill, and no idea what would go into them.

Normally, at this point, I would put it aside, and would think about it, and decide if I needed to replace it with something else, and what else the story could be. Or, even worse, I would just give up on it and move onto something else.

I didn’t have that option this time. Not least because I’d intentionally made clear on facebook and twitter that 
I was doing it. I’d told people that I was going to complete this, and I couldn’t give up on it without having to be public about that as well.

So I had to ignore my fears on it, and plough ahead with the story, trusting in my first instincts and trusting in my ability to make it work.

And I ended up being really quite happy with it. It was freeing, if anything. After all, I could always go back and add more in to build up this plot twist, so it would be surprising, but it wouldn’t completely come out of nowhere.

Have I ended up completely happy with the story?

No. I have at least one section that is info-dump central, although it does allow for other things to happen later, but it isn’t as smooth as I would have liked. I did edit it down a bit, but it wasn’t quite as organic as I’d have liked. On the plus side, I think it is at least interesting info-dump central, so that’s not quite as bad as it could have been either.

I wrote 13,000 words in day one, and on day two I added another 7,000 and then edited and tweaked it all a little. But I’ve ended up with 20,000 words that all hang together pretty well and tell a complete story from beginning to end.

Learning to ignore that little voice in your head that only allows you to commit words to the page when you have complete confidence in them is definitely worthwhile. Sure, you’ll write some things you’re not happy with, but you’ll write some things you end up liking as well.

From talking to other people, the main two pieces of advice that I would impart are:

1 – Don’t read back over what you've just written.

Really, don’t. Not yet. Keep going for a while first, and when you do read back, be aware that you’re going to hate it the first time. The first time you re-read it, you’re going to spot all the stuff that you did wrong, and you’re going to convince yourself that you shouldn't be allowed access to any writing materials. Including chalk and crayon – in case you accidentally scrawl a complete sentence that someone else reads.

The second time? You’re going to start seeing some of the stuff that you did well. It’s primarily that little voice again telling you to give up. Talking of which…

2 – You can do this.

Really. You actually can. Stop listening to that voice. Listen to the one that wants to tell the story. That’s the one that’s right.

The worst thing that happens? It isn’t good.

YOU ARE ON THE INTERNET. You can find terrible writing EVERYWHERE. You will find, within minutes of searching, something that is far, far worse than what you wrote. You are not a terrible writer, and even if you are, you won’t get any better by continually not writing.

So. In conclusion. NaNoWriWee 2013. I enjoyed it, I learned a lot, and as far as I was concerned, it was a success.

Will I do NaNoWriWee 2014? I don’t know. I may. But I’m certainly glad that I did this one.

If my story stands a chance of being published, it will be made public as part of the process. I’ll be linking to it from here.

If it doesn’t? Then I’m just going to post it on here for you to read.

Oh, and if you’re interested enough to read it in the meantime, send me your email address on twitter and I’ll send it to you.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Magic Falls Part Four

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The snow isn't overly heavy, but it does slow my journey down. A tube journey, a train and a bus, until I’m at a familiar block of flats. In the lift on the way up, I regret misleading Nina. She thinks I’m at work, but this is a visit that I have to make, and it would involve too much explaining right now.

When I can explain it to her, I will. I promise that to myself.

I get to a door that I haven’t been to in some time. If I hesitate, I’ll change my mind, so I don’t dare. Trying not to think about what I'm doing, I knock on the door.

"Who is it?" Maria calls from the other side of the door.

"...it's Darren," I say.

"Darren?" She says, and opens the door as much as the chain inside will allow. "What are you doing here?"

I wish she could just open the door. It's going to be difficult enough to get her to talk to me without having a door between us.

"I came to talk to you."

"You never come to talk to me. We sometimes talk online. You maybe sometimes walk wistfully in the park and think about calling me and then don't. Why have you come to talk to me?"

"It's about the lottery," I say.

“What does that have to do with me?” She asks.

“The numbers from ‘Lost’ and ‘forty-two forty-two’?” I say. “Who else could it be?”

She closes the door in my face, and I hear a metallic rattling on the other side. A moment later, she opens the door to let me in.

She looks tired and stressed. She doesn’t wear any makeup, and she’s dressed in black jeans and a black hoodie with the logo of an obscure folk-rock band. This means that she hasn’t been out today, which is unusual for her.

I walk behind her as she makes her way towards the kitchen. She doesn't acknowledge me in any other way than to continue talking.

"They're going to burn me at the stake for being a witch. I'm genuinely worried about that."

"They don't do that any more, Maria." I point out. "Nobody would even know how to do it."

"Rubbish. Boy Scouts and Girl Guides. The small, evil little harbingers of death. They'd set the fire while the rest of them just wait and watch."

"So, it was you?"

"Burning me at the stake would be very bad. I'm allergic to fire."

"That's a yes, then?"

"I don't know. I didn't mean to do anything, but that doesn't count for anything when the Judge decides that my sentence should be death by molotov cocktail. Would you like a cup of tea? If I'm going to die, I should at least be caffeinated."

"A cup of tea would be good," I say. "Maria."


"How are you?"

She laughs somewhere between nervousness and hysteria. "I'm genuinely quite frightened, Darren."

"That's why I'm here," I say.

"Does Nina know you're here?"

I wish she hadn't asked that. "No, she doesn't."


Maria writes the horoscope for a number of websites, and at least two popular women's magazines. We were also in a long-term relationship before I met Nina.

We split up for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that we were better friends than lovers. Or at least, we would have been if we hadn't been lovers. It was too awkward and too difficult for either of us to overcome to the point necessary to be casual enough to be friends. Instead, we drifted into being acquaintances. Although every now and then we tried.

Nina hates her. I thought they would get on, and introduced them to each other. It didn’t work out.

“I’m sorry, but I can’t stand her,” Nina told me later. “I’m sure she’s nice… well, I’m not, actually. That’s the problem. There’s something about her that makes me think she’s sneering at us behind our backs.”

“She’s not like that,” I told her.

“So when you were with her, she didn’t sneer about people behind their backs to you?”

“No. Well… no. She could be a bit…” I wanted to say ‘bitchy’. “…judgemental, maybe.”

“Well, I don’t want to give her more ammunition to judge me. It’s not that I’m being jealous, and I don’t entirely know why I’m reacting to her like this. But I am. Maybe I am being jealous. I don’t know. But I don’t think I can be around her.”

I hoped she’d come around eventually. “Okay.”

“I’m not stopping you spending time with her. I get why it’s important. I just don’t want to spend years pretending to be friends with her.”

I was a little thrown and upset by this, but I didn’t try too hard to bring her round on it. Things were too awkward with Maria anyway.

At the same time, I thought Nina misjudged her. Sure, Maria could be a bit gossipy at times, but she wasn’t the kind to sneer about people behind their backs.


“How is skinny bitch?” Maria asks, passing me a mug of tea.

“She’s fine.”

“Is she still skinny?” She sits down on a stool.


“I hate her. Luckily, she hates me, so she’ll enjoy seeing me burnt. I am glad I can sacrifice myself for your happiness. This will give me comfort when the smoke is suffocating me and the heat is overwhelming me. At least skinny bitch will be happy and Darren’s life will be easier.”

“They’re not going to burn you.”

“They burn witches. They just keep it quiet.”

“Yes, but you’re a white witch, so you’ll be fine.”

“I am not a white witch, and saying so suggests a level of research that begins and ends with The Wizard of Bloody Oz. There’s no such thing as a White Witch, in the same way that we’re not Devil worshippers, because in witchcraft, there’s no such thing as Hell. It’s a Christian concept that got forced onto paganism, and you’re smiling because you’re mocking me, you unspeakable bastard. I know seven ways to kill you with this teaspoon and none of them involve magic and only three of them aren't excruciatingly painful.”

She stops and then stands up and  turns away from me. I recognise her bursts of energy followed by crashing from our time together. I knew she would do this, which is why I teased her slightly. I needed to ride the wave a little bit so that I could get her to actually talk.


She doesn’t turn around, but says in a small voice “Yes?”

“Are you okay?”

“No, I’m not.”

“What happened with the lottery? How did you do it?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know how it happened.” She is agitated.

“Tell me about it, then.”

“I… it started happening a little while ago.”

“Things coming true?”

“Yes,” she says. “I mean, they’re horoscopes. They’re not true. I know they’re not. I write them, and I make them bloody up.” She grasps the counter, and I see her knuckles are pale.

“When did it start?”

“I’m not sure. I just noticed somewhere along the lines that I was hearing about events that I’d predicted. Nothing major, just… a pisces friend getting a new job the day after I had that written down. A Scorpio meeting a new love interest hours after the print run. Nothing major, but it was happening often enough to be noticeable.”

“You started testing it?”

“Just a little,” she said, as her knuckle continued to whiten. “I started putting slightly more specific details in, and I kept finding out about them coming true as well. It bothered me. It wasn’t something I could control.”

“So you thought you’d push it further?”

She turns around and looks at me. “I put something ridiculous in. Douglas Adams and a TV show and the lottery. And it came true too. And now I don’t know what that means, and I’m scared.”

“Where did you publish it?” I ask.

“In one of the magazines. Not the ones with big sales numbers, thankfully. Nobody’s been in touch, which means nobody’s noticed, which doesn’t do huge amounts for my ego, but I think is probably a good thing overall.”

“More than likely. For the time being, you’re going to have to hold off doing anything with it.”

She nods. “I know. I’m not going to say anything controversial. I’m going to try and get paid work doing something else.”

“This is only going to get worse.” I tell her. “I’m sorry for that, but it is.”

“How did you know?”

“I just know that it’s going to get worse. You’re going to have to let other people in, and talk to them.”

“No,” she says. “I didn’t ask you how you know. I asked you how you knew.”

“Knew what?”

“Knew that it was me?” She says.

“I told you. The geek references. It was obvious. It had to be you.”

“No, I mean…” She stops, and looks at me, scared now. “How did you know that what I was writing was coming true?”

"Ah," I say, and I put the empty mug down.

"Darren, really." She says. "How did you know that all this was happening?"

I look at her, and after a moment, I respond.

“That…” I say, “is where it gets complicated.”

Part Five

Monday, 14 January 2013

Magic Falls - Part Three

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“You don’t know me,” I say. “But you’re right. With everything. You just don’t know it yet.”

“Look, I’m really sorry,” Jack says to me. “But I have no idea what you’re talking about. Do you want a book signing or something?”

“No. But we need to talk.”

“About what?” He asks. He pushes his glasses back, and looks around. He looks more nervous than I’d noticed.

“About the Ravens. You know what that means.”

“It’s a legend. That’s all.” He says. “Some crazy person read the legend and tried to make it come true. It’s not… look, I know the reputation that I have, but this isn’t the kind of thing – “

“Magic’s falling,” I say. “It’s started, and we need to stop it. This is all your idea. You already know it.”

He looks scared. I’ve miscalculated this. “Look, I’m going to go now. It was interesting talking to you.”

I pass him a piece of paper. “Please, just take this.” I say. “Please. It’s got my phone number on it. Call me when you’ve thought this over a bit. You know what I’m talking about.”

He takes the piece of paper, more to shut me up than anything. “Okay, thanks. Take care.” He says, before getting into his car.

As he starts the engine, I say it again to him. “It’s falling, Jack. You’ve been thinking of the Knights. And you’re right. It’s the only way.”

A haunted look crosses his face, and he frowns. “Good bye.” He says, and drives away.

I look down.

The piece of paper is on the ground.


“I don’t believe this,” Nina says, looking at the television screen as I walk in. “Have you seen it?”

I’d been expecting her to be anxious to have the conversation she’d talked about earlier, so I am somewhat surprised. “Seen what?”

“The lottery news.” She looks at me as if it is self-explanatory, and seems amused that I don’t know.

“What lottery news? I’ve been catching up with someone, so I hadn’t – “

“Four thousand, two hundred and forty-two people won the lottery last night.”

I hadn’t been expecting that at all. “What do you mean?” I asked.

“I mean four thousand, two hundred and forty-two people won the jackpot on the lottery last night.”

I frown, confused. “That’s… strange.” I say, unsure what else to say.

“They’ve not won much each. Nobody seems very happy about it. It gets weirder.” She says.

“How?” I ask, hanging my coat up.

“The numbers were four, eight, fifteen, sixteen, twenty-three and forty-two.“

I stop, my hand still on my coat. I am frozen for a moment, because something is gnawing at the back of my brain. “Why do those numbers ring a bell?” I ask. I leave the coat and walk into the room. Nina is grinning and almost bouncing on her chair.

“You know it, come on.” She says to me.

“Damn it, what are they? It’s not the Fibonnaci sequence…”

“No, it isn’t.”

“It’s not the Valley of Fear or something like that…”

“You know it. Come on. Everyone’s talking about this on twitter.”

“Prime numb…no, of course not.” I correct myself, and look towards the screen, hoping for some clue, but she has paused the screen.





“Lost.” She confirms.

“The TV show?”

“That’s the one.”

“I…” She’s right. Nina had been more of a fan of the TV series than I, but I watched parts of it. The sequence of numbers had been part of a plot point. “Wow.”

Something else is now doing more than gnawing at my brain, and is now instead just stabbing it repeatedly and urgently.

“Isn’t it weird?”

“It’s weird.”

“Darren?” she asks.


“Are we okay?”

I walk over to her and hold her. “We are, I promise.”

I can feel her relief as she buries her face into my shoulder.

“It feels like something’s going on.” She says. “Something you know about but I don’t.”

“I…” I hesitate. “I’m trying to figure it out myself. Can we talk about it when I’m more ready?” I’m willing to talk about it now, but I really don’t know where to begin.

“When you’re ready. As long as we’re okay.”

“We will, I promise. I just… need to work some stuff out. It’s not us.”


I stand there in somewhat awkward silence. I’m not sure what to say.

Nina turns back to the television. “It’s so weird about that lottery thing.”

“Yeah,” I say. “Weird.”

That stabbing in my brain becomes clear.. Damn it. Of course. The lottery. It had to be her. I should have talked to her before I spoke to Jack. It wasn’t just the numbers that were picked. She may as well have signed the thing.

I was going to have to speak to Maria.


Part Four

Monday, 7 January 2013

Magic Falls - Part Two

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I called in sick to work this week, leading to raised eyebrows with regards to my commitment to my role. This is fair, considering that I'm perfectly healthy and I now have no commitment to my job at all.

I used to. I work in local government and I used to find it an important, worthwhile thing to do. That has now all changed, as my priorities have changed.

I look at my bank account. I do not remember it having quite as much money in, but it isn’t enough to see me through the next year. A few months at best.

It’s a start. I’ll sort out something after that if I need to.

Nina is concerned, and I do not blame her. I've pretended to be ill (indefinable exhaustion and nausea) to work, but she knows that I'm essentially fine. She thinks that I am depressed. That I am avoiding work and that I am avoiding the issue. She’s tried to raise it with me, but I can’t bring myself to talk about it. She knows me well enough to accurately say why I would be acting in this kind of way under most circumstances. Although these are not most circumstances.

Partially, I want to spend more time with her. Partially, there are things I have to do, but every minute I spend with her is a bonus. She is a freelance writer, which means quite a lot of time spent at home, so I’m taking every extra minute with her that I can. When we try to talk about it, though, it feels like I’m already grieving for her.

How can I tell her? I want to. I want to tell her that I know the world is going to end, and that the war is coming. I want to tell her that I know she is going to die in order to attempt to try and stop it happening.

But I don’t know how to do it. I don’t know how to start telling her. The only way I can console myself for now is the knowledge that there is time. And also the knowledge that things are not happening as they should. The ravens proved that. There may be the possibility that –

No. I can’t hope. I can’t allow myself to hope. I have to figure things out first, and then I can decide if there is anything I can do.

“You’re going out?” She asks, looking up from her computer. She looks upset, and I hate myself for causing that.

“I won’t be long, I promise.” I say. “A few hours or so. I’ll be back before we eat.”

“Darren?” She asks.


“When you get back, can we have a bit of a chat?”

“Sure. What about?”

“Nothing,” she says and polishes her glasses. “I just… I don’t know what’s going on.”

“There’s…” I try to complete the sentence and tell her that there’s nothing going on, but it catches in my throat. I can’t bring myself to lie to her. “Of course we can have a chat. I’m sorry for worrying you.”


It’s the first time out of the house in days. I haven’t wanted to start this. If I start it, it means accepting that it’s real, and I still don’t feel ready to do that.

But I have to. And I have to see Jack Whittaker. He’s a writer and lecturer. He writes conspiracy theories of the kind that I used to write off as crap and self-help books that I hate. He fills town halls and small venues with people who will come to hear him speak. He is also the person I trust more than anyone else right now.

He is currently inside a bookshop, railing against the Church and religious belief, in a talk he calls “On the Sixth Day, Man Created God”. I have heard it too many times already. I’ve sat up drinking with Jack while he expounded on the theories behind it, and the anger it causes in him. I’ve given him the title for the book he’s working on that. I came up with it at three o’clock in the morning eating halloumi wraps in a late night kebab shop.

The audience leaves, and I wait in the car park, near his car. I know he’ll be out soon. He finishes signing copies of his latest book, and talks to people for a while. I stand back, out of the way. I don’t want to disturb him, I tell myself. Although truthfully, I’m just hesitant and scared of starting this.

Finally, after forty cold and damp minutes, he starts saying ‘goodbye’ to the last of the people that came to see him. I reflect that I may well have actually made myself ill by standing out this long. I should have come prepared with a scarf, gloves, flask of hot drink and perhaps a hotel room.

He walks to the car, and I freeze. He puts the key into the lock and is about to get in when I finally overcome my hesitation and say his name.


He looks over at me.


I walk out of the shadows and stand directly in front of him.

"It’s started. The ravens have left the Tower, Jack. That wasn't meant to happen."

The man who I have spent so much time working with, the man who has become closer to me than my own brother, the man who knows me better than anyone other than Nina looks at me, confused.

“Who are you?” he asks.