This is a bit of an experiment, I wanted to see how effectively I could work on character building purely through conversation, so if it’s not mega polished, forgive me!
A couple of questions for the readers!
Who do you think is talking? What do you think I put across about their personalities?
“I hate it. It’s dark, cold, so lonely but it’s full of others just like me. But they just sit there in silence. Each one more silent than the last. Each different on the outside. We have different things on the inside. Yet we are all grouped to this one purpose.”
“I don’t know what you’re complaining about. I’m trapped here, tethered to the wall. You get to see the world.”
“I get to see the inside of hotel bedrooms. The backs of taxis.”
“I’d rather that than stay at home all day like I do now. But they’ll never let me go. They can change me, but that will just be losing a dead part of me, as they give me a new lease of life. It doesn’t make the new one any better than the old.”
“At least you can be fixed. At least once a part of you dies you don’t get thrown out with it. It happened to the others that came with me. They said we weren’t worth it. One got thrown away in Corfu and the other is still upstairs, but he’s got no purpose.”
“Pah. It’s a hard life being young, isn’t it? Folks were made of stronger stuff back in my day. But I’m falling apart myself. I can sense myself fading away.”
“You’re distinguished. I’m modern and unsentimental. Antiques are more valuable than I’ll ever be.”
“Please, I’m no antique. I came to this house in ’74. I’m kitsch. I’m tacky. I’m no antique.”
“But you’re reliable. I’d rather have that than worry every journey I go on that it’ll be my last. While you sit there, just lighting up the whole room. And you think you have reason to complain?”
“I didn’t say I wasn’t practical. I’m just dated. They’ll get some young pretty thing in and I’ll be outside waiting for the old iron man to pick me up.”
“Don’t be so dramatic, they’ll probably just put you upstairs.”
“Hah, I’ve never even seen upstairs Mr International. What makes you think I’m worth keeping?”
“Sentimentality, like I said. Anyway, I’d have your job over sitting in that cold bleak nothing for hours on end, waiting to be dragged around a foreign country, dumped in a room, be turned inside out over the course of a week and then crammed full again, only to be dragged back to that prison. You see them every day. I see them every year. Only once. They just store me away to keep me quiet until then.”
“Come on Kevin, we have to go. You can give voices to the furniture when we get back from Canada.”
Edward Lowbury’s 1974 collection of poetry: The Night Watchman was a lucky find at my local Oxfam book shop. Honestly, I knew I wasn’t going to have a hope in hell finishing A Thousand Splendid Suns anywhere near my self-imposed deadline, so I searched the stock room shelves for an interesting looking book of poetry, rather than using my Seamus Heaney wild card on my book shelf upstairs.
Edward Lowbury was an English poet and internationally recognised bacteriologist and pathologist. It struck me as an extraordinarily unique combination, but I went into reading his poetry not knowing his life story, just expecting a relatively unremarkable book of seventies poetry. The book itself was a pleasant surprise. The collection holds a fascinating tone. There is definite influence from his medical background which creates a unique air which his poems flow through. Weighty themes such as death, aging and the ideas of afterlives and previous lives are exquisitely handled. The nature it brings to the collection is one of growth. The collection is almost temporal, it flits back and forth through different ages and characters in such a way that challenges, yet satisfies. He toys with nature and colour and entwines these motifs carefully in several poems in the collection. His phrasing creates several layers of meaning, and through this his skill is really brought to light.
A poem can appear to be about one thing on the surface, but multitude of themes and ideas can be drawn out of it with a little digging through his rhetoric and manipulations. He is also extremely skilled at rhyming which perhaps harks back to the Georgian poets his poetry reflects, while it knocks on the door of the modernist Movement poetry. ‘Colour Symphony’ a prime example of this. Lowbury almost effortlessly adheres to a strict and awkward rhyme scheme which sits there waiting for half of the poem before you notice it. The awkwardness plays to its strengths, making for an interestingly jarring poem upon a reread. But he achieves this without causing the poems to sound heavy. The entire collection has a nature of joviality and eccentricity which really suits the poems.
‘Falls’ introduces the collection perfectly by setting up the inherent nature of the collection in the wistful yet scientific: “Pulled by the sky’s gravitation / smoke falls upwards.” The collection is full of similar gems. The poem ‘Having a Heavenly Time,’ is almost groan-worthy in its humour, yet still feels sentimental and wonderfully ironic. Burial at Sea is darker, yet still plays around the theme of death in a fascinating way.
But the collection for me is characterised in its duality by the final poem. Lowbury’s poetry and his medical scientific knowledge go hand in hand very nicely throughout the collection, and the almost contrasting themes are brought together in the excellently titled: ‘Wearing Two Hats,’ which targets significant themes once again, with the utter jollity of an AABBCCDD (and so on) rhyme scheme. He fervently contests his duality. “So in alternate runs / I’m doctor, scribbler; never both at once / and what my friends my see / is a split personality.” I thank him for his split personality. It makes a stellar few pages of poetry.
The Night Watchman can be found on Amazon.co.uk from £2.15
I’m well used to minimalist stories, and in my opinion if you can get an emotional moment into just a few short words then you really can end up making something wonderful. But that’s usually for other people to decide. For this task, I’ve done a 50 word story. I’ve become rather fond of 33 word stories, but for this one the extra 17 was definitely needed. Hope you enjoy!
I knew the letter would never have reached its destination. I kept it safe. I wished I knew the person who’d sent it. It was her heartbreak and her anguish, written in red upon a creased note, which pained me most.
Plees can I have mummy bak
Well, as you may have noticed I skipped task three, the one with the songs. Frankly, I couldn’t think of anything, it was getting late, I was tired and I had absolutely no ideas. It was a toss up between writing something I wasn’t proud of, or just leaving it. So I left it. Anyway, I’m back a little late with this one, but it’s here, and the next one will be posted later today! (mumbles something about views then gets money signs in his eyes).
The story I’ve written will be the first part of a three part lore story for my current project Body of Matter. Body of Matter will be a post apocalypse science fiction novel about the planet (and most specifically rural England) which has been overrun by a completely non-malicious plant life form. However this plant ejects spores which are a significant danger to humans. They used humans as hosts, which has the effect of severe brain numbing, and eventually grows into a large, vulgar growth, which may eventually drain its host of all its energy and life. In the novel, a scientist with OCD, has been working on sterilisation, to prevent the growths from forming on humans. His laboratory becomes uninhabitable, and all of his colleagues have left. So eventually he has no choice but to leave. He then comes across a boy who has been living rough, in a forest, and appears to have been since before it all began. This boy may be the answer to his research.
To get a feel for the world, and the characters, I have been writing what I call lore stories. I pick a character and work on their own story. This is the story of Lola Talleigh. I have no idea what the title is yet, but I’ll come up with something!
The air was red with spores. The best the girl could do was stay indoors, stay low. Cover her skin. She could see them, from underneath her duvet. They wafted innocently past the window, but the sight of them to sixteen year old Lola Talleigh was more terrifying than she ever could have imagined. The clock had long since stopped. It now sat at eighteen minutes to five, quiet and sullen. Its tick-tock which once reverberated through the cottage was a mere memory. It still played through Lola’s mind like an old tape recorder stuck on a loop.
She’d grown up with the sound of that clock, made by her Grandfather on her father’s side, but she had no clue how to wind it. So now it just hung on the wall, lifeless. The spore cloud passing by began to thin out. To think, that many millions of the microscopic objects which filled the air came from one source.
Lola knew that the plant was at the point of release a few days earlier. She’d been out, scavenging for food in the abandoned house of Mrs Beechenhurst and her husband when she’d spotted the thing up on the side of the valley. She was far enough away that it wouldn’t sense her. But she could still see its lurid pink membrane which pulsed every few seconds, and the sap which it expelled onto the browning grass below it reflected sunlight into the Beechenhurst’s bay window. A sheep grazed next to it, its eyes bulging and its wool matted. But it was alive. It was healthy. The spores needed human hosts.
The rest of the village had long since gone, and now her family were the only inhabitants in the village of Capel Afon. Her younger brother, Alan, would have been starting secondary school this year, but the schools were closed apart from in the protected areas of the country. The areas the plants were strictly controlled. Those places were few, far between, and expensive.
Lola pushed a dented ASDA trolley, which she had filled with the morsels which she’d discovered. A large tin of peaches and three packs of dried noodles was all she could show for her efforts. The cupboards were mostly empty other than that and dust and stale air.
She pushed the trolley back down the central street to their house. The road looked unscathed. There was no damage to the buildings, and only a small amount of litter and other debris could be seen blowing from the odd open bin bag. Lola walked over to one and emptied it onto the pavement, it was mostly paper waste, but something caught her eye. She bent down and picked up a pair of batteries, brushing them off on her jeans.
She had returned home to an argument. Her father, Ted, ever the realist, was fuming at her mother’s resilience when it came to leaving the house. As far as she was concerned, the house was the best place to stay, and once everything was all sorted, once the plants things, as she called them, were disposed of, only then would she go outside. They’d need somewhere to go back to.
“This is all I could find. We’ve looked everywhere,” said Lola to her mother.
“Well what do you suggest? We can’t as well move out of here can we? We’re stuck here, so we will make do.”
“Mum… We can’t, there’s nothing. You’ve not been out there in months.”
Lola’s father chimed in: “Amanda, she’s right, honestly. We’ve taken everything this village has to offer. We don’t have a choice. Once the food we have has been used up, we pack up and we go.”
“Oh,” said Amanda, “and where do you suggest we go?”
“I hear Bristol is protected, as are Birmingham and Cardiff. Aberystwyth might be as well,” he replied.
“Oh and of course they’ll let the common-folk like us in without a second’s thought, right?”
“Mum…” said Lola, “we have to try something.”
“Shut up. I was born here and I don’t want to leave. This is my mother’s house and it was her mother’s.” Amanda briskly walked to the door and turned to climb the stairs.
Her husband interrupted: “Amanda, please, we’ll starve here.”
“I know,” she said, “better load up the car.”
Amanda could not bring herself to part with a little luxury. She bagged up shampoo, body butter, face cream and half of the contents of her toiletries cupboard. She then set about carefully picking outfits. She knew that Tim would consider it a waste of space, but she couldn’t help herself. Downstairs, the remaining three followed Tim’s orders, gathering up food, matches, first aid and bottling water.
When his wife came down, Tim grazed her bags with a stony glare. Saying nothing, he carried them out to the car.
“I hope she’s packed something useful,” he whispered to Lola as he passed her.
I hope you enjoyed this first part of the story, I enjoyed writing it, getting into the world depicted in the novel. I’m planning on writing it for NaNoWriMo, so the more familiar I am with the world the better.
I have a few comment questions!
What do you think of the characters?
Could any be more developed?
What do you think of the setting?
Day 2 of writing 101 and we have been set a descriptive piece, a nice and relaxing one for me. I’ll won’t bog down with the details, I’ll just let the piece speak for itself. In all honesty it’s not a real place, it’s an amalgamation of several places. The outdoors, in countryside and woodland is where I draw a lot of my own personal inspiration. So I just had to use that sort of setting for this piece. I find writing about nature and the countryside fascinating.
Water droplets fall with a muted thud onto the thick clumps of soil. The rain had just left, leaving behind it gloss and particles of light which settled carefully on each and every leaf. The stream flows quickly, cleaving the wood in two. A leaf, knocked from its tree by a female blackbird, making its nest, wafts downwind. Droplets are ejected from it and are pulled into the frothing riffle. Their splash is immediately lost to the rapid water. The stream winds its way through the wood to a clearing, where the banks grow steeper. Many a child has fallen in here amidst the scream of worried mothers and the smell of water weed.
The clearing closes around the stream and the sun is blocked by a wave of dark trees. Speckles of sunlight are cast on the ground, mottling it as if the twigs, soil and fallen leaves were earthen marble. Quietly, a squirrel makes his way to the edge of the water. He looks down at his distorted reflection before busying himself, scratching at the loose soil with his front paws. His prize, a horse chestnut, lies next to him.
He rises. Back straight. He feels the vibrations through the earth. With one forlorn glance at his nut he runs to the nearest tree. A grey blur runs headlong at the tree. The leaves quiver with the sudden, incessant barking. The dog fires herself up the trunk in leaps and bounds, but she reaches no higher than a foot in the air. The squirrel is too preoccupied. He leaps from tree to tree. The dog pursues him. But he’s long gone. He’d find his nut later. The dog gives up, panting. She can hear her owner calling her back.
The wood lies quiet. The stream and the birds are the only noises for miles.
A couple of feedback questions!
Do you think this piece sets the scene I’m trying to build up well? Just the image of the woodland.
And, are there any points which could definitely be improved or added?
I’ve been thinking for a while that I need to give this blog some thought. Frankly, it’s felt a little stagnant to me so I’m taking action!
Firstly, I’m calling it in on Project 365. I’m not a photographer and I have never been. My pictures are distinctly average and they are getting to the point where I am honestly seeing them as a chore rather than as something I want to do. I’ve enjoyed the forty-five pictures I have up already and I will certainly write some more 33 word stories. But the issue I’m having is that I never wanted my blog to be mostly photos with 33 word stories and frankly they are taking over in a huge way. The other problem is that I don’t have the motivation sometimes. It gets too late in the day and then I have to find something interesting in the house which I can take a picture of. Again. It’s getting uninspiring, especially as I still have 320 more photos to take and captions to write at this stage. So, I’ll follow the format sometimes, take a picture, post it up, but not every day.
My reviews! They will no longer be appearing on Thursdays because for some reason I can’t seem to keep to a Thursday deadline. As such, I’m moving them to Sundays. I’m working now, so I have travel time to read and the weekend to work on a review would be great. I’m also planning on alternating the reviews between short stories and poetry one week and a novel the next. It’s just getting seriously difficult clearing a novel a week, so I think I need some let up. So this Sunday, I’ll probably be looking at Human Chain by Seamus Heaney.
Thirdly, Writing 101 has started again and seeing as I missed it the first time around I’m going to be doing it now. For those who don’t know, Writing 101 is basically a blogging and writing motivation course. It lasts for 20 days and the objective is to blog or write every day and post it up. There are different prompts which come out each day and then I take them as I will and write something. The idea is to get better at blogging and writing and get yourself into a good habit of writing every day and reading every day. I think it’s a great idea!
The first task we have is a stream of consciousness narrative. We have been set the task of writing solidly for 20 minutes about whatever comes to mind. So…
Right, okay, you know when you’re in the bathroom and the light is flickering on and off because it’s never really worked. Well that just happened. It was freaky. It always reminds me of Dead Space, the game where you wander around the abandoned corridors of an equally abandoned space station hoping you don’t get your head torn off by a large alien zombie thing. Speaking of aliens, did anyone happen to catch Doctor Who the other night? Not a bad episode, I thought, though I may not have been properly concentrating. It’s difficult being on your laptop and watching something at the same time sometimes. Causes complications. But there you go. Anyway, where was I? I wasn’t really anywhere. I mean. I am sitting in the lounge right now. My laptop is on the coffee table and I’m thinking damn I really wish I had got myself a drink before sitting down and writing this. I still have about 17 minutes to go and I already feel like my mouth is full of salt. I suppose it’s good practice for NaNoWriMo though. Which I am looking forward to A LOT. I’m going to in it this year, and this time I won’t forget about picking up the prizes afterwards. ‘m also going to plan a lot more successfully than I did last time. This is the thing I find about writing, I always plan really well to a point and then I don’t have anywhere to go after that. My first novel was called Ranarah and I was co-writing it with my Dad,. But I found myself completely stuck as we both had it meticulously planned out, then realised that it was far far far too short. So we had to ad more plot onto the end and that was not an easy task to do (even though it was supposed to be the start of a series). But there you go. I’ve dropped that project now. My second novel was No Name Place, which I did for NaN0 last year after a failed attempt at it from a few years ago. I am pleased to say I won. Just. But as I mentioned, it wasn’t planned enough. Anyway. This stream of consciousness narrative has taken a rather linear turn so I’m going to write about cups. Cups are receptacles which hold a liquid or sometimes a powdered solid. They can be used for measuring in such a clever way as one cup can be more or less any size, but provided the proportions are all right, your cake will come out as a cake rather than as a lump of charred flour. I almost wrote flower then but I went back and changed it. Is that allowed? Am I allowed to change things? I might have changed something right there but you’ll never know. Cups is a game invented on Friends by Chandler in a last ditch attempt to get Joey to accept some money from him. I have always wanted to play cups. Someone has probably made a best guess at the rules so I wonder if that’s possible. My back and neck are starting to ache because my posture is horrible right now. I really should have done this sitting at a proper table instead of in the lounge. But it’s too late to move now so I’ll just put my laptop on my lap like it’s not supposed to be put. That’s better. The lack of paragraphing in this is bothering me so I’m going to put one in.
Apologies if my spelling, punctuation and grammar are less than ideal in this post. They probably aren’t great to start with but I’m not really thinking about it right now. All I am doing is writing to get as many words down as I can in the remaining 8 minutes of this challenge. It’s a interesting concept. My sister just walked in and turned on the TV. It’s a good thing I don’t really need to concentrate to just write exactly what I’m thinking. Actually it’s kind of a good thing. It means that I’m able to write most things because I have more material. My antivirus just popped u with yet another message I really don’t care about. I wish I could turn them off but I can’t work out how. She’s put on QI, I approve. I’ve seen this episode, but then, I’ve seen most QI episodes. Who on earth is Susan Calman?
My fingers are getting a little sleepy. Like Imoen in Baldur’s Gate. I have to love in game catchphrases. I can certainly appreciate memes. I actually find the knowyourmeme website oddly fascinating. There is some much to the creation of viral internet quirks. Some of them aren’t even particularly remarkable. They just end up existing and then spiralling out of control. Like Millhouse is not a meme. That’s a meme. Who decided on that? Is there an internet board of directors passing memes into the public eye?
Anyway, I feel I am straying into dangerous territory now, so I’m going to go back to cups. You can win cups. Like in Mario Kart there are several different cups which you can win. Like the Mushroom Cup. If course this isn’t a real cup. It’s just a pixel picture on various different Mario Kart games. I’ve been talking about games a lot. Let’s talk about something that isn’t a game. Like taxes, or religion, or the state of English roads. Really bad. That’s the state of English roads. I can feel my fingers seriously slowing down right now. This isn’t good form. I need to be able to word sprint if I want to complete NaNo this year. I want to beat last year as well, but that was only about 50000…
Okay I ran out of time. That was an interesting exercise! 970 words. I could have managed 30 more. Blah.
Anyway, I enjoyed that. I look forward to whatever the next challenge may be!
-THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR UNDER THE EAGLE, IF YOU INTEND TO READ IT, MY REVIEW CAN BE FOUND HERE-
Simon Scarrow’s difficult second novel is a damn sight better than his first one. The journey continues for Cato and Macro, through the bitter wilderness of South East England, about ten years after their fellow Romans seriously annoyed a group of Israeli Christians for crucifying their Lord and Saviour. The novel takes off about four days after the end of the previous one. The Second Legion are reeling from a messy victory against the British and the prospect of continuing a campaign in which the battles get bloodier and bloodier with no sign of any let up.
Cato has developed nicely from the first novel in the series. He’s more confident at fighting, and following the rhythmic process of thrusting a shield out then goring a man in the throat. For a scholarly young man he’s surprisingly ineloquent at public speaking, especially in the position of second in command in his century which he stumbled into one novel previously. He is also dreadfully mournful of the departure of his young lover Lavinia and pines for her throughout the novel, using her image as a reason to fight. These flaws and fumblings build up to make a nicely rounded character. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for his centurion.
Macro seems to have gone backwards. For a series which is purportedly about both Cato and Macro, his character goes from the complex hard outer shell with a softer centre – like a crème egg – to a man who is as brutish and simple. Cato has evidently more on his mind than to worry about giving him reading lessons as the entire plotline regarding Macro’s illiteracy seems to have been ousted and the novel passes by with just one solitary mention of it. It’s a great shame in my opinion. Macro was a complex and interesting character, and all though he is now depicted as a fearsome warrior, who fights by day and drinks the best wine the legion can offer by night, he’s lost a sense of vulnerability which Scarrow had so carefully built up in the last novel.
I must admit, this is honestly my only criticism. The novel is leagues better written than the previous one. Scarrow has nicely ironed out the cliché and the bizarre turns of phrase. The pacing is a lot better, and the climax is rightly where it should be, at the end (and what an end it is!). The other notable improvement is the politics in the novel. Where Under the Eagle bogged down in convoluted details, The Eagle’s Conquest deals with politics in the way a good thriller should. The wonderfully evil Tribune Vitellius sees to it that only the protagonists see him as who he really is, while he has Emperor Claudius on all fours, with a length of string around his neck like a leash.
Overall, it still shows as a second novel but Simon Scarrow is definitely finding his feet as a novelist at this stage. While there are some shortcomings, the novel is succinct, interesting, gritty and exciting. But please read the first one before this one.
The demolition ended years ago, now all that remains of the old hall is a skip. Behind galvanised steel fences adorned with spikes. The skip cannot escape. Imprisoned, as it is, behind bars.
Summer draws out of the year. The weeds which grew tall now wither into burnt umber husks. They sprawl with an organised panic, dropping seeds into the tall forest grass. Until next summer.
“Who put us here? We aren’t doing much, in this pile next to the flower pots and the watering can. I wish we had some kind of function, but there you go. Nothing.”