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Some unedited ‘live’ writing
Written on 15:01 Sunday November 1st 2015
I was reading about yet another writer half my age who has won some prestigious award and is appearing at several upcoming literary festivals and events as a featured, if not the star, guest.
So I started thinking why. Why has that writer achieved more than I have despite the fact that I was writing before they were born – before their dad’s sperm had reached their mum’s egg even. Before their father and mother even knew each other existed – probably.
Then I realised that the only thing between me and success as a writer is myself – or rather, some of my inner, more abstract thoughts and ideas. Thing is when I say, as I do often, that those who have achieved success, especially material success, though I suppose all kinds of success are eligible, owe it to chance, not to some god-given talent, or to some angelic-genius quality they possess, yes, the thing is, I am also referring to myself as successful – so I am already successful and I deserve it no more than anyone else does. Therefore I think I do not deserve success so when I see it standing passively alongside my path I tend to ignore it when what I should be doing is grabbing it.
Even while I’m writing this I’m thinking ‘what an arrogant prick you are Jones, what makes you think you can write in this self-indulgent way’, you don’t deserve it, and no one wants to know anyway’ that sort of thing. And I realise that (besides all the bits in between) these are the two dominant manifestations of my character. Manifestation 1 is the arrogant prick, who thinks that every word he writes is a raindrop of pure gold and Manifestation 2 is the pathetic whimpering grotbag who thinks that every word he writes is a dollop of pure diarrhoea.
So, what happens then is that every time I get near to what looks like some sort of success, I close my eyes and wait for it to go away. Now, I’m probably deluded but I tend to attach a spiritual tag onto this perverse behaviour, combining the Eastern religious concept of Karma with the more recent Western scientific ideas about parallel universes. What I mean is that I think that there is another version of me enjoying success as a writer, and of course, there is another version of that young prize-winning writer who is broke and despondent, smothered by the feeling that they are unloved and unappreciated.
So since it all evens out, if not over a lifetime then over several lifetimes, or several versions of the same person’s lifetime, then I just have to accept that in this universe / lifetime, I am very lucky, despite the lack of writerly success – while also realising that I actually am a success.
Maybe I’ll focus more on getting a new business venture off the ground than on this splurge of words.
What do I mean? I mean this is a short story with no style and no substance.
Why not? Style is taste, substance is an illusion.
Fair enough, but I don’t understand.
You don’t need to.
I mean I don’t understand the point of it.
Your short story. This.
Nor me. In fact I’d go so far as to say that there is no point to it.
But what’s the point of that? Why should I read it?
I don’t know. Do you need a reason?
Well, yes, otherwise I’d be wasting my time, my breath, my life.
Look at me shrugging. Read what you like, or not. Who cares?
Well, you should, it’s your short story. Don’t you want people to read it?
Yes of course, but I still don’t care if they do or not.
If you say so.
So what’s it about?
Nothing. It’s got no substance.
What’s the point . . . oh, never mind.
Good, you’re learning.
No I’m not.
Yes you are. You’ve learned that there’s no point.
No point to what?
No point trying to find a point in something that has no point.
OK. If you say so.
I was being sarcastic.
Because you’re winding me up.
Because of your stupid story that has no style and no substance.
And no point.
So what’s the problem then?
You’re doing my head in.
With all this story nonsense.
Well you don’t have to read it.
Fuck off then . . . .
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The path to the cabin was choked with brambles; that was good. It meant that no one had been near the place for months at least.
‘Ssh,’ Emma said.
‘No, it’s all right now,’ he said. ‘Look – there’s no sign of another human being – we’ll be safe here.’
‘But it’s not human beings we’re hiding from, is it Jack?’
‘Of course they’re human beings; you’ve been watching too many episodes of Doctor Who.’
‘Oh shut up. I know what I saw. You saw it too. If that was a person then it was still a monster – more than just a normal person.’
‘Yes, but it’s still got to move around, whatever it is and it would leave traces.’
‘What if it can fly?’ Emma asked.
The sun was blotted by some shadow.
I’m just leaving the Co-op Shop and I’ve got a bag of “All Original Starburst Chews, Bursting With Real Fruit Juiciness”, a Grab-Bag of Walkers Salt and Vinegar Crisps, the last manky copy of today’s Guardian newspaper and one Silk Cut cigarette. I’ve got more cigarettes at home, of course, loads of them. Thing is, I’m not going to get home. I’m going to die before I get home. I’m going to die; I know I am.
Somewhere in the fifteen minute walk home, I’m going to die, I don’t know when exactly, but I know I’m going to die. Thing is, what am I going to do with the last half-mile, or less, of my life? It’s a difficult question. Perhaps if I run as fast as Flash, I can cheat death, slip past on its blind side maybe? Get home before it gets me. Continue reading
I am the richest man in the world. They say I am a recluse, I am afraid of doorknobs, I shower in purified water a dozen times a day, and I eat nothing but the flesh of sterilised fruit. It’s true; I am the richest man in the world, the rest doesn’t matter, it’s of no consequence, it’s irrelevant. All that matters is that these words reach you; that we touch.
I have no one you see – no mother, no father, no wife, no sons, no daughters, no family, no friends. Oh! I have slaves, paid slaves, unpaid sycophants, admirers, devotees even. I suspect that every second of every day my name is on the lips of someone; my name is typed into a search engine; my name is tweeted at the speed of light. Continue reading
“This too must pass.” These words have helped me in my long ordeal. They ring in my head like a mantra almost every minute that I’m stuck here in this God-forsaken pit of a room. If I divide the days into hours and the hours into minutes and the minutes into seconds and think only of the infinitesimally small time-period that I am conscious of now, it is just bearable; in fact it becomes like any other moment in my reality – never-ending and entirely ephemeral.
Those times that I come face to face with my captors are the worst – and the best. I crave for their presence to confirm my own existence. I despise their arrogance, that they have the power to liberate me, and the power to end my life; they are my Gods. There’s the big one with the slow voice and hairy scarred hands, ‘LOVE’ it says in scruffy blue letters across one set of knuckles and ‘HATE’ it says in thick blood-red on the other.
He seems nervous today, there’s a change in the atmosphere. Instead of shoving the filthy bowl of filthy food at me and hurriedly exiting – he lingers, as if he needs to talk. Now, I have the power. I hold the bowl jealously close, pluck out the food and cram it in my mouth. I pause, gagging on a piece of what smells like raw, rotten fish, but I force it down; I must live. I grunt at him, or at the nervous eyes visible through the narrow slits in his black balaclava. Continue reading
Wednesday night: I met this fit girl in the pub; we exchanged phone numbers. I wrote hers on a pack of silver Rizla cigarette papers. I don’t want to appear too keen – treat ‘em mean and all that, so I had an idea. There’s fifty papers in the packet. I’ve decided that if she hasn’t contacted me by the time I’ve used the last paper, I’ll give her a call. Thing is, the pack is just about full, and because I only smoke about ten a day, that’s an excruciating five days to wait.
I could cheat. I could smoke more; perhaps if I upped the stakes to twenty a day that would halve the time, or, if I offered the papers around, maybe when the guys are rolling spliffs – that would see them disappear in a night. I’m in a quandary. I always play these little games according to the rules, and the rules are quite clear – I have to wait until I’ve used all the papers in a legitimate way, and for the purposes of this game, the legitimate way is to carry on as usual and smoke the ten a day.
Oh my god, I’ve just remembered, I’m in the middle of another little game, I’ve promised myself I’ll stop smoking by tea-time on Thursday. I’m stuffed. Continue reading
Twenty-seven people were killed or injured when the bomb exploded. I happened to be travelling past on the bus, but I was only shaken up a little.
I went to help of course; I am a doctor after all. I attended to three of the victims. Mair died on the spot and Alice lost a leg, but it was Keith who got my sympathy. I suppose it was because I identified with him more than I did with the others. He was a man, we were about the same age and more significantly, it had been twenty-seven years for me too.
Keith whispered: “Twenty-seven years married, I thought I’d seen it all,” he laughed.
I laughed with him, there’s not much else you can do in a situation like that. He wasn’t seriously hurt in a physical way, but I could see the damage just as clearly as if he was. I knew the signs.
“I thought it couldn’t get any worse, after I lost my job,” he said quietly. “But of course it could, and of course it did.”
“Don’t worry, it won’t be long now.”
“I’m OK,” he said. “There’s no need to bother with me. Better go and see to the others, they need you more.”
I looked around. Through the dust, everything was surprisingly still and quiet.
“Is Mair dead?” he asked.
He already knew. Her blood and pieces of her face were dripping off his arm.
I nodded. Continue reading
Walter? What sort of a name was that to give to a child born in 1995? Walter Andrew Nankeville. You don’t need much imagination to know what nickname he acquired in later life. To be fair his parents were decent sorts, hard working and honest, and they only wanted the best for their one, and as it turned out, only child. Walter was quite happy in the nursery and infants’ schools and for the first few days of the primary school. Then the naturally cruel older boys, as soon as they found out his full name, gave him the nickname that from then on moulded his character and his attitudes to life.
When he was just eight years old he decided that he hated his parents and never spoke to them willingly again. They, poor innocent souls, never understood why they had bred such an ungrateful surly child, even until the day they both died in a pointless car accident when Walter was a broody fifteen. His feeble parents, pathetic even in the method of their demise, skidded on a patch of spilt butterfat and ended up upside down, skulls shattered, on the concrete forecourt of a Lada garage.
By then he’d already become entrenched as a true loner. All around him his peers joined football teams, went to the cinema, and started on the painful adolescent discovery of sex. Walter kept his own company, and, to the other teenagers at his school, seemed to live up to his nickname. Walter developed passions of course; he collected things, coins, stamps, and the addresses of pen-friends he never wrote to.
In the summer after the death of his parents, the children’s home that had taken him in sponsored him on a holiday to Wales. Walter didn’t mind being sent to Wales, he wouldn’t have minded staying in his room at the home either. Unfortunately, one of the staff at the adventure centre, some sort of patron saint of lost causes, decided to take on the challenge of Walter’s lethargy and apparent disinterest, and made it her task to get him out of bed in the morning and push him into some sort of activity.
Walter realised that he had to do something with his body while his inner self brooded its way through his earthly existence so he didn’t even mind that. He elected to go walking around the hills near the reservoir, on his own of course. Betty, his motivator, was not very happy at the prospect of Walter making the solo trek, but, she reasoned, it was better than him lying in bed all day and it might at last provide the trigger that would begin the process of him recovering from the tragedy of his parents’ deaths. Continue reading
The received wisdom is that when you conjure up a piece of fiction, such as a short story like this, you have to work hard to ensure its readers suspend disbelief.
They have to believe that the story you’re telling could have happened, if not in this world then at least in some parallel universe they can relate to. In fact, if your writing fails to invoke the suspension of disbelief you are not creating a work of fiction at all, but simply splattering weak words on a page; and reactions like ‘that would never happen’ or ‘this is bollocks’ are entirely justifiable.
As readers, we have to convince ourselves that what we’re reading is the truth, even though we know it isn’t. We perform this magic with our minds every day, without a thought.
Of course, the truth is, a work of fiction is no such thing. I mean, in every good fiction there is some fundamental truth that illuminates a corner of the human condition. And readers must not only get a glimpse of that underlying truth but also believe in the construct of character and plot that is used to carry it.
It’s complicated but that’s the trick you see, the trick of telling a successful story. It’s a bit like hypnosis. Have you ever been hypnotised? I haven’t (as far as I can remember) but once upon a time I engaged in the practice of hypnotising other people. Continue reading
I’m Wednesday’s child and therefore reputedly full of woe. There is, in the bottom of a biscuit tin somewhere in my mother’s attic, a creased black and white photograph of me at around 3 years old and if the expression I’m wearing in it is a typical one then there’s something in those old nursery rhymes.
It’s my wife’s day off and it’s already well past midday. It’s been a slow morning. Despite that a lot has been achieved so we’re off to Chapter – possibly for lunch (depending on how busy it is).
It’s gone two now. We did a bit of shopping and had Thai Carrot soup (vegan of course) for lunch in Chapter. Before we bought the soup we decided to become Chapter Friends, i.e. pay a membership fee and get some tasty discounts – we’ve already made £1.04p on the soup and got some free cinema tickets.
Here’s a picture of some Thai Carrot Soup
It’s not the actual Thai Carrot Soup we had in Chapter because I forgot to take a picture of it. This picture is from a recipe on the Peta Website.
The soup we had didn’t look like the soup in the picture either, ours was more soup-like and looked less like a blob of puréed vegetables.
The recipe is probably not the same either, it might even be completely different – or possibly all Thai Carrot Soups are much the same.
There are so many unknowns in the course of an ordinary day – don’t you think?
I’m still tweaking the WSSN book and will be putting a page about it all on the Opening Chapter website.
Time for a cuppa I think!
Strawberries and soya yoghurt – better than cream. Not that Alpro soya yoghurt is much cop to be honest – it’s got too many additives including sugar, flavourings, and antioxidants – and it tastes weird.
Other, more natural, non-dairy yoghurts are available.
Everyone’s got their woes, I suppose
Everyone’s got their stress, I guess
We all want things to be good, they should (be)
PEOPLE ARE COMPLICATED
No one is what they seem. I have only anecdotal evidence for this, I mean, having lived with myself since birth I still don’t understand myself let alone anyone else. For all I know there may be other people who are so clever that they do actually understand themselves and maybe some people exist who understand other people as well, and if such people do exist then they have my admiration and respect, but to be honest I’d bet my non-existent fortune that such people do not and never have existed.
Coincidentally, as I was halfway through writing the above paragraph, a friend who’s as complicated a person as complicated persons get, arrived on our doorstep needing a chat about their complicated life. After over two hours of listening and sharing our insights and observations, the friend left to meet some other people in a pub. And do you know what? Yes, you’re right, neither we nor the friend have got a fucking clue about what the best course of action is. It’s all ‘if this then that’ or ‘if that then this’ – it’s all swings and roundabouts – six of one – half a dozen of the other – there is no correct way to deal with anything.
As the friend was leaving I noticed there was a closed shopping bag left behind on the seat they’d been occupying. “Is that yours?” I asked. “Oh, bloody hell yes,” they said. “It’s my cat’s ashes.”
So if today has been about anything it’s been about uncertainty and impermanence; the wisp of atmosphere we exist in is fragile and we are vulnerable, but in the end we do exist and that is magic enough!
This is an edited version of the story I read at the Welsh Short Story Network’s event in Chapter Arts, Cardiff, on June 21st. It also features in my collection ‘Dead Flowers and Other Stories” published by Opening Chapter in November 2014.
HIS NAME WAS SAL
He was an American, a couple of years older than me. I was sixteen.
In the summer of 1968, I hitched from my dreary Welsh town to see Pink Floyd in Hyde Park. After a long, scary, but interesting journey, involving a lift in an abused Transit with a stoned roadie, I arrived in the park after midnight the night before the concert and leaned against a tree to rest and absorb the vibes. Excited fellow travellers buzzed around me looking for somewhere safe to crash. Despite my exhaustion I felt I was part of something significant, a revolution was taking place and I was at the heart of it.
A pair of London louts tried to sell me a lump of dodgy-looking dope, it was probably chewing tobacco, or henna, or something. They looked shifty and vicious, like sly hyenas. I felt exposed and alone, so I shook my head and turned my back on them. I was skint anyway. The big one pushed me against the tree and pulled a knife. Continue reading
Betty, a woman of about 60, is browsing for books in the local branch library. A group of youngsters, led by a scruffy 14 year old come in and harangue her and the library assistant Vicky, a woman in her thirties.
Betty is distressed, but despite the intervention of the library assistant, the youths continue to behave in a threatening way.
An older woman, Mair, appears from behind a bookshelf and watches the melee.
The youths get a little too close to Betty and she screams. Continue reading
The plea from his friend Rick appeared in the text message window, announcing its arrival with its signature whistling tones. ‘Come on Prem – I’m gagging.’
Prem laughed, opened a drawer of the desk and pulled out a bottle of vodka. He tapped out his response. “OK, OK.” Then “Look, this site is amazing,’ he pasted the url of the site into the message and pressed enter.
Prem returned to the browser window and scrolled down, pausing now and again to look at the pictures or read the words. The phrases ‘Sign of the Beast,’ ‘666’, ‘Black Magic,’ flashed at him in a blood-red gothic font on a black background. The images on the screen were a mixture of gore and beauty. A beautiful girl in a long black robe stared at him, her eyes seemed to pull him in – he was transfixed. Continue reading
It was a sunny afternoon in May. Ali, a mixed race boy of fourteen, big for his age, should have been in school, but instead he was hiding behind the garages, chatting to Cindy. He liked Cindy; she was his friend, not like most of the other boys and girls on the estate and in school, who were horrible to him.
Ali made a grab for Cindy’s new phone. “Gimme a look Cindy,” he said.
Cindy dodged. “No, you’ll break it, you big lump – it’s expensive. I’ve gotto go now anyway.”
Ali was disappointed. “Where are you going?”
“Nowhere.” Continue reading
The creature woke up; it was screaming silently, becoming aware that it existed as a presence inside its own skull. It was a bundle of bones, hanging with flesh.
Where was he? Who was he?
Ah! Yes. He was what was known as a man, on a planet known as Earth. A few hours earlier he’d lain on that bed next to a woman, a similar collection of flesh and bones. They’d been together, sharing their existence on that small blue planet for twenty-five of its years. His name was Ianto; her name was Siân.
She was lying next to him now, her flesh and bones covered with a smooth skin. He reached across under the bedclothes and stroked her thigh with his fingertips. Continue reading