Floorboards and chimneys and doors, oh my!

18 January 2016

Happy New Year everyone!

OK so straight off the bat I need to deal with the elephant in the room.

Yes, I realise I’ve been very quiet lately. In fact, I’m a little embarrassed to say this is my first blog entry in over 5 months, which is an inexcusably long time to go without checking in, especially for a blog which is supposed to be all about me. You’d be forgiven for thinking I was dead. Or that I had no life. Not that there’s necessarily much of a difference between those two states of being.

However, if there is one little thing I can say that might go some way to excusing my absence, it would be thus:

My house is finally finished. My wife and I are now ready to move in.

P1010133(1)

A view from the front. The driveway here is brand new, hence the copious amounts of sand

That’s right! Months of hard work. Weekend after weekend of wasted time spent painting and fixing and tinkering and pottering. Piles of catalogs and endless trips to IKEA. Whole teams of workmen standing around in our living room scratching their heads as they pull quotes out of thin air.

It’s all over. It’s done.

Finally the end is in sight.

P1010127(1)

A view from the back. Please excuse the patchy grass in this picture. It had a rough summer bless it

As you can imagine, I’m pretty stoked about this fact. Moving house was one of my main goals for last year and to think it’s finally happening – this week no less – fills me with nothing but happy thoughts.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s still a way to go yet. My wife and I are going to be knocking around in some pretty empty rooms for a few months yet while we save us enough to buy more than a couple of items of furniture. But the important thing is that the bulk of the work is done.

P1010136(1)

The upstairs bathroom complete with custom-made storage unit for hiding away the washing machine

What’s more, it looks pretty good too in my opinion. Oh sure I’m well aware the style we chose won’t be to everyone’s liking but what matters is that we like it. And that’s good considering it’s us who will be living there.

WP_20151212_16_36_17_Pro

A view of the living area. To the right is the kitchen. To the left the faux-brick fireplace

 

WP_20151205_20_21_57_Pro

And here’s the opposite angle showing the living room with the stairs on the right. At the time this picture was taken, we hadn’t finished installing the skirting board, so if the blue wall looks a little unfinished, that’s why

Oh and as the icing on the cake, you will recall that I mentioned a couple of posts back that I was re-working my novel for the umpteenth time with the aim of finally posting it off to an agent.

Well, I’m happy to report mission accomplished here as well…

WP_20160118_15_41_12_Pro

For some, this will look like just an ordinary envelope. For others, it’s a Big Deal

What happens next is in the hands of much better people than myself. In the meantime, if you don’t mind I’m going to be right here, chilling in my new pad. It’s been a tough few months and we could use the break.

#dealwithit


Deleted scenes #2 – #4

14 August 2015
Luckily the editing process isn't quite this tedious

“Murder your darlings” – William Faulkner

One of the strangest things about writing a multi-protagonist story (or at the very least, one of the things I wish someone had warned me about before I started writing one) is how much it forces you to write a story in a certain way.

To explain what I mean, imagine I had a book with just one protagonist in it. In such a novel, the hero might get 30+ chapters all to themselves. The whole story is told through just a single set of eyes and thus, over the course of the book, the reader is able to fully follow the hero’s story and understand their plight. This approach allows for a lot of twists and turns and, consequently, a great deal of character movement.

Look at 50 Shades of Grey for example (and wow, how I never thought I use that book as a positive example…). The whole story is told from the point of view of one character: Anastasia Steele. Thus, no matter how much Ana flip-flops in her relationship with Christian Grey (and boy, does she flip-flop), it doesn’t matter. We go right along with it.

Multi-protagonist novels, however, are very different beasts.

When your plot needs an infographic to explain it, you know you're in trouble

When your plot needs an infographic to explain it, you know you’re in trouble

On the one hand, having more characters means that the scope of your novel can be wider (since you have more eyes in more places showing the reader more aspects of your world) but the flip-side of this is that unless you’re lucky enough to have all of your viewpoint characters in the same place at the same time (in which case, why on Earth do you need to have multiple protagonists to begin with?), the individual plotlines for each character become quickly diluted.

When each character has only 5-10 chapters dedicated to them and the reader might not encounter that character again for several hundred pages at a time, it becomes increasingly important to keep each of those characters constrained to plots which can be easily summarised and understood. Your characters need simple throughlines and clear resolutions. There is little room for ambiguity.

So many protagonists... Best make them all stereotypes and give them 3-4 scenes each

So many protagonists… Best make them all stereotypes and give them 3-4 scenes each

It’s a law of diminishing returns: the more complex your novel becomes, the simpler its individual storylines must be in order to avoid your reader getting lost in a maze of byzantine plot twists.

Which is exactly the situation I found myself in with my main character, Abigail Leighton.

Abi’s story was always centered on the theme of identity and belonging. She is caught between the two worlds of the bunks and the nobility, belonging to neither and yet hated by both. Hers is a unique position, and one from which the reader is able to fully grasp the multi-faceted issues plaguing the ship. (Or at least, that was the theory).

Australian model Gemma Ward. Her innocent yet determined appearence informed much of Abi's character

Australian model Gemma Ward. Her innocent yet determined appearance was a big inspiration when writing Abi

Originally the plan was to have Abi break out of the bunks near the beginning of the book (which she still does), betraying her best friend in the process (ditto). Later, she would find that the outside world isn’t quite the land of milk and honey she’d always thought it would be (which is still the case) so she goes back to the bunks, begs forgiveness from her friend and then together they break the unspoken out of bondage and lead a rebellion against the ship, thus creating a third, new choice for her.

The problem was… that last part was too complex. If I had 20-30 chapters dedicated to Abi, I might have been able to make it work. But squeezed into just 10 chapters it just came across as her being indecisive, flip-flopping from one chapter to the next between wanting to be in the bunks, then out of them and then back again. It strained credibility.

Plus there’s the fact that no one would choose to return to the bunks. No one. It doesn’t matter how neat and tidy it made my narrative arc or how much thematic sense it made. The simple fact is that Abi, the character, would never return to the bunks even if you paid her and thus by shoehorning such a face-heel turn into the book I was doing her character a dis-service.

Abi might be many things, but an idiot she is not.

So instead I chose to postpone the reunion between Abi and her friend into the next book where it would happen on more even terms. The denouement of Abi’s story line changed from one of her instigating the rebellion to her actively fighting against it instead. Her story became simpler and easier to follow. A clean arc, shorn of ambiguity which (*spoilers*) ends with her becoming a hero.

Unfortunately, this leaves my original ending somewhat in limbo. There is no place in the novel now for Abi the would-be terrorist or her flip-flopping shenanigans. Thus, I present three chapters to you here. Three deleted scenes which will never make it into the book.

Click here to read deleted scene #2: Back from Exile (PDF)

Click here to read deleted scene #3: The More things Change (PDF)

Click here to read deleted scene #4: Undertakings (PDF)

As with my previous deleted scene, these chapters are far from perfect. Expect to see spelling errors, redundancies and other writerly ticks that would normally get weeded out during the editing process. Despite this, I like these chapters a lot and it’s sad I couldn’t find a place for them in the final mix. But ultimately the need of the story much come first. There is little room in multi-protagonist novels for needless complexity.

I hope you enjoy them.


Deleted scene #1: The Black Sea

3 August 2015
Luckily the editing process isn't quite this tedious

Luckily the editing process isn’t quite this tedious

As promised in my most recent blog post, I’m currently hard at work redrafting my novel the Arkship Ulysses for what will absolutely, definitely be the final time. Probably.

In the meantime, I thought it might be interesting to share with you some of the scenes which never made it into the final cut.

As with any long-form piece of work, writing a novel often involves a lot of trial and error. It’s difficult to know exactly where a story is going when you sit down to write it and of course that inevitably results a lot of extra material which never sees the light of day.

How much extra material you ask? Well let me put it this way: the first draft of my novel completed in December 2012 was about 250,000 words long. The second draft, completed December 2014 was 160,000 words long.

Yeah, that’s a lot.

Now before I do this please be aware of a couple of things:

  1. The writing in these extracts isn’t fully polished. This is very much a work-in-progress here so expect to see a lot of repetitions, redundancies and other writerly ticks that the editing process normally takes care of
  2. These scenes no longer have any place in the book. It’s not like you can easily slot them into some place in the novel and have them make sense. Unfortunately things have moved around so much by this point that these scenes no longer fit without significant re-writes to their entry points.

All clear? OK so without any further ado I give you deleted scene #1.

Deleted scene #1: The Black Sea

Click here to read Deleted Scene #1: The Black Sea (PDF).

This ‘scene’ (actually 4,000 words long, which is long enough to make it a chapter in its own right) is the telling of an old Earth legend. The story Susan tells Stuart in this chapter is a simple one but it’s one I’ve always had a soft spot for because of how thematically resonant it is with the rest of the book as well as with Stuart’s character arc as a whole.

It also tells us a lot about the back-story of this world without being extremely in-your-face about it. I’ve always liked it when the world building of novels is done by the reader as much as it is by the writer and this story is, I feel, a perfect example of this. When you read it you get a real sense for the role of faith in people’s lives and how the citizens of the Ulysses perceive their religion as well as the catastrophe which stranded them among the stars in the first place.

As you can probably tell from the way I’m talking about this scene, I really like it a lot and I honestly wrestled with it a long time before finally deciding to delete it. Despite how much I enjoy it, it is ultimately 4,000 words of what is essentially filler and I can’t really justify that in a book that’s already well over its recommended length.

Anyway, if you’re interested in keeping score, this scene would have taken place during what is now Chapter 24: The Metapath. It even ends in a very similar way.

I hope you enjoy it.


Returning to the Arkship Ulysses

20 July 2015

As many of you know by now, I finished writing my epic SF novel the Arkship Ulysses at the tail-end of last year. I may have mentioned it once or twice.

Needless to say, the whole endeavor was a labour of love from beginning to end. Writing on the Arkship Ulysses spanned nearly 5 whole years – a depressingly long chunk of time to devote to telling a story I’ve had going round my head since I was 14 years old but a necessary one.

712L The Observers web

I have no idea why I keep using this picture to illustrate the Arkship Ulysses. I guess I just like it

The end result was good, although I’d be lying if I said it ended up close to what I originally envisioned. For one thing, it was a lot longer than expected, so much so that I had to cut the story in two and add in a sequel I’ve been trying to plot out ever since. At least 2 major characters were chopped out of the final cut, one of whom was originally supposed to be the book’s hero. There were whole chapters that I’ve even talked about on this blog that never made it into the final edit.

Still, I have to count it as a success overall, not least because it actually received an honest-to-God review online! And believe me: for an unpublished, unknown author like myself to receive any sort of unsolicited attention is a very rare and humbling thing indeed.

A couple of choice quotes from The Finder’s Saga review linked above:

“Burgess story and writing are epic. The chapters are long but the writing rich with description and dialog.”

“I find the plot intriguing and the characters strong, rich and multidimensional. The characters have motivations, fears, hope and all the emotions necessary for a rich story.”

“I find his setting descriptions and the background story believable and essential to the plot.”

Those are all really nice things to say about my work and I’m honestly chuffed to bits and extremely humbled that The Finder’s Saga would commit an entire blog post just to talking about yours truly. One of these days I’ll return the favour man, I promise.

And by the way, reading nice things about myself: Strangest. Feeling. Ever.

Special thanks to The Finder's Saga for the really kind words

Special thanks to The Finder’s Saga for the really kind words. It was very humbling

Anyway, in his book On Writing, Stephen King says it’s often a good idea to let a novel sit for a few months after you’ve finished writing it before you start with the redraft. He says that when you first finish working on a novel, you’re too close to it. You’re too invested in the characters and too close to the story to have any sort of objective opinion about it.

He recommends taking a step back and leaving it in a drawer for a few months while you work on other things.

This book is pretty much my bible when it comes to approaching creative work

This book is pretty much my bible when it comes to approaching creative work

It has now been six months since I last wrote about the Arkship Ulysses. In the meantime I have, in accordance with King’s advice, been doing other things. Lots of other things. Now, finally, I think I’m ready to jump back in to this beast and make some much-needed (and final) edits.

“What edits?” I hear you cry.

Well as it happens I actually made a list of patch notes whilst writing the first draft in anticipation of this day. These are basically moments during the writing process in which I was aware of contradicting myself but didn’t want to go back and fix them in the interests of moving things forwards. The list I’m about to print here probably won’t make much sense unless you’ve read the book as closely as I have but hopefully it will put into context just how much redraft work needs to be done.

In short, it will involve writing one completely new chapter and extending two more as well as numerous other fixes which will mostly involve a lot of CTRL+H work.

writers-block

Note: I will not actually be using a typewriter to make these edits

Fixes needed are:

  1. Make Nathan Hathaway Master-at-arms not Chief of Marines
  2. Don’t kill Tundra until chapter 15
  3. In chapter 14, Rutherford tells Kara that she’s due to move into the Captain’s quarters – not ones that he himself is funding
  4. Change Ramiel Sullivan to Gabriel Sullivan throughout.
  5. In chapter 17, it is taking place on the morning of Earth Day not the evening. People are still getting ready and when he listens to the Captain, he’s talking about how nervous he is about meeting Kara for the first time and whether he really needs to. He’s told it’s mandatory.
  6. It’s Commander Fletcher, not Albright
  7. Stuart when he goes to Oxley: he is publicly thrown out but still secretly helped. Oxley sends Sarah to give Stuart a map. ‘The best nodes can be found here’. And then they share a shot of something (this contains the gene seed for the Metapath). Stuart perhaps vaguely guesses this near the end of the book but it’s not until the sequel that all becomes clear.
  8. Remove the character of Rutherford. Where he currently exists, make it all Nathan Hathaway. Put Rutherford as a far more professional soldier type. Keeping his superior’s secrets and covering up for him out of loyalty. A much better replacement for him in the second book when he takes over as master-at-arms. It’s Rutherford that interrogates Stuart, not Hathaway
  9. Give each department head a cool-sounding naval name. Boatswain (chief of maintenance) for example. Chaplain, Master Shipwright (chief engineer), Wardmaster (medical), Ordnance, pursers (administration), etc.
  10. Show Estavan getting pulled away for interrogation better than currently

As well as generally giving it a spit and polish and cutting its length by at least 5%.

Additional scenes to add:

  1. Before being rescued from the bunks. A scene where Abi is burying her father. Her friends gather around her wrapping up his body and leaving it out for the priest. There’s nothing left to keep her here now, she thinks. Its time she makes a break for freedom. Brent is marveling over Kara. This is the girl the uniforms are all het up over? Dawn reveals her plan to use her. He offers to take her in to show the Gentleman. They’re putting an army together. Plans to attack the ship. Abi rolls her eyes at the words. It’s all show boating, she thinks. Still she gives the uprising her blessing. He’s angry now about father’s death. He doesn’t know what he’s saying.
  2. After visiting the bunks to try and see Dawn. Abi goes looking for what remains of her old life. There is little left. Her old quarters are all in the hands of the Oxleys. She manages to look up Stuart in the directory but his quarters are deserted. They are tiny and a mess. Equations everywhere. Old ship parts he was tinkering with. She finds a small box tucked away under the bed containing the old family crest. She remembers how it used to adorn her father’s chest when he still wore the uniform of master shipwright. Remembers him cold beneath the touch as they laid his body out to be collected by priests. She takes it with her.
    Outside she runs into the landlady who scowls at her. Says Stuart is two weeks late paying his rent. She’s going to kick him out. She thinks Abi is a whore he’s hired. She takes the box of goods from Abi. Abi protests. I’m his sister. But the landlady takes one look at the number on her arm and shoos her away. Abi returns to her quarters alone. That’s when she cries.
  3. Final chapter to resolve everything. The Captain sits in his quarters going over the reports coming in. The ship is a mess, the nobility are at each other’s throats in outrage and he doesn’t know who to trust anymore. He trusts Abi, however, for reasons Abi doesn’t understand. He asks her to help him find a genuine long-term solution to the issue with the bunks. He reinstates House Leighton which his father pulled down years ago. He names her ambassador to the bunks. Abi reluctantly accepts.
work-in-progress

“A movie is never finished, only abandoned.” – George Lucas. Suffice to say, it’s the same with books.

Phew! Well anyway, that’s all for now. I’m going to give myself 3 months to make all of the changes listed above. At the very least I hope to be done by my birthday when I can finally start sending this thing off for submission and working on another novel instead. As always I will post my progress here.

I also plan to start posting some deleted scenes on here which never made it into the final cut. Think of them as Director Bonuses if you will, a nice little extra for those of you who have been following me this far.

Watch this space!


Poetry and I

15 June 2015

Poetry anmagnetic-poetryd I have never got along.

That’s not for want of trying either. I’m a writer: Poetry and I share a lot of the same friends. We hang out in the same places. We work on the same street. For some reason though, we’ve never seen eye to eye.

All through my life I’ve tried patching things up between us. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve knocked on Poetry’s door one day, all smiles and pleasantries with a blank notebook in hand, only to have the door slammed in my face. Poetry simply never has time for me.

And I, in turn, have learned to shun it.

At school, whenever I was asked to read a poem, I would find myself feeling nothing but confusion towards the words I was seeing. It was a strange experience for me, considering the instant and visceral impact that other forms of writing have had on me since my early childhood. Theatre and novels I can get behind. But poetry? “In what way is this supposed to be entertaining?” I would ask my teachers and they would simply chastise me in reply for being rude to their friend.

During my A-levels, I struggled through Wilfred Owen and Sigfried Sassoon. During my GCSE’s I forced myself to choke down Carol Ann Duffy, Simon Armitage and Ted Hughes – the heavyweights of the modern era. At university I Cliff-noted my way through Keats and Wordsworth, Byron and Shakespeare and more.

So many more… So many poets with so many pages of mind-numbingly cryptic jibber-jabber and all of it dull, dull, dull…

Look at him all smug and pretentiously muse-ful. Damn you John Keats you ruined my teenage years

John Keats: look at him all smug and pretentiously muse-full. Little does he know the sheer hell he will make out of my teenage years

However, that’s not to say I hate everything Poetry has done.

I’ve always enjoyed the Raven by Edgar Alan Poe, for example. I like the rhythm of its sentences. I like the feel of it in your mouth. There’s a relentless beat to the poem which drives the reader on. And yes, there is a plot, which is a nice change of pace from most poetry because it serves to keep you entertained. Ultimately, though, it’s not the plot I like about this poem but rather the feel of it.

Read this now and listen to the natural beat that forms. You’ll see what I mean:

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December;
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow;—vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow—sorrow for the lost Lenore—
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels name Lenore—
Nameless here for evermore.

It’s the same when I listen to music. I almost never listen to a song for its lyrics – in truth, I rarely even hear the lyrics. For whatever reason, my brain just isn’t wired that way. Instead, when I listen to music, it’s the rhythms and the harmony that my ear focuses on: the chords, the instrumentation and the underlying structure of the song. This is what’s important. The idea of listening to music in order to hear the message of its lyrics… it’s ludicrous to me.

That’s probably another reason why Poetry doesn’t like me very much. I’m kind of rude to its friends.

Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun / The frumious Bandersnatch!

Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun / The frumious Bandersnatch!

My second favourite poem of all time is the Jabberwocky by Lewis Carol. I like it because it’s practically a tailor-made example of what I just described above: a poem made up entirely of rhythm and rhyme. The actual meaning of the poem? Well, it is literally nonsense but it sounds as though it means something.

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
      Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
      And the mome raths outgrabe.

My third favourite poem is the Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred Lord Tennyson. Again it has a rhythm. Again it has rules. And again it feels fantastic in the mouth:

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.

Call me old fashioned but I’ve always found myself leaning towards poetry that follows a set of rules. Rhyming schemes, a solid and unwavering metre, neat stanzas, a beat: these things are essential for a poem to be a success in my mind. The way I look at it, poetry has existed for as long as humans have been writing. And for 99% of that time, Poetry has followed fixed and defined rules. We lump those rules into categories and put labels on them. “Sonnets,” we call them. “Villanelles”, “Sestinas”, “Haikus”… There are many names but they all come with a long and proud tradition.

Whenever a poet chooses to write one of these poems, they aren’t restricting themselves or stiffing their creativity – far from it! – rather they are adding to a tradition that stretches back hundreds of years. They are entering a dialogue with all of the poets who have come before them, building on what has come before and helping the genre to grow.

I always have the impression that modern poetry has forgotten this fact. I think that’s why I don’t like it very much. When your poetry can take on literally any form it pleases and still be called a poem… well, it’s like calling an unmade bed art.

Some people call this art. Fair play to them but I know I wouldn't want it on my wall

Some people call this art. Fair play to them but I know I wouldn’t want it on my wall

I know most people will disagree with me. I’ve made my peace with that fact. Poetry is a very popular guy round these parts. He has a lot of friends. Nearly everyone I know has rubbed shoulders with him at least once in their life. They invite him over for tea at the weekends. They buy collections of his greatest hits and write down some of his pithy quotes to pin to their office walls. Those people tell me I’m stupid for not understanding their distinguished friend.

Perhaps they are right.

It’s for these reasons that when I created my anthology of short stories a few years ago I named it Metrophobia, the fear of poetry. It was a little in-joke to myself. I don’t understand it, I said, therefore I must fear it.

But never let it be said that I am one to shy from my fears. Today, I thought it might be fun to share with you a few examples of the many times I have attempted to crack poetry over the years. I am well aware that most of these examples are terrible. As I said before, Poetry is not my friend. I lack even the ability to discern good poetry from bad but I know that my poetry is bad because people have told me that it is and I believe them.

1. Haiku

OK so let’s start with a poetic form that everyone knows. A haiku is a form of ultra-short Japanese poetry. It’s made up of three lines composed of 17 syllables. The lines are arranged in a 5-7-5 syllabic structure.

There are certain characteristics which almost all modern haiku share (this list is taken from the Wikipedia article linked above):

  1. A focus on some aspect of nature or the seasons
  2. Division into two asymmetrical sections, usually with a cut at the end of the first or second section, creating a juxtaposition of two subjects – e.g. something large and something small, something natural and something human-made, two unexpectedly similar things, etc.
  3. A contemplative or wistful tone and an impressionistic brevity
  4. Elliptical “telegram style” syntax and no superfluous words
  5. Imagery predominating over ideas and statements, so that meaning is typically suggestive, requiring reader participation
  6. Avoidance of metaphor and similes
  7. Non-rhyming lines

My example:

Concrete office blocks.
A lonely pigeon takes flight
Into a grey sky

2. Villanelle

OK, so a haiku I’m sure you were already familiar with. Consider that one a warm-up for what follows. Now we’re getting into the real poetic forms. A villanelle (you’re probably thinking “what the hell is that?”) is a nineteen-line poetic form consisting of five three-line stanzas followed by a four-line stanza at the end.

What makes this form interesting is its use of repetition. There are basically two lines in the poem which repeat over and over again, alternating at the end of each stanza before finally appearing together at the end of the final quatrain to drive home the poem’s point.

Because of this use of repetition, the villanelle is a poetic form that deals very well with themes of obsession.

THE MODERN POET

Formless and pointless, more feeling than thought
He sits in the dark playing word games all day,
If only he could see through his black and white fort.

“Why won’t they read me?” he cries all distraught
“Surely there’s no one who can’t see my way?”
Formless and pointless, more feeling than thought.

He sits and he muses, ‘til ideas are caught,
Scribbles it down before all goes away,
If only he could see through his black and white fort.

He rejects all the old and all that’s been taught,
“I am a genius,” he thinks, “that’s all I will say!”
Formless and pointless more feeling than thought.

His eighteenth rejection is hard to retort,
There must be conspiracies flying his way!
If only he could see through his black and white fort.

He starts once again. “C’est ne pas mort!”
He writes and he dreams, “One day, oh one day!”
If only he could see through his black and white fort:
Formless and pointless, more feeling than thought.

3. Sestina

Here’s another form you’ve probably never heard of. The sestina is one of my favourite poetic forms, mostly because even though no one has ever heard of it, everyone understands it as soon as they see it.

It has six stanzas of six lines each. The thing that makes it special is that the words it uses at the end of each line repeat throughout the poem, rotating around each other in a set pattern.

Like this:

626px-Sestina_system_alt.svg

From the Wikipedia article linked to above: “Because a sestina demands adherence to a strict and arbitrary order, it creates a very interesting effect. Stephen Burt notes that, ‘The sestina has served, historically, as a complaint”, its harsh demands acting as “signs for deprivation or duress’.”

ON MEETING AN EX NOW  BETROTHED TO ANOTHER

I chanced to see that small, begotten ring,
upon her second finger. It was clear
to me that she was gone. And I was pain
inside and burned asunder. She was mine.
If I could but pretend that she was gone,
then all would be okay. But then I’d lie.

We broke apart in truth because she lied,
that I would wait at home for her to ring,
at night, and tell me where it was she’s gone
to stay the night with Jan. “Hon, is that clear?”
“Oh yes,” I said. “Your words aren’t hard to mine.”
And then I’d cry all night, my heart in two with pain.

And as the rain did patter on the pane,
I went into my room to have a lie
down and there I wondered what was mine.
Certainly not that gem encrusted ring
that donned your finger thirty carrots clear.
I saw it, smiled and knew that you were gone.

Gone, gone, gone, gone, gone!
My fragile heart did echo with its pain,
That now this creature that I loved was clear
to leave, to drop, to break and mend and lie,
and never even tell me of that ring,
but left me dark with thoughts: “You should be mine!”

But who am I to say what should be mine,
unworthy fool whose compassion has gone,
to pieces long before I saw that ring,
before me, dealing out its holy pain,
to my wounded, shattered ego. Lies!
It seems my path has never been more clear…

No it has never and now it’s clear
To me what I must do to thee and mine
only. There I’ll find you where you lie,
throttle you in sleep ‘til you are gone
and I am safe from fear and hate and pain.
When I am done you will regret that ring.

It will be clear to me then you are gone
forever. Mine, the cause of all my pain,
will lie upon your coffin. And I shall rule that ring.

4. Free verse

Free verse is my most hated form of poetry. Stripped of all rules or patterns, these poems often serve as a dumping ground for pithy sounding thoughts and little else. This is where there shape of a poem is important. This is where a single word or an exclamation point can somehow be turned into a poem. This is where pretentious strings of vaguely connected words hang out, masquerading as divine-inspired utterances. It’s anarchy turned into poetry and I hate it.

Is this poetry?

Is this poetry? One might argue that in years gone by this sort of thing would have served as the foundation of a poem, not the poem itself

Needless to say when I was asked to write a free verse poem during my second year of university I strongly objected. It was by far my most hated assignment during my entire studies. I am not at all happy with the end result. Still, you’ll notice that even though this poem follows no established rules, I still tried to interject some sort of rhythm and order into it, if only to save my own sanity from the lawless cavalier attitude of the genre.

BORDER RATS

Like vermin we scuttle – Border Rats –
each of us more than the sum of our parts.
Each of us hiding, striving to find someplace else.
And why? There are other ways,
but our destiny stumbles through this black and white haze:
and this world holds no passion from when it was made
and we know
that we don’t want this.

As ghosts we toil – Border Rats –
each of us statements of some other truth.
Each of us trying, dying to make something new.
And why? The system stamps down,
our colleagues they flee in the shadows of doubt
for money they run with no thought to themselves,
but we know
that we don’t want this.

And now starving we die – as Border Rats –
and all that we’ve lived for is shattered and burnt.
Nothing is showing, growing from that void that is us.
And why? The system has won,
our legacies fade in their commercial tune,
is there escape from this musical doom?
Oh dear god,
I don’t want this.

5. Found poetry

And finally we come to the one type of poetry I’m actually good at.

Found poetry is great simply because it turns anything and everything into a poem. Some might argue that this is the same as in free verse, where any random phrase can be called poetry, but I disagree. Found poetry is about imposing order onto disorder. It’s about taking that which already exists and pulling the art from within it.

The idea is simple. You take something that has already been written: a book, an article, even a political speech and you carefully select words from it. In this way you create a poetry that never existed before and yet was lying the whole time beneath the pattern of the words.

Like this:

Below is an example with I made based on a text about grammar which my teacher gave me on my first day of university. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find the original document anymore so I can’t show it visually like in the example above. In a way that might be better, though. The original work is gone. All that remains is the poetry.

WORDS

A word can be combined,
Interpreted, replaced.
A word must be the centre of an act.
For voice, for mood, for aspect rather full.
A word is major clauses numerous.
To indicate, to specify: distinct from something else,
A word should preposition a degree
Of denial. Or connect and express on clause content.
A word lies in a phrase misunderstood.

I like this poem because just like in the Jabberwocky, it almost sounds as though it means something. Again there is rhythm. A beat. And your brain tells you the poem must mean something because it’s so consistent in the way it’s written. Here we have “words”, “voices”, “phrases”, “clauses”… it’s all clearly related (and indeed it is, since it all came from the same page about basic grammar) and yet it isn’t.

As such your brain tries to stretch through all the nonsense searching for some shred of meaning buried inside the words and in doing so it somehow places its own meaning onto the poem.

The poem is literally nonsense, I’ve already established that. It was discovered lurking beneath a perfectly normal piece of academic text. And yet by lifting it out, it now serves as a kind of naked template upon which the reader is able to place any meaning they chose.

For me, that is what poetry should be.

Poetry likes it too. For the first time ever, it’s like we’re waving to each other across the other side of a crowded room. I’ll never understand Poetry and he’ll never understand me. But at least I feel I can mingle with him at a party now and not feel like an impostor.


Short story: Demon Hunter

17 April 2015

6a00d8341bf67c53ef0148c80f2a13970c-500wiSome of you may have noticed that I’ve been a bit quiet around here lately.

Mostly that’s due to me being bed-bound for a week back in March with a bad back. And mind you, when I say ‘a bad back’ I don’t mean that it was aching a little like as though I’d been lifting heavy weights. No, this was a whole new level of badness. I’m talking not being able to stand bad. I’m talking stabbing pains all across my lumbar region bad. I’m talking shuffling around like an old man everywhere bad… Yeah, it wasn’t much fun. Then my mother was over for Easter, which erased another week and all the rest of my free time has been eaten up by the new house, which I’m pleased to say now has paint on its walls and wood on its floors and a garden that is almost entirely weed free.

But never let it be said I’m one to idly lie by because I was able to get a new short story finished during this time and sent off to an anthology for submission. Which is nice.

Click here to read a sample of Demon Hunter (PDF)

Which anthology, I hear you ask? This one. It’s all about hunting monsters of the big and scary variety. Think Godzilla stalked by Elmer Fudd and you’ll be somewhere along the right lines.

Shhh! Be vewwy, vewwy quiet. I'm hunting monsters!

Shhh! Be vewwy, vewwy quiet. I’m hunting monsters!

My own entry for this anthology is a rather strange tail about an exorcist from the Catholic church who roams the galaxy looking for demons to kill. Except that this demon is a giant ball of corrupted flesh and this priest uses science and bullets to kill its prey rather than prayers and holy water.

It’s a silly concept, I know. But it’s nice to let yourself go once in a while and just write whatever nonsense comes into your head. And like with a lot of my stuff these days, the idea for this story is an old one. I’ve mentioned before that Warhammer was a big inspiration for me during my formative writing years. It helped me develop my world building skills. For all the hackery of the 40k universe (and the double hackery of its gameplay) Warhammer has some of the most detailed and interesting fluff of any fictional shared universe I’ve come across. There are some really interesting concepts in the 40k universe and lots of them ripe for exploring further in other media.

The 40k universe: damn does it do super sillyness with style

The 40k universe: damn does it do super silliness with style

One of the most intriguing ideas from this universe is the idea of the ‘warp space’. It’s how the humans in the Warhammer universe travel from planet to planet. The ‘warp’ is basically another dimension which (to oversimplify things) is literally the physical amalgamation of all the combined thoughts of every sentient life form in the universe. Traveling through the warp is extremely dangerous. Not only are there frequent storms that tear ships apart and scatter them across space and time at a whim, but it’s also home to the deamons who are creatures literally born out of our darker thoughts. Most humans go mad trying to navigate their way through it. Many others become possessed by the deamons who live there. But everyone agrees the benefits of being able to travel across the universe so quickly far outweigh the few negatives and occasional mass infestations that might occur along the way.

Like Nurgle here

Some awesome 40k art taken from http://warhammer40k.wikia.com/wiki/Nurgle

This concept was one I basically stole hook, line and sinker for my story Demon Hunter, although, in my defense, I did try to make my demon a little more science-y and less all-out evil. My descriptions of the demon were inspired by China Mieville’s short story Familiar in which a tiny magical creature slowly grows into a monster by assimilating into itself the everyday things it stumbles across. I remember finding the story creepy as all hell when I read it about 10 years ago and something about the imagery has stuck with me ever since.

Anyway I hope you like it. It’s a silly story and far from my best work but sometimes it’s nice to let yourself indulge in your wilder fantasies now and again.

Oh and one last note on the priest’s name: Father Asakite. It comes from a very old joke I used to share with my best friend. He once told me that if he ever became famous he would change his name to Asakite. That way, whenever someone saw him in the street they would say “Hi Asakite!”. There was also Denseek (“Hi Denseek!”) and Hosilver (“Hi Hosilver!”) but they were never as funny for some reason.

Anyway, as always feedback is welcomed.


Short story: Gifted (After)

12 February 2015

Marshall-AmpsA couple of weeks ago I posted an old story on here. I said I was going to redraft it and send it off to a short story competition about ghosts. The story had to be up to 5,000 words long and it had to have a ghost in it. Those were the rules. The rules said nothing about the story itself being scary, however, or even a horror for that matter.

So anyway, it’s been many long hard days since that last post and I’ve finally finished the redraft. The story is now called The Star, which is a much more fitting title for it.

To break things down a little:

  • Things that stayed the same from the first draft to this one: the characters, the setting, the plot points and the length
  • Things that have changed: literally everything elsetumblr_n2gqggvSsE1ryd41yo2_1280

The Star still follows the same basic outline as Gifted. Both stories start with the lead singer of a newly popular band passed out backstage just moments before the biggest gig of his life. In both we then get a scene of his band mates trying to bring him back to his senses, followed by a gig that goes disastrously wrong (though for different reasons). In both we then get to see the fall-out from this terrible concert, which results in the character hating himself.

For all that, however, this is a very different story to the first one. Its themes are different, its characterization and tone is different. The central concept at the heart of the story is perhaps the most different thing of all. And that’s one of the reasons why this was so fun to write. I was following a story template created by my younger self but I still had room to be creative.

It’s nice when that happens.

As always C&C welcome.