Tag Archives: Literary

The Fall (a short story)

Now…
Danny felt like shit, for two reasons. The first was the recurring dream he’d had last night, which had allowed him about 3 hours’ sleep. The second was the prospect of facing his boss, Westward, who was quite simply a textbook sonofabitch. Danny tried to ignore his craving for sleep, thoughts dwelling on his boss a while longer, then surveyed the scene before him. The subway always played host to the same array of commuter stereotypes. There was the kid with the headphones, decked out in designer leisure wear, blissfully unaware of the torment his music was causing the ancient lady sat in the seat next to him. Then there was the overweight middle-aged executive, all flabby jowls, plump hands and acrid cologne.

Looking out of the window, Danny saw an unusual splash of colour, surprised that he’d never noticed it before. As the subway train slowed a little, he found he could read the graffiti artist’s seemingly endless message, daubed on the brickwork along the side of the track: ‘WORK-SUB-TV-SLEEP-SUB-WORK-SUB-TV-SLEEP-SUB-WORK-SUB-TV-SLEEP-SUB….HOW MUCH MORE CAN YOU TAKE???’ Danny realised he was looking at his life. The point hit home, which only made him feel worse.

The train lurched to a standstill, creaking and groaning from the strains of its daily duties. As Danny slowly rose, he imagined that if it could feel, it would feel like he did right now – same stop, same routine, same New York. As he ascended into the gloomy morning, leaving the hustle-bustle of the subway to join the daily rat race, Danny could already see Westward Electronics’ office building looming menacingly overhead. A testament to modern architecture’s persistence to be the biggest, its lofty point seemed to lacerate the clouds, releasing the relentless drizzle of Fall.

As he walked towards the building, Danny noticed a group of people gathered beneath it. They were standing in a rough circle, each making their own contribution to a cacophony of raised voices, shouts and gasps. A police officer who happened to be nearby had noticed the commotion and was trying to cut his way through the throng, who remained unaware of his efforts and were eagerly searching for something that would break the monotony of their morning routine.

As Danny got closer, he could make out some of what was being said:

“Come on folks, let me through!”
“Oh my God!”
Looks like a leaper, man.”
Holy shit, what a mess.”
“Jeeesus”
“Goddamn sidewalk pizza!”
“It definitely looks like a suicide…”

Almost everyone had something to say. Danny cursed himself for being just like the rest of them, an eager witness to death. He muscled in beside a young woman – “Hey, watch it mister!” – and eventually found himself at the front of the group, struggling to keep his place and to avoid stepping in the slowly spreading pool of blood. There was lots of the stuff and the boy’s – was it a boy? – the boy’s clothes looked…Jesus Christ, his face!

Then…
It was the summer of 1981. For two carefree kids of 15, it was a summer that seemed to last forever. Danny had been overjoyed when his parents had allowed him to stay in Denver with Richie’s aunt and uncle. Both families knew each other well and as a result, Danny and Richie Arnold were best friends. The holiday was going great and five days in, Richie’s uncle had suggested a trip out to the Rockies. The boys had been thrilled. The trip was planned for the weekend and the idea was that they’d camp out – “rough it” –as Richie’s uncle had explained to the boys earlier.

Danny was born in Topeka, Kansas, and had never seen so much of his country’s natural wonders in one go. He eagerly drank in his surroundings, enjoying the sights and sounds as he looked around in awe. His parents tried to get out with him whenever they could, but the Rockies were something else. On the Saturday, after a long hike, they’d all sat down to rest, a good distance from a ravine which gave way to a stunning view. Danny had gazed intently at the opposite rock face, the distant horizon, and the mountains. He could even see a section of the Arkansas river, glistening in the distance.

It had all happened so fast. When Richie’s uncle’s back was turned, Danny had suggested they go to the edge of the ravine, to look straight down. The drop was huge. Richie, who had always been the more careless of the two boys, started fooling around, balancing on one foot close to the edge. Danny shouted a warning to his friend to be careful, to which he replied:

“What’s the matter Danny, chicken or somethin’?”

Richie didn’t listen of course. How was he to know that what he thought was firm earth beneath him was loose rocks? Danny could see his friend’s expression for an instant – a strange mixture of terror and confusion – then he was gone. He rushed to the edge, shouting Richie’s name, and just had time to see a flash of his friend’s red and black shirt, then nothing.

Danny returned home in sorrow. He didn’t stop crying for a week and every night he would dream. Only it wasn’t a dream. He was awake in his room. His model spaceship hung from the ceiling, his wardrobe was a tall, dark shadow, while his desk lurked squat in the corner. Then, Richie would appear. His red and black shirt was stained with gore, his left arm a shattered ruin, bone jutting from a rent in his sleeve. His face was the worst of all. His left eye was completely missing, an ugly bare socket gazing out vacantly, endlessly, while his skull was crushed madly inward on one side, like a collapsed eggshell. Richie would always hold his hand out in the same beckoning way and Danny would scream as loudly as he had ever screamed in his life. Yet, above the sound of his own terrified voice, he would hear Richie’s, through shattered teeth and burst lips:

“What’s the matter Danny, chicken or somethin’?”

It would always end there and Danny would wake up, still screaming, as his mother rushed in to comfort him. Mom wasn’t there last night though. Last night, Danny had experienced his childhood recurring dream for the first time in 15 years.

Now…
He suddenly felt faint. The people seemed to be looming over him and all he could do was stare at the shattered 15-year-old face of Richie Arnold. As he began to sway, an office worker grabbed Danny’s arm to support him, saying:

“What a waste…I dunno, he just fell out of the sky.”

Then, someone else, the headphones kid from the subway train, added:

“Fell out of the 80s too…just look at those threads.”

Now, Danny felt sick and light-headed, the nausea rising from the pit of his stomach as unconsciousness beckoned. Before he passed out though, he swore he could hear Richie’s voice:

“What’s the matter Danny, chicken or somethin’?”

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On Procrastination

Ah, procrastination. We’re all guilty of it to different degrees.

For me, it’s actually knuckling down to some serious story writing. My procrastinating has spanned several years and though I’ve written loads of things in that time, it was all ‘work’. Way back when, I’d originally come up with the germ of a good idea, sketched out a plot and made a start. But where would it go? Would it be long enough? What would I do with it? Would anyone want to read it? All these questions, as well as good old life getting in the way, prevented me from getting any further. However, with a little more time on my hands of late, I decided to get stuck in.

As an editor, I’ve been my own worst enemy in some ways. It’s been tough to let the words flow without constantly editing them! I’ve been continuing to fight against this though and a flurry of activity (well, for me) over the last few weeks has brought me to a place where I know how my story ends. I’m filling in some detail and developing some areas of the plot, but after that, well, at least I’ll have a tale to tell.

That’s the thing. There’s tons of ways you’ll try and tell yourself it’s not the right time to start your book. You don’t know how it ends. You don’t have all your characters. Your  grammar is a little shaky. The list goes on, but none of it matters. Just write. After all, nobody ever published their first draft.

And, when you’ve got your story to a stage where you think it’s worth reading, you can always send it to me to edit. After all, I feel your pain!

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A Summer of Verne

Jules Verne

I may have been familiar with some of his most popular work thanks to the old film adaptions I watched my childhood, but until this summer, I’m ashamed to admit that I’d never read anything by Jules Verne.

There, I said it. Feels better to get it out in the open. I ‘m still only two books better off, but what an amazing pair of books they are. It’s admittedly a massively overused phrase but 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and its Sequel The Mysterious Island really have stood the test of time as pieces of literature. A good story is a good story and will always trump a work which falls over itself to shoe-horn as many fancy words in as it can. That’s not to say Verne didn’t show literary flair but his emphasis was always on keeping the reader gripped and taking them on a fantastical journey.

All the while I was reading, I was reminding myself that they were translations too, and what skill Verne must’ve had to ensure the many works he wrote in his native French could be enjoyed by everyone. They’re a fascinating time capsule as well, from a time when it wasn’t easy to visit other countries, experience other cultures, or an everyday occurrence to meet someone with a different colour of skin.

In 20,000 Leagues…, Verne not only introduced one of popular culture’s most enduring figures in the enigmatic Captain Nemo, but one of its greatest feats of engineering, his mighty vessel the Nautilus. We take the idea of the submarine for granted now, but in this book, Verne pretty much invented it. The ideas and concepts he introduced in the book surrounding the Nautilus must’ve been nothing short of revolutionary at the time and it’s quite an experience to read about it now, knowing that at the time of publication, no-one had ever heard of such a thing before.

The Mysterious Island has also received the film adaption treatment – twice – but it was of course the original which caught my attention as a child. In it, Verne carefully weaves a stand-alone tale into the continuation of Nemo’s story seamlessly and extremely satisfyingly. In some ways it’s an even more gripping read, and it’s fascinating to behold the ingenuity of its protagonists as they adapt to life on their new-found accidental home.

If you’re a literary stranger to Jules Verne, I’d highly recommend these two great helpings of escapism.

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October 8, 2018 · 8:41 am

What Harper meant to me

harper-lee-tease-today-160219Like many people all over the world, I was saddened to hear the news of Harper Lee’s death recently.

Every time I hear her name I’m transported back to the classroom, which was the place where I was introduced to this remarkable story of courage, prejudice and human nature. Of course, the race message will always be the novel’s strongest voice but we should not forget that it speaks with many. The sense of mystery when I first heard the children talk of Boo Radley was one that I identified with only too well. I think many of us will have memories of ‘that wierd bloke who skulked around the town’ when we were kids, or the neighbourhood recluse next door but three.

I already knew that prejudice was bad when I read the book, but it brought home to me the hypocrisy of people who, on the surface, appear honest and upstanding yet project their paranoia and insecurities so they manifest themselves in disrupting and harmful ways. To Kill a Mockingbird was of course a lesson within an English lesson. One of human nature and the inexorable presence that it is. Above all though, it was and will always be a damned good story, which in the end is the most important thing.

So, thanks Harper Lee for opening all our eyes. Rest in peace.

 

 

 

 

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Literary musings

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I touch on specific authors in other blog posts, but this particular post is just a bit more of a free-form ramble about things I’ve read. I add to it periodically, with the most recent books I’ve finished at the top of the post.

 

I’m sure the author would appreciate my candour in admitting that the first reason I downloaded How to Punch Kids in Bathrooms is that it was free. It is in fact a stretch to call it a book, something which Marszalkowski readily admits close to the end of its 32 pages. Offering frank and insightful recollections of his childhood feelings and experiences, it’s an interesting read but is really more of an extended advertisement for his next book. That said it’s free and is a great taster for an author I now find myself wanting to read more of.

Is it really that long since my last holiday read? Well, time as they say flies, and it also plays a massive part in the book I spent my time poolside reading last year. Michael Moorcock’s quirky and unmistakable shadow looms large over the science fiction world, so I’m even more ashamed to admit that I never got around to reading him until last summer. I found Dancers at the End of Time in the superb Bookends in Carlisle, Cumbria (Attention bookworms, if you haven’t been, please do, you’ll be there all day) and picked it up solely because it was three books in one. No ‘you must read this one first’ sage advice for me. Thrift won out. Regardless, it’s a fantastically imaginative read. Based in a far-off future society where mankind has grown bored and complacent, it’s brimming with dark humour, cautionary warnings and plenty of time travel.

Having now polished off Andrew Hall’s complete Tabitha trilogy, I can honestly recommend this to anyone who loves science fiction, fantasy, or just a damned good story. Anyone who has not had the pleasure of immersing themselves in Hall’s strange and colourful world(s), well, I actually envy you, in that you’ll be able to read the whole thing in one go, one book after the other.

For sheer escapism and more than a little political history, Stephen King’s 11/22/63 (American date format you understand) takes some beating. Say what you want about Stevie, he tells a cracking yarn and this ambitious what-if about a man’s mission to foil the Kennedy assassination plot is every bit the spectacle you’d hope it to be. I had my doubts on how King would tackle such a historical legend but crazy as it sounds, this story isn’t really about Handsome Jack, more so the book’s protagonist, his issues with time travel and very significantly, the people he meets on his travels.

Everyone’s favourite punk rock nihilist, sometime Hollywood actor and successful spoken word performer to boot, Henry Rollins is someone I’ve been wanting to read for a while. Broken Summers is a fascinating and very accurate look at life on the road, consisting of Hank’s tour diaries from various times in his life, while Black Coffee Blues is a stream of consciousness collection of short (in some cases, positively minute) stories, dream recollections and tour diaries to boot. I found Summers far more satisfying, possible because of what I was doing while reading it, and Black Coffee… a little too fragmented, but certainly extremely thought provoking. Hell, I love a narrative and Black Coffee isn’t really about that – more of a ‘dip-in’ job. Gearing up for Black Coffee Blues 2.

Ah, the much-touted Ready Player One from Ernest Cline. As a child of the 80s and a Science Fiction geek to boot, I absolutely loved this! I read it quite a long time before the film came out, and was beseeching everyone to read it first, so they could appreciate where it was coming from originally. Suffice it say, the film version, though successful in its own right, was a completely different animal.

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