#26 Still Bullet Time

It’s a fast city, Amsterdam. Cyclists, on their battered bikes, weaving through pedestrians, bells ringing and crashes averted at the last second. If feels young, even though its old. And there’s no mid-life crisis in sight; it wears the tourists’ khaki shorts pulled up high and the socks in old leather sandals in knowing irony. The coffee shops and the red lights summon tittering people, alive with the feeling of freedom and not-quite-safe pleasures. It has what people call, an ‘atmosphere’.

But we took it slow. We were bullet time. Detached from the rest of the world as it revolved around us in a blur. We had our own world. We had each other. We were tourists yes, but we walked to our own tempo, following the rhythms of each other’s feet. And we haven’t stopped. We still walk to our own beat. We’re still bullet time.

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#25 Looks Like a Smile


She just wants to play, she’s only three. She has a favourite ball, it’s still just about yellow, despite all the scuffs and the dust. Really, it’s still only just about a ball, it’s certainly not round, it probably wasn’t designed for feet like hers. She throws it around anyway, up in the air, along the ground, towards anyone who she thinks might want to play too. And who wouldn’t want to? She’s beautiful. Her eyes sparkle with a mischievous intelligence and when she reaches out for you, it is as though you’re being blessed.

She throws dirt up in the air just because she can and she knows she won’t be told off, not with that smile. It looks like a smile anyway. It’s certainly easier for us to think that way. Because she’s chained. Tethered to a wooden post with metal links. Still, it looks like a smile.

#1 Break Lights

Alarm.

Shower.

Teeth, shave, dress.

Out the door, into the car. Horns blaze, traffic stationary. Phone on the passenger seat, screen lights up: ‘Office’.

“Hello?”

“Where are you?”

“Traffic.”

“Again?”

“Yes.”

“Get up earlier.”

“Okay.”

“When you arrive, my office.”

The line goes dead.

From behind, sirens. An ambulance. Pull out behind, follow it through. Phone, back on the passenger seat, screen lights up: ‘Debbie’.

“Hello?”

“Hi.”

“I didn’t think… You said… You called.”

“Let’s talk.”

“Yes, thank you.”

A pause, just static.

“I’m…”

Break lights.

Chris awoke to the sound of beeping, not his alarm but something new. He smiled. The lights were different too, white and too bright, not the warm yellow of his bedside lamp. His smile grew.

“Young man.”

A police officer.

“Lets talk. You were driving, on your phone. Someone died.”

The words fluttered through his mind but all they meant was change. Chris laughed.

(and) A New Challenge or 150/150

In the week, when I wrote Welcome Back, I had intended to call it ‘Welcome Back and a New Challenge’ but the welcome back part of the post felt like it was enough on its own. So, today is the new challenge. What is this new challenge I hear the three of you ask, well, I am calling it 150/150. Simply put, it is my intention to write a 150 word story each day for the next 150 days, (it would be more accurate to say publish a 150 word story each day, I’m sure there will be days were I write more than one to give myself a buffer). This will mean I should finish around September 12th, I’m going to give myself a little leeway in case of unforeseen circumstances, but the 150 stories will be written.

My reason for doing this is simple: I want to write more. I shall be starting my dissertation soon and so I want to build a habit around writing, but I also want to give myself something to do as a break. 150 words isn’t too daunting, its enough words to tell a story but few enough to limit the time pressure. Having said this, it is also a real challenge. It can be hard to get an idea down to so few words, and that’s when I have an idea in the first place, I’m going to need 150 of them after all.

The first story is Break Lights, I hope you enjoy it and all that come after.

Achieving January

So, as I have previously mentioned, I am attempting to write a novel. As I have also previously mentioned, I have struggled to get back into the writing of said novel since the exam period. In the last post I just linked to, I signed off by saying I had an idea that I was going to go and write down, here is that idea:

 

It isn’t my best. It turns out writing is really hard. For the first half of the first half of this year, I was strict with myself, making sure I was writing a certain amount every week. Not only did this increase the quantity of stuff I was producing, but the quality was higher too. Annoyingly, practice does seem to make perfect, or at least, practice makes the average standard higher.

Today though, really-truly-actually-pinky-promise-hands-on-the-keyboard-ready-to-type-today, I am going to start again. I almost certainly won’t write a great deal, it’s been so long since I was properly in my Achieving December flow that I’m going to read through what I’ve already got before starting something new. But, it feels good just to be doing something.

In this vain, today I am posting the first scene for AD, (both literally the first scene of the novel and the first scene of the story I have posted). It is a first draft, (although as I submitted it as part of a piece of coursework last year it might be slightly more polished than most of my first drafts), and I know there are things I want to change about it. Regardless, I’m putting it up in its current state as part of efforts to get back into writing it.

I hope you enjoy.

 

January

I’m going to die. In 333 days, I’m going to die.

I count it out again, whispering aloud to try and get the figures right. I need to find the mistake. Surely there has to be a mistake? From now until the end of November is 333 days. That can’t be right. The paper shakes in my hands. I’ve only read one line, the DOD, 30/11/2007. It must be a typo, everything else seems to add up. I know there are more words on the page, but I can’t read them. Everything is starting to move. It’s like I can feel gravity for the first time. Like it has suddenly got stronger and my legs can’t take it. They crumple. I’m on the floor, still holding tight to the file as if doing so might change something.

‘Can I help you sir?’ The girl from the desk is standing just to my left. She’s pretty. I’d thought that as soon as I’d seen her. She has this long auburn hair that flows down over her shoulders and rests on her chest. I’d felt guilty for looking earlier, but I couldn’t help it. Her uniform, a cold grey knee length dress, had bulged invitingly where the hair fell and, compared to all the other staff here, who seemed to be old, glasses wearing, librarian types, you couldn’t help but stare. I’d even joined the longer queue at Hall 8 reception to get to speak to her. Some guy in front of me had been telling her jokes, her giggle was amazing and I couldn’t wait to hear her voice. When I got to the front though, the words barely came out. Why was talking to girls always so hard?

In the end all I managed was, ‘Rodgers, Joseph Rodgers’, like I was the world’s shittest James Bond impersonator. She’d been sweet though.

‘Aisle 272’ she’d said. ‘Don’t be nervous lovely, I’m heading down that way myself in a bit. I’ll come check you’re getting on okay.’

I’d walked off berating myself for being so awkward, determined to think of a funny joke in case she really did come see me later, she’d called me lovely after all. I knew she probably called everyone that, but I’d wanted to hold on to it nonetheless. Now though, I’m sitting, quivering on the floor, unable to get up. I don’t feel in any way lovely and none of the cracker jokes I’d remembered from last week will come back to me. All I can do is stare at her. Her badge says “Hi, my name is Catherine and I’m here to help”, but I know no one can.

She stares right back at me, expecting an answer, an explanation of why I’m on the floor. I can’t do it though, I can’t bring myself to say anything, not even a lie. My mind is too distracted by the tension building inside me. My arms start to shake, like they always do when I get angry. Mum used to laugh at me when it happened, which only ever made it worse. She’d joke that the chicken look wasn’t great and I should probably stop flapping my arms around before I took off. I used to get so annoyed with her I’d storm away and calm down in my room. I guess that was the point. But Mum isn’t here now and she hasn’t made a joke in a while anyway. I’m on my own.

As I realise this, the need to lash out gets ten times stronger. This anger is too close to fear to be contained. I know it isn’t Catherine’s fault at all, but I need to do something. I want to yell at her, scream. Ask why she has done this to me. Ask why she wants me dead, why she is waiting till the end of the year, why she doesn’t just slit my throat as I sit here helpless on the floor. I can’t ask her any of that of course. Not because she wouldn’t have a clue what I was going on about, not even because I know that none of this is her fault, it’s just because I’m not ready to say it out loud. If I do, it might make it true. But, I do need to scream, scream at anyone about anything, it doesn’t matter what. And she is here, young and pretty Catherine is standing here, cannon fodder for my rage.

‘This whole system is fucking archaic! Haven’t you people heard of the internet? It took me two fucking hours to get here today. Do you know how difficult it is to use public transport on New Year’s Day? It’s shit. It’s all shit. Why can’t I read this at home?’ I thrust my file towards her and she takes it, looking confused. I don’t want her to read it, but I can’t hold it any longer, like it’s fire in my hands. They are tingling, almost as if it really had burnt me. My whole body just feels wrong. Like getting my Date has changed something inside me that I don’t know how to fix.

‘I’m sorry sir. Please try not to get angry. I know it’s a pain, but I don’t think there is anything I can do about it. I’m just a trainee.’

She looks right at me, still helpless on the floor, and I can sense her worry. She really is very pretty. I know from down here she is bound to look tall, but her legs seem to be endless and her smile seems so inviting. She bends down, eyes full of concern. They’re brown, I’d noticed that at the desk, but now I’m closer I can see there is so much more to them. They have rings, some golden, some flecked with green. They remind me of tree trunks. From here, I can even see down her dress a little, the top of a cream and black bra is just on show. And I don’t care. Not about the bra, or the smile or even her eyes. She works for the Archive Ministry so she is part of this. She may not have set my Date, she probably didn’t even type it out, but she is one of them. I’m going to die and she is smiling at me and that can’t be right.

‘Sir’, she leans in, offering a hand I can’t bear to touch. She is too real. ‘Can I help you up? I can show you to a private room if you prefer, you could give this a proper read?’ She holds my file out towards me.

‘I’m fine. I don’t need your help.’ The coldness in my voice isn’t intentional, but I can see it offends her all the same. I push myself to my feet, holding on to the metal shelves behind me, still unsure if my legs can take the weight.

‘Can I get you some water then?’ I can’t stand the fact she is still being nice to me. It’s like I’m a child she’s mollycoddling.

Or a dying person she is trying to comfort.

The anger drains away as quick as it came.

‘Yeah, thanks.’ It’s all I can muster.

‘I’ll only be a moment lovely. You just wait right there.’

She’d called me lovely again. Me, this pathetic mess, holding on to a shelf for support while she treats me like some invalid. I can’t stand it. I breathe deeply, trying to steady my legs. I’m not sure it’s worked, but after thirty seconds or so, I take a few tentative steps down the aisle in the direction she went in. Now I’m trying to find someone in it, I notice properly how big this place is. I’d seen on the signs that there were 867 aisles in Hall 8, which is just one of 14 in the Archive Ministry. I’d come in at the main entrance on the Strand, just past the Adelphi theatre, but I’d had to take a lift down to the Halls themselves. They’ve all been built underground. Some right under the Thames. It makes them feel like crypts. Around me, millions of files are stacked, one for every person in the country. Most are far bigger than mine, filled with details of lives already lived. I can’t think about that now though, so I start to run.

As I get to the end of 272, I see Catherine. She is in the main corridor, heading towards the reception desk and holding my file in her left hand. How could I have been stupid enough to give it to her. She might look. She might see. Then she’ll know and it will all be real.

‘Catherine.’ I call out to try and get her attention, but she’s a way away and clearly can’t hear me.

‘Catherine.’ Louder this time, I need to get that file back and she’s almost at the water fountain. She still doesn’t hear though. ‘Catherine!’ I practically scream at her as she stoops over, starting to fill a plastic cup. She turns in a fright, dropping my file and the half filled cup. The papers, now drenched, sit loose on the floor.

‘You scared me.’ She clutches at her chest, her voice a little squeaky. She seems afraid. ‘Is everything okay?’

‘Yeah, yeah, everything’s cool, super cool.’ Super cool? Who says super cool? Weirdos, that’s who. She’ll realise something’s wrong if I keep this up. I need to be calm, normal, not a freak.’I just realised the time that’s all. I really should be getting off.’
My fake composure clearly isn’t working, she’s still looking at me like there’s something wrong. I can tell she’s still a little scared too. That’s probably what happens when you yell at a girl in a public place.

‘Okay then.’ She tentatively looks away from me and down to the papers on the floor. ‘I’m sorry , I got these all wet when I dropped everything. I can get you a fresh copy if you like? Just give me five minutes and I’ll go look you up on the computers.’ She starts to turn, to head back to the desk. ‘What’s your name again? Joseph wasn’t it?’

I panic. She’ll definitely see if she does that. She’ll know I’m little more than a corpse waiting to be made. ‘No.’ The volume has come back into my voice, composure gone. ‘Don’t do that.’

‘I’m just trying to help sir.’ No more lovely for me then. I guess that’s another byproduct of shouting at girls, they become less inclined to be friendly. ‘You can take the wet copy if you like.’ She shoves my file into my arms and, without waiting to see if I’m holding it, turns and stalks back to the desk. I can see that she is talking to one of the other archivists, pointing me out as the source of the commotion, but I don’t care. Sure, earlier I’d had wild fantasies of telling her a joke, getting her number, maybe even going for a drink where I’d get served immediately without showing ID and impressing her further with my wit, but none of that is important now. All that matters is that I have my file and my Date and that no one else knows.

#

Going Analogue

img_3204I’ve always wanted to be more creative. My drawing ability reached its peak when I was about 7, nothing I drew was particularly good, but it looked like a 7 year old had done it. My drawings still look like a 7 year old did them, which is a bit embarrassing for a 23 year old. I’ve never been able to sing, when I auditioned for a part in the school production of Around the World in Eighty Days, the pained expression on my music teacher’s face made me feel so guilty I stopped. My dancing makes most Dads look like they should audition for the Bolshoi and the less said about my musical abilities the better.

I’d like to think that my writing isn’t bad though, and I’ve always been proud of it, but in many ways, I think photography might be what I’m best at. I have no real technical skill, but I can frame a shot, (look out for tomorrow’s Sci-Fi Saturday for an example). I’ve always felt this has stood me in good stead in my writing because I can frame a scene in my mind as I write. Today’s post though isn’t about writing at all though, but photography. More specifically, it’s about a camera.

My loving and very patient girlfriend bought me an amazing present a few months ago that I’ve been waiting until after exams to build: the Lomography Konstruktor build your own 35mm SLR camera kit. Yesterday I sat down and made it. It took me around 2 hours and I filmed the whole thing as a time lapse. I couldn’t be happier with the result, (of the camera at least), and I’m looking forward to seeing the photos themselves whenever I fill the roll of film and get it developed.

Although my first camera was film, like most people of my generation, I’ve pretty much always been a digital only photographer. More than this, again like most in my generation, the majority of my photos are taken on a smartphone. I do have a micro four thirds camera which I love, but day-to-day, my iPhone does all my photographic heavy lifting. This is fantastic in almost all ways; my phone is always with me, the camera is just a swipe or a tap away and it is remarkably good quality. Basically, it is instant and good enough. When I move up to my proper camera, the quality jumps up a notch, but the instantaneous nature remains. I can see the result of any shot almost as soon as I take it. If it is out of focus or under exposed, I can make a correction and try again. Even if I don’t quite get this right at the time, with editing tools available at my finger tips, I can improve things after the fact. There are problems with this though.

With everything being instant, it is very easy to not spend the necessary time thinking about a shot before taking it. In the past, with the expense of getting prints, it was necessary to make sure what you were committing to film was just what you wanted. Now, given digital cameras essentially allow for an infinite amount of photos to be taken, you don’t need to take so much care. I think this is a shame.

I have over 16000 photos in my library. They form a record of my life that I would be crushed if I lost. But I hardly ever look at them. There is just too much noise, (hopefully not in the pictures themselves). Also, a lot of them are distinctly average. Many probably aren’t even as good as that. This is in many ways a good allegory for writing, both mine and others, (okay, so this post might be a little bit about writing). It is easy to commit thoughts to paper now, or, more pertinently, the binary memory of whatever digital device I’m carrying at the time. This is great, it means I don’t forget ideas when I’m on the go and makes editing easy, but, like with the photography, I think something can be lost too. Why take the time to make sure every word and phrase are constructed just as they should be when it is so trivial to go back and change it later? How do you avoid the temptation to skip the editing process entirely when it is so easy to share your thoughts with the world as soon as they have spilled out of your brain, through your typing fingers and onto the screen? Instant and good enough.

Thoughtless and mundane might be another way of putting it. I never hand write anything, I hate my handwriting, (I can’t read it a lot of the time), and I love my iPad Pro, it suits me, so I’m certainly not advocating for a return to the written word being just that: written. What I do think though, is just because the world has become digital, doesn’t mean the good practices of the analogue world should be forgotten.

And this is why I’m looking forward to playing with my Konstruktor camera. I’ll have to think about each shot carefully, (film is even more expensive now than it used to be thanks to Mr Supply and Mrs Demand). I’ll have to be patient before seeing the results, so I’ll get to think about what they might mean. When I do get the film developed, I’m sure I’ll want to scan the best pictures so I can add them to my digital library and when I do, I’ll be taking the time to look at them again properly, remembering the moment. I’ll be getting more from those 30 photos than I might from the next 500 I take digitally and it is this care and thought I want to carry forward into my writing.

Achieving December, (or at least May)

I haven’t written a post in a while. A month ago today I published In Pursuit of Perfection, the post I consider to be my first, (there was one before it but then it was almost two months later that I actually started trying to stick to a regular schedule). In that post I said I was going to aim for publishing something here twice a week and, in general, I’ve been pretty good with that. Exams have got in the way over the past week or so though, (my time as an undergrad is now done!). I’ll remedy this pretty quickly, once I hit publish on this very post in fact. What I am finding harder is starting work again on my novel.

As a bit of background, I first came up with the concept for this novel, (with a working title of Achieving December), well over a year ago. It might even be two now. For about six months the ideas existed only in my head, not a strategy I would recommend as I assume I thought of some good things in that time that have now drifted out of my memory, I just can’t remember. After a while I adopted a strategy I now stick to, taking a note on my phone any time a thought strikes me, even if I think it might be completely ridiculous. Then, last semester, in the autumn of 2015, I took a YA creative writing module at Uni and decided that I’d write the opening couple of scenes as my submission. I think I might write something separate about that experience at another time, needless to say Achieving December underwent a dramatic transformation in that time. The result however, was that by early January I had 4000 words and two scenes. I admit, this is a very small percentage of a novel but I was proud.

I certainly hadn’t finished there though. By mid January I’d probably doubled that word count and as in the semester I have just finished I was taking a creative writing module called the Independant Project, in which I could write almost anything I wanted, I started being able to dedicate what I’d call Uni-time to the novel without feeling too guilty. The work, after all, would be going towards my final submission. This is where a brief description of Achieving December might prove handy. Set in an alternate present, the world of Joe, my protagonist, is largely the same as one any 16 year old boy from the UK would recognise. His life revolves around family, girls and school. There is one, fairly notable, difference; everyone has the ability to find out the exact date of their death. Joe’s so happens to be the 30th of November. The novel begins on New Years Day.

The most pertinent aspect of all this to this specific posts however, is the structure. Each chapter will be a month, starting with January. I feel it is important to have goals in your writing to serve as a form of motivation. Sometimes, however much I love to write, it can feel a chore and setting myself definite targets helps me push through the sticky patches. It helps that I am highly competitive, particularly with myself. My specific goal for Achieving December was to write a chapter a month, keeping up with the chronology of the story. This way, if I do stick to the plan, I will finish my first draft at the end of November, coinciding with NaNoWriMo, which, if you don’t know what it is, you should go and look up immediately, (at least immediately after you’ve finished reading this of course). The coursework and exam period has thrown a right spanner in the works however.

I always expected that my writing would have to take a back seat over the last few months, it couldn’t be any other way, but it means I’m now at least a month behind my own schedule. Since the end of March, I’ve written about half a scene, adding maybe 1000 words. I certainly want to finish the novel, and I’m still aiming to hit my November deadline, but picking it back up again is hard. In February and March I felt I had real momentum, I was averaging 2500 words a week, not massive amounts, but a figure I was pleased with given the demands if Uni and my job. Now though, the thought of switching apps to finish that half written scene seems rather daunting. This post is probably only as long as it is because I’m putting off working on other things and I keep coming up with excuses in my mind for why I shouldn’t start now, why I should begin next week, next month maybe.

In this instance, I feel I need to ignore my brain and follow my typing fingers. I’m sure that what I produce in the first few days or weeks won’t feel up to scratch, but that’s okay. The longer I take to begin, the harder it will be, and I’m actually quite proud of what I’ve produced so far so don’t want to let it drift away. A big part of the reason for me writing this post is as motivation. It might only get read three times, (thanks for the I-don’t-know-how-manyth-time loving and very patient girlfriend), but I’ve put it out there now, I’ve told the world I’m going to start work again, so I will.

In fact, I think I might even have an idea now. I should probably go and write it down.