Archive for July, 2012

Writers Vs. Readers… FIGHT!

I’ve always blamed the fact that I’m not ‘well read’ upon my awful concentration span, which in turn I blame upon my epilepsy/epilepsy meds/etc, perhaps depression (It was only in recent years that I found out that depression affects your ability to concentrate).

Sometimes I worry that I’ve become a part of the new generational mindset of not being able to focus on one thing for say for than five or ten seconds at a time, thanks to the ever changing world of technology, social networking and media. But I’m not entirely sure that’s my reason, I’ve never been that ‘into’ ever changing, vomit inducing scenes and quickly ending thrills.

I have friends who don’t write that are better read than me. My partner has read more full length pieces of fiction in his adult life than I have, and he’s not that much older. When I go browsing books in say Fopp, I’m usually on the lookout for things he’ll like, bringing home piles of fiction that someday I’d like to read, but really I buy them so that he can read them first and generally relay me the gist!

But when I’ve met other writers there’s a huge part of me that can’t help but feel inferior as they mention writer upon writer and book upon book… And for years before I was in regular contact with any other writers at all I would pose myself the question, “Does a writer have to be well read to be a writer?”

When I was a musician I listened to lots of music. Anything that grabbed my attention. I’d often find bands I desperately wished I could sound like. Sometimes I’d try my utmost hardest to do that. Nearly all the time I’d fail miserably, I never really could write a melody like Kurt Cobain did, I couldn’t write succinct lyrics like Richey Edwards, I couldn’t sound so wondrous as Nick Drake and his acoustic guitar… And it was probably a good thing, it forced me to be ‘me’…

But when it came to writing I came to be frightened of ‘influencing’ what comes out of my hands with the work and words of someone else.

But I’ve seen films and watched television. I interact with other humans, I see life revolving around, I’ve experienced family life, and grappled with regular ups and downs… These are the things that influence me, and my subject matters, most of the time. Does this mean I am at a loss when it comes to not being ‘well read’?

I’ve always considered myself, creatively, a ‘punk’ kid (I don’t have a mohican and multiple piercings!) in that I considered myself anti-being told how something should be done in relation to any ‘artistic’ endeavour! When I learnt to play guitar, I taught myself. I never wrote songs in keys. I never learnt scales. I’d play, and then I’d play something else and if it sounded right it was fine by me. I was a point and shoot kind of creative photographer, and when I started writing I just let the words pour out on the paper. It was enjoyable for me, but for an audience… hmm?

But now I’m coming to accept that when you’re writing, even if you tell yourself that you ‘do it purely for your own pleasure‘ there is a part of you that hopes someone might read your work and enjoy it. Why else would tell others that you ‘write’? Why else would you show others what you have created?

And so, being on that learning curve involving finding and using the techniques that make things ‘pleasant’ to read, making things easier on the eyes, grappling and wrestling with making storylines that plausibly flow from scene to scene, am I at a loss when it comes to not being well read? I’m slowly learning how to ‘structure’ words on a page with a reader in mind. And paragraphs… Yes, they help! There’s a part of my brain, when the words are coming out, that sees everything as a neverending stream of consciousness (well, I know where the deep breaths are meant to be… why shouldn’t the reader? What do you mean they’re not in my head…?)

So I pose the question to anyone reading this as I’d love to read others opinions on this:
“Does a writer have to be well read to be a writer? Are you at a loss as a writer if you are not ‘well read’?”


“Cotton Shrinking”



No one had noticed just how much weight she’d lost. Her plan was indeed working. She watched the machine spin the clothes again in the oh-so-near boiling water. The threads pulling tighter and tighter together.

She’d managed to keep most of the same clothes as she slimmed down. The idea had come to her one day as her mum had accidently put the old machine on a 90 degree wash and everything came out smaller. It was an old washing machine and the markings on the dials had rubbed off in most places.

It was a reasonably good disguise. No one questioned, no one saw. If she needed new clothes she’d ask for the money and went out herself, buying a larger size, always 100% cotton, and then she’d put it through the same torturous procedure. If her mum ever noticed the sizes on the labels it seemed as if she was a reasonably regular ‘size’.

She hadn’t kept down a meal in a long time. She’d become a dab hand at making herself sick and arranging leftovers of meals on the plate so that it looked artistically empty. Her mum always told her that she was far too cunning for her age. She was barely sixteen and was living in the frame of an emaciated child. Her extraneous skin hung in wrinkled clumps, hidden under the shrunken cotton.

In front of the body length mirror hanging over her bedroom door she’d stand and stare every night.

It never seemed enough. She’d lay on her bed, lost on the expanse of her single sized mattress, the pillow more a sponge, absorbing its fair share of the saltwater dripping off her cheekbones, defined and sharp. God knows what else she could do. There was still so much to go.

She wanted to be reminiscent of her mother, stick thin in a flower-print maxi-dress, tightly hugging her waistline. She wished she could look so slender, so rarefied. She wished she could fulfil all of her mother’s dreams, all the dreams that had shattered when she had come into existence. Her mother gave up so much to have her. Why couldn’t she be her perfect china doll daughter? A glowing example of the elegance, the sleek beauty she’d seen in that precious photo of her mother, taken before it all went so wrong, the photo she watched her mother burn in a bitter rage on the open fire when she was only seven. She could still remember the smell of those photos, burning one by one, turned to white ashes and the black smoke disappeared up the chimney stack, amongst the embers no remains of the past they told amongst the embers.

In the morning, she stood weak in the kitchen, gulping down glasses of water. She got herself ready for school, taking her shrunken blouse from the ironing pile that her mother had worked through the night before. Her father had long gone to work, though she hadn’t heard him leave before dawn broke, she knew that he wasn’t there. And her mother had gone off to the church. It was Tuesday and she would leave early to organise the weekly cake mornings. Yesterday evening the tangy scent of freshly baked lemon sponge filled the house. She was certain it would’ve been a wonderful, tart sponge with gorgeous lashings of buttercream icing, decorated with crystallised lemon peel. But she hadn’t gone to see it. Her stomach panged when the aroma had hit her, like a punch to the gut.

She’d long realised that it was much better to not see such things, they were only temptations that fought against her will to drop those last few pounds. Her mum could’ve baked for a Parisian patisserie. That’s why her little girl had bloated so much in the first place. This tubby, waddling girl. These days the others at school never called her an ‘elephant’. Or even a ‘hippo’. But she knew they all thought it. Her mother must’ve thought it too. She’d have put the cakes straight into her well carried tins as soon as they cooled, she didn’t offer anyone a slice these days.

The blouse felt loose, and she wondered if she should hot wash it again. So trembling and weak were her legs that she wondered how she’d get to the hall, and then from the door to bus stop. She stood there, holding the worktop like a crutch, looking at the dial on the washing machine, its door hanging at an angle from its hinges. Her mind, slow and as trembling as her knees, looked at the skin hanging from the bones of her fingers against the white melamine worktop.

She took a nearby dishcloth. Slowly and carefully wiping any moisture from the inside of the washing machine door, she kept one hand on the counter to anchor her gaunt frame steady. She turned the dial and made sure it was at a 90 degree wash, and double checked, triple checked. She pressed the on button. The orange light came on and the machine sat, waiting.

Back from the church her mother opened the door, poised with a giddy smile cautiously painted on her lips in crimson red lipstick. She told him to wait behind her as she called out to check if anyone was in. She dropped down the empty cake tins at the door which they closed behind them with one twist of the deadlock and he came in and took the lead, walking straight up the stairs. The caretaker from St. Kentigern had been here once before and the route to the master bedroom was still fresh in his mind from last Tuesday.

He only had time for a cuppa when they came back downstairs, and in the kitchen she filled and turned the kettle on. Noticing the orange light was lit on the washing machine she wondered if she had put a load on before she had left, knowing that she hadn’t. She clasped the handle and opened the door. The caretaker had never heard such a piercing scream. He dashed through the doorway and stood stupefied by the view in front of him. A bruised, twisted, skeletal arm, hanging out over the grey rubber seal, limp and lifeless.

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And… again…

Today there was rain by the bucket load. I was soaked through within the two minutes it took for the bus to come up the road. And all of a sudden I got the urge to go back to my one and only novel-in-progress. It had been put to the side for the last couple of months as I took my typing hands elsewhere and essentially, I’d needed some distance from it.

It was quiet enough on the tills at work today for my brain to drift off and begin conjuring sentences. New opening sentences. And then I realised I was possibly heading for a rewrite. Again.

The tiniest scrap bits of this story idea had been in penned at different points over the last decade or so, one or two A4 pages at a time, never really more than that. I’d spend bedtimes lying awake consistently trying to figure out just how two awkward and different people come to kiss for the first time…

And then I began working in handwritten A5 notepads, penning page after page once I discovered anti-depressants and coffee shops (strangely at the same time). I got chubbier (also due to anti-depressants and coffee shops…) I soon gave up the anti-depressants. I carried on with the coffee shop writing…

About two years and three or four hundred pages later and suddenly I felt it was all getting a bit ridiculous, what with the main character having a sudden love affair with a gorgeously masculine, closeted male bisexual Scottish Hollywood-class actor after a photo shoot, who then takes him away to meet his whole family over Christmas dinner, which is also their second or third ‘date’… and I realised I was just writing out my own fantasies of being whisked away by Gerard Butler. Utterly ridiculous. Version one, scrapped. (I also stopped fancying Gerard, I don’t like the unkempt hair he’s sporting these days, but that’s a whole other matter…)

Version two thus began. It gained a title, “Edge of a Lens” which somewhat never seemed quite right to me. I decided it mustn’t veer off into the ridiculous. I wanted this to be a ‘serious’ piece (I had delusions of it becoming an ‘important’ piece… whatever that means). I plundered on, this time on a laptop. Praise be, I could edit until my heart was content. And got well past the 30,000 words mark. All before I’d ever completed a short story.

And then I did complete a short story and got feedback in regards to it from the kind souls at the Glasgow Writers’ Group. These points really stuck…
My paragraphs are too long and took too long to get to the points, of which there wasn’t enough.
And the piece seemed devoid of the humour I sometimes exhibit in, of all places, Facebook posts.
I genuinely learnt something that night, it being the first constructive criticism I’d received on a piece.

It was with those important points in mind that I pondered over “Edge of a Lens.” Why were the chapters so long with so little actually ‘happening’? Why was there so little humour?

And so now version three. The title “Life Through a Mirror” came to me as I was walking around work and walked past a mirror (who would’ve thought)… Over the last few days it clicked more and more for these reasons:
1) On a literal level the mirror in the title refers to the mirror in an SLR, the main character being a photographer…
2) The mirror is also (somehow) tied to the sexuality of the two main characters. To be homosexual is widely considered in society to be the opposite, a reversal of the accepted ‘norm’ (heterosexuality).. (mirrors, reversal, etc, etc)…
3) The main character is a re-imagining and fictionalisation of myself and my life from age 16 onwards, and in many cases writing the piece is like looking into a set of magic mirrors and jotting down what I see, or something…

And as I said all this to Nicholas on the drive home I realised I was being pretentious as anything. I’m not sure how he puts up with me when I start talking about writing.

Nevertheless, the last version of the piece should come into a lot of use, albeit shortened and tightened up. A lot. Some chapters were hitting nearly 8,000 words and were ridiculously long-winded… Shorter, snappier paragraphs all around please. Circa 3,000 word chapter targets would also be nice thanks.
For the first time in regards to creative writing I have used the word ‘targets’.

As I said on Facebook “I propose this novel may be complete, by the time I’m sixty. And dead.”

This whole thing is a learning process for me, and the idea for this novel is the only long-form piece I have ever had in mind. Working on it is like nurturing a child, it’s a life’s work and it’s never really over, and you never give up on them. And so it goes on…

“A Worthy Escape”

A Worthy Escape

Words, sounds, feelings so stirring
Stir my head to point of seizing
Seizure eyes, mine slanting
Spinning into an oblivion
I’ll stomp my feet to the rhythm
Resist a never-ending clasp upon my arm
Shaking my being to the literal core
But it is me

Get the diazepam quick
Call the ambulance
I am nervous, I felt it coming
I’ve seen the light! In fact I’ve seen all three
All different colours, primaries
The flickering phosphors on a TV
Flashing fireworks for me alone to see
I am lost

My oblivion is not a chosen haven
A hell, nor purgatory, nor even a heaven
I am blinded and I will not see
A reminder is worthless, you were then my eyes to see
Bleary and unclear
I wake up to a doctor’s leer
I am tired, exhausted
I was lost
Now I’m found

I am tired


“My Dear William”

My Dear William

It was quite hard for me to grasp that William wasn’t coming back. Friends told me, so many months after the fact, that it was time to move on, as if it was as simple a thing to do as pouring a glass of water, but what did they know, they still had their husbands, and they had yet to go through what I had. Loss.

I’d put the television on for noise to fill the void-like background. Maybe Radio 4 during the daytime. And whilst I’d found immense amounts of time for housework, getting a toothbrush into the nooks and crannies along the top of the skirting boards, it never worked up much of an appetite inside of me. Maybe the odd cucumber sandwich, the odd biscuit, cups of tea. Josephine from the knitters circle at the local club made a point upon how gaunt I had looked, sat with my crochet needles, untouched china cup filled with tepid, milky tea to the side whilst I made little, mistake filled circles of wool which were of little to no worth to anyone.

What is one to do when they find themselves alone after so many years, decades of the same companionship? When does the singular lose all sense of its own identity and when do you not see yourself in the mirror anymore? Why is it your keen, culinary hand can no longer cook for one alone, and you take no pleasure in the things you did alone, even when you were ‘together’? And your mouth can’t speak for knowing a familiar voice won’t encircle you in response? When did you notice the individual smell of that person was no longer there, that it disappeared into the ether, despite how closely you clung onto the last traces in their pyjamas, curled up like a baby in your arms at night? When did it all happen?

I can’t remember Susan nor Michael sitting beside my bed, not well enough to remember neither the words they said nor the lines on their grown, tired faces. They lived so far away and yet I wasn’t even enlivened to see them here, beside me, in this bright white room. The smell of disinfectant and illness still familiar from when I was sat next to my dear William, not so long ago.

And as they held my hands, withered to skin no longer supple, and fragile bones so close to their own fingertips, I didn’t realise that my last breaths exhaled so quietly and reminiscent of a summer breeze, warm and welcomed in the heat of a July afternoon. The otherworldly beauty of the climbing jasmine filled my nostrils and I remembered walking with William in the scented air of a Spanish night, and as he stopped and held my hand tighter than anyone had before, he pulled me closely and kissed me upon my young, unspoken lips.

And then my loss was no more.

London came and went like a hitch-hiker passed by a speeding Ferrari. It seemed closer to three days ‘daan saaff’ rather than over a week. But nevertheless, I made it back, in one, slightly larger piece (my eating habits tend to go to the darkside when not surrounded by the stockroom of our own kitchen…)

The trip involved (in no particular order):
A lost house cat (found after much frenzied searching)
18 police vehicles (including armed response, wielding very large guns)
A visit to a garden centre which almost bored me to tears but had glorified sheds the size of our flat on display which I soon decided I would purchase after a lottery win (they started off in the low thousands…) for ‘garden holidaying and writing purposes
A post-garden centre carvery serving shrivelled and dried roast dinners
An alternating damp/sunny walk in the Chilterns with that pen pal who is indeed a real, breathing person
Lots of London traffic
Giant Hogweed spotted growing by the side of the motorway on the drive home, deadly stuff as research later revealed
Belgian beers in Eastbourne and Maxibon ice creams on the way there (arguably the two best parts of the whole trip)…

And we got to visit my mum. Whilst it was nice to see her, it saddened me a lot to see her so depressed. She was very low all three times we saw her, despite multiple ice creams on the day trip to Sevenoaks and a surprise fresh cream Victoria sponge. But these such things don’t make up for her current, sad situation…

Was nice to see my dad. It’s ridiculous to think that at the age of 30 I found myself doing such ‘male bonding’-like things such as ‘watching the footie’ with him for the first time. Nickey wasn’t happy we missed the first half of the Italy-Germany match though.
And it was good to see my eldest sister, with whom Nickey and myself mostly had heated discussions countering her new faith in “the laws of attraction”, generated by her purchase of “The Secret” by Rhonda Byrne. Personally, we’re far too cynical souls to believe in any of that positivity, love and visualisation malarkey, much to her annoyance… 😉

And then we came home. And in the most worrying way possible I sauntered off to work with an increased happiness (that I guarantee shant last long) for being back in those normal, grotesquely boring routines and situations of buses to work, coffee shops and Scottish rain. My mind wasn’t in the right place when I was in London, I had insomnia night after night despite being tired out, and I also didn’t write a single creative word, but slowly the block is lifting. I completed (tweaks aside) a draft piece of flash on the bus ride to work today. It’s rare for me to write flash as I simply want to type and type and… well, you get the idea! It was inspired by a conversation I had with Gill Hoffs at the writers group yesterday.

Every recent day has been half filled with searches for cheap holiday accommodation as our plans to go camping in August will probably be laid to waste by the rainiest summer in the U.K. I can remember. It’s not set to end. We simply want somewhere comfy where we can read, I can write, go for country walks and watch the inevitable downpours whilst indoors and warm…

Rain never fails to make me feel the urge to write.