Monday, 10 February 2014

Siblings (1)

The love of one’s siblings is a gift we might often take for granted. Very rarely does a child have a say regarding the family planning conducted by the parents — who would want such responsibilities at a young age, anyway? — and so the age gaps could be small, with a family of young ones grouped together and able to play and develop both collectively or individually; conversely, there could be a whole decade between a person and their siblings. This, then, becomes a conflict. A clash of needs, desires, even wills. It also becomes the delineation of responsibilities.
            My oldest sibling is seventeen years older than me; my youngest siblings (twins) are sixteen years younger. In between these, I also have a brother twelve years older and a brother twelve years younger. The only planning objective (and accusations) I can extrapolate from this, therefore, might be that perhaps I was meant to be grossly isolated.
            Every relationship someone has with their brother or sister is no doubt fundamentally similar to the next person’s in many ways. There exists a love, surely. Question, then. Is this love most noticeable, say, in the relationship between a young child and a teenage sibling, where the teenager must succumb to a new truth? To the inevitable truth that, despite the upcoming imbroglios of life, such as examinations for colleges and universities, the advancement of puberty and the growth into adulthood (albeit a growth which is stagnated by bouts of irrationality through the basic, heretofore inchoate understanding of patience with regards to being their parents’ priority), they are now shelved into second place as far as their basic needs are concerned? As human beings, we tend to reach stages in our lives which we are wholly unprepared for, not to mention unaware of. Puberty, for example. The sudden interest in other boys or girls, singling one out for reasons consciously unknown. What is this, where has it come from? All of a sudden everything begins to become so very overwhelming. The tones of teachers seem to unexpectedly shift, sounding condescending at best, pitying at worst. One’s friends seem to be going through a similar crisis, thank the gods. Yet, blinded by our own struggle, how easy is it for a teenager to not notice that everybody around them is developing at a different rate, a rate each individual’s body is able to cope with? One friend seems to have mastered this disease of feelings and emotions seeping through the body the way a virulent poison might, and look at how coolly he or she fits in with the older kids now, kissing and hugging and growing their hair longer or hiding behind newfound imagery. Imagery which exclaims liberation, yet glowers with corruption. They have isolated this poison and treated it, pragmatically acknowledging the after effects. And what about the friend behind, whose voice keeps squeaking and tears are welling up in his eyes every five minutes when he sees bad news on the television or somebody getting bullied. And just what on earth are the girls constantly darting to and fro between classroom and bathroom for?
Is a selfish teenager likely to understand the arrival of true compassion?
This sibling relationship is one which takes time to get used to. When my first younger sibling was born, I was twelve, almost thirteen. For nine months my stepmother had gone from thin as a twig to bearing an intrusive protuberance and whenever she sat down she belched in a most unlady-like fashion. At this age, it’s hard to separate the self and all the overwhelming fears of girlfriends/boyfriends, irritating teachers, annoying friends and homework which piles up faster than you can finish it. It’s hard to take a moment to appreciate the new member of your life. Somebody who is going to look up to you and want to play football with you and draw with you and hug you when you return from a stint away at university. Somebody who, ultimately, because they are even younger and consequently even less rationally-minded than yourself, will become irritated even more easily than a teenager could.  
When my little brother was born, then, a lot changed. Suddenly playing football with my dad revolved around the baby. He was always tired because the baby was up at night. We couldn’t hear the television because of the baby’s crying; we couldn’t even watch what we wanted because the baby wanted Thomas the Tank Engine. Dear gods what is this wretched sibling doing to my life?
And yet, the first word I ever heard Alex say was my own name, when dad was asking him who people in a photograph were.
I mean…what? How can you even measure that?

Then along came Isobel and Finn when Alex was only three years young and suddenly he’s the one who can no longer be entitled to the attention he deserves, because two little horrors have broken free, and even with a tried and true feed/sleep structure, twins are a whole different gravy. At sixteen I was able to recognize this, at twenty I know that, even with the very close experience I’ve had with the raising of these young cubs, there’s still plenty I won’t know until I become a parent, and therefore I cannot truly measure a parent’s love. An older sibling’s love must come close, though. Your little brother or sister falls over, you panic; they vomit, you panic; they have one of those moments when they cry so hard they forget to breathe…you panic! And when they slip from your sight for just a few seconds…heavens, is this what a heart attack feels like?
My dad and I even have little nicknames for them all. Alex is Dude; Isobel is Princess; Finn is Finndolph (it’s like ‘dolphin’ but backwards…see?) and at twenty, it is so very incredible to watch them grow up. Sure, day-by-day it seems a slow process; yet, when I return home for Christmas, Easter or Summer, so much seems to have changed. My eight year old brother already uses words such as ‘determined’ and phrases like ‘on the other hand’. Isobel treats guests with the respect and dignity of somebody ten years her senior, and Finn…well, Finn is our four year old teddy with what I can only assume is a secret Master’s degree in mathematics, logic and disregard for irony.
And the hugs, oh the hugs! Seeing their smiles for the first time in months is almost ineffable. Imagine a duck’s relief at finding a polynya in the arctic, and you might grasp the sheer power of happiness in seeing those smiles. Saying goodbye for three months is some twisted torture, on the other hand. All of a sudden their school drawings elude you. You can’t see them start running faster or speaking with more intent. All you can do is trust in their parents to keep them safe until you return, and hope that Finn doesn’t fall over more than five or ten times a week…
Indeed, the love for a younger sibling might truly be ineffable.
Next time, I’ll examine what it’s like for my older siblings.


Friday, 31 January 2014


Over the Christmas period, at any moment (brief or extended) when I could wrestle myself away from family, reading or general indolence, I indulged in the game Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Whether or not you are familiar with the game franchise matters not. All one need be aware of, with regards to the game, is that it involves pirates and alcohol. Some of the pirates, the story’s protagonist, for example, are fictitious; others, such as Blackbeard, Jack Rackham, Charles Vane, Ben Hornigold, Stede Bonnet, Mary Read and Anne Bonny, were all once real human beings — dead now, of course. Their stories are altered somewhat in accordance with the game’s plot, which transcends what we comprehend as possible in certain areas of physics, too. Another nuance for the scribe is that, in my case anyway, I played the game with a bottle of amaretto at my side, pretending it was rum (amaretto is cheaper, okay?).
            As with any story, game or plot, there is conflict. An imbroglio which requires resolution. Hardship, deception and betrayal all abound. There are two sides. An extension of the Knights Templar, known as the Templars, who believe that their grand quest for global peace comes from order, high suzerainty and the surveillance, by this upper echelon, of every person’s every act. Little privacy means little chance of rebellion or insubordination. A belief that in embracing some greater good, whereby the individual surrenders much of his or her ambitions to the oceanic desires of the collective, thus forsaking one of the most sacred elements of their freedom, the collective becomes all the more safe. Their opponents are a quasi-secret order known as the Assassins. Their beliefs include sayings such as ‘nothing is true, everything is permitted’ and their rationale seems, at times, to be a purely anti-Templar functioning process. Throughout the entire series of games, the theme of deception tends to run between the chosen Assassin member which the human player controls, and this assassin’s master. The master is presented as pro-liberty, pro-ritual and pro-kill-Templars. There are scenes in-game when the player eliminates a member of the Templar order, and in these poignant moments, stories are shared, sides revealed, secrets dislodged, and suddenly the shelf of certainty the Assassin protagonist has been arrogantly perched upon (thanks to the cunning manipulation of rhetoric by his or her master) seems to be a shelf of uncertain purchase. The road to freedom is revealed as patchy, mottled with doubt and difficulty. Step by step, the protagonist begins to wonder if the tautological anti-humanitarian accusations their master convicts the Templars of are covered in a base camouflage of hatred; if so, the protagonist is being used, tempered, honed into the ultimate killing machine, shaped and managed by the will of this grand master. In fighting to free people from Templar oversight, the assassin steadily understands that he/she isn’t free his/herself.
            The stories are cleverly written, spanning multiple periods of our history and, overall, I had a blast.
            But as you might be able to see, playing the game got my gears grinding.
            Another game I suffered an addiction to was The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim. A more classical fantasy fiction-styled game, where dragons, trolls and demons abound, where there are ruined fortresses and grand loot is to be discovered at the end of every cave and the depths of every lake. Where each corpse seems to hold tight to a weapon with its own history. Weapons that can boost the protagonist’s skills or do extra damage to opponents — and what’s more, the human player can control an Orc — how much more unconventional might a game get? ‘Nonsense!’ I hear J.R.R. Tolkien calling.
            Skyrim is a province on the continent of Tamriel, and much of the culture seems to draw on Vikings and the Norse mythology, which in itself is interesting — a move away from Greek and Roman mythology is always worthy of points. And here I must revert back to Black Flag, as this game, too, involves mythology…of the Mayans. Jungles, jaguars, crocodiles. All in there.
            Anyway. One of the quest-lines in Skyrim involves the province’s eventual civil war. There is an empire, and there are rebels, Skyrim loyalists, if you will. The player is his or her own arbiter, able to decide whether to fully liberate Skyrim or to wholly unify it, bringing every jarl to the heel of grand imperial rule.
            Regardless of whether the player is a rebel or an imperial, there is another quest-line involving a brotherhood of assassins who, via contractual agreement, are hired to assassinate this empire’s ruler. Guess who kills the emperor? Correct.
            And this got me thinking, drawing political links between the two games. In Skyrim, the player is given the opportunity to be part of a huge imperial unification, a move which would obviously present consequences and opportunities that the game doesn’t really draw upon, and didn’t much need to anyway. The aftermath; the introduction of new trade routes, the stimulation of employment, the increases in collective wealth. And then, the chance to throw the self-same empire into turmoil by eliminating its figurehead. Obviously, if the player chooses to liberate Skyrim then killing the emperor is the final moment of silencing the whispers of empire, but the freedom the player is given within the game to influence who lives, who dies, who suffers and who prospers, is wholly fascinating at a time where, in 2014, there are countries suffering similar oppression. Countries where people are going to die this winter because fundamental life commodities – food, water, shelter, are beyond what they can even hope for anymore. Countries where political chaos and lunacy all the way at the top of the system are spreading downwards, from spire to roots, enveloping all in a great mass of greed and corruption, leaving the poor and the weak by the wayside. Skyrim and Black Flag are games where the player can be richly rewarded and, ultimately, spend so much time hooked on these games that the liberation of Skyrim, and the grand quest against Templar overlords can suddenly seem more important than the millions of homeless children across the world. Or, if we are willing to (in the moments where we turn off our Xbox 360s or Playstation 3s) inject some of the news — via television, internet or newspaper, it matters not — into our lives, people can see that these games aren’t just great examples of graphics and story writing, they are also — like many good novels and films — reflecting real world issues; we just have to look beyond the swords, the cannon fire and the dragons. Really, an imperialist regime sweeping across the land, and a sect of huge dragons seeking to enslave a province — if that metaphor cannot be unpacked into our current events and enable us to see, think, and fucking sympathize with the people freezing in deserts at night, then I don’t know what can.


Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Wrongs and Rights Unknown

By 1998 in the United Kingdom, not a single peacetime offence was punishable by death. The final execution had taken place in 1964, during a five year trial spell when the death penalty for high crimes such as murder, was abolished. Certain crimes, such as treason, were still punishable by death up until the close of the millennium. In many countries, death remains a punishment. Whether it is the lethal injection, beheading by sword or even stoning, people are still being killed for committing crimes.
            Death naturally surrounds everyday life. Not only is it the end of a person’s physical manifestation (not necessarily the spiritual one, I hasten to add), but in many cultures, my own included, death has a very stark label stuck upon it. A label it cannot shake. Indeed, when people have recently passed on, they aren’t always honoured properly. The topic is almost glossed over. People seem flushed by the expenditure such a conversation might require. Disappointing in my opinion. Across the globe, death is received in many different fashions. Not all cultures permit a person to mourn the loss of somebody. To mourn is to be filled with negativity. When loved ones die, their life should be celebrated, for in that celebration, they shall be immortalized. In other places, mourning seems to be the only thing that happens. So much mourning, so much despair and dejection until the living mourner’s spirit has died, too; then, all that remains is a living animation of death itself, a festering personality driven mad by grief and anguish.
            In these moments, when the grief is a raw slice on the person’s spirit, blood red and howling with agony, the individual recoils. Humans are wont to seek attention because our emotions are often more powerful than we anticipate. Emotions which, therefore, we cannot control. However, at times, when the despondency is rife within a person, and they need to be able to feel a presence, something palpable and full of will and able to offer a light at the end of the tunnel - sometimes, we are bound and wrapped up too tightly by this pain, and we wince, flinch back, retreat away. Sometimes it is less about the death and more about a cocoon of self-sympathy.
            I wonder if, with the abolition of the death penalty, the United Kingdom’s perceptions of death have changed. Initially, it seems that there is one clear argument against this suggestion. The argument being that, with immigration, continuous procreation and the dying of the older generations, eventually the population will no longer contain anybody who was alive at the time of the last execution. All that will remain are historical reports and textbook writings. The closest examples will be of other countries who maintain a death penalty. The United States, in two thirds of the fifty states, no longer use the death penalty. In those which still incorporate methods such as the lethal injection, gas chamber and electric chair into the punishment system, there remains much debate over the ethical and moral issues.
            One of the biggest problems with a state-wide death penalty is that ultimately every single case will have different circumstances and occurrences. As with the interminable debate over abortion being right or wrong or neither and simply the individual’s choice, there is no conclusion. A woman who has been raped by a man she feels nothing except hatred towards is unlikely to want to bring a child by this man into the world, is she? There are special circumstances in some countries for victims of rape, and so there should be. Procreation is not the only duty of humanity, this in itself is evinced by the growing liberty towards same sex relationships, and this social and individual freedom is, in and of itself, an expression that we are more than simply reproductive animals. We feel emotions which we pursue, which we feel in our very core. If a person does not want to procreate, then why should they? If a person is gay, why should that be a problem?
            This woman, raped by a man she hates. What do we feel for her? Sympathy, fear, even an understanding among some of us. In the child, she will have a psychologically pernicious memory biting at her. The gelid, icy recollection of the outrageous crime against her freedom, her choice, her body. Might it freeze her internally? Make her hate herself as she sees that, by having this child, she succumbed to the insemination of this criminal who has sought to blindly hurt her for his own momentary pleasure? All of which created this child and, no matter how strong the love for that child…it would be hard for her. So hard that she might decide to abort beforehand. Some risks aren’t always worth taking.
            Certain cultures and religions dictate that members and practitioners abide by strict codes of procreation or the opposite. There can also be the issue of whether the pregnancy has occurred outside of a marital circle. What of the situation and circumstances the child will be born into? Could poverty be a strong enough reason to abort a pregnancy? What of the parents. Two students in their second year at university, indulging in a night of lust, which goes a little wrong. Where do they go with their unfinished education?
            Abortion and the death penalty both focus on the taking of a life. A lot of debate still exists, too, on at what stage abortion becomes the killing of a child rather than a foetus. A week, two weeks, ten weeks, twenty-four weeks? Is mercy itself more merciful in the earliest stage? Quite possibly.
            Life, and death. Centuries ago, crimes, wrongdoings, social affliction from one house or family to the next might have been settled by witnessed duels or hired assassins or thugs. Still, on the eve of 2014, there exist areas of the world (more tribal areas) where these customs might still subsist. Tribes spread across Africa, Eastern Europe, South America (particularly the Amazon) no doubt have cultures differing from the cultures of Western civilization. The Pakaa Nova of Brazil practise ‘compassionate cannibalism’ upon the death of a loved one, which ultimately includes roasting the body towards the end of a three day ceremony and urging the attending relatives to indulge. Do they practise such a method following feuds and so forth? I do not know, nevertheless, their system seems far less complicated; and this, this word, complication, is the fulcrum of why, I think, it is safer to govern a democracy without a death penalty. Why it is safer to ultimately allow abortion as an option if people so desire it. For every ten abortions which were required by a couple who simply were too caught up to use protection, there would doubtless be a victim of attack or poverty, and as beautiful as procreation is, might there be a time and a place to raise a child?
            Life, and death. I’ve talked about vengeance and justice in other articles; the blur. The internal blur which can consume us in the way paroxysms of rage consume us, until we know no more what the right outcome is. To experience the brutal murder of a friend or loved one would drive raw hate through a person, wouldn’t it? And the criminal, that person would argue, would deserve nothing more or less than death in kind. But do two wrongs make a right? Are they even two wrongs? Perhaps the second question is a better one. I’m still unsure.


Un-riddling Some More

they are whispering to me,
imploring me to return, taunting
me because I can’t.

Start with the first line. We have 'they' which might be referring to the rock, stone and/or silt; however, for this metaphor to work, there must be a subject driving these objects onwards, such as water or wind, to create a rationalization of a rock 'whispering'. Wind might seem more likely, because of the exploration of whether 'rock' is being employed as a noun or a verb. However, the beauty of poetry is that the verb and the noun can both be present, really. We interpret as we read, constantly, and in our interpretations, we are bound to discover things we didn't know. Things perhaps we didn't even want to know. Does this not happen in life, too?
This they is ‘imploring’ and ‘taunting’. The imploration is to return. Naturally the reader will ask: return where? Again the poem and the narrator are aware of more than the reader. In poetry, fiction, films, there might be a big reveal towards the end. Is the poem following suit? The final part of this stanza is the crucial part. There has been a climb of speed, of tension and emotion. Whispering. Consider the many times you’ve heard a whisper. The thin, eerie whisper of the wind through a barely lit alleyway; the frail, gravelly whisper of an old, dying person; what about, say, temptation. The deep, lustful whisper of a calling lover. What happens when they try to become a little more persuasive? While whispering, they are imploring. The narrator is being called to return. Yet, whether or not the narrator desires to return, he, she or it declares I can’t. A heavy ask, admitting incapability. With it, the threat of humiliation. Can’t. Not won’t, for that is different; it implies that the capability to act might exist, but is refrained from nevertheless. Can’t. That’s the word we, all of us, don’t want to know about. A society-wide taboo. Sensitive beings, humans. Easily embarrassed, more easily upset. Agreed? In your mind, answer these questions. Have you ever been given a job by a parent, teacher, employer, and not known quite what to do? Have you been given instructions and, following them, accidentally got a part wrong? Forgotten to complete something in the right order, broken a piece of the puzzle? Have you then had to tell your parent, teacher, employer, that you have messed up? The guilt bubbling inside you, desperate to break out? Your stomach knotting for fear of the consequences, despite the consequences themselves being unknown? Falling short of expectation is frequently perceived to be failure, and many people fear failure.
However. Getting something wholly wrong is one thing…what about pure incapability? Can’t. It reverberates back through the stanza. Whoever and whatever are imploring the narrator to return, and to wherever…these things barely matter, for it cannot be achieved regardless.
Thus, the humiliation; the taunting.

Left more to my thoughts now,
invaded by the slaughtering juggernauts:
Anger and Jealousy, they feed their

In this first line alone, the curtain is sliced back a little more than it has been so far. Solitude and cognizance have slipped through the elliptical net, and the stanza has a feeling of thought and coherency. The narrator reveals they are left to their thoughts. However, these thoughts remain secreted from the reader. The second line, beginning with invaded, reinforces the refulgence and importance of the word ‘thoughts’ in this stanza. Ever been overwhelmed by your own thoughts? Why? The words invaded, slaughtering, juggernauts are not necessarily words that can be found in everyday jargon if one goes to the shop or passes a neighbour in the street (unless, of course, you live somewhere subjugated by juggernauts). They are powerful, aggressive words, yet they have a feel of sophistication, nonetheless. When something is outside of ubiquitous use, it is more jarring. All three words are packed into the same line; striking outwards. Longer than the previous lines of the poem, ending with juggernauts. The line itself is a juggernaut. Pervasive and unwanted in its presence on the page.
            Imagine a scenario where this poem is read aloud, and the audience have no written copy in sight. The slaughtering juggernauts, Anger and Jealousy, feed—
            The poem reads ‘their’. However, orally and acoustically, one might hear the word ‘there’. And without the enjambment, it would suggest that the metaphor goes on a different track, with Anger and Jealousy feeding on the narrator’s thoughts. The thoughts becoming so vast and tangled that they are both a landscape and a carcase to be devoured. Consider. That every thought one might have, is fed on by two ugly emotions. Two emotions bound up in corruption and darkness. The corruption of the soul. To be jealous can often mean to be angry. What provokes jealousy? The absence of ownership of something which somebody else has? What has happened to the narrator? That, there, is the big question.

vigour through my absences, as I
shuffle on this swaying beech,
infected with rot and decay.

The narrator is in a place of solitude, and the solitude is symbolized by the secrecy of the thoughts, yet the reader is invited there, increment by increment, via the small revelations (shuffling, swaying beech, rot and decay). We are shown that it is a pernicious solitude. A festering solitude that the narrator, suggested by the "feed"-ing of Anger and Jealousy, is succumbing to.
            There are absences. Absences which feed the vigour of Anger and Jealousy. What absences are these? Still the questions pile up, unanswered. And more questions. The narrator shuffles; does this diminish the chance of the narrator being human? Why would a human being shuffle? It is an animation we wouldn’t normally associate with human legs. An animal, perhaps? An inanimate object?
Beech, the type of wood, rather than a beach, sways. The beach is not mentioned yet ever persists, described through the waves and the rock and the silts. What then, is this swaying beech, infected with rot and decay?
Next part: next week.


Thursday, 19 December 2013

Stage Two

My science fiction short story, The Thinking Men, deemed a First Class piece of work by my university tutor, was my first First, as I said in my last post.
            Perhaps the obvious sequence of events, following on from this revelation, includes a new bout of unmatched, never-before-reached inspiration and focus, coupled with constant results and a perpetual feeling of euphoria. Perhaps I was meant to see this moment as the turning point in the early stages of a nascent writer’s career.
            Perhaps, but not quite.
            Two further assignments have been required of me in the last two weeks. Both projects falling under the creative writing side of my degree. Considering my recent breakthrough, they should have been a piece of cake, yes? The muse should have been flowing from my brain to my fingertips with the profluence and fluidity of an all-powerful wizard. Agreed?
            I do not know what should and shouldn’t have happened in this period. When a breakthrough occurs, perhaps a promotion or new high score or some form of actualization that has eluded the human mind until this moment, what is the protocol? Does everything that has come before cease to matter? Will this new benchmark be the basecamp for all future progress? I wish. It can be very easy, I believe, to achieve success once and then rest upon it. Examples are rife the world over. In the recent film Rush, two Formula 1 world champions are portrayed. One, Britain’s James Hunt, is a man who (so James believes) epitomizes everything that is brilliant about British people; the willingness to stare danger and worse in the face, simply to achieve success. The determination to see something through, whether the tribulations of the quest leave one bruised, scarred, even paralyzed. For James Hunt, winning the F1 World Championship is all about proving to himself and others that he can do it. Portrayed in most scenes with a beer, cigarette or glass of whiskey in hand, James is that sudden rush of fresh wind on a dry day. He is that feeling that anything can be achieved. Impossible odds can be defied and, in that final moment, when this success is realized, there will be glory, happiness, and the human race will acknowledge itself yet again as the most ambitious species on Earth.
            Hunt’s counterpart in both his F1 career and the film — Niki Lauder — is the complete opposite. Composed, subtle, and pragmatic. A season is not ‘do or die’; it comes with statistics and percentages. Failure comes replete with a host of its own reasons. Reasons which can, and must, be rectified in order to enter the next season in a better condition. In order to win.
            The same principle can apply to any sport, any activity or anything generally. It is a great accomplishment to achieve something once; it is a superb accomplishment and a true test (and, if you succeed, demonstration) of your resolve, to not simply rest on some plinth of success. Consistency is a trait which illustrates the values of a human being just as much as a short stint of drive and determination does, if not more. To wake up for five days in a row with the motivation to achieve something is one thing; to keep this motivation rolling for weeks, months and even years, is wholly another. People often remember the one hit wonder with hints of regret, with faint undertones of sorrow as people recall legends of motorsports, athletics, film, music, anything. In those undertones ever remains the question, what if? Eager, waiting on the tip of everybody’s tongue. Unspoken and yet…palpable.
            When the time came, to sit down and begin the first of two short stories, I froze. The idea for this first story was planned vividly in my head. I understood where I wanted to begin; I understood where I wanted to get to. This in itself was slightly unusual for my writing process, as I tend to be a beginning and middle writer, allowing the piece to grow organically, with the ending something of a discovery…a journey. In workshops and seminars a lot of people bring pieces that start well and end a little weakly. When this happens, what tends to follow is a declaration that the writer hasn’t fully mapped out the middle section. The development, the problem, the interaction, the growth. In the last three months, some very powerful openings have come forth. Beautiful descriptions of landscape and creation. Great plotlines have been hinted at. Then, jumping to sections which would end the story smoothly, there have been some truly poignant, well-written scenes; however…if only they knew, and could give us a hint at how that ending was reached, then the conversations, the discussions, the workshop itself, could all benefit. There is a substantial gap in their plots. Ultimately, this is not something disastrous in a workshop. The purpose of the group is for people to analyse the work in front of them and offer one another critiques. For the first time in a long time, I had an ending in my mind. I knew where this story ended before I even sat down. I had the characters in my head, the relevant backstory which could justify the story. I had a revelation for my protagonist and the finale was all floating around in my brain. I had the middle. I basically had the whole story. So I sat down and sought to write it.
            The story could be no more than 2200 words long. Not a great deal of freedom to move around in the scheme of things. The story involved multiple themes: exile, friendship, faith and sacrifice. There were family histories hinting at a fantasy culture and asides which would better suit a much longer structure. Once I’d written what could be considered the opening scene, 1700 words had been spent. Sitting at my desk, wondering, I dug out the sci-fi story I’d scored so well on. I read it slowly, carefully, trying to temper myself back into the psyche of this moment of creativity. I studied the pace, the dialogue, the fluidity between long and short passages.
During this lucubration, I stared at my own success, and froze.
This story I was working on, it was too long. I’d figured that already. Partly I was afraid to truly admit this, fearful of the encroaching deadline which waited, only a week and a half away. Opening a new document, I started over. A fresh idea. Same fantasy world, new city. New characters, new themes to explore; hubris, the sibling bond, deception. I finished the story in just under four hours. There were moments when I found there to be humour, moments when, suiting the tone, I felt sad, downbeat. By the end, while staring at the finished product, I couldn’t escape a nagging itch that what I had produced simply wasn’t good enough. Perhaps it was because I’d written so quickly, so smoothly. I realized, finally looking at the word count, that I’d tripped over the wire and stumbled into the 2500 words realm. 300 words needed hacking away. But those words, they wouldn’t go. They were needed. Finally, when I surrendered to the need for this story to be longer than the limit I was under obligation to adhere to, I was close to being a shaking wreck. Two stories attempted, two stories left in a folder. No progress on either assignment.
Where was I going wrong? Again and again, I went back to The Thinking Men, seeming to expect some mystical source to embrace my mind. I waited. I drank coffee, I slept. I read as much short fiction as I could to keep the structural requirements in my head. I pushed down as much of the character philosophy as I could without jeopardizing my style.
I’d won that first title, and in the process of defending it and attaining a second, I was drawing a blank. Again, and again.
The deadline for the two stories was 13th December. That I’m alive to write this is a testament to me eventually handing in two stories I had written which, A. adhered to the specified word limits, and B. I was happy enough with (mainly because I ran out of time…I would probably still be working on them otherwise) to hand in.
Looking back, I wonder if I paid too much attention to The Thinking Men. Continuing success is not simply replicating the first big achievement, I see now. The hard work is necessary more than ever. Your successful assignment, sports season or new promotion doesn’t simply hold your hand once you’ve got it. It sits back and watches you try to do it again, only, this time, you have to trust yourself. Until now, I had been writing hoping to score my first First Class essay; each time hoping what I produced was tantamount to the accolade I sought. Now that I had it, it was all about trusting myself to slowly feel my way through. To put aside the achievement and stumble around again, still with hope, still with fear, but with the extra help of having the confidence in my own abilities.
I’ll find out whether I succeeded in January.