Saturday, March 31, 2012

30 Day Writing Challenge - Doh!

In a bout of what I can only imagine was dyscalculia, I've just realised that I somehow managed to skip one of the writing challenges - Day 21 (which I did as Night) should really have been Day 22 and the real Day 21 should have been First person blind date.

Oh well, I'll just make First person blind date today's challenge and you'll just have to put up with my poor organisational abilities! I'm still behind in the challenge but hoping to get a few of them out the way this weekend - the inspiration is there, just not the time to write them. Oh, for 36 hours in a day...

Thursday, March 29, 2012

30 Day Writing Challenge - Day 22

I spent quite some time trying to come up with an idea for today's challenge - Standing at the precipice - but, when the idea finally dropped into place, it didn't take that long to write. If you enjoy reading this even 10% as much as I enjoyed writing it, then we'll both be reasonably happy...

Standing at the Precipice

The Grand Canyon stretches out in front of me and, despite myself, I find that there is something overwhelming in its raw, physical grandeur.

The early morning sky is pale pink and almost entirely bereft of clouds. I suck the cool air, crisp and clean, into my lungs and hold the breath in my chest. I close my eyes and listen to the world around me, to the birds that twitter and the insects that chirrup restlessly in the trees and undergrowth. For the moment, I am alone here at Moran Point.

Moran Point is approximately eighty five metres in height. By my calculations that means that I will attain a speed somewhere in the region of one hundred and forty kilometres per hour in the four seconds it will take me to fall to the ground below. If time is truly relative, I anticipate that those four seconds could last a long time.

I open my eyes and take a step closer to the edge, now no more than two metres in front of me.

There is no suicide note left behind, of course. To write a note would have been to accept that there was, in some small dark corner of my mind, the barest semblance of a doubt and I couldn’t have that. But, of course, as I stand here and feel the breeze and the way that it ruffles my hair, it is difficult not to entertain some doubts as to whether I am doing the right thing by plunging off a cliff.

I push the doubts aside and take another step. Everything has been leading up to this moment and I cannot lose my faith now.  This is the moment where I either prove that I am right or I accept that I am wrong; I don’t think that I could live with the alternative in any case.

As far as I am able to determine, it all started more than ten years ago at Gravesner Laboratories. Back then I was just twenty; a penniless student on the third year of an Art degree that was getting me nowhere but into more and more debt than I can ever imagine repaying.  A couple of my friends at university had made money through taking part in medical tests; they’d been put in control groups and taken placebos, or tested out male contraceptives, or taken pills that were supposedly designed to prevent you from getting drunk. Easy money, they said. So, when I saw Gravesner’s advert in the paper, I didn’t hesitate to get in touch. They got back to me a week later and told me that they were prepared to pay my travel expenses and give me £200 if I attended one of their weekend study groups. I jumped at the chance.

The laboratory was located about eight miles outside of Birmingham, off the beaten track and hidden away in the greenery of the Clent Hills in a former stately manor. My memories of what I did that weekend have dimmed with time, and perhaps that’s the way they want it. A test of a revolutionary medical technology, they told me; a form of virtual reality that would help patients in a vegetative state to communicate with the outside world.

But, as far as I can remember, all I did that weekend was have a couple of blood samples taken and then sit in a room for a few hours and watch TV while wired up to a monitor that tracked my vital signs. Eventually, a doctor came in and told me that the tests had shown that I wasn’t going to be compatible with the technology and that they wouldn’t be needing me anymore. Don’t worry, they said, you’ll still receive the full fee and if you experience any kind of side effects to having had the blood taken, just call us on this number.

They gave me a business card and, ten years on, I still have it. The card is creased and slightly yellowed as I look at it now.

The headaches started a few weeks later; searing migraines that left me lying In my bed with the light off and the curtains closed. I’d never had any problems like this before so I phoned the number.  Someone at the other end listened to my problems and reassured me that this couldn’t be the results of their taking a blood sample; they reminded me that I’d not even undergone the main experiment and made me feel like I was a complete idiot.

Eventually, the headaches went away, but things didn’t really improve. Everything felt wrong; I felt disconnected from what I doing and dropped out of University, I felt alienated from the people around me and split up from my girlfriend and stayed away from my family and friends. I couldn’t put a finger on anything specific that was wrong, there was just the sense that something wasn’t quite right.

A year on and I began to think that maybe they’d done something to me while I was at Gravesner and they’d just not told me; maybe they given me some chemical that was affecting my brain, affecting my emotions and the way I thought, so  I rang the number again.

It was unobtainable.

A few phone calls later and I found out that Gravesner Laboratories had gone out of business about three weeks after I’d last spoken to them. There was nothing left. The principal scientists behind the company had supposedly fled the country; there were allegations about medical malpractice and unethical experiments. I drove straight to the nearest hospital and insisted they run a full battery of tests on me; the result of which was the pronouncement that, contrary to my better instincts, I was actually 100% fit and healthy.

But I couldn’t let it go so I spent years digging around for information on what Gravesner had been involved in, tried to find out more about the technology they’d wanted to test on me.  And, when I finally realised what it was that they’d done to me, when it finally dawned on me why it was that I felt so very wrong, I spent a long time uncertain what I could do about it. But that uncertainty is over.

I remember, when I was young, hearing what was presented to me as a philosophical conundrum: “if a tree falls In the forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” At the time, it seemed ludicrous – of course it makes a sound, I thought. Later, as I delved into quantum mechanics and the possible role that the observer plays in reality, I became less certain of the answer. And now? Now, I’m convinced that there’s not even a forest.

If I’m right, Gravesner Laboratories didn’t just take some blood samples from me; instead they conducted their virtual reality experiment. If I’m right, I’m still in it.

The simulation is near perfect. I can’t find any fault in the sensation, in the immersive qualities of it. I can peer closely at a tree and not see some carefully crafted texture map; there’s no pixilation, no draw distance problems. It’s perfect to look at and touch and listen to and smell, but I can feel that my brain still rebels against the unreality of it all. It’s that feeling you sometimes get in a dream, when you cotton on to the fact that maybe, just maybe, this is a dream and then you wake up before you get a chance to check for sure. Except I never wake up; I’m just tortured by the question of whether any of this is real.

I take another step. I am now only a pace away from the drop and I can feel my stomach lurch slightly. Heights have never been my thing. Telling myself none of this is real doesn’t help in the slightest.

Of course, there is a chance I’m wrong; that this is all in my head, that I’m just a paranoid and this is all a carefully constructed fantasy that I’ve built around the shambles that my life has become. But that’s the gamble that I have to take.

If I’m right, I hope I’m going to wake up and I’m going to have my old life back. If I’m not, at least I’m out of this life that feels so very wrong to me.

I was braver when this was all hypothetical. When I decided to fly out to the Grand Canyon, make my grand gesture in a place I visited as a child and which had such a huge impact on me, this all seemed so black and white. But, as I approach the edge, things seem far greyer.

I stand at the precipice and gaze down into the abyss; but my body clings to the idea of life, unwilling to take that final step out into nothingness.

This isn’t real. I believe that.

But what if you’re wrong?

I’m not.

But what if you are?

I have faith. I wonder to myself, if a man falls into a canyon and no one else is real, does he make a sound?

I take the last step. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

30 Day Writing Challenge - Day 21

Still in catch-up mode, today's challenge - Night - inspired me to dip into the more horrific section of my palette...

They Come At Night

They come at night, mostly.

                When the sun has slipped fully over the horizon, when the sky has turned from blue to twilight purple to midnight black, that’s when they emerge from their lair and begin their hunt for victims.

                I first realised what was going on in this neighbourhood a few weeks ago. I’d taken an afternoon nap on the sofa, something I’ve done on occasion since retiring, and when I woke up it was already dark outside. But for the fact that my back was sore, I’d probably have got straight up and turned a lamp on and never been any the wiser to them; but as I sat on the edge of the couch massaging my lower back into life, I noticed two shadowy figures standing on the opposite side of the road. Two men, pale skinned and smartly dressed in suits. They didn’t look right, was my first impression.

                When they looked my way, a little voice in my head whispered for me to freeze right where I was and I did so without questioning. The men stared at my house, as if somehow sensing my gaze upon them, before finally turning away and instead walking up the driveway to the house where Mr Simmons lives
                I had my suspicions about them immediately and, when I bumped into Mr Simmons a few days later, my worst fears were confirmed. He was different; changed somehow and despite his relaxed posture and easy smile, I felt the icy finger of terror slithering down my back. As crazy as it might sound to you, I knew what those men were and what they’d done to poor Mr Simmons.

                I hoped against hope that maybe that would be the end of it, but of course they didn’t just come that one time. Perhaps they sensed that this was a neighbourhood where they could sate themselves, a quiet little place where they could have their way and no one would be any the wiser. They swiftly grew bolder, the two men became four and I stopped turning the lights on in the house at night so that I could try to secretly observe them.

                I learned their patterns, I learned their behaviour. It’s true, by the way; you have to invite them in or they won’t cross the threshold. But I learned that they have ways of securing that invitation; and, before long, first Ms Trunckle and then Mr and Mrs Dweedle fell entirely under their influence. Their numbers were swelling and there was nothing I could do.

                And so, each night, I would sit camped out in my living room with the lights down and observe them, trying my very best to understand their strategies; I was learning about them without them even realising I was there.

                Until tonight.

                I fell asleep in front of the lunchtime news and, when I wake up, my stomach leaps in fear as I realise that I’ve inadvertently left the television on and the room is bathed in a flickering white glow that paints electric shadows on the walls. My troublesome back immediately forgotten, I lunge for the remote control and press my thumb down hard on the power button.  But, of course, it’s too late.

                As my eyes accustom themselves to the darkness filling the room, I realise that there are two faces pressed against the window. They have found me at last. I try to avoid their gaze, try to pretend I’ve not seen them, but it’s no use. They move silently away from the window and to the front door.

                Two knocks, sharp and hard, rattle the door and echo through the quiet stillness of the house.
And I know then that I can no longer hide from them; they know I’m here now and even if I manage to stay safe from them this night they will never give up. They are relentless. They will return until they get what they want and I know in my heart that this can only ever end in one way. They will return until I finally open the door and crumble and give them the permission that they so crave. The only option is to face them.

The walk to the front door seems to take forever and, when I get there, their elongated shadows, back lit from the street lamps, stretch across the floor of the hall towards me. My breath catches in my chest but I am committed now and my hand closes on the door handle, the metal cold against the slickness of my palm. They wait, patient.

Finally, steeling myself, I open the door wide and look at the two men in their suits. They smile at me; I’ve made their job easier.

“Do you think God wants you to be happy?” says the first man.

“Can we come in to tell you how you can let the light into your life?” asks the second.

And so, with weary resignation, I invite the Jehovah’s Witnesses inside.

Monday, March 26, 2012

30 Day Writing Challenge - Day 20

Still lots of work crowding my time but I've managed to catch up to Day 20's challenge and at least know what I'm going to write for Day 21's challenge when I find some free time tomorrow night. I keep plugging on, even if I'm more than a few days behind now...

So, without further ado, Day 20's challenge - A place you want to visit.

The Place I Want To Visit

It, perhaps, speaks volumes about me that, when tasked with thinking of a place I want to visit, the first place that sprang to my mind was rather exotic.
There are of course many places that I would love to visit that are far more mundane and would have made for a considerably saner piece of writing but, there was no way of escaping from the fact that the very first place that my imagination conjured up was The Moon.

It would appear that, despite my better efforts, I have entirely failed to outrun the grandiose dreams I had as a child of being an astronaut. But, you see, there’s something so very compelling to me about that big hunk of rock in the sky. Ever since I was young and watched the archive footage of Neil Armstrong stepping out onto its surface, I’ve tried to imagine how that it must have felt to set foot upon an entirely alien landscape.

If you’re an agoraphobic, I’m guessing things couldn’t get much worse; after all, wide open spaces don’t get much wider. To stand on the surface of the moon and look back at the Earth, a blue and white jewel about four times bigger in the sky than the moon is in our own, would surely be about as nightmarish as it could get for an agoraphobe. Although, upon reflection, things wouldn’t be that much better for those who are claustrophobic; three days cramped up inside a lunar module would surely be hell on (or, more accurately, off) Earth.

But, since I’m fortunately afflicted with neither phobia, the prospect of stepping out onto the barren surface of the moon fascinates me. Not because so few people have done it, but because I’m curious to know how it feels to be that far away from humanity.  I imagine it puts things into perspective (in more ways than one).

I could have picked somewhere that I had a higher possibility of actually being able to visit, but that would have been cheating. Many years on since I first saw that footage, I’m still enamoured by the thought of The Moon…

Saturday, March 24, 2012

30 Day Writing Challenge - Day 19

Day 19 of the Writing Challenge seemed such a great idea when I came up with it: go to Wikipedia, select random page and wherever you end up is what you write...

That is, it sounded a great idea until I randomly turned up Pedro Aznar, an Argentine jazz bassist. I have to admit, I hit a real writer's block with this for some time - desperately trying to think of something, anything, that would make a good piece of writing. Finally, I hit upon an angle I was happy with an and wrote this is an about twenty minutes...

Pedro Aznar

I hear the music of Pedro Aznar, drifting from an open window as I walk by on the way to work and I find myself suddenly detached from the present; I’m no longer in London, I’m in Rio de Janeiro again.

The concert is on Ipanema beach, out at Posto 9, and a sizeable crowd has gathered to listen to the eclectic blend of dance music interspersed with Latin rock and smooth jazz. The air is warm, thick with the smell of weed, and I clutch a half empty beer bottle in one hand as I sway in time to the music. Pedro Aznar has been playing for the last half an hour or so; mixing instrumental and vocal numbers, working the crowd with a dialogue I struggle to completely follow but I don’t care. It’s my last night in Rio and I’m just soaking up the last vibes.

I catch sight of her off to my right, a white dress, a flash of honey coloured hair and a pair of startlingly green eyes that meet mine and hold my gaze for a second, and then she is once again lost to me in the crowd. However, something stirs in my drunken mind and find myself stumbling towards the point where I saw her dancing, excusing myself loudly in my best Portuguese as I bump gently through the crowd.  And then the crowd suddenly parts and she is right there in front of me, even more beautiful than I first imagined, eyes half closed and moving in time to the music as if she is totally lost in it, as if she is the only one here.

I am so spellbound that I only notice she is looking at me after I’ve been staring (I’m sure, open mouthed) at her for what seems like an eternity. I feel my cheeks instantly blush red but she is smiling, this dazzlingly broad smile that I can’t help but try and return and my blush fades in an instant. I try to lean in to introduce myself but she circles around me, one finger over her lips to silence me, and holds out her other hand. It’s warm to the touch and, empowered by alcohol and a sense of rhythm I’ve never experienced either before since, we dance.

One song, two songs. Edging closer and closer together; she is playful and teasing and wonderful wrapped all up in one and, as the second song ends we end up closer together than ever and for a second, a brilliant second in which time stops deliciously, we stare into each other’s eyes, both of us lost in the moment. When we kiss, her lips taste faintly of cachaca.

We are together like this for four more songs. Both of us lost in the music , lost to each other, until the crowd suddenly surges forward towards the stage and we are pushed apart from each other. I can do nothing but watch helplessly as the crowd sweeps her away from me and, despite struggling to push my way against their flow, despite then walking the beach on my own after the concert has long since finished, I never manage to see her again. I fly home the next morning and find that she is all I can think about.

I never knew her name, the girl in white. But, when I hear the music of Pedro Aznar I am immediately transported back to that moment on the beach, never once failing to dream of what might have been.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

30 Day Writing Challenge - Day 18

I was up early to work on today's challenge - The taste of your favourite meal - but I didn't have a chance to complete it before work so I left the ending until lunchtime. I hope you enjoy...

The Taste Of Your Favourite Meal

Revenge was a dish best served cold they said, and he liked the saying. But what no one had ever told him was that it was a dish you wanted to dine on time and time again. Why now, it was almost his favourite meal.
He had walked the streets all day looking for his next one when finally he saw her strutting out of Chucks Bar and Grill on 15th Avenue. Long black hair, just the same, skin pale as alabaster; hell, they could have been sisters. They were all the same; that’s why he had to do the things he did. If he didn’t, they’d just go on to break another man’s heart like Mary Jo broke his.
She walked confidently, hips swaying with every step like she was hoping for an audience, and he felt his fists clenching hard; oh, she was the next one alright. He hung back a few hundred feet behind her and stayed on the opposite side of the street, clinging to the shadows. When it had happened with Mary Jo, it had all been unplanned. He’d acted on impulse with Mary Jo, but he was a lot better prepared now that he knew his purpose. He wore black sneakers with rubber soles because they allowed him to walk softly, unheard.
The girl had no idea that she was next, had no idea who was behind her, and he couldn’t help but smile; it pleased him to know that he had that power. She would be the seventh and that pleased him as well. Seven was an important number; in the Bible there were seven deadly sins as well as seven gifts from the Holy Spirit. And hadn’t God himself hated harlots and whores as well? He had once read that God had laid waste to Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and brimstone for tolerating their kind. He knew that he was on a righteous path in what he did, even if he had different reasons for being on that path.

Clack, clack, clack went the girl’s heels on the sidewalk and he wondered whether she would lead him all the way to her home like the last few had. His right hand slipped absently into his pocket, feeling for the comfort of the knife. He didn’t mind if it was in her home – in a way, it made sense, made it somehow more personal – but he preferred when it was in the open air like with Mary Jo.  In a house he usually had to be quick, in case the neighbours called the police, but out in the open he had all the time in the world.
He stayed in the shadows, footsteps slow and purposeful, and the girl walked on, oblivious to him. The excitement and anticipation built in his chest like a physical thing and he found himself wondering whether he would let her scream just to hear the fear in her voice. Mary Jo had screamed, had begged, had pleased for his forgiveness, but he had known she would have done anything to save herself in those last moments. There was no authenticity in her contrition as she looked up at him with those big brown eyes, her black hair streaked through with dirt. She wasn’t really sorry for walking out on him. Even at the last she was lying to him and that had settled it; if she could be nothing but a lying whore even in the face of death then what hope was there for her ever-living soul? His revenge wasn’t simply justified, it was needed.
He shivered at the thought, giddy with excitement now.  The first step was always the hardest but with Mary Jo gone it had made all the other steps so very easy for him. He had realised at that moment, maybe in some divine inspiration, as Mary Jo’s blood lay pooling around her in the mud; there were countless Mary Jo’s out there in the world, countless harlots destroying the lives of men on little more than a whim. So he never went back to work on Monday, he just picked up a few of his things and left town in his pickup. He had a new mission now.
The girl turned left off 15th Avenue and into a less well lit street, marching on without realising that she was marching to her death.  His hand curled tight around the handle of the knife and he imagined how her face would look when she saw it, the eyes wide with fear. Mary Jo had tried to run but not all of them did, some of them had just stood frozen there like they knew they couldn’t ever hope to escape this moment. He wondered which kind this girl would be and his heart pounded hard in his chest.
The police and the press had finally caught up to him with the fifth in Austin, Texas; up until then, his four kills had just been random acts scattered across four different states, but after the fifth someone had put two and two together and realised that it was one man responsible for all five girls. In a way, he was glad. He hadn’t wanted to leave anything to tell them - that would have felt like something only a crazy person would do - but he had wanted them to know about his mission. The press started calling him the Vampire Killer, due to the fact that he bled them out from their jugular, and he found it made an odd sense. Except, he wasn’t the vampire; he was out there killing these vampire women who would prey on a man’s good nature and bleed him dry, only to toss him to the curb once they’d had their fill. He liked the name.
A small residential area lay up ahead, no more than a couple of low apartment buildings arranged in a courtyard, and he felt sure that tonight’s hunt was nearly over. He loved small towns like this, small towns off the beaten track. He knew the police would be looking for the pattern in his work but they would find none; he gained his revenge one death at a time and then moved on at random, going where the road took him and waiting, always, to catch sight of his next target. They would never catch him.
The girl halted at the end of the street, fishing in her purse for a cell phone and he edged closer. Her voice travelled easily on the cool night air and he could hear she was talking to her boyfriend or husband, telling them she was still looking after her friend and that he shouldn’t wait up for her. He felt himself bristle at the lies and had to breathe hard to avoid just gutting her there and then. It only served to show him how right his instincts had been; she was a lying harlot and, whoever that man was, he’d be better off without her. He’d make sure of that.
She surprised him by turning not towards the residential area but, instead, crossing the street and entering the park. Thrill coursed through him like electricity. He had scouted the park a day earlier when he had been getting to know the town; it was shrouded in trees and was lit only by a couple of old streetlights. He figured she must be planning on using the path through the park as a shortcut to get to the other part of town, maybe to make sure that no one who knew her man would catch sight of her out. A small town like this, women were more afraid of gossip than being out on their own at night. He grinned; he couldn’t have planned this night better himself.
He waited twenty seconds or so and then followed her into the park, her slight figure disappearing from view as she stepped out of the dull yellow glow of the streetlight and into the darkness of the park. He sped up his pace, following the sound of her footsteps in the darkness, sensing that the time for caution was long past. She was no more than twenty paces ahead of him now and he called out to her.
“Hey darlin’”

             *                 *                  *

She heard the voice and turned round, quickly, on her heels to face him.
It was light enough that she could see he was a big man, maybe 6’4, wearing a baseball cap and a long black coat. The moonlight glittered from the blade of a knife in his right hand and from his small eyes. She could tell that he was smiling.

             *                 *                   *
She froze in front of him, just like he’d hoped she would, and he slowly advanced up the path towards her.
“You know who I am, darlin’?” he said softly, “I’m the one they’re calling the Vampire Killer.”
He could see the recognition in her eyes but she didn’t move, she was still standing frozen in her tracks. But there was something else in her eyes…

            *                 *                    *

He moved closer and she let him talk. She knew the name, had read the papers. Only when he had got close enough did she finally strike.

           *                  *                    *

The girl moved suddenly towards him, so quickly that she was little more than a blur, and before he could even begin to adjust he felt a brief but tremendous pressure placed on his right arm before, with a loud crack it exploded into white-hot pain. The knife skidded away from him, lost in the darkness, and then hands were pulling at the lapels of his coat. Lifting him up, he realised, she was lifting him up and then, even as he marvelled at how impossibly strong she was, the girl flung him bodily into the trees. His back collided, hard, with a tree trunk and all of the breath was smashed from his body.
He lay on his back, looking up through the tree canopy to the stars above. Body wracked with pain and unable to move he could do nothing but stare straight up into the sky, even as he heard the crunch of her approaching footsteps.
She straddled his hips and, as she bent over him, he looked upon her fully for the first time. His eyes opened wide at that moment and he tried his best to whisper the Lord’s Prayer through what remained of his teeth.
She smiled. Lips, scarlet red.
“Your God can’t save you now.”

             *                 *                *

She drank deep from him, felt the hot copper taste of his blood in her throat and felt it empower her, flow through her.
She had smelled the blood on him as soon as she had left the bar, a black stain on him that no amount of washing could hope to remove and she had known then that he was the one. And so she had phoned and made her excuses to her husband and she had led him here, led him away from the street lights, led him to a place where he could never hurt anyone ever again.
As the life ebbed from him, as her fangs tore at his throat and drained him, she knew it tasted all the sweeter to know she had rid the world of such a monster.  Revenge was, she thought, a dish best served hot and bloody and tonight, she enjoyed the taste of her favourite meal…

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

30 Day Writing Challenge - Day 17

A combination of lots of work and being slightly ill has resulted in a slight hitch in my 30 Day Writing Challenge - but I'm now working hard to make up for lost time and I start with Day 17's challenge of The Ocean...

The Ocean

March 5th, 2012
This is it. I am off.  As I’m writing this as I can see the south coast begin to disappear over the horizon. In a few moments, it will just be me and the ocean. Well, just me and ocean and the smattering of freighters I can see a few miles off to starboard. Going to try and keep this updated fairly regularly. I know people think I’m crazy for doing this without loads of preparation but I know I can do this. Right, off to check the rigging then it’s time for a celebratory beer. Adios.

March 10th, 2012
Ok, I admit it, I’m crap at remembering to write in this. Just had a couple of dolphin shadowing me for a few miles which was pretty cool. Almost close enough to touch. When they’d gone I actually felt lonely. This is the longest solo voyage I’ve attempted so I expected loneliness might creep in over the course of the four and a half weeks but not quite this quickly. Luckily I’ve got all five seasons of The Wire to keep me occupied. So I’m going to catch up on how McNulty and Bunk are getting on.

March 14th, 2012
So far, so smoothly.  There is something so serene in being out on the ocean at night. Not a light to be seen in any direction, the stars brighter above me than they ever have been back home.  Just me and the boat. 

March 19th, 2012
I thought I saw a whale flume today but I might have been imagining it. Reminder to self – check to see if you get whales in these parts at this time of year.

March 21st, 2012
I’d like to write more, really I would. But I’m either busy or knackered after having been busy. I find myself drifting in and out of little mini-sleeps. I’d call them power naps but it would be a lie. I’m wishing I’d bought a lot more sugary stuff than I did. The reverse trip I am SO going to stock up. Weather a bit rougher today. Biggest swell I’ve seen since I left. Biggest swell I’ve ever seen actually, outside of movies. Kinda scary, if I’m honest. Which I can be with you, dear diary. Don’t tell anyone – when we retell this story, we were bold and brave.

March 26th, 2012
Three weeks in. Feeling very tired. Not sleeping well. Had something of a near miss earlier today; went by a metal shipping crate no more than hundred feet off portside. Never occurred to me one of those things could actually float. Don’t even want to think what would have happened if I’d have hit it. Got me even more paranoid about sleeping.

March 30th, 2012
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Storm last night. Fucking storm and a half.  Lost the mast. Just ripped right off and took the mainsail with it. Lost the outboard as well. Don’t know how we got through it. Bounced around the cabin like a pinball. Super calm now but everything is fried. VHF. EPIRB. GPS. All gone. I can only guess there was a lightning strike but I was too busy not dying to even notice. Writing this because I’ve spent the last few hours trying to work out what the fuck I am going to do. Currently drifting north, north-east.

March 31st, 2012
Been doing the math: I was meant to arrive in Bermuda on April 6th, give or take a day or two. Which means it’s going to be at least a week until anyone even realises that I’ve not arrived. My mum always worries if she doesn’t hear from me, but my dad always calms her down and persuades her everything is ok because he knows I’m crap at remembering to call. Feeling a bit like the boy who cried wolf right now. I’ve got food and water to last two more weeks and if I halve rations I’ve got enough to last me a month. Probably going to write more in here now the laptop’s just a paperweight.

April 2nd, 2012
Hardly slept since the storm and when I finally laid down, I ended up sleeping for eight hours straight. Most I’ve slept since I left Southampton.  Trying not to think about how badly that could have gone for me. Finding myself spending more time on deck. Even though I know I’m miles outside the shipping lanes, I keep hoping I might see something on the horizon and get a chance to pop a flare. Don’t want to miss an opportunity.

April 4th, 2012
Still drifting north east; estimate I am making no more than two knots at best. By my best estimates, that means I’m maybe two hundred and fifty miles north east of where I was when the storm hit. I’m trying not to think how difficult it is going to be for anyone to find me. Trying not to think that the Atlantic covers about twenty per cent of the world’s surface and anyone looking for me will have no idea where in all of that I might be. Needles in haystacks probably have better odds.

April 6th, 2012
I am beginning to get a real grasp of the concept of loneliness. Back when I lived in London, a lonely night would be one in which I wasn’t going out, a night in with a Chinese takeaway and watching some bad TV. When I think that I am in a patch of ocean where there is not a living soul within, possibly, hundreds of square miles of me, it makes me realise it’s only at times like this that you can know true loneliness. I was meant to be arriving in Bermuda today. My mum is probably waiting for my call and my dad is telling her not to worry. Fuck.

April 7th, 2012
Heavier seas last night and, without the mast, the boat rolls a lot more. I made sure the cabin was securely shut and used nylon-elastic ties to secure me to my bunk just in case we rolled. I’m pretty certain that if we did a 180, then we’d come straight out of it but I’m hoping I don’t have to find out. Idea of being turtled out here is a pretty scary one. Now one day late.

April 8th, 2012
Writing here becoming a habit. At least it keeps me from talking to myself which I do way too much at the moment. That I’ve also started to talk to McNulty and Bunk is probably a bad sign but there’s not much entertainment in these parts. Really wish I’d bought some books along instead of the laptop. Seas fairly calm. Saw another couple of dolphins today and wondered whether they are the same ones I saw back at the start. If this had been Flipper, they’d be swimming off to tell someone of my fate right about now.

April 9th, 2012
Three days late and I’m sure, by this point, my mum will be insisting my dad do some investigating and she won’t let up until he alerts everyone.  I find myself scanning the horizon, scanning the skies all day. Hope to see a ship or a plane. But, so far, all I’ve seen are the high altitude contrails of airliners ploughing their way across the sky and to pop a flare for them would be a complete waste. Feeling a bit week weak from halving rations.

April 10th, 2012
Experimented with a jury rigged fishing rod today. Figured if I could catch something, it would allow me to save some rations. No luck. So back to half rations.

April 11th,2012
Nothing worth writing today. Five days late now and everyone surely knows I’ve got problems. Trouble is, no one has any idea where I was when I ran into problems.

April 12, 2012
Ate two days rations in one go today. Don’t even know why. Just seemed a good idea at the time. Now cursing my stupidity. Still no sign of anyone else out here. Started drifting in a southerly direction. Wish I hadn’t just relied on GPS and computer maps to help me navigate. If I could navigate by the stars, I’d at least know roughly where I was.

April 13, 2012
A ship on the horizon for the briefest of seconds. I saw it as we rose to the top of a wave and ran into the cabin to get the flare gun but, when I got back, I couldn’t see it anymore. Fired off a red flare on instinct but it was daylight and I never saw the ship again. Now wondering if it even was a ship or whether I imagined it.

April 14th, 2012
I am beginning to think about the EPIRB. The fact it hasn’t activated might make the authorities think things are ok and that I’m just limping after the storm. They probably wouldn’t consider the possibility that it’s fried and useless. My thoughts have been tending to the more depressing ever since I thought I saw the ship yesterday.

April 15th, 2012
Still drifting south.  No sign of any traffic. Sleeping more. Feels like that’s all I can do. Sleep and wait.

April 16th, 2012
Nothing happened. Just me and the ocean. Seas are calm at least.

April 20th, 2012
Two weeks since I was scheduled to arrive in Bermuda and I’m in the mid-Atlantic somewhere with no means of propulsion and only a few days of rations left. I’ve halved what I’ve got again. Being hungry keeps me alert at least.

April 22nd, 2012
I am finding it tough to think straight. The real worry I have is that if no one has found me by now then the search has probably been called off. So, right now, everyone thinks I’m dead. Cried for the first time since I was a kid and once I started it was hard to stop. If you’re reading this you probably think I’m a big fucking baby but I don’t care.

April 24th, 2012
Hunger is an ever present. Gnaws at me all the time. Feel twitchy. Still drifting south, going where the Atlantic takes me.

April 25th, 2012
I realised today that I am writing this diary now not for the sake of being able to relive the memories but because I’m increasingly worried that I’m not going to be found and this is all that’s going to be left. If so, I love you mum and dad. You should know it was me who broke the window, not Johnny back when we kids.  I don’t even know why I told you that haha

April 26th, 2012
Last day of rations. Very much regretting my binge of April 12th. Sea calm and quiet.

April 27th, 2012
Three weeks since I should have in been In Bermuda. First day without food and all I can think about is what I’ll eat if they find me.  A couple of weeks ago it would have been when they find me.

April 28th, 2012
All I’ve got left is water. Tried fishing again yesterday but no luck. Got buckets set up on the deck to catch rain.

April 30th, 2012
Shark fin off starboard bow.  Circled the boat, a dark shadow beneath the waves as it checked me out, then disappeared. Never actually been scared of sharks until today.  I feel weak. Sleeping a lot. I think I’ve lost hope of seeing a ship out here.

May 1st, 2012
Fourth day with no food. Still no luck with fishing. Rained heavily and filled the buckets so I have plenty of water.

May 4th, 2012
Star Wars day. Four weeks late now. If there was a search, it stopped a long time ago.

May 5th, 2012
Lack of food really getting to me. Drifting in south-westerly direction now.

May 6th, 2012
Thought I saw a ship off to the east and fired a flare but, even as I did it, I was pretty sure I must have day dreamed it up.

May 8th, 2012
A big storm is brewing in the west. Big black clouds on the horizon.  All I need. I feel like it’s me against nature. Not going to hide from this one. Going to harness up and ride it out from on deck. Wish me luck.

Excerpt from diary recovered from the Wish You Well, a monohull sailboat of the type Contessa 32, on May 25th, 2012 by sailors of the TI Europe. A number of other personal effects were recovered from on board but there were no signs of life. The ship’s owner, Stuart Milne, is presumed drowned.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

30 Day Writing Challenge - Day 16

A busy day, and some experimentation with having a social life, means that this challenge - How an event from  yesterday could have gone - is a day late. Hopefully it will prove worth the wait...

A Difficult Decision

Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas? It is Thursday morning and, unwittingly, I face a decision that could change the very world as we know it.
The choice between tea and coffee is one fraught with difficulty at the best of times; a cup of tea can be fashioned quickly and with minimal fuss – merely add a teabag, a suitable quantity of boiling water and a dash of milk to finish it off: job done. A cup of coffee (or, at least, a homemade cappuccino), on the other hand, is a very different beast in terms of the amount of work involved; there is heating of milk, grinding of beans, adding of water at just the right temperature -not to mention ensuring the perfect ground coffee/water ratio – and finally frothing the milk to the perfect frothy, foamy consistency.
After a few moments of umm-ing and ahh-ing, I make a choice. I choose the path of least resistance and I go with the tea; five minutes later, I am back on the sofa with a mug full of tea and I’m back at work.
But, just how different could things have turned out? What if I’d taken the time to make the coffee instead? The butterfly’s wings flap…
Making coffee takes longer and so, instead of waiting in the kitchen, I wander back to my laptop while the milk heats on the oven hob. With a few minutes spare, I head over to the New Scientist website and read a random article that has a profound effect on me. A flood of activity cascades throughout my brain; neurons firing and wiring, abstract connections being made between the facts in the article and my existing knowledge; and, by the time, the coffee is ready I have the stirring of an idea for a radical reworking of social media.
Three hours later and I have, like a madman, detailed the ways in which my social media revolution could work and can find no apparent flaws in my theories. I call a close friend that I know I can trust, and whose opinion I can trust even more, and explain my thoughts. He’s flabbergasted and thrilled in the same moment; he sees the immense potential of my idea and wants to work on it with me. By dinner time, we’ve already been skyping for several hours and have managed to sketch out a rough plan of action to move this from an idea to a prototype.
A week later and we have a hastily drawn up business plan and a meeting with a London investment fund that specialises in cutting edge internet technologies.
A month later and I’m handing in my notice at work and we are setting up a company to absorb the several millions that the investment company has decided to provide as seed capital. Confidence is high for all concerned.
A year later and working prototypes have been so ridiculously successful that we bring forward our beta testing phase and open things up to the public. The world goes wild. Demand is even higher than we could possibly have expected.
Two years on from the coffee and Facebook table a nine figure offer for our company which we turn down. They return with a ten figure offer. We turn that down as well. Facebook is the old guard. The world has moved on.
Five years on and our site is the only social media in existence. It has expanded beyond all initial expectations and, with massive take-up even in countries such as China, it begins to have a profound impact on society.
Fifteen years on and the site has been instrumental in bringing about broad changes to society throughout the world; with one shared location for all humanity to be linked, there is an increase in tolerance and logical thought. The world is subtly changing.
Thirty years and the site has acted to deliver world peace. Mankind unites and casts off the chains of conflict, discrimination and prejudice that have held it back for millennia and embarks upon a quest to further humanity by joining resources in order to colonise the Solar System and spread mankind to the stars.
Fifty years further and the world holds its collective breath as the first Hawking-Drive powered space probe embarks on a mission to visit the nearest star; its matter/anti-matter engine warping space-time in order to deliver it to its destination at ten times the speed of light.
Two months into its voyage, the engine signature of the space probe is detected by a VyJovian Battle Cruiser in a deep range scan. They capture the probe and examine its (to them) relatively crude technology. A discussion ensues on the bridge for a few minutes before it is determined that it would be in the best interests of VyJovia if they were trace the path of the probe and make contact with the civilization responsible for dispatching it. The tracing procedure is mere child’s play and, within five minutes, their engines are spooled up to full speed and the Battle Cruiser warps, almost instantaneously, into a near-Earth orbit.
Unfortunately, the shape of Australia, the first continent seen by the newly arrived VyJovians is – by some cosmic coincidence – almost exactly the same as an extremely blasphemous rune in VyJovian language whose existence is banned upon pain of death for the way in which it degrades the reputation of the VyJovian diety, Golob. And, while Australia on its own may not have been enough to precipitate what happened next, the fact that the first communication they received from Earth - “Welcome to Earth” – translates, phonetically, into the perfect Vyjovian for “Golob is a fuckwit” was enough for a third lieutenant, who was particularly religious and very much affected by the whole affair, to activate the Planet Killer cannon which vaporised the planet in milliseconds, leaving nothing more than molten slag where Earth had once stood. When it was realised, years later, that it had all been something of a misunderstanding and that a bit of mistake had been made, the lieutenant was told off quite sternly and received only 90% of his annual Golobian bonus that year. Which was, admittedly, of no real consolation to the nine billion disintegrated inhabitants of Earth...
And that is why it was probably a good job I chose to have a cup of tea…

Thursday, March 15, 2012

30 Day Writing Challenge - Day 15

I found today's challenge - the road goes ever on - incredibly difficult for some reason. Maybe it was the lack of time, maybe it was a dip in creative energies, or maybe it was just a stupid idea to come up with that challenge in the first place! Whatever the reason, I feel this isn't one of my best pieces of work by any means...

But, this 30 day writing challenge is all about battling through such problems so, despite not being very pleased with what I've written, I'm going to offer it up all the same...

The Road Goes Ever On

The fog wrapped around us like a shroud, the car headlights serving to accomplish little but illuminate the thick grey mist that had closed in on us from every side. We had slowed down to little more than a crawl, hesitantly creeping along the contours of the road, when the fog suddenly lifted and we were once more out in the bright sunlight. After the claustrophobic confines of the fog, the light was so intense that I was forced to cover my eyes with one hand while simultaneously pulling the sun visor down with my other.  As I did so, I felt a sudden wave of déjà vu overcome me.
“What?” asked Dave, alternating between staring at the motorway that was now unfurling ahead of us and looking across from the wheel to me.
“Nothing. Just déjà vu.”
“Oooh…that’s a glitch in the system,” he grinned. “We’re in the Matrix…”
“You do realise that it stopped being cool to quote from The Matrix more than ten years ago?”
“In your déjà vu, did I call you a putz in about five seconds?”
“You’re a putz.”
“It wasn’t like that. I couldn’t remember the conversation we were having or anything; I just had this overwhelming feeling of familiarity creep over me.”
“Overwhelming feeling of familiarity creep over you?” laughed Dave.
“What’s wrong with that?”
“Nothing. Apart from being totally pretentious.”
“How is that pretentious?”
“How is it not pretentious?”
“I am not getting into this argument again. Just because I teach English Lit does not make me pretentious.”
“You call it English Lit. That is, I’m afraid, a bad sign already.”
“You’re just jealous because Mum is happy to tell her friends at the synagogue about what I do. You realise that she is still telling them you’re studying a PhD?”
“Yeah,” he smirked. “I just love how she’s so supportive of my musical ambitions.”
“I think she’d be more comfortable telling them that you were a pimp than a musician.”
“Because at least I’d have a trade, right?”
“I’ve used that line before, huh?”
“You know, I’m sure it’s only because I’m a musician that she’s happy to talk about you. If I’d actually bothered graduated on that law degree, you’d be the son she never talked about instead.”
“I think I might prefer that.”
“Hey, I’ve actually been a practising lawyer for the last five years. I just keep banging on about the musician stuff to keep her from trying to set me up with hideously dull daughters of her friends.”
I smiled to myself and lay my head back in the seat, watching the green fields and trees at the side of the road slide smoothly by. Growing up, there was no one whose company I enjoyed more than Dave; he was two years older than me but we were most often together like twins. Thick as thieves, our father would always say. And things hadn’t changed really even now we were adults; I still loved spending time with Dave and this trip was a perfect excuse to get in a few hours of verbal sparring. Something stirred in my memory as I thought about this, a half memory that refused to reveal itself and which pulled away from me when I tried to grasp at it in my mind, but it suddenly occurred to me that I didn’t know where we were going.
“Where is it we’re going?”
“I can’t remember,” I said clumsily, almost tripping over the words “I can’t remember where we’re going.”
“Are you alright?”
“I’m not sure.” But, even as I said it, I felt a lurching in my stomach that told me I most definitely wasn’t alright. And, while I couldn’t work out what was wrong, I had a sense that there was something I should remember that would help me understand.
“Take your mind off it, you’re probably just travel sick.” said Dave, “Why don’t you tell me about that other work you’ve been doing?”
“What other work?”
“The work for the government?”
“When did I tell you about that?”
Dave glanced at me with something approaching puzzlement. “On the phone, few months back. Said it was all hush-hush but I figured you’d be able to tell me.”
I sighed. No one was supposed to know that I was doing part-time analysis work for MI6; I couldn’t believe I’d been stupid enough to let it slip to Dave. They’d trained me to tell no one about it and I’d gone and blabbed to my big brother.
“I can’t talk about it.”
“Oh come on; who’s going to know?”
“No, really. I’m not allowed to talk about it.”
“Ok, now you really have got my interest up. You know I’m not going to let you get away with it that easily.”
The memory edged closer and I tried to relax this time, focus not on grabbing it but letting it come to me. As it moved closer, finally coalescing with clarity, I bolted forward in my seat and spun to face the man in the driver’s seat.
“Who the fuck are you?”
“Hello? I’m Dave, your brother. Look, are you ok?”
“My brother is dead,” I spat at him. “So I am going to ask you one last time, who the fuck are you?”
“Seriously, Mike, you are really worrying me. What say we pull over at the next service station and you get some air?”
“This is wrong,” I said, looking around and truly feeling it for the first time. “This is all wrong.”

*    *    *
“Cancel run 102,” said the grey haired man, “He’s getting agitated. This isn’t going to work.”
                “Cancelling.” said the assistant in the white coat. “What parameters should we alter for the next run? We could try the mother again?”
                “No, the mother was a waste of time. He is clearly most closely bonded with his brother; his brother is the only person he would consider talking to about the encryption protocols. It’s the only person he really trusts.”
                “But he keeps remembering his brother is dead.”
                “We can compensate for that. Run the program again but I want to make changes to the brother’s sensitivity index in real-time.”
                “Run 103, commencing.”

          *    *     *
The fog wrapped around us like a shroud, the car headlights serving to accomplish little but illuminate the thick grey mist that had closed in on us from every side. We had slowed down to little more than a crawl, hesitantly creeping along the contours of the road, when the fog suddenly lifted and we were once more out in the bright sunlight. After the claustrophobic confines of the fog, the light was so intense that I was forced to cover my eyes with one hand while simultaneously pulling the sun visor down with my other.  As I did so, I felt a sudden wave of déjà vu overcome me…

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

30 Day Writing Challenge - Day 14

As I came to write this, I realised that this is my 200th blog post and felt that I should celebrate somehow. Or, at the very least, write something suitably awesome to commemorate the occasion...

However, I'm not quite sure I've managed it; another evening of lots of work - not to mention catching a chicken (long story, but it turns out they are a lot harder to catch up with than Legend of Zelda might lead you to believe) - ensured that I couldn't get started on my writing until very late.

Today's challenge was In the style of a favourite writer and I chose to have a go at Iain M Banks whose writing I adore for its grand scope, dazzling inventiveness, imagination, verve and general panache. If I've managed to capture even 1% of all of that in the brief sample below, I'll be rather pleased...


When the Plate-class General Systems Vehicle Promises Are Made To Be Broken began a braking manoeuvre at the outer edge of the Tarquin system, Y’Lin Costreen realised that the Culture were taking this very seriously indeed. Six trillion tons of superstructure rapidly decelerated to less than half its normal operating speed; all to ensure that the ship she was travelling on, the Deep Picket Lunacy Has Found Me, which had ridden inside a launch bay of the far larger GSV for the last two weeks, would be capable of exploiting the optimal launch window.
                “And this is all for us?”
                The drone’s aura field flickered briefly between rose amusement and aquamarine modesty, before finally settling back to a more neutral cobalt blue.
                “Trust me, Y’Lin, this is the very least that they were prepared to do.”
                “I knew when they dug me out of a long-term SC assignment on Graedyl it had to be for something important; I just didn’t expect it to be something this important.”
                “Well, now you know. And you probably need to think about getting into your gel suit about now. We’re only three minutes out from launch and I can’t promise it’s going to be gentle. At this speed, we’re only going to get a four second window to evade the attentions of the Foomolitian scanner array.”
                “Look, I really want to know what’s going on.”
                “Yes, yes,” replied the drone, flashing a field of cadet grey that hinted at its displeasure. “I do think we’ve already discussed this. Need to know, and all that.”
                “I don’t even know where it is that we’re going.”
                “Which is something that, at the moment, you don’t need to know.”
                “Drone,” she said, with steel in her voice. “You need to start telling me more about what I’m getting myself into here.”
                “Drone?” it repeated back at her, a wash of purple and yellow rippling across its fields. “And here was I thinking we were on first name terms by now.”
                “Traviir Kalesen Smalt-Dah-Don Charnas Li,” she pronounced with overly excessive precision. “I want to know why I have been dragged off an assignment, flown half way across the galaxy and am now having a fucking GSV chain braking at the edge of Foomolitian space to allow us – and by us, I mean me – to ride shotgun on a Deep Picket who seems several sandwiches short of a picnic. And I want to know now, before I put that gel suit on.”
                The drone fluttered in the air, its smooth white casing reflecting her face back at her.
                “Fine,” it said petulantly. “Fifteen years ago, you worked with an SC operative by the name of Tyrel Scaa.”
                She felt her breath catch inside her chest at the mention of his name.
                “From the elevation of your heart rate and increase in skin galvanisation, might I infer that the name is still familiar to you?”
                “I remember him, yes.”
                “Two year relationship,” said the drone, before noting the fractional widening of her eyes. “Oh yes, we knew of course. Dear me, Y’Lin, surely you’ve learned by now that we know everything?
                “What’s he got to do with this?”
                “Ah, now that’s a long story,” said the drone, wearily. “And we’ve only got one minute and forty four seconds.”
                “Give me the short version.”
                “Mr Scaa has been something of a naughty boy of late. Ostensibly, he’s still on the SC roster but, frankly, he’s way off the reservation. It started with helping over-rung some low tech civilizations and got altogether more complicated when he stumbled across something pre-Culture tech that we don’t yet understand. He ditched his drone and the Torturer class ship he was assigned to and he’s headed into Smelt Space.”
                “That is what we intend to find out. Fifty eight seconds. I’d hurry.”
                “But why me?”
                “Oh,” said the drone, pulsing gunmetal grey puzzlement across its field. “I thought that would have been obvious. We want you to kill him.”

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

30 Day Writing Challenge - Day 13

Today's challenge - The place you grew up - was an interesting one for me. I grew up in a West Midlands town called Halesowen and lived there from the age of four until I was twenty one; which means that I have a broad spectrum of memories of the place and it was terribly difficult to pick any one particular point in time to write about. However, I think the memories between the age of six and eleven are probably the strongest and so I decided to head back to the Halesowen of the 1980s...

The place I grew up

I grew up in a terraced house on a hill in a West Midlands town called Halesowen.
I always liked to think that we lived at what was the sweet spot of the hill as, whenever it snowed, it was always just outside our house that cars would run out of puff; wheels spinning impotently against the gradient, their engines redlining for a few seconds before the driver would finally admit defeat and reverse in order to trundle sheepishly back down the hill.
On the opposite side of the street, just down the road from where we lived, were a number of factory units. I’m not entirely sure what they did – although I still remember the occasional acrid chemical smell that would drift from them on the breeze – but the factories were important because, once the workers had gone home for the night, their car parks were our playgrounds. I learned to ride my bike on the factory car park, riding around and around in circles with my dad steadying the saddle, until I suddenly realised my dad was standing watching me and I’d been riding on my own for the last five minutes (the shock of which caused me to immediately fall off – but it was worth it, I’d earned myself a Flash Gordon sticker album!).
The road sloped sharply downwards – making it ideal for high velocity skateboarding; a practice that would likely have given my parents fits if they’d known about it. But we were young, we were invincible and danger wasn’t even a concept, let alone a variable that factored into our decision making process. At the bottom of the road, a right turn took you onto the main road that led into town but, in order to do that, you had to tackle the tortuous slope of Furnace Hill which always seemed impossibly steep. At the top of the hill, should you veer from the main road, you could eventually reach a path that led you to a brook where we would swing on a rope and dare each other to venture into the abyss black culvert from which the flow of water emerged. We rarely went far.
However, if one ignored the temptation of the brook, you could cut through the grounds of the high school to emerge on the other side of Furnace Hill, almost in the centre of Halesowen now, the spire of the millennia old church the focal point of the view.
                There were only a few places that I enjoyed spending time at in Halesowen but, one of them, was so popular with me that, during the school holidays, I’d make a daily pilgrimage to it; scaling Furnace Hill on the way there and my own road on the way back.
The Library.
I was a voracious reader in my youth. I had devoured the entire collection of fiction possessed by our school library by the time I was six and had moved on to reading encyclopaedias so joining the library was an amazing experience for me. With thousands upon thousands of books to choose from, I dove in with gusto; and never more than during the school holidays when I’d get up early in the morning and set out with a plastic bag full of the library books I’d finished. I’d traipse up Furnace Hill, trudge into the centre of Halesowen and into the library. Empty my bag at the counter and wait as they scanned the books back in. Then I’d walk around the library and pick eight new books to read before walking home, plastic bag again bulging, and spend the day tearing through them. The next morning, the process would be repeated. Eight books a day, six days a week for six weeks at a time. It’s safe to say, I did my fair share of reading as a child.
The more I write, the more I realise that all my memories of the place I grew up are positive. Maybe that’s just the way my mind works; I don’t tend to bother dwelling on the bad, such memories have a tendency to simply evaporate from my head. And maybe that means my vision of the place is one that has been filtered through rose-tinted spectacles but, since they’re my memories, I guess that’s allowed… 

Monday, March 12, 2012

30 Day Writing Challenge - Day 12

Today's challenge was simply entitled - Your passion - and so I resisted the urge to develop a short story and, instead, decided to just write honestly about the thing in life I'm most passionate about...

My Passion

There are many things I am passionate about but, it probably says something (and I'm not entirely sure that it's necessarily something positive), that I can lay claim to having held onto the same primary passion for more than thirty years. You see, regardless of the huge changes wrought on me and all my experiences, my passion for writing remains undimmed...

I can't pinpoint the moment when my interest in writing first began; to my mind, I have always loved to write. As soon as I could read stories, I wanted to reformulate them and use them as inspiration to come up with my own variants. I've still got some old school exercise books from when I was about six years old. While most of my friends were writing about what they did the weekend before, I was instead intertwining the reality of my weekend with fantasy and telling stories about spacecraft and robots - spinning in elements from Star Wars and Doctor Who with the panache that only a six year old can muster.

It wasn't something I outgrew. As I grew older, I'd frequently be found at the old typewriter, bashing away at it as I produced reams and reams of stories with a bottle of Tipp-Ex always at hand (this was, after all, an era before the luxury of the delete button). My only desire at this age was to be a writer; it was what I loved, what I believed I was good at. To comprehend doing anything else was simply madness.

Then life got a bit more serious and, somehow...almost accidentally...I ended up in the games industry as a game designer. Life changed. I bought a house, got a mortgage. The hours mounted up and up and up. By the end of my first project I was working over 100 hours per week for a period of three months. There was no spare time, let alone time to try and write. And so, over the next decade, I poured my creativity into games and my writing in games and found myself with little time to do anything else aside from the occasional dabble with the odd short story or two (one of which won a national competition in 2001). But, at the back of my mind, I knew that games weren't fully sating me, that they couldn't scratch the itch that was my desire to write.

When I moved into teaching, I promised myself I would be able to find more time, would dedicate more energy and resources to some of the partially written novels I had built up over the years but, strangely enough - despite it being my passion - I found that it was a struggle to eke out openings in my schedule. There was plenty of work involved in teaching and, it turned out, it was a minor passion in its own right - I refused to accept anything except the best from what I did (my students may disagree!) and this new career ate up more and more of spare time.

So, I decided that the only way to ensure that I found the time to dedicate to my passion was to set up this 30 Day Writing Challenge. It would, I figured, have two purposes. On one hand, it would be a public challenge - one that pride alone would surely prevent me from failing - but the real idea behind it was that these 30 days would enable me to get back into a routine of writing with real consistency. Every day, come rain or shine. I would refuse to be a slave to my schedule, would refuse to write only when inspiration struck - I was going to sit down every single day and pound the keyboard until I'd dragged inspiration up from wherever it had been hiding. And, by the end of those 30 days, I figured, that routine would carry me beyond this challenge and onto the novel that currently sits unfinished on a flash drive, waiting for me to continue it.

This 30 day challenge is as much about improving my discipline as it is a chance to shake off the rust of recent writing inactivity. And the more I write, the more I remember why I love doing this. No matter how tired I am, no matter how difficult it is to get the words from my head to the page, there is nothing that gives me such elation as when I write something that I'm truly pleased with. So I'll deal with whatever it says about me and admit that writing is, and always will be, my passion...