Writing Writ #3: Kill Your Darlings

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Writing Writ #3: Kill Your Darlings

“Kill your darlings” is a time old piece of writing advice, that’s been attributed to Stephen King, William Falkner and Oscar Wilde. It’s also one that I think gets up the nose of most writers, after all, none of us like to be told to get rid of that bit of writing that we absolutely love.

However, the point of “kill your darlings” is not to tear out every sparkly new metaphor and destroy all your precious similes. It’s about reminding you to find a place of objectivity, so that you can become a writer that other people will want to read.

Step 1:

First things first, I want you to take off your ego and leave it at the door. Whether you’re a sufferer of crippling self-doubt, or one of those rare writers who’s cursed with arrogance, your ego has no place in the editing room. It’ll only serve to trip you up and send you sprawling. So, when you’re reading your own writing put yourself to one side and step into the shoes of a reader. I’ve extended this clothing analogy too far, haven’t I?

Step 2:

Now you need to be brutal with your work. If something doesn’t sound right to you, it won’t sound right to a reader, so question it! You’ve said her eyes were the blue of a stormy ocean, but do you also need to say her lips are the plush pink of an orchid and her hair hung like gilded satin around her shoulders all in the same paragraph? Or maybe you’ve described how the kitchen counters are dense black marble, but your floors are shimmering laminate and your cupboards are beautifully antiqued oak? Here’s the thing, these are all reasonable images and descriptions to conjure up. But stick them all in one breath and you’re likely to give your reader a headache. Pick your favourite children, then suck it up and kill the rest.

Step 3:

Now, learn when to resurrect. What am I saying? Well, let’s pretend you’re now two chapters down the line and you’re staring at the same woman. Previously your hero was looking into her eyes while she was angry, so the stormy ocean imagery made sense, but it didn’t make sense to talk about her plush pout and glistening golden locks. However, now your hero has realised he has feelings for this woman, and they’re having a blink off over a cup of coffee. You can now sneak one of those murdered babies back in to your text. And if your description is looking particularly sparse, you can resurrect both.

Step 4:

However, learn when to bury it deep. While there will be occasions when an image is so good, it’s worth sticking back in somewhere else…there will also be darlings that just need to stay dead. For instance, the Writeryjig Clubamabob crew recently called me out for using an image in dialogue that seemed far too rehearsed. Arguably, Olivia (The End of Atlas) is the type to rehearse conversations over and over, so the line almost made sense, but given the scene it was over the top. As it was, I ended up editing the whole scene because Olivia was a huge drama queen at a point in the story where it was completely inappropriate, and my image died with the dialogue. And dead it will stay because it was too contrived. (FYI, I would tell you what the line was, but it’s a major spoiler.)

Step 5:

Finally, start applying “kill your darlings” to the bigger picture. This advice isn’t just about imagery, or even shoddily disguised polemics. It can also be used to look at the broader picture of your novel to pick out what’s not working. In my time, I have personally written characters with voices ten years too old for them, loveable assholes that have just been straight up assholes, and have essentially embedded the opening to a fanfiction of my own characters into more than one novel. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how much you love a character or scene (or indeed how much you chuckled when you wrote it), it’s just got to go!

 

Anyway, I hope this helps those of you who really struggle with the idea of “kill your darlings”. Cutting out things we love can be incredibly difficult, but if it’s going to irritate the reader or just seem plain silly in the greater scheme of things then better to kill a phrase than wipe out a novel.

Now, I’m off to get back to hacking my other love apart (my dissertation). Let me know down in the below if you have any tips for killing your darlings, or what your thoughts are on this tip.

Catch y’all next week!

Best,

EM.

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Dissertation Drama Week #7

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Dissertation Drama Week #7

My work pace feels like it’s ground to a halt over the last two weeks, at least in terms of word count. The goal set by my supervisor was to collect comment data from my fanfiction samples, and start doing the coding that I’d promised I would do, in order to narrow my focus further. But personally, I was also aiming to get my method done as well.

After writing half my method, and collecting and coding almost 200 comments, some ethical issues reared their ugly head, and I had to dump 3/4 of my sample and rethink my sampling method completely. On top of that, I woke up last Friday with a stonking cold, which I’m still not quite recovered from.

What did I learn from this shamble?

  1. If you can see the twist in the road, slow down – I had a gut feeling that my ethical issues were not 100% fixed, but I didn’t want to waste time by not doing anything. Of course, instead of doing a ton of work that I then had to throw out, I could have been reading and building my knowledge for my next steps. I was so focused on building my word count that the thought didn’t occur until after the fact. Poor planning on my part, but something that I will definitely keep in mind.

 

  1. When things go wrong, do take a break – When things went wrong, I did not stop working. I was determined to catch up with myself. So all the work I originally did in 3 days, I did again in 1.5 days. On that .5 of a day, I was already ill and knew I was only going to get worse, so I pushed myself even harder to finish up. I then spent the weekend lying in bed in a state of semi-death (although I still dragged myself upright to blog). Basically, I’m an idiot. Don’t be me. Take a break, recover, then start working again.

 

  1. Sometimes, you need to edit as you go – Of course, once I’d screwed up my methodology section, I couldn’t just continue writing it. I needed to move whole chunks around, rework parts, and add greater detail into the coding and sampling sections. It wasn’t something I could leave and come back to, like my literature review (which just needs more of an argument). My method was a mess that needed sorting, so the rest would be coherent. Don’t leave yourself a pile of trouble to come back to later. Tackle it while the issues are fresh in your mind, so it doesn’t confuse everything else.

 

  1. Reading, is working – I feel like this is a really important point to get across. I’ve reached a stage now, where there is a gap in my knowledge and I need to fill it. I’ve never really done any proper stylistics work before, so I’m lacking a model to use for my dissertation. Therefore, I’ve spent a portion of the last three days reading up on possible models I could make use of. I’ve gone from being utterly daunted, to thinking, actually, this is doable. Worrying over my word count is all well and good, but it’s never going to grow if I don’t have the knowledge to put in. Researching is not just writing, it’s reading too! A fact that I still need to hammer into my brain.

 

I’m going to leave it at four this time, mainly because DEATH still. But I hope that these little insights are helping folks feel better about where they are with their dissertations. Personally, I’m looking forward to this time next year, when I can read all of these through and laugh.

Best,

EM

Comic Books: Reading for the Crazy Busy

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Comic Books: Reading for the Crazy Busy

You’ll have to forgive me if I my grammar’s a little groggy this week. I woke up yesterday with a nasty cold, which has now shifted and set up camp in my tonsils. Thinking is fun, I got out of breath just walking across the room to get my laptop, and let’s not talk about what’s coming out of my nose right now. I am gross.

Anyway, I thought today would be a good day to talk about my new found love for comic books. My hope is that my enthusiasm will shine through the ill.

As most of you will know, I’ve always been a bit of a nerd. As a kid, I was the one who sat in the corner writing (when I wasn’t busy being a Kidiot). As a teen, I used Star Trek and Stargate Atlantis as my security blanket to calm me down before school. As an adult…well, I’ve finally discovered joy in comic books.

That’s not to say I hated them before. I just never really got on with them. I’ve always found comfort in words on a page, but there was never enough text in comic books for my liking. Not to mention, I really struggled to process images and words at the same time, so I’d often miss a joke or plot point and would have to read whole sections again.

However, in the last year or so, I’ve found myself building a collection. It started with the Harbinger series, which I came across on Amazon. A friend bought me the collected Blacksad for my birthday, and then the wonderful Chloe Dungate (aka Scarfdemon) put up a video of comic book recommendations. Suddenly, I’m up to my eyeballs in clever storytelling and gorgeous artwork. It’s great.

So, what caused this change of heart? Well, two things:

  1. My understanding of how comic books work has greatly improved since I was a kid.
  2. My life got ridiculous.

When you’re an English student, people make the assumption that you spend every waking moment of everyday having a good old read of a nice book. But, the last time I managed to read a standard prose novel of my choosing was over the summer, before my course started. Even then, I was reading Supernatural books because I thought I’d end up covering Supernatural fanfiction for my dissertation. Turns out, I should have been reading the collected work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The best laid plans, hey?

The fact is, I’ve been so swamped with reading heavy linguistics papers that the last thing I want to do in order to chill out is read more dense text. Hell, I’ve been struggling to get myself to write because I know I need to make edits to The End of Atlas before I can continue, and ow, my brain.

But in comic books, I’ve found something rather wonderful. A place I can enjoy the quiet comfort of words without having to summon an image of the whole world. Instead, it’s right there – on the page – drawn for me. Not to mention, a number of comic books are so quick to read that I can sneak one into the hour before bed, or into that awkward period after breakfast, but before I have to trek to see my dissertation tutor. They are the perfect reading material for someone whose life has become crazy busy.

Somehow, I’ve grown to love comic books so much, that I’ve even found ways to incorporate them into my MA work this year. In my first semester, I wrote a paper outlining how Harbinger uses non-textual elements to tell its story, and then used that as evidence to support myself as I ripped into two of the main theorists on the topic of “visual grammar” (possibly a little too much). For the semester just gone, I proposed my own question, analysed the use of gesture in Princess Princess Ever After, and provided a comparison between those gestures and the gestures we use in real life. I showed, amongst other things, that gesture in comic books can be used to replace language in order to avoid cluttering cells with lots of texts. So a cheering crowd can be represented by characters waving and punching the air.

Basically, what I’m saying is, comic books are super cool. They’re short and sweet, but they’re also this incredibly complex communicative tool. They frequently get put in the box of “kid stuff” or “nerd stuff” (as if that’s a bad thing), and are ignored for no good reason. There’s such a variety of comic books out there now, beyond the traditional superhero stories, that it’s just impossibly frustrating to hear people dismiss them as “not my thing” without ever having read one (as happened to me the other day whilst perusing the comic book section in Waterstone’s).

So next time you’re busy, but you really want that joyous feeling of reading a whole book in one sitting, try a comic book. Or two. I mean, no pressure, but you might be pleasantly surprised.

 

Best,

Em.

Dissertation Drama Week #3

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Dissertation Drama Week #3

I didn’t want to bombard you with these posts, so I thought I’d make them fortnightly.

This fortnight has seen my dissertation get some semblance of a structure, and gain an actual word count. It’s been quite eventful and I feel I’m gaining something of a rhythm.

Let’s talk about what I’ve learnt.

  1. Re-reading articles is sometimes well worth the time. – There were a few articles that I read while I was applying for my master’s programme, and a few that were set as reading during the course, which I knew would be useful, but thought I could get by without re-reading. However, upon re-reading ‘What is fanfiction and why are people saying such nice things about it?’ by Bronwen Thomas, I realised I was very wrong. When you read academically, you often read with purpose, looking for connections to particular ideas. I knew Thomas’ article would be useful as a background to the general research area. What I’d completely forgotten is how it goes on to talk about the effect of fanfiction on our ideas of narrative, a concept I’m now incorporating into my dissertation. Re-read my friends. Re-read.
  1. Writing waffle can be constructive. – After writing my introduction for my dissertation tutor, I turned to my literature review. Now, I know most of what I want to talk about in this section, but I’ve been finding it quite tricky to visualise how to connect the ideas. However, I’ve found that by writing the ideas down and fleshing them out, I can begin see how they work together on paper. That’s not to say what I’ve written is golden (far from it), but at least it’s there, and when I start editing, I’ll have something to play around with.
  1. Not having lectures makes research somewhat easier. – While I’ve learnt a lot this year, and am very appreciative of the work put in by the lecturers, it was somewhat stressful having to juggle lectures, reading for lectures and essay writing and reading for essays. I’m still juggling now, and making sure I’ve actually read enough to be able to write a section is difficult, but it is good not to have to down tools and disappear off to university for three hours (including walking time). This is a level of stress I can deal with comfortably, and hopefully it will stay this way.
  1. Literature reviews are not the star of the show (and 4k might be a bit much). – After having spoken to my dissertation tutor about my plan, I mentioned how surprised I was that the recommended word count for the literature review was so high. He was also surprised, and suggested I aim for something like 3k. He argued that the lit review isn’t really the star of the show, but if written poorly it will lose you marks. Therefore, it’s better to make it slightly shorter, to discourage yourself from getting to descriptive and uncritical. Personally, I would recommend asking your dissertation tutors about their preferences. At the end of the day they’re the one who’s going to be marking it (at least they do at UoB).
  1. Talking things through helps. – I’ve always considered writing to be my safe zone. I am good at communicating through writing. Even when I’m typing on my tiny phone keyboard and I make numerous errors with my human sized thumbs, my friends can usually understand me. But articulating ideas out loud is something I’m still working on. I can write an good essay in a couple of weeks, but ask me to summarise my research verbally and my brain turns to mush. However, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do it. And actually, the more I do, the clearer my work gets, as people ask follow up questions, or nod excitedly at the sound of a coherent idea. Am I still struggling over the basic question of “What linguistic model are you using?” Uh, yes. Definitely. But I can now answer, “What’s your research about?” with a level of confidence.

My aims for my next meeting are to have written a draft of my literature review and pinned down what data I want to use (which may alter depending on some ethical concerns). Currently, I’ve done about 2/3 of that…and I’ve only been going since Monday. I’m hoping to exceed that writing goal, as we’re expected to hand in as much of a draft as possible by the end of June, and I’ve calculated I’d need to average 2k a week to finish the thing. That would then give me the rest of summer to edit it into something that actually resembles a good piece of research.

Wish me luck.

And good luck to those of you in the same position!

Best,

EM.

Writing Writ #1: Find Your Own Voice

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Writing Writ #1: Find Your Own Voice

You hear this a lot when you’re a fiction writer. You need to find you voice, write with vision, have a perspective. And when you hear those words you think, Oh, go away, you pretentious git. And I don’t blame you. The people who tell you that you need to “find your own voice”, without any further guidance, are pretentious gits.

But the fact still remains, if you want to write well, you do need to write with your own voice.

So, how does one find this voice?

 

Step 1:

Start keeping a journal – This sounds almost as pretentious as telling you to use your own voice, but please, trust me for a minute. By a cheap ass notebook, and just scribble some thoughts down. Don’t make them frilly. Don’t pretend some great literary historian is going to end up reading them when you’re famous (~coughs~ totally didn’t do that myself ~coughs~). Write like you’re talking to a friend. Be as colloquial as you want to be and just word vomit onto paper a few times a week.

Step 2:

Copy the voices you love – Make a short list of the writer’s you really love, and trying mimicking their style. Don’t go for a full novel. Dream up a character and a short scenario, and write with the voice of a writer you admire. One of my favourites to copy was Douglas Adams, which you can see in Moving Day. His jovial, semi-sarcastic wit is so specifically him, but it’s great fun to play with.

Step 3:

Pin point what it is that you like – Once you’ve had your fun playing with that voice, it’s time to get analytical. What is it that you like about that voice? Is it the wit, like myself with Adams? Is it the simple, clean prose, like myself and Graham Greene? Or is it the fluid presentation of thoughts …like me and every modernist I’ve ever loved?

Step 4:

Blend those voices – Now comes the tricky bit. Now, you need to take all the bits you like about the work of other writers, and apply it to your own work. Sounds complicated? How can you mix Adams’ wit, with Greene’s prose, and Woolf’s stream of consciousness? First off, relax, because here’s the thing; you’re never going to sound like all of them. And that’s fine, because that’s not the aim. The aim is to sound like you, but to develop the bits that you like the most about their writing in your own. That diary you’ve been keeping (right?) get that out, and have a read through what you’ve written. You’ll likely find you’re already doing some of those things you love so much. However, you may also find you sound like you’re up your own arse (thanks, Woolf) or that you’re close to murdering everyone (cheers, Adams) or that you manage to write a whole paragraph without giving any context for what’s happening (Greene! My man!). Once you see these things, you can start to blend the voices together better. Ease up on the 1920’s English, tone down the sarcasm and pop in a few more adjectives.

Step 5:

Figure out what you bring to the table – This isn’t exactly easy to do for yourself, which is why I always advocate sharing your work with trusted friends/ family/ writers. In my case, it was my lecturer, Dr Richard House, who made me realise what I added (although I’m fairly certain my mum had told a very small Emma something similar). When Richard read the opening to The End of Atlas, he said to me that I had a very filmic writing style. At the time, I thought this was really odd way to describe it, but I’ve come to realise that it’s how my mind works. When I’m writing fiction, I see things as if it’s a film playing in my head. I see the shots, and the look, and I target the elements of the scene to describe which I think will have the biggest impact. Knowing this helped me see how I was holding three very different voices together. Simplicity, fluidity and hella humour, woven together with a filmic structure. That is how I like to roll.

Step 6:

Acceptance – Finally, there’s one small thing you need to know and accept. You’re never going to stop fiddling around with your voice. Mainly because, if you’re any good at writing, you’re never going to write the exact same character twice (unless you’re writing a novel series). Even if you don’t write in first person (like myself), and you rely on a third person narrator, your characters will inevitably have some influence over the tone of your narration, and you will certainly need to be able to adapt your voice for dialogue. Writing is as much about acting as it is about prose. However, don’t be disheartened. Having a sense of your own voice will 1) help you pick the projects that you’re going to enjoy the most, and 2) figure out when your character is just you in disguise (I’m looking at you John Green).

 

If I’m honest with myself, I do worry about where I’ll go after The End of Atlas is finally finished. I’ve become so familiar with the voice of Alec, my protagonist, that he kind of feels like home. But I know, when the time comes, I’ll pick up the parts of him that are me and develop a new character, and a new project which I’ll hopefully enjoy just as much.

Hope you’re enjoying your Saturday!

Best,

E.M.

P.S. Today’s featured image is a small snapshot of an essay I wrote before Easter…in which I sound like Dr Seuss.

Fiction: Moth Child

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Fiction: Moth Child

The moth rain falls when the moon is at its fullest. We shut our windows, lay thick coats along the outer doors. We fill the house with enough food to last a week, just in case.

They used to call it moth snow, but the name was too appealing to children. They didn’t understand. Snow was the fun, white fluff that melted on their tongues in winter. It formed sculptures, playful weapons, cosy hideouts. It was a source of entertainment and joy. Moth snow was a sinister, grey flake that arrived in summer. It broke down into an invisible toxin, which lingered in the air. Children ran out to play, and their bodies came home three days later, after the ploughs had removed the worst of the fall. It took a year for the government to implement a total rebrand.

It’s a full moon tonight, so Mum shakes out Dad’s old coat. The smell of naphthalene fills the air. I cover my mouth and nose. The chemical we use to protect ourselves is almost as poisonous as the rain itself. It stores up in your fat cells, and waits to take you when food is short. Mum places the coat over the extractor fan in the kitchen. Dad used to cook a lot. He died when I was seven, when the rain first started, but I can just about remember him standing over the hob.

“Have you taken your pill?” Mum asks.

“Not yet.”

“Can you get me one too?”

I retrieve the bottle from the cabinet upstairs, then together we knock back a dose of activated charcoal with a single of whiskey. The combination is hot and wet like dog’s breath. Mum winces and lets out a hiss as the burn works down her throat. She hates it. I mimic her as I have for thirteen years now. I try to capture distaste; the flare of the nostrils, the slight kick of the head. She watches my performance, then knocks back another. I think I have missed something. She once told me that practice makes perfect, but I’m not entirely sure what perfection is. I cannot judge, because I cannot feel.

***

Uncle Pete is late bringing my brother home from football. Mum is angry. Her anger looks much like her distaste, but it takes over her whole body. When I was younger I thought anger was a being that could inhabit multiple bodies at a time. I thought that fear was an appropriate response to this. When Mum realised what I was trying to display she broke down in tears. She explained to me that anger was just another emotion, and one that I should be glad not to have. I told her I could not be glad. She said that was okay.

It is half-past seven when my brother and uncle arrive home. Mum drags Uncle Pete into the kitchen. My brother slinks into the living room. His name is Daniel, but Mum says I must call him Danny because it sounds more affectionate. I follow him into the living room, where he is already sprawled across the sofa, watching TV.

“Alright, moth girl?” he snipes.

“Shut up, Danny.”

I pull his legs off the sofa and sit down. He shuffles right to the end of the furniture. I make him uncomfortable. I was already five when he was born. By the time he was old enough to have memories, I was quite a good actor. If it weren’t for his friends, and their parents, he would not know the difference. People talk about me – the moth child – the girl who survived standing outside in the moth rain. It is generally thought that only part of me survived, and that that part is not enough. It is Uncle Pete who told me this. As far as I could tell he was not being malicious. He spoke as someone reading the news, “You are not considered human. You are considered a simulation of a human. You must be careful.”

I can hear Uncle Pete now. His voice is loud, but I cannot make out the words over the sound of the TV. Danny picks up the remote and turns up the volume, drowning Uncle Pete out completely.

“Why were you late?” I ask.

“What’s it to you?”

“I was just wondering.”

“You’re not capable of wondering.”

“Answer the question, Danny,” I snarl.

That does it. Fear sparks his eyes wide. For some reason, anger is the one emotion everyone thinks I’m capable of.

“Sam’s mum’s car packed in, and we had to give them a lift home. We couldn’t leave them there.”

“Sensible. Recovery vehicles don’t come out past five on rain day, and public transport stops at four. You would be sad if they died.”

I squeeze his shoulder. It is meant to be reassuring, to suggest he did the right thing. He stiffens as if I have punched him.

“Sorry,” I say.

“No, you’re not.”

I sigh and roll my eyes. He has not believed in my expressions since he turned thirteen, but I have to keep them up. It is a matter of stretching my stamina, training my mind to make continuous decisions about how to look, and sound, and what to say. For most people this is an involuntary function. For me it is exhausting. Danny is watching a cartoon. I decide to leave because cartoons are not useful. The emotions are all over the place, the reactions are not accurate; there is nothing I can learn from them. I once tried to get my eyes to pop out in order to indicate that I thought my mother must be aesthetically pleasing.

I wander into the hall. Mum is shouting now. I stand outside the kitchen door and listen.

“I couldn’t care less what might have happened to them! Do you understand? I will not lose another member of my family to that bloody rain!”

“Kate, I couldn’t just leave them there. Be reasonable!”

“Reasonable? Reasonable! I tell you what, Pete, next time I’m sheltered at your house, we’ll throw dearest Eleanor and one of my sweet nephews out in it. Then we’ll see how reasonable you can be.”

“Kate-”

“Don’t ‘Kate’ me. You have no idea what it’s like. I’ve lost a husband and a daughter. I will not lose a son.” She pauses. “Or my brother.”

I know I should be hurt. I push my eyebrows up and together, open my mouth a little. I breathe like someone has booted me in the chest. If they were to open the door now, they would be taken aback by how accurate my portrayal is. They would feel the pain reflected in my features.

“She’s not dead, Kate.”

“No, but she’s not alive either. It’s like living with a ghost.”

I think perhaps this may be true. I remember vaguely what I was like before; laughing as Dad swung me round and round by the arms; howling in pain, tears burning my nose and throat, as my right arm clunked out of the socket. Now, I would be able to pop it back in myself without much fuss. I still feel the pain, but I don’t react. For Mum, it must be as if I am dead, but my image still lingers around the house and eats her food.

“It’ll be dark soon. You should stay here. Go and call Ellie,” Mum says.

The door opens and I step to one side. Uncle Pete stalls in the doorway for what is a fraction of a second, then walks past me. He knows I have been listening. He gives me a shy smile. I think that if I could like anyone, I would certainly like Uncle Pete. He is the only person who has never appeared scared of me and who has always answered every question with a straight answer.

He picks up the phone in the hall and dials.

“Hello, Ellie? – Yes, don’t worry I’m safe – I’m at Kate’s – I’m sorry, Hon’ – Danny’s friend needed a lift – I didn’t mean to worry you – We’re all set -Yeah, give my love to the boys – I’ll see you in a few days – Make sure to duct tape the letterbox – I love you – Bye.”

He turns and sees that I am still standing in the same spot. “Do you have a question?”

I think for a moment. “Yes. Can you say ‘I love you’ again, and pretend that you are saying it to someone you love, like Aunt Eleanor?”

He smiles. “I love you, and I don’t need to pretend, kiddo.”

He gives me enough time to assess and memorise his facial expression and tone, before he puts an arm around my neck, and ruffles my hair with his hand. I do my best to look disgruntled, which makes him laugh.

“You really are magnificent, Nessie.”

“Thank you.”

***

At eight o’clock we eat a balanced dinner that is well-cooked and non-toxic. Danny doesn’t like it. He pokes at it until it is too cold to eat, argues with Mum about wasting food, and then storms upstairs to his room. We finish in silence.

I help Uncle Pete make up the guest bed. I am good at this. It is a mechanical kind of team work that does not involve debate or opinion. Uncle Pete is a poor partner, though. He ends up inside the duvet cover, pushing the duvet up into the corners.

“You should laugh now,” he tells me, so I do.

Mum looks in and sees what’s happening. She laughs too, calls Uncle Pete a fool, and kisses me goodnight. Uncle Pete waves through the cover. I take this as a cue to laugh again. Mum squeezes me tightly.

***

It starts at nine o’clock, roughly twenty-seven minutes after sunset. It is soundless. Tattered bodies fall from the sky and all I can hear is the air filtering in and out of my own lungs. I sit in the window seat of my room, and watch the moth rain fall.

***

                They told me it would kill me if I breathed it in, so I held my breath. That’s the only reason I survived. I filled my lungs as much as I could and pressed my lips together tight. Stepping out into it was like pressing your face into a feather duster. The wings fluttered against your skin, tickling every hair to the point that I almost exploded with laughter.

 Don’t breathe, don’t breathe, don’t breathe, I told myself.

I closed the patio door, and took a couple of steps forward. I was only a metre in, but I could barely see the glass. The initial fall is incredibly dense. I began to twirl, feeling the wings flutter past my arms and through my hair. I tilted my head right back. My nose began to itch.

A desperate roar came from somewhere in the grey. I looked around, but could not get my bearings. I believe I began to panic. My lungs were suddenly aching for air.

All at once, I sneezed, gasped, and was swept off my feet. A large dark coat, reeking of mothballs fell over my head. I passed out just as I heard the door close again.

***

The fall lasts just fifteen minutes today. After that, only a few lazy flakes are left to fall to the ground. The sky clears, and the moon shines brightly. This is Pompeii after the eruption of Vesuvius. This is London after the Great Fire. I sit and I watch the stillness settle in.

***

I am tired, and begin to think about sleeping. I believe everyone else in the house went to sleep a while ago, but as I creep across the landing I hear muttering coming from Danny’s room. I stand perfectly still, straining to hear the words.

“No! No! No! – Don’t say that! -No, you know what it’s like for me – Please – I can’t tell her – I can’t! – She already has one freak child, I can’t tell her that I’m- No I’m not saying that you’re a freak – You know what I meant – Sam, I love you, you know that I love you – Please, don’t make me tell her – Sam!”

There is a long silence, and he begins sobbing. There is an occasional sniff, a croak of air being sucked back into lungs too quickly, a moan muted by a pillow. I push open his door, and sink onto the edge of his bed. He flicks on his bedside lamp, and the moment he sees that it is me, he shrinks into the corner, pressing himself into the wall like a trapped animal.

“Oh stop it,” I hiss, but he doesn’t.

“What do you want?”

“I would say to comfort you, but you wouldn’t believe me.”

He braves a smirk.

“I just thought that I would tell you, Mum doesn’t see me as a freak. She believes I died, age seven. I heard her say as much to Uncle Pete, during their argument. She also said that she couldn’t cope with losing another member of her family, and I believe there was a particular emphasis on not losing you.”

“So?”

“I don’t think she’d give a flying fuck if you turned out to be gay.”

He snorts, actual genuine laughter. He covers his mouth in surprise. I squeeze his shoulder again, and this time he places his hand over mine.

“Would you care if I was gay?” he asks.

“I’m a moth child, Danny. I could catch you in the front garden, mid-coitus, waving a pride flag in the air, and the only thing I’d be thinking about is how to replicate your facial expression in the unlikely event that I should ever have sex.”

He laughs again and, for the first time since he reached adolescence, he hugs me. When he is finished, I leave and go to the bathroom. I relieve myself, wash my hands and face, then brush my teeth. I arrive back in my room, prepared for sleep, but Uncle Pete is sitting in my window.

“That was a nice thing you said to your brother,” he remarks.

“Was it?”

“Yes.” He nods. “Nessie, are you sure you don’t feel anything?”

“I have not felt an emotion since I went out into the moth rain.”

“Then why did you help your brother?”

I think for a moment. “His information was wrong. He needed correct information in order to make his decision.”

“But he didn’t have to ask for it?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“Someone who feels would tell him without being asked. I acted as if I felt, as I always do.”

Uncle Pete sighs. He stands up and walks toward me. “You remind me so much of my gramps, your great-grandfather.”

“Why?”

“He was mechanical and apathetic about everything, just like you. My mother told me he was a soldier. One of the many who lost their spirit in the last great war.”

“Did he breathe in a toxin too?”

“No, but the things he saw were poisonous. They ate away at who he was.”

“Did he recover?”

“A little. I once saw him shed a tear at a memorial service.”

“How do you know it was not fake?”

“Because not even you’re that good, Ness.”

True. The only reason I have to cry is when there is something in my eye, or when I am in physical pain. Tears are impossible to summon without emotion.  A thought occurs. “Is my great-grandfather why you have never treated me as the others have?”

“I suppose so. Your mother’s too young to remember him, but I always liked him. He used to give me Murray Mints from a tin under the stairs.”

“Murray Mints?”

He laughs quietly. “I’ll get you some when the fall’s lifted.”

***

I am sitting at the window again. I am tired, but I cannot sleep. It has been two hours since I prepared for bed. No flakes fall now. The sky is empty, except for the moon and the stars.

I like the stars. They are like me. We are both ghosts of a light that once burned bright.

As I sit there, my eyes begin to swim with salt-water. I am thinking of spinning in the moth rain. I am thinking of the large coat thrown over me. I am remembering that I was not allowed into my parents’ bedroom until the day after the fall was lifted. On that day some men came and took a long and heavy object from their room. I didn’t know what it was because it was covered with a sheet. I asked Mum, but she wouldn’t tell me. Then I told her I would ask Dad. She wept uncontrollably for an hour, then drove me to the hospital.

Now I am crying. I am holding a cushion to my chest and I am rocking gently back and forth. My heart is aching. My stomach is clenched so tightly I think I might be sick. I cry, until the pain is so enormous that it no longer feels like a part of me. It is an angry god that swamps the room.

The moth rain comes when I need it most. I put the cushion down, and reach for the window. The handle is well oiled and makes no noise. I crack open the seal a couple of millimetres, press my lips to the gap, and breathe.

Tip Tuesday: How to be a Nerd

be a nerd
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How to be a Nerd

AKA: The Life Cycle of a Nerd.

Stage One: A nerd, is usually born early on in life. Like an axolotl exposed to the right hormones can transform into a salamander, a human child exposed to the right fictive universes has a good be a nerdchance of becoming a nerd. For the 90’s child, these sources were likely Pokemon, Digimon, and in rare cases Beyblade, but may also have involved Sherlock Holmes, Pride and Prejudice, or another literary source. While not effective in all cases, the exposure to such worlds often leads to compulsive habits; a need to watch, to read, to delve further into a fictional reality. These changes are subtle, but are usually accompanied by what some (certainly not this impartial observer) might call, an unhealthy enthusiasm for things and stuff.

Stage Two: It is as at the adolescent stage that the metamorphosis into a nerd becomes blatantly apparent. The common nerd may find it difficult to adjust to growing limbs, and be a nerdtake to their bedroom to spend extensive periods of time on the internet, or any gaming system available to them. Common nerds may have issues forming friendships and romantic partnerships, but when they do, it is often a bond for life (or at least for puberty). The lesser more confident nerd, is marked by its ability to recognise that being a nerd is actually several levels of awesome. They appreciate that they are surrounded by friends who are equally as passionate about things and stuff as they are, and know that titles such as “popular” are overrated constructs that will mean nothing once they’re and adult. They acknowledge that having good peopbe a nerdle, with similar interests in your life is important for their physical and mental well-being. For this reason, you will often find at least on lesser more confident nerd at the centre of any common nerd flock, if not more. With time, it is possible for all nerds to develop the feathers of a lesser more confident nerd, particularly upon reaching university, where most people are nerds and its INCREDIBLE.

Stage Three: Adulthood is a difficult time for a nerd. Gone is the bizarre universe of education, in which being a nerd was motivated by coursework deadlines and exams. Now there is a choice to be made; a choice between living life in a state of cryogenic sleep, only to wake up every two or so years for thebe a nerd new series of Sherlock and a mug of homemade butterbeer, or to stay awake, and nerd harder than you have ever nerded before. Life as an adult nerd is about perpetual self-motivation; finding new and interesting sources of entertainment and information, talking to new nerds whether online or irl, and keeping your mind active, as well as your body. Most people will tell you “Exercise more, and eat right.” A good nerd will tell you, “YOU HAVE TO PLAY MONKEY ISLAND. NO. NO. YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND! HIGHBRUGH THREEPSNOGGIN IS A PRECIOUS BAE, AND YOU NEED TO AT LEAST PLAY CURSE.” Or, you know, something like that.

I realise this is a bit different to my usual Tip Tuesday piece, but I fancied doing something a bit silly (and of course all silliness should be accompanied by John Green’s face covered in sharpie). I sort of went on a trip down memory lane, and now I really want to nerd-out over something. Has anyone got any good game suggestions? Preferably PC based. I need something to muck around with between novel editing and job applications. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this, and I’ll catch you later this week with a couple more posts. In the meantime you can riddle me this; HOW YOU BE A NERD?