Poem: Astrophile

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Poem: Astrophile

Alone, Artemis stood by the road,
Lingering in the caress of exhaust fumes.

It was a night fletched with leaves of amber and honey
That danced in the spotlights of street lamps,
Cut off from Orion by mist.

She watched a dog
Attempting to rest its hind-quarters on the cold tarmac.
It stared into the fluorescent lights of the take-away,
Waiting for its master to return,
Tail between legs; a quivering loyalty.

She didn’t shoot the dog.

 

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Then vs Now: Revisiting Please Mind the Gap

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Then vs Now: Revisiting Old Work

So this last week I’ve been stressed out of mind by a car that only works when it wants to and an essay argument that even I’m not convinced by. With that in mind, I thought it would be good to look back at how far I’ve come. Back to the very first creative writing piece I submitted for my undergraduate course.

To those of you who took the course with me…that’s right. It’s the return of Please Mind the Gap.

The prompt we were given for our first piece of assessed work was “Generations”. Looking back, I realise that the intention was probably to let us have as much wiggle room as possible to write something we wanted to write, but all I could think about was the old people versus young people dynamic.

At the time, I was also fixated on the idea that I was going to write crime fiction of some form, so I had to find a way to lever in some deduction, some logic, some action. This resulted in a story about a young guy (Henry) stopping an old lady from throwing herself in front of a train…bridging the generation gap, I guess?

Now, unfortunately, I can’t find the feedback sheet for this (and believe me, after re-reading it, I tried), but I think I got 67 (a 2:1 in Britain) and I have no idea how it did so well. But anyhow, what follows is a list of my favourite lines and why they’re terrible. Forgive me for my sins.

Please Mind the Gap: A review by its baffled writer.

“He had his family of course, but family is a bubble of childhood recollections and the moment it comes into contact with the real world, it pops.”

This metaphor is rather famous amongst my writing friends as one of the worst things I’ve ever written. At the time, I refused to accept this. However, it should be noted that its original form was far worse, as it included the words “rainbow vapour”. I can only assume that I was trying to make Henry sound like a 3-year-old, high on sugar.

“The city had been a bit of a culture shock. More like a culture thunderstorm, if Henry was to be completely honest with himself. He wasn’t often. Henry liked to pretend that nothing was ever wrong in the world. It was his way. And he was set in his way. Or so he had thought.”

I’m going to give myself a little pat on the back for the culture shock, culture thunderstorm comparison. I think that’s not far off a nice bit of playful emphasis right there. But then past Emma had to go ahead and ruin it, didn’t she? What follows sounds like I’m in the middle of brainstorming who Henry actually is, only I accidentally did it in the middle of the narrative. It’s okay to have a character flipflop…but let’s not flipflop for 6 consecutive sentences.

“Her patent shoes glinted in the icy sunlight. The reflection slipped like a tear from the surface as she shifted her weight from foot to foot.”

WHY ARE HER SHOES CRYING? This is part of the description used to introduce my little old lady to the scene. Now obviously, what I was trying to say is, “this lady is sad”, but what I have actually done, with some ridiculous use of personification is say “her shoes are sad.” Why, Emma, just why?

“Everything was fine, he told himself. Everything was warm milk, and fresh blackberries and smooth, like the perfect surface of an eggshell.
“But eggshell’s are fragile,” his mother had once whispered softly in his ear, “So be careful you don’t drop it.””

Apparently, Henry’s mother is Yoda…or Obi Wan…and her seemingly irrelevant words of wisdom echo in Henry’s ears when he most needs to hear them. And let’s not go near why Henry, a university student from 2011, has a list of favourite things that sound like they were taken straight out of The Sound of Music.

No quote here. But just know that this story included a whole paragraph of heart-breaking baby chicken death…

…That I then turned into an extended metaphor. And I have no idea why. But I can only think that maybe my lecturer thought this was sophisticated and not just a horrifying use of flashback.

“Henry’s rucksack flew out to one-side and was dragged into the riptide of the speeding train. The bag of books ricocheted off a window and launched itself through the crowd, into the timetables at the back of the station.”

Where is physics? And, okay, I later suggest that Henry’s shoulders are both dislocated…but even then I’m still confused about how this bag gets ripped from his back? So I guess…where is biology, as well?

“‘That boy!’ They all thought, ‘That boy just pushed her right over! So rude! These artsy-fartsy students with their flat caps and sharp creased trousers. I hope he didn’t break her hip.’”

Apparently the people on this platform are part of some kind of hive mind. And I can’t decide whether to use single or double quotation marks, or how to format dialogue/thought. Also, the only way to describe Henry is to use the objects that I have already highlighted in the narrative. I’m sorry, Henry. You are your fashion choices.

“No-one noticed Henry’s disappearance.”

I call bull****, past Emma. A whole crowd of people just observed him shove a lady over and noticed enough detail to accurately describe his attire to the police. Somebody saw him fall down the side of the train!

“Henry had slipped down the gap. That gap between the train and the platform where all the debris of the rail is thrown. “

These people all think Henry is trash, and they should feel bad. Did I mention? DID I SAY IT LOUD ENOUGH WITH MY IMAGERY?

“The peak of his cap was turned upwards, allowing a few dark curls and a thin trail of red yolk to tease their way across his forehead.”

There’s the tail end of that chicken death metaphor, “red yolk”. ~Sigh~ Couldn’t have just called blood, blood, could you? Also, his bag got torn from his shoulders somehow…but that hat, that hat is fixed to his head with cement.

“The younger woman stared on open mouthed, dead of language.”

I bet you’re thinking there’s not much wrong with this sentence, except maybe for that flowery end. Well then, let me inform you that I’d never mentioned a young woman in this story before…so I have no idea why I’ve used the article “the”.

“People readied themselves to mourn an incidental.”

See, past Emma thinks she’s being real clever with that there use of “incidental”…but what I’ve actually done is make current me question whether or not I know the actual definition of incidental, and then try to figure out whether past Emma is trying to cram all the meanings onto it in a “look at me, I’m so poetic”. I’m dark and mysterious and broody. You can’t judge my ART!

In Conclusion

Uh, well, just so everyone knows, Henry survived this ordeal (again, WHERE IS BIOLOGY?). The final line is him getting a rude awakening as his shoulders pop back into their sockets, so I guess getting hit by a train and having apparent head trauma doesn’t mean much. It’s that bubble he lives in. When it pops the force from the train just dissipates into thin air. Possible? Right?

I hope you enjoyed this walk down memory lane with me. I know I’ve spent the past hour or so cackling at my own mistakes. It’s good to go back. It makes me feel so much better about the present. If you fancy reading something decent, check out Moth Rain if you haven’t already. See you next week!

P.S. In case you were wondering about the picture…we found a Tin Tin figurine in first year and put him on the lectern like this during a lecture. The lecturer said nothing. I collected Tin Tin after the session and he currently resides down the back of my bedside table.

Growing up Starbucks

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Growing up Starbucks

Over the years, my obsession with Starbucks has been met with raised eyebrows, scoffs and looks of disgust. On a couple of occasions, I’ve been berated for not supporting “local” business (including the 50 store strong chain, Coffee #1), despite the fact that Starbucks is a franchise, and therefore the stores you see are usually owned and run by local people who pay a sum to use the Starbucks branding.Photo-0466

However, the fact is my love of Starbucks has never been political.

As a child, I never really went in coffee shops. My mother can’t stand the smell of coffee, so she avoided them like the plague. So, my relationship with Starbucks – and journey through caffeine addiction – didn’t start until I was 13/14.

My best friend at the time was a sarcastic boy with Tony and Guy hair, limited addition converse and a penchant for caramel macchiatos. He would drag me into the dark gloom of a Starbucks, and I would drag him swiftly out again, intimidated by the noise, smell and complicated menu. I still remember the first time he gave me a sip from his mermaid embossed cup; we were standing in the Virgin Megastore in Cardiff (RIP), and I had to struggle not to spit the sickly sweet coffee all over the CD’s.

It was, by no means, love at first sight. I really didn’t get the appeal, but on one occasion I succumbed to peer pressure. I was desperate for a drink, so asked my friend what he would a_cup_of_history_by_emortrecommend. Something with no coffee. I ended up ordering a Strawberry Cream Frappuccino. It wasn’t great – it tasted like jam and regret –  but we were in there so often that I began experimenting with my order, until I stumbled across the Iced Mocha. My gateway drug, an summer love. The chocolate disguised the coffee just enough that I grew accustomed to the bitterness, and  it wasn’t long until I graduated to unflavoured lattes.

Friendships shifted, and I took to spending almost every Saturday in my local StarbucksDSC00070 (also RIP), tucked up the stairs on a bar stool by the window. There were only two seats, so I could be completely alone and write. First came 20,000 words of a vampire novel, about the teenage vampire with a pulse, that got swiftly abandoned when Twilight became popular. Then came Idiots, the first novel I ever got anywhere near to completing. It involved a fictional retelling of the lives of myself and my two closest friends – tall, lanky heroes who got me through hard times – living and working in a coffee shop in London. I still have my eye on an old fire station, hoping one day it’ll go up for sale and I can convert it into my dream store.

I got older, went to 6th form college, and my social circle expanded. Starbucks became the place I brought people at the end of days spent in town, but only good friends made it up to that balcony seat at the back. It was odd how private I was over a very public space, but it became an in joke. They were my seats, and I would sit with friends and glare at any strangers who dared to take them.

Then the day came for me to head off to university in Birmingham, leaving behind my 11255209_10152987978808897_4982465154794542299_nold home on the high street. My first major concern was establishing which of Birmingham’s vast array would be my Starbucks. You laugh, but I was literally 100 miles away from creature comforts. So the research and dedication I put into this was 100% necessary and I don’t know why you’re looking at me like that.

Fortunately, a couple of friends had provided me with Starbucks gift cards to go away with. Unfortunately, the Starbucks on university campus did not take these cards. Not to mention it was ridiculously busy all of the time, which quickly ruled it out as my new place. However, I lived close to the city centre in first year, so I had options. I took a walk, and found four possibilities on my first try; two in the Bullring, one on New Street and one just off Victoria Square.

I won’t tell you which I chose, but it was a fairly easy decision. After all, my criteria were: height, bar stools, and a view.

My current Starbucks has seen me develop as a writer and build The End of Atlas into what is almost a complete manuscript. It’s also the first Starbucks in which the baristas have learnt my name…and my order. Which was weird, so I dyed my hair just to confuse them. That didn’t work. I have a problem. And I have a gold membership on the app now, which I consider to be all the more impressive since I quit caffeine in 2012.

21034348_10155084615918897_4212018558492282820_nOh. I can also literally find a Starbucks anywhere, from Brighton to Barcelona. I’m a human radar. It’s impressive.

So I guess, what I’m trying to say is, my relationship with Starbucks isn’t political; it’s historical. It’s where I spent a decent portion of my time forming as a writer and a human. Want to take me somewhere else? That’s fine. But if I’m alone, I will always choose to hunker down in a shop with a two tail mermaid in the window.

 

Please note: All of the images in this article are mine. Some of them were taken on a Samsung SGH-D500 from 2005 (hence the quality). Oh, and yes, I made the tiny Starbucks logo on miniature lollipop sticks. It was a graphic design project at AS level. Don’t judge.

 

 

 

 

 

The Graham Greene Affair: Week 2

The Grahame Green Affair
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The Graham Greene Affair: Week 2

The Graham Greene Affair continues to work well for me. Despite feeling like I have a head full of cotton wool, I’m somehow managing to keep pace, and am actually finding it more and more difficult to stop at 500 words. Last night I found myself awake at 1 am, Googling the name meaning of a new character, debating what superpower I would give them, and how it would affect the story if I did. Then I drifted off in a haze of, “I should definitely move that scene”, “Something else needs to go in between that and that”, “Maybe I should cut that in half and whack something in the middle.” Yes, this challenge is keeping me up at night, but honestly I’ve never been more pleased by a bout of insomnia. It’s the kind of sleeplessness you have as a kid the night before Christmas, or your birthday. It’s exciting.

Part of what has triggered this excitement is talking about Rimjhim in a pseudo-academic style again. I spent the better part of yesterday swapping notes with my friend Jo, who is joining me on this epic quest to finish a novel. I’ve got to say, I greatly appreciated the input, and it was good to hear that my writing was having the desired effect. As always, there were things that I loved that she didn’t, and there were things that I hated that she loved. In particular, there was a scene in which my protagonist, Alec, and his best friend sit down to catch-up. Personally it drives me crazy. I think it drags on, and I don’t like the way the Alec dithers over what to say. But Jo liked it, and thought it worked well. Obviously, I will probably still edit the scene to a point where I’m satisfied with it, but I don’t feel the need to hack half the scene away, as I was planning to do.

I would highly recommend finding a writing buddy if you’re thinking about trying this challenge, or even if you just want to get serious about your writing in general. While I’m a fairly solitary writer, I find that having a second set of eyes for redrafting is crucial, and it never hurts to have a sounding board to bounce ideas off. Yesterday, 90% of the questions we asked each other were about plot. Mine were mostly about the age of the characters, and whether I needed to age them up or down to fix the storyline. Jo’s were about character arcs, personality changes and possible relationships. I think we both came out of there with a better idea of where we were going.

Of course the best thing about having a writing buddy, is that, unlike your other friends (or family members), who are likely to tell you that your writing is amazing and they love it and that they can’t wait to read more, your writing buddy will know when to get a bit ruthless. They know the importance of brutal honesty, and what to look for. Jo pointed out that in one scene I had given Alec a phone with a battery life of over a month, and I had crammed about three major plot developments into another. The first was a mistake that I had completely missed, the second, a reoccurring issue (I get over excited sometimes, okay?) that I have picked up on in some places but not in others.

Discussing work like this can be difficult at first – believe me, if you’d asked me 4 years ago if I wanted someone to thoroughly critique my writing, I would have told you where to go – but the fact is, a novel is never just yours, not if you actually want it read. At some point you are going to receive negative criticism, and the sooner you learn to separate the constructive from the pure opinion, the better. You learn to take what’s useful, and disregard the rest, and so you improve. Honestly, I don’t know where I’d be without you, Jo!

Love,

Mort.

P.S. If anyone else would like to join us, you are still more than welcome. I’m sure I will be editing and discussing long after I’ve finished my first draft, so seriously, come on, my friend! Let’s do this!

Dear Future Me:

Dear Me
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Dear Future Me:

(Age 27)

I have an apology to make. Today, I opened your mail. I found a letter that 17-year-old me wrote to you, and well, I couldn’t help myself. I hope you can forgive me. Well, I know you can. Anyway, to make it up to you, I figured I’d write you another letter, from me, 22-year-old you. These pronouns are gonna get dear me, dear future mehella confusing, so I’m gonna stick to I unless I’m talking to you.

Unsurprisingly, I am in Startbucks, drinking a decaf venti iced mocha, with whip. Surprisingly, I haven’t spilled it yet. Oh, tell a lie. I forgot I managed to squirt some on the page earlier, when I was mucking about with the straw. I guess we never do learn to be graceful, unless you have something you want to tell me?

Life at the moment is just getting interesting. I’ve taken up a new motto, “I’ll make it work”, and things are going well. It looks like I’ll have a full time job soon, and I’m currently negotiating some freelance work too. After months of fretting, two at once, just like dear me, dear future mebuses. Things are looking promising. And of course, I’m writing again. For a week now I’ve managed to scribble out 500 words a day, and it feels amazing. I’m finally doing what I’ve always wanted to do. I wonder did you ever get Rimjhim published? Are you working on the next novel? Or even a third? Given that writing has been a craving of ours for 15 years now, I highly doubt it’s gone from your life altogether.

At present, I have just got back in touch with an old friend. I decided that it is impossible to be angry at a person who no longer exists. The conversation has only just started, but I’m excited about the possibility of having them back in our life. If it all goes to crap though, if  you end up having to walk awaydear me, dear future me again, know that you did the right thing. There are only so many chances you can give a person, but my fingers are crossed that it will all work out.

Love, love, what can I say about love? I’m talking to people, I’m mingling. I’m finally out of that weird teenage mindset where “will you go out with me?” means “we’re a couple now.” I still believe I can tell where a relationship’s going to go in the first five minutes of a conversation, but that’s because I’m a cynic. And I recon that’s okay.

Everything’s okay; my lack of grace, rogueish female charm, and immense knowledge of giraffe sex. It’s all okay. In the five years dear me, dear future mebetween 17 and 22, I’ve somehow figured out the tricky concept of being myself. As it turns out, it had nothing to do with my head or my heart. It was all about my gut, and my guts. I’ve started living bravely and instinctively, and it has done me more good than any of our other body parts ever did. It lead me to a great uni, the right course, and the best friends.

And now, I guess this is the point in the letter where I write some requests, or some hopes. I know that reading 17-year-old me’s letter made me smile, and gave me a shove, so:

  • I hope that if you’re stuck in a rough patch, this letter will give you a boot in the arse.
  • I hope you’re not mucking about; not writing a novel because it’s too hard, or too scary, or too much of a commitment.
  • I hope you managed to do a Masters and a PhD, because Dr Mort is a life goal, champ.
  • Don’t you dare settle for someone just for the sake of companionship.
  • Remember your mood is like the weather; storm clouds will always dry up eventually.
  • Don’t give up fiddling about with cameras. This is something we’ve only just started tinkering with, but it’s a lot of fun so far, and it’s getting you excited about the cosplay community again.
  • In general, live passionately. You are much happier when you’re busy, and the bigger the variety of things you are doing, the better.
  • Find a job that let’s you be you.
  • Stop comparing yourself to others; just because they look like they have everything figured out, doesn’t mean they do.
  • Travel to at least one country every year, or I’ll be miffed.

Now I’m going to go home to the flatmate and his missus, curl up under the coffee table, and do some writing. I break dear me, dear future me16,000 words this evening. It’s taken a long time, but it’ll get there. After all, something has to come out of losing your comb inside the printer, twice. (Has that count gone up yet?) Oh, there’s one more thing actually. An add on to something 17-year-old us said:

  • Remember, happily ever afters do exist. BUT they require work, and love, and commitment. Make yours a life worth reading about.

There, now, do you want a pretzel on the way home?

Best,

Mort.

The Graham Greene Affair: Week 1

The Grahame Green Affair
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The Graham Greene Affair: Week 1

I am genuinely surprised by how well this is going. Even last night, when my face was on fire after an unpleasant trip to the dentist, I managed to crack out 500 words. I’ve discovered that 500 words really isn’t much for me, and I’ve actually overshot it a few times. I can usually crack it out in and hour or an hour and a half, and that’s when I’m mucking about on thinkbabynames.com, and researching penalties for Class A drugs. So what are the Pros and Cons I’ve found at the end of Week 1?

Pros

1. Making consistent progress – At the begining of this week, my novel was 11,000 words. It had taken me almost a year to write 5000 words. Rimjhim is now over 15000 words and counting. It feels so good to be making progress again.

2. Getting enthusiastic – By stopping in the middle of a scene, I cause myself to keep thinking about what comes next. I learn new things about my characters, and find myself acting out bits and pieces in my head, as I used to. I was so worried this story had gone stale, feeling that spark of enthusiasm again was a big relief.

3. Get’s you thinking – In order to knock out 500 words, you need to have some idea of where you’d like to go when you sit down to write. For me this is particularly difficult because I’m working on four time frames congruently, switching back and forth between time frames. While I was thinking out what I was going to write next, I realised that each of these time frames needs to tell it’s own story that lead to the same resolution. This solved so many pacing problems, you wouldn’t believe.

4. Dat regular writing pattern though – Writing frequently, will tell you a boat load about how you work best. And this is exactly what I needed. I’ve learnt that I work best with the deadline of  sleep looming over me. But my friend, who is joining me on this epic journey fits her 500 words in whenever, and wherever she can.

Cons

1. It’s time consuming – Of course it was always going to be, but I forgot to factor in editing time. I am one of those writers that likes to pick things apart as I’m going along, so while writing doesn’t take that long, I have already deleted 400 words.

2. Self-awareness overload – Earlier this week, I became hyper aware of how much dialogue I write, to the point where I was actually adding in unnecessary description. It took a long look through The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton (my favourite Sherlock Holmes story) to remind myself that when you have two characters with good chemistry, all you have to do is set up the scene, and then roll with it.

All in all, it’s been an interesting first week, and I’m impressed with my stamina. Writing everyday has caused some issues, but it’s reignited my love for Rimjhim. I’ve become one of those over-eager parents, desperate to see how my baby’s going to work out. Fingers crossed, I’ll be this happy next week.

Ciao,

Mort.