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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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.

Dissertation Drama: Week 1

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Dissertation Drama: Week 1

Last Friday (28th of April) I had an informal first meeting with my dissertation supervisor, launching me into the final leg of my master’s degree and Dissertation Drama: Week 1. For those of you who don’t know, my dissertation will be an analysis of the different kinds of creativity used in fanfiction, as well as the notions of authenticity involved (at least at the moment).

Not gonna lie, I left that first meeting feeling mildly nauseous. I’ve never written a piece of research longer than 4k before. The End of Atlas is currently over 80k, but I feel like creative pieces are somewhat different to extended academic research…maybe because I’ve been working on that since I was 7-years-old.

But I know I’m capable of writing a 15k dissertation. It is something I can do. Step by step. And I thought, perhaps, y’all would like to come on this magical journey with me.

Everything I’ve learnt about writing a dissertation in Week 1:

  1. All supervisors differ – Having spoken to one of my course mates, and friends who’ve also done a master’s at UoB, I’ve noticed that they seem to have pretty different descriptions of how their supervisor approaches(ed) helping a student deal with their dissertation. Some are strict, dictating what they expect by the next meeting, others are more flexible. I imagine, in part, it’s due to the kind of students they’ve dealt with in the past, or maybe they just have a different approach to teaching in general. The key thing to remember is, whoever you’ve got, you need to learn how to work with them. Be flexible and be motivated. Keep going.

 

  1. Having a diary/notebook is key – During lectures, you take notes. When you read, you take notes. When you’re working on your dissertation TAKE NOTES. And do it in a way that works for you. Back when I started throwing ideas around, I bought myself a standard notebook, and made the first two pages into and Index/Contents page, bullet journal style. I don’t keep a bullet journal, but I figured the Contents page element would be super useful, given that it’s almost guaranteed I’m going to need to flick back and look at my notes on something at some point.

 

  1. Literature reviews should be about 4k – Here’s the thing…I’ve never written a literature review before. A number of friends had to do one in the first year of their undergrad as part of the “Independent Study Module” they all had to take. Problem was, as a creative writer, I didn’t take that module. This year, however, a number of lecturers have brought up literature reviews when talking about essays, mainly to say, “Don’t waste 1000 words just talking about background literature. Sow the criticism of other works throughout your essay.” Then I started sketching my plan, based on a dissertation without a “Literature Review” section…but with a 4k Methodology section. It wasn’t until I dug back through my notes, and spoke to a few friends that I realised, yup, a literature review is about 4/5k of a dissertation. Glad I noticed that one.

 

  1. There is always more to talk about – Going into this, I thought I would only need to talk about models of authenticity and highlight the one’s I was going to need to use. By the end of my first week, I’m now up to three model areas I’m probably going to need to discuss: authenticity, creativity and narrative. I already know the models I’m likely to use, but the wonder of that sneaky 4k literature review, means that Imma have to find out what models I’m not using too 😉

 

And that’s about it for Dissertation Drama: Week 1. I’m hoping these entries will help me keep track of everything, but will also prove useful for others in my situation. If you’ve just started your dissertation, I’d be interested to know what you’ve learnt so far. And if you’re a veteran dissertation writer…hit me up with your hints. Come at me bro, plz 😉

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.

#Goals: Review and Reset 1

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#Goals: Review and Reset 1

Well, it turns out it’s the end of March today, which means it’s time to review my goals for this quarter, and set my next lot.

Review:

Update Atlas with edits from Writeryjig Clubamabob (WC). – Incomplete. Honestly, this is probably something I could have squeezed in somewhere, but this semester at university has been, uh, somewhat stressful. I greatly appreciated the WC for taking the time to give me feedback, but let’s just say I wasn’t in the right mind to implement their advice. I will get round to this soon.

Reach the 90k mark for Atlas. – Incomplete. I have no idea why I set this word count. I believe I was on around 75K when I set the goal. Bear in mind that, on a good week, I knock out around 1k, and I only had 13 weeks to write. I plucked a round number out of the air and didn’t do the maths until 2 weeks later. A more realistic goal would have been 80k, with all the work I was doing for uni. Happily, The End of Atlas is now at 82,327 words.

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Celebrating the WC

Redraw Atlas timeline. – Complete. This was something I wanted to do as a number of side characters have become somewhat more important to the plot…and for those of you who don’t know…my narrative is non-chronological, which means I’m keeping 4 separate time periods ordered in my head. Now at least, I can see when certain events should happen in the early years. Wow, this paragraph is vague. This is what happens when you try to avoid spoilers.

Write a blurb for Atlas. – Complete. This has been done! Although I imagine it will change a great deal before I finally send any of this stuff off in the hopes of getting published.

Celebrate 1 full year of WC. – Complete. Very much done 😀 In case you missed it, last week’s blog was a celebratory How to Run A Writing Club, with a side of this year’s WC achievements. We also celebrated at the last meeting by singing Happy Birthday and eating cake and brownies. Much fun was had by all.

Moth Child CoverWrite a blog post at least once a week. – Complete, as of the release of this post. The experience of having to blog once a week has been interesting. Some weeks I came up with topics easily, other weeks were a struggle. I enjoyed seeing the response to Moth Childa short story that had been growing dusty on my hard drive. I also enjoyed reminiscing over the tales of Kidiot Emma (1, 2, 3) and revisiting my old work…it’s odd to think how much I’ve improved as a writer since my first year of university.

Redesign blog. – Semi-Complete. I have sketched out what I would like the blog to look like, but it took a long time for me to get adobe working on my computer (the old boy has had a hard life), at which point I was already knee deep in essay research. Hopefully, I can get this done by the end of the year.

Rebrand blog. – Complete. Gone is the Let’s Read branding of yore. I would like to change the blog URL, but I don’t want to mess with the links. And I’m hoping someday I might be able to buy my own URL, in which case I’d end up messing with them twice, so for now I’m sticking with emmort.wordpress.com.

Write 2 linguistic essay drafts before the Easter Holiday. – Completeish. I completed and submitted one essay (let’s not talk about that), but I’ve also come up with my own research question and half written my second essay, and come up with a research question, delivered a presentation and started collecting data for my third essay. If you’d like to take part in my study, you can find the questionnaire here. I’m counting everything I’ve done so far as basically the same amount of work as two whole essays, just in a different format.

Read all the required material for my classes. – Complete. It was a struggle toward the end, but I got there. I think reading all of the material for a degree, even if it’s not relevant to what you’re going to end up writing about, is important. You never know when that reference is going to come in handy further down the line.

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My hair in the middle of all this.

Try and read 1 extra article/chapter a week. – Complete. Initially, I started by reading chapters from the books on fanfiction, which I’d been bought for Christmas, to prepare for my dissertation. Then, as we got into the world of assignment deadlines, I was reading essays, bits of books, or…the whole of Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud (good read for anyone who’s interested, although he infuriated me with his use of the words “icon” and “symbol”. I struggled to get through this thing on Peirce and Saussre, but if you’re going to use the language of semiotics in an academic text, you should sure as hell know what it means.)

Write MA dissertation proposal. – Complete. The main hurdle here was not having the form to fill in. But it’s done, and it’s gone, and hopefully I’ll find out who my dissertation supervisor will be sometime soon.

Vet possible fanfiction profiles for MA dissertation data suitability. – Semi-Complete. I’ve perused, but I’ve not nailed anything down yet. Honestly, I feel like I need to have a chat with my dissertation supervisor first, before I start identifying possible sources of data.

Talk to personal tutor about ethics for MA dissertation. – Completeish. So I didn’t really talk to my personal tutor about this, but one of my module lecturers, Dr Ruth Page, specialises in online research and provided some interesting information about ethics in our final session. I need to read more, and probably discuss it with my dissertation supervisor (when I get one), but I feel a little more in the know about this now.

Keep daily question journal up-to-date. – Complete. While I haven’t been able to keep up with my real journal, answering this quick question a day book has been relatively easy to keep on top of (#notspon). I’m looking forward to re-reading my answers next year and seeing if the responses have changed much.

So, I’ve completed 11 and 2 halves (for a total of 12) out of 15 main goals. Given how busy I’ve been with university work, I’m really chuffed. And of my 5 private aims I’ve completed 4/5, which isn’t half bad.

While I’ve worked with to do lists and resolutions before, this was my first time trying to complete quarterly goals and it’s been an interesting experience. I quickly discovered that some of my goals weren’t going to be feasible with everything else I had going on, such as reaching a 90k word count for The End of Atlas. It was just never going to happen.

I’ve also been made super aware of just how short three months actually is. Janurary, February and March have flown by in a mess of car problems, essay mania and trying to destress with friends. But, going into the next quarter of 2018, I feel like I have a better grasp on what’s going to be realistic. So next up, here are my new goals.

Reset:

  1. Deliver 2 more essays for MA by 23rd of April.
  2. Identify data sample for dissertation by end of May.
  3. Get a firm grasp on ethics in relation to dissertation by mid-May.
  4. Write draft of dissertation by end of June.
  5. Reach 85k of The End of Atlas by end of June.
  6. Create new logo for blog by end of June.
  7. Write blog post at least once a week.
  8. Read at least two essays/chapters a week.
  9. Keep daily questions journal up-to-date.
  10. Keep daily routine: up at 7.30 am, bed by 11pm.

I’m going to keep it to 10 this time, mainly because I think life might get a bit chaotic and twirly once I start working on my dissertation, and that will be 15k. I also have 5 private goals again.

And with that, I guess I’ll catch y’all next week.

But, uh, I will leave you with this picture of two fire engines trying to get a bengal cat (named Ben) off the roof of a house across from my parents. I feel like everyone should know that this is a thing that happened.

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Provided by my mum.

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.

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.