A small part of my mind has been closed off for about twelve weeks now. I have walked the corridors outside its door many times, hesitating to perhaps look in as if checking on a sick child. Each time, however, I have resisted the temptation and gone about my business satisfied that all was well within.
For a while I became concerned that what lay in that room had withered and died - faded away into nothing more than a clouded memory but something drove me on to persist with my absence and let it have time to rest. Instinctively, I knew that the thing which I had confined had been worked harder than it had ever been for some time and needed to recover.
On the sixth of December last year I completed the final chapter of a novel that I had poured myself into, intensively, for a little more than six months. Carving out an average of a thousand words a day, it staggered into bed at just short of one hundred and fifty thousand words. I knew in my heart that those words were, quite possibly, not assembled in the right order and might even be the wrong words for the job. Certainly, there were more than required but for the time being they served the purpose of painting the picture I wanted to release from my imagination.
Since that day in December I have made no attempt to put my fingers to the keyboard to write anything of substance. With the exception of a few journal entries I have observed a complete abstinence which has been due in part to having nothing of any interest to say. So complete was my exploration of the grand designs of my novel idea that I had exhausted every creative avenue and emptied all the resources I had for new ideas. Rather than face the futility and disappointment of flogging a crippled steed I concluded that a sojourn was better than a battle. Far better that I let it lie than try to ride the stumbling creature and fall, taking the humiliation which that brings.
I am convinced that my inactivity these last few months are not a case of writer’s block (which, in any case, implies that a writer cannot move forward) so much as a case of a writers ‘conclusion’ - a situation where a train of thought finally arrives at its intended destination. Having disembarked from the train I find myself now striding the platform’s length looking at posters for other exciting places to visit.
But now it is time to unlock that attic room. I have heard the plaintive cries from within and know that the thing is alive and well. Awakening from winter hibernation, it now seeks sustenance and attention which I once more feel capable of offering. Our time apart has been a period of recovery for us both as I have spent my time living a life and observing the very things which I have previously attempted to document. Now that the dark days and icy winds have receded, my internal store of snapshots and character sketches is renewed and together I believe that we can, once more, embark on adventures new as spring begins to surge around me. Sometimes a change is as good as a rest. When the words won’t flow - don’t force them (they are unforgiving). Do something else instead.
Writing is not about wanting to say something, It’s about having something that you must say. However, to say it effectively you have to be focused on exactly what it is that you want to convey and how it you want it to be understood.
In 1946 George Orwell wrote an essay called ‘Politics and the English language’ which is as pertinent today as it has ever been. Too often we read novels that have been ill-conceived in their construction to the degree that their content is lost in a mire of worn out clichés and over complicated prose. The proliferation of the E-book (and the ease in which new writers are able to market their unpolished works) has done little to halt the tide of incomplete literature and does nothing for the propagation of the craft of writing.
Writing is a craft at its highest level. The works that stand the test of time (and enjoy the most success) have a succinctness and authority about them which is undeniably and indisputably unique. Conversely, the amateur writer feels obligated to garnish every sentence with as many ‘tried and tested’ phrases and as much ‘purple prose’ as they can in the pursuit of not only self gratification (in terms of ‘creative expression’) but also in the naive belief that these elements are the core of literature itself.
Whilst reviewing my own work just recently, I was struck by just how guilty I am of these same crimes which actually highlights another aspect of writing which many self-publishers overlook. There is nothing more constructive and cathartic than editing in the process of creating concise and engaging literature. Surely, all writers would want their readers to hang on every word and if this is the case then they should make every word count. Each syllable should be a stanza within a symphony which unfolds like an organic whole revealing the story as a breathtaking adventure.
In George Orwell’s essay (which I strongly urge you to locate and read) he talks about the essential ingredients of good construction which are a solid framework for constructing a piece which is spectacular rather than simply adequate.
Orwell claims that every writer should, in every sentence that they write, ask themselves six questions. These basic pointers give gravitas and sincerity to each single line of typography and ensure that not a single column inch has been wasted in delivering the crux of the events. In the first question, a writer should ask: ‘What am I trying to say?’
This might appear obvious but it is an enquiry that many lesser writers overlook as they describe events that have no bearing on the plot in progress nor the characters within it. By leading us up a dead end street the writer has either confused us (which leads to a gradual loss of interest) or distracted us with unnecessary information which is, as a reader, frustrating as we don’t know whether to retain the information or disregard it.
Secondly, Orwell suggests that we examine what words will express it. This might seem a minor point to the casual reader (or writer!) but it is in fact the very thing which separates the mundane from the epic. When Shakespeare wrote:
“To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them?”
He wanted us to see how it would feel to be an adolescent royal, intent on avenging his father’s death. This reference alone is material for a much larger essay and not one that I intend to pursue here but you get the idea.
Next, Orwell urges writers to examine the idiom which might make the idea clearer in the readers mind. In the case of Shakespeare this is clearly the visual impact of ‘slings and arrows’ as being an actual vision of not only conflict but death itself (which is the intent in this instance). The worst crime that a writer could make at this point is to use a jaded simile which does nothing for the impact of the premise.
This takes us neatly on to point four of Orwell’s formula: ‘Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?’ In most cases of modern popular (genre) fiction I’d have to say: ‘no’. There are far too many examples of over used phrases in most E-books for me to even quote such an example as I am sure you already know what they are. Suffice to say (as the saying goes) avoid clichés like the proverbial plague (as they say).
Next (but not any the less important) is the question which begs the answer: ‘Could I have put it more shortly?’. There is no harm in being concise. It makes for terrific tension in a novel. The shorter your sentences are the better they scan. The faster you get your ideas over. It’s exciting.
Finally, George Orwell asks us: ‘Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?. This is a question that is simply demonstrated by the (very often observed) clunky sentence. Whilst writers enjoy the indulgence of wafting eloquently, they miss the, rather obvious, problem (or otherwise) of ugly or run-on sentences which do (by and large) look, if I might say so, cluttered with punctuation - and what have you - to the point of obscurity. Just like the previous sentence.
Finally, I would like to quote Orwell as he translates ‘English’ into ‘bad English’ in his translation from the Bible -
“I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”
Here it is in modern (Orwellian Pastiche) English:
“Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.”
The first is literary, the second is almost ‘office speak’:
“Let’s diarise a window of potential to extrapolate the potentiality of the blue-sky, out of the box concepts we have at our fingertips on a get-go basis.”
Some clichés, however, have a lot of weight in them:- ‘Keep it simple stupid’.
(Edited and corrected: 28/2/12)
I don’t doubt for a minute; the old adage that we all have a book, somewhere deep inside us just waiting to get out but, from what I understand of the way that the publishing game works, there are certain ingredients that you need to bake a successful cake.
The Cathedral of Wonderful Imaginings is usually ‘novel’ shaped for most writers and whilst many succeed in building a palace we are willing to visit, others create a shrine of obscurity that is devoid of any congregation and I began to wonder why that was. There seems to be something at work here between the pages of the very best (and worst) examples of these and I feel it’s something that any aspiring writer should at least be aware of.
It seems to me that ‘popularity’ does not always equal ‘quality’. There are far too many examples of current best sellers that are abysmally written and the same was true of the past. However, there is a common thread that unites the good, the bad and the ugly when they surface as popular and often recurring successes.
If you met a friend who told you that they had been to the cinema to see the latest blockbuster I am certain that your first question would be: “What’s it about?” Likewise, if you told your friend that you had just read a new novel, they would ask you the same question. Chances are, they wouldn’t ask you: “Was it well written?” A question like that would seem churlish or petty minded in ordinary conversation but it is the first thought of editors, publishers and academics alike.
For most of us, watching a movie does not involve a conscious critique of camera angles, plot development and edit points. We are (generally) looking to be entertained and are responsive to the unfolding of a good story. In the same way, most readers can forgive quirky grammar and the occasional hole in the plot as our suspension of disbelief is open to the spinning of an intriguing tale.
Without mentioning any names, there are plenty of currently best selling books on the market which the intelligencia say should never have appeared in print but for those who are gripped by the story, the construction of academically correct prose is of little interest.
Which leads me to believe that the single most timeless ingredient in any story is the premise - the actual ‘thing’ that it is about. If you can get that right then your readers will be with you. Unfortunately, the editors, agents and other gatekeepers feel quite differently and any aspiring writer should be well aware of that. The drive to keep every page tight and exciting is very important in such a fiercely commercial arena. If you can do both, the rich shores of literary fame are well within your reach.
Facebook has changed the world in many ways and in spite of the negative coverage it often gets in the popular press, all of us who use it cannot deny the positive benefits it brings to our everyday lives.
In a world where much of our ‘digital’ life is stored in ‘the cloud’ - that mysterious place in the ether where all the music, films, photographs and email messages reside - it is wonderful to realise that I have a cyber-mantlepiece filled with birthday cards and greetings.
Facebook has truly linked our lives in an intimate and immediate way that never existed before (unless we lived on the same street, same house etc) and for that it has truly brought us closer together. I genuinely enjoy reading the sincere updates of the daily lives of people who are special in my life and although I don’t always interact with their news, I feel that I am connected with them.
Yesterday was my birthday and as a treat to myself, I disconnected from the internet for a day. This in itself is an usual thing (as most of us smartphone users will know) but as I was out of range of any signal for many hours it was an easy task. I felt freed from the need to continually poke at a screen and as much as the curiosity burned in me, I resisted the temptation to see if anyone had remembered that it was my special day.
But what a wonderful surprise it was to return to see a page filled with thoughts and good wishes. Facebook has made it a relatively easy task to be aware of each other’s birth dates but the fact that so many took just a few moments to click on the link and type a message is genuinely heart warming and means a great deal to me.
To mention a few (in no particular order): Lizzi, Daniel, Holly, Dave, Minnie, Edwina, Paul, Jennifer, Jo, Colin, Jon, Rachel, David, Nibbe, Ulrike, Hope, Jason, Kyra, Annie, Alannah, Michelle, Bill, Dave, Karl, Lee, Matt, Joe, Gazz - your thoughts are wonderful and I thank you.
My missus had planned a secret getaway on the Friday night and we drove away, deep into the North Yorkshire countryside to a marvelous hunting lodge hotel, where she had arranged dinner and an overnight stay. The following morning, after a huge breakfast we went out into the foggy, crisp morning air for a walk around the village then set off to visit the nearest town: Malton. From there we went back to York, picked up my daughter, Hope and we drove to the coast to have doughnuts. Taking the scenic route back we went into York and had massive amounts of pizza. Finally, I indulged myself with a couple of hours of Harry Hill on TV then fell asleep on the sofa. Tired but (for once) very happy.
The last twelve months have been an unusual experience all in all, and this birthday marks some important landmarks: It was the year that I wrote a novel and became a grandfather (amongst other lesser events). I shall look forward to the next twelve with great optimism as I feel that we all are the source of our own destiny.
I never once saw my father lie on the floor except the day I found him dead. In spite of that rather grim observation, I have come to the conclusion that I am of the generation of adults that have never quite ‘grown up’.
I am much happier eating cheerios whilst lying on the floor in front of the TV on a Saturday morning, watching cartoons than I would be sitting at a dinner table, wearing a shirt and tie reading the newspaper. This rather odd confession troubled me for some time until I accepted the fact that myself and my contemporaries (those born after the 1950’s) have an inbuilt up-growing mechanism which prevents us from being like our fathers (and mothers). Curiously, they embraced the ‘adult lifestyle’ and mirrored their parents as a matter of course.
I am sure that my dad held secret desires to let his hair down once in a while but he was bound by social conditioning that firmly encapsulated him in a a world of manly things and sensible trousers. If only he had been liberated perhaps he would be alive today and not have grown into the miserable, resentful, repressed adult of the 40’s that he was.
I am sure that many a sociologist, anthropologist and cultural observer could spin an entire conference around the subject but I can speak from first hand experience and say that the ‘old order’ is not for this particular adult and in some ways, I believe it is a spent existence in any case.
When I was a young child, men in their sixties (who were seen by me as - not surprisingly - ancient) used to bemoan their back problems, poor weather, the amount of work to do at the allotment and mysteriously incomprehensible issues of the day. Most sixty year olds I meet these days (now that I am considerably older) seem to be more upset by bad artwork on their latest tattoo or poor seats at a Def Leppard concert.
That said, I think the dichotomy occurs when you see just how grounded in the past this generation of child-adults are. You can see evidence of this in the proliferation of vintage memorabilia and faux-nostalgia. In everything from retro specialists on the interweb, selling boiled sweets, crap plastic electronica and space hoppers to the overwhelming proliferation of dewy-eyed references to how the ‘olden days’ were somehow ‘better’.
In truth, most of it was crap. Cassettes didn’t work properly (the tape used to tangle and there was never enough room to get an album on them). Television was rubbish, poorly presented and underfunded. I could go on, but amongst my derision lies a fondness for the paucity of finesse, which is a contradiction I am happy to live with. In many ways, it was the rubbish-factor which makes much of my past so fluffy and adorable. There was an innocence about it which made it somehow more accessible.
Dr Who, for example, wasn’t a cool dude in a snappy suit with fantastic accessories and gorgeous assistants. He was a bumbling old bloke on a cheap set with dismal special effects and a gawky assistant. But, he still scared the bejesus out of me on a Saturday teatime everytime some cornflake-clad antagonist blared at him through a project-kit voice transformer. I knew it was rubbish, but I forgave them for it and that’s the point.
Uncle Reggie’s Magic Radio sounds to my ears like every (so-called) children’s programme that was ever created when I was under twelve years old. Programmes that were hosted by the ‘adults’ - a slightly creepy assembly of authority figures - who stooped to entertain us (but on the whole: failed) by delivering a saccharine blend of the intensely weird and the hideously outdated, almost Victorian, segregation of being a child in the presence of the grown ups. I, for one, would rather have a Motorhead CD in my Christmas stocking, but even so Uncle Reggie’s voice makes me tingle with memories that make everything right with the world.
Perhaps the reason that ‘the past’ is so fluffy, is because it represents a time when I was young. So, beware - if you are young, the thing you love now will rattle all kinds of skeletons in your wardrobe way off in the future. Cherish them as they are but know they are rubbish compared to what will become of them
What’s it all about?
“Valvepunks! The long road to Quixotica” is an epistolary novel. To you and I - that’s a novel that is written as a series of documents. Typically stories like this have the narrative flowing through letters but in this case there are diary entries, newspaper cuttings and other personal documents which are threaded throughout the adventure along with extensive photographs, illustrations and diagrams. To add further intrigue, the rising action is told in the present tense in stark contrast to the past tense narrative of the bulk of the yarn.
It follows the experiences of Bradley Gardner - a budding young journalist - as he embarks on the assignment of a lifetime, investigating and researching the life of one of the twentieth century’s most alluring innovators. He meets the enigmatic, 98 year old Reginald Merryweather at his home in Hertfordshire and realises that there is much more to this faded radio star than the thin references on the internet about him would suggest.
Bradley is invited to spend the weekend with the aging broadcaster but the forty eight hours are revealed to be weird right from the very start. But, because Bradley is suspicious of Reggie’s claims to have built a time traveling radio, Reggie feels the need to demonstrate its capability. However, in the process he accidentally takes his housekeeper, Florence Jiggery along for the ride.
It is whilst listening to the past that Reggie gets a message about events in the future and the impending peril faced by his one true love - a girl he met during the war. Spurred on by this emotional cry for help, Reggie takes Bradley and Florence back to wartime Paris to try to alert his younger self of the dangers awaiting him and his lover in the future.
They arrive too late to change history (as it emerges that his younger self has already perfected time and space traveling and scarpered rather swiftly to escape not only the British authorities but also the Nazis,) so the three of them must then transport themselves into the twenty second century in hot pursuit of himself and Vera Cruz - the woman he loves more than anything else in life.
Unknown to Bradley, Florence and Reggie, Vera is being brutally tortured and questioned by the antagonists who we learn are the Ludwigian Order - a universally wide organisation of illuminati, cruelly intent on the absorption of all known intelligence. Created from dark energy, and manifest as a super intelligent human form, the ‘Order’ are all powerful and hope to learn Reggie’s specific secret of time travel.
Unfortunately, (like most things he does) Reggie’s radio is not particularly well built and before long starts to fail. They arrive, unexpectedly, on a futuristic pleasure cruise liner and are detained as stowaways. Luckily, Reggie is able to use their power source to recharge the batteries of the failing contraption but his failing health poses a larger threat. They escape just as the doomed liner is sucked into a black hole on its maiden voyage.
He makes Bradley set the radio’s controls to a period in the past when he was younger and fitter so that he may gain strength from his younger self as well as gain from the fresh memory that he now so sadly lacks. Their survival at this stage depends on the success of finding and enlisting a younger version of the elderly eccentric.
Arriving back in England of the 1930’s, the three intrepid (and largely bewildered) playmates discover an even more confused, younger Reginald as he is being pursued by angry Yorkshiremen during the recording of one of his very early radio programmes. They take him, kicking and screaming, to the planet Galena in a solar system not too far from Earth and into a scrape, the like of which he has never encountered.
Hiking across barren landscapes and desert terrain they eventually arrive in a mining outpost which is revealed as a place that Reggie himself helped to establish. The geologists living there were taken by a version of his younger self in search of a mysterious element that he first discovered when he was a young man. This substance is the main catalyst of his time traveling radio and has the power to enhance the human race beyond all recognition. Vera was taken there by the young Reggie to oversee the mining of Radionium 7 (or Seedstone, as it becomes known) but is being held captive with threats to her life if she does not reveal what the material is capable of.
Their enquiries and search takes them into the ‘great underground’ of the planet into a place called the ‘Cave of impossible reasoning’ where the indigenous people have lived for eons which is now occupied by a mixture of new settlers but more recently by the militia forces of the Order whilst they undertake their savage investigation of all mining operations.
One of the overwhelming features of Seedstone is that it is composed of each single element of the periodic table in a state of impossible equilibrium. However, a side effect of its presence in large quantities is that it affects the mind in unpredictable ways. Once inside the mines, Florence, Bradley and the two Reggies are overwhelmed by baffling experiences but ferociously battle on, led by the elder Reggie and his drive to save Vera.
Eventually arriving at the ‘inner sanctum’ of the great city of Quixotica under the hostile surface of the otherwise insignificant planet, the four conquistadors face the military strength of the Order face on, as they discover the true extents of the grand plan that they have begun to execute.
Will they succeed in rescuing Vera? Does she have a subplot up her sleeve? Do the Order have greater plans that they are looking to execute? Will Bradley get back in time to catch his train home? To find these answers, you’ll have to read on. It’s a puzzle, hidden in a conundrum wrapped in a mystery. The internal logic is convoluted and multiple layers of referencing explode at every turn. Contemporary and vintage media icons are mirrored in every event and there are as many genuine facts as there are red herrings but can you find them all?
It’s a very strange feeling having completed a book. On the one hand, there is the elation that it is all finished: that every twist and turn has been explored, every angle examined and every exposition exposed. But, on the other hand, there is the very tangible feeling that it is ‘all over’. In some ways, that is more terrifying than the prospect of embarking on such a project.
They say, that for a gambler the most euphoric moment is when all the winning money is spent. The feeling of emptiness frees them from the compulsion to gamble and they are faced with the empty page of neutrality. But, as we all know, the desire with any addiction is to engage ‘just this once’ with the very thing that fills every thought.
VALVEPUNKS! ‘The long road to Quixotica’ (Working title) is the name of my newborn and it’s a ripping yarn of deliciously vintage proportions. Set in the future (but rooted in the past) it follows the adventures of am old man as he goes in search of his sanity. Or, as the blurb says:
“When an old inventor and radio star of yesteryear is visited by a journalist - keen to learn more about his past - he takes them both on an incredible journey to find the facts and in the process; to be reunited with the woman he loves. Struggling to cope with his forgotten life and facing an uncertain future, he tries to discover serenity and some crucial answers by time-slipping back into his troubled youth, then fast forward into one version of the future. Knowing the truth brings a dilemma; does he follow his previous timeline or choose to reinvent history?”
It’s a A quirky, dark comedy, mad science, time-slip, love story. Filed under: Steampunk / Mad-Science Fiction / Scifi / Comedy. But who is he? - “Reggie is a frail old man lost in space and time. He seems not to remember where he has come from nor where he is going. All that he knows is that he is fleeing from a forgotten enemy to a destination he can’t remember, using a machine that he built which can travel through time, space and matter.”
The research for the narrative has led me through hundreds of visits to antique shops, carboot sales and auctions. Along the way, I have joined astronomical societies, radio enthusiast circles and scientific forums. I have spoken to a great number of elderly friends to garner their impressions of the modern world (as well as their recollections of the past) and through it all, I have become transformed- both in my understanding of the world around me as well as the history of the universe itself.
But now I am faced with a sense of grief and panic that there is no more to do. Apart from the obvious sequel (which I am already working on) I am struck by an overwhelming feeling of loss now that my daily routine is devoid of any ritual obligation.
For the past 184 days I have spent an average of four hours (every day) writing a typical 800 words a day and to not have that focus anymore brings a feeling of loss which I am not sure how I will fill. In the space of exactly six months (from 23rd May to the 23rd November) I have written 146,127 words towards my book which represents approximately 736 hours (or a full working month) of writing. Whilst this is, in itself, a feat of no mean measure, I am now faced with the absence that its completion presents.
For the sake of my sanity, I intend to take Christmas off, and review the book in the new year and then the re-writes will begin. - that glorious process that involves the polishing and perfecting of all that is good. Hopefully, at the end of it there will be a story that will be worthy of reading. But, between you and me - I think it’s going to be great. I can’t wait for you to read it.
Two, middle aged friends find their life-paths crossing - after having had no contact since their student days - when a terrible shared secret comes screaming through the years to haunt them, threatening their sanity, freedom and comfortable lives.
Evidence surfaces, when Joshua (the ten year old son of the family who had just moved in to the former student flats) finds a ring in the back garden. This leads to further discoveries of human bone and a police inquiry quickly links the house to the era and the two main characters.
As the story unfolds, we hear personal accounts of the sequence of events told by Dave (a respectable dentist) and Tom (an IT consultant) and see how their viewpoints differ. However, in the process we see how the secrets they each keep (from themselves and each other) have shaped who they have become. These statements are set against (and woven amongst) present tense revelations as the inquiry unfolds, revealing that the girl was a flatmate of Dave and Tom, who was not lost on a backpacking holiday as the reports had suggested in 1976
We learn from Tom and Dave that their extreme student lifestyle - constantly in search of the ultimate thrill - led (through a combination of drink and mushrooms, on Halloween weekend) to the drowning of Clare (an archeology student), in the bathroom at the house.
We hear from Tom that the secret he kept from Dave was that he had sex with her almost-dead body, causing her to drown. However, we learn from Dave that it was his idea to dispose of the body (to hide their grisly excesses) instead of reporting the incident.
Having tried a variety of methods (including food processors and a bonfire in the garden) they are satisfied that the incident is behind them, but rivalry between Dave and Tom reaches a climax when Tom tells Keith about the party. Dave had stolen Keith’s girlfriend and the tension between them was already there.
Now, in the present day only Dave and Tom know the full truth but the police (as yet) can’t directly link them. That is, until Keith arrives back on the scene. Dave convinces Tom that the only way to retain their anonymity is to make sure that Keith doesn’t reveal all that he knows.
However, following the ill conceived murder of Keith, fresh evidence emerges which irrevocably incriminates both Dave and Tom but for different reasons. From beyond the grave, Clare appears to have had a hand in posthumous retribution.
The city streets of York are the last place on earth that one should consider taking LSD. However. If you are, in fact, the sort of person that would ever consider taking LSD in the first place (just to restate my observation) then York is the perhaps the last place you should do it and I’d like to explain why I think so.
Coming from an unremarkable, West Yorkshire market town as I do, my childhood and youth was spent roaming the terraced streets looking for like-minded lads my own age to go on adventures with. Not that it was completely like the set of Coronation Street back then but the many characters they featured in the ’60s and ’70s were ones that I could identify with and would see on a regular basis.
Grim faced, old women in dark overcoats - their hair strangled into what was known as a ‘bun’ - leaning over picket fences or clattering galvanised buckets about in their outhouses would (more often than not) shout at us youngsters to: “Stop playing football in that ginnel. You’ll make my sheets dirty.”
At the time, it meant nothing at all, but as I look back and remember fondly the scuff-kneed, sticky-haired escapades of my childhood, I am struck by a few distinct and mind altering changes. Firstly, I should explain to any non-Yorkshire speaking readers that a ‘Ginnel’ is an old Norse word for ‘a narrow path sometimes linking streets at different heights’.
This in itself is not a particularly interesting fact but it is deeply fascinating when you look into the Northern culture and realise just what an impact the Vikings (and indeed the Romans) had on, not only our quirks and habits but our language and speech patterns.
Ok. Let’s fast forward a lifetime to the present day. I currently live in the venerable and historic city of York - capital of Yorkshire and the only city in that county that does not have an affiliation to any of them, be they North, East, West or South. It is: like the Vatican city. With its mighty blah-blah cathedral and incumbent seat of northern Christian importance, the place is so far removed from my entire early life so as to make the ‘true’ experience of what it actually is, something of a purely hallucinogenic one.
Granted, the day-to-day reality is no different to any other, similar town of its size. People go about their business, eat burgers, drink franchised coffee and generally function like residents of any lesser place but under the cobbled streets, something else lurks. Something occasionally glimpsed and photographed by Japanese tourists or by the coachloads of Scots that arrive like angry hoards to hunt for Christmas gifts.
It is the sheer history of the place; the way that the new nestles with the ancient; the commercial with the benignly decorative that the mysteries (and indeed the hallucinations) lie. Walking as an ‘outsider’, which I often do - and to this day still feel - I am never tired of being bombarded with fragments of curiosity washed up on a shore of fractalised detail like the splintered remains of a thousand shipwrecks, their cargoes bobbing in the lapping surf for all to see and pillage.
It would not be uncommon to walk down a single street and witness buskers performing on a welsh harp or an upright piano, just doors down from a legless beggar. A wiry underfed dog, shivering at his side as fur coat-wearing intelligencia pass by. Their jewellery jingling softly as they ponder which quaint coffee shop they should visit.
Astride this scene, stand crooked buildings bearing the faded paintwork of times long passed. Merchants and insurance brokers for the sugar trade, milliners and apothecaries, scriveners and spice blenders. All nestling, shoulder to shoulder amidst Dickensian windows and back alleys straight from The Pirates of the Caribbean (true! Google it.)
It is no wonder, then, that this place was the starting point for the main city in my current novel “Valvepunks” which follows the progress of a bewildered (but brilliant) old man and his young acquaintance as they go into deep space in the future in search of a love interest from World War II, finally arriving in the city of Divinestopia (working title).
Built underground in caves (walled city), Divinestopia (York) is a uniquely organic jigsaw of the ancient (the inhabitants of the planet they are on) and the modern (the presence of the antagonists). The buildings are interleaved in precision geometry leading from the filthy outskirts (York’s underbelly - yes it has one!) to the ‘inner sanctum’ where the palaces and fountains are. Its inhabitants ranging from the drones to the privileged intellectuals who exist contemptuously side by side in two completely different worlds in the same space. A beautifully horrible yet horribly beautiful place.
No surprise then, that York should have inspired a vision of a ‘selective utopia’ - a place that wasn’t all bad (depending on one’s perspective) nor all that fantastic. Divine and dystopic all in the same breath. Even the secondary main character is named after one of the shops in York, such is the wealth of detail inherent in this complicated city.
So, weary traveler, if you wish to experience York to its fullest, you might choose to visit for the day, spend a few nights at one of our many thousands of hotels, guest houses and Inns or perhaps even read my book for a glimpse of the mind altering effect it can have. But I would strongly suggest that you never, ever take LSD whilst walking its streets. You might never return.
Thrillers, Killers ‘n’ Chillers is a webzine that aims to do what it says in the title - at least to thrill and chill (they haven’t and wouldn’t advocate anyone killing just yet!) It is faithfully dedicated to writing and reading short stories and flash fiction in the most daring of genres, including crime, noir, action, thriller, horror, weird, spooky, supernatural and slice of life. As long as a story hits one of the criteria or, even better, transcends them all, then this is the place for it. It’s edited by horror and urban fantasy author, Lily Childs; crime writer: Col Bury and best-selling thriller author: Matt Hilton.
As a special and tantalising treat on this spookiest of nights, they have cooked up a week-long festival of writing called: “Hellicious Halloween” and there are some despicably dark delights for you to shiver to over the coming few days. Thirteen tales of horror by twelve excellent writers - a blend of terror, fear, emotion and humour. There you’ll find classic gothic versus contemporary urban life (or death); traditional pumpkinistas versus animist tree-atricals.
They’ve announced the line-up in advance (so you’ll know what there is to look forward to) and the first story of each day will be published at 9am. The second at 6pm - UK (GMT) times. Enjoy, and please support the writers by giving your feedback - especially a certain J. Bramwell Slater who just happens to open and close the selection. He is rather dear to my heart.
Read and log your support > Hellicious Halloween writing festival
THE LINE UP
31 October 2011
AN UNQUIET SLUMBER by J. Bramwell Slater
CONFESSIONS OF A JACK-O-LANTERN by Harris Tobias
01 November 2011
BLOODY TRUCE by Erin Cole
TOBY’S LAST HALLOWEEN PARTY by Keith Gingell
02 November 2011
THE MONKEY TREE by Sean Patrick Reardon
PICK YOUR OWN PUMPKIN by Chris Allinotte
03 November 2011
MNF by Absolutely*Kate
HALLOWEEN LOVERS by Phil Ambler
04 November 2011
WHAT FATE IMPOSES by Patricia Abbott
SMASHING PUMPKINS by Gill Hoffs
05 November 2011
BACK WHERE I BELONG by Dorothy Davies
THE FACE OF EVIL by Kevin G. Bufton
06 November 2011
DINNER FOR ONE (OR, THE MAD MORTICIAN OF BRINDLE STREET) by J. Bramwell Slater
DON’T FORGET you can delve into the fascinating mythology of my own work in progress at a number of sites:
Uncle Reggie’s Magic Radio
Reginald Merryweather on Twitter
Reginald Merryweather’s personal blog