Reactivate

It seems I’m incapable of maintaining an up-to-date blog.

But, I’ll have you know I’ve been busy. Just over a month ago I started working as a copywriter and content assistant at a design agency down here in Cornwall. Four months before that, my partner and I had a baby. What little time this leaves me is usually spent taking care of the basics – cooking, eating, cleaning, washing, sleeping etc.

That’s not to say it will always be this way. Oh no. Recently, I’ve had a few ideas fluttering around my dome. I just need some time to net them, pin them and prettily present them.

The first idea for a piece is about admitting when you’re wrong. It’s about dead living skeletons whose skin stretches over bones; myth and memory; ignorance; arrogance; and shame.

The second is slightly simpler. Since starting my new job, I’ve worked on a few branding projects, which involve identifying a brand’s core values, turning those values into personality traits and figuring out how to communicate them effectively. Similar to my post on writing voice, I’m going to discuss how writers can use this process to create tone of voice guidelines for their characters, which they can then refer back to.

Rather than give away any of our fiercely-guarded secrets by giving you step-by-step instructions, I’ll offer an original example with specific explanations and analysis. It’s a technique I plan to use when I begin my first book. Each character will have their own tone of voice guideline, tailored to their personality and the way they present themselves.

Stay tuned – two new posts coming within the next six months.

 

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This Week

Monday

We stood at Pendennis Point on the jagged rocks, the rain like sea-spray, watching the water swell and roll, debating whether or not to go in. I think our minds were made up as soon as we saw the sea, but we played with the possibility for five minutes or so – not because of any dare-devilish tendencies or macho pride, but merely out of disappointment.

Instead of throwing ourselves into the waves, we went to the old keep and talked about fatherhood.

Tuesday

Went to the Meat Counter and had the best burger I’ve ever eaten. Wolfed it and washed it down with a pint of Harbour pilsner. Resolved myself to eat one a week when I’m working and can afford it.

I hardly ever eat meat; I’m allowed one weekly treat.

Wednesday

I switch on the CD player. Jamiroquai comes on, and for a moment I’m confused, and then I feel a little pang as I realise it must’ve been Laurence, yesterday, as we drove him to the station.

Our goodbye was rushed, the train due to leave any minute. He leant through the front passenger side and we hugged, and then he ran off up the platform as I pulled away.

Thursday

I turn left onto Western Promenade Road, drive past the Jubilee Pool, and there, as I round the bend, I see St. Michael’s Mount.

‘Have you been to Penzance, yet?’ My nan would always ask. ‘Have you seen St. Michael’s Mount?’

My answer was always the same.

And now, finally, here I am, looking out over the sparkling sea at St. Michael’s Mount, cut off by high tide, the chapel cresting the peak.

I feel my throat close and my vision goes soft-focus, like a lens misted with sea-spray.

I blink and focus on the road ahead.

Friday

I drove back from Hayle with a difficult decision to make, but a weekend to mull it over.

Paddy and I stand at Pendennis Point, on the jagged rocks, the sun a burning orange globe sinking in the distance.

The sea is movement and colour. Deep steel-blue purple pink orange flashing white. The lapping waves with their sharp peaks look like an impossible mountain range, falling and reforming over aeons. I feel that familiar sense of insignificance that I often have when faced with the sea. I consider having a cigarette. I change my mind. I remain smoke-free.

Saturday

Reclined on the sofa with Audrey asleep in my arms, trying to dislodge raspberry seeds from between my teeth (roughing up the tip of my tongue) and reading Any Human Heart by William Boyd. This book belonged to my nan.

It is the epistolary form of the novel that has moved me to write this post (as always, reading inspires writing).

I have been neglecting my blog. I have forgotten what it is for – but this week has reminded me.

Sunday

Today.

I have made my decision. In fact, I made it on Friday evening, but these two nights have allowed time for it to sink and settle in as a certainty, rather than it just floating around with the other options.

At my desk, I finish writing this post. Beside me the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám lies open – my nan’s copy from 1945; Has anyone even read this? – our yearbook anthology; a pocked lump of temerite serpentine from Kynance Cove, black and white and red; beer mats, books, other artefacts.

My partner comes in and rests her head on my shoulder. It’s time to leave this world of words, I have things to do.

 

 

 

Concentration

I’m here on the sofa with my baby strapped to my chest, sweat dribbling down my back and heat prickling my skin, jiggling about to keep Audrey asleep and frantically trying to find some thoughts worth recording. Every time I think I have something to say – when I’ve zoned in on something specific – I approach it with outstretched arms… Suddenly all my thoughts get spooked, they scatter like pigeons chased by a child, and the one I wanted disappears in the flapping of a thousand wings.

That’s a rather long-winded way of saying I can’t concentrate.

Greenbank Books

An Interview with Bookseller Julius Hyde

The Old High Street is aptly named. It’s one of the oldest streets in Falmouth, branched with alleys and courtyards; an arch spans the street at the top of the hill, crested by a clock-tower. Here, away from the big businesses of Market Street, you can find independent cafés, boutiques and antique shops. And Greenbank Books.

albatross

Illustration by Mervyn Peake from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Displayed in the window is a varied selection of publications: Peter Ackroyd’s London; The Last Hero by Terry Pratchett; The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, illustrated by Mervyn Peake; specialist books on subjects such as maritime, motoring, military and art; and countless titles on Cornish history. Inside, the light is warm and books line all three walls; two tables occupy the carpeted floor space, one spines-up for browsing and one covers-up for display. A lifetime’s worth of reading.

 

Today there’s jazz playing: Charlie Parker. The other times I’ve come here it’s been classical music. Either way it’s always instrumental: there’s no room for lyrics, this small shop is already full of words.

Julius Hyde greets me, shakes my hand, pulls up two chairs on the shop floor. He comes across as a gentle man, unassuming and knowledgeable. He wears spectacles and a knitted cardigan and his hair and beard are grey.

I came here with a long list of books early in the summer and he knew the titles he had in stock and exactly where each one was, even if it was buried under a pile of books in the back.

He’s been running the shop for almost two years now, tending customers of all sorts, from young to very old. Many of them are looking for specialist books, of which the shop has an excellent stock, whereas some just come in to browse the paperbacks. Before becoming a bookseller he was a collector.

‘I’d been collecting books for thirty years,’ he tells me. He speaks slowly, deliberately – not hesitant, just unhurried. ‘I could put the first stock of books in the shop from my own collection of stuff.’

He admits that parting with his collection was difficult, but as a bookseller he has so many texts coming through that there’s no space for him to miss anything.

‘Do you ever find anything interesting in your books, such as inscriptions, photographs or notes?’

‘Not as many as I’d like.’ He smiles. He says he’s found some interesting items such as photographs, postcards and pressed flowers. ‘Never any money,’ he laughs. ‘And I’ve never found any photographs that shouldn’t be in there either.’

Once he sold a travel book and a train ticket to Pitlochry fell out from between the pages as the customer opened the book. She asked to keep the ticket: she said the man she was buying it for would love that the ticket was in there. It gives the book a history, a story of its own, set in the wild beauty of the Scottish Highlands, the protagonist an unknowable traveller reading this very book.

Inscriptions, though, from a bookseller’s perspective, aren’t so romantic.

‘Generally, inscriptions are a bit of a nuisance. The fact that people write, in biro, very banal things, or they think it’s fine to write all over the book, is a bit of a mystery to me. It’s almost a kind of defacing.’

I agree with him, I tell him I can’t bring myself to annotate, at least not in pen. It’s as if the book doesn’t belong to me, it doesn’t belong to anyone, and that to add my own words would be a futile attempt to possess something that isn’t mine. It’s the books that possess us, if only momentarily. That said, for me a banal inscription wouldn’t be a deal-breaker, and an interesting inscription might just be a deal-clincher.

I look down at the notebook in my lap, to the questions scribbled there. I’m getting caught up in the conversation. ‘So let’s talk about literature,’ I say, looking up. ‘What’s the first book that you remember, not necessarily reading, but loving, really affecting you?’

stigofthedump4

Edward Ardizzone, Stig of the Dump

‘Probably Stig of the Dump,’ he answers. ‘And interestingly, the cover art from that is by Edward Ardizzone who’s now – forty, fifty years later – one of my favourite illustrators.’ (Later I look up some illustrations by Edward Ardizzone. They are simple and scratchy: crosshatchings and lines built up to form a full image. Visually they remind me of the lines of type on a page, or the metal etchings that sometimes accompany old books.) ‘Well after that I should think probably the Narnia stories, The Silver Chair was one I really liked as a kid.’

‘I think when I was a kid my favourites were Diana Wynne Jones,’ I say, trying to remember the names of the books but I can only recall the colourful cover art, parallel worlds and the enchanters that had nine lives (“The reader lives a thousand lives before he dies,” said Jojen) ‘and then the His Dark Materials trilogy – I loved that when I was a kid.[i] And at the moment,’ I ask, ‘your favourite book, or writer?’

‘Probably Mervyn Peake, Titus Groan and Gormenghast, which is again sort of fantasy. And other than that I suppose Zola. It’s quite a contrast.’

I make a mental note of Mervyn Peake, Titus Groan – add it to the to read list I carry around in my head.

‘So why do you think books are important, if they are important?’

I’ve noticed that Julius watches me as I ask the questions and looks away across the shop to answer. He looks away now, scratching his beard, his eyes flickering beneath his specs as he rummages around in his brain.

He starts slowly, searchingly: ‘I think they’re more important now because they’re one of the few pleasures you’ve got in the modern world where you’re actually creating. A book gives you the narrative and the rest of it you create yourself in your mind.

‘And in a world that’s increasingly bombarding everyone with images, to focus down on just the words and create your own images from that is… is a real kind of release.’

This calls to mind something Margaret Atwood wrote, comparing the printed text of the book to a musical score, ‘which is not music itself, but becomes music when played by musicians’.[ii]

‘That’s right,’ says Julius. ‘And I think, in a way, that’s becoming a rarer thing. Everybody’s just being bombarded with so much information and the idea that it’s got to hit you immediately’ – he claps his hands together – ‘and a book is the opposite of that. And I think we need that, too, I think people actually need that sort of difference.’

This is the difference between visiting a bookshop and buying a book online. It’s a slow experience as opposed to the immediacy of the internet, and it’s an activity that you participate in, running your fingers over the spines, searching, surrounded by stories. They may not have what you were looking for, but there are so many possibilities. You may stumble across your new favourite book.

‘Some say that people tend to read less these days and that written fiction is going to vanish, do you think that’s going to happen?’

‘No. No, I don’t. People use lots of different media but that’s always been the case. I think there’s always going to be innovation but I don’t think that’s going to kill it.

‘I hope there’ll be more of an appreciation of the book as a beautiful object. Maybe people will become more and more interested in specialist bindings and illustrations and that kind of thing.’

When I run out of questions and thank Julius for the interview, he hesitates, stays seated.

‘I just thought of another book that I really enjoyed, called Carter Beats the Devil…’ He gives me a brief synopsis and I add it to the list in my head.

‘Right, OK, I’ll show you some books,’ Julius says, rising from his chair. He walks over to the display table that dominates the the middle of the small shop. ‘Although having said about special bindings, there is something to be said for just ordinary…’ he hauls a polystyrene box of books out from under the table, ‘just an ordinary, modern binding.’

The first one he shows me is The Sweet Shop Owner by Graham Swift. On the cover, a boy looks through a sweet shop window at the jars of brightly coloured confectionary. It reminds me of Bill’s Candy Shop in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, decades before Candy Crush Saga could even be conceived. The second is Orhan Pamuk, Istanbul: Memories of a City, an old photograph of the Süleymaniye Mosque in a sepia heat-haze.

Julius puts these ones away and has a rummage around in the back room for some older publications. He hands me Lays of Ancient Rome with its burnt-orange cloth cover and ridged spine decorated with gold tooling; it’s hefty for its size. Next is The Old Sailor’s Jolly Boat, published in 1844, and then a copy of Robinson Crusoe that looks equally ancient to my young eyes; inside are intricate etchings of scenes in the story. The first two of these have marbled endpapers: pretty funky for the nineteenth century.

After he finishes showing me these beautiful old books, we shake hands and I thank him for his time. What I intended to be a fifteen-minute interview turned into an enthusiastic, forty-minute conversation between a literature student and a bookseller. In fact, we continue chatting for another half an hour. That’s one thing the internet lacks – human interaction – and, as is often the case with second-hand shops, I came away with something that I didn’t expect to find.


  

[i] George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons, (New York: Bantam Books, 2012) p. 495

[ii] Margaret Atwood, Negotiating with the Dead: A Writer on Writing, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009) p. 44.

Featured image from: https://assets.entrepreneur.com

Paradise Project

We walk down the path, past rows of medicinal herbs and clusters of flowers of colours almost too vibrant to be natural. The sun’s muted behind a bank of cloud, a pleasant break from the bright, dry heat that beat down from morning to midday.

My dad and I are discussing the word ‘biome’, whether it’s word of its own or a portmanteau of ‘bio’ and ‘dome’. We both lean towards the latter. Then something strikes me: ‘But, in Minecraft the separate climates are called biomes,’ I say, ‘so I guess its some kind of specific ecosystem.’ I look it up on my phone’s dictionary: a complex biotic community characterized [sic] by distinctive plant and animal species and maintained under the climatic conditions of the region, especially such a community that has developed to climax. ‘Well, there we are then.’

The Eden Project has two bio-dome biomes. The Mediterranean biome and the rainforest biome, where I, my dad and my partner – with our daughter Audrey settled against her chest in a sling – are headed.

Nestled in an old clay quarry and surrounded by woodland, with its geodesic domes rising like giant Halo bubble-shields, the Project feels like some science-fiction secret garden. Or perhaps a futuristic utopian community in a post-apocalyptic world, living off the land, oblivious to the horrors without, like the Treeminders of Oasis in Fallout 3, an impossibly verdant settlement in the irradiated wasteland of post(nuclear)war Washington, D.C.

My sister says this would be the prefect place to settle in a zombie apocalypse. Sure, it’s big, but there must be some kind of barrier to stop people sneaking in, plus there’s the natural defence of it being sunken in a clay pit, so you should be able to secure the perimeters; there are fortifiable structures and bridges, high vantage points, and an abundance of plant-life for medicine and food and all the horticultural equipment you could need.

It may seem a bit doom-and-gloom, thinking about the end of the world, whether it be by biological weapons (Oryx & Crake), nuclear war (Fallout 3) or Zombies (my sister), but that’s what the Eden Project brings to mind. Things are defined be what they’re not – they’re haunted by their opposites. The name itself is obviously taken from the biblical garden of Eden – paradise before the Fall – highlighting that such a place does not and cannot exist.

As a conservation charity and an institution of environmental education, the Project reminds us that our world is in jeopardy – it is in need of conservation. After wandering round the rainforest biome captivated by the flora (banana trees, papayas, peanuts, rice and chilies), the architecture (various little hunting huts and a replica Malaysian home of bamboo and corrugated iron) and the fauna (roul-roul partridges and their chicks, the male with a red mohawk like Rufio from Hook) we reach the end of the exhibition – and a stark reminder of the state of the world: An area of primary forest the size of this Biome is destroyed every 10 seconds, reads a plaque besides a scene of devastation, charred tree trunks jutting out of arid soil like an extreme close-up of a stubbly chin.

It’s sobering. Disheartening. An area of primary forest the size of this staggering construction is destroyed every 10 seconds. The Eden Project is here as much for our education as our entertainment.

What can we do about it? In the shop between the biomes there is a sign beside a cut-out of a bloody chainsaw, it reads: Your wallet is your weapon. Consumer power has facilitated huge changes in recent times. Fairtrade products have become commonplace over the last dozen years, and new companies and products focusing on being eco-friendly, ethical, organic and green are gaining popularity, challenging big businesses to follow the trend or fall behind.

Corporations are legally bound to make as much money as possible, even if that means breaking the law. Remember in Fight Club the protagonist’s job is to calculate the potential cost of lawsuits in cases of injury or fatality and compare it to the cost of recalling faulty cars, always choosing the cheaper option? That’s actually a thing. Any corporation that professes to be concerned about environmental issues can only act on those concerns if they benefit the shareholders. Hence consumers have the power to force corporations to act responsibly by only purchasing goods or services from those companies which already do so.

One problem, however, is that companies are often covert about the negative effects of their products. Whereas the issues in the limelight eventually become the norm and woe be the brand who fails to comply, new unethical and damaging practices can often slip below the radar. Take, for instance, the recent revelations about plastic microbeads in some exfoliating scrubs and toothpastes – plastic particles small enough to pass through our filtration systems and pollute our oceans. Consumer power may be making headway, but the effort is ongoing and we must remain vigilant to new threats and dangers.

I may seem to have suddenly jumped from deforestation to some anti-corporation rant, but vast swathes of rainforest are being destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations. While in Malaysia and Indonesia steps are being taken to limit deforestation, palm oil producers are now looking to the forests of Central Africa to set up new plantations. As a consumer, you have the power to limit this destruction by boycotting items that contain palm oil and therefore reducing the demand for the substance. You can find a palm oil product guide here to help you make informed choices as a consumer.

The world is cottoning on to the need to protect our planet. Even the climate change skeptics who choose to ignore overwhelming evidence can’t argue with the simple logic that pollutants pollute, finite resources will one day run out and that the decimation of habitats, homes and oxygen-producing plants due to deforestation is a bad thing. We’re moving in the right direction, but each of us needs to do more, and I for one will start trying harder to do my bit.

This is the resolve with which I leave the Eden Project, walking back up the path past medicinal flowers, with my daughter now asleep against my chest in the sling. The sun has burnt through the overcast clouds, and I shield Audrey’s eyes from the bright light. Jason deCaires Taylor’s ‘The Rising Tide‘ is being exhibited outside the Core. It is a series of stark concrete sculptures depicting the four horsemen of the apocalypse, the horses’ heads replaced by oil extraction machinery. I look at the defiant, suited figures, and the two children who inherit the mess their elders have made, and I hold my daughter close.


http://www.edenproject.com/

A Storm of Pork Swords

The penultimate episode of Game of Thrones, ‘The Battle of the Bastards’ (aka Bastardbowl) was aired a few days ago, and last night I got around to watching it. Episode nine was this season’s equivalent to ‘Hardhome’ from season four and ‘The Watchers on the Wall’ from season three (a pattern emerges) – the big budget battle sequence designed to make viewers gasp and squeal with excited delight.

But, I wasn’t so keen. Again, the script was rife with plotholes, and the battle itself was a shambles. It would’ve been far more interesting to watch a tactically thought-out battle unfold on the outskirts of Winterfell, with Jon using cunning to make up for his inferior forces. Nope, that was too much to ask.

What I wonder is: when will Sansa realise that she is responsible for the death of her brother Rickon and thousands of men from both forces? Why did she keep the Vale army a secret? It makes no sense. Instead of trying to negotiate Rickon’s return and/or advising Jon to hold back and wait for reinforcements, she says nothing, leaving both bastards to believe that Ramsay has the superior force. So Rickon dies, Jon leads thousands of men to slaughter, and the Vale army arrives half an hour after the fight has begun but just in time to save the surrounded remnants of Jon’s shattered army… was this planned? Those still searching for depth in Game of Thrones might speculate that Littlefinger held back, allowing both forces to suffer heavy casualties, swooping in at the last minute to save the day and therefore winning Jon’s gratitude with minimum risk. But, if I’ve learnt anything from the last two seasons it is this – nothing happens for a reason.

Seasons five and six have been an absolute mess. Of course, there were issues with the first four seasons – some wooden acting, bad casting decisions and poor screenwriting & directing – but the source material is so good and the show followed the books so closely that these things seemed petty to pick up on. In other words, Game of Thrones had to be good – it was based on A Song of Ice and Fire.

Since Game of Thrones veered away from the source material, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have shown a complete disregard for storytelling, right down to the barebones. Plot, narrative and character are overlooked as secondary to dick jokes, violence, tits and feeble attempts at humour. All the scheming and tension and complexity that courses through the books –and the early seasons – has ceased, and the series stumbles on, dead, like a decaying wight, the reanimated corpse of A Song of Ice and Fire, a skeleton with some vague similarities to its former living self, corrupted and stinking, sans soul.

Season five was all plot no story – each scene purely a plot point, there to push planned events forward in a forced and unentertaining way. The characters were puppets and we could all see the strings. Season six is even worse. The plot has ground to a halt, presumably waiting for The Winds of Winter, and now for every scene that actually has some bearing on the ‘story’ there a four or five irrelevant, throwaway filler scenes, like discussing who would fuck Brienne, putting fingers in bumholes, and telling terrible jokes (a dwarf, a eunuch and a translator walk into a bar). Game of Thrones has become trash TV.

Take Jon Snow’s death and resurrection, for instance. Without the books to guide them, D & D turn Jon Snow’s stabbing into a cheap trick. After a cliffhanger season finale, which is rather lacklustre compared to the scene in the book, Jon returns from the dead after two episodes and nothing changes. Jon stays the same, no one seems to care, and after a few episodes it’s as if he never died. Compare this to Lord Beric Dondarrion’s resurrection, which results in the Brotherhood Without Banners converting to the religion of R’hllor and following Beric as a kind of Jesus figure. Or Catelyn turning into Lady Stoneheart, a violent and vengeful monster. Or the wights coming back as mindless zombies. Death changes people.

‘It’s easy to do things that are shocking or unexpected, but they have to grow out of characters. They have to grow out of situations. Otherwise, it’s just being shocking for being shocking’, said George RR Martin, and I would add they would have to not only grow out of situations but create situations as well. In stories, as in life, events happen which produce effects which cause other events to happen, and so on. This is storytelling 101, yet D & D seem to either have forgotten this or are willingly ignoring it. Furthermore, almost everything that happens this season is mechanical, nothing occurs organically. D & D are neither gardeners nor architects – they don’t let things grow naturally and they certainly don’t plan meticulously – one has to wonder if they are even ‘writers’.

Jon Snow is just one example. I could go on and on about everything that’s wrong with the current series – the glaring inconsistencies, the sloppy writing, the ruined plot lines, the lack of depth – but I’d pretty much have to recount the entirety of the last two series word for word, and if you’ve watched them, you’ve probably identified all the problems yourself. Also, a youtuber by the name of Preston Jacobs does a far more detailed and entertaining analysis of why season six is so bad, as well as plenty of videos illustrating and arguing his own intricate fan theories about the books, so check out his channel.

What I want to move onto is: Why? Why do I, and millions of others, still watch Game of Thrones? Perhaps because we’re so invested that we can’t just cut our losses: all those hours of viewing would be for nothing, we might as well stick it out until the end. Or perhaps we see more in the series than there actually is – the world of Ice and Fire is so rich, and so is the original story, that perhaps we gobble up the shit they shovel us with eyes shut tight imagining, and therefore tricking ourselves into tasting, some of the flavours of the first few seasons. Or maybe (exclusively us book readers) we’re simply trying to get our Game of Thrones fix while we’re waiting for The Winds of Winter, but over time the series has been diluted, and watered-down rotgut is no substitute for a fine glass of Arbor gold.

Whatever the reason, I still tune in week after week, to watch what has quickly become the TV version of Star Wars episodes I, II & III or Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

To end on an up, seasons six is nearly over, and the sixth instalment in A Song of Ice and Fire, the Winds of Winter, is on its way. One thing to look forward to is that the books are almost back. Hopefully TWoW will be published in time to shape the script of season seven, and maybe George RR Martin will be more involved in the making of Game of Thrones once the sixth book is finished, returning it to its former (relative) glory. Perhaps our patience will pay off, and after sticking with it for two bum seasons we’ll be rewarded with a smashing seventh. Who knows? We can only hope.

Episodes from the City

The city sprawls along and out from the coast, up and over hills, swallowing the surrounding villages: Ovingdean, Hove, Portslade and Patcham, all absorbed. Soon Shoreham, Worthing, Newhaven, Lewes and Mid Sussex will become part of ‘Greater Brighton’. One day most of the world will be cityscape, like William Gibson’s Sprawl, or Margaret Atwood’s pleeblands.

***

Down on the beach, the pebbles, greasy and flecked with powdery salt, shift beneath one’s feet and sound like rain as they’re dragged into the sea by the waves. From the Palace Pier come carousel songs and fairground sounds and the rich, sweet smell of freshly fried doughnuts – but below the Pier, beneath the tourist attractions and flashing lights, the stench of piss is so strong it stings the eyes and burns the nose.

***

In the dark, crisp, clear early-evening, the air fresh after rainfall, the lights reflecting blurred and bright on the slick brick street; empty but for us and a lone busker (a strange time to busk, he must’ve done it for the joy) singing in spanish and smiling and strumming his guitar under an awning, Kensington Gardens felt like a film set. Unlike in the day when it’s too thick full of people with stuttering gaits whom I have to stop and swerve to avoid, walking in the wake of cigarette smoke.

***

I remember walking past the Scientific Support Branch van parked outside a house on Elm Grove, around the corner from my parents’ house, seeing police officers in white boiler suits and knowing something serious had happened. A man had been stabbed to death.

On the bus going up St. James’s Street, past Rock Place and a police blockade. An armed robber shot dead by police.

***

The anti-fascists are ferocious in the defence of our city. When the March for England used to come to Brighton, they were outnumbered, out-shouted and outmanoeuvred. A small group of the MfE bunch managed to break away from the main body and slip behind the police line. They poured round the corner, eager for a fight, and found one. Surrounded by anti-fascists, they were peppered with projectiles (one taking a beer can to his bald dome), until saved by the police they had evaded. This was in 2013. Their last march here was 2014, and they haven’t come back since.

***

When I come home now I barely recognise the city, until muscle memory carries me down the same old streets and I forget I ever left. But the new builds and changes jar all the more for it. It’s uncanny. Navigating the city consciously and unconsciously both at once. Like driving a new car – just as I forget about the process and let my body do the driving, I reach for the gearstick and it’s an inch out of place.

***


It’s late and I’m tired and my daughter’s sleeping so I should be too. I’m cutting this post short, and will add more episodes tomorrow.

Apologies for any spelling/grammatical mistakes – I’m not proof-reading this now no way José.

In response to today’s (technically yesterday’s) Daily Prompt: City

Internal(Pen/sive)External

I sat there, searching my mind for something to say, stroking, against the grain, the stubble above my upper lip. Weighing words against one another, touching them to determine their texture, turning them over, examining them, poring over their subtitles and suggestions, I began to lose track of the sentence, the bigger picture, so to speak.

I tried to pull the focus, step back and see it all, only to find I’d lost sight of it all together. The clock was literally ticking, each swipe of the second hand like a little windscreen wiper, sweeping my thoughts to the side as they tried to trickle down into view, leaving my mind blank. I had to get up, take the wooden clock from the wall and put it in the kitchen. Still, the incessant tick tick tick, as though it wasn’t coming from the clock at all but from somewhere inside my own head.

***

Earlier this academic year, I told my lecturer for the module ‘Writing a Novel’ that I was struggling with an idea. She, perspicacious as ever, gave an instant and accurate diagnosis: ‘Sometimes we get so caught up in here,’ she said, tapping her temple with a finger, ‘that we forget to look out there. If you just look out the window, there’s six million things you could write a novel about.’

It was true: I’d been mind-mining myself, digging deeper and deeper as the tunnels grew darker and darker, until I could no longer see to find my way out of that empty, cavernous place. Of course, reflection is important, but reflection requires something to reflect upon.

Ultimately, we are all reflectors. And what’s the use of a mirror in a dark, empty room?

***

I haven’t gotten up to much recently. Well, except handing in my dissertation and preparing for baby Birnie. But other than that, not much.

The internal is dependent on the external, and sometimes when I sit to write, or close my eyes to daydream, or rummage around in my head (or old computer folders) for ideas for pieces, everything seems to have dried up. I see something, I reach out for it, it crumbles to dust. It’s like trying to write with a pen that’s run out of ink, hopelessly scratching at the paper.

My partner and I went for a walk today, following the stream up through Glasney Valley and under the viaduct. We moved here in October so I’ve never seen it so verdant. Robins flittered across the path and the delicate, leafy, tangy scent of wild garlic mingled with the smell of rain and the heady fragrance of flowers. I saw a few good saplings that I might try to make into bows, and decided on tomorrow’s lunch: wild garlic pesto and pasta. And I got excited about taking my family along the same walk, to show them the burbling brook and the old stone walls, and more excited still to show my baby some of the beauty left in the world.

I came back to find the inkwell refilled.


 

Response to today’s Daily Prompt: Pensive

Carcass

We used to scour the estate for abandoned cars, joyridden to ruin, dumped, and picked apart by scavengers looking for parts to sell. The longer they’d been there, the more parts they were missing. Stripped down to skeletons, decaying over time like the remains of mechanic beasts. We’d sit in the carcasses, smoke a spliff or two, and try to get them running. None of them ever worked. Then we’d trash them. Throw rocks through the windows, kick off the wing-mirrors, smash the headlights. It was fun.

The last time we did it, Michael decided to take it one step further. He squirted lighter fluid over the seats and set the car alight. ‘Now that’s a hotbox,’ he said as it filled with thick, black smoke. The body creaked and crackled, and the windows blew out in a burst of orange flame. That’s when we ran, scared that it might explode, or the police might come and catch us, elated and beaming with mischief.

The next day all that was left was a burnt and blackened shell. The fire brigade hadn’t even bothered to come put it out, or else they hand’t been called. It was a week or so later that I saw it on the news, the abandoned car we’d burnt. The area was cordoned off with police tape, people in hooded white boiler suits examining the wreckage. I felt a lump rise in my throat. Surely they weren’t doing all this for some petty vandalism.

They weren’t. They had found a body in the boot. This was a murder investigation.


 

Daily Prompt: Abandoned 

Green, Violet, Scarlet

Green

An extract from the green notebook:

The sea seems to change colour as it shimmers in the light of the evening – a film of steely blue, shades of pink and purple, green and turquoise.

This is where Isla stood at the edge of her life, the shoreline, contemplating her years, her son’s birth, her husband’s death.

This is where I came swimming in March and came out of the water blue-skinned, wracked with shivers and a coldness deep inside me… [there is a shimmer, a glitter, of pink light on the water. Are they fish? It seems unreal] … A coldness that didn’t leave my body until I woke the next morning.

This is where the serial picnicker took his first-date ‘victims’ who never heard from him again; where he took Alice, his dying wife, and where he wished he was somewhere at sea, someone else.

***

Violet

Photo #1, Berlin War Memorial: The blocks look more like a geometric pattern than a place; a piece of abstract art rather than a photograph. Serene considering what it represents. Powerfully peaceful. No sense of size. These structures could be small, they could be colossal. The blocks are smooth lavender on top, dusky cerise where the sides catch the light and indigo in the shadow, scratchy, dipping down to black in the spaces, the avenues between.

Photo #2, Pigeons in Venice:            //////////////////////////////////////≥  («that was my cat) Pigeons with their little pink feet fill the frame. Violet, grey, white, black. Their shadows double their numbers. A cool blue lens flare streaks down from the top of the picture and a faint pattern of tiny pink circles, like pink leopard-print, is layered over the top, most visible over the lilac flagstones.

***

Scarlet

When the turkeys are all killed, it’s time for the geese. Gareth carries one over and puts it upside-down into a conical bucket with a hole in the bottom so that its head and neck stick out. Below the bucket is a drain covered in blood of such a vibrant scarlet it’s almost orange. With the turkeys, Gareth stunned them with electricity before cutting their throats, but now Paul is brandishing a hockey stick, whistling as he swings it round. He takes aim and cracks the goose on the back of the head. It bleeds from its eyes and bill, unconscious if not dead, as Gareth pushes his knife into its neck and wrenches forward to rip its throat open. Its body twitches as the blood drains out and it’s long neck relaxes and contracts, curling like a snake, with its head dangling off at an unusual angle.*


*From my creative essay Birds of a Feather

In response to today’s Daily Prompt: Colo[u]rful