Archive for November, 2009


Wild Places

Another competition entry.

This one is also a memoir, concerning M- and someone referred to by the designation J-. Not to be confused with J- who writes stories with me, J- the ex I still see, J- the ex who I don’t, or J- my friend from university, this J- was – in the loosest possible sense of the word – my boss.

I’m not sure if this story is too sentimental.  It’s mostly true – the events are in any case – but I was never actually that angsty*, and certainly not that philosophical, as a teenager. I even had one or two thoroughly awesome friends at Ellon following M-‘s move, but for the sake of the plot, they have been omitted.

Let me know your thoughts anyways – I’d really appreciate some pointers on this.

*Mum would disagree I’m sure…

_____________

15 was an awkward age, made more so by the loss of a friend.

“I don’t know what you’re moping for – it’s not like she’s dead,” my mother had muttered as I skulked into the kitchen for yet another consolatory cup of tea.

“No,” I would think, quietly to myself, “But I am.”

I had always been a bookish child – more comfortable in the worlds of Ivanhoe and Robin Hood than at secondary school – and seemed to be unable to connect with people unless there was paper and pen between us.

When M- had joined my class, I had found a kindred spirit and we would spend hours trawling the woods by my house or writing stories, hidden away from the cold Scottish winters in her computer room. When her family moved to Warwickshire, I had thought it was the end of the world.

After she left, school became something of an ordeal and I would sulk away my lunch hour, hidden at the top of the third floor biology staircase. I lived for my music – the crackled sounds of radio recordings on an old cassette offering some comfort in my isolation. I maintain that people who call their teenage years ‘the best of their life’, can’t remember being teenagers. The way I recall it, it was a miserable time for all concerned.

Weekends were different though. They gave me a chance to be myself, and not – as my peers considered me – the school odd-ball. I worked at the local boarding kennels at the time and when I was there I was an adult, a member of the work force. It became something of a second home, and I would feel the cares of the week falling away as I walked the dogs through the rugged Aberdeenshire countryside.

It was at about that time the kennel owner’s son, a twenty-something man we knew as J-, purchased his first motorbike. It was a stunning machine – a BMW R850R – and, he claimed, the only blue version in Scotland.

I had always been frightened by motorbikes. Hearing crash stories and having seen some vague statistics involving death and the vehicles had made me somewhat wary of them. I routinely sang the virtues of four wheels over two and cited countless figures which proved – to my 15 year old brain in any case – that cars were faster anyway.

Nevertheless, when J- asked me if I’d like to ride pillion, I jumped at the chance – if only to be able to say once and for all that cars were indeed a superior mode of transport.

I donned J-‘s mother’s set of biking leathers, creaked myself somehow onto the back to the bike and peered out through the slit of the helmet, over J-‘s shoulder. The familiar kennel close looked small and incomplete, viewed through the visor. I compared the sensation to blinkers on a horse, narrowing my world to what lay before me.

The bike lurched and we moved forward, swinging between the potholes on the track which led to the main road. Having been instructed not to tense my muscles, I took a deep breath and went as limp as my leather shell would allow.

We arrived at the junction and after two taps on J-‘s shoulder to let him know that I was ready, we screamed onto the asphalt.

The road was not a large one, connecting only the scattering of villages and farms that lay between Inverurie and Aberdeen to one another. The first stretch we rode was low and winding, our progress hindered by the pendulum of the bike as it swung between the corners. Familiar sites went gliding past – we could not have been travelling above 30mph, but the rushing air and roaring engine conflicted with the truth of my eyes, creating the effect of slowing time.

It was the fragility of the situation which stung my heart – we flew by woodland, gorse and heather, all bathed in dappling sunlight. I wanted to touch the world around me, to bask in the beautiful, concentrated images being forced through the small, clear shard of my helmet, but I knew that were I to shift my weight unexpectedly, both J- and I would come crashing to the road, shrouded in fragments of blue-stained metal and chrome.

I stayed still within my black-hide armour, drinking in the wilds around me. It was intoxicating – a primitive desire to go faster fighting with my surroundings as they begged me to slow and look.

And suddenly we began to rise, out of the valley and towards the freckling of clouds in the clear blue sky. I no longer wanted to slow down and cling to the places I had been, I wanted to see what came over the bough of the hill.

And it was glorious – a patchwork of greens and golds, spotted with hay-bale buttons and fringed with the deep bruise-blue of the Grampians in the distance. Open and eternal, the sight of what lay before me made me gasp for air. It was as if the helmet dissipated then, leaving behind only this endless, stunning world that opened wide into the sky. And me.

From our brief vantage point at the top of the hill I saw everything clearly – all the roads we could travel, all the hills we could climb, each presenting their own myriad of possibilities as this one had. We took off along the straight path ahead, hurtling into the next valley, and being bombarded with other places, other sights and sounds.

And all of this, all of this beautiful world, was mine.

It suddenly didn’t matter that M- was gone, that school was miserable. I would see her again and school would end in three short years, through which I would cling to the memory of that moment of clarity. To begin with, I thought that my epiphany had been due to the bike and the speed at which we’d travelled, but as time passed I came to realise that I could recreate the almost incomprehensible joy simply by looking around me at the stunning place in which I lived. The helmet had forced me to narrow my view, to look ahead rather than behind, but all the hope and passion and unchanging wonder that I had needed at that point in my life came from the wilds around me. Even now, hundreds of miles away in the viciously flat Fenlands, I find myself taking comfort in the fact that just a few hours drive away – on the road over that next hill – is home.

Response

I love it when the things I write produce an emotional response. For a writer, it’s the biggest buzz in the world when someone comes to you and says, “That short story/chapter/poem made me so sad/happy/hungry*.”

I always strive to create something that is going to play on the reader’s conscience, to make them contemplate whether the actions within the story are right or wrong. Or better yet, I love making people side with the bad guy and question what sort of a person that makes them.

Despite all my good intentions though, anger seems to be the easiest emotion to evoke in others.

Don’t get me wrong, I do get a cheap thrill out of that but it’s just so easy on the internet. A little too easy, perhaps. One of my posts, ‘Consider a Modern Wife’, has an entire page dedicated to how it – and I by proxy – is wrong, despite the fact that said post only had 32 readers at its initial upload.  I was also spammed with messages from people I know on facebook following my piece concerning that most disgusting of language errors – ‘might of’. Apparently, I’m ignorant as to the history of my country and as a language student ‘should know better’.

I could take the time to explain that I spent four years of my life not only learning Danish, but also reading about the common Germanic stem that it shares with English. Or I could boast about the fact that my current favourite book is Bill Bryson’s Mother Tongue and that I spend my free time compiling a list of Doric words that come from Nordic stems. I could write lengthy paragraphs about how invasions from the Vikings and the French have perverted the original form of the language that was used when Beowulf was first scribbled down by monks, or about how the unique ‘ing’ verb form makes English a wonderfully easy language to learn the basics of for foreign speakers**.

But honestly, who gives a toss?

This is the internet: it is estimated that there are over 60 million ‘blogs worldwide and of those, only a handful achieve a readership of over 1000 per day. I write on here because I feel that doing so empties my head of clutter and helps me to be a better writer. I also like to think that my ‘blog is a good showcase for the selection of writing styles I can offer to any potential clients. I don’t for one minute believe that my work could ever be widely read in the way that Diary of a London Call Girl was.

With the exception of family and friends –  who know me well enough to understand that I’m just a crotchety old woman – nobody cares about what I have to say. I’m just another one of the faceless people who sit tapping away at their laptop keyboard instead of getting on with their work. My opinions, therefore, do not matter to anyone other than myself. Just like the opinions of those who think I’m wrong don’t matter to me – the age-old internet stalemate. Because neither party involved in an argument over opinions has to face the other, and because people online are inherantly rude to each other, we end up with arguments like this:

Me: Blah blah blah – hate world – blah blah – romantic notions about how things should be – blah.
Someone else: U hv penis.
Me: Eh? What has that got to do with anything?
Someone else: U jst scared coz u wrong.
Me: Wrong in which way? I like discussions – let’s talk and share our thoughts.
Someone else: U 2 scared to talk bk. ha ha ha ha… penis.
Me: You’re a spoon.

The other problem with the internet is that sites like twitter, facebook, myspace, friendface etc. make us believe that what we say has an impact on those around us. We use the web as a way to express ourselves and without the social boundaries enforced by real life, we’re not afraid to express ourselves in overly critical, arrogant ways. We presume that because we can broadcast information about our goings on and opinions at all hours of the day, that we should. This is not the case. My rule of internet etiquette is as follows: if you wouldn’t say face-to-face what you’ve just typed, hit the backspace key instead of enter***. Afterall, you don’t want to hear about my various bodily functions so what makes you think I want to read about yours?

I think this is what I was trying to say in my entry about lamebook – we’ve all become self-obsessed and presume that the rest of the world cares about what we think and about every intimate detail of our lives. Nobody does, and so after the initial thrill of causing an angry reaction in my online reader for whatever reason, I feel slightly hollow – as if the emotion’s I’ve managed to trigger aren’t real. With so many people out there looking for yet another way to tell the world about themselves, it’s just too easy to have someone disagree.

______

*Hungry is an emotion. I spend 95% of my life ‘hungry’. The other 5% I spend sleeping.

**Interestingly, all objections to my statement that English is an easy language to learn came from native speakers, rather than from those who use it as a second language.

***If you’re drunk, slightly different rules apply,  akin to those necessary where mobile phones are concerned. On becoming inebriated to the point where you think the following messages to your friends are a good idea, all communication devices must be handed to the designated driver or, if at home,  hidden in either the sewing machine case or the vegetable drawer.

Examples of messages to friends that are a terrible idea are:
a. You’re sexy
b. I’m sexy
c. The ex you still have feelings for is sexy and I just saw them naked
d. Did your car have a bonnet when you loaned it to me?

The might of what?!

I love the English language. I adore how flexible it is, what a staggeringly large vocabulary we have and how relatively easy it is to get right.

There are three things I detest about it though, and all of them are to do with language users rather than the tongue itself.

1. They’re, there and their. It isn’t hard – honestly it’s not. They’re refers to an abbreviation of they are, denoted by the apostrophe. There refers to a place, best remembered by noting the word here thinly veiled within its spelling. Their refers to people and is best recalled by the letter I – a personal pronoun – connecting the word with humans.

2. To, too and two. Again – easy.  To, is the most commonly used of the three and as such is the quickest to write. Too, meaning also or as well etc. can be remembered by its additional o there as well as the first o. Two is the version that isn’t one of the others and naturally, refers to the number.

These are the things  you should know from when you learn to write – just because some things sounds the same when they’re pronounced, it doesn’t mean that they’re the same words. Bear and Bare sound the same, afterall, but you wouldn’t go confusing a gigantic, hairy creature with a penchant for pic-i-nic baskets with being naked, would you?

My biggest hatred of something in the English language, though,  is as follows.

3. Might of. No. Just no.

There is no excuse for writing might of instead of might have, or the more commonly used might’ve. I wish people would just look at what they’re typing into their facebook status bars and think, “Actually, in this context ‘might of’ doesn’t make any sense.” If these morons would just ask themselves, “Whose might am I referring to here? The might of what?” I would be far happier. As it is though, I feel like I’m surrounded by idiots.

Please, for the sake of thousands of years of a beautiful language, use your brain.

If not for English, then for those of us who actually care about it not being butchered by complete morons.

Story beginnings

Whilst looking through files on my computer, I came across this – the original start to my detective story/romantic tragedy.

Thought you might like to read it. Any comments are always welcome.

_______

Norborough, a medium-sized settlement of medieval origin, is a city of many pubs and is reputed to have one for every day of the year. However, this said, there are only two of particular note; The Mekong and Herne’s Tavern. The story you are about to read takes place in neither.

Our setting is rather less illustrious and at present times takes the name of The Fresh Horse. It is a small establishment but nevertheless it has been established for an awfully long time. Its current owner goes by the name of Roger and unlike his many predecessors he does not live above the bar. Instead, he chooses to reside just outside of the city in a small village called Netby St. Andrew on the river Dans.

New house…

So here I am, laid back in my rocking chair with my feet up on the coffee table just listening to the trees. Because that’s all there is – no constant stream of traffic, swearing drunks or terrible drumming. Just trees.

The cottage itself is adorable, with bay windows in the living room and dining room, a rosemary bush out front and a huge field surrounded by trees. It feels as though I’m living in a forest clearing, but am still within walking distance of two pubs that serve food and a little newsagent/post office. A few miles away are two traditional farm shops which, miraculously, have halved my food bills. Last night we had wild venison casserole which actually tasted of something… There’s even a station just down the road so as far as traditional village life goes, you can’t really get much better than this.

So here it is – the open invitation to friends and family: Come and visit.  I’ll cook.

4 x 4

You know what I’d do if I had a big 4 x 4? I’d drive it up a mountain in a straight line – over all the trees, rivers, rocks and everything else that might get in the way of a normal car – because that’s what they’re made to do. In fact, whenever I go to Denmark and I get to drive the inlaws’ D3, I take it to the beach and try to make it donut in the sand* because it’s crazy fun and the car is built to do it.

You know what else I’d do if I had a big 4 x 4? I’d not force cars with 20cm of ground clearance off the road.

I drive my teeny tiny Micra down little tracks a lot of the time – partically because of congestion on the main roads, partially because it’s quicker and mostly because it’s fun – and on these narrow byways I frequently meet confused-looking 4 x 4 drivers. Their expressions seem to say, “How on Earth did me and my pristine Porche Cayenne get here?” or “I can’t figure out which side of the road I should be driving on. I’ll play it safe and aim for the middle.”

I just came across one of these wonderful motorists, who are considerate enough to flash you when they send you into a ditch but who don’t stop to think that their wonderful 37 litre engines might be a help in pulling you out again. I’ve got nothing against 4 x 4s when they’re used properly – they’re pretty awesome machines and if I had the money, I’d be driving an ancient Defender – but problems arise when people who are scared of driving big cars get behind the wheel. They seem unsure of the dimensions, erring on the side of caution and hogging the entire road. The other problem is that these big, expensive vehicles have now become a status symbol – summed up beautifully in the Porche Cayenne. That is, without doubt, the most ridiculous car I’ve ever seen. Anyone looking for a serious off-roader wouldn’t go near the thing, and so this particular vehicle tends to be driven entirely by people who live in The Suburbs and consider their driveways ‘off-roading’. I’d say that the Cayenne should be used for people pulling caravans (a common use of the big engines in a 4 x 4) but anyone rich enough to afford the stupid Porche price tag on those things probably holidays in 5 start lodges. So yeah, pointless car. ..

I seem to have lost my orignal thread. I think it was something along the lines of,”If you have a vehicle capable of going off road, use it to go off road and don’t expect little cars to ruin their front bumpers for you.”

That’s it, I think… wow. Tea time.

*haven’t managed it yet but the attempts continue).

Life of their own…

For years now, I’ve wanted to write a supernatural detective story that is a sort of combination between Simon R Green’s ‘Nightside’ series and early seasons of Buffy. I’m aiming to have two post-uni girls as my main characters, with the cheesy kind of relationship that Dirk Pitt (Matthew McConaughey) and Al Giordino (Steve Zahn) have in the 2005 film ‘Sahara’. In essence, I want lots of angst, lots of romance issues and lots of Zombie mayhem…

… only, it’s not really turning out the way I want it to. I don’t know whether it’s the fact that I’m not involved in any particularly relatable angst at presence, or whether it’s because I haven’t played House of the Dead in far too long, but somehow what I’m writing seems to be more akin to that dreadful chick lit pulp that’s presented in glittery pink covers than it is to unrealistic zombie massacre.

Mostly, I love it when characters turn out to have a life of their own – it’s one of the more interesting aspects of writing. I’ll never forget my excitement when I realised that two of my characters had fallen desperately in love without my prior knowledge . It was almost as good as the surprise I got when one member of this happy union died unexpectedly. I know how pretentious all that sounds, but it’s true nevertheless – while I do plan key plot points of my work, the vast majority just sort of spills out through the keyboard.

Right now though, I’m really hacked off with my subconscious at coming up with nonsense I’d actively avoid in a bookshop. I know I said I wanted romance, but I don’t really want my prologue to incorporate a break up, declarations of undying love and something so lame it could only ever have been conceived by a ‘Neighbours’ script writer. As a result, I have scrapped my opening chapters and will attempt to start again. After some distinctly non-lovey music. Spineshank here I come.

Social Networking

A friend of mine sent me a link to http://www.lamebook.com – a website that is something akin to watching a train wreck. You want to turn away from all the horrific stupidity, but it’s just too fascinating. I mean, who on earth would tell a former partner they had herpes over facebook?

This page is a showcase of moronic things that people have posted on the social networking site, such as pictures of blood-stained sheets, break-up messages and admissions of hit-and-run driving offences. One girl, and I kid you not, even posted a photo of a positive pregnancy test with the caption, ‘How am I going to tell the father?’*

I can’t even begin to imagine what goes through someone’s mind when they sit down at their keyboard, log on to facebook and begin to type “Do they speak English in London?”, “I didn’t know I was eating actual lamb when I ate lamb chops” or “Soon to be divorced”.

I just… well… I don’t have words.

I want four hours of my life back.

 

*only she said it in horrible text speak.

Adventures

It was too rainy to go writing on the Fens today, so I decided to stay in and try to pen a few thoughts instead. Yet here I am, sat with the laptop at the kitchen table doing nothing more than watching the milk make storm clouds in my tea cup.

I have written today, but I’m back to  SEO and marketing. Work always comes along when I have other things I want to scribble – it’s one of life’s truths.

So, in an effort to remind myself why I have to hurry up and finish this repetitive nonsense, I will post photographs of former adventures.

Scotland: Sublime and Ridiculous.

It’s not that I regret the choices I’ve made. Had I planned my life carefully I doubt very much I’d be in a happier situation than this. Everything is as I’d want it – we’re leaving Soham, moving into a beautiful place in the country, I’m writing for a living and my husband is earning enough that we can start saving up for a house.

And yet…

It’s the lost potential. Now that I’m settled, I’m starting to realise that there isn’t just me anymore. The enormity of the commitment I’ve made is weighing heavily on my conscience and for the first time, I’m wondering if I am selfless enough to sustain my current life. I have to think of S- now when I go swanning off up the country, have to remember that I can’t just pick up everything at the drop of a hat like I used to, sail up to Edinburgh and to hell with the petrol costs. There is someone else depending on my income, on my presence. On me.

As soon as I stepped through the door an hour ago I desperately wanted to turn around, get back into the afore-mentioned Ford and hightail it to the border, never to look back… although saying that, perhaps Charlie Micra is a wiser move as taking my own car wouldn’t constitute theft…

Either way, I’m beginning to doubt my strength of character. In order to keep things as they are, in this state of socially accepted security, I have to give up so much of my old life, of my old self. I saw an ex while I was at home, and though he was happy with his wife and their child, my immediate thought was, “Ha! Dodged that bullet!” He seemed to have given up on an interesting life. He drove a Vauxhall for fuck sake – the car for people who just don’t care anymore.

I shouldn’t be thinking like that. I shouldn’t look at someone in the position I have been aiming for – consciously or not – and want to crow about how, by not being burdened by responsibility, I am better off. And the really ridiculous thing is that I do have responsibilities. I just end up sitting behind the wheel of the car, seeing the intoxicating signs that say ‘The North’ and I forget everything. I’m on the road with two of my best friends and I never want it to end. I just want to drive until we lose the land and keep going by boat, by rail, by whatever we can find.

I stood at the top of Bennachie with J- this week and felt free, like I’d been released from the stagnating thoughts that finally killed the last vestiges of my creativity – worrying about work, houses and all the other things that we fill our lives with and which don’t matter. I never want to stay still again – never want to stop trying to reach the roof of the world with people I adore. I just find myself moving further and further from my old dreams and buying into the life I swore I’d never have.

First comes love, second comes marriage, then comes the baby in the golden carriage.

I used to strive towards living on a boat in the Norfolk Broads, with a big fat cat for company. I wanted to be the girl from ‘Drops of Jupiter’ by Train* and have countless almost-love affairs, full of meaningful glances and not-quite-touches and break the hearts of everyone who saw me. I wanted to write the most tragic love story since Romeo and Juliet, and I wanted people to laugh along with it. I wanted to die unexpectedly at the age of 45 in a road accident involving a Black Shadow motorcycle, and tell the man who’d been my true love all along, from my death bed, that it had all been for him.

But I don’t suppose I’m that interesting. I’m a writer, afterall, and I dream about people like this. In reality, I clean my house, cook my dinners and don’t go tearing half way across the country to announce my feelings in epic speeches. I don’t visit the people I love often enough and make the usual excuses as to why. For the most part, I even drive the speed limit.

No, it’s not that I regret the choices I’ve made – I am happy – but I do wonder what possibilities are closed to me now. I don’t want to let another day slip by without making something that the sentimental side of my brain can call a memory, and that the rest of me will feel is an adventure. I want to drive down side roads without knowing where they go, start walking at dawn into the wild blue yonder and find myself in places I’d never otherwise have found. And whilst I’ll never be the girl in the boat who breaks hearts, maybe I can be something closer to her than I am now. Perhaps my life and hers aren’t all that incompatible afterall.

First thing tomorrow, I’m driving out to Wicken Fen – far too fast – with my Moleskine and a pencil. It’s time to write my tragedy.

_____

*Now that she’s back in the atmosphere
With drops of Jupiter in her hair, hey
She acts like summer and walks like rain
Reminds me that there’s a time to change, hey
Since the return from her stay on the moon
She listens like spring and she talks like June, hey, hey

But tell me, did you sail across the sun?
Did you make it to the Milky Way
To see the lights all faded
And that heaven is overrated?

Tell me, did you fall for a shooting star?
One without a permanent scar
And then you missed me
While you were looking for yourself out there?

Now that she’s back from that soul vacation
Tracing her way through the constellation, hey
She checks out Mozart while she does Tae-Bo
Reminds me that there’s room to grow, hey

Now that she’s back in the atmosphere
I’m afraid that she might think of me as
Plain ol’ Jane told a story about a man
Who was too afraid to fly so he never did land

But tell me, did the wind sweep you off your feet?
Did you finally get the chance
To dance along the light of day
And head back to the Milky Way?

And tell me, did Venus blow your mind?
Was it everything you wanted to find?
And then you missed me
While you were looking for yourself out there

Can you imagine no love, pride, deep-fried chicken
Your best friend always sticking up for you
Even when I know you’re wrong?

Can you imagine no first dance, freeze-dried romance
Five-hour phone conversation
The best soy latte that you ever had, and me?

But tell me, did the wind sweep you off your feet?
Did you finally get the chance
To dance along the light of day
And head back toward the Milky Way?

But tell me, did you sail across the sun?
Did you make it to the Milky Way
To see the lights all faded
And that heaven is overrated?

And tell me, did you fall for a shooting star?
One without a permanent scar
And then you missed me
While you were looking for yourself?

And did you finally get the chance
To dance along the light of day?
And did you fall for a shooting star?
Fall for a shooting star?
And now you’re lonely looking for yourself out there