Here’s something a bit different – a piece of Flash Fiction – and I’m enormously grateful to the wonderful The Pygmy Giant for publishing it.
Wow. After nine months strapped to a keyboard writing The Other’s Look, when nothing much happened other than my elbow snapped (it now has a sticky-out bit, like a cartoon elbow, which I quite like), there’s been a flurry of writerly happenings.
Firstly, The Wrong Story has been entered into two prizes: The McKitterick Prize and The Golden Tentacle award. All digits are crossed, sacrifices have been made, chanting begun on a daily basis.
Two, my short story, The Beast, has been highly commended in the British Fantasy Society Short Story Competition, and will be published in BFS Horizons. This has made me very happy not just because it is one of my favourite short stories, and not just because the BFS is a long-established organisation with a tremendous following – but because of the very kind and generous feedback that I received. It’s rare that editors and judges go out of their way to do so, and it’s all the more welcome in consequence.
(C) not to be outdone, my short story, Early Days, has been highly commended in the short story category of the Carers UK’s Creative Writing and Photography Competition 2017. I’m very pleased about this because it is a very personal story and written in an experimental form that I hadn’t tried before. Carer’s UK are a fabulous and worthy charity and I am proud that Early Days will be published in their forthcoming anthology, Not In The Plan, and that I have been invited to read at the celebration event in London at the end of November.
IV. Some things just make me ludicrously and unconditionally happy, and seeing writers who are friends have success is one of them. The launch of Sam Guglani‘s new novel, Histories, in London earlier this week was a true joy. Great book, great speech and great reading. The Unruly Writers were out in force and it was my pleasure to be amongst them.
Numero cinco, it’s not really a happening but it is an event for me: the second draft of The Other’s Look is complete and now ready for beta-reading and then submission. It includes three of the characters from The Wrong Story and takes place in a subsequent time period, so although it is not strictly speaking a sequel, it is related. As with Early Days, there is a chunk of emotional investment in this story that goes beyond the telling of a tale, so I will be interested to see if it all hangs together. Elbows crossed.
I’ve broken my elbow. To be precise, I’ve fractured it. To be utterly accurate, the end of my funny bone has been chipped off. I’ll leave the gags to you. I was knocked over by a group of charging youths late on Friday night. It was an accident; these things happen; it could have been worse – I could have chipped a bit off my head. The lesson I’ve learned is to wear body-armour whenever I go to Bath.
I’ve never broken a bone before, at least I don’t think I have, but now I wonder about all those times I tripped and landed on my knees when I was young. Are there fragments of my fractured knee drifting inside my joints?
On the X-ray I could see the end of my funny bone floating some distance from the main bone, like an off-shore island. Its shape exactly matched the coastline where it had once been. I felt strangely uplifted, as if it were setting off on a new adventure.
While the X-ray was being displayed the nurse explained the purpose of each bone inside my arm. But she had to agree that, strictly speaking, I now have an extra bone in my arm, and one that has no purpose at all. I like that. I am proliferating.
It’s been a while since I was clattered to the ground. The last time was when I was thirteen and playing rugby. I was a terrible rugby player and they only picked me because I was big and heavy. The opposing scrum would charge at me and knock me flat and then run over me in their studs. Sometimes my own team did that too. Getting back to my feet in Bath city centre brought back many of those happy childhood memories. And it’s made me wonder if adults fall over enough. I don’t think we do. I think we need to establish controlled environments where we can go on a Saturday morning and spend an hour or so tripping up and falling flat on our faces. Just like we did when we were young.
I feel positive about this new pain in my life. There are lots of advantages to having a broken elbow. Playing my ukulele, for example. I can only strum and pick for a few minutes at a time. This is a tremendous relief to so many people. And carrying things and lifting things up – I don’t have to. In fact, almost any household task can be avoided by saying, ‘I have broken my elbow’. Even typing takes its toll which means I have the perfect excuse to finish whatever I’m writing, such as this blog post, whenever I want, and without having to come up with a witty or satisfying or logical ending…
The Limehouse Golem is a Ripperesque throat-slasher stuffed full of London fog, grubby horse-drawn coaches, grimy cockney characters and naïve prostitutes with dirt smeared on their faces. Was it ever clean in London?
It stars Bill Nighy, Olivia Cooke and Douglas Booth, ably supported by a bald Eddie Marsan who steals scenes and Daniel Mays who wears a big helmet.
Directed by Juan Carlos Medina , based on the book by Peter Ackroyd, Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem and with a screenplay by Jane Goldman, the film is a convergence of two storylines: a series of explicitly gory and unsolved murders in olde London-town and the trial of a musical hall comedienne Lizzie Cree (Cooke) who is accused of murdering her failed playwright husband. Drawing these strands together is Inspector John Kildare (Nighy) and his sidekick, Constable George Flood (Mays).
Plot-wise, the requisite twists, turns and red herrings of any self-respecting whodunit are all in place, along with the bold device of the audience seeing each suspect in situ as the murderer, but what really keeps us guessing is how much was the makeup bill? Most of it is slapped on the musical hall mentor and star turn, Dan Leno (Booth), but there’s plenty left over for everybody else. My tip for any school-leaver is to forget university, get into the makeup supply business and win a contract for films based in Victorian London. You’ll be on velvet for the rest of your life.
For me, despite the calibre of the cast and crew, it’s the plot-driven narrative that is the film’s weakness (unless you like people being cut up with knives in which case it’s all great). Yes, it keeps us guessing but is that enough? I think it’s reasonable to expect more of the character-driven strands to be developed, such as Kildare’s past victimisation (just say he’s gay and be done with it) and his relationship with his sidekick Flood (just say he’s gay and be done with it), or the way in which the claustrophobic dynamics within the theatre’s ‘family’ worked. Otherwise, why mention them?
The characters are, with the notable exceptions of Lizzie Cree and Dan Leno, thinly drawn. I doubt Flood is meant to be a Watson to Kildare’s Holmes but even so, Daniel Mays must be wondering what is the point of his character other than to take the weight of his considerable headgear. Remove Constable Flood from the film and nothing changes. But it’s Inspector John Kildare who gets most of my sympathy. No DNA sampling, no crime scene forensics, no computers – and he’s being played by Bill Nighy.
Olivia Cooke and Douglas Booth are fascinating to watch on screen because they bring something of the human condition to their characters – but with Bill Nighy the acting is in what he doesn’t do – which is act. With Bill it’s all about the twitches, stares, stiff movements and The Face. The joy is watching Bill Nighy ‘be’. He is a character in his own right who simply has lots of different jobs: louche academic, resurgent pop singer, ageing lover and now a Victorian policeman, Inspector Bill Nighy.
As the credits rolled I was left with a feeling that the likes of TV’s Sherlock and Ripper Street have done this sort of thing to death, and done it well, and that this film needed to be something really special to justify its big screen status, something more than just a neat tale. Sadly, it’s not. I think more bald men and smaller helmets might be called for. And makeup. Lots more makeup.
Six months after turning to freelance writing full-time, I’ve learned some lessons. Mostly about what not to do. Here are ten Don’ts and one Do.
- Don’t blog about writing (hem) when you should be writing. You’re not fooling anyone – you’re playing for time.
- Don’t get two-thirds of the way through the first draft of your novel and then decide to restructure it by spending two months creating a detailed storyboard using balsa wood, different coloured pens, colourful sticky labels and map pins. You are now a storyboard manufacturer, not a writer.
- Don’t re-cut your rejected short story into a radio play just by adding columns and colons. It’s the same story, you idiot.
- Don’t self-promote your novel so much that people start to block you, delete you or apply for restraining orders. Begging random passers-by to read your book is usually counter-productive – and let’s face it, it’s demeaning.
- Don’t kid yourself that an experimental story in which all the characters, irrespective of gender or species, have the same name will ever be read by anyone on this entire planet. It won’t. It will be garbage.
- Don’t begin an editing course unless you want to temporarily inhibit any joy you ever had in writing creatively. You can be an editor and a writer but not both in the same moment. You will implode.
- Don’t study your Amazon sales rankings and compare them to those of other writers you know. It hurts.
- Don’t edit your 5000 word story so that you can enter it into a 500 word Flash Fiction competition. It just doesn’t work. Also, you have lost all your critical faculties and should take a holiday.
- Don’t track your progress on a spreadsheet unless you want to spend all day tracking how far behind schedule you’ve fallen.
- Don’t expect to earn any money at all. Keep telling yourself it’s all about the art.
- Do just write. Every day. As many words as you can. Preferably in the correct order. Occasionally in pleasing combinations. That’s what writers should do. Mostly.
Yesterday I had to visit a solicitor’s office to have my identity validated. I’d failed a money laundering test because I have two addresses and it wasn’t clear to anybody, including me, in which one I lived. According to the test I was a paradox; an object that had failed to satisfy any condition.
Fortunately, these days, solicitors offer an existential service, and for £15 they confirmed that I am the person I’ve been claiming to be all these years. Me. And they stamped a letter to confirm it. But can I still launder money? I don’t know. I paid in cash.
As I walked home to one of my possible addresses I wondered what other philosophical uncertainties the solicitor could resolve and stamp.
- Why is there something rather than nothing? Because there is. Bring in a photo ID and a recent utility bill. £15. Stamp.
- Do we have free will? No. Bring in a current council tax bill and a current driver’s licence. £15. Stamp.
- If I see blue, what colour do you see? Blue. Bring in a letter from your parent or guardian and proof of postage. £15. Stamp.
The possibilities seemed endless. After all, who can argue with a stamped, legal document? But when I walked into my house I was surprised to find myself already there. So I went back out to demand the return of my £15. They were closed.
One of the things I’ve learned (and am still learning) is that once a book has been published, genuine reviews on book sites such as Amazon and Goodreads are like gold. If anyone has read The Wrong Story and liked it, a review on either of those sites would be hugely appreciated. Thank you! And to those that have already written reviews, huge thanks too. You can find out more about The Wrong Story and how to get hold of a copy by clicking here. And you can find it on Goodreads by clicking here.