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Creative Writing: Vocal Affects

I am currently in the process of restoring life to A Lonely Ghost Burning (a music website I’ve been running, then ignoring for about a year now), but before the project got rolling, I had initially intended for it to be focussed solely on interesting vocalists, as it is they who really get me excited about music. This is a poem I wrote at the time to try and somewhat abstractly explain what the site was going to be about. I never really used it for anything in the end, but having just stumbled across it again, I thought I’d post on here.

That song,
It’s special.
There may not be a perfect explanation as to why,
But it moves you.
The voice.
THAT voice.
Waves of natural talent,
They must emanate from the soul.

One line in particular,
You wait for it with bated breath.
The words.
THOSE words.
They break your heart.
They fill you with hope.
They make you believe.

The combination.
THAT voice.
THOSE words.
They cry to be heard.
Again,
And again,
And again.

Here’s as perfect an example as one could wish for…

Story From A Song Challenge: Day 3

Each weekday throughout May, I am selecting a song and attempting to write and post a short story inspired by either its atmosphere, emotion or lyrics. Go here for day one. Today is my first attempt at penning a fable. 

The Heron and The Fox
Inspired by: Laurence Made Me Cry – All That Patience Brings

 

A heron, large and magnificent, but newly parted from his mother’s side, landed in a lake in search of his first meal alone. After a while, he was approached by an egret who asked whether he’d had any fortune in his quest for food.

“Not yet,” replied the heron, “but surely it is only a matter of time before a number of tasty morsels find their way to my beak.”

“What right do you have to be so sure?” asked the egret.

“Dear friend, my mother is the greatest hunter to ever grace these lands. Her prowess is admired by all who know her, and she hasn’t once exited either river or lake without a full belly, even if it took her many hours of waiting to achieve success.”

“Then I need not wish you good luck, only good eating,” said the egret, before flying off for pastures new.

Unbeknown to the heron, a hungry fox had overhead this exchange, and was now monitoring the situation with great interest from behind a nearby tree. She knew that the bird was far too dangerous a prospect while it was strong, but were it to remain unfed as she suspected, her chances of a sizeable meal would increase significantly.

For two days, in-between her searches for other sustenance, she returned at regular intervals to check on the heron, who always stood statuesque in the same spot he had landed. As nightfall fell three days on from the heron’s landing, she seized her opportunity to tackle the bird and drag him from the water.

“I am a failure,” began the heron dejectedly, too weak to struggle as the fox pinned him to the ground. “An embarrassment to my mother. For three days I stood in that lake, and for three days I went hungry.”

“Of course you did,” said the fox with a prideful grin. “That’s no lake; you’ve been standing in flood-water!” And with that, she beckoned over her cubs for a welcome meal.

Patience is folly, without sufficient intelligence and endeavour.

My review of the album this song appears on can be found at the following link – http://alonelyghostburning.co.uk/2013/02/21/laurence-made-me-cry-the-diary-of-me/

Story From A Song Challenge: Day 2

Each weekday throughout May, I am selecting a song and attempting to write and post a short story inspired by either its atmosphere, emotion or lyrics. Go here for day one.

Where Are You, My Faith?
Inspired by: Cayetana – South Philly

_

Top down, cool air cascading against her face and a long, straight and most importantly, empty road extending all the way to the horizon. Just how Jessie liked it. She’d spent more Sunday afternoon’s blazing this trail than she could remember, pumping out tunes on the stereo or contemplating the nuances of life. Today was different, however. Today she had company, and while she would generally do whatever was necessary to stop others from intruding on her Sunday ‘me-time’, she’d had no moral choice in the matter on this occasion.

That morning she had returned home early from Sunday Service. She’d assured her parents when moving states that she would continue to go to church – felt that she owed them that much given her choice of career- but not reneging on that promise was becoming harder each week. The day’s service had been even more contrived than usual and she simply hadn’t the fortitude to see it through. Still, she’d only promised that she would attend, not that she’d stay until the bitter end. As it had turned out, her increasing disillusionment with God had come at just the right time. Her ahead of schedule return to the two-bedroom flat she shared had come as a surprise to both her flatmate, Beth,and to the girl’s boyfriend, Brian who was in the process of beating her to a bloody pulp. She’d suspected violence for months, but until now she’d never had any concrete proof. Beth always denied it, of course; too scared and too confused to seek help, no doubt. This particular hammering looked worse than anything she might have blamed on disagreements with gravity or covered with cheap make-up. The guy had made a run for it when he’d spotted Jessie, near tripping over his own feet to escape – clearly has some sense, she’d thought.

Having spent the next hour doing her best to tidy Beth up and trying in vain to get her to go to the police, she’d decided that she couldn’t leave the vulnerable girl alone with the threat of her ‘Love’ returning to finish the job he’d already made a decent fist of starting. Even if the Beth wouldn’t help herself, Jessie sure as hell wasn’t going to let her die at the hands of some wannabe body-builder jacked-up on steroids.

So, here she was, driving on a Sunday afternoon as she always did, but with an unwelcome intrusion on her thinking time. The morning’s events had left Jessie with burning questions regarding the faith she was becoming so confused by, and she felt that she needed her long, lonesome drive more than ever. “Are we answerable to God?” she asked aloud, “Or only to each other?” She waited patiently but there was no hint of a response from her passenger. For that she was thankful; perhaps the extra body in the car was not going to prevent from thinking through her problems after all. Was it fate that she’d grown restless with her faith; that she’d returned home early the one time it was imperative that she did so? And if that was the case, did it mean that their was a higher power, directing her towards her destiny? She pondered this undisturbed for the remainder of the journey, and by the time she pulled over, miles from anywhere of note, dusk settling in, she was feeling no less undecided.

After guzzling from a bottle of tepid water, she vaulted over the driver-side door before slowly walking around to the back of the car, knowing what awaited her would lead to the biggest decision of her life. “Time to go for a walk,” she said as she opened the trunk. Brian screamed as she grabbed hold of his ear and pulled him out onto the road. She hadn’t bothered to gag him, but his hands were tied together, as were his feet. If he’d been refreshingly quiet throughout the drive, he was making up for it now, shouting at the top of his lungs as she half carried, half dragged him across the deserted, dusty grasslands that extended away from the road as far as the eye could see. The chances of anyone hearing his anguish was remote, but Jessie still wished he’d shut-up; she had more thinking to do. Should she spare the man’s life? Or was this an opportunity to save sweet Beth from the monster’s vile clutches for good? Perhaps that was her God-given destiny.

When she felt they’d walked far enough, Jessie dropped her prisoner to the ground.
“What are you gonna do to me?” he snarled. “You ain’t got no weapon on you.”
It was true, she wasn’t carrying a gun. Or a knife. But four-years of mixed-martial-arts training was enough for one to know how to finish someone off. Kicks, strikes, holds – there were a multitude of ways she could kill the now defenceless man in front of her without the need for man-made implements. I just need to use the tools that God gave me, she thought. An innocuous enough phrase for most, but for Jessie it proved to be a trigger; the sign she’d so hoped to receive.
“I think you will soon believe me when I tell you that I do not need a weapon to end your life,” she replied calmly, before planting the laces of her boot onto the side of his head with as much force as she could muster. He hit the ground, but she picked him up and repeated the same deadly move. After five of them, he was just about unconscious, after maybe ten, fifteen, twenty, he was as good as dead. She dropped to her knees, pulled him up for the final time and locked her arm around his neck to remove any final scraps of life that may have been clinging to his limp, pathetic body. As she stood up, brushed herself down and began walking back to her car, she realised that her faith had never been stronger.

My short review of the demo this song appears on can be found at the following link – http://alonelyghostburning.co.uk/2013/01/08/cayetana-demo/

Story From A Song Challenge: Day 1

Call me Crazy…

Each weekday throughout May, I will be selecting a song and attempting to write and post a short story inspired by either its atmosphere, emotion or lyrics. Perhaps even all three. It is likely that the songs I choose will be from lesser known records that I have reviewed on my music zine, so if you’re kind enough to follow my journey this month, you may also discover some great new music in the process. I live in hope that you will enjoy some of the words I manage to string together.

Residual
Inspired by: Anna Lena & The Orchids – View Of My Sanity

_

The woman awoke from her nightmare with a start, heart racing; covered in sweat. She lay still looking at the wall, the darkness of the room tempered by the flickering of candles. Since her daughter had been taken from her, she hadn’t been able to bear sleeping in darkness; light was her shield as evil threatened ever more menacingly to engulf all that she was.

Her body felt awkward, uncomfortable, but an increasing feeling of dread prevented her from rolling over onto her other side. She sensed eyes burning a hole in the back of her head, and even when she’d finished slowly, carefully pulling the thick covers as far over her as she could manage without falling into pitch black, she felt no less exposed. ‘This is madness,’ she thought to herself, ‘I’m alone.’ She took a deep breath, and began a slow, nervous count to three.
‘One…’
‘Two…’
‘Three…’
She closed her eyes and turned herself, then waited anxiously for any external response to the ungainly manoeuvre.

Nothing.

As the minutes ticked by, and more sense began to return to her sleep-disturbed brain, she once again braved her eyes to open. When they did so, her fear returned in an instant. She leapt to her feet, tossing aside the cover; the soft wind from the open window all of a sudden turning icy-cold as she backed away towards the partially open bedroom door. The shape that had so frightened her continued to hover under the quivering candlelight, but made no attempt to react to her movement. Without taking her eyes from the eerily static spectral outline, she crept onto the landing before heaving the door shut behind her, then raced urgently towards the top of the spiral staircase; bare feet slapping against the wooden floorboards. In her haste to descend the stairs, she did not hear the young girl’s voice trailing in her wake.

***

The girl looks up into his pale face with an air of triumph.
“See, it was Mummy! I told you it’s not me that messes up your old room every night! I can never make her hear me though.” She quiets and screws up her face, seemingly deep in-thought, then, with a sudden measure of sadness, asks, “Daddy, why hasn’t Mummy gone to Heaven yet?”
He meets her gaze but cannot find a suitable response. Reopening the door to the room he and his wife used to sleep in, he only hopes that the love of his life and mother of his child just isn’t ready to cross yet, and that the angels haven’t cruelly ignored his desperate prayers for a second time.

My review of the record this song appears on can be found at the following link – http://alonelyghostburning.co.uk/2013/03/19/anna-lena-the-orchids-anna-lena-the-orchids/

Creative Writing: Eyes (still) Wired Shut

I really haven’t a clue how I ended up writing this just now, nor am I even sure what it is. Short story? Abstract poem? Whatever, I’ve given it what is hopefully a fairly subtle and imaginative title. It’s just gone 2:30am though, so it’s quite possible the whole thing is nonsense.

Eyes (still) Wired Shut

This is a reminder to all parallel versions of Me…

You know who you are.
At ten o’clock tomorrow morning,
I will be offering words of wisdom to each of my Variants on the subject of a former sin of mine,
Envy.
Except for the one getting married to Kirsten Dunst next week.
I have but a single word for you, Sir…

BASTARD!

fawlty

Short Stories, Motivation and Baby Steps: Making Life Better For Future Me (Part 2)

by Jamie Downes

I’m not writing because I have to,
I’m writing because I want to.
 

It’s a mantra I have recently introduced to myself, and I like it. Trouble is, it doesn’t always seem entirely truthful.

I’m under no illusions; Dickens and Tolkien, I am not; but presumably like all those of a writing persuasion, I like to think that I have a talent for language and structure; an ability to mould words into flowing, well-weighted sentences. While there are undoubtedly schools of other amateur writers out there capable of teaching me a thing-or-twelve (and the rest), I know that at the very least, I have a certain flair for the art.

How demoralising it is then, when upon one’s first meaningful foray into writing short fiction, he realises the requirement for a far greater skill-set than the mere ability to write. Below is simply a meandering snapshot of the issues that threatened my aforementioned new mantra, with equally meandering thoughts on how to solve them.

For a start, there is the obvious need to create. I already had some ideas for compelling, emotive, character-driven tales, but alas, I felt them too intense, and my craft not yet of sufficient quality to do them justice. Leaving those ideas alone however, resulted in an incredibly dull staring contest with a page as blank as my mind. I blinked first, and subsequently recognised the need to shake things up a bit; how could I find a way of stimulating my seemingly anaesthetised creative brain cells?

The best answer was a blatantly obvious one. Read. Particularly short stories; particularly those from the magazines I wished to submit to. Doing so made all the difference. They helped deliver me into the mind-set of the magazine and allowed my ideas to formulate within a more structured paradigm (important, I think, for one new to creating). Trying to bludgeon my way through with force had not worked in the slightest, but taking a step back from the dismal mocking of the blank document allowed ideas to formulate naturally, and made the whole process much more fun.

So, finally armed with a couple of distinct ideas, I was able to begin writing. But alas, just as I was contemplating the completion of both first drafts, I recognised what I’ve since discovered is a common beginner’s mistake. Exposition. And I was torn, because part of me was pleased that I’d spotted the problem myself, but also disheartened that I’d made the error in the first place. Realising how boring my stories really were, I was wholly unconvinced about my chances of salvaging either.

But after almost giving in, I managed to do so. In one, the protagonist changed his personality completely, which simply made him more interesting and easier to write about in the present. For the other (and much better of the two stories), I was able to rid the piece of narrative summary by revealing most key details of the protagonist’s past through dialogue instead.

I will certainly be wary of falling into the same trap in the future, so on that basis it was a mistake worth making early.

I think the reason it is so easy to fall back on narrative summary for us newcomers, is the surprising mundanity of a reasonable percentage of any given work of fiction; I for one, didn’t see this as an obvious roadblock before setting off on my creative-writing journey. There are the major plot points and moments of flowery prose that excite you as a writer, but getting from one to another can be really quite tedious. In my own reading experience, even the vast majority of  published writers are unable to make every single moment of every single scene interesting, so there will almost definitely be boring sentences that I, as an author, must include if I wish to imprint on the reader’s mind a true and complete version of my story. That said, I certainly do not think this means that one should not aspire to spruce up or eradicate such irksome passages.

Maybe the way to achieve this is through having a very clear vision of the atmosphere one wishes to evoke. It’s something I’m big on with all my media consumption; whether it be in relation to books, film, TV or video games. Stephen King’s The Shining was fantastic in this regard, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, also. Both demonstrate a quality that seems to transcend attention to detail; that pulls the reader into the world with such belief, that he can see and understand many elements of the fictional world for himself.

Anyway, I should repeat that these are just thoughts that have already ran, or are in the process of running through my strangely stimulated mind. Given the many days I’ve spent with frustratingly little-to-no useful brain activity over the past five-years, I’m just thankful there is now some exercise going on up top. Successfully making it through a specific challenge, no matter how inconsequential it may appear next to someone else’s, really helps in this respect, as does writing about it.

To finish, and satiate any unlikely curiosity that this article may have instigated, here are the synopses for the stories I have written. The first is my favourite, and with careful preening, I think could be sent off without me feeling like I’m wasting someone’s time. The second needs much more work, but I do like the concept, even if it didn’t quite come off as I’d have hoped.

(Synopsis No.1) A bullied young girl questions the motivation of her only friend when he tells her that their time together must come to an end.

(Synopsis No.2) As a magnificent, mythical-like beast heads towards him, a murderous outcast becomes so greatly committed to suffering a glorious death that he fails to notice a rather significant detail.

Thanks for reading, and if you should wish to raise any similar issues or tackle those I’ve mentioned, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment!

NB: I purposefully chose ‘he’ as my choice of personal pronoun throughout this article, for the simple reason that I’m a guy. Complete gender-neutrality results in far too many awkward phrasing issues for my simple mind!

Short Stories, Motivation and Baby Steps: Making Life Better For Future Me (Part 1)

by Jamie Downes

I have decided to write these words, partly for cathartic reasons, but also in the knowledge that life’s spark can be ignited by the most unexpected of sources. If even one person is able to positively relate my sentiments to their own, I shall consider it a thoroughly worthwhile exercise.

This first part is about motivation, or more precisely, the persistent lack thereof. Tomorrows second-part will concentrate on the difficulties I encountered in writing short fiction for the first time since school.

Please do feel free to discuss your own experiences of either issue in the comments.

At the beginning of March, I publicly set myself a challenge for the month via Facebook. The goal: to write two short stories that demonstrated sufficient potential for publication. The consequence of failure: having to watch every hellish One Direction video subsequently posted on my Facebook wall.

Sounds innocuous enough, right?

Well, behind the unexceptional task and silly punishment is a silent menace that has been a part of my life for a number of years. Call it a malaise, stagnancy; perhaps laziness or even a masquerade of depression, but whatever that detestable thing is that means motivation so often eludes me; that makes wasting time a more proficient and immediately appealing pastime than work and self-growth; it is at odds with the qualities I not only admire in others, but expect of myself. Hard work brings rewards, even if it is something as mundane as resting easy at the end of the day, content in the knowledge you’ve made an effort. When one fails to meet the standard he holds the rest of the human race to, it becomes very easy – perhaps even a moral obligation – to take a figurative hatchet, and savagely cut any attachment one might have for himself. If I’d strongly advise others against the sin of sloth, then it begs the question, ‘Why do I not do something about my own?’

It is undoubtedly the most legitimate of queries, yet it’s one that I have great difficulty providing an acceptable answer to. It certainly comes down to a lack of motivation in a given moment, but does this itself only occur because of the following thought process?

‘If only I hadn’t wasted the last X-years, what could I have achieved?’

Perhaps this is a question that should be dismissed very quickly, lest you allow it to find a permanent residency in the recesses of your sub-conscious; nourishing itself on doubts and insecurities in a viciously purposeful effort to stifle productivity. The value of X starts as one-year but rapidly becomes five. It is the devils-spawn and not the least bit welcome.

The trouble is however, that it simply doesn’t give a shit. It is a squatter and will stay uninvited until it is suffocated to death by bigger, better, more positive thoughts; at least, that’s the theory I’m working with at the moment. But when you’re feeling at rock bottom for the umpteenth time – losing the will to try and the joy in, well, anything – how does one go about achieving an optimistic state of mind? How does one set himself on the road to recovery?

This is the quandary I face myself, and the answer, I think, is baby steps.

The completion of my March challenge was no more and no less than a baby step, but that means progress. I’m no just longer a wannabe writer; I’m now a wannabe writer who has written two potential-demonstrating short stories. I’m better off than I was a month ago, because I set a short term target, and met it. Could I have done more? Sure! But I’m not going to beat myself up about that right now; I’d rather focus on the positives of the situation for a change; reward myself for achieving something. And if I can manage that, I’m genuinely sure as hell that anyone in a comparable situation can do just the same.

My personal goal for April? To write every single day. Another baby step, but future motivated me will be mighty thankful I took it*.

*At least, he better be. I’ll not be happy if he isn’t, the ungrateful tosser.