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/

Advertisements

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

A Lonely Ghost Burning Review: Vienna Ditto

My latest music review for A Lonely Ghost Burning is of Vienna Ditto’s sophomore EP, Liar Liar. I suggest the record to be for fans of accessible trip-hop, becoming lost amongst the stars, chill-out chic, and quiet night-time moments. It’s quite superb, and available for free, so I would strongly recommend checking it out if it sounds like something you might be into.

vienna ditto - liar liar‘If Liar Liar is any indication, the splendid Vienna Ditto could be the famed house band at the most progressive of western saloons, the swankiest of jazz clubs or the trendiest of futuristic space bars.’

If interested, the full review (and link to the download) can be found here.

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.

Film Thoughts – Case 39

by Jamie Downes

case 39

Director – Christian Alvart

Cast – Renée Zellweger, Ian McShane, Jodelle Ferland

Genre – Psychological Horror

Released – 2009

Synopsis – A social worker’s bond with a young girl has more horrific consequences than she could ever have imagined.

It may be severely lacking in the originality department, but Case 39’s tried-and-tested formula certainly doesn’t prevent the film from dragging you in and holding your attention right until its exhilarating, breathless finale. That it does so despite the orthodox story is testament to the direction and production, not to mention a feather in the cap of the key players in performance; Jodelle Ferland startlingly believable as the sweet, vulnerable girl capable of igniting each and every one of your nightmares. For a horror movie to really hit its mark, it must make you care about those in distress, and Case 39 does so with aplomb, at certain points, even when you know you shouldn’t.

Fiction Thoughts – Others

by Jamie Downes

others

Author – James Herbert

Genre – Horror

Published – 1999

Length – 512 Pages

It takes a lot to viscerally sicken many of us in modern society – our immunity to the reprehensible being one of the sad realities of the morally misguided era we live in – but James Herbert’s Others comes mighty close to doing so. The horribly lurid nature of the tale seems unnatural however, as if the author were straining to manufacture as much shock value as he could muster, more excited by the prospect of reviling his readers than producing an immersive work they might enjoy. In stark contrast to his ageless Magic Cottage – a charming and wonderfully written novel that challenged horror maestro Stephen King with its superb scene-setting, sympathetic characters and immaculately paced unveiling of sinister forces – Others attempts the unashamed, warped explicitness of King in the setting of a bland private detective novel. It fails, despite hinting for at least half of its bulk that something more interesting might be hiding up its sleeve. The twists are few and far between and the transparent narrative chugs amidst a barrage of eager, superfluous description that contrary to the author’s apparent belief, is horrifying not in its content but in its volume. Without any emotional-pull from the characters and no real atmosphere to speak of, by its end, Others comes across as little more than a disgusting perversion with little to justify its vulgarity.