Dark Doors

Ask. I will tell you a story.

Author: Lynn Bauman-Milner (page 1 of 5)

Word Lab returns!

I am pleased to announce that Clare Fisher has entrusted me with her writing group, Word Lab.

Meeting the third (or fourth) Tuesday of the month at The Tetley in Leeds, writers get together to test out up to 1000 words of their current WiPs. It’s an environment of constructive criticism, encouragement and empathy. Writing is a solitary activity, and Word Lab gives you a chance to meet other authors, hear excellent words, get constructive feedback and be inspired.

Writers of all levels and experience are warmly welcomed.

Hope to see you there!

 

Goth City Festival 2017

As we await confirmation of our third headliner at GCF’17, this is the interim flyer/poster that’ll be available at Whitby this weekend.

Short Story Cast

Many thanks to Short Story Cast and James Winterbottom for podcasting my story, Persephone Speaks. You can listen to my story, as well as Punch in the Face by James himself, and Faithful Weeds by Rachel Connor, from this link here.

I hope you enjoy all these stories!

OUCH status

I’m thinking of starting something, a little thing for everyone, really, but mainly for those who suffer with depression and anxiety. We know how difficult it is to reach out, ask for help, or even to just ask for someone to talk to for a few minutes or an hour or whatever. Just someone to engage with. We don’t need to talk about whatever trigger has just fired, so don’t panic that we’re asking someone to try to fix whatever is wrong. We just want someone to talk to.

Now, I know that ‘vague-booking’ is a thing, and people shit on vague-book statuses time and time again. But, sometimes, those vague-books are a plea for help without actually saying ‘help’. Because, no matter how much we talk about mental health, and no matter how open we are about mental health, it is still the most challenging thing to reach out and ask.

So, if you need to talk, post ‘OUCH’ on your Facebook status, (or even on Twitter). If I see ‘OUCH’, I’ll send you a private message. If you see ‘OUCH’, send a private message to that person. Reach out and talk, because there is a tentative hand grasping through the darkness, hoping and praying that someone will take it in theirs.

Do with this what you will.

Blue Monday

I guess one might call this ‘creative non-fiction’. I wrote this as part of an on-going exercise I’m doing (but I won’t say anymore about that here), with the intention of it being a monologue for one of the characters. Alas, I think that this may not survive the editing phase – whenever that comes – but I … well, I wanted you to see this, kind of like a cat bringing you a mouse. You don’t know why or how to react, except violently.  So it goes.

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Sometimes, the blackness blows in from the East, and all rational thought ceases. I become the source of all my problems, and everything is my fault. Nothing can convince me that this is not the absolute truth of my life and self. I am at fault and I must pay. And the only payment allowed as retribution is blood. I can see no way out but the grave, and I stay out of the kitchen during these winds. Too many knives and sharp edges in there, too tempting to open some flesh and down as many pain-killers and anti-depressants as I can find, and hope that the insurance policy isn’t negated by suicide. I don’t know how to live from one minute to the next during these winds. I get blown back and forth, hatred and self-loathing, fear and bitterness, and wonder how I’ll get past this hurricane, if I’ll even outlive this hurricane. Or if finally, this will be the one that kills me. Because I’ve looked at the insurance policy – life cover, critical illness and death – and I’m worth more money dead than alive. I can’t ask for a handout from anyone – I haven’t worked hard enough to earn the right to ask for help. Tumble over and over and all I see is a life of want and no ability to provide for the most basic needs. And I am just a shackle, dead-weight, to those around me: my family especially, who shouldn’t need to worry about me anymore. Death would be a release for them – freedom from worry and concern and fear that this might be the day that they come home and find me dead. No more worry then, because the worst has happened. They’ll find this, and they’ll see how much I hated hurting them, hated myself for being so selfish and greedy and needy and weak, and maybe they’ll understand why I finally found the strength to give up and leave. Because it does take strength to walk through that final curtained doorway into the silence of death and darkness. We don’t know what’s on the other side; it’s all conjecture and speculation and pyramids and crystals and séances and bullshit. Death is the last exploration, the one time each person gets to go off and do something extraordinary.

I am not strong enough.

Yet.

Most people – caring people, compassionate people – who will tell you that suicide is a coward’s way out. Maybe it is. Then again, maybe it isn’t.

During the hurricane, though, without end in sight, death appears like the only solution and exit from the tumult. Because sometimes, the hurricane is so fierce, and the self-hatred is so pointy and dark and spiteful and vicious and unrelenting… Sometimes, I just want to die so I can have a little peace.

If all I want is peace, if all I want is to calm the storms, and get away from my thoughts, then maybe I should take up drinking. Alas, that thought triggers the whole cascade of bad burny thoughts, and the hurricane picks up speed and strength and teeth. A hurricane with teeth? Now, you think, I’m mixing metaphors. Not really, when you think about it; this whole hurricane nonsense is a metaphor. Teeth can be anything that can tear and chew through matter, be it flesh or other, and a hurricane is very resourceful in creating its own teeth out of anything: wood, metal, concrete. And they all grind with tireless energy, feeding and growing, using my own bones to chew on my flesh and soul. All that’s left is a tiny kernel of self, stripped bare of any good things, any sense of worth or achievement or future. And it burns. All the hate and loathing and bile and venom spills out, excruciating pain dragging through what’s left, if there is anything left.

There usually is something. Barely human, flayed and weeping, there isn’t much of me left. Fragments rain down as the hurricane falters then dies, and I’m still here, mostly. I pick up the pieces – I feel like Foghorn Leghorn[1] – and limp away from the blast site.

It takes less time to recover from something like that than you’d think; I’m surprised I can walk away and find laughter within the same day as an attack like that. I’m surprised that I ever survive an attack like that, but I can’t walk away from it completely. Little phrases, small sentences, even pairings of words, get kicked up from the muck of my brain during an attack and they stay long after, floating and swirling on the up-drafts in my head. Those are more difficult to cope with – they are forever imbued with the intensity of the attack, tainted by the hue of madness and irrationality, and every time they resurface, the madness follows close behind. So I hang on, tooth and claw, and bear the barbs as they cut and carve through me, heart and soul and sanity. It is only a taint, a patina of the madness that spawned them, that they hold now. They are easier to endure. And endure I must, because it’s not just me here.

But the words hurt, spewing vile anguish and reminding me that I am not yet free. I do not long for death. I do not actively seek death. But I will welcome death, when it comes, as the release from this torment.

Maybe, just maybe, I should go talk to someone.

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[1] ‘Lucky for me, I keep my feathers numbered for just such an emergency.’

The Aftermath

Last week I wrote to tell you that I had changed my writing goals: instead of aiming for a small number of acceptances, I’m now submitting stories everywhere to achieve a huge number of rejections – and in doing so, playing the averages and the odds to get even a few things accepted. I was inspired by this blog and thought that after an intensive year of prose workshops during the MA that I would be ready to cope with it.

Well, I was (mostly) wrong.

After several rejections in a row – many without feedback, many with a form email rejection, one with very negative feedback – it becomes more and more of a challenge to sit back down, put fingers to keyboard and start again, either to edit the story that just returned, battered and bruised from the world, or to send a new story out to face the battle of the slush pile. After so many rejections, that little voice of doubt gains a bit more strength, clears its throat, and starts that old, terrifying refrain: Maybe, you’re just not good enough. Maybe, you’re just not a writer. Maybe, you should just admit defeat, and go get a real job and forget all this. After a few days, if I’ve not successfully throttled that voice but whatever means necessary, it loses the maybes, switches from the subjunctive to the imperative, becomes less insidious and more insistent.

For someone with anxiety and depression, it is extremely difficult to tell the difference between reality and whatever the hell this voice represents.

I try to stay away from the internet during these episodes. While I love the fact that I now know lots and lots of writers, and I am so proud and pleased and absolutely thrilled when they get accepted, get interviewed, get the recognition they deserve … that little black demon voice in the back of my soul uses their successes to highlight just how truly awful a writer I am – look at them, they’re brilliant, they’re doing oh so well, yes, okay, whatever they ‘deserve’ it, they ‘worked hard’ (Yeah, that black demon is a complete twat who uses ‘air quotes’), but you don’t, because you just putz away, and hope that someone will do all the hard work for you, and by the way, your writing sucks ass. No air quotes. I stay away from the internet, and wrestle with the black demon, stabbing it through the throat until all I can hear are gurgles as it drowns in its own blood.

Rejections are hard. But I’m going to tell you every time I get a rejection. Every damn one. I’m going to celebrate the rejections as much as the acceptances (okay, maybe not as much). I hit 17 rejections last night, and even though I knew it was a gigantic long-shot (BBCNSSA 2016), I had to try. But it still stings.

Time to re-read that bruised and battered story, give it a trim and a polish, and fling it back out with a loud Tick-ensian cry of ‘CATCH ME!’ and see where it lands.

I’ll let you know.

 

Schroedinger’s Story

A few months ago, a writer-ly friend posted this link to Facebook: 100 rejections in a year.  I had just received an email rejection that morning, following on a streak of several form rejections, and I was gearing up to stomp around the house in a stroppy funk for a few days. But, reading that advice – to set rejection goals for a year – jolted me out of my habitual bad mood, and got me thinking instead.

Why not aim for rejection? Play the odds by submitting more and more often, and weather the rejections when they come with a gleeful malice – yay! One more closer to my goal! Because I’ve done that before – played the odds with multiple submissions – and got somewhere with it. (Dark Doors wouldn’t have existed if I hadn’t done that. Orthros: A Night of Aconite Prose wouldn’t have seen the light of day if I hadn’t done that, which means I would have missed out on performing many times with Steve Toase over the past year.) So, I decided to try it again, and submit more stories to more places, and apply for things that I would normally discount because my application won’t be good enough to be accepted. (I’ll let those who are paid to reject/accept me do the rejecting/accepting; that way I’m not doing their job for them! Make ’em work for their money!)

Within one week, I had managed to double my rejections from the previous five months. Giving the stories a rest for a couple of days, I sent off two applications – one for free online writing courses, another for an actual grant for real-life money – within a couple of days of flying back to Canada, because I just knew that I would be too knackered to do it in time after I returned.

To date, I’m at 16 rejections, most of which have happened in the last few weeks. Sometimes, the rejections are soul-destroying; sometimes, merely a distraction. But more often these days, my response to rejections are: Right. Where shall I send this story next? What should I submit to them next?

Time to scour and scowl at my spreadsheet of submissions and send out the next bunch for future rejections. And before anyone shouts at me for being all negativity and storm-cloud-auraed… with every future rejection, there is always the possibility that it might transform into the next acceptance. (Schroedinger’s Story: the story is in a state of acceptance/rejection until the email is opened.)

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’m waiting for my finest rejection* this week. The BBC will be announcing the shortlist for the National Short Story Award 2016 on Friday 16 September on Radio 4 at 7:15pm. I’m absolutely positive that this rejection will be spectacular!

 


*(And really, this one alone should count for five rejections in total.)

Writing on Air with ChapelFM

On Friday 15th April 2016, WordSpace Open Mic left its comfort zone of Horsforth, relocating to the fabulous ChapelFM studios for a live-to-air spoken word performance! Fun, thrilling and nerve-wracking in equal measures, WordSpace regulars performed their poetry and prose (with microphones that worked!) and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. You can listen again here.

If you’re in the area, and find that you are in need of a copy of Dark Doors, or Inspiration: A Space for Words, there are a few copies of each available for sale in ChapelFM’s cafe area. Drop in for a cuppa and a browse.

 

University Radio York interview

I had the honour of being interviewed by Georgie Norgate from URY a few weeks ago.  You can listen again to the interview, and my readings of ‘Jimmy Six’ from Dark Doors, and a new short story, ‘Eight Times Eight’.

Many thanks to Georgie, and to Oz Hardwick for introducing us!

Longlisted!

I really should learn not to check emails first thing on a morning – inevitably, I miss some vital piece of information. I should check emails only after that first cup of coffee and well into the second, just to be certain that I am awake and processing details evenly.

So it was a bit of a surprise to find myself tagged into several congratulatory posts on Facebook about the Saboteur Awards 2016. I had seen the email, scanned it, didn’t see my name (though I did see loads of names I did know, and cheered for their shortlisted status), and closed it again. But the flurry of congratulations made me go look again, scroll down ALL THE WAY to the bottom of the email, and there it was – Dark Doors got longlisted for the Saboteur Awards 2016.

It took most of the rest of Sunday to finally calm down enough after this fantastic news, mainly because I realised how many people must have nominated my debut collection for it to hit the longlist. So to all of you who used their nomination for Best Short Story Collection to give Dark Doors and me a nod: thank you, from the darkest corners of my soul! I owe you all a drink.

To all those who got shortlisted – including Haunt Harrogate from Imove and Indigo Dreams Publishing – as well as all the other longlisted people, books, pamphlets, wildcards, etc., congratulations! Longlisted Saboteur Award 2016

 

SW Slam

Sometimes I write to silence the bad burny thoughts in my head, to stop myself from just screaming ‘Help!’ to anyone passing by. 

Sometimes, something interesting gets written, and this is probably as close to poetry as I get. Call it prose poetry, call it spoken word slam, call it whatever you will. This will probably make it onto the set list for the next Orthros event, and I’m going to try to memorise it so I can slam the hell out of it. 


Pinioned, hanging from iron spikes that pierce forearms, legs, shoulders. I’m stuck, stranded in mid-air, and I cannot move. Can barely breathe from the pain that courses through every nerve. I’d have thought that I’d be numb to pain by now, my nervous system fried like chicken with the constant agony I feel. I can’t see anything through the blackness that surrounds me, can only feel the pervasive chill eroding my skin, seeping through flesh to inhabit my bones.

And yet… and yet… you see me, standing here, arms flapping, mouth yapping and a smile on my face. Ghastly, ain’t it? I can move and laugh and hold a lengthy conversation and present a façade that enjoys life and all its pursuits of happiness. I look free, don’t I?

And yet… and yet… behind the teeth, hiding deep down in the eyes, there am I really. The one crucified by her own mind, yearning to be free of this creeping darkness. I rattled the doors, and look what came crawling out. Monsters and demons and abominations, oh my. All here to carve me through and devour whatever goodness and light I managed to cling to all these years.

The worst times are the battles for my hands. Where I have to fight with the monsters and demons and abominations, oh my, to reclaim my hands, to put down that knife, to put down that fucking knife, and take up a pen instead, and turn that pen away from my eye, and put it to paper instead, and write and write and write the demons and monsters and abominations, oh my, into the prison of paper and ink, bind them tight with words and syntax and voice, my voice, MY FUCKING VOICE, because these are MY hands, not the monsters’. MY hands, not the demons’. MY hands, not the abominations’. My bloody hands, and they won’t pick up a knife to cut out the pain. I refuse to let my hands go to waste by drawing that blade down my arms, across my throat. My bloody hands, and they will write and take back the goodness and light, reach into the maws of the monsters and demons and abominations, oh my, and haul out what is rightfully mine.

LTU Writers’ Festival 2016 – review

Last week was Leeds Trinity University’s 12th annual Writers’ Festival, and I was fortunate enough to snag a last-minute space for the day. Click on over to LTU’s website to read my review of the Festival.

Then set yourself a reminder for March 2017 to book your own spot in the workshops – you won’t regret it. Ever.

Tales From The Forest

I’m pleased to announce that Issue One of Tales From The Forest is now available to read here, which contains my own short story, ‘Glass and Blood’.

Click on over, have a read of some excellent stories and poetry, and gaze in wonder at some beautiful artwork.

Congratulations to Tales From The Forest! May you have many successful issues to come.

Death in Conversation

If a year could be classed as a serial killer, 2016 needs to be locked up forever. I won’t go through the list here – it’s too depressing and hurtful and won’t help anyone.

The best way I deal with terrible things is to write stories about them, trap the bad burny feelings in words so they can’t hurt me. This story is my own response to the growing list of talented people passing away.  I’ve used a couple of famous Deaths to frame the idea – so I guess that makes this fan fiction. (My first ever – quite probably my last, so enjoy it while it’s here.)


‘YOU’RE LATE.’ A voice like tombstones falling. Then the fragile clatter of cup and saucer as they encounter the table-top two millimetres too soon.

A flash of a charming smile and a deep sigh as she sits down. ‘And hello to you, too. Sorry for being late. There was a family thing I had to clear up after Christmas. My siblings like to quarrel too much.’ Her too-pale hands reach for the cup. ‘Where shall we start?’

‘WE’RE DOING GEOGRAPHICAL THIS TIME?’ Blue star eyes winked off and on again, his too-thin fingers tinking nervously against his mug. ‘CHRONOLOGICAL IS PREFERABLE.’

She blows over the top of her drink, ruffling the frothed milk out of the way. She makes a good show of drinking it, even down to the inadvertent milk moustache. Nothing about her would look out of place to a casual passer-by – they wouldn’t even notice the moustache against the white of her face. But even that’s a hint.

The same observer would not be able to describe her companion, or pick him out of a line-up – not that he was a criminal or anything. They wouldn’t be able to identify him because every time someone looked his way, they found themselves distracted by something else, and their gaze would slide off his face without seeing. Still, he twitches at the edge of his hoodie with his too-thin fingers, uneasy at meeting in a trendy coffee house in this realm, even during the off-season between Christmas and New Year’s Eve at the odd liminal time of twilight.

‘Stop that. You’ll only shred it to bits.’ She grins at him

‘WHY HERE?’

‘Lower your voice, if you can. You’re scaring the locals.’ Her cheeky grace disappears, replaced by steel. She may look young, but she is as old and endless as time itself.

Her companion shifts in his seat, tilts his head and clears his throat. The sound of boulders hitting a woodchipper bounces through the room. The other patrons glance around for the source of the startling noise, their attention slipping greasily over the dark figure and darting away from the pretty goth girl as she meets their eyes.

He hunches his shoulders up, tugging his hood further forward over his permanent smile. ‘APOLOGIES. I CAN ONLY TRY.’*

‘That’s an improvement,’ and she leans back, young and careless as before, cradling her cup just under her nose. ‘I suggest geographical so that we can choose the timing as we see fit. Last year’s schedule was a nightmare, trying to travel across the globe with mere nanoseconds to spare, just to keep to time. We can choose countries or divide across land masses.’ She mimes drinking again, and licks her top lip clean.

‘THAT IS A FAIR POINT. BUT WE MUST GUARD AGAINST FAVOURITISM.’

She pauses to consider this. ‘Of course. You’re right. But are any of our favourites on the list this-’ Her face opens in shock, remembering too late that his own father passed last year, swept to the next realm by the sound of her wings. ‘I’m so sorry. I haven’t seen you since our last meeting.’ She puts down the cup, reaches across the table, her too-pale skin matching the colour of his too-thin hands. ‘You don’t hate me?’

‘HOW CAN I? WE BOTH KNEW. WE ALL KNEW – EVEN HIM.’ His blue-star eyes flare but do not waver as they meet her own. The silence stretches as he tries to speak, finds only a lump in his non-existent throat. He coughs to clear it and tries again. ‘IT DOES SEEM ODD TO GO ON WITHOUT HIM HERE.’ He allows her to touch his too-thin hand, to hold it briefly in her own, before he pulls it back and hides it in his pocket. ‘YOU WILL SEE WHEN YOUR FATHER PASSES ON.’

‘NO!’ Sharp in the hipster coffee fug, eyes turn towards the shout, and confusion reigns as eyes slither over nothing much and oh drat, I’ve left the cooker on! The coffee house empties abruptly, even the staff running for home without locking up.

‘IMPRESSIVE.’

She scoffs at him and runs her hands through her night-dark hair. ‘They’re all gone, there’s no need to keep whispering now.’

‘IT’S DIFFICULT TO MODULATE MY VOLUME QUICKLY. TOMBSTONES ONLY FALL AT A DESIGNATED SPEED, YOU KNOW.’

She laughs, shaking her head. ‘It really is a ridiculous voice. But an excellent description.’ Looking up at him, she allows him to see her fear. ‘Not this year, please. He’s getting his act together; he’s still got loads of stories to tell.’ She clasps the pendant resting on her breastbone, her father’s gift to her forevermore. ‘He’s got some years yet, and he’s in good health – for a guy that doesn’t exercise and eats like a writer.’ They both smile.

‘AGREED. WE WILL LEAVE HIM ALONE. THIS YEAR.’

Her relief wavers at the qualifier. She nods, lowering her head in acquiescence.

‘WE BOTH HAVE A SOFT SPOT FOR THE UK. WE MUST NOT BE LENIENT.’ Between them, a slideshow flashes, casting awkward holographic shadows on their bone-white faces. He shows her scores of people: famous, infamous, unknown, loved, treasured, despised.

She holds up her hand, waves it through the slideshow, spinning it back to the beginning. The distinctive eyes, the snaggle-toothed grin, and the thin white face which would not have been out of place at this meeting. She flicks forward again, just by a dozen faces, stopping on another pale face, long nose, knowing eyes; she can almost hear the laconic drawl of his voice dealing insults out like cards.

‘Both of them?! So soon?’

‘YOU KNOW IT ISN’T MY CHOICE.’

‘You really are a bastard.’

‘YOU ARE ABOVE SUCH NAME-CALLING.’

‘You weren’t last year.’

‘I HAVE … GROWN.’

She snorts, and swipes the images again, sending them haring through the year to come. Stops. Stares at gleaming eyes, a wicked smile bedded among so many wrinkles. Sighs. ‘I guess it is her time … but after that loss of those two, do you think we-?’

‘YOU KNOW THAT NO WARNING CAN BE OFFERED.’

She sticks her tongue out and sits back with a huff. ‘Fine. Looks like it’s going to be a very harsh year. Next country?’

Neither asks who compiles the lists for them. Neither acknowledges the silent cloaked figure hiding in-between the shadows, reading the blank pages of his chained book. He merely turns the page, and reads the future.

 


*Note: The font for the reduced volume of Death’s dialogue is meant to be smaller. However, due to lack of coding skills, I can’t quite manage to get it to do that here. Apologies.

 

TSOTA Review of Orthros

hydeparkbookclubdotOn Thursday 21st January, I had the pleasure and honour to share Hyde Park Book Club’s stage with Steve Toase, and bring ‘Orthros: A Night of Aconite … Prose’ back from the Underworld.

I didn’t know how a new audience would respond to our particular shade of dark fantasy and horror stories. But they came for a performance, and we gave the best we could.

From the thanks and praise offered by the audience before they drifted off into the night, and from Sophie Joelle’s review of the event, I think it’s safe to say that they liked us. They really liked us!

Read Sophie’s review here.

Graduation Day

Can I say this first?

It’s been a pig of a fortnight.

In an effort to guard against random colds and the infectious slurry that comes with working in a school, I put on my big girl pants and got a flu jab. Normally, this means that my shoulder gets swollen and sore for a few days, and I get a nasty case of the sniffles.

Not this time.

Cue five days or more of every variation and permutation of flu symptoms, culminating in the worst cold sore outbreak I have ever experienced. I looked like Heath Ledger’s Joker for a week, before morphing into crocodile mouth, complete with green scales. Yech.

Who wants pictures of the most important moment in your life?

Not me. Get that camera away from me. I’m going to go hide under this rock. Just stick the mortarboard and hood on this rock, and don’t take any feckin’ pictures. I don’t want to be remembered as the graduating crocodile. Put that camera in my face and I’m gonna slap you silly. Christmas tree shot? No thanks. Selfie pose with the family? Nuh-uh. Piss off.

With this poor frame of mind, I attended graduation. And everyone was there, looking fabulous and glamorous with lovely hair and clear faces and rocking legs – and that was just the guys. Every moment of smiling – which physically hurt, tearing through the scaled scabs at the corners of my mouth, shredding the delicate healed edge of my top lip – was an eternity of agony, and a reminder of how ill and sickly I looked. Add to that the monster-mega-PMT that latched on like a demon, and I’m ready to curl up under that lovely rock I saw earlier. In a fair-sized chapel with high ceilings on a cold rainy day in December, how warm do you think it could get? Think sauna, and you’re getting close. Add wool robes and a mortarboard perched on your head, and you’re getting closer still. Add in the Phantom Farter who must have had a toxic stew of garlic, onions, curry AND chili, and now you understand why I was ready to faint by the end.

Feeling photogenic now? Hell, no.

Is there a happy ending to this rant? Not really. No shuttle bus back to the car park afterwards meant having to trudge uphill through the windy darkness with cramps and crocodile mouth and a refined sense of dread about my behaviour over the last two hours.

No happy endings. But there were happy moments dotted throughout, when I could forget the miasma and bad burny feelings:

Hearing the department’s successes over the past year – to which I contributed, and got a mention – in the Vice Chancellor’s speech. Hearing my name announced and making that long walk to be welcomed to the MA. Seeing my good friends enjoy themselves, and receive their degrees and their recognition, seeing the joy and pride of their families in their achievement. Hearing my son say that he’s proud of me (in an oh-so-quiet voice with which I am familiar). Seeing the look of quiet pride of my husband’s face, but only now realizing that he has that look on his face pretty much every time he looks at me (unless I’ve just made a terrible pun, or am teasing him about the laundry). Introducing my family to my tutor, and getting that one picture (the ONLY picture) I really wanted of me with the three most important influences on my writing life.

So, no happy endings. But one good picture, and a pretty decent video of the walk.

After a pig of a fortnight, I think that’s the best I could ask for. (Along with the MA itself, and my very own graduation bear… because, well, BEAR!)

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Hesitation and the Writer

Today on Twitter, I bumped into a tweet from Guy Gavriel Kay, in which he confesses his reluctance to post and share comments from readers about his writing. I tweeted back that he should share other readers’ opinions about his work, because he writes for the readers. Another follower joined in with his agreement because word of mouth is the greatest way to reach new audiences, new readers. And this was just how I was introduced to the wordsmithery of GGK.

Years back, and two months before I left Canada to study in Scotland, a friend recommended Tigana as the best example of how a book could be a self-contained story, and not require endless sequels and prequels. I was quite skeptical of his assertion, but he assured me that the characters were nuanced, the plot and sub-plots riveting, and the writing superlative.

I had to read this for myself. No book written nowadays is that damn good.

Thankfully, I was so very wrong.

Tigana reminded me what a good fantasy story should be. GGK showed me – in no uncertain terms – how beautiful prose could be. For the first time since The Narnia Series, I became invested in characters, empathized with them, cheered for them when they succeeded, and cried for them when they failed. Tigana was the first book I read and re-read and wore out and bought a new one and wore that one out too. Kay’s storytelling ability is inspiring; his writing showed me how characters interact, speak, react, and grow with every turn of the page. I devoured more and more of his books, scoured the shelves of UK bookstores (which sadly lacked any titles from one of the best writers our time), and learned how to inject humour into dire situations, how to shape quirks and flaws into good characters to make them more interesting, more engaging for the reader.

And I hope – oh how I hope! – that I have learned enough from reading GGK that I have been able to create characters and write dialogue and set a scene as beautifully as he does.

Mr Kay, please don’t ever hesitate to share your successes with us. Being a writer is a lonely job.  Even reading has become more isolated, as every person has their own library or e-reader, and storytelling in groups is a fringe event art. If you share the response others have had to your words, then we all benefit, knowing that we are not alone.

Urban and the Shed Crew – edited

On Sunday, 8th November, I was fortunate enough to attend the screening of Urban and the Shed Crew at the Hyde Park Picture House. (And, a week later, I’ve edited my review. Some points needed expanding.)

A few admissions before I begin:

  • I am not originally from Leeds. Hell, I’m not even British, but I’ve been here long enough to understand the issues presented in the film. This means, however, that some of the cultural subtleties are almost lost on me. (References to different areas of Leeds, and the reactions of the audience to the difference between growing up in Beeston and growing up in Bramley are still a mystery to me; even though I know there’s a difference, I wouldn’t know how to begin to articulate it.) I would worry that if this film goes global, not all the references will be relevant to a global audience. This cultural niche will have to be addressed somehow.
  • I generally prefer books to their film versions. This one is no exception. Issues like substance abuse and sexual activity presented in Hare’s book are difficult to comprehend and shocking because of the age of the children involved. And because of protection issues in working with young actors, these issues could only be hinted at, not portrayed. I think (and this is only my opinion) that the film version suffered from the omission.
  • I am not a professional film critic or reviewer.

I enjoyed the film. Not as much as the book, but that is down to the constraints of the medium. Films naturally must move quickly and do not have the same luxury for character development or discussion of motivation that books do. And Candida Brady had quite a lot of material to work with, to distill down to its essence and present on-screen. Some things may have been missed, but she got what mattered most. The soundtrack was haunting and beautiful throughout, and did not overwhelm the scenes but added to them. At times, especially in the early parts of the film, the pacing is awkward; encounters between Greta and Chop should have possessed greater tension, but fizzled at times, and her explosive responses did not fit with the preceding scenes. This may be down to editing choices.

Overall, the performances from Armitage, Friel and Kelly were nuanced and dynamic, bringing these main players to vivid life for the audience. The film highlighted the fragile balance of Chop’s own equilibrium as Greta and Urban pushed and pulled him with their own volatile natures. Chop suffers when Greta is involved, but he flourishes as Urban becomes more important in his life. Further exploration of Urban’s own anger and rage could have helped to illustrate how his environment has shaped him, and to highlight further how important the role Chop plays in creating a stable centre for Urban.

The Shed Crew themselves provide a stark backdrop of the hopelessness. Their shed is a precious safe place, cherished and cared for, with its fairy lights and bright colours, set in a brown burnt-out back garden. I think that the film didn’t emphasise the shed’s importance enough, and how Chop’s flat becomes their safe haven when the shed is forbidden to them.

Throughout the film, you must keep reminding yourself – this is not fiction. Something inside you will resist it – surely no one can live that way? This is the reality of East Leeds in the 1990s, and this is not a purely British issue. Children suffer in more ways than we could ever conceive. And as Hare says, childhood should be sacred.

This is a big story with a big message that needs to be heard.

#GetUrbanMovieGlobal

B*st*rd Demons (contains swearies)

I’ve been putting off writing this post for so many reasons: I’m seeking attention; I’m jumping on the bandwagon with others in a similar situation; I won’t be able to express what I’m going through clearly; I’m looking for cheap publicity (the timing of this sucks); I’m suffering from first world problems and I should just man up and be grateful for what I’ve got.

None of these reasons are good. By any stretch of the imagination.

It’s a swan situation. I look great on the surface, gracefully drifting along. But the truth is hidden below the waterline, as I paddle like fuck to stay above the darkness.

I have anxiety and depression.

There. I said it.

I hate them both. These two bastard demons that follow me around – some days closer than others – and drip their poisons straight into my soul.

John Kenn – Stressmonster http://johnkenn.blogspot.co.uk/

Some days, I can outrun them, or confront them, or write them into oblivion. I have a specific file on my computer, called ‘Dealing with Demons’, and I write every shitty thing I feel when the bastard demons have me in their clutches. More often than not, this works. Especially on the really bad days.

Some days, though, they wear me down. No outright frontal attack when I’m reduced to a crying mess of tears and snot. Sometimes they play guerrilla tactics; strike and hide, strike and hide. That wears me down, reducing my strength and stamina to survive the full-blown attacks.

Sometimes, they don’t do anything but hover behind me. The knowledge that they’re there makes me doubt and question and dread and feel terrible and feel nauseated and feel worthless, and dammit!

I just did their job for them. All off my own nut.

No amount of praise or compliments or hugs or cups of coffee can diminish them, especially when they’re in guerrilla-mode. Because with every hug, with every compliment, their little bastard demon voices are whispering:

‘You don’t deserve that.’

Some days, I believe them.

Some days, I can’t fight them.

I’ve been struggling with them for a while, not very successfully. It’s been worse with the changes in the seasons and the weather – less sunlit hours, and the past several days have been completely overcast and foggy. So, they’ve been having a right old party at my expense, flinging fears like faeces into my face, and making me dread what should be an exciting celebration. Because tonight is the launch party for Dark Doors, my debut publication.

[A&D say: your ONLY publication]

SEE?! Bastard demons.

I’ve got to keep remembering that I’m a dab-hand at demon hunting. I must tell myself that they shouldn’t be allowed this much of my strength. I’ve got to remind myself to turn around, look those bastard demons in their beady little flaming eyes and say: ‘Fuck you. I worked for this. I worked hard for this. Now, piss off.’

Fingers crossed, folks, that today is that day.

Interview with LTU

Leeds Trinity University has played a pivotal role in the major changes in my life: in December, I’ll be graduating with an MA in Creative Writing, and the university’s imprint, Wordspace, has published my first collection of short stories.

In the run up to the launch party for Dark Doors, I was interviewed by Lisa Farrell. You can read the whole story here.

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