I decided late last year to write a post about my writing, or rather the fiction I have written, but I’ve put off completing it until now…not sure why…well I think I explore this further on. Anyway, the following is a cherry picked trajectory. I wondered why I felt the need to write and post something about fiction – I suppose like much Internet communication it is partially there as a tool, so I can understand or at least recognise the directions I have taken – and I feel it is perhaps a combination of recalling for posterity’s sake as well as some slightly more intangible need to ‘put this out there’, and whatever it is that motivates that urge.
I started writing when I started school, and have continued ever since with projects becoming grander and more impossible by the year, each one languishing behind my own ineptitude to do the initial ideas (flimflammery as they are) justice, or even to find the time to round them off. Unlike my PhD work, where I aim to complete a minimum of 500 words a day, every day, regardless of quality (obviously followed by meticulous revisions), I will go through periods of prolific writing where I knock out 3000 words a day and then have 6 months barely touching the stuff. By the time I get back to it, I’ve forgotten what I was doing. Adopting the PhD rule with fiction might result in my actually completing something. My general attitude to fiction was to write something first and then edit it when it’s done, à la all the above, but obviously this causes complications when nothing is ever finished. I am trying to remedy this in a number of ways, mainly by dedicating some time to fiction via the list system that regiments the majority of my working day – I have no idea if this will actually work. I am also never sure if the micromanagement of my work is a good thing or not.
Everything I have written, with the exception of the SATS paper which I once had and lost, is contained in two sizeable box folders under my bed. I wrote this post based on my memory of the pieces in question, and then reread them afterwards. I was wrong on many occasions, but have chosen not to alter my description(s) of the pieces. Taking the items out to the read over again was a cathartic experience, one which again shed light on how my memory distorts the things I have done, or things I thought I had done. In some cases, these pieces hadn’t been touched for over a decade.
1992 – 1993
My first attempts at writing were understandably crass, owing to me being a kid. In year 4 or 5, I wrote a story for Miss Hancock and received 5 house points for it (I remember this as being a lot). It was a mishmash of bits of Raiders of The Lost Ark and the first Cannon Fodder game which I had on the Amiga I think. The narrative followed a soldier who went through various Nazi bases and killed people. I recall drawing a map for it as well that I stole wholesale from a board game I loved but have forgotten the name of. It had coloured men as avatars and you moved them up through a fictional countryside to a castle. There wasn’t much to it. This story was very much in the ‘and then and then’ mould.
Around the same time, I also wrote a horror type thing. My recollection is that it involved a nuclear accident many years ago, and a forest had grown up around the old disused power plant – so a lot like Pripyat despite my not having any idea such a place existed at this age. A group of kids, nominally me and my chums at the time (Trelor, Gemmell perhaps) went camping there and were attacked by mutated trees and mangled looking deer. The one descriptive part I remember involved someone being sucked in to a crimson pool of blood at the base of a fir tree. The wood I used was Great Hayes, as it was the one I knew. I don’t think I finished the story, but I remember being fixated over the blood and the tree. Around this time, I also read a book that had an angler fish on the cover. I forget the title, but it was set in an underwater base and I tried to copy ‘the atmosphere’ of the book in my little piece, except I couldn’t because I was a kid. For a long time I thought the book was The Kraken Wakes, but it isn’t.
The last substantial thing I wrote was for the creative writing section of the now defunct SATS exams. I got a perfect score for it, and got a certificate from the school congratulating me. This is one of the few things I have ever won. It was about a man who was attacked by a mysterious creature in a church, so obviously a highly original plot. I did write it off the top of my head though. At the end the guy is crushed by a bell falling from the church tower. I offered no explanation as to how or why he ended up in the church at night but apparently the exam board didn’t give a shit about plot development.
1995 – 1998
At High School I wrote a lot of terrible fan-style fiction. One elongated piece (about thirty pages I think) was based on the characters from Jurassic Park. It was set on the Isla Sorna complex, using the same characters from The Lost World (at the time Jurassic Park etc. were the longest books I’d read, so I mercilessly ripped off almost everything from them), and many similar set ups. The one semi original instance was the opening, a description of how the characters reached the island; they arrived via a plane crash. Now my brain is unable to disentangle this from the 3rd Jurassic Park film in which there is a plane crash. My idea came first, but then a plane crashing on a strange island is hardly original.
In the second year of High School I remember writing a piece of fiction based on the Irish potato famine, in which I was again obsessed with macabre details of hollowed out eyes and starving children, and a very long prose type poem based on Edvard Munch’s The Scream; I illustrated it to cover up the holes in my imagined plot. There was something to do with time running out, and some swirling void arrangement.
I also wrote a stupendously bad bit of fan fiction using the characters from Final Fantasy VII. There was little or no plot, because I used the linear nature of the game as a way of framing the narrative and obviously this didn’t work. Additionally, the majority of what plot there was was a simple rewriting of scenes from the game, with little or no alteration, and an overemphasis on the weapons everyone used. The battle scenes were particularly awful, as they too were written in the same way the game played out; essentially a list of such-and-such hits such-and-such for X amount of damage…such-and-such retaliates for X damage.
There was one final story I wrote, which other people might remember as we, in our typically juvenile rage-against-society kind of way, briefly considered doing it for real. In the story a group of students steal some acetylene canisters and make homemade explosives from bin bags and the gas; a sort of floating bomb. They let go of the bombs on top of the ABC cinema during the May Day carnival. I left the ending up to the imagination. As far as I remember, we (naming no names) considered breaking in to the CDT department to steal the canisters and even rigged the windows so we could get in, but nothing dangerous ever transpired, because the gulf between being a bit annoyed in an unclassifiable way, not to mention angsty, and actually wanting to try and hurt misc. people for no real reason but pathetic introspection was far too wide a gap to bridge. We were a bit moody, rather than lunatics.
2003 – 2005
I wrote two substantial things at University. The first was a book called Sunshine and Power Lines, and the second was a novella (well…it was 50 pages so perhaps just a long short story) called Farewell to The Fire Exit Candle Room. The latter involved a depressed mid-twenty-something film maker, who takes a trip to San Salvador and comes back with no conscious memory of his trip. His friends however marvel at the stories he tells, despite the fact the protagonist cannot remember telling the stories. The woman he is kind of involved with is then killed as part of an elaborate and ultimately pointless art exhibition devised by the aforementioned friends at the supposedly subconscious request of the protagonist. The idea of it was to explore different ways of narrating memory, and still creating a coherent plot, which it very nearly did. As a gift for Megan’s birthday one year I hand wrote the entire story and sent it to her. What an awful gift to receive. I really don’t know what possessed me to send it, though the act of transcribing from computer to paper was quite interesting.
The former ‘substantial thing’, Sunshine and Powerlines, took two years to write and still needs a lot of editing (but having edited it twice myself, in a rare example of my actually finishing something, I am sick to death of redoing it so have left it to fester somewhere…it runs in at 85000 words, and if I can’t be bothered to read it again, why would anyone else want to). It involves five nameless characters who are staying at a disused infectious disease hospital – based on the Hotel Ibis that was once the Spittlesea Hospital by Luton Airport – waiting out an apocalypse which involves every single end-of-the-world scenario happening concomitantly…so no-one having babies, animals and plants dying etc. The book is made up of a series of intertwined projected-future stories whereby the characters imagine their coalescing fates and how/why they’d bother staying alive in such a scenario. Much of the action takes place in a landscape made up of powdered-down buildings, where cities are crushed and reconstituted randomly in this would-be desert by tidal steam currents and such. Various half true incidents in my own life are thrown in, as are numerous dreams (the concept I copied from William Burroughs and still use today), many of which appear on my Disintegration Loops blog – almost all my dreams take place in an amalgam City, and when I amassed enough ‘visits’ the place began to be coherent enough to use as a location.
Part of the reason for the constant re-editing is that the book was completely free form and started with no plot at all. It was essentially an exercise in experimentation that came all right in the end, and because I wrote without referring back or correctly remembering where characters were or what had happens it comes across as quite hallucinatory. But I’m not happy with it, and probably never will be, because I was unsure as to what I was doing and what I was trying to achieve.
Shinje and The Last Night Tree has taken me, is taking me, the longest time to finish. Every year it makes the New Year’s Resolution list. I think that’s because I genuinely give a shit about doing it right, to the extent that I am crippling my productivity by second guessing everything rather than just getting on with writing and refining. It is entirely plotted, minutely in fact, with a synopsis of nearly 10,000 words; I know exactly where everyone is and what is happening to them, but this in itself is daunting. The story involves two private detectives, two different cases, a fictional amalgam city (see what I’ve done there…), monkeys, multidimensional travelling, zombies, Tibet, a brain tumour, the Egyptian Eater of the Dead, harems, the Resurrection, mirrors, Le Corbusier and a pretend Laundromat run by ex-pirates. It currently sits at 65,000 words, but I think it will finish on double that, and will then need pulling back to something less gargantuan. There will be a lot of crap to iron out.
The set up for the story is wholly unoriginal I would say, though the plot itself isn’t; I would like to think of it as a unique and confusing take on the detective genre. I’ve not read anything similar any way. I probably should read more. It emerged from a hotchpotch of influences, most notably the three B’s – Borges, Ballard and Burroughs – but moves in very different circles to the tropes and characteristics associated with those authors. They are touchstones for atmosphere I think, something that I have found elusive since I started. The story developed initially from a very small section I found in a discarded notebook that said ‘A man fires a gun at a creature during a house party’. I attempted to write something free form again, but the strands got away from me too quickly (worlds made from reflections, Chinese assassinations, a play about two construction firms) so I decided to shape them pretty drastically. In doing so I went from writing with no structure to writing something that is densely and confusingly plotted. Idiot. Alternative titles were Winter in Treblinka and The Amputee Angel, but I prefer the fairytale style title I have gone for. It’s never good to mention a concentration camp on the cover of a book.
In 2009 I also wrote a short story, or rather an M.R. Jamesalike, for Christmas. It was called The Shining Eyes of Minas and dealt with two retired University professors travelling to Dartmoor for a spot of ultimately fatal cryptozoology.
Last year I started work on a series of short pieces called In The Nothing of The Night, which I thought was an original title but is kinda like In The Nothing of A Night by Hammock. Never mind. I’d planned a few stories for it, all loosely united by an alien invasion where first contact is made by some kind of conglomerate and it all ends in a war overseen by a man and some sort of sentient vapour in box not dissimilar to the Anthony Gormley installation at the Hayward a few years back. It takes place in a future where the Eastern seaboard has been destroyed by a tsunami; the sort erroneously explored on Horizon many moons ago¹. The stories are written by a man named Edward Treehorn, a famous and dead author from the future whose name came from a character Lee had on Urban Dead. I have completed two stories, am part way through two more and have five in a sketchy phase somewhere. The two completed pieces are an introduction written by the grandson of Edward Treehorn, where he discusses the work of his grandfather in relation to the creation of what he calls ‘Perverse Fiction’ (it’s a faux academic thing) and a story about an art student who meets Gredi Sova, a sort-of mysterious woman who inducts the guy in to The Dark Party, a combination of a postmodernish rave and organ harvesting in a back street theatre . The title comes from John Fischer’s eponymous club night. It is also apparently a film due out later this year involving the darker side of blind dating. The blurb used the words ‘psychological thriller’. I suppose this relates.
The incomplete pieces/partially completed pieces are called 6645 (something to do with giant spiders), Betsy Head Municipal Swimming Pool (a post tsunami leisure complex), Dawn of The Dogs (which is a Heroines of the U.S.S.R EP), In The Nothing of The Night (unsurprisingly), The Abominable Lieutenant (a terrorism tribunal), The Box (the previously touched upon man/vapour vigil) and Torn Gently, Limb From Limb (where a man ends up committing murder after finding a rude note in a Christmas cracker). At my current work rate, these should be finished by sometime in 2022
This year I started work on yet another vanity project called Thirty Four, which is a little book of the first 34 dreams I used in the DL blog, accompanied by small bits of artwork I have made as way of illustration – the one above is for a dream involving Tom Hanks, which may or may not be the first dream on the blog. As you can see, it’s quite subtle. I thought it was perhaps useful to catalogue the dreams somewhere else, as they have added a considerable weight to things I have written, and I wanted something more tangible than leaving it at the blog stage. My initial concern was that the notion of using dreams was a bit wanky, particularly when I am used to hearing people say ‘Oh, I had the weirdest dream last night’ before they go on to tell you something so stultifyingly dull you want to tear your ears out of your skull, but then Kerouac and Burroughs et al. were prolific pilferers from the subconscious and I can think of few better role models.
Of late the same attitude outlined in the introduction to this post has applied to my music with me barely working on anything since Christmas, though the assertion I made in a post a little time ago about field recording is definitely where I am going, a position further solidified after attending a talk on music and politics by Matthew Herbert. Not music then, but an exploration of sound. I have ordered some coil pick ups and contact microphones (my home made ones are phenomenally bad) from Jez Riley French, a sound recordist I supported at a gig a few years ago who provides equipment to Chris Watson amongst others; I’m appropriately excited about uncovering the hidden sound world of the environments I occupy.
Any way…what have we learnt from all that gumpf?
- That I think I’m entitled to ramble on about something everyone already knows (even if I am the Captain).
- That I start a lot of things I am unable/unwilling to finish.
- That the only way I notice bad habits/self indulgence is by attempting to explore them on a blog and then read them back and think ‘WTF is wrong with me’.
- Most things I’ve written involve a character dying or being killed, and some kind of mutation.
But I still think I needed to write this all down.
¹ The Independent also reported this. The idea was that the island of La Palma in the Canaries, fractured by a ‘mega volcano’, would split in two with a rock twice the volume of the Isle of Man (great example that) falling in to the sea and causing a ‘mega tsunami’. It would cross the Atlantic and hit the Eastern Seaboard destroying everything up to 40 miles in land. ‘Scientists’ predicted the wave would be higher than Nelson’s Column. This news story was originally reported as ‘imminent’ back in 2001, but then geology is all about the long game. There were way too many example of ‘’ in this footnote. And I was again hoping to get through a 3000 word post without having any.