Tuesday, 4 October 2011

No Newts Is Good Newts

Last week I got to revisit one of my childhood haunts. A lot has changed, but much of it was the same, only with taller trees and steeper riverbanks. It still felt as wild and overgrown as it did when I was a kid. It still felt big. And it felt calm, too. Something I maybe hadn’t thought about back then, but it was there, in the long days spent lying in tall grass, the slow afternoons of dipping my feet off the boardwalk into the water, letting them gently splash against the background hum of dragonflies.

In all my years of going back home to visit family, I’d never even thought about this place. Or of going back there, at least. Because as I write this, I realise I think about the place a lot. My stories are littered with the things I experienced there: the freedom of youth; the warm sun freckling my face; the sky seen through a carapace of trees; and ponds and canals teeming with life in all its slimy glory. Newts and frogspawn and leeches. And sticklebacks, caught and kept in coffee jars, pond water spilling out onto dusty tarmac as I made my way home.

As a writer, I’m constantly pilfering my own (and other people’s) experiences. Hiding truths in fiction and fictions in truth. It was amazing to go back to the place where so many summers were spent, summers that have found their way into story after story, and find that it’s all still there for others to immerse themselves in and perhaps let it become part of their own stories.

And on that note, I have a couple of new stories to tell you about. Sadly, there are no newts in either of them. The first is at there was nowhere to go but everywhere. It's part of a word association game they’ve got going on, which is an amazing idea, and lots of fun. I've just read Dave Schofield's piece, The Screams of Victory and Near Misses, the title of which is a line from my own story, and it gave me such a brilliant giddy feeling to see a line I'd written turned into something else entirely. Dave's piece is wonderful, full of so many great lines, so I can't wait to see what comes next.

My other story, Overexposed, is in the latest issue of Word Gumbo, which came out today. The theme of this one, issue three, is ‘light’, and I'm really excited to be in it. You can download it for free here. Maybe even sneakily print it out at work and take it down to the park to read while you sunbathe? In October? Yes, in October. We're not gonna get snow for at least another week.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

O with an umlaut

I have a new story in issue two of Red Lightbulbs. It's called Schrödinger.

(Every time I write that, I have to copy and paste the ö because I can't work out how to do umlauts. If I knew, I'd probably use them all over the place. Like these guys do.)

Friday, 1 April 2011

Our Cities, Ourselves

My housemate has just released an album inspired by the city at night, or more specifically, this city, Derby. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the concept of home, and about the places we live and how when we leave, we give a little of ourselves to them. I have lived in fourteen houses in my life. That’s fourteen front doors I had keys to. Fourteen places I stepped inside, fourteen front doors I closed and leaned back against, breathing in that quiet stillness of a house welcoming its occupant home.

Apart from my childhood homes (2 of), the house where I live right now is the one I’ve lived in the longest. And that’s not wholly because of the fifty plus boxes of books I would have to move if I did decide to leave. It’s something more. It’s something I started exploring when I lived on the other side of town. Only then it was about the city, not the house I was living in. I would write out walks from memory. I would think about the paths I was taking as I took them, and I would try to take in every detail. I would then write these walks and try to make sure they could be easily followed, if I were to give the directions to somebody without a map.

The theme of psychogeography has been coming up a lot in my life lately. I’ll read a book, and the ideas stick with me for a while but then slowly the rest of life edges these things from the front of my thinking. And then I’ll see something or hear something, or get into a three a.m. discussion with a friend, and the city and how we map it with our lives, how we map ourselves onto it, becomes the main focus of my thoughts again.

I fell in love with this city by walking through it, across a span of months and years. Sometimes, I fell in love with it at night, whilst sitting on skateboards with a friend I loved fiercely, under those trees with the silver-green leaves, down by the river. We would always leave our house at four a.m., when we knew the city would be sleeping and unpeopled. The city was ours then, in that space between the night out and the new day.

I fell in love with it by day, too. There was a park I’d walk through to get to work, and with awe I watched it change before my eyes over the course of a year. Spring mornings, when the sun was just rising, and the leaves were coming into bud, I’d be completely caught up in the romance of being there. And afternoons of dappled sunlight through Summer trees. I’d collect energy as I passed through the green of them. There was a morning I crossed it after letting a boy I might have loved board a coach for France. It was six a.m. The trees were in blossom, and the crunch of gravel underfoot made everything a song, made everything bright and intense and amazing.

In a secret garden I figured myself out. Halfway up a three hundred year-old conker tree, I felt the safest I’ve ever felt. Standing on an old bridge I watched the past swim into the future, and made decisions, even if I kept them to myself for too long a while.

My camera is broken and I want to go out and photograph all these places, all the doors I lived behind. And all the intricate stonework and statues you only see by looking up, because hardly anyone looks up.

I loved Manchester in a different way. Manchester was all dusty summers that stretched forever. It was eleven of us riding our bikes to Daisy Nook and staying all day, our feet dangled in the water, jeans rolled up to the knee. It was hiding when the night trains went past, afraid of the ghosts they carried. Manchester was a hill so steep that cars couldn’t get up or down it in the Winter. It was sledges on Mountains, and carrying newts in our hands and teaching them acrobatics. It was Kick The Can and Hide And Seek, played out over days instead of hours. Manchester was never just me. I was too young to have a complete sense of self, and so all my memories contain other people, some remembered, others just blank figures who I know were there at the time but I’ve since forgotten their names.

Manchester was my home, but in another time. I’ve experienced Derby becoming my home and it has been a slow process. Like an old friend becoming a lover. These things take time, but when they do, they inevitably become everything you are. You don’t fall in love in a day. Not this kind of love.

And this house? I came to this house as a visitor often, and for years, before it was ever my home. So this house was in my psyche long before I first laid my head on a pillow in my own bed here. I always had an idea in the past of how settled I was in a house, by the time it took for my dream-house to catch up with the one I was in. Some houses never got there. Although even when I think about the bad times, something good will also come crashing through. A message showing through the paint every time the light hit it, or popcorn and absinthe on the first day of the year, and the best kind of recklessness.

This house has been home to more of my friends than I can count on my fingers. But it has always been a home. And sometimes people leave, and sometimes the people that leave come back.

I’m going away. Not just yet. Not all in one go. I’ll be doing it little by little. I want to explore the idea of Home, what it means, and I think you have to go someplace else to figure that out. There’s that T.S. Eliot quote,
“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
I want that. And I want to look into the idea that we carry home within ourselves, see if it’s true.

Here's the album I mentioned. It's nice to listen to at night. And during the day, too. You can download it if you like it, for no monies or for some monies. Enjoy.

*I also borrowed the photo from Biff's flickr. He's good people. He won't mind. He knows about my camera troubles.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Bright Lights, Medium-sized City

There’s a new streetlight right across from my house. It’s super-tall and shines in through my window like it thinks it’s the moon. When I go out at night, it feels like it’s day. It’s weird. After they removed the old one and before they switched this new one on, there was a week when there was no light at all, and I had to fumble with my keys in the dark, trying to find the lock. But this brightness is strange. It washes the stars out. It will take some getting used to.

I have a story up at the very excellent For Every Year, where you can travel all the way back to 1400, year by year, and discover all kinds of wonderful things you’d maybe only chance upon if you spent an entire day clicking through on Wikipedia. And you don’t get stories and poems as part of that experience. I’ve been so excited, counting the years down until finally, today, it got to 1620. A glorious year for underwater innovations. Oh yes.

Things are happening in the background of my life, and some of them I have no control over. I’ve made some huge decisions over the last week, and now I’m waiting to see how things will play out. It’s a strange thing to make life decisions when there’s no one else to consult. I spent so long having my choices affect someone else’s life. The choices I made were smaller, then. And I was wary. But now, it’s all just me, and contained in that immense freedom is the equally massive fear that I will f*ck it all up and only have myself to blame. Oh well. I'm sure I'll come out the other side with stories to tell, if nothing else. Hehehe. Watch this space.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

I Blame Don Draper

What I do when I have a reasonable amount of time off work (anything more than three days will do) is turn myself nocturnal. I get way more done at night. It’s just easier for me to write and do creative things between the hours of 9pm and 6am. I usually take some time out to devour at least one TV box set, too. This takes place over the course of just one day. This holiday, I went with Mad Men (S3). And now I'm sitting here with a pack of chocolate cigarettes on my desk. I'm not convinced the two aren't linked. Who goes into a shop and comes away with a pack of chocolate cigarettes?

As a kid, my favourite part was always the paper. Or maybe it was the mix of chocolate and paper. It dawns on me now that the paper is not rice paper. The paper is, in fact, just paper paper. And I don’t know why I didn’t figure this out before. I’ve eaten rice paper. And I’ve eaten paper. I know the difference. So I think I spent my childhood eating and loving the paper from chocolate cigarettes. I feel like I want to pat my younger self on the head and sigh heavily.

So, 2010 is over and done. It was a good year. It was a crazy year. A LOT happened, and a LOT changed. Right now I've got that slightly-panicked, giddy feeling of living at the end of an era, just waiting for everything to collapse. It feels like it could, too, more so than at the Millennium. (Ooh, could the Mayans have been right all along?) I feel like my childhood obsession with survival manuals will definitely pay off, anyway. Sooner or later, sooner or later.

Here's one of my favourite apocalyptic stories outside of a Coupland book.

Here's the beginning of a very brilliant novel set at the turn of the Millennium.

And here's Coupland doing a bit of excellent zeitgeisty doom-mongering. I love him.

In 2010, I wasn’t quite so prolific with my short stories. I focussed on my novel, which made me a different kind of writer, I think. More “marathon-y”. Despite this, I was lucky enough to see some of my short stories come out in actual books - Best of the Web 2010, Even More Tonto Short Stories, Bugged, Scattered Reds - and it’s been amazing to hold them in my hands and smell them. New books are like crack to me. (I say that like I know what "crack" actually is.) Exciting things are afoot for 2011, too, and I feel like it’s going to be a very different kind of year.

I’m not doing resolutions this year. I’m having themes. Month by month, a one-word theme for each month. See if it shakes things up a bit. See if anything really changes at all. My word for January is “deliberate”.
deliberate adj 1 done on purpose; not accidental 2 slow and careful
to think about something carefully
from Latin deliberare, deliberatum to consider carefully
I think I'll lean more towards the "done on purpose" part than the "slow and careful", depending on what I'm actually doing. I thought it up whilst walking back from the shops with some potatoes. I thought up February’s word then, too. I think February is going to be pretty funny. We’ll see how January goes first, though.

So I spent the first day of this year deliberately regressing. I stayed in my pjs all day and watched Big, then Star Wars, then The Empire Strikes Back. Does anyone ever get to Jedi? Might watch it tomorrow, deliberately. Might carefully consider Ewoks.

I think I adopted a deliberate attitude pretty much straight after midnight. Even before the fact that it was 2011 had sunk in properly. I was deliberate in my actions. I wasn’t particularly slow or careful (except for when walking up and down the stairs), but I did things on purpose. I even had a non-accidental conversation with someone I’d never really talked to before. I’ve stopped being a hermit so much, of late, and it’s been nice getting to know people I’ve been just nodding Hi to for the last however many years. I did, however, fail in deliberately not dancing like a robot. Oh well, it was a cusp time. I'll let that go.

I’m deliberately going to do some things this evening, and I’ll report back if they pay off. The things aren’t going to be press ups, btw. Just in case anyone’s wondering about my upper arm strength, i.e. if you ask me to arm wrestle, you will probably still win.

Happy New Year!