Friday, 27 February 2015

Handyman



                The handyman arrived early, while I was still cleaning the area behind the cooker. It was caked with grease and covered with cobwebs. The cooker itself looked like The Mary Rose after they brought it up from the ocean floor.
          He rang me from outside in the car park, and I had to put away my cleaning stuff, then run out to the car park and unlock the bollard, to allow him to park his van. We don’t have a car, but we do have a parking space, and without the bollard, other people park, and even dump their vehicles in it. We want our guests to be able to park whenever they visit us, but as we don’t get many guests (we deter them, actually) and as the guests we do get tend not to be motorists, the bollard tends to stay locked for years at a time.
          It was a good thing that he arrived early, because this was another day, like my nan’s funeral, which had been looming like High Noon; and as with my nan’s funeral, I needn’t have worried. The handyman, when he finally stepped out of his van, turned out to be polite, quick, competent and cheap. He’d sounded gruff on the telephone, but in person he was good natured.
                    He was in the flat 15 minutes tops, and then away again. He sawed three centimetres off the edge of our kitchen worktop, so we now have room for a new cooker. Best of all, we now have a handyman to call on if we ever have any other jobs which need doing. I’m ridiculously proud of having found him (on the Check A Trader website) and of ringing him. That might sound like nothing to you; but if you knew how I procrastinate and worry, you’d understand. I felt the fear and did it anyway.
          It was buying the new cooker which I’d underestimated. I thought we only needed to go to Currys, pick one out and pay. Instead, on a quiet Thursday afternoon, we had to wait around for salespeople to come and serve us. There were staff milling about on the ground floor, but when I went down and asked if somebody could come upstairs and serve us, they said no, you’ll have to wait. The placards above the cookers say that they’ll install your new cooker within three days, but for some reason Currys can’t deliver to us until Sunday week. And the saleswoman got huffy when we told her (about three times) that we didn’t want to join their protection plan.
                   Still, it will be nice to make welsh rarebit once again.
                                                *
                    My writing has stalled to a trickle. Mostly because I’ve been off work and have been sleeping in late. I kept up my morning pages, but as for any work on an actual project, I barely did anything. A sentence here and there on these character biographies.

                   I wish I could see my next story. Have scenes come alive in my head, get ideas for it as I walk along. I just can’t seem to visualize my characters doing anything.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Dread

We’ve been trying to get a handyman. We need a new cooker; and they don’t make the cooker that we’ve got any more. All the new models are wider. But if we can saw off about an inch of our kitchen worktop, we reckon we can fit a new cooker in. It’s only a small job. Not worth hiring a carpenter for. If I was more confident, I might even attempt it myself.
We don’t know any handymen, and we don’t know anyone who can recommend one to us. So for the past few days, we’ve been going through Yellow Pages, Check a Trader, etc. But the whole thing is a displacement activity, because what we’re really scared of is having strangers in the flat. I have a dread of workmen (I’ve never yet had a work woman; I might prefer it if I could).
The worry is that you’re going to get a cowboy; somebody who will botch the job, or overcharge you. Even the idea of ringing somebody up and getting a quote turns me to ice. But it’s a fear; I’ve got to conquer it. Feel the fear and do it anyway. Because there’s a lot, an awful lot, which needs doing around the flat.
*
This week, I’ve been on leave. I’ve hardly written anything, but even so, life feels good. We all need downtime. I’ve done some more to my characters’ biographies. I wish to God I’d done them for a lot of my other projects, if not all of them. They always repay dividends to your fiction. But when it’s come to flash fiction, I’ve literally just written them on the hoof. It’s time for a change.
I’ve been trying to ease myself away from horror fiction and onto other sorts. It’s been partially successful. I’ve started watching episodes of Only Fools And Horses again. My favourite sitcom, and I haven’t watched it for ages. John Sullivan’s wonderful characterization and dialogue, the innate sense of farce that runs through it all; the pairing of David Jason and Nicholas Lyndhurst. Yet to me, putting an Only Fools dvd has been like climbing Everest. Your instinct is always to put a horror film on.
I picked up Bridget Jones: Mad About The Boy from the public library the other day. I loved the first two Bridget Jones books, yet when this one came out, I just sort of shrugged. Anyway, it’s good, so far, one chapter in, as good as the other two. Again, though, I had to make myself borrow it and make myself read it. I haven’t even seen Nick Hornby’s latest yet; in fact, I haven’t read Slam, Nick Hornby’s teenage novel, or any more of his collections of book reviews. It wasn’t that Nick Hornby has got worse, as far as I can tell. Only that as soon as I read M.R. James, I went overboard for horror.
Yesterday, we went into our little public library, and I came away with four books about the supernatural. Obviously this isn’t an addiction like a heroin addiction; on the contrary, in many ways it’s improved my life. I’ve begun to enjoy reading again, and that’s fed into my writing. I’m finishing stories and sending them out; and some of those stories have ended up published on Microhorror and Paragraph Planet. I feel a little disappointed with myself.
What I’m hoping is that, when I start writing my Cinderella story, as I think of it, it will encourage me to read more broadly. Perhaps it might get me to read poetry, dramatic plays, ‘serious’ novels.
But I don’t want to knock it. Life feels good, at the moment.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Ending The Curse


About a week ago, I got a letter telling me that my nan had passed away. You might wonder why a letter and not a phone call. My nan lived in the same house as my mum, and my mum threw me out of the house two years ago, and I haven’t been back there since. And although my nan lived in a separate household, and although I would probably have been welcomed there if I’d gone back, I couldn’t bring myself to go there. And so my uncle, who was looking after her, never realized what had happened, and we lost touch.
Yesterday was my nan’s funeral. I was determined to go. I loved my nan, and I feel bad that I never saw her again after that row with my mother. Nan’s memory was going by then, and she didn’t really know who I was, but even so, she was always pleased to see me. I didn’t know what sort of reception I was going to get from my uncle, or any of the rest of the family; so the day felt like High Noon as it approached.
In the end, though, it went well. Nan was laid to rest, and I had a chance to talk to my uncle, and explain. He didn’t bear me any malice, he was only glad I was there, and he understood now what had happened. Better still, I met relatives I hadn’t seen for years, we reminisced and caught up, and the hours flew by. It’s odd how jolly a funeral can get.
All though the week, my wife was fantastic in keeping up my morale, and she was wonderful with my relatives. I always think of her as my Princess Diana, the woman who makes me look good. She’s wonderful with other people, even complete strangers open up to her.
It looks as though the family home, the house where I grew up, will be sold, soon, and everyone living in it can move away to wherever they like; and I couldn’t be happier. It was not a happy house. To me, it seems like the House of Usher. I hope whoever buys it can put some happiness in it, and end the curse.
I come from a weird family, and when I see people from close families, I feel like I carry some curse with me; the curse which began when two generations of a family bought it and began living together. My nan was happy enough through her life, even right at the end when her mind started going; but there was a lot of sadness in that house, a lot of unnecessary misery. I genuinely hope that now my nan has passed away, the people in that house can find happiness.
*
My writing is going…okay. Cautiously. In fact, when I re-read my last post, it feels awfully melodramatic. All I needed to do, really, was wait for the clouds to lift. Which they have.
I don’t feel quite so bad about writing horror fiction now. It may be a lowly genre, but it can be done well or badly, and I’ve enjoyed writing it. I finished typing up a story to present to my writers’ group, and felt that it hung together pretty well. I think that even that jokey vampire story I mentioned last time won’t be quite as bad as I thought. In my experience, very often when you reread something of your own, it’s usually better than you remembered.
In any case, I’ve begun working on something else. Something which isn’t in a genre. A contemporary, mainstream, straightforward story. I had a story idea kicking around. I won’t tell you exactly what it is, you’re not meant to give away the details of a story you haven’t written yet, but supposing it was this: Cinderella updated. There was a little more to it than that, but not much. I was using an archetypal plot, anyway, like Cinderella, a plot capable of adaptation, one which I knew other people had used before.
Well, I had a reasonable story idea, but I couldn’t seem to bring it to life. In any case, I was sick of beginning projects with a story idea. I felt lately that my stories were becoming plot-driven, and that the characters were mere puppets to move about. Here, I had an opportunity to create a real character, a character who would move the plot, rather than the other way around. I have a conviction that, in the best fiction, characters make mistakes, even when the stories ultimately end happily (in most cases, characters should learn hard lessons as a result of their mistakes, but I can think of at least one story- Waiting For Godot- where they don’t). Here, we had the chance to follow a character trying to achieve a goal, making a mistake and learning a hard lesson. Perhaps even stretching to a novel.
Except I couldn’t bring it to life. I didn’t know who my Cinderella was, who my Prince Charming was (in the film Rocky, which is also a varation on Cinderella, the ‘Prince Charming’ was the fight with Apollo Creed- see what I mean about adaptation?).
Then I read Paul Chown’s post, which I reprinted, about creating character. And I began making notes about my Cinderella. I found it helpful, too, to make notes about my protagonist’s parents, too (my Baron and Baroness Hardupp- no Wicked Stepmother here). The results have been interesting, and I’m glad to say that I have written something every day this week.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Paul Chown: Looking for an idea for a novel?

Another interesting exercise:





Paul Chown: Looking for an idea for a novel?: From How To Write Your First Novel by Sophie King, an exercise to help you find ideas for a novel: Write down five different ‘canvases’ for...

Friday, 6 February 2015

Paul Chown: Real life

I found this interesting.


Paul Chown: Real life: A piece of advice I read recently (I can't remember where) about using real people as the models for your fictional characters: don'...

Despair

                This morning, I heard about the tragic and disgusting death of Muath al-Kasasbeh, the captured Jordanian pilot, put into a cage and burned alive by Isis forces. I can’t bring myself to think about his death- the pain, the terror, the knowledge that he could not run away to try to save himself. Surrounded by hostile faces (according to today’s news, one little boy who watched it was laughing). Like something out of the Dark Ages.
                In return, Jordan hung a number of its political prisoners. That was not a good idea. It was simply a kneejerk reaction. Now, in the twisted minds of Isis followers, those prisoners have become martyrs.
                The more I hear about Isis, the more scared I become. It operates completely without frontiers, and its one objective seems to be to turn the whole world Islamic. To its followers, I suppose, reeling from the carnage created by successive western military incursions, it must seem like Robin Hood and his merrie men. But to me, it reminds me strongly of the rise of the Nazis.
                As a socialist, I find myself despairing. Because Isis attracts its followers precisely because it isn’t political. It is fuelled by hate, and nothing else. Not that the West can offer a solution. We look on, itching to bomb somewhere, but we don’t have targets. Not even killing Isis’s leaders would make a difference- Isis is a state of mind. It won’t go away until it’s followers see something better.
                I hope that Muath al-Kasasbeh is at peace. I hope his loved ones can find some way through their grief, shock, anger. And I wish that the human race would stop trying to wipe out the alien, the foreigner, the outsider.
                                                                                *
I’ve just finished writing a flash fiction horror story. Now I’ve got to type it up and send it to Microhorror. I think it will clock in at their word count, 666 words or fewer. It’s a jokey sort of vampire story which gives away its punchline with the first sentence, and I conceived it feeling tongue in cheek.
                To be honest, finishing it was like pulling teeth, and there was at least a fortnight between starting the project and finishing it. Days at a time passed without my doing any more work. I couldn’t even face looking at it, and even when it was three quarters complete, I felt like abandoning it.
                Part of the problem was getting up in the mornings. My old trouble. I’ve been sleeping in the front room a bit lately, on a folding bed with wooden struts, which seem precarious. So I try as far as I can to lie along the metal frame. Not particularly comfortable. And when I wake up, there’s the grinding feeling that you have to fold the bed up again and tidy the room, before you’ve even had a cup of coffee.
                I even have to make the cat’s breakfast before I can sit down. I love our cat, but I do resent the fact that first thing in the morning, you have to scrub out her food bowls. Not a big job, I know, but at that time of the morning, I want to sit down with a warm drink and my notebook, and try to come around.
                My wife and I have made up our row, or, at least, we’re not bringing the subject up until we start rowing again. But my wife suffers from depression, and it’s been particularly bad lately. She said that my snoring was bad, hence my sleeping in the front room. But I fear that even this isn’t helping her to sleep.
                I try to stay positive, I try to make her feel positive, but it’s wearing me out. I feel guilty, but I’m glad when I leave the house and go to work.
                Another reason I was so slow in finishing that vampire story was because I’ve been going off horror fiction as a genre. At least writing it. I’ve begun re-reading M.R. James, and I’ve also been reading some other classic horror authors such as Sheridan le Fanu or E.F. Benson. By the time I’ve finished a day’s work, I want to sink into a ghost story.
                But I do feel like I need to write something else.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Paul Chown: Cash In Hand, and Hargreaves

Paul Chown: Cash In Hand, and Hargreaves: Rather belatedly, I am pleased to announce that Microhorror have published two more of my flash fiction horror stories: http://www.microho...