Nothing like spending a day making a perfectly good article less informative and harder to read to meet some arbitrary paper-based page limit.
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Nothing like spending a day making a perfectly good article less informative and harder to read to meet some arbitrary paper-based page limit.
Post created with https://rhiaro.co.uk/sloph
*Changes laptop timezone to Hawaii*
ESWC2017 deadline here we cooommmeeee...
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Coauthoring papers with people in vastly different timezones has the advantage that there's someone working on it 24/7. And also that you're not distracted by debating changes in realtime, you can just get on with it and deal with the consequences later..
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Amy liked http://garann.com/dev/2013/how-to-blog-about-code-and-give-zero-fucks/
This is really quite excellent.
Amy added http://www.hemingwayapp.com/ to https://rhiaro.co.uk/bookmarks/
In reply to:
Amy added http://thesiswhisperer.com/2010/11/23/phd-paralysis/ to https://rhiaro.co.uk/bookmarks/
In reply to:
@tfgrahame I could write a whooooole other post on my feelings about the physical and mental processes of writing.
Amy shared http://werd.io/2015/publish-on-your-own-site-reflect-inwardly
I've committed to Nanowrimo for the seventh year. I almost didn't. It's distressing and frustrating and sucks at my self-confidence like nothing else. It makes me feel like a failure in a way that nothing else can.
But it makes me write.
If I don't commit to it, I don't write a lot of fiction. Maybe a burst every six months.
But every November for the last few years, I've written literally thousands of words. I've brought vague, lingering ideas to life; I've fleshed out characters; I've explored worlds.
Every November for the last few years, I've bashed out incoherent paragraphs figuring I'll fit them in properly later. I've exhausted ideas that I now never want to hear of again. I've killed my love for characters, and tired of worlds.
I've doubted my writing abilities, my imagination, my creativity, my storytelling. I've convinced myself that I'm incapable of finishing anything.
The one year I hit 50,000 words? (50,299 to be precise). I was maybe a chapter away from finishing the actual story. The third quarter needed totally replacing and didn't really fit with the main story. Four or five years later, I still haven't written that final chapter, even though I know what the outcomes are to be. I haven't even typed it all up, let alone re- written part three. I didn't fall out of love with the characters or the world, and I think about it a lot, and it breaks my heart.
Every November I've made a few new friends, and reconnected with old ones. Bonding with someone over Nanowrimo is an experience that stands alone. I've had one more conversation-starter than usual. I've discovered some new cafes and new writing software. My productivity has increased as a result of using The Work I'm Supposed To Be Doing as a distraction from writing.
Every year I tell myself I'm doing it to make myself write. The 50,000 is irrelevant. I just need to write some words. More than none. Then I'm a winner. But not hitting 1,667 per day still feels like a gut-wrenching failure. Finding out someone else is further on than me brings me down a notch. Even with my inner-editor firmly silenced (she crawls into the cupboard of her own accord on the 1st of November these days) the inability to just sit down and churn out words right off the bat is crushing.
But it does make me write.
Writing fiction is my first love. What I wanted to be when I grew up was "author". It was a complicated word I knew when I was quite little. Along with "aspidistra", but that's another story.
Imagine if I'd gone on to study it? If I was writing because someone told me to write? If I had to write to move forward in life? I'd probably have burnt out well before now.
I guess it hurts so much because it means so much.
And that's why I have to get over myself and just get on with it. If... when?... if I succeed, where success is writing a story I'm happy with, regardless of length, the boost will be indescribable. I'll get a new lease on life. I'll be sure I can do anything.
I'm going to the Edinburgh NanoBeans launch party tomorrow. It's at 2pm in Forest Cafe. I'm going to add loads of new people (People Who Understand) on various social networks to increase the chances of being asked how it's going. Mostly I'll just have to shrug and say slowly, and feel guilty about that movie I watched or that extra batch of brownies I baked. But maybe... just maybe there will be a time this year when I can say "it's going great! I'm ahead of target."
And just for some encouragement, here's are some pictures from 2008:
Thanks Nano. I need you. Never leave.
T'was the night before Nano.
A world swims in my head.
I'm way scared of planning.
I'm alone in my bed.
Don't know if I'll sleep.
Oh, what have I done?
Maybe I'll dream all fifty thousand tonight.
Don't panic; it'll be fun!
I'm not aiming to 'win' though.
Just aiming to write.
Any words better than no words.
I'm sure my PhD will be alright.
I sometimes get asked what rhiaro means.
Rhianna, or Rhia, was one of several daydream personas I had when I was wee. She persisted longest, so that was the name I chose (when I was around 9 or 10 years old I think) and I decided any budding author worth their salt needed a penname (I always wanted to be a writer of fiction; I still do). I scribbled Rhia Ro at the bottom of all my short stories for years, and when I started to converge on a consistent online identity, that's what I went with (before then, you might've known me as gerbilsbhs, theboynextdoor, TheRingleader, mysticalmoonflower or kirilya).
Buying rhiaro.co.uk at the end of 2008 was a real formative moment for Rhia and myself.
Most people instinctively pronounce it rih-haro ree-haro or ree-aro, and that's okay, but really it's reah-ro.
It's day nine, and I'm on two thousand, eight hundred and seventy words.
A quick calculation might tell you that that means I'm quite behind
This may be my worst year yet. There's still
plenty of time to get back on track though! Right..?!
I've only spent any time writing on about three or four of those nine days so far. But I have been to a conference, organised some SocieTea events, read bits and pieces related to my PhD, cleaned my flat, watched a few episodes of Arrested Development, learnt some new crochet stitches and started crocheting a hat, and baked a lot.
I did meet the Edinburgh NanoBeans and had a great time at the write-in in Pulp Fiction last Wednesday. We may have spent more time collaboratively developing the backstory of Pedro the Guide Bear (a troubled young grizzly attired in an Elvis costume and boater hat who constantly struggles against his estranged father, Yogi, the leader of an organised crime syndicate) than actually writing our novels though.
I have learnt one particularly important thing this year, that's never come up before.
Talking ideas through with other people is really useful!
Last Sunday, Beth helped me explain the absence of a main character's mother and fix a potential looming plot hole with one fell swoop. Telling Kit about the various civilisations and layout of the land in my world allowed him to pick holes and question things, raising, and partially solving, some things that didn't make sense or yet more potential looming plotholes. And Caitlin (a new NanoBeans writing buddy) pointed out that just because a character had been anticipating reading a letter for the last thousand words, didn't necessarily mean the letter had to contain anything interesting... it could be a disappointment to the character... which helped, as I hadn't figured out what the letter said, and all of a sudden the character was opening it.
I sure wish blogging about Nano counted towards the word count.
write right, it's the eve of
Last year, my MSc got violently in the way and I clocked out at about 15,000 words. I'm hoping that this year, my PhD will make friends with my month of literary abandon, and both will come out better for it.
I stumbled into a new world last May, wandered around and met some characters over the summer, and have been mulling over them ever since. I put pen to paper to draw a map today, and discovered that more of the world was there than I thought.
I have three viewpoint characters, and next I'm going to draw some squiggly lines on a piece of paper to figure out where their paths cross, and what might happen to them along the way. Over the years I'm becoming more inclined towards plotting in advance, but a large part of me never really thinks it'll help.
I've been reading A Song of Ice and Fire, and am now gagging to create a world with half as much depth and drama as GRRM has done. Mine will be fantasy, with a hint of sci-fi and a dash of Ancient Egypt (probably no medieval knights).
This year I'm going to work in yWriter in an attempt to keep on top of things as I expand settings and characters.
I'm hoping to attend more than just the launch party for the Edinburgh Nanobeans group this time round. Though they do meet across the wrong side of town, so I might also start my own write-ins (consisting of just me) in Himalaya Cafe on South Clerk St. (it's ever so comfy, and the chai is the best). If you're writing too, and in that neck of the woods, come and join me. I'm tentatively saying I'll be there between 10 and 11am every day (except Sunday, they're closed), starting on the 5th. (This is going to cost me a fortune in chai, isn't it..)
Stay tuned for progress updates. Or lackthereof.
PS. I know I promised notes on papers related to my PhD... One day. One day.
Suddenly I find myself having to write some fiction to a deadline. A deadline that isn't Nanowrimo, that is. This isn't something I've had to do since my English language GCSE. I deliberately avoided pursuing creative writing in any formal or academic manner, for fear the joy would be sucked from something I love; for fear it would become a chore, or an obligation.
But this semester I've imposed this on myself out of determination that my supposedly 'interdisciplinary' masters actually deviate from Web or software development at some point. Not that making writing fiction a part of my final project has in any way reduced the programming. Indeed, I've just added it on top of an already substantial project outcome.
But making an Interactive Fiction engine feels much more valuable if I actually write some fiction for it, doesn't it?
Suddenly, realistically, I have mere weeks to get this done. My subconscious has been working on it since about December of last year, but I haven't had many committal thoughts. So it's time to make (and justify) some decisions.
I already decided that, quite obviously really, the piece needs to revolve heavily around the city of Edinburgh. (Obvious, as the reader will be experiencing it whilst wandering around the city, and I'm studying the affects of physical environment on immersion in a text). As such, I figured doing research about local myths and legends, particularly stories relevant to specific places, is pertinent. Look out for updates on that. Historic and mythical local characters might be useful too.
Ian Rankin has famed the Edinburgh streets with his novels, but I'm no crime writer, nor mystery nor thriller. I write science fiction and fantasy; imagining new worlds comes far more naturally to me than conjuring stories in this one. And my time is too short to venture into an unfamiliar genre. So this leaves me trying to figure out how to set a story on the real world streets of Edinburgh whilst maintaining a fantastical element so that I keep my sanity and confidence in the prose.
One potentially helpful aspect of Interactive Fiction, is that generally the stories are written in the second person. The main character is a perspective taken by the user/reader/player. This means there is a primary role that I don't have to develop too much as a character. Just enough to fit in with the context of whatever plot starts to develop, but with adequate openness to allow the user to project themselves into the character's place. Nonetheless, I'm going to need some attachment to this character in order to engage myself in the writing process. I know from experience that I'm far less motivated to write about/for characters who don't interest me, but when I discover a character I feel really involved with, I miss them and desire to write more.
That's the interesting point, really. I don't feel much as though I'm writing characters or their stories, but discovering them and learning about them through the writing process. I've lost control of characters before; they've behaved unexpectedly or undesirably, sometimes even changing the whole course of a previously loosely planned plot. The same might apply to imaginary places or even objects.
Because I don't have time to find a fresh character, world, setting that I love, I have concluded that I need to hook this story back to something I've written in the past. Something I'm already invested in. This connection is only meaningful to me (until the glorious day the still unfinished, few-year- old novel gets published!) so it needs to be loose. But enough to give me context. The connection I have settled on is Milo's World, the subject of my 2008 Nanowrimo; my only successful attempt at reaching fifty thousand words in thirty days, though I have yet to write the ending to the story. Also part three needs rewriting completely, those were dark days. Not to mention the rest of it. But that's neither here nor there.
The important thing is, I met a couple of characters with whom I had great fun. I hung out with them for massive chunks of their childhoods. I learnt what makes them tick, and I learnt their secrets.
The point-of-view character in Milo's World is Dusty. I first met him as a four year old, and quickly discovered he had access to a secret world, where he regularly snuck off to play with a boy his own age, Milo, who seemed to live full-time in this world. They had all sorts of innocent adventures, and gradually met other occupants. I spent time with Dusty and Milo again aged eight, to find that not much had changed. They had befriended some strange creatures, and were privvy to experiences they could not understand yet. At age twelve, they were growing up. Dusty has gained a few home-world friends, has developed an amazing talent for drawing caricatures, and his parents have long since assumed that he's over the 'imaginary friend' stage. But his grip on their 'reality' is disjointed. There are more kids around in Milo's world, living in a network of tunnels and working and playing together, and with the creatures of the world. One species of creatures in particular have introduced curious technologies and ways of thinking. When Dusty is sixteen years old, he is balancing regular high school drama with other-worldly adventures, but just barely. He and Milo are working with one of the creatures to learn about a contraption that they played with in their youth, and have dubbed The Reality Machine. Using it is hit and miss, and many of the things they find out about it, they learn the hard way. When Milo's world and Dusty's home-world begin to bleed together through misuse of the Machine, things start to take a turn for the confusing. Cue the hilarious, semi- cliffhanger ending, strongly linked with Dusty's drawing skills, I haven't written yet.
So where am I going with this? In my Palimpsest story, Dusty is grown up. Long since grown up. He is old, mad-scientist-proffesor-ly, and living in a world that bears the consequences of his actions as a child. Right away we have the existence of and ability to cross between alternative realities (via an understood and controllable Reality Machine, in case you hadn't cottoned). Splendid. I'm in my comfort zone already. So how about... the playable character is Dusty's lab assistant. Their age, gender, appearance, don't matter. Their temperament matters probably only a little bit. What matters is the fact that they have the ability to zip around in space and time. Whaddya know? Every single exciting era of Edinburgh's history is open to us to explore.
All I need now is a reason Dusty might have sent his assistant across to Edinburgh in our version of reality; something to pursue, something to figure out. Or just a malfunctioning Reality Machine.
I call this a start.
As always, comments and suggestions welcome!
I've never sat up and counted down to the first of November before.
In 2007 I used Nanowrimo as an opportunity to kick myself into writing some more of a novel I started many years ago (reaching 35k new words by the end of the month) and in 2008 I took part in earnest, came up with a totally fresh idea the night before and hit the fifty thousand, two hundred and twenty ninth word of Milo's World before midnight on the 30th. It was, quite simply, the best feeling.
In both 2009 and 2010, my degree objected strongly, and I didn't even try.
This year, I know what being too busy to take part feels like, and I know what missing out feels like. But I also know what taking part feels like, and I know what winning feels like.
This year, I'm writing an old idea in a new way. A short story from around 2007 sparked novel scribblings in 2009, which got left to fester. Looking at these scribblings with eyes two years older, I plan to take the core concept and solidify it into something readable.
That's the theory, at least.
I'm terribly excited about creating some new lives. Then destroying one of those lives, and watching the effects cascade.
I'm mostly nervous because I've never written anything set truly in this universe before. Fifty percent of Milo's World was, and that fifty percent was from the point of view of a child with an enormously vivid imagination, so that doesn't really count.
A good chunk of Currently Untitled will be set inside the main character's head; a head which is subject to the physics and realities of this universe regardless of how much her mind tries rebel against them.
Her name is Harriet, by the way, and her little daughter is Rosy. I'll probably tweet about them as real people, because for the next 30 days, they might as well be. Rosy's dad is called Zeke, and Harriet's inconsequential boyfriend's name is Paul, as far as I know. I'm also aware of the existence of Patrice, a panda with an eye patch, and Arthur, a tiny penguin.
I'll probably post some extracts here. But I can't post daily progress, because of various linearity issues that I may or may not elaborate on in time.
But now, I'm going to stare at the counter on the front page of the Nanowrimo site, and try to figure out that first line...
One of the first lessons Turald learned during his time at Castle Qythe was that spells wear out. They weaken, they lose their power, the more they are used. They were all taught this, he and his classmates, probably in their very first week of study. But few eight year olds take this kind of wisdom to heart. Most are keen to crack on with casting, and nobody thought to question why some of their oldest tutors never demonstrated even the simplest of enchantments.
For as long as he could remember, Turald had loved to explore dark places. He loved to see what was out of sight; to make known the unknown. When he was fifteen, he discovered a whole section of the castle's cellars that had been lost for centuries. To the delight of his wizened mentors, the expanse he found was filled with age-old liquor which had been promptly and enthusiastically excavated. It was from then that his freedom had been unofficially granted to roam and explore the castle grounds as extensively as he saw fit. Recognising his gift for discovery, Turald's studymaster, the ancient but sprightly Professor Chalmak, quietly overlooked Turald's disregard for out-of-hours and restricted-area rules that were strictly imposed upon the other students.
In a broom cupboard, Turald once found a mousehole that lead two hundred metres north and seventy four years into the past. One of the seniors had been able to use this to make peace with a long-dead, estranged father who had been in that classroom, all those years ago.
In the shadowy corner of the library marked 'secret', Turald had found the headmaster's daughter, missing for over forty years.
In a tunnel that he had found through crawling into a large oak chest, Turald uncovered a delicate glass vial containing the last breath of the first philosopher.
When Turald realised that his elders thought him special for his findings, he began to keep a diary of them. Through his diary entries, he noticed patterns in his actions. Or rather, repetitions. The shedding of light was the key. Illumination was all he needed to do to bring something once hidden out into the open. His ability to conjure just the right incandescence became his greatest gift. Thus, he practised with vigour.
Caves, caverns, abandoned ruins: Turald devoured their secrets, consumed their stories. He exhausted the castle grounds, graduated from the Qythe Academy, and ventured forth into the Olde Lande, searching without hesitation for doors to throw open. Eyes aglow with his own special kind of vision, he absorbed the mysteries of a world in shadow.
But spells wear out.
He recalled this first in a forest, under a bristling canopy so thick that the blackened foliage groping at his legs had long since found ways to sustain itself that did not rely on the land's pale sun. He could see the trinkets that had been stowed away by blind magpies in treetrunk nests; the hoards of stolen food secreted into the undergrowth by milky-eyed squirrels. And then, he couldn't.
The flicker in his vision was fleeting, but enough to panic Turald, just for a moment. Enough to make that first ever lesson come rushing back. Still young, still adventurous, Turald shook his concern aside.
Deeper in the forest, he found a well; a man-made hole into the earth, darker even than woods entombing it.
Why had man built such a thing so far into the shade? Turald could not resist.
He descended, uncovering a concealed tunnel with his brilliant sight. Time having vacated entirely, Turald followed the route that stretched before him. No magic nor mystery, nor hidden treasure presented itself, and the rhythm of his steps lulled him into a trance. He walked blind for many hours before he realised he was doing so.
A droplet of water striking the tip of his nose roused him enough for him to realise he saw nothing. Turald stopped. The sudden lack of motion was jarring, dizzying. Turald sat. Water seeped into the hem of his robes, and he sat. Years of advice, words of warning, from teachers, mentors, elders, echoed through his mind.
Spells wear out.
Spells lose their power. Lose their potency. Lose their meaning.
Save the important spells for when you need them the most. Best to leave this world with a spell in your heart, than to leave it because your spells have run out.
Turald's light had run out, so he sat.
Your eyes are drawn again to the marks on the small door, and you squint, taking a tentative step forward. A small cloud of powder rises around your foot, and a floorboard creaks. The creak is low, and to you, sounds welcoming. Like the house is inviting you in.
Encouraged by this, you continue. You have to watch out for the things cluttering the floor, and step carefully around an upturned plastic chair. That obviously wasn't part of the original décor, and despite the heavy coating of dust, you assume it must have been left by the documentary crew. Your foot clacks against something heavy.
Look at floor.
The dust makes everything the same dark grey, but there are distinct shapes that you can see. Several small plastic chairs are visible, laying on their sides or with their legs pointing into the air. A standing lamp with a wide shade has fallen over at the foot of the stairs, to your left. There's a knee- hight rectangular box against a wall to your right, with what looks like a padlock hanging from the front, and beside it lie pieces of a large and once- ornate vase. At your feet is something long and narrow, and a glimmer of metal peeks through the dust. When your foot made contact, it felt pretty solid. You kick it again to roll it over, and dust peels away to reveal a brassy candlestick holder.
Take candlestick holder.
You pick up the object, about half the length of your forearm. The metal is cool, but surprisingly not cold. Feeling like you need a souvenir, you tuck it into your coat pocket, and continue to pick your way across the hall.
In your coat pockets you have the candlestick holder, half a bar of Dairy Milk, and the keys to your flat. In your trouser pocket is your mobile phone, which is turned off so your friends won't disturb you, and some change.
The small door is in front of you, and to your left is the sturdy looking bannister that runs up the side of the staircase. You could touch the bannister and the wall to your right at the same time, if you stretched out your arms. It's harder to see because you're no longer in direct line of the light from the entrance (which you left open), but you lean to inspect the front of the door. Cobweb trails curl around your finger tips as you run your hand down the dark wood. You can feel carvings on the surface, and blow and swipe at the dusty layer until the patterns are no longer so obscured.
You suppress a splutter at the thick and itchy air you're breathing. Some of the shapes carved into the door feel like cogs, but there's something else as well. Something winding, with a shape more organic. You only wish you could see all of the details.
Your wandering hand finds a wooden protrusion at waist height, and you try to turn the handle. It moves stiffly, but the door itself doesn't budge. Carefully, you lean your shoulder against it and push harder, but to no avail.
[What do you do next? Comment!]
âOurs is but a small existence. We are but simple people. On this planet of ours, superheroes were but stories. Until today. We are gathered here to give thanks to the new Hero of Monarar, the almighty Ora. No-one knows from whence he came or where he goes. No-one knows how it comes that he moves so fast, predicts events with such precision. No-one knows why he has no tail, why his skin is dark, why his ears are sideways on his head. But it is to him we owe our utmost gratitude. It is he who freed us â who will continue to free us â from those that seek to imprison and enslave.
âWe must support him as he travels our planet, rescuing villages, saving families.
âHere is to Ora the tailless, Ora the Hero of Monarar!âÂ
The applause was deafening.
âWhy didnât I take the gloves?âÂ Ora mumbled to himself. The rock was grazing his palms as he scrambled up the near-vertical cliff face.
âBecause youâre a moron,âÂ replied his subconscious. âOh, I wonât need gloves. Itâs not like Iâll be going anywhere cold, or, or doing any climbing. Moron.âÂ
âShuddup,âÂ Ora spat. âEither shuddup or get out of my head and help, why dontcha? Huh?âÂ
âHows about you keep climbing, how about that? Oh, watch out.âÂ
The blast of a laser smacked into the rock an armâs reach above his head, and Ora ducked in time to dodge the heap of dislodged stone that tumbled down onto him.
âOh some sixth sense you are. Warn me about a laser blast thatâs already hit the rock. Nice work.âÂ
âI warned you! It didnât hit you, did it?âÂ
âWaste of good coin you were. âRevolutionise your lifeâ my rear end. Just a pity you donât come with a mute function,âÂ Ora continued to grumble as he climbed. His subconscious reluctantly helped guide his limbs, warning him before he put his weight on unsteady outcrops, or grasped at stones that were not well attached to the surface, and occasionally to hesitate in time to avoid the lasers of those that were targeting him.
In the village, children were crying for their mothers. Mothers they could see, but not reach. A wall of men with guns divided the room into three sections; one for the mothers, one for the boys and one for the girls.
The men had once been fathers, husbands, sons, but now were faceless, armoured robots, unrecognizable to the ones they had once loved. They were hardly men at all.
Two days ago, Millsy and her brother had been collecting berries on the outskirts of the village. Her brother had paused for a rest, falling asleep by a bush beneath the warm, afternoon sun, and Millsy had wandered off alone, in search of adventure.
As she skipped further and further from the village boundaries, her motherâs words had begun to echo through her mind.
âStay together when youâre out now. When youâre on the edge of the village, always keep one eye on the horizon. Keep a lookout, and if you see them coming, you run back and warn us all so we can get ourselves hidden, you understand?âÂ
No-one had bothered to explain to Millsy exactly who them was, but she had caught enough glimpses of the news over the past few weeks that she knew that village after village on her tiny planet were disappearing off the map.
Her brother said it was invaders from outer space, and that had scared her until he had pulled her tail and run away, giggling âno such thing! No such thing! Millsy believes in aliens, thereâs no such thing!âÂ
And so despite her motherâs warnings, Millsy wandered away from the village, encouraged by her childish confidence that there were no alien invaders, and so nothing could be coming that was a danger.
When she saw the lights on the horizon, she stopped to watch. Darting, flashing beams. Bright colours, sparkling, glimmering, dashing through the sky and across the ground. Her neck craned farther and farther back as she watched those in the sky. Soon they were above her and surrounding her. There were straight flashes, like lightning; curling spirals of colour; pulsating circles and tiny pinpricks in the sky.
They overtook her, and Millsy spun around at once, chasing them back towards the village, not wanting to miss out on the display.
âYou still havenât justified why I paid so much for you,âÂ
âDuck â incoming, eleven oâclock. Because Iâm the best. There are no other warning systems like a sixth sense.âÂ
âSo far youâve just been an annoyance.âÂ
âOh, and all those laser blasts, you could have dodged without my help?âÂ
âI wouldnât be here at all if it wasnât for you. Iâd still be enjoying myself on the Fourth Moon of Rasta.âÂ
âYouâre blaming me for your insatiable need to try new, mind-altering technologies? Itâs my fault that you got me installed in the first place? And whereâ¦ Not that one, itâs loose. And where did you get me installed, again?âÂ
âWhat was that? A back alley in Rastaâs infamous Flea Market? Iâm certain you only have yourself to blame if Iâm not what you expected.âÂ
Ora growled. âLook, are we nearly at the top yet?âÂ
âNot too far now.âÂ
Then the device attached to his belt began to beep slowly, and Ora smiled. âRight you are.âÂ
The beeps became more high pitched and more frequent as he continued to ascend. The relief was enormous when he could finally see the top of the cliff.
Millsy was whimpering alongside the others. She could see her mother across the room, but her brother was not to be found, and this upset her more.
A small arm snaked around her shoulders. Her best friend, Lella.
âDonât cry Mills. You believe in the Hero of Monarar, donât you? You know he will come to rescue us. Heâll set us free and put the men right again, just like he did in the other villages. It was on the news, my Mummy said. Youâll see.âÂ
âHow many more do I need?âÂ
âYes, really. But what am I, your secretary? You shouldnât rely on me to know these things for you, Iâm an extra sense not more memory.âÂ
âWell you might have to start learning to be memory, itâs a damn sight more useful than whatever else you do, and Iâve already gone over the maximum safe number of extra memory installations I can have.âÂ
Ora heaved himself the last few inches of the climb and rolled over the ground at the top, breathing heavily.
âMove a foot to the left.âÂ
He obeyed at once, rolling out of the way of yet another laser blast.
âHavenât they given up yet,âÂ he grumbled.
âApparently not,âÂ replied his mind. âMaybe you should find some shelter while you work out where the next device is.âÂ
He pulled out his frantically beeping scanner. âWhatever, it canât be far.âÂ
Ora stood up, trusting his sixth sense to warn him of any more incoming lasers, and scanned the landscape. He could see buildings in the distance.
âLooks like theyâve got a fireworks show or something going on over there like at the last place. For a backward developing planet, they sure are celebrating a lot.âÂ
âYou should run,âÂ suggested his subconscious, and Ora complied.
âOf all the planets to crash on, I not only hit a backward one, but a backward one that keep their nuclear cells inside yooge great fireworks machines.âÂ
âDid it occur to you that the cells might be powering the fireworks machines?âÂ
Ora was lying flat on his belly beneath what appeared to be a carpenters workbench. The workshop had apparently been cleared out â equipment heaped carelessly against the walls â to make room for the enormous multi-faceted machine in the centre. It was shooting out streak after streak of light in every direction. The beams rebounded off walls and furniture until they escaped through windows, or through the increasing number of holes in the walls.
The machine was slightly translucent, and Ora could see the power source he needed behind a series of hinged flaps leading to the heart of the thing.
âHere we go again.âÂ
âYou shouldnât steal.âÂ
There was a pause.
âSorry,âÂ said his subconscious. âStill a bit of official programming in me. Iâll work on it.âÂ
Ora rolled his eyes and began to creep forwards. He had ordered a fully stripped down version of the sixth sense; it was all very well programming morals into mindware, but it didnât half screw them up in conflicting situations.
A number of the women leapt to their feet, squealing and crying as the not-men moved to surround the small huddle of boys. The terrified lads were ushered to stand and guided slowly out of the room. The mothers wailed, pushing against the unmoving wall of men as they tried to reach their children. The boys themselves were silent, too terrified even to cry, panicked eyes staring back for one last time at their mothers and sisters before they were lead across a courtyard to the carpenters workshop.
âThere are people coming.âÂ
Ora froze. He had got through two of the compartment doors â there were just two more layers between his hand and the nuclear cell. His fingers brushed the third door, searching for the minuscule lock.
âI can do this. I canât stop now.âÂ
âItâs too late for you to hide now. But they wonât see you from the doorway. Just hurry.âÂ
The first boy was pushed in front of the machine. He stood there, trembling, staring up at the dark, hulking construction. It was spewing sheets of light from every surface. Ora could roughly make the lad out through the semi- transparent innards of the machine. Nothing else seemed to be happening as Ora scrabbled frantically with the third lock, breaking it, reaching further in to move on to the fourth.
The boy flinched as a rebounding streak of light hit him in the chest. Ora did not see the child crumple to the ground, or begin to twitch as plates of armour appeared from nowhere, sliding themselves over the small limbs. The boy became upright as the armour covered him. He was standing by the time a helmet grew over his head. Then he walked stiffly, as if controlled by strings, to join the ranks of the other not-men.
The next terrified child was pushed into position.
Ora had missed the entire transformation, squinting upwards with his tongue sticking out as he worked the fourth and final lock.
The lock broke, the door swung in, and he pushed his arm further into the machine, straining to wrap his fingers around the cell.
The second boy, hands over his mouth as he awaited his fate, caught sight of movement through the machine. He saw the hand in the centre, followed the arm back to a face wrought with concentration.
His eyes widened. âOra, Hero of Monarar,âÂ he breathed. The stories were true. The legendary hero was here, was going to save him, as he had saved so many others. The lad watched in awe as Oraâs hand closed around the heart of the lightning beast, and wrenched it directly from its body. The beast shuddered and died, spitting out a final few shards of light as it did so. The not-men crumpled to the floor, armour plates dissolving into nothing as they retransformed.
The boy cried in relief and turned to the others to tell them what he had seen â who he had seen.
âLeggit!âÂ Shouted Oraâs both conscious and subconscious simultaneously, and the hero bolted out of the workshop, back in the direction of his ship.
I wrote two stories today! Without even the random words. I'm on fire. One was inspired by old people at the bus stop (maybe getting out of the house helped?) and I titled it An Inconvenient Youth. I'm still in debates with myself about this. The second was a ten minute jobby that I started two paragraphs before I finished the first (indeed, on the same document) and I called Whut is Lurve Anyhaw?. It similarly takes place on a bus, but is a primarily a monologue in what I hope is a southern US accent.
Both of these stories are currently on an adventure along with the conspicuously absent Ethel and Jake, which should take no longer than two months or so to complete. Depending on the outcome of the adventure, they may arrive here.
[This one was tough. Two two-hundred-word false starts, at least twenty four hours of unproductivity and a session on 750words to force extraction of every thought that drifted through my mind, however insignificant, later...]
[Disclaimer: All persons and scenarios portrayed her are fictional, and any resemblance to real people and places is entirely coincidental.]
Life circumstances twisted and turned, times changed, redundancies occurred, and one way or another, I found myself living with my mother again. I'd been back in the family home for two whole weeks before I became suspicious. The house routine had changed little in the years I'd been away. My mother worked her way through consistent mountains of laundry and ironing, courtesy of my siblings. She cooked and cleaned and tended the garden. She complained that the house was always a mess and that she never had time to read or play the piano. She claimed to relish rainy days because she could resist the allure of the outside world, and do chores in the house.
She incorporated my laundry into the household cycle and it was easy to let her take over. She ironed clothes of mine that I hadn't ironed in years, insisting it was necessary. She was critical in conversations with neighbours and family friends about having to 'look after' me again now I was home, but wouldn't let me cook for myself and swore she loved having me around the house.
She was at home all the time during the summer. She had a job change to look forward to at the beginning of the next school year. It involved fewer hours and less responsibility. To her, this was a promotion, and she frequently mentioned how much she anticipated creating a new routine around her work, finishing chores in the afternoons and having weekends free for gardening and baking.
Her hobbies truly were the household tasks, and she was always engaged with them. But she was right. The house was always a mess. Not dirty, just untidy. Disorganised, cluttered, in a way that is entirely excusable for a family with toddlers, for example. It had been in this state for my entire life, so it took a while for me to notice. I confined my own mess to my bedroom, and my slothful brother and workaholic sister had organised their lifestyles to create barely a ripple in our mother's day-to-day running of the home. So as a lifelong and proud homemaker with near-enough grown up children... why wasn't every room spotless? I'm not just criticising. She regularly bemoaned this fact. She had time and inclination and no-one to hinder her. In addition, the hours she spent in the garden resulted in fresh vegetables and endless fresh floral arrangements in the kitchen. Yet the garden was in a similar state of disarray to the house. There were weeds; vine plants spreading well beyond their allocated area; paving slabs misaligned; borders overflowing onto footpaths.
I reiterate that I never had a problem with this habitat. The place was homely rather than cold and inhuman as an immaculate room can be, and the garden had character. I was simply baffled by her unexplainable inability to control this entirely normal environment, despite an obvious desire to do so.
That's when I started to wonder if my mother was not all she appeared to be. The more I thought about it, the more I became convinced that she was concealing something.
From my bedroom window one morning, I watched her make her way slowly down the garden path, stopping every now and again to turn the head of a flower, or pull up a weed. She made it to the vegetable patch at the bottom of the garden and spent five minutes hunched over the cabbages; I assumed, picking off the caterpillars.
Then she vanished.
I blinked, and squinted at the spot where she had been kneeling. There was no corner for her to have disappeared round, and no mysterious hole in the earth through which she could have fallen. I figured if I was ever going to find out what was going on, now was the time.
I noticed nothing unusual as I approached the vegetable patch. Crouching down in the same place my mother had been, I peered at the leaves of the first cabbage, mostly shredded to lace by the caterpillars that were creeping over the surface. I remember thinking how big some of the caterpillars seemed to be. Then how big the cabbage was, then all at once the ground beneath me had transformed from soil to some kind of soft, green, fibrous fabric.
I froze as I realised I had materialised in the midst of a hub of bustling activity. People... creatures... flurried around me, mostly carrying things, sometimes dragging things. Seconds passed, and my presence didn't appear to have altered anyone's course so I relaxed a little.
Ahead of me, the green expanse stretched out for perhaps a mile before the ground started to curve upwards, becoming almost vertical before disappearing from view into a tangle of vine-like tendrils. The surface itself was divided into sections by smooth, pale green elevations that looked a bit like really long, curving speed bumps, and it was between - never over - these divisions that the residents of this populous land scurried. And as for those residents... My first assumption had been that they were oversized bugs, but surreptitious closer inspection made apparent various more humanoid features, exaggerated into insect-like shapes. Human hands on the end of an elongated arm with a backward elbow joint; an extra pair of otherwise perfectly ordinary jean-clad legs; shining organic body armour; curling antennae; uncomfortable looking food pipes replacing noses and mouths. I observed all of this as an aside, however, as my primary focus at that moment was locating my mother, who I assumed had to be here somewhere. Seeing nothing in the immediate vicinity, I rotated one-hundred-and-eighty degrees and was confronted by an infinitely more explorable landscape. I appeared to be at the end of an enormous driveway, lined on either side by slim, but unsymmetrical, strips of partially polished tree bark. Each strip was about twelve feet tall (twelve feet, that is, relative to my current scale) and angled a little outwards. At the end of this driveway stood a grand, turreted structure; immense, green, and in places, shimmering. It was a palace for sure, and it was in that direction I headed.
Surrounding the entrance there were no guards, just an increase in the density of busy looking individuals. I crept through easily, taking care not to bump anyone, and entered through an open archway. This entrance hall was at least the size of a football field and had a floor of polished tiles which contained animated patterns of swirling green and white. Matching flights of similarly extravagant stairs to my left and right spiralled upward to meet a balcony above the doorway, and above my head. A small and oddly proportioned crowd was gathered at the other side of the hall, and in the centre of them I could see the back of a familiar head. I darted left and climbed a little, both to hide behind stair railings and to gain a better vantage point from which to watch the scene before me unfold.
My mother was flapping and flustering and apparently issuing instructions to those around her, as every few seconds a creature would stand to attention and scuttle off purposefully, and mum would relax for a moment. I wanted to hear what was being said before I made my presence known. At the top of the stairs it became apparent that the balcony continued inside the walls of the room, and was connected to an opening at the top of another flight of stairs I could see further in, almost above my mother and her entourage. This passageway was unlit, and I encountered no opposition. I stuck my head out of the final, smaller, doorway, and was able to hear everything. But by this time, only five insect-men remained, and she appeared to have finished her list of commands. She had had a list, as well. I saw her tucking it into her apron's front pocket, before sighing, placing her hands on her hips, and surveying the room.
"I wish that mess was cleaned up," she tutted, frowning at a vase in the corner. The vase had been upturned, and shards of porcelain poked out from a heap of soil and scattered petals. Muddy water was starting to pool across the glossy floor.
Nothing's different then, I started to think; she still hates untidiness here, but still can't find the time to cl... But it was clean. My mum was leaving the chamber, entourage in tow, through a small doorway nearby, and the vase was intact again, back in place upon its table. Jaw still hanging, I scrambled down from my hiding place and crossed the now deserted chamber to peer through after her.
Her pace was fast, and she was almost at the far end of a dimly lit corridor by the time I got there. Her posse and she turned a corner and the light disappeared completely; I ran on tip-toes to catch up, and realised that the green glow illuminating the area around her was provided by the bulbous rear end of one of her minions. Keeping my distance, I followed the now silent party through corridors for a few more minutes. They stopped, and I couldn't see why until I heard the turning of a key in a lock, and a heavy sounding door creaked open. They entered swiftly and the door clicked closed; there was no way I could have manoeuvred through it in that time without being seen. I contented myself with peering through the amply sized keyhole.
The room beyond was high-ceilinged and decorated with luxurious red upholstery. Several of the squishiest looking armchairs I have ever seen were arranged around an empty fireplace, and a huge and intricate tapestry adorned one wall.
"I wish someone had arranged my cushions for me," I heard my mother whine. Nobody in the room moved, but a satisfied smile appeared on her face, so I could only presume the cushions had just arranged themselves. She slumped into one of the chairs and groaned "there's a whole stack of old books that need sorting out and getting rid of, that bookshelf is just overflowing with junk."
The bookshelf in question was also out of my sight line, but three bin liners appeared behind my mother's chair, packed full of angular objects that looked suspiciously like books. One was labelled 'Charity Shop', one 'Car Boot Sale' and one 'Recycling'. One of the insect-men who had been on standby reached for them all with three of his six arms, and heaved them over three of his six shoulders.
I leapt back from the door as he approached and spun around, backing against the wall and holding my breath. If he saw me, he gave no indication, and continued down the corridor, back the way they had entered.
I pressed my face to the keyhole once again, in time to hear my mother complain that a fire had not been prepared nor lit, and to see one spring into life in the fireplace. She leaned back into the chair and reached around to a coffee table by her side. Her hand met with a bare glass surface and she moaned. "Oh, no-one fetched the post in!"
A stack of unopened mail materialised on the table, and she flicked through, extracting a magazine sealed in plastic wrap. The wrap was removed, tossed aside, and taken care of by a plea for her floor to be litter-free. I heard her slowly turning the pages of the magazine, and decided I'd seen enough.
That explains everything, then.
[13th August 2011]
The grazes on Kip's palms stung, pressed tightly against the icy cold rock. Water seeped into the belly of his tshirt and front of his tattered pants as he scraped his body along the unforgiving stone. Though the crevasse through which he crawled was getting smaller, he continued to inch onward.
Kip had an inkling that his father's life depended on his progress, and the several tonnes of grey rock closing in on him from every direction did nothing to persuade him to give in. For the tenth time in as many minutes, the boy swallowed his fear and crept forward another arms length.
His breaths became shallower as space in which to expand his lungs decreased; cheek pressed against stone, a single tear merged with the veins of water already tracing the surface.
He tried to move again, an inch, a millimetre. He squeezed his eyes closed and pushed his head until his temples groaned, but the barrier would not yield.
[Words were generated randomly. I swear I didn't expect them to be this topical.]
Little Steve poked at the pile of circuitry in front of him with a screwdriver the length of his forearm. His nose wrinkled with concentration as he carefully extracted a string of spaghetti. His father would not be pleased.
As usual, the aliens had come whilst his parents were sleeping. Last time it had only been the TV remote that they'd abducted. The time before that it was a standing lamp. This time, it was his father's brand new Macintosh computer. Steve did not want to be around for his dad's reaction, but being four-years- and-seven-months old, he struggled to find excuses to be absent from the house. So he would have to face the consequences.
They always blamed him of course; not when things went missing, but when they came back. Because most of the time, things came back having been partially transformed into something tasty. The lamp had been embedded with chocolate chips. The insides of the remote, filled with ice cream. They never believed him when he explained about the aliens and their faulty teleporter. His mother just eyed him with suspicious terror, and his father talked in a stern voice about respecting peoples' things, and the cost of psychological counselling.
Steve reached for tweezers in an attempt to extract flecks of bolognese. The machine had been quite literally turned inside out before being dosed with a hearty Italian meal. It may well be beyond salvation.
He sighed, rolling his eyes at the spot in the night sky in which he knew their mothership resided. If their pattern of taking increasingly sophisticated devices was to continue, something must be done.
Steve crept through the dark house and reached a tiny hand onto the desk in the study. The hand withdrew with his father's billfold clutched firmly inside. He extracted all of the notes, and returned the wallet to its previous position. Tiptoeing through the kitchen, tiles chilling his bare feet, Steve tucked the money between his lips and shrunk to all fours to squeeze through the dog-flap in the back door.
The plantpot where he made his offerings was beside the door; Steve squashed the cash into the mud, making sure it was covered, then popped a marble on top so they'd know.
"Fix your teleporter," he hissed into the darkness.
Steve returned to bed, hoping sincerely that the aliens would deal with their technical problems before it was his turn.
A quick explanation in advance of future posts.
The concept of forced fiction is well known and popular, but I've never heard it called that before. I think it's an appropriate name. Normally I write because I have an idea. When I don't have many ideas, or I'm preoccupied with other things, I go for enormous stretches of time without a word of fiction leaving my pen. Recent events have made me realise that there exists an upward spiral; writing often both improves the quality of prose, and the frequency of ideas generated. But ideas from nowhere are a blessing, and not to be taken for granted.
Thus, forced fiction. A minimum of every two days, if I haven't written anything idea-based, I will generate five random words using this, for example, and not move until I've written a piece of flash (or longer, if the mood takes me) containing them all.
And in a crazy and unforeseen turn of events, I'm going to post them on here. Unless I really like them, then I'm going to keep them to myself.
So now you know.