Badassery

Krel’s pot smashed against the wooden counter, splashing beer. His teeth clenched.

“You don’t wanna to be messing with me!”

The crowd laughed at his drunken proclamation, and the would-be assailant moved closer.

“And why’s that, old man?”

“Lemme tell you about my sister…last week, she was having sex when this guy broke into her room. Smashed his club against her paramour’s skull. His end came before his end came, if you get my meaning? Well, my sister, she grabs the murdering bastard round the throat and says to him ‘I hope you’ve got a hard-on because I’m not finished yet!’ The guy starts smiling and fumbles for his belt. He was still smiling when she plunged her knife into his back and made a nice hole in his heart. Real heartbreaker, my sister.”

“That’s fucking hilarious, old man, but why should it make me afraid of you?”

With a speed that belied his drunkenness, Krel grabbed his tormentor’s neck. “Because – having to live in the shadow of that much badassery means that I’m always a hair’s breadth away from ripping someone’s head off!”

Krel head-butted the man, then shoved him away. The crack as the back of his skull hit the counter silenced the whole tavern. Krel staggered for the door, stumbling, and banging his hip against chairs.

No-one was laughing.

Krel’s unsteady gait got him out of the front door while the stunned tavern customers watched in silence. Once outside, the fresh air caused two thoughts to occur almost simultaneously in his mind.

I need a pee…maybe more…
What did I just do?

He made his way to the jakes, musing on his relationship with Katrin…Big sisters are always trouble, always thinking they have to protect you. Fucking embarrassing, that’s what it is…I can protect myself…

Krel didn’t need sober vision to find the jakes, the smell led him straight there. Tugging at the wonky door, he struggled to close it behind himself. Starlight peeked through the holes in the wooden walls, but so drunk was he, that he didn’t notice that it momentarily disappeared, nor did he hear the furtive noises of the men outside. He did notice the explosion, but it’s doubtful he saw the men running away or the shower of excrement, piss and weathered wood that plastered his body.

The Tale of Whizzit, Part One

Whizzit paused, wishing he had a third hand. Right at that moment, the door crashed open, startling him and making him drop his latest project.

“Dang! Made me drop my cylinder and now it’s dented, you id–”

Whizzit stared up at the largest man he’d ever seen. Fully seven feet tall with a girth to match, he completely filled the doorway. Everyone was tall compared to Whizzit’s three foot two, but this guy was huge.

Whizzit had never let his stature temper his loud mouth, and he wasn’t about to start.

“You moron! That’s cost me a day’s work – I’ll have to beat out that dent!”

The apparition didn’t speak, but instead, placed a small ingot of gold on Whizzit’s workbench.

“That might cover the cost…got any more?”

“No!”

Whizzit thought it was thundering, but the sun still shone and thunder didn’t often say “no”.

“Well, I suppose it will have to do,” said Whizzit, reaching for the ingot before the lunk took it back.

The voice rumbled. “It’s for travel supplies. Buy food, camping equipment and a small cart and a donkey. You’re coming to see the King.”

Whizzit snorted. “No, I’m not! Why would the King want to see me?”

“He’s heard about your…toys.”

“Aww, need something for the new baby, is it? Here, take that one from the shelf and be off!”

“Okay…I’ll be in the tavern.”

Whizzit let out the breath he didn’t know he’d been holding. This is proving to be a strange day, he thought.

The next day proved to be a repeat of the first day — minus the gold ingot, Whizzit noticed.

On the third day, Whizzit got really angry.

“Why don’t you leave me alone? Haven’t you got anything better to do? Do I look like the sort of person who’d fit in at the King’s court?”

“I managed it. I’ll be in the tavern.”

“You’re really annoying, do you know that?”

This time the thunder rumbled “Yes.”

On the fourth day, Whizzit got up early and marched down to the Peck & Feather. Flinging open the door, he yelled into the gloom, “where’s that giant King’s man?”

The man in question stirred himself from the seat he dwarfed and came to the door.

“Come to your senses, have you?”

“No, and look here…what is your name?”

“Promise you won’t laugh?”

“Right now, I couldn’t laugh if you cast a giggling spell and told me a bad joke!”

“It’s… here goes… Sky.”

Whizzit tried hard, he really did. First, his belly quivered and then it spread in waves until it burst forth from his mouth. “Pah hahaha!”

“You promised you wouldn’t laugh!”

“But, but… it’s a girl’s name! Why?”

“Because I’m so tall, I touch it.”

“Touch what?”

“The sky, bonehead!”

“But surely you weren’t that tall when you were born, when yer ma named you?”

“I was told you were a genius. There’s not a lot of evidence so far. Were you always called Whizzit?”

“No, but everyone calls me that because of the sound my gadgets make…oh…sorry…really I am.”

“No hard feelings. I tell you what, let’s have a beer.”

“That’s the first thing you’ve said that I agree with. Thanks, Sky.”

There was definitely a touch of mirth in Whizzit’s eyes, but he managed not to laugh.

Book Review: Zen in the Art of Writing

zenLet me start by saying that I am a huge fan of Ray Bradbury’s writing. Something about his writing speaks to my inner being. It makes my soul dance, my heart ache, and my eyes leak rivulets of tears.

This book is a fascinating tale of his life and times, his troubles and the process he went through in becoming a writer. No – he was always a writer, it’s the process of becoming a paid writer.

This is not a ‘how-to’ book. There are some real gems of advice, for instance – write down nouns and ideas. Keep them for inspiration. Pick one if you’re stuck and write about it.

The part that resonated most strongly with me, however, was the revelation of ‘the child within’. Ray never lost his childhood sense of wonder – and yes, even fear. The tennis shoes have not lost their magic, the carnival is still mysterious, Mars is still a place of adventure, and the world is indeed fearfully and wondrously made.

Never again will I feel guilty to stand and watch a butterfly, to stroke a bee, to pick a flower, jump in puddles and throw leaves around – because, for me, these things still hold their magic. I still go outside on clear nights and marvel at the night sky, I still wish upon a shooting star. If someone as august as Ray Bradbury can feed the child within, then so can I.

Zen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury, Copyright 1994

Book review: Feet In Chains

feetinchainsI picked this up in a hospital ‘honesty bookshop’. Most of the other books there were standard supermarket fare and didn’t appeal. I suppose the fact that it wasn’t ‘a something’ is a bad way to choose, but as myself and my friend had come unprepared for a long stay, it had to do. To be fair, I am interested in Welsh history, and as this is a fictionalised account based around the slate industry in Wales and came with a glowing review from The Guardian on the back blurb, it should have been good. It wasn’t.

Its main advantage was the fact that it showed exactly what not to do when writing – “show, don’t tell”. This book is rife with it. Long descriptions of places, people and clothes. Paragraphs telling us what they did. Nay, pages. I have a hard time, even though I only read it yesterday, remembering much beyond the gross details of the story.

I noticed, when I looked on Amazon, that there is a much more recent translation of this book, billed as Kate Roberts’ greatest novel. I hope it’s been rendered in a much more powerful way. The ‘Look Inside’ feature on Amazon gives me a pages-long, turgid essay on the life of Katie Roberts, so I’m not holding my breath.

Secondhand copies of this book are available from Amazon for a mere penny. I’m not surprised.

Feet In Chains by Katie Roberts. Copyright 1977

WANTED: Old dog seeks new tricks

I’ve always only written either when the muse takes me, or I have a deadline to meet. Today, I had an epiphany or two.

One: you can’t write a scene in a novel as if it were a short story. It doesn’t work and the scene I was trying to write actually happens over a period of months with other things happening in between. Regardless, that’s how I wrote it. In my defence, I’ve written hundreds of short stories. This is my first novel.

Two: I didn’t want to write last night. It had been a challenging day. Some challenges are good, some are bad and some don’t show their worth until later. I had a mixture of all three yesterday and last night I was weary, I had a headache and my dog was depressed because I forgot to buy dog treats. Yes, yes, I can hear the strains of invisible violins and a chorus of “First World problems!” Regardless, I didn’t want to write. But I made a pinky promise, so write I did.

I’ve read and skimmed loads of blog posts, Medium articles and Facebook threads on the importance of “writing every day”. I ignored them. Seat-pants flying is an occupation espoused by my family. We live by the motto ‘I’ll do it when I have to’. Last night/today, I learnt a new trick. Those articleblogthreads are right. There, I’ve said it.

I discovered what many other writers probably discovered. Writing is what counts. It doesn’t matter if it’s a pile of steaming manure. After you write your scat-ridden piece, magic happens. Your writer’s mind takes the odoriferous passage and first, embellishes it, brings it life, hears the sounds and smells the smells. It feels the joy, the sadness, the fear. It sees the actions, the faces, and the surroundings. You get this down quickly, almost as a stream-of-consciousness exercise.

Then you edit the shit out of it.

All Along The Watchtower

CLANK! THUNK! CLANK!

“Give it a rest, will you? I told you, there’s no way out. Hitting the cell bars with that little stone will only annoy the guards. Now pack it in.”

“What makes you so fucking sure?”

“Because I’ve been here a couple of times… or more.”

“What you in for, anyway?”

“Oh, the usual… highway robbery this time. What about you? What’s your name? I’m Mallen.”

“Brandon, and er… I annoyed the king.”

“Haha, if you annoyed the king, you’re in here for a long time, unless you screwed his daughter, in which case your stay will be short and finish at the end of a rope.”

There was a long silence.

“You really did screw the princess? Well hello, dead man.”

“My rap sheet says I insulted the king. I’m the court jester.”

“Rap sheets are always works of fiction — in any case, no-one will publicly shout about the princess’ deflowering.”

“She was no virgin…”

“And if you keep saying that, your end will come before we have a cup of excellent prison coffee — and with perfect timing here comes the guard now. Hey, Roscoe, whose coffee did you spit in today?”

Roscoe stood outside the cell and carefully, and deliberately, spat in Mallen’s coffee. He pushed the tray containing the coffee and a roll of stale bread through the slot at the bottom of the cell bars. Brandon got the spit-free coffee and roll.

“Roscoe! You know why I always get you to spit in my coffee? Makes it taste better.” Mallen chuckled to himself. “Brandon, you should have cracked that joke, you ARE the joker?”

“Piss off, Mallen. Thief.”

POV Exercise – third person

Sara stomped hard on the brakes, causing her Edwardian hat to go sailing from her head and settle on the dashboard. Her daughter yelled.
“Mum, what the fu-”
“Andrea!”
“Sorry, Mum, but you frightened the shit out of me!”
“Andrea!”
She softened her tone. “It’s just that I forgot the rest of the costumes for the dress rehearsal. I need to go back for them.”
Andrea’s face creased and that teenage whine started.
“I’ll be late!”
“I’m sure your friends will wait for you -”
“You don’t understand, you never do. I’ll get out and walk.”
Andrea got out of the car and flounced down the road in the way that only 14-year-olds can master. Sara watched her go with a mixture of apprehension and relief.

She looked in the rear view mirror and saw that the road behind her was clear. A feeling of devilment took hold of her. Putting the car into reverse, she shot backwards at high speed. Still got it, she thought. Sometimes it was handy being an ex-rally driver. After 20 yards, she felt a lurch in her stomach… strange, perhaps age is making me nervous. She finished the drive at a more sedate pace and saw with relief she could park right outside the house – in fact the road was unusually clear of parked cars. Pulling up to the kerb, she dashed round to the back of the house worrying about those costumes. Can’t really have a dress rehearsal with no dresses. My Fair Lady in jeans and t-shirts…
A small chuckle started to escape her throat at the thought of the musical being performed in 21st century clothing but was quickly choked off at the sight of a man in shabby clothes exiting her back door, laden down with assorted household items, including her heirloom silver tea tray. It might be old and battered… hang on, it’s not!

The robber looked as shocked as Sara was. She shoulder-charged him and they both went down in a heap. She grabbed her silver tray, pausing only a moment to wonder again why it wasn’t bent out of shape, then cracked it across the robber’s skull. BLAM! He went down, hitting his head on the path for good measure. Now my tray looks like it should! She looked down at the tray-burglar. Her eyes skimmed his ragged outfit and filthy skin. Good grief, she mused, no wonder he’s out on the rob, poor bastard. The enormity of what she’d done hit her like a Ford Cosworth slamming into a brick wall. Bad memories. The ground rushed up to meet her and then — blackness.

She came round slowly. She could see the man she’d lamped over the head, still lying comatose, but between them was a pair of cute button-up boots skimmed with a skirt hemline. Must be Marie come to find me. Then she realised that unlike her wife’s rather crudely put-together costume, this skirt had no hanging threads. The owner of the boots and skirt must have bent down because her face appeared in Sara’s vision. A face surrounded by feathery tendrils of hair escaping from a chignon bun spoke: “I say, are you alright? You appear to have stopped this scoundrel from absconding with my property. I’ve sent a runner to fetch the police.”

Lady, I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.