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This Craft Called Writing

After the Plain or Fancy post from Gillian Cross, I got to thinking about adverbs. How and when should we use them? Is right to cull a manuscript of the little blighters? Or do they have a role to play in our prose. I came to an interesting conclusion.

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This Craft Called Writing

Think of your setting as a painting, only instead of using colours on a canvass, you’re using words to describe a picture in someone else’s mind. The good thing about words rather than paint is you can use them to explore all five senses. Touch, taste, smell, sight and sound can all be used when describing a setting.

Every scene happens somewhere. It could be on a pirate ship, under a bed, or walking through a desert. Wherever your story is set you’ll want your readers to close their eyes and imagine they’re there.

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Some very sound advice, particularly for those of you struggling to balance life and NaNo.

Cat Lumb: The Struggle to be a Writer

Squeezing in time to write can sometimes be the biggest barrier to actually getting anything written. Most of us have busy lives and a list of priorities that other people can often depend on. Fortunately, right now I am lucky enough to not be in such a category.

Over the past three years I’ve had to rearrange my responsibilities quite drastically thanks to contracting a virus in 2009 that left me with M.E. (more commonly recognised as ‘Chronic Fatigue Syndrome’). Since then I have had to simplify my life. I was off sick for a number of months (and then off sick repeatedly over a number of weeks), and for a short time I could barely leave my apartment because I couldn’t be sure I’d have the energy to get back – even though I might only be considering a journey to the shop around the corner.

It was in this time…

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A selfish way to go.

I arrived in town this morning after a night shift to find that my morning train had been cancelled. I was forced to wait around for over an hour for another train, only to find that this was cancelled last minute too. Upon approaching the information booth, I discovered that the reason for this was a “fatality” in the area near to my home.

I guess the ‘normal’ reaction would be to feel remorse, or at least sympathy for the victim. But I was pissed off. My first thought was: “How the hell am I going to get home?” I became increasingly more irritated the more I thought about it. How someone can put others at risk, inconvenience so many people, etc… I couldn’t shake that thought out of my head, that if you were going to kill yourself, why would you do it in such a public fashion?

This probably isn’t something people tend to think much of, and you should probably seek help if you do, but I kept thinking: “If it were me…” And I know I’d be thinking of my family, or a few friends, or even that stranger that might be affected by me getting in the way. But maybe that’s just me. Or maybe I’m just not genuinely suicidal.

I’m sure if you really believe that noone cares about you (including those people that are prepared to spend so much time talking to you, trying to support you, being there for you, and will cry over your loss), then it probably doesn’t matter where you go. Maybe you’d just want people to talk about you.

I spoke to a colleague at work, and her reaction was: “Hey, I’d want to take as many people as I could down with me! A ‘let’s piss off as many people as I can before I go’ type of attitude.” I began to see where she might be coming from. if you intended to die, why would you want to consider anyone else’s feelings? What does it matter to you if you hurt, or inconvenience anyone?

But don’t most people who feel suicidal believe that noone cares about them? How can this be true when those people are desperately trying to convince you not to. I’m not saying that some people don’t feel genuinely hopeless, but there are many that seem purely impulsive and reckless. And it’s these people that really get on my nerves. They throw themselves off bridges onto busy roads, onto train tracks, out of buildings… without a backwards glance, or without seemingly even stopping to think how they may affect others. Like who they may kill, injure, emotionally hurt, or mentally scar when they find the body.

So, that’s my rant of the day: Suicide is one of the most selfish ways to go. DISCUSS.


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Book Review: The Burial at Thebes.

The Burial at Thebes, by Seamus Heaney.
This is an adaption of a Sophocles play about Antigone. It’s only a short book, and can be read pretty darn quickly! It is a book on my reading list for my OU English degree but thought I’d get a head start.

The general themes are based around loyalty: including service to the gods, as well as your ruler. There are several issues raised in the play around family, honouring the dead, whether you should put God first or the law of the land… and so on. I’m not a religious person myself, but I can identify with the desperation of wanting to respect the dead. Antigone wants to uphold the doctrine of her teachings about God and the afterlife, and to ensure that her brother gets a proper burial. She goes against the king’s orders to leave the corpse out and not observe the proper rituals and, as a result, is punished.

Antigone was betrothed to the king’s son, but the king was too stubborn and arrogant to listen to any advice offered until it was too late. The sorrows he is forced to endure is of his own making, and he regrets his rash actions. He believes the gods had their revenge on him.

For such a short work, a lot of pertinent issues are covered. It really gets the brain ticking over as to how you, yourself, would act if put in that situation. Would you be brave enough to risk death to honour the deceased? Would you be prepared to stand against a ruler who has the power to decide what will happen to you? If you choose to follow your ruler, are you risking the wrath of your god by not following their laws? Or what of the dead, how will they receive you if you disrespect them?

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Book Review: Trafficked.

Trafficked, by Sophie Hayes.
A book that highlights that anyone is at risk of becoming a sex slave. This is a true story of a 24 year old, middle class, English girl called Sophie who does what anyone else may do: trust a friend. Not just any friend, but someone that’s been there for her for about four years!

We live in a society where cultures are mixed, many of us are open-minded to developing friendships with people from all over the world. There really isn’t anything wrong with that. But, what Sophie highlights, is that it doesn’t matter where you are, who you trust, or how smart and independent you think you are, you are still at risk, and you need to stay aware.

Sophie talks in candid terms about her relationships with her family, friends, and boyfriends. She shows how things developed and became what they were. When her friend Kas offered to meet her in Italy for a few days, just to give her some breathing space from dealing with the break down of a relationship when her boyfriend was deported, she jumped at the chance (who wouldn’t?)!

She spent an amazing few days with Kas exploring Italy, and developing her relationship with him. She trusted him. Then the bomb dropped: he showed his true self to be a manipulative, violent, abusive twatbag that forced her into prostitution to pay for his lifestyle. Sophie explores her feelings, her experiences, and her fight for survival during the six months she spent in Italy (and, briefly, in France), until she plucked up the courage to risk pulling her Mum and stepdad into the drama to bring her home.

Strangely, it wasn’t what happened in Italy that really got me; it was feeling the relief, heartbreak, and gratitude when Sophie finally sees her mum and stepdad when they came to take her home from the hospital she’d admitted herself to in Italy that really had me tearing up.  The family set up could have been anyone’s: a broken family that had learned to stay close despite a difficult upbringing. And probably felt stronger for it. And yet, Kas was still able to come between that when he threatened to harm the people she cared about, and ensuring she believed him capable.

The book continues to detail her journey home, trying to adjust to the fact she’d been trafficked, the people she worked with at STOP THE TRAFFIK, as well as learning to build friendships again. All this was jeopardized when Kas returned to the UK, despite there being a warrant for his arrest.

This is an incredibly gut-wrenching account of a real woman coming to terms with something that could have killed her and, had most certainly, shook her to her very foundations. But she has survived. She has fought to keep her life, her family, to continue to work, to rebuild her life, and become independent. She is now working to increase awareness of sex trafficking (charity) and offering her experiences for others to learn by.

What a wonderful, strong, and inspiring woman she is!
Related links:

Sophie Hayes Foundation charity

Sophie Hayes Foundation twitter

Stop The Traffik


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“The Boy Next Door”; unedited original short story. Genre: psych horror?

**Content warning: contains references to abuse, paedophilia, and murder.**

The damp, torn fabric of Ben’s collar whispers as his eyes dart about the room. The kitchen is warm; too warm. He feels as if someone’s set a timer, and watches with expectant wonder as he cooks alive. He shakes his head in an attempt to drive out the thoughts that creep in and try to unsettle him.

“I can handle this,” he declares to the room. “It’s ok, no one will know.”

He continues to stare at the growing pool in front of him, his mind races with possibilities. A warm breeze from the open door disturbs the scattered papers and they drift gently back to the floor like confetti. His eyes latch onto them, wanting to lose himself in tranquil dreams. He tries to imagine the paper as fragile butterflies on a summer’s day. In his mind he sees a multitude of colours: bluebells lining the paths along the country roads, great expanses of blazing rapeseed fields, the sweet scent of freshly mown grass, vibrant summer flowers, and crisp blue skies as the sun beats down warmly upon his olive skin.

He thinks of his Grandma’s quaint garden where he would often spend time in solitude. He couldn’t hear traffic or people there; he would just lie on the dewy grass with the soothing scent of lavender in the air whilst she busied herself baking cakes and cookies for him. He would drift off to sleep to the sound of bees about their business, jumping from one laden planter to the next. If he lay still long enough he’d soon feel the soft wings of butterflies brushing his skin.

The beautiful day dream shatters as the smell hits him – the noxious stink of shit. He wrinkles his nose in an unsuccessful attempt to rid himself of it. He couldn’t help but think there is no dignity in death. He pinches his nose and takes shallow breaths through his mouth as he moves closer, edging around the puddle in the centre of the room.

Ben gingerly reaches for the scattered papers, their waxy surfaces slick with blood. He turns the first over to see a child in dungarees grinning back at him. The room spins. The blood tinted picture feels too surreal, the smile so out of place. He scans the room again and realises each piece of paper represents another boy; handfuls of instants strewn haphazardly around the tiled kitchen floor. His stomach drops as he realises he knows at least half of them – all local boys.

He steps around them taking great care when placing his feet. “Step on a crack and you’ll break your mamma’s back!” The children’s song reverberates around his head.

Edging closer to the lump in the centre of the room he knew what he would find – the pot belly of his neighbour draped in rumpled clothes. Mr Simmerson was always dressed to accommodate his ample girth, though without a question in the most finely made cotton shirts. He was seen to be a very respectable man.

Ben wondered what the neighbourhood would think now if they knew what Mr Simmerson had been doing to some of their children.

His stomach became visible – it appeared as if he’d struggled and his clothing was now in disarray, though his face was also covered by items of clothing. It reminded him of a drama program he’d seen on TV where someone covers the dead in respect. He suspected that this wasn’t the case here – he knew he wouldn’t have wanted to see Mr Simmerson’s face as he died either. The gurgled breaths that issue from the folds were enough to suggest the serious nature of his current condition combined with the slashes around his torso. Ben made no attempt to aid him either.

“Hello?” Ben called softly. He imagined that the man rose from the floor to yell at him, but he didn’t.

Sighing in relief he began to relax, sitting with his back to the wall and legs crossed as if he was back in school. At that moment he wished that he was a child again so he could run to his parents and explain everything. They would make everything ok, as parents surely do. He wishes that he’d done it many years ago. But he had chosen to remain silent and keep their dark secret.

He couldn’t change what was and he had no desire to try to explain this to them now. He continues to sit beside Mr Simmerson, as if offering the man some comfort in his final moments.

What sane person would sit and watch a man bleed out? What sane person would remain in a room that smelled so bad? He was sure no one would. He did though, briefly considering calling an ambulance, or calling the police, but he changes his mind.

‘I’m not that cold hearted!’ he thinks to himself. He just didn’t want them to save him. He remembers all the times growing up that this man had hurt him. He knew he was tainted beyond repair. By the time he’d turned sixteen the man wasn’t interested in him anymore.

“You’re too old to be here, child.” He’d made it sound like he was doing Ben a favour of course – letting him live his life. Mr Simmerson had been very gentle when turning him away. He didn’t yell or push him, but the rejection stung.

The man had ensured that Ben grew attached to him. He’d groomed him from an early age by enticing him with games, sweets and money. He’d slowly built up from a friendship, then to pictures and finally to a ‘relationship’.

He’d been separated from his peers as he’d grown unsure of how to interact with them; labelled an outcast for so long that he couldn’t fit in anywhere anymore. He knew that his childhood wasn’t typical and he wouldn’t be able to discuss the effects of his relationship with Mr Simmerson with anyone else.

Ben had watched as his neighbour befriended the other little boys in the neighbourhood too, and part of him had been jealous.

He knew what the man did wasn’t right. He knew that he should have said something to protect the other little boys. But no one had protected him. He loathed the attention he’d paid them. The hatred and hurt had blocked all sense of reason and he’d turned a blind eye. He’d refused to say anything to anyone despite knowing what the man would do to others.

Ben felt the shame of his actions as he sat on the cold floor. His face burns with the knowledge that he could’ve protected the other children, but the boy within him had prevented him from doing it. The boy within him had been angry that they had taken his place.

He’d convinced himself that somehow he’d ruined the arrangement. After lots of thought, Ben finally began to accept that it wasn’t him that was wrong – it was his neighbour. He’d taken advantage of his innocence and many others like him. He knew that it wasn’t right and he’d wanted to hurt him for all the years he’d stolen from him and the others.

Looking at the body in the middle of the floor he now knew that someone had beaten him to it.

Sitting there and watching the man die, he wondered which boy had done it; which boy had been brave enough to question it? Which boy had been strong enough to put an end to it? He wouldn’t tell anyone that it was someone else. He’d watch the man die, and then he would wait. He’d wait until they found him, and would willingly leave with them. He’d take credit for the murder he’d intended on doing and, in doing so, could finally do what he should have done years before: protect the other children.

It was too late for him but maybe that other little boy could finally be free.

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