Ashes to ashes

A couple of weeks ago we watched the Bowie documentary celebrating his life. When it ended I changed the channel and there was The World at War on. It showed the Warsaw ghettoes, where jews were imprisoned and slowly degraded and all the while lied to about what would come next. There was footage of impoverished, starving people, holding out their last coins to Nazis to pay for train fares out of the ghetto. The trains were to Auschwitz.

It has ever been that people have believed lies over the truth, gratefully giving over meagre coins in the hope of buying salvation, be it a ticket to some less hopeless destination: on a train away from the ghettoes; a raft across the mediterranean; tithes to secure a promised afterlife. The truth is hard to bear. The truth is buried in a mass grave somewhere far from your dinner table. Or beneath it. Or right outside your window. It makes no difference.

It was too long ago, and now you can believe whatever you want and find your own chorus of approval in this electric mirrorland of personal illusions. The American president is lauded by Nazi salutes  – the Vice Chair of Momentum echoes the KKK to make vicious and untrue antisemitic claims and people rally to her defence citing a global jewish conspiracy. Breitbart, the Canary….the hymn sheets to their true believers churn out their lies, the lies that harmonise with a chosen view of the world, lies that absolve the sinner of their sins. Forgetting is sweeter. Lies are sweeter. The ashes are bitter, the ashes of the truth are bitter.

Short story, note to self

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws have reminded me of an idea I had for a short story some time ago.

So this is a reminder to me to write it.

The title will be Bieberville, or similar.


Tonight I had one of those conversations.  You, know, where someone wants to know about  what you are writing. And you (I) become evasive and shy.

I am not playing coy when I demure, I genuinely find it excruciating to divulge the thoughts and ideas that I have nurtured and which I hope are imbued with enough worth to justify their being.

Wait a minute, you interject, slamming your Toby Jug on the table. You expect to (unlikely, but hopefully) be published – for the world to have access to these PRECIOUS ideas? And yet you shy away from talking about them?

Pah! You, antagonistic reader, sneer at me. Perhaps rightfully so.

No, not really, that’s part of the problem. I know that I can write, well enough to concoct at least a barely passable story, characters, dramatic arc, exposition, descriptive flourishes etcetera.  I am not sure I can bear the scrutiny, the exposure.

Well, just write things that are less exposing, you wisely suggest.

It’s not possible. Everything comes from the twilight between conscious and subconscious. Nothing I am writing is biographical, but by being brought into existence I own it, and it owns me. I am responsible for it, and must justify it.

So, I told my companion this evening about my early work, (alluded to some posts previously), about the disillusioned Astronaut. She encouraged me to tell her more of the story, which I did. And I found myself defending – justifying? – philosophical positions, ideas, that I considered when I was a teenager, and that I see in a different light.

There was something fragile for me even in telling the story, let alone defending it.  I must be more robust, more pragmatic about these things. More committed to my own creations.

You see, when I first wrote that story, a friend of mine took it from me and sent it to a literary agent.  She wrote back that it contained some lovely writing but did not work as a novel, but that she would be very interested to see the next thing I wrote.

I was 18, and I could only see the rejection, I could not read the constructive (and flattering, encouraging) rest of the letter.  It took me many years to see the truth, or at least to see beyond the negative. To see that it was a rejection, yes, but one not without hope.

I will open myself up to criticism, to encouragement.  Perhaps that will be a constructive fire, a forge, rather than a pyre in which I die.



Bore beetle

Life is boring a lot of the time. Reading emails from nobody, replying to nobody about the nothing; queuing to buy groceries you’ll only ingest and dispose of in a way so disgusting nobody ever talks about it; travelling to and from places of little or no consequence.

People don’t want to read that. You don’t want to live it. Why should anyone want to relive it through your writing?

Is writing a hole through which we can escape, or just a mirror, in our prison cell?

Because if you think it the mirror, in which we can examine ourselves, then if you want to write honestly, of life, as it actually is, do you not have to include the boredom?

Maybe not. Maybe the art of a great writer is finding how to write of the minutiae in a way that is engaging and true.

What do I care, I’m only writing this out of a self imposed compulsion, on a boring journey to somewhere quite interesting.

The quick brown fox

The task I set myself should be evident from the last line of this little story:

All the other foxes of her family were red, but she was brown. This alienated her, but she was fast – they could not deny that – even though she looked so…dull.

There was some prejudice in her skulk (for that is what a group of foxes is called). When a chicken or pigeon or squirrel was shared, it was she who was last to take her turn.

Her brothers and sisters (five) did not shun her as such, but there was a likeness that she could never share. She was odd and that was that.

So she took to minding her own business, exploring the city and its dingy gardens on her own at night and it was doing just this that led her to discover, down a thin maze of alleys, the Butcher’s backyard.

This was a treasure trove, the bins at the back were stuffed full of delicious trimmings. She could smell them clearly.

But above this delicious stink was also the fearful stench of the guard dog, that kept watch in the yard. A black, muscular beast with a mouth overstuffed with teeth.

He was fat with his diet of treats, but savage too. He would tear her to pieces in seconds.

So she did as she always did when her brothers and sisters squabbled over the food. She waited.

And surely, as ever, there came a peace. The dog curled up and slept.

She stood still in the dark and watched his snoring, he lay directly between her and the world of delicious entrails.

A summoning up of courage, her heart banging out a strident rhythm, she ran. Her fur rippling, the quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.

Green pig

In the previous post I alluded to my early writing – it led me to dig out some old files (from a word processor, rather than a computer, even though I refer to a computer in the story itself) that have survived.  This is one such sketch, I must have been 18 or so when I wrote it, it has a youthful arrogance and pomp that I dislike, and it muddles around with post-modenism, which I still thought clever  and daring back then, but I present it faithfully but with my elder self’s editing notes in red, as there are elements of it that are of some merit, if only for curiosity’s sake:

/ ~~~~~~~

While he was vacantly waiting by the kettle his cat padded testily onto his computer keyboard.

Its one tentative paw (is the cat meant to be a monopod?) deleted his entire first chapter.

He came back with his coffee to find the screen blank except for the characters reproduced above.

He did not curse or rend (render) the skies mute with his weeping. He sipped at his coffee and looked at the cat’s creation.

This man is parts of me. You will never know me but through these words.

What of his soul? (?)

He had written a story (The deleted pages were a story) about a man who woke up one morning and went through his usual routine, leaving the house for work and walking briskly to the papershop and then the bus stop.

At the bus stop he is reading his paper when he sees, across the road, a small green pig floating seven feet above the ground. The pig has four helium balloons tied to it.

The man is astounded. He looks hard at the pig, which floats just above the walking people, down the street and out of sight.

He discreetly looks (looks discreetly) at all the other people waiting at the bus stop, they seem not to have noticed the pig or at least,not to have been surprised by it.

He wants to speak of the pig but doesn’t dare to. He fears blank strangers faces:

‘What are you talking about?’,’What pig?’,’Green you say?’,’Balloons!’.

So instead he stares at the crossword and falls into a perplexed, distant contemplation which almost causes him to miss the bus.

At work he is uneasy. He is haunted by the image of the silent green pig floating above the streets. His boss shouts at him because he is motionless in front of his computer, mouth open, staring off into space.

He is unsure of whether he saw it for real or not. He looks weakly at his boss and winces, silently.

‘For God’s sake man…’ his boss is saying.

Over his boss’s shoulder he can see, through the window, the green pig floating happily past. He cannot hear the stern rebukes of his boss.

That night he lies awake in bed. Staring at the ceiling,unable to think of anything but the green pig.

It is possible, he thinks (reasons), for a pig to be painted green – perhaps even to be born green.  It is also possible to tie balloons filled with a gas lighter than air to it and cause it to be airborne. But why?

Though it was possible that it could exist it was unlikely that it did.

Because of this he began to think he was going mad.

The next morning as he approaches his front door to leave he finds himself grasped by an impenetrable (inescapable) fear. His shaking hands fail him.

(After ten minutes, breathing deeply), He opens the door and steps outside. The world is pale in the morning light

And that is as much as I wrote.  I wonder what I would have written next.  I can remember, slightly, the initial idea of writing something absurd that was real, that might cause a man to lose his grip on reality.  I even recall that I had an ending for the story that amused me, an explanation of why there was a green pig, floating about the city on balloons, but I can’t now quite recall what it was and I made no notes that have survived.

But then, maybe it is obvious.

The man on the moon

The first attempt I ever made at writing something ‘properly’ (i.e. with literary pretensions) was when I was 17. It was a ‘post modern fairytale’ titled ‘Come on in, the water’s fine’.  It told the story of the disillusionment of the first man to walk on the moon, who, upon his return to Earth, watches the human race carry on destroying itself.

The astronaut in my (immature, but not entirely terrible) work was a fictional and symbolic character.

Today, the actual first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong, died.  I was genuinely upset to learn this.

I looked up at the half-moon (a gibbous moon, I think) and thought of how tremendous his journey, how rare his privilege, had been.

He was an inspiration to all of mankind.

And I wish him a fond goodnight.

Not gravy, but browning

The right words. They are elusive. (Rare? Aloof?)

You say potato, I say potato – lets call the whole thing off (doesn’t work so well written down, I see).

I’ve been thinking about the sky. How do you describe it? Should you even do so, anymore than to say how its mood affects the characters and action you are creating?

The sky I can see now is a hazy field of white cloud, with some slim murmurings of grey and patches of carefree mild blue. It is affecting me with its neutrality.

But the other evening I saw a sky of crisp baby blue with fat glowing clouds, bright orangey-pink and yellow, like generous towers of peach melba ice cream.

Its effect on me was to make my heart salivate, with a hunger for the neon thrills of the coming night.

The sky. Ten possible descriptions:

Big empty upland.

A mirror sea of fish-birds and submarine-aeroplanes.

A swirling soup of molecules.

The glassy eye of a storm harbouring God.

Sullen shifting space.

Ethereal land of drifting castles and vanishing dragons of light and shade.

Motheaten blanket.

The great candy-floss spinner.

Dark fields of the wind, wildly strewn with daisies of light.

Breathing blue expanse of slow-breaking waves, the spume crested clouds.

Second to one

In yet another of my cruel demands upon my hapless self, I have insisted that I have to write something every day.  So I am writing this. It might not have much meaning or import, but it will exist, and that will have to do. For now.

Hopefully this discipline will lead to me working on my fiction on a regular basis.  

Or perhaps not.

What’s going on here, Fredman, are you slacking off?

No sir, no.  I was just doing it.

Good…I’m watching you. There’s no room here for daydreamers, lollygaggers or moonshiners.

Yes sir, yes. I know. I’m writing. See.