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Clash of the Titans

The reality of being a superhero was beyond most people. Steve understood this, for he was an acolyte of isolation, devoted to the pursuit of vigilante perfection. Every night he spent at his secret base, the bedsit above the chip shop on Stapleton Road, pouring over volumes of comic book deeds.

Then he heard about Kick Ass. Steve was not what you would call a people person so he kept his distance from the neon hell that was the multiplex in town. He was tempted to download a pirated copy, but the hero within him chastised such thoughts. No, Steve waited patiently till the postman delivered his limited edition DVD box set with added postcards.

That night he sat on his beanbag and watched the film.

He hated it.

Some young upstart who lucks his way, via a near fatal accident, into being an inept hero fixated on girls? A total cluster farce Steve concluded as he munched into his second kebab of the evening. What use was such a hero when the world was being torn asunder by war, corporate greed, climate change and selfies?

It was time he made a difference.

Steve worked feverishly into the early hours, fuelled by a diet of lemonade and marshmallows. In the morning the god who stared out from the mirror was not Steve, though Steve knew he was in there somewhere. Before him was no mortal, nor a child in scuba gear.

This was Super Steve.

He wandered outside, his cloak of curtains billowing, his duvet harem pants surprisingly chafing. Yet he strode down the middle of the road flips flops flip flopping, his Staff of Power™ forged from a swingball pole and glitter feeling mighty within his grip.

From above a voice serenaded Super Steve’s emergence into the world.

‘OI WANKER!’

Super Steve looked up, a builder hanging from scaffolding, finger gesturing furiously.

Steve waved back, heart swelling with pride, oblivious to the No37 bus currently hurtling towards him.

Some witnesses stated that the tennis ball on the string tripped Steve up, others that his cloak got caught on something.

All agreed that the oddly dressed man lost.

Rather messily.

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Children bustled past Albert, scarlet balloons bobbing excitedly in their wake. Albert however was focused once more on his battered pocket watch. He had only an hour or he could bid farewell to the city of angels.

Albert was having one of those days, weeks in fact, existences if truth were told. Yet this morning things had taken an upturn when the phone of Albert’s Menagerie of Marvelous Creatures rang for the first time in months. Albert listened earnestly to the impatient voice reeling off a list of requirements for the film Aladdin and his Lamp. Typically Albert managed to drop his pen, abandoning the phone as he scrabbled under his desk. By the time he returned the line was dead. Yet Albert cared little, he had a list he could fulfill! Today was the day he got his break in a city filled with broken people.

That afternoon Albert ushered his asthmatic camel, the limping stallion and the incontinent donkey onto the set. Thankful that (a) no one had noticed the limp and (b) that, Albert aside, the rest of the gathered crew were bite and spittle free. Albert coerced his herd onto a nearby sand dune and under the light of a thousand candles waited. Finally the director Mr Capellani, short and clouded in a permanent cigar fug, wandered onto the set. He eyed Albert’s stock with a stern gaze causing the donkey to empty its bowels noisily onto the dune.

‘Where is my centrepiece?’ Capellani screeched in a voice laden with pepperoni.

‘Centrepiece?’ Albert replied.

Mr Capellani, then Mr Capellani’s assistant, his assistant’s assistant and then several producers all explained, with bursting veins and flailing hands that they were lacking the one thing they needed. And if Albert wanted to work in this town again he’d get it.

Today.

Albert scaled the zoo fence, wavering at the top before vaulting into the enclosure, lasso in one hand, a raw steak in the other. All he needed was to be confident, animals respected confidence.

Christ the lion was bigger close up.

The screams of the children drowned out Albert’s as red balloons floated into a clear blue sky.

Photo by Ashwin Rao

Photo by Ashwin Rao

 

 

Adventures in Monochrome

A checkerboard flanks my every step up the worn wooden steps towards the lookout. The flowers of the ornamental garden are a constant lure for those intrepid collectors of light and time. As a man encumbered by foolish rituals I had lost many a day watching a petal unfurl, or the waltz of a pollen flecked bee from temptress to temptress. Gaining satisfaction from the poised finger, that moment one is sniper and artist. The click and serenade of spooling film confirming another kill. Followed by hours spent isolated under crimson light, watching time erode blank paper.

Regretfully since the diagnosis I have become tired of such things, so I’m certain it’s neither jealously nor pity I feel as I watch the photographer adjusting f-stops, tinkering with lenses. An old school acolyte quite rightly disregarding the obsequious phone, packed to the gunnels with deceits that mimics in seconds what real photographers spend days capturing and perfecting.

He notices my presence; a nod of the head enough of an interaction to satisfy us both, before he presses his eye into the sight, fingers slowly adjusting the lens. I tread lightly, peering over the rail to see his subject. Below poses a wonderful ebony orchid, from whose alabaster stamen hang pregnant bounties of ivory pollen.

‘Beautiful isn’t she?’ he whispers, looking up from the sight, ‘such richness, such grace, figured if I get this right I’ll submit to the comp.’

I nod appreciatively, then bid farewell with a raised hand as tiredness already threatens to overwhelm my spirits. I should be thankful, I mean I’m not the only one. Self help groups have sprung up, whilst doctors and specialists try to figure out what has caused this epidemic. They have at least given the condition a name:

Chromophobia.

Some opine its viral, maybe a psychic disorder. Some conspiracies have directed their suspicion at 24-7 rolling news, whose binary perspectives have split everything into black and white.

All I know is that that I exist in blandness. As if the world has been dished up to me unseasoned.

I walk home, past row upon row of monochrome.

Trying to recall yellow butterflies.

photo courtesy TheShakes72

photo courtesy TheShakes72

 

Leo’s boots parted the damp leaves that cloaked the forest floor, the heady aroma of rain and decay filling his senses. A crow, ink feathers flexing, looked down from a branch, its beak opening and closing in tranquility. Leo was tempted to launch a stick at the bird that surveyed his progress with malevolent beady eyes.

The ground slowly ascended under his feet, trees fading away with each upward step till Leo found himself stood in the clearing. He ran his fingers over the rain-beaded surfaces of the statues. She had fashioned them, vague memories stirred of being with her in the workshop, sunlight on her face as she tousled his hair. Under his touch bronze gave way to wood, wood to steel, steel to bluish-green stone, wonderful beings that he had always wanted to believe had just grown out of the ground.

A hand grasped Leo’s shoulder, his father smelling of cigarettes and deodorant, face crimson with the effort of keeping up. Leo watched his father mutter something into the silence, gesturing across the horizon to birds cutting across the sky. His hair, once a fiery red had cooled into a winter that reached down towards a yellowing collar. Leo watched him write something on the pad that eternally hung around his neck on a fine chain.

“ALRIGHT?”

Leo nodded, giving him a thumbs up. His father seemed satisfied, kneeling down, clearing dead leaves from a small bronze seedpod. Leo didn’t need to stay to know that when satisfied his father would leave a single red rose at the statue’s base, as he did each year.

Leo headed the other way towards his favourite whose plaque declared it The Lion’s Roar, his father had told him it was an odd name for an ammonite. Yet he was never present on those days when Leo would sit beside her on the beach, listening to the sea roaring within shells, the sweet scent of salt in her hair, her laughter chasing away the gulls.

A time before his world fell silent.

Leo slipped his head inside the ammonite, holding his breath, focusing everything on the darkness that engulfed him.

Hoping that today the waves would return.

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Really, he must have made a mistake was the general train of thought as I perused the message from flasher-extraordinaire (in the writerly way) Karl A Russell. It seemed that Karl wanted to co-opt me into being part of the My Writing Process Blog Tour. My usual response to such proposals is to feign interest and then flee, for some reason I find the spotlight the least desirable aspect of writing.

I mean most friends, family and acquaintances are oblivious to my alter ego and the fact that I even write.

Yet I appreciated that this was a wonderful opportunity being offered by Karl. Not only to engage with the flash community but a moment to step back and reflect upon my relationship with writing.

So thank you firstly to Karl, who decided that I deserved to stand alongside Beth and Voimaoy, writers who leave me in awe most days. I should also acknowledge that Karl is somewhat of a lurking behemoth in my short writing journey. A towering nemesis whose work has routinely inspired awe and fear in equal measure, not only because his technique is that good, but his mind is that scary. At the same time he is one of the most supportive and generous writers out there. You can find out what I mean by venturing over to his blog, where lurks not only his corpus, but also links back to those writers who have grasped the baton of the tour before (yes I am looking at you Shakes72).

Right intro waffle over now the questions …

What am I working on?

As I write this I’m currently in the post flash weekend comedown, my brain fried by the triple rush of Flash Friday, Luminous Creatures and The Angry Hourglass. Flash! Friday is the reason why I began to write, actually interact with twitter and was the conduit through which I met fantastic writers such as Karl, Shakes, @blukris, @brett-milam, @making_fiction, @theniceone, @fallintofiction and @donnellanjackie and the list goes on and on (so apologies if I missed you x). Flash Friday then led to The Angry Hourglass, comprised of some insanely good writers and then onward to my somewhat sporadic contributions to Luminous Creatures and Finish that Thought.

Aside from the online community, I try to maintain a target of writing at least three tales a month (be it flash or short stories). Currently I’ve just had accepted a Halloween tale of a boy and a stolen talking pumpkin to feature within the anthology In Creeps the Night; finished up a flash fiction based on the Krampus myth; and I’m currently wrestling a tale into shape about a demonic printing press for The Lane of Unusual Traders project being hosted by the Tiny Owl Workshop. I also seemed to have written, purely by accident, a project proposal to host some flash fiction workshops here in my new hometown as part of the QWC 2015 writer sessions.

Finally I would like to mention my flash fiction The Rink, which is currently lurking within the wonderful second issue of Firewords Quarterly and on sale now from their lovely website. Not because I’m in it, but because the talented people at Firewords have created an incredibly beautiful and supportive tome that more people should buy and read.

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The larger projects, as in the one’s that I know I should get on with, yet flash and shorts get in the way. The first is a sci-fi novella featuring time travel, space-arks, mad priests and an immortal organic supercomputer, a second re-write is way overdue. I’m also tinkering with a novel set in 1990s Britain dealing with super powered people, aliens and the end of the world, which is slowly rumbling past seven chapters. And there’s this other thing itching at me to be written set on a desert prison planet, featuring the crew of a solar-powered vehicle known as Behemoth and a visiting VIP dignitary hell-bent on having his own personal army of nasty guys.

That last paragraph feels a tad ridiculous, like the Wizard of Oz I prefer keeping things hidden away, but slowly these projects are taking shape. One day I might indeed release them into the wild. Watching them soar elegantly into the sky before being gunned down by agents and publishers.

Sob!

How does my work differ from others of its Genre?

Ah the genre question, if pushed I would probably say that I lean normally towards a dystopian inspired narrative which riffs on everything I’ve read, watched, played, strummed, eaten or ridden. I’ve always been inspired by writers who can blend the everyday with the surreal/fantastical (e.g. Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Iain Banks, Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Mervyn Peake) and filmmakers who stretch cinematic convention (e.g. Nicolas Roeg, Christopher Nolan, Kubrick, Powell & Pressburger).

From such minds I’ve learnt that genre is there to be both fetishized and subverted, a path of thematic conventions that one can seek solace from and deconstruct. However, at the center of everything is the desire to simply write something I want to read, whether it is generically pure, a mash-up or subversive. Each time I sit down, all I’m striving to achieve is to simply enjoy the experience of writing that piece at that point in time.

So to answer the question, my work doesn’t differ, I lack the requisite talent to reach such heights. Yet I find it amazing that my work does exist, albeit virtually, alongside the millions of other tales that spring into life each day.

Maybe one day Neil Gaiman might stumble across one of my tales.

And that scenario I’m pretty content with.

Why do I write what I write?

Because I have a scratch that cannot be itched.

Because it makes me happy.

Because the elation at nailing that final line is as good as scoring a goal (career total three thus far) or car jacking in front of a police officer in GTA. Much like Karl however my writing style, ideas, passion and themes are rooted in a childhood obsession with film and comics. Many childhood summers were spent lying in in the shade of a tree, sweet cigarettes in my pocket, reading Watchmen, X-Men, Halo Jones, Strontium Dog, Rogue Trooper, Nemesis and Judge Dredd. Or consuming pirated film after film on our battered VCR, from Evil Dead to The Crazies, Condor Man to Performance.

Be it on page or celluloid I always noticed that I was never really interested in the artwork or the film effects, I was always drawn to the characters and the narrative. I gained as much pleasure from imagining the world beyond the frame as I did with what was actually contained within it. Writing just seemed the natural way of exploring that interest. And for a while I scribbled and wrote, working on ideas, supported by some amazing teachers and then …

Well I would then like to say that I spent my formative years writing, filling journal upon journal till in my twenties we burnt a giant paper Wicker Man sacrificing my art to some deity or other. But the truth is life just got in the way, the road is paved with good intentions etc. It wasn’t until recently, when I found myself living on the other side of the world, cut off from family and friends that I found myself returning to the idea of writing. As if I could deal with the stresses and strains of my diasporic reality by escaping it for a brief moment. So sometime in 2013 I found myself sat at the computer, white screen, black coffee, and writing a flash (at the time I was unaware that this was the term) about the end of the world, a cannibalistic husband, and a scratched bench.

Told you writing was a way of dealing with being a migrant!

To my surprise/horror/concern the folk at With Painted Words liked it enough to feature it on their site. Subsequently the passion that had lain dormant for so long was ignited and I began seeking other creative outlets.

Then I stumbled into the realm of creativity that is Flash! Friday.

The rest is history, so in truth I feel ill equipped to be answering any of these questions for I’ve only been writing for just over … [checks calender] … ten months. Barely anything in comparison to most of the other dedicated artists I’ve encountered along the way. But I suppose in answer to this particular question it is simply that I write to exist. I write to express what is happening around/within me, and I write because somehow it makes me feel connected to the rest of you.

Hmm.

How does my writing process work?

A lot depends on the prompt and how my brain decides to engage. Most times it’s a period of gestation, the lingering deadline enough to push something to the fore. I then normally scribble with a pencil various thoughts; drawings and dialogue into an A4 notebook (never pen, tales written in ink die on the page for me) and then the inevitable sitting in front of the white flickering screen and watching the thing slowly take shape. Sometimes, albeit rarely, it will be almost instantaneous, like alchemy, a prompt will just scream at me, the idea setting like concrete in my mind, those tales are the ones that go into the odd, dark places.

The writing process needs three further elements, chilled water, espresso and music. The music selection is the key component, the wrong artist, album, or playlist and the writing stalls, the right one however and the story flows. I’m forever in debt to the likes of Sigur Ros, New Order, Pixies and The The for helping me create some of my more layered works.

Then there follows the inevitable moment of rewriting, the hacking and slashing and rendering of fat. Sometimes I’ve found I’ve shredded and rewritten 1200 words for a 300-word piece. Other days the tale just fits like a glove, barely an alteration required.

Then that dalliance with the submit button, and the inevitable dance of rejection that follows.

The Good Bit

Right I’ve waffled on and thank you for being such a tolerant reader. The next section was the one aspect I was uncertain about. Having to select three writers from the extraordinary talent that I have read, engaged with, stalked over the past months, seemed such a foolish task. In the end I had to just pick three whose work, or role in the flash community, have inspired me to work harder at my writing.

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Now the first is an individual (as my internal gooner reminds me) I should despise, primarily due to his staunch support of all things Liverpool. Yet the enigmatically named Zevonesque’s fiction lingers in the darker recesses, capturing effortlessly cinematic imagery. Part of the Poised Pen writing community (alongside other familiar names) back in Liverpool, his skill and dedication to writing as an art form has been incredibly inspiring to a rookie such as myself.

http://www.zevonesque.com/

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The next is someone whose style, playfulness and lightness of touch are just inspiring. StellakateT is a contributor to both the Angry Hourglass and Flash Friday and has a wide range of publication successes, the most recently featuring in an anthology entitled War, Conflict and Resolution anthology. A outstanding writer and active member of the flash community, her support and feedback has always been greatly appreciated.

http://stellalikesspidersandothermyths.blogspot.com.au/

Now the final person, well this is a wildcard. To be honest when I reached out to this person I felt like one of those supporting actors approaching Brando in The Godfather, expecting to get whacked for having the gall to make contact. Yet I should have known better, for such was their enthusiastic response. So, step forward the Godfather, sorry, Godmother of Flash! Friday, writer of immaculate taste and a dedicated advocate for flash fiction, the Dragon aficionado herself: Rebekah Postupak.

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Her incredibly intricate and rich flash fiction is justification enough to warrant a mention in this post. However it is Rebekah’s time, enthusiasm and dedication to creating a space in which writers of all levels and styles are welcome and supported that made this decision a no-brainer. Genuinely, if it wasn’t for Flash! Friday I wouldn’t be writing this now nor would I have reconnected with that kid who dreamt of what lingered beyond the frame all those years ago.

Now go, engage with those three talented writers, tell them how cool they are, and follow the virtual trail back to the rest. There are some talented folk out there on the edges of publishing, working tirelessly, striving hard, not for fame or wealth, just because they have an itch they need to scratch.

So go say hi.

Trust me we really appreciate it.

Best

Ir

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So the little badge above is a marker of my second Flash Master win at The Angry Hourglass. Some incredible work was submitted from some very talented flash writers, so to get the nod was both a surprise and a boost to the old confidence. The prompt was supplied by the talented artist/photographer/writer/raconteur that is @Theshakes72, who this week also doubled up as the judge.

Anyway, hope you enjoy.

IR

photo courtesy of TheShakes72

photo courtesy of TheShakes72

The Tinkerer

‘Police been on the phone love … you want to go?’

Cedric shook his head, his gaze never lifting up from his workbench. His wife lingered in the shed’s doorway as if there was more to say. Finally his silence had the desired effect and she left, leaving behind the usual scent of Chanel and Marlboro. Moments later and Cedric heard the Astra’s engine splutter into life, the sound of tires reversing out onto the road.

Cedric put down the screwdriver. In front of him were strewn the innards of the kitchen radio. He didn’t recall taking it apart, or even if it needed to be fixed. If Danny were here now he’d be mocking his efforts, telling him to buy a new one off of ebay, that no one repaired anything these days.

Wiping his hands on a rag Cedric ventured back into the house. Soon the kettle was boiling, a tea bag dangling in his mug. As he poured the water the phone rang. Cedric reached out, his hand hovering, as if the handset was a coiled serpent waiting to strike. Finally the answering machine kicked in, Danny’s voice cheerfully demanding information after the beep. He should change that, it wasn’t right, tomorrow, tomorrow he’d record a new message.

The beep, Cedric stood waiting for someone to talk, yet there was only the sound of breathing, then the phone was put down.

Cedric picked up his mug, retreating back to the shed. The bike was hanging on the wall, as it had been since the police had returned it. The back end crushed, the rear wheel missing. He ran a finger over the crudely scratched marks that Danny had etched into the seat post in case the bike got stolen: DH 12501. Cedric had been so cross with him that day, so hurt that Danny had defaced his gift. They had bickered, stood by the shed, Danny’s face flushed red with resentment at receiving another lecture.

Then he had left, cycling down the road, head down, pedals turning, disappearing into the grey light rain.

Cedric retreated back to his bench, trembling fingers rebuilding the radio.

 

Judges’ Comment

Cedric’s sad withdrawal into the shed is the only way he can deal with the tragedy at the heart of this tale. He loses himself ‘tinkering’, all the while the ruined bike hanging in clear sight – a bitter reminder.

The father’s view of the value of things countered by his late son’s adherence to a philosophy from our modern ‘throwaway’ culture.

I’ve had the same conversations with my Dad.

I sensed that Danny loved his bike as much as any of the boys in the other stories so far. To him, the etched letters were protection for a precious gift. To Cedric -it’s a defacing.

I felt Danny’s anger and frustration as he cycles off into that ‘light grey rain’.

Cedric’s ‘trembling fingers‘ tell us all we need to know about how much he feels to blame.

Really moving tale.

 

A short flash inspired by the folks at The Angry Hourglass, based on a photo supplied by the irrepressible creative force that is TheShakes72. I was trying for something different, the concept being a virus that is going to turn humanities perception monochromatic and an MC plagued by the loss of her youth. Sadly the tale didn’t quite work as I had hoped, but as always an interesting prompt and flexing of the creative muscles.

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Chromaphilia

Emma ripped at the ivy, revealing the arcs of colour concealed on the brickwork beneath. She regretted the deforestation, for the plant had kept their art hidden from some tagger’s inelegant scrawl. Yet time was of the essence.

Finally, hands raw with the effort, Emma slumped down onto the grass, letting her eyes roll across the arcs and contours of the graffiti. A realm that was once vibrant had become a plateau of fading and peeling colours.

Trains rumbled to life in the yard behind her. It had been Marcus who had found the site back then. Somewhere commuters could see, yet taggers would find hard to reach. Emma pulled out the creased artist pad from her backpack. Flicking through the yellowing pages, till she found the original design sketched all those years ago. The three of them had sat in the pub that day. Heads clouded in smoke, as they sketched, argued and collaborated. The ghostly echo of Nob’s pint glass still haunting the page.

Now she was sat where they had once lain, admiring their work whilst the dew sprinkled grass dampened their skin. Listening to the sound of the city awakening whilst they passed a celebratory spliff back and forth. Unaware that six months later Marcus would be killed in a car crash.

They had returned here, after the funeral, etching his name into the wall. Nob had held her, made plaintive promises of always being there, even though they both knew he was lying, that they would inevitably drift apart. Last she had heard he now called himself Nicholas. Wore a suit, did coke, traded currency in the city.

Her phone buzzed in her pocket. A twitter update from the NHS, retweeted from the WHO. Just a hashtag, no more was needed.

#MonochromaticWorld

She turned off her phone, lighting up a cigarette, staring at the wall that had meant so much then, still did now. She needed to remember, to keep the colours inside of her, to not forget how they looked.

Then it began. Emma let the tears flow down her face, as the world around her slowly faded into grey.