Spotty raptors: not a moment’s peace

It’s fledgling time for the spotty raptors.

Siblings

“Oh hey wow. One of four, eh? Must be tough.”

“Dude, you have no idea. It’s impossible to get any peace. It’s all ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME ME. I can’t even have a bath without one of the others wanting to get in too. Just five minutes, you know? That’s all. That’s all I want. Just five minutes. Or two. I’d settle for two. Or even one. Hell. Yeah. Let’s say one. One damn minute of peace. To chill, have a drink. Get some water up under the feathers. There’s no way I’ll ever be able to eat in peace, I’m not going to torture myself imagining being able. To eat. By myself. Without one of THEM trying to get in on the act. But a bath? You’d think I could manage one godsdamned freaking minute by myself to get the dust out. Just one. One. That’s all. Not twenty, not ten. Just one.”

“Harsh, man. Really harsh.”

Communal bathing

*sigh*

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Spring cleaning

Spring means the return of communal bathing season. The birds didn’t do much bathing over winter, unsurprisingly. Now the sun forays forth occasionally and Floralia is upon us, they are back at it. It’s also baby-making time, so our garden is a flurry of frantic feathered fauna doing their best to put ALL THE FOOD into their beaky faces to take back to the nest.

BRO, STOP, UR DOIN ME AN AGGRO

While chatting with a colleague at work over a break, looking out the window at some seagulls, I voiced aloud my imaginings of what the birds might be thinking. She expressed surprise that anyone would do this — I have no idea whether this habit results from a childhood of indoctrination by Johnny Morris, or simply my constantly hyper-active imagination. I can only assume there’s something instinctive about it, though; since being exposed to the concept, my colleague tells me the habit has caught on.

At the meeting of Lemon Tree Writers a fortnight ago, we received an interesting workshop from the writer Sophie Cooke. A workshop presenter rarely covers short fiction, long fiction and poetry all in the space of one workshop, and this one was very well received by our eclectic mix of Scottish writers. While largely pitched for novice writers, I enjoy any prompt to produce some potentially useful word chunks, and found this no exception. Despite poetry requiring much more effort from me than prose, I managed to throw something together that didn’t sound terrible when I read it out, reminding me again of that well-known quote from cyclist Greg Lemond:

It never gets easier, you just get faster
Image courtesy of Quotesgram.com

If it had been suggested to me even five years ago I could produce an eighteen line poem in the space of ten minutes, which — critically — I would not be too embarrassed to read out to a dozen people I barely knew, I would have found it hard to believe. Exercises like this are good reminders of why all the writing and reading is important. Even writing one has no intention of ever seeing the light of day presents an opportunity to embed a reluctance for copulas, a mental red flag for flabby words such as “that” and “very”, and the habit of specificity.

I think, these days, even my imaginary conversations between starlings need less copy-editing than they used to.

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The Spotty Raptors – Mad Max causes a difference of opinion

SPOILER WARNING!

Look, it doesn't mean there's something wrong with me if I don't like the same things as you.

“So, um, Mad Max, what did you think?”
“Mumble-mmmf?”
“Mad Max. The new one. Tom Hardy and Charlize Theron.”
“Mmmm mmmf mmmf mumble mmf.”
“Yeah, I know you went to see it last Thursday. That’s why I was asking.”
“Mmmf gnnnngh mmhgnn mmf.”
“It’s just, you know. I didn’t like it.”
“Mmble?”
“Everyone says it’s fantastic, euphoric, the best thing ever, and Furiosa might as well have been driving around a War Rig loaded with salty man tears, but it was stupid.”
“Mmmf mmmble gnngh mmfngle!”
“Really! They only take the thin, pretty girls, no water or food, only, you know, mother’s milk — and all that milk came from the large ladies they left behind, who were good enough to provide milk, which means good enough to provide babies, but not come with or something — drive hundreds of miles into the desert and then turn round and drive back again. Then Max disappears into the desert. Seeing as how Joe’s army made it through the collapsed arch in about twenty minutes the first time, it’s going to be about a day at most before the War Boys come to retake the Citadel, and they’ve got all the weapons and the fighting experience. All Furiosa has now are the children and the starving rabble. Even the Vuvalini all bought it on the return trip, and they were the ones most likely to put up a reasonable defence. They needed some of Thrush’s lasers or something.”
“Mmmfle mumble bumble mmmf.”
“Why can’t women have decent storylines too? Are we supposed to be happy just because we get to drive a lorry for a change?”
“Mmmble mumf.”
“I knew you were going to say that. I never should have brought it up. It’s pointless trying to have a conversation with you.”

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Sale! It’s a happy place

The last couple of months have been HECTIC. Work has been super-busy, I’ve been struggling to find time for editing and writing, and we’re moving house. I’ve had almost no time for physical exercise, which always makes me cranky, and at times the effort of trying to deal with it all while remaining suitably optimistic when in company has been almost beyond this introvert.

I have a friend whose favourite method of reassurance when things are weighing me down is to say, “A lot can change in a couple of years.” He’s right of course. As if I needed proof, I received some amazing news last week.

My short story She Gave Her Heart, He Took Her Marrow was bought by Jason Sizemore for Apex Magazine. This piece means a lot to me, and it would be an understatement to say I’m chuffed to bits. Selling a story to Apex is like nine Christmases and birthdays all rolled into one.

I’d be remiss not to mention the various people whose stellar feedback helped along the way, including Cat Rambo and the other students on last year’s Advanced Workshop, my fellow Orbiter 6 members and, of course, that ragtag bunch of talented reprobates who form the Altered Symmetry crit group.

The pillbox

Yesterday, Frood and I went to the beach to say goodbye to the pillbox. I’ve been taking pictures of the pillbox every now and then since we moved here, recording the changing shape of the dune around and behind it. We’re moving south of the city at the end of the week, so it’s unlikely I will be a regular visitor from now on. I wanted to take one last look, and it was such a beautiful day.

Here’s my happy place. Standing on the beach, toes in the sand, dreaming of other worlds and the words I need to tell them.

happyplace

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NOT AT WORLDCON STOP NEED COFFEE STOP AM WRITING AGAIN DON’T WANT TO STOP

This weekend I should be in London, with thousands of other writers and fans of genre fiction. I’m not. I’m still at home in Scotland, where Summer is packing up the last of his bags and preparing to head south, while Autumn stands on the threshold tapping her foot in her impatience to get onto his wonderful carpets and cover them in kipple.

Back at the beginning of April, my Dad was killed in a motor racing accident in Hockenheim, Germany. I was — am — devastated. The effect has been emotionally overwhelming. For the first time in my whole life, my hypergraphia stopped. It just stopped, as if a switch had flipped into the ‘off’ position. Other than for the day job, I was unable to find it in myself to string words together and put them down on paper. That part of me was numb, unfeeling.

When I forced myself to write, to post on social media, pen a swift report of our inaugural bike ride from Kirkcaldy to Aberdeen, or review a wine for Naked Wines, it didn’t felt like me doing it. The part of me invested in writing had gone on some kind of retreat. I could still put words together, order them grammatically, construct some kind of narrative, assay them for clarity and conciseness, but the results were neither here nor there in the grand scheme of things.

I lost that spark, without which one is not a writer.

For a while I worried this meant I had never been a writer. After all, if it were that important to me, surely I would have carried on despite the grief. Instead I threw myself into triathlon, poring over heart rate charts and race timings. I cleaned my house, decluttered, grew vegetables and flowers, polished my bicycles. Went walking, running, swimming in the sea, paddling.

I’ve hurled myself at anything that constrained me to the Here-Now-Present, because shivering on the other side of a translucent wall of stoicism is an endless ocean of sadness. It leaks tears sometimes, when something happens to bring that loss into my Here-Now-Present.

Writing fiction isn’t Here-Now-Present. It can’t be. It’s anything but Here-Now-Present, and I’ve come to realise it’s the one thing desperately important to me that can’t be condensed into a single mote of ongoing experience.

Writing fiction requires an emotional investment. If you don’t feel your writing, nobody else is going to. My emotions are bruised and swollen and sore; concentrating on physical tasks and pretending I’m fine has been the psychological equivalent of the Rest Ice Compression Elevation approach to dealing with injury.

In the last couple of weeks I have written my first complete story since it happened. It’s not my best piece of work, but it has a beginning, middle and end; conflict and resolution; a character with agency and a certain bleak humour. It’s not the worst thing I have ever written (a label I shall reserve for the Ghostbusters and Blake’s 7 fanfic I wrote when I was at school, before fanfic was a thing). I’ve also picked up a WIP and added some good words — they may not survive the edits, but they are good words. I have submitted a piece to market.

I’m no longer worried that spark is gone forever, which is a small island of relief on that shivering sea.

The lesson here is not that time heals all things — it doesn’t, but it will dull the pain if it can — but that the writer is the most important part of the writing process. You have to look after yourself, and if that means giving up an opportunity because you are not fit, so be it. No athlete would start a race with a broken leg (although he might try to carry on for a while if the injury occurred during it). As much as I really wanted to go to LonCon, I made the right decision.

I could not have coped with WorldCon this year. I am an introvert who works hard at giving the appearance of not being so when it is professionally necessary. It exhausts me. I need to be physically fit enough to tackle the endurance events Summer so thoughtfully brings each year when he sweeps up the leavings of Spring’s exuberance; equally I need to be emotionally fit enough to cope with the mental endurance event of being in the same place as almost 10,000 strangers for 5 days. I am not, and am very grateful to be sufficiently aware of my limitations that I knew better than to try.

Yet, as my writing recovers, and the hypergraphia twitches its millipede feet and considers uncurling to resume its endless meandering around my pathways and byways, I can see a time when I will be.

For that, I am also very grateful.

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