She could have lost it on purpose, of course. That’s what he liked to remind her. It was a possibility. Well, she would prove him wrong, and never find the damn thing. Someone else would have to find it for her, because she had already checked everywhere, and exhausted all the possibilities she could imagine. The answer was external, it had to be, she huffed. She was clearly the victim of some mean, contained conspiracy, designed to teach her a lesson. That was not unheard of. That was a possibility, she aired. The suggestion seemed to bounce off his arrogance-coated ear and crack dully on the kitchen tiles.
Once upon the Forest of Dean, I was a young woman leaving home. I was packing all my things, and, of course, some of someone else’s. One of the some was a little red dictionary, bound in faux leather, with little dimples covering the cover. Being curious, I opened it up.
I don’t know that I was looking for anything in particular, but here, I found it. As if written solely to satisfy my hunger for mystery, there it was, scrawled in fifty-seven-year old pencil:
‘Merry Xmas ’48, Norman’ – which lead me off in one confusion, as this was my grandfather’s name – ‘Love, Lulu’.
Now, I didn’t know anyone called Lulu, and neither did my mother, whose dictionary it was, when asked. Nonetheless, I needed to know the meanings of words, so I stashed the little red dictionary in my big university bag, and left home.
No sooner had I set foot on the train, that I heard a strange, distant whine, like a dog pining for its owner. Can’t be mum, I thought, that’s just silly. But the thing called out, ever so slightly louder, and I heard… ‘Aardvark…’
I shook my head and settled down into the 1980’s carpet chair, dismissing the hallucination. Trains make all kinds of noises.
I was moving in with a friend from school and college, an old-timer, Melissa. We never spoke much in school, but had gotten to know each other in free lessons at college, meandering the field and annoying our psychology teacher.
We settled into a rickety cardboard student house, No. 8 Warwick Street, and came to be sisters. We ate together, watched three doses a day of Neighbours together, avoided essays and Freshers’ Week together. Sometimes, though, we were alone.
One of these times, Melissa had just gone out and I was alone in the house. I was drying my hair after a shower, gazing out of my bedroom window over the rows of higgledy back gardens and walls, trying to guess which one it was the infamous York rapist was living in, having read of his recent release. Supposedly, it was on our block.
Suddenly the hairdryer started to fizz and smoke, and within seconds, it blew up. Luckily I escaped the damage without a scrape, and grumbled off to buy a new one. I thought nothing of it when, donning my coat and locking the door, a little whiny thing I can only describe as red, whispered, ‘Careful…’
Six months later, I was alone again. Melissa had just gone out, as seems usually to be the case, having discovered a hole in the kitchen wall that allowed more-than-socially-acceptable noise through from what must have been a bathroom next door. Having slept through an unusually cold night, I was achy and tired, and a little jumpy. I put the kettle on. Approximately three-quarters toward the boil, the kettle started to sputter and shake. I stepped back just as the plug spat itself out of the socket, with such force that it knocked the kettle, that had burst into flame at the base, off the counter and into a convenient leak from the freezer. ‘Careful…’ I felt, in my ear.
Another six months later, I had a boyfriend. Wanting to be aloof, with a fresh start in a new city, I was playing it cool. I was an independent woman, throwing my hands up happ-e-y. I was alone again. Half an hour after said boyfriend had left my place, about as much time as it might take for him to make it home, make a cup of tea and get into bed, I heard something. Lying in bed, frozen still, I listened. Three or four different voices, young, male, aggressive, were prowling the back yard, that my window overlooked.
Not daring to pull back the curtains, I listened as the voices, clear as day, seemed to explore the yard and confer with each other. They went quiet for a moment. And then a stone hit my window. And then another. And then another. Independence was far from my mind as I reached for my phone. ‘Please come.’ I said. ‘There’s someone here.’
Obedient boyfriend agreed, and I waited. For roughly twenty minutes more, about the amount of time it might take for said boyfriend to get out of bed, get dressed, bump into a housemate, and then make his way back… the stones and the voices continued. There was a knock at the door. My phone went off. ‘It’s me.’
Sidling down the stairs like a child on a mountain, bum against the ground, I edged towards the front door. A dark figure loomed behind the circus-mirror glass. Boyfriend.
The pair of us crept upstairs and boyfriend took a furtive peek behind the curtain, before pulling it back completely.
‘There’s nothing there, Anna.’
Needless to say, that relationship didn’t last.
The next day was moving out day, and I was cleaning the house. Melissa had just gone out to get some more bleach. Scrubbing away at limescale that was probably older than me, my eyes glazed over the grey sink, whirlpooled the plughole, and stared down into the black.
A short, loud but muffled thump caught my attention. A stupid young bird had flown straight into the window above my head, which I’d even opened to clear the chemicals from the air. The thing could have flown straight in, or anywhere else, but it hit the glass. I looked down to the yard.
There was no bird.
Returning my gaze indoors, I shook my head, and in that instance, I saw…
There, etched into the glass in the bottom-right pane of the bathroom window, was…
The very same handwriting as in the little red dictionary. I reached out and pressed my finger into the name, recording the exact feel of the letters’ curves, the scratchy dips in the glass. ‘Merry Xmas… Love Lulu’
I grew up over the following year, became wise and cynical, forgot, dismissed all but science. I forgot all about Lulu. That is, until my third year of university. I moved back into Warwick Street with my friends who were still studying alongside me. Melissa had graduated already, not having taken a gap year. There were three of us staying together, and the house on Warwick Street was available again.
And Lulu wasn’t there. There, on the same old bathroom window, Lulu wasn’t there. Although, what was there, was a tiny little noise… A tiny little whine, that brushed through my hair with the words, ‘I told you…’
I never took anything that didn’t belong to me again.
A group of men are chasing a little girl down a street. It is night.
They are fast. They are frantic.
She is small.
She turns and blows a cloud of bubbles which
stretch and push into the markings of a cheetah
formidable muscle forming around them
not solidifying but preserving their energy
for the moment they will need so strike.
This is a an undeveloped short story containing strong language and domestic abuse.
MaRa was the problem. Ma was ok, and Ra was better, but MaRa wasn’t very nice. Big H was warm like sleep The Day. Ra put it like that. Ra liked it like that. Red came up when Ma came in. Ma came in and flung. Something changed in the still of Ra’s shoulders. Big H shrunk. Wasn’t warm anymore. Ma was the doing one. Ma did. Ra never did anything. Anything Bad. But Ma said he did. So he did. Ma put down orange crinkly things and she stared and she went and she flung. Ra shivered and put me away.
It doesn’t have to be like this. Like Tuesday. I’m just fucking hot in here. Did you ever think about that? Why don’t you put some more layers on or something? Selfish bastard. I come home to the muggy stuff you’ve created and all I want is some fresh fucking air.
“The house is freezing.”
“They’re my fucking windows, so I’ll open them if I want.”
“Yes that’s mature isn’t it, your windows. I’ll just cut out all the door handles shall I and put them under my half of the bed in shoeboxes labelled Rob.”
“Oh fuck off Rob, they’d be our windows if you lifted a fucking finger and maybe, God forbid, ventured outdoors once a month. I’ve just been round Sainsbury’s three fucking times because I didn’t have anyone to help!”
“Mel if you even believed that was what you wanted you’d have made fucking sure I did it because you know that’s how it works.”
“I’m sorry, what the fuck? Of course it’s what I want, I want you to stop being a lazy fucking arse and get out of my fucking space.”
“My fucking space.”
“Don’t swear around the baby.”
“Whatever, Rob. Whatever.”
Ma is very loud. This makes Ra sad. Ma gets loud and Ra gets quiet.
But I won’t give up on you because you see me. You really see me. You know everything about me from the inside out and you’ve done it, learnt it, elevated it higher than I ever believed in even myself and shown me just how well it all works, how much it’s worth, how much more it has an excuse to be here. It. Me. How much more I have an excuse to be here. And I know you know this because you do it again. Over and over, you’re always here, you keep reminding me in Our Way just how much we love each other, just how much we care. And you’re crying again. Again? Whoever else in the whole big wide fucking world gets to see a grown man cry more than once? This isn’t normal. This is as good as it gets. This is fucking enlightenment. And somehow it makes me feel like more of a woman.
Yeah. Swish your hair. My spirit will seep down my face, like always, like Tuesday, and you’ll feel more of a woman.
I’m not comfortable with this. This is my boundary. Fair enough. So we know. Take each moment as it comes. So I get up and take it with me, into the bedroom. Bed room. Room for beds. I carry it. It lets me. I put it down. It’s all about the yellow today, Mel made sure of that. She absolutely takes the fucking cake sometimes. Yellow has to be the most clinically irritating colour of our time. Our time? All time. But I wasn’t there for all time. So our time. Yellow babygrow. Even the words are made of bile.
It looks at me and away and at me. It’s not tiny, like she’d say. It’s small, yeah, but it’s there. It’s there enough for you to see it. There enough to be. People exaggerate about babies.
I take the softest thing I can find. Soft but smooth, I won’t shove a toy in its face. Hairs in its mouth. That’s just unpleasant. Pillows are cliché but hey, so are we. I push softly. Softly and not for long. It lets me. It loves me, I think.
Ra is strong. Gods sit under the Cloudy Big, and smile, and do nothing, because Ra is doing Grace.
For a moment I think of that; whether it can hear in the same way we can, whether it can see any of what’s happening in front of it or whether it sees in black and white like a dog. But only for a moment. It’s ok. It has its bears and elephants and a nice big window to look out of.
I pull off and it’s ok. Quiet, but it’s ok. Quiet is graceful anyway.
I put it away with its first smile on its face.
Ra thinks quiet is best. Ra makes me quiet sometimes and then Ma is very quiet and then MaRa is loud, he says, when I’m too quiet to hear. I’m not supposed to hear.
He came back in to me after the usual seven minutes. Sat down, sad face, quiet hands. Same old foreplay.
All the stillness and subtlety available on some higher plane in our imagination. The romantic ideal world. It doesn’t deserve this stunted attempt at withholding everything from her but what she chooses to take that I play out in order to be a ‘good’ human being. God forbid we play the innocent and get it right. She’s whet from this look though. Something’s been done right. Chemistry is clumsy, it seems. But it’s good enough for us. We chase and hide and back and forth and come and cry. I pull off, and it’s all ok.
A few years ago I embarked on my first writing collaboration. We talked about sleep paralysis, something I had been suffering from recently, and brainstormed some story ideas based around my own personal experiences, some online accounts, and, of all things, Google Images. Now, if you’re not looking to write a gothic drama or a horror, ‘sleep paralysis’ are not words you should search on Google Images. It’s pretty terrifying, especially for anyone who hasn’t experienced it – on my own part, at least I recognised something in the images of goblin-like creatures sitting on the chest of the sleeper, the feeling of weight and suppression stopping you from moving when you feel like you’re awake when you’re not. It’s sort of validating.
The play we set about writing was a Victorian gothic, centered on a trainee doctor who takes up the job of visiting a young woman who cannot be roused from a deep, continuing sleep. The doctor gradually becomes obsessed with the woman, and writes her a series of letters. Cue us trying to get into the head space of the infatuated Victorian gentleman. The following are a few contributions of mine to that effect.
As the sky knows the sun’s place, so your face comes back to me every day. I see that tricky smirk and attempt to eradicate all effect on my person, though alas this is as futile as drawing a thin curtain before the blazing sun, only for it to smelt and drop at the feet of one so utterly besotted by the captivating beauty of the unattainable.
Like the sea tunes the great whale’s song, so the imperfections in your complexion form a rosy glaze that muffles all that disturbs the quiet of the world.
While moons play idle games with waves, while buttered wings tease dew-tainted petals, my taunted fingers strive to reach you through idle words, to tease your hair through quiet conversations hung with poetry and pretty pictures.
I am not poetic. I can do the occasional wordplay. But nothing permits for apt appreciation of the inches of your curves, the patchy come and go of your attentions, the coquette of a dapple on half your glistening eye. The apt half.
God could not be aware of one of his most flawless creations having slipped through his hands and down to my realm, a pit of whirling fools delivered to the mercy of affectation such as lies in your alabaster stare. The vision of you haunts me through restless nights, and I am strangely never more comforted. It is not completely that you are without imperfections, but there each inconsistency in your constitution is a perfection in itself, designed to renew my hopeful tendencies towards eros and all its pleasant relatives. Give me knowledge, ghost, of how I may be more often in your company, and one day in your favour. I am a dogsbody to your satisfaction.
Recently I was privileged enough to get an early glimpse at this debut novel from author-musician Alexander King. If that wasn’t exciting enough, (it was) he agreed to tell me a bit more about it, to share with you all on here (below).
I had a great time with this book. It’s a fast-paced, gripping social-media-social-commentary thriller. I liked it as a detective story, and a road movie, and as everything else it was, because it’s so much more. King paints affectingly the exhilaration of unexpected moments of human connection, and other poignant reminders of the sad state of modern-day interaction.
It’s full of cheeky, fun, clever uses of language and tasty characters. I can see it working really well on the big screen should we be lucky enough to see an adaptation. The world-building was immediate, natural and effective. It had terrifying parallels with our own reality. The ending was very satisfying, which is a big thing to say of any story, though I was hungry for an extension of time in this world when I finished reading.
Fun, thought-provoking, insightful and poignant. And fun. Looking forward to a second read, and to sharing it with my friends and family.
Anyway, enough of what I think, let’s hear from the man himself.
1.1 What’s the book about?
It Looks Like You’re Writing a Letter is a sci-fi/detective story set in the near future, in a world where one social network knows everything about everyone. It follows Henry Thorner, a consultant who specialises in missing persons cases, trying to track down a young hacker called Tanner Griffen. The ubiquity of Ora, the world’s largest social network, makes his job harder as he’s “off-grid” and he’s trying to find someone who is an expert in manipulating the online world. There are twists and turns, murders and double-crosses and an explosive denouement.
1.2 What does the story mean to you?
On the one hand, it’s a way for me to pay homage to all my favourite literary and cinematic tropes, but on the other I’m exploring a subject very close to me, which is our digital life and how it’s changing, and whether these changes are a good thing or a bad thing. I had a friend who died young, and his social profiles lived on without him and it got me thinking about how much of our ‘soul’ is contained in databases owned by huge corporations.
1.3 Describe the route to this debut novel being published…
I took part in NaNoWriMo last year (2013) and wrote the first draft of 50,000 words in the month of November. I wrote 1600 words every day without fail which was tough but a huge achievement personally. The book went through a long editing process, I think I did nine or ten drafts, with the help of an editor friend of mine. Once I considered it complete I had a cursory attempt at sending it to a few literary agents and had a few rejections before deciding to self-publish digitally. I figured I could bang my head against the wall of the literary establishment for a year while my story withered on the vine, or publish and be damned and have real humans actually read it. It was a no-brainer.
1.4 How do you feel about the cover graphics?
I love the book cover. Andy Curry has done a great job both on the concept and the execution. I like it because like the book title, it doesn’t really make sense until you’ve read the book.
1.5 Any chance of an adaptation?
I hope so! I’d love the story to be made into a film. When I wrote it, I basically played a film in my head and wrote down what I “saw”, so I think it would suit that media. There’s enough action in it and colourful characters to make it something I think people would watch. I’m also realistic enough to accept changes to the characters or stories if the book was turned into a screenplay by someone else.
1.6 What’s your Thing? Do you lean toward a certain style/theme/time?
I love stories with an interesting concept or premise. Something that makes a reader think and maybe see life in a different way. Quite lofty ideas but why spent months of your life on something if you don’t want to change a little corner of the world, or people’s perceptions? This book is an action/adventure novel and exploration of the human race as data in equal measure.
1.7 Why do you write?
It’s just another creative outlet really. I also write music for theatre and film, draw and paint and play guitar in a rock band. I often start with an idea then determine what media best suits it. I’ve got an idea for a play, for example, that I think is pretty strong, but that idea wouldn’t work as a novel. I’ve never written a play before, but it would be exciting to try.
1.8 Who/what are your influences/inspirations?
I love Philip K Dick, Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, Bret Easton Ellis, Ray Bradbury and all the big Sci-Fi writers.
1.9 Favourite writers?
1.10 What are you reading?
I’m currently reading I, Robot by Asimov and the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius. I listen to audiobooks in my car when driving to and from work every day, and have a paper book on the go at home.
1.11 Describe your writing routine/ritual
I read a lot about the first hours of the day being the most productive and this has proven to be true. I get up an hour before my family (very early when you have a 3 year old!) when the house is quiet and nobody is asking me to do other things. An hour is usually enough.
1.12 Do you have an agent? Why?
No. It’s a bit early in my writing career and I feel I have to prove myself before I can seriously approach people like agents and publishers. I’m really hoping that the interest in It Looks Like You’re Writing a Letter will create a bit of a buzz around what I do.
1.13 What were your biggest learning experiences or surprises throughout the publishing process?
How easy it was. I paid a company to format the ebook to the acceptable technical standards, then used SmashWords to push it out to most of the online bookstores. Amazon and Google Play had to be done manually, but even they were just a case of filling out a few online forms and bingo – you’re published.
1.14 Would you have done anything differently if you could do it again?
Knowing what I do now? Everything! I pretty much learned how to write in the process of writing this book, which sounds a bit melodramatic but it’s true. I thought I knew a bit about grammar and punctuation but when you actually sit down and analyse your work word-for-word it’s a real eye-opener. The plus side is that I feel more at ease about the idea of tackling another book.
1.15 Something personal about you that people may be surprised to know?
I teach Wing Chun Kung Fu, which I’ve trained for 16 years.
1.16 Would you identify yourself as a writer, or something else?
I would like to! I think having written a full-length book that I’m very proud of should qualify me. It’s not all I do, but I’d like to add it to my list of skills if that’s not too presumptuous.
1.17 What are you working on next?
I think I’m going to do NaNoWriMo again this year. I’ve got a half-baked idea for a novel with a lot of depth, probably a lot less action-based than It Looks Like You’re Writing a Letter and more psychological. Plus I’m writing music all the time for some York based film and theatre companies and trying to be a good father and husband at the same time!
1.18 What’s your ultimate goal, writing or otherwise?
To be happy. I think that should be everyone’s goal. Everything you do should go some way towards making you a happy person. If you’re doing something that makes you miserable, stop doing it.
You can buy the book here, which you should, like, now, because it’s currently an absolute steal at £1.83.
Check out Alexander’s own website here in time for when you’ve finished reading the book and developed a totally healthy celebrity obsession.
As I grow older, I grow different. Six years ago, I entered into a relationship that would rather change me for the worse. Two years later, I surfaced with more than a few new issues. However, I got one really great thing out of it – a love of graphic novels.
Comics and graphic novels are genres that I had always considered lesser to classical literature and modern fiction, and had never bothered to test drive myself. I saw the artwork as tacky, the titles as cheesey and the concepts as less than vital. I looked down on them. How wrong I was.
With encouragement from said relationship, I began with The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller and moved onto Watchmen by Alan Moore. I was hooked and baffled. Okay so there were moments of cheese, but they were totally allowed to be there because of the incredibly complex, fundamental themes. The genuine exploration of timeless issues through fantastical filters. The highest rewards of escapism and intellectual and philosophical development. The open-mindedness, the acceptance, the willing and readiness to delve into a topic through the eyes of, for instance, some kind of space worm, without having to explain itself. Because why fucking not?
Since then, friends have recommended hundreds of titles and series to me, and I can’t think of anything better than sitting down in my garden on a sunny weekend and reading a graphic novel. And it’s such a great thing to share and talk about. The more I think about it, the more I want to share all these cool stories with the people I know who don’t read comics yet.
I’m obviously very new to the area, and this stuff has been widely appreciated for many years, so I in no way know my stuff, but this is what I’ve found so far, and I’m really, really grateful for those who do know it being infectiously enthusiastic about it.
So, here is my recommendation. Take it, if you will. Read some comics – they’re amazing. Here are some of my favourites so far:
Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
“… two lovers from long-warring extraterrestrial races, Alana and Marko, fleeing authorities from both sides of a galactic war as they struggle to care for their newborn daughter, Hazel, who occasionally narrates the series.”
Refreshingly modern, blunt and beautiful, imaginative, colourful, thrilling, wholesome and magical, hilarious. One of the best, it’s still ongoing and there’s time to catch up.
Fables by Bill Willingham
“When a savage creature known only as the Adversary conquered the fabled lands of legends and fairy tales, all of the infamous inhabitants of folklore were forced into exile. Disguised among the normal citizens of modern-day New York, these magical characters have created their own peaceful and secret society within an exclusive luxury apartment building called Fabletown. But when Snow White’s party-girl sister, Rose Red, is apparently murdered, it is up to Fabletown’s sheriff, a reformed and pardoned Big Bad Wolf, to determine if the killer is Bluebeard, Rose’s ex-lover and notorious wife killer, or Jack, her current live-in boyfriend and former beanstalk-climber.”
Need I say more? This series is huge and it’s funny, dark, and familiar. An addictive train of ‘what if’s.
Sandman by Neil Gaiman
My absolute favourite.
“… an occultist attempting to capture Death to bargain for eternal life traps Death’s younger brother Dream instead. After his 70-year imprisonment and eventual escape, Morpheus goes on a quest for his lost objects of power. On his arduous journey Morpheus encounters Lucifer, John Constantine and an all-powerful madman.”
Gorgeous artwork ranging in style. Wonderful, dreamy, surreal narratives spanning the whole of time, colourful and chilling characters, epic backstories, and really clever design. I’m just in awe of Neil Gaiman and the artists working on this series. The original 75 issues were produced between 1989 and 1996, but Gaiman has recently started releasing a long-promised prologue series, ‘Overture’, which is just as exciting, beautiful and satisfying as the rest.
Watchmen by Alan Moore
A groundbreaking classic tale of war, politics, conspiracy, life and mortality. A must-read.
“It all begins with the paranoid delusions of a half-insane hero called Rorschach. But is Rorschach really insane or has he in fact uncovered a plot to murder super-heroes and, even worse, millions of innocent civilians? On the run from the law, Rorschach reunites with his former teammates in a desperate attempt to save the world and their lives, but what they uncover will shock them to their very core and change the face of the planet!”
Death Note by Ohba Tsugumi
“An overachieving 12th grader, Yagami Light is an aspiring young man who seems destined for success. Unfortunately, his daily habits bore his incredible intelligence–So when a strange black notebook falls from the heavens during his class, it isn’t long before he takes it for himself. In his room, he finds, to his horror/fascination, that the Death Note is real, and owned by Ryuk, a Shinigami (Death God).
Any person’s name written in the Death Note will die in 40 seconds…. without fail.
With this supposed gift of God, Light swears upon his grave that he will ‘cleanse’ the world of the evil and needless people that inhabit it, thus creating a utopia for all. With the world’s greatest detective, L, hot on his tail, will Light’s ideals prove too fantastic to realize, or will he succeed bringing justice?”
I finished reading this recently, having started it a couple of years ago and not quite been on the ball about hunting down the rest, but being very excited about receiving a Black Edition volume (thicker, combining two original volumes each, and suedey-feeling) as a gift, and later discovering that you can pretty much read the whole saga for free online, or even on phone apps. Like here: http://mangafox.me/manga/death_note/ (Scroll down for a list of respective chapters with links.)
It’s bloody thrilling. And what a concept. Tasty as hell. It does suffer a dip in excitement in the late-middle, but stick with it, the ending is so ultimately satisfying. I’m really looking forward to watching the anime series and even the 2006 film version, which stars the awesome Ken’ichi Matsuyama from Norwegian Wood – another film adaptation that I thoroughly enjoyed.
But don’t take my word for it. Local libraries stock a ton of these, and here is a list of some of the biggest titles in the genre:
Also, if you own an iPad, there’s a fantastic app called Comixology, which is a dream to read on. It even offers a ‘guided read’ function for anyone like me who suffers a brain-fart when offered a full page of images and doesn’t know where to look first.