I’ve written a poem for the Teesside Literary Society’s collection of poetry and short fiction, ‘Through the Cracks’, which had its launch event last Friday at Teesside University in Middlesbrough, as part of T-Junction, the Teesside International Poetry Festival.
The anthology has been published by Ek Zuban Press, a local publisher mainly of poetry collections, and should be available online soon. Although I’ve not had the chance to read the whole book yet, I particularly liked Cat Brown’s Undercurrent (a story of childhood loss), Chris Stewart’s Transporter Isometrics (drawing on the heritage of Teesside’s steel industry) and Caroline Harvey’s Teesside Princess (a defiant piece of local pride). (The ‘c’s are a total coincidence!)
My own entry – titled Kerrosin of Nevot – is slightly weirder, a science-fictiony, Jabberwocky type thing. I’ll probably put it up here at the blog at some point, and I’ll post an update when the collection’s available to buy online.
Looking back through the blog, I don’t think I’ve made any mention of my only other previously published fiction, in a collection named Home Tomorrow, so I’ll write a blog post about that soon as well.
A trope, essentially, is an idea or concept – whether that’s a joke, a situation or a plot twist – that’s recognisable as something that’s been used elsewhere.
The reason I’ve started doing this series is that, although tropes are often interpreted as clichés, it’s possible to breathe new life into familiar ideas, whether by using them in a fresh way or subverting them.
Tropes are, in a basic sense, the building blocks of stories. These can be character archetypes (Rogue Cop, Magical Negro); plot devices (The Catch-22 Dilemma, Ticking Bomb); types of joke (Inside Joke, Call-Back). More or less anything that goes into a story.
This is going to be just about the geekiest post I’ve written on the blog, so feel free to mock me in the comments. I won’t be offended if you do.
Despite the majority of my writing in the last year and a half being on other subjects (football, television, film and book reviews, analysis and rants mainly) my ultimate aim as a writer is to be a professional writer of fiction.
I prefer the blank canvas, the ability to create my own characters and tell my own stories, to the non-fiction writing I’ve mainly wrote and linked to in the year and a half writing this blog.
I’ve mentioned previously that I’ve got a lot of half-started fiction, things I started with a huge sense of ambition, excited about what I could do, and then more or less gave up, convinced that my story, for whatever reason, didn’t work.
It’s for that reason that I’ve started writing fan-fiction, using characters taken fro the Marvel Comics universe. (Though my interpretations of the characters are mainly based on those that have appeared in the recent films and 1990s cartoons.) Essentially, the idea is that, by using characters and scenarios created by others, I’ll have guidelines of sorts.
For instance, in the early chapters of what I’ve been writing, I felt like I wasn’t quite capturing the personality of Peter Parker the way I wanted. I was able to look up some old episodes online, to have a definite idea of how I wanted the character to speak – the sense of both humility and sarcasm. (My favourite version of the character is the one in the 90s cartoon series. While Toby McGuire and Andrew Garfield’s performances are decent, both are a little too geeky for me.)
Nothing is created in a vacuum – every writer who’s ever lifted a pen has been inspired by something. There’s a space opera short story concept I’ve picked up and abandoned many times over the years. Essentially what I thought for this would be the moral metaphors of Star Trek, in a darker and grimier world, more like Alien or Battlestar Galactica.
I’ve a hero that I wanted to be similar but different to common ideas of how a dynamic leader should behave… and it’s difficult working out the precise characterisation.
But with fanfiction, there’s something to consult, something solid that’s been made, to look at as an example of how a particular character should behave, what their home should look like, the kind of stories that work with that character.
My first plan was an episode by episode rewrite of Star Trek Voyager, which seems to have been a slightly ambitious idea.
My second project, which I think is more sensible, is to write a series of 500 – 1000 word chapters telling stories of Marvel Comics superheroes. (Spiderman, the X-Men and The Avengers are some of Marvel’s more popular characters, if you’re not aware which is which.)
I’m not a big comic reader – in fact the only Marvel comic I think I’ve ever bought was a Spiderman comic where he fought a guy on gigantic stripey stilts. For some reason I fail to comprehend, that villain hasn’t made it into the movies yet.
But I’m a fan of the movies, and grew up watching the 90s Spiderman, X-Men and Fantastic Four cartoon series.
What’s more, looking around various wikipedias – the Marvel Wiki, and of course, Wikipedia itself – it’s fascinating to see different incarnations of the same characters, the different ways the same stories have been told. Thousands of years ago, people will have gathered around campfires, reinterpretting and reimagining cool stories they’ve heard before, and I think comic stories are the modern equivalent of this.
I’m using the fanfiction essentially as a way of getting myself into motion, getting myself to write, to stay in motion and keep my instincts sharp. I’ve written recently about a story I’ve submitted for publication, and I don’t think I’d have written that if it weren’t for the fanfiction.
As I said, I’ve started putting chapters up at Fanfiction.net. I’ve enjoyed writing it, and you may enjoy reading it. Stranger things have happened…
I’ve done something that I really don’t do often enough, and sat down with no distractions, and written a short piece of prose from beginning to end. No grand, ambitious plans for a multi-storyline epic that fizzle out into nothing, just a brief, punchy little story.
I hope you enjoy it.
Shukhov’s Glass Ceiling
Comrade Sidorova stood on the Middle Line of the Moscow GUM, looking down to the Lower and observing what capitalism had brought upon his country.
Huge arches, maybe fifteen feet across each, contained the glass storefronts of shops owned by multinational corporations. The architecture was stunning – Pomerantsev’s genius had survived communism from beginning to end, which at one point he feared nothing in his beloved homeland would manage. But their use was a barbaric joke – he could see three arches in a row containing the name and products of an American jeans company.
Sidorova had never been able to follow the logic of jeans as a luxury product. He had worn them on occasion in his younger days – they were uncomfortable against the skin, and downright abusive when wet. It was the propaganda which swung it, he had decided – marketing, to use the capitalist term. Perhaps knowing that the product itself was not much use, units of the rough material were moved out of stores worldwide by using imagery of rugged American cowboys and trendy modern party-goers.
It hurt Sidorova’s pride to know that, for many young Russians today, their ideal of masculinity was not their fathers and grandfathers who had worked without complaint in the fields and the military, but an American posing in the Texas sun.
Sidorova looked upward. Shukhov’s glass ceiling was magnificent – even a century after its construction there were few like it anywhere in the world. It flooded the building below in so much light that Sidorova could almost believe a God must have created it. There was a train station in London whose roof was also built more of glass than metal. But even there the ratio of iron to glass weighed more heavily on the side of practicality. Saint Pancreas? Some body part, but he wasn’t sure which. Even the great Victorian engineers – perhaps the greatest engineering nation ever to have lived – could not match the innovative genius of Shukhov.
Beauty comes from that which is natural, Sidorova felt, and man should only interfere when it is a necessity. Centralised planning is the worst form of human interference.
This building had played it’s part in Sidorova’s awakening from his propaganda induced childhood stupor. As a young man, he had been assigned here, in the days when queues for the more practical items it stocked stretched across Red Square.
Although the desperation on the people’s faces were hideous, his superiors had drilled it into him that one day this magnificent, palatial shopping centre would serve it’s purpose, to help feed and clothe the people of the world’s rising superpower. The problem was that the party simply had not had enough time to get things working the way they should.
But the offices of the shopping centre silently debated this point. A few were still used, a faded image of the days when this was the central point of planning for Stalin’s first five-year plan. Many more laid empty, abandoned.
It was as he stood here, in this very spot so many years ago, that he was struck with an idea. Simply seeing the sheer amount of light that flooded in from the ceiling, while the ceiling held solid, was a revelation to him. A combination of nature and man – the warmth of the indoors, with every inch of the hallways flooded with natural sunlight. He saw the beauty of the natural world with eyes that he had never used before, and realised immediately that it must have been a genius who could build such a structure. A genius who built a thing of beauty before the Communist party rose to power.
It was a beauty that was misused by the party – he could see thugs in state uniforms pushing around the poor as they merely looked for enough food to keep their families alive.
Sidorova had thought of the entire building as a new form of propaganda, created not for the glorification of Stalin, but the glorification of the natural world, and the men who could tame it.
As he took the train journey back home, Sidorova appreciated the beauty of the fields, the skies, even the ramshackle huts, in a way he never had before. The thought had simply never occurred to him that Mother Russia could thrive without the party’s blessing, that his dissatisfactions were circles that could not be squared.
By the time he reached home, his mind was consumed with blasphemous ideas.
Sidorova did not consider himself a killjoy, he knew there were important things in life beside bread and water. But he also knew the profit margins on trousers, sports shoes, jewellery, and considered it a sick joke that so much of the price went to the propagandists. In Asia the clothing was crafted by workers who toiled for pennies.
Banner after banner on the Lower Line bore a single message – advertisements for a perfume company. Giant bottles were painted on the sheets, repeated over and over, lest consumers forget their implicit message – CONSUME! – in the seconds walking from one to the next.
Despite Sidorova’s melancholy, he knew that, beyond doubt, what he saw around him was better than what had gone before. He had no doubts over the side in the struggle he had chosen, and, were he required to do so, he would do the same again without a moment’s doubt. But he had dreamed – more than that, believed – that the fall of communism would see power given to the people. That they would no longer be manipulated into actions for the benefit of the powerful.
Thinking back over his life, Sidorova realised what it was he missed about communism – the struggle against it.
The secret meetings. The walks through the streets of Moscow on winter days when the poor starved and his breath seemed to freeze in the air… He was warmed by the knowledge that he and his colleagues were struggling together for the common good.
But now… Who was left who would struggle with him against the modern propaganda for over-priced trousers?
I’ve been updating this blog irregularly for about half a year now, with a variety of subjects. I’ve dropped links to my articles on Born Offside, and rather silly spoof news on The Leaky Wiki, as well as a few reviews and analysis of books and television here, and off-format silliness that wouldn’t fit on The Leaky Wiki.
But despite being an asipring fiction writer, I’ve not actually put any fiction up yet. Partially this is because of not finishing things off, partially this is about not wanting to share small things that could be developed into something bigger and longer. But I intend to start putting up some short prose on here, for your reading pleasure as you wile away a few minutes on the weekend. I hope you enjoy…
Don’t Tell Me To Be Quiet
Joanie and Mitchell had been tossing and turning through the night, woken again and again by their beautiful young genius.
As new parents, they’d followed tradition, and taken it in turns to respond to the demands of the new life they’d created – this was the third time Mitchell had been called from his bed that night. He wished he was a more old-fashioned man, wished he was some sort of horrible old-school misogynist, who left all aspects of child-rearing to his wife. He wasn’t a bad man – at least he didn’t think so – he just wanted sleep.
Already, nine days after birth, Precious Symphony Polyphonic Jones was progressing faster than the books said she should. Mitchell was sure he’d heard her say ‘ma’ the other day, but it could have been a belch.
Mitchell held his armful of joy, whispering to her in a cheerful tone.
“Who’s a special girl? You are! Yes you are!”
Holding her tightly, he swung round, hoping the motion would relax her. It was a sort of a centrifugal effect, with Precious pressed tightly against his body, in an intimate grip.
“You’re going to do something amazing with your life, because you’re my indigo princess, aren’t you? Aren’t you, sweetie?”
Mitchell was tempted to say something really awful, something he knew he shouldn’t.
“But if you’re going to be a lawyer or a doctor, and save the whales or cure malaria, you’ll need to get some sleep. Sleep is good!”
Mitchell knew it was wrong to tell a child how to behave, and they should decide for themselves. He felt awful as soon as he’d said it.
But it seemed to work.
He placed the quiet Precious into her cot, hoping he hadn’t traumatised her too badly. He knew she would grow up to be something amazing – he saw it in her eyes. He just had to make sure not to destroy her natural spark.
As he turned to leave, Mitchell heard a voice coming from the cot.
“Don’t tell me to be quiet!”