Around this time last year I was struggling to write words, a pretty foreign concept when I usually struggle to stem them. This was a blank page mocking me with its over-bright pixels, white, empty. I couldn’t even scroll to lessen the amount of white at the bottom of the page – a habit I fall into whenever I’m feeling threatened by my own work. What I did have was a picture of a painting, a painting done by an amazing local artist to which it was my job to attach words for the purpose of an exhibition.
This long unusual piece of art was challenging me, as the whole idea was challenging me to decide what sort of writer I was. Fantasy author, for sure, but was there more to me than that? Now as I was hunting around for old work for the purpose of a throwback thursday, thinking I might find some interesting way in which my writing has matured, I came across the piece I eventually wrote in a flurry of spewed emotion. So read on for a taste of something a bit different. I’m still not 100% sure I like it, but the artist liked it very much and the exhibition was a success, so that’s a win. For me it’s a win to put myself out of my comfort zone in the first place!
In Air I Drown
He breaks me. Every word another cut. Every snarl another bruise upon the flesh of life. I used to think that life was a journey, a path from one garden to the next, from the daisies of childhood into the prickly thorns and passions of the adolescent rose garden. Adulthood a sunny moor. Old age, a misty vista scented with lavender like the soap in my grandmother’s bathroom.
When did I change? When did that journey become a trial, a struggle to walk another step? Now with every gasping breath I drown in air.
He turns away. He always does. Tears fall from the crinkled corners of his eyes, but they are not tears for me.
I think of the gardens. Daisies, wild and yellow, scattered through the soft grass, dancing and bobbing their little heads so happily. Perhaps it was a dream. Perhaps the grass was scratchy and the sky grey, the echo of a scream on the breeze that wafted cigarette smoke past my nose, acrid and stale. Perceptions.
“That’s a big word,” he would jeer. “Did you learn that at your fancy school?”
Yes, I think now, as I stare at the scratchy beard piercing his pale skin. I did.
That was in the rose garden. A strange place full of odd pitfalls it was, where one day a rose would bloom, its red petals plump and fragrant, only for it to wither at a touch and turn to thorns. That was when the questions changed. I stopped asking why the grass was green and started asking what was wrong with me. I don’t look like the girl on the cover of the magazine. She has blonde hair and long legs, hairless, spotless, smooth, her glossy grin seeming to mock me with her superiority. If that is what a girl is supposed to look like, am I a Martian? Men are from Mars, women are from Venus. It’s a load of bullshit, but sometimes I wonder. Mars was the god of war.
He is yelling through the tears. Spit flies from his lips, that pale skin reddened and blotchy. I don’t hear the words, not the words he is saying. They are always the same ones. Should not. Will not. It is all my fault. His face is so red. Does a demon live beneath that skin?
“Do you think you’re better than me?”
He says those words a lot. My sunny moor is filled with weeds. Blackened bracken rises from the ground like twisting hands, grasping, desperate. It catches at my legs. I fall. I bruise. Every part of me aches, but the pain in limb is nothing to the pain in my heart. He has blocked out the sun. Seething, fists gripped into tight punches, I might never see the misty vista scented with lavender.
My grandmother had smiled.
“Yeah? You think you’re better than me?”
Yes. The thought slips out. Even in my head it’s dangerous and my eyes dart to those crushing fists. Yes.
“Just ‘cos of your rich family and your fancy house?”
No. You taught me to be worthless. But I don’t want to die. I want to see the sun again.
He is clutching his hair as though I am driving him mad. Perhaps he is mad. In the morning he will be different. The words will change. There will be love amid the blame, his fingers capable of a gentle touch as they ghost across darkening bruises and broken skin.
“Don’t leave,” he will beg. But I’ve listened to that voice too many times. I don’t want to drown gasping my daily breath. I want to see the sun again. “Stay.”
It’s been a crazy couple of weeks! Having made the move all the way to Canada, I am now in the process of making the move all the way back to Australia again. Long story.
Much more interesting is this week’s Throwback Thursday post! Gods know where I dredged this one up from! (Actually it was the dusty depths of my external hard drive… does knowing that make me a god?) I think I wrote it about six years ago at a guess, the start of a novel that began from a simple idea and got huge. I think I was watching a lot of Death Note at the time and reading Terry Pratchett, possibly there is something of an influence…
Again don’t judge any of my published work on what you do or don’t read in these posts, these are old works posted to allow anyone and everyone to see that every author was shit once. Also yes, that is another terribly adorable picture of me as a kid. I love how old the black and white makes me look.
Aleksandar Lauront choked. Cheap ale burned down his throat, spitting from damp lips with each gasp for air. He slammed the tankard down on the table, open palm pressed against his chest.
“Didn’t your mother ever teach you to swallow, Aleks?” said a youth lounging at ease across from the afflicted young man.
“Shut up,” Aleks managed to gasp, putting more effort into this wishful command than he was into controlling the coughing fit. A few other patrons looked around, wondering who had let the babies in. Aleksandar’s cheeks reddened, more from embarrassment than because ale had just tried to kill him. Rough looking men all around the room took long swigs from their drinks, grinning at one another.
With one last cough Aleksandar Vorsatius Lauront, fifth and youngest son of Lord Aloysius Lauront, regained control of his lungs. Despite this triumph he couldn’t help wishing the floor would open up and swallow him whole. Never had he been so embarrassed, though tripping over in the crowded street had been less than desirable. The bruise was still giving him some trouble.
“Someone take his drink away,” said one of the other four young men at the table, taking an easy gulp from his own. “Shouldn’t let him drink.”
The dirty tankard was snatched away with a grin by the youth on his right, but Aleks made no complaint.
Tavar, the official leader of the little group, went on speaking as though nothing had happened. “Six solid gold rings and a painting,” he said flicking hair out of his eyes with a gloved hand – his left, proudly displayed.
This produced no little surprise. “A painting?” said one. “What’s so valuable about a painting?”
Another gave a contemptuous snort, waving a hand encased in a black leather glove – his right. “You idiot. My father has a painting that’s worth thousands. Art can be worth more than its weight in gold to the right collector.”
“All right then,” said the one designated as an idiot. “What was it a painting of? A huge stack of gems?”
All eyes turned to Tavar, who sank his chin on to a black leather palm. “From what the guards said it was a painting of a naked lady.”
The young men broke into laughter, even the idiot winking at his friends and slapping Aleks on the back. Aleks laughed too, because he didn’t want to be left out, but in all truth he couldn’t actually see anything amusing in the notion of a naked lady posing for a portrait. Bowls of fruit did it all the time, but to say something might jeopardise his chances.
“There must have been lots of guards around, personal soldiers and the like,” continued the idiot when the laugher died away, fading into a contented sort of snigger quickly drowned by ale.
Eyes turned back to Tavar, who was making every effort to show off his left hand. The glove was just black leather, but since Tavar came from money he had been able to do it properly. The accessory fit so tightly it was like a second skin. It was made from the best quality leather, black; stitched with the best stitching, black; and branded with the maker’s mark, black. Aleks glanced at the other three. They were wearing similar accoutrements, but all on their right hands. His own hands sat demurely on the rough table, completely naked and unadorned. He had a glove, of course he did, but he wasn’t allowed to wear it. He hadn’t earned that right yet.
“No,” Tavar said, bringing Aleksandar’s thoughts back to the conversation. Around them sailors and fishermen went on with their drinking. Outside a small brawl had started, while someone being noisily sick in the corner was adding an extra tang to the already foul air. None of the boys seemed to notice, except for Aleks who wrinkled his nose. “No guards at all.”
“None at all, but you see, the door was rigged to swing closed and lock itself, and the drop from the only window in the room was thirty feet onto jagged rocks.”
Three amazed expressions gaped at Tavar, who smiled. Aleks watched him. Tavar loved to be the centre of attention. His father wanted him to be a priest, but it would be such a waste of his talents to send him to preach to people who were already converted. He had an uncanny knack of being able to make people believe the most ridiculous things. Aleks, a stickler for accuracy, examined the situation and said silently to himself: But they’re thieves, right? So if they picked the lock to get into the room, assuming the door opens inward, then all they have to do is release the mechanism and walk out. If it opens out then they still just have to pick the lock and walk out, a much easier option than choosing to leap thirty feet onto jagged rocks.
Out loud he said: “How did they do it?” instilling just the right amount of awe into his tone as he gripped the edge of the table, fingers splayed. “Thirty feet is a long way. What kind of bastard would invent a self-locking door?” One who didn’t want his gold rings stolen, the sensible part of his mind added, but before his evil genius could prompt him to say as much a dagger shuddered into the table and stood there vibrating.
There was a disdainful grunt from above. “Only a fool would believe that rubbish,” said an unknown voice. “There were six guards and the old man had a crossbow.”
Aleks stared at the dagger. He hadn’t moved, didn’t dare to with a blade wedged halfway between two of his fingers. The hand that had put it there was thin, long pale fingers curled around the hilt. It wasn’t wearing a glove, black or otherwise, but the man… He could feel the man standing behind him, and something about the words eventually made him look around.
“Good evening, gentlemen,” the man said as Aleksandar’s eyes fell on him. Then, with nothing but a dry laugh, he walked away. Aleks watched him go, mouth hanging open. The man walked with easy confidence, a blond ponytail snaking over his shoulder, aglow against a black cloak. The dagger was still there, tip splintering the rotten wood.
Silence enveloped the small table, broken after a time by an excited cry. “Was that… was that the Wraith Twins?”
The idiot snorted. “Of course not! He was alone. There are two of them. They’re twins, right?”
No one bothered to answer. The patrons of the tavern had ignored the appearance of a dagger as a matter of course, but looked around as the party of young men jumped to their feet. With excited cries and much pushing and shoving they forced their way outside, one lingering only long enough to wrench the dagger from the wood before following his friends.
Out in the dark street Aleks shivered, clutching his cloak tightly against the sharp breeze. The dagger weighed heavily in his hand, the hilt still warm from its owner’s touch.
“Where did he go?”
“Did anyone see where he went?”
Aleks listened to their loud voices fill the street and closed his eyes. It was stupid, it really was. They loved style and yet had none of their own. What famous thief would ever have shouted in the street? Surely dark nights were for shadows and soft steps through the mist.
When Aleksandar opened his eyes it was to find the members of the unofficial fan club spreading out, jogging along the road looking down every alley they could find. In this part of town it was a good way to get lost, and if you wandered too far from the quayside lights you could easily lose more than just your way.
Ignoring the retreating shouts of his friends Aleks looked down at the dagger. It was neat and simple, serviceable and lacking in any distinguishing marks. Had it been picked up at a crime scene it would have lent no clue as to the perpetrator, but then that made sense, didn’t it? Why advertise when you didn’t have to? And the Wraith Twins certainly didn’t have to. And that was part of the fascination, part of the allure, because the Wraith Twins never looked for trouble. They got in and out with the minimum amount of fuss and the maximum amount of quiet style, unless you believed Tavar’s stories.
Shouts rang through the echoing backalleys as they realised he was missing. “Where’s Aleks? He was here just a moment ago.” That sounded like the idiot, better known as Nacy Carter. Soon they would remember the dagger and be back, but Aleks was determined not to give up such a prize. Without ceremony it was thrust into one of his cloak’s capacious pockets, causing a tear as the tip of the blade made a bid for freedom. It scraped his leg, but fell no further.
“Aleks!” That was Tavar, closer now. Aleks looked around, and seeing only a few drunks hanging around outside the tavern, he gripped the dagger through the thick material of his cloak and started to run.
From the roof someone watched him go, blond hair flying in the wind. The lithe figure in the fitted cloak pulled something out of his own pocket. With a satisfied little smile he brought it into the moonlight, displaying to the world a red silk purse. Although this would have been of great interest to Mr Aleksandar Lauront, what would have interested his so-called friends more was the hand that was holding it. It was the man’s left hand, and it was wearing what could only be described as a black leather glove.
I have a four year old daughter. She’s fast turning into a gamer like her mother and father before her. She is currently playing Journey and has finished Tengami and Monument Valley on the iPad about a hundred times each. She likes to get on Super Smash Bros. Melee and hack and slash at her two year old sister holding the other controller (and getting some surprisingly good moves in for someone performing the essence of button mashing.)
I didn’t question any of this as not being ok until she saw me play half an hour of Assassin’s Creed Black Flag a few weeks back. Then I decided, as I watched Edward gut guards with beautiful ease, that maybe… just maybe… this wasn’t something she should be watching.
Two weeks later she pulls the game out of the drawer and hands it to me. ‘We haven’t watched you play this forever, mum! Do you remember how your man sworded all those bad people?’
One’s heart could tear over such cuteness as she goes on to use the term ‘sworded’ another few times. I’m oddly proud of her, because we are unconventional in pretty much every way it’s possible to be, but at the same time the old society voice kicks in and BAM I’m thinking ‘letting them watch violent video games is going to turn them into violent little killing machines’.
So I start to over analyse (or perhaps it’s the right amount of analysis and other people just don’t like to think beyond the opening statement) and I wonder if I encouraged her to show empathy for those undergoing the violent acts – pain, death, loss, etc – would that make her a more well rounded person? Who does that? Who watches a Disney cartoon and feels bad for the bad guy? Or do all forms of media encourage us to suspend empathy for the undeserving as well as our disbelief.
I’ve long been an advocate for self-censorship. If you don’t like something, don’t watch it. It’s a human instinct. Turning away from the screen during Game of Thrones, putting down a book when you can’t bear to read any further. The same four year old that asks to watch me sword people in Assassin’s Creed, also cries and can’t finish watching Up and even The Lorax, because she’s genuinely emotionally invested in something and is afraid it’s going to end badly. She isn’t emotionally invested in Assassin’s Creed, and definitely not in the bad guys.
This is still a subject on which I’ve got a lot of thinking to do, because I’m one of those people who thinks about EVERYTHING. What amount of violence is acceptable for understanding modern society? Is it really better for them to live in a sheltered bubble? What about having empathy for cruelly farmed animals? We are animals ourselves, and we’ve sheltered ourselves for a long time to things like where our food comes from. Are we going to censor everything and make these rules for the masses? Where does that stop?
I’m not quite ready to pull out Assassin’s Creed and get swording people while my four year old cheers me on, but I’m thinking about it.
The Grave at Storm’s End is DAYS away from making the journey to my editor’s inbox, which means we are close close omg so close to having it all finished – THE WHOLE THING. That blows my mind.
That’s the good news – not the mind blowing, because if my head asplode then there are no more books and that would be sad. The words being in the ending stages is the good news. The bad news is that we are still waiting on cover art. I’m not going to go into it and get all detailed and shirty, because it is entirely out of my control, but safe to say the lack of movement on this has caused much of the general URGH around this place for the last couple of months. There has been nothing exciting to move on with, nothing exciting to show for all the work.
Well… there are WORDS, which I suppose is what a story is made of. So here are some words. The first lines of The Grave at Storm’s End. The Blood of Whisperers and The Gods of Vice both started with a poem, and The Grave at Storm’s End is no different. So without further ado – enjoy!
When gods walk, the ground trembles
When gods cry, the skies bleed
When gods love, the world sings
When gods fight, empires fall
The Grave at Storm’s End
Book 3 of The Vengeance Trilogy
Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.
I have forty-three friends on Facebook. I used to have more, but I cut back. I’ve seen people with hundreds. Thousands. And always I ask myself why. I don’t even have time to properly interact with the measly forty-three people I have, I don’t have time to give a damn about hundreds more.
So let’s rewind. My ten-year high school reunion just happened. I didn’t attend, what with having recently moved to the other side of the world (it’s a good excuse when really I would have found it difficult to work up the courage to go anyhow – I was one of the “uncool nerds”, so I can’t say I enjoyed my time there). A friend of mine did go and reported that it was exactly like being seventeen again, because ABSOLUTELY NOTHING HAD CHANGED. This is rather depressing. Cool kids in the cool kid corner, nerds in the nerd corner, no one crossing the floor. Pathetic for adults two years shy of thirty, or perhaps I just have high standards.
The whole event might have passed without further interest if I hadn’t received a Facebook friend request the same day from a girl I’d had no positive interaction with during the many years we’d spent at school together. There I sat at my computer, rather stunned, muttering ‘what the…?’ as I stared at the name. And twenty-four hours later I still haven’t replied. This got me thinking. Why was it causing me so much grief?
Had she sent me a request to chalk me up on her Facebook list like a completionist hunting for the final flag in Assassin’s Creed? (Even with the maps I never could find that damn thing!) Or could there be genuine interest in connecting with me. The latter seemed vastly implausible and humorous, especially when coming out of the blue. I don’t want to be nothing more than a number. I don’t want to be a conquest – the nerd who couldn’t decline the invitation of the cool girl in case it meant acceptance at last. Ten years ago I would have accepted it straight away, my enthusiasm embarrassing, hoping this might finally be the gateway to popularity. Five years ago… most likely. Two? I don’t know when I changed, when I began to analyse myself and my responses to the world, but somewhere in these last few years I’ve become a stronger person.
All this angst over a damn friend request? Really? You bet, because social media is the new socialising, clicking the like button the new smile, commenting the new conversation. Emoticons instead of emotions – the distance the internet gives us both a blessing and a curse.
Eventually I went to click “decline”, buoyed up by my strength of my own character, only to be foiled by Facebook itself. I had never declined before and so hadn’t realised there is no such thing. Ignore or accept. Really? Those are pathetic options. I could ignore it on my own, what I wanted was the chance to say “no”. You see being an author and having to make my living on the internet is stressful enough. Living in a world where reading through an article’s comment section is like wading through human vitriol is already depressing. I’m a woman. I’m picky about what food I eat. I don’t send my kids to school. I’m a nerd. And I’m self-published. I’ve picked a hard road. I can’t control what people say to me. I can’t control what people write about me or about my books or about what I look like and how I dress. But one thing I can control is who I accept to be part of my personal Facebook space, where I can be myself and know I will only ever receive positive support.
It looks like the lack of a “decline” option is just another thing over which I have no control.
I’m still here. I haven’t fallen through thin ice or been eaten by a moose (don’t know if moose/meese/moosi actually eat people) in fact I haven’t even seen a moose or gone skating. I have just been slowly coming to terms with the fact that I have to start everything all over again and the slowly dawning horror that I left two of my very best friends behind and despite progresses in technology, it just isn’t the same. I can’t just pick up the phone. I can’t just drop in. It’s at least a twenty-hour flight to drop in and even with Skype I have to think about differences in time zone.
But, like everything in life, I take it as an experience I can put into my work. I like silver linings on dark clouds, and almost always that silver lining boils down to ‘well at least this is a good experience’. When the broken bone or the broken heart heals I will be a better person for it. I hope. At least a better writer, and that’s almost the same thing, right?
So here I am, a little sad, a little out of place, sometimes wondering why the hell we decided to do this. And in the midst of all the self-pity and doubt, an epiphany saves me. I came here to further my career, so I had better bloody well get on with it!
To that end I am back blogging and existing on social media and all that jazz because, hell, if a busy person can’t get it done then no one can.
Onwards and upwards! You’ll be hearing from me all too much soon…
Have some phoenix rising to make your day. I love this for waaayy too many reasons to count. I feel like a phoenix slowly coming out of a pile of ash … slowly.