everyone: shut up

On the bus this morning, I sat next to a woman who was reading one of those women’s magazines that say things like ‘HAVE SEX!!!!!!’ in giant orange letters across the front cover, alongside a picture of a minor celebrity wearing an outfit made of dishcloths.

She (the woman on the bus, not the dishcloth lady) had the magazine open at a double page spread, which I could not help noticing because of the frankly ridiculous title: ‘We ask 40 men one question: WHAT SHOULD WOMEN BE BANNED FROM SAYING?’

You think I’m joking, don’t you? I hope you think I’m joking. I’m not joking.

I have got pretty damn good reading-over-the-shoulder skills, but the answers from said forty men were so depressingly awful that I gave up after only a few. Save yourself the brain-rinse, I thought. Sadly, however, I did manage to read that women should be banned from talking about: their friends, their ex-boyfriends, their hair, clothes, beauty in general, celebrities, and sports. Oh and also,  we shouldn’t make ‘a big deal’ out of things.

“I hate it when they make a mountain out a molehill,” one fellow said.  “Stop moaning and get on with making my dinner. I’ll tell you whether something’s important or not,” he did not actually add, but I’m almost certain that’s what he was thinking. I could tell by the misogynist glint in his piggy little eye.

Having not read the whole double-page extravaganza of patronising, women-are-so-annoying chat, I can’t say for certain, but I imagine that other topics that may offend masculine sensibilities could be: work, politics, television, food, housework, and of course women’s rights. Better to stick to the safe side, and when males are lurking, limit your conversation to how freaking great men are! Better still, just be quiet.

There have been several studies which suggest that women’s IQ and self-esteem are significantly lower after having read a women’s magazine. No wonder, if they are all full of this sort of crap. I don’t read these mags myself – I’d rather read a book, or a short story. Actually, scratch that. I’d rather disembowel myself with a teaspoon than read any more of that rubbish.

Who’s with me?

 

your dreams and what they mean

Last night I dreamt about apostrophes. I was writing sentences without apostrophes, so that my students could rewrite them with apostrophes and… well, that’s about it, really.

I guess this dream means I’ve either got serious problems (possibly a punctuation-based meltdown in the near future?), or no problems at all whatsoever. My subconscious mind is apparently free of the usual nagging worries about the overwhelming futility of human existence and the urge towards evil that lurks inside all human hearts.  For obvious reasons, this disturbs me.

So, as always in times of doubt, I turned to a dictionary. There are several dream dictionaries online, but they are rubbish compared to the brilliant ‘Your Dreams and What They Mean’ by Nerys Lee. I found this gem in a charity shop somewhere, many years ago, and I’ve kept it with me ever since. Not only does it have a gorgeously suggestive cover illustration (The Dream, by Henri Rousseau), but inside it has all sorts of information that I have never read anywhere else, from a brief description of the history of dreaming, to advice on how to deal with a psychic or incubus attack whilst asleep.*

Amazingly, there is no entry for ‘apostrophe’, ‘comma’, or for ‘punctuation’ in general. However, I did find out that a rhinoceros is traditionally a sex symbol, a whale is symbolic of the feminine self (“the womb of mother nature”), and that a jay is a messenger from the dead.

Perhaps you already knew.

Well. Even apostrophe dreams are quite interesting when looked at from a certain angle. Indeed,  I get many of my best ideas from dreams, and from dream books.  I already wrote a story called ‘Your dreams and what they mean’ (It is here) and now I’m scouring this fantastic book again to see if inspiration strikes.  I am somewhat tempted to write an epic poem about a rhinoceros and a whale. Watch this space.

 

*In this section of the book, I just found a small yellow moth, dried and pressed into the pages.

teething

As you can imagine, for a site with such great big teeth, I’ve been having a few teething problems, but things are slowly getting sorted out. Thanks to everyone  for your comments and links. And those of you who have complimented me on the fantastic design of the site, I have to tell you it was all my brother’s doing. His name is Matt Bruce, and if you pay him vast sums of money, he might just be persuaded to design something for you.

In other news, I started back at my day job last week so have been swamped under a pile of lesson plans and new students, and have hardly written anything at all. What I have written is quite a lot of personal stuff about being ill and fucked up, and I’m not sure anyone actually wants to read about that. I am considering how personal I want to get on this blog. I know everyone has a different approach – I haven’t worked out yet what I want mine to be.

Your thoughts? Do you get personal on your blog, or do you keep it strictly business?

 

convent geometry

My story, Convent Geometry, is published in Ideomancer this month.

I’m very happy to have a story in Ideomancer – it’s a great magazine that has published many, many fantastic stories, including this one by my fellow writing group member, Ilan Lerman.

Perhaps it isn’t the done thing to say so, but I really love this story of mine.  Obviously it has its faults, but there is something compelling, to me, about the characters and setting. After writing it (which I did over the course of about a year) I did a lot of research about the characters and their world, and about sacred geometry, with the vague idea that there might be room for a novel here. But in retrospect, I think I just wanted to live in their world a little bit longer. (I don’t recommend doing the research for a story after you’ve written the story, by the way. I suspect there’s a better method. :))

There are three women in the story, each of whom speaks to me quite clearly. I love Nocturna, and feel that she loses so much. She is not such a nice person – she is controlling, rigid, jealous – but she is innocent, and very simple in her wants. And Lumiere just wants to be free: she has a genius for geometry, and she is forced to use her talent any way she can, even though it ends up being so destructive. Then there is Joan, who is so damaged, so unprepared to find beauty and wonder in the world. I don’t know why they are so important to me. Perhaps they represent three battling elements of myself. Maybe it’s just the power of three – in sacred geometry, three is the number that creates the universe.

I don’t know. Some stories just live. That’s a good feeling, to write a story like that.

how to write a terrible first draft

Yesterday I finished writing the first draft of my novel. It is a really terrible first draft. I’m not being modest. I’m not showing off, either. It sucks. The characters are weak and do things for no reason. They can’t even hold onto their names for the length of the story. The plot is unjustifiably baroque. There is much boring dialogue in which the characters say things like, ‘how are you?’ and ‘I’m fine, thanks.’ (I feel I ought to make them do a fish dance or die in pain as punishment for being so disgustingly dull.) Yes, it is that bad.

But you know what? I couldn’t care less. I have been trying to write this novel for years – this novel, any novel really. Since I was a child, I have been trying to write a novel, thinking that I should write a novel (how bizarre, really), and wondering if I ever could write a novel. And sometimes it feels like my whole life has been the process of failing to write, and learning to write, and failing again. In recent years, my novel-writing attempts have taken the form of a series of exciting false starts, which ended after 50 words, 1000 words, even 20,000 words and more, because I felt too lost to continue. I’ve tried detailed outlining (buzzkill) and total pantsering  (scary). I even tried telling myself that it would be ok to stop being a writer and become a normal person instead, because I thought I just couldn’t DO IT. And then I did it.

And by doing it,  I learned how to do it. Which is precisely the sort of annoying and unhelpful ‘writing tip’ I’d been getting from other writers all along.

Things that helped me:

– allowing myself to write a really shitty first draft. (Also see here.)  I found this so difficult because I like to think I am a good writer… a published author…  blah de blah… I forgot about how when I wrote my first short stories they were deeply, deeply shit. A first draft of a novel is not a novel. Writing is rewriting.

– trusting that the story would reveal itself if I just kept writing.  It did. It wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. Trust the process.

– forcing myself to write a lot, every day. I mean a lot. Rarely less than 2000 words. My highest word count for one day was nearly 10,000. Getting the story onto the page fast was very motivating.

– never looking back. I didn’t allow myself to revise and edit as I went along – hence the terrible dialogue and name changes and so on. I felt that if I went back, I would get stuck trying to make things perfect (or just, you know, not terrible).

– letting people know what I was doing. I posted my word counts on twitter and facebook. I got encouragement (thanks!) and it made me accountable.

Now, I hope I’ll be able to re-write this shitty first draft into something better. Something that I wouldn’t be ashamed for others to read. Already I am filling  my notebook with ideas and thoughts for the second draft. I have a feeling this might be where the real writing of this novel will begin. In the meantime, here’s to me, getting closer to achieving an ambition I’ve nursed since I was a kid.

the illustrated dreams of the editor

Got my contributor’s copy of Dark Tales XV in the post this morning, thank you very much.

My story is blurbed on the back – go me! It’s called ‘The Illustrated Dreams of the Ancestors’ and it’s a ghost story set in a small town in Okinawa. I lived in this small town for a year and a bit, and when I read the story I remember what it felt like to be there. Kind of weird.

I subbed this story to Dark Tales way back in 2009, which makes this a long wait for publication by anyone’s standards. At the time, I was particularly proud of the story, thinking it to be emotional and strange. I still think it is those things but OH. MY. GOD. GIVE ME A RED PEN. There are so many quirks and run on sentences, so many unecessary adjectives and repetitions.  And there are a couple of awkward moments in the narrative, where I remember struggling to express my meaning – and which I can now see clearly how I would rewrite.

I’m not exactly embarrassed, because it’s still a strong story and I’m glad it’s finally in print. It’s encouraging to look at earlier stories and realise that my writing is improving. But how I wish I’d had the chance to edit this before it went to print.

Dark Tales is a decent magazine, but honestly, I can’t see how they can sustain any kind of readership unless they publish more often. It’s frustrating to have something published that you wrote three years ago, without getting the chance to revise and edit first.

five writers with teeth and claws

A few years ago, I became scared that I was losing my lifelong passion for reading. So many mediocre books! So many bad ones…  I threw ‘Atonement’ across the room in disgust. ‘After Dark’ was a yawn fest. ‘Her Fearful Symmetry’ made me sick with disappointment. It was a dark time in my reading life. I felt that I was falling out of love with the world.

But then I came across these incredible writers, who reached out their claws and ripped out my heart. Monsters. I love them.

1. Kelly Link

If you don’t read Kelly Link, you are missing out on something wonderful. She writes the best short stories in the world.  I discovered Kelly Link at a very strange time in my life. I was trying to write a story called ‘Magic for Beginners’ – a terrible story that had nothing going for it except that great title. One afternoon I wandered into Waterstones where there was a display table full of a book called ‘Magic for Beginners’ by Kelly Link. I felt the swift punch of fate to my solar plexus. Then I opened the book and started reading a story about a witch who gives birth to a house, and my life changed forever. It’s no exaggeration to say that Kelly Link taught me what a story could be – that it could be so much bigger and stranger than I had ever dared.

2. Rikki Ducornet

Before I read ‘The Butcher’s Tales’, I had no idea that anyone wrote the strange, very short, macabre vignettes that I had been trying to write myself for the past few years. Hers are brilliant little slices of flesh, still bloody, on a white plate. I went on to read her novels, of which ‘Netsuke’ and ‘Gazelle’ are particularly wonderful. Her writing is a knife to the heart. She sees everything. Be very afraid.

3. Kaaron Warren

Dark, dark, dark – they all go into the dark. Not quite sure how Kaaron Warren creates such spectacularly creepy stories that are still utterly involving and engaging. Her novels are diverse in subject matter and setting, but all share the disturbing ability to draw you in, and take you to places you never really wanted to go, but can’t bear to walk away from. Her novel ‘Slights’ has one of the most disturbed/disturbing main characters I’ve ever come across, and yet it is one of the most compelling stories I’ve read. I fear Kaaron Warren may have sold her soul to the devil to pay for her incredible storytelling ability.

4. Rachel Pollack

Many writers attempt to create new fairytales and myths. None, in my opinion, are as successful as Rachel Pollack. Her work as a Tarot reader informs her writing in many strange and unexpected ways. ‘The Tarot of Perfection’ is a collection of beautiful short stories that take the reader deep below the surface of things to explore the secret mysteries of the subconscious. Unmissable.

5. Greer Gilman

No one writes like Greer Gilman. No one else dares. ‘Cloud and Ashes’ is an extraordinary, beautiful book that has drawn comparisons with Shakespeare and James Joyce, amongst others. Read it. That is all.

 

terrible news for terrible people

Thanks to my extraordinarily talented brother, Matt Bruce, I now have this spanking new website with which to inflict myself, my writing, and (worst of all) my opinions upon the world.

This can only spell disaster.

Watch this space.

My fiction has appeared in magazines and anthologies including Black Static, Interzone, Strange Horizons, Ideomancer, Shimmer, Salt’s Best British Fantasy, Great British Horror, Best British Horror, and others, and has been short-/long-listed for various prizes including the Bridport Prize and Mslexia short story competition.

In 2017 my story WHITE RABBIT won the British Fantasy Award for Best Short Fiction. In 2019 my story HER BONES THE TREES was also nominated for this award.

THIS HOUSE OF WOUNDS, my debut collection,  is available to order from the publisher or through Amazon UK, US or Barnes and Noble.

My novella HONEYBONES is also available – details here.

Contact me by email: littleeggcups [at] yahoo.co.uk or on twitter @monster_soup