Enemy Thine

I wrote this short story recently; one of several this year that has been rejected. I’m looking for some concrit or advice on it as not much is provided these days to struggling greenhorns. I was quite happy with it, but after it was returned, my writing career is in tatters and the whole Earth has sunk beneath a cloud of gloom. Obviously it hasn’t – but if you can offer any helpful comments to why or where I might be going wrong it’d appreciate it.

So, here it is! I’ll not set the scene for you, as I hope the characters relationship with each other becomes evident over the course of the story.

 


 

The warrior came at dawn. Out of the long night, he came to the wizard’s fire, with none of his own. The wizard watched him, through the ebbing dark, forging for the flames through stagnant mist. He prowled this way, then that; ill-at-ease in the presence of his auld enemy. The wizard watched, as a wizard does, yet spake no word. Between them fire crackled — beyond them — only the wild wastes of the Bleaks; loneliness, and the cold sting of the orphaned wind. The wizard nodded an acknowledgment of sorts, and warmed his hands. The warrior watched, and waited, shivering; ever cautious of the ol’ dog’s sly cunning. The wizard warmed his hands a little more, glancing round into the waning dark as if he were only just waking to his surrounds, and upon noticing them, appeared all the more grateful for the fire before him. He bedded down deeper into his cloak, settled a little closer to the flames. The misery of the wastrel wind stirred thereabouts, as snow began to fall. The warrior gazed deep into the fire with the same longing he had for roasted meat, or the thighs and bosom of a lusty woman. The flames danced a little higher then, and the wizard’s good eye gleamed a little brighter. The warrior grunted in resignation, squatting crudely to let the fires heat soak him to the bone. It crackled between they two, snow fell, and the wind whistled almost amiably as it passed — and strangely — nothing untoward happened.

 
The warriors furs steamed — and stank, while he warmed, and the wizard began to fidget, for he wished to smoke. The warrior watched, but said nothing, only smiled a little as the wizard rifled through his cloaks, and plumbed his murky pockets with frantic, scrabbling fingers; but he had no shag left to fill his pipe. The warrior, now much warmer than before, offered the wizard the last of his own blackleaf — thanks for the fire they shared. The wizard’s eyes flared with indignation at the sight of the blackleaf; a rainbow of snakes flashing across those spheres unknown. His scowl darkened, his brow furrowed, and he muttered dark words beneath his sallow breath. The warrior felt invisible strings coil tight within himself, the palm of his hands began to itch with a familiar sting that came just before he drew his sword — whilst the wizard blustered up like a storm before him — and then the wizard laughed; not a hollow booming laugh like thunder in the mountains, or a deep ache in the earth, but a tired old chuckle, frayed and faded; thin yet warm. He took the warrior’s blackleaf, and they both sagged back into the halo of the fire; grateful for the warmth between them, as the wind moaned over the grim land, whipping the falling snow into drifts before it. They were too tired, here and now, to oppose each other anymore. The wizard poppled on his pipe, almost a happy man, and the warrior sprawled out on a bed of tepid ash at the fire’s edge, like a hound at the end of a long run.

 
As he thaws by the wizard’s fire; the warrior remembers. He remembers the wizard, the wizard’s name. He remembers the words — things the wizard told him once, long ago. Things the warrior once knew; things now forgotten, stolen and unknown. The wizard remembered the words also — for he had never forgotten, and thus, as he spoke them once, he did so again:
“A man comes.” the words stiff and gnarled with time’s long waste, sounded unfamiliar, grinding from his throat. “A man comes whose name is to be greatest; most grim of all. A slayer; carnage incarnate.” his voice trailed away, snatched up by the starving wind. The warrior’s gaze wandered after it, far away beyond the flames.
“The legend no longer means anything, no longer has power.” he began. “That name is just a foul old word now; a bitter curse behind my eyes, only fit for souring my own spit.” he glared up at the belly of the hollow sky, as if daring thunder, or expecting it. The sky did not oblige. “Where they ever real?” he asked the wizard, sullen and afraid once more; just a man again now, after many long years wandering. The wizard suckled his pipe, thought, spat.
“Who? The gods?” he asked. The warrior nodded in agreement. The wizard shrugged. “I’ve never met one — not that I’d want to.” he continued, smoke burbling up from the corner of his lip. “It’s best not talk of them — they’d listen, but would’nae speak. The gods promise only lies. A man has no fate, but that of his own making.”
“What of mine, wizard? What of the fate you foretold!” The warrior was back on his haunches now, ruddy and animate. His eyes darting, voice thickening into a squall, rising from some deep hollow place within. The wizard poked at the fire with a stick, as the warrior cursed him, before slumping back into a sulk, brooding like a dog gnawing a bone long after the meat has gone. The fire between them crackled and sparked, the wind crooned round about. “Your prophecy was fallacy.” muttered the warrior, and then fell silent.

 
Presently: “A river flows where it chooses.” riddled the wizard, in sagacious tones.
“A river is not a man.”
For once in his life, the wizard had to admit that the hoary old fury beaten into the shape of a man was, strictly speaking, correct. Though; of course, such men often lack a wizard’s reasoning.
“The war for the stars is over lad, and lost. Be at peace with it, if you can.” he offered. Much blood and time had flowed between them. It seemed now though, that neither cared to remember why, for neither had much blood or time left anymore to spare. The warrior softened then, as his eyes sighed with the bitter water of old rues.
“How long have I hunted you Moebius? To what end?” casting his arms wide, the wizard taking the gesture to mean the world beyond that which burned between them. “How long have you led me? The land is scoured black, the old wealds gone, and the risen seas flow over their crucible, choked upon the dead. What peace is there for us here? What peace is there when men no longer drink and laugh in common bond; when there are no fields left to plough — when only Death harvests the long furrows of the sterile earth? The peace that comes now is all that is left after even war has died.” The wizard considered this, as a wizard does, yet spake no word. The fire shifted, and a shower of sparks rose into the night, somewhere beyond, a wolf called.
Then, from beneath his ragged furs he drew the weapon. Moebius gasped, he had last seen it when the world was young — when it still seethed with the sorcery of his forge. He shuddered in its presence; this barb of iron he had worked long and hard, knowing as his sweat fell hissing into the maelstrom of its conception, that he wrought in his hands the instrument of his own death. A cruel fate, he had always thought — one that made his life a bitter irony. Their eyes locked across the fire — the wizard and the warrior — but only for a moment. Each knew too well the threadbare whisper of this futile fable, and how it would end.

 
“May I?” asked Moebius, his voice full of resignation. The warrior handed him the vulgar thorn, and he baulked at the weight of the thing — had to drag it through the ash and slush until he could lift it with both hands. It was a foul ol’ thing indeed, mouldering with corrosion and stained with verdigris. He remembered its name — it rose unbidden within him like a body from the bottom of a bog, soiling his tongue with its filth. And thus, as he spoke it once, he did so again:
“Woǣ!” he spat, for that was its name — with fury given unto it by himself — though it had faded somewhat with time, like that of the scars it had borne him. His ghost eye twitched at the memory. “It is no longer your burden.” said Moebius, as he laid it to one side. “I shall carry it, if only for a while.” The warrior did not protest, only held his hands a little closer to the fire, ridding himself of some deep-knotted cold that had wound itself around his bones. Moebius looked to his own hands, scrutinizing his palms intently.
“Naught now, to be read there wizard; only the calloused grime of time and toil. There are no legends left to tell, when ours comes to its end. You should know that, better than anyone.” The warrior seemed revitalised, with the weight of his burden lifted, their long tale all but told. “Does some of the old ichor still run in your veins? What fate can you weave now, within those old hands?” he asked. The fire had begun to dwindle, whilst the snow lay thick where the voice of the wind sang with the wolves.
“Perhaps a little of my magic remains, after all.” answered Moebius, a creaking smile drawing tight across his face like hangman’s noose. “The serpents in my veins awaken to the presence of this wicked relic. I had thought them withered up.” The warrior shifted uneasily, eyes flicking from the sword, back to the wizard. He wondered if he could reach it in time, before the wizard could cast the word o’ his will into the air with a flick from his cloven tongue, and before one of those snakes leapt from his open palms and sunk its fangs deep into his body. Beyond the fire in the dark, the wolves howled, much closer than before.
“What trick is this wizard? I would deliver your doom, when your sorcery was long spent — at the end of all things — was it not told, just so? Was that not your command? There is your doom! I am free of mine, at last!”
“Aye, just so lad. My doom, as you say. And when I am slain, and the fire dead — what will save you from yonder darkness and the wolves beyond? Is that the frayed and bloodied end to our tale?” Moebius rose then, like a mountain from the earth, arms raking at the skies in proclamation. “Is this our fate? Because an aeon ago the gods deemed it so?” From beyond the dead mountains a peal of groggy thunder rolled in, a slack wave upon a vigourless tide. Lightning puttered, moth-like, in the dim hollow of a cloud. Moebius ignored both and held out his hand, now faintly aglow with runnels of witchfire, to the warrior at his feet. “I’ve just enough magic left within me — take it lad, before it’s too late.” The wizard’s eyes leapt with reckless devilry, inflamed with an ardour he had almost forgotten.
“For what, Moebius?” Asked Kron, old suspicions of the wizard soured his voice. In the dimness beyond the fires’ reach, deeper shadows circled, their eyes softly gleaming with light the same pallor as the wizard’s waking power.
“Take it!” roared the wizard.
The warrior rose slowly to his feet and met the wizard’s glare — mindful of the skulking death circling in his periphery. Kron had hunted this walker of skies and smoker of souls, a drifter through the Known Realms for almost a millennia: This grand charlatan who cloaked himself within fogs of treachery — he had grown so very weary of the wizard’s tricks — and was long overdue in the halls of Valissia. He just wanted to return to the myth that spawned them both, and sleep the hallowed sleep; as the gods had deemed, and the wizard foretold when the world was young and slick with dew. The snow swirled through darkness eternal, beyond it, something growled.
“Take my hand and step behind the veil! Come back to before — before the darkness comes and the war is lost — back to the dawn! When the world was an enclave of emerald, hidden between rude pearls scattered afore the frozen dark.”
The light in Moebius’ hand began to gutter, yet the gleam in his eye grew bright. “Hurry!” he urged. “Fuck the gods!”
Glancing between the hand the wizard offered to him and the sword that still lay in the snow by his feet, Kron considered the Moebius’ words, as carefully as he chose his own.
“A river flows where it chooses.” he said. And winked.

Kalopsia

I stuff the phone back into my grimy pocket in a huff; Neil Gaiman still hasn’t followed me on Twitter. I think I’m starting to crack. The strain is creeping in around the edges of my eyes, my smile makes tiny imperceptible, high-pitched sounds like a fissure spreading over a pane of glass — the woman opposite me on the Metro clutching a Starbuck’s in her well-manicured claw appraises me with casual disdain — then ignores me for the rest of the journey. She ignores me because she knows: I’m a wronger. What’s a ‘wronger’, I hear you ask? I’ll explain — but it might just be as easy to tell what the opposite of that is first: a writer. Do you see?

 
I’m playing catch-up these days, struggling to focus my life, maybe even clutching at straws. I want to be like the woman opposite me (not female); she writes, she’s freelance, a columnist; successful, probably with a book or two under her belt. Look at that lovely black wool coat she’s wearing. Not a single piece of fluff or lint on it, no sign of bobbling for that matter, either. Light seems to shun its surface, absorbed in the same way it disappears down into the soulless pits of her cold, hard stare. I’d need a bank loan to pay for a coat like that (which would also require a bank account), and I bet it’s just her work coat. I have one parka for all weathers, which makes me look like I’m on a YTS scheme, all the time. Her face is an immaculate mask of non-emotion; poised like an athlete in these moments before arriving at the office, ready to pounce on the day — mine is a vacant lot, cracked and sullen, somewhere just outside Grimsby, where carrier bags cart-wheel like tumbleweed. I let my gaze fall to the floor, sparing her the indignation of further eye-contact, as we judder out of the station. I grab the handrail so as not to be flung from my seat; the woman calmly sips her coffee, firing off emails and sardonic tweets like an Olympic squash player, probably pontificating with Guardian readers about the pros and woes of public transport (the latter of which, sits nearby). I check my email — even the junk folder is empty — and I’m crushed against the window by a very overweight man who sits down next to me. He smells of fish-fingers. He wouldn’t have dared sit next to a real writer. The woman opposite removes her bag from the seat beside her, where presently, a nun settles, like a songbird.

 
It wasn’t that long ago, I thought: I can do it. I can do anything. I can be a writer. Now, my future self gazes over dystopian wastelands, where the white stuff falling from the sky isn’t the first snows of Christmas, but the ashes of Armageddon. You poor, stupid, crazy, naïve, idiotic fool, I think; recalling the idyll of memories where ruddy colours flush my cheeks, and good-natured cheer fills my voice, whilst I squeak excitedly to all and sundry about my new vocation. Soon Neil Gaiman would call me friend. My kitchen would be redolent with the aromas of fresh coffee and muffins. I’d prattle the day away, one book after another, from behind my desk overlooking a Cornish cove, a sleepy Northern town, or from a coffee shop somewhere off 5th Avenue. Terry Pratchett would buy me a hat. George and I would hang out on the set of Game of Thrones, and I’d be the perfect gentleman when Sophie Turner and Maisie Williams blushed and giggled excitedly whenever they walked past. Neil Gaiman would be jealous. I’d get invited to Comic Con. People would pat me on the back and smile, and say: “well done”. I would get paid to feel proud.

 
Somehow, my ascension into the iClouds where the literati dwell went astray; I was not plucked from creative obscurity by benevolent agents of the publishing world — doubling as Valkyries in their golden designer heels with tiny wings on (the wings may be a product of my imagination). New York has not become my second home. So far my rejection from this club is not even official; they don’t send you an email or letter detailing the myriad ways your novel sucks; or, you as a ‘writer’ suck. You just do: the electronic version of silence says it all. That’s it so far, after twelve years of trying to turn my life around; hammering at the keyboard, day and night, writing fantasy, with nothing but the creeping dread of self-realization tapping me on the shoulder: writing is hard; it’s certainly no cakewalk.

 
Those twelve years weren’t wasted though; I learned a few things, but only by making lots of mistakes did I earn the knowledge — and to sum it up in a nut-shell: it’s bleak out there. A jungle filled with self-published E-book writers, as populous as the reams of zombies that dominate their fiction, and hordes of feckless wonders, jamming up the internet with ingratiating self-promotion. I am guilty of it too; believing my own self-generated hype — instead of just writing, or finishing what I was writing — obsessing about how many twitter followers I had instead of actually doing something worthwhile, looking for short-cuts to recognition when there are none. There is only one way to the top, or even halfway to it, and that is to write well and let those words do your talking. Surprisingly, letters of self-assurance written to editors and agents proclaiming your brilliance only come over as cocky unless you really are that good. Chances are you’re not. I’m not. But herein lies the frustrating walk we have to take towards epiphany — unless you try to be that good you can’t fail — and that will only happen for so long as you’re not good enough. Simple.


 

The Wizard of Babel

It’s nearly that time of year, isn’t it? That time when we all hold up metaphorical mirrors to ourselves and the wider world, to reflect on what has gone before. Thing is, if your mirror is anything at all like mine, then it’s probably in need of a little polish — maybe even slightly cracked — nothing that a dot of spit and the edge of a sleeve can’t fix though, is it? That’s the essence of writing, as I currently understand it: polish.

 
One day, I went to market with my mirror, to see if I could sell it. It is a fine thing, I thought, on the way there; someone will surely buy it, and put it up for all to see. When I got to market, though, I found that no one at all wanted my mirror; there already hung a menagerie of fine, strange glasses, like Kings from gallows, all around. One in particular caught my eye, and drew me down into its shifting depths. I gazed into it for some time, bewitched.

 
I fled the market to the sound of laughter, shamefully hiding the thing I had crafted, feeling like a fool. When I returned home, I saw how crude and ugly thing I had made in comparison to those I had seen that day, how clumsy my craftsmanship; how clunky and awkward its design.

 
I tossed it onto the pile with all the others I had made before, seemingly only to be broken. Then I went for a walk, not caring where I wandered, thinking only of the great mirror I had seen, and pondered how such a thing could be made. It is then I met a man who was not a man, but a wizard. It was he, I knew, who had made the mirror I was so envious of. What happened next, I did not expect: the wizard told me how he made it.

 
It was not magic that made the mirror, he said, just his hands, mind, and dedication — no quick tricks will lead you to your heart’s desire — only many footfalls along a long and winding lonely road. I thanked him for his words of wisdom, and set off again in pursuit of the grail I seek, knowing that only by enduring, learning and questing can I ever find my Avalon.

 
Avalon for me, if you haven’t guessed already, is to ‘be a writer’; to have something published, but not just anything, something worthwhile. I’ve mostly written fantasy, at length. Anything else has fallen under the umbrella of ‘short story.’ I’ve been working on that fantasy for a good long while now; whatever I write though, I think will essentially remain in a similar vein; for the darkest one that runs within me is the one I spike, time and again. The short stories I’d written were rejected, which is how I met the wizard, you see? I’d been hoping that by getting a submission accepted somewhere, I could gain some exposure and criticism or advice about what I was doing — well or otherwise — except life didn’t unravel the way I’d foreseen within my mind’s eye, and thus, when I was ready to throw down my tools, the wizard’s sagacious words stayed my petulant hand. His lessons are perhaps self-evident to a man with a quieter, sharper mind, but they have instilled within me the sense of what I had lost, forgotten or perhaps so far ignored — tenacity. So, I’m back in the workshop, polishing that mirror so that the next time I show it to someone, they will hopefully peer a little deeper than they currently do, and marvel at whatever thing shimmers within.

Here is a link to the wizard’s manse, and what he said:

http://floggingbabel.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/blog-post.html

Also to where his dark glass hangs:

http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/swanwick_04_14/


I’ve recently become obsessed with these pieces of music. They are inspiring me to write a ‘First Contact’ story, which I imagine takes place in Germany, against the norm where it’s America. It’s bleak midwinter and something large, shadowy and glistening waits at the top of the steps to the Reichstag; halfway down — a human simulacrum — the alien’s thrall, stands ready to greet a human delegation…

Beethoven’s String Quartet In C-Sharp Minor

Vaughan Williams Fantasia on a theme of Thomas Tallis

 

Pillow Fish

I started writing about twelve years ago. In the same way some people start playing guitar, or paint, or pick up a ball and run with it – I picked up a pen and began to write. I began to write about other-worldly places, ‘neath hollow-coffin skies. I wrote about fathomless oceans slave to no-moon, of a land lashed by the flaying tongues of an orphaned wind. I dreamed a place that was forever evenfall, where the evil of the world darkles upon the very streets of the cities as if it were rain upon the stones.I wrote and dreamed, then wrote some more. I filled my world with people and places and things and their dreams. I created. I destroyed. Within my mind’s-eye I spied great terrors and miserable pleasures of all persuasions to inflict and infest this threadbare realm I’d laboured to create. I wrote, sketched, blitzed: then obliterated – returning to scorched earth and blank pages – only to rebuild and invest in a richer darkness. I was both god and ungod. Mountains rose and fell with the stroke of my keys. Oceans spread into infinity where I let them bleed like the punctured bellies of soldier-boys – there, where the fibre of things was slashed and tattered – out of the black deeps unto the haggard light of a bastard realm did dark things beach themselves upon the shores of my grave new world.

In the meantime I was learning the art of story, the craft of words. Writing had restored my faith in life; bestowing me again with the joy of creation — something I had lost whilst studying for a Design degree in the UK. I walked away in my third-year – even when people told me I was a fool — I still walked. I didn’t care. I didn’t listen – I didn’t need to, because I knew what I really wanted to do was write. I was prepared, back in 2002, to suck it up for a few years, to follow my dream. I knew things would be tough, but I told myself it was a price I was willing to pay in order to have the life I wanted – to be truly and freely creative. Fourteen years later I have some of what I wanted back then, but not all. Life is a bloody struggle at the moment, I can’t even get a real a job. I’ve been offered a few writing gigs — but only unpaid work for start-up E-zines and such; which is basically writing mindless, sensationalist articles to generate web-traffic for advertising revenue. That’s not what I want. I need what I do to mean something. I don’t want to feel like I’m robbing myself or anyone else of their time. I don’t want to live a shallow life.

The world does not turn the way I wished it did – it doesn’t for the majority of us — I understand that. I can accept that. But surely by being proactive, by choosing a path, by falling in love with a vocation, by truly committing to something can we not tweak the turn of the earth slightly in our favour? I hoped so, I thought so — once. I’ve written short stories and such-like whilst working on my Magnum-Opus. I’ve worked all kinds of naff, monotonous jobs in construction and manufacturing while doing so; yet still nothing changes for me except me. I get more frustrated. I get more obsessed. I try harder, aye; I write harder – but is it worth it? The Internet is currently swamped with people calling themselves ‘writers’ – the bloody things are everywhere – but we can’t all be Stephen King, can we? I’m one of those people who is an all or nothing kinda-guy though. I want to be the best at what I do, you know? If I played football I’d want to play for Arsenal or Barcelona. If I was a soldier I’d want to be in the SAS. If I were a cook I’d want to be Keith Floyd. If I played guitar I’d want to be Hendrix, Slash or Jimmy Paige. Instead I write, yet no one is reading. What good is that? What good is it to sell your soul when no-one is buying? Because writing is a soul-sapping experience; I need my words to mean something when I write them; for those words to mean something to you – so I invest in them – but nothing pays back. When no-one reads my work, I’m left feeling empty, drained and fucking bitter.

It creeps in, festers; a sense of loathing harboured for the wider-world. For those who pass me by; for the advice I ask for that is not given, for the feedback I want that is never served-up — for the joy, anger, surprise or even ridicule that is never expressed because of something I’ve written — only a vacant space in the comments section, silently mocking me with its nothingness. Its like punching a pillow. A gnawing darkness grows where my heart used to be, as faith in myself; my ability and my vision begin to dwindle. Chasing dreams is a young man’s game – I’m still young, relatively speaking – I’m still writing, but I can’t keep playing in empty concert halls forever. Sooner or later I have to say: that’s enough – at least for a while. No agent, nothing published, not even any blog hits these days. Each time I post a piece, tweet or send an email I’m fishing in the possible seas of the virtuality with something I created and crafted as if it were a fly for a salmon. The deflating courtesies of dismissive editors are my only haul – nothing that can sustain a hungry journeyman for long. Thus, does my crusade for arts-sake leave me bereft of vigour and cursing my devotion. With each day that passes without even a sniff of a fish, I begin to doubt that there are any fish left to catch.

Old Masters of Unreality

I seek the quickening of mind and spirit.

 
I am but one soul, adrift now for 130 days. Lank thought and turgid intentions befoul my aspiration; the fulfillment of a dream seems naught now but a strange unknown land – with each day that passes without glimpse or hearsay – it sinks further into the silent fathoms of the mind that entomb all that is unfulfilled or unrealized. Thus, I do sit, and think of things that spurred me into the great unknown before. Before I lost the threads of sentences to weave, and before the words that would build an unformed world passed through my hands like sand and time; I spied great terrors and miserable pleasures of all persuasions to inflict and infest the threadbare realm I laboured to create. I wrote, I sketched, I blitzed: then obliterated; returning to scorched earth and blank pages – only to rebuild and invest in a richer darkness. I was both god and ungod. Mountains rose and fell with the stroke of my keys. Seas spread into infinity where I let them bleed like the punctured bellies of soldier-boys – there the fibre of things was slashed and tattered – and so, out of the black deeps unto the haggard light of a bastard realm did dark things beach themselves upon the shores of my grave new world.

 
Amongst the chaos and the sorcery something went astray. Life got in the way of writing. The self-imposed exile I had sequestered myself within ended; I moved in with a beautiful woman who seems to adore me, and got on with a real-life instead of making one up. These are all good things – I feel at peace and understood by her, which makes me very happy, but my rather self-involved pursuit of writing and publishing a punk-fantasy took a bit of a back seat. I moved from the South to the North East and have been without a job since I left Norfolk in March. The move, the ensuing adjustments to a new life and the scouring away of several grimy layers of ego have meant that any serious attempts at finishing The Wizard’s Eye have been postponed – until now. This time of year always finds me feeling restless, hungry and forward-thinking – this year even more-so than usual; with so many new possibilities emerging like mushrooms out of the umbra of a forest floor – I’m constantly electrified by what might happen. As summer wanes though, I feel the need to settle more into a creative routine, and establish discipline. I’ve burnt out on blog rolls and news feeds recently – bagging twitterers like a Royal on a pheasant shoot – googling and such, when I should and could have been writing. The Internet provides countless tracks to quick and easy satisfaction; yet it is often a sleazy, soul-less and pedestrian way to slide through the ocean of stimulus that resides within its infinite vaults. Though there are many places to occupy the mind during creative lulls, turning to it for sustenance too readily can be the mental equivalent of eating take-away seven days a week. There are no true custodians or guides to the Web, and for a spaced-headed fantasist like myself it can so easily lead to one’s doom. Yet we need not fear to tread where we fear to tread – the Internet is a wondrous tool; its realisation a boon – I only caution distractible wayfarers like myself – we who ought to endeavour to separate ‘research’, ‘sight-seeing’ and ‘working’ from a bundled marathon of caffeine/nicotine infused scrutiny – it’s too easy to click and play the day away, creating nothing yourself other than an erratic trail winding through the virtuality.

I think that’s the root of my buckleless swashing. When times have gotten harder; when I’ve been distracted orpreoccupied with the mundane or banal, I’ve let my hand slip from the tiller. I’ve realised now, that whenever I have produced a solid body of words that they have come from enforcement of the adage ‘write everyday’. The quality might not be Shakespearean; the vision of a Moorcockian-redux might not be fully realised in one foul stroke, but by being dedicated and diligent a stygian brew begins to darkle on the page one word at a time. As I psych myself up for another assault on The Wizard’s Eye I return – momentarily – to reflect upon the visions of the virtuosos who inspired my predilection to the dark path. My mind is plastered with a melange of imagery drawn from a pool of astounding imagineers: John Blanche and Ian Miller. They are the cream that tops this pool of talent I draw inspiration from, and their work has always been able to re-ignite the cold flames that fuel my more industrious periods. Thus, I give thanks for their superior dedication and the dark and wondrous imaginations they have distilled with an enviable prolificacy for those who struggle in their shadows.
You can view some of their awesome work here:

http://gothicpunk.tumblr.com/

http://www.ian-miller.org/

The War for the Stars

It is a love as old as light from a galaxy far, far away…

 It first blossomed with A New Hope, in the mists of my infantile memory. A love that was forged in those halcyon days of the late seventies, then wrought into something eternal and sacred with the arrival of The Empire Strikes Back. Nothing much else mattered for me after that, after Star Wars. It had given me faith. There were other mistresses: Highlander, Dune, Blade Runner, Conan, Mad Max – more recently Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones – yet Star Wars was the benchmark all other pretenders were judged by. Empire spawned my love for the dark side of things, the fantastic, the mythic and the unimaginable. It helped unfetter my fledgling imagination like a sail before a gale – usurping everything else that had once basked like grazing Brontosauruses amongst the swampy idylls of my mind. Lord Vader and his armada steam-rolled over it, whilst playing their Nazi-space-stomp – The Imperial March as a herald to their onslaught. It could have only been any cooler had they underslung Marshall amps beneath their Star Destroyers – Apocalypse Now style, whilst belting out Dazed & Confused by Led Zeppelin, as they set about annihilating rebel scum and obliterating their secret base.

Once we had fled the smoking ruins, and after promising to rendezvous with the remnants of the resistance to galactic tyranny elsewhere, we found solace in the teachings of the mystical hermit Yoda. He showed us the true meaning of the Force, and warned us of its anathema – the dark side.

 These things; these words and thoughts, in many ways became my own beliefs. They showed me ‘the way’, far more directly than any textbook or map could have, or indeed did. They have remained bound within me ever since, as if the impart of sacred knowledge had not been bestowed upon Luke Skywalker, but unto me, instead. I have upheld those ideals; the flavour of those films: a childhood tincture of sorcery, mystery and wondrous awe – and carried them with me – whether that be smuggling them, or crusading for them. Thus, the holy spirit of ‘77 has burned always, with a sempiternal ardour within.

 Now the winds of change begin to stir amongst the stars, and to fan these flames again. I find myself looking back across the lake of time that has pooled between the expanding shores of my life, to my own Avalon – the place within and behind, which has nurtured and nourished my imagination these long years since.

 I find the current glut of fantasy and sci-fi to be mostly ten-a-penny squirts in the dark – I say most, not all. And I find most too derivative, or worse, unimaginative. I also find many of the ‘superhero’ franchises to be no-more palatable than ‘supersize’ franchise-bought burgers; the X-Men films being the stand-out X-ception to the rule. Star Wars was such a love, such a truth for me, that it resounded throughout my childhood, and those of my friends – binding us together, as if we were ourselves exponents of the Force – to the outer-reaches of where I find myself presently in life. The legacy of the original three was, for many, desecrated in the wake of the vulgar and vapid ‘prequels’. Their shallow characters, overblown effects, and trite storylines with as much entertainment value as a party-political broadcast by the Labour Party, served only to polarize the Star Wars community as readily as the Jedi and Sith. Very little has ever come close to emulating the affinity I have for those original films – Lucas’ own subsequent servings being as cold and dead as the stygian depths between the stars. I have searched high and low for the elixir that fuels my thirst. Only Game of Thrones and the Lord of the Rings films have weighed in and walked the talk in recent times. The Hobbit groans under its own weight, as the corporate whores guilty of pimping out Bilbo and Gandalf on a Unexpectedly Bloody Long Journey suckle at this cash cow with a smugness akin to Smaug himself; hording Tolkien’s treasure beneath themselves without thought for the of the magic of this classic tale they so readily squander. I imagine Peter Jackson squatting atop this ill-gotten plunder, sketched in the wicked, scratchy strokes of political satyr – a Jabberwocky with Jackson’s hairy-biker’s head as its crowning, gluttonous glory. I turned away from this feeding frenzy in disgust; thus the seats of the cinema are as dead and lost to me as the hallowed halls of Khazad-dûm are to the dwarves, for now even Peter has “delved too greedily and too deep.”


“That boy was our last hope.”
“No, there is another.”


What riddles are these? It is
time to shine, my young Padawans. I’m not here to cast aspersions like AD&D players chuck dice. I loved the first three Star Wars films. Truly loved. I adore Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy; just as with Lucas, what came after, I liked decidedly less than what had come before. DSAS? Mayhaps. I am also quite sure Peter Jackson is a lovely man, as passionate about his craft as any other. It is my drive and desire I proclaim here (not the perceived failings of men who have already done greater things than perhaps I ever shall); that the sense of wonder and joy I got from Star Wars, and how utterly lost in this imaginary mythos I became, is something I have tried to reclaim – so far, in vain – ever since. I have never really experienced its thrill again, until I started reading George R. R. Martin’s A song of Ice and Fire saga. Much else has been harvested and consumed in the bleak and frugal years since something ephemeral stole my boyish heart; most of it regurgitated in a state of plaintive ambivalence or outright repulse. These few shining lights in my sky (see other mistresses) exist in an otherwise banal sea of dreadful mediocrity, and confounding compromise which only served to spur my quest for what it is these lesser offerings lack, and in doing so shaping the course of my life like the ushering hands of some primordial god – a god with seven swan-necked dog-heads, raggedy bat wings and a penchant for bodaciously-sculpted virgin supplicants liberally scattered beneath its talons. My own myth – as I venture forth to claim the unknown that lurks between the trees, below the mountains and beyond the stars – is one that has led me here; a place where the writing of stories has become my truth, and has given me the tools to create my own universes in my own image. Mwah ha ha – as they say. Whatever happens now after Lucas has lain down his sword, and as another young hopeful – JJ Abrams – steps into the breach he leaves, I find myself grateful, regardless of recent releases and irrespective of future ones – for this one thing George instilled in me with the magic of his storytelling all those years ago; albeit something unattainable and intangible. It is something that calls to me like a goddess from behind the veil of myth, and who must be followed to what e’er end she has decreed awaits me – be it death or glory; most likely a pauper’s grave – it’s why I write. And it is a case of my life imitating my art.

 May the Force be with me.

 Always…

Ramble On

 When I started this blog, I was at one stage, posting to it nearly twice weekly – now I’m lucky if I manage a post once a month. I was posting short pieces of fiction and also using it as a place to process the melange of ideas and inspiration floating about in my head. Currently though, I detest blogging. The very word ‘blog’ sounds like something unpleasant; like vomiting out one’s own brain, or wiping your arse with your own tongue. I came to it with some preconceptions, I admit, but I was willing enough to dismiss these and open my mind to a point where something unexpected might happen. I thought (and hoped) it would all be one big word-party, with happy-campers everywhere; basically like Woodstock with words and coffee instead of music and pot. Well my summer of literary love didn’t happen.

I wrote, yes. I was part of a community of sorts, yes – but I never got the sort of feed-back and cross-pollination of ideas and commentary I was hoping for. In the end I’ve just found blogging and social-media as a whole to be a drain on limited resources (time and inspiration), and a paddle in the shallow end of human interaction; mostly name-dropping, self-aggrandising behaviour, and blow-your-own horn-blowing; where most people seem to want to suck up to John Scalzi, or associate themselves in whatever convoluted way they can to Neil Gaiman. If everyone wrote instead of telling everyone what they were going to write – there would be a library on every street corner – not a bloody Starbucks.

I’m still writing though, not that anyone cares in this day and age where stories are dealt with as callously as an X-Factor flop. I’m just not repeatedly whoring myself out every five minutes via twitter. I’m not telling you I’m going to write this or that. I’m just sitting in a pokey attic room with an aging computer tapping out a 1000 words a day – if I’m lucky – and getting on with it. Old-skool stylee. (OK I might be telling you about my writing right now – but that’s only for the purpose of this post). I’m not claiming as yet un-materialised success on-par with my favourite authour (my crystal ball is cloudy on that front), or how my fantasy epic will be released as a trilogy to best suit a format for film distribution that maximises it’s money-making potential. I’m just me, doing my thing, ‘cause it’s what I want to do, and hopefully one day, when it’s finished, I’ll be happy with it, and some people might say: ‘that’s not a bad book that – dark, imaginative, bit left field, but thankfully no vampires.

That’ll do me – that and a few quid to keep me in beer and pay for the missus to get her hair done once a month. If I only ever finish writing three books in my life I’ll be happy. That’s three more than I currently have under my belt. As long as they count for something, are about something, mean something to someone, and say something to someone who ‘never thought about that before’, I’ll be happy.

If it means Mum and Dad look on me in a more favourable light in the grand scheme of things then I’ll be well pleased. If someone with a bigger brain and more talent than me gives me a nod, then I’ll be ecstatic!

There’s a way to go yet though. Best get on with it.

Don’t expect me back anytime soon.