Have I lost my love of writing? (part 1)

The earliest ambition I recall having was to become a Beatle.

I must have been five or younger, and for some reason was obsessed with the Beatles. I don’t know why I wanted to be one of them, but the ambition was short-lived.

the_lookerA few years later my interests had moved on and I loved writing plays. They were mostly re-writings of stories I’d seen on the TV (a Jesse James film, Land of the Giants, The Champions). I also tried to adapt a story from an Archie comic book.

For a short time I had a teacher who allowed my little plays to be acted out in front of the class, using some classmates as actors.

Around that time I had decided I wanted to be a scriptwriter when I grew up, even though I didn’t know where or how such a career could be achieved. At that age those kind of details weren’t even thought of.

Moving on to High School, my favourite school assignments were related to written story telling: short stories, “radio” plays, poetry and even short video pieces – using pre-cassette video technology. Again my output was often derivative, influenced by The Goons, Morecambe and Wise, James Bond books…  But by then reality had amended my employment expectations, and making a living from writing wasn’t seen as a possibility.

My family was very traditional working class, not used to pursuing ambition.

Not used to thinking in terms of careers or career paths.

After school you got a job to pay your way in life. A job was a means to a liveable income enabling the purchase of a home and the support of a family.

Nobody in my wider family had been to university. As far as I’m aware no one in my wider family had ever considered university. We weren’t that kind of people. Those options had never been available to us.

The majority of the men in my family were (or had been) miners working in harsh, dangerous conditions. A good job was anything that avoided that path – like working in an office.

WollongongCASep82

The bank where I got my first full time job

I found work in a bank, starting as an office junior, and since then all of my fulltime jobs have been office-bound, administration clerical positions.

A few times I tried to escape from the routine and tedium but somehow always found myself back where I started – back to where I am today, office bound, working for a large company doing mundane work.

Whenever I thought about escaping to pursue other possibilities, that very early writing ambition seemed to offer possibilities.
In the early 1990s I decided to do something about it. I resigned from my job and enrolled at University, studying creative writing and English literature.

In “Defense” of Crime Fiction

A one time friend of mine has taken exception to my reading of crime fiction. He is a professing Christian with some extreme theological views that would be rejected by the majority of Christian believers, including myself.

But added to his “theological” issues he has been particularly insistent about the evils of crime fiction and critical of my reading of “death and murder”.
He also objected to me maintaining a “reading list”, claiming I am:

” de facto recommending appalling books to Christians and shd be stopped. [my] Books Read list is available to the public. It shdn’t be…”

Clearly he has read ever single book on my Books Read list and knows without doubt how appalling all of those books are. But as for the claim that I’m recommending any of those books to Christians… it’s very rarely that I recommend any book to anyone, Christian or otherwise.

Ironically, this man introduced me to a Christian author of crime novels, an author his wife had been reading.
I read one of that author’s books and found aspects of it more disturbing than the majority of those “death and murder” books that he condemns; with its Christian good-guys resorting to shooting their criminal opponents on several occasions (it’s American of course).

But overlooking the 100s of non-crime books on my reading list, as well as the many non-fiction titles about a variety of topics, what about the “death and murder” books he finds disturbing?

While crime books mostly have a murder (or murders) as the ignition point of their story, few of them dwell on death. The stories are about the living, those attempting to resolve the crime, or those left to make sense of the life changing loss of a loved one. They are occasionally about the perpetrator, who in most books I’ve read haven’t been evil blood-thirsty psychopaths (although there have been a couple of exceptions out of the many I’ve read). The guilty parties are often everyday people who have committed an out of character act of violence upon the victim.

Most of the authors I’ve read don’t write explicit descriptions of violence or killing, with murders mostly happening beyond the page. There have been exceptions, sometimes gratuitous exceptions, but those are the minority, and aren’t the kind of books I choose to read – although with an unfamiliar author a book has to be read before its nature is discovered.

The majority of the crime fiction I’ve chosen to read, the way I’ve narrowed the field in a very wide genre, has been because of two main factors: geographical and temporal settings. I suppose both have a relationship to nostalgia. The majority of my chosen authors set their books around Derbyshire or neighbouring counties – where I lived during my pre-teen years. Others relate to the mid-1960s – 1970s, the period of my childhood and adolescence. They often weave landscape and time-scape with vaguely familiar references to news events of their time, or to places, and types of people, I thought I’d forgotten about – stirring memories.

Despite the claims of that one time friend, the average crime novel has nowhere near the amount of death and murder as there was in so many of the accounts of WWI and WWII that I was reading a year or two ago; books he was all too happy for me to read, even encouraging me with links to associated articles.

God, Drugs and Rock & Roll

During my years at university studying creative writing (early 1990s), I often listened to Alice Cooper as I wrote my short stories.

Here is a side of Cooper not often recognised.
His faith. His experiences in the music industry. His celebrity friendships. Golf.

And more…

Steven Dunne: The Reaper, and Writing a Novel

Steven Dunne is another author who locates his work in Derbyshire.

Previously I posted a video of Sarah Ward and Stephen Booth talking about their work. Those two writers set their stories in the rural north of Derbyshire, Dunne uses the city of Derby itself.

During my childhood I lived in the south of the county, about 15 miles from Derby. Trips to the city were rare. My specific memories are vague and they either centre on shopping trips or the area around the Baseball Ground, the former home of the Derby County football team, where I was taken many times on Saturday afternoons.

As for the north of the county, I recall two day trips where we ended up at Matlock Bath. The original destination had been Buxton, but navigation was never my dad’s strong point. Often we set out for one place only to arrive somewhere unexpected.
While we didn’t get to the place we intended, at least I got to see a lot of the countryside.

reaperI’ve just finished Dunne’s first book The Reaper, originally self-published, the book was eventually picked up by a major publisher.

Detective Inspector Damen Brook is an outcast within his department.  When the on duty Detective is called out to investigate a murder, Brook is the on-call officer called upon when a second murder is reported on the same night.

Brook finds  a murder scene that seems far too similar to those he’s witnessed in the past when he worked in London; the work of a serial killer Brook had named “The Reaper”.

Is this case related? If so why has the Reaper reappeared and why has he seemingly followed Brook to a new city?

The novel switches back and forth between Brook’s current investigations and his memories of the earlier cases, looking for the links between present and past, hoping to find proof of The Reaper’s identity.

The opening of the book was quite unpleasant, starting with a young, highly unlikable teenage boy, with a foul mouth and even fouler mind. A boy well on his way to being formed in his father’s image, living with the belief that women are good for only one thing.

I found this beginning had an unpleasant harshness that thankfully didn’t carry thorough the book, but it plays its part in establishing an important character and setting up the circumstances of approaching crimes.

Skimming through reviews on-line, I found a lot of mixed feelings about the book, but none that were overly unfavourable. Most found the book enjoyable but flawed, recognisable as an author’s first; and I agree. My feelings about it were also mixed. I found it mostly compelling, with a few unexpected twists, but I also found that one or two aspects of it made its main character, Brook, hard to empathise with, and I wonder whether he’s someone I really want to spend more time with. However, as I’ve already bought the follow up story, The Disciple, I’ll have to give him an opportunity to prove me wrong and win me over.

 

As this “Out of Shadows” blog site was originally intended to encourage me to regain my own writing ambitions (to date an unfruitful intention), I’ll add the following link to Steven Dunne’s blog where access is given to a four part series of article on “Writing a novel” The link also gives access to an interesting radio interview with Dunne.

 

The question Steven gets asked most often is: how do you write a novel and get it published?

There’s no easy answer and all novelists have their own way of working, but in the series of articles [at the link] below, Steven talks about the challenges and pitfalls he faced as he sought to get his first novel, Reaper, published.

https://sdunne2013.wordpress.com/2013/06/18/writing-a-novel/

Nadeem Aslam

Nadeem Aslam is among my favourite writers. I recently started reading his new book The Golden Legend.

The first of his novels that I read was The Blind Man’s Garden – and that got me hooked. Below is a video in which Aslam talks about The Blind Man’s Garden and gives some insight into his writing process.

 

See here for my thoughts about The Blind Man’s Garden written as I read it:

 

https://outshadows.wordpress.com/2013/04/11/honesty-with-beauty-and-horror/

 

https://outshadows.wordpress.com/2013/05/08/things-became-terrible-while-you-were-dead/

 

Not Working, by Lisa Owens

not workingThe subject of Lisa Owen’s book appealed to me.
Claire leaves her job of six years, hoping/expecting the newfound time and freedom will create the opportunity to find her “purpose” in life.

I understand.
It’s the kind of thought I’ve often had.
It’s the kind of idea I’ve acted on more than once; firstly when I ceased fulltime work to study, then several years later when I left my job and home in the city to start again in country New South Wales.
In neither case did my desired outcome ultimately lead to anything different, but both times it seemed like it was necessary to at least try to break out from the rut I’d worn for myself, if I wanted to find a better path in life.

Therefore, as soon as I heard about Not Working I wanted to read it.

Apart from the appeal of the story itself, I really like the structure of the book. Each chapter is subdivided under headings identifying locations, events and times. The text within those subdivisions can be  gems of “wisdom”, Claire’s personal observations, or part of the ongoing narrative of her quest for purpose.

Lists Each section adds to our unfolding understanding of Claire and her situation, with varying degrees of subtlety sometimes with pathos other times with humour; sometimes with clarity and other times more cryptically.

It’s the kind of approach I could see myself using – IF in some other reality I’d actually taken the literary path I’d wanted. If I’d disciplined myself to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, on a regular basis without the pressured incentive of deadlines and university demands.

karmaBut maybe there’s still hope.

I now see a way to use disparate ideas, isolated thoughts that of themselves have promise but aren’t amenable to stretching into a more extensive story.
Maybe they can be used without expansion, a scattering of them throughout a larger narrative, helping to pause the story flow: but not without significance. Each one in some way adding to the story, revealing more about its characters and their relationships,  and not merely serving as padding.

availabilityA larger story created out of shorter, seemingly incomplete, isolated incidents that over time the reader can piece together as common elements start to coalesce.

I may seem to have digressed from the book itself, but in fact the book has helped me return to the main reasons for creating this blog: encouraging me to read (and finish) more books and to reinvigorate my long-time neglected ambition/desire to be a writer.
Not Working is the type of book I genuinely enjoy to read. The kind I can’t wait get back to. It’s a book with an engaging story that re-stirs my desire to write, written in a way that presents some practical and interesting story writing possibilities.

pillow talk

FORTY. (a 1992 short story by Onesimus).

Figments

This is my only surviving story.

It survives because it was included in an anthology of work published by a University writer’s group. The title of the anthology is Figments. It was published in 1992.

The version below is a slightly edited version of the original; amended to fix a couple of parts I wasn’t happy with.

 

___________________________

FORTY
A shadow came from darkness and flecked my face with scarlet as rushing stars twinkled around me. My foot hit the brake and I skidded to the kerb. Did the tyres scream or was it me?
I left the car and ran to the nearby shops. The shadow stained the road with redness as I fumbled with the payphone.

“It’s all right mate, we’ve already done that”. A hand reached across and removed the receiver from, my trembling grip.
*
The police arrived and took control.
“What was your speed at the time of the accident?”
“I…I’m not sure. I think it was around forty.”
“What, forty k’s?”
“No. it was miles. I’ve got an old speedo.”
“Better say thirty-five then. Forty’s a touch over. Could you remove your valuables from the car? We need to take it to the station. We’ll have to keep it for a few days for inspection…”
I removed a few loose items and glanced at the damage. The bonnet was turned up harshly, a circular indentation smeared with blood marred its centre: a head-sized depression.

A twisted shoe on the road mourned the loss of a wearer.
*
The ambulance drove slowly as it left. Dead on arrival the papers would say.
The tow truck driver hovered in the shadows, his presence revealed by the glow of a cigarette. At the policeman’s signal he moved in. I watched as my car was hauled away in disgrace, it’s rear almost dragging on the road.
“We’ll need a formal statement from you,” the policeman said, returning a notebook to his pocket. “Call down at the station in the next couple of days and we’ll fix it all up. Okay?”
I nodded and tried to smile.
*
I didn’t sleep that night but relived the few seconds of the accident continually until daylight interrupted. Later I relived them again for the police statement; for concerned family and friends, for the insurance companies and finally I relived them for the coroner.
*
There weren’t many in the court. Only a routine case. Nothing interesting. A policeman sat next to me, showed me photos of my car and told me not to worry. But that was easy for him to say. What was the sentence for manslaughter anyway?
It didn’t take long. The victim was drunk. Extremely drunk. Lucky he could walk at all with so much alcohol in him. Lucky! That was debateable.

I smiled. I would sleep in my, own bed that night after all.
*
Celebrate, I thought.
It’s all over. It wasn’t my fault.
I left my car at home. No way would I drink and drive. Not with the amount I planned to put away.

I grinned my way through the first four drinks. Laughed through the next three, then silently appreciated the last two.

As the lights dimmed the barman caught my attention.
“Time to go mate. We’re closing. Dýa need a cab?”
“Nah. I’m right…Walking home.” I opened my wallet and took out a ten dollar bill. “Here, have a couple yerself sometime.”
I walked to the door leaving the money on the bar.
“Thanks mate. Sure you’ll be right?”
I waved acknowledgement and pushed out through the door into the cool air.
The street light’s lined the side of the road, marking out the route home. I followed them carefully until I reached the shops where I had to cross over.

I turned to the kerb and looked towards the approaching headlights. I’ll be alright, I thought as I stepped onto the road. He’s only doing around forty.
__________________
©Onesimus 1992.

Note. The reference to “speedo” in the above story has nothing to do with swim wear :), but is an Australian colloquialism for speedometer.
Likewise the term “bonnet” is not describing headwear 🙂 but refers to the part of a car Americans call the “hood”.

The story was inspired by personal experience.

At the time of writing it, I was using favourite song titles to name my stories, even though the songs themselves usually had no link to the story’s content. This title came from a U2 song.