Thursday, 27 February 2014

Random Fridays: 06



POV:           First person
Genre:         Horror
Subject:       Measure, Week & Concerned

It had been a week since we had last seen Thomas; long enough in this land to safely presume anyone dead. Sure enough, it didn’t take long to find Thomas’ body.

The search party was small; just Jacobson and myself. We found Thomas in the early hours of our sixty fifth day. He had frozen, as sure a death as you would expect in this frigid wasteland; his skin blue and brittle, stretched tight over a contorted face. It didn’t take a detective to locate the reasoning behind the man’s fate: his foot had become caught in a fissure between the ice plates and he had been unable to wrench it free. Long-time exposure to the freezing temperatures had frozen the poor man as solid as the ice he had been sampling.

Jacobson shared a puzzled look with me and I shrugged in response, pulling the fur trim of my coat hood tighter. There were many questions to ask regarding the situation but none that ought to be asked there and then. We pulled Thomas free from his resting place and gathered up the tools he had taken. The borer was still in situ and it appeared that Thomas hadn’t managed to collect the sample before he died. After dismantling the device we found a long cylindrical tube of solid ice in the collection chamber which we took back with us.

Sabos gave a grim nod when we returned to camp and showed him Thomas’ body. It were as if he had expected a grim outcome and this was the very best he could have hoped for; I shuddered to think what the worst might have been.

There wasn’t much we could do with Thomas; there was barely room for four people within the confines of our tiny hut and none of us felt guilty acknowledging our joy at the new-found comfort in additional space. The decent thing would have been to preserve his body for the return home, but that was some months away. Besides, the tundra was a natural preservation environment and anything we could have done would only have been a step backwards. We wrapped him in linen sheets like the civilisations of old and left him in a marked spot some hundred metres from our cabin.

We showed Sabos the ice sample that we had retrieved. It was the first time any one of us had really looked at it. Seeing it in an even light revealed that something was trapped inside it. It could have been just what we were searching for; proof of life beneath the ice, ancient life. Sabos seemed unconcerned though and asked that we simply set the sample down on the side. We agreed without question, one of many actions that now seems so uncharacteristic of us all. Why did we treat Thomas’ death with such indifference? Why was he outside alone? Why had it taken us a whole week to search for him? Why are we not filled with excitement over the prospect of the sample? No matter how I tried, I could see no reason to feel anything other than apathy. I felt tired and drained, as if a lifetimes emotions had ravaged my mind in a single day. I needed to sleep.

Thomas’ face haunted my dreams for some nights after that, as did the creature that lurked inside the ice sample. Although I had not seen its true form I imagined it as a giant black, preying mantis-like insectoid larger than a man. Each time it would raise its giant pincer arms and thrust them into the back of an unsuspecting Thomas’ skull, blood and viscera spraying as his face twisted into that same cold expression of horror.

When I awoke on the sixty ninth day both Jacobson and Sabos were dead. There were large bored holes in the backs of their skulls and there was dried blood on my hands. The ice sample had completely melted and the creature contained within was nowhere to be found.

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ADDENDUM
I apologise for the absence of last weeks Random Friday entry. It has grown into something larger than I anticipated and may be used as a short story for an upcoming assignment of my writing course. As such it will be given a different level of priority and probably won't appear here for some time yet. Sorry!

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Monday blog: Two months

Currently reading: The Subtle Knife - Philip Pullman
Reading next: The Amber Spyglass - Philip Pullman
Writers' Bureau course progress: Assignment 2 on temporary hiatus
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 So we're almost through February, the second month of a twelve month year. That's a lot of time gone in what seems like no time at all. Then again, that's really very much how time seems to work and I never have enough of it.

However, looking back over the six weeks in which I have practised my new regime points to promising results. I'm not a fan of celebrating prematurely because stopping halfway into a race to pat yourself on the back is possibly the most damning thing you can do to yourself. However I feel it is important to slow the pace and take comfort in your steady progress every now and then.

The Monday blogs and Random Fridays have so far been quite the success; not only have they forced me into a regular routine but they have prompted me to be constantly thinking in new ways. Every Monday I must find something to discuss relating as best I can to writing and my experiences within it. I'm constantly analysing what I do anyway but sometimes simply typing it down reveals things I had not considered before.

The regular reading has been going well too. I'm not naturally the fastest or most frequent reader so I've been aiming for at least a book a month (more than I was reading before at any rate.) I try to read a chapter of my current book before bed which seems to be serving me well in terms of completing the book within the limit. Not only that but I'm also enjoying reading again; perhaps I've simply picked good books so far but I find myself excited to return to them whereas previously I could even put a good book down and not return. Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy is a series I had been meaning to complete ever since I read Northern Lights some years ago and enjoyed it immensely. I have noticed that my own fantasy story Kin shares a lot of similarities and that particular mould of fantasy is very much one I am a fan of.

But it's possibly in the regular Random Fridays instalments that I have found the most use; these little exercises have encouraged me to type and write without fear of inadequacy. By framing the writing around the idea of quick-shot ideas my brain seems to have grown an acceptance to the process. However, as I have found in the past, this is a skill easily lost without it's frequent application. The results can already be seen in my most recent random (yet to be completed) which has actually captured my imagination and prompted me to continue it beyond a single five hundred word singular into a multi-scene short story. When you see the theme used though, you might wonder why this one in particular appealed to me, I certainly did.

I don't believe in tempting fate, bad karma or jinxing chances of future success so I'm going to say right now that I feel quite confident in the continuation of this particular routine. I also feel a lot more motivated to actually get started on the first draft of Kin. More on that, and other things, another time.

Well, this review quickly turned into a full on back patting didn't it? Time to get back into it; the race is still on and I'm nowhere near the finish line yet.

This is Frisk,
signing off.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Random Fridays: 05

My apologies for the late arrival of this week's Random Friday instalment. Rest assured it is under way and I have kept to my schedule. Rather unexpectedly it has morphed into something a little longer and multi-part.

I'll update this blog post when it's done, at least before next Friday!

Monday, 17 February 2014

Monday blog: No time

Currently reading: The Subtle Knife - Philip Pullman
Reading next: The Amber Spyglass - Philip Pullman
Writers' Bureau course progress: Assignment 2 in progress
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I won't lie; there's no Monday blog today. I've been working on another project and it's taken all my time up. Besides, I don't actually have a topic prepared today!

Since these blog entries are designed to make me write more, and I've been writing something all day anyway, I still consider this a win. So there.

This is Frisk,
signing off.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Random Fridays: 04



POV:           Third person
Genre:         Horror
Subject:       Death, Competition & Lively

Was it still there? Was it still following him? David cast his torch out shakily behind himself as he ran, scanning desperately for his pursuer. The beam was visibly weaker now and fading fast; the light barely touched the walls of the hallway before melting away uselessly into darkness. David swore loudly, his anger a flimsy substitute for the terror that gripped him.

David rounded a corner expecting to see the fire exit but instead was confronted with another identikit intersection in the hallway. He considered his options briefly before going left and leaving it to random chance. We should never have come in here, he thought.

His mind flashed to Paul and Dahlia, to the shared look on their faces when they had all encountered that… thing. He wished they hadn’t got separated on that stairwell. Where were they now? He had no way of telling. All he could hear was the pounding of his heart in his throat, the very flow of his blood as it passed directly by his ears and the constant slap of his feet as he pounded the dusty floors of the deserted building.

His breath running ragged and in short supply David stopped abruptly, leaning against an old wooden door. He clutched hopelessly at his chest in an attempt to calm the heaving motion until finally he regained control. The building seemed to fall suddenly silent. David became acutely aware of his surroundings, the dreadful silence, and he began to long for the chaotic sounds of his own fear once again.

He turned to the door in the wall and tried the handle, an ancient brass handle grown green with the decay of age. The door wouldn’t budge and when David followed the source of the obstruction he realised that it had been nailed to the frame; long rusty nails hammered in with haste and no precision. Some of the door panels were loose and filled with damp, he knocked a couple out with little force and they fell noisily into the room beyond. He placed his face close to the hole, aimed the torch inside and peered into the darkness beyond.

Nothing; the room appeared empty and if nothing else it was as rotten and rank as the rest of the building. Even if he had wanted to hide it would have provided little protection. He didn’t even know how those things detected their prey. It certainly didn’t look like they could see. Perhaps they could smell or maybe hear? They might even have some otherworldly sense that can detect the living. Whatever they were they sure as hell weren’t alive.

Something grabbed David’s leg. He felt dull teeth tear through his jeans and rip jagged lines through his flesh. He howled in pain and was pulled to the floor. The torch fell from his hands and broke apart on the ground, plunging him into darkness. He thrashed his free leg in an uncoordinated attack, catching nothing but air the first few times until… CRACK; he connected with something brittle and felt it shatter.

The creature screamed and the grip on David’s leg retreated although the searing pain remained. David scrambled away from the source of the scream and pushed himself against the wall. He tried to stand but the pain in his leg was too intense and he sunk back to the floor. He located the pieces of the torch and blindly fumbled with them, trying to reassemble the device.

That scream, it had been almost human. Just like any normal human crying out in pain. David felt a pit open in his stomach; could he have just attacked another survivor? No, it couldn’t have been. His kick wasn’t powerful enough to crush an entire skull like that. Besides, not even survivors desperate for help opened negotiations with a bite like that.

The torch casing clicked back into place and David tried the switch, hoping he had miraculously placed the batteries correctly first time. The switch flipped and a weak beam of light fell across the creature that lay twitching some few feet away. He was surprised to see it moving.

It resembled a dog but also not really. It was emaciated, with skin so far to the bone that it may as well have been a walking skeleton. Muscle fibres and stretchy sinew hung limply from its limbs and joints while patches of blackened flesh seemed to shed from it before David’s eyes. But the worst thing was its skull. The muzzle had been crushed by David’s attack and now lay all about the floor as a scattering of bone shards.

The dog twitched on the floor and slowly pushed itself up, with no more trouble than had it been an arthritic pet dog. It scanned the hallway, almost as if its senses were still intact. All that remained of its head was a hollow shell atop a crumbling spine. Then it leapt at David.

The door beside David burst open, the rotten slats splintering outwards in a cloud of decay and dampened dust. Something tumbled out into the hallway and fell upon the dog. It was another human. David trained he torch on the two figures now wrestling each other in the hall. The human figure was no more alive than the dog but it did seem to have more skin intact and even a hint of clothing that had snagged in-between bones. What quarrel could two undead monsters have with each other? Were they fighting over David? The human made short work of the dog, pulling its limbs away with such regimented order that the sight made the bile rise in David’s throat.

When the dog finally lay motionless in the hall the human turned its attention to David and lunged at him, pulling at his limbs in much the same way it had with the dog. Only David wasn’t quite so brittle. He took almost ten minutes to die.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Monday Blog: Ch-ch-changes

Currently reading: The Subtle Knife - Philip Pullman
Reading next: The Amber Spyglass - Philip Pullman
Writers' Bureau course progress: Assignment 2 in progress
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My current writing project is a fantasy novel by the name of Kin. I have more than likely mentioned it before. Despite the changes to my routine and the increased focus on my writing course progress on Kin has not slowed, nor has the project been shelved like so many before it. I give the story a lot of thought daily and it occurred to me recently just how much a story evolves during the creation process.

Kin was a story conceived with a single purpose: a simple story, vastly different from what I had written before, to be used as a template for 2011's NaNoWriMo event. 50,000 words in a month. It was only three weeks prior to the start of the event that I decided to participate and had only that short time to create a basic template. The idea was, as ever, to encourage myself to simply write without worrying too much for the quality while trying to allow more spontaneous creativity.

It worked. To a certain extent. By the end of November 2011 I had 50,000 words of a novel called Kin and a certificate to say I had done it. Amazing; I set out to do something related to writing and actually succeeded. So what happened? How come it's February 2013 and Kin has still not seen the light of day? Well, to be perfectly honest the entire first draft was a pile of garbage.

When I reveal this statement to people I often get tuts and rolling eyes; they believe me to have been too critical, as is my usual way. But I defy anyone to compare a synopsis of both the original version and the current version and not find the original vastly inferior, simply based on its core concepts. The fact of the matter is that things change, your mind changes, your preferences change and soon something that seemed like a great idea is rendered pale and empty.

Kin started off in life as a fantasy about a boy/man who has a talking fox companion. That was literally my only brief when I started. As I spent more time with the story in my mind I began to flesh out the world and the characters within it. The boy, Perin, was a frustrated bundle of impulsion and energy who needed to form a bond with an arrogant and selfish fox. It was a recipe for many hijinks and amusing conflicts, but sadly they never happened. Looking back at the original idea I can scarcely believe I allowed myself to go ahead and write any words for it! Perin barely left the village, never saw any of the world and had one, arguably, small conflict towards the end which served as the climax and overall resolution. Lame.

Today Kin is about a girl named Jade. She comes from our world now. She lives a dreary loveless existence in a boarding school in the middle of London. She has no real parents, a strange magical amulet and a fox which appears to be stalking her. Her life is unbearably dull until an unexpected train ride takes her to another world that she believes is truly where she belongs. Now Jade must travel the strange, hostile new land in order to gain her very own kin and earn her place amongst the people.

Sounds much more interesting, doesn't it?

So I began to wonder; is there some kind of magical threshold? Could there be a point within a storyline's development where it literally becomes exactly what it needs to be and no more or less? Could the story be given too little consideration and come out shallow and heartless? Conversely, could too much thought endanger the project? New ideas come to me daily and each one feels like a brilliant new idea that only serves to enhance what I already have. I honestly feel like the story is currently growing in size, complexity and quality. But just when is more a little too much?

This is Frisk,
signing off.

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ADDENDUM
I would like to add that whereas my experience with NaNoWriMo was not completely successful the event itself is a wonderful tool for encouraging writing and creativity. My first draft may have been unusable but that was entirely my fault. Even from within the dross there were a few small nuggets of goodness which actually sparked more ideas that I would come to implement later on. I don't regret using NaNoWriMo for a single moment and would recommend it to anyone who struggles with putting words on paper.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Random Fridays: 03



POV:           First person
Genre:         Fantasy
Subject:       Fire, Knowledge & Shivering

Outwardly Cardastan was, by anyone’s standards, a frail and withered old man. But to those who knew him well he remained a respectable scholar in possession of a wiry and tenacious disposition. He was not one to give into flights of folly or fancy. So I feel more than justified in my actions of accompanying him to this place: the very ends of this earth.

When a man like Cardastan slips so easily back into your life after a nearly thirty year hiatus you may begin to wonder, as did I, just what had prompted such actions; such a change of heart, if you will. But when the very same man also declares that he has discovered a powerful artefact long thought to be nothing but mere fantasy, all misgivings tend to give way to curiosity.

‘The fires of knowledge,’ he had said simply, his tone inferring no more outlandish a sentiment than had he declared our destination as the local tavern.

What followed was a heated and rather predictable back and forth as to the legitimacy of his claim. I don’t quite recall the details but I can still feel the very energy that radiated from him, the sense of genuine urgency and burning passion that a true discovery could ignite in one such as he.

‘So what exactly would you ask of me?’ The inquiry would mark the beginning of my own downfall.

‘The fire burns eternally. It is said that should the flames ever extinguish all knowledge in the world will die with them. If the legend is true then...’ He trailed off to a whisper. I didn’t need to hear any more to guess his intent.

‘You mean to gain forbidden knowledge from the very source. Is that wise?’

The old man laughed. It was a hollow and croaky laugh that rattled inside his chest but it lacked none of the intended mirth. ‘My dear boy, there is but one way to obtain true wisdom and we’re going to do it!’

I should have seen it earlier. The signs were all there. Cardastan was always a subtle one, perhaps spending too much time pouring over dusty tomes filled with indecipherable runes and ancient drawings; it was little wonder their cryptic nature had an influence. But the one thing about Cardastan that you could always count on was his ability to conjure an answer, one way or another. I posed many questions, pitched a wide range of theories and possible outcomes but each was stonewalled, met with closed mind and impatient tone. His mind was set and there was no turning back.

The journey was a long and arduous one. I can only imagine the toll it must have taken on a man the age of Cardastan. We crossed sodden fen and moor, scaled rocky slopes and treacherous ledges before finally delving deep into the cavernous system of caves stretching beneath the old ruin of Anuldran Fest.

No one had dared to tread the path we followed, not in the three hundred years since the fort’s collapse. It was said to be haunted by the souls of those who died there. Then again, a lot has been said of Anuldran Fest and none of it came to pass during our time there. No, instead something much worse happened.

Time is irrelevant without a device by which to track it and we spent what seemed like days inside those dank, dusty holes. But eventually we found the eternal flames in a large chamber deep within the caves. Cardastan proved to be as good as his words. At least, the ones he had actually spoken out loud.

When he gained sight of the flickering motes of orange against the pitted surface of darkened rock I swear he nearly wept for joy. Then, as swift as a mountain goat, he leapt forth and was consumed instantly by the flames. Time stood still within the fire. Cardastan’s body hung, suspended within like a puppet abandoned by its master. Then he began to shiver.

At first I believed it to be a trick of the light, the natural distortion caused by the rising waves of heat but no, no he was shaking, convulsing within the fire like some kind of terrible reaction occurred from within. Then, as calmly as he had appeared to me those many days ago, he slipped from the fire and approached me.

If you had told me that Cardastan had remained unchanged his entire life, that from the age of ten to one hundred he had not seen the world differently for a single day, I would have believed you. For a scholar he had remained almost impossibly impartial, never allowing his knowledge to alter him. But that day I saw a man changed in ways I could never have imagined.

He stalks me still, to this very day. He carries that fire with him now. Wreathed in flame, his very skin bubbles and erupts into flame over and over. His human form no more than a perpetually molten core. And always that same expression burned into his warping face; the calm acceptance of one who knows how it will end.

By the Gods, I’ll make damn sure he’s wrong.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Monday blog: Playing games in other worlds

Currently reading: The Subtle Knife - Philip Pullman
Reading next: The Amber Spyglass - Philip Pullman
Writers' Bureau course progress: Assignment 2 in progress
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When I'm not writing or have become so jaded that writing becomes a problem I like to kick back with a good video game. But not one of those mindless shooters you see on the old TV box, no, I prefer something with a little more imagination. Story based video games are my favourite and there are some real fine examples such as The Last of Us and Bioshock: Infinite which provide interactive story driven experiences well on par with any action blockbuster or moody thriller you might see in the cinema. But sometimes I need something slightly different, something that still allows me to be creative, even away from my writing.

One of my favourites is a game called The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, the latest instalment in a long-running series of  computer games in the RPG genre. RPG stands for Role Playing Game and although they differ between franchises the main component of an RPG is a highly customisable character and dynamic progression system. Basically you can choose who your character will be and have full control over their actions and development.



The name Skyrim refers to the world in which you play, a massive region of diverse landscapes ranging from Arctic-style tundra, towering mountain peaks, swamped marshlands and dense forest. There are settlements, cities and camps all filled with their own individual inhabitants, each with a tale to tell and some with a quest to complete. During the time of the game there is a civil war on the brink of eruption between the native Nords and the Imperial Empire who wish to claim back the land, although it's not as straight forward as that.

As mentioned before the beauty of this genre of game is the ability to be exactly who you want to be. Skyrim offers a variety of races which are commonplace within the Elder Scrolls series. But beyond that you can choose whether you want to be a mighty warrior, agile archer or perhaps a powerful mage. But even then the customisation doesn't end there, the people you meet will offer various ways to complete their quests. Want to be a paragon of virtue who helps everyone with a smile? Sure. How about a dastardly thief that steals from shops and then sells it back to its owner without them ever knowing? No problem. Perhaps you would rather spend your days honestly, denouncing violence and gathering ingredients instead to potions and turn a profit by selling your wares? Equally valid.



Of course there's a main questline which involves dragons and saving the world but why bother with that when there's so much to discover in the world at large? The game is incredibly free-form, never pushing you into a single option. Part of the role-playing experience is to create your character, both in the game and also in your mind, and playing out this experience as that character would. Random encounters mean that even when you're deep in the wilds you'll never be bored... or safe. Anything from wolfs and trolls to vampires and mammoths are out to get you unless you stay on your toes. Stumble across an old ruin or cave? Perhaps there's loot inside, or a mystery to solve surrounding an ancient artefact. Honestly the list is nearly endless.



So with some many options, character possibilities and encounters you can never have one play-through the same as the next. This makes Skyrim a perfect canvas for inspiration and is a place that I have been returning to ever since the game was released in November 2011. Now if you don't mind I think there's a dungeon that's in need of delving...

This is Frisk,
signing off.