Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Huge Thanks To The Friday Flash Community

I just wanted to express my thanks to everyone and I mean everyone, I've come into contact with through the #fridayflash community over the last 20 months.

I've met some fantastic folk and read some wonderful fiction. I've shared trepidation over blog redesigns, rejection letters, book launches with several of you via Twitter. I've weighed into debates hosted by several of you, done the odd guest blog post and generally tried to actively participate in our community. But now for me the time has come to an end, as the shortest story form is being usurped in my priorities with long-form novel writing.

I can't remember how I came by #fridayflash. Who alerted me to it, or whether it was a punt I took on a link someone posted somewhere on Twitter.

Up until then my blog was a bit derisory. I had only really posted the odd bit of various novel works in progress, completely shorn of their context and viewed by about 1 person a week. When my novel came out in October 2009, I took a decision that I would concentrate on promoting it and would not commit to any new writing for nine months while I did so. I started making videos on self-publishing trends and writing blog posts.

But somewhere around then I also started writing and posting flash fiction. I'm still not quite sure why. I'd barely ever written short stories let alone flash. My writing style shall we say, veers towards the wordy. I'd also sworn I wouldn't be writing any new prose. Well now I've written about 70 and discovered that I can still interweave even the shortest form of fiction with demanding language. I've even performed some of them live at readings. Recorded them for either audio or video. In that 9 months of promotion, (extended to 18 in reality), through writing flashes I probably wrote more regularly and more volume of words than I ever had. 70 stories around 1000 words each, that 70,000 words then and there!

Nor can I remember my first flash piece as it wasn't posted on my blog but on one of a couple of collective writing sites I was a contributor to. My earliest pieces got one or two comments, but within a month or so that had risen to double figures. You guys seemed to validate what I was trying to do with language, within a form that didn't give you much leeway for playing around with it and that gave me great heart since it had been a criticism often levelled against my longer prose. My blog traffic took huge spikes on Fridays and Saturdays. Some of you were kind enough to honour me with blog awards, which I found a little hard to accept as I still don't see myself as much of a blogger!

I'm lucky, I have 3 Fridays in four where I'm not working. That allowed me to dive into reading as many flashes from you guys as I could. Gradually I got acquainted with people's styles; who tended to write genre and those who might tackle anything, so that one had no notion of what you were about to read from week to week.

My heart gave a little kick each time MazzzinLeeds' outlandishly long gun barrel at the top of her blog hove into view, as I wondered what fiendishly clever story she would offer up this Friday. Or hit the 'play' button for Anthony (Bukowski's Basement)'s mood music to accompany reading his story, looked over by that dissolute photo of ChuckBuck himself. Laura Eno's fantastic series of Chronos, Death, a motley cast of characters and cocktails and peanuts, leaving me hungry each week for the follow up. Of Carrie Clevenger's wonderfully evocative Texas Gothic writing, Kat Del Rio's brutally frank stories of people using people usually for bad, Alison Wells, DJ Young and Penny Goring's sublime lyrical treats one could bask in endlessly and Linda (@drwasy) always signing off her comments with "Peace", while rendering her own often deeply unsettling flashes. The sometimes melancholic, always soaring prose of Rebecca Emin and Rach Carter, the politically passionate stories of Virginia Moffatt and the outrageously clever variety of Jon Wiswell and Tony Noland's work. I followed Michael Solander's trend for progressively shorter and shorter distillation of his powerful pieces. Genevieve Ching's and PJ Kaiser's effortlessly smooth transition between styles and themes. Of Mari and Marissa who I always mixed up in the early days on Twitter! And of course the Daddy of the community, the man who made it all possible, Jon Strother.

After writing 52 stories in 53 weeks, I took a break from flash for shadowing NaNoMoWr with a new novel of my own. But after completing a draft of that, I found I had a lot of new flash ideas bubbling under and so returned this January. Like me now, some of the old names had turned to pastures new. This time round I encountered the wonderful prose of Anne Michaud, the OTT muscular writing of Tommy Salami, the ebullient prose of Jason Coggins, the thoughtful pieces of Phillip Ellis and Pete Domican, the quietly affecting work of Lisamarie Lamb and the dark deeds wrought by Melissa Webb. And many more of you for which I want to express my thanks for letting me read. Another hugely admirable writer Tim Van sant and I have swapped notes on flash anthologies and the likely make up of an introduction.

So this has been a wonderfully warm and enriching experience for me. Apart from the friendships, I now also have an anthology of 52 flashes which I will bring out on Kindle over the next couple of months. I will try and dip in and out of your #fridayflash stories on offer, but I have to dedicate my Fridays to my novel work. If I have one regret bout our community, it is that it is mainly writers speaking to other writers and somehow has to try and burst through to reach 'pure' readers.

Thank you one and all for your generosity, your interest in my work and your welcoming openness in having me as part of your community.

marc xx

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Fourteen Bulbs -Friday Flash

She sat where she had sat countless times before. In the harsh glare of the lights fringing her mirror. Fourteen naked bulbs to show her up in all her rawness. Stark like a Noh mask.

Fourteen interrogatory lamps burning into her face. Garlanding the looking glass, festooned like wedding arch colonnades. Though she’d only ever experienced those as scenery on the theatre stage.

The lights so tightly focused, they barely penetrated the darkness beyond her. Every evening and prior to matinees and premiers, her ghostly, disembodied head floated in the mirror as she caked it in thickly layered cosmetics. The bulbs’ other function, foreshadowing the dazzle out on the stage itself. If they couldn’t efface her features here at close range, then it augured well for her characterful expressions to prevail under the spotlights, tractor beamed in the footlights.

This particular mirror seemed as venerable as she. The glass had flowed, rucked and bubbled, like her own skin corrugated with wrinkles. Tarnished where the silvered paint had chipped or turned green with verdigris. Aping her liver spots and burst blood vessels. She loved the bulbs for blasting such imperfections away under their unforgiving blare. The mirror on her dresser at home was not nearly so forgiving.

It occurred to her that in all the years sat in place, she couldn’t ever remember a single bulb having popped. The divine power of the theatre, palace of illusion.

There was a time when other bulbs popped. Those of the Press cameras. Preview nights, gala performance evenings and end-of-run parties. Fluid, promiscuous alignments of leading men and first ladies, arm in arm with supporting cast members all beaming for the lens. Dissolved at the moment of the striking of the set, as each heads on to their next role. Another theatre, different dressing rooms. The same fourteen bulb guard of honour.

Sadly she had witnessed her own mind’s bulbs pop one by one. It was getting progressively harder to recall her lines. There were no unseen stagehands inside her head to replace the burned out filaments.

Now there was a dearth of good luck telegrams wedged into the mirror frame. While the best wishes cards accompanying bouquets of flowers had also dried up.

Neither wigs, nor curlers sat on her dresser. Simply not required any more. She could not get away with counterfeiting ages other than her true one, unlike in the past. Her skin so dried and cracked. Even the greasepaint could no longer suggest any glossy suppleness. It just seemed to disappear down the fissures in her brow and cheeks as it required ever greater volumes to recongeal her face whole. Far greater preparation time was demanded, when all she wanted to do was lie down on the ottoman and rest her weary eyes.

The cubicle was smaller than she was used to. No other background hubbub of fellow actors full of life and lusts. Exercising their voices along the full range. Practising the entire gamut of human emotion and intrigue beyond the world of the play, centred instead within these tiny rooms.

For she was of such an age now, whereby she only appeared in monologues. Wistful treatises of old women looking back on unfulfilled lives. Playwrights didn’t seem to credit the venerable woman with any ability to pursue relationships still. Seemingly audiences could only feel pity, not desire, at this juncture of her life.

Her hair pulled back by the band, face blanched or greyed out in hue, these were the only effects the directors were after for her these days. Like a ghost. The bereft Trojan women. Now her appearance was as if she had ceased the make-up process at the foundation stage. Her dressing robe and protective serviette towel barely having to be removed for the performance, as she played women confined to dressing gowns, asylum smocks or wrapped in a bed sheet.

She knew it wouldn’t be too much longer that she would be able to stare into that mirror and recognise the face staring back at her. Be it disguised or unadorned by emulsion. Her ministrations complete, she flicked the light switch off. The bulbs did not die immediately. She watched the reflected light in her satellite eyes fade gradually in the mirror. Until only the spectral outline of her death mask remained square in the flat plane of glass.

She was sat where she had sat countless times before, with only the green “Exit” light to illuminate her way.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Basic Geometry - Friday Flash

Alasdair is playing with his Lego bricks
A grand architect working his dinky fingers
Thinner than the plastic parallelograms he manipulates
He mounts one atop another
Feeling, friction rubbing the bulbous tips
Searching for the hidden holes beneath till they snap home
In timeworn Euclidean geometry
Mortise and tenon, interlocking and binding
The colours are charmingly brightly random
Yellow crests red underscores blue fades into black
All perched on a thin flat base
Manufactured green to suggest the verdant
When where he lives is submersed in grey concrete
He's building upwards now
Modestly ascending for the heavens in small steps
Lips pursed, tongue just extruding with rapt concentration
The master builder with no picture in his head
Virtually pre-lingual he knows words
But cannot yet assemble sentences into the air
He likes the word 'sky', unknowingly fumbling towards its suffix
As he scrapes the plastic bucket of seemingly limitless bricks
Across the floor towards closer reach
The intelligent designer just happened on some more axioms of geometry
The reach of his arm, the length of a cubit
The boxer's tale of the tape
Resolute now, fabricating vertically brick upon brick
One block in width only
A coloured DNA map of his unformed, boundless mind
A Tower of Babel beyond the forfeit of language
He has an innate discomfort of aesthetic asymmetry
When an eight stud block gets binds against studs five and six of its overlooker
He cannot abide the overhang
His jaw set firm as he repairs the lip hanging over the void
Elevating higher, yet higher towards the unfocused notion of heaven
He is amused that it sways
A basic fundamental about foundational and spreading the load
Yet the plastic edifice holds its stability
He ceases his creative hand
Perhaps his pinched fingers ache from the sustained production
He pads backwards on his posterior
To view his erection with perspective
Is he proud? Is he awe-struck?
We cannot yet be sure of his fledgeling emotional range
Now he grasps two longitudinal pieces, twelve spots both
He crosses one over the other and locks them in perpendicularly
His building soars, but now he can fly
He rams the plane into his tower
The high rise collapses beneath the assault
Just like the Jenga game his sister plays
The plane breaks apart at its fulcrum
A lesson in physics, but one beyond his tender ken
He sifts among the rubble
Apparently delighted with something about the outcome
He sets about rebuilding the structure
Assimilating what he has learned about breadth
This time he deliberately courts overhang as he fashions gaps
He has plumped for glassless windows
Holes he has recalled from watching the Jenga unfold
Though his are sightless, giving on only to the interior of his tower
But all in all, this construction is smoother, more practiced
The tower is hoisted up in double quick time
He recasts the plane
Declines to put a tail on it, maybe because he has never been on one
Pincered between his fingers, he flies it in the airspace above the column
He increases the imaginary throttle
And drives it hard into the heart of the tower
The wing-piece is stripped off, but the fuselage stays lodged
In the finally calibrated inbuilt hole
The tower wobbles, but stays standing
Yet the slow fuse of combustion has been lit within him
He skips out the room for some refreshment to slake his thirst
Some geometry, some physics, a love of destruction and a disinterest in aesthetics
Thus is the groundplan of hell laid down in his mind

Monday, 4 July 2011

Wardrobe Malfunction

I can't remember the last time I had to pay for any clothes other than my smalls.

Nearly 20 years working at a record shop and its skateboarding subsidiary, meant one way and another, lots of freebie clothes.

From the skate side, slightly shop-soiled shorts, skater jeans, hoodies and Ts. Things like where the stitching on a jeans pocket was slightly awry. I got free trainers too, including the odd Nike or Vans limited edition that we were involved in designing. I even got a pair of DVS Ozzy Osbourne slippers complete with stickers (as yet still mint in their packaging - open to offers).

I do dress like the oldest skater in town, despite the fact I have never been on a board in my life.

From the record shop, mainly T-shirts of bands, either given out free as merchandising, or by the indie producers oiling a sale of their wares. Interestingly neither still happen quite so readily; the major record labels have slashed their merchandising giveaways and the indie T-shirt producers have gone out of business. Partly as they were pursued for breaches of copyright and the development of image rights.

My socks were supplemented by my wife working for the Stella Artois tennis tournament that was an annual pre-Wimbledon warm-up. For some reason she was given lots of branded white socks, which she passed on to me despite her loathing of the white sock look.

My father sees fit occasionally to try and bolster my wardrobe with brand clothes that I know he hasn't picked out (this is a man who wears bow ties for goodness sakes). I descry the taste of his femme fatale, so having your father's mistress dress you is particularly perturbing.

My suit was a dead man's hand me down (passed over?), which seeing as I only ever seem to wear it for funerals seems fitting somehow.

My wedding suit, which I can no longer fit in, was bought for me as a not-so-gentle insurance I would be respectably turned out on the day.

I can't remember quite when I bought my Doctor Martens, but it was certainly before they became a fashion brand and the price shot through the roof. However old they are, still intact and wearing well. They may well have been the last item I splashed some cash on, other than a couple of pairs of pyjamas.

But I left my record shop job 2 & 1/2 years ago. The skateboard side had been sold off a couple of years prior to that. My wife also changed jobs and no longer does the tennis. I've had no new freebies for that period. And now my clothes are starting to fall apart. My socks rip at the heel when I pull them on, the toes peep through holes in the worn weft. I have no trousers that aren't fraying at the turnup.

A few months ago my last free pair of Vans developed a hole in the sole. I went tremblingly in to shops to source myself some new trainers (sneakers/pumps as they used to be called before branding). I came out with two pairs and a dent in my credit card.

Now for the first time in 20 years I'm going to have to budget for a clothes spend. Even a couple of pairs of trainers brought me out in a cold sweat. I have no conception of choosing clothes, I've always taken what I was given. I'm going to have to run the gauntlet of low mood lighting, S/M/L/XL coloured cubes on hangars, pumping music and changing rooms.

Guys help!