What’s for dinner

It is not often I find myself questioning my sanity. Usually, I question the sanity of others. If there’s one thing I am usually certain of, is that I am a rational human being in a world infested with madness. That said, I had a jacket potato tonight and couldn’t stop laughing at it.

I have had many jacket potatoes in my time and never given it much thought. There is almost an endless combination of toppings one can slop over the most popular of the tubers. Beans, beans and cheese, chilli, chilli with cheese, tuna… well maybe not endless, but still.

Because my bank card broke and, in this technological age, one cannot get money or buy things without a bank card, I am unable to buy food. As I work full time and the banks don’t ever seem to want to be open when the general population can visit them, what I will eat in the coming days remains a mystery to me. Why banks open when everyone is at work, close for an hour at lunch and then close at half past five is quite ingenious in many respects. It’s well known that those in work will be the ones with money. If they’re in banks withdrawing their money, then the banks will have less money, and they don’t want that.

Anyway. A broken bank card and no cash is what led me to be eating a jacket potato. With butter… a crack of pepper and a pinch of salt. This, I am assured, constitutes a meal. A single potato.

This solitary spud sat on my plate, steam rising from its scored outer flesh, its innards cooked to a soft and fluffy perfection. I had a potato for dinner.

That’s it.

What are you having for dinner?

A potato.

Oh, very nice.

It’s the only vegetable where this is acceptable.

What are you having for dinner?

A butternut squash.

You fucking weirdo.

What’s for dinner mum?

A single grilled parsnip.

 

This has been my evening. This is what happens when there’s no beer in the house.

 

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Let the stag do die… kill it if you have to

I currently sit writing in a Welsh cottage sipping a glass of wine and pondering the written word. One, because I am a pretentious douche and two, because I am waiting for a spag bol to cook. I feel I can’t leave the pan because the last three times I have left something on simmer, I forgot about it entirely and ruined a perfectly edible dinner and a perfectly decent pan. The wine is a white one, the name of which I don’t know because I only tend to drink wine when I’m flexing my pretentious douche muscles or it’s the only thing on offer.

It was on my way to Wales (albeit just in Wales – my bed is probably half in half out), that I stopped in a service station. These are bizarre places. A hidden magical world contained within our own. They are convergence points in time where all manner of creatures from every decade imaginable may pass through, brush shoulders and share tales of the past and warn of things to come. Mostly, however, it was where they pee and then buy an overpriced coffee.

It was here I happened to overhear a group of men. They were all men, and not just biologically male, but MEN. They were extremely vocal about how male they really were. These were the sort of people who viewed being born with a fleshy appendage between their legs as a thing to be regarded as an achievement and therefore worthy of boasting.

I have a penis, but I tend to regard it with casual indifference these days, much like the rest of the world. This group of MEN belong a subset of the male gender (a word that’s becoming increasingly confusing these days, it’s an interesting linguistic journey we have embarked on in recent years). They are lads. In much the same way that all Uruk-hai are orcs, but not all orcs are Uruk-hai (no doubt I am misremembering my LotR lore. Do not engage me in a lengthy debate; I am on holiday), all lads are MEN but not all men are lads.

Very occasionally, a group of lads split off from the general horde of slathering shits and embark on an age-old ritual known as ‘a Stagg Do’. It is my sincerest hope that this dies a painful death. I hope it dies choking on its own blood, writhing in the mud and filth from which it sprang. Once dead, I hope it is stricken from the annals of history. I hope anyone who dares utter the phrase ‘Stagg Do’ is castigated and cast out of society if not immediately bludgeoned to death with the nearest blunt implement.

Not wishing to seem to hard on MEN and lads, women (those born without penises and possessed of a womb in this definition) occasionally do similar things. Their ritual is known as a Hen Do. These are still relatively deplorable, but apparently, they are steeped in sexual liberation (for womankind, of course, men have always been fairly free when it comes to sex). There are many reasons why the woman’s ritual is called a Hen Do rather than a Hind Do. The most obvious is of course that, as far as the Lad and MEN are concerned, women are so inferior that they can’t even be considered as regal as a deer. No, where Lads and MEN are concerned, Women are weak, ugly and scraggly looking hens. In fairness, to continue this imagery, you would think the Stag Do would be referred to as the ‘Cock Do’ seeing as there tends to be one dominant cock or rooster among a … (gaggle?) of hens. However, it isn’t because cock – being a slang term for the penis – means a cock do would sound somewhat homoerotic, and if there’s one thing a Lad feels is worthy of more scorn than a woman (or hen), it’s a homosexual. Which is quite interesting all things considered. I will delve into it more later.

This group of Lads, on the way to complete their Stag Do, were travelling in the opposite direction to myself, which gladdened me. From my research, I believe the Stag and Hen do is a pre-wedding celebration, falling sometime after an engagement party and a brief period before a wedding. People cannot get married unless they’ve had a certain number of celebrations prior to the main celebration that is the wedding. To some, it is viewed as a final farewell from the groom or bride to be to their friends. To others, it is to revel in one last night of freedom. The former is an acceptance that their youth lies behind them, and they start a new chapter in which they are committed to another human and, as such, may not have the same amount of time for their friends. The latter is an ostentatious fuck you to the one you intend to marry. It is an expensive way to demonstrate the sheer lack of respect you hold for the person you intend to spend the rest of your life with.

Ironically, either way, you look at it, shows that those who feel the need to have a Stag Do or a Hen Do, should not be getting married. If you feel that when married, you must sacrifice your friendships to devote more time to this other person, then the chances are, you will spend too much time together and end up resenting one another. If you feel that sharing your life with one other person and refraining from sleeping with anyone else is synonymous with imprisonment, then you are a cunt. Marriages to cunts tend not to last long.

‘The Dos’ which they shall now be referred to, have evolved over time. Once, they involved going out with close friends and having one too many at a pub. Then they became going out with a few friends and having nine too many, before falling into a deep existential despair, crying and/or fighting before eventually throwing up. The last step is apparently to dispel demons.

Alas, for the modern Stag or Hen, this is no longer enough. The Dos involve spending a ludicrous amount of money flinging each other around the world to spend a long weekend at an overly extravagant resort or going go-karting or paintballing. The last to are unfortunately more common among the MEN to once again prove their manliness. Men like fast cars and men like violence, so it makes sense to drive fast fake cars and take part in faux violence all whilst reaffirming the fact that they like having sex with women.

Having not been privy to any Hen Dos and only seen a few at a distance, I don’t know if this is the same as them, although, in my experience, women tend to be a bit more relaxed about sexuality than MEN, that is to say, Lads.

You see, a lack of self-awareness is an unfortunate genetic trait of the Lad. Were they to take an objective look at what they were doing, there would be many a revelation. At the very least, they’d tone it down a bit.

They’d see that the Stag Do involves a man, going out in a group that is strictly male where they often talk about how much they like having sex with women and how wonderful it is to have a penis, whilst celebrating their last night of freedom, before they are forced to spend their lives having sex with a woman. They’d put all this together and realise that maybe they don’t want to be married and maybe…they don’t like women. At the very least, they’ll realise that their notion of ‘manliness’ is flawed and prevents them from being anything other than a crude cut out. They would realise they no longer have to strive to prove themselves to be MEN, because the word has no relevance anymore.

If we could rid the world of the blight of the stag and hen do, the gender divide would lessen. Homophobia would decrease and we’d all be a lot happier. The only thing that would remain would be racism and we could easily get rid of that by all agreeing that the notion of ‘culture’ is an arbitrary barrier extrapolated from the weird shit our ancestors used to get up to before Netflix came along.

More on that later in the week.

 

Note: I am very much aware that this whole piece comes across as patronising and a touch classist. I am aware that increasingly, stag and hen dos are being seen as a celebration of love and tend to be mixed (primarily in more middle-class metropolitan areas and those who read the Guardian). In terms of classism, the notion of the lad (or whatever the female version is, if you’re the type that needs one) transcends class. I know many a ‘laddish’ type with the ‘lad’ mentality and mannerisms who live in detached houses in the suburbs and drive expensive Audis that their fairly wealthy parents bought for them. The Lad, is not then, a working-class cheeky chappy. Unless of course, you believe these Audi driving types able to get onto the property ladder in increasingly expensive areas working class. In which case, the classes make less sense than they ever did and we should all shut up about it.

I am also aware of the distinct possibility that my grammar is all over the place. My day job involves a hefty amount of proof reading. I’m on holiday. Fuck punctuation.

 

 

 

Extract of a thing continuation

I recently started a thing out of boredom as I desperately try to find an agent for my novel which has seen umpteen different drafts give or take a few. I’m starting to realise that either A) the world simply isn’t ready for my literary brilliance, or B) my novel isn’t that good.  Seeing as it has had umpteen different drafts, I suspect it’s the latter.

So, whilst I grapple with my piece of satirical literary fiction, I have started playing about with some silly dystopia. This is a continuation of this.

***

Alex heard the shot. There were often shots in this part of town. Sometimes they turned out to be cars backfiring or other loud bangs that easily explained away shots. Tonight, however, she knew it was a shot because moments later she saw a man laying on the ground. At first, she didn’t move. She stood perfectly still looking at the stiffened form of the man and the semi-circle of red snow that stretched out around him. It glinted in the light of the streetlamps, like a giant ruby. Then her senses kicked in. She hurriedly looked around, neck almost snapping with the speed of it. She stared at every parked car, at every alleyway and scanned each and every shadow. She toyed with the idea of running but thought better of it. If the shooter was still around and was at all interested in shooting her too, they’d have done it already.

Instead, she crunched through the snow towards the prone figure. The colour had already drained from his face and the snow was not melting as quickly on his skin. His eyelashes looked almost as though they were made of cotton. Alex could feel an odd whooshing feeling in her stomach. Her heart hammered at her ribs. She had never seen a dead body before.

She finally let a breath slip from her nostrils. The cold hands of the body clutched at a brown envelope. Fingerprints of blood smeared its surface, but black ink could still be seen. Hurried looping letters clearly spelt out The Truth the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth. Alex froze, and it had nothing to do with the recently fallen snow. Why a dead man mere minutes from her office held an envelope addressed to her publication she did not know. Especially when, thus far, the only thing she had published was a small letter letting the city know that she was there and that the truth would be coming… eventually.

Once again, she scanned every shadow and peered into the darkened alleys expecting to see the man’s killer taking aim at her. She should really call the Enforcers. She should let the law arm of the council sort it out. It was their city after all. Though doing so would run against her journalistic instincts. Yes, she should take the envelope, then call the department. Or, even better, she should take the envelope and let someone else call the department… the body wasn’t going anywhere and if it did, the problem would be solved, so she needn’t worry about it.

She eyed the face of the lifeless thing that was once a man. He wasn’t particularly remarkable looking. Square head, puffy cheeks and a head of brown hair. Who was he? Why had he been gunned down? Alex stooped over and tugged the envelope from the dead man’s hand. He offered some resistance, his frozen fingers reluctant to let go of whatever information it contained. Alex felt her stomach churning and her heart lurch with a mix of anxiety and exhilaration. She may well be able to publish something yet.

Peering down at the dead man, she contemplated making some kind of gesture. A mark of respect. That’s what people did for the dead. Then, thinking better of it, she stuffed the envelope into her coat pocket and hurried away.

***

 

Dear Editor,

I may not live much longer. Whilst I have made my peace with that, I cannot leave this world when the City is denied the truth. I cannot meet you in person for that might compromise everything. They don’t think much of your publication; they do not believe you to be a threat. That will be their downfall.

 12 Eldon Crescent. Go there and listen to the madness. You will find the truth in it.

Regards,

A Shapcott

Alex read the letter again, and then a third time. She even considered giving it a fourth read as, after all, it was short and didn’t take long. She could have even read it five times if she wanted.

Had she not pulled the letter from the fingers of a dead man she’d not have given it much thought. It was vague and of little value. Had it not come from a dead man, she’d be reluctant to seek out twelve Eldon Crescent. Had it not come from a dead man, she’d not consider going to the house of a stranger. But it had come from a dead man, which changed everything. Messages from dead men needed to be followed as, being dead they couldn’t well explain themselves.

The metal percolator hissed on top of the iron stove. Alex snatched it off and poured herself a tiny mug of rocket fuel espresso. The rich, chocolatey aroma filled the cold little room that had little more than a cluttered desk and a rickety little bed. The room rocked a little. Alex gripped her coffee cup tighter to prevent the contents from spilling as the world shuddered as was its wont. Moments later, fresh snow started to fall past her frosted window pane.

She realised her fingers were trembling. She closed her eyes and saw the expressionless face of the dead man looking up at the sky, hair flecked with snow. She wondered just how true his words were. Had he really made his peace with death? She doubted it. How anyone could, was beyond her. From the moment a person is born their body fights to stay alive to the last breath. Even if someone were to accept death as an inevitability, they fight it till the bitter end.

What had the man done to warrant getting shot in the back? What truth did he know to be given a death sentence? Of course, there still remained the possibility that he was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, as people so often are. However, even if that were the case, there could be a very interesting series of events that led to him being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Alex took a sip of her espresso despite the late time. Sleep would not come that night anyway. Her eyes drifted from the letter to the collection of newspaper clippings scattered on her desk.

Crime rates down to an all-time low. Read one headline.

Crime rates are higher than they’ve ever been. Said another.

Mayor’s Office warns of a rise in fake news. Said a third.

Alex wondered if anyone else had found the body yet. It would have been frozen stiff by now. The blood would have set like cherry flavoured ice lollies. Maybe the Enforcers from the Council’s legal arm had been called and those strange men in long coats and stern, rigid expressions were already setting up a perimeter. It was impossible to tell. They arrived silently, their sharp little cars practically hovering along the icy roads. The medical vans, they moved with blaring sirens and wavering blue lights. The fire trucks warbled too, giving everyone that peace of mind; help was on its way. The enforcers, however… well, if they had a siren, the bad men would know they were coming.

Whatever the truth behind the statistics, it had risen by one murder.

Final Space – is Meh

I rarely write reviews.  I owe my 124 followers more than that. I know that’s a very low number for a blog that has been going on for a number of years, but they’re my followers and they deserve quality. They are not fickle like the followers of those blogs that have hundreds upon hundreds. I once read a post that had 327 likes and it was just pictures of logs. I know I can’t compete with pictures of logs.  Also, my best-viewed blog was entitled “13 Reasons Why is Shit” so I guess it’s what the people want.

I have nothing of value to say today. So, I will write a review of Final Space, I say review; it will devolve into a longwinded, directionless ramble.

Recently, I wrote about my current viewing habits. That was current back then. Now circumstances have improved somewhat, and I can afford Netflix again and my viewing habits have changed a little. However, to return to the article I linked (yes, I refer to my posts as articles; it makes me feel superior), I briefly touch upon the likes of Adventure Time and Rick and Morty. It’s worth reading for the nonsense I’m going to spout upon in this one. Go on, open it up in another tab and read. It gives me extra views.

A friend of mine repeatedly told me to watch an animated show called Final Space. He did so by saying it was hilarious. As it sits, I have watched three episodes. I have not laughed once. Admittedly, I haven’t laughed much for some time, which probably hints at a deeper psychological problem than the quality of an animated show.

Here is the premise, lifted from IMDB.

An astronaut named Gary and his planet-destroying sidekick called Mooncake embark on serialised journeys through space in order to unlock the mystery of where the universe actually ends and if it actually does exist.

Wikipedia quotes it as being an “… animated space opera comedy-drama.”

Thus far, I can say that it is indeed animated and it is set in space. As for the rest. Well…

Having been promised by my friend (who up until this point I trusted) that Final Space is hilarious, my first observation was that it wasn’t all that funny. I’m sure it was supposed to be. Gary screamed words and waved his arms around. At first, I was certain he was voiced by Chris Pratt. He is in fact voiced by Olan Rogers, who is also one of the creators. This is perhaps one of the issues. I find Gary’s voice and delivery irritating. Rogers seems to take the view that if you shout it manically, then it must be funny.

It also has the voice talents of Tom Kenny and John DiMaggio because every animated show has to have one or the other. Surprisingly, it also features an unrecognisable David Tennant. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter who’s doing the voices because the scripts largely consist of something ‘whacky’ happening and Gary shouting ‘Woah! That whacky thing just happened.’

Rick and Morty (which this show is seemingly trying to be only without the wit) would have whacky things happen, to which the characters would hardly comment upon before continuing their regular conversation. Rick and Morty (the first two seasons anyway) has a great deal of rewatch value because amongst the surrealism are some great lines and little subtleties that can be missed on first watch.

Even at it’s best (thus far) Final Spaced has to have Gary spell it out, in case we miss the joke. I came close to laughing at this exchange.

Gary: Are you the Helper?

Helper: No, I am his assistant.

–   That would have got a laugh out of me, that’s all that’s needed. Only the scene has an extra line. –

Gary: So… you’re a helper helper?

It was funny when it wasn’t explicitly said damn it!

The sci-fi setting allows the show to be crammed full of ‘whacky’ (I will now donate money to charity every time I use ‘whacky’ within quotation marks) characters that seems to be a necessity to get an animated show produced these days. If Matt Groening wanted to get the Simpson’s made today, Marge would have to be a lizard woman, Bart a floating Brain and Liza an embodiment of the metaphysical concept of guilt.  Case in point will probably be Disenchantment if I ever get around to giving that a watch.  My only experience of that thus far has been to look at the poster, and I immediately think Adventure Time.

Final Space has a cat-like alien called Avocatdo. See, that’s funny, isn’t it? Mad. Absolutely crazy. A cat person… whose name is similar to avocado but with cat in it. Sure, the joke could be that it’s so banal that it’s funny. Like an ironic ‘this is a shit dad joke but we’ll include it anyway’ kind of thing, but thus far I’ve not seen any evidence that this show is smart enough to lift any irony.

Relax, it’s a kids’ show. I hear you cry.

It is not. It is another show that despite being animated, is in fact for the adults. Cartoons aren’t just for kids, man. They’re art. Yes, in the hands of artists perhaps. This series does have an overarching narrative, in which the adorable alien ‘Mooncake’ is, in fact, a planet-killing weapon and the evil Lord Commander (Tennant) wants to use it for his own nefarious deeds and there’s some sort of rift open somewhere. There’s violence aplenty and apparently, there are moments worth sticking around for that makes it more than just a ‘whacky’ animated comedy. Already, I know there are two Gwen’s, one apparently from the future who has come back to ensure Gary survives because he’s important. No doubt this will lead to the notion of alternate realities or timelines or lead us to question our very universe, but anyone who’s sat through one philosophy lecture can do that.

This is yet more evidence for my ‘everything is trying to be Adventure Time/Rick and Morty’ theory. There are lots of shows like this floating about, and it’s indicative of the dark times. We have had the luxury of passing through the Golden Years of television. We have seen the rise of streaming services. We are no longer slaves to terrestrial TV. We make the television schedules now. We can watch what we like, when we like and as often as we like. What we want is more, when is now and we want to do this forever.

It is consumerism at it’s very best. Great television and convenient services have created an insatiable demand and studios are desperately trying to supply. It is capitalism at its very finest. Endless, easy to digest blandness is coming our way. It’s the only way to keep us content. Greedy fuckers that we are.

It’s not that the show is necessarily bad it’s just not that good. I would offer a rating as critics tend to, but here I get confused. Do I offer stars or a percentage? Sites tend to vary. Also, Amazon’s maximum is 5 stars, IMDB goes up to 10. Does that mean one Amazon star is inherently more valuable than one IMDB star?

With IMDB, I refuse to watch anything that has less than a 7. Anything below that is going to be awful. People will watch anything so if it has 6.9, it’s not worth watching surely? And yet, that’s 69%. That’s markedly better than average.

So instead, I will rate it ‘meh’. It’s by no means a ‘bleurgh’ but it’s certainly not an ‘oooh’.

I’ll give it until episode 6 to change my mind. I gave 13 Reasons Why that courtesy before I condemned it.

The Golden Age is ending. All good things come to an end. Mediocrity goes on forever.

 

Extract for the sake of it.

I need to update my blog. Here’s an extract from something I wrote…

The steaming blood returned some warmth to Alan Shapcott’s bony fingers. With a sharp sigh he let his head fall onto a pillow of fresh snow and stared through half closed eyelids at the thick grey sky, stained slightly by the multitude of streetlamps. The bullet had entered through his back and punched its way out through his stomach. He felt it before he heard it. He knew it had killed him. He wasn’t dead yet, but the shot had done its damage.

After the initial shock, there was only the physical pain. Sharp and near unbearable as it was, he knew it was only temporary… as all things are. His assailant knew he was dead too, didn’t even bother to come and finish him off. He was permitted his last moment of reflection. From his unique vantage point on the edge of oblivion, he could see everything so clearly. Looking up at the sky he could see it for what it really was. He could see the shimmer. Had it always shimmered?

It was only now that death was standing over him, that he realised how foolish it was to fear it. Death was simply your reward for putting up with life. Soon, everything would be over. Everything. No longer would he feel the sting of injustice. No longer would he feel the oppressive weight of responsibility. No longer would he feel so fatigued, so weary. Sorrow was just a word and soon he would not be able to comprehend it. He would, as everything does, become nothing. He would be free from the shackles of thought.

His breathing was becoming shallower now. Filling his lungs required too much effort. Closing his eyes and dropping over the edge was all too easy. With weak and bloodied fingers he felt inside his long jacket, tugged at the envelope within his inner pocket and brought it into the fresh air. He glanced at it. He eyed his sprawling, rather rushed writing.

The Truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth…

He fell over the edge. He felt the rush of air on the back of his head and in his ears. He plunged and plummeted. He became nothing.

He was free.

Beard Syndrome

I write this having consumed, currently consuming and planning on consuming more wine. That is wine consumption in both the past present and future, which is quite a feat. I say this now so that my loose approach to grammar and inability to write a sentence that doesn’t meander on and go off on tangents is put down to the imbibing of alcohol, not lack of talent.

First and foremost, I love the fantasy genre. This needs to be said because it will seem like I’m throwing a lot of shit at this beloved section of literature. There was a time when fantasy was much maligned. I remember trying, as a young adult, to find an agent for my young adult fantasy series. Most websites for such and a few smaller publishers (that were still excited by the prospects of new authors) who accepted unsolicited manuscripts categorically did not accept fantasy. It was as if it was the literary world’s shameful secret. Like an obscure fetish that should be hidden at all costs. It was something to be sneered at.  Why this was is beyond me. LoTR is fantastic and it depresses me that I’ll never see The Shire. Star Wars is life. Yes. Star Wars is fantasy. Spaceships and laser guns is not the definition of sci-fi. If anything, Star Wars is LoTR in space… old wizard, young unsuspecting farm boy, destruction of an ultimate weapon.

Good fantasy is far superior to any other genre out there. That is fact.

Noticing the literary world’s apparent disdain for the genre, esteemed academic (me) wrote in his (or her) dissertation Is Fantasy Fiction Worthy of Academic Study? That: “Yes… yes, it is.” Although, he (she/I) went on to say that, “Whilst it is undoubtedly worthy, maybe it shouldn’t be.” Primarily because I feel the idea of reading a book with the purpose of ‘studying’ it is the most preposterous pursuit one could ever undertake. To steal and then paraphrase a quote, and use it entirely out of context (my method throughout my academic career) E.B. White once remarked “Analysing humour is like dissecting a frog. Few people are interested, and the frog dies of it.” It works the same for analysing a book.

This prompted my tutor to ask why I chose to do an English Literature degree. My go-to response was ‘Because theatre has very few career prospects.’ She laughed, but in hindsight I know she was laughing at the irony of it all.

Now as a proper adult (26), having given up on the young adult series and concentrated on some literary fiction,  every bugger seems to be accepting fantasy. I put this down to all the money Game of Thrones is making. The fantasy section is packed full of books. The Kindle marketplace has even more to offer (though this is largely down to the fact that just about anyone can publish there). There’s so much choice. There’s fantasy in abundance. However, the last three attempts I have made at reading a fantasy book have not gone well, and I have started to realise why (historically) fantasy has struggled so to finally find acceptance in literary circles. It’s because so many people are shit at writing it.

Fantasy seems to attract a lot of people to it. I put it down to the fact that it’s packed full of excitement and imagination. It can cover the entire emotional spectrum, feature interesting characters who have to make hard choices. It ultimately holds a mirror up to reality and allows us to see reality from multiple perspectives all whilst being entertaining. With fantasy, anything can happen.

Which makes it all the stranger that the same thing keeps happening over and over again.

It takes me a long time to settle on a book when I’m choosing, primarily because I have to sort through the books that suffer from what I have called ‘beard syndrome’. Beard syndrome is a funnier way to say a cliched piece of shit. I am drawn to a book by its cover, which is apparently something we shouldn’t do, but then if that’s the case why don’t books just have blank covers and why do publishers spend so much money making fancy colourful ones? Well? Why? Of course, you can judge a book by its cover, even if you’re taking it metaphorically. See a man with a man bun, you can almost guarantee he’s a cunt. Sorry… that’s the wine.

Any fantasy book that features a photograph of a model holding a sword is instantly out. They usually look all dark and brooding. Book covers should never have photos… it just seems wrong.

If I like the cover I read the blurb, which is usually where most books are discarded. Here is a blurb:

Centuries ago, the Thru’ghar were defeated and their dark powers contained by the Sandstone Order. Peace and prosperity have reigned over the land and innocence have been allowed to flourish. Alas, all good things come to an end. Rosha, an orphaned thief plies her trade on the streets of Vericia. Each night she dreams strange dreams.  A shadow is rising in the south.

 The gates to the Sandstone Temple have opened once again.

That was the blurb for The Shadow’s Heir a fantasy novel that was just made up by me just now to illustrate a point. This is the general format of the blurb found on books with Beard Syndrome.  A dark age, followed by a golden age, interrupted by the coming of another dark age. There will be Dark Lord’s galore. Cloaks will billow. A sinister and world-changing threat will loom on the horizon and at some point, a bloke with a beard will turn up. It might be a big long beard or a short well kept one, but it will be there. He’ll know a lot about a lot and will generally be fairly two dimensional.

Anyway, I’ll save a deeper explanation of beard syndrome for when I’m less drunk

So, of the massive amount of fantasy novels that exist, many are discarded because of their covers and many more are discarded because of beard syndrome. Then what of those that remain. Well, some will appear to have an interesting premise or a certain flair, after all, even if their plots do seem cliched and worn out, it’s often about the journey, not the destination… and all that. So it’s about the way they’re written. And so, some books shall eventually be bought by me. Then I shall start reading them. And then my frustration mounts. Because of this small percentage of chosen books, a large portion of them are written by people who can’t write.  And I seem to be the only person who notices!

I say this fully aware that I am not a published writer, so therefore have no grounds to accuse successful novelists of being bad writers. But I will do just that damn it. Not outright, just in case they read this and decide to track me down and try to kill me.

The book I’m currently struggling with has an average of 4 – 4.5 stars on most sites. That’s almost the highest number of stars you can have. In theory, this should be good. In theory.

“___ chest tightened a little as he watched her. As the last few months had flown by, he’d faced plenty of fears about becoming a Shadow. It had been only recently, though, that he’d realized that never being able to see Asha again was far and away the worst of them.”

This is immediately after the first female character has been introduced. I did a few creative writing modules at uni and discovered they were terrible. However, the main thing they kept banging on about is show don’t tell. This is a clear case of the latter. Whilst I disagree with the notion as if well written, telling can be much better than showing, this is not well written. The character has literally just turned up and straight away it’s rammed home that there will be some form of romantic subplot. I hope that the character develops into something more than an object of desire, but such is the demand for romantic subplots, I very much doubt she’ll escape this particular shackle.

“Students were not supposed to speak to non-Gifted about their training, but he and Mistress ___ regularly flouted that rule. She had looked after him for years after he’d been left to the school’s care as an infant. She had the right to know at least a little of what was going on in his life.”

Originally, this seemed to be from the point of view of the main character. Now it seems to have shifted to omniscient. If so, it’s clunky exposition. If it is still from the position of the main character, then his thoughts are odd to say the least. The author is trying to give us context, introduce context and characters, and their relationships. This is a novel that spans close to 700 pages. Why are these points crammed into lifeless paragraphs?

Why?

It’s this that gives fantasy its bad name. It’s this struggle that leaves me grappling with a love/hate relationship. It leaves me worrying what’s going to happen in the remaining 575 pages I’ve yet to read, not because I’m caught up in the adventure, but because the writing is sub-par.

I suppose that’s why literary fiction gets such an easy ride. When the story is about nothing and everything that happens must be grounded in reality. Then the writing needs to be damned good. Otherwise, what’s the point? Who’d read about reality otherwise? Reality is boring. You can see reality by looking out the window, it won’t cost you £8.99 to do that.

Anyway, that’s the third glass down. I’ll stop there, because I realise this has lost its way and the point isn’t really worth making.

 

The City of Globetown

Below is a rambling which turned into a weird story and is still going. One day I’ll focus on something long enough to finish it. Although, my finished novel isn’t wowing the literary world yet, so maybe my brand of distracted shit should be what I focus on, or not focus on. Whatever makes me lots of money. Enjoy

 

Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying.

There is, of course, the third possibility, that we are not alone in the Universe but no one wants to talk to us. This is less terrifying, but certainly underwhelming. There is also the possibility that our universe is little more than a bubble in a giant cosmic cola bottle, filled with hundreds of other universe bubbles. One day, the lid will be removed, and every universe will rush up to the top and spray out across someone’s desk. We can’t ever know this for certain, which is just as well. If we did, we’d have the fear of ‘The Great Opening’ hanging over us at all times. What’s more, this realisation would lead to further questions. If our universe and the universe of many others are mere bubbles in a carbonated beverage, what is the universe in which that drink was made? Would that be The Universe? Or would that be just a larger bubble, forming the fizz of yet a larger drink?  Would this go on infinitely?

Of course, the notion of infinity is one the conscious mind can think of, but only in loose terms. We can think of it as a vastness without end, but what that would actually look like is inconceivable. The mind works by comparison. It’s good that the world is as varied as it is, because if there was only one thing, then consciousness would not be much good to anyone. We know a mountain is a mountain because it is not a hill. The concept of height only came about because some things stand higher than others. The infinite is difficult to grasp because it has no comparison point.

It would be wrong to say ‘something really big’ as it’s bigger than big. It’s without end. It’s infinite. Therefore, it has no size, big or otherwise.

Trying to imagine the unfathomable infinite can leave people feeling uneasy and is, therefore, not recommended. When imagining the great expanse of space that exists beyond the Earth’s atmosphere, people are often struck by a sense of insignificance. In fact, just take one person and put them in the middle of a great ocean and they are often hit by the same feelings. The oceans are not infinite. Big yes. Vast even. But they have an end. There is a quantifiable volume to them, and yet, they can still inspire insignificance.

This sense of perspective is an odd one. Does knowing there is a world beyond your door make your home less important? Does the idea of an infinite universe lurking beyond our modest globe make our planet less significant? Why does an ocean make an individual feel insignificant? Take away one drop, billions will remain. Take away one part of you… what will be left in your stead?

The Universe may be infinite. There is definitely only one you.

Even if there are infinite universes, containing infinite yous, there is still only one you that is you. The less of something there is, the greater value it has. The universe is unfathomably infinite.

Now that is insignificant.

***

Timing plays a huge role in everyone’s life. Timing is everything to everything. What happens is often not as important as when it happens.  The true can be said about a story. A story that ends with a ‘and he woke up and it was all a dream’ is terrible, it means everything that came before simply doesn’t matter and what comes after is none of our business. Now a story that starts with ‘and he woke up and it was all a dream’ is far more interesting.

Steven lived a life. A whole life. He learned to walk and learned to talk. He learned and continued to learn until his back was stooped with knowledge. He lived, he laughed and he loved. He lost, he felt pain, he felt joy, he felt remorse. He felt guilt, fear, arousal, mirth, confusion, anger and everything else that makes up a lifetime of experience. At the age of seventy-nine his body, as bodies often do, gave up. His wife had passed on three years prior. Steve died in a hospital bed late at night. Alone.

That was when he woke up.

To find he was a spider.

That life he lived as a human was a mere dream. Yet it felt so real. Every experience. Every feeling. Sat on his web in the tangles of a thorny bush, he began to contemplate the true ramifications of this. The meaningless of all those experiences that felt so powerful at the time yet never happened, the idea that all things may have a complex consciousness and that uncaringly swatting a fly may well be destroying a life as rich your own. A lion devouring an antelope may consciously be destroying another consciousness. As he contemplated all of this, he was eaten by a bird. It was a robin.

What happened to him after that, is anyone’s guess.

This all happened in a small park, around the corner from a decrepit looking, grey office block. Alex sat in darkness. She had sat in light but had sat there until it got dark and had yet to turn on the lights. Every so often, when she took a deep drag, the tip of her cigarette would light up her slender, if not a bit stubby fingers.

Through the gloom, she could see the blank page set in place in her typewriter. For the third week running, she had nothing to say. Which is not good for a weekly publication. The Truth, the Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth had still yet to print its first edition.

She was beginning to think leaving the Room of History and Current Affairs at City Hall was a mistake. It may have been pushing her towards the edge of insanity, but at least she got paid. Here… she was just going insane.

The news published in city hall was complex. It encompassed stories from the past, the present and future. Some stories were true, others were not and some didn’t even make any sense. It was all rather clever. The public couldn’t complain that they didn’t know what was going on, for it was all printed in black and white. They both knew what was going on and didn’t know what was going on. They lived in a state of knowledge and ignorance.

The editor in chief always said “The people just want news. They don’t care if it’s accurate or not.”

Not that Alex worked much on the news. Her remit was history. Though it was largely the same thing. She was one of many who oversaw the city archives, editing, filing, discarding and even publishing stories from the murky depths of the past. The Mayor’s office adopted the same technique here. Some dutifully wrote and published articles containing what for argument’s sake be called the truth. Others concerned themselves with pure fabrications. These stories would then be swapped. They’d be scrutinised, meticulously proofread and perhaps even edited. Then they’d be swapped again. By the time anything was published, no one knew what was true and what was nonsense and more importantly, nobody knew what nonsense was true.

There was one thing. One story that kept coming up again and again. The small details might differ, but the general crux ran the same. That was how the Mayor and the City Council gained power.

Years ago, the people of the city grew tired of the numerous laws being passed. They were sick of being told what to do. They were tired of being trampled over by “The Man”. They felt they were rapidly having their freedoms stripped away. The city rulers were carving at their liberty with carving knife like prosciutto, which is a simile the people felt they couldn’t quite comprehend, being unable to afford such luxury meats.

The city rulers felt this was an unfair depiction of the balance of power, as many felt they were working tirelessly towards the betterment of all and yes, whilst it could be said they had access to better quality meats, their hours were unsociable, and no one ever once said thank you. No matter how much time and effort they invested into fixing the roads, people would still tut and complain about the price of public transport and how everything’s “gone to the dogs.”

As is usually the case when the people eventually rise up, the people got their way. The city council disbanded. The Mayor at the time, Francis Lyons gave one last address.

“Throughout history, people have fought for freedom. You, the good people of this city, have done the same. We thought we served you well, but alas it seems not. You demand more freedom. You shall have it. The City is yours.’

There was much rejoicing. For weeks, people partied in the streets, revelling in their new-found liberty. They were in charge of their own destinies. Their lives were no longer in the hand of the bureaucrat. They were free to make their own choices. They were in control of The City.

If any structured narrative was to be believed, this would be where it ended. The people had won. Liberty was granted to all. Ever after, should have been happy.

Alas, time has other ideas about how the world works. Most importantly: it goes on.

And as time went on, people began to grow uncomfortable with this sense of freedom. Control over The City came with a sense of responsibility. People found running the place involved far less fancy meat and more budgeting… more resource management. There were lengthy discussions to be had. Hard choices to make.

After a few years, as the City rapidly fell into general disrepair, the people gathered in the old, long abandoned City Hall. Whilst everyone had their own opinion, they all agreed on one thing. It was much easier when the general disrepair was the Council’s problem and all the people had to do was grumble and mutter about how running a City shouldn’t be that difficult. It was also agreed that as no one had volunteered to take charge of the sewage system, something needed to be done quickly.

That day (nobody knows quite what day it was. Let’s say it was Thursday) the people, freely and of their own volition, came together and collectively agreed that it was best for everyone to elect a ruling council and immediately surrender ultimate power to them.

Alex rubbed at her tired eyes, feeling that burning itch that came with staring at nothing for a lengthy period. She clenched her jaw to keep her teeth from chattering, sighed a sigh that didn’t quite know why it was there and stood up. She donned her large, dull green duffle coat which sported deep and bulging pockets. She also pulled an orange and white knitted hat over her short black hair. It was knitted by her nan. It was supposed to resemble a fox’s head, which it did if said fox had been partially melted. It pushed her curving fringe over one eye, forcing her to tuck it under the warm curls of her nan’s double crochet.

Her feet crunched on the snow outside. It looked almost a pale blue colour under the multitude of streetlamps as she stomped awkwardly through the carpark. It was a less than reputable part of town, and thus the rent was cheap. She saw a slim black sports car parked nearby. She had seen it that morning and remembered running her eyes over the sloppily attached spoiler that pushed down unnecessarily on the back of it. It had the appearance of a metallic tumour.

Slapped across the window was the small translucent sticker. It featured a large breasted stick woman, leaning on the hood of a similarly ridiculous looking car, or at least the cartoonish outline of such. Behind her, a man was taking great pleasure from her. Underneath read ‘Gas or Ass; there are no free rides.’

Alex rolled her eyes at it, partially sickened that such blatant (and somewhat sinister) sexism was so commonplace that it inspired little more than a bored eye-roll. Judging by both the car and the sticker, she very much doubted the owner had much sex. If he (presumably it was a he, unless the sticker was an attempt at irony – or a bitter acceptance of the woeful nature of the City in that there are ‘no free rides’ in life) did, there was no justice in the world.

Which, unfortunately, is certainly the case.

Not far from Alex’s office. A man lay dying in the snow.