Jackdaws and magpies
Annual Branch Meeting starts
chalk acquires a creaminess
I’ve decided to take about a fortnight’s sabbatical to complete the first draft of Twicers, the futuristic satire I started writing during National Novel Writing Month, 2017.
In January, for Friday Fictioneers, I posted a 100-word excerpt from the viewpoint of my main protagonist, Japeth. Today, you are to meet Blip, who has Asperger’s Syndrome and works as a computer and robot maintenance engineer at the Duffers’ Centre, a futuristic take on the Job Centre.
THE EXCERPT (260 words)
Overtime felt good because it meant starting work after closing time. No people. Just robots and a row of dispensing machines stocked with salt and vinegar crisps and cherry red energy drinks that she would raid when spring arrived.
It was February, with plump snowflakes tumbling through the twilight. The building inside was neither hot nor cold, but warmer than the temperature outside. The toughened glass windows had security blinds. Tonight, a few disgruntled duffers had gathered outside, looking as if they wanted to throw something harder than snowballs at the window, not that it was yet minus one degree Celsius and cold enough to make a decent one.
Blip hurried into the Centre, her graphite earmuffs over the hood of her hoodie and under the hood of her graphite parka. She saw the duffers without meeting any of them in the eye. Not that she was afraid of them. Simply, she wasn’t in the mood for conversation. But then she was never in the mood for conversation. On the rare occasions she had to pretend interest in what someone else was saying, it was agony, unless they were talking about animals, alternative energy, astronomy, chess, or computers, but only if they knew their subject and weren’t spouting bullshit.
She knew ‘bullshit’ was a silly word, as humans did not literally spew bull’s faeces out of their mouths; however, it was an excusable addition to her vocabulary as it had a hard-hitting sound to it and she couldn’t think of a more concise way of describing such idiocy.
Oodles of water
chucked from grey into gulleys,
it rains frogs and toads.
The homeless warty man croaks,
if only it would rain coins.
Identifying Frogs and Toads
Facts about Homelessness (according to the UK charity Shelter)
In the past, I’ve ploughed at a snail’s pace through Man Booker Prize winning novels or abandoned them altogether. Thus, when a friend lent me their copy of the 2008 winning novel The White Tiger, I opened it without much optimism but, to my amazement, found myself hooked from the first page.
The story is set in India, and takes place over a period of one week (the same length of time I took to read the book!). It opens with the main character, Balram, writing the start of an “autobiographical” letter to His Excellency Wen Jiabao from China, who is due to visit India the following week.
What follows is an extraordinary tale of a rather disreputable character, who calls himself an entrepreneur and considers he’s one of India’s success stories. Born into a poor family and taken out of school early, Balram is determined to better himself and rise through the social ranks, by means most foul if necessary. His self-justification for his ruthless actions is beyond the pale, but I found myself intrigued by him and half-wanting him to succeed, while all the time thinking, No, he can’t be planning that – No, this cannot be about to happen – No, he really has done this horrendous thing.
The novel is an eye-opener, and one that has left me with a more complete picture of India. As David Mattin wrote in his review in the Independent on Sunday, “Adiva sets out to show us a part of [India] that we hear about infrequently; its underbelly”. It is a story about the haves and the have-nots, and one man who talks himself into the coveted job of a driver for a rich man and his wife, learns fast through listening hard and manipulating circumstances in his favour, and, in doing so, decides his employers are undeserving of their privilege and he the more deserving.
The writing is fast-paced, seamless, succinct, and yet richly descriptive. The paragraphs are short, so there is lots of white space (which, in my experience, is unusual for a literary novel). I loved the dialogue, as well as Balram’s inner dialogue. He has to be one of the most intriguing anti-hero I’ve come across in a novel in a long time. I really disliked him as a person, but found myself understanding where he was coming from and wondering if he’d succeed in his quest or end up incarcerated in prison for life.
A highly recommended read.
You would have thought by now I’d have learned the pitfalls that go with being a seat-of-your pants writer. Yes, it’s exciting. Yes, it’s living dangerously. And yes, every time I reach the final third of my novel I come unstuck.
This time it’s worse than usual. Instead of writing at my usual steady pace that sees a first draft completed in six to nine months, I slammed out 50,000 words in one month during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and then only had time to write 6,000 words in December, so I literally lost the plot.
Yesterday, I wrote three pages of dialogue between two people that did little to advance the plot. I may or may not have picked up on some threads earlier in the novel, but mostly I was waffling in the dark.
On reflection, the cause of this waffling is clear: that I can’t remember what I said earlier in the novel, or what clues I laid down. When a writer reaches the stage of to-ing and fro-ing every few sentences via the keyboard shortcut [Ctrl][F], it’s akin to playing yo-yo and hoping the string doesn’t snap.
The moment of reckoning has arrived. I cannot proceed in a southerly direction, when I keep on having to retrace my steps north. If I carry on like that, I will end up tearing out my hair and casting my novel into the trash bin. But I neither want to tear out my hair nor cast my novel in the trash bin, as I’m rather fond of both items.
Thus, my only option is to stop writing and return to “Go”, even if go is situated at the North Pole. This does not involve any kind of rewrite or detailed proofreading, but a straight read through to remind me what I have written in the first two-thirds of my novel. As I’m doing this, I will write a chapter-by-chapter synopsis to save me having to do so at the end.
What am I looking for?
And to end on a positive, what do I love the most about the novel that makes it worth saving?
See you all when I get back from the North Pole. Only joking 😉
Limpet clamped to rock
Centre of its universe
Humans dice with death;
rocks only fall on others
’til they fall on you.
Eroded by wind and waves,
cliffs house skeletons galore.
The writing of my latest tome is taking longer than I expected, thus my urge to take a breather and take part in this week’s Friday Fictioneers challenge. Many thanks to Sandra Crook for the photo prompt and to our dynamo of a host, Rochelle Wisoff-Fields.
My apologies for posting yet another excerpt from my novel Counting Magpies (last seen disappearing through a black hole into another universe, otherwise known as the publisher’s submissions backlog!).
Genre: Speculative fiction
Word Count: 100
Janice has never lived in a city akin to Warsaw, or witnessed multitudinous fire-gutted buildings, some with bodies inside. I trudge after her, weighted by a memory.
When I was seven years old the Mafia burnt down my favourite ice-cream parlour—some kind of turf war—with my friend, her older sister, father, and grandmother inside. Afterwards, I’d obsessed over visions of gallons of ice-cream melting into a rainbow stream that ran all the way out the door and down the road to forever, not to hell but to paradise. This fantasy was better than imagining the family incinerated alive.
To read other Friday Fictioneers’ stories for this week, or to add a 100-word story of your own, please click on the blue frog below.