Monthly Archives: August 2013

My love letter to Ultraviolet

Righto. A late blog post because my life as usual does not follow a simple plan.

Back to Ultraviolet. We finished watching it on Monday night (has it not even been a week?) and I have been thinking about it ever since. Such a great six-ep series. I can barely describe the conflicting emotions it stirs up in me. I’ve been dreaming about it…

The final shot of the series is haunting me… Michael’s utter despair at where his life has gone and what it has cost, combined with the aftermath of the main story (which I won’t spoil because you should watch it. Today. Now. Come back in six hours and read the rest of this post, I forgive you.) and what he knows and fears will come tomorrow… maybe I’m reading too much into it. Rivka was amazed by how quickly and intensely I bonded with this show and this world. I almost didn’t want to watch the last episode because even though I knew before we started that it was only six episodes… I didn’t want it to end…

Argh! asddfivbdfhdjscnjdnfk!!!

There are just layers and layers. It’s like Spooks crossed with Strange (another great snippet of British supernatural TV with some great creepy scenes from Ian Richardson) with a little Underworld and The Historian thrown in. It’s high-tech (for the nineties) with modified bullets and guns and a lot of focus on genetics and SCIENCE! rather than a hand-to-hand Buffy or Mortal Instruments physical fighting approach. Any close combat is usually a last resort, brief, and frantic. Back in the day, when Joe Public’s knowledge of genetics was sort of limited to Dolly the Sheep and some uproar about GM wheat, it must have been even more intellectual.

Jack Davenport is stellar. His character, Michael, is the usual norm-gets-sucked-in-to-terrifying-underworld-within-our-own-that-no one-knows-about, and he has issues, man. Within five or ten minutes of the series, we know he’s in love with his best friend’s girl, for example. Needless to say, things do not go well in that little triangle. He can do more with a nostril flare and a tortured downwards glance than Joss Whedon can do with the whole Avengers team. I was… eleven? twelve?… when this was on TV and we weren’t really a Channel  4 sort of household, so I missed it at the time not that I would have appreciated it in all its magnificence. My first sight of Davenport was in Coupling, some two or three years later, then as Norrington in PoTC. He does sardonic very well. In Ultraviolet, he also does smug, lovelorn, furious, righteous, morally torn, despairing, indignant and stoic. Even more amazing: I discovered from the IMDB forum that he was twenty-four/twenty-five when this was made. If it was re-made today, what twenty-five year old actor could do that role? Jonathan Bailey? Rupert Grint? Robert Sheehan?

Idris Elba growls his way through most of his scenes as Vaughan Rice, the hard-boiled ex-Forces meathead who has Seen Things Which Cannot Be Unseen. He’s not stupid, and he’s very good at his job, but he does tend to be the bad cop, and the “shoot-first-why-bother-with-questions-at-all” guy in the team. He’s the one who has seen the most action and seems to be quite cold. He does have hidden depths, however, and he does have some great moments of tenderness, fear and self-doubt, and camaraderie especially later in the series that just show off the nuances of the show.

Susannah Harker is the frigid Dr. Angela March

haha, Rivka’s just come through and I told her I was blogging about Ultraviolet and she said “Again?!” and looked a bit worried about my mental health.

Sorry. Susannah Harker is the frigid Dr. Angela March, a lady scientist who spends a lot of time staring bleakly into microscopes, though she does get a fair chunk of field work too. She has a family and a past, and more information comes out about this through the series. Harker perhaps has the most difficult job as most of her character development happened off screen before the start of the series timeline so she just seems like a cold, clinical woman with little empathy. Rice’s development happened pre-series, too, but his character is so much more expressive so it shines through a bit easier. March is brittle; she tries to be strong for the team and gets the job done, but she seems a step away from a breakdown 95% of the time and the reasons for this vulnerability come through in the final episodes.

Finally for the four main characters, there’s Father Pearse Harman. He’s a priest. That’s pretty much his thing. He’s the boss and he makes a lot of tough choices. He and Michael clash the most, presumably just because it’s all new to Michael while the others are more on board with the idea. Harman and March have an interesting dynamic that simmers somewhere between mentor/mentee and unresolved sexual tension/romantic attachment. They have worked together for a long time and Harman visits March at home in one episode and it doesn’t seem to be an unusual thing. The relationship the squad has with the Church is muddied. People say different things about how much approval they have from the Vatican and whether Harman is in the good books or is a bit of a vigilante.

The whole series is sort of like that. The leeches (those infected with Code V – numeral 5 – and never called vampires) are clever, and also use technology and science. They are ruthless and animalistic, yes, but they have adapted to modern society. They aren’t like Buffyverse vampires whose schemes are grandiose and sort of pantomimic. They don’t cling desperately to the old ways. They aren’t pretending it’s still 1853. They have their reasons. They have their plans. They make reasonable arguments. They never turn anyone who doesn’t want to change (though their methods of persuasion are… um… not exactly friendly).

Ultraviolet is filled with throwaway comments that hint at the depth of character there. I started to warm to March when her daughter makes a jibe about how no one comes to the house because the security is so tight – March has a videophone to see who is at the gate before they come in as leeches don’t show up on camera – and the mother-daughter relationship is clearly strained.

Motives are unclear and both sides are manipulating their hearts out. Each accuses the other of indoctrination, menacing and violent behaviour, criminal activity. Some offences are never explained away. The real (in show) truth must be navigated by the viewer. We have to pick who we trust just as Michael does. There’s no massive expositional scenes where everything makes sense in two minutes. There are some awkward conversations and some veiled threats, studious denial and outright lying. I like that realism.

Of course the humans think the leeches need to be destroyed because they’re soulless and feeding off humanity. Of course the leeches are snakelike and insidious, but they also make quite reasonable arguments about co-existence and that they’re using science to try and find a synthetic blood to live off (an interesting pre-cursor to True Blood) that it seems a bit harsh to just dismiss out of hand just because the show is from the human point of view. Maybe it is indoctrination. What if we were allowing prejudice to colour our reactions? If you’d been told from birth that something was true by people you trusted, how much opposition would it take for you to change your mind? If you’d been told that people who tell you different are wrong, or trying to trick you, or were plain old evil, would you listen to their point of view even if was calmly and rationally explained? This show really does mess with your head a little. What is Harman’s real agenda? He has some soul-searching to do by the end of the series and in the final two episodes in particular his motivation is unclear.

There’s a lot of ambiguity, a lot of unknowns where characters have to make decisions based on what they think they know or their instincts. Sometimes they’re wrong, and it’s a bad decision, things go hideously wrong. Michael was a policeman so he can’t always separate his almost instinctual following of police procedure from his real instincts and desires. It is repeatedly pointed out that humans are also helping the leeches, without being turned. Whether for money, for power, or just because they believe in what the leeches are doing (or are being told they are doing). Nothing is black and white.

Michael’s relationship with Kirsty, his best friend’s fiancée, and his interactions with Frances (who it was clear to me from the beginning was an ex of his but isn’t explicit until late in the series) are painful, awkward and scarily true to life. Frances in particular (played by the amazing Fiona Dolman) does a great job. She and Michael have a weird, flirty but spiteful vibe, but it’s clear she does care about him and they are sort of friends. She works in Intelligence somewhere unspecified and Michael takes advantage of her position to get information. She begrudgingly helps him, counsels him, even tries to help him win Kirsty over, but she can be really bitchy. It’s a great performance. She really doesn’t want to get sucked back in to his life, and she tries so hard to keep her distance, but when he shows up at her door needing help, she caves, knowing she shouldn’t and hating herself because of it.

The leeches in Ultraviolet have some of the classic flaws: they can’t go out in the sunlight, they don’t have reflections, they don’t show up on film (photo or video) or on recorded audio/phone, and when their hearts are pierced by stakes or the modded wooden bullets, they explode. So there are loads of great shots of people staring worriedly at sunsets from bridges, and creepy night shots in abandoned car parks and playgrounds. It’s beautifully done.

I just can’t even… people still post about it in the depths of Yahoo groups. There’s fanfiction (though it is sparing and mostly pairings that I just don’t get based on the dynamics I saw) and petitions to make another series or a film. I’m in two minds. I do want to see what would have happened in a second series, but as the director himself said, maybe it’s better to stay as six great episodes than descend into mediocrity and ruin the greatness of it.

I really want to watch it again. Six hours of awesomeness…

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Code 5

Right now (or last night when this is posted) I’m smelling a delicious casserole bubbling away in the oven even though it’s about twenty five degrees outside. Just thought I’d mention. It’s been one of those days.

Yesterday I woke myself up at half past six because I was having an angry dream and I was in the middle of a massive rant. I had just yelled “If you don’t like it you can FUCK OFF!” and stormed off to wakefulness. So I took advantage and did some reading.

I know I missed Friday’s post. I was just TOO BUSY. On a scale of one to ten, my business level was at about forty-three. Well, maybe it wasn’t that bad. But nearly! Regardless, we have discovered an awesome single-series TV show on 4oD. It is awesome because Jack Davenport is very smug. Stephen Moyer is in it for a bit, foreshadowing his role in True Blood, and it’s quite odd hearing him be English. Also Idris Elba being gritty and uncompromising. Grr. You go, Idris.

I know a lot of people want Idris Elba to be The Doctor, but I really have trouble seeing it.

Anyway. Ultraviolet is about vampires in London and the crack squad of special branch who are trying to deal with it. There are only six episodes and we watched one to four last night. If you have no idea who Jack Davenport is, he was Norrington in the Pirates of the Caribbean films but even better than that he was Steve in Coupling. If you’ve never seen the proper British version of Coupling, you ought to. It was ours first, America! You may have killed it but it lives on in our hearts!

Ahem. So, if you can get 4oD, give it a watch. We weren’t quite sure what was happening in the first episode because everyone kept referring to various bodies as “they” and we didn’t know which “they” was being referred to all the time. That was good, though. Motives were murky. It wasn’t dumbed down. Worth a watch just to see clunky nineties technology, really.

I will let you know if it ended satisfactorily.

Anyone care about Cheryl Cole’s bum tattoo? Thought not.

 

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Go! Go! Go!

A late post today, since my paid job isn’t blogging, and I thought I should do what I’m paid for for a change. To be fair, I actually was quite busy today with only a half hour break between 8:45 and 3:45. That’s like slave labour for me. Every Tuesday is going to be like this now…

I’m taking a break from fantasy and reading The Racketeer by John Grisham. If you check my next five TBR list on Fantasy Faction, you’ll see that this book does not feature. But I can explain! I went to Shropshire at the weekend and took Best Served Cold with me (that one is on my TBR list! Yay!) which I read in chunks over the train journey. The problem was, when I got back to Inverness on Sunday evening, I had to wait two hours for the train out again. I had to wait TWO HOURS to go ONE STOP up the line. So I finished BSC and needed something new to read to pass the time. The Grisham was the best of a bad selection at Morrisons, assuming I didn’t want to read erotica with grey covers (I didn’t).

I read mainly fantasy, but I will read pretty much anything if it stands still long enough, as I think I’ve mentioned before. I have read some of the weightier, classic Grishams like The Firm and The Testament, so I felt a little let down by this very slim volume in comparison to such tomes. It’s ticking along quite nicely so far though, and I might read a bit more before bed tonight.

Oh goodness, I’ve just remembered all the train drama. I always seem to have adventures on trains, have you noticed? First there were two pensioner brothers who had very foghorny voices who insisted on blaring out their Scrabble scores in the QUIET COACH. Fair play for bringing something to keep you entertained (they were going from Pitlochry to London) but I consider random number shouting to be “unnecessary noise” and in the Quiet Coach; DAS IST VERBOTEN. An even older man got on in Perth and tried to turf one of the Foghorns out of his seat, claiming it was his. It turned out he had indeed booked that seat number in that carriage…

Foghorn 1: “Gosh, that is the same seat number; you’re right.”

Foghorn 2: “Well, just sit here and wait for the conductor and ask him about it.”

Foghorn 1: “Where are you heading, anyway?”

Old boy: “Inverness.”

Me: “Ah, well that’s your problem: this is the southbound train.”

Old boy: “Oh. Shit.”

When I changed at Edinburgh, chaos ensued. Apparently, while we’d been hurtling southward, half of Scotrail had imploded somehow. There were three trains’ worth of extra people on our train due to cancellations and breakdowns. So it was somewhat crowded. The conductor was trying his best, and taking all the unused reservations off to try and find seats and alternative trains for people, and the majority of passengers were just getting on with it. On arrival at Preston a very rude woman appeared. She had four children and a male friend? Brother? Partner? (I don’t want to assume but they looked like typical Prestonians and I say that having lived there for 20 years) and immediately set about conquering the reserved seats in the name of bolshiness.

She fair barrelled up the gangway and began displacing people with the extremely rude “You’re gonna have to move!” No preamble. No “Excuse me”. I mean, they were her booked seats. They genuinely were. But she didn’t give anyone the opportunity to move, and in some cases they wanted to move but couldn’t because of all the other passengers going up and down the carriage. She ousted the final two in this way, then proceeded to make snidey comments to her man like “I can’t believe people would sit in someone else’s reserved seats!” “Some people are so rude!” and so on. While she was still standing and someone needed to get past, she smiled and apologised to them claiming “Sorry, I know I’m in the way but there are people sitting in my seats and I’m just waiting for them to move!” all sweetness and passive-aggressive light. The two men in her seats were only too happy to move, but made the mistake of trying to explain. They said the train was really busy and they had only been sat there until someone came to claim the seats, and that they did have reserved seats elsewhere but hadn’t been able to get to them because of the crowd. The rude lady then snapped “Well I don’t care! Go find them then! Why are you in my seats? You’re gonna have to move!” All of us who had been crammed in since Edinburgh just couldn’t believe it. I mean, she was obviously entitled to sit in her reserved seats, but you at least start with “Excuse me”, and look apologetic. You don’t start in with bolshy. I would have offered one of the men my seat in compensation, but I had been wedged in myself by then.  I later had a lovely vestibule conversation with a lad from Wem, who had been skiing in Manchester (indoor) on my way to Shrewsbury on a packed rush hour train with only two carriages. It was quite warm.

Sorry, blogging interrupted by a new series of The Great British Bake Off. It’s going to be a crazy series, I think. I was just discussing the early favourites with a friend on Facebook when my best friend chipped in “…I used to think you guys were cool.” How rude! It’s funny how serious it gets, though, and then you take a step back and remember it’s only cake.

Anyway, I’m still commenting on the Locke Lamora read along, and frankly I’m a bit disappointed by the number of comments so far. People were so up for it on the forum, but they’re not taking part in discussion and I really feel for Marc who is writing really detailed summaries and bringing some great discussion points.

RIGHT. I am determined to get to be at a reasonable time. See you Friday, folks.

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Bits and Bobs

It’s Tuesday and that means… NEW BLOG POST DAY!

I have been tidying the attic to make it a more lived-in space, and I might put some pics up soon once the rest of the furniture arrives. I’ve been trying to keep busy and trying to get off my backside and actually do some stuff instead of spending all my time in front of the laptop.

To that end, I went for a walk this morning. I know! A proper one with walking boots and everything! The first half was pretty much all up hill, but that sort of slow, winding, gentle incline where you are slowly knackered without realising why. The second half was a steep descent where I could repeatedly say “I can see my house from here!” and look out over the Firth. It was worth doing from an exercise point of view, but it wasn’t as stunningly beautiful as I thought it would be. This is possibly because along the top section, where the best views would be that would make the climb worth it, some people have helpfully built holiday cottages so that they can enjoy the view. Cheers, you guys.

It was supposed to be nigh on four miles but I did it in about fifty minutes and I don’t think I walk that quickly, especially not up hills. Maths has never been my thing. Maybe I’m just thinking about all the walks we went on when I was little, that seemed to last for HOURS AND HOURS AND MILES AND MILES to my child mind and tiddly child legs, but that were probably an hour at the most. It’s probably right. I just Google-mapped the route and apparently it is 3.7 miles. Well done me, eh?

I’m still doing the Lies of Locke Lamora readalong. There’s a discussion every week and last night someone posted something that I disagreed with. I was about to go on a massive rant about but then I realised a. it was irrelevant to the actual book (and that’s what we were meant to be discussing) and b. it would have made me sound like a douche. So I left it and now I feel like I’ve grown as a person. Join in if you like. Three weeks to go! Details here.

I bought cherry Coke this morning and it is still the King of all Cokes. It’s currently sitting on the side going a bit flat because my body cannot handle the pure majesty of it. I am unworthy.

Last night, when I was meant to be going to bed early, I read Andrew Mayne’s Public Enemy Zero again. It’s still good. There’s a point near the beginning where the main character does the logical thing but we know it’s the worst possible thing to do, and that major OH GOD WHY reaction is still there. It’s 64p on Amazon UK so I think it’s worth a read.

What’s it about? I’d hate to spoil it. As the name suggests, it’s sort of a Public Enemy No.1/Patient Zero sort of story. It’s about a guy called Mitch who gets beaten up by stranger when he stops to help her change a flat tyre out on the road one night, and it goes downhill from there for him, really. He’s a bit of a loser – he does the graveyard shift on a local radio station – and a totally ordinary guy and he has to keep making stuff up as he goes along. It’s sort of The Fugitive meets 28 Days Later, except not really. I really don’t want to spoil it too much. It’s quite fast-paced and both times I’ve read it I have read the whole thing in one go. There is one totally ridiculous set-piece that wouldn’t be out of place in a cheesy explosions action film but mostly it’s not too overblown. Again, I say, 64p. Give it a go.

This is a bit disjointed but there we are.

I’m going to do a little writing experiment. When I have the time (which is NEVER but I will do it anyway) I’m going to write my sci-fi space-vampire novel. It’s called Blood Trace and it’s about an alien race who are vampiric, and it’s set in THE MYSTERIOUS FUTURE where humankind has gone out among the stars and interbred with anything vaguely humanoid in shape and genitalia. The point is, I’m going to try something radical by my standards, and that is to properly plan it out. Pics and detailed descriptions of characters; chapter summaries; motivations; a backstory for the universe to help me work out what they’re actually meant to be doing; all that sort of thing. I don’t usually do it that way. I’m trying something new. I’m envisioning a pinboard with loads of bits of paper and coloured wool. But that’s on the backburner, really, until I get some other stuff done.

I decided I’m probably going to invoke the Zokutou Clause for NaNoWriMo this year. Now I’ve been NaNoing for years I don’t feel comfortable not doing anything at all, but I do have three ongoing drafts to finish. If I can add 25k to each typed one, that’d do. The handwritten one I’m happy to add to as and when.

…Like this Friday! I’m off on a weekend adventure to Shropshire, which is hella far from here. If you’re not familiar with UK geography, it’s similar to the distance between Cleveland, Ohio and New York City. And a bit further than Portland, Oregon to Boise, Idaho.

I’m taking this last-minute, ill-advised trip (I’m back at work full time on Monday and I’ll be getting the train home Sunday alllllll day… Sunday service from the Welsh border to the Highlands is minimal, can I just say. What’s with that, National Rail Services? People need to go long distances, yknow!) to help out some people I don’t even know, and a person I’ve vaguely met. Because I’m kind like that. There might be pics from that as well, if anyone takes any. It’s a medieval thing.

If I’m not writing on the train, I’ll be sewing. I’ll be on the damn things for ten hours, give or take, and I have some embroidery to finish. My life, she is exciting. Right, well, off to ring the contents insurance people, and the electric people and tell them I’ve moved. Apparently they prefer that to a complex game of move and counter-move with treasure maps and coded messages. Their loss.

 

 

 

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Wringer

Alright, if you’re following me on Twitter (either on my personal account @Addison_Crow or currently on @WritersRotation) you’ll know that last night I was subject to local customs (like they’re a contagion). Even though it was raining, a crowd of locals and tourists gathered in the car park opposite my flat to listen to local musicians and watch the Highland dancers. They perform every Thursday night in the summer, and the pipe band practices every Thursday (which amounts to the same) the rest of the time. I was surprised by the range in ages, even though I shouldn’t have been. I said before, when I went to the ceilidh, that there were young people there. Well, there were teens outside in the rain last night, and a lot of them didn’t even look forced to be there. Parents, grandparents, tourist families, random lonely huddlers; all were out in droves to see SCOTLAND in capital letters.

It’s part of the reason I love living here, and in the Highlands particularly. There’s a sweetness about the place, a lack of shame at dorky cultural heritage, and though the kids were dressed like gangsta rappers for the most part, they still clapped along to the traditional music with gusto. I would have been out there with them, but I spent Wednesday and yesterday doing the final clean on the old flat. My ex had gone, the place was empty, and despite claiming to have cleaned, the ex’s efforts were minimal. My hands are still recovering from all the cleaning products, dunking in hot water, hard scrubbing, and grime. So I was feeling pretty skanky. Lowlights: cleaning the hairballs from the washing machine (my ex was pretty much Chewbacca in terms of body hair) and cleaning the damn oven.

Still, if you’re ever in my neck of the woods on a Thursday night, see if you can spot me frowning out of the window because a fecking pipe band is playing when I want to watch something/listen to something. Blooming natives.

Right, well, it’s been a busy week at the Crow’s Nest. I’m trying to do the Scott Lynch Locke Lamora readalong in preparation for Republic of Thieves this October, I have been trying to get more sewing done, I’ve been faffing about…

Ugh, faffing about. I think it’s my love of faffing about that will stop me being a proper, published, successful author. I can’t keep focused and motivated if I’m left to my own devices. I need structure. I’d have to go to an office with other writers, and write like it was a job, with people glaring at me meaningfully when I faffed about for too long. I have four different stories on the go, with two more in my head. I refer you to Hyperbole And A Half “This Is Why I’ll Never Be An Adult” which pretty much explains how it works. I’m coasting towards thirty and I can’t keep myself motivated if no one’s looking. Fook’s sake.

In a way I don’t mind. I mean, I do have a full-time job (and a career path if I want it) that I enjoy when I’m not crippled with fear that someone will find out that I’m actually quite lazy. It pays reasonably well, compared to a lot of jobs people who graduated with me now have. I have enough to be getting on with, and I could always do sewing-related things as a side project if I wanted to. I can do NaNoWriMo, and write little stories, and add to my drafts when I feel like it. One day I might show them to people. I don’t NEED to publish. I can be on the periphery. I can do reviews for other people, and talk to authors on Twitter, and blog about books. I can live with authors and not be screamingly jealous.

Except… I’m good. I think. People tell me I’m good, though I know that’s no guarantee. I mean, strangers who aren’t my family or close friends like what I write. Slightly more reliable. And based on some of the weird tripe I’ve read and seen published over the years, I’d be a shoe-in! After an age of heart-breaking rejection, obviously. I know it’s all hard graft and apprenticeships. Scott Lynch told me so, though I knew that already (I blogged about it back there somewhere *waves hand in vague direction of the past*).  I’m not kidding myself in that regard. Apart from when I second-guess myself and wonder if my work is only being read by idiots.

Seriously though, am I the only one who goes to bookshops, browses the Fantasy and/or Sci Fi section and is amazed by the weird stuff that gets scooped up and published? It gives me hope, but it also fills me with dread. Being an author has always been my dream (apart from being a librarian) and I really really really want it to come true.

Right, I tell you what. Double post day. I’ll post a short piece I wrote for a competition. I seem to have had more views recently, so please comment, you lurkers, and give me your thoughts. The prompt was that the protagonist was being threatened or attacked by thirty assailants. Whether they survived was up to us. There you are then. I’ll post that first so it comes up below this post, in order to make more sense. Or something.

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Thirty in a Room (Fiction)

Written for the “Thirty in a Room” challenge, Jottify, May/June 2012

I am trapped. Backed into the far corner of the room though I know that won’t keep me safe for long. The others are dead – or dying – but I turn my face to the wall to try to block out their final gasps of terror. Our captors leave me alone while they deal with the rest. They know I cannot escape. Even if I managed to slip from this room into another, where would I go? I would be found and returned to this chamber. No one here is a friend.

I don’t understand. Why have we been brought here? They have been toying with us all afternoon. We’ve been passed around like cigarettes for everyone to take a drag. I thought the worst was over, that we’d be left alone for a while to recover. Now this. I shouldn’t complain. We were given a brief respite while they ate – leaving us with nothing, of course – but now they are back. We heard them hurrying back to us after their meal, impatient for more games.

Their leader laughs as he stamps on someone’s face. I think one of the women called him Thomas. He struts around the room in his big boots, oh so very proud of himself. Carelessly he aims a kick at my sister. She squeals as his foot connects and then she is rolling, crying, across the floor.

Thomas is flushed as he surveys the chaos around him. His followers – how many are there? Thirty? – look to him for direction. They are breathing hard. Some are clutching my fellow prisoners, squeezing them tightly in hot hands. There are only so many ways to assault and I fear they have exhausted the more usual methods. I shudder, already feeling the pressure of their fingers on my frail skin.

“Outside!” yells one of them suddenly. “Thomas, we should take them outside!”

Thomas grins in agreement and bundles anyone in reach before him towards the harsh daylight on the other side of the curtain. Will our humiliation never end? Here, in the isolation of this room, we have been punched and kicked and bruised and twisted into the most unnatural shapes. Some of us even had pins stuck in them. I escaped the worst of that torture, hanging quietly at the back of the group.

Not so any more. A small, weasel-faced bully reaches for me, pulls me from the relative safety of my corner. He drags me out with the others, by the neck, happily scraping his nails across my tender flesh. I know for certain, then, what I have been hoping was panicked pessimism. None of us will survive this ordeal.

They don’t want any of us to survive. These petty thugs will leave us all torn and broken, forgotten, before the sun sets.

As I adjust to the bright glow of the yard, I can already tell we are much fewer in number. Once we outnumbered them two to one. Now we are barely ten. I am the last one out of the room. Some of the smaller captives are shivering in the warm breeze. Others drift, vacant, already lost. I fight the urge to shudder. I daren’t look back at the floor behind me. I know what carpets the bare wood now.

Thomas arranges his pack into two lines. We are corralled between them. The air shimmers in the heat and I know we do not have long. There is not one of those thirty who will show any mercy. Their faces are hard, cold, their eyes shining with savage joy.

“How hard do you think we can kick them?” asks a subordinate who I remember as being particularly vicious with his heavy-tread footwear. He rubs his hands, already eyeing up a potential target.

Thomas laughs, and the others are quick to join in. They press closer, eyes bright, licking their lips in anticipation of the final frenzy to come. Who will be the first to crack? Whose hands will snake out and grab one of us?

It is the weasel-faced one who plunges, shrieking, into our midst. In the flurry of movement that follows we are separated by the force of his arms. He snatches, grabbing the one next to me and I am jolted away. Thomas himself gets his hands on my neck and now I brace for the final, decisive blow.

“Thomas!” calls a tall woman from the doorway. She is smiling, looking fondly on him and his friends. “Come inside! It’s time for your cake!”

The boys whoop as they surge for the door back into the house, jostling for position closest to the birthday boy.

Thomas keeps me in one sticky hand while he fumbles with his badge. A huge number seven hangs forlornly on his shirt.

“Thomas! Leave those balloons and come inside!” his mother insists.

He giggles as he looks down at me, breathing hard with concentration.

With a sigh, he lets me go, and instead of floating down to the grass I swarm up on the breeze.

Free.

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Inside the Box

This week I’m the curator on @WritersRotation on Twitter, if you fancy giving it a follow. Every week there’s a different curator (from anywhere in the world) who tweets about writing and books. This week it’s me, as I said. I’m on until Sunday, so you’ve got a few days.

I’m having a bit of writer’s block at the moment. That block partly composed of all the other useful stuff I’m meant to be doing and am guiltily avoiding. There are still boxes to unpack, and if Ivory stubs her toe on my kitchen stuff one more time I think I’m in serious trouble. I have also been reading. I read Herald of the Storm by Richard Ford pretty much in one lump. It was fantasy, again, but he asked so nicely, and there was a sword on the cover, so what was I meant to do? That put a dint in my sewing schedule because I needed my eyes for both things, and reading generally takes precedence.

Right, so, Inside the Box. We’re always told to think outside said cube, but I don’t think we should get carried away. In terms of character development at least. Fantasy can be a big problem for this, because a lot of weird stuff or ignorance of the laws of physics can be explained away by yelling MAGIC and running away. But I don’t think that’s good enough. Say you have a character who has all these powers. Why isn’t he ruling the world? If he’s genuinely that powerful, how do you justify him not being supreme dude of the universe? Obviously, it’s because in your head that’s not how the story goes. But the reader doesn’t know that. Anyone who knows me or my opinions on writing will know I hate an excess of exposition, but we have to know something! You’ve got the plot all mapped out (possibly) so we need something a little more concrete than “well, he just isn’t, because he goes to X, and he has to do Y!” Does he? Really? If you were in his shoes, what would you do? According to your world and story, there’s no real reason why he can’t blitz everything.

So why is Lord High Sorceror Guy not king of the hill? I was thinking about this last night instead of sleeping, and I came up with a fair few reasons:

1. He doesn’t know he has all this power (useless apprentice trope, Harry Potter pre-age-11…) and just accidentally leaks the stuff. Broken stuff magically fixes itself as he passes, his parents don’t age because subconsciously he doesn’t want them to die…

2. Other magic users put firewalls in his brain to prevent him accessing the most powerful stuff (Jean Grey syndrome) because they were afraid of what he’d do.

3. Using magic causes crippling pain or blood loss for the caster. Has to be really worth it to weaken yourself. If you attempt a world-take-over, do you really want to immediately be so weak anyone could just kill/capture you and undo it?

4. Using magic needs energy, and every casting will kill a random stranger somewhere to get that energy. Like in The Box/Button, Button. The magic user can’t live with that blood on his hands and refuses to cast magic.

5. He promised a dying relative/mentor that he’d use his power responsibly and doesn’t want to let them down.

Now, there are doubtless others, but those five seemed quite general and workable into different scenarios. I don’t believe a character should be a construct. They need to be a person with good and bad qualities and complexity. But they also need to have a visible thread to follow. I don’t like being patronised or talked down to when I read (or anywhere, really) but even I get annoyed at characters who are Mysterious for seemingly no reason. Totally random acts with no explanation will not make me want to keep reading your book.

A character that gets to me in that way is Melisandre from A Song of Ice and Fire. It’s a good job there are so many other good characters for me to read about, because if Melisandre was the main feature I think I would have given up long ago. What exactly is her end game? Where does she really come from? Westeros is pretty magic-free, really, apart from her and Thoros doing R’hllor-y things. And the dragons. If it wasn’t for all the other characters speculating about her, plotting against her, and generally interacting with her, we’d know practically nothing. I know that’s the point, I guess, but I don’t like it.

Take River, from Herald of the Storm (it’s fresh in my mind). He’s an assassin. When we meet him, he’s mid-mission. He kills the people he’s told to, without question. But immediately, he differentiates. He tries not to kill bystanders if he can help it. Unless they attack him. He is an assassin, not a murderer. Not much of a distinction, but we know he has a code. We follow him home. Aha! I wasn’t altogether surprised to find he was somewhat indoctrinated and part of a larger system. His master is mysterious, but I don’t mind the mystery at one step removed. River is the one we care about. We learn about his training and his ‘brothers’ and his secrets. He’s insular, but not closed off. It’s a good balance.

And then towards the end we find out a little more about the chain of command, the power struggle and how it’s filtered down to him, which is nice. Well played, Ford.

It makes me realise that I really do need to be more organised about my writing if I’m ever going to get anywhere with it. Maybe I never will. I will always write. I have to. But I have so many unfinished things… If only real life didn’t get in the way, eh?

 

 

 

 

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