Westminster, 1634

Ramsey dropped the half-quatern sack on the grass of the Abbey’s cloister and waited for Lilly and Scott to join him, his mood darker than the London evening and twice as cold. He had sought Lilly out, several weeks earlier at his house on the Strand to discuss the matter at hand. Though he thought he had impressed on the astrologer the need for secrecy in their endeavour and the importance of securing the services of someone familiar in the employment of the mosaical rods, (someone of rank, definitely of experience) and even though Lilly had nodded gravely, given his word he knew of such a man, it appeared he did not. Lilly had arrived at the appointed hour with John Scott,  the former page of Lord Norris, mocking Ramsay even as Scott stuttered his way through questions regarding his experience and the integrity of his knowledge. Opening the door for the two of the, Ramsay swore under his breath at his stupidity in trusting someone like Lilly. The seriousness nature of this investigation, which came with the blessings of both Dean Williams and that of the King, appeared to have been lost on up-start astrologer and his half-wit accomplice.  Within minutes of arriving the first of the uninvited observers found their way into the cloister and Ramsay’s hunt turned into an evening of entertainment for Lilly and his cohort.

Ramsay ordered the six labourers to wait at the southern end and none objected. The mad Scotsman had promised them each a month’s wages regardless of what was found. The walkway was warmer than the damp air of the grassed square, the floor covered in rushes and a low fire stoked for them to huddle around. There was silence as none dared speculated within earshot of the royal clockmaker what compelled him to dig in the Abbey at night.

From a satchel, Ramsay produced a grid map on a sheet of rough paper and took unnecessary time and effort in flattening the folds and reviewing the grid references it in the light of Lilly’s lantern.

“We will work in a systematic manner from North to South, East to West, taking measured steps,” Ramsay stated, his thick brogue crystallising in sharp ivory puffs. He made no effort to modulate the volume. There was no point in trying to keep anything a secret. “You understand, Scott? Methodical. This is not the hocus pocus of your mentor.”

The young man flushed under Ramsay’s stare, but nodded. The hazel rods trembled in his gloved hands. Lilly’s face twitched for a moment and he executed a dramatic sneeze to cover the full extent of Ramsay’s debasement. Whatever illusion of friendly partnership remained, froze with the grass beneath their feet.

The trio walked to the north-east corner, their foot steps carving imprints in the lawn. Lilly took the lantern from Ramsay and raised the wick in both. They moved slowly, Scott with the hazel rods held lightly before him, Lilly with the lanterns at head height throwing as much light before them as possible and Ramsay counting under his breath and notating the map as they went.

The moon climbed high above them, the sliver doing little to illuminate their progress. More lights sprung up in the arched windows of the cloister. The weather and late hour had kept all by the hardiest and most curious of onlookers away but still Ramsay scowled. This was not a public performance, though Lilly had obviously gone to great lengths to ensure it was despite his word to keep their visit to the Abbey a sworn secret. Animated chatter stole across the square. Wagers being taken. Stories compared. By tomorrow evening a furious trade in phantasical tales would be had in all the pubs in Westminster and beyond.

Halfway across the cloister Scott complained of the cold and Lilly of cramps. Ramsay called a halt, checked the time on his pocket watch and drew a silver flask from his satchel, offering it only to Scott.

“Uncover what the Abbey hides, laddie, and you’ll not be grovelling for whims over Lord Norris’s chamber pot.” The young man nodded and fumbled the flask, almost dropping it. “Now that, laddie. That would be a true crime.”

On Anthologies and Small Press Beginnings

Following on from the spate of guest posts last month, I’m talking about creating anthologies and accidental small press beginnings at Emily Craven’s e-Book Revolution today. It is part of the week-long relaunch of the website.

“Digital publishing allows exploration of ideas without a strong, traditional  ‘commercial value’. Many of the financial risks associated with traditional forms of publishing do not apply to digital publishing. This makes it the perfect playground for experimentation.” Read the full article.

By leaving a comment you go into the draw to win one of two wonderful bundles of prizes (one which is the entire back catalogue of anthologies from the Chinese Whisperings and Literary Mix Tapes imprint). So hop on over and share your anthology experiences: good, bad, indifferent!

Other articles in the relaunch of the e-Book Revolution site include:

5 Mind Blowing Facts About Book Trailers – And How To Do Your Own

iBooks Alternatives – How To Make A Book App With Authorly

Author Branding – Being Judged by Your Cover

How To Get Your Print Books Into Your Local Book Store In 7 Steps

 

Monochrome

I follow,
through endless rows of billowing sheets,
beneath the old Queenslander.
Moving in monochrome,
I give chase;
a game of hide and seek
fuelled by teenage innocence,
amplified by fantasy and desire.

My hand grasps wisps of your silhouette
as you shift and disappear
within the cotton labyrinth.
Until you stop teasing
and slow motion embraces me.
I’m behind you.
Heart pounding.
Soaking,
in the feel of you.

After all these years
of patience,
I awake.
The flutter of sheets,
the warmth,
and you;
a promise.
Stealing away
on each reluctant breath.

BOOK REVIEW: Beautiful Words by Nik Perring

BEAUTIFUL WORDS: some meanings and some fictions too by Nik Perring is unlike anything I’ve ever read.

beautifulwordsIt is not a collection of flash fiction, though the story of Alexander and Lucy runs through the heart of it. Nor is it a dictionary, yet it’s arranged alphabetically and includes definitions. It’s not a journal of reflection, though the reader finds out along the way, what brings each word to this publication. And it’s not an art book, though it’s lushly illustrated.

When handed around literary-minded friends it was the catalyst for much ooo-ing and ahh-ing. Shared with old friends it was concluded to be better than chocolates for a birthday present.

It looks, feels and smells like a picture book (minus the smears of snot and vegemite). It’s also a little like the TARDIS! But it’s neither of these either.

So what is Beautiful Words?

Beautiful Words is a literary installation that inhabits the space between the reader’s hands, heart and head. Because of this it can’t help be bigger on the inside (and grow with each immersion). It’s less something you want to read (see Dan Powell’s review) and more something you want to imbibe, slowly, over and over again. Or perhaps be wrapped in, like your favourite set of cotton sheets.

It is ambitious, audacious and absolutely engaging.

There are the 26 words—lexigraphical gems—accompanied by their meanings: crazy words ‘wiffle’, every-day words ‘clasp’, exotic words ‘effleurage’ and totally left-of-centre-words ‘Dravidian’. They are attended by Perring’s explanation of why they are beautiful to him. Riffing off, and woven through, this is the unfolding story of Alexander and Lucy. And better than six steak knives to round out an impossibly good deal, there is Miranda Sofroniou’s vivid, bold and sumptuous artwork. Each element combines to create a multi-layered tapestry that asks you to curb the impulse to race through it (like resisting the packet of Tim Tams in the freezer!); to read, pause, savour and re-read before turning the page.

The inconsistent application of the narrative POV, swapping between Perring’s, Alexander’s (in first and 3rd person) and Lucy’s (in the 3rd) adds a unique and undeniable momentum. It keeps the book from becoming formulaic and repetitive while creating delicious space for expectation and uncertainty. Who is actually narrating… and, does it actually matter?

Breathless in its brevity, the power of Perring’s writing is not just in the economy of language or the stripped back nature of the narrative, but in the hardwiring of anecdotal glimpses (and often nothing more) that tremble with Universal resonance: misunderstandings, love, loss, longing, perfect snapshot moments. His writing breaks all the ‘show don’t tell rules’, yet reveals the narrative arc in such a way the reader is certain they were only ever shown it. Perhaps watching on, in person, as it unfolded on the airplane, in the garden center or the wine bar that night.

Perring mainlines emotions in a way that compels the reader to open their heart to weep bittersweet tears into. He delivers with such ease single sentence gut-punches then switches back to offer promises of love when all hope has fled.

And all this in just 2000 words (give or take)!

The best thing about Beautiful Words… there is more to come with the release of Beautiful Trees and Beautiful Shapes later this year.

**Five perfectly-shaped obcordate leaves**

Beautiful Words is released Monday and available via publisher Roastbooks, Book Depository, FishPond and where all good books are sold.

- – -

nikperringwords2Nik Perring is a short story writer and author from the UK. His stories have been published in many fine places both in the UK and abroad, in print and online. They’ve been used on High School distance learning courses in the US, printed on fliers, and recorded for radio. Nik is the author of the children’s book, I Met a Roman Last Night, What Did You Do? (EPS, 2006); the short story collection, Not So Perfect (Roastbooks 2010); and he’s the co-author of Freaks! (The Friday Project/HarperCollins, 2012). His online home is www.nikperring.com and he’s on Twitter as @nikperring

I’m Not Afraid of my Big Bad Manuscript

…so what the hell’s wrong then?

I have been thinking a lot about fear the last week or so. I’ve been trying to understand why I can’t begin the second draft of my novel. I assumed I was afraid, after all, it’s fear* that usually roots me to the spot and renders me incapable of forward momentum. When I burrowed under ‘fear’ to try and find out exactly what it was that was holding me back, I came up with nothing. (And no, honestly, I wasn’t deluding myself!)

THE ART OF DISSECTION

Confused, I started to look at the problem from a different angle. I know a lot of what I wrote is last November is crap, but I also know there are some awesome gems in there, I know the story absolutely has legs and I know you have to start somewhere. I know the manuscript is riddled with plot holes and half-baked characters but I know with time, research and patience, I’ll work out how to fill the holes and round out the characters. In summation I know its going to require a lot of work to get it up to speed. I also know I have done it before and I will do it again.

BEYOND KEEPING IT SHORT

When I read through Dalhousie, the first thought was: oh shit I’ve done it again. Thrown words at the page in record time and now I have to make sense of it. Just as I did with Elyora. Sheesh, you don’t learn, woman! Six drafts is what it took to get Elyora up to standard. The idea of six drafts of a 80K length novel is absolutely daunting.

The moral of the story, which I pointed out to myself, is: I’m not lacking in a track record or the skills. I did it with Elyora and followed it up with Post Marked:Piper’s Reach. I have no doubts whatsoever the PMPR manuscript got at least six passes over it. Yet it never felt difficult, or arduous or consuming. I always came out of an editing session filled up, rather than emptied out. It came out better for all the rewriting.

So honestly, what the hell is my problem?

NOT DROWNING… MUCH?!

Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 7.05.32 PMI’m overwhelmed (not scared) of what awaits me. There’s 79K crappy words and just me to get it tidied into a solid second draft. No one has my back. There will be no kooky Skype sessions. No-one but me will leave humourous or insightful comments in margin bubbles. While I have friends like Rob Cook to assist in untangling things, it’s just me and the manuscript right now.

I want to work smarter, not harder this time. I don’t want to have to do six drafts (but you know, if that’s what it ends up taking, so be it!) For a start, I want to somehow have it all straight in my head when I sit down to do this next draft to expedite the process; understand the characters and their motivations intimately, know how the clockwork mechanisms and the house works. I don’t want any more huge gaping structural holes at the end of this draft.

Consequently I’ve been kind of floundering. And as I’ve floundered I’ve let myself drift into any form of procrastination that will keep me safe from having to front up and sort out the mess. I’ve blamed it on fear, but fear has a new name. It has the correct name: overwhelming.

BEYOND THE NAVEL GAZING

What does this change? I’m still overwhelmed. A novel is big, really bloody big and I might not be able to fix everything right now. But… I can incrementally stick plot holes and characters in my head and mentally masticate them into shape.

Indries Shah’s said: Enlightenment must come little by little – otherwise it would overwhelm. Oh damn, don’t I know it! So I welcome enlightenment to come slowly and I’ll be ready for all it drops.

Then there was the wisdom of a midwife friend almost ten years ago: How do you eat an elephant?

I can take small, mindful bites at the manuscript. Not choke, trying to force more than I can cope with down my throat. I will do what I can, something small every day, until the momentum picks me up, my home life settles and my confidence bolsters. I’ll be the consummate nibbler and know, sooner rather than later, the second draft flow will be upon me, replacing this horrible sense of being buried alive by my own words! Then nothing will stop me.

*Thank you Adam for your article today, prodding me to articulate what was swirling in my head!

Almost

We almost had sex.
Almost broke the lounge
as ‘Blue Velvet’ played to itself on the TV.
The gas radiator filled the room with heat
augmented by our lust.
When you slipped out into the cold night air
your calling card was my body,
almost covered in carpet burn.

I almost fell for you.
The man who parked his car a block away
so the cleaner from work,
who lived around the corner,
had no chance to put two and two together.
But still you huddled into my door,
knocking with an urgency
I mistook for me.

You, who moved your girlfriend in
so you could pretend to be
almost faithful.
You, who hissed, ‘Not here’
when I said ‘hello’ in the bread aisle
and later turned up to seduce me
while you were almost getting ice cream
for the girlfriend-now-fiance.

I almost cried that afternoon
as you drove off without saying goodbye.
When I was almost no longer there
and you had already moved on.
It was easy to regret everything,
rewrite it in the diesel fumes,
when I was almost at the town limits
but still so far away
from arriving.