Link

Due to that all-too-frequent excuse of life getting in the way, my writing has taken a back seat for a couple of months. On the plus side, both me and my wife have nifty new jobs that involve writing and analysing others’ writing respectively.

Now that’s all settled I’ve been trying to get back into a writing rhythm but struggling. The main reason is that I’m at a bit of an impasse with a couple of projects and at the early stages of another where it’s hard to pick it back up  again just like that – it’s not ingrained in my brain enough yet.

Fortunately I received an email from some newsletter or other I’d signed up to about a short story competition and something sparked in my head. Check out Create50 – they’ve got a horror comp on at the mo and it’s a variation on the usual. While I’ve submitted a short story (max 2000 words) they’re also open to creepy music and art. The panel, and they seem like a high profile one, will pick their top 50 and that amalgamation will be published together. Quite how that works with music too I’m not sure, but I like the idea.

In addition to being open to other media, there’s a great community vibe going on. As part of entering you have to pay (a fiver) but you also have to provide feedback on at least 3 other entries. This feedback can then be used by the author to redraft their submission once or twice if desired.

It’s a cool system that seems like a good way to build a community around the Create50 projects. So far I’ve received two bits of feedback on my story, both of which are really positive but highlight the same element as a weakness – that of course gives me a great idea for how to redraft and resubmit.

There is the potential, as there is in any crowd-based idea, for things not to work out. If many people highlight the same weakness then how can you be sure they all read the piece rather than copied an earlier review? 2000 words is pretty short which should encourage people to do it properly, and I get a supportive vibe from looking through profiles and the like.

Also, what if someone’s mean about my story? Well, the likelihood is they’re also a creator themselves so it’s more likely there’ll be some kind of constructiveness in there… right? We’ll see!

Another odd thing is the star ratings – when leaving feedback you have to give the piece a star rating out of five. I’ve received two 4s so far, which is nice, but it’s hard to know what they really mean. According to the competition blurb, the judging panel disregard these ratings which is good – otherwise it could turn into a popularity contest with social media campaigns trying to get chums to block vote. The idea of the star ratings is under discussion by the Create50 team at the mo, so perhaps they’ll disappear.

I’m going to take a look at a few submissions tonight and give feedback, so hopefully I’ll discover some nifty new horror.

The comp is open until November so there’s plenty more time for submissions and redrafts – I’ll let you know how I get on. If you’ve entered then let me know and I’ll have a read of your submission. Or a listen. Mine’s called The Cut if you fancy taking a gander.

Alternatively, if you’ve entered this kind of thing before let me know of any great or terrible experiences in a comment below.

@BornToPootle

Terry Pratchett: There Are No More Words

A few years ago an author who’d had a big impact on me as a child died. I found out about her death about a month after the fact and felt gutted. Really gutted. I’d reread a few of her books over more recent years, having met and married someone who’d stayed more of a fan than I had, and they were joyous. It was Diana Wynne Jones, a truly wonderful writer.

I didn’t have any way to get the emotion out, other than write a short story. It wasn’t massively original and I haven’t done anything with it over the intervening few years. I’ve ploughed on with my novel-shaped projects and largely forgotten my short stories.

Today Sir Terry Pratchett died. And I found myself thinking of the short story. It doesn’t come anywhere close to doing justice to the influence he’s had on my life. I honestly would be a different person if I’d not read any of his books. But it’s all I’ve got at the moment.

Deep In The Forest

Deep in the forest, beyond where the foxes and rabbits and crows venture, past the uprooted oak and near the old smuggling cave, a figure sits on a rock. It is a tall figure, with shaggy hair hanging down as it holds its head in its hands. The figure has goatish legs and a tail that flicks this way and that like a lion on the prowl. The figure lifts its head up to what little brave starlight filters down through the leaves. Tears gleam on its face.

The figure opens its mouth and lets out a ragged cry, a wordless scream that could be understood by anyone or anything, at any time or in any place. The figure stands, panting from the exertion of emotion. It starts to run, hooves gouging at the ground, tearing great chunks free. All the creatures that thrive in darkness, the small hiding ones, the clawed hunting ones, they all scuttle away from the figure as it thuds onwards.

#

High in a tower made of black stone that echoes with terror, a young man stares out of a solitary window. The room is filled with all the busy paraphernalia of youth, the thousand things that have piqued his interest today and the thousand more that might tomorrow. His spidery hands grip the window ledge until stone cracks. Tears roll down his face, kicking up metres of dust as they hit the hungry earth far below. In silence he turns and leaves the room. He runs down spiral staircase, taking the steps first one at a time, then two, then more. He flicks his hands just so and he’s flying down them, spiralling round and around and around again.

#

The figure with the goatish legs pauses as it reaches the edge of the forest. Its eyes, yellow and pointed, flick left and right, left and right. Pace by pace it continues on, building into a run once more. Over dark plains of grass it goes, through fields of wheat and corn and earth. It reaches a road where indiscriminate cars whine past, and leaps it in one single bound. It can see the lights up ahead now, the hazy place where it has always feared to go.

#

The young man flies out through the door of the tower. Great splinters of wood and iron stab the night as he continues onwards and upwards. He is oblivious to the cold as he embraces the clouds. He ducks down to study the black patchwork spread beneath him. Blisters of light pock the land spoiling the mysteries of night. A plane glides through the air near him, but the shades are down, the passengers oblivious. With a surge of energy the young man flies faster, ever faster.

#

The figure is almost there. It pounds down pavements, hooves starting to split under the concrete pressure. The streets are empty, the night-people instinctively knowing to stay out of the way. A tall building rises ahead of the figure, and it quickens its pace further still.

#

Down the young man flies, gaining speed as he does so. The bright haze becomes a series of lights, becomes a network of roads and houses, a map that is unreadable by the young man. There is a tall building in the centre of the map though, and this, he knows, is the place.

#

The figure stumbles. It falls to the floor. It tries to stand but its legs won’t work. It lets out another cry, thrashes with its arms and starts to claw its way forwards.

#

The young man suddenly loses control. He is tumbling now, not flying, and the ground welcomes him to its bosom in a bone-shattering embrace. He skids across grass and paving until he hits the wall of the tall building. He opens his eyes and sees the figure with the goatish legs crawling, scrabbling forwards.

They lock eyes, these two. Sworn enemies since time began, they have fought each other and they have been brothers. They have seen every triumph and every humiliation they thought possible. But here, on this day, all is forgotten, all is irrelevant. In that shared moment, every death is forgiven and every betrayal understood. Each sees fear on the other’s face.

The figure stops scrabbling and lies still, panting no more.

The young man closes his eyes and slumps forwards.

Above, on the top floor of the tall building, the author breathes out for the last time. The machines are switched off, the sheet is pulled up. No surprise resurrections, no last-minute potions.

The story is over.