Friday, 6 August 2010

Friday Flash - A Black Night in the Churchyard

A small rock scuttled across the medieval stones. A fox looked up from his foraging near the gate. His amber eyes saw the Black Knight sitting on a low tomb. The knight kicked his feet against the faded inscription, and fiddled with his gauntlets. He cast his gaze around the lurching gravestones. He no longer saw the names; he knew each and every one of them. He knew their dates of birth, and their dates of death. He occasionally invented stories for them to keep himself amused.

Drunken chatter drifted across the still air. He looked up, but watched in dismay as the four shrill girls continued past the gate. The churchyard used to be a popular thoroughfare between two busy streets. An office block now blocked the way at the northern end, its car park butted up against the graveyard wall. The neglected church sat as if invisible while the city grew up around it, a medieval island in a sea of modernity.

The knight knew what it was to be forgotten. He hauled himself off the tomb to roam the small churchyard. Years of local building development altered the yard, changing its boundaries and disturbing graves. He hoped a developer might find his grave by accident. Caught in limbo, he was confined to the churchyard until he knew where his body was buried.

The Black Knight had guarded the churchyard for eight centuries. In earlier times, grave robbers, murderers, rapists, gangsters, and thieves all tried to ply their trade in his yard. The oath he swore to punish the evildoer held as much sway in death as it did in life. He consumed their souls and left their bodies as shambling walking corpses. His reputation even prevented crime as tales of clanking armour and dark shadows carried far and wide across the region.

Times changed. No one believed in ghosts or justice any more. He patrolled his abandoned corner of the city centre, forgotten and lonely. Not to mention hungry. What was it, forty, or fifty, years since his last meal? The sun rose and set, and still he wandered among the graves. The wind whistled through the dilapidated church, while weeds grew rampant. In his earlier years, he tried knocking on the coffins. He got no answer. Their occupants had already sailed across the Styx, but Charon would not take him. Without his body, he had no payment for the ferry.

Glass smashed near the gate. The knight looked up. A fat youth threw a second bottle over the wall. Green glass shattered against a moss-covered gravestone. The knight's sacred duty to protect swelled in his chest as the youth pushed open the gate. The hinges squealed in protest. The youth staggered along the overgrown path. He lurched behind Mrs Martha Eddowes’ gravestone to relieve himself. The knight drew his sword.

The youth zipped up his trousers. He turned around to face the church. Only one window remained intact. The stained glass told the story of the Annunciation. The Black Knight guarded it with a possessive zealotry. Besides the church, that single window was the only thing on this ground older than him. Twelfth century glass, and still perfect.

The youth picked up a large stone. He tested the weight in his hand. The Black Knight growled. He didn’t like where this was going, but he could do nothing until the youth did something wrong.

The stone flew through the air, and crashed into the ancient window. The glass imploded inwards, raining down on the pitted stone floor inside. The Black Knight howled. The youth whirled around, startled by the sudden noise. He saw a black shadow, and heard metal sing as it split the air.

The youth’s body staggered backwards. The Black Knight stood tall and furious in the churchyard. He held his sword in one hand, the youth’s soul in the other. It writhed in his grasp, a roiling mass of deceit, violence and malice. The Black Knight took one last look at the gaping wound in the wall of the church. As the youth’s body stumbled toward the gate, the Knight sat down to devour the soul. Such a satisfying meal, but at such a price.

* * *

The image for this story is actually the abandoned chapel at the centre of Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington, London, although the flash was inspired by the legend of the Black Knight, who is reputed to haunt the small churchyard attached to St Nicolas' Cathedral in Newcastle upon Tyne. The St Nicolas churchyard is not overgrown and the Cathedral is one of the most beautiful ecclesiastical buildings in the country, but it suited the flash better that the church be neglected, so I've taken a bit of artistic license. I'm also not sure why the Knight is stuck in the churchyard, but this made the most sense to me. It is true that someone threw a brick through the oldest window in the Cathedral, though what happened to the hooligan is anybody's guess...

Monday, 2 August 2010


I can often be a somewhat contrary young miss. One minute I'm posting an entry bemoaning the reliance on technology, and the next I'm posting an entry on how my Netbook has boosted my productivity. Having said that, I'm not necessarily changing my mind as I'm fully capable of believing both of those things simultaneously. I believe that both traditional methods and technological advances have their uses, and their place, when it comes to writing. I stand by my statement that I love my Netbook for allowing me to work pretty much anywhere, and for allowing me to increase my output by utilising previously wasted time on tube journeys or at lunchtime. However, I also acknowledge that when I'm at home, I have a horrid tendency to get distracted by Facebook, Twitter, or my ever-expanding blog list. I end up spending hours reading the fiction of others, which is immensely enjoyable, but I really should be working on my own.

As well as writing a weekly Friday flash and revising my first novel, I have two other major projects on the go. One is the Tales from Vertigo City e-book that I've talked about previously, while the other is a collection of my fantasy/horror related flash fictions. This collection will feature expanded versions of nine stories submitted to the #FridayFlash collector, a flash inspired by a Writer's Digest prompt, another random flash written after a night out in London, and two completely exclusive flashes that you won't find anywhere else. If you really want to read them, you'll have to get the e-book!

I've already written one of these exclusive flashes. I had the idea late on Friday, inspired by an anecdote I found in a book on London history. Yet by Sunday evening, I still hadn't written anything. The idea kept going around and around in my head, and I wanted to write it down, it's just I kept getting distracted by the Internet. I would start to plan the first line and oh! Would you look at that? I'd find another Friday Flash I wanted to read. I'm not one of these people who can have my laptop on and NOT have Tweetdeck running (unless, obviously, I have no wi-fi connection) so I did the only thing I could.

I unplugged.

Yes, that's right. I switched off my laptop, I put a CD of classical movie scores in the stereo, I picked up my A4 notebook, and I started writing. By hand. With a bright blue Pilot fineliner. Thirty three minutes later, I had my flash. It underwent some revisions during the transition from handwritten page to Word document, but by and large, it was done. I felt incredibly productive, and pleased that such a simple, and obvious, solution had worked. Making the switch from typing my work to writing it longhand also helped to break the miniature block I felt, a block that stood between the idea in my head, and the process of writing it down. Writing longhand took my brain by surprise, and it vaulted over the block with ease. Hurrah!

So if you're having a similar problem breaking through writer's block, or actually getting the work done, here are my three top tips.

  1. Disconnect from the Internet. It'll still be there when you're finished. If you can't stand being disconnected, switch off your computer altogether. Hey, you can be creative AND environmentally friendly.
  2. Make changes to your longhand methods. If you normally write in black biro, try purple fineliner, or pencil. The novelty will appeal to your creative side, and the divergence from habit will trick your brain out of its rut. (For more on how to use this technique when editing your work, check out this post on Writer's Block NZ)
  3. Don't worry too much about what you're writing while you're happily scrawling away. You'll get to edit it later when you type it up. For now, your job is simply to get what's in your head onto the page. If it helps, doodle in the margins. You can't do THAT in Word.

Say, what are you doing still reading this? Don't you have some writing to do?

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Spoken Sunday - Picasso

This is Picasso, a short I wrote in 2009 for a story prompt on the EditRed website. It was subsequently published on Postcard Shorts, but I'm still very fond of it, so I thought it would make a nice Audioboo for today's Spoken Sunday! I hope you like it.


Silence held the gallery in its tender grasp. Silver ribbons of moonlight snaked across the parquet floor. Reaching up the walls, they fingered the heavy wooden frames that held some of the world's most beautiful paintings.

Miles away, the clock struck midnight. Its heavy chime floated on the still night air. Life stirred in the gallery as goddesses, royalty and anonymous angels hauled themselves out of their frames. Renaissance minstrels struck up a tune, while Pre-Raphaelite heroines started to dance. Laughter soon filled the gallery as its famous inhabitants joined the ball.

The frivolous atmosphere broke as a solitary figure limped into the main hall. Two eyes stared forlornly from the right hand side of its face, and a cruel mouth twisted into a snarl beside its ear. A simple slash served as a nose, and it tried to disguise its backward-facing hands held at right angles.

The music stopped as the congregation turned to face the newcomer. Millais’ Ophelia stepped forward, dripping water onto the chequered tiles.

"Dear me, who painted you?!" she exclaimed, barely able to contain her revulsion. The reply was plaintive and dejected.