Friday 1 October 2010

Friday Flash - The Hidden

“This sorry specimen came to us late last month. Her husband brought her. The poor fellow was simply beside himself with worry. He is much improved now that he is confident in the knowledge that she is in our care.”

The warden gestured to the woman behind the bars. A tattered shawl hung around her thin shoulders. A brown mouse sat in the palm of her right hand, nibbling a crumb of bread. The visitors chose not to see the cracks in the wall, or the lack of glass in the window. They did not smell the fouled straw matting on the floor. They did not hear the drip of water in the corner.

“What is her condition?” asked the visitor. He adopted a suitable expression of concern, although his wife looked terrified by the mouse.

“I believe her to be simply melancholic, but the Physician believes her to be delusional. Her paranoia is at an advanced stage, although she is a quiet patient and keeps to herself,” replied the warden.

“What form do her delusions take?” asked the visitor’s wife.

“She calls herself Ann Crook, and believes herself to be the future Queen of England. She denounced her husband when he admitted her, telling us that he was a member of Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Her real husband, so she claims, is Prince Albert Victor,” replied the warden.

“How astonishing!” said the visitor.

“And there is no basis in her claims?” asked his wife.

“We believe not, although she is lucid when she tries to explain. Indeed, one might have trouble believing her to be insane, although the Physician has made this diagnosis, and he is never wrong,” said the warden.

“On what basis did he make his diagnosis?” asked the visitor.

“She ranted and she raved on admittance. She demanded to speak with her husband, and then the police, and she even called for a newspaper man. She has calmed since those early days.”

“Is it safe to speak with her?” asked the visitor’s wife.

“Good Lord, Marian - why ever would you want to do that?” asked the visitor.

“Curiosity, William,” replied his wife.

“She is entirely safe to converse with. I shall call her,” said the warden.

“No need, warden. I can ’ear all you say from ’ere,” said the woman. She looked up from the mouse’s antics.

“Pray tell me, madam. What is your name?” asked the visitor’s wife.

“Ann Crook, but everyone ‘ere calls me Louisa Smith,” replied the woman.

“Are you really the wife of a prince?” asked the wife.

“If I say yes, then I’m a lunatic, and I live in this ‘ell. If I say no, then I’m a liar, and I damn myself to ‘ell,” replied the woman. “So if you don’t mind, I’ll keep quiet.”

“Why would the Prince have you deposited here?” asked the wife.

“I dunno about you but I don’t think a Prince would abandon his wife. His mother, on the other ‘and...well if she’s a cold, uncaring sort who’s only interested in the future of her bleedin’ Empire...then she might well ‘ave somethin’ to do with it,” replied the woman. “She can’t ‘ave her son producing an ‘eir with a Catholic, now, can she?”

“You’re a Catholic?” asked the visitor.

“Not any more, I ain’t. God deserted me when I got dumped in ‘ere. So I deserted ‘im. See how he likes it,” replied the woman.

“Dear me, God does not desert anyone! He loves all of his flock. If you only reach out to him-”

“Pardon my language, my lady, but arses to that,” said the woman.

“Come on now, Louisa. Less of that,” said the warden. He tapped his keys on the bars.

“Or you’ll what? Bleed me? Purge me? Vomit me? The bleedin’ Physician does that!” said the woman.

“Gracious, does he really?” asked the visitor. “I thought such antiquated practices had long been abandoned by the madhouses.”

“I’m in no position to discuss that Physician’s practices, but he’s one of the most brilliant doctors in London. People literally queue to have their unfortunate relations placed under his care in this very hospital,” snapped the warden.

“And they queue up in ‘ere to get back out,” said the woman. “You pay no mind to ‘is blatherin’ on. I’m not the only one who shouldn’t be ‘ere. You stop and think about it - where’s the best place to put someone if you don’t want people to listen to ‘em?”

“William, I think we should be going,” said the wife.

She clutched her husband’s arm. He looked down at her and nodded.

“I really am terribly sorry for your plight, Mrs Smith,” said the visitor.

The warden led them away down the corridor. They didn’t hear the raving of the lunatics upstairs. They didn’t hear the sobbing of the melancholics, locked in their damp cells with only their own neuroses for company.

They didn’t hear the silent plea of an innocent woman.

* * *

This flash was inspired by a book I read about London’s infamous Royal Bethlem Hospital, known as ‘Bedlam’. Written by Paul Chambers, Bedlam: London’s Hospital for the Mad tells several tales of people imprisoned in asylums in the 18th and 19th centuries by relatives eager to get their hands on their wealth, or by people wanting to silence an outspoken individual without resorting to more nefarious means. The conditions, and treatment, described here are all based on documented evidence. The inclusion of Ann Crook is my nod towards Alan Moore’s Jack the Ripper epic, From Hell.

The image is from William Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress, wherein a man falls from grace and ends his days a gibbering wreck in Bedlam.

Thursday 30 September 2010

I've been tagged!

I have been tagged! Yes, it's an electronic tag, but not in a Lindsay Lohan way. It's a virtual tag, and Jen Brubacher got me. I get to answer eight questions and tag five other bloggers. Will it be you?!

1. If you could have any superpower, what would you have? Why?Teleportation. Like Nightcrawler, only not blue. Or Dr Manhattan, only not blue. Hey, wait a minute... No seriously, I would. I'd never have to use public transport, and visiting people would be so much easier. It would solve a LOT of problems for me!

2. Who is your style icon?
I don't have one. I don't emulate anyone's clothing style, and I have favoured authors but I don't seek to emulate their styles either. I can name people who I think are A style icon, but not for me.

3. What is your favourite quote?
"Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read." Groucho Marx

4. What is the best compliment you’ve ever received?
Probably when a guy who'd read one of my stories on Everyday Weirdness emailed me to say how much he'd liked it, and that my style reminded him of Neil Gaiman and Ray Bradbury. That, or that one of my male gay friends told me I'm the only girl whose Facebook photos he'll look through because he loves my style.

5. What playlist/CD is in your CD player/iPod right now?
Nothing. I'm doing this at work, so no music. My mental DJ, however, has chosen to play Huey Lewis & The News all morning.

6. Are you a night owl or a morning person?
Morning, very much so. I often stay up late at night but I'm far more productive between 8am and 1pm. Once it gets to 4pm, it all starts to go downhill.

7. Do you prefer dogs or cats?
I like things about both of them but I have a natural affinity with cats, so I'll say them.

8. What is the meaning behind your blog name?
Icy's Blunt Pencil? It's actually a crude reference to the mathematician who is having issues with constipation and choose to approach it the same way he does his equations - by working it out with a pencil. I've also been writing for around twenty years and a lot of my first efforts were done in pencil. It's a tool of the trade, and it being blunt rather than sharp is to signify how much use it gets. Blah blah blah.

TAG! You're it.

Grace Crone
Sam Adamson
Adam Byatt
Pamila Payne
Danielle LaPaglia

Wednesday 29 September 2010

News from Vertigo City

I've been doing a lot of thinking about my Tales from Vertigo City project, and after much discussion with my favoured creative confidantes, Carrie Clevenger and Jimmy Misanthrope, I have decided to pull The Second Tale. Initially the concept worked well in outline form for the serial, but now I've started writing, it's blossomed into something much larger than my chosen serial format will allow. Therefore I will be working on it as an illustrated novel.

This has also forced me to rethink the entire concept behind the Tales from Vertigo City project, and I have had to redefine this, too. Originally the plan was to have nine different tales, set in alternate versions of the City (in effect, my own multiverse), yet all starring Liss as a recurring character in her form of the Spirit of Vertigo. This has become too unwieldy and I would rather not do it at all than get halfway through and realise it's not working.

In addition, I've become too attached to the characters and world I created with The First Tale. It would be unfair to them, and myself, to leave them as they are in order to move onto the next incarnation of Vertigo. Therefore the Tales project will now consist of the adventures of those characters you've already met, in the form of novellas and regular flashes about them.

The Second Tale will still proceed under the heading of Tales from Vertigo City, albeit a Vertigo City a century or so after the original First Tale. It will have a name change, and I'll post snippets on the Vertigo City blog. I hate to be a tease, since The Second Tale had received a good reception, but this way, I get to do these stories justice.

As a result, I'll be bowing out of the Tuesday Serial for the time being, unless any shorter stories demand to be told in such a way. In the meantime, I recommend you check out Carrie Clevenger's Crooked Fang, Grace Motley's Fire and Water, Jason Coggins' The Courage of Others, and Sam Adamson's UCF Chronicles.

Monday 27 September 2010

A Tidy Writer is a Productive Writer

A few weeks back, blogger Ali Hale of Aliventures posted an entry about clutter and creativity. What, I hear you ask, is a post about tidying doing on a blog loosely dedicated to writing and other creative endeavours? Well, I've come to realise that it's difficult to be truly creative when you're drowning in a sea of your own junk.

You see, I live in a studio flat. I know, I know, I've just shattered the illusion that I've made my supervillain lair under a volcano or in an abandoned tube station (or have I? maybe this is all just, it's true) Problem is, studio flats are notoriously short on storage space - think of me as a lonely writer in a cold London garret, if that's what butters your muffin. I admit that I'm lucky since my landlord provided two wardrobes and a small chest of drawers, but the other storage units (and copious bookcases) are my own. Without them, I'd be wading through piles of books, DVDs and electrical items every time I wanted to cross the room.

Trouble is, despite this storage, I still seem to have clutter. I'm reasonably logical so I've divided this clutter into piles, clustered around the perimeter of the room, but lately it's really been getting to me that I have so much stuff - most of which I probably don't even need. I've noticed its effect on my output, too. I find that I write more on my lunch hour because the office is tidier. There's more of a sense of order, particularly in the room where I have my lunch. I'm not distracted by piles of books or photos that I have yet to put in my album. At home, any fleeting sense of order created by dividing the piles by 'theme' or 'content' is very much undermined by the chaos of having these dratted piles of things in the first place.

I've been telling myself for months now that I will "tidy up a bit" but then I've found myself distracted by something else. I'd find myself leaving work, all fired up to go through the flat like a dose of salts, only to get home tired and cross after a hellish commute (particularly those three hour commutes when the damned tube staff decide to go on strike). I'd look at the clutter, sigh deeply, and then pull out my sketchbook and start drawing instead. I think the only thing in my flat that I managed to tidy successfully was my yarn collection, though I think practicality was a large factor behind that particular adventure. (Ever tried to detangle fine mohair yarn? My tip? Don't.)

But lately I've been getting antsy about it all, so armed with Ali's post and infused with a sense of just simply 'wanting more space', I sat back and contemplated the contents of my flat. I like to point out that there is method to my madness and that if I desperately need something, I remember exactly where it is. Trouble is, there are lots of piles of things on the floor, and I can't remember what's in most of them because the stuff isn't important enough to remember. My logic ran that if I couldn't remember what was in the pile, chances are, I didn't need it. If I had, I would have stored it either with like objects, or kept it to hand. Still, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, so I decided I needed The Battleplan.

I've divided my flat up into nine 'clutter zones', and I aim to tackle them one by one. As I clear them, my flat will therefore look tidier, providing more motivation to keep tidying, but it also makes it seem like less of a gargantuan task. I've cleared two of these, and I found myself recycling 80% of the contents, throwing away 15%, and keeping just 5%. (If you're wondering, it was all old magazines, newspaper clippings, countless coffee shop receipts or padded envelopes from things I've bought online, which I reuse when selling on eBay or Amazon) Those two spaces already seem massive, and it's such a good incentive for me to move onto the next one.

Strangely, by the time I've finished tidying, I feel fired up and ready to write again, as if removing the physical clutter in the room is enough to remove the mental clutter that blocks my motivation to write. Maybe it's the extra exercise, adding endorphins to the mix. Or maybe I'm just weird.