Friday 11 January 2013

#FridayFlash - Pipers Piping

A piper sits in the square, huddled on the corner of a monument to a forgotten City Father. Passersby see his threadbare stockings through the holes in his battered boots, and they shake their well-coiffed heads. They tut at his moth-eaten tunic, and mutter among themselves about his lifeless cap and torn mittens. He ignores them, focussing only on the pipes in his lap. His frozen fingers fly up and down the chanter, and he stares at the cold paving stones to avoid their stares.

Minutes turn into hours, and still the piper plays. He slides into a sea shanty; a group of passing navvies dance and jig in the square, and toss a few brass coins into the pot before his seat. He turns the shanty into a doleful funeral march that plucks at the strings of all but the hardest heart, and a small child drops a penny into the pot before her highborn mother can scold her. Soon the piper picks up the tempo and plunges into a frenetic polka. A couple that mirror the piper in their poverty laugh and clap their hands, and they throw a ha'penny into his pot. For each of the givers, the piper spares a short smile, and their lives.

The piper plays all day, yet he never misses a note, and never skips a beat. He weaves music so beautiful it could almost be the faint shimmer that seems to light his corner of the piazza. The well-to-do among the citizenry continue to complain about his appearance, considering his ragtag clothes a disgrace to the fine square, yet they stand long enough to listen, long enough to enjoy. The piper ignores them all, but he has discerned tapping feet, and suppressed smiles.

By the day's end, the city's workers have retired to their homes, or the taverns. Only those with fewer concerns can spare the time to listen to the piper. A handful of officials gather nearby, keen not to be seen listening to such vulgar music, but equally intent on enjoying it. None of them have added to his collection, nor have they offered to buy him supper, or pay to have his boots mended. The piper sweeps his gaze around the square, and contents himself that only those who have spent the day deploring his existence are present.

His music shifts again, this time cutting into a gentle waltz. The onlookers find themselves clasping hands with strangers, forced into pairs by the rhythm surrounding them. The dancers follow in each other's footsteps as they glide around the square, compelled by the music to join the waltz. The piper continues to play, increasing the tempo. The waltzers must dance faster, and the embarrassed smiles and ill-concealed amusement begin to wane. As the waltz gains speed, the dancers struggle, and try to break free. Grins turn to grimaces, and panic rises to replace pleasure. Still the piper plays his song, and soon the dancers are running around the square. They roll their eyes and froth at their mouths in their efforts to leave, but still the waltz holds them in its grasp.

The first to expire is a corpulent bureaucrat, red and perspiring as he huffs his last. His partner, to her eternal dismay, continues to waltz, albeit on her own. Others do not fare better - they drop, one by one, landing in heaps on the stones as their partners keep the waltz going. A socialite is the last to go, who collapses in the square, a single word on her lips as her heart gives out.


The piper stops, and his pipes continue his melody for a few moments until they, too, fall silent. He looks down at the amassed corpses and scowls. No answer will be given now.

He packs up his things and walks out of the square. He hums a tune as he turns into a side alley. A nice foxtrot should enliven his mood as he heads to the next town.

Wednesday 9 January 2013

[Book Review] Transformation

I'll be honest, I wasn't expecting to like this eerie novella by Irish writer, Rab Swannock Fulton. Published by Dark Continents and edited by Nerine Dorman, Transformation tells the tale of a young man named Donnacha, a young dishwasher in Galway who meets an enchanting young woman named Eimir. Much of the first half of the book reads as a romance novel as their relationship deepens, and I was prepared to be put off since romance is not a preferred genre of mine. However, there's a real sense of the supernatural about the whole story, and I felt on tenterhooks throughout, which is essentially what kept me spellbound. Fulton has a beautiful, lyrical style and the haunting quality to the romance kept me wondering what would happen to break the idyll he'd created.

You can't keep the supernatural out for long, and in Donnacha's case, he becomes persecuted by a pooka, a creature from Irish folklore and Welsh mythology. The use of the pooka, as opposed to a more familiar monster or beast, gives Transformation a sharp edge, as Donnacha battles to keep his soul and defeat the evil goat once and for all. The book makes full use of its Galway setting, and the contrast of the gentle romance and horror powers the story in a very visceral way.

Donnacha makes a convincing and likeable narrator, and his motivations are believeable, if a little naive at times. The introduction of the pooka was a masterstroke, since a more conventional creature could have seen the book become a retread of familiar themes, but as it is, the book becomes an original version of a twisted fairy tale, as well as a darker version of more popular paranormal romances - and one that also made me want to conduct further research into Irish folklore. It's a very absorbing and quick read (indeed, I breezed through it in three days) and I'll be very interested to see what Fulton does next.

Four and a half blunt pencils out of five!

You can buy Transformation for the Kindle from Amazon US and Amazon UK. You can also buy it for Kobo and Nook.

Tuesday 8 January 2013

Making Resolutions That Stick

We're a week into the New Year, and if you’re a writer, you've no doubt composed a raft of New Year’s resolutions related to your craft - resolutions that you might find that you're struggling to stick to now that you're back into a routine at work and away from your 'holiday bubble'. While others resolved to visit the gym three times a week, or to buy fewer pairs of shoes, you’ve resolved to write 1000 words a day, finish writing eight novels, or to hit the best-seller list by the end of the year. We do it every year, and we usually fail every year, making us feel worse, not better, about our writing. So how can we make resolutions that we’ll be able to stick to?

1) Be realistic

One of the problems with resolutions is that we try to over-reach ourselves. Think of this not as a resolution but as a goal – so it’s what you’re aiming to do, not what you will do. By giving yourself this flexibility, you’re more likely to stick to whatever framework you set yourself, and therefore complete your goal by year’s end. So your phrasing might be “I intend to finish writing one novel of 70,000 words or more” as opposed to “I will write a trilogy of 100,000 word novels”.

2) Don’t try to change your habits overnight

Following on from number one, it’s no use telling yourself that you will write a 100,000 word novel by the end of April if you normally find you only have time to write around 3,000 words a week. If you push yourself to work beyond your time constraints or work patterns, you may find you drop behind within a few days, and soon you’ll lose the motivation to write at all. Keep your resolutions (or goals) within your usual habits and you’ll find it easier to keep going.

3) Your resolutions don’t have to be time dependent

We always think our resolutions have to run from January to December but that’s highly unrealistic – we have no way of knowing where we’ll be twelve months from now. So why not set quarter resolutions? Maybe you’ll set yourself a particular word count to hit between now and the end of March. If you hit it with ease, you can raise it for the end of June, and so on. If you can’t hit it, then you can always reduce your count for the next one until it’s manageable.

4) Think beyond the resolution

Try setting yourself an additional goal beyond the resolution itself – in psychological terms, link situations with actions. So you might reword your resolution from “I will finish my book and send it to an agent” to “If I complete my novel and receive positive beta feedback, then I will start sending it to agents”. It breaks the resolution down into manageable stages and gives you something to do when you've actually fulfilled the resolution. The end action also gives you an extra incentive.

5) Form a habit

Remember that you’re essentially trying to form a new habit by forming a resolution, and the only way for something to really become a habit is if you do it! Sit down, start typing, or researching – whatever it is you need to do to make your resolution a reality. The more regularly you do it, the better a chance you stand at actually making your resolution stick. Your resolution might be to write more, and you might have a spare ten minutes at lunch time, so maybe you might want to write 500 words every lunchtime. So get on and do it.

What are your resolutions - and have you broken them already?