The Novel - 3

Yes, this is taking forever. No, I haven’t posted in ages. We are where we are. Let’s move along.

So the novel is ploughing slowly forward. I want to try to post more on this blog, so let’s start with this. I’m not sure it’ll even make it into the book, but I enjoyed writing it as a sort-of-prologue, in the voice of one of the characters.

It feels like a nice way to explore the core premise of the book – that there’s a dimension beyond ours, which can only be reached through dreams. And a way for me to get to know this character – a voice from The Other Side...

__________________________________________________

You’ve been here yourself, of course. Oh yes you have, dear rhubarb. The problem is, so few humans understand the nature of the crossing. You don’t even realise it’s happened. Which is rather remarkable, given how obvious that first bridge is most of the time. 

You make it yourselves, after all. And let’s be honest, you’re not too subtle about it. It’ll be something like a door to a new room, a tunnel under a hill, or a gate that opens onto sunlit fields. Plenty of your bridges are exaggerated to the point, frankly, of absurdity. Vast entranceways in towering city walls, for example – mammoth timber gates drawn majestically open by gangs of slaves. That sort of thing.

And often, the bridge is just that: a bridge. Oh, I must have seen every variation there is. Swaying bridges of rope and vine, flung across bottomless gorges. Towering constructions of glittering steel, intricate as spiderwebs, spanning the blue space between volcanic islands. An ancient, moss-softened limestone arch across a midnight stream, blooming from the shadows in a pool of moonbeams; silky water underneath, bright as mercury.

And even then, you hardly ever get it. Even when your mind is waving every flag it can find. Even as it floods the path with light, and throws up signposts all the way, pointing, pointing, pointing. 

There was one young woman, I remember, who made a theatre. Wonderful place – more like a cathedral, really. A booming, cavernous chamber set with terraces of balconies and boxes. Curtains at one end high as waterfalls. 

She passed down the empty aisle between the stalls – they were rows of little golden thrones – and the vast drapes drew slowly back, heavy velvet gathering into deep, luxurious folds, to reveal towering scenery that might have been painted by Michelangelo. (Now there’s a chap who knew exactly where he was when he got here.) 

And she made the crossing. She didn’t bump blindly along the edge, as so many do, like a fly against the window. She came straight up the steps onto the stage and slipped inquisitively between those luminous, suspended visions. As she passed each one she ran her fingertips lightly over the canvas, and it wove itself into a tapestry at her touch. In fact the whole theatre began to mutate – to become something more like a vaulted baronial hall. (That happens, of course: things change in dreams. You know that.)

And almost straight away, she came across the door at the back of the stage (or hall, or whatever it had become). So swift, so apparently assured, she put her hands eagerly on the shapes carved deep into the timber face of the door. It was a scene of tangled roses: stems thronged with thorns, fat heads thickly blooming. Her sleeping mind had set the door in the restless glow of unseen candles: the wooden flowers seemed to shiver, as if in a breeze. 

And she opened it. Swung the door wide and came through. She found us. 

But even then, she didn’t understand. Even when she felt that unmistakable resistance every human encounters at the crossing. You know the sensation: like wading against the current of a river, or striding into a driving gale. There’s a sort of gravity that drags you back towards your world. (Yes, I realise it’s not gravity. But you try explaining this in ways that make sense.) 

The point is, you have to push quite hard to get across – and she did. She passed over the bridge and found herself here, among the mountains and cities and scattered debris of countless imaginations. And she couldn’t see it. She missed the truth of where she was – even though we made contact, and tried to show her. 

Fairly soon, like so many, she wandered back across the bridge. It’s easier in that direction: the gravity, or current, or whatever it is, is with you. It almost carries you over. Your world welcomes you back – and it’s a relief to return. I understand.

But what a shame to come so close. To stand in another world and think it no more than a peculiar dream. Like meeting a ghost, or an extraterrestrial, and mistaking them for a fishmonger. 

Ah, well. Perhaps all that frustration makes it sweeter when one of you finally sees us, and our dimension, clearly. For me – still relatively new to this, of course – there is nothing quite like the expression on a human face when they begin fully to appreciate the journey they’ve made. To accept the truth of where they are. And to ask themselves, properly, who I might be. 

The Novel – 2

I’m about to go pitch my novel at the Curtis Brown Discovery Day, at Foyles on Charing Cross Road. It’s a kind of literary speed-date, where you get 30 seconds to pitch your idea, and an agent reads the first page of the book.

It’s an agonisingly small sample, especially as my prologue only runs to two pages. Clearly I’m taking both, in the hope I can push the second one under their nose. 

It’s the section I posted here back in September. If you’re interested, I’ve pasted the version I’m going with below. (The whole thing, that is.) If anything exciting happens, I’ll let you know...

_______________________________________________________

In the dream, Danny is standing at one end of a bridge. 

Late evening. Twilight ripens into night. 

The air is fogged: it’s hard to see. What must be two huge trees on the far side of the bridge appear as towering columns of heavy smoke, restless against a plum-coloured sky.

From somewhere nearby comes a fluttering whisper: a breeze searching through leaves. And behind it, the low, steady thunder of a river, far below. Gleaming black rocks lead down.

A light glints in the gloom across the bridge, like a coin glimpsed in a well. Refracted gleam of gold. It vanishes and reappears, vanishes and reappears – as if travelling through dappled shade. His eyes pluck like needles at the tightly woven dark. 

The light gathers strength – grows larger, more intense. 

Closer.

Something is coming over the bridge to meet him. 

Cold feathers in his belly; a thud at the throat. But alongside the fear, something else. Something that nudges him forward, squinting into the fog that seems to pulse and churn around him, thinning briefly to hint at details on the bridge.

The advancing light slows, then stops, somewhere out on the bridge. The whisper of the wind bunches into urgent sounds, like words. 

He listens. Listens. 

He holds his hands up in the fog, as if he might grasp and shape it like clay. He narrows his eyes and leans into the air, searching the mist, using the few details he’s glimpsed of the bridge to begin constructing an image. 

Towering brickwork arches. A shaped stone balustrade. Statues? 

He has the curious sensation that either he or the world is a mirror – but he can’t tell which. Are the images in his mind a reflection of this world, or is the world reflecting the shapes he’s constructing in his mind? 

The light on the bridge intensifies. It is no longer moving but growing. Brightening. A copper blaze. The whisper shapes itself inside his ear. 

Gently, the mist lifts. Shapes resolve. Yes, there are statues on the bridge – dragons? gryphons? – the light –

He freezes. 

The light is floating, or being held, above something like a face: a gleaming, silvery

ovoid that has the look of being freshly formed – still settling, the way mercury gathers itself into a trembling bulb, barely holding its shape. 

There’s no sign of a body below it. The face – if it is one – emerges alone from the dark. As if Danny were looking down on the surface of a lake, and a swimmer had risen to press its face through the skin of black water into the air.

Captured in the cast of rich gold light, the shape glitters, as if reflecting stars. But these stars are not still: they eddy and billow, like windblown snow. (He thinks of white flecks in a glass dome, shaken into a blizzard.) 

And although it shows no features he can recognise, Danny feels that the shape is watching him. He senses the intelligence of its gaze on him. There is something almost physical about its attention, like the questing touch of a spindle-legged spider on the skin.

The wind dies. Nothing moves. 

The moment extends – drifts loose of the clock. 

The face on the bridge alters: the stars in its depths coil and bloom, form new configurations. The glow above it pulses, reddens. Somehow, Danny has the impression of a smile.

Then the fog creeps back. First a softening of details, then a thickening of the air. A cataract. The golden light trembles like a flame. The face sinks slowly back beneath the surface of the dark, and vanishes. Danny is surprised by a sudden ache of loss. 

The whisper comes again, and this time he’s in no doubt: it’s more than a breeze. There are words in it. Words he can understand.

As the image of the bridge collapses, both in his mind and out there among the soft dark, he grabs hold of each word as if plucking snowflakes from the wind. Three words to match the sense of a smile from that star-mapped countenance:

We

see

you.

More Argos poetry

I thought I’d have another skim of the Argos site and see if there were any more poems waiting to be formed in the customer reviews. Turns out almost every page teems with them. 

The first product I tried, at random, was the Qualcast Corded Rotary 1300W Mower and 320W Grass Trimmer.  And almost immediately there was another little story – like the one I found about the massage chair.

Here’s cb20 in Scotland (with a few line breaks from me):

In middle of cutting grass
when mower stopped working. 
On to computer
and saw this mower
and decided to buy. 

Easy to use
and adjust height to cut. 
Found it very efficient
and light to use.
Great produce.

We can be fairly sure that cb20 meant ‘product’ at the end, but it seems important not to monkey with the source text.

(I love the idea, too, that cb20 simply abandons his stalled mower in the middle of the lawn, marches into the house, gets online and buys a new one.)

Then, a few comments down, I find that Darius2 of England (mower customers apparently favour broad geographical locations) has beaten me to the punch. His review is already broken into lines of breathtaking concision.

Again, we must assume 'Goog’ is a slip. But fair play, Darius2.

The poetry of Argos

In my day job, I’ve been writing some copy for British retail institution Argos, and have discovered the treasure trove of customer reviews on their website.

The enthusiasm of customers for what are often the simplest of items is pretty remarkable. The comments on these white pasta bowls, for example, are well worth a trawl. 

Jojo from Somerset tells perhaps the world’s shortest quest story:

‘I've been looking for bowls this size for years and these are perfect for me.’

Meanwhile, John from Merseyside celebrates the bowls’ most essential nature, recommending them if you ‘need a good-sized pasta bowl which is “bowl-shaped”’. 

Argos chair.jpeg

Reading one of the comments on the Power Massage Leather Recliner Chair, it struck me that one could add some line breaks and create a sort of poem – albeit a tongue-in-cheek one – from some of these comments. (Raymond Carver did it with Chekhov. I do it with Argos. I know my place.)

So here’s my first experiment in the form. See what you think.

---------

Power Massage Leather Recliner Chair - Chocolate.  
689/3015

My mother brought this chair
but used it only as normal chair
she recently passed away
so have taken to mine
for my disabled partner. 

On doing so I have found the plug
for massager is not there, 
after asking if I can purchase one
am told no as can't give me
contact details of manufacture
as they are overseas 

so perfect chair
as long as nothing goes wrong
for example needs
replacement lead

due to loss or damage
as the chair
will become
just that 

an armchair

The Novel – 1

I’ve written the first draft of what I hope will be a novel I can eventually submit to agents and publishers.

Now I’m on draft two, keenly aware of the million-and-one problems in the first one.

Even so, it’s exciting. There feels like plenty of fuel in the idea. It’s turned out to be a Young Adult book – I know that’s what everyone’s writing, but that’s how it’s emerged, so there we are. 

If it was a movie pitch, the ‘logline’ would be:

A young boy in the midst of a family break-up discovers another world through his dreams. Then, after a terrible car crash, he must use this new knowledge to enter his mother’s coma, and rescue her from death.

I thought I’d share some of the work in progress here. Partly to see what people think, and partly as a spur to industry. If I’m sharing it here, that’s another good reason to do some more.

So, here’s the little prologue passage – as it stands right now, anyway. Would you want to read this book? (Be honest.)

_______________________

 

In the dream he is standing at the end of a bridge. Late evening, turning twilight. From nearby comes a fluttering whisper, like the breeze searching through leaves. A river tumbles somewhere far below; deep rocks lead down. 

The air is thick, like fog. It’s hard to see. What must be two huge trees on the far side of the bridge appear as tall, smoke-coloured smudges, shifting softly against a violet sky. They make him think of the shaggy heads of great, slow beasts, swaying side to side, side to side. 

A light glints in the gloom across the bridge – a coin glimpsed in a well. Refracted gleam of gold. It vanishes and reappears, over and over, as if travelling through dappled shade. His eyes unpick the woven dark. The light gathers strength – grows larger, steadier, more intense. Closer.

Something is coming across the bridge to meet him. 

Cold feathers in the belly. A thud at the throat. Legs like water. But alongside the fear, something else. Something that nudges him forward, squinting into the fog that seems to pulse and churn around him, thinning briefly to hint at details on the bridge before reforming heavily again.

The light holds, somewhere out on the bridge. The whisper of the wind bunches into urgent sounds, like words. 

He listens. Listens. 

He holds up his hands to the fog, as if he might grasp and shape it like clay. 

He narrows his eyes and leans into the air, searching the unquiet mist, building on the few details he has to construct an image: towering brickwork arches, stone pillars… statues? There is the curious sensation that either his mind or the world is a mirror, but he can’t tell which: is he forming a reflection of this world as it grows, or is the world reflecting the shapes forming in his mind? 

The light on the bridge intensifies: staying where it is now, but growing. The whisper shapes itself inside his ear. And for a moment, the mist lifts. Shapes sharpen – yes, there are statues on the bridge – dragons? gryphons? – the light –

He freezes. The light is being held above something like a face – or is just hovering there, illuminating a gleaming ovoid shape that has the look of being freshly formed – still settling, the way mercury gathers itself into a trembling bulb, barely holding its shape. 

No accompanying figure is visible. The face, if it is one, emerges alone from the dark as if from water. As if Danny were looking down on the surface of a lake, and a swimmer had risen from the depths to press its face through the skin of the water into the air. He feels a surge of vertigo, a weightlessness.

Captured in the pale gold cast of light, the dark shape glitters, as if reflecting stars. But these stars are not still: they eddy and billow within the shape, like windblown snow. (The glass dome of a souvenir, shaken into a blizzard.) Although the shape has no features he can recognise, Danny feels it watching him. He senses the intelligence of its gaze on him. There is something almost physical about it, like the questing touch of a weightless, spindle-legged spider on the skin.

The wind dies. Nothing moves. Their moment extends, drifts loose of the clock. 

The face on the bridge alters: the starlight in its depths blooms and coils, forms new configurations. He can’t say why, but he has the impression of a smile.

And then the fog is back: first a softening of details, then a pale thickening of the air; a cataract. The golden light above the bridge trembles like a flame. The face sinks slowly back into the surface of the dark, and vanishes. He is surprised by a sudden ache of loss. 

The whisper comes again, and this time he’s in no doubt: it is more than a breeze. There are words in it. Words he can understand.

As the image of the bridge collapses, both in his mind and out there among the granular dark, he grabs hold of each word like plucking snowflakes from the wind; leaves from a stream. Three words to match the sense of a smile from that star-mapped countenance:

We see you.