Happy Birthday Tolkien

Today is Tolkien’s birthday. To celebrate here is another part of my Middle Earth Hardboiled Fanfiction ‘One Ring To Find Them‘ (by request but sadly not from Tolkien)

One Ring to Find Them II

He talked. After a fashion.
His mind was an altered landscape. All dread pits and inhabited ruins. A strange reconstituted thing. Broken down and remade. A new thing for the new world.
It wasn’t just in the delirious unfocus of his eyes. He spoke five languages at once. Two I understood and only one of those legally.
I tried to pull what sense I could from his fractured, mutant speech while I scrawled notes on the back of a take-away menu.
I could tell it was a story he had told before. If his fresh scars were anything to go by I’d say it had been under duress. Whatever he was he’d been having a bad time.
Claimed a man named Baggins had taken the wench. A man with a bad (tricksy?) Habbit? (Possibly the dame is a daughter?). The Baggins man had a gang of dwarves, elf friends and some kind of bearded manservant. They were taking her “up the mountain”. His words. She must have been one loose girl. It was no story for children.
When he finished he was hunched forwards, scraping at my desk with broken nails. His breath followed a twitching, hiccoughing rhythm. He looked like he might tell the whole story again if I made one wrong move.
I pulled a flask and two glasses from the desk drawer. The glasses weren’t clean but neither was I. The burning, brackish draught was antiseptic enough anyway. I poured out two hits and slid one to the guest.
‘Drink,’ I said, ‘it’ll put hair on your soul.’
I threw mine back. Pure stimulant-anaesthetic chemical delight. Sears and soothes the insides. He ignored his glass.
‘I’ll find your precious,’ I said, ‘and this Bilbo and his love-gang too. But she might not be the person you knew. She might be changed. A, man? like you understands I think.’
He, it, whatever it was, took the glass and swallowed the liquid. Pulled a face like a newborn corpse.
‘Brings it to me,’ he said, ‘my precious.’
‘Stop by next week,’ I told him, ‘bring money.’ I searched my desk for another Toby. Only one left in the pack. ‘Money and cigarettes.’
He slinked out the way he came. It’s that or the window.
I put on my hat and jacket. Stuffed the old take-away menu in my pocket. I left through the door too. There was a copy of The Great Eye resting on the floor just outside the office. The headline read: Mordor Allied With Isengard. Mordor Has Always Been Allied With Isengard.
The Eye was a great paper. Broke down the old facts to make new news. That was the spirit of the age. The new Life. We were all rewriting ourselves here. That’s what Mordor is all about.
I walked out of the building into the smog. First things first. I needed to find out where that stranger came by his scars. Whoever gave him those probably had a better handle on his story than he did.

Quotes

In civilizations without boats, dreams dry up, espionage takes the place of adventure, and the police take the place of pirates.

– Foucault

Someone posted this quote somewhere on the Hive Mind the other day. I love it because for me it sort of captures the bizarre mindset and subculture of punting in Cambridge (for all punters secretly believe they are pirates).

Another quote that does the same for me is one from China Mieville’s ‘Embassytown’

“This is what I excelled at: the life-technique of aggregated skill, luck,
laziness and chutzpah that we call floaking”.

I’m collecting these at the moment as my next novel is going to be a sort of hardboiled detective/Treasure Island/Moby Dick/Lovecraftian crossover set in Cambridge where the narrator is a punter.

Write what you know..,

Tricksy Hobbitses

A couple approached me yesterday and asked if I could sell them a punt tour. People come up and ask me a LOT of bizarre things but selling punt tours is actually my job so I grudgingly agreed.
They said they were a group of four adults and one child so I gave them a price for the small, five person, boat.

Then they went away and came back (one-by-one) with their ARMY OF CHILDREN who they started trying to wedge into the tiny and decaying punt.

I’ve seen folk try a lot of weird tricks to get a discount or good price but this is the first time anyone has actually pulled the exact same trick that Gandalf does to Beorn in the Hobbit.
I was amused enough by the stunt that I put them in the larger boat for the same price.

At Last…

I think it’s always important to remember how the negative things in life are balanced out by the positive. After receiving 5 rejection letters this month I received an email from Amazon. It told me that they have transferred £0.52p into my bank account. It was money they apparently owed me since Oct 2012 from kindle royalties.

People are always telling me I should get in on this ebook racket. And now I have.

20131221-104756.jpg

Now I just need to run a Facebook ad saying that I have discovered ONE WEIRD TRICK for making 52 pence IN JUST 14 MONTHS.

Adam and Steve

It frustrates me when bigots come out with the old ‘It was Adam and Eve not Adam and STEVE!’ Line. Not just cos it’s bigoted either. It also fails to take into account a basic fact about Genesis.
I mean sure, the FIRST two humans were male-female, but the next two were both men. Cain and Abel were the only other single humans of marriageable age.
Which means Cain and Abel were clearly a gay couple.
And don’t give me any of that ‘They can’t have children’ crap. If God can get a virgin pregnant then he can get Abel pregnant. End of.

Sun Tzu was a Wizard

Inside I see that Bill is a mechanic of the “photographic mind” school. Everything lying around everywhere. Wrenches, screwdrivers, old parts, old motorcycles, sales literature, inner tubes, all scattered so thickly and clutteredly you can’t even see the workbenches under them. I couldn’t work in conditions like this but that’s just because I’m not a photographic-mind mechanic. Bill can probably turn around and put his hand on any tool in this mess without having to think about where it is. I’ve seen mechanics like that. Drive you crazy to watch them, but they get the job done just as well and sometimes faster. Move one tool three inches to the left though, and he’ll have to spend days looking for it.

– Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. R M Pirsig. Pg 90.

Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.

–The Art of War. Sun Tzu. Ch. 4.

I came across the above quote (Pirsig’s, not Sun Tzu’s) and it made me smile.
Firstly because it’s a pretty accurate description of how I prefer to keep my bedroom. It drives “tidy” people spare but I always know exactly where everything is until it’s been tidied. But also because it reminded me of one the major differences between Sorcerers and Wizards in creative writing.
A wizard is the sort of person that has an extensive collection of tools, all put neatly away in a box and each with a very specific purpose. All a sorcerer tends to have is a Swiss Army knife and a sense of humour. The Wizard’s world is one of order and exactitude. Which means that when it comes to planning, Wizards follow Sun Tzu. They plan the crap out of their writing. Sun Tzu hated people who just turned up and blagged it (he compared it to spotting the moon after it has already risen).
Being a sorcerer by nature I tend to make my fiction up as I go along and plan it afterwards.

The Wizard-perspective, however, tends to be the dominant force amoung writers.

Most of the writers I know spend huge amounts of time planning. They have charts. If you make things up as you go you’re made to feel like an amateur. This was really brought home to me when I went to see China Mieville at a book-launch thingy.
For those who don’t know, I would have China Mieville’s babies. Don’t ask me how. I’d find a way. We got a chance to speak with him afterwards and talked about creative writing. The subject of planning came up and I mentioned that I basically made things up… And of course he suggested that I’d need to outgrow this habit in the long run.
This is a bit like how most people would feel if they got put down by Santa.
It’s OK though, I still love you China.
I had a minor crisis of faith in making shit up for a while after this. Until a tutorial session on my MA. I claimed that I hadn’t planned any of my novel and my tutor proceeded to quiz me about various elements of it. I had an answer for everything. It turned out that I knew my novel like the back of my hand.
My mind is like the mechanic’s workshop in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It’s not chaos. I know where everything is. It’s just not systemised.

Sorcerers and Wizards actually do the same things. It’s just that Sorcerers internalise the process.

I still hate to plan. I know where the end of my novel is. I can feel it.
But discovering the essential symmetry between sorcery and wizardry means I can employ the occasional wizard-trick for engaging with the big incorporeal plan in my head.

And I feel less guilty when I write without a formal plan.

We’re ALL mad here

I was at work the other day when a man wielding a suit and a sandwich stopped to ask if we REALLY sell punt tours in this weather.
I said that, yes, we do. There are probably many reasons why a person stands in front of a big sign advertising punt tours. Chief amoung them however is that he is, in fact, selling punt tours.
At this point he offered an unsolicited and amateur diagnosis of my mental health.

Which is not an uncommon experience to someone selling boat tours in winter.

I’m not sure where it is that people get the idea that this is an OK thing to do.

I don’t turn up at your sensible office job and point out that your life is a Sisyphean farce in which you only scored a supporting role. That the creeping anxiety which drives you into the cold park for your lunch break (the feeling neither alcohol nor consumerist baubles will anesthetise) is caused by the unconscious realisation that your life is, in fact, pointless. That you contribute nothing of value to the universe. That you can’t think your way out because it was the sensible, sane rationality of security and acquisition that trapped you here. That sometimes you wake in a blind panic because you know that soon the universe will take back the boring elements it lent to you. Soon. You may cry out but there’s no point because you know in your heart that your pension and high-yield low-tax savings AREN’T COMING TO SAVE YOU.
That, sometimes, when you’re packed onto the early train you wonder what it’d be like if it All. Just. Burned. You imagine yourself marauding down the carriage with a machete hacking the brainless cow-like heads off the other commuters. You imagine yourself laughing.
But you won’t tell any of this to your fashionable and expensive therapist.
You don’t want them to think that you’re crazy. Whatever else you may be you’re not that. Not crazy. Not like that nutter selling punt tours in the cold. Not like him.
Not crazy, not crazy, not crazy.

So maybe we should all just KEEP QUIET about other people’s confusing life choices.

Fame

People often try and explain the cult of celebrity as a surrogate religion… This doesn’t hold true though. Religious people fawn on celebs too. I think it’s actually the industrialisation, and consequent mass production, of gossip.

The arbitrary nature of fame is much more explicable when seen as part of a standardisation/homogenisation process.

A small stock of recognised professional famous people allows us to introduce quality control to the gossiping process.

Shoes

I was ambling through town last week when I saw a competition at a sports store.
‘Win free trainers for a year!’
It seemed odd. What happens after the year? Do you give the trainers back?

It occurred to me much later that most people probably get through more shoes in a year than I do. My shoes last for ages.
I hate throwing away shoes. It feels too much like throwing away a pair of my feet.

20131111-171349.jpg

I finally threw out these the other day. I think I bought them in 2009. They’ve been on a protest in London, all the way to Spain and back. I’ve even worn them punting. They have a LOT of holes. And I still dithered over throwing them away. I mean, they were still basically shoe-shaped.

I’m one of nature’s hoarders. I think this could be a habit common to writers. Writing is a kind of hoarding. Those shoes aren’t just rubber and fabric. They’re stories.

Amirite?