Things have been quite quiet on the blog front here at Verbumancer Towers. This is because I has been away being industrious. For the past several months I have been slowly editing, proof-reading, type-setting, and generally tweaking my pictonaut wordascope back-catalogue. Last month, without much fanfare I released the results of my work into the wild.
“Exercises in Verbumancy” is a short story anthology which contains all 42 of my original wordascopes covering September 2011 until February 2015, as well as 2 bonus stories which were also posted here during that time. That is a grand total of 44 short stories, weighing in at 60,590 words, and it is yours to download at Smashwords.com for no cost. That’s right, I am literally giving my work away. You will be charged nothing. No money shall leave your possession. It’s free. Devoid of cost. I will receive no remuneration. It is yours to take or not take as you see fit.
I͕͖̘͔̩̩̖T͚̼̜̬͙͈͆̽̇̽ͅ ͉̣͕̽̓I̜̤̤͎̗͋ͧ̂S̻͔̦͉̻̪̓̍ ͈ͪ̑̒̏ͦ͋̚F͇͚̽̍ͪRÈ̲̮̦͙E̦̹ͫ͊ͤ̊ͫ̅͒
I would be filled with sunshine and rainbows if you could download it and have a read. I would also appreciate reviews and comments (it can also be found on Goodreads) even if said reviews are “John, what are you even doing? What the fuck is this shit? – 0 stars.” Obviously I’d prefer it if everyone enjoyed it and thought it was wonderful. (I mean, if I don’t hate it, it can’t be all bad.) But everyone has their own tastes and opinions. Even if they are objectively wrong! (I’m really proud of my book, okay?)
Right now my anxiety is making a noise. it’s a high-pitched whining sound that could, if properly channelled, slice through steel. I could, if I were so inclined, stretch out this metaphor beyond the limits of its tensile strength. I could draw comparisons between the aforementioned steel and reason. I could even go on to the attribute the alloying elements contained within to a myriad of different emotional qualities and or foibles. But the anxiety has robbed me of much of my desire to sit down and have a real and proper think about things and/or stuff. I think it’s safe to say that I am now deep within the grip of “The Fear.“
But what, you might be wondering, is the source of The Fear. That is a question I for once have an answer to, though I’m not sure if knowing the source makes this any better than the occasional nameless feeling of dread that cloaks my addled brain. The source is simple. At approximately the same time as this post hits the seething cauldron of words that is the internet, my latest writing project starts. Today is the day that The Life and Times of a Working Barbarian goes live.
I have made a grave tactical error…
Another month down and another 1,000 or so words churned out for the faceless masses of the internet to ignore. As ever the end of the year has been a hectic time for me. The jaunt back to the northern homeland always takes a massive chunk of time out of the schedule and as ever travel over any appreciable distance usually leaves me feeling like someone’s stuck a hosepipe into my soul and siphoned my life essence off into a jerry-can. Add to that all the other writing work I’ve gone and committed myself too: two pieces of anthology work, a short screen-play, a guest blog post, the pictonaut challenge, a new blog project, all my weekly blog posts and then a few odds and ends here and there. Needless to say I’ve been getting a little snowed under. For a little while it even looked like I might not get anything written at all as I sank further and further into a pit of my own ennui. But then I pulled my finger out and managed to crank out about 700 words in a night and all was well. So to business, Leviathan.
At the start of November I mentioned that I was writing a fairy tale to submit for inclusion in an eBook being put together by Homespun Theatre. All funds going into what I like to image is a big cast iron cauldron with the words “CASH” stencilled on the side in white spray-paint. When the cauldron is overflowing with cash-moneys they’ll cart it off to the local witch who will then take it as payment for casting a spell, a magical spell which will let them take their Edinburgh Fringe show on a national tour. It’s like a more capitalist version of Cinderella. This may however not been entirely accurate in its specifics. It’s near enough though, It’ll do.
The eBook went on sale late on Friday afternoon. My monstrously long fairy tale was accepted. I guess this makes me a real and proper writer now. Whoa…
And so we reach the final month of 2012. This is the home stretch, the swan song, the last hurrah, the end times. December is what I would call a proper month. It’s got 31 days, the weather’s usually cold and about as awful as it’s ever likely to get, there’s holiday time; things happen in Decembers. You’ve got Christmas, you’ve got New Year’s Eve, you’ve got the inevitable fight with your family. It’s all of the things which fundamentally characterise a whole year squished up into one nice, parcelled up, 31 day period.
I’m coming to the end of a week off from work, using up my remaining holiday allocation before year’s end, pissing it away doing nothing in particular. This has been a week of rest and relaxation, a recharging and revitalisation of my mystic energies after a trying couple of months. I have done more or less nothing, and achieved more or less nothing, and this has left me utterly exhausted. Never underestimate just how tiring inactivity can be. Writing has kept me at least moderately occupied, preventing me from slipping into a coma constructed from my own listless ennui.
Anyway, enough of my ramblings, I should probably cut to the chase: it’s Pictonaut time, this month we square off against Leviathan.
Remember, remember the fifth of November; gunpowder treason and derp. A quintessentially British celebration of the complete and utter failure to instigate revolution. You’ve got to feel a bit sorry for Guy Fawkes. Most of us only have to deal with our mistakes for a couple of years at most, but poor old Guy is still being burnt in effigy over 400 years after his particular little misstep. On the up side it has become a marvellous excuse to set things on fire and dick about with what are essentially improvised explosives. When I was a kid we even used to cook jacket-tetties by wrapping them in tin-foil and just hoying them into the base of a bonfire. We were very sophisticated up north. I’ll be spending this Bonfire Night as I do may others, occasionally peering out the window at other people’s fireworks and dearly hoping that none of the bangs are actually gunshots. They rest of my time will be spent beavering away at a new short story I’m writing. It’s a fairy tale for submission to Homespun Theatre’s upcoming eBook.
So that’s February done and dusted then. Today’s post is coming to you from that strange a magical leap day that tacks itself to the end of February every four years. A place of wonder, mystery and Gregorian convenience. For me, at least, February has not been a month conducive to much writing. I do most of my writing on lazy weekends, sitting in my jim-jams, in front of a computer, drinking tea and slowly tapping out the odd word here and there. There were scant few such weekends this month. I’ve been off on a series of mini-adventures, gallivanting off into London to sample the musical styling of a German metal band and then a jaunt back to my quaint former home of Nottingham for a good old dinner and booze-up. The latter left me a little drained. I took Monday off from work planning to finish off this month’s wordascope in a blizzard of frenzied activity. Instead I spent the whole day sprawled on the sofa trying to work out if I was feeling sick or just really hungry. I eventually concluded it was a bit of both, although it was not so much “gut-rot” as it was, perhaps “gut-mould.” Any time in the evenings over the last few weeks was rapidly devoured by odd bits and bobs like cooking, and more recently work. Specifically defining my goals for the coming year in the strange and alien language of Managerial Moonspeak.
Although I feel as if I’ve made very little progress writing-wise this month my computer seems to disagree. There’s a file sitting snugly on my hard-drive that seems to contain about 2000 words, I’m not entirely sure how that happened. Can’t really complain about something like that can I?
Tomorrow sees my annual migration northwards, home, to see the family for Christmas. It will involve a hike across the dangerous wastes of urban Berkshire, a cramped and nervous passage through the subterranean catacombs of the capital, before finally giving myself over to an arduous 4 hours of train based conveyance. I hate trains. I’ll admit I like the idea of trains, I just don’t like using them. I’ve loathed them ever since, at the start of 2005, I was forced to stand for 5 hours from Newcastle to Birmingham. That was pretty awful. The price is brain meltingly extortionate too. Even though I could in theory fly home, the very fact I’d need to spend about £80 to take anything larger than a small back-pack with me is something of a turn-off.
So I’m heading north. However, unlike many tales of high fantasy there won’t be any magical adventures or feats of daring do. There’ll just be a lot of boredom, interspersed with the frustration of being completely incapable of getting anything even resembling a signal, never mind about mobile internet, on the east-coast mainline. It will be a tough journey.
But the prospect of this mighty and arduous journey got me thinking; “Why, in fantasy, do all the terrifying horrors of war, banditry, barbarism, or appearance of gribblies from the beyond and general wholesale evil, always happen in the North?”
Mr Tolkien has a lot to answer for when it comes to books and fantasy in general. He was very much a trope machine. Be it cementing already pre-existing notions fashioned by Fritz Leiber and Robot E Howard in the dark and grimy pulp novellas of the 30s, or birthing entirely new tropes, leaving them blinking in the cold light of an unforgiving world; forever sitting on the landscape of literature like either a fine statue or a festering turd (depending of course of your own personal outlook on the entire genre). Together these three men ultimately shaped and moulded the whole genre, it resisting with all the structural integrity of a particularly soggy sponge cake, such was the force of their words.
The Dons of the Fantasy Mafia
But words are not the really subject of my musings today; One of the primary tropes inflicted on us all for better or worse by Tolkien was that of the map. Whether it was something he alone started with the Hobbit in the crazy days of 1937 or not is somewhat moot, he certainly played a major part in its rise to its modern-day prevalence. These days it’s a rarity to open a fantasy book and not find a map on opening pages. I don’t have a problem with this for the most part, but maps are a serious business and there are some truly awful maps out there. Continue reading