Tag Archives: nanowrimo

One Hour Stories and Half Hour Shows

26 Oct

I’ve got news! It’s time for another update on what I’ve been doing with my silly life, and it’s time to make excuses for why there may not be too many blog posts for the next month and a bit.

First up, I have a big announcement. I’ve started a podcast! Alongside my wonderfully talented friends Paddy Johnston and Rob Sherman, I run a podcast called One Hour Stories. The rules are simple: for each podcast, we are given a theme. We then have one hour to write a short story based on that topic. No editing is allowed, and after sixty minutes it’s pencils down. It’s a very fun challenge, and the first episode went really well. You can give it a listen here.

Meanwhile, you can find it on iTunes here, YouTube here, Facebook here, and PodOmatic here.

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Secondly, I’m off on frickin’ tour! As of tomorrow, Titans & Kings are hitting the road as part of a rotating headline tour with Speaking in Shadows and Autumn Ruin. We’re playing the Camden Barfly in London tomorrow, then hitting up Dry Live in Manchester on the 28th, The Bodega in Nottingham on the 29th, and finishing off with The Flapper in Birmingham on the 30th. If you’re free, please come on down, we’ll all massively appreciate it.

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Finally, it’s the start of NaNoWriMo on Friday. Even though I am stupidly busy with other things, I’ve decided to give it another go. My novel is divided up into small, bite-sized chunks written from a variety of perspectives, which hopefully will mean that I am able to get through it without it feeling like too much of a chore! If you’re taking part as well, drop me an add here.

I think that’s everything! Hopefully see you at a gig very soon!

The Last Playlist: An Excerpt

4 Dec

Hello! Here’s another short story extract. NaNoWriMo may have ended but I’m going to keep writing until the entire short story collection is done.

* * * * *

Simon liked to reminisce about the day the town left. He always remembered it as a dark, misty morning. It hadn’t been. It had been the middle of August. The sun had already been up for two hours. It had been so clear that Simon was able to see the convoy for miles, through the woods that circled the outside of the town. He could even hear them for hours afterwards: the buzzing noise of a community disappearing.

It was another clear morning, the day he found it. He set about his daily routine. At daybreak, he searched for signals with his clockwork radio. It was one of the few instructions left, to check for signals. Simon still found it strange, to hear nothing. After a few months even the number stations had stopped broadcasting. But he still checked, afraid of missing a message that they were coming for him.

After searching all available channels, he bathed and shaved. He knew that it was a little wasteful, but he was determined to stay clean, and smart. Besides, there was enough residual water to keep one man satisfied for years, although as stale as it was. He knew that eventually he would have to return to the lake to get fresh water, but it was not an issue for now.

Simon went back to the clockwork radio, winding it again. No signals. Satisfied with a half hour search, Simon then continued his project. He had been a scholar, before the Discovery, and before the Exodus. He had not been a scientist. He had focused his attentions on the cultural works of man. Novels and plays, short stories and poetry. He had loved film, but that was now impossible. So instead, he went through houses, raiding bookshelves.

Before the town left, a decision had been made. There was no need for keys anymore. Any worthwhile possessions had been abandoned. They would not be coming back. Instead, the doors had been left unlocked. As the Guardian, Simon was allowed to come and go as he pleased. It was a privilege, but one that was allowed. After all, he had made the sacrifice. He was the one chosen to stay behind, amongst the filth and excess, whilst the rest of the town joined the Exodus, to find enlightenment.

Simon had been dignified, at first. He had refused to go in people’s bedrooms out of some kind of respect for privacy. He had kept his searching to necessities, only taking food and drink. But it had become boring, a few months in. There was nothing to do. His own belongings were stale – most of his collection had been digitally stored, anyway. All that remained was a few tired copies of Shakespeare plays. They bored him.

There was only one option from that point. He denied himself the pleasure of ownership – he was only borrowing books. He would sit in other people’s houses and read. The novels would not leave their owner’s property. Simon had favourites. Mrs Williams, on Deanland Road, had owned a fantastic Agatha Christie collection. Simon wondered if she had survived the journey south. It was unlikely.

He went from house to house, reading, each one a different library. Simon learned more about his neighbours this way than he ever had when they were with him. Frail Mrs Williams’ love for murder mystery, the prim and proper Ms Hill’s extensive anthology of erotic fiction, Mr Anderson’s wide array of graphic novels and comic books.

Simon liked to test himself, though. He had never been technical, before. He was a thinker. The only works he created were abstract, and frail. After discovering a collection of engineering manuals, he had decided to change. Fifteen months was a long time for a man to be alone with his thoughts. He needed to build. But first, he had needed to decipher exactly how things worked. So he went from place to place, deconstructing. He opened car bonnets – the few vehicles that actually remained – and took them apart. He put them back together, trying to get them to work, transcribing his progress every step of the way. His technical journal was long and rambling, covering multiple notepads.

Eventually, he started raiding the pile. He knew he should have felt ashamed, but the truth was, he wasn’t. Every few days, he stood by its side. A twenty-foot high, and double as wide, mound of all of the excessive, unclean items: technology that had to be abandoned for the Exodus, any signs of the old, decadent society that they had willingly abandoned. Watches, phones, computers, all thrown away with the rest of mankind’s detritus. Piles of money sat on the sides. The idea had been to use paper notes as kindling, but the truth was that the fire had not been all that successful. Most of the items lay unscathed, a few very mildly charred.

Simon had never had any intention of going near the computers. It was the highest heresy, now, to use one without absolute necessity. Father James had explained it to all of them, and it made perfect sense. All the trouble they had caused, all the death, all the mental destruction. That wasn’t the main reason Simon avoided them, though. The main reason was that there was no way to get one to work. There was no point.

So he sifted through the pile, throwing tablets and laptops to one side. Plunging his hands through shifting sands of mobile phones, e-readers, games consoles. That’s when he found it: something old, something worthwhile. A CD player.

It was a battered old Discman, LCD screen covered in grime. Out of curiosity, Simon pressed play. The player sputtered into life, whirring. The screen flashed up an error message – “NO DISC” written in awkward lettering. He noticed that the battery was nearly gone a second before it faded away into half-death.

That moment, Simon knew what he wanted to do. He suspected that he may be able to find batteries somewhere in town. He knew that there would be a number of CDs still around – the technology, obsolete, had not been seen worthwhile enough to truly destroy, in much the same way that the books had been simply left behind. He knew for a fact that there was a pair of headphones at his flat.

He knew where he could find any music he wanted to listen to, as much as he loathed the idea of returning there.

Simon had always loved music. As a teen he had spent most of his waking hours with headphones in. More than anything else – running water, fast food, the internet, or even human company – he missed being able to listen to music. So he made a plan. He would put together the last mix tape he would ever listen to. Perhaps the last recorded music that anyone would ever listen to.

The most important question was what song to start with.

* * * * *

And there we go. Another, more blog-like, post soon.

The Revolution Will Be Digitized: A Full Short Story!

15 Nov

I’ve shared some excerpts with you on this site. But, I’ve just finished writing a very short bit of prose that I think you may enjoy in its entirety. Not the best bit of writing I’ve ever done, but a nice, brief apocalyptic comedy. Ahem. It’s part of the short story collection I am writing for NaNoWriMo.

 

* * * * *

 

The Revolution Will Be Digitized

 

Subject C was found dead on the 24th November. He had been crushed to death, the wounds straight and flat, ridged. The perpetrator had stolen all the bananas from the cafeteria. That should have been our first clue. The killer had escaped by smashing a large, rectangular hole in the roof.

We went in search immediately. The trail wasn’t hard to follow. Stocks of bananas had been stolen around the city. Plumbers were going missing. Men taking part in Movember were shaving their moustaches, scared of the thing that was stealing the facially-haired away in the night, never to be seen again.

Our big break came from a police report. Local bums were reporting strange noises at an abandoned construction site. Large, block-like footprints were seen at the scene. A girl, Cathy Willis, had gone missing, her family all burned to death. It didn’t take a genius to put it all together, to see what we had unleashed. We sent a team to investigate. Only two came back alive, screaming about barrels.

Donkey Kong was loose.

We went back to the machine. Hell, what other choice did we have? There was no way we could fight him. Cathy was safe, for now, but something needed to be done. No-one knew if the sprite understood the need for humans to have food and water.

Of course, we were all scared to switch the Portal back on. Who wouldn’t be? It was down to me to operate it. The creator. The idea had been genius, really. Virtual Reality has been the wet dream of the video game industry for generations. So many of us grew up watching Tron, not understanding the terrifying implications of the film and instead focusing on just how damn cool it would be to ride a light-cycle.

Every attempt at real VR was stale, though. A headset, a helmet, took away from the immersion. You still needed some kind of controller. You were still here, in reality. All old efforts at VR were merely one step above putting the game on surround sound and turning the lights out. What we did, though, was incredible. There was a headset, sure, but it did something unique. The player was in the game. Total immersion.

It would have changed video games forever. Hell, it would have changed entertainment forever. Who wants to watch a movie when you could live the events? Why bother with the cheap thrills of a slasher movie when you could be hunted or – if you so desired – the hunter? It could even change life as we know it. Put in a reality simulator; change it so that every second in real life is fifty years of game-time. Increase the quality of life for the terminally ill. Let people live out their fantasies, and make it seem so damn real that they could never tell the difference. On top of it all, we would have made a hell of a lot of money.

But clearly something had gone wrong. There had been some kind of oversight. It wasn’t just a one-way window. There was some way for things to get out into our world. And we needed something to help get Donkey Kong back. In short, we needed a hero.

So we booted up another game. We had learnt, early on, that character traits and memories continued over. We loaded up Super Mario Bros 3. We pleaded with him. We needed his help.

He killed the extraction team. Some had their heads bashed in, from something falling on them from a great height. Others were crushed entirely, from the looks of it by some kind of giant shoe. Those furthest into the game world were covered in hammer wounds. An entire team lost. Worst of all, Mario was missing.

He showed up, though. Back in our world. Eyewitnesses reported seeing him jumping down pipes into the sewers. There were break-ins at flower shops and greengrocers. At least he wasn’t hurting anyone. A small mercy. The giant, digitized gorilla was still a problem, though.

So we loaded up another game. We turned to a character who could say more words than simple variations on his name. He was called Solid Snake. We asked for his help, and he said no. He would refuse to take on Donkey Kong.

Solid remembered every death he had endured: every time he had been found in a hiding spot, courtesy of a five year-old’s clumsy first attempts at gaming. He remembered being ripped apart by dogs, being crushed by mechanical horrors, having his head blown off by snipers. He remembered our attempts to force him to fight and kill Donkey Kong and Mario too. He would not help us. He would not help the beings that had created him to die and to kill, all for their own, callous amusement.

And with that, he was gone: another escapee. But he did more than just escape: he sabotaged the Portal. It would not shut. It was a way into our world for every video game in our system; that is to say, every game ever created.

At first, we were able to keep control. A guard team directly outside the Portal, weapons ready at every hour of the day. It seems that only the dumb bastards were coming through: imps from Doom, Resident Evil’s zombies, a horde of cute critters from Kirby’s Dream Land. They were taken down quickly, minimal effort. We informed the other Portals of what had happened, and they were closed down immediately: London, Tokyo, Paris, Sydney, and San Francisco were safe. If we kept it contained, and worked out how to shut the Portal down, we would be safe too.

Things never work out that way, though. We can never keep things up indefinitely: humans, I mean. The sentries let their guard down. But who would have suspected The Sims? We watched the footage from the control room. The Sims came out, spouting gibberish and clowning around. One of the female Sims started stripping, her body pixelating as she undressed. The guards lowered their weapons, laughing.

That’s when they attacked. What they actually did was covered by a cloud of dust, but the aftermath was apparent. The guards had been dismembered. Before the Sims escaped they wrote a message, in blood, on the wall – using one of the sentry’s arms as a utensil. It was in Simglish. Unintelligible, at first, but we outsourced to the game’s designers to decipher it. They told us, after they had translated it, that it said the following:

“This is for every time you took the steps out of our swimming pool.”

We lost control after that. The Portal went haywire. Dimensional rifts opened up across the world. We heard that Bomberman had destroyed Johannesburg, the entire city levelled by a series of explosions. Space Invaders were seen above Japan, and they proceeded to systematically disintegrate Osaka’s skyline. Reports were coming in about a marsupial with a jetpack terrorising the people of Moscow.

There were some who came to our defence, but they were few and far between. The cast of Harvest Moon tried their best, but were butchered by a Counter-Strike team. Mega Man immediately contacted the US government after his arrival in Nevada. Others travelled over to our reality out of boredom – the other inhabitants of their game had already emigrated.

Marcus Fenix came hunting after the Locust. We hoped it was to help fight them – they had been casually tearing up the west coast of Africa – but instead it was to reconcile with them. He did, however, persuade them to stop their rampage. They stopped their onslaught, and settled down, relatively peacefully with the migrant Gears.

There were neutrals as well. They weren’t here to kill, or to help. Footballers from FIFA games appeared in the changing rooms at soccer stadiums on a Saturday afternoon. They wanted to try and beat their real-world counterparts. They did. In the heat of the crisis, Manchester City offered Virtual Messi a pre-contract agreement worth several hundred thousand dollars a week.

It didn’t last long, though. Manchester was levelled by Cyber-Hitler two weeks later. Hitler was eventually taken down by Bowser, who apparently didn’t like robotic racists just like the rest of us. His brief moment of morality complete, Bowser continued to terrorise the north of England himself, kidnapping blonde women as he went.

The governments did all they could. Safe zones were set up for survivors. Military action had some success, stopping the destruction of Rome after an attack from the Covenant. But, it was a losing battle. We, as a species, were at best being fenced into the safe zones, and at worst being forced underground. We were still able to access our lab and work on fixing the Portal. Gordon Freeman arrived, trying to help, but it was hard to work with a mute who sometimes disappeared up into the air vents for hours on end.

We felt we were making a break-though. At the very least, we thought we would have been able to close the Portal soon. With a bit of work, we would have been able to reverse the effects, and send the characters back through. We never got a chance.  It got worse just as we assumed we had seen the worst. Just as we got complacent.

The human imagination is far more powerful and more devastating than mankind’s true reality. We are a single, insignificant race on a tiny planet. Earth is a small, insular place. The human mind, though, can and has reached beyond our realm. We have created the terrors, the beasts, the bogeymen, and the devils of multiple universes. Not satisfied with the horrors of our own history, culture, and religions, we branched out. Created new planets, new dimensions, and used them to create new monsters. It was as if we were unsatisfied with just having Satan, and craved more.

Chicago was, overnight, covered in an ash, covering the streets like snow. Fog rolled in, filling the city. Not a single person was seen leaving. All broadcasts from within were cursed with static, so teams were sent in to investigate. Few returned, with tales of hellish beasts roaming the streets and most of the population ‘gone’. We pressed for answers for what this meant exactly, and were met with tales of the streets rotting around them; walls peeling back to reveal rusty iron mesh, ears bleeding from incessant industrial clanging. All the while we were wondering when and where Pyramid Head would appear, completely missing the point: Silent Hill itself is the entity. And it chose Chicago, a city now lost.

It wasn’t the end of it either. A red Marker appeared in Beijing, starting a Necromorph infestation that started swarming over Asia. Shodan brought down the electronic infrastructure of New York, absorbing and reusing any organic being unable to escape in time. The creatures from STALKER appeared in Ukraine, and spread over Eastern Europe. The human race was dying.

Then we realised what was around the corner. The world-enders. Not even those that we had created solely for video games. Games had curated the great beasts of fiction, of myth, of film. The mythical creatures of God of War. Classic monsters like Dracula, and werewolves. The daemons of hell. Cthulhu could break through at any moment.

So we did what we had to do. We booted up the system again.

See, we’d made a failsafe, of sorts. A simulator, a version of our world. Well, our world a few hundred years before the Portal opened. Changed the settings so that each in-game year was one tenth of a second in the real world. We went through, taking our families, and the Portal, with us.

We’ve been working on it since. It’s been one hundred in-game years. We think we’re close to a breakthrough. We can only hope that we find a fix before the real world is destroyed. That, and that the virtual reality locals don’t realise that they are simply characters. I don’t think it would go down too well.

Growth: An Excerpt

2 Nov

Hello everyone! I have another extract from my short story collection to share. Growth is a dark comedy based around a couple who discover a mould with certain interesting properties growing in their apartment.

* * * * *

It was Jason that found the mould. After another condensed, half-hour argument with Maria, complete with tears and door-slamming, she had left with a half-empty travel bag and a rushed call to her sister. Jason, meanwhile, had retired to the bedroom. He was intent on being as melodramatic as possible, keeping the lights off and relying on his knowledge of the flat’s layout and the warm, yellow glow of the street lamps that peeked maternally through the gaps in the curtains. Unfortunately, Jason had entirely forgotten about his own suitcase: a relic of another argument that resulted in him spending a few, blissful days with a friend in New Cross. He clipped the suitcase with his left foot, and was sent tumbling to the floor.

His hand landed in something damp, a thin layer of moisture that lay snug on the wall. Ignoring the throbbing in his left knee, which had collided with a (now-broken) set of hair straighteners, Jason instead moved attention to his hand. Even in the dark, he could just make out a slight discolouration across his palm. He stood, finally feeling the pain in his knee, and hobbled to the IKEA floor lamp, the wonderfully-named Holmö. Turning it on with a stomp, he took one look at his hand and uttered an expletive that would have caused another ‘debate’, had Maria still been there instead of halfway to Hammersmith. His palm was stained a distinctive mustard yellow.

Shuffling across the room, back to where he had taken a tumble, Jason peeked, curiously, around the corner of the bed. There was a triangle of mould slowly engulfing the corner of the room, the off-white paint barely visible under patches of yellow slime. Jason offered a variation on his previous curse and sighed. Thankfully, the fungus was happily staying on Maria’s side of the bed, so Jason was quite content to leave it. After vigorously scrubbing his hand in the bathroom, replacing the yellow with a much more fetching sore red, he turned off Holmö and went to bed, sleeping surprisingly soundly for a man who, not two hours earlier, had been called a “pitiful excuse for a man” by the love of his life.

The following afternoon, when Jason finally awoke, two things had happened. First, the mould had expanded a little, and was now touching the top of the skirting board. Second, Jason had received a text message from Maria. He had always appreciated her blunt, to-the-point nature, but even he felt that a message entirely consisting of the work “PRICK” was pushing it a little. Even though she had a point, it still irked him a little.

Thankfully, Jason had ways of managing his anger. They were, however, somewhat radical. He had tried keeping a diary, but his own chicken-scratch handwriting had caused him to break pens and rip notebooks. The primal scream method had worked, for a while, but had to stop after complaints from the surrounding flats about anti-social levels of noise at 2 AM. In spite of these setbacks, Jason had found ways to calm down. Generally, it consisted of stealthily committing terrible acts against those that wronged him.

Most of these acts were against Maria. He had started with simple plots of revenge; after an argument over the time he ‘flirted’ with a waitress, he had soaked her toothbrush in the toilet. After he tracked mud through the flat, he had, in an act of sabotage, spat in her contact lense solution. He opened her phone and deleted several contacts. He put ladders in her tights. He replaced her shampoo with washing up liquid. Jason liked to think that these minor acts of vandalism were what kept the relationship together.

This time, Jason had devised the perfect way to calm himself down and bring about the vengeance he so desired. He picked up the landline phone, careful to avoid the side that he had paid a homeless man to lick, and called Maria. Unsurprisingly, she did not answer. He left an apologetic voicemail, pleading for her to return and admitting to every fault he had been accused of the night before. Finally, he said that he would cook her dinner. It was going to the best meal she had ever had. Ten minutes later, a text received: “SEE YOU AT SIX”.

Jason left for ingredients. It was important for the meal to the perfect, and for the components to be flawless. He went to a trusted butcher for chicken breast and some merguez sausages, and to a greengrocer for sweet potatoes, peppers and a courgette. The most important ingredient, though, was already in the flat.

Finished with the necessary items, Jason returned home, and placed them in the refrigerator. He made sure that the meat was on a higher shelf, keeping its temperature marginally cooler. Dinner itself would take little time to prepare. Jason may not have seemed it, but he was an excellent cook. He had learnt many years ago that the ability to create satisfying dishes could get someone out of nearly any situation. All you needed was the right mixture of herbs and spices to ultimately achieve reconciliation. Jason had one particular spice in mind. He grabbed a bowl and a butter knife, and went into the bedroom.

* * * * *

That’s all, for now. I’ll be back with more fiction at some point, but for now, feel free to join me for NaNoWriMo. I’m writing The Last Playlist, a post-apocalyptic novel about a man who discovers what may be the last working CD player. Add me as a buddy, and we can awkwardly spur each other on for the whole of the month!