Becoming Visible

Earlier this month, for International Women’s Day, a friend on Facebook was making frustrated noises about an acquaintance of his who had whipped out the tiresome “BUT WHEN IS INTERNATIONAL MEN’S DAY” apparent-gotcha (it’s November the 19th, when these men mysteriously go quiet about male suicide levels, male rape victims, male domestic abuse survivors, the role of toxic masculinity in capitalism, or junk like that. Half of them don’t even use it as an opportunity to talk about cis-centric but well-meant topics like prostate/testicular cancer, for God’s sake); I tried to cheer him up by pointing out how angry the guy will be when he discovers greedy, greedy trans people have TWO international days! TWO! One to remind cis people we exist, and one to remind cis people that THEY KEEP FUCKING MURDERING US.

[Trans Day of Remembrance is also in November. Fairly close to International Men’s Day, in fact. Last year rather cruelly gifted me with someone to add to the list for the Day of Remembrance; I owe him a lot, and one of the best things I can think of to do is to pass on his assurances to others like him and like me].

It’s not all murder and toilets and gate-keeping insurance-providers and places where your actual existence as a human being is illegal, although those things do rather play on the mind (nothing so refreshing as needing a piss and having to wonder if you’re about to die from it in the literal, rather than figurative sense). It’s not even all continual rejection from people who are Absolutely Fucking Obsessed With Genitals and sudden, self-made (and wrong) experts on chromosomes.

[at point of taking, that’s 13 months on testosterone & 5 months after surgery]

I mean, my life has 100% improved since I stopped pretending I was ever going to Female Correctly. Side-effects have included health! Fitness! Confidence! Abandoning the need to check with other people whether I was allowed to like things, think things, believe things, or walk or talk a certain way! No longer shrivelling up like a dried plum in company! Finally making eye-contact! Enjoying being alive! Not constantly fixating on death.

Years ago I used to write regular blog entries acknowledging Self-Harm Awareness Day (March 1st), because, well, I did a lot of it. Continuously, from about 11 years old, until my early thirties, I hacked up parts of my body with a variety of sharp implements. There are scars everywhere as a result, from calves to face. Some people find them disturbing; some of them are very prominent.

There are lot of people I’d like to see change their position; there’s no arguing with some of them (committed TERFs who want to shout about “mutilating your female body” or whatever their bio-essentialist nonsense is this week; the creepy few of the cis lesbian world who feel entitled to any body born with a vagina but somehow angrily rebel against lesbian trans women who’ve had vaginoplasty; extremely paranoid cis gay men who are unnecessarily fixated on dick; homophobic & transphobic straight cis women convinced they’re being “lied to” because a trans man genders himself correctly; The Daily Fucking Mail, etc), but to the salvageable…

Cis men, straight or otherwise: please, if you think your masculinity isn’t tied to your noodle and nobbles (and it shouldn’t be, or you’ll have about forty crises all at once if you get fucking testicular cancer or the like, as a mate of mine did at 16), try to consider your feelings towards trans men. If there are cis men you admire for their masculinity or their achievements & trans men have managed the same kind of shit, your feeling should be the same. And yes while transitioning is hard for us it… actually needn’t be. There should be no fear involved, no terrifying social and bodily risk; so “these dudes are really brave” shouldn’t be the basis of your admiration, either. Jumping out of a burning building into shark-infested waters isn’t brave: we do it to save our lives. Making sure we don’t land in the fucking shark-infested water, to labour the metaphor, would be the sane and upstanding thing to do. Make that courage unnecessary by making it clear you already view trans men as men and admire at least some of us for the same goddamn reasons you admire any other men.

It’s Here! It’s Queer! It’s all smoke and mirrors, I fear!

Step right this way, step inside, and see the greatest show ever to amaze your senses and baffle your mind. Watch! As a budding friendship is slowly but completely transformed before your very eyes! Marvel! At how stupid four very intelligent young people can actually be when confronted with life’s mysteries! Gasp! With indignation at the skullduggery and bad manners brought in the pursuits of love, fame, wealth, and let’s be honest, a lot more wealth. Blush! At some of the language! Laugh! Primarily at some of those waistcoats! Tremble! At the revelation of worlds beyond worlds and compacts most rare and Faustian!

Buy! This! Book!

Buy it:

On Amazon Kindle (US | UK), on Lulu (print | eBook), on iBooks, on Nook, on Kobo…

What’s it about? What’s it about? You’ve heard all this and you still need to know more? Allow me:

The year is 1900. An Earl, an engineer, a suburban philosopher, and an enigma meet at University and make a pact to learn the art of conjuring.

But nothing among the friends is quite as it seems, and soon the happy four are plunged into worlds of political activism, crime, despair, sordid trysts, and a Faustian compact which seems set to threaten their very lives, one by one…

Circling closer

The time has come for another book to be released into the wild, to flourish where it can, like a weed, and hopefully sow fertile seeds in the imagination. Or at least take up some prime real estate on someone’s bookshelf, which is of course identical to becoming an important part of their inner life.

The year is 1900. An Earl, an 
engineer, a suburban philosopher, 
and an enigma meet at University
and make a pact to learn the art
of conjuring…

Consider yourself warned: the rabbit is out of the hat and the cat is out of the bag.

Interconnectedness isn’t just for hippies

Species as a concept is a lie. The taxonomic division between species and the precise definition of speciesation is mutable and contended; check EO Wilson. “But that’s biology. It’s a blurry, ill-defined kind of science.”

Listen; everything we understand is couched in terms we – or at least a certain number of us – can understand, which involves inventing concepts that break down and make manageable the whole vast and ever-changing universe of space and time, breaking it into chunks that our evolved-on-a-specific-star-orbiting-rock-in-response-to-specific-geographic-and-meteorological-and-environmental-pressures-then-developed-a-culture-and-society-and-culturally-dependent-language-and-thinking-patterns water-based sodium-electricity carbon-driven teeny weeny grey lump brains can digest, with a suitable run-up. We can only perceive directly the most incredibly narrow frequency band of “light” and “sound”; we’re staring at the universe through a slit that makes a letterbox (or the windscreen of a Citroën Dyane if you’re so inclined) look like the Pacific Ocean. Our limitations begin with but are not limited to the fact that our brains evolved for something else entirely and frequently hijack our attempts at objectivity with unconscious bias generated by cultural history or even more stupid things like “the need for sustenance” or “evolutionary focus on reproduction”.

At the end of last year I went to a talk about the archaeology of the Arab Revolt at the British Museum, because I am an adult and can do whatever the hell I want with my free time. There was no free coffee, but during the talk the author of the forthcoming book about the excavations talked about the groundbreaking (I think this is a pun that archaeologists are required by law to make) interdisciplinary approach to finding the right sites for these digs, combining local histories, archive materials, ethnography, a whole lot of disciplines my uneducated Creative Writing BA self thought were the same discipline anyway, and some other stuff, in order to confirm that among other things, a man whose job had been to write detailed and precise reports back to his superiors hadn’t been lying or exaggerating in them about the locations and breadth of various raids during said Revolt.

Further back, Failed Rock Star, walking hair product advert, subject of nationwide sexual fantasies and occasional particle physicist Dr Brian Cox presented a lavish BBC documentary, Wonders of Life, which observant readers blessed with a functioning memory will recall I wanked on about at length here, when I was evidently fairly high on oxytocin:

As soon as you start learning across different disciplines it becomes evident in a way it never was before that everything is in some way relevant to something else: the process of galaxy collisions millions of years ago and millions of light-years away helps to pinpoint the precise point in history in which a terrible plague was presaged by the coming of a new star in the heavens; evolution driven by chemistry and the test of the environment on gene expression helps to explain human behaviour and the propensity for war-making; understanding the chemical nature of love in the brain may one day lead to debates over whether it is ethical to induce empathy in psychopaths and a wave  of alternate history fiction about famous tyrants infected with great affection instead, for Literature students to analyse and reframe.

Divisions between chemistry and biology, geography and geology and ecology, meteorology and so on elide part of the picture in order to make it possible to focus on others; but getting down to the human nitty-gritty requires that, at some point, all of universal history is taken into account.

Why does the Apollo Belvedere look like that? Aesthetic choices, culturally-driven (evolution/biology, migration patterns of early humans driven by environmental necessicites relating to ecology and meteorology and evolved needs prior to the mass migration of mankind; cultural interactions between societies growing up due to isolation between different groups); material requirements dictated by physics (geology, crystallogy, material science…); costs (economics, history, the entire network of historical logistics which takes in geography and the limits of the human body and technological development plus information science and historical politics); religion…

Every node of explanation throws up more to be looked at, which connects with other concerns, and other concerns, and no doubt even when everything is explained to a thoroughly subatomic and pre-Big Bang level further complications will continue to arise (I know full well I am not the equal to this, it took my Long-Suffering Boyfriend and I an entire day to even get vaguely to grips with what the concept of a light cone is). There is no limit to the things that can and should be taken into consideration, no end to the distortions to every event or item (or if you want to think of it this way; consider that a leaf is also a time object, and go and have a lie-down) created by other events and items and their interactions with each other; no apparent end-point at which everything becomes simple.

Anyway if any of the staff from Foyles on Charing Cross Road are reading, this is why I was standing in the middle of the history of science section of your book shop looking hunted and chewing my fingernail.

I’d apologise but I’m going to keep doing it

Hello, internet land. I’ve been very busy which is one of the many reasons I haven’t been updating here much, that and the overwhelming horror of the world and a complete lack of motivation…

What have I been doing?

Since the start of 2017, which I ushered in using the “start as you mean to go on” method of dancing drunkenly on a stage in West London, half-naked, covered in gold glitter, with at least one Radio Four comedian (how and why? Who knows), I’ve been engaged in a determined battle against middle-aged spread using the NHS Couch to 5k plan and various other gym-like things, having finally succumbed to Modern Life and begrudgingly forked out for a gym membership. This is partially mitigated by my workplace paying me some of the cost back (part of their attempt to encourage us into healthier habits than spending all night necking coffee and attempting to fight each other, which… we’re still doing), and partially by the fact that I’m very definitely getting my money’s worth.

Owing to a spectacular wobble in which I managed to get a wretch cold, bugger my Achilles’ tendon and inflict a fetching chest haematoma on myself, I’ve been stuck on Week 6 for what feels like eternity, but progress has been made on this front.

I’ve attended one (1) dance class, and learnt some of the basics of the Charleston, which I like to practice at the bus stop after work at around 5am, to the amusement and occasional horror of anyone else travelling at the time; my place of work has moved from the cosy hipster environs of Shoreditch to the alarming identikit irrational platform-borne archipelago of Canary Wharf, which is full of people I would ordinarily cross several roads to avoid and who, judging by the restaurants available, have the blandest and most middle-of-the-road tastes my snotty hipster palate can imagine.

I’ve been to a tribute club night for the late, great George Michael, seen two Oscar-nominated movies, both excellent (The Eagle Huntress was sweet and uplifting; Moonlight was emotional torture, both were An Experience), had a sushi-and-matcha afternoon tea at Tombo in South Kensington, and taken a a Finnish friend to Chinese New Year celebrations and an accidental drag queen pub quiz over dinner in Soho. So far, Mission: Try To Live A Full Life Before I Am Inevitably Murdered By Nazis is a success.

That doesn’t mean I’ve been entirely slack on the creative front, although due to the constraints of employment, physical needs, and the linear nature of time I haven’t been as awesomely productive as my hallucinogenically ambitious 4am self thinks I ought to be: the year to date (and indeed the majority of December) has involved laborious attempts at editing 2015’s NaNoWriMo project Heavy (a semi post-nuclear apocalypse military espionage novel about the unreliability of memory, mutability of truth, and the intersection between loyalty and gaslighting, which seems horribly prescient now); what the late Terry Pratchett cheerfully refers to in his nonfiction collection A Slip of the Keyboard as “blind research” for the next project (working title: Tourist’s Guide to the Ideal London) and outlining and brainstorming thereof; two short stories under my queer-romance-writing pseudonym Melissa Snowdon, one commissioned but not-yet-published blog essay under an entirely different (anonymous) pseudonym which ended up running to around 3,000 words…

Let’s just say I’ve been keeping busy, and intend to remain that way. Exciting news may shortly be arriving on your blog feed. Eyes peeled!

We sink and we rise: Happy New Year to those within the M25

Here are some facts about London: it is old, and it is new. It is disgusting, and it is powerful. These truths are interlinked; foul industries, dirty water, a shambling stream of corpses and fire-halted epidemics give rich foundation to the quasi-religious veneration of our one true God, the golden god, and our old and all-conquering vice: Avarice. Bawd and ideal may be plentiful but the muddy, bloody swamp of a city sinks or swims on its venal lawlessness and nearly two millennia of proof can be dredged up for it.

London creates cultures like a loaf of damp bread. It generates saints. In Camden Town the long, sorrowful face of Amy Winehouse appears in smeared black on buildings like the Madonna on American toast; sheer will supersedes finger-wagging press to create her a modern, Jewish saint; “Don’t venerate an addict” and dire warnings of her moral character fall short and miss the point – Amy is an icon because of her flaws, not in spite of them or in their ignorance. Like Marilyn and Billie Holiday before her, the locality bears witness to struggle and pain paired with eloquence and skill, and raises a broken woman to the status of a divinity. It is a black paint backlash against the madonna/whore dichotomy; let her be both, let her be both.

We have hopes for George Michael, but it’s early days yet.

London makes saints of the ordinary, too; not far from my home there is a shrine. A man, 22, whose name I know but won’t share, died violently in the street in November. In a turbulent time these things go unremarked, but the shop across the street remembers, and his loved ones replenish flowers, candles, photographs, empty whisky bottles. Offerings to somewhere or something, to keep him from fraying in their minds. Devoured by the city, he becomes part of it.

Do the rules of urban sainthood cover the man I saw die this week, his vast white belly unthinkingly exposed as he lay surrounded by green-clad paramedics

and stony-faced on-lookers, spread-eagled by an unsuccessful defibrillator on a cold station floor? If he is canonised by the fleck-marks among the grey, how long for?

But it is a morbid time; it is Dead Winter. The time of year when I am quite grateful to find mould growing on my sandwiches because it proves that something can still grow in this hellish twilight. Past the dimple of midwinter and the instinctive bonfires, this frozen endless coda between the solstice and spring equinox is the time I give real and visceral consideration to the possibility of human sacrifice. At 3pm, already dark, on a night-shift week, I drag myself to he gym to treadmill the black despair into aches via the media of glowing orange numbers and participation in a nationwide detoxification – purificiation – fast-and-atonement ritual as we try to apologise the spring into happening. And I think, yeah, I’d kill a child to bring the sun back right now. Why not? Shit, let’s kill ten and have a nice summer this year.

London is a ritual city. It has no pomp nor splendour, no matter how much gilt we pour on the remaining high traditions or crenellated and NeoGothic excesses we defer to – the rituals are modern in age and pre-Enlightenment in character, private or primal: the weird, carved fish of Guild processions, the prescient and personal libations to a Bacchus tossed in the Fleet in the fourth Century, the roadkill funerals, the furtive wishing coins, knuckles to the window of the London Stone and prayers to the known monsters travelling in the eternal dark beneath the city. From the dank earth we came and shall return; we are filth, stains lapping at the feet of our unsecured glass skyscrapers – we are ugly, and let us remain pox-disfigured grasping mollies, roaring over newsprint…

One could weep for all the histories lost in the foundations of raw progress – the temples destroyed by railways, the birthplaces by bombs, the memories by meretricious, mercantile greed, but London does not stand still and it does not stop – a fossil city is a dead city. Better to build on top of our own sinking rooftops, lay roads over

rivers, and let future archaeologists marvel at our litter as we now paw over the plague-pits Pepys and Defoe’s peers did their best to cover.

Buddleia reaches for the sky, whole trees hanging out of brick cracks the size of a thumb; black mould marches over my bedroom ceiling; five mice quarrel in hypersonic territorial fury between the rails of the train to Cockfosters and somewhere in those miles of 19°C subterranean veins, rippling through clay like bands of a new composite mineral, we are evolving a new species of mosquito at light speed. The Tube Parasite. Our very own blood-sucker —

— London is a ritual city. We revisit our haunts. We pay our respects. We set our habits like heartbeats, not clockwork. Environment rules apply: the same man who moved me gently out of his path in a crowded, convivial nightclub in Vauxhall by placing the tips of his fingers on the angel tattooed on my neck kept to the etiquette of the Night Tube afterward, hunched up at the far end of a carriage with his eyes locked to his phone, a dozen empty, newspapered seats between us. Courtesy in both worlds: in the sweat and strobes the pressure of his cock on the waistband of my jeans is simple and unimpeachable neutral manners, too.

Condensed, London is a highly-charged space. Widely-spread souls mistake this hyperreal interaction for hostility instead of the hallucinogenic endgame of compressed human interaction. In the countryside I grew up in, friendliness is a two-hour chat with a grinning death’s head stranger; in this hive it is the quick smile to a bus driver from a passenger who has been on this route a decade. It is the small rituals with speed-ravaged 4am shopkeepers. It is catching the eye of the tired passenger who is watching the same pigeon fight that you are. In each of these seconds a week of intimacies unfolds in its own sweet time.

Do not be so quick to hate the ‘bubbles’ in which we dwell. They are beautiful and we have chosen them for a good reason.

A Suitable Birthday Present: Off With His Tits

On the 19th of October 2016 I kissed goodbye to some moderate nuisances which have dogged my life since around 1994, and my internal life has settled from boiling discomfort to “mild simmer” for about the first time since then.

Over the course of the twin hells of bureaucracy and second-puberty that make up transition (see here for the heartfelt story of this nonsense), which has also involved an almost too-late-in-life conversion to the notion of Actually Exercising after building a firm and stroppy identity around Never Exercising Because The Sooner Death Comes The Better, I’ve had several unpleasant revelations.

One of which, as the testosterone began to take effect this summer, is that other people got to feel like this all their lives. That is, while there is nothing to envy in having a sex drive that requires continual policing for fear of becoming immediately distracted (sympathies to any and all teenage boys currently experiencing this hell), the previous situation wherein I was less a person and more a balloon of despairing thoughts trying its utmost to distract itself from an unwanted and fairly revolting physical neighbour was not the norm. I’d just assumed it wasn’t actually possible to be not so much happy with your body as even in it at all, and that everyone else was just being stubborn and dictatorial as they chirped at me to love myself and maybe, possibly, exercise some kind of caution rather than leaping with carefree abandon into the path of oncoming buses.

Other people, it seems, just kind of naturally recognise the face in the mirror as their own rather than squinting at it for a minute in the mornings and then, halfway through a cup of tea, accepting that it is very unlikely to be their mum. It’s not really a question of being happy with the way you look so much as that being you that looks that way. There has been a definite diminution in how clumsy I am since I started actually inhabiting a body that feels like it’s mine, rather than piloting a scribble with no proprioception and the vague sense that I’ve been left in charge of something I’m not really meant to have. I’m bordering on coordinated now, although I appreciate some of the people I have landed on at Duckie might not see it that way.

Now, some time after the demise of the breasts, a little after the removal of the post-surgical binder (yes, security guard at White Mischief Halloween Ball who got incessant about searching me for drugs I quite clearly didn’t have; that is what you were fiddling with. A surgical garment), I’m carefully realigning myself to two old realities made new by the intervening 22 years:

  1. No one is going to consider it obscene if I take off my top in public.
  2. It’s bloody cold with just a t-shirt on.

This wild and fantastic world where I can just throw on a t-shirt and not have to spend time wrestling with either a bra or a binder is going to take a little adjusting to, but it is the adjustment of absolute ecstasy. I can’t move my arms properly yet: I seem to have lost a lot of flexibility, fitness, and much of the upper body strength I’d built up before the surgery. I’m hilariously scarred, puckered, still a little distended from internal bleeding, and prone to criticising the outcome as being terrible – locked in the moment where I can’t lift weights, do press-ups, or raise my arms directly above my head without running the risk of messing myself up, and convinced as always that this will last forever.

And then I remember that what had once seemed impossible is already daily reality: everyone calls me “sir” or “mate”. I sound like my own Dad. There’s some pathetic approximation of a beard beginning, sporadically, across my face. Most important of all, in a few days I get to hurl a pair of comedy tits at the ceiling of a pub in joyous symbolic celebration of the departure of the real thing: so long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, fuck off.

Winter Cometh

Hello, I hope we all had a productive NaNoWriMo this year. I certainly did: I wrote 195,000 words, which is almost certainly my new record, and while part of me wants to try for the nice round 200,000 next year, a largely part of me is reminding me of how few of those 195,000 from this year have really pleased me in terms of quality. 195,000 words, and about 5 of them worth reading!

In addition to writing another novel, my “shamefully not updating my blog at all” time has been spent attending a variety of parties, including my own 34th birthday: I also went to the Last Ever White Mischief Halloween Ball (I went to the first: it seems appropriate that I attend the last, too) and met some lizards; attended a ghost walk on Halloween which ended in the prison cells below the Viaduct Tavern in Holborn; I went to the last Hunterian Museum Late before refurbishment, which featured the opportunity to drink gin while pickling a plasticine penis (not a sentence easily uttered after the gin), and cheerfully ghoulish lecture on the anatomical effects of hanging; visited an absolutely splendid bar in an air raid shelter, called Cahoots, which sells incredible cocktails and contains a converted Tube carriage; went to the stunning Museum of Last Parties for cocktails, a Cockney knees-up, a 1920s disco, a Morris dancing demonstration, a conga line featuring a guru with light-up shoes, and the opportunity to cover myself in so much glitter that my dry cleaner complained about it later; shot down to Brighton for a half-remembered night of dancing which has left me covered in mystery bruises; had brunch at Dishoom with the latest Ben Aaronovitch book, and tried, on the whole, to ignore the fact that the world is burning down around my ears.

As a recent dining companion said, if we’re going to have the last days of the Weimar Republic, we shall have to have the parties, too.

In addition to all this riotous behaviour I have been recovering from surgery, but that really does require its own post.

In the meanwhile, as a placeholder, please feel free to watch me and m’companion Rich Johnston of Bleeding Cool reviewing Dr Strange back in October, sitting outside Balans Cafe in Soho and occasionally making new friends while I slag off Marvel’s most recent movie offering and Rich tries to be slightly more positive about a film neither of us paid to see.

It’s my face, and voice, together at last!

30 Days Of Original Fiction

I’ll be honest, this year’s NaNoWriMo outline is kicking my ass. I am feeling the deadline somewhat. And in that confession I’m pretty sure I’m scared a few people who are already nervous of the whole concept of NaNo, so I kind of considered maybe letting anyone who doesn’t feel confident enough to do the whole “write An Book in a month” thing or who remains flummoxed by writing original fiction have a go at basically whipping up an outline over the course of that month instead, with this Helpful Selection of 30 exercises (one per day).

Days 1-10 are for exploration. This is when you begin to discover who you’re writing about. It might not stick, but that’s okay. You can always do it again if you need to.

1. Make your protagonist.

Or the person you think is going to be your protagonist. This can always change! Write about three paragraphs giving a vague idea of what they’re like – how they look, sort of, what they want, what they fear, where they’re from, what kind of person they are, really. This can and will be added to later.

2. Make a place.

Chuck down three paragraphs about a location, making it up as you go. Where is it, what kind of function does it have? How does it relate to the world? Is it a room, is it a business, is it a place in the wilderness? How do people get there?

3. Put your protagonist in the place.

Get them to explore. Maybe four paragraphs this time, or as much as you need; what emotions does the place arouse for them – have they been there before? What does it remind them of? What does it smell like? Feel like? Are they comfortable there or ill-at-ease? How do they move around the space?

4. Make a second character.

Same process as 1.

5. Put that character in the space, and have the two characters interact.

Give yourself a side of A4, and write their interaction. Pick whose point of view you want to represent, and try to consider how they’re going to convey the interaction – how do they perceive it in their own head, how much attention do they pay to what they’re doing vs what the other character is doing.

6. Write the same interaction from the perspective of the other character.

What is different? What is the same? How clear is it that their experience of the situation differs? What is suggested about their relationship as people? How does the other character’s narrative voice – their way of conveying themselves and the situation to the reader – differ?

7. Reflection.

Write a few paragraphs outlining the additional things you have learnt about the space, and each of the characters, based on their interactions with each other. Is there some hint of a struggle, quest, or unresolved issue that needs exploring? What is missing? What are they avoiding?

8. Create another location

You will want to write more than the first time you did this. This location is to be explored in the context of how it differs and relates to the first, and to your two characters. You will want to people it, and think about its use and function in a narrative: what kind of things might happen here? How would they effect your nascent characters?

9. One more character.

This character is hiding something from one or both of your characters, and wants something from one or both of them. When you write your description of this character you need to consider all of the previous days of writing: how do they relate to the two locations, and to the two characters, especially? What deeds have they committed in those locations, and how were the other characters – including the people you placed in the second location – involved?

10. Answers.

Today is for answering any questions that you have found arising in the Reflection section or any of the previous days of writing. Can you answer questions about your characters and locations that you couldn’t answer before?

Days 11-20 are for interlocking narrative and planning. Some people find it easier to write if they know where they are going; others find it easier to work out where they are going by writing. The following exercises should give you the opportunity to work out which you are by alternating between both.

Feel free to loop back round and do days 1-10 again if you were unsatisfied with the characters, before moving on. Strictly speaking, there isn’t actually a time limit on any of this.

11. Blind writing.

Take your two locations, your three characters, and all that you have learned about them in the ten days so far. Pick an object at random from the room you are writing in, and write a short scene – no more than 400 words, no less than 200 – with dialogue and descriptions of action/place, in which the item is a source of conflict or tension between the characters. This can be as silly or as trivial or as deep and meaningful as you like; trivial conflict can often be mined for much more profound plot and character development than you first realise.

12. Unpicking.

Today, draw a flow diagram or similar chart – whichever you find works best with your way of thinking – showing how the conflict over the random object evolved from the past interactions of the characters, however minor, and how you think it is likely to affect their future interactions and behaviour.

13. Planning.

Referring to your scene, and to your flow diagram, write three paragraphs about how the conflict might be resolved favourably, unfavourably, and to whom, and how likely you think each outcome is based on what you know of these characters.

14. Pathfinding.

Pick the most likely outcome and write a scene describing how it comes about. If the outcome is complex or takes a while to reach fruition, resist the temptation to try a different outcome or return to the drawing-board. Instead, write a series of one-to-two sentence snapshots of how you think the progression takes place. These will constitute an outline. You do not have to write these sentences in order if you get stuck. If you know where you think the scene is going but not how to get there, start at the end and work backwards.

And congratulations, you’ve made it a fortnight. You’re doing well!

15. Elaboration.

Look at the conflict and potential resolutions you’ve just described, and the one you chose to follow as most likely. What could happen next? Think about the situation as it has come about, and the world you’ve created (it’s often a good idea to do this thinking while you’re engaged in something else, like exercise or chores, sometimes that helps the brain tick over things differently), then write a list of the following circumstances:

A.  Something that could realistically happen which would improve the situation for the protagonist.

B. Something that could realistically happen which would improve the situation for the antagonist.

C. Something that could realistically happen which would cause a temporary collaboration between the antagonist and protagonist, or the foundations of a more lasting one.

16. Twists and turns.

Pick one of the circumstances above and, without a set limit on how long the piece should be, write it out as prose narrative. If this becomes unwieldy, or threatens to take up more of the day than you can reasonably afford, remember the outlining technique from Day 14.

17. Return to the start.

By now you have a reasonable understanding of your protagonist and antagonist, and a decent selection of characters who surround their conflict, interact with them. With this in mind, make a list of reasons that their opposition might have begun, and what formed the relationship between the protagonist and one of the other characters. Try to bear in mind that it’s rare in reality for a single, defining event to create a strong opposition without some kind of underlying pressure, be that pressure social (prejudice, disparity), historic (prior interactions, family feud), or psychological (own past, suppressed attraction).

18. Deprive your protagonist

This should reasonably form the beginning of a narrative. Bearing in mind what you know about your protagonist as a person and how they respond, prior to any developments you have explored following on from your introduction of the objective they are in conflict over, write at most one page of an outline, using the short, linked sentences approach, in which the protagonist has something taken away from them (this can be an item, a person, a state of being, social status, certainty…) which leads to their pursuit and conflict as previously described.

19. Map the power balance swings.

Look back over all the narrative and outlines you have of character interactions so far, including those between secondary and side characters. Make a list of all the characters who are present or mentioned in the story and outlines. Next to each character, write down a short summary of all the moments when things appear to be in their favour. You may also wish to write down what action of theirs or inaction of their led to them gaining or losing the upper hand.

This will help you to visualise the shift in power balance throughout the narrative; it is usually good for a story to take the protagonist through losing and gaining the upper hand in a situation, no matter how trivial, in order to keep the reader interested, and traditionally a protagonist (or indeed any character) should cause at least some of these power exchanges through their own actions.

However, like most narrative rules, this can be broken intelligently and to great effect!

20. Winning.

Write a short scene in which the balance of power between the protagonist and an antagonist – it doesn’t have to be the antagonist – starts out in favour of the antagonist and shifts to the protagonist. Read over it: how does the power shift occur? What does the protagonist do to make it happen? Remember that in a good story, the protagonist is active, and causes – if not always directly – the plot to progress through their behaviour and responses. Things can’t just keep happening to them.

Rewrite the scene to show the balance of power shifting through a different action of the protagonist. Can either version of the scene be placed within the narrative you are building?

Congratulations, you’re two-thirds of the way through this list!

Days 21 to 30 – the last stretch of these exercises – will be about refining your ideas and introducing subplots. Always remember, please, it’s okay to change your mind at any point, or decide to pursue a different part of the story. You’re exploring, all the way through this, and no “false start” is a waste of your time – it’s a valuable decision made, because you find out what it is you want to be writing.

At this point it’s worth making an overall note: share your ideas with people. Don’t get locked into the idea of the ivory-tower creator or feel that you must remain aloof until the finished work is available and perfect; that makes the business of writing unnecessarily difficult. Instead, describe your story and lament your blind spots to those willing to listen – even if they have no solution, you may find often that explaining it to other people helps you to straighten things out in your own head. Often, someone will ask a question you haven’t considered, and set the story off on a new course. Talk to people. Remember that writing is a communicative art!

21. Reflection: What unanswered questions and new characters and places have you acquired?

You don’t need to answer them! Just make a note of them when you think you’ve come up with all of them. If the answers and profiles for these new characters come up while you’re making a note of them, though, feel free to note them down. This would be a good time to talk about what you’re doing with someone else, to see if they have any questions you might not have considered before, too.

22. Take a side character for a walk.

Get the protagonist and antagonist to stop hogging the limelight. Take one of the side characters in any given scene you have so far, and write the interaction from their point of view. What are they thinking? How are they responding? How do they see what is going down? Is their interpretation radically different to those of the main actors? How important is it to them? What else is on their mind? Where did they come from? Where are they going?

23. Follow the thread

Review what you’ve written on day 22. Make a list, or mind-map, or whatever other method you like, of how you think this character’s story touches on the main story, and where it diverges. What are they likely to do in the same timespan as the main story which has an effect on the main story? What else are they doing? What questions about their life and their goals do you want to see answered?

24. Take another side character for a walk.

This character should be someone who both appears in a scene you have written previously, with the main characters (the protagonist and antagonist) and also someone who has a connection – personal, or professional, but quite strong – with the character you wrote about on day 22. In addition to sketching out how they see the scene they appear in, write about their prior/future interactions with Character From Day 22. How does this progress/impede either of their agendas?

25. Map your threads

Time to draw or write out how you think the two (or even three) plots you now have relate to each other. Pay special attention to how they drive each other: what would happen if one of the people involved wanted something different, or behaved differently? If it alters the entire way the story is going, do you prefer that direction? Is it still in keeping with what you would expect of that character?

26. Alright in the end.

Taking as long as you want and as many words as it needs, write the climatic scene. This is not the same as the final scene, as many stories close with a coda, or a rebalancing – a tying up of the remaining loose ends, a series of scenes dealing with some of the remaining consequences, or cementing what has already been hinted at. Quite frequently in a story with a romantic subplot, the conclusion of the romance occurs after the conclusion of the main plot. It’s up to you to decide (And re-decide) when the subplot will come to its conclusion, or whether its conclusion is bound up in the main plot’s end.

Today, though, take into account everything you have so far, everything you know about the story so far, and write the flashpoint, the part of the story in which evil is finally defeated/good finally defeated, or the goal achieved/irretrievably lost/judged to be not worth achieving.

27. How did we end up here?

Today, write the two short scenes immediately preceding that ending. It’s possible one may be part of the subplot; it’s also possible they may both be from the main plot, but whatever happens in them should see the characters and the narrative progress from the state they were in, driven by the events and their own actions, to the state in which the story reaches its climax, which you wrote on day 26. Remember that even if they are reacting to external events, the characters have to drive some part of the story themselves. Even people trying to survive an inevitable extinction-event-causing meteor impact still have other obstacles that can be altered or exacerbated aside from the incoming space rock, for example.

28. Reflection.

Take today out to look over all of your work so far. Arrange what you have, narratively, in a chronological order (when you come to write the story it needn’t be presented in that order, but it can help to get a grip on what’s going on). Read through it. Does anything leap out at you as unanswered? Is there a nagging question which has arisen as a result of what you’ve come up with? Are there conflicts which haven’t been resolved? Make notes of them. Don’t attempt to answer or resolve them, just note what they are.

29. Loose Ends #1

You saw this coming: pick one of the loose ends, and write about how it can be resolved. This can be done either exploratively – by jumping into the scene and following it to its conclusion – or descriptively – by sitting down and making notes on what a likely or desirable course of events within the narrative would be to see this thing resolved one way or another.

30. Loose Ends #2

What you wrote yesterday will almost certainly have created a cascade of new possibilities. As we are at the end! THE END! Of our planning, all you need to do now is make a note of these possibilities. Diagram out how you think they’re most likely to connect into what you have already, what you think they’re likely to change, and then put your pen down.

31. Put this in a drawer for six months and think about something else!

None of these techniques will magic a book into being. You still have to write it (yes, I know, how annoying). But hopefully these will provide you with an adequate selection of tools to get to grips with your own imagination and wrestle the narrative to the ground. Even if you’re tremendously experienced, there’s always some new method or problem left to tussle with.


If there’s an overall piece of advice I have, based on the questions I get asked a lot and the tension I see in people, it’s release your fear of fucking up.

You’re going to fuck up. It’s a necessary part of getting it right. You have to write wrongs before you can write right. That’s part of the process, and needs to be embraced that way. Charge in demanding to know which piece you’re going to end up throwing out the window. Produce too much. Fill the garden of words with gibberish and weed it until you’re left with glory.

When I was learning to stilt-walk – there are less weird examples from dancing and so on but it was stilt-walking that I learnt it in so I am giving you the advice from there – the first, first thing we learnt, after “how to put stilts on”, was how to fall. Not how to avoid falling, but how to fall safely. How to land on your padded knees, not your painful and underpadded butt. You had to unlearn putting your hands down to save yourself (this leads to fractured wrists); we practiced falling all day. Fall, fall, and fall again.

Artists fill sketchbook after sketchbook with pictures that aren’t quite right. Musicians play ten thousand scales, bum notes, and god alone knows what else. Imperfections, wrong directions, and a draft where you lob everything out of the window barring the secondary main villain and an interesting question about the role of animal passion in shaping fear or something are part of the process.

Henceforth address it as “whee, fucked that up” not “oh god this is terrible I have ruined this story and now the story can never be told properly”. They’re adaptable fuckers, and every story has a thousand iterations; you just have to find the one that works for you. Knock it back, pick a different cast, and try again.

New short story: The Renaka Device

Exclusively on Amazon Kindle, on every Amazon Kindle site (I will link to UK | US but trust me: every site), a short story rather unlike any of my others in content and in style, The Renaka Device is fairly strongly-influenced by Ray Bradbury, I think.

My name is Potsve Revolution Renaka.

I was born a month after the fall of the old order. In celebration, my parents named me Potsve Revolution.

I can’t say much more without spoiling the story for you; feel free to pick up your copy (UK | US); Text-to-speech is available on this book for anyone who has difficulty reading from screens or is simply too busy to read but can listen.


Currently I’m plugging away at another sci-fi short story, The Grandmother Virus (which is giving me a headache, I won’t lie); other short fiction of mine you can treat yourself to in the meantime includes: Hannah Matchmaker’s New Skates (a rollerderby fable), Vessel 151-B (classic sci-fic take on the Pygmalion story), and Saint Grimbald’s Men (bodyhorror bildungsroman. Possibly).

Stay tuned this November for regular updates on how awful it is trying to pull an entire manuscript out of your face in one sitting.