derek des anges

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noises from my head and projects from my mighty fists

I want to fail in a grander case.

For Reasons of Research, I’ve been reading Downriver by Iain Sinclair recently (aside from the normal heave-ho of life, visiting the Making Nature and Electricity: The Spark of Life exhibitions at the Wellcome Institute; drinking All The Wine in the company of a skittish cat; re-acquainting myself with old drawing habits and new gym ones – and novel heave-hos in life, such as “dealing with a blood-soaked stranger”; and my personal favourite “being evacuated from the office for a bomb scare”, which was nowhere near as much fun as you’d hope).

I have a lot of Ian Sinclair books to read, because Delightful Boyfriend has inherited psychogeographical scholarship from his Colin-Wilson-reading father, and my globe-trotting book patron/occasional whip hand (Amy Parker, who has recently published a short story in Bourbon Penn magazine, which rather unusually for any short fiction written after about 1901, I’ve read and loved – please sit down and have a go yourself! It’s a good one) also deluged me in copies before I had a chance to remove them from my research wishlist and plead exhaustion (there is a reason I don’t link to that on my blog).

In reading, I encountered this intriguing quote:

There is, I assure you, a measure of safety in being the one who holds the pen. ‘I’ is the man in possession, but he is also possessed, untouchable. ‘I’ is immortal. The title of the survivor. There always has to be one witness to legitimize a massacre. [etc]

Downriver, Iain Sinclair.

Long-term readers may be aware that I have a tattoo reading “ha bloody fucking ha” prominently on my writing wrist.

It is the abbreviated form of this quote:

Why? you have to ask yourself. I think it’s a way of claiming immunity. First-person narrators can’t die, so long as we keep telling the story of our own lives we’re safe. Ha bloody fucking Ha.

The Ghost Road, Pat Barker

From a firmly-formative trilogy (one of the more respectable formative texts of my adolescence, which featured more heavily the lurid gay erotic horror of Poppy Z Brite in the vampire years and innumerable interchangeable Hardy Boys Casefiles), that of prize-draped Pat Barker: The Regeneration Trilogy.

It is a conceptual echo that concerns me greatly: I’ve been keeping a regular, if occasionally sparse or incoherent and evasive diary, since September 1997. If I am still doing it in September this year (if global rise of fascism hasn’t dispensed with my gay, trans self by then – always proviso these days), it will be a solid 20 years of diarism.

Leaving aside the horror of a diary that can legally vote, marry, drink, drive, and star in extremely depressing pornography in the country in which it is written, what have I done to my longevity with this? All of my life choices so far – dabbling in alcoholism, obesity, cocaine, transitioning even – all of them should calculatedly have shaved off decades from my genetically accursed lengthy lifespan (no bloody cancer or coronary here, alas), at least according to the bastion of scientific rigour and life-extension that is the Daily Mail.  I live in a society that can’t afford my pension and soon won’t be able to feed itself. Have I unthinkingly undermined my sensible exit strategy with ego-centric nonsense?

Well, I shan’t be the first or the last. If I am still committing my life to language in another 20 years we shall know something has gone horribly, horribly right.


Readers already horrified by the above will be thrilled to learn I’ve taken up time-travel, and have transmitted a novel from the Edwardian period.

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Writing Advice: Pulling Answers From My Bum Part 2.

Another ask from the Website Where Askboxes Live:

what’s your advice on creating interesting, likable and realistic characters? And creating strong, emotional bonds between two or more characters?

And one long, windy, incoherent reply:

Realistic characters are super easy, you just have to know, y’know, people. Stalk people! — there is possibly a less creepy way of putting that but I still have the Weird Plague so I’m not searching for it right now. Listen to people. If you’re already the therapist/confidante for your group of friends this helps, because you will get to hear how people talk about themselves. Read people’s personal blogs. Read published diaries. Read email transcripts. Read published collections of letters, the more mundane the better. Eavesdrop on people in cafes, bars, on public transport. Sit silent in chat rooms. Wander onto forums as a guest. And talk to people, if you can stomach it and if you feel safe. Listen to how people talk about each other in their absence, too.

This fills you up with other people’s language and other people’s fears, desires, griefs, triumphs, and their facades (always worth remembering that everything people communicate consciously is something they choose, to a degree, to demonstrate, and sometimes/often it’s intended to give a specific effect).

Personally I also read a lot of (popular, since I’m not especially smart) books from the holy trinity of People Understanding Sciences: sociology, neurology, psychology. “Why the fuck do people do that” / “how do people work” (child development books are good for this too, imo). I like this because it’s easier to tweak things about a character if you have an idea of what life event is likely to result in what kind of variety of flaws or fears or so on & hopefully reduces the likelihood of getting repetitive. Also: blogs on How To Understand Neurotypicals written for people who are Neurodivervgent/ASD/etc are remarkably useful for Neurotypical writers because they will explain the why of things.

A strong, original character is one who lives as a person, basically. Either they are the centre of their own universe or the transference of a universal centre to an item, individual, or quest makes them fanatical, weird, comment-worthy by other characters. Secondary characters should always always always always have lives, concerns, and priorities outside of the protagonist. Antagonists need, again IMO, to have inner life. Assuming your antagonist is a character and not, say, “the concept of death”.

Uh… oh, right, bonds. Interactions create those. You can short-cut people to understanding that two people are very close by the way they interact; you can show the growth of a bond by the changes of interaction between characters (lazy: by using less and less formal language; by reducing the physical space between them; by increasing the humour and such in their conversations). A fun game to play in public is detective over what kind of relationship two strangers have to each other (I mean, strangers to you). Analyse what makes you reach your conclusions; transfer this to depictions in writing. Remember that cultural and subcultural mores play a role in this – teenage boys express affection by shoving and hitting each other, etc.

Try to avoid the temptation to demonstrate closeness by overshare of personal backstory – if your character is the kind who overshares personal backstory almost immediately it won’t be a show of affection but of disorder, if they turn it into a joke — ref. Deadpool and Vanessa flirting — it tells you about the character (less the backstory and more how they talk about it, how they use it as currency/recognition), but the intimacy isn’t formed then.

Short-cuts to bonds which are very popular in certain works (and uh, also in real life by people who are grooming someone) include “going through a traumatic event together”, which is often the basis of bringing together a disparate group of people – but it’s worth considering that the type of bond may not be intimate, long-lasting, positive, or even an attractor – some people who go through trauma with other people want nothing more than to be away from anyone or anything that reminds them of it.

Likeable is difficult, because obviously what appeals to one person will not appeal to another; I love Patty Tolan the best out of the recent Ghostbusters movie but many other people prefer Holtzmann or Abby etc… attempts to appeal to everyone all at once lead to Stubbly McQuiptits, Joss Whedon Syndrome, or everything Stephen King has ever done. I think in that respect the only real gauge you can rely on is yourself/test readers. Read their dialogue and interactions back to yourself or have it read back to you (to divorce it from your own voice), and try to think about whether this is someone you want to read about – not the same thing, obviously, as someone you want to hang out with! (I adore Miss Temple in Glass Books but I’m pretty sure I’d want to hit her with a tea tray if we had to socialise).

With likeability too I think realism is important; someone with a gamut of emotions and experiences and who has enough stacked against them that people can sympathise (as the majority of readers aren’t going to be bajillionaire superhots who effortlessly got their PhDs aged 7; part of the appeal for most of, say, Matt Fraction’s Clint Barton is that while he may have incredible skills in one area and be overall a good and heroic dude, he’s a dysfunctional shitmess in pretty much every other area).


I am, in theory, working towards a slightly less bombastic version of How Not To Write at the moment.

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It’s Here. It’s too late to run. The Next Big One is upon us.

It’s here.

By which I mean you can buy the book.

You can buy it as a paperback from Lulu.com.

You can buy it straight to your Kindle from Amazon US | UK.

You can buy it in a number of ebook formats from a number of epublishing sites, by searching “The Next Big One Derek Des Anges”.

And you should buy it, because god knows where you’re going to find another epidemic thriller with an anxious bisexual hero and the world’s least flappable trans woman scientist in a major starring role. You’re certainly not going to see much in the way of critique of media reporting of disease, and you won’t get much debate. This book is not The Hot Zone. I promise you that much.

With the number of UK cases hitting a hundred, it’s clear that KBV is a problem which isn’t going away. Downing Street have released the following statement: “The total number of KBV cases in the UK is still comparatively small, and we are confident that the disease can be contained. NHS leaflets advising on lifestyle and behaviour changes which can help protect against infection will be available soon. We ask the public to remain calm and to continue to behave responsibly about their health in all areas.

Vocational journalism student Ben Martin is the last person who ought to be investigating a major viral outbreak. He doesn’t know a single damn thing about biology; he pays his rent by DJing for hipsters. He’s nervous, easily-discouraged, and not over his ex.

But it’s him who ends up with the assignment, and it’s him who ends up facing down the truth: there is more to this than meets the eye.

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[Fiction] Charming

Ping had never been to a roof-top bar before. She’d been meaning to, in the same way she’d been meaning to book a holiday somewhere and not just spend all her holiday time either sleeping or doing everything she had hadn’t time to while she was at work, but hadn’t got past the intention.

Then the money-off deal came up in her inbox like a sign from the universe, just as she’d started the four-day weekend, and when she emailed Mu he hadn’t immediately responded with sorry, but and instead said I think I can do it this time.

So she stood on a rooftop in Hoxton and wondered why she’d thought being two floors up would make the oppressive heat and chemical mugginess disappear, and thought, a little sadly, about how you get the picture of “roof-top bar” confused with “images of James Bond suaveness and elegance everywhere” and forget that all your friends are hipsters and the Queen of Hoxton is in Hoxton, and that hipsters like industrial earnestness and not beautiful glass sculptures.

Ping cradled an icy glass of Rekoderlig in her hands and tried to pretend to herself that it was a very cosmopolitan and sophisticated cocktail favoured by the fabulously wealthy, and that she was in Dubai, and that the Queen of Hoxton had installed an air-conditioning unit on the roof.

A woman with blonde hair in generous waves and plastic glasses frames with no glass in them approached Ping directly. With a sudden stab of panic Ping worried if she’d somehow stolen her spot, or her drink, or was about to be mistaken for someone else. She cast about vaguely for some sort of life-line, but no one met her eye.

“Are you Ping?” the woman asked, from about six feet away. She gestured at Ping with the neck of her own drink – a Corona – and accompanied the question with an irritated puff of air apparently intended to get her hair off her forehead.

As there were maybe three other people on the roof who weren’t white, and one of them was a man, and all of them were black, Ping thought this question was slightly unnecessary, but she nodded cautiously. Maybe she’d left something downstairs.

“Oh, your brother said could I tell you, he’s run into some friends downstairs,” the woman said, with a cartoonish, letterbox grimace, “and he’ll be up soon. Between you and me,” she said, shielding her mouth with the back of her hand as if she was imparting state secrets, “I don’t think it’s going to be ‘soon’.” She raised her eyebrows for a moment, and when Ping didn’t react, she added, “Also I don’t know why they’d want to stay down there anyhow, it’s dark and warm.”

The blonde woman held the top of her loose dress away from her skin to illustrate, pinching it between finger and thumb. She put her head on one side, and huffed out another puff of hair-dislodging air.

“Thanks,” Ping said, belatedly.

For a moment they both stood in silence. The blonde didn’t appear to be in a hurry to go anywhere – she just stared abstractedly past Ping’s head at the buildings to the West, into the beginnings of the setting sun, and Ping took the opportunity to examine her shoes, which were metallic orange sandals with little leather wing shapes cut out over the ankle bones. They looked dumb.

The blonde woman turned her attention back to Ping with an exaggerated little dancer’s jerk, the kind people did when they wanted to make it clear they were now giving you their full attention. Ping experimented in her head with the idea of telling this woman that she didn’t want her full attention, or even a sliver of it, but as usual what came out of her mouth was blindingly awkward small-talk as her fingers tightened on the condensation of the Rekoderlig glass, and the ice began to melt.

“So how do you know Mu?”

The blonde lifted a hank of her hair away from her nape and fanned underneath it, the Corona dangling against her back, gripped in the curl of two fingers. “I don’t. I know Leah –“ she rolled her eyes at something absent, “—who isn’t even here like she was meant to be, and Leah knows Stella and Gavin and I guess Stella and Gavin know your brother – Mu, was it? – God, excuse me, I’m not normally this gross, I just can’t deal with close heat at all.” She let go of her hair, spread one hand and the bottle in a gesture of exasperation, raised her face to heavens, and said, “Why didn’t I get ice?”

Ping thought, I’m not offering you mine just so you can turn it down.

“Anyway,” said the blonde, “I don’t really know anyone I’m here with and I was starting to get bored, literally all they were talking about was this stupid Flickr-scraping app—“

“Futographr,” Ping blurted.

“That’s the one,” she said, pointing her lower two fingers and her Corona at Ping, before taking a swig.

A man in a lumberjack shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows and a colouring-book of tattoos on his forearms passed between them as if they weren’t having a conversation at all – which Ping felt they weren’t, not exactly – and by the time he’d squeezed on by to the bucket of ice and cans that was standing in for another bar, she could see Mu’s hair poking around the door to the roof.

Ping waved.

The blonde wandered away.

Mu said, “Oh thank God you’re here, I’ve just been trapped downstairs listening to Iain’s blow-by-blow account of how spiritually enriching it is to go and stare at poor people in Laos.” He held his hand over his eyes and peered into the sun. “Hey,” he added, “this is nice, this was a good idea.”

Ping looked at the last fragments of melted ice in her drink and said, “Yeah. Feels like you’re not in London at all,” without a single molecule of sincerity.

 

“How was last night?” John asked, stepping back from the hot water-tap but leaving his mug beside it as if to guard the queue from interlopers.

Ping puffed upwards into her fringe to unstick it from her forehead, both hands on her coffee cup. “Warm,” she said. “Who thinks it’s a good idea to have a roof terrace with no shade?”

“Aw, c’mon,” John laughed, pushing his cup under the hot-water tap. “The whole point of a roof-terrace is to enjoy the three minutes of sun we get a year.”

Ping pinched her t-shirt away from her breast-bone as if she was airing out curtains, and said, “Sun, yes, sweat, no.”

John said, “I have this idea for a cold-tub on the roof of one of those pubs. You just climb in a bucket of ice cubs and sit in it for as long as you can take.”

“Now that,” Ping said, whispering past the back of her hand, “sounds like a recipe for all kinds of problems with your – you know.”

 

At work drinks she found herself standing by John, who elaborated on his ice tank idea and even threatened to demonstrate with a glass of ice-cubes. “At least a cold drink,” he amended, when Ping made a face. “Strawberry cider, right?”

Ping shook her head, surprised. “Corona.”

“You normally have strawberry cider,” John said, with a level of certainty Ping found somewhat irritating.

She lifted the hair off the nape of her neck and fanned impatiently at the skin below, trying to speed up the process of recovering from a day in a sweaty office with only one working desk fan.

“No I don’t,” she said. “That’s a children’s drink.”

Ping grimaced, her mouth wide like a letterbox, and John shrugged and collected up a few more orders on the way to the bar. The pub was air-conditioned, and dark, and almost everyone else from the department had stepped outside to enjoy the evening sun.

“Ping,” John called, from the bar, and she turned with a jerky little dancer’s turn to give him her attention. “Are you sure it was Corona you wanted?”

She rolled her eyes to the dusty ceiling, and mouthed a silent prayer for strength. “Yes.”

 

“Nice shoes,” said a fat woman on the escalator, as Ping flopped on the handrail. There was a whole crocodile of neon tourists blocking both sides of the moving stairs, and ignoring, loudly and Frenchly, the repeated passive-aggressive coughing, tutting, and tannoy announcements regarding standing on the right that were aimed at them.

“Thanks,” said Ping, looking down at the sandals with their cut-out wing silhouette in the orange metallic leather. “I got them on the internet.”

 

John went home to his flatmates, two of whom were cats, and slumped into the groove on the sofa specifically worn for him, a one-cushion gap away from the groove in the sofa specifically worn for Peter, who was half-asleep in front of Total Wipeout in the evening heat.

“It’s like Satan’s arsehole out there,” Peter mumbled, unsticking his arm from the faux-leather cushions to reach for the remote. His eyes widened. “Why am I watching this?”

“Why are you watching this?” John asked, holding his shirt away from his chest to stop it sticking.

“Girl in the pink leotard thing is quite fit,” Peter suggested, changing the channel.

John rolled his eyes, and sank back into the sofa. “You saw two seconds of red hair.”

“Sometimes that’s all you need,” Peter countered, putting his feet on top of John’s discarded bag. “You look weird.”

“Thanks,” John muttered, blowing hair off his forehead. “You look like you’re being slow-roasted in your own sweat.”

Peter levered himself slowly off the sofa, with accompanying winces and twitches as his skin let go the fabric. “Drink?”

“Corona,” John said, vaguely watching the ident on the TV screen. It was new, and featured a group of women with prosthetic legs engaged in some sort of dance with huge fluttering banners. Peter stopped in the doorway to the kitchen.

Corona?” he repeated.

“Yeah?”

“Why would we have—“ Peter cut himself off, shrugged, and returned a moment later with a bottle of Heineken.

 

“You’re being unusually camp,” Bevis said, half-way through the next morning, when John was telling him about the latest deployment on the system and when it was due. “What’s that – that thing where you’re pretending to whisper to someone. Have you been watching Drag Race?”

John was momentarily bewildered by this; he searched the ceiling for some kind of cue as to what the hell Bevis was objecting to, and decided to ignore it altogether.

It wasn’t, after all, as if he’d done anything out of the ordinary.

 

Peter leaned over the bar and blew upwards into his own fringe. “Have you considered getting air-conditioning in here?”

The barmaid shrugged. “Chris has ‘considered’ it an unnecessary expense,” she said, bitterly, “because he doesn’t come in here unless he’s shitfaced himself. I’ll tell him the clientele are complaining, maybe that’ll do something.” She watched Peter hold his t-shirt away from his chest as if trying to keep it from contaminating his nipples, and said, “the usual?”

“Yeah.” Peter sighed. He wondered if there was somewhere online that did men’s sandals with wing cut-outs. He’d never had a pair of sandals before, but the weather was grim, and the idea of wearing flip-flops somehow didn’t appeal.

“Guinness, then,” the barmaid said.

“Corona,” Peter corrected, lifting his ponytail off the nap of his neck and fanning underneath.

“I thought you said the usual?”

“That is the usual,” Peter said.


For other short stories and novels look for me on Amazon.

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Writing Motivation Advice Chiefly For Myself

You’re allowed to sit in on this, but bear in mind that if anything doesn’t fit your situation it’s because I am shouting it at myself through a very long cardboard tube in the hopes that it sounds more authoritative when it comes out the other end.

Things you definitely have to do.

  • Write. You cannot slouch about the place calling yourself anything relating to “a writer” if you do not write anything.
  • Edit. Editing is part of writing. Firstly, that thing you wrote six months ago is full of dodgy bits where you decided that the correct phrasing didn’t matter and the important part was getting all the information down. It is now six or more months later and the correct phrasing does matter now, as does the fact that you’ve overloaded the scene with information and need to go and remove the stuff that isn’t pertinent. Yes, including the stuff you thought was good or interesting. If it’s not necessary it’s not staying.
  • Stop behaving as if “editing” doesn’t count as writing and therefore browbeating yourself for not doing “any” writing.
  • Research. You can’t confidently write about a place or time if you don’t actually know anything about it and are constantly worried that the whole course of your story is going to be thrown out by information you were too lazy to get hold of.
  • Stop putting off research on the grounds that you “need to concentrate properly”, you’re perfectly capable of absorbing information by osmosis and the more you get of it the more likely you are to retain it.

Things you do not have to do.

  • Seek other people’s approval for any ideas you have. While it would be lovely to pique someone’s interest, because being asked questions about an idea is a great way to get it into a reasonable and audience-friendly shape, there is also the factor of most people being self-centred idiots who simply do not have the concentration span to listen to your idea. Stop trying to sell them on it and go away and write the thing because you want to write it. Then think about your sales pitch.
  • Know exactly what you’re doing. Yes, it is easier to write a polished book if you have a very thorough outline. No that does not mean that you can just leave things forever because coming up with an outline is hard or you have an order for writing worked out. You can write to find out what you’re writing, too.
  • Readjust your idea to suit what people are talking about liking. You are writing it because you want to write it, therefore write what you want to write. Don’t write to please people who don’t have the same tastes as you, you’ll just end up resentful of them and resentful of the work you’re doing. This point in particular also stands to the acquaintance who nervously asked me what I thought of vampire novels: the fact that I mostly do not like them should under no circumstances prevent you from writing yours. You’re not writing it for me.

Things you definitely should not do.

  • Continually put things off because you feel they might not be perfect.
  • Write for people who aren’t into your core interest in the story (e.g. if you are completely smitten with Achilles-esque hubristic heroes in search of personal glory, 60ft tall ice monsters, and weird mole fetish sex, don’t feel that you suddenly have to cater to people whose principle areas of interest are small-town divorced mothers trying to maintain personal dignity, car crash recovery, and cancer statistics in mining towns).
  • Abandon editing something because it’s “clearly terrible and cannot be saved”.
  • Make blog posts instead of working.

More unhelpful writing advice can be found in How Not To Write By Someone Who Doesn’t.

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Describe “red” without using the word.

This post is a response to one which I shall not link to but which was in my opinion more saccharine and anodyne than the exercise warranted. 


Blood. It is blood. Fresh blood. The kind that comes
from your nose after it’s been kicked or punched or
filled with too much cocaine. Not the dirty old
leftovers of your womb, not the sad, sluggish,
suffocated stuff crawling in your veins back to the
lung for their fix of air. New blood. Clean blood.
Bursting with life and love blood, the spray of the
artery and the streak of the pin-pricked finger tip.
The knowledge that you have lived because you can
feel life leaving you. The blood of your winter-
branch capillaries: the blood that fades to pink in
the whites of your eyes. The blood in your mouth
when you kiss too hard but can’t stop. The blood on
the broken glass of mirror before it dries.
Haemoglobin. Oxygenated iron. An emulsion of
nutrients. The living oil of a machine too complex,
delicate, and astounding to be reproduced except
with mere animal fucking. The blood of a frightened
child’s first proper fall. Blood.

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Fiction Post: On an ordinary day in the saddest part of the year.

“Someone should write a book where the main character slowly falls in love with the reader.”

Taking this as inspiration, and I went somewhat awry. I think it would take someone a lot more literary than me to make a whole book of it.

On an ordinary day in the saddest part of the year – a time which varies depending on who is telling the story – I will find myself by the pond in the park. For me the saddest time of the year is also the coldest and darkest: the pond has calf-high loops of rigid wire in a fence around it as a nominal reminder that we must not stray into the ducks’ domain, and in winter they look like prison bars.

Everything else is beautiful, although it’s sad. You’d know if you were watching this. There are fern patterns in the ice on the windows of the closed-down green houses. The ice on the pond has black holes in it where the ducks congregate and quack like macaques in the hot springs of Japan. I would like to go to Japan.

All of the naked branches are clothed in frost and every person who passes is a dragon, or a sudden smoker, puffing out hot air with a little sigh that says they’re secretly delighted, still, with the miracle of breath made visible. My lungs are cold in spite of the coat.

The coat belonged to my mother. I tell all my friends it was inherited from my grandfather, which is true in the sense that he bought it from her, but it was my mother’s coat. The ones who know more about clothes look dubious but no one questions me. I know they gossip about it behind my back, but in the end I can take them to places they cannot otherwise access, so they will not subject me to the same friendly mocking they do each other.

Sometimes I wonder if this would be easier if I was a Catholic. My best friend is Catholic. He claims it makes no difference but I’ve seen him offer up confessions whenever we’re stuck in a toilet cubicle together. Small spaces and close company make him honest whether he wants it or not; I don’t think it’s the drugs.

He told me the important thing about the guilt you’re given is that there is a man in a special costume who takes all the guilt away at the end of the week. It’s like showering after a festival. All the dirt slides off you. God forgives you.

I think that’s why I’m telling you this. It’s easier to be honest with a stranger. I think if you could see this park you’d know why it makes me think of her. Everything is still, waiting for a chance to wake up but forgetting how to, like the world’s in a trance. The plants are hypnotised to near-death. My fingers are a colour they shouldn’t be.

And there are bars around the pond, decorated with icicles like no one told them Christmas has been and gone. They’re … symbolic, I think. They’re symbolic, aren’t they?

Issah (that’s my best friend), says the other thing a priest does is he leaves a silence for you to talk into. Tingting says the same thing about her therapist. But there’s such a thing as too much silence. I’d really like you to answer me. Some sort of sign that you already know what I’m telling you, and you’ve forgiven me. I don’t believe in God. And I don’t think anyone I know would be able to forgive me.

I watched a film. On my own, the day afterwards, because I couldn’t stand to … I didn’t want to be around anyone else then. It was already cold. I sat and watched it on my Macbook in this park until my fingers went numb. It was an old film, one where the black-and-white makes everything feel profound and you think that’s what the past must have been like, more profound. More important. The way the Seventies were just dampened colours and it’s easy to imagine the whole decade was faded and depressed.

It was called The Seventh Seal. I looked it up once I’d watched it, it was free with some promotion, because it was so old. It’s famous. I wasn’t really taking anything in, but I remember the line that they said:

“Faith is a torment. It is like loving someone who is out there in the darkness but never appears, no matter how loudly you call.”

I asked Issah about that and he told me to stop assuming he was an authority on religion when he didn’t even believe in God any more, and I said he still said things like God forgives you when you tell him the truth, and Issah said some habits are hard to break.

My head isn’t cold, because I put a hat on over a scarf. I look homeless. There are pigeons, and they’re loud and alive and even though their bodies are grey they seem colourful against the desaturation of frost.

A week after I asked him that Issah said that the reason it’s hard to let go of God even when you don’t really believe any more is God is the only thing that really has the authority to forgive you for everything. I thought he knew, then. I thought I was going to tell him. I thought he might take it with the dispassionate cast on his eyes that you have, and that I could absolve myself, and we would somehow still be friends afterwards. But the thing is Issah is here, and he can’t see the way you do, he sees things that aren’t the things I show him.

I don’t know if that’s better or worse. The grass has frost on it. Every blade is wearing a coat. Their coats are white and cold, and mine is brown and I had to pull off the lace from the collar. I watched my mother unpick stitches for years but when you come to do it yourself it’s different: my fingers and thumbs bled onto the fabric more times than I could count.

Once God forgives you, Issah said, that means you have to forgive yourself too. That’s like the flag, the signal: you have to forgive yourself now. After that you’re going against God, and self-recrimination is indulgence. He got that part from Tingting. Tingting got it from her therapist. Tingting’s therapist says: “After a point, you are simply feeling guilty for the sake of feeling guilty. You’ve decided to be penitent. It’s become your personality. You don’t want to be forgiven, you just keep on asking for forgiveness because you’re stuck there, stuck in this moment of horror at yourself. It becomes inflated until that moment is all of your moments.”

People walk at different speeds in this weather. The ones who are in pairs shuffle along together, trusting that company will keep them warm. The ones alone are brisk and certain, even when they’re lost. They have no lassitude: that’s for when you can feel the sweat slide between the fabric of your clothes and the skin of your back, not when your breath is white and hanging before you like a warning. You must out-pace your breath.

In one of our toilet cubicle confessions Issah told me. He was leaning on the wall with his forehead and he had just been sick. I dodged most of it. He said:

“When I was thirteen I punched my sister in the punani. Smack in the pussy. Pow. I don’t even remember what we were fighting about but she cried like I’d just tried to kill her.”

He looked at me with that distant clarity of being high, talked with that far-off inflection of wandering through a brain that feels like it’s working properly for the first time. All revelation and no deception.

“I kept thinking afterwards that I ought to feel bad about it but it just seemed really funny,” he says, in my mind, like a loop. “Do you ever get that, do you ever want to feel one thing because you know that’s what you ought to feel, but you just don’t, you feel something else, you feel the wrong thing?”

That was another time I thought he knew. But that time I didn’t think I’d tell him, because I’d made up my mind that it was between me and my conscience. My conscience is creaking like a table with too much piled on it.

I just wanted to thank you for listening. I was wrong about the silence. You’re not judging me, I can see that now. Why would you? You’ll close the book and read another and there will be worse people. I’m not so self-indulgent that I think other people don’t do and think worse things.

And you’re not here, so you’re not seeing my skin lifted up to reveal an ugly streak of maggots underneath. And you don’t know me, so I’m not going to spoil anything for you. You take me as I am. Thank you.

I know you’re impatient. I don’t even know if I’m the main character in this story. I think Issah probably is, or Tingting, or Colin. Probably Colin. Colin’s white. You don’t get many stories like this one, and I think mine’s already finished. So it’s probably really a story about Colin, because he travels around the world and meets people and saves lives, and he always has stories. He is a story full of stories. So thank you again for listening to me, because I only have this one, this one story and the good graces of some swanky nightclubs.

Well, I’m thinking about what Issah said, here in the park, in the cold, with my back to the river that hasn’t frozen and my face to the pond that has. I could turn around and face the river: that would be symbolic too. Guilt is self-indulgence; sometimes someone else has to tell you that you can forgive yourself now; do you ever feel the wrong thing?

Something small with feathers shakes off the ice from the twigs over the bench when it flies off. This is where it becomes too complicated for bathroom stalls and cocaine to really understand. I don’t feel guilty about the thing, I feel guilty about the feeling, I feel guilty because I don’t feel guilty, and how twisted is that?

It’s easy for you, I bet. You seem a compassionate sort. You haven’t closed the book. You’re waiting to hear what it is. You’ll be disappointed when I tell you it’s not a murder or a rape or even one of those disputed places where someone doesn’t want a baby and takes it away, or has too much to drink and can’t remember anything except a girl crying.

I could be lying about that. Maybe I want to impress you. You seem nice. My friends aren’t nice. They’re clever and they’re stylish and everyone wants to be like them, and Issah knows how to say the right things and Tingting works her therapy angle like it’s a mirror, and Colin is polishing his halo and using it like a lasso to snare girls, I’ve seen him do it.

But they’re not nice. Not like you. You picked this up and you’re listening to me. I bet you’d give me some gloves or a cup of coffee. You might even try to hustle me into the nearest café: you might just sit with me in the cold. I guess in a way you’re sitting with me in the cold right now, and I would never say this to any of my friends because they’d snigger at me but that thought makes it a little less cold.

Have you ever felt the wrong thing? I meant to take good care of her clothes and deliver them to her but I didn’t, I just put them in a charity box, except for the coat. They asked me if someone had died. I lied and said she had. I don’t know why I lied to them then, but I know now: it’s easy, everyone knows what to do when someone’s dead. You feel sad and you cry and you move on and you throw their things away and you leave flowers by their gravestone.

I have nothing to feed the pigeons and they are going to leave me soon. Are you going to leave too?

You’re not.

If this was a toilet cubicle and we were doing MDMA crystal and I’d come up I’d say to you, I just feel so guilty that I handed her over to them like that without trying harder, because that is the kind of shit that everyone says when we’re fucked up. Emotions we don’t feel but that we know we’re supposed to feel come on us like a revelation and I suppose that’s why I go out with Issah and Tingting and all of these people whose names don’t matter. It’s only when you’re under the right conditions that you can trick yourself into believing you have the right feelings.

I don’t feel guilty about handing her over. I didn’t feel guilty about picking up the phone and calling them to my house. I don’t feel guilty about wearing her coat after I did that to her. And I know I should, but I don’t.

Instead I just feel guilty that I don’t feel any guilt at all, and it’s so much easier to say this to you. I think it’s because I can’t see your face. I don’t know if you’re a man or a woman or a bearded lady from a freakshow or a drag queen or an elephant that learned to read, even. It doesn’t matter that this isn’t my story and you’re just reading through this conscientiously to get to the interesting part with Colin paragliding or whatever the story is really about. Honestly now, and you know I’m telling you the truth because I’m not in a bathroom stall riding on a crystalline wave of fake truths and pretend feelings with you: I love you for this.

So now you know that for the time it takes for me to tell you this, I love you: can you hang on a bit longer and listen? I haven’t said this to anyone. I’m not going to say it again.

I was relieved.

It was like someone had picked up the whole of her weight out of my arms when I picked up the phone. Every word I said, every time they agreed with me, I felt myself getting lighter and lighter. When they told me a date and a time it was dancing there like the cautious flames of a fire. When I was ten I used to light fires in my bedroom. That’s one of the toilet cubicle confessions I gave Issah. That one at least was true.

You could have burned the house down with the heat of my relief when they came to take her to the hospital. I didn’t feel guilty. You’re supposed to feel guilty and filled with self-hatred and all I could think while she screamed at them and bit them and begged me under three different names – none of them mine – to make it stop, was:

I don’t even know who you are. Just go. Just get the fuck out. Please go.

I haven’t visited. That’s the other thing: if I told anyone about the guilt they’d think I felt guilty about sending her and they’d understand why I don’t visit. The fact is, as deceptive as the black ice on the path over there that’s claimed three couples already, I’m not withholding my affection. I just don’t have any left. I don’t know who she became. I don’t know what happened. I just know that one day it was easier to have her put away somewhere away from me than it was to keep answering her.

And I didn’t feel guilty. And I don’t feel guilty except I think I might be defective. As a person.

And then I think about Issah punching his sister in the cunt and how he just thought it was funny. Or how Tingting’s written a song about the rape that got her that therapist and she calls it “My Asshole Got Busted Now I Get Free Attention” when we’re high. It’s so ugly, like Colin’s girl-getting halo and the shaving scar he claims is from a machete. We’re probably all defective as people.

Are you a defective person too? Is there this one thing that you did, ten things that you did, a hundred things that you did that can drive you out into the freezing cold in the park to watch the sun go down ten minutes after it’s risen? Did you punch your sister in the cunt or have your mother sectioned, did you lie, did you cheat, did you steal? Have you thrown up on your best friend’s shoes, waiting for the rush of honest emotions to beat down all the lies in your mouth, only to realise half-way through the next week that the honesty is the lies you’re telling when you’re sober?

Would you even be able to love me back?


© Delilah Des Anges 2012: for more fiction & poetry, try either my lulu store or searching for my name on Amazon.

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Stop Pretending Art Is Hard

I’ve had an eventful few days which have involved, as a friend poetically put it, “sailing on the tequila river” (I also apparently refused to kick Madonna in the teeth, which I have no memory of but which I stand by even if my sober rationale is a little less profoundly confusing). They also involved dumping myself and my friend on the carpet at my flat so that we could, in her words, “listen to all the sad music in the world, drink cider, and cry”. I am thirty.

In an attempt to reinstate the mood somewhere north of suicidal, my friend (a Finnish scientist/engineer/all round genius, and one of the nicest and most enthusiastically nerdy people you could hope to meet) introduced me to Amanda Palmer’s Ukulele Anthem which I’d never listened to all the way through before.

Aside from being very effective at making us both stop sobbing pathetically into an Ikea rug, because it is very upbeat and catchy and funny, this song did a good number in reminding me that I want to talk about Art. Not the way I’ve been talking about Art in that I Swear I’ll Finish It Eventually 100 Things blog post series, but from the perspective of making art happen.

I do a  lot of furtling around with various things because I am not blessed with an enormous attention span and the world is so full of interest things I want to try my hand at that I will die not having attempted most of them: some of them, like music, I am very bad at. I cannot play a single instrument despite valiant attempts at the bass guitar and piano; my singing is enthusiastic rather than melodious. I still occasionally launch myself at a number of music-creation programs in order to do something discordant and horrifying. I’m no good at it, but I enjoy the process of making it, and I enjoy the fact that at the end, though I haven’t got a perfect piece of work I can show someone, I have made a thing where there was no thing before. Even if everyone wishes I hadn’t made that thing.

Doing things because you enjoy doing them, if you do it for long enough, makes you better at them. This is especially true if you get bored of doing them to the same level and want to make them better or bigger or different, and start looking for how other people do those things, so that you can take away what you need of how they do them. Not everything other people do to make themselves better at the thing you do will help, sometimes the way they do it won’t be the way you do it.

Because there are a lot of tutorial posts on the internet to help people improve at their chosen craft it becomes hard to separate “I do this thing because I enjoy it” from “a lot of work goes into a discipline before someone can become really good at it”; there’s confusion, and people become angry being told “you must practice every day and try out every single way of learning how to be better at this in order to be perfect” when they really just want to make lopsided but satisfying clay models of their favourite My Little Pony characters.

Surprisingly for, well, anything, a lot of truisms about creation are actually uttered on the internet:

  • You have to practice a lot at shit to be good at it. A lot. Like almost every single day. For a really long time.
  • If you’re going to spend that much time working on something it should be something you enjoy. Do it because you love it and it makes you happy overall, not because you think you should become good at it.
  • Sucking at something is the first step to getting good at it.
  • You do not have to be perfect.
  • The methods that work for some people may not work for you; it is up to you to try them out until you find the things that work and occasionally after that keep trying new things. Just in case.

The things that get lost in the struggle to get people to accept one important fact are often important themselves.

Art is not hard, and you can and should do things you are bad at because you enjoy them, not to become good at them.

Being good at art is fucking hard, and takes a really long time. But if you love it, the fact that it’s fucking hard won’t put you off.

For my own part, music falls under “I like making it but don’t care to become good at it”, visual arts come under “I know ways of getting the results I want but rarely enjoy it, so I never practice enough to become good”, jewellery comes under “I am better at it than I was and I enjoy making it so I keep getting better”, and writing is “I have been doing this for a very long time because I enjoy it, I want to get better at it, and the fact that I love it and want to get better at it means that I don’t find trying to get better such a hardship”.  There are people for whom everything is “I love it and want to be brilliant at it” and there are people for whom everything is “it’s fun but I don’t care if I’m never any good”.

And that’s the third point:

Both are okay.

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June Links Post

Things my friends have done:

  • Textile print designer Fiona Hogarth put on her final graduation show this month, and I nipped down to Winchester to see it.  As well as being able to check out all the finished work I’d seen progress shots of (and loaned my boyfriend to be a model for), I also had the opportunity to see what the graduands of the college were presenting to the world. One artist I particularly liked the work of and whose business/post cards were readily available was one T. Radclyffe.

Things strangers have done:

  • Written an intriguing argument on the subject of why Strong Female Characters in fiction are actually harmful to perceptions of women.
  • Produced a very elegant infographic on different types of rhetorical fallacy.
  • Codified the 22 rules of storytelling, according to a storyboarder at Pixar.
  • Explained the concept of the Male Gaze for techie audiences.
  • Created a free program for writers that analyses how often you use particular turns of phrase. I can see this being quite useful for anyone who is trying to avoid over-reliance on clichés, but there are some forms of writing in which repetition is considered a part of the experience (writing for young children, for example).
  • Chronicled how the naming of colours has potentially alerted our ability to see/perceive them.
  • Ursula le Guin has put forward a hypothesis concerning what is and isn’t “literature”, which may also help to explain for any budding “genre fiction” writers why they may have been rejected from some MA Creative Writing courses: it really is a case of it’s not you, it’s them, so feel a little better about yourselves!
  • Written a witty and heartfelt guide to dealing with bad reviews.

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National Poetry Month: Day 30

I carry my wounds like an aphid carries her children

Perhaps all these days
laid end to end
form a map of the heart
that lived them;
perhaps all these mornings
overlaid upon each other
form a topography
of the landscape inside
the mind that woke in them.
certain, however, that
in the drooping of the day
there is no poem,
only a falling curtain.

— Delilah Des Anges


There has been this month very little emphasis on meter, and that is because despite a number of poetry courses I have never really been able to get to grips with it much outside of a partially-intuitive de-DUM-de-DUM when attempting iambic prose or the like. Trochees, spondees and so on are far, far beyond my remit.

The closest I have been able to get to understanding how the devil one is supposed to make sense of meter, and indeed a book I would recommend in general for furthering your understanding of poetry and your own skills of prosody, was How Poetry Works by Phil Roberts. In recommending one book on poetry analysis and writing which works very well for me I should I suspect also recommend a book which does not work for me at all but which is very popular and has a chatty, down-to-earth approach to helping you write your own poems, Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled.

For a continuation of this month’s activities by greater minds than mine (not hard to find), in the short analysis of poems or poetic genres accompanying anthologies of poems, one cannot go far wrong with Staying Alive, edited by Neil Astley and published by Bloodaxe Books, or Axed Between The Ears edited by David Kitchen and published by Heinemann. 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem, edited & commentated by Ruth Padel is, as one might expect, also a good way to continue learning about poetry and poetry analysis.


Have you enjoyed the poetry this month? The mini-essays? Are you merely grateful that it’s all over? Whichever, why not take a little pocket change – or a lot! – and donate to MSF.

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