Archive for April, 2017

  • Beating Writer’s Block: Writing a load of shite again

    I haven’t written much over the last eight months. I’ve been depressed and anxious and my creative mojo has been at an all-time low. During my Masters course last year, I often fantasised about all the writing I’d do once the course was over and my free time was free again.
    Instead, I’ve written perhaps one short story that isn’t bad, and a few others that definitely are bad. And my stagnating output has made my mood worse – it’s made me feel guilty and directionless. Don’t worry, I don’t want to write a blog post about my most recent season of depression and anxiety. That would be terribly boring to read. Instead, I’d like to talk about something I’ve realised that just might get me out of this slump: taking myself less seriously and writing a load of shite again. Bear with me and maybe this blog post will help you get over your creative slump too.

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  • The Figure

     

    The darkness of the room presses down on your guests, depressing their postures, causing the many whispering candles on the table to shake and shudder under its weight.

                You’re close to the guests, but not part of them. You’re a shimmering reflection of the candles and it’s as though you have a light source all of your own. You wait until the guests are completely quiet before you begin.

                ‘There’s a figure who follows me,’ you say, your voice strong but quiet enough that those furthest away have to lean in to hear you. ‘I first noticed him when I was five or six years old.  I say him instead of it because I have always had a sense that the figure was a man — that he looked at me the way a man might look at the young girl I used to be and the woman I’ve become.’

                As if to prove your womanhood, you take out a cigarette from the packet and place it to your lips. The snap of the lighter is loud and the tip of your cigarette sizzles brightly, casting shadows across your soft features.

                ‘He would watch me in dark rooms. I couldn’t see him, but I could feel his gaze. Sometimes I felt like prey, like a deer sitting exposed in the opening of a dark wood. Sometimes I felt naked, in a spotlight, his eyes working over me.

                ‘Once, when my mother made me sleep over at my cousin’s house, I thought I saw his feet and ankles below the long curtains of her bedroom. It was as though he was standing behind it, waiting for his moment. I screamed and scared my cousin half to death. She turned on the big light and his feet were gone. But an afterimage was burned into my eyes and I can still remember the worn black leather of his boots and the draping of a cloak on either side.’

                You pause here, feeling everyone’s eyes fixed on you, your face, your body. You are used to this sensation — of being watched — but you are still not immune to it. Even after all these years.

                ‘After that night,’ you say, ‘I began to see him everywhere — or parts of him, at least. Once, I saw a hand; his fingers were curled around the edge of my door when it creaked open in the night. I felt him there, in the room: a sort of heat, a stare, weak, hungry, hard. And all I could do against such a presence was wrap myself in blankets so that he could not see a single inch of me. He waited there all night, just beyond the blankets. Then, when light started peeking through my blanket, I knew he was gone — for a while, at least.

                ‘One autumn evening, when I was playing in the street with my friend, I looked up at my bedroom window to see a man’s face, malignant and laughing, staring down at me. I turned to my friend and asked her if she could see him, but when I pointed to my window he was gone.’

                You take one last drag from your cigarette and put it out in the ashtray. Some of the guests are smiling; they are thrilled by your story. Others are not smiling, and their breathing is fast and deep. My breathing is faster too. I’ve watched you tell this story a few times over the last few weeks, but I’m excited tonight.

                ‘I visited a medium when I was fifteen,’ you say. ‘I was tired of feeling scared, but mostly I was tired of never feeling alone. And I was growing into a woman then, and the figure’s stare felt different than before. Charged. Shivering. Breathless. The medium wasn’t the old-gypsy-woman cliché I’d been expecting. She was tall, wore very fine jewellery, and she spoke with the kind of accent you can only acquire from an expensive education. A few people were there for the séance that night, and she lit several candles and set them on the table — a little like we have tonight. She made us all hold hands like they always do in films and she said a lot about lost family members and about how they wanted their loved ones to move on. But when she got to me, she looked above my head and gasped. She looked away and closed her eyes. “No. No. No,” she said, “I don’t see you. You’re not there.” Then she leaned forwards and blew out the candles and stumbled her way to the light switch in the dark and turned it on, dazzling all of us for a few seconds. She looked over at me, or rather to the space above my head, and sighed, relieved. The other guests were distressed and some of them ran from the room. Others tried to save face by walking out slowly. But all of them left. Then it was just me and the medium.

    ‘I asked her what she saw. “I saw nothing, dear,” she lied. “I’m sorry if I frightened you, but I saw nothing at all and I’m tired and I must ask you to leave.”

    ‘I was scared — of course I was — but I was also angry that this woman could lie to my face. “I don’t know why you can’t tell me the truth,” I said to her, “but this figure has been following me since I was a little girl and I need your help.” The hardness in her expression softened then and she smiled. It was a strange thing to see her smile so suddenly. “I saw nothing,” she said again. “I saw nothing and no one here should think otherwise. But I’ll tell you a story that might interest you, just because the rest have gone and because you paid me upfront. There are spirits all around us. And most are harmless. Some, however, are not. Some of them have forgotten everything about who they once were. They are dark things, more volition and instinct than consciousness, and they follow those of us who shine a little brighter than the others. Once they find the object of their desire they watch them every moment of every day, and they try desperately to be seen in return. They can only reveal themselves in small amounts — a foot, a hand, a face — before they are gone again, unseen again. But this is how they gain momentum, how they build themselves up into something more. Any acknowledgement you give them feeds them, making them more than they were. Any thought you dedicate to them brings them closer to the moment when they can finally touch you. But this is also the only way to see them, to finally face them, to fight back, to look back and tell them that you see them too. Some of these figures can even be vanquished.

    “However, I think it is always best to ignore their gaze, to laugh and smile and talk about how you have not seen them. It is a waiting game, and if you are vigilant enough, you can ignore them until you are old or perhaps even longer.”’

    You stop and look around your guests again, your eyes counting them. Your eyes almost shine in the candlelight and your breasts swell and sink with your quickening breaths. Are you excited? Scared? Angry?

    ‘The medium wanted me to take her advice and ignore the figure,’ you say. ‘And I did as she suggested for a few years, but it’s exhausting to always pretend he isn’t here, that he isn’t gazing at me with such wicked desire. So a few weeks ago I put an advertisement in the paper offering to pay people to come to my house and listen to this story. And this is why you are all here tonight. I tell all of you this story because it gives him substance, and I’ll be able to see him soon — I can feel it. I want to look him right in his eyes before he comes at me. And maybe I’ll win. I almost don’t care anymore; I just want it to be over. I’d rather bring him out and face him than pretend every moment for the rest of my life. Now I ask him to show himself to me. Whatever he has planned for me it could not be as bad as the waiting and the dread of waiting. Perhaps, tonight will be the night.’

    You look around at your guests, gazing into their eyes, focusing on their features, looking for a face that is both laughing and malignant. Perhaps you’ll see me this time. If not tonight, then soon. I can wait.