Archive for September, 2017

  • The Complexity of Influence

    This is an essay about imperfect memory, creativity, and unintentional plagiarism. It is followed by a poem that relies heavily on intentional plagiarism.

    In Ray Bradbury’s book-burning dystopia, the only way to save books from the firemen is for people to memorise them. Once they have committed each book to memory they become that book:

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  • Madam Felicity

    Madam Felicity was everything Eddie had wanted a psychic to be. She was olive-skinned, somewhere between sixty and two-hundred years’ old; her eyeliner was caked-on thick with little dramatic ticks on the outsides; and she wore a medley of clothing borrowed from pretty much every religion Eddie knew of, including a massive purple turban that created the illusion that her cranium bulged up to fill the space underneath – a huge brain to conjure and harness such awesome psychic powers.

    ‘Come on, Edward,’ she said and her voice was heavily accented, but hard to place.

    ‘How’d you know my name?’ said Eddie.

    ‘Because I’m psychic, dear. And because you called yesterday to make the appointment.’

     They both laughed and Madam Felicity’s generous smile lingered on after they’d stopped laughing.  What had Eddie been so worried about? She looked nice. This was going to be okay. And anyway, no one’s properly psychic.

    ‘Ah,’ she said. ‘I see we have a sceptic. This is fine by me. I am not offended. Your money is good whether you believe me or not.’

    ‘Yeah. I guess I don’t really believe in this sort of stuff. Sorry.’

    ‘Nonsense. Nothing to apologise for.’ There was that warm smile again, and she touched his hand in reassurance. ‘Oh,’ she said, pulling her hand away like it was a scalding hot cup of tea, ‘there’s plenty of juice coming off you, boy. But we’ll get to that. Let’s ease in with a tarot reading; how does that sound?

    ‘Yeah. Sure. That’d be fine.’

    Eddie picked at the dry skin on his palm and tried not to think about Ruth. There was no such thing as psychic powers, but he still didn’t want to make it too easy for her.

    Madam Felicity took out the deck of cards and shuffled it lengthways, which Eddie had never seen before. She shuffled slowly, deftly, calmly, and there was a rhythm, a motion, that lulled him for a moment.

    She flipped the first card: a stylish crescent moon with The Moon written beneath it.

    ‘Hmmm,’ she said, and she sighed. ‘You poor soul.’

    She flipped over the next card: a young man holding a stick with a little dog alongside him and The Fool written underneath.

    ‘Ah, dear,’ she said, and she cried a little and wiped her eyes with her sleeve, smudging her eyeliner.

    She flipped over the next card: an angel with a horn and a flag with naked people beneath him and the word Judgement written underneath.

    She gasped and looked up at him, tears falling freely now. None of his friends, his counsellor, or his mum had looked at him with such gentle pity. Her soft eyes, muddied with tears and mascara, were too much for him to take.

    She moved around to his side of the table and held him for a while. He let her. It was impossible to tell how long he sat there in her arms.

    ‘I don’t know how you managed to leave the house, let alone come here,’ she said, when her breathing calmed a little – although there was still a faint shudder in her voice. ‘It’s so hard to sustain such intense feeling without shattering into pieces. But it’s also kind of beautiful.’

    ‘Yeah,’ said Eddie.

    ‘But remember,’ she said, leaning back to look at him, to smile for him, ‘it’s okay to close your ribcage if you can’t take it anymore.’



  • The Kernel

    You shut your eyes to the present sometimes, when it is unbearable, when you hope you’re so tired that you will sleep for a year, or more. Then you let the milky past fall across your mind. Look. There are the memories you can see and the ones you want to see—what you know and what you’ve been told to know.

    And there, at the end of your past, your beginning, it’s your first memory—the one you sometimes test to see if you still have it. It’s still there. Can you see it? The kernel of you.



  • Furious Gadgetry

    And there is a movement, staccato, unstillness, right in the heart of him. His real heart (the pump) but also his metaphorical heart, his poet’s cliché. And really these hearts are the same, and they synchronise their movements — their movement — which has a certain kind of speed. The speed is whirring — whirring like some dreadful gadget that can never stop — not even when he’s happy — not even when nothing else in his world is moving with speed and more speed and furious gadgetry that spins and gyrates as if Vitruvian.

    And isn’t that a laugh? (Vitruvian). As though there was any beauty or artistry to this unstill quickening in his chest. A heart that beats and remembers and remembers by beating. A heart that never beats the memories that fuel the speed that seems Vitruvian.And couldn’t he just deny it? (This speed). He could pretend there was no gadget and no fuel to fuel it. He could perhaps forget the words that spin and move and

    And couldn’t he just deny it? (This speed). He could pretend there was no gadget and no fuel to fuel it. He could perhaps forget the words that spin and move and unstill his chest. The old words: me me me me — her her her — softly softly — again. The old words that hit the pillow most nights when he is awake enough to think and spin and whir and spin Vitruvian. 

    And isn’t there a limit? (Heartbeats). Isn’t he pissing away his eighties and seventies (even sixties?), panicking his heart away, beat by beat, night by night? Isn’t this the past stealing the future? A future that could be fine (should be fine): slow, steady, slowly steady. A future that could hit the pillow at night, smiling, smiling. It could try not to rush to sleep each night—failing each night. A future without me me me me — her her her — softly softly — again again.


  • Soft Tissue

    It has been long enough since I last saw her that all the small stuff – the soft memories – are basically gone. There are just the big details left, and they’re so generic they could belong to anyone.

    When bodies decompose, the soft tissue goes first – the skin, the muscles, the lips, the eyes.       There are just the bones left, and bones are so generic they could belong to anyone.



  • How to Come Up with Story Ideas

    Some light bulbs

    People regularly ask me where I get my story ideas from. I think some people are just showing polite interest, but some people genuinely want to know. Most writers I talk to have no idea where they get their ideas from and there’s a good chance that they each get different ideas from different places. But I’ve been giving this subject a lot of thought over the last few years, and I think I have something to say.  I will be talking about story ideas, but I also think that this blog post could be relevant to anyone trying to make things.

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