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Flashfiction: A murder of cows….

I found this in an old file, I wrote it last year at an Arvon course. Enjoy!

Tires squealed and a large engine growled with sharp acceleration. Ignoring a large sign proclaiming ‘Keep Out’, Gemma stomped across the verge and jumped over the gate straight into a large puddle of cowshit. She swore as it splashed her Russell and Bromley leather boots, much more used to striding through London than this remote part of Cumbria. A splash of cold stung her thin legs through her skinny jeans. He had chosen this hotel, near to where he grew up. She did not know why, it was wild and gloomy, miles away from civilisation.

The wind lashed her long brown hair against her set face. The sky was blotchy grey, threatening rain at any moment. Despite the damage done to butter soft leather and designer denim, Gemma set off across the brown green field.

Cows sullenly watched her attack the springy beige grass and sink into the secret patches of muddy swamp that littered their windswept home. Her cashmere jumper was itchy against her skin, and she impatiently pulled up the sleeves of her clean Barbour jacket to scratch her wrists.

It was going to be a long walk to the hotel in this clammy pale imitation of a morning. She could see the battlements of the great house through the trees merely two miles and one valley away. She strode towards it, at least she would have a large g and t when she got in. And she had a phone call to make. A very important phone call that would prove extremely embarrassing for that smug bastard.

She smiled grimly and picked up her pace. Should she start with the kinky sex? Or the lies about the missed dinners and weekends, dance recitals and football matches. Once she knew he had been late for his anniversary celebration. She had made sure that he would not want to get undressed for his wife that night, not after she had marked him with her nails and teeth.

She heard stomping and snorting, but in her anticipation of the grenade she would detonate in the bastard’s life it was background fuzz and no more. She moved quickly over the ground, getting a bit better about spotting some of the more boggy bits, although her boots would be ruined. She would get a new pair with the money from the journalists. Two new pairs.

Something made her glance backward. Was it the crackle of the bracken? She jumped. There were more cows that she thought, in a curious herd behind her, merely feet away.

They seemed bigger close up. She stumbled against a tuft of grass, jogged a step to keep upright. The lead cows – or were they bulls? Surely they were too big for cows – fell into a lumbering trot.

Her breath started to come in shallow little puffs in the grey fog. She broke into a run. The lumbering behind her became a rumble of feet. Truly panicking now, Gemma sprinted towards the fence. She scrambled over the tufts of spiky grass, stumbled into shallow ditches. She could hear the cow’s laboured breath. Was that the puffs of warm cuddy air against her hair.

She ran though ground that sucked and clawed at her boots. Her boot sank, nearly to her knee, and she fell face first into cold stinking swamp. She struggled but her thrashing seemed to sink her deeper into the icy wet mud. Her boots and legs disappeared, and she tried to swim, as the weight of the Cumbrian ground settled onto her chest.

The cows, calm now, watched the interloper gasp into one of the many spot of quick-sand like mud in their large brown green field.

The man watched the placid animals for a while from the penthouse window of the castle-like hotel. He smiled slightly, phone in hand, as he pressed dial, his wife’s number already punched in.

“Good news, darling. The conference ended early, so I will be home tonight for that special dinner after all.”


Useful words of advice from Film Crit Hulk…

So, last week I thought a lot about structure. About plot, and character, and action and what made a thriller work, what made fighting set pieces interesting. The answers I came to were obvious (character drives plot, characterisation makes you care about the cool action scenes, you can’t cheat on the character stuff). I read a lot about screen plays mainly from Film Crit Hulk, who is thoughtful and insightful. If you ignore the all caps.

Useful links: (and two, natch)


But his back catalogue is also useful – a lot about why films work and why they DON’T work. Interesting stuff.

You may note i haven’t updated any more. This is because it actually just stresses me out, so that experiment did not work.

Thoughts on writing no. 3001. The goal keeps shifting. Hope I keep up.

My novel is not where I thought it was. What my initial read through had thought was a missing chapter full of bits turns out to be where I broke the novel. Cry.

The first 11 chapters work (ish) there are a few scenes that need inserting, or smoothing, a few details that need to come up. The last 11 chapters work. They work on wheels, each leads to the next, there is plot and fun and character and it seems to flow (although I need to polish and smooth and reshape some of it). Last year I had trouble with a chapter, (chapter 12 as it happens) and plonked in a linking chapter and got on with the bit I thought was fun. This not only needs tweaking, however. I think I need a new chunk of novel. I have words to play with (its not already a doorstop or anything) so I have a bit in the middle to rethink. While this is scary, and disappointing (I have a mental timeline of how long it takes to write a novel – I am already over that deadline) I am much less stressed. Because now I have a problem I know how to tackle rather than Just Being A Terrible Writer. So onward.

26 days of work is continuing. Just what the end point is has shifted.

Keeping some sort of public record here is useful to me. It changes the nature of this blog, however. I understand if no one wishes to read going on!

updates… not a good start…

I have found myself waffling. There are life reasons – there always are – but the in story reason is that I know what needs to go into a chapter, they are necessary scenes for the plot and more importantly, the characters, but I do not know how they should go, and each is neither connected to the others or long enough to be a chapter. The obvious solution is now staring me in the face – write the scenes and leave the structure until afterwards, when I can see them in the novel.

This has taken me a day and a half.

I am a moron.

I dithered even about writing this post, but I need some accountability for this thing to help with the brain weasels, and so up it goes, a testament to idiocy.

On the other hand I need a damn name. If anyone has a name for a regency fantasy that involves an attempted take over of the british empire by demons, and the thwarting of this by a young girl who has a sarcastic demon in her head then I’m all ears. Oh, and an unstated critique of aforesaid british empire, that becomes pretty overt by the end.

Novel of doom – the last hurdle.

I am publicly committing to a 26 countdown of doom to finishing of novel and sending first chapters to agents. It has gone from a joy, to a slog, to a joy, to a nervous panic. As I get closer to ready, the curse of fear and desire for perfection is haunting me more and more, and Getting In The Way. This is exacerbated by need for a sharp analytic eye for editing and rewriting – but one that still lets in creativity and joy, lest I curl up sobbing into a corner. The tiny voice repeating ‘this is it? nearly 18months of solid work? this thing? Its not very good is it?’ needs to shut up and let me make it better.

One way of doing this is making the jump smaller. A clear plan with small goals each week is less terrifying for me. So I have set a challenging but doable schedule, a clear(ish) month, and will type like the wind, my friend. With daily updates (Monday to Friday) on this blog to keep myself accountable. Feel free to chastise me or cheer me on in comments, both are necessary.


The internet, an indulgence

She types into the screaming void. A thousand teeth without mouths tear at her words. They float away into the dark in tiny pieces. A fraction of a ‘g’ slices through the vacuum, bouncing off the edge of a ‘b’; the letters swirl in an endless brownium motion. She abandons her children into the cold, and does it repeatedly. There should be a law.

Writing novels turns out to be difficult….

I haven’t posted in a while… hello the screaming void.

Let me tell you why…

…writing novels appears to be surprisingly difficult. And it doesn’t actually get easier. From my now vast experience of nearly having a whole novel that I will nearly be submitting to agents that I expect are panting with expectation, writing a novel is:

1. Hard. There are only twenty-six letters in the English language. Your job is to arrange them into pretty patterns. And yet.

2. Soul destroying. You lay out everything you are in black and white, and its not really enough, even for a light hearted young adult fantasy adventure.

3. Technical. I have an MA in creative writing. I have read a lot of novels. This should translate, right? Wrong. I spent two months writing a chapter that was both boring and pointless. It felt cleaner after the cut. But also it hurt.

4. Lonely. People don’t understand what you are doing and why it’s hard. You just type, right? In a comfortable room away from annoying people or heavy machinery. You are outstanding lucky to be creating art. So you look like a dick when you complain. But its lonely, and people look at you funny when you explain how your imaginary people are giving you trouble.

5. Unpleasant. I actually don’t really like writing. I like having written, I like thinking about stories, I like planning. I hate actually arranging the twenty-six letters in a pattern that manages to convey the complex worlds, people and things I have in my head to another person in a way that makes sense, and preferably is pretty.

6. I said hard, right? I am painfully aware of the amount of work I need to do in order to be a competent or good writer. I am at the bottom of a mountain. I hope when I finish this thing I will have scaled a small hillock of the foothills. One day, in ten or twenty years maybe I will be able to call myself a writer and not feel like an embarrassed lying liar.

Now I can see the end, new fears keep popping up. Other people will soon see the thing (first nice friendly other people like my Mum, and my writing friends, then scary people like agents) and they will judge me and find me wanting – even if they really like the book! And then there is the fact that Elizabeth, my main character, and Himself (her demon who lives in her brain and is helpfully sarcastic)  now are part of me. And I will be sad to see them go.