Write Now :: The Book of Shame

I don’t know how other writers deal with rejection, except that it is something that anyone who writes will encounter the moment they throw themselves into competition. It is the inevitable consequence of attempting to be noticed, belief that one is only worthy when a total stranger decides your writing deserving of a wider audience. The problem, of course, is picking up confidence after failure, then carrying on.

I’m not sure if this is novel or not, but rejection here is dealt with via the Book of Shame.

Ever since I started entering contests in 2017, this is where the stuff is remembered: a copy of my poetry printed out, then stuck in place, with accompanying notes to remind what inspired the pieces, and what was learnt from them. The idea is to try and evolve after each piece or group of poems, alter approach and style to better mach the increasing amount of poetry that is being read, and then finally to transcend the feelings of failure. Shame, in this case, is not a bad emotion. It is the understanding that from failure comes progress, and to recall how that took place is as important as the poetry itself.

It’s easy to print the collections in a tiny format on my shonky printer: four poems to a page of A4 and then they’re cut up and stapled together. One of these two will now have four poems added for a second hit at a pamphlet submission, because I honestly think it is good enough. This is the first time that’s happened, and hopefully not the last. It will only get easier if I do more work, after all, and my workload/schedule is beginning to bear fruit in that regard. Who knew that if you keep writing, things get better?

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In the unlikely event I do hit the jackpot, its where I’ll have lots of lovely background stuff to pull from as what inspired me to write in the first place. Whatever happens, it has become a way of celebrating progress and not allowing failure to consume me.

This Book of Shame is one of the most important things I’ve ever made.

July Short Story :: The Last Post

This story was first published in 31 parts via Twitter during July. It is now reproduced now in a complete form, with a number of small edits and corrections made to improve narrative flow and maintain correct continuity.

Enjoy.


The Last Post

Lying in bed, it occurs to me that I’ve not seen Elizabeth post for a while. In fact, it must have been at least a month, maybe more, since her avatar was registered in my timeline. In darkness, with only phone’s warm light for illumination, sudden concern springs from nowhere. We are ‘friends’, but there’s no idea of where she lives exactly. I know its somewhere in the Peak District, because it is mentioned from time to time in her tweets. Wherever home is, the cottage’s views are spectacular, with a cozy wood fire that burns every night, without fail.

It’s a moment to remember her username, because that’s what I always struggle with. Pictures are fine, but handles… ah yes, @Woollen_Mittens. Calling up her page on the phone, her last tweet was indeed a month ago. Before that, she’d posted two or three times a day, without fail. I am immediately concerned: it doesn’t matter that we’ve never met or I don’t know if this is her real name. There is a connection, created from years worth of shared interests. Embroidery, gardening, poetry and music define this relationship: so much else shared since joining the platform.

Looking at her mentions, she was due for surgery at the end of last week, something mentioned only to people it seems fair to assume are close friends. Finding the one mentioned the most, I look up her profile. This isn’t a friend, but the woman’s daughter, in her early thirties. Reading back through her timeline, an awful truth emerges. There had been a problem. Her mother had suffered a massive pulmonary embolism, passing away eighteen hours before surgery was due to be undertaken. It had taken everybody by surprise, particularly members of her family.

In the darkness, alone, tears appear from nowhere. I wish my partner were here: she’s not due back from London until Wednesday at the earliest. I can’t call her at 2am, not with an 8am breakfast meeting scheduled. Suddenly, this world seems an awful, unfair place to exist within. She’d chide me anyway for becoming emotionally attached to a person that had never been met, and wouldn’t understand the relationship we’d fostered. This is not normal or healthy for a woman regardless of her age, and we both know how awful and divisive the Internet has become.

Standing downstairs, an hour later, I make hot milk and vanilla and am grateful I don’t work Tuesdays. However, in the wee small hours a plan has been formulated. Mittens lives less than an hour away from me. Tomorrow, I’m going to make an effort to find out who she really was.

I suddenly need to know more about my friend.


The next morning, I head to Buxton, place most mentioned in Mittens’ tweets. There’s still no real plan of what to do, except spend time walking around, matching various tweets with locations around town, then wait for inspiration. A coffee shop is found, Bakewell Pudding and latte bought to allow opportunity to sit and think. Looking across the busy street from my table, there’s a display in the shop opposite that feels oddly familiar, collection of jumpers and embroidered cushions… this is Mittens’ work.

I’m scrabbling for phone, realising these items have been posted before, made as projects when Mittens was unwell last year, stuck in bed for several months. Whoever owns the shop must know who she is… but how on earth do I go across the road and start a conversation about her? There will never be a good way to do this: instead of sitting quietly and panicking over the details, time to walk across the road into ‘Maid in Derbyshire.’ As I enter, a snatch of Ralph Vaughan Williams is recognised, ‘The Lark Ascending’ making me smile, despite sudden nerves.

At the counter, a man of about my age is sitting, reading a battered copy of an Iain Banks novel. As he looks up, there’s a stab of recognition: I’ve seen him in pictures before, with his wife and young daughter. This is Mittens’ youngest son, whose name temporarily escapes me…

‘Good Morning, lovely day isn’t it?’

‘There’s not a way of saying this without sounding like a stalker so here we go anyway. Hi Ivan, I knew your mum via social media. I am very sorry for your loss.’

Putting down paperback, man’s face breaks into a smile, before he’s laughing.

‘If I told you this isn’t the first time someone’s come in here in the last few weeks and said that, it should make you feel better. We were aware of Mum’s double life for a while, but only when she passed did the depth of support really come to light. What is your username?’

The nerves and fear have summarily evaporated: telling Ivan I am known as AustinsHemline, something amazing happens. There is recognition of me, without the need for anything else, of that I am certain: now he’s getting up and heading this way, offering hand with a broad smile.

‘When all this started, after random people started turning up with flowers and condolences, there were a couple we’d hoped would appear. You are, I must say, on top of that list. My mum had a really close bond with you, I know, and I’m so glad you felt strong enough to come.’

It seems really strange to be crying now, in front of a total stranger, but this man isn’t any more. I’d expected him to get defensive or nervous over imposition, tell me to go away or become angry: instead he’s handing me a beautiful linen handkerchief whist maintaining distance. Eventually, having composed myself, I realise he’s waiting to take me behind the counter, into the back of the shop. There’s a small kitchenette here with chairs and a table, on which is a pile of boxes, some with address labels. Ivan motions me to pick a place to sit, so I do.

‘My mum very much knew she was on borrowed time. The operation was supposed to improve her quality of life, but we’d been planning for the worst since the initial MS diagnosis a decade ago. Her embroidery had become the means by which she could escape the confines of the bedroom. The relationships that were made with you and others became a substitute for reality. She was never alone: if frightened or confused, Mum would simply turn online, and you’d support her with love and without question. You became important, vital, part of a family she cared for. We didn’t know that we’d lose her like this, but she was ready. Mum made provision for everything, so we’d not have to worry when the time came. There were also plans for people like you, because of understanding that a thank you would want to be made. This is yours, from her.’

Hands are shaking as Ivan hands me a parcel, marked with my username. Inside is an embroidered version of the Manchester skyline, plus a quote: ‘There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.’

The quote is Jane Austin’s, from ‘Northanger Abbey’ and now I won’t stop crying again. We spent hours talking about literature, and now she’s gone there will never be a way to thank her. Except, perhaps that isn’t totally true… as a writer, there is one path that remains open.


I have dinner that night with Ivan and his family, plus elder sister Katherine. Mittens is no longer simply an username, but person: Elizabeth Lowe was the daughter of a seamstress, her father responsible for founding a successful travelling theatre company. She was eighty two, and inspired three generations of the same family to become tailors and dressmakers, with her eldest granddaughter about to start working as a costume designer at the Leeds Playhouse. This woman’s influence and significance in local community and beyond is unexpectedly immense.

On top of this, she’d created a successful online community for people who’d never operated a sewing machine or threaded a needle, teaching skills in simple, broad strokes: quilting, embroidery, needlepoint, simultaneously offering support to create clothing projects from scratch My direction is clear: this is a story that demands to be heard, of a woman who defied poverty and hardship, and never once put herself ahead of others. An entire life, until that last breath, was spent being generous, kind and helpful to anyone who asked for help or assistance.


It takes six months to write, making sure the book notes that the Internet does not have to be a frightening, dangerous place full of stupidity and hate. If people are willing to embrace and trust, then entire lives can be changed for the better as a result, by a single person. This becomes the story of a woman who understood that teaching others to sew wasn’t just doing so as recreation, but as a means of allowing self esteem and pride in practical projects which could then go on and be used, worn and admired not just as clothing, but as achievement.

‘Lowe and Behold’ sits complete, manuscript that is my gift to Mittens and her family: their story, means by which I hope a life that was so full and rich will be remembered and appreciated by generations to come.

My own creation, sewn from her threads: remembrance for us both.


 

Find Time

The Internet has changed my life.

It has been a long, often painful progress, but since 1992 (when our first dial up modem was purchased) a phenomenal amount of crucial, life changing events have taken place online. Many of those moments had the air of fiction about them, on reflection. Visiting a number of pen-pals I’d written to, who were all really annoyed there was a boyfriend in tow. Finding other people who shared my love of genre TV, and then making a fatal mistake in judgement… and the list goes on. However, there is one overridingly significant result from all these years online, and it has nothing to do with anybody else.

This is the place which gave me space to learn, at my own pace.

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This is where the truth about my body and how pleasure could be derived from it finally made sense. Reading articles about editing, writing and technique, over and again, finally began to stick. The fiction read was not nearly as important as news and opinion, in the end, because the path to storytelling was grounded in current affairs. The people met in Azeroth, via LiveJournal and Facebook, both which were ultimately ignored for Twitter, opened my mind, and were a reminder that people can be mean, cold and arrogant regardless of the environment.

However, eventually, the right people were found.

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The significant of positivity in this journey cannot be underestimated. Those who would hug me when I asked, and listen when needed. The faceless, anonymous nature of individuals wouldn’t matter after a while, because you would get to know those who mattered over time. Then, there would be the need to adjust behaviour to match the moods of others, or the situations that would arise online, and from this came the vital confidence to believe a strength existed to change other things too: fitness, general health, what was worn and how those in the Real World could be less intimidating as a result.

Without the Internet’s ‘fiction’, many facts in my life would never have been exposed as truth.

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Most importantly of all, the innermost workings of my mind would never have been exposed to critique or examination without the Internet as a backdrop. It has been the longest time to find the pieces and construct the puzzle in my head, but finally there is the understanding of what it is I am and what is being looked at. That has been the hardest journey of all, but looking backwards to where everything started, the path is now very easy to retrace. That says to me that everything that brings life to this point is intrinsically right. Both good and bad have their part to play. It has become an exercise in grasping everything, them making sense of those pieces as and when it is possible to do so.

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Sometimes, it is an act. There are moments when self-defence takes over and I’m just making what seem to be the right noises. Most of the time however, there is method and confidence, where before it did not exist. As each new piece is fished from subconscious and placed in the puzzle, those moments are less and less frequent. This is a place that is where I want to be, and remain.

This is the place I truly call home.

February Short Story :: The Shape We’re In

This story was first published in 28 parts via Twitter during February. It is now reproduced now in a complete form, and a number of small edits have been added to improve narrative flow.

Enjoy.


The Shape We’re In

He’s been dreading this day for months. Lying awake, staring at the ceiling, there is no avoiding tonight’s inevitability. The annual Senior Year Five Dance is the undisputed highlight of his social calender; Charlie Fisher has never done ‘social’ in the same fashion as others. Maybe it’s because he’s the oldest boy in the year, or perhaps the notion of celebrating the most awkward phase of his existence has never sat well in a mind predisposed to overthinking. At least he doesn’t have to go to school today: thank the Deities for this small mercy.

There is the sound of raised voices above him: Tilly Craven is already complaining to her mother that shoes are nowhere to be found, and this day is, therefore, a disaster. Maybe if he didn’t live in a Communal Block he’d get more sleep at weekends… but it could be far worse. Lying in darkness, loneliness remains, nobody to share this children’s room with. His sister had died from Bird Flu before he could walk, no memory of her save the drawings his father had made. She’d never seen Year Five. He should be grateful for survival, especially today.

Things could be far worse. Charlie could be forced to wear the horribly restrictive outfits all the other boys were already being squeezed into, putting their manhood’s on show for all to see. His parents could embrace the Deity Doctrines: fortunately, both held no affiliations. Neither do they consider him the weaker sex, or a disappointing result at birth. Whilst everybody else asked for a daughter, his parents simply loved him as a person. Today he would wear his father’s antique dress, cut well below the waist, and that was the best thing of all.

Only then does he see his mother, dressed and ready to work in the woollen mill, sitting opposite on the sofa his sister’s bed had been transformed into. In her hand is his corsage: white roses, as it should be in Leeds. Even in darkness her smile beams, dark hair piled high.

She’ll be late, just to say goodbye.

‘I will never, ever get tired of your honesty and warmth in this house. Your father’s making breakfast. Just enjoy the day as much as you can.’

Leaving corsage on the sofa, she departs for her twelve-hour shift, as son heads for the bathroom.


Across town, in the Executive Zone, Lissa McIntyre’s 16th birthday party shows no signs of winding down. Birthday girl, however, left the Community Hall well before midnight, returning home for bag hidden beforehand. She’s abandoned the life that had become a prison and escaped. Neither parent will care or worry about her absence until it is too late. Her elder sister is of far greater significance, key to their aspirations of taking over all the Manufacturing Guilds in the county at month’s end. She left them all too drugged to consider anything at all.

Whilst the rich elite of their social circle smoked, injected and inhaled the fruits of their success using her coming of age as an excuse she’d been ready to run. Money was saved, transport quietly acquired and soon, Leeds would be a distant memory. However, there was a problem.

Charlie. Brilliant, individual, maddening; one boy who never saw the rich, spoilt brat everyone else thought she was by default. That poor kid on the School scholarship who’d changed the entire landscape for the better, whom she loved dearly. He had never been part of her plan. Love was for more worthy souls, this long-term future initially depending on leaving everyone else behind. Now heart grasped an essential need not simply to change direction but expand possibilities; everything willingly risked to not simply rescue him but both his parents too.

The Mill’s utilitarian cafeteria is packed: both sexes, mingling unhindered, unisex clothing the norm. There were no revealing tops or tights here, simply joy at being happy and relaxed, plus nobody cared who Lissa was. She existed as not simply independent but free of judgement. Looking up from her porridge and tea, the young woman meets Elizabeth’s gaze as she moves through the food queue. Charlie’s mother doesn’t seem that surprised to see her either, smile she gives making this change in plan worthwhile. The letter left at their home had been read.

Without the prosthetic breasts, coloured contacts and make-up, Lissa knows nobody will recognise her, not even the CCTV cameras will be able to make a positive identification. Elizabeth is the only other person who’s seen her without the trappings she was forced to wear by family. She’s already buying extra food, making sure the full ration of water is taken, quietly planning ahead. Charlie’s parents have already accepted the offer, now all that is needed now is to wait for him to return. If everything is going to plan he’ll have found his letter by now…


The boys are forced to line up against the School’s Gym wall, hands shackled above their heads. Many are in tears, and Charlie’s made the decision not to be one of them. The punishment for refusing to expose his manhood for public scrutiny is more palatable than this action. There’s no point in being here anyway, now he knows Lissa won’t be coming. She understands that bodies are irrelevant when minds matter more, and her plan… yes, it’s risky, but if his parents are willing as she believes to help them both, there is no need to worry about details.

Walking home in bright, uncompromising sunshine, Charlie thinks of mother at the mill, and that he could easily forget the last two years of School completely. He’d rather be working and contributing than spend another day being ridiculed. Life as a model student was overrated. This would be his first act of rebellion in five years, and once the punishment was served, he’d have gone anyway, because not another day would have been wasted pretending he was like everybody else. Lissa had ignited his spark of non-conformity: it burned now out of control.

He’s about to cross the road to his communal block when father appears unexpectedly, dressed as he did when working at the Community Centre. He ushers Charlie quickly into the alley next to the Corner Shop, away from the CCTV cameras: there’s a bag of clothing already waiting. He’d expected to have a chance to go back to the house one last time, but the clock is ticking. They need to be out of the town before the sun goes down, or else Curfew will keep them stuck here until tomorrow, and someone might then notice Lissa’s absence. It is time to leave.

At the other end of the alley, there’s a battered Range Rover in Manufacturing Guild dark blue. His mother watches from the driver’s seat, and in the back, Lissa’s blonde hair is hidden by a dirty brown wig. She has planned and organised everything, and Charlie loves her for it.


Charlie also loves watching Lissa sleep, tucked under his arm, more beautiful without the prosthetics than any woman he has ever seen. This future is now in their hands: he wonders if there will ever be a way to thank her for this as mother drives them into the Highlands and a new day. The flat chested girl and the boy with only one testicle were both damaged goods, in their own way. He’d never been whole, and she’d given up the right to live a lie in existence summarily left behind. No-one would come to look for them because neither were considered worthwhile.

Nobody would care if there were three fewer mouths to feed, one less cripple to make everybody else look bad. Polite society was more damaged than anyone wanted to admit. The future was away from the Empire and in Scotland, where diversity was joyfully embraced and celebrated. Lissa had freed them all with a mind that transcended what parents considered as her broken body. She was more than Charlie’s equal, and vice versa. The shape of them both together created a joyous and immutable whole, no more lies or deception.

The shape of things is perfect.


Unputdownable

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Having taken a week off to undergo important surgery, I’m back today to start the countdown to the Internet of Words ‘going public.’ It is genuinely exciting looking at the journey ahead, and in the next week we’ll be giving more details on the tiers and rewards available via Patreon, what extras you can expect to be rewarded with for participating, and how to prepare for the following months of discussion and content.

For now, here’s a quick reminder that content has already begun on the @InternetOfWords Twitter account (which includes a Haiku every day at 7am and Micropoetry at 5pm BST) which will extend this week to include suggested videos and ‘extra content’ around our first Book of the Month choice, ‘Ways of Seeing’ by John Berger. If you’d like to read more about how the project will work, please see this blog post for the outline and further details.

This week will also see dedicated pages for the IoW ‘portal’ and the current Blogging 4 Noobs project be established and taken up to date. There should be no interruptions to current site operation, but if (for any reason) the site needs to go down, we’ll give you plenty of advanced warning. For now, sit back and get comfortable, as the structure of the project is effectively constructed around you.

Book of the Month

It is my intention, before the Internet of Words Patreon launches on June 15th, to give potential backers an opportunity to understand exactly what it is they will be throwing their money at. As a result, it is time to start explaining how this whole shebang is going to work.

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Each month, the Internet of Words will be using a work of published fiction or non fiction as the basis of a month’s worth of created and completely original content. This will include essays, humorous asides and at least one original piece of short-form fiction. On the official Twitter feed, all haiku and micro-poetry will be based on the subject matter of the book being ‘studied’, which means for the month of July our theme will be Pictures and Perception. I’ve chosen a seminal tome to kick off our endeavour, a piece of non-fiction that asks a lot of the reader. We’ve already mentioned the BBC TV show from the 1970’s which was based on this (and which will be referenced at certain points during the month.) Our opening inspiration is Ways of Seeing by John Berger.

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Click here to order this book on Amazon

I’ll be announcing the next month’s book in advance to allow Patreons and others to get a copy and read it (if they choose) so they can take a more active part in discussions. This also gives me a chance to plan the meat of the month’s output. Then, when we hit the first of the month, you can expect to see content presented, based around a number of the following umbrella topic headings:

War of the Words

The Internet began life as a text-based medium. Words are what matters more than anything else: for intent, to communicate and as education. Using our novel as a springboard, we’ll attempt to understand not simply the text in context to the subject matter, but its wider significance in the communication-rich world we now inhabit.

Books will be chosen which, in my opinion, straddle the worlds of traditional and modern, that embrace the concepts the Internet excels at and conversely fails to achieve.

Communications Breakdown

It is easy, without understanding extensive context, to make wild assumptions about everything and anything. In the modern world, therefore, understanding is probably more significant that initial knowledge. The IoW will attempt to give context to the novel, its historical significance and the circumstances in which it came to be written.

This will also include, where appropriate, documentary materials appertaining to a specific period of interest to the particular book being ‘studied.’

Alternative Internet

Anyone who has fallen down an Internet rabbit hole will know just how a subject matter can inspire people into amazing and often mind-boggling feats of self-discovery. In this strand, we’ll attempt to show what an understanding of the book’s wider themes can do to illuminate individuals’ own interpretation of the subject matter.

This strand might get a bit weird, I’m warning you now. Be prepared to be shocked, amazed and quite possibly challenged.

The Word is Not Enough

Any novel can be interpreted individually in potentially an infinite number of ways. An author will undoubtedly be amazed at what others see in their words, and often these are not enough when attempting to combine an individual experience with the written words presented to them.

We’ll consider how words are misinterpreted, how changes in societal attitudes can alter the words themselves, and that definition sometimes isn’t everything.

Fictional Narrative

I’ll be using the book as a springboard each month for both micro poetry and haiku via the @InternetofWords Twitter feed, but at the same time it will become the subject of short fiction, including 500 words micro-stories, and a 2000 word short story that covers one of the major themes of our monthly text.

There may be more or less, depending on how my real life goes. This is very much a ‘work in progress’ that will be reconsidered on a monthly basis.


So, there you have it. This is the initial concept going forward, and will be constantly reassessed, month by month, to ensure that all Patreons are getting value for money. By becoming a supporter, you’ll also be asked to help decide future novels for consideration, potential subjects for fiction and to take part in discussions that will happen exclusively for Patreon subscribers.

To say I’m excited is an understatement. I can’t wait to share with you what is in store for July, and I hope I’ll see you bright and early on July 1st as part of the Internet of Words ‘collective’ to begin discussing Berger’s work.

Things to Make and Do

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There’s a To Do list currently for IoW that’s quite long, but for now is not getting any larger. Tomorrow is my first major day for content deployment, but I’m now going to have to fit in both a Physio and Doctor visit to the timetable, so this afternoon is going to be an attempt to plan everything in advance (on paper) so I can just slot everything into the right position on site come the morning. Once this is done I can get to work on re-reading the first book I’ll be using as inspiration for our journey and preparing the various strands of content that will spring forth from it (I hope, there’s half the fear I already have, that this isn’t going to work and I’m about to make a fool out of myself.) The only way to find out if all this floats is to launch it. That’s T- 27 days now.

Yes, I might already be getting nervous.

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The Patreon rewards are sketched out, with physical elements themselves well on their way to being manufactured and delivered ahead of time. I’ve managed to slip in an extra reward for promotional use during June, too. Then it is all about extras: maybe getting some publicity shots done, designing some logos around books and computers, and for this I have half a mind next week when both kids are better and back at school to go visit the local library. It will all depend on the results of my Doctor’s visit tomorrow, one suspects, and whether I have any major medical issues to factor into the equation. Whatever happens, I think I’m ready to face it.

2017 Schedule

This graphic is my next thing to change because, starting tomorrow, is the real possibility of keeping 3 blogs running 24/7 which does in fact sound like lunacy considering what else I have on, but will be far more doable once the scheduling kicks in. So, we’re gonna give it a go, and see how long that works for. It means being brutal with the time I have, and organising myself better still than is already the case. Yeah, I’ll give it a go. I mean, honestly, what’s the worst that can happen?

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Right now, I’m confident all things are possible. After that, we’ll just take each day as it comes.