All this happened so it must be true

Mostly stories, plus other odds and ends

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The Giantess, Bathsheba

In the spring the marsh cattle return to the drained fields. Repairs are carried out on dikes and broken sluice gates. Huge flocks of migrant birds come back from their wintering grounds, argue over territory and resources for days.

In the covered wagon the man and the girl and the giant woman follow their noses east. On the raised roads running parallel to the ditches and canals that quarter the country, everyone is on the move. Medicine sellers, itinerant labourers, repairmen, field workers, travelling storytellers. Glasswort and cord grass and reeds grow along the creeks and inlets, on unreliable islands that have yet to be reclaimed from the water. Under the monstrous sky the world is flat as the sea. The man imagines the wagon is a ship and he is its captain. He believes that everyone has their place on earth and this is his.

Everywhere they stop they put on demonstrations and the giant woman performs feats of strength. She lifts saddleback sows over her head and drags boats ashore from the mud. She holds back waterwheels and the vanes of windmills. Children swing from her arms in threes and fours. And then she fights anyone who can afford the price of entry (“Step right up, lads, three-penny a go and treble your stake if you can put her down!”). Read the rest of this entry »

24 Rules for Writing Short Stories

Based on my years of experience in the writing game, I’ve come up with a list of 24 essential rules for creating short stories that will engage, entertain and enthral. Feel free to use them when inventing your own stories!

1. A good short story should not contain a single wasted word. The reader should feel confident that the writer is in complete control of the story at all times. There should be no mystery, no element of chance in the writing of a short story. A short story is not a journey of discovery.

2. In the short story, setting is everything. Appropriate settings for short stories include mountain tops, haunted council estates, low Earth orbit, enchanted forests, 1980s job centres, France, protest marches, swingers’ parties, alternate dimensions, a summer evening in the writer’s youth, The American West, radio newsrooms, and World War 2.

3. Avoid boring your reader. Consider breaking up long paragraphs with dialogue, or descriptions of the weather. If the scene you are writing doesn’t contain dialogue or weather, think about changing the location and adding extra characters. Or have someone go outside and start talking to themselves.

4. Always start a scene in the middle of the action. Or better yet, after the action has already finished.

5. Dogs and birds are not good subjects for short stories. If you are determined to write about dogs or birds, consider poetry or the novella format. Horses, on the other hand, almost always improve a short story. Read the rest of this entry »

The New Geography

When Taylor wakes up they’re in afternoon traffic on a ring road somewhere, driving into a late September sun. Taylor is relieved to find he’s in the passenger seat this time. He’s not sure he knows what day it is. They’ve been criss-crossing the continent for weeks now.

“Where are we?” he says.

“Belgium,” says Baumann, at the wheel, hunched over in that big down jacket. He looks like a bear. A bear that hasn’t slept for three days and is on a lot of recreational drugs. “Or possibly Germany. Or the Netherlands. Almost definitely not France.”

He squints into the distance.

“Somewhere in the Low Countries anyway.”

“I thought the Netherlands was the Low Countries?” Taylor says.

“Well, technically,” says Baumann, ‘Nederland’ is the low country. That’s what the Dutch call it. ‘The Low Countries’ is more of a general term for this whole…” he waves his hand toward the window.

Taylor looks out of the window. The same giant supermarkets, car showrooms and retail outlets they’ve been seeing for the last ten thousand miles. They could be anywhere in Northern Europe. On the outer edge of any medium sized town.

“It’s complicated,” says Taylor.

“It’s a fucking mess. Have you got any cigarettes?” Read the rest of this entry »

Vin Diesel’s Sleeves

I woke up this morning worrying about Vin Diesel’s sleeves

again, and what they mean and where they went

and why he doesn’t just wear vests like his Fast and Furious co-star

The Rock does – if getting his guns out is what this is all about –

 

instead of those weird, slightly ill-fitting military shirts with the sleeves

deliberately torn off that have become his trademark

in the multi-billion-dollar car-based action franchise,

and which make him look not unlike a 1970s binman

Read the rest of this entry »

What We’re Teaching Our Sons #291: Ex-girlfriends & #96: haunted houses

Ex-Girlfriends

We’re teaching our sons about our ex-girlfriends.

How many of them there have been. What they meant to us. Where it all went wrong, again and again.

We turn up at the doors of our ex-girlfriends with our sons in tow, ask if we can come in and state our cases.

Our sons sit on the sofa, accept offers of juice and biscuits and say please and thank you, are generally a credit to us. Our ex-girlfriends entertain the thought, just for a couple of seconds, that we have borrowed or stolen these children in order to impress them. That we are up to our old ways.

We are not up to our old ways. Read the rest of this entry »

What We’re Teaching Our Sons #132: Europe & #178: The Loneliness of Billionaires

Europe

We’re teaching our sons about Europe.

The size of it. The shape of it. How much is theirs.

We’re driving around Europe marvelling at examples of the continent’s rich history and magnificent infrastructure, its  museums and art galleries and national parks. We’re gazing in wonder at roads and airports and railways and bridges.

We drive across the breath-taking Ponte Vasco da Gama in Portugal and think about the future of the European project. We drive across the breath-taking Viaduc de Millau and the breath-taking Pont de Normandie in France. We drive across the breath-taking Øresundsbroen between Denmark and Sweden, across the breath-taking Sunnibergbrücke in Switzerland.

“You can tell a lot about a country from its bridges,” we explain to our sons. Read the rest of this entry »

What We’re Teaching Our Sons #603: Whales & #189: Geology

 

Whales

We’re teaching our sons about whales.

Their habits and habitats, their evolutionary history, their cultural and economic relevance, the many stories told about them.

An adult male sperm whale has washed up, dead, on a beach on the Norfolk coast, and we’re following the clean-up effort on TV and the radio and the internet. People are worried that the build up of gas inside the decomposing whale carcass may cause it to explode. Onlookers have been moved back to a safe distance.

Our sons are gripped by the unfolding drama. Read the rest of this entry »

Against The Nostalgia of Objects: Extracts from A Manifesto for The Container Shipping Industry

The Network is Not the Territory

In business, as in war, the important thing is not how much geography we hold, but the supply lines we control. How we get food, fuel, people, goods from one point to another.

The only map that matters is the one that describes the routes we own. Everything in between – the mountains, the deserts, the forest, the places where people live – is dead space.

From the point of view of the one billion shipping containers circling the globe, the world is both one-dimensional and eternally present. The future is currently stacked eighteen thousand deep on 1,300-foot-long ships, each one designed to cover vast distances as slowly as possible – because with a theoretically endless number of ships at sea, the time it takes any one of them to get from one port to another becomes irrelevant.

Time is cheap.

The thing we’re interested in is cadence. Read the rest of this entry »

A Model World

The internet had killed the mail-order business and I was broke. I had to go back to Big Frank Metcalfe and beg for a job.

“You know I can’t use you David,” he said. “You’re a loose canon. A maverick.”

“I’ve changed,” I promised him. “No more fancy stuff. Nothing avant-garde. I hardly care about perfection at all these days.”

He sighed.

“You were the best railway modeller I’ve ever seen.”

“Was?” Read the rest of this entry »

Including The Incident Of The Montgolfier Balloon

Things now took what could be described as a turn for the worse, if we are to consider the situation from the point of view of our Captain and his employers, as on the night of April 25th a great commotion took place in Whitehall, the result of the most audacious action yet undertaken on the part of the fledgling Prostitute Republic. Eyewitnesses inform us that the first bombs fell shortly after nine o’clock, partially destroying the London clerical offices of the East India Company and two carriages which were unfortunate enough to have been parked outside, before the rain of destruction moved off toward the Houses of Parliament themselves, severely damaging gates and removing a number of roof tiles as it went. Read the rest of this entry »