NaNoWriMo 2014 – Day 1

Jareth was engaged in yet another of his patronising seminars on the actual meaning of the various different variants of espresso based coffee; I almost felt sorry for the poor customer, a timid looking goth-girl with a laptop bag and maybe nineteen summers behind her, whose only crime had been trying to order the same kind of coffee that they would have normally ordered in a Starbucks.
“Macchiato means stained or spotted, so a café macchiato is a double espresso with a tiny amount of steamed milk. There is no such thing as a Half-Caff Skinny Caramel Macchiato, Starfucks made it up and we certainly don’t serve such an abomination in here, this is a COFFEE shop. Now, can I interest you in a Flat White, or perhaps a Latté, which in case you are interested is actually a shortening of Latté Macchiato, because the milk is ‘stained’ with the coffee?”
The somewhat stunned looking goth-girl just nodded quietly and handed over a tenner; Jareth snorted and assumed that it was a Latté that she wanted and set about its creation. The fact that he ground the beans and weighed the grounds to ensure the perfection of her coffee, that the espresso machine was stripped and cleaned every night, that the beans were roasted in the back of the shop, that the milk was locally sourced and organic, all of these facts were wasted on her. She just wanted a sweet, milky coffee and a place to get out her laptop and check Facebook, so not only was I a little sorry for her I was also confused as to why Jareth let her and other customers like her raise his blood pressure. Not everyone can be bothered to be a coffee fanatic, and no coffee shop can survive solely on the coin of the fanatics.
I turned my attention to the hideous weather outside. I was in my usual spot, nestled in the corner of the comfier sofa in the large bay window at the front of The Goblin King Coffee Company, my laptop and notebooks on the table in front of me along with the third Long Black of the morning. On the other side of the glass the rain was coming down sideways, reducing the visibility so much that I could not even see the beach, let alone the sea. I had come to make this spot my daily home when I had first arrived in Cromer two summers before, and the primary reason had been that I liked to look up from my writing and look out at the sea without having to move. Today’s weather was not really conducive to my getting my money’s worth. I squinted, hoping that screwing my face up would somehow reveal the waves and the sea, but in truth the visibility was so bad that nothing was going to make a difference.
“Can you believe that guy?”
I looked up to see the goth-girl that Jareth had been educating standing over me, Latté in hand and an injured look on her face.
“Oh yeah, I can absolutely believe him. Sorry I am a regular, and anyway Jareth owns the place so there’s no one to give him a dressing down over his preaching the gospel of coffee.”
She cracked a smile;
“Is it ok if I sit here?”
I nodded and she put her Latté down before settling into the less comfortable sofa opposite me. For a moment I watched as she arranged her skirt and then started to get out her laptop and then I realised that I was staring and turned back to the awesome if utterly depressing show being put on by Mother Nature.
I was snapped put of my reverie a few moments later by another question.
“I’m sorry to bother you, but you aren’t Caine Foster are you?”
Busted. Even since quitting London this did happen every four to six months; a keen fan or an up and coming journalist would work out where I was hiding, namely the North Norfolk Coast, and come and find me. I should never have put the thank you to The Goblin King Coffee Company in the last book’s acknowledgements. Ah well, time to plaster on a fake smile and play the game; these days no one but Gaiman sells enough genre books to be anything but gracious and charming to fans or the press.
“I am, it was the acknowledgement to the shop we both find ourselves in, right?”
She blushed a little, which with the whole goth aesthetic seemed a little jarring, and then there was that smile again.
“Yeah, I admit I was rather hoping that you would be here, I’m sorry to kinda corner you unannounced, but it’s just that I really need to talk to you and I don’t want to freak you out or anything, but it’s about Fran.”
It was at that moment that I really started to regret getting out of bed that morning. I had awoken early and immediately known it was one of those bitter November days that would drench and chill me to the bone just walking the three hundred yards from my loft to the coffee shop, but I had made myself do it anyway because writing every day is an important discipline. Now I was wishing that I had stayed in bed with some porn and pretended that it was a weekend. I steeled myself for a bit of a confrontation and made the supreme effort to maintain my more friendly demeanour as I answered.
“I don’t talk about my late wife, I’m sorry I don’t mean to be rude but I would appreciate it if you left me alone.”
The girl nodded, but she did not seem to be going anywhere, and then she started speaking again;
“I understand that, and from everything I have ever read I expected you to say that, but you see Fran was my sister, well half-sister actually and I really wanted to talk to you about a letter that I received from her just before she died.”
This was not the way these conversations usually went.
Fran had died about three years before, just after my second novel “Transom” had been short-listed for the Booker. She had been coming home from her mother’s house, just a normal Tuesday evening after her weekly Bridge game, when Bradshaw had picked her as his victim. Now I was being forced to re-live every horrid moment of that experience in a heartbeat before trying to formulate something to say to this young woman on front of me.
“Er, I don’t mean to be rude, but I really don’t want to talk about Fran or even have to think about her, and even more than that I never heard her mention you… I’m sorry what’s your name?”
“Andrea. My Mum married Fran’s Dad after he left, I’m sorry this hasn’t started well and it really has not gone anything like the way I wanted it to. I’ll leave you alone, I’m sorry.”
She started to get her stuff together and I was about to let her go, but the wound was already open again now and it had clearly been a big step to come and find me, there was no way I could let her just leave.
“No, please, stay. I need to be better at talking about what happened anyway, and you’re family, so please stay. I am sorry, you just caught me off guard. Tell me about this letter, please?”
Andrea settled back into the sofa and visibly relaxed. She took a big mouthful of her Latté and reached into her bag, retrieving a battered envelope upon which I could see Fran’s handwriting, so that was oddly comforting. I was less concerned that I was dealing with a nut-case, though I suppose Fran may have written to a nut-case without that person actually being her half-sister.”
“Would you like to read it?”
She held the envelope out towards me and I almost took it from her, but then I shook my head.
“I’m sorry, it’s just that I will hear her voice in my head if I read her words and I can’t have that happen right now. I miss her so much and to be honest I’ve been managing by trying very hard to not think about her, and I am pretty certain that I will be unable to keep that up at all if I start hearing her voice again. What is the letter about?”
“Well, basically, we had only found one another about six months before she died and I was not in a position to come to England to meet her, I was under eighteen back then and I neither had a passport nor the money to get on a plane and our Dad did not want me to contact her so I could not exactly have asked him to pay for my travel. Anyway that meant that we wrote letters, roughly one a week for five months until I received this one from her about a week before she died. There’s nothing really remarkable about it, to be honest, apart from the fact that it’s the last letter that she wrote to me, well that and that she invited me to London in it, and offered to buy my flight. She said that she wanted to meet me properly and that she wanted to have you meet me too. Of course before any of that came to pass her death was on the news and I was pretty sure that you didn’t know that I even existed and I didn’t feel right about contacting you back then, but recently I was clearing out my room in my Dad’s house and I found this, her last letter again and I read it about ten times and finally decided to come and find you.”

Home, home on the Range…

So I started playing Minecraft again, and I am enjoying it much, much more than I did last time and I think that this is both because I have embraced the way in which I can treat it as a casual game and still have fun and achieve things.

I am playing Multiplayer on DakkaDakka, courtesy of a “vouch” from a friend, and that’s a different experience again, but on my current Single Player game I have decided to do two things

  1. Build an incredible mountain fastness with exciting dungeons of adventure beneath
  2. Move the map as it currently is “up” to Minecraft Realms so that I can share it with select friends and essentially have my World backed up “in the cloud” without having to admin an MC server, which while I am sure I could manage represents time that I could spend branch mining or looking into how to get into the Nether. Yes I am that much of a n00b

Anyway, here are some pics from my soon-to-be Realm, let me know if you would be interested in logging on every now and again and helping me civilise the place 😉

Reasons to be less than cheerful…

When I was on my way to work this morning I was expecting that I might post something about how sad I am to hear that Robin Williams has lost his long battle with the Black Dog of Depression and ended his own life, because it is very, very sad, and he is / was a hero of mine, and much of what he put out into the World gave me and millions of others a great deal of pleasure…

And then I saw this:

and while Robin’s death is sad and it has upset me, this piece – while courageous and articulate and absolutely needing to be written both for the writer and the rest of us as readers – has really made me sad.

If you are triggered by rape / sexual assault, please use caution whether or not you follow the link and read. The writer paints an utterly horrible picture of personal betrayal and entitlement that makes my skin crawl, and I am a man who has never experienced sexual assault, so I can’t even imagine what it might be like to read this…

Even so, while reading it has really made me sad and angry and sad, if for no other reason than it gives another human, personal voice to an all too common story that despite my wish to be an ally to women I often push from my mind, it has reaffirmed my belief that all of us, men and women alike, need to challenge not only this kind of heinous behaviour, but the culture that enables it.

Women who choose to dress provocatively are not “asking for it”.

Women should not have to navigate covert or overt lechery just to work in their chosen field.

Women are there for themselves not for anyone else, and they are the equal of men, morally, ethically and legally – anything less is a gigantic failure of understanding by anyone who makes it.

Women who choose to make choices to have many sexual partners are not sluts, nor does it make them “fair game” – consent is EVERYTHING.


There is no reality under which any kind of rape is acceptable; rape is evil.

(P.S. please use caution with the comments on the article. Many of them are heartfelt, thoughtful and supportive, but there are examples of idiocy in there too.)

More nostalgia from Scott’s second trip to London…

The second time Scott Church came to the UK to do workshops I went along again, the first one having been such a blast, and I never really made a big deal about the pictures I got that day. Recently, however I have gone back and looked at them again and well here are a few more that are Work / Facebook safe that I really am genuinely proud of.

More Nostalgia…

Shelley - Headshot

Another Blast from the Past…

Shelly by the Window

A Blast from the Past…

Image of model Shelly Radley in a London Backstreet
Whipcrack away!

A Short Story…

A little while ago (well back in July last year), I went to see Amanda Palmer play at the Roundhouse in Camden with her Grand Theft Orchestra. It was the performance where she famously punched back at the Daily Mail, with her song “Dear Daily Mail”, performed in her own quixotic style, and there was a great deal about the performance, the gig as a whole and the entire experience that really moved me.

It moved me so much I wrote a story about it. Then I showed it to a small number of people and based on one person’s thoughtful feedback the story went through one major edit.

And then I lost my nerve. I have written for most of my life on and off, and while I have from time to time been told by people that what I have written has been good, or entertained them or touched them I have never really had the courage to pursue it properly. There is a lot more of me showing my soul to the World in the photography that I do than I have ever done through my writing, at least my fiction anyway.

All that ends today. For better or worse, here it is. Forgive the self-indulgence that you may see here, I could so easily have written in the third person and hidden the personal truth that may be here, but the whole point of writing this piece was to show anyone who was prepared to read it just how important and beautiful an experience it was to go to the gig.

The story is published below, or you can download it as a tiny little eBook for your Kindle or ePub capable device if you find reading in that way more comfortable. I hope that you enjoy this little fantasy, feel free to let me know either way…

A Night on the Northern Line


If you have never been to Camden High Street then you cannot possibly know what it is like to fall blinking into its bustling arms after a really good gig. You know when a gig takes you somewhere else or shows you something new about the world or yourself or everything, and that leaves you in a mode that is hyper-stimulated? Imagine feeling that way, more than you ever have before, and then colliding with the noisy, smelly, shiny, bright, intrusive reality of one of London’s more twenty-four hour locales. Bikes, taxis, the beep-beep of pedestrian crossings, trucks, crowds of people, a sea of litter and the weirdly defining quality of London’s Alt nexus, of feeling at once oppressed and liberated in almost equal measure. That was my experience of leaving the Roundhouse that night, a collision with a reality at once so bright and loud and yet so dark and forbidding that it was all I could do to light a cigarette, get my head down and make my best course for Chalk Farm Tube. My head was swimming with emotion, ears ringing from the music. More than ever I donned the cloak of London-ness and shut out my surroundings; I needed to get home, it was a school-night after all.

The Tube wasn’t packed after the show, I suppose it is to be expected with the incredible flexibility of the Northern Line comes a willingness from its users to wait for the right train rather than change at Camden Town. People often ask me what the Tube is like, not in London clearly, but when I travel and people hear me say that I work in London. I am always stuck for an answer. It used to be a horrid, grimy, threatening place, or at least my memory renders it so, back in the eighties. I remember people smoking in the Underground, just about, and that certainly contributed to the feel it used to have of being more than slightly menacing and claustrophobic. It is not really like that any longer. Safer, and much cleaner than ever before in its history the London Underground is largely just useful these days, but even then it still feels a little other worldly, an odd subterranean reflection of the World above. It would not be much of a surprise to run into Croupe and Vandemar, let alone the other denizens of so many works that have played upon the enigmatic nature of London’s innards. Despite being inured to its mysteries it catches even me unawares from time to time, but that night there were no surprises for me, or so I thought.

Surrounded, as I was, by the AFP faithful and armed with the sure knowledge that they would almost certainly talk to me at the drop of a hat, there was ample opportunity to be a part of our shared world. You would think that in my heightened state I would have wanted nothing more than to continue the ride, to re-live the entire experience with the like-minded who were all around me. I could not do it, despite that being my normal mode; for once I wanted the world to go away, not an easy result to attain in central London in all honesty.

It seemed easy to ignore the World, to revert to London Standard; earbuds slotted into place. What music to select? After such an event of a gig there was nothing for it than to simply select shuffling the whole collection on my iPhone. Trying to pick something to listen to was futile, I would arrive at London Bridge still having failed to wrap myself in the protective cloak of personal music that was so desperately needed.

Blitzen Trapper; Black River Killer.

That seemed to be ok; once more Apple Roulette had not let me down.

The train lurched into life. I became aware that I was truly inhabiting the person of a jaded London Transport user, as the thought “cunts, I wish they wouldn’t lean on the fucking doors” flitted across the transom of my mind. I sank back into the seat trying to focus on the music, helping it cover the chattering voices and the clanging of the train carriage as it seemed to ricochet from wall to wall along the tunnel. My work bag was unwilling to let me relax, its weight pulling it away from my protective grasp, and so in a round about sort of way it protected me from the risk of falling asleep and ending up stranded in Mordor. Thinking about Amanda’s exhortation to make friends with strangers, I almost looked up to see if there was a nearby parishioner, someone who might be just as in need of a chat, just an easy, fleeting experience of humanity to stop them from sinking into themselves. Still there was no will in me to actually reach out.

The show had been magnificent. The “Empress of Experience Art” I had dubbed her as I cast my review into the World via the medium of Twitter, and I meant it so completely. It has stuck with me. I never cry at gigs. Tears had nearly come at Koko, seeing Amanda, the year before. Now finally any remaining self-consciousness had been swept aside and I had wept openly as the music washed over me. It had coated me in the psychic mélange of Her blood, bile, pain, love and regret. No other musician had ever before reached into me so acutely, so indisputably. She reached deep into the inside of me and made me weep for joy to be in the presence of such a vital, fragile and honest outpouring. She had shown us all her Soul in all its bright and terrible majesty. That is how it had seemed to me then, and it still does today.

Camden Town, people shuffled on and shuffled off; it was late enough that despite the weight of gig-goers from Chalk Farm there was enough room for everyone, without the more common scuffles, harsh looks and occasionally even harsher words that are the norm for the Tube in London, particularly around tourist and teenager trap hotspots like Camden.

China; Tori Amos.

After a droning and pointless announcement over the train tannoy – which cut right through the opening verse of China in a most annoying but predictable fashion – the train pulled away the station and once more the big metal worm we were all riding leapt into the bowels of London, next stop Euston.

That was when it happened.


The lights flickered, not an uncommon event on the Northern Line, even with the new rolling stock. Looking up as they came back, I was jolted into the moment by realising that no one else was in the carriage. I blinked, looked again. Still no one. A moment before all of the seats in front of me and to either side were full of a mixture of AFP fans and other random denizens of London. Now those seats were all empty. Gingerly I stood up, removing my earbuds in case there might be a uniquely useful announcement, and looked up and down the train, courtesy of the windows in the communicating doors between carriages. No one. It was as though I was suddenly alone in a Tube train; no I actually was alone on a Tube train. Had I fallen asleep? Was I missed when they put the train in the depot? A low-level panic was rising in my chest when I snapped around to the sound of a voice;

“Don’t worry, Oli, you’re quite safe.”

There in the middle of what had been the empty seats opposite me a moment before, sitting with her feet up on the edge of the seat, heels tucked under her ass, was an American sounding woman (a guess at both, from the voice), in jeans and a nondescript black hoodie, the hood of which was pulled up so as to almost completely obscure her face. She really had not been there what must have been less than a second before. Who was she? How did she know my name? How did she appear like that, as if from nowhere? How did she know that I was quite safe?

I tried to talk, not even sure which question to ask first, but not even a simple sound could escape my lips. That actually made me panic, never one to be lost for words. My breath was coming in short snatches and the checklist began to run in my head; pulse, reflection, breathing? One could say that I was suddenly energised by the primal fear that I might be dead.

“Sit down, Oli. I promise you’re not dead, you’re quite safe and once we’ve had a conversation you’ll be back on your way home. OK?”

That voice… It was so familiar, but it was equally elusive. The more I tried to remember who it belonged to the further it seemed to slip from my grasp, like trying to catch someone that looks familiar in a crowded place, only to have them dart around a corner and apparently disappear. I sat down; after all, what else was there to do? Sitting as instructed, albeit very kindly, made all the difference. Tube seats are not all that comfortable, but the sheer relief I felt as I settled back into the seat was unexpected, and was utterly out of line from the raw comfort of just “getting a seat”, which while real (as anyone who commutes in London will tell you), is not really all that powerful in the end.

There she was, sitting opposite me, perched as if she was indulging in the internet craze of owling. Her face was tipped forward as if in deference, though something told me that it absolutely was not deference at all. Rather it was a sense of drama that was behind her posture. I leaned forward, trying to make out the shape of her face, trying to understand how I knew her voice, how on Earth this mysterious person could be familiar to me.

“You know who I am. Think harder. Think harder and deeper; it will come to you.”

I closed my eyes, replaying the words in my mind, listening as closely as I could to the timbre and pitch, the cadence and the character.


A soft chuckle escaped from under the hood, and then slowly she straightened her neck and peeled back the hood; it was her. How could it be her? Surely she was backstage at the Roundhouse, cooling off, having a drink or three with those people she had invited to be there with her after it was all over for another night? Maybe sending an email or a text to Neil and getting ready to crash on her bus before the odyssey to her next stop? I realised that rationalising this was pointless; somehow I was alone on a Tube train that moments before had been packed with fellow travellers. Well alone apart from Amanda Palmer; she was with me. On stage, earlier that evening, she had seemed so powerful and towering, a burlesque-glam-rock-punk icon holding a couple of thousand acolytes in her hands, but now she was just a shade above normal. No make-up, just street clothes, understated by comparison and yet still confident and charismatic. Of course she had appeared out of nowhere, so there was that, and as a hero of mine there was an instant jolt of awe despite her off stage persona.

“You look so surprised, which is gratifying I suppose, but seriously get over it.”

I started trying to speak again, wanting to point out that nothing quite so magical or odd had ever happened to me before and that I might need more than a moment just to process the whole thing, but once more I was speechless. I was immediately put in mind of a friend’s oft recounted experience of meeting one of her greatest musical heroes, wherein she had simply made a couple of involuntary noises and smiled a lot, despite years of consideration spent deciding what she might say if she ever met him. Suddenly it was the same for me, words catching in my throat like thorns, desperate to say something original and interesting to this person whose Art meant so much to me, and who was quite unexpectedly right there, in front of me.

“Okay, that was a little harsh, but seriously it’s just me, I’m not all that special in the grand scheme of things and we are alone here for a few moments, so stop worrying about it.”

There was something genuine and calming about the way that she spoke these words, something akin to the way her music had touched me only a few minutes before, and something deep down in my mind reacted to that. Involuntarily I started to relax. I was still filled with questions and confusion, but these things were no longer a tightening leash around my neck.

“Amanda, how is this possible? Am I dreaming?”

“Nope, you’re not dreaming, though I imagine that if you tell anyone about this they will assume it was a dream, even if they pretend to go along with your exhortations that it was a real experience. As for how this is possible, well… Let’s just say that there are some perks attached to being me, and I’ll see how much more I want to tell you as this conversation wears on.”
I reached into my pocket for my cigarettes, and took them out, offering her one as a way of checking to see if she would mind. Surprisingly she took one, and in return offered me a light with a sleight of hand that seemed so smooth, so perfect that I could only assume she had known what I was going to do well before I actually did it. We sat there for a moment, each inhaling the first couple of drags and then it seemed that it was my moment to ask a question;

“Why me? I mean, if I assume for a moment that this is completely real, not some fevered imagining, then why would you visit me, and why in such dramatic style?”

She smiled again, this time a wide and playful grin, a not unfamiliar expression that had played across her face several times over the course of the evening’s performance.

“Do you remember when I crowd surfed over you? You touched me, don’t worry I am not saying it was anything inappropriate you were just doing your part in keeping me aloft. You touched my wrist as you helped the crowd support me as I passed by. Remember?”

I nodded, I remembered slightly embarrassed that I had momentarily experienced a kind of religious pleasure at having actually touched her as she flew by above my head. It was a mawkish and teenage thought that had been more reverent than anything else, and certainly not sexual, but secretly I did not care that it was those things, I had felt it and it had been real. She knew what I was thinking, which should have troubled me more than it did, but in the moment that realisation passed me by;

“Don’t worry about it, most people feel the same way about some hero or other, we’ve all known people who had a story about the day they shook Obama’s hand or got a hug from Cobain, or were clapped on the back by David Beckham. It’s human to want to touch other people, and with heroes I think it’s something to do with us wanting to know that they are real, they are flesh and bone just like the rest of us. I’ve done it too, don’t worry.”

She waited to see if I could indeed shake off the awkwardness that the memory had brought, and when I did she went on;

“When you touched me I felt something, something bittersweet, something rare and dark and secret about why my music is so important to you and I knew in that moment that you were the one that I was there to find tonight. That’s the thing you are going to come to know about Art and the people that create it. Opening your heart completely to other people and painting the colours of your life on the canvas of public display comes with some fairly deep responsibilities. One of them is making sure that other people live up to the their own responsibilities to themselves.”

“I’m the one you were meant to find? I don’t understand.”

“Let’s try this, tell me why my music matters to you, why it made you cry with joy? There’s no one here to overhear you. Here’s your one chance to tell me face to face what it is that makes my Art matter so much to you. If you can do that, and do it honestly, then I think you’ll realise for yourself why I am here.”

I leaned back for a moment, took a long drag on my cigarette which was nearly done, as it had been burning away to itself while we were talking, and tried to find that truth within.


“I suppose it’s that I have things to say, regardless of whether or not anyone might care about them, things to create and shape and polish and then send out into the world that express any number of things about me. Right now they are building up and up and up inside me without coming out. Your music matters to me because you are someone who is like me. That is not to compare my creativity or talent with yours subjectively, just that on a mechanical, process level you appear to be someone that has things that they want to say and so you use your music to let those ideas and feelings out. For what it’s worth your Art is also important for me because I happen to relate to a great deal of it; not only that, but one can identify a fragile frankness in it that makes me believe, that conveys honesty and reality in a way that a good deal of other artists have trouble achieving.”

Exhaling, my whole body relaxed as if I had laid down a heavy burden. Still, there was more;

“There is something else, something deeper and more precious about what I see in you and your Art. It’s more than that I identify with you, or find your Art to be a visceral, raw experience. You inspire me. Not necessarily in terms of content, but in terms of your creative ethos. You are a prolific creative force, sending your creations out into the world. You and I are not kindred spirits, no matter how much I may wish that to be the case. No you are a firebrand, a leader. Your warcry “We are the Media” is a complete expression of the way in which being at one of your shows or really listening to your music makes me feel. For me, and so many others I am sure, you lead the way, letting all of us know that we have it within us to make Art, whatever form that might take as it bursts out of us.”

There, that was all of it. I felt strong, even after pouring everything out, leaning forward like an eager student keen to catch every word of whatever response might come from her.

She smiled, that rakish, playful smile that says ‘oh yes, we are going there’, and she took a a last drag on the cigarette I had given her before putting it out on the seat next to her and then fixing me in her gaze with the kind of deep eye contact that usually feels very, very uncomfortable. It felt fine, but then, that was the point.

“Oli, you’ve pretty much nailed it. Yes I have my stories to tell, and yes I do bare my inner world through my music and set those deep and personal truths free to roam around amongst you all, and that is fulfilling in itself. I count myself very lucky that what I have to say matters a damn at all, but it’s not why I do what I do.”

She paused, cocking her head to one side and looking up and away to the left, looking for all the world like Cyndi Lauper, just for a split second.

“No, that’s not true, or rather it’s not completely true. I do accept that some of what I do is about touching people in that more simple way, just making a basic dent in their consciousness by which I mean that they end up reacting to what I have given them by thanking me, with applause, emails, tweets and so forth; there is nothing wrong with enjoying the acclaim of others, though having said that it does help if you genuinely believe that you deserve it. But putting that aside, the real reason I do what I do is to encourage other people to take up the cause and in their turn make Art as well. I don’t want to sound overly hug-a-tree or chant-y, but Art is a big part of what makes the World bearable and not to sound selfish, but I spend so much time making Art I need there to be other people out there that make the Art that moves me, that drives me on. I’m a very lucky person, I know a lot of people who make Great Art, not least the coin-er of that very phrase, but that doesn’t stop me wanting to encourage everyone else who has something, anything within them to put it into a form that other people can experience. You could say that it is my primary mission in life.”

“Okay, so you came to find me because I am inspired by you?”

“Not only because I have inspired you. Time for the painful truth now, Oliver”

As she said my name in full for the first time the lights flashed again and in the moment of half-light her eyes flashed solid black and her smile widened far further than should have been possible, but then the lights were back, nothing else had changed and her eyes and smile looked as they had before. What was I speaking with? Or who? I was not sure anymore, but for reasons that pass all understanding I was unafraid. It was as if a part of my brain had already rationalised away that whether this was actually Amanda Palmer or not, who or whatever this was did not really comply with the normal rules of the world, and that was okay. I brought my mind back to the issue at hand.

I knew exactly what she meant, but it was going to hurt to say it out loud, to confront and admit the truth, oft denied, that was lurking there behind my tired eyes. We all hold truths within us, truths that we lie about to everyone, including ourselves, even if only by omission. Dark sexual fantasies, unpalatable violent thoughts, callous judgements about the people around us, and the real truth behind the excuses we tell ourselves and everyone else about why we are not managing to do this or that thing that seems important enough to talk about but not quite important enough to do. We never give voice to any of these things, for fear of being made to feel foolish or evil or stupid. Even in our private moments with only our soul mates there to see us, these deep-tissue secrets often go unmentioned. I steeled myself. This step was inescapable and at the same time completely necessary. There was nothing left but self doubt and fear of failure. It was time to step off a cliff.
“I make excuses for not writing. I make excuses for not creating the images in my mind. I make excuses for not making my podcast and website project happen. All the time I account for the lack of execution in my creative life with IOUs that are never redeemed. I make token gestures toward paying off these psychic debts to myself with tiny offerings, and rarely at that, barely able to keep the creeping negativity of procrastination and cowardice from my door. This isn’t the end is it? You aren’t here to take it from me, are you? To punish me for not letting it out? Please tell me that’s not what this is about?”
She nodded, slowly, making with her nodding the same impression one might get from a slow handclap.

“Good, that’s good. Your honesty is to your credit. It is rare in these situations for the people I visit to be so honest. Far too often they are keen to explain that they have responsibilities and that time is not on their side and that their partner doesn’t like having to compete for attention and time with their creative pursuits. You know that these are all excuses that you repeat to yourself in either fear or idleness, or perhaps both?”

I nodded

“You realise, Oliver, that there is nothing to fear? Acceptance cannot be the real ‘why’ that makes you open your heart and splash your dreams all over the place. If it is then you are nothing more than a star fucker, a gold digger, mistaking fame for any number of much more important gifts. I do not believe that your fear is fear of anonymity, of failing to be famous, but you do fear something. I know that you do, because I can smell it on you now, and more than that I have felt your Art in your touch and there is no amount of idleness in Creation that could hold that at bay. Tell me, now, and I will consider the actions I may take, but speak the truth. Be warned of that, there must only be truth between us in this place.”

More nodding. Another cigarette was inexplicably between my lips, so I lit it and offered Amanda another. She smiled very graciously and waved it away. It suddenly occurred to me that I was smoking on the Tube and I almost put it out on reflex, but then remembered that there was no need. Looking up at her I could see that she was waiting patiently for me to speak, despite the awful consequences that I might endure should I fail to speak the truth. There was none of the kind of foot-tapping impatience one might have expected, she was so patient. Even in this defining moment the strongest sense that I had from Amanda was empathy. I took a long deep draw on the cigarette and looked up, fixing her with my eyes the way she had fixed me before;

“Regardless of fame or fortune, of touching one life or thousands, I fear that if I make the Art that is in me become tangible to others and I send it out into the World there will no longer be that secret place within me, that my work will provide the keys and maps that others could use to break into my inner world, and I like being able to control who comes inside, though many might mistakenly think differently.”

She smiled and was about to speak when I cut her off;

“There is an even deeper truth. I want to be honest with you, Amanda, not in fear of you or the idea that something of myself might be lost to me, but because now you have helped me open this door there is a strong need in me to open it all the way. My greatest fear is that by setting my ideas free as Art that they might run out, and in giving them their freedom I might wither and fade.”

As I finished speaking she stepped off the seat opposite me and wrapped her arms around me. She held me there, like a sister, for what seemed like an eternity and then she kissed my forehead, placed something in my hand and whispered;

“Bravo. Make sure you come to Boston, and make sure you stop letting fear hold you back. I promise you, there is nothing to fear apart from wasted time.”


“The next Station is Bank, please change here for the Central, District and Waterloo and City Lines”

Jolted awake, the carriage was as it had been when we left Chalk Farm, well apart from a few people had left and others had joined us. For a moment I felt cheated; ‘it was all just a dream’ is the worst kind of cliché, and my heart sank a little. Still clinging to the hope that it had been real I looked down at my hand. I uncurled my fingers and there were three cigarette butts and what looked like a shiny, new, American Quarter. I picked it up and examined it, it was not what it appeared to be at all. Embossed on one side was a graven image of Amanda’s face, and on the flip-side was stamped “WE ARE THE MEDIA!”. Holding it I felt my fear receding, and somewhere on the very edge of my consciousness, I knew that I would see Amanda again.

terribleminds – Flash Fiction Challenge “Must Contain…”

Flash Fiction Challenge – “Must Contain…”

Chuck Wendig posted a flash fiction challenge on his blog

This is my stab at it, I called it “Percussion”. I picked #4 & #7 – An Antique Gun & A Hard Drive Full of Secrets



Franklyn turned the pistol over and over in his hands, trying to ascertain something useful about it. It was completely alien to him, other worldly, even if that other world was actually the past rather than a foreign land or distant world. Like ninety-nine percent of breathing Texans over the age of eight he had fired a gun, Hell he had fired many guns, but he had never even seen an old black powder pistol before except in the pages of books at his grandfather’s house. He knew enough about guns to know better than to look down the barrel, but without doing so he was unsure if there was any safe way to ascertain whether or not the piece was loaded. He could see a percussion cap under the striking face of the hammer, that had clearly been lowered carefully else the cap would be spent, and that seemed to suggest that someone had primed the pistol at some point in the past, but for all he knew that could have been as much as or maybe even more than a century ago. Equally it could have been scant hours.

The woman at Franklyn’s feet was still out cold. He had gingerly prised the pistol from her hand when he had come upon her prone form and decided that he did not relish the idea of her awaking suddenly to see him standing over her, perhaps putting the fear of God in her, while she was holding a firearm. She was dressed quite oddly by Franklyn’s standards. He was used to July being short shorts and crop tops amongst the local girls, but here lay a young woman dressed in what could really only be described as Civil War era wilderness garb, drab oliver flannel pants tucked into high and sturdy boots, a flowing undershirt beneath a leather tunic and over the top a simple duster-style coat.

Her hat was still around her neck, bigger than a fedora, but smaller than a stetson, but it was no longer on top of her head. He imagined it had fallen off when she fell and the leather thong that had been tied under her chin had kept it around her neck. So far his best guess was that she was some kind of re-enacter or living history person, even though he was unaware of any renaissance fairs or civil war events anywhere near Odessa, not that those things were particularly high on his agenda. He glanced down at her again, just to check that she was still out, but also that she was still breathing; both still held true.

He stepped away from her and gingerly cocked the pistol, then raised it to arm’s length as he had seen done with old fashioned guns in pirate movies and aimed down the barrel at a tree on the other side of the clearing. He brought his breathing under control, as he had been taught by his father, noting how the rise and fall of his chest made the muzzle of the pistol rise and fall in sympathy. He took one final breath, let a little out and then held it as he began to squeeze the trigger.

The hammer fell with a satisfying, though quiet, crack and then a split second later, before he had time to think or break his aim the pistol fired with a far louder and deeper report. It kicked a fair bit, though nothing like Cory’s Desert Eagle, and there was a lot of smoke and flash from the muzzle, but once the haze cleared Franklyn could see that he had killed that tree dead. There was an unsightly gash about four inches up and down and a good inch and a half across, through which daylight was beginning to pour. His immediate thought was that he was quite right not to have looked down the barrel, as this thing would have made a canoe of his head if it had gone off.

His second thought was that there was something very cold on his neck, and that is when he heard something other than a ringing in his left ear;

“Drop the pistol or the last thing you will see is all of your blood pouring out of your neck.”

Most people do not think like Franklyn, something that he was aware of, but also bemused by. He did drop the pistol as commanded, but all he could think while he was doing it was that this girl had a very sexy British voice and he was really hoping that they could come out of this thing friends.

The cold blade that had been against his throat was lifted away and he felt a powerful shove between his shoulder blades which he gave into and took three paces forward before turning around slowly to face her in as unthreatening and passive a manner as he could manage. It is not easy to appear unthreatening when you are six foot five, two hundred and twenty pounds and sporting a wildman beard and a buzz-cut, not to mention the plethora of visible tattoos and the large bowie knife that was very obviously strapped to his right thigh, but he gave it a try anyway.

She was even prettier conscious and angry-looking, and he was impressed by the grace with which she scooped up her pistol without breaking eye contact or lowering her own quite evil looking blade. He decided to go with his gut and offered her a shallow bow and a nod, palms up and out so that she could not even suspect he might reach for his own knife. He was fairly sure that she relaxed just a single notch and so he decided to break the silence;

“I really meant no disrespect, I’m afraid my curiosity got the better of me, but nontheless I am sorry.”

Her face softened another notch before she tensed up again, suddenly realising that something was missing from the pocket of her coat. She immediately raised her knife and started to advance on him;

“Where is it?”

This was not going well, Franklyn could definitely not see anything good about where this was going as he had no idea what she was talking about but she was, perhaps rightly, treating him as the prime suspect in the disappearance of whatever it was that she was still digging for in her left coat pocket to absolutely no avail. He decided that honesty and open-ness were the only things likely to get him through and keeping as passive a stance as he could manage replied;

“Where is what? Seriously, you can search every inch of me I have nothing of yours. Hell I’ve barely got anything of my own.”

She nodded curtly and motioned to his knife with the point of her own.

“Slowly, take the knife and throw it away, but very very slowly, ok?”

Franklyn nodded, then complied, tossing it gently to his right in such a way as the hilt struck the ground; after all he had only just sharpened it three days before, no sense notching the blade unnecessarily.

“Ok.” She twitched the point of her knife up and down, “Arms up, palms to me.”

Again he complied, not so much out of fear but out of admiration for her apparent poise and professionalism. In an odd way he was enjoying seeing her work and more to the point every time she spoke he just about melted anyway.

She came closer, and holding the knife just under his chin started to pat him down, again very gracefully and without breaking eye contact or losing her poise with the knife once. In a moment it was done and she backed away and lowered the knife,

“I am sorry, Sir, I must concur that you do not have my missing item, but that is most disappointing for me as well as quite embarassing. Please forgive me my suspicious nature?”

Franklyn smiled his big ‘cuddly bear’ grin,

“Why of course ma’am.”

She cracked a smile and put her knife away, another smooth and graceful movement that impressed the heck out of Franklyn.

“Well, that is very decent of you,” she ran her hand through her hair and laid some serious eye contact on him; “Do you think I could ask you for a little more help?”

Franklyn knew that he was being played, but he did not really mind, just so long as she kept talking. He nodded, and motioned that she should continue.

Her smile widened;

“Well, you see the thing is that I appear to have lost a portable hard drive that my employer is going to be very unhappy to learn has left my possession at all. Of course if I get it back, all of his secrets will be safe and I will not be up for early retirement.”

Franklyn smiled;

“It would be my privilege to help you out.”

Going Home…

As you may or may not know, dear reader, I have been experiencing a little turbulence in my career of late. A little over six weeks ago I gave my notice at Vivastreet after a year of highs and lows and a great deal of stress, a decision made when it became clear that I was not likely to be able to achieve the things that I set out to do by remaining there. In many ways it was a very difficult decision, in others it was very easy – is this not always the way – but by the time a day had passed I was quite certain that in terms of career and my personal happiness and health it was the right way to go.

Clearly this decision has led to a job search, and in fact the day after I handed in my notice I spied an interesting staff role at the BBC, which I applied for and promptly forgot about, as the deadline for applications was weeks away. To my genuine delight, about ten days later, I received an invitation to have a telephone interview, which I took and must have done quite well with as this led to a coding test and finally a face to face interview with three members of the senior engineering team on News. Despite the complexity and time cost of the process, which I would say is probably inevitable with an organisation of the BBC’s size, the entire process was challenging and fun, and as I left New Broadcasting House after the interview I was quietly hopeful that I had done and said the right kind of things and that there was a good chance that I would be offered the job.

Well, yesterday afternoon I verbally accepted and today I had written confirmation of the offer, which I have also formally accepted, and so now I am officially going back to the BBC. I have entitled this post “Going Home…” for a very specific reason; in all of my twelve years in software engineering, despite some other really excellent experiences, the only place that I have ever felt truly at home, truly in sync with the culture, the ethos and the goals of the organisation is the BBC. Now it is fair to say that I am a ridiculous fanboi for the BBC anyway, and while I am not unconditionally on their side, I have been known to fight their corner in a rather partisan manner, when the organisation has been criticised by others, long before I ever worked for them.

I can’t easily explain to you how much of a thrill I know it will be to walk into work at New Broadcasting House every day, to feel that I am contributing to the workings of an institution that is dear to my heart and feels, to me at least, to be one of the foundation stones of modern British life. I am not a very patriotic person, one might say I have a quiet love for my country; the kind of honest love that sees her faults and is not afraid to own them, but I do have a strong attachment to much of what I would call Anglicana. Tea, cricket, the Lake District, English Literature, the British Museum, Red buses and of course the BBC (to name but a few of the things that strike a chord with me in particular) – these are all things that matter to me, and they matter because they are the expression of the character of my country.

There is no question that today, now that I know where I am going to be working, I feel a lot less stressed than I did yesterday. Yesterday was filled with uncertainty, so much so that I fluffed a telephone interview with another large organisation that would in many ways have been a great opportunity, but today my mood is not just improved by the security of “I have a job”, my calm and happiness are magnified tenfold by “I (will soon) work at the BBC”.

Right, now to go and hang up the washing…