I see the signs from this bench: the house behind me was recently sold by Ashtons; there are road works 300 yards away on the main road; the speed limit is 40mph on that same main road; and Alwyne Drive leads to Alwyne Grove. Anyone here know what an alwyne is?
I do. Apparently it’s an elf. Or perhaps a magical friend. It’s also a girl’s name. So maybe we’re talking about girl elves being just up the drive from here?
Thing is, though, I know that there’s not much of a grove up that drive. If there is it’s in someone’s front garden. Yeah, that’s right, there’s nothing but houses up there.
Across the road, though, is a whole other kettle of starlings. You see those trees? Well behind there are fields and fields and more fields that stretch right down to the river Ouse. There are also trees there, most of them politely standing at the edges of the fields, but I imagine that a few of them have conspired to form the odd grove or two.
I’ve got a phone call appointment with an NHS professional on the 24th September. Hopefully they’ll be able to tell over the phone whether the irregular brown patch on the side of my head is skin cancer or not. Do you think I should buzz-cut my hair to make it easier for them to do their diagnosis over the phone?
I haven’t seen any squirrels near this bench but that doesn’t mean they’re not …
Just had an idea for a novel. Here’s how I developed that idea (think of it as a case-study):
When you flip a coin it can either be heads or tails. In any argument, there are two sides: yours and theirs. When something bad happens then there are at least five ways you can react: denial, anger, bargaining, grief or acceptance. What if all of these sides were not just aspects of the self, but real people (or characters in a novel)?
The characters are different aspects of me. My denial will be called Eddie (Sheeran), anger will be Kurt (Cobain), bargaining will be Simbiatu (Little Simz), depression will be Dylan (Thomas – Under Milk Wood) and acceptance will be Jane ((Emma) Austen).
Eddie is really called Dean (Newstead). Some kind of a double life going on.
Just noticed that Kurt’s got big(ish) boobs. I dunno, maybe it’s the steroids and that’s why his moods are swinging.
Simbiatu is the first name of rapper Little Simz. I’m pretty sure I won’t be allowed to write real people into a story but I can anonymise aspects of their life and personality.
Dylan’s skin looks milky white. Under Milk Wood is a 1954 radio drama by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.
Jane looks like she could be an Austen but perhaps it’d be better to call her Emma. I could get a lot of mileage out of an Emma.
A serial killer is loose in the (city, countryside, hamlet, isolated mansion, fortified supermarket) – a cancer in the heart of the (city, community). One by one, Eddie, Kurt, Simbiatu and Dylan are murdered until only Emma remains alive. Is she the killer or is there someone else? Yeah, we’re going to have to go for the fortified supermarket. But fortified against what? Well, duh, Zombies; obviously! But don’t worry, they’re just a backdrop. Just a reason why the situation is inescapable. The inevitability of what happens next is important.
To be honest, that’s all the planning I need. The novel just about builds itself from here on out.
Setting the scene: all characters together in the middle of a crisis (yeah, the zombies are trying it on)
Killer’s background (lots of little stories that show character and motivation). Maybe cut this up and put a piece before each of the following sections. Let’s see.
Eddie’s background told in a graphic and image rich style. Why is he really Dean? How does this contribute to what follows? How does denial fit in? Is denial in his natural nature or his bolted-on behaviour?
Eddie being hunted, stalked and killed. Nothing too explicit. Bloody but not gratuitous. The death of denial.
Kurt’s background and life before the zombies. How he got there. Use stuff from Cobain’s life but nothing too obvious. Do supermarkets stock steroids? Withdrawal? Anger? How does he show anger? What’s the root of his anger?
Kurt’s death could look like an accident or suicide but it really is murder. Let’s see how that plays out. What does fiercely burning anger being snuffed out look like?
Simbiatu is a waif. She is a very sympathetic character. Her background is a case study of rising up in the face of poverty and deprivation. She will capture your heart so that …
Simbiatu’s death will hit you very hard. It will be tragic. A waste of potential, love, life and heart. Her determination to live will have you roaring her on in her attempts to evade the killer. She’ll try to bargain for her life, but she’ll still die.
Dylan is a bit of a downer. He is melancholy and this affected the group, and everyone else in his past, in a negative way. We delve into Dylan’s background and in the process we draw on Dylan Thomas and his work. Steal, steal, steal.
Dylan’s death is, to be honest, a bit of a relief to everyone concerned. I mean, no-one (except for serial killers) wants anyone to die (they want their victims to die) but removing all that wailing and weeping from a scene can’t be anything but uplifting.
Emma’s background. Hmm. Well, for a start, she’s just like the Emma in Jane Austen’s novel. Please don’t make me read it. Maybe I could skim it or read the SparkNotes or watch the movie? Seems that Jane is her first name and Emma is her middle name, but she like’s to be known as Emma so I guess we just have to accept that.
Emma’s survival means that acceptance is the final state of the book, but acceptance of what? Does she accept her role as a serial killer (if that’s what she is)? Or does she accept her role as a survivor? Any which way around, Emma survives, but what is she left with? The supermarket is the body. The fortifications are the drugs/diet against the disease (zombies) but how are they effective when the enemy is already within (the serial killer).
The last scene is the invasion of the zombies from outside. The death of denial, anger, bargaining and grief, even though they are ineffective companions, has taken too much from the defence of the supermarket. Emma and her acceptance is too laisser-faire to defend the supermarket alone. We witness one last assault where the zombies (picture them as Covid-19, flu, or a common cold) invade the supermarket (the body). Contained within are Emma (acceptance) the serial killer (cancer). They try to fight together because, after all, the serial killer is still human (part of the human race) even though he has gone rogue (cancerous) and he still wants to live after his own fashion. Emma accepts everything and so has given up. Or – wait – has she? Let’s have a look at what Emma’s actually accepting here. Here’s an invader. Here’s an enemy. The enemy is providing a way for the invaders to come inside (partly through killing parts of the defending force and partly by unlocking the doors (health, strength, immunity, order, determination) that kept the invaders (disease, disorder) out). Here is a weapon. Here is acceptance. Here is an invader. Here is acceptance of the weapon. Drug trials happen all the time. Some are effective weapons against disease. Accept the trial, accept the weapon, accept the victory. Accept the arrival of the cavalry. Helicopters can land on the roof of a hospital and whisk survivors to safety – it happens all the time. Not every serial killer story has to have an unhappy ending. Zombies don’t always win; they are not immune to napalm. And if the serial killer gets caught up in the flames then who’s gonna mourn? Now that’d be something worth accepting.
Me: “Hey, Melissa, I have a really random sounding question. I need a first name for a new novel that begins with C and is largely unpronounceable to English speakers. Your surname made me think you light know of one. Perhaps it could have plenty of zeds or exes in it. I’m Robert. Sorry if I weirded you out with that question. :)”
Melissa: “Hello Robert! Well i don’t know if this will work for you, but what came to my mind is “Chizvinzwira” which translates to “now hear for yourself ” in my language (Shona). I’m honored you asked by the way, i guess i like random questions.”
Me: “Wow, thank’s Melissa – that’s ideal. I have no idea where to begin in pronouncing that correctly. Perfect. Now I need to ask permission to use the name I guess. I’ve just planned out a novel (you can see the plan here if you like: https://robertcday.wordpress.com/2021/09/14/embodying/) and I needed a name for my serial killer. He’s not going to be called Chizvinzwira in the book because he’s in England and, because no-one in the situation he finds himself in (trapped in a Supermarket with Zombie Hordes surrounding it) has the mental bandwidth to pronounce his name (or they’re all racist idiots – I haven’t decided yet (probably a combination of the two)) then they call him C. Actually, they call him Big C. I’ve not decided whether that’s because he’s big and muscular or big and fat – which do you think would be most likely? I think the former (muscular) because he’s got to have some strength in order to be able to kill all those people. Unless he’s cunning, I suppose. Probably cunning and fat would be most likely due to his motivation for killing them (food is running out in the supermarket). I don’t really know what people who speak Shona are like (which dialect, by the way?) but there are always going to be outliers. Anyway, like I say – I need to ask your permission to use this name because it’s not for good purposes. C will be fat and cunning, will kill four people out of greed for food and life, and will not be redeemed at the end of the book (he will die in a napalm attack along with the zombies in the closing scene). What do you think? Kindness – Robert.”
I didn’t realise that I was doing it, but I’ve just found out that I’ve been tracking cars.
It’s probably because I read books whilst I walk. I even read them as I cross the road. I was doing it just now.
Without knowing it I tracked a car that had just passed me. I didn’t do it with my eyes, because they were firmly fixed on my book as I crossed the road. No, I was actually doing it with my ears.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but cars make swooshing noises as they move along. Most of the sound you hear, as a car goes by, is not actually from its engine, but from the sound its tyres make as they displace air from the surface of the road. Try it now and you’ll see (hear) what I mean. Stand by the road and pay attention to what you hear as a car passes by.
This particular car; the one I was tracking with my ears, had just passed me before I stepped into the road. Unconsciously, I tracked it as it drove away from me. Then, suddenly, unexpectedly, the car vanished from my radar. It stopped making a sound!
I immediately became conscious of the silent car and I was even in the act of raising my eyes from the book I was reading when I realised what had happened.
A few weeks ago, men came, driving huge machines. Transporters arrived bearing even larger machines and deposited them onto this stretch of road. Barriers and signs followed and, quietly and efficiently, the road was closed off. Then machine and man set to work.
First they ripped away the surface of the road and carried it off to an unknown fate in lorries designed for that purpose. Then they tidied up the edges of the road before moving onto the final stage of their plan: they resurfaced the road!
The new tarmac was finer than the previous grade and the surface was (and is) smooth enough to skate on. I really hope that the cars passing don’t take that as an invitation when the colder weather arrives and rain freezes on the surface. There’s a roundabout and a school just down the road; both being really good reasons for cars to slow down.
For now, though, the only phenomenon the new ultra-smooth surface of the road creates is that it makes cars disappear. They vanish from my auditory radar and cause my eyes to pause, fractionally as they skip across the words of my book.
Still, it’s nice. Despite disconcerting my mind briefly and interrupting my reading minisculy, it’s nice that the road is quiet. If only it could happen more often and in more places. We don’t need a pandemic to cut down on the din from the traffic, we just need better roads. Perhaps now we’ve exited Afghanistan, a little more of the national budget can be diverted to this end.
I have a writing voice. It’s more staccato than my talking voice. More like a machine gun than a hose pipe. I write like that when I want to say things quickly but without using the niceties of long sentences and explanations. Married life is sometimes like a long explanation that no-one understands. Let me try to tell you about it in short words.
We’d had an argument. All our tiffs are about the same thing: nothing. Leastwise, that’s how it seems to me. One of us, usually me, says something curt and the other reacts. Then it escalates. Neither one of us is good at backing down or admitting that we might, just might, be even a teensy-weensy bit wrong. I know that I can stop the arguments dead by admitting that I am wrong, but I’m a bit of nutter when it comes to things like that. And besides, I’m not always wrong. In fact, neither of us is. In reality our life is a play put on by the gods to entertain themselves between bouts of gentle creation and gouts of destruction and fiery war.
So, yeah, like I said – we’d had an argument and it hadn’t ended well and so I stormed out of the house and into the car and roared off down the road to Tesco.
People in charge of huge chunks of metal on wheels should not get in them and roar off down the road when they’re in the grip of blinding rage. Nor should they decide to get petrol or anything thing else that involves being around people and inflammable liquids. But remember that I’m someone who can’t admit to being wrong and most of what follows will become absolutely explicable and not entirely uninteresting in that light.
There was one pump open and two cars gunning towards it. I’d got to the forecourt first and so it should have been my spot. He didn’t agree. I could tell he didn’t agree from the way he stuck the nose of his gas-guzzling, four-wheeled, ecology-damaging, global-warming, curse-word of a vehicle in front of my modestly proportioned car. Just looking at his face told me that he was insane. He was gesticulating with his hands elbows and fingers even as he steered his curse-word of a garbage-truck in front of mine, inching ever closer to the pump and further away from sanity. I was having none of it. Before he could react, I slammed my vehicle into reverse, screamed backwards at 666 mph whilst pulling my steering into full-lock. I watched his mouth fall open as he tracked my progress across the forecourt, too surprised to even move forward the couple of feet it would have taken to make his triumph complete. By the time he realised what I was up to, it was too late. For him.
My screeching, wild-eyed path, by the time I was done with a couple of breathtakingly beautiful hand-brake turns on the slippery tarmac of the petrol station, had taken me all the way around the petrol pump and slotted my car, steaming with pride and proprietary skill into the space next to the only free petrol pump, directly in front of my arch-enemy.
I got out, and gave him a cheery smile filled with love.
He got the hint, stabbed the air with a couple of cheeky fingers and exited the fray.
And the gods threw roses onto the stage whilst applauding and stamping their feet in wild and tumultuous abandon.