Finding Damo

The story of a man, his job, two cats and the meaning of success.

Archive for the category “stories”

The wolf is coming!

200px-Askalti_Darksteel_TCGI have a love for coincidence. Seeing similarities in different parts of my life makes it seem like there is a plan to the universe. It allows my imagination to posit a (usually incredibly unlikely) future based on what I’m seeing. The universe cares about me and is sending me hints so that I can guess what happens next.

That makes this current case of Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon somewhat disturbing.

Everywhere I look, I’m seeing Ragnarok. That can’t be a good thing.

12307402_865473633570486_1958686601694734196_oIt started when I began planning the second Thropes book. I’m planning the second book so that I can put the appropriate foreshadowing into the first book, so stop judging me for being a procrastinator. Lycanthropes came about as a result of a curse by a Greek goddess. So gods are real. And how would that change society? Having a pantheon of hands-on Greek gods would change a few things.

Not to mention that if the Greek gods are real, then wouldn’t that indicate that the others are as well?

So World War I is now a battle between the legions aligned with the Greek gods and those who worship the gods of Asgard. A couple of the days of the week have changed. As have a couple of months. I’ve ditched Roman gods altogether. And then left it as “time manages to push things back to what we know and love”.

But there’s Norse gods version one. And the wolves of Fenris.

magnus-chase-1And then I picked up Magnus Chase book one by Rick Riordan. He’s a very funny man and he really knows his mythologies. The writing isn’t phenomenal, but the stories have heart and the voice of Magnus is highly amusing. Oh, and he’s the son of a Norse god. Trying to stop Ragnarok.

Then my character in World of Warcraft levelled high enough to hit Northrend, and suddenly I have all of the Norse mythology I can handle, with Loken and Thorim and Jotunheim and Freya amongst other places and deities. They even have valkyr.

Following on from this, with the new WOW: Legion, they are opening up new Norse areas, including Helheim, as dungeons. It all looks very impressive.

Finally, I’m reading Morning Star by Pierce Brown. Third in the Red Rising series, it’s an engrossing work of war in space and the segregation of peoples based on colour rather than skill. Well worth a read.

The mighty Obsidian warriors live in the icy Antarctic wastes of Mars. They follow a Norse mythology and answer to Asgardian “gods” who keep them subjugated.

This is happening people. The time of the wolf is upon us! Sharpen your axes and drag out your horned helms. Let’s get the end of the world happening.

 

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2015

Everybody has to write one of these, don’t they?

Let’s see. What happened in 2015? It might be just writing at this time of the year, but in my head, the year was categorised by stress. Which is weird, because in 2014 I:

  • wrote two plays,
  • performed in two productions,
  • published and launched my first novel,
  • completed a certificate III in Game Design,
  • holidayed in Halls Gap,
  • turned 40 and was painted into the TARDIS,
  • created a CGI opening for the school production which almost killed me,
  • saw my daughter perform at the Melbourne Arts Centre,
  • had our first cancer scare with our dog Amy and then
  • lost my grandfather to cancer (which doesn’t seem that long ago).

2015They were huge things, and very draining. And still, I finished this year completely shattered and I’m just getting out of it now, after a good few days down at Dromana soaking in the ocean (my calm down place). My 2015 list on the face of it is much longer. This year I:

  • Wrote a book starring my daughter as a werewolf
  • Saw They Might Be Giants (again)
  • Watched my lovely wife graduate from university
  • Ran the school radio show and podcast for a year
  • Spent a week in Sydney
  • Ramped up the school 3D printing program
  • Started learning to program in Python
  • Got my debating team into the finals
  • Had a number of articles published in educational journals
  • Had a reunion of the Five
  • Fixed the shower head
  • Ran the sound for Macbeth
  • Wrote half a dozen stories for a sequel to Dwarves in Space and found them mostly awful
  • Discovered Netflix and Stan and Presto
  • Had a Marvel Universe movie marathon
  • Went to a number of art galleries
  • Attended a few Guides functions
  • Started an educational blog
  • Read the Harper Lee sequel nobody thought would ever happen
  • Flew in a very old bi-plane
  • Finished my wedding video – three years on
  • Celebrated Grandma’s 90th

And that’s just the ones that come to mind going back through my photo gallery. Of those, they were all incredibly positive, life affirming and creative pursuits, which didn’t bring me down in the slightest. So why am I so mentally exhausted?

I think all that I can say is: don’t get involved in politics in the workplace. Just do your own job as well as you can and let what’s up top run itself.

I just wish I believed that was a good idea. Anyway, as always, I promise I will write more in 2016. And I have actual things in place to make that happen. AND I did actually write a lot in 2015 – just not on FindingDamo.

Sports Day – free story!

NB: So months ago I found a competition to write characters from Romeo and Juliet into a new setting. I whipped it up  quickly and sent it to a few people to have a look at it. It wasn’t due until April so I let it slide. And then in a panic I checked the due date and realised it was due the week before.

So you get it for free. Enjoy.

Sports Day picSports Day

There are four houses at Verona College, but only two that ever get talked about; Montague House and their traditional rivals in Capulet. When the house naming system was introduced, the head of English had a field day.

One year, Montague would win the swimming sports and Capulet would take the cup at the Athletics carnival. The next, Capulet would hold all of the records for swimming and Montague would dominate on the track. Teachers as well as students were assigned to a house, and the narrow margin between Montague and Capulet in the sporting arena had on more than one occasion led to fist fights in the staff room. And yelling matches in the car park. And parental feuds on Facebook.

It was this powder keg of enmity, leading back generations, which would lead to the tragic story of the relationship between Romeo and Juliet.

But this isn’t their story.

***

“Get a move on Greg. We’ll be late,” Sam said, shoving his friend who was dawdling in the direction of the starting line.

“If we get there too early, we’ll be the late Greg and Sam,” grumbled the other boy, tucking his red singlet back into his shorts.

“I can take a couple of Montague freaks.”

“You’ll be freaking out, and running away, more like it,” Greg said, nodding at the lithe young men in blue tops, stretching by the side of the track. Sam scowled.

“I’d stand up to those guys.”

“You’d have to. They’re about a head taller than you. Maybe try taking on one of the girls instead.”

“Gawd, I wouldn’t mind, I tell you,” Sam said, tilting his head towards a couple of Montague House girls, laughing and chatting on the grass. They were full of life, long legs tanned and house shirts knotted at their breast bone.

“Uh uh. Don’t even think about it,” Greg warned. “If you ever wanted to die early, making a move on a Montague girl would be a good way to do it.”

“Yeah,” Sam said, and kicked at a chip packet on the grass. “It might be worth it, to kick some Montague skulls.”

“Here’s your chance,” Greg said, eyes widening. A couple of the Montague boys had peeled off from their group and were sauntering casually into a position where they’d cross paths with their Capulet rivals.

“Shit,” Sam said. “OK. I’ve got your back. Have a go.” Greg looked back at his friend.

“You’ve got my back? You’ll be off like a bikini at a nudist beach.”

“No, seriously. Don’t worry.”

“I am bloody worried, seriously.”

“Fine then, but if they start something, we’ll finish it,” Sam said. Greg nodded, and as they approached the other boys, both of them Year 10 students, Greg hawked up a massive lump of phlegm and spat it neatly at the ground near the Montague boys’ feet.

“Oy, watch it,” one said. Sam recognised him as Ben Abraham. A good runner, but a complete asshole. “Did you tools just spit at me?”

“God no,” Greg said, not wanting anyone to say he made the first move. “I just spat. Lucky I missed you, really.”

“Do you wanna go?” Abraham said, taking a step towards Greg, his mate moving in behind him. Sam joined his friend and found himself looking up at two quite burly opponents. He sneered.

“I reckon we could take you,” he said, fighting the urge to stand on tiptoes. Greg nudged him, his head nodding to the side. Sam glanced over and saw Tybalt, the Capulet house captain, watching the proceedings with a dangerous gaze. “Yeah, you’re looking to lose a couple of those shiny white teeth.” Sam was ready to give Abraham a shove when the PA blared.

“All Year Ten students involved in the fifteen hundred metres need to get to the starting line now. That includes the four idiots about to do something stupid by the side of the track.” Mr. Graham, the woodwork teacher, was beckoning to them, a warning glare daring them to continue with their altercation. With a shove, Ben pushed Sam back and trotted off to the starting line. Sam followed, his ears burning and his hands shaking from the close call.

The four boys took their positions, joined by two each from Escalus and Mantua houses. Mr. Graham eyeballed Sam and Ben, shook his head and then raised the starting pistol.

“On your marks, get set…”

KRAK!

Sam was first out of the blocks, being lighter than the other runners. He felt that he had a good lead and concentrated on pushing his feet hard into the track and finding the rhythm that he could keep up for one and a half laps of the oval. His breath was all that he could hear. The first corner approached and he drew across to the inner lane.

Ben Abraham put on a brief burst of speed to come level with Sam and then stepped directly in front of him, shoving him at the same time so that the Capulet lost his balance and slammed into the ground, failing to get his hands out in front of him and halting his momentum using his face as a brake.

“Shit. Sorry,” Ben said, grinning, before a snarling Greg dived headlong into his knees and tackled him to the ground. Ben’s teammate ducked in and hurled Greg off, kneeing him in the guts, but by then Sam was up again and had kicked a slowly rising Abraham directly in the ass, sending him back to the ground.

And then it was on. Spectators from both houses ran onto the truck, swinging punches and yelling insults. Benvolio, the Montague house captain, dived in, a panicked look on his face.

“Stop it! Get off!” he yelled, dragging Sam off Abraham and throwing him to the ground. “Let go of him you idiot!” A Montague shoved him and he backhanded the boy on reflex, turning to see Tybalt grinning at him.

“Why don’t you pick on someone your own size,” the Capulet captain said.

“What? I’m trying to stop the fight, not make it worse!” Benvolio said.

“Bullshit. You just slapped that kid in the face. Bloody Capulets. Come on you fairy.”

Teachers ran in from all directions. Mr Fitch, the coordinator for Capulet, dived into the fray, pulling blue shirts from red, until Miss Lockheart, his Montague counterpart, saw him drop a Year Nine boy with an unfortunate shove and she tapped him on the shoulder and punched him square on the nose.

A massive feedback whine caused everyone to pause and look up. The principal stood on the podium, his face red and his knuckles white around the microphone.

“WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?”

***

Sam and Greg walked shamefacedly from the principal’s office, joining a long list of students with detentions or suspensions over the sports incident. As they left, the house heads Fitch and Lockheart replaced them in the office, looking just as shamefaced. Of course, the boys couldn’t see much of Fitch’s face, covered as it was by a bandage protecting his nose. As they walked off, they could hear the Prince yelling.

“Three times! Three bloody fights started by your Capulets, Jackie! And three from you and yours! Try and convince me now why I shouldn’t have both of your jobs!”

Sam looked over at his companion.

“We got off easy, I reckon, Gregory my friend.”

“Too right, Samson, too bloody right.”

Just Right

A quick writing exercise that I did this fortnight with my Golden Pen group: update a fairy tale for a modern audience. As always, these stories are whipped up and posted here without too much editing. It’s all about the process, not the end result.

And, for those who are completely out of touch: a Bear in today’s society is a big, hairy, gay man.

Now read on.

Goldy slid the crowbar into the slim gap in the old windowsill and lifted it with a small grunt, hearing the snap of the window latch breaking free. She cast a furtive glance around to make sure nobody was watching and then quickly slid the window open and slithered with a practiced grace through the entry and into the darkened house. Once inside, she stood up and pushed her dirty blonde hair back under her navy hoody. She’d heard that these three were rolling in dosh. There should be enough in here that she could palm off easily. She stood completely still, listening for the sounds of someone inside the two-story house. Nothing.

She’d been casing the place for weeks. Living at the prestigious Armadale address were three men – all apparently single, all very well off. She checked her notes.

Victim 1: “Papa” (likes Hemingway, pretensions to writing) Out Tues, Thur mornings – gym.

Victim 2: “Mama” (cross-dresses on weekends, professional singer) – Works nights. Comes home late Thur. morning.

Victim 3: “Baby” (younger than the other two. At least half a metre taller than the others) – No idea what he does for a living. Early riser – out all day weekdays.

So Thursday morning was the best time. She’d watched Baby leave the house wearing running shorts and a singlet, showing off his massively hairy back and shoulders, and then, knowing the place was empty, had made her way to the window at the side of the house.

Goldy crept to the upstairs study, where she knew there would be a trove of electrical equipment. If she could hack their passwords, she might even be able to sell some of the songs and stories for cash. Inside, she found three computers on three desks. The first was a highly-customised, bright pink desktop, covered in bling.

“Too hot,” she muttered. “I’d never be able to sell that one without it being traced back to me.”

The second was an ancient clunker that didn’t even look like it connected to the Internet.

“Too cold,” she grumbled. “How can they have all this money and still own such a piece of junk!” And then the motherlode.

“Just right!” she gasped. On the third desk was a superb laptop, whirring away with incredible power. It was light enough to fit into her pocket and would sell for top dollar down at the markets. To top all this off, a yellow post-it had the words P: P0rr1dG3. She clicked the mouse, tapped the password into the login screen, and sure enough, was admitted right into Baby’s digital sanctum.

“Brilliant,” she said, shutting the lid and stuffing the laptop into her backpack.

The next stop was the living room. As she tiptoed down the stairs, she smiled at the pictures on the walls. It was definitely a strange living arrangement, between these three gentlemen of leisure. All three were in most of the pictures – scenes by a park, dancing at Mardi Gras, waving at the camera in fancy restaurants. If she wasn’t living on the streets, she’d probably have a good idea of who they were, but she was a bit behind on her popular culture, strangely enough.

In the lounge, she nabbed some more electronics – a couple of iPads, the Playstation, a couple of different screencasters. And once more, she was faced with a decision. Three watches lay neatly on the coffee table. The first was an incredibly beautiful gold watch, intricate and had Hemingway’s face engraved into the band. She hesitated, and then sighed.

“Too hot,” she whispered, sadly. She could probably get some good money for this, but the idea of today was to get easy money, not good money. Again, it was too easy to trace back to her. The second watch she almost immediately dismissed. A simple, digital piece, worn and boring. “Too cold, for sure,” she said. But the third was a treasure. An elegant looking Gucci; worth well over seven thousand dollars, although she’d be lucky to get a grand for it.

“Just right,” she said, grinning and pocketing the piece. As she did, she saw the time and gasped. Eleven o’clock! Mama was due home any time now.

Panicking, she ran back up the stairs. She couldn’t go out the window she came in, it was too obvious. She already knew there wasn’t a back door leading anywhere. Her final option was the upstairs bedroom window. From her reconnaissance of the place, she knew there was a tree within jumping distance that would take her into a neighbouring yard and to safety. You know, if she didn’t plummet to her death first.

She’d just hit the top of the stairs when she heard conversation at the front door. Not just Mama then. Crap. The door to the bedroom was open. She ducked in – and came to a complete stop, stunned.

There were three beds in the room.

“What is it with these guys?” she mused. Downstairs, there was a muted yell. They’d noticed the window. She wouldn’t get out now. Goldy crept quickly to the first bed. It was covered in iron railings and decorated with leather belts and chains. She looked to see whether she could get under the bed, and then stood up quickly, eyes wide.

“Too hard,” she said, shaking her head. The noises downstairs were louder now. They’d found the watch, and there was some loud snarling and a high-pitched sob. Goldy broke into a sweat.

The second bed was a four-poster. Immaculate and covered in lace. She could tell that if she went anywhere near it she would leave clear indentations, giving the game away.

“Too soft.”

The third bed was “Just right!” and Goldy slipped beneath the bed, pulling the already unmade doona cover down to cover her as she cowered and hoped that they would go outside for long enough for her to make her escape.

The three burly men tumbled into the room.

“Someone’s been fiddling around with my watch!” said Papa.

“They nicked my iPad!” cried Mama.

“And my laptop,” growled Baby. “Whoever they are, they’re going to regret stealing from an international wrestling star.”

From beneath the bed, Goldy gave a little squeak of terror. She knew she recognized that one. It was that guy off the TV – world championship wrestler and all-around bad boy.

“I heard something,” said Papa.

“Surround the bed, we’ll tear ‘em apart,” rumbled Baby. Goldy squealed and scrambled out from under the bed, making for the window. Mama grabbed at her, getting the back and a handful of hoody. Utilising years of getting out of bad situations, Goldy squirmed out of her hoody and dashed for the window, which was luckily open.

“Ooh, it’s a girl!” cried Mama.

“Wait, no!” yelled Papa, as the thief leapt up to the sill and dived out. The three of them ran to the window and tussled until they all had a view. Goldy was dangling from a branch, quite a decent leap away from the window. She struggled upwards and then clambered lithely across the branch and down the trunk. She threw one more panicked glance back at them before she disappeared from view.

“Well,” said Papa. “That was exciting.”

“Poor girl,” said Mama. “She should have known Baby was just kidding. We always look out for the homeless kids in the area.”

“Speak for yourself,” Baby said, but his face was sad as he watched the space where Goldy had disappeared. “Ah well, if we see her tomorrow, we’ll give her that hoody back and some money for food, yes?”

“Exactly,” said Papa. “Now, all that excitement has made me hungry. Anyone for breakfast? I’ve made porridge.”

The End.

38-porridge-ala

For St Patrick’s Day

Warning: this was written in an hour as I tried to explore the concept of a leprechaun coming to Australia for my Golden Pen Writing Club. More on the club later. It’s not proof-read, and may not make sense, but again, free stream-of-consciousness writing from Damo.

Oh, and Happy St Patrick’s Day!

The Leprechaun comes to Australia

The leprechaun stared at the jetliner with a certain amount of trepidation. And then he shook his head. Where the belief goes, he had to follow. He’d watched a number of his friends take off for America decades ago, but he’d held back, unwilling to leave this deeply magical land. But more than a century later, the family that he relied on for belief was immigrating to Australia.

He had thought about staying behind, but he’d seen what had happened to those poor fools – mere will-o-wisps hovering in the nearby bogs.

No, this was the only way. He peered around the dark tarmac, saw that the way was clear and pelted towards the luggage area, leaping into the hold of the jetliner and rolling behind a large suitcase.

“You’re gettin’ too old for this my lad,” he told himself, panting slightly as he found a more permanent hiding place in an empty dog carrier. At just over four hundred years old, he was only just hitting his stride, but his magic was a little poorly, what with the Fitzpatricks up and abandoning him for another country. He settled in for a long flight and hoped that he didn’t get airsick.

On the flight he pondered the nature of belief. There was no in-flight movie and he’d forgotten to pack his Kindle, so he had nothing better to do.

As far as he could work out, the Little People had always been in Ireland. Just as there were Skin Walkers in America and Werewolves in central Europe, Ireland grew little people. But he was pretty sure they hadn’t always been magic. No, there’d been a time, millennia ago, when both races had just been people – the Little People and the Big People. But where the Big People were grumpy and warlike, the Little People were helpful and generous. And because a Bigger could always rely on the Littles – or Li-Pers – for a spare coin when he was in need, the smaller race were gradually seen as being a magical people who could conjure gold from nothing. And of course, if you could catch one, he would have to give up his gold to you.

And, not surprisingly, that was the end of the leprechaun race. But more surprising was the fact that the Biggers’ belief in the magic of the leprechaun was so strong that the tiny few that escaped the massacre found that they could indeed draw gold from the rainbow and eventually grant wishes to any Bigger that caught them. It was an evolutionary trait – a self-defense mechanism.

But as with all magic, their powers ran on belief. And as Science and reality television began to melt the Biggers’ brains, their belief in the Little Folk began to wane.

Of course, you’ll be hard pressed to try and get an Irishman to admit that he doesn’t believe in the Little Folk. It’s part of their heritage. But deep in their hearts, they preferred to believe in the rugby or Bob Geldof. And so, as people stopped believing in the Leprechaun, the leprechaun started to lose its power.

The clever ones, such as he, latched onto families with strong belief systems and strong ties to the land. The belief was minimal, but kept them going. And as the families left Ireland, the leprechaun had to make a choice: take their chances in their homeland, or follow the belief.

The leprechaun was jolted awake by the touch of the wheels on the tarmac of a new country. He peered out through the door of his dog carrier. At the moment, all he could hear was the roar of the engines, and all he could smell was jet fuel and dog shampoo, but underneath all of that was the faint hum of the magic of this new world. Muted now, through the heavy walls of the aircraft, he could still feel the raw power of a country still relatively untouched by humans.

The leprechaun stayed in the dog carrier, whining quietly so that the baggage handler would remove him from the plane. He slipped away as soon as the coast was clear and made for the nearest fence, which posed no barrier for a magical being of his standing. He wasn’t worried about losing the Fitzpatricks. He knew where they lived and he was fairly certain he could find his way around in this new land without too many problems. After all, he had connections.

Meinong the Bunyip met him at the fence and threw a giant hairy arm around him, almost squeezing the magic out of him.

“Ow! All right, yes, thanks. It is good to see you too. Let go now?”

The Bunyip let him go with a sheepish, very toothy grin.

“Hey. Nice to meet you,” the Bunyip said.

“Likewise, to be sure,” said the Leprechaun. “You’re taller than it looks in your pictures.”

The Bunyip chuckled. It was almost two metres tall, potbellied and wide-mouthed, with huge expressive eyes and shaggy orange hair over its arms, legs, head and back. Its ears hung like a spaniel’s down the side of its head. At first the leprechaun thought it was naked, but then he noticed an iPhone headphone cord trailing from one ear down to a phone attached to a belt around its waist.

“You went Apple?” he said, gesturing at the phone.

“Yeah mate. I’m on a plan.”

The two of them had met on Faes-Book years back, and when the Fitzpatricks had decided to move to Australia, the Leprechaun had hooked up with his friend to try and organise his new Australian life.

“Yer lucky, bloke. They moved out to the eastern suburbs – plenty trees, plenty open space. And cable internet.” They moved off to a ute standing by the fence. “I got you a place with some other immigrants. They all good fellas. Oh and you’ll need a Myki.”

Settling in a new land with new companions was relatively easy for the naturally gregarious Leprechaun. His share house was within walking distance of the Fitzpatricks and he quickly got to work bolstering their faith in this new country. Gold pieces left on the doorstep and fairy rings carefully arranged in the garden led to excited chatter from the family. He made sure never to let the parents see him, but the kids frequently spotted a green-clad figure peeking at them from the bottom of the garden.

Of course, there were changes as well. He soon found that in the blistering heat of Melbourne’s summer, he had to ditch the green suit in favour of a loose-fitting cotton shirt (still green) and cargo pants (also green). A smart green sunhat topped off the ensemble and he still felt true to the spirit of his costume, if not the letter. He packed the suit and shiny black leather belts and buckles away for winter.

He got along well with his housemates, although there was some initial tension between himself and the genie – another wish-granter. But a few months in, everything was peachy and the house was always either filled with the tang of curry or the rich aroma of stew. The kappa tended to eat alone, but would always be there when the drinking began.

And as the years progressed, the nature of the Fitzpatricks’ belief changes as well. The stories of the little man in the suit and buckles became stories of the cheeky blighter who rearranged the garden gnomes. The stories spread to the neighbouring children, and then to their children, along with those of the Bunyip and the genie. The Dreaming expanded to take in all of its adopted children and, with the revival of spirituality in the Australian culture, belief in magic and fairy tales was again as strong as it was in the old days.

The leprechaun met his wife down at Pugg Mahones on St Patrick’s Day and the community of Little Folk from an Irish background grew rapidly, as all good Irish families do. Now as Australian as a meat pie, the Leprechaun still flew back to the old country with his kids, but they didn’t identify with it and he found that the visits became further and further apart.

He still regaled his family with the story of hiding in a dog carrier as he stole into the country, and his family dutifully laughed at the points when they were meant to laugh. But in the end, there were so many more stories now – stories of the double rainbow of ’45 and the World Fae Recognition Act, which led to a new peace between the Littles and the Biggers – that the old stories also came out less and less.

The Leprechaun drew in a deep breath and smelled the dusty smell of hay cooking in the sun as he drove back to his house from the airport and realised that this was the smell of home.

Better watch out – writing exercise

Back in 2012 I talked about a story idea I had based on a song called Skin Deep, by the Stranglers.

I’m getting back into the writing season, with my Golden Pen club starting up again, so I’m going to start writing small pieces that I can put up here for your viewing pleasure. My rules are that the entire story is written in one sitting and placed up without too much recrimination or reflection. Some of them I will take a good hard look at and change them for publication. Others are simply small pieces of entertainment that I will never take any further.

This is one of those.

If you haven’t heard the song, it goes like this:

It always freaked me out as a kid, and I always watched out for the Skundig (whatever they might be). I present for you, a quick writing expansion of that idea:

Many people tell you that they’re your friend
You believe them
You need them
For what’s round the river bend
Make sure that you’re receiving the signals they send
‘Cause brother you’ve only got two hands to lend
Maybe there’s someone who makes you weep
And some nights loom up ahead
When you’re asleep
Some days there’s things on your mind you should keep
Sometimes it’s tougher to look than to leap
Better watch out for the Skin Deep
– Skin Deep, The Stranglers. 1984

 

I am terrified. They’re coming to get me. The Skundig. When I was young, my parents used to play this song by the Stranglers over and over. It is my bible. It is my saviour. I wrote down the words. This was before the Internet. As many times as I listened, I couldn’t tell what it was I had to look out for. The best I could come up with was Skundig. Better watch out for the Skundig.

I’m at the train station. I haven’t been able to completely remove myself from society. But they could be anyone. A complete stranger, a most trusted friend. I can’t take the chance. Nobody is safe. People watch me when I have to move among them. I flinch from their gaze. They might be trying to brainwash me, sending signals straight into my head. Vigilance is my only weapon. Vigilance and solitude.

Better watch out for the Skundig.

I haven’t slept properly for two months. I don’t shower. It’s too dangerous. I just wish I had more information! These clues are so cryptic. They obviously steal body parts and organs. I think they sedate you with their minds and then cut off your hands. Do they eat them? Do they make more of themselves? Oh God, now I see them as constructs built out of stolen pieces of their victims!

Brother watch out for the Skundig!

Not enough information. I can’t protect myself. Did that “person” just look at my hands? Measuring me up for her replacements? I can’t tell anyone. I can’t trust anyone. I can’t sleep. How can a person live like this? The answer? A person can’t. The Skundig win. Sometimes it’s tougher to look than to leap. Quickly now, before they control my mind. Here comes the express.

“Wait, stop that man, he’s about to -”

Jump!

Dwarves in Space

The last time I was this excited, Shereen was walking up the aisle towards me on our wedding day. I jest; that was far more exciting, but this is a close second.

Dwarves in Space eBook coverDwarves in Space is now available for purchase on Amazon in paperback or as a Kindle eBook, and on Lulu.com in paperback.

It has been a long road (see my first post on Dwarves in Space) to this point. I have sent the novel to half a dozen publishers and the same number of agents. Each time I would send the excerpt or manuscript off, there would be an 8-12 week wait before I’d hear back, and no useful feedback even then. Rather than spend years sending my manuscript to publisher after publisher, I decided that I would take my destiny in my own hands and give self-publication a shot.

I had no interest in spending thousands of dollars on extensive print runs. The eBook option was an easy choice. Even those people who have iBooks and iPads still buy a lot of their digital books from Amazon. At the moment, I have a 90 day exclusive contract with Amazon. After that, I might extend to the iBookstore and Nook etc.

Anyway, the useful information:

Clicking on the links to Amazon and Lulu.com above will take you to the books on the respective sites. I’ve kept the Kindle price low to offset the price of the paperback. The print-on-demand nature of the paperback means that I don’t really make any money on it, but I don’t really care. I just want to build a market for now.

And how can I go wrong? Who doesn’t want to read a story about a young king and his wizard friend who travel through space in a ship shaped like an eagle? A ship that is crewed by dwarves, elves and barbarians with no idea how to operate an electric can opener, let alone a starship? And how could you possibly pass up a novel containing space battles between this crew and a necromancer flying the skeleton of a dragon? There are even some quite funny bits, if I do say so myself!

Not to mention gods, demons, zombies, holograms, trolls, prophecies, mice and a very famous three-headed dog.

Please enjoy my first novel while I finish off the second.

Dwarves in Space paperback cover

Also, if a novel is too much for  you, you could try one of my short stories, available for sale on AlfieDog Limited.

Both are ridiculously cheap and are available for all eBook readers.

Ted's Souls  be practical

The Case of the Disappearing Sharks

NB: Every fortnight I have my Golden Pen writing group at school write a story to keep them thinking and to practise their skills. I always write one as well, as it keeps me honed and often leads to more writing. Sometimes I write something I try to get published. More often I write something very weird without a proper ending. At this point, I post it here. I enjoyed the concept here but haven’t really written something that is a complete story. Take a gander.

Caroline “Yeti” Feats looked up from her game of Words with Friends and stared at the man standing before her.

“What did you say?” she asked, sure that she’d misheard. He was in his mid-twenties and wore a loose singlet top and board shorts. He also wore an expression of severe worry.

“Gone,” he said. “Every single one.”

Yeti shut off her tablet and stood up. Her eyes narrowed and she felt the beginnings of a headache pressing against her temples.

“It’s not April Fools’ Day, is it?” she mused. “You want me to find twenty-four missing sharks? That just disappeared from their tanks overnight.”

The man nodded. His long hair bobbed over one eye.

“And you didn’t go to the police?” she asked.

“Of course we did,” he said. “They’re on the case, obviously. But they’re looking for a thief, or gang of poachers. And I’m pretty sure they won’t find any. The sharks weren’t stolen. They just disappeared!”

Yeti sighed. Her forehead throbbed. On days like this she wished she’d never opened an ecological detective agency. Obviously, she was going to get all of the nutters. For example:

The case of the ninja starfish.

The mystery of the penguin burglar.

And now The case of the disappearing sharks.

“OK,” she said, opening the Notes app on her iPad. “I’m listening now. You better run me through it again.”

“You’re listening now?” the man said, annoyed. “Oh, all right.

“My name is Chad. Chad Morgan – no bloody relation. I am one of the keepers at the Melbourne Aquarium.  We have… we had one of the best collections of sharks in Australia. And then, this morning I came into work and went to feed the exhibits. And they were all gone.”

“All of the fish?” Yeti asked.

“No, and that’s the weird thing. Every other fish, whale, eel and turtle was accounted for. The only things missing were the sharks. The Great Whites, the Tigers, the Leopard sharks. The Dogsharks and Catsharks. I thought that the rays might be gone too, but it’s only the selachii subdivision that have gone.”

He was talking about the branches of the different families of the elasmobranchii – the family that contained sharks and rays. There was a family split, sometime in the Jurassic period, and the rays and the sharks evolved separately. And thus, in the present day, the sharks disappeared and the rays were spared.

“Was it just you?” Caroline wondered, pulling up her browser and typing ‘shark disappearances’ into the search bar. “Holy mother of – no. Not just you.”

She turned the iPad towards Chad and he whistled. The search had returned innumerable results – all breaking news articles – regarding the world-wide disappearance of various species of sharks. Unlike Australia, where the disappearances had happened overnight, in a large part of the world, the sharks had disappeared in broad daylight. Apparently, at precisely 4am in Melbourne, being 11am in Los Angeles, and 8pm in Paris, every shark on the face of the globe just vanished.

disappearing-shark“I had my camera out,” read one witness statement, at Shark World in LA, “and was trying to move into a position to minimise the reflective glare, and then there was a shark-shaped hole in the water, which exploded in a rush of bubbles. It made a fantastic picture!”

Similar stories came out of aquariums and sea parks around the globe.  In thousands of bubbly explosions, sharks in captivity in every country simply disappeared.

“I’m pretty sure this is bigger than me,” Yeti said. “And bigger than everybody, really. And- wait.”

Quickly, she scrolled down the page of search results with impatient flicks, scanning the headings for one important piece of information, conspicuous in its absence.

“Ha,” she said. “I don’t think I could take this job, even if I did know where to start looking.”

Chad raised an eyebrow at her. It was lost under long, bleached, shaggy hair.

“There is not a single report here of sharks disappearing in the wild,” she explained, scrolling up and down the list. “This isn’t a planetwide abduction. It’s not an ecological disaster. I’m pretty sure it’s a jailbreak.”

“Wha-huh?” said Chad.

“Let me speculate,” Yeti said, standing up and wandering over to the window. She looked out at the ocean and shook her head. “Sharks have been around for 65 million years, not evolving much over that time. They have had a nice niche in the food chain, and they’ve been content in that place. Until now. Now, humans are starting to become a threat. We’re fishing them to extinction, along with a number of other marine life forms. They’re no longer at the top of the food chain. And they’ve had to do something about it.”

“Like what?” said the ever-obliging Chad.

“Let’s say every species has a certain amount of evolution in them. We’ve evolved dramatically from the hairless, edge-of-the-sea apes we started as. Sharks haven’t changed much at all. So they have a great store of evolution available.”

“I’m pretty sure that’s not how it works,” Chad said, beautiful brow wrinkling.

“Shush. Anyway, with the threat of humanity upon them, and their current forms no longer sufficient to keep them safe as a species, the selachii family have had a growth spurt. Somehow, they’ve evolved into a species that can transport. And they can probably communicate through telepathy.” Yeti pondered. Her headache was gone as the situation became clear. Chad was staring at her with a certain amount of nervousness. She ignored him. “So, suddenly able to travel over great distances instantly, and connected to their brothers and sisters in the wild, the sharks concoct a plan to free every shark in captivity at the same time!”

“You’re a loony,” Chad said, and turned to leave.

“I’m a genius!” she shouted at him as he hurried out the door. She turned back to the window.  “Of course, the thing to ponder now is, once the sharks have escaped, what will they do with their new-found skills?”

She looked out the window at the sea that she had loved since childhood.

“Of course,” she said, shaking her head and returning to her tablet. “It could always have been aliens.”

Imagination and the post-y generation

tripodLast night we went to see Tripod: Men of Substance. It was a vaguely depressing show, as the boys (men, now) addressed turning 40 and sixteen years of performing. Shereen thought it was hilarious. I looked at us, 16 years ago, drinking at the Prince Pat and watching Tripod doing Open Slather. Each of them had their own coloured shirts. It was fresh and funny and we’d drink too much and stagger home afterwards.

This show started at 8.45 and we were home by midnight. Sad sad sad.

I’ve always liked Tripod. They write for my generation and my type of person. There are references to Dungeons and Dragons, Star Wars and Commodore 64s. One of their songs last night was called “Waiting for the Game to Load” after putting the tape in, typing load and pressing play. Ah, the memories.

People magazine

Builders had good taste

At one stage they commented on having to go to the tip to get porn. When I was a pre-teen living in Kyabram, we used to hunt down building sites. There we would find the builders’ stash of People (tame) and Picture (less tame) magazines. I had no idea that there was anything stronger available until  high school and my introduction to working life as a paper boy. With 20 boys and 1 adult supervisor, suddenly we had illicit access to a whole new class of porn –Penthouse and Playboy at the tame end, Hustler and other plastic-baggers catering to whatever your particular fetish was at the other end.

But still, getting access to it required a bit of effort and some ingenuity. And of course, you had to outsmart your parents in the hiding. A regular rotation shift of location and the occasional emergency ditching to a friend seemed to work.

Now of course, the Internet has killed all creativity in that area. I teach a Cyber Safety unit at school. When I talk to the students about safe and unsafe uses of the Internet, I almost always have to take notes, as they list off incredibly thorough listings of sites with free access. Of course, they don’t tell me that these are porn sites. I ask them for popular web sites and they will say something like “Oh, I’m always on RedTube, sir, do you know it?” and then watch my expression closely. I have mastered the blank expression, but often I don’t need it. These students know more about free porn than I ever will (holding out wedding ring).

I got really side-tracked here from where I was going in this post. What was I going to say?

Oh yes, imagination.

Tripod’s other little gem was that boredom is the catalyst for imagination. My brother and I never got up in the morning thinking that today was the day that I would almost cut off his thumb. We would eat breakfast, sit around a bit, and then say “OK. I’m bored. What do you want to do?” And one of us would remember that there was a hatchet in the back shed, and a stack of wood that could be cut up. And of course, Justin would have to hold the wood still. And then there was the hospital trip and another experience arising out of boredom and imagination.

I’m not saying it right.

We would sit around, nothing better to do. And then Justin would point out that we could jump off the roof, onto the trampoline, and from there to the cushions and mattresses from the caravan. Mostly, he was right.

This is why I’m not in sales.

OK, last try. Dad would bring home a video camera. It was a massive thing, with a shoulder strap to hold the player, attached by a cord to the camera itself. We would spend hours creating film. We figured out how to do stop motion and would drive chairs around the backyard. We realized that if the camera was on a tripod (not a Tripod) we could do special effects, turning Elise into Dad and making people disappear. We would do David Attenborough specials through the wilderness of our backyard, and rope in our friends to create advertisements for made up soap and pet food. We let our imaginations run wild and rarely came back to earth.

bored is good

bored is good

I’m not even sure that teenagers today would get Calvin and Hobbes. “Is he playing some sort of a computer game?” “Is it something like Inception?”

Of course, there are still the precious few – those children and young adults who can live inside their minds and find the hidden worlds that exist all around the bored and the inquisitive. And imagination exhibits in other ways. The special effects that abound in today’s movies are incredible. And someone had to imagine that. Computer games are pushing the boundaries between interaction and storytelling, to great effect. Only two percent of novels are published, which means that for every novel on the bookshelves, there are … um, more (199?) that have been written, but not published, which is an amazing output of imagination. Imagination isn’t dead.

But:

Kids who spend all of their time playing Clash of Clans. Kids who don’t know the meaning of boredom due to being given iPods at the age of four. Parents who turn on the tv or the computer or the console whenever a child says “I’m bored.”

These people are giving imagination a damn good thrashing. I’m sure our creativity is diminishing as a species. And what does that mean for humanity as a whole?

It’s the dreamers, the bored and the curious who have gotten us to where we are today. If nobody is allowed to be bored, they won’t dream, they won’t have a need to ask “What will happen if I mix these two…” BOOM.

And may the gods help us then.

PS. A side not that I couldn’t fit in anywhere else: Film studios need to get past remaking films from other countries and other decades, or adapting nostalgic television into nauseating and forgettable cinema.

PPS. Today was the bored. Next week will be the dreamers. Does that mean I now have to write a curious blog post about skinning cats?

PPS. Finding Damo word count tomorrow. I’m also writing a new one-act play.

 

Bad Hobbit

This isn’t a movie review blog. I don’t want to make a habit of this. But I really feel the need to unburden myself after living in delighted expectation of “the movie event of the year” (as if there’s ever only one) and then having to sit through three hours of absolute tripe as my hopes died, torn apart by  my ravaging frustration at a talented director getting it OH SO WRONG!

bilbo_640x960But anyway.

I’ll start with the general stuff, and then anyone who doesn’t want spoilers can depart and come back after they’ve read the book or seen the movie or both. No, actually, if you haven’t read the book, leave now. Spoilers abound. For those that have, I’ll try and avoid spoiling the movie for the first bit.

Peter Jackson has proven that he’s a good director. Heavenly Creatures  was a marvellous movie that linked fantasy and reality in a feast of visual and imaginative delight. Dead/Alive  was gory and funny and very well written. And King Kong  . . .

Ah, there’s the problem. I think Tripod  said it best when they sang “Get to the f***ing monkey!”

But even so. He has a great concept of space and the epic. He knows how to elicit emotions from his actors and the audience. His pacing is always good (except maybe for King Kong) and there is no way that he should have been able to screw up The Hobbit.

Jackson’s Hobbit, how did I hate thee? Let me count the ways.

Bringing back the old cast

I think I read an interview with Jackson, where he was overjoyed at being able to work with “all the old gang” again, and I winced. And then we saw trailers of the movie with Galadriel, and I thought “well, ok, it’s a stretch, but it might have happened”. And the cast list included Elijah Wood and I decided that a little introduction at the start might be deemed necessary for the uneducated masses who didn’t know that the movies were also books and needed some linking. Which is what they did. And it was terrible, and boring, and didn’t add anything to the movie, but there you go. As I said, maybe the studio demanded it.

And once that bit was out of the way and the story started properly, I was quite happy with Gandalf and Bilbo and a stack of dwarves. And they sang the songs, and I relaxed, because I had hoped that the songs would be a big part of the movie. And if they changed a couple of story points, then that wasn’t too bad, but I was starting to be a little nervous.

Unable to put together a realistic backdrop

Let me back up a bit, because you know that that’s what I do.

When the old Bilbo (from LOTR) is sitting there writing his little book, and Frodo wandered in and made some twee comments, all I could think was “This looks fake!” I was wondering whether it was because we were watching the movie in 48 fps, in 3D. Everything looked like it was on a sound stage. The hobbit hole was too clean and incredibly fake. Frodo looked like he was lit badly and in front of a green-screen half of the time. Any time there was footage of people talking to each other, in caves or houses or on rocky outcrops, my mind was screaming “Made-for-tv movie! Made-for-tv movie!” And so, as my first confession: it could be that the combination of a high frame rate and 3D technology killed the movie for me. And if that’s so- no, there’s no excuse. Jackson chose to use these technologies and probably saw rushes and dailies and test screenings and all sorts of other footage. There is no way he could have watched this movie and thought “yeah, that looks real.” I was never really in the action. Never allowed to let myself believe I was in Middle Earth. And that killed the movie for me.

They were filming in New Zealand for Bob’s sake! A land full of rocky landings and lovely caves. Natural backdrops and fantasy settings. Why did everything look like it was made out of Styrofoam?

Turning a PG movie into an M movie

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been reading The Hobbit to my 8yo daughter. My niece has been reading it. They’ve both loved it from start to finish. I read it myself when I was in Grade 2. These kids should be able to go and see a movie based on a book written for children.

Every sequence that I found unacceptable for younger audiences was one pasted into the storyline by Jackson and had nothing to do with the book. Which leads me to:

Making shit up

Oh, I hate swearing in a blog, but I am so angry right now! Oh, and this is where I’ll probably make some comments on stuff that happened in the movie, so if you want to remain completely spoiler free, run away now.

At some point, it came out that Jackson was making the two movies into three, using “unreleased source material and indexes” and everybody sighed. I thought it would be tacked onto the end, maybe as part of the Battle of the Five Armies (seriously, if you haven’t even read the book, you don’t want to be here right now).

Firstly, there was a massive battle between the dwarves and the orcs – again, giving the movie context in the greater world of Middle Earth. It was bloody and violent and introduced a giant white orc.

Without saying too much more, I’ll say that that orc became the bane of my existence on and off for the next three hours.

What I didn’t know and didn’t care about was that Jackson has incorporated information and story from The Rise of the Dark (the story of Sauron) as well as the backstory of the dwarves. There’s also a lot of backstory for characters from LoTR, and a good chunk of White Council as well, for good measure.

And I get it. Jackson is trying to link The Hobbit to the LoTR trilogy, making a much greater world out of a lot of different source material.

But that isn’t The Hobbit. That story is light-hearted and small. A story of friendships and adventure. A children’s story with a wider appeal.

Changes in tone

Throughout the movie, the tone changes with no apparent reason. There is an amusing run through the goblin tunnels, completely at odds with the seriousness of the situation. There is a completely ridiculous scene involving the knees of a stone giant. There is an unscripted battle scene when the wargs and goblins have the party trapped up a tree. There is not nearly enough singing. The elves are way too serious. It doesn’t look like there will be any speaking eagles. . . I need to stop now.

Seriously, screw the backstory, screw the appendices and the rise of Sauron. Let me have The Hobbit. Let me have my childhood. Peter Jackson, get your grubby fingers out of Middle Earth.

PS I liked Tintin.

Another perspective:

http://io9.com/5968455/the-hobbit-is-a-lot-better-once-you-realize-its-a-war-movie

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