The man on the train can’t know how he’s making you feel, but it doesn’t stop you being afraid. You tell yourself he’s just another passenger; it’s coincidence, but he’s making you uncomfortable. He’s making you uncomfortable by sitting there, by wearing a green t-shirt; by eating and licking his fingers. He does it every time he puts food in his mouth, and it’s starting to annoy you.
You could move now the train is emptier, but its very emptiness makes it harder for you to move because your action will be obvious. When you sat down he was just one of many, now it’s just him it feels like he’s sitting opposite you. As the people around you left, you had the illusion he was moving closer, like when the train next to yours pulls out and you feel you’re moving, not it. Now it’s just you and him it feels like every time you look up he’s staring at you. You hope this is an illusion too.
It’s just because you’re on edge, it’s just because of what happened, it’s nothing to do with him, this is all you. This is what you’ve got to face, not what happened but its legacy, the fear of banality. Once you’d have barely given him a second look, weeks ago you’d have read the free paper, written in your notebook or played with your phone scarcely seeing him. You’d have sauntered from the station, hands in pockets, relaxed, walking without thinking, walking like a boy. You’d have wandered home with twilight gathering behind you like the folds of a cloak, without glancing left or right.
Now your lover must wait at the station for you. Condemned to a compassionate curfew, you’re only allowed out under licence. You must apply for permission to walk home, providing a password to unlock your passage. Text when you’re at the station, text as you get on the train, text three stops before home.
‘I am on the train. I am ok. I am three stops from home.’
You know your lover doesn’t mind; you know they want to do it. They want to help, to show they’re on your side, to show they would do anything in the world to make you feel safe. It’s not that you don’t want your lover to meet you, to care about you; it’s their guilt you can’t stand. The guilt that they weren’t there when it happened, that the one thing they can never do is be at the station the night it happened.
It’s as if they’d watched you catch the wrong train, and they’d waved and shouted but it was too late, it has taken you somewhere they can’t follow. The doors have closed.
You know it’s stupid, you’ve said so over and over again; there was nothing they could have done, it was just one of those things, but it’s no good. You can see how much your lover has been hurt and sometimes that hurt seems bigger than your own.
The man on the train watches you send the message. You could have told your lover that there’s a man on the train making you feel uncomfortable, but what good would it do? The train is taking you home; your lover is waiting on the platform. They’ll be worried, they’re always worried; why make it worse?
This is what you’ve started to do. You haven’t started to feel confident; you’ve started hiding your anxiety. You’re not sure if it’s you who doesn’t want sex, or them. Sometimes you’d really like to have sex. You’d like to feel innocent hands on your body and to lie in a mess of communal bedclothes and talk and laugh and be in that warm, soft space together. But you’re frightened that you’ll have sex and you won’t be alone, it won’t be just the two of you. All the time you’ll be wondering if they’re wondering how you feel, if you’re okay, each simple gesture loaded with a meaning it’s too small to carry. You’re frightened that it will be your lover who has the problem touching you.
So for now, it’s safer to lie on either side of the bed, both of you watching and pretending you aren’t, both of you waiting for the other to find the courage for simple intimacy; the courage to be lovers again.
One stop to go, the man on the train looks at you. Suddenly you’re angry, not with him; no, you are angry with him, because you’re angry with all of them. You’re angry at the police officer that listened sympathetically; angry that you could see the effort he made to be sensitive, angry that the effort had to be made. You’re angry at the book of faces you thumbed through, each looking at you with the same dead eyed stare. You’re angry that there was a book, that there even needs to be a book; angry that there were pages and pages of dead eyed stares and none were his, none of them belonged to the man that made you sit in that busy, bright, impersonal office and look for him.
You’re angry because as you looked at the faces in the book, you looked for every one you’ve ever known and wondered what you would do if you saw them. You are angry that he has made everyone guilty.
You’re angry because the only time you saw his stare is when you closed your eyes.
You look back at the man on the train. You’re sure your heart will explode from your chest with the audacity of your gaze. You’re sure your skin is burning, singing like a canary. You want to scream ‘look at me then, go on, look at me!’
He doesn’t flinch; he just licks his fingers and smiles at you. You feel hot tears stabbing at the back of your eyes because it’s just a smile. It’s just a smile from a stranger who wishes you no ill, who doesn’t want to treat you as if you were nothing more that a handrail. It’s just a smile and it burns you, it makes you swell and beat and fear, makes your palms tingle and your feet sweat, all because of what happened.
What happened has denied you even the casual intimacy of a smile.
You won’t let it. This is a war you never asked to be part of, but you’re in it now and you refuse to be its victim.
You meet the gaze of the man on the train and you smile.
The train enters your station, the name on the sign like the winning post sliding into view. You gather up your free paper and get up. Your hand is shaking as you hold onto the back of the seat, as you press the door release button and read what is written there.
Open doors close.
You read, and you look back at the man on the train. The man’s not looking at you; he’s forgotten you already.
Open doors close, even the ones you never wanted to open.
You step onto the platform and your lover smiles at you, relieved. You embrace, and when they moved to let go you don’t let them. You hold onto them and make them hold you, and press your mouths together as if you needed them to breath, as if they needed you to breath. As if you’ve come home from the war at last.
‘Are you all right?’ They ask as they touch your face, stroking the flush from your skin.
‘Yes,’ you kiss them again. ‘I’ll be fine.’
* * * * * * *
This is the second piece I have come up with in response to the image above, which is for a competition I'm entering, as part of my 'paying off the mercenary' survial plan.
I am going to come out and admit that it is partialy autobiographical, but I have chosen the second person POV to try and make the impact more universal. I have also deliberately tried to keep the gender of the MC and the lover ambiguous, trying to show that this is not about gender as such - this is more about how crime/assault invades not just the person but the people around them, how it changes you in ways not always obvious. It's also about how what can seem so casual, watching someone on a train, can take on huge significance as none of us ever truly know what's going through the minds of those around us.
I guess it's a response to that cry of 'cheer up love, it might mever happen,' which I've had in the past. Sometimes, it already has.
Hello everyone, I’ve been slightly absent from the Cloud just lately, and I thought I might tell you why.
It’s like this. I know Les Floyd via Twitter, Facebook, Lesism (his blog) and the Word Cloud – although I haven’t spotted him here in recent times. But what I have spotted has been a good symbiosis of his blog and twitter. He’s got over 74,000 twitter followers, and he’s managed to fix up some sort of automatic twitter feed so his tweets come through at frequent intervals throughout the twenty-four hour day. What these tweets do is give links to various articles on his blog, where he seems to have many, many visitors.
I’ll quote his blog’s headline so you can see the sort of thing it’s about: ‘After decades of sleepwalking through life, I've finally woken up and realised the greatest dreams are achieved with open eyes and a conscious mind...’ This sort of thing suits some people, of course, and not others, but I find it highly interesting.
I also find it highly interesting that he has so many readers and followers.
But what I find most interesting is that he has found a use for Twitter – as have thousands of others – and as have I – now.
And the reason why I am blogging about it is that many of you may be wondering about the alleged usefulness of Twitter. Authors are exhorted to use Twitter, but what isn’t so clear is how to use it. Well, the answer appears to be – systematically.
Consequently I’ve been busy with a two-pronged campaign: upgrading my blog (so I have somewhere to send people) and building my Twitter following (so I have people to send). The blog upgrade has been largely visual. It hadn’t occurred to me – dur! – that people like pictures, so each post should have an interesting pic with it. Well, that’s been remedied, and the posts have been reworded here and there to give the right approach (especially as many of them have been lifted straight from the Word Cloud and were therefore addressed to Word Cloud readers).
The Twitter upgrade has consisted of following people so they will follow back (and subsequently unfollowing those who don’t). It’s a slow business and there are hucksters (whom I avoid) offering to get you 10,000 followers for $80 or some such. (What sort of followers, I wonder?) Anyway, I’ve got to 1,134 followers as I write – not many, but a heck of a lot more than the 160 I had a couple of weeks ago.
So what? Well, I’ve got a book to promote, not mine, but one I have an interest in. As some of you may be aware, Chris – aka C J Fenge – aka Mrs Me – is due to have her teenage fantasy/thriller, The Salamander Stone, published on Monday 2nd April – only digitally at first, but the trade paperback version should follow a few weeks after. (I say, ‘only digitally’ although I’ve just read a book on Kindle and thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s the future, folks, we’ve just got to get used to it.)
Anyway, I shall have 1,134 or more people to tweet to about the book. And I know how to send out automated 24 hour tweets – and I know how many such tweets I can tolerate from other tweeters such as Les Floyd, so I’ll use that as a guide. Prime time for promotion is apparently the first week of publication, after which it is best to slacken off for fear of alienating readers. What my tweets will do is direct people to a variety of blog posts, such as:-
· ‘The Salamander Stone’: read about the Pinterest Board http://bit.ly/A6PeOq
· A Writing Partnership: A Matter of Love and Passion http://bit.ly/xNaetH
· ‘The Salamander Stone’: take a look at the cover http://bit.ly/yCyVzN
· A Sonnet of Celebration: ‘Tribute To A Lady Novelist Who Merits Encomiums Superior To Those Which Now Ensue’ http://bit.ly/ykXJjf
I’ll add other tweets to link people to Chris’s website (available in the next couple of days) and, of course, to part of her first chapter.
Then, to stop people getting sick of the same thing, I’ll intersperse all these with other links (which some of you may remember) such as:-
· Thoughts on Mother’s Day: A Moment of Contact http://bit.ly/GBR9aA
· The Lost Gospels: What Really Happened 2000 Years Ago? http://bit.ly/xc8yJT
· Science and Religion: Can they be Friends or Must they be Enemies? http://bit.ly/ydPx4h
· Royal Weddings and Sacred Marriages: The Ancient Erotic and the Recent Respectable http://bit.ly/ioQ1wF
Finally, beyond all that, I feel duty bound to slip in a few spontaneous tweets. Here are some of the spontaneous ones I did yesterday (rather enjoyed them):-
· Taking my shadow for a walk – midday he just wants to point north. Doesn’t matter what I do – run, jump, stroll – he only wants north
· Sociable chap my shadow. Mixes it with whoever we pass – tree shadow, wall shadow, fence shadow – he just loves to get in there and mingle
· Started heading south – shadow sulked behind me like it’s the last direction he wants. I turned north, and he loved it, stretching way ahead
· I’ll say this for my shadow, he’s not choosy. He’ll slide over any sort of ground – potholes, dog stuff, mud – he’ll crawl over the lot
In conclusion, of course, I must add that if any fellow Twits feel moved to retweet any of my promotional tweets next week I shall be as grateful as grateful can be. (Word Cloud Twits of the world unite!)
The friend says “Nah, that’s not the look to go for” and whizzes off to grab an outfit that suits her style perfectly, whips it on and waltzes around saying; this is the look you need to go for,” showing off her own bod to its best advantage.
Two blokes out on the town. One is a bit better looking than the other, dresses sharper and has a better car as well. Lesser car says he’s been fancying a particular girl for some time but hasn’t quite had the nerve to ask her out. But she’s just over there and he thinks he might. The other bloke says, this is how you do it, strolls over, pulls, has a dance, a good snog and whips her off in the Maz for a shag round his place. Next time he sees his mate he gives him a blow by blow, just so he’s clear how it’s done.
A couple of arseholes aren’t they?
I’m not literally talking about that though. I’m talking about how to review and criticise someone’s writing.
When someone’s confidence is a bit down the decent thing to do is give them a boost, while gently steering them in the direction you, in your own honest opinion, think is the right way to go. In the same way that a professional shopper can be blunt, an amateur and perhaps a friend, must be positive, supportive but try to help that friend avoid disaster, gently. Writing is a very personal thing. When someone has asked you what you think it doesn’t do to be blunt in a “Don’t be silly you’re showing too much panty line” kind of way. It doesn’t do to say “look how good I look in it” or “There’s no point asking her on a date, your dick is way too small to satisfy a woman like that”. It’s purely a decency thing. It’s about making the writer feel good about some part if at all possible; no-one else.
Some people are very fragile, some less so. Me? I’m a fairly arrogant sod. I had a bit of interesting debate recently on a piece I put up over in the critiques section. It didn’t deflect me. There was some stuff I received that made me think again and some that make me think about something else. I am also not that active over in the critique section. The nature of the place at the moment is a factor, but I don’t put stuff up much either. As advised in a recent external blog that was highlighted on here, generally I am of the show no-one until I'm done school of thought, or only reliable people I know and respect, at least.
But that’s me. I’ve put this blog up and I expect a reaction. This shows my personal attitude to criticism, personal or literary. Bring it on if you must. But not everyone is like me. Some people need a boost. It may be why they put it up in the first place. It would be nice if, before posting, those who have very kindly gone to a lot of trouble to review someone’s writing just put themselves in the shoes of the person receiving their input, before pressing the button. They must mean well to have gone to the trouble in the first place, but meaning well isn’t always the whole thing.
And in closing, let me say this. I have no one person in mind, I am not "getting at" anyone. It's just the mood music and it's gone a bit off key. And if you are moved to comment, please no personal criticism of anyone here on my watch. I've set myself up, no-one else.
A man left work early one Friday afternoon. Instead of going home, however, he spent the weekend partying with the boys. When he finally returned home on Sunday night, his wife really got on his case and stayed on it. After a couple of hours of swearing and screaming, his wife paused and pointed at him and made him an offer.
"How would you like it if you didn't see me for a couple of days???"The husband couldn't believe his luck, so he looked up, smiled and said,
"That would suit me just fine!!"
Monday went by, and the man didn't see his wife. Tuesday and Wednesday went by and he still didn't see her. Come Thursday, the swelling went down a bit and he could see her a little out of the corner of his left eye...
You’ve heard of flash-mobbing, photo-bombing and even yarn-bombing? This is flash-bombing – we want you to go out into the world, create a very short story and leave it for others to read.
There is a rather lovely Flashpoints blog where we will post the evidence of your flash-and-go. Contributions are invited from anyone, world-wide.
Here's the details:
For the avoidance of all doubt, I am not a very good banjo player.
I do admire virtuosity though and when I read that bit of news I was moved to hit YouTube just to find a bit of picking and grinning. I came across this, which is a good example of the art, so I thought for those of you with a spare five minutes or so I might point it out. You can skip the first minute.
No reason, just a bit of relaxation.
I have just published my first novel on Amazon. Available here http://www.amazon.co.uk/Girl-in-the-Glass-ebook/dp/B007IROBEE/
Let's start with why I chose to go down this path.
I've been writing for several years now and decided that at last I had a book with which I was happy. But I had a problem - the book is part of a trilogy and I am an unpublished author. The book does stand on its own, but agents and publishers have problems with serial books, understandably because they are in effect committing to books they haven't seen. In self-published ebook terms this is not a problem at all, in fact many of the best selling ebook writers are writing serials, so much so that it is regarded as a tool for book promotion.
Secondly I am married to a conventionally published non-fiction writer and many of our friends are also involved in some way or other in the publishing industry. I am therefore aware of the state of the industry and it's not good. I know how soon publishers stop marketing books (that's if they do it at all) and how soon your book ends up in the remainder shop or worse pulped. Epublishing means that your book is available as long as you choose it to be. It can have a slow-burn in terms of its sales, something denied printed books.
I will write more about my reasons in my next post.
Having had a few not unexpected agent rejections - after all,
it's a 1:1,000 chance of getting one to see your MS through to
publication - I'm naturally wondering where I went
wrong. The standard rejection letter does not have the
scope to say why a work didn't satisfy the gatekeeper. Even just
one line would help. Like, "and I thought the period was
unpopular". Or "it would be better set in in America?" Or, "it's
So what would you expect from a crime/thriller novel?
Hooks in the first paragraph. Another at the end of a short C1? tick
Well some killings, obviously tick
Serial killings! Ah, even better BIG TICK
Child kidnap. Oh yes. tick
Some action. How about a train crash and 112 people die? tick
A big clue to solve tick
Devious bastards? tick
An MC baffled by everything but who eventually solves
several related crimes? tick
Er, how about the MC having an affair?
Serial killers (yes two!) who get their gruesome comeupance? Oh yes!
And who started all this trouble. Someone you least expected? BIG TICK
Period? Does post war Britain count? Well maybe not.
Too much for the 'new readers' to learn. Mabe that's a fail. Bugger!
I'd have thought there was a market for crime novels with a mix of the above, but I'm plainly wrong. When I look in bookstores, there's plenty of crime novels, not all modern day either, so it's not an unpopular genre.
Any ideas? Anybody?
Anyway, if any of you fancy a read...here is the link!
I did mention The Writers' Workshop in my acknowledgements...without the support I received here, I would never have taken the plunge. Thanks again to all of you...
Somewhere on your screen when you want to save something there will probably be a little picture of a floppy disk, yet you wouldn’t fit a couple of chapters of your MS on one of those, even if you could buy them these days, which you simply can’t.
Digital cameras still synthesise the sound of a mechanical shutter despite most of them having no moving parts at all. Why not just a polite little beep?
They still advise you to defragment your hard drive to improve computer performance, despite the fact that hasn’t made a sod of difference ever since NTFS became the standard file system.
I’ve been trying to think of other such anachronisms from daily life, particularly some that pre date me. But I can’t.