The world is so full of a number of things,
I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.
- Robert Louis Stevenson

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Chapter Six: Tales from the Trails

Step out the door and it feels like rain
That's the sound on your window pane
Take to the streets but you can't ignore
That's the sound you're waiting for
- OneRepublic: All Fall Down (2007)

Edinburgh’s northern boundary is the Firth of Forth, the estuary of the River Forth. I crossed it on the road bridge from South Queensferry to North Queensferry.
It felt good to be on the move again. It felt good to walk once more with the long, even paces meant to cover distance. The drizzle on my face felt good, and the street under the air cushioned soles of my new boots.
In the middle of the bridge I halted, leaned against the eastern railing, lit a fag, and looked out, across the firth and through the bars of the old Victorian railroad bridge beyond at the sea beyond. I had glimpsed it every now and then when I’d been on Carlton Hill, and Arthur’s Seat, but I’d never paused and looked at it.
I thought about it and figured that the last time I’d really looked at the North Sea would have been as I crossed it on my way from Berlin to Wotton-under-Edge – I counted the days in my head – 39 days ago.
Tolkien came to my mind and his famous lines about the dangerous business of going out your door, about those who wander, and about whither their road will lead. And Gaiman’s comparison of how change might be less this big, swooping thing that carries your off, and more like a thief who steals little things, night by night, until nothing familiar remains to keep you.
It all seemed so long ago, Berlin, my aunt’s, that day I had set next to Alice by the pond under Wimley Hill. Even the Big Chill, and bloody Leeds. As I stood on the Forth Road Bridge, smoking my way through half a pack, and watched the ships go by, and he trains on the other bridge, and the as the drizzle slowly soaked through the hood and began to trickle down my neck, as I stood there, I became aware that something had changed in the two weeks I’d spent in Edinburgh. Was it something fundamental, something inside of me, or just one of the little things, just one step along the winding road that was taking me ever onward? I didn’t know.
Behind me the setting sun was a piece of burnished silvery sky shimmering through a frosting of clouds, and the Firth of Roth was an arrow pointing towards that failing light. Slowly they were inching towards each other, the one about to extinguish the other. My shoulder ached and throbbed, past love bites of Leeds and Edinburgh not quite yet letting go of me.
The cuts Julie had given me had healed well, initially. But Ponyboy, endlessly fascinated by them, had again ad again toyed with them, probing, prodding, making me squirm and squeal. Again and again he had asked me how I had gotten them. Every time I made up another answer: My crazy father had cut them into my wanking arm so that Jesus would deliver me into faggotry. Drug dealers had tortured me to et me to betray a lover who’d turned narc. I had cut out the tracking device implanted by aliens and was now on the run from Men In Black.
Two days before I had left he had all of a sudden held me down and rubbed the mushy salt-and-vinegar soaked remains of a fish’n’chips cinner into my arm, and the black sludge from a beer can we’d used as an ashtray. It burned like battery acid. I twisted and screamed, but he just held me harder, and rubbed it in more forcefully, until I was bleeding again.
“What the fuck are you doing, you aşağılık herif?!” I screamed and punched him hard into the face. He sat back, and smiled quietly through the blood.
“Noo ye’ll ne’er forgit, ma wee sluagh. Noo ye’r kenmerkt.”
And indeed the salt and vinegar had made the lips of the wound puff up, and the beer-ash-mix had seeped under the skin like tattoo pigment. And now, two days later, everything had grown angry red again, and hot, and painful.
I flicked the last cigarette butt out into the gusty air between me and the waters below, watching its glowing tip fall and tumble and disappear. The I shortened the shoulder strap of my satchel and walked on.
A few hundred meters down the A90 on the North Queensferry side of the bridge, at the North Access bus stop, a lorry stopped at my thumb. The door opened and from high above me a small face smiled out from behind thick, black horn-rimmed glasses and a wiry, black moustache.
“Hey, lad. Gaeing north?”
“Sure,” I said and took the hand he offered me and hauled myself up and into the cab. Later he stopped at the lorry park in Ballinluig for the night, and offered me to stay in his cabin if I wanted.


  1. Introspective, picture-painting, moving. Easily the best entry here so far. Don't change a comma.

  2. Fuck commas and grammatical correctness... if you're writing this well just get on with it and have an editor do that shit.

    My only concern with this piece is how you approach the reader directly while referring to "The Haunting of Hill House." I would say this is not good. No no no. It took me right out of your story and into thinking that I was reading some kind of personal journal instead. Weird. Don't do it again.

    Otherwise fan-fucking-tastic stuff.

    (Don't know why I'm swearing so much today. Shrug.)


  3. Um. Wow, Ben & Camille. I was actually thinking about completely rewriting both this and the following one (and those of this Chapter yet to come) because, well, basically not enough was happening.

    @Camille: I dunno if you've read the rest. Probably not. But this is just part of a Chapter of, well, something like one kahretsin big epic novel, or something. And I thought that the tone of the entire things is, well, like me telling it to someone. Like I'm sitting there with you and just telling it all to you. No high lit, you know, just a narrative. Just look at the first few paragraphs of Chapter One. So, this comment about Hill House is, well, I thought it IS the way I tell this. I have to think about that. But I'd be grateful for your input on that tone of narrative thing if you read more of the rest.

    @Ben: Thankee kindly, but what do you say to Camille's point. Not a comma, or scratch the Hill House comparison?

  4. Freefox... I got that it is an epic tale from just this chapter/post. I will definitely read the rest as I enjoyed reading this.
    However, you may not realize how good your writing is... it IS high lit... I can tell oh so much from just this post/chapter. You start and finish in the first person narrative, which is fine, good and effective... then when you want to take the main character into the analogy, you opt right out of the literary style and into personal correspondence or conversation with the reader... This takes away dramatically the effect of having written in the first person narrative to begin with... but don't take my word for it, ask around about first person/third person styles and how never never to involve the reader personally unless you REALLY know what you are doing.
    I've been an editor (professionally) and a writer (amatuer) for a long time. My feedback is from my first impression. It comes from both a layman's POV and an experienced storytellers POV. Anyway, if it affected me this way, I'm sure it would affect others this way even though they may not know why they have suddenly lost interest in reading your work.

    My opinion is that as a reader, I want to peer into a book and the lives of the characters anonymously. If the author or narrarator turns around and notices me there (like the way you asked the reader if he/she remember the story of "The Haunting of Hill House" then I suddenly feel self conscious like I'm being included in the story and no longer feel anonymous. I suppose if this is a style that you start with then it might work. I'm all for breaking rules! IF it works to break the rule. But you have to remain consistent and not flit between styles.
    Ah... that's it for now. I'll read on.

  5. Sorry... I should have offered an alternative way to achieve the telling of the analogy between you and Eleanor. Just have the character talk to himself... have him remembering Eleanor driving and her thoughts and let him draw the comparison within his own mind. I think that would work better.


  6. Oh yeah... I'm thinking about this and just can't let it go...

    You're writing as a journalist might write an article about his travels. Is that what you are aiming for? Because that would make sense. Journalism often includes the reader and that is normal.

    But I'm feeling more and more adamant that in fiction writing, you must never never include the reader. It just isn't done.

    My final thoughts. I think you COULD write fiction... this could very easily become some of the best fiction I've ever read. For all I could tell I was reading a chapter from Tolkien... until I hit the question to the reader.

    My advice would be to choose a literary style (first or third person, second person would require another character to be present, or would at the very least require the main character to be 'imagining' himself speaking to a second character even if he/she wasn't present... such as a dead father for example) and go. Forget about punctuation etc
    or write journalism... which is non-fiction.


  7. Well, thanks again for the compliment and the vote of confidence, Camille.
    I'm certainly not a journalist. But if I cut out adressing the reader directly, I'd have to rework pretty large parts of the entire tale. And are you so certain that it isn't done? What about "The Catcher in the Rye" and "Huckleberry Finn"? I'm rather certain that both those books adress the reader directly, though I'll have to check it out. And I guess, conceited as that may sound, I sort of do look to exactly those two as my main literary inspirations for the sort of thing I want to tell. Of course in my case it comes from the fact that I used to blog a lot of this when it originally happened, and not only are those blogs are sort of the basis of what I write now, but mostly, that is where I learned to write, and how I learned to write, so that blog-style is still what is happening in my head when I put my thoughts and ideas and memories into words. (Of course, writing it with the knowledge of it all ended does change my view on the past quite a lot.)
    Anyway, I would be very grateful if you could just read the first chapter (beginning here) and then maybe give me some tips on that whole style and narrator thing again.

  8. Damn, messed up the ref: First Chapter starts he1e, continues 2ere, and ends her3. ^_^

  9. You are definitely correct that Holden asks questions to the reader in Catcher... but the personification is that of the psychiatrist.
    As for Huck Finn, I can't recall him directly talking to the reader, but here, you are talking about Mark Twain... a GOD among writers. He knew what he was doing. (not to say that you don't, but maybe not yet fully ;)

    Anyway, I did read all of chapter one and I see what you are doing more clearly now. I agree, it is working, to an extent.
    It seems to me a little flimsy because there could be more to the entire theme, if we had some idea of who he was speaking to... even if it was an imaginary character that your boy (Rikki?) admires and uses as a personal guide or someone he finds comfort in talking to. The reader could more comfortably fill the role of this imaginary character without feeling too imposed upon to actually be a part of the story him/herself. I miss having some idea of who he is referring to when he directs questions to the reader... I just don't want to feel like it is me.... what if I don't remember "The Haunting Of Hill House?" How can I fill those shoes?

    Also, your character seems very eloquent learned for such a young pick pocket. I can't say for sure yet, but he seems older than 16...
    I'll read on.
    I hope you enjoy the criticisms. To me, there is nothing worse than someone, or a bunch of someones, saying how great something is without offering some actual feedback. My criticisms are offered with high regards and/or as opportunities for alternative thinking.
    Thanks and best to you with it.

  10. @Camille: First off, I am totally thrilled by your comments. I, too, prefer crticism from someone who has actually been affected by my writing in some way, to bland praise that seems to come from someone who probably hasn't even really read my stuff. So, please, by all mean, fire away.

    About the Direct Address thing, I did look around, and there seem to be many books that do that, from Lemony Snicket's books all the way to Jane Eyre. I do see why you think it's problematic, and I'll keep thinking about it. For now I will stick with the style I have begun this in - mostly because it is most truthfully my style, the one that comes from my gut. I am telling this tale directly to you - now even you personally, too, Camille, just like to Ben and Andrew, Lou, and Misha. Also, I want to grab the reader by the collar and drag him into my world. I want to say to him: Look at it. It's bloody real. The world is so much vaster than you allow yourself to see. All this, all this pain, all this wonder, all this beautiful ugliness, it's all really there. I hate peeps who think they know the limits of the world. Been there, done that. Ugh.
    But I will try to do it in a way that doesn't make the sort of assumption that I did with the "Hill House" ref. Maybe it will be less alienating then. I admit, it is kinda rude.

    As for the age thing, well, for one I find this form of ageism (younger is dumber) rather offensive. If life isn't measured by the breaths we take but by the moments that take our breaths away, I think that that physical age is quite unimportant. I've known very old fools. And anyway, if you read it from the beginning you will find a) that while the story tells of a time when my narrator is 15-16, it does so in retrospect. The narrator at the time of the telling is at least two years older... and b) that he is quite well read, I think, for his age, and with good reason. In fact he may be almost as well read as I am. :P

    "If I am occasionally a little over-dressed, I make up for it by being always immensely over-educated" (Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest)

  11. Well you defend what you are doing and that's good.
    My comments were meant as food for thought and you've definitely chewed on my words... so thank you.

    As for the age, it has nothing to do with whether the character SHOULD be so young, I'm just saying he comes across as older and wiser than I believe any sixteen, seventeen or even 20 year old could possibly be.

    But we've talked and that's great.

    Thanks for your comments on my blog... NO I did not know milky mono died a few weeks ago. I tried to find some info on the net about it, but could find nothing. Please tell me what you know. And also, I'm assuming milky mono is the singer. True? I really don't know their names.. just love the music.

  12. No, thank you for yours. I hope that I haven't put you off and that I'll get many more from you. I will def think more about that narrative mode thing and I'll try to get feedback from other readers on that subj to fig out what effect it has and how that differes from what I want.

    Re: Miky Mono, I'll answer that on your blog.

  13. My, you two have been busy. I was asked a question at some point I think regarding the HoHH literary reference within the narrative, so here is my answer:
    It did jolt me out of the mood/scene to be addressed directly like that, but not unpleasantly so. It does add to the feeling that you and I are crouched around some campfire somewhere as you recount the tale. I don't think it hurts to pause for breath once in a while before plunging back into the story - kind of what you were doing on the bridge, I suppose.

  14. @Ben: Sorry, but changed a few commas. And then some.

    @Camille: Better?


  15. Scanned this a while ago, and came back to read and comment now. I can't find the Haunting of Hill House anymore -- one of the 'then some' changes?

    I can kind of see why you might have been thinking about rewriting this. It's reflective, and so to get it onto the page so that it's authentic can be difficult. To 'use' your Hemingway quote, it still reads as though you did some 'bleeding' and you are reflecting on it, rather than actually just bleeding onto the page.

    The little bit about Ponyboy again, the cuts and the skin mark helps. It felt like you left out a lot of the uncomfortable relationship details in the earlier posts.