Where do you get your ideas from?

A lot of people like to use the phrase, ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’ when talking about thinkers – particularly scientists who have built up a legendary career of invention and innovation from the meagre beginnings of studying their predecessors.

Writing, I think, is a little bit different. Not too far removed, but standing on shoulders doesn’t quite fit. Rather than picking up where the literary giants of the past left off, it’s more that you’re required to pick bits and pieces from the work that came before you, jumble them all around, then stitch them back together, interspersed with your own personal reflections and optional witty banter.

So here is my preferred phrase:

NB: Not thrown out for being bad, they just had extra copies, as you do.

NB: Not thrown out for being bad, they just had extra copies, as you do.

It isn’t so much ‘stealing’ as it is creative recycling, or perhaps borrowing. Anyway, so long as you’re ‘meta’ enough about it, no one should mind.
It certainly isn’t a bad habit. This is what writing is. You take all the things you know about and you juggle and spin around and drop the less interesting ones, then you’ve got your own unique story. Even Willy Shakes did it!

Alternatively, you can creatively recycle current fiction instead and come up with a cheap Twilight or Fifty Shades of Grey knock off. C’mon, man, everybody’s doing it…

– SYKES

Short Fiction: Laugh Track

I walked past the playground, and heard the kids playing, as I did every day. Same route, each morning, sure as if it was programmed into me. But this time, something about the sound was different, and it caught me by the ear like a fisherman’s hook and made me stop still.

There was this laugh – a child’s laugh, playful like. Three short peaks, each higher than the last, then a sort of jumbled chuckle. Now how often do you stop and take the time to memorise every note of something as commonplace as a laugh? You don’t. But this one called out to me because I’d heard it before. It was more than familiar; it was one of those noises that are ingrained in your memory, so deep down that you’ve no idea when or where you first heard it. You only know you’ve heard it often, countless times on repeat. I stood there for seconds, which is a long time by morning-walk-to-work standards, ‘til it clicked. It was a stock sound.

That odd but spritely laugh was one I’d heard a thousand times before through my television’s speakers, supposedly coming from crowds of kids behind a glass screen. It was a sound effect from an extensive library, used over and over again by everyone from movie producer to videogame designers, all because it was generously royalty-free. There are thousands of them, and I’m willing to bet you’d recognise more than you think. There was no mistaking it, that chortle of children. It was one hundred percent recycled amusement. You might say that I could have misheard, and I’d admit that’s a possibility, were it not for the fact that in the two minutes I stood at the fence, I heard that exact laugh repeated three times.

As I walked further into town I opened my ears. You’d be surprised how much more you hear when you really listen out for it. And what I heard, hidden behind the mundane, was disturbing. It wasn’t just the laugh. There were generic sound effects everywhere. A dog barked with the voice of a completely different breed. The birdsong in the park played on loop, as did the background noise of the day, which I imagine had a file name like ‘citycrowds5’. But I didn’t really start to lose it until I witnessed some hapless cyclist misjudge the height of the kerb and fall to the street. Because I swear to God, as that man flew clean over his handlebars, I heard the Wilhelm scream.

So this is where the inevitable existential crisis set it. These were stock sounds, they came from a database. How did they get from the database into the real world? Somebody put them there. But who, and how? The real world isn’t managed, or edited, or crea- oh. Perhaps ‘real’ was the word to challenge here. What if it’s an illusion, right? What if we’re all unknowingly part of some great film set, acting out our parts, oblivious to the truth? Because we’ve seen this before, haven’t we? Truman show, right? Or worse, the Matrix. Plato’s analogy of the cave, for Christ’s sake.

This was all getting a bit too much. I was starting to sweat through my suit. I took myself to the nearest bench and struggled with my tie. We’ve seen it before, said the so-far subdued rational part of my brain, and that’s exactly the point. Come on, man, have some originality. This has been done, there are books and books and movies about it. Real world masked by a generated illusion. We’re all pawns in some dystopian ploy to mess with our minds and meld our movements. Snap out of it.

I got to work with my mind just about intact, determined to work away the delusions. Because, I said to myself, there’s no point worrying that we’re all part of some grandiose illusion. There’s nothing we can do about it. We just go on living, we keep on playing the game, even if the game isn’t ours.

I sat at my desk. I never even mentioned what I do, did I? Trust me to get carried away. I’m a Negotiable Project Commissioner. You know, an NPC. Don’t ask me what that means, I barely know myself. Work for a big firm, do what I’m told over and over, wait for someone more important to step in and set things in motion. It’s depressing, really. Sometimes I think I’m only here to make up numbers.

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You may need to be vaguely familiar with videogames to fully ‘get’ this one. If not, try googling ‘NPC’, and all shall be revealed.

More doodles soon, methinks…

– SYKES

Flash Fiction: There is Nothing to Fear

Another picture writing challenge from over at Cognitive Reflection. I seem to be sandwiching sillier bits in between (half) serious/ dark short fiction. Lots of fun. Let me know what you think – constructive criticism is appreciated!

proper credit unknown

Maria whispers to herself as she walks down the corridor, carrying her father’s briefcase.  Beads of water fall from the ceiling to shallow, rank pools on the floor, creating echoes far larger than their size, and the familiar sounds of the city’s crowds are muffled and distorted, distant as they are beyond the walls of the abandoned building. Among all of this Maria is walking slowly, taking no steps to avoid the puddles, the litter and the fallen masonry that is scattered throughout the hallway. Her mind is preoccupied, drifting far from her feet, and she is using every part of it to maintain her murmured mantra. She repeats:
There is nothing to fear. There is nothing to fear. Nothing to fear but fear itself.

It’s an old one, and a good one, though considering her derelict surroundings and the shadows on either side that seem to follow as she walks, it does not seem entirely convincing. But Maria has her reasons to believe it, and now that she has come this far there is no sense in second guessing them. She was promised her safety if she met the conditions. She has brought the briefcase and grips it rigid at her side, as though afraid that it will leap for freedom if she loosens her hold, and disappear into the ankle-depth water below her with some cheap magician’s trick.

There is nothing to fear but fear.’

She is nearing the end of the corridor now, where the windows are largest and the light is in reach. She is unsure which room she is meant to be looking for, so she tries every one of the doors on the right, until she sees something beyond one of them that settles her mind. She walks inside, but within seconds she has returned to the corridor, this time without the briefcase, and it clear from her face that she feels that its weight has been lifted.

There is nothing to fear.’

She says it one last time, and she believes it. She believes it as she quickens her pace, hurrying for her exit. She believes it as she approaches the stairwell, and she believes it as she skips a step in her urgency. But as her foot catches on a metal pipe, left carelessly strewn on the stairs, the mantra leaves her mind. As she tumbles, headfirst, down the thick grey steps and sees the cracked concrete rushing to meet her, it seems there is something to fear after all.

I step from behind the door on the left, where I watched her. I feel pity, though I will not pretend to feel remorse, as I go to retrieve the briefcase. Beware of old sayings, I think. Beware of mantras and clichés.

There is always something to fear.

 

Shakespeare’s Dating Profile

Not even shopped.

Not even shopped.

So I was thinking. Heaven must get a little dull sometimes. While you were up there, waiting for loved ones to arrive, watching the world below go by, you’d want all the same amenities anyone on earth would get. That includes a love life. So what if there was a dating site for long dead historical figures? Enter ‘love in the afterlife’.

Selling Organs: A six word story (Daily Prompt)

From the daily prompt – Six of One, Half a Dozen of the Other
‘Write a six-word story about what you think the future holds for you, and then expand on it in a post.’

Sold organs in desperation. Church furious.

Selling organs

This was drawn very quickly, so the organ may not be anatomically correct.

Judging by the current state of my finances, this is looking to be a likely outcome for my future. Desperate times, eh?

Love a good six word story. This website has a good collection of them, if you’re interested.

– SYKES

A Short Story about some Moody Waves

Something slightly more serious than usual (Don’t worry, silly doodles will be back soon). Earlier this week I came across the picture writing challenge at another fine blog, Cognitive Reflection, and decided to give it a go. Below is a short story based on this picture of some moody waves.

sea_zpse6f01614

There is a place on the coast, close to where I live, where the sun sets in black and white. Not only sets, but rises, and hangs throughout the day, with not a hint of its usual amber warmth. It is a natural phenomenon, much like the northern lights, though with the colour drained away. The spectacle stretches for about a mile along the beach; on either side the sand is golden, the sea darkened blue green and the sky becomes whatever hue it feels like on each certain day. Then, the colour simply runs out. The yellow sand merges into a pitch of pavement grey. The water darkens further still until it is black, but for the white crests of waves that ride down to the shore. The sky is grey, as are the clouds, and when it rains the raindrops can barely be seen for they too are grey, until they reach the surface of the ocean to become a part of darker depths.

To those unfamiliar with my home this sounds like a marvel. But, like most wonders of the world, the locals barely bat their eyelids while outsiders flock to see them like crows to a corn field. As for me, I try to maintain my respect for the black and white beach, reminding myself at times how I felt when I first set eyes on it, twenty years ago. It was the sense of natural awe you might predict, except that it felt muted. In an appealing way.

I still take pleasure in introducing strangers to the scene, and so you can imagine my delight when my niece, eleven years old, came to visit, and asked to see the beach. We walked together to the coastline one evening, and I insisted she cover her eyes until we had walked well past the line of colour. When she lowered her hands, I waited for a gasp, or a subtler smile, but it didn’t come. She looked left to right and back again, before staring up at me.

‘It’s just black and white,’ she said. ‘Like a photograph. An old one.’

I was a little taken aback by this attitude. ‘Isn’t it beautiful, though? Like an old photograph? Or an old film? They can be great, in a different sort of way.’
She shrugged. ‘It’s just black and white. There’s nothing more to say.’
She turned to leave, but I took her hand.
‘Why?’ she said, ‘I’ve already seen it all.’
But she hadn’t. She had seen the black and white, but not between those lines. I insisted she stay a little longer, so that we could watch the sun set together.

I said to her, ‘See the blacks and whites, but they aren’t the only colours. Look at the greys.’
‘The grey?’ she asked.
‘Greys,’ I insisted. ‘See how many there are. They’re so alike that they seem to blend together, but they are by no means the same. There are thousands and thousands of greys, and you could spend a lifetime trying to count them all.’

Together we looked at the myriad of colours, where we once thought there had been only two. And as the cold white sun sank over the horizon, I looked to my right, and saw my young niece’s eyes begin to widen.

Lord Tredegar threw the best house parties

This doodle might require some background info.

My Dad owns a book called ‘I Never Knew That About Wales’ by Christopher Winn. While reading it he came across a passage which he felt the need to show me, about a big old mansion in Monmouthshire called Tredegar House. It had a number of eccentric Lords, the best of which was a guy called Evan:

‘He saw himself as an artist and poet and filled Tredegar with exotic animals such as gorillas, bears and, his particular favourites, kangaroos, with whom he used to box. To break the ice at stuffy parties he trained his parrot, Blue Boy, to climb up inside his trousers and peep out through the fly, causing strong men to pale and well-bred ladies to swoon.

His mother, the former Lady Katharine Carnegie, thought she was a bird, and would go about the house making nests where she could roost. Apparently, when hungry, she would emit a noise something like a jackdaw and a footman would appear with her favourite tiffin, a dish of corn seed, steeped in medium sherry.’

I think I have a new hero.

Artist’s impression:

Apologies to any well-bred ladies who swoon as a result of this doodle.

Apologies to any well-bred ladies who swoon as a result of this doodle.