Category Archives: Creative Writing

The Alien DJ

 

Dodgy Space Themes album

A crime to art, music and science fiction, but this dodgy 1978 album got me hooked.

 

Is it me or am I the only one who finds it hard to separate Sci-Fi from soundtrack? It is almost impossible to think of the opening credits of Star Wars, Episode IV: A New Hope without the adrenalin-surge of John Williams’ classic theme-tune blasted out to the backstory disappearing to its vanishing point (or Darth Vader and his stormtroopers without the Imperial march); the shock and awe of the apocalyptic opening of Blade Runner without the vertiginous electronica of Vangelis; and the opening of Kubrick/Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey would not have the same sturm-und-drang impact with Richard Strauss’s ‘sunrise’ from Also sprach Zarathustra.

Growing up a Sci-Fi addict (thanks to Lucas’ gateway drug that made me watch anything with Special FX in however risible, and it often was) I received my ‘hit’ often via the opening credits and theme tune of classic TV shows such as Captain Scarlet, Joe 90, Thunderbirds, Dr Who, Blake’s Seven, Star Trek, and The Prisoner. 

And as an adult connoisseur of big screen Fantastika, I often find myself enthralled as much by the soaring soundtracks as much as the visuals – as in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Brazil, Terminator 2: Judgement Day, The Matrix, Sunshine, Interstellar, Arrival, Blade Runner: 2049 to name but a few.  

So it is no surprise to discover that during the writing of my novels I often have an ‘unofficial soundtrack’ running in the back of my mind. Perhaps this is why I need to write in silence, as I need to be able to tune into this internal symphony – the mood and movement that underscores the scene or chapter I am writing. Sometimes actual music is cited in the prose. In my science fiction thriller, Black Box, the protagonist listens to Chinese death metal while out on the ice, conducting one of his endless routine maintenance circuits of the vast ice-shelf he is tasked to transport to the ends of the galaxy. Back in his tugship, out of his suit, Lake relaxes to Hendrix while shooting up an artificial opiate he has managed to synthesise. Other settings required different tracks, evoking a different ambience – very few of these are explicit, but they nuanced my depiction of each, through diction, description, and pacing – the micro-choices that create tone.

If, in some fortunate future, my novel gets turned into a movie – which since it was first conceived as one, would be a satisfying full circle – then I hope the director will choose one of the fine composers out there (Hans Zimmer, for instance!) to score it rather than opt for the populist ‘mix-tape’ approach, which worked for The Martian and Guardians of the Galaxy — initially, a refreshingly iconoclastic contra-tonal device, but one that’s become something of a cliché, a lazy form of film-making (like the cheesy pop song montage sequence of the 80s it emulates) that does a disservice to the craft of the film composer, the under-rated geniuses of modern cinema, for it is they who translate the music of the spheres into reality.

Black Box is being published by Unbound – with your help! Pledge your support and pre-order a copy via this link: https://unbound.com/books/black-box/

 

Advertisements

Gods Playing Dice

Writing and RPGs

 

1024px-Traveller_books

The classic edition of Traveller, Game Designer’s Workshop, 1977

 

As a young man back in the spiked, crimped velveteen 80s I spent many an happy hour enjoying sessions of role-playing games (now suddenly fashionable). These undoubtedly nurtured my writerly imagination for it is through them I caught the bug for storytelling and creating detailed scenarios. The three systems that enthralled me the most were the classic version of Dungeon & Dragons, Call of Cthulu (based upon the works of HP Lovecraft) and Traveller – through them I experienced the immersive delights of Fantasy, Horror and Science Fiction. It is the latter that is particularly on my radar at the moment, for my SF novel, Black Box, is ready for launch (being published through the crowdfunding platform, Unbound). Although the novel has been consciously informed by a lifetime of reading and watching SF, by Climate Change, and by research into space exploration and artificial intelligence at the University of Leicester where I’m currently completing my PhD, looking back I realise that those lively sessions with fellow schoolmates (in particular Garrie Fletcher, who has gone onto to become a wordsmith too) really nurtured the ‘SF brain’ part of me. With its stylish series of black manuals, and hard edge, Traveller was always the coolest of the RPGs, the Fonz of the whole Happy Days bunch. Each session, usually held around ‘Budgie’s house’, another schoolmate from Mereway, felt like being inside an episode of one of our favourite TV shows – Blake’s 7, Dr Who, Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica (this was pre-Firefly days and that show in particular captures the maverick freebooting attitude of the game – a motley crew taking on some dodgy mission for a fistful of credits, normally running the gauntlet of the Imperium, space pirates and hostiles). The main benefit of these games was, of course, the social angle – lifesaving for a bunch of awkward nerds (speaking personally): the sessions were some of the most enjoyable spent as a teenager – hearty laughter, shared creativity, and heart-pumping excitement. But in hindsight, as someone who has made writing the heart of their career, I see other spinoffs that have a direct benefit to novelists: immersiveness (far more visceral than any virtual reality); multilinearity (complex branching narratives effected by one’s choices); storytelling (how to engage and sustain an audience, create narrative traction, suspense and tension); characterisation (designing vivid characters, improvising dialogue); the importance of setting (almost a character in its own right – certainly spaceships can be); and fictionality (the giddy freedom of making stuff up, spinning a yarn, and weaving worlds out of thin air). These have all become of primary importance in my novel-writing. Of course novels seem, on the surface, less multi-cursory and multi-player – they are a direct interface between author and reader (although they can be shared by millions) – but in the composition of them, the malleability of the plot, the behaviour of the characters, and the volatility of the structure, makes it feel like being in a ‘session’ as DM,  player-characters, and non-player characters – a schizophrenic’s paradise. Aspects of your personality talk back at you: shock, astound and devastate – and you risk coming across as a complete loon, bursting out laughing or crying out in frustration at a screen. Anything can happen in the white void of the blank page. The lonely long-haul of writing a novel may lack the sociability of a RPG (except in the camaraderie with fellow writers and, if you’re lucky, readers), but in compensation one has complete creative control (eventually, if the wild beast of the book can be tamed sufficiently). It can bring out the emperor-god-being in you, the tyrannical deity that plucky characters loved to frustrate. As with the best DMs, who run a game ‘dice-light’, biasing the flow of storytelling over a punctilious compliance with the rules, the best writers always allow their characters to have a lucky break now and then, and to steal the show over a mechanical fulfilment of plot. And writers weaned on RPGs will always remember who the narrative is ultimately for – not the ‘god behind the screen’ but the reader-participant.

Copyright ©Kevan Manwaring 30 April

Pledge to the Black Box campaign and help support the publication of my first science fiction novel: https://unbound.com/books/black-box/

Uncanny America: Day 3

Uncanny America: folklore, fakelore and the bazaar of the bizarre

 

Golden Driller.jpg

Golden Driller, Tulsa

 

Guest Blog from Eliza Thomas, the Folk Whisperer.

ELIZA THOMAS

This blog is intended to be a true(ish) account of a road-trip taken from Asheville to San Francisco, early November, 2017. It’s a long journey – all 2594 miles of it – and so I’ve just focused on the highlights here, filtered by my own academic penchant. It was done in a 2001 Dodge Dakota Pickup 4WD, pulling a silver trailer, with London our mahmout bodyguard. Enjoy the ride!

Day 3: Oklahoma

In the morning we crossed state lines close to the now-closed Fort Chaffee – the site where Elvis Presley had his famous buzz-cut when he joined the Army in March 1958. This ‘Elvis haircut site’ (Building #803 on the base) is currently being restored. It’s destruction, a close shave, it would appear – thanks to the success of a 50th Anniversary ‘GI Haircut Day’ when hundreds flocked to the once doomed Fort Chaffee Barbershop Museum where Jimmy Don Peterson, son of the barber who cut Presley’s hair, gave free G.I. buzz cuts to visitors.  A rag, a bone, a hank of hair resurrects these 20th Century saints. Curiouser and curiouser.

*   *   *

It was hard to imagine it getting hicker, but Oklahoma managed to pull it off. Up in Beaver they have the ‘cow chip throwing capital of the world’ – what a USP! We detoured to Tulsa to see the ‘Golden Driller’ a gi-normous oil man, one of the largest statues in the States apparently. For some reason he was crotchless, and so looked more like an oil woman to my eyes. Nearby was the not to be missed Blue Whale of Catoosa – one of many ‘Route 66 attractions’, for here the iconic road converged with other interstates. What stood out for me in this county was the Woody Guthrie statue in Okemah – their famous ‘Commie’ son was not honoured until those who vehemently disliked him at passed on. J sang an impromptu version of ‘This Land is Your Land’ by the side of it, and even got some dollars thrown into her case, thinking she was busking.  What haunted me more than anything were the First Nation place names – Choctee, Shawnee, Tecumseh, Lake Thunderbird – poignant reminders of the original residents of this land. Their ghosts are everywhere – and the kitsch attractions, like the ‘World’s Largest Totem Pole’ in Durant serve to only rub salt in the wound.  Near the OK/TX border we pass through a ghost town called Texola – literally, it’s advertised as such. Run down, abandoned properties. Beat up old store fronts. A bar with a sign: ‘There’s no other place like this place anywhere near this place so this must be the place.’

The journey continues tomorrow…

Eliza Thomas is a PhD candidate in ethnomusicology at the University of Glasgow. Her research interests are the connections between folklore and folk music in Lowland Scotland. She is the co-convenor of the now annual SIDHE (Scottish International Dialogues in Hermeneutic Ethnomusicology) Conference, and a contributor to The Cone and The Bottle Imp. She blogs and tweets as the Folk Whisperer.

The Sound of Snow

The Sound of Snow

falling on snow.

A deepening silence.

The city is still,

platforms empty,

roads unburdened

of their incessant freight.

Trees, shuddering in the wind,

exfoliate ice blossom.

There’s probably a word,

in a culture accustomed

and observant of its nuances,

for this kind of snow.

Powdered crystal

over softer layers –

a cake of ground glass –

impossible to roll

into a snow torso,

like making dough

without water.

Churned up by

excited scurryings,

sledge runs,

snowman trails,

the moulds of dog noses,

bird feet runes.

Squeaking polystyrene

under boots,

like some cheap special effect.

To find a snow-field

unmarked by man –

to be the first

to place one’s foot

on virgin regions.

To make one’s mark

and to know it is

the original.

Prototype,

not pirated,

Nth generation

loss of definition.

Not to follow

in the blurred footfalls of others,

but to be the pioneer,

breaking trail.

One foot after another

into freshly fallen flakes.

Boot soundlessly slipping

into the place waiting for it.

Walking on angel down.

No one around.

No direction,

except your own.

Nothing to listen to

except

the sound of snow

falling on snow.

Kevan Manwaring

from The Immanent Moment,

published by Awen 2010

***new

edition 2016***

http://www.awenpublications.co.uk

Burning News

The old year

is an empty grate,

solstice-black and cold

as a spurned lover’s heart.

Waiting to be filled with

kindling – scrunched news,

or the celebrity tittle-tattle

that passes for it

these days,

fat splinters of shattered tree,

glottal stops of coal,

black bile of angry mines,

the simmering earth

beneath our feet. Its fury

on slow-burn. The fuse of

ancient forests sizzle.

Coal scuttle, clatter and clinker.

With the rasp of a match,

paper curls, catching flame –

spreading like hungry gossip.

Inflammatory rumours

blaze into headlines of fire,

snagging our gaze.

We try to turn away,

but too late.

We’re hypnotized.

 

Copyright ©Kevan Manwaring 2010

(from Immanent Moment Awen Publications 2010)

 

The Taliesin Soliloquies: Greyhound

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

I’ll teach that young upstart,

this new dog’s got old tricks –

the fith-fath he fled with.

Long dog now am I,

deadly Sirius,

death at his heels,

snapping, slavering –

a knife thrust, forever forward,

fangs bared in tight death grin,

eyes on fire,

I shall never blink,

never lose sight of my prey.

As swift as a wisht-hound

running through the sky,

the night, my road,

harrowing souls who stray

into the wild-wood.

There is nowhere you can hide,

little hare,

no hollow or shadow.

No leverage, leveret.

Your scent leaves a ribbon of bright noise

my nose follows with ease.

I am drawing near,

I taste your fur

on my long tongue.

Little Gwion, you’ll make a toothsome morsel,

replace the potion you have stolen,

the awen usurped

from my son.

 

Hare-thief, there’s no taboo

that will stop me eating you,

the darkness to devour you

in one gigantic

gulp.

 

 

Copyright © Kevan Manwaring 2017

way of awen by me

From ‘The Taliesin Soliloquies’, originally published in The Way of Awen: journey of a bard, O Books 2010; to be included in the forthcoming Silver Branch: bardic poems by Kevan Manwaring, Awen, 2017 https://www.awenpublications.co.uk/

Equinox Bridge

(reposted in memory of the families and victims of Manchester Arena)

Sleepy Stroud on a sunny Sunday morning

Rising to the brightening fields

to the bridge of day and night

when all is in balance

briefly.

Friends, families, dog-walkers, gather

by the quickening stream

united by their mutual awe.

This morning a kingdom

holds its breath,

the day of the new moon,

the day of the Spring Equinox,

the day of the solar eclipse,

the sun entering Aries,

all the usual astrological mumbo-jumbo.

 

But the solar system is not our personal orrery.

 

The show is not for us,

although we act like it is.

 

Not full totality here,

but dramatic enough

for us to stand and stare

astonished,

as the moon takes a bite out of the sun,

Fenris’ rabid bite-marks

raising hackles of primal fear

beyond science and common sense.

Birds quieten, a wind stirs,

pets are bewildered.

 

Yet we know the light will win in the end.

 

The moon for once

turns its face away

from the radiance.

A loyal mirror

today is shattered.

 

Some will turn away from goodness,

some will turn away from the light,

some choose evil’s imagined glamour,

some choose the night.

 

And yet, in the great scheme of things

(has anyone had a look lately?)

both are needed.

Not a fifty-fifty fixed rigidity

but a flowing, a to-ing and fro-ing.

Like rough-and-tumble cubs fighting.

 

Towards summer, the lion of sunlight dominates.

Towards winter, a beast cast in night’s bronze.

 

Both have their place in the Great Dance.

 

Yet often the light feels frail.

Ah,

so much darkness in the world.

 

Black-clad barbarians enacting their

impotent rage on aid-workers,

school-children, museum-visitors.

Infantile despots, wanting the world

to comply to their solipsistic

Cyclopean monomania,

their pinhead paradigm,

which perverts its own doctrines

to serve whatever devil lurks inside.

 

See them nurse their grievance narratives,

polish their Russian rifles,

strap on their home-made bombs,

thinking their lonely library of a single book

can justify destroying all others.

 

Yet this morning all of that is erased

by the sublime benediction of the new sun,

still shining its endless love on all of its children.

This morning the Earth is like a prayer –

grass, flower, tree: hands raised in praise.

All that lives, that is truly alive,

turns towards the light.

 

Only that which denies, which deals in

death, in the destruction of its own past,

a Year Zero moronism, does otherwise.

 

Yet this morning I stand

one foot in the shade

one foot in the light,

between the Horns and the Heavens

a balancing act, a tight-rope walk,

across the Niagaras of positive and negative

moving stubbornly beyond duality.

Beyond a binary world of

with-us or against-us.

 

I stand poised on Equinox Bridge

knowing as I cross it

that it disappears behind me as I pass,

that it never truly existed

a fleeting moment, a pulse of awareness,

cherry blossom falling on snow.

 

And somewhere the future

is surging towards us like the swell of the bore.

And somewhere a king

with a black name is buried,

and somewhere Persiled druids

stand posing in the sun.

 

All bathed in

eight minute-old light

which scatters its photons

magnanimously across the tilting Earth,

the part we call north,

the place we call home.

 

In the blink of a blind god’s eye.

 

 

Kevan Manwaring

Spring Equinox, 2015

(reposted in memory of the families and victims of Manchester Arena)