Scar Wars: A Zombie Parody

Nine Inch Nails ‘With Teeth’ remixed by Reaps007…

I gaze helplessly into the dark stars of his eyes, as Crispin closes the piano-lid softly down over the keys. The final few bars of his piece are still fading away. Is he going to make the first move?

But before either of us can make that idea a reality, through the windows of the restaurant I see the lights of Cramps University Hospital suddenly flicker, and then go out.

“Oh no!” I cry. “A power-cut!”

Crispin turns to look. After a few seconds, it is evident that there is no emergency power to save the day. Even the street-lighting over the car-park starts to fizzle out, one by one.

“My housemate!” I gibber. “Whatsername… Cock-hazard… she’s in surgery!”

“We must go back, Sarah Bellummm,” Crispin groans sympathetically. “To ensure that all is well.”

He grabs his take-out box from under the piano, and helps me to my feet. The waiters barely take notice, as we hurry out of Hookah’s Restaurant.

We shamble as quickly as we can across the road, back into the hospital grounds. They are eerie and forbidding, without the phosphorescent lights.

The electronic doors are no longer functioning. But no matter – the glass in them has already been smashed – into a million pieces.

“What the f…?” I begin to say, thoughts of a siege appearing, uninvited. Crispin’s hand on my arm stops me.

“Emergency shatter,” he remarks – pointing to a device in the doorframe.

“What does it do?”

“It fires high-velocity metal ball-bearings into each panel of glass, from inside the double-glazed unit,” he shrugs. “It is old technology now, but effective, in corporate building fire safety.”

Aha. Clever. I seem to recall something like that having been patented, on Tomorrow’s World

We step through the empty frames, feet crunching on the shattered fragments. I take another piece of old technology – by Trevor Bayliss – out of my pocket, kept attached to my keyring. Wind it up with its tiny handle for a few seconds to charge the battery, and switch it on. The bright LED torch beam illuminates the pale walls of the hospital corridor.

We head for the Emergency Room. Distant cries, and groans of distressed patients echo in the building. I wonder how many life-support systems have just been abruptly cut off.

More torchlight greets us, as we find the Reception desk, exactly where we left it.

“My housemate,” I pant, my nerves making me breathless. “Er… you know… looks like she lost a fight with a bulldozer. Bad taste in men. Talks like she still reads too much Brothers Grimm for her age. Miss Fuck-Knows. Went to have her thumb reattached…”

“Oh, yes,” the receptionist nods, her spectacles reflecting the torchlight. “The psychiatric biohazard case. Her bloods and swabs came back as positive for syphilis, gonnorrhea, chlamydia, T-parasites, ringworm, impetigo, herpes, HPV, and HIV – so she’s been put in the Isolation Ward following her surgery.”

“What?” I make a mental note to keep my toothbrush and toothpaste separate from hers in the bathroom, from now on. Preferably locked in a strongbox, somewhere else. Like Switzerland. “How on Earth could she have EVERYTHING?”

“Well, apparently, she never went to the GUM clinic, and always just took her boyfriend’s word for it when he said he didn’t have anything infectious, before having unprotected sex with him. Including the boyfriends who admitted to paying for sex, and to group sex in the past,” the receptionist shrugs, with an expression of ‘what a stupid twat’ that I fully understand. “You can go and check up on her – it’s at the far end of the hospital, lower ground floor, next to the morgue. You’ll have to use the stairs.”

Of course. Corpses aren’t at risk of catching anything. Makes sense to put the biohazard cases down there.

“Will you be all right on your own here, ladies?” Crispin asks, his voice concerned. The receptionist, and uniformed HCA on duty, look at each other and smirk.

“Sure,” says the receptionist. “Any trouble comes looking for us, they’ll be met with the almighty force of this armed and fully operational nursing station.”

The assistant twangs the fingertips of her latex gloves meaningfully. Ouch.

I think they’ll be just fine.

*  *  *  *  *

We avoid the WET FLOOR warning signs and head through the swing doors, down the stairwell. High above us, I can hear shuffling and groaning, about three floors up.

“Maybe a sleepwalker?” I suggest in a whisper.

“One can only hope,” Crispin admits, hugging his take-out box close to his chest.

We emerge next to the elevators – I blush in the darkness at the memory, glad that no-one can see – and follow the markers directing us past the morgue.

Crispin stops abruptly in front of me, so that I nearly bump straight into him. His head turns, angles questingly, and he sniffs the air.

“Not now, Crispy!” I hiss, startling myself at my own disapproving tone. As if I’m talking to a giant, upright, shaggy dog. “Stop thinking with your stomach!”

“It is not my stomach we need to worry about,” he remarks, still in his beautiful, resonating monotone. “They are on the move…”

“Who are on the move?” I ask, my heart trying to join my tongue, at the back of my mouth.

He raises the box briefly.

“Perhaps they objected to my carry-out,” he sighs.

I shine the torch beam on the box’s logo.

Human Tissues!

Fuck! I am SO stupid!

Even my housemate Shithead can read! At least, read juvenile stuff, like Beauty and the Beast

“You didn’t go to research the vending machines here?” I explode. “You went stealing actual parts of other people? What the fuck for? Are you Dr Frankenstein or something, as well as a zombie?”

He hangs his head, a little more than usual.

“They will only look for replacements,” he says. “The nearest.”

He glances towards the darkness at the end of the corridor, after the morgue.

To the Isolation Ward.

“So now we’re going to have biohazard zombies carrying infectious diseases too?” I ask. “Well, that’s just lovely, knowing that everyone’s going to have to insist on prophylactics as well, before having their brains sucked out.”

He nods, sheepishly.

“You are going to tell me what you planned to do, with all those parts you’ve stolen,” I remind him. “But first, we’re going to check up on Miss Sperm-Bank Deposit Box down there, and see if there’s anything left of her to pay the rent that she owes me!”

But – as we turn towards the Isolation Ward, the sudden squeal of gurney wheels reaches our ears. Crispin Dry reacts, leaping and pinning me to the wall – just as an occupied trolley hurtles past, narrowly missing us. Several draped white shapes seem to be pushing it at once.

“Sarah – help me…!” a faint, weak voice cries, Doppler-ing away out of the transport entrance, at the other end.

“That’s her!” I shout, my adrenaline rendering me immune to his current proximity. “They’re kidnapping her!”

“To the Cadillac!” Crispin says, releasing me – and we lurch in pursuit.

Oh, no…

The car park is a zombie convention. We watch helplessly as my housemate’s gurney is loaded into an abandoned ambulance. The engine starts.

“We’ll never make it to the car,” I tell him.

A zombie corpse flies past us at head-height, landing upside-down in a box topiary sculpture, and a local taxi brakes abruptly at the kerb. Its windscreen-wipers activate, trying to move the entrail smear out of the driver’s direct eye-line.

We exchange a look, and amble over.

“Follow that ambulance!” I order, as we squeeze into the back, the Human Tissues box between us on the seat. “Don’t let him out of your sight!”

“Yes, Ma’am,” the driver replies, and switches on his In Service tracker. He sounds oddly calm. “Is it a relative?”

“My housemate,” I say, choking up a little, at the thought of having to invent a name to go on her headstone, at the end of the day. Or maybe I’ll just find an excuse to rifle through her wallet at some point, and check her I.D.

“These patient transfers are always stressful,” he says, soothingly. “I’ll try and get us all there in one piece.”

“Quickly, would be preferable,” I gulp.

“Yes, Ma’am,” the driver chuckles, enjoying my little melodrama. My zombie companion squeezes my hand reassuringly.

“Stay on his tail, Luke,” Crispin orders.

“Luke? How do you know his name?” I ask.

Crispin points to the Nigerian Work Permit in the corner of the courtesy window, between the driver and ourselves.

Oh.

GAYLORD LUKAN. WORKING LEGALLY SINCE 1971.

Our taxi rockets sickeningly after the hijacked ambulance, weaving in and out of the garbage-collection-night rubbish, piled up at intervals along the road.

“Go around the next crescent – see if you can cut them off,” Crispin adds, his monotone never changing. “Luke – trust me…”

Star Wars: Battle of Yavin (excerpt) Copyright/TM: George Lucas/Lucasfilm

More mindless mayhem: The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum

Also available for all other devices, and online reading, on Smashwords

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Pretty Warm One: A Zombie Parody

Nine Inch Nails, remixed by Reaps…

I jolt awake, at the sensation of sliding helplessly down off the washable hospital-hospitality chair. Quickly catching myself, and prising my eyes open, I’d much rather be in a hospital-hospitalised bed right now, the way I feel at the moment.

Blimey. Did I actually kiss the zombified Crispin Dry in the elevator, while helping him with his little (okay, not so little) localised rigor mortis problem, or did I dream it?

I run my tongue over my teeth, thankful to find that there are no bits of zombie tongue left lodged in there. I remember that overwhelming mossy scent, of old black wool suit, and even older Old Spice. The sensation of falling into those two hypnotic pools of jet that his eyes had become…

My stomach feels strangely empty, and even my head feels weightless. I feel as though if I try to stand up and walk anywhere too soon, I’ll be lurching uncontrollably all over the place.

Slowly, bits of my memory return. Oh yeah. I’m here to sit with my dear housemate, er… fuck… maybe I never even knew her name in the first place. How does she expect people to remember her anyway? She’ll be a statistic sooner than a bride, with the ones she can pick. What was it today? He bit her thumb off during sex! I grin triumphantly, as my brain gets something right for once.

I look across towards where her gurney should be, but there’s just a space in the bay. Odd.

Maybe she went to surgery already.

*  *  *  *  *

I think she was pleased to see me. Hard to tell with her head being the shape of a football at the moment. The only expression she could do being ‘half-finished Halloween Pumpkin.’

“Don’t you think it’s time you dumped him?” I remember saying to her, when I was shown through. Crispin excused himself to find a vending machine that would meet his exacting requirements, leaving us to our girls’ talk.

“Oh noooo,” Dufus-Features protested, waving her bandaged club-hand, in defence of the sadist currently fulfilling the job-spec of ‘abusive boyfriend’ in her life. “He really loves me. And I can handle him. You have no idea how bad he used to be. He’s really making an effort to change. I’m his best therapy, he says.”

“By which you mean, he uses you as his punch bag?” I remarked. My stomach growled weirdly and horribly at the sight of all the blood-soaked gauze, and I had to sit down on the horrible Health & Safety hazard of a chair, more slippy and slidey than trying to ride an eel. I was feeling dizzy already. I wondered if I should have asked Crispin to sneak some more booze in with us. It looked like being a long night, on only one Sloe Gin Sling. “I hear his last dumb slut, Chelsea, now has a smile to match her name that he gave her. As a parting gift.”

“Exactly. He’s SO much better now, you have no idea,” Brainwashed Prick said, her one bloodshot eye (that I could still just about see) all misty with delusional erotomania. Or maybe it was only the Chloramphenicol. “Remember, you have to kiss a lot of frogs, before one starts to turn into a prince.”

“I really don’t want to know about your Batrachiphilia as well,” I replied. “Don’t you ever watch CSI? Guys like him don’t get better. They’re serial offenders. They get worse. Soon as you’re trapped in a false sense of security with them, you think everything’s hunky-dory because he hasn’t slammed your head in the washing-machine for a few days, and the next thing you know you’re flying out of the woodchipper all over the garage ceiling.”

“Oh, Sarah, you’re so melodramatic,” Miss Dunce’s Cap of the Year told me.

“One in three,” I warned her. “The statistics say one in three murders isn’t a domestic. The two in three are the ones that don’t get on the news. The open-and-shut cases. Phone call to the police, confession, arrest. Is that how you want to end up?”

“Now I think you’re just being mean. Because if you’re a woman too, really you’re only jealous,” Shithead snapped. “Don’t deny it. Every woman I see is secretly eyeing him up. You could never handle a bad boy. You’re going to end up a lonely old spinster, with a room full of eyeballs in jars. Whereas I’ve been designing my wedding dress, Googling honeymoon locations, and planning baby names.”

“Really?” I asked, not feeling the slightest inclination to prove my gender to her current state of mind. Which seems to include the fantasy that every other woman around fancies a bit of assault and battery. “What did you name the one you had sucked out at the clinic this morning, because your Mr. Perfect was about to cut off your ears and nose and feed them to you for forgetting to take the Pill?”

*  *  *  *  *

Maybe I was a bit harsh on her. But seriously, the guy doesn’t even deserve the honour of ending up pinned out as an actual anatomical diagram on the body farm. If something happens to him, I hope it comes with the label Body Never Recovered. Maybe I’ll ask Ace Bumgang whether they have one of those things that crushes cars into a small cube at the breaker’s yard. Then Miss Fucktard could get herself referred to a hostel or refuge, or for counselling (instead of the morgue) by the police or her doctor or whatever – to stop her hooking up with the next optimistic slimeball psycho who stalks her with the best intention of adding her to the notches on his shovel-handle. They must think all their Christmases have come at once when she stumbles half-deliberately into their laps, having spiked her own drink to make it that bit easier for them. I’d have to get another housemate, but the way things are going in Super-Twat’s life, that eventuality doesn’t look too far off anyway.

Hmm. Crispin Dry is taking a while. I can see a nurse and a receptionist at the far end of Accident & Emergency, but otherwise it’s strangely quiet. What on Earth could there be to take up a zombie’s time in a hospital?

I slide off the slippery chair and decide to have a stretch, and a wander around. I do feel a bit of vertigo as I stand. Yeah – one drink and then fall asleep, always a sign of a crap night. I lurch slightly as I aim for the nearest door into the corridor, and follow the EXIT signs, meaning to get a nip of fresh air.

The doors are still open, as the Emergency department is 24-hour here, what with the plethora of brain-dead hopeless romantics getting methodically dismembered by their choice of partners these days. So it’s a relief to step outside into the front car-park, and feel the cool night air blow away the cobwebs between my own ears, taking my housemate’s idiotic illusions with them.

The breeze also brings the sound of a distant piano from across the main road. Feeling in need of a musical ear-worm (to remove the remaining irritating echoes of Douchebag’s recital of gross sexual perversions she chooses to list as her boyfriend’s ‘good points’) I head over there, to get a better listen.

It’s Hookah’s, the Cypriot restaurant. The waiters are just starting to clear and re-dress tables for the next day, while one couple still sit at the bar, finishing their coffee.

And in the corner, through the window, I see the grand piano. My breath stops altogether as I see the pianist is none other than my new zombie acquaintance, Crispin Dry.

I push the door timidly, and bells tinkle to announce my entrance. He stops playing abruptly, and turns.

“No, it was good,” I say, encouragingly. “I love Franz Ferdinand…”

A takeaway box is by his feet, and I see him nudge it under the piano, embarrassed. As I get closer, I think I see a restaurant logo I’m not familiar with… Yuman Tisseus, or something exotic like that.

“I came back earlier, but you were asleep, Sarah Bellummm,” he says, reproachfully. “They took your friend to surgery…”

“I guessed as much,” I nod. “Budge up. More music, Maestro, please.”

He fondles the piano keys lovingly, as I park my still decidedly dizzy butt on the tapestry seat beside him.

“I remember… learning,” he ponders aloud. “While I was alive. But it’s so hard to tell now. Memories after death are not the same as living memories. They are mixed up with the total memory of Universal life. So they may not be my memories at all.”

“I agree. I think you may be channelling Bladerunner right now, in fact,” I remark.

“I was worried that you might not be happy, after the elevator thing earlier,” he says sadly, not meeting my gaze.

“What?” I reply, amazed. “No! You give great elevator thing. No complaints there.” I’m secretly relieved, as I’d been worrying about the same. My advantage in handling corpses regularly, seems to have made up for my lack of relationship experience in that department. I mentally notch another one up on my list of skills. I decide to push for yet one more, while the mood is right. “Do you think the waiters would mind if we make out on this piano?”

The strains of Do Ya Wanna hesitate slightly, as his prehensile gray fingers seem to lose track of the keys.

“I think perhaps it would be an idea if we close the lid first, Miss Bellummm,” he nods, eventually. “No point tempting Fate…”

If you’re over 18, you might be allowed to watch the original above…

…And if you are affected by any of the horror in this horror parody, I suggest you talk to the police…

More mindless mayhem: The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum

Also available for all other devices, and online reading, on Smashwords

Body of Condiments: A Zombie Parody

Remix of Depeche Mode, by Reaps007 on Youtube…

I got to grips with the rules of the blindfold touch game eventually. It was the object that Crispin Dry was drawing on me with that I was supposed to guess, not the Thing he was drawing. That made it much easier, to my vast relief.

So obviously the first object was an ice cube. The second was also easy – I’ve handled enough human scalps in my time at University to recognise the tickle of tanned hide and hair. The third was harder – I hazarded an Ugli fruit, a cauliflower floret, a sock full of marbles, a stitched leather catcher’s mitt, and even an artichoke, before giving up. I was kicking myself when Crispin told me it was a shrunken human head. I should have known that one.

The fourth object was another easy guess, but it was the noise that gave it away. I felt the dig of something sharp clustered against my belly, through my Pizza Heaven work fleece, and the soft feathery tickle against my bare arm. There was an unmistakable crooning sound, followed by an uncertain cluck.

“A live chicken,” I announce, triumphantly. I hear Crispin’s echoing undead chuckle.

“I see I will have to be more creative, Sarah Bellummm,” he says, in his now-familiar zombie moan.

Still blindfolded, I hear him moving things around on the tray. I wonder if there’s any danger of that drink appearing any time soon. Typical male. They invite you in for a coffee, and it turns out they have no coffee in the house after all, just a waxworks dungeon and a complete box-set of Playboy Mansion.

I jump out of my skin, as the next sensation I feel is a mechanical vibration against my hip. My sudden movement seems to startle Crispin also, because I hear something metallic clatter on the tray.

“What is the matter, Sarah?” he asks.

“It’s okay, it’s just my mobile phone,” I say, feeling the rhythmic buzz a second time.

I squirm around to reach my pocket, and prop myself up on my elbow, pulling the blindfold up to see the number. Caller ID informs me that it’s Cramps University Hospital. Yes!

“It’s the hospital,” I tell him, and he looks disappointed. “They’ve promised me an autopsy session if a suitable research donor is found… maybe there is a fresh one in that has the right paperwork.”

“You must answer, by all means,” he says, and replaces the forceps regretfully on the tray.

He picks up a hi-ball glass instead, containing an iced pink liquid garnished with mint and lime, and I hold my free hand out eagerly to accept it as I press Connect. Ooohh – Sloe Gin Sling! My favourite…

“Hello?” I say into the phone, and take a huge gulp of Gin Sling before the sting of alcohol on my tongue reminds me that I’m not allowed into the morgue under the influence. Damn! I hope I have breath mints on me.

“Sarah, it’s me,” says Miss Blah-blah-blah, my housemate.

“Hello – what are you doing calling me, hombre?” I ask. “I’m working, I hope you realise.”

“Sarah, I’m in Cramps hospital. My boyfriend didn’t believe me when I said I had the termination today. He came round and we had a fight. We started to have make-up sex but then he said he was still angry with me, and bit my thumb off. They’re going to try and reattach it. I’m in the Emergency Room now, will you come and sit with me? I’ll make sure you get paid for the rest of your shift.”

“Oh, you mean now?” I grumble. “I’m with a customer…”

“I will take you wherever you need to go, Sarah Bellummmm,” says the perfect zombie gentleman beside me, deftly tidying the tray.

I nod, and swallow the rest of the Sloe Gin Sling. Phew. I could use a few more of those.

“I’d really appreciate it, Sarah…” Dumb-Ass whines in my ear, over the phone.

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll see what I can do,” I say, and hang up. “That girl gives retards a bad name. I need to get to the hospital. She’s had another bedroom mishap with that delightful human butcher she calls a boyfriend.”

“We must go immediately,” Crispin nods, getting to his feet and offering his gray-skinned hand to help me up. “I will take you in the Cadillac.”

I allow him to lead on, wondering hopefully if that means there will be more cocktails to look forward to on our return… At least now I don’t need to worry about the breath mints.

*  *  *  *  *

We enter the hospital via the rear transport entrance on the lower ground floor, and make our way to the elevators that will take us up to the Accident & Emergency department at the front. Two porters and a nurse pass us, wheeling a cadaver wrapped in white sheets on a trolley, and I hear a low guttural sound from my delectable zombie companion. It hotwires my adrenal glands directly to my heart rate.

“Is it the smell?” I whisper, wondering what has caused his reaction.

“The rigor,” he murmurs. The elevator doors open in front of us. “This way.”

We head into the elevator, and the doors close, sealing us alone together in the bare metal cell. I press the button, and the lift grinds into life.

The atmosphere is suddenly electric.

“What is it?” I squeak, aware that his eyes are drilling holes into me.

“I cannot go out in public like this,” he tells me.

No!

“You should have said,” I complain, my heart now sinking. “Why did you offer to come? You could have stayed behind, out of sight…”

“No – not like that…” He flaps his hands a little awkwardly, reminding me of a forlorn Edward Scissorhands. “The hospital – that corpse – it is too much…”

What could he mean? I stare bewildered into his jet-black eyes, willing him to open up to me. He casts his eyes hopelessly down at himself.

“I have a Zomboner,” he admits.

“What?” I look down at his fly, horrified, and hurriedly look away again. “Is that all? Er, I mean, not in that way, I mean to say – it’s very impressive, in fact – but what I actually mean – why don’t you just style it, dude?”

“It is my first,” he says, wretchedly. “Since passing… I would hate for it to fall off…”

I close my eyes and heave a sigh. All that mental rehearsal (with frankfurters in coat pockets while thinking about Ace Bumgang) is going to come in handy now, I tell myself.

“I’m an expert in handling dead bodies, at any stage,” I tell him, summoning up all of my confidence. “And I haven’t lost an extremity yet. You will just have to trust me.”

He looks imploringly and awkwardly at me.

“We can kiss,” I suggest, in barely a whisper. “If it will make you feel better at the time…”

He turns slowly towards me. For some reason I wonder, at the back of my mind, if those breath mints would help me now…

The original above (slightly censored). Warning: Contains Madonna, bless her 🙂

More mindless mayhem: The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum

Also available for all other devices, and online reading, on Smashwords

Nine And A Half Reaps: A Zombie Parody, Part Two

 

More from Reaps007 on Youtube…

The intensity in the atmosphere is excruciating. I can hear Crispin Dry (vending machine CEO of Dry Goods, Inc., nouveau morte and bonne bouche) still moving around me in the vast kitchenette of his Grade II-listed mansion. Chopping, dicing, blending, and possibly mixing up the previously-mentioned cocktail, which he says is tailored especially for me.

Me: Sarah Bellum – mild-mannered pizza delivery girl by night, ambitious forensic anthropology student by day, and incurable romantic. Apart from the very much alive Ace Bumgang, who I like to watch from a distance through the chicken-wire fencing of Bumgang & Sons’ Breaker’s Yard – especiallywhen he’s outside his site office with his shirt off – the only male bodies I ever see are in various stages of decay, on the body farm.

I’m lucky if I get five minutes a week there to study, recently. Or at the body farm. What with Miss Wotsit, my best friend and housemate, being so demanding – with her delayed birth control plans, and electronically-tagged boyfriend, with whom she seems to be smitten.

Actually, her situation would be more accurately described thus ‘…by whom she seems to be smashed up, on a regular basis.’

No wonder I never even remember her name. She comes home with a different face every few days.

With a great pang of loss I wonder how much my dearest one at the body farm, Mr. Wheelie Bin Under The Silver Birch Tree, will have progressed the next time I see him. Apparently he was a domestic violence victim too. You could tell particularly in the early stages, by the way his scalp was hanging off like a bad toupée…

…But the sound of Crispin Dry sliding something along the counter towards me dissolves that thought, as quickly as an acid bath.

“No peeping,” he murmurs, and I nod, confirming that my eyes are still obediently closed. “Perhaps we should retire to the other room, where you will be more comfortable. Take my arm.”

“Where are we going?” I ask, sliding off the seat at the counter.

I had been enjoying the food game. My stomach was still hinting that it had room for more. I feel the cold cloth of his sleeve under my fingers as I reach out, and the even colder press of his flesh underneath, as he tucks my arm into his side to guide me along.

“Just across the hall,” he confides. “There is a very nice late evening lounge.”

“You have a lounge for different times of day?” I ask, making careful effort to keep pace with his attractive, undead pimp-limp. What do they call it? Crap walk? Crabstick walk? I’m glad Ace Bumgang can’t hear my thoughts, sometimes. Although the look he gives me when he espies me through the boundary fence of the breaker’s yard suggests he does know exactly what I’m thinking, and it comes with the words ‘restraining order’ attached. He’s so cute. He just knows I’m a sucker for threats like that… Cripple walk…? Hmm. Maybe I made it up…

“I have a room for every time of day, Miss Bellummm,” Crispin Dry assures me, heavy with implied meaning.

My kneecaps try to switch places, while my tongue tries to hide behind my epiglottis and escape up the back of my nasal cavity.

“Turn around,” Crispin’s voice whispers against my ear, his other hand on my shoulder, pivoting me to face him. I feel him testing the sleeve of my Pizza Heaven work fleece. “Would you like to take this off?”

“Er, well, actually…” I cough, trying to sound nonchalant. “I kind of had a nap before work tonight, so this is all I have on. Er. Underneath. Just me.”

“Intriguing,” he says, and I can hear his approval. I gulp.

He moves forward just enough to help me take a backward step, and I feel the soft give of a cushioned seat at the back of my legs.

“Make yourself comfortable,” he says, and for my wandering kneecaps’ sake, I plop thankfully onto the velvet cushions. “I will return with the drinks. And still no peeping.”

“I promise,” I nod, my anticipation at his own promise of drinks already building again. I’m parched. I could go for a fishtank cocktail right now, never mind a fishbowl cocktail.

“I think I will take out a little insurance on your promise,” he remarks, and I hear the swish of silk. “I will use my tie to blindfold you. Do you mind?”

“Is it another game?” I ask, accepting the strip of material as he places it gently across my eyes.

“Another sensory game,” he agrees. “Not taste, this time. I think your tastes are well-established.”

I wonder what he could possibly mean. Smell? I take a few experimental sniffs once I hear his footfalls crossing the marble hall floor again, receding away back to that food-court of a kitchen. I don’t smell anything in this room. Not even a joss stick, or deodoriser designed to mask the scent of a personal hygiene problem, or anti-social habit. Strange. Sound? I strain to hear anything other than the clink of glassware on a tray, and before I know it, the shambling footfalls are approaching again.

I lean into the embrace of the couch, trying to appear relaxed. It’s only slightly spoiled by the fact that the back of the couch is a lot further away than I thought, so I fall through the loosely-heaped pillows in slow-motion, until I am nearly prone.

“I see you are getting comfortable, Sarah Bellummm.”

He teases me with the sound of my own name. Maybe he knows that all I get called at work is ‘Cheese-Bag’ or at University, ‘Bell-End’. I never thought that the ink printed on my birth certificate could sound so sexy.

I feel the couch dip beside me, as he sits down.

“We are going to play a game of touch,” he says.

“Soccer?” I ask, puzzled. “Blindfolded?”

“No, the sensation of touch. With your permission I will draw some different objects across the surface of your skin, and you will guess what they are.”

“Oh, like Draw My Thing?” I conclude. One of my favourite pursuits on the internet in the evenings, while not doing homework assignments, is to try and get Ace Bumgang to Draw his Thing and email it to me. “Do I get three clues as to what you’re drawing?”

“If you relax, we shall start,” he says at last. “And the game will explain itself as we go along.”

“Sure,” I shrug, and roll up my sleeve. “Nothing below the wrist, in case it doesn’t wash off. People don’t appreciate seeing knobs drawn on your hand when you’re delivering their pizza…”

I break off with a gasp, as I feel something icy cold slide up the sensitive skin of my inner arm.

“What do you think this is?” he asks, as the tingling cold sensation slides slowly all the way down again, and back up.

“Er…” The cold has alerted parts of me I that didn’t even know were peckish. I could use another bucket of chicken wings, never mind that cocktail, wherever it is. “Um, can I ask for a clue?”

“If you ask a question, it must be in the form of a question with a Yes/No answer.”

Phew… I feel the icy cold sliding, torturously, all the way back down from my shoulder to my wrist. So different from playing online…

“Okay,” I say at last, my mouth almost like sandpaper by now. Mostly in trepidation of what the answer to my question might be. “Is it to scale?”

The original above… Warning: Contains human udders… ahem. Enjoy 🙂

More mindless mayhem: The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum

Also available for all other devices, and online reading, on Smashwords

Nine And A Half Reaps: A Zombie Parody

Follow the amazing Reaps007 on Youtube…

My Pizza Heaven scooter is protesting as I ride up the mile-long driveway to the enormous stately home. I’ve never been called out here before. The little two-stroke engine is making those annoying little noises, only slightly more annoying than the noises that the gorgeous Ace Bumgang at Bumgang & Sons’ Breaker’s Yard makes when I ask him to take a look at it for me – on the occasions that I’ve ridden it through gravel, or a puddle more than three inches deep.

Good Lord, the house is huge. Like one of those ‘brownsigns’ in England, that have most of the rooms sectioned off with gilt corded rope, and that the public are allowed to wander around in at the weekends. So long as they don’t stray from the carpet and into the electric fencing, preventing them from leaving with more shiny heirloom helmets hidden down their trousers than they came in with.

A black stretch Cadillac limo is parked at the foot of the steps, the engine and exhaust still ticking quietly as it cools, as if the owner has only recently arrived home. I pull in at a respectable distance behind.

Swallowing my nerves, I take the pizza bag out of the top-box after parking up, and scale the enormous marble steps. I was rather hoping there would be a delivery slot, or at least a cat-door big enough to push the box through and run, which is my preferred tactic when also delivering to the rough end of town. I’d rather lose one pizza’s worth of payment, than my whole bike while my back is turned. Still smarting from the time I returned to the kerb just in time to see it being towed away around the far corner of the block, by four small children on a Fisher-Price musical push-along cart. Playing Old MacDonald Had a Farm… I cannot listen to that nursery rhyme since. It gives me terrible PTSD flashbacks.

But no. Just an entryphone beside the studded oak door. I press the buzzer, wondering if there is a camera as well, and if they’ll insist I remove my George and Mildred peaked crash helmet before responding. The one I still wear because I love Ace Bumgang’s face as he tells me the horrors of fixed-peak open-face headwear in an RTA. Sort of a mixture of caring, considerate, concerned, and ‘get out of my site office, you deluded stalker…’ while he pulls a sweater over his tight t-shirt, hiding those delicious-looking biceps and pectorals from my hungry gaze…

Expecting an intercom reply to my buzz, I get a shock when the door is opened silently in front of me – and for the first time I fully understand the meaning of the famous phrase ‘the world dropped out of my bottom.’

For standing in front of me, his matt-black tie undone and just-dead hair hypnotically dishevelled, is Crispin Dry – vending machine magnate, entrepreneur, and the sexiest corpse I’ve recently seen – since 4.23p.m. last Thursday, in a wheelie bin under the silver birch tree at the body farm…

“Mr. Dry!” I squeak, terrified – and immediately thrust the pizza box under his nose. Hoping to avert the smell of nervous pizza-delivery girl.

“Miss… Belllummm…” he slurs. “What a pleasant surprise. Do come inside. The kitchen is just this way.”

And he turns in the doorway and shambles off into the opulent entrance hall, beckoning for me to follow. It looks as though I have no choice. I pull the gigantic door closed behind me, feeling as though I now know how Gretel felt, upon entering the gingerbread house…

The kitchen is vast – like a bowling alley. When he opens the giant refrigerator, and starts selecting his condiments, I half expect to see the bottles deposited mechanically onto the shelf in front of him, like a set of ten-pins.

“I’ll just leave it right here, shall I?” I suggest, sliding the box onto the glassy-smooth granite counter-top. It sparkles with quartz and mica – not superheat-treated granite then, I find myself thinking… my mind wanders like this unpredictably at times.

“Join me, Sarah Bellummm,” he says, unexpectedly. “I believe you might be famished, after your long day…”

Damn. That will scupper my usual Friday plans, of waiting outside Bumgang & Sons’ Breaker’s Yard with a Chinese Meat Feast. Ace always pretends to be surprised, which is sweet, and sometimes he even takes it with him. He’s usually in a big hurry to meet up with his friends at the boys’ club, Gentlemen Prefer Poledancers – which is endearing, as it means he’s telling me in his own special way that he’s not settled for anyone important yet…

“Well – I think the last thing I ate, was a sip of chicken soup, from the vending machine at your office earlier…” I admit timidly.

“Toooo long,” he agrees, with a devastatingly wonky nod. “Take a seat. And close your eyes. I have a surprise for you.”

I slip off my George and Mildred and try to make the most of my helmet-hair as I arrange myself on the seat at the counter. He darts me a meaningful look, still foraging in the refrigerator, and obligingly I close my eyes.

Gosh, I hope this means a big tip.

“Is that your Cadillac outside?” I ask, to pass the time with smalltalk, while I hear him putting dishes on the counter in front of me.

“It is just a courtesy car,” he says, dismissively. “The Bugatti and the Maserati are away for servicing, and I only use the Diablo on holiday weekends, when I go hot-air ballooning.”

“Hmm,” I murmur, only half-believing him. Probably only got a Ford Focus and a Renault Megane in his garage… I make a private bet that the Cadillac is rented, just for show – utilised to pick up innocent girls when he’s in town. I mean, guys like Ace Bumgang, you expect them to have a couple of sports cars, a racing bike and a speedboat, I mean, petrolhead mechanics always do… but not a businessman. A fleet of 1.2L commuter compacts, if anything…

“I hope you are hungry,” Crispin Dry says, rather darkly, interrupting my fantasy that Ace Bumgang is The Stig, which would explain why he’s always so elusive. “I have an idea of your tastes already. Open wide.”

I promptly rearrange myself on the seat.

“I meant your mouth,” he croons, and I slam my knees together again, like a barn door in a tornado.

Nervously, I let my mouth fall open, in a textbook Q.

“Put your tongue in, pleeeaase,” he moans softly.

The Q becomes an O, as requested.

Something tickles my lower lip, sticky, and fragrantly barbecued. Mmm – chicken wings! My stomach rumbles immediately in response, and I chew enthusiastically.

“You approve?” he asks, and he sounds hopeful.

“Yum,” I nod. “Is there more?”

“Nine more, I believe,” he confirms, as I run my tongue around my teeth to dislodge any gristly bits. I cough on something dry, and remove something curved, almost fingernail-shaped from my cheek, which he quickly brushes aside from my own fingertips. “I think we have found your acquired taste exactly.”

“Do you have anything to drink?” I ask. My eyes are still rapturously closed, all thoughts of the tanned, toned and droolworthy Ace Bumgang forgotten.

“Be patient, Sarah Bellummm,” my dream zombie whispers. “I am sure I have a cocktail worthy of you.”

I am shocked by his intimate tone.

“It’s as if you were expecting me,” I gasp, feeling myself blush.

“But of course,” he says, so close to my ear, I nearly swoon off the chair. “I even made sure to re-stock the vending machine in my bedroom, right before you arrived…”

And the original above… Enjoy 🙂

More mindless mayhem: The Zombie Adventures of Sarah Bellum

Also available for all other devices, and online reading, on Smashwords

New Sun Rising: Stories for Japan – the book trailer

A Charity Anthology – all proceeds go to the Japanese Red Cross.

Here’s what I’ve been working on for the past week, and the reason that I’ve been out with a camera in the Forestry Commission zone at the crack of all sorts of unsociable hours, in all sorts of places that other people normally get to themselves, with their imaginary dogs and stuff. Yes, I avoided the car-parks with the camper vans in at 5:00a.m, in particular. Pity, because there was an awesome bit of lake fog and tree reflections going on there. I even had the black hoody with skull patches on that morning, so probably not great news for the state of anybody’s sleeping-bag if they saw me.

Maybe after my car’s service I’ll give that one another shot. The car will be running on newly cleaned-up ‘stealth mode’ which means I might get some good shots of deer too, as well as not disturbing the happy campers too much 😉

I did get a couple of shots of a deer this time, while it was bolting away from me in the gorse. I’d driven through a bit of a pea-souper that morning knowing there was some high ground at one of the Forestry car-parks, which on a good day was above ground fog level. And it was spot on, so I parked in the turning on one side and crossed over to the other, the only life in sight being a herd of cows about 250 yards away, grazing on the verges of the main road in silence.

The best view into the valley was just beyond a patch of scrub on the far side, with lots of nice artistic trees sticking up out of the mist. As I got closer and switched on the camera, suddenly there was the sound of hoofbeats, and a Bambi-butt rapidly receding into the gorse right in front of me. I got two shots of her at a distance by the time the camera was active, rather rewarding that she stopped to turn and look at me for both. Probably wondering why I wasn’t wearing verderer-khaki, and carrying a rifle. She kept poking her head up out of the bushes to check up on me while I got my shots. But they weren’t artistic shots worthy of the video above, so I just kept those aside for fun.

I headed back to the car after a few minutes, and got a shock crossing the road, the zombie Cows of the Dead were only about 80 yards away, in exactly the same grazing formation, as if they’d drifted on an undead tide. Sod that. Back in the car, next site.

Next shots were from the woods, looking out from under the trees. The forest makes weird noises at 5:30a.m. Honking, hooting, cawing – more darkest Africa than British garden sparrow wildlife. It reminded me of what Sophie Neville said to me about how to spot leopards hiding in trees, so I gave them a pretty good look while I was there, just to check. There’s a good reason you’re supposed to be able to sense someone’s eyes on the back of your head. Got my shots and didn’t stick around there long either.

The next car-park was totally deserted, which was awesome. News obviously travels fast about photographers stalking isolated public access locations at ungodly hours. Did see more cows, of the more lively variety this time, but they were guarding young calves, so I stayed on my side of the barrier and left them to it after a couple of snaps that I wanted.

The sun eventually came out to play above the fog at my next location, about an hour after sunrise was actually due, so I got enough shots to complete the project above, combined with some I’d taken at the beach back in February, and a couple of odd ones from March. For the lake sunset last week, I was out for two hours and took 455 shots, nearly froze my hands off in the process, but the swan and geese came out to play, so it was worth it.

The charity anthology ‘New Sun Rising: Stories for Japan’ is set for release in June – for updates and background news, including contributors, check out the New Sun Rising blog.

(I’ve got a literary contribution in there too!) L xxx 🙂

If You Go Down In The Woods Today…

All the interesting action was occurring about ten miles north of here… and maybe some of it about sixty yards to the left…

Okay, so I get a commission, and with nothing over the weekend, an overcast day was looking pretty promising by about 7pm. Cloud was starting to break nicely. DS-10 was making the right lets-go-out noises as well, so armed with camera, and mental shopping list (including whatever latest Man v Food style pudding craze is likeliest to make me feel sick afterwards and guarantee continued adherence to diet), we headed out by about 8pm, heading into the Forestry Commission zone to stalk sunset pics.

Unfortunately, high atmospheric wind distribution meant the weather had turned brilliant, too quickly. So instead of interesting cloud formations overhead, the interesting cloud formations were pretty much on every distant horizon, except for the important bit out west. If I’d been about fifty miles east, I’d have had a better sunset to photograph, in terms of having at least a bit of cloud in the way. Sometimes, as above, you get sod all of interest to look at. Just glorious blue skies. Boo.

We still had a good old drive, in terms of scouting to see if anywhere along the route would be worth a re-visit if the weather looked more promising on another occasion. Some nice areas of water which would make good reflection work. Some good tree patterns here and there, but most at an inaccessible range for the impact I want to achieve.

So we got distracted as usual. Passed a herd of pregnant donkeys heading along the road for the watering-hole, and a fire-engine, also heading for the ‘watering-hole’ (i.e, the pub, which wasn’t on fire). Sadly no time to waste camera battery on either, still hoping to get a sunset pic or several, before actual sunset.

Stopped at a couple of turnings into Forestry car-parks to jump out and take test shots, like the incredibly dull one illustrated here (the irony of complaining about the fantastic weather is not lost on me, you can believe that!). Didn’t want to risk bottoming out the bodywork in the potholes by going too far from the main road, and definitely not into the actual car-parks, where I could see the rooftops of other cars on site, but no dogs being walked, if you get my drift…

It was when I was standing by my car, just off-road at the entrance to one of these out-of-the-way idylls, taking pictures of the sky in all directions and basically thinking to myself stuff like ‘useless’ and ‘stupid blue sky’, that I realised the LAST thing anyone else in the area at the time wanted to see was a stranger with a camera. Especially since it was just starting to darken enough for the flash to initiate automatically a couple of times. I heard a few car doors slamming in succession (still no sound of any actual dogs though), and my camera informed me at one point that ‘Blink Detected’ was recorded on digital capture. I swear I was pointing it at the sun at the time too 🙂

Maybe it has got a longer range than I thought 😉

Good thing I wasn’t out there with a full paparazzi sniper rig, and a black hoody on. That’d have been some even more embarrassing stains to clean off someone’s upholstery.

Anyway, what with DS-10 still hooting with laughter at my announcement “I’m not going right into the car park because of the pot-holes and the doggers” and the sky being beautifully crap to photograph besides, which wasn’t going to change, I decided to call it a bust. We stopped off a bit further north to try again for some shots, but the clouds weren’t playing tonight. Still a few more dogless car owners in the car parks though. But then I guess it is pretty much early summer now, and sunset is approaching 9pm already. Too late for tea and too early for bed, for some people 🙂

Saw a herd of black cows without reflective collars on driving back, which is the other reason I avoid the forest at night. I don’t want to turn a corner in the dark and drive into a wall of Moo. When I had the Pug, I swear a llama jumped right over the bonnet out of a verge, on the way to University early one morning. I’ve seen albino muntjack, and one animal in particular driving back late at night that nobody sober should have to witness, ever. And you wonder where people like Tolkein and Stoker got their ideas from…

So anyway, all you folks walking your imaginary dogs in the forest early in the morning and late in the evenings, if you see anyone apparently taking pictures of the sky in your vicinity, Yes, that is what they are doing, and No, it is not about you.

And if you must play dog-walker, learn some dog-barking impressions. You might even get away with it. Or not, as the case may be… I’m sure there’s a huge market for human-dog impressions on Youtube 🙂

L xxx 😉

Book Wrecks

Visit www.cakewrecks.com – but make sure you visit the toilet first 😉

Okay, so maybe you don’t need a literature degree to ice a cake. But you’d expect some sort of qualification goes into being a copyeditor.

I’m hearing rumours, that the big publishing houses aren’t willing to spend the money on highly-paid copyeditors now. If you’re Robert Llewellyn, for example, you’re still smarting from the time your precious manuscript was sent abroad for copyediting and typesetting, and your lovely, articulate, descriptive prose came back with ‘c*nt’ jokes unwittingly inserted, by non-English-native-speaking subcontractors. Maybe even Sir Terry Pratchett still eagerly awaits the anticipated spelling errors that appear in his books, after delivery of his manuscripts.

To be completely honest, it’s not just rumours. You’ve only got to open a book from a shelf in Tesco’s or Waterstones and read a few pages. You’ve only got to Google ‘Australian cookery book pasta recipe typo’ to find what has been listed as an ingredient instead of ‘black pepper’.

The problem, it is being assumed, is automated computer spell-checks. Doesn’t the author care enough to check the proofs thoroughly? Well, maybe they’re suffering from word-blindness – when you know your own book word-for-word already, maybe a certain degree of skimming goes on, even thinking you’re reading, when you’re not.

Robert Llewellyn recommends reading your drafts aloud. I know a number of authors who use this method – it also helps address clunky sentences, and grammar issues. In my teens, twenties and even early thirties, I was of the ‘write something, leave it six months and do something else for a while, then read it again’ school. I’ve got verbatim memory though, so I found having a professional proof-reading partner was better when actually publishing – otherwise I’d have gone with approving my very first proof copies, which had never been edited. I’d corrected only two words out of 250,000 in the three years since my first draft, in one case. My brain was still skimming, every time I read it.

For me, the work started when seeing my first published book in real book form. Your brain jumps up a gear and responds to it as you would a real book from a bookstore – not just words on a screen, or a print-out on A4. It wasn’t a side-effect I’d anticipated of seeing my words bound and typeset in print for the first time, but it meant I spent several weeks revising and polishing, breaking up longer paragraphs and tackling ropey split infinitives. Definitely worth the extra effort.

But at the moment it seems everyone I know is seeing copyediting cock-ups and mentioning them. My mum opened a knitting magazine the other day and saw the word ‘semi-colon’ written in the middle of a paragraph. My writer friend Pat was reading a very famous contemporary crime thriller not long ago, and saw in a paragraph loaded with tense, heart-in-the-mouth literary build-up, the words (not necessarily reproduced here sic) ‘BREAK IN NARRATIVE FOR DRAMATIC EFFECT’.

Now, if that had been written by a comedy genius, such as Terry Pratchett, you’d chuckle and think he was pulling your leg. But serious top-of-the-range crime thriller? Even CSI don’t resort to postmodernist one-liners that strong. Not yet, anyway. (Nick Stokes, call me!) 😉

We seem to have passed the point where a publishing-house book was at the zenith of production-value achievement, and are rapidly sliding down the other side on a greased toboggan. High-end returning authors, it seems, can’t even trust that their manuscripts are being thoroughly read before transcribing and typesetting.

My own personal example is from the adorable chick-lit pen of Lindsey Kelk, in the novel I got for Christmas, I Heart Vegas. (I’m really sorry, Lindsey, and HarperCollins!):

P.144 …my phone buzzed into life on the cleverly placed table right by the bathtub. “Hello?” “Hey, it’s me…”

P.145 “I’m in the bath.” … “You’re calling me from the bath…?”

Er, no… nobody called anybody from the bath. The person in the bath received the call. Look at the previous page. And then…

P.234 ‘He’d either he’d gone mad, drunk fifteen Red Bulls when I wasn’t watching, or he really, really wanted to get married.’

I got lost after the second “he’d”. Too many Vegas cocktails, perhaps? 🙂

Guys, we’re not children. People who read can actually read. We notice things like continuity errors and editing under the influence. Maybe under the influence of a limited pre-release budget. Do you think we’re buying books as wall insulation or to look busy on the London Underground? I remember when all you needed to look busy on the London Underground was a red vigilante beret and a bomber jacket with lots of badges on. That’d be like buying Haribo just to look at the wrapper. We are going to open it, and consume the contents.

And like sweets, and cakes, it’d be nice to know that the contents are fit for literal consumption. Not just bashed out with no consideration for quality.

Now, go and look at cakewrecks.com, until you are ashamed of yourselves.

L xxx

Worldbuilding in SF – Advice taken from the great Terry Pratchett

Photo of Sir Terry Pratchett from Wired.com

My last post about the London Book Fair 2012, and attending the panel talk on Science Fiction in China, reminded me of Terry Pratchett’s talk I went to at the Barbican. It must have been in 1999, because DS-10 was still in the cable-knitted hoodie with feet attached that I made for her, and not quite walking yet, strapped to me in the stripy baby-sling. And of course she tried to participate in the seminar as much as our illustrious speaker, until she went to sleep, thankfully, and stopped trying to mug the poor man sitting next to us in the crombie coat and Doctor Who scarf.

Yes – Terry Pratchett’s talk attracted a huge crowd of SF/Fantasy fans, and wannabe authors of all ages, although I think I had smuggled in the smallest and most disruptive one. Sorry about that, Sir Terry 🙂

It must have been around the time that Science of the Discworld was emerging, because the discussion was on ‘world-building’ in science-fiction and fantasy. Now this term, popular nowadays, refers to the creating of your imaginary world in which your narrative, or story takes place. The world in which your characters dwell. You can’t just give a man in a dress a magic wand and talking horse, and expect the world around him to be immediately perceived by the reader as the next best thing to Mordor. It’s the genre where taking the reader on location with you is of primary importance.

In current everyday general fiction, you say a story is set in Paris, or in Hollywood, or in London, and folk pretty much know what you’re getting at. You don’t need to go off into lengthy descriptions of the scenery or the weather. Readers today have seen it all on TV, and the internet, and you don’t want it to sound like the travelogue of a backpacking journalist. Fixing the location in your reader’s mind saves you a lot of word-count and drives your story faster to the heart of the action (and hopefully the hearts of your characters).

Some authors do travel-writing in fiction well, because they have been there, or are seasoned travel journalists already (such as Belinda Jones). Their writing style is recognisable as such. Reading Belinda Jones novels, to me, is like going on holiday, when I’m stuck at home, in weather that (against all news items to the contrary) suggests an Ark will soon float past the bottom of the garden. I read them for the escapism, the descriptions of the beaches and hotels, and occasionally the fit entertainment…

Ahem. However, with SF and Fantasy, unless you’re writing a fairytale of Bognor Regis, generally you’re creating a world for your characters to inhabit, whether it’s on board a colony ship in a space opera, or an enchanted island in a children’s story. So you can’t just say it’s “like a Boeing 747 in space” or “Disneyworld Florida but the puppets are real” – well, you could, but your readers will feel cheated (especially if they’ve never been on board a plane, or visited Disneyworld). You’ve got to say more about the place your characters inhabit, than you might do if you’re used to writing kitchen-sink drama, or chick-lit about handbags and shoes.

Terry opened the discussion on mapping your created SF/fantasy domain with the unforgettable statement: “How does the shit get out, and the clean water get in?”

Your characters have got to drink, eat, and shift by-products, so the design of Ankh-Morpork, on the Discworld, starts with the river (and what a river – that’s a lot of by-products, which it would be, for a heaving great city). Would a city on top of a mountain work, or would only a small village last in those conditions? How would a city in the clouds function, in plumbing terms? Your readers will want to know these things, and if there aren’t any satisfactory answers, you and your readers are both missing out.

A community functions on the basis of sanitation services, and provisions of food and water. Say, for example, you have a nomadic tribe living on a desert moon, who raise herds of giant herbivorous quadruped working-animals the size of double-decker buses. What are these herds of great land-creatures eating? Sand? Air? Where is their poop going? How are they kept from wandering off at night and trampling their biped masters in their sleep? How is the animal husbandry and midwifery managed? Enquiring minds will want to know.

Terry took a question from one of the younger audience members – not DS-10 of course, whose conversation at the time was limited to ‘Digger’, ‘Tit-rings’ (which was how she pronounced ‘Tinky Winky’ from the Teletubbies) and ‘Towel’ (which was actually ‘Kyle’ from South Park). The question from the more expressive young audience member was: “What advice would you give to anyone wanting to be a science fiction or fantasy author?”

Terry’s thoughts on this were strong.

“Don’t read too many books already published in your chosen genre. You don’t want to be writing imitations of what’s already out there. Read geography. Read history books. Read about science.”

…Research how worlds function, what shapes them, geologically and politically. How they progress through technology and learning, arts and culture.

It was this answer that stuck with me as I headed home, while DS-10 discovered the joy of playing lucky-dip in other people’s pockets on the London Underground, then completely charmed an elderly couple in the train seat opposite, on the long journey back to Hastings.

When I read SF/fantasy, I want that world to be somewhere real I can picture – whether it’s the likes of Greg Bear taking you on a new physiological journey in the familiar world (Blood Music) or humanity as we (sort of) know it living in an extraordinary one (The Discworld series). So definitely, don’t throw out the laws of physics and chemistry, or natural history, and think you’ll get somewhere starting from scratch. You’ll either make too much work for yourself and the readers, by re-inventing everything from the ground up (no stone or S’mak!abl! left unturned), or you’ll gloss over what could be fascinating detail by talking to the readers as if everyone in the real world already grows their own Fnargle and participates in the Great Wibbly Jai Ho before bedtime.

It’s also easy to make the same mistake with character names. An unusual name is not a qualification. Calling your lead character ‘Stumpy Jack’ or ‘Great Wizard Shazam’ is no excuse for skimping on personality traits. Considering that he’ll just be known as ‘Jack’ or ‘Shaz’ to his friends, you’ll need to find some things that those friends will have intimate knowledge of about him – not just that he has a stump, or is a Great Wizard. The same goes for Fantasy stories, where the character’s parents have forgotten to put the vowels on their birth certificate. If your reader is mentally tripping over the name Knrrph’vngyllr’kk every time it appears in the narrative, it slows down reading enjoyment, and just like the Great Stumpy Wizard examples above, it’s not a qualification either – you’ve still got to give the awesome Knrrph’vngyllr’kk a sparkling personality. I would say, as a rule of thumb, never give your charismatic hero a name that his love interest is unable to shout out ecstatically in bed without sounding as though she’s inhaled a pillow-feather.

So anyway, ever since, I’ve applied the academic research idea to writing all fiction. I sort of write about the real world, but at the same time sort of don’t – my worlds hover between extremes of reality and SF/fantasy, and SF/fantasy is where my own evolution into becoming a writer started, so it wouldn’t surprise me to find myself going full circle eventually. I’ve read so many textbooks it shows – one of my novels has been tagged ‘self-help’ already, no doubt from the amount of psychology I read up on, over about fifteen years of its development. I even added an ‘academic and popular references’ bibliography to my latest version of it on Kindle, because I felt the research deserved the credit for a lot of my character’s make-up (and my own progress, while doing the research – power of the object over the observer).

You can always learn new things, and get excited about learning new things. And at the end of the day, if you’re writing SF and Fantasy, that’s what you want your readers to experience, when reading your books. Give them your enthusiasm for what you learn, and what you want to show them of your own insights through learning. Because that’s where your originality lies – in your own inner journey.

L xxxx

http://terrypratchett.co.uk