In Nocte

How can i take care of others, when I can’t even take care of myself?

These were the kind of questions Kay asked herself as she gazed out at the sleeping city beneath her. It was precisely 3:34AM. The clamour of the rooftop bar continued behind her. A distant echo that served as a backing track to the wind in her hair and the cacophony of thoughts in her head.

She swirled her drink absently in her left hand as she leant against rooftop ledge. It was a sour thing. Something that had been handed to her by a stranger and accepted without thanks. The ice had half melted, chilling her fingertips. She would have dropped it to the floor if the sound of shattered glass didn’t draw all eyes in the room.

Noise had always been her enemy. Whether it was accidental noise that compromised her talent of going unnoticed, the noise of the world around her crushing the space between her ears, or the noise inside her head that pulsed and ponded to get out- noise was her constant adversary. In the night it was easier to confront, but it still stalked her at every turn, pushing her to the fringes of existence. Denying her admittance to the real world.

She pulled her gaze away from the city lights and back to the nightlife behind her. In the middle of all the swaying and swigging party-goers, Jack was easy to spot. He was the sun to the planets that were the other guests as they orbited around him.

Kay felt a lot like Pluto. Floating on the edge of their solar system. Barely classified as a planet.

He was the only reason she was even in this galaxy- these parties even. He dragged her along, promising to shield her from the noise of the universe until the burden of carrying her became tiresome, and a Venus or a Mars required his attention.

Kay watched him interact with the other revellers. The easy way he commandeered the conversation to his liking. The way he routinely raised his drink to his soft lips between bursts of laughter. Jack had been born to navigate the tumultuous waters of life. Kay was used to drowning in them.

She sighed as she watched him, envious of his built-in compass to being alive. She raised her glass just as he caught her gaze. He raised his own glass in her direction before winking at her. Kay downed the rest of her drink. The sourness coated her tongue as she turned back to the skyline. The lights of the city blurred as her eyes watered at the taste.

“Another party deemed unappealing by Ice Queen Kay then?”

Jacks voice cut though the noise, hitting her right between the eyes as he took her empty glass and replaced it with a full one of something different.

“It’s not this party I find unappealing,” she answered, “It’s more like parties in general.”

Jack sighed, pushing his dark hair from his face. His fingers almost seemed to drag through the fine strands in slow motion as Kay took a sip of her drink. This one was sweet. Smoother on her tongue.

“You can’t keep doing this,” he scolded her. His accent slightly thicker with booze, “People are always asking me: ‘Jack, who’s that shadow you’re always bringing with you to parties?’ I’m running out of things to tell them.”

“Just tell them I’m your friend. Y’know. Because I am.”

“You mean a friend that’s never there when I try to introduce her?” There was an edge to his voice. They had this conversation almost every night now.

“How about a friend that only introduces you as an afterthought?” She countered.

Jack rolled his eyes. He turned away to spit over the rooftops edge, almost as if the words were too bitter on his tongue.

He stood next to her in silence for a few minutes- a rare period of time when no one else demanded his attention. Kay didn’t dare look at him. She knew that if she did, just a glance at his furrowed features would be enough for an apology to find its way out of her mouth. She’d been doing that a lot recently.

Jack and Kay had a long and tangled history. They’d started as childhood playmates, then drifted off into friendly neighbours once the dramas of the school hierarchy came into effect. They’d gone the majority of their early teens with only the pleasantries exchanged at their parents garden parties, and the quick guilty glances during class between them.

Then Jack has gotten his driving license, and one ride home from college in the rain became a regular carpool. Whenever the door of his beat-up little run around shut behind her, Kay had a 20 minute dose of a noise free world. Sure, Jack spoke to her, but that had never been just noise.

The carpool then developed into numerous invitations to social events that Kay only finally accepted due to the mounting pressure from her mother in the months before she moved out. Jack promised it would make her mother worry less, knowing she wasn’t shut up alone in her room all the time, and it did. Even though the places Jack took her were filled with things her mother definitely would not approve of.

Then Kay moved away from home, and so did Jack, and in some strange twist of fate they found themselves miles away from the street they both grew up on, yet still living next door to one another. Jack continued to invite her to parties, and Kay continued to accept, even knowing she wouldn’t enjoy them.

“What are you going to do when I’m not around anymore?” He blurted, “Sit at home alone with your head stuck in a book all the time, only ever talking when you answer the phone to your mum?”

Kay frowned.

“Why wouldn’t you be around anymore?”

She had two constants in her life. One always at war with the other.

Jack, and the noise.

He waved the question away, tossing it to the streets below.

“I have other things to be doing than dragging you to parties.”

“Then do those things,” Kay snapped, “No one asked you to bring me. No one even wants me here. Not even you.”

Jack let loose a frustrated growl. Kay chanced a look at him from the corner of her eyes, just in time to catch him with his head tipped back, finishing the last of his drink.

He pointed to her, empty glass in hand.

“Don’t start with your self-pitying bullshit! Not tonight.”

“Jack-”

“No Kay, I’ve had enough. When are you going to realise that-”

“Jack!” She cut him off, anxiety and alcohol curdling in her stomach, “People are staring.”

Bystanders on the edge of the crowd looked in their direction, some hiding their amusement behind their hands. Kay tried to retreat further inside herself, but it was no use. Jack turned his scowl towards the onlookers. Most of them went back to pretending they weren’t listening.

“Afraid someone might see you?” Jack turned back to her, irritated, “Or afraid someone might see you for what you really are?”

Kay rose with her anger. She took a sip of her drink, feigning calm. All the sweetness had gone from the liquid.

“And what’s that?”

Their eyes met. Jack raised his glass to his lips, forgetting there was nothing in it. Kay narrowed her eyes at the error. The look seemed to irritate him further. He dropped the glass to the floor, even though he knew she hated the sound. She tried not to flinch as it shattered.

“A coward.” He stepped closer to her.

Kay scowled in confusion. Jack sighed in response, running his hand through his hair again.

“You’re always just-just…” he continued, hands gesturing strangely as he tried to find the words, “You’re a shell of what you could be. Trapped inside your own head no matter how many times I’ve tried to break you out.”

He looked sad as he said it. She hated seeing him this way. Hated that she was the cause.

He stepped back, turning away from her. She watched his curious eyes search for something he couldn’t quite seem to find in the city below.

“I look at you sometimes and it’s like… like you’re standing on the edge of something,” he stepped up onto the ledge of the roof, unafraid to look down, “But you’re too afraid to jump.”

Kay moved towards the ledge. Towards him. Her anxiety rising so high she could feel it in the back of her throat. She lifted her hand towards his as he stood unmoving on the ledge, but hesitated.

“Jack..?” She couldn’t hide the worry in her voice.

He pulled his gaze away from the streets below, as if waking from a trance. He noticed her outstretched hand and rolled his eyes.

“Relax. I’m just taking a leak.”

Kay’s stomach twisted as she swallowed the nervous bile that had covered her tongue. She turned her back to him as he fumbled with the zipper of his jeans. He whistled a casual tune behind her. Something he’d played in the car on the way here. Kay realised suddenly that she was shaking. With anger, nerves, or fear, she didn’t know.

She downed the remainder of her drink before throwing her glass over the ledge.

Jack stopped whistling.

“You want me to jump?” She could hear the fury in her voice.

Kay turned back to Jack as he jumped down from the ledge.

“Fine,” she spat, “then I’ll jump.”

Jack reached for her but she pulled away.

She ignored his pleas, and all the other noise as she turned, and threw herself into the crowd.

Reboot

Sirens. Screaming. The terrible chill down her spine.

And then the scoreboard lit up.

It was bright, she knew, but the light didn’t hurt her eyes. There was no pain anymore. Only the numbers in front of her. A lifetime of steps, blinks, heartbeats- even hiccups. Numbers so big it was difficult to comprehend. And so so many. A different number for every action. Statistics for things she didn’t remember and things she wanted to forget.

She could only remember a small fraction of the 840,960,000 times her heart had beat, but she could remember each of the 3 times her heart had broken. The smaller figures- heartbreaks, broken bones, moving home, almost dying- those had little arrows by the numbers. She clicked one experimentally.

A date. A time.

Tap to replay memory, it read.

She let out a breath, or did she? It was hard to tell anymore. There was only the numbers in front of her. The statistics of a life lived- however briefly. 20 years laid out neatly before her. The list stretched on. Everything she had experienced, every moment of happiness, fear, sadness, and rage- ready to replay at the touch of a finger.

Which one should she chose?  

Oops, I Did It Again…

Another project left to gather dust because of my awful functioning brain. It’s hard to write when you can’t see your hands through the fog. It’s just another thing I have to force myself to do sometimes. Just like getting out of bed or going to work.
My struggle with both depression and anxiety has been and still is one of the biggest obstacles I’m facing on my writing journey. Not just my writing journey in fact, but also in every aspect of life. I can barely remember a time when I wasn’t in a negative mind set, and that just makes it even harder to do positive things. The days when I find myself stuck in the house would be the perfect time to sit down and write something- even something short and nonsensical- but I just can’t bring myself to do it. I carry my idea notebooks around everywhere, but never open them. The guilt I feel for abandoning all my beloved characters almost surpasses the guilt of not writing anything at all.
With that being said, here is my chance to try and kick start my imagination for the hundredth time! I thought a great way of doing that would be to talk about some of the first characters I ever created, and how they and their stories have changed over the years as I’ve tried to write about them again and again and again.

I’ve known I wanted to be a writer from a very young age, but aside from absent daydreams I never had a solid idea of what I wanted to write. The first idea that I ever sat down and fleshed out was a premise for a screenplay that I had to write as part of my A-Level film studies coursework. The story was set in a futuristic dystopian world that had been ravaged by aliens looking for a new home planet. Due to the actions of this alien race that I apparently never had the foresight to name, humans were driven underground and forced to live in bunkers the size of a small town. It was in one of these bunkers that the protagonists of the story, twins Nova and Atlas Herald, were trying to survive. Both twins had important roles in their community, but together they lived with a secret that could have them exiled from the bunker for good. They were both members of the alien race. Ones who had sympathised with the plight of the humans, and took human forms in the hopes of helping them in the seemingly one-sided war.
Seventeen year-old me thought this idea was the shit. I sat down and wrote a solid seven thousand words for the screenplay until one of my classmates reluctantly informed me that the word count for the assignment was a mere two thousand five hundred words. The measly word count however didn’t stop me from immersing myself in the lives of the alien twins I’d created and expanding on their personalities.
Nova was a rule breaker fascinated with the limitations of her new human body. Her role in their underground community was that of a Scavenger, meaning that every day she ventured out into the wasteland formerly known as earth and hunted for materials that were needed, such as scrap metal and other useful items. Scavenging was usually done in teams, but due to her rebellious side Nova often headed out alone- which was helpful when she found things such as old music that she preferred to keep for herself. The leaders of their small community tolerated Nova’s rule-breaking due to her prowess in surviving the dangers of the wasteland above, which they used to train potential new scavengers- a responsibility that Nova often felt was more like a punishment.

A glimpse at my Pinterest board for the Herald twins and their story

Atlas was the more level-headed of the two and spent his time working in the hospital, using his interest in human biology to become one of the communities most relied upon medics. His proficiency as a doctor made him very valued and popular among their community, and so he became much more sociable than his sister. Atlas also used his position in the medical field to hide any biological evidence in their files that he and his sister were different from everyone else. Despite deciding to side with the humans, he detested violence and always hoped for a peaceful resolution to the war.
Once I’d figured out their past I began to build on the story that I had worked on for the original assignment. That story began with Nova discovering two humans that had escaped alien slavery while she was out scavenging and taking them back to the underground city, where Atlas discovered that the two stragglers were half-alien and half-human. Building on that world and its characters was the first time I had ever thought about an idea in more detail, and planning out different angles to it and different ways the story could go was at first very fun, but ended up also confusing me a little. I’d came up with so many variations from the original beginning that I couldn’t decide what route I wanted to take.

Outline for Azlyn’s story plan

I was thinking about Atlas and Nova’s story right up until I moved to university and started my creative writing classes. It was during that time that I completely fell in love with the fantasy genre and thus their story fell onto the back-burner as I came up with an idea for yet another assignment that I would keep working on long after the original few chapters were submitted. This story is one I still hold very close to my heart, and one that I always end up adding even just a few lines of notes to every time I think about it. As well as a physical notebook full of world and character building, I also have all my notes for this particular story on a google doc so that I can add to it no matter where I am, just in case something pops into my head and I don’t have my notebook on me. That document is currently an amalgamation of detailed notes and absent scribbles, but even so it’s still one of the biggest collection of notes for a story that I have. This was the first project where I really sat down and said to myself that simply having a character and a world in which they live isn’t enough. I needed to really flesh out those things and give them a life of their own, and fill in any possible holes in that world or in that characters design. And so, I created Eanavera. I drew out a map of this world, and I gave each continent and island a name, taking inspiration from various places and cultures of our own world. I thought about how each kingdom was governed and their cultures different beliefs, and what they meant to the characters that lived there. The most important place on Eanavera’s map was a cluster of islands named The Annwn Isles, a region that was heavily inspired by Ireland and Wales. The Annwn Isles consisted of five islands, and I worked on giving each island its own ruling family, all of which answered to the rulers of the largest island, Ourea. Each island was different in it’s own small way but also shared the same beliefs and festivals that I had such a fun time working on and developing. It was on Ourea that the story began, and where the protagonist came from.

A commissioned piece by the amazing Rosario

Azlyn Scriostóir wasn’t the first character I had ever created, but she was the first one to suffer from all of my writers whims. I’ve always loved to read stories that tug at your heart, and so Azlyn had it all: neglectful parents, a brother with a cruel streak, a point of view that set her apart from those that she should be close to. A painful past and an even more painful journey to go on. I loved writing about her so much that I even commissioned an amazing artist to bring her to life! (Pictured left, link to the artist included). I thought her story had it all. She seemed to me a complex enough character, her story had love, tragedy and magic. She had the powers of a god! What more could a reader want! I hyped the story up so much in my mind that whenever I sat down to write a chapter, or even just a scene, it just didn’t seem right. My motivation wasn’t helped by the piece set in the world that I had submitted for an assignment received a mediocre grade, but even though I couldn’t seem to actively write for this story, I kept planning for it. I wrote notes on her brother Weylyn’s motivations and why he was so cruel. I developed the backstory and personality of her love interest, Ronan, more. I even came up with a reason as to why she had purple hair! It couldn’t just be because I liked the idea! But once again I had seemed to overwork and overthink it. Was it too much? Was it not enough? The lines were blurring for me, and eventually looking at my detailed notes just made be feel sad and guilty. Here was a whole world I was neglecting. A whole world that I just couldn’t seem to bring to life.

A long running Pinterest board for Azlyn and her world.

That brings me back to me inability to write. Sometimes I think that the feeling that my writing will never be good enough stems from my depression, and sometimes I think I’m depressed because I can’t write something good. The one thing I have ever gotten published was written in a depressive haze, but I don’t want to be known for depression inspired writing. Yes, maybe one day I will write something based around my experiences of my mental illness, but it’s not a way of writing that I want to build on. I feel almost as though that writing when depressed just feeds the depression. The line between it being an outlet and just being fuel for the way that I feel is very thin. World-building and the like used to be a way of freeing myself from that mindset, but sometimes it can turn into a burden. They’re both lines I’ll have to teach myself to walk very carefully.

Today was a rainy day, and one that I had wasted a lot of in bed. But I forced myself to get up, get out, and sit in one of my favourite cafes to write. Write anything at all. I usually try to plan my posts here, but this one I just had to throw myself into. When I first started drafting it, I was feeling very down, and so I thought this post would most likely be about how I’d been feeling lately and how it has impeded my writing. But instead, talking about past projects- even if they are semi abandoned- has actually made me feel a lot better. Dare I say it, even a little more hopeful. Hopefully the next post will be less then a month away but in the meantime, have you ever been stuck in a writing rut? How has life gotten in the way of your writing journey? I hope to see some of your own stories in the comments below, and feel free to ask questions about anything in this post that has intrigued you!

I Wrote That!

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted some writing for the virtual world to see, mainly because I lost all confidence in my own writing ability. I figured that a simple step one in my new creative journey was to sift through some old projects and try to find extracts of my old work that I’m actually proud of and like the way that I’ve written.

In theory, this step seems quite simple. But believe me, some of my old work was downright painful to read. I know we all have to start somewhere but damn, teenage me really loved her adjectives. We’re all our own worst critics however, so I’ve tried to laugh all that cringeworthy writing off and file it under part of my essential growth. After all, if you’ve never wrote anything bad, how will you know when you’ve wrote something good?

The earliest writing I ever posted online was story ideas that I then adapted into fanfiction because I was so desperate for validation, and fanfiction was one of the most accessible ways to get it at the time. I was around fifteen years-old and none of my friends knew I wrote it- they didn’t even know I had a tumblr (this was back in the day when we were all very secretive about these kind of things). I wrote for my favourite manga at the time, a series called Fairy Tail, and focused on the main romantic pairing within the series to shamelessly promote my own world-building ideas. The longest piece of fanfiction that I ever wrote was 79,619 words- that’s longer than The Great Gatsby!- which featured a very slow burn enemies-to-lovers trope amidst a war-torn fantasy world. The story had battles, demons, a psychopathic bad-guy, and a really awkward sex scene that I wrote when I was still a virgin. It sounds crazy and it was a little, but five years and 965 reviews later, it’s actually one of the most successful things I’ve ever written.

Lots of people look down on fanfiction but I personally think that it’s an amazing and accessible way for young people to get into writing. And not just writing but writing about something that they’re passionate about while building a repertoire of creative skills in the process. Initially, when I began my creative writing studies at university, I was embarrassed to admit that fanfiction was how I came into my own as a writer. After years of being bullied for my interests, I thought it was a nerdy and cringeworthy thing to have done. But once I’d been at university for few months and- to my shock- discovered that the world is not in fact full of arseholes, i opened up about my hobby turned passion, and was pleasantly surprised to discover I wasn’t the only one in my creative writing classes that had gotten into writing that way. Even my lecturers acknowledged and encouraged it as a great creative tool.

So, some of my selected extracts are from my fanfiction days-though I will be changing the names- and some are from my various portfolios that I submitted during my time at university, as well as other personal projects. I hope you enjoy them, and feel free to leave constructive criticism and/or questions in the comments section!

It made her feel guilty, but it was all too much. The energy it took to interact with people she knew secretly despised her despite their charming smiles, the effort it required to make herself as presentable as her maids desired, the strength her arm needed to raise a heavy fork to her lips. She lacked it all. It seemed all she was good for was sleeping late into the day and not quite catching the things people said to her.

– Excerpt from short story The Gilded Cage

Time was a funny thing. The way it stretched things, the way it slowed. How all that was and ever would be bowed and changed according to its whims. Time gave and it took away. But more than anything, time changed. Nathan felt he knew that better than most.

– Excerpt from my completed story A War On Two Fronts 

“You cannot always be the shield that halts the sword.”

– Excerpt from unfinished project The Horrors Of Spring 

To myself, the best version of me is the one that is happy.
But the real version has a long way to go before being any of those things.
The real version is currently sitting with her legs dangling over the side of the bridge, watching the water drift by fifty feet below.
Oh damn, she’s gonna kill herself, you’re probably thinking. But I’m not. I never do.
The bridge is on my way home from work, and at least twice a week I stop and I sit here and I think about it. But I never do it. Sometimes drunken people heckle me to do it, but I still won’t jump. I think about it. A lot. And about the versions of me. Kind of like that Abraham Lincoln quote: I must die or be better. But I can’t bring myself to die, and no matter how hard I try I don’t think I’m getting better.
When I was still in school I told a counsellor once that I thought about dying almost every day.
“Oh my,” She answered, “Have you tried, not thinking about it?”
But how can you not think about it? Even if you’re not standing on a bridge thinking about jumping, every day you’re just closer to your last day. A lot of people think that and then think that you should make every day count, but I just think, well, what’s the point? I’m not saying we should be immortal, because let’s face it, we, as a species, are shitty. But what’s the purpose of it all?

– Excerpt from published short story Who You Are Today
Image of the format of unfinished project Subject Seven

There was something about her. A deep and threatening knowledge that seemed to hide behind her eyes. He didn’t want to believe all that ‘space between dimensions’ nonsense, but how else was he meant to explain the sudden appearance of the door? And the disappearing, he figured, since the police hadn’t come knocking. He was suddenly very wary of the fact that he had promised her something.

– Excerpt from short story The Summoner

There weren’t many options in life for an orphan. Sure, there was crime and other disreputable occupations, but Lucy wanted a quiet life. What meagre inheritance she’d received after paying off her late father’s debts had been enough for a few months rent for a one bedroom apartment, but food didn’t just magically place itself on her wobbly kitchen table. So, she set out to find a job, and quickly discovered that the most unappealing ones paid the most.
Thus is the short summary of how Lucy Harmonia, once the heir to the most wealthy family in the city, descended from manor houses to a church basement. Cleaning corpses.
It was quiet work, just as she’d wanted. Deathly quiet. The only people she interacted with daily was the priest, the man who brought in her charges, and dead people. The two former exchanged only the most basic of pleasantries, but the latter were quite good listeners.
As this was the church of Lethe, goddess of forgotten souls, the people that found their way onto Lucy’s sterile workbench were most often orphans, beggars, and the elderly who had no remaining friends or relatives. Lucy’s job was to clean away the evidence of death, and dress them in the white garments of the deceased before they were taken away to be buried in an unmarked grave. The dead that found their way to the church of Lethe received no ceremonious farewells, nor even a coffin. They received one gold coin to pay their way into the next world-more riches than most of them had likely had in their life time- and the shortest of funeral rights before being sealed into the dirt.
Quiet work, but not the most fulfilling if she dwelt on it too much.

– Excerpt from short story The Healing Touch

“My whole world is war. My fight is futile.” Varya glared back at him, “Death can take me whenever they choose.”
Viduus shook his head with a grin, blood still dripping down his cheek. He stepped forward again, not fearing the dagger in her hand that had cut him so easily.
“Your fight is futile,” He repeated, “And yet, you still fight it.”

– Excerpt from short story The Hunter and The Hunted

It’s About Time

Too long have I spent scrolling through Pinterest for inspiration. It’s high time I sat down at my currently none-existent desk and wrote something, no matter what it’s about. Hopefully this will be the start of the many highs and lows of my journey to become a published author. I plan to fill this site full of all kinds of inspiration and progress, including book reviews, thoughts on life, and whatever I happen to jot down in between.

Here’s to the first of many posts.

-HN