Sit Down, Shut Up, And-

A phrase I’ve heard often through life is ‘everyone wants to talk but no one wants to listen’. It’s a phrase I’ve always found difficult to relate to, as I’ve always found myself so eager to listen. Perhaps even too eager. I am very guilty of eavesdropping, but only because I can never say no to the opportunity to hear a story that I’ve never heard before. Everyone has a million different stories inside of them, with another million ways to tell the same tale. Who am I to say no to the privilege of hearing one? To deny a story is to deprive yourself of so many possibilities. A person’s time should be divided equally between talking and listening. By favouring one over the other, we are missing out on so many opportunities. I don’t mean to say that talking is bad. After all, if no one talks, how is anyone meant to listen? However, if no one listens, then why talk at all? I am trying to find an equilibrium between the two, to create a constant cycle of storytelling. My own neverending story, but with slightly less luck dragons. 

I first realised I was in love with listening when hearing a friend talk about their passions. We had been making small talk, but when they started talking about a movie they loved, their whole person became animated. It wasn’t just their face that changed but their posture, their whole attitude. Watching them come alive like that while they talked about all the little things about the film that they loved down to the finer details was captivating. Seeing how happy it made them that someone was listening to their enthusiastic ramblings just made it all the sweeter. 

On the other side of the coin, nothing feels more comforting to me than realising the person I am raving to about a book I’ve read or a game I’ve played is smiling and nodding along, hanging on to every word I’m saying, even if they have little to no clue what I’m talking about. Oftentimes in the past, I was spoken over or laughed at when trying to describe the intensity of something I’d enjoyed. I think that is perhaps why I value listening the way I do now. It feels good to no longer have to silence myself. It feels good to encourage people’s voices to be louder. All you have to do is lend an ear.

A Note On You

Looking at you makes my hands hurt. Not for any want of touch, but because I can not paint. I can’t paint the way you look, or the way you used to look at me. I can’t paint how your face changes when you laugh, and I can’t write about it either. How could I possibly put it into words? So yeah, my hands ache when I look at you. Because they know that even if I give them a full life of making things, they’ll never quite get you right. They won’t come close. Never at all.

Aches and Pains

My whole body aches all of the time. Call it fatigue or strain or growing pains, I don’t know. I just know that it hurts, but that the ache mostly makes itself at home in my hands.

It’s hard not to crack my knuckles all of the time. I feel like my fingers ache with all the words I can’t won’t don’t write and all of the songs I don’t know how to play. Things I never built and things I should have broken.

Instead I’m just pressing buttons all the time, and my fingers are rotting and wasting away from misuse and I pick at them and pick pick pick and bite the skin from my fingertips and I paint them pretty colours but they’re still ugly and useless.

So I’ll try crack them back into place, but I fear that they’ll never move like I want them to, never make or touch like I want them to. That the rot will find its way to the rest of me, and I won’t be able to do anything at all.

Tails

Heads or tails. Heads or tails. Heads or tails. 

I flipped the coin with my thumb over and over and over again. Catching it, but never looking at the outcome. Too afraid if I’d be relieved or disappointed by fates decision. 

Heads or fucking tails. 

A sigh escaped me as I repeated the motions. I wanted to stop but the urge to continue was too strong. I most likely looked a sorry sight. Some dumb kid flipping a coin on the river bank, feet stuck in the murkey water. Each time I glanced up at the bridge to my left, at least one person quickly looked away. I almost felt like calling out to them, heads or tails?!, but what would be the point? Most of them seemed like tourists anyway, and I was probably ruining their riverside holiday photos. 

The coin gave out a light ring every time I flipped it. The sound was barely there over that of the river. I curled my toes in the cold current. My skin was starting to prune. My feet were numb from being in the water so long, but I didn’t care. I was content for now, in an uncomfortable sort of way. 

I flipped the coin again. My feet felt the current change. The sound of the river changed too. I looked up at the bridge, but once again, none of the passersby seemed to notice. 

“Chance is a fine game,” a voice floated across the water, “What will it be today, creature?” 

The tip of an old wooden ferry bumped lightly against the riverbank to the right of me. The faded whorls of paint that decorated its bow were familiar to me now. 

The coin in my hand continued its routine almost of its own accord as I smiled at the ferryman. 

They were beautiful, in their own unsettling sort of way. I suppose they had to be, given their trade. There were voids where their eyes should be, deep chasms you were likely to fall into if you looked too close. Their skin was gray and their smile was crooked. Their dark hair was tousled from the river wind, but their black cloak remained perfectly in place. They leaned on the lone oar of the ferry as it stilled, resting their head on their skeletal hands. 

I continued to flip the coin. 

“What brings you to this side of the river?” I ignored their question as I replied with one of my own. 

I often wondered what it looked like to outsiders, our encounters. Just a mad person talking to the water? Or were there other people out there who saw the ferryman as I did? 

“It would be a lot easier to ignore you if you stood on the highest rooftop you could find and screamed my name,” They answered, voice raspy as always, “Rather than sticking your dirty human feet in my waters and tossing a coin. It’s practically a summons.”

The coin spun in the air. 

“Except I’m not dead, Charon.” 

Their smile was all teeth. 

“That could change as fast as the flip of a coin.” 

Oh I knew that. Every time I blinked, that millisecond of darkness was enough to frame a hundred images that flashed across my vision. The last car in a parking lot. Bullet casings and razor blades. Falling and sinking. Red lights and tyre tracks. Sirens and screaming and the deafening sound of nothing at all. 

I’d seen everything. 

“ I didn’t come for a lesson on life and death.” I snapped. 

“How could you, when you’ve learned them all?” Charon drawled. 

I flipped the coin again and again. It flew higher with every violent flick of my thumb. I stared into the emptiness where their eyes should have been. Did they remember what colour their eyes used to be? Would I?

“Call it.” 

Charon smiled again. They stretched their hand towards me. The ferry groaned at the shift in weight.  

Heads or tails.

“Tails.” The nothingness in their eyes somehow managed to look hungry. 

The coin arched in the air, spinning and turning over itself, fading from gold to black before being snatched from the river wind by Charon’s boney hand. 

They frowned. 

“Heads.” They spat into the river, “I hate it when you win.” 

I sighed as I stood, fingers twitching at the absence of a coin. I hated to be idle. Charon gripped the oar of the ferry, pushing it away from the riverbank as a cold breeze whipped at our robes. I pulled mine tighter around myself. 

“I’m not sure I would call this winning.” 

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!