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.

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