Social media musings

Posted: 14/08/2017 by Alternate Celt in musings, writing
Tags: , , ,

So here I am, some way into my first draft and burning with the desire to shout about it. That urge would normally take me to Facebook, but I have given myself a self imposed social media ban. Originally I gave myself a week, but I have extended it because of how much more productive I have been. 

We are inundated with research telling us too much social media time is bad for us, but it is easy not to see just how much it is affecting us when we surround ourselves with it. Normally, I need to be right up to date with the news, but nearly two weeks in and I realise that if something really genuinely big happens, I will still find out. In the meantime, I am not weighed down with the relentless negativity of our current news narrative.  I don’t feel like I must keep up, that I must just read this article to stay informed, that I must know the ins and outs of eu constitutional law just remain abreast of current affairs. Also, I discovered that not knowing hasn’t actually killed me.

And I have a novel coming together that I want to shout about. My lack of instant gratification in this respect mostly keeps leading me back to my notebook, unless it takes me ferreting around the internet or the non-fiction section at work. It seems to feed back in to itself, and I am starting to remember what it was like writing before I was so easily distracted. It’s also made me want to keep the project pretty close to my chest, which I think will be for the best. I have nothing worth anything until I have a complete draft. 

I still only half hear people though, that doesn’t change. Now, at least, it’s because I am brain deep in a story, not brain off in stream of unrelenting information. 

Advice: uninstall Facebook and Twitter from your devices. Make a banging playlist. Write. 

I am still alive! 

Posted: 02/08/2017 by Alternate Celt in writing

I have been scrapping around for a new story since my course finished, and over the last week I have found one. I am not going to talk about it because I am going to use this idea to try and produce a professional manuscript with it!

To help me focus I am taking at least a week off social media. I also won’t be posting here again until I have achieved a worthwhile amount of work on the story.

Good luck out there, world. I am off to hide in the 1950’s with just this soundtrack for company…

La Partida – SoundCloud

Posted: 21/07/2017 by Alternate Celt in music
Tags: ,

As taught to me by Anne Chaurand. Not by any means perfect, but a long way from where I began.

Listen to La Partida by alternatecelt #np on #SoundCloud

Today was results day from the OU. I got a grade 2 on my module, scoring well on the EMA. So here it is. There are no more chapters to this, although I know where it’s all going….

The end

Night still smothers the sea, although somewhere behind the landward hills the sky is beginning to lighten.  The coast road, winding along the edges of steep sea cliffs, is normally deserted at this early hour. Right now though, a wayward limousine is barrelling along it between the land and the Ocean, windows down, music blaring.  There is a woman driving it, her dyed black hair tangling with the air streaming in through the open windows.

She raises her voice above the music.  ‘Shut up, you bastard, just shut up!’ She yells into the unlit belly of the limousine. She’s clutching the wheel in one be-ringed fist, while cradling an open whiskey bottle in her lap.

Satisfied by the lack of response from the back,  she turns once more to the road. Drumming her fingers on the wheel in time to the music,  she takes a long swig from the bottle.  Presently, the song on the stereo changes.  She leaps for the buttons, making the limo to swerve wildly towards the landward edge of the road.  With a crash and a tinkle, a mirror is lost to a roadside tree. She doesn’t hear it.

She finds something she likes then settles behind the wheel again. When the vocals kicks in, she starts to sing along at the top of her voice.  She’s drunk, she’s loud, but she’s a real singer, with a powerful voice.  She sings joyously, throwing the huge car through the corners, losing herself in the music.

Then,  without warning, she stops abruptly.  She cuts the music off with ​her fist, leaving the lyric hanging mid-sentence, and slams her feet on the brakes. There is a heavy thud somewhere in the the darkness behind her. She turns in her seat, face distorted with rage. ‘No, you asshole! You don’t own my voice! You don’t own me! I’m not gonna let you pull that shit anymore!’

There’s no response from the darkness.

‘Fuck you! Don’t give me the silent treatment!’ she spits, but still the response is silence. ‘Fuck you!’ She sinks her foot to the floor. The limo leaps forward then dies with a violent shudder. It’s momentum sends it sprawling across both sides of the road. Showering the car in vitriol, she restarts it, struggling with her own co-ordination as she does. She slams the accelerator down again, and the limo shoots towards the cliff-side verge. She tries to grapple the steering wheel, but the verge is narrow, built on gravel and clinging sea grass. It gives the car no purchase. The front tyres are suddenly spinning on fresh air, the belly grinding against the febrile cliff edge.  The weight of the limo conspires against it, and the edge crumbles.

As the huge car tips toward the waiting ocean, the sky is beginning to flush with morning. Pinned to her seat by her belt, she watches the swirling colours of dawn spin by and melt into the inky ocean. A man’s long body tumbles out of the darkness and into the windscreen. He bounces, leaving behind cracks and streaks of blood, then his limbs tangle with hers. She starts to shriek. With a crunch, the sky stops sailing past and silence falls.

Chapter One

America, 2017

March 17th

Dearest darlin’ diary,

New tour, new diary! 13 already? Don’t time just fly by?

Bet you didn’t think I had a diary, did you? Y’all have seen the headlines and the Paparazzi snapshots.  Y’all think it’s all sex n’ drugs n’ rock n’ roll so there ain’t no room for shit as mundane as keeping a diary. Well, that just proves to me, dearest reader, that you know nothing about being a musician.  That’s right, y’all, a musician not  a “celebrity”.  That’s what I am, kid.  

Y’ know, David Bowie kept a diary.  In an interview I saw when I was a teen,  he cut a page up,  then rearranged the pieces into lyrics. I tried it with mine, but all I got was dreadful teen poetry.    I’m pretty sure if he hadn’t kept a diary, Space Oddity would never have made it into song.  

And somewhere under a pile on top of my piano at home, I have a copy of Kurt Cobain’s journals.  He wrote down every thought that went through his fucked-up head and you can totally see the beginnings of his songs in those pages. In some ways I’m kinda like him, what I call an Inside Out musician. Inside Out musicians use all the life experience and hurt they’ve collected inside to produce music. It ain’t always the most technical, but it’s raw, it’s heartfelt and people dig it easily. Outside In musicians, like my guitarist, Syrus, they take on all they can about how music works; key, tempo, phrasing, all that technical shit and internalise it.  They know what to use and when, so they can make music do whatever they want it to. It takes years though, so you gotta be keen.

So, Inside Out types like us need our diaries, just like Outside In types need their music theory.  I keep my little black book on me all the time and it keeps me looking for stuff to fill it up with. Y’know, turns of phrase, expressions, experiences, all that kind of thing. Anything that could be worth remembering. What did y’all think all the crazy, out of control, Rock Star shit I do is for?

March 18th

Last night was the first show of the tour.  We kicked off in Miami, and we’re gonna  zig-zag our way back out west to Cali over the next 3 months. I think this is our third tour round the States since the last album, but I could be losing track.  I should be in the studio already, but the management company want this tour while I’m still on their time.  Craig’s management company.  God damn, that son of a bitch is driving me crazy already.  

I am sure he was drunk at the Press conference yesterday. Normally that cold bastard does a good job of holding it together, but he just wasn’t really on it. He gave this big speech about how we were all looking forward to the tour and putting the past behind us and shit, but nobody was buying it. I blanked it out, listened to tunes on my phone, and let him bullshit away.

It didn’t feel to me like it was a first gig of a tour, but last night’s gig was still awesome.  I was dog tired right up till we stepped on that stage, but the way the fans roared  just zapped me full of energy.  I could hear them chanting even before we got out of the limo, and that had my stomach churning with nerves like it always does. I don’t strictly recall when I stopped being nervous.

Syrus was on fire, playing that guitar of his like a man possessed.  The boys were rocking and the crowd were jumping.  When they cheered after the first song, it made me feel so damn high I thought I was a goddess.  When you’re pumping full of adrenaline and adulation, it’s hard not to go a bit crazy. It pushed me to be superhuman on that stage, so I  pushed my voice right to the edge, just so as I could give those good people their money’s worth.

It was such a complete buzz kill to come bouncing off the stage and back into Fort Craig.  For this tour, he’s hired like three times the number of security people as he’s ever done before, and it already feels like being in prison.  I’m not sure where all that is coming from,  but the memo from the company told me there would be extra security because of “a heightened threat from terrorism in recent years”.  I’m calling bullshit on that, I think Craig’s just getting paranoid.

He was stone drunk when we got back stage, surrounded by his private army like some supervillain in a hollywood movie. Except he could barely fucking sit up right. The rider was piled up with mountains of junk food and gallons of hard liquor, way more than Craig had ever put on before.  It felt like a bribe to me, so we left early for a different party.  I ain’t playing Craig’s game on this tour, I’m done with that.

So now we’re back on the bus, heading on to the next show and I am back to writing my tour diary. Back on the old cycle again, going round in the same circles again.   I thought last tour would be the last I had to do with Craig, but apparently that was just wishful thinking. There’s six months left on my contract, and the management company are gonna squeeze every last drop of cash out of that bitch they can. I’m just gonna have to grin and bear it.

March 19th

The so-called gentlemen of the press are always pecking away at the same two questions.  ‘Where do your ideas come from?’ and ‘Who are your influences?’  The problem with these questions is they always want your opinion in bite size chunks.  I live my life, I write it down. Somewhere between the process of reading back over it, and just living my life some more, my songs start to take shape.    That’s how I get my ‘ideas’, but it never seems to satisfy them.  It’s like they think there’s some kind of magic I do to make it all happen.  Maybe I cut my wrists, bleed myself a contract with the devil and he teaches me songs. I don’t really know what they think, but they just don’t want it to be the same kind of process that other folks use to make music.  Maybe that’s my reputation, maybe it’s the shit I sing about, maybe it’s even all the black I wear, who fucking knows?

When Journalists ask you about your influences, what they really want is a list of like ‘your top five bands’.   I’ve tried to go in depth about it before, but they are lazy and don’t want to have to write all that stuff down. These days, I just give them what they want, but when I reel off the Doors, the Stones, the Beatles, Janis and Dylan as my favourite five acts, I know that doesn’t really reflect properly on the music I make. I started off trying to be The Runaways when I formed my first band, but I know there’s all kinds of metal, blues and even classical in the stuff I write.  No Rock Journalist wants to hear about how psyched you get listening to Bach.

I grew up on Granma and Granpa’s music and it was all blues, rock, folk and protest.  They fed me hippy food and taught me hippy principles, which made me a freak at my Internet Age High School. I am a throwback kid, born in the 90’s, but raised in the ‘60’s. It’s kind of a weird place to be, caught between two such different times. Music these days  is corporatised, commoditised, fetishised and micro-managed.  There ain’t no space for protest in it,   cos it might hurt those almighty profit margins, so we’ve become a generation without a protest music of our own.  The songs we hear, the songs we get to record, they are all team written, over-produced products of mega-corporations, just like it was in the 50’s and early 60’s.  Before the ‘Revolution’. We’ve gone back to square one, y’all, to the place where writing your own songs is practically rebel act.  

That shit always drove me crazy, so I started writing angry little punk songs about how all that shit drove me crazy.  When they started to take off, I actually thought I was beating The Man.  Turns out, that’s not how this whole ‘celebrity’ culture shit works.  If you try to stand up to The Man and people start buying it,  He don’t try to crush you anymore in this globalised world,  He just buys you.  

March 20th

It’s evening and I am watching the sun set out of the tour bus window.  We’re crossing miles of empty, flat countryside, somewhere in Georgia.  We ain’t got a show till tomorrow night, so we’re driving all night.  It’s hypnotic watching the big corn fields roll by.  It’s so changeless you get trapped in a loop of deja vu, just cornfields and fences, cornfields and fences.  We drove alongside a railway track for the longest time, past slow crawling freight trains that stretched out for miles.  It seemed to break up the monotony at first, but then after the hundredth freight car, it was really just the same.  

Now the colours are fading with the setting sun and only the sky is worth looking at.  It’s as wide as the land here is flat, and scattered with long banks of thick white cloud.  They are trapping the colours of the sunset, the details of their folds and bumps picked out by the golden light.  It makes them look ultra real, superimposed even, like a bad green screen in an old 80’s movie.  The contrasts of dark and light, superreal and faded make the view outside the bus seem disjointed.  It fits my mood.

Inside the bus is quiet.  Syrus is sitting in his bunk practising scales on his unplugged Gibson.  Steve and Jeff are playing cards.  Tonya and Letisha are curled up with their phones, talking occasionally.  Niall is in his bunk above Syrus, sleeping off last night’s party.  Craig, thank fuck, is not here.  Tours are crazy.  Tight schedules, interviews, record signings, sound checks, gigs, it’s all a carousel of people, noise and bright lights.  You soon learn to value quiet moments like this.

The sunset soon draws everyone, except Niall, to come look out the windows with me.  The first pale golds are deepening into orange and scarlet.  The clouds look ominous, with dark tops like stacks of reeking smoke and bellies on fire.  The land is nothing more than a thin silhouette, overshadowed by the burning sky.  Tonya says it’s an ‘apocalypse sky’, and we go off on a rambling discussion about the good folk of Georgia getting excited about the Rapture coming.  Jeff tells us all exactly what the bible says about the Rapture, Letisha thinks it’s very sad that people actually want the apocalypse to happen, I put in my two cents about believing the Christian Right are trying to cause it, Syrus tells us we’re all crazy for believing any of it and Steve wonders if there will be zombies.  

USB

Posted: 11/06/2017 by Alternate Celt in writing
Tags: , ,

USB

Such an innocuous little piece of hardware, it doesn’t look like it should burn her fingers, but it does. About  three inches long, just under an inch wide, and coated in black plastic, it could be any generic USB stick.  It is new, the lid is still firmly attached and the plastic surface is still glossy and unscratched. Rosie Franklin, PhD ScD, stares at it, turning it over in her hands, sitting alone at the table of a roadside diner somewhere in Indiana.  She can’t look up at  the people around her as they chatter and eat, unaware of what she is holding in her hands.   

“Rosie, we need to hustle,”

“Is it them?” she asks, looking up at him standing hesitantly by the table. He nods, eyes darting toward the door. The last 12 hours have dug deep crags about his eyes,  diminished his broad shoulders into a tense hunch and made him twitch with restlessness.  

“What do we do?” Rosie asks.  

“Switch cars again, take a hostage this time,” he replies, voice low.  She takes a shuddering breath, closes her eyes and squeezes the stick tightly in her hand. A small child squeals, adults laugh at a nearby table and the waitress behind the bar starts singing along to an old rock tune on the radio.  Fragile, simple life is all around her.  Fragile life teetering on the brink of oblivion. She looks at Sam, feeling her blood thrumming.

“Let’s do it,”

Out in the carpark, evening gloom is descending and rain is falling steadily.  The air is crackling with the white noise of the Interstate, accompanied by a steady wail of sirens in the city somewhere nearby. Rosie hides behind a wall, watching Sam crouch beside a black saloon car, waiting for the young man who is ambling towards it with his cellphone to his ear.  He’s wearing a slightly shabby italian suit and a five o’clock shadow.  

The shock on the young man’s face when Sam suddenly rises up to attack him stabs at Rosie’s conscience.  Sam administers a solid punch to his temple, and he crumples.  Rosie cradles her stomach, swallowing the guilt.  Getting  to Atlanta is all that really matters. Before it’s too late.  

Sam moves quickly now, while Rosie keeps watch.  He frisks the young man for his keys, then bundles him into the back seat of the saloon car.  Sam beckons to her, so she darts toward the car. She’s already checked her purse for the stowed stick five times but her fingers are seeking it out again as she soon as she gets in the car.  Without it, everything they have done has been for nothing.  

The car is sleek and roomy inside, but it stinks of greasy food and stale sweat.  Sam has laid its owner across the back seat on top of a pile of coats, papers and junk food trash.  Sam has the engine running, so once Rosie is in he hits reverse at full speed.  Fumbling for her seat belt, Rosie spots a black SUV looming large in the wing mirror.

“There they are!” She hisses, and Sam immediately eases off the gas.  His eyes dart to the rear view mirror.

“I see them.  Better pray they don’t recognise us,”  

Rosie says nothing, but her hand is in her purse again, fingers grasping tightly to the stick.  They draw level with the SUV. Rosie flattens herself back in her seat. The two vehicles pass each other and then diverge.

A while later, some miles down the Interstate, Rosie feels like she can breathe again.  She checks on their unwilling passenger.  He is still out, but his phone is buzzing inside his jacket.  Twisting in her seat she reaches out to silence it.  His wallet is in the same pocket, so she pulls it out to look.

“Who is he?” Sam asks while she’s riffling through it.

“Adam Byron, systems analyst from Seattle, ” she says, tossing the wallet into the glove compartment in front of her.

“And he’s still out?” Sam double checks.

“Yeah, he’s still out,” Rosie points out, adding, ”I hope he doesn’t freak when he comes to,”

“I cuffed him.  He won’t cause any trouble,” Sam tries to reassure her, but she rolls her eyes.

“Ah, great.  Waking up cuffed is never freaky,” she mutters darkly.  A bark of laughter escapes Sam, making her glare at him.

“I’ll put the radio on,” she says flatly, reaching forward to jab at the buttons on the car stereo.  Music blares for a second, making her glance at Adam, but he doesn’t stir. She starts flicking through the stations until she finds the news.

-More on our breaking story now.  New Era Biolabs have released a statement about the situation at their Wisconsin Facility.  The identities of two employees who have been reported missing from the facility have been released to federal authorities.  It is suspected that the two employees might have been involved in industrial espionage- She turns the dial again abruptly.  Sam says nothing.  In the silence between them a talk radio host utters meaningless platitudes.

Rosie jerks awake, the inane noise of the radio has faded into the background.  Rain drums on the roof of the car and makes a blur of the interstate.  Car headlights are jagged lines through the sheeting water on the windscreen.  A sound registers in her brain, one that sneaks in stealthily on the edge of her drowsy senses but rises to a pitch that makes her start with alarm.  

“Wha -what the fuck? You’re stealing my fucking car!”

“Ok, take it easy there fella! This is not what it looks like!” Sam cuts in brusquely.  In the back, Adam starts trying to squirm himself upright.

“Take it fucking easy? “ He spits, obviously more outraged than afraid, “You fucking hit me! You cuffed me!”

“I’m sorry, sir. There’s an outbreak-” Sam begins, but Adam is ranting furiously over the top of him, too enraged to hear. Rosie turns her head to see his reflection in the wing mirror. She can see the sheen of his sweat and the bloodshot whites of his eyes.  The familiar sound of a news jingle catches her ear so she turns the radio up loud.

The latest on the Great Lakes outbreak crisis.  New Era Labs in Wisconsin evacuated after major Quarantine breach.  Great Lakes area said to be at high risk of contaminated water.  The White House has mobilised the National Guard.  Unconfirmed reports of rioting across much of the region.  All Flights grounded until further notice- Rosie watches Adam fall silent and then go pale.  She turns the radio down.

“I have to get to Atlanta.  Something got out, and I have the cure,” Rosie explains.  He looks at her, expression wild  He seems about to ask something, but the radio interrupts

-crazed mobs on the streets of New York. We are hearing reports that they are attacking people in large numbers.  One witness claimed to have seen someone torn apart- Rosie gasps and  covers her ears with her hands. Sam quickly switches the stereo off.  

“What the fuck? Is it rabies or something?” Adam says. Rosie flinches.

“Shut up!” Sam snaps at him and reaches out a hand to comfort Rosie.  She shakes her head and backs away, trembling.

“It’s everywhere already!  We can’t stop it now!” her voice is small and faltering.

“C’mon girl, you’re on this! You’ve got the cure! We’re on the road!” Sam tries to placate her.

“But it’s my fault, don’t you see? This is happening because I stole it,” Rosie whispers.

“New Era wanted this, Rosie.  You took the only chance of stopping them,” Sam says firmly, catching her eye.  Rosie is still shaking, but she knows she needs to believe him. The car suddenly seems too hot.  

“I need air, I’m going to go walk and think,” she decides between empty breaths.

“Sure, we’re not going anywhere,” Sam points out with a shrug, indicating the long line of nose-to-tail traffic through the rain smeared windscreen.  Rosie pulls the stick out of her purse and passes it hesitantly to Sam.  He throws her a quizzical look.

“He must have a laptop.  Show him,” she says, pointing at Adam, then she climbs out of the car. After watching Rosie’s retreating back along the line of cars ahead for a few silent moments,  Sam turns a querying look on Adam.  

“It’s here, but I can’t use it with these cuffs on,” Adam indicates the seat beside him with his chin.  Sam reaches for the device and deposits it on Adam’s lap. He pokes the stick into the USB port awkwardly with his too big fingers, then jabs a few keys.  

“There, read it,”

Adam starts scanning rapidly down the glowing screen, his face stark with its light.

“Fuck,” he murmurs softly after a few seconds, then louder a little further down the page.  He looks up at Sam, horrified realisation dawning on his face.

“Have you read this?”

“Yep,” Sam confirms simply, preferring not to talk about it much.  

“We could be infected already!” Adam exclaims.  The car door opens again and Rosie slips back inside, clothes soaked and breathing heavy.

“You’re not infected,” she states unflinchingly, having heard him, “You would already be showing symptoms.  They made it fast to spread quickly,” She starts fiddling with the radio again, “There’s a fire up ahead on the highway.  I can’t see any fire trucks there though,”

traffic backed up to the Manchester Interchange on Highway 41 because of a multi-vehicle pile up.  Emergency services unable to attend because of rioting in the local town centre.  People advised to stay in their cars

“Those rioters are probably infected. We have to keep moving!” Rosie declares while both men curse.  Sam looks out through the window, brow creased as if weighing up their odds.  He reaches into his pocket and tosses a key to Rosie.

“Get him out of those cuffs and then buckle up,” he tells her, not looking her way.  

“We can’t go back, they are probably behind us.  They know where we are headed,”

“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.  We’re sitting ducks here,” Sam retorts, before leaning on the car horn and starting to rev the engine. Seeing it useless to argue further, Rosie unlocks Adam before getting braced in her seat.  A couple of vehicles in front are beginning to move, pulling onto the hard shoulder to make enough space for Sam to squeeze Adam’s car through.

“Oh shit,” Adam gasps as Sam guns the engine again, aiming for the crash barrier.  Rosie curls into a ball in her seat, shielding her head. Adam hugs the laptop to himself as the car lurches forward.  

Crossing to the other side of the Interstate is like entering a nightmare.  As the headlights burn through the darkness, they pick out a silent sea of faces, appearing from nowhere.  Glazed eyes blaze ferally red, while bodies move disjointedly.  They don’t even seem to notice the car hurtling towards them.  It spins out, brakes screeching, bodies bouncing off the boot.  The rear windscreen breaks, arms thrust through it making Adam wail.  The car engine screams as the tires spin on something slick.  Released suddenly, the car shoots forward, skidding.  Swearing, Sam fights to control it, but instead it careers tail first through the mesh fence at the side of the Interstate.  The silence that follows seems complete.

“Adam, wake up! You’ve got to wake up,” Rosie shakes him furiously. He moans and struggles to open his eyes.

“I’m awake.  I’m awake,” he manages.  He tries to sit up straight but he is clutching the laptop tightly still, making him move awkwardly. As she watches, he fumbles through his clothes then breathes an audible sigh of relief, “I still have it!” he tells her.

“Climb out the back window, get the stick out of here! Get it to Atlanta,” she commands, pushing him towards the gaping window.  

“You aren’t coming?” he asks, sounding confused.  A sudden burst of gunfire from outside makes him jump. Rosie throws an urgent look out of the window behind her.

“The New Era people found us.  They were stuck in the same traffic. Sam’s trying to hold them off now. Get out of the window, get moving,” She pushes him again, harder.  

“How do I get to Atlanta?” He asks, much more alert now.  Still he’s hesitating and Rosie is running out of time.

“I don’t know, but you have to.  Go, now!” Rosie yells at him, and he’s finally moving, pushing himself out through the window.  

With a deep breath, she gets out of the car herself.  Raising her hands high above her head, she walks towards where Sam is slumped on the highway.  There’s another burst of gunfire, so loud she almost misses the bursting pain in her chest.  But then that becomes everything as she falls forward, the tarmac racing towards her as her vision fades.

This is something I wrote about the influence of the Glenkens has on my writing.  I feel very lucky to live somewhere with so much to give a writer!

The Land Of My Voice

I live in an old part of an old country.  The sky is wide, trimmed by low hills that are fragments of the towering mountains they used to be.  Worn and rounded by ice, wind and time, they enclose a broad glen that has sheltered thousands of years of human life.  Here, in the craggy reaches of the Ken basin, the bones of extinct villages protrude through bare patches of the Spruce Forestry that superseded them.  

Landscape has always impressed itself upon me.  As a very small child, I recall walking along a long, straight country road near my home that ended abruptly at the feet of the Campsie Fells.  The hills towered over me  in a way that made me dizzy with vertigo, a sensation I still recall quite clearly as I write.   Later, I lived in the outskirt hinterland of Paisley, in a crumbling concrete block of flats on the side of a motte-like hill.  The thin and ageing metal framed windows in the living room opened onto a broad vista of those same Campsie Fells.  The profile of The Sleeping Giant dominated the skyline, dwarfing the petty achievements of the urban sprawl that separated me from her.  On the long summer nights of the heatwave of ‘83, the sunset would paint her garments scarlett while the sky turned gold. I would perch on the sofa back to watch and daydreamed other worlds while the colours melted into night.

Later, we came to Galloway. The landscape captured me immediately.  With my collie dog, I roamed free through our glen, always seeking the summits that would grant me views in every direction.  South, the Solway coast would shimmer in the sun.  North, the rolling green fields of Ayrshire could be glimpsed on a clear day.  East, the hills tumbled slowly down to the Nith Valley and Dumfries.  West, the Rhins of Kells loomed, still clinging to winter even late into spring.

This landscape fired my eleven-year-old imagination.  I daydreamed as I walked, stocking the high hillsides with dragons, the green woods with elves and the many chattering burns with fairies.  I wandered in a fantastical world of my own, transported from my awkward, nomadic childhood.  

At my new school, we walked the hills to learn from them.  Our History teacher led us on the trail of the Killing Times, showing us the savage nature of religious struggle right beneath our feet.  She led us to the places where people had once gathered in secret to worship, where the roar of a waterfall drowned out their voices and the hills hid them from sight as they prayed. I felt their ghosts flicker at the edges of my perceptions. She led us to the place in our quiet village street where a public torturing had sparked an armed rebellion.  In the silence of my imagination, I could still hear the screams.

Myth makes a land as much as history. We followed our English teacher along the flight of Adam Forrester​. Down the main street from the Inn of Lucky Hare, to the kirkyard where he spied her dancing with witches, revellers and the devil himself.  The stormy night conjured itself in my mind, the wind echoing with Auld Nick’s wild reels on the fiddle, the air thick with smoke and brimstone, light making spectral shapes through the windows of the old kirk.  We fled then as Adam did, across the ford and up into the hills to the spot where Lucky Hare pulled the tail from Adam’s horse.  I wondered then if Robert Burns had felt the same thrill of inspiration as he reshaped the tale to the landscape of his own youth.

When you climb to the summit of one of our hills, you can see clearly the connections that criss-cross the land below.  You can follow the path of the river and see how it formed the shape and configurations of the villages and farms on it’s banks.  You can see from the patterns of the roads how they have sustained those places that remain, but you can also see the disconnected ruins of the places that died. You can see, simultaneously, how the land lies now and how it lay in the past.

The old pack road that winds down into the glen from the  seaport of Portpatrick is one of the marks left by the past.  Maintained now for tourists as the Southern Upland Way, it once brought vital trade to our glen.  I’ve stood in one of the ruined villages on it’s route. My feet planted on that old pack road, my hands on the tumbled stones of the former Inn, I pictured the drunken revellers stumbling away from the door in the moonlight, and heard horses nickering warily in the ruined stable opposite at the noise.  It’s just feet away from where the miller’s wife once hid Robert the Bruce from the English and her husband.  Somewhere in the surrounding hills hides an ancient cave that birthed a famous tale of a stubborn spider.  

That closeness to such potent history grew in me, fed my sense of ‘scottishness’, built my inner voice. As I have dug deeper into the landscape’s past, it has fed me characters that have added nuance to my inner voice. I’ve found them first as names on the pages of the books in the library, then I’ve walked their paths like my teachers taught me to do, then I’ve opened myself to their voices.

I followed the Bruce throughout our hills, stood where he watched the Battle of Glentrool unfold, slept in a bunk on a spot he once slept. I’ve followed him where countless others have too, seeking to relive the history of our country.   But I’ve followed others too, others whose paths are much less well trodden.  I followed the  Covenanter ‘Black’ James McMichael from the spot where he murdered a turncoat minister, through the landscape in which he hid from the King’s forces, to the bitter end of his life in an unmarked grave.  His passing became a secret hidden in  leather bound history books.  He was brave but reckless, a savage man with a passionate belief, a compelling character who also repelled me. His voice was harsh, his tenor righteous, his passion driven by zeal. So different from me, but yet, his voice I understood. Sometimes when I stand in front of our Town Hall and close my eyes, I can still hear the creak of the gibbet where they hung him.  I try not to imagine the rank smell that must have accompanied his corpse.

I dug deeper again into the secret histories of our glen and found the Old Wife of Bogha, a woman who fell victim to the hysteria of Witchcraft, a woman suspected on account of her literacy.  Each time we drive to our weekly shop, we pass the site of her home. In the Kirkyard, at the session house, I can pause and hear her staunchly vow her innocence, and I think I can hear scorn in her voice.  I can follow the road they took her to Kirkcudbright, I can stand outside the cell where they starved, tortured and harried her for two long years to confess to crimes I know she did not believe in.  I can close my eyes and marvel at the strength of character it took her to resist.  I can feel my heart break as she did at last, begging for death. Her voice is persistent, her suffering vivid through it, and all too easily I understand it.   

In my journal, the landscape is a main character. I’ve painted it with many colours, but none reflects it’s true darkness than a  chill  autumn  evening. One such night, I went for a walk past sunset.  The sky was still awash with the golden glow of the sun’s passing.  The clouds were inky and lined silver.  The moon appeared in a disclike wrent of cloud, a sliver of celestial magic framed against a backdrop of cosmic luminescence.  Venus lingered below, peeking at the night. A mere pinprick of brilliance, she was dwarfed by an  ominous bank of cloud as she skimmed low over the dark spine of the Rhins.  Beneath it all, lay the quieted glen, smudged by swirling tendrils of mist rising from the shrouded river.  The riot of autumn colour that cladded the hillsides was muted in the gloaming, faded to soft, indistinct browns.  The village appeared as brief splashes of white light while night crept over it with dewy fingers.  Bennan Hill rose in the background, conical and sinister as Mount Doom in the last bloody light of the set sun, its sides smeared with haze and the murk of encroaching night.  I committed​ each tone to memory, savoured the drama of this old part of this old country and imagined​ a thousand different sunsets  that have gilded these old hills before.  

Some character research

Posted: 21/04/2017 by Alternate Celt in writing

I’m just doing a bit of background research for a character and came across this gem of a page. Traits of a Godly Wife is so abysmally typical it stood out. Aside from being loaded with virgin/ whore references, it’s riddled with man-child misogynistic fantasising in regards to how women should behave. Here’s a few delightful quotes.

A godly woman avoids any present situation that would be destructive for her future usefulness to God.

Usefulness to God sounds all a bit… Creepy? Ugh

This deceitful woman is an ugly woman because she is self-driven and wants her way. Her words and actions lead the man on a path to destruction. A beautiful woman wears heavenly beauty as God’s Word describes it.

Hmmm…..

Moms and dads, what kind of woman are you raising? A wise woman or a foolish one? Does she dress in a way that draws a young man to think about her body and its enticements or her spirit and its beauty? Does she have a holy hatred of sin? Does she use her powers to get her own way? Does she manipulate by tears, looks and whatever it takes to accomplish her ends? Is she argumentative, easily quarreling and fighting with you or her brothers and sisters?

Holy hatred of sin?????

This stuff makes me feel a bit like I am looking at a completely alien culture. I wonder if it’s because I’ve read more than one book.
And yes, for the sake of story research, I am being provocative. 

 

Lest We Forget

Posted: 26/02/2017 by Alternate Celt in poetry, political
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I wrote this for my latest TMA


Lest we forget

The poppy

In Flanders Fields it grows

Flowering for one brief day

Shedding petals on ground

Still scarlet stained

By the blood of blossoming youth
Lest we forget

We fought fascism

We fought it in trenches

On fields, streets and beaches

From bomb shelters

On radio waves and postered walls

In our living rooms and consciences

We fought fascism

And we won.
The promise of peace

The post war pact

The NHS

The Welfare State

Our safety net

Our life of civic order
Pay income tax

National insurance

Vote in the ballot box

Put in a lifetime’s 

Peaceful contribution

No more should we be,

Left alone, left behind

Prey to fear, prone to war

Torn by class, race and hate

Never again?

Lest we forget

Adagio

Posted: 16/02/2017 by Alternate Celt in poetry
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Adagio

Reflections on ‘Adagio for Strings’ by Samuel Barber


The dead season

Little black trimmed postcards

In the village shop window

Multiply as the nights draw in

As the leaves fall

The rain and wind blow

At us


Murmurs of the sickroom

The dull beat of the ticking clock

Fading flowers for the patient

Lend their decayed, bassy funk

To the sharp sterile scents

Of this hushed vigil

Lives held, not breath

While inexorably approaching

The ultimate crescendo


The final movement

That wracks body and soul

Pulls acutely on delicate heartstrings

Until they sing a bittersweet note of mourning

Enrapture us in agony

Before fading into drained silence


The muted, spent heart

Cocooned in numbness

Smothered in grief

Seems incapable of more

Yet aches reawaken in the darkness

Stage a swelling reprise to the cold night

Bringing us at last

To catharsis

Jarring, jagged

Raw

But ultimately

We breathe again


Listen to Adagio for Strings here and let me know how it compares!

Echo Dance

Posted: 04/01/2017 by Alternate Celt in writing
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I am almost finished working on my second assignment for my ou course, yay!  To celebrate I decided to post the story I wrote for the first assignment back in October.
Echo Dance
Our flat, our studio flat, is a huge empty space. Often, when I come home I call his name and it will bounce around the old red brick walls and off the huge factory windows before it finds him. Buried in his work, he’ll shout back and our voices will dance together around our home, filling empty space with life. It is our daily rite, our echo dance. We’ve known each other since college, when we built a friendship working side by side in the Dark Room. By accident one day, I found I was developing a picture on paper he had already exposed. As the image swam up from the whiteness of the paper, there was I gazing wistfully out of the rain spattered pane of my student flat window, bathed in golden afternoon sunshine, and there was he on the other side, staring back with eyes haunted by blue-bright studio light. A “self portrait of loneliness” had been the assignment.
When I showed it to him, he exclaimed delight, spent a long moment lost in the coincidental brilliance of it, then looked up at me with something new in his eyes. We said afterwards that it was fate’s intervention.
The flat came after college, after his work began to take off. We created together often, but my day job was for a fashion magazine. He worked alone at home.  We developed our echo dance to reconnect at the end of the day. It was born while our belongings were still in boxes. We drank wine and revelled in our spacious new cavern, playing the echoes with our voices and learning how to make them dance together. From there, fed on happy memories, it took no time at all to grow into our echo dance.
Work never ruled us, it was merely part of the busy flow of our lives. With weekdays swallowed by separate jobs, weekends were for travel. We roamed the country, cameras in hand, sharing and recording the world together. Ideas would bounce furiously back and forth between us as our cameras clicked and flashed. We never thought the dance could end.
The  journey that sundered us.  The peace of the evening train. I recall looking up to see him watching the flickering shadows of night stealing over the world beyond the glow of the carriage, his face pressed close to the glass so he could see past it’s reflection. I recall the intensity in his watching, the concentration as he gathered inspiration from the swiftly passing landscape. He sensed my eyes, looked back at me and smiled, then the peace was ripped apart. Screaming metal, exploding glass and for a moment my heart stopped beating. We became ragdolls, tossed carelessly around the bucking train. Then in darkness, peace returned, but the echo dance was over.
I visited him today, I whispered his name, but there was no reply. The hospital smells pinched my nose and caught in the back of my throat, making the fight against tears harder. In the ward he sits regarding his reflection in the window, one of many broken souls. He doesn’t speak, they tell me he cannot. Day after day, they lead him around like a shuffling shadow, but he does not see them. He does not see me. He can only see himself. Sometimes he gets angry and he beats his body so bruises blossom on his skin. He quiets again only when they lead him to the window. So he stares, blank and hollow. I am no longer his reflection. His dissonant soul no longer echoes mine.
Our flat, our studio flat, is a huge, empty space. When I call his name, it ricochets back to me unaccompanied, leaving me to sit here in the middle of the floor, golden sunlight bathing me as I hold myself in my loneliness. I scatter pictures on the cold, tiled floor around me. His face, frozen in a hundred different expressions; so life-like, so animated, is just an echo of the man that’s gone. I find that photograph, that piece of unintended beauty that brought us together. Two overlaid images, two different moments, but our gazes are locked none the less, as if we sense the presence of each other. Posed by fate, souls bound by the alchemy of film. It was proof of destiny in a happy accident, now it is a painful reminder of what was lost. Just the last dying echo of our dance.