Sunday, 30 January 2011

"Sweet Tooth" Sneak Peak: The Girlfriend

“Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.”
- Sir Walter Scott

It begins with a takeaway. The food itself is of no real importance, but on the evening that Paul decides not to cook dinner, a certain chain of events is set in motion. There is the walk down the road to the Chinese, there is the smile and hello from the tiny lady behind the counter, and then there are the five most depressing words in the English language: "Set meal for one, please."

Paul is certain the pint-sized proprietress has a certain smug, knowing look in her eye as she hands over the plastic bag and takes his money. Those five lonely words form a circle around his heart during the walk back to his flat, squeezing the breath out of him. A dead screen is the only thing that greets him when he opens the door, and he eats his chop suey straight from the container in front of Eastenders.

Half an hour of cockney melodrama plays out, and Paul doesn't recognise a single authentic moment. Where in this monster of a capital is there a single street, let alone a whole community, where neighbours know each other by name? Oh, London; Paul can't help wondering if anybody else but him can manage to feel so utterly alone whilst sharing the same polluted air and tube system as seven million other people.

There's nothing on, so Paul switches the telly off. After a while, with nothing to keep him company other than the sound of his actress neighbour loudly reciting lines through the paper-thin ceiling, he decides to go to bed. For an indeterminate time he stares at the ceiling and considers getting a cat, but the thought is perhaps as equally melancholy as the set meal for one. Having a Gizmo or Tibbles around would be making too much of a statement, like giving up on human contact all together. And Paul is still holding onto a sliver of hope that he will end up with a companion of the female variety, and not the feline.

The next day is a Tuesday, and that evening, the second domino in Paul's series of events begins to topple. After an impossibly long day of fielding abusive phone calls at the centre, Paul meets his friends for a much needed drink. Paul's immediate friends consist of two couples; Lee and Tara, and Shaun and Daisy. Happy, good looking people – Paul does sometimes have trouble remembering why they're mates with him, or vice versa. The subject of tonight's conversation is his seemingly perpetual singleness.

"You don't know how lucky you are," Daisy tells him. "I mean, you've got your flat, and all to yourself, no less! Do you have any idea how hard it is, trying to find a starter home?"

"It's hell," Shaun agrees, "having to stay with my parents until we get a place of our own that we can afford. If it ever happens..."

"Tell me about it," Lee cuts in. "Tara and me had to live apart for months until we found somewhere, didn't we babes."

"It was awful," Tara nods and snuggles even further into the crook of Lee's arm. "Although, it made the flat's christening even more fun..."

Paul amuses himself with a fantasy of what it would be like to drown in his lager at this particular moment.

"Still," Shaun grins at Paul, "it'll be a good stretch before you need to start worrying about all that, ey!" He says it in a way that is probably supposed to sound pally, but it just sounds obscenely cruel, and Paul has had enough of this hard-edged friendship lately.

"Shows what you know," he mutters.

"What was that, sweetheart?" Daisy leans forward.

"Actually," he finds himself saying, "I'm seeing somebody." The moment the lie leaves his lips, he knows he has made a huge mistake. There's no taking this back, no laughing it off, not with this crowd. Oh dear.

"Really?" Tara's ears almost visibly prick up at this new information. "Well Paulie! Since when? What's her name? How come you didn't tell us?"

"We've not known each other long," Paul says. He can feel his face reddening; he's never been much of a liar. "Her name's, er, Caroline. I met her the other week, she works in a shop..." He silences himself with a swig from his beer, before any other hastily made-up facts can come spilling out.

"Look at him, he's blushing!" Daisy squeals, eyes wide with surprise and pleasure. "That is so bloody sweet, Paulie!"

And so Paul's imaginary girlfriend is born. Daisy and Tara try to elicit more information from him, but he feigns shyness and says there's not much to tell.

"We've only been out a few times," he says. "I don't want to jinx things." After that, the subject is deemed closed, for tonight at least...

The remainder of 'The Girlfriend' can be found in "Sweet Tooth", available from the Amazon Kindle store now.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Follow Friday/Book Blogger Hop (28th Jan 2011)

This week's question, courtesy of is:
"What was/is your favourite subject at school?"

The answer to this is English.  From the Narnia books at primary school, to the more challenging Dickens and Shakespeare at secondary school, Thomas Hardy, Chistopher Marlowe and Carol Ann Duffy at Sixth Form, and Angela Carter, Emily Bronte, Bram Stoker, Jonathan Swift, Henry James and many more at university.  Reading is my first love, writing my second.  Doubt that's going to change any time soon : )

Book Blogger HopAnd the question from is:
"What book are you most looking forward to seeing published in 2011?  Why are you anticipating that book?"

I'm not particularly aware of any upcoming releases in 2011, but there are a few books from last year that I am keen to get my hands on:

Blueeyedboy by Joanne Harris
Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson
Solar by Ian McEwan
The Moonlit Earth by Christopher Rice

Sunday, 23 January 2011

"Little Death" Extract 3: Sunday

“That you, Death?”  The Haitian calls out in response to the clink of the bell over the door.  “You’re a little early.”
Marley smiles.  Sunday is perhaps the oddest man she has ever met, which means she has an awful lot of time for him.
“Just me,” she replies, “sorry to disappoint.”
Sunday chuckles from behind the shop counter and spreads his arms wide, gesturing to his little kingdom.
“And how can I assist such a beautiful disappointment today?”
Marley casts her eye over her surroundings.  They are eclectic to say the least.  The walls are lined with shelves, which are themselves laden with books, candles, figurines and carvings of just about every pagan deity one could imagine, beautifully coloured glass jars which hold less pleasing contents, and in one corner she even spots a small animal skull.
“You’ve redecorated,” she exclaims in mock surprise.  “Where did the wall hanging of the goddess Kali go?  I was looking forward to getting another eyeful of her blood-stained boobs.”
“Alas, somebody bought good old Kali,” Sunday shakes his head.  “I’m going to miss that woman.  Anyway my lovely, what brings you here?”
“My roommate.  She’s convinced our house is haunted.  I told her I’d come get some good vibe incense.”
“What makes her think it’s haunted?” 
“Well, she’s highly strung and more than a little superstitious.  So, that.  And she says she’s not been sleeping too well lately.”
“Ah!”  Sunday vanishes under his counter and reappears a moment later.  “Here,” he hands Marley a small frame which vaguely resembles a spiderweb, adorned with feathers.  “Dreamcatcher.  Native Americans swore by the things.  Pleasant dreams and restful sleep assured.”
“Fantastic,” Marley digs into her purse.  “How much?”
“On the house.”
Her blue eyes widen.
“Are you sure?”
“Sure as syrup.”  He grins and instantly looks younger.  Marley has never heard that expression before, and it makes her wonder just how old Sunday is.  She has never been so bold as to ask.  She imagines he would go all coy on her.
“Well thanks,” she tucks the dreamcatcher carefully into her battered handbag.  “You just made my roommate’s day.”
“Anything for a pretty thing like you,” he says, in a way that manages to sound not at all lecherous.  “What does the rest of the day have in store for you?”
“I’ll be heading straight to work now, the new girl called in sick.”
“She has a hangover,” Sunday says.
“I guess so...”  Marley nods slowly, unsure what to make of this.  He didn’t sound like he was guessing, or making a joke.  He just... knew.  She is about to probe him on this, when her eye catches a particularly phallic statuette, and her question turns into an embarrassed stammer.
“Well, thanks again, Sunday.”
“And once again, you’re welcome my sweet.”  This too sounds innocuous, fatherly and not sinister.  Sunday, she decides, is the world’s strangest gentleman.
Once the door has closed behind her, Sunday’s genial expression sags somewhat.  That is the third dreamcatcher he has felt compelled to give away in as many days.  Bad for business, for sure.  But he also fears it is a sign.  A portent of something malign settling in Bellevue, making its home here.  This evening he will make an offering to Baron Samedi and pray for the safety of Marley and her friends.  Something in that girl brings out his gentler side.
“By the twiddling of my thumbs,” he sings out loud, in an effort to lift his spirits.  “Something wicked this way comes!”

"Little Death" Extract 2: Zachary

It has been dead for so long that Zach can hardly even make out what it used to be.  A fox perhaps, or maybe a dog?  Its corpse is so mangled by passing traffic, its appearance so far removed from anything alive, it is impossible to tell.  He carefully manoeuvres the car around it and continues down the highway.
“Scratch out all your prayers,” a voice croons on the radio.  “Tie ‘em up with barbed wire and push them down the stairs.”  Some raspy old booze hound that tickles a crook in Zach’s memory.  The name is on the tip of his tongue when the car hits a pothole and it is gone again.  He curses under his breath.  Then, upon remembering he is the car’s sole occupant, he swears loudly.  The entire day seems to be conspiring against him.  The hot-as-balls Southern weather, the glare of the sun that manages to permeate his convenience store-bought aviator sunglasses, the endless fucking road ahead of him.
He eases his foot off the accelerator slightly while he checks the map.  Unless he has gone seriously wrong somewhere, he should reach Bellevue in a little over two hours.  After a whole day in this fine vehicle, a rental with air conditioning that gave up the ghost a mere forty minutes after he started his journey, two more hours sounds like an eternity.
“Then with my double barrel shotgun,” the radio taunts, “and a whole box of shells...”
The words get to Zach in a way that they shouldn’t.  He punches the radio and the station switches to evangelical choir music.  He lasts half a minute before turning the stereo off altogether, resolving to spend the rest of the drive in peaceful, meditative silence.
His stare never veers from the straight I-75 before him, but in the corner of his eye he cannot help but see Georgina.  Her picture lies atop the maps and documents that have spilled out of his folder onto the passenger seat.  It must be the heat, or fatigue, or some combination of the two that makes Zach think she is looking back at him.  He bites his tongue twice to prevent himself starting a one-sided conversation with the photograph.  It’s the most recent one of her that Georgina’s parents could find, taken just days before her twenty-first birthday.
“Isn’t she pretty?”  Her mother had asked, when she handed Zach the photo.  He had wanted to laugh in her face, at the sheer ridiculousness of the question.  For her to ask him whether he thought her little girl was a keeper, after what had happened.  For her and Georgina’s father to be asking him for help finding their daughter, after everything she did.
But something in Mrs Forrester’s eyes had stopped the words from coming.  He wanted to tell her how much he hated Georgina, that he was glad that she was missing and he hoped she died a horrible, painful death.  But the faith the mother has in the daughter is a curious, powerful thing.  Georgina’s mother hardly seemed aware of the facts surrounding her daughter’s disappearance, and what little she did know, she used in her own unique narrative that cast her girl as the innocent.
“Please, Mr Hall,” Quentin, the father, had said, taking him into the conservatory of their home in Florida.  “You and I both know...”  His voice trembled slightly, but he maintained his composure.  The famous military background Zach had heard so much about.
“You and I both know,” Quentin said, “that my daughter is probably dead.  But her mother –”
“She thinks Georgina is alive?”
“She doesn’t just think it, Mr Hall.  She is convinced.  Obsessed.  Eleanor has always had a somewhat... frail nature.  Recent events have only served to exacerbate her already anxious condition.”
In short, Eleanor Forrester was a fruitcake.  Zach wanted to enquire as to whether this sort of thing ran in the family, but stopped himself.  It would be cruel, not to mention hypocritical.
“I’m not sure I understand,” he said.  Recent events?  It’s been over a year.”
“Yes,” Quentin said, more than a little defensively.  “The worst year of our lives.” Zach flinched, and he grimaced in regret.  “I apologise, Mr Hall.  You must think me insensitive.”
“Just a touch,” Zach replied coolly.  “But your astounding insensitivity aside, I honestly do not know why you called me.”
“A little over a month ago, Eleanor and I started receiving phone calls.  Whoever is on the other end doesn’t say a word; they simply wait for a few moments and then hang up.”
Zach felt his patience thinning.
“Prank calls?”  It came out slightly louder than he intended, and his next words were hushed for Eleanor’s benefit.  “Are you serious?  You got me to come over here, because some kid is yanking your fucking chain?”
“My wife believes Georgina is trying to pass on some kind of message,” Quentin lowered himself wearily into a wicker armchair.  “She has come to anticipate each call, even look forward to them.”
“And this involves me because...?”
“I have a friend in the sheriff’s office who has been able to trace the area code of the incoming number to a town in Tennessee.  Bellevue.  A call has been put in to the police department up there, but I don’t think there’s any great degree of urgency to a year old disappearance.”  Quentin didn’t say anything for a moment, and for the first time Zach heard the way he struggled for breath.  Neither he nor Eleanor were old, but what happened last year aged them.  Withered them both in different ways, from the inside out.
“William often spoke of how you majored in investigative journalism,” he finally said, and it was so out of the blue that Zach didn’t immediately know how to respond.  Until now, neither of them had said William’s name out loud.
“That’s right,” he nodded.  “Why?”
“Let me be frank, Mr Hall.  As much as it breaks my heart to say it out loud, I hold very little hope for Georgina’s safe return.  And I certainly do not believe that it is her calling us at all hours of the night.  My wife, however, cannot let her go.  If somebody were to go to Bellevue and investigate these calls, find out who is making them, it might finally force Eleanor to believe that Georgina is not coming home.”
“And you want me to do this for you.”
“I understand if you do not want to, given everything –”
“That’s something of an understatement,” Zach said, and he knew that his temper, already riled, would not lie still for much longer.
“I am, of course, willing to offer a substantial fee for doing this favour, Mr Hall.”  The anger in his stomach twisted and knotted around itself; Quentin was playing that oldest of Forrester cards.  Money.  It had always been made crystal clear, for as long as Zach had known Georgina, who had it and who didn’t.
“I am aware of certain debts you have incurred over the last year, Mr Hall.  I am giving you the chance to start afresh, with a clean slate and a handsome sum.  Do this one final thing for my family, prove to me that Georgina is not still alive and tormenting her mother from a backwater town in Tennessee, and I will be eternally grateful.”
Zach felt the loathing he had long nurtured for the Forresters suddenly turned upon himself.  It was truly an offer he couldn’t refuse.  Not simply for the money, but also for a chance to lay Georgina to rest, and expel her from his mind forever.
In the photograph on the passenger seat in Zach’s rental car, Georgina is smiling.  She is, as her mother rightfully claims, very pretty.  A button nose and heart shaped mouth, stretched into a smile.  One edge of the photograph is slightly perforated.  Somebody next to Georgina has been very carefully been cut out of it, most likely by Eleanor Forrester.  A young man.  Handsome, twenty-four years old.  The same hazel eyes as Zach.  The same whole damn face, for that matter.
William.  His twin.  Dead for over a year now.
“Turn around, Zach,” he mutters to himself.  “Just turn this car around and go the fuck home.”
Except he’s no longer sure he has a home to go to.  Any sense of belonging he may have once had went up in smoke thirteen months ago, on the same day that William died and Georgina went missing.  Home had always been where his brother was, and it is only now that Zach realises how good it feels to get out of the swampy grave that Florida has become since Will’s death.
When he finally passes a sign welcoming him to Bellevue, the name of that song on the radio comes to him, as does the crocodile-voiced singer.  Tom Waits.  ‘Wrong Side Of The Road’.  He laughs humourlessly.
“Tom, you have no idea.”

Saturday, 22 January 2011

"Little Death" Extract 1: Eli

“Where are we going, mommy?”
“Somewhere special, sweetheart,” is his mother’s answer.  “Somewhere safe.”
She is leading him by the hand through the churchyard, but not towards the church.  They walk right past it, the bright afternoon sunlight giving way first to dappled shade, then to cool, damp dusk as they enter the woods beyond the churchyard.
“What’s so safe about the woods?”  Eli asks.  He is only six, young enough to follow his mother, but old enough to know something is different about her.
“He said he can fix you,” his mother says, although Eli thinks it is more to herself than to him.  “He said he can make you better.”
“Am I sick?”
“Oh baby,” her voice softens, cracks.  But her hand tightens around his, and her pace quickens.  “Yes.”

Eli’s eyes snap open, as they often do when he reaches that point in the dream.  He sits up in bed, heart pounding, breathing in and out as steadily as he can.  He feels the heavy warmth of a hand over his, and looks down at Jerome.  He has reached over without even opening his eyes.  He could be fast asleep.
“Are you alright?”  He asks, eyes still closed.
“I’m fine,” Eli says.  “Just the usual.”
“I love you,” Jerome says, voice sleepier now.  This middle of the night conversation is a well-worn part of the script that is their relationship.
“I love you too,” Eli echoes, as a restless feeling settles in his gut.  Seconds later Jerome is snoring softly.  He envies Jerome this.  For Eli, this wakefulness, this sudden unease, can mean only one thing.  He is in need of a sweeter dream than his own.
He eases himself off the bed as quietly as he can, and dresses in silence.  In the corner of the room, his latest painting stands unfinished.  He considers fetching his brushes to take his mind off the bad dream and this sudden craving, but he knows it won’t work.  Nothing works.
He pads barefoot over hardwood floors to the front door, only stopping to put his shoes on when he is outside and the noise will not wake Jerome.  The night outside is unseasonably warm; he unzips his hooded sweatshirt and savours the sensation of the night air on his bare chest.  His jeans cling to his legs, heavy and tight.
He and Jerome have lived in Bellevue for nearly a year now, and he can navigate the streets at night with ease, but he doesn’t pay much attention to where he’s going.  On nights like this it is never his eyes that lead him, but something on the inside.
He doesn’t know how long he walks.  Each breath he takes is more rapid, more shallow.  The heat builds under his skin and it feels like every muscle in his body is tightening.  The familiar pressure below his stomach is there, the almost benign flow of blood that people call lust.  But it isn’t lust alone that brings Eli out onto the streets at night, more frequently these last few weeks than ever before in his life.  Rather, something much closer to hunger.
On Sheridan Street, he stops outside a small house.  An unremarkable home; the front door needs a fresh lick of paint and the lawn hasn’t been cut in a while – if Eli didn’t know better, he might think it was abandoned.  But he does know better.  In a bedroom upstairs, somebody is sleeping.  And, more importantly, dreaming.
Eli closes his eyes, and reaches out.  The pounding in his chest abates slightly, as if an invisible beast knows it is about to be fed.  In the darkness beneath his eyelids, Eli begins to see the man in his bed.  It is like a Polaroid image clearing at first; he sees the rise and fall of his broad, hairless chest, then the outline of a muscular arm arched over his head.  Eventually Eli can make out the slightest of creases on the thin sheet draped over the man’s waist.  A thin, teasing line of hair makes its way down from his navel, thickening and darkening just before vanishing under the cotton.
Eli reaches out with his right hand.  Instead of touching thin air, he feels the warmth of the man’s body.  Gently, so lightly that the sensation is almost imperceptible even to him, he ghosts his fingers over the man’s muscular chest.  Eli sees his nipples harden in arousal, an unconscious reaction to his presence.
Under his eyelids, the man’s pupils dart around rapidly.  He is having a very pleasant dream.  And he has no idea how much more pleasant it will get.  Eli cups his face in his right hand, and the man instinctively nuzzles his palm.  In sleep, his brow furrows in a slight frown.  His lips form a soft pout.
His eyes, should they open, would be blue.  His name is –
Eli pushes the thought away.
He lets his hand slide down from the man’s face, pausing for a second around his throat, savouring the sensation of the pulse beneath his palm, the ripple against his skin as the man swallows.  It feels like he hasn’t shaved in a day, maybe two; the stubble grazes his hand gently.  Eli allows his hand to linger on the strong, coarse jaw; Jerome is always so clean-shaven.
The sleeper’s breathing quickens.  The edges of his mouth twitch in pleasure.  He exhales loudly, bucks his hips lazily.  It is impossible to notice the sizeable erection beneath the sheet.  Eli lowers his hand to rest on his chest again, more heavily this time.  He doesn’t know anymore whether it is his hand, or the man’s chest that is red hot.
A sharp intake of breath, a quiet moan.  The sleeper’s lips form a silent name.  Who is he dreaming of?  Jules.  The name appears unbidden in his own mouth.  A man, or a woman?  It doesn’t matter, he supposes. 
The man thrusts upwards against the sheet one more time, harder, then again.  It must be one hell of a dream.  Eli’s hand doesn’t move from his chest.  The stuffy warm bedroom air is thick around them, laden with electricity.  Any moment now.
The man splays both his arms outwards wantonly, and for a split second Eli thinks of a crucified Jesus.  He vehemently rejects this thought.  The sleeper thrashes on the bed, panting hard.  Seconds later, he comes loudly, his voice a wordless, guttural howl.  Eli breathes in deeply.  Something travels up through his hand; a pulse, a flex of muscle.  He inhales the sleeper’s own breath, a heady mix of scotch and smoke.
He feels his own body open.  The tension in his stomach evaporates, the need laughs silently as it is given what it wants.  It is beyond sexual gratification; for the briefest of moments, it is akin to bliss.
Eli breathes out, feeling drunk and sated.  When he looks down, he sees a pair of bright, fierce blue eyes looking up at him.  Panic threatens to rise in his throat, then the eyes drift closed and the man is asleep once more.  His chest and stomach glisten, the sheet lies crumpled around his thighs.  His cock looks both happy and spent; Eli can relate.
He closes his eyes, and when he opens them again he is back in the yard.  His cheeks are hot, flushed, and his heart is racing again, given new life, new blood.  He feels like he could do anything.  But all he wants to do is go home.  He turns and walks, practically skips, away from Sheridan Street.
The moonlight this evening is weak, but Eli carries his own glow.  The night, it almost seems, is singing to him.  Welcoming him back.  When he reaches the apartment, he clumsily rushes to take off his shoes and ends up walking out of his sweater and jeans, striding into the bedroom and standing before the unfinished painting, issuing an unspoken challenge.
By the time he finishes, the sun is peeking like a voyeur over the horizon.  Eli looks back to the bed, where Jerome sleeps under a beam of half-light.  In the morning, he will feel ashamed.  But he’s riding too high a wave for any kind of guilt to reach him yet.
In the bottom right corner of the painting, in as small lettering as he can, he inscribes his name, then climbs back into bed beside his lover, wrapping cold, paint-stained hands around Jerome’s warm body.
Eli Cody, Bellevue, March 2011.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Follow Friday (21st Jan 2011)

This week, the question courtesy of was;
"Who do you cheer for?"

When I lived in Canada, I cheered for our local hockey team.  When I was at university, I cheered for my friends, many of whom were in bands.  Lately, I cheer at festivals and gigs - two of the most recent were the spectacular Scissor Sisters and Lady Gaga.  I left both events with a sore throat, walking on air.


She appears one night from the woods,
a pale and pretty thing.
A stranger to the campsite,
she simply begins dancing.

The Welsh mountains watch her,
unperturbed and unimpressed,
weightier things on their minds
than a woman barely dressed.

But others can't help but wonder
as she flits about with ease,
in the cold land of the dragon,
how is it that she does not freeze?

The thin metal walls of the caravan
echo and clang and shake,
playing chorus to the kinds of sounds
that no girl or beast should make.

The shrieks and yells and songs
that come ripped unbidden from her throat
fly out on the same wind that whips
around her like a bitter winter coat.

And even as the tourists fear her,
this wild and beautiful creature,
they marvel at her set of lungs,
surely lent by Mother Nature.

Her beauty is a primal thing,
giddy on wine and bloodied furs;
for no fox nor hare nor doe
has feet as quick as hers.

She sways and spins alone,
observed from tents and camper vans,
yet those who watch her do not feel
it is a lonely dance.

Rather, she is surrounded by partners
they simply cannot see;
base and elemental beings that make her laugh
and hug herself with glee.

Some shed their clothes to join her,
to writhe and chant by her side.
She greets each one like a lover,
and begins to glow, lovely as a bride.

When men and women fall on each other
and the dance becomes a fray,
the maenad laughs, and claps her hands,
then merrily runs away.

Her white body is visible for miles,
her cries heard wide and far.
Her glittering eyes mad, rapt and alive
with the light of the morning star.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Can sex work as a plot device?

I have watched two very interesting films about sex recently.  They weren't particularly titillating, but that wasn't their purpose.  What made them so enjoyable was the way they actually used sex to tell a story.
Sex and Death 101 is a black comedy starring the delicious Simon Baker as Roderick, the enviably successful businessman with a beautiful fiance.  To put it bluntly, he has it all.  And, as is the trope in modern comedies, if the story begins with the main character having the perfect life, then said life will soon be turned upside down.
Warning: Spoilers Ahead
On the eve of his wedding, Roderick receives an anonymous email containing a list of every woman he has ever slept with.  The last name on the list that he recognises is that of his current fiance.  But strangely, the list continues, comprising a total of 101 names.  A series of comedic and fateful accidents lead Roderick to believe he is predestined to sleep with every name on the list.  At the same time, a serial killer by the name of Death Nell is working her way through the sexist, misogynistic population.
As Roderick's journey unfolds, he learns a few precious lessons about the difference between having sex and making love, and as he draws inevitably closer to name number 101 on his list, he begins to fear that once he has bedded this last woman, his life will end.  The sublimely ridiculous commentary from Alpha, Beta and Frank, the so-called Fates of this story, act as shamelessly obvious exposition.  And yet the narrative is not ruined.
Now I'm not saying this film is a deep look at gender roles or the nature of free will.  But it struck me as a wonderful concept, that one's love life could be mapped out and tracked in such a way.  Similarly engaging was the backstory of the femme fatale Death Nell, whose own experiences with the opposite sex led her to become a predator.
Easy A has a slightly more conventional plot.  Olive Pendergast, a witty and attractive teenager, tells a small lie about losing her virginity.  Almost immediately, rumours about her are spreading like wildfire and she is branded a harlot by her high school's Christian youth group.  Embracing her newfound reputation, Olive takes her cue from Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter and sews a red 'A' onto each item in her new, revealing wardrobe.
A surprising business opportunity arises, as the local geeks come to Olive and offer to pay her in exchange for a claim that they had sex, making them seem less like losers and further propelling her into the slutty stratosphere.
Throughout the entire tale, Olive in fact remains a virgin, and it is only when the consequences of having such a loose reputation come back to bite her on the behind that she decides enough is enough.  But convincing everyone that the town bike is, in fact, still pure, is nigh-on impossible.
While part of me found it hard to believe that the idea of a seventeen year old having sexual relations would cause such a scandal, Easy A was still a hugely enjoyable film.  Emma Stone is pitch-perfect as the sardonic, invisible student who jumps at the chance for notoriety, and I fell in love with her far-too-modern parents and their recollections of an adventurous, misspent youth.
I've been struggling recently with Eli, one of the lead characters in my paranormal novel Little Death.  He is the offspring of a human mother and a father with unknown origins, and ever since adolescence he has been possessed with a sexual appetite that leads him to believe he is an incubus.
In the original draft of this story, the incubus fed through physical contact, namely intercourse.  My problem with this was, how do I tell his story without making him seem unsympathetic?  He wants to remain faithful to his lover, but can't satisfy his cravings at home without causing harm.  So he casts a wider net, all the while hating himself for doing so.
This didn't satisfy me.  So I researched the incubus myth a little more thoroughly, and realised that they are more commonly linked with erotic dreams.  There was my solution; something that, I felt, elevated Eli above a ravenous imp with a taste for the pleasures of the flesh.  It also opened a million doors for my story - if the monster of your story resides in the world of the subconscious, doesn't that make anything possible?
This new approach enabled me to write Little Death as a Gothic tale with erotic elements, as opposed to a piece of erotica with endless scenes of the incubus feeding.  This theme was far too similar in my mind to the latter half of Laurell K Hamilton's Anita Blake series, in which the previously celibate heroine is consumed with otherworldly passions that must be sated at any given opportunity. 
The films discussed above provided an alternative, light-hearted insight into how such a salacious subject can be broached, and I praise their imagination and humour.

Monday, 17 January 2011

"Little Death" Writing Playlist

Two years ago, as a belated Christmas gift to my best friend and housemate Adele, I wrote a novella entitled Sex and the Cemetery.  It was written specifically with her tastes in mind, and fell somewhere between Bram Stoker and Bridget Jones.  Recently, out of morbid curiosity, I dusted off a copy and read it again.

It was truly, undeniably awful.  The central theme, that of doomed romance between a vampire and a human, was hardly original.

But something in me remembered how much I enjoyed writing it.  So I've taken it upon myself to re-vamp (if you'll pardon the pun) the entire story, under the new working title "Little Death".  This has involved completely jettisoning a werewolf plot line because it was boring to write, and therefore probably boring to read.  The vampire love story has been almost entirely eradicated, leaving space for another character to take centre stage.

I could never really get under the skin of a four-hundred year old female vampire, quite understandably.  So I have opted for a younger, male voice to tell the story.  Eli.  An artist with a real thirst for life and other, less conventional appetites.  The folklore of the incubus, a seductive dream demon, is now central to the plot.

And with this in mind, I've composed a writing playlist.  I can never read while listening to music, as it screws with my concentration, but when writing I find the right song can help me connect with a character.

When I sat down to write my first chapter, the following tunes helped me bring Eli to life and set the tone for this Gothic tale.

"Cosmic Love" - Florence and the Machine
"Hurricane" - 30 Seconds To Mars
"Invisible Light" - Scissor Sisters
"XXXO" - M.I.A.
"Better Than Love" - Hurts
"Heart Skipped A Beat" - The xx
"Majesty" - Warpaint
"Guilty" - Marina and the Diamonds
"Lovegame" - Lady Gaga (Robots to Mars Remix)
"Under The Sheets" - Ellie Goulding
"Rolling In The Deep" - Adele
"Alejandro" - Lady Gaga (Sound of Arrows Remix)
"Howl" - Florence and the Machine

What do you guys listen to while writing?  Or do you prefer a cloistered, monastic silence?

I should probably get back to actually writing the book, so I'll be off now.  Just felt like sharing.

P. x

Friday, 14 January 2011

My First Follow Friday/Blog Hop

I'm popping two cherries at once tonight, with my first Follow Friday, hosted by, and my first Blog Hop, hosted by

So here goes!  This week's question from Parajunkee: What makes up your non-human family?

For years we were a dog house, with a giant German Shepherd that resembled a bear.  These days, we have two cats: Jojo, the snob who gives the most withering of looks if she thinks you're insulting her cat-telligence, and Baby, the shit-for-brains kitten.

Book Blogger HopAnd from the Blog Hop, courtesy of

"Why do you read the genre that you do? What draws you to it?"

I've always been drawn to outlandish, imaginative prose.  Not necessarily the kind of fantasy that takes place in alternate worlds with elves and orcs, but more the kind of storytelling that transports you out of your everyday life, while still remaining believable due to its real world setting.

Modern horror is a staple in my literary diet: Stephen King being the author to whom I return time and time again.  His characters are relatable, grounded human beings, and it is always a pleasure to watch them thrown into otherworldly struggles and see how they evolve.

Neil Gaiman's brand of fantasy appeals for similar reasons; in American Gods, the protagonist is everyman Shadow.  In Neverwhere, it is office worker Richard.  They are both led away from the world they know, and into a place of magic and darkness: but this odyssey is rewarding because we know exactly where they have come from.

Other authors who excel at this are Joanne Harris (her earlier paranormal novels The Evil Seed and Sleep, Pale Sister are fantastic), John Connolly (blends the real world grimness of the 1940s with a young boy's fantasies in The Room of Lost Things) and the supernatural romance authors Laurell K Hamilton and Kelley Armstrong, who introduce vampires, werewolves and witches as a part of modern society.

If anyone knows of other authors who tell wildly imaginative stories, do let me know!

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Last year in books

So here we are.  The obligatory first post, in which I am required to charm the pants off the blogosphere with my wit and intelligence.  I thought that, as this blog is going to be centred on my reading and writing habits, I might begin with a brief chat about the last couple of books I've devoured.

2010 was a pretty excellent year for reading.  I didn't so much as touch "Freedom" by Jonathan Franzen, or any of the Booker shortlist.  I always intend to, but fiction fashion is fickle, and it always seems that as soon as I've shelled out on half a dozen pristine paperbacks, a new wave of authors are in and my new purchases are obsolete.  The literary high brow don't seem to have much time for many of my tastes, either.  You won't find a decent horror novel being nominated for the Orange prize, or any decent thrillers on the same shelf as Ian McEwan.

That said, I couldn't bring myself to read any more than a hundred pages of Stieg Larsson's "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo".  Either Quercus need to hire better literary translators, or the late Larsson had a talent that is invisible to the naked eye.

I took the time this last year to make a start on my extensive To-Be-Read list.

"The Shining" by Stephen King.  This book has been around since before I was born, and even though I've been a massive fan of King for the last ten years, the only image "The Shining" brought to mind was the iconic moment from the film of the same name, in which Jack Nicholson leers through a broken doorway and shouts: "Here's Johnny!"

The novel itself was a pleasant surprise.  The character of Jack Torrance, off-season caretaker at the Overlook Hotel, is not a two-dimensional psychopath-in-the-making as the film had let me to believe, but rather a recovering alcoholic who is desperate to mend his relationships with his wife Wendy and precociously intelligent son Danny.

Danny has second sight, and when the family move into the hotel, moments from its chequered past begin to surface.  As winter sets in, Jack develops an unhealthy obsession with the hotel and its previous guests.  The reader is left in the dark for much of the novel as to whether Jack's visions are as real as Danny's, or simply a product of cabin fever, and while the story's climax is so well-known that you can't help but predict some of the inevitable plot twists, that doesn't prevent King from producing moments of pure terror.  A few hints: hedge animals, bathtub, dog suit.

"Neverwhere" by Neil Gaiman.  I've loved Gaiman's prose since I first picked up "American Gods" in 2005.  "Neverwhere" is the story of two cities: London Above, the city of Big Ben and St. Paul's Cathedral, and London Below, a mythical underworld.  In this alternate city, Knightsbridge is the Knight's Bridge, Earl's Court is a literal royal court, the Black Friars are a religious order and Islington is a bona fide angel.

Stumbling into this world is Richard Mayhew, a Scot living in London with his fiance.  When he stops one night to help an injured girl in the street, she draws him into London Below on a quest to save the city from the evil Messrs Croup and Vandemar.  Joining them is the fantastically imagined Marquis de Carabas, and the enigmatic Hunter.

Next on my Gaiman TBR List - The Graveyard Book.  I would also highly recommend Anansi Boys.

"Let The Right One In" by John Ajvide Lindqvist hardly needs an introduction these days.  Adapted into a chiller in the author's native Sweden, it's since been remade for English-speaking audiences under the slightly underwhelming title "Let Me In".

It's Blackeberg, it's the Eighties, and twelve year old Oskar is enduring the living hell that is adolescence.  Bullied at school, more or less ignored by his mother, he finds companionship in his mysterious new neighbour, Eli.  The twist in this tale is not a huge one: Eli is a centuries old vampire in the body of a young girl, and is forced to go to extreme lengths to feed her bloodlust when she is left without her sinister guardian.

Horror elements aside, this novel also packs an emotional punch.  While the misery of a lonely pre-teen would make for dull reading in itself, the relationship that develops between Oskar and Eli is truly moving, and the story's climax had me with my heart in my mouth.

"Horns" by Joe Hill.  Iggy wakes up one morning with a raging hangover and demonic horns protuding from his forehead.  As a premise, this doesn't suck - but I was worried that the explanation wouldn't live up to it.  I needn't have, as Hill delivers thrills and chills in equal measure just as in his previous novel "Heart Shaped Box".

As Iggy tries to find out how he got his horns, he finds that people react to them in odd ways.  They feel suddenly compelled to confess their darkest thoughts and impulses to him.  Iggy decides to use this knowledge, not just to solve the mystery of the horns, but to find the man that killed his girlfriend one year before.

Not quite a simple revenge story, not a straightforward horror, "Horns" is a clever and complex contemporary novel.

I can't wait to read more of King and Gaiman this year.  I'm also hoping to discover some brand new talented author who can claim hours of my time.  And when I'm not reading, I'll be writing.  And occasionally drinking.