Sunday, 20 November 2011

Give me a title!

It's taken for granted a book has a title, even if some stretch the definition, we're familiar with it and expect it. What about titles for chapters in a work of general fiction? In non-fiction chapter headings and titles frame concepts, serving as a thematic anchor point so what purpose do they have in fiction, if any?

I asked one writer friend why they titled individual chapters, the response was, why only go to the trouble of titling the whole work? You owe your writing more than that. A fair point, writing takes a lot of time, effort, blood, sweat, tears, repairs to partition walls... maybe that one's not universal. So is this a 'must do' for fiction writers?

In historical fiction chapter titles are common, providing information about time and location as this changes during the narrative. I think of this as another type of thematic anchor. With books like Wolf Hall, The White Queen and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob to Zo√ęt, location shifts or character viewpoint changes mean the title is important for separation and clarity.

Why stop at titles then? I've seen short poems such as haiku, and quotations from literature or history as chapter headers. I'm not clear if these are viewed by the reader or author as a device to show writing versatility and knowledge; 'I'm not only a fiction writer'; or if they are simple pretension.

I'm not convinced titles of chapters, poetry or quotations always add anything to a narrative, I don't know a lot about writing etiquette but as a reader I crave clear story-telling, uncluttered by irrelevancies. This is no hard and fast rule, if something makes the main text more profound or brings a particular character trait through then it needs to be included.

I read a book by Marc Nash, A, B & E, the protagonist is a fugitive gangster's moll holed up on a Mediterranean island amid the lager louts and gangs of drunken young women. She's telling her story, amongst other things, to a sometimes distracted bar-fly, during which they both drink copious cocktails. At the end of the chapter are recipes for cocktails, neat. These aren't moving the plot forward exactly but they work somehow in adding to the heady atmosphere of the memoir. Think 'Copacabana' if Tim Burton and Quentin Tarantino shot the video and you're getting to the dark and gritty reminiscence.

So then readers and writers, what do you think? Cocky pretension or subtle plot addition?

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

A return to writing

It's been a long time since I posted, indeed since I've written anything. I've had the idea for this flash rumbling around in my brain for a few weeks but only today have I been able to find the physical and mental space to create something with it. Just a short piece but after six months of no writing I'm easing myself in; with NaNoWriMo round the corner why overload myself?!

The Wedding Dress

The rustle of silk on plastic, throat-catching tang of naphthalene, a salt stream on her cheek. Barraged by memories Marion looks at her wedding dress hanging on the back of the bedroom door. A small sob escapes her parted lips, Simon looks in from the bathroom. He makes as though to speak, then sees what Marion is looking at and changes his mind. Simon sits on the bed next to Marion, his arm round her waist. Marion feels the warmth of Simon's touch and is grateful for this and the continued silence.

Marion's mother made the dress from ivory silk damask, all sewn by hand. It wasn't a showy dress, simple and elegant with short sleeves, the skirt down to mid-calf. Marion looked so pretty, Simon so handsome in his morning suit. A small wedding in the village church, no-one had any money to spare for an extravagant occasion then anyway, the war was still fresh in people's minds. They had a week in the Lake District on honeymoon, staying in a pleasant guest house over looking Derwentwater. So long ago.

A black and white photograph in a silver frame hangs above the dresser, the young smiling couple gaze out on the room, eyes full of hope and promise. Fifty years stretch to an abyss, the golden days which the young woman in the photograph thought would never end, gone. Then everything was possible.

Marion stands then fetches a tape measure from her dressing table drawer. She measures the waist of the dress, 21 inches, her eyes fill with tears. Simon stands behind her, a comforting hand on her shoulder. He turns away then and goes to the wardrobe. Marion turns too, curious as Simon opens the door and fumbles for something hanging in the far dark. He pulls out a grey suit, clear polythene covering it after dry-cleaning. He hangs it next to Marion's dress, eases the tape measure from her hands and measures waist of the trousers; 31”.

“Granny! Grandad! Everyone's here!”

Michael's head pops his head round the half-open door, a big smile lighting his face.

Simon speaks, “We're on our way down Michael.”

Marion dries her eyes, “Happy anniversary darling.”

Monday, 28 March 2011

Blood and Stars - Episode 8 - The Morning After

I woke, the mid morning sun streamed through the open French windows, a gentle breeze lifting the curtains. My head was a little muzzy, too much bourbon with Him last night, however I didn't think I could refuse him hospitality and to have not participated would have seemed churlish.

A swim was the first order of the day, it would help clear my head. Once more I relished the remoteness of my condo, the cool salt air filling my lungs. I dove into the surf, immersed suddenly in a silent world then broke through the surface and the soft crash of the waves on shore once more filled my ears. I looked up to the sky, it was streaked with cloud and the sun had a hazy appearance. A break in the weather was coming, the wind had changed direction a little and the waves out to sea had white caps.

I swam back to shore and padded up the beach and in through the French windows, closing them behind me. A day to stay at home and edify the mind. The hot water of the shower pounded my back and shoulders. A day for being on my own, no projects, He had given me some time off, “for a job well done” He'd said. Nice to be appreciated I thought, someone taking an interest in your work, noticing the care and attention I lavished on each project. I lathered my body, lemon-grass and ylang ylang, or something like that, I didn't really care, I just liked the smell. Rinse off, towel down, coffee percolator on.

Whilst I waited for the automatic drip, I flicked through my music collection and selected a CD. Soon the enveloping sounds of Mahler oozed from the speakers, me and my caffeine settled on the sofa to enjoy Gustav's best.


A low, loud rumble.

I started awake, it was pitch black, then, a brilliant flash illuminated the room. Silence. The muted glow of the stereo display the only source of light in the darkness. I stood up and crossed to the window, pulling back the curtains to watch nature's glorious fury over the ocean. Streaks of pink lightning tore through the sky, the silence broken by rain falling hard and fast, tattooing the roof. Thunder crashing, the lightning brillianced. Transfixed I stood at the window.


Sharp, searing, twisting pain.

In the silence of the storm, a drip-drop on the floor. I knew it was blood, my blood. As I turned to face my assassin my knees buckled and I fell to the floor. A face came into view, starkly lit by a lightning flash. The smell of cloves and cinnamon.


Master wants a new floor covering for his library.”


Sunday, 15 August 2010

Blood and Stars - Episode 7 - The Gift

I unrolled the length of canvas, it covered the distance from my rear fender to the base of the tree perfectly, of course. I clambered over piggy and braced myself against the back of the trunk, pushing piggy out with my feet. Piggy landed on the noiseless pine needles, I jumped out of the trunk and used the canvas to roll piggy to the tree. I was pleased that the method worked so well, I think I'll use it again even when the canvas wasn't as solid as piggy.

I folded up the canvas neatly and put in back in its place in the trunk. I scuffed up the pine needles a little where piggy had crushed the thick layer. I called Him;

He is ready for you Sir.”


I looked at my phone, that was not the normal way of things. My mind was muddled, what had happened, what had changed which would mean he wouldn't talk to me? A horn blasted from the night, I snapped to attention and swerved to avoid the oncoming truck, the trucker swore at me and shook his fist as he drove on. I stopped, sucked in cool night air, collecting my thoughts before moving off again. I got out of my car on arriving home, stripping off as I entered the house, going straight down to the beach. The cool salt of the water unkinked my brain and I swam parallel with the shore for a way before returning to the beach and my condo.

I dripped up the wooden stairs, crossed the deck and entered my condo, the strong pungency of cigar smoke hit me. I snapped on the lights, He was sat in a chair smoking a huge cigar. Some ash fell on the oak floor, I managed to mask my feelings of irritation and instead brought an ash tray over.

You should dry yourself, you're dripping on your lovely oak floor, such a shame to ruin it.”

In my shock at His presence I had forgotten my own naked state. I went to my bedroom without a word, towelled myself and put on a bath robe. Returning to the living room I poured myself a large bourbon.

Would you care for a drink Sir?”

He gave His assent. I handed Him a large bourbon then seated myself opposite Him.

I expect you are wondering why I am here.”

I nodded, His smoke and gravel voice blending with the cigar smoke and bourbon as if the match were deliberate; it was, at least on my part.

I wanted to congratulate you in person for the excellent results you achieved with Piggy.”

I stiffened a little, He noticed and gave a smirk;

Interesting you should also choose to refer to my younger brother by his childhood nickname. Although it was a logical choice.”

So Piggy was His brother, well I'm glad I didn't stint on the gaffer tape.

I have brought you a gift, a token of appreciation one might say.”

He gestured with his cigar to a wooden box on the coffee table. I moved to the table, then stopped.

Go ahead, open it.”

I lifted the lid and took out the tissue paper wrapped contents, whatever the gift it was heavy. I set the package down on the table and removed the tissue paper. When I saw what He had given me I gasped.

I took the lamp over to the side board and plugged it in. I switched the lamp on, the sheen of the antique brass glowed in the diffused light from the shade.

I sat down again. We admired the soft light from Sherri's eye sockets as we finished our drinks.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Blood and Stars - Episode 6 - The Needle

Piggy wasn't being very cooperative, but the thick leather straps kept the worst of his thrashing around in check. It was this jerking about which forced my hand when it came to designs, anything delicate or complicated had to be reserved for the back and torso because they could be immobilised more effectively. The limbs I usually leave until last, the subject has passed out or died from shock by the time I get round to them. A pity really, tattooing the top of the foot was exquisitely painful, the screams a symphony of agony.

I slapped the piggy again and returned to pricking out my design on his torso, the colours were building up well, firework flowers were exploding across piggy's chest and abdomen. They were rather large but then piggy provided a considerable canvas so it seemed wasteful not to use as much of it as possible. I would add the trails later, piggy has a weak heart, he would not last much longer.

I stopped briefly, ever the critical artist. I would have to use the mechanical needle to fill in the night sky, a pity really, I didn't like to use it for my subjects unless it was essential, one step removed. That was part of the pleasure, being so close to the unwilling canvas. With piggy being so large though, and my schedule being out of sync thanks to Sherri's interference, it would have to be that way. There was the advantage of consistency when covering large areas when using the electric needle. I sighed. And piggy was such a large area to cover.

Piggy had been silent for a while now, I looked up and his lips had begun turning blue. He was dead, how very annoying, He would have particularly enjoyed piggy's screams as I decorated his feet, especially the soles. A low rumble came from piggy and then a foul odour, yup piggy was dead alright.

Oh you are a dirty piggy.”

I sighed again.

Piggy's going to have another shower, pity piggy is silent for this one.”

I blasted him with the hose again, blood, skin and small crusts of ink swirled into the central drainage hole. Piggy's bodily fluids were also washed away, and the smell also reduced in intensity. I left piggy to drip dry for a while, I turned on the extractor and whatever stench remained vented outside.

I would leave finishing piggy for a while, I wanted a swim and something to eat.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Blood and Stars - Episode 5 - The Tape

His muffled scream rang round the room as I ripped off the duct tape which had been covering his eyes, the sedation had worn of then...

I smiled and leant in close, his eyes were opened so wide they looked like pool balls, pupils darting side to side, blood already pricking forward where the skin had been torn off when the tape was removed.

Now piggy, you're a good squealer aren't you, hmm? Well piggy, He likes it when they squeal, He'll be real pleased with me for this cos you're gonna be a noisy sucker huh?”

Beads of sweat were forming along his hairline, saline streams dripping onto the table. I bought the table from a buddy of mine in the trade, it was the actual table Arthur Gary Bishop was strapped to and the trinity administered, what a thrill!

I ripped the tape from his mouth, his screams of pain filled the room, I closed my eyes and allowed the euphoria to wash over me, I never tired of the screaming.

Wha..what are you do-doing?!”

Bubbles of blood burst on his torn lips. I raised a finger to my own lips.

Shh, piggy mustn't speak, only squeal. Piggy thought he was going to have some nasty sex didn't he? Piggy was wrong, piggy is going to die.”

No, no, stop please, I'll give you money, whatever you want!”

I slapped him across the face with the back of my hand.

If piggy doesn't keep quiet, piggy's mouth will be taped up again.”

He made as if to speak again but, seemingly having thought the course of action through, remained silent. I waited to ensure the silence then began the task of removing the cocoon of duct tape from the piggy, such a hairy piggy, He would think that nasty. I was impressed with the efficiency of the duct tape as a hair removal system, neat strips of naked skin were revealed, ever growing screams the sound track to my work and ignited fire in my loins.

Time to slice, piggy had passed out, weak piggy. Blood removal before making him a work of art, another serious challenge, at least with Sherri there was no epic body hair removal and, even better, she was already dead.

I turned the hose on him, an icy jet blasted his freshly plucked pink body, piggy yowled, music to my ears.

Time for your cut and colour piggy.”

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Blood and Stars - Episode 4 - The Message

Headlights off. The familiar rattle, rumble and shake of the dirt track to my condo soothed me almost to the point of sleep. Now that I had delivered Sherri to Him I hoped I would return to his good graces; although the repair of my floor suggested I already had. I stopped outside my condo and switched off the engine, I listened to the ticking for a few moments, loud against the dull roar of the ocean.

Tiredness was pulling at my eyelids but before I could sleep I had to know, He would have left me details of my next commission and I liked to sleep with the dossier under my pillow to help me formulate my design.

On the kitchen counter lay a manila folder, the thin crimson string around it tied in a neat bow. I snapped the string with the outer edge of my hand and spread out the contents on the counter; photos, phone and credit card bills, diary pages, the inner workings of someone's life. Man, this guy was dull! Seriously, this guy would have a sloth reaching for the 12 bore to end the pain! As ever He had a reason for referring this guy to me but I didn't know what the reason was, not that I really needed to know the why, just the who, where and when. Actually I'd just shoot this guy and have done with it then work on him later but He didn't like that method for any subject, Sherri had only confirmed this.

I made myself a chicken mayo sandwich while reading the guy's bio, so far so dull. I moved to the couch and carried on reading, referring to the photos when indicated. Oh here we go; he likes a bit of bondage, yeah alright! Nothing wrong with kinky sex of course, good to mix it up from time to time but it did give me a way in and he wouldn't know what trouble he was in until it was far, far too late. Now I'm strictly speaking a ladies' man but when the commission necessitate, or my overactive libido demands it, I'll flip to being a bi dude. I like to be pretty dom with a guy and this man seemed to be into that, although I'd need a lot of body waxing strips - yuck, maybe that stuff comes in rolls like duct tape...hmm duct tape would be much cheaper and boy would it make piggy squeal. I made a note to pack the omnidirectional microphones, would make the captured sound much more atmospheric, He'd like that. Normally I didn't need them but switching it up a gear would be fun and He'd appreciate the extra effort.

I yawned and stretched; sleep, I had time in hand before the deadline. I hadn't had an opportunity to wear my leather harness and chaps for a long time.