Notes from a London Gentleman – A Short Story

I invite you, Dear Reader, into my home.
It is a dark, simple, three room affair consisting of a washroom, kitchen, and then a living room which also serves as a sleeping area. The walls and windows are tall with little light entering through the curtains from the street outside. There is a table covered with various documents and a pair of leather armchairs, worn with age but quite comfortable. The fire is burning with a comfortable glow and, on the well worn rug in front of the hearth, lies the sprawled corpse of a man named Daniels; a cut runs across his throat to tell of his last experiences. I stare at him as his eyes roll back to a stop within his skull, and I go to the kitchen to make some fresh tea, my previous cup is now cold and
quite unpotable.

Earlier in the evening I had been enjoying the artwork of Delacroix at the city’s national gallery. I find his work to be a little base, almost vulgar in it’s presentation of drama and movement but there are certain elements that catch my eye and were distracting enough to keep me in those rooms for a number of hours. Before I finaly left, I took a few moments to sit and view the centrepiece of the exhibition, “Liberty Leading the People”. It is an obvious and almost jingoistic piece full of flag waving and simplistic revolutionary fervour, but also has some wonderful burning buildings and the corpses are almost
to touch.

As I rose to exit the building, I noticed I had somehow caught the attention of a man who was now (badly I might add) attempting to follow me out of the gallery and, as I turned into Chandos Street, he did likewise. I stopped, turned, and asked if we had somehow previously made acquaintance of one another. In the street light I made out he was a little embarressed, hesitant even. He explained that he had seen me enjoying the pieces and was wondering if there might be an opportunity to discuss the works somewhere
more informal.

I asked him his name, and took the opportunity to invite him back to my rooms where I had some papers on the subject he was more than welcome to browse through and perhaps take a drink while doing so. He agreed, we hailed a taxi, and within a few minutes of him entering my room I had pierced and then cut his throat with a letter opener and was now searching for the Earl Grey. I presumed that Mr Daniels would not be needing
one for himself.

The inhabited streets of London are quite empty between the hours of three and five in the morning and I find this is a very convenient time at which to dispose of guests who have outstayed their welcome. This also fits in quite nicely with the lifestyle in which
I find myself.

My life is as follows: I arise around five o’clock in the early evening and enjoy a light snack, some toast and perhaps a little fruit. Ensuring I am dressed in a manner fit for the evenings endeavours, I make my way into the city at around seven. This is the best time, I find, as the employed masses are invariably moving in the opposite direction of myself, and those living in the centre have not quite ventured to the restaurants in the swarming numbers of the later hours.

The city offers a wealth of entertainment on various levels. The operas might not show as wide a variety as much as one might prefer but the theatres reliably rotate play after play after musical to ensure that a year in London is certainly not a boring one.

Dinner, later on, I prefer to take at a small out of the way place called Malroy’s on Litchfield Street, they keep a late menu. It is near enough to the hustle of the city for later opportunities but off the track enough to keep away the unwanted tourists and ruffians that might otherwise stay my appetite and disturb my meal.

After wandering the streets for a short while to take in the city air, I then consider my short journey home which is best taken past the now closing pubs and bars of the Soho area as one can often find a lone person, somewhat worse for wear, attempting to stagger home alone via the backstreets. Mr Daniels was a deviation from my usual evening’s direction as I prefer to be somewhat opportunistic in my endeavours.

Dear Reader, I must advise: It really does one no good at all to draw attention to oneself with careless fingerprints or mislaid handkerchiefs and the disposal of corpses which one might find thrilling at the onset, I assure you, very quickly become a tiresome bore. It is impractical and ungentlemanly to wander the less walked streets of the city attempting to discover a stretch of unwatched canal or an overgrown parkland where one might then have to drag a wieghty corpse.

It takes time, it increases the opportunity of discovery, and it creases ones clothes terribly. In a brief moment of madness it occurred to me to keep less refined clothes for such a purpose but this soon passed.

I have tripped people at the tops of stairs, flipped some into walls by way of a walking stick to a drunken foot, and kicked some into the path of oncoming traffic while standing, myself, between parked vehicles. The newspapers have yet to inform me of these “hideously unfortunate accidents” being investigated by the authorities as anything exactly that, and some cases are not reported upon at all.

After concluding my evening’s activities, I return to my rooms to read for a short while before turning myself in for a well deserved rest.

My life is calm, I have no companions of which to speak and a career of any description has long not been required. Dear Reader, I am currently quite satisfied.

London truly does bring wonderful opportunities for the modern Gentleman.


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Apologies for the long gap

Scan 28
All I can say is… Norman is coming!

Watch this space…

Regarding Jim.

This morning I awoke to the news that the crime author, James Thompson, had passed away over the weekend.

I had heard of Jim through my writing group here in Helsinki. He had moved here years ago from the US and carved out a successful career writing dark, gritty novels based around the career of an Inspector Vaara. Vaara starts out his career as a potentially good policeman based in the north of the country, eventually moving to Helsinki and finding his life changing over the course of the following novels.

Jim had kindly offered to give a talk to the group about his work and the potential problems involved in getting books published, sticking to story structure and so on. I had been unable to attend the meeting so contacted him directly about possibly discussing my own work which he agreed to and gave me invaluable advise about reaching a wider audience, the voices used in my own work, and how to build a persona as an author i.e. finding a way of expressing yourself through your words and sticking with that where possible.

I met up with Jim on a few more occasions, he always made time where he could, before he eventually moved away last year to Lahti. Unfortunately contact with him was limited during this time and it was with the typical irony that, just as I was kicking myself around to emailing him to see how things were going, I heard of his untimely death.

My own life has experienced a number of let downs and losses in the past few years, and this should be the wake up call I need to value the time I still have to create and to reach out to people as a writer. To hear that someone like Jim, who had his fans and followers, has passed on makes me (in one way) glad that he had managed to achieve a good level of public fame through his work but as always there’s the feeling that each writer always has so much more to say. It’s a rare well that runs completely dry.

If you believe in such things, Jim has gone on to meet with other folk and to have his own adventures there. In the meanwhile the clock ticks and each second that goes by should be a reminder that things need to be done, while they can. Creating is it’s own reward, and to deny yourself of that, only ends up with one victim.

Bless you, Jim, and thanks for all you gave.


Mind melt

Earlier this year, I was lucky enough to lose my job. I experienced many thoughts and emotions as  reult of this but one of the outstanding ones was “woo-hoo, I can now concentrate on my writing”. This was, predictably, not to be.

Although I managed to get some short stories written and a number of novels started, I didn’t actually complete very much. I can put this down to two core reasons: one would be that I had no real concept of time and therefore had no deadline by which to complete my work, nothing was pressing and so I had no driver.

Secondly, of the short stories I did complete and went on to submit to websites, I had perhaps not the reaction I’d wanted (although I’m not sure exactly what I did actually expect).

There’s the over-optimistic vision of having agents bang down your day on finding your work online, which is not going to happen… there is hope that you will write something submit it, and wake up the next day in a life of brian style scenario where people shout your name and beg you for further words of wisdom. This is equally deluded but still it would be quite nice to find happening. Finally, there’s the long slow potboiler in which you become some sort of Sugarman character where you are actually unaware of your growing popularity and then people hunt you down for a documentary that tries to find out who this dark, shadowy, revolutionary figure is.

None of these things happened. I did, however, foolishly pay an amount of money to a (apparently established and respected) website to get my work published, only for it to be rejected. I should have paid attention to my own advice of never paying reviewers, agents, publishers and so on. Additionally, where I was published, the reviews only seemed to be provided by other authors and therefore seemed to smile through their words with knives behind their backs. A horrid experience.

My Twitter followers have remained quite static in number, and the only extra followers seem to be other authors intent on advertising their latest efforts to me: another author! The point being what exactly? Surely they should be hunting down bookclubs and reading groups? Coca Cola, to my knowledge, don’t go to Pepsico every week and try to get vending machines installed, the same logic can be applied here. Very, very bizarre thinking.

I will continue working on books soon, and I can’t pretend I haven’t learned anything these past months, but my intention was to write something more optimistic and forward thinking rather than the cynical tomes that are currently sitting in my head waiting to see daylight, or moonlight.

The Dead Famous pt 2 seems more likely than ever, but I had hoped to tell my cat story first. Oh, well, c’est la guerre.

Originality in plot

I read, quite some time ago, a claim that William Shakespeare had managed to encapsulate most story types within his works. He had been so successful at doing this that now, as a result, people tend to refer to the story types via his writings rather than any works created before him even if the structures had been around for millennia.

Knowing that he perhaps had acheived this feat, a writer might be justifiably be daunted by the prospect that there might be no story structure available for their brain to conjure up without having someone having beaten them there first.
This needn’t be a problem. I personally think that dwelling on the structure of the story is soemthing that is certain to doom the writer to failure before even starting out.
I’m not aware of anyone that came up with the idea of a book and said that the premise should be this or that structure, it’s nearly always the character or the basic plot of the story that has been birthed, developed, grown and created rather than the structure, and that being the case, it seems to me entirely acceptable to ignore the structure almost completely until at least the first draft has been completed. At that stage, it would then deem wise to start thinking about whether the character developments are satisfying, the story has a flow, the events have a natural progression, and so on.
If, after those things have been analysed, you find that the story does indeed have the structure of Romeo and Juliet or Othello then you can take it as happy coincidence, and if it has no resemblance to any accepted structure then, who knows, maybe you are the next Shakespeare, and I bow down to you.

An idea source for stories

It’s been a while since I wrote a blog post, I had nothing to say for a while so didn’t want to fill the page with rubbish “just because”.

There are a good few stories about people having dreams which they then turn into books, for better or worse. I suppose the most famous is the story of The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, which did come in a dream to Robert Louis Stevenson and went on to do quite well in sales, although whether or not he’d appreciate the numerous film versions made since, I’m not quite so sure (the only decent version is the 1920 film starring John Barrymore where he actually dislocates his jaw to get the grotesque features required of the role, needs to be seen to be believed).

I’ve dreamt a good few stories in the past and do wonder where the ideas come from, the story structure, and so on. I know that most claim that dreams are a combination of troubles that might’ve been on your mind at a subconscious level anyway, added with things you see during your normal day but don’t fully acknowledge, plus some sort of personification of anything else that might be on your mind at the moment such as a tv programmme or film, you get the idea.

So, I thought I’d write down here the dream I’ve just had as it was so structured it seemed as if it really should at least be noted.

“For some reason this dream took place in the US, in a small town not far from a major city and near the coast. A friend of mine (we’ll call him Cedric, there was no name in the dream) had been having less and less contact with me over the years since he’d had a number of personal problems and had started acting in a more and more distant manner until I rarely saw him at all. The only times I did see him were when he was in a cafe showing pieces of paper to two friends, one boy and one girl, they’d paw over them looking concerned and very serious, if anyone came to near to their table they’d clear the papers away, finish their drinks, and leave.

Sometimes I’d be in the cafe at the time, it was the only major hangout in town that wasn’t a dive bar or stripjoint. As Cedric left I would try and get his attention but he always rushed out before really seeing me.

I managed to stop him in the street later, asked how he was, he seemed evasive but then said that his problems were things I wouldn’t want to know about, I assured him I was a friend and was, if anything, a little sorry he hadn’t felt I could be spoken to in the past about these things. He gave in and said I should drop by his place later. He then rushed off down the road, dropping a couple of papers on his way and almost getting hit by a car as he fetched one from the road.

Cedric’s house was a mess, he said we should speak in his bedroom as it was the only place to talk. His room was just as filthy but it was mainly covered in blurry UFO photos and newspaper cuttings, he spoke for the next hour, quietly at first, but then building into an almost frenzy as he went on and on about how their had been signs of an impending invasion and that the government knew it but weren’t telling anyone for fear of spreading panic and also in the hope they could obtain the technology to use against non-friendly nations.
I’d heard it all before and was frankly a little bored and felt sorry for him. He’d met these other people in an internet chat room and they met from time to time to share evidence and plan what they should do once the invasion started.
I wished him luck and left, nothing really to say to him, he had problems beyond my skills as a friend and really didn’t know what to think next.
I went home to sleep, but was woken by a noise across my room. Looking around and seeing nothing, I then saw the distinct figure of what I thought was a burglar but it had far too large a head to be human and I feared it to be some goblin or other such creature. I blinked and it was gone. Lights on, nothing was in the apartment. I called Cedric. He said that this was happening all over but that only a few people were reporting it as it actually was, visitations but early invasion scouting groups. I asked him how the hell it had got into my apartment but he told me not to overanalyse that as it didn’t change the fact that I had been visited.
The next day I was cutting across a field and, as I trod on a particular piece of grass, the ground acted bizarrely… a line lit up through the grass and then as I trod on it again, a humming sound came from it. I stood back and then the rest of the ground lit and shook as a distinct rectangular shape formed in the grass and then suddenly rose out of the ground: a complete 1950’s diner… The building was empty, no people, it was seemingly abandoned. My shock subsided a little as I walked around the building gazing inside, but one window was dark, tinted, I couldn’t see in without pushing my face against the glass but, as I did so, a face slammed back at me through the glass which I knew not to be human. I fell back on the grass and ran off in panic to tell Cedric.

He wasn’t at all shocked and packed his bag with torches, a small axe, other bits I didn’t recognise and he made calls to his friends to meet at the field I’d described.
As we got there, they said I should wait outside. They found a door, went in, I heard nothing.

Suddenly, there were voices, the shouting, then nothing again. I breathed in increasing panic as I tried to decide what, if anything I should do. The decision was made for me as a loud bang broke the silence and the tainted window suddenly cracked. Rushing forward to look inside, Cedric’s male friend was lying on the floor, the goblin creature from the previous night was holding Cedric in the air by his throat and, as he struggled to be dropped down, his other friend came behind the creature and brought the axe down on his head again and again.

I’d never been so frightened. They ran out the building and I followed as I asked maybe too many questions in panic. What was the creature?Where was it from? Were we going back for his friend? They weren’t listening and, as we got to Cedric’s place, a large light suddenly split the sky, emanating from the fake diner straight up to the clouds. Whatever the light was, I instinctively knew that I didn’t want to stick around to find out what might happen next, we piled into Cedric’s car, he through some pre-prepared bags into the trunk and the three of us sped off down the road. Behind us we could see people slowly leaving their houses to stare at the sky in wonder as what I could only think was some space craft, slowly descended from the sky and moved closer to the planet’s surface. We weren’t going to stop to see whether they came in peace.”

As I say, I dreamt this and only woke up about an hour ago so the structure isn’t great and many elements are generic, but that’s not my point, my point is that dreams can be a great untapped resource for ideas, and that if you write it down every time something catches your imagination in the morning, well, that might help with different viewpoints on how you should write in the future. Maybe it can give new story ideas, but ultimately I think it keeps your options open as to what kind of stories you might write. I would like to develop this alien story more, I never had any interest in alien invasion lit at all, but now I might change that view. That’s my point 🙂

New Year, New goals

Apologies to those who might have expected a quicker update since my last blog. My recent plans have been involved in how to promote my current book, The Dead Famous, and also how to motivate myself to edit my second book to a publishable standard.

Plans and mice and men and all that, well things of course don’t always go the way you’d wish them to. My first book was found to have a number of spelling problems, not a great amount, but enough to annoy me after I’d spent so much time going over it with a fine word comb. A little more frustrating was that I had ordered twenty paperback copies of the book before realising the errors and wasn’t able to cancel the order before it shipped, so somewhere in the mid-atlantic right now is a box with a load of illiterate rubbish in it… but enough about E L James, my book’s probably there too.

Being unrepresented, promotion is a bit of a headache. It’s not that I don’t have ideas to get myself attention, the problem is that you have to choose your promotion method and make sure that enough people pay attention that one agent might actually sign you, but part of their job and also the publisher’s is to promote you as well and if you’ve already done some of that, the wrong message might have been sent and that might not be so easy to undo.

I have no real answers here, only problems like everyone else, all I can do is get on with editing and keep making contacts in the hope that one of them will pay dividends somehow. Fingers crossed…

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