Dickens in Space

I’m ill.

I’m supposed to be editing a second draft of a story due to its deadline being on Saturday, but I can’t concentrate. So, I thought the best writing I could do in this state is to tell you about something I did in class last week. I also just wrote this once and Google Chrome, in its infinite wisdom, decided to quit. So here is attempt number two. Probably quite apt, as I’m sure what I typed before was better.

In class last week we analysed a piece of prose in a group, discussing everything we could think of from sentence structure and rhythm to semantic feel and the metaphors used. At the time we didn’t know who our piece of prose was written by, but after our lecturer suggested we read it out loud, I noted it reminded me of the start of a Dickensian film where there is narration and the camera is zooming into the scene. The piece was actually the beginning of Dombey and Son by – you guessed it! – Charles of the Dickens clan. It raised an interesting point, Dickens actually made more money from reading his work than from writing. So, if you struggle reading his work, try reading it aloud, or try and audio book. It makes an interesting difference, particularly to rhythm and pacing.

As homework from this we were tasked with taking a scene we had written and writing a pastiche. In basic terms, every story has a scene, but stories vary in style, so we had to take a scene and write it in the style of the author we analysed; Charles Dickens. It was one of the hardest things I have had to write so far. Thankfully I have read Dickens (I hadn’t read any of the others the other groups looked at), but I have a very contemporary style, that is influenced heavily by modern science fiction. This led to the title of this blog as myself and the other members of my group (all science fiction and fantasy writers) shared our pieces. I suggested Rob should turn his (excellent) piece into Dickens in Space using his usual hilarious comedy stylings. So keep an eye out for that one!

I don’t feel my piece was as good as the others, but I tried none the less. What follows is a scene written for the story I mentioned earlier, re-written in the style of Charles Dickens. Be prepared to laugh, to cry and the throw your computer out of the window in disgust! Without further ado (What is ado?) I give you Endaris by Michael J. (Dickens)

Endaris in the style of Dickens

Michael J. Hollows

The royal court, home to the godly, powerful, and undying king, sat in the heart of Endaris; where the houses lined the city in rows, short, thin, and narrow, like precessions of match sticks, although the inhabitants seldom matched; great grass courtyards grew in splendid colours, like the grasping tendrils of the forest that lay to the south, but controlled and trimmed, synonymous with the populace of the city. Those in power lived in mansions, around the houses, housing the round. They longed for the decorative comfort of indoors, past shuttered doors, and jealous stares.

One such man was Rao, the councillor of councillors, and he shut the door behind him, the door that resembled a wooden face. The hallway was closed-in, like a burial chamber, and claustrophobic in its likeness; where the surfaces were covered in blood, but not the blood of men, rather, merely the suggestion that blood had, could, or would be spilt, as the flickering candle of illumination cast its red-orange hue on the stone steps that led, threateningly, up towards the audience chamber, like the steps of a throne, towering above lesser men. Rao ascended the steps, though his heavy heart passed the other way, ever towards the audience and his doom, through blood-casting candles, and through rooms filled with judging portraits, he continued, forever up.

In the court, the room overflowing with people, like a lake in midwinter, water rushing away, free to its path, his erstwhile colleagues, less erstwhile than colleagues, laughed and joked at Rao’s expense, but he would have the last laugh.

Once again, thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed!

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The Long War

Hello! I felt like it was time for a blog update. This time it’s not so much about writing, but something slightly different.

At the weekend I went to my first doubles tournament at Warhammer World. Which was a great experience (despite some awful powergaming by some grumpy bastards from Leeds.) Even though we didn’t win a game, we still had a great time and there were a couple of hilarious games. One including a complete vendetta against my Heldrake, which resulted in a draw. My team-mate Chris played Dark Eldar so I decided to start my Chaos army. Had I know they were desperate allies, which severely hindered us, I would have chosen something else.

As part of the tournament there is an award for the army list. so I decided to write a story for it as follows:

The Long War

By Michael J. Hollows

THE CATHEDRAL BURST into a ball of pyrotechnic fury as stained glass windows exploded from the pressure change. Brother-Sergeant Amatius didn’t see where the shell had come from as he proceeded on foot into the vast nave, his back to the firer. His squad fanned out either side of him, bolters blaring at the unseen enemy. Smoke and the smell of cordite hung in the air. The stained glass fell from the windows, crashing amongst the knocked over pews as screams pierced the gloomy air. They weren’t the screams of glass-cut agony, but screams of delight.

A group of warriors, clad in spiked blue armour, rushed the Space Marines from the aisles. Splinters from their rifles peppered the cathedral and lodged in the wooden seats. The Ultramarines ducked behind what cover they could find, but brother Portius was thrown from his feet by the force of a blow. The splinters stuck out from his armour at jaunty angles and he knocked them away with a sweep of a vambrace before crawling towards a plascrete pillar.

Amatius returned fire with his boltgun and the two nearest eldar disappeared in a cloud of thick, arterial gore. Vertebrae hammered the pews as the aliens were blown apart by the concentrated fire. To his left, Caius discharged his meltagun, liquid fire cooking the last of the onrushing aliens. The Codex Astartes was clear in this situation and he was confident his brothers would clear out the cathedral in an efficient manner.

A grinding of metal on concrete behind him made Amatius turn. An Ultramarines Vindicator was crossing the threshold of the cathedral, entering the nave and adding its thick exhaust fumes to the smokey interior. What was it doing; entering the building with a vehicle was madness. Amatius tried to raise the commander on the vox, but was met with white static. He waved at the vehicle to slow and the vox suddenly flared into a scream of feedback, overloading his auto-senses. Amatius ripped his helmet from his armour throwing it to the floor in disgust, dulling the vox squeal. He looked up, regaining his composure, as another shell flew through the air and detonated sending out a wave of high pressure that squeezed against his skull.

Shrapnel spread across the room and Portius cried out as scalding-hot metal ripped through his leg, severing the bone. Bright blood pooled around the stricken Ultramarine.

Amatius tried to reach his comrade, but was forced back by the sea of eldar warriors. Madness, he thought. What had got into the Vindicator’s commander? This wasn’t the Ultramarines way, they had strict codes and doctrines that prevented this kind of folly.

He dodged another attack and brought his chainsword up in reply. The spinning metal blades made easy work of the eldar warrior and sprayed blood across his deep blue armour.

Amatius looked for Portius, but he was still on the ground as enemy warriors crowded him. He fought back furiously with combat knife and fist, breaking through armour like paper, but they would soon overwhelm him. Malius was the nearest Ultramarine to Portius, pinned behind a pillar to the squad’s right.

‘Malius, break through to Portius and engage a withdrawal, now!’ Amatius shouted, the vox hardly necessary in the acoustics of the cathedral. The Space Marine looked back in the sergeant’s direction, and shook his head slowly from side to side.

What was he doing? Portius needed his support.

Amatius tried to edge closer, but the eldar still blocked his path. He hacked and slashed with his chainsword, pushing the aliens back, but their numbers weren’t thinning. The eldar had lured them into this trap and their only way out was by forming an organised withdrawal past the Vindicator, but first they would need to regroup and cover each other.

He unclipped a grenade from the mag-lock at his waist and primed the fuse. While fending off the aliens with his chainsword, pushing the blade into their faces, blood splattering, he lobbed the grenade in an overarm throw. Amatius hoped it would cause enough damage in the close confines to confuse the enemy.

With a crack of releasing pressure the grenade detonated. Body parts and blood flew through the air in deep crimson droplets, decorating the scene in a macabre hue. The remaining eldar hissed and wheeled on the spot, retreating further into the church.

Amatius signalled to his men to regroup on his position, but before they could respond he rushed to where Portius lay. The Space Marine was a ruined mess where he had fallen, breaking a pew in half as it collapsed underneath his weight. The sergeant checked for life signs, but there were none. He sighed and placed the warriors weapon on his chest, before clasping Portius’s lifeless hands around the hilt.

He looked up at his men, but only Caius and Praxis stood by him.

‘Where are the others?’ he asked, before standing to look for himself.

As Amatius gained a view of the cathedral nave, he saw Malius walking away in the direction the eldar fled, his bolter relaxed in his gauntlet down by his side.

‘Malius, what are you doing? Regroup!’ he shouted after his brother.

The Ultramarine didn’t respond, but kept walking as the sound of the Vindicator revving it’s engines drowned out the Sergeant’s protests.

Malius’s armour-mounted speaker elicited a hiss followed by a deep, resonant voice Amatius didn’t recognise.

‘Not Malius.’ He paused in his tracks and looked back, deep green-tinted lenses boring into his sergeant’s skull. ‘I am Alpharius.’ he said as the next wave of eldar warriors pushed past him, like a tide around rocks. Splinter rifles spat their charges once more.

The last sound that Sergeant Amatius of the Ultramarines 6th Company heard was the deep rumble of a shell exploding as the traitorous Vindicator finally lowered its aim.

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Taking the Scenic Route

It’s mad that this is my first blog post of 2014, but then the year has started off massively busy. My New Year’s resolution was to write every day, which so far I have managed, even if only a few words, or I have done some editing. This worked out pretty well until I realised that I had a week to paint an army for a tournament in Nottingham next weekend. Life is about challenges right?

That’s kind of what this blog is about. I haven’t done any proper writing in the last few days because I’ve been knee deep in paint. I also felt that I needed to type up the writing we did in class this week as, once again, I didn’t feel like reading it out in class. (Turns out someone wrote a similar story to me, but did it better – such is life!) It’s also, partly, what the title is about; taking the scenic route to finishing my tasks for this week.

This week we had the external examiner, Carol Clewlow (I had to research that spelling!) who is a novelist in her own right, come in and talk to us. At first it seemed as if she would just talk us through the assignment, but that was only a brief introduction. What followed from that was a very interesting workshop about editing and scenes. We discussed the importance of bridging scenes – just getting a character where they need to be without boring the reader – and crucial scenes – where the detail is included – and their differences. Carol also talked about how it was quite often a shame that a scene was used as a bridging scene when it had the potential for some much more.

I just realised I’ve been typing this in silence without music. Sometimes when you get in the flow that just happens, other times I need music to help me concentrate. If you’re a writer, what do you write to? I tend to favour soundtracks as I find I often end up following lyrics if I listen to anything else. They also help me imagine the drama. I think today’s choice is Game of Thrones season 2, though it’s now making me want to watch it.

Carol gave us a bridging scene:

We left home at 6.30. Not long after turning on to the motorway we hit an accident with a long tailback. A wrecked car was still on its roof as we passed. Despite this we managed to reach dover by late afternoon and by evening we were in France.

We discussed that this scene has so much potential for detail which could add to the story. So, Carol gave us a task, turn this scene into a crucial scene. What follows is what I wrote in that task and also a later edit where she asked us to find that one part that needed more. Rather than splitting it in to two of what is essentially the same thing, I give you the finished version (I may also have cheated and added more as I typed it up – oops!):

We left home at 6.30 in a hurry to put everything into the car. The car screeched as the wheels spun off the driveway under the heavy way and we were away. Not long after hitting the motorway we hit an accident with a long tailback. It wasn’t uncommon given the circumstances. Everyone was in a rush to get away and rushing made people careless. A wrecked car was still on its roof as we passed, glass smashed across the carriageway. The poor people were still trapped inside the crumpled mess of the vehicle. The incessant cacophony of beeping horns wasn’t helping and there was no sign of the emergency services. They had enough to do right now. they would have a job getting through this crowd in time. The victims weren’t worth worrying about. No one could help them now, it was every man for himself.

Despite the crush we still managed to travel the 60 miles from Bromley to Dover by late afternoon. It’s amazing that even in an emergency most Brits wouldn’t drive on the hard shoulder. Its against the rules! But who needed rules now? The port got pretty desperate and fights were breaking out everywhere as we snuck our small car onto the ferry. By evening we were in France, a bit of money changing hands could get you anywhere. The badge didn’t hurt, but showing that around everywhere would raise too many questions. It’s a shame the ferry wasn’t going further, but I didn’t have that much money.

The crossing went relatively calmly, once people were onboard the hysteria had died down.

Driving down the ramp into the yellow ramps lights of Calais, I breathed a sigh of relief and thought about those trapped at home. Poor old Britain. For now though, we were safe.

 

Some of the group decided to completely change the original scene we were given, but I saw this more of an editing exercise. So what you can see here is a typical example of how I might edit. I’ll take a piece I have written and see if I can embellish the sentences that are already there. Sometimes I may need to take out a superfluous word and others I may need to alter the tense slightly, but as the scene we were given was already quite tight I didn’t feel any need to.

My scene could probably be edited further, but then isn’t that true of everything?

On another note, as anyone noticed that no one really talks on Facebook anymore? All that appears on my news feed is people sharing links to videos and various surveys that tell you which character from that poor remake of  that dodgy sci-fi film you are most like. What happened to people typing and having conversations, you know, social networking? Maybe it’s just my Facebook, but I was curious if anyone else had noticed a similar trend?

On that perfectly 1000 word count note, I shall leave you.

Once again, thanks for reading and any suggestions, comments or thoughts are welcome.