Well I never made my NaNoWriMo target; which was set at 35,000 words rather than 50,000 as that’s the ballpark figure for where I see my novella heading. I did get about 15,000 words of it written though. I also managed to get a few thousand words down on a few short stories I’m working on. I know that having a few different projects on the go isn’t exactly the best working practice but I have so many bloody ideas I have to get them at least partially written down so that I can come back to them later.
The short story I have done the most work on is provisionally titled Schemes of Grey and Yellow and riffs off Chambers’ King in Yellow mythos. It’s set on a nameless housing scheme (that’s a council estate for people down south or a project for my occasional American reader) in the west of Scotland. Dolorosa, I’m actually rather firm on that title, is set in Glasgow and follows the tragic events that beset a young working class Glaswegian woman after her family has a chance encounter with the unknown. You can read brief excerpts from the first drafts below. I expect them both to change rather considerably in the rewrite.
One thing that I have managed to do though is come up with a couple of cover designs for Dolorosa. Productive procrastination for the win eh? I’m not sure which one I prefer though, which is a pain. I may put it up for a vote when the book is ready to be released.
Soft greys and whites bleed across the sky. The world below is awash with greens, purples and cold serrated granite scratching at the clouds. The mountains are emblazoned with flashes of green grass and the purple of the heather, their slopes both sheer and gentle sink into the wide flat bottom of the glen. Two veins of water, sparkling silver below the washed out sky, merge into a wide river tracing its way through landscape. At the far end of the glen, beside the wide river, sits a small town – little more than a village really. A flat topped church steeple looks over the town, the old winding streets and the newer, more linear and regimented, housing developments giving the town a patchwork look. The glen is dotted with small collections of farm buildings and everywhere the signs of an industrial agriculture winding down in the autumn months.
Higher up the sides of the valley are sheep worn meadows, heather, gorse. In a well shorn meadow stands a woman. She stands by herself, not quite in the middle of the meadow. She is dressed unsuitably for both the time of year and the environment in which she stands. Her jacket looks better suited to dashing between the shelter of shops on a Saturday afternoon in a town somewhere. It is so completely soaked that it appears almost black where, when dry, it is grey. Her hair, shoulder length and brown, has been whipped around her face as though by a storm and stuck there by the rain. Yet the air here is still. Still and, but for the soft hum of the ever present insects, quiet. There is no wind to carry the sob. The deep gulping of air is swallowed by the silence spread between land and sky.
Her head is thrown back. Her eyes closed but her mouth open. A dark O set against her sickly pale skin. Her arms hang at her sides. Her hands opening and closing, opening and closing. Clenching. Grasping at nothing. She sinks to her knees. Her head bowing as she gulps and releases another sob. Slowly she folds herself over her legs, her head pushing into the cold grass. Her arms stretch out before her. Hands clutching handfuls of emerald blades. Fingers digging into the soft brown earth. Clawing at it. She sobs again and begins to tremble. Her back heaves as sob after sob escapes her convulsing body. Louder and louder, faster and faster until she is crying uncontrollably. She lifts her head and screams. Rage and sadness shatter the silence of the glen. Her scream crosses the vastness between earth and sky. If it could, her scream, would sunder the world; set the heavens aflame til naught remained but ash. Ash and sorrow.
Schemes of Grey and Yellow(Excerpt)
The scheme was grey. Everywhere. Every house, every shop and commercial unit, every block of flats. Grey. The uniform grey of the Scottish housing scheme. Low cost housing that mirrored the perpetual slate sky above. The choice of colour scheme, ubiquitous around the country, seemed a cruel joke played by the powers that be on the powers that don’t. The most dreichit country on earth and it mirrors the miserable bastard weather in its miserable bastard housing.
Leon waited outside Satish the Paki’s shop for Black Martin. Satish wasn’t a Paki, his parents had come to Scotland from India long before Leon was born. Still didn’t stop his shop being called the Paki shop. People aren’t always blessed with the greatest amount of either intelligence or originality at times thought Leon.
Black Martin wasn’t black either. He had just gone through a goth period in school, listening to the Cure and Joy Division, dressing all in black, and in doing so had earned himself the now redundant, and wholly unimaginative, nickname.
Black Martin came out of the shop laughing and waving back at Satish of whom Leon could see slices between the posters advertising fizzy drinks and loaves of bread which were spread haphazardly across the windows of the store. Martin waved him over and tossed a can of juice at him as he approached.
“Satish gave us ’em on tick til tomorrow, giro day innit?”
“Nice one!” Leon waved back through the glass at Satish.
“He gave us some baccy an’ aw. Want one?”
Martin stripped the small green pouch of its plastic wrapping and began to roll a cigarette before passing the pouch and the slim blue packet of rolling papers across.
“Where d’you fancy going then?”
“I dunno, Weird Malky’s?”
“Aye, well he’s always got booze in and, for the record, he ain’t a paedo. That’s just shite talked by folk ‘cos he’s a bit odd is all.”
Just behind Satish’s shop lay Fairmount Park, a sad looking stretch of patchy yellowing grass with a square of concrete littered with broken glass which used to hold climbing frames and slides. The sign beside the sorry looking grey square proudly proclaimed a new park opening soon funded by some company or other in partnership with Glasgow City Council. The sign looked as sorry as the rest of park; it having stood out in the elements for the best part of five years. Leon and Martin had still been in high school when they had pulled down the old play equipment citing “safety concerns” and promising to replace the equipment with modern, up to date “safe” equipment for the children of the Scheme. Now all that remained was an old bench which, for reasons unknown, had escaped the attentions of the supossedly safety conscious city council. Upon that bench now sat Cameron Wiley, one of the local drunks, his head bent low so that from behind he appeared to have been the victim of an amazingly bloodless decapitation. Sat beside him were two large yellow labelled green glass bottles.
“Check it.” Leon gestured towards the old drunk. “Shall we go keep the auld cunt company?”
“Aye, why no?”
Leon had always had a soft spot for Cameron Wiley. Before he had screwed himself up on the booze he had been a decent guy. He was only in his late 40s but looked far older. Once, when Leon and Martin had been wains Wiley had saved them from getting collared by the cops when they were playing truant. He had done so by picking a fight with himself outside the shop causing the cops to lose interest in the young lads trying desperately to hide bottles of tonic wine in their jackets. As soon as the cops went to deal with the screaming and shouting drunk the boys had fled. Leon had glanced back as they rounded the corner away from the cops and as he did so he saw Wiley wink at him and smile.
“Afternoon auld yin.” Martin and Leon stood over the derelict. He smelled like he had spilled more booze over himself than he had drank since the last time he changed his clothes, which may well have been some time ago. “Whit ye on wi’ Cam’?”
Cameron Wiley jumped as though wakened from a deep sleep. A thin black booklet slipped from his hands as he looked up at the boys. His eyes paler than Leon remembered, the colour washed out.
“Wha? Who? Is it? Naw!” Cameron slurred the words and wobbled as though unsteady on his feet, despite being sat down. Placing one grubby hand on the back of the bench he pushed himself up and on to his feet.
“Is that you? Naw, naw, naw. You’re lads, no lassies. Are you here?”
Martin, grinning, slapped his hand onto Leon’s shoulder. “Auld yin’s wrecked. Surprise!”
Wiley glanced at Martin, then at Leon, his eyes narrowed as though trying to focus on the boys.
“You’re, you’re no, um, you’re no him or her. You’re no even here.” And with that he staggered off back the way the boys had walked.
“Don’t think I’ve ever seen the old pissheid so wasted before.” Leon watched as Cameron Wiley wove his way along the cracked and overgrown path. Snatching occasionally at invisible insects in the air about his head.
“Never mind that” Martin lifted the two, unopened, bottles of Buckfast Tonic Wine in either hand. “Score! Screw going tae the paedo’s house the now. Let’s have these first.”
Leon sat in the spot that Cameron had just vacated and took a bottle from Martin. “One fer you, and one fer me!”. Leon opened his bottle and took an enormous swallow. An heroic swig as Martin may have put it.
They sat awhile watching the empty park; the occasional ray of light bursting through the clouds and dashing across the park as though the light itself was in a rush to get away from this place and its grey hopelessness. Leon said as much to Martin.
“If there’s a bright centre to the universe, my dear Leon, you’re on the scheme it’s furthest fuckin’ from.” Martin cackled to himself. “I’m away for a piss.” He stood, taking his mostly empty bottle of wine with him. “And I’ll be takin’ this. I’m no havin’ you tanning it whilst I’m at me most vulnerable.”
With that he swaggered in the direction of some nearby sickly looking bushes. Leon had once been playing with James Donaldson in the park, when they were 10 or 11 years old, and they had found a huge stack of porno magazines in those same bushes. By the looks of the bushes the wages of sin did not pay well. They had paid Leon and James Donaldson well enough when they had sold the magazines to the highest bidders at school the next day.
Glancing at the floor between his feet he noticed the black booklet that Cameron Wiley had dropped. It had the pattern of the sole of his trainers stamped on the cover in dirt now but was otherwise fine. He picked it up.
Le Roi en Jaune. Leon didn’t remember much in the way of French from school but he recognised the word for yellow. Flipping it open he saw that the words inside were in English.
“What’s that then?” Martin dropped himself down next to Leon on the bench.
“Fuck knows. Cam’ dropped it. Look like a play or something.” He passed it to Martin who looked at the cover and passed it right back.
“I can’t read French man, can youse?”
“Naw, it’s in English inside. Just called something about yellow in French on the cover. Anyway,” he rolled the booklet up and stuffed it into his back pocket, “shall we head over to drink some of Malky’s booze?” With that he drained the last of his bottle, dropped it on the floor and got to his feet.
“Aye, come on then.” Martin stood finishing his wine in a single gulp. “Though if he starts touching me I’m calling Child Line!”
“He’s not a paedo! And besides, if he was I think you would be safe from him. You’re ugly as fuck an ‘aw. I wouldn’t nonce you up if were a paedo.”
With that they headed across the park towards Malky’s flat in the high rise blocks.
Leon awoke lying on the floor of Malky’s flat. The sun, bereft of heat but blinding nonetheless, streaming through his curtainless windows and punching holes of screaming agony straight through his eyes and deep into his brain.
“Aw, my fucking God.”
He rolled over and flung his arm across his face to protect himself from the golden needles of fire that were trying to embed themselves deeper and deeper into his head. After laying there for ten minutes groaning and praying to anyone that would listen for either the pain to go away or for someone to kill him outright Leon sat up.
Malky the Paedo’s flat was in an even worse state than it normally was. Things appeared to have gotten especially messy last night. Their visit to Malky the not-a-paedo had been well timed as he had, that morning, gotten his sick money and so Martin and Leon had generously offered to go to Satish’s for him, thus saving him the effort of walking all the way across the park to pick up booze. Of course they paid themselves a purple can of Tennants Super for the effort and drank that on the way back. After which there had been vodka. Lots, and lots of vodka. Followed by another trip to Satish’s just before 10 o’clock for yet more vodka. Then Martin had pulled the booklet Cameron had dropped from Leon’s pocket and started reading aloud from it in a pompous faux English accent. Because, so far as Martin was concerned, only English people liked plays – posh English people at that. He had then passed it to Malky who continued reading, and even sang some of it. Leon had taken a turn and then the bottle was passed around again and after that things just went black.
Slowly, very slowly lest he throw up, Leon got to his feet and went for a piss. After he had finished, and assured himself that he wasn’t going to throw up, he went back to the living room and checked all the vodka bottles for hair of the dog. Empty, every last one of them. He poked his head into Malky’s bedroom and there were Malky and Martin sleeping top and tail in Malky’s bed. He tried to take a photograph to send around to everybody but the battery on his phone was completely dead. “Piece of shit”, he put it back in his pocket and pulled out a ten pound note. Malky’s change from the final trip to Satish’s last night. He put it back in his pocket, grabbed his coat and Cam’s weird black book and quietly let himself out of the flat.
Leon shut the door quietly behind himself, put his coat on and walked towards the door to the lifts, his trainers squeaking on the cheap tiled flooring. Pulling open the heavy green fire door the stench of piss and stale alcohol hit him bodily and made him retch, bend double, and almost vomit. Standing on the landing, staring directly at him, was Cameron Wiley. A black moth the size of his face fluttering about his head.
“You got here then, aye?”
Leon’s hand slipped from the door as his body reeled and he threw up the remnants of the previous night’s excess. His mouth and eyes burning from the vodka, tonic wine, and God knows what else that now lay splashed about the floor before him Leon dry heaved once more and then stood straight -his head swimming. He pulled the door open. The landing was empty.
“Cam?” He poked his head through the door. There was no Cameron, no bloody big moth. Not even the smell that had set his stomach churning. Cautiously, one hand on the door frame the other holding the door open, he walked out onto the lifts landing. There was no one there. Opposite the lift doors was the drying area, used more for people storing crap they didn’t want to have to take down 14 floors to throw away than for the drying of clothes, into which Cameron could have ducked. The door to the drying area hung slightly ajar.
“Cameron?” Leon reached out and gently pushed the door with the tips of his fingers letting it swing open under its own weight. Stepping into the half light of the drying area he could see that there was no Cameron Wiley in there. Just a worn out sofa, a broken pushchair and a few mouldering cardboard boxes.
Confused and trying to remember if he done anything besides drink too much the previous night Leon backed out onto the landing and called the lift.
Leon leaned against the tarnished checkerplate of the lift wall and closed his eyes, blotches of technicolour static swam in the darkness behind his lids. Each small side to side movement of the lift felt like the carriage was swinging wildly free of the confines of the enclosing lift shaft. Grateful that he had already thrown up his stomach contents Leon opened his eyes. The lift had already reached the ground floor and the doors had opened without him realising. Beyond the doors the entrance hallway was dark, the normally harsh neon strip light in the ceiling was dimmed to a sickly orange-yellow colour and beyond the hallway, through the reinforced glass window of the heavy green metal door Leon could see that the world beyond was dim.
“Fuck this.” He hit the door close button and the doors juddered back together. The lift shook for a moment and the doors opened once more onto the dim hallway. Once, twice, three times he tried the door close button and each time the same result. The lift juddered and the doors opened. He backed up to the rear wall of the lift and slid down until he was sat on the floor staring disbelievingly at the tepidly illuminated hallway and the greyer than usual world beyond.
Remembering the staircase Leon rose cautiously to his feet. He may not like the thought of walking up 14 floors, 28 flights of stairs – two per floor, back to Malky’s flat but he liked the thought of venturing beyond the confines of the tower block even less. Placing one hand on the door jam he leaned slowly out from the lift looking first to his left and then to his right, the hall was deserted, the door to the staircase was a mere fifteen feet to his right and beyond that the climb to safety, if not sanity, fourteen floors above.
Leon stepped from the lift, the carriage juddered as he stepped onto the the tiled floor of the hall and the doors creaked closed once more. From beyond the closed doors he heard the sound of the lift beginning its ascent.
“Oh, for fucks sake man!” Leon threw his hands to his head before hurriedly pressing the lift call button. He hammered on the button but to no effect. The lift continued its climb and the doors remained closed. Considering whether to wait for the lift or begin his ascent a glance behind him at the unnatural twilight beyond the main door made his mind up for him. He would climb.
Hope you like what you read. 🙂