Just do the job

Shiva

It’s important your writing does the job it was made for. I was reminded of this recently reading about the writing of the classic monologue “The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God”. J. Milton Hayes is quoted as saying:

“I wrote The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God in five hours, but I had it all planned out. It isn’t poetry and it does not pretend to be, but it does what it sets out to do. It appeals to the imagination from the start: those colours, green and yellow, create an atmosphere. Then India, everyone has his own idea of India. Don’t tell the public too much. Strike chords. It is no use describing a house; the reader will fix the scene in some spot he knows himself. All you’ve got to say is ‘India’ and a man sees something. Then play on his susceptibilities.”

Here for your amusement and entertainment I submit to you the full text of the original 1911 dramatic monologue. Bonus points if you can make anything using this as a basis, a novel, an animation, a piece of musical theatre . . . go nuts. Let your creativity free.

oOo

The Green Eye of the Little Yellow God
by J. Milton Hayes

There’s a one-eyed yellow idol to the north of Khatmandu,
There’s a little marble cross below the town;
There’s a broken-hearted woman tends the grave of Mad Carew,
And the Yellow God forever gazes down.

He was known as “Mad Carew” by the subs at Khatmandu,
He was hotter than they felt inclined to tell;
But for all his foolish pranks, he was worshipped in the ranks,
And the Colonel’s daughter smiled on him as well.

He had loved her all along, with a passion of the strong,
The fact that she loved him was plain to all.
She was nearly twenty-one and arrangements had begun
To celebrate her birthday with a ball.

He wrote to ask what present she would like from Mad Carew;
They met next day as he dismissed a squad;
And jestingly she told him then that nothing else would do
But the green eye of the little Yellow God.

On the night before the dance, Mad Carew seemed in a trance,
And they chaffed him as they puffed at their cigars:
But for once he failed to smile, and he sat alone awhile,
Then went out into the night beneath the stars.

He returned before the dawn, with his shirt and tunic torn,
And a gash across his temple dripping red;
He was patched up right away, and he slept through all the day,
And the Colonel’s daughter watched beside his bed.

He woke at last and asked if they could send his tunic through;
She brought it, and he thanked her with a nod;
He bade her search the pocket saying “That’s from Mad Carew,”
And she found the little green eye of the god.

She upbraided poor Carew in the way that women do,
Though both her eyes were strangely hot and wet;
But she wouldn’t take the stone and Mad Carew was left alone
With the jewel that he’d chanced his life to get.

When the ball was at its height, on that still and tropic night,
She thought of him and hurried to his room;
As she crossed the barrack square she could hear the dreamy air
Of a waltz tune softly stealing thro’ the gloom.

His door was open wide, with silver moonlight shining through;
The place was wet and slipp’ry where she trod;
An ugly knife lay buried in the heart of Mad Carew,
‘Twas the “Vengeance of the Little Yellow God.”

There’s a one-eyed yellow idol to the north of Khatmandu,
There’s a little marble cross below the town;
There’s a broken-hearted woman tends the grave of Mad Carew,
And the Yellow God forever gazes down.

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How to write like . . . Ian Fleming

Fifth in a series of 7 Pastiches of Little Red Riding Hood in the style of my favourite authors. Use these to help you enhance your creativity, become a successful writer and be more happy and fulfilled in your creative life.

This time around I bring you a further retelling of the Red Riding Hood story, drawn from the original text LITTLE RED CAP by the Brothers Grimm and in the style of one of my boyhood favourites, Ian Flaming. I am such a huge Bond nut, it was hard not to do this one first, but I paced myself. I wanted to put a lot into this one. Afterwards I shall give you the matching commentary as to how it was done, and so on for all 7 stories. I hope you enjoy it, but be warned this one is a gritty spy story modelled around the gritty spy stories of Ian Lancaster Fleming. So there is death, sex (or at least the hint of it) and then a bit more death. Ok, pay attention double er . . . I mean, introducing Commander John Bane.

Wolf’s Bane
(
after Ian Fleming)

Commander John Bane carefully slipped the compact and powerful Zeiss Victory binoculars out of the pocket of his new black Berghaus backpack and pressed them against his eyes, smoothly turning the ribbed focus wheel with his index finger to bring the cabin into view. The air was intoxicatingly scented with pine sap, and all around him in the velvety darkness small animals hurried around looking for late night meals in the dusk. He was fully covered in fitted, black clothing and was lying very still. Lying so still in fact that the scurrying fauna ignored him, one or two of the unidentified creatures even running over his legs in their evening haste.

The girl was in there, he felt sure of it, and her grandmother too perhaps . . . Although, he noted with calm professionalism that the single matter-of-fact gunshot he heard on his approach might suggest at least one of them was already dead.

oOo

His journey to the Swiss German border was swift, having only started a mere 18 hours earlier in London. The head of Department OS9 had called him to an urgent personal briefing in her office. She was a brisk former Admiral and although occasionally betraying a liking for him in her motherly gaze, was quick to stifle any notions of favouritism or coziness with him by being extra curt and businesslike. So, as always at these meetings she pretended not to care about him, and he did her the respect of pretending not to notice.

“Commander Bane, good, please sit down. I’d offer you a drink, but you can’t get comfortable, you have a plane to catch. You’re booked on the next Lufthansa flight to Stuttgart.” She briefed him on the situation quickly while handing him a dossier to read on the plane.

A Swiss courier, Heidi Rotkapp, had inadvertently seen something she shouldn’t have on her last trip into Germany and had been promptly kidnapped. She’d been snatched at her grandmother’s house in the Black Forest, by Lake Constance in Baden-Württemberg on the Swiss German border. Intelligence indicated it was most likely a man they had been after for some time, a former Bulgarian secret service operative called Anton Schlecht-Wolf. He was most definitely a person of interest.

Bane’s eyebrows had gone up at the mention of that name. The Admiral saw the look. “I thought you’d be pleased. This is the first time we’ve seen him in years. I’d say don’t lose him again . . . but, you want that more than I.”

Schlecht-Wolf was the man responsible for the limp Bane tried to cover up at all his physical exams over the past few years. The Wolf was a nasty piece of work, kidnapping, extortion, and even some say cannibalism, although Bane thought that last was a rumour spread by the man himself to accentuate his myth.

Bane had almost captured or killed him in Siena, Italy, but Schlecht-Wolf had escaped by sticking a bowie knife two inches into Bane’s thigh and jumping out of a fifth story window into a glass conservatory. His body was never found, and Bane suffered months of painful surgery and physical therapy to get back into shape and on active duty.

The tiny triangular tip of the blade had chipped off against his femur and was still lodged in the muscle somewhere causing him a painful reminder of Schlecht-Wolf whenever he ran or jumped. The recovery from the shame of letting the bastard slip through his fingers was going to be much longer although, by the sound of it, relief was at hand.

oOo

On the flight, breathing the cool conditioned air and sipping a large Maker’s Mark bourbon on the rocks, Bane enjoyed several moments of private pleasure at the thought of finally drawing a line under that particular case. And in his luggage, authorised by his department for international travel, he had just the tools draw that line, and draw it in blood.

His standard issue Browning L9A1 Pistol, special issue Osprey body armour (light and thin enough to fit under any clothing), and most important a special purchase just for this trip, an exquisite hand made Bowie knife by Scottish knife maker James Noble.

The stewardess who served him was blonde, tall and slim. Delightfully not too slim, he noted with a grin as she turned to walk away from him. Her name was Fanny, a pretty name which of course carried no double entendre in Germany or Switzerland. He hoped sincerely she hadn’t caught his slight flicker of amusement when he read it from her name badge. She was clearly flirting with him. When giving back his Euros in change for his drink, she had held her other hand gently under his. Her touch was cool and soft.

Later before landing she had paused on her way up the aisle, checking baggage was stowed for approach, and she had asked him if everything was okay. As she did so she made a show of checking his seat belt, totally unnecessary as it was already firmly secured. Her head was close enough to his face for him to smell her hair and the warm scent of the perfume rising from her neck. Her hair smelled deliciously of almonds and the perfume he recognised immediately as Cefiro by Floris of Jermyn Street. So, an Anglophile and expensive tastes too? That all boded very well. She smiled and moved on, but it wasn’t till he unhooked the belt after landing that he found the slip of paper with her Stuttgart phone number written on it. A bold move, and one which had probably broken a tenet or two of the doubtless strict Lufthansa company policies, but in this case she had judged correctly that he would be receptive. He tucked it in his breast pocket and got off the plane.

As he breezed through customs he was in a good mood, and as collected his bags he refocussed with difficulty on the matter in hand. There would after all, he grinned to himself, be plenty of time for Fanny some other time.

oOo

The temperature on the forest floor by the lake was dropping rapidly, and Bane snapped the poppers on the high jacket collar and pulled the black woollen ski mask over his face. He looked at the cabin windows through the Zeiss binoculars once more, finding them all lit, but as if through thick curtains. That would be useful later. It was getting colder, and he saw the first plume of a newly lit fire emerging from the rustic chimney stack. It was time.

Slowly and without a sound he picked his way down the slope, making good use of the soft soled black hunting moccasins he wore to minimise any cracking of twigs. He planted his feet quickly but carefully, on patches of the forest floor with minimal twigs and leaves. The evening dew had softened the leaves so there was very little rustling as he approached the cabin. His clothing was soft and tightly fastened to him, so there was no noise from it as he moved, and he listened very carefully to the ambient sounds and made sure any noise he made was well below the noise of the forest. In this manner he traversed smoothly across the clearing towards a woodpile near to the North East wall of the cabin.

He almost tripped over a pile of groceries and a broken wicker basket in the driveway on his way to it, but saw them in time and hopped over them without breaking his stride. He crouched by the woodpile and looked around. He couldn’t be seen from inside unless he stood up. He took this moment to check his equipment. Gun in its holster on his right hip, safety off and one round quietly racked into the chamber. Knife in its buckskin sheath on the back of his left hip . . .

Light flooded over the top of the woodpile. Someone was checking the windows. Had he racked the gun too loudly? There was a voice momentarily, deep, very close, expressing boredom in Bulgarian. Then the light folded back into darkness. He had to move.

He pulled the Browning and went around the house, clearing the corners professionally in case there was a guard outside. Nobody. At the back door he soft checked the handle, turning it very slowly, finding it locked, but also noticed it was freshly screwed shut around the door frame. Hmm. They were taking no chances. Only way in or out was round the front. Fair enough. Front it is.

oOo

Inside the house Heidi Rotkapp watched the back door handle at the end of the kitchen turning on its slow rotation and back. Someone was here! Could it be someone to rescue her.

She was duct taped to a chair and the shoulder of her red dress was torn, revealing the top of her brassiere and several large bruises. She looked from the kitchen back into the room and watched the large man Schlecht-Wolf and his two thugs sitting by the fire they just lit. They were drinking vodka and talking in what she assumed was Russian or maybe Polish. Languages never were her strong suit. Her native language was German and although her English was perfect, learned when she went up to Oxford, she knew no other languages well enough to know what they were saying.

It seemed they were unaware of the movement of the door handle and continued to chat amiably. One of them, the giant with the crew cut, had just checked the window again, not because he heard something but just for something to do, it appeared. He had just risen up slowly and ambled over to it, eyes on her her all the way across the room. As he drew the curtain the boss man, Schlecht-Wolf, had said something that sounded like a kind of query, accompanied by eyebrow raises. “Az sŭm tolkova skuchno” the giant had replied under his breath. That didn’t sound like Russian.

The brute had shrugged and ambled back across the room, again keeping his eyes on her as he did so, only dropping them to his friends again as he sat down. He was an ugly man, well over six feet tall, stubbled hair covering a flat topped cranium which looked like a helmet, heavy brows and a thick nose with a wide mouth with thick lips.

The other two men were equally ugly. The smaller one looked as though he had been crushed by gravity, squat like a troll or a gnome. He had slightly prissily trimmed hair, almost too meticulously coiffured, and one droopy eye slightly bigger than the other giving him a permanently quizzical expression. Whereas the giant’s voice was deep and booming, the gnome has a lisping and slightly rasping high voice. She could see his larger eye was surrounded by angry purple, and couldn’t resist a slight smile about that.

But the ugliest of all was the boss, the Wolf man, Anton Schlecht-Wolf. Wiry dark hair culminating in thick mutton chop whiskers, browless, dark, beady eyes and a wet, gaping mouth filled with widely spaced, pointed teeth. He was big, not tall, but bulky, like a weightlifter. The ease with which he bossed around his two goons bespoke a concealed violence and cruelty which he kept under the surface. He used this evil aura to control anyone who displeased him. It came off him like a warm breeze of suppressed anger all the time. He slapped the goons playfully and they actually flinched as they laughed, as if to reassure him they were not a threat. Classic dog behaviour, she thought to herself.

To her however Schlecht-Wolf had been creepily calm and pleasant, from the moment they grabbed her outside the house and brought her inside. The calmness was jarring and it added to the horror of the man. Anyone who looked the way he did and radiated those palpable waves of violent intent, and yet was uniformly civilised and cultured in his manner set up a sort of confusion in the mind. It was one of his tools, the joy of playing with people’s minds, clearly one of his fetishes.

At first they had sat her in a chair by the kitchen door and brought her a cup of tea. It was unsettling but pleasant. Then at one point later on, after much careful and polite questioning, the Wolf man apologised, patted her gently on the knee and deliberately moved away with his back to her. He made a big show of it, starting to put wood in the grate in preparation for a fire, as if accidentally ignoring her for a moment. It was then the goons got to work on her.

They bound her roughly to the chair with tape and started slapping and poking her, at first almost jovially, then harder and still harder till her face grew as red as her dress. Then they took it in turns to set about her, the giant punching and slapping her with his huge ham hands, the gnome painfully pinching nerve clusters in her arms and legs with a kind of cruel glee. The giant seemed bored and professional, knowing how hard to hit to cause immense pain but little lasting damage. The gnome was feverish in his work for some reason, growing agitated, and each time he touched her she could feel he wanted to do more, to go further, to cause more pain and actual harm. To tear her flesh rather than just pinch at it excruciatingly.

Then finally he snapped, like an angry child, and he brought his quivering sweaty toad face close to hers so she could smell his stale fishy breath. He grabbed the sleeve of her dress and with a high scream of rage and frustration tore the sleeve clean off, cutting the soft part of her elbow as it parted across it. He began to stuff the sleeve into her mouth and she screamed through it. The giant looked over to Schlecht-Wolf for instructions, and the Wolf man paused then nodded slightly. The giant grabbed the gnome by his shoulders and lifted him from his feet as easily as one might pick up a child. The gnome shrieked and kicked, but almost casually the giant slammed him up against the wall so hard it jerked all the breath out of the squat figure, and then dropped him to the floor in a heap. The giant rubbed his hands on his trousers and turned back to Heidi. He took the cloth, surprisingly gently, from her mouth and tearing a strip of the material, bound the cut on her elbow. Then he stood aside to await further orders.

At first the gnome was stunned and disoriented but then he had roared and launched himself at the giant. The giant didn’t move until the last second. He grabbed the gnome by his throat and holding him up in the air he punched him in the eye with his giant ham fist, dashing him to the ground, where he finally lay still. Schlecht-Wolf muttered in English, “ok enough”. He walked right over to Heidi and spoke to her very softly, right into her ear so she had to strain to hear him. “Listen very carefully . . .” The he had fired his gun right next to her other ear. Her ear was still deaf and slightly ringing even an hour later.

So the torturing and the fighting had stopped eventually and the giant had picked up the fallen gnome, roused him back to consciousness and poured him a glass of vodka which he grudgingly accepted. The gnome’s tone was apologetic. They laughed a little and began to talk. After that they had seemed to lose interest in her. Perhaps they were resting and they would go at her again later. They would probably not let her sleep and wake her every hour or so through the night for more beatings. She suspected the gnome would not be allowed to touch her after his outburst, so she braced herself for the giant’s full attentions.

That is until the door handle moved. Until that happened she had become resigned to the fact she was not going to make it out of the cabin alive. But now someone was there, and they were being very discreet. Perhaps they would rescue her after all?

oOo

Outside, Bane was ready. He took a small object the size of an apple out of his pocket, prepared it and threw it as far as he could towards the rear of the house. The grenade went off seconds later, giving him just enough time to run to the front door and wrench it open. The back windows in the house shattered from the force of the explosion, but the heavy curtains prevented the glass from shredding everyone in the room. Heidi was screaming. The noise was so loud and shocking that no eyes were on the front door when John Bane slid into the room, feet planted and firing crisply, putting a bullet in the back of the gnome’s neck and the giant’s shoulder.

Before he could fire again Schlecht-Wolf turned fast and twin muzzle flashes in the air previewed the arrival of a couple of closely grouped .45 bullets in the centre of Bane’s chest, sending him crashing backwards through the flimsy dividing door into the bedroom. Silence fell, punctuated only by the giant’s painful curses, the reverberation of the girl’s scream and the odd tiny tinkle of falling glass.

Schlecht-Wolf looked down at the gnome. Large hole in his neck, blood pooling fast. Dead for certain. The giant was hissing Slavic obscenities and clutching his shoulder, but then composed himself, gritting his teeth and looking to Schlecht-Wolf for directions. Schlecht-Wolf nodded to the empty bedroom door, and cursing and puffing, entered the darkened kitchen pulling Heidi on her chair along with him. He stood there in the gloom watching the giant move cautiously into the bedroom. Heidi also stared. It was so quiet. What was happening?

Suddenly a thud, a grunt and sharp crack followed by a scream. The giant fell back through the doorway clutching an arm bent at an eccentric angle. As if in slow motion, standing on his chest as he fell was a man, dressed entirely in black, riding the giant down to the floor like a lumberjack on a falling tree. When they hit the floor the man trod down hard with a twist and the giant was still. Schlecht-Wolf fired wildly three times but missed. He stopped firing and the dark figure rose and levelled his own gun.

Schlecht-Wolf grabbed Heidi by the neck but kept the gun fixed on Bane. Heidi could hear him trying to slow his breathing. Finally Schlecht-Wolf spoke, almost conversationally. “Body armour, Commander Bane? That’s not very sporting.”

“This isn’t sport, Schlecht-Wolf, this is war. And you are my prisoner.” Heidi could see Bane’s blue grey eyes in the slit in his ski mask, his voice was level and convincingly cruel.

Schlecht-Wolf coughed. “The only one of us with a mrŭsna kurva . . . uh sorry dirty whore as a prisoner here is, er, me. Ms Rotkapp has not been very shall we say forthcoming about what she knows, so after I have finished with you I shall continue our conversation until she does. And she WILL!” he wrenched at her neck causing her to punctuate his speech with a yelp.

Bane shouted. “You’re not leaving this cabin, Schlecht-Wolf. You’re not getting away . . .”

“. . . a second time?” Schlecht-Wolf interrupted and then laughed, wetly. “Yes, Heidi, you see Commander Bane and I know each other quite well, I’ve beaten him before, you see. Now you get to watch while I do it again . . .”

He tensed and straightened his arm as if to fire, but Heidi suddenly drove her feet into the floor hurling them both hard into the heavy back door. Schlecht-Wolf’s grip on her neck loosened and she pushed forwards shouting with the effort, flinging herself with the chair to the ground. As she hit the floor she looked up to see Bane propel himself forwards tearing the ski mask from his head as he went and clutching at something at his left side. He brought it to the front as he collided with the Wolf man.

Schlecht-Wolf opened his eyes in time to see Bane’s face very close and feeling the impact of his body on his. How had he closed the gap so fast? Then he noticed a cold feeling spreading through him, realising with a small pang of regret it must be a knife in his chest. He looked up into Bane’s eyes, which were flaring with triumph. “Not today, Mr Wolf,” said Bane quietly, as Anton Schlecht-Wolf’s world went dark.

oOo

Bane had checked Grandmother Rotkapp’s ancient dusty Mercedes for fuel and was going to drive Heidi to the local village hospital. She was badly bruised and shaken although it seemed she was basically okay. Physically at least. But she should see a doctor just in case.

When he came back inside she was sitting on one of the chairs by the fire. Her dark red hair was catching the firelight and her deep blue eyes were large and searching. He put his gun on the table and sat beside her, touching her forearm and hand. Her pale lightly freckled skin was so soft he could hardly feel it under his fingertips. Her voice, steady at first, was accented with German, but her English was flawless.

“Fortunately my grandmother was away when I arrived or they would have caught her too. You know? They were waiting for me . . . I had no supplies and decided to walk to the village to get food . . . and so I was coming back with groceries, some wine and cake for grandma. And then they . . .” she stopped speaking and bowed her head, tears of relief finally flooding her eyes. “Thank you” she said in a whisper.

“No” he said, “Thank you. If you hadn’t acted I’d never have got him. You took action and that took a lot of guts.”

She lay her head against him. Bane comforted her, but his attention was elsewhere. His chest burned, the body armour spread the impact of the .45 bullets but his chest would be bruised for weeks. The giant had grabbed him by the throat, but he’d broken the huge arm with the butt of his Browning and drop kicked him out of the door. Most of these aches and pains were familiar to him and would heal, experience told him that. Nothing a shower, some freshly laundered clothes and large bourbon wouldn’t fix.

But there was another sensation, an old familiar ache, and one that for the first time he welcomed. The tiny triangle of steel glowing painfully in his thigh muscle, reminding him of Anton Schlecht-Wolf for the very last time.

oOo

Writing like Fleming is easy if you’ve read as many of his books as I have, but the key is sensual detail. Fleming was a well known lover of sensation, experiences, places, food and women. And these details were always very precise. He also knew what he considered to be the best of everything, and strove to discover it for whatever application he had; shampoo, watches, typewriters, clothes, food, coffee, you name it. What the best was, and why it was so darn good.

He also travelled extensively in Europe and the far east, knew America well, and used these travels in his work. But mostly he was a sensual writer and his prose is laced with the language of the senses, the touch of things, the smell, the taste, the light, and the sounds. Infuse your work with these details and almost instantly you are writing like Ian Fleming.

oOo

Oh and I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, The Wealthy Writer by Nick Daws and Ruth Barringham is truly wonderful book, containing a lot of insider information I wish I’d known before I tried making a living writing online. As I’ve said before Nick is one of the few writing coaches whose work I really respect, and on the strength of this work, Ruth is also one of my new favourite teachers. Most other ebook writers give you a 50 page cut and paste fest full of decent but unoriginal material and charge the earth. In my experience Nick does the exact opposite of that. This book is no exception, a huge 259 pages of densely packed professional advice to get you on the road to being a professional, and yes, wealthy writer. To purchase your own little piece of heaven follow this link. You won’t regret it.

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Thanks for reading.

How to write like . . . Neil Gaiman

Fourth in a series of 7 Pastiches of Little Red Riding Hood in the style of my favourite authors. Now I bring you a further retelling of the Red Riding Hood story, drawn from the original text LITTLE RED CAP by the Brothers Grimm and in the style of the Dream King, Neil Gaiman. Afterwards I shall give you the matching commentary as to how it was done, and so on for all 7 stories. I hope you enjoy it, but be warned this one is a dark horror story modelled around the Victorian Jack the Ripper or Dr Jekyll tales. Those below the age of consent or of a sensitive disposition should look away now. That said, come with me into the London fog with…

A Wolf in the Stomach
(after 
Neil Gaiman)

How she was found and the butcher shop display he’d made of her, so violent, so destructive… the doctor, a man not given to emotional outbursts, had to steady himself on the dresser as he breathed deeply and spoke as how he’d never seen the like. He was an animal, this killer, this wolf in the coat of a man. Posing the body like that, they muttered darkly in the corners of the candle lit room, is either the work of an evil man, or as one wag quipped, an ordinary demon.

Grandmother, an honorary title at best, also slain with a single, terrible knife swipe to the throat after hearing the screams of her ward and arriving at the bedroom door, lay in the hallway, her boots peeking around the wainscoting at its foot. It was she who had sent the red haired girl to the shop for wine and cake, to be shared between her and the other girls who worked at Grandmothers house down here at Three Oaks in the East End of London.

The girl, Miss Hood, had begun her journey back to the house of medium repute from the local shop in Wood Lane, it seems. Detective Inspector Lumberjacke sat in the corner, a procession of vague figures came and went, some to scrape and clean, some to catalogue and box. He considered her earlier journey as he watched her take her last, seeing it in his minds eye like a magic lantern show, slide after yellowing slide painted in gay colours, stained with cigar smoke and dust.

Lumberjacke, eyes closed, could see Miss Hood skipping to the shop along the cobbles by gaslight, choosing the cake and wine, and bidding the shopkeep good day intending to return… But the dark figure in the doorway blocked her path. The shopkeep said only that the man was tall, and all that could be seen of him in light from the gaslight under the shadow of his broad brimmed hat was his whiskers and his large, stained and long teeth as he smiled. The shopkeep, Mr Redcap, said he didn’t hear all of what was said to the girl by this imposing gentleman, but he described the tone of voice as a sort of low rasping whisper. The snippet he heard was something about not liking cake so much as apple dumplin’s, and all looking at her bosom. The voice sounded like the throat of the speaker was full of earth, he had said quietly, and adding with a visible shudder that it was not a voice he would forget in a month of Sundays.

The shopkeep viewed her listening to the man’s proposal, nodding and smiling sweetly, and waving a slightly distracted farewell to Mr Redcap, she had accompanied this wolf back to Grandmother’s house. Any other man making so untimely a proposal would have a sharp reply; “that’s my eye, Betty Martin” or “shut yer bone box” she normally would have shot back. But this proposal, these silken, gritted syllables were delivered in such a tone you would not refuse, or so it seemed.

Of the journey back nothing was known, but upon being observed arriving back at Grandmother’s house, the girl gave the basket of goods to one of her “sisters” Elizabeth Bones, and said to go with the other girls and eat, she wouldn’t be long. Miss Hood turned and ushered the man into the downstairs front bedroom.

Miss Bones stated when questioned that the man was tall, as tall a man as she had ever seen, a giant likely, and she momentarily feared for the safety of Miss Hood, for she might be crushed beneath his enormous frame. But she had brushed this thought aside, she added tearfully, with thoughts of cake… Doubtless she could have done nothing against this monster even if she had come to Miss Hood’s aid, Lumberjacke mused.

What then? Miss Bones had turned, thoughts of cake in her mind, but as the man entered the room she caught a fleeting glimpse under the shadow of that great hat of one huge eye and one enormous ear. She recalled ruefully thinking they would be all the better to see and hear with, but chided herself for such frivolous thoughts. That cold eye would give her nightmares, she said after a long pause.

Miss Hood shortly called for drink, and after a gravelled reproving voice in the background repeated verbatim, “…and the gentlemen says not one of them short bawdy house bottles, a proper size.” The ale was brought, and the door was closed into its hole.

Then the crime. Within minutes of the door touching it’s frame, the first screams, then the last cut horribly short.

Lumberjacke rubbed his beard and asked one of the passing constables to give him a cigarette. The young man obliged, first rubbing a bloodied hand on his rough dark trouser, and carefully teasing the smoke from its box without hardly touching it.

Although he very much needed to know what had happened here in order to assemble clues and form some idea of who had done this horrifying thing, the crime itself was unobserved by any living soul. The ferocity of the blows and the cuts bespoke a large and strong man, and the intricacy and precision of the posing spoke of a derangement far beyond Lumberjacke’s experience. And the girl, Miss Hood, so pretty in the single vignetted photograph by the bed, now slick with dark fresh blood. How had she come to this end? What crime had she ever committed which fit such brutal punishment?

He exhaled and rocked back in the chair as the work continued, letting the men complete their work while he tried to marshall his thoughts and regain his composure.

It was there, he could feel it. Try as he might, the scene was so, disarrayed. So seemingly random. What was the motive?

Then he felt it. It was not a pleasant feeling, but it welled up like a sudden fear of heights or a noise in the night when you are sleeping. The thought, like a tiny apologetic sliver of doom, beckoned to him, just outside of his notice, a small thought which asked politely to be heard. He dismissed it angrily three times before he relaxed and squinted cutty-eyed out of the corner of his mind, reluctantly and helplessly, and let it in.

Was the man real? Was he a demon? A wolf demon come to Earth to slay the weak and the beautiful for his own psychotic pleasure? That was nonsense, he protested weakly, base hysterical tosh! But was it? Was the unknown a lie simply because it was as yet unknowable? The thought tried again. It craved his attention more strongly and he listened grimly to it’s message.

Do the fallen gods crave to mutilate and destroy the bodies of men and women for their own edification? In the absence of our praise and worship do the fallen reach out and take the red water of our life and meat of our bones? In these cobbled streets of night do they take their red and pink worship in the form of our blood and flesh?

With the still, cold ripple of realisation in the pit of his stomach, like the flickering knife which had just stolen worship from the flesh and blood of poor Mary Hood, he knew in his heart it was true.

THE END

You can tell the amount of relish I poured into this story. It’s a dark tale, and befitting my feeble attempt at emulating the Dream King comes from an angle that you might not expect. I don’t know about you but I love Ripper stories, and I’ve always wanted to do one. But Red Riding Hood as a Ripper story, have no clue where that came from and it didn’t occur to me until I sat down to write. It was a flicker of an idea from my subconscious and I went with it.

I found out after about 2 nanoseconds research that Neil Gaiman has already done his own version of Red Riding Hood, of course he has. As by this point he’s written so many stories covering every conceivable mashup and reworking of popular myths and odd slants on fairy tales, I’d be more surprised if he hadn’t. But I went with it anyway because a) I REALLY wanted to write the story once I’d thought of it, and b) ploughing ahead and making it work even if you think it’s impossible is something I encourage my students to do, even if it “fails”. It’s up to you to decide if I was successful.

The thing is Neil’s style is quite hard to categorise, but you know it when you see it. There is a magic realism edge to almost everything he does, wether fantasy of science fiction, and mythical beasts lurk in the shadows of all his tales. You don’t so much write like Neil as a attempt to psychically channel him.

I couldn’t find any commentaries about his work so a quick trawl of the internet came up with the following:

He starts with the whole story, then tells why
He writes outside the box, full of magical realism
He crafts a thorough setting, vivid places

Okay, I don’t really know if any of that’s true, but it sounded right. So you start out telling the whole story and then backtrack and explain how it happened. That way of you foretell something horrible is about to happen you get a fair amount of suspense. You write outside the box, coming at the reader from odd angles they don’t expect and introducing elements which don’t necessarily belong in the story but make them work and creatively sew them into the fabric of what you’re doing. And finally make sure that the overall flavour of the environment you are telling the story in is alive with gorgeous telling details.

To get a feel for the era, I read a wonderful book, The “1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue” which is available many places online. It contains many slang phrases which are long out of use but provide a tangy flavour of the times, phrases like “cutty eyed” or “my eye Betty Martin” or “Shut your bone box” and the concept of “bawdy house bottles” being short measures. In fact the title “a wolf in the stomach” is slang for being hungry. The original title was “an ordinary demon” and you can argue which was better yourself.

So I laid out the direction of the story pretty fast in the opening paragraph. It’s totally clear where we are and what we’re talking about. If this story was part of an anthology you would assume we were talking about Jack the Ripper, but of course you get clues, Grandma, Grandma’s House, Miss Hood, the Wolf and pretty soon you are getting the idea. Then we explain how we got here.

The out of the box element is the detective’s speculations about the gods, and how fallen gods might seek their worship in other ways. I have to say I really liked that little twist. It could have just been an ordinary murderer or maybe a werewolf, but that was for want of a real word, not really “Gaimany” enough for me. If you want to write like Neil then you have to go the extra mile, you have to not just put a twist on your stories but twist them around a few more turns. Then you stand back whistling and act like nothing is wrong, even point somewhere else in the room and say “what’s that over there”, and let the audience find the extra twists, and smile when they do.

Neil Gaiman is by this point not so much a writer as he is a magician and showman with words. What he’s saying is not very complex and if you look under the hood (if you’ll pardon the pun) what he’s actually doing is (like the secrets behind all baffling illusions) almost mundane. But the massive degree of showmanship, misdirection and distraction of the settings and overall mood lull you into a sense of security, wandering along looking at the scenery. Then BAM you wake up and you are off the beaten track and you wonder how he persuaded you to go so far away from home.

He is the Derren Brown of magical realism.

oOo

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How to write like . . . Douglas Adams

Third in a series of 7 Pastiches of Little Red Riding Hood in the style of my favourite authors. Today I give you another retelling of the Red Riding Hood story, culled from the original text LITTLE RED CAP by the Brothers Grimm and in the style of the late, sorely missed, Douglas Adams. Afterwards I shall give you the matching commentary as to how it was done, and so on for all 7 stories. I hope you enjoy it. So now, let’s get to it…

 

Zen and the Art of Whup-ass
(after 
Douglas Adams)

VOICE OF A BOOK: (over twinkly starlike music) In the Nut Tree Nebula there is a planet known as Three Oaks, a surprisingly named place because a) there more than three oaks there, and b) in fact every piece of land on the entire planet is covered with trees.

It was speculated in the past that the name comes not from three OAKS, but three YOLKS. But this has since been discredited as a transparent ruse by the Three Oaks Egg Marketing Board. Someone certainly had egg on their face.

In any event you would assume, and who could blame you, that the major industry of a planet covered in trees would be wood.

And bird guano.

And actually those are two of the major industries, but not THE major industry…

This eventually became clear to ARTHUR DONT, an Earthman, and FRED PERFECT, an Alien of deliberately indeterminate lineage, who at the time of our story were strolling nonchalantly along in the forest of infinite unbroken trees. They had clearly just been jogging as they both had towels around their necks. Although on closer inspection neither had broken a sweat, both were a little paunchy, and it was impossible to run in a straight line on that planet for longer than about 4 seconds without running into a tree. In any event, they had towels.

Fred is about to explain to Arthur why they can’t leave.

FRED PERFECT: We can’t leave, we haven’t seen all the sights. I tell you Arthur, this place is amay-zing, you dig? Trees as far as the eye can see…

ARTHUR DONT: Which is not very far because of all the trees. At this point I’m craving a cup of tea and any kind of view that’s not obscured by tree trunks.

FRED: But don’t you feel at one with nature, surrounded by all this wood?

ARTHUR: Can’t see the wood… too many trees! And what sights? All we’ve seen for four days is trees. All the same. All on the same level.

FRED: Communing with nature, come on, doesn’t it speak to you, man?

ARTHUR: I talk to the trees, but like YOU, Fred… they don’t listen to me.

FRED: Okay okay, I get it. You wanna go. According to the guide it’s actually not far to the next ranger station, somewhere called Grand Mars Haus?

VOICE OF A BOOK: And indeed it wasn’t far, because a mere quarter league further down the road (or the distance it takes a man to stumble in bedroom slippers across bracken in an hour) in a grove of the aforementioned Woodfer Trees, they arrived at the Grand Mars Haus Ranger station.

FRED: Hello? Anybody home?

ARTHUR: Why do they paint Ranger stations to look like cottages made out of candy?

FRED: Tradition I think. Hello?

RANGER: (muffled) Hello? Who’s there?

FRED: Ah hello, you don’t know us, but we are Fred Perfect and Arthur Dont, tourists. We were wondering if you could direct us to the next transport station, or perhaps give us a lift?

RANGER: (muffled) Ah. Please come in, lift the latch and come in.

ARTHUR: For some reason I have a very bad feeling about this.

VOICE OF A BOOK: Inside the dark and dingy station the Ranger loomed large, a huge furry creature stuffed into a tiny ranger uniform clearly not meant for him.

FRED: Oh, hello. Gosh, sorry but er what big eyes you have.

RANGER: All the better to see you with. In fact they are very sensitive to light so can you close the door, there’s a good chap.

FRED: Of course. (FX: creak, slam)

ARTHUR: And sorry to mention it but I’m struck by, well, what big ears you have.

RANGER: Bit personal.

ARTHUR: Sorry.

RANGER: Okay so they are, you know, all the better to hear you with, but veeerrrrrry sensitive so stop shouting.

ARTHUR: (softly) sorry.

FRED: And er, can’t help noticing, but you know, what big, uh, oh dear, teeth you, er…

RANGER: Okay, enough already… (FX: growl, gnash, scream, GULP)

FRED: (inside the Ranger) Arthur?

ARTHUR: (inside the Ranger) Yes?

FRED: (inside the Ranger) I don’t think this guy is the Ranger.

ARTHUR: (inside the Ranger) Whatever gives you that idea?

FRED: (inside the Ranger) Apart from the fact he just gobbled us up whole, you mean?

ARTHUR: (inside the Ranger) Oh be quiet. At least there are no trees in here.

(FX: muffled knock knock from outside)

RANGER: (muffled) Who’s there?

LITTLE RED: (muffled) It’s Little Red, come to deliver cake and wine.

RANGER: (muffled) Please come in, lift the latch and come in. Ha ha ha… Oh shit!

(FX: Roar, battle sounds followed by final howling roar and a disgusting wet ripping sound.)

LITTLE RED: You boys okay in there?

ARTHUR: Thank god you opened him up in time and let us out. Although now there’s air around my face oh god I can smell how bad this is… Augh! Who are you, anyway, slightly built, gore covered woman?

LITTLE RED: I’m Little Red. I don’t open up wolves. I open up cans of whup-ass. This laser axe here is my can opener.

FRED: Ah. Thats a bit of cliché, isn’t it?

LITTLE RED: You got a smart mouth for a man covered in giant wolf guts.

FRED: Point taken.

LITTLE RED: Let’s go, I’ve got a ship waiting. Zipgun Beetlebrows needs you. Bring the monkey.

ARTHUR: (fade into distance) You know Zipgun? What is whup-ass? Is it a martial art? Where are we going? Is there tea? Hey, what monkey?!?

VOICE OF A BOOK: And so it was that our heroes found their way out of the forest through the guts of an evil wolf creature from the planet Grimm, reconnected with their friend Zipgun Beetlebrows via their meeting with the tiny but gorgeous warrior princess, Little Red, and how they established that when all’s said and done, planet Three Oaks’ major industry was in fact small, feisty, bipedal female-dispensed cans of whup-ass.

THE END

 Another enormously satisfying pastiche based on my love of dear late Douglas’ work.

The keynotes of his style are a razor wit, word play, and an attitude culled from the different parts of his personality. Ford Prefect, or Fred Perfect as he is known here, was the classless, adventurous guy who’d been everywhere and done everything, travelled widely and knew how to do things. He was enthusiastic and up for new experiences. Arthur Dent, or Dont as I have him here, was the opposite, middle class curmudgeon wearing a dressing gown and slippers who didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything, was constantly grumbling, wanting tea and not being able to get it anywhere they travelled, and contantly self depreciateing and yet wanting to be appreciated.

These two opposing personalities were the driving force of the Hitchhiker’s series, and I feel they were aspects of Douglas, wanting to be the adventurous Ford, but feeling like Arthur. Travelling and experiencing the sensual pleasure of new things and places and experiences, but being a bit crestfallen that he couldn’t get a proper cup of tea anywhere but home. Their arguments and bickering drove the plot and gave Douglas time to put forth his own ideas about Life, The Universe and Everything through the opinions of his cast.

All the place and character names, like in Philip K Dick’s work, are puns or jokes, but in common with Sir Terry Pratchett they are much more overt, staunchly British, and much less in-jokey than PKD. You always knew with Douglas, as with Sir Terry, that if someone had an obviously funny name which was begging for a joke, that at some point that joke, the very reason they were named that way, would be along shortly and would be worth the wait. Slartibartfast springs to mind.

And the woman were always very strong in his tales, modern women who stood up for themselves and never took any BS from the clearly childish male characters. In tight situations it was the women, and in rare cases and to his own surprise more than anyone Arthur, who stepped up and saved the day.

Douglas also had this way of writing long sentences with many clauses, sometimes with two or three asides inserted within commas, and yet no matter how long or wordy the sentences got, he refined and doubtless said them out loud until they read smoothly and naturally.

When all was said and done Douglas had a lot to say about life and had an unquenchable thirst for it. He chose comedy as a platform for his ideas, the way PKD chose science fiction as a platform for his philosophy. I tend to think of his stories not as stories, not in the way Neil Gaiman tells stories, but as yarns, a tall tale which entertains and informs while leaving you with a happy camp fire glow, and the comfort of knowing you can always come back to it or retell it to each other whenever you want to.

oOo

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How to write like . . . David Lynch

Second in a series of 7 Pastiches of Little Red Riding Hood in the style of my favourite authors. Today I give you another retelling of the Red Riding Hood story, culled from the original text LITTLE RED CAP by the Brothers Grimm. Afterwards I shall give you the matching commentary as to how it was done, and so on for all 7 stories. I hope you enjoy it. So now, without much further ado, and not that there has been any ado before now…

Deep Red Night
(After 
David Lynch)

EXT. FOREST – NIGHT
A red haired young woman, LITTLE AUBURN, about 19 years old, in a blue hooded sweatshirt is walking along a forest path. A supermarket grocery bag in her hand. She has white cutoff trousers and silver glittery shoes. She seems ill at ease. Her shoes tick tick tick on the path and echo a little. The wind blows in the trees, whipping the tops making a lot of noise. She pulls up the hood over her hair and walks more quickly. Before the fade there is a faint throaty laughter and a dog barking.

FADE TO:

INT. KITCHEN – NIGHT
MOM is in the bright colourful kitchen wearing a 50s style house dress and apron, cleaning up after baking. The curtains are full length and dark green and the floor is a geometric black and white pattern. It has the flavour of 1950s diner about it.

There is a vinyl record playing on a record player. She wipes the tops and brushes flour off the top into her hand. She puts a book back on the shelf, “BAKING FOR MOMS” and the old fashioned wall telephone rings. She takes off the apron and answers it, brushing flour from her front with the apron. Halfway through the conversation she bends down and picks up a large sink plunger and holds it ready, as if preparing for her next task.

MOM

Hello?
 (shouts as to deaf person)
Hello! Hi mom! Yes. I know you’re not well, you called me earlier, remember? I’ve sent LITTLE AUBURN over with some wine and some cake! Wine and cake! Mulled wine and a little carrot cake! Carrot! For the love o’Mike, mom, wine and cake! Did you lose the batteries in your hearing aid? What? No don’t turn it off to save the the batteries! I keep telling you they are not expensive, and there’s no point if you can’t… Anyway I told her to stay on the path and to take great care! Care, not hair! No, of course I didn’t go with her! I’m talking to you now on the phone. Jeez Louise, mom!

The record skips and repeats the same notes over and over and Mom looks at the skipping record with a strange look of foreboding on her face.

FADE TO:

EXT. FOREST – NIGHT
LITTLE AUBURN walks along the path, tick tick tick, and an uneasy just audible drone begins on the soundtrack as she walks. She walks faster and faster and the trees rustle louder and louder. Eventually she’s running. She looks behind her as she runs.

She runs and runs and the drone gets louder until BAM!

She finally gets to a road and a car blazes past, horn going, almost mowing her down. The hood falls back reveling her hair and an apple drops from the bag and leaps out of the bag all in slow motion. The apple drops on the ground in slomo and comes to rest. She gasps for breath, looks around and catches her breath. She smiles, the shock has emboldened her. She seems to be relaxing a little.

LITTLE AUBURN

Don’t run off the path. I will take great care. Don’t run off the…

WOLF

 (off screen)
Good evening, Little Red Haired Girl.

LITTLE AUBURN

Woah! Who’s there? Stay back, Mister, I got a knife.

She grabs a butter knife out of the bag and flourishes it about inexpertly.

A shadowy figure leans agains a tree on the other side of the road. He’s smoking a cigarette. He laughs genially and flicks the butt.

WOLF

Woah yerself, ginger. Cool your jets, no need for the blade, mon cheri. I don’t bite, although my name is Mr WOLF. That might be a hair hard to swallow, but I maintain that I mean you no harm. Now tell me, child, where might you be going to, in such an all-fired hurry on this fine night?

LITTLE AUBURN

 (uncertainly)
Grandma’s house.

WOLF

I see. What’s in the, uh, bag?

LITTLE AUBURN

What?

WOLF

The bag. Le sac. The gladstone. What’s in the tote, mon petite dejuner?

LITTLE AUBURN

Oh, the bag, it’s cake. Carrot cake. And wine, mulled wine. Some, uh, fruit. My grandma is ill, and I’m taking her wine and cake. And fruit. T-t-to grandma’s house. Her house. F-f-for grandma.

WOLF

Understood, understood. And forgive me, but where might it be, this, “Grandma’s house”, eh?

LITTLE AUBURN

A good three quarters of a mile yonder on into the wood, under the three oaks? With the nut trees below? You surely must know it.

As he replies we sometimes see his eyes. Piecing blue.

WOLF

That I do. Three quarters of a mile, eh? What they’d call a quarter league in the olden days. Heh heh. You know a league was defined as the distance a man could go on a horse in an hour? Not many people recall that in these crazy times.
 (beat)
Listen to me rambling, you’ll be getting cold. Be on your way, but take your time, sugar. Smell the flowers, enjoy the air. Don’t rush! Hop skip. I’ll stand guard and mind you aren’t followed. Okay?

LITTLE AUBURN

Uh okay. Thanks Mr WOLF. Sorry about the knife thing. You’re very kind.

WOLF

Not a problem.

LITTLE AUBURN

Well goodnight then.

WOLF replies with a rigid wave of the hand like a sideways karate chop.

She crosses the road and strolls off into the darkness. The drone begins again, more loudly this time, along with some echoing music, perhaps a Jazz tune with a brushed snare drum, upright bass and finger snaps.

Mr WOLF emerges from the shadows. He is a thin, good looking young man, with black slicked back hair, a quiff and long sideburns. He is wearing a purple suit. He walks to where LITTLE AUBURN was standing and watches her vanish into the dark.

We see briefly behind him and not too clearly a dog crosses the path and disappears into the foliage.

Mr WOLF makes a soft coyote howl as he looks up at the full moon and begins to talk to it.

WOLF

Oh mother moon, what a tender young creature! What a nice plump mouthful! She will be better than the old woman. I must be crafty so as to catch both.

He goes as if to howl again, but stops when he sees the apple she dropped. He picks it up. He tosses and catches it. He regards it in his hand for a second then takes a huge crisp bite out of it, and while chewing with his mouth open begins to laugh around the huge juicy mouthful.

Still laughing and chewing he swings a large axe up onto his shoulder and follows LITTLE AUBURN as if he has all the time in the world.

THE END

oOo

and now my COMMENTARY

Again this was enormous fun as I am a giant fan of David Lynch, and have seen most of his films more than once. I have also read a number of commentaries of his work.

The thing to bear in mind about David Lynch is that he is a surrealist painter first and a filmmaker second. His stories are more like moving paintings. Events sometimes don’t make a lot of sense, and critics and viewers often assume that these events are “random” or “wacky” in some way. The thing is they are almost always deliberate, and yet Lynch is not necessarily completely aware of what it means either. He employs internal logic, often culled from dreams or daydreams, and goes with his gut about wether something belongs in the story or not.

Almost everything in his films is there as symbolism or humour.

Dogs and Record players are almost always significant, usually heralds of some kind of evil. Often he uses colours for the same ends. You may recall he has a fondness for red curtains and black and white tiled floors.

People in Lynch movies speak somewhat archaic 1950s English. They frequently seem as though they are in fact IN the 1950s no matter what the date on the calendar. In fact they speak such odd phrases I felt totally able to drop some of the dialogue in verbatim from the original classic Grimm tale.

Sound is very important, and he uses sound with these symbolic cues, dogs, curtains, swaying trees etc. to convey uneasy moods and impending doom.Sometimes sound is speeded up, sometimes it is reversed. But it is all deliberate and not at all random.

What’s the sink plunger about? Humour. Often characters will hold random objects while speaking. Sometimes it’s the actors choice and Lynch goes with it because it feels right. Sometimes he will get an urge to include something because it’s found on set. Sometimes he brings it in specially.

What is the significance of the apple? It falls out of the basket and the wolf guy finds it and gobbles it up without hesitation. A metaphor for gobbling her and her grandma up? Unlikely as it seems chopping them with the axe is on his mind. Perhaps it’s nod back to the original tale but in any case  it’s entirely up to the audience as to what that means to them. I know what I think it means to me but it’s an abstract thought, something which can only be conveyed with a series of pictures.

That’s the essence of David Lynch, sound and pictures, living paintings. It’s all about mood and overall feel rather than specifics of story and plot.

oOo

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How to write like . . . Philip K Dick

This is the first in a series of 7 pastiches of famous authors, not purely for my own benefit although clearly I enjoyed writing them enormously. No, there is a serious purpose. Not only will I write you seven versions of the Red Riding Hood story, but I will add commentaries at the end to tell you how they were made and what decisions I made to write the text as much like the original author as possible. There is a reson this is a good thing. Pastiche gives you insight into an authors style and work, and making pastiches, even if you never publish them, gives you valuable practise and insight into how things work.

I have drawn my targets from my own taste but also authors I think you will enjoy seeing dissembled. As well as Philip K Dick I’ve done Neil Gaiman, Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett and a few surprise ones. This is going to be fun.

Today I give you my first retelling of the Red Riding Hood story, culled from the original text LITTLE RED CAP by the Brothers Grimm. In the next post I shall give you the matching commentary as to how this was written and how it was done, and so on for all 7 stories. I hope you enjoy it.

Our Friends From Forest 9
(after Philip K. Dick)

Girla Redcap was having a difficult morning. Wood Huntsman videolinked and asked if she’d done her psych evaluation this month.  Her personalities outvoted her three to one, so she was a noshow. She said sure, knowing full well he’d run down here and chop her when he inevitably checked and discovered she was lying. Huntsman was the company axe man, but only a part time asshole. She might get lucky. The odds were with her. Only three disappearances last night and a psychic load of no more than three Gretels this morning, well within tolerances.

But then her mother told her that her grandma was ill again and could she take her government sanctioned Snax rations with some wine and cake so the old dear didn’t die. Or disappear, she added darkly. Girla said she would, but slipped out back of the re-condo first chance she got before her mom could hand her the basket.

No way was she driving a quarter league through the woods to Three Oaks and Grandma’s house, not alone. That old bird was crazy. Always ranting about BB Wolf coming back. Many people thought he was on his way, the vids were full of it, pictures of him all huffin and puffin. But most people of Girla’s generation had no recollection of him, too young, too long ago. Some said he was just a legend and not in a good way, more like a scary bedtime story. Girla had a twisty feeling in her stomach just thinking about it. The literally last thing Earth needed right now, with all the people randomly disappearing into thin air, was its most famous long lost son returning from the alternate dimension we dropped him into, with grizzled hairs on his chinny chin chin and pig meat in his teeth.

She leaned on the porch wearing her red shirt, the hood pulled over her short black hair while she popped a Grimmbro pill and lit a coca leaf cigarette, Aztec Gold brand. Those SoAm imports sure did taste good. What did they put in them? And what big eyes you had after. All the better to see with, she mused.

Then she stopped… An odd ripple in her stomach and an odd lurch sideways in her head, like her inner ear was stepping out for a moment. She noticed her cigarette was missing. Had she dropped it? She looked around. Only discarded Snax wrappers. When she reached into her pocket, the pack of smokes was gone too, only a cold spot in the cloth where it used to be. The lighter was also missing. And her IDpass and keys. The air smelled like electricity and oil. What the hell?

Urgently, with numb fingers she fumbled the door and eased back into the kitchen. Her mother was baking, which was unusual. The smell of scorched fauxpastry filled her nostrils. She froze. Why was her mom wearing a fur hat? Even though Girla had entered the room without a sound her mom spoke immediately without turning.

“The wine and the cake are in the bag, be sure grandma eats them” she purred.

Girla’s mouth was dry. “How did you hear me, what big ears you have…”

Mom chuckled wetly like her tongue was in the way. “All the better to hear you sneaking up on me.”

Something was way off, the room looked wrong. The pictures were not of her and her mom, and as mom turned to face her, empty baked pie crust and knife in hand, eyes as big as saucers and teeth like razor shells, she knew the answer like a cold metal bead in the bottom of her stomach.

BB Wolf was already back, he had been for some time, and was gobbling up humanity one inter-dimensional bite at a time.

THE END
oOo
and now my COMMENTARY

For starters I am a huge fan of Philip K Dick so this first pastiche was an easy one for me. I’ve also read a few books about his work and the reasons behind his style because he was such an interesting character. This is actually a good starting point for any author if you want to pastiche someone’s work, get the Cliffs Notes or Sparknotes study guides or other commentary books on the work of the person you admire. This is always a good way into the work because the reviewers may point out themes and ideas that you are not aware of.

The story contains what I consider to be some classic PKD flourishes, so let me point them out.

Names: Dick always had fun with names and they were almost always in-jokes or puns.

At the very least they were stream of consciousness syllables which sounded superficially like proper names but were made up. Wood Huntsman is a typical example. From the original tale I took the Huntsman, who in some versions is called the woodsman or wood cutter, and made him a peripheral character. I added a joke about being an axe man just to ram the point home.

The main character is called Girla Redcap, nodding back to the original story. It’s like a contraction of Girl of the Red Cap, or Girla Madreams, a fairly typical punny name. And the bad guy is BB Wolf, short for Big Bad Wolf, actually a character from the Three Little Pigs. This is also a typical PKD move, obliquely referring to characters from another of his stories. This implies that the stories all take place in the same universe.

Obscure systems of measurement and product names: I have no idea what Gretels are or what they measure, and neither would PKD but he would include a lot of references to such things that were unexplained in the text, leaving you to make assumptions about what they mean. These would be added for local colour and to add texture to the world, leading you to believe there was more to know, more artwork outside the frame so to speak.

A re-condo is like a condo, a Gretel is a sort of measure of psychic load, whatever that means, but it’s okay because they are “within tolerances”. In other words pay them no mind. The characters are familiar with the meanings of all these measurements and don’t explain them, so that like someone entering a conversation halfway through, we ignore the bits we don’t get in the hope it will make sense overall. We are like guests at a dinner party who don’t want to seem ill informed, and PKD relies on this impulse.

There are always drug use references in his works as he himself was a well known self medicater. Grimmbros is a refernce to the Grimm Brothers and the cocaine cigarettes with the smirking and yet credible brand name are another PKD flourish.

Snax rations does two things, adds a science fiction flavour (soylent green?) and implies rationing of some kind, so perhaps this takes place after a war? SoAm is short for South America, another thing he played with a lot was place names, everything had meaning in his stories and he wasn’t too fussy about the meaning being unknown or obscure. Place names change, it sounds more sci-fi to abbreviate names, even names of countries. It is a cliche to do this now in dystopian SciFi, but when Phil Dick did it it was a new idea.

Psych evaluation and warped perception: DIck was mildly unbalanced most of his life and his work is pervaded by an intense interest with perception, identity, reality and what they all mean. Warping of reality, people who don’t really know who they are or are not sure, and never being totally certain of your own mind, are classic PKD hallmarks.

Dark haired girls: lots of PKD stories contain dark haired girls in important roles. Sometimes they arrive to rescue the hero, sometimes they arrive to trick him, but they almost always arrive. Their hair is short, it is dark, and they are here with a purpose.

Returning heroes/villains: in quite a few stories there is someone important returning from somewhere, space, time, another dimension, and their arrival is a timer of sorts. Stuff needs to happen before they get back. The returning person is either a saviour or a destroyer. In our story it’s the Big Bad Wolf, and it’s too late he’s already here.

Stylish but almost EC Comics endings: I used to love reading his short stories as a kid. And nothing chills the crap out of you in the middle of the night reading by torchlight than sudden terrifying endings.

Okay, that’s it. If you have any questions by all means email me phil at writingfit dot com and ask.

oOo

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Influenzpiration and Music Therapy

and other stories about how to get THERE from HERE

So, wow, where did February go? It’s flown by, or in my case FLU by. After completing the work on my writing course and sending it off to the potential publishing partner for approval, I heaved a sigh of relief, which quickly and unexpectedly turned into a heaving cough. After a week or so of the worst influenza I’ve had since the Beatles had all their own teeth, I was done in.

I suppose I had it coming. As a person who likes to keep in touch with his body, monitor my various body states and keep in tune with my senses and surroundings, I should have known I’d slump after working so hard and long hours and NOT (I freely admit) taking very good care of myself. I paid the full price with no discount for former good behaviour in the form of flu.

My senses were all but dull thudding appendages, touch was painful, my hearing a muffled roar, my sense of smell gone, my sight blurry and my mind, a previously orderly stack of what I’ve done and what needs to BE done… was like a library full of sacred texts besieged by mischievous squirrels.

Every time I closed my eyes I found myself having conversations with fictitious persons, having tea with them on occasion, and my following vague moments of lucidity were wasted thinking “what the HELL was all that all about…?” So I swerved in and out of proper consciousness, but in my coherent and pain free times I tried to read and watch films. God bless the Infinite Internet for your twinkly endless trove of information, ideas and inspiration.

Oh and god bless Apple’s little iPad and your flu friendly interface, an easy to browse device for those not in their right mind, and durable enough to slide out of my insensible, palsied, and sweaty hand onto the bedroom floor without breaking (unlike my mind which was brittle as sugar glass) the facts I learned and the ideas I had all too readily shattered into a hailstorm of unreadable shards, leaving painful needles in my brain rather than useful thoughts…

Then I slept for days on end. Feverish dreams of writing and teaching, hot sleepless nights of twisting in the covers, trying to find the one cool spot to bring me otherwise elusive solace and peace.

Then one day to my surprise I woke, dry, refreshed and actually conscious. I walked to the bathroom, washed and shaved with a fresh blade in gorgeously hot soapy water. I dried myself on a warm laundered towel and changed into cool dry and fresh clothes and sat drinking coffee and looking out over the river to the library, the March weather turning both cool and warm air currents colliding over the town into a pleasing, mysterious fog.

A week had passed, along with it my 52nd birthday. In my feverish state on that day, I remember being unable to write (and alone because my grown up children live at home but had plans of their own which didn’t include their ailing father) and it came back to me. I spent my birthday making an album of vintage synthesiser re-workings of Claude Debussy’s “Children’s Corner”. Ahem. Wow.

Yes I know, what curious glitch of my poor overheated cranium made me think that would be a good way to work off the fever? Folly! But listening back to the recordings I was astonished to find them quite good. I sequenced them using MIDI files of piano performances, to avoid my own fumble fingered playing ruining the thing, and rendered the performances on vintage synthesisers (or computerised simulations) and arranged and mixed them, and the results were very satisfying. If you are curious what the flu doing the rounds at the moment does to a creative man’s brain, go here to archive.org and download for free and listen for yourself. I even designed a cover to look like an old vinyl LP. A pretty productive day considering I was in truth half dead.

Download a free copy of my influenza inspired flight of nostalgia here
Claude Debussy’s Freakout Corner by Phil South
 

Ok it was a bad idea as I suffered for it painfully later on for not resting fully. I’m sure it added another couple of days to the fever. But it’s interesting to me where the mind goes when in retreat.

But where did the idea come from? I recall I watched a video at one point which had the (definitely non-PC these days) Golliwogg’s Cakewalk as the soundtrack and it set me off. What was that tune? Then I found out it was Debussy and that it was part of the Children’s Corner Suite historically commonly played for children. Of course then, I was played it as a child in school in the early 1960s. A scratchy old record. Along with Saint Saens and Peter and the Wolf and John Philip Souza’s Liberty Bell. So many memories…

So it was my birthday, and that always sets off all kinds of childhood memories, even when I don’t have a temperature of 101. Then I remembered Wendy Carlos and her “Switched on Bach”, and the vinyl records of those I had just last week found and played. And the weird old Nonsuch Guide to Electronic Music that had been such an ill advised piece of flu inspired entertainment earlier in the week. Surreal blips and blops in my ears while I slept.

But then it came to me, inspiration! I would make an album of music in the style of Wendy Carlos, but based on what music? The Debussy of course…

Well, that’s how I got there. I know it doesn’t make sense, but then inspiration NEVER does, only maybe internal sense. And in mitigation neurologically speaking I was impaired, the brakes were off in any of the usual ways I stop myself free associating. And as someone who just finished writing and recording a course in how to access your consciousness to improve your creativity, this should have come as no surprise to me. But hey cut me a break, I was ill.

Hope you enjoy the Debussy as much I enjoyed making it while off my trolley.

 

That’s enough music, next time I promise there I’ll be back up to strength and we can talk more about writing and how to turn yourself into a creative genius.

See you next time.