The Fox’s Beard

The Fox's Beard Audio Cover

I wrote this short story a little while ago and it’s up there as one of my favourites. It’s a fairly standard fable, which is what I like about it, as well as having an unlikeable protagonist, which, while can be challenging to get an audience behind, is quite fun to write. It’s message is pretty simple, namely the tried and true warning; ‘be careful what you wish for’, which is always fun.

I’ve wanted to do an audio version for a while because I like reading stories aloud, and I think this one, with its humour and narration, really lends itself to that format. Thanks to Movie Maintence Presents, this now exists.

You can listen to the audio here, or find MOBI, EPUB, and PDF versions to download below, for those of you who’d prefer to read the story yourself rather than hear my voice. Simply click the appropriate image, then ‘download’ in the new window that opens.

I hope you enjoy it and thanks for listening/reading

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Talk soon

Damian

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September 20, 2018

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Inside Out by Avalanche city is the blog song this week. Avalanche City is a singer songwriter from New Zealand, and creates folk pop treats of harmonious delight. Or, at least, I think he does. Enjoy.

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Current chain of writing days: 52

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I’ve been writing my weekend flash fiction stories for four weeks now, and they’re definitely scratching the itch I’d wanted them to. Not only do they ensure that I keep up with writing over the weekend, but they’re coming together better than I had hoped. In fact, I’m liking them a little too much, and have to be careful that they don’t leak into my weekday writing, which I use to chip away at whatever major project I’m currently working on.

In order to stop this from happening I have a strict rule that flash fiction writing can only take place over the weekend. As soon as Monday shows it’s round and sunny face it’s done, fingers down. No more editing, no more reworking, just throw whatever I have at that point on to the website. Because of this rule, and because I am a strict task master, one who refuses to bend to my own internal begging, I was concerned that the weekend writing might be somewhat sub par. Mostly, they haven’t been. In fact the latest one, Once Hidden, Three Times Found, is a piece of writing I’m really happy with, and up there as one of my favourites. The most exciting part about that story though was that I had no idea where it was going as I was writing it.

Usually, I plot out my story at least a little, even if it’s simply writing down whatever initially spawned the idea and adding a few stray thoughts about where it might go. But, because of my whip cracking rules, I didn’t have time for that, I didn’t even really have an initial burst of inspiration. What I did have was a writing prompt, given by another writing advice blog, where I was given a title and a first line, and then I just wrote from there, the story seemingly coming from nowhere.

It was kind of amazing. Stephen King has talked about how he often has no idea where his stories are going, but rather describes it as though he’s an archaeologist who’s simply exposing a story that’s already there. That’s what this one felt like.

I wrote the first half over two plane trips last weekend, travelling in between Melbourne and Adelaide, a short fifty minute flight, meaning my usual truncated time was even shorter still. I didn’t have time to overthink it, I just wrote one scene, briefly considered what could happen next, and then immediately wrote it; still with no plan about where the story was leading.

I then wrote the second half in the weekend just past. I knew I had hit my midpoint at the end of last weekend and still had no idea about how the second half would conclude, but all week I was excited to find out, because, weirdly, I felt like as much reader as writer, confident the story did have an ending, I would just have to wait to see what it was. Saturday rolled around but I had to finish editing an audio book version of one of my short stories (details of which to be revealed in a future blog), and so I had one day to find the story’s second half.

I began writing and sure enough, there it was, waiting for me, coming out one line at a time. By the time I was done I felt elated and wild. The ending came together, plucked from the corners of my mind and woven together in a way that felt natural and right.

Here’s the thing though, I’m not a story archaeologist. The story wasn’t waiting to be discovered. It wasn’t hanging in space, complete and perfect, simply needing a vessel to reveal itself. That’s not how it works. What actually happened was all the practice and work and study from the last few years came together in a way that meant I didn’t have to think about the story elements as I wrote them. Which, to me, is even more amazing. It means all this works.

When I started my screenwriting degree and was learning about all the various writing tools and structure guidelines and character design and dialogue rules and etc. etc. etc. it seemed like a lot to take in, a lot of pieces to crowd your head as you wrote, a lot of filters to look at your writing through. Basically, it seemed impossible. My lectures told me though, that given enough time all that knowledge would become second nature, that if used it enough it would become innate and feature in my writing without me having to think about it. I’m starting to see that they were right.

Basically, writing is like any other skill, you need to practice it. You need to do it over and over until you’re sick of doing it, and then find some way to keep doing it anyway. It’ll always take work, but the more you work the better you get, and that’s what I’m most excited about; getting better.

Talk soon

Damian

September 8, 2017

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For all the mixed opinions about John Mayer, and his tabloid worthy antics, I think the guy’s capable of some great music. Stop This Train, is the best example of that. It details in heart wrenching relatability the feeling that life is moving too fast, and the untenable desire to slow it down. It’s also today’s blog song.

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Current chain of writing days: 40

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A couple of weekends ago the Lady Holly and I had what we call a ‘Hdoliday.’ Apart from combining the first letter of our names with the word holiday, it’s also a weekend we put aside to purposely be antisocial. Well, we still want to be social, but just with each other.

With Holly’s work as a highschool teacher frequently leaking out into her weekends and after hours, and with me using outer work hours for writing, podcasting, and various other networking activities, not to mention actually hanging out with all the great people in our lives, it can sometimes feel like we don’t have a lot of time to just have a lazy day at home. A day where we’re free to do anything, or nothing. Our hdolidays are the answer to that.

We’ve had three so far; two involving a lot of lounging around like greek rulers, and, the most recent one, where we not only left the house, but did so multiple times. The cause for this was that I had been given a very generous red balloon voucher from a group of my friends for my thirtieth birthday in November last year. Not being much of an adrenaline junkie (the complete opposite) I quickly ruled out a lot of red balloon’s more standard options. Luckily, there are plenty of other offers on the site, including weekends away. Originally, that is what we had planned on doing, but none of the trips really fit what we were looking for, and so we decided to change tactics. We would instead treat ourselves to a number of activities within our own city, Melbourne, and have a weekend away by not going anywhere.

We brought three vouchers; two food based, and one an activity. The food ones were a buffet breakfast at the Hotel Windsor (Saturday Morning), and teppanyaki at a restaurant on Southbank (Sunday lunch). Both were great in different ways but it was the activity that stood out from the weekend. An hour in a flotation tank.

I’ll be honest, most of my interest in this activity came from a Simpsons episode, where Homer and Lisa each give it a go, to varying results. I had also heard that you could sometimes have hallucinations while in the tank, and read a story about someone who got a pretty serious ear infection after going to a dodgy clinic in LA, and that was my sum knowledge about what to expect. Going in, I was mostly excited by my ignorance. I didn’t know what was going to happen but I was keen to find out. I figured it would be weird, maybe boring, and at the very least no different from a really long bath.

For those who don’t know, a floatation tank is basically a large capsule filled with incredibly salty water in order to ensure you float. Its main goal, and the thing that makes it so trippy, is sensory deprivation; trying to cut you off from your senses as much as possible. The walls are thick to cut out sound, the lights get turned off, and the floatation means that mostly all you can feel is a slight awareness of water. However, the temperature of the water, is kept the same as the room, which is aimed to be the same as the average body temperature, so even then it can be hard to know where the water, your body, and the surrounding air start and finish. By cutting yourself off from all your senses you’re basically left to do, as Holly called it, forced meditation. This is why some people hallucinate. They’re left with so little input that their minds go into vivid daydreaming, that they’re so focused on that it seems real.

I didn’t hallucinate, and I didn’t get an ear infection. What I did do was relax.

I was left alone in the room, showered, and then quickly stepped into the tank, closing the lid behind me. At first I was giddy. The high salt content means that you have no option but to float, and the extreme buoyancy, not to mention the fact that I was closed up in a big white pod half filled with water, was weird and amusing. Lights were on and music was playing, both of which would slowly fade away after ten minutes.

I closed my eyes and lay back.

First there were the stray thoughts, the normal ones your brain thinks on when you first lie down, mostly comprised of analysing what I was experiencing, or more correctly, wasn’t. I swayed my body and felt it move with barely any resistance. I thought about how I could be in space right then, with nothing but infinity stretching out around me in every direction. Then the music drifted away and I dared to open my eyes. There was no difference. With the lights now off I was in the pitchest of blacks, the kind where I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face. I giggled, the idea of me lost in space seeming even more real.

My mind turned from immediate events, to past ones and future concerns, and then to somewhere beyond them. I wouldn’t say I ever stopped thinking completely, there was no clearing of the mind, but the thoughts were small and quiet, disappearing as soon as they arrived, and leaving no trace or memory of what they were even about.

Then I scratched my forehead and three salty drops of water fell into my eyes. I tried really hard not to rub at them, knowing it would make it worse, then tried to ignore them, then when that didn’t work finally sat up and turned on the light. Inside each pod is a button to turn on a low light, and a squirt bottle of clean water for just this occasion. I washed my eyes out, turned the lights off, and lay back down.

It seemed only a handful of minutes later that I became aware of the music slowly starting again. Somehow an hour had passed. I sat up within the tank and listened to the music, still not thinking much of anything. My body was relaxed, and comfortable, and my mind was too. Eventually, I opened the tank and stepped out. I showered again to get all the salt off and made my way back out into a world that for a short while had seemed not to exist.

As you can probably tell, I enjoyed the experience for the most part. It felt like I had had a big long sleep, and as meditation goes is easily the most I’ve ever been able to achieve. There was also something about being so alone, even for a short while. That for that short time all I really had to worry about was myself, and even then that mostly comprised of keeping salt out of my eyes.

Holly had a similar experience, and a similar dilation of time, although that was mostly due to the fact that she fell asleep.

I love that woman.

Talk soon

Damian

The King of Rabbits

1.Louis-Bonarparte

I want to tell you a story. It’s a true story. Not mine, admittedly, but true nonetheless.

It’s about a man, a man who wanted to be king, who would be king, king of a land not originally his own. This man, he wanted to be a good king. Wanted to make a good impression, and earn respect and trust from his new citizens. Wanted his name, Louis – The King of Holland, to be known and spoken of for years to come.

But there was a problem, there’s always a problem for guys like this, and for this guy the problem was his brother. You see Louis’ brother was a real big deal, a king in his own right, and a conqueror. A man whose name was already known across the globe, and feared. There’s even a good chance you already know of him.

His name was Napoleon.

Told you.

As you might have expected, it was Napoleon who acquired for Louis his new stewardship. You see, Napoleon felt that the Batavian Republic, as it was then known, was too independent for his liking, and, being the man that he was, decided to replace it with the Kingdom of Holland, and place ol’ Louis on the throne, having him serve as nothing more than a French prefect of Holland. Big brothers, what are you going to do?

However, as you and I both know, Louis had other plans. Small plans, admittedly, and well meaning, but plans Napoleon would be none to pleased about. Plans, in fact, that would lead to conflict and strife between the brothers, with Napoleon eventually forcing Louis’ to abdicate the very throne he’d given him.

All comes later, though. The story I’m telling you today comes right at the start of Louis’ rule.

While big brother was off paving the way for his eventual monarchy, Louis was learning all he could about his his soon to be adopted country, making every effort so that when the time came he would be sure to impress his new citizenry. He decided that he needed to show the Dutch people that he was one of them, and that even though he was of French descent he would always but the needs of the Dutch first. Before he could do all that though, he needed to learn their language.

Of course, it couldn’t be just he who learned Dutch. His wife, Hortense, would need to learn the language to if she were to be their queen. His court, chosen by Napoleon and made entirely of frenchmen, must also learn Dutch.

Lessons began immediately, and equally as immediately, problems began to sprout. The first came from Hortense. You see, she already didn’t think much of her husband, their marriage being more one of necessity, and while she had gone along with her husband’s ideas thus far, he soon found her breaking point when one night in the quiet of their bedchamber Louis told her that once they were ensconced on the throne he planned for them to renounce their French citizenships. Hortense flat out refused. Refused to renounce, refused to learn Dutch, refuse to even stay in Holland for a minute more than she had to.

Louis, however, despite being understandably crestfallen, pushed on. Which is where the next problem comes in, because Louis was having trouble with the language. For all his good intentions they unfortunately didn’t make him one lick smarter. Certain people, you see, spoke of Louis as having a touch of the “lunacy”, which is probably all you need to know about the scope of his mental faculties. He was a good man, and for the most part capable, just flighty and restless. The kind of man who would later change his capital city a dozen times over, sometimes in a matter of weeks, and, well, a mind like that can have a spot of trouble with the necessary discipline of learning a new language.

Time was running thin and the date of his ascension was fast approaching, but Louis, goal firmly planted in his mind, continued with his studies as best he could. It was just the kind of guy he was.

Inevitably and eventually, as all days much, his day came; the day when he’d address his new people for the first time. A podium was erected, proclamations were made, and the Dutch people arrived to meet their new king.

Louis was nervous, as you’d expect. He had a speech, and it was a good one, short and simple, beginning with the most basic of statements, ‘Ik ben Louis, Koning van Holland.’ I am Louis, King of Holland. If he said nothing more than that, then all would be well.

He stepped up. Cleared his throat. Thought of his wife. Thought of his brother. Felt fear rise in his belly. Looked out at the gathered crowd, his people, and felt determination push that fear back down. He opened his mouth, and said;

‘Ik ben Louis, Konijn van ‘Olland.’

Close, but wrong, because what he said was, ‘I am Louis, Rabbit of Holland,’ and from that day to this that’s how he’s been remembered, as Louis, The King of Rabbits.

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Thanks for reading

Damian