October 26, 2017

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Today’s track comes from fellow Australian, Kim Churchill. He has an impressive six albums, but I’ve only stumbled across his music recently with his latest, Weight Falls. The album features a bunch of great bluesy rock tracks, but the one that’s currently stuck in my head is Secondhand Car.

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Current chain of writing days: 8

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Writing is an ordinary super power.

A drawing teacher who’s blog I follow wrote that recently, and it resonated with me as a nice distillation of my my own thoughts on the matter.

Writing, like any form of communication, is simply trying to cram the mess of thoughts and ideas and stories that are in our heads into someone else’s. A type of telepathy that requires an interpreter in the form of paper and pen, or pencil, or crayon, or the blood of your enemies…or, I suppose, a laptop would work too. Professor X is basically just a guy who skips the middle ground, and imessages right into your skull.

I think the difference with writing as a form of communication, as opposed to speaking, or film, or music, or art, is that it requires more from the receiver. With writing — while story, content, and word choice all comes from the writer — the world the reader ends up envisioning comes mostly from their own imagination. I would argue at least fifty percent (if not more) of the world comes from the reader. It has to. Unless a writer describes every element within a scenario, every movement through every moment of time, then the reader has to fill in a hell of a lot of blanks. And a good writer will take advantage of this fact.

For example, take this set up to a scene:

She passed through the wire door into the kitchen that had been such an integral part of her childhood. The room not only looked smaller than she remembered, but duller too. Without the bustle of her mother creating meals and singing songs, bringing life into the space, it seemed like a taxidermied animal; whole in all appearances, but whose glass eyes gave away the lie.

What did the kitchen look like to you? Because, all I really told you was that it’s small and has a wire door. But, unless you just pictured a small white space with a wire door, chances are you filled in all the rest. What was the colour of the walls? What was the layout of the benches? What side of the room was the wire door on? Each of us pictured our own kitchen, each one different, and the one in my head different again. You probably had at least a basic idea of how the character looked as well, even though all you knew was that she was an adult woman. Does it matter? Of course not. How the kitchen looks isn’t important, what’s important is the character’s feelings towards the room and how it influences her actions within the story; that’s the one element we all share, and the element I put more time in communicating.

As a form of communication writing is undeniably flawed. No matter how much I wrote, an exact copy of what’s in my head will never enter yours. It will always be muddled in the translation, influenced by the reader’s imagination, experiences, and subconscious; but I think that just adds to the magic. As a reader I love getting lost in other people’s worlds and I think part of that is because, while I’m experiencing something new, there’s also always something familiar there as well; whatever I’m adding to fill in the blanks. We want a window into a different world but a mirror into our own one as well.

It takes two to communicate a written story, and so I think that earlier statement needs an amendment, and that’s that reading is an ordinary super power too.

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I saw this quote somewhere on the internet that gets across the absurd magic of reading perfectly:

‘Reading is just staring at marked slices of wood for hours while hallucinating vividly’

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Also, I did a Q and A with my good friend Sean Carney for Movie Maintenance Presents about my short story The Fox’s Beard. You can check it out here.

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Talk soon

Damian

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Copy (Part 1)

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IMAGE CREDIT: Miazola

Dev Madani worked as a copywriter for a large novelty pet supplies company, which meant he spent the majority of his day writing up over the top descriptions of products like ferret scarves or cat wigs.

His main task was to ensure that he used whatever keywords the client requested as many times as possible while still keeping the description intelligible. Keywords were meant to be included in repetition in order to increase the likelihood that someone would find their website when they searched for that term, but clients were idiots, which is why his summary of a civil war era bonnet for rabbits included the word ‘hop-tastic’ fifteen times. Dev thought that whoever the person was that searched for the term ‘hop-tastic’ deserved to pay the exorbitant forty dollars for their crappy product.

It was fair to say Dev wasn’t feeling very fulfilled in his job.

Today, he was working on a write up for a new line of doggy dress ups. They were being toted as the Ye Old England range and allowed buyers to dress man’s best friend up in costumes of knights, maidens, dragons, wizards, princesses and samurai’s – the historical inaccuracy of which made Dev want to scream out loud. Nevertheless, he raised his fingers to the keyboard and thought about the best way to convince some lonely shopper that the reason they weren’t satisfied with their life was because there dog didn’t have the right outfit.

Then the roof fell in.

+ + + +

The rescue services hadn’t been able to say what caused the cave in, which Dev had been a bit annoyed by. They’d done a great job of pulling him out of the rubble, and luckily no one had been hurt, but when the top of a building falls on you, you generally want to know why.  

A lot of companies would grant leave to their employees after having a near death experience on their premises. Dev’s workplace instead handed out all the undamaged laptops and told everyone to work from home. Likewise, a lot of people would take a near death experience as an opportunity to quit a job they so clearly hated, Dev instead grumbled softly under his breath, took a laptop, and headed back to his apartment.

He placed his satchel which contained the laptop and some of the Ye Old England outfits for reference, onto his kitchen counter, and went to the fridge to grab a beer. Shuni, Dev’s chubby corgi trotted up to him with a look of pure happiness on her face.

‘You want a beer, Shuni?’ Dev asked. Shuni’s response was to continue to smile at him in her doggy way. ‘So, that’s a no?’

Dev had named Shuni for Samara, a figure of Hindu mythology, who was also known as Deva-shuni — the translation of which is ‘Divine Bitch’. As far as Dev was concerned, his Shuni was a divine bitch. His religious faith didn’t extend far beyond that.

‘What about juice?’ Dev asked the still smiling dog. ‘Red bull? Not after five, right? White wine? Milk?’

‘Oh, milk would be nice, thank you,’ Shuni responded.

Dev had the milk in his hand before his brain caught up with the fact that his dog, who, until now had been limited to a series of yips and barks, had just spoken English. He froze, and looked at the happy corgi.

‘What?’ Shuni asked. ‘Has the milk gone bad?’

Dev dropped the milk. Shuni trotted over to the container as it leaked its contents onto the hardwood. ‘Smells alright to me,’ she said, before lapping at the white liquid.

Dev told himself to remain calm. Told himself he might be dreaming. Told himself he might be going insane. Told himself to finish his beer, which he did in four quick swallows.

‘Look at us,’ Shuni said, ‘just two best friends sharing a drink.’

The beer was already working its way into Dev’s bloodstream, and so he felt his impending freakout get covered softly by a thin blanket of alcohol.

‘Shuni?’ Dev said, forcing his voice to remain calm.

‘Yes, Dev,’ Shuni responded, her muzzle drenched with milk.

‘You’re talking.’

‘Yes, Dev.’

‘Why are you talking?’

‘Oh, well, I need your help with something,’ she said, and lowered her muzzle back to the pool of dairy.

‘Okay, that’s nice, maybe stop drinking for a minute if that’s okay. I was more wondering how you’re able to talk, and, secondly, if perhaps I’m losing my sanity.’

She smiled at him again, which didn’t help the situation any.

‘No, you’re not. I’m just a god, that’s all.’

Dev took another beer from the fridge and drunk it even faster than the first one. Shuni seeing Dev scull desperately from the bottle took it as a sign that she could continue drinking too, and so went back to the milk.

‘Sorry, could you just elaborate on that last part.’ Dev said, his calming blanket of alcohol just barely hanging on.

‘The god part?’

‘Yes. Yes, the god part.’

‘Oh. Okay. Well, it’s pretty straight forward. You named your dog, me, after a deity, which allowed that deity, also me, to be able to inhabit your pet.’

‘Wait, you said you’re both my dog, and the god Samara?’

‘Yes. We just kind of merged when I, she, took over.’

‘And when was that?’

‘This afternoon, after the mystic cow crashed into your office building.’

‘I’m going to need more beer aren’t I?’

‘Maybe! Can I get some more milk?’ Shuni asked him, tail wagging.

+ + + +

‘So, let me get this right,’ Dev said as he walked through the fading sunlight back to his workplace, Shuni trotting beside him, a look of pure joy on her face. ‘A group of demons known as the panis.’

‘Yes,’ Shuni encouraged.

‘Stole the sacred cow, who is invisible to us mortals, and who they dropped on my office block, from the Angirasas.’

‘That’s right.’

‘Who are the the ancestors of man.’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘The Angirasas, back in the day, used the sacred cow’s milk to nourish humanity, allowing us to become the people we are today.’

‘Mm-hmm.’

‘Except, if the panis do something to the sacred cow then the ramifications of that will go back through time and all of humanity will be lost forever.’

‘Correct.’

‘And so you, Samara, a mythological Hindu being in the body of a corgi, have been tasked with stopping them, retrieving the cow, and saving the world; and you want me, a guy who writes copy for a living, to help you.’

‘That’s it. Ten out of ten. Two best friends on the hunt.’

‘This is just the most ridiculous shit,’ he said.

‘It’s an adventure!’ Shuni cried.

Dev rubbed at his face, half hoping that when he stopped some form of reality would be restored. When it didn’t he sighed and decided to just go with it.

‘Okay, so, why do you need me? Are you going to imbue me with, like, magical powers or something? Or do I possess some certain set of skills that’ll come in handy right when we need it?’ He asked

‘You can let me into the office.’ She said, still smiling.

‘Oh.’

‘And you’re my best friend.’

Dev sighed again. ‘You’re my best friend too, Shuni.’ He said, knowing just how true that statement was.

+ + + +

Dev pulled his swipe card from his satchel and opened the door into the office block. His company didn’t employ a night guard, and even if they did all they would have to guard at the moment was a giant pile of rubble, but, perhaps due to the quiet and the dark, Dev felt like he should be creeping.

‘What a mess,’ Shuni said, breaking the silence. She plodded past Dev and started trotting across the rubble, her flat white butt bobbing up and down as she went. Dev had always thought Shuni’s corgi butt was cute and comical, but knowing it now belonged to a god confused those feelings. Unsure exactly what he was supposed to be doing to help in this situation, Dev began pacing around the destruction.

He stopped and picked up a poster for one of their past products, the bitchin’ birdy spa bath. It had been one of the first products he’d written copy for. He hadn’t been confident in his skills at the time and so had plagiarized the write up of a similar product that was already on the market. He had been found out, however, when one of the rival companies noticed the same word for word description of their paradise parrot hot tub on his summary of the bitchin’ birdy spa bath. He’d been lucky not to be fired, his saving grace only coming from the fact that both products were quickly recalled; birds bathing in hot water turned out to be a very bad idea.

Since then he’d gotten quite good at writing copy, but, while there was some satisfaction from a job well done, he mostly found his work meaningless. It was hard to feel like you were making a difference in the world when your greatest accomplishment was the perfect description of a three piece — monocle, bow tie, and top hat — for cats.

‘Dev, Dev, bestie, over here. I’ve found the trail.’ Shuni called.

Dev made his way across the rubble to see Shuni sniffing around a section of collapsed roof.

‘What is it?’ He asked.

‘Sacred cow. Oh, yes, definitely sacred cow.’

Dev lowered himself to the ground, then looked to Shuni for confirmation. She gave him her usual doggy grin and he took in a big whiff.

‘No,’ he said. ‘Can’t smell anything.’

‘Really?’ Shuni asked, tilting her head to the side. ‘Because right now you’re face deep in its droppings. You mortals are so interesting.’

Later, once Dev had thoroughly wiped his face clean of the invisible mess, and once they had left the building, he turned to Shuni.

‘Okay, so you can see invisible cows, see their invisible droppings, and follow their invisible trail, not to mention the fact that you’re part god. I still don’t see why you needed me to let you into the building?’

‘Because I’m also part dog, that comes with limitations. Look at my little legs,’ Shuni said, stopping to wiggle one of her soft and stumpy limbs. ‘You don’t expect someone with legs like these to be able to open doors, do you?’

‘If that someone’s part god, kind of, yeah.’

‘Oh best friend, you’re so silly. I still have to work within the reality of this world. I can alter certain aspects, but why would I need to, I’ve got you.’

‘To open doors?’

‘Exactly! Come on the trails leads this way.’

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The conclusion to this story can be found here.

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Thanks for reading,

Damian

October 10, 2017

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I’ve loaded up on new music recently and one I’ve really been enjoying is Newton Faulkner’s latest album, Hit The Ground Running. His albums can be a bit hit and miss, but this one is a real winner. The first couple of tracks are upbeat and fun, and then it dips into some almost funk and blues songs that really work for me. This is one of the upbeat ones, entitled: Smoked Ice Cream.

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Current chain of writing days: 2

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For the past two weeks the Lady Holly have been making our way across Malaysian Borneo. It is a hot and humid place thanks to it’s proximity to the equator, full of jungle, quick and heavy tropical rain, noodles, and unfortunately quite a lot of palm plantations.

Borneo, for any who don’t know, is a large island surrounded on four sides by Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, and the lower half of Vietnam — and is made up of three countries; Malaysia Borneo, Indonesian Borneo, and the very small nation of Brunei.

My first introduction to Borneo came when during a flight to Europe last year we stopped over in Brunei and I had no idea where we were. Some quick research dispelled my ignorance, I learnt some basic facts about Borneo (those listed above), and then forgot all about it as we were already on one adventure and weren’t needing to plan our next one just yet.

That was until months later, when attending a friends book launch, the Lady Holly picked up a lonely planet on Borneo. She flicked through, showing me one amazing photo after another, and by the time she had made it to the back cover we were in agreeance that, yeah, we were going to go there.

Holly did a bunch of research and put together an itinerary of one amazing activity after another. I did nothing, maybe I cooked, either way, she rocks and planned us a killer trip. We booked it all in and then had to trudge through a half year wait until we could finally get on that plane and dive into the photos that had won us over all those months ago.

Now, I could go through out whole trip and tell you each incredible thing we did one after another, but I have the feeling that that would be more fun for me than for you, so, in short: We visited humid rainforests dripping with wildlife, peeled leeches from our ankles while trying not to freak out, floated down kinabatangan river spotting monkeys and birds, drank beer while watching the jungle soak itself with rain, scuba dived and snorkeled through island reefs brimming with fish and sea turtles, and ate, and bused, and sweated, and watched movies, and waited in airports, and read books, and discovered something new every day. It was magic.

Because that’s what travelling does, it exposes you to the new, and when that happens you can’t help but learn things.

So, I thought I’d finish by jotting down the… 

Things I Learned in Borneo:

  1. I’m fairly terrible at keeping up my writing while on holiday. I started out strong, but then got quite sick, then had activity filled days, and in the end I decided to just lean into it. I don’t think it’s the worse thing. While I like having a big number for my consecutive days of writing, some time off can be beneficial, and has left me extra keen to jump back in.
  2. Something will always go wrong. This is my mantra for any time I travel. If you’re expecting to travel and have everything go perfectly then you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. There’s too many factors involved, too many ways something can and will go wrong. By acknowledging this fact it means that when it does you can simply say, ‘I knew this would happen,’ and get on with it, rather than get disappointed. Works for life in general too, but that’s another blog. For this trip, I got sick. I actually had gastro the day before we left, then contracted a flu two days in. It was a bad one, I can’t remember the last time I felt so rotten. I could barely get out of bed, was sweating and delusional, and I couldn’t even hold onto a thought during the worst of it. When it was clear I wasn’t getting better, I took some antibiotics and quickly started improving. It’s the first time to my knowledge that I’ve taken antibiotics and wow, they’re awesome. I got out of bed and back on track. Not to say it wasn’t upsetting but in the long run it was a small setback to a great trip.
  3. Fortune may favour the bold but it also favours the prepared. E.g. the antibiotics I took we had on hand because we’d seen a travel doctor before going. While things will go wrong, being prepared minimises the effect. 
  4. Noodles are literally good for any meal. Yes, even breakfast.
  5. Plan a holiday around seeing wildlife and you’re pretty much guaranteed to have a good time. That’s a more personal one. Nature and wildlife may not be for everyone, but for me it meant I always had something beautiful and interesting to look at and photograph, as well as providing us with that recharge that only nature can provide and that I miss by living in a city. It’s also cost effective.
  6. No matter how hard I try I am destined to always break a pair of sunglasses while on holiday. Always. Sometimes multiple times.
  7. I should read more. While I didn’t write as much as I thought I would I did read a bunch. How much? Five and a half novels in two weeks, my friends. It was bliss. By allowing myself permission to disconnect from my phone, as well as having plenty of down time, it meant I could commit to reading as much as I usually want to, and was so much more beneficial than scrolling through apps on my phone like I usually would. One of the books was Stephen King’s On Writing, in which he says aspiring writers need to do two things; write a lot and read a lot. He’s not wrong, and I’m hoping to bring back this renewed passion into my usual routine.
  8. My beard is quite good at protecting my face from sunburn; my thinning hairline, not so much. You can read that one any way you like, but I choose to see it as; things always even out.
  9. You should go visit Borneo. Honestly, there was so much to see and do, the people were friendly and relaxed, never pushy, and getting around wasn’t a problem. It’s a wonderful part of the world and one we’re hoping to get back to one day.
  10. Holly’s the best. You should get yourself a Holly.

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It’s good to be back.

Talk soon

Damian