Seeing Red – by CM Franklyn

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Santa-dad creeps past the boys’ bedroom in case they’re asleep; he jingles all the way in case they’re not. That’s how his mam used to do it, back when he was a mere snapper of whips. ‘You must get straight to bed!’ she’d say. ‘And stay asleep—or he won’t visit!’ But come midnight, she’d be janglin’ those bells—the ones she’d inherited from her morris-dancin’ father: shin-pads, so he could kick noise straight down the lugholes of his Cornish neighbours whether they liked it or not. That’s tradition for ya. And, because some things don’t change, here they are—again. This time, owing to the fact that her son has arms like legs, they’re on his biceps.

They rattle as he edges his heavy way downstairs lugging a sackful of goodies, careful not to make a sound. Apart from the not-exactly-quiet arm-bell thing he’s got goin’ on. And the majesty of his girth adding a clump-clump to the festivities. And the intermittent sneezing caused by the permanent hay fever with which he suffers—even in the bleak midwinter. There’s nothing silent about this night, I tellzya.

Freddie’s onto him. He’s eight, but he’s not stupid. And he has ears. ‘It’s Dad. I told you last year but you didn’t believe me! Just listen!’

Bobby’s gonna take some convincing. He might be the older of the two, but he’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Hell—he’s not even in the drawer (neither is the knife, but we’ll get to that). ‘I dunno. All them prezzies we got last year—how would Dad manage that on his own?’

‘He doesn’t,’ says Bobby. ‘Mum helps him out, dozy arse.’

‘Yeah—but why? Why would he dress up if we’re not supposed to see him? It makes no sense.’ Ah, Freddie and his incessant questioning. If only he’d open his peepers.

‘It’s in case we do. See him, I mean. If he catches us watching, he can just go, “Ho-ho-ho!” or whatever, and pretend to be him. Didn’t ya notice half the cushions are missing off the sofa? He’s tucked them under his costume.’ (Why is the dude always on the porky side? Why not have Slender-Claus for a change?)

The noises continue as the kids carry on listening. Rustling happens. And crinkling, too. The rustling and the crinkling of the paper-wrapped packages being de-sacked and placed by the fire. Even though they don’t have a fire. And if they did, it wouldn’t be particularly advisable to put the presents anywhere near it, really, what with it being a BIG BURNY DEATH-FLAME HAZARD ‘n’ all. Around the tree would make more sense—yes, let’s go with that. I should’ve typed that in the first place. Idiot. (Me, not you. Although …*)

*Depends who’s reading, really.

So, this dad geezer—are you still with me?—places the presents around the tree. He drops a box as it slips from his grasp. Nothing’s broken, apart from the almost-silence, which is as shattered as his children’s innocence. Twigging on to the shuffling of boy-feet upstairs, he shushes himself like a lush doing an honestly, I haven’t touched a—hic!—drop routine, and darts behind the living room door to hide.

‘That’s it!’ says Fred, who’d just that moment shortened his name because it takes slightly less effort to type. ‘What’s it?’ asks Bob, in italics.

‘I’m going out there. I’m gonna get proof once and for all. Giz yer phone. I know where to hide. Keep yer eyes peeled in case Mum’s on the lookout.’

‘What if Dad gets past you and comes upstairs before you get back?’

‘Watch for the red,’ says Fred, coz it rhymes. ‘As soon as you see the red, run back inside and close the door. I’ll be fine—I’ll sneak back in once he’s gone to bed.’

            Fred slinks downstairs, taking the steps four-at-a-time owing to his really lengthy legs which I probably should have mentioned earlier even though they have has no bearing on the story other than to add a really jarring, meandering bit to please my editor who says I should vary the length of my sentences, irrelevance be damned. Having a quick gander, he spots the prezzies by the fire under the tree, and smirks inwardly. But there’s no sign of his dad. Hmm, he thinks. ‘Hmm,’ he says, and makes his sneaky way back upstairs to his brother.

            A scream, then, followed by some unintelligible words, which I cannot even begin to spell. Bob’s there, at the bedroom door, bloodied and eyelidless, along with the obviously-telegraphed and hideously-foreshadowed ending. The peelings are on the floor—somewhere. I mean—it’s impossible to make them out amongst the gouged flesh and the sanguine splats all over the discarded blade.

Next comes the Santa Dash as Dad legs it up the stairs to the source of the noise. Mum’s already on the scene, because she loves a good Police Squad! reference.

            ‘What the hell did you do?’

            ‘He … he told me to keep my eyes peeled,’ Bob whimpers. ‘But it’s okay, Freddie. I believe you now. I see the red.’

            ‘It’s a good job I didn’t tell him to keep his ear to the door,’ giggles Fred, ‘or he might have taken me literally on that, too!’

            ‘Ha-ha!’ Mum chuckles.

            ‘Ho-ho-ho!’ laughs Dad.

You, Myself, and I

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Today, my little grammar muffins (whatever they are), we shall be looking at Me vs I, and when to do the Re-flex-flex-flex-flex. Sort of.

BON

I had this exact ‘do at this exact time. Just so you know.

So, which is it —and me, or —and I?

In accordance with fings-they-lerned-me-at-school and that one electrocution elocution lesson I attended back in the summer of 1986 (the idea of which, if you know me AT ALL, is fucking hilarious), you and I sounds posh. It just does. And if you choose it over you and me, no matter the context, it gives the impression that you have a bit of dosh to throw about. THAT’S WHAT THEY TOLD ME.

They were wrong. To prove my point, here’s a pair of toffs off the telly, who’ve *volunteered to help us out with a little exercise. I’m paying them in booze.

*Pic stolen wholesale from Google.

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A pair of toffs off the telly.

Now, Mr. Toff might be inclined to caption the pic thus: “My wife and I.” (They’re pictured here at Balmoral’s annual squirrel-tickling festival, I’m told.) But he’d be wrong. It’s “My wife and me.” Why? Well, you wouldn’t say, “Here’s a photo of I,” would you?

I mean, just listen to how SILLY this is: “Here’s I at the Mountbattens’ monthly frog-rogering contest.” See?

So yeah  —it’s “Fuckface and me.”

It is, of course, fine to use I in the grammatically correct manner:

“Edgar and I are planning a spiffing party. Would you like to join us?”

Or:

“My husband and I shall be going dogging in New Brighton this evening, if you’re out and about.”

If you bump Edgar off, and do away with the husband, you’re left with: “I am having a dinner party and then I shall be going dogging.” See? Perfect sense.

Disclaimer: the above example is in no way autobiographical. Ahem.

Them wot write songs have a lot to answer for, too; Geri Halliwell’s dreadful “Lift me Up” springs to mind:

Watch the first light kiss the New World
It’s a wonder, baby like you and I
All the colours of the rainbow
Going somewhere, baby like you and I

AAAARRRRRGH! *Shouts “You and ME” at the car radio twenty years ago.*

How to remember the thing about the thing: cover up the “you and” bit. If the sentence still makes sense, you’re good. Using the same vintage spice example as above: “It’s a wonder, baby, like I” sounds shite, whereas “It’s a wonder, baby, like me” still sounds shite. But at least it’s correct.

More food for thinky thoughtstuff: is the title Withnail and I correct? Well, it depends what’s implicit, and what floats your own paticular proverbial. If it’s “Here’s a bunch of shit that Withnail and I got up to…” then it makes complete sense. But if it’s “The story of Withnail and I,” then it’s incorrect, and should be “Withnail and Me.” You could argue a case for either, really, if you had enough time and/or the inclination. Which I don’t. But here’s some braingrub anywho:

Withnail and I went on holiday by mistake.

or:

Withnail and me went on holiday by mistake.

withnail-and-i-robot

Yeah. It’s I. DO NOT MESS WITH THE ‘NAIL.

Speaking of dinner parties, someone once asked me, by text, “would you like to come to Steve and I’s on Saturday?” I couldn’t answer, what with the BLEEDING EYES ’n’ all. True story.

Now, allow me to introduce … myself.

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Myself/yourself/himself/herself/themselves … yadda yadda … are all reflexive pronouns; i.e. a pronoun [me/you/him/her/them] that reflects right back at … itself. Like a reflection, really. But not really.

If you’re looking for a swanky explanation, WIKI says: “In general linguistics, a reflexive pronoun, sometimes simply called a reflexive, is an anaphoric pronoun that must be coreferential with another nominal (its antecedent) within the same clause.” Ain’t nobody got time for that (at this point, you might want to refer to the ‘double negatives’ blog I haven’t written yet).

“I don’t like myself” or “I’m going to reward myself for finally finishing that 120,000 word novel after seventeen years” are fine.

Using “Gordon Ramsey and myself are going to cook you a meal” is bollocks. Gordon wouldn’t allow anyone else in his kitchen. Unless, of course, they were conveniently placed just so he could swear at them. But why ELSE is it bollocks?

Well, you wouldn’t say “Myself are going to cook you a meal”, would you? You’d say “I am…” Same as before, folks —same as before. Cover up the first bit and see if it still makes sense.

Office-speak has a lot to answer for *sigh* …

Alright, alright —I’ll wrap it up. Off y’go. Be sure to tune in to the next instalment: *THE GAPING MAW OF A PLETHORA OF A MYRIAD OF CREATIVE WRITING CLASSES. WITH TENTACLES.

*I might come up with a better title before then.

It’s *You’re Call —fixing the fundamental

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*Your.

Damn it.

Do you have to be gud wiv werds to be a decent writer? Nah —but it certainly helps. If you want to cut down on those rejections, for instance, it’s not a bad thing to up your technical accuracy game. If you wish to master your craft or hone your skills, then you might want to start with the basics.

Here are some of the most common mistakes writers make —and some easy ways to remember the correct usage. I’ll stick with cat/dog/coffee/pizza analogies, because writers (be warned: this might get a little gross and/or sweary, because me).

ITS vs IT’S 

ITS is possessive; that is, something belonging to it. So, if we’re talking about a cat who has a propensity for displaying all things posterior, then we might say it had its ‘… tail in the air, flaunting its sticky brown bumhole …’

Just as that which belongs to her is hers, or something belonging to him is his, then that which belongs to it must be its.

IT’S is a contraction of IT and HAS, or IT and IS. A contraction is the abbreviation (shortening) of a phrase or word group, using apostrophes to denote the omission of a letter (or letters).

Common contractions include: 

  • Don’t (Do not tell me how to write);
  • Haven’t (I have not written anything today because I’ve been dicking around on Facebook for twelve hours);
  • Shouldn’t (You should NOT ever, ever, ever put pineapple on pizza).
  • She’s (She is banging on about fucking grammar again, the pedantic bint).

And the one we’re talking about here: it’s (it has/it is).

Example:  ‘It’s too late.’ (i.e. ‘I was just about to scoff a bunch of soggy, overboiled ramen but it is too late because the cat’s been sick in the bowl, so I guess I’ll have pizza instead. But with no pineapple. Because ew.’)

PLURALS vs POSSESSIVES

Speaking of apostrophes —those buggers get everywhere. And I mean everywhere. Have a gander:

shop

Sofa’s. The sofa is what? Comfortable? What about the chair’s legs? The recliner’s a bit tatty but that’s nothing compared to the bed’s grotty old mattress? Maybe something belongs to the bed, which is owned by the recliner, which is the property of the chair … AAAARGH!

Assuming the store has more than one sofa/chair/recliner/bed for sale, they should have used plurals here, which, in this case, is as simple as adding ‘s’ to the end of each item.

As for Goodwyns Furniture; assuming Goodwyn is one person, Goodwyn’s Furniture would be correct. I dunno —perhaps signwriters are easily confused these days. Humph.

Here are some photos of a rather splendid bookstore chain. I guess only half of these shops belong to Mr W.

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Are you still with me? No? Okay —back to animals, then:

  • The dog’s knackers —a pair of soft, dangly objects between a dog’s legs;
  • The dogs’ knackers —the danglies of more than one canine;
  • The dog’s knackered —the dog is exhausted, probably having tried and failed to catch the cat who spewed in the noodles earlier today.

Recap

Something belonging to one thing: the thing’s thing.

Something belonging to more than one thing: the things’ thing.

It’s easier to nail if you sort out the plural first and then determine the correct possessive:

Cat —>cats —> I wuv cats’ wikkle toebeans (aww).

YOU’RE YOUR OWN WORST ENEMY

You’re writing a nice l’il story, but you’re just not sure about your grammar. Here’s a quick once-over:

You’re —a contraction of you and are.

Your —something belonging to you.

So:

Your coffee’s gone cold. You’re just too wrapped up in your novel to remember to drink it (you badass wordsmith, you).

On that note, here endeth the first lesson. Up next: You and Me, Lose and Loose, and Why Eyebrows are Ripe for the Pluckin’.

 

 

 

 

The Perfect Short Story

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Books. I love ’em. But only the good ones. Only the unputdownables, whose brilliance has you gasping/ salivating/ doing a bit of a sex wee. 

But there’s a thing, and the thing is this: I don’t have time to read for pleasure any more. What with reasons and stuff and things, the only sort of bookage my eyes get to see is that-which-I-am-being-paid-to-edit. 

And then last week happened. I took a basketball to the chops, stabbed myself in the foot with a fork, and the laptop threw a six. What’s a gal to do when she can neither walk nor work? 

And so, I started a sentence with ‘and so.’ Then I regrouped and decided to delve into the pocket universe of Steve Shaw’s Black Shuck Books; specifically, the Shadows collection. ’tis a darling l’il assortment of tasters —micro-gatherings that showcase individual authors. Or, y’know —single-author collections, as they’re more commonly known. 

Gorgeously designed by Steve himself, and complimenting one another like blackcurrant ‘n’ liquorice and pineapple on pizza (what?), these wee bookies are a delight to behold.  And once beheld, they shall be reviewed. And the reviewer should read a book in its entirety, right? Because unputdownable, remember? 

Nope. Nuh-huh. I just read a story so fucking good I just had to put the book down. I had to leave it alone while I did a rather ungainly thigh-wobble of a jig, and immediately messaged seventeen-thousand-and-thirteen friends to tell them about it (the story, not the wobble). 

This was a first for me —virtually nothing impresses me these days— but Gary McMahon just.fucking.floored me. The fucker. 

I couldn’t think straight. I could barely breathe. And no —I’m not exaggerating. I was bouncing off the walls and squeeing ’round the house. I just wanted to savour the taste of those words —that idea— a little longer, so I didn’t —couldn’t—move on. What I’d just witnessed was, well, perfection.  

I’m talking about *Text Found on a Defunct Webpage; which opens Gary’s collection, At Home in the Shadows

Jesus. Hermione. Christ. How on Kepler-452b has this work of art passed me by for eleven frickin’ years? And how the HELL am I supposed to do it justice without spoilers? I dunno, like. But I’ll try. 

Originally published online as ‘Under Offer’ (The Hub, 2008), this story is smarter than the average bear. It is, as they say in those parts where they use terms like ‘a fucking diamond,’ a fucking diamond.  

Not every story has to be story-y. Not every beginning has to begin with a start. IT’S OKAY TO BE DIFFERENT, FOLKS! I’m not talking about clever choices of tense here, or ‘surprise’ dog-POV, or anything of the sort. I’m talking unique. Despite its originality, the piece is deceptively simple. And yet, this dude is writing so far outside the box that he isn’t even in the vicinity of the forest where the trees are felled to make the cardboard.  

I’m not gonna do that fucking annoying comparison thing. McMahon isn’t the next so-and-so, and neither is his work reminiscent of such-and-such in their finest hour. But what I will tell you is this: it’s impressionism at its best. Monet didn’t paint every leaf, right? He painted GREEN; your brain fills in the rest. 

From conception to execution, Text Found is one of those sinister AF pieces that stays with you for yonks afterwards. Why? Because omission, my friends. Because ambiguity. The power of suggestion —literally (and I mean ‘literally’ literally, not figuratively, before you say it, pedants). Take an idea, suggest the events, hint at the characters, and tease the reader. Be subtle; leave ’em wanting more —brevity is the order of the day.  Be sneaky; be wickedly funny. And be out-and-out creepy. Be everything on the list of must-haves and definitely-dos, and do none of the don’ts. Be. Just be. 

And Gary McMahon has beed, indeed. And that ending —damn.  

 

The Obligatory Link (i.e. the BUY EEEEET) Section: 

 

Black Shuck Shadows on Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/bookseries/B07NRKT4M5/ref=dp_st_1913038114

Gary’s Amazon page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Gary-McMahon/e/B004B6NN3A?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1565956801&sr=1-1

And, for Steve Shaw’s freelance design: http://www.white-space.uk

Black Shuck Books: https://blackshuckbooks.co.uk/shadows