My self-published short story: The Library of Owls

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Like all the owls, Sival was born in one of the many nests clustered in the attic of the library.

The first thing he clapped eyes on was a shaft of light lancing through a hole in the roof, golden and swirling with glinting dust motes. Its beauty shot through him like honey. He suddenly wanted to speak, to cry out, to share what he saw. But all that emitted from his beak was a feeble warble, which his mother, curled up exhausted next to the nest, took as a cue to cram a fleshy worm down his gullet, just a little too hard.

Sival choked, his first words stifled. Black despair poured over his initial wonder like tar. He spluttered. He gagged. He very nearly died. And so it was that when the other owlets ricocheted like tiny balls of fluff among the rafters of the attic, warbling to each other, Sival did not join in, and he did not make a sound. He only stared out the round window set into the wall beside his nest, a window that looked out on steam engines and carriages, well-dressed men and women, a riot of smoke and noise, none of it the least bit comprehensible, and thought his own thoughts.

To the elders, when Sival’s mother prodded him to their musty roost on the other side of the attic to shed some light on her son’s reticence, this was not a bad thing, this silence. On the contrary, it was a strength, for it would make him all the more easier to train.

Their training began in a backroom of the library. All the owlets chirruped with excitement at leaving the attic for the first time, but were soon silenced by the pearlescent gaze of the elders. That was the first rule they learned: talking during the day would now be forbidden. Even at night they were  only allowed to hoot softly to one another, so as to not get out of habit. One particularly mischievous owlet, upon receiving this ban, hooted at the top of her voice, the power of her cry nearly lifting her off her talons.

From somewhere in the library beyond the walls of the room there came an echo. A cry, exploding with fury, louder than anything the owlets had ever heard, or could make themselves. One of the eldest – the largest, and to the rest of the owlets the most frightening – flew over to the recalcitrant owlet’s side and slashed her across the face three times with his talons, leaving a cross-hatch of gashes seeping dark blood. The owlet trembled with pain, but made no sound. Those marks would eventually fade into scars, but never truly disappear, as a reminder to everyone of the consequences of making a sound.

Their training consisted of flying back and forth in that cramped, dusty room whilst trailing stone weights from their ankles. Day after day, they wove between old cabinets and files and abandoned chairs in utter silence, save the soft sussurus of twenty pairs of wings, while the elders watched on.

At first, as it always is when you try to do something new, it was difficult. Owlets twitched their little wings desperately, dipping and rising in their efforts to reach the other side, their beaks silent but their hearts screaming. Some made it only to collapse in a sprawl of feathers, unable to rise even when prodded. Still more fell out of the air like stones, spraining their ankles, twisting their wings. If any owlet made a sound, even a peep of shock, he or she received a sharp slash of talons.

Sival fell, again and again – sometimes he could not even rise into the air while weighed down with the stones. All that time spent with his beak pressed against the window had done little for his wing strength, and the same elders that had once viewed him as an object of potential now stared at him with blank disapproval.

At night, aching and exhausted, gazing out at the night beyond his window, the moonlight bathing his feathered face white, Sival wondered: Why? He could not fathom the reason behind their training. But he kept silent, as he had since the day he was born, and there was nothing to ask except the night and the moon and the stars.

As the days lengthened into weeks, the owlets grew accustomed to the weight of the stones, and began to fly back and forth across the room with ease, pinwheeling and zipping. Eventually even Sival could accomplish the journey with little effort. The elders nodded to one another. From then on, the weights were removed and replaced by books which they gripped in their talons.

For the first time they were allowed access to the library beyond the training room. Compared to the attic and the back room, it was simply enormous, with its towering shelves of books that reached all the way up to the raftered ceiling, row after row of them, and great lamps protruding from the polished wood-paneled walls, shining like tiny suns.

Here and there squatted a green armchair, while at the front of the room, near the beveled glass doors, squatted a low desk covered in rolls of curling parchment, as well as a inkwell with a sprig of black feather poking out of it. Sival surveyed all this with interest. In the language of the owls, there were certainly no words for “book” or “chair”, but all owls have keen eyesight, and all certainly possessed pictorial classifications for the objects they saw.

So when the elders taught them the various symbols to recognise on the spines of books, using a wooden board inscribed with them, it did not take the owls long to commit them to memory, and to seek out the correct books accordingly. The elders showed them strips of paper, upon which the symbols were arranged in various orders. They taught them tricks to get the right books, such as memorizing the first and last cluster of symbols rather than the entire row. And though it was never spoken, implicitly the owls knew that books were sacred things, only to be carried and never opened. They spent their first day in the library flying to various parts of the library to fetch the right correct books. Many errors were made at first, and the elders’ beaks tightened in distaste as book after wrong book were deposited at their feet by their tentative students.

It was here, however, that Sival excelled. His visual memory was excellent, and that very first day, after absorbing the layout of the library, he brought every book correctly, and the elders looked on with silent approval.

He was burrowing his head beneath his wings that night, filled with quiet, satisfied pride, when he heard a scuffling noise from the corner of the attic. Thinking it might be a mouse – they sometimes made nests in the walls – Sival padded over to investigate, only to find the source of the sound to be owls were bent over an open book, their necks jerking back and forth in inquisitiveness. Sival peered at the book, too. Neither paid him the slightest attention, accustomed as they were to the strange little owl who never spoke, and did not join in their games.

Hundreds of scratches, like the markings of talons on the attic walls, covered the pages. Strange. They looked just like the symbols on the shelves and the spines of the books, only multiplied a thousandfold. One of the owls gave a hoot of irritation, ripped out a page with her talons and stuffed it into her nest. The other followed. The sound of quiet tearing filled the attic. Sival returned to his nest, his sleepiness evaporated, thoughts broiling with those symbols. What did they mean? What were they? Who were they for?

Finally the day arrived. Why this particularly day was so important, no owl knew, but there thrummed in the air a sense of expectation none were immune to. The elders prodded the owl into the little niches set into the wall by the desk – like books, thought Sival, we’re like the books lined up on a shelf – and then the first creature came in, just like ones Sival saw strolling on the ground outside his window.

What a monster it was up close! So tall, so thin, and such strange, limp sort of wings, no feathers at all!  It stepped up to the walls of niches, reached out one arm; there was a soft clunk, as something fell through a slot in the ceiling of Sival’s alcove to land at his feet: a wooden stick, inscribed with symbols. Dutifully Sival bent his head and committed them to memory. Then he soared out into the dusty reaches of the library, eyes sharp and scanning for the right shelf, before depositing the book at the tall creature’s feet and nestling back into his niche. He watched the creature pick up the book and turn to the creature next to it and open his strange flat mouth and speak.

“I say Mr Offinal, you’ve got some damn smart birds in this library of yours.”

“Nothing smart about it,” replied the other creature, in an oozing voice that made Sival think of the slimy backs of worms. Its eyes looked different from the other one: they were obscured by round pieces of glass that glinted in the lamplight, the kind of material that made Sivel’s window. “They’re just well-trained.”

Whatever the creatures were saying, Sival could not understand it; it was all just a jumble of nonsensical sounds to him. But he watched as the one with glass opened the book, pointed to the pages, hooted some more in that slimy voice, and slowly an understanding formed in his mind.

Those scratches, somehow, were another way of speaking. Somehow, those scratches were the same as speaking, but on paper, preserved forever. He didn’t know how this thought occurred to him, but the moment he did, he knew that he was right. It was if another world had unfolded around him. To somehow communicate through these scratches, let others know what you were thinking – it was like magic! What was the secret? How had the creatures done it?

So it began what Sivel thought of as his true training. Fetching books was easy – any owl could do that. But to understand the scratches in the books? That was another thing entirely. He stole pages from the nests of the owls who had ripped apart the book and squinted at them by moonlight. But no matter which way he looked at them – if he was even looking at them the right way, that is – they remained stubbornly incomprehensible, no more than dead insects on the page.

He began listening closely to the sounds the creature’s made. Rather than go to sleep like the owls when no tokens clattered at their feet, he stayed wide awake, listening and listening. For weeks the sounds remained unintelligible. Then slowly some sounds began to stand out: the creatures always made the same sounds when they left, and when they came in.

One creature, a small one, liked to sit in an armchair and while a bigger creature spoke to her from the book. Sival made friends with her, perching on her shoulder and watching intently each time she visited as her fingers pointed to the words and pictures as she read. In this way, month after month, he connected many of the sounds with the words, and many of the words with meanings.

Years passed. Over time, the more he understood of this new language, the further apart he grew from his feathered brethren. They paid little enough attention to strange silent Sival before, but now blatantly avoided him, as if sensing his new wisdom. By now only one of the five elders still remained. She spent most of her time in the attic with her head tucked under her wing.

Eventually Sival stole a book, and found himself able to read swathes of it, though not understand all he read, as some words, despite him being able to make the sound of them in his mind, were not attached to any meaning. These he skipped. He read of creatures who journeyed to far off lands, of creatures who lost their homes, of sad creatures whose parents and friends did not understand them, and his little owl heart warmed and soared and grieved along with them. It was then he realised he was lonely. Very lonely. Perhaps that had been one of the reasons he had so immersed himself in his new task: to forgot the fact that while owls around him slept side by side at night and were even starting to pair up, he still slept alone in his little nest by the window with only the moon and the stars for company.

One day when the small creature visited again, coaxing him onto her arm from his alcove, Sival looked her deep in the eyes, then flew towards the table at the front of the room. She followed, a little cautiously. “What is it?” she whispered. “Do you want to show me something?”

Sival tried to nod. He bobbed his head once. It gazed down at him with its dark enormous eyes, uncomprehending. He pattered, talons clicking over the wooden surface of the desk, to the inkwell. Picked up the black feather between two talons, as he had seen a creature hold it many times. The little creature watching on made a funny sound in her throat, one she always uttered when happy. “Oh, what are you going to do, little owl? Write?”

Relief radiated in Sival’s feathered breast at that. She understood! And now, maybe, he could make her understand him. Slowly he began to write, scratching the wet tip of the feather across an empty page of parchment. Above him, there was a quick intake of breath, but he ignored it, concentrating. Splotches of ink coated his talons. He tried his best to copy the symbols from the books. When he finished, he stepped back and surveyed his work. The words weren’t half as good as the ones in the books, but it would have to do. To his disappointment, when he looked up, the small creature had disappeared. He swiveled his head. Where had she gone?

In a sudden flash the parchment was snatched up from beneath his feet, sending him tumbling across the desk. Lying on his back, he found himself gazing up into the face of the creature with the glass circles over his eyes, the slimy voice, who peered down at the words Sival had written. Beside him, dwarfed, stood the smaller creature, wide-eyed and staring at Sival. Sival felt a surge of pleasure at hearing the creature with the glass circles read his words aloud, even if it was in that unappetizing voice.

Hello. Nice to meet you.” It peered down at the smaller creature, who ducked its head beneath its gaze. “You’re quite sure it wrote this?” The smaller creature moved its head up and down strenuously. “Oh yes! Yes, I saw it with my own eyes.”

So they didn’t believe him, did they? Well, he would make them listen. He would make them understand. Quickly, dipping the feather into the inkstand again, he repeated his performance, this time with the larger creature watching.

When he finished, hands shot out and grasped him tight around the waist. He squawked and squirmed in surprise, dropping the black feather.

“Oh, don’t hurt him, don’t hurt him. What are you going to do with him?”

The creature grasping Sival said nothing. Its forehead glistened with moisture like the condensation on Sival’s glass window on winter nights. It twisted its fat neck to look around at the library, at the owls huddled in the niches, at the few circling among the shelves like tiny puffs of clouds, and those perched on armchairs or lamp holders, silent and watching with their quiet tawny faces and liquid dark eyes. Its talons tightened so hard around Sival he was afraid of being crushed, and suddenly he was afraid of something else, something he could not put into words or pictures or thoughts. Something he wasn’t sure he even understood. Had he done the right thing? He had only wanted to talk to his friend. Clamped in the creature’s sweaty hands, a worm of doubt curled in his gizzard.

They took him away from the library, to a new room, one with more chairs and tables. They placed him in a cage, which was like a nest with no way out. Everyday the little creature came and opened a little door in the cage and slipped him some food. Sometimes, when the other taller creatures were absent, it even slipped him a book, or some parchment to write with. It always looked tremendously surprised and excited whenever it read what Sival had written.

 Why take me

 “Oh, because I forced uncle to promise to let me keep you! You’re the most wonderful creature I’ve ever owned!”

Though he missed his mother, missed his roost by the window, the soft warbles of his clan, this comforted Silvan somewhat. He had been chosen, singled out; his years of learning had all paid off.

Other times the creature would lift the drapes from his cage and sit by him and talk until its hooting grew soft and its eyes quiet. Sival felt safe with it. Still, it would be nice to be allowed to fly around a bit, and he wrote this request the morning after he had arrived, scratching away while the creature stared. It picked it up once he finished it and read it, eyes darting back and forth, tongue poking out between its soft beak. Then it lowered paper and looked at him.

“Let you out? Oh but uncle said I wasn’t to. He said I mustn’t. He said you were a – a demon. You know, I had to beg him to let me keep you as a pet. Do you understand what I’m saying? Sometimes I feel like you understand everything.” It passed one talon across its face. “Oh, I suppose it won’t hurt. Just a little while. I’ll shut all the doors and windows.”

It opened the cage door. Sival hopped out, stretched his wings with a quick flutter. Then he leaped from the edge of the desk and soared and flew and spun around the room, heart beating a fast exhilaration. He had forgotten the joy flying afforded. Then the creature left, having been called away by another creature in the building, and he was alone.

He explored the room that he had gazed upon for so long from the confines of his cage. He perched on the windowsill and peered outside. From his time in the attic, windows were familiar. But this looked out on something different. Not a road, swarming with the tall creatures. Instead…he cocked his head. Pressed his face against the glass. Outside came shouts and cries. It was a street, a great expanse of grey. Strung along it from tall sticks were white lengths of rope, and strung along the ropes were tiny bundles, like the kind the creature wore on its fleshy talons when it was cold.

He looked a little closer, eyes focusing.

A squawk of shock tore from his throat.

They weren’t bundles at all, but row upon row of owls, pegged upside-down to the ropes by their talons. His mother. His clan. Smoke rose from their charred feathers in black tendrils. They were being killed. They were dead.

When the small creature returned to coax him back into his cage, Sival bit it on the finger. It shrieked, even louder than the shouts outside. More creatures poured into the room, all of them hooting louder and louder. Tight talons gripped Sival, shoved him roughly back into his cage in a puff of loosened feathers. Sival lay on his side, eyes dull. The cage lifted; the world beyond the wire swayed, changed colours.

He had not meant to bite the creature who had been so kind to him. He had not meant to bring death upon his clan, for he knew now, with a strange knowing, a strange certainty, that it was he who had killed them. If he hadn’t written those words, if he hadn’t tried to read the books…

 He was placed in the hands of a creature with a yellowed, jutting mouth and a missing eye, who stuffed him in a glass cage shaped like an upside bowl. In there, day after day, Sival wrote down names, symbols arranged in a line, which the creature read to him, spitting the words into a little brass pipe attached to the top of the glass cage. Blurred faces peered at him, magnified by the curvature of the glass so that their mouths looked big enough to eat him as they had eaten his clan. Sival wrote. Each time he spelled something right he received a slip of gristle; when he got it wrong, he got nothing. He went hungry. He wrote until his talons ached, symbols after symbol after symbol. No longer were words his freedom, but his prison.

And one night, when the sight of those burning bodies roared in his mind and words swirled like hundreds of writhing black worms in his vision, he threw himself again and again against the glass cage, again and again, battering himself against the glass, until it slid off the table and splintered with a crash on the floor.

Despite his disorientation, he took to flight, aiming for the square of light, the open window. The creature with the jutting yellow mouth leaped to its feet, shouting, talons reaching out, but Sival was quicker. One final wingbeat, and he was free, soaring away and up into the white sky, the wind ruffling his feathers, high above the little brown buildings that lay beneath him like so many closed books. The sun beat hot upon him, a dead blank eye.

Sival flew towards the light, towards the horizon, headed for a forgotten land of no name.

 

 

Another Musing From This Dreamer

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I get panic attacks over my writing. An ordinary evening for me, after I have taken a long nap after exposure therapy and therefore wasted the better half of the day (argh), is to sit at my desk and panic.

This is not news. At times, I do wonder if my blog is far too self-centered and narcissistic at times, but the trouble with being alone most of the time is that you have little material to work with when it comes to creating content. I could, of course, use my imagination to write fascinating stories regarding my life. I could, for instance, tell you of the time I went to the grocery store, and all the lumps of marbled flesh and fat in the meat section started jostling about in their film wrap, keening and squawking and screaming like slaughtered animals, or the incident with the man whose flying carpet got stuck in some wire mesh bordering an abandoned carpark, or that one time I went on an underground journey in the sewers and befriended various vermin who taught me how to make mold-art, then promptly stole all my belongings, including my shoes.

But that would be lying, and, besides, I doubt any of you would believe it. Those things have happened to me, though—in my mind, that is.

The truth, however, is not as strange as fiction, and the truth is, I spend a lot of my time worrying and fretting and groaning and moaning alone in my room, with my hands at the keyboard, and often my face, too. In fact, my life is just one enormous ball of simmering anxiety. I am anxious when I am outside. I am anxious when I am inside. I am anxious when I am writing. I am anxious when I am around my family. I am anxious when time is passing, which is always. Heck, I’m even anxious in my dreams. Off an tangent here, but, last night, I had a very good dream, which for me tends to happen once in a blue moon. In this dream, I was beloved and had many friends, and we all laughed and joked together while standing in the grocery, and when I woke up I yearned so deeply for the sense of camaraderie to return I hurried to the computer to find solace in my characters, even though they pale in comparison to the real thing. You know you are lonely and depressed if the only times you feel happy and content are when you are lost in dreams, subconscious or otherwise. It means your own life is quite the nightmare.

But, yes, back to the panic attacks. I think everyone panics, and everyone is scared, to some degree. It’s part of being human, especially in this day and age, where everyone is a little more isolated, without their own tight-knit communities. Death looms like a guillotine above our necks everyday, the world is turning topsy-turvy, and love and friendships are being kicked to the curb, replaced by work, loneliness and human substitutes like the Internet or films. Everyone is broken in some way. No-one knows where the species is headed or what life and consciousness even is. Really, no-one knows anything and we’re just blundering our way through this, each and everyone of us, and if anyone tells you otherwise, they’re either lying, deluded or unaware.

And everyone is afraid of failure. Well, almost everyone. Anyone who has the tiniest smidgen of ambition is afraid of not succeeding in their endeavours. I don’t care if the ambition is to become the next NBA basketball star, or just get a minimum-wage job to keep your family afloat—everyone is scared of things not turning out properly, everyone is unhappy with some aspect of their life, and everyone is looking towards the horizon in the hope of spying that castle in the sky, a home where they can rest and nothing can hurt them for eternity. Some castles are extraordinarily extravagant, a mass of turrets and pearly stones and flying dragons, others are a little more homely, and a few (well, mine) are constructed out of paper, and scrawled with words.

Panic is an everyday part of life. What isn’t normal, or ideal, shall we put it, is if it starts to interfere with your day-to-day activities. That’s the definition of pathology, is it not, when some emotion, fear, anxiety, anger, disgust, spirals out of control and stops you from doing things? Overblown self-disgust leads to self-loathing leads to an inability to form relationship leads to suicide. Too many angry, violent outbursts, and you’ll find yourself homeless or locked up. It’s almost as if the world doesn’t want you to feel anything, so they dose you with drugs to numb your nerves and tell you you have “issues”.

My panic attacks, as stated earlier, stem predominantly from the fear of failure. Sure, the top of my head will blow off if I am in open spaces or around people for too long, but it is writing, or the fear of never being any good at it, which niggles and wriggles away inside of me like tapeworm for hours on end, no matter where I am or who I am around. Writing is hard. Very hard. And I am just not very good at it yet, not enough to get published, and to send my work out into the world. The problem is, I know I could do better, if only somehow my skills were better. I have a wealth of wonderful ideas without the skills and expertise to turn them into realities. As a result, every word I put down is a small reminder of my inadequacy. It’s like staring into a room filled with glistening plates of delicious food while you are starving, yet unable to pick up any of the food and eat it because you have no mouth. In fact, you have no head. You are a headless woman, somehow able to see (I didn’t think this through) the food, but without the wherewithal to consume it. I have no head. I have no head.

It’s agony. It really is. In my mind, I can visualise a scene so clearly, smell it, hear the sounds, see the faces (well, I have trouble with faces when it comes to writing, I only tend to “feel” their personalities), but I can’t translate it onto paper in a way that allows it to come to life in the reader’s mind the same way it does in mine. I just can’t do it. It just doesn’t work. I don’t have good sentence structure, or the details aren’t vivid enough, the characters blank archetypes, the entire story loose and empty as a cardboard greeting-card.

And so I panic. And it does stop me from writing, the panic, because I get panic attacks, which generally involve extensive gasping and an overwhelming feeling of doom. It’s like the world is ending, but inside you. Those are the moments when the depression hits, when I understand, with hideous clarity, why some people take drugs, drink themselves sick, or even resort to taking their own lives. The world inside your own mind becomes a living nightmare, and anything that can help you escape from it—anything—suddenly seems a blessing.

Relax, you might say. Relax, relax. The craft of writing takes time to perfect, and as long as you keep at it, you’ll get there. Yes. Very good, sound, logical advice. And also, in my case, utterly useless. Why? Because I am neurotic, self-loathing, and have the firm belief I will die unpublished, unloved and alone. Because writing is all I have, all I can do, and should I find myself unsuccessful at it, not only will I be severely disappointed, but also homeless, because I have no other marketable skills (Dear Future Employer, I Will Often Be Mentally Unable To Work For Long Periods, Cannot Leave The House and Am Scared Of People, Please Hire Me?) and my mother isn’t the most generous of women. Because anxiety and depression don’t always make sense. Because stories are hard to execute. Because I am very sad, and very lonely, and when you are sad and lonely, it is very hard to believe in and love anything. Because I am too discerning to buy into the old illusions I used to weave for myself. And, finally, because all is emptiness, dust returns to dust, and the universe and the world is a frighteningly cold and unforgiving place, and if I can’t churn out at least six or so good books in my lifetime, then I have nothing to hold onto and clutch to my chest like an existential teddy bear.

I am not sure where I am going with this anymore. I was just panicking, and it was time to write a blog post, so I wrote, and I am not sure what came out, except a gobbledygook mess. Let us dream of fireplaces, cats and loved ones, let us dream of other worlds and wonders, let us dream of human beauty and goodness and kindness, of places where laughter and song burst through the air instead of guns and storms, of many wonderful things to fill the emptiness. Let us dream, because it is in dreams where they will stay.

Your Feelings of Inadequacy Are Legitimate, and Often Not Your Fault–But Remember, You Are Already Very Blessed

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For years, I blamed myself for having excruciatingly low self-esteem. Everyone else was happy, capable, confident, self-assured—why not me? Something was wrong with me. I had done something wrong.

Now, I know better.

Reasons for my low self-esteem:

  1. An unaffectionate and father abusive both towards his wife, my mother, and myself, who abandoned me just as I was entering the last phase of adolescence. He never told me I was beautiful or worthy, never touched me, never showed any interest in my life, and only interacted with me to hit me as punishment for transgressions, or because he was upset himself and wanted to take it out on someone. Because of him, I feel a constant, deep-seated sense of uncertainty, insecurity and fear in regards to men, other people, and the world.

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2.  was born extremely introverted and awkward, and rejected, more times than I remember, for being too quiet, too shy, bullied, shunned, excluded at every turn. I was also born a very highly sensitive person which multiplied any pain that came my way a thousandfold.

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3. I was born creative. In order to be creative, you have to be different, have a “caterpillar in your brain”, see the world from an odd slant, be idiosyncratic. To be creative is to be deeply, deeply lonely. It is the price you pay. And if you’re weird, you experience more rejection, which, need I say, does nothing for your self-esteem.

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4. I was born Asian in a society dominated by Caucasian faces in the media, in books, in positions of power, resulting in my struggling with identity and self-hate issues for many years.

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5. I was born a woman, with traditionally “womanly” traits, like empathy and a highly-developed intuition, downplayed in the world based on logic and efficiency around us today. And of course, women, because of the pressure to be intelligent and beautiful, often suffer from higher levels of low self-esteem than men.

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6. I suffer with anxiety and depression, and relate to Female Asperger’s traits.

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7. All my life, I have struggled with money issues—namely, there not being enough of it. The situation worsened after my father left, as he didn’t leave any money for my mother, who had worked as a housewife. This has had far-reaching effects on my self-esteem because I was always ashamed to tell friends what my parents did for work, and often the social standing of your parents and the respect they are given in society mold how you feel about yourself. Having well-off, kind, and emotionally mature parents gives you an immense advantage in life—instead, I had an abusive father, a mother who catered to her husband’s every whim, and constant problems with paying the rent, the insecurity of moving from place to place.

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So. It’s quite a list. From now on, I will try to remember the circumstances of my life before I start mentally whipping myself mercilessly until my heart cries out in agony for being uncertain, unsure, not confident, so stupid, so unlovable. But these disadvantages do not determine my life. They can be advantages, as well.

Reasons to feel good about myself and my life:

  1. Creativity is a valuable skill, immensely necessary for success as a true, original artist.

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2. Being introverted, anxious and mostly housebound means I have more time and energy, at least when I’m not depressed, to devote to my passions, and to learn, grow and work hard on my own terms.

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3. I am proud of my Asian identity. I believe I am beautiful, inside and out, even when I sometimes don’t, regardless of my ethnicity, just like everyone else is. Straddling two different cultures allows me to see the world in a different way, and broadens my mind and experience.

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4. How some people treat me, with rejection and scorn, is not indicative of how everyone in the world might treat me.

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5. I will always have writing, and I will always have books, and I will always have the power and beauty of the imagination—those things, unlike my father, can never leave me. All the pain in the world is worth one day holding my published books in my hands. For the sake of writing, and one day being an established writer, I can endure any agony under the sun.

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6. I am lucky enough to have food, shelter and clean, drinking water, as well as Internet access. I have been educated, I can read and write. I am, compared to millions in the world, very, very privileged, and very, very wealthy.

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If you suffer from low-self esteem, and blame yourself for it, I encourage you to make a list like this one. The next time I feel bad for feeling bad about myself, I’ll just remember that the reasons why I feel bad, the combination of everything listed above, dosed with extreme sensitivity, are legitimate. If you dig deep, you’ll find there are true, very legitimate reasons behind your feelings of inadequacy, even if you are privileged in certain respects. The world is full of abuse, cruelty, standards, and very few of us emerge from it unharmed, but one must not forget that, in a world of seven billion people, we are often already very, very blessed.

Writer’s Support Group

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Me: Well, good morning everyone. Welcome again to The Literary Support Group. Alright. So. Let’s begin, shall we? Why don’t we start by going around the circle—you there, in the purple beret—

Writer 1: Michael.

Me: Yes. Michael. Hello. Good to see you were able to join us today. Tell me, how are you feeling, and, more importantly, how is your writing going? No need to censor yourself, everyone in this room, remember, is supportive of you, as you are of them. I want you to be entirely and completely honest with us. Say whatever comes to mind, blurt out anything that is bothering you about the writing process—which is, as we all well know, not an easy one. How far along are you, by the way?

Writer 1: Halfway through the book. It’s not working. It’s hideous. A few days ago I took a bottle of sleeping pills and went to bed, hoping I would not awaken the next day.

Me: Really, again? You do know that if you do end up successful in killing yourself the book will remain unfinished for all of time. It’s counter-intuitive. It’s counter-intuitive, isn’t it, everyone?

Writer 1: It’s not just the book. It’s everything. The whole world. Life. Existence. All of it. It’s all hideous, and I can’t stand it, there’s nothing behind anything, it’s all veils flapping in a yawning emptiness—

Me: Now what solution did we collectively agree upon the last time you spoke of this problem? Do any of you recall—yes?

Writer 5: To think of better things.

Me: Well, yes, that certainly can help, but what was the concrete solution we decided upon last week, as Michael here stood before us with a gun to his head—yes?

Writer 4: To channel our existential angst into our work. And to think of better things.

Me: Yes! Quite. Exactly. Did you hear that Michael? Nod for “yes” if you’re feeling too overwhelmed to speak. Good. So the next time those shadows come creeping up to your doorstep, what I want you to do is to pick up your pen, put it to paper, and write away, even if it’s only a diary entry five pages long detailing your despair and emptiness, to chase them all away. Understand? Next time, I don’t want to hear about you getting up to any more funny business with knives, pills or guns; they have no place in a writer’s paraphernalia. Only paper and pens do. Right. Next.

Writer 2: He’s dead.

Me: I beg your pardon? Did you have another partridge?

Writer 2: No, not the stupid bird. Between you and me, it had it coming for it, frankly, chirping during those infernal hours. No, I meant my character, the protagonist of my book. The circus boy. The one with the tattoos, yeah?

Me: Oh, I see. I’m very sorry to hear that. However you needn’t get too upset about it, many of the world’s greatest books—Romeo and Juliet is one that comes to mind—killed off their main protagonists. It’s a creative choice that, if done well, can be very poignant and powerful for the reader; and often, if it occurs as part of the natural progression of the story, makes the tale more realistic and authentic.

Writer 2: That’s not what I mean. I mean he’s dead, you know, he’s lifeless, he’s a cardboard cut-out. He’s just dialogue and robotic actions, there’s no centre, no heart. No point.

Me: Oh, right! Now, now, let’s not let Michael’s despair rub off on us. What you are experiencing is perfectly normal for writers, and all artists, for that matter, for those who must bring to life people and personalities through mere pictures or words are in many ways playing their hand at God, and His are quite big boots to fill. First, you must realise that all fictional characters, in many ways, are unrealistic, and will never seem as real and true as someone who stands before you in the flesh and blood. Besides, even in real life, you only scratch the surface of the psyche of those around you, and one can never completely and fully understand someone without actually being inside their head. Nevertheless, there are solutions available for making your character seem more like a real person. You could, for example, imagine them as a real person, someone who you could stand beside and talk to. You could imagine your character as a famous movie actress or actor, someone whose face you can easily envision. Some writers even choose to base their characters on people they have met or know in real life. Even if your character is one of a kind, irreplaceable, unique, don’t think of them as someone you’re creating, but someone you’re meeting as you write. That way, who they are can develop more organically as the story wears on. Does that help?

Writer 2: I mean. I guess.

Me: You guess?

Writer 2: No offense, woman, but I kind of feel like you just threw me a box of bandages when I’m standing beside a man on the ground bleeding to death. If you get what I’m saying. Let’s face it: The whole book’s ruined. I’ll have to start again. New day, new page.

Me: Right. Next.

Writer 3: Hello.

Me: Hello. Well, go on, then. Spill your literary woes.

Writer 3: Actually, I’m not really a writer, my mother left me in the room next door and she hasn’t come back for a quite while so I thought I’d join you guys.

Me: …how old are you?

Writer 3: Thirteen, turning fourteen this December.

Me: And how long have you been waiting in the room next door?

Writer 3: Two days. It’s fine, though, I have some food with me, biscuits, some fruit, and a bottle of water. She said it’d only take a minute, and it’s been a little longer than that, but I’m a patient person.

Me: Okay. Okay, listen to me. Do you know your mother’s phone number? Do you know the way back to your home from here? Do you have a phone on you?

Writer 3: No to all three! She just told me to stay here, no matter what, until she returned. And that if she wasn’t back in the next week or so, I was to use the money she gave me to buy a plane ticket to get out of the country as soon as I could. A week’s not up yet, I still have, like, four more days to go. And it’s so boring in there, in that room, all by myself—she told me I wasn’t even allowed to turn on the light. Can’t I just sit with you guys, just for a little while?

Writer 5: Oh my God, she’s a criminal.

Me: Okay, I can’t deal with this right now. Yes, you can stay, but we’re all going to pretend that we never saw or spoke to you. In fact, right now, you do not exist. Everyone clear? Good. Alright. Let’s see. Back to—yes, you. Go on. Spit it out, or I’ll wring it out of you.

Writer 4: I’ve nearly finished my book.

Me: That’s—that’s wonderful. I’m so happy for you, Daphne. So I guess that means you have no sorrows to pour out to us today?

Writer 4: But my dog ate it. I don’t know how it had happened, but it did. I found the remains of it this morning. In its mouth. Half-chewed.

Me: But surely you kept a back-up this time, or something?

Writer 4: Nope. Wrote it all out by hand on sheets of paper, all tied up neatly with ribbons. Pink ones. My favourite.

Me: But this is the third time this has happened. Surely you would by now consider it wise to perhaps lock one’s manuscripts in a drawer, or get a dog less inclined towards paper-eating?

Writer: I couldn’t possibly get rid of Dodo. He’s everything to me. He was the only one who was there for me when my father died. And I did lock it in a drawer—but Dodo’s so smart, he found the key and opened the drawer with it, all by himself, just to get at my manuscript. I saw him do it.

Me: Right, it’s either the dog or the writing. We all have to make tough decisions in life. Next. Lucky last. Thankfully.

Writer 5: I finished my book last month, and since then, I’ve found a publishing company willing to take it on. They’re doing an initial print of 5,000 copies, and if those sell well, they’ll print more. I’m even working on the marketing campaign for the series—it’s scheduled to be a trilogy—as joint managing director.

Me: I hate you.

Writer 5: Sorry?

Me: That’s excellent news! Alright. Yes. Alright. Okay, session’s over everybody—and you, you need to go back into the room next door, I think that would be best.

Writer 2: What about you?

Me: What?

Writer 2: How’s your writing going? I mean, seeing as you’re the coordinator for this group, obviously you have to be pulling some literary kicks in your own time. How’s it going, then?

Me: I—well—I—really don’t think this is—

Writer 5: Do you write under a pen name? Perhaps I’ve heard of your work before. I’m exposed to so many authors now that I’m in the publishing business myself.

Writer 4: Come on, tell us.

Me: Well—

All The Writers, Except Michael: Come on!

Me: I—I—haven’t started! I haven’t started! I’ve tried so many times to put pen to paper, but there’s always so much resistance, I haven’t written a single word since the beginning of August last year, which is why I’m supplementing my paltry income as a part-time writing teacher listening to you all prattle on every Friday afternoon when I could be drinking wine and listening to waterfall sounds on my Ipod.

All The Writers: ……….

Writer 1: I’m sorry.

Writer 2: Yeah, I feel you. I know what that’s like. Some days, as a writer, because there’s no-one to force you to work, you just want to lie in bed with your hand down your pants.

Me: That’s not what I—

Writer 3: It’s okay. Back when I used to go to school, I never got around to doing any of my homework, and look at me, I’m still here.

Me: That’s not the same—you don’t even know where your mother is—

Writer 4: I lied. My dog didn’t eat my manuscript. I did.

Writer 5: I could put in a good word for you with my publisher when you finish writing your book?

—-All the writers turn to look at Writer 5—-

Writer 5: What? I was just trying to help. Who’s that?

Random woman covered in blood who has just entered the room: Amelia! I told you to stay in that room! Who are all these people? What have you told them? Nevermind, it doesn’t matter, they’re already compromised. Put your hands up, or I’ll shoot!

Writer 1: The day has come.

Writer 2: Shoot.

Writer 3: They’re nice people, mum, please don’t kill them like you killed my other friends. I’ll promise to be good and always eat my vegetables and remember to feed the man in the cage downstairs.

Writer 4: Help!

Writer 5: I’m—you—I’m calling my lawyer! Soon I’ll be famous soon, you know, so if you touch me, you’ll be damaging national treasure!

Me: Hmm. There’s a story here. I can sense it. Finally…finally…the block has come to an end…

Writer’s Rant: Rewriting Is Torturous

help

Time enough to think and cut and rewrite tomorrow. But today-explode-fly-apart-disintegrate! The other six or seven drafts are going to be pure torture.”

Ray Bradbury

God, Ray Bradbury. I love that man.

And he certainly had one thing right: fixing your writing after you’ve spewed out the first draft is absolute torture.

I hate it. It’s like having to pack up your toys neatly into their boxes after you’ve spent a glorious day playing with them. It’s like having to turn a stinking, collapsing pile of turd into a five-star restaurant chocolate cake in five seconds. It’s like giving birth, but in reverse, which I am sure, if it were possible, is infinitely more painful than the usual process (better in than out, as they say).

And I am bad at it.

Awful, in fact.

I am quite good at the exploding part, when you just write, pen flying across the page, without a care in the world, having as much fun as possible imagining scenes in your head and letting them pour out as words. It’s by no means easy, I’ll grant you that, but it has its pleasures. For the first draft, you are basically caught along the current of your imagination, flowing downstream at breakneck speed. It’s exciting.

Unfortunately, at some point, most likely when you spot the edge of the world, you have to pick up your oars, and start rowing furiously back the way you came, against the current—and we all know how hard fighting against resistance is. That’s what editing is like. Swimming against the current. Picking up the pieces, especially the body parts, after the bomb has exploded.

See, after your first draft, at least for me, what you have sitting in front of you is a mess. It’s rubbish—useful rubbish, of course, but still rubbish. It’s unpublishable. For instance: In the first chapter a character kicks the bucket and expires in a cloud of withering ectoplasm and flies; then five or so chapters before the end of the book, you’ve decided to bring him back to life, and he becomes prominent player in the climax scene. Crucial, in fact. Which means you have to change all the pages in the book before those last five chapters, which is practically, let’s be honest, the entire book, in order to include that character in every scene, every exchange, otherwise his pivotal role at the end won’t make sense.

And that’s not all (it never is all, is it?). Sometimes, the pieces don’t fit right. There are wonky parts. Pipes corkscrewing out of walls where there should be windows. Rooms without doors. A dog sitting in the cat basket. So you have to do some serious re-arranging, and I have trouble even re-arranging my bed in the morning—usually I just leave it rumpled—so to expect me to do the same, except on a much larger scale, for an entire fantasy world, is kind of a tall order, wouldn’t you say?

Then there’s the small matter of sentences being hard to write, and write, and re-write. It’s hard to write sentences. I find it hard to write sentences. Come on, let’s not be ashamed, this is the Writer’s Support Group, we understand and we do not judge. When I say I find it hard to write sentences, I mean I find it hard to write sentence after sentence after sentence, several thousand times, as you must do for a novel, and make each one interesting, different, relevant, rhythmic and pleasing. There’s a rhythm to words. Some words are better for leading one sentence to the next than others. You need to have short sentences interspersed with long ones, hyphens placed where needed, the commas in all the right places. Even the “shape” of your sentences has to be taken in consideration. Sentences that end in words like “brother” or “kathir” are not as good as sentences that end with “minion” or “dentist”, because the letter “r” feels open-ended, incomplete, like someone dangling out into space on the end of a ladder. See what I mean?

Writing is an art form, and a very complex one. At least ten components come into play with every scene you write: characterisation, imagery, sentence structure, pace, rhythm, dialogue, the effectiveness of one’s metaphors and similes, the effectiveness of the scene itself, the point of the scene. I think that’s nine, but, hey, who’s counting? Not me, certainly. On top of that, you have to make sure you don’t get caught up in making the words sound smart and pretty and sacrifice substance in the process. Oh, and even if, after slaving away for a year or two, you finally get all the sentences and scenes right, upon re-reading it all the way through once more, I guarantee that the book will still feel incomplete.

Sometimes this is because, as writers like to lament, books never feel finished. Or it could very well be because it does actually need a little more work. And most of the time you don’t know whether it needs more work or whether it’s the simple dissatisfaction inherent in all things existing in reality. So you just end up editing it until the very sight of the manuscript makes you want to put a gun to your head—I’ve often heard that’s a good way to know when you’re done.

It’s just awful. It’s as though someone upended a box filled with a million jigsaw puzzles over your head, each piece as small as the head of ant, before proceeding to ask you to finish the puzzle and leaving the room, making sure to lock the door behind them so you can’t escape until you’re done.

Unfortunately, as Ray Bradbury also tells us, in the end, it’s all worth it. Sooner or later, regardless of how long it takes, in the end, you end up with a finished book, and that, to a writer, is always worth every drop of sweat and blood spent improving the first draft. And the second. And the third. And the thirtieth.

What is the greatest reward a writer can have? Isn’t it that day when someone rushes up to you, his face bursting with honesty, his eyes afire with admiration and cries, “That new story of yours was fine, really wonderful!”

– Ray Bradbury

My Internal Monologue When I Write

despair

Oh, dear God—is there a God that watches over writers, some strange fellow with pencils in his hands and flying books instead of angels? Because if there is, I would hereby like to sacrifice my flesh and blood to him so that he will watch over me with his Inky gaze—it is time. It is time. Time to write. Oh, Lord. There’s something about imminent suffering that suddenly turns me into the most devout, evangelical creature under the sun. Dear God of Whatever You Are, Not Sure If You Really Exist, hear me now: if you have any mercy, you will shoot me down with a swipe of your pencil, and skin me to make paper; at least then my life would have been put to some good use.

Oh, no. Here it comes. The desk. The page. The blank page, filled with lines, waiting for me to fill them. There must be a million of them, just on this one page, I swear. What do I look like, some kind of magician? In what other profession are you asked to turn words into whole words, living breathing characters, into magic, I ask you? It’s absurd, if you think about it. Absurd. My entire life is based on absurdity—now there’s a good way to start a writing session. Oh, Lord. Please, I would gladly be enfolded into your bosom, and, erm, kiss the bud of death, in order to depart from this earthly plane, as long as I shall never have to face the thought of writing again.

No, wait. You are being dramatic. Remember what you told yourself yesterday? The only way out, is through. The only way you will get better is if you sacrifice perfectionism, and choose quantity over quality. All the writing advice you’ve collated over the past few years has said the same thing. You must write, and forget everything else. Fine. I’ll write. I mean, grit and determination is what separates the successful and the unsuccessful, and do you honestly want to be a pathetic, hopeless, nothing? Ah, there go: good ol’ shame and the thought of dying unpublished and unknown always does the trick.

Now. Pick up the pen. Good. Now. Write. Write one word. Wait, maybe it’s best if you re-read what you wrote yesterday, you know, just to jog your memory, slip back into the story. Wait. Is that a good thing to do? I mean, I’m sure I read somewhere that to re-read what you wrote the day before is not conducive to good writing. What if, by reading this, you are effectively snuffing out your creativity through repetition? Oh, please, you’re going to end up re-reading this, anyway, somewhere down the line. Okay, then. Let’s re-read it.

Oh, God. That is awful; what was I thinking, writing this gibberish, this nonsense, yesterday? That little bit of advice swimming in the back of my noggin was right: now my self-confidence has been smashed to smithereens. I should have never re-read my work. Darn it. Dummy-head. Can a dummy-head be a successful writer? I don’t think so. This is your only chance, you know, I mean, it’s not like you have another plan; writing is your Plan A, B, C, D, E and F, because, frankly, you’re not suited for anything else, and if you can’t succeed at this one thing you have a slight knack for then, well, you might as well hang yourself.

Okay! First suicidal thought five minutes into the session. Not good. Not good. Note to self: do not kill yourself, even when the writing is going so badly you could puke, because dead people can’t write. In fact, they can’t do anything. You’d be even more useless—wait, positive thinking, positive thinking, you’re not useless, you’re smart, and creative, and talented, and sooner or later, with a decade or so of practice, you’ll get somewhat good at this writing business, and make a living at it. Oh, it’s like trying to believe in Santa Claus when you’ve already seen your parents sneaking the presents under the tree in the dead of the night. Believe, my friend. Believe. You must believe. If you don’t believe, you can’t succeed.

Oh, right. The writing. Where was I? Okay, dear brain, erase every last word you just read of what you wrote the day before; today is a new day, a new dawn, a new page, and you shall start afresh! Okay. Now. Now. Okay. Okay. Right.

Write. Good, good, you’re picking up the pen, you’re writing, words are appearing—good, good! Very good, you wrote a sentence. Absolutely fantastic. It’s the worst sentence that has ever been written in the history of human thought, but let us not let that detract us from the matter at hand. You wrote something—that is what matters. Keep going.

Oh, God. Oh, God. Why isn’t the scene coming to life properly in my head? I can’t visualize a thing, I can’t even visualize every single strut of the Eiffel Tower if I close my eyes, even though I’ve seen pictures of it a million times, so how do you expect me to conjure, in my mind’s eye, an entire fantasy universe? Where am I going with this? I don’t know. I do not know. The whole story is a sham, it’s just a ramble, it’s like vomit, dribbled across a desk, pretending to be Art when everyone knows it’s not fooling anybody, and what it really needs is someone with a dishcloth to clean it up. After this scene, after finish writing it, I have no idea where to go on from there. No idea, at all. In real life, you’re told not to drive at night with your headlights off, so I don’t see why the same shouldn’t apply to writing. Dangerous business, this is. It’s dark! My headlights are broken, and the car is still moving, I think it’s declivity! Somebody help!

Alright. You know what? Just. Write. Forget everything else, let it all spew out, grammatical errors and terribly long-winded sentences—all that wonderful stuff that makes it look as though you aren’t a native English speaker but someone who toppled from some long-forgotten forest in the Tibetan mountains to rejoin civilisation, wearing nothing more than, like, leaves, and cradling a stone shaped like a cat you call Edward and talked to when you were lonely whilst up there all by yourself all those years. Just let it all out! Ugh. My God, the agony. This is horrible, horrible stuff, what am I doing? Nevermind, nevermind, forget it, keep going, keep going. Rubbish! Despair! No, no, no, shhhh, keep going, keep going…

Water break. Water break is necessary, as one has broken into a sweat and is panting very hard, and needs to re-centre oneself. Alright. Drink. Think. Why do you write? The joy of it, of course. Reconnect with that joy. But how can I, when such joy is tainted by my incompetence? I’ll never succeed, I’ll never be anything, I’m delusional, talentless, disgusting, hopeless—I can’t write, I can’t leave the house, I can’t talk to people without wanting to run away—

Back to the desk. Plant your buttocks in the chair: now, you are not moving from this desk, even if you get hungry and thirsty, for the next hour, at the very least. You will sit, and you will write, until the end of this scene. Remember, this is your job. Your job, is to write. Other people build houses, grow food, teach children—your job, at the moment, is to write. You are a writer. Writers, write. That’s it. Let’s get started. Come on, no-one gets a free ride in life, you’ve got to work for the roof over your head and the food on the table. Hm, getting rather hungry—no! Forget the hunger. You are not hungry. Well, you are, but I don’t fucking care: no words written, no food; that’s the way it goes, bitch. Why is that the pep-talk voice inside my head always swears like some graffiti-bespattered gangster?

Focus. MY GOD, this is bad. Nevermind. Keep going, soldier, you can do it, soldier, yes sir, yes sir. Keep on going, keep on going, keep on going—yes, a paragraph! No, wait, you dolt, a paragraph isn’t enough, don’t congratulate yourself when you’ve done the equivalent of shoveling one teensy pile of dirt out of the ground. Patting yourself on the pack only fifteen minutes in, pfft. Idiot.

Ugh. Ergh. Bleugh. Agony—agony—oh, the blood, the pain, the terror—nothing is going right, I’m doomed. Do you hear me? I am doomed. I am sitting here, writing words that make no sense, swirling my fingers through the dirt making mud-cakes in the hopes someone will eat them, when in truth—my God, even my internal monologue has writer’s block! Now blockages are springing up even in the formation of my thoughts! That’s it. Where’s the gun? Where’s the noose? Let me at it. There’s a reason so many writers killed themselves, and if I kill myself, I’m sure it’ll be a mark of my genius later down the line, when they discover all my notebooks and publish what is written in them, post-mortem.

No, you ninny, you’re not some Sylvia Plath, no-one will care if you kill yourself or not—least of all the world. Hey, if you want to be a writer, then you just have to suck it up, and write. Okay. Good. Good. There we go. Just keep on going, it’s terrible, what you are writing makes you want to claw out your eyes and tear out the eyeball of the universe from its socket in a bleeding burst of dark matter, I know, I understand, just keep going, though, just keep going…

My characters are dead. They have been dead for some time. In fact, I’m not even sure if they were alive in the first place. So basically, what I’m doing here is just fiddling with corpses. I am fiddling with corpses! That’s my job, folks, to bring corpses back to life with my magic necromancer pen—ah, the laughter, the hilarity. Oh, my God, really, they are so dead. They are so dead that I can barely work with them. Never mind a relatable protagonist—mine isn’t even alive! Stupid woman, why can’t you just create your own personality, oh please, Character No. 4, won’t you say something and do something of your own accord, you lazy, silly creature, just give me anything I can work with, I’ll take anything at this moment, don’t just stand there slack-jawed like some lollipop-head—ah, God…

Wait a minute: that’s quite a nice idea, a good bit of imagery: snatch it out of the ether, right this instant, before it vanishes, and write it down! Oh, no, it got ruined when you tried to write it down—again. For, like, the thousandth time. Why is it that whenever you try and translate something from your mind onto the page the material ends up mangled-looking, like some beautiful animal floating in some other realm plopping down on your page looking as though it went through some grinding machine beforehand? All guts and blood; no shining horns and wings. Horrible, horrible—you are useless! That’s it. Where’s the gun? Oh, right, you hid it from yourself. You’re so useless you can’t even find something you hid from yourself, that’s how useless you are, pathetic slime-ball, who will never get published and die alone, poor and unloved.

You know, in life, we’re all alone, at the end of the day, and never does this fact become more clear to me than when I am writing. With a crazy noggin like mine, it is likely I shall never get married, never have children, and live alone, for the rest of my days, with cats, if I’m lucky. Sob. I hate the world—I hate everyone in it, and I am scared of everything in it, and most of all, I hate life, and you, writing, well, I don’t hate you, but you’re the one thing putting the greatest damper on my mood at the moment, so I hate you, in a sense, too. Wait. Back to writing. New rule: whilst writing, you are not allowed to feel sorry for yourself, or experience any existential angst; that kind of business is reserved for when you’re sitting on the toilet, or showering. Are we clear? Good.

Oh, my, the scene is coming to an end. Somehow, you made it, oh, by some miracle, the finishing line is drawing near! Now, end it, tie it up, all neatly packaged—plenty of loose threads trailing from it, but nevermind that, at least you finished, you finished! Of course, you don’t know what’s going to happen after this scene, and the terror of the Unknown is already begin to suck away at you like some black hole in the corner of your eye, but that is a problem to be addressed another day; today, you have done something, you have written something, and I congratulate you for it—even if it is dreck, nonsense, disgusting, despicable nonsense, at least you wrote something. At the very least, you put down words, and there they stayed, on the page, indelible, eternal, a mark of your blood and sweat, and, oh, Lord, what if you died tomorrow and these were your last words, messy ramblings, not even coherent enough to form a proper story seeing as you haven’t edited it yet?

Wait, don’t think about that. Just focus on the present. Look at the clock, well what do you know: it’s time to see your psychologist, whose smile is glacial and whose eyes are, you’re certain, made from hailstones enchanted to look like actual human eyeballs, only the enchantress didn’t do a very good job of it. And when you come back, you’ll eat, and perhaps you’ll go outside for some more exposure therapy, or perhaps not—and when you come back, guess what?

It’s back to the desk. Now, where is that gun?

On Art, Creativity, Identity, And Trusting Your Heart

being you

Creativity tends to be something as unique as a fingerprint, in that no two people, if given a creative task, such as to write a book about two runaways, or paint a crab, would churn out the same thing.

Often this is noticeable in artists who have made several works over the course of their careers, filmmakers with several films under their belt, writers who have half a shelf at home dedicated to their own books. Some of them, if their creative “touch” is particularly original, can be recognised simply from their work. For instance, Studio Ghibli films all seem to have that special something, an idyllic twinkle and exquisite artistry, which a viewer instantaneously associates with Miyazaki, and his unique vision. The same goes for writers. If you are very observant, and have read several books by one writer, you’ll often find similar imagery popping up in different books written by them, and often, if you get very familiar with them, you can pick up a book without looking at the cover and know it was written by them.

This is why, when it comes to creating Art, you can’t play copy-cat. To be a true artist, your work has to be different, and in order to be different, it has to come from within you—not without. If you’re a writer, for instance, you have to hone your craft, yes, but you also have to discover what lights up your imagination, and develop your own writing “voice”.

These are not easy things to do. As a writer just starting out—and in the profession, it is rare for even the talented and lauded to feel as though they are truly comfortable in the medium—the urge to copy is tremendous, because you grow up reading all these books, adoring all these authors who you see as idols (while their counterparts worship Taylor Swift and Beyonce, young writers genuflect before the likes of Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton), so when it comes turn to put pen to paper, oftentimes their voices, and their stories, spill out instead of your own. Eventually, however, you must write your own stories, in your own voice, as imitation does not a career make. In essence, all the places are already taken; the only spot left is your own, and it is there for the taking, if you’ll put in the effort and the time.

There are many ways to do this. It helps to have a very clear, good sense of self, as that means your personality is stronger, and the more stronger a personality the more easily it expresses itself through Art. This is especially true for writers, who are eternally drilled on the importance of developing their own voice. I, myself, struggle with this a great deal. To be honest, half the time, being so introverted, it is hard to determine whether I even have a personality. Other times it feels as though my personality changes, depending on the weather, or the day, or my mood. I feel like a cypher, ready to be filled by whatever comes my way, whatever strikes my fancy, and though this might be a good trait in an actress, it is anything but for a writer. Often, in one piece, my voice will alter two or three times. Even on this blog, I feel as though I haven’t developed a true “voice”–though, from my viewpoint, it can be hard to tell.

I liken it to my writing having multiple personality disorder, and so far, treatment has been difficult, and tiresome. I have come across some techniques, however, ranging from not thinking too much as my pen scrawls on the page so that whatever comes out is pure and undiluted, and writing the words as I would speak them to a friend, or at least an imaginary one. The best solution for problems like this is to write a great deal, write reams and reams; then, eventually, your writing voice will have no choice but to surface.

Writing on subjects from your own heart is far easier. All you have to do is create what you would like to consume—in other words, if you’re a writer, to write what you would like to read. In my experience that is the single best way to locate just exactly what excites you, and gets your creative juices flowing. You are the substance flowing through the filter to create the Art; whatever is inside you, will be inside the Art, too, and if there is something within you you don’t want spilling out, then you better figure out what it is and unplug the blockage. Art is the most pure expression of the self: no room for shame or concealment allowed. So perhaps another way to develop your writing voice is merely to figure out just why, exactly, you’re trying to hide behind a voice not your own, and to fix that.

I mean, it’s tricky, none of it is the least bit easy. As a writer, or any artist, you are basically a professional daydreamer, and when anything becomes professional, even something as fun as daydreaming, it gets hard. It becomes work, and no-one likes to work. When it comes to something like a writing, a lot of components come into play, and though a lot of it is craft and practice, a lot of it is innate ability, too. Characters appear out of the blue, speaking and thinking, certain scenes just “feel” right, and some writers even speak of their books as being pre-existing artifacts, which must be dug out from some ether or other realm, over the course of slow, painstaking months. Sometimes, you’ll read a book, and it will feel so right, so true, it’s almost like reading something you’ve seen and experienced, that actually exists, no matter how fantastical and strange the premise. That, I think, is when you are encountering true Art. There is always an element of magic to it—call it what you will, God, the Muse, or just two disparate ideas fusing together to make something new—and that is what makes it fun, even when it’s not.

Creation is not something you can do using the mind alone. Heart plays a very big role, heart, and intuition, that inner sense of knowing, inexplicable to everyone but yourself; and to trust your heart, to trust the bursts of excitement and joy when you encounter something, even if it is too strange or impractical, is something I think everyone can apply to their lives, not just artists.

To Read, Or Watch A Youtube Video, That Is the Question

books

Reading and writing, springing though they do from the same source, are nevertheless unequal institutions. The first requires few qualifications for membership, other than a good level of reading ability, and some spare time on the weekends; the second often needs many years of practice and toil, as unrelenting as a blacksmith hammering away in his forge day and night.

To consume is a thousand times easier than to create—and that principle seems to apply to everything in life, from the food we eat to the gadgets we use; but, in particular, to books. For instance, as a reader, when you read a book, if it is a good one, your mind eventually falls into the story without paying much attention to the words and sentences themselves. Scenes play out to their conclusion in your mind’s eye, characters engage in dialogue and tussles and more, settings piece together, with the aid of good description, like rapid jigsaw puzzles. It is usually enjoyable, and easy.

Writing, however, provides an altogether different experience, and since it creates something from nothing, is far more difficult. Several tasks are entangled into one: the act of writing itself, the visual envisioning of the scene, the expression of the characters’ unique psychologies through their words, expressions and mannerisms, how different personalities interact to produce interesting interactions—all while keeping in mind the structure, the pace, and the flow of the story. A writer lives in a strange laboratory, where myriad flasks and tubes, brimming with brightly-coloured fluids, need to be mixed and heated and condensed and distilled, one after the other, to create a single, rich concoction. It is hard. And, just like in every laboratory, accidents occur. Flasks explode. Acidic substances spill on the floor to eat its way through the concrete. What you thought would create a nice heady brew instead makes a dark lump hard as a rock that blinks up at you with strange eyes. Retort stands fall, tubes crack, smoke billows. Chaos created in the hopes of scrabbling across some fragment of beauty in the madness.

Unequal, indeed. To read a sentence often takes only a second or so, less if it’s just a passing glance without absorption. Writing the same sentence, however, might have taken at least thirty seconds, with time taken to put the right words together, re-arrange them, to shave bits off and put other bits in. As a writer, there is something slightly horrific about the fact that a 700-page novel, which might have taken, at the very least, a year to write and edit before it was of publishable quality, can be finished by someone in a couple of days. There are some authors who spend ten years working on a single book, only for that book to be finished by people in a few sittings, before they yawn and stretch and get on with their lives. A writer’s oeuvre, spanning fifteen works, and which took an entire lifetime to create, can be devoured in half a month, if the reader is disciplined. 

But there are thousands of other activities which require even less effort than reading, a thousand times less effort than writing. Food, for instance, though it does take time and effort to grow or prepare, often can be consumed very readily and easily. The act of eating is automatic, pleasurable: it doesn’t require any thought, or personal effort. Books, on the other hand, require the reader to mentally exert themselves, to employ their imagination to bring the words and sentences to life. Reading is not a passive activity—and in a world dominated by eating, shopping, watching and playing, books are at risk of being sidelined in favor of other, less taxing, forms of entertainment.

Today, it is far more common for people to put aside a book after a couple of pages, either because it was too tiresome to wade through the sentences, or the story began on a dull note. Books are getting shorter, the sentences more simple and understandable, especially in the realm of YA fiction. When once children’s books like The Secret Garden held pages and pages of words, we now have incredibly popular modern books like Coraline, around 30,000 words long, accompanied by pictures, each page sparsely covered in words. More people go to watch film adaptations of books than they read the actual books themselves—all following the principle that the easier it is to consume, the more there will be who consume it.

It’s worrisome. I worry whether the children of this generation, who grew up with smartphones and tablets, apps and games, would even want to read, and develop their imaginations and a love for reading. As technology advances, allowing for even greater immersion and enjoyment—the proliferation of virtual reality devices, for instance—without any effort on the consumer’s part, it is likely great swathes of humanity will no longer want to read, children in particular. There are just so many other “fun” things to do out there, Youtube videos to watch, social media sites like Tumblr and Instagram to browse, virtual realities to live in; and the books of old, which children once occupied themselves with when there was nothing else to do, might become obsolete.

Or they might not. Maybe the act of reading will just change, more E-books consumed rather than physical copies, less pictures, more words. Yet I can’t help but feel that libraries, especially the children’s sections, where, in my opinion, some of the best books exist, are not visited so often anymore, the books less well-worn, beautiful works languishing on in their multitudes on the shelves. One of the reasons why I make it a point to finish any book I come across, even if there are dull parts, and take time to marvel at the sentences and the imagery, is because I want give back, through my appreciation, some of the effort the author put in to write the book. Remember, behind all the hundreds and hundreds of books on the shelves in a library is a person, who most likely devoted months or years of their time, their blood and tears, to write it. Wouldn’t it be a pity for any of them to be unread, and unloved?

Of course, there exist too many books in the world for any of one of us to read them all in our lifetime, even if we did nothing but read. But that small fraction of the books of the world we can read and appreciate over the course of our short lives will shrink even further, if we don’t encourage reading in the first place, and short videos of men and women playing pranks on each other in the street supplant works of imagination, artistry and wit.

Being Sensitive And Having An Insensitive Mother

House

Sometimes, I dream of running away.

And then I remember that I would not be able to travel more than a few blocks without a panic attack setting in, and be forced to find either return home, tail between my legs, or find some other means of shelter, perhaps a public bathroom cubicle with a door that can lock.

So I stay in my room, and instead dream of not being conscious, which in itself is counteractive, as dreaming itself is a conscious act.

My mother is not a kind woman.

In fact, for someone like myself, who is highly sensitive and scatterbrained, I cannot think of anyone under the sun more unsuited to being my parent.

She screams at me. She screamed at me today. If you have Asperger’s, having someone screaming at you is a full-frontal assault, both emotionally and sonically excruciating. I curl up and cannot take it. I curl up, and wish I was dead. And still she goes on screaming.

Often, I am in the wrong. I can’t keep our apartment clean, and that is a fact. I am messy. I try to be neat and tidy, but sooner or later it all becomes disorganized again, and then I get screamed at for being the most disgusting slob to ever walk the land.

I daydream. Often my physical surroundings are often nothing more than interesting wallpaper. I live inside my head. I am introverted. So my mother screams at me for not socialising. I am sensitive. So she screams at me for using my sensitivity as an excuse for not wanting to deal with any that is unpleasant and stressful, like getting a job and interacting with people. I am empathetic. So she screams at me for refusing to eat meat, and is horribly scornful when I tell her I can’t put flesh, most likely from an animal who died in agony, into my mouth and swallow it. She tells me that she loves her two other nice and sensible children, and that I am deadweight, a burden; the sight of my face is abhorrent to her; that sometimes she doesn’t want to come home just so she doesn’t have to deal with me.

My siblings watch on, cold and unsympathetic. They are tired of my emotional outbursts, and tired of mother’s screaming. They are tired of having an older sister like me, useless and housebound, and perhaps that is the guilt talking, and perhaps that is not. My sister barely speaks to me anymore. She is getting a job soon, an after school job, to help my mother with the finances. And look at me. I am lucky not to be out on the street, as my mother likes to remind me. One of these days, she says, I’ll throw you out, and shut the door in your face, and it doesn’t matter how much you cry or beg, I won’t let you come back. You’re nineteen almost, you’re an adult. You’ll be on your own. I’m not working all these long hours just to feed and keep someone so inept and abnormal, who seems to float through life as though she were lost in her head.

All I ask is for a room of my own, where I can be alone, and read, and write, and work. I always work, even when I am miserable. Writing, and working, is all I have, and I know, given enough time and practice, I can get very good at it. I’m just not enough good enough yet, not by a long shot. I’m too young, too inexperienced. Any career in the Arts takes practice, long years of strenuous and constant effort. I don’t ask for much. Just a room. I can live on rice and beans, I don’t want any new clothes, just enough food to live on and pen and paper and a room of my own where I can live and write and not be disturbed. I wouldn’t mind if the room was small and cramped. As long as there is enough space for a desk and a chair, it would be fine.

It’s as if all everyone sees are the horrible parts of me: how awkward I am, how defective, disabled, strange. No-one seems to see the sensitivity, the empathy, the creativity, the imagination, the soul behind the stuttering mask. And because no-one around me seems to see my gifts–least of all my own mother, who laughed scornfully when I once made the mistake of telling her I would be a successful writer one day, before proceeding to tell me, her voice hard as a hammer knocking against my skull, that very few people succeed at writing–I begin to doubt whether they really exist. Once, my mother told me that I thought I was so “special”, her lips curled back in a sneer, that I needed solitude and to be undisturbed by people like some princess, and that, well, it was a big world out there, filled with talented people, and I was nothing in comparison. Go comfort yourself with that, she told me. When you have nothing to eat and no roof over your head, we’ll see whether you continue these dreams and delusions. If you can’t work and earn money, the world won’t care about you. Society has needs, and you need to fulfill one of them to survive. Who needs books? You don’t need books to survive. I never read. It’s too much reading that got you into this mess in the first place. You got lost in fantasy worlds, disconnected from reality, and now look at you. You’re a coward, you just want to escape into your imagination, where everything is fine and good, and ignore your duties and responsibilities.

Again, my siblings watched from the sidelines—there are no spare rooms for them to escape from the sideshow into, after all—and again, they remained silent. I think they hate me, too, for being who I am. I think they’re irritated with me.

I cried and screamed when she yelled at me today. It was my fault. I forgot the keys. I forgot where I placed them. I am always losing things, and I don’t know why. My mind doesn’t co-operate with the concept of physical location, doesn’t pay attention to my surroundings. I couldn’t open the door to let my siblings come in from school, which is a task allocated to me because my mother is afraid they will lose the key while at school. They were stuck outside until my mother came back early from work so they could be let in and do their homework at their desks.

She was boiling with rage. I could feel it through the front door, smoldering gushes of it. I was so scared. I hid in the bathroom. She came inside the house and banged on the bathroom door until it felt like my skull would break, screeching for me to come out. I didn’t want to. The screaming would be louder then, without the door acting as a physical barrier. But I did, because I knew she would get angrier if I didn’t. I I didn’t even have time to get fully-dressed; I was changing when the key cracked in the lock, signaling my mother’s return, and then I was running, half-dressed, wearing nothing but a long singlet. To come out, half-naked, and have her scream at me, felt so humiliating I think I could have died.

Now she is gone, back to work, to the grocery store, to do what I cannot help her to do. She left me to my tears, and my rocking, and my crying, in a cold fury. It is her anger that hurts me the most. I sense emotions as if they were physical rather than psychological, so her anger felt as though someone was repeatedly pummeling me in the stomach until I was coughing up blood. But my mother is right about one thing: I am a burden. More than a burden. And to place all your hopes on success in the Arts is a risky move. Besides, I am not disciplined enough, not talented enough—she is right, she is right. That was what my brain told me, as I rocked on the floor a few minutes ago. I don’t know if it is true. I don’t think it’s true. But I don’t know.

Loneliness set in soon afterwards. My family does not treat me like one of them. Half the time my sister doubts everything I say because she is convinced that I am crazy and delusional, insane. I am a tolerated pet whose unruliness is no longer amusing. I can’t turn to anyone for help: not my father, not the Government; I don’t have any friends in real life, who I can call and ask for help. After dropping out of university, any educational institutes could not care if I lived or died. I once called a Helpline number, desperate, and the man on the other end of the phone was clearly bored and rattled off a series of generic questions, and I couldn’t stand it so eventually I hung up on him, and then felt bad for being rude. Later that evening, I was scolded for using up the remaining credit on my phone.

Only through this blog have I met other like-minded people. Some of you might think, seeing as I can be quite wise and mature for my age, that I cope well, but the truth is, I don’t. I am stuck: I want to be financially independent, yet cannot due to my psychology. Thus all I can do is suffer in my family’s home, and suffer in silence, and be grateful for it, because at least I have a roof over my head and most nights go to bed without feeling too hungry. These days, I feel guilty even eating any food in the house. It’s the energy that radiates from my mother whenever I eat. Like I am a beggar from the street come to sit at her table, and steal her food, food for which I did nothing to work for to get. Some nights I go to bed hungry just so I don’t have to stay in the kitchen around her, and have her eyes on me as I eat.

I’m not sure what to do. I don’t know why it is that the outside world hurts me so. It’s the noise, it’s the sounds, the lights, the people—but it’s also the energy. Out in the noisy city streets, there is a lot of bad energy, and it gusts against my skin like skittering sparks from a flame. It’s too rough, too cruel, no kindness, no love. It makes me want to shrink down and down, into a mouse, and scurry away into a tiny cubbyhole inside a wall, where I can have my own miniature doll-sized bed and drawers, a tiny firefly coaxed into acting as a lamp, a niche where I can store nuts and berries, a wardrobe holding clothes stitched using spidersilk, and miniscule books on little shelves, their pages patterned with rows and rows of miniscule writing. There, in that quiet, tiny space, I would be safe, and happy, and not be hurt by anyone or anything.

And so it goes. When reality becomes too painful, I disappear into my mind, a turtle retracting back into its shell. It heals me. It lets me escape. I write, and I imagine, and am happy, if only briefly, and I hold tight to the hope that one day, my books will be published, and they will exist long after I am dead, to provide comfort and joy to others who need to escape or to forget, or who are sad and suffering. That is the power of fantasy, of literature, of Art. The world does need books, no matter what my mother says. And I will write them. No matter what it takes, or how long it takes, I will. As long as I can still breathe and think and communicate, there is hope.

Whimsical Ways To Make Your Book Stand Out From The Crowd

bookstore

The publishing world is built on quicksand.

Physical books are being superseded by e-Books, more books are being pirated and uploaded onto the internet and able to be downloaded for free than ever, and most writers, unless they are very, very famous, are lucky enough to earn enough to live – not to mention the fact that the Internet is now chock-full of exciting “bits” of entertainment, like Youtube videos, sites like Tumblr and Facebook, Memes, which siphon people’s already limited attention away from novels requiring time and patience to extract the value from them.

In other words, being a writer, in the modern age of digital blips and bops, is like training to be a teacher in world where the children are rapidly vanishing.

So what should we do?

If you are a reader (and you’d be surprised how very little readers there are in the world; a great deal of people never pick up a novel after the graduate from school) then I would advise you to generally not download or pirate books for free from the internet (unless you cannot afford to purchase them, in which case you should – just speaking for myself as a writer, I would rather people not pay and enjoy my books rather than have my books only reaching a limited socioeconomic group) and to try and get your literary fix either through purchasing the book on sites like Amazon or visiting your library and reading the books there. Libraries, the hundreds and thousands of them dotting the world, I am convinced, are one of the reasons writers are still able to stay alive and therefore write; they also happen to be the most beautiful places on earth: free knowledge galore, stretching out away from you along the myriad shelves.

But if you are a writer, whether you have published one book already or published none at all or have yet to succeed at finishing writing a book (it’s not easy, the business of finishing what you start – I speak from experience), things are altogether another kettle of fish. First off, if you are an inexperienced writer like I am, there is, I think, very little use in obsessing over whether your book will sell or receive good reviews in the future when you haven’t actually even written a book of publishable quality yet.

There is no point in having lofty ideals of being able to buy a little cottage beside a stream and donating royalties to children hospitals and starving people when you haven’t even established yourself as author yet. Instead – and this, is in a way, advice for myself also – you should focus your efforts entirely on improving your craft, and writing words and books that are true expressions of your creative being, surging from your heart onto the page.

Nevertheless, even if you are an amateur, it is also good to know what will truly help you succeed as a writer in the uncertain times ahead, and perhaps establish some good habits early. As I said earlier, I am only a writer just starting out myself, yet some ideas in regards to succeeding on the publishing scene have been brewing in my head for a while, and I just wanted to share them.

  1. Originality.

There an awful lot of books out there – and lot of them, though written by awfully nice people, with awfully complex writing skills where the words weave and spin and twist across the page, are, well, a little boring. I suppose it’s what someone fancier than I, with a Marketing degree tucked under their belt, might refer to as “market saturation” – and with the advent of self-publishing venues like Amazon, and around 5,000 new titles being published every day, it’s only going to get harder for your book to be noticed.

In a sea of mediocre books, many spouting regurgitated story lines and ideas – fairytales reworkings, vampires, zombies, fairies, people getting lost and other people trying to find them, people discovering they have strange powers – to actually rise up from the surrounding waters in the form of, say, a little atoll, means the concept of your book has to different.

These days the publishing industry is almost as bad as the movie industry, in that there is very little new and wildly original material being produced that keeps raising the bar higher and higher. Instead, things have stagnated, either because the writers of today need to wake up their imaginations a little, or because the industry doesn’t want to take any risks and knows that a book with, say, lots of action and a fantasy world and a female protagonist will sell well. Creativity and integrity sacrificed for commercial interests.

And yet, throughout history, it has been the truly original authors and their books who have succeeded phenomenonally: Enid Blyton, Suzanne Collins, Roald Dahl, etc. So stretch your imagination to the utmost limit when writing your book – if you don’t love what’s going on the page, no-one else will – and even if you don’t become a bestseller, at least you will have had fun and left the world a little more interesting for you having been in it.

  1. Unique Book Covers.

Once again, not applicable to inexperienced writers who are still struggling with trying to string together words in a coherent form to place between the covers – but the power of a beautiful book cover cannot be underestimated. Firstly, there is the fact that, as humans, we like looking at beautiful things, whether that is a beautiful face or beautiful cover art. Secondly, it’s much easier to treasure a book with a beautiful, unique cover rather than a bland or generic image, which increases the likelihood readers will want to purchase your book and keep it on their own personal bookshelf.

A good cover, well-designed, well-made, with nice, thick pages inside, especially if it’s hardcover, also conveys a tangible sense of value – you can hold it, touch it, smell it – that digital book formats lack. It’s sort of the packaging on a gift: in the end, the gift inside matters a lot more than the wrapping, but pretty packaging certainly doesn’t hurt. Of course, often the cover art is beyond a writer’s control, but it’s always good to keep these things in mind. A unique cover not only means readers will remember your books, it also lets your book stand out, and if you write many other books and incorporate the same theme concept for the cover art of all of them (all Roald Dahl books have a trademark look, for example), then you will have created a unique, recognisable brand for yourself.

  1. Illustrations.

For some strange reason most publishers and writers believe illustrations should be reserved only for picture books when nothing could be more further from the truth. If done correctly, and for the right books, illustrations can bring an extra dimension of life to novels, allowing the world to seep more clearly into the reader’s imagination. It’s best not to use illustrations for books set in the real world – we know what the real world looks like, we encounter it everyday, on the internet, on the News, outside our doorstep. But for, say, particular YA fantasy novels, particularly if the world-building is especially unique and strange, illustrations can really add a little extra oomph – and artistically, for novels, it is often best to have sketched illustrations, rather than full-color ones which can seem too sugary-sweet and childish.

Though once again, it all comes down to a matter of taste, and the particular story being told. The Hunger Games books, for instance, though a dystopian series and fantastical in many respects (genetically-engineered animals, for instance), is closely related enough to our own world to not require illustrations. But a book set in an alternate universe for example, with strange characters, inventions, almost too complex and intricate to be contained by mere words, can often benefit from an illustration or two. Characters are also one of the best things to illustrate, as their facial features are often the hardest to imagine, even with reams and reams of description. By scrawling in a tastefully done picture of a character here, a landscape there, you can often make the reader feel closer to the characters in the book, and make the world just that little bit more real.

  1. Trinkets.

I am sure there is some fancy-shmancy marketing term for this a woman with a clipboard under her arm in some boardroom can enunciate from between immaculately lipsticked lips, but I just like to call them “trinkets”. What are trinkets? Trinkets are little objects you include with the purchase of the book, like a little badge, say, worn by one of the characters in the story, or a map – and they are very, very easy to get wrong. There is a very fine line between tasteful and tawdry when it comes to trinkets. Generic, cheap looking trinkets that looked as if they’re made of plastic melted and then re-shaped and then painted gold aren’t going to do your book any favors. You have to be creative when it comes to your choice of trinkets. Far better it is to have no trinket at all than a cheap-looking one, but the right trinket, slipped into a plastic pocket at the back of the book, can delight the reader and enhance their reading experience. I smile just thinking of finding one in a book myself.

  1. Sound.

There are many ways you could go about this – the more creative, the better. One caveat, though: it is very easy to get carried away with all this extraneous detail, like trinkets and covers and illustrations, and forget the most important thing, which are the words and the stories they are telling. However, in saying that, music, once again, if done correctly, can enhance the reading experience (which is probably why audiobooks are so popular). You could perhaps slip in an internet link for the theme song of the book, or little clips of the characters, using voice actors, speaking to one another. Again, like always, your imagination is the limit. At the end of the day, you just want readers to enjoy themselves, and give them the most delightful experience imaginable so that your story almost seems to leap off the page.

  1. Extra Material.

I have noticed a lot of middle-grade books doing this – they contain, along with the story itself, scribbled little diary entries written by the characters, illustrations or diagrams describing the various inventions, maps. I think they’re important. They add an extra layer of realism to the story – maps in particular as they help centre the story almost in a real place, no matter how fantastical the world is. For instance, with the Harry Potter series, it would have been nice to have a labeled diagram of Hogwarts (apparently it was impossible because stairways and rooms kept magically shifting) or a Marauder’s Map included in the book it featured in. It’s all about making the imaginary and fantastical real as the blood sluicing in our own veins. When we read, we want to be transported from our hum-drum lives, into a stranger and more marvelous existence – and the more vivid and true, the better. 

Of course, there is the usual litany of self-promotion techniques for the published writer, like social media sites, blogs and visiting libraries and conventions to speak, but what I included in this list were simply whimsical ways to make the reading experience all the more richer. and make my heart spark with delight to muse over. Practicing some of these, with discretion, just might encourage people to own or seek out physical copies of books more often, and bring greater joy to the lives of both writers and readers (as a writer myself, I can imagine myself having a lot of fun finding the right trinket or song).

What did you think of them? If you were to pick up a book incorporating any of these ideas, do you think it would detract or enhance your reading experience?