Couch to 80k Week 5 Day 4

I blame my sort of hazy-looking-out-of-the-window-like-I’m-still-in-secondary-school lack of attention for not realising this week’s writing workshops would be all about strong emotional exploration, revolving around a single traumatic event. I’m not sure I would have done anything differently, but certainly I’d’ve been more prepared for it.

Today was diving into the same subject as yesterday and writing more on the topic, could be a rewrite, could be an exploration of specific bits, could be really whatever you want (including avoidance if that was too difficult).

I’ll be honest, the best thing about yesterday’s writing was finishing it and knowing I’ll never have to do that again, then turns out that wasn’t the case.

I went back to my mum’s death and wrote about the aftermath, really. It wasn’t my plan, it’s what happened. I also felt like I wanted to keep it distant, turns out I can grab that nettle once, but not twice. It’s not that the writing was so perfect it couldn’t be re-written, more than it was drawn from my own feelings so deeply that… well, I didn’t want to cry again. Simple as that really.

And thank you to everyone who commented yesterday, both on the blog and on twitter. I think appreciate both as a connection to me us all as humans who have more in common than not, and -I’ve chosen to take it- as a nod, that I’m going in the right general direction as a writer (DON’T DISABUSE ME OF THIS! IT’S ALL I’VE GOT)

So here’s today. A calmer, more reflective meditation on the aftermath of my mum’s death.

It’s been years. I still sometimes feel hollow. After mum died, I went off the rails, not oh-my-god-Paul-is-drunk-it’s-only-10am off the rails, but off the rails for me. I was angry. I was angry at my youngest brother, who was seven years old at the time. I was so angry at him. Why wasn’t he as upset as me? Why wasn’t he crying every day? How the hell could he get up and play football and not give a passing thought to the fact his mum had died?

I was angry with myself, I was angry with my wife, my parents, my family, my work, my entire world.

Mostly I was angry with my mum.

She knew. She knew she wouldn’t wake up. She knew something had happened. But she didn’t tell anyone. Instead she wrote a note, and went to sleep content not to wake up.

The pain of death is felt by everyone left behind.

It’s been years. I’ve forgiven myself for being angry, and I’ve come to understand why she didn’t phone anyone, or go to the doctors, and just … let go.

Mum was 50, she’d raised five boys, had her first -me- at age 16 and the next at age 17. I can understand that tiredness now. I want to say I forgive her, but really, there’s nothing to forgive. In my heart, I think of my mum as both my mother, and the 16 year old girl who never had a chance to grow up into adulthood and sometimes, I remember a photo she showed me of her at age 6 and I think of her as that little girl too.

She was like a force of nature, until she was spent.

Looking at her in the tiny box they put her in, I could see, at last that she needed the rest. Even storms have to stop and mum was a storm.

Couch to 80k Week 5 Day 3 – Up close and personal

Oh man. Today. Today was tough.

I like emotional distance. I like humour and sarcasm and playful silliness – these things keep you from drowning in your emotions. My oldest son has ASD and I think for kids with ASD the general population think they’re cold emotionally, but they’re really not – if anything they can feel things very deeply and struggle to keep emotional dampers on those feelings. So they often overcompensate (learning how to cope) whereas neurotypical have very fine grained control over their emotions, it’s easier to keep it all damped down.

(Like, I think, every single thing about humans, there’s no real binary here – there’s no such thing as neurtypical and ASD – rather brains that work in varying degrees in varying different ways, but humans LOVE LOVE LOVE to classify stuff, so we end up with words that cover some portion of that rainbow of colours)

(I mean, the unspoken thing here is my constant wondering of whether I’m on the spectrum, the answer is: of course I am, so is everyone else. I’m human)

Anyway, I’m moving too off topic.

Continuing this week’s theme of Psychic evaluation, and – to put it crudely – plundering your own emotions for content (and I mean a more romantic way to put it would be to say “enriching your writing through the exploration of your own emotional experiences ” which is also nicely alliterative ). Week 5 Day 3, Tim tells us is an optional day – do it or do not. (There is no try).

(Is it obvious I’m stalling? It is, isn’t it?)

It’s write about a traumatic event in detail. I have a few to choose from, but the one that, I suppose impacted me the greatest – the real life changer, is my mum dying. It broke me for a good long time. So I’m posting it here, sometimes I feel like I need to keep these things private, and sometimes – often in fact – I discover that sharing this stuff touches reaches other people and they find they’re not the only one to have felt like this. I will be honest, I cried typing up a lot of the following. So, as per Tim’s instructions on writing it, I’ll give you the same on reading it: you can skip this one if you like.

I was in work. I think it was the start of the week. I had a shirt on sleeves rolled up. When someone came in to the room to tell me.

“Paul. Your dad is on the phone”. She looked concerned, but it was impossible to tell what it was about, though it seemed serious.

I phoned my dad.

“Your mum is dead”.

I don’t remember asking to leave, I think I told someone, I think I lifted my coat and zipped out there. I don’t remember how I got home. I think I phoned Annette. At that moment, everything was blurry, nothing was real. I felt a hurt so deep down, that I just wanted to wail. Not scream, but to reach inside and pull out of me a noise from the depths of my being. A Death moan- suddenly I wasn’t a man or a boy, as I was an animal, mourning the loss of its mother. A wolf cub, lost in the forest, its mother – its entire world gone, and I just wanted to howl out.

I think I went home to my dad’s house. I think my wife met me there. And, really, I disintegrated. I couldn’t take it. My brothers were there. My youngest brother, Luke, was in the room. The house smelt like home, but stale. My dad was shaking a little. Maybe I was vibrating through the room, like the only thing alive at that point was my loss. Mum was lying in bed. Someone mentioned a note.

She’d left a note.

“I felt something in my heart last night, something broke. I don’t think I’ll wake up tomorrow, take care of Luke. Love you”

I could feel stinging behind my eyes. Tear ducts heating up, stifling tears. And then I ran, I wanted to both run away as far as I could and go to my mum and crawl up beside her and lie there and never move again. Never move away from her. At that point, I forget I had siblings. It was only ever me and mum. For one year, when I was too young to even understand or realise, it was only me and her. She had me when she was 16. So from 16 to 17 years old this young girl had a baby, and that horrible moment made me feel what that must’ve felt like. I felt that love she must have had for that child, for me, and I felt it go. For it to suddenly be taken from the child. I felt sorry for myself, of course, but I felt sorry for the child I was. And the girl she was. And that she’d never had a life as an adult without kids.

I ran and ran and ran, and I’m still running.

I went upstairs, and went to the toilet, locking the door. I didn’t want anyone to see me, I wanted to be alone in my grief. I wanted to climb in to the forest, and stand over the body of the wolf and howl at the moon and the world and every bastarding thing that was in it that took my mum from me

Couch to 80k Week 5 Day 2 – Good Grief

Ok, week 5 is – I think in Tim’s words a Psyche Evaluation. Running through emotional strengths and weaknesses and what you – as a writer – find easy and hard. And using those things to write better. (This feels like doing a SWOT analysis – Strength Weakness Opportunities and Threats – on your emotional strengths as a writer)

I find this a bit though. It’s the mixing of real emotions in with fictionalised events that I’m struggling with. I’ve spent most of my life I think boxing away certain emotions so they don’t overwhelm me, and I’ve always been guarded in writing from my heart – I have no problem writing from my brain (which is probably why all of my published writing is really articles on how to do things in computers/art) – but writing from the heart is hard.

Today’s writing exercise was a tough one too, taking one of the emotions we did yesterday and building a free write around that without mentioning the emotion.

What I really want out of this course is the inner strength to sit my ass down and write a comic. I have a handle on a lot of the fundamentals of this, but to really write something true and real I think I need to dip in and not be embarrassed, ashamed, guilty or in any other way afraid to deep dive in to my heart for emotional truths.

I’m not sure I can do that.

Here’s today’s snippet – just remember, these are draft zeros, there’s no editing and I often, frequently, in fact almost always, start with the intent of writing one thing and at some point it changes in to another (these are things that a second, third, fourth draft would resolve mind you, so I’m less worried about them). Anyway. Here it is…

He stood in line. Waiting. In front of him some oldster was attempting to put coins in the machine. The machine that probably hadn’t seen coins in decades. He wanted to tell her to get a move on. But he also wanted her to just live her life without some idiot screaming at her.

He looked down at the ground, and frowned. The ground, a grey slab, in a grey world. Everything was grey. Everything would continue to be grey for some time, he imagined.

The old woman fumbled around, he turned around to look who was behind, some kids. Kissing. Normally he’d be angry, wishing they could keep that stuff private. But he was a changed man now. Nothing was the same and he… Well, he couldn’t find it in his heart to be angry at someone else’s happiness. They’ve probably no sense of how long they’ll ever have together. What was the old woman’s story? Had she found love as a kid too? Was she on her own as he would be?

It’s only been one day. He’d bought a sandwich, but it tasted like ash, so he binned it after a single bite. He should be hungry, but he had no appetite.

He’d woken up that morning and the world was dimmer. He was dimmer. And yet, the day was the day, the world was the world and work was work. He couldn’t just drop everything.

If she’d died he could. If she’d died, suddenly there’d be room for sympathy. People would know. They’d give him time, they’d give him space. They’d let him be.

They wouldn’t expect him to stand in a fucking queue and pay for parking.

But she hadn’t died. It was worse than that. Death at least has closure.

She’d left him, and he couldn’t find a way to change her mind. She’d left him and he couldn’t find a reason for her to stay. She’d left him and he couldn’t find a reason.

So he got up, got dressed, went to work, his insides replaced by an automaton.

“Patrick! Patrick!”

It was his wife.

“Yeah, I’m just getting a ticket.”

“Ok, well, look, I’m going in to the shops, Matilda needs the loo, give us a buzz when you get in, ok?”


If she’d died he could’ve mourned her and said she was a friend. He could have let his wife see a fraction of his grief. Not all of it. There’d be no point in destroying that relationship. But enough that he wouldn’t have to fend off questions about why he was being “so bloody mopey

Couch to 80k Week 4 ends, Week 5 begins…

Ok, I’m a little behind on posting about this. But, just to reassure you, on schedule I did week 4 days 5 & 6. These were both, as the other days in the week, about rewriting one little snippet in various ways.

Day 5 was a choice (choose your own adventure, if you like) of three options offered (I can’t remember the other two, sorry!) I decided to rewrite the snippet as though it was about an assassin. I’ll post that text at the end.

Day 6 was another choice (I cleverly wrote these ones down) rewrite it as either a) A post-apocalyptic campfire tale. B) As though a tale told by a braggart. Or C) as a fairy tale. If you read it, I think it’ll be obvious which option I went for.

Week 5 Day 1 was moving on to a different theme for the week. It was an interesting but difficult one. There is, I think, a need to call upon your own personal experiences for writing (‘write what you know’) I don’t think that means you can only, for example, write stories about a middle aged comic artist who used to work in comics, but it does mean you can write stories where the emotional reality can translate. So, for example, I can’t ever experience the joy of being the first man on the moon, but I know the joy of being told for the first time that 2000AD will give me work which is an emotional truth I can parlay in to other areas. To spare my own blush, I’ll skip that, but it was an interesting.

I’ve come to find finding the little 15-20 minutes required to do the writing a nice breather from drawing Tanks, mind you – and a generally neat way to escape from the current chaos of my studio.

Excerpt 1 (Week 4 Day 5 – the assassin)

The assassin watched from across the street. It was a simple matter to forge the letter. It was a simpler matter to deliver it. Holden was the sort that would simply accept an official letter head and do whatever he was told. The perfect mark, really.

Even so, this was an elaborate plan, requiring weeks of preparation. He’d discovered an entire wing of the hospital that would be unused, he’d hired people who thought they were actors, it had cost a small fortune, but this would work out so perfectly the people who pay him should be delighted.

He checked the monitoring equipment, he heard the letter hit the ground – there was a micro bug inside the letter, actually as part of the logo, the assassin had laughed at himself for this – hiding it in plain sight. The heard the envelope rip open. And nothing. Was he checking? Was he reading. He lifted his binoculars and looked from his vantage point. He saw Holden reading the letter and sit down.

It’d be another week before he would be in the same room as him, and there was much to do before then.

The appointment arrived. The staff were all keyed and ready to go, they greeted the mark, sat him down to wait. We’ll let him stew for 10-15 minutes.

He’s called in, and this is my favourite part, made to disrobe and change. There’s nothing protecting him at all. It’s almost too easy. Though, of course, the real job is to plant the bomb.

Gastroscopy the docs call it, Holden didn’t know enough about it to know what exactly was involved, and like an idiot turned up on his own. He was supposed to bring someone so he could be knocked out. What if the asshole stops me planting the bomb? Gah

On the plus side, it’s just him, no need to worry about keeping someone else placated. If I’d known he was gonna turn up on his own I probably wouldn’t have needed as much staff.

Planting the bomb took seconds, once the tube was down, but I gave him a good thirty minutes of wriggling the tube round, said some big doctor words I’m sure he thinks are real and watched as he winced in reply. Pretty funny really. Slowly withdrew the tube. Good and slow. Let him feel every second of it. Should teach him a lesson for the next time (haha! What next time, press button, Holden go boom).

He redresses, says some pleasantries to the staff and walks out. I follow him home, he’s been ordered to take it easy for 24 hours, and take it easy, though he can return to work.

Of course, the bomb isn’t for him. The bomb is for his boss and anyone else who’s working in MI6 that day.

Excerpt 2 (Week 4 Day 6 – the Braggard)

As you’re aware, I’m an astonishingly perfect physical specimen, as perfect inside as out. Of course, even as a child my parents would comment on my remarkable good looks. “Gosh, aren’t we lucky” they’d say to themselves as they pushed me from home to park as the other parents looked at this gift from god and thought “why is my little Eric/Erica not as cute as this tiny perfect thing”

It wasn’t until I was much older that, to my horror, I discovered the my insides may not be as perfect as my outsides! At least that’s what I presume “Gastroscopy” meant, haven’t felt less than 110% – hovering closer to around 101%-102% a good fraction less than my usual better than awesome, I’d been to the doctor and he told me they wanted to take pictures of my interiors. I wouldn’t blame, I said, given how good the outside was.

Now, as you may not be aware, in my exquisite arsenal of skills, driving and being fearless are pretty much up there. So, come of the day of the operation – despite the docs recommendation that I bring a driver so they could knock me out for the procedure, I came on my own. God alone knows what would happen to my hair if I was unconscious!

I was asked to undress (those sly dogs, desperate to see more of me) and put on a robe, which, frankly, would be more suited to dressing a butcher’s dog’s meal than a prime hunk of all-American beef. But, I demurred, I don’t mind being seen as a slab of meat – it’s what’s happened to me most of my life.

I lay on the table and was unbothered, how bad could it be? Well, pretty gosh darn bad. Probably the worst- and I mean absolute worst thing that’s ever happened to anyone. But I didn’t cry. Not even a little bit. Rather lay down and took it like a man (I’d’ve stood up and took it like a man, but they were VERY insistent I stay lying down).

I could feel the tube bump bump bump down in to my throat, and from then on it was a desperate race to maintain composure long enough for the tube to be removed.

My eyes watered, I’m assuming from the large amount of obnoxious smelling Euo de toilette that the doctor was wearing – I mean, it could have been a reaction to the tube, but there’s few that can maintain a stiff upper lip like me, though, ironically if I’d kept a stiff upper lip I doubt they’d’ve be been able to get the tube down my throat.

Couch to 80k Week 4 Day 4 – The Not of Life

Couch to 80k podcast is a writer’s bootcamp with daily exercises by Tim Clare and is part of his Death by 1000 paper cuts blog.

So, we’re continuing on this week with different ways to approach the writing, a sort of “Elements of Style” (Tim’s title).

It’s odd, I’m not entirely sure if I’m learning or doing well on these, I suppose each one is designed to give you confidence to not be afraid to try them, and maybe I’m a little exhausted at the moment (easter holidays, at the in-laws, driving all day, could do with a nap). Anyway.

Today’s task: take yesterday’s narration and rewrite it but using words of only one syllable. This was easy in bits, murder in others. Didn’t even finish the text in the time alloted (thankfully ran out of time at a really hard bit…)

If you’re still with me, well done, this is pretty much the half way mark on this course. Once I’m done here, I’ll be digging through an Ursula LeGuinn book I bought called “Steering the Craft” which I’m told is also very good.

Here’s the text (the title from yesterday was “The Emptiness of Existence” which became “The Not of Life” which may be a more fun title)

The Not of Life by T De Vine

While he sat, the world passed. All things seem to move but not he, in the still of the time he heard the plop of post fall to the floor.

At this time, in this place, there was little buzz. Not the slow open of the post nor the name of the health place, and not the words on the page, like the guts of a shark on the floor in the first act of Jaw did not cause his thoughts to turn dark. There was a small joy, the time was soon, the place was near and while no one could take him there and back he could, at least, drive himself.

Of course, this early thought was fool hardy.

Tum-Cam. He had searched for it on the net. But the words had no oopmth. Lots of words no feels. At times he felt his heart was not joined to the feel of the world.

The day came. The clouds cleared, the roads thinned out and it felt like this would be it. A small op, he would know next week and his world would again be a the dull null of life.

The amp said his name and he leapt up – his face full of cheer that knew nothing of what was to start. He put on the gown, stripped off every single thing he was, left with just the small gown.

He lay down as told, like a child at night. He felt safe.

The tube went in. Bump bump bump down his throat, going deep deep deep.

Then he gagged. Trying not to sick up the tube he had in him. Life is like this, he thought. Life in bird’s eye view.

The doc would look and tell him what was.

Couch to 80k Week 4 Day 3 – the Resurrection of Tabitha DeVine

Couch to 80k podcast is a writer’s bootcamp with daily exercises by Tim Clare and is part of his Death by 1000 paper cuts blog.

About 17 years ago, while talking to the then-editor of Warhammer Magazine, I hit upon, what I thought would be a cunning wheeze. Having discovered that many of the submissions involved vampires, and, inexplicably, horses, I came up with a nom de plum and fired off a submission. Tabitha DeVine’s My Four Legged Vampire Paramour was born.

Now, I tell you this for one reason only, that silly character has sort of haunted me ever since. She predates – but almost certainly forshadows – writers like EL James (Fifty Shades of Grey) and Stephenie Meyer (and the Twilight Saga) – I had a vision of how she looked, and the sort of stories she would tell, she was a female Garth Marenghi, only just before Garth Merenghi existed. There may have been something in the air.

(BTW if you haven’t seen Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, I recommend it, you’ll LOVE IT)

Anyway, today’s writer’s bootcamp was to take yesterdays first person prose and turn it into a story with overwrought similes, by an author given to finding deep meaning in everything and with a title with a similar existential edge. So I naturally remembered Tabitha. To my shame I don’t think I did her any justice what-so-ever. In fact I think it was a bit of a pig’s ear. But I did it, and you know, maybe getting it wrong is as good a lesson as getting it right?

Maybe it’s a better a lesson?

Please let it be a better lesson.

Anyway, here’s the snippet…

The Emptiness of Existence by Tabitha DeVine.

While he’d been waiting, the world passed. Everything seemed to be moving except for him, and in the stillness of that moment he heard the pregnant plop of post falling to the floor.

At this time, in this place, there was little apprehension. Even the slow opening of the envelope, the letterhead spelling out the name of the hospital, and the contents of the letter – spewing words on the page like the guts of a shark across the floor in the first act of Jaws, didn’t cause his thoughts to to turn dark. If anything there was a relief. The appointment was soon, the time was early, and though he had no-one to take him there and back he could, at least, drive himself.

Of course, this early optimism was simple niavity.

“Gastroscopy”. He had to google it, but the results didn’t really have an impact. Lots of words, zero feelings. Sometimes he felt his internal emotional state was disconnected from any sort of external stimulai.

The day came. The clouds cleared, the roads thinned out and it felt like this would be it. A simple procedure, results within a week, and his world would again be filled with nothing but the eternal void of existence.

The tannoy announced his name, and he bounced up – wearing that face of cheery optimisim that utterly belied the violation about to happen.

He changed into the hospital gown, stripping away everything he was in the world until all that was left was just another chunk of meat partially covered in fabric.

He lay down, as instructed, in the recovery position. Not quite the foetal position, but enough like it he felt safe.

The tube started going down his throat. This was unpleasant but not horrific. He could feel the bump bump bump of it as it fed deeper and deeper.

And then the gagging began. Constantly stiffling the urge to vomit out the tube. Life, he thought, this is the struggle of life in microcosm.

The doctors would look and tell him what was happening, but the confusion of his physical situation meant he couldn’t focus on the words to make them come in to clarity. His eyes filled with tears.

Couch to 80k Week 4 Day 2 – turning facts to fiction

Couch to 80k podcast is a writer’s bootcamp with daily exercises by Tim Clare and is part of his Death by 1000 paper cuts blog.

Yesterday Tim commanded we scour memories for something that sticks, something with a sensory component. We wrote out a list, then picked one and wrote it up as a paragraph of notes. (I sort of wrote it as a story, which was a mistake) you can read it from yesterday’s blog post.

Today was about taking that paragraph of notes and trying to give it a sense of being a story, by giving fictionalising it as first person narrative. I actually wrote yesterday’s notes almost as a first person narrative (maybe I ballsed up the brief yesterday? Maybe it’s just how I feel comfortable writing anything, really – so used to the blog and how it needs to be written)

So I tried to pump it up a bit, give it something more specific – people say and do things that, honestly, I don’t remember them saying or doing. But nobody wants to read a story full of hedged language (“I think they said something like” is much weaker than “they said”)

Anyway, that’s today’s task. We’ve to keep this til tomorrow, so I’m guessing we’re gonna play around with it. I’m fairly pleased there’s a narrative arc going on even in this small thing (Me “This will be easy!” *thing happens* Me “that was awful and I’m an idiot for thinking it would be easy” – this, btw, is largely the story of my life)

Here’s the snippet:

There was nothing about the letter that made me nervous. There was nothing about the day that made me nervous. Even, eventually arriving in the waiting area, sitting down in the pure white room, with the orderlies moving people in and out, still nothing to worry about.

“Mr Holden, Mr Holden, to room 3”

Ah, ok. Maybe some apprehension then. I knew what was supposed to happen. But the words, the words didn’t really have a meaning. Not then.


Obviously I’d googled it, I’m not a fool. It recommended you bring someone with you and you can’t drive if you’re knocked out with a general anaesthetic. Well, firstly I’m the family driver so I had no standbys and secondly, who wants to wipe out two days for recovery for a quick procedure? Not me. No sir. No thank YOU. Nope.

What a idiot.

There were brief introductions, I changed, behind closed curtains, into a robe that covered about 80% of my circumference, not quite the whole of the moon, as it were.

I lay down on my sides, the recovery position, says the nurse. Not that I’m recovering, no need to. Not at this point.

From my prone position, I see the doctor walk in passes pleasantries with the staff, mask up and says nothing to me. I don’t suppose he’s used to too many people wanting to be awake for this bit.

The tube goes in.

It doesn’t sound like much “the tube goes in”, but it goes in and it keeps going and going. It feels like this will never end, like somehow I’m swallowing a python longer than my body, one end sitting in my stomach the other out of my open mouth and across the table.

I felt the corrugated ribbing of the sides of it as it goes further and further down, and then I start gagging. And don’t stop.

At some point the doctor tells me what’s going on, points to the small tv that was showing BBC Intestines, beamed directly from my stomach to your living room.

I blink tears out of my eyes, try to nod between gags and hoped he doesn’t ask me anything.

Please just let this be over.

Finally, “We’re withdrawing”. I can feel the camera leave me, like running your hands along railings as a child, I can feel it gliding and bumping along the side of my throat as it goes.

“And there we are, if you’d just like to go through next door”

Gladly. I fake-smile, mumble a thank you. Moving slowly in to the next room and wondering exactly what I just thanked them for.

Within minutes I was ready to leave. My throat feels a little horse, but I’m no worse the wear.

I’m glad I didn’t get the anaesthetic, I’d’ve been here for several more hours.

“if there’s ever a next time,” I tell the nurse as I leave “knock me the fuck out”

(Hey, if you got this far, well done, I honestly am surprised if any one is reading this. Sorry about the swears. Tried to do it without, I actually went in an edited the story as best I could, but that ending just felt like the right sort of punch)