Hogmanay

Do you dream in the wee small hours

between this year and the next?

When the past recedes in minutes; steps

darkening shadow of regrets.

 

Do you glimpse the spirit of your other self

and pausing, consider which coat you wear?

Which hat, which shoes, which life –

your choice. Simply ask yourself, ‘Do I dare?’

 

When failure tightens a noose around your neck

and tethers ivy twine about your feet,

does fear unhindered caress your hands? Then, do you

unshackle; do you risk all while your heart still beats?

 

Do you step up? And out at Hogmanay,

and promise, whispered clear,

to be the better Bestest you.

Or bend and wilt away another year?

 

 

 

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The case for fantasy fiction

Presented with a well-stocked library, bookshop or friend’s bookshelf what genre of book do you choose? Do you feel comfortable with crime fiction, stifle a yawn over historical romance and skip quickly past fantasy and sci-fi? Or are legal dramas your thing? Or perhaps, tales of strife in distant lands, heroic deeds and family feuds? Do you ever read “the classics”?

There is a frequently voiced opinion among literary types that fantasy and science fiction are somehow less worthy, less monumental and less able to stand up to academic examination than other genres. It is widely considered that they have less to say and less to teach the reader – they are a bit comic-like, mass produced and written for the relatively uneducated, easily thrilled masses. In my opinion, try telling this to Homer, Tennyson, Asimov, Tolkein, Pullman, Rowling, Ishiguro, Attwood, Gaiman, Mitchell, Zafon, Orwell, Doctorow, Zales and many, many others – their books excel in forcing the reader to step beyond the familiar and to think ‘outside the (comfort) box.’ Their fantasies insist on great leaps of faith into unknown worlds and ignite imagination, triggering an explosion of ideas and vivid pictures in the reader’s head.

Because the new world is exciting and strange, the writer can exploit this and create characters who interact in ways that are on the one hand invented and on the other intrinsically human. They can be kind, cruel, jealous, commanding, loving, bullying and grieving but because they exist in an unfamiliar place their relationships can be scrutinised in a way that would seem too intrusive in the real world. Hierarchies can be established and explored and the politics of new lands with different laws and morals examined. The reader is forced, then, to reflect on their own morals in this world, to make comparisons and to learn  about themselves and their surroundings.

I believe that fantasy can transport us into worlds where our rules are re-written; where we are unshackled and escape from everyday worries binding us down on this earth.

Writing fantasy fiction is an escape into my dreams. Reading it is to tread across the words of another’s dreams.

Next time you are browsing the bookshelves, consider taking time out with a good science fiction or fantasy book.

To M.A. or not to M.A.

I come to writing from a background in science. Typically scientists speak in a language inaccessible and incomprehensible to most of the world. Full of acronyms and latin, medicine is particularly hard to comprehend. And it is made harder by the need to be precise. Time constrains note taking. What the patient says sometimes needs to be recorded verbatum. And an eye is always glancing over the shoulder – have I covered myself, would this stand up to scrutiny, would it support me legally if the patient sued? Horrible. Stifling. Prescriptive. And dashing of any literary flair.

Why do I write?

I always have.

A better question might be – why am I a scientist and not a writer?

This is easier to answer. I grew up at a time when the clever kids became doctors or lawyers. A few branched off into veterinary medicine and engineering. But that was pretty much the choice. No … actually, that was not the choice. It was the expectation. Particularly for a hard working loner who was socially awkward and desperate to please.

Biomedical sciences, criminology, cultural history, linguistics, teaching even – didn’t figure on the aspirational career ladder of my teachers (even!) and parents. So I dropped History and English in favour of Physics and Chemistry. I hated and struggle with the latter two and loved the subjects I had dropped. I sometimes wonder what a careers advisor would suggest today if I had that time again. Had I said that I wanted to be a writer I would have brought the weight of family and school disappointment down on my head. Or to be fair I would have taken my impression that they would be disappointed upon myself. Which is different. And bound up with the shy child, massively lacking in confidence who wanted to please.

So where does this leave me?

I work. And I have a love hate relationship with it. Mostly it’s a deep seated hate. But occasionally something happens that touches my weary hardened heart in a way that makes me question just a little did they get it right. All those years of work and exams. All that self doubt and questioning. In walks that one patient who says you changed their life and thanks you – does that maybe make it all worth while? It’s the stories that patients tell that fascinate the writer inside me. Life in all its good and bad moments. Inspirational – yes. But soul giving and resolve hardening too. I can’t do this much longer – pretend that I’m too busy, pretend that I have to put work and income first, pretend that I don’t need more. I do need more. I need to free myself. I need to write.

Again, where does this leave me?

With the opening of a small window; one that might allow me to write more. It leaves me with a dilemma. I want to write but I lack the skills of language to make a book good. I can tell a story. But I’m uncertain if I can write it down in a marketable way. I am therefore looking at ‘doing a course.’ The question is which one? M.A. or writing academy.

Whatever I do, it will have to be part-time. That bit about pretending to need to work was sadly more dream than truth. Perhaps I can work a little less, or more efficiently – more hours on fewer days.

Perhaps I might procrastinate less.