Reading & Reviewing: Fangirl

So, I haven’t posted one of these in ages, largely out of what could be a sheer sense of apathy, but also because I’ve been trying to sort poorly defined things…

But whatever, if I get some of my old audience (that may have existed?) looking at this again, on top of maybe some new people who’s interest may have been peaked by the new subject matter, that’ll be something. So, this is a start of (hopefully) a series of opinion pieces pertaining to books I’ve read recently.

As a young, feeble, insufferable know-it-all, I used to devour books. Harry Potter is a prominent example – I’ve lost count of all the times I’ve reread (or re-listened to, thanks to my old friend Stephen Fry, who doesn’t know me at all) that particular series. However, as I entered my adolescence, for some reason, I found that my ability to devour books was waning, maybe because people expected me to read more adult books, or, God forbid, more masculine books. Whatever the reason, I found my interest in books wasn’t what it once was, which, for an aspiring writer, is not a great sign. But since I’ve tried to take a more serious approach to getting on with, what I hope are decent literature ideas, it’s probably best I see what other authors have to offer. In no particular pattern, I decided on some books to read, and here I shall be reviewing the first of these, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.

I acknowledge first and foremost that as a heterosexual male I’m not the intended primary audience for this book, and also that, being it a little while since I’ve finished this book (hooray for procrastination), my memory on some of the scenes might be a little fuzzy…
That said, the subject matter of this book is what endeared me to it in the first place, so I can’t be that far removed from the audience. Given what I did end up enjoying in this book, I don’t think my issues with it should just be dismissed outright. What did I enjoy? What did I find issue with? I suppose I’d better let you know.

First, a brief summary. The protagonist of this book is a girl named Cath, approaching 18, and starting college (or university, as we say in the UK) with her twin sister Wren. Despite the fact that the two of them have been inseparable since their childhood, they acknowledge the inherent differences between, notably that Cath is more withdrawn, and Wren has the slightly more outgoing, sociable resolve. These differences deepen as they arrive at college, and are separated for the first time, Wren opting for separate rooms to allow herself to develop more, and Cath withdraws even more, mostly sticking to herself and writing the fanfiction that she and Wren had done during their teen years.

Oh yeah, should probably mention that…
Both of them are huge fans of a fictional series called Simon Snow, which, whilst sounding like a rather generic fantasy series, is presented as being a phenomenon that’s an obvious expy of the Harry Potter franchise, quite amusingly so. At the moment at which the story starts, the eighth and final installment of Simon Snow is in the making, and Cath is getting on with her lengthy fanfiction which a lot of her readership consider to be the true eighth installment, or at least should be what the eighth installment should be like, and includes a common selling-point of having the main character (Simon, duh) engaging in a romantic story arc with Baz, the character who’s portrayed within the context of the canon series as a bitter rival. Clearly, Gemma T. Leslie (the author of Simon Snow) hasn’t done her research when it comes to the way fan communities treat rivalries, particularly male ones. Whether it be Harry and Draco, Naruto and Sasuke, or Light and L, there’s going to be love-making in the fanfiction…

The point is, Cath’s so content to retreat into that particular world, that the effect it has on her interactions within her college life is obvious – she takes an instant dislike to Wren’s roommate and the two of them begin to drift apart, and she struggles with general socialization and her classes. She is willing to give up on the higher education several times throughout the book, but the people who stick by her, notably her father, her cynical roommate and her cynical roommate’s slightly overly-saccharine ex (watch out for him, more on him later) soon help her to get on with it…I’ll try not to go into too much detail of the plot here, but I will say that there’s not much to spoil. Pretty much what you expect will happen happens.

So, the strengths of this book lie in how well it’s able to capture the image of a dedicated fan. As a fan, and an author of fanfiction, as it happens, a good chunk of Cath’s internal monologuing about her fan community resonates heavily with me. Several times I found myself going ‘oh yeah, that’s totally like that…’ and was furthermore amused by how the author managed to avoid dreaded copyright issues by the age-old but lovely trick of making terribly similar things to known brands to cover her tracks. For example, instead of Fanfiction.net, we have FanFixx.net, and instead of Wikipedia, we have Encyclowiki. The book opens with an Encyclowiki article on Simon Snow. For some reason, the whole de-fictionalization process she attempted to go through I found really enjoyable. I can’t help it – it’s a way of seeing the world in which the story’s set seem a lot more real. Complete with extracts from the books and Cath’s own fanfiction!

Ah, yes…let’s talk about those, shall we?
As much as I appreciated the attempt to flesh out fictional worlds within fictional worlds, they did start become a bit tedious as time wore on, partially because they really did serve no purpose to the continuation of the plot, but also because…well, Gemma T. Leslie’s writing isn’t very good. Whether that was intentional on the actual author’s part or not isn’t entirely clear, but in between chapters there are extracts, sometimes from Simon Snow books, and I always found myself rolling my eyes at the terrible narm spoused from the character’s mouths and the way they’re described with their bishounen hair and all the rest of it…again, it may have been intentional, but I’m not sure what purpose it served. I also had a few minor nitpicks with Rowell’s writing style, often because she randomly describes a character’s appearance in the middle of conversation. If you don’t mind that kind of thing, that’s fine, but I happened to find it quite jarring.

What about the characters? Ever my favourite thing of nearly any story, this book had to carry itself with mostly character design and development and…eh, it does OK. Cath and Wren’s relationship is the highlight of it. You do begin to get a sense of the history they’ve shared as it moves on and the ache that Cath feels during the times in which they’re not speaking to much. Wren herself is a breath of fresh air compared to a lot of books (or indeed WattPad stories) I’ve seen in this kind of environment, because she’s never shamed for extroversion and her rather hedonistic attitude, and her character is further deepened by the understanding that she is nearly as geeky as Cath still, and, as revealed later on in the book, is still loyally reading her fanfiction, to which Cath is moved.

Cath is OK as a character too – not the strongest protagonist I’ve ever seen, but perfectly serviceable. Her character arc is pretty clear, but it works fine – learning to embrace things out of her comfort zone and acknowledging that there’s no shame in changing herself somewhat, if it’s for a benefit. There’s this pretty poignant scene early on where Cath hands in an assignment of creative writing. Sticking to what she knows, she writes a short story about Simon and Baz, and her teacher/lecturer/whatever, who goes by the fantastic name of Professor Piper fails her for it, pointing out that what she did was essentially tantamount to plagiarism. This shakes Cath quite a bit, and confesses that she’s not all that good at coming up with original stories, but Piper, bless her, believes in her and continues to encourage her. What Cath eventually turns in is a nice conclusion, which I’m not going to give away, but essentially it does reflect a truth that any writer will find – better writing comes with experience.

Cath’s roommate Reagan is an interesting beast, but I have to say, I really like her, or at least, I like the role she plays. From the beginning she is cynical, fairly loud and unapologetic in her dealings and about as different from the introverted Cath as you can imagine. And yet…well, you can probably see where this is going. They do get on. I’m not going to go into details about it, it’s a nice touch, just read it for yourself.

And then there are the guys. *Sigh*

OK, my biggest issue with this book, perhaps unsurprisingly, is the romance. The guy Cath ends up being involved with is called Levi, and once upon a time, he was with Reagan. The fact that he spends a lot of time with Reagan is a pretty nice set-up, because they play a role almost like parental substitutes to Cath in the beginnings of the book, Levi’s cheeriness being a foil to Reagan’s cynicism, and that really works. And this is where the problem comes in – with such a dynamic, I always found Cath and Levi’s interactions to be sibling-like, with Levi acting as an older brother to her. And so, the later romantic interactions they had were…revolting.

OK, that’s an exaggeration, but I remember reading them and pulling faces the entire way through, although part of that could be also to do with the awkward way they way written. In some cases, that was probably intentional, but not in all. Maybe my own cynicism is showing, but the subjective incest aside, Levi’s character commits a much graver sin.

Let me try and set it out for you – this is a guy who spends most of his time in an unbridled, extroverted cheeriness. He gets on with anyone, but for reasons that aren’t properly explained, he has an instant (yes, that is confirmed by him later) romantic attraction to Cath the second he claps his eyes on her, and would like nothing better that to have her read him the fanfiction she wrote all day. Without much of his own backstory or life fleshed out, his role in this story is to get Cath out of her shell, boost her confidence and allow her to do new things. Is this description beginning to sound uncomfortably familiar?

Through what I have observed, Levi is essentially a textbook version (albeit a gender-flipped example) of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

A point could be made in that he is given something of a backstory and character traits beyond how Cath defines his role – he is revealed to, because possibly dyslexia, attention deficit disorder or maybe something else, struggle with reading and therefore come close to failing some assignments, but really that serves the purpose as to have him invite Cath to read things to him. He also had an apparently rocky history with Reagan, given that they broke up because she couldn’t stay monogamous. But he doesn’t seem particularly upset about that, and it just gives all the more reason for him and Cath to be together, Cath’s introversion being very important to the focus she gives on him. Although props to the story for not slut-shaming Reagan for her insatiability. Although infidelity is another matter…actually, the narrative weirdly breezes over the whole thing. Hm.

It feels a shame to have to bring this up, because Levi is a merciful break for all the love interests that have to be total dicks in order to be love interests. He’s a genuinely nice person, and not someone I’d mind meeting. It’s just a shame how obviously flat he is. The reason this matters is because Rowell spent so much time crafting a real world seperate from the fictional one that Cath enjoys staying in, and part of coming-of-age is acknowledging the flaws and and issues that the real world has. And neither Cath or Wren are idealised heroines, mercifully. The differences in personality they have are accepted as just differences, and things that they can work through. The transition Cath makes from a shielded fictional world to a flawed, but ultimately more rewarding real one would be so much more poignant if there was a more difficult, more realistically portrayed romance. And I’m not saying that Cath and Levi’s relationship is entirely without minor dramas or disagreements, but these are resolved remarkably fast, or else based on complete misunderstandings, because Levi REALLY needs Cath for…I have no clue. Cath’s development makes her a much more interesting character than she is without her cardboard cut-out.

Perhaps realising this, the story does actually intend to fake us out in terms of romance, but unfortunately not well enough. It’s never in any doubt who Cath’s going to end up with (particularly as Levi’s on the cover with her), but it’s not as though I didn’t vainly hope…

First there’s Cath’s actual boyfriend at the beginning of the story. He’s called Abel, for which he has my greatest sympathies, and apparently is…well, we know very little about him actually, other than that he may be more introverted and awkward than Cath herself, and he breaks up with her pretty fast. The sheer boringness of how he’s displayed do unfortunately create an all too obvious and appealing contrast to someone like Levi.

Oh, and then there’s Nick…
Nick seems a strange choice for my preferred love interest, because, if you cast your minds back to That Life, he carries a great deal of the traits that annoy me. He’s muscular (something that Levi isn’t, interestingly), something that Cath notes, apparently attractive enough to gain the attention of other girls, and possesses a rather smooth flirtacious banter that I distinctly lack. So, yeah – he has every reason to bring back my own personal insecurities, but the role he plays in this story is actually fairly interesting.

A fellow of Cath’s Fiction Writing class, he pairs up with her in various assignments so they can assist each other in their own writing drawbacks, although Cath does end up helping him a lot more, because he has the tendency to create one-note protagonists that Cath notes are very similar to him. There’s a bit of conflict near the end where he attempts to pass of an assignment that she helped him edit simply with his own name, which everyone finds a pretty douchey thing to do. And…yeah, it is, but the fact that his politeness to Cath never wavers makes me think that he might not even realise what the problem is. Narcissistic and self-obsessed? Or just ignorant? Maybe both? At any rate, this is the set-up for a much more interesting and controversial romance.

But wait! I hear you cry. Didn’t you just say you hated it when love interests were total wankers? Why yes, I do, but there are many ways you can make someone’s flaws be genuine issues without them being completely horrible. And Nick didn’t seem to be completely horrible, just a bit misguided and clearly in need of decent emotional intelligence. Wouldn’t it have been so much more interesting if both Cath and Nick worked through their own personal flaws together whilst helping each other with their writing? Nick helping Cath with original characters, and Cath helping Nick with decent characters? That would be a romance I could get behind. I might even forgive Nick for being more attractive than me. Personally, I think it was a tragically missed opportunity. TEAM NICK!

So, overall, what do I think of this book? It’s pretty good. Definitely better than you might expect, but at the same time suffers from some rather glaring problems and…is probably too long. Still, I’d recommend it to anyone even remotely interested in some of the themes I’ve laid out here, and even for those who are annoyed by the same things that annoy me, you may interpret it differently. Who knows?

I’ll post again soon, likely reviewing the book I read after this, or an another anime series. Until then, feel free to comment and share with your friends…y’know, all that good stuff…

 

Touching Base and Story Structure

So…

It’s actually been like…two months since I posted something? Yeah, apparently life happens sometimes and when it does, it does it in a very rude and uncompromising way, and I’m not just talking about accidental pregnancies…which isn’t something I’ve had to worry about too much, incidentally…

For the benefit of those who actually like to read this blog, I’ll be getting back to posting at a more regular rate once I have more time on my hands, so this is just to let you know that I still feel like doing something with my blog, including editing it, because it’s format is terrible…

Life is uncompromising – that’s something that’s been proved to me for a long time, but never mind that now. If anything gets better, then I might post a joyful post for once about how great life is. But in the meantime, I want to briefly talk about story structure.

Yeah, because I’m still a writer, and in the process of writing a first draft of my novel.

*Cue canned applause*

Mm, yeah. And whilst the process of writing can sometimes feel like running your supple cheek against a diamond-edged cheese grater, I do really enjoy coming up with these characters and putting them in situations.

I just sometimes wish story structure would accommodate them.

If you’re going to write something, it’s vitally important you work out how your story pans out. You get your traditional narrative structure, with an introduction, exposition, conflict, rising action, climax and denounement (fuck spelling), but other than that it’s quite open to a lot of leeway. After all, your story could be unconventional, and even when it isn’t, like most of mine are because I’m not clever enough to write something purely symbolic (AND THEN I WOULDN’T HAVE CHARACTERS 😥 ), and even if I knew the concept of structure back in the days of writing That Life, I’m still not the best at it…

One of the main reasons for this I think is that my writing’s always been very character-driven. I mean, if we go back to That Life, it was almost nothing but the characters, because the plot was completely nonsensical. And whilst I enjoy creating complex characters that steer the plot, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I think that it’s one of my strengths (I’ve vastly improved since I was 13), it does mean structure’s less easy. Why? Well, because most of the time the plot comes to me in incomplete chunks, like a DIY coffee table that you got from cheap suppliers who only sent you half of it. That analogy didn’t work quite as well as I thought, I’ll have to work on that.

I’ve got these scenes in mind, including pivotal moments for certain characters and sometimes a climax, and because I’m so desperate to include these scenes, I have to make these scenes fit together somehow. Sometimes that’s fairly easy, but other times it feels far-fetched, I have scenes that drag on for too long, and I end up with a rather forced climax. There’s a joke to be made there…

So, how do you avoid this? Well, actually I have no idea, but maybe I’ll learn more as I go through this writing process. One thing I will say for character-driven plots is that, if you’ve created quite a lot of characters for this particular story, which, again, I tend to do, make sure you know which ones are going to be vital for the climax. The protagonist, the antagonist and their nearest and dearest, right? Well, maybe, but it really depends. For example, if you have several character arcs running through a narrative, you’re going to want them all to culminate somehow, and in some cases, a decent climax (that is, the high point of the action in the story) for that to happen. But the climax you’ve got in mind might not be entirely relevant to other characters, or else having characters unrelated to it would be superfluous or unrealistic to have them there. Their own character arc may have another resolution, which may be related to this climax, but not directly involved, and furthermore, different scenes could resolve different parts of a character.

In the current book I’m writing, for example, the more I’ve thought about it, the less likely it seems that the deuteragonist (second-most important character) will be directly involved in what can be considered the climax. She is indirectly involved, and her own personal character arc will come to a conclusion with the protagonist right at the end. The reason for this seems to be my reliance on structuring the story so that the most dramatic and action-packed character arc takes place near the end, including an antagonist that isn’t the direct instigator of conflict in the plot, just a catalyst. This kind of antagonist will also appear in the next book I have planned after this. Yes, I can plan ahead. What of it?

So, in conclusion, structuring a story and getting people in the right place is very important, so make sure you know what you’re doing or else your poor characters will go unresolved. Looking at you, cast of That Life.

So, um, thanks for reading, give me your thoughts and I may post again at some point…

Reviewing When Marnie Was There

I’ve been meaning to post this for quite a while, actually, but I’ve never been in the right frame of mind for it. Now? Yeah, it’ll do. Doesn’t mean I’ll be able to get to the end of this without some emotional response though…

So, a while back, I posted a list of my favourite animated movies, and whilst for the most part that list does still hold up, I have to say, if I had seen this movie back then, it would have definitely been on there. Not quite sure where, but definitely near the top. Studio Ghibli has long been associated with quality animated movies, and even with the very real possibility that this is their final gift, what a gift to leave on!

Based actually on an English novel by Joan G. Robinson, this film tells the story of a young girl named Anna, who’s artistic, highly introverted, suffers from asthma and lives with a foster family who worry about connecting with her, and her connecting with other people. Truth be told, Anna suffers from a degree of self-loathing. But when a doctor suggests to her foster mother that she get away from the bustle of a city life, she agrees, and sends Anna to live with her sister and brother-in-law in a seaside town near Sapporo for the summer. Although initially about as disconnected as before, including upsetting some of the locals, Anna discovers an apparently abandoned mansion across a marsh, but occasionally sees lights on there too. One night, she discovers a girl her age living there, a girl named Marnie, who’s full of unbridled openness and friendliness towards Anna, and the two of them pick up a very dependable and close friendship, which is very open to interpretation in the way they act, particularly at how Marnie jovially declares Anna to be her ‘precious secret.’ It eventually becomes clear however, that Marnie is incredibly elusive. Occasionally, Anna will find the mansion completely derelict, despite being very full of life when Marnie’s there. It’s obvious that there’s more to Marnie than meets the eye, but given the insight Anna’s had to Marnie’s life in that mansion, one rather isolated and full of neglect, leads to her resolving to help Marnie however she can, no matter who she is, where she came from, or even if she’s even real…

Perhaps what makes this movie stand out to me more than the other Ghibli ones I’ve seen is how this has much more of a story to it than something like Kiki or Spirited Away, which may have something to do with it being a novel first. Kiki is just a slice of life movie, and whilst Spirited Away had a goal accomplished at the end of it, it’s still mostly focused on Chihiro’s interactions in a strange environment. Both these things work fantastically for the movies, but as someone very interested in narrative, this just caught my attention more. I felt like there wasn’t a single thing I could miss about it. Marnie’s introduction gave me all kinds of questions, and continued to intrigue me as the movie played out. Having to know an ending is a true sign of an engaging film. The characters are also fantastic, both the supporting and the main – perhaps Anna’s just all the more relatable to me, particularly how she talks about an ‘invisible magic circle’ in the world, representing social interactions, and how she is on the outside. The emotions Anna runs through throughout the flick is actually reminiscent to what I often go through. See, I told you it would be emotional for me to go through this…but anyway…

The way these two characters work off each other is incredible. There’s a scene where they have a long conversation about their feelings which doesn’t feel heavy-handed or forced or in any way boring…I mean, I love characters talking about their feelings, but this does it all the better with scene transitions relating to what they’re saying, and as it’s Studio Ghibli, you know the backgrounds are just going to be gorgeous-looking. This film is, and it knows it. Just the shots of the marsh, the town, the water, they’re all so beautifully drawn, and despite being hand-drawn, just look and feel so real. It translates well into the pacing of the movie too, as even though the story is plot-driven, they sometimes just allow you to experience the atmosphere of the place, and it really works. The eponymous Marnie isn’t actually introduced until about half an hour in, allowing for you to feel as Anna does, just the way this little town works. There’s a scene with Anna walking home at sunset, and she passes a cyclist as she turns a corner. Why was this detail included? I don’t know, remove it and the story would still be complete, but it’s just such a nice detail. I can’t explain it. It’s just wonderful.

For all my gushing about this movie, you might wonder if it has any flaws. Well, yes, I’d say it did – but it’s difficult to talk about them without going into spoiler territory. I will do my best though.

By the end of the film, you are given an answer as to Marnie’s identity. It certainly fits, although on reflection, the explanation does raise a few questions which might distract a keen viewer, particularly about the nature of Anna and Marnie’s relationship as shown, and the possibilities of Anna’s role in all of this. Again, difficult to word without giving anything a way, but I imagine it could give some audiences a less than resolved feeling by the end. It did in my case when I first watched, but upon re-watching it recently, most of that vanished, because in all honesty, the vagueness presented to you didn’t change the strength of the relationship that we had seen develop throughout the story, nor the strength of Anna’s character development. It does end on a distinctly positive note, so it’s not as if these characters we’ve grown to care about are robbed of a happy ending. It’s just perhaps not as robust to analyst as some others might be. Sure, it raises a few questions, but it solves the major ones and does wonders for your emotions as you do so. Ultimately, these flaws are minor and don’t dent it by much of a margin.

I highly recommend this movie to anyone, even more so for fans of anime and/or hand-drawn animation. It’s emotional, it’s engaging, it’s beautiful to look at, it’s beautiful to listen to, I’ve gone on about it long enough, so go and see it if you haven’t already.

 

That Life II Commentary: Finale

See him sitting there.

In his mind, the Timid Tubby one is alone. He has nothing but his own creations – nobody really cares about him, as much as he wants them too. Fictional worlds are his way of imagining, what if people did…?

“Look at all we’re going through, together!” he’d say, grinning at who may have been his only friend in the world, the Weird Wiry One, who, to his dismay, may not have even liked his story at all. But he had to press on.

But Timid Tubby was wrong – he didn’t need to press on, because he was wrong about being alone. He was actually so much more liked than he realised, not only by Weird Wiry, but also by many people. He’d have real friends and the closest of companions in them. He wouldn’t need his fictional friends anymore.

All truth be told, this dip into fictional personal fantasies gave him an unexpected gift. New styles and perspectives of storytelling and writing, some he’d never considered before now. It had ignited a spark, one that would never be fully extinguished.

Welcome, one and all, to the finale of the That Life Commentary.

Endings are important – they are, by definition, the last impression of a creative work an audience is left with. They need to matter. Some endings move you to tears, like that of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, or piss you off greatly, like that of Haganai. I don’t know which one this will be. But I started this commentary for a bit of fun – I was having a bad time of it (I remember, BREXIT had just happened. That’s a joke of course – Brexit still hasn’t happened) and I needed something to cheer me up. And we’ve kind of come full circle, because just yesterday, America got itself a new president! And already the climate change section of the official website has been removed. Oh, we’re in for a fun few years.

But I don’t believe in despairing. OK, I do actually despair a lot, but never permanently. The alt-right are losing their hipster effect now that they’re actually starting to run things and people realise how empty their words are, and seeing protests and demonstrations going on in both the United States and my own country is truly quite reassuring. How is this relevant to That Life? Well, it’s not really, but I’m going to try and make it as such.

Where did we leave off? Well, Jack and Ryan, who are by this point, close to dominating the story completely with their Foe Yay, have done each other one solid each. Jack saved Ryan from getting run over in the most conspicuous attempted murder I think I’ve ever seen, and Ryan called him an ambulance after his leg got crushed. Let’s get on with it. Chapter Ten: Unravelling.

The first line of this chapter is pretty revealing…

As a frosty January melted into a wet February[…]

Virtually this ENTIRE story has taken place in January, which considering how much the first story seemed to stretch out, is really something. To my memory, I was planning to have this story terminate at the end of the school year, meaning I’d have had several more months left to fill. This story might have ended up being really long…but of course it wasn’t.

[…]the topic for discussion was, of course, the car incident.

Of course, because all we do now is gossip.

“Hey! Did you hear? Jack saved Ryan’s life!”
“OMG! TRUE LOVE AT LAST! Sorry, Carol, Sofia…”

It’s a shame there wasn’t any reference to Whitney attempting to twist this story actually…

“I bet Jack was actually to trying to push him in the path of the driver, and accidentally saved his life instead. If he can assault him with a cricket bat, why shouldn’t a car work just as much?”

At which point Summer would flutter her eyelashes, marvel and her girlfriend’s intelligence, and they go off to…I don’t know, it’s always fast food, so let’s say Subway.

When Sofia had heard, she had managed to get to the hospital in ten minutes flat[…]

Now, I may just be imagining things, but is there an implication there that nobody else bothered to visit? Including family…? Perhaps we had other things on our minds…

IAN: I’d love to visit, but I’m still trying to find more plot points for myself.
CALEB: I’d love to visit, but I’m so suave and magnificent it seems like I’m there anyway.
TOBY: I’d love to visit, but Sean found out that I got Naomi pregnant and he is slowly flaying me alive. If this gets cut short, I’ll see you in A&E myself…

[…]to find Jack lying in a bed with his leg in plaster. 

Now, I won’t claim to be any expert on skeletal traction, but I’m pretty sure such a thing takes quite a bit longer than ten minutes to sort out. I mean, I don’t actually know, I never bothered to research it…

One thing I did know, however, was that traction, is, for the most part, pretty outdated. But I handwave this…

Apparently, this procedure was needed as supposed to pinning the leg, as Jack’s leg was broken in a complicated way.

Pinning it is a thing right…? I’m really glad I’m not a doctor…

Also, complicated was the only way to describe it…I suppose, given it literally went under a car tyre, if definitely qualifies…

“Complicated?” Sofia almost laughed. “You’ve had a-” she swore “-car roll over it!”

See? Sofia agrees with me completely. Well done. Now I can see why we wanted you participating in the elusive blog we’ve mentioned a few times in this story. Although you could have actually cussed, you didn’t need the narrator to do if for you…

The scene finishes pretty much at that point, so I’m assuming they made merry there, given what else we know about Sofia.

The next scene features the rest of us, apparently forgetting most of our current strife and simply complaining about having PE in the wet weather, even though in the last story, wet weather was enough to have our lesson cancelled…? You know what, I can’t be bothered to question the logic anymore. Perhaps we’re doing mud-wrestling.

“You know, I almost envy Jack,” Caleb said.
Queenie laughed.

It’s really not that funny…

C’mon Queenie, I know Caleb is suave, magnificent, sue-ish, contrived and whatever, but seriously, get out more. Obviously Queenie’s fed up of now being more redundant than Ian, so she’s desperate to utilise whatever screentime she can get. Screentime isn’t the right term here, but I can say what I want, it’s my blog.

Caleb has another subject he’d like to broach with Queenie, though.

“Actually, Queenie,” Caleb said, lowering his voice.

Oh, he is going to break up with her as well? Seems to be a trend…

Oh wait…that’s it.

Yeah, we get nothing after that. That’s the last thing I ever wrote of the story (or stories, rather) of That Life. Hmm…that’s a bit anticlimactic, isn’t it? No fire, no explosions, no gun-fighting…interestingly though, the first story did start with a voice coming up the corridor, and this one ends with the mentioning of a voice, so…we’ve kind of come full circle?

Though I know it is a bit of a disappointment. All the terribly amusing angst I wrote in as a 13-year-old, and I just sort of left it there. Like a half-eaten meal. That deserves a sharp slap on the wrist. So, with it finished, should I just wrap up this post?

No. See, there are still interesting points to discuss about this weird series of stories, including revealing what I had in mind for the rest of the characters and it’s conclusion. The best place to start is with an enlightening little notebook I found the other day. I have a lot of notebooks lurking around in my drawers, some of which just have really crude cartoons, others things I considered a little more important. Including some of the earliest stages of planning for That Life. They are terrifically enlightening, showing me planning Ruth, of all people, first out of the entire cast, and a summary of her character basically referencing her love for Ian, but also including elements I had apparently planned to include, but promptly forgot about and never made it into the final cut. Such things include…

  • Whitney and Summer’s surnames were Waverly and Lentfield, respectively, much more interesting than Queenie and Carol’s ‘Scott.’
  • Mr Cork’s first name was apparently James, which is rather dull…
  • Meena’s surname was Macintosh, which is very odd for an American…
  • Charlie’s surname was Chasm…
  • Ruth’s mother was called Oceana (yes, I’m serious) and she was supposed to have an iguana named Bob. He could have been the ultimate hero…

Other information I find as I search through this notebook include things a lot less trivia-based, an are more related to the characters as they are, and their personal histories. In the case of Amber, we pretty much know it all, but get a few more interesting elements, such as an acknowledgement that she was three minutes younger than Nathan, and that she got Yeti for her 11th birthday, two years after Nathan’s death and Tabitha’s departure. Was Terry simply trying to get a suitable replacement…? Well…Yeti did stimulate her…

I’m going to move on from this. Sofia also gets the same treatment I gave Amber (that sounds rather dirty actually…), and, because of her limited development in the story proper, we get some rather interesting information from this notebook – apparently, she’s a fan of science fiction, has a stepmother called Esmé and a half-sister called Opal. Finally! Somebody has a stepmother rather than a stepfather and a sister-figure rather than a brother. Shame we never got to see them…

Other weirder elements include the fact that she had a boyfriend when she was 8 (never a good idea!) and after he broke up with her, she attempted suicide…OK…Her mother also leaves her at this point, which is rather horrible now that I come to think about it…

I was trying to be very mature and write in a depression storyline…shame it didn’t work…

None of these notes actually contained a clear plan of how this sequel was going to pan out, so I’m relying on my memory more than anything here, but basically, here’s what, I think, was going to happen.

I’m pretty sure Caleb was going to tell Queenie he feels like he’s being stalked, and they’ll connect that somehow to people attempting to kill Ryan.
Whitney was going to make a discovery about Nathan and is untimely departure, something that pisses Amber off supremely and provide even more friction. What all this was going to lead to, I’m not sure. I think I would have remembered if it was meant to try and make Whitney more sympathetic…

Aiden, using whatever ingenious plan he had come up with, was going to break out of whatever young-offenders institute he was in to go on a hunt for Kythner himself, only to run into Sean, prompting the two of them to have another one of those intense fights. In my mind, it was always in the rain for some reason…I don’t know whether Aiden ever even bothered to tell Sean of his intentions either…

Amber and Ross were obviously going to start dating at some point, but I honestly can’t remember if I had ever planned when that would be. I seemed to be too focused on the convoluted nature of everyone from Kythner to Aiden to Fraser of all people were trying to out-gambit everyone else…

Sofia was supposed to have a depressive period, corresponding, at least somewhat with the way sufferers of bipolar disorder shift between extremes in mood, that was probably going to be mostly callously dismissed.

All of this comes to a head, however, when Kythner and his cronies (probably including Charlie and of course Caleb’s stepdad at this point) manage to track down our ‘heroes’ and have them all abducted. Yes, all of them. And I’m not just talking about the Mighty Ridiculous Power Rangers here – I remember being distinctly sure that I wanted Whitney and Summer to be with them too, caught in the crossfire, in the wrong place at the wrong time, which is interesting. I think I was planning to have them redeemed somehow, just not focusing on redeemable qualities until they’re in sheer peril.

Of course, abducting fourteen 13-14-year-olds is a rather demanding task, isn’t it? Why just not kill them? But no, I decided to have them all together in a cellar, being threatened for no real reason and bonding…kind of…

They manage to escape (no shit) and I think I was actually considering at one point to have Mr Mothman find them in the middle of the night and let them stay with him for a bit, proving he’s not just a teacher who doesn’t care…even though he clearly doesn’t care…you know what, forget it.

The climax I had in mind featured our heroes breaking into the school for unspecified reasons and Kythner following them for unspecified reasons and there being a massive shoot-out, possibly culminating in the death of some redshirts, and, in at least in one vision of the finale, Russell, who hasn’t done anything in this story so far, shooting Kythner dead, and ending up sharing a cell with his brother who is much more ready to forgive him this time…

Right…

Given all the plot threads I needed to close, including Carla and Kythner’s daughter, it probably would have been a lot longer than that. (She probably would have been conveniently fostered/adopted along with Ross, let’s be completely honest.) But that was the basic picture. Clearly I was more willing to have personal confrontations and increase the peril our characters faced, which included the death of an antagonist, by the way. Well, at least I understood the concept of serial escalation. These things are all coming together.

A few points to consider here, are, obviously, me putting Aiden through a redemption arc. I know it doesn’t make any sense in the context of this character, but I do believe, as I mentioned, that I was also planning to do the same to Whitney and Summer. Redeeming antagonists is a long standing habit of me, and honestly, I do quite like it. When it’s done right that is…and Whitney and Summer felt far more like proper candidates, with their petty schoolyard bullying (if you can even call it that), compared to Aiden’s attempted murder and arson.

Now, bear with me a minute, because I’m not sure whether this is something I genuinely considered including at the time, or if it’s something I retroactively told myself I considered, but at the time, it may have occasionally crossed my mind to have Whitney and Summer pair up. It would have made sense certainly – more so than many other couples, and I had never featured LGBT characters in anything I had written before. For how I was then, it would have been pretty progressive. Forget Kurt, you’re supposed to hate him, because he does sport.

If I did consider this back then, it wasn’t something I lingered on, as by that time, I had decided to move on for other things.

So, how should this have ended? Well, I’m going to write out a brief scenario now…

Naomi discovers that she’s pregnant with my child, and we panic because we think it means Sean’s going to kill me. Sean however, has his own problems, struggling with his GCSEs and having many erotic dreams about Alexis. Alexis is getting through her own studies thanks to cannabis, supplied to her via Charlie. Sean gets very upset when he finds out, and takes it out on me, learning that I have impregnated her and I have to go on the run. Jack gets out of hospital and attempts to join me, along with Sofia, leaving Amber mostly alone. Whitney finds out about Nathan, and makes some neutral comment that Amber takes the wrong way, and she nearly kills her, only stopped by Summer, who gives Whitney the kiss of life and they hook up. Charlie, annoyed at having his best customer rumbled, takes it out by joining Kythner and abducting Ryan. A string of abductions follows this (because I can take inspiration from my 13-year-old self, why not?) with Jack and I being discovered God knows where. Upon being imprisoned, Sofia insists she should be pregnant too, and it all gets really awkward really quickly. Let’s keep the shoot out the same, but instead let’s kill off the redundant cast (read Ian and Queenie) and the suave and magnificent, leaving a wound on everyone’s hearts. Everyone leaves the country, it being too painful to continue there, with Naomi giving birth to our daughter, and us hiding from Sean in Canada, Jack and Sofia continuing their very active sex life, also in Canada, Ryan and Carol joining some cult in Japan, Amber and Ross doing something else with Ruth (probably raising iguanas) in Argentina and Whitney and Summer being the only two who haven’t fucked up completely, being happy together and adopting several children, including Carla and Kythner’s daughter. Probably in the Netherlands.

And that’s how this should have ended…

Of course, it’s fun to speculate. But that’s all I can do – speculate. As fun as it has been to go back on this defining chapter in my writing career, and as fun as it may have been to write back then, I can see quite clearly how much I’ve evolved since then. As a writer, I plan more carefully, I conceive much better stories and utilise characters the way they should be used. Point is, I think I’m ready to take on the world. The Timid Tubby one still exists in the darker corners of my mind, but externally, he’s grown up, he’s wised up and if he plays his cards right, he can do anything he wants.

That Life was really the first time I considered the possibilities of me writing a mature narrative, and of course the first time I ever finished a long-ish story. Everything after that, while it certainly wasn’t perfect, echoed these sentiments and I’d never go back to anything crude. But nevertheless, I hope you enjoyed looking back on how hilariously awful it could be at times as much as I did. Thanks for reading.

Next time I post, I’ll be returning to reviews of creative works and discussions of general writing things. Hope you’ll join me there too.

 

That Life II Commentary: Chapter 9

The difference in the amount of uni work I have compared to a lot of people I know is only just starting to sink in. Mine is practically minimal in comparison, but I only realised after I’ve finished all of it.

And now I’m kind of bored.

So, I though I’d get on with this. With just one more post after this to go, I’m not sure how I feel about this series coming to an end. On the one hand, it’ll be great to blog about some other things, but on the other, it’s still something coming to an end. But this is me assuming anyone actually reads it.

Whatever. This is actually the last complete chapter I ever wrote in the That Life franchise, as chapter 10 I sort of stopped in the middle of. If you remember last time, I was trying to balance too many different storylines, and in this one it gets even worse, with a bit too much focus on some and not enough on others, and with the return of contrived nonsense, I think we’re in for a treat. So, here we go – Chapter Nine: Hit and Run. This time, the title’s actually relevant…

So, we start off with Caleb (THE SUAVE, MAGNIFICENT, AND WHATEVER) heading over to Woodgreen Primary to deal with his abusive stepdad randomly showing up to greet his brother. Now that I think about it, why exactly did the school contact him and not his mother…? She was probably busy looking for fortunes in beer bottles…

But never mind that! Because we’re doing the whole scene cutting thing again! Back to Ian, (the boring and superfluous), who, if you remember, was arrested…for some reason…

Actually, what was the reason given?

Ian was sitting in an interrogation room wondering what was happening. Why had been arrested? Had he been framed or something?

Apparently, no reason was given, thereby making this arrest, by British legal standards, unlawful. You can’t arrest someone without given them a reason, and given that Ian is a minor as well, this is going to raise some serious questions.

Although given that Boris Johnson was Mayor of London at the time this was written, maybe we should have expected it…

A policeman does eventually come in to tell Ian that they have been given information suggesting he’s connected to Seb Kythner. Well…fine, but you don’t need to arrest someone for that kind of information. Just ask. Investigate. What source of information are they acting on anyway…?

The door opened again and Ian’s worst nightmare walked in:
Aiden Gorse, accompanied by Detective Richard Price.

What? You believed Aiden? A guy who has a track record of thuggery, kidnap, arson and just generally being a horrible person? Not to mention being a drug addict, which apparently just means you’re sheer and irredeemably evil? Aiden’s motive seems really odd as well. This is the explanation he gives Ian…

“Yup. After all, you’re Caleb’s best friend right? And he was involved-”
“Shut up!” Ian yelled, not wanting to get Caleb arrested as well.

Oh God…OK…

  1. Calling him Caleb’s best friend is a bit of stretch. Caleb pretty much forgot about him after he buggered off to America – as a matter of fact, everyone except Ruth did…I know everyone wants to be Caleb’s best friend, but it’s a position that’s difficult to hold.
  2. Why didn’t Aiden just give them Caleb’s name?? I actually wrote this in because I wanted Ian to actually do something in this story, but then I had to work the story around it, and, as you can see it really didn’t work. Did the police just refuse to go after Caleb because he’s too suave and magnificent, and doing so would lead to a full-scale revolution?
  3. What is Aiden’s deal? It’s become apparent throughout this story that he has a vendetta against Kythner, which is fair enough, but what good is getting Ian, one of the only people in this story who Kythner ISN’T involved with, arrested, going to do, except make him look far less reliable as an informant?

Well, apparently Aiden has more information to give…

 “And that’s not all,” Aiden continued, his evil grin growing wider. “I’ve heard of her. Trace Temple, constantly getting men to pay her for sleeping-”
“SHUT UP!!!” Ian roared. If anything, he did not need anyone to know that his mother, who he hadn’t seen for at least five years, was a prostitute.

Oh for God’s sake, what is this…?

Suddenly Ian has a mother. Who’s a prostitute. For some reason? And Aiden’s heard of her. Because he slept with her? I can’t even begin to fathom how this is remotely related to anything. Unless of course Kythner slept with her as well as Queenie and Carol’s sister? Again, this was simply put in to add depth to Ian’s character…without actually adding depth. He hasn’t seen his mother for five years, but apparently she paid men to sleep with her. I don’t know why. Ian, forget about it, it’s really not a massive issue.

The police do in fact let Ian go after he tells them what Caleb told him, the treacherous bastard. Well, I’ve got to love a pointless scene…

Going back to Caleb, he tells his stepdad he doesn’t want him crawling back into his family’s life, which is fair enough. The stepdad, of course, so cowed by Caleb’s radiant Sue-ism, immediately leaves. I’d love to have a scene that goes somewhere at some point…it does, however, occur to Caleb how odd it is that the stepdad’s suddenly trying to make amends. Take a wild guess at who he’s connected to, and we’ll come back to it later…

Going back to Ian, it would appear the police have a grudge against him for some reason.

“Don’t think this is the end of it,” the young officer who had arrested Ian told him, as he went to get his possessions that the desk sergeant had confiscated from him.
“We know full well that your mother was a prostitute. We will be looking into that.”

“Yeah, because it’s totally your fault!”

The laws surrounding prostitution in the UK are as follows – the act itself (exchanging sex for money) isn’t illegal, but brothels and such are. However, we don’t get any indication that Ian’s mother was involved in that way, and even if it were, how the hell is it Ian’s fault? Obviously, because of the stigma surrounding prostitution,  he’s going to want to keep it under wraps hence any slut-shaming idiot decides to get truck out of it, but why should this get him into trouble with the law?

“Great,” Ian growled sarcastically. “I’ll just add that to my other heap of problems shall I?”

Oh, it’s a hard life, isn’t it Ian? What problems is he even referring to?

“I’ve got enough on my plate with trying to actually do something in this story, without you probing into my past and giving me loads of angst to work on…! Wait a minute…”

Even he seems to realise what a pointless act it was of Aiden’s to tell the police about him…

Why had Aiden told the police that he was involved with Kythner? It probably hadn’t been so that his sentence would be shortened, now that it was obvious that he had been lying. 
So what?

He does eventually discover that he’s lost his phone, and it wasn’t even among the confiscated items he got back from the desk, and concludes that Aiden stole his phone, and that it was all a rouse to get his hands on it…! Why…?

Well, stealing people’s phones seems to be Aiden’s style, but honestly, I have no idea. I never got as far as to detail more of Aiden beyond this scene, so we never got to see whatever plan he may have had get put into action. I presume he wants to get in contact with Caleb somehow, but wouldn’t any one of his toy boys friends worked? And how exactly did he manage to steal his phone, given he’s an inmate in custody? He can’t just stroll up to the desk and grab it, unless the police are completely useless, which, given what we’ve already seen of them, is more than likely...

We cut to none other than Kythner, who’s interrogating Caleb’s stepfather (yeah, big surprise) about how his interaction with Caleb went down.

“So then what happened?” he asked.
“He yelled at me to get out,” the man replied, swaying slightly with a reek of alcohol about him.
Kythner scowled. So he was still headstrong was he?

THE STEPFATHER AND KYTHNER ARE NO MATCH FOR CALEB’S SUAVE-NESS AND MAGNIFICENCE. KYTHNER MAY HAVE MURDERED HIS MOTHER, BURNT DOWN A WAREHOUSE, BROKE OUT OF PRISON AND WAS HAPPY TO SIT IN BROAD DAYLIGHT SMOKING CRACK WITHOUT ANYONE NOTICING HIM, BUT CALEB ACTUALLY TOLD SOMEONE TO LEAVE. MY GOD. CAN NOBODY STOP THE SUAVE AND MAGNIFICENT??

Jesus, this fucking story…

Also, did the stepfather really think it was good form to be drunk on this job?

Kythner’s not happy…

He swore loudly, causing Dirk nearby to jump slightly.

I love that. Dirk’s a psychotic drug pusher, perfectly happy to make an allegiance with a murderous sociopath, but swearing? Oh no, that’s a bit too much for him. We’re pushing him to the edge!

“Well, I guess you’ll just have to tail him,” he said, dropping the butt of his crack cigarette and grinding it out with his heel.
“Alright, but what about by payment?”
“You’ll get it after you’ve found out where all of Byker’s friends live, particularly that Head kid. Now get on with it.”

OK – this plan has quite a few problems, most notable of which is the fact that Caleb’s stepdad tailing him is going to be immediately noticeable. Someone whom Caleb doesn’t know (like Dirk or Phil) is going to be a lot less conspicuous. Also, Kythner’s paying him for this…with what? I wouldn’t have thought that someone who’s the target of a manhunt like this would be the most reliable source of income. Maybe he’s selling drugs, but…

So, Kythner wants to know where everyone of Caleb’s friends live…why? I don’t think that a bunch of schoolkids wrapped up in their love lives are a massive threat to you, even if they are being led by Caleb. In the case of Ryan, obviously Dirk and Phil are worried that he’s going to dob Charlie (a friend of their’s) in, but if he hasn’t already, I don’t think he’s going to bother. He’s got more than enough to worry about. And anyway, Jack’s probably going to finish him off for them…

We return to Ian, who’s pleading with the most patronising policeman ever about his missing phone. With absolutely no luck in getting through to him, he promptly leaves, and runs into Fraser.

You might remember Fraser – he was Ruth’s older brother, who was both at uni and training as a paramedic and rescued Amber from the Thames before proceeding to be really creepy with her.

And then he tells Ian he’s working with the CID.

…….

I don’t know how many more contrived subplots I can handle. Nothing about this makes sense.

“I’m not actually at uni,” he explained. “When I said I was…I was actually doing voluntary work for the CID.”

Do you do voluntary work for the CID? I’m fairly sure that a specialised branch of the police doesn’t take chances. Although, given the state of the police force in this story…

“Right…so you didn’t tell Ruth and your mum this because…?”
“Look, do you realise how much crime is happening in this area of London alone?” he asked rhetorically as he put his ID card back into his pocket.
“Seb Kythner. The whole drug marketing thing. They know they’re in danger from us, and if Ruth and mum knew, they would be endangered.”

“But I have no qualms against telling and endangering my sister’s boyfriend.”

Seriously, why did he feel the need to tell Ian about this? Furthermore, whether Ruth and her mother know isn’t going to stop Kythner’s thugs from targeting them if their brother is working with the police. In fact, them not knowing is going to ensure they’re not on guard about the possibility. Fraser, you’re useless.

Over the next few days, everyone seemed to know about Ian’s arrest. It was one of the major discussion topics. Of course, Whitney tried to convince everyone that Ian had been arrested because he had mugged someone, but not many people believed her.

Oh, bless you Whitney.

“He beat up someone with a cricket bat, honest!” I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t want to believe that, it seems to be contagious among this group…

Here’s an interesting question – how much about Ian’s arrest do they know? Do they know what information had led to the arrest? If the whole thing about Ian’s mother being a prostitute got out, then my respect for Whitney has increased for not actually making a thing about it. Also, not many people believed her – implying that some people did. Is her relationship with Summer back on track? 😀

It had been two weeks since Sofia had joined the school, and she was pretty popular and everyone seemed to like her.

That went slightly tautological near the end, didn’t it?

She was pretty popular, everyone seemed to like her, she was well-liked, she was adored, she was respected, and she was popular. Not to mention everyone liked her.

This had also got Amber out of her shell, and she was socialising with most people too.

Well, that’s good…although a quick search shows me that this is the last time Amber is mentioned in this story…oh dear. She can’t have done that much socialising…

So there it is – the character who’s supposed to be the protagonist is saying her farewell…we’ll miss you, Amber. Given that this goes on to talk about more of Sofia’s interactions, I’m a little worried that the implication is that Amber’s become more isolated than before…but anyway…

One person who had taken to Sofia a lot more than most others was Jack (who still wasn’t talking to Ryan or Carol). He admired her sense of humour and thought pattern – it was one shared by him and Toby. He had even let her take part in their blog.

Oh, I wonder where this is going…?

I don’t know how accurate the comparison of the sense of humour is, given how little of it’s been shown, but given the nature of this mysterious blog, I imagine that it’s sort of accurate…? What’s Sofia going to do? Do impressions of Gollum…?

Of course, Ryan and Carol’s weird relationship is continuing…

One day, after an English lesson, Carol held Ryan back as everybody else filed out.

Time for sex!

She promised Miss Verb to lock the classroom after she and Ryan had left, and the English teacher handed her the keys and left, smiling to herself.

Why do you need to lock the room? Locking rooms is how everyone nearly died in the fire, remember? Also, MISS VERB? SERIOUSLY? I’m getting fed up of this…whilst we’re at it, why not introduce the maths teacher, Mr Numbers, or the History teacher, Mrs Dates? Or the Drama teacher, Miss Unnecessary, because this story is full of unnecessary drama, you see? Or the science teacher, Mr Bunsen Burner. Oh no, wait, the science teacher’s called Mr Rug, if I remember rightly…

Anyway, back to Ryan and Carol.

Now the two of them were alone. Carol turned to face Ryan, wondering how to word this.

I can think of several ways.

“Ryan, you’re a racist twat who’s full of himself and thinks girls are interchangeable. Go fuck yourself.”

Again, I find it interesting that I decided to write this scene from the girl’s perspective…at least to begin with.

“Ryan…I want to thank you for consoling me after…well, what happened.”
“You’re welcome,” Ryan said, but he knew there was more.

Ryan, just because you’re getting a stirring in your pants doesn’t mean she’s feeling the same, OK? Also, if Ryan was the only one who consoled Carol after a break-up, we’re talking about some really shitty friends here…and given that Ryan probably only did it to get in her good books…

Yeah, anyway, the build-up is painful, so I’ll just get to the point: they kiss. The description of the kiss is…weird…but also pretty funny, given what happens at the end…

Their lips met, and all strife left Ryan’s head left instantly. This was absolute bliss. In the world there was only him and Carol. She was all that mattered. It was just her and him.
Well, and Jack of course, who unfortunately chose that moment to walk in.

It’s almost as though Jack can never leave Ryan’s mind. The true romance of the story…?

Jack has forgotten his bag, but, understandably, he has a few mixed emotions about this whole thing. Who’s he even jealous of, in this situation…?

Carol’s naturally worried that wholesale murder is about to occur, but Jack assures her otherwise…

“I’m not going to fight him,” Jack replied, turning away to reach for his bag that was under his desk. “He’s probably still stoned from the drugs that him and his best mate Charlie take.”

The insults these character’s fling at each other are always so much fun…!

Ryan is naturally ready to fling himself at Jack at these words, but Carol holds him back.

Jack paused at the doorway, with his back to them, waiting for Ryan to come and attempt to throttle him. When nothing happened, he walked out.

He was actually WAITING for Ryan to leap upon him…! If that’s not suggestive, I don’t know what is…

So, yeah, Jack is naturally contemplative and having a bit of an emotional rollercoaster.

Toby noticed these troubled signs instantly.

Ah, look at me, always the supportive friend! :3

Jack tells me what happened, and I am sympathetic, but remind him that he was the one who ended it with Carol in the first place.

Jack gave Toby a look that would have been better suited to Ryan, and stalked off.

WELL, FUCK YOU.

I know you’re upset, but you don’t have to be a dick about it. Honestly, I try and be a sympathetic and caring BFF, and you treat me like the one you tried to murder.

Presumably, I promptly ran off to wail into Naomi’s bosom, but as this is actually my last appearance in this story, it’s just as likely that I decided to hang myself.

Of course, given the subtext that is laden throughout Jack and Ryan’s interactions, such a look could have easily implied something else, but I’m not going to get into that now, because I don’t have time.

So, Jack buggers off to contemplate some more, and Sofia approaches him, explaining that I told her (presumably through my tears) what had happened, and she at least has he decency to say that I was right in what I said, and furthermore…

“I think that was a very good choice.”

Well, that’s a bit rude. Poor Carol’s ears must be burning if Sofia’s slagging her off all the time. Sofia has a lot more to say on this matter as well.

“Well,” she said eventually. “If they can…why can’t we?”
And before Jack could do or say anything, she kissed him.

Wow, she’s a fast mover. She’s only been her five minutes. Not to mention really forward! Jack was probably naked and in bed with her before he even realised.

So yeah, this is how I resolved the Jack-Ryan-Carol love triangle, and for all it’s contrived-ness, I’m glad at least that nobody was left single forever. At least I wanted to tie up such loose ends, and given that Sofia’s only role in this story so far had been to be Amber’s friend, I’d say I did relatively OK, given what I had.

But trust me, this is some of the only half-decent stuff in this, because directly following that comes this…

Keith stood up, and glared at Ross with a look of deep dislike.
“So, that’s it is it?” he asked.
Ross nodded, smiling in spite of himself.

Ross has finally let Keith violate him, but the joke’s on Keith – Ross is the most unsatisfying partner ever.

No, I’m joking. Although I have to say, I really don’t know what they were talking about. Apparently, the decency Keith displayed previously had all been a front to get Ross on his side for this particular bomb-shell.

“It’s my dad, innit?” he grinned. “He’s thinking of…what’s the term…?…Re-adopting us.”

There are multiple problems with this. The most obvious of which is simply the fact that a guy who abandoned his children would not then be allowed to ‘re-adopt’ as Keith put it. He’s fighting a losing battle. Fuck it, it’s a LOST battle.

And is Keith really happy to go along with this given that his father was a shit to him too?

Of course, Ross is having none of this and promptly beats Keith up.

“Tell your dad, my answer is no,” he said, and stalked off.

Well, that solved that remarkably quickly.

Oh, but wait…

As he turned away, he could have sworn he saw somebody he knew. He turned back, but it was just a four-year-old girl, watching the fight like many others had.
But she did have a stunning resemblance to Queenie and Carol.
Or was it Seb Kythner?
What was he on about? There was no connection between them.

Yeah, subtlety wasn’t my strong point back then. Yeah, she’s obviously Kythner and Carla’s child. What she’s doing there is anyone’s guess, unless Carla just abandoned her and they couldn’t find any foster mother or whatever…this is all far too convenient, and what’s more, children don’t really look like both their parents at once. At least, not to that degree. Considering I never finished this, she never appears again, so…

We then get a brief scene with Caleb (THE SUAVE ETC), fearing he’s being followed, which is about as subtle as Sofia’s attempts to court people, and then we return ONCE MORE, to Jack.

Jack groaned.
There he was. The idiot. He was walking along the road, chatting into his mobile. Chatting to Carol, no doubt?

Are you EVER going to get over her? I would have thought that Sofia engaging you in coitus would be sufficient, but apparently not. AND HE WAS THE ONE WHO ENDED IT.

So, yeah, Jack’s glaring at Ryan, so what else is new?

Well, Ryan’s crossing the road, and apparently a car’s coming in his direction.

Jack glanced at the driver. He was a thickset, ugly man with a bald head and thick lips.

Judging by his appearance, I’d say he’s an antagonist.

It is in fact Phil, who’s now preparing to take Ryan out. How does he plan to do this? Well, in a way that’s about as subtle as my plot devices.

Normally drivers would slow down when somebody was crossing the road. But this guy was actually speeding up. He was accelerating, his eyes fixed on Ryan, who still hadn’t noticed what was happening, and nor were the few people who were walking along the street.

Well, Ryan’s an idiot then. He shouldn’t be so distracted. And I can tell you from personal experience that crossing the road while on the phone is NOT a good idea. It was fortunate for me that I was only hit by a bike and not a car. And that someone wasn’t trying to assassinate me, of course.

Actually, that makes Ryan particularly unlucky that Phil managed to choose the exact right time to pull off this elaborate and highly conspicuous homicide, which would only have worked if Ryan happened to be crossing the road at the right time and was distracted enough not to notice a car ploughing very fast in his direction.

That’s some seriously bad luck.

Seriously, even if they insist on having to kill Ryan, can’t they do so in a different way? They could abduct him, suffocate him, and leave his body somewhere inconspicuous and even after they find it, they’d never know who did it. But no. They had to rev it up, literally.

Lucky Ryan has his boyfriend knight in shining armour there, really.

Jack had about half a second to make his decision. Even though he hated Ryan more than anybody else in the world, could he really let him be killed?
Of course not.

Well, I dunno. You were perfectly happy to do it yourself back when you were viciously assaulting him with a cricket bat.

Of course, he goes into the road to try and pull him to safety. Ryan makes it onto the pavement, and Jack gets run over and killed.

No, I’m joking, but that probably would have made a more intense story.

The car just runs over his leg and breaks it, and he passes out from the pain. And Ryan?

Ryan put his hands under Jack’s arms and hoisted him onto the pavement. Then he put Jack into the recovery position, and picked up his phone to call an ambulance. As they say, one good turn deserves another.

So, if he hadn’t just saved you, you’d have just left him there? Our hero ladies and gentlemen!

Oh, and Phil conveniently buggers off.

That’s where that chapter ends. As you can see, my grasp on the narrative was slipping considerably. I really had no idea what I was doing. And it’s a shame, because in my writing style and my characterisation, I had made considerable improvement from the original. The fact that I tried to amp it beyond what was needed really was my undoing. The love triangle was fine as it was…sort of…

Anyway, let me know what you think, and join me next time when it all ends…

That Life II Commentary: Chapter 8

Well, Happy New Year to whoever the hell’s reading this…some people, potentially.

I’ve still got a little while to go before going to back to university, which is probably a good thing, given that I’m stressed out of my mind even without it. Technically I should be doing an essay right now, but I am on a break, and I am more on top of it that I like to think. I mean, admittedly, even if the word count’s getting there, it doesn’t mean the content’s any good, but I’ll deal with that as and when.

I’m hoping to make 2017 a pretty decent year, given the circumstances, and so I want to get on with posting other things on here on the off chance that someone might find it interesting, but first I need to finish the commentary on the incomplete sequel to That Life. I shall probably end it (in like, two more chapters…?) with a summary of what sort of distinction this holds in my life and writing career, and then get on with other things, including more general talks about writing and more anime reviews. And maybe reviews of other things. Because I can branch out. W00t.

Anyway, let’s get on with it. Chapter Eight: Careless. Interesting thing about the title, I have no idea what it’s referring to within the story, but it does actually make sense on a retroactive, meta level. Up until this point the story has been mostly focused on Seb Kythner casting a ridiculously interconnected shadow over everyone and everyone mostly ignoring it in the exchange for the angst of everyday life. This chapter marks the point at which I was trying to make everything far too convoluted just for the sake of ensuring I used all of my characters and plot points and by God, it shows…

It starts off simple enough – where the last chapter left off.

The news of Jack and Carol’s breakup and then the fight that had issued between Jack and Ryan afterwards spread quickly around the neighbourhood.

So, they all live in the same neighbourhood then? That’s convenient…was Jack then arrested for grievous bodily harm  and a death threat? Of course not! This is the same neighbourhood which decided to ignore child abuse, so…

Oh, and then there’s a brief return of the wacky hijinks…

When Sean had first heard, he hadn’t heard the names and thought it was Toby and Naomi who had broken up, and had given Toby the scare of his life.

Oh, Sean…

OK, time to analyse this…

  1. That is incredibly selective hearing to hear all the details of the incident but not who was involved.
  2. Even if he didn’t hear the names, why is his automatic assumption that is has something to do with me and Naomi? I understand he’s protective of her, but does it not occur to him that given that, I dunno, they live in the same house, he would hear it from her if her boyfriend had dumped her? This is starting to sound like Sean was just making up excuses to come and beat me up.
  3. The whole ‘scare of my life’ is left completely ambiguous, and given that I’ve dealt with wandering through a burning building and facing the prospect of Aiden kidnapping and nearly killing my girlfriend, giving me ‘the scare of my life’ must take some doing. What did Sean do? Turn into Donald Trump? Send me pictures of Mr Mothman and Mr Cork in coitus? Show me photographic evidence of Whitney and Summer being heterosexual?

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!

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4. It’s interesting to note, actually, that after doing a quick search I discovered that this is the last appearance Sean makes in this entire story. Obviously its incomplete, but that’s still pretty funny. Maybe he was arrested for doing something unclear to me. Fucking bastard. It was only a matter of time…

So, obviously, being the gossipy hens we are, we discuss this latest development.

“It’s odd y’know,” Caleb remarked to Toby. “The two of them would be, in my opinion, the least likely people to break up. Well, apart from Ian and Ruth of course.”

Caleb, why exactly did you create a ranking system for who’s going to be the most likely couple do break up? That’s a little cold isn’t it?

Secondly, what’s so special about Ian and Ruth? They’ve barely interacted since Ian returned from America. Ruth has spent more time with Amber than with her boyfriend…obviously, I was trying to emphasise the idea of them being soul-mates with the whole star-crossed lovers ideal, but I could have done better…

Thirdly, what’s so special about Jack and Carol? They took ages to get together, and according to my slightly rough calculations, they were only together for just over a month, and Carol spent too much of it angsting about how she wasn’t good enough and Jack spent too much of it flirting with Ryan and making poorly defined blogs with me (I know this is a poorly defined blog, but shut up). They’re not exactly the pinnacle of romance either, are they? If I were to pick a romance that worked the best on this, (barring Whitney and Summer obviously), it would probably be Naomi and I. True, it’s predictably to pick yourself, but given all the shit we’ve gone through and we’re still together, I think that stands amongst the rest of these dreary tales. We’re also very protective of each other (OK, so she’s very protective of me, whatever) and have probably had sex.

By far the most amusing thing about this is how Caleb doesn’t seem to think his own relationship is particularly strong. You’d be forgiven for not remembering that Caleb and Queenie are an item, because they do absolutely nothing together. Caleb, you’re an arsehole. Did you not think that maybe the other redhead was traumatised by the whole ‘my-sister-shagged-a-matricidal-crackhead’ thing? Or did he break up with her too, and was too suave and magnificent for anyone (including her) to notice?

At first I appear a bit concerned over my BFF using a blunt instrument during his fight, but then my priorities get skewed…for some reason…

“This is Ryan we’re talking about,” Caleb reminded him. “The two of them have never been on the best of terms have they?”
“But this is really serious,” Toby mused. “The two of them have never gone as far as to insult each other’s families.”

I doubt that very much. And I would say that family related mud-slinging really pales in comparison to the whole cricket bat thing. Am I alone in that? Well, apparently…

Ryan meanwhile, was sitting in his own house with Carol. Apparently, his mother had been quite angry.

Well, I would be too. But here’s the reason for her anger…

“What has gotten in to you?” she demanded as she examined Ryan’s bruised eye.
“You always told me to defend myself,” Ryan retorted.
“But you weren’t defending, you were attacking,” Olive snapped.

What, and Jack wasn’t?

“How dare you get nearly killed by a cricket bat, that’s really insensitive.”
“I managed to steal his redhead off him though…”

Speaking of which…

It was now blindingly obvious that Ryan was now going to go out with Carol[…]

Sorry, blindingly obvious to whom?? Just because Carol’s now single doesn’t mean she’s going to go out with the first person who flings himself at her, although given the terrible self esteem she’s displayed so far, she might be tempted…I still cannot begin to fathom what positive and desirable traits Ryan has. For the most part, he’s just been a racist, sexist, self-centred, pugnacious, surly and uncompromising little twat. A description that would fit the president-elect too…

I’m serious – as poorly written as most of the other protagonists’ are, they at least have shown some air of decency on occasion. Ryan? Nothing…

[…]and Jack seemed quite moody about this.

Well, you’re the one who broke up with her, you fucking idiot. If you weren’t sure about it, you shouldn’t have said, ‘go run into Ryan’s arms.’

He complained that everyone was sticking up for Ryan and not him, just because Caleb had told him that hitting someone with a cricket bat was pretty ruthless.

That’s one way of putting it, yeah. I would add to that – dangerous, unnecessary, insane…Ryan did attack first, and for a pretty stupid reason, but so fucking what? CRICKET BAT. SERIOUS BRAIN DAMAGE. DEATH.

Eventually, Toby decided to confront Jack about what he was doing.

Don’t I mean done rather than doing? Unless he’s going out nightly to beat up more people with cricket bats…OH AND LOOK AT ME, TRYING TO TALK TO MY BFF EVEN THOUGH HE PROBABLY DOESN’T DESERVE IT.

Disturbingly, Jack doesn’t seem to regret hitting Ryan with a cricket bat in the slightest, and once again, my priorities are a little fucked.

“So…what’s this about insulting each other’s families?” Toby asked, hoping he sounded off-hand.

Oh, give it a rest, will you? Our families don’t even appear in these stories!

Jack seems to regret the whole family insulting thing more that the whole assault thing, which is pretty worrying…

“But the reason everyone’s sticking up for him is because you seem like you’re in the wrong because you hit him with a cricket bat.”
Jack raised his eyebrows.
“Oh yeah?”

WHY IS THAT SO HARD TO COMPREHEND?? AND IT’S NOT A CASE OF HIM ‘SEEMING’ TO BE IN THE WRONG, HE IS THE WRONG!! WHY IS NOBODY GETTING THIS???

I refer to it as a ‘spur of the moment’ thing, under the assumption that Jack didn’t actually mean any severe harm despite his promise to not relent should Ryan ever come back and his lack of remorse…evidently I was very forgiving of my closest friend. I probably wouldn’t have done the same if Jack had been on drugs though.

Oh, and this exchange at the end is pretty funny…

“Right,” Toby said. “I’m going for lunch at KFC.”
“Yeah,” Jack replied. “I’ll go too.”

So, just as Amber and Sofia’s favourite haunt might give them diabetes, ours will cause morbid obesity. Lovely. What is it with Heterosexual Life Partners and junk food…?

Speaking of which, we return to Amber and Sofia now…

“Hey, he looks a bit like Nathan,” Sofia said to Amber when they were in Thornton’s.
“Really?” Amber looked over and gasped. “It’s Ross!”

So, Ross’ resemblance to Nathan is close enough for Sofia to notice it from a distance after Nathan’s been dead for about five years…? I mean…that’s uncanny. Amber’s desire for him does worry me a little…

Oh, and apparently Sofia has no brain to mouth filter and thinks it’s perfectly OK to talk about someone’s beloved late brother so casually when you’re in their company…

Amber and Sofia go over to talk to Ross, and Ross explains that apparently some people at the children’s home he lives at planned, completely spontaneously, to go on a day trip to Tunbridge Wells. How convenient…Ross, laments, however, that Keith had to come as well.

“What’s so bad about him?”
“Well, technically he’s my step-brother. He ruined my entire life.”
“How?”
“Do you only ask questions, Sofia?”

Of course she does. How else are we going to get a belated backstory? Once again, Sofia seems a little innocently insensitive. Yay! My characters actually have some character traits…

“Basically, my dad died when I was three[…]

What is my obsession with nobody in this story having biological fathers…? My parents separated after I had finished writing this, so it wasn’t daddy issues. This isn’t Disney, 13-year-old me, you can have characters with two parents, it’s fine…

“I didn’t know it at the time, but my stepdad was extremely uncaring. He didn’t really love my mum, or me, or even his own son, but Keith didn’t seem to mind. He seemed to have inherited his dad’s lack of care for anyone except himself. I don’t know who Keith’s mother was. Possibly someone who my stepdad divorced as soon as she had ran out of sex appeal.”

You’re assuming that, though, aren’t you? Based on the fact that your stepdad wasn’t very nice. His first wife could have been the one to divorce him when it occurred to her that he was a shit. What I don’t quite get is how this guy was capable of winning any custody battles, given how awful he was. Maybe Keith’s mother was even worse and decided to abandon her son, or had no choice because she was imprisoned, either for something he had done, or for something Keith’s father framed her for, maybe? And how does one run out of sex appeal, exactly? Obviously, the standards are going to be different for everyone, but I have no idea how old these people are supposed to be. Maybe Keith’s dad’s an ephebophile, and Ross’ mother was teenaged when she fell pregnant?

I’m overthinking this…who’s to say Keith’s mother and father were even married…?

“Anyway, Keith bullied me a lot. Fortunately he could never do it when my mum was around. However, when I was eight, my mum began to see through my stepdad, and eventually she left. I didn’t go with her however. My stepdad wouldn’t let me.”

OK, that’s not how these things work. Like, at all.

Article 9 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states quite plainly that a child must not be separated against their parent against their wishes except in cases where it would be against the child’s best interests (in the case of abuse, neglect, etc), which it clearly isn’t. It’s the stepdad that’s abusive, not the mother. Article 12 also states that a child’s wishes must be considered in a given situation and surely Ross would want to go with his mother. If the stepdad is actively keeping Ross in false imprisonment, then she can go to the police. The law would side with her in a heartbeat, her being non-abusive and Ross’ biological mother, and quite rightly. She’d probably even be allowed to adopt Keith, given the situation. But no. Apparently, she made no effort to try and rescue her son from this guy’s clutches, implying she’s just as awful…

Anyway, Ross continues his tale…

But one day, Keith was pestering him. I told him he shouldn’t done, because he had quite a short temper, but he didn’t stop. Not even after he was hit round the head. He disowned us that very same day.”
“He did WHAT?!!?” Amber shrieked.
“Disowned us. He had to go to a children’s home in London, which is where I still live now. I don’t know where my mum is. She could be in Australia for all I know. My only hope now is to get fostered.”

I don’t quite know why Ross doesn’t think taking legal action is a possibility. Does he also not have any other relatives who would take him in?

Also, I don’t think you mean ‘he.’ ‘He’ would have been better off being imprisoned. You can’t just abandon children. This isn’t the 1800s.

So, that’s Ross’ backstory. And by God does it make no sense. To be honest, I think I got to this scene when it suddenly occurred to me that I wasn’t entirely sure what Ross’ backstory was…so I made up some nonsense. Not only does this make no sense in and off itself, it doesn’t make an awful lot of sense regarding Ross and Keith’s hostile relationship. Surely Keith realised they were in the same boat now? It’s all a bit unclear.

There’s also the implication that Amber and Sofia are the first people he told this. Does he not trust Caleb, (TSAM)?

“Or I could ask Ian if he knows,” he added as an afterthought.
“How would he know?” Amber asked.
“’Cause he’s my mum’s cousin. He may know.”

Well, actually, no, he’s not. Ross was described in the first story as being Ian’s second cousin, meaning Ross’ mother would be his second cousin once removed. They share a pair of great-grandparents, but that means very little. Would you know where you second cousin once removed was if their own child didn’t know? I doubt it…

“You’d better hope Whitney doesn’t hear of this,” Sofia said.

Is that the only sympathy you have to offer, Sofia?

Ross snorted.
“What do you take me for? Of course I’m not going to let her know! She’ll twist it into some tale that will never enable me to show my face again.”

How, exactly? Ross somehow deserved to have his universal rights ignored? I fail to see how this could be twisted, except for being so beyond recognition you might as well have just made it up to begin with.

Amber’s reaction is pretty funny too…

Amber sat quite still for a moment before standing up and saying,
“Well, I’ll see you on Monday.” Then she walked out.

SUCKS TO BE YOU, ROSS, BYE!!!

Is she really happy to leave Ross and Sofia there to flirt…? They already have more chemistry than Ross and Amber. I know that’s not saying much, but…

So, on Monday, things are a little different. Jack isn’t talking to Ryan or Carol at all, content with glaring at Ryan and awkwardly looking away from Carol whenever they make eye contact.

But as Ian, always the optimist, said that this was perfectly normal for newly broken-up exes, and they would be on normal speaking terms again soon.

And you know that, Ian, because you’ve broken up with so many people? Aren’t you and Ruth meant to be soul-mates or something…? Also, really, what counts as normal speaking terms for these two? Before they got together, Carol spent most of her time ignoring him and Jack spent most of his time getting into contrived cock fights.

What’s most interesting about this is the way I wrote Jack and Ryan’s behaviour. Whilst Jack glares at Ryan a lot, Ryan behaves as thought Jack’s not there at all. Why I chose to make this distinction is unclear, particularly with Ryan being the stoic one, but I don’t have time to divulge in it…

But of course, Sofia has recently transferred to Hyde Park Comprehensive, and the affect this has on Amber is immediate.

In her normal arrival, she would be not talking to anyone unless they engaged her in conversation and a dark unsmiling expression on her face. This time, she was chatting and laughing animatedly to a girl who nobody but Ross recognised.

This was very true of me back in the day, actually. Surly and unassuming to anyone except my best friend, and which point I showed a whole new side. Yes, I’m writing from experience again, most writers do it. It’s a beginner’s way of giving a character depth.

They two of them sat down at the back completely ignoring everyone else.

Love it.

“Fuck you and your love triangles and cricket bat assaults! We’ve got a book to discuss!”

They are in fact discussing a book…

The two of them seemed completely unaware that most eyes in the form-room were on them. Eventually, Whitney got fed up of this and marched over.

“My God! Amber actually has a friend! What is this madness?”

Whitney seems very interested in the new arrival also. Is she still trying to hook up with as many girls as she can…? How does Summer feel about this…?

“Who’s this bi-?”
Before she could finish her sentence, she was on the floor having been just been hit by Amber.

OK, so that was obviously going to be ‘bitch,’ but…Jesus, Amber, calm down…

What I quite like about that though is that Amber was much quicker to strike out when Whitney was insulting her friend, rather than herself. Don’t know if it’s deliberate, but it’s a nice touch nonetheless.

So, Whitney’s on the floor! Is her girlfriend going to defend her honour??

Fortunately for her, Summer didn’t see her, as she was glaring at Carol for being on such good terms with Ryan.

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!

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DON’T MAKE ME DEAL WITH THIS RIGHT NOW, YOU BASTARDS. WHITNEY AND SUMMER CANNOT HAVE BROKEN UP. FUCK JACK AND CAROL, THIS IS A MUCH BIGGER TRAGEDY.

Of course, if Summer actually had a thing for Ryan, she would have viciously attacked Carol. She’s obviously just pissed that Ryan isn’t as easy a target anymore to get information out of.

Yeah, that’s it…

Sofia is as helpful as ever.

“So that’s Whitney?” Sofia asked Amber.
“Yeah,” Amber growled, cracking her knuckles.
“Wow. She’s nicer than I expected,” Sofia remarked.

God bless you, Sofia.

Then we get a completely pointless scene, which I literally put in on the fly. No wonder I lost control of the story.

At Woodgreen Primary, the school Caleb’s brother Kent, attends, he’s called out of a lesson to meet with none other than his stepdad. Yes, the abusive one, who is apparently out of prison now, and says that he wants to make amends. Kent, unsurprisingly, isn’t having any of this, and a teacher has to take him somewhere to calm down. Well, great…

We don’t need more of Caleb’s suave and magnificent family, OK? Amber’s meant to be the protagonist, and Caleb has already swallowed half of the story. At this point, there are too many subplots as it is. Most of them are romantic, yes, but…

This scene is only good for two things. Firstly, the head of Woodgreen is called Mr Gold, which is fantastic, and judging from his brief appearance, he’d make a much better head than Ealing. And then there’s this:

In his year 4 class, Kent was playing up as usual, acting like Winston Churchill on steroids, having just kicked over a chair in his haste.

Just go with it.

Fortunately, everyone but Whitney and Summer had taken to Sofia. Now they were all walking home discussing stuff that teenagers discussed.

That’s a pretty broad category, isn’t it?

“Did you see the match last night?”
“No, because we’re supposed to hate sports…”
“Oh yeah. Apart from cricket. Although I prefer to hit people with my bat.”

Caleb gets a phone call from Woodgreen telling him of what happened, so he quickly scarpers to be suave and magnificent elsewhere.

Eventually, they all went their separate ways and Ian thought he heard the sound of himself being followed.

“Ian, I’m here to assassinate you, because you are superfluous to the story.”

No, I’m joking. I really wish it was true though. It would be so much more straightforward.

It’s actually a policeman. Who then arrests him. I’m not even joking. Why? Well, all will be revealed in the next chapter…sort of…

I remember consciously making this decision because I knew Ian wasn’t doing anything. Here was my attempt to make him a more useful character. Obviously, it doesn’t work like that, you can’t just include a random subplot for the sake of it. I had too many characters in this to begin with and was trying to phone in too much plot. This was the beginning of the end for this story, for obvious reasons…

Let me know what you think, and I’ll post the next commentary…at some point…

 

Avoiding a Crummy Christmas

You might have noticed that this isn’t more story commentary. If you have, you’re an absolute genius, I don’t know how you deduced that.

Yeah, I was planning on updating that commentary at some point, but then I thought, why not something a bit more festive? With Christmas just around the corner, it makes some amount of sense, surely, to actually talk about it? It’s hardly original – it seems that everyone talks about Christmas when it’s near, who would have guessed? See, I seem to more often talk about it when it’s nowhere near the season, and actually, I was struggling to come up with something to talk about given that most people I know seem to be better at that sort of thing. But why not put my own spin on things? Will this be incredibly cynical? Maybe, but sit back, help yourself to whatever you eat at time of year (don’t tell me you don’t) and I’m going to give you some advice. God help us all, you might say, but here are my top five tips to avoid a crummy Christmas, and if you don’t want to take my advice, then you might be doing yourself a bigger favour than I am.

1. Don’t leave your present-getting until the last minute.
If you’re like me, and I hope you’re not (but if so, don’t forget that both the essay and script are due January), then you will know the sheer lure of procrastinating. Why, you ask yourself, put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow? It’s the first law of lazy dynamics, and whilst it has given you a lot of grief, it can be incredibly relaxing. See, the advice I just gave people myself about when my workload is due now seems kind of pointless with that in mind.

But of course, Christmas is a time of giving, and given that people seem determined to get me things, it’s only fair I return the favour. So, what does everyone want?
When it comes down to it, I’m terrible at buying people stuff. Sometimes I wonder if it’s best to just go the easy route and buy chocolate, but, y’know, who goes there? Chocolate’s a cop-out. Donald Trump would have bought me chocolate if he thought it would make me vote for him. It wouldn’t, by the way, and not just because I’m not American. Side note here, if you do often buy chocolate for your loved ones, I’m not saying you’re like Donald Trump. That’s just awful.

Any present beyond the obvious just causes me an unnecessary amount of stress. I don’t know how to get people gifts! I’m not a proper person. I’m always paranoid about whether they’ll interpret in some negative or manipulative way. Like, should I buy someone revealing or brightly coloured clothing if they’re liable to interpret it as me coming onto them? I might think this attire would look absolutely great on me, but they might be less impressed. Or should I buy someone a recipe book for healthy meals if they think I’m telling them they’re fat? I want everyone to be healthy, I promise I’m not making a slight against your figure! And if you want to buy a T-shirt, what colour should it be? What if you get them stationery that’s liable to break? What kind of careless sod are you, buying presents like that? Unfriend!

Secret Santa is the worst, because suddenly you’ve got to buy something for someone who you only recognise by sight, and don’t know if they’re an ordinary person interested in ordinary things, or they might be fixated solely on radishes, and only radish-related things will do. Or you’re on their hit list.

I’m going slightly off-topic here. I guess my paranoia is just reaching the surface. Again. The point is, if you leave present buying too late, you won’t have time to think all these terrifying possibilities through, and you might end up making a blunder, like buying a T-shirt with Cromwell on it for your Irish friend. And then you’ll remember what nationalities you haven’t made friends with yet. You racist.

The temptation is to put off present buying though. I understand completely where it comes from, because when you’re shopping for another person, you always want to be sure that everyone around you knows that. At Christmas, everyone’s doing it, so it’s slightly more excusable, but all the same, you linger in a section which might make people stare for a while, and you just feel like running home and never coming out.

“No, I’m not actually interested in beating up ethnic minorities. This is for a friend. Uh, an acquaintance. Someone I’m obligated to buy for. I don’t usually make friends with fascists. And he’s not even a fascist. He likes it ironically. I promise.”

Look, I had to think of something. I felt really guilty that Trump had gotten me chocolate and I had given him nothing.

Buying online is a much easier option, as it avoids all the judging looks, but even then, buying something online you wouldn’t be caught dead with is a strange experience. You start to hope nobody checks your search history, and wonder what Amazon must think of you, and if you’ve taken leave of your senses and all the intellectual stuff you normally buy.

To avoid all this embarrassment, it’s best to just get it over with quickly.

2. Try and get some sleep.
Given all you’re expected to do over the Christmas season, making sure you rest and recuperate is very important. I mean, it’s important generally, but I’ve got to make it relevant…

Our lives are pretty full of distractions, one of them people trying to get you up very early on Christmas morning. And I know that it’s a family tradition and they’re just trying to get into the festive mood, but it can be very difficult to switch off given all of the stimulus during the daytime.

What’s more, I tend to lie awake thinking about really weird things. Whether it be the creepy noises that are going around the house with no logical source, to considering whether I have the writing ability to pull off any given scene, to whether my computer’s going to give up on me before I’ve finished this essay, to wondering if anyone’s lying awake thinking about me, to whether or not Kodaka or Yozora’s relationship had the potential to be anything beyond platonic, to how uncomfortable my neck is in this position, to whether we’ll live to see 2018 given all the nonsense that went on this year (2017 is a guaranteed at this point), to considering how me, everyone I love, everyone who loves me, my house, my writing, other peoples’ writing, my computer, my essay, my university, Donald Trump, his chocolate and everything else will all eventually disperse into nothing in the final Heat Death of the Universe…

Yeah, and when such things cross your mind, it can be hard to sleep.

So, my advice would be taking some time before you go to bed to relax. Maybe watch an ASMR video, or listen to an audiobook. I find them to be terribly relaxing. It doesn’t always work, but for those with cases like this of insomnia, there are two positive points to this.

Firstly, if your mind is so occupied, it means you have a more advanced mind that other people’s, giving you hopefully a boost to your self esteem, and secondly, it means you have fewer sleeps than everyone else until Christmas.

3.  Try and keep the peace with your family.
I was given a wonderful wake-up call when the holidays started at how much different an empty house is to one with my family in it. The difference is mainly in the level of noise. Is it annoying? Absolutely. From singing the same song over and over (not even a Christmas one 😥 ), to raised yells at the audacity some people have because…reasons. And most people I’ve spoken to have interesting stories about what their families are like too.

If you’re determined to spend Christmas with them though, which I am, keeping the peace is very important. Be polite, be supportive and don’t let them kill each other. Don’t sit people next to each other during dinner whom you know will attempt stabbing the other with cutlery. Slaughter at Christmas, whilst a good name for an album or novel, is not another thing you want to add to what made 2016 so awful.

4. Don’t commit a criminal offence.
Just don’t, alright? It might solve the first and third problem, but not the second, and you’d be in prison whilst people are actually enjoying presents, meals, or time with people they care for. You’ll be spending time with other inmates, which can’t possibly or conceivably be fun.

5. Don’t think you have to be all smiles.
The festive mood is the one of most recognisable symbols of Christmas. Everyone’s supposed to have fun, everyone’s supposed to be happy, and, quite obviously, not everyone’s going to be. But that’s OK.

There are many reasons to not be happy at Christmas. I’m not going to list them here, because I’m sure anyone reading this will be able to fill in their own example. And as I’m not a communitarian, I don’t believe the general good feeling of Christmas should have to apply to everyone, if they’re not feeling up to it. If anything, the festivity of it might just be a way of rubbing it in their faces, and they could start resenting those who are happy.

I’m not going to lie – 2016 has been my annus horribilis. Even with the political events aside, there have just been too many deaths and too much doubting myself. Halfway through the year I wondered whether I was going to make it through my higher education, amidst other wonders about what I should make it through. So much was unclear to me, and even though I’ve made it out of the other side of that, I still feel like those doubts could come and consume me at any moment. I still often feel like I’m not good enough – not a good enough student, not a good enough writer, not a good enough friend and not good enough for anyone I care for.

Will 2017 change all that? Well, I can’t force any change. But I’m determined to try and see things anew, understanding that I need to strive for the change I want. The future’s always been unclear, and now it’s a lot more terrifying, but I think the best thing I can do is maintain what I think is good and pure in this world, and hold onto that, and not to back down in the face of adversity.

I probably can’t make this speech much more motivational, so I just hope this is giving you something to think about. Everyone have a very merry Christmas, and be absolutely wonderful to each other. I may post something else before the New Year, but in the likely event that I don’t, see you all in 2017.

 

That Life II Commentary: Chapter 7

Perhaps you’re looking forward to the rest of December? Well, I’m not. I’ve been laden with far too much work and still without any the perks. Well, fuck you, 2016. I hope you rot and decay worse than some of the previous years.

Given my mood, I do actually wonder whether I should be embarking on this given that I feel the slightest thing going wrong could steer me into an abyss of God knows what, but fuck it, I always get a kick out of this, so I may as well.

For a bit of preamble, let’s leave this disgusting year and go back into the not-really-far mists of time, at some old comprehensive soon to be an academy and in an isolated room. Sunlight is peering in, dust gathering at the corners, but it’s two enlightened occupants don’t really notice. They are two 13-year-old boys, one who is weird and wiry, and another who is timid and tubby. Have those traits changed over the years…? I’ll let you be the judge.

The Timid Tubby One is gazing with a fierce passion at his tiny red netbook, looking at the plethora of words on the screen which is now known as That Life, and listening, with increasing indignation, at the words of the Weird Wiry One.

“I just don’t like Carol,” he was saying, looking down his un-snout-like nose and the plethora of words that contained the character.

“But why??” The Timid Tubby One demanded, holding his netbook in am embrace of maternal protection.

“She’s just boring,” The Weird Wiry One replied, not realising how much those words applied to every single character demonstrated in the plethora.

“Well,” the Timid Tubby One said, determined to call this mothereffer out. “Would you rather I gave her to Ryan?????”

“Actually, yes,” the Weird Wiry One replied seriously, which took the Timid Tubby One aback. He hadn’t expected this insolence. What did the Weird Wiry One know? He hadn’t even completed his story the lethargic bastard. And yet despite the maternal instinct the Timid Tubby One felt towards to this story, he also wanted to listen to this Weird Wiry One. He was very fond of the Weird Wiry One, and at a time when his self-esteem was virtually non-existent (a repeated trend, by the looks of things), he also really wanted to make him satisfied with the plethora he had formed. Then a beautiful, totally not rather forced idea occurred to him.

“OK,” the Timid Tubby One said. “How about I do this…?”

Real Life has a pretty persistent habit of writing the plot, and in the case of the Timid Tubby one, being timid and tubby was not without it’s downsides, and his need for friends and acceptance outweighed the desire to keep the story as it was. Besides, he thought to himself, it’s a good opportunity to hone in some different writing skills, right?

And so, in the days in which Timid Tubby is starting to rear his head again, how convenient that we embark upon Chapter Seven: A Weak End.

So, with the story still moving at a snail’s pace, we’re finally at the weekend, and despite it being only a four-day-week, everyone still feels so exhausted and shit, which, given they’re 13-14 and have just come back from the Christmas holidays, is actually fairly believable.

Ryan collapsed into the chair next to his six-year-old brother, Nigel, who was busy talking to himself. He groaned.

Oh, it’s a hard life, isn’t it Ryan?

“Mum, can’t you shut him up?” he whined.
“Can’t you shut up sometimes?” Olive replied, who was eating a grapefruit.
“Touché,” he replied, pulling a yoghurt towards him.

Gotta love some breakfast banter. Considering this is probably the least dysfunctional family in this story, I guess they’ve just got to go with what they’ve got.

Just a small point though – why is Ryan pulling a yoghurt towards him? Who keeps yoghurts at the centre of the table…?

Olive notes that Ryan seems a little subdued by something.

“What’s up?” Olive asked.
“Charlie,” Ryan replied.
Olive swore loudly. “He’s not texting you again is he?”
“No, it’s not that,” Ryan replied, shaking his head. “It’s just that I’m wondering if I should tell the police how he was involved with Aiden.”
Olive sighed.
“You truly are your father’s son,” she said.

Well, that came literally out of nowhere. It almost sounds as though Ryan was doubting his paternity. Not that Olive’s comment made it any less ambiguous.

“Yeah, thanks mum. But who actually was my father? Why won’t you tell me?”
“Because you will be even more of a laughing stock if everyone discovers you’re Mr Mothman’s son.”
“…….pass the bleach, mother.”

That was slightly darker humour than I intended…guess my mood is seeping through.

Anyway, we then get this very rushed backstory about Ryan’s father.

Even though he had never known his father, he having died when Ryan was only 18 months old, it was still a sensitive subject.

Why? Is Ryan so sexist he insists on having a male role model and blames his mother for his passing…? He had never known him – there is no reason for the subject to be a sensitive one…

Oh, and in case you thought you caught me out in a serious mathematical error (which isn’t difficult, to be honest as possible…) then we get the return of our old friends, the brackets, to hand wave in an explanation.

(Nigel was only his half-brother.)

Oh, that’s alright then.

Are we not going to engage in Olive being slut-shamed then, like we did to Carla in the last chapter? Who even is Nigel’s father? Is it Mr Mothman? Or maybe Charlie? Or given how this story is going, Seb Kythner? He’s probably secretly everyone’s father.

Ryan actually objects to this comparison to his father.

“I’m not,” he growled. “Dad managed to woo you and about twenty other women before him and I’m pretty much the only one amongst my friends who hasn’t got a girlfriend.”

Before him? I’m pretty sure that’s a typo…

Still, glad to see Ryan’s mind is still where it matters. A character from That Life can’t stop thinking about sex! The world would implode! And Ryan’s aspiration is to become a Casanova like his dad…well…why not? With the comment about wooing women, it seems to me that he’s fully aware Summer’s flirting with him isn’t genuine. Everyone can see it…

Olive has the perfect words of comfort.

“You’ll find a girl for yourself son. And as for Charlie, you must do what you think is right of course.”

Right, here’s the question – why is up to Ryan, a 13-year-old boy, to report someone to the police? Olive is much more involved (or was anyway) with him than Ryan and she’s an adult. Why is she deferring the responsibility to him? Is it because she’s a woman? They truly are running a UKIP household there.

Ryan grinned sheepishly.
“Thanks mum,” he said, and ate a spoonful of yoghurt.

What the hell are you thanking her for? All she did, basically,  was say, ‘Oh yeah, you’ll get a girlfriend at some point, no idea when, and I’m not going to help with this Charlie thing, you have to decide.’ I wouldn’t be satisfied with that answer.

And then, just to rub salt into the wound…

Then he spat it out again.
“Mum!” he complained. “I’ve told you not to buy prune yoghurts!”

OH THE WACKY HI-JINKS.

What scene’s next…?

Jack walked through Hyde Park with Carol by his side.

OH. MY. GOD.

OK, here it comes. First for a bit of backstory…

Going back to the tale about the Weird Wiry and Timid Tubby Ones, I actually had a moment of doubt, when coming to this scene, whether I’d be able to pull it off successfully. The answer obviously is no, but that’s true of every scene I’d written. But I had more crippling doubts about this one, and so I turned to my BFF, looked him dead in the bloodshot eye and invited him to write this next, highly pivotal scene which I’m pretty sure you all saw coming. Afterwards I tweaked a bit of the words around and made a few improvements to the punctuation, but it’s virtually all his work. Bear that in mind.

As it was still early morning, there weren’t many people around. That was how he preferred it.

That sounds like he’s either planning murder or gratuitous sex. Or possibly both. Place your bets now.

Carol was slightly confused.

Yeah, so am I. Why did I feel I wasn’t capable of writing this scene, but perfectly capable of writing plenty of other scenes I botched horribly…? Either I wanted the Weird Wiry one to have some control over the process he had really wanted in this story, or the Timid Tubby is just incapable of handling these sorts of emotions…more so than others…?

Anyway, Carol’s reason for confusion is Jack’s silence, which believe me, is pretty unusual.

Normally the two of them would be laughing and joking about Mr Mothman, Whitney, Mr Mothman, Kurt, Mr Mothman, the current political situation and even Mr Mothman.

Yeah, let’s just laugh and joke about people behind their backs. Poor Mr Mothman…and when he turns back around, I bet they hit him with a briefcase.

So, Carol queries Jack on what this silent treatment is all about.

“I need to talk to you about something.” Jack’s voice was completely expressionless.

Oh God, he’s turned into a Cyberman!

All truth be told, I think this scene does highlight the different way me and my BFF did actually portray the characters we considered closest to us. Here, he portrays himself as dark, troubled, guarded and borderline Byronic, whereas my presentation of both him and myself was virtually the opposite. This isn’t to say the character of Jack couldn’t have been a generally laid-back zany thing, becoming distinctly and aggressively moodier when faced with emotional turmoil, but that’s clearly not the intent we were going with.

So, they sit down, and he BROODS over everything.

“I been thinking about the things you’ve told me recently,” he said finally.

I been fucking up my grammar, too. Looks like I failed a spot check there…

“Like how your sister slept with Kythner, how you feel et cetera. And I just thought to myself, ‘I’m not up to this.’”

Nice thing to let her know given how awful she feels about it. And I’m still not entirely sure why. It was a long time ago…and why should that bother him anyway?

“I’m not up to having a girlfriend who’s sister once slept with someone who would go onto to murder people and smoke crack…!”

“How do you mean?” Carol asked.
“Ryan on the other hand is,” Jack continued.

Lol, what…?

“Ryan’s way more equipped to dealing with a girlfriend who’s sister once slept with someone who would go onto murder people and smoke crack. You know his step-dad deals drugs? He’s got it all sorted.”

No, of course what Jack’s referring to is being able to handle these matters emotionally…which makes even less sense. When has Ryan ever shown a sign of being an emotionally dependable person? He’s obsessed with being a Casanova, reacts to minimal foreign mentoring with racist rhetoric and can’t seem to handle being constantly texted by his stepdad with any maturity other than just sending him witty remarks all the time about how he’ll never get his mum’s number…? Ryan is nothing more than a hot-headed, slightly racist and philandering immature teenager. I know Jack isn’t much better, but it’s clear he does at least care…

Well, what else should I expect from a forced plot-point…?

How about some purple prose?

He forced himself to look into her eyes: Her beautiful, jade-coloured eyes.

That shouldn’t be funny, but it is.

“I hope we’ll still get along after this. I really like you, Carol. But like I said, things are kind of getting out of hand.”

What? That’s not her fault, you fucking prick. Forget what I said about him caring…it was four years ago! Just let it go…!

“Sorry, but if I had known you had a sister who had slept with a murdering drug dealer, I never would have even found your gingerness attractive.” It got out of hand FOUR YEARS AGO, past tense!!

And given that everyone seems convinced that this was the reason her parents abandoned her and her siblings, Jack doing a runner from Carol when the going gets tough is rather a little more conveniently cruel.

Carol didn’t really like the direction the conversation was going, so she decided to play stupid.
“Is this something to do with your blog?” she asked.

Well, yeah, I mean, that really is playing stupid.

“Yes! Toby’s secretly been filming you this entire time, and like a true Yoda impersonator, will stroll forward after I leave making suggestive gestures to you…”

What sort of call back is that…?

“Carol,” Jack interjected. “I’m breaking up with you.”

Just in case we hadn’t got the point.

So, with this bombshell dropped, Jack decides to leave, with these rather empty parting words:

“Sorry,” Jack said. He turned to look at her. “But you really don’t need me anymore. Go and see Ryan. He’ll help. Well…I’ll see you around.”

OK, first of all, does it not occur to him in the slightest that Carol doesn’t want to wail into the bosom of someone who has an established crush on her mere seconds after she’s just been broken up with…? Why has Jack suddenly decided to pair these two up anyway?

Secondly, Ryan will help…? Are you serious? He’ll help himself, certainly, probably to a piece of Carol’s ass.

Anyway, the purple prose soon returns.

She couldn’t stop herself. The tears flowed like a burst pipe out from her jade eyes and down her face.

I can’t possibly take that seriously.

This scene probably counts as a piece of character development, given that Jack has spent so long being a loggerheads with Ryan over an indifferent Carol’s affections. Now, he’s the one to break up with her and even actively invites her to go and see him. Now, arguably, this could look as though he’s maturing and has come to realisation that he fell for her due to her looks but can’t find the romantic chemistry to continue, but that’s certainly not what I was going for. It’s, ‘hey, I don’t like this ginger bitch.’ ‘Fine, I’ll write in a break-up for you.’ I mean…it could have gone worse, but…

We then cut to our de jure protagonist, because we need her to feature at least sometimes.

 “…and if Whitney finds out about Nathan, she’ll never stop insulting my name and his until she’s dead. And if I had my way, that wouldn’t be very long,” Amber said.
Sofia frowned.
“How very immature of her. She has no heart at all.”
Distant cries of shock came from the other end of the field.
“Oh, who’s Rocket got now?” Sofia grumbled.
Amber looked.
“Dunno. Whoever it was they’ve scarpered pretty quick.”

It’s really weird – that was actually genuinely pretty funny…

Amber is relaying her experiences of Hyde Park Comprehensive (the, what, three days she’s been there…?) to her BFF and debating whether she finds it that bad at all. Of course, what we opened up on suggests that she’s involved in a most terrifying bullying campaign, though I can’t imagine Whitney doing anything genuinely horrible, considering she just doesn’t seem to be very good at it. Amber’s threat to kill her seems very sincere either way…

Then we get this small development…

“Well, I’ve been thinking Amber,” Sofia went on. “I’ve made all the necessary arrangements and its fine.”
“What is?”
“I’m going!” Sofia replied, grinning.
“Going?”
“Yeah! To Hyde Park Comprehensive to keep you company!”
Amber tried to imagine Sofia in her form room. This thought cheered her up, and so she said,
“C’mon, let’s go to Thornton’s.”

Ah, Thornton’s. What better a haunt to give you diabetes.

Nevertheless, although myself and Jack seem to dominate the Heterosexual Life Partner scene, it’s clear that there’s some sincerely strong friendship going on here too, with Sofia so desperate to help her BFF out that she actually changes schools. Bless her. Is this is a set-up for another obvious event…? Obviously! But it gives a poignant image nonetheless.

Going back to Hyde Park, Ryan ends up finding Carol. How small did I think Hyde Park was exactly…? Either way, Carol spills the incident and Ryan is royally pissed off. Why…? I don’t know really what is problem is. She’s available now, isn’t she?

But Ryan’s first call to action is to pay Jack a visit. Back to the homoerotic tension. Took them a while, but…

Jack was pacing up and down his hallway, thinking about what he had just done.

I would have loved to get an insight on what these thoughts contained.

“Dammit! I should have left her some crack as a parting gift. Just to remind of why I broke up with her.”

Then, there was hammering on the door. Jack opened it, and the next thing he knew, he was being dragged out of his house in a tight headlock by some unseen attacker.

Happens to me daily.

Yep, it’s Ryan, and Jack is rather rightly confused.

“I spoke to Carol earlier,” Ryan explained, his face still contorted with rage.
“Oh,” Jack muttered, realising what this was about.
“She didn’t deserve that,” Ryan snarled.
“Exactly. She didn’t deserve me. I’m not good enough-”
“Don’t give me that,” Ryan growled. “She absolutely adored you, and all you can do is this?! Fed up of her were you?”

See, it’s weird. Both of them have surprisingly decent points on their positions. Jack could have been a lot harsher, without doing her the decency of breaking up with her face-to-face, and given what a low opinion he has of itself, it might have been for the best. As for Ryan, given everything she was going through (not that he was to know this), Jack’s timing wasn’t exactly on point. But here’s the thing – when has this ever been about Carol’s well-being? From the beginning, both of them were just fixated on her looks (hell, for a while they weren’t even fussy between her and Queenie), and got into scuffles without consulting her on her thoughts. Why is it suddenly all about her? I would have Ryan would be ecstatic.

Then things start to get even more ridiculous.

“Look,” Jack growled, his own temper flaring up. “Who taught you to be this judgemental? Was it that useless mother of yours or-”
“LEAVE MY MOTHER OUT OF THIS FENTON!!!” Ryan yelled.

Oh God, this is hilarious…

See, it’s never been about Carol. These two just needed an excuse to sabre-rattle. And Jack starts off with a ‘yo momma’ line, essentially. Brilliant. He’s probably never even met her.

“Oh no, of course not,” Jack continued. “It must have been Charlie; you’re just like him-”
That did it.
Ryan ran forward, driving his fist with all his strength right into Jack’s stomach, yelling,
“DO NOT COMPARE ME TO HIM!!!!”

So, they start their hammed-up fight, and it’s not like their previous scuffles that were mainly for comic relief, I meant this as a very serious matter, and it had a lot more detail to it, rather like Summer and Amber’s fight earlier. I felt like describing every frame of this fight.

Then Jack retaliated with a punch in the face. Ryan staggered backwards, as Jack advanced on him. Then Jack grabbed Ryan’s neck and twisted him into a headlock. Driving him into the wall, Jack said,
“What’s wrong Head? All out Charlie’s techniques?”
Ryan grabbed Jack by the throat and slammed him into the wall.

And then he kissed him passionately.

Actually, what Ryan does do next is even weirder.

“You know,” Ryan said. “That still-born baby your mother had must’ve died because it didn’t want a brother like-”
Jack kicked out, forcing Ryan to let go of him and go reeling.

….what? Where the fuck did that come from? So, after having no family mentioned whatsoever in this story, Jack suddenly has a still-born sibling and Ryan knows about it, deciding to use it as leverage in this fight…? I honestly don’t know what to say about that…

Ryan manages to get a few more good kicks and punches at Jack…

As Jack was doubled up, Ryan pushed him into the floor, kicked him, and walked away, thinking he had won.

So, you just came round here to beat him up? Not to make him change his position on having broken up with Carol, not trying to talk sense into him for his ridiculous reasons for breaking up with her, just beat him up. Fine, it’s the way Ryan does things. If UKIP only has one rhetoric, why shouldn’t he…?

But then:

Then something heavy collided with the side of his head, causing him to fall to the floor and almost knocking him out. Stars winking mockingly in front of his eyes, he turned to see what had hit him.
Jack was standing over him, holding a cricket bat and with a look in his eyes Ryan had never seen.
Pure loathing.

JESUS. The briefcase was one thing, but this…? Why has Jack suddenly become a psycopath?

Anyway, Carol suddenly arrives and insists Jack should stop. He stops short of just killing the guy, at least. However:

He threw down the cricket bat and turned to walk back into his house. But just as he was about to walk through his door, he turned to look at Ryan.
“If you ever come near my house again, I’ll resume this, and this time I won’t stop-” he glanced at Carol “-for anyone.”
Then he strode into his house and slammed the door.

Well, Jack’s straight-up admitted to being willing to commit murder. Umm…our heroes!

Now, I do believe that last bit was also written by the Weird Wiry One, which explains Jack’s very severe personality swings. Sort of…oh God…

Well, there was that chapter. What can I say? Did this kind of drama entrance me? I suppose, but I’d hardly say it was a reflection of real life. Here’s a lesson for you, Timid Tubby one. Emotions are so much more complicated, and interactions so much more heart-breaking than you could have possibly realised…

 

That Life II Commentary: Chapter 6

Moving on from the horrific political situation at the moment, where two men who pose in a golden lift call themselves of the people and anti-establishment, I’d like to return to this, for a bit of light entertainment.

It’s interesting that I come across this chapter at this time, because its title is kind of relevant to what’s unfolded. Chapter Six: Shocking Truths.

Ross lay on his bed, mulling things over.

God, that’s all I could do when I found out at as well.

OK, OK…I know I’m going on about it, but Trump supporters would have done if Clinton had won, so, fuck the double standards. I’ll try and keep the Trump jokes to a minimum, but no promises…

More than twice his mind landed on Amber.

Oh, of course it did…behold the wonders of teenage lust.

She’s bound to hate me thought, he thought, rolling over and sitting up. 

Why does everyone in this story think about crushes the same way I do…?

Oh, wait…

There was a knock at the door.
“Come in,” he called. Then, upon realising something, he added, “Depending on who you are.”

Yeah, you’ve got to be careful, it could be Donald Trump.

Ahem…

The door opened and his worst fears had been realised as Keith walked in. Ross stood up angrily. He was so angry, he didn’t even realise that Keith had a serious expression on his face.

Even Keith knows that a Trump victory is no laughing matter.

Alright, I’m sorry. But honestly, these jokes are just getting handed to me on a silver platter, it’s irresistible.

It transpires, actually, that Keith wants to make amends.

“Look, Ross. It can’t go on like this. I’ve been a prat and I know it. We just have to-”

What’s my obsession with cutting people off?

“We just have to fuck until we’re exhausted to the point of collapse…”
“We just have to finish our sentences at some point.”
“We just have to stop making Donald Trump jokes…”

We use humour to deal with traumatic experiences, that’s just the way humans are.

It’s interesting that we’re still nowhere near finding out what exactly Keith’s meant to be apologising for, although I still think there are rape undertones in the text.

Ross grabbed him by the front of his shirt and slammed him against his wall. He was glad now for them being almost the same age. He couldn’t walk away.

Oh God, is this retribution rape…?

“Oh come on, Ross,” Keith said. “Don’t do this. I’m your brother.”

Again, out of context, it sounds so…

Oh, and yeah, was that covered before? I don’t think it was, in which case…OMG ANOTHER REVELATION, WHAT CAN WE DO…?

After that particular bombshell’s dropped on us, Ross tells Keith to bugger off.

We then get a scene with the last two people you’d expect – Queenie and Carol, the local redheads, who never have any role outside of being various characters’ lust objects! And what, they’re getting character development now??

“Queenie?”
“Yeah?”
“Do you want this?”
Carol was holding up a photo in a frame that had a young man and a young woman on it, who had just married. Queenie was puzzled.
“Why? Don’t you want it?”
“No.”
“Oh…all right then.”

Well, that got us nowhere…

Of course, the narration later reveals that the photo, wherever the hell it suddenly came from, is of Queenie and Carol’s parents, who apparently abandoned them…at some point…Queenie is naturally not too happy about this, but forgets about it as she’s getting ready for school.

She put it [the photograph] down on her bedside table and looked around for her school-tie.
Where did she leave it?

As any person who has grown up within the British school system knows, misplacing your tie is a serious offence. The faculty will look upon you in wide-eyed horror, weep for their lives and beat you soundly with left shoes and unripe bananas. To a teacher, the only crime more heinous than not wearing a tie is being Michael Gove.

So, Queenie decides to go and ask Carla, her and Carol’s twenty-year-old sister, who was briefly introduced in the last story as being some gum-chewing chav, if she’s seen it, which seems a very odd move. Isn’t Carol, her twin sister who shares her room going to be much more likely to find it…?

It transpires that her sister isn’t in her bedroom, which makes sense, given that without any parents she’s surely the primary care-giver and has to work…just reminds me how incredibly rude Carol was to her in the last story. Poor Carla…

Queenie was about to leave when something caught her eye. Another photograph, on her sister’s desk. She went over to it.

Why? That’s a little nosy, I’d say…and besides, why is a desk photograph of your sister’s so interesting to you all of a sudden…?

She recognised one of the people on it as her sister, about four years younger. And the other one was…
She gasped.
She knew that face. After all, it was on the news often enough. But her sister in the picture was holding hands with him.

I have to say, Kythner’s ability to have a connection with literally everyone ever is starting to get a little far-fetched. It’s almost like he’s an Uchiha.

Or maybe it’s an absolutely tiny world.

We cut to Amber, who’s finally back in school and continuing to read her Horowitz book.

The people around her were all discussing their plans for the weekend, but she didn’t care. She would just be glad to get out of the madhouse they called a school.

Why would she care about people discussing their weekend plans? That makes very little sense…

It’s interesting that this is still the first week of term. This story has moved a lot more slowly than the first, which has crossed weeks without incident. We’ve done just four days (evidently Monday was an inset day) in five whole chapters. That really is something. I obviously wanted closer attention to more detail this time round…

Whitney was sitting on her desk, bragging about something or other. Nobody except for Summer and Kurt were actually listening, so it didn’t really matter.

I dispute that with nearly every fibre of my being. I would love to hear what Whitney says to her admirers. It could be anything, from bragging about how many girls she’s seduced with her wild hair (Summer might not like that) to the fact that she alone amongst everyone in this school has no connection to Kythner whatsoever.

Unfortunately, Whitney doesn’t like being ignored. So, beckoning her cronies, she marched straight up to Amber’s desk.

Whitney, we will never ignore you. Just don’t stamp on Summer’s heart by flirting with Amber again. 😦

 “What are you reading?” Whitney asked, grabbing the book from her hands.

See, I don’t get Whitney’s intimidation tactics, if that’s what they’re meant to be. Sure, something like this would be irritating, but it’s not awful. Whitney would get an F in evil. Maybe she’s just trying to make more friends. Badly.

Trying to keep her temper, Amber replied coolly,
“Just an interesting book, too good for your primitive minds.” Summer snarled and made to punch her, but Whitney held her back.

By her bra strap, no doubt.

“What genre is this anyway?”
“Humour mainly.”

Isolated like this, this exchange has to rank among the politest and most civil conversations that take place in either story. Hell, Whitney doesn’t even want Summer to deck Amber for calling them stupid to their faces. She seems generally interested in Amber’s hobbies. I cannot even begin to fathom how I was supposed to portray Whitney as an aggressor here. It honestly looks more like Whitney is trying to get into Amber pants and Summer’s very upset by it.

The next sequence confuses me even more.

During morning interval, Whitney, Summer and Kurt had bullied a group of year sevens away from an isolated spot on the field to plot revenge on Amber and everyone else.

For what? Well, for being patronising dicks to them, probably…and Summer is not doubt more than eager to get involved in any potential love rivals. I wouldn’t worry, Summer – Amber’s more into her dead brother than anyone else.

“They’re all really arrogant,” said Whitney hypocritically. “We need to sort them out.”

Not that hypocritically, from where I’m standing…

It’s kind of endearing that these three are trying to deal with a growing list of protagonists. It’s a losing battle, my friends. They would have benefited better from having a Quirky Miniboss Squad, but apparently, that’s not the way things work. Even Whitney’s confused as to why Kurt’s with them.

“Why are you here again?”
“Oh, he fancies you,” said Summer in a very casual tone.
“Oh, that’s nothing new,” Whitney replied. “It’s impossible not to. Anyway…”

Summer’s casual tone is clearly forced. She’s not happy sharing the minion-light with someone else who adores her Whitney, and Whitney’s just reminded her how desired she is…keeping her on her toes.

Am I forcing this romance? Well, yes…but they’re in such a better light as a couple.

Whitney decides that the best way of ruining these people’s lives is to dig up any dark, foreboding secrets they have and exposing them to everyone. Not a bad idea, but such action is less likely to result in widespread humiliation as much as sympathy and martyrdom. Still, such secrets most people would prefer to keep under wraps, and it just so happens that Caleb (TSAM) is eavesdropping on the whole thing…somehow…look, I’m not going to try and work it out, it’s Caleb, even earthworms probably adore him. He’ll have used one of those.

“All right,” Caleb said to Amber, Ruth, Naomi, Toby, Jack, Ian, Queenie, Carol, Ryan and Ross.

The return of the Mighty Ridiculous Power Rangers!

Seriously, three versus eleven? Not much of a contest…

Caleb advises his crew to leave any incriminating evidence of anything untoward at home, which…seems logical, even without people intentionally trying to expose something about you. Doesn’t seem like it’ll work though, given that these characters’ pasts have a nasty habit of catching up with them.

Whitney, Summer and Kurt begin their campaign of trying to expose our ‘heroes,’ breeding a rather obvious hostility. Then we get this.

Worse than this, if possible, was the fact that Summer was head-over-heels for Ryan and was constantly stalking him.

FUCK Y-

No, I’m going to remain calm. Because anyone trying to convince me of a heterosexual Summer is fighting a losing battle. This is the first time this has been mentioned since the last story. You’d think if Summer really had an unbridled love for our resident UKIP supporter, she’d be a lot more dedicated to him than say, her actual true love.

Her stalking of Ryan is clearly pragmatic. First off, she’s trying to find information either about him, or his eternal rival Jack that he’d be happy to spill. Secondly, this is clearly another attempt to make Whitney jealous, considering Whitney’s been doing the same. They’re going through a rough patch.

Another sign that Summer’s infatuation with Ryan can’t possibly be genuine is the way she speaks to him. She’s trying far too hard, bless her.

“No, Summer!” Ryan said as she attempted to pin him down. “Find something better to do!”
“Like go to your bed and…”
“NO!!” Ryan screamed and fled.

See how obviously forced and stupid it is?

Anyway, we get a reintroduction of Meena, Kazuki and Cordella from the last story. After doing absolutely nothing they have returned, once again, to do nothing. Well, I say nothing…

“Just try to keep Whitney and her lackeys off our backs for the time being,” Caleb said to them. “We all have enough to worry about. Can you believe that every single teacher is suddenly obsessed with GCSEs?”

“Yeah, you guys do all the hard work in trying to stop these people, despite the fact that there are more us and we’ve all got plenty to deal with.”

Who are meant to be the selfish and arrogant ones again?

Also, being year 9s, I wouldn’t worry too much about GCSEs yet…

After school, Queenie decides to bring up what she discovered earlier with Carol. I would complain about her leaving it this long, but given the information gathering campaign Whitney’s set against them all, I can’t blame her. I have to wonder what role Whitney’s campaign has in this story, but never mind…

“I found out this morning why mum and dad left all of us.”
“Why?”
“Carla…dated Seb Kythner when she was at school.”

That’s a bit of a logical leap, isn’t it? Surely if you disapprove of the boy your daughter is seeing, you keep a closer eye on her, not fuck off to God knows where. Maybe they were just awful parents, but I think the more likely explanation is that Queenie’s jumping to conclusions…

Carla demands to know how Queenie knows about this…

“I found a photograph of the two of you,” Queenie replied.

Yeah, in hindsight, Carla could have done a better job of keeping it hidden, even if she didn’t want to just throw it out than say, keeping it on her desk in plain sight. She’s making Whitney’s job infinitely easier.

Carla tries to defend herself.

“I didn’t realise he was going to end up arrested for the murder of his mother. I just thought he was misunderstood…”
“Misunderstood?” Queenie almost laughed. “He smoked flipping crack almost every day and you didn’t even notice?”

Aaaaaaaaand we’re back to the drug demonization.

This is so bizarre – why is someone smoking crack considered to be the epitome of all evil?

Now, don’t get me wrong – I don’t think chain smoking of any kind is a good idea, and I think smoking crack can be pretty dangerous for your mind. But this story treats it like the cardinal, eternal sin of anyone’s values, and if anything, he sounded like an addict and a victim.

And how exactly does Queenie know he smoked crack even back then? She has no way of knowing. Jumping to non sequitur conclusions again. She’d make a good creationist.

Then we get a little something which does irritate me quite a bit. Carla continues to talk about her experiences.

“But, well, you know… after I slept with him I…”
“You did WHAT?!!?” Carol half screamed.

She’s already admitted to being in a relationship with him, why is the fact that it was a sexual relationship, a) So shocking, and b) So much more awful? Given that it was four years ago, it’s clear that Carla is not pregnant or suffering from any terrifying STD as a result of it, and so my only real answer is that this was, essentially, slut-shaming.

I’m not proud of it, like, at all, but I had weird perceptions when I was younger. The fact that this disturbs me now is a clear indicator of progress, and if nothing else, I want people to go away with the idea that change is not a bad anything. Progress has built the modern world and it’s our only hope to stamp out the vitriol that’s been dominating the Western world recently.

Anyway, Carol heads off to her bedroom to digest this particular revelation.

This was so overwhelming she almost screamed in misery.

Oh come on, it’s not that bad. It was a long time ago. And your parents are awful people if that’s they reason they left you. That’s just the way it is.

No doubt wanting some comfort, she calls up Jack to tell him about what has transpired. Jack is pretty shocked by this, and asks her to meet him tomorrow, doing this rather bizarre internal struggle with himself…

He was really angry with himself. Carol deserved a nice, handsome, understanding guy, and Jack knew he was none of these things (well, obviously he was a guy, but you know what I mean).

Yeah, not the best time for attempted to comedic whatever during what’s meant to be a very solemn moment. I would also ask him not to be so hard on himself, but this is the ‘ooh, redheads!’ guy, soooo…my sympathy is limited.

We then get a small scene with Amber who is celebrating the fact that school is over for the weekend. The way this is written betrays a character who’s obviously very introverted with just one close friend, which has already been established I’d say. It is, nevertheless, a personal reflection. As is the fact that she considers the friends she has made at Hyde Park Comprehensive, and when her mind settles on her brother lookalike, we get a parallel to what went through Ross’ mind before.

She sighed. Did she have a crush on him? Almost certainly, but he was obviously not interested in her.

D’YA GEDDIT? THEY BOTH THINK THE OTHER ISN’T INTERESTED!! OH THE DRAMATIC IRONY! OH THE WACKY HI-JINKS OF TEEN ROMANCE!!

I really needed to work on my techniques back then.

The next scene is one of the best. It’s a dream sequence, and unlike Amber’s plot-relevant dream, it’s just used for a bit of comic relief, as dreams tend to be…

How did I get here? Sean wondered.
He was sitting in a church and Toby and Naomi were at the front. Naomi was in a bride’s dress and Mr Mothman was leading the service.

Already that image is so wonderful.

“If any person has any objection as to why these two may not be wed, please don’t attack me with a briefcase, or else I might have a heart attack. At least I’ll still have more hair than the headmaster.”

Sean was annoyed. Why were they getting married? Surely they still had GCSEs to think about?

Well, they are only in year 9…nevertheless, I still love the fact that Sean’s the only person in this story with his priorities straight. Ironic, considering that in the first story he was one of the most demented.

This next bit might be the most fantastic line in either of these stories:

He marched up to the front of the church, and slapped Toby, who squealed like a pig and died.

Self-deprecating humour FTW!!!

He turned to Naomi, expecting her to be glad, but on the contrary, her hair was turning grey and her skin was wrinkled.

Look at your hair grow, isn’t it strange, how time makes your appearance change…?

wlxsnhb

MAKE IT STAHP!!!

I mean, if Sean was dreaming about that…woe betide him…

“Detention Sean!” Mr Mothman barked, and turned into Aiden who was holding and AK-47. There was a clatter of machine gun fire and…
Sean woke up.
“What the hell was that?” he asked himself aloud, sitting up in bed.

Well, let’s find out.

According to what might be the psychological interpretation of dreams (or might be some divination nonsense, I don’t know) dreaming of attending a wedding means you’re accepting or going through some sort of transition, which for Sean, kind of makes sense, given that he’s going to be doing his GCSEs soon. Yeah, he’s the one who should actually worry about it…

Anyway, Naomi comes into his room without knocking, and we get this.

“Although…” she eyed Sean’s hair apprehensively. “Your hair is worse than Toby’s!”

Again with the self-deprecation…is that all that happens to me? And given that we’re talking about bed head hear, that implies she’s been with me in bed. Make of that what you will…

Sean doesn’t pick up on it actually, which kind of annoys me. Wouldn’t it have been so great to have a teen pregnancy storyline in this? Imagine the narm! I mean…I know they’re like…13 and 14, but…so are their partners, so…eh…

So what is Naomi doing in his room?

“Hmm? Oh yeah. I was looking for my necklace. You know, the one Toby gave me for Christmas?”
Sean considered.
“Well, I think I may have seen it in mum and Quentin’s room.”
“OK, thanks.”

OK, why would her necklace (I want to know what it looks like now…) be in their room? Because it’s the only double bed in the house…? Things are looking immensely suspicious now…

And for that matter, why would she think Sean’s got it? She probably assumed he was testing it for anything untoward.

Sean then desires to know from Naomi why she’s managed to get a relationship and he hasn’t, and she just tells him to be patient, pointing out that he and Alexis are very close.

 “[…]I hardly see her without you!”

Well, I mean, to be fair as possible, that’s probably because the only times you see her are in association with Sean, given that you know her through him…just saying…

So Naomi heads towards her mother’s room, but Quentin tells her that it’s best to leave it, as their mother has a hangover. Naomi is upset by this once again, but as this particular story thread really doesn’t lead anywhere, cutting it would have led to no problems whatsoever.

Oh, and it turns out that the necklace was in the room after all. I’m calling it – we totally fucked in there.

Anyway, that’s the end of that chapter, and the next includes a fairly major plot development, and least as far as these stories go, so we can all laugh at that. Leave comments, I hope to see you next time, and be overwhelmingly wonderful to each other because life’s too short.

 

 

Lighting Candles in The Dark

I was originally going to post another That Life II analysis, but right now, this is more pressing. And here was me thinking there couldn’t be a national balls-up than Britain’s in June…

Against all conceivable reason, the racist, misogynistic, climate-change denying isolationist crackpot with no experience in politics is poised to become leader of the world’s only remaining superpower. Is that a horrifying prospect? Well, of course it is, and not just for the United States because it’s going to felt right across the world. And in this weird backwater year of 2016 where hatred seems to be rearing its ugly head again, we can’t afford to be complacent.

There have been many times, before a Trump presidency was even a conceivable possibility, where I have considered quite thoroughly whether there was no hope. The world had been so unbearably cruel and I didn’t think it was worth continuing in any sense. And yet I did. I can’t begin to explain how, and its not as though such feelings are not cyclical but they aren’t in perpetuity.

I bring this up, because, as a writer, the best way I find to express my emotions is articulating words around some kind of narrative, with the possibility that it may one day be heard and understood. And this is the candle in the dark that keeps people going – the hope that there is something more than the outrageous xenophobia we’ve seen in both Britain and the US in the past months. Technically yes, Trump will be the head of state. But don’t think for one minute that that means you have to respect him. No decent person should. This is an appeal to all decent people in America – make sure when he goes down, and he will, its with the least amount of collateral damage.

Hatred is cyclical, but it does not win. It didn’t win before with civil rights and LGBT rights and it won’t win this time, because there is nothing maintainable or rational about it – or indeed Trump’s campaign promises. He can’t make Mexico pay for a fucking great wall. I don’t quite know how people can’t see that.

I can’t pretend to know what lies ahead, but even if everything goes down, I’m glad to see there is righteous outrage across the world at a man like this taking a position of power. This is democracy in action and progression in action, what I always like to see. He won the election – don’t let him win the world.