The Thaw: Project Update

I was pretty pleased to recently finally break my 100,000 word target for the first draft of the post-apocalyptic novel, The Thaw, that I have been writing since last July. It was a big moment that I captured in a somewhat successful Facebook livestream. Considering my initial plan was 60,000 and then 70,000 words I’m impressed myself in what I have achieved! It’s not been plain sailing as perhaps I’d originally foresaw but projects like these are organic and gain a life of their own, almost; The Thaw certainly has!

Photo 20-05-2017, 10 37 00 pmI’m absolutely thrilled to have pulled this together – but my draft isn’t complete! First, the chapter I wrote during the livestream only barely touched upon a third of the planned narrative I wanted to cover, and I did discover that livestreaming writing does pile on the pressure, which isn’t ideal for a crucial part of the work but this is an experience I needed to learn from. But regardless of the perceived quality of what I wrote, I’m pretty confident that some of the ideas borne of that writing session hold weight and I want to include them into the final first draft. I plan to finally finish off the main bulk of the story (I plan a sort-of epilogue chapter to round off the book set some time after the climax) very soon.

And then I’m going to take some time off from the book before I even give the first draft a reading as a complete unit. I need some distance from the project, to cool off from it so that when I re-approach it late in the summer my mind is fresh and ready to appraise it and begin the editing phase. I’ve made a fair few notes during the first draft of things I want to change, improve, clarify (I didn’t want to go back while drafting; my ethos was to steam ahead only; I can fix stuff later) but an initial reading with a cleared mind will no doubt turn up other questions and points.

I’m really looking forward to editing it but I’m absolutely right, I feel, to take a break from the project and give it space to breathe. I do have some great plans for how I’m going to approach the editing but that plan remains somewhat in flux.

Again, I’m so proud of myself that I’ve managed to write The Thaw (especially given difficult personal circumstances) and I’m confident that the concepts at its heart are going to make a compelling story that I can’t wait to share more of. I’ve been pretty dogged in getting the first draft together; I can’t wait to tell you about my characters in a lot greater detail as the summer progresses!

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Website Update

I realise I have been absent in posting updates to my site recently, which is a shame as I enjoy posting – but I do have some valid excuses! And I haven’t done a Website Update in so long it felt only right to briefly talk about what I’ve been doing and what I’m going to be doing for the next while!

So a lot of what’s occupied a lot of my time in the last month or two, and has really precluded my working on personal projects has been finishing the second year of my Creative Writing degree at Kingston University. It’s been… a mixed bag but I’m definitely. at this point, glad to have gotten my assignments submitted – and some of them I’m pretty proud of. I’m absolutely, over the summer, going to reflect on this year and contrast it to how I felt about first year like I did previously. But naturally, these assignments have been important to do as I need to complete them to progress. I’m relatively confident I’ve achieved what I need to – it’s been a difficult, challenging but also enlightening year.

I’ve also very nearly completed the first draft of my post-apoc novel The Thaw. This has taken longer than I originally anticipated but with that extra time I feel I’ve not rushed things and I’m solidly happy with what I’ve produced. I’ve a couple of chapters left to do and they’re important ones – so I’ve taken some time to a) get University commitments done first and b) give these concluding chapters a lot of thought so I can execute the end of my story as best I can. But I’m also seriously proud of what I have achieved here – with personal circumstances being quite difficult at times – and I look forward to moving forward with my next planned steps. I’ve learned a lot while writing The Thaw and I want to codify those lessons into something definite!

Also, recently, with my good friends (and independent filmmakers) Gary Thomas and Mark Lever we’ve embarked upon a new film project – a Doctor Who-themed fan film entitled Reverence of the Daleks. This has been a really fun project that’s finally got started and I look forward to sharing more about it very soon (there’s not much to show from the first filming day just yet, though I think chatting about the writing process would be a good idea too)

Sadly my Goodreads reading challenge is quite badly lagging – I’m about 3-4 books behind schedule as it is and my review list is lengthy. I enjoy writing book reviews as it’s a good opportunity to synthesise what I liked and didn’t like about a book – this is helpful as an author as generic feedback such as “I liked it!” is pretty much useless. Again, a combination of personal circumstances and University deadlines being an absolute priority have meant I’ve had to dial back on my reading – but with Summer here I aim to put the pedal to the metal and enjoy some cracking reads!

Recently, too, I’ve found writing about my battles with depression and my mental health has been an invaluable and infinitely useful tool for dealing with this, and I’m humbled by the support I have gotten, and if my experiences can help others struggling with depression – a condition I feel is widely misunderstood – then that’s all the validation I need. My writing on the subject is meant to be cathartic, but also reflective. Looking positive about this can be very difficult but when it is done, it’s just extremely comforting and engaging to know, even if only one person reads, it’s not confined to my head.

On Ghosting: Personal Thoughts On Social Rejection and Psychological Abuse

Update: if you’re coming in from Andy’s video; thank you! I’m genuinely touched that he felt my post was insightful enough to help! Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you want! :-) (25/05/2017)

I realise it’s been a while since I spoke about my mental health, thus I am grabbing the chance now because I feel I have something to add. I recently became aware of a social behaviour known as “ghosting” due to some fairly prescient controversy that I happened to chance upon. Considering the discussion online was about a controversial entertainment figure wrongly complaining about being “ghosted” I decided to read the article and do some research.
Fair to say, these were a handful of articles that I would say without hyperbole have changed my outlook.

Ghosting refers to the act of breaking off a relationship (often used in the context of intimate relationships) by ceasing all communication and contact with the former partner without any apparent warning or justification, as well as avoiding and/or ignoring and refusing to respond in any way to the former partner’s attempts to reach out or communicate.

Another prescient and apt definition:

Being “ghosted” is one of the toughest ways to be dumped. What do we mean by the term? It’s when someone you’ve been seeing suddenly ceases all contact with you. They defriend you on Facebook, stop following you on Twitter and avoid responding to calls, texts and emails. They just disappear; fade out of your life mysteriously…

Just reading the brief description of “ghosting” in the articles I’d read and the initial research was enough for me to begin to identify with it. Looking back at what’s personally happened to me I would absolutely say that I have been the victim of “ghosting”, though perhaps not in the romantic/dating mindset the articles I’ve read seem to be aiming toward, though I’d follow that up in saying that my situation would certainly be almost akin to that, and why shouldn’t especially-close friendships not qualify. But regardless of the semantics, I can say with clarity that a very close friend has decided to “ghost” me, and I can say with equal clarity that the experience has resulted in a significant amount of emotional and psychological damage that I am only really and truly starting to gain a semblance of recovery from.

Ghosting has been considered as being a type of behaviour that can be especially traumatic for those on the receiving end, due to the psychological effects of ostracism and rejection and those with low self-esteem can be especially vulnerable to negative emotional and psychological consequences as a result of it. 

Absolutely. I would say that the feeling of rejection, abandonment, that I am somehow “disposable” are the key things that in early 2016 finally pushed me over the edge and into depression. I felt isolated, rejected, abandoned, thrown away, and those things led to me feeling worthless, useless and in a sort-of permanent state where my self-esteem would be so fragile, and would require so much effort to maintain, late at night or when alone, it would crumble to nothing. It has been the worst thing in my life so far to experience and I would certainly say it caused a seismic shift in my personal that I’m still… not struggling with, but coming to terms with.

What I found worst about “ghosting” is the feeling of being, in my mind’s eye, absolutely pathetic. I felt like I had some kind of emotional deficiency, or a complex – letting the actions of one who I had mistakenly trusted to an extent that losing them was a very destabilising experience. I felt on an emotional and personal level like a Jenga tower, and that a block at the very bottom had been unceremoniously wrenched out.

It led me to a dark place, and unhappy place and I still feel the pain. I felt pathetic and alone because I was letting “one person” do this to me. “Ghosting” is where the person who unilaterally cuts contact completely might as well expect to be treated as “effectively dead”, because by choice they’re acting like a dead person. With the loss of my dad and my aunt in 2015, I could almost come to terms with that because I knew they were, for lack of a less gentle term, “actually dead”. But the feeling with being “ghosted”, that this is all being intentionally done, is and was a truly awful feeling that destroyed my sense of self-worth and self-esteem. Clearly, thought I, this was an indictment on my character, and therefore my character deserved it. But it’s so needless, and so callous in its malevolence – and at odds to what I expected from this person with whom I shared an intense, close but, to me, rewarding friendship. My mind kept questioning why? and what actually happened but answers are still not forthcoming; if anything, they’re being actively withheld which to me is more cruel and abusive.

GHOSTING-QUOTE

People who ghost are primarily focused on avoiding their own emotional discomfort and they aren’t thinking about how it makes the other person feel. The lack of social connections to people who are met online also means there are less social consequences to dropping out of someone’s life. 

In reading more about the sociological phenomenon of ghosting, I found myself reading more about why people would actively choose to engage in this kind of, frankly, shitty behaviour. Personally, in the early stages, where I was still reeling and wondering “why have you suddenly deleted me? What’s going on?” I tried to act civilly, like any difference or grievance could be resolved, or at least discussed, through communication. But that opportunity never arose – instead, I would be subject to some quite hurtful and I think callous emotional abuses – I was this, I was that… I never disputed these instances but I, for one, certainly thought it went both ways (this friend, who shall remain nameless, failed me in ways that I didn’t want to punish them over, but rather make them aware over). But nothing I could say, or rationalise, or emphasise, seemed to have any impact. I felt like I was talking to a brick wall, and therein began the frustration, the panic, the abject feeling of loss and horror… and it led to some certainly less-than-civil things borne of that frustration. Where civility failed, I guess I slipped into being the “monstrous person” they characterised me. I feel that was a weakness but I’m honest and open enough to be able to admit that, which is a strength I feel, even in the face of adversity, is so important to maintain.

Modern technology gives us ample chance to connect with someone but it’s also incredibly easy just to stop communicating.

Do I feel the Internet has made this easier? Absolutely. I believe in openness and hearing someone out. A fair hearing. Justice. Doing the right thing. The internet is a great tool for communication – indeed, there’s so many ways to communicate online it’s hard to keep up. But the way, for me, I was blocked on every imaginable way just felt like I was having a door slammed shut in my face. I wasn’t allowed a right to reply to any of the messages I got about what a “monster” I had apparently been. There was no chance to explain the context – I was ghosted by someone who certainly didn’t want to face their own emotional discomfort from how they had mistreated me. They didn’t give a damn about the increasing mental and psychological stress I was under – they were more worried about protecting themselves. Insulating themselves. Taking a bunker mentality. It became a vicious circle and it was self-defeating. I guess it being online, and not having to face me physically, just made it considerably easier to hide from any (but importantly: not all) of the responsibility of what had happened. If it gave the person who “ghosted” me some sense of finality and peace of mind, then that shows their shallowness, their emotional immaturity and their own weakness.

In many cases it’s the incompleteness of it. It can be frustrating when someone appears to finish with you out of the blue and then won’t talk about it. We want answers to achieve closure but can’t get any

I can absolutely relate to this on a deeply personal level – I’d frankly state that the crux of my quite destructive 9-month or so phase in which I have sunk into depression was brought about completely by the person who, in my eyes quite callously, decided to ghost me after four years of loyal and rewarding friendship, deciding to erect walls. They continuously and consistently spurned my efforts to understand the situation or even discuss it. They claimed it was “too much mental stress” for them without even giving thought to my own, demonstrably-real mental inability to cope with this course of action. Adding to what I identify now as emotional abuse, absolutely, was being told that I was “going to get some answers” but because I’d vented, say on Twitter, then I would be further “punished” for that. An ever-present sense that I am being consciously and continuously punished… if that isn’t an obscene example of emotional abuse, then what is?

The worst thing about being ghosted, personally, was the feeling of powerlessness. The friend who “ghosted” me totally controlled the narrative. I was an irredeemable monster. If anything, my friend is the irredeemable monster – they’ve shown their true colours: their callousness, their capriciousness, their immaturity, their cowardice. Their monstrousness (the Jekyll and Hyde from what I thought I knew to the cold, callous attitude I got after the ghosting began). This was someone I’d thought I knew well, and I blamed myself a lot for that. Now I’m more at peace with the idea that I made a mistake. I’ve made many, and I’ll honestly admit to them.

There seemed to be nothing I could do right in this situation, and that hurt me a lot, eroding my self-esteem and sense of self-worth.

No-one should be made to feel as low and as worthless as I did in some of the worse times. My only sense of regret is not discovering this phenomenon a lot earlier – since researching ghosting further, I feel a lot more empowered and I feel my strength is beginning to recover. I don’t feel alone, that my feeling of being cut off by someone I (mistakenly) put trust in is just a complex of my own mind’s skewed sense of priorities.  I feel able to grasp this narrative. I also feel a sense of… relief: I was right to call the person who ghosted me immature and a coward because their behaviour – their chosen and conscious behaviour that they have actively decided to engage in – demonstrably shows those characteristics.

And, after so long, fine. Be of low character, be persnickety, be vexatious, be a coward, who doesn’t give someone who invested a lot of energy in you the decency of telling them you were done, be selfish and thin-skinned enough to deflect any remote criticism of your own failings with saturation blocking, be a hypocrite who is lacking one iota of self-awareness, be cruel and emotionally abusive; and somehow able to sleep at night – but you know what you won’t be? You’re no longer important to me. You will no longer hurt me. You will no longer own me. You no longer control the narrative.

My advice to those who have just run against a brick wall and feel they’re being ghosted? Don’t let it consume you like I did. Worry more on the people in your life that actually care, and are there for you even in the difficult times. If, like me, you’re ghosted by a supposed “best friend”, the best thing you can do is not to beat yourself up. Be strong and forthright. Whatever the effort or the time, if someone can treat you that disposably, then return the favour and don’t waste time on them. They’re not worth it.

Remember this above all else:

The important thing to remember is that when someone ghosts you, it says nothing about you or your worthiness for love and everything about the person doing the ghosting. It shows he/she doesn’t have the courage to deal with the discomfort of their emotions or yours, and they either don’t understand the impact of their behavior or worse don’t care. In any case they have sent you an extremely loud message that says: I don’t have what it takes to have a mature healthy relationship with you. Be the better person, retain your dignity, and let him/her go peacefully.

Don’t allow someone else’s bad behavior to rob you of a better future by losing your vulnerability and shutting yourself off from another relationship. Keep your energy focused on doing what makes you happy. Know that if you are someone who treats people with respect and integrity then the ghoster simply wasn’t on your wavelength and someone better is coming your way, as long as you keep your heart open and your focus forward. 

Do I think the friend that ghosted me will read this? Perhaps. They’ll probably be angry, though anything I do is a means of provocation to them. And, for what it’s worth, the door’s open if they want to explain themselves and belatedly provide answers. But I’ve wasted too much time on one person who was clearly unworthy. They made the choice to do away with a fiercely loyal friend, and that speaks volumes about them. I do wish them luck in the future, and I hope their conscience doesn’t gnaw at their very existence. Although I’m not religious, I do believe karma can, indeed, be a bitch. And writing this has been… therapeutic.

At any rate, what’s the worst that can happen if my ghoster doesn’t like what I’ve said in this post? What’re they going to do about it, not talk to me some more?

Please feel free to read my followup post to this one!

Articles Referenced

Ghosting (Relationships) – Wikipedia (Accessed 20 March 2017)

“This is Why Ghosting Hurts So Much” – Psychology Today 

“Ghosting: What to do if you’ve been a victim” – The Independent 

“Ghosting: the creepy modern phenomenon ending friendships” – The New Daily

 

Review: The Road (Paperback)

the_roadIf a book irritates me within the first thirty pages, it’s not a great beginning. However – and this is a theme that recurs when discussing The Road – things don’t seem to progress or evolve; they start off as ‘crappy’ and are content to remain there.

“A work of such terrible beauty,” the review quote from  The Times states, “that you will struggle to look away.” We’ll see.

The narrative follows, allegedly, the journey of a father and son along a road. That is the start and finish of the narrative, as far as I understood anyway. We learn pretty much nothing about the characters – they don’t even get names; indeed, the only character that gets named, it is revealed, was lying about it – and we learn nothing about the world either. What is presented is, essentially, a very ‘plain vanilla’ destroyed world, with no hints as to what caused the disaster that befell the countryside. It just exists. Likewise, there’s little propelling the characters on their journey beyond it ‘being cold’

I get the experiment that Cormac McCarthy is attempting here with this book. Stripping down the narrative to revolve around two characters. But it feels so hollow. The characters have no depth to them; we don’t learn much about them, and they seem to exist for the sake of existing. Why is the story focusing on them, specifically? They’re exhibiting a fatal flaw in protagonists in that they are boring. I didn’t care what happened to them.

The prose, too, was squalid. Again, I understand the ‘experiment’ the book attempts – in a post-apocalyptic wasteland with no hope, what do conventions matter? But the lack of structure to this book makes it much harder work to read than it had to be. There are no ‘chapters’; merely blocks of text which read like shopping lists of events that happen and then don’t happen. There’s an abject lack of an atmosphere, and action – clearly these are genre tropes and trappings that Cormac McCarthy is desperate to avoid, for want of his book being described as genre fiction? The prose is so inconsistent and forced – going from utilitarian one moment to lasciviously over-embellished within the same sentence – that it torpedoes any credibility and authenticity that might’ve been there.

What made me angry about The Road was that I could almost taste the author’s thinly-veiled contempt for genre conventions that result in good books because it would interrupt the purity of his experiment in the form. Yes, abandon punctuation and chapter-isation, but have a narrative that either can support itself without those things and avoid writing plodding, dull prose. The Road stands out for me as one of the few books that can portray an earthquake as, essentially, something that happens and is never called back to.

The dialog is easily one of the most annoying and irritating parts of the book. There’s no conventions or punctuation, so even keeping tabs on who is speaking requires effort. But the majority of the conversations between the man and the boy seem to occur as follows:

Boy: I’m scared.

Man: I know. We should go in this house.

Boy: I don’t want to go. I’m cold.

Man: Don’t be scared. We’ll go now.

Boy: Okay.

There is nothing revealed through these snatches of dialog. We learn nothing about the characters, their past, their feelings through the dialog. Of course the boy is scared – he’s a child – and the man tries to reassure him. But the distance in their relationship, and the coolness with which they speak to each other, doesn’t feel like a man and his son. It doesn’t improve, either.

One of the things I learned – and has proved valuable advice – as part of my Creative Writing degree is that characters should undergo, over the course of the story, both a physical journey and a personal journey which changes who they are. In The Road, however, neither of the two characters of the man or the boy seem to undergo any sort of change. They remain as cold and distant to each other toward the end as they do at the beginning, which really made me question whether I should even become involved or engaged in their story. In terms of physical journey, the terse description of the world or situations of The Road made it feel like the characters move from point to point on a map, with the rest of the “world” left as a blank page. It’s not immersive, it’s not even a fully-constructed world (because, I suspect, that would be too genre) and seems artificially imbued with awkwardly-poetic language that just doesn’t sit well; clearly an attempt to move the reader for want of being moving. There’s no substance in The Road to really warrant it.

I contrast the bleak, barren atmosphere of The Road to a similar but infinitely better-executed One by Conrad Williams (which is a really damn fine book) – One and The Road are quite similar narratively but One has much more engaging, flawed characters who seem to change as the story goes on, and it’s tragic but beautiful, and the world is far better realised. The Road would do well to emulate the stark, harrowing environment of One. Yes, One addresses a somewhat similar narrative to The Road – a man’s search across a destroyed landscape for his son; a search which drives him, ultimately, to madness – but does so in such a more effective and gripping way it’s almost comical to put these books together: One is simply so much better written, plotted and executed. I would heartily recommend it over The Road in a heartbeat.

The Road is indeed a bleak, depressing book, full of unrealised potential. However, hollow prose that ditches conventions for the virtue of being experimental above all else, unengaging, flat characters who don’t undergo any kind of journey or give me any real reason to empathise with them and an irritating experimental nature that seems, subconsciously to show a certain disdain for the more accessible genre trappings of post-apocalyptic fiction means that I certainly won’t be picking up another one of Cormac McCarthy’s books again; I’m only glad this came from the library and not with my own money. Road to nowhere.

Buy The Road on Amazon.co.uk (if you’re a zombie)