7.2 A Glimpse at “We Are But Ghosts On Film”

In the course of writing Post Marked Pipers’ Reach, Jodi and I wrote a series of unrelated stories for a Form and Genre Challenge. Unbeknownst to me, the titular character, Charlotte McKay, was in fact Ella-Louise. Charlotte McKay was the name Ella-Louise used when working undercover.

The short stories “What I Left to Forget” and “The Photographer’s Concerto” explored the relationship between Charlotte and Jakob, the guitarist for an up-an-coming grunge band, Soul Monkey Momento, who were set to explode in Australia and overseas. I had no idea I was writing stories that were connected to the wider world of Piper’s Reach at the time.

There is a mention of Jakob and the band in the letters between Ella-Louise and Jude, but the focal point for me in creating a new story was when Ella-Louise returned to Melbourne with the hope of catching up with members of Soul Monkey Momento. I had the two short stories, and the connection between Charlotte and Jakob, yet I was interested in what had happened to the rest of the band since the death of Jakob, and Charlotte’s sudden reappearance, particularly as it affected the drummer, Mitch.

Charlotte McKay was a separate entity to Ella-Louise, another incarnation of who she was, and I wanted to explore the impact of her life on another person. Who are we in the gaps and silences of life? Is there redemption in asking for forgiveness? Or condemnation? Can you make amends for a past that was of your making, and not of your own making? Can you be forgiven for what you did? Do you want forgiveness?

I’ve written the novella and am now in the process of rereading, editing and rewriting for submission.

WE ARE BUT GHOSTS ON FILM

CHAPTER 3

Mitch sits behind the kit and plays the song Jakob wrote for Charlotte. She sings it with fragile tenacity and the years peel back. There is the sound of heartbreak in her voice, not the passionate declaration of adoring lust. This was a song wrought out of intense passion and sung with desperate longing. And it was beautiful. It is still beautiful.

Flip the record and the B-side is another single; a cover song or an alternate take. This is the A-side: Jakob died and Charlotte disappeared. The B-side is a gap of fifteen years, three bands, and one heartbreaking event ago. And yet she is here, on stage, singing the same song.

The crowd erupts, witness to a moment they believed they would never see again.

Josh yells over the adoring crowd. “Ladies and gentlemen, CHARLOTTE MCKAY!”

Eyes focused downward, she waves to the crowd who respond in ecstasy.

Mitch yellS after her. “Charlotte.”

She turns, hand still grasping the microphone.

“Hang around, will you?”

She nods, caught under the gaze of the spotlights, and smiles but Mitch doubts she will stick around to the end of the set. He watches her drop off the stage, pick up her camera and slip in the shadows between the stage and the barrier. During the rest of the set he keeps an eye out for her but does not see her.

The remainder of the set plays out as planned, held together by the moment of remembered bliss, yet even as the house lights come up and the sound guy starts playing Tears For Fears, “Everybody Wants To Rule The World,” they begin to forget. Her presence as illusory as shadow; a by-line in a gig review a week later no one will read, as the only proof she ever existed.

She’s there. In the corner of the green room, tucked into a dingy sofa. Camera curled into her lap like a cat.

“Fuck me; Charlotte McKay,” said Mitch. There is a shift in the shadows, wrapping them around her shoulders again as if a spotlight was turned on her, suddenly the focus of attention from Mitch and the other members of the band. Always that shadow covering her heart in layer upon layer.

“Mitch.” From the sofa she stands and slips her arm around his waist, the other over his shoulder.

“Watch it. Bit sweaty.”

The embrace was familiar and awkward, like the distance of time made the pieces of the puzzle not fit correctly; edges mangled or new hollows carved out. There’s an apology in the embrace, and a longing for forgiveness.

Where to from here? Mitch wondered as he felt her embrace loosen and they stepped back from one another, afraid to cross the chasm without the certainty of an anchor point to pull himself up should they fall.

The phantom made real in a pair of dark jeans, boots and black t-shirt. And the camera strap straddling her neck as she cradled the camera like a child in the womb. She looked down, as if she were sizing up this older version of Mitch who was transposed over the younger incarnation.

As she stepped forward again into the gap, Mitch involuntarily moved to step back.

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“For what?”

“For just then. Making you step back. Afraid of who I am, what I might be. Sorry for turning up, unannounced. Sorry for disappearing.”

He ran his hand across the stubble on his face and wiped the sweat from the hollow of his neck before wiping it dry on the seat of his jeans. “Apology accepted.”

“Thank you.”

Across the deepest chasm Mitch took a step to embrace Charlotte. A moment for initiating reconciliation and remembrance. She raised her head from his chest. “You never kept a grudge?”

“No need to. It was never your fault.”

Mitch shifted his weight from one foot to the other and let Charlotte slip out of his arms and went to the table on the other side of the room. “Come on. Let’s get you a beer.”

“What are you not telling me?”

“I doubted you existed. You only existed in my memory because the photos you took are proof. Without the photos you’re a ghost; you’re even a ghost behind the camera.”

“You can’t prove I took them. Therefore, I don’t exist.” A slight smirk played at the edge of her lips as if the comment was both self-effacing and self-defeating. “If you don’t remember who took them, I don’t exist.”

“But I do remember. And I won’t forget. So, you do exist. Even if you’re not around.”

“Will you remember me when I’m gone?

“I never forgot. I will always remember.” Mitch twisted the cap off the bottle, tossed it loosely in his hand. “You’re always welcome here. Where are you staying?”

“Somewhere local.”

“Staying long?”

A shake of the head.

“You got time to come back and catch up tonight?”

“I can arrange something.”

“What’s your number and I’ll text you the address.”

“I’m not operating a phone at the moment.”

“Hang on.” Mitch steps out of the room and back to the stage, ferrets in his stick bag for a pen, grabs the scrunched set list from underneath his hi-hat stand and scribbles his address on the back.

Charlotte was where he had left her, the afterimage of a flash popping in his face. He hands her the set list.

“Just like old times,” she says.

5.2 The Next Story – Adam

The Next Story

Part 1

How long has it been since I have written anything from start to finish?

Too long.

Far too long.

“Post Marked Piper’s Reach” was published in July this year. It was written seven years ago.

What has happened in-between? Between 2013 and 2018, the grounds lay fallow. I started a verse novel. Began the drafting and ideas for a novella. Started collaborating with Jodi and Rus on a novel. At the end of 2018 I finished the draft of a novella that will exist in the Piper’s Reach world but be separate from it. It’s now awaiting an edit. And in-between all of this, I have penned scraps of sentences and handwritten pieces for Instagram, and random poems for Twitter and Facebook.

I have not sat down to write for a variety of reasons: moving house, ill health, work commitments. Other personal reasons. I read books. Kept a record of what I had read and challenged myself to improve on it. Kept adding to the compost heap.

But nothing complete or completed.

Looking back on the past few years it appears I’ve been throwing manure on the compost heap in the hope something other than tomatoes will sprout from the pile of grass clippings, vegetable scraps and garden trimmings. At some point you have to turn the soil, keep turning it, shovel it around the base of an idea and see what grows.

Those works in progress mentioned above have sat idle but I return to them occasionally, turning the soil and adding more thought to them.

Part 2

The question is always of, “What next?”

This year was a focus on getting Piper’s Reach into the world and to an audience. Publication was the end of the cycle and a new cycle has to begin.

But where to begin with that new cycle?

In my head, and in my planning, it is the novella, followed by the verse novel and working with Jodi and Rus to finish our collaborative novel, plans for a collaborative novel with Rus, and thinking of another collaboration with Jodi.

Left to my own devices I have to think about the next story. Snippets of sentences and half-formed paragraphs are easy. Bringing them to fruition is difficult. I write better in collaboration as iron sharpens iron. But I had to prove to myself I can do it by myself. The novella was the first step. My verse novel will be the next step after that. For myself, I am unsure. The horizon is a long way off.

Part 3

But I see a way forward. Beyond plans for completing and finishing, there is the desire to write again. I have felt blocked lately in writing but I think I have a way forward: writing my way into it.

I’ll start by writing anything.

With abandon.

With reckless care for sense or understanding.

To write without fear or favour.

To play with language and experiment with words because no one else will see it.

The freedom of not having eyes to cast a glance and question the structure or word choice.

Part 4

But there is something else that sits with me in terms of thinking about the next story: Why do I want to tell this story?

This is what is pushing me lately. I have a couple of unfinished works on my computer and I circle back to them from time to time to ask why do I want to tell this story? Have I worked out what the story is in order to tell it? The same question applies to my novella and verse novel because the question will help frame the narrative and edits in the future.

The “why” will be the driving force to keep me throwing compost onto the heap and tilling the soil.

The next story will always be there.

4.2 Sand People Ride In Single File To Hide Their Numbers

Part One – Literary Allusion

Robert Frost was a tricksy bastard.

The road not taken? The path less travelled by? More like trolling generations of poetry students and Instagram influencers.

There were always two paths.

There was always at least A path.

It just so happened he happened to take the one with more leaves on it.

Others have been there before you.

Someone has always been there ahead of you.

And that’s ok.

I’m definitely ok with that.

You don’t have to hack your way through uncharted territory because there wasn’t a way there before. There’s probably a really good reason why the path doesn’t go that way. The path of least resistance is a good starting point as a writer. Why make it harder for yourself?

I walked a writer’s path starting out with brief sentences and paragraphs. It was where I wanted to learn how to craft something. I spent a year writing flash fiction and getting feedback via a writers’ website. I wrote blog posts, worked collaboratively on projects, before feeling comfortable to write alongside someone and work on a novel. Still feel like the novel is beyond me whereas a novella is more in line with where my writing sits. A novel could be further down the path.

If I lay out my current projects on the table, what path would I take? Can I come back to something or will it be left behind?

Part Two – Personal Anecdote

There is a creek down the street from where I grew up, and where my parents still live, and I spent many hours down by the water either by myself or with my younger brother and our dog.

A dirt track ran beside the creek and we would often follow it until we could go no further. Then we climbed down the rock faces and kept boulder-hopping down the creek.

No phones. No recourse should we get injured. Mum said she wasn’t worried unless the dog came home alone.

I had the freedom to walk the same path over and over and over again: through summer heat keeping an eye out for snakes (this is Australia, after all), winter coldness, and during and after rainfall when the trickle of a waterfall turned into a brown rush.

It was my querencia of solace and familiarity. This was my happy place as a solitary explorer. I could walk the path over and over, knowing where I was at each turn and curve even, as storms and nature put obstacles in the path or branches hung lower. There was always a path visible, even when it was overgrown and almost forgotten about.

I used a setting from one area of the creek in a short story, The Cicada Clock, first published in Tincture Journal.

I took my daughters down there recently, and it was the first time I’d been down there in perhaps fifteen years, maybe even twenty years. We walked the path, at times hidden by long grass or fallen trees, and explored together. For me it was revisiting a space I inhabited so much as a child and teenager, and a chance to introduce my girls to a location meaningful to me. I lead and they followed. Or one of them would go ahead to see what was around the corner or over the rise or behind the tree.

We shared the path.

We may never return there.

Part Three – Comic Juxtaposition

One night a man had a dream. He dreamed
he was walking along the beach with the LORD.

Across the sky flashed scenes from his life.
For each scene he noticed two sets of
footprints in the sand: one belonging
to him, and the other to the LORD.

When the last scene of his life flashed before him,
he looked back at the footprints in the sand.

He noticed that many times along the path of
his life there was only one set of footprints.

He also noticed that it happened at the very
lowest and saddest times in his life.

This really bothered him and he
questioned the LORD about it:

“LORD, you said that once I decided to follow
you, you’d walk with me all the way.
But I have noticed that during the most
troublesome times in my life,
there is only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why when
I needed you most you would leave me.”

The LORD replied:“Sand people always ride single-file, to hide their numbers.”

Part Four – Personal Application

Standing on the shoulders of giants involves learning how to climb their backs; to scramble up the terrain of their legs, back and shoulders, and clamber around their head to get a good seated position. Only then can you see further.

I’m not a leader, an innovator, an intrepid explorer; so many others have been there before me. Instead, I will follow. I’ll be following you on social media, making notes of your wisdom and insights. I’ll ask questions on occasions; watch your mistakes and know I’ll probably make them myself. I’ll be the one tagging along, just a little behind and looking over your shoulder (when I’m not perched on it), to work out how it’s done.

And while we’re travelling along the path, whether it’s a dirt track, a paved footpath, a broad highway, there is always a place to leave graffiti. Footpaths, overpasses, highways, tunnels.

But on my path, I learned a valuable lesson. I learned to say, “Yes.”

Yes, to making the decision to write.

Yes, to writing pieces of flash fiction.

Yes, to writing a blog.

I said “Yes” to opportunities.

Yes, to writing a blog for a writers’ website.

Yes, to contributing to thematic anthologies.

Yes, to the idea of an epistolary novel.

Yes, to another collaborative novel.

Yes, to a writing cooperative.

Yes, to trying something a little different through our writers’ collective.

Not all opportunities are correct. Sometimes it is important to say, “No” or to let a project be relegated to the rubbish.

Every writer’s path is different. The best we can do is leave notes along the way to say, “This is how I, or we, did it. It’s up to you to work out your path.”

Choose how you pave, forge, or ignore the path.

And give a knowing wink to Robert Frost as you cross paths.

Words As… The Space Between

Words as The Space Between

There’s a saying, rendered unto jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, “It’s not the notes you play, it’s the notes you don’t play.” In drumming parlance, it’s the space between the strokes you play that can be as important as the hits you make on the drum or cymbal.

This song has one of my favourite drum grooves where space holds the song in the interplay between hi-hats, snare and bass drum. That tension exists between groove and bombast, which kicks in for the chorus.

We inhabit the spaces of our world.

We hold space for others.

We’re quick to grasp it.

We’re slow to release it.

Our mass is made up of indescribable particles that inhabit the space within the framework of an atom.

We are dependent on space.

And within that void we hold the power of story.

We all remember stories that have an impact on our lives, the books we read or the movies we saw from our childhood, adolescence and adulthood. We internalise the characters, their dialogue, their idiosyncrasies, their hopes and dreams as if they were our own.

But beyond the story are the bigger ideas, the deeper questions nestled within the text and wrapped up in the books on our shelf or in the pockets of our favourite jacket. We take them, often unconsciously, and slip them between the pages of our notebooks or hide them under our pillows or tuck them into the folds of our shirt sleeves. Into the quiet spaces.

The power of the story lies within the big ideas or questions revealed in the narrative. These big ideas and questions find their expression and meaning in the actions and emotions of individual characters going about their day-to-day business.

We, as reader, understand the narrative as a microscopic view of a telescopic realm. The narrative is a parable of meaning expressed in the actions of fictional characters we believe to be real because we understand their lives as if they were ours.

This is the power of story.

And we weave a story from a single thought.

A single word.

This is one reason why I like blackout, or erasure, poetry. I aim to find the story within the words given to me on the page, bring them to the front and then erase those words which no longer serve a purpose. Blackout poetry serves as a place of rest and quiet, of fun and enjoyment.

Words invite us to the table. To make conversation with one another. To make space in our lives for each other.

Writing creates a space for you as the individual to explore who you are, to understand what shapes and forms you, to appreciate the silences midst the noise.

Words hold that tension of calling words into being from eternity against the silence of contemplation and thought.