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About a year ago I heard about The A3 Review, a monthly contest where writers and illustrators are encouraged to submit work on a particular theme. This can be prose, poetry, graphics, photography, painting – as long as it fits the theme, can fit on an A6 panel and is limited to 150 words. The chosen pieces are then displayed in a neat, folded sheet of A3 that can be opened out. I’ve entered a couple times over the last year (haven’t been successful yet!) without ever actually checking out the Writing Maps, the central focus of the site. 

writingmaps

Creator Shaun Levin is a writer himself and has taught workshops and classes on creative writing for over 20 years, and his writing maps aim to combat writer’s block. Within each folded map are several ideas for prompts, with hints and guidance on how to expand your writing.

Not only do the maps give informative tips, exercises and examples on several aspects of writing (for example, the map I bought focuses on tone of voice and point of view), it can provide a source of inspiration, a prompt for ideas upon which you can put any new learnings into action. If you’re looking for some extra help and inspiration that comes in a slightly different form – fun and visual and easy to digest – then take a look at the multitude of different maps available on the site.

Visit www.writingmaps.com for more details.

Duration.

This image, taken in an abandoned VEB in Eastern Germany, was taken by Johannes Burkhart. You can see more of Johannes’ work on his Flickr photostream.

The blood trail led him to an opening in the trees and a building emerged from the forested landscape that took him somewhat by surprise. His eyes searching not for static mass but a limping creature with frenzied eyes and fur slick with sweat, instead found this concrete structure.  For some time he watched it then scanned the ground for blood before lowering his rifle to study the structure once more. An old factory or manufacturing plant he guessed. But no sign of blood or disturbances in the undergrowth and no sight of a dead or dying deer. Don’t crawl off and hide somewhere to die friend, he whispered, that way neither of us win. Advancing across fallen leaves he approached the entrance, observing faded graffiti amongst creeping ivy. A crash echoed from inside the building, distant but contained. You are not allowed in there friend, he said, and he crept up the steps and tiptoed through broken glass.

Into an atrium with a tall ceiling and tall windows caked in moss and birdshit. The last of the afternoon sun shone through over obsolete items of degrading furniture and peeling paint and a clock that had once hung now rendered inert. He stepped across patches of rotted carpet and spotted small droplets of blood. Empty beer bottles and used needles wrapped in dirty linen. So you are in here, he said. He saw burnt magazines and papers from another era and in articles and time-dulled images were unfulfilled promised that remained firmly in the past. Smiling faces and shiny automobiles and cheap weaponry. None of this means anything anymore, he thought.

He reacted to movement in his periphery. Against the illumination of a large window the erratic movements of two small silhouettes. Staying low he crept forward through chairs and tables to see two stunted children in tattered rags standing over the now deceased deer. He watched as without warning they fell upon the carcass, hunched over and tearing at it like savages and one, a male, was already skinning the still-wet fur off with a knife, basking in the warmth of the beast. The deer with limp head and loose tongue and glass eyes that only now could understand these ways and these rules lay on the cold concrete slab between them, fate accepted with a primal nobility. The hunter coughed and made his presence known. “That’s my deer.”
The two children jumped back and looked across with fear and dripping hands. A boy and a girl. “Who are you?” The girl asked.
“I’m the owner of the deer you just started to butcher.”
“This is your deer?”
“Yes. Of course it is. How many deers have just walked into the room you are in and died at your feet? Are you really that stupid?”
“But the deer wasn’t dead. We killed it. My brother grabbed it and snapped its neck.”
The hunter observed the boy. He stood tall but there was no power to him, no strength in his shoulders. But the children did look hungry and hunger was a powerful stimulant, the hunter thought.
“Even so – I wounded the deer. With this rifle. I shot it in the thigh, which has made walking incredibly difficult and tiring. I have been following it for hours. I know how tired it must be. It was exhausted and crawled inside this building to die.”
“And this is enough for you to lay claim on the deer?” the girl asked.
“Of course! I tracked the deer, I shot the deer, I chased the deer. Do you think the deer would have entered this place unless it knew it was to die soon? So you see, really, you did not do anything that was not already going to happen.”
The children were silent.
“Now get out of here,” he continued, “I will try to fix the mess you have made.”
Sullen and weak they walked out of the atrium and into the forest. He watched them go before turning his attention back to the deer.

Later the hunter made his way out of the building with the carcass over his shoulders and in the cool evening darkness was falling fast. Exhausted and in need of sleep but unconcerned by the events of the day. He travelled north east towards his parked truck just over three miles away. Halfway there he stumbled blindly and fell into a ditch. His rifle was lost to the night and face down in the damp soil he listened to the carcass as it slid down the bank. It came to a standstill in a slow moving stream far below, and howls rang out through the trees and through his flesh and through his bones. Tearing, snarling, ripping. Moonlight flickered in the eyes and bared teeth of wolves as they set upon the deer, now mutilated beyond any point of recognition, with a ferocity that shocked the hunter as he gasped and retreated back up the hill.

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2016.

My short story ‘reboot’ is to be a part of the very first issue of new literary magazine, 404 Ink. The theme of the first issue is ERROR, and is available to preorder now for release in November 2017.

404_ink

There’s a link to the 404 Ink site, blog included, here, and they also have an active voice on twitter.

Naturally I’m over the moon. My work in print, amongst other experienced and talented writers, is a strange and giddy feeling. It would be incredible if 404 Ink can establish itself and have a successful launch. So if you’re interested, please do visit the site and pre-order the first issue!

Quick update: I haven’t given up, I’m just busy.

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Very busy. By the end of this month I will have submitted work to seven literary magazines, publications, short story competitions, etc, etc. Each with a different piece of work entered. And there’s more to come in October and the rest of 2016. Some stories have been kicking around for a while. Some already existing pieces have been rehashed and reworked into more coherent wholes. Others are completely brand new. Some of it I think is pretty good, some still needs more work, and some of it won’t go anywhere, but I have a bit more choice and perspective over what has worked and what hasn’t.

(I’ve had some good news already but I can’t say more that that right now)

It’s been intense (and a real strain at times) but I am slowly building a small body of work – whereas previously I just had a few nice prompts on a blog. I’ve loved working on the prompts and updating the blog in general; the occasional complimentary comment from readers and the photographers I’ve been inspired by are fucking great to see, and I really appreciate them. But at the same time, they won’t get me anywhere. Where am I trying to get to? I don’t know. But I do like writing stories and if I want to take things more seriously I need to push myself.

So I apologise for the lack of content, now and possibly in the next few months, to the few who do regularly visit my blog, and to myself, because I do enjoy writing here. But I’m doing it for the right reasons.

Also I’m 26 today (fuck!)

kiekmal

Photograph taken by Flickr user ‘kiekmal’. Check out his Flickr photostream for some outstanding work in abandoned scenes, creating fascinating narratives despite the absence of life.

Of which direction the voices originated I could not say for sure but I thought it wise to keep my head down as I lay prone alongside a bank of earth. Face down and cheek pressed against sprouting moss and wild mushrooms. In a localised dialect they spoke low and urgent and I could not piece together their concerns. When the voices had passed I continued in the opposite direction, occasionally looking back over my shoulder while wading through the leaf-covered ground, stepping across fallen branches and in between stumps. There was no sound here but the crunching of my footsteps and the singing of distant birds. After some time I found myself walking on broken and cracked concrete, roots bulging beneath, an absurd feeling under my feet when all around me such an edenic environment – vines and ivy and dead or dying trees crawling over all – and yet here, something created by man. It became apparent I stood on what once had been a road, as when I glanced left to right I began to notice the faint outlines of doors and windows through the walls of green. I picked at random a door ajar and stepped through a curtain of matted vines into a hallway that was bare but for the staircase at the end. Musty scents overbearing in the confined darkness. Climbing carefully but the silence continued.

At the top of the stairs windows without glass were covered from the outside by vines and ivy and bathed what seemed to be an apartment in a sleepy green glow. If it was an apartment it was modest, with a few tables and several chairs scattered and abandoned. Dusty plates and empty brown bottles and on the cold concrete floor a large wall sign with peeling paint that spelt ‘RESTAURANT’. When I turned a tall thin man stood in the empty frame of a doorway. His hair was grey and his skin covered with dirt and dust. His shirt ripped and his trousers rags. But his eyes were bright and blue and looked alien on his weathered face; they made him look incredibly sad. As if his eyes took no willing part of this. “Who are you?” he asked.

“Excuse me please. I’m just passing through.”

“Through my home?”

“It doesn’t look much like a home.”

“It was a restaurant. We are closed for renovation. Sorry, you need to leave.”

I looked around. I doubted this man was the owner of the building, and much less once the proprietor of a small business. More likely he found shelter here, hidden in the forest and squatted in his filth and solitude. As I regarded this place and the man’s place within it he spoke again.

“I know what you are thinking. You do not believe that this place was once something else entirely, much like I was once someone different entirely. I understand why you would think that but that is the very nature of time. The beautiful thing about time is that it will continue to pass. But for now, it remains my enemy. For now I must remain closed. I cannot reopen. Who would use this restaurant? Nobody visits this part of the world anymore. The streets are covered by forests and cobwebs, long grass and dead leaves hide the concrete surface and the only clue that this was once a street are the stained and weathered signs, pointing to other, living, streets. This street is dead. They need something to come for. Would they come all the way into the forest for a restaurant? No. They might come if there were people here, living people, enjoying a fountain and rows of classical houses decorated with hanging baskets of floral beauty and elegant street lamps, and there were vendors and stalls selling fresh meats and ripe fruits and handmade trinkets, that can not be understood by foreign tourists but are revered all the same. If this street had all of that, something worth visiting, then I would open my restaurant. Then I would get customers and they would be in awe of the food and the drink and they would ask, how can you prepare such cuisine in this unforgiving climate?”

I wished the man all the best for the future and I left. Shielding my eyes from the blinding rays falling through the canopy of trees I stepped out into the street. I heard more voices, once again in a manner I could not understand. A couple were emerging from the forest and before they could see me I leapt into the long grass and continued in the opposite direction.

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2016.

Frank Formsache

Image taken by Frank Formsache, who manages to capture breathtaking details in beautiful scenes. See more of Frank’s photography on his flickr photostream here.

I want to document certain changes I have witnessed on site recently, starting from the discovery of the pit, to geological anomalies and later strange behaviour I have noted from the men. This is not about me, and my perceived understanding of what may or may not have been unearthed in this quarry. I have a logical  and sound mind, a man of science and physics, and the last week has raised… No. Let me start again. This is bigger than me.

Something has changed here since we found the pit. It appeared in the quarry one morning when we woke to eat breakfast. The chewing mouths fell silent and cups of coffee spilt as we witnessed a hole in the centre of our dig site, astounding in its size and depth and inexplicable being. Gathering around its circumference we had two main questions. Who, and why? Workers, supervisors and watchmen were questioned for any insight or leads but the answers were the same: nobody saw or heard anything suspicious overnight. While inquests were carried out we used the reserve drilling equipment to carry out readings on the shifted sediment and groundsoil investigations at the bottom of the pit. The water table had sunk and there were large samples of black soil, rich in nitrogen, phosphorus and manganese. We couldn’t fathom the presence of a soil typically found in the tropics. Our thoughts clouded with the false possibilities we raised. A tectonic shift or earthquake? No other sign of disruption in the surrounding hills and valleys, and no reports of any shaking from those awake. An asteroid strike? Again, no sightings of flashes or explosions, and the debris from any collision would not be neatly piled to one side of the crater. A sinkhole became the most likely scenario, and a large proportion of the men repeated surveys (having already been passed weeks prior) of the soil and its composition, for no building work could take place on unstable ground.

For the longest time I suspected a joke. It became obvious, however, that this could not have be done by our workforce. To dig a hole of this magnitude (no exact measurement was undertaken, but my trained eye would suggest a rough circle 200ft in diameter at its widest and 80ft down at its deepest; and although the pit sloped gradually to this depth, I was uneasy to walk too close to the edge) would have taken our thirty-five men days to complete. No, the notion that a rogue faction of pranksters from within our ranks was laughable.  The night following the discovery of the pit my assistant and I walked atop the excavated mound of sediment. It was all deposited on the west side of the pit, piled high and steep, and one of the officers warned against such a climb. But curiosity got the better of me, and after a gruelling ascent we reached the top. Despite the bizarre and frustrating circumstances (for this interruption I knew would delay the project, even threaten its abandonment entirely), we admired the view of the surrounding quarry. That is, until my assistant shouted as we watched one of the cranes at the edge of the pit begin to move. We could see there was no man in the cab; as crazy as it sounds it was moving of its own accord. There was no slope, and no visible force to push the crane in. In all honesty, it appeared to us it was being dragged. Helpless to act, we shouted out to get the attention of any nearby workers, but it was too late as the crane toppled over the edge into the pit below. The machine lay discarded and rigid, as if in a state of shock.

The head supervisor left without permission the next day, leaving me in charge of the men. My first objectives was to extract the fallen crane. They set to the task with discipline and efficiency, but when I attempted to stop them at five they insisted they wanted to continue into the night. I was impressed if a little confused at their dedication to the cause, and retired to my office. I was awoken at an early hour of the morning to the sound of several machines operating from what sounded like the pit. Anxious I left my bed and walked down to the hole. The men, dripping with sweat and moving in almost synthetic unison, were slaving away, entranced.

They did not listen to my commands and they would not stop working. I put up with this for another 24 hours, what else could I do? It seemed I was the only man in this quarry who still regarded sleep as essential. Even my assistant traded his administrative duties for labour, to join the men working down in the pit. They had changed. There was no lust for women or cars or money, just an insatiable need to dig. Soon my frustration got the better of me and only when I struck one man in the face did they stop their work and pay attention. So disturbed by a sense of malevolence I felt from each one of them, that I ran back to my office and barred the door firmly shut and fastened the shutters over the windows. That night a group of them tested the door handle and whispered unintelligible words through the broken glass. I kept my lamp burning throughout the night. I should give up on this pit. Some questions cannot be answered, and some answers cannot be understood.

They don’t sleep or eat anymore, I don’t think. The machines are running night and day and when they do stop, I hear earthly drums and distant wailing from down in the pit. I should probably try and force my way out of here, it’s been months and still no one has come for me. But despite the threat I like it out here. The air is heavy with salt as if we were stationed on a seaside coast. While I have not seen the men with my own eyes for a week they still leave meals and water outside the office. If they meant me harm, why would they bothered with this? The next time I sense one nearby I shall try to get its attention. Ask what they are doing down in that pit. Maybe I can help.

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2016.

Tanzania - Mt Meru - Spooky tree

Image taken by photographer Marco Homrighausen. You can see more of Marco’s photography on his Flickr page here.

In the spectral morning light silhouettes played against a canvas of grey sky. A foreign landscape of twisted trees and the heaving shapes of waking creatures emerged through the murk like ancient thespians performing under a council of cloud. The audience a thousand droplets of dew, sat on tired xerophytes and dusty shrubs, which would have glistened but the sun seemed a distant prospect up there, somewhere far beyond the veil.

With caution the ranger unzipped a section of the mosquito netting and one side of the tent flap and held the flap open. Peering out this small porthole into the fog. The air was cool and he enjoyed the breeze, a fresh relief from his stifling quarters. Through the night his sleep had been plagued with dreams and night sweats. He closed his eyes and listened to the rustling undergrowth and far away to the east wild dogs yelped. He eased himself up and stepped out the tent, scanning the ground and treading lightly so as not to disturb resting spiders or scorpions before choosing a spot on the damp ground on which to sit. With a gas stove he boiled coffee and ate a slow breakfast of dried biscuits and fruit.

To the west there was a ridge that slowly ascended to the top of the valley. It could not be seen in these conditions but the ranger knew it was sitting there idle. Time passed and while the light shifted the veil did not. He continued to stare at the void around him, a vast and consuming gloom and he saw the mist disintegrate from something whole to multiple somethings; individual shrouds that interlinked and became one, then decoupled and dispersed between each other again, then became one, then many, one, many. The mist was alive and the ranger was captivated. So vivid and wonderful were these visions that he had to check that it was ground coffee he was drinking, and not by accident ingested a cup of peyote.

From somewhere behind the tent the ranger heard footsteps and this sudden and unexpected approach panicked him to such an extent that he let out a cry and retreated back to the tent. Here he waited and waited, listening with shallow breath and shaking hands. A man of considerable knowledge and experience in the field reduced to a blinded child in a sandstorm. Because last month he had seen his dead wife drift past in similar conditions, and this is why the ranger found the mist so troubling. She would not turn around and face him but such was his fear of dread he was relieved she kept her eyes hidden. He scratched at an imagined rash on the back of his neck and exhaled in despair.

A rabid and inexplicable fear took hold of the ranger and he reached for the hunting pistol in his pack before he realised that it would be no use. There was nothing outside the tent that could hurt him. Where is my mind? He whispered and he found himself looking out into the mist once more. Like a veil the cloud descends and obscures not only the landscape but the mind, to transform both into uncertain plains. Can you spare me this fate? He softly spoke to the mist but there was no response. Sleep brought more dreams. He woke in relief, tangled in his sheets. Beside him his wife slept peacefully and he reached over to brush the hair off her face and lightly kiss her forehead. She stirred and smiled and opened one eye, and he kissed her with passion. 

© Nicholas J. Parr, 2016.