Thursday, 8 September 2022

More Trees In West Lothian - For Free (An Open Letter To West Lothian Council)

Dear West Lothian Council,

All around West Lothian we see houses sprouting up like pop up books, turning green fields into carbon factories. While housing is of course necessary, and the addition of solar panels on all new builds commendable, I don't see many trees going up. In fact I see many mature ones coming down.

While out walking this morning I was struck with a simple idea for increasing the number of trees and bushes in West Lothian for free, and thus improving air quality, water retention and temperature moderation in the upcoming floods and heatwaves of all the winters and summers that loom before us.

If we decide to take climate change seriously, and I believe West Lothian has declared a climate emergency, we need to act as if it's an emergency and make changes large and small, as soon as possible.

My small idea is this: Instruct grass cutters to avoid the perimeter under the branches of trees in parks.

And no more pesticides at the base of trees either. This will allow wild grass and flowers to thrive, providing more habitats for insects and pollen for bees, but more importantly, allow seeds that each tree drops every autumn a fighting chance to germinate and grow little by little beneath the parent tree. By regularly cutting the grass under each park tree for the sake of appearance or tidiness, we are prematurely decimating the naturally occurring young trees before they get a chance to crop up.
If this new policy is adopted, cutting the grass in parks and public places would save time, and therefore council funds. Trees have been linked to the improvement of  local air quality and therefore not only the mental health, but also the respiratory health of the local population. The tree and bush sections in Howden Park in Livingston are an ideal example of this.
The first year: slightly longer, messy circles of grass beneath each tree.
The second year: circles of untidy, wild grass
The third year: Wild flowers and tree seedlings start to appear
The fourth year: The stronger tree saplings grow, alongside those of any other seeds carried there by the wind.
The tenth year: a circle of adolescent trees and bushes, with the parent tree in the centre.
There may be complaints of untidiness, but as was seen during lockdown, I think most people will understand the situation and accept the longer, wild grass, flowers and tree saplings sweeping the towns and villages, and most may even appreciate the boost to local wildlife.
Implementation of this policy across West Lothian will, I firmly believe, have a long-lasting positive impact on local health and well-being, land stability, and insect populations, not to mention provide natural carbon sinks to help fight the battle against CO2 emissions. West Lothian would be taking the lead in carbon retention and other counties might even follow suit. All, basically, due to working less and saving time, fuel and money.

If this suggested policy could be discussed by the council at the next convenient opportunity I would hugely appreciate it.

Yours sincerely,

Chris Young

Wednesday, 7 September 2022

Page To Screen

Been a productive couple of days. 

West Lothian Film on Monday saw the enactment (and then re-enactment) of chapter 2 of the script version of The Luminari. It's great to hear the dialogue expertly ready out, and really interesting how things evolve in the translation from page to screen. Forces me to think more clearly about dialogue and how characters in a story should react to each other. 

For example, in prose you can get away with a character not replying to a snide remark, but in a script it seems wrong, like they are an NPC - a Non-Player Character : an AI in a video game that just stands there not doing anything or wanders around ignoring inputs from real players. See, I'm real down with the kids' funky lingo these days. Not to be confused with NCP, the National Car Parks around Edinburgh.

Also I decided to combine chapter 2 with the ending of chapter 3 as it seemed to give the scene a stronger finish. Having Jake provide a voiceover adds to the noir detective film style of the era and is another opportunity for fun.

We even discussed animation options and how to bring Jake and the other characters to life on screen.

Last night saw the reading of chapters 51"Elevator Pitch" & 52 "Intermission" at West Lothian Writers and I got some great feedback to apply. What works, what doesn't work, what only works for 50% of the readers, etc. Reading to an audience also really focuses the mind because you find yourself thinking, "Jeez, this is taking so long, why am I even including this?" and you feel guilty for taking up so much of the allocated meeting time reading stuff which is not all that great or critically important.

I've started sending The Luminari out to agents and publishers and it's a nail-biting and challenging process. All I can really do is hope the story and style appeals to someone, somewhere. Plus it must be weird for a prospective publisher to be introduced to a story at volume 3. Why didn't I start with volume 1: The Old Mice Killer, I ask myself.

Well, The Old Mice Killer was just a novella at 16,500 words, largely unpublishable due to brevity, and Jake and I were still finding his our feet. The Coffee Cup Killer was more advanced at 32,000. For some reason the Luminari has just expanded and grown to 55k like some alien techno-blob swallowing Tokyo, growing with every skyscraper and municipality it devours, immune to RPGs fired at it from the Japanese Self Defence Forces (editors). Perhaps my writing endurance has increased, like long-distance running. Or maybe I have lost the art of keeping things short and sweet.

Finally, unable to withstand the temptation any longer, I have uploaded The Luminari to Amazon in order to purchase a proof copy and see how the book looks, feels and smells in my hands, and to give it one more final polish.

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, 6 September 2022

Grains Of Sand

 Time is slipping through my fingers like grains of sand at the beach. 


It’s a clichĂ©, I know, but it’s a really good metaphor. 

Grains of sand at the beach.

There goes another day. Blink and you’ll miss it.

I’d like to go back to the beach and let real grains of sand run through my fingers. At least then the grains of sand will be real.

How many grains left, I wonder?

How many years, months, days, hours, seconds?

Grains of sand.

At the beach.

Tuesday, 23 August 2022

The Prodigal Daughter by Jeffrey Archer - A Book Review

I always pick up a Jeffrey Archer whenever I spot one. I saw this in a charity shop in Moffat or Biggar on a camping trip and even though it seemed the protagonist was a woman, fished in my pocket for a quid and shuffled out of the shop with it under my arm like a goblin having stolen some treasure from Aladdin's cave.

Don't I like stories where protagonists are women, I hear you ask? Maleficent, Aliens, Silence Of The Lambs and Spirited Away are some of my favourite films, so that can't be strictly true.

Do I think men can't write convincing female characters, I hear you ask? Well, maybe, maybe not. They say write what you know, but they also say write what you don't know. So who knows.

Do I think the book was marketed towards women and so would have little for me to enjoy or empathise with? Maybe a little.

When I was a kid my Mum always had issues of Woman and Woman's Own lying around the house, and I used to flick through them and think, 'There is nothing in here for me' - a 12 year old boy - 'except for the competitions.' I read somewhere (probably in a book entitled 'How to Win at Competitions') that the secret to winning competitions is entering them. Lots of them. So I entered as many competitions as I could get my hands on, several from Woman and Woman's Own. And did I win anything? No. Not from them. But I did win a mug from a competition in Your Sinclair or something like that for my sketch on how Andy Capp's hairstyle might look under his cap. I remember drawing a very colourful mohawk. So I guess I am an 'award-winning artist.'

Anyway, whatever my chauvinistic, preconceived ideas about the book, I bought it, didn't I? And why? Well, a) because Jeffrey Archer, despite ending up in prison for perjury and perversion of the course of justice, and being a conservative, writes damn good novels and has constantly delivered on plot, humour and character in the past. It would be no exaggeration to say that Mr Archer's arrows hit the bullseye consistently when it comes to good, solid fiction. (See what I did there?) B) the cover had a red cloth, a white thorny rose and a president's seal on it. Not the usual soft, bright pastel shades on a cover aimed at the middle-aged housewife demographic. And c) there were also two duelling enemies in it called Kane and Abel. Wasn't there already a book about them, or a movie? Oh yeah, the bible. No, I mean another one.

Suffice to say, I was intrigued. And so should you be.

I imagined from the title and book cover that it was about a young woman who started out good and kind, then lost her way, became an evil sorceress, and then came back to save the day just before the final curtain falls. Was I close? That would be telling. Also sounds a bit like the plot for Maleficent.

Anyway, 'The Prodigal Daughter' (published 40 years ago in 1982) was great. I loved it. I laughed, I cried, I gripped the pages in triumph, I held them in slack disappointment, I followed the life, loves and career of Florentyna from her teddy bear christened Franklin D Roosevelt who gets his arm torn off and covered in ink, to her final golf game that she loses on a technicality. Her life is a real rollercoaster.

I don't know how he does it. I don't know how he weaves his tale into history so skilfully you end up asking yourself, did that really happen? You can't see the join between fact and fiction. It's flawless. It's so detailed. Nothing is missed. I don't know how a British writer can know so much about American politics. I don't know how long he takes to write a book but it seems he fires them out effortlessly. 

Hats off to you, sir.

Sunday, 19 June 2022

Notes On Hellscraper

This story began as a series of writing exercises when I was living, single and alone, with a lot more time on my hands, in my one bed apartment in Kanagawa near Tokyo, Japan in 2006, called the 'Top Of My Head'. The premise was to write whatever came off the top of my head for an hour and see what came out. What did this time was a short story about a futuristic assassin called, "Another Day At The Office." It ended as the protagonist climbed onto his rock bike having obtained a personnel shifter, and rode back down the surface of the skyscraper. 

Years later and on a different continent, I included the story in a printed A4 binder full of tales called 'Hidden in The Old Stone Wall' and gave it to a fellow West Lothian writer to read. 'Another Day' fell into his 'Needs Work' category. He commented that he wanted to see more of the central character and his world.

As I hoped to self-publish 'Hidden in the Old Stone Wall' sometime before I died, expanding 'Another Day' became a priority.

Around that time I was giving another fellow writer feedback on his science fiction, asking, "How do people live? Are they inhabiting skyscrapers high up in the clouds or living in shafts deep in the ground?" I don't think he applied my suggestions, so when I received the signpost about 'Another Day' I decided to turn these thoughts to my own story.

I spent a ridiculous amount of time with spreadsheets calculating terminal velocities of falling humans in different positions (spread-eagled or bullet-straight, accelerating or in free-fall) and discovered that the fastest speed a human has ever skydived was 373 mph by Henrik Raimer in 2016 or 601 km/hr (167m/s) in the upper edges of the atmosphere. I put this towards how high a future skyscraper had to be and calculated floors fallen per second and all that, and in the end just thought 'Fuck it. It's high. It all happened fast. It's just a story. That'll do." When I ran the scene past West Lothian Writers they confirmed this. No-one cares.

After finishing the re-write I decided the tale merited a better title and figured it was all about getting into his home shaft, which now seemed the most interesting and futuristic element of the story. It was basically an inverted skyscraper, so I wondered if a hell-scraper was a thing. I googled it, and the word appears in one other place, to describe an architectural work in Madrid, Spain in 1972. I figured the link was tenuous enough to use the word as a title and there you have it.

I was in two minds about the "Sayonara, fuckface" line. At one point I deleted it and exchanged it with, "Goodbye, Mr Grant," only to find that the story immediately lost something. It became boring, bland, insipid, like a cup of weak, lukewarm tea you'd immediately pour in a nearby pot-plant. Is that all the protagonist could think of to say when his family, life and livelihood hung by a thread?

Around that time I began to realise no-one was likely to buy an anthology of short stories from a writer they hadn't heard of, and decided to switch tack and submit some stories individually to magazines where they might fit in thematically and therefore hold more value by adding to the publication.

I sent it off to a couple of places (it was enjoyed but rejected by Neon (a great online literary fiction magazine, check it out) who responded that although they liked it, felt it didn't fit in their publication. When I read their magazine I agreed, but their positive response encouraged me to keep trying elsewhere.

After hearing about StarShipSofa in an email from either Federation of Writers (Scotland) or West Lothian Writers (I forget which) saying they were open to submissions, I gave it a shot, crossed my fingers and waited.

Just when I was about to lose hope, I couldn't believe my eyes when I received an acceptance email in my inbox.

What followed was another few months of waiting as I did my best and failed to stop thinking, wondering, hoping what the story would sound like read by an American voice artist as an audiobook. Every second Wednesday I logged in to StarShip and found someone else's name on the featured story banner. I bit my knuckles. I chewed my nails. I pondered the imponderable.

Finally there it was. I couldn't wait a moment longer - I leapt into the podcast and listened with bated breath. I loved the host's reaction to the title of "What The Maid Sawed" and settled down as Hellscraper was read in an suave, hard-boiled tone by Mike Boris, with a high quality recording and wide array of voices (especially impressed by the robotic ones). But as he continued, one thing became clear: he'd put a lot more into his reading than I had into my writing, which I felt paled in comparison. Each word he spoke was done so with care and attention, whereas I flung words out haphazardly like buckshot, hoping to hit a target. 

I decided to take more care with my words from that point on.

One last thing: Mirligo, the name for the assassin's daughter, comes from the archaic Scots word mirligoes, meaning vertigo or dizziness.

Thoughts for other aspiring writers: Don't give up. Keep trying. Believe in yourself. Join writing groups. Sign up to newsletters. Knock on doors. Listen to feedback. Polish. Someone out there wants your work. Set a time aside daily for writing and stick to it.

You can listen to Hellscraper, delve into a huge back catalogue of awesome SF stories, or maybe even consider supporting writers & voice actors by setting up a regular Paypal donation to Starship Sofa here. Hope you like it!

Wednesday, 15 June 2022

Hellscraper

I've been so looking forward to this! Many thanks to Tony C Smith, Fred Himebaugh and everyone at the Starship Sofa podcast for accepting this longish short SF story, 'Hellscraper', read excellently by Mike Boris. Huge gratefulness also to Federation of Writers (Scotland) for the heads up and West Lothian Writers as always for feedback and guidance.

"David Reynolds is a wary mercenary for hire (dubbed 'The Sandman') in a far future city, where the rich live the high life in the clouds above and the poor eke out an existence on the garbage and radiation-strewn Earth's surface. Then there's the Undergrounders, surviving in poorly air-conditioned shafts miles below..."
It's about 40 minutes, with a few colourful swears, injury detail description and drug use. Hope you like it, and be sure to check out the great back catalogue of other SF audio stories on there 🚀
You can listen to it here

Saturday, 12 February 2022

Burning the Candle

It's been a good week.

Last night, after a ten-day abstention from alcohol, I thought I'd treat myself to a couple of Stellas and a film. So I sat down and searched through Amazon Prime Movies, rated 15 or 18, four stars or above, and scrolled down to 'End Of Watch' (2012) with Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) and that Mexican chap who's really good (Michael Peña, actually American), an LAPD drugs cartel cop thriller. I think the phrase 'From the writer of Training Day' may also have swayed me (David Ayer).

I'll be honest, the opening scenes kind of put me off a bit, but I stuck with it as I had a feeling this could be part of the character arc in the story, as the cops seemed to be really blasĂ© and shallow, and I feared a repeat Jarhead performance. (To be fair to Jake Gyllenhaal I think I watched that on a plane) But as things began to unfold I realised 'shit was going to get heavy' pretty soon.

The camera shots were very shaky at times, presumably to express the chaos of the situation, and added to the tension, not knowing which was up. You just knew everything was going to go badly wrong. And even when things went right, you still knew things were going to go ... badly wrong, just from a greater height.

But some of my favourite themes running through Training Day appeared here as well, especially 'honour among police' as well as 'honour among thieves'. Ayer really cuts to the heart with this one, and the finalé (coupled with the alcohol) left me a broken and weeping man.

But damn, that was good. 9/10.

Michael Peña was nominated for the Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Male for his performance in this film.

What else have I been up to?

Decided to start a new script for West Lothian Film since 'What The Maid Sawed' had run its natural course. So on Thursday I got another idea for what seemed to be at first sight an amusing and potentially leg-having cross-genre story. But I can't tell you the title because that would give the whole thing away and you might run off with it yourself, write an award-winning script and film and produce it and win several oscars in the time it takes me to finish it myself.

Suffice it to say I rattled out the first scene yesterday, we read it at the group and it got a couple of laughs. So I'm satisfied.


I also finally completed the edit of a 30 minute documentary about my visit back to St Andrews last summer, which has been on my to-do list for six months. 30 minute seems a bit long now and I doubt many will watch it to the end, but I don't know how to cut it down further. Ideally I suppose, it should be under twenty minutes. I might have another stab at it. Unfortunately in parts the sound is affected by the wind, but do I want to try to re-record everything and do a redub? Will it look and sound natural? I guess all I can do is try. Won't make it any worse eh?

That's all I can think of at the moment. Trying to get back up to 100% attendance at my writing desk to finish off 'The Luminari', but there is a constant battle between my desire to stay up late and my desire to get up early. In order to get up at 6:15am I need to physically climb into my bed at 10pm, read for a bit, and lights out at 10:15pm. Who does that? Eight hours. Sounds easy, doesn't it? But it ain't. I need to sacrifice one for the other. I have to give my finger to the night. (Sounds like a Chris de Burgh song).

Anyway, I shall keep you posted.