In the words of birthday boy Neil Gaiman; How to become a writer

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Following  a tumbler request for advice on how to become a writer Neil Gaiman let us all in on the secret. Read on for the secret to literary success.

Write the ideas down. If they are going to be stories, try and tell the stories you would like to read. Finish the things you start to write. Do it a lot and you will be a writer. The only way to do it is to do it. 

I’m just kidding. There are much easier ways of doing it. For example: On the top of a distant mountain there grows a tree with silver leaves. Once every year, at dawn on April 30th, this tree blossoms, with five flowers, and over the next hour each blossom becomes a berry, first a green berry, then black, then golden.
At the moment the five berries become golden, five white crows, who have been waiting on the mountain, and which you will have mistaken for snow, will swoop down on the tree, greedily stripping it of all its berries, and will fly off, laughing.
You must catch, with your bare hands, the smallest of the crows, and you must force it to give up the berry (the crows do not swallow the berries. They carry them far across the ocean, to an enchanter’s garden, to drop, one by one, into the mouth of his daughter, who will wake from her enchanted sleep only when a thousand such berries have been fed to her). When you have obtained the golden berry, you must place it under your tongue, and return directly to your home.
For the next week, you must speak to no-one, not even your loved ones or a highway patrol officer stopping you for speeding. Say nothing. Do not sleep. Let the berry sit beneath your tongue.
At midnight on the seventh day you must go to the highest place in your town (it is common to climb on roofs for this step) and, with the berry safely beneath your tongue, recite the whole of Fox in Socks. Do not let the berry slip from your tongue. Do not miss out any of the poem, or skip any of the bits of the Muddle Puddle Tweetle Poodle Beetle Noodle Bottle Paddle Battle.
Then, and only then, can you swallow the berry. You must return home as quickly as you can, for you have only half an hour at most before you fall into a deep sleep.
When you wake in the morning, you will be able to get your thoughts and ideas down onto the paper, and you will be a writer. 
Solved it. I’m off in search of white crows…
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The Vanishing’s (Part three)

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Part one:

Part two:

36 hours later and Eleanor was huddled with the seven 4 AM wonderers who’d responded to Alfred’s advert. She was feeding a fire that spluttered like her physics teaches when confronted with students whilst her companions shared a special brew. Following his advertisement’s publication, Alfred had relocated his missing bus stop operations to a cave in a forest. Unfortunately, now he had an audience, nerves meant his pre-prepared prep talk had to be interrupted for an emergency mediation session. Consequently, his supporters were crouched in a cave, bemused about why a man was humming in the corner. They’d begun scanning the terrain for pubs when, like a butterfly breaking free of its cocoon, Alfred arose.

‘Truth owners. Let’s get these stops back.’

The 4AM wonderers cheered and sat down again in the damp.

‘I believe,’ Alfred said, licking a bead of sweat from his lip, ‘that due to extended human exposure, once inanimate bus stops and Christmas trees have developed feelings. Left whilst we jolly through the country, like neglected partners, they’ve become sullen.’

A communal head shaking and gasp of understanding echoed. Alfred paused for an effect (and nodding break).

Getting into his stride, he continued ‘And so, taking the only route available, instead of displaying endpoints, they use destination boards to swear and grumble.’

Disbelief trickled off the moist walls.

‘And the Christmas trees, I’m sure after consideration you’ll appreciate, are equally misused. Not hard to appreciate why.’

Alfred pitched his voice higher and let the words flow faster as he continued.

‘For 24 days we fill their branches with decorations, love, presents. Come January though, and it’s not just turkey thrown onto the street. Driven by hurt, the trees want revenge. The bus stops want revenge. And teamed up, they will get it.’

Had Alfred applied the same passion to his pursuits of love, he would have been a satisfied man: the 4 AM wanderers left as stirred by their leader’s speech as they had been watching Braveheart.

The psychiatrists in search of Arnold had been perturbed by his un-characteristic escape. Fortunately, the wanderer’s cries for solidarity were so hearty that they reverberated throughout the forest, thus alerting the ambling professionals to his location.

After the impassioned but directionless marchers passed the same potato shaped hedge a third time, Eleanor suggested they follow a pine needle and used ticket trail. It could lead she suggested, ‘to the rebel’s inner sanctum’. Having considered the skills he’d gleamed from watching Bear Grylls, Arnold decreed it ‘a first rate plan’. Consequently, as the wanders drained hydration bladders filled with special brew, they reached a peculiar grotto in the heart of the forest.

By following discarded cans (and Arnold’s, Hansel and Gretel inspired exit trail), the concerned psychiatrists arrived in time to see the bedraggled missionaries being fir marched into a bus stop shaped prison. Arnold’s screeching protest fell upon deaf ears. (Largely because neither trees nor stops possess them and the process of interpreting humans is a laborious one).

‘I understand your frustrated. I’m want to help. Stop, please,’

The wanderer’s accidental adornment of the Christmas trees however, succeeded where Arnold failed in making an impact. Unfortunately for all concerned, it wasn’t the sort best suited to demonstrating good intentions.

‘How dare you,’ the bus stops read in unison, ‘never again shall we be decorated.’

‘Garnish the prisoners and dot them along Moon Lane.’ The command scrolled along a stop that had spent 83 years at London Victoria bus station. After nearly a century watching luggage laden people embark on voyages, LVBS was particularly bitter. The firs beside it loaded their needles with used gum and bobbed towards the retching wanderers.

The Brooch Pin and the McDonald’s Wrapper (A.K.A Why men shouldn’t wear green dresses)

IMG_7029 - Copy‘Why shouldn’t I wear the green dress?’ Matthew said. He pouted at the reflection of his translucent Grandfather in the mirror. His bottom lip was stained with Ruby Red gloss. Unfortunately for all concerned, barring future visitors to Dark Lane’s McDonalds toilets, Matthew’s grandfather’s response was constrained by 10th century ghostly doctrines. Instead of insisting that, ‘no one will be scared by a male ghost in a green dress’, he huffed. Huffing as a ghost is a unique process: Matthew’s grandfather’s sequence included; blowing open six windows, levitating Matthew’s dresser and, for good measure, extinguishing six candles.

The thirty year old, who donned dresses at weekends, became accustomed to dressers levitating and windows opening during the potty training years and so, despite needing the security of a night light, the eyes he’d carefully lined with kohl, remained carefully lined.

Several hours later he stabbed a central artery with his brooch pin and bled his life force out onto a McDonald’s Big Mac wrapper. (Fortunately, the floors next mop was scheduled to take place in fifteen minutes.) Matthew’s grandfather was filled with regret as he hovered above Susan –McDonald’s newest recruit -: having the ability to say I told you so would have provided tremendous ammunition during the centuries to follow.

George MacDonald’s ‘Phantasies’: Alice’s darker sibling and C.S.Lewis’s inspiration

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‘I regard George MacDonald as my master’ wrote  C.S Lewis of the pioneering Scottish fantasy writer and Christian minister born in Aberdeen in 1824. 

Although surprisingly obscure today, the list of writers inspired by MacDonald’s literary endeavors includes eminent figures such as Tolkien, Carroll, Nesbit and Auden. The Scott himself though, found inspiration through German Religious theory, fantasy and nature. The consequential heterodox theology however, which formed the basis of his preaching’s, found little favour among his Arundel church parish and after struggling on a salary accordingly reduced by £50 per anum, MacDonald was forced to leave.

Unperturbed, the Scott constructed an alter of words with the help of the German Marchen, (a genre which, for want of a more fitting translation, we term ‘Fairy Tale’.) By employing fantasy as a means of illustrating his beliefs it is arguable that the preacher was enabled to leave a greater mark on civilisation, if not through his own work directly, then through that which it inspired. Arguably one of MacDonald’s most successful results is ‘Phantastes’, a Bildungsroman described its author as a ‘faerie romance for men and women’ . The winding narrative follows Anodos on a ‘dream like journey across a mysterious landscape’ which, beginning in his bedroom turned grassy glade, follows his metaphorical progress through forests, a labyrinth and the fairy palace.  Similar to Robert Louis Stevenson’s, Jekyll and Hyde, the reader is left to decide how far the story derives from  the ‘wandering dream of a diseased imagination’.

Fans of Alice in Wonderland’s wandering narrative and The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe’s morality laced fantasy will find the lesser know Phantastes a delight.  Even religious skeptics who shy away from Bunyan style allegories will appreciate MacDonald’s eloquently imagined narrative. The stream of language, that appears to echo the flow of the constant lakes/ river’s and seas encountered by Anodos, is reason enough to spend time in MacDonald’s Fairyland.

With its warning of religious currents and reasons why one would avoid Phantastes, this has not been the promotional post MacDonald might have hoped for, nonetheless I urge any interested in fantasy’s origins to have a romp through the fairy land that ‘baptised’ the imagination of Narnia’s creator.

‘It is no use trying to account for things in Fairy Land; and one who travels there soon learns to forget the very idea of doing so, and takes everything as it comes; like a child, who, being in a chronic condition of wonder, is surprised at nothing.’

All quotes are taken from Nick Page’s 2008 Special Annotated Edition

Text originally published in 1858