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.

Arnold The Mickey Taker (A Serial Killer Mouse flash fiction)

Because it was a Thursday, that meant wearing a red tie. This was a problem for Arnold because his red tie was splattered with blood.
Most serial killers who wore red ties on Thursday’s would argue that a red tie, splattered with red blood, posed little problem. Arnold however, was a meticulous mouse. His work was inspired by that of Jack the Ripper and he was as precise with his attire as he was with his slicings. That the blood had sprayed his custom Saville Row tie in the first place was considered as an insult to his professional integrity. The majority of Arnold’s victims had the decency to spill their life blood neatly when Arnold severed their arteries. It was a small price to pay for the devoted attention he bestowed on the limbs of pretend mice across the globe.
The Parisian mouse though, who Arnold located grinning in front of Space Mountain, had been from defiant from the start. Arnold reprimanded himself: he should have known to don his anorak when the Space Mountain Mickey had the audacity to question his motives. Astoundingly, the villain hadn’t understood that men in oversized mice costumes were a derogative mockery of mouse kind. In general the pretend – insult – to – Mouse kind Mickey’s accepted their crime and fate without a dot to dot illustration of the offense their existence represented. It was only to be expected that Arnold was infuriated when he slashed through the fur with his samurai and into the squirming flesh beneath. His psychologist had informed him that I wasn’t his ruined tie that had upset him, but how it represented his precision as being impaired. This knowledge though, was doing little to soothe his soul.
As Arnold consented to wear his black Friday tie fifteen minutes before he was due at the office, he contemplated the vengeance he would reap on the next Mickey Taker. Perhaps he’d make a holiday of it and visit Florida to conduct pest control? He managed a smile at the thought of severing through the wrist tendons of Disneyworld’s overgrown pretenders. That would stop them from their incessant waving.

Writing stories and raising money

 

Unable to damn the flood of panic that had broken forth, they ran from the baying cries and the anomaly that hung from the sky. 

Humphrey stared at his sentence.

At some point, it had leapt from his brain to the page and landed as a scribble. Flecks of ink dotted the surrounding page in testament. Humphrey re-wrote the words below a network of heavily lined sentences: his attempts at continuation. He wrote neatly and willed each word that left him to replenish his work with meaning.

Luckily for Humphrey and his vitamin intake, he lived in a time before Facebook made procrastination so possible. Instead, he peeled fruit. Taking little heed of the ink that stained his fingers, the writer stripped his last banana and ate around its bruises. Inadvertently, he read his composition a further thirteen times during the process. By the time he’d flung the peel at the floor to lie starfished with its fallen brethren, he’d accepted that the re-writing process hadn’t worked.

Recently, he’d formulated a theory that self-constructed words have a shelf life. The more they were read, the staler they became. Concerned his words were in danger of rotting, Humphrey wriggled his toes, flexed his fingers and pushed at his desk in order to escape its manacles. He stepped through the debris of a flat consumed by darkness, banana skins and discarded garments, and like a new-born fawn learning to walk, lurched into the daylight concealed behind his front door. He paid little heed to his direction, conscious only of his need to escape the gloom and the words that spun on repeat through his mind.

Sometime after he’d recovered full control of his motor skills, Humphrey noticed Babbage’s Lost and Found Shop. It was curious that he did, or rather, curious that he hadn’t before. Weekly he walked this road and not once had he noticed the gleam of Babbage’s chandeliers. He was especially puzzled by the Roman Empire artefacts and the shrunken heads that hung from the window; surely they stood out on a street that specialised in vegetables?

As a boy Humphrey had collected butterflies. A childhood of relocations however, had resulted in his collection becoming lost. Consequently, when he spotted a Darwinian set colouring the shop front, he willingly tarnished his reputation as an aloof writer by running with a squawk into the shop.

A sky light allowed luminous shards to bounce between the collection of medieval shields that hung from the ceiling. Fragments of coloured glass sucked in the light as it passed and fractured it into oil slicks of colour. Emerald greens, crimson reds and royal blues drifted through the air like portals to other worlds whilst dust particles floated in between as if in currents on unseen seas.

Humphrey however, failed to appreciate the intricacies of Babbage’s lightning arrangements. He’d also devoted very little attention to the crystal balls, medicine bottles, Shakespearean busts, recipe books, pressed flowers, ancient bookcases, stuffed jays, sundials, greying silver brooches and dinosaur skeletons that consumed what was once the room’s surfaces. It would be unrealistic therefore to expect him to have noted the men and woman who, like the light, were being sucked into the room. His attention you see was entirely pinned by the butterflies. Boyhood memories fluttered through his minds windows and dragged with them, the inspiration of his youth.

 His brain fizzed as if someone had dissolved a Berroca in it. The plot twists, character traits and dialogue that had earlier eluded him now hovered in perfect literary alignment at his minds forefront.

‘Good afternoon sir. Are you here for the two o’clock tour?’ Mr Babbage said, not expecting a response. He’d learnt to recognise the symptoms of what he termed “the writing trance”; a state of mind that regularly ensnared his visitors in a creative frenzy. Early symptoms included;  frantic eyes, restless hand movements, lack of motion and an inability to communicate with the outside world. This gentleman was exhibiting all of then.

 ’A no, then,’ Mr Babbage said to himself. He steered the writer, whose hands traced the air as if it were paper, onto a Chaise Lounge at the front of the shop.  The tourists who defied the enchantments of his shop, loved it when there was a new exhibit.

He had been alarmed twenty-four years ago when Miss Maple fell into a trance in front of the silverware. Equally bewildered where the doctors, police, fire brigade and hypnotist, none of whom were able to establish communications with the woman who only moved her hands. Eventually falling back on his sleepwalking research, a specialist ordered no more attempts to be made at waking her. Mr Babbage, recognising the hand motions as being those of a writer, had been providing her with the pens and paper, which for nearly a quarter of a century, she’d transformed into bestsellers. In return she became his first live exhibit.

Twenty-four years later and Mr Babbage had installed twenty-four tubes into his shop which allowed him to feed his enchanted writers. Some writers he’d left where they were found; on top of bookcases, under pianos or in suits of armour, others were relocated as and when they needed sunlight (or haircuts). Through his public tours of the live literary exhibits, Mr Babbage had raised thousands of pounds for The National Literacy Trust. Hundreds of formerly disadvantaged groups had been helped to improve their literacy and lives through the writing produced by Mr Babbage’s lost and found writers.

Humphrey was the perfect new addition.

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Tomorrow myself and a team of writing mentors will enter Babbage’s Lost and Found shop and collectively begin to write for 24 hours. We won’t let our pencils rest till 12pm on Wednesday the 26th because as many as 1 in 6 in the UK struggles with poor literacy skills. Please help me support the work of The National Literacy Trust http://www.justgiving.com/writingmentor

 

Transition to the ‘Grown-up World’

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I studied for a degree in English and Creative writing not because I knew I’d step out of my graduation garb into a successful career woman’s, but because I love literature. Consequently, it was easy to disregard the recurring ‘what are you going to do with that’ inquisition; it’s surprising how many strangers have shown such concern for my future.

Blissfully ignorant of the tribulations encompassed by life on the outskirts of the job market, I submitted my first applications with a surety I now find hilarious. It was only when Christmas lurked, and my rejection letter pile stack rivalled Santa’s Christmas post, that I began to despair of obtaining a fulfilling job. Graduate’s hunting for an entrance into that proud parent making world, will appreciate why I consider the phrase ‘experience required’, as something that Satan coined during a break from torching villains.

Like the bad student I was, (or good depending on your perspective), I’d spent my formative University years constructing cardboard forts, marrying my flat mate in a mock marriage, dancing on Cuba’s bar and gallivanting across the globe. I won’t ever regret this time, in fact, I urge every first year to dedicate some time to fort construction and bad dancing, (although you can skip on the fake marriage, in retrospect that was weird). What I’m here to advocate though, is the prompt gathering of ‘experience’. Unfortunately, whilst third year is generally when one starts hearing grownup life’s call, it’s also when you have the most work and least time to devote to preparation. Personally, I spent third year in hibernation with my text books and laptop. The thought of adding additional work to my load seemed implausible. Consequently, here I am five months after graduation, a ‘telephone marketing executive’ by night so that I can afford to be a witting mentor, cultural reviewer, literary researcher and marketer by day. In an ideal world, and a world I will live in by next year, the day time work of this writer will be what pays the rent. Just because that’s not the case now doesn’t mean I can’t make it so.

In summary, I have three nuggets of counsel to offer;

  • Experience; you need it. Even if it means you have less summer holiday or forgo your hangover day, pester local companies for voluntary work. I can’t explain how much employers, who will receive hundreds of identical graduate applications, value these experiences.
  • Ignore the implications of the ‘what are you going to do with that’ question. Even if there’s not a paved path leading you directly from University into your perfect career, doesn’t mean one can’t be made.
  • Don’t Worry. I speak from the depths of the despondency and worry pit that graduates find so easy to fall into. Just because you don’t land your dream job the day after graduation doesn’t mean you aren’t ever going to get it.