Writing about writing a book – Day 21 continues

I’m still working on Bill’s backstory, and how he got mixed up in the war, and as a general background to his situation, and life before Davenport.

This is still in his own words:

 

But whether we were stupid or naive, or completely mad, we were all eager to get into battle, filled with the sort of hate only Army propaganda films could fill you with.  They were our enemy, and they deserved to concede or die.

A fresh face in a hardened platoon, I was eager to get on with it.  They looked knowingly, having seen it all before.  No idea of the reality, and no time to tell us.  Have a few beers to celebrate, and then, the next morning, go out on patrol.  No problem.

There was camaraderie, but it was subdued.  We walked single file, the seasoned campaigners in front and at the rear, treading carefully, demanding quiet, and a general cautiousness.  In the middle of nowhere, where only the sound of rain, or the animals and birds for company, we were naive enough to think this was going to be a doddle.

Then it happened, six hours out, and just before we reached a small clearing.  I thought to myself it was odd there should be such a clear space with jungle all around it.  There must be a reason.

There was.

We had walked into an ambush, and everyone hit the ground.  I was bringing up the rear with another soldier, a veteran not much older than myself whose name was Scotty, a little farther back from the main group.  Bullets sprayed the undergrowth, pinging off trees and leaves.  I buried my face in the dirt, praying I would not die on my first patrol.

We became separated from the others, lying in a hollow, with no idea how far away help was.  He was muttering to himself.  “God, I hate this.  You can never see the bastards.  They’re out there, but you can never bloody well see them.”  Then he crawled up the embankment, gun first.

He let off a few rounds, causing a return of machine-gun fire, spattering the dirt at the top.  Next thing I knew he was sliding down the hill with half his face shot away.  Dead.  I threw up there and then.  What an initiation.

Then one of the enemy soldiers came over the hill to check on his ‘kill’.  I saw him at the same time he saw me and aimed my gun and shot.  It was instinct more than anything else, and I hadn’t stopped to think of the consequences.  He fell down, finishing up next to me, staring at me from black, lifeless eyes. 

Dead. 

I’ll never forget those lifeless eyes.  I just got up and ran, making it back to the rest of the group without getting hit.  No one could explain how I made it safely through the hail of gunfire, from our side and theirs.

Back in the camp later, the veterans remarked on how unlucky Scotty was and how lucky I was to shoot one of the enemies, and not be killed myself.  They all thought it was worth a celebration.

Before we went out the next day to do it all again.

I spent the night vomiting, unable to sleep, haunted look on his face, one I finally realized that reflected complete astonishment.

 

There will be more, as the story develops.

 

© Charles Heath 2016-2020

Short story writing, don’t try this at home (5)

This is not meant to be a treatise on short story writing.  Far be it for me to advise anyone on the subject.  I prefer to say how it is that I do it so you can learn all of the pitfalls in one go.

Now, there’s this thing called continuity, but it covers a whole range of writing sins, most of which I eventually get caught out.  Films sometimes miss a few items, like back in the roman days, there are plane trails in the sky, in a 1920’s period piece, there’s a mobile phone sitting on a desk.

Like one minute the hero has a gun, and the next he’s fighting for his life with a knife, and, hey presto, there’s that gun again.  The error might not be that big but you can’t pull out a weapon you don’t have or wasn’t there in the first place.

Similarly, the hero pulls out a mobile phone, but there’s only one problem, it’s 1980, and there are no mobile phones.  Our problem might be that we are so used to doing and using certain things that we might forget, for a minute or two, that were not available in the past.

The same goes for the fashion of the day.

And my all-time favourite, getting the right make and model of car.

Oh, and just for good measure, back in the old days they used acoustic couplers to attach to phones via a serial port to dial-up not a server, but a BBS, Bulletin Board Service, at a rate of 300 baud, or a little while later, 1,200 baud.

There was no internet in general use.  If you wanted to call the office when out, use a telephone box.  Or carrier pigeon.

And the use of language, there’s a lot of stuff relevant today that was not used back then, and there was a lot of stuff back then that isn’t tolerated now.  Some of it might be hard to get your head around.  It isn’t for me, because I can remember the 1970s and 1980s, but I’m not too sure about allowing some of what happened then to creep into my work.

So, you get the picture.  Try to use the past as the past, or leave it in the past.

Unless it’s a book about time travel, then all bets are off.

Conversation with my cat – 82

This is Chester.

It’s been a long summer, and it’s not only the heat that’s been bothering him.

It’s been school holidays, and along with many households where it’s not possible for parents to go on holidays, it falls to the grand parents to mind children. It’s a job I take seriously, and also a time to be spent with them before they grow up and disappear into the adult world.

Chester, however, only sees it from a cat’s point of view. To him, they’re trouble, but perhaps not without reason. They did torment him something terrible when they were young.

Of course, what he fails to realise is that children when young don’t quite understand animal etiquette, that is they should be treated with care.

But, I said in their defence, when you were a kitten you were an absolute monster, sinking your claws into everything, ruined lounge chairs and curtains, unravelled balls of wool, and, this was the cruncher, refused to chase mice.

Of course, as usual, when the arguement goes against him, those eyes close, and he pretends he’s asleep. It doesn’t fool me. But once that happens, no one scores any points.

And something else I’ve noticed, his memory is fading.

Of course, I didn’t tell him that they don’t officially go back till Wednesday, so he’s in for a surprise tomorrow morning.

Past conversations with my cat – 43

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This is Chester, he’s just reminded me that it is International Cat Day.

I ask, are you really an international cat, because you live here, and haven’t travelled anywhere.

A studious glance at me, then at a map of the word, he then tells me I haven’t taken him anywhere, but he’s been with me in spirit.

Yes, and while I’m away, well, you know how it goes…

Again apparently that was my fault, I didn’t leave strict instructions on what he could or could not do.

I thought we’d set those boundaries a long time ago.

I’m old, is the quick retort,  Memory is failing.  I’m lucky if I can remember what I was doing yesterday.  You’ll have to remind me.

Every morning.

And even then I might still have trouble remembering.

Anyway, don’t you humans have a saying, respect your elders?

OK.  Now we’re back on the age thing.  And, by the way, I don’t think my granddaughter gave you permission to sleep on her pillow.

Seems it’s my turn to eave in a huff!

International cat day?????

 

Short Story Writing, don’t try this at home (4)

This is not meant to be a treatise on short story writing.  Far be it for me to advise anyone on the subject.  I prefer to say how it is that I do it so you can learn all of the pitfalls in one go.

I find inspiration in the most unlikely places.

Shopping malls are great, there is so many things going on, so many different types of people, there’s often enough to fill a journal.

Driving on the roads, you get to see some of the most amazing stunt driving, and it’s not even being filmed, it’s just playing out before your very eyes.

Waiting in hospitals, waiting for doctors, accountants, dentists, friends, hanging around coffee shops, cafes, bistros, restaurants, the list is endless.

But the best source, newspapers, and the more obscure the headline the better, and then just let your imagination run free, like:

Four deaths, four mysteries, all homeless.

This poses a few interesting scenarios, such as, were they homeless or were they made to look like they’re homeless.  Are they connected in any way?

The point is, far from the original story that simply covers four seemingly random murders, a writer can turn this into a thriller very easily.

It could follow a similar headline in another country where three headlines could be found, say, in London, where a man is found dead in an abandoned building, a week after he died, with no obvious signs of how he died.

A woman is killed in what seems from the outset an accident involving two cars, where, after three days, the driver of the second vehicle just simply disappears.

A man is reported missing after not reporting for work when he was supposed to return from a vacation in Germany.

Where an obscure piece says that a man was found at the bottom of a mountain, presumed to have fallen in a climbing accident.

It’s all in the joining of the dots.

 

Writing about writing a book – Day 21

I’m back to writing Bill’s backstory, and how he got mixed up in the war, and a few other details which will play out later on.

This will be some of it, in his own words:

 

I think I volunteered for active duty in Vietnam.

It was either that, or I had been volunteered by my prospective father in law.  I was serving under his command in an Army Camp for some time, and unbeknownst to me for a time, I had been dating his daughter.

The daughter of a General.  It was like that old adage, ‘marrying the bosses daughter’.  Only this boss was the bastard of all bastards.  When he found out, my life became hell.  He told me, as a Corporal, I was far beneath his expectations of the right man for his daughter.  He thought she would be better off with a Colonel.

Then I got my orders.  I was to join the latest batch of nashos on their way to the latest theatre of war.  But before that, Ellen, a woman with a mind of her own, and sometimes daring enough to defy her father, said we should get married, and I being the young fool I did, in a registry office, the day before I left for the war.

I promised to be faithful, as all newly married men did, and that I would come back to her.  We had all heard the stories coming out of South East Asia, where the war was not going so well, for us, or the Americans, and that this was a last-ditch effort.

When we landed, we were greeted by the men leaving.  They were glad to be going home.  And some of the stories, I chose not to believe them.  Nothing could be as bad as they painted it.

Could it?

 

I’d been trained for war.  I could handle a weapon, several actually, and or I could if I had to kill the enemy.  After all, it was my job.  I was defending Queen and country.

I was a regular soldier, not a nasho.  Not one of the mostly terrified boys who’d hardly reached anything approaching manhood, some all gung-ho, others frightened out of their minds.  As a regular soldier, this was where I was supposed to be.

But being sent to a war to fight, and having to fight, I soon discovered were two very different things.  On the training ground, even training with live ammunition, being shot at, mortared, and chased through the jungles of North Queensland, it was not the same, on the ground in Saigon.

It was relentlessly hot, steamy, raining, and fine.  Or dry and dusty.  But in any of the conditions, it was uncomfortable being hot all the time.  During the day, and during the night.

Then we were sent out to join various units.  Mine was north, where, I wasn’t quite sure, where the motley remains of the group were bolstered by us, new people.  Morale was not good, as we arrived in the torrential rain in an air transport that had seen better days, and notable for two events, the fact we were shot at several times and taking out the first casualty before we arrived, and the near-crash landing when we did.

I soon learned the value of the statement, ‘any landing you walk away from is a good one’.

 

Yes, seems like a good start to a bad end.  More on this tomorrow while I’m in the mood.

 

© Charles Heath 2016-2018

The January update…

So, where am I in the greater scheme of things?

Still scribbling frantically.  January is usually the time of the year we go jetting off to somewhere exotic, or, rather, somewhere very cold because here it is usually 36 degrees centigrade plus 100 percent humidity, day after day after day.

Well, this is me, stuck in the endless heat, slowly melting away.

And writing.

I have had a few great ideas springing out of the void, while I’m trying very hard not to think about how hot it is, or how recalcitrant Chester can be when he is hot.  What I don’t get is that in winter he will sit on top of the fire where it is about 2000 degrees and yet in 34-degree heat, he complains.

But enough about the cat…

With one of my stories, back in WW2, I’ve finally got to the back story of the man on the run from the Reich, a rocket scientist seeking a better life.  He is heading for the castle in southern Italy, not knowing that there’s a bunch of Nazi’s waiting for him to send him back home.

Of course, there is a hero, but he’s with the resistance and doesn’t know who the high-value target is that he’s supposed to save.

Where it is now, the scientist is stuck at Brenner Pass in the forest freezing and waiting for the Germans to find him.  Or not.

It’s still a work in progress, but the last episode is here:  http://bit.ly/2R6Dgiu

On another front, there is the Treasure story, one that I’ve been meaning to write ever since I read Stevenson’s Treasure Island.  My characters are not quite as colorful, but…

Our intrepid searchers are now up to the part where they’re trying to work out which part of the Florida coastline matches their map, and that’s no mean feat.

Especially when there are others, two groups in fact, who are also trying to find it.

This will all play out over the next few episodes but for the latest:

http://bit.ly/2RiseIa

Yes, there are two other stories, but I’ll let you know about them later.