May 25, 2015

Why Do You Sometimes Need To Fail?

In my Creativity series, I’ve talked about why having too many ideas can be as bad as having too few, and the value of creative rule systems. Today I want to talk about something that is currently very close to my heart.

It is perfectly okay to not be excellent at everything you do first time out. You are allowed, nay encouraged, to suck at stuff.

Failing is something that humans do a lot – it’s why we have version control. Trouble is, we’re constantly bombarded with images of perfection that we feel we can’t fail, or everyone around us will instantly flick into judgemental mode.

It’s also something that happens a lot to creative types, and it’s something that can easily provoke all kinds of crises when it does happen. From the failure of the absymal first draft that you’d rather use as toilet paper to the attempt at a new painting medium that turns your creative output into something fit only for your mother’s fridge door, we panic when we fail. We’re supposed to be good at this stuff, right?

Well you have two choices. You can fail, and give up. Or you can fail, grimace, and have another go.

Don’t be like Homer.

1) If at first you don’t succeed…improve it later.

Some people are perfectly okay with failing, and they’re able to look at why they failed, and improve that little aspect so that next time they do better. It’s a process of constant refinement. This is essentially the point of failure – it forces you to get things right. If you continually succeeded first time round, you’d get bored, because you’d never be challenged – and whatever you did do would end up sub-standard because you’d never have to try. But if you constantly have something to tweak, streamline or practice, you have something that inspires and motivates you to get better at whatever it is you’re trying to do.

After all, you can’t get into a car for the first time and expect to drive like Lewis Hamilton, so why would you try writing and berate yourself for not immediately being J. R. R. Tolkien?

2) Don’t pressure yourself to succeed first time out.

Occasionally you’ll have a go at something and be a natural. It’ll all fall into place, and you’ll think “Hey, this is easy!” If that happens, then go with it. Embrace it. But remember that you’ll still need to practice. But if it doesn’t happen, and in all honesty it probably won’t, then don’t berate yourself for it. Ask yourself this – did you enjoy whatever it was you tried? If you didn’t, are you likely to enjoy it if you improve? If you did, then don’t you want to continue doing it just for the enjoyment of it? After all, the more you do something, the better you’ll get anyway. It’s just practice.

Picture by Roger McLassus

3) Use mistakes to your advantage.

Not every mistake is a bad thing. The slinky, penicillin, potato chips, pacemakers, microwaves, Scotchguard and Post-It notes all started out when their creators tried to do something else. Just because something doesn’t turn out the way you wanted it to doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong – it’s just different, and could potentially be better. So that historical romance you tried to write which turned into steampunk, or the political thriller that became a sci-fi epic, isn’t a mistake, it’s just not your original intention.

Whether you ultimately improve or not is entirely up to the amount of time you do, or don’t, devote to practice, but don’t immediately give up as soon as you fail. Just try again!

May 22, 2015

#FridayFlash – Homemade Gods

Los Angeles County Museum of Art, via Wikimedia Commons

“Night night, Ekkor.” Pyotr leaned into the child’s bedroom to snuff out the candle.

“No, I want a story first!” Ekkor held his blanket up to his chin, eyes wide in the flickering light. His gaze kept returning to the crude wooden figures on his window sill. Pyotr sighed – there would be no sleep for his nephew if he didn’t come up with a story.

“Alright then, but just a short one. What kind of story shall it be?”

“Tell me about the homemade gods.” Again Ekkor looked at the figures at the window. One of them still bore a smudge of blood on his back, testament to Pyotr’s youthful ineptitude at carving.

Pyotr crossed the room and perched on the edge of Ekkor’s bed.

“Long ago, our people realised that the gods weren’t detached beings that lived in the clouds, they were actually part of the world around us. People could call on what they needed, and get through tough times. But one day a very clever man realised that if he made a figure and gave it a name, it bound that quality to the figure, and it was easier to use it again in future.

“The only problem was, if someone else called your figure by its name, then you lost your claim over it, and the other person could use it against you. A grandfather found that out the hard way when his grandson asked him the names of his gods. The grandfather told him, thinking he might need to use them if he was out at the market and the grandson was at home, but then the grandson used the names to command the gods.”

“What did he do with them?” Ekkor whispered from beneath his blanket.

“He got them to hurt his grandfather so he would inherit his land.”

“That’s awful!”

“It is. So people started to make sure they didn’t share the names of the gods they created with anyone else. But the gods were crafty, and they made sure that a person couldn’t command them to attack someone else who had gods of their own, and so peace came to our little corner of the world.”

“What does that one do?” asked Ekkor in a tiny voice. His finger appeared at the hem of his blanket, and he pointed at the figure on the windowsill.

“He is for protection, he’ll stand guard over you. People with gods of their own might not send harm, but there are other things in this world that will. But you don’t need to fear them while he is here.”

“What’s he called?”

Pyotr laughed, and stood up.

“I’m not falling for that, Ekkor! Just rest assured that he’ll look after you, as will I. Now get some sleep. You’re perfectly safe here.”

Pyotr ruffled Ekkor’s hair and snuffed out the candle on his way out of the room. He followed the passage away from the sleeping quarters and into his workshop. More figures lay on his bench in various stages of completion, some carved from wood, and others sculpted in clay. He picked up his knife and a small man with the head of a ram and the tail of a lion. Moments later, a handful of wood shavings lay on the floor, and the finished figure was in his hand.

He raised the figure to his lips and whispered into its ear.

“I name you Hok-Pyr-Wyrd, and you will guard against inquisitive minds seeking names they are not to know.”

Pyotr took the figure to the front door of the house, and stood it on a shelf with a range of other homemade gods. He moved Hok-Pyr-Wyrd so that he faced the sleeping quarters, and headed towards his own bedroom.

He might have caught out his grandfather but his nephew would not pull the same trick on him.

This flash was inspired by a comment from Nerine Dorman about a misspelling, turning homemade goods into DIY deities!

May 19, 2015

#Craftblogclub Gift Swap Reveal

Back in March, the #CraftBlogClub community started on the latest group challenge, the Spring Clean Gift Swap! The concept was simple – we had to create and send a gift to a fellow #CraftBlogClub-ee, using only the materials we had at home. This tied in with the ‘spring clean’ theme, to use up those materials that have been lying around, or need a bit of love to get them out of our stashes. I was really lucky to get the lovely Nadia from Abso-knitting-lutely as my recipient, and by an even bigger stroke of luck she got me!

As Nadia does such lovely knitwear and crochet work, I thought it would be silly to make something yarn-related, so I went down the jewellery route instead. First up was this bracelet.

It’s a simple charm bracelet base, with acrylic leaves in autumnal shades as charms. I got the charms a while ago, and the pink/purple/white versions are in this bracelet that I have for sale on Etsy. I’ve been wondering what to do with the autumn colours, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to use them!

I also made a choker as well, using acrylic beads in a hammered bronze finish, and a metallic coffee colour. It’s nice and chunky, and the tiger tail core makes it flexible but durable.

I’ve been reliably informed that Nadia likes them both!

I was very lucky to get some beautiful crochet work in return, and I’m using Nadia’s photos from her blog post because they’re way better than the ones I tried to take! First up is this gorgeous rose garland.

I think I’ll hang this one up in the office at work – it’s so pretty. Here’s Nadia’s post about it in case you want to make one too (and I totally think you should). But wait – there’s more! I also got this funky sparkly black spiderweb garland – I’m torn between hanging it in my room from my book shelves, or wearing it like a scarf!

If you like the sound of #Craftblogclub, come and join us at the hashtag on Twitter every Tuesday between 7-8.30pm GMT!

May 18, 2015

Can rules help or hinder creativity?

Paintbrushes. © John Morgan 2008.

Last week I talked about why having too many ideas can be as bad as having too few, but this week I want to continue the theme of ‘Creativity’ by looking at the value of creative rule systems.

Stop shuddering at the back there.

Rules do not inhibit creativity. In fact, you could argue that they promote creativity through the need for flexible thinking.

For example, I’ve been writing stories to post on my blog every Friday since around 2010 as part of the Friday Flash community. The rules? The stories must be 1000 words or less, and be a self-contained story that is shared with others. You comment on the flashes of others, and they comment on yours. Sure, we all sometimes bend the rules a little to turn a single flash into the start of a serial, but all subsequent episodes will still fall within the 1000 word limit.

The beauty of the word limit is it forces you to prune your writing back to what is absolutely necessary to tell the story. You can use it as a playground to explore ideas that you’ll later flesh out through short stories or novels. By learning how to prune, you’re teaching yourself out to write more tightly, and even edit your own work. Neat, eh?

This is one of my favourite street names. © Icy Sedgwick 2013.

Say you’re an artist, and you want to impose a creative rule. You’ll make a project where every aspect can only be coloured using cyan, magenta, yellow or black. It forces you to think more creatively about what you can or can’t include, which will strengthen the final pieces. So you want to do something green or orange? Set up a separate project for that!

Maybe you want to explore photography – challenge yourself to take a new photograph every day for a week, or a month (I did the #imageaday challenge in 2013). Why not make yourself take a photograph of wherever you are at 8:30am every Thursday? (Actually, I might try that)

I drew my fortune cookie, and the fortune inside it. © Icy Sedgwick 2015.

I’ve been trying to impose a creative rule on myself to create one new drawing every day. I don’t always manage it, but I’ve certainly been trying, and I’m going to make myself do it going forward so it becomes a habit. The benefits are;

  • I use it as a way to try out a new technique or medium,
  • If it doesn’t work out, it’s alright because I haven’t spent a lot of time on it,
  • I can start to develop my own style by learning what works and what doesn’t work.

Creativity is like a muscle – the more you exercise it, the easier it becomes to use it. I certainly want to impose a new creative rule to write something every day. I have lots of commitments but I can easily squeeze in 100-250 words every day – anything more is a bonus. So it doesn’t matter if it’s on an existing project, or just a vignette – I want to fill my notebook with creative writing every day.

If you’re interested in rule systems and how they can help creativity, check out this video by Kate Bingaman Burt on automated directives and creative rule systems! A lot of what she says applies to photography or illustration, but you could easily substitute those for blog posts, writing, knitting, or any other creative endeavour!

What do you think about creative rule systems? Do you use any?

May 15, 2015

#FridayFlash – Don’t Lose Your Head

Cryogenics, from the National Institute of Standards and Technology

I lie in my hospital bed, feeling the life slowly drain out of my body. It started in my toes and worked its way up my legs. Now I can’t feel anything below my hips. This should worry me, or send me into a panic, but it doesn’t. Death won’t be the end, not for me. I’ve made plans. I’ll just sleep away the years until science can regrow a new body for me. Ah, they’re here now, I can see the collection team out of the corner of my eye. I expected them to have saws, or at least some kind of container for my head, but they don’t. I suppose they’ll do that sort of work away from the hospital. They talk to me, offering reassuring platitudes, but their voices grow dim and I close my eyes. A figure comes for me, and I can’t decide if it is Death or Sleep before the world goes dark.

* * *

My eyes flutter open before I realise I am awake. Panic crashes over me in an awesome wave. Where am I? What’s going on? My eyes won’t focus properly and I can’t blink properly. All I can see is a dim haze of white, traced with dark grey, like crystals of frost on a windscreen. Cold fluid fills my nostrils and ears, and the shouting going on beyond my vision sounds as if it were miles away. Who’s shouting? Shouldn’t I be asleep in the facility? A needle of hope pierces the panic – maybe they’ve found a way to bring me back, to add my head to a new body.

Suddenly a dark shadow passes before the white haze in front of me, and the fluid around me moves. It’s more like syrup than water, and I move with it, first towards the white haze, and then to the side. The voices are louder now, but I can’t recognise the words. I don’t think I even know what language it is. This can’t be good. I slide forwards again and my forehead bumps against the white haze, which feels a lot like glass on my preserved skin. There is another jolt and I slip back into sleep.

* * *

Bright light stings my eyes when I try to open them. There is no white haze this time, no cold fluid on my face, just cool air and battered strip lights overhead. I part my lips and waggle my tongue. I am aware of a body below my neck, but it does not feel like my body. This body feels…alien. The doctors warned me of this, and I look around to try and see where they are. I expect to find myself in a recovery room, surrounded by whatever futuristic technology now exists, but my heart drops when I see cracked tiled walls coated in mildew. Broken ceiling tiles lean against the strip lights, and the only clean thing in the room seems to be the stainless steel bench that runs the length of one wall. There are no windows.

I try to lift an arm, not expecting the nerves to be bedded in yet, but to my surprise the arm moves. I lift it into my view, and recoil in horror. The arm is shiny and black, with scales where my flesh should be, and it terminates in vicious claws. The fluorescent light dances along their serrated edges. What is this? This cannot be my arm. I raise the other arm, and find it to be the same. A scream threatens to erupt but it dies in my throat when my body sits up of its own accord. The rest of my new body matches my arms – shiny black scales covering hard muscle, with long feet topped by more claws. It gets worse when I spot the long tail lying between my legs. It tapers to a razor sharp point, a stinging barb meant only for fatal wounds.

My body helps me to stand up, and vertigo grips me when I realise that the body is friendly. A series of clicks and whirrs unspool in my mind, and even though they sound like the chittering of insects, I understand them. The body is greeting me. Worse, it is glad I am awake. It reassures me that it knows what it’s doing. I expect to feel unbalanced, or unable to walk, but the body takes me across the room in graceful strides. It opens the door, wrapping its claws around the handle.

A maze of corridors lie beyond the door, but the body seems to know where it’s going. Panic and confusion have paralysed me, and it is oddly comforting to let the body do whatever it wants to do. It moves along the corridors with ease, its claws clicking on the broken linoleum floor. I cannot bring myself to call them my claws, even if my head is attached to its body.

We pass a stainless steel cupboard, polished to a high shine, and I sneak a glance at my reflection. The body looks much as I expected it to, but I didn’t expect my face to be covered with the same shiny black scales. Two small buds sit on my forehead – are they horns?

The body carries me onward before I can ponder further. I decide to ask it what is going on. It chuckles – it actually chuckles – and explains that I am in the future, only by sixty years. It was not human technology that thawed my head and gave me a new body – it was theirs. I am theirs.

A crack appears in my mind, and part of me teeters on the brink. I am no longer myself.

We reach a set of stairs, and the body begins to climb upwards, explaining it does not like elevators. I nod, remembering my human claustrophobia. Our claws click on the stairs as we head towards our new life.

May 13, 2015

Forthcoming story in the Masks anthology

Masks cover artwork by James Powell

I had two stories publishing in anthologies in 2014 (‘A Woman of Disrepute’ in Suspended in Dusk and ‘The Cursed One in European Monsters), and I’m happy to announce I have a story in the forthcoming Masks anthology, compiled and edited by Dean M Drinkel with the UK-based KnightWatch Press.

Inspired by Eleanor Rigby, the 1966 song by the Beatles, ‘The Jar by the Door’ is more gory than I’d normally write, reducing humans to their faces and skins. I’ve always loved the line “Wearing a face that she keeps in a jar by the door”, which is a wonderful mental image! It would certainly make it much quicker to get ready in the morning, though it would no doubt put a dent in the beauty industry’s profits.

The table of contents features a range of talented writers, and I’m pleased to be a part of the anthology!

‘Many Happy Returns’ – Kyle Rader
‘Trixie’ – Christopher L Beck
‘An Absent Host’ – F.A. Nosić
‘Variety Night’ – Russell Proctor
‘The Silencing Machine’ – Clockhouse Writers
‘After The End’ – Christine Morgan / Lucas Williams
‘The Face Collector’ – Stephanie Ellis
‘The Jar By The Door’ – me
‘Porcelain’ – James Everington
‘The Man Who Fed The Foxes’ – Phil Sloman
‘The House Of A Thousand Faces’ – Chris Stokes
‘Blood, Gingerbread and Life’ – David T Griffith
‘His Last Portrait’ – Adrian Cole

If you are interested in reviewing Masks before publication, please send an inquiry to [email protected]

May 11, 2015

Why Having Too Many Ideas Is As Bad As Not Having Enough

If you read any blogs about writing, or follow any writers on Twitter, then you’ll probably notice a lot of writers complain about having too many ideas.

Too many ideas?!

It’s hardly a complaint designed to engender sympathy, if you’re one of those writers who doesn’t feel they have enough. A productive writer will sit somewhere between the two – able to generate ideas, but possessed of the ability to know which to pursue, and which to discard.

But how do you reach that stage?

Not Having Enough Ideas

There are two main reasons why you might feel you don’t have enough ideas: the first being a worry about plagiarism, the second being an inability to recognise an idea when you have one. Let’s look at them individually and see how to possibly fix them.

WORRYING ABOUT PLAGIARISM
It’s easy to think that you don’t have enough ideas for fiction, especially if you examine every idea that you have and realise you’ve seen it done before elsewhere. If this is you – stop. Don’t discard an idea just because it’s similar to an idea already in the public domain. Look at your idea – how can you tell your story differently?

Many stories rely on the idea of not knowing what you truly have until it’s gone (Back to the Future II, It’s A Wonderful Life, Shrek Forever After) but they’re all different in execution. So your solution is to work on your ideas when you have them, hammer them into a shape unique to you, and you’ll soon find you have more ideas than you thought.

RECOGNISE YOUR IDEAS
If you feel that you’re finding trouble generating ideas, then stop to consider how much material you have in your life around you. If you work every waking hour, never read a book or watch a film, and have no time for newspapers or even watching the news, then how do you expect your brain to have fresh material to twist into the spark of an idea?

Buy a book of writing prompts. Read a few pages of a novel. Watch a short film on Youtube. Use the random article finder on Wikipedia and read about something new. Check out The Commons on Flickr. Jolting your brain out of its routine will get the creative gears going again and you might find you start getting new ideas at random times as your mind fuses the new influx of data with what it already knows.

Having Too Many Ideas

Obviously, if you have too many ideas, then either of the former scenarios might seem like paradise to you. Having too many ideas is like receiving hundreds of designs from a logo design contest and having to choose just one. It becomes a tedious task weeding the good from the bad. It’s impossible for a writer to pursue every single idea that they have, and while that might send you into a panicked flutter in which you worry that you don’t have enough time to write them all, I need you to sit down and recognise the basic truth that not all of your ideas are even worth exploring.

There, I said it. Now, what are you going to do about it?

CHOOSE YOUR FOCUS
First of all, you need to decide which of your zillions of ideas to focus on. Write them all out, and add a couple of explanatory sentences. If you’ve already got a rough outline in mind, then by all means write that down as well. Now you have a record that you can refer to whenever you want.

See? No idea has been lost. Now, I want you to put it aside and go about your business for a day or two without writing. Which ideas stick with you? Which can’t you stop thinking about? Those are the ideas you should pursue.

COMBINE AND CONQUER!
Write your list of ideas, but this time, consider complementary themes or plotlines. How many of your ideas are similar? Can you combine them? Perhaps one of your ideas isn’t strong enough to carry a story on its own, but it’s perfect as an intriguing side-plot when woven into one of your other ideas. Combining ideas, or parts of ideas, is one way of using the best parts of everything you come up with, while satisfying the need to pursue them all.

Strike A Happy Balance

By now you must have guessed what I was driving at – to be productive, to continue to write and to be able to keep your list topped up with new ideas, you need to find a happy balance between both approaches. On a periodic basis, you might want to follow the idea generating exercise, perhaps spicing it up by adding people-watching or swapping prompts with friends, and then use the filtering methods in order to decide which ones you want to pursue. Plus, if you keep adding to your list every time you have an idea, you’ll never run out…

——————————————————————————————————————

How about you? What approaches do you take when it comes to generating, or filtering, your ideas?

Images courtesy of crazyman, red henry and Ross Moody.

May 8, 2015

#FridayFlash – Broken Windows

graffiti buildingI’m feeling too despondent about the results of the General Election in the UK to write a new flash, so I thought I’d repost this old one from 2013 – dystopian future seemed all too apt. Enjoy.

When we used to watch the apocalypse on TV, we always saw people finding shelter. Old schools, houses, hospitals – anywhere you could lay your hat. Domesticity was restored in unlikely places – heck, plenty of post-apocalyptic shows had people living in houses beset by zombies, while their lawns always looked freshly mown. We all figured “if it ever happens, we’ll be fine. Don’t worry.”

Then the apocalypse happened, like some of us always suspected it would. It wasn’t fine – far from it. Sure, we found places to hide out, to get out of the punishing sun and away from the hundred-mile-an-hour gales that threw sand in your face. But we didn’t think about the windows. When we went looking for new homes, we couldn’t find buildings with glass intact. The walls kept out the sun, but the wind? You need windows to shelter from that.

So we did what we could. We boarded some windows up, or made makeshift shutters. Occasionally we’d duct tape the larger pieces of glass together, but some windows ended up more tape than glass. Mostly we used tarpaulins we hauled out of the vans that didn’t run any more, or plastic sheeting we found in skips or abattoirs. Bin bags were especially useful, and they became a weird kind of currency as we hunkered down in our reclaimed homes, squatting in town halls and shopping centres, trying to reboot society with whatever we had to hand.

It’s funny, we used to watch the world through television screens. Now we watch it through plastic sheeting.

Original image by beermug. Edits by me.

May 1, 2015

#FridayFlash – What Would You Give

Band at the Majestic Ballroom, South Shields

From Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums

I couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment I woke up. One minute my mind was filled with nothing but swirling images that expanded so much they broke apart into tatters, and the next I was in a darkened room. My eyes struggled to focus on the smoke that hung low, clinging to the lamps on the tables like a sea fret. Figures moved through the fug like shadowy demons at twilight.

The clarion call of a saxophone cut through the static in my ears and I tried to sit up. A hand, more like a paw with its stubby fingers and massive palm, pressed on my shoulder and pushed me back down. I stared upwards and a face swam into view, tiny eyes set into a fleshy face, like currants in an undercooked bun. I didn’t know that face.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“It doesn’t matter who he is.” A voice replied from behind the face. I tried to peer around the mountain in a suit that held me down.

“So who are you then?”

Someone snapped their fingers and the brute let go of my shoulder. I sat up, and realised I was sitting on a billiards table. The heavy moved aside, and I saw him. Tall and thin, with a black goatee clinging to his pointed chin, he wore a suit so black it hurt my eyes to look at it. He kept his gaze locked on the floor but the quiet smile around his cruel lips told me he thought I recognise him. I didn’t.

“I don’t know who you are, or why I’m here, but this is beginning to freak me out, so-”

“You don’t know who I am, or you don’t remember?” The man’s voice felt like liquid silk in my eyes, but I didn’t dare think there wouldn’t be a sharp edge hidden beneath the satin.

“Isn’t that the same thing?”

I looked beyond the stranger to the rest of the room. The smoke cleared a little, and the room looked to be a club of some sort, all gilt-edged columns and chandeliers. The band huddled on a stage at the far end, separated from me by acres of tables covered in white cloths. Groups of people clustered around the tables, the men in dinner jackets and the women draped in furs or silk, their bobbed hair in finger waves or hidden beneath hats. Smoking indoors and not a mobile phone to be seen – I didn’t worry so much about where I was, but more when I was.

“Do you remember your graduation ball a week ago?” asked the man.

I shuddered. “I try not to.”

“Do you remember standing alone for most of the evening, watching everyone else have a whale of a time?”

“Unfortunately.”

“And do you remember the young man who struck up a conversation with you?”

A vague memory niggled at me of a young man in a tux who tried to talk to me while I stood watching everyone take hundreds of photos of each other, and I knew that I would be in none of them. The memory of his face eluded me.

“You told him you’d give anything to have a night out in the 1920s, where you thought men would be gentlemen and women would be ladies. Not like that ball, where men and women alike behaved like stags in rutting season.”

Nausea bubbled at the back of my throat. I didn’t like where the conversation was heading at all.

“I do remember saying that, but it was a turn of phrase, you know?”

“Yes, I do know. But you’re here now – why don’t you enjoy your 1920s night out?”

I looked down. A black tassled flapper dress and flat shoes replaced the scruffy tracksuit pants and T-shirt I remembered wearing last. A string of pearls hung around my neck. I probed my hair with my fingers, feeling sculpted waves instead of frizzy curls.

“What have you done to me? Is this some kind of prank?” I looked around, waiting to see television cameras.

The man finally looked at me. I couldn’t tell what colour his eyes were because he had no eyes – not in the sense I was used to. Long lashes fringed the black voids. I couldn’t help but stare, wanting to see something in their depths, but there was nothing. Just cold emptiness.

“The year is 1924, and you’re in my club, just off the Strand in London. For now, all you owe me is a dance.”

“For now?”

“Well, what will you give me to get home?”

He stared at me with those cold, black, dead eyes, and I shivered because I knew he was not staring at me, but right into my soul. I guess I knew what I’d need to give up to get back to the twenty first century.

April 24, 2015

#FridayFlash – The War

I dreamed of the bombers again last night. Their steady drone filled the air, and orange flames tore open the skies. I woke up with my hands clamped against my ears, fighting to block out the banshee wail of the sirens. I thought I smelled the damp earth of the shelter, and I expected to see my mother bent over me. But my eyes adjusted to the gloom and made out the pink floral wallpaper and old wooden dressing table.

I lay in the darkness, waiting for my breathing to slow. Sirens still screamed in the street, like the perverse nocturnal mating call of the police. Fire tore open the world, but these flames came from the hands of youths, and the glass bottles they wielded.

I switched on the radio, hoping to block out the sounds of violence. Baton on bone, fist on flesh. I burrowed into the strains of Chopin, leaving behind the cacophony of war. Not my war, not back in the good old days when the baddies hid in castles on the continent and we fought over decency and common sense. No, this war is alien to me, fought between citizens on the same side. Or what used to be the same side.

I sniff back a tear. I never thought I would be nostalgic for that old Anderson shelter at the bottom of the garden. I loved the old boy, until he left for France and never came back, but in a way, I’m glad my dad isn’t here.

It would kill him all over again to see what’s become of the country he died to protect.