Don’t Fear the Reaper

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‘You could say to the universe, this is not fair. And the universe would say: Oh, isn’t it? Sorry.’
(Soul Music, 347)

Terry Pratchett died today, at the age of 66, at over 70 books, at eight years of struggle with his Embuggerance, at home.

You can find multiple obituaries all over the internet as I type this, and I am not about to attempt another. No, this post is a way for me to process my own thoughts about Terry Pratchett and his writing, his world, and his impact on me as a reader. And to say thank you.

I never met him in person. I always managed to miss events close-by, and was unable to make the further away ones. The closest I ever got was researching his life and works for my first contributions to the Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature. Daniel Hahn – the author/editor – was, in fact, the person who told me the news.

I only met his books, and some of my favourite people through of them. Almost all of his books, at this point.
Starting with a badly received The Carpet People in Italian translation (by Angela Ragusa) at the age of 8, in primary school.
Ignoring them for a long while after that – only to discover Peter Gabriel’s Genesis The Carpet Crawlers, and thinking they were linked.
Being handed the English copy of Pyramids by ‘Auntie Penny’ for the length of a read around the age of 12, and falling, inevitably with a Thud!, into Pratchett’s books and the Discworld , and the world of reading, in English, harder than before. Or at least, that is how I remember it.
Rediscovering the series as I arrived in the UK at the age of 19, staying with Penny and Allan and Pen’s collection, via Reaper Man.
Re-rediscovering Lords and Ladies and Carpe Jugulum at the University of Leeds, with now Japan-bound Maria, who shared my raised eyebrow at the live-action adaptations of The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic.
Seeing the first theatrical adaptation of The Truth, a book that I never thought could be adapted, in Oxford, at the age of 20.
Retracing the pineapple on pizza footnote from The Last Continent for a seminar in my first year of teaching, at the age of 24, while also developing the idea of the T-Space for the British Centre of Literary Translation; an obvious rip-off and homage to the L-Space and its genteel Black Holes.

Softly, silently crumbling, at the age of 26, at the news of Terry Pratchett’s passing.

My enabler, Penny, told me to ‘remember what a legacy he left us all. He wasn’t afraid of dying, just very pissed off. A very sad day indeed, but for all the right reasons.’ She is right. As Neil Gaiman pointed out, he was angry. He was spurred on by fury, in his writing as in his living. And we should learn from that. We should channel that.

Given the equation (that camels also know):

Knowledge = Power = Energy = Matter = Mass

we all carry part of the L-Space and of its ideator’s fierce, furious power within us.

Time to also pick up our pens, and start to write.

Turn the Page

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She watches them run through the pages
the images flowing beneath them,
hands touching the story.

She reaches out, a new
tenderness rushing through her skin.

She watches the ink singing
on the paper on their fingertips,
plots swirling under digits
lines spoken without sound
– she stops.

She plots, weaving into the
chapter this reading
this flowing of paper trails
and cuts to new scenes.

She is a reader, and can flesh out
characters only perfectly flawed
on the page, turn them into
whatever she can imagine
until they adapt to another vision.

She knows the twist turning in the wound
she sees the knot in the thread
the heart of the matter
and lets it beat.

She knows a book can end
as inevitable frames close the scene
lines are drawn and quartered
covers tucked in for an early sundown.

She knows a book can hold
lists and how-to tips and a universe of
suggestions and revisions and pages upon
pages upon pages of the kind
of words that are meant
to help and heal and soothe.

She knows all this but also knows
that none of it really helps
to turn a new leaf
start a chapter anew
and read further than the words
The End.

Except for her to pick up
another book,
or the same book perhaps
turn it round in her hands
and begin, again.

The Unwritten: Apocalypse #12

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UnwrittenApoc12

Synopsis
FINAL ISSUE

“And I awoke, and found me here…”

Wilson Taylor delivers the apocalypse the only way he knows how: at his son Tom’s expense. It’s the end of the world as we know it. But there’s no need to worry because it’s just a story. Isn’t it? Don’t miss the extra-sized conclusion to the fan-favorite Vertigo series!

Story
How do you write the ending to a story about stories ending the world? How do you wrap up meta-narratives, multiple plots, twisted storylines, intertextualities and gigantic apocalyptic schemes? According to Mike Carey and Peter Gross, you don’t. According to Tom Taylor, you let someone else do it for you. And the two, unsurprisingly, are the one and the same.
The third part of ‘Annals of Comparative Literature’ brings the arc, the Apocalypse chapter and the whole The Unwritten series to a close, and does so with a wonderful flourish of the pen (or other authorial tool) on the page (see previous bracket), and a refreshingly, candidly self-aware reflection on itself as a medium and a series. Characters live up to their descriptions, but not further, stories reach their conclusion, but not more than that, and most of all, the real puppeteers are exposed, reversed, unveiled and dragged down for one last time, in a surprisingly really quite moving sequence.
In the meantime, Carey also manages to voice several thoughts on the comics medium, its relationship to literature, the acceptance of it and experimental fiction in a wider literary canon. There are more quotations, explorations of dangling plots, voice shifts and some fantastic Pauly Bruckner contributions that definitely left me with a satisfied smirk on my face.

Art
Peter Gross, in his co-plotting guise, really sets his skills loose on the script, adapting, twisting and capturing the end of the world that was, what came before, what came between and what will come with the turn of the page. Visual references abound, to external contexts (the human evolution panel is fantastically apt and deployed) and to other moments in the series. I am curious as to whether another artist worked on finished in certain sections of the issue, as no one else is credited but there are some definite callbacks to the Ship That Sank Twice OGN finishes and some of the work by Vince Locke and Al Davison – regardless, the effect is stunning, and the care and detail going into Wilson Taylor in particular is especially moving, throughout the entire issue.
Of course, the visual pleasure of the book, as always, would not be possible without the fantastic chromatic work of Chris Chuckry, who performs double plus good in this super-sized issue. Working with such complex layouts and basic patterns as deployed by Gross’ linework cannot be easy, at all, but once again, for one last time, he delivers. Todd Klein’s lettering performance in this issue was stellar. There are some many fonts, so much personality imbued in each and every other scene, due to its framing, to its context, to its moment in the narrative timeline and the ‘real’ timeline, that only one of the masters of the craft could have tackled it so magnificently.
And finally, but in no means as the least deserving of credit, is the mind behind the hands behind the face of the series as a whole, Yuko Shimizu. I have spoken to several comics readers who have not yet been absorbed by The Unwritten, but they all know Shimizu’s fantastic covers, and we all agreed on the poignant, powerful, sad and beautifully composed final cover, with Tom fading into – or out of – a book (you decide after reading).

Thoughts (May Contain Spoilers)
This is the actual end of the line, for a series that has followed me through the entirety of my higher education (sudden realisation, that). This is a final issue that manages to acknowledge what it is doing, that what it is doing is wonderfully original, is not afraid of saying so, and yet does not brag about it or inflate it to the point of exhaustion. This is an issue about the power of writing, of books, of comic books, the limits and constraints of canon, the loopholes that emerge from it. This is the story of characters trying to lose their author, in order for the story to continue its life. This is the story of a reader turned writer, unable to convince people and himself of a fictional reality, a world that never happened, never existed, and never will be – but who chooses to write it down anyway.

And in those words, in those images, lies the unspoken, unwritten power.

The Unwritten: Apocalypse #12 is available in shops and digitally here.

140story – Yet Another

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I seem to have a theme running, and sometimes it twinkles.

As always, the site is miniaturestory.org, and it is wonderful. Always.

140Story – Another one

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Another small story to capture the immensity of reality? Probably accurate.

Check out the new 140Story website for more microfictions!

The Unwritten: Apocalypse #11

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UnwrittenApoc11

Synopsis
The end is near, and the final battle is about to be fought – and Tom is back where he never wanted to belong. But if he’s going to die tomorrow, then tonight he’s got some unfinished business – with the most derivative boy wizard in all the worlds.

Story
Despite the lateness of this review, I find myself relieved by the fact that the final issue is still a little while away. It allows a re-reading of the eleventh chapter of the Apocalypse (The Unwritten), and time to think about where the story may end up, well, ending. And punches are definitely not pulled.
Writer Mike Carey takes the first part of this issue to focus, on a slightly slower pace, on the relationship between Tommy and Tom, between Count Ambrosio and possibly Pullman, between the major players of the stories so far, keeping true to the ‘Annuals of Comparative Literature’ arc title. But the main focus, across both parts of the plot, are the nature of evil, and its close connection to guilt. And unsurprisingly, though very craftily done, Pullman is right in the middle of it.
Definitely picking up from issue #10 in terms of story beats, emotional crafting and overall narrative weaving, the penultimate issue in the whole run of the series has some excruciatingly painful moments, reminiscent of the darkest children books, and some fantastic dialogue. And I have no idea where it will go in the finale, at all.

Art
Once more, artist Peter Gross has full responsibility for the basic visual rendition of the story in the book, and the job he does is magnificent. Character-wise, Ambrosio, Pullman and Madame Rausch are as terrifying as ever, and the Leviathan lurking in the background is a wonderful touch. But from a structural point of view, Gross shines even brighter – one long sequence in particular, featuring all the major characters is stunningly devised, and the panel borders blur even further when the Taylors are involved.
Chris Chuckry’s colours fully reflect the bleakness of the script, too, with only the first page showing some well-needed vibrancy, and an otherwise abundance of stone, grit, murky water and haunting reds to paint over the panels. And in the hungry eyes of the creepier Leviathan spawn. Deserves equal praise, of course, is letterer Todd Klein, populating the page, minds and panels with sounds, personal speech fonts, and an eery sense of words only just holding together
The cover, as always by the fantastic Yuko Shimizu, is terrifying, beautiful and really touching. Not only does it have the traditional Pietà structure, and bleak colours of the interiors, I dare you to look at it again once the story is over, and not feel a pang of pain at the death(s) in the book. Go on.

Thoughts (May Contain Spoilers)
Remember, if you can, all the worst moments from the best children books you have read. Condense them through the filter of a twisted horror writer with a literary vein. See them play out in front of your eyes, rather than just in your head. You’ll have a vague sense of what Carey and Gross have plotted and done in this issue. And remember that those are some of the best books because of those worst moments. And that is nothing, compared to where the story continues, and begins to end, in the painful aftermath of things being Unwritten.

The Unwritten: Apocalypse #11 is available in shops and digitally here.

140Story – Festive Edition

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New year, new short short stories – and this one is definitely not inspired by my Italian grandmother. She hates rhymes.

Make sure to head over to the new 140Story website to find more tiny tales!

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So Grangsta, yo.

140story – Star Wars edition

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If you’re even slightly into film, media, popular culture and geek culture, you’ll have noticed that there is something stirring in the Star Wars universe right now. With that in mind, I thought I’d drop in to 140story and contribute a themed tiny Twitter tale.

If you’re anywhere around Norwich this Thursday, make sure to drop by The Forum at 7.15 for UEA Live! with Tash Aw, and a host of 140story writers!

Comics Zen and The Art of Convention Going

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This weekend (14th-16th November) will be my sixth Thought Bubble Festival as a volunteer (redshirt – we proudly reclaimed the word from ill-fated Trekkies). I have been behind the scenes at two Lakes International Comic Art Festivals, two Auto Assemblies, moderated online communities, chaired panels, talks, conferences, am active in ‘public engagement’ (what universities call ‘getting out and talking to actual people for a change’) and attended multiple events of the comic book and media industry type as a punter. I enjoy what I do, and do it freely, in my spare time, passionately and mostly for free (and for the red t-shirt; there must be something in the dye).

I am also aware of a high number of convention etiquette posts from professionals, exhibitors, fellow fans, first-time goers and bored companions (partners, relatives, offspring, pets, stuffed cryptozoa). Personally, I think Dan Berry’s 2012 list is a great resource, along with Luke Surl’s illustrated version for exhibitors. There are plenty more out there, but some tend to be fairly condescending and patronising, even in their tongue-in-cheek style (or maybe because of it). So please take what I say here as tips and suggestions, rather than commandments or recommendations. As a volunteer, I have seen many a visitor storm off disgruntled because they were unable to get a sketch, a signature, a book, a handshake – and it’s not always the event’s fault.

Talk (if you can) – This can be really hard. Emotions run high when meeting your idols, and you might not be comfortable with crowds, small spaces, public speaking or eye contact. That is fine. Creators know that their fans come in all types of person and species, and everyone gets tired/stressed out/overwhelmed at times. If you need help, call upon a redshirt. We’re there to help.

Be Nice – Following from the previous point, if you can’t bring yourself to face someone or speak to them, be nice in any way possible. A quiet thank you, a timid smile, nods, adoration in your eyes. Let the exhibitors know you’re interested in their work if you are, don’t diss them if you’re not. Everyone there is passionate about comics; that’s a whole series of worlds in common. Be nice to other visitors. Be nice to exhibitors. Be nice to staff and volunteers. And be excellent to each other.

Look at Everything – Take it all in. The Big Names are not the only names, and they’re only big to the people who think they are. Make sure you take a stroll through the smaller tables. I have met some of my favourite people in the world by wandering around the halls closing off queues and bringing water or food to exhibitors.

Be a True Fan – So you have all the issues a writer has written, you’re on first-name basis with them, and you’ve seen them multiple times. Excellent! A lovely place to be in! But don’t overdo it. Some people have travelled very far to only attend an event for the day, have less money to spend, less time and may be extremely intimidated by everything going on. Give them their space and time. Don’t be greedy. And don’t for one second think there is such as thing as a fake-fan.

Be an Alien, or, Enjoyable Queueing – Yes, you will have to wait to meet some of the guests. Yes, it can take a while, and it will be boring after a bit. Solution? Use all of the tips above: talk to others in the queue; talk to exhibitors you are close to as you move closer to the aimed table; take in the convention area; plan the rest of your day; if you’re in a group, use supermarket tactics. And most of all..

Don’t Panic – Douglas Adams was bound to make it here at some point. Alas, you might not be able to get everything you wanted done. You might miss a panel. You might be too late for a sketch. The guests might be very tired, unable to make it at all or late. It happens, unfortunately (Kurt Vonnegut? Kurt Vonnegut: So It Goes). But go back to three points above, and look at everything else. You’ll find something you didn’t even know you were looking for.

There are a number of other really important points, such as keeping hydrated and nourished, respecting people’s boundaries, social norms, be mindful of children and event rules and regulations, including personal safety. Some of these are covered by common sense, others by explicit policies such as the SDCC and NYCC ones. All should be kept in mind at all times. My list is simply an addition to those guidelines.

Lost

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The end

is the best place to start
when you’re lost for words
because, apart from the troubles
you’ve saved yourself from
having to think of a beginning,
all you need to work out
is how to retrace your steps
walk backwards, in heels if needs must
in lines in the sand and the dust
and trust me, it gets easier.
Because maybe it’s just a phrase
you’re going through.
And you’ll figure out
that in your end may very well be your beginning,
but – and this is just a feeling, Toto –
we are not in Little Gidding any more
so carry on. Walk.

Run if you must, run from the living
run through the dead, empty words
that brought you here in the first place.
Run until the air burns in your lungs
sounds stick to your tongue
piercing your throat
with peaks of voice.

Pick apart the rain now rushing
on your skin, washing the world
clean of the steps you
took on your way to the end
of your life-long sentence
the full stop with no real cause
attempting to order the clauses
clawing at each other
scratching each other
into your mind and fingers
wanting to spill onto the page.

And when, not if, you lose your thread
make sure to tread carefully
on your own or someone else’s dreams.
Apologies can only do so much
and minds are fragile things,
thumb prints can burn and stay
on blood and ink and skin
so think before you speak
but always, always speak your thoughts.

And run, or walk if you must
carry the weight, count the prints
you left on your route here
close the circle and return
back to the place where you started
all the way back to