Ben Peek (benpeek) wrote,
Ben Peek

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On the weekdays, I used to write in the afternoon, and into the evening. It was good. It suited me. Then, three out of five weekdays, I started working in the evenings and afternoons. After school hours, basically, and my writing pattern got shot to shit.

A lot of people will tell you a lot of things about the practice of writing and they're mostly a yawn. I figure you find your way and do it, and whatever that is, you do it. Write drunk, write sober, write high, write straight, write naked, write clothed, write whenever, write however. It's the end product that matters. For myself, when I'm writing a piece, I find that having a pattern is what's important. All I need to do is sit down every day and write a bit of it and when I'm done, I'm done. Of course, when I haven't got anything to write, I don't much worry about this. I go and watch a film, read a book, pretend that I'm going to learn how to play my harmonica (every now and then I learn a tune that I promptly forget, but it's not important, and I think I just like making noise). Some new idea will come to me soon enough, and the downtime is nice, since it allows my mind to turn over stories I've had lurking in the back of my head.

But that said, recently it's been a bit difficult.

I am in the middle of writing Across the Seven Continents of the Underworld, my-red-sun-bushranger-inspired-revenge-narrative novel, and which I said to people at the start of the year that I would have done by the end. It's a deadline I don't plan to fall down on and the book unfolds nicely, though it's a little larger than I first conceptualised it, on account of my insertion of a second narrative to run parallel to the main, after I thought the main didn't have enough emotional kick for what I wanted to do. Also, I've been doing the two narrative trick a lot with the short fiction I've been writing of recent, and I get a real pleasure out of weaving the two narratives against each other, and playing the second off the first, and so doing a larger piece like that seemed only natural. The letters in 'The Souls of Dead Soldiers are for Blackbirds, Not Little Boys' is an example of it; so is the interview in 'theleeharveyoswaldband'; and I use letters again in 'The Funeral, Ruined', as well as a few others, I believe. I'm careful not to let myself get too caught up in it as a style, but for some reason, I've become quite attracted to the particular form, since it allows me to bounce two narratives directly off each other, and use juxtaposition for dramatics and a touch of irony. A little bit of irony goes a long way, I find.

Here, to show you what I mean, is the opening of the book:

Matthew Brady was transported at the age of twenty-two for murder.

He considered it a black piece of humour that he had been convicted for the death of one man since, at the age of sixteen, he had been part of the Shibtri Isles Army. For nearly six years, he had fought in campaigns across dry, burnt soil that lay beneath empty red skies. When not fighting on the land he had been born, he traveled, and fought on soggy, sodden, yellowed half grown fields beneath the same sun; or in the long tunnels of the Queen's Empire, where the only light was provided by phosphorescent stones and moss. In these campaigns, the dark, maroon uniform of Brady's native country remained the same no matter his antagonistic of defensive roll, though he questioned neither. The military was the only employment that he had ever known. He had joined, not through of a sense of patriotism or duty, but rather because the dangerous and violent nature of the work offered was attractive. He wasn't like his brother, Alex—Alexander—who had the natural gift of intelligence and interest in study and who was offered a morticians apprenticeship at the age of thirteen—the offering of which had allowed him to leave the orphanage and underfunded public school system that they were both stuck in. No, for Brady, life existed in the physical, the tangible, and the pleasures that were offered through these experiences, and so when the recruiters stood in their maroon uniforms in the middle of the broken cement quadrangle of the school he attended and told him that he could have a life with money, food, and travel in addition, he did not hesitate to sign up. That he was to be part of campaigns that resulted in the deaths of men and women with whom he had no personal connection with did not bother him. Likewise, he was similarly unconcerned by the destruction that was caused to towns and cities and countries that he visited. Why should he have been? The question of why he was there had been made before the army was sent into battle, and he never saw a reason to question them—until, that is, the day he killed William Morris.

Killing Morris was different to any death that Brady had been responsible for. When his knife slipped out of the other man's stomach, when the blood flowed over Brady's hand, when the strength seeped out of Morris' body with it, when his breath against Brady's neck stuttered and stopped...

When he was dead.

When he was dead, in short, Brady felt a pleasure that he had never felt before.

Which, of course, was the problem. When his lawyer arrived, the neat, non-tattooed (clean skinned was the slang) young man took it upon himself to explain to Brady that he could not kill the people he wanted to kill. He did not use those words, of course: the lawyer had the sentiments couched in long, twisting sentences, relating to morals, social standards, and other curiously frail arguments that, in the end, argued that it was fine—indeed, encouraged—for Brady to want to kill the men and women who were the enemies of the Shibtri Isles. That those enemies changed as the political climates did was not up for debate. They were the enemy. They were a danger to the prosperity and freedom of the country. You could not argue that their deaths did not serve a purpose. William Morris, on the other hand, was a citizen of the Shibtri Isles, and in additional, a valued member of the military. He had a wife and daughter, both of who were innocent, and both of who had to live with the tragic results of Brady's actions.

William Morris, it was explained to him carefully, slowly, as if he were a child, did not deserve to die.

At that moment, Matthew Brady had what he would later tell his brother was an epiphany. With a startling clarity, he felt as if the artificiality of the world that he lived in had been stripped away, and that he was left holding a plain and simple truth that related to the lies that were accepted in daily life. It should, Brady realised in this moment, have been more understandable for him to have killed Morris: he had hated the man and loathed his presence. Morris, for his part, had returned it. The hate between the two of them was born out of divides created through birth and education. Even if they had not had these divides, it was arguable that they simply would have clashed, for Morris had been the kind of man who enjoyed the benefits of his birth above others, and Brady was the kind of man who resented anyone who thought that they were born better than him. At any rate, the personal animosity between the two meant that killing Morris was something to Brady. Oh, he wasn't naïve enough to believe that anyone would celebrate the fact, but he had at least done it for a reason, and to have a man stand before him and tell him that that reason was not acceptable, that it was in fact wrong, when he had been given orders to kill men and women whose greatest fault was that they had been born in another country, was simply ridiculous. Before the lawyer had finished his speech, Brady had begun to laugh, and the mocking sound filled the warm, brass barred cell that he was in so loudly that the other man was forced out of the door and into the hallway. It was a week before he would return.

From that point onwards, Brady could not take what happened to him seriously. It was a farce, a punishment over a ludicrous distinction of choice that he could not, and did not, respect. The only part of the trial that he did take seriously was when he was told that transportation was being sought by the prosecuting lawyer as his punishment. After he heard that, he warned his brother of the outcome, and Alex told him that, if possible, he would be there for the trial itself. However, when Brady's trial finally took place, it was behind closed doors, and no family or friends were allowed into admittance; not that he had much of the latter. Instead, he sat alone in the middle of the room with brass shackles around his wrists and legs, and the dull, brown prison uniform turning the colour of old blood as the flat red, midday sun fell over him. There were seven other men where in the room with him: two lawyers and five judges, the latter of which sat behind an expensive, black wooden table and gazed down upon him for the entire three hours of his trial without emotion.


Then, once the lawyers had finished, once they sat down, once there was a moment of silence, and sheets of paper were shuffled, then:

“Sergeant Matthew Brady.” The speaker was a General Harrow, a man that Brady had known, if not personally, then with faint professionalism, for his entire career. The old man's pale, narrow face was held together by series of faint, webbed lines that stitched mouth, nose, eyes and ears together. Like the other four men—younger, but not by much—around him, he was clean skinned, and wore a dark maroon uniform with the black of his rank across his shoulders. There was not an ounce of kindness in his eyes. “Mister Brady,” the old man repeated, the emphasis on title a prelude to sentencing, “Please stand.”

Slowly, Brady did. The brass chains around his wrists and ankles were heavy and limited his movement, but he could have moved quicker, if he had wanted. Not so long ago, he would have.

“You have served the Shibtri Isles for nearly t—”

“I don't want to hear,” Brady interrupted. “Just get it over with.”

Transportation.” Anger spotted General Harrow's tone. The old man paused, composed himself, and said in a voice as neutral as he could, “To the penal colony Ailartsua, when you will be imprisoned for a period of ten years.”

He would be thirty-two when he was released. Thirty-two.

Pleasure now spotted the old man's voice when he said, “Do you have anything to say?”

“To you?” Brady looked at the six clean skinned men around him. “No.”

General Harrow lifted the bronze gavel from the black table and struck it three times, as if, somehow, that made the sentencing more official.


I have decided, since it is so difficult for us to have consistent correspondence, that I will, instead, compose this long letter to you. I suppose you could call it a diary, since I am writing it in one, and it will continue until the end of the year—wherein it will probably take a year to reach you in Port Tahurr, and likely arrive with the other letters that Lauren and I have sent you in the meantime. Most likely, you will be able to read them on the boat back home, which I am sure will make the journey more interesting for you.

Your latest letters (all six of them) arrived together, as they are wont, and in the four months that they covered, I detected an idleness in them, a boredom of the mind, which is only to be expected, really. At any rate, I hope this will go some way to alleviating that emotion and, though you will surely laugh when you read this, I have even made my own ink for you: a mix of red and black that has the strangest reaction—some letters, as you can see, are red, while others black, but most are a mix—and which I have titled Brady's Time.

The usual words about it being unfinished, a work in process, and all of that apply. But this two narrative trick? I'm doing this throughout the whole novel. The whole novel. I'll probably never have the urge to do this twin narrative shit again at the end.

At any rate, what I was originally talking about is how I lost my schedule. For a month and a half there, when I moved cash situations around, I tried a lot of different writing times. There was the late night writing, but I was mostly tired, and writing shitty words when I did that--and there's nothing worse than opening your document at eleven at night to find your shit needs to be rewritten again and again. I tried rotating hours, but that didn't work, either. Writing some days in the afternoon, some days in the evening, other days whenever... that just didn't work for me. Eventually, I settled into a pattern of writing in the morning, which has worked nicely, since it gives me time to fuck round once I finish the scenes that I want. I know a lot of writers who do the word count thing, and I tend to keep an eye on it, but I move scene by scene, mostly--write up to this pause, or that break, you know? It's roughly between a thousand and two thousand words a day, which, oddly enough, I can get done by midday, which is much quicker than what it would take me in the evening. Maybe the morning is actually good for writing--or maybe I just move quicker with the self imposed deadline looming on me. Possibly it's both. Either way, all I know is that if I do what I want by the middle of the day, then the rest of the day is free for complete and utter fuckery, which pleases me to no end.*

Anyhow, I am, now, back into the easy movement of writing, and it's going nicely, and Across the Seven Continents of the Underworld has all kinds of unpleasant goodness in it, and assuming nothing comes up, my self imposed deadline should hold, even if it flexes a couple of weeks.

* Turns out that Sean Williams has a similar system. Perhaps I'm on the road to being prolific.
Tags: acrossthesevencontinentsoftheunderworld

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