Halfway through the working day, he begins to find himself repulsive.  More specifically he finds his beard – the beard that he had grown excitedly, tended lovingly – disgusting.

When he licks his lips he finds hair whichever way he moves his tongue.  When he rubs it with his hand, his face feels like a stiff brush.  The beard, he now believes, makes him look much older than he actually is.  It makes him look wild, unkempt, dirty.  He feels a bit sick when he thinks that for the past few weeks his beard has been influencing the opinion of everyone he has met. He wants rid of it.  He wants rid of it now.

He should remove it from his face straight away, but he is at work and he does not have to hand any shaving equipment.  Plus he knows that people will comment if it disappears suddenly in the middle of the day and this will cause him embarrassment.  He runs his hand over his face again.  It is tough and unmanageable and what was he thinking.

He remembers how he took a post-it note and made a list of things to do.  GROW BEARD, he had written proudly, followed by a smiley face.  It was item number four on the list, following FILL IN TAX RETURN, SORT OUT PET INSURANCE and the vague notion LEARN TO BAKE.

He had never got around to completing any of those other tasks, and he realises now that this is because growing a beard is an action which requires only inaction, and he is extremely good at being inactive.

He sits at his desk, bearded and unhappy, and does nothing.

After doing nothing for a while, he takes another post-it note and draws a picture of his bearded face.  He then starts to plan the attack he will mount on his beard, a military campaign with clippers and razors brought in to break the stubborn resistance of the occupying forces.  He launches a campaign of propoganda to undermine the beard, telling his colleagues that the beard is on the way out, that it will be gone tomorrow.  He affects a casual air to mask the stress the situation is causing, and he imagines it as an insult to the beard, a show of his strength.

The more he thinks about the beard – and as he thinks he tugs at clumps of beard hair with his free hand – the more it begins to creep him out, to make him feel sick and he works himself up into such a state that he kids himself into believing that he can actually feel the taste of vomit at the back of his throat.  He knows that if he did vomit it is likely that some of it would stick in the hair on his face in the way that toothpaste did every morning.

The working day is finally over and he hurries home, ignoring the glances of passersby who are surely judging him and his beard.  He tries to exude thoughts of: ‘Look at me tomorrow, look at me all you like, but not now.  This isn’t me!  This is somebody else, I’ll be back tomorrow.’

At home, he undresses hurriedly but erratically and the beard catches on his shirt, which takes him by surprise and makes him yell out loud as he wrenches it over his head and retches a little, struggling to breathe.  He needs to be calm.  He stands in the bathroom in his socks and tries to be as calm as possible.  In the mirror he sees a monster, but it’s ok now because the monster will soon be slain.  He has his plan of attack memorised.

First he runs the clippers over his face, starting beneath his chin and then running it across the gap between his chin and his mouth.  Some parts of the beard yield immediately, others are more obstinate, knotty.  His discipline is weak and he soon deviates from the plan, starts attacking here, attacking there.  The metal teeth hack hack hack their way through the hair and the sink begins to fill.  He finishes off with a wet shave and then stands back to admire himself, still no oil painting, he will admit, but this is better.  Fresher.  Younger.  He feels as though he has lost years, as though his beard were a time machine without any controls and now he has crash landed and everything is fine.

He spends the the rest of the evening watching television, running his hands over his smooth face, it’s luxurious bare-faced cheek.  He goes to bed exhausted, but happy.

He dreams of being chased by bearded women.

In the morning he showers and then examines himself in the mirror as he dries off.

His face does not look as clean as it did the previous evening.  Already it is peppered with the tiny shoots of a revival, an uprising, barely there, but definitely there.  He moves towards the surface of the mirror and the closer he gets, the more clearly he can see.

If he concentrates, he can feel the hair pushing up through his skin.



Situation #2 will be broadcast next Saturday.

Notes On The Vigilante Antics Of

He hides his superhero suit beneath his bed.  He found an abandoned bandana at the side of the road, and that’s all the clothing he needs for the summer.  The houses round here are short, square, squat, squashed under the sky, which is mostly long, flat clouds scudding off towards the horizon then breaking up – when he tries to imagine what it must be like to live in high-rise buildings he thinks that the people there must stack their belongings one on top of the other, all the way up until you can’t see all the things you’ve got.  He locks up and goes to live in the woods, existing on a diet of milk, berries and ginger root, sits in the trees or lies flat in the grass.  Tends to his soul.  At night he runs back amongst the houses, clambering all over their outsides, practicing his moves.

At an autumn drinks reception in the city he wears smart clothes over his superhero suit.  Stands apart from the group, wittily captivating a young lady made plush on a summer of penny sweets and velvet.  They are not saddened by the fact that they are detached from the group, don’t give a second thought to the discussions they might be missing – instead, the members of the group are secretly envious of them and the fact that their attentions are only for each other, both of them so clearly, cleverly, adeptly synchronising plans.  Their victory is sweet and unlikely.  She leads him by the hand and they ascend the building, which goes up and up and up and is oddly empty, not at all the way he thought tall buildings would be inside.  It seems like the kind of place that lends itself to heroic acts.

Day #10509

Adventures in Writing and Reading, Part 10 – The Next Big Thing

A couple of weeks ago I was very kindly tagged in on the Next Big Thing by short story ace Dan Purdue.  The aforementioned meme consists of a series of questions designed to allow writers share plans for their upcoming project, so naturally I was pleased that anyone would want to know what I’ve got in the pipeline (and interested to discover that I actually have a pipeline).

I was a bit unsure of posting a response for three reasons.  One – the final question requires me to prompt four more writers to respond, and I don’t really have a suitable network to be able to do this.  I don’t really know many other writers.  Two – I’m probably a bit too rambly and flaky for this kind of thing, and it seems like the kind of questionnaire that might come back to bite me at a later date.  And three – it seemed a bit too much like I would be talking myself up.

But then I decided that there were plenty of projects I want to get done in the next year, and that it might be interesting to write about writing for once (since I’ve titled this series Adventures In Writing and Reading).  And.  Well, yes.  On with the questions.


What is the title of your next book?

I’d hesitate to call it a book as this implies physical publication, and if I sub in the word ‘novel’ this may be problematic too so this may need to be downgraded to ‘story’.  Or perhaps: ‘What is the title of your next word document?’  Though I may also query the word ‘next’ because don’t tend to work on one thing at once… then I answer the question.  Some of the projects I am currently working on have titles like, ‘Gross Domestic Product’, ‘Shush Broom’, ‘Capybara!’ and ‘The Beestung International’.

For the purpose of this questionnaire, lets suppose that my next ‘book’ is (provisionally) titled ‘The Octave Generation.’

Where did the idea for the book come from?

I had the original idea quite a while back but it was a bit muddled and not really going anywhere, which is how a lot of my ideas start out.  And I’m not sure where they come from, they just turn up if I keep my eyes and ears open.  But it possibly came from buying second hand objects, from listening to music, from being a fan of things, things like that.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I don’t think I want to answer this question – characters are fabrications of my imagination and I don’t want to attach actor’s faces on to them in case it skews their essential nature one way or the other.  Also, I like it when you’re watching a film and none of the actors are recognisable and you don’t have to feel as though they’re playing a part.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

Set in and around a basement club in an unravelling city, it follows the search for a local playwright who is either missing or dead (plus other stories that occur in and aroundabouts).

Will your book be self-published or published by an agency?

My first priority is to try and write something good.

However (going slightly off topic), I would like to get around to bashing a few short stories into shape and putting together my Third Beestung International to disseminate in the course of the next year.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

I don’t have a first draft yet but the project has been gently stewing for a while.  What I have written is lots of disposable scenes/ conversations which will probably not form part of the story but have helped my ideas to form, so it feels a bit like I’ve been in training for writing this story.  I usually just sit down and start writing things until the story is finished so this is a bit of a change for me.

What other books would you compare ‘The Octave Generation’ within the genres?

It’s kind of magic realism.  I don’t know what to compare it to though.  I really enjoyed Gina Ochsner’s ‘The Russian Dreambook of Colour and Flight’, although I felt as if I never really knew exactly where I was with it.  Maybe that’s the kind of thing I’m ambling in the direction of.

Who or what inspired you to write the book?

I wrote a bad version of the first chapter of it after reading David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, and that book perhaps inspired me to pile in so many characters and to try and tell a number of stories within one structure.  Beyond that, I can’t think of any novels that have inspired ‘The Octave Generation’, though planning it has shifted me slightly away from my usual Brautigan/ Vonnegut sphere of influence.  I have an Octave Generation playlist on my ipod which contains the kind of music that might be played there and this has probably helped shape my picture of what the place looks/ sounds/ feels like.

What else about the book might pique a reader’s interest?

I don’t really want to give too much away, or perhaps I just don’t know what else to say about it.  Hopefully you’ll be able to read it one day.