‘Make jam,’ they said. ‘It’ll be fun,’ they said. ‘You’ll be so relaxed!’
They were wrong.
It was nice at first, I’ll admit. Handing in my notice was liberating. Telling people I was starting my own business was thrilling. And there was something soothing about knowing that, every morning without fail, I would wake up with the sole purpose of making and selling jam out of my own kitchen. No ghastly 7 a.m. commute. No soulless office block and squint-inducing computer screen glare. No staff room politics or having to eat dried-up sandwiches out of a Tupperware. Instead, it was just me and the jam and the radio.
Me and the jam and the radio. Me and the radio and the jam. The jam and the radio and me. That’s it.
That, and a house that smells like stewed fruit 24 hours a day. And throbbing little burns all over my hands and arms where my skin has been bitten by bubbling fruit and sugar. A garage packed to the rafters with empty jars because it was cheaper to buy them in bulk and I was oh-so enthusiastic when this whole shit show kicked off. And all the measuring and the pouring and the stirring and the sterilising and the jarring and the labelling, day after day after day until my mind is so deadened that I could happily jump into a scorching hot vat of summer fruits and sugar and end it all…
The noodles writhe in the bowl like worms. Jeb blinks at them repeatedly, wondering if it’s his eyes playing tricks on him.
“Hunger does funny things to our brains,” mutters the old woman from her armchair. “Eat up, lad. It’s delicious.”
It was hunger that had driven him towards the cottage. Hunger which had forced his knuckles to rap on the front door. Hunger which had made him ask for some scraps. Hunger had which pushed him into the home of a stranger despite his gut squeezing and churning in objection.
Jeb smiles at the old woman, who eagerly shovels noodles from her own bowl into her mouth.
Hunger had already done some daft things. Not much of a surprise, then, that it could make a benign bowl of noodles wriggle like a mound of worms…
Are you tired of the signs of aging? Are wrinkles, sagging skin, and sun spots getting you down? Is your figure not what it once was? Has your figure never been up to scratch? Do you have stubborn fat lurking around your middle? Is your hair turning grey and losing volume? Do you hate looking in the mirror?
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Now comes the exciting part.
When your new body has reached maturity, it is humanely slaughtered and prepared for transplant.* The surgery is incredibly simple; we just move your brain from your old body right into your new one…
The monster leers at me with dull, sunken eyes, its mouth agape and spittle smeared across its chin.
Its grey skin is plagued with more yellowing warts than unusual. Its long hair is lanker, greasier, and more dishevelled. I’m sure its hooked nose is more crooked than I’ve ever seen it before.
It’s the last thing I want to look at first thing in a morning, but it can’t be avoided. It took up residence in my bedroom years ago; it’s almost part of the furniture.
I turn away, sick to my stomach, and retrieve my day’s outfit from the wardrobe. Black trousers. Loose grey t-shirt. Black, fine-knit cardigan. Black ankle boots. As close as I can get to an invisibility cloak.
I run a brush through my hair and that’s that — I’m ready. I don’t bother with makeup. Couldn’t bear it.
In the bathroom, I brush my teeth while avoiding eye contact with the monster that lurks in there. It’s a little smaller than the one in the bedroom and easier to ignore if I concentrate hard enough.
There have been times when curiosity has got the better of me and I’ve snatched a glance at it. The shortest of glimpses of its repulsive flesh under the harsh bathroom spotlights — its skin pale and thin enough that I can see the blood pulsing through the veins beneath it — is enough to make me retch…
You think you know how to write fiction? You probably don’t. Not unless you follow these four cardinal writing rules.
Remember: some highly successful writers break these rules and still write great stuff. But you are not one of them. It is not possible to break these rules and write great stuff unless you are already a successful writer. Got it? Good.
1. Show, don’t tell
You’re telling me a story, right? Wrong. You need to show me the story. You don’t need a pen and paper or a keyboard — you need a stage. Perform for me, monkey.
You could act out the story, mime it, or come up with a contemporary dance routine. Whatever you do, don’t you dare tell me what happens, because that’s bad writing. It’s boring. What readers really want is a series of ideas which they can interpret in a million and one different ways without fully understanding what your story is all about. Do you understand? Of course you don’t. That’s exactly my point.
Now, there is a very subtle difference between showing and telling when writing fiction, and I’m afraid I can’t share with you what that difference is. Why? Because I have no idea myself. Nobody does. All I know is that “show, don’t tell” is the most repeated mantra known to fiction writers the world over, and we must abide.
2. Never carry dialogue with anything other than “said”
You don’t want your writing to become too pretentious, right? In that case, don’t even think about using anything other than “said” when you’re telling — sorry, showing — us how your characters interact.
The groom pours stale coffee into a cup, leaving a half an inch of the black liquid in the bottom of the percolator. He brings the cup to his dry lips and takes a long swig to relieve the cotton wool sensation that plagues his tongue.
He needs distraction. He retrieves his phone from his trouser pocket and taps at the screen to access his documents. He skims over the latest draft of an article he’s been battling with for weeks. It’s good. It’s almost perfect. He just can’t seem to find the right words to conclude it.
And he probably won’t be able to find them now as the nerves swirl in his stomach. He takes another sip of coffee and reaches into the inside pocket of his suit, pulling out a cigarette and a lighter.
She’ll turn up her nose when she catches the whiff of stale fag on his breath. He told her he’d quit. She doesn’t know that he never managed to kick that first and only smoke of the day.
When the nicotine has delivered a surge of faux confidence, he tosses the cigarette — only two-thirds smoked — onto the ground and grinds it beneath his shoe. He can probably go through with it, he thinks. It won’t kill him. He’s managed three years already; a lifetime won’t be all that bad…
I’d like to begin by thanking you for your vital, if short-lived, service. Over the past few months, you have done important work in aid of my taste buds and my stomach. You helped me to shovel pasta into my mouth at a rate that is almost superhuman. You allowed me to mash avocado onto toast so beautifully that my Instagram followers were driven wild. You even helped me to tackle the ring pulls on my Diet Cokes when I was afraid of breaking a nail, a task that is far beyond your intended role.
I know that I haven’t always been kind. Many a time I woke you from your slumber in the cutlery drawer, only for you to lay idle beside my plate as I threw my manners out the window and ate my food with my hands. You didn’t pass judgement on this lewd behaviour of mine, even when I ate so viciously that you were splattered with sauce and crumbs like mere placemats. Following this, and to my shame, I would simply mark you as ‘unused’ and replace you, unwashed, in the cutlery drawer.
Without a doubt, it is antics of this nature which have forced you to leave without saying goodbye…
Yeah, I’m writing on Medium! I’m hoping to post one new post -either fiction or silly non-fiction such as this – each week, so be sure to Follow me if you’re a Medium member. I’m looking forward to connecting with more people over there, too, so let me know if you’re a Medium writer.