The Cold Heart

One from the vaults...

The Cold Heart by Derek Thompson

I can see by the way you’re working that you’re preoccupied. You have a kind of sombre intensity radiating from behind your glasses. I offer you a nervous smile, but you look straight through me. It’s okay, I don’t take it personally; it’s my first time here at the Path Lab, a new intern.

I move behind you silently, peering over your shoulder; watching as you delicately peel back the layers of flesh. And as I listen to the methodical, monotone delivery of your investigations, my mind starts to drift. You’re not wearing a ring - divorced maybe? Nah, you look too clean-cut for the rigours of marriage, bereft of that lived-in look. I’ll bet you’re the sturdy, independent type.

“Subject was between twenty and thirty years of age.”

You don’t pass comment on the body before you; you just stick to the facts. But there is a kindness in your voice, a softer side that I hadn’t expected. When I arrived early this morning, they’d said you were abrupt, more used to lecturing than teaching. I’m pleased to say that they were wrong.

Your hands have the gentle artistry of a surgeon. A pity then that you work on the dead rather than the living. Maybe you prefer it that way, no complications or risk of emotional attachment. Two hours straight without a break - such dedication. I wonder what drives you, what allows you to do this kind of work, day in day out? It’s different for me of course, first time here and all; but you look as though you were born to this strange vocation. There’s no let up, not a hint that you’re anything other than quietly enthralled with your work. And I wonder to myself, could you love a warm human being the same way?

You’ve switched the microphone off now and called for the orderlies. The job is almost done. I shuffle to the side and wait nervously. Stripped of your white coat I get other glimpses of you. Your jeans bear the scent of the park in autumn, your musty jacket of too many Sunday mornings in cheap cafes. The ID card doesn’t do you justice - I guess you’ve heard that many times before.

I stand there beside you as you write up the last few notes. Even now, you make a point of pausing to watch as the orderlies put the cadaver back in the cold store. There’s so much care, though your demeanour betrays nothing. I try to catch your eye again, wonder how to make the first move and I’m lost in that mane of brown hair, aching to ruffle through it like the wind. Picturing us on warm weekends, camping under the stars, that same, calm voice promising me forever.

It’s a moment before I realise that you’re walking away; I feel like an idiot. It’s all finished now, the session is over and not a single word has passed between us. I’m glad to have met you Dr Richardson, whoever you are. It’s just a shame I had die for the privilege.

Miracles of Kindness

There's a lot of information on the internet for writers. You can learn all about techniques and templates, how to craft your work, sales, marketing and how social media is your new best friend. (I think that's the freezer actually, but only because I recently freelanced a piece on the subject.)

There's some - though notably less - information out there about how being a writer impacts on the rest of your life (and the lives of those closest to you), and even a little about how your writing can help others. 

What struck me recently though was how often writers are the recipients of kindness from other writers. Even when they're embroiled and immersed and often submerged in their own work writers will give you an honest opinion. They'll also add a review or offer a blog interview or tell their friends about your book, or make a you a cake with your cover on it. (I'm told that happens...) If you write you are a part of a culturally rich and diverse community.

At A Word with You Press, time and again I have seen connections form over a love of words and stories, and the transformative and liberating power of language. More than that, I see kindness in action. A friendly word to a fledgling writer sharing their work for the very first time, or a question answered, or an insight offered. Each time seeking only to lighten someone else's literary load. (Yes, I do love alliteration.)

It's a cliche that writers are competitive, frustration-filled adversaries, fuming at one another's successes. I have to tell you though that it's not my experience. Writers understand one another's struggles to make sense of the stories in their heads and the all-consuming desire to spend chunks of their otherwise perfectly happy lives in isolation, staring at the screen or the page. 

Yes, we obsess about feedback, reviews and 'the numbers'. However, I have a theory about all that. I think, rather than yearning for fame and fortune, we are really looking for some indication that it's getting easier. A sign - from royalty sheets or online reviews or attendance at book signings - that we are making progress along the path we have chosen. We want to know it's getting easier because we also know, come what may, we will never stop writing. 

If you're in need of a reminder that the glass is half-full, there's a collection of uplifting true stories available, which includes my anecdote Street Angel.

Miracles of Kindness
True Tales of Kindness in the Modern World

Miracles of Kindness is also available in a multimedia format on iTunes.

Miracles of Kindness is a collection of stories, submitted by participants from all over the world and rewritten for dramatic consistency, that tell of simple acts of kindness that have had a profound effect on people’s lives. The stories are told from the perspective of the recipient of the act, so that the impact of the miracle of the event, spelled with a small “m”, can be truly felt. There are also three “Profiles in Kindness” stories which tell of visionaries who helped thousands of people by simple but determined acts. The stories in Miracles of Kindness range greatly in subject matter, from simple acts like a well-timed hug or the return of a lost wallet to getting a wounded grandmother to a hospital or helping to find sobriety for a lost soul. Each story will inspire as you are reunited with humanity’s good side.

Hats off to writers

Nature's hatstand
I love a good back story. Now we've decided to shorten the third thriller in the Bladen series (giving it more of a pulp novel feel in my opinion) I've busy doing some pruning. It's entirely possible that some scenes, flashbacks and dialogue will live again in another form, but they'll more likely just inform the writing for me.

One of my battle cries is "Context matters." If you're a fan of The Monkees, you'll know and love 'Pleasant Valley Sunday' but try the Carole King version (she write it with Gerry Goffin) and you get a completely different take on it. Or maybe you're a fan of Dylan's Tambourine Man but you don't really know Melanie's version, where the lyrics turn from rebellious to soulfully melancholic.  

One song can be interpreted so many different ways. One scene, even one line of dialogue, can be rendered as comedy, tragedy, or high drama. Writing, like other art forms, can be nuanced and subtle. That's the case for artists too.

Writers can allow themselves to become pigeonholed. I've mentioned before (somewhere in this blog, I think) about the time someone read my magical fantasy, Covenant, and remarked that it was like a clown trying to write Shakespeare. The comment's kinder than it sounds, honest. I was a bit of a jokesmith at the time. Writers can buy into the belief that they may only wear one hat but it's just that - a belief.

Recently, I had a visit. Well, a remembrance really. Just a name - Stephen Heick - that popped into my head. He was a character from a book I wrote (and burned) in my teens. It was a brief visit and, in my imagination, he acknowledged me with a touch of his fedora, and walked on through the scene. I haven't thought about him in a long time, although one of the characters from his book did join the cast of Standpoint. 

As the third Bladen novel draws to a close so my eager publisher can turn it into a book, I've had time to reflect on what an extraordinary journey it has been since the contract was signed in January 2015. Three novels available in a year has far exceeded my expectations. It's also happened at such a pace that my writing cupboard (we all have them, trust me) is getting bare. For fans of the Bladen series, Book 4 is being sketched out by the sleeping part of the my brain.

But those other hats...
1. My standalone transatlantic comedy drama, Scars & Stripes, is still in need of representation. That's high on my priority list.
2. I still keep my hand in with gag and sketch writing, which results in a nice little cheque from time to time.
3. There is talk of another edition of As Above So Below magazine. Possibly.
4. I have a new standalone novel in mind, involving time-travel (though not what you're thinking) and second chances.
5. A novella about a man whose dead brother rings him up for a chat from time to time.

Thriller writer, jokesmith, clown trying to write Shakespeare, fantasy author, magazine co-creator, comedy novelist. Guilty as charged, m'lud, with another seven offences I'd like taken into consideration. 

I'm a veritable hatstand - and so is every other writer.