This is my happy face

I moved house last month. Country too - I had lived in Wales for twenty years, but am now a resident of Scotland. A big move that took over a year to put in place (in terms of all the legal stuff, mortgages etc). There are some significant differences in the laws for buying houses in Scotland compared to the rest of the UK, and I wasn't sure if it would work out.

It worked out.

Anyway, it seems I should have written a post about it on my blog. I've just been so busy. There are boxes stacked up in my office, and I'm getting to know the local area, and writing the sequel to Lost Solace.

One of my readers/fans/friends said: "I'm yearning for a moving house story" and sent me a link to this Tom Cox article for inspiration. Here are some thoughts.

If life is change, then moving is living. As a writer I need fresh ideas and voices and people and places in order to catalyse the fantasies in my head into stories. I'd been living in one small town for two decades. TWO DECADES. I didn't want to stagnate. I wanted a rebirth. To take a chance and go for it. We should all do stuff that scares us.

Even good things are stressful. Because our psychological systems are inherently conservative. All change causes arousal and stress. Some parts are more stressful than others. I think the element I dreaded most was moving house with my cat. She came into my life by turning up on my doorstep and asking to be let in. She'd had nine years of stability with me - she knew my routines, and she knew where the biscuits were. And I was going to overturn all that and could not explain it to her, could not reassure her with words. She didn't like the way boxes were gradually taking over every room. And on move day there were a number of things she had never dealt with - being in a vehicle; wearing a harness; being in a carrier for many hours. On top of which, she'd never used a litter tray (her wild-cat habits of going toilet outdoors had stayed with her even in domestic bliss). It was a lot to deal with, and I was proud of the way she adapted. The journey had one horrible moment when I thought things would go terribly wrong, but we were lucky, and I'm thankful for that every day. And now she is happy in her new home, and - amazingly - uses a litter tray when she needs a wee, and stays in every night, sleeping on my bed (she used to spend the night-time hours outdoors).

If cats can change, so can we.

I am grateful. I love my new town. I love my "new" big old house. I love the sights, the places I've explored, the cycle routes running past my door, the secret garden. I love my new office. I love writing while stood up, on an old Windows XP laptop with no Internet connection, that I have christened "Wordcruncher Turbo". I feel productive and energised.

Every night when I go bed I try to think of a few things I am thankful for that day. I say them out loud. It's not religious, just a vocalisation and appreciation. It means that the last thing in my mind before I go to sleep is a positive thing, nice memories, not worries about bills and spam phone calls and suffering beings and overpopulation. Being positive and thankful is one of the ways that we change our mind, and then, in turn, change the way the world reacts to us.

The view from my new office

Telling stories. We all do it. Every day. The friend I mentioned earlier, that was pining for a moving house story, also gave me a beginning. She wrote:

"After 20 years, Carlos pulled the heavy bookcase away from the wall in his study. He had already packed the shelves' contents preparing to move house, and want to check that no papers had slid behind the furniture, before arrival of the removal men.
All clear, no debris back there, but the wallpaper was quite darker in the unfaded retangle outline. In fact, the darkness on the pattern seemed dribbly. On closer look, the wallpaper was tearing away in places, and the plaster behind seemed blotchy pink. He wondered why...."

Sounds like something I would have written in They Move Below.

I have so many projects on at the moment - sequels, new editions, audiobooks, some editing for clients, new books - that I am focussing my energy there. And did you know I wrote a new horror short set in a library and written in the style of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz? I'll give a free copy of that new story with my next newsletter, I think.

Still, I had to do something. I'm sat here in the dark now, and the howling wind has blown open the French doors in my office twice, sending the curtains billowing. Yep, just like a horror film (the joys of old houses!) So I decided to finish the story she started.

Don't expect greatness, or duration, or sense, or even typo-free words. This is off the top of my head, purely as a free-writing exercise.

My old office, as I moved out

My new office, as I moved in (1)

My new office, as I moved in (2)

My new office, as I moved in (3)


They're Always There, Waiting

After 20 years, it was time to go. Stay in one place, you get heavier. It's the stuff you attract. The debris of consumerism, the mass of the unnecessary, the gravity that results, making inertia your daily companion, as secure and weighty as any chains. But it can be broken with enough effort.

Karl took the last book from the heavy bookcase in his study. Well, study was too grand a name for it. Box-room was more apt. Because it was a room, and it was square and small, and you probably could get boxes bigger than this space that was supposed to be a creative incubator. So it had a desk, sure - where else would a keyboard go? And a chair to sit on, that had been inherited from the 1960s and had castor wheels packed with fluff and seat edges and padding that were so worn that an old pillow had to make do for cushioning. And a bookcase, because you need a place to keep your style guides and dictionaries and examples of pristine prose from better authors, so you can flick through them and feel inept.

The bookcase had been there when he moved in. A big, solid, dark wood Elizabethan monstrosity that would have only earned beer money at auction because nowadays no-one wants brown wood furniture. Old stuff? Nah. Well, not unless it is painted pastel shades in shabby chic reimaginings that would make a Frenchman puke. But it held books, and it stood solid, and that was all you could ask of it. It was always there in Karl's peripheral vision when he wrote, as a dark shape just over his shoulder. A comforting and reassuring shape, apart from when it started to get dark. and then it felt somehow larger and more ominous. But that was just silly imagination. The curse of the writer. Karl knew the last thing you should do is give your imaginations leeway. They'd take a mile, and before you knew it you'd be terrified of looking in a mirror after midnight, or walking past the top of the stairs in the dark, or wondering what the creaking noise in the kitchen meant in the middle of the night.

That way lies madness.

He had already packed most of the shelves' contents in preparation for moving house. Boxes and boxes. Somehow boxes of books were always the heaviest. Maybe because the words in a book are condensed experiences and lives, it makes them super-dense like plutonium. Handle with care. Yeah, he actually wrote that on the sides of the boxes. Tough and precious at the same time, like all the best things we love.

It was all done. Well, hopefully it was. A sudden worry: what if papers had slid behind the furniture? Sometimes things disappeared in this house. A note, some food, a pamphlet, a pen. Odd socks, too, damnit, never a pair. But what if some of those notes contained the seeds of a new book? Ideas only come once, and you have to snatch them and hold onto them like you've found love. The slightest weakness in your will and it slips away forever. Yeah, this made sense. Some of the missing things might have slipped to the floor from his desk in a stray gust of wind, then drifted gracefully and spitefully underneath the looming bookcase.

Treasures. Buried under there. He had to check, before the arrival of the removal men.

He dragged at the bookcase. It was much easier to move than he'd expected. Almost suspiciously accommodating.

All clear, no debris back there. In fact, nothing at all was underneath the gap at the base of the furniture. No dust, no dead woodlice, no sticky notes. As if the carpet had been hungrily hoovered clean by the dark wood. Not the best image to have. Still, he was leaving the bookcase behind, it was just too big to -

Ah, that was weird. The wallpaper behind it was darker than the surrounding area. Shouldn't the rectangles revealed when you moved furniture be lighter, cleaner, protected from dirt? Karl looked more closely. In fact, the darkness still contained the pattern of the wallpaper - a cage-like series of interconnecting bars, that brought to mind a work by Charlotte Perkins Gilman that Karl had kept on the bookcase as one of his examples of super short fiction, and which had inspired one of his own stories. And here it was, antique wallpaper pattern that had only ever presented its faded face to him, now appearing as a dark thing, high-contrast, yet also strangely blurred, like charcoal in the rain. He rubbed his finger over the wallpaper. A strange shudder of loathing at the cold slickness, and his fingertip came away dark and smudgy. He rubbed it hard against his trouser leg to get rid of that icky smear.

He'd left a mark on the wall too. A diagonal finger-width line, revealing not clean wallpaper, but something else, something beneath the greasy veneer. A blotchy pinkness. For a second it made him think of boiled flesh, but no, it was plaster. Just old pink plaster that was coated with wallpaper that dissolved into dirt. Some things reacted strangely to light. Locked away from it for years, like a writer in his study, so that when the world shifts and the novel is finished or the bookcase moved he comes squinting into the light and wondering what the real world offers, the modern world that has changed while he was away; the world that had moved on while it lived in darkness and only knew sounds, but was unable to interpret them even through the darkness of this hard barrier, sounds that made it salivate greasily and hungrily, with love and yearning ... Karl realised his hand was halfway into the plaster, he'd been distracted, and he felt the loathsome sucking at his fingers but when he tried to pull them back they would not come - too much weight, too much gravity to that mass. It slurped his arm in, parts of his body sliding into the pinkness in vigorous spurting sucks. No pain, no damage, but a nauseating feel of cold and oily wetness, like a slippery tongue coiling around and around, tasting, savouring. We take the world for granted, we take words for granted, we demand books for free, because authors can survive on the fame alone, the recognition, surely ... and this starved being had missed out on a lot. So much. It wanted the stories, the words in this man almost as much as it wanted the squidgy softness coating the bones, and at last it could have both. The man thing screamed as it was sucked in but it was disappointing, not the words and stories and life experiences the creature desired after being locked away for so long, appetite growing ravenous as years passed by. But once the man thing was inside then it could be taken apart at leisure, and it would find the words, and it would live other lives, and tell its own stories. The words would belong to it. Another slurp and the man thing's head was pulled in, and it stopped that annoying screaming.

When the removal men came, there was no Karl. The empty bookcase was found to be pushed tight against the wall, as it always had been. They knew they didn't need to take it. And they'd already been paid. So they joked, and moved boxes, and drove away, and the house was silent once more.