Bernie II – A Dimension Scales Christmas Tale.

robot-dog

Bernie II

A Dimension Scales Christmas Tale.

By Garry Abbott.

 

‘Frisky little thing, isn’t he?’

The little Yorkshire Terrier was jumping up again at the bars of the cage, his bright green eyes shining under a fringe of curly snow white fur and his tongue flicking in and out of his dark mouth as he panted excitedly.

‘That’s up to you,’ said the engineer, sensing a sale. ‘I can adjust his docility settings if you like? Most people do, eventually.’

‘No that’s okay’ Gareth said quickly before the engineer could fish his spanner out from his tattered leather utility belt. ‘I like him just the way he is. He reminds me of my old dog Bernie, before the, you know, the thing.’

The engineer understood. His whole trade had grown from the thing that happened that one time. The thing with the animals. No one liked to talk about or remember it anymore, that’s why they only called it the thing. It was mostly unavoidable for the engineer though, having made a roaring trade from creating realistic robot pets to replace those that were lost.

‘You want me to leave him as he is then? The default is the most accurate representation of this particular breed’s average behaviour and temperament. You can always tweak it later on, it comes with all the instructions and even a little screwdriver’ the engineer said, waving his own rather large screwdriver at Gareth.

Gareth chewed on his lip. The engineer was a good salesman, with talk of settings and accessories before he’d even said he wanted it. But it was, after all, what he had come here for.

‘Just as he is please. Yes.’

***

Gareth named his new dog ‘Bernie II’ and chose to walk him home, declining the engineer’s offer to have him safely packaged in a foam lined storage crate and drone-dropped the next morning. He even fitted him with a collar and lead, ignoring the funny looks he got from passers by, some of which were being followed obediently and unleashed by their own mechanical companions. Unlike those fashionably placid automaton, Bernie II pulled at the lead, yapped at anything and everything, and even stopped a few times to eject water vapours on the occasional lamppost.

Back at home Gareth managed to dig out the old blankets and cushions that had been stashed in the loft behind the boxes that held all the Christmas decorations. It was Christmas that had made him think about going down to see the engineer in the first place. He had stood there, last December, half up the step ladder, wresting with the awkwardly stacked and sagging boxes, baubles bouncing off his head and tinsel getting up his nose, when suddenly a box pulled free and a cascade of junk came streaming after it, including a chewed up plastic food bowl that rattled to a halt on the landing below.

Almost a year to the day, he now held the same bowl in his hands and used his little screwdriver to scratch the roman numerals ‘II’ next to the embossed ‘Bernie’ that was written across the side. He set it down and filled it with the food the engineer had given him. It looked and smelled just like real dog food, and for the most part it was very similar. It had just a few extra ingredients thrown in designed to make Bernie’s digestive battery converter sparkle with energy, and keep his replaceable teeth nice and white.

As soon as he had filled the bowl and tapped the fork on the edge, little Bernie II came bounding over and began to chomp away greedily at the slimy contents. As Gareth watched Bernie II gorge himself, he heard the key turning in the lock of the front door. His wife was home.

‘What a day!’ he heard her say as he quickly shot up, closed the door to the kitchen behind him, and kicked the dog cushion out of sight behind the armchair.

As always Tina walked in to the living room dressed in her long cream coat and black scarf, dropped her handbag on the sofa, and threw her keys on the pine coffee table with a loud scratchy clatter.

‘How was your day?’ she asked as she carefully plucked the fingers of her burgundy gloves away one at a time. ‘Mine was awful. The printer wasn’t working, so no one could print any paperclips to hold all the papers together.’

‘That sounds annoying’ Gareth said with a half grimace. ‘I’ve had quite an eventful day.’

He smiled and waited for Tina to ask him what had happened, but instead she flung her gloves on top of her keys and headed past him into the kitchen before he had chance to stop her.

‘What is that!’ she yelped, amidst a chorus of even higher pitched yips from Bernie II. He had made straight for her and was attempting something biologically impossible with her shins, even if he had been a real dog.

‘That’s what I was trying to tell you’ Gareth extracted Bernie who was panting and grinning wildly. ‘I did it. I got one. Like I said. He’s a bit lively, but then, so was the other Bernie, you know, the real one.’

Tina comprehended the drooling fur ball in her husbands hands with thinly veiled disgust.

‘So what’s this one called?’ she sneered, holding her hands close to her as if the dog may bite them off at any moment.

‘Bernie II. Do you like him?’

‘Well you can sort that leg humping business out for a start’ was all Tina said before turning away and heading upstairs to get changed.

There was no point in arguing, Gareth knew, not after such an unplanned and frankly unflattering introduction. So instead he got out his little screwdriver and removed the panel behind Bernie’s neck. Before long he found how to turn the dog’s sexuality setting to ‘neutered’ and put him back together again. Gareth thought that was fair enough, the original Bernie had been ‘done’ after all, so nothing had really changed.

***

That evening, Gareth, Tina and Bernie II settled down together on the sofa to watch an old film on the flat screen. It was some farce about a mad scientist who accidentally blew up reality, and at their feet, little Bernie II lay rolled up with his eyes closed, gently wheezing with each breath.

‘He’s sleeping’ whispered Tina, craning over her drawn up legs to look down at the little bundle on the floor.

‘I know. Isn’t he sweet?’

Gareth was happy to see Tina smiling at the sight. Since that afternoon she had paid little attention to the new addition to the household, save to step over him when he got in the way.

Next Bernie started to twitch his eye lids and paws and make little whimpering sounds as he did so.

‘Chasing rabbits’ Gareth suggested, quietly.

‘Or running through…’ Tina stopped before she could finish the sentence, interrupted by what sounded like someone letting a little air out of a tightly filled balloon. ‘What was that?’

It didn’t take long before they knew exactly what that was. The smell of digested dog food mixed with battery fluid filled the room in a near an instant, and Tina’s smile soon was soon replaced by a look of shock and a wrinkled nose.

‘Good God that’s awful!’ she spat, as if the miasma had gotten into her taste buds. ‘Tell me you can switch that off?’

‘It’ll pass’ Gareth waved away her protestation, much as he waved away the dreadful odour, which was gradually diminishing.

‘I don’t care if it does!’ snapped Tina. ‘I don’t want to smell that ever again!’

Gareth went to laugh, but caught the seriousness in her eyes before he did. Instead he tried gentle persuasion.

‘But my darling, if I switch that off,’ Gareth found himself still whispering, as if Bernie may hear and take offence, ‘instead of feeding him to recharge his battery I would have to plug him in to the mains. The manual said that the, exhaust, was normal and necessary, just like a real dog.’

Tina on the other hand spoke quite loud and clearly in response.

‘But you only get the exhaust if you choose to feed him rather than plug him in?’

Gareth nodded.

‘Then plug him in. He stinks. And it will save money on food’ Tina said in a fashion that would brook no argument. She stared at Gareth until he understood that she also meant right now.

So Gareth took the sleeping Bernie out from the room in his arms, got out his little screwdriver, opened his control panel and found the ‘void’ button, being sure to hold him over a plastic bag in the back porch before he pressed it. The remnants of the digested food drained out of the system, along with a smell so foul it nearly knocked Gareth out, which made him think that maybe it was for the best to switch off the feeding mechanism. Not all dogs were smelly. The original Bernie was a little stinky, but it was hardly his best feature. He would miss the routine of feeding his new little friend and seeing him wag his tail and paw for attention when he wanted a meal, but there was still all the other stuff, all the good stuff.

***

That night Gareth decided not to plug Bernie II in as his battery was still full from the food and he didn’t want the little fellow to be restricted to just a few feet from the power point. Besides, it had always made him feel that little bit safer when he knew there was a dog downstairs, ready to bark at the first sign of an intruder.

Tina insisted that Bernie stayed downstairs, however, but Gareth didn’t mind that. When he was growing up they had never allowed the pets to come upstairs into the bedrooms, so it felt reasonable enough. He would be lying though to say it hadn’t pained him to see little Bernie’s sad eyes as they told him to wait and then closed the door on him.

It was about two in the morning when he first started to howl.

Gareth sprang out of bed. ‘I’ll go’ he said, as if there had been another option. Tina grunted and rolled over, pulling the sheets up to her ears.

When Gareth went into the living room he found Bernie sitting on his back legs in the glow of the moonlight that cast a thin monolith across the carpet.  The room was flickering with the shadows of branches dancing in the windy night. Immediately Bernie ran up and jumped into Gareth’s lap as he knelt down to pat him. He was panting so manically that Gareth was almost worried he would pant himself inside out.

Gareth tried to sooth him, and for a while Bernie at least stopped howling, even if he did still twitch and slobber. But every time Gareth tried to settle him back down and close the door, the howling began anew.

Eventually Gareth found himself stood in the doorway of the bedroom, fiddling awkwardly with the hem of his nightshirt and wondering if Tina had actually managed to get back to sleep yet.

‘What?’ she eventually murmured, without turning from her pillow.

‘He doesn’t like being alone when the wind is blowing. Can he sleep up here?’

‘No’ said Tina abruptly.

‘Then I don’t know what to do’ Gareth pleaded.

‘Turn. Him. Off!’ Tina shouted into her pillow.

‘But I don’t want to turn him off. What if there’s a burglar?’ he said, cautiously.

‘Then he can bloody well take him! Turn it off. Turn it off. TURN IT OFF!!!’ she screamed once more, this time without the pillow, her voice joining the howl of Bernie from downstairs.

Gareth actually jumped with shock at her anger. He decided in an instant that he would do as she said, at least for tonight. He thought that maybe he could train Bernie II not to howl at the wind eventually, but that for now it was better just to put him on mute.

It didn’t take long to find the volume controls once he had opened the control hatch with his little screwdriver. Bernie still yapped and panted, but now he did it in total silence, which had rather an eerie and unsettling effect on Gareth, as if it was he who had gone deaf.

But there was still a problem. Every time Gareth left the room to go back upstairs, Bernie would jump and scratch at the door. He was probably doing it before, but all they could hear was the howling. Now all they could hear was the scratching, and it was one of those sounds that the ear latches onto and makes louder and more distracting with every second that passes until you just can’t take it anymore.

Gareth tried to ignore it, but he couldn’t ignore the tossing and turning of Tina in the bed besides him. He opened his eyes briefly to see if she was just dreaming and chasing rabbits, as it were, but her eyes were very much open.

‘Are you okay?’ he asked.

Tina slowly tilted her head to meet her husband’s eyes and said calmly, and steadily:

‘No. I’m not okay. And if you don’t sort that thing out right now, not only will I smash it into tiny, weenie little pieces and give it to the rag and bone man, I will also be staying at my Mother’s until I can find a man who has more going for him in life than A DEFECTIVE ROBOT DOG!’

Taking the hint, Gareth got up and powered down Bernie II completely and placed him on his predecessors old cushion. Gareth told himself that it was okay, and that Bernie II was just sleeping like a normal, real dog. Just like back in the days before the thing that had stopped people ever having normal, real pets ever again.

But it wasn’t okay, not really, and that night Gareth went to bed more depressed than he had been for a long, long time.

***

When the morning came the wind had settled down and Gareth had almost forgotten the trials of the previous night. That was until he came downstairs in his dressing gown to find Tina as usual nursing a cup of hot coffee, and the still  deactivated Bernie dumped on the table with his lead and open bag of food stacked unceremoniously on top of him.

‘What’s this?’ Gareth asked while blinking the sleep from his eyes.

Tina had barely managed to cover up the ever increasing semi circles under her eyes, even with a heavy foundation, but still she seemed calm and poised for work. She was dressed in her black skirt, striped shirt and long cream jacket with her burgundy gloves peeking out from the pocket.

‘You’ve got nothing else to do today have you? So you may as well take it back, see if you can get your money back.’

Gareth squinted back at her.

‘By it, I take it you mean Bernie II?’

Tina nodded.

‘Why would I do that?’

Tina lost her demeanour.

‘Because it’s useless junk!’ she whipped back at him, slamming down her coffee so hard a small tidal wave leapt out from the cup and onto Bernie’s tail.

‘Watch out!’ cried Gareth as he looked around fruitlessly for a tissue and then began to wipe up the hot steaming fluid with his sleeve.

Tina watched him as he fussed and fawned over the innate piece of metal covered in synthetic fur.

‘Pathetic’ she said, shaking her head. ‘What’s the point of him?’

Gareth drew a deep breath and turned his head away from her for a moment before standing up to his full height, which when he didn’t slouch, was imposingly greater than hers.

‘The point, if you had any inkling of such things, was to try and feel like I used to back when the real Bernie was alive, back when all the pets were still alive.’

‘But it wasn’t alive, and now it doesn’t even bark, or eat, or move for that matter.’ Tina waved a dismissive hand at the lump before her.

‘Only because you told me to switch him off, piece by piece! The whole idea was to believe in him, faults and all. Real dogs made mess. Real dogs were noisy, and Real dogs sometimes smelled bad!’

Graham found himself red in the face and shouting at his wife only a few centimetres from hers unconcerned smirk.

‘And real wives,’ she said with a wicked pout, ‘tell their husbands when they are being pathetic!

Graham couldn’t take it anymore. He couldn’t make her see. He could never make her see. He realised that now, and knew what had to be done as he reached his hands around her throat.

‘What are you doing?’ she whimpered as his grip tightened.

‘Maybe you’re right’ he said gently to her as she struggled against the force of his hands. ‘Maybe there is no point in trying to make something that’s fake ever feel real.’

And with that he twisted his hands sharply, removed the panel from the back of his wife’s neck, and went to fetch his little screwdriver.

THE END.

 

New Release! The Great Connection: Worlds in Waiting

It is finally here…

As you can see in the lovely sidebar to your right (or by scrolling down if you are on a tablet or phone) – my new book ‘The Great Connection: Worlds in Waiting’ is now available to buy in hard back and eBook format! Please click on the link below or the picture of the cover to find out more!

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Garry-Abbott/e/B00FOY38ME

I thought I would take this opportunity to update my rarely updated blog with a little timeline of how this came to be…

The funny thing about writing and releasing a book, is just how much time it takes.

First of all you need an idea. Luckily I have lots of them rattling around and keeping me up at night, but that means you then have to figure out which idea is the one to work on.

I spent the first six months after the release of my last book (The Dimension Scales and Other Stories), working on an idea that was not the right one… I got 30,000 words into a draft before calling it a day on a manuscript that wasn’t going anywhere, fast… The last line I wrote before giving up was:

“Okay, so that might just do it. For now. At least until I know what’s happening.”

Just to be clear, that was me speaking, not a character…

I had made the error of setting off without a map. Even my short stories have a map before I start writing – usually a bullet point list of plot points and chapter arcs. And this time I was writing a novel, a whole 80,000 words+ of unified story! I needed a map, and was back to needing an idea.

I turned to a short story I had release on this very blog to start me off… a nice little premise about space travel through virtual reality being announced by NASA around 150 years in the future, combining citizen science with immersion entertainment to explore the Universe. They called it ‘The Great Connection’. This same story exists now as the Prologue to the novel.

So, that was a nice backdrop, but not a story in itself. Luckily, I had some other ideas, also based on projecting fledgling technologies into the future (which is the bread and butter of many a speculative/science fiction author). Namely about three-parent families, and how, if this was to become an established norm, it would affect the family units of the future.

Add to this my general worries about the rampant rise of consumerism and social division, a little bit of alien world building, and I had my scene set, my characters taking form, and a story map starting to emerge.

From here comes the drafting. The best bit. Usually writing a chapter or major section in one sitting. I couldn’t estimate how long this took specifically, but with other commitments, I know the drafting was at least 6-9 months in real-time. This included a major re-write where ‘Part 2’ of the novel (Lingua Franca) really took shape.

As any writer will know, however, the first draft is just the start. From here there is extensive editing, correcting, tweaking… Probably another 3 months of that before I was able to send it off to get copy-edited (I use a professional copy-editor. As this blog may evidence, sometimes my punctuation can be a little errant!)

And so, I am left with an edited, final manuscript. So what to do with it? Self publish? Send it to agents and publishers? I opted for both. My long term strategy, is anyone is interested, is as follows:

  1. Write book (with all the steps above, including full edit)
  2. Send to agents and publishers…
  3. Wait a bit…
  4. If no-one’s biting, self publish.
  5. Repeat… potentially forever.

I quite like this formula. You have to be exceptionally lucky to get your manuscript land with the right person at the right time to get representation and a deal. In the meantime, I want to know what people think, what people like (or not) and keep developing. Without feedback, how can I make my next book better?

I approached maybe 50 agents and a handful of publishers. Most didn’t respond. A few said thanks, but no thanks. That’s the way of it. People sent me lots of nice stories about famous authors who were rejected hundreds of times before getting their break. I get it. I’ve always known. That’s not why I do it, but it would be nice, one day, when the time is right.

So, I’m now on step 4, as you can see! There are a lot of sub-steps in those simple words ‘self-publish’ – and even having it released is not the end. Now there is marketing, worry, reviews, and pride too.

But I am also well into Step 1 of the next book. The manuscript for my next novel is at around 40,000 words, and, I’m glad to say, it has a very good map. It won’t be a follow up to this book (I’m going to see how it goes before deciding whether there will be a series of ‘Great Connection’ books. I hope so… I’ve designed it so there can be)… but I can, and will reveal, that the next book is called ‘Transported’. It is a comedy sci-fi (think Douglas Adams / Terry Pratchett in tone, if not in voice) and is also a kind-of sequel to the the titular story in ‘The Dimension Scales’. All being well, I hope this will arrive mid 2017, but we’re having a baby before that date, so we will see!

That’s my potted history of ‘The Great Connection: Worlds in Waiting’. I hope you take the chance to have a little look and, ideally, buy and read it.

Thanks, dear readers.

Garry Abbott

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Book Marketing Diaries Part 3 – Asking for help

I’ve never been too proud to ask for help. I may sometimes be too British to ask for help, but that’s a whole different social anxiety altogether.

Over the coming weeks I will be asking many of my friends, family, acquaintances and the occasional tenuous contact to help me with my next book release.

Specifically, I will be asking a core group of people if they would like to have my book for free ahead of publication in exchange for an honest review so that on the day of the launch, other readers who I don’t know already have some guidance and (hopefully) reasons to pick my book out of the multitude on offer.

This will be happening soon. I will contact everyone who I think may want to help out with this, but I am also open to anyone letting me know that they would like to be part of this journey with me. If I am lucky enough to reach the golden number I am hoping for I may have to scale it back, but for now it’s open doors to early reviewers.

If you do, please let me know either through Facebook, or by emailing info@garryabbott.co.uk, and/or ideally by following this blog and leaving a comment with details of how I can contact you. I will be offering primarily digital editions in whatever format suits. I may consider providing a few printed copies if people are adamant! (but this will be limited… overheads and all. I got a marketing plan to try and fund here!)

In the meantime, in lieu of the real artwork that will be coming at some point, here is something I put together for a bit of fun (this in NO WAY represents the actual artwork… I just like messing in photoshop now and again, and skulls are cool, especially in space, with a bowler hat, a monocle, a galaxy and a planet for eyes, coming out of a supernova…These are nearly all images that you may encounter mentally if you become one of my treasured readers!)

tgc teaser layers 2 copy

The book marketing diaries Part 2.5 – A series?

Alluding back to part 2 of this diary (here: The Book Marketing Diaries Part 2 – What’s in a name?) what I came to realise from feedback and seeing those names laid out in front of me was that maybe I was looking at more than one title here.

I have a general idea of the plot of a second book, which I have left open as a possibility in the upcoming novel, and thematically, it would follow on nicely to have the following two titles confirmed, with any third part being left for another time (say, when I was anywhere close to writing it).

So my current thinking is this:

BOOK 1 (Autumn 2016):

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Book 2 (2018 – I have an unrelated title in progress at the moment slated for 2017):

coollogo_com-84781913

Book 3: (Who knows? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here, but if I get a modicum of success from the first two, I would look at a trilogy).

Of course, as a free individual, I reserve all rights to not write another at all! But I do have enough confidence to think a second part would be of interest to my readers at least.

So, that’s my current thinking… But I am always open to having my mind changed (and have in fact, spent many years actively trying to do so), so PLEASE do comment in any way you can if you have an opinion and/or advice about this!

Thanks to everyone who has helped me out so far. even the littlest comment can make a big difference when you are doing something like writing, which despite everything else in life, can feel like a lonely endeavour sometimes.

 

 

The Book Marketing Diaries. Part 1

Hello there.

You may recall that in 2014 I launched my first book, ‘The Dimension Scales and Other Stories’, or you may not, I really don’t know.

Either way, I did. I secured an agent to release it as an eBook through all the usual digital channels (including, alas, some that are now no longer with us), and a year later I released the paperback (without agency assistance).

I was, and remain, proud of that achievement, but it was a first step into a larger world, a world that I didn’t and still don’t yet fully understand how to reach out to.

You know the world I’m talking about, because you’re probably on it right now (unless you do crazy things like print out blog posts onto dead trees) – yes, I am talking about ‘The Internet’.

For anyone looking to reach out to fellow human beings and promote work, it would be ludicrous to ignore it. However, the internet does have a hell of a habit of ignoring you – and that’s the challenge.

Apart from the odd curiosity (especially if they include cats), violence, porn, and high-profile (and highly funded) campaigns out there; for the average person the internet can be a frustratingly aloof resource.

Yes you can start a Twitter/Facebook/Pinterest/LinkedIn/Website/Blog and spend 80% of your time trying to fill it with things to ‘build your platform’ and whatnot, but does it actually work?

I’m not going to say it doesn’t, as I don’ think I’ve got the hang of it all yet. I especially don’t want to spend 80% of my time trying to do so (as some self-professed expert guides will have you think).

So, this time, I will be keeping a little diary of what I’m doing, what it costs (because, yes, there will be costs), and how successful, or otherwise, my attempts are.

The eagle-eyed amongst you will have already spotted that this is in itself, part of the experiment/marketing plan that I have just today decided I’m going to need, given that I’m not having luck with any of the agents this time.

So, part 1 of this blog leads me to item 1 of my marketing plan…

  1. Keep a marketing diary blog.

Pros: Hopefully people will follow your journey and offer assistance, maybe even buy your books and help circulate word of your existence to wider circles.

Cons: I have to remember to keep an online diary and find something to write about at least semi-regularly. Plus, savvy people will realise that they are being marketed at, but then, I will point this out to them, making it some kind of fourth wall breaking ‘meta’ marketing strategy. This will be cool and they will immediately become ardent supporters of your cause.

I of course don’t yet know if this, like any of my activities, will be of use, but let’s find out together, you and I.

Item 2 is quite important, and I’ll cover that in more detail soon (it is already under way):

2. Get a great book cover and titles design from talented people who know what they are doing…

So. There we go. It has started. The only thing that could stop it now is one of the agencies who are still considering my work coming back with an offer, in which case, I won’t really mind that this blog has been for nothing.

Oh! And very importantly, step 3:

3. Actually mention the name of the book and a bit of blurb.

The book is called ‘The Great Connection’ and is a future set ‘first contact’ science fiction novel about the exploration of space through a global citizen-science project that connects deep space observation satellites with virtual reality environments, enlisting the help of ordinary people around the globe to explore uncharted worlds as a form of home entertainment.

It is on one of these worlds that Raif Masters discovers the first signs of alien life in the ten years since the ‘Great Connection’ project was launched: but it is a discovery that could tear his family, and the Earth, apart.

… So there you go!

Marketing Budget To Date: £0.00

 

 

 

 

Writing about pubs? Yeah, I can do that.

This week I was delighted to watch a performance by the fledgling Potboiler Theatre group of ‘Stories from Pub Corners’ – a collection of six monologues performed in situ at the ‘Holy Inadequate’ real-ale pub in Etruria, Stoke on Trent (best pub name ever?).

I have to declare an interest here as I had written one of the monologues. I first came across the call-out for writers with ‘experience of pub stories’ to come forwards and send a draft script to be considered a few months ago. ‘That’s me’ I thought, ‘I’m a writer, and I’ve been to like, loads of pubs – I even used to live in one!’. So I applied, naturally.

As a writer you tend to often find yourself isolated. That’s not a bad thing, it’s obviously easier to write somewhere quiet without interruptions, but it does mean that getting out and collaborating when the opportunity presents itself is usually a very good idea.

This particular production started (for me) with an initial meeting with the producer/lead writer following my submission of a draft piece based on some brief character outlines. A week or so later I met the full team of actors, the director, the other writers and the musician when we came together to introduce ourselves, talk about our experiences with pubs, get some ideas flowing and workshop characters. I got to see a section of my early draft acted out, which was a first for me and a very valuable experience that I hope to have again (I’ve heard my work acted out before on radio, or even acted it myself vocally – but this was my first live, in-the-room type workshop for a visual performance of my work).

I was struck by just how well the actors brought the characters to life off the page. You are always told as a writer to ‘read it aloud’ to yourself when writing scripts especially, but even so, not being trained actors, we can never quite know what to expect when it does fall into someone else’s hands and interpretation. I was more than impressed by what I saw. These guys were really good, and seeing them in action, even with extremely early draft pieces, really helped me to go away afterwards and keep the performance in mind when writing the next draft. And to top it off – we all went to the pub after the meeting to see the space (and drink some pints).

After that it was back to the office to write a new draft for a new character outline before a further script reading (at the pub), the next week. This is where the fun, and challenge, of redrafting comes in. Originally I had written for a character in her forties, but due to the actors we had available, she had to be replaced with a younger character. So, I got given the brief of ‘Mad Lee’ – a young lad with a story to tell about the crazy night he is still recovering from, having woken up in bed with an unusual keepsake. At the script meeting, myself and the other writers read through and discussed our draft pieces. Again the value of this approach was soon obvious. Having other writers give you honest and constructive feedback in the development stages can really help you to sit back from what you’ve written and sharpen it up. It’s all too easy in any project not to see for looking. Fresh eyes and ears are very helpful indeed.

As it happened, due to what I will call prop-acquisition uncertainty, a certain central premise of my draft needed to be changed, quite dramatically! This meant I got to go away and once again rework the script. I was happy for this change. It forced me to once again go over it, consider the plot and the motivations of the character and further try to judge how the audience would react.

After that, the final-ish draft of the script made its way to the group for rehearsals (which I couldn’t attend thanks to a pretty gruelling gig schedule that weekend for my other life playing original music) – so it was only at the first performance I was able to get along to see my character come to life.

And what a life! The nature of this project is that the action takes place in a pub, amongst the audience, as if the characters are just another punter who suddenly decides to pipe up. This was often signalled by the great use of a musician who would start to play a related theme on a guitar prior to the monologue, sometimes dropping back in to add tension or comedy touches to pertinent sections and tying together the evening.

I won’t go into details of the monologues in case of any future performances, but I will say that as an audience member, it was a unique experience. Sometimes the characters were sitting right opposite me and it felt like being in intimate conversation. Sometimes they were across the room, and I felt voyeuristic, as if listening in to a particularly interesting discourse in a public space. For the last two characters, I was stood up, watching the performance though the curvature of the ornamental wood carved screens, as if framing my own director’s cut. And everyone else in and around that room was getting their own unique perspective, able not only to see the actors performance, but the reactions of the other audience members in contrast to the ‘eyes forward’ of traditional theatre.

The nerves of waiting to see my own character perform dissipated as soon as he started speaking and I recognised him (not just the actor playing him, the character himself). There he was, sitting a few feet away from me, alive, telling and owning his story independently of me, like some weird fully grown man-child I had contributed to bringing into this world for a short time: flying the coup.

Needles to say, the rest of the monologues were fantastically written and performed, and the evening was by all accounts a big success. If you hear the name ‘Potboiler Theatre’ in the future, come along. If this is anything to go by, you are sure to be in for a treat.

(Below is the poster for the performance last Monday. Keep an eye on Facebook and Twitter for any announcements of future performances or projects from the Potboiler crew!)

pub corners