‘Beating Heart’ – Excerpt


Finn arrives at the shore. He raises his arms, PUMPS his fists and CHEERS, staggering across the sand.



Harry emerges from the trees. They meet in the middle, the bags and trophy between them. Peace. Harry looks over Finn’s shoulder. Fixated on the water. Confusion scrawled across his face. Finn’s arms slowly drop from above his head. Unsettled.


I raced Ross for the trophy.


Where’d he go?

He turns around. The water settles. Just the gentle KISS of the tide against the sand. Ross is absent.


He was behind me. I passed by him.

Wind WHIPS Harry’s towel against his leg.


Are you sure?


Didn’t you see?

Trees HISS as the wind rustles through them. Finn and Harry stand at the shore looking out at the jetty. The water remains still.


It’s windier now. Trees RUSTLE. The sun is smothered by cloud. They grow pale. Their nipples harden. Droplets of water on Finn. Everything colder.

HARRY (shouting)

Ross? Where are you man?

Finn looks down at his hands. Then out to the lake.


I- Did you see him swimming?


I saw him dive in… then…

They fall silent again. Looking around the lake side from afar for any movement. Walking skittishly around the shoreline, always pulled back to the same spot.


Maybe you should swim out to the jetty. He might be hiding behind it or something.

Harry drops his towel back by his bag.


I feel like you’re setting me up. Like you’re both gonna run off with my stuff as soon as I get out there.

Harry slips into the water and THRASHES his way out to the jetty. He swims around it. Ross is nowhere to be seen. Harry climbs onto the jetty.

HARRY (CONT’D) (Shouting)

Nothing! He’s not out here.

Harry watches the surface.


The water isn’t that deep – he must be at the treeline hiding. (shouting) Ross! Come on out man.

Finn edges away from the water. He retreats to Ross’ belongings. His clothes remain by his bag and towel.

HARRY (shouting)

Finn. Get in the lake. We need to look for him.

Harry dives in and races towards the shore. Finn steps into the lake. He halts, the water caressing his heels.

FINN (shouting)

He’ll be hiding in the trees.

Harry stops. Just past halfway between the jetty and the shore. It’s shallow enough. The rim of his orange swim shorts just above the water.


What if he’s not?


He must be. It’s too shallow to- it’s too shallow in there.


But what if he’s not, Finn?

Finn turns away. Harry hurries after him. The water BURSTS as he charges out of the lake and onto dry land.


Finn! Come here.

Harry reaches out to grab Finn’s arm. Finn pulls away.


No. He’s not in there.

Harry grabs him this time.


Where the fuck else is he?


I don’t know! But he’s not in there. He can’t be.

Finn wrestles free of Harry. He starts running for the treeline.



FINN (to himself)

I’ll find him.


Finn wanders through the trees. The surroundings RUSTLE. His attention keeps turning to the lake. Harry swims in zigzags. Finn leans against a tree. His hands on his head. He looks to the lake then at his hands then down at his feet.


No. I need you to come out man!

He shakes his head, fighting back thoughts. There’s frantic SPLASHING in the background. We hear Harry struggle.


FINN! Finn, quick! Help!

He watches as Harry clings to Ross. Struggling to keep him above the surface. He watches as Harry DRAGS the body through the water. Struggling to make his way to shore. Floundering.



Finn remains paralysed by fear. Watching as Harry struggles. Another shout triggers a response. Finn opens his phone. Dialing 999.


It’s my friend! It’s my friend Ross. He’s… I don’t know! Please, just send an ambulance to the lake. He’s in trouble!


Harry has dragged Ross onto the shore. Finn arrives as he starts CPR. Harry looks takes a brief look at him.


Where were you?!




I needed your help.


I was calling an ambulance.

Harry slides his hands across Ross’ chest, adjusting. He’s unsure of where or how to place them. He tilts Ross’ mouth open and starts pumping his chest. Finn stands over him. He pumps four times, then breathes air into his mouth.


I don’t think you’re supposed to do that anymore.


How the fuck is blowing air into someone going to stop them from being resuscitated?


I don’t know!


Neither do I! But we need to do something. Maybe you should have kept the emergency services on the phone.

Harry continues pumping on Ross’ chest. This time he hesitates breathing air into his mouth, stopping to look up at Finn.


Well should I phone them back?!


Jesus Finn, I don’t know.

Finn sinks to the ground, his head bowed, folding his arms around his legs. Sirens BLARE in the background. The ambulance is nearing. Harry leans away from the body. He drags his hand through the sand, clenching his fist as the granules slip through.

His resolve strengthens and he attempts CPR with even more vigor. Finn raises his head to watch. He blinks with each press at Ross’ chest. His fingers sliding up and down his face, resting over his mouth. Tears well in his eyes as he watches.

Harry’s attempts to beat Ross’ chest fade. He breaks, tears seeping down his face as the intensity of his efforts consume him. He lies back, falling away from the body.

The ambulance arrives. Three paramedics sprint from the vehicle to the boys. One of them crouches next to them.


Boys, we need some quick answers to do our best for your friend okay?

They’re in tears. Struggling to answer verbally. They nod.


How long have you been applying CPR for?


Two minutes maybe.


Has there been any response?

They shake their heads.


And how long was he in the water for?

Harry and Finn look at each other.


Ten?… M-maybe fifteen minutes…

The paramedic nods at her colleagues.


…It feels like longer.


Okay, I need you two to give them some space.


No, we’re staying with him.


I need you to give them some room. Come back to the ambulance with me.

Reluctantly they follow her to the ambulance at the head of the beach. She jumps into the back of the vehicle. Finn and Harry wait. Watching as the other paramedics perform CPR.

Droplets of rain land on the blackened ambulance window. The reflection of Finn and Harry watching on. Paramedic #2 performing CPR looks up, shaking her head as she tries again. Paramedic #1 pops her head out from the ambulance.


Come inside boys. We need to get you warm.

They don’t respond. They watch. Paramedic #2 stops. Shakes her head. Paramedic #3 checks his watch. Finn looks at Harry. His mouth slightly ajar. Disbelief. Paramedic #3 pulls a silver cover from her bag. They wrap it over the body.

Harry half shakes his head. Biting his lip. Holding back the wave of emotion. Paramedics #2 and #3 approach.


I’m sorry. We weren’t able to resuscitate him.

Finn and Harry embrace. Both in tears.


We’ll give you a bit of time, but it’s best to get you out of the cold and tend to you at the hospital.

Finn pulls away from Harry.


We don’t need tending to, there’s nothing wrong with us!


We need to take you somewhere where your parents can collect you. The shock-

They run across the sand to the body. The silver cover whipped by the wind. Rain pitter-patters upon it. They sit by it.




Finn and Harry sit in a reception area. Ross’ Dad, TERRY NICHOLSON (47), sits across from them next to one empty chair.


Thanks again for coming boys. I want you to know, there’s no pressure on you to go in and see him.


I’ll be fine, Terry.


Aye, it’s nae bother. Terry nods.

Silence falls between them as they wait. Terry’s attention turns to the chair next to him.


Feels like they’re rubbing it in leaving this spare seat next to me.

Finn and Harry don’t know how to respond. Terry stands and lifts his chair. They recoil, unsure what he’s going to do. He slots it down on top of the spare chair and sits on them.

Terry wobbles. The chairs don’t stack properly. They CREEK as he struggles to maintain his balance. Finn and Harry watch on. Dumbfounded.


This is a bit uncomfortable.

The FUNERAL DIRECTOR approaches. Terry does his best to sit still, staring at Finn and Harry across from him.


We’re ready now if you’d like to follow me.

Everyone stands. As Terry does, the chair he was sitting on slides forward, CLATTERING onto the floor. He hurries to collect it, sitting it back in it’s original place and mouths a silent sorry.

They follow the Funeral Director through a narrow doorway into a tight corridor. There’s a window at the end where light seeps in through a set of curtains.


He leads them to a door and opens it.


I’ll leave you to it.

The Funeral Director leaves. Finn and Harry hesitate, waiting to see what Terry does. Terry lingers in the doorway, looking in at the body resting on a white, cloth covered table. Terry finally decides to enter and the two boys follow him in. Terry stands at Ross’ head. He brushes Ross’ fringe with his hand.


I always wanted him to cut the hair.


He used to tell us that’s why he kept it long.

Terry laughs.


The wee bastard! It even looks like he’s smirking just now.

Harry smiles.


It’s partly why I asked you to come along today.

Finn’s hand rests on Ross’ leg. The same leg he tugged at in the lake that day.


I didn’t want whatever you saw a few days ago to be your last memory of Ross.

This draws Finn’s attention away from Ross, JOLTING his hand away from his leg.


I’ll leave you two with him for a few minutes.

Terry leaves the room. Harry walks away from Finn, around to the other side of the table which Ross’ body lies on.


I keep… wishing, that we had been setting you up. Just to steal your clothes.

Harry lets out a short, breathy laugh.


I’m still expecting him to walk in the door with my stuff.

They’re both amused.


I keep coming back to the same question.


How could he drown in shallow water?

Finn shakes his head.


He’s not fuckin’ dim, y’know? How could he drown? Harry stands.


Maybe… maybe he got tangled in something. Seaweed or-


Not that I saw.


I don’t know.


Didn’t you notice anything as you swam past him?


We were next to one another. Neck and neck. He gave me the finger. Then I swam past him. I looked back… just once…

Harry gets closer to Finn.


…But I didn’t see anything. He was still swimming. And I focussed on the beach.


You were right there. Right there! Yet I’m the one who had to carry him out.

They’re nearly in each others’ faces.


I had to search the woods. You know what he’s like-


I was in the water, I had to-! Whilst you fucked about in the trees.


I was calling an ambulance!


“Search the woods”

Harry pushes Finn.


Too scared to get in and help me.

Finn barges out of the room.

‘Guess Who?’



Answer Phone BEEP.


Valerie. We’re about to board the flight. Make sure everything is ready for our arrival tomorrow. Give our love to Chris. See you soon.

Val (21), African American woman, sits with her legs crossed on the floor, leaning back against a couch. Chris (10), white, sits on the opposite couch, his feet don’t touch the floor. They’re playing the board game ‘Guess Who’.


That’s cheating.


My house, my rules Val.


There’s a table between them, a filled fruit bowl and brass candles sit on top. Chris rocks back and forward.


It’s your parents rules. I’m the one who enforces them.

Pictures in gold frames hang above a marble fireplace. Chris in a shirt and tie. The family unit. The pictures are formal.


I’m still going first. Are they wearing a cap?

The sun casts a shadow from the blinds, bars stretching across the white carpet, creeping across a picture of Val and Chris.

VAL No. Is yours a boy?

There’s an empty bowl on the floor with ’Drippy’ written on it.

CHRIS (Groaning)


Does yours wear jewelry? There’s trophies on display, like a shrine.


Uh-huh. How about blonde hair?


No. Big nose?

A potted plant sits in front of a cupboard full of bourbon, vodka and gin, complimented by luxurious glasses and decanters. It’s all for show.


Damn it!

Chris’ board has six faces remaining. Five black, one white.


Better get the car started.


We ain’t done yet. Blue eyes?

Chris shakes his head. Val flips more faces down.


Are they black?



Chris SLAMS all but one face down.


The doors of a Toyata Corolla SLAM. We hear the car engine REV. The car takes off down the winding drive way to the giant iron gates at the entrance.



Chris sits in the back. Seat belt across his red jumper which reads ‘KICKER’ on it. Val turns on the radio.


Police are appealing for any witnesses to come forward regarding the disappearance of Georgie Sellars.

Rain spits at the windscreen. She turns the volume down.


Drippy ran away one time.


Oh? How long for?

Police car sirens WAIL as they drive past.


Over a week.


How’d you find him?


We put lots of fliers up around the neighbourhood.

The windscreen CREEKS as the wipers swipe.


I came home after school and he was waiting with Mom and Dad.

Val’s facial expression is skeptical.


Well, that was lucky.


He was still a bit scared for a few weeks.

The wipers GROAN.


I hope the same’ll happen with Georgie.


I’m sure they’ll find him.


Chris darts into an open slot in the revolving door separating himself and Val as they enter. He pokes his tongue out as he waits for her to enter. The mall is bright, spacious and HEAVING.

Families and teens, there’s a general RABBLE of conversation, but above that there’s LAUGHTER and SHOUTING. Val SNATCHES Chris’ hand and leads him aside. Hanging on the wall are giant advertising tablets displaying perfume.


Don’t do that again, little man.


Can we get ice cream first?

The tablet ad changes to a movie poster titled “MISSING”.


On one condition: you hold my hand at all times.

Chris nods in agreement, trying to drag Val further into the mall. She obliges. They pass a clown making faces at a boy standing with his Mum, WAILING as he holds a balloon.

Chris starts to DRAG Val. Her bag SHAKES. His pace QUICKENS. He leads her FASTER. NIPPING between shoppers. Chris LAUGHS and WHOOPS as he narrowly avoids an elderly lady and her shopping bag. His fingers SLIP through hers.

VAL (CONT’D) (Shouting)

Chris! Get back here!

Chris is ABSORBED into the crowd. No longer visible, only his GIGGLES are audible.



A MAN dressed in purple steps out from a booth titled: “SECURI-HOME”.


Mam, can I interest you in-

Val BARGES him aside. She DARTS between people. The sign ‘NARDINI’S ICE CREAM’ is visible. She breaks through a crowd of people. Chris is standing waiting at the entrance with an OLDER MAN. His white beard is bushy and distinct. He’s wearing a blue anorak.

He’s kneeling. One hand rests on Chris’ shoulder, he holds a purple dragon plush toy in the other. He’s speaking to Chris but it’s inaudible.



The Older Man gets to his feet. They face Val. She notices the teddy.


What did I tell you?!


Are you his mother?


His Nanny.

The Older Man’s hand grips Chris’ shoulder TIGHTER. OLDER MAN Keep a closer eye on him. Next time you might not be so… Chris groans and struggles slightly. The Older Man releases his grip.




..Right. Well… thanks, sir.

Val motions for Chris to come to her. He waddles over sheepishly. She clutches his hand and leads him away from ‘Nardini’s’. The Older Man watches, the plush toy dangles.


But Val! What about-


Nuh-uh. Not a chance. If your parents covered fuel we’d be going home right now.

Chris tries to strop but Val is in control, hauling him away.


Any more of this and you ain’t getting to the arcade.




No more buts! Or I’m sending you home with Captain Birdseye back there.

Chris looks up at her, his mouth agape. Val glares at him. He submits. His arm flimsy as she leads him onto the escalators.

PULL BACK to show the Older Man on the escalator. LURKING. Between him, Val and Chris are a family of four and two couples.


BELLS RING. ALARMS. BANGING. POPPING. Claws SNATCH at toys. Kids shoot at screens. Pucks FIRE across air hockey tables. Parents, kids and couples battle. Everyone is with someone. Chris and Val team up on the light gun game ‘Time Crisis II’.

On the console the villain drags his hostage off screen. Chris and Val take control and start shooting. Action shots of them shooting the screen, but from a distance. There’s a sense of voyeurism. Ducking and dodging, they CHEER, SNARL and GROWL at the screen.

Val YELPS. Her screen reads ‘Continue?’ She crouches down – revealing The Older Man, LINGERING behind them – she fumbles for money to continue. Chris tackles the rest of the game. ‘GAME OVER’. Val is too slow. Chris GROANS. The Older Man has VANISHED.


OH! OH! The ball pit play area.

Val CLAMPS her hand around his wrist. Chris tries to run deeper into the arcade towards the ball pit area.


Cool your jets little man.

Val reaches for her bag, clinging to him as he struggles.

CHRIS (whining)

I want to go to the ball pit.

They draw attention from passers by.


Stop it or we’re leaving.


You’re not my mom!

The attention grows. Eyes on them. Watching. Concern. Judging. A Mall Security Officer is speaking to the Older Man.

VAL (Hissing)

You’re making a scene.

CHRIS (Louder, repeating)

You’re not my mom! Let me go!

He WRIGGLES and STRIVES. Val is distracted by people stopping. She reaches again for her bag. Mall Security approach. Her grip is broken. Chris runs towards the ball pit.



She is met by an imposing Mall Security Officer. He’s young, bald and AGITATED. His stare INTENSE. His brow furrowed. His eyes pore over her. Fingers teasing handcuffs on his belt.


There a problem here?


No, sorry.

She attempts to follow Chris. The Officer doesn’t move.


That your kid?


No. I’m his Nanny. I need to- Val tries to push past him. His arm stretches and stops her.


Right. His Nanny. I want to see some identification.


Sir, I need to-


Ma’am, I watched you harassing a child who obviously-

He clears his throat, a smirk crosses his face.


-is not yours.


What’s that supposed to mean?


It means that I want to see your ID. Please.

Val, fumbling, hurriedly producers her ID from her bag. He examines it meticulously.


Can you get in touch with his parents to confirm your position?


He’ll confirm it. Let’s go ask him.

She tries to push past again. He resists. They struggle.


Let me- Chris!


Alright, that’s enough!

The Officer sweeps her to the floor face first. Val screeches. A crowd gathers. The jovial atmosphere turns to hostile whispers.


I saw her grabbing a kid.


Maybe she’s the one.


Get off me!

He slaps the handcuffs around her wrists. He brushes the sides of his head with his hands. He kneels over her back.


I haven’t done anything. He dips his head close to her ear.


I wouldn’t recommend resisting arrest.


And what about Chris?!

The Officer activates the radio strapped to his shoulder. His brow has dampened.


Requesting support in the arcade. Over. The response is immediate.


This is Thomson, I’ll be right there. Over.


Thanks chief.

Val whimpers. The Officer reaffirms his grip.


The Play Area is built on a ball pit foundation. Rope ladders, climbing frames, slides and polls. Kids dangle and dive, there’s pieces of clothing strewn around. A shoe dangles from a rope bridge, tied to it by it’s laces.

Parents wait around the outside, some chatter, some bark instructions at their kids and others look disinterested on their phones – relieved to have a break. We follow the Older Man’s plush toy as it dangles from his hand.

He walks down the corridor, entering the Play Area. He reaches the Ball Pit perimeter barrier.



We see his face now. Beardless. His anorak removed. His face appears friendlier, his demeanor calm, but his eyes glare.


Which one’s yours?

He surveys the ball pit. They fix on Chris, sitting up right.


That one.

He waves at Chris and jiggles the plush toy at him. Chris clambers out of the ball pit and across to the Older Man.


Come along Christopher, Val’s waiting for you.


Where is she?


She’s back downstairs. They wouldn’t let her through here with the ice cream.

Chris looks at the Older Man. The Male Parent has returned to swiping on his phone. The Older Man offers the plush toy and Chris takes it. They leave the Play Area, the Older Man’s anorak left behind on the perimeter barrier.


Thomson pushes his way through the crowd. Answer Phone BEEP.


Valerie. We’re about to board the flight.

He staggers through to see the Officer kneeling over Val.


Make sure everything is ready for our arrival tomorrow.

The Officer lifts her to her feet. Thomson puts his hands on his hips, his head droops.


Give our love to Chris. See you soon.



Thomson removes Val’s handcuffs. The Officer opens his mouth to speak. Thomson grits his teeth, purses his lips and holds his finger up to SHUSH him.


Where’d the boy go?


The ball pit. Through the back!


The three rush into the Play Area. Val looks around panicked. She leans on the perimeter barrier.

VAL (Shouting)


Thomson and the Officer both reach the barrier. Val walks past it, into the play area.




You just missed him.

Val notices a group of kids playing. One of them wears a blue anorak. The other wears a big white beard, smothering his face. The other kids pull at it playfully. GIGGLING.


Where is he?


The beard…

Val returns to Thomson and the Officer.


He just left with his Dad.


What did he look like?

MALE PARENT I dunno, clean shaven. He had some dragon teddy with him. There a problem?

Thomson turns to his radio.


There’s a missing boy. Suspected kidnapping. Mark all the exits. Keep an eye out for any dragon teddies, get across the cameras and find him.

The trio rush from the ball pit area. The Male Parent looks perplexed. In the background, the kids succeed in ripping the beard off their companion.


Val CHARGES through the arcade. In an almost trance-like state. BARGING past people. A coin cup is scattered, games interrupted, drinks spilled.


She splutters and pants as she THRUSTS them out of the way on the escalator and dodging in between them. She continues to SCREAM Chris’ name in vain. On the ground floor now. Still no sign of him. People are startled by her panicked screams.

Someone grabs her arm. She turns, coiled, ready to STRIKE. It’s Thomson.


Any sign?

VAL (Distraught)



We’ll find him. Keep looking.

They separate. She’s running. She CLATTERS into a mother and her son. Val and the son hit the floor with a THUD. The balloon he held escapes his grasp, floating away. Free. He erupts into tears.

As she lies on the ground sound is distorted for a moment before returning with the cries of the son. Val blinks. Her cheek sticks to the cold marble floor, her reflection visible. Her eyes catch sight of something, discarded on a metallic chair. People pass by the seats. It’s the plush toy. Sitting alone. Two empty seats alongside. Her eyes widen.


The Matrix – 20 Years On

The Matrix – Twenty Years On.

By Andrew McKissock

Upon discovering that The Matrix is twenty years old in 2019, I was reminiscent of protagonist Neo (Keanu Reeves) as he learns he’s been living inside a computer simulation. He panics, shouting “I don’t believe it. I want out!” before eventually vomiting. As Neo’s world unravels, so do my attempts to cling to my youth.

So what’s behind the longevity of The Matrix? The story can be read allegorically in ways which remain relevant today. You could interpret the machines turning humanity into batteries as a metaphor for mankind being enslaved by capitalism. There’s also the notion that Neo’s awakening is an analogy for transitioning – Lana and Lilly Wachowski both came out as trans after the trilogy released.

The opening five minutes of the film set the scene perfectly; Trinity (Carrie Ann Moss) runs along walls, jumps impossible distances and swats two police units aside before fleeing in terror from Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) and his cohorts. She’s demonstrably capable of remarkable actions and yet she doesn’t entertain the thought of attempting to battle the Agents, which establishes their threat. She escapes by answering a ringing phone before Smith smashes a truck into it. The action is jaw dropping – whilst hinting at a greater, more complex threat.

That threat is the Matrix itself. As Morpheus (Laurence Fishbourne) and Trinity attempt to free Neo, the man they believe to be the saviour of humanity, Smith and the system race to prevent them. When Smith arrests and interrogates Neo, the allegory for transitioning starts to take shape. He denies any future for Neo if he refuses to return to his life as Thomas Anderson, a part of the status quo. This evokes parallels of refusing to acknowledge trans identity, instead choosing to identity them by their deadname – a theme which continues through to Neo’s final confrontation with Smith.

We later learn that the Agents can manifest themselves in anybody plugged into the Matrix. If we continue to apply a trans reading and the Agents represent transphobia, it suggests that anyone plugged into the system is a potential threat to Neo and his comrades’ existence – that fear and hatred can appear when you least expect it.

As Morpheus teaches Neo about the simulations origins, he reveals that humans are now grown – serving as a power source for the Matrix. Humans are born into bondage with the system, propping it up with little reward and are easily replaceable. Oxfam recently revealed that the 26 richest people in the world own as much as 3.8 billion people who make up the poorest half of the world’s population. It’s easy to see the similarities between populations sustaining two systems, capitalism and the Matrix, with scant reward for their enormous contribution.

Whilst strands of religious symbolism, morality and philosophical questions are woven seamlessly into the film, it’s possible that The Matrix still resonates because it’s a kick ass movie bursting with slick fight scenes that ooze style rarely matches in the modern films it helped inspire. As Neo and Trinity attempt to save Morpheus, Neo reveals to security guards that he’s armed to the teeth under his leather overcoat. It’s as iconic a moment as the slow motion ‘bullet time’ battle which follows.

The film’s climax is a masterclass in tension. Everything the film sets up in the first two acts are paid off in the final as Neo faces off against Agent Smith in the Matrix, whilst Morpheus and Trinity battle machines in the real world. The Wachowskis consistently blend moments of levity with outrageous action and high concept philosophy. They manage to package them into something easily digestible for the audience; something which, twenty years later, few sci-fi movies readily achieve.

In celebration of its twentieth anniversary The Matrix is being screened at the 2019 Glasgow Film Festival on February 22nd. Tickets are still available, offering moviegoers the chance to free their mind at the Argyll Street Arches, with the promise of an after party to unplug – hopefully without the threat of Agents crashing by.

‘Fragments of Memories’

Christmas traditions. Every family has them, good and bad. Mostly bad. I still remember rare moments of unity with my sister, bemoaning our mum’s compulsory photoshoot at the top of the stairs with the two of us holding our stockings.

I check my watch, 21.43. My pace quickens, the train within reach. Santa and Rudolph lurch toward the carriage ahead of me with arms linked and cases of dark fruits lodged between their free arms. I opt to avoid their particular brand of festivity and nip into the next carriage.

The train doors bleep and a whistle tears through the jovial atmosphere the carriage is wrapped in. The Just before the doors close a mother and son bounce inside. They celebrate their victory with high fives, each sharp inhale followed by a giggle. The train jolts to a start. As they collect themselves they approach me.

“Is it alright if we sit here?”

“Of course!” I answer, moving my briefcase from the table. Unlike any the rest of the year, I don’t grudge them.

I look out the window, catching their reflection against the darkened backdrop, Christmas lights dwindling as we depart the city. My eyes are drawn to the Christmas tree lodged in the boy’s jumper as he tries to rid himself of it, half revealing a Stormtrooper t-shirt underneath. His mum hauls it back down.

“It’s too cold.” She says. The boy crosses his arms.

I recall the battles I had with mum, trying to rid myself of each Christmas jumper. First it was too itchy, then I feigned an allergy. None of the excuses ever successful. Teachers have heard them all. I should have embraced it back then.

Christmas traditions. Every family has them, good and bad. Mostly bad. I still remember rare moments of unity with my sister, bemoaning our mum’s compulsory photoshoot at the top of the stairs with the two of us holding our stockings. It’s fun to look back and see how progressively worse the hangovers got over the years. Although we were ready to declare all-out war when she insisted on videoing us opening presents in our twenties, resisting became part of the theatre of the day. We might have hated it but fighting the camcorder became a fun tradition in itself.

I like to think Mum felt the same about me trying to sneak downstairs to open the presents every twenty minutes from two in the morning onwards. She must have preferred that to me stoating in at two with presents still to wrap. I swear that’s what killed me during the family quiz that my sister started after Christmas dinner. I dread and miss those games.

The carriage slowly empties as we pass each stop, each departure diluting the cheer until it’s time for the last stop. The remnants trickle up to the train door behind me. I resist the urge to assure them of my love for Christmas. My suit doesn’t fit with the dress code of Santa hats, antlers and Christmas jumpers.

After we filter out of the train I pass the boy and his mother as she zips his jacket over his jumper. I smile at the boy.

“Merry Christmas,” he says.

“Merry Christmas,” I reply, “Make the most of it.”

I meander up the winding road to my apartment block, wrestling the key into the lock before it finally turns. My footsteps echo up the staircase, it’s especially cold here. I enter into my apartment, neglecting the big light, opting instead for the lights which strangle the tree hiding in the corner of the room which extend around my window. I check the answer machine as I do every year for a message that doesn’t come. One of my three Christmas traditions. I fetch my Christmas jumper and change into it, making sure to flick the switch that makes the lights attached glow. I open my briefcase and remove the pack of six mince pies. I stick three of them in the microwave and heat them.

Mum used to usher me out the door round to old Mrs Fisher’s house to deliver banana loaf she’d cooked, my reward was taking the brunt of an hour long conversation. It’s the one tradition I can preserve. The microwave dings and I stick them on a plate. There’s no response at the first two doors on my floor, so I leave the pies sitting at the doorstep. They’re probably still out. I can hear Christmas songs from the last door. I knock the door and linger. They probably can’t hear me over the music, so I knock louder. There’s no response. I think I can hear muffled voices as I motion to knock again but I stop. I place the pie at the door.

“Maybe next year”, I say.

Let’s Talk About Oscar Categories

We need to recognise the films featuring men resembling a half melted candle opposite the latest talked-about actresses on the scene.

Recently the Academy’s decision to introduce the award for Outstanding Achievement in Popular Film sparked fierce debate about which honours belong at Tinsel Town’s showpiece event. As it’s the season of goodwill, it’s only fair that we put together a list of awards categories which have been neglected for too long.

The Award for Best Cinematic Universe, in which the only candidate is the Fast and the Furious franchise. The Award for Best Donald Glover Performance; is it for acting, writing or soundtrack? Probably all three. How about an award for actors and actresses cursed by being typecast? Yes, I am trying to find a legitimate award for Mark Hamill, but I’m also looking at you, Meg Ryan.

We’ve got an award for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Screenplay, but what about the Best Unoriginal Screenplay? Let’s hear it for the reboot of the remake of the movie adapted from the book, adapted from the fairytale. Robin Hood has recently returned to the big screen and if there’s one thing we’ve been begging for it’s an updated take on the notorious outlaw in order to ask: which will be more vacant? The script or the cinema? You’d have to travel all the way back to the distant year of 2010 for the previous adaptation, released alongside films such as Alice in Wonderland. Don’t even think about it, Hollywood.

Remarkably, one of Hollywood’s favourite tropes has yet to receive an awards category. I present to you the Award for Outstanding Age Difference between co-stars. It’s commonly known that men are allowed to age in the film industry whilst women seem to ridiculously pass their sell-by date by forty – if they’re lucky. We need to recognise the films featuring men resembling a half melted candle opposite the latest talked-about actresses on the scene. Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Lawrence and Brie Larson are some of the many lucky women to embark upon this rite of passage.

Sticking with age, it’s high time the Oscars introduced the The Liv Tyler Lifetime Achievement Award for Women. If movies have taught us anything it’s that when a woman’s fuckability expires, she might as well start a trendy smoothie company. As San Diego State University’s recent study shows, only 29% of women over forty star in mainstream movies. This award would help the next batch of actresses in their late thirties transition into the next stage of their career: network television, subpar Netflix movies and relative obscurity.

Saving the best for last, I think we’d all welcome the Matt Damon Medal of Commendation award. It’s been a rough year for all the ‘good guys’ in Hollywood – isn’t it time for them to get some recognition? Last year Damon bemoaned the lack of attention on those in Hollywood who don’t partake in sexual misconduct and are in fact decent human beings. It’s time we gave those men the respect they deserve on the back of a difficult year for them. Keep holding those doors open you chivalrous champions!

High Brow Horror

Many of the best critical performers in the horror genre today are dwarfed by the financial success of those which hold comparatively little critical credence.

Many of the best critical performers in the horror genre today are dwarfed by the financial success of those which hold comparatively little critical credence. Whilst outliers such as A Quiet Place (2018) are both box office and critical successes, far more prevalent are bloated franchises packed with jump-scares, many of which appear to have been chopped up and reassembled in a slightly different order from their predecessors. But why do audiences opt for franchised offerings like The Nun (2018)? What makes them more profitable than critical successes Hereditary (2018) or It Comes At Night (2017)? 

We need only look at the Paranormal Activity franchise, an example of the formula A Quiet Place seems destined to fall victim to. The first movie in the series was a genre-changing hit with audiences and critics alike, grossing $139m against a meagre $15,000 budget. It earns the scares through a slow build of tension and disconcerting scenes such as the iconic moment its protagonist, Katie, wakes in the middle of the night to stand lingering over her bed for hours. By the time 2015’s The Ghost Dimension was released, everything the first entry had done successfully had been butchered. The franchise became a shambolic mess of jump-scares and was consequently slaughtered by critics. The root of this can be traced back to Paramount adding a new theatrical ending to the original which was included in the film’s wider release, adding a jump-scare finale as a setup for future instalments. Once the imagination had bled from the franchise in exchange for lazy moments of shock, Paranormal Activity became a safe financial investment.

Similarly, franchises offer audiences the kind of safety that original-concept just can’t. The formulaic nature of franchised horror films grants ticket-holders a feeling of comfort and familiarity. Originality doesn’t always appeal when the option to step back into recognisable scares already exists. Take the recent entry into the Conjuring franchise, The Nun. The film’s effectiveness hinges solely upon whether you find the appearance of its titular character scary. After that, it relies upon jump-scares in order to frighten its audience. There’s little imagination offered up in these lazy attempts to frighten, and this transfers to the viewer. It’s momentary terror driven by a sudden intrusion of noise, often without an accompanying frightening image. Scared, we may be; but the feeling passes. We’re not asked to think too hard, and if we do we’re likely to dismantle a nonsensical plot. We leave the cinema with an adrenaline rush, but there’s little to dissect and no lasting effect on our psyche. 

In contrast, the horror of It Comes at Night is born from the unknown. It examines psychological degradation as one family struggles to maintain their humanity under threat of infection from an unseen enemy. The audience is given no information about the infection, we never see any creature or infected humans actively trying to hurt them. The tension is instead drawn out through a dubious friendship with another family and the resulting paranoia created. The film effectively approaches its world building with unsettling imagery, an atmospheric soundtrack and its placing of characters under extreme duress, all elements which linger long after the film ends. Yet, the marketing for the film by production company A24 presents it like a creature horror much more akin to 28 Days Later (2002).

This year’s Hereditary issues a lethal injection of terror with its compelling depiction of a family unravelling in grief. It was billed as ‘this generations The Exorcist and yet, The Nungrossed nearly $300m more at the box office. Hereditary was also distributed by A24, with much of the promotional material portraying a more generic movie seemingly revolving around a disturbed child. There’s a correlation between packaging psychological horror films as formulaic and their poor performance with audiences. It suggests that we would rather take our chances with the spooky Nun, which has a tangible presence, than the more abstract haunting presence of evil which is liable to linger in our minds. When presented with a film which is more challenging than initially promoted, audiences respond negatively.  

This goes someway to explaining why A Quiet Place enjoyed such universal success. It managed to blend unnerving imagery and a tense atmosphere with an accessible story. There is undoubtedly a place for both the jump-scare and more emotionally challenging horror. Whilst some films will lean heavily on one or the other, the best manage to combine them, earning the scares which service a story that audiences are invested in; allowing the horror haunt us long after the closing credits.

Skate Kitchen – Review

It’s a welcome change to see women with agency in a culture which is often portrayed as predominantly masculine.

There’s a moment in Crystal Moselle’s 2018 Movie ‘Skate Kitchen’ where the titular posse pass a young girl on their skateboards as they roam through New York City. The girl turns and gawks at the group, whilst her mother drags her in the opposite direction. It’s easy to relate to the young girl as we’re thrust into the New York City skateboarding subculture, just as we relate to protagonist Camille (Rachelle Vinberg) who struggles with her identity throughout the movie.

The film opens with Camille suffering a particularly nasty injury whilst skating in her local Long Island area. Despite being in pain she attempts to skate home, still wearing hospital clothing, which grants us an immediate insight into the importance of skateboarding to her identity. When her mother (Elizabeth Rodriguez) bans her from skating, it’s clear she’s going to ignore her. Their relationship is turbulent – her mother often speaks to her in Spanish, but Camille only responds in English. Such is the disconnection between them, her mother stumbles through asking if she’s alright after a follow up hospital visit.

Where Camille does find a connection, however, is with the all-female ‘Skate Kitchen’ in New York City. Though her introduction is awkward, she decides to meet with them because of a post on the group’s instagram and establishes a rapport through her skateboarding. Still, we can sense her discomfort as the squad skate off through the city traffic and she is left behind. Director Crystal Moselle is excellent at capturing mood and perspective through moments like this, using locations, street signs, street art and backgrounds to great effect. As the group of friends chill and smoke they cling to a fence which segregates their decaying skate park from the affluent city in the distance.

As Camille’s relationship with her mother crumbles, she moves in with Janay (Ardelia Lovelace) and her family. She grows closer to her and the group and, more comfortable with her sense of self, adopting lingo used by the group’s brash leader Kurt (Nina Moran). The film is at its strongest when discussing teenage insecurities and sexuality. The group also explore concerns about the insidious aspect to male skaters they encounter which serves to foreshadow a close call later in the film. It’s a welcome change to see women with agency in a culture which is often portrayed as predominantly masculine. The dialogue feels natural, rarely indulging heavily in exposition, instead only opting to do so when it’s earned.

However, when her newfound friendships threaten to come off the rails, Camille is forced to confront old wounds. Her past insecurities seep into the new identity she’s established – testing whether it can survive without her friends and without the security of skateboarding. ‘Skate Kitchen’ demonstrates the strength an individual can gain through friendship. It encourages us to share our passions, to reach out and form bonds, as Camille does, gaining confidence as an individual – and as part of a team.

Great Movie Scenes – Part 1

Sounding the spoiler claxon nice and early here.

‘Interstellar’ (2014) – Docking

Christopher Nolan’s space epic is a favourite of mine. Arriving after his Batman Trilogy and before recent critical hit Dunkirk, Interstellar‘s reception was a little more lukewarm. Its run time clocks in around 3 hours, dives into black holes and time dilation and ties it all together with love and family. There are several spectacular scenes (Miller’s Planet and just about any involving the Black Hole named Gargantua) but the most unforgettable is the Docking sequence.

Starting with the explosion in space without sound is haunting, it puts us in a moment – following from Dr Mann’s last piece of dialogue – and a moment is all Cooper needs to consider his options. The visual of the Endurance spinning, the ticking clock sound underpinning the score, debris scattering above the Ice Planet below, combined with the Organ striking up and thrusting us into the do or die attempt at docking is a perfect build of tension. The track features a grander, stretched out version of the motif which runs throughout Hans Zimmer’s score. It helps emphasise the strain on Cooper and the struggle as he attempts to dock the ship –  failure to do so will see them stranded or sucked back onto the Ice Planet below; their mission and mankind, in ruin.

’28 Days Later’ (2002) – Opening

I’m still holding out hope for the final movie in the 28 Days/Weeks series. It’s a forlorn and fruitless hope, I’ll only be disappointed as it seems the chances are almost as remote as surviving in the post-apocalyptic world built by Danny Boyle and Alex Garland. The film rejuvenated the Zombie genre, despite technically not being a zombie film. It’s such a bleak setting, but that only serves to make the few glimmers of hope so beautiful.

YouTube doesn’t have the full opening scene, but it gives a flavor of it. Sadly it skips the part where Cillian Murphy wakes up ‘bawz oot’, but that’s not hard to find. The empty London streets, usually smothered in people, houses only scattered souvenirs. The slow build of the music helps to elevate the unease and yet despite this, it’s an oddly personal scene. We’re questioning everything just as Jim is, where the fuck is everyone? What happened? His simple screams of ‘Hello’ which echo, unanswered, are haunting. I’m sure on reflection I can think of a better opening to a film, but as I write this I think this is probably my favourite. Also, as YouTube neglected to give us the whole opening here is another favourite: “World’s worst place to get a flat”

‘Jaws’ (1975) – Indianapolis Speech

Nothing really needs to be said about how iconic Jaws is so let’s just get into the scene:

The trio of Brody, Hooper and Flint enjoy a fractious relationship in the early stages of their journey. This scene is an absolute masterclass. The visual build up as Flint and Hooper compare injuries which grow as they go on competing gives us a false sense of camaraderie before the tension sets in and Flint recounts the aftermath of the sinking of the Indianapolis in World War II. The jovial atmosphere of the scene evaporates. We’re granted an insight into the tragic backstory of Flint, who initially comes off a unhinged, and we share the shock, discomfort and yet an element of sympathy and understanding which Brody and Hooper feel. Flint suddenly seems vulnerable, more human and relatable. It’s a wonderful way of humanising a character who initially appears as a bit of a lunatic and of course foreshadows what’s to come.

‘Baby Driver’ (2017) – Coffee Run

I’ve got some serious love for Baby Driver and I’m a big fan of Edgar Wright – though I’m not a huge fan of his movies. I went into Baby Driver not knowing what to expect, but not really expecting much either. What I got was a captivating experience, one of the most stylised movies I’ve ever seen which deserves all the praise it got and more for some incredible sound editing. This isn’t necessarily my favourite scene in the movie but it demonstrates everything the movie does well.

Each scene in the film features a track and it’s designed to match it. Actions meet the rhythm and beat in the soundtrack. It’s more apparent in the action orientated scenes but the coffee run scene manages to capture the subtlety and the more obvious moments of cohesion. The graffiti matches the song lyrics perfectly, see 0:40-0:45 “whole lotta” is graffitied behind dancers and “soul” appears on the lamp post Baby shimmies around. Baby slides to the left as a passerby barges past, just as the lyric commands, quickly transitioning into him playing the trumpet positioned in a shop window – it’s film making at the highest level. Managing to capture such synchronicity with subtle moments in a near 3 minute tracking shot so effectively is such a great technical achievement, it adds an extra layer to a film which already oozes style.

I’ll leave it here for just now but I’ll try and fill Part 2 with less tension orientated scenes. (and I’ll probably fail at doing so)

Okay… let’s leave it with some fun to counter the serious scenes:


‘Little Thoughts’

Marlene awoke to the hot breath of summer on her face. The flowers on her curtains danced in front of the rising spotlight of the sun, swaying back and forth. She rolled over, rubbing her eyes – the gritty remnants of yesterday’s mascara dragged across her knuckles – and lay blinking up at the ceiling. The alarm clock radio clicked on.
“It’s Seven-Thirty AM and a day for celebration here on Wake up with Wogan! While we have been unable to have the show renamed ‘Arise with Wogan’ in light of the New Year’s honours list, yesterday London was confirmed as the host city for the 2012 Olympic Games. So, to start us off we’ve got the campaign’s wonderful theme song ‘Proud’, by Heather Small.”
Marlene aimed a swipe at Terry Wogan, but caught a bottle of Tesco’s finest Everyday Vodka instead – it exploded as it landed on the floor. She lay static, her eyes closed and her mind drifted back to sleep.
“Not today, Terry,” Marlene said, allowing her flailing arm to rest on her chest. The looming threat of vomit grew with each movement, like a time bomb ticking closer to detonation.
It sounded like someone jumping on a juice carton full of air.
There was yelling outside.
“Jacob?” She shouted.
Leaping out of bed she approached the window. Crouching, she poked her head through the curtains and peeked out. Outlines formed like an emerging Polaroid. Mrs Tilly was yanking Freddie, her English springer spaniel’s chain. Freddie had stayed with them earlier in the summer whilst Mrs Tilly went on her annual cruise. It convinced her that this was the year they would get their own for Christmas.
Freddie was doing his best to piss on the graffiti covered broadband box. The Dixon sisters dueled each other in the garden behind it, waving their wands at each other as they ran around the swing. Marlene squinted – the sound started again – and then rolled her eyes. Of course. It was Steve next door.
“That fucking car. Piss on it, go on Freddie, piss on it,” she whispered.
Steve waved up at her and she crumpled back behind the flimsy protection the curtain offered.
The door creaked and Marlene watched her son’s button nose poke out as he edged the door open. He stood in his Arsenal academy tracksuit with his foot on a ball, fixing an Alice band over his shoulder-length black hair. Marlene gazed up at him, remembering how he had clung to his first player of the tournament award in the under 6s, trying to take it to bed with him. The way he stood now, nearly ten years later, resembled the trophy.
“Are you giving me a lift to training today? Or-“ Jacob asked.
“Sorry love, you’ll need to get the bus. Mum’s not feeling too well. Give me a minute and I’ll come make you breakfast.”
“It’s fine. I’ve already had it,” he said, “I’ve left you out a bowl.”
“What time is it?” She asked, looking round at her alarm clock.
“And we’re coming up for 8.30…” Terry answered.
Jacob flipped open his mobile phone.
“Oh shit. I’m sorry,” Marlene said.
“It’s fine, I’ll hop on the bus. It’s a nice day anyway,” Jacob answered, not looking up from his phone.
He lingered in the doorway, snorting at a text message he received before looking up from his phone, “Just remember the tournament tomorrow.”
“Of course. July the 8th. I’ll be there.” She said with a smile.
He nodded.
She gave him a thumbs up and stretched her smile wider.
He returned to his phone, pulling the door closed behind him.
“Just leave the door Jacob, I’ll be two minutes,” Marlene said.
It was another ten minutes before she peeled herself from the muggy room and staggered her way towards the kitchen. Jacob was filling his water bottle. He brushed past her before she could enter. The little jobs she used to do for him now reminded her how hopeless she was at the bigger ones.
“That’s me heading off,” he said.
“Be careful,” she replied, half raising her arms for a hug.
“Always am,” he said, opening the door.
“Go score some worldies!” She said.
“Muuuum,” he replied, leaping out of the door.
“Bye love.” She called after him as his outline melted into the light, her hand hovering over her brow as she squinted.
Back in the kitchen, Marlene pulled down the blind, squeezing out the daylight. Her attention turned to the bottle of vodka perched above the biscuit cupboard. She dragged a chair over and leaned her foot on it. Spread across the back of the chair was one of Jacob’s football tops.
“You are killing me, Jacob,” she said, stepping down off the chair and picking up the jersey. She glanced at the vodka again then held the jersey closer – inhaling the scent of lavender – before sighing and returning it to the chair.
She replaced the chair under the table and turned on the TV. Red bled into the screen as the darkness lifted, revealing the words “Breaking News”.
“It’s thought though, that the incident was caused by a collision between two trains, a power cut or a power cable exploding,” the anchor said.
“Liverpool station is of course one of the busiest hubs, especially during rush hour,” his co-anchor added.
“We’ll let you know more as soon as we get it on this developing story.”
The rest of the report was drowned out by the tap water as she filled a kettle to boil. She grabbed her mug from the drier and rubbed her thumb over the worn print which read ‘Mum in a million’. She dumped the instant coffee in with five teaspoons of sugar. One new message flashed on the answering machine, Marlene listened while she waited for the kettle to boil.
“Hi Marlene, it’s Jenna here from the job centre. Just a quick call about your job seekers meeting we had scheduled for yesterday. If you could give me a call back on-“
“Message deleted.”
As she emptied the contents of the kettle into a mug her attention returned to the report.
“If you’re just joining us, terror has come to London,” the announcer said. “We have reports of three explosions on Underground trains.”
The kettle slipped from her hand as her throat tightened, spilling the remains across the counter and crashing into the sink. Her hand shot to her mouth. Her eyes nipped as tears threatened to well, the nauseous lump that had lingered in her chest climbed into her throat. Marlene rushed to the kitchen phone hanging on the wall, the handset slipped in her clammy hands. She dialed Jacob, her throat growing drier with each number pressed.
Marlene thrashed the handset against the dock, leaving it to swing and strain against the wall. She charged off in search of her mobile, ready to erupt. Cushions rained down on last night’s dinner plates, abandoned on the floor, as she attacked the living room couch. She seized her mobile from the void down the side of the couch. Sweat trickled down her back, as she cycled through the numbers, finding the right letters to text.
“I need you home NOW. Phone me”
Marlene returned to the kitchen and replaced the now lifeless hanging handset on the dock.
The steam from her coffee was absent, sitting on the kitchen table. Marlene draped the sleeves of Jacob’s jersey over her shoulders from the back of the chair. Tapping her foot on the floor, grasping her phone, she willed a response. Her phone trembled, vibrations rippling against her tightening grip.
‘Message failed to send: The message to Jacob failed to send.’
She tossed it across the table.
Pulling the ashtray closer, she plucked a charred cigarette from the ashes and sparked her lighter. Her hand quivered as she drew the last sign of life from the remains. Smoke slivered from her nostrils and the cigarette extinguished.
She laid the cigarette to rest and snatched her mobile, resending the text. The same response:
‘Message failed to send: The message to Jacob failed to send.’
Fumbling through her phonebook, she selected Jacob. She dialled. She waited.
“This is Jake. You know the drill.”
An extended beep followed.
Marlene awoke wrapped in red Arsenal bed covers, clutching a bottle of Everyday Vodka. Her head pounded. Each swallow felt like dragging bare feet on the old hall carpet they had replaced a couple of years before.
Her spare arm broke free from her cocoon – glancing the breakfast bowl of cigarette butts – and grabbed her phone. The battery was dead. She watched the clock which hung below a match magazine poster of Thierry Henry. The second hand was stuck, unable to pass fifteen.
“I kept telling him to replace those batteries.”
Her stomach gargled on a cocktail of vodka and hunger. Peeling off the covers, she staggered out of bed, kicking over her ‘Mum in a million’ mug as her feet touched the floor. She heard the hiss of rain behind the undrawn curtains.
The rain followed Marlene as she draped the duvet over her shoulders, rattling along the ceiling as she descended the stairs. She lingered for a moment a few steps from the bottom, remembering how she used to tell Jacob off for jumping onto the new carpet. It felt like a routine the two of them had, an activity they could share with each other. He would apologise and she would scold him; she had almost looked forward to doing it again.
Envelopes were gathering at the door to pay their respects; friends, neighbours and well-wishers. She walked past the fifteen voicemails that looked to do the same in the kitchen. Each cupboard was barren. Inside the fridge lay the remains of a tray bake. Mrs Tilly had brought it over with a cluster of white carnations that now lay discarded, still in their packaging and shrivelling on the counter.
Marlene froze at a chap on the door. She pulled the duvet tighter. Another chap. Her head peeked around the corner. The letter box was held open, she hoicked her neck back behind the wall.
“Mrs Ramsey?” The voice asked. “Mrs Ramsey, my name’s David. I’m a volunteer from the Victim Support organisation. I saw you through the kitchen window, do you mind if I come in and have a quick chat?”
She pulled the door as far as the security chain would let her. He produced identification with a smile and she considered closing the door again.
“Just a second,” Marlene replied. She collected the envelopes and placed them on the kitchen counter.
She returned to the door and removed the security chain. She let the draft ease the door open to invite him in.
He followed the trailing duvet into the living room and presented his hand as she sat, “I’m so sorry for your loss,” he said. She dangled her hand out in response and he shook it. He picked up Jacob’s football jersey before placing his satchel on the couch across from her.
“Was this his?” He asked, sitting down.
Marlene nodded as he held it out. She broke free of the duvet and snatched it. The straggling sleeve dragged a half-eaten Tesco cottage pie container from the table which separated them. He cleared his throat.
“We left you several voice messages but I understand this must be a difficult time for you.”
“There’s some tray bake in the kitchen,” she said as her stomach groaned.
“I-I’m fine, thank you. Mrs Rams-“
“Right. Sorry.”
He cleared his throat again.
“I came to chat about the support centre we’ve set up in Westminster. It’s at the Royal Horticultural Hall.”
“Do you know when I can bury him?” She asked.
“I-I’m not really privy to that info, but if you come down to Victim Support-“
“I’m not a victim.”
“Mrs Ramsey-“
He bowed his head. Marlene cradled the jersey, weeping as he placed a contact card on the table. His hand lowered towards her shoulder but she dismissed it.
“This… clearly isn’t- I’m sorry, Marlene. We’ll be in touch again, but please, don’t hesitate to contact us. Our details are on that card. Come and visit us. We’re here to help.” He got to his feet. “Goodbye Marlene, please take care,” he said, stepping on the cottage pie container as he left.
She waited for the front door to close before lifting the jersey to her nose, inhaling. The smell of stale smoke slithered into her nostrils – forcing her to pull it away. Sniffing, she laid Jacob’s jersey to rest on the couch.
Tears dripped from her chin onto the container as she collected it – carrying it through to the kitchen – and placing it at the top of the bin, overflowing with flowers and food. Her attention turned to the letters lying above the bin on the counter. The seal of the envelope on top was flimsily clinging to the back, begging her to tear it open. Inside was a condolence card from Jacob’s coach with the new team photo, signed by the rest of the team. Tears trickled onto the photo, she wiped them away with her thumb, resting it over Jacob’s face.
Discarding the card and envelope, she clutched the photo and opened the cleaning cupboard under the sink. Marlene stretched back behind a mountain of cloths and unused Mr Muscle to grab a bottle of Everyday Vodka. She placed the photo on the counter and tried to unscrew the bottle. There was a knock on the door. The lid grated against her palm as she twisted. Another knock at the door, she tightened her grip. The ribbing burned her skin and she sent the bottle crashing across the kitchen. The front door opened as she sunk to the floor, holding her knees and burying her stinging eyes between her legs.
“Marlene?!” It was Steve. “Marlene are you alright?!”
Glass crunched at the kitchen door and she raised her head.
“What happened?” He asked.
She sniffed in response.
He stepped around the debris and sat next to Marlene, wrapping an arm around her. Her tears formed a dark patch on his sleeve. Finally, she raised her head, the tears plugged by her constant sniffs.
“Sorry,” she said, as he removed his arm.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “What happened?”
“I was… I was trying to read some of the cards and I just… I don’t deserve this sympathy.”
“Of course you do.”
“But it’s my fault.”
“How can it be your fault?” He asked.
Her eyes followed the creeping sunlight, unfolding across the floor and lingered on the remains of the vodka, “Because.”
“Marlene, I’m not here to preach at you or tell you it’ll get better. I can’t begin to imagine what you’re going through, but you’ve got to give yourself the best chance to get better. Blaming yourself, isn’t the way.”
“That sounded a little preachy, Steve.” She spluttered.
“Fine, but give it a shot. Your neighbours are here for you, whatever you need.”
“I chased a guy from Victim Support ten minutes ago,” she said.
“I know, he came knocking on my door asking me to see you.”
“Give them a chance. Give us a chance.”
She got to her feet, collecting the team photo, “Can I ask you a favour then?”
“Of course.” He answered, standing.
“Do you mind, getting that awful car of yours and taking me to their centre in Westminster?”
Steam rose as the sun baked the road ahead. The exhaust popped and spluttered as Marlene dragged her fingers along her jeans, clawed at her pockets and chewed her fingers nails. She felt a cold sweat emerge across her forehead. They passed a group of boys kicking the ball around in a park. Her attention lingered on the rear view mirror, on the park and the empty back seat it reflected, before resting her head against the window and closing her eyes.



Critical Analysis
This short story falls into the genre of historiographic fiction, existing on the fringes of history. I was interested in how ‘The Dark Room’ tackled the war and considered how I might be able to do something similar in a more contemporary setting. I chose to expand upon a homework exercise on the London bombings on July 7th 2005 because I felt there was scope to explore something on the periphery of that event.
I transcribed and adapted an intro to the ‘Wake up to Wogan’ radio show from June 2005. Wogan had been named in the New Year’s honours list and the Olympics had been awarded to London the previous day, this gives a hint at the time-frame without being explicit. It also enabled me to insert some foreshadowing into the story. I adopted segments from the actual Sky News broadcast coverage, where the initial incidents had been reported as an electrical fault, a collision or a power failure. This allowed a small window where the reader will likely know what is going to happen, creating some tension as Marlene carries out some simple tasks and reveals a little more about her life which is going to be changed dramatically.
I wanted the initial focus to be on a mother and son whose relationship was straining. Jacob was growing up and becoming more independent, Marlene was slipping deeper into alcoholism and becoming less reliable. Her awareness of this only serves to hasten her decline. When writing Marlene I felt that she would find some hope. It felt unrealistic that she would conquer her alcoholism, and by extension the guilt from her failure to her son by the conclusion. However, I felt she would find the desire to battle those demons in the face of the tragic event.

Nice staff & good prices – Peter McLeod

Nice staff & good prices – Peter McLeod


The traffic dawdled deliberately in a herd as a traffic police car weaved past. Snaking through the traffic behind them came Artemis’ Flower van. She’d found a new hobby. Lithuania. The driver said, as he looked in the mirror. Folk tend to avoid places colder than Scotland in October. The van roared as it moved to the far away lane, presiding over a new herd, one to hold dear without her bow and arrow.

A volley of rays

through the clouds

they pierce the windows

on the passenger side

She must have loaned them to her brother. To be honest, I can’t say I’m looking forward to it. Gav replied as the taxi slipped to the outside lane. The words lingered for context, the silence sewing ungratefulness to the previous sentence.


It’s for the European People’s Festival.

It’s basically for a meeting.

I’m the team chairman.

Yay responsibility.



Drop off point ->

That’s 11.00

Overhead, a jet follows the sign.

altogether. He says

Try not have too much fun.

Gav laughs. He wheels his bags off THIS WAY ^



towards the terminal

Please pay at the exit                                                  20 zone

43.43 became 40


Please drink responsibly,

This is a final call for passenger Ingram


Gate 18







The INVESTIGATION TEAM stands at the top of the stairs. In front of them is a pink curtain draped across a pink carpet with eyeballs encased in diamonds some darker, some lighter in shade. They run parallel to one another. Spotlights with lips swoop around the hall as drum and bass plays over the speakers.


… I think that girl Rise is ahead of here… I’m not certain.



Raise the curtain and enter?




The INVESTIGATION TEAM enters under the curtain. The camera cuts to the back of the room, showing them approaching under an arch with blue lights. The walls are lined with purple curtains. RISE kneels on the floor wearing her white pin over. Dangling from the pole is SHADOW RISE wearing a golden one piece.



Look the real one’s here too!




They’re all watching!



Stop it!



Aww what’s the matter? You wanna show your stuff, don’tcha?


SHADOW RISE spins round the pole and flexes.




Please, stop this!




As if that’s even close to what you’re really thinking, you little skank! You’re me… and obviously I’m you. Not Risette, the fake celebrity! Look at the girl right in front of you!



No! You’re not…


Exclamation marks appear above the INVESTIGATION TEAM’s heads.



Don’t say it!



You’re not me!


SHADOW RISE laughs as a blue aura grows out of her, feeding off the rejection. It unleashes a wave of smoke, shrouding the room before for a moment to mask the transformation. SHADOW RISE’s true form appears; a giant blue body with rainbows rotating around its limbs. The boss battle begins.



All aboard the Cobus 2700

You wonder why you’ve not got a brother or sister!

Daddy’s a mean person

                                                He’s not mean,

he’s just


Yeah it was an impromptu journey

to Wales- I mean France!



Manchester City



Plaistesch agus cannai

Additional seating up stairs


“There are so many career paths, the possibilities are endless.” Robert, Graduate



“A boy has the right to dream. There are endless possibilities stretched out before him. What awaits him down the path he will then have to choose. The boy doesn’t always now. At some point, the boy then becomes an adult and learns what he was able to become. Joy and Sadness forever will accompany this. He is confronted with a choice. When this happens, does he bid his past farewell in his heart? Once a boy becomes an adult, he can no longer go back to being a boy. The boy is now a man. Only one thing can be said: “A boy has the right to dream, for those endless possibilities are stretched out before him”. We must remember… all men were once boys– Robert Graduate


pumpkin spice

we’re half way there

can I have a slice?

livin’ on a prayer

queues of leather

loves a blether




Seat 26e

26 C B A

(Can’t. Be. Arsed.)

rests his arms upon the table







Our flight is delayed…we are in Viena …portuguese delegation




You are not the only

Hungarians also have problems



We are in the plane. No pb for us. Ready to land.see you soon



See you



In the plane now….2 hours more….and Vilnius…see you later



Sorry….but we dont have pilot….we are stoped

They said…more 30 minuts…or more….waiting for the first oficial



It’s ok @Lurdes Silva

Heidi Rasmussen has left the conversation.


Life jacket under seat, please

Fasten seat belt whilst seated

sign is on

locate your nearest exit


Q                  61%



Rise: What do you think, Baz, are Tottenham bound to come up short on all fronts?

Gav: Errr… I have a suspicion they might do, yeah.

Rise: They’ve just drawn at the Bernabeu, could this be there year?

Gav: It very well could be, Max but I think, though they’ll beat Liverpool this weekend, they won’t have enough to topple City or United.

Rise: I think they’ll have enough on Sunday but, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what else it is they need.


[“Sure, I’ll show you around.”]


Rise: Do you want to hear my case for Poch’ being the best manager in the league, Baz? Before you answer I’m going to tell you…


> You sense Rise’s natural, easy friendliness…

> You feel a faint bond forming between you and Rise…


Thou art I… And I am thou…

Thou hast established a new bond…


It brings thee closer to the truth…


Thou shalt be blessed when creating

Personas of the Lovers Arcana…


> You have established the Rise Kujikawa Social Link of the Lovers Arcana!

> You may earn an EXP bonus when fusing Personas of the Lovers Arcana!

> Rise’s determination in battle has been enhanced…

> She will now cheer you on during all-out attacks!


Rise: They’ve taken the most points this calendar year…

Rise: Harry Kane and Deli Ali continue to look like they’re on the verge of world class.

Rise: They’ve improved from last year, despite the financial constraints of the stadium and they’ve no particular weak point!

Gav: Yet they won’t win the league Max.

Rise: It’s bizarre!


Dojima residence

Welcome home big bro!


Tutor or

work at the hospital

Q                  45%



Harmony Park


Welcome Scotland!

Fall ‘17

Zanarkand Ruins

Who are you

Nobuo Uematsu




Dotna Bilank





Cognac + beer


07:50am –

07:55am –

08:00am –



Mokyklinis Autobus nr 469






-Antanas Caiciulaitis?

– Here

– Antanas Skema?

– Here

– Ignas Seinius?

– (silence)

– Jurgis Savickis?

– Here





Vinco Kudirkos Progimnazija

President’s trophy

post football kebabs: 860239699

1992: The town crest was designed and

J’mapelle Roddy Cairns. Je suis chevalier blanc







Just Do It. To the victor, the statue

Wind whipped through the hissing trees. Rain lashed against the container they leaned against. Five of the squad remained, their backs to the enemy. In the foreground a body lay face down in the mud. Edvard felt his greatcoat strangle his body, holding him down in the mud. Next to the container lay a cannon. We must push forward he said. Moisture dribbled from his forehead, ricocheting off his lips as he spoke. The salty warmth crept inside his mouth. He tightened his grip around the handle of his rifle through the film of water. What’s the plan sir? Ignas asked. Can you use it? He gestured at the cannon. If you cover me. Edvard nodded. We fire that cannon and push them down the rail tracks until they’re out of Radviliskis and then we make sure they don’t set foot in our town again he replied. What about reinforcements? Edvard shook his head. We have the momentum. The cannon should deal with enough of them. The reinforcements will arrive to hold them out of town. Go to it on my mark. The rest of us, push forward and draw the fire. He checked his bullets, cocked his weapon, closed his eyes and leapt to his feet.

Forward! He shouted. The squad scrambled out from behind the container. They roared as they steamed along the train tracks. The Bermondt’s were holed up behind a train carriage. Bullets zipped through the air, snapping at their feet. Ignas turned the cannon. The wind howled against them. He hoisted a shell. Barrages of rain carried on every gust. Lined up the trajectory. He hauled on the lever. Direct hit! Bodies bled from the charred remains of the carriage. The squad charged on. Their roars were flanked by friendlies from the trees. The roars turned to cheers, Ignas stood atop the cannon watching on. The bullets flew only one way now. They reached the train, abandoned by their scampering foes.


gubernija anno 1665 x8

cognac x


on read


Please do not throw toilet paper

in the toilet.

Thank you for understanding.


Thierry Kepykla

Plauk Rankas

October, 1708Washing makes no difference. I huddle around the fire. The skin on my knees tears as I drag them over the floor. I let my face linger closer, hoping that it will melt away the sores which plague me. Fire spits back at me and I cower behind the dust ridden rug that belonged to the victim before me. He has willed this yet I see no golden gates when I close my eyes, only darkness. Yet I am rejected by Hell. It will not welcome me nor will it grant me its warmth. My bones grind with each movement, my teeth rattle yet the cloth sticks to my back.  I clasp my hands together and lift them over my head, my ribcage ready to rip through my skin. My mouth wrenches open but all that escapes are the groans from my stomach. My arms drop to the floor and I roll onto my side and watch the fire. My eyes feel heavy and the binding of my hands loosens.

M10_official                                         Arsenal 5                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Rangers 0





What I attempted to do was replicate Bridget Penney’s style in Index and apply it to my experience of travelling to Lithuania. I documented details ranging from conversations, to prices, posters, initials, brands – anything which I managed to catch and take note of on my phone whether it had meaning or not. Each heading creates a structure, but the information which follows it breaks from that structure.

I fictionalised the character ‘Gav’ in place of myself. The first heading is a google review for Artemis Flowers from a customer. An Artemis Flowers van drove past my taxi on the way to the airport, I found it an amusing use of the name at the time. Somehow Artemis had become a domesticated florist. I applied the technique coherence to this initial segment, references to she should inform the reader that there is something going on that’s not explicit in the text as there is no she in the taxi and the actions are referring to Artemis.

The mention of 43.53 became 40.00 is the exchange rate for pounds to euros at the time. It is also a reference to Ian Hamilton Finlay and the structural parallelism he employed in Ovidian Flowers. This also made me think of 2+2=5, a chapter heading in Orwell’s ‘1984’ which holds significance in regards to use in the French Revolution as well. In that context it refers to value placed on a particular portion of the aristocratic French population over the rest, whilst Orwell uses it to question the party. I felt this applied to the values of currency, we value one more than others and frankly, if Travel Express tell me that is the conversion rate I just accept it without question.

Please drink responsibly was plastered on bottles and posters in restaurants. Ei-Fav was on the side of the plane, travelling from Gate 18 and I placed the 82% at the side of the page to mimic the battery percentage I was keeping an eye on and there was a final call for a passenger which I noted because Ingram’s is a bar back home.

I played Persona 4 Golden on the Playstation Vita during the connecting flight to Dublin. I used the health warning when you start the PS Vita as the heading, then chose to write out the segment of the dungeon I played through in script format, taking inspiration from the stage actions which Penney employed during Index. I put Gav in there to mimic the style of Penney using Roland and Julie as recurring characters. The player can choose the name of the protagonist they take control of in Persona 4, answer questions prompted to him and fighting as him. I saw the protagonist as an extension of Gav.

The segment following that are extracts from a conversation between a family of three on an airport shuttle bus, a Cobus 2700. This stuck with me, along with a bizarre line confusing an impromptu trip to France with Wales. The contrast between the two countries forced the line to stick with me.

The heading is Gaelic for plastic and cans, on a bin in Dublin airport. This demonstrates a change in location – but not the end of the journey. The quote by Robert, the graduate was on a poster in Dublin Airport and the combination of ‘possibilities and endless’ in the final segment of the line will always remind me of the quote ‘A boy has a right to dream. There are endless possibilities stretched out before him”. It’s from an anime I used to watch called Outlaw Star and also features in an advert ‘Toonami Dreams’ on an old TV station which holds nostalgic value. The piece of rhyme here is simply applying structure to actions, drink and experience of a hen party singing Springsteen in the airport.

My seat number was 26e on the flight but looking across the row I noticed 26 CBA – cba always triggers ‘can’t be arsed’ in my head due to over use of the acronym to denote this feeling. I had several messages in the Festival Delegation group chat on Facebook to read before the flight started, this was a brief snippet of that. I found it amusing because Heidi left. I imagined her patience might have ran out. I used wingdings font to show the mobile phone going onto airplane mode and the battery percentage remaining.

There is further Persona 4 gameplay here but I’ve adapted someone’s fictionalisation of the scene, reduced to dialogue but replaced the dialogue with part of the conversation in a football podcast which I listened to whilst playing the game on this flight.

I started to take notes on my surroundings in Kaunas airport which now had no meaning and triggered no nostalgia compared to those attached before. Harmony Park was advertised in the airport at Kaunas, Pilieciai hung at passport control. I used song titles that appeared on my playlist in the car to the hotel before falling asleep.

Mokylinis autobus 469 was written on the bus we used to visit the schools we would be staying at next summer.  Some of the words quoted appeared on a particularly creepy picture drawn in the primary school.

The men mentioned here had pictures on the wall with their birth and death dates, but there was no description attached to them so I fictionalised a class register in the style Penney wrote the questioning of Julie. The class register, a list, provides a structure to the names. I employed cohesion to show that each ‘Here’ is a response to the name, showing a different responder.

We were shown a town monument with the town crest on it, it was a white horse with a white knight which reminded me of a joke we made about a friend whilst we were in France in the summer – we called him the white knight in French.

We were given a brief explanation about the statue of Nike in the town centre, it was to commemorate the victory in 1919 over the West Russian Volunteer Army. I decided to fictionalise an account of this battle as Penney had done with the French revolution. I used the cannon and the image of Ignas standing on the cannon because the statue of Nike shows her atop of a cannon holding a sword.  Plauk Ranks read ‘Wash your hands’ in the bathroom, this reminded me of the fact that Radviliskis was uninhabited for two years due to the plague. I wrote a fictionalised account of someone infected like a diary entry, as Penney had done in Index, using elements of coherence too.

Throughout the piece there are pieces of information left unstuck and without structure such as flight numbers, phone numbers and snippets of Lithuanian. There are also a few notes I had taken which I do not recall taking, perhaps I was trying to set my alarm drunk or had noted how many beers I was to order at the bar. I felt these belonged in there to represent the arbitrary nature of information obtained by an intoxicated consciousness.