Word count – 600
All right, I know – Paranoid is not a short story, but let’s not get too hung up on that. It’s a part of this collection, so I am going to mention it, however briefly. Besides, strictly speaking, The Mist isn’t a short story either, and I talked about that one.
Poetry has always been difficult for me to understand. I generally don’t get it, especially free verse (which this is), where the only rules the author needs to follow are the ones the author makes up along the way. The style can feel a little disingenuous, but such is the nature of the art.
I can give Paranoid: A Chant a pass, primarily because it’s short and has a dark flavour to it. But thankfully, Stephen King does not exercise his poetry muscle very often.
So – after confirmation of dozens of positive Covid-19 cases from a handful of pub in the city-centre – it was announced this morning that Aberdeen (a place that doesn’t lead the pack in anything) would be the first city in Scotland to be subjected to a local lockdown.
And you know what? We deserve it.
I say we, but of course, I’m actually talking about the dickheads who have deemed alcohol to be of such great importance that they will go to any lengths to sit in a crowded pub, and nurse a £5 pint of beer. Because the virus won’t strike them, will it? Nor will it touch anyone they have been in contact with, right?
No. Don’t be silly. You just sit there with your drink – you’ve waited so damn long for it.
If people can’t stick to the rules (rules that have been put there to protect all of us) then they deserve to stay home and forego the social norms that were recently given back to us. Because guess what? If you break your toys, then you can’t play anymore.
It’s just a shame that these bad apples (and yes, it’s a minority) spoil the progress for everyone else as well.
Most of us are doing our best to put Covid-19 behind us, or at least, learn to live with it responsibly, but until people wise up to what is going on – to what has been going on for months now – it’s going to be a long time before this pandemic is in the rear view.
Word count – 5,900
The Wedding Gig is set in the years after the First World War, and is told from the point of view of a local ragtime band leader. He is hired by a small-time gangster to play at his sister’s wedding, at which he, (the gangster), is killed by some goons he has rubbed up the wrong way.
Sometimes, The Wedding Gig seems to just be an opportunity for King to poke fun at fat women – which is fine, I guess – but there needs to be more of a story than that, and ultimately, there really isn’t.
As such, this short story is the first one in the collection that I have to stop short of giving the green light to. There’s just not enough here to make it worth your time, and penty of other stuff that is better in the pages before you get to it.
Not Recommended ⇓
After playing about with editing an existing board game, with my take on Monopoly, and then designing a Scotland map for my extension to Ticket to Ride, I turned my creativity to something entirely new, and decided to build my own board game. You know, this pandemic sometimes gives us silly ideas…
I went with a wedding theme (because there doesn’t seem to be any of those) and over the course of a few weeks I fleshed out the concept, drew out a few trial runs, and spent more time in the crafting section of shops than I would like to admit. In fact, when I went to buy coloured paper the proprietor asked if it was just for my kids to play about with… I decided it was best for all concerned if I just said yes.
Anyway, it’s called Get Me to the Church, and it’s a (fairly simple) affair where the object of the game is to, well… get to the church. We tried it out for the first time this afternoon, and – with the exception of a few teething issues that should be easily ironed out with another draft – I think it went down quite well.
I was hoping to get back into my writing in August, but it seems that I’ll be polishing up this game first, and then trying to find someone who may be interested in taking it further…
Anyone know Hasbro’s number?
So, a couple of days ago, my email to the producers of Ticket to Ride resulted in a response, asking me to send along a link so that they can add details to their fan page.
I checked it out, and it seems there are many other players who have had similar ideas – although (crucially) there are no maps there for Scotland, and very few of the ones listed are available in a physical form. As good as a lot of them seem to be, most of them appear to have been built on a laptop.
Well my iteration is certainly physical. At 33 inches by 47 inches, the game board is probably a little too big to be considered mobile, but secured and backed by some lengths of 2×4 it is very stable and will easily stand in the corner of a room or garage when not in use. And because it has been built on foam card, it is extremely light as well, so there is that.
I used a lot of primary school effects such as glitter, colouring pencils, and gold stars (the kind your teacher used to stick on the wall if you were good, or – in my case – used to scratch off if you had been naughty). I even bought a couple of sets of Scottish playing cards so that I could use the design as the backing for the train colours that I required… it’s all about the little details.
The game has been played half a dozen times, and while everyone else in the house has claimed victory at least once, I have yet to win a game, so that is a bit annoying. Of course, none of this will make any sense to you if you have never played the game, but thanks for indulging me.
So my new localised (albeit, crudely put together) version of Monopoly, and my (rather oversized) Ticket to Ride – Scotland map, have both been completed and tested. They have taken a lot of my recent furlough time, but the good thing is that they both work, and they are both enjoyable in the same way that the base games are.
I made several changes to the basic rule set of Monopoly, including writing a complete set of new Community Chest and Chance cards, and adding a couple of casino spaces to the board, along with their own set of cards. These changes were a concerted effort to shorten the length of the game whie also injecting a little freshness into the mix. While these changes didn’t seem to have much effect on the duration, the consensus was that they did make the game more involved and interesting.
Ticket to Ride – Scotland was a much more school project kind of creation, because I didn’t have a base game to begin with, just the basic rule set, which is a little different for each version released. I bought some foam boards, used Lego for the tracks (and the playing pieces), and developed 72 routes – which is more than most other iterations of the game. I also had to make my own colour-coded train cards (over 100 of those) which anyone who has played the game will be familiar with.
In fact, I was so impressed with my effort that I sent off an email to the guys who produce the Ticket to Ride franchise, hoping for a little feedback!
Word count – 9, 900
The Jaunt is Stephen King with his sci-fi hat on, a genre which he dabbled in a lot more back in the first half of his career than he has done since, which is fine by me as even the hint of that stuff sometimes makes me groan.
The Jaunt is set hundreds of years in the future, in a world where teleporatation – or jaunting – is a thing. The story has echoes of The Fly in a mad-scientist-in-a-lab kind of way, but ultimately it swerves in a different (but still memorable) direction.
We are six stories in to this anthology and King is yet to deliver something below par. The sci-fi here is limited, and with a family at its core it feels more grounded as well… which helps me get over the potential hurdle that the genre often throws in front of me.
With the cancellation of Wimbledon this year there has been an absence of tennis in my summer schedule, but these biographies (along with the TV coverage culled from the archives) have helped fill the gap. After a healthy dose of Jimmy Connors in his own book last month I figured where better to go than to his nemesis John McEnroe, and his own book from 2002.
If you are coming to this biography expecting the wild bandanna-wearing loose cannon from his heyday in the early eighties, you may leave a little disappointed. Johnny Mac has chilled in his later years, and this is a reflective look at a more mellow character a decade removed from retirement. He’s aware of his faults (pun intended), and he knows the tantrum-throwing and the racquet-hurling is a large part of his schtick, and why audiences have stuck around with him for so long, and he although he doesn’t excuse his actions, he does at least attempt to explain where he was coming from.
But, histrionics aside, John McEnroe is one of the greatest players the sport has ever known. In 1984 (inarguably the best year of his career) he played 85 matches and lost only 3, which is still the best winning percentage any player has ever had.
He spends some time discussing his sometimes brutal marriage to actress Tatum O’Neal, as well as his even more brutal loss to Ivan Lendl in the final of the French Open in 1984. One thing he shares with Connors is his outright admiration for Bjorn Borg whose retirement from the game in 1981 at the age of just 26 opened the door for McEnroe to become the guy that all the others were chasing. We should all wonder how the tennis scene would have developed in the eighties had the Swede continued.
Give this one a look if you want to check out the life and career of someone who many describe as the first true genius of the tennis court.
Word count – 11,400
Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut hangs on the familiar King format of using a minor character to narrate the tale. King is particularly good at this, and he often manages to add a little spice into the story that otherwise would not be possible. This attempt is no different.
Mrs. Todd likes to drive, but more than that she likes to find the quickest route to wherever she is going. It’s fun listening to how she manages to shave miles off each of her journeys by taking different roads, and the fact that it doesn’t really go the way I had expected doesn’t matter.
Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut is a good tale, but unfortunately it’s not as well done as I had hoped. The premise is fun and interesting, but the execution is a little long-winded for my liking, and it nearly outstays its welcome. If some of the detail here was trimmed I think King may have had a story that stays with you more.
It took a long time, but I finally finished printing out all my stories in May. There are a few stragglers – a couple of drafts that for whatever reason I don’t have saved on my laptop, and anything I wrote before I was thirteen or so. But everything is there that should be…
…including all the mistakes I have made over the years. The poor grammar, the missing apostrophes, and my god the flowery language. If there was an opportunity for me to say something in three words you can be assured that I chose to say it in thirty.
The funny thing is that I distinctly remember thinking the more convoluted I could make a sentence, the better a writer I was. The density of the prose is what makes a story sing, right?
It took me a while to get out of that habit – years, probably. Sometimes I catch myself circling that literary drain again and I’m reminded of that teenage writer who thought there was nothing better than the flourish of his own pen.
I was going to take a few examples and slot them in here so you could see what I’m talking about, but once it’s out there online, I can’t take that shit back. So you’ll just have to take my word for it.
Now I just have to organise what I’ve written, and I can concentrate on the new stuff.