21st Century Icarus

Note: This was originally written for a 1st Year module at University. I think the prompt was to re-write a myth or fable. It’s also longer than the usual Friday Flash… it’s a short story, I guess. 

21st Century Icarus

Mark Johnston tucked his Blackberry into his jacket pocket, stubbed out his cigarette, flicked it onto the floor and opened the glass door to the office block. The receptionist glanced at him and mumbled something about an umbrella. He ignored her and took the lift to his office on the seventeenth floor, using the brief ride to run his hands through his thinning hair to shake out some of the water. He grunted, as the lift stopped and the doors slid open. It had been the first cigarette break he’d managed that day, and it was just his luck that it had begun to rain. Bob Hotchkins nodded at him as he walked past the photocopier, which was churning out copies of some unheard of company’s most recent financial report.

Johnston’s office was at the far end of the office, where a large glass panel enabled him to keep an eye on all those working on the top floor. Not that he did that very often; watching the people down below outside was a far more interesting hobby. He sat down at his desk, and looked at his twin monitors. One showed a mountainous landscape of share prices, which rose and fell. But mostly fell. Another had a plea for investment from an eager graduate, who was sure that his venture was the next big thing. A television was suspended above the desk, showing a BBC News live feed, and behind that a modern steel LED light fitting adorned the ceiling. Once more Johnston ran his fingers through his hair, before beginning to read the proposal. He didn’t get very far before his desk phone bleeped into life.

“It’s your wi-”

“Tell her I’m busy”

“Again?”

“Still.” He placed the phone back on the cradle, reached inside his jacket, pulled out his Blackberry and turned it off. His assistant didn’t even wait for a response after knocking before he burst in. Johnston just put up his hand and motioned for the intruder to leave. Instead the assistant placed a paper file on the desk and retreated to a corner of the room. Johnston frowned, deeply creasing his forehead. He poked the document and glanced up at the television, where the Chancellor of the Exchequer was rambling on about the state of the European economy. His assistant, Michael Eden, coughed. Johnston opened the file, even though he suspected that he already knew what it contained. There was a single sheet of paper, with a single graph on it, which showed a single black line. He picked up the paper, and stared at the line, and then through the glass at his employees, and then back at the line.

“Bugger.”

“I’m sure that we can sort this out” Michael Eden said, moving out of the corner. Johnston stood up and pulled the blind across the glass panel, blocking out his employees.

“Sort this out?” He said.

“It’s –”

“Only a massive screw up on my part”

“Look”

Johnston turned and glared at his subordinate. “No you look.” He pointed out across the City.

“It’s taken my whole bloody life to get here, here above the rest of them.”

“Mark listen. Please.” Johnston pointed at an estate on the horizon.

“From there to here. Fuckin’ rags to riches.” He held up the sheet of paper. “One bloody decision”

“Mark, we need to consider the implications of this.”

“The implications?” Johnston thrust the paper at Eden. “I’m ruined. Your ruined.” He motioned in the vague direction of his employees. “I’ve screwed them”

“We can negotiate a bail out, the Chancellor’ll help.”

“A bail out’s not good enough. The shareholders will oh shit you didn’t tell them yet did you?”

Michael shook his head.

“Good.” Johnston sighed, and undid his tie.  He gestured at the estate again. “So much for exceeding expectations. I guess the working class really aren’t suited to the corporate world.”

“It’s not cause of that”

“Don’t give me the bullshit about how we’re all equal. You don’t see Oxbridge grad’s in this position do you?” He turned away. “Even if they were, Papa would fix it” Johnston muttered.

“It’s not the end, plenty of companies have recovered from similar positions.”

Johnston laughed a little, and began to walk around the room. The Chancellor was still being interviewed, and was still talking about the fragile state of the economy. Johnston turned the television off.

“Even if we were able to recover, the company wouldn’t be the same. There’s no way that the shareholders would let me stay. Christ, I’d be back on the exchange floor, you must realise that at least.”

Mark nodded.

“You managed it once. You can do it again.”

“Who’s gonna support me this time round? No-one’s gonna invest in someone with no qualifications and an apparently bad past.”

His assistant walked to the door.

“Look, think things over, and I’ll come back in an hour or so.”

Johnston nodded. “Just kept it under wraps for now.”

The door shut and the room was quite once more. Johnston gazed out of the window, looking out over the city. The rain had stopped, and the sun had returned, the two combining to form a glossy veil over the buildings. Down below people scurried past, oblivious to what would affect their lives. It must be nice, Johnston thought, nice to be innocent. He pulled himself away from the view and left his office.

He conversed with the rest of the top floor as normal as he made his way to the lift, pausing briefly to speak to Hotchkins who had finished copying the reports and was sitting attacking one with a highlighter.

The empty lift was a moment of solitude as he rode it down to the first floor, where young graduates bustled backwards and forwards, calling to each other over the cubicle walls. He stopped one that was walking past, her arms full of reports.

“What’s your name”

“Amy”

“Cambridge or Oxford?”

“Um Durham?” Johnston grunted.

“Do you even know who I am?” She shook her head.

“Mark Johnston, the guy who built this place.”

“As in the guy from the top floor.”

He smiled. “The very same.” She shifted the papers in her arms, and put out her hand, which Johnston shook.

“Is there anything I can do?”

“Take me to your cubicle, and we’ll continue talking there.”

They weaved their way through the partitions until they reached her desk, which Johnston promptly lent against.

“Guess which University I went to.”

“Oxbridge?”

“Wrong. I didn’t go.”  She looked at him.

“Yes, I didn’t go to University, yet recruitment won’t employ anyone with less than a two one.” He laughed.

“Then how?”

“Then how did I get to control one of the most powerful investment businesses on the planet?”

“Yeah.”

“Hard bloody work.” Johnston paused. “And I had someone who told me that I could.”

“Eh?”

“My Dad.”

“Oh.”

“He said that I could. He said that I didn’t have to go work in the factory if I didn’t want to. What do your parents do?”

“Dad’s a neuroscientist and Mum’s a teacher.”

“I guess you were expected to work at a place like this then?”

“It was either investment banking or maths research. And the pay’s bigger here.” She looked around, at the people who had a phoned glued to one ear, with the other dedicated to listening to the rest of the office.

“I guess that’s why most of us are here.”

“Not me.” She glanced at his suit.

“Yes the suit cost a lot, yes my car is expensive, and yes my salary is huge.”

“Then why?”

“For my Dad. Ambition.” He gestured at the papers that she had been carrying.

“Potential investments?”

“The renewable energy industry, should bring a good return.”

Johnston looked at her and made a quick mental comparison to himself in his early twenties before continuing.

“Want to know how to get a bigger return?”

“Who doesn’t”

“Start searching for a job.”

She sniggered. “Are you firing me?”

“This place is the Titanic, and you are being given something the passengers didn’t get. A warning.” Johnston pointed at the reports and continued. “Go for short term profits now. Get in and get out.”

Amy looked at him and then at the reports.

“But they promise a high return.” Johnston grabbed one of the reports and dropped it in the bin.

“Listen to me carefully. There’s an iceberg ahead, and it’s getting closer.”

“Are we”, Amy lowered her voice “going into administration, Mr Johnston?” He nodded, his shoulders falling.

“It’s not your fault” He waved an arm across the cubicle, motioning towards the rest of the office. “It’s not theirs either.” He prodded himself.

“I’m the one who ballsed up. I put money in a venture that even a schoolboy would’ve seen was gonna fail. When they asked for more, I delivered.”

“Why?”

Johnston pointed at the report in the bin. “Long term potential, I guess.” He shook his head.

“Who’m I kidding. It was stupidity, personal greed.”

“So we’re going to sink.”

“Don’t tell anyone else, otherwise it’ll get to the media.” He shivered.

“In the meantime, you’d better start searching for a job.”

Johnston pulled himself off the desk and wandered back through the sea of cubicles to the lift.

The top floor was tranquil in comparison; a bunch of middle aged men and women in drab grey suits churning through statistical data. Johnston nodded at Hotchkins who was still sitting with his highlighter, as he walked past them to his assistant’s office. Michael put the phone down when he walked in.

“Well.”

“Schedule a press conference for tomorrow afternoon. And set up a conference call with the shareholders asap.”

Michael tapped on his keyboard, already beginning the tasks.

“What about the rest of the employees?”

“Tell them all to come in slightly earlier tomorrow. I’ll talk to them then.”

Johnston walked to the door, turned and said:

“And call my wife, tell her I’m free.”

He walked through to his office, locked the door and sat down. The desk phone bleeped.

“Thirty messages I’ve sent you. Ten missed calls. That’s one long me-”

“Are the kids with you?”

“It’s half four, of course they are. I’ve told you before, school finishes at three.”

“At home?”

“Look, are you going to tell me why you’ve been ignoring me.”

“Are you at home?”

“Yes I’m at home, now why have you been ignoring me?”

Johnston span his chair round to look out over the city.

“You know why I chose investment banking don’t you?”

“What’s this got to do with anything?”

“Dad said to follow your ambition.” Johnston coughed. “I’ve followed mine too far, Marie.”

“What are you on about, are you drunk jeez it’s only half four Mark.”

“I’ve climbed too high. What goes up must come down.”

“Talk properly for God’s sakes. Is something wrong?”

“I’ve fucked up Marie. I’ve fucked up good and proper.”

“What.”

“I put money in the wrong place. I – I – I”

“Breath Mark.”

A message popped up on Johnston’s monitor. It was his assistant informing him that the conference call would be ready in half an hour.

“The company’s gonna fall.”

“Look, I’m going to come to th-”

“No. Stay at home. The Board is phoning in a minute, anyway the kids”

“At least get a lift or taxi back when you’re finished. You’re not driving like this.”

“I’ll be late back, say goodnight to the kids for me.”

“Ok. Just don’t get upset with the Board, they’ll try and fix it.”

“It’s beyond them.”

“What would your Dad say?”

Johnston sniffed. “When the shit hits the fan, cover your head and you’ll be fine.”

“Exactly. The shit’s hit the fan and the Board will cover you.”

Another message popped up on the screen. A reminder that the call was approaching.

“I’ll see you later” His wife said.

“I said I’ll be late, don’t wait up.”

“Love you.”

“Love you.”

Johnston placed the phone back on its cradle and stood up. He walked out of his office and through the top floor, to the water cooler. He collected a glass of water and returned to his office. He locked the door again and walked over to the window.

The sky had grown cloudy, and the only area that seemed to be in the sun was a small estate on the horizon. Even though it would be a few hours before the sun would set, much of the City was covered in a dark blanket. Johnston looked out over the City, staring at the estate. He squinted, and could just about make out the puffs of smoke from the top of the factory where his Dad had worked, the smoke that was one of the causes of his Dad’s cancer. As he stared, he redid his tie and straightened his jacket.  Johnston could hear his Dad’s voice in his head as he tore himself from the window and began to pace around the room. The pride that his Dad had shown when his son had got a job not in the factory, the pride that he had shown when he had bought his first suit, the pride he had shown when his son had taken his parents to dinner, the pride his Dad had shown when the company was created.

Johnston stopped in front of the window and looked out once more. Behind him, the computer beeped. It was another message reminding him that the call would begin in ten minutes.

Johnston stood still and watched the clouds go by, stood listening to the people on the top floor working hard, and to the dull roar of the traffic down below.

In ten minutes he would destroy everything that he had ever created. He would get rid of everything he had strived for. He would ruin his Dad’s memory by failing, by failing to continue his ambition, failing to succeed.

Johnston finished the rest of the water in the glass, and put it on his desk. He pulled out a packet of cigarettes from his jacket. That was perhaps the one thing that his Dad hadn’t liked, especially when he developed lung cancer. Johnston opened the packet and took one out. He lit the cigarette and took a long drag, feeling the chemicals inside move around his body. As he smoked he checked his suit, brushed a bit of dust off and cleared his desk. He then stood up and walked to the door and reassured himself that it was locked. Michael might know that he was in a call, but he didn’t want the rest of the top floor barging in and asking for some irrelevant data. The blinds were shut, that was good; although the top floor may hear raised voices, at least they wouldn’t see him get upset.

Once more he returned to the window, leaning against it with one arm, his watch bared. He listened to the second hand tick, as the tiny complicated mechanism inside slowly moved the minute hand. The watch had been the last gift from his Dad, given only a matter of months before he had passed away. It was a simple watch, with a plain face and basic brown leather strap. A reminder that he could have been happy with a simple life, a reminder that he could have been happy without getting tangled in the corporate web. Most of all, a reminder of his father and the society that he had grown up in.

It was only a matter of minutes before the phone call when Mark Johnston decided that he couldn’t see his company fall. That he couldn’t destroy everything that his Dad had been proud of. It was his ambition, his dream, and his company. There was no way that he would let someone else run what his father had been so proud of.

Johnston finished the cigarette, and dropped it in the glass from the water-cooler. He moved his desk chair to the centre of the room, underneath the metal spotlight that was bolted to the ceiling. He undid his belt and removed it from his trousers, feeling the leather’s strength. He climbed onto the chair and wrapped the belt around the light fitting, and then round his own neck. He tied a knot and then stood on the chair.

The monitors on Mark Johnston’s desk switched to the conference call just as he said:

“Sorry Dad” and kicked the chair from beneath his feet.

What I’m reading – Summer 2017

It’s coming to the end of the summer holiday and I’ll be returning to work/school/uni imminently. Here’s a round-up of what I’ve been reading:

The Forever War – Joe Haldeman
I quite enjoy Vietnam war films – Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, Apocalypse Now – and I had been recommended The Forever War. A good read, with some commentary on how society changes and how this is reflected in the actions of, and the reaction to, those returning from warfare.

The Accidental Time Machine – Joe Haldeman
A good yarn, reminiscent of the fiction on Daily Science Fiction.

Pet Semetary – Stephen King
Slightly predictable, but still an enjoyable and easy read.

Ready Player One – Ernest Cline
Last year I read Cline’s Armada. I wanted to read Ready Player One then, but I’d forgotten about it until I saw a trailer for the Spielberg film adaptation. I’m glad I managed to read it. It was good fun.

Alongside several non-fiction books and articles (mostly prep for the MEd), I’m currently reading REAMDE by Neal Stephenson.

What I’ve read – Summer 2016

Here’s what I read last summer – I’ve been neglecting this website and had forgotten to post this.

2016 Summer:

Foundation by Isaac Asimov

A friend was getting rid of an Asimov anthology – a big hardback featuring several of his novels. While I’d grown up with many of Asimov’s books being available in my house, I’ve never read any of them. So I figured I’d borrow the anthology before passing onto the charity shop, and read the collection. The first novel in the collection was Foundation. So what do I think?

My initial thought was that Asimov writes weirdly. It wasn’t bland, but it wasn’t too descriptive. It’s somewhere in between, but closer to the bland end of the spectrum. It seemed very narrative driven, yet the world seemed to develop naturally and when description did rear its head, it wasn’t poor nor over the top – just in the Goldilock’s zone.

Just as I’d get used to how things were working at one point in tie, the chapter or book would end and I’d find myself transported thirty or so years into the future. This meant that an awful lot of time was covered in a novel that – in my edition – is less than 200 pages long. While I think it would have been interesting to have had more detail, perhaps individual stories or tales that take place within the Foundation or the Galactic Empire (I don’t know enough about Asimov’s books yet to know if these exist), I think that Foundation serves as a good “core” or “skeleton” that tells the story of a changing Universe.

Armada by Ernest Cline

This was fun. With space battles that took all the good stuff from Jack Campbell’s The Lost Fleet and added in more fun, a writing style that isn’t bland but isn’t pretentious: Cline’s writing seems to ooze enthusiasm and a  love for sci-fi. While I didn’t like the ending [tries not to give spoilers] the premise of the story is great.

Good fun, and I can’t wait to read Ready, Player One.

Damnation Alley by Roger Zelzany

I’ve had this in my “to-read” pile for a long time. Last night I was looking for something to read, and I picked it up. I read half of it last night and half of it this morning. It’s not particularly long, and the plot isn’t particularly complicated. The cast is pretty small, and the book is pretty short. Yet Zelzany creates a believable post-apocalyptic world with hints of Mad Max and Fallout (although, that should really be the other way round as this was written first), with a protagonist who is nasty yet nice.

Short, simple and good.

Dangerous Doctorow Double

Several years ago I noticed an intriguingly titled book called The Rapture of the Nerds. I thought it was a pretty cool title and I stood in my campus Waterstones and flicked through it. I wasn’t taken enough by Doctorow’s writing to impulse purchase it though.

Doctorow has appeared on my reading radar many times since. It was only recently that I took advantage of his releasing his books for free under a Creative Commons License, and read some of them.

Specifically, I read Little Brother and Homeland.

The titles allude to ideas of surveillance and security, as well as paranoia.

I can’t help but think that the books are dangerous though. Dangerous in that they leave the reader with an introduction to the world of TOR and the Darknet, as well as internet surveillance. I think that would leave the average teenager – average person really – with just enough knowledge to use these tools, but be not completely understand what they are doing and how to use them safely. However, the ideas of cyber security and internet surveillance might pique the interest of teenagers, leading them to read documentation and articles on how to use the services: this is a good thing.

I have another issue with the books. At times Doctorow’s prose breaks down into a mini-tutorial of how to use the above services. I found this irritating as it detracted from the story. Starting every chapter with a dedication to a bookstore, while having good intentions, also detracted from the story, pulling the reader out of the narrative. Perhaps having these in an “Acknowledgements” or “Thanks” section, outside of the main narrative would have made more sense.

As for the actual story?

Little Brother was pretty cool, I’m not going to lie. I enjoyed the story although I found the speed at which the US Government upped the surveillance and tracking of their citizens to be a little unbelievable.

Homeland was pretty cool too. In some ways I enjoyed it more than Little Brother. That might be because I didn’t read it in one marathon sitting.

I’m not going to write too much about the story – that wasn’t why I created this post.

Overall? Doctorow’s books might be dangerous, but they could do a good job in getting teenagers who don’t read, to read.

Trainee Teacher Tips…

The PGCE year

The PGCE year is great. The PGCE year is terrible. The PGCE year is what you make of it.

There will be times when you want to rip your hair out, and give up. There will be times when you will be on cloud nine.

Be organised

While it might start off ok, you’ll soon have paperwork being thrown at you from all directions. You’ll have assignments for your University, record sheets for your portfolio, lesson plans to write, resource and evaluate… The paperwork soon stacks up. Your desk will look like the London skyline with towers of paper teetering left and right, a laptop hidden amongst the wilderness.

Block out some of your time and keep on track. When you get your timetable, it’s a good idea to find the empty periods and colour code them based upon whether you will be:

  • Planning
  • Evaluating
  • General administration/portfolio work
  • University assignments.

I wish I had done this far sooner in my PGCE year – it’s the first thing I’ll do when I get my NQT timetable.

Schedule downtime

It’s all too easy to let your training dominate your life. You can easily burn the candle at both ends and still feel that you are barely keeping up; burning the candle at both ends only leads to you burning out.

Schedule downtime. Keep doing something you love. Whether that’s going out on a Friday or Saturday night, going to the gym or whatever. Doing something where you can take your mind off the training is great.

Get some friends

Having two sets of friends can work wonders. A set of (trainee) teacher friends who you can turn to for help in behaviour management, tell horror stories and who understand what you are going through is indispensible.

A second set of friends who aren’t teachers can help too. They can remind you to schedule downtime and prevent the training from taking over your life: when trainee teachers meet up, their is a tendency to talk shop.

Keep your head up

You’ll feel down at times. You’ll teach lessons that are disaster – in my second placement I remember apologising to the Professional Tutor for the quality of the lesson. However…Keep calm and see the bigger picture

PGCE: Goodbye Cambridge, hello NQT year!

So. I’ve done it. The PGCE is over. What did it entail, in brief?

  • Very late nights and very early mornings
  • Thousands and thousands of words of assignments.
  • Lesson plans
  • And evaluations
  • Paper in plastic wallets.
  • Fun
  • Stress

It was hard work and tiring, but it’s over!

The final title of my 1c research assignment was:

A critical investigation using a case study approach into the extent to which low-attaining Year 10 students’ learning about reading unseen texts is supported by the use of iPads.

The use of tech in the classroom is something that I am extremely interested in. More specifically, the effective use of technology in the classroom. There isn’t much point in using a fancy piece of tech if it doesn’t actually improve educational outcomes (IE higher grades) for students, or increase engagement: tech is usually expensive.

While my own research was rather inconclusive – my research methods were not particularly “robust” and the sample was incredibly small – it does fit with the broader literature.

Ipads can increase engagement, but they can also increase barriers to learning. Using tech requires both the student and the teacher to be proficient in how to use the tech/application itself. If they aren’t, then the tech will not be using effectively. New barriers, such as increased off-task behaviour (Angry Birds, anyone?) can be witnessed.

In a PGCE session, we presented our research to our peers. As my actual research was rather inconclusive, I took two of the apps I’d used and provided a slightly broader exploration of the effective use of tech in the classroom. Many of my peers were surprised to hear what I said – “Surely using an iPad or an app gets kids engaged?” – until I said that we’ve all sat and browsed the internet, or sent a text, during a lecture or seminar… why would we expect our students to be any different?

The PGCE is now over and summer is here. It’s time to retire the PGCE blog and convert it into an NQT blog… (with more frequent posting.)

Let the adventure begin!

N-Day: NaNoWriMo 15 is back again!

As I’ve said several times, I’ve written most of the novel that I wrote for NaNoWriMo 2015 (N-Day), but I missed out a chunk which meant that not all of it could be uploaded. The next bit is ready!

Reilly

The house was silent for several more days. Even after they had the funeral people remained subdued. Some drifted away straight after the funeral, refusing to see Reilly as their new leader. He didn’t argue with them, nor did his followers. They stood and watched as the leavers took their share of the resources and walked away.

Eventually sound returned to the house and organisation followed. The stockpiles were gradually refilled, and a few new people arrived. If and when they asked about the graves, they were told the truth. Reilly was keen to ensure that he was seen as an honest leader.

Just over a month after the funeral, when the rain was making the ground soft once more, a scout returned to the house and went straight to Reilly. He claimed that he had found the corpses of one of the groups that had left the camp.

He said that he couldn’t bring any proof because there was barely anything left of them. He said that everything they had been carrying, even their clothes, had been taken. He said that that bodies had been burnt. He only recognised one of them.

Somebody, the scout said his name was Larry, had appeared to crawl away from the fire; that he couldn’t have been dead when he was set on fire. His body was warped, the skin all pinched and twisted. But his face was vaguely recognisable. The scout described the bruises and that it had begun to decompose, and that he recognised Larry’s ginger hair and his crooked teeth.

Reilly drove to the corpses, following the scout’s directions. It was the first time that Reilly had left the camp for several months, having been too busy orchestrating the movements of everyone else.

To him, the world seemed to have become more grey. The ground looked beyond sick, like it was resigned to its fate. It was hard to distinguish where the horizon truly was: the grey ground gave way to grey sky. Reilly wondered how far the hunting parties were having to travel and what he was making them go through when they left the camp. He thought to ask the scout but decided against it for the time being. The matter at hand was more pressing.

Most of the corpses were crushed together, pushed into a pile of ash with the odd bone sticking out. When Reilly knelt and gently touched one, it collapsed into dust. He spent a while just looking at the remains of the pyre before moving to the corpse that the scout had recognised.

It was far worse than he had described.

The skin was twisted and had shrunk like melted plastic. There were tears in the skin that had begun to grow mould and little white maggots wriggled through them. For a second he wondered where the maggots had come from, then he felt the vomit rise in his throat and he turned away.

Wiping his mouth, Reilly apologised to the scout.

“Rain’s washed mine away.” The scout shrugged.

“Looks like there were seven of them.” Reilly said.

“It must be one of the last groups, I remember that Larry left quite late. He seemed to think that you’d do something amazing straight away.” He shrugged again. “Takes time.”

“Mhm.” Reilly grumbled and knelt down next to Larry’s corpse. He held his sleeve against his mouth, breathing through the thin fabric; he tried as best he could to ignore the smell. Gently he rolled the corpse over.

A cave went deep into the front of Larry’s chest. Reilly pulled the corpse over and glanced at Larry’s back. There was a small exit wound. The hole at the front exposed rotten organs.

He stood up quick. “He was shot.”

“Not good.” Scout said, although it didn’t really need to be said.

Reilly looked around at the ground, trying to make out any tracks. It had rained on their way out, and the ground had turned to a grey mush.

“They went that way.” The scout said, gesturing towards the north.

Reilly nodded and walked back to the truck. The scout followed and they sat down inside, watching the clouds in silence.

After a while, the cloud that they had been watching had faded into the sky, Reilly started the truck and drove them back to the house.

“Not good” He said. “Get all the scouts who aren’t out to meet me in the dining room.” He said, pulling the truck up outside the front of the house. Someone would collect it from there and take it back to the garage.

He sat in his room while the scouts assembled in the dining room. The gunshot wasn’t good. Part of him had hoped that the scout had been wrong about the burning too, that some animal had attacked the group. But a gunshot meant that there were scavengers around, unless one of the other groups of leavers had turned on them. As long as they didn’t come back and attack the camp.

The scout had managed to contain the news of the death well, and the only people who turned up the dining room were the other scouts. Reilly nodded his thanks at the scout who had brought them all in, then stood at the front of the room. A hush fell as he walked to the front.

“I don’t know how much he has told you but-“ Reilly realised that he didn’t know the scout’s name, and mentally cursed himself. “I’m going to pass over to him so that you can hear exactly what he saw.”

The scout stepped to the front of the room and recited what he had seen, skimming over the description of the wounds on the corpse. A few of the scouts raised their hands, and Reilly pointed at one.

“What Mark says is bad. How do we know the people didn’t follow you back?”

Reilly felt a weight, albeit small, lift itself from his shoulders. The scout’s name was Mark.

“I went out with Mark earlier and we looked for tracks. They appear to have gone in the opposite direction. I think that the killers may have been another group that left here.”

“How can you prove that though?”

“I can’t. It wasn’t animals that killed them, but no-one has reported any sightings of scavengers in the area. That’s why I asked you guys here. I want to deploy you all.”

A disgruntled look appeared on the scouts’ faces.

“I know, you deserve rest, but I need you out there, we all need you out there. Conduct your normal routes and be vigilant for any signs of scavengers.”

“If we see them?”

“Come back and we shall prepare just in case. As soon as you have finished your routes, return. If you see any other scouts out there, call them back for the moment.”

The room became noisy again as people left.

That evening, at dinner, word had got out about what had happened and Reilly made sure that he placated the nerves that had become jumpy. A few had demanded access to the weapons cupboard so that they could be prepared, while others said that those that left deserved it. In response Reilly doubled the night’s guards and promised that, as ever, he would do his best to protect the camp and its residents.

Kiera met with him after dinner, the two of them walking round the residents’ attempts at a farm. Furrows of grey dirt were dug and anything that was hoped to be a seed was planted beneath. A few sprouts of pale green stuck out of the dirt, but more often than not, the ditches lay empty.

“You really think that it was people who left the group?” Kiera asked.

“I honestly don’t know. I’m not sure which would be worse. If it is scavengers then that means they might find us. If it was people who left us, then they too might turn on us. Perhaps there are both out there and they will fight each other.”

“Perhaps. Perhaps it’s time for us to move on.”

Reilly stopped walking and let go of Kiera’s hand.

“We can’t just leave.”

“We give people the choice: they can come with us and try and travel further south, perhaps go across to France, or they can stay here.”

“Maybe.” Reilly said.

They had reached the back of the camp, past the graves of Mason and Maureen.

It had taken several months but they had managed to construct a ramshackle wall around the back of the house, high enough that it would make it difficult for people to attack – they had dug a ditch the other side, but low enough that it would not obscure the lookout’s vision at the top of the house.

They followed the wall for a few steps, before curving away from it and round the back of one of the sheds.

Kiera stopped walking. “You would tell me?”

“If Marauders were coming? Of course.”

She shook her head. “If you thought we should leave.”

His eyes shifted. “I wouldn’t leave you behind. It’d be our choice.”

She seemed placated and continued to walk.  “I kinda meant that you wouldn’t just decide to do it and then tell me as we did it.” She wondered if that made sense.

“I’d let you know before.” Reilly said. “We wouldn’t be alone anyway.” He nodded towards the house. “I couldn’t just leave them behind. I’d ask them if they wanted to come with us.”

They walked back into the house and joined the rest of the residents to eat dinner. The meals had become uniformly coloured – either grey or brown – and uniformly tastless.

The scouts began to return the next morning, the droning of their engines growing louder as they grouped together on their return. A row of motorbikes, their paintwork chipped and covered in mud, got longer as more and more of the scouts returned. Most moved straight through to report back to Reilly; a couple, who had nothing to report, washed and ate before seeking out Reilly.

Those that did report news, reported bad news.

The Guardian’s been hating on The Tab

In my third year of Uni, I wrote for The Tab’s Hull site. I enjoyed it but was not paid. As someone who aims to write for a living, this might seem a little odd.

But I didn’t write for The Tab to make money – I knew that writing for them wouldn’t directly make me any money (they are now experimenting with a payments/prize/bonus/rewards system for writers based on how many shares per month their articles recieve.) but that it would reward me in the future.

The Guardian posted a story earlier today that is a grumble against The Tab, because despite raising a couple of million in venture capital, and generating income through sponsored stories, does not pay all of its writers. It does have a few paid staff, and is now experimenting with a rewards program, but I don’t think the reason that people write for it is the money.

It’s for the experience. I wrote a couple of stories a week (or at least, I was meant to), and I learnt how to write for a specific audience – look at the difference between some of the earlier and later stories to see this.

But why not write for your Uni’s student newspaper?

When I was at Hull, The Hullfire wasn’t that good – despite the efforts of its editors and writers. I remember arguing with some of Hull University Union to say that something should be front page on the newspaper (there were complaints against one of the sabbatical officers), and being told that the newspaper wasn’t allowed to criticise the Union… despite there being a standing order that explicitly allowed them to do so. By the time that I left Hull, the newspaper was growing more critical.

That was why I decided to see if I could write for the The Tab. They said ok, and then I started writing. They told me where I was going wrong and if something wasn’t that good.

And they were independent which meant that we could be critical of HUU… and have great fun during the student elections.

The Tab also had opportunities for its writers – assistance to get on training schemes, work experience at their office, contacts in the industry, talks… Student newspapers don’t generally have that level of access to opportunities. For some people it is something that they can put (or maybe hide off of) on their CV.

Leave off The Tab, Guardian, they are doing a good job!

RealLife got in the way: An update

So RealLife has been incredibly busy and stressful lately. This has meant that I’ve had little time to write anything for Thoughtspill. However, things will slow down a little bit now, meaning that I can resume writing.

The PGCE

The PGCE is going well. I’m currently on half term – yay. I’ve also had my 1b assignment back and have a few adjustments to make on it before the next deadline (22nd.) I’ve handed in a proposed title for my 1c assignment (research) – although this is going to change as the scheme of work has now changed.

I had an interview for a job at my PP2 school, and was told that my lesson was excellent as was my interview – but I didn’t get the job. The job had a large emphasis on drama teaching, and I have (currently) minimal experience teaching drama. I have an application out for another school, so my fingers are still crossed.

I’ve taught a couple of lessons at my PP2 school. It was nice to be told by a student at the end of a lesson with a supply teacher that “at the start of the lesson, we were bored and then you made it interesting” and would I be teaching them again? (I will be.)

Writing and Flash Fridays

I have been writing, but I haven’t been able to keep with the Flash Fiction Fridays. This is because that RealLife thing got in the way a bit too much. I have made considerable progress on the gaps in the NaNoWriMo2015 novel, though – some of this will be posted later today. Hopefully the first draft will be completed by the end of the month.

My series of novellas has had a few more ideas added and progress has been made on the actual writing of the first (it’s now at about 18,000 words); plots and frameworks have been written for several more.

It’s still possible that 2016 will see my first books available for purchase.

Reading and Poetry

I had said that I would be keeping a poetry journal on here. While I have continued to read poetry, I simply haven’t had the spare time so far to write it up on here – it will appear…. eventually. It’s more or less the same for reading. I have been reading, but I need to sit down and write the reading journal post. This will appear by the end of the week.

I think that’s more or less everything. Stay tuned.

More reading!

Amazon had their 12 Days of Kindle sale recently, during which many books were discounted. I picked up a few more to read:

  • Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell
  • City of Bones – Cassandra Clare
  • Magician – Raymond E. Feist
  • The Final Winter: An Apocalyptic Horror Novel – Iain Rob Wright
  • Crimes Against Magic – Steve McHugh
  • Half a King – Joe Abercrombie
  • Consider Phlebas – Iain M. Banks
  • Alone in Berlin  – Hans Fallada
  • The Testing – Joelle Charbonneau
  • The Lean Startup – Eric Ries (Non-fiction)
  • The $100 Startup – Chris Guillebeau
  • Far Orbit: Speculative Space Adventures – Ed. Bascomb James

(Not all of these were on offer.)

That’s a fair few books, and my digital to read pile is growing (as is the physical one on my bedside table…)