This week in writing

Wow. So something truly magical happened to me this week. I realised that it had been about a year since I'd stated writing my first novel (which is still languishing in first draft format somewhere on my hard drive) and to celebrate this milestone, I decided to look back over all those other terrible first drafts I'd produced, just to prove to myself how much I'd evolved as a writer.

Among all the false starts, one piece (sci-fi) had made it all the way up to the last chapter before I'd gotten confused by my own plot-twists and run out of faith in myself.

So I read through it.

And it was good...

With my fresh objective eyes, I could see it for what it was: a pretty decent story with interesting characters and believable dialogue and plot twists.

So I set about thinking of an ending. And then I started writing.

8,000 words later and months after I first started working on it, the first draft is complete.

And I'm still excited! I haven't finished it with this sense of dread about everything that I need to go back and change about it. I'm actually looking forward to make this story shine.

And all I needed was time,  by leaving the first draft and working on other projects so that when I came back to it it didn't even look like something I'd written.

Generation Lawless will have to take a backseat, because this project is really going places. I just hope I can finish it before the doom sets in this time!

Slight change of Direction

I’ve decide that this blog will be devoted to the process of writing a novel with a focus on the emotional impact of doing so. It will still contain the short “episodes” of the novel as I write it, but I will also include behind the scenes detail – what I’ve achieved this week, my short-falls, how I’ve felt throughout, and how I’ve overcome (or not!) the problems I’ve encountered.

My aim is to provide an honest account of my experience of the creative process in the hope that others may benefit from it. There are many blogs out there with articles on the trials and tribulations of novel writing (this one from YA highway is particularly good) but for me, the emotional side of writing is my biggest hurdle and most enduring problem.

Why? I believe this is because of my health problems; I have depression and ME/CFS, and both like to put their respect spanners in my way on a regular basis. A lot of what I read on the internet about “Writers Block” follow the Pull-Yourself-Together school of thought – keep going, plod on, work through it, chin up. It’s great advice that I know through experience that my brain doesn’t respond well to. Hammering away at a problem (in any avenue of my life) can lead to me being overwhelmed with self-doubt and can trigger depressive episodes. Stopping, walking away, resting and re-evaluating are always better strategies for me but that greatly effects my productivity.

So how do I overcome these hurdles? That’s what this blog will be devoted to: support and advice for getting a brain that lacks motivation into gear, that lacks concentration to focus, that gives way to irritability and anger to chill the hell out! Can I silence my self-doubt enough to achieve my dream? I suppose only time can tell…

Plentiville - The place

Imagine how the Earth might be if the population kept increasing, if our fuel consumption did too, if buildings got taller and spread across the countryside as sea-levels rose, destroying coastal dwellings and making their residents homeless. Now imagine if technology existed that meant we could terraform other suitable planets and fly out to them within a reasonable measure of time. Would we leave, or would we stay behind to clear up our mess?

Who would leave? Who would stay behind?

Who would decide?

This was the starting basis for my construction of Plentiville. In my imagination, the people who'd leave Earth would be the wealthiest; the ones most culpable for its destruction and those more able (and willing) to leave their mess behind.

The fundamentally religious would also see an opportunity in leaving Earth. How could they resist the appeal of setting up a world where only their religion and beliefs were practised?

Trickling down from this, different political groups may want to leave to start worlds where their opinions weren't challenged. Imagine the scope for abuse?!

In the future I've created for Generation Lawless, this is how the first colonies are created. Different groups splitting off from the mainstream to create worlds that fit in with their own ideological beliefs.

Once all these groups leave, the Earth that's left behind is a desolate, decaying, wasteland. There may be some who try to create a better world, but there would be many more who would seize this opportunity to take power. Imagine if there were no coherent police force? No courts to uphold the law? How long would there be a law left to uphold?

Plentiville is meant to have come into existence a significant time after terraforming rose in popularity, as an alternative to the other models that were in existence. Its aim was to be a world where children had childhoods, similar to the ones their grandparents may have experienced; with schools, roads, transportation, parks, cinemas, galleries, museums. It aimed to be self-sufficient, with an abundance of resources. Basically, Plentiville is meant to be an example of how our world could be.

The first wave of Settlers to Plentiville were those with skills: builders, farmers, carpenters, anyone who could construct the dream world its founders envisioned. The second wave of settlers, who set off from Earth five years later, was made up of families who wanted to raise their children in what could, potentially, be a utopian civilisation.

But of course, that utopia was not to be...

Generation Lawless Episode Two


Episode Two

I stay completely still for a long time, staring up at my little brother like it's the first time I've ever really seen him. Then I pull myself to my feet and approach him cautiously.
He just stands there staring at the knife.
I wrap my hand around his; around the hand that's gripping the knife. It shakes but loosens at my touch.
Here, let me.”
I take the knife from him and stow it back in the place between my belt and jeans. I want to say 'thank you' but it ent the right time for it.
Come on,” I say softly, circling an arm round his waist.
Let's help the girl,” he says almost robotically and that's when I remember the child, curled up and bloodied.
I turn and approach her. A tangle of black curls lies across her closed eyes. Her dark skin looks ashen. Her lips are parted and as I scoop her into my arms, I realise that no breath comes from between them. I don't tell Mim that but I think he knows.
She weighs hardly anything and she looks younger than Mim. Must've been born on the ship, must've spent her whole life cooped up in space and now... now... after just a brief taste of life, she's had it snatched away from her.
We turn back towards the house, picking our way across the litter strewn garden. I don't wanna think about what happened here, don't wanna believe that the Firsters could be this feral. To kill a child? For what?
That's when I see a figure in the upstairs window, striking the glass with her fists. She looks so similar to the girl in my arms it's freaky – she has the same dark skin and hair – but about my age or older. She locks her terror-filled eyes with mine and where her hands have struck the window, there are bloody prints.
She's been attacked.
Her eyes dart from the girl in my arms and back up at me.
Jessie, don't be a hero. I hear my Dad's voice as clear as anything. Don't be a hero.
My body's bruised from the struggle with the Firster, the last thing I wanna do is risk further injury rescuing another girl I don't even know.
I just want to get out, get away, get to safety.
But her stare penetrates me.
I can't get it outta my mind, don't think I ever will.
Then suddenly Mim stops. He's seen her, too.
Jessie...Jessie,” he says, tugging on my sleeve.
I know. I saw her. I know.” I say. “But we've gotta go. It's too late to save her. The fire's upstairs and it'll spread and the smoke'll choke us.”
Mim looks at me, horrified, his eyes brimming with anger.
What's wrong with you?” he screams.
That's when I realise he has so much more riding on that girl living than I do. He just killed. He's a murderer. He'll never forgive himself if it was for nothing.
We stagger through the back door, through the kitchen, into the hallway, then pause at the bottom of the stairs. From above, black smoke collects on the ceiling like a storm cloud and a ring of fire engulfs the door frame of the master bedroom like it's the gateway to hell.
Mim gives me this look of determination.
Don't go up there,” I say, feeling myself well up. (Shut up).
I have to” he says, placing a foot on the bottom step. It's so hot his figure warbles before my eyes like a mirage and I think is this the last time I'll see my brother? Is this it?
Then I grab him by the collar of his shirt and yank him back down. I plonk the dead girl in his arms.
Check the other rooms! Make sure no one's trapped. Get any one out you can, but keep outta sight.” Then I sling my bag off my back and dump it at his feet. “And take this.”
You don't need it?”
I pat the knife at my waist. “Got everything I need right here.”
He looks up at me with his stupid doe eyes, all scared and worried and I rile with anger. He can't have it both ways! He can't pester me into playing a hero then look like a slapped fish when I do!
But then he smiles suddenly; a proper grin like I've just given him the best present in the world.
And I realise that's pride in his face –
Pride at me, at what I'm gonna do –
And I think I feel it a bit too –
Then, in a flash, he disappears down the corridor.
I look up the stairs. The fire from the bedroom's giving me enough light to see by but the heat that pours down with it stings my face and my throat.
I step up, my finger tips hovering beside the ivory hilt at my waist. Dunno when I might need it.
There's stuff littering the steps: broken photos, hair brushes, that sorta thing. Whoever ransacked the place mustn't've found anything worth stealing. So they killed a couple of kids and torched it? For what?
I seethe as I stomp up the stairs, coughing and spluttering.
Just because we're Newbies? It's so stupid. So mindless. So petty. So...immature! Yes, the adult's are dead. But that doesn't mean life has to descend into chaos. That doesn't mean we have to kill each other, doesn't mean we have to turn against each other in order to survive.
But then... I was gonna leave that girl upstairs. I was gonna leave her in whatever crummy situation she might've been in – to be murdered or left to burn or whatever –
Am I any better?
I reach the landing and the heat nearly knocks me backwards.
I pause.
The girl's window was overlooking the garden which means it was at the back of the house. Which means her bedroom is beside mine. Which means the whole time I've lived in Plentiville only a single wall, a thin row of bricks and cement, has separated me from her.
And I dunno who she is. Never even wanted to.
I glance down the hall towards the room. There's only one way to get there without getting so close to the fire I risk the chance burning and that's by climbing across the banisters that border the stairs. But the fire is painfully hot and I can't get close enough.
Hey!” I cry, forgetting myself for a moment, forgetting there could be a Firster in there with her.
But when a figure appears at the door, stooped over, it's her. She staggers forward and I see the deep gash across her forehead, with blood pumping from it and pouring down her face.
You're hurt,” I say.
She looks dazed. “Firster.”
Are they still there?”
She leans against the door frame for support. “We fought him. He's dead.”
Me. My dog.”
The crackle of fire gets louder.
You gotta come this way,” I shout. “I can't reach you, but if you climb on the banisters you could jump down.”
No!” she cries. “He's hurt!”
Who's hurt?”
My dog!” She slaps a hand across her cheek in absolute despair but I almost laugh. Her sister's dead. Her parents must be too. Her house is on fire. She's been attacked. She's got blood pumping out her like there's no tomorrow... And she's worried about a dog?
I guess it's just the shock that makes me wanna laugh, right?
Just the shock.
You've gotta leave it behind!” I say.
She gives me this look like I just told her she has to eat it or something. Then she staggers forward and crumples to her knees.
The fire from the main bedroom room swells forward with a roar, then there's a craaack above me and the ceiling plaster caves in. I fling my arms over my head to protect myself, stagger back down the steps, almost tripping.
A series of clatters and swooshes follow and when I open my eyes, I see it: a wooden ladder. It's dropped down on its runners from the hatch that leads into the attic. It's within reach. I can use it to pull myself to the girl.
I grip the bannisters and swing my legs up, crouching on the hand-rail, then carefully stretch myself up to standing. The fire is so hot it hurts but I reach for the ladder, grasp a rung and pull myself forward using all the strength I have in my body. My feet lift from the bannister and I swing my body round and collapse to the ground but my feet are just inches from the flames and I scrabble backwards and –
I'm safe.
I'm alive.
I made it.
The girl lies on the floor, looking up all wide-eyed, blinking.
What happened?” she says, her voice slurring.
You blacked out. You're bleeding and the smoke's making you weak. We've gotta get out.”
She grabs my hand and uses me to hoist herself up. “Pip,” she says, darting back through the corridor to her bedroom.
Leave the frugging dog!” I cry, glancing back over my shoulder at the swelling flames.
When I reach her room, it looks just like mine but decorated differently, with floral wall paper and pictures of animals. On the floor is the Firster who must've attacked her, lying face down, covered in bloody bite marks. Beside him lies a rusty meat clever.
I feel sick.
Then I see the dog on the bed – a massive thing with a great big, pink tongue hanging out its mouth. There's so much blood pumping from a deep, blunt wound on his shoulder, his blonde fur's stained red.
What happened?” I say.
He was trying to protect me from the Firsters. They had that.” She gesture to the cleaver. “They cut him. Then me. I tried to get him up but then I saw the flames and I...I... panicked.”
I kneel beside the dog and lean my ear close to his mouth, feeling warm, soft breath on my ear. He's still alive.
I straighten up. “OK, this ent gonna be easy.”
The dog's big and meaty but I reckon I can bare the weight of him. Afterall, I dragged both my parents down the stairs earlier this evening. This evening? It already feels like a life time ago!
Earlier this evening Mim and I weren't orphans.
Earlier this evening, Mim wasn't a murderer.
Earlier this evening I wouldn't ever have risked my life for a stupid dog!
I wedge my arms beneath his stomach and heave him against my chest. He's not as heavy as I was expecting and I wonder if that's from the effects of the adrenaline that's coursing through my body.
We make it into the corridor but the fire is bigger, closer, hotter.
And the bannisters are ablaze.
We can't go down.
We could go back, go out the window, but then we'd have to leave the dog and for some unknown reason I ent letting that happen. Not now. Not after everything.
I cower at the sound of another horrify crash from the master bedroom. The ceiling must've caved in some more.
And that's when I have my idea.
The attic!” I say.
It's the only way. If we go up, we can go through the sky light onto the roof.
The girl stares at me, all big brown eyes and terror. “What?”
Help me!” I say, ignoring her.
I've twisted round, trying to get the unconscious dog onto my back. The girl realises what I'm doing and with all the strength she must possess in her thin body, she helps drag the dog onto my back.
Now go, I need you to pull.”
She scampers into the hall and up the ladder in a flash, crouching at the top, peering down. I stagger through the hallway then, with one hand securing the unconscious dog's forelegs over my shoulder, I use the other to pull the weight of us onto the first rung. Every muscle in my body screams
I pull.
I step.
I pull.
I step.
Inbetween each movement, a roar or a screech comes from between my teeth without me even meaning to. I sound like an animal.
Three rungs.
Four rungs.
Five rungs.
Closer and closer while the flames lick at the base of the ladder like an orange ocean.
Six rungs.
Then, I'm close enough for the girl to reach us and she leans down, clasps my hand in hers and pulls.
With a last groan, the unconscious dog and I burst through the hatch into the attic and tumble onto the floorboards.
I roll onto my side and get straight to my feet. The dark attic's lit by the fire light that pours through a massive hole in the floor where half of it has fallen away. Underneath I can see into the master bedroom, can see two charred and blackened bodies lying side by side surrounded by flame.
Her parents.
The Firsters set fire to their bodies.
I retch.
Get the skylight open,” I say through my gagging.
The girl scampers across the room and yanks the window with the full weight of her body. It swings down towards her and air rushes in –
But there's an enormous whompp noise –
And a plume of fire stretches up through the hatch towards us like an enormous, column of heat –
Shit!” I cry, falling back from the jet and pulling the dog by his back legs.
The flames fan across the ceiling, rushing towards the oxygen it needs to burn.
Shut the window!” I scream. “Shut the window!”
But it's too late. The girl leaps onto her tiptoes, pushing at the top bar of the window with her fingertips, but she hasn't got enough strength to propel it upwards. She turns to me, pleadingly, her eyes filled with despair.
There's thick smoke collecting above us so I crouch low and drag the dog behind me until I'm just below the window.
Get out!” I say to the girl.
She pulls herself onto the ledge and squeezes through the gap onto the slanted roof top. Then, with difficulty, I get the dog back into my arms and shove him out after her. But he's big and his tummy wedges in the gap.
I push his rump with both arms.
Sorry doggy, sorry, sorry,” I say, watching as the flames grow bigger, the smoke thicker, feeling my lungs struggling more and more to get enough oxygen.
I shove.
I am not gonna die here. I refuse to die here.
I cover my face with my sleeve, coughing and retching –
My eyes sting and my throat burns and my skin pricks from the heat –
And I turn and shove that stupid frugging dog with my back, pushing my whole weight into him –
If I die because of this stupid dog, this stupid frugging dog –
If this is how I go –
I blink –
My eyes are wet with tears –
The fire roars –
My throat burns –
My skin hurts.
My skin, my skin –
It hurts –
And the flames get closer and –
This is it –
It's too late –
It's over –
It hurts –
Then suddenly the dog slides out and there's that space for me in the window and I pull my arms through and the girl grabs me and tugs and the fire's at my feet and I scream and I slither and I'm through – I'm through! – and I slam the window closed.
And I breath.

Generation Lawless - Character Information - Jessie

The main character (and narrator) of Generation Lawless is fifteen-year-old Jessica (Jessie) Philips. 

Jessie was born in England and spent the first five years of her childhood on Earth; a hostile, crowded, unpleasant planet. Her parents dreamed of leaving for one of the new terraformed planets but rumours circulated that these colonies were corrupt, set-up by rich individuals who extorted the population and ran the colonies like dictatorships.

Then Jessie's aunt learns of a new colony called Plentiville, a world comprised of subburb, city and countryside that promises to provide an idealic childhood to its residents, free from the violence and hostility of Earth. Jessie's aunt leaves soon after, taking her baby daughter, Ada, with her.

The Philip's family want to follow suit but don't have enough money. They begin saving, but as the years pass, England degenerates further. Already straining under the burden of a population boom, rising sea-levels and pollution, England is rocked by a series of natural disasters and descends into chaos. The country becomes over-run by criminal gangs who rule with terror.

It is when Jessie's mum falls pregnant that the Philips decide they must leave, now. They sell everything they own, including Jessie's pet dog, Jack, and buy four spaces aboard the passenger ship travelling to the distant colony of Plentiville.

The decade Jessie spends aboard the space ship is relatively peaceful in comparison but she, like many children on board, has trouble adjusting. The ship is crowded and many passengers are troubled by what they endured on Earth.

Hope blossoms with the birth of the next generation. Mitchell (Mim) Philips, the first child born aboard the ship, lives a childhood that, in Jessie's eyes, is enviable. Where Jessie struggles with education, Mim thrives. Where Jessie picks fights and arguments with the other children, Mim plays. Though there is limited space aboard the ship, Mim finds pleasure in exploring. This is the cause of most of Jessie's irritation towards her brother, who she feels was protected and loved by her parents in ways she was not.

On the ship, Jessie receives only a basic education conducted via computer lessons, and is often distracted and unengaged. There's little consequence to her playing truant, and soon her parents give up in their attempts to educate her. As a result of her childhood experiences, Jessie is both socially immature and poorly educated.

Soon after Jessie and her family's arrival in Plentiville, adults begin to die.The original settlers on Plentiville (a generation of children raised with effortless plenty nicknamed the Firsters) blame the new settlers (the Newbies, who are considered stupid and uncivilised) for bringing the virus with them. As more and more adults die, what was initially innocent rivalry between the Firsters and the Newbies erupts into violence.

Being in the farthest subburb of Plentiville, Jessie's parents are among the last to die. The story begins on the day of their death, the day where Plentiville becomes lawless.

In many ways, Jessie is well equipped to survive in the harsh world she now finds herself; she's strong, confident, and she can fight. But she knows very little about the new planet she is on, is traumatised by her parent's deaths (though she'd never admit it), and is emotionally scarred by her childhood. She views life as cruel and unfair, and often directs her anger towards Mim who she feels was protected in ways she was not. She perceives her role as sole protector of Mim as an irritation. Jessie is surly, socially immature and, at times, incredibly selfish. But despite her bravado, she loves Mim and would die to protect him.

My hope is that, as the story progresses, Jessie will prove to be a heroine. There's certainly plenty of adversity in store to test the two Philip's children, so come back and read Episode Two to find out!

-CB Soulsby

Generation Lawless Episode One


Episode One

I never thought I'd be burying my parents, but here I am, shovel in hand.
It's dark – the electricity powered down yesterday – but the three small moons shining above Plentiville light my parent's pale faces. They look like they could be sleeping.
But they're not sleeping.
They're dead.
They're all dead...
I grip the shovel tightly and, swallowing the lump that's formed in my throat, plunge it into the soil. I've gotta focus. I've gotta take it one step at a time.
Step one: bury my parents.
Mim's inside (with the torch on, of course). He won't come out to help so I gotta do it all by myself. Just like I had to care for them while they were puking their guts out. Just like I had to drag them by the ankles down the stairs and through the kitchen and across the garden. It's so completely typical of him to leave all the hard graft up to me. The little wimp.
I've found a nice enough patch in the garden, though. Right next to a load of – I dunno what they are – tulips or something, and under this apple tree that's in blossom; all innocent, like the world isn't ending or anything. I didn't want them too near the house. For Mim, you know. He's such a little wimp and I can't cope with him howling every time he catches sight of their graves.
'Spose I'm doing it for me, too, but don't tell Mim that.
I dig.
It doesn't take long before I'm covered in mud and sweat and callouses. It's back-breaking stuff, 'specially for someone who's been cooped up on a space ship for the last ten years. You know, I thought I'd've been over-whelmed with joy to get off that piece of junk, but now I wish I was still on board. Now I wish we'd just flown straight past this stupid planet and settled on the next one. One where they didn't have some killer virus waiting to wipe out all the grown-ups.
But I mustn't think like that. Mim'd go to pieces if he heard me thinking like that. Bloody good thing he can't too, cos if he could it would sound like this, repeating over and over:
What the frug are we gonna do?
No really.
What are we going to do? What are we going to do?
What are we going to do...?
I push the thought away.
One step at a time.
Step one: bury my parents.


So it's Mim's howling from inside the house that tells me something ent quite right. A whole load of nasty thoughts flick through my mind and I drop my shovel.
I've not finished covering up my Dad's face yet and he stares up at me all glazed eyes like he knows something I don't.
I bolt through the back door and find Mim a blabbering wreck in the kitchen.
I grab him by the shoulders.
What?” I scream in his face. You can probably tell I'm no good at all that sensitive stuff like Mum was.,” he stammers. He's not dumb or anything, he just doesn't get his words out so good, that's all. I guess he gets anxious, or something.
Mim,” I say, shaking him. “What did you see?”
He just points a finger towards the window but there's nothing there. Just row after neat row of empty houses. Most the kids on our street took off earlier this week, but we stuck about because are parents were know...the last.
F...F...F...” he says.
But Mim just stands there shaking like the hopeless ten-year-old he is and his face is all screwed up and red and I could just hit him sometimes!
Spit it out!”
There's a long silence, like all the noise has been sucked away.
You saw them, Mim?” I say finally and he nods his head fast. I shove him and he staggers back all wide eyed. “You're not lying, are you?” My voice is all authoritative and I sound just like Dad.
Mim shakes his head so hard his messy brown hair flies all over his face and for some stupid reason I think that he could do with a hair cut.
Jessie,” he says. “We... we... gotta... go now?”
What do you think? There's Firsters here!”
I pace up and down, not knowing what to do. Look I'm not a hero or anything, I'm just a normal kid, OK? Give me a break.
Frug!” I shout, slamming my muddy palm into my forehead. “Frugging Firsters! How'd they get out this far already?”
There's panic and anger in my voice and I let it all spurt out at Mim like this is his fault. He shys away from me, cowering like I'm gonna whack him. It makes me feel terrible.
What would Mum do? I think, and then I bend at the knees and look straight into his big, brown, pathetic eyes, all pleading and hopeless.
Yes,” I say as softly as I can. “We gotta go.”
He nods in resolve and straightens up like he's ready for battle and for a flicker of a second I'm kinda proud of him. But don't tell anyone I said that.
There's two bags already packed by the door that my Mum made up for us on Monday just before she ... well... you know. But I didn't think for a second we'd have to use them, that we'd have to actually leave, that Mum and Dad would really, actually die. It's Wednesday. Just two days ago she packed these bags. And now she's dead, out there in the garden.
Shit! What's the plan? All I can think of is getting to Ada's house the other side of the City. She's a Firster, so maybe she can protect us, make these idiots realise it's not our fault all the grown-ups died. Plus, she lives in the country on this big bit of land because her mum, my aunt, keeps animals – I mean kept animals – and we might be able to be self-sufficient there.
I know, it's a crap plan, but you try coming up with something better while both your parents are dying!
I reach the door and hand Mim the smaller bag, since he's only small (though don't say that to his face). It has water and cans of food in and I think Mum put clean pairs of socks and pants in like we were going off on a camping trip. Then I take the bigger one. It's got a tent in, medical kit, torches, binoculars, rope, all that sort of stuff.
Mim watches me, waiting for my move, but I'm hesitating. Then, forgive me Dad, I've smashed the glass door to the cabinet with my elbow and I'm reaching inside for that very expensive antique knife he cherished and would never let me or Mim touch, and I've got it by its big ivory handle and it's heavier than I thought it'd be.
We...need a knife?” Mim says.
I just nod and slip it in between my belt and jeans.
Then without so much as a parting word, without so much as a good bye to our dead parents lying in their shallow graves in the garden, I pull the door open.
And we come face to face with a Firster.
She's got big, bushy auburn hair, and by the look on her face, she wasn't expecting the door to open. She was expecting to have to bash it down, to fight her way in. Yet here I am with it wide open, practically asking to be burgled.
I go to slam it shut but she wedges her foot there and all I can do is swipe the chain across.
I grab Mim by the wrist and try dragging him back into the kitchen, but he's dug his heels in like my dog Jack used to do before... before... well never mind about before.
Mim, you drive me crazy,” I say, yanking on his little arm so hard I swear it's gonna pop out the socket. “What are you doing? We have to go!”
Firsters, I know! Come on.”
I spin and see the burning newspaper on the welcome mat, see the curtains catch and with a whommp they're ablaze. Then there's the sound of smashing glass coming from the living room; the Firster's found an easier way in.
This time Mim moves, fast. We bolt through the kitchen and out the back door into the streets.
There's smoke everywhere. Not just our house, but the neighbours too, and, across the street, doors hang open off their hinges as Firsters rush through looting them. There's a lot of soot-streaked kids wandering about looking dazed and I realise that I don't know any of them. There was meant to be a community in Plentiville! That was supposed to be the point of it! But we're just like all the kids we left behind on Earth; too scared to leave our homes, too mistrusting of every other human being. At least we're prepared for it. We've been through Armageddon. We can do it again.
Mim tugs me from my thoughts. His hand's tight on my sleeve as we pass our neighbour's house, acrid smoke pouring through the front bedroom window. There's yelling coming from inside, a dog barking, the high-pitched screams of a girl.
I know what Mim's going to say before he says it.
No time,” I say.
Step Two: Don't dwell.
No!” An image flashes through my mind, of my Dad lying in bed, glistening with sweat, whispering four words over and over again. “Don't be a hero!”
Jessie, don't be a hero...
Mim looks all flustered. “I.. don't know what that means.”
It means don't do anything stupid to get yourself killed. Like standing in the street arguing when there's Firsters around or, you know, running into a burning building!”
I...want to... help.”
No. It's you and me against the world now, Mim.”
I know it's a stupid thing to say to a kid who's scared of his own shadow but it just slips out in the heat of the moment, pardon the pun.
But then, before I know it, his hand's slipped out of my grip, and the little weasel's darting off. I can see his backpack bobbing about through all the grey and I want to shout for him but who knows how many Firsters are in ear shot? I can't draw attention to ourselves.
I've got no choice. I've got to go after him.
Step Three: Keep each other alive no matter what.
I dart up the neighbour's front path and through the once perfectly manicured front garden that's turned to crap since whoever lives here lost their parents.
The front door's been kicked to splinters. The last thing I want to do is go inside, but Mim's in there and I can't lose all my family in one day.
I dive in after him.
The house is a mirror image of ours. It's a bit like walking into a parallel universe.
There's an ear-splitting scream from the garden and I run out there still half expecting to see my parents smiling at me, sat beneath the apple tree with freshly made lemonade.
But when I make it to the garden, I don't see that.
I don't see that at all.
I see a kid in the grass, curled in a ball and covered in red.
And I see Mim, lifted clean of the ground and kicking his little legs as he struggles for breath.
Then I see the Firster.
And then I see the knife.


Step Four: kill if you have to.
Now, I'm not exactly a violent person. Sure, I pick on Mim but he's my little brother and that's what big sisters do, isn't it? And I used to be able to hold my own on the ship with the other kids but not in an extraordinary way, if you know what I mean. Point is, there's nothing 'specially violent about me. I tend to keep my head down and get on with things.
So when my hand flies to the ivory hilt of the knife and whips it out from my belt, I'm kinda pleased with myself. The Firster looks terrified too, which helps.
Put him down,” I say through my teeth.
The Firster looks at me with this kind of evil glint in his eye, like he was too busy looking at the knife to notice I was a girl and now I've spoken and given away the game he's thinking no big deal. He's obviously forgotten that us “Newbies” grew up tough. I'm as strong as he is. And I'm smarter, too.
I take a big stride forward waving the knife in front of me. Mim makes some kind of horrible noise like he's throwing up but I don't look at him because my eyes are locked with the Firster's.
The news said you lot were tough,” I say. “Which makes me wonder what you're doing killing weedy little kids.” If Mim weren't being strangled right now he'd get all angry about me calling him weedy, but, you know, it's not the right time for it.
The Firster watches me and cocks his head to the side and says, “Think you're tough girly? Think you can take on a boy and win?” And he kinda turns to me now, letting Mim down to his feet but still holding him hard by the neck. “We do things properly on this planet. And we don't like you Newbies – thinking you can come over here and change things. So we're going to teach you how it's going to be. And on this planet boys are men and girls are good for one thing.”
It shouldn't shock me but it does and I slacken my grip on the knife and before I've even blinked, the Firster's on me and I'm falling to the floor. We land with a thud and nearby I hear Mim take a massive gasp only now I'm the one who can't breath cos the Firster's got my arms pinned down and his knee's in my throat.
Not feeling so big now, are you girly?” He says as I thrash about beneath him.
I wriggle my fingers, trying to reach out to where the knife has landed but I can't quite make it and then all of a sudden the Firster's face goes all grey and his eyes go all wide and he slumps forward, right on top of me. He weighs a tonne but he doesn't move and I guess that's a good thing.
I shove him off and look up to where Mim is standing over me, the knife clasped in his hand. It's all red at the tip.
Kill if if... if you have to,” he says.
I guess he's not so much of a wimp after all.


So for a long time I've been flirting with the idea of a blog or a (slightly more ambitious) website. Somewhere where I can post my writing and have other people actually look at it. Googledocs is all well and good as a storage device, but I'm thinking big now. I'm thinking about maybe having people actuallyread what I write (eek!) and, inevitably, feedback on it and criticise it and engage with it.

A blog / website could give me an online presence, I reasoned with myself. Help me connect my writing to the very people it's intended to connect with. 

Plus there's the added bonus of endless-tamper-temptation-reduction. Once it's there, it's there and -- yes -- I could go back in time and swap that clumsy repetition of the word blue with a navy or cobolt or -- hell --  even an azure, but I would only be, as they say, cheating myself...

So, I made my mind up! No more lurking in the shadows (those inky, ebony, raven shadows)! No more hiding my name! No more confining my documents to my "writing"'s time they stood on their own feet, got out there and saw the world wide web! I will make a website and share my writing with the 12-19 age bracket whether the 12-19 age bracket wants me to or not!

So here it is. My new journal. My creative outlet. I hope you enjoy it. 

- CB Soulsby