Tales From The Ridge

Monday, January 31, 2005


Ecks sent some sample chapters of The Servants Of Gods off to a rather charming small independent publisher - Snowbooks - last week, and this afternoon received a reply from them requesting that he send the whole manuscript for consideration.

Ecks is finding it hard to type with so many fingers crossed.

All the lonely people, where do they all come from?

I take a train into a city. As it rattles gleefully along the iron rails it whisks me past the tracts of open countryside, past isolated brown brick farms and villages fuddled by the sleep of history. As the train carries me closer to the city the countryside drips away to be replaced by bigger villages and then small towns and then larger towns until eventually the gleaming rails are choked by row upon row of identical houses, the grey asphalt furrows beside the tracks sown with seeds of brick and slate and mortar. Faceless blocks of flats punctuate the rash of houses, cold concrete obelisks that thrust upwards like hitch-hikers' thumbs, and over it all hangs the cloying miasma of this modern life.

I remain untouched by it all. The train is a giant needle, sterile and insulating, injecting people directly into the city's heart. It keeps us clean, delivering us past the city's dead, diseased flesh.

Every now and then I see a face in a window. Inside every house, inside every room in every block of flats, is being played the story of a person that no-one on this train will ever meet. I take the time to smile as it drifts past.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

A step in the right direction

At the equator of that star cross'd morn, into his inbox an e-mail slipped. Twixt viruses and Viagra ads, a pristine yellow envelope sat, glimmering in the firmament of his monitor.
"Hark, what light through yonder inbox breaks? It is the east, and my first non-rejection is the sun."
For Ecks had click'd that fragile missive, and laid eyes 'pon words conceal'd, sent to him by a literary agent with charm and grace, quick of wit and fair of face, that said:
"I enjoyed this sample, prithee send me your novel in full that I might consider it, though take heed that I may yet refuse."
Dear heart! Ecks fell a-swoon, and resolved to deliver his weighty tome, hide-bound and wrapped, unto a stout and trusted yeoman that on the morrow he might bear it to London with all haste.
Adieu, adieu, adieu!

Monday, January 24, 2005

Plus ca change

Thanks to S. F. Jones' recent comment and the excellent discussion led by Uncle Jim, Ecks has invested (and is investing) some time editing and shuffling The Servants of Gods and, though he is loath to admit it (due to having convinced himself over a long period of time that the book did not need further significant work, largely because he had spent so damn long writing and editing it previously that he was sick of the sight of it), the time has been well spent.

For her part, Madame Poincaré was not happy at the amount of time Ecks spent fizzing over the keyboard instead of tickling her chin, behaviour that she considered would be far more appropriate. She decided that she would make her displeasure known to him by dragging her claw along the sole of his foot as he lay asleep in bed that night.

Friday, January 21, 2005


'Twas brillig as Ecks awoke that morning, and he was pleased to see that the the toves, despite their nocturnal gyring, had stayed away from his petunias, although he was surprised - and more than a little concerned - to notice a gritty glow radiating from his desk. There sat his laptop, glaring belligerently at him.
"I thought I turned you off last night before I went to bed," Ecks said nervously.
"Never mind that. Come on, sit down," it said, the flickering screen staring blankly, mocking him, "Write something."
"Er, later," he replied, "I have to...uh..."
"Come on," it sneered, its keys rattling in their plastic housing, a dry, brittle cackle, "What are you scared of?"
Ecks sat down at his desk.
"Where should I begin?"

Yesterday Ecks hit 35,000 words in his second novel, the as-yet-unnamed love story between a young man and a girl who is suffering from severe depression set in a small village in 1950s Sicily. He just polished off the chapter in which the protagonist discovers a fossilised dinosaur (which occurs after the plague of rain but before he gets a job in the whorehouse).

The next batch of rejection letters for "The Servants of Gods" should be in the post right about now. Still, chin up, eh?

Thursday, January 20, 2005

La Locura

Excerpt from "The Servants of Gods", Ecks Ridgehead's as yet unpublished first novel.

The island of La Locura is a pinprick on the Atlantic, a pimple on Neptune’s great wide belly half a day by boat south and west of Portugal that thoughtlessly interrupts the smooth, lazy flow of the Gulf Stream. Like Gibraltar, Ceuta and Formosa it is a tiny relic from a colonial past, a golden age of empire and expansion that was ultimately doomed to overreach itself and shrink back inwards, the ebb of this tide of empire leaving behind these small isolated outposts stranded like shells on a beach. Until the sixteenth century it had lain untouched, unnamed even, as merchants and explorers sailed past its ethereal haze on their way to the Cape of Good Hope and the Spice Islands. Magellan, Vasco de Gama and Bartolomeu Dias all passed by its translucent white sands as they sailed through the Pillars of Hercules and out into history.

In the aftermath of the failed attack on England by the Spanish Armada in 1588, however, the island gained strategic importance in the eyes of Felipe II of Spain, who had grown worried about Spain’s vulnerability, and had begun to reassess his defensive priorities. He decided that the positioning of this insignificant speck on his crumpled map of the near Atlantic would make it perfect for an observational outpost, and so he sent a small expeditionary force out through the straits of Gibraltar and claimed it for Spain. No other European powers resisted this act of dominion. Few, if any, even noticed.

Felipe had a high tower constructed out of stone on the peak in its centre, from which a keen-eyed observer could see for miles out to sea in all directions, and he stationed a number of swift vessels in a small harbour, poised to race for mainland Spain at the first sight of an enemy galleon. The king was very pleased with his idea but behind closed doors his courtiers sniggered, as geography and the technology of the day meant that the scheme was fatally flawed. Spain, like most European countries of the time, had spies in virtually every other country of interest to her, who would report on the comings and goings of her enemies; should England be preparing any kind of navy, the spy would simply jump onto a ship and sail across the channel to France before riding to Spain. This was much quicker (and far less perilous) than waiting for the invasion fleet to cross the Bay of Biscay and round Portugal en route to the Straits of Gibraltar where they would be spotted by the watchmen on the island, by which time there would be precious little time to prepare for the attack. Felipe was nonetheless immensely proud of his outpost, and named his island lookout El Ojo del Rey – the King’s Eye.

Felipe III, who ascended to the throne on his father’s death in 1598, realised astutely that the island was actually of little or no real strategic importance, and eventually recalled to the mainland the troops stationed there. The small community that had sprung up around them remained, however, along with some of the military personnel who had realised that living on this island idyll was infinitely better than fighting the French or the Dutch or the English and had subsequently deserted. All told, the island had been used as a lookout for less than ten years, and in all that time the keen eyes of the tower had merely watched idly as merchant vessels had slouched their way in and out of the Mediterranean. Not once had it been called upon to warn mother Spain of an impending attack on the kingdom, not once had it espied the masts of an enemy flotilla creeping over the horizon. So, shortly after Felipe II died and the troops were recalled, it dawned upon the islanders that the outpost had just been one great royal lapse of reason, and laconically began to refer to their island haven as La Locura del Rey – “the King’s Folly” – and eventually just La Locura.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005


Read a fantastic short story by DBC Pierre (author of Vernon God Little) here.

Vikk Simmons at The Writer's Path recently posted an article with some useful links for first time authors. Also, Truth Shark's latest post is as thought-provoking as usual. Get on over there and comment!

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Tilting at windmills

Whilst reading through his still-unpublished first book, the following passage reminded Ecks that 2005 is the 400 year anniversary of Miguel de Cervantes' seminal epic Don Quixote.

His boat was called the Sancho Panza, named after Don Quixote's long-suffering squire. When he had been given the boat his grandfather had told him that it had no name, and that he must name it before he could put to sea in it. He told him with sparkling eyes that the sea would claim as its own any nameless boat that sailed on it, as it would assume that it had no owner and was therefore common property. So Abejundio wracked his brain for days on end, desperately searching for the right name but unable to think of one that fitted the boat. He sorely wanted to go out on the water, but he was afraid of what his grandfather had told him and dared not incur the wrath of the ocean. Eventually he decided that as Fidel's boat, the Don Quixote, was the largest and oldest on the island, the best thing to do would be to imply that his boat was its companion. That way, even if the sea were unsure that the boat belonged to Abejundio, it would assume that it belonged to Fidel instead, and from that day forth Abejundio put to sea with confidence.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Monday morning

Sickly green headlights punctuate the blue air. Hunched cars growl at each other, their gargoyle drivers glaring out from behind misted windows. I glare back, a gargoyle myself. Not quite awake yet, eyes still sticky. Sleep drapes itself heavily over my shoulders. It runs down my coat in rivulets and dribbles onto my shoes. I'm carrying sleep to work with me. It must be Monday morning.

Friday, January 14, 2005

The Cloud

As day broke and the dawn stroked her golden fingers over the belly of the sky, a single lonely white cloud found herself marooned on the horizon. She watched as the man walked down the cold sand of the beach to the sea, and she watched as he waded into the calm waters, deeper and deeper until he was totally submerged. He stayed under the water whilst the sun rose up in anger and the cloud had to hide, and he stayed under the water as the sun grew fat and lazy and the cloud grew in confidence and crept cautiously across the sky. Eventually the sun slid down mortally wounded and bled onto the horizon, and the cloud rejoiced and danced for the timid stars before falling laughing into the sea, chopping the surface into pieces to join her lover in a confusion of bubbles.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

George Michael was wrong

"Faith is for sissies who daren't go look for themselves."

So said
Alan Moore, the writer of the excellent Watchmen, From Hell and V for Vendetta.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The Mountain

Many years ago, when the earth was younger and the sky still owned her secrets, an old man grew tired of the endless petty squabbles of his neighbours and decided to climb to the top of a mountain to start a new life. It was jagged and cruel and the sharp stones that clung to its sides bit jealously at his feet, but he struggled to the summit nonetheless, for he dearly desired to escape the houses that huddled like a conspiracy in the valley below. He lived happily for a time in peace high above the valley, his hair long and tangled, his leathery skin paprika-stained by the unguarded sun, until one day a ragged visitor came.

"I'm tired of the selfish ways they have down there," he said, "Teach me to live in harmony as you do."

And so the old man led the visitor to a quiet spot on the other side of the mountain, to a place where he could live as himself. Now and then the visitor would come to speak with him, and they would greet each other if they found themselves gathering water from the stream at the same time, but the old man was still fairly solitary, and so he remained happy.

Then one day another visitor came, his clothes frayed and the soles of his feet bleeding from the journey.

"I need to get away from those fools down in the valley, and I heard that you own the secret to tranquility" he said, "Will you help me?"

And so the old man found him a peaceful spot where he could be himself, which was admittedly a little closer to his own than he would have liked, before returning to his own hermitic life. Inevitably, the other two visitors and he encountered each other from time to time, and more than once the old man saw from a distance his two neighbours talking.

As the days grew into weeks, a steady stream of people trickled up the mountain to see the old man, tired human debris grown weary of the ways of others, and the old man dutifully strung them around the mountain like a cheap necklace. Space inevitably became limited, and sporadic squabbles broke out as the colonists vied for the best spots in which to sit and meditate. Eventually it became so crowded that the people had to organise a rota system on the smoothest of the rocky outcrops and those riverbanks where the burbling of the stream was the most melodic, and limit people to no more than ten minutes of inner reflection per day so that everyone could have the opportunity to achieve harmony. Different schools of thought emerged as to the best way of sweeping the clutter from one's mind, and they developed a fierce rivalry. Over time they became vociferous in their condemnation of the others, and the different groups were forced to move, with their adherents, to separate parts of the mountain, meeting only when they gathered water from the stream or found themselves at the same meditation spot. Eventually the resentment between the groups spilled into threats, and finally manifested itself as violent scuffles over ownership of the flattest rocks and the smoothest riverbanks.

Many years ago, when the earth was younger and the sky still owned her secrets, an old man grew tired of the endless petty squabbles of his neighbours and decided to climb down to the bottom of a valley to start a new life.

Have fun with etymology at World Wide Words

Monday, January 10, 2005

Seven Seas

Microfiction (300 words or less)

There was an old man who sat in the corner of the pub who said, when asked, that he had been in the navy, and that he had sailed the world.
Although we never believed any of his stories, we believed him when he said he’d been at sea. The hands that clung onto the pint glass as though it were a hawser in a storm were rough and cracked, and blotted tattoos leaked out from under the sleeves onto their backs. One of his legs was purple and bloated tight by the gout that comes from a lifetime of drinking, though he swore that it had swollen up as a result of a jellyfish sting inflicted in the turquoise waters off of Borneo. A tiny cigarette, brown and mean, perched upon his thin lower lip and periodically sprinkled ash onto the snowy bristles on his chin as he wove his tales.
He told us, through the wreath of blue smoke that hung in the air in front of him, that he had seen apes in Java that lived as humans, that he had fought against Corsairs off the Barbary Coast, that he had left a wife on Pitcairn Island among the descendents of the mutineers of the Bounty…always with a conspiratorial twinkle in his icy blue eyes that drew us in and made us as much a part of the telling as him.
One day, though, he stopped coming to the pub. We asked John the landlord what had happened to him, and he said that he’d heard he’d died. We never saw the old man again, and we never found out what had happened to him, but within seven young minds he lived on, in each one sailing upon the calm waters of a different distant sea.

Friday, January 07, 2005

A scene from nature

Above and around, graceful swallows swoop and flit, plucking neatly from the air the fat, lazy flies as they hum their monotonous tunes. Innumerable spiders sit patiently beside their webs, ever vigilant, spindly legs balanced delicately upon silken tripwires. The ground is lined with undulating wrinkles as ants toil ceaselessly for their queen, column upon erratic column of willing slaves snaking across baked brown earth, cared for and protected by the powerful, misshapen jaws of the soldiers. High in a tree a delicate brown and green lizard, no longer than a child’s finger, snaps at a beetle, slowly crunching on its iridescent shell. Fragments of this carapace drift silently down from the branches like tiny flakes of black snow.

Please visit Easywriter. It's a good blog, well worth a look.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Santa Lucia de la Virgen

An excerpt from The Servants of Gods, Ecks Ridgehead's first completed novel

In 1621 Juan Cuenca, Bishop of Cádiz, concerned at the lack of religious ministry on La Locura, ordered Sister Lucia Morales to move to the island from her convent in Cádiz in order to ensure that the word of God did indeed reach all corners of the Spanish empire. On her arrival, she found that La Locura had no church, and so she immediately petitioned the Bishop for the necessary funds to build one. He was happy to acquiesce, and, on receipt of the money in 1622, she arranged for its construction. She remained on La Locura for 35 years, until her death in 1656, and she spent her time on the island zealously ministering to the mismatched collection of emigrants that had made La Locura their home.

Two things marked Sister Morales out from other Catholic missionaries. The first thing was the visions that she experienced in her autumn years, and the second was her voracious sexual appetite and complete disregard for the vow of celibacy imposed upon all other nuns. Her forbidden sexual liaisons, tentative and by necessity secretive in Cádiz, became flagrant on La Locura, far as it was from the eyes of the convent, and if Bishop Cuenca had known of her proclivities he would surely never have sent her so far from his watchful eye. She spent much of her time on her back in her small cabin, receiving a steady stream of gentlemen visitors who convinced themselves that by doing it with a nun they were actually bringing themselves closer to God. Eventually she contracted syphilis from a Portuguese sailor, and, after an initial ulcerous manifestation, it sank deep into her body and hid inside her brain, where it took root and grew until, some years later, it drove her insane.

As she advanced in years her growing insanity did not hinder her missionary work, however. When she was not holding her own private communion with the men of the island, she would wander barefoot tolling a small bell and singing nonsensical songs about Jesus, or she would strip naked and perform scenes from the Bible. Indeed, a few years after her death, when the first priest came to the island, he was puzzled to see the men of the island stare into the middle distance with misty-eyed nostalgia during the biblical stories of his sermons.

In 1639, though, she received her first vision. Shortly after the cobbler Luis Romero had left her cabin, crossing himself and grinning broadly, the blessed Virgin appeared before her in a ray of light as she lay crumpled and sweaty upon her bed, entirely unclothed and legs still akimbo. Following her visitation, Sister Morales got herself dressed, marched into the Plaza Mayor and proclaimed to anyone who would listen her prediction that Portugal would regain its independence from Spain the very next year. Incredulous merchants hurried the news to the ear of king Felipe IV, but he merely scoffed, and her prediction was long forgotten by the first of December, 1640, when the people of Portugal rose up in a revolution, throwing off Spain’s yoke and installing João IV on the Portuguese throne.

In subsequent years, right up until her death, Sister Lucia Morales received regular visitations from the Virgin. A shrine was built beside her cabin, at which the islanders prayed to the Virgin for predictions relating to themselves, but the noises coming from the adjacent shack meant that the shrine eventually had to be moved for the sake of decency. Over the years Sister Morales warned of a great fire in London, a revolution in France, the discovery of a new land deep in the south seas, and of numerous, terrible wars. The inhabitants of the island were duly amazed by these impressive portents, but were actually far more interested in the quality of next year’s harvest than in the outcome of a struggle between the peasants and the bourgeoisie in 18th century Bourbon France. Still, they humoured the nun and kept on visiting her and bringing gifts to the shrine of the Virgin in the ultimately vain hope that she might bring predictions that were actually of some use to them.

News of the visions and her predictions eventually reached the Vatican, and the Pope sent an emissary to investigate, but Rome recoiled and distanced itself when this emissary reached the island and learned of Lucia’s promiscuity and syphilitic madness. As such she was not officially canonised on her death, and the title of Santa Lucia de la Virgen was bestowed upon her unofficially by the islanders themselves, largely so that they could justify holding a fiesta each year on the anniversary of her death.

Don't forget to visit Truth Shark for interesting commentary on interesting issues

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

New Year

It was four o'clock, and the darkness swam. The impatient wind rattled the door in its frame and roused from fitful sleep the ghosts that hid beneath the bed, who leaked out into the inky blackness and hung like silvery cobwebs over the bed, chattering amongst themselves in voices as dry and brittle as bone.

Such was the scene at Ridgehead Towers, and that is the reason that we find ourselves as red-eyed as a laboratory mouse this morning.

Over Christmas (Ecksmas), though, Ecks did manage to break the 30,000 word barrier on his second novel, and, with a pitiful glint of hope in his eye, sent off more samples of his completed first novel to various publishing agents.

The blog that was visited out of curiosity but captured his attention sufficiently to compel him to return was
Incarnating the Countess.