Short fiction and serialised novellas of GJ Fairlamb

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Savage Writing/Musing: The genius

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I forgot to post this last week! So sorry! The theme for the meet was “Inspiration” and I found no fiction forthcoming – mainly because I think it’s the wankiest, most navel-gazing shit when writers write stories about writers. So here is a little personal essay on that part of me that forces me to write.

The type of “genius” referred to here is the classical sense. Inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED Talk which I watched years ago, before I had any idea who she was.


 The genius, the deity that appeared out of my brain age seven and has bothered me ever since, has the personality of a five year old. It is hyperactive, sulky, weird, and an all-round contrarian.

It told me I had to write, and gave me no choice in the matter. Had it asked my English teacher, I’m sure she would have told it that while I was competent at writing and quite enthusiastic about her class, I never had the perspicacity or the precision of language necessary to win the prize for Best in English out of our 60-pupil year group, let alone the talent required to be an author. No, the genius asked no-one’s permission when it decided to flood my brain with harrowing tales and melodrama and absurdity, again and again until I became addicting to creating them. If I had been given the choice, I might have relished being able to choose a vocation for my life, as opposed to merely deciding what I should do to keep myself alive while I chase my impossible calling. It might be nice having something you devote yourself to, something you do that has impact on the world, instead of being slave to your own hallucinations. Everything productive to society that I do is just time-wasting until I next write, is just an interruption to the daydreams in which I live my life.

So the genius grabbed me when I was too young to understand the implications, and ever since it has been my one dependable companion. The genius will never shout at me for hitting the ball out in rounders, or not invite me to its birthday party; it will never imply that I am too fat for that outfit or too ugly to get a boyfriend. Not because it is a kind spirit, oh no: it is because it is entirely self-centred. ‘Take this idea!’ it says. ‘And this! And this! Here is an image – isn’t it captivating? Here is a phrase, a specific collection of emotionally-laden words – can you imagine the circumstances surrounding the moment they’re said? Who cares about your life, your pain, they don’t exist to me – quick, take this plot before it vanishes!’

I enjoy the escapism the genius gives to me, true, but over time I have learnt its childish ways, and the problems having such a deity in your life can bring.

First of all, my genius is a plagiarist. It voraciously consumes everything that comes into contact with my mind, from books (the genteel, benevolent, socially agreeable influence) to films, music, comics, cartoons, video games, newspaper articles, pictures on DeviantArt and Google Image Search, random conversations, and comments on internet forums. Then, it decides to vomit up a tale that mixes them in the strangest way, the literary equivalent of seeing breakfast’s beans heaved out with 9pm’s red wine. ‘Cool atmosphere,’ it says of a video game, ‘now let’s put in the characters from that anime you watched two years ago.’

‘You can’t do that!’ I cry. ‘I need to be original! I can’t come up with some great story if it’s just going to get me sued!’

‘Too bad, you’re hooked,’ it says, knowing my addiction. ‘Oh, and I added in one of the guys from the first season of Big Brother too, I turned this character evil, made these two gay, and the whole thing now takes place on a spaceship on a generations-long trip across star systems.’

‘I don’t even read sci-fi,’ I sob.

‘Oh well, you’ll just have to fudge it. Bye!’

And then it disappears, leaving me to change names and dust over the similarities to the source material as best I can, like a murderer trying to hide a shallow new grave.

The unoriginality of the genius even stretches to plagiarising itself. I stop it, while it’s half-way through a gabble about new characters and their backstory, and give it a wary look.

‘Waaaait a minute, this handsome and emotionally tormented man is very similar to the handsome tormented man in the last book idea you gave me.’

‘But this one’s different!’ it lies, and continues on regardless. I have learnt to accept the archetypes with resigned humour, and try to differentiate them as best I can.

The second problem I have with the genius is that it is fickle. You would think such a brazen copycat would never run out of ideas, and that’s often true, except ideas do not come at a steady rate. The genius’s time schedule is more akin to buses than church bells: barren times of chewing over old ideas will always give way to four inspirations at once. At least you always want a bus when four come along at once, though. The genius delights in juggling beside me in the middle of the night, or in the shower, or during academic essays.

‘Hey,’ it saunters up, ‘what’cha doin?’

I tell it I am busy. Not listening, it replies: ‘Well, you’ll never guess what! There’s this king, and he’s actually an evil king but not that evil, because he becomes sympathetic throughout the story, and he has this power to inhabit other people’s bodies and be young again through them, and–’

I plead but it is useless. If I am in the shower, or just about to fall asleep, or during a walk, I ask it to hold the thought, hold the exact conversations and turns of phrase that are so perfect, until I can write them down. Then, when I finally have paper or am at the laptop, I turn and say:


It whistles.

‘Well what? I’ve forgotten.’

So I commit myself to making a half-rate faded photocopy of the perfect fantastic ideas of the night before.

It is one little revenge I have, being enslaved to such a creature: I am utterly incompetent at delivering its tales. Sometimes it gives me fully-formed narratives that hover above my head, just waiting to be transferred to reality; other times it gives me multiple ideas and we craft them together to make something interesting and really unique. It doesn’t matter: they all get botched in the journey between air and page. I am a faulty conduit.

‘No,’ it moans, ‘no, this has a completely different atmosphere to what I told you. Why does this part seem so short compared to my plan, and this part so long? Why has this unhinged character gained a sane and coherent view on life? Why has this sympathetic character become so annoying? Why can’t you do any of it right?’

‘You should have picked someone better,’ I tell it, ‘someone who reads intelligent books all the time and got prizes for English at school – not someone who spends half her life reading blog posts and forgets how to spell the word “occurrence.”’

It grumbles and gives no reason for having me over anyone else, because like Athena it burst from my head alone, and it is as stuck with me as I am with it. So we tolerate each other, and occasionally I write something good enough that it tips up its chin and says ‘Not bad. Maybe you might actually get something published one of these days.’

I have a moment’s happiness before it all starts again:

‘Anyway, I know you’re in the middle of a first draft, and that you have another book sitting waiting to be rewritten again, and a folder full of ideas that you’ve barely touched, but I was just thinking about the father-daughter relationship in this film you saw last month, and I was thinking how cool that would be mixed in with this…’


Written by G.J.

03/07/2013 at 8:02 pm


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So in mid-October the Leeds Savage Club recorded some of our work at South Leeds Community Radio, which was a barrel of laughs and included me nearly fainting from trying to do continuous witch cackling and coughing/dying sound effects in a boiling recording studio. After that, Pete heard that they were doing four-week long Storytelling Workshops so, being the jobless bum I am, I decided to go along to the Monday afternoon sessions. 

It…was hit-and-miss. Initially it wasn’t a writing workshop at all, but a memory sharing workshop where we said what memories certain stimuli reminded us of. The local playwright taking the course soon found that a few of us were interested in, y’know, WRITING, and then tried to mould the last sessions into focusing on that, which didn’t quite work. People dropped out and turned up late – as in, 30-45 mins late for a two hour session – and it all got very disorganised and irritating. I learnt a few things, but nothing I couldn’t have learnt better from Brandon Sanderson’s lectures online.

However, I did end up writing a small something from one of the tasks, which was memories brought up by the five senses. I based my piece on one little memory of aikido (including one of my favourite Sensei Holland anecdotes), so it ended up being quite fun to write. I could write about aikido for hours!

So here’s a small memory of the smell of Glasgow aikido courses. I’m not sure what I’ll be putting up on the blog during the week, since I’ve had a crisis of confidence in my writing recently and have been struggling really hard to turn my inner critic off and let myself write. We’ll see what happens.


The courses were five times a year, and always sneaked up on us. We would turn up for our normal Friday training, only to find a table in front of the sports hall and Frank asking for twenty quid and our membership books for the Scottish Aikido Federation. Each course took place over two days: the Friday evening and the Saturday afternoon. The Friday went by like a more serious and fast-paced normal session, whereas the Saturday took place in a different hall, and was the only time we ever trained during the day. Because of this, it was the Saturday practice that felt like the “real” course of the weekend.

Each aikido dojo – or rather, each hall that an aikido club transforms into a dojo – has a distinctive smell that lingers on your white suit the next day. Up in north Glasgow, in a small community centre in Summerston, our dojo had the smell of polished dust and fusty mats. The usual sports hall was booked by a dance class every Saturday, so for the courses we’d pile into the neighbouring room: thirty adults in a tiny hall in the midday heat, beating each other up to the muffled tunes of Shakira and Beyonce from next door. Particularly in summer, the heat would be overpowering and within minutes of the warm-up you’d be sweating, and while the smell of sweat was never noticeable, it lent a certain tinge to the usual scent of the tatami. But intruding upon this smell, lying over it like a feathery cloth, was the fragrance of the incense stick which Frank would light especially for those courses.

In a club of no-nonsense Glaswegians – with Sensei Holland the most dominant and no-nonsense of the lot – Frank was the quiet, sensitive one, the runt of the pack, who always gripped you with freezing cold hands even on those summer afternoons. He would light the incense and leave it by the photograph of O-Sensei, the founder of aikido. That smell was the sign of a special day of training, a mark of respect to the original master, and a reminder of the spiritual side of the martial art called ‘The way of harmonious spirit.’

This side of aikido was rarely acknowledged in our club: we had been told that once, Sensei Holland went to Russia, and the aikidoka there were in awe of the 6th Dan. One asked him: ‘Sensei, what is harmony?’ Sensei thought for a moment, and the Russian awaited his profound answer. Finally, Sensei replied:

‘Harmony is not getting hit.’

That was Glaswegian aikido. That was Sensei Holland.

‘I don’t like that incense stuff,’ he said one Monday after a course. Normal practices usually included a time where Sensei would sit us down and impart his wisdom to us, whether that was wisdom was about a technique, or our individual temperaments as trainees, or that time he tricked a burglar into thinking he was a harmless old man and then beat the crap out of him. This session, Frank was absent. ‘I don’t like the smell of it,’ Sensei said, ‘but I let Frank do it for the courses because he likes it.’

Frank would have stopped lighting the incense at the first hint of disapproval from Sensei, because everyone respected Sensei in his dojo – and yet Sensei said nothing, because he didn’t want to disturb one of his students. That mutual respect and mutual consideration, both up and down the hierarchy, was admirable, was very Japanese – and made change impossible. And so, Frank lit the incense at every course, and the smell of it mixing with the dusty mats and the old community centre walls remains the scent of Saturday afternoon aikido in my memories today.

Written by G.J.

18/11/2012 at 6:11 pm

Posted in Musings

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