My Bibliography

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Conflict and Resolution - in life and in fiction

Robert Burns Statue Irvine,
which I used to climb over as a kid,
being directly on the moors at the
back of our school

When I was a kid I nearly plunged to my death from the side of what I thought to be a cliff called 'The Blue Billy'.  Hanging there literally by the skin of my teeth; one hand dug into whatever shallow groove on the rock-face its unbitten fingernails could find, and the other grasping onto a weed growing out of the side of the crag, which I knew if I were to put the slightest bit more pressure on, would come out by the roots and I'd be nothing more than a splat on the ground below; no saving ledge to break my fall as there usually are in the movies.  The reason?  A couple of boys had been killed falling off of there, trying to do the same thing, and I wanted to prove that it could actually be done.  And even though I soon found out it couldn't, dying wasn't an option either.
I find the same thing in fiction; creating impossible situations; feeling sometimes, how the hell do I get my characters out of this one?
Turns out that it wasn't a cliff at all but an industrial waste 'bing' started decades before I was born, nicknamed by the locals due to its colour.  And to give you an idea of the height, during World War II they'd built a Royal Observer Corps watchtower, giving a wide overall view of the Firth of Clyde (and credited with the first visual sighting of Rudolf Hess's Messerschmitt 110 - a destroyer twin engine German aircraft) in 1941.  Irvine Harbour, for that's where I lived, Irvine, Ayrshire on the West Coast of Scotland, me and Robert Burns both, a prime target for Hitler's invasion of the British Isles, Irvine, not me and Robert, it being a major boating district and also in the vicinity of a company called ICI, which in war time, made chemical weapon components - the smoke of which I would often see rising from across the moors in the distance even during my own childhood when they'd reverted back to making everyday pharmaceuticals to poison us with; sometimes contaminating the area with meltdowns, chemical spills or whatever, harmful pollution anyway.
Turns out also that that wasn't the only industrial waste playground that we as little kids ran around on delightfully; the huge hill that went for a couple of miles (it seemed) just across the road from the house we'd moved to from the comparatively clean, apparently, ancient city of Glasgow, was also one - and something I've only just learned through the Internet; the word 'bing' long-forgotten until my research at this very moment bringing it back to me that that's what we'd called what I'd previously thought of as being a natural hill, a place of beauty, one filled with happy childhood memories.  But places so old that nature had taken a hold of them, so I can be forgiven; grass, bushes and trees growing upon them, and once, I even remember seeing a beating heart of a newly ripped open hatchling lying in the bushes, nature rife, living and dying atop that poisonous old hill.  I wonder if that's why I have such a strong constitution, the reason that I never get sick, maybe I'm a mutant, a product of that entire chemical environment I played on and breathed the air of?  The reason maybe at the doctors last week for my tennis elbow shot that they couldn't find a heartbeat; four attempts at it, and barely contained smiles as they struggled to find it before reluctantly confirming they thought I did actually have a pulse?  (True story.)
But I'll never forget that day, precariously hanging there; the sky suddenly blue and vast, the ocean in the near distance, foaming at the mouth, crashing waves higher than ever before, silent, suddenly inviting, the sand dunes melted, swirling milk chocolate, the elephant grass that would slice our skin like paper cuts on the banks above, a jungle, hiding places where we would sneak up and slide down from to scare kids sitting underneath and get sand in their sandwiches, but it was alright; for everyone pretty much knew everyone else; their mothers would bitch at our mothers later.  And I’ll never forget either, how everything became silent as time slowed down as I contemplated it all.  Even the yells of my two little friends at the top, near to what we believed might have been Hitler's tomb - having heard something about him being connected to the Blue Billy, and what, as it turns out, was the aforementioned watchtower, a bunker dug into the ground and a place that'd long since fascinated me - their faces genuinely concerned, panicking, realising the severity of my predicament, running to 'get an adult.'  Yes, I thought I was going to be the third little boy that parents would tell their own kids about had died falling from that cliff, just another little boy that'd come to the beach in the summer and came back dead because he was too adventurous like seemed to be the norm; drowned, disappeared, or whisked away to another dimension through an astral portal, or whatever - as I really thought had happened when bodies were never found.  But no; I had to find a way out; my mother would kill me if that were to happen.
The Heckling Shop where Robert Burns worked 1781 - 82
which, growing up around it, I probably just thought was
someone's old tool shed.  Tut tut.  Where were my teachers
And in that moment, I laughed, a strange feeling consuming me, knowing that something would have to kick in if I were to escape the inevitable, that I could rely on absolutely no one to get me out of that situation other than me myself and I, for there was no time to go get any help, a helicopter or anything; the roots of that weed, in my mind's eye, snapping, one by one inside the rock, like a burning rope on a suspension bridge.  Taunting me.  Telling me to go for it, to let go of it and grab whatever wasn't surrounding it.  'I dare you,' it said, using the same order of words as my little friends that'd gotten me into that situation.  And I can still see that weed today, feel it getting weaker; can see every unaccommodating shallow groove on the side of The Blue Billy actually, I can feel the sensation of what it perhaps would've felt like just before one was to plummet to their death.  And then time ran out, my foothold slipping in sync with the integrity of the weed as reality set back in and I could hear both screams from below and above now, telling me, rather unhelpfully, to climb back up as if I was just some mortal being who'd simply frozen through terror and not necessity.  No, I'm not stupid, even if had put myself in that perilous situation in the first instance; 'of course a wid climb up, or doon, if a damn well could, ya stupit eejits.'
Irvine Beach with the addition of wheelie bins since my day
But unless my fingernails had suddenly become retracting bone claws a la Wolverine, with the ability to anchor into what was hard as stone, or if it was all the industrial waste I'd run around in for the last few years of my life that'd transformed me into a giant mutant insect, literally allowing me to scale that wall using every muscle of my hands and feet, my face, even, clinging to it for dear life, or if a guardian angel had come to lift me to safety, I don't know, but I saw a man leaning over the top as I was starting to slide downwards, finally losing it, the earth and stone crumbling, his hand a million miles away but at the same time so close that it couldn't possibly be real because I knew I'd climbed back up as much as I could but not quite enough to reach it.  No, the fall was imminent, simply a matter of seconds away and I could already feel the sensation of what it would be like to drop that distance, and marvelling, looking over to the harbour, the town way off in the distance, the church spires that you could only see from up there.  Yes, nothing more to do but take it all in.  The last things I would ever see, things that I'd always taken for granted. 
But then, somehow I found it, that strong lifesaving grasp that had I been any older would never have supported me, held on so tight that if he didn't save me, he was coming down with me, yes, found it simply by everything else that'd been keeping me safe having forsook me, other weeds, higher up, weak, coming right out as I tentatively tested them, and then, clambering, no choice but to panic, realising that hand coming from the sky, almost, was the only option, which, when I finally grasped; elevating myself only through sprouting wings, brought about a sense of relief that I've never known since, a sudden realisation, and sense of gratefulness before I'd even been dragged over the side, that I was actually going to continue living.  And as I looked down over the side of The Blue Billy, not listening to the man telling me how stupid I was, I saw me, in another reality, lying at the bottom of it.
Irvine 'Old Town' High Street, early 19th century
The original point of this story was intended to talk about finding a solution to problems in writing; creating seemingly impossible situations with no apparent way out, but somehow, out of the blue (pardon the pun) it just comes.  At least for me anyway, something indeed sprouting me wings, flying me across what I always think of as an abyss of imagination where the unlikely solution is waiting to reveal itself, but only at a time of adrenalin kicking in to demand it.  But then, during the course of researching my old home town for this piece, looking for pictures of The Blue Billy, and finding none (but pleasantly shocked and surprised at just how old Irvine was; the history attached to it, Napoleon III, Mary Queen of Scots, Robert Burns and many, many others staying there, including a favourite place for William Wallace to go fishing, some pictures and drawings that I've never seen before pleasantly popping out of nowhere) it's become about something else too; how a story can evolve by its own volition, writing itself, getting sidetracked to the point where you are flying that abyss, creating something completely unexpected and inspired in so many other ways.  You just need to put yourself in the position - preferably not hanging from a cliff though - even if it is character building.
Irvine Harbour
Finally, while not as dangerous as The Blue Billy, per se, I really am shocked and astounded today at all the parents who used to simply watch us from their balconies run and jump over the roofs of a set of four little buildings out back, uniformly built to accommodate sheds for each unit of what was a block of maisonettes, the gap between the adjacent two buildings, maybe six feet, but the space between the ends of each, two, three times as wide, took a whole running jump along the entire length of the roof to make that sucker - and only the bravest of the bravest attempted it; only one, I remember, falling, slamming into the brick wall, getting up unscathed, pretty much, maybe a broken leg, and the rest of us laughing at her before trying it out for ourselves.  I did it once, and yes, I managed it, despite not thinking I might, but perhaps my wings sprouting yet again, for if someone else could do it, then so could I, but no desire to ever do it again, once quite enough, just as I never scaled down the side of a toxic waste cliff side either (and okay, maybe I added the word toxic, but who knows?) better to live vicariously through fiction from hereon in, and where, getting back to the point, they don't have to make sense, and yes, where a solution will always arise even if it seems impossible.

And just one last thought; maybe I did fall that day, now, I wonder why if that's the reason they couldn't find a heart beat, yes, now I wonder if I even exist, or maybe, like everything else, I only do so in my, or that is to say, your, imagination?  Humph.


Click for bigger pic, and get a perspective of its size from whatever
that is in the foreground - a wagon a la the Old Wild West?
Since writing this post I went on a mission, because I won't be beaten, and finally was able to capture a screenshot from a YouTube video presentation of old Irvine, and I recognised The Blue Billy immediately, even though this one was taken at the turn of the 19/20th century. Bear in mind that seven more decades would add to the length and height of this thing, and when I was hanging off it I was yet to reach two digits!  The rock face I was hanging from is the sheer one far left.

Warped Mirrors - a paranormal comedy
Want to see just how young Julian Abercrombie deals with his conflict - his older self from another parallel come to steal his soul, and no matter what he does, a life-changing event will occur, win or lose?  Then Warped Mirrors is for you - Amazon or Smashwords.


  1. Such vivid recall! Remarkable. I enjoyed how you tied in the many layers of local history, photos too. No pulse! Hmm, interesting. What better way to spend a Sunday than hanging off a cliff. Thanks.

  2. Actually, I should've thought of implementing that word; cliff-hanger. Yes, I think when you have those pivotal moments in life, they remain vivid in your mind; no forgetting them. Personally, though, it's easy for me to remember these kinds of memories as opposed to the horrors to come, simply because the happy innocent ones are few and far between. Everybody say awwwww now. LOL. Thanks as always Jean. Apreesh (that's my new favourite word, ironically, after everything I can say about the bastardisation of the English language!)

  3. Apreesh, too funny. I have to tell you, reading this has got me thinking about telling some of my own 'stories', but unlike yourself I seem to be the master of brevity. I think that is why I am so fascinated by your prolific telling, awesome and inspiring, and a good read. Horrors to come, that will be tough. Thank you.

  4. Maybe I should have said, the horrors that WERE to come thereafter. And no, not tough at all anymore, simply a fact of (my) childhood, which I quite openly talk about in other stories elsewhere. I am really glad that you have decided to tell some of your own, and that these could inspire them. I have read some of your pieces, and I know that they will be great - given what I've gleaned of your past. And trust me, the way I write these says is kind of thing is breif for me. LOL. :D

  5. I read this at goodreads, i guess because i get emails about favorite blogs, but i came here to give my thoughts on what i had read,and i think of your youthful self hanging off that cliff, staying there long enough to realize the predicament you had intentionally placed yourself, Sebastian ... your inner Gemini twin active at the moment...any adventure no matter how reckless always a 'let's see me do it' activity. How lucky the deus ex machina came at the appropriate moment, saving the now young Stephan standing there, getting a dressing down for pulling such a 'loser' stunt, and no, why should you listen, after all, Sebastian so often rushed you off the cliff, laughing no doubt as you breezed along...a little dog near your heel, to boot, i'm betting...and singing a Burns song as you go, yea?
    Loved this post best, because of the visuals giving me a view of just what you saw each day back then.
    Food for the fodder of the pen to come, life is full of marvels, wonders at every turn, up or down, or behind or in front, all guided by the heart. you go and reel in the biggest fish life can throw at you and then you magically serve it up, a platter of delicious memories. gotta love me some SP Mount.

  6. Yes, I took the pics off Goodreads because when the blog posts there automatically, the formatting isn't recognised, making it all merge into one big blurb, and I literally have to cut and paste the text from here. This time though, there was too much photo html for me to have to work around, and I got annoyed, so I cut it altogether and just cut and paste the text. I have added a pic of Irvine Beach now too. Yes, you are right, I guess that is my alter ego that makes me do those things. Still can, but these days Sebastian can listen to the voice of reason. :D

  7. So excited... I found a pic of The Blue Billy at the turn of the 19/20th century on Youtube and took a screenshot.


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