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Invisible Man: Anatoly Dyatlov

Let it not be said that he was a big man, though he was the giant in any room. He saw himself a Captain Ahab: his underlings saw Moby Dick. What in his eyes was passionate was in theirs predatory. Over the years of their mutual acquaintance the boundaries between the two visions were blurred, until Anatoly was both Ahab and the Orca, hunter and hunter. As the veteran he strode Chernobyl’s halls invigorated by the company of the young workers (“Be healthy, comrade!”), as the white shadow he lounged against the grey metal console, cigarette smoke curling from the corners of his mouth like fog rising from the ocean, awaiting any slip of the operators, to strike.

They had all been caught, they had all been lectured: they had all learnt to respect and fear Anatoly Stepanovich Dyatlov.

*

This has been an invisible man introduction for the protagonist of my Chernobyl novel, the very real Anatoly Dyatlov. The goal was to write a character introduction under 200 words, and without referring directly to your character’s physical appearance. Win? Win.

Like fog from the ocean. Or death. Death works.

Like fog from the ocean. Or death. Death works.

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Writing Challenge #2

invisible_man

Writing Challenge #2: The Invisible Man
Introduce a character in 200 words or less. The catch: direct references to physical appearances are prohibited!

Post your babies in the comments. Good luck.

———-

PS: You may have noticed the site is undergoing some changes. It’s hit puberty fast and hard, and has been forced to choose between content relating to this author, and content pertaining to other authors. Over the next few weeks, anneque g malchien.com will become my author site. You will, however, be able to find all the old content, and plenty of new stuff for writers, over at the Writers’ Bar.

Writing Challenge: Verbs of Motion

I challenge you: you have half an hour to write a piece of micro-fiction. Subject: an earthquake strikes. Word count: under 300

It can be the start of a story, the middle of one, proof of character, or an entire self-contained micro-fic. Set that timer and get it done. Go!

PS: Just realised I’d omitted to mention the word count! It’s 300 or less.

earthquake

I have stolen this post from myself. No promises yet, but I may be splitting this site in two. The component for writers will be shipped over to The Writers’ Bar, while my author biz stays here. Well, it might happen. Or it might all cave into the sea. D:

On Air: The Last Night In Pripyat

We’re on air!

My short story, The Last Night In Pripyat, is airing in full tonight on Sounds of the Mountains FM. You can hear it right here.

Go now! It’s almost on! And if you miss the start you might still get the end!

Anneque

When Writing is Difficult

Today I’m researching for my Chernobyl novel (Chernovel?)

A few days ago I decided to take a break from research and make a start on the novel. The reason being is that there is still so much research to do, and still a novel to be written, and only a limited amount of time in the universe. Also – this is the thing about exploring tragic events – researching Chernobyl has proven to be a desperately sad experience.

1-Pripyat-Ukraine

Pripyat, Chernobyl NPP in the top left.

The novel so far is not at all sad. It has a little foreshadowing, but it’s early days yet. I plan to write it in six parts, starting with the night of the accident and moving into the rescue attempts, the clean-up, then onto the court trials and what happened to those displaced by the disaster. I then want to look at Pripyat today and investigate the future of the site. All in all I hope to provide an accurate and engaging account of the disaster that explores the human, technological and political elements at play.

I’d also like to give something back to those who lost their lives, their homes, their reputations and sources of income, their freedom, their sanity, their health. The radiation expelled by the meltdown represents only a small percentage of the damage done to people’s lives. It is the long term displacement, fear and stigma that makes the health consequences so much harder to bear.

But how does one give back? To say I’m sorry is an understatement. Sorry you lost everything! Sorry this problem doesn’t look like it will ever go away. Being sorry will not help anyone.

I thought then that the novel could give something else. Maybe it could give some clarity. Maybe it could give a human face to the ongoing consequences. And maybe it can give some hope. Maybe I can say, yes, this terrible thing has happened, but it’s okay to move on.

Of course it’s not that simple. But if I can give someone a shred of hope that the exclusion zone will eventually be chipped away, and people will eventually move back to Chernobyl and Pripyat, which are, after all, people’s homes, then that will be something.

But I was talking about research. Or lack thereof. The problem with lack thereof research, is that the moment you start to write is the moment you start to realise how incomplete your research is. I drafted the opening scenes: where is the amusement park? (spent an hour comparing maps and photos of Pripyat) Did plant employees live together? (cross-referencing some references suggests no for operators, yes for contractors.) How many buses would it take to move a night shift? Was everyone picked up, or did some people drive? How long did it take? How does one progress from the entrance of the plant to the control room? Does one have a shower on the way in or only the way out? What happened to Igor Kirshenbaum? Who in the world is Busygin? And so on and so on forever.

Hence my break from research turned out to not be a break from research at all, but rather the same amount of research interspaced with small amounts of writing things I was uncertain about.

Sometimes the research leads to interesting places. I discovered that one of the operators, Yuri Tregub, who I had previously thought was dead (and was quoted as dead, but you can never trust obituaries), was still alive in 2006. Tregub, a shift leader who stayed on from the previous shift to watch reactor 4 shut down and the results of the turbogenerator test, gave a vivid account of the night and clarified many details, such as who was in the control room and why they were there, and what had gone initially wrong with the test, as well as a great quote from Tregub, “the test had obviously been drawn up by an electrician [and not a nuclear engineer.]”

Then there is the sad stuff. Today I hit the sad stuff. It began so innocently. I have a short scene with a dosimetrist (who reads radiation levels around the plant) which aims to describe the reactor. Easier said than done. What does the reactor look like, exactly? I could draw you a cross-section, but to tell you what it actually looked like to someone standing next to it, I couldn’t tell you. My suspicion was that the reactor didn’t look like anything to someone standing next to it, because it was not possible to stand next to it. But I’ve heard from multiple sources that it was possible to stand in the hallway on level +10, look out the window, and see the reactor stretching up to the ceiling at +30, and the steam drums suspended somewhere around +24.

I just don’t know how this is possible, so I have asked someone who knows better, and hopefully will have clarification on that point soon. It’s now a moot point, because while scratching my head at that question, I realised the dosimetrist would have taken his readings on level +30, in the room on the top of the reactor, and not down beside it.

While looking at schematics, I found this:

lenyanote

It belongs to the Kiev 2010 – Trip to Chernobyl website, which has many interesting pictures and a great story to accompany.

The note is a telegram sent from Leonid Toptunov on the 29th April 1986, three days after the accident. At this stage Leonid and 230 others had been transported from Pripyat to Moscow Hospital 6 for treatment for acute radiation syndrome.

Leonid is someone who is difficult to write about. He was one of the major players that night. He was 25 at the time of the accident, two months away from 26. He was the senior reactor chief engineer on the unit 4 night shift, a position he held for some three months. As senior reactor chief engineer his job was to oversee operation of the control rods which controlled the reactor’s heating and cooling. Leonid made mistakes that night, although not drastic ones, until he joined shift supervisor Aleksandr Akimov in manually reopening the emergency coolant valves. This led to both men being soaked in radioactive water for upwards of three hours, dosing them each with 1500 rads on what was ultimately a futile suicide mission.

The telegram says:

Mama, I’m lying in hospital in Moscow. I feel good. -Lenya

It does not help to feel sorry for people. At times it’s impossible to avoid. Lenya Toptunov died on the 14th of May 1986 after an unsuccessful bone marrow transplant from his father.

These are the people I am writing for. The ones who lost everything. The ones who need hope.

Site Updates & Other People’s Successes

Well hello there. Chances are if you’re not reading this on WordPress Reader, then you’ve noticed the site has had some changes. Well. All right, if you read the menu and the sidebar then you may have noticed. Superficially we’re largely the same.

Over the last few days I’ve been making many much-needed updates to the site. Pages have been discarded – the Sunday Witch Hunters page is gone, as with the Podcasts, Library and Books pages. While the SWH page is gone-gone, the other three have simply been renamed and overhauled. Books is now My Books, for the purpose of clarity. There’s also information for my latest title, The Vamps, on the page.

Library has become Reviews. I feel this is still something of a misnomer. It wasn’t really a library and now it’s not really reviews. And it’s certainly not reviews for my stories (shortest page ever.) In fact the Reviews page is a catalogue of stories I have reviewed, and it provides only an overhead of the rating given to each book, plus title and author information, cover and genre. I will be putting in links to the reviews I have written and recorded, but that will happen over time … and as I can find them. Still, Reviews is worth a trawl if you’re looking for a book in a particular genre. The Science Fiction and Fantasy pages are both healthily populated, and I expect to add more … again, as I find the reviews.

The third page to have a change of name is Podcasts. The new Audio page still contains only the old podcasts, and some of them will need to be directly uploaded to WordPress or Stitcher before they work. However, the podcast will be experiencing a revival in October, and then the Audio page will be neat, slick and up-to-date. Also very exciting! A good friend of mine by the dossier Pirate has jumped on board as co-host of the new podcast, and we’re both bursting with ideas.

There are a couple of other bits I’m excited about. The About page has had a total overhaul. The information there is relevant for the first time this year. Whoo! And there is also a Video page! Now that is titillating. Currently three videos are linked: my reading for the Ivory God, and the 2 Minute Review for the Death of Eve. Oh, and a fantastic video on aliens in literature by another BookTuber. I encourage you to check them all out.

And that’s about it. So while the site banners remain outdated, it is very much a case of different shit, same package.

You know, just anecdotally here, sometimes I worry that everyone’s doing better than me. Everyone has a million more reviews, a million more followers. And I see a few of them flogging their books all day long on Twitter. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of book flogging. It’s the healthiest thing you can do as a writer. But never tweeting anything else it gets a bit much. Still, I think, maybe I should be doing that. Maybe these people are tapping into some secret well of knowledge I just don’t know about. Maybe I’m missing the part of the brain that allows genuine human connections to be forged on the whim of an instant. I’ll never get it and I may as well give up.

But then I remember: I didn’t do these goddamn site updates for nothing.

And what’s more, writing, reviewing, reading, talking to other authors and readers – it’s about the most fun you can have, whether you feel successful or not.

😉 Keep reading!

PS: I owe you an article on Atmosphere. I’ve spoken to Sax about it and he thinks it should be out tomorrow.

Sax as he appears in the Matrix.

Sax as he appears in the Matrix.

Mimicry

The water did not sound like droplets hitting tiles and skin: it sounded like the hammering of fingers on keyboards and the cry of revelation.

It did not feel like water on my skin: it felt like hands groping at my wrists but failing to clasp.

I would not let myself be clasped.

Rather than clean, the water added layers of filth. It turned the skin translucent and revealed the grime within.

I was fat. Grotesque. Filthy. Young. Exhausted. Battered by illness and obstacle. I felt smaller than I had; I felt my own size. I felt eternal. I could not fight the endless chatter in my head. Chit-chat. Chit-chat! Singing back, mimicry, the sincerest form of flattery is imitation. Endless to and fro. All culture and art built upon it. Merely something to talk about.

Then what point the art? What point the artist?

I had been shocked to think there might be none. No point. Just as nothing else was with meaning. Now art was without meaning. Meaning itself was devoid of anything more substantial than a conversation point.

Mimicry – hello! Hello!

I felt young like I never had. I had never realised before how young I was.

That with the folly of youth I might venture something learnt in that strange shower.

What point the art? What point the artist?

For you it is to talk about.

For me it is to talk.

 

—–

We’re back, baby.

 

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I wish there was a gif of this (there probably is.) A scene occurring late in Bioshock Infinite, we approach looking at the back side of the canvas, where we can see Robert (the painter) looking at what we take to be his subject. This is his twin sister Rosalind on the left there. However, as we pan behind Robert, we see he isn’t painting his twin at all, but rather making a self-portrait.

A Very Odd Time: Researching a Slovakian Dracula

For some reason, I love writing historical fiction. Or I must, because it keeps happening. At the moment I’m up to the elbows in research for the semi-sequel to The Vampires of Bifurquer Veine Marais, set in France in 1905. The semi-sequel, The Gourmet (or maybe The Gourmet’s Curse? Or The Orange Duck? Not sure yet.) starts that same year in Paris, as Vamps protagonist Hannibal du Noir takes an interlude to research his next job.

But it’s not du Noir who’s starring in this one. Rather, du Noir is staying with a friend, Monsieur Roland Lambert, a chemist. Lambert has heard rumours of a cursed chef. This chef, the Gourmet, is the star attraction of Orava Castle Hotel in the far north Carpathian Mountains (modern day Slovakia) and his cuisine is renowned. His curse? Well, some  may say it’s a blessing: anyone who criticises the Gourmet’s cooking is killed or maimed in a horrible way.

Intrigued, and thinking there may be something supernatural behind the deaths, Lambert urges du Noir to travel to the Carpathians to investigate. Du Noir isn’t interested; rather, he suggest Lambert go himself. If Lambert wants to solve the mystery of the cursed chef he has no choice but to agree … and confront the horrors of Orava Castle alone.

I’m chomping at the bit to get started on this story. It’s been a fortnight of Slovakian cooking, Slovakian castles, Austria-Hungary history, sensationalist horror (think Dracula) and the physics of falling. If it all sounds good to you, here are some pictures to further whet your appetite.

Paris-Place-du-Louvres-4th-June-1906

Firstly, Paris fashion. This is Place de Louvres on 4th June 1906.

Paris, 3rd June 1906.

Paris, 3rd June 1906.

Boulevard des Italiens, Paris, 5th June 1906.

Boulevard des Italiens, Paris, 5th June 1906.

Pre-WW1 Europe.

Pre-WW1 modern Europe. Note the huge territory included in the Austria-Hungarian Empire. Slovakia is at the north, bordering Poland.

An ethnicity map from 1910, clarifying the layout of Austria-Hungary.

An ethnicity map from 1910, clarifying the layout of Austria-Hungary. The Slovaks are in brown.

Finally something we can understand! The lovely, intimidating Carpathian Mountains.

Finally something we can understand! The lovely, intimidating Carpathian Mountains.

An artist's impression of our main setting, Orava Castle.

An artist’s impression of our main setting, Orava Castle.

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Orava Castle today. In 1868 the castle was turned into a public museum. My alternate history turns it into a hotel instead. Ah, the corruption of greed. As a side note, much of the footage of the 1922 film ‘Nosferatu’ was filmed here. I thought it was quite fitting for another Dracula rip-off.

Bryndza pirohy, traditional Slovak cuisine. Bryndza, sheep's cheese, is one of the most important ingredients in Slovak cooking.

Bryndza pirohy, traditional Slovakian cuisine. Bryndza, sheep’s cheese, is one of the most important ingredients in Slovakian cooking.

Another sheep's cheese dish, and Slovakia's national dish, bryndzove haulsky.

Another sheep’s cheese dish, and Slovakia’s national dish, bryndzove haulsky.

This country has some seriously delicious desserts. This is buchty na pare, a steamed plum dumpling dusted in crushed poppy seeds and sugar.

This country has some seriously delicious desserts. This is buchty na pare, a steamed plum dumpling dusted in crushed poppy seeds and sugar.

And finally, here are two very odd pictures that appeared during research.

The first is this photo, taken in 1916, of a suffragette on a scooter.

The first is this photo, taken in 1916, of a suffragette on a scooter.

And then there's this much weirder news piece for the Paris Baby Raffle. I can't help but think adoption was much easier a century ago.

And then there’s this much weirder news piece for the Paris Baby Raffle. I can’t help but think adoption was much easier a century ago.

So that’s been some of my adventures in historical research. There’s a bit more to do, and then, yippee! The writing can finally begin. It’s true what they say: writing is the easy part. It’s the research and planning that takes major brain work.

Authors Dressed As Their Favourite Characters

If you haven’t seen this already, prepare for a treat.

Neil Gaiman as Badger from Wind in the Willows

Neil Gaiman as Badger from Wind in the Willows

The British Story Museum is holding a 26 characters exhibition. As is understandable, they wanted to feature images and stories that people would actually stop and look at. Enter 26 well-known British authors, dressed up as their favourite childhood story characters and all with a tale to tell.

You can find the article here.

The article doesn’t cover every author featured, but it does include a few big draw cards, including Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett and Malorie Blackman. If you’re in the right part of the world to attend the exhibition, let the rest of us know how it is 😀

Hello Concussion, No Concession

Last Tuesday I thought to do a spot of gardening, and foolishly brought a tree branch down on my head. I then spent the next four days sick as a dog and barely able to form a sentence.

Things are steadily getting back to normal. But that’s where I’ve been. It will take another few days to get on top of things, and then we should be up and running here again. You will be happy to know at least that while I was lying under the branch unable to move, my dog was kind enough to bring me the ball to throw. All those episodes of Lassie I forced him to watch are paying off.

On the plus side, I took the opportunity to do some research into classic horror, and I think I have figured out the perfect formula for short horror stories. More on that later.

See you soon!