Monday, 29 August 2016

Mercury and Glass

Starting Sparks is a monthly writing link-up to jumpstart your creativity, AKA that thing Ashley and I host. If you'd like to link up for August, there is still a smidgen of time. The August prompt:

This month was Ashley's turn to choose and when she sent me this I went:

Image result for excited smile gif

because you know metafiction! My mind immediately jumped to a story I started in January. If you can remember that far in the dim and murky past, the SS prompt was “Write a story based on the lyrics of your favourite song." I started a piece based on “Me, I am just like the books upon my shelf / You have never read my cover, I have never read myself"*, but gave up when it got too confusing. However, when I saw this I knew I had to resurrect it, and I'm having a whale of a time.
*from Literature Lovers by Jose Vanders, which I cannot for the life of me find on Youtube, but is beautiful. Hit up Spotify, thank me later.


Mercury and Glass

She didn’t cry at books, but this one was proving a test. Annika sniffed and wiped her eye, caught between the compulsion to read on and the pain of it. Character death was bad enough; to watch the other characters’ grief was too much. She blinked, twice, and wondered if, should she reread the last two pages, the plot might change. Perhaps Dara would not be missing – dead – on his quest. Perhaps she wouldn’t have to witness Hector’s heartbreaking sorrow. She looked back at the book. There, in an unforgiving serif font, Hector sank to his knees in anguish, sure his best friend was dead. Annika sniffed again and fished in her pocked. No tissues, of course. She never had tissues when she needed them.

She downed her tea and turned back to the book.

There were only pages to go. First in a series, though she’d been unable to find it on Goodreads; she had bought it, secondhand, in a labyrinthine bookshop in the city. She remembered that day like a talisman, coffee and book-shopping with Cam: meeting not in a sticky-table, stale-cake chain coffee shop like the one in which Annika now sat, but the kind of tiny, yellow-lit café that features in rom-coms and daydreams. They stayed for ages, the conversation flowing in great leaps, and when they emerged the street was silver and rain-cleansed beneath the pink December sky. They found the bookshop and got lost in its shadowy aisles: a huge, sprawling shop, books piled three deep on the shelves, spilling from boxes and over the floor in oceans of colour and unread words. It was the kind of shop where looking for a specific title was laughable; the kind of magic shop where you forgot time and simply browsed, until a book whispered your name from some dusty corner. Annika had discovered the book just so, sitting as if left for her, a moment of serendipity. Cam had bought Hemingway, she remembered, Green Hills of Africa, and they went down the dusky street like two ghosts beneath the orange lamps and Christmas lights. It was a perfect day, and to her the paperback became a lucky charm. Half-consciously she thought of it as Cam’s book, and, if she was very honest, it was he who had stopped her picking it up until now. Cam, a marvel, a bright light through the autumn, had been different these past two months. Something was preoccupying him, though Annika couldn’t work out what, and some of the glow had left him. He was anxious, often seeming to be on the verge of telling her something before stopping himself, and though she tried her utmost to regain the magic quality of that day in December, she never could. So it was she left the book on her shelf, because she wanted to keep the memory of buying it whole and untarnished. It didn’t make much sense, but when did she ever make sense to herself?

She sniffed again, a tear falling onto her cheek.

It was called Mercury and Glass, by SG Madden. Annika had never heard of Madden, but she intended to track down all her books and swallow them. She shook her head, routing thoughts of Cam, and returned to the book.

Dara, Hector and Eveleen were best friends, living in a vaguely steampunk fantasy world ruled by evil fae. Dara – the driven one, the classic hero – was searching with steely will for the man who killed his mother. Hector – the oddball, prone to tripping over his feet, and Annika’s favourite – sat now on the floor of an abandoned house, weeping as he realised Dara wasn’t coming back.

Annika wiped her eye again, aware that the woman on the next table was looking at her.

Two pages left. She calmed her breathing. Eveleen had gone out to buy food for her and Hector. She didn’t yet know the truth. Any minute she’d return, and Hector would have to spell it out, and Annika thought her heart would probably shatter.

She hadn’t seen Cam for four days. On Friday he’d suggested they hang out next week after school. I feel like I’ve hardly seen you in ages, he said. Annika jumped at the suggestion, of course, and she didn’t think she imagined an extra significance in Cam’s request. He was finally going to tell her the truth of these past two months, she was sure of it. At the weekend Annika had started Mercury and Glass, because she felt that now she and Cam were on course again, like stars realigning, and the book was an integral part of that. It immersed her straightaway, perfect and heartbreaking. Through Monday morning classes it commanded her mind, intertwining with the excitement of later with Cam. It wasn’t until English after lunch that she realised he wasn’t in school.

She should have texted him, she knew, to see if he was all right, but in her mind the date – was it a date? – was going to be perfect like the day in December, and that meant it had to happen without hitches. To text beforehand would break the spell. So she donned her red coat anyway and took the train into town, and waited for him beneath the clock in Central station, as arranged, hoping desperately he’d be there despite his absence from school. He wasn’t. This was definitely the moment to ring him and find out what was going on, but Annika was still clinging to her stupid hope of how the day should be, and so she went into the rain, to the café they’d chosen, and bought a cup of tea. Maybe he would still appear. She sat in the window, rain blurring the city lights outside the glass, and started to read. Now there were only two pages left, and Cam wasn’t here, and Dara was dead, and Annika was crying.

One page. Eveleen had returned, singing, and Hector was sobbing with a raw and aching grief. She was about to enter the room and find him. Annika scrubbed at her face with a napkin. She didn’t want to be the stood-up girl crying in the coffee shop.

“Hector?” Eveleen’s voice came to him as if through a mirror or water or a storm. He could hear her light step by the door. He looked up at her through his tears, and she gave an involuntary cry. “Hector!” she said, running and crouching beside him.

“Dara’s gone,” Annika whispered.

“No,” Eveleen said. “No, no, no. He can’t be. He’s not dead. We’re going to find him.” 
Hector looked up at her with hollow, miserable eyes. “How?”

“How?” Annika echoed.

Eveleen took his hand and pulled him to his feet. “We’re not giving up,” she said. “Come with me.” Outside the wind buffeted them, rain stinging Hector’s eyes. The orange lights of the city blinked back at them.  
Eveleen said, “I have a plan.”

“Excuse me,” said the woman on the next table, “but are you all right?”

Annika summoned a smile. She gestured to Mercury and Glass. “I’m fine, thanks. Just a book.”

The woman smiled and looked back at her phone.

Just a book. As if it was just a book. It had been a beating heart for three days, and would stay with Annika for years. It had been as real as real life to her. She loved these characters like real people. Just a book. She shook her head. What a thing to say.

Annika reread the last few pages – because who can finish a wonderful book and not go over the ending a few times? How is it possible? – and finally shut it. She ran her finger along the spine. Outside the rain was getting harder. She wished she had an umbrella. Or a text from Cam.

She left the café and walked back towards the station, rain slithering through her braids and over her face like a second onslaught of tears. She couldn’t stop scanning the crowd for him; at every blond head a finger of hope leapt inside her. But it was always a stranger, head bent in the rain.

Cut-out paper hearts in red and pink hung on strings from the window of Paperchase. Annika looked away. One week till Valentine’s Day. Was Cam sick? Had something happened to him, to one of his family? Awful images came to her, unbidden, of car crashes and funerals. She tried to push them away but they persisted, Cam’s face smiling from a newspaper, Schoolboy’s tragic death. Annika bit her tongue. She was being ridiculous. He would text her later. He probably had the flu. Maybe he’d lost his phone.

She thought about Hector and Eveleen, their grief, and felt more tears welling behind her eyes. They were the same age as her and Cam. Losing your best friend, Annika could barely imagine, and once again she was seeing funeral cars and a wreath of white flowers—

“Stop it!” she told herself. It was the book, the book was upsetting her and making her morbid. She shivered as she turned the corner. Around her was a sea of umbrellas and raincoats. A flash of white caught her eye: the rain-drenched sleeve of a shirt. Its owner wore a waistcoat and brown trousers. He looked like an extra from Downton Abbey. Annika blinked. A cosplayer? The Infernal Devices? She hadn’t heard about any conventions. It was a shame his costume was getting soaked.

They drew level and he glanced at her, brown eyes from a confused, upset face. At once the hairs stood up on Annika’s arms, because his face was like something from a dream, a ghost seen once and erased by her memory until it was seen again. Unable to stop herself she said, “Hector?”

The boy started. A man with an umbrella walked into him and said, “Watch where you’re going!”

The boy said, “How did you know my name?”

Annika’s eyes widened, shock rolling over her. Impossible. It couldn’t be. Completely impossible.

“Miss?” he said. “Are you all right?”

“Sorry.” She shook her head. “I’m fine. I just thought you were someone I – knew.”

“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “Listen, I’m sorry to be a trouble, but I’m lost – could you tell me where we are?”

Annika swallowed her disquiet. “Gordon Street. Just by the station.” She gestured with her head.

“Right.” He didn’t look illuminated. “And, what’s the city called?”

Annika frowned. How on earth could you be in a city without knowing its name? “Glasgow,” she said. 

He was still mystified. “Sorry, I’m sure I sound a bit dim, but … which country?”

“Scotland.” Annika was trying not to stare at him. Even if fictional characters existed, she told herself, you don’t actually know what their faces look like. “Where are you trying to get to?” she asked.

“Well, see—” He rubbed the back of his neck. “I’m not really sure. I was with a friend, see, not long ago, and then it gets a bit hazy … I think we, uh—” he dropped his voice – “got mixed up in a fae spell.”

Goosebumps raced across Annika’s skin. She wrapped an arm across herself. Most people would say, “A what?”, or maybe roll their eyes and walk away, but Annika said, carefully, “Fae aren’t real.”

The boy’s brows drew together. “What on earth?” he hissed. “You shouldn’t say things like that!”

Behind them a bus honked its horn and roared past in a shower of dirty water. The boy jumped. “What was that?”

“That was a bus,” Annika said, frowning. She was tired, and upset about Cam, and not up for a slightly deranged cosplayer pretending not to know what buses were. “Look, can I help you? Can I phone someone?”

“Can you what?”

She sighed. She didn’t want to deal with this. “Listen, I’m sorry, but I need to go or I’ll miss my train. Excuse me.”

“Wait!” Rain-soaked, he looked a bit pathetic, like a lost puppy. “I’m so sorry, but what was the country called again?”

“Scotland!” Annika didn’t try to keep the contempt from her voice. She shouldered her backpack and turned away.

“But that’s out of a book!”

She stopped. The rain was running down her neck and her heart was pounding. She turned, slowly.

“My friend Eveleen,” the boy said, “reads these fantasy books set in a place called Scotland. The main characters are called Cam and Annika …


AHAHAHA! I am so into this idea! It has a ton of problems! Oh well!

The biggest question is about time. Obviously, the events of Mercury and Glass are not happening as Annika reads it, otherwise she wouldn't be able to go back and reread the ending, say. My big idea here is about parallel universes, in which the writer of fantasy is not a creator but a conduit, looking through a rip or a peephole in the fabric of time/space to see another world parallel to our own. Presumably both SG Madden and the author of the Cam/Annika books are able to look through said peepholes. But, importantly, rather than SG Madden seeing absolute events in Hector's world, she's seeing one possible future. This is the same as the author of the Annika/Cam book. Annika and Cam (Camika??) are Evaleen's OTP, and I think more has happened between them in the book than in real life. The author of that book saw a story in which Cam does not go missing just before the date, but turns up, tells Annika the truth (you may have worked out by now that the problem that's preoccupying him is a dark mystery of some sort involving the fae from the other world) and they solve the mystery together. Either the author doesn't realise that the villains in her “fantasy" world are the same fae that rule her own world, or she changes them into different, “fantasy" villains in order not to offend said evil fae. 

Which brings us onto another thing -- the author changing reality in order to make a better story. Polishing dialogue. Increasing drama. Giving Cam/Annika a romance that doesn't actually exist. (That's the reason I made Cam a boy. I did want to give Annika a female best friend because, y'know, crushes are dumb, but I am interested in the idea of Evaleen shipping them.) It's just like in Sherlock, especially The Abominable Bride (the most recent episode), wherein John Watson gives himself and Holmes lines they don't actually say in his write-ups of the stories. And then reality and fiction blur (just as, in that episode, 1895 blurred with 2015) as we start to wonder what is real and what is fiction, and whether anything can be both ...

So, basically:

Me @ myself re this book.
We'll see, anyway! The idea of writing about going into a book world (a la Inkheart) has always excited me ... the idea of not knowing which world is actually reality ((is there even such a thing??)) is even better. The moral is this: never have a DMC with me because I will end up theorising about parallel universes and existentialism for quite some time. Friends can testify.



  1. That was cool! I need you to continue this story, please!

    1. Thanks! I am very very into the concept, if not necessarily these characters, so definitely one day in one form or another ...

  2. Okay, I love this. Especially your analysis at the end, I love thinking about these kinds of things and yes, I can totally see the connection with The Abominable Bride now that you point it out! Hmm, I feel an inkling to do the prompt this month, hopefully school won't make it impossible!

    1. I LOVED THE ABOMINABLE BRIDE SO MUCH. It's my favourite episode. Lots of people really hated it and couldn't get on board with the meta stuff but I thought it was absolutely PERFECT. Yes, please link up, we'd love it! :D

  3. EMILY.


    Ahhhh! That ending! I literally slapped both hands over my mouth and grinned like crazy. Did not see that coming.

    Going back to the beginning half of it, though, I quite appreciated how real life influenced how Annika felt about the book, and how she felt about the book influenced how she felt about reality. That in itself rings true.

    BUT SDAKLFJASLKFJASLJ THE ENDING, EM, YOU MUST WRITE MORE OF THIS. When SitC isn't swallowing your time, that is. ;)

    1. TRACEY. I'm so glad the ending surprised you :D

      Books, reality, real life ... NOTHING IS AS STABLE AS YOU THINK. Everything merges ... ooooh ...

      I WOULD LIKE TO. Although the characters kinda ... aren't. So I'd have to think about that. But yeah. Maybe. We shall see. ~the TCATT gang, the Ruskins, Nina and JBH and Kit and Abel all look accusingly at me~ Yeah sorry guys ok ... you first ...

  4. Okay so I'm sitting in a quiet, dimly lit Italian restaraunt with the click of forks on salad plates and I am try so hard to CONTAIN myself and type properly on this dinky little phone. *internal screaming* I adore this so much! The whole idea! I'm smiling too much, if that's possible. Gah! I'll come back later when I have laptop to type more accurately, but I had to say, I love all of this!


      Which I don't know why I didn't know? Because METAFICTION! I love metafiction. Why is it not more popular? Someone tell me what's up with that.

      So I love how mentally she somehow has the book and her crush on Cam entwined together. And in a sense, because Cam knows about the fae curse, and she and Cam are Eveleen's OTP; it makes sense that she would see the book and her relationship with Cam as entwined. Like this a foreshadowing sort of feeling that she shrugs off because she thinks it's only about her crush on Cam but really it's so much bigger than that. No?

      Also, I love the atmosphere. The coffee shops, the bookshop, the streets. It just lives like a character (as we've discussed before about setting as character). And poor dear confused Hector. Annika's coping with Hector. I love their whole conversation.

      "Fae aren't real." -- I wanted to burst out laughing.

      "I'm sorry, but what country was this called again?"


      "But that's out of a book!" -- Oh, gosh. That part gave me chills! I love it so much.

      "It didn't make sense, but when did she ever make sense to herself?" -- Quite true of most people.

      "Hector -- the oddball, prone to tripping over his feet" -- So I enjoyed that bit muchly. ;)

      "Just a book" -- That whole paragraph. YES!

      And of course it's near Valentine's. How fitting. Poor Annika. Nothing like paper hearts to rub it all in.

      So you didn't just share this little snippet and then drop it all. You're certainly going to write this book, right? Because you can't JUST SHARE THIS WITH US AND GET OUR HOPES AND DREAMS UP AND THEN NOT WRITE IT?! Ashley, calm down. You're too worked up. It's just a book.

      Pfft. Just a book.

      Of course, not now. Because SitC needs to be finished (with all it's romantic angst). And the Les Mis, and, well, sometime you'll write it, right? Pllleeeaasse?

    2. I LOVE THESE COMMENTS. I mean yeah I've taken a couple of centuries to reply to them but they are still AMONG THE BEST. The image of you in the restaurant is one I am carrying in my heart. Who were you with?


      Love your book/Cam analysis! I wasn't even really thinking about that, more just drawing on my own experience of tying memories/people strongly to books (specifically, the physical objects of books ... spines not screens as you said in your comment on that recent haul!), but yeah, totally! Everything you said made perfect sense, I loved it! Foreshadowing dun dun DUUUN!

      Aw, I'm so glad! Setting is one of my top fave things (all hail Maggie and Donna Tartt, Setting Queens) and so that is such a big compliment!

      Chills??! YASS. Thank you!

      Hahahaha so much like Adam in LesMisBook, that description of Hector was a “cameo" specifically for you XD

      Of course! We all love a paper heart ... yeesh.

      I would love to write it ON ONE LEVEL, that is, in one way. It would need a TON of thought, though. And as I mentioned in comments to Lauren and Tracey, I'm not so keen on Annika, that is to say she feels very similar to Corrie, like a washed-out copy. And I really am not keen on Cam at all, because a) crushes are dumb and b) how can we expect the reader to be all upset along with Annika over a boy the reader hasn't even met? All we're seeing is an idealised version of him from her head, and you can't like that character, or ship them. So do we ship them? Is it only Evaleen who ships them? Will Annika end up falling in love with, say, Dara? Alsoooo, Evaleen is distressingly similar to Mel. The only character in this whole piece who I feel stands on their own feet is Hector. (And even he seems a bit like Freddie. I do NOT want Annika/Hector to be an exact match of Corrie/Freddie.) So you see I'd have to think hard about the charries, and I just ... I tend to fall in love with characters over ideas? So even though I'm all about that metafiction ... But I don't know. We shall see. SitC first!

    3. I was with my grandparents and their friends. It was kind of dull actually because none of them were talking, and they rarely actually talk to me. So I was like, "Hey, I'm going to do something with this glorious silence and read Em's blog." So I did and things were no longer dull. XD Although, one of the ladies was like, "Are you texting?!" in a passive aggressive accusatory way. I said "no" (because I wasn't after all). But I don't see why she was making a fuss about it. She was talking to me, and nobody else was. So why not communicate with other people?

      Yes! Ah, I love it when you write something without thinking about it and then later on realize that it works as excellent foreshadowing. It's awesome!

      Eep! Thank you! I did much like Hector's cameo part. :)

      Oh, yeah. I know what you mean. I don't like writing similar characters either. But you have plenty of time to make them different, if you want to that is. It's not like you'd write the book this minute. XD And besides, you don't have to start the book here exactly. You can show a scene or few with Annika and Cam, so the reader does get to know Cam (if he's worth having a crush on :P). I don't know. I do know what mean about characters over ideas! That is my writing life basically. Gah! But seriously, crushes are so dumb. Why? Just why? Stop it, feelings, stop doing weird illogical stuff. *cough* I hate crushes.

    4. Haha fair enough! That is a bit rubbish, though, I hate sitting with people in silence D: (unless you're both, like, reading or something ... or eating ... actually I don't mind it at all, as long as it's a companionable silence, not an uncomfortable I Wish I Were Somewhere Else But I'm Here Awkwardly With You silence.)

      IT'S SO GOOD. And I'm glad you enjoyed the cameo XD

      We shall see. I've not thought about them much since posting this, but I am completely certain I will write something similar to this one day, with the book world thingie, even if the details change ... WE SHALL SEE. But yes, gosh, so dumb. I mean part of me is like (in the voice Merida's dad uses in Brave when he's impersonating her) “I want to be in love running through a forest with flowers in my hair!" but the rest of me is like, no, nothing ever works out the way you want it to and so STOP. CRUSHES ARE DUMB. Ugh and ugh and ugh again. (If you wanted an insight into my feelings, you're welcome. If not ... soz.)

  5. Coming to this post late but this is my favorite of the stories of yours I've read. The description of the book shop is beautiful and honest, representing the magic that even the unappreciative can find. Wish there was more to love especially seeing the 'readers' (Annika and Evaleen) interacting.

    1. This is such a lovely comment, thank you! I am now plotting this book! Because I don't have enough ideas already ... *ahem* Annika's name has changed to Suzannah, and Dara's name has changed to Brice, and Hector potentially doesn't exist anymore, but I am so into this idea! Currently getting to know the characters before hopefully working out the world .... !


Thanks for commenting! :)