Notes on Predator and the State of the Blog

The astute among you will have noticed that this blog got reactivated a couple of weeks ago. Not that it ever got officially deactivated; it just slipped out of use, as blogs are wont to do. The decision not to make a big song and dance about my sudden new entry – to simply post what I wanted to post – was a conscious one: having been off the radar for over a year, why waste anyone’s time with apologies and excuses?

My little flash-fiction ramble on predators attracted a pretty good reception while left to fend for itself, but it’s probably about time I offered a bit of background on the thinking behind it. For a short piece, it has quite a few layers, and the fortnight away from it will hopefully have given me the distance to look at my writing a little more objectively and try to understand where I can improve my process. At the same time, I hope that my ramblings can add another layer of enjoyment for you, the reader.

If you’re less interested in the motivations for my flash fiction and just want to know why I’ve suddenly started posting again, why I wasn’t doing so for so long or what on earth happened to my language analysis articles, then you can skip the next few paragraphs and go straight to Section 2.

Analysing Predator

First things first: if you haven’t read Predator yet, you can do so here. It won’t take a minute. Really, it probably won’t.

Finished? OK, let’s have a look at how this snapshot story came to be and what it means to me. I was thinking about birds of prey, and it struck me that there is a great contradiction in their being: we see them as creatures of beauty and grace, yet in effect they are nothing more than perfectly designed killing machines. They are rarely seen in the wild and barely ever close-up, and this sense of distance probably adds to their air of majesty. What do we really know about how they think? I wanted to try and get inside such a creature’s head and explore what might be going on behind that regal veneer.
As I began to flesh out the idea, it struck me that these hunters were perhaps, in a way, victims of their own perfect design. The splendour of their plumage hints at an animal that could bring so much joy to the world, yet all it does is wreak havoc on those below it in the food chain. Over the centuries, the skills and instincts that have allowed them to thrive have been honed to the detriment of all other characteristics, leaving a cold, unfeeling monster trapped in a beautiful outer shell.

The juxtaposition of this idea felt somewhat tragic, and I started to wonder whether it was also reflected in other predators. In the natural world, there were certainly parallels: the proud lion, the romantic lone wolf. But what of man-made hunting machines? Might a sleek drone hovering far above a desert village, waiting for the command to unleash its payload, evoke the same sense of longing for a more meaningful existence? Perhaps the international mega-corporation that swallows up smaller competitors in hostile take-overs is also simply expressing its innate nature? True, these actions require the input of a human mind – but are these arbiters of our desires not simply extensions of our own destructive instincts?

These were the thoughts that bounced around my head as I sat down to put pen to paper. It seemed sensible to frame the whole concept in its original context – that of the bird of prey – but I also wanted to add hints of the wider notions of the term “predator” that the action might equally be describing. As a writer, for me the piece was also an exercise in description itself, an area that I fell I still need a lot of practice in. I hope it was a successful one.

The future of this blog

This page started three years ago as the first pillar of my new project: to become a writer. This was something I had wanted to do ever since I started school, but as the years went by, the ambition had faded in favour of honing more practical skills. I had become a translator, moved to Berlin and set up my own business, which by this point was going rather well. But the creative side of my brain had been left unurtured for too long, and was starting to get restless. Life had become routine – I needed an outlet. I took a travel break, and was on a night bus weaving through the Peruvian Andes when I looked at the journal in my hands and realised: this is it.

This is what I need.

Memories came flooding back: my first Roald Dahl book, the story I wrote about a missing silver elephant on the planet (as it still was back then) Pluto, the adventures my imagination would take me on to escape the mundane real world. And I resolved that I would honour those memories and revive the ideal.

One of the most common nuggets of advice offered to budding writers is to “write what you know”. I am a linguist; what I know is words. I had also been living in a foreign culture for a good number of years, during which time my analytical linguist’s brain had made numerous observations on the quirks of language and the way these influence and reflect society. So I started a blog on language, culture and society.

This was fun, and the response to my site was generally pretty good. Soon I had started writing articles for a couple of other sites (most notably Slow Travel Berlin), and by the end of the year I had even been published. One of my articles went semi-viral among a group of Dutch Linguistics students. Everything was going quite well.

But although it remained a pet subject, I soon found writing about language was no longer enough to scratch the itch. I began thinking about what “becoming a writer” actually meant to me. It wasn’t anything to do with money – I was still quite happy to be earning my bread and Bierwurst by taking words from one language and magicking them into another – but nor was non-fiction what I’d had in mind at the birth of this ambition 12 months earlier (or 25 years ago, for that matter). I started to ponder about some of my favourite writers and the kinds of books I was reading, and my articles reflected this. Then, at the start of 2015, I decided I was Finally Going To Start Writing Fiction.

And the blog all but stopped.

I posted one of my first short stories, The Cactus, and a tribute to one of my literary heroes on his passing, then nothing. Nada. It wasn’t deliberate – I had intended to keep posting the odd book review or linguistic observation now and then, but events overtook me. I worked a lot on the next couple of STB books (one of which is still underway), and when I got chance to write for myself, I discovered that the old-fashioned pen-and-paper approach suited me much better when it came to fiction. I told myself I would type up some of my shorter pieces now and then, but when I got the time, I found I far preferred to simply let my imagination loose again rather than transferring already written words to a computer screen. On top of that, a lack of focus between all my ideas crept in, and many of my stories have remained unfinished as a result. There’s one good one I keep coming back to that I hope might become a book one day, but it’ll be some time before that becomes a realistic goal. First and foremost, I need to write for myself – to discover my voice.

As things stand, this is still an ongoing process. I work on my tales when I can, and occasionally something good enough and polished enough for the attention of the world will come out of it. When that happens – which will hopefully be more frequently in the future – I’ll post it on here for your approval. If things really take off, I might even find another, more dedicated web outlet for my shorter fiction. I may also rustle up a new language piece or book review if the fancy takes me. In one way or another, this will remain a blog about words, be they my own, other people’s or everyone’s. I can’t promise it will be updated particularly frequently, but I will strive to stop it from slipping back into the level of neglect it has for the past year or so. And whatever I post, I’ll do my damnedest to make sure it’s worth the wait.

Thank you for reading.

 

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