Raw Literature posts as an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, its process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it.
Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community that creates raw literature weekly in the form of flash fiction (99-word stories). If you have an essay idea, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at email@example.com.
We welcome a university student to Raw Literature this week. He’s working on his master’s degree in creative writing and explains how he came to write the following short fiction and why.
The Best Days of Their Lives? by YoungLee Giles
Charlie was sat on the floor with his arms wrapped tightly around his knees. He took a long, slow, inhale but continued to shake like someone who’d just been pulled out of a frozen lake. The girl sat next to him was whispering the lord’s prayer, her words sounded distorted, as if they were coming from the mouth of Charlie Brown’s teacher.
Her prayer was silenced as more gunshots smashed into juvenile innocence trapped outside. Terrified screams ran down the hallway desperately trying to escape the indefensible. There would be no detention for running down the corridor ever again.
‘This morning I told my mum I hated her.’ Luke Noonum the hardest boy in the school covered his face with both hands but his vulnerability had nowhere to hide.
Charlie’s world churned eternal regret. His tears were sincere but too late.
‘The police will come soon.’ Mr Smart head of year ten wasn’t convincing, his words were pale and insignificant.
Charlie looked around the room, a faint glimmer of hope hidden amongst tearful sobs was rapidly fading.
Outside more gunshots violently consumed the void. Charlie could hear the loud thud of broken dreams hitting the floor. A long, spray of automatic gunfire was replaced by a deathly silence and the sound of footsteps approaching. The young girl sat next to Charlie grabbed his hand and squeezed it tight. Her nails dug into his skin. The door to the boiler room started to open and darkness replaced the light.
I wrote my short story in one take, immediately after reading yet another a horrific newspaper article about a school shooting. I started thinking about the children, what would go through their minds? As a child, death is an abstract concept, when a child knows death is imminent, how do they make sense of it?
When I read about a school shooting, it keeps me awake at night and really gets under my skin. I’m left with an array of uncomfortable questions which I can seldom answer. I believe it’s important that we continue to ask ourselves questions, and never become desensitized regardless of how often they happen.
I thought about the child shooter. It’s natural to automatically label him or her evil or someone with mental health issues. To try and neatly tie things ups by saying the killer had mental health issues is just plain lazy. If I were to develop this short story into something more, I’d like to explore the killer’s mind and his background. To humanise the killer would make the story even more chilling.
Many stories that I write are ones that find me, awake me and force me to pick over uncomfortable questions. I want to delve deeply into the subject matter and force the reader to ask themselves their own questions and to achieve an emotional response, to move, unsettle and at times upset. I’d rather tackle a strong, emotive subject like this rather than something straightforward that ends with a happy conclusion.
I’m currently studying for a master’s degree in creative writing at Sheffield Hallam University in England. For this semesters script and novel module, I must come up with an idea for a short script. After writing this story, I developed it into a script for radio drama. In doing this, I was able to give each character a strong identity and some background information on the killer. I’m quite happy with the result and might submit it to the BBC.
Much of my work is of a dark, realistic nature. Some would say I’ve lived an unconventional life. I’ve lived much of it in a darknet type reality, and this has shaped my writing. I lived in Mozambique during the civil war and witnessed many horrific things. I was only 17 years old and my years in Africa had a profound effect on me.
After my African adventure, I bought a one-way ticket to the South of Spain and somehow ended up living with an old hippy (who was also a big hashish dealer) on the island of Ibiza. When I returned to England, I became a part of the acid house generation, dancing in fields and warehouses across the country. I became a drug dealer and fell into an illicit lifestyle and was lucky not to end up in prison. Several years later I moved to London and enrolled at Middlesex University. To support myself, as well as dealing drugs, I put on club nights for students and accidentally became a DJ. I became a fairly successful DJ playing around London and being flown around the world. I worked with fashion designers, putting music to their shows during London fashion week, I was the music director for a French play called Bintoe and produced music under the name Ok_Ma, putting out several releases on different record labels as well as making music for television. I always wrote, but mainly music-based material for music magazines. I worked for a few magazines and somehow became an editor of a small magazine called Ecentral which focused on the area of Shoreditch London, but it didn’t last long as the magazine folded due to financial troubles.
In between my DJing and other activities I wrote a 60-thousand-word novel but trashed it due to my insecurities.
As my DJing continued to take off so did my drug use, I had no idea that I was an addict. To me, an addict was someone on the street stealing to buy their drugs. I lived in a nice house, wore designer clothes and drove a flashy car, but I was no different from the scruffy man panhandling. Inside I was dying. Firstly cocaine then came heroin. After about fifteen years of daily use and trying to keep a respectable face on, my life came crashing down, I lost everything and ended up in rehab. I got clean, relapsed, got clean, relapsed.
Eventually, I ended up in a rehab for 8 months and was able to address many deep issues. Whilst there I wrote a novel about a person who ends up in strange rehab. A publisher read it and wanted to publish, but I’ve now realised it’s not ready so am using it for various university assignments where I can edit and improve.
When I came out of rehab, I enrolled to do a master’s degree in creative writing. After a few months at university, I relapsed once more and ended up in a detox unit which was housed in a mental health ward. In there I wrote every day as it was an extreme place but writing gold. I witnessed many bizarre, violent, scary and strange events and I wrote about every one of them. Luckily, I was able to keep up with my studies, and today I’m clean and working hard at my deadlines. I left school with no qualifications (I went to college to get them), so to be doing a master’s degree is unbelievable.
A chapter of my book is being published in May in a university book called Matter, a collection of creative works from the writer’s of Sheffield Hallam University.
Recently I’ve also found a memory stick containing the first novel I wrote and lots of writing that my father did before he died. He was in the special forces and worked around the world, some jobs were somewhat semi-legal. I’m currently looking at editing his journey from Seoul, Korea to London England in the 50’s as I think I can make it into an interesting story.
If I can stay well, I’m confident that my future can be an interesting one. You can read the first draft of my book here. Also on the link is an audio of my first chapter voice by English actor Terry Burns.
[…] Source: Raw Literature: Young Sung Hero […]
Thanks for sharing!
wow what an absolutely fascinating read!
Love the flash fiction, was very real … not too sure about humanising the killer as I believe some may be motivated by their moment of fame.
Fascinating life story, if you can stay clean you have heaps to offer but YoungLee’s health must be suffering from so much self abuse 🙁
That’s an interesting comment Kate, about the concerns of humanizing the killer. And yet, I think to fully understand even the most horrific cycles of humanity we do have to examine the shadows self. I think not giving these real-life shooters a platform is important because that does make copycats crave the limelight, too. Such complexities. I appreciate YoungLee’s openness to talk so candidly about all that he’s processing for his creative writing. Ultimately, I believe writing to be a great form of healing. Thanks!
absolutely it’s a great platform for healing and growing
… we do need to study their psyche but should never add the name and photo that is giving them too much credit … only the victims names and photos should be published and remembered as their lives were cut short because of that persons fit of anger, need for fame or undiagnosed MH 🙁
I agree with you on those press limitations. It only serves to incite copycats. The NY Times had an article on the topic a few weeks ago.
Thanks so much for your comments.
I understand your thoughts on humanising the killer, but it would be a fictional character so no fame for those who do these terrible deeds.
ah most relieved by that … you have talent so please keep writing!
I’m gonna try! Thanks so much for your words i really do appreciate them.
Well I too ended up doing a creative writing masters a t Hallam – four years ago, does Mike Harris still take script? – but my route there was far less circuitous. Really good luck with the writing and maybe I’ll bump into you in the 5th floor cafe sometime when I’m next there….
Small world here at the Ranch!
It is that. Cozy too.
And I’m just down the road from Sheffield about an hours drive away 🙂
Hey, yes Mike took my script class the semester just gone. I worked this story into a script and got a first (shock!!). I hope one day we do bump into each other. I’ve not lived in Sheffield that long so always good to link with likeminded creative types!
Good for you on the first! Yes if I’m up soon I’ll try and remember to drop you a note
A powerful piece of prose that comes from the pain you feel and most of us feel when we hear of the school shootings which are too common in America. Those young lives will forever be affected by the terror that they needlessly suffered. As in everything in life, I think the children, most old enough to have adult thoughts, would individually approach death in their own individual way but for most it would involve fear. I’m the same as year – hearing about them keeps me awake at night and I get so angry that nothing is done to make guns less accessible to these killers. I think as humans we have to understand why they do it and labelling them terrorist or mentally ill is one way we deal with it. If you wrote a killer that did it for no reason other than to kill – that would be chilling.
I wish you well with your studies. You have certainly had some life experiences that will colour your writing and give some layers that may allude many. I found that myMA was the most stressful time of my life and I too have had my stresses. Keep clean and good luck.
Sometimes I think we need to puzzle out the motives as much as to reform common sense firearm ownership. Is it guns that inspire shooters? If we didn’t have them, how would the story read? It’s a terrible conundrum and this is where literary art can be powerful — to explore why and what if. Thank you for your encouraging words to YoungLee!
I think if we didn’t have guns Charli the story would read quite differently. You have a gun culture in your country whereas we didn’t (or at least to the same extent). When Port Arthur happened in 1996 the nation was behind the buy back of guns. We haven’t had a mass shooting since. However to buy back all the guns in your country I imagine would send the country broke and you have a much bigger gun lobby than we do because you have the culture. There is a limit to the damage one can cause with a knife or machete and you have to be close to a person to kill them. For many this would stop them. It is far easier to shoot with an automatic weapon and kill many quickly yet still be somewhat removed from it. We do have to work out why people are doing this. I think in your country so many are marginalised, below the poverty line and thus feel they have absolutely nothing to lose that it gives a mentality where these types of events are going to happen. With our health care possibly we have more mental health services available to those that need them (far from perfect) and because we have a minimum wage set at a level that is above the poverty line and we have social services I think we have less people that are really struggling. Our system is far from perfect but I feel we do try and look after those that can’t look after themselves. To my mind that is the purpose of government – to act as a parent – to encourage independence but be there for those that can’t manage it for whatever reason. Literary art certainly can be powerful – Harriet Beecher Stowe proved that.
I had an interesting conversation with a fellow Australian who lived in North Idaho where I had lived, too. The gun culture is thick in that part of the US. We discussed how differently each of our countries evolved. We used guns to rise up against British rule and felt empowered to maintain a militia in each state thereafter. The Civil War occurred, in part, because each state had trained men who all owned guns per the requirements of the law. Twice, our nation shaped itself according to gun violence. Now, gun culture believes it to be a “freedom.” I don’t think our country looks “free” to the rest of the world. This history and culture now collide with the marginalization you mention. It’s an unfortunate and perfect storm for desperate unrest. I’m all for what others are calling “common sense” gun reform. I don’t think it’s possible to give up guns, but I do hope we find our way back from the desperate violence they are causing.
Hi, thanks for your comments.
I agree, these crimes are beyond evil. I’m so glad that I live in a country where guns are not on general sale.
Where you mention that if I wrote about a killer that did it for no other reason other than to kill would certainly be chilling and interesting to write.
Y, I’ve been reading about the young and troubled life of the Parkland, Florida shooter and what’s remarkable is that it was so easy for him to purchase an assault rifle. It was easier for that transaction to happen than it was for the school district to help a troubled student. It’s beginning to set the US apart and in a chilling way.
Your story brought the moment by moment reality of school shootings to mind. It was nicely composed.
He slowed down the moments in his story and made each one count. Thanks for stopping by the Ranch!
Thank you so much. Living in the UK we don’t have these problems (perhaps the odd one but extremely rare) although we have problems with kids and knives, extremely sad.
We all have different abilities. Our dark secrets, our backgrounds often so buried that we wonder if we can ever see daylight. May you continue to reach for the daylight and the stars beyond.
Remember that we need not forget our past, but we can learn to forgive ourselves and move forward. You have many lessons to teach. Perseverance being just one among many.
Continued success and health, ~Jules
And sometimes that past can richly inform our writing! Thanks for your kind and encouraging word, Jules!
Thank you so much for those kind words. I’m not the person I once was (is anyone!) but yet I do struggle extremely with the guilt and shame i feel around my past, it’s an ongoing recovery one day at time to use the old cliche.
Wow, that Flash is so powerful as it stands–like a well-crafted free-form poem. But you may be right, there may be another story there–we’ve certainly seen that in how often these events have repeated themselves lately, like a machine-gun emptying its magazine.
Thanks for sharing your personal story, as well. Some people have to wander a while before they find their oasis, and still they live (and thrive!) there, one day at a time. Stay strong, bend when needed, and keep writing!
Blessings to you~~
“Bend when needed…” great advice to all writers, Liz! I feel that art playing an important role in unraveling how wound up America has become with school shootings.
Your words are very appreciated. I find sharing my story difficult but it’s something I need to do. One of the reasons I write under the name young sung hero is so certain friends and family don’t find out about my issues. Most of my family have washed their hands on me because of my addiction.
Kudos to you Young Lee. I wouldn’t have the nerve to be so brutally honest about my past. I wish for you to stay straight and share your experiences through literary and audio art to help others. You are obviously a gifted person with much to give. Take care of yourself. Your writing is masterful.
Thank you for your encouraging words to YoungLee, Susan! It reminds me how much control we do have over our author brands. It’s something we can choose to share. It is brave to be so transparent.
Thanks so much, i’m glad you enjoy my words.
I often have to tone my writing down as my truth often sounds too extreme to be real.
When you are living in the madness everything seems normal, it’s only looking back that you see the insanity!
I’m sure you are going to succeed. You are working hard, just don’t give up. Your writing is so understandable and keeps me wanting to know more, like a really good book. Good luvpck to you Mr. Giles!
Thank you, Rugby for your encouraging words to Mr. Giles. His story is riveting.
Thanks so much, I’m gonna keep on trying. Poverty is a good drive!
Interesting post and good luck with the course. You have a lot of interesting life experiences to feed on.
It’s one of my bugbears when “mental illness” is posited as a reason for violent behaviours. Yes, there’s clearly something wrong with the person who does this, but people who are diagnosed with mental illness are more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators. (You probably know this but I like to take every opportunity to reiterate the fact.)
That’s a good fact to highlight, Anne. It’s too easy to make mental illness a scapegoat. We have too many other factors to consider, and one would be a lack of security and connection which is more damaging than mental illness.
I hear you on the mental illness and agree (it was perhaps a lazy example). Although the crime is so evil, as a writer putting a fictional take on it, I find it interesting to play around with variables and create feelings for the reader.
Powerful writing, YoungLee. Your short story of the school shooting had me quaking. I was there with the students, feeling their fear, hearing what they heard; and then the silence. I wondered who might be at the door – were they saved, or doomed? But then you told us that darkness replaced the light. It is right to explore these feelings and motivations. We must get past the symptoms to the cause, and if it can’t be cured, to eradicate it somehow.
I listened to most of your first chapter. It also is powerfully told, and a fabulous narrator – better than many I’ve listened to on audiobooks. He breathes life into your words, as if it was he living them. That’s quite a feat for a narrator.
I think your writing will find many readers and I wish you a successful writing future.
Norah, thanks for listening to YoungLee’s first chapter, too! You are knowledgeable about audiobooks, so that’s good feedback. Your comment also reminds me that these school shootings must be such a mind-shift for teachers, too.
School shootings are horrific for everyone. When our young people grow up living in fear with no hope for their own safety, let alone their future, what hope do we as a society have?
It seems cannibalistic to me — that we are killing the future of our society.
I’m so glad that you liked it and thanks for reading some of my book. I’m just editing at the moment (there’s much i want to change.)
I made the shooting story into a short script and got a first grade at university. I may make it into something more and submit to a tv company.
take care and thanks for your encouragment I really appreciate it.
Sounds like you’re doing well with your writing. I wish you success.