The Writing of Martin Brennan

Now: November 2018

I’d like to provide more frequent updates from a “writerly” point of view I guess you could say, where I post about what projects I’m working on on a more regular basis. This is inspired in part by the Now page on Derek Sivers’ website, and also because I don’t usually post stories here if I think there may be some chance of having them published at a later date. For example, short story competitions that I enter may have a specific theme, like Horror, that may allow stories to be re-purposed, and I don’t want to get disqualified because of the common “previously published” clause. It’s kind of a moot point at this time because I’m not yet published, but it doesn’t hurt to be prepared. These posts will be loosely structured around three things; manuscripts, competitions, and what I’m currently reading. So here’s where I’m at for November 2018.

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Unrepentant

I wrote this piece as an entry for the 2018 Literary Taxidermy short story competition https://literarytaxidermy.com/. The premise of the competition was to take an opening and closing line from one of three short stories and provide your own unique filling. The story I chose was “A Telephone Call” by Dorothy Parker. Without further ado here is my entry, UNREPENTANT.

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Hyperion

Prison always has been a good place for writers, killing, as it does, the twin demons of mobility and diversion

— Martin Silenus, Hyperion

Hyperion is like nothing I have ever read before. A sprawling sci-fi epic that is at the same time deeply personal and poetic, Dan Simmons has achieved a monumental feat of storytelling with the first novel in the Hyperion Cantos. My partner picked this up for me as a birthday present after she had read glowing recommendations for it online. I don’t often read sci-fi novels, mostly staying in the realm of literature, fantasy, and “Stephen King” (who I consider a genre onto himself), and it was initially difficult for me to get into, but about fifty pages in I was hooked.

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East of Eden

And now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good.

— Lee, East of Eden

THERE are a few books you may read in your life that change you in some profound way, or stun you with their beauty in a way that makes the book stick in your mind for a long time after you finish reading it. East of Eden was such a book for me. From the first few pages of reading Steinbeck’s introduction where he paints a portrait of the Salinas Valley I was hooked. Steinbeck is an author that held me in awe of the mastery of his craft, much in the same way that Cormac McCarthy did when I read Blood Meridian. It made me hope that if I could write something even a tenth as beautiful in my life, I would die happy.

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Slouching Towards Bethlehem

We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget

— Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem

A COLLECTION of well-crafted essays by Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem is like going through the looking glass and landing in 1960’s California. It is a time capsule, a love letter, and a history lesson rolled into one. Joan’s writing style is engaging, and it is obvious that she is an expert in her craft.

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Ozymandias

I MET a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

The Shining

What you got, son, I call it shinin on

— Dick Halloran, The Shining

I HAD been wanting to read The Shining for a long time, ever since I watched the Kubrick movie years ago. I was interested to see if the mood, tension, and the oppressive presence of the Overlook Hotel would be such a strong force in the novel. My expectations were both met and exceeded. The way King brings the Overlook to life through its bloody history and monstrous projections of long-dead ghosts sends chills down your spine. It feels less like a mountain resort, and more like a gateway to hell; a living, breathing thing that swallows up the unfortunate souls that visit there.

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2018 Reading List

EVEN though I always diverge from my reading list plans, I thought I’d still write a little post about I what I hope to get through in 2018. I’ll be writing essays for most of these as well, as I did last year.

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The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck

Self-improvement can be achieved, but not with a quick fix. It's a long, arduous journey of personal and spiritual discovery.

— Lisa Simpson

I MUST admit, I don’t normally go in for self-help books. I find the obsession over self-help celebrities somewhat unnatural. There is nothing unhealthy about the goal of improving oneself at all, just when people continue to latch on to other people selling their ideas and say “If I only I do what this guy says, my life will be great and all my problems will be solved!”

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Tough Break

EACH rock he crushed into pebbles with his pick under the blazing sun wore him down a little more. The jolt of the impact surged up his arms, vibrated through his shoulders and his spine. He was hurting bad, sweating like a hog, and the chain gang had only been outside for an hour. The screw paced up and down the blacktop behind them, at total ease with a shotgun cradled in the crook of his arm, spitting tobacco at their feet and daring them to think about running. Not that they’d get far with heavy chains and cuffs chafing their ankles and locking them together.

And where would there be to run? Desert on either side of the highway, nothing to hide behind except a couple of lonely mesas. No water or food for at least twenty miles. And long before then you’d be hunted down like a dog, swarmed by the state police. It was better to keep your head down, withdraw inside your own mind. Hum a tune and try and block out the pain, and maybe that sun would creep a little quicker across the sky.

Not for the first time he wondered what he’d done to deserve this. Breaking and entering, stealing some cheap jewellery, almost getting blown away. The judge handed down his eight year stretch and yawned. Yawned. Like he was thinking about what he’d have for dinner that night. The rocks morphed into the judge’s face, and the bitterness welled inside him again.

A rumble in the distance made him prick up his ears. He glanced down the road while the screw was looking the other way. An old pickup truck was lumbering toward the crew. It would pass right behind him. He’d be lucky if he didn’t wear their trash. The warden encouraged the gentle citizens of the town to teach them a lesson in their own way, for being the scum of society. Heaving the pick again, he sent it swinging to chip at another stone.

The brakes squealed, and a shot blasted. The screw dropped to the ground in a heap, his hat tumbling away into the ditch. Some old boys got out of the truck and came over to him. He squinted up in the glare and saw his brother’s face shimmering there.

Break the chains not the rocks, his brother said, and helped crack the links. The other inmates stared at the fugitive, then at the screw, the keys glinting at his belt and blood seeping through his uniform. The man’s wife would be none too happy about that.

The fugitive grabbed up one of the rocks he broke from the ground as a souvenir. They were over the state line by midday.


Written for the Swinburne Microfiction Challenge 2017. The theme was BREAK.