Tag Archives: ghost

From the pinnacle to the pit

I heard you were a poet. But a poet of no words? (Shakespeare in Love)

As a writer it’s always strange when you find yourself unable to express something verbally. It’s as if your go-to toolbox has been misplaced. As if the screwdriver that worked fine yesterday no longer fits.

My stories are emotional turmoil processed by time and structured by hindsight. I can seldom express anything if the impact is too recent – like now. I sit here trying to verbalise yesterday’s experience at a Ghost concert, but I’m strangled by too much… something (can’t even find an appropriate noun).

2019-02-24 18.48.55

Me nineteen years ago. Strangely prophetic.

To describe this concert, I have to borrow from myself. Last summer I wrote some fan fiction because the new album totally fucked me up, and those words still ring truer than anything I could write today.

The lights explode into being, like the first day all over again: it’s the parting of light from darkness and the celestial dance that started then and hasn’t slowed down since. The music soars, guitars and keys and drums and bass, and the light splashes on Special where he crowns the stage, ghastly and glorious. As the auditorium erupts in screams, he holds his arms out to them, embracing them all. He’s a beacon of darkness, a charity for the hopeless. And when his voice resounds through the air, it’s a sizzle down Papa’s neck. Special isn’t just singing, he’s pulling his soul out with an iron fist, ripping his heart from its cage and holding it aloft, dripping darkly, like a sacrifice.

Papa shudders in equal parts horror and euphoria. He’s never seen him in action, never witnessed the transformation from flesh to flame. From the back, Special looks like the incarnation of Papa’s every desire. The shafts of light cut themselves on his dark silhouette. A platitude comes to mind – that the smallest light can banish any darkness. Well, look at this. You can shine the brightest lamp, but it only takes one man to stand in front of it and cover the world with his shadow. Everywhere he goes, the spots follow him and are devoured. Where he plants his feet, he slices through the beams. Nothing can get past him.

Special pauses in his singing, holding the microphone to his chest and staring out at the crowd. He knows. He feels it too. What Papa and he only dreamed of, what they planned but didn’t see the full scope of – it’s now conceived. It’s born and growing in the world. When the masses out there open their throats in praise, when they sing Special’s words back at him, it’s more than an invocation. It’s the realization of the impossible. A sea of lonely creatures coming together, truly coming together for one purpose. Yes, they talked about the dominion of the world, of an infernal new era, but this is that era not only nascent but adolescent. Special has become a demi-god. He has them in his fist, and they’re delirious to be so trapped.

(Scriptures of Abundance on AO3, enter at own risk
– it’s adult and blasphemous and bloody)

So… yeah. Ghost. Six years ago we saw them in a small venue closer to home, we stood ten metres from Papa and could have touched him. Last night we squinted at a tiny figure on the other side of a hall in Stockholm. Bigger, more lavish backdrop, bigger better lights. Everything turned up to eleven. From a perfect seed, this perfect flower. Two and a half hours of musical generosity. The heat of flames in an unapologetic celebration of life and death.

There’s nothing like lyrics about death to make you feel alive. When an entire hall sings “While you sleep in earthly delight, someone’s flesh is rotting tonight” it kind of makes you realise that no one in there is dead. For all our collective romanticising of the Grim Reaper, every one of us is still here, still on this earth – but we won’t always be. And isn’t that one of art’s ultimate goals? To make you feel alive and mortal, to make you grab what you have in the moment because the moment is all you have?

But it’s so goddamn lopsided. Yes, you can sing your throat raw and clap and scream and even write gushy fan letters if you’re so inclined, but in the end the communication is very one-way. I wish there was some way to reciprocate, you know? As I expressed it to my husband, “I feel like a dog that tries to lick your face when you pet it, just because it wants to give something back.” To which he replied, “Oh, okay, like – yes, hello Tobias? My wife wants to lick your face.”

Which is only half true!

It’s just… you want to convey that age-old fan feeling that a piece of art makes an actual, concrete difference in your life. That your soul would be less without it. That when a fictional stage character tells 14 000 people he can see through the scars inside them, you feel personally addressed. That you can hear something quintessentially Swedish in the music and it makes you ridiculously proud. And that when he uses Neil Peart’s phrase “plateau of untouchable” in an interview, you want to shout, “Yes! I can quote the entirety of Beyond the Lighted Stage too!”

But today, of course, I’m crashing. A “See Naples and die” feeling. The post-gig blues from hell – literally. Questions about what I’m doing with my life, why I’m not in a place where I feel as limitless as I did during Faith or Year Zero.

The euphoria of last night is a blue memory now, a thing of the past, something that almost never happened. Now there’s just us and the desolate waste and the rest of our lives, and nothing but our own hands and minds to till the land we don’t recognize. No authorities, no one to go crying to. No one to tell us what to do. What you can’t make for yourself you’ll never have.

That was always the message, wasn’t it?

But now it’s true, now it’s here. This is reality now. The dance is our own. We invent the steps even as we tread the ground, even as we test the firmness of earth that may give way at every turn.

You’re the conductor now.

(Before and After on AO3)

As the cardinal would have it, “this is the moment of just letting go.”

But I can’t let go, and so what remains but to engage in some symbolic consumption in the online merch shop?

An author’s messy mind

The eternal question: “Where do you get the ideas to everything you write in your books?”… We can never quite answer it, can we? At least I can’t, not off the top of my head. But today, as a special treat as I kick off my blog again (yay! streamers and party horns!), I’m going to give it a serious try. I’m going to go through a whole page of a fanfic I wrote last summer and tell you all about my inspiration for it!

2018-06-05 21.02.38-2.jpg

First, the section I’m going to dissect. We’re on a battle field where God and Satan are fighting it out for the wooing rights of humanity, but our heroes (Papa and Special) are just unwitting pawns in the celestial battle – as they’re about to become aware…

Orange-tinted clouds roil overhead. Bats and ravens circle the swaying silhouettes of trees. Dust swirls in dense pillars, and bright patches of light appear and disappear on the helmets of soldiers. Sparks fly from clashing swords, and the air reverberates with thunder and the whizzing of spears.

All the church bells across the globe are tolling. Every tower of prayer is echoing with proclamations, every cymbal, every drum that calls its disparate congregations together are resounding in an unsupervised cacophony. Nobody at the helm, no one to keep the pace. Voices like choirs, like the dead howling in Hades. The clash of weapons and shields, it’s a din never heard. The air quivers with sulphur and salt, with smoke and blood.

Papa stumbles over the fallen, sword heavy in his hand. Back to back with Special, he parries the blows from monster-faced angels bearing down on them, keening blades flickering with celestial fire. Around them, demons release their giant ballistas to send iron arrows zinging through the sky, ripping through feather and fabric. Bows are smashed, wings are torn. The angels nock and release at a furious pace, slicing through demon skin, spearing their bleeding husks into the ground.

Zhiiinggg, one sharp arrowhead slices Special’s arm, and blood wells from a superficial wound. He clutches it, face contorted by exhaustion and pain, and Papa grabs him by the lapel, an echo of the ritual – how safe and fake that moment was compared to this! “You need to keep your feet. You need to be prepared when –”

He gets no further. A sound reverberates over the hills, and the air brightens to the point of blindness. They raise their arms and shield their eyes, but this is no earthly light that can be so easily warded off. It is a light that shrieks, a sound that descends in a searing halo – the electric storm that once brought the God-seed from heaven to hearth, from the clouds to close quarters, impregnating the very first victim of their creed. The Holy Ghost.

Papa has the time to see dismay shatter Special’s face – there is no way he can defeat that, ordinary man that he is. Now, in this moment, he realizes that the devotion he’s known means nothing. The swaying hands in auditoriums, the raptured faces – they may have seen otherworldly power in him, but he’s still a mortal, still a mere earthly soul with a penetrable husk, and the Holy Ghost is pure aether. Its gaze incinerates, its breath corrodes.

He’s defenceless against it.

A giant wolf comes bounding out of the light, the Devil himself on its back. “I’ll take you to him.” He grabs Papa by the scruff of his neck and pulls him up. Wait, Papa tries to scream, but the wind stops the sound. His throat fills to bursting, his protest a chokehold of air.

Special…

He turns and looks at him, at his minuscule form receding behind them. Alone, a puny blade in his hand, the Holy Ghost descending on him in sparks of white and blue. This is his moment, this is his chance, but it will be his last.

And Papa has his own enemy to defeat. The battlefield rushes past, death and destruction a mere red blur. The Devil drops him off on a desolate spot, far from the fighting. “Make me proud.” The sword is fitted anew into Papa’s hand, the vow is spoken. The time has come to fulfil his mission – but why? Special won’t be there when he’s done.

This is the end of his tether.

Turning heavily, he stands face to face with the Son.

“And so we have come to this.” It’s a sigh on the wind, barely a voice at all. It’s the weariness of eons in auditive form, and the brown eyes in that well-known face are tired beyond resignation.

Okay. Let’s look at the thought process behind all this. I’ll repost bits and pieces and comment after them:

Orange-tinted clouds roil overhead. Bats and ravens circle the swaying silhouettes of trees. Dust swirls in dense pillars, and bright patches of light appear and disappear on the helmets of soldiers. Sparks fly from clashing swords, and the air reverberates with thunder and the whizzing of spears.

The whole description of the battle – and indeed the idea to have a battle between heaven and hell in the first place (you know, apart from the Bible…) – is based on a vague memory of the battle in The Amber Spyglass, the final book in the Golden Compass series. But I sort of felt something was missing there, so I wanted to make my own version. And I did!

All the church bells across the globe are tolling. Every tower of prayer is echoing with proclamations, every cymbal, every drum that calls its disparate congregations together are resounding in an unsupervised cacophony. Nobody at the helm, no one to keep the pace.

Since the fic is based on a band, music and sounds play a big part in the imagery too. Here the context is also religious, hence the church bells etc. The idea is that the world has been abandoned by both God and Satan. As if they’re conductors of a global orchestra but have left it to set both pace and harmony by itself. So I guess it’s my childhood, spent/misspent in concert halls, that gave me the inspiration.

Voices like choirs, like the dead howling in Hades.

Haha, “the dead howling in Hades”… that was nicked verbatim from an early review of a Rush concert. I don’t support the sentiment, but the alliteration and the imagery work.

The air quivers with sulphur and salt, with smoke and blood.

More alliteration. Sometimes I just like the feel of words. Of course, sulphur and smoke is pretty straightforward Hell stuff, but salt got included because it makes me think of sweat. Also it refers back to an earlier part of the story where Papa and Special “embrace in salt and blood”. I’ll leave you to your deductions…

Papa stumbles over the fallen, sword heavy in his hand.

This is Shakespeare’s Henry V – specifically Branagh’s version where the English king struggles through the mud with heavy armour and weapons, seeing his soldiers and boys fallen.

Back to back with Special, he parries the blows from monster-faced angels bearing down on them, keening blades flickering with celestial fire. Around them, demons release their giant ballistas to send iron arrows zinging through the sky, ripping through feather and fabric.

Ripping through feather – that’s an image from Elfquest, where a winged elf’s wing is penetrated by a thick arrow… actually now I think about it, the whole scene here is probably inspired by the Elfquest battle for the palace of the High Ones. I didn’t realize that until now! Even the back to back fighting is from those scenes.

Bows are smashed, wings are torn. The angels nock and release at a furious pace, slicing through demon skin, spearing their bleeding husks into the ground.

Here the angels have taken archery lessons from Legolas in The Two Towers – he was pretty deft with that bow. 🙂 The demons are basically orcs in my mind… and their skin is like charred sausages.

Zhiiinggg, one sharp arrowhead slices Special’s arm, and blood wells from a superficial wound. He clutches it, face contorted by exhaustion and pain, and Papa grabs him by the lapel, an echo of the ritual – how safe and fake that moment was compared to this! “You need to keep your feet. You need to be prepared when –”

The onomatopoeic sound of the arrow is another Elfquest thing, or comic books/graphic novels in general, but Elfquest specifically is my jam. 🙂

He gets no further. A sound reverberates over the hills, and the air brightens to the point of blindness. They raise their arms and shield their eyes, but this is no earthly light that can be so easily warded off.

The Two Towers again, and Gandalf arriving at the top of the hill – but here a bit more sinister and also influenced by… what? I’m unsure. A blinding, evil light… Actually I don’t know where that comes from. Another film?

It is a light that shrieks, a sound that descends in a searing halo

The idea to blur the lines between the senses comes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream: “I see a voice: now will I to the chink / To spy an I can hear my Thisby’s face.” But this specific image is also taken from Jonna Jinton, who once described the bright light in hotel bathrooms as “screaming in her eyes”.

– the electric storm that once brought the God-seed from heaven to hearth, from the clouds to close quarters, impregnating the very first victim of their creed.

Here the priority was to create alliteration and tweak existing phrases like “heaven and earth” to be slightly different, and also to turn the idea of the blessed virgin on its head.

Papa has the time to see dismay shatter Special’s face – there is no way he can defeat that, ordinary man that he is. Now, in this moment, he realizes that the devotion he’s known means nothing. The swaying hands in auditoriums, the raptured faces – they may have seen otherworldly power in him, but he’s still a mortal, still a mere earthly soul with a penetrable husk, and the Holy Ghost is pure aether. Its gaze incinerates, its breath corrodes.

This is inspired by the film Frost/Nixon, where Jack Brennan says: “Well, in boxing, you know, there’s always that first moment, and you see it in the challenger’s face. It’s that moment that he feels the impact from the champ’s first jab. It’s kind of a sickening moment, when he realizes that all those months of pep talks and the hype, the psyching yourself up, had been delusional all along. You could see it in Frost’s face. If he didn’t know the caliber of the man that he was up against before the interview started, he certainly knew it halfway through the President’s first answer.”

A giant wolf comes bounding out of the light, the Devil himself on its back.

This is lifted from a Ghost song, Mummy Dust: “I was carried on a wolf’s back, to corrupt humanity.”

“I’ll take you to him.” He grabs Papa by the scruff of his neck and pulls him up. Wait, Papa tries to scream, but the wind stops the sound. His throat fills to bursting, his protest a chokehold of air.

Have you ever ridden on a rollercoaster? That’s the feeling I’m trying to convey here. I can’t breathe at those speeds, so that very physical sensation is the basis of this description.

He turns and looks at him, at his minuscule form receding behind them. Alone, a puny blade in his hand, the Holy Ghost descending on him in sparks of white and blue. This is his moment, this is his chance, but it will be his last.

My mental image here was a typical fantasy novel cover, where the tiny hero with his sword faces an overpowering enemy: a dragon, a balrog…

And Papa has his own enemy to defeat. The battlefield rushes past, death and destruction a mere red blur. The Devil drops him off on a desolate spot, far from the fighting. “Make me proud.” The sword is fitted anew into Papa’s hand, the vow is spoken. The time has come to fulfil his mission – but why? Special won’t be there when he’s done.

Somehow soldiers in films always end up away from the hubbub so we can hear and see properly, don’t they? And I’m not one to change a winning concept.

This is the end of his tether.

Of course, the phrase “end of your tether” is a commonplace, but I took it (and the connotations it carries for me) from Night of the Iguana by Tennessee Williams, with its symbolically tethered iguana. That play is the reason why I remember the phrase at all. Not that I understood much of it – I was maybe fifteen and saw a great production with Frances Barber – but I was a bit young to get all the subtext, I think. No matter: some things stick anyway.

“And so we have come to this.” It’s a sigh on the wind, barely a voice at all. It’s the weariness of eons in auditive form, and the brown eyes in that well-known face are tired beyond resignation.

The sigh on the wind comes from the final film in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, where the army of the dead are released from their vow and vanish on the air…

So there you have it. A lifetime of media consumption, sprinkled with a couple of personal experiences. That’s what makes a novel – or in this case a fanfic.