My NaNoWriMo is progressing slowly. These next 4 days are much less busy than the previous week, so there’s a reasonable chance I’ll get a good bit down. But I’m massively behind my target.
I figured I could post extracts here to spur myself on, not just to up my word count, but also to make something of some quality. Unfortunately, quickly scanning what I’ve got doesn’t seem to reveal a great deal of merit.
The scene for my story is Barcelona, which is actually a pretty smart move for me. I seem to be quite bad about writing about the place where I am – it’s places where I’m not that draw my creative eye. So this is a good experience, in that it gets me to observe my surroundings and try to describe them. Also, if I ever get stuck as to where to take the story next, I can pick a scene, somewhere in Barcelona, and hopefully while I’m lavishly detailing that scene, some ideas will come to me.
Here’s a description of an apartment in the story, hopefully the scene of many interesting events to come…
It was one of those big-rooved, small-corridored, dingy little places you see, with two shuttered windows out onto the thin grey street, and two or three more that opened out on to a dark, close, inside balcony.
For those of you who don’t know Barcelona, they’ve got these inside balconies all over the place, and sure, they let in a bit more air and don’t take up to much space, but they’re depressing. In the centre of a whole block of house, there’ll be this big open column that’s like a hole in a donut. People hang their washing out in here so it dries, so there’s often a smell of warm soap, especially in the summer. Then they open their kitchen windows, so it smells of garlic and salted cheese and whatever else they’re eating that’s got a strong enough smell. Then their windows and blinds are open and up, and the lights are on, so you can see across and see what they’re doing, with their equally poky grimy kitchen and their balding heads and hairy arms. And of course, you can hear them all. The couple upstairs who aren’t speaking Spanish or English, but something more foreign, and their screaming kids. The dour wife of the working man, who frowns at her washing and her cooking. The unemployed guy. Those Swedish music-lovers across the way. A couple of quiet ones, I suppose, but mostly, it’s this claustrophobic tunnel of darkness and light, noise and smells, and most of all, no privacy. I suppose the feeling of never being totally alone is a comfort to some – in fact, some of my friends love it, and it seems to be pretty Spanish to me. But me, I can’t stand the lack of silence, the peace, the time to be yourself with no one judging.
So, this house. It was the middle of autumn, so it was often dark outside anyway, but inside, what with the shutters and the indoor balcony, it had a dark corners even when they had the lights on. The furniture was probably brought in from the street – more wood with a cloth cover on it than anything comfortable to sit on. A few plants. A rug on the wall, and darkly painted rooms to absorb what little light was left when you turned on the floor lamps. Perfect for when you’re hung over, don’t get me wrong. And a little white neon-lit kitchen. Of course, Tom wasn’t much of a chef at the time – now, at least he’s passable – and I imagine the kitchen was a bit of a mess of dirty dishes and bowls.
Right. Back to work. See you on the upside of 15,000, I suppose.
I’m afraid I’ve broken Rule Number One of Writing, which is perhaps not coincidentally Rule Number One of this Blog. DO you know what that rule is? It’s WRITE. Doesn’t matter what, doesn’t matter when, or why, or especially how well (although I suppose it sometimes matters where) Write Write Write Write Write. It’s practice. It’s learning.
Something I realised recently is that there’s nothing you start good at, and to get good at anything, you need to be able to make a fool of yourself before you can learn how to improve. Old dogs can learn new tricks, if they’re not afraid of embarrassing themselves and setbacks. Kids are good at learning because they overcome these. They pick themselves up and try again. And this goes for learning to cook, learning to do stand up. It goes for my adult friend who can’t swim, and my other adult friend who can’t draw. It definitely goes for learning a foreign language, which I can tell you from both sides of the fence about, and it goes for writing.
Self-Lecture over, on to writing. As I missed the Mid-Week post (I have literally 6 excuses, but I won’t bother writing them), I’ve got two things for you here today. One of them is co-written. And is definitely full of grammatical mistakes, inconsistencies, and an underdeveloped plot, with a conclusion that makes no sense with the rest of the story. It was difficult to keep up with the creative genius that is my co-writer. Let’s post that one first. I will call it, for now, “Coconut Together”, by Matt and Lily. See if you can spot which bits are mine, and which bits are Lily.
Once upon a time, there was a girl called
and she had a friend called
and they had lots of adventures together.
One day, HANNAH and LILY were at Buckley House. It was summer, and it was hot.
Let’s play Hide and Seek, said Hannah.
Okay, said Lily. You hide first. I’ll come and find you.
So Hannah went off to hide, and she found a big bush to hide in.
She climbed into the bush, and suddenly she heard a voice, “OW!” said the voice.
“Who’s there?” said Hannah.
“My name is Philip”, said the voice, “and I am a rabbit.
“Hello Philip the Rabbit, said Hannah. I’m Hannah, and I’m a little girl. But we need to be
quiet now, Philip. Lily and I are playing Hide and Seek, and she’ll find us.
“Ok”, said Philip, but there was dust in his little nose, and he felt like he was going
“I’ve found you!” said Lily, who heard the sneeze. “Is that you Hannah, sneezing?”
“No, Lily,” said Hannah, “It’s my new friend. His name is Phillip, and he’s a rabbit.
“He’s a very loud rabbit,” said Lily.
“Yes”, said Hannah, that’s how you found me.
Let’s play again, said Lily, only this time, I’ll hide.
Can I play too? said Philip the Rabbit.
No! says Lily,. You can’t play.
Why not? says Philip
Coz your naughty, and you pees in your house, on the floor, and the police get you, out of the garden.
I’m not naughty, said Philip. I used to pee in my house, but now, I pee on a potty.
You’re still naughty, said LIly and Hannah together
Why? said Philip.
Cause your naughty and the police will get you.
Suddenly, Lily and Hannah heard a police car coming. NEE NAW NEE NAW went the police car.
“They’re coming now!” sadi Lily
“Run, Philip!” said Hannah.
and Philip the Rabbit ran away. hoppity hop.
He ran into Buckley House, past Papa Ray, and up the stairs.
Then, the police were in the garden.
“have you seen a naughty rabbit?” said the police to Lily and Hannah.
“Yeah,” said Lily. “He’s in the house!”
And then Lots of police went into Buckley House.
They saw Papa Ray. “Where’s the Rabbit?” said all the police to Papa Ray. Lily and Hannah followed the police.
“He’s in the house! said Papa Ray. “Come and catch him. He went to…. his dance class with the other bunnies and the other pigs. In dresses.”
Thje police went into the dance class, and there were lots of bunnies and pigs in dresses.
Which bunny is the naughty bunny? they said.
And they heard a noise.
It was Philip the sneezy bunny, all covered in bogies.
We’ve found you! Said the police.
And then they threw the bunny in the air!
They threw him out of the window! And then he stayed in the air, and started to fly. with wings!
WOW!!!! said Lily and Hannah, “he’s got wings! and
And then lots of bunnies started flying all around Buckley House. Mummy and Daddy were very surprised.
The pigs in dresses were flying too!
And Hannah and Lily got some wings from the pigs, and they started to fly with the pigs
WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO said Hannah
And the Yaya and Papa and Mummy and Daddy and all the family were flying in the air.,
And the police couldn’t fly. so the police got in helicopters and planes, and they flew too, but Lily and Hannah and Philip had wings, and all the different animals had wings.
And Philip dies. but he’s still flying, even though he’s dead.
And Lily flies to Plaza Trippy with Hannah and they had lots of warm milks and juice. And Lily had yoghurts.
Hannah had a yoghurt too. Coconut together.
And now, to extend this special edition post even longer, here’s a poem I’m trying to improve. It’s a riddle, so the first thing you have to do is solve “What am I?” If your name is John, Raoul, or Carmen, or if for some other reason I’ve already told you the solution, don’t post it at the bottom. If you have suggestions to improve it, however silly, then tell me, because like writing, swimming, drawing and cooking, giving criticism to writing is something that you don’t improve at ’til you try and ’til you’re ready to make a fool of yourself.
This is how I am.
I tempt and tease
at the surface, wavering,
a persistent challenge,
your growing unrest interfering
but presenting an innocent front.
Your approach is expected,
I see a reflection with your eyes.
You think you can take me,
while I, half eager for
your teeth to sink
through my skin, bite,
your tongue against my side
I bounce away, unready, unsure.
Do I want you? Deep down?
Or just the thrill of the chase?
I bob in the shallows,
my purpose undecided.
My core as elusive
To me as to you.
– – –
Violence or gentility;
Hot from the shame of defeat,
most do not care to try twice.
I wait for one who does.
I promised you a short story today, and I shall not disappoint. This is a story that I’m both proud and fond of – I’ve put quite a bit of effort into it, and it’s something that, every time I come back to it, I see ways to make it a little tighter, a little better. I hope that by “publishing” it here, it doesn’t stop this move to always improve.
I’m still looking for pictures to go with this story. If you have any, send me some?
It’s No Fun, Getting Old
Ok, so. It was lunchtime, and I was just sitting on a bench in Charing Cross Station. I had just finished my lunch, I think I had a magazine, I was inside in the shade, so my chocolate bar didn’t melt onto my good skirt. I remember at the time I was all worried about why Kyle hadn’t called or left a message, and why he’d been all distant on the phone the night before. This was back when I was with Kyle, but it wasn’t a major deal, he explained it all later, but at the time I was really worried ‘cause I thought he thought I was too young for him, I’d seen a photo of his ex online, and I was nothing like her, so you know, was I even his type?
But anyway, none of that’s important, it was a little thing, it blew over in like, no time.
So I was on this bench, and I was enjoying having lunch breaks, ‘cause after years of being a student, you know, managing my own time? it was nice to have a bit of structure, you know? It was before I really knew anyone at work, so I wasn’t up for lunch with anyone, and like I said, I wanted to think about Kyle and maybe text him again.
And while I was sitting there, this old guy in a suit came over and stood really close to me. Really close, like he was in my personal space. And at first I was like, what’s with this, you know, because it wasn’t like there was a shortage of space, but you know when someone’s in your space you feel really uncomfortable? So I moved over, to give him space to sit down, and I carried on reading my magazine.
But I’d lost my focus and I was thinking about this guy, now. He didn’t move to sit down next to me, but he spoke to me, he said, “I wonder if you could help me.” He was really old, like in his seventies, and he smelt of alcohol.
And he said, “Oh, I’ve just been today to my sister’s funeral, and I was wondering if could you assist me to a taxi because I need to get over there.”
And I was like, ok, of course I can help you, but I was a bit miffed at first, because it was like – no wait, he didn’t say that at first, he just came over and said can you help me to a taxi.
And I thought, they’re just over there, they’re no distance at all, and he’s made it here from wherever, presumably a train. So why’s he come over to talk to me, you know? And afterwards, I felt really guilty for thinking this, for thinking, is this some sort of scam, is he some kind of perve, but actually, it’s natural isn’t it? To think that. Because no one comes up to you and talks to you in London, you have a kind of open privacy, where everyone can see you but no one talks to you. Everyone has this kind of personal space bubble, and when you’re in it, you don’t talk to strangers.
And I know that – I reckon I’ve got the kind of face, you know the kind of personality, that’s open and foreigners and tourists come up to me and ask me for directions. But this one old man, he smelt of booze and I thought, what’s he after?
But, then it was no distance at all, my train wasn’t for ages, and I could see everyone else rushing past not looking, and now he’d asked me, so what could I do? I couldn’t like say no once he’d asked me, I obviously had nothing better to do.
So I got up to help him, and he was pretty drunk, you know? His jacket was all crinkled, and his white shirt had this big blotchy red wine stain down it, and he stank of booze, and he was like, “I’ve got to lean on you.”
So I had his suitcase by the arm, and he told me to put my other arm round his waist, right? But I just thought, let’s get this done, and I started leading him across to the taxis, but obviously we were walking really slow, and he wants to lean on me, and I’m thinking why, and I later found out he was limping, but he was just all like “I’ve got to lean on you”, so I was being cautious.
And we stopped for a break, about half way there, and then he really announced it to me, all of a sudden; “I’ve just come from my sister’s funeral,” all clear and precise, and then he started crying.
And what do you do in that situation? I tried to be comforting, and say the right things, like “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” and then I didn’t know what to say, and he was crying.
“Where was the funeral?”
“Out in Bournemouth. I went over there last night, the funeral was this morning. She died of cancer.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry, that’s awful. Was it unexpected?”
“There were a few months notice, but there was no time to do anything. She was younger than me,” he said, “she was younger, she was only 82.”
And most of the time, I didn’t say anything, he just talked and I said sympathetic things, and I started to ask him questions, thinking it might help him to talk it out. He said he lived alone, out in Shepherd’s Bush in a flat, and sometimes a neighbour comes in, but if he dies in his flat, like no one would know. He didn’t seem to have any kids, well he didn’t mention any. Some of the time I asked questions, and he just sort of stared.
At one point I realised he was leading the way, looking straight ahead, not looking at me, and he was going the wrong way, and I said “No, no, the taxis are over here,” and he said, “No, it’s this way,” but we could see the taxis by this point, so I pointed them out.
And he said “I’ve not got long now, myself,” and I thought maybe he had cancer too, but he didn’t say, but he repeated it, and, and then he thanked me for helping him. He was very polite.
And I explained slowly and politely that we were about to get to some steps, and that he should just take his time, no rush, and he, he thanked me again, and I walked at his pace down the steps, he was really leaning on me heavy, and I didn’t want him to fall and hurt himself. I was being careful of the limp, and I was encouraging him, you know, not to give up hope, you know? Trying to be cheery. And I was like “It’s no fun getting old, is it?”
And when we were halfway down, this woman and man came over and the woman asked us if we needed any help?
So I said I was taking him to a taxi, and she asked me where the taxi was to, and I said, “Oh, no, I’m not, not with him, I’m just helping out.” So the old man told her Shepherd’s Bush. She was in her thirties, and she was very helpful, she went over and got a taxi to come to the bottom of the steps, and told the driver where he was going, and to wait. And he started telling them the same story, that he was coming from his sister’s funeral in Bournemouth, and the man was really sympathetic and took the bag, and put it in the boot.
We all helped him into the taxi together, and got his legs in on the passenger seat at the back, and he pressed my hands together and it was like, like, god bless you, and he smiled at me, a kind of worn-out smile, and still crying, but he said, “you’re a Samaritan, you really are, you’re all Samaritans. Thank you. Thank you very much.” And the woman closed the door, and the taxi drove off, and she and the man left into the station.
I stood there for a minute in the heat, and thought about it, and I got all emotional and went and sat down somewhere quiet. It was a real mix of emotions, ‘cause I sort of thought, why did he come up to me, why, did he choose me? I sort of felt quite honoured.
I called up Sarah and told her, and I think I even cried a bit. ‘Cause he was such a sweet old man, and it must be horrible to have your younger sister die before you, and feel all alone.
But I’ve thought about it since, and wondered if it was all an act, a way to get help from people, but that’s a horrible thing to think, isn’t it? And then I felt bad for questioning it, you know?
I’ve been playing with writing in a different voice, and it’s actually a lot of fun to be a step further distant from the action – it means I feel more comfortable editing details, for a start, and I got to have a little go at being an unreliable narrator. Hope you like it!
Every week on Thursday, I meet up with a couple of other creative writers, and we talk about stuff we’ve written. Two of them are short story writers, which is totally my favourite area. One is in the middle of writing a novel, and brings us extracts. There are a couple of others who turn up sporadically, but with me and my poetry / short stories, we’re the centre of the group.
Last week we decided that this week we should all write a piece of Flash Fiction – a story in 500 words or less. It’s something they’ve all had some experience of and I haven’t, but I was totally up for the challenge. After all, if it’s half way between the two media I use write, it can’t be too hard, right?
Before I go further along this line, here’s the story, with a brief introduction (which may be part of it’s imperfection. It’s the last 500 words (and the only words yet written) of a short story idea that was born from a dream, fully fledged. Sounds corny, I know, but I was SO excited that it happened. I woke up and wrote and wrote notes of what happens, and, while I have yet to re-read them, they came to 20 A5 pages of scrawl.
Anyway, without further ado:
“Here’s your car.”
She stood, patient and warmly smiling by my car, her hands clasped on her handbag in front of her, as I fidgeted with my car keys.
“Well, this is goodbye, then,” I said, trying to inflect my voice with a heartiness that fell flat.
She smiled in sympathy at me, a ‘poor boy’ smile at my attempt. “You’re not used to goodbyes, are you? I am.” We looked at one another.
“Tell me,” she said, “Can I… can I touch your face?… Can I feel… if it’s…?” She didn’t need to finish that sentence. I took her right hand, gently, and brought it up to my face, then let go. First she touched my forehead, just with the tip of a finger, then moved it gently sideways, her other fingers joining it, and slowly moved to my hair, and brushed lightly against my ear. Her hand circled my ear, and I looked down to her to see that she’d closed her eyes. I removed my glasses. Still brushing lightly, with the tips of three fingertips, she drew down to my bristly cheeks and sighed as she touched my chin. Then, infinitesimally slower, she drew her whole hand up my face, feeling with each finger the contours of my lips, cheeks, eyes, nose, and finally back to the forehead, before it rested for a second, then lifting her hand slowly away. She opened her eyes, full of sadness.
“So much the same, and yet so different… … did I tell you how, when you picked up the phone, your voice… it made my heart leap?”
She looked down at the tarmac, and I said, “Things change. Time moves on, and things don’t just stay the same forever.”
“And despite it all, the dead would want us to be happy, to live our lives.” She chuckled. “Sometimes the clichés are true. I hear them at funerals. You’re far too young to know the real truth of that wisdom, a lesson it takes a whole life to learn, and yet… it still surprises you, catches you by the throat.”
“Still, I’m glad to have met you.”
She smiled warmly at me. “You know, in all you have shown me, nothing has felt quite real, except the time I’ve spent with you.”
It seemed wrong to, but I leant down, and lifted her chin, and kissed her, briefly, softly, on the lips.
I stepped into my car and drove away.
Having read that, a few points, which may explain its confusion. It is about the narrator’s grandfather’s lover, and she’s not blind.
This was amongst the criticisms I received – lack of clarity. I’ve also learned to cut all cliches from my writing (including “sometimes the cliches are true”) , and that,despite all the positive reinforcement I’ve been getting, I still have a long way to go.
Which is why I’ve posted this version of the story – as something to look back on when I’m better at this and say, “Yes, I’ve improved.” I think Flash Fiction merits more practice, for a start, and I also think this story may resurface as a complete short story.
I’m back with more blogging, and this time, spending more time trying to come to terms with image and writing copyright law than with editing. Luckily, I’ve made friends with the whole Creative Commons movement, so hopefully it won’t take too long to find and choose my photos in future. (To find my sources for my pictures, click on the attached links. If there aren’t any links, then they are either my photos or photos given to me by friends)
“The Gardener” (for want of a better provisional title) is a short story that I wrote last term. This scene was one part of it that I just wrote in about 10 minutes. Every line just seemed to follow every other line, one of those moments when writing is everything you wish it always was – exciting, fun and easy. When you don’t know what your brain is going to offer next, but it delivers.
Looking at it now, it works as a kind of Flash Fiction on its own (it’s about 1,000 words). It’s possible I’ll end up tidying this up and ditching the rest of the story.
“Did Gary come today?”
“In the downpour we had this morning? I drove through it on the motorway.”
“He got here before it, and started working on the hedge, but then it started chucking it down.”
Max chuckled. “Got caught in it, did he? And then went home?”
“He should’ve known it’d rain this morning, just by looking at the sky. That boy is just an opportunist, Charlotte. Dedication. See, if it hadn’t rained, if we’d been wrong, if it had passed and rained somewhere else, think how much he’d’ve got done.” He raised his eyebrows rhetorically, and Charlotte could tell he was about to start a speech, like those he made to junior partners. “He’d be good in the City – he takes his chances when they come, like this, and when he fails it doesn’t even make a dent in his resolution, he’ll just keep going, keep trying. And then one day, the luck will all go his way, luck’ll be on his side and he’ll really get somewhere in the world. If he keeps pushing, sticks to his guns, doesn’t lose his resolve. That’s how it happened with me, in business, that’s how I got my first real chance. Pushing and graft. And that’s how I got you too, remember? Perseverance, taking my chances, waiting” he leaned in and kissed her on the cheek, “for the right – you all right dear? I’m not too cold, am I?” Max rubbed his hands together. “This damn summer.It’s cold out today, this weather has sucked all the heat out of summer. Did you go back to sleep after we left? You looked tired. Or did you go shopping in the end?”
“No, I thought I’d leave it ‘til tomorrow.”
“Forecast’s no better, I heard it on the radio on the drive home.”
I’ll tell him, she thought. I’ll tell him when he stops talking, I’ll tell him when he asks me about my day. But Max was so full of his day, so certain that, on a rainy day when she didn’t go shopping, that nothing of interest had happened to his wife. So he didn’t ask, but talked on about the merger or verger. But I’ll tell him anyway, she thought. Wouldn’t it just show him for thinking her day boring and uneventful? Before Lucygets home, not over dinner, after Lucy had gone off to her room, as they were getting ready for bed, she’d tell him, she’d sit him down and get his attention.
Then a thought came from the back of her head that surprised her. Why tell him? It niggled. Why tell him? It won’t happen again, you made sure of that, you told him off, he apologised, he won’t do anything so silly again. Kids make mistakes, as a mother she understood that better than anyone, they make mistakes and learn from them.
Why tell him? He’s a good gardener, punctual, it’d be a hassle, a scene, the neighbours would hear, gossip, her standing. And Gary won’t say anything if she doesn’t tell Max, he’ll be embarrassed. Ashamed, most likely, of making a fool of himself. He might resign anyway, she should give him a chance to, instead of ruining hisreputation, she shouldn’t just think of herself, that poor boy has made a fool of himself, but he’ll learn from his mistake.
Why tell him? He didn’t tell her when he flirted with that secretary, which she knew he did, because women know, because she’d seen her look at him, that winning cheek-boned smile, so transparent it was sickly, he wouldn’t really fall for that, but still he hadn’t told her he’d flirted.
She knew he’d flirted with that American correspondent that one time two years ago – these shameless Americans who’ll use their looks and charms to get whatever they want – he’d never told her that. She’d heard a snatch of a business call, and then he’d bought her flowers out of nowhere, and she knew nothing had happened, he’d felt guilty, but nothing had happened, she knew that, but he’d not told her. Been honest. The flowers had been poppies – his favourite, not hers. But the thought was there.
And nothing had happened here. Gary had kissed her, she’d instantly pushed him away, she’d made it thoroughly clear he was mistaken, and it wouldn’t happen again.
So why tell him? And for once, it was strangely nice to feel appreciated. She couldn’t tell Max that, either, he’d be offended: “But I do appreciate you”. He wouldn’t understand, it would cause a row, they’d fight and shout, he’d think her unfaithful, not literally, but he’d think she’d been encouraging the boy, flirting with him. Which she clearly hadn’t. She couldn’t tell him that. So why tell him any of the rest of it?
A smile grew on her face. Years from now, she’d tell him, when she thought he needed a shock. When Gary had gone back to university or wherever, and they’d gotten a new gardener, and when he was being pompous or talking like he owned her, not respecting her or doing his share. That’d shock him, when he needed it most, when she needed him to pay her a bit more attention. It would be funny, that look of surprise on his face, her teasing, him not knowing if she was lying or not.
“….so hopefully, it’ll all be resolved by the end of the week.” Max stopped, and looked at her. “Am I boring you?”
She smiled, as if at some private joke. “No, sorry dear, I drifted off for a bit in the middle. I was thinking of something else.”
“I suppose I should save that kind of talk for Bill. I told you Bill might come this weekend, come out here for a game of golf and then dinner on Saturday, didn’t I?”
“You did, but is that definite now? Is Julie coming too?”
That night, Max commented that her chicken stew was lacking something.