Thursday, 30 June 2011

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Sunday, 26 June 2011

Very short story - Labour Exchange

     'Sorry - next please,' she says, just like that, the girl with the lilac lipstick behind the desk. I look up into his face, his silence makes me swallow a lump in my throat.  I didn’t even listen to what he asked her, I hate the Labour Exchange.

We are out on the street, and dad has a look in his eyes I don't like.  He's heading home the long way, I don't know why, but I follow him, breaking into a run every few steps so I can keep up.  He hasn't worked for six weeks now, though he still has his scruffs on, that jacket full of holes that when I was little I used to poke my fingers through and he’d nip at them with his teeth.   He marches like a soldier – he was a soldier before I was born.  We’re heading past the park, the way we go home from school, over the bridge and down the hill. 

Last week Thomas Cartwright told me his dad had thrown their kittens off the bridge in a sack.  I almost cried in Mrs Thomas’ class and went at half past three to see if I could see proof in the water far below.  Of course I couldn’t, I didn’t let myself think that even if it had been there the river would have washed it away.  Then I swallowed hard, I pictured my dad scaling that wall, and leaping over the railings. 

We pass the park, the bridge isn’t far; I can see the brick columns which stand at either side of the road.  A bus drives past and the exhaust fumes are black and sting my throat. The drop would kill kittens, they wouldn’t drown - Thomas Cartwright said it was kinder because they died quick.  We were at the bridge, my dad still strode, I stumbled to keep up.

I took his hand, he didn’t clasp but he left his there and kept walking.

Then we were over the bridge and I let mine drop again, I don’t think he noticed.  He’s walked quickly all the way home, it is cold and my cheeks are numb.  When we got home mum started shouting as usual and the two laid into each other.  I went upstairs and quickly jumped on my bed to hide my wet face from my sister.

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Friday, 24 June 2011


artifice (plural artifices)
  1. a crafty but underhanded deception
  2. a trick played out as an ingenious, but artful, ruse
  3. a strategic maneuver that uses some clever means to avoid detection or capture
  4. a tactical move to gain advantage

Monday's short story writing course was based around the idea of the artifice story.  I'm no expert on genre writing, and I will admit to losing interest in a novel or story pretty quickly when something I feel is implausible occurs. I say implausible because I think it’s more fitting that saying unrealistic – for example all stories about robots ruling the world might be pretty unrealistic, but Terminator 2, just as an example, is a plausible story about robots ruling the world because the makers lay out a back-story to explain their rise to power.  Still what I can tolerate in a film I often can’t tolerate in a book or story, maybe I want a book to have real relevance to me?  Or perhaps I just shy away from the idea of genre and the culture of rules and obsessive devotees.  Nonetheless our homework for the following month is to write an artifice story.  That is to say a story grounded in the plausible, (even the realistic,) but with one extraordinary or strange element about the setting or characters.

A good example would be Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis – where the protagonist awakes to find he has transformed into a bug during the night.  Adam Marek is also a writer of this kind of short story. 

So I was away in North Wales for most of this week and I sat in a rainy caravan on Tuesday night and pondered.  My stories are always about the real, whether relationships, events, difficult situations – not everything I write has happened to me, but I guess, it could have.  However I really enjoyed the task, and spent about four hours writing a story based in the not so distant future where the NHS is so overstretched and pensions and overcrowding have become such a bind that the government decided to euthanize over-seventies once their health has begun to dip.  A bit controversial I know I don’t know where the idea came from, but it allowed me to mention this bizarre state of affairs, and then explore an ordinary situation – a daughter nursing her sick mother.  While her mother is over seventy the daughter, as a precaution, fills out the relevant forms for an exemption for her mother.  This involves, in my little fantasy, getting proof she is still working, volunteering, has savings and is generally a merit to society.  Essentially though the story is concerned with the bedside conversations and the difficult experiences. 

I don’t know what adding a fantasy/futuristic element to a story does, how does it make it more interesting?  Perhaps it is just escapism to set a story in a time of place which doesn’t exist.  Or is it that we’re running out of straight fiction in the twenty-first century and have to start speculating about other worlds?  All I know is I felt more in control of my little invented dystopia (or utopia, depending on how endearing you find the over seventies?) because I could take it wherever I wanted.

Meanwhile, another story published on Monday (yey), my MA results came in for second semester (yey) 72% (booo) I thought I’d improved loads but I’m obviously still a work in progress, it’s only 1% rise on last semester.  Oh and the Purple Hibiscus book club met, drank, discussed and succeeded in not only finding a consensus on the novel but also getting matching gecko tattoos.  Overall an interesting week.  The panorama’s were taken on my travels in North Wales and Anglesey.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Pictures from Stafford and Writing update

Another short story for anyone idle enough to want one, this time by American writer Ambrose Bierce.  Today, which was as bland a day as ever there was one, I had my fourth story published in about six weeks.  It will be featured on Fiction 365 which I thought was pretty cool since I have my photo 365 project already and now am featured on this site.  You can find a new contemporary fiction story there everyday.  Mine will be published there in a month or so and I will post the link again when it is.  Hopefully I'll be able to post the three links from the other stories too next month although they won't all be free to view. 

I don't quite know whether to keep featuring short stories people can read, post my own short stories and poems, post pictures, or just update with news about my own writing.  I like the mixture but I guess people like continuity.  I'll update early in the week though because I have the second installment of my Manchester Writers Course tomorrow which was really interesting last month.  Then I'm going away to North Wales Tuesday and Wednesday so won't have internet access.  Thanks for reading.

Some pictures from my Saturday trip to Stafford, especially from the park, the church and the castle.

Friday, 17 June 2011

The Canal

I know I don't write enough prose and poetry here, and that was my intention.  I guess with all this success...(ha kidding)  No but really, I want to send off my best stuff to publishers in the rare chance it might get accepted - and I'm worried that they might do a search to see if it's online already, so that leaves me with stuff I don't like enough to send off and it isn't fair for me to post rubbish here.  What I can post is stuff that was published years ago!  So here's a poem published in a magazine in 2005.

The Canal 

Now the canal lies like a paraplegic
Visualising leaping and running
Imagining straining muscles stretched
The sluggish canal devoid of movement.

Parallel its litter-choked margins grooves on brick
Scarred by knotted rope plucking barges
Coal laden through the oily slip
Whilst movements tide zipped closed behind.

This is how the past had been for them
A rhythm of shouting men busy with work
Wet wood creaking in disapprobation
Knots strain vibration against the narrow walls.

Now it lies a trickle through estates
Left by a falling volume odiously polluted
Where untidy men with beards fish all day for nothing
Infrequently dredged for missing persons.

And a slightly linked picture, since one of my friends on 365 was suggesting I mix word and image more (you know who you are)  This is the Bridgewater Canal, with HDR processing.

Thanks for reading and have a good weekend.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Seeing like a child and being a better person

My camera broke!
I've had to buy a new one off ebay, I spent more on it than I thought I should so I'm kind of holding my breath for a few days, anxious to see if it's any good.  That's my reason for not having anything interesting to say on here - bad excuse.

You can - as always - see my ongoing photo-a-day project here I'm about half way through and still loving it, although it's harder all the time to find new things to photograph.  But I guess it's the same with any hobby, it's harder to find unique stuff, and original ideas.  What I love about the project, and the reason I'm writing about it here (not just to get sympathy for my poor camera) is because I realised it makes me look at the world harder.  Not just harder, it makes me look like a child again.  I take pictures of flowers, new shoots growing, snails climbing up the wall.  When do adults get the chance to stand and ogle at a snail climbing up a wall?  Funny signs, funny people (the other day I saw a huge, morbidly-obese woman going into McDonalds with a NIKE sweater on that said 'Just Do It'!) just about everything - and I see it all with an excitement only born from getting a decent shot that day, nevertheless I remind myself of being a kid.  I get giddy when I see a cow, I go quiet and move in slow motion when a bird lands near me!  Recapturing my childhood through photography.

So then I thought - I wonder how interests and passions can change us, or can give us transferable skills or have an indirect affect on us?  Worth a thought.

I wondered if writing, and probably reading fiction too, might make for a better person, a more caring and understanding person.  After all reading and writing fiction is often concerned with the ins and outs, and ups and downs of peoples lives, and we learn to empathise and appreciate them during their struggles.  It at least dispells ignorance, if your reading is broad you can learn about all kinds of people and their lives.  If you read the right books I suppose you'd say, but fiction at least is a way to learn about people, and what makes them tick.  Has anybody ever felt this actually taking place, perhaps you read a good book and felt a deeper understanding for other people and became more accepting and easy going?  Maybe you stereotyped a kind of person and then read a novel with a character in who reminded you of that person and you realised why they did the things they do.  Or am I being too idealistic?  As a writer I at least think you love to talk to people more than if you were not a writer, because people can give you great story ideas just by moaning, or explaining something from their life.  After reading and writing hundreds of plots I have also found I can predict the end of films pretty quick, but thats another story for another day!

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Short Story History Continued:

Following on from my post from a few days ago - I'm still reading through my guide to short stories.  I thought I'd post a few more links to short stories which form the basis of the genre. I wanted to include Ernest Hemmingway's Hills Like White Elephants, as an example of a story pared down and full of meaning 'between the lines' .

James Joyce's famous collection of short stories Dubliners stands out for several excellent examples - many of which you can find if you click the link.  Virginia Wolff, whose novel Orlando I love, wrote short stories too.  Her stories worked on several levels most significant of which was there rebellion against a male tradition of story writing - I haven't read any of her short stories so will have to look them up.  Kate Chopin and Katherine Mansfield are also influential female writers - Katherine Mansfield wrote some excellent short stories before dying of TB aged 34, one of her most famous is The Fly.

Not that I've done much reading or writing today, I worked and then ate myself silly.  And I've just watched a dreadful Japanese Animation - cup of tea and bed!